Thursday, February 28, 2008

Simple Images

A man's work is nothing
but this slow trek
to rediscover through
the detours of art
those two or three
great simple images
in whose presence
his heart first opened.

Albert Camus

Of note: M. Huffman again came through with this wonderful, artistic photo. By the way, my sister sends what she likes without prompting and several times it has matched perfectly the poem or quote I had intended to place that day. Amazing really. This is the same sister who shared a smallish bedroom, double bed and dresser with me for 18 years, through boyfriends and fights and late-night sharing. Something must have been established those formative years that is still intact and shows up in small ways--like sending the perfect picture on the appointed day.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Something's A-light

If you think there is something in the air, several of us would agree. Seems that everywhere we turn, a new spiritual movement is a-light. The folks to whom I've talked each have found their own avenue of ascent, and never have there been so many ways to seek awakening and subsequent enlightenment. When mainstream celebs like Madonna openly study Jewish Kabbalah and Oprah W. adds her energy to an Eckhart Tolle movement, you can guess that spirituality is seeping into the masses at a good clip. Do-good Websites abound, and an interested person could troll all day long getting a buzz off enlightenment adrenaline.

Talk of one of these Websites caught my ear yesterday as the radio played softly in the background at work. In the radio ad, one female teen was admonishing a male counterpart about doing good in order to avoid bad karma and suggested the listener go to It was such a funky presentation; I had to check it out. What I found was a Website created by the Ad Council to encourage 18 - 24 year olds to vote! Sure didn't expect that.

The site takes you to Karmalot where you can gain points for answering a series of questions to see where you sit on their Karma scale. I laughed out loud when one asked whether Condoleeza Rice was a) the Secretary of State or b) an Asian side dish. The creators of this Website only subtly pushed getting out to vote--they also encouraged volunteerism, knowledge of current events and generally getting civically involved. Doing bad things brought the wrath of the heavens down upon the unsuspecting culprit as shown in a cutesy, animated video. Mind you, this is for 18 - 24 year olds who grew up with action figures and Nintendo. I have to give the Ad Council credit. Even though the law of karma was presented in a rather simplistic manner, it was a great avenue to introduce young adults to this fundamental principle and to illustrate in an understandable way how it could directly apply to them.

Speaking of karma, it cannot have hurt the New York Philharmonic's cache to have played yesterday in Pyongyang, North Korea to a crowd of 400 welcoming attendees. The Great Leader was not one of them, but the rest of the audience enthusiastically applauded each musical score, including our National Anthem. An impromptu chamber piece by four Philharmonic and four North Koreans musicians was a surprising success given the fact that the group had not practiced together. Lorin Maazel, the Philharmonic music director, was mightily impressed with the high level of musical ability shown by the North Koreans as he led a rehearsal of their State Symphony
(AP News, 2-26-08.)

Seems the North Koreans have been doing something else besides creating nuclear warheads since they were ostracized by the civilized world so many moons ago. Although many Americans expressed a belief that this goodwill tour benefited the North Koreans exclusively, we would venture to say that Americans benefited as well.
We may be looking at detente in the making through the universal language of music because Fox News announced last evening that Eric Clapton was invited to perform next, and he has tentatively agreed to do so sometime next year. What's more, the North Korean Symphony will commence a tour of England this fall.

Today is my birthday, and besides the day I turned 54, it will long be remembered as the day William F. Buckley, Jr. died. You remember him, that great conservative curmudgeon, whose turn of phrase and sharp brain kept politicians hopping for over 50 years. This often-controversial figure was born into a wealthy family and educated at the best of Catholic schools in England and France. I bet you didn't know that at the age of 8, he sent a letter to the King of England and demanded payment of the British war debt--I will add, probably as part of some writing class lorded over by a ruler-laden nun. Buckley also aided his country through low-level skulduggery as a CIA operative in Mexico, a job he called boring, and later advocated the legalization of marijuana.

Not adverse to name calling, Buckley was also called many names, one of which ended in a liable lawsuit that was settled out of court in his favor. I guess if you call Buckley a "pro-war-crypto-Nazi" you should expect to get sued--and that's what famous author Gore Vidal discovered. The eminent conservative had little time for popular counterculture and said of the Beatles: "[they are] so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of art, that they qualify as crowned heads of antimusic." Hey, Bill, don't hold back. Not being particularly humble, he is quoted as saying: "I am, I fully grant, a phenomenon, but not because of any speed in composition [although he could write an article in 20 minutes flat.] I asked myself the other day, 'Who else, on so many issues, has been so right so much of the time?' I couldn't think of anyone."

Beside himself, he had many fans, but non-fans got in their jibes too. In 1967, one of them scathingly penned: "You are the mouthpiece of that evil rabble that depends on perjury, dirty tricks, anything at all that suits their purpose. I would trust a snake before I would trust you or anybody you support." The late-great Bill Buckley, as always, had the last word: "What would you do if I supported the snake?" Rest in peace, Mr. Buckley, there will never be another like you. Thank heavens.

But, having said that, I'm sure that even celestial BB will always have the last word. He's most likely looking down at we mere humans with a measure of distain while lecturing CEO God on how to improve the place. I can just hear him droning in his best BB fashion: "Good God, you mean we have to co-exist here with liberals and COMMUNISTS? Not on my side of the cloud, please. On Earth we called that pollution." CEO God is smart to stay quiet. He knows this Earth-acquired grandiosity will wear off after a few millennia. It always does.

And finally, coming full circle to the new dimensions that are providing the opportunity for our spiritual awakening, I will sign off with an on-point quote from the book When the Soul Awakens--A Path to Spiritual Evolution and a New World Era, by Nancy Seifer and Martin Vieweg:
"To be alive now, and sensitive to the state of the world, is to realize that an old order is passing away. With every year of the new millennium, there are growing indications that a cycle of history is ending. Unfathomable as it may seem, we are actually in the midst of the Great Turning of the Ages that many religious and esoteric teachings have long predicted: the much anticipated moment when humanity will move out of an age of spiritual darkness and into an age of light."
Make no mistake; the lighted age is indeed upon us, right now. There is no more time to prepare. Rome is burning, and we are the fire brigade. No celestial Beings are coming to save us for this is our gig--although They are watching to see how we do, gently nudging us here and there at opportune moments. Maybe Barack Obama's call "Yes We Can" is more than a trite campaign-rallying cry. It might symbolize a deeper, apolitical spiritual call to action that we all feel in our burning hearts and minds.

Of Note: The other-worldly photograph that showed air a-lighted with fire was a contribution of M. Huffman, my talented sister. Thanks from the bottom of my heart!

Today's Weather Report: This morning we awoke to 10 below zero again. Darn, I thought that was behind us, but apparently not. Later the day brought lots of sunshine and temps in the teens and that was much appreciated. My cold, which has dragged on unceasingly for two weeks, welcomes any warmth brought by the suns winter rays.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Environmentally Speaking II

When the Dalai Lama speaks out, we know that our hearts and minds should listen attentively. He is quoted as saying: "It is our collective and individual responsibility to protect and nurture the global family, to support its weaker members, and to preserve and tend to the environment in which we all live." When the commercial world catches up to this eminent sage, then we know that real progress is being made.

Oft quoted on these pages were the efforts by the monied-world to embrace the seemingly foreign concept of environmentalism. Ads particularly have caught my eye, as you know. TIME magazine this week had two notable contributions. One was from the producers of CNN which touted its self-reportedly popular Solutions segments played on Wednesdays during Good Morning America and CNN Newsroom. Four environmental innovations graced the ad: "a greener tire" highlighted a factory that pulverizes used tires; "perfect print" informs us that free software is available to eliminate wasteful printing; "cheap solar power" shows how you can construct a low-cost solar oven with a $1 plan; and "bird calling" illustrates how one man has saved migratory birds with his Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP.) I was impressed that CNN carried such enlightened coverage, something that at least one of its competitors has not tried.

For the second ad, "Something good is bound to happen when you plant 1.5 million trees every day" was the line that caught my attention on the back cover of TIME magazine. Every day, I asked? Sure enough, this ad describes the wood and paper product industry's role in re-forestation by re-planting more trees than they cut. According to the evocative piece, they've "helped America's forests increase by 12 million acres since 1987" and invite the reader to visit for "easy ideas that will make a difference." Could it be this industry is trying to change its image as an irresponsible environmental partner for which it became famous in the late 1800's when it denuded vast tracts of land before moving on? Whatever the reason, I applaud the educational efforts on their part to let us know that change has indeed arrived.

