Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Gift Of The Magi

The other night my brother called me. He was shopping at Target and was wondering whether or not our grandfather would like a gift set of cheese and crackers for Christmas. I said, "I don't know, I mean, I guess he would, yeah ok, just get that." After I had hung up I mulled over the gifts that I myself had bought, I did something a little different from usual this year. I bought only one gift for each of those people in my immediate family, with a couple of exceptions. I was trying to harken a feeling of last year's Christmas.

I was in Germany for Christmas last year and on Christmas Eve the family came together, after a nice meal, to exchange gifts. Each member gave only one gift to each of the other members of the family. After thanks and hugs we headed to the local church for Christmas mass and later came home to have a beer or two and go to bed. I loved last Christmas very much because of its simplicity. Each gift was carefully thought out because it was the only one you would give to that person. When unwrapping was done there wasn't a huge pile of packaging and paper, but a small amount of trash.

In America a lot of people go out to shop for presents with little in mind of what to get. They simply wander around the store until they see something someone they know might like and on and on until everyone on there list is filled. Everyone has to make sure and give gifts to co-workers, the mail man, friends, and family. Come Christmas day a bonanza of wrapping paper and gifts litter the floor of households as families play with new objects. Objects that are nice and fun, but not really to the core of what would be useful or meaningful for them. So why do we feel this compulsion?

For more than a century we have interfered in the matters of other countries to protect our economic interests. In the back rooms of our minds we justify these things as being humanitarian efforts of the U.S. We think this because this is what we have been told is true. It is not.

We have installed new leaders whose politics were traumatizing to their countries or conducted operations that were clearly undemocratic. In time the people of those countries fomented anger towards the U.S. and eventually we received the backlash. The most poignant in our minds in the past twenty years would be Iraq. We have protected the interests of American investments at the cost of human lives and the reputation of the United States. That is what we are doing, simply protecting investments that private American companies would like to retain, not human rights or America's freedom. These acts of thuggery diminish U.S. policy, strip it of its lawful conduct, and reduce its prestige.

Suddenly one day a few planes crash and kill thousands of Americans and we are left wondering what is going on. When we learn who did this we can't understand why they could feel this way about the United States. In exasperation we realize that these people were not alone, much of the world has similar feeling. We look around at each other and our politicians and try to retrace our steps to find out what we can do to prevent this from happening again, but the answer is shrouded by years of being lied to and distorting the truth. We realize many of these people have been bullied for decades. Martin Luther King realized this when we couldn't figure out a good way to win in Vietnam. As U.S. policy makers scratched their heads he said this about the Vietnamese.

"We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops….We have corrupted their women and children and killed their men."

These covert actions are usually taken by the Executive branch which lies about what it has done or plans to do to the congress thereby undermining the congress's constitutional role in our democracy. By downplaying these covert and illegal acts by the government we become narcotized from thinking about such issues. Presenting our American actions in a vacuum rather than as responses to multinational corporations and civil rights actions we end up mystifying the creative tensions between the people and their leaders. All this encourages us to throw up our hands in the belief that the government determines everything anyway, so why bother, especially if its actions are usually benign. Thus we minimize the power of the people and, despite our best patriotic efforts, take a stance that is overtly antidemocratic. As Richard Nixon said,
"When information which properly belongs to the public is systematically withheld by those in power, the people soon become ignorant of their own affairs, distrustful of those who manage them, and eventually incapable of determining their own destinies."
He would know.

Most of us can realize that bigger is not necessarily better. Today, rather than boasting of our consumption we are more likely to lament our waste. In terms of using the world's resources and spoiling the environment Americans are the world's most irresponsible citizens. In our lifetimes each of us are expected to generate about 150 tons of garbage (that means outside of recyclables) and we are expected to generate 9.8 tons of particulate air pollution. These numbers are just the tip of the trash-berg because what we often don't consider is that every ton of waste at the consumer end has also required about five tons in the manufacturing stage and even more at the initial site of extraction. We can all agree that Americans take more of the common pool than any other nation. We don't need so much stuff; we all know material things don't make you happy anyways. Too many people are confusing financial wealth with personal wealth.

Why do we even give gifts at Christmas? Is it because the magi brought gifts to Christ? If that is the case I must remind everyone that they brought only one gift each and with the intention that Joseph should sell them to have money with which to reach Egypt, not because baby Jesus would think they were cool and the magi would stimulate the economy.

