Friday, December 19, 2014

Are you looking for a memorable gift for that special someone?

I asked my wife Judy what she wanted for Christmas this year.  She answered without hesitation that she wanted a pig… I said, “Great – I want a goat!”  We are talking about supporting Heifer Project International work … we buy the animals and the animals are delivered to poor rural families, in an impoverished part of the world, The families first receive intensive training and help preparing facilities to care for their new animal, Heifer assists in assuring proper nutrition is available.  Complete follow up and veterinarian services are provided for the recipients.

Tanzanian  woman and her dairy cow!
Both pigs and goats are “miracle animals. Pig farmers average 23 piglets per year per breeding sow. A piglet can be sold in East Africa for the equivalent of $50, in a country where the average income is $200/ a year. One piggy can be sold for more than enough to send a child to school for a year, or money to raise the diet of an entire family… The first litter of 8-10 can be delivered within 6 months, and there are generally 2 litters per year.  One pig can, within a few years, lead a family out of poverty to a much higher standard of living.  

These are actually Czech pigs - but they are the best pig photo I can find!
More children around the world rely on goats' milk than on cows' milk. Perhaps that's because goats can thrive in harsh climates where other livestock can't--surviving on grasses and leaves that other animals won't eat.
Heifer goat - note careful construction of barn
 Heifer goats can give a family up to a gallon of milk every day. Many families use what's left over to make yogurt, cheese or sell at the market for income to pay for clothes, school and medicine. Plus there are two to three kids each year!  The family is trained to raise forage for the goat goats  rather than turn them loose in the countryside where they can damage fragile environments.

Goats have wonderful eyes and they are so friendly - (except some Billys!)
The policy of Heifer project is to fully explore which varieties of animals are best suited for a location, before giving the gift...

Heifer also has developed a process called “Passing on the Gift”.   Those who received Heifer gifts become donors and give a young female animal to others in the community…and the process happens over and over…In some projects the passing on of the gift has continued for more than 20 cycles… all from the original gift of one animal.  
After projects are established, families receive on going support from Heifer—such as vet.  services, training, seed, and more.  This whole process has been quietly going on in many countries of the world, including the US, since 1944. 

Chickens - eggs - some to use, some to sell, and some to keep for starting the next generation!
What could I possibly receive for Christmas that would match the experience of bringing an improved life to an entire family? A Heifer gift provided not for one good meal but starts an ongoing process of community development. Over the years, Heifer has continued to grow and develop new services as new needs become apparent.  

Banana coop in the highlands of Ecuador 
Currently Heifer has begun finding new ways to assist community groups – such as organic farmers, salt-water fishermen, and fresh water fish farms by providing training, organizational support, and micro loans at low interest.  An individual alone cannot compete with corporate farms or powerful fishing groups… but a coop of 150 trained and organized individuals can.

Woman coop in Tanzania - the woman turn the milk of their cows into butter and cheese
Judy and I have a special love for the work of  Heifer.  We have been presenters available to talk about the work of Heifer to civic groups; churches, ‘community events’… and twice we have gone on study trips to see Heifer in action – first in Tanzania, and a few years later in Ecuador… It’s inspiring!

Coop in Ecuador transforms raw chocolate from their trees into confection chocolate bars sold in the market
Here are a couple of Heifer stories:
1. In Tanzania we met a woman who had to spent over two hours a day to walk to a distant spring to fill to large ‘Jerry’ cans with water, which she then balanced on her head to provide her family with water. Heifer gifted her with a donkey … She was as happy as if she had been given a pick up truck!
The happy recipient of her very own donkey

Small organic farm coop in Ecuador - receive help in crops and marketing of produce
2.  Small hillside farms in Ecuador can be used for raising year round crops.  With training the farmers can learn to grown their crops organically without pesticides or fertilizers.  Crop yields improve and the organic crops sell for a higher profit.  Training, purchase of seeds and tools, and the newly formed coop can support marketing.  Training and support are paid for through a Heifer International project

PACAT market in Ecuador where organic farmers sell direct to customers -
 ( their produce sells better than the non organic vegetables!)

