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Category Archives: USA

Last Night In Oakland

Believe it or not, mainstream media does not accurately portray happenings on the ground. Yes, these were riots and there were fires in trash cans and broken windows and graffiti, but man was there good too, much more of it than the bad. I am happy to cough and tear up to peacefully protest and look forward to doing it again. How powerful would it be if every person stepped out from behind alarmist twitter feeds and inadequate news reports to see what’s happening for themselves and then make the stand?

Of course any harm, looting and destruction are bad, however that is not an accurate representation of most of the night. Worth noting, most of the window breaking and graffiti I witnessed was perpetrated by young white boys. Fucking children. I get civil disobedience and all, but I highly doubt that way their motivator or that they gave thought to the repercussions such actions have for the community we are marching for.

We have to continue to demonstrate as well as propose actionable solutions. Check out this site where people can propose and share demands and actions: http://www.fergusonnext.com/

oakland ferguson riot police 25 november 2014

25 november 2014 oakland ferguson riot poliec cattling protestors in emeryville

25 november 2014 riot police protest mike brown race

trash can fire oakland ferguson 25 november 2014

white graffiti oakland ferguson 25 november 2014 riot protest mike brown

#oakland #ferguson #mikebrown #speaktruthtopower

How cultures around the world make decisions

I read The Paradox of Choice and Art of Choosing while and after living overseas. Returning to the states I felt, as many do, overwhelmed and frustrated by the number of choices. Consumerism can be painful. Anyway…Great food for thought below, especially in light of the activism permeating American culture in this moment. What about making activism active?

{Repost from Ted Ideas}

by Amy S. Choi

Is the American obsession with individual freedom really such a great idea? What other cultures know about how to make good choices.

Sit down at a restaurant in France, and there’s a menu. Salmon with rice. French beans. Wine. If you ask for potatoes instead of rice, the restaurant will say no. Because it is their menu. Not yours. To an American, this is nearly unfathomable.

One American model: Give me personal autonomy or give me death.

“In terms of fetishizing the idea of choice, the U.S. is the absolute pinnacle,” says Barry Schwartz, professor of social theory and social change at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice. “We want to be able to choose everything that matters, as well as the things that don’t.”

We want to be able to choose everything that matters, as well as the things that don’t.

Rice and potatoes aside, the American desire for choice has manifested in numerous ways: politically, in a demand for a voice in governance; commercially, in the demand for a variety of consumer goods and services; and spiritually, in the demand to choose and create exactly the kind of individual life, and self, you believe in. In the U.S., the overriding perception is that anything you do out of allegiance to tradition and social expectation is inauthentic and not you. Because the real you is the choices you make.

After Protestant colonists brought the concept of personal autonomy to the U.S., the idea was further cemented into the national psychology with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Personal and religious freedom became irrevocably tied to economic freedom from the monarchy and early capitalism. “Americans were truly the only people that brought those ideas together,” says Sheena Iyengar, professor at Columbia Business School and author of The Art of Choosing (TED Talk: The art of choosing.) “It made the idea of personal autonomy such a dogma that it almost became a religion itself.”

The AMerican cultural responsibility to revere choice has been Present since before America was America. In other words, IT WAS NEVER A choice.

My fellow Americans and I believe that choice allows us to individuate ourselves, to prove that we are free. Our preferences, therefore, become who we are. We feel acutely the need to construct a personal narrative out of our choices and, thus, construct our own identity.

There’s a certain degree to which this is sheer lunacy, and also fallacy. Because our cultural responsibility to revere choice has been instilled in us since before America was America. In other words, we never chose choice.

The Amish model: Belonging, not choice, is crucial.

Even within the U.S., not all cultures regard the idea of personal autonomy as sacrosanct. In the Anabaptist religious tradition, for example, there is one major choice to be made: whether or not to be baptized into the church. The Amish are baptized between the ages of 18 and 24 years old, after a “rumspringa,” or period in their teenage years in which they experience modern life, including dating, driving and using technology.

The Amish wonder why we’re so anxious about our work that we’ll tear apart our families and move across the country for a job, to end up living among strangers.

