Sunday, September 13, 2009

Free Hugs

I spent part of yesterday at our annual neighborhood cultural fair. I've been a couple of times- the offerings are typically somewhat uneven but the palpable good will and warmth overcomes that easily. You always run into friends, buy a trinket or two and wander home in a pleasant state of mind.

I was wandering around (there's a lot of wandering on this blog) with my friends and taking in the fair- checking out small stalls selling identical looking beaded necklaces and African inspired bags etc., when I saw something heart warming. There in the midst of cliche-confirming sad looking clowns, bustling food vendors and an assortment of vaguely left leaning booths and kiosks (holistic healing! vegan soap! peace councils etc.) was a young guy - probably in his late teens- holding a sign that said 'free hugs'.

At first this struck me as the kind of typically well meaning but slightly hokey thing that just would happen at this festival. But as I watched the small vestige of my cynicism faded away. As the guy stood there in the middle of the street, with his cardboard sign aloft, people of all ages, shapes, colors approached him smiling. Some impulsively rushed into his arms, while others debated it in their heads before shyly going forward. Some looked smilingly self conscious or had to be goaded by friends, while others were hugging him almost the second they saw him. Some did a short half hug, joking about it even as they made contact and others held on for a tight long while. Older people were most forthcoming, while younger people- specially teenagers that were closest to the guys age were the most self conscious. Groups of teenage girls giggled and watched but were too shy (refreshingly shy) to approach.

Through it all the guy stood smiling- saying little. He looked peaceful and somehow wise despite his boyish face and unremarkable clothes.

People broke away and hurried or strolled along their way, laughing at the experience. Everyone looked uplifted in some sense - even the ones that had started ironically.

There was something transformative about the scene playing out- for all its hokeyness, or how contrived it could have been- the simple act of hugging someone, without any expectations, looked utterly warm.

I was transfixed by the sight- for reasons I can't fully understand and that my friends were also bewildered, or at least bemused, by. I don't even know why I'm writing about it now but I know I could have watched those small human interactions for hours. Suddenly these gestures that one only reads about in hipster stories made sense to me. It got me thinking about how these small gestures matter in our ever more isolated and compartmentalized existence. What would it be like to magnify that effect somehow- how could one translate the idea of 'free hugs' in some larger, meaningful sense? Sounds ridiculous even as I write it...

Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

All I'll say is that it was charming.

So, did I hug him?

No I didn't - (though I did commend him on his willingness to take on such an enterprise in swine flu season).

I'm not sure why I didn't go up for my free hug ...but he touched me all the same.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The coolest video clip you will see all year.

Why you ask?

Because it has my dad in it. Simple.

I've already posted this (to much positive feedback) on facebook but then I thought it is only right that I also put it on my now much neglected and gasping for air blog...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Live Blogging Health Speech

Believe it or not this was the main Obama speech of the week. Notwithstanding all the asinine nonsense about the school speech where, horror, President Obama told students to study hard and stay in school...this speech tonight is going to be the really critical one, perhaps one of his most critical speeches so far as President.

So what better thing to do than to resurrect the health of this blog, celebrate the somewhat returned health of my computer (though I'm keeping a close watch) and to renew a noble 'wandering through' tradition- live blogging!

A few caveats are in order:
1. I know very little about the health care debate. I know it is important and long over due and that I support Obama's plan (but the details of the plan itself are a little fuzzy in my head- and apparently in the heads of millions of others).
2. But I do know the American health care system is abysmal, inefficient, unbelievably misconceived and morally and fiscally bankrupt.
3. I'm not terribly interested in the debate itself- again, it's important but I don't get too excited about watching it
4. So this may be short, uninformed and poor in analysis and insight. In other words - lots of value added. Excited?

And away we go:

8:11 The pomp and ceremony that preceeds these speeches is a lot of fun to watch- I like the mingling beforehand and I wonder 'how aware are they of people watching? Is this why the smiles are extra large?"
And we have George Stephanopolous on too- what's not to like?