Watching for change through ads has been a preoccupation of mine for a few years now. I pulled out one that I'd saved from 2004 introducing "Earth's First Hybrid SUV" from Ford. It goes on to say: "Meet Escape Hybrid. As the first and only gas/electric SUV, the Escape Hybrid compromises nothing. . . [yada, yada]. . . Which means this SUV, by nature, is kinder and gentler on nature. Greener vehicles. Cleaner factories. It's the right road for our company." So, if you think that hybrid vehicles have been around for quite some time, think again. Too bad the Ford hybrid couldn't save the company from the losses it experienced since then. Guess that would have taken more than an ad.

Another business sector, that of finance, has also responded to the environmental call. A beautiful, but melting ice-scape greeted the viewer of this huge, half-page ad in the WSJ last month and the orange words erupted from the page:
"CLIMATE CHANGE. ICE MELTS. BUSINESS REACTS. Introducing DWS Climate Change Fund." It' was certainly an attention getter from the Deutsche Bank Group that delivered the punch-line: "The changing climate is a global trend that presents opportunities for businesses and investors alike. Visit" It was probably not surprising that a European financial institution fronted a fund that invested in "companies worldwide that are developing products, services and technologies focused on reducing the impact of climate change and helping the world adapt to its evolving environment."

What struck me as strange was that American companies took so long to smell the green
dough. But, apparently, the ever-inventive U.S. credit card companies finally got a whiff, if only last year. According to the WSJ, " 'green' cards allow users to channel a percentage of their spending toward efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. General Electric Co.'s Earth Reward Platinum card, targets as much as 1% of total spending on the card toward emission-reduction projects" (2-6-08, D1.) The Bank of America's Brighter Planet card followed late last year. It matches dollar for dollar a buyer's purchases with points for carbon offsets. Europe, where the green cards have been widely used for years, was ahead of the curve on this movement. Surprisingly, it would appear that homegrown environmental politics got in the way of the usual American capitalistic instinct, such a part of our financial sector. But as they say, better late than never.

That it took Al Gore to bring this movement to America has always been a wonderment to me; that he would have a different presentation for different groups further proved that he was able to adapt his inconvenient truths to a wide audience. Take his recent presentation to the religious left at the Celebration of New Baptist Covenant on January 31st where several thousand listeners paid $35 a head to hear Gore's speech. It wasn't his usual slide show that thrilled them, but a new presentation interspersed with Biblical quotes. He was even extolled as a "prophet." For a reason known only to Mr. Gore and the conference organizers, including Covenant founder Jimmy Carter, media was excluded from the event, much to their chagrin. When further pressed, however, the conference spokesman admitted that the "former vice-president did not want the slides of those biblical passages to get out on the Internet." Must be that Mr. Gore was worried about one set of inconvenient truths getting overshadowed by another. Would a true prophet, who had the courage of his convictions, have to worry about such mundane matters? Maybe we'll as CEO God to weigh in on that next time He makes an appearance.

And finally, get out of the way of the Chinese Greenies who have taken their country to task for using disposable chopsticks. According to these militant men and women, the ubiquitous eating utensils are destroying China's forests when trees are downed to produce 63 billion of them annually. Even an activist in an ape suit got into the act by making hit and run appearances at corporate headquarters all over this Asian behemoth. Microsoft, Intel Corp and IBM were all targeted by the stealthy ape-creature, who symbolized the ecological perils embodied in disposable chopstick use. Budding communist-capitalists responded quickly to protect the 100,000 workers making the eating devices--and the war between the groups has raged since.

Greenpeace orchestrated the latest campaign, which has found China to be its next biggest frontier. One wonders what form the chopstick wars will take come summer during the Olympics in Beijing. If you see an ape-suited creature streak across your screen, you can be sure the Chinese Greenies have a few surprises in store.

Of note: The last two entries are compliments of the WSJ, both from the February 8, 2008 issue. The picture of white Datura flowers was taken in late fall 2008 by this blogger. It was her first attempt at growing Daturas--which are native to Central America--in her Wisconsin flower garden. Of course, Daturas are the size of trees in Central America and were no taller than 2 feet in her garden!

Todays Weather Report: Bright, sunny and 30 degrees. Gorgeous.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Confession, Part VI

I miss you.
It comes on like a mellow wave over my mind
as I drive down the highway.
The sky is black against blue-black and Heart is belting out
a song of love and lost-love.
You still exist but you are dead in my soul.

The letters were fun; our meetings were stimulating, scary.
Living with you was hell.
But the touching, the raw flesh against raw flesh,
soul against soul
that's what I miss the most.

My heart leaps in my throat when I think of you.
You weren't any good for me, I know.
But the times I was angry at you are easily forgotten
with a mind that feels and doesn't think.
And that's where I am
when the highway stretches before me and the sky is
black on blue-black.

--S. Kaye, 1987

Of note: Ironically, one of the reasons a battered woman stays in an abusive relationship is for the love of the abuser. She may love the the nice guy within her Dr. Jekkyl/Mr. Hyde abuser and always hopes that the loving side returns. She may love the man she originally met who has since turned on her. What she doesn't love, however, is the abuse itself, and this often drives her to leave the man she loves. This poem was dedicated to all those women who have left their abusers with love still in their hearts. (Written by S. Kaye in 1987)

This stormy photo is compliments of M. Huffman. Thanks so much!

Today's Weather Report: a balmy 30 degrees with melting run-off from the roof. Bright sunshine. Nothing could be finer. . .

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Another Definition of Quickie

Change can arrive with a bang or a whimper. The "bang" variety is usually heralded in all the newspapers, broadcast across the airwaves and receives at least some notoriety in the weekly news publications. A person would have to live under a rock not to have heard about that kind. But the "whimper" variety is much more stealthy as it subtly makes its way into our lives. Spotting these is much more fun.

Take for example, the new over-the-counter paternity test called Identigene that is now available from Sorenson Genomics. For only $29.99, any person questioning paternity can drive down to a Rite-Aid or other drug stores and purchase a kit. After two quick swabs, one of the purported Dad and one of the child, the kit is returned with an additional $119 lab fee. In short order--three to five days after receiving the kit--a result is returned and is apparently admissible in court. The $150 total fee is a steal compared to the $500 fee charged by the courts, and the results are private until shared, an obvious advantage in some circumstances.

Considering 4% of children are not related genetically to their fathers, many times without their knowledge, this simple test may find wide acceptance much like the over-the-counter pregnancy test, albeit without the instant gratification. The WSJ article that covered this medical innovation said that "inexpensive paternity testing could theoretically level the playing field for men involved in child-support cases. . . a 2006 study in New Hampshire found that nearly 30% of fathers paying child-support were not the biological parent of the child they were helping" (2-22-08, W11.) Now that got my attention. Maybe it's time father's rights advocates got a scientifically enlightened break here. Like they say, what's right is right.

But, the utility of this handy DNA kit does not stop there. It struck me that any inquiring mind could purchase an Identigene kit to test one DNA sample against another. In fact, the paper goes on to say: "a version of its product. . . encourages consumers to send in 'licked stamps, ear wax, fingernail clippings, socks and chewed gum or a used razor' to surreptitiously test another person." It's obvious to me that this would not only be useful for paternity, but for any DNA questions a person might have. The availability of this test could make detectives out of all of us, but turn us into dumpster divers in the process. Not a thrilling prospect, to be sure.

Get ready, though. This enlightening test is just the tip of the iceberg in the coming era of quickie, at home DNA tests that will be available in the future. There actually could be a time when we are inundated with just enough of this scientific information to be dangerous, but not enough to be truly useful.

However, on the News You Can Use front of useful information are two unusual job opportunities for men and women looking to expand their pocketbooks, but not necessarily their minds. I picked up a Star magazine yesterday to check out what Britney and Branjolina were up to this week when I noticed a small ad: "Celeb Sightings! Hot Gossip! Star WANTS THE SCOOP! 800-609-8312." Next to these flashy, hot pink words were none-to-subtle dollar signs.

Now, considering there were only a handful of stars or star-wannabes featured in the rag, I figured who was getting rich off of star sightings must be the stars themselves. Like, Britney called in on Paris who called in on Mary-Kate. You get the picture. It would be like playing that gossip game but with a money spigot. Hey, I figured, if they could play the game, so could someone else with the small investment of binoculars, a digital camera, cell phone and one of those across the room listening devices. If one made enough money, a through-the-wall listening device might come in handy as well as night-vision goggles and camera-equipped sunglasses. Adding the Identigene kit and clandestine dumpster-diving activities would expand the possibilities enormously. Think about it.

