Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I Was a Stranger

"What do we want the church to do? We ask for its presence with us, beside us, as Christ among us. We ask the church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice and for love of brother and sister. We don't ask for words. We ask for deeds. We don't ask for paternalism. We ask for servanthood." 
- César Chávez
In continuing my theme of social justice, I've been focusing on the United States before I move on to the rest of the world.  No discussion of injustice would be complete without including migrant workers.

I live in an area that depends heavily upon migrant work.  This is tobacco country which means there is a great need for farmworkers.  By law, tobacco farmers must advertise farmworker jobs to Americans before hiring foreign workers (usually from Mexico).  However, the reality is that Americans in our area do not want those jobs.  A neighboring farmer has told us that the few times he has hired local workers, they don't return after one day of work.  If he does not make arrangements for migrant workers but depends upon getting his employees locally, he would lose his crop, which he depends upon for his livelihood.  Thus, although farmers comply with the law by advertising for seasonal workers in the local newspapers, they all expect their crop to be harvested by foreign workers.

In a Google search, I found a list of statistics on the website of the Geneseo Migrant Center in New York, an organization that provides a variety of health care and educational opportunities to migrant workers.  Reading through the statistics, I reflected on the animosity I sometimes hear people express towards local migrant workers, people who feel that immigrants are taking jobs and opportunities away from citizens.  Here's a few facts I learned:

  • 81% of all farmworkers are foreign born; 77% were born in Mexico
  • 80% leave their families behind when they seek work
  • 12% earn less than minimum wage
  • 50% earn less than $7,500 per year (farmworker families earn less than $11,000)
  • Many farmworkers are not paid in bad weather; when waiting for crops to ripen; when they are sick; when traveling to another job
  • Only about 50% of farmworkers' children graduate high school due to constant traveling to follow the seasonal crops
  • Due to the hard physical labor, dangerous equipment, and exposure to chemicals, farm work is one of the most hazardous jobs (Source)
Children often work in the fields with their parents.  The National Center for Farmworker Health reports that between 300,000 and 800,000 children work on farms across the United States.  As many of these children are working illegally and due to the transitory nature of the work, statistics on the exact number are difficult to come by, but at least 6% of farmworkers are children between the ages of 14 and 17.  Children younger than 12 have been observed working in fields but there are no statistics available on the under 14 age group.  Farm work is extremely dangerous for children, causing a wide variety of health problems and sometimes even death.  For more information on child farmworkers, go here.  Below is a brief video summarizing what life is like for migrant children:
Being a Bible belt resident (and a Quaker), I am often struck by the contrast between what the Bible actually says and the behavior I often see modeled among Christians in my community.  Part of Matthew 25:35 says, "I was a stranger and you invited me in."   You can't be more of a stranger than an immigrant.  The Peace and Justice Support Network of the Mennonite Church USA points out that "some of the most selfish behavior in our churches goes by the name of hospitality. We act as though hospitality were another word for 'taking care of our own.'"  While most Christians in the Bible belt do a wonderful job of taking care of their own, they do a poor job of extending hospitality to the stranger - the immigrant.  Instead, migrant workers are eyed suspiciously, called lazy, and viewed as taking away American jobs, resources, and benefits.  Over and over again I hear people parrot what they have heard others say, spreading falsehoods about the strangers living in our midst.  

Farmworkers come to this country due to lack of opportunity in their own nation.  Any benefits they receive are earned benefits.  If they pay taxes, they receive the same benefits as any other taxpayer; if they don't pay taxes, they are not eligible for benefits.  They sacrifice their health and happiness in order to provide us with cheap food.  The least we can do is show them hospitality, to love our brothers and sisters.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thoughts on Recycling and Green Products

Global warning
Reading this article from Grist got me thinking about how the whole recycling movement might actually be bad for the earth.  The Grist article talks about how companies give the appearance of being eco-friendly when they 1) make their packaging look "green"; 2) encourage recycling.  The truth is that neither of these actions is truly beneficial to our environment.

Of course, using the color green or brown paper or other seemingly "natural" things doesn't really do anything at all.  Using a green bottle is no different than using a clear or red bottle.  And creating product names, descriptions, or logos that conjure up images of healthy living does nothing for the environment.  One brand of personal care products (shampoo, conditioner, etc.) comes to mind:  it's packaged in a bright green bottle and the brand name makes one think of fruit.  However, neither the bottle nor the ingredients are healthy or good for the planet.  

