Monday, November 27, 2006

The Aloha Season











Well we just got back from our family Thanksgiving celebration in Maui. What a great way to kick off the holiday season by being with family in the land of Aloha. After the tribulations of most of the year it was wonderful to float on the waves of the warm Pacific and to eat good food and laugh with family ('"ohana") and to be with the kids. For me, it was a much needed time of rejuenevation and reconnection. For Michael, it was his first visit to Hawaii, and now that he's been reconnected to Polynesia I'm sure we'll be returning to the islands early and often.

The holidays can be so stressful, so many personalities, so many expectations. But we always say that the true Christmas holiday spirit is peace on earth, good will to all men. All that is encompassed in the word "Aloha" which means love, hello, goodbye, hospitality and also shared breath as in the recognition that another shares the same breath as you (very like "namaste"). So we are now in the season of Aloha.

I have a big family: two sisters, one brother, one dad (in the black floral shirt above), and five nieces and nephews. Since the kids are all minors still, I will refer to them by a code based on Hawaiian names for fishes: Ahi, Mahimahi, Uhu, Humuhumu, and Nukunuku. My uncle Paul (in the red shirt next to my dad) who is my mother's brother came with us too which was a great treat.

We stayed in Kaanapali at the wonderful Westin Resort and Spa. Kaanapali is not really a town - it is more of an area. Located north of Lahaina, it runs along Kaanapali Beach, and features dozens of resorts and hotels, with more ocean activities than you can imagine. Here you can find the grandest (and priciest) hotels but also moderately priced hotels that make up in beach access what they lack in amenities.

Maui, known as the Garden Isle, has several different climate zones. The State of Hawaii has 12 of the world's 15 distinct climate zones; so Maui is following the charateristics of the state. On top of the West Maui mountains that backdrop Kaanapali is one of the wettest spots on earth, getting about 300 inches of rain. Kaanapali, being on the leeward or dry side of the mountains, gets only about 18 inches of rain a year. It was a nice 85 degrees each day we were there. Hence, it was perfect weather.

We had spectacular interaction with sea life this trip. On our first morning, we went snorkeling at Black Rock just north of the hotel. We saw and swam with two green sea turtles ("honu" in Hawaiian). The turtles are indigenous to that area of Maui, and have been recorded in ancient petroglyphs by early Hawaiians. They are the symbol of longevity and endurance. It was really special to see them along with the beautiful tropical fish that were so abundant.

On Monday we sailed to the island of Lanai (pronounced "La-nye-ee" to differentiate it from "La-nye" or porch). Lanai is only 7 miles from Maui. On the way over and on the way back, my niece Nukunuku and I called to the dolphins to come join us, and sure enough we were treated to Hawaiian spinner dolphins swimming with our catamaran, right at our pontoons, and putting on great shows of leaps and twirls and jumps and spins. My nephew Humuhumu helped me spot the flying fish that also flew along with us in the beautiful blue blue waters. These fish "fly" when they are trying to outrun predators, and look like giant jeweled dragonflies.

On the magical isle of Lanai (where Bill and Melinda Gates got married at the Manele Bay Resort), a very large parrot fish tried to eat one of my nephews as he was leaving the water after snorkeling at Hulopoe Bay. That's why I call him "Uhu" which is the local term for parrot fish. The guide said he has never seen such a thing in all his years in the islands. Ah well, a first time for everything as they say. Both fish and boy are fine, mahalo for asking.

On Tuesday we parasailed. I told my dad I wanted to see what it would be like being "caught up in the air" (a biblical term for you heathens who like me probably won't be raptured). Actually, it was to conquer a fear of heights that I have. Michael and I got to ride together and it was a magical ride. It was so stress-free; so utterly peaceful. What a beautiful beautiful experience. I thought I would be scared to look down, but I found myself looking for whales in the azure sea 800 feet below my toes. If you have a chance, go para sailing. You will love it. This was our birthday gift to our niece Mahimahi. Happy Birthday girl, we love you!!