Do you get frustrated with “large” world problems that seem insurmountable – you can be the agent bringing conform and peace to some of the poor communities of the world. If you long for a Christmas without the hyper commercialization that modern marketing practices have foisted onto us – If you want to be free of the guilt trip that commercial interests have convinced us is necessary – buy a goat, a pig, a flock of ducks…! It will make you feel good and change lives.

Dairy cow in Tanzania - notice stall and rain proof barn to left...

To learn more visit Heifer Projects gift catalog: Please take some time to explore the links – the photos alone make it worth your time.

A Facebook link that I saw recently…

10 Things Christians Shouldn’t Do At Christmas
Trout farms in Educator make use of natural year round spring... planned and financed with Heifer help
Trout are harvested and sold directly in the city market

A Tanzanian widow who must provide for her parents, and extended family

Friday, December 12, 2014

I admit it... I have a problem...

I recognize that I have definite beliefs about many topics.  I call myself politically a Democrat, a progressive protestant in religious matters, and socially/economically I support the rights of people to be respected and all citizens to vote, and I oppose the right of the very rich to control the economy to their advantage at the expense of the poor.

Example of a post that elicits polarization
I grew up in a community of farmers and small merchants… the political views that best matched their experience were those of self sufficiency, self reliance, and minimal government interference.  Now I live in a more complex society with many different social groups living in close proximity, with a wide range of needs and interests.   It seems to me that the growth of diverse views has resulted from  greater mobility and the emergence of complex problems without easy solutions.  It is no time to try to place the solutions of the past to solve the problems of today. In 1950 the US population was less than 258 million, today it is more than 317 million… and a much more diverse society at that…

Being prevented from entering a theater because of the man's race

How do I live with my views and also live within our broader society?

a.     I can bluster on about what I believe – maybe have to argue with somebody with a different idea…
b.     I can shut up and in my mind pigeon-hole that person:   Once placed in a category we tend  to keep them there…  labels are convenient: “Conservative” “ Liberal” “Socialist” “Militarist” “Environmentalist”…
c.     Convince the other person with the power of reason that they are wrong and I am right… (Paulo Coelho, the modern philosopher say: “Don't waste your time with explanations. People only hear what they want to hear. ")
d.     Enter into an open dialogue with the goal of establishing an agreement to really listen to the other person… The goal is to explain my beliefs and listen to learn about their beliefs.  How often have I been in a discussion where I am thinking of my next response to the person, instead of listening to 

When have you done tried this approach?
OK – I have attempted all of these methods and my goal is to be more mature and be a “d”, but sadly I often still seem convinced that “c” will work, despite repeated experience that it doesn't.    Once a few years ago I said to myself that because I had reached a certain age it was time for me to stop holding back about my real views. …Well maybe – but my rational brain knows that I am no more likely to change someones belief position  by talking at them as they are to change mine.

Yup!  its true...
So getting back to Facebook – what am I to do?  If I post a really cool site expounding one of my favorite ideas, my Democrat friends say – “Oh yeah! I agree.” – they may even “like” my posting.  My Republican friends say… “ There goes John again –spouting off again..”  or worse they try to argue me out of my belief. We both leave feeling alienated and frustrated.   

Cesar Chavez... Loved and hated...

The one thing I can say for Facebook is that it is one of the most genuine meeting places for people of different opinions. Most of us watch news casts with which we agree. (Rachael Maddow v. Fox)… read internet sources that we like ( Washington times v. New York Times) … and we seldom encounter points of view different from our own.

I'm curious what draws us to take a stand... and also curious why we seek to avoid  standing up for our beliefs
...this photo gives part of the answer...