Many grocery stores offer recycling bins for plastic shopping bags.  I have watched people arrive, grab their cache of plastic bags, drop them in the bins, make their purchases, and carry everything out in brand-new bags, leaving feeling satisfied that they have done something good for the environment.  However, nothing good has actually happened.  The manufacture of the new bags plus the process of recycling the old bags does very little for the planet.  Yes, recycling keeps the bags out of landfill (that is, if the bags are actually recycled rather than just added to the store's dumpster at the end of the day).  But reusing those plastic bags would be better and using one's own reusable bags is best.  Dropping off yesterday's grocery bags for recycling while picking up new ones doesn't make sense. 

You see, nasty chemicals are used in the manufacturing process for packaging, such as bottles, boxes, lids, and clam shell cases.  And the process itself releases more chemicals into the air, ground, and water.  Then, when well-meaning citizens wash, sort, and add the used packaging to recycling bins, more chemicals released into our world through the transportation and recycling process.  

We need people who think beyond the buzzwords.  When people perceive that companies are trying to be green, they think they've done their part.  But the old saw of sustainability is reduce, reuse, and then, when everything else has been done, recycle.   Recycling should be the last resort - not the first line of defense - in protecting our environment.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Quote of the Day

"The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Farm Friday

We've had a busy week on the farm.  Our three interns, Babs, Ariana, and Charles, have been a great blessing, pitching in wherever needed and even cooking delicious meals for us!  Wednesday was a day they had been looking forward to since arriving - honey extraction day!  Getting honey out of a hive is a pretty involved process.  First, you have to get the frames out of the hives.  Here's Bill dealing with the bees:
Photo: Preparing to extract the honey
Then you have to remove the wax caps on the comb.  We use a special hot knife for this process:
Photo: Chérie Guerrant uncapping the honey
The frames are then placed in an extractor which spins the frames (four at a time) to release the honey.  The honey is then drained into a container which has several filters on top to strain out any pieces of wax.  Once that is accomplished, we open the tap to fill up the jars.  Here is the end product:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wellness Wednesday

clean home 2
Simply staying at home can be your biggest cancer risk.  Studies have shown that women who don't work outside the home have a 55% greater risk of cancer than those who do.  This increase is due to repeated exposure to household cleaning chemicals.  A 1985 EPA report said that the toxic ingredients in household cleaners are three times more likely to cause cancer than air pollution.

What can we do?  We can lower out standards of what we consider "clean."  Many homemakers use disinfecting products, fabric sprays, and air fresheners with the mistaken belief that they are making their homes cleaner.  According to eHow and CBC News in Canada, Lysol spray has VOC (volatile organic componds) levels that are much higher than what is considered safe for humans.  These chemicals are linked to an increase in bronchitis, emphysema, and cancer.  Air fresheners also promise a risk of cancer and other serious health issues.  Fabric sprays can be included in this group of products that pose serious health threats.  Go here for an article on what chemicals (and their side effects) are found in Febreze.  Neither disinfecting products, fabric sprays, nor air fresheners actually remove objectionable odors from your home.  Rather, it is the chemical mix that masks the odors.  So what we have come to think of as clean, really isn't.

We can also avoid chemical exposure altogether by choosing natural alternatives such as vinegar, baking soda, and certain essential oils, like tea tree oil and lavender oil which are naturally antimicrobial.  An internet search for natural cleaner recipes will turn up a wealth of information.  When you make your own cleaning products, you not only help preserve your health, you can save money, as homemade products are extremely inexpensive.  

More facts on cleaning, chemicals, cancer, and other diseases can be found here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Human Trafficking in the U.S.

When I started writing about social justice, I assumed I would mention a couple of issues within the United States and then move on to the wider world.  What I have found, though, is that I continue to return to social injustice within our borders.  