The Old Lahaina Luau is probably the best luau on Maui, if not the state. Ahi, my oldest nephew, was quite impressed by the dancers. I told him that in hula (the dance of Hawaii) you have to watch the hands to get the show, but in the tamare (the dance of Tahiti), if you watch the hands you miss the show. That's because in the tamare, this hips are the show - it's the dance with the driving drums and fast-shaking hips. Ahi loved the tamare, oh yes he did. The Old Lahaina Luau tells the story of how the Tahitians came after the Marquessans and settled Hawaii. So in a real way, the tamare is the oldest Hawaiian dance, and certainly dominant in Polynesian culture.

(Just so you know, Polynesia is defined as everything inside that great triangular area that has New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Island as the triangle's corners. New Zealand of course is known as Aotearoa and the home of Maoris.)

This being Mike's first visit to Maui, we spent Wednesday going all around the island -- but not on the crazy road to Hana. We went to Paia the windsurfing capital of the world and home of the Blue Monster biggest surfable wave in the winter, then upcountry to Makawao and Kula (it really is cooler in Kula!) then down to Makena and Wailea. We even went down to La Perouse Bay which is crystal clear because itis a lava basin with no sand. Haleakala, the volcano which created most of Maui, was wreathed in clouds that day, and the sun never did come out for us in Little Beach. (And to your inevitable question about us at Little Beach the answer for me is of course yes, for Michael it is no.)

So what is Thanksgiving in the tropics like? It's wonderful. Of course we had a turkey and all the trimmings on Thursday, but since it was a Westin buffet, we also had a dessert table that required THREE trips --one for traditional desserts (pumpkin pie, apple pie), one for chocolate desserts, and one for tropical desserts (mango chiffon cheesecake).

They say that the day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year and it was no exception for us. My sisters Mamie and Mona are champion, world class, intrepid shoppers. I believe it is genetic since that is one gene we all have in common. So the girls used their coupons at Hilo Hatties, raided Longs and ABC for bargains (LOVE those stores!) then wrapped it up by buying a two bedroom ocean front villa at the new Westin Vacation Villas North just up the street from our hotel. When the Chang sisters shop -- look out-- you don't stand a chance. But it is good for America's economy.

The wonderful thing about their last purchase is that of course we will have another family Thanksgiving in Kaanapali in 2008 when the villas are done. To ensure our return to Maui, in the Hawaiian custom we threw leis and orchid blossoms into the sea along with wishing blessings for our loved ones, present and departed.

And putting aside all the activities, all the purchases, all the food, all the leis, the beauty of this vacation was being together. Ohana (family) is the root of Aloha. And to my ohana, I say mahalo for a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Purple America





OK, I waited one week plus after the big mid-term elections to calm down after the big excitement of Democrats winning back the House and Senate in the US Congress.

First: YAY! At last something to be thankful for in politics. It's about time the American electorate is using checks and balances to ensure a rabid executive branch is not hijacking our present or future.

Second: Today the Democrats elected Steny Hoyer to be the House majority leader, in essence to be the deputy to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. So the leadership is pretty set in the House and we're now truly done with the important elections of this cycle.

Third: Good riddence to political scumbags like Rick Santorum and Katherine Harris. In both cases voters rejected extremism (bordering on the wacky), saying NO to the politics of hate, bigotry, and division. In Mr. Santorum's case, Pennsylvania voters got it right in kicking out a senator who would have enshrined prejudice in the US Constitution. In Ms. Harris's case, Florida voters noted correctly that she is woman who can't be trusted to use good judgment with a mascarra brush much less the responsibilty to think in America's best interests. Buh-bye hatemongers!!

Finally: America is really not as polarized as some would have us think. We are neither as liberal or as conservtive as diehards on both sides would have us think.

