Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tricky Living by Russ Walter

The brain is a terrible thing to waste. Brain scientists tell us that our brain is divided into two main parts: left and right. The left half is our rational, logical and technological brain. The right side is the creative, artistic, intuitive brain.

Happiness depends on developing both areas: we need a balance. The inventor who creates a Frankenstein monster, and then fails to nurture and educate his monster — is lacking in right-brain capabilities. The philosopher who looks up at the clouds then falls into a pothole, or the romantic artist who neglects his material well-being — is neglecting the messages from the practical-minded left brain.

For 30 years, Russ Walter has been giving us the best of his left brain, by publishing The Secret Guide to Computers. The hilarious contents of Russ's right brain are now available in another book by Russ (co-authored with his wife Guang Chun), called Tricky Living.

In this 2nd edition of Tricky Living Russ waxes poetic (or doggerel-etic) about diverse topics, including Health, Daily Survival, Government, Intellectual Life, Arts, American Cultures, Foreign Cultures, Morality, Sexuality, and much more. Time and again — and again — the book made me laugh out loud. Tricky Living is a delightful goulash of humorous (and sometimes serious) facts, opinions, observations, anecdotes, quotations, and advice.

To learn more about the book, or to buy it at the lowest price, visit Russ's website at

Tricky Living
Tricks to Master the Modern World
2nd edition for 2008
by Russ Walter and Guang Chun Walker
Paperback, 143 pages, $ 10

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Buy Nothing Day 2008

What: Buy Nothing Day
Where: In the USA, and more than 60 countries worldwide
When: Friday, November 28 (in North America); November 29 in other nations

Year after year, on the Fridays after Thanksgiving, my father would enact a strange personal ritual. Returning home from work, he would throw his newspaper against a chair with great force, then hand me a bag of soft pretzels, and finally collapse on the living room couch with a glazed look in his deep brown eyes. He was totally exhausted from his work on this day, the busiest shopping day of the year, the day that signaled the abandonment of all human reason with this motto: "Let the Christmas Shopping Rush begin!"

There is a solution to this unthinking chaos, and it begins with the concept "Less is more." ... Simplicity is the watchword of the new greener life. And what could be simpler than -- for one day -- slowing down the never-ending frenzy for buying things?

Shockingly, over the past 20 years, the per capita consumption in the United States has risen 45 per cent. The goal of Buy Nothing Day (BND) is not to consume less: it is -- for a mere span of 24 hours -- to buy nothing at all.

Scott and Helen Nearing, founders of the back-to-the-land movement, would eat no solid food one day every week, believing that this action (or: non-action) improved their physical health. Victims of advertising overload, we can hardly conceive of one day per week without buying something. This project seeks to improve our financial -- and perhaps, psychological -- health, but giving up not one day per week, but but one day per year.

I will be spending my November 28 re-reading two books that encourage less buying and more being. Zenlightenment! is an anthology of quotations from the world's best books. To Have or To Be is a classic by Erich Fromm. If the books are not available at your local library, ask your reference librarian if you can request the books via an inter-library loan.

For more information about Buy Nothing Day (BND):

WikiPedia Article:
BND page at Adbusters

(thanks to Adbusters)

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Earth-to-Obama: The Biggest Challenge Yet

Hokusai: Carp leaping up a cascade

Michael Tobias, our guest essayist this week, has written a passionate Open Letter to President-elect Obama. America needs to feed our hungry, to repair our financial system, and to help the middle class. Yet to be a truly great nation -- and a compassionate, forward-thinking nation -- we will need to focus on the essential goals which Dr. Tobias so eloquently describes.

"Earth-to-Obama: The Biggest Challenge Yet"

A Letter to President-Elect Barack Obama

November 18, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama,

Congratulations! You now have a remarkable opportunity to enrich America’s environmental stewardship at home, and her influence abroad. Here are three suggested arenas for urgent action.

First: Biology Matters Most.
Our nation’s economic woes are an offspring of malfunctions at the very core of the planet’s life-support systems. We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction spasm in the annals of biology. This fact is not on most lawmakers’ radar screens. Yet, it makes the present, and projected effects of global warming pale by comparison: at current trends, we will lose between 40-and-60% of all life on Earth by the end of this century; a staggering 43,000 individual populations of plants and animals going extinct every day.

Since passage of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, over 100 North American species have gone extinct. Despite this, the U.S. Government seems reluctant to take science at its word and grant protection to the more than 280 new candidates for the endangered species list.

By some estimates, global biodiversity is valued at about $400 trillion per year. This currency is the air we breathe, the water we drink and the neighborhood and neighbors we love. It is imperative that the U. S. finally ratify the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, a far-reaching outgrowth of the Rio Environmental Summit of 1992. America is virtually alone in the world of nations for not having ratified a treaty whose goal is the protection of life on Earth.

Second: A Population Policy.
Demographic trends and their consumption fallout, are huge factors in biodiversity loss. The United States of America has no population policy. Yet, U.S. census data forecasts a population of 500 million people in the U.S. by the end of this century; and a worldwide population of between 9 and 13 billion people. The Earth’s biological resources cannot sustain such numbers. We need compassionate guidance and legislation to curb this runaway population explosion - a formula for poverty and ecological disaster. Tax incentives for people choosing to have small families, or to adopt, would be an appropriate first step. Another would be an Executive Order reversing the Reagan/Bush “gag order” that denied women throughout the world assistance to obtain the fullest range of family planning services.

