Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Volunteer Vacations in Hawaii: Do the Right Thing

One odd thing that I came to realize after 8 years of a fascist Junta controlling the White House was that the right's criticism of the left as ethical relativists was, like so much else from the right for a long time now, complete bullshit. The ethical relativists now defending torture, illegal spying on Americans, and other unitary executive adventures in totalitarianism have made it quite clear that on issue after issue, it is the left that stands up for some absolutist ethical or moral standard, while the right argues that it's OK, for example, to pollute and degrade the environment in some situations (when jobs might be lost, or when God said it was OK).

You're either doing the right thing or your not. Of course there are shades of gray on some issues (for all you philosophical mucker-uppers). But when it comes to things like torture, the world community long ago decided on a basis for what constitutes that definition, and even the Obama administration, much to my continued disapointment, seems to want to stretch that definition too far.

When it comes to the environment, the choices are just as stark. It's a huge, multi-faceted problem, and the best each of us can do is try to live a lifestyle that reduces our impact on the environment. Every little thing counts.

Hawaii Vacationers Volunteering: restoring native Hawaiian plant species for the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration PartnershipSo it is in that spirit of environmental ethical absolutism that I am happy to announce today that, along with my friend Cherie Attix (owner/operator of the Hale Hookipa Inn Maui Bed and Breakfast, and author of the Maui Hawaii Blog Hookipa Aikane (home sharing friend)), all you Hawaii vacationers who would like to do a little to help the Hawaiian environment, culture, and community can now sort through our list of Hawaii organizations that have ongoing volunteer opportunities at Volunteer on Vacation in Hawaii.

Volunteering is one of the cornerstones of American culture. The recent push for more National Service, which includes many enticements for young people to volunteer (like help with money for education), led Cherie to come up with the idea of making a web site with information about volunteering in her community (Maui). Most of the vacationing volunteer opportunities are environmental in nature, like eradicating invasive plant species, planting native species, clearing trails, and cleaning beaches. As we continue to build the site, we will add other cultural and community volunteer opportunities.

Cherie is offering a 5% discount to any guests of her B&B who volunteer for one of the listed groups. She will also donate 5% to the organization for which you volunteer. Nothing like a little incentive.

The idea of voluntourism is not new to Cherie, who was recently recognized by O Magazine for her efforts to get vacationers to Maui to volunteer while they're there. Her guests have all praised the projects for which they volunteered as fun, educational, and worthwhile. After all, if you really want to get a feel for the place you're vacationing in, what better way than to lace up your boots, pull on some gloves, and get out there and make it a better place?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What do I think of that?

That being an interesting email to a friend, forwarded to me, that used the health care debate to demonstrate--surprise, surprise--that corporate America will once again get it's way, to everyone's detriment. My forwarding friend asked me what I think...

Hmmm... Well, let's see. I'm so fucking broke that I'm down to my last cherished possessions to sell to make the rent. I'm sitting here slowly panicking, with no TV, cell phones long gone, basic phone about to go, two months behind on my car, one behind on my daughter's car, in default on about 30,000 worth of credit card debt, a landlord that will kick us out in 30 days if we're late on the rent, 500 a month in food stamps that barely covers our food every month, and I've got government health care because my income is less than 12,500 per year--meaning we're officially poor.

I'd get a job, if there were any for someone who can't lift over 20 lbs. I have found some burger flipping jobs so far away that half my day working would barely cover the gas to get there.

So what do I think of some health care bullshit that would take me hours to find out if it's true, which it probably isn't because everyone's got their fucking agenda, while most of the people in this fucking country have lost their retirement, are barely getting by, and, according to the latest gun and ammo sales records, heavily armed?

What do I think?

I think whoever wrote it is onto something. But it's old news. I have two blogs you should subscribe to. I suggest you send them to your friend who wrote this.

Club Orlov. Note, especially, this post on American Swine from Kollapsnik.

And Global Guirillas, by John Robb, who recently testified before congress. He's a military expert who analyzes everything with a very clear POV.

I voted for Dennis Kucinich too, but we smart people don't run this country. The rich people do. Sometimes they're smart, but most of the time they're stupid greedy dumbasses with the power to make us feel a whole lot of pain. Their bad decisions have WAY more ramifications than ours ever will. Resilient communities, as Robb calls them, will be the new society: localized, sustainable, and resilient. Globalization will not stand.

And, all you philosophers out there will note that it wasn't Nostradamus who predicted this (voodoo bullshit, that). It was Karl Marx. Maybe if corporate America hadn't been getting rich demonizing him for the last, oh, few decades, we'd have learned something from him: That unregulated greed will be the death of capitalism, at least on the large scale. I'd say we're headed back to mercantilism.


Monday, July 20, 2009

My First Clear Memory: He's Walking on What?

I was five years old at 19:56:15 PDT on July 20, 1969, and I remember seeing that fuzzy picture, and going out side to look at the moon (almost a half, waning, according to the moon phase calculator), and thinking OK, I'm five, I'll believe it. Rockets, spacemen, yee haw. By the time I finished first grade in 1971, I'd read every single astronomy book in the grade school library. I started going to the library in town and getting grown-up books on cosmology, planetary geology, and other fun factual stuff that has pretty much determined my philosophical mind-set to this day.

