Archive for May, 2009

Once in a Lifetime.

May 15, 2009

A few nights ago I, along with about sixty thousand other people, braved the 105 degree desert heat and had the unbelievable privilege of hearing our incredibly smart, eloquent and funny President speak in person at Arizona State University’s Commencement Ceremony. The hour-long trek to the stadium and through security, as well as the five hours spent waiting for the ceremony to begin, were well worth it in the end. There is a lot to be said about a man who graciously makes a compelling and beautifully executed speech to honor a university that had blatantly disrespected him. Not only that, but he took the opportunity to drive home an important message that we need to stop being satisfied with fancy titles and statuses of accomplishment, and that our personal successes are worth nothing if we don’t use them to create solutions to the global issues that our generation is to inherit. His speech is transcribed in its entirety at the Huffington Post (although they left out the joke he slipped in about how Michelle agrees that he hasn’t done enough and has a list of things to do waiting when he gets home, which everyone there loved) but here are a few highlights.

“It’s in chasing titles and status – in worrying about the next election rather than the national interest and the interests of those they represent – that politicians so often lose their way in Washington. It was in pursuit of gaudy short-term profits, and the bonuses that come with them, that so many folks lost their way on Wall Street. The leaders we revere, the businesses that last – they are not the result of narrow pursuit of popularity or personal advancement, but of devotion to some bigger purpose – the preservation of the Union or the determination to lift a country out of depression; the creation of a quality product or a commitment to your customers, your workers, your shareholders and your community.”

“That’s the spirit that led a band of patriots not much older than you to take on an empire. It’s what drove young pioneers west, and young women to reach for the ballot; what inspired a 30 year-old escaped slave to run an underground railroad to freedom, and a 26 year-old preacher to lead a bus boycott for justice. It’s what led firefighters and police officers in the prime of their lives up the stairs of those burning towers; and young people across this country to drop what they were doing and come to the aid of a flooded New Orleans. It’s what led two guys in a garage – named Hewlett and Packard – to form a company that would change the way we live and work; and what led scientists in laboratories, and novelists in coffee shops to labor in obscurity until they finally succeeded in changing the way we see the world.

That is the great American story: young people just like you, following their passions, determined to meet the times on their own terms. They weren’t doing it for the money. Their titles weren’t fancy – ex-slave, minister, student, citizen. But they changed the course of history – and so can you.

With a degree from this university, you have everything you need to get started. Did you study business? Why not help our struggling non-profits find better, more effective ways to serve folks in need. Nursing? Understaffed clinics and hospitals across this country are desperate for your help. Education? Teach in a high-need school; give a chance to kids we can’t afford to give up on – prepare them to compete for any job anywhere in the world. Engineering? Help us lead a green revolution, developing new sources of clean energy that will power our economy and preserve our planet.”

“Acts of sacrifice and decency without regard to what’s in it for you – those also create ripple effects – ones that lift up families and communities; that spread opportunity and boost our economy; that reach folks in the forgotten corners of the world who, in committed young people like you, see the true face of America: our strength, our goodness, the enduring power of our ideals. I know starting your careers in troubled times is a challenge. But it is also a privilege. Because it is moments like these that force us to try harder, to dig deeper, to discover gifts we never knew we had – to find the greatness that lies within each of us. So don’t ever shy away from that endeavor. Don’t ever stop adding to your body of work. I can promise that you will be the better for that continued effort, as will this nation that we all love. ”


Film: Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

May 4, 2009

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea It’s not often that I get to sit down and watch an entire children’s film, as what little time I do have for cinematic indulgences is usually devoted to catching up on the latest ground breaking documentaries or anything starring James Franco. However, I recently had the pleasure of seeing Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, the newest animated feature film by Hayao Miyazaki, who is unarguably the greatest animator in the history of cinema. Dunny and I are both old and loyal Miyazaki fans, as Totoro, our little blog mascot, will attest to.

Like Miyazaki’s classic My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo deals with the themes of love and friendship, and humanity’s enduring relationship with the natural world, seen with the simplistic clarity of a five-year-old’s eyes. However, this simplicity does not make the film any less profound. There is a particularly timeless quality to this film – something that is not only universally appealing across all generational and cultural barriers, but has the remarkable ability to pull out your inner child and drop it right back into the best summer of your life.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea tells the story of a little red goldfish princess named Ponyo and a five-year-old boy named Sosuke who befriends her, and Ponyo’s yearning to become a human herself. The plot is loosely similar to that of the classic Andersen fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, but the love that Ponyo and Sosuke have for each other is the pure, unconditional love of a young child for his first best friend. Ponyo is happily swimming amongst a multitude of marine creatures when she is caught in an industrial fishing net scooping menacingly and indiscriminately at garbage and fragile animal lives alike, and is nearly crushed. The immediate bond she and the human boy Sosuke form after rescues Ponyo from a glass jar and cares for her is an utter delight. As you watch the two youngsters frolic, play, and eat ramen together, the film immerses you completely in a euphoric, childlike joy that washes continually over you like the beautiful watercolor scenes on screen.

In a cynical adult world where “naïve” and “idealistic” are practically bad words, this is a film that reminds us of a time, not too long ago, when it was ok to just have fun and feel good. It teaches us that it is human necessity to be nurtured and to be loved, but also how important it is that we in turn must nurture and love the world around us. The trailer (with English subtitles) can be seen here.

