When debating is all we can hope for

The Senate voted this week to begin debate on repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The vote ran 51-50, with Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voting against, giving Vice President Mike Pence the tie-breaking vote. Later that same day, the Senate voted against comprehensive repeal of the Act in a 43-57 vote.

There was major discussion of partisan politics, including John McCain here, decrying partisan fighting after having to return to vote following his brain cancer diagnosis and biopsy.

“I don’t think any of us feels very proud of our incapacity. Merely preventing your political opponents from doing what they want isn’t the most inspiring work.”

Wednesday saw another rejection of repeal, and discussions moved to a more modest “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, even though House Republicans warn that such policy will be “dead on arrival”. Even still, this tactic fell upon unsympathetic GOP Senators, and all attempts made this week were squelched.

The problem isn’t with a bill, or a desire to repeal. It’s an inability to communicate with one another. Americans are used to policies falling short at both local and national levels. But Americans deserve to know that our politicians are at least trying to talk to each other about how to make a better nation, and a better world.

As we watch the political drama unfold, week in, week out, it is apparent that the current environment is untenable. Something is going to give, and likely give soon.

 

Art is calling

There’s a piece I’m familiar with, a song called Art Is Calling for Me, lyrics by Harry B. Smith, music by Victor Herbert. It’s a fun sort of song, for a soprano (maybe a mezzo). Every once in a while that music will pop into my head. I first heard it in a concert, sung by a young woman who would enter and, after several years, leave my life. I think of it tonight.

I’ve grown fond of the yoga studio where I practice, as well as the people there. Once a month they do an open house, with live entertainment, food & drink, and, yes, artwork. It reminds me of setting up exhibitions for Orange County, back in a previous occupation.

In my seclusion, or self-imposed monastic existence (as I’ve taken to calling it), I’ve forgotten how much was a part of my life, and just how much I enjoy it.

Picasso was probably my favorite, and I did have a chance to see original sketches when curating the exhibitions. While in Amsterdam, I visited the Van Gogh museum. This is one of his that I really enjoyed.

Mostly now I read and write. I go to the movies maybe once a week, or every other week. But, slowly, I’m reentering the world of the arts. Visiting museums. Seeing shows. Listening to music that for a long time was painful to hear. Singing music that I hadn’t practiced in a long time. I guess art is calling…

Untethered

A gifted and persuasive arts advocate I know once told me of advice he received from his mentor. It had to do with focus.

This arts advocate was doing so much – a musician, a fundraiser, a public speaker. He worked with and for numerous organizations. His mentor gave him this advice:

“You can either be a grenade or a rocket. Imagining that the grenade could explode with the same force that the rocket ignites with, the scattering effect of the grenade will reduce the force of the explosion. You want to be the rocket, taking all the force in the direction you want it to go.”

Same energy, but one goes in all directions, and the other is a straight shot. One singular course. A focused ignition.

rocket-launchI think about this in relation to various decisions we have to make; crossroads that arise in life. Sometimes, when we think we’re on a singular course, we remain tethered to the crossroad, able to go back should failure occur.

But we can’t utilize the momentum if we’re tied down to where we started. It’s only when the tether is released that we can use the force of the rocket.

Sometimes, the untethering can look to observers like irrational behavior.

Steven Pressfield, in Do The Work!, states, “The three dumbest guys I can think of: Charles Lindbergh, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill. Why? Because any smart person who understood how impossibly arduous were the tasks they had set themselves would have pulled the plug before he even began.”

Pressfield advocates staying stupid. Don’t let rationality get in the way of your creativity. I don’t necessarily agree with his word choice, but the sentiment resonates with me. Stupidity could be described as irrationality. I can think of several times that I’ve acted irrationally, and I know it was when I moved beyond any safety net I had in place. That’s when failures can happen. Often, they do happen.

But it’s also when the most staggering achievements can be reached. That’s why the following  questions are so important:

  • What would you do if money wasn’t an issue?
  • What would you do if time wasn’t an issue?

You want to learn to play the piano? Or code a computer? Or write your novel? Get back into shape? Eat better, or learn to cook?

“Do you know how old I’ll be when I get done,” you may ask?

Julia Cameron responds to that question in The Artist’s Way: “The same age you’ll be if you don’t.”

