Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for September, 2011

Help Feed Another

From The Hunger Site

Local Food Goes Farther

What if you could help end hunger in the United States simply by standing up and being counted? Sign the petition to build support for local food, like the kind found at your neighborhood farmer’s market, and you will be doing exactly that. Local food is healthier, encourages environmental stewardship, and–perhaps most important to ending hunger–creates jobs. Governmental support for local-food-system programs has the potential to create thousands of jobs in communities around the country, thereby boosting the grocery budgets in a lot of food insecure households. Learn more and sign today!

Support Sustainable Agriculture in Africa

The worst drought in 60 years and subsequent famine in the Horn of Africa calls attention to the area’s dependence on “rain-fed” agriculture; when the rain fails to fall, it endangers not only crops, but lives and livelihoods…fields go dry and all suffer. Please watch this video to see how our partner Millennium Promise is working to find sustainable solutions in Africa.

2 Suns 1 Planet

Not Just Science Fiction: Planet orbits 2 suns
From Associated Press.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California (AP) — Astronomers say a bit of science fiction is now reality. They’ve spotted a planet orbiting two suns.

The discovery was made by NASA’s planet-hunting telescope Kepler. Scientists describe the find in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

They are calling the new planet Tatooine after the fictional body in the “Star Wars” films that boasts a double sunset.

The alien world, about the size of Saturn, is frigid and inhospitable. It orbits two stars 200 light-years from Earth.

Though there have been past hints of the existence of other planets that circled double stars, scientists said this is the first confirmation.

Kepler was launched in 2009 to find out how common other planets — especially Earth-like planets — are in the universe.

Read more at Yahoo News.

Facebook and Hate Speech

From Change.org

Dear Gabriel,

Facebook says that hate speech and incitements to violence are banned and will be removed from their site. So why are they maintaining a page called “Riding Your Girlfriend Softly Cause You Don’t Want to Wake Her Up”? And another page about “throwing bricks at sluts” that includes a photo gallery of portraits asking “Bang or Brick”?

There has even been an organized effort to use Facebook’s own reporting system to flag these and other pages that encourage rape and violence against women so they’ll be taken down. But Facebook hasn’t done a thing.

Now, Change.org member John Raines is going straight to the top. He started a petition on Change.org telling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to take down these pages and take a stronger stand against violence against women.

Will you sign John’s petition to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg? Sign on, and tell Facebook to remove pages promoting rape and violence against women now.

When 1 in 3 American women will be sexually abused and/or assaulted in her lifetime, pages like these — and the reactions they elicit — are downright scary. Tens of thousands of people have “liked” these pages. Some people even use them as platforms to share rape fantasies and receive explicit tactics for how to carry them out.

John has seen the devastating impact of sexual violence and rape firsthand, on his own family. That’s why he created this petition on Change.org to get Facebook to enforce its existing policies and to make it clear that content promoting rape and violence against women violates Facebook’s Terms of Service and won’t be tolerated.

Please sign John’s petition. Tell Facebook to stop providing a platform to promote rape and violence against women.

Thanks for being a change-maker,

– Shelby and the Change.org team

Never Forget

I will never forget you, to the end of my life

Dear Gabriel,

First they beat my head with steel rods, and I nearly died.

They arrested me. Fined me. Harassed me. Charged me with absurd and inconceivable accusations.

My editor-in-chief, Elmar Huseynov, was assassinated.

I am a journalist who challenged my government, and paid a terrible price for it. Four years of my life were stolen.

In prison, I was between life and death. Life in a torture chamber became pointless, ceased its normal rhythms. Violence obliterated all signs of vitality.

On May 26 of this year, I regained my cherished liberty. I am absolutely confident that it was the tireless campaigning of Amnesty supporters like you that enabled me to return to my life.

For me, notions of Amnesty and good are identical. I am saved, but there are still people who must be rescued. They are expecting your help.

Please bring good to this world. Make a donation to Amnesty.

Just when it seemed everybody had forgotten me, unexpectedly I received hundreds of postcards from Amnesty USA. I was full of joy because I understood that such an influential organization was supporting me. I had not been forgotten.

I was greatly surprised at postcards from children. Three-, four- and five-year-old children sent me pictures made by them personally. It was so touching and tender.

These children are sure to fight for human rights and justice. No one can take that consciousness away from them.

I am grateful to you. You have saved my family from death, and I’ll never forget you to the end of my life. It is my mission to serve the ideals advocated by Amnesty International every hour, every day, every year.

Please join me.