Random thought: Everything in America is ultimately a spectator sport- they could be cheering at the superbowl for all we know.

8: 15 Obama always looks very presidential. Great starting note- goes straight into it and reminds us of how far we've come even though there is still lots to go

8:19 First great line- "I am determined to be the last". I like the idea of talking about the length of this whole effort. This is not Obama's hobby horse- its an idea way past its time.

8: 21 Absolutely smart to appeal to America's pride "We are the only advanced democacy" to have such a shitty system. This is a such a winning discourse in America.

8: 28 I'm usually skeptical of the narrative style of telling disconnected persoanl stories - it seems to be a favored tactic in American speech making but when it comes to health care it really works- because these stories are really horrific. Shameful.

8: 29 So far he is hitting all the right notes- balanced but sharply pointing out the destructiveness and vindictiveness of the partisan nature of this debate. And now to the meat of it- the plan...

8: 30 Clear outlining of the plan- of course the usual nay sayers (read the fanatical right) will say that he was vague, no matter what he does- even if he had a power point behind him combined with interpretive dancers . But, unequivocally- he is not vague- he is clearly outlining the plan. Even I get it.

8: 34 Smart nod to McCain. And we see the old thumbs up (Wow McCain thumbs up, me live blogging = total election deja vu)

8: 36 Notes of dissoannce- people opening laughing at the line 'some details need to be ironed out'. To them I ask 'what's so funny?' Plans like these do need details ironed out. And has anyone else had a clearer plan so far? I think not.

And what was that shouting, I hear? Indian parliament flashback - warms the cockles of my heart :)

8: 41 Ummm Barack, you're asking for open mindedness and balance from extreme ideologues. That's harder than getting this plan passed.

8: 44 YES! 'Won't back down'- those are the words and that is the tone that needs to be struck. Finally some combativeness- I'm glad he's reminding us of why this deficit happened in the first place.

8: 46 I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to the deficit- that was needed to be said. Realistic? No but it needs to be said.

8: 50 So far I'm impressed by four themes and tactics:
1. Reminding us how long and overdue this struggle has been and how he is one in a long line of people who have tried to tackle this.
2. Appealing to what I see as classical tropes in American political discourse- individual choice and interest (we don't want to pay for other irresponsible people, you keep your choice etc.) and also the idea that this is unacceptable in America
3. A continual effort at making the plan and its various dimensions clear- he's explaining it to us like we're 5 year olds and it works.
4. He's meshing vintage Obama (balance, open mind, listening to views etc. ) with a new, determined, no-nonsense tough Obama...much needed. I liked his style- clear, succint, blunt and utterly balanced.

9:00 Perfect note to end on- Ted Kennedy, the ultimate way to get over the partisanship. You would have to be utterly churlish to boo that and he ends with the moral high ground firmly in his grasp.
Great move. Great speech.

9: 03 "I still believe that acrimony can be replaced by civility" hmmm...I don't but I'd like to.

Never knew a speech on health care reform could be this riveting and passionate- that's Obama for you. Too bad it's hardly going to shut the ideologues up at all- they'll carry on like the speech never happened.

Now back to the circus...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Excuse no. 56 for not blogging

This one is valid.

My laptop is in the store (a store that goes by the name of a fruit that if you eat every day is supposed to keep the doctor away) and has been there for more than a week. I was supposed to get it back yesterday but of course, this being me, it is still in the queue for repair and has not even been looked at yet.

I'm most disappointed, disgruntled and dismayed (add any other 'dis' word you can think of).

How am I typing this you ask? Well of course I have a school computer but it would be most unprofessional of me to be blogging from school, wouldn't it?

So herewith a poem for my missing mac:

Oh my lovely white, shiny mac
you allow me my problems to grapple.
I desperately want you back
But you're still in the clutches of apple.

I promise I'll treat you so well,
let you rest when you're whiny and tired
take good care of your delicate shell
and never send you to get needlessly rewired.