Thursday, November 30, 2006

Push Hands (unedited)

Watching Chris do "push hands" with one of his older students last night around 9:30 PM in Barnsdall Park, with fog rolling in over Silverlake - Chris was like a flag flapping in the wind.

Push hands is listening. Push hands is listening to something that isn't words or speech; it isn't emotional but it is personal, as tightness and blockages and habits inevitably are.

Koans are push hands. These are the questions with which a teacher hits you, that have no logical answer. What was your face before you were born? They create an impasse. You cannot speak and you must. What can you do? We tense up our minds to come up with an answer that will get us approval; or we go flabby and disengage from the relationship; another possibility is that, from a relaxed yet strong lower abdomen and the deepest center of our being, a clear answer appears and with a word or a gesture that koan is completed.

Koans can be an astonishing, non-invasive awakening practice. They can also be a rehearsal of dry cognitive understanding. A ritual. The bodies are uninvolved and clever Zen minds applaud one another while we drag our carcasses around, one moment draped in robes and in another moment decorated with blazers or swimsuits, out of touch with our physical selves, our wants and needs, our confusion or pain. The vow to attain the Buddha way and save all beings from distress may as well be the nutritional information on a box of cereal.

After years of practicing kongans, I still vanish when someone pushes me.

Scene work is push hands. The acting you never forget is when two beings who are completely present in themselves act on one another, playing their scene as if they were trying to find their scene partner's blind spot and knock them off balance to get what they want. Without this presence in the moment, a scene that has been rehearsed for several weeks very often feels like a scene that has been rehearsed for several weeks. If the actors are immediate, the scene has chi. It has been rehearsed, yet this moment has never happened before. This changes everything. The spectator's attention is brought to a different kind of attention. It's a moment that can transform you.

There is more, but I'm out of time.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Better Idea For Bush's Legacy

Note to Bush: You don't have to spend half a billion dollars on a presidential library.

Naturally, I thought of some mean and funny alternative suggestions. An enormous cemetery came to mind. When Iraq finally falls, you could take part of the failed state and declare it the George W. Bush Memorial Charnel Ground. Another idea was for you to go to New Orleans and build an enormous Aquarium and Water Treatment Facility.

Too subtle?

All right. Here is an earnest suggestion, no sarcasm or satire intended. I wish you would spend your post-presidential years traveling the country and talking about your house in Crawford, Texas.

That's right, your house. The house you and Laura had built. The house that is a scarcely-known model of environmentally harmonious design. I tell people about this and they are amazed. They ask me if this is the same George W. Bush we are talking about. I say, yes. Yes it is.

Here is an article about the house, written by Eric O'Keefe, and a short excerpt describing some of the house's design features:


http://www.cowboysindians.com/articles/archives/1202/bush.html


"The passive-solar house is built of honey-colored native limestone and positioned to absorb winter sunlight, warming the interior walkways and walls of the 4,000-square-foot residence. Geothermal heat pumps circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet deep in the ground. These waters pass through a heat exchange system that keeps the home warm in winter and cool in summer.

"A 25,000-gallon underground cistern collects rainwater gathered from roof urns; wastewater from sinks, toilets, and showers cascades into underground purifying tanks and is also funneled into the cistern. The water from the cistern is then used to irrigate the landscaping around the four-bedroom home. Laura Bush insisted on the use of indigenous grasses, shrubs, and flowers to complete the exterior treatment of the home.

"In addition to its minimal environmental impact, the look and layout of the new ranch house reflect one of the Bushes' paramount priorities: relaxation. A spacious 10-foot porch wraps completely around the residence and beckons the family outdoors."

George, you have one of the most ecologically-harmonious homes in the United States. Very few people know this about you. I could think of no better act for you, post-presidency, than to be an advocate for this kind of design - to proliferate the design and make it affordable for more Americans, and to earn a small measure of redemption for yourself and your disasterous presidency.

Please think about it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Don't Use That Word

You know the one I mean, and if you really don't, you don't need to know.

I could promise you that I won't ever use the word, but I would have to say it. We could have a wonderful, frank discussion about the damage caused by the word - except that we can't. In fact, by promising to avoid using the word I cause it to appear in your mind without even having to mention it. Now what? How do we legislate?

Jesse Jackson, your ill-considered and intellectually stupid photo op contributes nothing to anything related to a solution or a way forward. Our country and all her people need a true light, not double-standards and redacted history.