Friday, November 24, 2006


A few weeks ago I had a pretty bad day at school. Most of my day I
carry a positive attitude and am surrounded by people who do the same.
Last week as I came into school our Title One teacher stopped me in
the hallway and held up a magazine. She said, "Have you seen this?"
Yes, yes I had. UW-Milwaukee had sent me a few copies, not to mention
that I was quoted in the article. The school of Education had decided
last year to run a story on myself and my friend, Elina. We had both
gotten our degrees at the same time and both decided to take our
teaching overseas. She had gone to Japan and I went to Egypt.

To the point. The article was a source of pride for my school, as it
should be. I was proud, but I am naturally a humble person. So I
didn't tell anyone and didn't want the attention. Word spread around
school and soon all the teachers and students knew. I didn't plan to
stay this coming year. I wasn't ready to tell everyone and wasn't happy
to be found out. In the article it states that I am going to teach
in Thailand. This is not entirely accurate. I do plan to go abroad
again, but I cannot be certain where. At the time I answered the
journalist's questions I thought I might go to Thailand. I was looking
at a Catholic high school in Bangkok and had some friends that were
heading that way as well. By the end of the summer that notion had
fallen through and a new one had taken its place.

A few days ago I mailed in my application to the JET program
(http://www.jetprogramme.org/index.html). I am applying for a position
as an Assistant Language Teacher. I am supposed to be placed in a
public school in Japan. ALTs assist with classes taught by Japanese
Teachers of English. This could involve team teaching or something
like that. I would probably have to assist in the preparation of
materials and hold extra-curricular activities, but not actually be in
charge of the class, which is good and bad. I'm sure that I will miss
holding the reins, but in a way it is a really good thing too.
Currently I am pursuing my Master's in Education through UW-STOUT’s
internet program. I a currently doing this while teaching full time and also working a
part-time job (8-20hrs) on the weekend. It is very tough. It is my
understanding that the ALT position is more like an 80% position. This
seems like a perfect fit. I get to go overseas, keep teaching, and
pursue my Master's. Although I still don't know if I have been
accepted to JET.

I only made two requests on my application, to be in a city of more
than 500,000 and to be placed near Elina. It is always nice to have
friends near to you. Plus the fact that I am actually licensed to
teach must be a huge plus. You don't actually have to be a licensed
teacher to be considered for a position, or even have a degree in
education. All you need is a Bachelors degree and numerous application
materials to be considered. Most of the application is something that
makes sense to me. Routine information like proof of citizenry and a
mission statement. One odd thing was the letters of reference. The
reference writers had to mention JET specifically in the letter. Then
they had to sign that letter. Then they had to fill out a reference
writer information sheet and sign that. Then they had to take those
two signed documents, seal them in an envelope and sign the seal of
the envelope. The level of security seemed a bit much to me. After I
sent out the application I had a little panic attack because I thought
I had missed one thing and the directions state that everything must
be sent in one package and will not be accepted otherwise. Everything
turned out ok, but it jolted me into thinking about what will happen
if I am not accepted.

A few weeks ago when my uncle Hans was visiting he asked where I was
going next year and then suggested Alaska. I balked initially, but in
the next few days and weeks the idea gestated in my head. When for a
brief moment I thought I had botched my JET application I checked in
to teaching in Alaska. It seems as though teachers are needed. One
site I looked at estimated a starting teacher’s salary at 52,000. I
searched for openings and job fair information and it was all very
interesting. To check out Alaska's Education site look at
(http://www.eed.state.ak.us/). Although the moment of panic has lapsed
Alaska is still in my mind and is now my secondary choice if for some
reason things don't work out with the JET program. So in the coming year I will end up in Alaska, Japan, or maybe somewhere else. Certain things I prefer, but it really makes no difference as long as I can keep teaching. While I am certain I am uncertain. My place is held by a shoestring. My life is lead by the blind desire to keep moving forward.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The End of the Road

For now it is the end of the road. Another few thousand miles of travel, another country the three largest U.S. cities, one new state, and best of all a chance to spend time with my freinds.

Once I had asked a my girlfreind where all her freinds were. It seemed as though she didn't have any, I never saw them for months. In response to my question she called a number of people in Chicago, San Franciso, and Brisbane Australia. I now realize that I am fast becoming the same way. In my home town I have only one person I really talk to who is not family. Other than that most of my freinds are elsewhere. The span from New York, LA, Istanbul, Cairo, Denver, Vancouver, Badsackingen, and of course Milwaukee. Like many other aspects of my life, my freinds are becoming scattered.

I hold great affection for those I just visited, thank them for their help and hospitality, and hopefully I will seem them or you very soon wherever you may be.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


New York's Mass Transit is very good, although it was not the first in the world as many believe. London had the first subway (tube).

