Friday, October 1, 2010

Irony-You Have to Be Literate to Get It

This post, "Irony-You Have to Be Literate to Get It" - is an Op-Ed article about the Stewart-Colbert Rally to be held in Washington D.C. on October 30th, 2010. It was originally available on

“Irony – You Have to Be Literate to Get It”
by Valerie Ibarra, Freelance Writer/Political Scientist/Radio Pundit

When John Stewart and Stephen Colbert visited each other’s shows to initiate a political duel to play out in Washington D.C. on October 30, 2010, guffaws and laughs filled many a cozy living room across America. Those exasperations quickly turned into incredible tingles of inspiration. Was someone actually inviting us to Washington D.C.?

For those of us who remember preemptively protesting the preemptive war in Iraq – which it turns out the Bush administration publicly lied about 953 times prior to the March 20, 2003 invasion – it’s been a long time since we have felt welcome to exercise our First Amendment muscles. In fact, the guilt-ridden media outlets have all but exhausted our attempts at healthy, rational citizenship. Instead, they’ve pumped us full of illicit narcotics commercials to help mold the upcoming and outgoing generations into docile consumers, and thus politically handicapping us by creating spectacle to obscure real information.

Funny enough, a great many of us are not so keen on relinquishing our right to think critically. Yet, the American public is inundated by fairly extreme versions of someone else’s idea of what we need to know or what we should think about others. Stewart and Colbert are a part of these media exploits, but they stand to hold a mirror to the anchors who take themselves and their viewer’s susceptibility so seriously. Well, it looks like both sides of this coin has a face, and the call to Washington D.C. on October 30th is a call for those sides to face each other on the common ground of OUR nation’s capitol.

The rallies (or rally?) stand to support a restoration of sanity and/or the perpetuation of fear in our political culture. Who will be represented there? Those who get the joke and those who view our current political environment as so funny we forgot to laugh. After years of Bush-isms and the advent of Sarah Palin-isms, one might be lead to believe that America has lost its intellectual edge. How exactly can big-picture thinkers with the vocabulary to differentiate the nuances of ideas achieve sanity when we have been taught to fear that we might be labeled as elitists? Well, let’s clear up our first point: not everyone who leads an elite lifestyle got there on merit, and not all intellectuals are living elite lives. There will likely be teachers, students, unemployed teachers and students, moms, dads, clerks, cashiers, rabble-rousers, community organizers, artists, clowns, clergy, nurses, fishermen, flirts, flamboyant figures, and anyone else with a sense of humor and a sense of justice. Note that this may sound like the makings of a political circus, but such is Congress, and the grandiose rub lies in the fact that not everyone can be billed under one or two tents of thought.

At the risk of sounding extreme, Americans are fed up with corporations running our lives with the Supreme Court’s blessing, deceptive campaigning, irresponsible bailouts, overburdening wars, ineffective or counterproductive laws, polarity at the polls, non-progressive energy policies, speculative and non-investigative journalism, development that doesn’t account for the folks who already live somewhere, tax cuts for the rich, poor schools and the environmental and economic dangers produced by unregulated industry. So, for the silent and un-labeled majority that never gets represented in the public eye, this is a chance to meet fellow Americans, share and debate ideas, build a more peaceful coexistence by listening to each other, and have a big group hug over the relief of it all.


Monday, September 20, 2010

I'm a Pirate! Radio pundit, that is...

I've been making my way down to the Pirate Cat Radio cafe almost every Friday to "Read Between the Lines of the New York Times" and discuss various social issues of importance.

Program: Common Thread Collective
Station: Pirate Cat Radio (online)
Host: Diamond Dave Whitaker (muse to Bob Dylan, Mayor of Haight Street, and multi-generational political and artistic organizer)
Dates I have been on the air recently: 9/17,9/03, 8/27
The link:

"Cast a wide net, find the common thread, let life flourish, and don't panic...keep it organic." -Diamond Dave

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

International Inspirations: An Introduction to Cuba

It was my friend's Israeli beau whose comment reminded me of the urgency of all things relevant. "Once I left Cuba, it was gone for me." Experiences go by so quickly - and some linger beyond their time - so if I'm to provide timely insight, I better get on the ball.

Here is the first installment in a series that will discuss my time and observations while on an official research delegation to Cuba in June 2010: "Cuba: A Paradox in Paradise"

I. Introdution: Cuba-ism

When Picasso experimented with cubism, the form did not develop overnight. Rather, he made technical geometric sketches to lay the groundwork for creating his paintings that depicted many images from one central figure. The mystifying glory was that one could see the same face from many different angles. Thus, I relate cubism to Cuba; not only because of the similarity of the words, but also because Cuba is multi-faceted, designed to create certain perceptions, yet cannot be contained to one explanation. It is, in this sense, a modern work of art as a country sculpted from classic principles and the vulnerable instincts of a shunned genius.