Several weeks ago a friend of mine was disturbed by something her former mother-in-law had done.  My friend wants her children to grow up to be compassionate, caring individuals.  She recently had a  long talk with them about human trafficking and slavery.  However, the former mother-in-law, catching wind of what the mother had been teaching her grandchildren, told them that slavery didn't exist anymore.  The sad fact is that this is a common belief.  Not only do many Americans believe that slavery no longer exists, they would adamantly deny that it exists in the U.S.  This attitude is dangerous - as long as we deny this evil, it will continue to fester and flourish.  Only when we acknowledge it and bring it into the light can we work towards its end.

Human trafficking is considered one of the fastest growing criminal endeavors.  There are two streams of human trafficking in the United States:  individuals brought in from other countries for labor and sex trafficking purposes; and residents, most of whom are minors, who are forced into the sex trade.  Due to the illicit and hidden nature of trafficking, it is difficult to estimate how many victims we have in the U.S.  However, author Kevin Bales, one of the leading experts on human trafficking, estimates there are 27 million slaves in the world.  One-third of these are U.S. citizens.

According to the FBI, individuals who are brought into this country for the purpose of slavery end up working as prostitutes or as laborers in restaurants, hotels, factories, construction sites, or similar settings.  The areas with the highest concentration of human trafficking are New York, California, Florida, and Washington, DC.  While in the U.S., these individuals are beaten, tortured, even raped, work for little or no pay, and are closely monitored when not kept behind lock and key to prevent escape.  They are housed (imprisoned) under horrific conditions, without access to medical care, and denied adequate nutrition.    Experts estimate that anywhere between 17,000 and 60,000 humans are brought into the U.S. each year for the purpose of slavery.  80% of these individuals are women and children.  Many don't speak English so are not able to communicate their plight to the authorities or anyone who can help.  

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates there are between 100,000 and 150,000 sex slaves in the United States.  Sex traffickers in the U.S. especially prey on children, mostly runaways; an estimated 300,000 children are at risk.  According to the Polaris Project, there are around 100,000 children in the sex trade industry each year.  (Statistics don't always line up because of the hidden, illicit nature of trafficking.)  Runaways are extremely vulnerable to sex trafficking as they are desperate, naive, and easily manipulated.  Read one runaway's story here.  Girls as young as 5 years old have been forced into prostitution.  Pimps can be complete strangers who prey on vulnerability - or they can be parents who just want to make a buck.  Women and children are bought and sold - then forced to perform sexual acts for the financial benefit of the traffickers.  A recent trial (and conviction) reveals the depravity of traffickers.  The co-defendants in this case kept females as young as 14 in bondage by securing them with duct tape or handcuffs, imprisoning them in dark spaces, such as closets, taking away their identification, forcing them to take illegal drugs, and brutally beating, raping, and torturing them.  In addition, victims are exposed to sexually transmitted and other diseases and are unprotected against pregnancy.  Medical care is nonexistent.  

Getting help from authorities can also be a problem according to this site aimed at medical professionals working with suspected trafficking victims.  In the case of sex trafficking, sometimes the pimps are police officers; sometimes the police have had prior experience with the women and view them as the problem.  The website advises initially seeking help from a human trafficking organization rather than local law enforcement agencies.

If you suspect human trafficking and want to help a victim, you can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888.  And if you believe your life is untouched by human trafficking, think again.  This U.S. Department of State's article, entitled "A Day in Your Life," about a typical office worker will change your mind.  

This five-minute video, produced by World Concern (a division of CRISTA Ministries, which has a four star rating with Charity Navigator) focuses more on international trafficking of children, but also mentions child trafficking in the U.S. and is especially powerful:

Sources and  information:


Books to read:
Somebody's Daughter:  The Hidden Story of America's Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them by Julian Sher
Terrify No More:  Young Girls Held Captive and Daring Undercover Operations to Win their Freedom by Gary A. Haugen
Escaping the Devil's Bedroom:  Sex Trafficking, Global Prostitution, and the Gospel's Transforming Power by Dawn Herzog Jewell
The Slave Next Door:  Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today by Kevin Bales
The Sacred Bath:  An American Teen's Story of Modern Day Slavery by Theresa L. Flores
Not for Sale:  The Return of the Global Slave Trade - and How We Can Fight It by David B. Batstone
Modern Slavery:  The Secret World of 27 Million People by Kevin Bales
Be the Change:  Your Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing the World by Zach Hunter (Young Adult book)
The Slave Across the Street by Theresa Flores and Peggy Sue Wells
Sex Trafficking:  Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddharth Kara
Human Trafficking:  A Modern Perspective by Louise Shelley
A Crime So Monstrous:  Face-to-Face with Modern Day Slavery by E. Benjamin Skinner


