Saturday, February 19, 2011

Notes: 2/25/11

1. Kadafi has declared war on his own people. He said "I made this country and I can destroy it." Many in his own army have deserted him and he now hires foreign mercenaries to take their place. Western nations seem unsure what action to take. But still the people go out in the street in the tens of thousands to say "We have had enough with this dictator. We want democracy".

In the American revolution the slogan was – “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people…” For democracy to work there must be a fair and open exchange of ideas.

What makes the United States (and the rest of the world) uncomfortable with the changes in North Africa and the Middle East is that we can not control or predict what these newly freed Arab democracies will become.

A Mosque and garden in Turkey

It appears likely that within a year we may have a broad restructuring of North African and Middle Eastern politics. The democracies that emerge will most probably be based on multiple parties (like the Italian or French systems) with all voices contending to be heard. Like Turkey, I hope that both secular and islamist parties will be included. When parties are suppressed it is than that they become dangerous. If the people throw off this long standing dictator it is their time to experience the power of their own government - not the time for us to impose our will on them.

Inside of a Mosque - Istanbul

This quote comes to mind: “ One mans terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” - Certainly true of Moshe Dayan and the British, True of Charles DeGalle and the Vichy French in the Second World War, true of the American Patriots in our Revolutionary War, Yasser Arafat and Israel… Kadafi is feeling very uncomfortable right now with the people in the street – he calls them cockroaches and terrorists, instruments of the US and Osama Ben Laden…but to the people on the street he it the one with a long history of the most brutal terrorism.

As I write this blog the outcome is undecided - Kadafi has a history of surviving tough situations, he is brutal... but the people are a force he has not faced before...


Temperature: 53F in February, 60F in August

2. Moist Pacific air flows past the beaches, over the hills and mountains of the California Coast, the towns, farms, and cottages of farmworkers. It flows past oak savannas, grass lands with grazing cattle, the fields of cotton and corn, through the Sierra forests and rocky crags beyond. California life depends on the moisture carried by ocean air...

The Alaska current carries water south ward along out coast

In the winter, the middle latitudes over Northern California are a meeting place for confrontation between warm moist tropical air and cold arctic air masses. The warm air is forced to rise and moisture is released as rain in the low lands and snow in the mountains. Winds out of the northwest, off the cold Pacific Ocean, carry storms to us – sometimes one after another in January – April.

Vast amounts of water and lifted from the sea and return as rain and show

We don’t have "spring" in the sense that the midwest and the east coast have. New growth begins with the first fall rains. Light winter frost slows but doesn't stop the growth, there is a slow progression of life as long as their is moisture– New sprouts, new growth, a sequence of flowers… but no sudden dramatic change from winter to spring. As long as we have water we have growth.

Much of the San Francisco area receives about 15 inches of rain on average each year

Spring weather can be 70 degrees in February and a week later 35 degrees.. It all depends on whether our air mass has come to us from tropical or arctic regions. By the third week of February daffodils have just completing their brilliant yellow blooms, I see serious green buds and growth on many plants, lifeless looking twigs are suddenly sprouting green.

The first fruit trees are blooming - almonds and plums now apricots, peaches, and apples later. Our future plum crop is in jeopardy right now – we have had days of steady rain recently and it is not good weather for bees to be about. Frost is the kiss of death for fruit crops in bloom…we keep our fingers crossed.

Plum blossoms have the smell of spring that bees can not resist. The slightest breeze carries a snow storm of petals...(they eddy and swirl in the street below). When the petals are gone, the task is just beginning - each flower ovule now has been fertilized and can form a sweet summer fruit.

Monday, February 14, 2011

People photo #1

Jumping to conclusions

In this blog I have added ten photos of people that we have met in our travels. Just for fun test yourself to get in touch with your first impressions as you see each picture, (then check at the bottom of the blog to learn more about these 10 individuals or groups). Are you drawn to some?, do you fear some? Why? What assumptions would you make about each person if you met them on the street- How would it affect how you approached them? The photos do not relate to the message of this blog...if they overlap its only by accident.

People photo #2

I hate it when someone, without knowing me, puts me in a pigeon hole and treats me as if they have already decided about me. They may decide that they like me or don't like me, that I am their kind of person or not... That I have the "right" social beliefs or not) , they may speak up to me, down to me, condescendingly to me. That makes me outraged!

People photo #3
If I am honest I have to admit that I am sometimes guilty of the same crime when I see someone of a different social, political, or age group... and I quickly make up my mind without really taking time to encounter this person. I fear that I sometimes jump to conclusions.