Cuba is as brave and ambitious as Picasso, as time and effort has led to its multi-faceted culture of Socialist secularism. The result is what I am calling Cuba-ism, which means that many worlds exist within one. It is a complexity that represents both optimism and uncertainty. Where one smile glows, another face grimaces, thus presenting to the world a magnificent puzzle that will be crafted by its opportunities to showcase domestic accomplishments and carefully tap into international market potential.

The party line is a sharp edge, softened only by the warmth and intellectual capacity of its people. It has a meticulous design that pulls many parts into one in order to function as an advancing society. Everyone has to work together in solidarity to support not only the status quo, but also the peace it ultimately seeks to maintain. Cuba, as we were reminded, is a country that is not at war with anybody.

Incidentally, the Cuban government regulates almost all aspects of life, and descent from the party line of the central government is dangerous territory. Despite the revival of many domestic food sources and international bartering, many go without having their basic needs met. Being denied access to the American market is only one hurdle that prohibits Cubans from having access to everyday goods. There are two currencies – one for the Cubans and one for the tourists – that create a vast disparity between hard work and reward. They also hear a lot of rumors and truths from those who defected to become refugees in America. Without the freedom to question the powers that be, many mouths turn down as they go hungry.

This warm and well-educated population is optimistic about opportunities inspired by domestic accomplishments and international market potential. The government has succeeded in securing certain favorability from and promises to its people – by way of free education and health care – but its strength still depends on the work ethic of the population and the help of international players who see it as an ally. Until it can better refine its role in the world, Cuba will continue to lack definition. No matter which face is pointing forward, there is always another side to the coin.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Peace Alliance visits Lauren's House for Positive Change

On Monday, August 23, 2010, three of us from the Peace Alliance visited Lauren's House for Positive Change in East Palo Alto. The group included myself, Nancy Merritt (Director of the Northern California Peace Alliance)and Nancy Kivette (San Francisco leader for the Peace Alliance).

Lauren's House is a group operated by one woman who realized that she wanted to help some of the children in her community to thrive in a safe space. The kids range from 7-18 years old, and the several that we met on Monday were breathtakingly smart and wonderful kids. Many of them were starting school the next day, so we only got a couple of hours to interact with them.

I led a civics lesson, replete with a hand-out that every single child completed. I taught them about the different levels of government and how it is vital to know that you can contact any elected representative to have your voice be heard. Three of them had already written letters to the President and had gotten responses back. They seemed very interested in learning how to participiate in government, and one child had been selected to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the upcoming first day of school.

After the civics lesson, Nancy and Nancy talked about the legislation that the Peace Alliance is trying to promote; namely, HR808 to create a U.S. Department of Peace, and HR1064/S434, the Youth PROMISE Act. All the students, and their illustrious leader, were enthusiastic about trying to find peaceful solutions to the violence that plagues so many communities in the country. The evening rounded out with some postcard writing to Senators Feinstein and Boxer.

For more information on these pieces of legislation and the goals of The Peace Alliance, visit: and

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Remembering Family & Honoring Life

On August 14, 2010, my family and I hosted a Memorial to commemorate the 20 years since my father died at the too-young-age of 54. We held it on his birthday (he would have been 75) because - with so much water having flowed under the bridge - we wanted it to be a celebration of life.

When my brother stood up to welcome everybody to the party, he touched on a note that made the event much more personal to those - including myself - who didn't necessarily know my dad very well. He mentioned that my dad wasn't the only person missing, but rather that all of us had someone who couldn't be there. No one, except maybe the youngest of the young, has gone without the loss of a loved one. We all recognized those passed with a collective moment of silence.

In that silence, I could hear a hundred different prayers, salutations, and calls of love. There were a hundred people who wanted to feel the embrace of those who can no longer embrace; hear the voice, witness the smile, and feel the presence of those who are now so tangibly absent. I'm quite certain that all those to whom we were calling could feel our pull.

The greater testament to death is life. We often think about loss associated with its effects on us - the living, the remaining legacy - and how it hurts. Some people experience guilt, others anger, abandonment, confusion, hardship...but we can also experience peace, strength, solace, solidarity, gratitude or even relief. We have no power over what has gone, but we do have the will to proceed with our lives. We are left to grow, to learn, to experience new things, to love others, to change our circumstances and to recognize how each breathing day we have is a gift.

