Friday, September 28, 2007

Lake bed desert

Rob and I took a walk yesterday on the breezeway that skirts Lake Brandt. We turned down a side path and ended up at a dried, cracked lake bed. As far as the eye could see were grazing Canadian geese, heads down, taking advantage of the newly exposed bugs and worms. A small puddle persisted close to the edge, with thousands of mosquitoes distorting the water's surface.

The scene was simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. The geese looked like miniature wildebeest roaming an impoverished Serengeti.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hope in Haiti

I'm a bit of a cynic... and perhaps a little pessimistic, so it's always nice to be reminded of all the good people in the world. Jack Reynolds, a Greensborian and father of Christian Reynolds (chef and owner of Solaris), is the president of Theo's Work, an orphanage and school in Haiti. Jack and all the folks at Theo's Work stand as a great reminder of what goodness can look like.

A video about Pwoje Espwa, or Project Hope:

You can also read the blog of Father Marc, the on-site director (though that may not be his proper title) here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rev. Yearwood tackled and injured

Apparently, the penalty for using your Constitutional rights is a broken ankle these days. On September 10, the Rev went to hear Petraeus's statement - you can see the rest:

Now his very sane statement - be sure to watch to the end - it's the most important part:

A law we can all be proud of

At a time when finding fault in our government is all too easy, it’s refreshing to note that our local government has passed legislation in the spirit of social justice.

In April, House Bill 291 passed the North Carolina House of Representatives unanimously. The bill was then approved by the state Senate in July. On August 31st, Governor Mike Easley signed the bill into law, making North Carolina the 20th state to commit to divestment from companies that support Darfurian genocide.

By now, few people are unaware of the atrocities taking place in Sudan. It is estimated that at least 450,000 people have been killed and more than two million have been displaced to date. Murder, rape and the dismantling of an entire group of people are hidden within those massive statistics.

If you’re anything like me, though, understanding the concept of divestment is as daunting as trying to read an x-ray. For help untangling the financial jargon, I turned to my go-to woman for all things investment, Kim Lutes, a financial consultant at AG Edwards in High Point. With her translation, the details of this bill became wonderfully clear.

Though the U.S. enacted sanctions prohibiting trade with Sudan back in 1997, Americans have been funding the genocide through investments in companies that do business with the Sudanese government, which openly funds the militias terrorizing the Darfur region. HB 291 opens the door for the state to ensure that the pension funds managed for its employees – including teachers, firefighters, National Guardsmen and so on – aren’t indirectly providing arms or other support for Janjaweed militias.

The real beauty of this bill lies between the lines of its dense language. There, the legislatures acknowledge three key points: 1) It is North Carolina’s responsibility to care for the people who spend their careers caring for us, the citizens; 2) That North Carolina must take ethical concerns into account when investing on behalf of its employees; and 3) That, even without involving ethics, market data has shown that companies with terrorist ties are simply not profitable investments.

The method of executing HB 291 will be a slow process, during which companies will be identified, investigated and given an opportunity to end their ties to the Sudanese government before monies are withdrawn. Though seemingly tedious, the process allows the North Carolina government to send a very clear message to the companies involved about why the divestment is happening, making this a one-two punch of taking a public moral stand, then depriving the militias of some of their funding. Moreover, the bill is structured such that the North Carolinians whose money is involved are guaranteed to see miniscule, if any, drop in the value of their pension funds.

Even more than the direct impact HB 291 could have, the bill also sets a valuable example for all North Carolinas. In our capitalistic democracy, each dollar we spend is a vote, and the simple truth is that when we allow our money to find its way into the pockets of groups like the Janjaweed, we are voting for genocide.

Ignorance is not an excuse. Call your financial consultant and ask where your money is going. Explore online resources like the Sudan Divestment Task Force and the American Jewish World Service. Take advantage of funds sources that that focus on ethical investing. Follow the worthy example of the men and women of our General Assembly in committing your hard-earned money to social justice; it makes for better investments and a better world.

Wal-Mart's step in the right direction

One of the reasons I decided to stop shopping at Wal-Mart a few years ago (except for when it's unavoidable - in Madison, where I work part of the week, the only real alternative to Wal-Mart is K-Mart unless I'm looking for fertilizer or high-end clothes) was because their low pay and lack of health coverage meant that tons of their employees were using state assistance to make ends meet - meaning that we, the people, were supporting Wal-Mart's oh-so-low prices with our tax dollars.

