Exit, Exit, Enter

Democrats: the Party Founded on Racism
April 7, 2016, 8:28 am
Filed under: Politics

Race, political identity, and why political generalizations suck

Donkey and Elephant fighting on a track & field course with the catchphrase underneath, 'They're neck and neck folks... AND BOTH HEADED THE WRONG DIRECTION!'The United States Democratic party is known as the party for states rights – diametrically opposed to the reach of a centralized, federal government. Its political stronghold is in the South and are known for their championing of the people – farmers, especially – and definitely not the centralized bureaucracy or big banks. They are widely known to pander to racial undertones (and overtones*), which is one of the bigger differentiations between them and their political counterparts. So important is this issue that it led to a genocide and civil war.

This is the Democratic party as it was founded in the early/mid 1800s. Maybe it is just a political irony that the Democratic party, so widely known for its modern social and economic liberalism, was the party that led to the American Civil war and the Jacksonian Native American extinguishment from North America. Maybe it’s simply a historical fact.

After reading Jonna Ivin’s commentary on America’s political exploitation of racism and classism (and how Donald Drumpf, another rich benefactor of the political system, is making use of it to win over poor whites), it made me wonder whether either political party have historically been any better in avoiding such racial and classist exploitation in the name of political power?

As it turns out, the modern Democratic party as we organizationally know it started on the more controversial side of history in racial politics. Not only were Democrats the party of blatant racism and classism throughout the Civil War era, their racial pandering leaked far into the 20th century.

Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond at a podium giving a speech

Strom Thurmond on the podium

The congress member with the longest filibuster in American history was South Carolina’s Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond in 1957. What did he stand on the Senate floor blabbering on about for 24+ hours? The Civil Rights Act of 1957 (you know, the one where Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equal voting rights). Sure, by then Democrats weren’t genocidal racists (in the pursuit of happiness.. at least), but they were by no means the liberal, progressive party that we know them as today.

In the last 4 years we have witnessed an impotent, historically-ranked Republican congress. They have been productive to no end.. in obfuscating and blocking President Obama policies with filibuster after filibuster after filibuster. “Impotent” is approaching the subject light-heartedly when you look at their record-low productivity and subversive handling of the legislative process. All while they believe they are the true patriots, with a true belief in liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A picture of people in the Great Depression standing in line in front of a billboard boasting about American prosperity

However, a similarly obstructive Democratic congress, this time Democratically-inspired, filibustered the hell out of President Hoover during the Great Depression. Was it “patriotic” to block the legislative process then? When nearly 50% of Americans were out of work? It at least won Democrats the White House and Congress in a landslide. Sweet.

Now, maybe computers are a new invention, but this power-grubbing chess match known as politics has been playing automated since before the U.S.A. existed. It is being played now. And the longer we do not acknowledge that we are all pieces on the board, the longer our government doesn’t work for us. Republicans are racist. Yeah, so what? Democrats may not be as racist but were founded on racism.

Blind adherence to political labels and he-said-she-said finger pointing is what causes political abuses of power. Now, whether you believe it is President Obama or an unhinged political party that is abusing the power – that is for you to decide.

But, not realizing the context in which our ideas develop, and our beliefs set stone, is when we lose sight of the true injustices of our society.

Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Progressive, Rich or Poor – the problems are the same: Growing inequality (both income and otherwise), irreversible environmental damage.. and the list goes on with the less viable society that we are leaving future generations.

Now put your label aside and ask yourselves, how will we be seen by the next generations in history?


Run(ning) away from Tennis: How sports lead to a better you
March 29, 2016, 8:47 am
Filed under: Misc Thoughts | Tags: , , , , ,


The race

The guns fire and the first corral is off. These are the runners that have been runners their whole life – their genetics fortuned them the perfect leg-to-torso length ratio and physiology for long distance running. They likely have tripled or even quadrupled the 30miles a week I was running to train for this half marathon over the past few weeks.

This is my first half-marathon and the doubt was setting in. I am in corral 3 for my first 13.1 mile race – noted by the blue color of my bib. It is only fitting that I am branded with a unique number like innocent cattle being led to… well, you know. As the group of runners I am shepherded with approaches the starting line, I wonder if my heart will stop beating so fast. Most of all though I am wondering if the past 4 months of training will pay off in elation, or agony, or all of the above.

1 mile through and we’re over a bridge for our first major leg of the run. I am trying to run slower than I want, like they say to do in those articles for beginner runners, but the adrenalin is really kicking in.

