Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness and my Grandmother, Aruzoke Akunyili

I read this blog post that speaks to the hazards of pursuing happiness. From my own life, I have come to the conclusion that people learn to be happy, or to be miserable, from the context of their upbringing. We talk of happy children that never cried as kids as a constitutional trait, but that doesn't necessarily translate into adulthood. People are either generally contented and working towards various goals they set for themselves, or they are miserable, for reasons that have little to do with their circumstance. While Psychiatrists concern themselves with healing depression, I wonder if we should instead try to teach people how to be happy. Instead of setting the definition of happiness as the absence of adversity or sadness, perhaps someone should point out that the pursuit of happiness ends only when we are six feet under.

It was my younger brother's graduation recently. We sat in the hot tub atop a luxurious hotel in St. Louis reminiscing about hard times. And there was a lot of that in our recent past. The summer we spoke about was a particularly difficult one. We drove about in a clunker that cost more than a weekly paycheck to keep on the road and our sparsely furnished apartment was barely habitable by our current standards. Somehow, we were happy and we had enough pleasant memories to fill an evening with conversation.

Life is a journey. One is always going somewhere, planning something, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing; but despite the ups and downs, one can either enjoy that journey, or be miserable. There will never be perfect times, and there will always be hard times, but that does not mean there is no happiness. This is a lesson learned in youth, if at all.

My recently deceased grandmother was a woman who knew how to be happy. Her entire life was spent within a few hundred mile radius in Eastern Nigeria and it was a very difficult life with limited access to education. The struggle to improve her family's lot was incessant. She raised ten children, most of whom went on to obtain a college education and enter the professional upper middle class---no easy feat given the society's resistance to educating daughters at the time. I know of her own hard times only through the stories she told, but they were told with a smile on her face and many memories of happy moments punctuating the misery. She lived through a civil war, helped her husband build two homes (one in the village and one in the city), helped build the first Catholic church in her city, and supported the local priests (one of whom today is a Cardinal, Prince of the Church). She told me stories of having to climb into a tree with her sibling in a basket while slaves traders passed by underneath and praying the baby would not make a sound. My ten year old self would remain confused about the timeline of slave trade and her story. When she passed away recently, I spent a lot of time re-playing my many conversations with her. This time I had google to help elucidate my decades old confusion, and voila, I discovered that slave trade did indeed exist until almost the 1940s in eastern Nigeria. What a life!

I think of my grandmother often these days. I'm sad she's gone, but I am happy for the life that she lived.

 The pursuit of happiness is as complicated an endeavor as life itself, but being happy, being contented even as one works to better their life, that's something that you learn. I always point to my father when anyone asks why I am such a contended and generally happy person, but I suppose the credit extends to my grandmother, because he would point to her if asked the same question. I'd like to pay tribute to my grandmother and give thanks for her longest lasting legacy, one I hope to be able to pass onto the next generation: happiness while in pursuit of happiness...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The odd post in which I find myself in agreement with Charles Murray

The author of the controversial Bell Curve, Charles Murray, sat down for an interview with Charlie Rose. He recently wrote a new book about how the white working class is coming apart. I haven't read the book, but his observations laid out in the interview ring true.

I do think marriage is extremely important and I don't take it lightly. I rather people take the time to get marriage right, than marry in haste and divorce at the first bump in the road.

Women can do it alone, but that doesn't mean they should; and going it alone certainly puts their family at a disadvantage. It's one thing when life throws a curve ball and a woman is widowed or abandoned, but it always pains me to see women push unforgiving and uncompromising mantras on their girlfriends. If a man was good enough for you to marry, and good enough that you fathered his children, he's good enough for you to stay married to him. Now obviously, I am putting the onus on women to make better decisions when choosing a spouse, but the hard won gains of women in the past thirty years are worth nothing if they come at the expense of marriage and providing a good home for one's children.

While the upper class has managed to preserve their marriage success rate, working class women feel they are better off alone than with a useless husband. While I sympathize with the plight of the working class women who can't seem to find marriage worthy men, I feel that we underestimate the extent to which a marriage, and women generally, empower men to achieve the things expected of them. Working class men are falling behind because they have been robbed of their drive: their marriages and their children. A woman can feed a man's ambition, channel it, direct it, and curb his riskier instincts. There will always be men who are driven by blind ambition, but almost every father I know will point to his children as his raison d'etre. It's great that equality for women is closer than ever to being the norm, but men and women are equal, not the same.

A lot of what Charles Murray is saying in this interview resonates with me--minus the religiosity of course. There has to be another way to educate people about virtues that are in their long term interest without religious coercion.