Speaking of expanding possibilities, ever wonder how trucks communicate when out of range of cell towers? No, I can hear you say, don't know and don't care, really. Well, I have to tell you in order to disclose the second unusual job opportunity. Seems that a man by the name of Jerry Knoblach (yes, that's his real name) owns a company called Space Data Corp. that send inexpensive balloons into the stratosphere. These inflatables carry a not-inexpensive payload of wireless equipment whereby truckers and others are able to communicate in otherwise dead zones. This obviously means a lot to the companies who use Mr. Knoblach's services, and they pay him royally for the privilege. Must be a good idea because has expressed an interest as well.

Two smaller groups have benefited from Space Data's entrepreneurial endeavors--and here's where the money-making opportunities lie. First are dairy or other farmers who are solicited to launch the balloons. These hardworking men and women are paid $50 a launch, which consists of simply filling a large balloon with hydrogen, attaching a wireless payload and releasing it--usually out of the back-side of the barn. End of story for them, and the checks arrive in the mail. Second are the even more intrepid souls who track down the $1500 wireless transmitters that have been separated
from the balloons electronically by the command center.

As we all know from childhood, even balloons come to an end. When that happens, the company sends a signal and the transmitters fall to earth assisted by tiny parachutes. Trouble is, they can fall anywhere, and they have--up trees, down cliffs and canyons, and in swamps--to name a few inconvenient spots. So far, Space Data Corp has been able to find their equipment by hiring twenty hobbyists across the country to locate the errant payloads at $100 a pop. Seems to me, I'd rather be the farmer filling the balloons for $50 each than the outdoors man spending a whole day tracking down a small widget for just twice that amount.

But either way, it certainly would be interesting and an opportunity to make some money in an unusual profession. So pass the word along to friends looking for work, and I'll keep my eyes and ears open for more of these jobs we didn't know existed. Over time, we might collect quite a catalog of them. Maybe enough to start a new business. . .

Of note: This latter opportunity was featured in a front page WSJ article "Floating a New Idea For Going Wireless, Parachute Included" 2-20-08. While the article featured the enterprising company, I thought the balloon launchers and trackers were even more enlightening and worth mentioning here.

Todays Weather Report: While it has remained below zero for over two weeks, today it got up into the 30's and felt like spring. My little maple twig under glass thinks so, too, and is starting to bud--a very welcome sight in what has been an otherwise long winter.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Treat The Earth Well

Treat the Earth well:
it was not given
to you
by your parents,
it was loaned to you
by your children.

We do not inherit
the Earth
from our ancestors,
we borrow it
from our children.

Of note: This is an ancient American Indian proverb sent as a bookmark by the St. Joseph's School, Chamberlain, SD.

The striking hummingbird picture is a contribution of M. Huffman. Thank You!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Want To Join Me?

I may not know much about the educational system, but I do know something innovative when I read it. Author NIck Wingfield with some merriment outlined a new program in Seattle that brings babies and moms into the elementary school classroom as "teachers" for a whole school year. Why pray tell do that? Seems it would be disruptive.

As it turns out, the Canadian non-profit group Roots of Empathy has shown that rather than being disruptive, babies in the classroom actually result in reduced bullying by exposing students to these "empathy babies." Plus, young students gain valuable insight into raising children in a loving and nurturing manner, something many of them do not experience at home. The program, which spans Canada, New Zealand, Australia and now America, has enlisted 2,000 baby and mom partners this year to show their stuff, including burping, feeding, spitting up, pooping and, of course, sleeping.

The students apparently take their new roles very seriously. Many have become parenting experts in the process and have been quick to give empathetic advice to their own parents:
"During a recent rough patch, Cari Giles, a mother of four in Paris, Ontario, got some surprising counseling from her son, Thomas, a third grader who attends an empathy class at his school. Ms. Giles was standing in her kitchen, flustered by the persistent crying of her 9-month-old son, Isaac, who is an empathy baby in Thomas's class. Thomas rubbed his mother's back gently and told her not to fret. 'It's OK, it doesn't mean you're a bad mom. Babies cry' " (WSJ, 2-5-08, A9.)
When interviewed, Thomas said that the class had given him a way to understand how both his brother and mother were feeling--of course, he said this like a typical third grader. Other students have approached pregnant moms to ask them not to drink at parties while some have admonished mother's with crying babies in public places not to shake the little tots. The number of students exposed in the participating countries to this new empathy curriculum was impressive: 150,000 students and 6,200 empathy babies. In the U.S. it will expand to 40 Seattle classrooms in 2009, and other U.S. school districts have expressed an interest.

The ones who have shown little interest were the empathy babies themselves. When interviewed, they have said little, except "Coo, coo." One mother remarked: "As long as he's eaten and is dry, he could care less." It would be interesting to follow this program over the lifetime of the students exposed to this enlightened educational technique. Hopefully, the Roots of Empathy organization will do just that. Some predict that in the future, children's exposure to empathy will be part of a core curriculum. With this program, it sounds like a few folks are already on to that innovative idea.

Another idea, although a little farther out on the spectrum of educational innovation, was the unveiling of another baby who coos, barks, shakes, cries and plays tug-of-war in response to outside stimuli. In this case, a robotic dinosaur named Pleo steals the heart of anyone unwary enough to buy him. OK, I can hear you say, so what's so special about a robotic dinosaur? He doesn't even fetch the paper. Well, even more amazingly, Pleo appears to evolve according to how he is treated. Listen to this description of the his gadgetry by his enamored owner:
"This baby dinosaur has reptile-like, rubbery skin enhanced by multiple sensors. Its back is decorated with green patterns, and its large eyes are a beautiful blue. Pleo's guts include 14 motors, 38 sensors and a microprocessor. Infrared detectors in Pleo's nose and mouth, and a color camera detects light, motion and objects to help it navigate" (WSJ, 2-6-08.)
But how does Pleo evolve? Leave that to the internal wizardry, which "learns" who is its owner, much like your computer "learns" who you are. But to all outside appearance, little Pleo grows through three phases: hatchling, infant and juvenile:
"As a hatchling, Pleo sniffed around a lot, unsure of its surroundings or how to use its legs and tail, before giving up and napping again. (Yes, Pleo snores.) The more I talked to and touched Pleo, the faster he adjusted out of the hatching phase, which is expected according to UGOBE [the manufacturer.]"
The techy owner went on to say that people wanted to play with the little dinosaur just for the fun of it, but were soon amazed when they realized it was responding to them. The proud "Mom" grew very fond of her frisky robot:
"I spoiled my Pleo with attention, which seemed to make him more social and friendly, But also a little bratty when he didn't get attention (he showed his frustration with loud moans.)"
Stroking Pleo made him purr softly; tickling him made him erupt in laughter; rubbing his chest while holding him made him fall asleep--indicated by heavy breathing. And all this for only $350! I predict this toy could be the next rage come Christmas. What's more, Pleo might emerge as a boon in the classroom if a school district spurns the empathy baby movement. Innovative teachers could purchase a Pleo and use it in much the same way. A couple of downsides still remain, but the manufacturer is quickly righting each one so that Pleo's and other responsive robotics start filling needs we didn't even know we had.

If an enlightened innovator had a really good educational idea like that, they could take it to a philanthropic organizations for funding, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been highlighted in this blog. Other philanthropics provide funding for education, including one started by the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings. In an interview with him in the WSJ February 8/9, 2008 issue, Jason Riley covered the usual palaver about corporate structure, etc. But I was surprised to find that Mr. Hastings had once been a Peace Corp math teacher in Africa and had a special place in his entrepreneurial heart for innovations in education, particularly the founding of charter schools. He is quoted as saying:
"K - 12 is the last big government monopoly in America and charter schools are about breaking up the public monopoly, with all its rules and bureaucracy. Charter schools give teachers a way to form their own public schools, more freedom to express their craft, and more schools voluntary for students. No one is assigned. This sets up a very healthy model that provides for innovation because the innovators, the innovative teachers, are drawn to these schools."
Besides funding the charter schools themselves, Mr. Hastings' vision encompasses the larger political picture. Thus, for example, his non-profit has funded ballot initiatives designed to increase school choice. The author went on to say that many philanthropists have funded such initiatives, including the Walmart and Gap families. But a disproportionate share hale from the tech community, which is not surprising in light of the fact that this sector needs a steady stream of highly educated workers.