4 miles and I guess I’ll speed up a bit.. cus I feel good. 6 miles.. nearly halfway through and feeling really good. 10mi – I’ve run this far in my long runs during training and so no biggie.

12.1mi and the last mile is ahead of me. This is a relatively big race and so the spectators are really excited for me to finish – just like I am, I think.

0.5mi … 0.4mi… 500meters… and my jets are on! The last 100meters and I start collecting myself for what I’ll do for the photo finish. Maybe I’ll throw up shaka (like we do in Hawaii) or I’ll jump or.. let’s just finish. As I step over the line my training comes to a point.The hours running in 20º Michigan weather and snow and sleet… had prepared me for this 65º Florida day.

The race critique

I am elated and agonized and all of the above. The pace I had picked up at mile 4 was really good, but I probably could have done better. I mean, I had been an athlete my whole life – why couldn’t I have made a sub 01:40 or even a sub 01:30 half-marathon time? There was no cheating myself out of it. This was great! This was different than anything I had experience before.

Running away from tennis

Years of playing tennis forces you to drudge on in this continually self-critical journey towards… nothing, really.

Fortunately, line calls in running are vastly different than line calls in tennis. There are no opponent challenges when you get over the finish line after running 13.1 miles. They have a picture – and a pose – and so you have proof. When you cross it, you score. The match is over. This competition is between you and you alone.

Growing up being engrossed in sports, this endorphin high that you get at the end of a race or win can cut both ways. A win or victory can at times make you euphoric, and yet at other times it can bite at you with a sense that you just could have done better – had you not missed a shot or choked up a lead.

Sports and competition and every day life?

Sports enable you to be perpetually self-critical – but this can cut both ways. Running for example is a battle primarily against yourself. Your time was good, but could it have been better? You ran 30 miles this week, but in 2 months you could be running 50+ miles per week! Imagine your progress then? As I said, it can cut both ways. How does this continual climb towards a forever changing goal translate to the world outside of fitness?

It could enable you to always be improving, always tweaking habits and mentalities so as to always be your best self.

Can this psyche of never settling – never quite being happy – be sustainable? Can you always be better than yourself? Could this psychological framing actually allow you the happiness and contentment that results from being at peace with your current self?

I’m not sure.

But, I am sure that I am going to keep striving for that Personal Record – that race time, that level of fitness, that level of professional and personal maturity. And no one is going to challenge that.

Cellular politics: the mobile effect

We all know about the popularity of cell phones. There are over 4 billion cell phone users world wide, and a nearly 2 out of 3 Americans own a smart phone. We are at all-times connected, in-tune and with our ear to the ground.

Cell phones are ubiquitous enough that their internal GPS chips enable smart-phone users to casually track real-time reporting of traffic. Take that, local news. The success of the tech sector in the 21st century has also shown the ubiquity of cellphones. Mobile gaming grosses over $20 billion a year (soon enough surpassing console gaming!) and has helped create the boom in twenty-something year-old multi-millionaires and billionaires. Mobile ad companies of the 2010’s have replicated the Google 2000’s success of using the internet as a proverbial billboard space. Time square is gaudy, but check out that sidebar.

Cell phone usage has affected nearly every facet of 21st century culture – from dating to fitness and finding fast food. It is no surprise then that cell phones have found an important place in revolutionizing the political process.

Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign opened the floodgates and transformed the political realm with his grassroots mobile campaign. Through what was considered an authentic, personalized mobile effort, then Senator Obama was able to engage with millions of Americans in what turned out be a historic nomination. The breadth of their reach through mobile was rumored to be immense, with 2.9million texts sent out to announce Joe Biden as his running mate alone. Secretary Hillary Clinton made it a point to have her website and voter outreach mobile-friendly nearly a year ago – 18 months in advance of the presidential election.

And, the landscape moving forward only sees broadening horizons for politics in the mobile ecosystem.

The approval ratings of traditional, establishment politicians are at historic all-time lows . While many were initially confused at the rise of Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders, there is one common theme of their unpredicted ascents through the political sphere: They advertise themselves as grassroots, populist candidates. So, what better way to engage and spur a movement than to make use of the ubiquity of cell phones? What better way to have a one-on-one conversation with a constituent than to speak through the piece of technology that almost every millennial has on their hip?

These mobile campaigns are a quintessential 21st century extension of technology into our lives.

Our private lives are interwoven with the advents of technology – from the never ending pull of social media to the draws of personal fitness tracking. Issues ranging from civil liberties to national security are consistently politicized, but at the same time we are not dissuaded from checking that instagram post.

From this generation and on, cell phones will increasingly become integrated into our lives.