St.Patrick's and Alexander Hamilton

Strawberry Fields Forever

LA Aquarium

One day Peter, Arni, Yumi, and myself dawdled to the LA Aquarium to get Yumi outside of the house for a while, she had been asking all week to go and finally Arni relented. It was quite fun. We fed the birds and touched Rays. Rays feel really smooth but also slimy. It was pretty exciting to get to touch them and they actually liked the attention as long as it was gentle. We saw all manner of aquatic life like sharks, stars, seahorses, urchin, turtles, and an aray of larger fish. Generally it was good to get out for a little while.

Staten Island Ferry / The Colosus of NY

Since I was old enough to appreciate it and ask about it my grandfather has told me stories about how when he was in WWII (the big one) he was on a destoyer called the USS Savage. Many times he left and entered NY harbor. He always ends his stories with, "I was always sad to see her go and glad to see her when I returned." So when I was in town I had to stop by the old ladies house and tell her that John Nelson says hello and he is doing fine.

Trade Center 06'

Of course while in NY I had to see what ground zero looked like. Basically it looks like a hole in the ground, as you can see by one of these photos. The entire area is fenced off and around some of the parameter there are story boards depicting exactly what happened at what times. On some of the fencing there was black board where people wrote messages such as the one above, if you can't read it this is what is says.

Yo New York

I hope you are starting to feel better
I see that nasty scar is starting
to heal...a little...
I will always pray for your (lives??)
stay strong. You are still the
greatest city in the world

I love you

Its Not Just Another Cock and Bull Story

The New York Stock Exchange

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Let Me Express Myself

What is art? Over time our concepts of what art is has changed as quickly as the movements could shape them. I will admit that while in MOCA I hated almost everything I saw. The pieces were part of a movement that had passed and for me had no inherent beauty. Although for art in general I have a deep affection. Art has to be liberating, controversial, and thought provoking. It must be so because it is often representative of our history, geography, politics, religion, and numerous other humanistic studies. It creates and abolishes war. It is suppressed and elevated, loved and hated, mocked and embraced.
No doubt much of art is beauty. Although sometimes it is used as beauty's antithesis. It can be an ideal or simply something pleasing to the eye. Often art is based loosely on our representations of ourselves and to my delight that of a beautiful woman. Art in the beginning of art even contained women along with rituals and architecture. Our ancestors eventually realized that art was a necessity.
But why do we need art? Basically because we have very large brains and demand stimulation. We are constantly exploring and bending the world around us. We speculate on what beauty really is and the nature of life not to mention simply as a way to communicate with each other.
On my recent travels I went to The Getty, MOCA, MOMA, The Guggenheim, and The Metropolitan museum. All presented varying degrees of art and all stimulated me in different ways. My personal tastes enjoyed the Getty and the MET, but did not like MOCA or the Guggenheim. Like life and art everyone is stimulated by different things.

The Met

Pollock, Johns, Oldenberg,Warhol, Wyeth, Rousseau, Van Gogh, Rodin

Monet, VanGogh, Ganguin

Monday, June 26, 2006

2nd, Mexico, 1st, and 3rd

Stay tuned for more. In a few days I fly back to the West coast and LA. Once again I will be making a connection in Las Vegas, for the love of God. I visit freinds and my habibi in LA, go into Mexico a little, fly to NY to see freinds, and then back home I land in Chicago. The three biggest cities in the U.S. and a new country to my list. At least in Mexico I don't think they will stop me at the border because they think I have a DWI. See you there.

4000 Miles In a Jar On the Mantle

By the time we got into Montana my uncle and I were pretty sick of each other. At that point we had spent about six days together non-stop. We even slept in the same room. I wanted blood and so did he. We both agreed it would be best to move it along a little faster. Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, and back into Wisconsin went much faster than the first half of the trip. A few notes from that leg. Some of the roads in Wyoming are red. I’m not sure why, but I am guessing it has something to do with the rock in the area and the availability of quarry. Also, Montana is called big sky country at least that is what I have heard. Although Montana did have a big sky I am skeptical about rumors I heard that Montana is long and flat. Montana did not seem that flat to me, but I was in the southern part, maybe in the north it is flatter. We also stopped at Mt. Rushmore where I hiked around the mountain. The faces are surprisingly small, at least that is what I thought. I kind of had the same feeling as when I first saw the sphinx. Perhaps in my own mind these objects have been built up to epic proportions in the back rooms of my mind. I don’t know. Lastly, I want to give a salute to my traveling companion on this trip. We will have to put this one in a jar, cork it, and put it on the mantle for later. 4000 total miles, California the long way, nine states, and two countries is a long way. A long way. A long way. Happy trails.