Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Happy New Years (eve)! Well I’m not sure about you, but I’m sure ready for a new year. But before moving ahead I wanted to look back. Here’s my take on 2008.

Man of the Year: Barack Obama
He broke the color barrier of the presidency, and galvanized a despondent nation. By restructuring the methodology of grass roots campaigning and capitalizing on new technology, he revolutionized the way in which campaigns will be run in the future. His legacy has just started, but I see a lot of good things for the new leader of the land of the free.

Woman of the Year: Hilary Clinton
Despite her husbands shadowed reputation. Despite her questionable stance as a New York senator, she broke the glass ceiling towards the presidency. While she will more likely be known in trivial pursuit circuits fifteen years from now, I will never forget the great change she brought upon politics in terms of gender equalization.

Scumbag of the Year: Bernie Madoff
I don’t know where to begin with this guy. He more or less epitomizes the greed and corruption that brought this awful recession upon us. Through his actions alone he bankrupted numerous charitable foundations, and created who-knows what stress upon the economy at large. Awful, awful man. I hope they put him away for a long time. 

Country of the Year: China
Spectacular Olympics. Emerging economic powerhouse. Overcoming a heart-wrenching natural disaster. Contaminated dog food. China just couldn’t stay out of the news headlines this year, and with good reason. They are the largest population on the planet, have the largest standing army in the world, and thousands of year of history and culture. They are an incredible people, and an emerging face of global politics. However they’re not without their down-points. A chasm still stands between the upper and lower classes, and the quality of life throughout much of main-land China needs to be developed. Not to mention more freedom of speech and press across the coast.

Athlete of the Year: Michael Phelps
Do I even need to describe this one? 14 career gold medals. Eight gold medals in the 2008 summer Olympics. The boy is nasty. 

Team of the Year: The New York Football Giants
What was the probably the best Superbowl I'll see in my life, the Giants stopped the Patriots run at perfection. That scramble by Eli to that incredible catch by David Tyree is a high-light that will be seen for a long time. Not to mention their play-off run to get there. Great season. Hopefully they'll do it again in 2009. 

Scientist of the Year: Daniel Burd
For a high-school science fair this 16 year-old found that if you combine water, yeast and a plastic bag special bacteria develop that eat up the plastic bag in 3 months. The by-products? water, and a bit of carbon dioxide. Big discover for a little man. 

Artist of the Year: Madonna
I kind of hate to do this, but I have to. She's fifty years old, and she's still pumping out music, still producing, still making headlines, still dancing like a star, and still, dare I say it, sexy. Not to mention she's turning herself to the modern day Madonna by dating A-Rod. She's a bright shining star, you can't deny it.

Ok, now I'm off to ring in the New Year. Happy New Years! And here's to a good 2009. 

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I absolutely love this time of year. I love the snow. I love the smell fire smoke and Christmas trees. I love seeing family and old friends coming together. Putting a jigsaw puzzle together with my Grandmother. Showing my Dad how to check stocks online. Helping my Mom cook dinner. Watching football with my brother. I also love the sense of magic in the air, that mythical tale-spun magic that’s ingrained in all of our heads ever since we were little- even if we’re ages away from believing in Santa Claus. But more than anything else I love the feeling of Christmas spirit in the air.

But what is Christmas spirit? It’s not the ghost of Christmas past or even Christmas present. And it’s not the brandy in your eggnog. Christmas spirit is about thinking and caring for others, for no other reason than that auspicious day. And I love that. I love that there is a holiday centered around giving and thinking of others. 

One of my all-time favorite Christmas stories is that of the “Gift of the Magi”. Roughly it’s a tale of two lovers who are living in New York during the holiday season. The man has a priceless heirloom watch that’s his most prized possession, and the woman has a long beautiful head of hair that she treasures like her own child. They’re both down on their luck, and fairly poor. So when Christmas time comes along the man sells his watch in order to buy his wife a beautiful set of silver brushes. Meanwhile, on the other side of town the woman is cutting her hair in order to purchased the man a golden watch chain for his prized possession.

