Wednesday, July 20, 2011

“One Giant Leap for Mankind."

How amazing it is that 42 years ago, 240,000 miles from Earth Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon. While history sometimes regards the Moon landing as a victory for the United States, it is important that we recognize this accomplishment as a triumph for humanity. Entertain this thought for a moment: what if instead of the American flag, Neil Armstrong dug an ‘Earth flag’ into the Moon’s surface? I know I know I can’t rewrite history, but here at the Foundation we believe that only when we overlook boundaries and identify ourselves as inhabitants of one Earth will we truly be able to wage peace on a global scale.

Fun Fact: It turns out that 73 world leaders did in fact share the victory of the Moon landing- at least in spirit. Today I came across an article on called “The Untold Story: How One Small Disc Carried One Giant Message for Mankind.” The article said that prior to the Moon landing the U.S. State Department authorized NASA to collect messages of peace and good will from 73 leaders of the world's nations. These microscopic messages were etched into a tiny silicone disc about the size of a half-dollar. Buzz Aldrin then carried the disk in his spacesuit's sleeve pocket before leaving it on the Moon. Here are a few of the messages:

“On this unique occasion when man traverses outer space to set foot on Earth’s nearest neighbor, Moon, I send my greetings and good wishes to the brave astronauts who have launched on this great venture. I fervently hope that this event will usher in an era of peaceful endeavor for all mankind." Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India

"This is a message from black militants. It is a message of human solidarity, a message of peace. In this first visit to the Moon, rather than a victory of technology we salute a victory of human will: research and progress, but also brotherhood." Léopold Sédar Senghor, president of Senegal

"On behalf of the British people I salute the skill and courage which have brought man to the moon. May this endeavor increase the knowledge and well-being of mankind." The Queen

Monday, July 18, 2011

“Live Long and Prosper”

I have to admit when I hear these words it’s hard not to picture the stereotypical Sci-Fi convention equipped with futuristic space costumes and Vulcan salutes. And I’m not alone; the Simpsons, Futurama, and even Family Guy have all poked fun at Star Trek at one time or another, but in this case imitation truly is the most sincere form of flattery. Trekkers everywhere will tell you that laced deep within the interstellar adventures of Starfleet Academy are teachings of loyalty, tolerance, and social responsibility that transcend both time ‘and space.’

NAPF’s Peace Leadership Director Paul Chappell recently sent me a radio interview called, “Star Trek and Peace” and I have to say: I get it. While the show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry originally sold the idea for Star Trek as a ‘Western in outer space,’ the only showdowns we see on the frontier are those concerning peace, war, and morality. When describing the theme of the show Roddenberry says, "It speaks to some basic human needs, that there is a tomorrow - it's not all going to be over in a big flash and a bomb, that the human race is improving, that we have things to be proud of as humans. No, ancient astronauts did not build the pyramids - human beings built them because they're clever and they work hard. And 'Star Trek' is about those things."

And he’s right. Not only does Starfleet Academy represent a hard-working peacekeeping navy, but it unites both aliens and humans alike to benefit the greater good. When faced with moral dilemmas like ‘just war’ and self-defense, Star Trek forces us to self-reflect and ask “in combating evil, how much evil can we do ourselves?” This reoccurring theme is often paired with the idea that what we leave behind is just as important as how we lived.

The show also tackles the issue of nuclear weapons. In an episode called “The Doomsday Machine” the USS Enterprise crew encounters a powerful device built to destroy both sides in a war. Although it was intended only as a deterrent (sound familiar?) the device ended up being activated and destroying its creators. The episode originally aired in 1967; does anyone else find it odd that the theme is just as prevalent over forty years later?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Egyptian Protests and Lessons on Waging Peace

If the average American looked deep enough into their newspaper today, they may have thought they were experiencing déjà vu. For, hidden amongst talks of national debt, a war in Libya, and debates about the future of nuclear energy is a rather peculiar story about Egypt. Nearly six months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians have returned to Tahrir square in droves to protest. For them, the government has not done enough to protect the rights of its citizens or bring justice to oppressors.

There is a lot we can learn from this move. While many Americans are disaffected by how little changes in the United States, Egyptians are reminding us of so many lessons we have forgotten. As Egyptians are becoming the masters of waging peace, here are five lessons we can carry away from their success:

1. Prepare and Educate

When protests were first being organized in Tahrir Square, one of the biggest challenges was getting people out. Not only did some fear being attacked by the government for protesting, many others were faced with daily indoctrination by state-run news.

To resolve these issues, organizers of the protests had to prepare. Months in advance, these protesters spent countless hours gathering support, spreading the message, and hyping the protests. They passed along messages and videos that were based in factual evidence with proof that the government was lying, the press was lying, and that Egyptian rights were being repressed.