Green Reads for Summer

May 3, 2009

My brain always associates summer with a sudden surge in trips to the local library. This is because most of my summers for the last ten years have involved not only freedom from restrictive and demanding assigned reading lists, but also many long hours spent flying over the Pacific Ocean. Summer is when my brain renews itself and prepares to devour anything and everything I can get my hands on. I’ve just recently wrapped up three books simultaneously over the last two weeks, so I thought I’d consolidate them all into a single post. There is a pretty obvious theme here, though in my defense, I was elbows-deep in Wilkie Collins and Albert Camus before I started on these.

ggg Green Greener Greenest is a neat and compact little book that caught my eye on the “New Nonfiction” shelf at the library. I found myself tucking it into my purse every day and often pulling it out as a quick reference guide everywhere from the office to happy hour at a sushi joint. Meticulously researched by Lori Bongiorno, a business journalist, this book is the ultimate starter’s guide for anyone who has ever given thought towards attempting a more eco-friendly lifestyle but has been unsure where to start with all the varied and conflicting information out there. The informational is helpfully broken down for the everyday consumer into various categories such as Food and Beverage or Personal Care Products, and tips for changing your routine are separated into “green”, “greener” or “greenest” so that you can choose your own pace and level of commitment. The best part is that instead of overwhelming and confusing readers with verbose or overly technical articles, each chapter gives the necessary facts in a way that is both interesting and easy to understand, and then offers some websites where you can start doing your own research. Amazon merchants offer used copies for less than $5 including shipping, so there’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t have a copy of their own.

prodigal summer Barbara Kingsolver isn’t one of the first names that pops into my mind when I try to make a favorite writers list, but every time I am reminded of her books, I never fail to recall just how captivating, heartbreaking and poetically composed they are. I had read and adored The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible back in high school, but hadn’t given Kingsolver much thought until I recently picked up her novel Prodigal Summer. The action of the story focuses around three main characters living in the southern Appalachians and their interactions with nature and the people around them. However, the scope of the novel extends much farther that that – it’s an ode to the cycles of life and death, the fragile dependence of everything on everything else, and the interconnectedness of all living things. I consider myself very lucky to have spent much of my childhood in beautiful green suburbs where families of ducks laid their eggs in front of our house every year and where on most morning I could enjoy the smell of fresh rain on legions of lush and fragrant pine trees. The opening chapter of this book transported me right back to those days when I could step into my backyard and really feel like I was a part of nature rather than a force acting in opposition to it. This is a book I can’t recommend enough because it appeals equally to your intellect and your empathy, and will really open your eyes and change the way you think about every single life on this planet.

confessions of an eco-sinner In his innovative and compelling book, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, Fred Pearce investigates the sources of the products that sustain our extravagant Western lifestyles, as he says, “to find out whether I should be ashamed of my purchases and their impact on the planet, or whether I should be proud to have contributed to some local economy or given a leg up to some hard-pressed community.” This is a fascinating manifesto and a picnic of a read. Each anecdote is short but infinitely thought provoking. As you embark on the journey with Pearce from the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, where “fair trade” coffee beans are bought by Starbucks at a dollar a pound, to the factories of China where young migrant girls supply the world with everything from iPods to Nike sneakers, you eventually reach a state of understanding and heightened awareness of just how interconnected our global chain of production and consumption really is. It’s also a book that will not only impress upon you a profound appreciation for the vast diversity of lifestyles and living conditions of the people that share this planet, but also like the author, leave you “with some optimism, about humanity and the huge potential we have to run our world better.”

Miss California: America’s Next Top Bigot

May 2, 2009


When I first heard about the debacle at the Miss USA Pageant, I was of the opinion that it was all just too ridiculous to take seriously. Just like Dan Savage from Seattle’s The Stranger said: “I couldn’t have been the only person in America who was unaware that the Miss USA Pageant had happened, or was happening, or was still in existence, until this incident occurred.” But in the days and weeks that followed, the event has turned into a major media spectacle, and with the announcement that Miss California Carrie Prejean is officially working with the National Organization of Marriage, it is now abundantly clear that not only is she not disappearing along with all the other disgraced beauty queens, she is actually going to continue being a public icon of ignorance and intolerance.

My first thought upon hearing of her new role was how could this woman, who has no qualms getting a free set of implants from the pageant organization and can’t even articulate herself in a marginally intelligent way, possibly be considered a role model for anything? The only value she holds for NOW is to be a pretty face intended to distract from their underlying message of hate and inequality. The only thing more ridiculous than organization’s entire aim is the fact that they are making a silly, inconsequential person out be such a martyr for sacrificing a title from a beauty pageant for her “convictions”. Fortunately, anyone with functional cognitive ability will be able to recognize her for what she really is – an utter failure of modernity and feminism in every possible way. The blog at said it best:

It’s not “religious persecution” to say that someone is a bigot for having bigoted views. It’s not “religious persecution” to argue that those who want to deny basic civil rights based on sexual orientation are bigots. It would be persecution to, for example, pass a law stating that a consenting Christian adult wasn’t allowed to marry another consenting Christian adult because of his or her faith, or to criminalize consensual sex between adult Christians. That’s persecution. Not, “I didn’t win a beauty pageant and then Perez Hilton called me a bitch.”

I find it very telling that those defending her remarks are putting all their weight behind the argument that she is entitled to speak out on her own personal beliefs and that she was unfairly attacked for having them. Sorry to break it to you, but when you become the spokesmodel for the National Organization for Marriage and work with them to create an ad campaigning against equal rights, it is no longer your own personal belief – it becomes an act of hate and oppression that is imposed on the public. It also speaks volumes that the people supporting her right to infringe on civil rights just happen to hold the same beliefs that she does. I’d like to know what makes her opinion that gay couples should be considered sub-citizens any more valid than Perez Hilton’s opinion that she is indeed a “dumb bitch”. In fact, the most importance distinction here is that Prejean is advocating against gay couples’ rights to marriage, whereas Hilton is simply calling her out for being a bitch rather than trying to take away her right to be one.