Monday, July 23, 2012


the hole
For some time now I have been aware that the various forms of media breed discontent.  All one need do is tune in to a favorite television show or pick up a magazine and suddenly you need something that you weren't aware even existed an hour before.  I'm definitely not immune to this phenomenon.  Even when I dive into a mass media publication that is "green," I find myself wondering if my shampoo gives me clean, shiny, bouncy hair and maybe I need to buy a new product.  Or I realize the product I'm using or the color/style I'm wearing is so last year.

The same goes for the internet.  Being a philomath, I want to know/learn/read everything.  I'll be on the internet, reading an article, find another article/blog/website, and I'm down the rabbit hole, chasing down that latest bit of information that I just have to know.  The problem is that knowledge is a bottomless pit.  Like material consumption, unlimited access to knowledge leaves one wanting and dissatisfied.  

As I did with television and magazines, I need to cut back and discover what is essential to me.  And I want to keep that focus to prevent the pervasive creep of "just one more" out of my life.  I've come to the realization that I lack a sense of completion, such as when I finish a book or magazine or when I empty out my "in" box.  The net is a black hole that sucks me in and ultimately leaves me empty.  It is an amazing tool but it is almost infinite; I never "finish" anything when I'm using it.  So I'm going to evaluate both my time on the internet and the places that I frequent to regain a sense of accomplishment in my daily life.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Quote for the Day

police squad 1
What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea.

~Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Veganism and the Environment

Yet Another infographic from me:

Friday, July 20, 2012

Farm Friday

Meet our interns:  Charles, Ariana, and Babs.  They arrived this past Saturday and will be working and learning on our farm for the next two weeks.  Charles and Babs are both Conservation Studies majors at George Mason University.  All three are very impressive with their passion for conservation and sustainable living issues. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Church, Patriotism, and Universal Healthcare

Praise the lord
I'm an introvert and definitely not a leader, so I have a hard time "changing the world" in the traditional, extroverted way.  The best thing I can do is to bring a little awareness of social injustice to people who aren't informed or really haven't given a lot of thought to certain topics.  Then the extroverts and leaders can address the serious problems that plague our world.  Not just our country, but our world - which extends far beyond our man-made political borders.

For several years now, July has been a frustrating time for me as a church-goer (have I mentioned this before?).  The weekend before Independence Day, American churches decorate their sanctuaries and lawns with American flags.  At some point during the service, there is an emphasis on American exceptionalism and how we were founded as a "Christian nation."  One friend, who also feels this way, told me he tried a local Mennonite church one year, thinking that surely a traditional peace church would avoid all this patriotic fervor; he was wrong.  So I stopped going to church the weekend before that holiday.

In the buckle of the Bible belt, most people are extremely conservative, both religiously and politically.  The latest political hot button issue for them is the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).  Over and over again, I hear how it is "socialism," how it is "not biblical."  (No one has actually explained to me what "not biblical" actually means; I think it's a catch phrase they use whenever there is something they disagree with.)

Yet, if we were truly a "Christian nation," it seems to me we would want universal healthcare.  Not necessarily Obamacare, but some type of system that would ensure that ALL Americans, especially the least of these, had access to health care.  What can be wrong with that?  I mean, having public schools certainly smacks of what some call "socialism" (and it doesn't sound the least bit biblical).  Despite the flaws in the public school system, I doubt that many Americans would advocate for eliminating it. 

And speaking of being biblical, anyone who has read the Bible knows Jesus healed the sick.  In fact, it was a major part of his ministry.  Notice Jesus' lack of judgment when it came to healthcare:  he never asked them if they deserved it or if they were slackers.  Jesus simply saw their pain and fixed it.  In John 14:12, Jesus said we would not only do the some things he was doing, but that we would "do even greater things than these."  Perhaps what he meant was that we would find a way to care for all sick people, not just a few individuals.  So, if we want to be "biblical," it seems a Christian nation would spend a lot of time and energy (and money) seeking ways to provide healthcare to everyone, not just to those whose employers provide it or to those who are eligible for social programs like Medicare.