When we lose sight of the crossroads, we turn our gaze to the road ahead, and move unwaveringly towards our destination.

crossroads.jpg

Contentious is the brand

Another week, and another political topic I’ve tasked myself with coming up with. Several ideas sped past my desk over the past few days (incarceration levels, oil pipeline, greenhouse emissions), but I want to do more extensive research on each of these.

It’s difficult to produce content that remains somewhat level-headed, when the right rails against the left, the left against the right; vegetarians against meat-eaters, vegans against both; organic vs. Monsanto; etc., etc., ad nauseum.

When did having an opinion make a person …?

In this book I’ve picked up to start reading, Tibet, the format is contrasting essays by people advocating both sides of the contentious issue as to whether Tibet should have autonomy, or should the People’s Republic of China maintain control.

This book, one in a series titled “Opposing Viewpoints”, has this to say about considering opposing viewpoints:

“In our media-intensive culture it is not difficult to find differing opinions. Thousands of newspapers and magazines and dozens of radio and television talk shows resound with differing points of view. The difficulty lies in deciding which opinion to agree with and which ‘experts’ seem the most credible. The more inundated we become with differing opinions and claims, the more essential it is to hone critical reading and thinking skills to evaluate these ideas.”

So where is the civil in civic discourse? This is a question I’ve been pondering for some time. The greatest minds in American history at least opened up to listen to the opposing side. They may have remained unpersuaded following their interactions, but at least they listened.

“The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this.”

-John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

At the end of the day

“…you’re another day older.”

I love Les Mis. Have since I first got the symphonic recording back in 2009. Obviously I was late to the party on that particular musical.

But what I’m thinking about is aspirations. At the end of the day, we only have what we want to be tomorrow. Who we want to be. That thing that we’re aspiring to.

Sure, we may replay the day in our head, or the past events that have been nagging us for however long. And trust me when I say this, I am a keen accountant of nagging thoughts. It’s one of the primary reasons I decided to keep a blog in the first place. To muse a bit, as it were.

So as I lay here, at the end of the day, I’m working through the things that I want to see happen. I’m stretching my legs out, because my hips are a little sore from yoga this morning.

At the end of a yoga practice, the practitioner lays in savasana, or corpse pose. Death of the ego. The Buddhists would call this the principle of “no-self,” or the release of attachments. You’re allowing the ego to pass away, letting go, and coming back into the world a new creation.

All this dances through mind as I think, “What will tomorrow bring?”

So ask yourself:

What are your aspirations for the coming day?

My other things: theatre

Last week, I wrote about why I write. But there are a number of things that interest me, which is likely why I read so much. As I work on building my WordPress site into something that fully represents me, I wanted to lay out a few things that represent me.

For instance, I’ve been involved in theatre for over ten years now. I have two very clear memories from when I was a child, though I don’t remember exactly when these were. One was a show I was in.

I guess I was always in choirs, because I still sing today. Usually one or two days of practice every week, as well as singing on Sunday.

Anyway, in grade school (maybe first or second grade), I was in a production. I don’t know what it was, or what it was about. I just remember I had to be on stage shirtless. My little butterball self. I was some sort of aboriginal, or Pacific Islander. I wore a lei. (I’m very white, by the way. Perhaps at the time I had a tan.)

There were three of us, shirtless children on stage. The fact that I remember it even now should be some kind of indicator. As if that wouldn’t be scarring enough to a young psyche.

Then there’s the first show I remember seeing. It was when my dad was courting my stepmother, and we all went to see Grease, live on stage at a community theatre. Well, I walked out of that building saying, “What a waste of time. I would never sit through something live on stage again.”

It’s been over a hundred productions later of my own, as well as countless shows I’ve seen or sat in on for their rehearsals. I guess I can safely say: “Boy, was I wrong.”

IMG_2832It’s a joy for me. I love theatre, performing, seeing it, working on it. For over ten years now I’ve been goofing around, on stage. It’s really a wonderful thing.

 

Title II Protections of Net Neutrality

Using any previous ruling as a basis for the extent and prevalence of internet activities is misguided. The technology is rapidly surpassing anything policy-makers could have envisioned even ten years ago. When the 1998 Telecommunications Act was approved by President Clinton, more than 90% of American households maintained landlines. By 2014, that number had dropped to just over 50%, the bulk of that drop occurring between 2004 and 2014 (statistics from the CDC and the US Census Bureau). Considering a drop of nearly 40% in just ten years, it’s conceivable that landlines be irrelevant within the coming decade.