Link to the Interview

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Dad, My Hero

It's Valentine's day. It's also my father's birthday. He turns sixty today, although you would never know it if you met him in person (age has been remarkably kind to him, or perhaps that's my mum's good cooking, her insistence on a healthy balanced diet, and the good non-genetically-modified produce in Africa). Anyway, I'd like to offer this blog as tribute.

My Father is a huge part of the person I have become. He is a feminist in the truest sense of the word; and if he ever had doubts about what I could achieve, he never let on. Although I was just a child, he asked for my opinion and discussed things with me. Those discussions shaped my critical thinking and analytical skills. He didn't want to know what I thought, he wanted to know why too. It wasn't just to humor me either, he was always genuinely interested. To date, that's my favorite question: Why? And until I come up with a rational for something, I don't buy in. I definitely think I am a more cerebral person than I otherwise would have been. And if sometimes I have an overblown sense of the importance of my opinions, now you know where to lay the blame. :)

My drive, my ambition and my multi-tasking skills are all Mum :), but my general contentedness is pure Dad. My father is a very happy man. He doesn't dwell on the negative things in life. My father lived through a civil war; he had to deal with the intricacies of an inter-racial relationship in socialist Romania and the racism of others; my parents both struggled when my sister was born with a heart condition; but, he was never bitter and he always extended more courtesy to others than their behavior warranted. It's easy to lose sight of the reality that despite the problems I might face, in comparison to most people, I am extremely lucky and blessed. My father taught me never to lose sight of that; not by pointing it out, or by preaching to me, but by living it.

My father is an idealist and not in the naive way young people are, but in the grind of everyday. He measures himself by the contributions he makes to those around him, to their quality of life and to leaving everything he touches in a better state than he found it.

The most profound lessons I learned from my father were never explicitly taught, but rather shared through the example of the principled life he has led. Now, my father is of a different generation and we don't agree on all the principles, but for the most part I do hope to mirror his example.

Happy Birthday Dad and here's to another 60 years of your wisdom and love. Prost!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Occupy Common Sense

Catholicism would be such a great religion, if we could do away with the Bishops. The majority of Catholic women have, rightly in my opinion, decided to ignore the Church's edict against contraception and to follow their conscience instead.

The only Catholics upset that insurance plans are expected to cover contraception are the Bishops. And I feel like they should go get laid already (Orthodox Christians are onto something by having married priests) ...This is getting ridiculous. Will the church retain any moral authority in the end? Or is the hierarchy just an ossified collection of men intent on keeping women barefoot and pregnant.

And before you start screaming freedom of religion, what about a Jehovah witness university refusing to allow insurance plans that cover blood products? Do they get an exception for that? Why does the Catholic edict against contraception deserve a religious exemption and not the Jehovah witness edict against blood products?

No one is asking faithful Catholics to use contraception, but there are Catholics, many good Catholics, who aren't running around having a dozen children. Those women should not be refused health insurance coverage available to everyone else. Insurance plans should not be used to impose Catholic edicts on Catholics and non-Catholics who happen to work for a Catholic school or hospital. To do that would be religious coercion.

Come on, Bishops...occupy common sense.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It's a new year

It's a new dawn, a new day, a new year. I don't know what this year will bring; surely sad times and happy times will be represented, more of the latter if I am lucky. I do know that every year brings with it unexpected events, pleasant surprises and some unpleasant ones. The year that just ended is such a blur-- went by so fast--but, I am most grateful for the amazing people I've met.

I know what I want from the New Year, but I can't imagine how the reality will play out; the only certain thing is that I have a wonderful village of friends and family by my side whose support will make 2012 a better year than it would be without their presence.

All hail the new year 2012!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Myth of Freedom

Land of the free and home of the brave. That's the way we like to hear America described, but how free are you?

It's not incidental that the latest protest movements, whether the Tea Party on the right, or the Occupy Wall Street on the left, drew its ranks primarily from the retired and the student populations. Everyone else just keeps their head down and goes to work everyday, because they are hardly free to do otherwise. Do you think your job is safe if you become associated with any form of protest? The government itself must uphold the rights enshrined into the constitution, but no Corporation is similarly bound. Don't believe me? Read any Company's policy on what can get you fired. Now that most public spaces are actually private property, something many people only realized as the scenes in Zuccotti park played out, our Government has effectively outsourced the job of citizen suppression.