And finally, since we are talking about philanthropists and their discretionary wealth, I would like to throw into the mix's latest efforts in that regard. On January 18, 2008, WSJ announced:
"In one of the most widely watched efforts in corporate giving in years, Google unveiled yesterday nearly $30 million in new grants and investments, outlining how it will focus a massive philanthropic endeavor that erases the usual boundaries between the for-profit and nonprofit worlds" [my italics.]
What followed was a listing of pursuits including "creative systems to help predict and prevent disease pandemics, to empower the poor with information about public services and to create jobs by investing in small and mid-size businesses in the developing world. They join previously announced initiatives to accelerate the commercialization of plug-in cars and make renewable energy cheaper than coal." is apparently the largest corporate philanthropy valued at $2 billion as opposed to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has more assets, but is private. (The next largest corporate fund was Wells Fargo at $552 million.) It was heart-warming to discover that a mega-corporation like funds such enterprises with wads of cash as well as capitalistic expertise. I imagine because of that, the corporate foundation is run on a business model where plans are required of prospective recipients and outcomes are measured.

Speaking of Bill Gates, he was taken to task by William Easterly, a professor of economics at New York University,
on WSJ's editorial page following Gates' enlightened speech on creative capitalism at the World Economic Forum in Davos. At first, Professor Easterly expressed a good attitude about Mr. Gates: "This newspaper reported recently that Bill Gates hates my ideas. I have no hurt feelings, at least nothing that months of intensive psychotherapy can't cure." But, he went on to say that Bill has aligned himself with the foreign aid camp, that believes sending foreign aid money can relieve poverty. By now, I bet you've guessed that Mr. Easterly disagrees vehemently with that premise. He retorted:
"The number of poor people who can't afford food for their children is a lot smaller than it used to be--thanks to capitalism. Capitalism didn't create malnutrition, it reduced it. The globalization of capitalism from 1950 to the present has increased the average income in the word to $7,000 from $2,000. Contrary to popular legend, poor countries grew at about the same rate as the rich ones. This growth gave us the greatest mass exit of poverty in world history. The parts of the world that are still poor are suffering from too little capitalism. . ."
We cannot forget the ancient Buddhist truism that it is better to teach a man to fish, than to provide the fish itself. Yes, we've all heard that, but what if a man is starving and cannot fish? He'd better get something to fill his belly before embarking on a fishing adventure, don't you think?
Thus, could it be that Bill and William are both correct? That's approach--of melding the innovations of capitalism with money-aid--is actually the most enlightened?

It would appear so. President Bush's African trip this week highlighted best practices in America's foreign aid programs. One of the televised sequences highlighted
infrastructure construction such as schools to educate the children and clinics to ensure health care to a population scourged by AIDS, TB and malaria. While another showed a more capitalistic model of an African factory funded with U.S. aid and staffed by local workers that produced mosquito nets to reduce malaria in the country. The anti-poverty guru, Bono, advocates for both poverty reduction models and works purposefully to keep his head above the political fray. That's probably the best place to be, and I think I'll follow him there. Want to join me?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Text Message, Anyone?

It's certainly an exciting time to live. Humanity has been preparing for this very moment ever since the first evolutionary call to think and reason. The Soul of Humanity itself is set to take a giant leap if only enough individuals come forward and accept the challenge set before them. And what is that call? Many have heard it and their diverse voices ring out to those straining to hear:
Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where the individuals and nations are free--14th Dalai Lama

The US cannot win the war on terrorism unless we confront the social and political roots of poverty--Colin Powell

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it--The Talmud
From my perch, the underlying reason for globalization is the united effort by individuals and nations to own up to their responsibility for all creatures on Earth. Peace cannot be had before that ownership takes place. This is not a chance giving of $5 here and change in the collection plate there, but a mental acceptance and understanding of the necessity of unity for survival of man. Although we are not there yet by any means, humanity is slowly moving in this direction politically, financially, educationally, scientifically, and religiously and nothing can stop the train rolling down the track. The speed of that train is our most urgent concern.

Technological and communications advances may have moved the evolution to warp speed. Only ten years ago, I was just plugging into the World Wide Web, and now every generation from 3 year olds to 85 year olds utilize it on a daily basis. Logjams on the Internet are now common, particularly in developing countries with little bandwidth because of few connecting cable. I didn't realize until reading the February 8th WSJ article entitled "Logjams on Internet Spur New Cable Boom" that actual cable lines are laid under oceans to bring the WWW to everyone on the globe:
"Thanks in large measure to social networking Web sites, like YouTube and other diversions non-existent in the 1990's, global band width usage has grown by an average of 50% since 2002. It's on a pace to double every 1.4 years. . .growing on-line use by businesses and wider availability of high-speed internet services are also fueling demand."
A telling map was shown of these multiple cable lines which stretched from the east and west coasts of the United States across both oceans. Interestingly, only one wrapped it's way around Africa, where businesses still have difficulty receiving email attachments. But, because of a few U.S. entrepreneurs, a race is now on to bring more broadwidth to Africa. Obviously, Africa will always lag behind the rest of the world without an efficient, effective, and stable Web connection and some see this as a golden opportunity to make money while at the same time doing good. Nothing wrong with that.

One of the most ambitious goals of the Web is to "harness the power of the Internet for good" and a visionary from Indiana saw this possibility back in 1999 when he made it as easy as one free click to give to UN anti-hunger programs. The response to his enlightened initiative was astounding and in the first 9 months over 9 million pounds of food was distributed to the poor. Since then 500 million cups of food have been funded by the sponsors of The Hunger Site. Check it out and click every day to make a difference. I did this morning and found additional "clicks" available for breast cancer, children's health, literacy, rain forests and animal rescue. That about covers it all, does it not? It's a simple way to make a real difference, and it's free. No one ever minded free.

Speaking of hunger, no continent struggles with that overarching issue more than Africa and, surprising to many, the United States has really stepped up to the plate to help out. George W. certainly has a bad name around many parts of the globe, including his home turf. But in Africa where the President is currently traveling, it is a different story. There, songs are written in thanks for his help and streets are even named after him. The Associated Press reported on February 15, 2008:
"In a humid rehearsal studio, Liberia's pop queen is practicing her newest single - a song called 'Thank You' to be released for President Bush's visit here next week. Her head tilted back, Juli Endee pulls the microphone close and belts out 'Thank you, George Bush. . .thank you for democracy. . . thank you for the rule of law. . . thank you for debt relief.' Bush is scheduled to head to Africa for a visit that will bring him to one of the few parts of the globe where people still have a favorable view of America. A recent Pew poll of 47 nations found that America's popularity is exceptionally high in Africa, where some hold the U.S. in higher regard than Americans do themselves."
For those who don't follow African development, it might be an astonishing fact that, since Bush took office, US development aid to Africa has tripled, HIV programing has increased 6 fold, from $1 billion to $6 billion as well as an easing of trading agreements. The Africans are truly grateful that President Bush made Africa the center of his aid programs with the Bush Millenium Challenge Corporation--something which they will not soon forget.

Nor will they forget Puma, the athletic supplier of all things soccer. I am basically ignorant about world wide soccer, but did discover that sponsorships are where it's at if a team wants to be a somebody on the field. In that regard, Nike corporation glommed onto the lucrative South American soccer sponsorships, while leaving Europe to Adidas. That left the little Puma company with Africa. But, way back in 1997, the Puma company took a gamble on sponsoring these African teams, starting with Cameroon, and stuck by them even though they rarely made it to the World Cup. As it turns out, though, WSJ said that "Puma's bet on Africa may soon pay off. [Why?] South Africa will host its first ever World Cup--the planet's most watched sporting event-- in 2010. Organizers guarantee five slots in the World Cup to African teams." We Americans are suckers for underdog stories, and this one really warms the heart. Makes me want to go out and buy all things Puma, which is just what the innovative company is hoping, I'm sure. But you might want to steer clear of two items that got them in trouble with the World Cup people: sleeveless shirts in 2002 and bodysuits two years later. Guess these items of wear are no-no's in the conservative land of football.

Given what you know about global movements, would it surprise you that some scholars are finding that religious tolerance is spreading? It did me, but that is just what a diverse group of professors at Princeton's Center for Theological Inquiry (CTI) are finding. They began with a prescient study project called "God and Globalization" in 1999. Four books later, the well-published but little known assemblage is still discussing the heady topic. George Melloan described it like this in the January 11, 2008 edition of the WSJ:
"The 20 participants from a variety of disciplines recognized that a burgeoning integration and interdependence of national and regional economies resulting from reduced barriers to trade and finance has had a profound social and political implications. It has raised millions out of poverty."
In their latest volume of research, the scholars acknowledged that globalization has affected more than the economy:
"The CTI scholars see globalization see far more than an economic phenomenon. The spread of new ideas, images, and cultural artifacts by modern information technology even to people once isolated from the main currents of human thought, is having a powerful cultural impact. It has the potential of opening minds to a broader tolerance of differing religious beliefs."
And they, indeed, see this shift occurring. Mr. Melloan congratulated the enlightened CTI scholars for opening the discussion about the impact of globalization on the spreading of religious tolerance through the upward mobility of populations growing out of poverty into prosperity. CEO God would most likely approve.

