Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I firmly support Barack Obama for President of the United States. The United States.

Obama is intelligent, built with an honest moral foundation, and most importantly, he has the power to inspire an entire nation--to give us a kick in the ass. Every time I hear him, he makes me want to do better.

For two hours, I frivolously watched the results come in for the Pennsylvania democratic primary. Listening to the slew of various partisan commentators at MSNBC, I was able to paint a picture in my mind of what the two democratic nominees really mean, what their agenda is, what their intentions are. Hillary exuded the impression that she really wants to become president and that Obama is not as fit for the job. She mocked Obama's campaign slogan "Yes We Can" by saying to her supporters, "No, not 'yes we can,' Yes We Will!". Her campaign seems to be against Obama more than anything else and she acts like presidency is the ultimate goal, like her purpose is complete once she reaches the prized presidential destination.

Meanwhile, Obama clearly stands for hope, change, and unity. He does not give in to the squabble and bicker that frequents our notoriously corrupted political landscape. He is above that. He wants to be our president, bring us together, guide us back to being the United States, back to the exemplary country we once were. Obama has his heart and mind in the right place. Obama is for America.

If Hillary actually wants what's best for the democratic party, then she would stop polarizing the fuck out of it and concede to Obama. She is attempting to play her political cards and pull strings to rig this democratic primary, just like Dubya did to Gore in the presidential election back in 2000. She is vying, clawing at all costs, to get what is now pretty much an unattainable nomination. And now pundits are discrediting Obama because he was unable to send Hillary a fat"knock-out punch" tonight. They think that since he failed to show tenacity and grit in Pennsylvania, he will surely lose to Senator McCain come November.

There are major flaws with this presumption. Firstly, this was just one state: Pennsylvania. Secondly, they are forgetting that these were registered democrats voting in a democratic primary and that the majority of Hillary's supporters will likely back Obama, the democratic candidate, in the presidential election rather than resorting to the GOP's McCain. Thirdly, they are also forgetting about all the unregistered, unaffiliated moderates who, by default, abstain from voting in primaries. These independents will hopefully see the blatant remiss of the republican party in the last 7 years and favor the other option in our little dual-party system.

Anyway, the bottom line is, anybody will make a better president than "shrublet". In a recent poll among respected historians, more than two-thirds selected GWB as our worst president ever. A while back Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam sang a wonderful song on Vh1 storytellers that passionately conveys the popular feeling about the Bush Administration these days. Here is the link:


When I was at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in June 2007, Wayne Coyne, frontman of the band Flaming Lips, went on a little political rant before a sea of thoroughly stoned youth. After pushing for us to vote and stay more politically attuned, he broke it down for us: "Guys, let's just not have another motherfucker in the white house, okay?" Agreed.


Obama has two decades of experience as a community organizer. He has made it clear that he believes change starts with grassroots groups and works it's way up rather than starting at the top and trickling down.

As an AmeriCorps watershed ambassador for 8 months, I've had a bit of a glimpse of what it means to be a part of a nonprofit, round up a community, and become more connected with the common folk. I think I understand where Obama's coming from and I'm beginning to believe that perhaps leading a grassroots style organization is for me. And lately, the idea of consigning myself to academia seems less appealing. I don't think I want to write stacks of detailed papers that only a few elite intellectuals would care about and fully understand. To me, the community approach carries much more weight. Literally, more weight when considering the 5 tons of litter the local volunteers pulled out at my stream cleanups this month.

I don't know what my plans are. AmeriCorps will be done in two months give or take, and I don't have anything lined up yet. I might find another environmental position in New Jersey. I might move to Vermont with my uncle and search for something up there. And I might just have to move to DC to volunteer to help with Obama's forthcoming campaign. I truly do not know.

But Mark Twain has offered me some reassurance about planning (or not planning) for the future. Recently, I bought Essays and Sketches of Mark Twain, essentially the glorified blog of beloved Samuel Clemens, and there is one particular sketch where he discusses his philosophy of Circumstance and Temperment. Circumstance is external, everything and everyone presented to you in your life. Temperment is internal, your gifts, skills, personality--all the characteristics that make you you. There is some elasticity for each of the two, but generally they are both fixed. You can change your Circumstance by maybe moving to a new place or maybe finding a new job, but you must consider costs, family, location and your qualifications, passion, desired wage. You can try to alter your Temperment, and maybe do it somewhat successfully, but there will always be your lingering residual demeanor underneath the new facade. I like to think of Circumstance and Temperment as set values on a figure, but you have some control with the range of the error bars.

