Life is a Mystery

29 November 2008 . Comments Off on Give Thanks

Give Thanks

I am thankful that we may have an administration that pulls the United States back from the Orwellian darkness we have sunk into. Here is, in full, the official written statement we, the United States of America, gave to one Guantanamo detainee after four years of incarceration:

An Administrative Review Board has reviewed the information about you that was talked about at the meeting on 02 December 2005 and the deciding official in the United States has made a decision about what will happen to you. You will be sent to the country of Afghanistan. Your departure will occur as soon as possible.

Just read that language. Doesn’t “deciding official” make you gasp? Who to blame? Who takes responsibility? A land of cowards we turn out to be.

Scott Horton brings us the full story. I am thankful, too, for Scott. Though he is not blogging as much as he once did, he still keeps a vigilant eye on our government and calls it to account.

29 November 2008 . Comments Off on Black Friday

Black Friday

In Vienna we buy groceries almost daily. Small batches, a day or so’s food at a time. We carry it home on foot or in the bus or streetcar. If we need something bigger, like stuff from Ikea, we take a few hands along. Larger items, mattresses or refrigerators, we have delivered. We plan ahead a bit for Sundays and holidays, since most stores will be closed. In this context black Friday seems like a bizarre sport of a perplexing culture. What’s the rush? Why ruin a holiday? Who needs to fill an SUV with stuff, even cheap stuff.

So it was with even greater sadness than I would usually have felt that I encountered this sliver of my culture, passed along by Rob at Extraordinary Observations:

Only on Black Friday are we not only given the opportunity, but also in some ways expected, to act this way. Why do retail stores need to open at 4am? Why do they encourage people to line up outside all night to run through the store like rats when the doors open? Does this tradition really boost a store’s profits by that much?

Granted, this is an extreme case. But it begs the question. What makes “consumerism” a good thing? This is the other side of the financial collapse. How can we have a compassionate, considerate capitalism. Is such a thing possible.

17 November 2008 . Comments Off on Wiener Christkindlmarkt am Rathaus

Wiener Christkindlmarkt am Rathaus

One of the nice things about visiting Vienna as Advent nears is that the Christkindlmarkts start to open up. One of the more colorful is this one at the Wiener Rathaus, but there are many variations on this theme around the city. I like to grab a langos (a kind of garlic elephant ear) and Nathaniel enjoys the hot dogs and schaumbecher (a chocolate-covered marshmellow cone).

15 November 2008 . Comments Off on Sunny walk

Sunny walk

I love the walk down Kahlenberg, so near my grandmother’s home in Grinzing, so far above the hustle of the city. Just follow the path down from the overlook, as long as you keep going down you won’t go wrong. Generally follow Kahlenberger Strasse until you hit Beethovengang. Its a walk you can easily imagine Beethoven enjoying.

14 November 2008 . Comments Off on Haus der Musik

Haus der Musik

We visited the Haus der Musik in Vienna today. What a really pleasant surprise it was! I usually can’t pay attention to more than an hour or two in a museum, but I felt like I could spend a whole day here. It has a lot in common with science museums in that the exhibits are highly interactive, but the whole focus is on sounds and music. I found the computer based modules very engaging and absorbing. I wanted to try every one, but Mary and Alex and Nathaniel kept dragging me forward through the place. The whole environment was soothing and felt welcoming, unrushed, isolated from real time and the real world. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Vienna.

12 November 2008 . Comments Off on Aspergers Chic

Aspergers Chic

I loved the stats Nate Silver put out during the election and have much the same feeling about Nate that this Daily Dish reader describes:

It’s a little bit of geek chic, I guess. I particularly love him for how awkward he can be in interviews–the nervous peal of laughter when he can’t match the emotional beats of the host, and then the borderline asbergian intensity when he starts wonking away. Man, I could watch Nate wonk it all night long.

I wonder, as the world tilts along the autism spectrum, how long will it take for this to be a more commonly held view. Here is a reader actually appreciating Nate for his social awkwardness!

12 November 2008 . Comments Off on Vienna

Vienna

I’m in Vienna with my family visiting Oma, my grandmother. All I can say is flying is nothing like it once was. What a mess. Plus all the carbon guilt. Sigh. But I love Vienna and I love love love the new positive sense of the US that is evident in Europe.

8 November 2008 . Comments Off on Image builders

Image builders

I just love this picture from the Wall Street Journal this morning. It is from the press conference Obama held yesterday.

opress1s.jpg

We’ve said goodbye to the circle sunrise logo of the campaign and appropriated the flag and eagle. The colors have become deeper. The same can be seen at change.gov.