That is the Christmas spirit. It’s not how much money you spend on gifts, or that big bonus you receive. It’s a call to that friend you don’t talk to very often to let them know you love them, and that your life is richer for their presence even if you don’t talk much anymore. It’s helping a strangers by holding doors open, or helping carry their bags. It’s letting the single mother with her three children cut in front of you in a line. It’s that extra dollar you tip just because. It’s about thinking of others and being compassionate for compassion sake. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we could one day stop calling this the Christmas spirit and call it the human spirit? I suppose one time out of the year is a good start.

Monday, December 22, 2008

More Economical Talk

When I was flying out to New Mexico I had a sobering chat with my taxi drive about the recession in America. He had told me that he held very little hope in the "American Dream" ever since he's had to resort to driving cabs in order to make money for his family. According to him he once owned a large construction company working out in La Canada, it was soon shut down after 9/11 when a lot of housing projects stopped. He then opened a sowing company with forty-five workers. With jobs getting exported to Mexico, he couldn't afford to keep up his operation and had to close shop. His story isn't the only sob story of recent years. I know plenty of my own friends getting laid off, and with the increase in living costs and the lack of jobs I too am feeling the pinch. But regardless the dim light he shed I kept my head up, and spoke only positively. I said that hopefully with Obama in office things will change.

Things need to change. And I only hope the momentum that Obama has built from campaigning carry over to his first term. It's no doubt that the biggest and most daunting task for Obama will be to fix the slumping US economy. Now, I'm no economical genius, and I've never even taken a class in economics (something I'll change someday); but I do consider myself a bright cookie with some ideas. If Obama asked me for some ideas this is what I would say:

Create an FDR "Alphabet Soup" type of public works project. Our country's infrastructure sure could use the help, and plus it would create thousands of jobs. Popular Mechanic's had a great article on just a handful of ideas. I know Obama is planning on starting a gigantic “green energy” project for our country’s infrastructure, and no doubt these programs will help.

Create tax breaks for those who hire within the United States, increase taxes on those who hire abroad. Hiring outside of the country hurts the United States by siphoning potential US jobs out of the country, and for the negative effect of taking advantage of cheap labor in other countries. A tax on those companies that hire outside would simply help cushion the blow that these companies are causing on our economy, and encourage creating more jobs within the US.

Make stronger penalties to companies hiring illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration and cheap labor exploitation are unfortunate truths about the society we live in. It's a very complicated situation with no easy answer, but no answer should include having the brunt of the punishments placed upon the less fortunate. Punish the companies, not the workers.

Give illegal immigrants an opportunity to become citizens of the USA. This may be a broad stroke, but it’s a big problem, and I think this will ultimately be a good thing. All these people want to do is become contributing members of a society. By giving them all the opportunity to become a citizens, you would be adding more tax money into the system, and eliminate illicit activity involved in the conspiracy of illegal immigrants.

Increase "sin" tax. Certainly with all of the financial woes going on plenty of people will be hitting the bottle. This indulgence doesn't exactly help our situation I'd imagine. Neither does smoking, or eating fattening foods. We're having enough troubles with our healthcare system, and I personally see nothing wrong with adding additional tax to sources that are known to add health problems within the population (e.g. alcohol, cigarettes, fattening foods, gambling, etc...). This tax would encourage better health, and alleviate medical costs.

Cut farming subsidiaries, or at least change the system. This one may be a bit over my head (for I don't know the full spectrum of this topic), but hear me out. Firstly, farm subsidies only support large scale commercial farming and not the family farmers. It blows my mind we're so opposed to the big box shops (i.e. Walmart), yet we're turning a blind eye and allowing commercial farming to put local farmers out of business. Second, subsidies encourage quantity over ethical and moral farming. Every farmer is paid the same regardless if they're using synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides, regardless if they're exporting and undercutting local farmers in third world countries (see Life and Debt, it'll open your eyes). Third, subsidies allow farmers to create cheap food and live-stock, enabling them to undercut farmers in other parts of the world. An example of this is milk farmers in Jamaica who need to dump their milk stocks because people buy cheaper powdered milk from the states. Lastly, cutting subsidies will prevent farmers from trying to feed and entire nation, creating an overabundance of food that is never used. Large scale commercial farming hurts local farming in the long run. We need to change current method subsidy program which encourages only commercial farming. (Two other resources I've used: Gristmill and The Heritage Foundation).

