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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I went for a panel on Haiti and found Heaven!

This past weekend was the 15th Annual LA Times Festival of Books held on the UCLA campus. Shame on me but as a native Angelino, not only had I never been to this festival, I don't remember ever even hearing about it! I'm trying to see LA with a tourist's eyes for a change and, ironically, that's helping me get to know the city in a deeper way.

When I started poking around the Festival website, the thing that sealed the deal for me was a panel called "Haiti and Recovery From Disaster." The panel was made up of UC Irvine professor Amy Wilentz, author of "The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier," journalist and current Berkeley professor Mark Danner who is author of "Stripping Bare the Body," and author Rebecca Solnit whose latest is "A Paradise Built in Hell" which is an interesting book about how people self-organize in the aftermath of catastrophic natural disasters that turn society on its head. The panel was moderated by Davan Maharaj who is the managing editor of the LA Times. A great lineup, to be sure. And the cost of entry to attend this panel? One dollar on ticketmaster.

I was really blown away by the entire Festival. It was just SO deeply encouraging to see so many people voluntarily attending panels and presentations given by world class thinkers on consequential topics. Nobody had to be there, but even the large convocation halls on the UCLA campus were filled with hundreds of people throughout the day for different talks. The day itself could not have been more beautiful - sunny, warm, everywhere you looked people were holding books, or hands, or food, or dog leashes, or babies, or bags of free recipes, music, poetry. The crowd was so diverse in that amazing way you only find in big cities. Everyone was sharing public spaces either on the stairs of the large campus buildings or the installed event tables, or the soft grass. Aromas from the cooking stage, mariachi from the music stage, readings by elementary school poets, free samples, laughter everywhere, handicap access, I mean you name it and it was there making the day awesome.

I left with a free Qur'an, free CD of Buddhist chant, free poster on US involvement in Haiti, free bookmarks, and the Wilentz book on Haiti since Duvalier (which I did pay for). Not to mention great notes from several really awesome sessions. A panel called "Rebooting Culture: Narrative and Information in the New Age" was particularly good. The panel pointed out in the course of the debate that today, in some ways, we are more in love with the narrative than ever before (we turn everything into a story - just look at reality tv which is doing a great bit of business turning kids' stupid, random lives in beach cities into narratives or look at politics - most recently the Obama vs. Palin matchup which was largely a contest of competing narratives/personal histories). And yet, at the same time that we're eating up more and more narrative all the time, our attention spans our shrinking and the way we live and consume information is becoming less linear.

Anyway, check out David Shields and Nicholas Carr for more on all of that.

My big conclusion is that yes, so many things everywhere are screwed up and horrific. But when a city can offer something like the LA Times Festival of Books, make it accessible to everyone, and fill the place over one weekend with tens of thousands of people who are engaged, challenged, and joyful, God it just makes me stand in awe of what goodness people are capable of and it forces, thankfully, a rush of hope into me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

No. Way. Skateistan?

Maybe this organization is old news to you (as it looks like their story broke internationally in 2008) but I just heard about it thanks to my great buddy Jake.

I almost can't believe it. Talk about sharing your gifts. Talk about outside the box. Talk about courage on the part of the local communities as well as the founders.

I'm headed to bed here, but what a fantastic thing to learn about before calling it a day:


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The new machines might save us.

HaitiHub conversation classes are in full swing. I couldn't be happier with the successes we've had so far and the possibilities that remain for this kind of language learning and community building online that has VERY real impact on the kind and quality of cooperation that occurs on the ground in Haiti.

But HaitiHub is not the point of this post. Technology is.

Just a few hours ago, one student, who normally joins the Tuesday class from Tennessee, signed into Skype and joined the HaitiHub conference call (which in itself is an amazing technology offered FOR FREE) from his iPhone outside of Jacmel, Haiti in a small community inaccessible to cars. You can't even drive a truck up these hillsides, but you can use your phone from there to interact with satellites in a way that connects your voice to four other voices in Southern California, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Alberta, Canada over the internet. I thought this student was going to miss the HaitiHub class - but there he was.

There's a smart phone app called Radio Haiti that allows you to listen to live Haitian radio stations.

Friends from Haiti who don't have electricity in their homes have Facebook accounts and sign in from time to time using the employee computers available in the NPH-Haiti Hospital.

Technology is bringing us closer and closer all the time and it's happening at a dizzying pace. I know that I'm supposed to be young and at the heart of all things tech and web2.0 but holy poop I can't keep up with all of this. I mentioned to someone that I had started a blog and they told me to check out Tumblr. Here's a quote from Tumblr's website:

"Tumblr: Microblogging done right. Tumblr is to blogs what text messages are to email."

Okay, I'm 25 and grew up on video games but I'm still gonna need a minute to wrap my head around that one...

Half the time I wish it would all slow down. But the other half of the time, I wish it would progress even faster because all these developments are opening doors and connecting people and solving problems.

Now if only there was an app to summarize the 1000 unread blog posts in my Google Reader...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The pleasure center in our brains.

I don't think there's any fighting it. That's my big conclusion.

What lights up the pleasure centers in people's brains will vary, of course, from one individual to another. For some, it's jumping out of an airplane, for others it's reading a really good book, and for someone else it's speaking to a group that will buzz that pleasure center and make her feel really alive.

Whatever floats your boat, once that pleasure center goes off you're going to come back for more. Whether it's more shopping, more hours volunteering, more crack, or more jogging, you'll be back. We all will be.

Monks of many different faith traditions do an impressive job of denying the world and renouncing pleasures as a way of bettering their lives, as they see it. There's certainly something to be said for that. But it's not for everyone. It's not even for most. Not by a long shot.

But I think that's okay. Because the pleasure center which most of us will never escape is trainable just like our arms and legs have muscle memory and can be taught to perform a physical task or react in a certain way. On some level, if I like something, I like it because at some point I made a choice about it - the choice to try something in the first place and perhaps later the choice to remain open about it and learn and cultivate a deeper appreciation for it. This isn't true for say, apple juice, which I've liked since I was a baby. But it is true for something like swimming, which in the beginning was terrifying and exhausting and in no way activated the pleasure center in my brain but is now something I really enjoy.

I think "pleasure center muscle memory" exists for everyone. And consequently, the important work becomes choosing what you like and liking things that are life-giving and getting really good at really enjoying those things and sharing them with others rather than directing a lot of energy at feeling guilty or renouncing the world.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I'm also a fan of Father Rick Frechette

I posted earlier about Fr. Rick's new book but I don't think I introduced him at all. In brief, Father Rick is the founder of all NPH operations in Haiti. My respect and admiration for the guy absolutely cannot be understated. It's hard for me to say much more than that, but if you're interested in Father Rick's story and ongoing works, in addition to checking out his book, a google search will pull up a wealth of articles and videos.

This most recent video update about the NPH-Haiti rebuilding efforts is particularly inspiring. Such unimaginable tragedies and he's already moving forward again. It's literally incredible sometimes. Watching it makes me glad I happened not to take a nap today...