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FEATURE

Twitter Nation to the Rescue?





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Can Twitter save civilization? We’re about to find out.

As the clock winds down on the big climate negotiation in Copenhagen this December (formally known as the 15th Conference of the Parties, or COP-15), the future of the planet and its inhabitants may be in the hands of tweeters, especially tots, teens and twenty-somethings.

That’s because our diplomats and political leaders appear to be defaulting on their responsibility to act against global climate change. Rather than busting barriers and forcing breakthroughs on the most complicated and critical challenge of all time, key government leaders are retreating into the rhetoric of low expectations.

Majority Leader
Harry Reid hints the Senate is too busy to take up a climate bill this year – a delay that Jim Rogers of Duke Energy predicts could mean that no climate bill will clear Congress until 2011, after next year’s congressional election. The rest of the world, which has been waiting for U.S. leadership, is witnessing an impotent democracy.

In New York last week, where world leaders gathered at the United Nations for another round of speeches on climate change, expectations ran high that President Obama and China’s President Hu Jintao might offer commitments that would break the international impasse on a global deal.

That didn’t happen. President Obama called for action by all nations, but offered nothing that will inspire the Senate to expedite a climate bill. President Jintao broke modest new ground by pledging that China would reduce its carbon intensity by 2020, but he gave no concrete targets for emission reductions by the world’s biggest carbon polluter. If he had, he might have ended the impasse in which politicians in the U.S. are reluctant to sign a deal that does not include hard carbon-cutting targets from the big emerging economies.

Meantime,
Yvo De Boer, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), delivered the disappointing news that it’s already too late to craft an international climate treaty by December. De Boer now hopes COP-15 will achieve a “basic political understanding” on essential issues. Since the framework convention was created 17 years ago, it would seem nations have already had ample time to reach “basic political understandings” on the issue. Continued...

Hollywood Joins Politicians, Artists and Environmentalists in Hard-hitting UN Campaign to Combat Climate Change





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by Joanna Benn

Climate change is here and threatens us all. That's the message from Hollywood actors, film directors, environmentalists and politicians in a new UN public service announcement series:




With less than 80 days to go until the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen, there is no time to lose in getting the message out.

The series is aimed a promoting public awareness and catalyzing action at the highest and humblest level to boost the prospects for a wide-ranging and transformative agreement in December's meeting. Continued...

Commentary: The Journey to Individuation—and Responsibility: Part II





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In Part I, I talked about the issue of kids and education, following President Obama’s speech to schoolchildren in Virginia following the Labor Day weekend. I discussed how children are truly deemed numbers by education, despite their protestations to the contrary.

I talked about how kids are being forced to grow up before their time—are being pressured to adopt a sense of adult responsibility for their futures—when even in elementary and middle school, which was a time for many of us to dream about what we would become instead of being forced into making a decision and preparing for it at such a young age—including in elementary and middle school.

I talked about teachers sometimes being the last bastion of support for school-age kids, and that last positive adult contact being taken away form them by the very system which is supposed to be supporting their growth as human beings. I also suggested that conceptual learning is being forced onto kids before their minds and development are ready for it—making existential issues muddy and confusing—when what kids need during adolescence is structure, safety, and solid foundations which give them the confidence and the ability to walk forward, without taking the ground out from underneath them and forcing them to accept adult concepts just for the sake of appearing progressive.

I talked about how the perception of schools counted for more than the welfare of students themselves—and how those are indeed these days more often than not mutually exclusive. Continued...


FEATURE

President Obama's Statement to the U.N. Climate Change Summit





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PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Good morning. I want to thank the Secretary General for organizing this summit, and all the leaders who are participating. That so many of us are here today is a recognition that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing. Our generation's response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it -- boldly, swiftly, and together -- we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.



No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent droughts and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees. The security and stability of each nation and all peoples -- our prosperity, our health, and our safety -- are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out. Continued...

FEATURE

A Death in the Family





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John McNamara 1965-2009

This has been a summer for famous people dying. The iconic anchor man Walter Cronkite and Frank McCourt the notable Irish American author of “Angela’s Ashes” recently left the scene. I write here of another Irish American’s death; my nephew by marriage, John McNamara, called Johnny Mac by his friends, who died yesterday after a three year battle with cancer. And what a battle it was. He fought like a champion to stay alive, enduring every form or medical treatment so as to be there for his two year old son Jack and his wife Jennifer. He lost that battle but he left behind a legacy as valuable as that of Cronkite or McCourt; a legacy of helping out in troubled times.


John was a New York City fireman. Plain - but not simple. He worked tirelessly at the cleanup after 9/11, exposing himself to every known and unknown toxin that settled in the air at Ground Zero; toxins undisclosed and misrepresented by our then panicky and disingenuous leaders. It can be truly said that his work there cost him his life. He later rushed to volunteer in New Orleans after Katrina, rescuing people and animals, living in those polluted waters, sending home messages for relief packages for the survivors, and looking for homes for lost dogs. He was that rare creature – an altogether good man who found his deepest pleasure in helping others. Virtue, old fashioned virtue comes in short supply these days; it is so rare that it is often suspected of being faked, but John had it real and in abundance. He lived by his word. Because John made decency seem so easy one mistook it for simplicity, like watching a great athlete or actor – the effortlessness of true talent. His was a genius for kindness. Continued...