Fifteen -- 15 -- states have senators from both parties. Thus, as seen by the top cartogram, above, these 15 states are "purple" i.e. a mix of red and blue. This map appears to have more blue than red because it reflects the fact that although there are only slightly more senators in the Democratic caucus than the Republican one (51 versus 49), the number of people in blue states significantly outnumbers the number of people in red states, because the blue states have higher populations on average. Using the latest figures from the US Census, for instance, we find that the total population of blue states is 167.9 million people, while the total population of red states is 125.2 million. (Source of both maps and associated data: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/2006/).

The lower of the two maps above is a cartogram for the 2006 House election in which the size of each congressional district is sized to be the same. In this map each district is the same size, so the total area of red is simply proportional to the total number of Republican Representatives and similarly for the total area of blue. If you stare at it long enough then stare at a white page and blink, the map really does become kinda purple (OK maybe my sugar rush helped with this illusion).

And another thing, we know that many of the elections were close, and so the color of the district (winner takes all) doesn't necessarily reflect the 40+% of the people in that district that voted for the other party. In those close races, the maps really should be purple with slight shading towards blue or red depending on the party of the winner.

My point is that America in late 2006 is really less extremely liberal or stubbornly fundamentalist -- on the whole - than anyone may think. We share commonality, and we are building a new consensus in this country:

* Americans favor stem cell research by 2-1 margin (ABCNEWS/Beliefnet, June 2006)
* 79% of Americans favor allowing gays to serve in the military (CNN/USA Today/Gallup, December 2003)
* the war in Iraq has NOT made America safer says 66% of Americans (Newsweek, October 2006)

On some issues therefore, we are definitely Purple America.

So while I celebrate the new Democratic-controlled Congress (especially Speaker Pelosi), I hope that these new leaders will listen to Americans who want progress. Come on 110th Congress and give the people what we want:

* repeal the federal ban on stem cell research and
* repeal the don't-ask-don't-tell policy and
* stop the useless occupation of Iraq

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lessons from Midori at the Symphony




The other night my friend Kirk and I went to the symphony. Midori, the celebrated Japanese violinist, was the featured performer that night. Although tiny, she has such presence, such style, such command. And I'm not just saying that because I was lusting after her gold flat shoes which were fabulous. It was a magical evening, full of beauty, reflection, repose, and inspiration.

Midori does not just play a piece of music. She inhabits it, then gives it back to the world. If you are in the audience like we were, you just happen to be one of the first recipients of this artistry. Moving all around the stage, throwing her body into ever-changing poses, Midori uses her whole being to express how she feels the music. You never wonder IF she will remember the next part of the piece. The only relevant question is HOW she will choose to articulate that next note or next phrase, or next transition. Will it be soft and whispering, or pounding and startling? She can bow and pluck her violin at the same time producing CHORDS of music from the violin. The orchestra is as entranced as the audience with Midori's performance. Each note, no matter soft or loud, short or long is a powerful statement that links together with the next note to reveal the composer's musical story as told by Midori. I am sure that Midori's gift of energy, and musicality, and joy, and passion to the universe continues to live on and ripple throughout the world and the cosmos long after she has asked her violin for the last note.

And what a violin! Midori's violin is the 1734 Guarnerius del Gesù "ex-Huberman," which is on a lifetime loan to her from the Hayashibara Foundation. Can you imagine the provenance of that instrument after Midori has played it for several more decades? Priceless doesn't even begin to cover the worth of that violin. But I think it is important to reflect that the violin is becoming more valueable the more it is being used. Sure it has intrinsic historic value for surviving this long, but the increase in value comes from these facts: the violin's voice is still being heard; the instrument is being used to create dynamic musical statements; that violin is in a powerful partnership to produce beauty in this world. It is not just a silent relic from the past; it is actively participating in the present and future.

Midori as a person is just as interesting as Midori the performer. She planned and initiated a project called Total Experience around the concept of "kizuna" - the Japanese word for relationships and interconnectedness. Total Experience brings artists, presenters, audiences and communities together to experience the theme in as many different and creative ways as possible.