The Great One would probably also smile favorably upon the enlightened use of cell phones to aid India's poor farmers. Tata Corporation, a huge East Indian conglomerate, has loaded it's consulting software onto cellphones to be used in the fields by Indian farmers. Listen to this development:
"The phone's software prompted [the grape farmer] to click various icons and answer questions to indicate what variety of grapes he was growing, when he had pruned his vines and what type of grafts he had used. It also instructed him to take four or five photos with the phone's camera. He then keyed in a code, and, minutes later, the details of his crop and photos of the grapes popped up on a computer screen of the grape growers association 140 miles away. A reading from a soil analysis sensor planted in the village by Tata and a local weather forecast also appeared on the screen. A scientist at the association answered [the farmer] via a brief text message: spray now and use gibberellic acid. . .the scientist recommended an exact amount."
The WSJ goes on to say that the mobile phone is "now one of the hottest development tools world-wide. Non-governmental organizations see cellphones as a way to bolster incomes of the world's poor, while corporations eyeing untapped markets hope new mobile services can boost rural incomes and corporate revenue at the same time. South Asia, where mobile use is rapidly growing, has become a test bed" (2-12-08.)

This information coupled with the further news that cell-phone users will overtake non-cell-phone users for the first time this year brings us full circle to the evolutionary acceleration of consciousness due to technological and communication advances, particularly in developing countries (WSJ, 2-7-08, B3.) Let's not forget that only a few years ago China and India were among the poorest of the poor with billions of people in poverty. Russia, although it didn't have the population of these two, was not far behind. Now, ownership rates of cell phone use is rising the most quickly in these countries and accounts for 1 billion subscribers out of a total of 3.3 billion world-wide.

3.3 billion people connected electronically to the world! It boggles the mind. The next step in the evolutionary process could an enlightened realization that all folks are connected telepathically and always have been. But that is probably a few years off. So, for now, an actual physical connection will have to do. Text message, anyone?

Of note: M. Huffman has come to my aid again with another outstanding picture! Stay tuned, she has many more.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sunday Confessions on Saturday, Part V

The Vatican announced this week that it will issue an edict tightening the rules for creating Catholic saints. That's good because the process had become somewhat of a politically correct popularity contest anyway. CEO God wanted to weigh in on this and another matter so contacted me the usual way this week. I apologized that, it being such a busy week, I might not be able to get to this soon. But He let it be known this was important, and I should clear a few minutes of my calendar. OK, CEO God, you do always get your way, don't you?

CEO God: Good afternoon, Susan, glad you could make some time for me today. I know you are very busy but since I have so few conduits, it's important that they respond when I call. Every moment makes a difference these days, even if you humans have a difficult time seeing it. You've heard that trite statement, Nero fiddled while Rome burned, I'm sure. You get the point.

Susan: Sorry, CEO God, sometimes I just get so caught up in my day-to-day activities it gets hard to realize there's anything else going on.

CEO God: Oh, don't take my comments too hard. You are a good aspirant and your training is proceeding apace. But, I only have a few moments Myself so we must get to the grist of my appearance today.

I'll get straight to the point, please pass on the Word that the Vatican does not have a monopoly on saints. Actually, I would have to side with My Protestant followers on this one. Catholic saints,
who don't necessarily reflect any better behavior than anyone else,.are creations of the Church. Period. Long, long ago in the dark of time the Catholic Church announced itself the sole saint creator, which is rather a presumptuous power grab, don't you think?

Susan: Now that You mention it, yes. But saints have always been a part of my Catholic life so I never thought twice about it.

CEO God: Let me tell you, and I should know, you are all saints eventually--ALL of you. A few are disenfranchised for awhile, but that is none of your concern. What the Catholic Church calls saints are only those humans at a certain stage of their evolution. People on stages of evolution after their saintly round have lives that look very messy from the outside. But actually, these apparently beleaguered folks are on a higher turn of the spiral than the saints. If truth be told, We don't want anyone to join us who hasn't really lived it all. Besides that, the Church's stories of saintly life is rather anemic, particularly the celibate part. Please.

Susan: Well, I certainly get your point, CEO God. Makes me feel better in a way, because I am certainly not on the saint track in this life, far from it. So, what you are saying is this whole saint thing is kind of a set-up by the Church, where people have to keep going back to it for guidance on how to live a saintly life?

CEO God: That's exactly what I'm saying. And frankly, most Church personnel haven't a clue. Of course, here and there a bright bulb shines in that institution as elsewhere, but it does not have a monopoly on it. If you want to know the truth, I'm the only one with a monopoly on saint-making, a fact that shouldn't surprise anyone if he or she thought about it for more than a few seconds.

Susan: Hey, CEO God, you sound a bit peeved.

CEO God: You are surprised, I take it? Peeved is not really the right word for I left emotions behind millenia ago. Let's just say I'm speaking the truth with an abundance of energy. Speaking of energy, might I caution the humans in the Middle East to tone down their rhetoric. That magnitude 5 earthquake that hit Lebanon and Israel this week will not be the first of unusual physical happenings if these peoples do not finally learn to get along.

Susan (with a frown): You mean, You created that devastation to get their attention?

CEO God: No, my inquiring aspirant, you forget your studies. I don't bring on any of these manifestations; the people do that themselves with their errant emotions, which are nothing but very potent energy. If you recall, we went through some of that science on electromagnetism in an earlier interview, did we not?

Susan: Yes, yes, yes. Now I remember. Again, sorry, sometimes this information is just so new it takes a few passes before it sinks in. And, Your presence is also a bit overwhelming at times; so, my brain doesn't always function at 100%.

CEO God: No problem. We from the other side know that the new information finally sinks in at some point--and for you that is happening rapidly these days. By the way, you have a few readers who have been very conscientious in sending contributions to your blog. I would like to thank them personally since they make this format become more alive as a group effort. The pictures and poems you've been posting really capture the beauty of my creation, don't you think?

Susan: Yes, this whole blogging project has been an eye and heart opening experience. . . CEO God?

Gosh, that was too quick. CEO God did whisper in my ear on the way out that Mother Earth was awakening from a long sleep, and we should be prepared. While in the past our wanton spread of emotional energy went unchecked, it would no longer be the case. The earthquakes, hurricanes and the like are just a taste of what is to come until humanity learns its lessons in loving understanding and sharing. Again, it is of our own doing and is no reflection of CEO God. OK, OK, I'm starting to get it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

My Little Tree

I give thanks to our creator
for life and choice and desire to be
a proper guardian of my little branch
of my little tree.
I send this out as a hope and a dream
that we all believe that none of us
is less than another,
that our consciousness unites,
our love of life endures,
that we bless, all present and future generations,
with our common bond.

--Richard Carpenter

Of note: One of M. Huffman's pictures again graces these pages and the thoughtful poem was a contribution by M. Sundland. Thanks to both of you!

Today's Weather Report: 20 below again this morning! It is ony 1 degree now. Try to imagine one little degree. It'll make you respect the cold, for sure.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love Is In The Where?

Today is Valentine's Day, the day of love. Some cynics would like to relegate this day to the trash bin, but not so fast, I say. Isn't it great to have at least one day a year that extolls the virtues of love?

Even TIME magazine got into the act last month with a whole issue dedicated to The Science of Romance (January 28, 2008.) It is certainly news to me that every little sideways glance, longing, desire, acceptence of foibles, and mundane settling into love orginates in the brain. Scientists even know exactly where and why the feeling of love originates: "The more scientists look, the more they're able to tease romance apart into its individual strands--the visual, auditory, oolfactory, tactile, neurochemical processes that make it possible." A quick roadmap looks something like this:
  • A spot in the base of the brain creates dopamine which regulates intoxicating reward. "It creates craving, motivation, goal-oriented behavior--and ecstasy." Ecstasy, we know that's important in romantic love.

  • A little higher up in the brain that intoxicating dopamine signals serotonin to get pumping, but more importantly, oxytocin is produced as well. That's the hormone that floods the new mother and binds her forever to her infant. Surprisingy, it floods the new father as well which bodes well for the new family. In the case of romantic love, the binding obviously has another motive.

