Friday, August 21, 2009

I've moved Tim Brauhn

After a goodly amount of time here at Blogger, I've packed up shop and headed over to Wordpress. It had to happen someday. So head on over to In the Hand of Dante at TimBrauhn.com. Thanks Blogger!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Kenya Series - Mt. Longonot

A fantastic slide show, complete with funny captions, follows this post.

Our team from The 1010 Project spent a few days visiting with a partner in Western Province, then headed to Lake Naivasha in the Central Highlands of Kenya. Naivasha is big and beautiful - it's in the bottom of the Great Rift Valley - and the entire area is covered by flower farms. Apparently Kenyan roses have a huge market in Europe. The lake has hippos and monkeys and storks and whatnot, but I wasn't all that interested in such beasts. My goal was to climb Mt. Longonot, an extinct volcano about 20 kilometers from the lake.
I recruited The 1010 Project's Development Coordinator Emily Ruppel and we planned the trip. Before long, word had spread that we were going to be awesome. Our team grew. Our buddy Josh came along, as did two people from Northside Christian Church in Houston, Texas. The Houston team was traveling with us for part of the journey, visiting our partners in Nairobi and Vihiga. Aldo and Pastor Dave would be joining us on the climb.

We started a bit late on Friday morning because we had some difficulty finding cheap transportation. By about 9:45 am, we were ready to start what by all estimates was a four-hour climb. It's actually only 630 meters (2000+ feet) from the base to the top of the crater, so we weren't entirely certain what to expect; I had (unlike most other outdoor things) done scant research on our climb. As it turns out, that 630 meters is fairly strenuous because it's NEARLY ENTIRELY VERTICAL. There is only one path up the side of this monster volcano, and it is S-T-E-E-P, let me tell you. Further complicating our climb was the omnipresent dust. It's all super-old volcanic ash and such, so the minute you put your fit in it, you sink two inches. It was like climbing in sand - my legs were getting beaten up.

Pastor Dave, a young man in our minds, was still about a decade and a half older than the oldest of us, and as we climbed, he grew increasingly short of breath. After one particularly grueling section, we took a break and he mused that he would likely not be able to reach the summit with us. At that point, we were close enough to where the rim of the crater was within another two or three strong drives. We told Dave that he could definitely make it, and that we weren't that far from the top. It was like a motivational speech or something.

Well, Dave cowboyed up and as we crested the top and stared down into the crater of a MASSIVE EXTINCT VOLCANO IN THE GREAT RIFT VALLEY IN KENYA, Dave collapsed to his knees and let out an "Oh my..." The view was amazing - on the one side we were looking back over the Rift Valley and its endless expansiveness. On the other side, we were looking into a giant crater full of forest. It was amazing. The photos following this post cannot do it justice.

Dave thanked us for inspiring him to go those last few hundred feet and we walked around the rim for an hour before heading down. If the climb was tough, the descent was pure awesome. We ran down large sections, kicking up massive dustclouds as we went. In fact, the powder was so fine that we were even able to "dirt ski," as it were:


Yes folks. That is Kenyan dirt skiing.

By the time we reached bottom, the sun had really started to heat up. We sat in the shade and waited for a ride. I had to shower with my clothes on and it still took two more washings to get all the dust out. We had conquered a volcano in Africa and had a great time of it. We found out later that day that where we were on the rim stood at about 8,000 feet above sea level. This would explain why Pastor Dave, a man who is easily active in Houston, might have had a rough time of it. He laughed when we told him. All in all a great day. Here are some shots to back up the post:



, , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Kenya Series - Amsterdam (to be updated with videos later)

So I'm midway through an eight hour layover in Amsterdam. Holland is a nice place. I rode a bike through this very old city and felt quite Dutch. The only things missing were clogs, tulips, and giant windmills.

The people here are very nice and I wish that I could bottle up Dutch accent and sell it. Old buildings and new buildings - typically European. I came out onto the city at about 6:30 am. For two hours I saw about ZERO people. The city was a dead zone.

I wanted a nice coffee drink, which I eventually got, but I had to wait a number of hours to find a shop that was open! They like to start late, I think.

Expect videos to back up this post later. I've been using the dickens out of my Flipcam, so Youtube will be my next endeavour. Until then, friends.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Kenya Series - 2

I climbed a mountain in the Great Rift Valley today, but I don't want to blog it until I can upload the pictures, i.e. when I return to the States.

In the meantime, we're heading back to Nairobi tonight. Next week will be very busy, as we meet with partners, make great plans, and work on implementing our recent grant.

