Friday, May 23, 2008

Howdy There Eyrealm!

Howdy there Eyrealm!


There was lots of "journeying" this past week. I spent the first part of it competing in a national tennis tournament in Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs. (Don't ask how I did, because it was not pretty!)

As you all know, I am trying to finish that book that uses tennis as a metaphor for life, and as part of the research, I am playing in my age group in the four national tournaments — one on hard courts, one on grass, one on clay, and one indoors. These tournaments are good places to meet good players (and nice people) who still love to compete.

The tournament was in a very exclusive club in a gated community, which I always find interesting. It is as though people are trying to create an artificial bubble to live in, isolated and removed from the real world.

From there I went to Redwood City to attend the Global Philanthropy Forum, which is about the plight of the third world, and focuses on the 2 billion people on the planet who live on less than $2 per day.   It is always so great to be with my Sis Chris and to learn from him and his incredibly interesting world.  It's cool to be reminded that Chris is a major, major player in the vastly important world of philanthropy and that he rubs shoulders regularly with people who are really my heroes in this world.

Going to these two events back-to-back was an interesting opportunity to juxtaposition the exclusive rich with the world’s poor. There is such excess among the wealthy in this country, and such an ever-growing gap between it and the dollar-a-day poverty that envelops a third of humanity (more than 2 billion people, the poorest of the poor).

In his 58th chapter, Isaiah admonished those in our day to be "repairers of the breach" or of that gap, and that is what the people at this Global Philanthropy Forum are all trying to do — each in his own way. There were "social entrepreneurs" of all types there — micro-lending, nutrition and hunger experts, third world education advocates, people with clean water ideas, and "rescuers" of all types who have ideas for everything from saving abandoned kids to stopping the slave trade that still thrives in parts of the world.

Partly because the conference was held near the Silicon Valley, many of the "solutions" were technology based — or perhaps it would be better to say that, because technology is at the heart of many of the potential solutions to global problems, the conference was held near the Silicon Valley. Many presenters felt that the "digital divide" would close before the rich-poor gap, and that the one would ultimately be the solution to the other.

The digital divide is the difference between people who have the Internet, or cell phones, or some way to connect, and those who don't. Human connectivity, which may be almost universal in five years, may be the means (or at least open the possibilities) for a living wage for all, and for a further reduction in atrocities.

(Instead of "Big Brother" we have the phenomenon of "little brother" in the form of ordinary people with cell phones who can take pictures that document human rights violations and can send those images out where they can be picked up by media and expose the kinds of evil that cannot thrive except in secrecy. I was thinking the end to "secret combinations.")

Desmond Tutu, the archbishop of Johannesburg and the man who headed the "Truth and Reconciliation" hearings after Apartheid ended in South Africa, was the keynote speaker. His message was one of hope in the deepest sense, and it ultimately centered on God and on faith. He told one story of a little priest who spent several hours listening to a brilliant scientist who explained all of his reasons for atheism and finally concluded grandly with the statement, "And for all those reasons, I do not believe in God." The little priest took his hand and said, "That's OK, because He believes in you!"

The world, he said, is actually becoming a better place in many ways. There are 80 percent fewer conflict related deaths each year in the world than there were during the Cold War. It seems like more, but that is just because we are more aware of them due to the openness and far-reaching news coverage of today.

It is that openness, he said, along with more structured and connected civil societies giving more early warnings of impending conflicts, that have allowed a certain progress in stopping or shortening some conflicts in the world. Tutu is one of 12 "Elders" — a group of wise and respected leaders including Nelson Mandela, Mohammed Unis, Jimmy Carter, and Kofi Annan — who can be deployed into areas where conflict is brewing to talk to the leaders of governments or factions in an effort to avert widespread bloodshed, genocide, or cival war. (Kofi Annan played that role recently in Kenya and may have prevented extensive further violence.) "The Elders" were the brainchild of Richard Branson (the airline and business executive) and Peter Gabriel (the singer), both of whom also addressed the conference.