How do you claim to claim to give your ancestors a present after you erase them?

Stupid. So miserably, righteously stupid. Go away.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Premiere of the Theatre Dojo

We completed our first "Intro Workshop" this weekend and we got some good critical feedback. Overall, the participants told us we were onto something very good. Our teaching styles melded nicely, and the areas of overlap were so broad it was very easy to hand the ball to one another. At the same time, the connections were new to our participants.

One man spoke of the grief with which he has been contending, as he realizes that the dream that brought him to Los Angeles - of a full-time acting career - is not going to work out for him. He appreciates the life he does have - he has a family and loves his work. Still, the heartache is there, and his story is a common one. Over the weekend, we considered acting as a broader vocation and, I don't mind saying, even as a ministry. We aren't presenting the world with yet another theatre company or acting school, but as a kind seminary using expressive arts and spiritual practice as a way of healing ourselves and then healing our community (whatever that means in the individual's situation). It's something new made out of things that are very old.

There are lots of photos from the weekend at http://www.myspace.com/theatredojo

Friday, November 17, 2006

Pathways


"In Japan there have always been strong links between religion, the arts and the traditional martial arts (Bujutsu). These links are not only spiritual, they also affect the practice. Religious exercises - those of Shintoism as well as those of Buddhism (mudras, mantras, purification rituals, meditation, etc.) - are similar to the exercises that are described as the 'path' of the martial arts. In each case, it is about finding an awareness of truth through physical rather than intellectual means. Traditionally, physical experience is given preference over a purely rational awareness as a means of gaining knowledge."

-Yoshi Oida

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reading Tea Leaves In The Desert


This man and his work intrigue me.

He is Alon Tal, and that desert in the background is the Negev, the desert comprising 60-66% of Israel. Dr. Tal was born Albert Rosenthal and grew up in North Carolina. He is an award-winning environmental activist and teacher, and you can read more about him here.

Click the article because, you see, I am hoping he will prove me wrong about something.

It is my persistent feeling that if anything brings humankind together, it will not be an ideological revolution. It will, instead, be an ecological crisis that presents us with a stark choice: getting along or extinction.

My betting money is on extinction. At best: appalling wars and a severe reduction of the human population.

Dr. Alon Tal is a reminder of why I might be wrong.

It could even be that Israel, with its enormously impressive work “making the desert bloom” in the arid Negev, could emerge a world leader on a critical ecological issue; and it could be a water crisis that forces her neighbors to settle their present conflicts and embark together on the challenge of desertification, irrigation, and access to drinking water.

Fume Responsibly

Sometimes our passions move us to anger, and we do silly things. This is not to demonize anger. It can be a strong motivator, while it also acts as an intoxicant. It mixes badly with driving. It can lead to delusional ideas. We may say and do things we regret.

In Derry, New Hampshire, folks have been debating the sport of deer-hunting and weighing the ecological necessity versus the behavior of hunters. A member of the town’s Conservation Commission got so upset she got in her car and drove the residence of the Fish and Game Commissioner. She walked past the “No Trespassing” sign on his property and told Commissioner she wanted to show him something. That’s when she produced a deer’s head she had found in the woods. To make matters worse, she proceeded to talk. There is uncomfortable situation and no error of judgment that cannot be made worse by talking. Buffeted by her outrage over the negligence of some hunter, she made a reference to the handgun she carries and assured the Commissioner that she could hit anything she aimed at. The Commissioner took due note of that. The woman has since resigned her position and charges may be filed. (The story is here.)

Of course, when it comes to rage actions speak yet louder than words. Last week, the actress Denise Richards demonstrated the unintended consequences of rage when she flipped out on the set of a movie she is filming in Vancouver. She grabbed a laptop belonging to a paparazzo and flung it out the window. Of course, the computer hit somebody and Miss Richards had some explaining to do. She bagged an 80-year old woman in a wheelchair, and hunting season for them hasn’t started yet. If the police were angry, at least they didn’t bring her the woman’s head.

There’s a reason they call it losing your head, and I mean no offense to the deer.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Black Bean Soup

Screw restaurants. This is about food. It's about cooking. And home. It's about old chairs that wiggle, tables that have to be cleared for supper, beer and conversation.
You take some cumin and coriander and oregano and you toast them together. Should only take a couple of minutes. You'll know because it releases their fragrance.