So for me, tonight, at 10:56pm EDT, it's going to be a special kind of 40 years since Apollo 11, the vast arc of a crazy life has moved me around the surface of this hemisphere with a kind of intellectual crick in my neck, always looking up. My desktop is the famous Earthrise photograph. I have a moon phase gadget on my desktop. And today I am all things lunar, having a ball looking at Apollo landing sites on Google Moon (just pull down the planet looking thing at the top of your Google Earth, and select moon).

The moon will be just a sliver tonight, and it will probably be cloudy--a kind of permanent thing this crazy summer of more global wierding--so, Google Moon will have to do. But it will be back in it's full glory soon, and I'll be out there watching it. Again.

And as far away as it seems, as cold and dusty and preserved, the chill of 40 years is somehow greater. The arc of humanity over that 40 years has shown so little of the promise of that second on that day in 1969. It's hard not to be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Earthly Reflections on Imaginary Places

For me, it's just a silly question. Unanswerable. Why waste your time? Even people I know who take religion and heaven very seriously admit that it's a feeble attempt for puny humans to imagine the kingdom of God. Besides, as a militant agnostic (my young daughter reminded me years ago that I couldn't be an atheist because I have no faith), just trying to imagine the unimaginable gives credence to religion which has been the cause of so much of the world's problems (wars, over-population, child abuse).

My friend Thomas D., who writes the Bible Commentaries blog Satan Wrote the Bible, is more empathetic. He often tries to think like religious people, in order to better understand them, to better communicate with them... Perhaps to convince them that it is their certainty of that which one cannot be certain that causes most of the problems with religion.

In his latest post, What Is Heaven Like, Thomas D. immediately goes for the humor in the common view of heaven as full of gold and diamonds. Frankly, this ornate version of heaven is probably not as common as it might have been during the dark ages, when the Catholic Church was torturing people in the basements of their overly ornate cathedrals. Perhaps heaven back then was imagined as gold-plated as a way to shame the church over its feeble attempts at Godliness. Whatever. Thomas D. goes for the obvious for us nature jockeys.

Those who do try to describe heaven usually have a lot of gold, silver, diamonds and other jewels radiating bright light. I like to sink my god-given feet into the soil (I seldom wear shoes) so I can’t imagine a worse place than one made of hard metals with stones scattered about. Give me grass, shade trees and garden soil rich in humus. Fill the air with the scents of flowers, moldering leaves, ocean spray. Lift my spirits with chirping brooks and bird songs and, please, please let there be sex.

Reminds me of the song Heaven, by Loudon Wainwright III (So Damn Happy):

"There'll be lots of drinking in Heaven
Smoking and eating and sex
What you didn't do in this life bad for you
Will be totally cool in the next."

From what I know of biology, I think the clue worth walking away from here is "soil rich in humus." In my weird reductionist way, it seems that everything that dies eventually decomposes into the soil, which in turn supports new life (plants) that support more life (animals) that die and support the soil, in a kind of circle of circles. Even in the really long view, where stars are born and die, the matter that was us-come-soil-come-plant-come-animal-come-us-again goes on to be new rock, new soil, new mineral, new nutrient...

Perhaps it's way too humanist of me to accept an imperfect world as the best we can get, but when you put one persons unhappiness, or even despair, on the scale of a cold, indifferent universe, this existence of ours just keeps bouncing along in different forms randomly colliding and interacting forever, and that's about as heavenly as it's going to get.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Current Best Littlest Known Secret in Hawaii

Hui the Coolest Cowboy in the Makawao Maui Hawaii Fourth of July Parade. Photo by Cherie Attix.
The secret is that if you really want to get a feeling for Hawaii without actually going there, you should read Cherie's Maui Hawaii blog: Hookipa Aikane (home sharing friend). Longtime Hawaii resident and Innkeeper Cherie (you can also check her out on facebook) runs the historic Hale Hookipa Inn Maui Bed and Breakfast in Makawao, Maui, Hawaii. Makawao is home to the Hawaiian Rodeo, and their Independence Day parade is the subject of Cherie's latest post. Cherie doesn't write her blog so much as talk story. I edit the blog, but the language (and photography) is all hers, and it is distinctly upcountry Maui...

If you like to keep up with all things Hawaiian, and especially Maui, no matter where you are, Cherie's blog is definitely worth subscribing to.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Infinite Test

I read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest from March to June this year. I intentionally read it very slowly, trying to savor what is a very thick, and even more dense book. If you tried to read it too quickly, your head would likely start to wobble in a distinctly oval path.

So it is with a profound sense of now-you-tell-me that I discovered, through a post at Matt Yglesias's Blog that he and a group of friends are reading IJ this summer, and blogging about it at A Supposedly Fun Blog. It's a real joy to hear opinions from people as they plow their way through the best book I ever read.

Honestly. Set aside a few months. Read slowly, only a few hours a day, preferably morning so you can mull over what you just injested, and enjoy the high, so to speak. It's addictive, and if you take it in small doses over a long time, it won't kill you to finish it (Mithridates, he died old), and the withdrawals when you're done won't be quite as bad as if you'd filled up your day with it every day. But and so.

Oh, and you might want to brush up on your Hamlet first...