It was election day this November. I didn't vote. I meant to, but I was at work from 9AM to 9PM. Technically, it was within my legal rights to take an extended lunch break of 2 hours and head for the polls. I say technically, because even my regular lunch breaks are usually spent at my desk; working lunches we call them in the corporate world. The consistently low turn out elections that effectively disenfranchises the working class exists by design. There are a number of easy fixes: elections could be held on the weekend, polls could be kept open late, or that one Tuesday in November could be a public holiday. None of this will ever happen of course, because low turnout is not a flaw of the system, it's a structural design.

The market places of yester years have been transformed into privately owned mega shopping malls where a store owner can't gain competitive advantage by keeping his storefront open longer than the competition if he were so inclined. In many states, even your own home is subject to local home owners association regulations; and heaven help you if your home is a condo. Your home--the very place that should be your sanctuary--might be your property, but even that does not give you free reign, as a Michigan woman found out when she faced criminal charges for planting a garden in her front yard.

Freedom of the Press is the most laughable of all the persistent myths. Who really thinks that reporters are not deferential to the source of their paycheck?

I'm not pointing out any of these things because I have a better solution. I don't. I've reconciled myself to the system. My good life is thanks to the complex system of competing interests that have forged this society. However, I can't buy into the national delusion that equates my good fortune with freedom. I have a great life, but I am hardly free. It is not even possible to protect my person from the humiliating ordeal of having to submit to a full body scan at the airport. I suppose I am free to not fly, but that would be akin to an inmate claiming to be a free man because he is free to die.

There is now a possibility that American citizens can be targeted for execution by the state without due process. This is limited to those the state believes are terrorists, not upstanding citizens like me--for now. Yet history tells us that the definition of terrorist can and will change. During WWII, it was Japanese Americans that were hurled off to camps. A few decades later, we hunted communist spies. Today the face of evil might be a Muslim Imam, but tomorrow it might be someone who looks very similar to me. At which point, all the freedom I have traded for the good life won't seem worth it. So my wish this Christmas is for that tomorrow to never come. I have already traded my freedom and so have you.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How we choose to die...

I just read an article about "How Doctors die". I never worry about my own death. I hope it will be painless and peaceful, but that's about it. I don't worry that the world will go on without me; much of it already does.

When they have to choose for themselves, most doctors choose a peaceful exit rather than last ditch heroics. I am not surprised.

It's always a good strategy to ask your doctor what they would do for themselves. They will try to be evasive, but when you can get them to be honest, it is worthwhile to weigh that option more heavily in your mind.

Obviously this article is entirely moot in non-western countries, where the paucity of medical care can rob the populace of a dignified life, but not of a dignified death.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gay rights for Africans

If David Cameron had bothered to talk to anyone that really cares about gay rights in Africa, they would have warned him that his attempt to nudge African nations into gay friendly stances will only push them into defensive postures as the optics of their former colonial masters issuing ultimatums will not go over well.

It comes as no surprise to me that the Nigerian Government yesterday passed a bill to make homosexuality more illegal than it already is.

The bill also contains this:

"Any person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or directly or indirectly make public show of same sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison."

I suppose they realize it is not just gay people that have to be silenced, their friends, family and anyone that might decide to advocate on their behalf must also be silenced.

I raise my voice in place of those who cannot speak, for my gay Nigerian friends, and for every gay person living under the tyranny of their society. I need them to know they have friends. I need to bear witness to the injustice they suffer on a daily basis. I need them to know I recognize their pain. I need them to know I share it.

It would be wrong to assume that this law makes any difference in their lives. It does not. The gay men and women in Africa live under such oppressive regimes that this will make no difference. This is perhaps the stupidity of David Cameron. A law granting homosexuals any rights would not change the society they live in. So too this law, condemning something that was always condemned, will change nothing but the letter of the law.

Let me be the first to predict that no one will see the inside of a jail house because of this law. And if they do, it will be because they have vexed the powers that be not because they are homosexual. Gay Nigerians are more resilient than this law. In Northern Nigeria they live in fear of being stoned to death; Yet there are few reports of stoning. In Southern Nigeria they face the wrath of the mob, beatings and discrimination; Yet they thrive, they love, and they live.

This law is toothless. All laws in Nigeria are toothless. This is a country that can't manage to provide for the security of its citizens, where people fear to travel because armed robbers and kidnappers lurk in the shadows. This is a country where only those too poor to matter end up in jail (and those with very powerful enemies). So this law is toothless, but it is also a wake-up call. Those of us that care for the dignity of human beings; those of us that believe people have the right to be free from coercion and fear; those of us that dissent from the spirit of this hateful law have to decide to be the change we would like to see in the world.

