Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Perfect Morning

Morning comes across a clear sky
Its air breathing cool through the trees
The trees submitting to the change in season
Their leaves turning to auburns and goldens as a mark of their transition

This air cold on my skin and cold on the town’s
The gathered wood warms home and hearth
The air carries its scent and enfolds us all

My spirit revels in such a perfect morning
Like so many of the autumns in years past
The same morning that has taken me to school
The same that has baked warm sweets by my mother’s hand
The same that walked by my side as I journeyed abroad so far from home

This morning is of my heart and soul
A moment in a fleeting season that I can only reach for
Never to truly grasp before it is gone
A phantom of life’s eternal transition from rest to rebirth

Forever drawn into its gaze I can’t stay long enough before the cold sends me away
Back to my own hearth
To send the smoke signal to another’s heart.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Is America a Democracy?

Is America a democracy? This is a question that I have heard time and again through out my life. One occurrence has stood out in my memory. Once while studying at the University library I remember over hearing a conversation between two young girls, well I suppose more of an argument about this question. In the end one of the two insisted that America was not a Democracy, but instead was a Republic.

I doubt that she understood the definition of a Republic. That it included any state that was absent a monarch and whose government was a matter of public not private concern. This included nations like the United States that maintains universal suffrage allowing all members of the public to play at least a small role in the operations of the government. Of course the definition of a republic is on the other hand very broad. It would also include a nation such a Russia.

It is hard to argue that Russia is a democracy. Its elections are highly corrupt and constantly challenged by internal and external organizations. According to the website,, Russia has no freedom in the Press and only limited access to the Internet. In the US we enjoy complete freedom of expression through a free press and uncensored access to the Internet. The greatest fear our people experience when heading to a voting booth is that of having to wait in a long line. In Russia, and many other countries, voting comes with the fear of repression and threats of abuse, incarceration, and torture at the hands of local authorities.

In the US all of these freedoms are made possible by one key aspect of our form of government, The Rule of Law. I mentioned this idea before in a post I wrote about Chen Guangchengs the self taught Lawyer and activist of recent fame. It is an important idea, which many Americans have become hostile to over the passing years. Americans seem to be hardwired to oppose all forms authority they view as external to their individual lives. Even when the law in question may be for the exact purpose of preventing other individuals from restricting their individual rights or in many cases may be necessary in terms of the public good.

In the end there is a great deal going on behind the question I posed at the beginning of this post. Too much I feel for a single post, so it is my humble intention to write a series of posts on the subject over the next few weeks. For now I will leave you with a quote from Aristotle’s Politics. Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comment section about this quote:

“But one factor of liberty is to govern and be governed in turn; for the popular principle of justice is to have equality according to number, not worth, and if this is the principle of justice prevailing, the multitude must of necessity be sovereign and the decision of the majority must be final and must constitute justice, for they say that each of the citizens ought to have an equal share; so that it results that in democracies the poor are more powerful than the rich, because there are more of them and whatever is decided by the majority is sovereign (Aristotle’s Politics 1317b).”

Looking forward to your thoughts as I start this series. Cheers.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Garden

Pathways. Grassways. Waterways.
Botanical Air
Freshness, Vibrancy, Life
So beautiful
Bright sky, Shading trees, Flowers everywhere
Your hand consciously in mine
You walked with me and I walked with you
Truly together
Feeling together. Experiencing together.
Joy to be together.
Moments taken in.
I wish there were more days in the garden.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Handbook for the Revolution

Should revolutionaries have a hand book? Today’s young revolutionary has one in the form of a website, I’ve been flipping through the numerous sections. Included in the site are instructions on every applicable topic. From how tos on civil disobedience, to occupy style protest camps, and even a section on the Fully Informed Jury Association dedicated to helping jurists to better understand their rights and obligations. According to a similar website linked to from,, our generation of upstart revolutionaries even have their own unique set of hand gestures to use during their daily General Assemblies. Which brings me to a question not so distant from the one I first posed today. How revolutionary are you if you’re googling how to start a revolution?

What would it look like if someone had to start revolution on their own? Someone living under a not so democratic state of affairs. Someone with access to only parts of the internet. Perhaps with only a handful of friends, self educated, facing a post cold war sudo-communist regime, and blind as a bat. To specific? Well Chen Guangchengs fits that description to the letter. Google his name. The cliche that truth is stranger than fiction will be fulfilled in a instant.

Blind from an early age he was illiterate until age 23. After attending a High School for the blind in rural china he studied at the Nanjing School of Medicine and earned a degree in acupuncture and massage. After bearing witness to forced sterilizations and other discriminatory practices against women in china he became a self taught lawyer. His brothers read law books and journals to him and by age 40 he has won several major legal cases in china involving undue taxation of himself and other disabled individuals. After which he returned to Beijing to file lawsuits and expose the practice of forced sterilization in his home province of Shandong. Spoiler... he won.