You get your onions and garlic going in the canola oil. I salt my oil a little bit. Ready to eat already? Here, you can get going on those jalapenos. Gut them with a spoon and mince them up. Don't rub your eyes.

As the onions soften up the thyme is added, followed immediately by the other herbs. Stir that up and cook it together. There is no tomato paste, so I'm using some good canned marinara sauce we have sitting around; another option would be salsa. Cook, stir, smell. Ah.

Add this to a pot of cooked beans with the water still boiling. Add water if necessary. I'm using canned beans, so I simply add the beans to the sauce along with plenty of boiling water.
Simmer and enjoy the smell. Then a friend calls up and the invitation is tendered: get over here, there is soup afoot, and the soup has accomplices: beer and bread. Get over here.

Add cilantro if you like it. Remove it after the simmer, a little less than an hour. The beans should soften up and be hot through and through - if you're using canned, they won't need to cook so long.

Stir in those minced jalapenos. I used two and the soup wasn't very hot at all - strange, the peppers looked pretty good. After 15 minutes, blend some of the soup. I blended too much. It shouldn't be a drink. You want to have some beans to chew on.

Back in the soup pot on the stove. Tamari. Fresh ground pepper. You can serve with a dollop of sour cream but I don't. Put the bowls out, break the baguette with your hands, pour the beer, go over to that stove and get yourself some soup.

Let's talk politics and art. Sex. Pranks. Therapeutic models. Families. Laugh at the cat's antics and enjoy some food and be human together. It's chilly outside.

Where Ecology and National Security Meet

In 2003, the Department of Defense issued a very sobering report - more because of its very existence than its conclusions, although the conclusions make good Halloween reading material. The name of the report: "Abrupt Climate Change and its Implications for United States National Security."

Dig that. Here we have a President who publicly casts doubt on global warming, while his own Pentagon is quietly drafting contingency plans for the results of 'climate change' on the assumption our current trends will continue. Think that over one more time. It takes a while for the full effect of the lunacy to sink in.

For every 1.8 degrees (F) the earth's temperature goes up, the yield of rice, wheat, and corn go down 10%.

According to the Hubbert's Peak formula, which is used by oil companies themselves, we are approaching the window of time where we will reach peak oil production, and supplies of oil will diminish and be more difficult to obtain even while human dependence on oil increases, and the volume of our demand increases. Slowing down, even if the developed world comes to its senses TODAY and acts quickly, will take a long time and be painful.

Irreplaceable aquifers across the world are diminishing. In my lifetime and perhaps yours, we will see wars not over oil (which will be gone), but over access to water. Already, one in four people in the world do not have access to safe water.

The New York Times ran a report earlier this week about the state of the world's fisheries - gone, gone, gone. Or should we say en francais: "Fin." (Not quite but almost - unless we change our habits.)

According to the National Academy of the Sciences, it would require 1.2 planet earths to regenerate what human beings used in the year 1999; and that consumption is going up, up, up.

And that report by the Pentagon in 2003 was forecasting major national security issues arising from the possible affects of global warming. If, for instance, the circulatory system that warms the North Atlantic dissipates the implications include large populations having to move, touching off an immigration crisis in the midst of a militarized struggle for dwindling natural resources.

This is not some fringey liberal group; nor is it a Philip K. Dick novel. This is the Department of Defense.

They will speak of these things, but not our legislators and policymakers - at least not in a public and constructive manner, at a time when something can still be done about it.

I am not writing this as a doomsday prophecy. I am writing this because there is a very imminent, credible danger looming and if we ignore the problem until a disaster is on us (which would not be out of character for our species) there may be very painful and scary changes taking place in our social and economic arrangements.

I'm tired of environmental "truthiness." I'm tired of politicians who think it's enough to build a few bike paths and drive a hybrid car. It's time to examine the data and talk frankly about what they suggest.

Wars over oil? Puh. I'm looking ahead, baby. I'm looking to what the world could very well look like when my grandchildren - assuming I dare breed - are around. It's, um, sobering.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Directing

Am I directing this play? I am no longer sure. That is what I was asked to do by my friend and colleague. She is a very capable, trained, diligent actor and doesn't need much hand-holding. I watch, listen, reflect, pull her in new directions vocally and physically. Help her keep the frame around the story clear. We frame one room, then the next, then the next, and build a little house.