David Cameron cannot improve the lives of gay Nigerians. We can. Me and you. With very little we can make a change. Whether it is to speak out for those who have to remain hidden to keep safe, or to offer a temporary home to those who have been abandoned by their family. And to gay Nigerians, I beseech you not to accept this fate without fighting back. You don't have to take your cues from the Americans or the Europeans, but you owe it to yourselves to educate yourselves, to build up your wealth until you finally find your own voice. I believe the solution for gay Nigerians is to herald change from the inside. I also believe it will require education and a single minded pursuit of a larger share of the nation's economy.

Let's band together and actually make a difference. Being angry is not enough. Let this law become the battle cry for all those who would like to see that arc of history bend toward justice a little bit quicker.

To those that endure all the hate in stoic silence, I salute you. To those brave enough to be out, I am in awe of your courage.

Monday, July 25, 2011

About that US Constitution...

I walked past a man mouthing off to another across the street, "where is the President's plan?" I assume this was in reference to the current debt crisis debacle and I find that remarkably amusing.

When did it become the President's job to write legislation? Usher his ideas, priorities and goals for government through congress? Perhaps. But, this guy was calling for Obama to usurp power delegated to congress by the constitution. So much for saving the country from the Imperial Presidency.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Don't blame the Tea Party

I read an article today that really set me off. A "sane conservative" tries to talk some sense into his party about their voodoo-economics theory that nothing will happen if we do not raise the debt ceiling. Of course my reaction was, NOW you speak up? Were you in coma when the nutcases were let out of the asylum? How can a party about to nominate Michelle Bachmann for POTUS even claim there is any sanity left within its ranks. There isn't. It actually gets worse though, because even said "sane conservative" tries much too hard not to "get shrill".

Contrary to current liberal/sane conservative opinion, I don't agree that the Tea Party is to blame for the current mess. The Tea Party is only doing what it promised to do. The blame lies with the sane people on the right who choose to ride this monster and with the public who voted them into power (especially those who passed on casting a vote). If this ends in Depression 2.0, Americans have no one but themselves to blame.

That said, it amazes me that anyone thinks a depression will swing the country to the right--even the Tea party rallied against the health care bill by screaming about keeping government out of Medicare. If Republicans crash the current system completely and anger really consumes the mob, there is little chance it will herald a conservative dawn. Why? The public is in agreement about most things: tax rich people more, keep entitlements, enact stricter rules for wall street, end corporate welfare and quit shipping jobs overseas. I don’t see how the aftermath of the chaos won’t intensify these positions. Fearing restrictive legislative moves from Democrats, the financial industry might have backed the Trojan horse that will bring down their entire stack of cards. I could gloat, because, unlike most Americans, I have other options, but I’m too liberal to relish the human carnage that will result.

As for the sane conservative trying not to get shrill…it’s too little, too late.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Living in NYC

New Yorkers never attempt to offer up a different narrative when outsiders beat up on the city. There is the polite smile, and probably a mental eye-roll, but no attempt to enlighten those convinced evil lurks around the big apple.

The city is a horrible place to raise children, the cost of living is exorbitant, it is a cesspool of the decadent and the immoral, people are not kind or friendly; I've heard it all. Yet, today I spent the day kayaking on the Hudson--for free--and, afterwards, went for a long walk along the riverfront.

There were families out to soak up some sun, with their children in strollers if the kids were really young and on mini-me-too bikes if they were older. There were older folk and younger folk, some were alone and others were coupled, some had a dog in tow. They were white, black, Asian and many mixes thereof. If I'd walked by someone famous, I would never know it. I realized why no one ever bothers correcting the prevailing narrative. It's just one of those secrets New Yorkers would rather keep to themselves: that their great city is also very mundane.

The disinterested New Yorker? ha! The Downtown Boathouse that offers free kayaking (and lessons) to any one that shows up--is staffed 100% by volunteers. In fact, I would argue that there is a level of civic engagement in the city that's galvanized by living in close proximity to everyone else.

I'm not saying there aren't a fair number of jerks; I'm just saying, that's not the real New York.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What entitlement?

I had a conversation with a co-worker on social security and he was of the opinion that neither Social Security nor Medicare would be there when we retired (we are roughly the same age). Not, taxes will have to be raised; not, all that money we are spending on defense will have to be re-appropriated; just, it won't be there. It's not the first time I have heard this meme, either. This is a widely held opinion within my age cohort and it spells doom for the future of social safety nets.

If Gen X has been convinced we are paying into a ponzi scheme and we will never reap the benefits, then it's only a matter of time.