And though I still have no intention of running out to follow the bouncing smiling face to dropping prices, I do have to give them credit when it's due. Apparently, their newly overhauled health plan will not only present 50 customizable options that should make it more accessible for their employees, but they've included some innovative twists, like eliminating hospital deductibles and offering $4 prescriptions for 2,400 generic meds (1,000 more than its customers are offered at that price).

As the NY Times article says, no one has seen the fine print yet, and there are still barriers to getting all, or perhaps even most, employees covered, but I'll take baby steps in the hopes that they lead to giant leaps down the road.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One Guilford Leadership Symposium

I was bummed to miss this last year and have a potential conflict this year... we shall see...

One Guilford: A Leadership Symposium

Hosted by Guilford College
Sponsored by the News & Record

Wednesday, October 17th – 9:00 am to 12:00 pm

One Guilford Leadership Symposium Scheduled for Oct. 17

Guilford College hosts One Guilford: A Leadership Symposium, the second in a planned series of community leadership symposiums sponsored by the News & Record, on Wednesday, October 17th.

The symposium is meant “to bring together community leaders and motivated citizens for constructive dialogues on the key issues pointing to a bright future for Guilford County,” said News & Record Editorial Page Editor Allen Johnson.

The October symposium focuses on the local economy and education.

The symposium – free and open to the public - is 9:00 am to noon at Dana Auditorium on the Guilford College campus.

After a welcoming by Guilford College President Dr. Kent Chabotar, and an overview of the Guilford County Strategic Alliance by Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul Gibson, four visions of the county’s future will be presented. Attendees will then break into smaller discussion groups moderated by leaders from the community.

Topics and presenters are:

  • Aerotropolis – creating a global economy based on aviation, manufacturing, transportation and logistics around Piedmont Triad International Airport. Presenting is Donald A. Kirkman, President and CEO, Piedmont Triad Partnership.
  • Furniture Capital – the economic impact of the High Point Market and potential for High Point’s development as the intellectual and creative center of the worldwide furniture industry, led by Dr. Andrew C. Brod, Director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNC-Greensboro.
  • Millennium Campus – What collaborative efforts between N.C. A&T State University and UNC-Greensboro mean for the future of Guilford County. Dr. Stanley F. Battle, Chancellor, N.C. A&T State University, will present.
  • Opportunity Preparedness – What it will take to educate Guilford County’s young people to meet challenges and reap rewards in the future One Guilford, by Amos Quick, Vice Chairman, Guilford County Board of Education.

After the discussions, the groups will join together to discuss conclusions in a final session led by Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College.

The first One Guilford was held May 16th at High Point University, was attended by more than 220 community leaders and citizens.

Mayoral forum

I really made an effort to go into today's mayoral forum, held by the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad, with an open mind. Of course, I already have opinions of both candidates, Milton Kern and Yvonne Johnson, but having never heard either of them speak, I wanted to give them both a chance to wow me.

And they did, though perhaps not in quite the way one candidate had hoped.

Johnson has been in politics for a while now and boy howdy does it show. Her opening remarks were thought out, not too packed with politicking but also clearly aware that her job there was to promote herself.

Kern, on the other hand, spent a good chunk of his opening 90 seconds rambling on about YouTube - a disclaimer of sorts, pointing out that his daughter was taking pictures and might just post them. The underlying message: don't come crying to me if you see you picture online. Uh, okey-doke.

The trend continued. In fact, I didn't really feel like I could adequately compare the positions of each candidate because Kern was so unprepared. He passed on questions about the Truth and Reconciliation Project and the budget because he hasn't read either yet. He also opted for a one word answer to a question about implementing a police review board - the answer, by the way, was no. Alternately, Johnson agreed that a police review board wasn't her preferred route, but she backed up her "no" by citing studies that show police review boards are less productive than human rights commissions, though the two can address the same issues. According to Johnson, the more combative atmosphere of police review boards often end in officers pleading the fifth, while human rights commissions have a tendency to foster actual communication.

Beyond the details of their platform disagreements (when Kern's was developed enough for comparison), I walked away from today's discussion with a little more insight about the people and the race:
  1. Both candidates are being chivalrous about the whole thing, which I truly appreciate. Mud slinging is never pretty or productive, nor does it reflect any better on the slinger than the slingee.
  2. Both candidates truly love Greensboro.
  3. Kern repeatedly talked about bringing opponents together to shake things out, and emphasized that he is aggressive and thinks the city council should be more so.
  4. Johnson repeatedly approached issues in a nurturing light, and emphasized her love of Greensboro and the people therein.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The president or the people

It seems that America isn't the only place where the president isn't necessarily representative of the people. Oddly enough, it seems that we are joined in that category by our arch nemesis, Iran, where the hottest new tv show is the Iranian mini-series version of Schindler's List.