When the protests started, many organizers spent time pushing intelligent leaders to the front of the movement to drive the message. Mohamed ElBaradei was one such leader. Others spent time educating protesters about democracy, rule of law, and checks and balances. Today, if you go to the protesters at Tahrir square, a tent sits in the middle of the protests filled with books and digital literature on democracy and law.

Today, peace leaders have failed to gain this sort of traction. Instead of focusing on facts and spending a good amount of time preparing, peace movements all too often resort to emotion and partisan politics.

2. Remain Persistent

The average protest in the United States lasts one day. Organizers send out invitations, rent space, hire bands and speakers, and chant their message from outside the Capitol. At the end of a few hours, everybody packs up and returns home.

Egyptians proved that their cause mattered to them by remaining persistent. It took less than 1% of the population just 18 days to peacefully bring down a dictator who controlled their country for 30 years. Their persistence didn’t stop there, either. When the interim government refused to lift emergency law, protesters returned to the streets. When that same government banned protests, the people protested even more. Now, when they fail to prosecute those who committed crimes in the Mubarak regime, Egyptians turned out to the streets with every intent of staying until their needs are met.

Today, it would be newsworthy if an American protest lasted longer than a weekend.

3. Control the Message

One of the biggest failures of people fighting for a cause is controlling their message. Interested in gaining numbers, we oftentimes allow for more radical and extreme elements to enter our movements and make some noise. This destroys the peace movement’s credibility.

Egyptians were faced with the exact same problem. As they drove back the police and took control of Cairo for the people, several renegades began ransacking shops and vandalizing the city. The protesters, knowing Mubarak would try and paint their movement as violent and unruly to justify his crackdown, responded firmly. They set up an ad hoc policing system where vandals and thieves were put under citizen’s arrest and placed in makeshift jails. Regular citizens took turns guarding prisoners. Once order was restored and Mubarak had been ousted, the prisoners were freed and protesters spent several days sweeping the streets and cleaning the city.

The protests in Tahrir square today have become even more impressive. Organizers have blocked off the square from traffic and set up checkpoints at each end. When someone wishes to join the protest, they are searched for weapons, drugs, stolen goods, and contraband. A media tent has been established where reporters are welcome to come and gain insight from the organizers and interview individuals representative of the protest’s message.

4. Be Results-Driven

There is only one thing that matters when a protest organizes, and that is results. However, protests today seem to be deemed successes by an entirely different variable: numbers. In a world of satellites and statistics, opposing viewpoints are declared victors solely on how many people come to their rally. And, of course, nothing changes.

The Egyptian protesters are results-driven. Big numbers might get media attention, but a lack of attention hasn’t prevented Egyptians from creating real and effective change. As the government realizes how little it can do without the will of the people and gives concessions, the Egyptians only grow more confident that they can receive everything they deserve.


Do Americans have the capacity to return to our roots of waging peace? Do we have the will to make our needs heard? The answer seems to be a resounding “yes,” for, in a microcosm of what is going on in Egypt, the citizens of Wisconsin displayed many of the above qualities to fight for their rights. Peace warriors should take heed of this development and strive to implement these very policies elsewhere.

All of these qualities are what it takes to be an effective peace warrior. Each leads to more results, and each leads to greater confidence and results. As one protester put it: “We don’t request anymore: we give orders.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Science, Religion, and...Peace?

British Chemist Peter Atkins once said, "Science is almost totally incompatible with religion." While I do not doubt his expertise (the man literally wrote the book on Molecular Quantum Mechanics) I’m going to have to disagree with him on this one. Yes religion is based on beliefs unlike science which relies on hard facts, but what if the two ‘opposites’ had much more in common than we thought? And what if the similarities between them could be used to further our understanding of humanity and peace?

The first time I really sat down and thought about the relationship between science and religion was after watching Ron Howard’s commentary on the book-based movie “Angels and Demons.” He said “We are all just trying to understand the universe,” and he’s right. This longing to understand the universe is what made the 14th Dalai Lama vow that his spirituality and respect for science would never be at odds with each other. It is also the reason that Albert Einstein extensively studied the life of Gandhi, one of the greatest spiritual leaders of all time.

Our shared interest in understanding the universe can serve as a vital tool for promoting peace and acceptance. I recently watched a satellite interview of Pope Benedict XVI and the International Space Station crew. The Pope’s first question was “how can science affect peace?” The crew responded that when you understand how fragile and beautiful the planet is you have a new-found appreciation for all inhabitants of the earth. The Pope then acknowledged that scientific exploration is an adventure of the human spirit; one that instills hope and appreciation for all mankind.

Well my friends, you heard it from the Pope himself. Not only are science and religion compatible, but when used together they can create a powerful force that promotes peace and acceptance.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Nuclear Power Plant Safety?