For individuals who have difficulty understanding what it is like to be a member of the working poor, watch this video clip based on Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed:  On (Not) Getting By in America.  Keep in mind the book came out in 2001, before, this latest recession.  (And a shout out to my blogger friend Deanna of The Well-Groomed Hippie who brought the video to my attention.)

Now tell me that Christians should oppose some type of universal healthcare.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wellness Wednesday

Even when you are trying to avoid aspartame, it can sneak up on you.  Several months ago, I purchased some fruit-flavored yogurt thinking it was pretty healthy (minus the flavoring).  But upon getting it home, I started reading the label and discovered it contained aspartame.  Into the trash it went.  Here's a chart showing other places we need to be careful - some are obvious, some are not:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Books v. E-Readers

Original Source
I found this infographic over at The Everyday Minimalist.  She was curious about the environmental impact of books in print versus books available on e-readers, taking into consideration the impact of the e-reader itself.  She found her answer on Slate.  Turns out, although an individual e-reader's carbon footprint is much larger than a single book's, once you have read about 20 electronic books, the e-reader wins, hands down.  (The math gets more complicated when you buy used books that are passed on, but in the long run e-readers are still better).

The only other way to reduce the carbon footprint of reading is to use your local library.  I think an even better solution is to use your local library to check out e-books.  Good for the environment, good for your pocketbook.

Although it's much better for the environment to read electronic books, I still like the feel of paper books in my hands.  But I am trying to make the switch.

Monday, July 16, 2012


st francis of assisi
St. Francis of Assisi
For several years now, I've been angry at "the church."  Try as I might, I cannot get past it - in fact I discussed this in part on my post on The Wall.  So while I was at the Wild Goose Festival, when I saw that Ian Morgan Cron, an author and Episcopal priest, was giving a talk called "The Post-Cynical Christian," I knew I needed to hear him speak.

As Ian began his talk, he described many of my feelings; it was as if he had been listening in on some of my conversations.  Looking around the audience, as I saw heads nodding, I realized many others had had those same conversations.  One of the things Ian said was (not exactly a direct quote), "What is the good news of Jesus for the next millennium?  The personal ticket to heaven doesn't cut it anymore.  It sounds backward, primitive.  The Jon Stewart generation is concerned with the world."  And even though I'm not technically part of the Jon Stewart generation, I get it, maybe because, as I've said many times, I didn't grow up in the church so I have a different perspective.  I'm concerned with the world - and I think Jesus was/is, too.  In it's present state, the church seems so self-centered.  It's all about getting your personal act together.  But there's nothing in the Bible about saying the sinners' prayer, accepting Jesus into your heart, and then having a personal relationship with him.  Nada.  However, that's the propaganda spread by many Christians.

One of my (and Bill's) blog readers, Teresa Evangeline, made a comment on his blog that really resonated with me on this subject.  She said, commenting on a post about the broken criminal justice system, "It's one of those issues where I can so easily understand Jesus' anger at the moneychangers.  I wish we had someone who was willing and able to whip them out of 'the temple.'"  When I read this, all I could think was, we DO have "someone."  We're the church and that's what we're supposed to be doing, speaking truth to power, defending the poor and the needy....  Read your Bible, people.

What I see, instead, is an impotent church, concerned with more worldly, personal matters.  I'll give a few examples that really stand out to me.  On Tony Jones' blog, I learned about a new e-tablet put out by Family Christian, called Edify, which provides "safe" web browsing, as well as access to email, social networking, 27 translations of the Bible, free e-books, and a Christian radio station.  One reviewer called it a "Christ-centered tablet."  (Of course, it doesn't hurt that Family Christian also sells books and other Christian-related paraphernalia.) (Here's another review of it.)  This sounds perfect for the church - a duplicate of a product that is already on the market, but clean it up a bit.  Earlier this week, I discovered through Rachel Held Evans' blog that LifeWay Christian bookstores had pulled the movie "The Blind Side" from their shelves due to what some customers considered objectionable content.  Even though this move was based on a true story and in real life they used some of the objectionable language, this movie isn't acceptable for the store's customers.  We don't want the truth if it sounds ugly to us.  In my own community, there was much celebration over the opening of a yogurt store.  Everyone was thrilled that it was a "Christian" business, that was "fun" and "clean" and (in their eyes) healthy.  Nothing spreads Christian love like a smartly packaged franchise that knows it's market.