When I receive an outrageous posting the first thing I do is to look at its source.  Does it sound reliable?  Sometimes I click on the source link to get more information. I may run it through to get their take on it.  I approach a strange piece with an attitude of cautious hostility...knowing that I disagree and trying to decide what to do with it.    
ML King among a group of supporters

After years of neglecting Facebook I am now clearly hooked – I check it most every  day.  I enjoy making contact with old friends,  past students, relatives… I love seeing photos… What the heck – can you tolerate me once in a while posting one of my ‘challenging’ sites…? Feel free to go ahead and be challenging yourself!

Friday, December 5, 2014

The rains came!

And oh did they come! – after three dry years! – I woke in the night to hear hard rain hammering onto our roof and windows.  It sounded foreign to my ears attuned to the sounds of drought. And next morning – what’s this? – standing water in my garden!  I measured my rain gauge and it was just shy of 2 “ for the past 24 hours.  Our total since July 1 is now over 6 inches.
Rain out a school room window
I guess that I’m superstitious – I am afraid that the whims of climate change may decide that this is enough.  All we can do is wait and accept what comes our way… But for now – our hills are once more green with newly sprouted grass… it is beautiful…
Our "green season" hills

The "brown season" - goats involved in weed control!
This is our closest thing we have to spring-time in Northern California… Dormancy brought on by 3 years of dryness has been broken... our plants return to active life.  The native people in this land recognized only two seasons – the green season and the brown season… A brief rainbow developed in a break in the storms when a burst of sunlight flashed through for a few minutes
Close up, detail view of rainbow - with iPhoto augmentation

It would be easy to get complacent - we are still in the drought - our reservoirs and ground water are still sorely depleted.  Its not OK (yet) to take long showers and wash our cars.
Commute on a rainy day -
My favorite weather site these days is “wundeground” :… You can adjust it for your city and neighborhood… I like the little graphs that show predicted rainfall and the big full screen Wundermap that shows actual rainfall – it even has the ability to run a fast clip of the weather events  in the last half hour:
"Rain, rain, come again another day!"

A Dozen Observations from inside my warm car as I travel through an American inner city…

1.     Grafitti, trash, closed signs
2.     Brake repair shops- Mama-Pop grocery stores – Ethnic Fast food – Store front churches – Hair salons – Used tires - Mortuary- Used clothing stores - Pawn shops - Homes needing paint.
3.     Six men leaning or sitting next to a wall eating lunches from the “All are Welcome” homeless mission
Inner city scene
4.     People going about their daily business – working, buying, chatting, planning, laughing, supporting each other.
5.  Two well dressed young women walking talking, returning back to work after lunch
6.     Young man in wheel chair (no leg) who comes out each day to get away from the isolation of his rented room – Another man stands talking to him
7.     Teens cutting school sitting on the curb drinking sodas – talking and laughing  

Grafitti on street
8.     Woman in flashy clothes, short skirt standing next to wall watching people go by
9.     A man is walking slowly along the street, dejected, aimlessly because he has no-where to go.
10.     Eight young guys on the corner looking their practiced kind of tough.

Police presence
11.  A small plaza with benches - 23 men, various ages in an area with over 40 % unemployment....talking, playing dominos, smoking, passing the time...
12.  Young man leaning in the window of car parked next to the curb talking to someone inside - after a moment be returns to the street.

Why do some people in our country feel prevented from participating in our society?  Who (what) told them that they ‘better stay in their place‘.  How did they get the message that they can't "get ahead?" …

Street Grafitti
Reminds me of a poem by Langdon Hughes: “A Dream Deferred”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The issues apply to Black, Latino, and Asian populations in the Bay Area

This week I urge you to actively work for  racial justice in your community – support serious examination of our cities police policies.  Be a voice for equitable justice for all.  End policies that result in police deaths for everyone...(why do we have so many more per capita police deaths than other developed countries?)

Recognize that there are good policemen and fair police policies.  Hold these up as examples.  In the others, racism must be exposed and brought to the light of day...