  • Then, on either side of the brain shrimp-like structures get into the act. This small but potent duo stores the mundane habits, like riding a bike and creates the glue that binds a couple after the other chemicals have done their work and are long gone.

I've often said something must be going on to get a male and female to fall for each other because the sexes really have little in common. Now, I find out it's natural opoids, the same potent chemicals that regulate mood, ecstasy, and craving plus the most powerful binding hormone known to man. Humans really don't stand a chance, do they? TIME sums it up like this:

"Nature doesn't really care if we experience the thrill of falling in love or not, but it deeply cares that we make a lot of babies and stick around to raise them. The problem is, human babies require an awful
lot of care--18 years or more. When we first reach sexual maturity, we scan the world for people to mate with. When we find someone [through our nose as it turns out,] romance focuses the scattershot attention. Compassionate love then bonds us to our partner. . ."

So nature is quite pragmatic when it comes to humans and mating. If thought came into play to any great extent, it might depress the mating instinct. After all, animals don't have to contend with thinking about mating, they just do it. So what better than to rig the human system so that we think the other person makes us feel good, looks like a million bucks and has no flaws whatsoever. Who ever said we were in control? It is now an incontrovertible fact that in love we are not. But, it took no scientist to tell us that, did it? All we have to do is look around.

As might be expected, if chemicals set-up the love process, they can also bring it down. Alcohol and drugs, even adrenaline, heighten the initial cravings and passion, but fade quickly. The message here? Sober up before picking a mate, or the effects of the love-chemicals might stop at stage one without cascading to the binding step two and habit-making step three. Or not. We've all known people who serially enjoy the natural, opoid high of stage one with no desire to move on to actually bonding with a mate. Addiction is addiction where ever it lurks.

Our brain plays tricks on us when convincing us to mate-up. After all, sex researcher Jim Pfaus said: "You think someone made you feel good, but really it's your brain that made you feel good." But, there's more to feeling love for another than procreation. On a higher turn of the spiral, love for one translates eventually into love for all and is an essential component of the inevitable evolutionary process of consciousness. It is literally the glue that binds the universe into a whole--and our wee brain generates the first conscious experience of love so that humanity can actively participate in the pageant of creation.

So, even though love starts with tiny brain chemicals and structures, it eventually binds us consciously to the entire universe. Think about that the next time you look over at your snoring spouse; it is through him or her that we gain a gateway to our divine destiny. These slumbering spouses deserve a kiss for that, don't you agree?

Of note: My Mom and Sister sent me thoughtful Valentine's Day ecards from a great Website that according to the site's narrative espouses gratefulness as a universal experience that can fulfill our contemporary longng for unity. It goes on to say that "our world needs a shared perspective that creates cultural cohesion and gives meaning to people's lives. All creative periods in history have had such a unifying vision." As part of that vision, inspiring ecards are available to send friends, relatives, and whoever needs a loving message sent electronically. Check out this site! I feel sure you will be glad you did.

The gorgeous flower photo is courtesy of M. Huffman. Thanks so much!

Today's Weather Report: Although snow was falling this morning with about two or three inches of accumulation, the sun then popped out for the remainder of the day. Lovely and must have been in the 20's because it did not feel particularly cold outside.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Dark Side of Medicine

Like politics, medicine does not lend itself to enlightenment. Why is that? Probably because the art of healing has been co-opted by the dark side of business. In the days when your doc had an office in his or her home, made house calls and charged you $5 a visit if you had it, or a chicken if you didn't, their was no question the relationship was between you and your physician. No third party struck its nose in between. Of course, that has all changed. Now the physicians often feel that they are working for the government (Medicare and Medicaid) or private insurance carriers, and sometimes are put into an almost adversarial position with the very patients they have sworn to serve.

Having said that, it is worth noting that Walmart entered the medical clinic business several years ago by subcontracting with other corporations to open small, on-site facilities, usually staffed by a nurse practitioner. These mini-clinics provided same day service for common ailments and were inexpensive, particularly when coupled with the store's $4 generic drug option. A patient could walk away satisfied that they were helped quickly and inexpensively. Walmart intends now to up the ante. A new agreement as reported in WSJ (2-8-08, B9) requires that these subcontractors use the Walmart name as well as a designated electronic medical record and clinic management software. 55 clinics were opened under the old model, but 2,000 will be opened under the new model by 2014. My thought is that if Walmart gets involved in health care, a mini-revolution may occur just as they have done in retail sales. Patients like quick and inexpensive no matter what they are getting these days and, united with an electronic medical record, a potential formula for success emerges for the healthcare market.

In the News You Can Use department: Lipitor, the mega-moneymaking Pfizer cholesterol lowering drug, has been linked to cognitive difficulties in some individuals. The WSJ's Health Journal described it like this: "The brain is largely cholesterol, much of it in the myelin sheaths that insulate nerve cells and in the synapses that transmit nerve impulses. Some doctors theorize that lowering cholesterol could slow the connection that facilitates thought and memory. Statins may also lead to the formation of abnormal proteins seen in the brain of Alzheimers patients" (2-12-08, D1.) Made sense to me and and was particularly alarming because that stealthy, dementing disease took my Dad in the prime of his life. What's more, my previous study of cholesterol showed that we need it more than our doctors might let on--so, it never made sense to me to lower it too much. The enlightened part of this story came from the patients who stood their ground in confronting their doctors about the cognitive impairment they were experiencing. After all, Pfizer had retorted that Lipitor was a perfectly safe drug when used at the prescribed dosage. Turned out, for some patients that just wasn't the case. Jane Brunzie, one of the patients who was totally rejuvenated when ending her Lipitor regime, quipped: "You have to use your own brain, as well as your doctor's brain, when it come to your health." Hear, hear, Jane, I couldn't have said it better.

When you think about it, our bodies are miracles to behold, and we really know very little about its mechanisms. Thus, the practrice of medicine is as much art as science. One physician looking at this connection is Claudius Conrad, MD, PhD who has been "investigating whether a well-defined selection of Mozart music can alleviate stress in critically ill patients and how this effect might be mediated physiologically." Meaning, if the premise is true, how did the body do it? Well, before and after being prescribed a 1-hour dose of Mozart, lab tests were conducted that measured stress hormones, inflammation markers and other parameters. The conclusion? Mozart piano sonatas significantly reduced the amount of sedative drugs needed by these very sick patients and was associated with a reduction in their blood pressures and heart rates. What was particularly telling were the irrefutable lab tests that showed lowering of systemic stress hormones and inflammatory subtances. My hat goes off to Dr. Conrad for this innovative and enlightened medical research that beautifully coupled art and science. ("Esoteric or Exoteric? Music in Medicine," The Medscape Journal of Medicine, 2-6-08.) Could it be that art was intended as a healing agent all along?

If Mozart could speak from the other side, you might hear him say: "Ah, Humanity, I am delighted that the healing aspects of my music have finally been deciphered and utilized as I originally intended. As you are now uncovering, my melodies contain powerful mathematical healing formulas meant for you, the humans of the future, and the many generations beyond. Your physicians will return to healing using my music, but only those with their eyes and hearts wide open. Rejoice in the fact that the time has come. We do on this side of the veil!"

Oh, Mozart, if it was only that easy. As I view it, healing will always be difficult with the dark side of business in control. For example, the World Health Organization likens the tobacco industry aggressive tactics in developing countries to a 'disease vector' such as a virus or bacteria when it called on governments around the world to strengthen the fight against smoking. When these ostracized companies watched profits plummet with the regulation of tobacco in the developed countries, third world countries became ensnared in their nefarious net. However, on the enlightened side, WSJ reported that the Bloomberg Philanthropies, owned by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, helped the United Nations fund a report that outlined the global issue and several ideas to ameliorate the problem modelled after New York's own tough and highly publicized anti-tobacco campaign. Mr. Bloomberg was quoted as saying: "While tobacco control measures are sometimes controversial, they save lives and governments need to step up and do the right thing." Encouraging governments to "do the right thing" is an appropriate role for the United Nations to play in the global healthcare arena:

"For its part, the WHO has a new anti-tobacco treaty that requires 152 participating countries to restrict tobacco advertising, impose smoking bans and tax increases on cigarettes, and toughen health warnings on cigarettes. The document also encourages countries to explore litigation against tobacoo companies."

Hopefully, WHO will be as successful here as it has been in the immunization wars of the past and present. These kind of global efforts are to be encouraged and funded well by the developed nations who have already been through the downside of tobacco abuse and don't want to see this as a major export from an unrepentive industry.