[The show] that tells the tale of an Iranian diplomat in Paris who helps Jews escape the Holocaust ...

That's surprising enough in a country where hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has questioned whether the Holocaust even took place. What's more surprising is that government media produced the series, and is airing it on state-run television.

Yet the series titled "Zero Degree Turn" is clearly sympathetic to the Jews' plight during World War II. It shows men, women and children with yellow stars on their clothes being taken forcibly out of their homes and loaded into trucks by Nazi soldiers.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

He said it first...

I just want to quickly agree with Kevin Morris who said, in the News & Record piece about his refusal to pay $2,300 in parking tickets that he accrued through his very own actions, that he does, in fact, look like an asshole who doesn't want to pay his tickets. He said it first.

So, thank you, Kevin, for embodying the self-involved greed that the rest of the world believes defines America. Your willingness to set a precedent that could potentially prevent Greensboro from collecting $2 million a year in fine revenues shows that the rest of the world's beliefs are truly founded. I hope you feel good about the services you'll be preventing the city from providing because the collections people hurt your feelings. Seriously, dude, stop being such a pansy (really not the word I want to use) and pay your tickets.

Imitations of activism

For a while now, I've been looking for my place in the antiwar movement, but have found disillusionment around every corner. First, it was the fringe politics - the rallies supposedly about peace but with speakers on every topic from communism to saving gay baby seals of color. Just for the record, I don't care if people choose to be communists (though I don't see the benefits) and I'm all for protecting the civil rights of disadvantaged wildlife, but a peace rally just isn't the place. Then there was the issue of being disorganized - tons of disparate groups all over the place, marching blissfully to their own drummer without any sort of recognition that such marching is a warm-fuzzy, but far from productive. Again, I'm all for people expressing themselves as individuals, but not at the expense of the American military dying overseas and the many Iraqis they're taking with them. And finally, my personal favorites, the love of getting arrested for its own sake and a seeming willingness to bend the truth just as much as those perpetuating the war.

As though to prove my point on that one: the march in Washington yesterday. According to the article run in our own News & Record, there were thousands of protesters. According to the ANSWER Coalition, there were nearly 100,000. My guess is that, as with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Moral high ground, anyone? It would be fast travels because the road is completely empty at this point.

Prior to the march, the ANSWER Coalition asked people to volunteer for a die-in to symbolize the military men and women killed so far, warning that arrest could result. Fair enough - arrest is an acceptable consequence of civil disobedience as MLK, Jr., and his followers proved. But in and of itself, it's not a useful tool - it is only impactful if it sends a message, if the disobedience is in defiance to an unconstitutional law. But it seems that some of those who agreed to risk arrest yesterday were bound and determined to get their finger-printed bragging rights, no matter the police reaction to the planned die-in. Again, according to the N&R, the die-in went off with nary a handcuff, so some protesters climbed the police barrier onto the steps of the Capital Building. Alternately, the ANSWER Coalition said protesters, "were arrested when they tried to deliver their anti-war message to Congress," a statement that confuses me a little. I mean, wasn't the march and the die-in supposed to be the message? And which member of Congress are in their office on a Saturday afternoon?

The newsletter goes on to say, "Police pepper-sprayed demonstrators without provocation." So, climbing police barriers wouldn't be considered provocation?

I'm nitpicking, but the big-picture question remains: what did they achieve yesterday?

This morning, I finished reading Waging Peace: The Art of wear for the antiwar movement by Scott Ritter. It was refreshing to see my concerns detailed by someone who knows way more about the movement than I do, and to see strategies for turning this hodge-podge, exclusive (by which I mean that tons of people are like me and don't feel comfortable participating as the movement currently stands) into a movement that could be truly impactful. Ritter talks about the distractions of fringe politics and the lack of organization that allows thousands of people (even it was significantly fewer than the 100,000 ANSWER reported) to come together without making any real forward movement.

Ritter suggests that the answer is organization: an oversight organization that sets the strategic goals and creates a common vocabulary and approach so that an activist in North Carolina could go to Arizona and jump right into the action, and so that each rally and action contributes to the overall goal, rather than being the masturbatory afternoons in the streets they currently are.

