Saturday, December 16, 2006
Camp Connell, Ca -- Part of every Sunday School curriculum teaches about the need to help the poor.
Traditionally, most people think of a tithe, or Biblical one-tenth, as a fair share standard, a standard which almost none of us live up to. (Some do, but not many.)
A tithe is also a culturally accepted standard, not just a preacher's tool to separate the money from parish members. Most of us think it is a good idea, but we simply can't afford it this year.
Many of us like the idea that those blessed with abundance (as in, the rich) are expected to give more.
One of the few good things I can note about the year 2006 is that a few very rich folks have done just that, and made the rest of us think about what we give, and why. For that we can thank the Gates and Buffett families.
And that giving might hold a clue to solving world poverty, if we will all cooperate.
Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer asked the following question today in a lengthy New York Times Magazine article about charity and its role in alleviating poverty:
"What is a human life worth? You may not want to put a price tag on a it. But if we really had to, most of us would agree that the value of a human life would be in the millions.
"Consistent with the foundations of our democracy and our frequently professed belief in the inherent dignity of human beings, we would also agree that all humans are created equal, at least to the extent of denying that differences of sex, ethnicity, nationality and place of residence change the value of a human life."
"With Christmas approaching, and Americans writing checks to their favorite charities, it's a good time to ask how these two beliefs — that a human life, if it can be priced at all, is worth millions, and that the factors I have mentioned do not alter the value of a human life — square with our actions. Perhaps this year such questions lurk beneath the surface of more family discussions than usual, for it has been an extraordinary year for philanthropy, especially philanthropy to fight global poverty."
America's actions as a nation, and many Americans' individual actions, seem to show we actually do value the lives of some folks more than others. (I think immediately of our money spent on Iraq, and Darfur. Singer offers statistical proof.)
Singer goes on to detail the impact of the massive donations by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, and to talk about what their example might do.
Meanwhile, back to the "other" rich among us:
"...in the real world, it should be seen as a serious moral failure when those with ample income do not do their fair share toward relieving global poverty. It isn't so easy, however, to decide on the proper approach to take to those who limit their contribution to their fair share when they could easily do more and when, because others are not playing their part, a further donation would assist many in desperate need."
Singer applies philosophy and moral standards to the discussion, and comes up with some suggestions that might make a few rich folk squirm.
If you think it would not apply to you, make sure you check out his formulas for giving.
And then back up one blog in this series and read about the family in Transylvania that actually was living on $300 a year.
Maybe you and I are rich and just don't realize it.
Maybe we should each buy a cow, or goat, or pig, or tree for someone who needs it.
Read the excellent article by Singer online at the New York Times Magazine by cutting and pasting this link:
Camp Connell -- The toughest questions we face in life seem to be the ones we often don't want to answer.
For examples: do I make a contribution to a needy person or charity because I feel sorry for the poor, want to offer them a hand up, it makes me feel good, or because it is my duty? Or do I do nothing because I had good intentions but didn't bother to take the time? Does my contribution do any good?
National Public Radio recently touched on the idea of gift-giving at Christmas and the choices people make in a well-done audio report in which a reporter in Transylvania -- really -- chased down a cow donated by a woman through a poverty-fighting organization.
And the New York Times Magazine turned Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer loose for a very very long article on one way to solve world poverty in our time -- acknowledging the value of a human life. More on his long and philosophical article in the next blog.
But first, consider the cow in Transylvania.
A woman in Minnesota wanted to give her grown children something for Christmas, but they had everything they need. So she donated $250 to buy a cow to be given to a family living in poverty somewhere in the world, in their name. It turned out to be a couple in Transylvania.
The radio reporter, a little dubious at the start, make a little joke about the impersonal nature of such charitable gifts.
Turns out that one cow produced so much milk that the couple was able to sell the excess. The result was a doubling of their annual income (of $300) and improving their diet.
The cow was such a good producer they even had milk to give away to poorer neighbors.
And when the cow gave birth to a calf, as promised when they accepted the gift of charity from an unknown in Minnesota, they gave it away to a neighbor to help them out. They don't really seem to know where the cow came from, except from some "generous American" willing to help them.
That $250 gift helped the family in Transylvania begin to work its way out of terrible poverty, encouraged them to share their good fortune, and made a lady in Minnesota happy.
It made me happy too because I know a lot about Heifer International, the charity that made it all possible. Heifer has a close California connection (a facility in Turlock, of all places). We also have friends who worked for Heifer and picked it years ago as one of the charities we know and trust to do good work with our pittance. (Cows are a bit costly, but a hive of bees is always a good bargain donation.)