And finally, Safeway, one of the United State's largest grocery chains, announced that they are getting a conscious as it relates to the eggs and chickens it buys. The food giant says it is "actively looking to increase the amount of poultry it buys from producers that use 'controlled atmosphere stunning.' " What pray tell is that, you ask? Well, in a nutshell, the birds are killed by gas inhalation rather than electricity, the gas being more humane according to those in the know. However, Safeway has one little problem; the National Chicken Council said no major poultry producer uses the gas method, and they should know.

PETA , however, applauded Safeway's efforts anyway, which is really what the corporation was after. Turns out, they've been hounded by the aggressive, animal rights non-profit for years and would do anything to get them to quiet down. According to WSJ, "A few years ago, PETA launched an ad campaign branding Safeway as 'Shameway, Little Shop of Horrors.' About two years ago, [the] group purchased Safeway stock so it could attend shareholder meetings and introduce resolutions pressuring the company" (2-12-08, B9.) PETA is now quoted as saying: "The company should be commended for improving the lives and deaths of some of the animals who are killed for its stores." Some might call this enlightened, some might not. On this one, you will have to be the judge.

Today's Weather Report: glorious sunshine all day and in the teens. Couldn't ask for a nicer winter day. Finally. Earlier in the week it was minus 30 degrees again with a wind chill near 50 below. My diary said we had the same weather last year at this time. OK, enough already on the below zero cold.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Art-ful Nature

Art is not just a physical work;
it is a vision, an idea, a feeling,
brought to life.
The mind conceives,
the body manipulates matter,
and something altogether new is born.
It is that process of creation
which has the power
to forever alter the way
we see ourselves,
our lives, and our world.
Therein lies the power of art.

Of note: This is the inspiring and surprisingly mature observation of a Hayward High School student, Walker Van Dixhorn, from his First Place essay entered in the 2008 WDSE-TV Power of Art Competition entitled "Dreams of Glass," Sawyer County Record, February 6, 2008.

The lovely accompanying photograph is a contribution of Marie Huffman. Thank you!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Environmentally Speaking

The environment, a favorite subject of mine, has taken a back seat lately to confessions, politics and other weighty matters. But, today my file is overfull with environmental topics of interest and is crying to be heard. Even though it does agree that CEO God needed to be heard as well, it feels a bit slighted that the other subject matter has taken precedence over it. So, in deference to the feelings of my overburdened file, I declare today Environmental Thursday and promise that we will get to the very bottom of the stack before we're through. So, here we go:

For some reason poaching fascinates me. Maybe that's because I cannot imagine killing an animal, let alone illegally--particularly if it's endangered. The poached animals parts are used for all sorts of purposes--many rather outlandish, like walrus tusk as an aphrodisiac or tiger hide for a carpet. Even killing a razorback gorilla for food doesn't seem like the best source of protein when it can also spread the Ebola virus to humans. After all, scientists believe HIV was spread by eating monkey meat hunted legally and illegally from the jungle.

Thus, I'm always delighted when the authorities outsmart the poachers in this never-ending cat and mouse game. The February 2008 issue of National Geographic described a novel approach taken by zookeepers at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington DC in their attempt to save the kori bustard from extinction. Kori bustard, you ask? Well, this huge bird is the world's heaviest and weighs in at 40 pounds. Unfortunately for its long-term survival, it's colorful feathers are a favorite of trout fishermen and a big plume can go for $300. But, this is the good part--the zoo recently began giving molted kori bustard feathers away for free. In the process, the clever zookeepers clipped the clandestine desire for kori plumage by thwarting the economic advantage in killing the birds. Now, the beleaguered birds may stand a chance of survival outside of zoos.

On the other hand, poaching and poverty go hand in hand and one will not be controlled without reducing the other. Wildlife conservationist Hammersskjoeld Simwinga, an African native, knows this and is actively working to restore Zambia's wildlife while at the same time transforming "poverty stricken areas by providing sustainable economic alternatives to poaching." For this she received recognition as one of National Geographic's 2008 Emerging Explorers along with Cid Simoes and Paola Segura who are working with small farmers in Brazil to create innovative agribusinesses while protecting threatened habitats. These are just three of many young thinkers ready to creatively tackle the environmental challenges of the 21st century which increasingly have been recognized as economic issues as well.

They say recognition of a problem is the first step in solving it. Motive aside, that is one reason why it is so important when multinational corporations jump on the environmental bandwagon with both feet and say let's go. As an example, at the recent Davos Economic Forum in Switzerland, Pepsico announced that it had given $6 million to Columbia University's Earth Institute, directed by the vocal antipoverty advocate Jeffrey Sachs, to identify community-based solutions to improve water access and productivity. The corporation also gave $2.5 to Matt Damon's H2O Africa Foundation for water projects in several African nations. Not to be outdone, Coca-Cola said it and its bottlers have launched 120 projects in 50 countries around sustainable water use (WSJ, 1-24-08, p. A9.) Both companies had been criticized by activists for their over-use of water, and this is their collective response. Although the PepsiCo's contributions are paltry in comparison to its worth, the funds represent a step down the road to corporate third-world enlightenment. And with Dr. Sachs involved, it will be just a start, you can bet on that.

Corporate banks are reading the environmental tea leaves as well. On February 4th, WSJ announced that "Three of Wall Street's biggest investment banks are set to announce today that they are imposing new environmental standards that will make it harder for companies to get financing to build coal-fired power plants in the U.S. Citigroup, JP Morgan Case & Co. and Morgan Stanley say they have concluded that the U.S. government will cap greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants sometime in the next few years. . .The standards result from nine months of negotiations among three banks and some of the biggest U.S. utilities and environmental groups."
The three bank's new standard is already making a huge impact on the industry, and plans for many coal-powered plants are being shelved. For example, TXU in Texas originally proposed 11 plants and scaled that number back to 3 following the proposed introduction of these standards. Could this be fallout from the perceived inevitability of a Democratic White House and Congress come November? If so, my question, what will take the place of these power plants? Hopefully, there is a viable Plan B in the wings although the article did not mention what that might be. As we so often do on these pages, we will have to stay tuned.

Intel is another mega-corporation that in a full-color, front page WSJ ad on February 5, 2008 invites the reader to check out about their eco-smart computing achievements. This colorful ad, highlighting a red-eyed, green tree frog of unknown origin, touts the fact that the company made it to first place on the EPA's green power partners list
. Fact is, we never used to see these kind of ads tooting the horn of corporations about revolutionary environmental improvements and my hat goes off to them. We should always give credit where credit is due.

Environment tooting has actually become the rage, especially in Europe where the environmental movement has had a foothold for quite some time. What is a newly emerging problem worldwide is advertisers making sketchy environmental claims that range from somewhat deceitful to outright fraudulent. And, you guessed it, when there's a dark side, the light side springs into action. The WSJ declared:
"In one of the latest examples, the United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority found this month that a series of television ads by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council misleadingly claimed the industry was good for the environment. . . From the U.S. to Norway to Belgium, watchdog groups are trying to police against the rise of bogus environmental marketing, a practice known as greenwashing. In most cases these groups are set up by the advertising industry and they operate on the honor system. When the watchdogs are set up, marketers and ad agencies agree to abide by their rulings, which often means dropping ads that are deemed deceptive" (1-30-08, B4.)
Now, that makes sense, when it works. But the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is also getting into the act by updating its environmental advertising guidelines that governs what kind of claims can be made under the rubric of green marketing, which was last reviewed in 1998. Now I feel better, how about you? Just kidding. My advice, buyer beware, even if it an ad is festooned with cute green frogs.

In the News You Can Use category: have you wondered what to do with those rechargeable batteries when they have given up the ghost? Now Call2Recycle , a project of the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, has come to the rescue with drop off spots at multiple retailers including Lowe's, Home Depot, Best Buy, Sears, Target and Staples to name a few of its 40,000+ locations in the U.S. and Canada. All rechargeable batteries are welcomed as are used cell phones in prominently displayed boxes. The National Geographic ad touting this advance said that "reusable metals from the rechargeable batteries are recovered and recycled to make new products such as new batteries and stainless steel. "

Sometimes, however, we don't know exactly where the recycled material might show up. In this blog, we previously covered this environmental problem, which is increasing becoming a scourge in developing nations. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a national group out of San Francisco that promotes responsible recycling, said that about 50% - 80% of electronic waste gets dumped in developing countries. Environmental laws are either non-existent or lax there, and the recyclers, who are often individuals, expose themselves and the environment to toxic waste. Because of this, the coalition's coordinator, Barbara Kyle, recommends recycling electronics through the manufacturer. "Consumers can also check a database called e-Stewards at where they can search for local recycling firms that have taken a pledge not to export the waste to developing countries or allow it to end up in landfills or incinerators" (WSJ, 1-24-08, D2.)