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Commentary: The Journey to Individuation—and Responsibility: Part I





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by K.J. Wetherholt

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama stood before a group of students in Virginia to commemorate the first day of a new school year. His spoken remarks, and those found online here, show a president who is asking the students of this country to understand their role and their responsibility, not just to themselves, but as citizens of the United States.

I was happy, at first, to see that he did not give students a way to get off the hook. No matter what background, what family conditions, what race, gender, or economic status—something is expected from each student. To be his or her best. No momentary difficulty or failure is an excuse to give up entirely. There is no quick fix for success. It is hard work, and the questions he asked hearkened back to the most quoted speech of President John F. Kennedy, asking “not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

President Obama:

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country? “

I was instantly reminded of something I had written back in college about Jung’s concept of Individuation. Individuation is the concept Jung came up with for the second phase of life, after the education and structures of young adulthood—when one in middle age seeks to answer larger questions about him/herself and his or her place in the whole—while seeking, too, to be a whole human being. You have already established yourself and have given of yourself to your family and to the community. You have already outgrown the more immature phases of life that demanded structure—you are ready now to ask the deeper questions. Continued...

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FEATURE

Murder by Mortgage: Foreclosed and Prepared to Die





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It seems I’ve known Molly* forever, at least for the fifty six years that I have been married to my wife. My wife had met Molly in High School where they suffered the terrors of Mme Farley’s French class together. They became close friends: Molly, the fashionable but flighty odd girl, too tall, too talkative, and too needy, and my wife whose staggering beauty and self control commanded every room she entered, and whose kindness enabled her to embrace a girl whom others might have mocked and ignored. Their fellow classmate in those long ago Brooklyn days was Ruth Bader (Ginsberg) with whom my wife served on Boosters – a selective do-gooders club that the High School ran. Molly was then, as ever, not amongst the chosen.

We have lost Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the court but have kept in touch with Molly over the years except for a brief period during Molly’s early marriage to Joe, a man who verbally brutalized her, making it impossible to keep up our relationship since we would not willingly be witnesses to such abuse and knew no way to stop it. When she finally summoned up the courage to divorce Joe, or maybe it was the unfaithful Joe who walked out on Molly and her two young sons, we started seeing Molly again. Lest I diminish her charms, Molly had a gift for telling a great story in all its details, a memory that could be used as a search engine into the shared past, good looks that came with maturity, and a giggle, a generosity, and a warmth that marked her as one of nature’s good and charming people as well as an easy mark.

Yes, she talked too much, often digressing from her subject, with streams of anecdotes branching out of that river of talk, she loved too much and did so with the utmost indiscretion, spent too much on clothes for herself and meals for her friends, gave too much to charity, lent her money to needy sons, but she was Molly, a lifelong friend even as we saw in her the traces of Flaubert’s “Madam Bovary” – the romantic spendthrift who ends a suicide. In a month Molly, now in her middle seventies and in poor health will be foreclosed by the bank that holds her mortgage, leaving her with no money, no home, and nowhere to go.


*name changed for privacy

FEATURE

Searching for Relevancy in an Obama World





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I spoke with a friend the other day, one of those rare individuals who'd passed his 87th birthday with a clear perspective on life that went beyond even his years, and heard from him frustration that has been echoed both by others of his generation and by those who are not yet of age to drink or vote.

The question they've been asking is: what happened?

What happened to the values for which the WWII generation fought and died? What happened to our principals about saving money and living within our means? What happened to fighting for freedom of religion and thought and tolerance? What happened to personal responsibility and the willingness to sacrifice to meet a shared goal? What happened to the moral centers of those in charge for the last few decades that made them think they could use the earth as their personal or corporate garbage dump, their offshore bank account, their property to pillage?

My friend bemoaned the generation that had followed his as trust-fund babies given every opportunity after a hard-won victory, who did not understand or care about the sacrifices made to provide them with the right to become something more than their fathers.

Instead, he complained, they squandered it for short term gain and immediate gratification.

I have heard the same from those younger than me. How could so much have been lost so fast? What about us? What will happen to our lives and our children now that our fathers and mothers have spent their inheritence? Who broke America, who broke the world, who is going to fix it?

The answer most people in America give, according to the polls, is Barack Obama. There is a lot to be said for his accomplishments in so short a time -- increased national debt notwithstanding (given the enormity of the problems he has inherited) -- but that's not, I suspect, the answer he would give. The president would say (and has said) that we all have to change to get out of this mess. Continued...

FEATURE

How to Build a White House Garden





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First Lady Michelle Obama and White House chef Sam Kass tell the story of the first garden on White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt's Victory Garden during World War II:

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