She has ideas, and they are good ones. My tendency is to say yes and incorporate, as you might throw a ball to a juggler in the midst of their routine, so they can include it with the other things in the air. I "direct" it - incorporate it and say, "Okay, this way." Occasionally I say no.
She says, "I am used to Ed and Peter who give me pages and pages of notes." On a twenty-minute piece? Yes, probably so. I've worked with those guys, too. They direct you down to their pinky; and they do it well enough, provided you have the ability and willingness to realize their vision.

Not me. I don't like directing that way. You're not here to realize my vision. You're here to tell the story your way, with everything you've got, and I'm here to assist you.
Especially with the material we are working with, this bit of agit-tainment, this rollicking satirical piece about politics, this rock and roll song of a play which we perform sitting on buckets wearing Chucky Taylors (me) or barefoot (her).

Then I notice that I'm not really in charge of rehearsal anyway, and have to struggle to get the floor back for - well, for giving her those notes she wanted. May I steer this boat?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Elevated Thoughts

At the Century City building where I sell my time, we go up and down the building in these clunky elevators. Using the stairs is not an option because they lock the doors to each floor. This has something to do with homeland security or whatever and I don't question it for fear I will be hooded and sent to the Salt Pit. Like an agreeable citizen, I just get on the electrically-powered elevators and ride them up and down, never sure whether it is okay to say hello to other people on the elevator. As you do.

Anyway, on the rear wall of each elevator a pink flier is taped advertising flu shots at a reduced price. Everyone in the building is invited to go and get themselves poked with some flu vaccine and those of who thinking of coming are requested, in boldface print, to "please wear appropriate clothing."

Thus an image is summoned of a medical clinic with velvet ropes and brass stantions, and a burly bouncer in a black blazer sizing up my ensemble and deciding whether I'm cool enough to purchase a $25.00 flu shot. This is L.A., after all.

As the elevator slowly makes it progress, stopping at one floor after another, I have time to ponder what would constitute the inappropriate attire for a flu shot. A suit of armor? A Star Wars stormtrooper costume? Would it be possible to contrive a flu virus costume that didn't end up looking like a gigantic potholder?

Somewhere in the midst of my list, the elevator arrives and I must go wherever I am going.

Oh, speaking of elevators! It is time a few of us hosted an elevator party in one of those Santa Monica parking structures.

For the longest time I have been wanting to do that, and if I can wear a clown nose on Election Day surely I can move the ball on some of these other random acts of lunacy.

MANIFESTO: Get a cooler, get together a few friends, and ride the elevator at the Santa Monica parking structure for three hours. Welcome people to the elevator, offer them a Dr. Pepper or whatever, and bid them farewell. This is especially good if the party has the opportunity to welcome somebody back again. "Hey!!! You're back! What'd you do, go shopping? Hey, great! Yeah, we're still here."

Wanna come? Of course you do.

Monday, November 06, 2006

With Transformed Ears I Hear A Sneeze Coming

This weekend I put the finishing touches on a radio drama entitled Do You Hear What I Hear?, a comedy with a ridiculous premise: suppose the characters in a radio play understood that their world was created entirely by sound and language, and treated the conventions of storytelling as the laws of physics? Hilarity ensues as a fiendish plot to take over the audio ‘universe’ unfolds. Somebody better find it funny because writing this bastard was a freakin’ nightmare.

By the way, it is now the fashion to refer to it as "audio theatre" since radio drama has been declared dead, notwithstanding the popularity of A Prairie Home Companion. An old conservatory mate who went into audio theatre put me up to submitting a play for an annual competition at an audio theatre festival that takes place in Missouri; he went as far as to put up my entry fee. Writing a play for audio only was a novel experience and I am seeing the world with new ears.

What reveals itself to me is a lot of noise, but on Election Day Eve that is only to be expected. Was I expecting an orderly political conversation between elected representatives and the public? I am not supposed to believe that is possible. I am supposed to shrug off the very idea and consign it to the toy box with all my other childish things. Do not ask for things to be different. The adult thing is to pretend that this is the best we can do: attack ads, political campaigns based on nothing but fictitious claims and lies and smears, incumbents refusing to debate their opponents, and above all: never ever vote outside of the two-party monopoly.

I can't do it. I’m not that good an actor. We are better than that; a whole lot better. The people who wrote this Constitution believed at least in principle that the people deserve to be addressed by their leaders, to be asked for their vote and to engage in political debate in front of them.