How will politicians and marketers alike innovate? Will the ads and demographic pandering seem contrite and intrusive? Or, will they permeate into the subconscious, influencing the strata our tendencies and preferences? We will find out inevitably, from 2016 and beyond.



You know, climate change is real right, Florida?
March 9, 2016, 10:48 am
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , ,


It is March 9th, it is 77º Fahrenheit and you’re packing up your car for a spring break day at the beach. This is Florida. In the winter. Oak-lined streets, and fence-lined houses. Glasses – check. More importantly, Sunglasses – check. Sunscreen, Suburbs. A few sandhill cranes slowly walk across the street from St. Augustine grass-covered lawn to lawn as you drive out of your neighborhood.. because the wetlands they used are for whatever reason gone.

The seat’s hot in the car, but not nearly as hot as when it’ll be 90º around 2:30pm. Your shirt starts to cling to your skin like a plastic grocery bag from Publix, a local grocery store, on your sunscreen-covered arm. An hour this way, an hour that way – today’s a short beach day.. you know, cus that’s what people in Florida do. Ah… you finally find a parking spot amidst the sea of Ontario and New England license plates. After all, we’re never for lack of ocean or water here. Seagulls glide over-head waiting for the unwary beachgoer to leave a bag of chips unoccupied. Just please don’t do that. Just a little later in the day mosquitoes buzz, just when the sun starts to set a bit early. You know, because it is still winter.

It’s paradoxical, and involves an odd mix of feelings of awe and indifference, growing up in the outdoors in Florida. Like most states that get a lot of tourism for their nature (e.g. beaches), we Floridians have an interesting relationship with it. On one hand, fishing brings in over a million tourists to the state in a year, and yet many invasive species, with expanding distributions due to changing climate, and overfishing itself threatens it. Beaches are the one of the top draws for tourists coming into the state. Yet, rising ocean levels are predicted to make the most notable of them, along with their accompanied cities, partly disappear within the century. Florida is also one of the few states in the USA that has an increasing number of mosquito-born diseases. You know, because it’s warming.

In this state we’re used to the warm weather – not that that is what climate change necessarily entails. But, we’re used to it being hot and it being erratic. All too familiar are the afternoon summer cumulus clouds that roll in to thundering applause (we are the thunderstorm capital of the U.S., after all).

The question remains: with the economy and everyday habit of Floridians so closely tied to the goings and happenings of the outdoors and climate, why is there such a disconnect between this and legislation geared towards ameliorating these very apparent future problems?

With tourism and recreation, fishing and beach-going, disease-outbreak and livelihood so clearly engendered by our increasingly tropical subtropical climate, what gives?

When will crony capitalism and bunkered-in obstinate politics result in major parts of Florida disappearing and ceasing to be the retirement-home vacation haven that is? Now that I actually type that all out, maybe losing half of Boca Raton, Miami, and Tampa Bay may not be all that bad for our self-image within the country. Who needs an economy or a bougie, care-free beach lifestyle anyway?

It is natural for humans to be short-sighted. It is also natural for Floridians to want to be outside to play or eat or do what have you. Our weather is better than everyone else’s, it makes sense. It isn’t natural however or even slightly comfortable for us admit that many of our coastal cities, both in Florida and around the world, are going to be drastically affected by changing climate (and not in a good way). Whether you believe or not the 97+% of the experts that say we* have caused the climate be more erratic and increasingly warm, at the very least you have to believe that is becoming more erratic and increasingly warm.

That is undeniable.

And if that is undeniable, we have to get off our collective a**es and do something about it (hint – first step: say the words “climate change”). If not for the annoyingly long-term disease or economic benefits, but just to simply enjoy a day at the beach with our kids in the beginning of March. You know, right in the middle of winter.


*Yes, perhaps these experts that have committed countless Ph.D.’s to the subject are all conspiring for a liberal agenda to fund the plethora of corrupt renewable energy companies (hint: those don’t exist).

What an undergraduate degree teaches
May 5, 2015, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Misc Thoughts

Most people view educational degrees as this journey towards obtaining some sort of knowledge – to be awarded a Bachelor’s or Master’s is to know and be learned. So, I thought to kick off the reemergence of this blog by reflecting on what my undergraduate degree taught me.** Not what I learned on paper or through tests or theses, but the importance of my degree in developing me into at least a semi-functional, emotionally adequately-stable adult.