But by the end of the radio interview with the folks who got the cow, you could detect a change in the reporter'stone. She acknowledged, in what sounded a bit like a sheepish voice, that she was reconsidering giving Starbucks gift cards this year. Maybe she could do better.
Maybe we all can.
You can check it out at Heifer.org
Next: a philospher looks at rich givers
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Camp Connell, CA-- The first snow has a charm that almost defies description.
It came today from a cloudy sky, and even predicted made us want to
stand outside with our heads tilted back and tongues sticking out.
Years ago, when we were just visitors to this area, the first snow
here always seemed to fall before Thanksgiving. We spent many a happy
Turkey Day in the 1980s in a rented cabin with our friends the Coleys
and Christies, overeating and cross-country skiing in an area known
as Snowshoe Springs, sleeping in long rows of sleeping bags across the
floor of the cabin main room close to the stove.
The springs were named for Snowshoe Thompson. a pioneer mountain
mailman who carried the mail in from the west side of the Sierra
Nevada to the gold mining town of Bodie on the east slope of the
mountains. In winter he did it in "snowshoes," extra long wooden skis,
following the pioneer trail across the mountains. With a heavy pack on
his back he shuffled up the 75 miles slope from the San Joaquin Valley
across the crest and then skied down the Eastern slope, using a long
wooden pole for balance.
Tomorrow, snow willing, we will dig out our modern fiberglass skis and
boots and slide up and down the lane, playing around a while and then
heading for the General Store for a cup of coffee and bragging rights.
A member of our church in Murphys, an old gold mining center turned
chic resort, said something this morning about the forecast. It was
cold, sub-freezing above 5,000 feet, and she guessed correctly it
would start snowing without the bother of cold wet rain. (She's a park
ranger so she knows this stuff.)
And that's exactly what happened. My only regret is that our family
and friends who joined us for Thanksgiving missed it, heading home
early to beat the crowds.
By midday we drove back to the house and found a trickle of snow,
which later turned into a steady fall. It is pretty wet, but there was
no rain at all. Just a quiet only snow can bring, and everything
looked clean for the first time in months.
Granddaughter Delaney called late in the day to say she was watching
the snow fall from the Bay Area by computer, checking a web cam only
a few miles downhill from where we live.
The picture above was taken after about four hours, and the ground
and the cars are covered with about four inches, the trees are sticky
and beautiful, and the entire area around our place has been
transformed. Instead of dust and duff and oak leaves and pine straw,
and a million seeds from shattered pine cones, we have a pure carpet
of white in every direction. We expect over a foot by morning.
Fans of C.S. Lewis' "Tales of Narnia" have only to think about the
lamppost just behind the back of the wardrobe. That's it.
Snow brings quite. Beauty. Contemplation. An end to chores preparing
Snow brings thoughts of the snow shovels. Will the plow man show up?
Did I put enough wood for the stove near the house? Will the Subaru's
weak battery start the car in the morning if we have to go somewhere?
But we don't have to go anywhere, at least not for a few days, thanks
to a refrigerator full of leftovers.
So we plan to sit right here and look at the snow. Maybe go out and
walk the dog in it. She is old, Bear is, but she still likes the feel
of snow. This may be her last winter, and we want her to enjoy it. And
we will probably wipe off the old skis, and pretend to be Snowshoe
Thompson, searching for our own gold mine in the form of hot coffee.
We know we will get tired of snow eventually. But right now, it is as
if the earth had changed for the better. And we plan to enjoy it.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
(Ignore the date, as this was rescued from January 1, 2006)
Just back from a walk on the beach, my own celebration of New Year's morning.
The sun is out and the temperature is climbing. We expect 80 degrees today for the first time in weeks.
The stiff breezes of yesterday have died, and the Atlantic is calm as a lake. As I walked along the edge of the water in a teeshirt and shorts, occasionally dodging waves at my feet, I saw several sea turtles lazing just off shore. They pop their heads up, take a look, don't like what they see, and drop back out of site in a swirl.
Lots of sea gulls and pelicans diving on schools of fish just offshore.
I walk most of the way along the edge of the water so I can see and hear the shore birds skittering along the sand, eating whatever disgusting things they eat. They fit right in with the edge of the water, wherever it moves, and never cease searching.
The beach is pretty clean today, thanks to an offshore breeze for the past few days. The high tide line is marked only by small sea shells sparkling in the early sun.