Last week, I heard a report on NPR that was surprising, but all too familiar in today’s age where greed fuels politics. Recently Japan raised the danger level rating of the Fukushima disaster to a level 7, the highest level on the International Nuclear Event Scale, putting it on the same level as Chernobyl. The severity of this recent crisis has called into question the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants. An extensive investigation recently conducted by the AP revealed that U.S. reactors are much less safe than they appear to be. Over 30% of U.S. reactors are first generation reactors just like those at the Fukushima plant. This means that many of our reactors are almost 50 years old, and during the past years many have avoided significant repairs.

It is a fact of life that over time things wear down, and nuclear reactors are no different. Metals rust, concrete crumbles and pipes leak, which allow for accidents to more easily occur. Not only are many of the reactors in the U.S. old, but many of them have slid through the cracks due to corrupt or lax safety inspections. Here’s how: the government and nuclear power industry have been working together to re-adjust regulations or tweak risk assessments in order to make the plants appear safe in the eyes of the public. Nuclear power plants cost billions of dollars to build, but call for additional funding in order to keep them running efficiently and safely. In order to avoid high repair costs and still pass safety inspections and regulations, energy companies have built close ties with the Nuclear Regulation Committee (NRC). The NRC has repeatedly argued that safety measures are too strict and could be easily loosened without causing any harm. As safety measures are relaxed, reactors begin to wear down, which is able to occur unnoticed. For example, the picture above shows a 5-by-5-inch hole in a section cut from the top of the reactor vessel at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio. The hole was a result of boric acid, which leaked from inside the reactor due to cracks in the vessel head. Only three-eighths of an inch of steel cladding remained, which according to the NRC could have resulted in a reactor breach in as little as two months. Fortunately, this hole was discovered before an accident occurred, but three-eighths of an inch is cutting it too close.

It is time that our government places the safety of our citizens above costs. It is depressing to see that time and time again, the government values cutting costs over saving lives and implementing safety measures. The U.S. government not only needs to tighten safety standards and conduct more outside audits, we need to follow other countries who are investing in other safer forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar power. The Japanese government says it will make up the loss of its nuclear future with solar power and other renewable energies. Countries such as Germany, Italy, and Switzerland have also halted many of their nuclear power programs. It is time for the U.S. to re-think its energy programs and focus on safety and sustainability.


Monday, July 11, 2011


For those of you who don’t know, Sunday is 'Netflix documentary day.' Since coming to Santa Barbara I have made a habit of waking up early on Sundays and getting all the day’s work done in the morning so by the time 3:00 rolls around, I can lose myself in countless hours of instant cinematic gratification. Yesterday’s pick was a 2008 film directed by two Harvard University professors called, “Secrecy.” In addition to detailing the history of government confidentiality from its origins in the 1940s, the film features countless gripping interviews with former CIA and national security experts on the topic. Popcorn anyone?

The most compelling concept I took from "Secrecy" was that despite what we are told, classification does not always promote national security. In fact, in many cases over-classification can actually make us less secure and even violate the rule of law. There is no greater example of this than the Manhattan Project. In addition to being the pinnacle of modern government confidentiality, the Manhattan Project demonstrated how secrecy can be used as a tool to keep a large amount of power in a small amount of hands.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Scoop of Philanthropy

Ahh the Fourth of July. For many of us, Independence Day involves backyard barbecues, trips to the beach, and lots of fireworks. While these things are all very nice, there is one essential ingredient that all Fourth of July celebrations must have: ice cream. I know, it’s not the first thing that comes to mind while contemplating the birth of the United States, but would you believe that Thomas Jefferson actually requested a scoop of ice cream while writing the Declaration of Independence? Ok I made that up, but if it were true it would certainly help me transition into the next part of this blog.
The truth is Independence Day reminds me of ice cream because ice cream reminds me of childhood memories. And I'm not talking about just any ice cream, what I am referring to is “Vermont’s Finest.” Yes, that’s right folks, the one and only: Ben and Jerry’s. Growing up, I spent my summers living in a log cabin very close to the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, Vermont. What I didn’t know then was that while I was deciding between Cherry Garcia and Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield were perfecting the art of corporate social responsibility.
What does this mean? It means that if you look at the back of most pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, you will see more than a witty description of the flavor; you will see a cause. In 2006 that cause was a national campaign that used free ice cream samples to raise awareness about nuclear weapons spending. The company’s motive behind the American Pie Campaign can be found in the 2006 Social and Environmental Assessment Report. “We looked at the $30 billion in the U.S. budget earmarked for nuclear weapons spending — while millions of American children are living in poverty or without health insurance — and we decided the time was right to speak out on this important issue once again.”
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