Yes this blind self taught lawyer who took on the brutal and heavy handed regime of China won. Several officials were arrested and the practice of forced sterilization was exposed to the world in the pages of Time magazine. This did come at a cost. Chen was arrested on false charges by local officials. After multiple trials and false convictions Chen was released, but soon found himself under house arrest. Under brutal conditions of local officials, trapped in his home, his family beaten and tortured Chen continued to fight back. Pretending to be ill and bedridden for several days he convinced the local guards to let their guard down. Then he escaped his home, climbed several high walls, broke his ankle, walked several miles on a broken ankle, and survived a car chase in order to reach a US embassy in Beijing.

That is the broadest brush stroke one could paint of his story. And no I don’t believe Chan has submitted his screenplay to hollywood just yet( see ). Instead he is now deftly navigating a international relations chess match between Washington and Beijing as he works towards finding a new home for himself and his family. In the meantime he continues to speak out against corruption in China ( see Chicago Tribune ). If you're looking for a few pointers on how to be revolutionary you might want to check out this guys life story, not those other self professed field manuals to revolution. Or better yet you could, I don’t know, read a couple law books yourself, maybe go back to school, or just show up and cast a ballot sometime. No we do not live in China, we do not live under some communist regime; no matter what your local tea party supporter has told you. (Although if you are that guy carrying on about ‘tax reform’ Chan’s story might help you realize what wrongful taxation really is.)

In the end China is not a very democratic place. Although Chan’s methods should not be mysterious to you or I. They do not involve hand gestures or the construction of complex protest camps. Chan resorted only to the law. Whether it was filing lawsuits, writing articles, speaking out publicly, or simply being willing to speak the truth when no one else had the courage. Chan showed up. When no one else did, Chan got involved. If you want to start revolution you should try Chan’s method. But you and I both know you won’t. It's easy to complain about the way the government works. To moan about your taxes. To point fingers at other people. It’s another thing to get involved in constructive way. Although who am I to tell you what you will or won’t do. I just write a blog. I’m just another under employed philosophy major trying to scratch out a little bit of truth. Although, maybe I will try that voting thing at least one more time, and until then maybe I’ll ask a few questions, and even try finding a few answers in between. So what are you going to do?


Thursday, April 26, 2012


Last year in the US the Toy industry generated $21.8 billion in sales. They included childhood favorites like Legos, Play-doh, board games like monopoly, and one of my personal favorites Nerf dart blasters. The toys we buy for our kids, the ones we hold onto in our basements and attics, and even toys that are yet to come to market say a lot about who we are.

Missing from this year's sales will be nearly 650,000 toys seized by the Consumer Product Safety Commision at US ports this past month. It seems even our beloved childhood toys are not free from the domination of foreign imports and the ever revolving list of threats to our health such as lead poisoning. Although even with a speculated 90 percent of toys being made over seas there are still great companies making toys here in the US. Little Tikes and Knexs are both produced here in the US. Some US toy companies like Channel Craft outside Pittsburgh, PA may cost more but the quality greatly exceeds any import.

The National Museum of Play in New York does not have a collection featuring defective or dangerous toys of the past, but they should. A collection of re-called or toxic toys would highlight just how important quality is over quantity. Some of my favorite toys growing up where the smallest like yo yos and lego blocks. Things that could fit in your pocket, whether it be something as sophisticated as a gameboy or as simple as a super bounce ball quickly became prized possessions.

I never felt any great attachment to the numerous numbers of cheap plastic dollar store toys short of perhaps toy soldiers. But even then I preferred the tin kind my grandfather had on his shelf. Parents should realize that more is not better, that fewer toys of a higher quality are what create lasting memories. There are a number of great blogs to help you find the right toys. Try, a site with lots of great ideas. Or if your really want to make some memories get creative and make some of your own toys at home. Check out  or or search around for your-self, the internet is full of sites about making your own toys with your kids.

Toys can quickly become a lot more than the sum of their parts. Jose Gomez -Marquez’s Little Devices Lab at MIT explores the toy world to find DIY medical devices to use in places like Africa. Bicycle pumps power nebulizers and lego sets become spectrophotometry kits saving lives and helping doctors to track diseases in places where hospitals may be out of reach and traditional labs simply don’t exist. Toys are the inspiration for young minds to, whole worlds are opened up through the types of toys we interact with. So who do you want the kids in your life to be like? What kinds of toys will you pass down?


USA Toy Companies:

My Favorites:

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Lost

Etan Patz, 6 years old, was last seen leaving his SoHo home in 1979. 30 years later SoHo is now populated with high in boutiques and restaurants. The artists lofts are all but disappearing and all but a handful of art galleries have moved to Chelsea. And still the memory of Etan lives on to such an extent that on Thursday NYPD and FBI investigators descended on 127B Prince Street to search the basement of the apartment building once home to prime suspect Jose A. Ramos. 