Take New York for example, and the Senate race. A war hawk by the name of Hillary Rodham Clinton was challenged for the Democratic nomination for Senate by a fellow Democrat, a Democrat who is upset about the entire Iraq fiasco – like a growing majority of Americans. Clinton refused to debate her opponent, and thus denied voters of her own political party a chance to hear that discussion and participate in a meaningful primary. Predictably enough, Green candidate Howard Hawkins (a Marine who is also upset about Iraq) has not been permitted to debate against the Republican and Democrat candidates in that race. Republican John Spencer and Republican-Lite Hillary Clinton are supporters of the Baghdad Waterloo and Bush's seizure of tyrannical powers. Despite widespread controversy about this illegal war and Bush’s abuse of the Constitution across New York and the entire nation, New York voters don’t get a debate on these issues.

First, everybody should bookmark Factcheck.org and check it routinely, especially in an even-numbered year. Armed with information, we need to apply the unsparing wisdom some of us apply to our personal relationships, exemplified by writers like Greg Behrendt, and face the truth: the Democrats and the Republicans are just not that into us. Not only that, they aren’t that into democracy, either. Neither the parties nor the organizations funding them.

Would you let a boyfriend or girlfriend treat you like this? Discount your intelligence, lie to your face, abuse you and your children, sell out your birthright, deny you the right to question them in any meaningful way, and then return to you – like a sneaky lover who comes home at 2:00 am after a late business meeting with no phone call – telling you how wonderful you are and asking for your vote? Would you bullshit yourself into thinking no one better is going to come around and this is the best you can do? The hell you would.

So who is with me on wearing clown noses to the polls tomorrow?

* * *

Just today I learned where the term sabotage comes from. It delights me.

Historically, the Luddites have gotten a bad rap. The lie many of us are taught as children, if we hear about them at all, is that they were against machines or even industrialization itself, so they acted out by wrecking the factories where they worked.

http://erik.bruchez.name/roller/resources/ebruchez/Luddites.png

What they were actually doing was protesting unfair working conditions as well as the idea of mass-producing “Grow Or Die, Grow Forever, Grow Grow Grow Eat Eat Eat” capitalism. Machines weren’t the problem, it was the use of them to enclose everything that was once part of a commons.

Dutch unionists and French workers acted out by throwing wooden clog shoes, called sabots in French, into the gears of the machinery. Grind, grind, klunk, klunk, phooey. Voila – sabotage.

What is supposed to be working for whom around here? These machines and the economy they propel are to serve human needs and if they don’t do that, we should wreck them: ram that wooden shoe in there and fuck it all up.

Nah, we don’t do that. We don’t stick shoes in our machines around here. By and large, we don’t even say bad things about the machine.

* * *

An internationally known yoga teacher, one whose enterprise needs no publicity from this blog, has sought to patent his teaching method. His ‘intellectual property’ claim extends to sequences of ancient exercises that have always been held as common. You know, like yoga.

If his claims are ultimately upheld, similar patents could apply to meditation teachers, acting teachers, dance teachers, all of us holding and licensing sequences of exercises or theatre games.

It is likely to happen, I think, in a world that has permitted private ownership of genetic sequences and seeds. As long as we are unwilling to establish checks and balances on profit, it will be profit’s tendency to go on colonizing and finding new territory until every little process in nature is ‘enclosed’ and owned by somebody. It may even be that one day, as Thomas Merton predicted, rain becomes a commodity that is taxed or sold.

In the face of this, how uncomfortable are we willing to be?

Beneath the noise, I hear the planet breathing and its health is fine. She will take care of herself, this planet of ours. There is, however, a sneeze gathering pressure and that sneeze heralds our impending ecological fall from the garden. You see, Earth read Greg Behrendt’s book, too. As long as we are running around soiling our habitat and mowing down the forests and eating up millions of tiny systems that keep life in balance, Earth is going to conclude that we just aren’t that into her.

At which point, she will sneeze and move on.

* * *

And the Lord said, “Gesundheit, child!”

Sunday, November 05, 2006

WHO

The following Letter To The Moon appeared on The Blue Doodle in October.

----------------------------------------------
WHO



Dear Moon,

Who is that woman who keeps peering at me in the bathroom?

Can I not brush my teeth or do my hair without her bounding up to the window in there and peering at me? My time of life, you deserve some privacy. Her apartment is a mess. Maybe she should put her attention to that.

I could ask my son to go over there and help her. Give him something to do besides holding down my couch. He visits me all the time. He has the time. Hanging around my house, all he does is hide things. I ask him to help me with business affairs and his answers don't make any sense to me. Can I trust him? Why must I be alone with this man? Where is my daughter, and where is my son? They leave me here with this strange man.