People photo #4

In Mexico we came across a man while hiking in the mountains. He looked like he might be a forestry worker and I put him in that pigeon hole. As we talked I found that he had a PhD in plant pathology and had a special interest in virus infestations in forest trees. I learned so much talking to him about the natural history of southern Mexico. I had made assumptions about this man that were completely wrong.

People photo #5

When I first started working in the inner city schools of Oakland I encountered students whose appearance made me think that they might be potentially dangerous gang members. But as I got to know these kids as individuals I found them eager to learn biology so that they could continue their education. I saw kids that looked like rough street kids performing well in academic classes - They were using biological vocabulary and asking intelligent questions. Perhaps they dressed this way to not stand out in their community. My first impressions were not correct.

People photo #6

Sometimes when I walk the dogs I meet a man who had a stroke… he walks with a severe limp, his speech is difficult to understand, and his face is not quite straight. I think a lot of us treat people with handicaps like they are not like the rest of us. Imagine my surprise when I learned that he and his wife had been noted singers and had published a number of CDs of their music, he had also been a championship runner when he was younger. When I patiently listened to what he had to say I found a sensitive intelligent person with a longing for real human contact.

People photo #7

Sometimes I walk the dogs through a park where a number of homeless men gather in the morning to eat breakfast together at a picnic table. On occasion I have stopped to chat with them. They had funny stories to tell and we laughed together – They were not down on drugs or drunk… they had just lost their jobs and lost their homes and were wondering how to get their lives back on track. My wariness of homeless people is not always right.

People photo #8

I admit it - My guard goes up when I discover someone is politically conservative. I expect them to attack my beliefs so I prepare myself for their anticipated onslaught. I dredge up all my expectations for what I assume will be their political beliefs and of course then it becomes difficult to have a relaxed open discussion. What a shame – I am probably shutting out good people. I have a sneaking suspision that I may have much in common with some of these folks if only we could talk beyond our differences. We have a humanity beyond our different beliefs.

People photo #9

People photo #10

That's News to Me

When something happens in the world how do we find out about it? How do we decide how we think about the event?

Southern Mexico - Street baracade with police on the other side

The Cairo phenomenon has brought this home to me- If I checked five different news sources during last week, I would find five different interpretations of the reality that was happening in Egypt

But the news industry is what turns “reality events” into our attitudes and beliefs. They make choices about which facts are published and which are held back. TV stations and newspapers are in the business of making profits. Profits are based on pleasing adversisers and attracting a large number of viewers/readers. Some news sources are strongly connected with special interest groups and political parties anxious to advance their agenda. Seems like most news sources have an ax to grind.

A serious journalist is akin to a detective – it takes hard work to develop an accurate story, – The journalist must check sources – go into dangerous situations, take risks for his or her career … When journalism is done right it helps the people - the nation - to sort out truth from fiction. Sadly year by year less journalism is done this way... Now its ...check the wire service and write the story... More and more news sources simply borrow an article from another news service.

Southern Mexico - Bus burning - Street demonstrations

Is the news we choose to watch dominated by fact or by opinion? Opinion pieces can influence entire nations of people. Any propogandist knows this – If you want to alter public opinion it isn’t about fact - its about planting seeds of fear and doubt that matter. It is a healthy habit to ask “ What is actual evidence for saying this”? Wild ideas produce crazy actions and wild results. Think of the source that told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and mobile chemical labs. This last week it came out that that man, now living in Germany, told the press that he only said these things because he didnt like Saddam Hussain...he had no evidence...

Photos are evidence – we trust what we see… but different news sources can put a different spin on the same photos – One person’s freedom fighters are another persons dangerous radicals. One persons rightous defense of the constitution may be interpreted as a danger to human freedom by others.

Contrary to popular opinion reporters do not have a special connection with “truth”. All they have to work with is the information that comes over the wire services or what they can observe and confirm first hand. Being in the midst of a confusing situation does not give automatic insight into the situation - Truth is hard to tease out...

Lesson 1: Check your sources, Lesson 2: Is the evidence sound? Lesson 3: Don't get trapped by your political preconceptions.

People photos

1. Czech students on a summer camping holiday ( waiting for a train)

2. Community Organizer - Havana, Cuba

3. Russian living in Kyrgystan with his bird hunting rifle

4. Greek village couple

5. Uzbec man who drove us in his car - buying gasoline

6. Care giver - Tanzanian orphanage

7. Tour organizer - Arusha, Tanzania

8. Collective farm workers - Cuba

9. Driver and Guide: South Africa

10. Homeless man sleeping on the street in San Francisco