Kizuna - this concept states that what ultimately counts is the sound of many voices, the expression of many points of view, the participation of many participants. This is the same concept of democracy, and of the motto "E Pluribus Unum" -- out of many, one.

After the thrill of Midori's piece, the symphony orchestra played a Schumann composition. This rather nice piece had no fireworks. Listening to the beautiful music and watching the professional musicans play onstage yields a reflective time that for me can only come from being physically at the symphony. And these priceless thoughts emerged during the quieter Schumann piece.

Each of us is the conductor of the symphony of our lives. We arrange our orchestra before us. Some of us have large numbers of people participating in making the music of our lives. Others of us choose a more intimate group of cohorts to play with. How big is your personal orchestra? What sound are you trying to produce? And are you getting what you want from the sections of your life's orchestra?

The concertmaster is the violinist who occupies the first chair of the first violin section of an orchestra. Viewed from the audience, the concertmaster is the first person to the conductor's left, in the row of violins closest to the audience.
It is to the concertmaster's violin that the entire rest of the orchestra tunes their instruments. The concert doesn't begin until the concertmaster comes onstage.

When all is said and done, the greatest responsibility of a concertmaster is to play well, and to lead by playing well. The process of leading can be a bit mysterious, especially as the concertmaster is just one member of a section, and the vast majority of the time he or she plays exactly the same part as everybody else in that section. But when a concertmaster plays in a manner that is emotionally committed, consistently accurate, rhythmically reliable, and always beautiful, she or he sets an example that exerts a strong positive influence on his or her colleagues and contributes in an important way to the overall quality of an orchestra.

If you are the conductor of your life, who is your concertmaster? How is that partnership working out?

I love the big kettledrums called tympani. It's such a great show when the tympanist beats on several drums in succession, arms crossing over each other, hands and batons flying, and the tympanist twirling from drum to drum. It's like watching a Benihana chef on the musical stage. That night, listening to Schumann being played by the San Francicsco Symphony Orchestra, I realized that my dad is the tympanist in my life. He isn't always playing everyday in my life (could you imagine constant non-stop tympani??!), but as a percussionist he is always on time; and he is the foundation of my life's music. And like the voice of the tympani, I always hear Dad when he speaks; and like great tympani parts, sometimes his voice is very loud, dramatic and bombastic. Although he's not part of my daily routine, his influence is never forgotten, nor is it taken for granted. Thanks Dad for being a great and essential part of my orchestra.

My mom was probably my concertmaster. It seems to fit that ever since her passing, things have been a bit off in my life; although hopefully now they are starting to get back in tune. Boy, I miss her. And for those of you who knew her, you can verify that she was the best orchestrator and conductor herself. No one could get what she wanted out of life like my mother. Like Midori, my Mom was tiny but powerful, passionate and caring, a force of nature, producing the most memorable, beautiful, and intricate relationships that were music in their own right. For what is music but the relation of notes, instruments, sound levels, and tones to each other. And whether we produce music or discord in our lives depends on how we relate to the people, events, and opportunities that life itself composes for us. Thanks Mom for opening my heart to the truth that I need woodwinds and cellos, brass and percussion, strings and vocalists in the orchestra of my life.

"Kizuna" - relationships and interconnectedness. The truth is, we're in each other's lives playing different roles at different times for each other. It's why we care, and why we speak out, and why we engage in action to build a better city, country, and world. It's why we are making the music of the spheres -- together.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Shut Up John Kerry and Other Truths


John Kerry is a bungler. I worked hard to get him elected in 2004. In my opinion, the election was his to lose and dammit if he didn't go out and lose it. He was a bungling, inarticulate, botched campaigner then, and he's done it again.

On Monday October 30, 2006 at Pasadena City College (in California), Kerry made remarks that have probably been mis-construed but were, by Kerry's own admission, "botched" in their delivery. Worse, they may help galvanize the GOP base and ruin Democratic chances to retake Congress.