Yes, he could go and help that woman and leave me to straighten up my apartment. It could use some work. The clock is dusty and the light in my room is going stale. These clothes here, they might be hers. Yes, I think they are. He should go help her, and leave me to straighten up. I've got the time. Sir, you go help that woman. Take these sweaters back to her. Tell her I have my own laundry to get on with.

My time of life, to be picking up after others. You know I went in there today to do up my hair - you know my son is supposed to be coming over - and sure enough, she came bounding right in to gawp at me. And I asked her straight out: "Who do you think you are?"

Not a damn word from her.

And this man, just holding down my couch. My son will look after him, if he ever comes.

Maybe it is time to leave, what do you think? It is dark outside, but I imagine I'll be all right if I choose one direction. I can just follow you, moon. Just go and see what comes of it. I have the time.

Must run now. Ta.

-Jan

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Explaining Instant Runoff Voting With Tacos, Soup, and Pizza

Coming over to my house for dinner? Terrific. You have three choices. I'll make a delicious vegetable soup, or I can lay out a taco bar, or I'll make pizza. Please tell me your first choice, second choice, and third choice.

If you only like one of these options, you can just vote for one if you want, no problem.

If you can do that, then you have just practiced Instant Runoff Voting. (And either way, you are going to eat very well.)

In the City of Oakland, California, there is a measure on the ballot – Measure O – that would establish Instant Runoff Voting for all local elections by 2008. It has earned endorsements from newspapers and several elected officials, including Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

IRV's attractions are that the winner reflects a true majority of votes, and saves the cost of runoff elections. Under the 'winner-take-all' system we are used to, whoever gets the most votes wins – even if they don't win more than 50% of the votes cast. In 2005, a candidate won a special election in Oakland with less than 30% of the vote. If one candidate does not win the plurality outright, the "runoff election" takes place then and there as the votes are counted.

Here's a chart that shows how the counting works:

http://www.oaklandirv.org/images/diagram.png

It also eliminates the 'spoiler issue' that prevents people from voting their principles and forces them, in election after election, to vote strategically for someone whom they don't support wholeheartedly. The most notorious example of this is the 2000 Presidential election. George W. Bush won Florida by a mere 537 votes. Darth Nader earned 97,488 votes. For this reason, Nader is frequently blamed for Bush's victory. (Curiously, nobody seems to blame Ross Perot for Clinton's victory over George H.W. Bush, and Perot pulled a LOT of conservative votes away from the GOP that year… )

With IRV, a Florida voter in 2000 could have chosen Nader as their first choice and Gore as their second choice. In counting the votes, the instant runoff would have eliminated Nader, and the ballots with Gore selected as #2 would have gone to Gore. Gore would have won the state of Florida , and he would have done so with the mandate of a true majority of votes cast there.

Still confused? Here's a fun interactive demo of how it would work.

And here are illustrated examples of different outcomes .

Sound complicated? Not for you. It's easy as choosing pizza, tacos, or soup for dinner.

Try it out here (warning: cute animal pictures!).

In Australia, they have been electing their House of Representatives this way for 80 years. IRV makes sense on every level. It's a money saver, it empowers voters to support their preferred candidates instead of voting 'strategically,' and it empowers the winning candidates with a true plurality of the votes cast. No split votes putting someone in office who got 27% of the vote.

IRV is in use or has been approved in cities in California, and Burlington, Vermont; and I hope it succeeds in Oakland and spreads.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Biting Back The Bluetooth

Here is how I cured a young intern of walking around with his Bluetooth phone clipped to his ear. ALL the time. You know what I'm talking about, right?

I'm over them, friends: These status-seeking people walking around like characters from Star Trek: The Next Franchise with their hands-free Bluetooth cell phones clipped ostentatiously to their ears even when they aren't engaged in some crisis that can't wait for them to arrive at home or at their office.

"This person is important," the little barrette-phones are telling us.

A new college-age intern recently joined our office for three days a week. At first, he would walk in boldly every day with that creepy blue thing stuck on his head. Without fail, I would say to him, "Hey! You got something in your ear!"

Ever so patiently, the young fella said, "Oh, it's my phone."

I would move no muscle in my face, except to narrow my eyes. "A phone? That's a telephone?? How is that a telephone?"