The contrast with Europe, where the safety net is almost a sacred mandate, is striking. Americans, at least those of my generation, are not a bunch of entitled fools. We expect to be alone in our time of need: very alone.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The right side of public opinion

Nate Silver [baseball statistics wonk turned politics statistics wonk] looks at the numbers and concludes that Democrats are on the right side of Public Opinion on the mix of spending cuts to tax increases that should be included in the deal to set our financial house in order.

My 0.02 cents:
1) Someone please tell the Democrats. The public option for health care was also exceedingly popular and they managed to nix it anyway.
2) Is the middle of a stalling economic recovery the best time to be putting our fiscal house in order? Scary times ahead.

Debt Ceiling Drama

The deadline to raise the Debt limit seems too close for a deal to be agreed upon, written and voted into law. Yet, the closer we get to August 2nd, the more intense pressure from the Republican moneyed elite will become to cut a deal, any deal. Enter Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's emergency eject plan.

Perhaps to prove Obama's point about mindless intransigence, the Tea Party crowd is literally calling for McConnell to be burned in effigy. The Republican leadership is being eaten by the monster they created and I wonder whether they can rally their caucus around any plan at all.

What happens next is anyone's guess. I'll be following the proceedings with the usual mix of confusion, amusement and horror. On the one hand, I worry about playing the long game with a petulant opposition that clearly has no actual method to their madness. On the other hand, I'm glad Obama is much smarter than I.

Aaron Sorkin should consider a new season of West Wing. Our current reality is a drama that writes itself.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

End of hiatus

I've not been active on my blog for a while: probably because most of my posts are usually politics and after the 2008 election marathon I was blogged out. 

It's time to slowly wade back into the blogoshere and it's rather fitting that I'm trying out a new publishing platform too. We'll see how it goes.  

Monday, January 4, 2010

David Vs Goliath, Internet vs TV, Kutcher Vs Industry Exec. Round One

Apparently CBS picked up a show, produced by Ashton Kutcher, called "The Beautiful Life." They made six episodes but dumped the show before it could garner a cable audience, airing only two episodes.

Ashton Kutcher, arguably one of the most influencial figures in genX pop-culture, believed in his show enough to take it elsewhere. He got HP to sponsor a youtube channel. All five episodes, including those never aired, have now found a home online - and an audience clamouring for more.

I watched a few episodes myself, and I was quite impressed - if not with the cheesy plot-lines, with the dept and complexity of the characters. This was a show with the potential of evolving into another "sex in the city" type series, which some people love and others like to hate.

The parallels with the trajectory of the newpaper industry is stunning. First you start putting out mostly trash - replacing scripted shows with reality television - then you start losing talent to alternative new age media outlets. If Kutcher pulls this off, if HP finances the production of the entire series, this will be the begining of the end for the networks too.

Distributed via YouTube, marketed via tweeter. Check it out -

Reason Enough to Buy a HP? Maybe!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

There's Something About This Man

Obama really believes in what he is doing. That's great to see. I think I have missed his unequivocal determination to get things done the right way since he has been in office; as President he has been far too mellow and willing to compromise. I needed this reminder that the fire was still there

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Let Us Bear Witness

In the most poignant merger of W.B. Yeats, voice and image - Mike Scott captures the essence of our role in the Iranian Green Revolution. All over the world, people online have been called to bear witness...and we have.

Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan

Friday, March 13, 2009

Kramer VS Stewart

I have been on a quasi blogging hiatus, mostly because despite the plethora of controversial issues I needed to do a lot of reading to wrap my mind around the moving parts of the narrative and the reality of this downturn. While I am sure Obama might get a thing or two wrong - my only comeback for the naysayers is that I sleep better at night knowing it's Obama in charge. Can you imagine McCain getting a handle on this economy, or to really make it a nightmare - Putin head spotting Palin?

That said, some people did some heavy cheer leading for the guys that got us into this situation. A point left to comedian Jon Stewart to point out after Rick Santeli got upset about Obama bailing out homeowners:
Jon Stewart Tears Into Jim Cramer @ Yahoo! Video

This lead to an all out counter from CNBC's Cramer and a strong comeback from Jon. He might be simply a comedian, but he's no wuss - and being right about this he wasn't about to back down.

So now it's all out war CNBC and all NBC affiliates versus Stewart including Joe Scarborough:

To end this week long war was a Cramer-Stewart sit down. Enjoy.

Topping it off, oh yes - white house responds!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Our First Family

Young kids in the white house again; beautiful, adorable young ladies. It will be a pleasure to watch this family reshape the cultural landscape and our conscious image of an African American family.