When Circumstance and Temperment line up nicely, you get somebody like LeBron James. You're throwing down sweet dunks over your opponents, winning basketball games, and making millions of dollars. His physical attributes and athletic prowess (Temperment) match very well with the sport of basketball and the NBA (Circumstance), which gives him the financial means necessary to live the high life in our society. But LeBron got lucky. Most of us spend our lives looking for a perfect match, but can never really find it. That's because a perfect match often doesn't exist. We are all unique individuals with our own genetic code of which the possibilities are nearly infinite, so the chances that our specific code will match perfectly with what the world presents to us is quite remote.

But, we all end up settling into some kind of a match. And the match might not only with a certain activity or career, but also with another person or even a special place. Sometimes people forget about that. I know I did.

So we must accept that our Temperment has a limited capacity to fluctuate and that Circumstance can change at the drop of a fez. That's why we mustn't worry too hard about planning. If you don't make the search for something, you might miss out on what's out there, but at the same time, if you do go out searching, you might miss out on something even better had you only stayed put and waited. Opportunities come about and opportunities slip away, but, in the end, we all tend to latch onto a pretty good one and make ends meet.

Embracing the change,


Monday, April 14, 2008

Photographs and Numbers

2008 Second Annual Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Stream Cleanup

Councilman and Scout Leader pull out shopping cart from Rocky Brook in Hightstown.

Delaware-Raritan Canal cleanup in West Windsor.
From Left: Me, Rob, Jim Gambino, Mike Hornsby (Chair of WW Environmental Commission)
with his wife, and Andrew Kulley.
Weighing trash bags at Shabakunk Creek near Lawrence Shopping Center.

Bulldozer at Mile Run-Hawthorne Park.

Stream litter at the dump site in Franklin Township.

Rutgers Korean Club displaying their stream cleanup t-shirts.

8 towns.

237 volunteers.

Over 5 tons of litter removed from our local waterways.

A good many thanks to the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, American Rivers, New Jersey Clean Communities, and our other sponsors as well as the Environmental Commission, Public Works Department, and volunteers of Cranbury, East Windsor, Franklin, Hightstown, Lawrence, Millstone, Monroe, and West Windsor.

Keeping NJ beautiful,

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cleaning Up

So I've been immersed in Americorps since the onset of April. Finalizing the details for eight stream cleanup events, on top of regular duties, can be grueling and cause a loss of faith. But let me tell you, all the energy you pack into what you do comes right back like a blazing boomerang. With just two more cleanups to go, I've already reaped many returns. This April, I've been cleaning up.

In Hightstown, after 53 volunteers from around the town pulled out over 1000 pounds of trash (pictured right), the great Gary Grubb was good to his word. The venison jerky was chewy and delicious and I was happy to wash it down with a Yuengling on the house. There is nothing more gratifying than earning the thanks of an entire town. A grinning, mud-freckled councilman accosted me, "Thank you! Thank you for coming to Hightstown. We appreciate everything you've done for us today." Gary Grubb called me on the phone yesterday. He said the Hightstown mayor was commending me at the town council meeting and wanted to put something about the cleanup in the Windsor-Hights Herald, the town newspaper. I'm going to send him a press release on Monday.

Two local papers, the Lawrence Ledger and the Princeton Packet, already ran this article in recent weeks regarding the stream cleanups:

Somehow I've been able to find time to squeeze in field trips at the Duke Farms Estate in Hillsborough, NJ for the 5th graders of Auten Road School during the week. I run the water monitoring station at Lake #31. The 2700-acre estate has a bunch of reservoirs that are all named after the number of feet they are above sea level. James Buchanon Duke had a monopoly in the US tobacco industry and stakes in electric power. He's the one Duke University is named for. He had places in North Carolina, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Hawaii. Everything he was worth was handed to his daughter and heiress, Doris Duke. Her most famous moment was when she accidentally ran over her interior decorator, Eduardo, with her car. Sitting on a billion USD, of course she was a prime target for lawsuits. The police ruled the death as just an unfortunate accident though. Anyway, Duke Farms is a beautiful place that is rather private and difficult to visit unless you have permission or you know someone inside. It really is a perfect sort of blend between old stone architecture and tidy landscaping. I am privileged to have access to such a place.

These 5th grade girls from Hillsborough have crushes on me. They snicker, swoon, and giggle all the time. It's because I look a lot like one of the Jonas Brothers, a tweenie band akin to Hannah Montana, whoever she is. Apparently, I also look like a character named Chase Matthews from Nickolodeon's Zooey 101 show. One girl asked me if I could be her "new best friend". Another tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if she could take a picture of me. It was nice she had the courtesy to ask. Then the shit blew up the fan when one of them asked me for my autograph. I won't be joining the girls at lunchtime from here on out.

More cleanups and more field trips to come.
Your busy 'bassador,