And I would make him explain it to me all over again. I did this every day.

He doesn't wear his telephone anymore.

This is a tiny step forward, but I have thought of a bolder move I will try soon, in line with my Red Nose Manifesto. Here are the instructions:



1. Take the handset from a regular sized telephone.


2. Remove cord


3. Strap to your head with some kind of cord: ribbon, twine, bungee cable, duct tape, or anything. (Bear in mind you will have to remove it later.)


4. Walk around downtown talking loudly into your phone. Extra points for going into businesses, museums, etc., and acting very put out when people ask you to cease talking on the phone.

Once I Was A Cool Moose

"Often derided as spoilers, third-party candidates and their movements hold an important place in American political history; Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party was just such an example when he became the 16th President of the US, presiding over the Civil War, and forever changing the national political landscape. In this year's polarized political atmosphere, the Green Party sees an opportunity to build a third-party movement in the state. With the Democratic Party poised to retake Congress, Democrats in Illinois have been met with scandal and sagging approval ratings. The state GOP, meanwhile, has remained fractured and divided, partially from the George Ryan scandal. Rich Whitney, a Downstate Illinois civil rights attorney running for Governor on the Green Party ticket, is hoping he can pull people together in a movement for positive change."

That is the introduction to an interview with Rich Whitney, the Green candidate for Governor of Illinois, who is polling double digits. The interview can be read here.

Rich Whitney is a long shot to win the election, but he could perform well enough to secure a ballot line for the Greens on the Illinois ballot. He does not take that predicament lightly, nor should he.

A little while ago, back in my home state of Rhode Island, I was involved in a weird, exciting, yet ultimately disappointing chapter in our state's politics. A lawyer from the bayside town of Warren ran for Governor - several times. He called himself the "Cool Moose" candidate and became a recognizable and entertaining figure because of his Jerry Garcia hair and crazy beard, his bear-like stature, and his reedy Rowdaaaaylun accent.

In 1994, Healey earned 9% of the vote and that was enough to establish his party on Rhode Island's ballot. Overnight, he went from being a protest candidate / novelty / pain in the ass to being the leader of Rhode Island's new and official third party, the Cool Moose Party.

Shortly after that election, I showed up at the first-ever convention of the Cool Moose Party and got myself involved in the platform committee. The whole event was a circus. We were at the campus of the University of Rhode Island out in southern Rhode Island, and everybody came out wanting to help define this new party. There were Greens, libertarians, wise-use activists, and liberals and conservatives having constructive conversations I can't imagine happening today. I vividly recall one guy running around in camouflage and a wool cap. The political reporter for the Providence Journal went straight for him, having always been very skeptical of Healey because of his hair, and seeking to portray the Cool Moose Party as a bunch of nuts.

What emerged was a political party that made a lot of sense for Rhode Island. I pushed and got myself into the platform committee - the youngest writer there, at age 24. Our platform (which you can still read here and I note they still haven't fixed the typos) called for government to stay out of social policy as much as practical, while regulating government ethics, the state lottery, and the banking industry (Rhode Island has a very painful history involving banks and credit unions), demanding that all legislation include a spending component (in short, it would have to include how to pay for the whatever action the law calls for), and...and...

Oh, you can read the document if you are interested. To sum up, what emerged was a socially libertarian, fiscally conservative party that wanted to empower local government more and make state government more transparent. It was uniquely Rhode Island, and our party had no aspirations of exanding beyond our borders. We wanted a statewide party that wasn't influenced by the pressures to which a national party is subject.

It was a good start. The problem was, we couldn't kill off our charismatic founder. Bob Healey was great. (And he's still around, currently running for Lieutenant Governor, vowing to work towards abolishing the office if he is elected, so as to save Rhode island the expense of this largely ceremonial office.)

After the '94 election, it was time to recruit Cool Moose candidates for other elections, to put up a slate of people and win more elections. We had to establish credibility as a political party independently of wildman Bob Healey.

This effort never got off the ground. We put up very few candidates and they didn't perform well. I was asked to run for office myself; I said no. The momentum slowed and the percentages dropped, and the Cool Moose Party fell off the ballot. The public perception was that our party did not flourish because it could not make the step from a protest party to a governing party.

The Green Party IS a governing party (with 223 office holders in 28 states and D.C.), yet it is not out of the woods. Rich Whitney sounds like a credible candidate for Illinois who understands what needs to take place if the Greens establish that ballot line for themselves. I wish him well.