The image builders of team Obama are unparalleled. It is a real treat to have these folks on “our” side for a change. Still, it will take some real effort to remember that this is just image and keep an eye on the substance ball as well.

5 November 2008 . Comments Off on FFR: Transition

FFR: Transition

Keep an eye on this space: http://www.change.gov/.

5 November 2008 . Comments Off on What now?

What now?

I spoke with my sisters this morning and Gabriella told me that David Brooks had been pontificating on one of the networks last night. It sounded like he’d been spreading a message much like one of his recent columns for the NYTimes.

In the next few years, the nation’s wealth will either stagnate or shrink. The fiscal squeeze will grow severe. There will be fiercer struggles over scarce resources, starker divisions along factional lines. The challenge for the next president will be to cushion the pain of the current recession while at the same time trying to build a solid fiscal foundation so the country can thrive at some point in the future.

We’re probably entering a period, in other words, in which smart young liberals meet a stone-cold scarcity that they do not seem to recognize or have a plan for.

So? I asked. Where does he get his history? I asked G what the biggest shift in government’s role of the past century had been. She suggested the New Deal. I agree. And when was the New Deal dealt?

At that moment the nation was severely constrained. FDR came to office facing a huge crisis and a “stone-cold scarcity” if ever there was one. But one of my mantras is that creativity is born of constraints. The very constraints that faced FDR, that face us today, may help bring forth the creative approaches to government and our problems that we need.

Let me back up a bit and explain this “creativity is born of constraint” idea.

When I was in college I spent a lot of time printing at the Pierson Press. This was a letterpress shop in an old converted racquet ball court. There I learned to set lead type by hand, picking one letter at a time out of the upper or lower cases, lock it into forms, and roll the paper across it. I loved letterpress printing, the bite of paper, the impression of type on a page, the mixing of ink, the fine control and endless possibilities, the excitement of breaking rules.

A couple years later the Mac arrived and my friend Kirk and I convinced the local Kinkos to get a few Macs one the LaserWriter and PageMaker arrived. Oh, man, endless fonts, no running out of letters, last minute changes to designs, mixing in drawings of all sorts, the flexibility and endless possibilities, the excitement of making the machine meet my imagination.

Years later I realized that I’d felt creatively freed in both situations. Each imposed severe restrictions on me. Letterpress was very unforgiving of error, setting type was difficult, the fonts and letters we had available were quite limited. Laser printing was limited by toner, black and white, only a few kinds of paper, and only a few sizes.

Yet it was within those boundaries that my creative expression was allowed to flourish. The excitement was in pressing against the edges, in feeling the tension of medium and imagination, of getting to know the tools well enough to make them work for me. I began to recognize that art was often fundamentally about this sort of artificially constrained play. We choose a medium, we immerse ourselves in it, get dirty with it, and see how we can make it serve our dreams. Most recently for me this has been a lesson I relearned with tile. The limitations of mosaic tile are severe, not the least of them, I learned, is the time it takes. When doing a job for my mom recently, I found that by embracing my extremely short timeline I opened a whole new approach to the problem that I really enjoyed.

Today I realized that this lesson, that creativity is born of constraints, applies to politics and our national endeavor as well as it does to art.

We are entering a constrained moment. In that I agree with Brooks. But where he sees scarcity, division, and struggle, I see creativity, compromise, and beautiful potential. It is at these moments where we seem most bound that we are most likely to make a leap together.

Think about it this way: When can you get people in a neighborhood together for a meeting? On a sunny day when all is well folks see endless possibilities around them, the go out for walks, they go on vacation, they go to the movies. But what if the day is drippy or the cars on the streets have all had their mirrors smashed? It is a lot easier to get people together when they are bound by some common constraints of weather or circumstance or whatever it may be. Our financial system meltdown is such a common constraint.

I believe Barack Obama will be the kind of leader we need to call us together for that national conversation. He will be pressing for the creative solutions, engaging dynamic minds, respecting the input of science. What now? Now we make the fullest possible use of the awesome constraints we have been given at this juncture in our nation’s history to rebuild our government it ways that it can serve us and our children in the coming century. There are few more exciting times to be engaged in such a call than when the environment conspires to put everybody in the same room, at the same meeting, looking for a way to break the rules, to make media meet imagination and carry us forward.

That is our next step.

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org