Kerry said: "You know, education -- if you make the most of it, you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

A Kerry aide said that the prepared statement, which had been designed to criticize Bush, "was mangled in delivery." No kidding.

Kerry was supposed to say, "I can't overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq."

Kerry meant to attack the president. But he failed to clearly say what he meant. Now the GOP is attacking Kerry for insinuating that US troops are uneducated and dumb.

All of which is unnecessary, and all of which could have been avoided if only Kerry himself were a better speaker (which he is not), or had a smarter team (which he does not). Handing your opponents potent amunition one week before the election is stupid stupid stupid along the lines of not rebutting Swift Boat early, often, and effectively.

A number of top Democrats said they were upset with the senator for giving the Republicans election-time ammunition -- even if the GOP was hyping the remark.

"He has already cost us one election. The guy just needs to keep his mouth shut until after the election," a top Democratic strategist (other than me) said Tuesday.

Now thankfully, Kerry apparently has learned his lesson and has cancelled all his remaining appearances with Democratic candidates in the hope that he will not (further) harm their chances to sweep the Republicans from office next Tuesday. Good for you Senator Kerry. Now stay home and shut up.

But Mr. Kerry has drawn the spotlight to some important truths which bear remembering and our utmost consideration:

1. The war in Iraq is a failed policy. The US is stuck in Iraq. The war in Iraq and other failed foreign policies were created, endorsed, and implemented by another bungler - George W. Bush, who by the way, Senator, went to Yale undergrad and Harvard Business School. While a good education is a great goal and better achievement, it will not save you from stupidity. As both the blue blooded east coast bunglers Kerry and Bush have shown, stupid is as stupid does. Nonetheless, the war in Iraq is not making Iraq a more peaceful place. The war in Iraq is not building a more secure middle east. It is not winning friends for the US. It is not contributing to a lessening of terrorism. It is not a good thing.

2. Time to leave Iraq. Britain’s Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, has made a public call for British troops to withdraw from Iraq soon or risk catastrophic consequences for both Iraq and British society. Bechtel, the great San Francisco corporation was supposed to help rebuild Iraq; but Bechtel today (November 1) announced that it is leaving Iraq after losing 52 workers over the last three years in Iraq due to sectatrian violence and sabotage. And Italy, Spain, and Poland have withdrawn or will withdraw their troops from Iraq too.

3. Time for a new policy in Iraq. It's not just Democrats calling for policy changes; loyal Republicans all over the US are articulating cogent arguments for another way of dealing with Iraq. In Washington state, Republican cadidate for Senate Mike McGavick said about Iraq: “Partition the country if we have to and get our troops home in victory.” In Rhode Island, Republlican Senator Lincoln Chafee, indicated he would be willing to call on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to step down. In Tennessee, Bob Corker, a Republican candidate for Senate, said it was time for a new plan and a change in leadership at the Pentagon. And the list goes on.

4. Time for new leadership in Washington DC. Enough is enough. Too many men and women have died in Iraq, civilian and millitary, US and other nationalities. The warmongering of this president and his cronies must end. We need the constitutional checks and balances to operate now to end the unmitigated mishandling of American foreign policy by the Bush administration. We need a Democratic House and Senate.

Time to say something smart next Tuesday -- speak up with your vote.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Don't Be Rude

We are lacking in civility and good manners. Now I'm not talking about using the right fork and knife, but about true niceness.

We are a society where anyone can toss off "have a nice day" without any sincerity at all but elicit an equally empty "thanks you too." It's liturgical in nature this vapid call and response.

But try asking anyone "Are you registered to vote" as a volunteer to Get Out The Vote and prepared to be ignored, dismissed, and disrespected.

And if you volunteer to engage in phone banking, well, I hope you like being lied to. Bald outrageous lies. Shocking almost. In this age of caller ID, why do people pick up the phone only to lie? Why pick up the phone at all?

No, our society gives license to people to treat volunteers badly, or maybe it's just political volunteers who get treated badly; but I don't think so.