So this is what the church has become?  A sanitized conspicuous consumption machine?  We want our goods and services, we just don't want them to be too real.  We want them to be more like Disney, with everything perfect and orderly - not even a dead flower in sight.  That's all that matters, as long as we keep up our prayer life and tell people how to be saved.

Some (well, actually, many) of my blog posts might be considered depressing (read my post on being a killjoy).  But I'm trying to wake the church (and others), to show them we should be that "someone" that Teresa referenced.  We need to care about other people, about the world.  Jesus didn't spend time making nice, creating scrapbooks of his vacations, complimenting Mary and Martha on their exemplary housekeeping skills, trying to make the world a pretty place.  He was busy hanging out with the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers, the ugly people.  He stood up to his day's equivalent of "the man," fought against the status quo, and was a killjoy (except when he turned water into wine).  When he saw injustice, he not only spoke out against it, he did something about it.

Another thing Ian mentioned in is talk was that cynicism is caused by disappointment, rage, and grief.  I'm feeling all three when it comes to most of what passes as the church.  But he also had a message of hope, one that I'm trying to work towards.  He said that rather than criticize, we should just do it better.  He offered St. Francis as a model.  Since St. Francis is my patron saint (I was born on his feast day), I will continue to strive to do it better and to rise above the cynicism.  But it won't be easy.  And I will continue to be a killjoy as long there's a possibility that doing so can help the world.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Quote for the Day

"Praying and expecting everything to come from God and not doing anything yourself is not praying. This is laziness; this is alienation. This is passivity, conformity. when people can contribute something of themselves to improve the situation and ask God for the courage to do so, then there is prayer."

~Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Interesting Factoid

Peace sign painted on rock 1
The sign that is universally recognized as the peace sign was designed in 1958 by artist Gerald Holtman for the British nuclear disarmament movement.  Holtman combined the semaphore signal for "N," which is formed by holding two flags in an upside-down "V," with the letter "D," which is made by holding one flag straight up and one straight down.  The "N" and "D" represent nuclear disarmament.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Farm Friday

Since, as my husband put it, yesterday's post was so depressing, I'm posting photos of a tomato salad and sliced tomatoes that I took to an event last night.  We're having a bumper crop of yummy tomatoes this year.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blood on Our Hands

Yesterday I had to be in the "big city," which meant I would be near a Best Buy store.  On their website, Best Buy advertises that they will take in old electronics for recycling.  The variety amazed me:  televisions, computers, cell phones, game systems, pedometers, even household appliances.  I had several items that I had been saving over the years for just such an opportunity, so I loaded up my trunk and headed out of town.  The process was pretty simple, with bins right at the door for the smaller items, such as power cords.  For the old desktop and printer, I had to go to customer service and sign a document stating I was turning the items in to be recycled and that I would not come back looking for the items.  (I could see a misunderstanding occurring with someone thinking they dropped off a computer for repairs only to learn it had been recycled!)

Recycling those items was important to me for a couple of reasons, but I did have mixed feelings about it.  One thing of which I was painfully aware was that all the plastic would not likely be recycled - plus the pollution, environmental devastation, etc. that occurred due to the manufacture of the products would not go away.  Although I was glad to know that at least some of the components would not go to landfill, there is also a dark side to recycling electronics as most are shipped overseas (but that is another story).  I also know about the world conflict caused by many of the minerals used in electronics and was glad that reusing the minerals might alleviate some of the problem.

My biggest concern about electronics is what are called "blood" or "conflict" minerals.  The main minerals in this group are cassiterite, wolframite, columbite-tantalite (aka coltan), and gold.  Tin and tungsten are also considered conflict minerals.    Except for the gold and tin, most of us have probably never heard of these minerals, but they are very important for our modern, Western lifestyle.  These minerals are used in devices such as cell phones, laptops, and MP3 players.  

