March 2010 Newsletter
Obama and the Politics of Change
I hadn’t planned to spend my final week in Thailand in Hua Hin, but the fates conspired to take me back there for an encounter with Barack Obama, not in person, of course but in a literary sense. Having finished the Stephen Coontz novel (Final Flight) I had picked up in Penang, I went looking through the small collection of books at my Hua Hin guest house for something else to read. Along with a few books in German, which are of no use to me, I found a handful of books in English. The only one that caught my eye was Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father.
It’s not one that’s been on my list of books to read, I’m generally disinclined to read books written by politicians or other famous people, as they rarely qualify as good literature and most often are simply marketing tools or attempts to capitalize financially on their fame. But for several reasons, I decided to give this one a closer look. To begin with, the cover quotes were full of glowing praise, something which I discounted heavily. More convincing was the fact that this book had originally been published in 1995, long before Obama had become famous. Most importantly, the book purports to be a memoir, and as such I thought it might provide some useful insights into the character of the man who has somehow managed a spectacular ascent to the top of the power pyramid and is now the US president. What might it reveal about his sincerity, his political agenda, and his ability to deliver the kinds of positive change that he has promised?
The book is engaging and well written and reads more like a novel than a memoir. It tells the story of a young man of mixed race seeking his own identity, trying to come to terms with the demands of his fractured families and to understand his place in the world. I was astonished at the candor with which the story is told. Having spent the second half of 2008 abroad and therefore absent for most of the 2008 Presidential campaign season, I have no idea what role this book might have played in his bid for the presidency, or whether it might have been a help or a hindrance in that regard.
There is little in the book to suggest that this man might someday achieve the highest political office in the world. I can’t help but wonder what kind of Faustian bargain he must have made in order to gain sufficient support from the global oligarchy to become President of the United States. What does he hope to achieve from that lofty perch, what compromises has he had to make to get there, what are his personal motivations, is he sincere in his public pronouncements or is he consciously working to intensify the mass delusion?
Another Vantage Point
Another interesting feature of my Hua Hin guesthouse is the selections on TV. This one offers a mere 7 channels, only one of which provides English language programming. FilmMax appears to be a Pakistani channel, which shows mainly Hollywood B movies I’ve never heard of –whatever they can get cheap, I guess. On the plus side, they’ve also shown some vintage films that date from my childhood. A few days ago I caught the tail end of the Wizard of Oz, and yesterday I tuned in just in time to see Flying Tigers from start to finish.
I remember seeing the Wizard of Oz for the first with my mother and sister when I was about four years old. I remember being scared to death when the Tin Man appeared. What makes this film of interest to me now is the fact that Frank Baum wrote the story as an allegory depicting the fraud inherent in the money and banking system and the reality of the people’s power to transcend it. I posted something about that recently on my blog (http://beyondmoney.net/2010/01/19/the-real-meaning-of-the-wizard-of-oz/).
Growing up in the 1940s and 50s I was strongly influenced by World War II. Along with the cartoons and cowboy westerns, we were fed a steady diet of war movies, which I was eager to see. Flying Tigers was one of them. It is a fabled tale about an actual squadron of mercenary American fliers who prior to the U.S. entry into the war fought to help the Nationalist Chinese defend themselves against the Japanese invaders. It contains some classic lines, which now seem pretty lame. John Wayne, the head man, has just returned after leading his squadron in a battle against enemy bombers and fighters. When his Chinese ground crewman points out the line of bullet holes in the fuselage of his plane, he quips, “termites.”
When my Thai visa ran out early in February I flew to Malaysia where I planned to apply for a new visa while exploring parts of the country I had not visited before. Melaka or Malacca, as the British refer to it, like Georgetown in Penang, has been declared a UN Heritage site. I spent 5 days there exploring the old city and near surroundings before deciding I had seen enough and headed for Penang, which is still one of my favorite places in Asia. One of the greatest attractions about Georgetown is the food. I especially like the Indian fare that can be had in the neighborhood called Little India, which is the best I’ve had anywhere, including India–and it’s dirt cheap.
In contrast to Thailand, Malaysia seems a little more developed, and the wealth of the country, despite the inevitable political corruption, seems to be a little better distributed. Along the way I’ve been told that tourism is now the second largest component of the Malaysian economy after petroleum. I suppose agriculture must be third. Palm oil plantations dominate the landscape from top to bottom and Malaysia is the world’s largest producer.
While in Melaka I met Mr. and Mrs. Yee who have a tea shop near the center of town, and as part of the Couch Surfing network, often host travelers. Through them I learned about a Buddhist social action group called Tzu Chi.
With offices in 47 countries, the Tzu Chi Foundation is one of the largest charity organizations originating from Taiwan. For over forty years, the organization has provided services for those in need worldwide. http://www.tzuchi.org/
The Foundation has impressive facilities in Melaka, which we visited, and from their website, I see that they have a major presence in the U.S., as well. See my pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/tomazhg/201002Melaka
To start with I want to mention that Richard Flyer has published a Conscious Community Training Guide. Richard’s work has demonstrated the kind of community organizing that needs to be done if the sustainability movement is to achieve significant results. You can download it at the website, http://www.itstimereno.org/calender.asp
The End of Money and the Future of Civilization has been nominated for the Triple Pundit Sustainable Business Must Read list. You can help by casting your vote at http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/02/nominations-are-in-vote-for-the-best-green-business-books-to-create-a-must-read-list-for-all-sustainability-folk/
And if you feel so inclined, you might nominate my work for support from one of these prizes (I surely qualify age-wise):
Know someone in his/her 60s, 70s, or beyond who is capitalizing on the expertise and experience of a lifetime to find solutions to local, national and global challenges?
The Purpose Prize, now in its fourth year, awards five $100,000 and five $50,000 prizes to social innovators over the age of 60. It is the country’s only large-scale investment in social innovators in the second half of life. Rather than a personal achievement award, the prizes are intended as investments in these social innovators’ future work.
In addition to the ten prizes awarded each year, the initiative also recognizes dozens of other outstanding individuals in “encore careers” – those who are redefining the so-called “retirement years”. If you know someone who fits this description, visit the Purpose Prize website for more information on how to nominate – www.encore.org/prize. (I heard about this through the ASPA-CIVED listserv.)
BTW, I’ve joined Twitter and will be using it to alert my followers to new posts on my blogs and websites. My twitter name is tomazgreco. To follow me, go to http://twitter.com/ and sign up.
I’ll be returning soon to the U.S. and look forward to spending time with friends and helping to implement various currency and exchange projects.