I'm in great health, sleeping wonderfully, and I miss everyone and most things. I'll be in touch.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

JAMBO - Kenya Living

Hello all. I feel strange for not being able to blog this excursion up, but my connections have been a bit slow. Oh well. It's nice to be able to touch base here.

I'm sure I'll tweet this when we hit the road again, but if I had two words to describe the Kenyan countryside, they would be: "carelessly verdant." Seriously, everything is either a strange mass of strange trees or a field of plants. Lots of farmers around here. We drove out to Western Kenya last week, almost to Lake Victoria, and slept under bed nets in an orphanage where one of our partners works.

In case you don't know, I'm here with The 1010 Project, a Denver-based humanitarian organization that partners with social entrepreneurs in the developing world to break the cycle of poverty. Aside from two organizations that are based in the rural west, we have a number scattered across the slums of Nairobi. I'll be heading to Korogocho and Kibera and Kayole and Matopeni in the coming days.

It's amazing here, it really is, and I'm super-glad to be with The 1010 Project. I'm our Fundraising Coordinator, and part of our trip involves me implementing a grant that I wrote a few months back. Our partners are VERY happy to work with us on some specific income-generating projects.

Some highlights: Helped a 4 year old Luhya girl carry a 20-liter jerrycan of water through a cornfield to her home. She smiled. I addressed a crowd of what looked to be 40,000 street children in Matopeni, singing songs and dancing and telling stories. I thanked a baboon for laying the groundwork for the internet and Twitter. Got bit by a mosquito, which means a LOT more here than it does in America (check out previous posts, which I can't link to now, about my work with the Interfaith Youth Core and Tony Blair Faith Foundation).

I'm likely to spend the first week of July writing a bunch of impassioned posts about these and other things and putting them up, but for now, I just wanted to check in and thank you all for following along with my work. You folks are a big part of the work I do - I see it in the congratulatory tweets as much as I see it in the smiling faces of orphans and entrepreneurs that we work with in Kenya. See you all soon.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tim's Going to Kenya

OK. So I take off on Monday morning for Kenya. That's in 3 days. Got a few things to do.

I'm traveling with a team from The 1010 Project, a humanitarian organization here in Denver. We partner with creative and innovative social entrepreneurs in the developing world to break the cycle of poverty. As the Fundraising Coordinator, a big part of my job is writing the grants that help keep us trucking along. But to write good grants, and to keep our international development work running smoothly, we need DATA.

We're going to Kenya to meet with partners and friends in our community-based organizations. They're mostly in Nairobi, scattered across the various slums and estates, but we do have a few rural partners as well. We'll be going all the way out to Kisumu near Lake Victoria. We're collecting boatloads of photos, lots of video and audio, and most importantly, stories. We view ourselves as storytellers - our tagline is "Join the Story" - and we're going to talk with the people that our income-generation activities benefit. We'll be visiting schools, orphanges, microfinance institutions, women's empowerment groups, and HIV/AIDS support groups.

I've never been to Africa, but I hear good things. Our team is super-talented and super-cool, so I don't expect any problems. I'll be tweeting along with our Director of Communications, Mark Mann. With luck, we'll be tweeting like mad by next Wednesday morning, or for those of you in Denver, late Tuesday night (there is a 10-hour time difference). So stay sharp, keep up with us, and we'll see you when we get back!

, , , , ,

Friday, May 29, 2009

Why I Like Sci-Fi

Found a neat little clip from Babylon 5 (you might remember it from back in the day - "our last, best hope for peace") while ignoring my final for Modern Islamic Political Theory. I think it's a great reminder of how diverse and interesting our planet is:



Graduate School

A few months back, I read (with a somewhat horrified face) and commented on Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist post "Don't try to dodge the recession with grad school." It's a silly post, really, full of lovely little bits of wisdom like "Law school is a factory for depressives" or "Going to grad school is like going into the military." I usually enjoy Penelope's stuff, if for nothing else than her honest, self-effacing style. This post was different.

My comments were less than supportive. Her gist was that graduate degrees require overinvestment of both money and time. Money, being tight in a recession, is pretty important. Time, according to her, can best be spent at other jobs, even those outside one's experience or comfort level. We are reminded of people who try something different and in doing "figure out what they always wanted to do but didn't know they wanted to do but can now do with their whole heart." She recounts working on a French chicken farm and the non-traditional learning that she did while working in the coop. It helped her along her path.

I stand now at the end of two years of graduate school at a prestigious school and an even more prestigious program. I'm dozens of thousands of dollars in the hole. I couldn't be happier.