My undergraduate degree was in the natural sciences. I say this as broadly as possible because I learned shortly there into a research-based degree that the labelling of a degree, and labelling as a whole really, isn’t really all that useful. Labels are convenient for us to compartmentalize what are in reality complicated and very convoluted issues.  – whether it’s climate change or civil rights, labels can only get you so far. So, my major was in the “natural sciences”.

I learned shortly into my degree how important it was to enroll first as a music education major and then fail – fail really hard. And to fail over and over again at anything and everything. (On a side note, supportive and forgiving parents are of a great benefit to this aimless meandering!)

I’ve always been quite mediocre at a multitude of things – sports, school subjects, whatever. I was an A and B student my whole life (graduated my undergrad magna cum laude), played and sucked at a bunch of sports (but still somehow adopted the persona “athletic” ) and am widely sub-par when it comes to managing finances and any technical skills in my field.

However, I learned that regardless of where you are from, whatever your interests are, whatever your political party or religious view: people are people. And they naturally enjoy diversity. Diversity of opinion. Diversity of ethnicity and experience. We are fickle and love and embrace those that can indulge us in our curiosity. Learning this was really important for me to understand others and why anyone would want to hang out with me.

We all naturally want to know and learn and love and understand things, regardless of our own shortcomings.

Some firsts

  • I voted to decide who would be the President of the United States for the first time (and also voted to decide who would be the county commissioner). I learned that things both big and small are important and can impact things equally so.
  • I dated seriously for the first time and broke up seriously for the first time. I learned what it meant to be utterly convinced of your own opinion, very well knowing that they were utterly convinced of theirs.
  • I failed a course for the first time, and wondered what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life for the first time.
  • I owned my first car,
    • lost my first best friend,
    • bought my first camera,
    • broke my first camera,
    • got my first credit card,
    • got my first pet(s),
    • got into my first car accident.

There were a lot of inconsequential and consequential firsts, but they all happened.

I made best friends. I lost friends. People I knew were born, people I knew died. I learned about the importance of the dollar and the importance of living. I cried multiple times, I laughed probably too few.

I figured out what I wanted to be and what questions I wanted to answer. I figured out that I’ll never know all of them.

My time as an undergrad contorted me and challenged me. It showed others who I am and who I could be, and it made me ultra aware of tiresome cliches.  And so, my undergrad taught me something that I’ve not quite yet realized, and something yet that I’m not sure I’ll ever know.

What can I learn next?

**Disclaimer: seeing as how I have not yet achieved what I’d consider any appropriate level of success, this may all be moot and I’d have wasted all of your time. At least I learned how to mutter on for a long time and appear learned? These degrees will look great on my wall.

Nationalism and American Football
November 7, 2012, 11:23 am
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , , , , ,

Watching the American presidential election is really similar to watching an American football game. Everyone at the game is struck with fervor and insistent that their side is clearly superior to the other. Both team’s fans are also curiously confident that something – whether the colors blue or red or the apparent name of their team – definitively distinguishes the two teams from one another. As though both teams represent two concurrent paths to the truth, with one being surely wrong and one being surely right. This last point may hold true for sports, but I don’t think that it holds true for politics.

Watching the election yesterday as the votes were tallied was fun. I was at my University where a watch party organized by ABC gathered and unanimously, as I would imagine happened at most higher institutes of learning (not compromised by religious ideologues), cheered as the votes came in for Obama. I was with a friend who is studying here from Japan, and we both found the process interesting – 面白かった as I would say if I was talking to a Japanese friend today. My friend was enthralled by the apparent enthusiasm with the election – with how the American presidential election is so engaged and participated in. I was enthralled with how enthralled we all were.

Is this the kind of blind, us-vs-them nationalism that possessed our country during the world wars? I am curious as to what that was like. What kind of delusional, self-righteous xenophobia that obsessed the American psyche to the point where such world destruction in the name of American progress and security was deemed a necessary triumph. If that nationalism is any similar to the nationalism we experience on election day then I am glad that we have left that behind. That kind nationalism does not engross me at all.

I find it so funny that there are people in both parties who inexorably insist, upon accruing the necessary votes on the first Tuesday of November of every 4 years, that this win is a win for their country. They wave their flags, in their red, white, and blue clothing, and ensure one another that this option was more patriotic. It as though people who are Republicans, exclusively because they embrace the label “Republican”, do not wish to see that America succeeds in the long run.

I have not meant to say that I do not enjoy the enthusiasm of the modern-day American on (presidential) election days. We elected our first openly gay Senator in Wisconsin, legalized Marijuana in a bunch of states, and legalized gay marriage in a bunch of other states. We are a generation increasingly showing ourselves to be more liberal (see: sophisticated, nuanced, intellectual, compassionate…) and understanding. We obviously care, and it is great to see so many people exercise their right to understand what is going on in our government – to understand who the politicians, who influence everything that affects us Americans and many other countries, are.