Even as I read Ritter's strategy, I could imagine the response of some of the local activists I have met - total, outright rejection. I can't help but wonder: are they so deluded that they believe what they are doing is actually making a difference? Or is it that they are more married to the fight than the goal? Or perhaps they just don't know there's a better way to go about it... I wish I knew...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Blog hiatus

I didn't actually intend to take a blog hiatus... I have a half-dozen reasons why my blog has laid mostly fallow for the last three weeks or so, but since they're not even interesting to me, I won't bore you with them. I can only hope that my inactivity hasn't annoyed you into deleting my bookmark.

Since my last actual post (I don't consider copying and pasting my column to be real posting):
  • My first issue of Shalom Greensboro came out and looks beautiful, for which I have taken a lot of credit that rightly belongs to my advertising manager, Dianne Hines, and my graphic design person, Kory Burgess.
  • I heard Ruth Messinger, the president of the American Jewish World Service, speak and was inspired by her ability to see the worst travesties on earth and still be able to say, "All I see everyday is individuals making positive change in their communities."
  • Went back to my dentist, Dr. Margaret Szott, for the first time in a couple of years and was reminded what really great patient care and customer service looks like... and that I have acidic, cavity-causing saliva...
  • I participated in Farmers Appreciation Day at the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market, a wonderful community event organized by Donna Myers of EpiCourier Online Magazine
  • And, last night, went to the hilarious taping of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me, at Wake Forest University. Chris Paul, a Winston-Salem native and NBA star, was the special guest and proved that even young, rich athletes can be amazing, giving human beings.
It's been a stressful, amazing, packed few weeks, but I missed you and will try to be a more consistent blogger. Thanks for sticking with me... if you did...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Local farmers help me connect to earth and sky

Back when we were students there, my friends and I knew where all of the best puddles were at Page High School. Even at the height of coolness, there was no amount of posturing that could keep us from spending pre- and post-school hours soaking ourselves by jumping into their depths. As my puddle-splashing impulses morphed into a desire to stay comfy and dry (at least on most rainy days) rain became for me what it is to many Americans: a nuisance, something to run through on the way to something important, a gloom in the air that becomes an excuse for any turn in mood.

Looking back, I can now see that as one consequence of our food system. When food comes from thousands of miles away, when produce is picked for its eye-pleasing symmetry and uniformity, when meats are butchered beyond any resemblance to the animal they once were and shrink-wrapped like plastic action figures, it’s easy to forget that our core ingredients – fruits, vegetables, meats and grains – are the result of the magical convergence of soil, its nutrients and that wedding day blessing, rain.

Spending time at the farmers’ market acts as not only a great reminder of the origins of food, it also demonstrates the final essential element: the touch of a diligent farmer. Behind the tables covered in produce grown in our figurative backyards are women and men with calloused, dirt-tinted hands. These are the very farmers who pour their own sweat into the fields, sometimes in concert with the rain and sometimes, like this year, in rain’s stead.

Brian Gann, a third generation farmer in McLeansville, said his farm has seen only three-tenths of an inch of rain in the last three weeks. With so little cumulus assistance, Brian, like many area farmers, has had to rely on irrigation, a costly endeavor that puts him in the unfortunate position of choosing between slimming already narrow profit margins or raising prices. “We have a lot of old timer customers from back in my dad’s day,” Brian said during a conversation at the market this past Saturday. “I hate to raise the prices because I know a lot of them live on a fixed income.”

Despite preludes from developers, Brian, also like many area farmers, is choosing to diversify his offerings rather than abandoning his farming roots. By focusing on low-water and –labor crops, like mushrooms, and selling top-quality hand-crafted goods like homemade apple pie and an absolutely irresistible, but limited production, cheddar cheese, he’s able to fill out tables already covered in produce from eggplant to pole beans. In an amazing defiance of the 24 hour day, Brian also finds time, with the help of his mom and brother who share the work load at the family farm, to run a full-service landscaping business, Gann’s Lawn Management.

When I woke up this morning, the sky was grey and the trees were swaying in a strong breeze. After several years of buying food from the people who grow it, and hearing the stories of all they do so that their customers can have those beautiful Japanese eggplants and heirloom tomatoes in every hue from translucent green to deep purple, grey skies no longer look like a prelude to Seasonal Affective Disorder to me. Instead, they look like the prelude to delicious meals and the key ingredient to supporting the livelihoods of people who I have come to deeply respect for their dedication to the land and care of their customers.