Even though it was my father's passing that had prompted us to bring the family together, it was the surviving life-force that prompted everyone to show up. We all wanted to be together, to reconnect, to share memories and to make new ones. It was wonderful to see all the smiling, beautiful faces of family members from 8-months to 80-years old. We were surrounding each other with love...which is the most life-affirming force that any of us can describe.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Critical Cuba - Castro Returns

In June, I was a part of a research delegation to Cuba, during which time we visited oraganic farmers, medical doctors and holisitc researchers, agricultural professors, environmental scientists, and historical preservationists. These visits were all set amid the backdrop of Havana - the infamous capital city - as well as the tropical mountains of the Sierra d'Escambray, and the beaches of Santa Cruz del Norte. Needless to say, it was an amazing and moving experience that we got to absorb for the ten days of our professional tour.

Sometimes, traveling to a foreign land where not too many others have been, makes it difficult to return to the U.S. It is not always hard to describe, but it can be quite the challenge to convey the essence of a place, its people, and the various surroundings. When speaking of Cuba, it is especially challenging to convey its political climate for two main reasons. One, Americans tend to have many preconceived notions about what life must be like in a Communist/Socialist country. The second reason is that there is not a clear answer that can explain why Cuba is the way it is today, much less what it will be like in a few years from now.

After hearing both the party-line and the subversive low-talk about the government, one thing can be said for certain: Fidel Castro reigns, and has since the last day of 1959. His recent return to the public eye is shocking to many who thought that he may not have survived this last health bout that forced him to cede power to his brother, Raul, four years ago. Nevertheless, the fearless leader is back in action, making more claims about the uncertain future of international security. Thus, it is a critical time to speak about the essence of Cuba. The world may not have a unanimous opinion about Fidel Castro, but the unanimous and ominous opinion is that no one quite knows what Cuba will be like after he officially expires.

*Stay tuned for updated reports on our visits, as well as further commentary on the state of Cuban affairs, its courageous people, and the successes and failures of a 52-years-and-counting Revolution.

*Also, as the reports start flowing, be sure to chime in to ask questions or request a topic.

Some topics on the rise include:
- Cuba-ism: A Paradox in Paradise
- Ladybugs: A Boon for Organic Farming from California to Cuba
- Successes of the Cuban Revolution: Health Care & Education
- and more!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

La Luna y La Malecon

Moon over the Atlantic
elevated, we
eyes to see
the night
through moving ships
and mystery
and history
illuminating sea & city-scapes
cloud-captured shadows
outlined by the Malecon,
the stone wall
concrete interpretations
of beauty & necessity
across the ages
elemental shifts quickly captivating
the distribution of perception
water, like a living hallucination
a charcoal sleet
at the edge of the city's feet
whetting the palette of time
everlasting motion
same moon over the shifting ocean
and the ever-embellished
shifting of Mankind

VI, La noche en Habana, Cuba
June 21-22, 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Make Me A Mickey: Reflections on the Makings of an Icon

Imagine the birth of Mickey Mouse. From Walt's hand came the gleeful doodle; a spry little happy-faced guy who then sprouted earphones, perhaps inspired by the studio shadow. Soon the two combined, a suit added, and whimsically disproportionately-sized white gloves. A hefty handed mouse of a man was born, nascent but on the scene: soon to be singing and dancing onto every screen. Then, no matter what, at the center of everything - our iconic muse with which we have been branded...all this coming from a steady hand and a spark of genius with a fleck of gold to flick. Now, bigger than the Beatles, immortalized almost as much as Jesus; not as long-lived, but ubiquitous, with notoriety still stepping up the steep stone steps to idolatry.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Trash is Trash

Let's give this oil leak some persective:
If a garbage company were to take its fleet of barges out into the middle of the Gulf and start dumping it all overboard - and everybody could see it - those people would get arrested and fined.
Next time you wonder why this LEAK happened and why they have not been able to cap THEIR OWN EQUIPMENT, think about the cushy seats that everyone in the oil industry has built for themselves in Congress, as well as in overseas tax shelters.
Also know that the American taxpayers subsidize these companies, who have been able to make record profits in a recession, and make their net profits at the pump paid for by hard-working Americans trying to get to work (if they're fortunate enough to have a job and a car).