20150226_Landline_FO.jpg

That leaves primary communication capabilities entirely reliant on wireless and internet infrastructures. And the cost-benefit analysis must be equitable and profitable for companies providing such services, as well as for consumers using those services. However, the term service can be misleading in the context with which it is used.

Right now it’s apparent that the focus is on internet as a service. In reality it is more like the route on which services are provided. When the term “communication superhighway” was popularized by then-Vice President Al Gore in the 1990s, it was more than mere hyperbolic language. Consider the free flow of traffic on the web, and how advertisers can set up banners (much like billboards) for visitors and users to see. It is just as beneficial for all users to have access to any sites, much the same way that roads allow clear paths throughout the United States. Limiting net neutrality, the very principle of which is the requiring the same speed and terms with which all internet traffic travels, could be devastating to entire markets of the internet.

In all situations of early, unregulated technological advancements, consumer backlash has led to governmental oversight and regulatory policies and agencies. The Communications Act of 1934, regulating telephony in its nascent stages. Likewise, the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act (“Cable Act”) of 1992, protecting consumers of unfair practices in cable pricing, and made way for competition in the home entertainment market.

Protection acts are created to ensure fairness and promote new entries into the marketplace. Both the Cable Act and the 2015 Open Internet Order were policies enacted in response to problematic regulation (the former rectifying policies introduced in the 1984 Cable Communications Policy Act, the latter tackling the Telecommunications Act of 1996).

Even in the post-Communications Act era, new technologies led to competitors entering the market, thus improving the experience for users nationwide. For instance, the advent of microwave technologies created improvements in long-distance communications. Under the former monopolistic environment, such competitors may have never been able to get a foothold, and innovations may have been stalled, or even stifled.

When new technologies are introduced to usurp the internet as the primary means of communication, and it certainly will, though as to what form it is going to assume is as of yet unclear, policy changes will be necessary. But at this time it is in the Country’s best interest to maintain net neutrality.

Any rollback of net neutrality could greatly alter the communication landscape of the nation going forward. Knowing this, prior to 2015 the FCC made previous attempts at introducing net neutrality policy. The Courts rejected two earlier attempts and told the agency that if it wanted to adopt such protections it needed to use the proper legal foundation – Title II. Which they turn responded did, by creating the 2015 Open Internet Order.

The argument that the Title II classification reduces the amount of infrastructure investment is flawed. Francis J. Shammo, Executive VP and CFO of Verizon, told shareholders at the 2014 fourth quarter holdings call that the change “does not influence the way [they] invest.” That they would continue investing in networks and platforms, increasing their infrastructure.

Additionally, there are free speech concerns over the adoption or eradication of any guidelines that would prevent companies from blocking or limiting content from websites they deem questionable. As there are currently few alternatives to accessing websites, companies could, in theory, completely undermine entire business models that operate solely on the internet.

Net neutrality is good for internet users, and the free-flow of democratic ideas.

Why I write

I was cleaning out some drawers today, and found an old note, possibly ten or twelve years old. It made me laugh.

It said: "I’m struggling to write. I’m searching for inspiration in an automobile drive. ’91 Lincoln Town Car around Chicago. Lights, towering buildings."

Not sure what my Town Car had to do with Chicago, because I don't recall ever driving it there. But, it's possible. There were some crazy weekends back then.

The thing that stuck out was the struggling to write. I don't recall ever wanting to be a writer. But I liked writing. Always. I used to write poetry, and stories. I have numerous scripts and longer stories, started or abandoned. Ideas always popped up, but I never took them to fruition.

I was actually taking all these old papers out of the drawer and getting them on my cloud in a document called Collected Junk Writings.

But, in a way, this blog is the creative interpretation of my enjoyment of writing. Things I think about I get down in a post, I leave it up for whoever happens across it, and I'm honing an activity that I like doing.

I'm passionate about so few things right now, in this awkward between state that I'm in. Now I'm looking for a job, having quit my other one. I'm thinking about whether I want to stay in Central Florida or move away. About whether to try and start a Ph.D. program next fall, or wait another year.