Yours respectfully,
Eynulla Fatullayev
JOURNALIST, FORMER PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE, AZERBAIJAN

This Is Us

From The New York Journal of Books

This Is Us: The New All-American Family
by David Marin
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

“It was no mystery why California had 98,000 children stuck in foster care. There were not 98,003 because I was stubborn.” Thus proclaims the proud single father David Marin, who adopted three young siblings and lived to tell about it. Not only do he and his children survive, but they also thrive.

If This Is Us: The New All-American Family were simply another ill-fated personal memoir about someone who believes his or her life story is worth sharing but has no storytelling chops to make the read worthwhile, it would have gone quickly to the bottom of the “to read” pile or been dumped in the recycling bin.

Lucky for us all that Mr. Marin has not only withstood the tribulations of parenthood, racism, and ignorance, but also is a fantastic writer who knows how to tell a tale that is equal parts heartbreaking, confusing, honest, and inspiring. This guy can write.

Here are some examples of his adept use of metaphor. “There were small mammals with more parenting experience than me.” And, “I wanted to help them before their pain metastasized, like mine, from memory to rebellion, permanently roosted in their psyches like the beaked shadow of a dark-winged bird.”

This is the story of a single professional man who gets fired for going to adoption classes (and later wins a lawsuit against the company that did so), learns about the frustrating and mind-boggling social service system in California, and proceeds to fall in love with three young children who have been through the ringer.

In spite of his own perceived inadequacies as a new parent who continually steps in one mess after another, he learns the ropes. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, it is the inadequate and inept social services system that presents the greatest obstacles—not the biological mother nor the trauma the children have experienced that reflects in their behavior making them impossible to place in a foster home for any length of time.

Frustrations with county classes moved, postponed, or canceled altogether; court dates changed again and again; a distant relative coming out of the closet at the last minute; or prejudice from some county social worker with a chip on her shoulder about a single father adopting children of an apparent different race—all are grist for the mill in Mr. Marin’s winding road to final adoption.

At one point, while thinking of his own father, he says, “He was the Hispanic father of pale kids. I was the pale father of Hispanic kids. We were a human anagram.”

There is a telling moment in this story when the author is finally made privy to his children’s records and he sees what has (or hasn’t) been done to protect them and/or support their adoption. He says, “My Kafka transition from an observer on the wall to a fighter on the floor took just a few moments—I would protect my kids, not with Social Services, but from them.”

Read the rest of the review at The New York Journal of Books.

The Zen of Teaching

The Buddha in the Classroom: Zen Wisdom To Inspire Teachers by Donna Quesada (Skyhorse Publishing, 2011). Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Shared in three insightful and instructive sections (The Burned-out Professor; The Classroom; and Philosophizing Burnout) The Buddha In The Classroom provides situations, discussions and examples of how easy it is for teachers to become “the other” and see their students as “problems, situations, annoyances, complaining, disruptive and disrespectful”, especially when the instructor is caught in their own routines, ego and need to “control” or “teach them a lesson”.

Every instance of conflict, frustration or anger that is presented, is followed by a section called “Dharma: The Lesson for Teachers”. Dharma simply means teaching or “the teaching”. This is where the author brings in her experiences and conversations she’s had as a practitioner of Zen-Buddhism and yoga and how they can be applied to the classroom. For example, after a section on discipline and a student that has acted out, she says, “As any mother knows, even in the context of one small family, each child has her own character with her own unique needs.” It is no different in the classroom. Nothing can be set in stone for every individual. Connection, understanding and paying attention to our perceptions can change night into day.

Some may ask, how is Zen-Buddhism or meditation in the classroom, any different from other aspects of life. It’s not. The same principles and practices Ms. Quesada advocates for teachers can be applied in any situation and at any time. She states, “I used to tell my students: if I had to sum up Buddhism in just one statement, I would call it the discipline of letting go. Letting go of what? The ego. The self. The idea of self, and the cloak of separateness the ego-self wears.” The practice of letting go of one’s perceptions of self and others is never more apparent or magnified than it is in the classroom. That is what makes this book different than other titles, which proclaim, “Zen in Art; Zen and Writing, The Zen of Running, etc.” The author speaks from experience and shows how she applies mindfulness and consistency to the way she deals with grades, tardiness, disruptions, tests and other familiar issues that teachers confront daily. It isn’t fairy-airy ideology or philosophy that is proposed, but down-to-earth mindfulness and consistent work on our selves.