Read on:
"As Oil Industry Fights a Tax, It Reaps Subsidies"

Friday, July 2, 2010

Jesus and the White Rabbit

Recently some people in the Midwest noticed a knot in a tree that they say resembles the face of Jesus Christ. This cult-ural phenomenon made the local news on the West Coast. Amazing that it was featured considering the incredible amount of actual events occurring around the globe, for example: the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico (do we have to call it the "Gulf of America" to get everyone's attention?!), the failing war efforts in Afghanistan where (surprise surprise) regional forces are steadily combining in response to misguided U.S. interference, public education and thus the future of our culture and economy is in crisis, the food industry with its bureaucratic seals of approval continue to poison and lie to the public and manipulate farmers, as well as the fact that children across the land are being solicited to 'play' violent street and war games that are decidedly distracting and deceivingly realistic.
So, if the channels of information are willing to funnel faces of fanaticism into the public eye, then I deserve my fluff piece of imagination to grace these pages as well.
Without further ado, I was flying over the Sierra Nevada mountains at 30,000 feet, and to my surprise, looked down to see the face of Grace Slick (from Jefferson Airplane) etched out in a snowy, rocky formation. Talk about 'logic' defying 'proportion'! I was seeing this while looking out past the huge hovering jet engine outside my window of a giant aluminium bird we call a commercial airliner. And there I sat, sipping my ginger ale, trying - among other things - to respectfully deflect the stench of the giant man next to me who had just finished gobbling down his $7 cheese plate. It's a wonder any of this ever works out. Curiouser and curiouser...
The funny thing is, I have some news of my own that I am hesitant to share with the surrounding public: I'm an American going to Cuba! But with the current degree of paranoia and systemic ignorance with which most Cold War-witnessing Americans have been indoctrinated, I have resolved myself to keep quiet. After all, it's still basically forbidden to travel to Cuba, and I don't really feel like explaining the ways or reasons why I have been approved for a visa to travel there legitimately. It's like being invited to a private party, and I don't want to flaunt my invitation nor create any delay to my arrival...especially because it is - I believe - a very important date.
There is a thin line between sharing one's excitement about something and having it matter. Many ideas, persons, and experiences are merely a drop in the bucket these days - and maybe always have been. That's part of what makes our conglomerate human experience so fascinating and wrought with mystery. One can never witness or know about everything, even if you only have an attention span that allows you to stare at a screen as images flash by you. That's why people have to dare to dream, follow intriguing paths, and tune into instincts that can never be programmed into a GPS.
Nevertheless, I want my imagination and intellect to be as newsworthy as the freak Jesus tree facade. I have an independent sense of perception, however, that apparently doesn't make the censors' archetypal cut. Now I'm waiting for the line, "I guess they do still serve nuts on planes." I know when I'm being given backhanded complimentary food for thought!
So, rather than extend these hijinx beyond anti-gravitational capacity, let me cloud your head with this: the less you observe and acknowledge about the world around and within you, the deeper into the rabbit hole you will tumble, free falling with no chance to grasp onto reality or the fate of your soul.
-V.I., flyin' high.

America's Hot Mess

On June 30, 2010, I boarded a friendly Virgin America flight in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and turned on my in-flight tunes to The Pretenders. As the plane took off over the Atlantic only to circle back across Florida to cross the Gulf of Mexico, I looked down to see the oil spread and spreading as far as the eye could see from 25,000 feet and growing. Just then, the song "How Much Did You Get For Your Soul" came on. It seemed appropriate considering the audacity and arrogance of the oil industry - not just BP - for having the wherewithall to drill oil without the technology in place to react to a LEAK of this magnitude.
The plane shook in the cloudy atmosphere, as did the core of my being as I watched the light of the setting sun illuminating the brown-yellow-black irridescence encroaching onto OUR SHORES. It was like witnessing a slow death without a cure at hand.
It further seemed symbolic that we were entering a clouded sky so that it quickly disappeared out of sight, but not out of mind as many would have it. Such is the physical malaise of America today that we have been put on our knees before the corporate/industrial/war powers that be who have continually neglected our outcries and frustrations. Of course in the row in front of me, someone had opted to watch an episode of "The Jersey Shore" which depicts over-privileged, ill-mannered, self-centered consumers - mainly women - with no self-respect who create petty spectale by cat-fighting. Such adds to the haze in which we find ourselves while things that actually matter go ignored.
Although the plane continued to shake as it persevered west, it rose above the horizon of the gray storm line - and so can we. Survival will not come in the form of tuning out or giving up. Rather, on the route to progress and rejeuvenation, the uphill battle must be pursued with mindfulness. We can pretend no further that we are above the sludge in which we (collectively) find ourselves.
Don't let your mind turn to mush - be the influence!