We all agree that democracy is a good thing. In fact, some in 'Merica believe in democracy so much they try to export it to other countries. Even if we don't believe in the direct export of our brand of democracy, we all support the men and women whose job it is to help build democracies overseas. Yet, when democracy comes talking to you on the street -- say the corner of Market and Noe -- or on the phone, then these same 'Mericans turn nasty and lie. WHY?

Elections are the bedrock of democracy. In this country, no one gets elected without volunteers. Volunteering for a candidate thus makes you part of the democratic process, as much as the act of voting makes you a participant in democracy.

Other than some ill-willed people who try to interfere with another's right to vote, no one in 'Merica would think of hindering another person in her participation in the democratic process. But something in our societal psyche allows people to rebuff political volunteers -- the bedrock volunteers that help the entire democratic process work.

Is it that the question of whether you are registered to vote is too personal? Is it that you can be directed by a stranger to have a certain type of day (nice) but will not tolerate someone else providing information on a candidate? Is it that we look upon volunteers as having no life and that's why they are tabling or walking precincts or phone banking?

I believe that the rudeness comes when insecure people believe their carefully crafted facades will be seen through. While tabling in front of Cafe Flore one beautiful sunny weekend last month, I asked a couple of attractive, well built guys who were clearly going home from the gym if they were registered to vote. "We don't live here" they barked. Yeah right. They were carrying big gym bags. Not even gym queens fly with that much product in this day of restricted carryons. Right away they went from hot to Snots -- and deserving to be expelled from my presence and discarded because they were about as attractive as used mucus. (OK now I'm being rude).

Other guys who were too carefully casual that Saturday morning simply ignored us (there were three of us) because they had to keep their game faces on. Now you know these are the same guys who have profiles on match.com or yahoo personals who advertise that they are nice guys and are eagerly (desperately looking for LTRs or their soul mate). Yeah right. If a person can't take the time to even answer a simple question from a volunteer like "are you registered to vote" then they are certainly not worthy of a coffee or dinner. There's a reason that profile has been up for 3 years. Please desperados. Spend some time opening up and engaging your world, instead of trying to get your thinning hair to spike like you just got out of bed, but not in a messy way, on a Saturday morning. You'll be more genuinely attractive than trying to appear like you can still wear Abercrombie when you can't --or shouldn't. (Id -- by the way, being bitchy doesn't necessarily equate with being rude.)

Elections are coming up November 7. They are important. There will be a lot of us out there volunteering, doing our part to make democracy work. Please, please, don't be rude to us. Even if you don't agree on which candidate(s) to support, thank us for helping make 'Merica better at home. We appreciate you taking the time to be civil.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cloaking Device





It's here.

Scientists at Duke University have created the first functional cloaking device that renders an object invisible and does not cast shadows.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2006/10/19/national/a064936D81.DTL&hw=cloaking&sn=001&sc=1000

I love Star Trek, especially the gadgets. Star Trek depicted the routine use of whiz-bang technology to imply in a not so subtle way that technological advances could lead to new and better individual lives and also to new and better societies. In the Star Trek visionary universe, advances in technology freed humanity from the baser things in life, and allowed humans to pursue more noble undertakings like exploring new worlds, creating new arts, or making new friends throughout the galaxy. What a great promise; what a wonderful aspiration and inspiration; no wonder I love that vision.

As a proud geek (then and now) I took/take the promise of technology seriously. So, in each Star Trek episode or movie, I worried about the Romulan and Klingon use of cloaking devices to gain tactical advantages over the Federation. The Federation did not have or use cloaking technology because it considered the technology to be sneaky and not morally above-board. But I didn't understand that point of view. I mean what's so friggin moral about being ambushed with your shields down? What was so bad about using the cloaking device, if for no other reason than to level the battlefield? I didn't see a problem with it. Quite to the contrary. To me, the Federation represented the good guys, and shouldn't good guys use all available tools to ensure that good wins over bad?