Ironically or perhaps not, the author teaches philosophy at a community college in Santa Monica California. Teachers and other readers will find however, that the Zen lesson plan presented contextually as a work of non-fiction, is equally valuable for teachers and students at all grade levels. She has found that the most effective learning and connections take place when we realize that, “There has never been anything else but the present moment, yet we continue to reside in the fictional world of the past and the whimsical fantasies of the future. We never give the same lecture twice. We are not the same teachers we were last year or even yesterday.” She says that bringing the practice of mindfulness or awareness to the moment and letting go of our ego helps us get clear and enables us to turn our attention wholeheartedly to the students. When we do this “there is a magical shift that occurs with this simple shift of attention.”

Not only is The Buddha In The Classroom something that can be utilized in its entirety, by sections or a few pages at a time, it is also easy on the eyes and deftly designed by LeAnna Weller Smith. It is a cross between a hardcover/paperback and in some ways resembles a small Christian Bible. It doesn’t matter whether you are religious, spiritual or meditate; if you are a teacher of 20 years or just starting out, you will surely find some pertinent gems of wisdom in this small collection, with which you can resonate and put into practice (in and out of the classroom).

Cadbury Chocolate History

Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between The World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury (PublicAffairs, 2010). Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

This is a rich and delicious expose about the chocolate industry, which includes a number of insights an unexpected surprises. Most people do not realize that the first large chocolate companies in the world, were started in 19th century England by three religious families – the Frys, Rowntrees and Cadburys. Cadbury is the most well-known of the three and the author is a descendent. Richard Tapper Cadbury’s sons created a cocoa company that rivaled that of their European competition of Lindt and Nestle. What is most remarkable and the thread that runs throughout this story, are the passionately held ethics and concerns these Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) held for running their business, treating their employees and helping their communities.

Unlike present multi-nationals, of which Cadbury has fallen prey (to Kraft in 2009), these pioneers in the British chocolate and confectioners business believed how they did business was as, if not more important, than the business they did. They took their religious faith seriously and looked for ways to educate the illiterate, stop slavery and provide a healthy and advantages environment for all their employees, as well as others in their country. The families, boards and associations which made up the Fry, Rowntree and Cadbury companies, held themselves and those who worked for them, to strict codes that included never incurring a debt they couldn’t pay or treating anyone as less than another.

The author of Chocolate Wars has vigorously researched the families and companies histories, including those of the Cadbury’s rivals, Nestle, Lindt, Mars and Hershey; as well as more recent takeovers and insights into Kraft and other present day conglomerates. She brings a sense of humanity to everyone involved in the story and provides glimpses of each as individuals who lived with their private joys, sorrows, disappointments, hopes, tragedies and dreams. Nobody is painted with broad brushes of “all good” or “all evil”, though the issues they faced are clearly presented and laid bare before readers’ eyes.

This is not a simple genealogical story about the author’s family or a dry history of the chocolate industry in Europe and America and its globalization. It is an intricate, complex and meaningful exploration of how difficult it is to enact one’s personal ethics, beliefs and morals into business and the greater society as a whole. Ms. Cadbury is essentially asking us to take a look at how we conduct ourselves and whether our actions match our rhetoric and beliefs. Though it is extremely difficult, there are some who were indeed able to do both and they did so for almost two centuries.

Much has changed in the last 20 years, but perhaps the same ideals and ethics held by Richard Tapper Cadbury and his sons, can still be put into practice in today’s familial, political and business institutions, in spite of or instead of, the constant drive for power, money and control. They are simple beliefs of honesty, integrity, transparency and everyone’s best interests, not just the few. Are those who work in the cocoa factories and fields and make the delicious chocolate confections we all love, treated fairly, humanely and with the same care as those who run the companies under which brands they now labor? Are we, as consumers, producers and shareholders, holding these companies accountable for providing a decent wage, health care and safe environmental conditions? By her book’s example and that of her ancestors, the author of Chocolate Wars would undoubtedly say, if we aren’t, we should be.

Letter From Joan Baez

We need Amnesty, and Amnesty needs us.

Dear Gabriel,

All my life I’ve felt humbled in the face of the suffering of others. It is only that I, by accident of birth, was born in the right place at the right time, and that someone else, not me, huddles in a prison cell, is tortured, and faces the unbearable consequences of having been born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, as the legendary Phil Ochs song says, there but for fortune, go you or I.

Happily for me, I discovered early on that, in the words of Swedish Ambassador Harald Edelstam, “I cannot tolerate injustice.” This inability to tolerate injustice has brought me to the roots of human misery, called me to engage in the fight for the rights, freedoms, and the dignity of others. And in so doing, has helped me to maintain my own dignity.

In 1972 I was inspired to devote a year of my life to helping Amnesty launch its first US office on the west coast, and years later, when the organization had grown to worldwide proportions, to perform in both its A Conspiracy of Hope and Human Rights Now! tours.

