Thursday, September 25, 2008

MacArthur "Geniuses"

Each year, the MacArthur Foundation names 25 new MacArthur Fellows, otherwise known as the "Genius Prize." Each of these Fellows receives $500,000 over five years, no strings attached. There is no public nomination process - the whole thing is done in secret - and the winners have no idea they were even being considered until they get a phone call from the Foundation.

(side question: how do they know they are not being punk'd?!)

This year's winners include a writer, a farmer, a geneticist, a musician, a sculptress, and a stage lighting designer.

I LOVE reading about these folks! Meet the "Geniuses" here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Power of Positive Thinking

The Power of Positive Thinking - is there a bigger cliche than that? Well, there might be something to it...

Today I did my usual Wednesday morning volunteer gig - I volunteer with cancer patients at a local hospital. It is, without a doubt, the best part of my week. I love chatting with the patients, usually about what's going on in the news or what they are reading or whatever silly TV show they are watching to pass the time. We don't necessarily talk about their cancer, unless they bring it up first.

Today, I was so inspired by a patient who I always enjoy "hanging out" with; we'll call him Mr. J. He was describing to me and another patient how, when he was diagnosed with a very serious form of cancer, his disease was so advanced that he was basically given no chance to live.

Mr. J. is such a positive, sunny person. I had no idea that his cancer was so serious. The way he chats and jokes around... he seemed like he was barely sick.

He was saying that his recovery has been so miraculous, so unprecedented, that the doctors at the hospital are bringing in specialists to study him and figure out what worked so well. He credits his recovery to 2 things: his chemotherapy, and his positive attitude.

Chemo does work wonders for many patients, but Mr. J's recovery is really above and beyond all logic. I asked him about his positive attitude, and he said he's always been a positive person. Of course, he has had his dark moments in dealing with cancer, but his overall disposition is just positive and sunny.

I think some of us are born this way, and some of us (like me) have to work at it a bit. But this "positive thinking" stuff really does seem to work. I'm not really sure why, or how, but again and again you hear stories about how important it is.

I think that the universe sent Mr. J. to me today to try to tell me something. (something along the lines of: "get over yourself, and think positive thoughts!") Even if I don't really understand its power... I think I'll keep trying to return my mind to a positive place.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Back to the Source

Look down at the shirt you are wearing. (and if you are not wearing a shirt, I don't wanna know about it). Touch the fabric. Look at the color.

Who made it? Who cut the fabric, sewed the edges, attached the tag at the back of the neck?

And... who made the fabric? If it's a cotton shirt, who picked the cotton?

Crazy to think about, right?!

The September/October issue of GOOD magazine highlights a guy in Brooklyn named Scott Ballum who has pledged to spend a year meeting the people who produce the things that he buys. For example:

To drink his morning coffee, Ballum first introduced himself to the owner of his local cafe, then to the man who roasts the beans and, finally, to the Nicaraguan woman who grows them (conveniently, she was visiting Brooklyn). A lot of work for a cup of coffee, sure, but for Ballum, the rewards are obvious and tangible. In a disconnected world, he actually knows where his stuff comes from. ("Consumer Connection" by Andrew Price, GOOD Magazine, Sept/Oct 08, p. 30)

While I would love to make another trip to India to meet the guy who picks the leaves for the tea that I drink, I don't see that happening anytime soon. However, I do think I can do this on a smaller scale, e.g. buy produce at the farmers market and meet the folks who pick my veggies.

What's the point?:
  • The more stuff I accumulate, the more fuel and resources it takes to get the stuff to me. There is some value in knowing where my stuff comes from and trying to stick to local sources.
  • In a world where we can sometimes feel disconnected or isolated (take it from someone who works from a home office!) it's nice to remember that almost everything I use and own has been touched by human hands.
Scott Ballum is blogging about his experiences - check out his blog to learn more.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Community Organizing - Why the bad rap?

If you were as disgusted as I by Governor Sarah Palin's derogatory, condescending remarks about Barak Obama's community organizing days - or heck, even if you think Gov. Palin was right! - please read on...

I can't figure out how community organizing suddenly became a derogatory term. Some of these organizers are true heroes, helping people with few resources and no political clout to obtain health insurance, job training, and safe neighborhoods - resources to which all Americans should be entitled.

Why would someone bash such a profession?

So I decided to do a little digging and find out just what Obama was accomplishing in his community organizing days. According to an article in The Nation ("Obama's Community Roots," April 16, 2007, by David Moberg), here's what Obama was up to:

"Obama and DCP [Developing Communities Project - which focused on black neighborhoods on the south side of Chicago] protected community interests regarding landfills and helped win employment training services, playgrounds, after-school programs, school reforms and other public amenities. One day a resident at Altgeld Gardens, a geographically isolated public housing project surrounded by waste sites, brought a notice about planned removal of asbestos from the project manager's office. Obama organized the community to find out if there was asbestos in their apartments. They persisted as officials lied and delayed, then took a bus--with far fewer people than Obama had anticipated--to challenge authorities downtown. Ultimately, the city was forced to test all the apartments and eventually begin cleaning them up."

Employment training? After-school services? Protecting residents from dangerous carcinogens? It takes a lot of ... ummm ... "guts" to stand up in front of millions and say that such work doesn't matter. I don't think the lower-income, minority residents with whom Obama worked would say he was wasting his time... Palin's comments about this work are insulting to those community members, and to me.