Then Harry Potter validated my point of view. Harry inherits a cloak of invisibility from his father, James. Several times Harry uses the cloak to find out things that he, as a teenage wizard with poor impulse control, just HAS to know. I can relate to Harry's poor impulse control and the "need" to know. But I am always so tense whenever Harry uses the cloak because I just know he will mess up and give himself away. Ut-oh, using the invisibility technology may have a side effect: anxiety.

I think it's very cool that science fiction is driving real-life inventions. Ever notice how closely certain cell phones resemble the communicators that Kirk and Spock used to call Scotty on the Enterprise? And tell me that my Bluetooth earpiece is not a slight variation of the one Uhura stuck in her ear and used to open hailing frequencies to everyone in the universe. Accidents of marketing design? I think not. The manufacturers of these devices are pandering to our desire for cool, cutting edge, user-friendly technology and devices. As consumers, we are buying into the old Star Trek vision of new and better lives through technology.

Now -- hurray! -- we have the cloaking device. Think of the mass-market applications of this technology. Can they make a household version to hide my messy desk so I don't have to clean up when I have people over? How about a very localized version that hides some body mass like a gut to make us look thinner?

Of course you know the military will use this technology on a defensive and offensive basis. Corporations and political campaigns will be sorely tempted not to use this technology to gather information. And it's a very foreseeable fear that the technology will fall into the wrong hands. Even more foreseeable is a movie that will depict terrorists possessing and using a cloaking device as part of a plot to destroy our society and way of life. Egads.

But you also know there will be down-market uses for the technology. People who suspect a cheating lover will use the cloaking device to track and bust the louse. And how will retailers stop shoplifters who use a cloak of invisibility? Nets of tachyon beams at all store entrances? And what about government spying on citizens; will the government have to get a warrant before its agents use a cloaking device to investigate a suspect?

Which brings us to big policy questions about cloaking devices. How do you defend the right of privacy or is there even the right of privacy when there is such technology around? When and how can new, disruptive technology like invisibility-on-demand be integrated into society? Clearly, new rules of fair use for cloaking devices will have to be articulated, refined and implemented.

Cool as the cloaking technology is, I believe that we have a fundamental inalienable right to privacy that trumps everything else. We must always remember that government does not belong in our bedrooms or even in our own homes unless it is to provide a basic level of protection and services (think fire and plumbing codes, child and domestic abuse statutes etc. but only at that level).

There is a limit as to how much someone else -- anyone else -- may properly intrude into our lives even if they "HAVE" to know or even if they are trying to legislate against "sin" (in their eyes). Satisfying your curiosity or suspicion does not warrant breaching my right of privacy. Stopping you from doing something I don't like is not sufficient justification to breach your rights. We each have an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are not predicated on nor subject to technology. No one, and especially government, should use technology to enforce some notion of how we should lead our lives.

I am not willing to give up my rights just because new technology appears.

Hmm, maybe the Federation had a point after all -- just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. That applies to the use of clandestine technology, as well as to the use of force, as well as to the employment of coercion, intimidation, or threats to gain an upper hand. A policy of showing restraint is absolutely called for in our interactions with others, especially when those actions are driven by a sense of moral superiority ("hate the sin, love the sinner") or paternalism ("this will make America safer/better") or religious fervor ("God told me to hate you").

Should we, like Harry Potter, occasionally adopt moral relativism because sometimes the ends justify the means? Where does that line of reasoning stop? And whose opinion determines whether a particular end justifies the means of violating another's rights?

Applying the Golden Rule, I believe that if I want people and the government to stay the hell out of my private life then I have to also stay the hell out of someone else's private life -- even if I have the technology to spy on them, or even if I am dying to confirm the dirt I just KNOW they are hiding. If I want respect from others, I am going to have to show it to others.

Some things can't be made invisible by a cloaking device. Such qualities as character, rights, and ethics are impossible to hide.