Utilities were shut down, the corner was cordoned off, and officers broke out jack hammers drills, and shovels in order to search for the body of young Eaton. The Soho of 1979 may be gone but so strong is the desire for answers as to the disappearance of young Eaton that even 30 years later police, family, friends, and even long time residents are still carrying on the search. This speaks volumes to the fact that our lives are defined as much by the people in our lives as those missing from it. 

Any of the thousands of widows, mothers, fathers, and siblings of service men and women who have gone missing in action can testify to the emotional effects of suddenly having a love one disappear from their lives. "When someone is killed, there's finality, with those who are missing, there's uncertainty. It's harder to know when to give up hope and when to begin grieving." Ann Mills Griffiths, executive director of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia sister to Vietnam MIA Lt. Commander James B. Mills of the U.S. Navy Reserves. It is the same for those who have lost loved ones outside of the carnage of war too. 

It could be argued that it is the same for those who have never known important members of their family. A mother or father lost in war or to disease or simply absent leaves the same void for many children. A void that has no finality, no possible hope of closure. Our mortality to is in itself an absence, an uncertainty of what could have been or may never have been. The same day that officers descended on SoHo to continue the search for young Ethan the remains of Army Pfc. Richard E. Clapp, 19, of Seattle, Washington where discovered and began their journey home to friends and family who were still waiting for his return. Many more still wait for the lost to return in one way or another and many more wait for those that never were and never will be. 

In Russia a sudden series of teen suicides have been spreading throughout the former Soviet Union. In February two 14 year old girls, holding hands, leaped from a sixteen story rooftop. They were followed by countless others who chose to follow them in death through hangings or similar leaps. These children choose to join the ranks of the lost. One can only speculate as to the reasons for their desire to commit suicide but I would be willing to say that it had something to do with the individuals missing from their own lives. Russian authorities, on the other hand, cited the absence of mental health services and social support groups in a nation still suffering under the collapse of the soviet union. 

A countless number of people move through their day to day lives searching for someone who is missing. In the meantime they are surrounded by countless others just like themselves. Too few know they are not alone in this condition. Those two little girls in Russia may not have even known what individual was missing from the others life. They may never have even had the courage to ask. So, who is missing from your life? 


Friday, April 13, 2012


If you read my post yesterday you may have noticed an interesting fact I left out. Instagram is of course a company without profits or revenue but what it does have is users. About 10 million users. 10 million or so individuals who love sending photos to their friends. But wait couldn’t they already do that with their smart phone? Instagram does allow users to add crazy photo effects to pictures, although, this too could be easily accomplished before Instagram came along. So what is it that makes this app so appealing. It is simple to use and free; both points in its favor. But the app itself is not why Instagram is so successful. It is the photos.

A pictures says a thousand words...’ the most Cliche of phrases. True none the less. Recently Alison Nordström and Elizabeth McCausland released a new volume of Lewis Hine’s photographs. Hines’ was made famous by his photographs of Iron workers constructing the Empire State building and immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in New York. Instagram allows the average smartphone user to reproduce the brown hues or granny black and white that made Hine’s photos timeless. But it will take allot more to match the impact of his work as the photographer for  the National Child Labor Committee. It will take content. Content that simply is not mainstream nowadays.

Hine’s photographs turned the hearts and minds of millions of americans. Images of young boys working in coal mines and young girls crawling under gigantic cotton lumes proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that child labor was a problem in america. Everyone in america saw Hine’s photos. How many of us have seen a photo of a modern day coal worker? Type coal miner into google images. You’ll find hundreds of photos from Hine’s time period and a few from our own. Download any  photo of a modern coal miner to your phone and add the inkwell effect with Instagram and you have another timeless image like Hine’s.

The thing is you won’t. Images like those belonging to Hine’s still exist. Yes, of course we no longer have small children in the mines, but grown men are still descending into the dark unknown. Many more across the world in china are doing the same thing. Still more in between here and china take to the streets in places like Syria to struggle against repression and tyranny. Few if any photos arrive though from syria and of those that do slip out from china are few and seldom seen by the average american.

So what kind of power is there in a  image that's never seen? Instagram takes photos from your phone and in moments broadcasts them to every other human on the planet. In three seconds a photo is snapped, cropped, ‘photoshopped,’ and uploaded to facebook, blogger, and email. Whether those other people choose to view them is another story. And that is the point we come to. Instagram is not a force to be reckoned with because of its ease of use or even the content which people upload with it. Its impact comes from the other people. It comes from people viewing and interacting with those images. It derives its true effect when you choose to view photos of cats wearing funny hats instead of images of rural africa. Instagram is as much about the photos we don’t view rather than what we really use it for.

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