Reestablish Skilled Labor classes in High-schools. With college becoming more and more expensive I think it's important that we provide the nations youth with feasible career paths outside of a higher education. While I cherish both my degrees, I don’t believe college is the right choice for everyone. I think there are plenty of options outside the higher education path, and by supplying younger people with multiple options you will help encourage those paths, and create more employment opportunities for high school graduates.

Invest money into developing a cross-continental railway system.
This could be tagged onto the above idea of a large-scale public works project. First, I’m a huge mass transportation fan (especially the railway). Adding a more effective railway system would cut-down on car emissions by creating an affordable alternative to high gas prices. Better transportation to major cities would also cut on urban sprawl, as more people from out-lying towns would be able to work within the larger metropolitan areas. Second, a large public works project would create lots of much-needed jobs (no-brainer). And lastly, a cross-continental railway would create a worldly tourist destination in the states. We are currently seeing a boom in the tourism industry in America due to our weakened dollar, but why not create the infrastructure to keep this tourism strong? This country has so much diversity, and I think a cross-continental railway would be a great way to show it off. Plus it would add much needed income to towns all across the United States.

Down-size the military, and transfer funds towards special-ops. I think (hope) that the time of large-scale army against large-scale army is over. Terrorism is our number-one enemy, and we need more intelligence than brute strength in this new world.

Curb financial institutions from taking advantage of the public. The entire reason we're in this mess is the greed and corruption of banks and credit card companies. They had their chance, and they blew it. I think tougher regulations and a policing of their policies is needed for the good of the people. I know there are talks right now to make credit card companies have a fixed interest rate, and this is a good start. Too bad it won't go into effect until 2010. 

Running a country is no easy task, and I certainly don’t envy the uphill battle Obama has in store. And while it’s much easier to come up with ideas than to effectively apply them, I think these ideas are good points to at least consider. So what do you say Mr. Obama?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Notes on: "Quick! Dig Up!"

Driving to the airport this morning I was listening to Taos’ local radio station KTAO. On the program the DJ was interviewing a city planner, as well as one of the head honcho’s from the local energy company Kit Carson Electric. The topic was renewable energy, and what people can do to help make their households more green. During the interview the woman (DJ) said something quite profound, “How you spend your dollar is one of the most important things you can do.” Now I’ve always been skeptical of the capitalist system. I don’t like that capitalism places causes people to make decisions based on the fiscal outcome as opposed to moral outcome. But if there is any positive light to be found within the capitalistic framework it’s that the people, the consumers, ultimately decide the survival of the company, the producers.

In a recent blog entry I argued that we should buy American made products to help our country out in this time of need. I made the claim based upon my patriotic (and as my friend pointed out- protectionist) beliefs. At this point I want to make it clear that this statement is conditional, and not universal (i.e. don’t just buy American to buy American, research your companies first.) Suppose an American company that makes gloves happens to work in the US, but hires illegal immigrant help at below-minimal wage. Certainly this is not a company I would recommend, for while they are American, I believe that their decisions are immoral. And this is the voting process that the DJ is talking about. For every dollar you spend, you’re casting a vote towards that cause. The representative from the energy company pointed out that by signing onto their Green Project (it's on their website), you’re adding two dollars onto your monthly power bill. Now while for some two dollars may be a lot, that extra bit you spend is a vote going towards creating more renewable energy. This act is similar to what a lot of vegetarians will tell you, “Vote with your fork.” If you don’t buy meat the demand for meat goes down. And if the demand for meat goes down, less farmers will create meat. And when less farmers create meat, that means there will be less animals deaths for meat. This formula is exactly the same for renewable energy. Spend more energy on renewable energy, more renewable energy will become available.

A giant hole in this system is that most consumers are often ignorant to a company’s working. Where do most consumers collect their information on a product? Commercials. And who pays for the commercials? The companies. As a citizen of the earth I believe it’s the consumers responsibility to inform themselves on where their money is going, and towards what causes that money is backing. This takes a bit of time, but with the internet it has become much easier to research these facts. 

I know this is an especially tough time for Americans, but when you spend those hard earned dollars try to be conscious of how you are spending them. What cause are you supporting financially? Are you casting a vote for quality products that last or saying that you’re happy to save money on wasteful engineering? Are you helping a locally owned shop or a nation-wide conglomerate? Are you giving money to an environmentally conscious entity or supporting a major polluter? The next time you slide that dollar across the counter take a good deep look into Washington’s eyes and ask yourself, “What am I casting a vote for?”