Today I stand with Amnesty and their Death Penalty Abolition Campaign to fight for the life of Troy Davis, who within weeks could be executed for a crime he may not have committed. There remain serious doubts of his guilt. His death sentence defies all logic and morality.

In matters of life and death, there is no room for doubt.

With their death penalty campaign work, Amnesty has long been a leader in the struggle to abolish the death penalty in every corner of the world.

Throughout the month of September, generous donors are matching all gifts. Please donate today.

It used to be that human rights abuses weren’t on anyone’s agenda. Today, when human rights prevail, it happens thanks to organizations like Amnesty.

Amnesty has grown into the most powerful human rights movement in history, winning freedom for tens of thousands of individuals jailed for expressing their beliefs, shutting down torture chambers and halting executions.

At the heart of these human rights victories is the dedicated Amnesty member who stuffs envelopes, signs petitions, is visible at marches and rallies, recruits friends, tweets, and supports Amnesty with financial contributions.

I have a special place in my heart for Amnesty. I hope that you do, too. We need Amnesty, and Amnesty needs us. Please make your donation today.

Very truly yours,
Joan Baez
MUSICIAN, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST

Multi-religious University

Religious leaders launch new multi-religious university in Claremont
Sept. 6, 2011 | Corey Moore | KPCC

Leading clergy from the Southland and beyond have launched a graduate-level institution that will emphasize Jewish, Muslim and Christian theology.

The clergy are hailing the new Claremont Lincoln University as the first multi-religious educational program of its kind.

During an event Tuesday South African ambassador Ebrahim Rasool said the university will help establish a new generation of theologians and clerics.

The goal is, “Connecting citizens with the overarching purposes which are divine, in order to create a world that is more sustainable, that is socially just, that is at peace with itself and that is able to overcome many of the challenges through compassion,” he said.

Students, leaders and speakers – representing the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths – noted that the opening of the university coincides with the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Some of them said the launch underscores the need for better ways to educate religious leaders.

Faculty member Najeeba Syeed-Miller said the new program at Claremont resonates with her.

“For me, engaging in this project is not despite my Muslim identity, it’s because I’m a Muslim that I seek out to have a conversation with people of other faiths and traditions,” she said.

The school’s effort to become a more interfaith institution has met with some resistance. The United Methodist Church – long associated with Claremont – last year reportedly railed against the move.

Since then, school officials have pushed ahead to launch a university that will house three programs. They include the existing course of study for Christian pastors-in-training, another for rabbis, and a third for imams.

Third-year divinity student Vera Alice Bagneris said she’s grateful to participate in the new curriculum.

“So we’re coming together in a table of dialogue where each gets to wear their own clothing. So the Christian gets to be Christian. And the Jew gets to be Jew,” she said.

The namesakes of Claremont Lincoln are trustee David Lincoln and his wife, Joan. They donated $50 million to help establish the program. The new university is part of the century-old Claremont School of Theology. The school enrolls more than 300 students in masters and doctoral programs in religion and counseling.

Rwanda, Education & USA

From ROP Stories.

ROP Joins with Top American University. Posted on September 2, 2011 by Jenny Clover.

The Rwandan Orphans Project is pleased to announce a new collaboration with a top American university!

We have built links with the Rwanda Office of Tulane University and they have kindly loaned us Masters student Jonathan LaMare for three months.

Jonathan, 32, is a student on Tulane’s Master of Social Work programme at the university in New Orleans and as part of his certificate in Global Social Work he is joining the ROP from August until November. Originally from Plattsburgh, New York, Jonathan moved to New Orleans last year and has been working at the New Orleans AIDS Task Force doing HIV testing and counselling and working with chronically homeless populations.

Jonathan said: “I am excited to be in Rwanda and working with such a great organisation. I look forward to working with Elisabeth and the children and am grateful to ROP and Tulane for this amazing opportunity. I am certain we have much to learn from each other!”

Jonathan has already started his work with the ROP and is working closely with Elisabeth, the ROP’s newly employed social worker, helping her to build a solid programme to ensure our children receive the emotional care they need. Elisabeth is a recent graduate in clinical psychology from the National University of Rwanda and began working with us in July. Elisabeth is a busy woman because there are many important parts to her job:

o Counselling our children
o Building a comprehensive record keeping system
o Helping to rebuild relationships between our boys and what families they may have with a view to eventually reintegrating them
o Preparing older boys who are due to graduate for life outside
o Giving classes on life skills, such as money management, sexual health and gender equality.

Read entire story at ROP Stories. Please visit the Rwandan Orphans Project and see how you can help.

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