All these things rattle on in my head, and still I give this blog weekly attention. Now, it's three posts a week, and I'm ahead (for the most part) by about a week. Which means I'm writing this on Tuesday, and you may not see it until next Friday.

I'm sure that when life comes crashing in, and the Universe points me in that direction, I'll not be so ahead on my blog. I'll probably be scrambling for deadlines.

51YdazcA5yL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I love the bit in Terry Pratchett's A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction, where he describes what he calls "A bit of writing about writing."

"Get up, have breakfast, switch on word processor, stare at screen.
Stare at screen some more."

This staring at screen, plus elements of procrastination come in for about the next thirty paragraphs. Finally: "Midnight…"

"Stare at screen. Vaguely aware right hand has hit keys to open new file. Start breathing very slowly. Write 1,943 words. Bed. For a day there, thought we weren't going to make it."

This is my blog. I write I because I like it. It's not an exceptional blog, and it's not terrible. But it's mine, and I get to share with you, the reader.

Call me nostalgic

We’re reducing the tactile sensations of our world to nothing more than keyboard and screen interactions. Consider:

Music early on was heavy; weighty. You picked up the albums and loaded them into gramophones, into record players. You lowered a needle. You would wipe the needle down, and the record off, lest you get the bumps and whine of interference. Perhaps you could listen for thirty minutes, then it was either flip to the B side, or repeat Side A. Then came the cassette, with it’s unique little flip-case. Crack, pop. Crack, pop. Unique sounds and feelings of taking a tape out, inserting it into a tape deck. 

CDs digitized the whole system, and suddenly sound quality changed drastically. Still, you had these CD cases, or maybe you put them in sleeves. You could bring a whole disocragphy with you, if you were so inclined. And then it went further digital with the advent of the digital music player, and multiple discographies were available in something the size of a cassette. 

Similarly books, whose only transitions have been to audio, and then to digital. It seems a bit harder to invent new ways to read rather than listen to music. 

Video also is all stored on the web now, and is available to watch or download at the click of the button. What started as the tactile sensation of adjusting rabbit ear antennae so that the signal would come in clear, then became inserting beta or VHS; laser disc; DVD; HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. Now streaming. 

I think that’s why there’s a return to older sensibilities. Record players becoming en vogue again. Letter writing and stationary. Long has it been said that digital books would kill the print copy, yet even booksellers seem to be feeling the resurgence. We are beings that like touching things, and when too much exists in cyberspace, we just don’t know what to do with our idle hands. 

Unerring Independence

On 2 July, 1776, the Continental Congress declared freedom from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was signed 4 July, 1776, and the majority of signatures were given to this document in August.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

John Adams said of this new nation, “It was patched and piebald policy then, as it is now, ever was and ever will be, world without end.” We see even today the unique challenges and opportunities of this “American Experiment”.

Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist I, pleads to the people, “Yes, my countrymen, I own to you that, after having given it an attentive consideration, I am clearly of opinion that it is your interest to adopt [the Constitution]. I am convinced that this is the safest course for your liberty, your dignity, and your happiness.”

Two-hundred forty-one years later, we stand with history at our backs. The great men and women of American upbringing, countless immigrants who have made these lands their homes, masters of industry and political prowess; they made way for what we now experience – the boons of prosperity, and the burdens we endure.

When this government was founded, it was a upon a belief of freedom from tyranny, and these new “Americans” died for this conviction.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Two documents: a Declaration and a Constitution. These are the backbone of America. We, the people… We comprise everything else. One no greater or lesser than any other. The military is our great skin, protecting us from external forces, and ensuring “common defence.” The three branches of government allows for “domestic Tranquility,” “Justice,” & promoting the “general welfare” of the citizenry.

The “Blessings of Liberty” are ours, and it is with great pride that one can call themselves an American. The political tides will change from time to time in this Country, and it is still at best “patched and piebald policy.” But the belief in this experiment, this liberty and justice for all, guides the people of this Nation towards the unknown future, as it always has done.

George Washington had this to say in his farewell address:

“The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.”

In closing, I am of the opinion that people may fail, and policies may falter. But the notions with which this Country was established will remain in perpetuity, so long as someone still remains that will say they are American. Happy Fourth of July.