When I completed a year-long resident fellowship after finishing my undergraduate work, I knew that my skillsets were incomplete. I needed to know how to do interesting things. I needed to meet interesting people. Something told me that graduate school would guide me. And it did - I've made some outstanding connections, professional and nonprofessional, that will serve me very well in the future. I've made friends. I coordinate fundraising and social media for a local humanitarian organization (as it turns out, I have a passion for international development). I can write grants and I know the social web pretty well. I have a job waiting for me in San Jose, CA where I'll be working to eradicate malaria.

Did I spend two years well? Sure! Could I have done so more cheaply and still found my passion(s)? Certainly! Now I refer back to Penelope's post and think even less of it. Graduate school shouldn't be for everybody, but to come out and lambaste it (with plenty of support - check the comments) is shortsighted. I don't know a single person who's dodged the recession by furthering their education and networking, and I doubt that I ever will.


, , , ,

Standard "I Haven't Blogged in a While" Post

I haven't blogged in a while.


,

Friday, April 24, 2009

Eradicating Malaria With the Tony Blair Faith Foundation


Hello web-friends,

I have been appointed to my dream job and I need your help to make it rock.

I have been selected to join the Faiths Act Fellows, a cadre of 30 young interfaith leaders in the US, UK, and Canada who will spend August 2009-June 2010 working to promote malaria eradication. This is a brand-new program which will operate under the auspices of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation (yes, THAT Tony Blair) and the Interfaith Youth Core. It's all fantastically exciting! I'll be traveling to London at the end of July (farewell, Denver) for induction and training. Then it's off to a malaria hotspot in Africa for on-the-ground work. We finish with training in Chicago. I report for duty to the Islamic Networks Group in San Jose, CA on October 1st. My job will be recruiting faith communities, and especially young people of faith, to work towards malaria eradication. Getting rid of this wicked mosquito-borne sickness can be done!

It goes without saying that I will utilize the fluid world of social media in order to reach these goals. I blog, tweet, and share most things, so this will be no different. I will be relying on my network (all of you) to help me spread the word and find kinds of people who can partner with me to get things done.

I'm short on the finer points and details, and for that I apologize. As a first order of business, I need to know ANYTHING about San Jose. My first ever trip to California is this Saturday when I attend the Nonprofit Technology Conference, so any advice/thoughts are welcome.

Post what you will, and send this one far and wide - the more, the merrier!

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Leadership vs. Leading

In most of the projects that I've been involved with, I've found that there are often severe gulfs between what I would call "being a leader" and "leadership as such." We've all been on both sides of this divide: we either are leaders or we are led by them. Here are a few of the distinctions that I've seen when I've had to fill a leadership role:

1. Leadership as such - In this case, we'll say that I've undertaken a large project. I am leading a team of folks (usually students like myself). During our meetings, I provide lots of good ideas and excitement. I can bring experience and networking. I delegate and decide and draw up plans for the team. At the end of our meetings, we go through our to-do lists and run out the door shouting our enthusiasm.

And no one does anything. The to-do lists do not get fulfilled. Meetings don't get scheduled. Forms aren't filed. I fail - I fail the team.

Now let's see the other side:

2. Being a leader - My group and I have undertaken a large project. Although I am leading the group, my real job is simply to steer our collective energy. We bounce around ideas to all groups members. We make lists and figure out where our individual strengths reside. We draw on all of our talents to construct a big-picture that we can move on as a unit. At the end of the meeting, we know what we have to do.

And it all gets done, and done well. Things come together because the team as a team has congealed. Who the leader is doesn't matter. What the team has done matters. If things don't turn out well, it's the team as a whole that needs to change something. We can learn.

It has taken me a long list of small failures to realize these things, but it's important to remember that true leaders don't so much point and command as empower and support.

Flickr photo courtesy of Dunechaser.

, ,

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Those Strange Happy Days (selfish post)

And there are mornings when, sitting in my chair by the window reading, in this case, an intellectual history of the birth of modern sociology, I'll set my book down, take a sip of warm tea and breathe deeply (usually nag champa fumes) - everything goes crystalline.

I've often wondered if it's some strange combination of "upper" hormones and sunlight, or if the post-rock Icelandic crooning that I'm listening to is somehow changing the way my mind orders priorities. In doing so, I've found that I don't really care how it happens, how I can have these moments of stunningly happy clarity and sense of purpose. I do know that as I stand here typing this post, it takes every fiber of my being to not shout with joy and run outside toward the sun.

There's nothing in my existence that suggests I lead anything less than a charmed life, and while there is always a part of me that says, "Stop talking so much about how happy you are!" the fact remains: Every day is an explosion.

Whew. I've got great friends, great family, pets (they live 900 miles away, sadly), my health, plenty of tea, and an overwhelming, perhaps uncomfortably, optimistic future-view.

I'm riding a smile-boat on an ocean of unicorns and stardust, and doing what I can to bring that feeling to those around me. Keep up the good work, everybody. We're all in this together.