Third: Kindness to All Creatures, Great and Small.
America’s reliance on violence as an economic driver and political instrument of persuasion is surely not the best model of compassion to pass along to future generations. In ecological terms, human violence is disastrous. For example, Americans kill and profit by the lives of over ten billion animals each year just in the United States. Most of these are slaughtered in questionably “humane” circumstances. Most Americans may not be ready to “go vegetarian” as was the recommendation of the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. But, a more non-violent administration could give tax support to companies that choose not to kill. Why not acknowledge the true cost of killing for our food? Scientific and medical communities acknowledge that meat-eating constitutes not merely a health issue for humans, but a huge burden on fast-shrinking fresh water resources. Meat production undermines our ability to divert plant foods and compact units of protein in greater abundance to the hungry (nearly a billion worldwide). Moreover, livestock emit their own considerable contribution to global warming in the form of methane gas.

By promising to bring a puppy to the White House for your family, you remind us of our close bonds with other species. That “mutt” symbolizes for many a path of peaceful reunification.

America cannot solve all of the world’s problems at once, nor can it stand by in worried isolation. But the United States of America has the power to promote virtue and true conscience. Extending the olive branch to all creatures great and small is our only way to realize true environmental security.

Kindest regards,
Dr. Michael Tobias
President, Dancing Star Foundation

Michael Tobias' latest feature film documentary is entitled "HOTSPOTS" now playing on public broadcast stations across the country. ( Tobias' latest book, co-authored byJane Gray Morrison, was formally launched this Summer at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and is entitled, Sanctuary: Global Oases of Innocence. (

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Open Office Now Available for Mac

Open Office version 3.0 has been released, with great news for Mac Users: it now works natively on Mac OS X. It's still free, although the Open Office team would appreciate your support via a donation in money or time. The free Open Office suite contains tools for word processing, drawing, creating spreadsheets, databases, and presentations. The word processor exports to PDF (and many other useful formats), and imports many file formats including MS-Word documents, RTF, text, and XHTML.

Download Open Office 3.0 here:

To install OO version 3 on your Mac, you'll need to meet these minimum System Requirements:

  • Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or higher
  • Intel Processor
  • 512 Mbytes RAM
  • 400 Mbytes available disk space
  • 1024 x 768 or higher resolution with 16.7 Million colours
You can also get a free "Getting Started Guide" which teaches the basics of OO version 3, here (PDF file):

... and OOdles of information about OO, here:

Another excellent (and free) office suite for Mac is NeoOffice. NeoOffice earned my donation when, thanks to its large number of importable file types, it eased my transition from a PC to a Mac.

Open Office, of course, works on all major platforms: Mac, Linux, and PC.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Then I'd Be Satisfied With Life

Euphoria at the Obama victory! It's everywhere: the whole little town of Ithaca is radiant, giddy, renewed, inspired -- we are singing in the shower and we are dancing in the streets.

So this week's post is a diversion from our usual insightful commentary and deep ideas: it is simply silly.

The photo is a picture of George M. Cohan, who wrote the song's original words in 1902 (see below for the contemporary words).
Click on the video to hear the song (performed by Tiny Tim), and see a shopping cart debacle.

Then I'd Be Satisfied with Life
(original words by George Michael Cohan)

All I want is 50 million dollars
And seal skins to protect me from the cold.
If I only knew how stocks would go in Wall Street
And were living in the mansions built of gold.
If I only owned the Pennsylvania Railroad
And if Tuesday Weld would only be my wife
Oh, Tiny!
If I could only stay sixteen forever
Then I'd know that I'd be satisfied with life.

All I want is wheatgerm for my breakfast
A Champagne fountain sizzling at my feet
While Rockefeller waited on the table
And a barrel's band playin' while I eat.
If I only owned Western Union cable
And if Tuesday Weld would only be my wife
Tiny, I love you!
if I could only stay sixteen forever and ever and ever
Then I'd know that I'd be satisfied with life.

Hello, my dear friend,
Don't run away from all this world,
It's a great big beautiful world
With fabulous happy faces around
Well, I can see this one over here, you lovely thing,
Why, it's beautiful, it's clean, and it's calm and it's modern,
If I can have them all, why, I'll tell you, I'll tell you
Then I'd know that I'd be satisfied with life.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Obama Is Our President

Obama! ... Barack Obama has been elected the 44th president of the United States. The American people have voted for world peace, for economic justice, for a green economy, and for genuine change.

Here is the text of Obama's victory speech in Chicago, at midnight.

Obama's Speech on November 4, 2008

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Its the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

Its the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

Its the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

Its been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and hes fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nations promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nations next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy thats coming with us to the White House. And while shes no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics - you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what youve sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to - it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didnt start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington - it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generations apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didnt do this just to win an election and I know you didnt do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how theyll make the mortgage, or pay their doctors bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who wont agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government cant solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way its been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, its that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if Americas beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one thats on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. Shes a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing - Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldnt vote for two reasons - because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that shes seen throughout her century in America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we cant, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when womens voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that We Shall Overcome. Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves - if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we cant, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

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