Only a handful of people were out when I walked, mostly older folks like me, and an jogger now and then. A few lucky grandparents had their little grandchildren with them. There's not a more beautiful sight in the world than a three-year-old enjoying the beach. All the things we tend to avoid (sand, cold water and running full tilt) they do for the sheer joy of it.
No surfers today, so the beach was thinly occupied by a few old folks walking (OFWs), and and handful of others. Only two bikinis in sight at this hour in two miles of beach: one was a not-attractive man in his 50s wearing a disgustingly thin leopard-skin jock strap and reading a dirty magazine. Must be a European tourist.
More typical were condo balcony people. Scattered along this stretch of beach I could see and hear people out on the balconies, winding up breakfast, enjoying their coffee and watching for whales and porpoise. There are probably two dozen high rise condos on this stretch of beach, many of them time shares. Few units showed signs of life. Most were still covered with storm shutters.
It's a mixed blessing, but the fact that so few are here at any given time keeps the beach from being overwhelmed. But, then again, I don't walk in the afternoons anymore because there are so many big condos they block the sun off sections of the beach after 3 p.m.
So I did a bit of thinking.
2005 was not a great year, in my book, and I am glad to look forward to what 2006 brings.
Pat's father does not feel well and his health seems to be failing a bit every day. But then again, he has rallied many times before and he is only 91.
Pat and I are healthy, but miss our home and friends and family. Among our blessings are the way the neighbors here have welcomed us and made us feel as if we belong, at least for a while.
No resolutions, but I have some good intentions.
Eat less. Play more music. Walk more. Write more real letters (and less e-mails).
And try harder to make this world a better place for our children and grandchildren.
Looking at the ocean today I wondered if it will be the same for them when they come here in a few years. I fear the ocean might be walled off for the very rich, and as barren as a desert.
But then again, not if I can help it.
I miss all of you, friends and family, as I knock the sand off my shoes. We look forward to seeing you in 2006, and having time to plot the ways to save the world together.
May you be blessed in the year ahead,
We are home again after a trip down the mountain last week to help
celebrate grandson Connor's sixth birthday.
It was the usual happy and chaotic time. Daughter Ruth and her husband
Brian don't just host a Birthday party, she puts on an event. This
year it was a pirate theme,
They had 20 kids from 3 to 9 (and a few parents) digging for buried
treasure, walking the plank, and trying the "blow the man down." Oh
yes, and tattoos and bags of booty. (Grog for adults)
Several of the kids and parents came in costume, and of course even
the weather cooperated.
The next day we went to our boat at Alameda, took granddaughter Delaney with us,
and checked on everything and battened it down for a series of Pacific
storms due in over the next week or so.
The weather was not good enough to sail, so we headed home a
bit early, with a stop in Sacramento to see friends and at IKEA to
return some drapes, and of course we ended up buying furniture
(significant assembly required).
Damned, those Swedes are smart. They mass produce decent furniture and
everything is so precise even a multi-thumbed individual can assemble
almost anything. And it is wood, not paper byproduct. Only problem is
that I suffered a shopping injury: sliced the tip of my finger on the
crate, so (too bad) I couldn't do any heavy lifting for a few days.
Bandaid got in the way. (It does hamper my guitar/mandolin playing)
We've been indoors most of this week due to off-and-on rain, but still
have had time to to stack and move another cord of wood. I think we
are running out of storage space at this point. Then today the gas
company guys showed up to deliver a larger propane tank to make sure we get through the winter. We didn't actually order the tank, but they figured we wanted it and just showed up. That's the mountain way.
I think we are ready for the snow, whenever it comes. (The attached photo is uphill in June)
The deer are moving down from the high country now that cold rain/snow has started in the higher elevations. Two passed through our dirt lane the other day, and I am sure there were more we did not see. Most of the song birds have gone and one last pre-winter chore is to take down the hummingbird feeder. Sort of like the Republicans leaving Washington.
We are looking forward to a very big Thanksgiving week. Son Zack will be here from Washington state, though his daughter's other grandparents were in a serious wreck today and we aren't sure when he will show up. Maybe Monday. Ruth and Brian and children are coming Tuesday from the Bay Area. Our friends the house-sitters/sailors are coming Wednesday with their son from Berkeley and with their 70-something Canadian sailor friend Don (he built their boat and sailed it all over the world for 25 years) who is trying to single-hand his current boat into Australia in time to catch a plane to join us all. We read his emails from the middle of a gale in the ocean. I am glad I am not there.
We may have an even dozen people here, so we will celebrate and eat and drink and make music.
That sounds like a real Thanksgiving.
We have much to be thankful for, and friends and family top the list.