The problem is that most of the minerals are illegally obtained from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a war-torn area where the monies finance brutal militias.  In an attempt to restrict the flow of illegal minerals, Congress has passed laws such as the Congo Conflict Materials Act of 2009 and the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act which require that firms verify the minerals they use in manufacturing are not obtained from the DRC or neighboring countries.  Monitoring this has proved difficult and the electronics industry has actively sought more lenient regulations, spending about $2 million on lobbying.  

Most Americans are not aware of the brutal Second Congo War.  This war, involving eight African nations and 25 armed groups, is the deadliest conflict since World War II, with over five million deaths.  Although the war officially ended in 2003, it continues to rage, taking as many as 45,000 lives per month due to famine and disease, as well as violence.  Almost half of the deceased are young children.  Much of the conflict is fueled by the quest for blood minerals.

This war is especially devastating to women and children.  Soldiers use rape as a weapon of war because raping a woman means destroying the social fabric of a community.  48 women are raped each hour in the DRC.  Estimates put the total number of women raped anywhere between 300,000 and 1.5 million.  According to The Guardian, approximately 12% of Congolese women have been raped at least once. The sheer number of rapes have led some to call it a "war on women."  

Children are also suffering from the conflict and from the quest for the conflict minerals.  Children as young as 10 are often forced or coerced into the mines, working under slave-like conditions in dark and dangerous tunnels, working shifts as long as 48-hours.  Don't forget, conflict minerals are found in gaming systems such as Play Station and XBox, which are fixtures in the lives of most American children.  One website points out the hypocrisy with a quote by former British Member of Parliament, Oona King: "Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms."

In addition to the cost inflicted on humans, mining conflict minerals is also devastating to the environment.  Mining pollutes water sources and damages land that could be used for agriculture.  In an extremely impoverished nation, lack of drinking water or healthy soil causes even more deaths.  Fragile ecosystems are also damaged by the mining.  

The trailer for the film "Blood in the Mobile" offers a stark contrast between the dirty and dangerous reality of the mines and the slick, clean marketing of cell phones (unfortunately this film is only available in Europe):

The blood is on our hands as we continue to demand better and faster technology.  No longer satisfied with the latest version of a cell phone or computer, we quickly trade in our older models whenever our contract is up and we're eligible for a "free" phone - or sooner if we're willing to pay the financial price.  Question is, do we understand the ultimate price? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Poem for the Day

This poem by George Wallace was read at the opening of the Wild Goose Festival:


on the in-flight home
the british newspaper (enter-
tainment section) said
brando wasn't afraid of death
& if i know death then
i know why --
when i was dead
i danced with persians
nested with indians
bred with a laboratory duck
wore green socks
gargled mercury
struck a blue vein
ate seventeen icicles
fathered islands
i gave birth to the ceramic arts
i uttered obscenities
i morphed worms
i hand-sponged a saint
i pissed springwater
& swam in sand
i drank spiked vinegar
& spidered dionysos
& for that matter
i shat a hairy mastodon
when i was dead
i stroked a harley
tore buttons
squirted like a trout
when i was dead
i spoke italian
& a silvery form of spanish
found only among the gauchos
on the plains of argentina
i married a pelican
i fished with walt whitman
i wrestled xerxes
i played cards with aristotle
i had larger teeth
& lots of bushy hair
i had incredible hind quarters
which i showed off in madrid
one night under a quarter moon
like antlers or a pair of alhambra britches
to anyone who would look at them
i gave birth to diamonds
i stunk like a hurricane
i made love for 18 days
in the month of december
i acted badly
i got away with it
i was not afraid
to be alive

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Spreading Insecurity One Photo at a Time

The above photos are before and after photos for an Ann Taylor advertisement - before and after Photoshop, that is.  Not only has the model's waist been whittled down quite a bit (her hips and thighs only slightly), the natural wrinkles in the clothing have been dramatically reduced.  The message?  Not only should young women (and older women) feel insecure about their bodies, they should feel bad because even their clothes are flawed.  However, this is probably good for the economy.  After all, photos like the one on the right compel women to:  1) buy diet aids; 2) join gyms and purchase exercise equipment; 3) seek out plastic surgeons; 4) embark on endless shopping quests to get that perfect outfit; and, when all else fails 5) consult a therapist.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Farm Friday