Maybe voting for incumbent Obama was the best and most patriotic thing for our country this year. But, the blind enthusiasm has to exist beyond more than every 4 years to get the system changed; it has to exist beyond ubiquitous nationalism, punch lines and the colors red and blue. How about some modest, continuous, and intellectual engagement on the issues? How about voting every 2 years, regularly keeping up with what our crooked politicians are doing, and getting the money that screws up everything in the first place out of politics? How about realizing that just because someone identifies as another group does not necessarily mean that they are of the devil?

Yes, Americans can be passionate and intellectual and engaged, and when we channel that spirit we are the envy of the world. But, when we blindly use that passion only every 4 years, for a couple of months at a time, we are but an emulation of what the United States was. We look like the fat over-zealous, shirtless football fan in the stands on TV before a commercial of Doritos airs. Let’s work out a little, chastise some of our commercialism.. oh wait, how about we just not look the fat American football fan on election day?

On the Meaning of Life: A Japanese Lesson
August 3, 2012, 10:26 am
Filed under: Misc Thoughts

Aru (ある) and Iru (いる) are two verbs that most foreign Japanese-learners learn relatively early on. They are seemingly simple verbs: both are either (depending on which Iru you are using) conjugated like one of the 2 main groups of verbs. So, no problem there. They are also easily learned because they are frequently used early on to help the beginner formulate simple Japanese sentences. Grammatically these words are predictable and mean, quite roughly:

  • Aru (godan/consant-stem verb): (of an inanimate object) to exist; to have; to happen
  • Iru (ichidan/vowel-stem verb): (of an animate object) to exist; to stay; used to indicate continuing state of action when affixed to the -te form of a verb

So again, like most Japanese verbs, Aru and Iru have multiple meanings and can be used differently depending on context. Also, Iru has another meaning (roughly: to need) and can be conjugated like Aru. Two suggestively normal verbs and meanings.

However, I believe that the first meaning of each verb shares with us a unique, quintessentially Nihongo perspective on the meaning of life.

In the United States (in English), the definition of life is typically (and quite rambunctiously) argued over in the political sphere by way of abortion policy, but the dialogue is regularly complemented by philosophical and scientific musing about the tenets that compose the meaning of life. This analytic approach to defining life is useful. However, such reductionist applications to something as heralded as the definition of life are bound to turn some people off. Indeed, this approach to defining life regularly scoffs at those who believe that life is defined by the Spirit, which imbues the life-form in an obligatorily undefined point after conception. Spirit will, safe to say, never be considered in the Western scientist’s definition.

As a Western scientist myself, and regardless of whether or not I sound unnecessarily tolerant(ha), I feel that the definition of life will forever be elusive. Biologists have come up with 7 characteristics which have to be exhibited for life to be declared. These 7 characteristics will no doubt change (and that is something that I am proud!), but is the value of life of any real importance when defined in such biological terms? The life-form must exhibit homeostasis and response to stimuli. So what? Will this one day make me intolerant of the indiscriminate obliteration Human papillomavirus when someone freezes a wart? I dare say nay.

I believe that the Japanese and other Asian cultures have something to offer to the discourse – even if their affront to confrontation will in the near future prevent any attempt of inclusion. I feel that Aru and Iru are words that come from a society (one from whom we can learn) whose approach to a definition of life is more inclusive, more productive and less belligerent.

I do not mean to say in this post that biological definition of life is unimportant or that the inclusion of a Spirit be obligatory, but what I do wish to insist is that we be more aware of the effects that our actions have on other things. What is the importance of defining life biologically? It surely won’t provide any insight medicinally. Whether they be living or inanimate, the  treatment of our planet – and all of ITS animals, plants, resources, people, and things.. because those are all ITS things – is more important than the definition of what is deemed worthy of living. We should more often treat with kindness and understanding and not be so quick to hate and indiscriminately discriminate.

The Japanese understand the importance of conservation. They have words specifically for the regret of wasting. They are constantly, regardless of whether or not that recognition is due to unfortunate means, irrevocably and appreciably aware of their environment. We Americans and Westerners are constantly looking for efficiency rather than saving something because it is prudent or morally or sentimentally valuable.

To me, the existence of ある and いる are indicators of an appreciation for nature and life which is engrained into the Japanese language and culture. We can learn a lot about life — and our definitions of it — from this.