, , , ,

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Twitter: Training Wheels, Airbag, or Insurance?

I'm pursuing a number of job opportunities right now. If I'm hired, I might move away from Denver. I'm casting my net wide, so I'm not really sure where I might end up, but I know that before I get there, I'll try to build up my Twitter network with local contacts - people who might be able to help me navigate the move and so on.

As I thought about how I could best leverage my current and future network, it occurred to me that we can look at Twitter in three distinct ways: as training wheels, as an airbag, or as insurance.



Training wheels - The world moves at about a million miles a second nowadays. It can be frustrating and time-consuming to enter the stream all at once without help. One of the much-touted uses of Twitter is helping people. We need to know where to go for Kindle support, or what kind of RAM our computers need, or even how to use Twitter itself. Other users can act as training wheels to help speed us along into the web and in real life.

Airbag - Bad things happen. As an airbag, Twitter can help to insulate us against problems. Closely related to its use as training wheels, there are many ways that we've seen the community come together to help those in need, as it did when David Armano helped Daniela and her family. With many of our jobs in crisis, Twitter can be helpful for job-finders or even those seeking state and federal help to get by. An airbag is used to slow us down in an accident and prevent big hurts; Twitter, as a community of interesting and interested people, can be that airbag.

Insurance - Last but not least, we cannot ignore the power of microblogging to aid us in our most desperate...or our most powerful. Let me explain: Last April, a blogger tweeted about his arrest in Egypt. The message got out and so did he. Imagine witnessing a crime on a city street. Unable to stop the criminal, the best you can do is shoot out 140 characters describing his or her appearance. It's a rough example, to be sure, and there's no guarantee that it will necessarily help the situation, but at least it's something. And in terms of power: a Twitter user snaps/uploads a Twitpic of an elected official engaging in questionable activity (let your mind wander). Boom! Lights out. Twitter in the hands of a disgruntled employee can also be wielded with frightful results, if that employee was so inclined.

Training wheels, airbag, or insurance. It can be one, all three, or none of these. How do you see Twitter?

Flickr photo from user kate at yr own risk

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Religion on Twitter

Here's the questions:




And here are the answers:


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What is Twitter?

This video explaining Twitter is awesome. I think it should replace the Common Craft version that Twitter uses:






, ,

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shakespeare Factoid of the...Year?

I'm visiting home for spring break and a job interview. While sleeping on the couch very early this morning, my mother dropped what she called an "interesting fact" on the table next to me. Upon waking, I read this (apparently from a "Fact-a-Day" calendar, dated Wednesday, January 28th):
It is believed that Shakespeare was forty-six around the time the King James version of the Bible was written. In Psalm 46, the forty-sixth word from the first word is shake, and the forty-sixth word from the last word is spear.
Holy moly.

, ,

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Of Advertising and Return

A little while ago, I caught a tweet from @davewiner pointing out that super web-guy and blog-champ @jasoncalacanis was offering Twitter $10000/month to be on the "Suggested Users" list. I retweeted it and offered Mr. Calacanis $5000/month to relentlessly promote him and his work. I wasn't entirely serious, and I'm convinced that my response was out of line. But that is neither here nor there.

Calacanis responded to @davewiner, clarifying that the offer was payable in advance for two years' standing on the "Suggested Users" list. Do the math. That's $250000 for a presence on a list for a service that hasn't completely figured itself out (this is largely due to the fact that Twitter morphs on an hourly basis!). Calacanis is entirely justified in wanting a spot - Twitter continues to explode, and as more and more people come to it, they'll likely check the Suggested list for who to follow.

But I'm not so sure that dumping a quarter of a million dollars on the "Suggested Users" list is the best way to promote his stuff. If Mr. Calacanis was serious about attracting not only regular web-users but also the people new to the social web, he could find better ways to spend the money. Why not "blow" the money on anti-malarial bednets; 25000 bednets is a lot of safe families in the developing world. Such a gift would generate immediate mainstream media attention, and the story would certainly get around on Twitter. $250000 would also start a lot of businesses in the developing world (shameless plug there).

I'm not questioning his methods, and I'm certainly not complaining about his advertising budget. But if he wanted to make a big splash, both in terms of regular and web-media, there are many "Suggested Awesome Things" that he could do instead.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

FedEx Freebies

FedEx/Kinko's will provide job seekers with 25 free copies of their resume (albeit for only one day, March 10). It's a great example of socially-conscious marketing. The round-up is here at Microgiving.

I oftentimes see companies doing things like this. My first reaction is always one of excitement and empathy. I immediately see the company in a better light. My second reaction is always one of suspicion. When my first reaction is not invalidated by the second reaction, as in the case of FedEx, I smile even wider.