Once they’ve made the choice to be part of the church — which the majority of young adults do — and are baptized, all other choices are made within the Amish canopy, says Donald Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, and author of numerous books on the Amish. For example, because formal education terminates at the end of eighth grade, there are limits to the choice of profession. You can’t be a lawyer or surgeon. But within limits, you have every freedom to choose whether to become a small business owner, or carpenter, or baker, or horse trainer, or any number of other occupations. The Amish sense of identity isn’t shaped by choices they make but is conferred to them by the community. Instead of choice, they have belonging.

Amish women at the beach in Chincoteague, Virginia. Photo by Pasteur/Wikipedia.

Amish women at the beach in Chincoteague, Virginia. Photo by Pasteur/Wikimedia.

“I have a very intelligent Amish friend who thinks the rest of us are crazy in how we view the professional choices we make,” says Kraybill. “We’re so anxious about our occupations that we’ll tear apart our families and move across the country for a job and end up living among strangers with no family or social support if we get ill or have an emergency. And put that way – how insane does that sound?”

Why should it be any less authentic to be a product of the family that raised you and the culture you grew up in and the religious institutions you participate in? Rather than knowing who you are by knowing your preferences, you know who you are by knowing what you belong to.

One Asian model: Focus on interdependence and harmony, not independence and self-expression.

In some Asian cultures, to fulfill your independent self is not the primary goal of an individual: The goal is to be interdependent and maintain relationships and make them harmonious. In Japan, for example, being a “going your own way” person is to be immature and not culturally sophisticated. Though people obviously have preferences, they often don’t choose what they like, because that’s not the ideal manner. “Your cultural task is harmony, not self-expression,” says Hazel Markus, social psychologist and professor of behavioral sciences at Stanford University.

The idea is that the person is not a whole, but a part, and only becomes whole in connection with others.

Why? Partly because being part of the social organization is a core tenet of traditional Eastern religions. “All of them foster an idea that a person is not a whole, but a part, and only becomes whole in connection with others,” says Markus. “The fundamental, ontological understanding of what a person is is as a node in a network.”

In Confucianism, especially, the belief is that without knowing your place in the hierarchy, and behaving accordingly, chaos will ensue. Certainly, you can choose not to adhere to the norm; Confucius says not to do certain acts if you don’t believe them, says Peter Carroll, associate professor of Chinese history at Northwestern University and author of Between Heaven and Modernity: Reconstructing Suzhou.

You have the choice to opt in or opt out; the difference is that there’s a clear expectation of what the correct choice is. By not doing the correct thing, you are demonstrating that you are less than a full person.

Meanwhile, in America, a similar rhetoric rules. By not exercising your full range of choices, you are demonstrating yourself to be less than a full person — even though most people don’t exercise the choices they believe so strongly in, such as the right to vote. This is the fiction of choice in the West, says Carroll. “Individual choice is a powerful received idea, but frankly, it’s a bit of a white lie that our culture tells itself,” he says.

According to the United States Census Bureau, only 57.1 percent of Americans over the age of 18 voted in the 2008 presidential election. Chart courtesy of Jmj713/Wikimedia.

“We’re not the most non-conformist, and we’re not the most individualized,” says Iyengar. “But what Americans do have is a very strong dogma. We believe ourselves to be the most autonomous; we value autonomy more than any other culture; we value the concept of non-conformity more than any other culture; and we value the concept of individual freedom and individual choice more than any other culture, at least rhetorically. But we’re certainly not the most radical in offering freedoms, such as with gay rights or getting women the right to vote. We are not the first ones to actually empower people with autonomy.”

As Western consumer culture proliferates around the world, will cultural views on choice change?

Our fixation on individual choice is actually dangerous to our society, because it pacifies our activism, argues Renata Salecl, philosopher and sociologist (TED Talk: Our unhealthy obsession with choice). Making choices based on social and political good actually engineers the most change. In the Scandinavian countries, she notes, it was a political choice to open government to women and make rules regarding energy use and environmental sustainability. If left to the individual, that likely wouldn’t have happened.

As Western consumer culture, with its seemingly endless choices, proliferates around the world, will the cultural view on choice change?

In India, studies found that even while young college students become megaconsumers, that picking clothes or music without consideration for what their parents might think is not considered particularly moral, says Markus. In Japan, advertisements explicitly encourage individuals to “follow the trend” and “fit in.” Similarly, in Korea, ads for food products advertise that “You might be able to make a dish almost as good as your mother-in-law’s” — because the ability to uphold tradition is most valued in driving personal choices, not innovation or individuality.