But congratulations to the team from Duke University for a wonderful technological achievement and breakthrough. And I'm serious about the localized hide-the-mess or make-me-thinner cloaking device application.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Luxury of the Mundane

Mister Justice Louis Brandeis famously said "The most important political office is that of private citizen." A restatement of the same principle is the saying that "all politics is local." Thus, there is tremendous power in our ordinary, local, private lives as citizens. The little routines and habits of everyday life are telescoped through the political process to become policies and societal values, and so it's the little things that establish the culture and identity of a community, a nation, a people.

Viewed through this lens, our ordinary lives become extraordinary, and the mundane things and events of our day become the most sumptious luxuries. I firmly subscribe to this view.

In New York, as in any other city that Michael and I have visited together, the most luxurious event of the weekend was falling asleep in each others' arms and waking up next to each other. Maybe it's because we are apart most days of the month, but this simple privilege that is taken for granted by millions of couples every day is the highlight of every trip we take together. It is the luxury of the mundane.

With joy I met my friend Yvonne at SFO's International Terminal arrivals area when she returned from Italy on Wednesday. Arriving at the same time as her flight from London were flights from Aukland, Seoul, and Frankfurt. The arrivals area was awash in the sound of many languages. As passengers came through the double doors, however, the universal language of welcome, happiness and love transcended speech as fathers were reunited with daughters, grandparents with grandchildren, and lovers fell into each others' embrace.

Yesterday afternoon at SFO, my throat caught and my eyes filled with tears when I saw one frail Asian mother get swept up into the arms of her son, grown to robust manhood. I thought back to so many welcomes I gave my own mother or she gave me as we met in various airports around the world through the years. I cried because I'll never have that joy again since my mom passed away two years ago. I miss her so terribly much. At the time, I never thought that the exuberant emotional greetings I gave her or she gave me in those airports were luxuries. But now, I can not imagine a greater or most precious luxury than to be wrapped in my mother's arms again.

I like to take my dog Remy with me to the supermarket two blocks away. I tie him outside the front doors where he can see me go into the store, and where he can do what he does best -- look adorable and greet people with that wagging tail of his. While I shop he stands guard, waiting for me in between visiting with people coming in and out of the store. When I'm done, I untie him and we walk home with the groceries. We embody my favorite sweatshirt -- me Piggly in front, him Wiggly in back. We're a pretty common sight walking together, but each time I walk him I remember that what I am doing is precious because five years ago we had to win a lottery at the City pound in order to adopt him. By engaging in our ordinary routine, Remy and I claim our places in our neighborhood and in our community in a variety of ways; and these ways have profound reach and impact far beyond our individual private lives.

By shopping at the supermarket and at the little corner stores that dot our neighborhood, we validate the merchants who have decided to offer services in this part of the City. By walking on the streets at all hours of the day, we make claim to safety for all residents and visitors to this community. By interacting with our neighbors, we strengthen the sense of diversity and belonging not just in us but in others ("look there goes that Piggly guy and his cute Wiggly dog"). By getting out of the car, we reduce, by a tiny bit, our carbon footprints in the world.

So, the mundane act of walking my dog has serious policy implications in the areas of public safety, urban planning and development, and economic vitality. By smart planning, keeping a neighborhood watch, and supporting local merchants, I believe we improve the quality of life in this part of the City. By raising the standards of living in this community, we are building a more enjoyable urban environment -- and that's a luxury in a major metropolitan area.

The actions we take as private citizens are the most important actions taken in our society.

We have the luxury of free speech, but do we use it to speak out against inequality, injustice, or ignorance?
We have the luxury of free press, but do we use the press to keep informed of and engaged in the world around us?
We have the luxury of seeing humanity expressed in myriad incarnations, but do we honor and respect our neighbor?
We have the luxury of experiencing our everyday, common, ordinary, mundane habits, tasks, and situations, but do we recognize that the freedom on which this luxury depends is not free but earned and fought for?
We have the luxury of time, but do we use it to love, include, expand and build instead of discriminate, exclude, belittle and tear down?

Be thankful for the mundane, for it's no ordinary gift.