Monday, March 2, 2009

PeaceJam

The 1010 Project was asked to present a workshop on poverty eradication at a PeaceJam conference here in Denver this past weekend. The Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator and I were going to co-present, but she fell ill and I flew solo. I think it went well. The room was packed, the kids asked good questions, and none of my multimedia fell through.

Some of the tougher questions were about comparisons between microfinance institutions in the developing world and sub-prime mortgages in the US. It sounds crazy, but it's a good question. I answered that we have to hope that our rosy vision for the future is correct, and that communities in the developing world have a better sense of...community...than the rest of us. Other good questions were about regulation of the informal sector in our world's slums. It really was a lot of fun. I'll include the description of the workshop below for your perusal:

Initiatives to tackle poverty are not new, but the methods and best practices employed by people to do so change quite often. Even twenty-five years ago, the prevailing notion was that eradicating poverty could be done from the top down. Those initiatives failed, or produced systems of dependence wherein no real change was made. What was needed was a shift from the top-down model to a bottom-up model. What was needed was ownership of poverty eradication by the very people who would benefit from it: the poor.

It is important to explain to the general public, and especially young people, that ending poverty is not simply a question of how much foreign aid is sent to the developing world but rather a question of where that money is going and how it is being used. Purchasing emergency rations during humanitarian disasters is perfectly noble, but when the food trucks leave, are the people there really in a better position?

The 1010 Project employs a model of development that ensures sustainable, healthy growth coupled with positive social change, and we are not alone in our work. There are countless activists in developed and developing countries working hard every day to make sure that foreign aid dollars and individual donations are used to their greatest effect. This is achieved by actually listening to what the poor have to say. They usually have ideas about how they can help themselves and their communities to break the cycle of poverty but just lack the resources.

Also important is the notion that the “conversation” about poverty is changing. We are used to seeing photos of hungry children and destitute slums; we are told time and time again about the conditions in such places, with malaria and HIV/AIDS running rampant. The conversation now includes success stories; reports about community-based organizations coming together to help each other. Billions still live on less than $2 per day, but every day, thousands of people and families are lifting themselves out of poverty. We know how to help them, and they are more than ready to partner with us.

We will walk participants through the following content areas:
  1. Introductions: Our icebreaker is discussing what “poverty” means to us. This is, in a large way, the perfect starting point for any discussion about ending global poverty – defining it.
  2. History of foreign aid infrastructure and poverty alleviation/eradication techniques.
  3. Description of The 1010 Project methodology as it relates to poverty eradication.
  4. Description of other NGO/NPO work, e.g. Kiva, GlobalGiving, etc.
  5. “Success stories from the field” – Describing the positive effects of in-country ownership of poverty eradication initiatives.
  6. Taking it to the streets – What can activists do to advocate on behalf of the poor, and how can those successes be expanded upon and globalized?
  7. Q & A

, , ,

Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Am I Going To Do With These Things?

This is a wooden block with a slit cut in it. I don't mean to insult your intelligence, I simply want to be sure that you understand what we are dealing with here. I've got a large bag filled with around 150 of these little things, leftovers from a silent auction some years back (they held up description cards).



They measure 2.6" x 2" x 3/4" and feature a slit running halfway into the block at a roughly 75-80 degree angle. At least I think it would be 75-80. They range a bit in color, since they were probably cut from junk wood, and a few have paint splashes on them, but they overall uniform.

I hate throwing them away, so if I can't figure out good and craft-worthy plan, they're heading to the local Freecycle list. So I ask you all: What on earth am I to do with these things?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Because People Want To Know...

I happened upon an ABCNews story about Twitter that featured such luminaries as George Stephanopoulos and MC Hammer. I've got no idea how to post the damn thing in here, so I'll just link out to it: John Berman catches up with MC Hammer about Twitter. John Berman (@abcdude) gave a pretty good rundown of Twitter, although I again got the feeling that microblogging was some sort of funny joke.

Still, it got me to thinking. Mashable's recent-ish article about Twitter's growth is enough to make one's head spin. 752%? That's insance, but even with ~6 million users, the distinction between "user" and "USER" should be clear to anyone who has spent a few months tweeting. My curiosity is this: What is the "saturation point" for Twitter, i.e. when does it become normalized in much the same way that searching with Google or finding friends on Facebook has become blasé?

Is it going to be 15 million in the US? 40 million worldwide? When does Twitter use become so commonplace that we take it as a sine qua non of our online experience?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Obsolescence

So my boss came to me, very distressed, with a browser that had somehow started up minus all of its bookmarks and saved passwords. This was bad news. My boss asked me where they might be, so I sat down to take a look.