And speaking of recycling, what would you think about drinking used toilet water? Sounds kind of gross, doesn't it? Well, many municipalities are grappling with that very issue. Orange County California, the home of Los Angeles, which formerly relied on the parched Colorado River for the bulk of its needs, looked first at desalinization but found the cost prohibitive. Authorities there decided it was a no-brainer when recycled sewage came in at $525 per acre-foot and desalinated water at $800 - $2,000. Based on these convincing figures, "the county recently opened a 'Groundwater Replenishment System' that feeds treated sewage through clay and sand then into lakes," says Eilene Zimmerman of Slate magazine as reported by WSJ, January 28, 2008, B5.
I predict that with the current and future water shortages, more consumers will be confronted with this toilet bowl reality and will have to put their squeamishness aside. After all, some municipalities took the leap years ago, and consumers hadn't a clue that they were drinking what was formerly sewage. I guess that proves that what you don't know, won't hurt you.

And finally, my environmental file is smiling now that it's almost empty. The formerly hefty file feels vindicated since this has been the longest blog on record because it had so much to share. But, it has one last enlightened piece of news from TIME magazine, February 11, 2008: Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened at the end of January and by the end of this month will be home to 4.5 million samples of seed from all over the globe. This repository, a gift to the Earth from the Norwegian government at a cost of only $9 million, was built into the mountainside of a Norwegian Arctic island to guarantee the continued existence of global seed stock. The magazine reports that the seeds will be kept at 0 degrees in a very dry environment and even without electricity, the inventory should stay viable in the Arctic for thousands of years.

Many countries, the U.S. included, have their own seed bank of indigenous species. However, with the instability of many developing countries, many seeds have been lost to future generations. For example, the article notes that Afghani seed bank was looted during the rule of the Taliban and rare varieties of walnut, cherries and apricots were destroyed. The Norwegian government should be commended by the international community for stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for this global initiative. With that, we say Adieu!

Of note: This blog will return on Monday, February 11, 2008, so you have several days to read today's entry. Grandma Schirott's birthday on Sunday takes precedence over staying home and confessing my transgressions few needed to know anyway.

Todays Weather Report: it was well below zero when awakening this morning, and it is only in the teens now. Burr, but we did like the sunshine, which has been out two days in a row now. A record for this winter to date, I think.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Super Tuesday Redux

In case you've missed it, we are in the midst of an election year. Because there has been little enlightened on the campaign trail--except Obama's electric elocution--the subject of Presidential hopefuls has not often graced these pages. However, Super Tuesday brought all the political pundits out en masse. As a collective, they gathered too much information about too little, with plenty to keep the 24 hours news merrily circulating. Having said that, these gems did stand out:

1. The fact that we have the first global candidate ever in Barack Obama has enlivened the coverage of this campaign overseas and gotten many more interested in our political process. We noted in a previous blog that Barack has very proud Kenyan relatives. Now his Irish cousins on his mother's side are speaking up as well with a hardy drink at the pub. Barack did not return phone calls to admit or deny these assertions, but I'm sure he wishes they could vote.

2. Speaking of overseas, the Brits have taken a liking to Barack as well, particularly David Cameron, head of Britain's Conservative Party. Yes, that's the CONSERVATIVE party. Mr. Cameron speaks, like we have, of how inspiring are Barack's oratory skills: "I'm enjoying watching Barack Obama. I think he's a brilliant speaker; I think his optimism and sense of hope for the future is inspiring a lot of people. It's great to see." The WSJ goes on to say that "a person close to Mr. Cameron said he is watching the US election 'closely,' and that it is Sen. Obama's meteoric rise that has most impressed him." Him and Hillary both.

2. The Democratic Convention is in Denver this year and to celebrate the event JW Marriott at Cherry Creek is offering two packages commemorating the contenders through August. Listen up, you might not want to miss this once-in-a-lifetime offering: "Guests choosing the Hillary Clinton Package start the morning with a speed walk through Cherry Creek North and Denver Country Club neighborhoods. Guests receive a $50 Cherry Creek North gift card and a chocolate treat at turn-down--one of Mrs. Clinton's self-professed guilty pleasures. Prices start at $249 per night, not including tax." We won't ask what one of Bill's guilty pleasures might be, but then he's not running, is he(?)

Now, if you are of the Barack persuasion, here's what the Barack Obama Package has to offer: "Two guest passes to the Denver Athletic Club and dinner at the Prime 121 steakhouse. Then it's back to your room for a viewing of 'Lawrence of Arabia,' one of Mr. Obama's favorite movies. Prices start at $299 per night, not including tax and gratuity." Both obviously include a room, in this case a deluxe model, whatever that means. One might think that for the prices charged and the lame accouterments provided, appearances by the candidates would be in order. In lieu of that, but in distant second place, I suppose the staff could situate an autographed picture of Hillary or Barack on your pillow with the turn-down service. Sweet dreams.

3. On that same note, the Horseshoe Bay Resort in the Texas Hill Country is offering a package to celebrate President's Day later this month as well as the elections. For only $149 a night from February 14th through 19th, you get a one bedroom luxury villa. That's all. But in order to get this discounted rate, there is a catch: to qualify, guests must have the same last name as one of the U.S. Presidents or 2008 Presidential hopefuls. The management must be expecting a run on the place because the offer was just announced yesterday in the WSJ. So, how many Huckabee's do you think will be calling? Or, I was thinking, with all the money Ron Paul has in his campaign fund and no place to spend it, he might just take the resort up on the offer himself. No one could argue that he has the same last name as a 2008 Presidential hopeful.

4. Angela Merkel, the Prime Minister of Germany, took WSJ to task for calling her Ms. instead of Mrs. It is reported that she wanted the same treatment given to Hillary Clinton by the newspaper, which was more than happy to comply. We will have to keep an eye out to see if all reports on Mrs. Clinton call her, well, Mrs. Clinton. Used to be Ms. was hip, but that must have changed when I had my back turned.

5. On the eve of Super Tuesday, the WSJ informed its readers that Mrs. Clinton got emotional again when speaking to female voters at Yale University where she went to law school.
While talking about health care, she is quoted as saying, "Well, I said I would not tear up. Already we're not exactly on that path." The next day the Yale Daily News endorsed her opponent. I guess sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

6. In the better late than never category, President Bush announced his administration's intentions to save 480 trees by e-publishing the 4-volume, 2,000 page, $3 trillion federal budget. It will be available free on line for the first time. According to the OMB and reported in WSJ, "The change is expected to drive down demand for hard copies, sparing an estimated 20 tons of paper, or 480 trees, and saving tax payers about $1 million over five years." (Actually, giving credit where credit is due, this administration has been adamant in requiring a change-over to electronic submission of material relating to it. So, for those readers who think nothing good has come out of DC in the last 8 years, this enlightened initiative has received little fanfare but has pushed the government into the 21st century electronically and probably saved millions of trees in the process.)

And finally, before we leave this covey of politicians behind, I would like to send them a few words of advice: take the high road, OK? Self-deprecating humor is so much more flattering than ad hominem diatribes about the other guy or gal, as the case may be. Besides that, the world may be getting to be a better place to live, as recounted in The Economist on January 26th:
"The number of very poor people in the world is falling fast. Some 135 million people emerged from destitution between 1999 and 2004 a 'stunning' sign of progress that owes much to the growing control of people in developing nations have over their own fertility. There have been huge gains in access to public services such as clean water and corresponding improvements in child-mortality rates. These advances can also be attributed to economic growth, which has been spread fairly evenly across the globe. There are twice the number of fast-growing countries today than there were from 1980 to 2000. Living standards are getting a boost from another development--a decline in wars and in deaths from violence. While terrible violence persists in such places as Sudan, Congo and in parts of the Middle East, the overall toll is dropping" (WSJ, 1-26/27-08.)
The magazine concludes that the pervading sense of doom is overwrought. So, candidates listen up. Negativity has a price, particularly when used to illustrate views that are less than truthful for political gain. Stay positive and truthful. So far, we have exactly one candidate who even comes close to that. Would anyone like to join him?

Of note: Marie Huffman contributed the beautiful sunset picture at the beginning of this blog. Thank you!

Today's Weather Report: 20 degrees and lightly snowing in the morning even with the sun shining. The sun was glorious to see. Terrible tornadoes ripped through the South last evening and Racine expects 18 inches of snow today.