Marvelous as the ideas and altruism were, I couldn't help think of another group of 12 Elders, of about the same average age, this one with the true authority and the true message that will ultimately save the world.


In the tennis tournament I mentioned at the top of the column, along with my age group (which I will not reveal specifically, but which I have a hard time admitting to myself) there was a nationally USTA sanctioned tournament for players 95 and above. Can you believe that? Singles and doubles!  Dude, I am going to win that division in 33 or 34 years!

I watched these near-centenarians, and was amazed at the mobility and agility and optimism that they have managed to preserve so long. It gives me hope for a long autumn and then a pretty good winter of life.

Some may have seen a recent Barbara Walters special about living longer. Several of the scientists she interviewed felt that there are huge breakthroughs that are possible in the next decade or so that could extend life to 150 years or more. One researcher looking for the piece in the genetic DNA chain that controls degenerative aging even said that he thought it would be possible once again for people to live to the "Biblical" ages of 800 or 900 years!

Would you want to? I certainly have my doubts, because I think it would be a long "winter." But I will certainly do all I can to stretch out my "autumn." I think of the autumn of life much as I think of the autumn of the year — rich, full, energized, beautiful. A time of three-generation families (with us as the first generation, enjoying children and grandchildren even as our own lives reach their time of greatest potential and contribution.


Further snippets of my notes from the Global Philanthropy Forum:

  • One third of the pregnant women on the entire continent of Africa are infected with the H.I.V. virus, and will pass it on to their children unless they receive medication that is rarely available, partially because pharmaceutical giants are too busy producing "high-profit western medications."
  • Young, really young internet entrepreneurs are becoming socially conscious, like Sean Parker, 27, founder of Napster and of Facebook, who has now added a "causes" section on Facebook — where 11 million people have been linked on line with various humanitarian causes and charitable organizations.
  • World leaders, including President Bush, really would be well advised to boycott the opening ceremonies of this summer's Olympics in Beijing in protest of China's human rights policies and occupation of Tibet. Boycotting the opening ceremonies (not the games themselves) would not penalize the athletes or diminish the competition or its spirit, yet would send a message that needs to be sent.
  • Countries with the most natural resources are invariably the countries with the most political corruption. And within the U.S., the states with the most natural resources are the states with the most political corruption. The greater the temptation ...
  • The three great global curses of poverty, human rights violations, and climate change are really one three-part curse, because they are so interrelated. Most of those who cut down the rainforests are slaves. Those who desecrate human rights create poverty. Continued global warming will affect the poor the most. (Bangladesh, for example, is not only one of the poorest countries, but also one of the lowest elevation countries, and a rising ocean level could make 100 million of its citizens homeless.)
  • There are 60 million gender-selected global abortions each year.

The world is hurtling, ever faster, through a continual sequence of inequity, jealousy, resentment and terrorism that could threaten all of us, but the world is also hurtling, ever faster, toward connectivity, positive globalization, and the end of secrecy — which allows us all to see each other and care about and help each other. Let’s hope the second and positive sequence gains more momentum and spreads faster than the first.

Do we seek a more equal, more egalitarian world? Certainly we do in terms of ending poverty and closing the gap (or Isaiah's "breach"). But perhaps as globalization and technology takes over and gradually closes the gap and mitigates poverty (and maybe even slows climate change and further cuts human rights violations), will it also begin to rob our world of its marvelous diversity and merge all of the distinctive and colorful cultures of the world into one homogeneous and uniform global culture. (We could end up with a McDonalds in every village.)

Perhaps, in that paradigm, we could argue that those of us who live today live in the greatest and most interesting era of history. Technology allows us to be connected, and even to physically reach any spot on the globe in 24 hours, yet as we reach those spots, we still see distinctive and unique cultures. A few years ago we could not get to these places or connect; and when we get to them in a few years they may have ceased to exist.

Maybe this time, our time, is the golden moment in between, maybe Eyrealm flourishes in the Earth's truly golden age!

Love you all to Kolob.  DAD

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