I was staring into the gaping maw of Netscape; and not just any Netscape, but AOL Netscape! This is a browser that I haven't used since 2002. That's a long time. I poked around for a while, tried a few things, and eventually gave up. I simply didn't know. Now I'm not entirely certain that I could have fixed the same problem on IE or Firefox, but I think I could have given it a better go (had I been dealing with a "pretty" GUI, that is).

It made me wonder why on earth my boss would use such old software. While I was thinking, I turned and looked at the office fax machine. This is a piece of technology that has existed, in one form or another, for 100 years. I thought of all the times that I've helped a customer send a fax as he or she stood transfixed by this ancient technology. Is antiquated ubiquity a problem for young people today? I think so.

Should we be counted upon to understand outmoded technologies? I would say yes. A healthy respect for where we've come from is important for sure. Still, I pray that my boss someday discards the horse-and-buggy for the Maserati.

, , ,

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stimator - How much is my blog worth?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Kyrgyzstan and the United States

The BBC reports today that Kyrgyzstan will be shuttering the United States air base outside the capital city of Bishkek. This is pretty big news any direction that you cut it, but given our new "focus" on fixing things in Afghanistan, the closing of the Manas base is really, really, really important. You can check out my paper about Democratization in Kyrgyzstan on GoogleDocs; it has a few bits about the air base and its importance.

We've never really treated our Central Asian presence as seriously as I would have hoped for, and it shows. The turning down of American interests in Central Asia is to be expected, even in the face of President Obama's hopes for changing the perception of America. Russia has come out ahead, largely because they have decided to pay the Kyrgyz for the privileges of hanging out.

This sucks, yes, and I don't know how to recoup these losses. Between Manas and the Kharshi-Khanabad "issue" in 2005, the United States is being edged out of one of the most important places on earth.

, , , ,

The Pork Protest

It's official - I've decided to protest pork in the upcoming stimulus bill. CNN has a nice list (compiled by House GOP folk) of some of the sillier bits:

• $2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient.

• A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film.

• $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.

• $88 million for the Coast Guard to design a new polar icebreaker (arctic ship).

• $448 million for constructing the Department of Homeland Security headquarters.

• $248 million for furniture at the new Homeland Security headquarters.

• $600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees.

• $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD's.

• $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.

• $125 million for the Washington sewer system.

• $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities.

• $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion.

• $75 million for "smoking cessation activities."

• $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.

• $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI.

• $25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction.

• $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.

• $10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.

• $6 billion to turn federal buildings into "green" buildings.

• $500 million for state and local fire stations.

• $650 million for wildland fire management on forest service lands.

• $1.2 billion for "youth activities," including youth summer job programs.

• $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.

• $412 million for CDC buildings and property.

• $500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland.

• $160 million for "paid volunteers" at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

• $5.5 million for "energy efficiency initiatives" at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration.

• $850 million for Amtrak.

• $100 million for reducing the hazard of lead-based paint.

• $75 million to construct a "security training" facility for State Department Security officers when they can be trained at existing facilities of other agencies.

• $110 million to the Farm Service Agency to upgrade computer systems.

• $200 million in funding for the lease of alternative energy vehicles for use on military installations.

If there's one thing that we can trust Congress to do, it's to ignore the task at hand and do something silly. This cannot stand. It's a stimulus bill, not a pet project...project.

The regular media has to talk about this more - I only hope that regular Americans call their elected officials. Many of these programs are worthy, yes, but they will not jumpstart (or even rescue) the economy.

This is the Pork Protest.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Quick Responses and Warm Bodies

I'm helping to organize some malaria awareness events on campus this quarter and the next, and I had the bright idea to find a real anti-malarial anti-mosquito bednet. Not having any idea where I might find such a thing, I contacted my point-person at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, who promptly beeped someone at Malaria No More.

When I walked into my apartment this evening, there was a strangely-shaped package waiting for me. It was from the kind folks at Malaria No More. It has been exactly 4.5 days since I inquired as to where I might find a bednet. Note: It is Monday right now.

The package contained not only a real-life anti-malarial bednet (to use in demonstrations on campus), but also a full press/marketing package: postcards, toolkits, promotional materials, sample PRs and sign-ups, and a whole lot more. There was even a copy of last year's annual report.

What a fantastic experience. It's not like Malaria No More is working overtime to keep me as a "customer;" they lose nothing if I look for bednets elsewhere. They aren't counting on me to write a lengthy blog post about how nice they are. They saw a need, a resource gap, and they rushed to fill it, not for personal gain, but to inspire and support an activist who wants to make a difference. I now have far greater capacity to plan for our upcoming events, and I know that I can count on these people.