Photo: We started harvesting the onions today, hoping to finish tomorrow.  They did very well this year.
It's difficult to do Farm Friday when you're not on the farm.  This week I've been in Florida taking care of business.  Since my husband's retirement from his practice last year, our condo has been vacant.  Last month I hired a realtor to find someone to lease it until the real estate market recovers and we can sell it for a reasonable price.  Well, he didn't waste any time and has gotten a tenant for us.  So this week I've been packing up our remaining personal items, taking many of them to a local thrift store, and divesting ourselves of the furniture.  Although the condo is small and I didn't think we had a lot of personal items in it, hauling boxing down the stairs and out to the car has made me aware of how much stuff we actually had here.  Makes me eager to get back home to do more decluttering and simplifying.

While I have been gone, Bill has been busy on the farm, harvesting over 700 pounds of potatoes.  In addition,he's in the process of harvesting the onions (pictured above).  He hasn't finished so we don't have a final figure for those yet.  He also reports that we have a super abundance of squash, zucchini, green beans, and bell peppers.  Some of our bell peppers must be affected by some type of blight as they have bad spots on them which makes them unsuitable for use in our CSA.  Bill has chopped about 5 pounds of them to keep in the freezer for adding to fried potatoes and to omelets.  If anyone has a good recipe that calls for lots of green bell peppers, I've love to hear about it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Killing Joy

Ostrich on White
What if your neighbor wanted to make some extra money and he found three ways to do it:

He discovered his climate was perfect for growing cacao, the source for chocolate.  So he bulldozed all of the trees in the community park, planted the cacao in the freshly plowed earth, and sprayed herbicides and pesticides (that were illegal in this country) to ensure that his crop would be successful.  He kidnapped some neighborhood children to work in the park, forcing them to harvest the cacao without compensation and housing them in his lawnmower shed, without plumbing or electricity, healthcare or education.

He also found that he could make a tasty drink by incorporating a bit of poison into it, which gave the drink an attractive color.  It wasn't enough poison to kill anyone, but they would likely contract cancer after years of consumption.  But, even though the poison was a known carcinogen, it was legal to use.

Another way he found to make money was dog fighting.  He found a loophole in the local laws and so converted his backyard into a dog fighting ring.  Then he rounded up a number of dogs and used cruel methods to train them.  He also added cock fights to the mix.  After all, if animals aren't pets then they really don't have any feelings and this would be another way to increase revenue.  Then night after night, he hosted vicious fights to the death.

What would you do?  Would you be horrified?  Would you report him to the authorities?  Would you have him arrested?  Would you petition lawmakers to change laws to ensure that his operations be shut down?

But what if similar things were occurring behind closed doors, under corporate supervision, here in the U.S. or across the sea in foreign countries?  Would you have the same reaction?  

Week after week, Bill and I try to share the horrors of things that we as Americans condone:  slavery in the chocolate, coffee, tea, and other industries; carcinogens in our food, water, clothing, and personal care items; and unspeakable torture and cruelty towards animals in the meat and personal care industries.  But we are ignored.  We are killjoys.  Why do we want to spoil everyone's good time.  People insist that they like the taste of their chocolate/coffee/tea; they have their favorite personal care products and clothing manufacturers; and it would be impossible to live without meat?  They insist they can't do anything about it anyway.  Why do we want to rob them of their joy?  So they stick their heads in the sand or in front of the television and ignore the rest of the world.

So I guess from what I've seen, it's okay to most Americans for bad things to happen to other people.  As long as they aren't our neighbors or pets and as long as we continue to have our luxuries without any extra effort or expense on our part, we'll keep on supporting cruel systems and pretend it's not really happening.  We want our joy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wellness Wednesday

The Environmental Working Group just released their 2012 "Dirty Dozen" list.  Use this list as a guide for buying produce.  The "dirty" ones are the highest in pesticide residue, while the "clean" ones are the lowest:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

War: What is it good for?

Photo Credit:  Cathleen Falsani Possley

At Wild Goose Festival, there was a place for attendees to create wooden planks to display what they felt was wrong with the world.  In this photo, journalist, author, and blogger Cathleen Falsani Possley captures me preparing to nail my plank on the grievance wall.