Still, as countries become more urban, more people will be exposed to diversity and, generally, open themselves up to reflection. Likewise, as more people around the world are educated — and educated in a Western style — the more they will come into contact with different ways of living and the more they will see and deliberate on choices in their own life. The digital revolution vastly accelerates the process.

The American obsession with choice insists that choice be installed globally, whether through geopolitics or consumer goods.

“You have a lot of people around the world consuming an American-style education, and what that does is teach a common language regarding how you discuss and frame your ideas,” says Iyengar. “A result of that is that the intellectual class around the world is starting to debate more. That’s leading to more conflict for sure, but they are also using this way of arguing when it comes to choices they need to make, even when it comes to defending an absence of choice, like in a political system.”

The American obsession with choice insists that choice be installed globally, whether through geopolitics or consumer goods. It’s anathema to let people limit their own choices. “It’s tied to being free,” says Markus. “And how do you know you’re free? Because you get to freely choose and do what you want to do and follow your heart and your dream. The way things are now are not the way they have to be tomorrow. It’s bedrock for us, for our American selves. Freedom equals choice, and in every human heart is the desire to be free, so that must mean choice for all.”

Yet complete radical freedom and individualism creates a life that can’t be lived. Tyranny is unacceptable too, of course. But somewhere between tyranny and radical freedom resides a mixture of constraints, social norms, legal constraints and individual freedom of choice that enables people to lead satisfying, meaningful and authentic lives.

Featured image by Lyza/Flickr.


Demand Better: Stand Up For Women’s Rights (Marie Claire)


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Happy Independence Day from China! Does that sound ironic to anyone else? Anyway, here’s to America the beautiful…

Badlands National Park

Big Sur, California

North Cascades National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

View of Shasta from Lassen Volcanic National Park

Arches National Park

Rogue River, Oregon

Bryce Canyon National Park

Malibu, California

North Cascades National Park

Happy 4th of July!



Go: Ski Lake Tahoe

Our Cabin

One of the many perks of living back in California is, of course, the slopes. They are the perfect reason to take a long weekend, fly to San Francisco and road trip to Tahoe with some awesome fellow humans. We got a quaint little cabin equipped with a hot tub, ping pong table and fireplace. It was perfectly cozy! Lots of cooking, wine, music and relaxing. This was my first Tahoe trip, so I was excited to do pretty much anything!

We ended up skiing at Heavenly Resort. Five stars from me! Gorgeous mountain, plenty of terrain (97 runs and 30 lifts! see map) and a great little scene after the lifts closed. It was also a warm sunny day, which always makes skiing better. I particularly liked that you had to take a gondola up from lake level just to get to the base of the Nevada side of the mountain. It really gives you a sense of how big it is. The top lift at Heavenly sits at 10,040 feet. The mountain itself is on the state border, so there is a Nevada side and a California side. Overall, an awesome place to race down a mountain, lounge in a hot tub and consume meals with friends. To many more winter events in cabins!

Never lost this guy thanks to the awesome hat.

View of the Nevada desert from the top of Heavenly.

To the Left: CA snow. To the Right: NV desert.

Taking a much-needed rest on the hike uphill. Yes, I opted to hike to a run because I think I'm tough stuff. Clearly, I become less badass at 10,000ft (if I ever was to begin with).

View from the top!

Beers after a day on the slopes.

Lake Tahoe en Hiver

Lake Tahoe en Hiver Deux

The ocean looks like a thousand diamonds strewn across a blue blanket...

 


Oh, the Places You’ll Go – Burning Man

Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Suess.  A monumental, groundbreaking piece of literature. One of the best books I’ve had the pleasure to read. A source of joy, inspiration, insight, sheer bliss…really a life-changer : )

….Read at Burning Man 2011. Perfect.

 


Perspective

California


Momentus

{repost from The New York Times}

U.S. War in Iraq Declared Officially Over

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

Flag bearers carried the colors out at the end of the ceremony marking the end of the United States’ military involvement in Iraq. More Photos »

By THOM SHANKER and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT
Published: December 15, 2011

 BAGHDAD — The United States military officially declared an end to its mission in Iraq on Thursday even as violence continues to plague the country and the Muslim world remains distrustful of American power.

In a fortified concrete courtyard at the airport in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanked the more than one million American service members who have served in Iraq for “the remarkable progress” made over the past nine years but acknowledged the severe challenges that face the struggling democracy.

“Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” Mr. Panetta said. “Challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.”

The muted ceremony stood in contrast to the start of the war in 2003 when an America both frightened and emboldened by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sent columns of tanks north from Kuwait to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

As of last Friday, the war in Iraq had claimed 4,487 American lives, with another 32,226 Americans wounded in action, according to Pentagon statistics.

The tenor of the hour-long farewell ceremony, officially called “Casing the Colors,” was likely to sound an uncertain trumpet for a war that was started to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction it did not have. It now ends without the sizable, enduring American military presence for which many military officers had hoped.

Although Thursday’s ceremony marked the end of the war, the military still has two bases in Iraq and roughly 4,000 troops, including several hundred who attended the ceremony. At the height of the war in 2007, there were 505 bases and more than 170,000 troops.

According to military officials, the remaining troops are still being attacked on a daily basis, mainly by indirect fire attacks on the bases and road side bomb explosions against convoys heading south through Iraq to bases in Kuwait.

Even after the last two bases are closed and the final American combat troops withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31, under rules of an agreement with the government in Baghdad, a few hundred military personnel and Pentagon civilians will remain, working within the American Embassy as part of an Office of Security Cooperation to assist in arms sales and training.

But negotiations could resume next year on whether additional American military personnel can return to further assist their Iraqi counterparts.

Senior American military officers have made no secret that they see crucial gaps in Iraq’s ability to defend its sovereign soil and even to secure its oil platforms offshore in the Persian Gulf. Air defenses are seen as a critical gap in Iraqi capabilities, but American military officers also see significant shortcomings in Iraq’s ability to sustain a military, whether moving food and fuel or servicing the armored vehicles it is inheriting from Americans or the fighter jets it is buying, and has shortfalls in military engineers, artillery and intelligence, as well.

 ”From a standpoint of being able to defend against an external threat, they have very limited to little capability, quite frankly,” Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the outgoing American commander in Iraq, said in an interview after the ceremony. “In order to defend against a determined enemy, they will need to do some work.”

The tenuous security atmosphere in Iraq was underscored by helicopters that hovered over the ceremony, scanning the ground for rocket attacks. Although there is far less violence across Iraq than at the height of the sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, there are bombings on a nearly daily basis and Americans remain a target of Shiite militants.

Mr. Panetta acknowledged that “the cost was high — in blood and treasure of the United States, and also for the Iraqi people. But those lives have not been lost in vain — they gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.”

The war was started by the Bush administration in March 2003 on arguments that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had ties to Al Qaeda that might grow to an alliance threatening the United States with a mass-casualty terrorist attack.

As the absence of unconventional weapons proved a humiliation for the administration and the intelligence community, the war effort was reframed as being about bringing democracy to the Middle East.

And, indeed, there was euphoria among many Iraqis at an American-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. But the support soon soured amid a growing sense of heavy-handed occupation fueled by the unleashing of bloody sectarian and religious rivalries. The American presence also proved a magnet for militant fighters and an Al Qaeda-affiliated group took root among the Sunni minority population in Iraq.

While the terrorist group has been rendered ineffective by a punishing series of Special Operations raids that have killed or captured several Qaeda leaders, intelligence specialists fear that it is in resurgence. The American military presence in Iraq, viewed as an occupation across the Muslim world, also hampered Washington’s ability to cast a narrative from the United States in support of the Arab Spring uprisings this year.

Even handing bases over to the Iraqi government over recent months proved vexing for the military. In the spring, commanders halted large formal ceremonies with Iraqi officials for base closings because insurgents were using the events as opportunities to attack troops. “We were having ceremonies and announcing it publicly and having a little formal process but a couple of days before the base was to close we would start to receive significant indirect fire attacks on the location,” said Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the military in Iraq. “We were suffering attacks so we stopped.”

Across the country, the closing of bases has been marked by a quiet closed-door meeting where American and Iraqi military officials signed documents that legally gave the Iraqis control of the bases, exchanged handshakes and turned over keys.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey of the Army, has served two command tours in Iraq since the invasion in 2003, and he noted during the ceremony that the next time he comes to Iraq he will have to be invited.

 ”We will stand with you against terrorists and others that threaten to undo what we have accomplished together,” General Dempsey said during the ceremony. “We will work with you to secure our common interests in a more peaceful and prosperous region.”