Awesome.

, , , ,

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ephesus


Ephesus - Originally uploaded by timbrauhn
For as long as I can remember, I've been inspired by old things. It seemed like, as a little kid, I was always imagining myself as some knight of the realm or old pioneer, striding across the valleys of the world to pitch a tent in some far off place. Somehow, the world of history was of more consequence than the world at hand. I felt more at home in the past.

I've been lucky enough to travel to some pretty old places. Two in particular stand out - London and Turkey (specifically, Ephesus). In London, I stood in the Tower of London and saw the places where some famous Brits were imprisoned or worse. Henry VIII's giant codpiece was directly in front of me. I saw Roman walls and old Norman artifacts.

In Ephesus, I walked along streets that had once been filled with Greeks, speaking of the news of the day. I stood in the amphitheatre where Paul addressed the jeering crowds. I breathed in thousands of years of habitation and history, yet I was also acutely aware of the desolation of the place - it has not been lived in for some time.

I'm not sure why old things have such power over me, but I feel that humans are inclined in some way to remember bits and bobs outside of our experience. I'm troubled when people forget the past, sometimes angrily. It's all part of learning...or something like that.

Monday, January 26, 2009

2009 NTC Scholarships

What Comes Next?

I spend a lot of time wondering about "what comes next," not so much to catch the wave, but to be inspired by what we might do in the future. Guy Kawasaki has an interview on the I Am Paddy blog about Twitter and business and connections. It's an interesting read, but as I scrolled through it a week ago, the one question that caught my eye, and mind, was this:
Paddy (interviewer): Will we still be tweeting in 5 years time?

Guy Kawasaki: I hope that I’m not. Or at least that I’m just tweeting for the sheer pleasure of it–about stuff like my cat rolling over and the line at Starbucks.
It's an innocuous comment, of course, but it got me wondering, "What comes next?" Are we bound to continue using Twitter for microblogging/marketing/discovery/etc. for all time, or will it be replaced by a more glorious service? Will Twitter become blase, and be discarded for something more personal or shiny? It's an interesting thought. 5 years ago, few of us had any idea that the net, and indeed the world, would look like it does today. Without Facebook or Skype, things would be vastly different.

So what comes after Twitter? What's the next big thing?

, ,

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Statement on Gaza

This post appeared originally on the University of Denver Interfaith Student Alliance blog:

In light of the renewed conflict in the Gaza Strip, the University of Denver Interfaith Student Alliance (DU IFA) wishes to extend our condolences to those who have suffered as a result of the recent violence. Both the people of Israel as well as the Palestinians living within Gaza have lost family members, friends, and fellow citizens. For years, many innocent lives have been lost due to the complexities of a region long fraught with violence. There are no easy answers to the questions facing the people of Israel and Palestine. A long history of violence plagues the story of this region, as well as the story of all of humankind. The pages of our collective past are riddled with accounts of conflict and hostility, hatred and fear, war and genocide. Much of this hostility is a result of our tendency to react rashly to difficulties that we all face. As humans we too often view violence as a viable solution to the problems we face living together in our ever shrinking world. We must not succumb to the all too human error of failing to see that we all share these problems, that we are all merely people trying to live together in peace, and that we are all subject to our own prejudices and misconceptions about our fellow men and women.

The members of the DU IFA believe that the wisdom of our collective faith traditions compels us to call for peace, understanding, and compassion. As an organization, our mission is to promote understanding of the full diversity of religious expression. We seek to achieve this goal by promoting dialogue among our members of different faith traditions, with the belief that understanding leads to tolerance, tolerance to acceptance, acceptance to compassion, and compassion to peace. Dialogue is not a debate; dialogue is collaborative discussion that can educate us and enlighten our attitudes. In this way we hope and pray that the parties now entrenched in violence abandon their hostility, and embark upon the seemingly difficult road to peace through dialogue and diplomacy.

The University of Denver prides itself on its diversity. The Interfaith Student Alliance welcomes this diversity in all its forms, whether it be cultural, ethnic, or (especially) religious. Many of our students are Jewish and many are Arab or Muslim. That's not the whole story, of course; DU has many different student faith communities. But whatever religious or faith tradition we call our own, wherever we hail from on the globe, and whatever our political persuasions may be, we all have at least one thing in common here: We are all University of Denver students. We are committed to leaving this school and making a difference. We are the practical idealists and the future leaders. We are all in this together.
Only by talking to one another can we achieve truly rewarding happiness in this life.