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Like a Phoenix From the Ashes...

I saw an inspiring bit of news tonight on the news (redundant I know). It basically looked at the brighter side of this whole "recession-thing". According to the news enrollment at adult education centers (Community College, Technical College, etc...) are up 18 percent. A lot of people who have been fired from their old job are now applying to school and rebooting their careers with a new one. A 50-year old man who worked at a chemical plant went to school to become a nurse and now works at his local hospital. A woman who spent ten years working in finance on wall street was laid off, and instead of thinking her life was over began to attend culinary school and is now following her life long dream to become a chef. 

Yesterday on the chairlift I was chatting with a man who had studied at Berkley to get his PhD in biochem engineering. After spending a bit of time in the hospital he decided he hated the hours, and he hated the stress. He left LA, and moved to Taos to teach skiing, become a contractor, and love his wife. I tell you this story only to show that you don't always need hardship to realize that your job doesn't always run parallel to your happiness. Some of us come to realize where their happiness lies through self-discovery and reflection; and others need something as drastic as being laid off to kick them in the butt. 

I don't have my quotations journal here, but if I did I'd recite accurately a quote from somebody I could give credit to.  But in the mean time, consider this:

"Misfortune is like a knife. 
It can be a useful tool, or cut us.
 It all depends on whether you grab the handle or the blade."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Weekly Inspiration: 12/7/08

I'm back in Taos(NM), and I'm loving my time in the high altitude. The fresh air, the star spattered skies, the gorgeous sunsets, and snow! I'm definitely a mountain/forest person over the beach. I enjoy my time there, but I'm in love with the mountains. So this week I thought I would share the inspiration of the stoney sentinels with you. 


You cannot always stay on the summits. You have to come down again... So what’s the point? Only this: what is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above. While climbing, take note of all the difficulties along your path. During the descent, you will no longer see them, but you will know that they are there if you have observed carefully. There is an art to finding your way in the lower regions by the memory of what you have seen when you were higher up. When you can no longer see, you can at least still know.
                  ~ Rene Daumal, Mountain Analogue

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Quick! Dig up!


Yes, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research we’re officially in a recession. The announcement Monday kind of felt like a ship captain telling you that the boat’s sinking as you have fish swimming at your ankles. But it's a good thing that the government let us know, or else the American people would be completely in the dark about today's fiscal situation in America (as can be shown in this poll by CNN in March of 2008). 

On my way to the airport this morning I had a sobering chat with my taxi drive about the economical situation in America. He had told me that he had very little hope in the "American Dream" ever since he's had to resort to driving cabs in order to make money for his family. According to him he once owned a large construction company working out in La Canada, it was soon shut down after 9/11 when a lot of housing projects stopped. He then opened sowing company with forty-five workers. With jobs getting exported to Mexico he couldn't afford to keep up his operation and had to close shop. His story isn't the only sob story of recent years. I know plenty of my own friends getting laid off, and with the increase in living costs and the lack of jobs I too am feeling the pinch. But regardless what he said I kept my head up, and spoke only positively. 

I hope things change for the better. Things need to change for the better. There is a lot the government needs to do, but there is a lot we can do as well. As bizarre as it may seem the best approach for the average citizen to help out in this economic crisis is to spend money. Not hit the mattresses and stay inside, not horde the money in your bank account, spend money. I know this is not an easy thing to accept, and as an unemployed citizen it definitely not something I'm trying to actively engage in. But that's the cold hard truth. 

Ok, so I probably didn't sell you on the spending money thing. But in all seriousness here are some other day-today habits we can establish that will help out our struggling economy. 

Shop locally. As convenient shopping online is it's only going to hurt your local electronics, garment, music, whatever shop. Keep money within your community, and shop outside it only when absolutely necessary. 

Buy American. This tip is a no brainer. I'm very much considering buying an American car my next go around. Not sure what is made in the USA? Check out, it's a nice little database to help you out. 

Stay positive. It's contagious. That smile will only spread. 

The economy is a nasty beast, and I don't understand a lot of it. But it does seem like common sense to me that if you keep money within the states and your local communities it will eventually sort itself out. I hope...