Continued violence can only lead to suffering in a region of this world that has already seen too much human hatred. In the words of one of this country's wisest citizens, the Honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we must remember that "Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars." The Interfaith Student Alliance invites all students, faculty, and staff to recognize that whatever might be occurring in the Middle East or indeed, anywhere, we must all continue to learn and grow together in a spirit of fellowship, academic excellence, and above all, peaceful dialogue.

, , ,

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tit for Tat

OK. Punching someone just because they hit you is not good. This isn't just me speaking as a (more or less) pacifist. Preemption is an even more dangerous game, as we have found with our Mesopotamian excursion. News this past week makes me think that we earthlings still haven't figured these things out.

In the midst of renewed fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a report was released detailing Israeli pleas in the first part of 2008 to launch strategic strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. The US government refused to go along with the plan, thankfully. I don't think that this news piece is getting enough play. It is pretty darn important.

Tehran makes no secret of its wish to see Israel dissolved - we know this. I make no excuses for the last 29 years of Iranian history. But if we are to figure out how to make progress toward peace in the Middle East and beyond, we're going to have to look at the reasoning behind the rhetoric. Iran is calling for action against Israel, who is calling for action against Iran. It's not like Tel Aviv is just thinking about doing something drastic - their attack plans are drawn up and they have asked Washington for flyover privileges in Iraq.

I'm not going to get involved in arguing about who threatened who first, or in what context such a thing would have happened, but when I see our Congressional leadership and other elected officials repeatedly stressing Israel's right to defend itself, why is there no recognition of the abject fear than many Iranians have of Tel Aviv? Does a right of self-defense not extend to states that far east?

I'll caveat everything that I've said here by noting that my studies are in democratization and religious/political identity. I have precious little coursework or reading background in security strategy and preemption theory. I am, however, a historian at heart, and I see our policymakers giving the historical record either too much or too little weight. Let's have some more conversation about his, shall we?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Israel, Gaza, and Graffiti

As I biked up onto campus this cold January morning, I found a very interesting bit of chalk-drawing next to the library:



I also took an aerial shot for dramatic effect, as seen below. I'll update this post when they pressure-wash it off the sidewalk.






, , ,

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Spines and Pages and Words and Phrases, pt. 2

I went home for Christmas and set myself to organizing my old books. I brought home two boxes of older political science texts from Denver, so I managed to at least make a small dent at my apartment. Looking through my room back home, though, made me want to reconsider the entire endeavor. There was, quite literally, nowhere to walk.



My bed was clear, but only because I had to have somewhere to sleep! I spent the better part of two days going through my many boxes and bookshelves, placing things into three categories:
  1. Give to local library - I don't need it or I don't want it. Seriously, how many 1950s criticisms of Hegel does one really need?
  2. Give to Mom and Dad or other people in my life - These books can be moved immediately to new ownership.
  3. Keep - I either need them or really can't bring myself to give them up. My rare/old books will stay, as will many of what I might refer to as seminal texts in my personal/professional development.
So once that was all done, I packed up the Taurus and headed into the Franklin Grove Public Library. My mom used to be the librarian there, but that was years ago, and the place has since expanded and moved into a brand new building in the center of town. I started dumping the books in the storage room, and I think after the 20th box, the librarian might have had second thoughts! After I had finished that (first!) load, I stopped into my storage unit, still full of stuff from my old apartment in the Chicago suburbs. I ended up with another dozen or so boxes in the back of the Taurus and headed back to the library. I unloaded all of them - 35 boxes in total. My best estimate of the total number of books is somewhere between 900-1400. That's a lot. I was thanked for my donation and I drove my broken back on home.

Even by the low numbers, the amount of books that I dropped off at the library is extreme - it's more than many people will even see in a lifetime. And as much as I wanted to send them to some developing country where students truly hunger for new texts, such things are cost and time prohibitive. I was on a time crunch and I already work for a nonprofit that does its best overseas. Those aren't excuses, merely my frustration. Ideally, I would have taken off another week of work and transported the books to some organization in Chicago that could have helped.

Still, it felt really, really good to get all those old books out and into the hands of people for whom such texts might hopefully be an inspiration and educational resource.




, , ,

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Spines and Pages and Words and Phrases, pt. 1

It's been a long time coming, I can say that much. After years of wanton book collection, my "library" has swelled to such a size that I am forced to keep it in three separate locations. My apartment in Denver holds around 400 or so books - these are good ones that I have to hang on to. There's my old room back at the farm in northern Illinois - I can't rightly say how many hundreds are there. And of course the storage unit a few miles away in town holds many more boxes.

The time has come for me to cull my collection, to bring together all my texts and make some (tough, maybe) decisions about which ones will stay and which ones will go. It will be a process, I am sure, but one that will undoubtedly free me of much that I don't need.

Someone else can use these books.

,