Geranium Farm Home     Who's Who on the Farm     The Almost Daily eMo     Subscriptions     Coming Events     Links
Hodgepodge     More or Less Church     Ways of the World     Father Matthew     A Few Good Writers     Bookstore
Light a Prayer Candle     Message Board     Donations     Gifts For Life     Pennies From Heaven     Live Chat

Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Saturday, December 29, 2007

An Update on Kenya's Elections: Not as Easy as It Looks

See the post below for earlier commentary and a reader's comment.

By 3:30 Saturday afternoon in Kenya, things are getting tough, at least according to media reports. Reuters and AFP (the French-based news service) tell of riots and looting and claims that the incumbent party is "stealing votes" from the opposition. In the latest announced count, the opposition candidate Odinga still leads the current president Kibaki by a slim margin. We can't tell how really widespread the violence is, of course, since the media don't report about calm and quiet places.

Nevertheless, elections are hard. Economists even have theories about them; they have "sub-optimal" outcomes because the result can't be divided according to the vote and many citizens will be dissatisfied. The losers have to decide they can manage. Do you realize how sophisticated this is? We in the US are busy complaining about our long primary season and the silliness of campaigning during the week between Christmas and New Year's. But in truth, we have little to fret over. Our system and our people can manage. If we don't like Mr. Bush, for instance, we know that on a predetermined schedule, he will be retired to the ranch at Crawford and, moreover, he'll go willingly. It wasn't that easy in the beginning, of course, and the first efforts at a federal government in the new United States, the Articles of Confederation, failed. Even with our great Constitution, we still weren't really together, fighting a bloody civil war over States' rights some 75 years later.

So we find this morning that, besides the good people of Pakistan, we also have to pray for the citizens of Kenya and those everywhere who might feel disfranchised. We also need to recognize that democracy can't just be thrust onto a people; it is sophisticated and they must internalize a new mindset about how they are governed. At least they are taking the courageous steps of conducting open polling for all the world to see. Good luck to them in the rest of it!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Kenya's Election and Pakistan's Violence

As we write here in Brooklyn, it is 10:30 in the evening. That makes it 6:30 Saturday morning in Nairobi, Kenya, where ballots are still being counted in Thursday's presidential election. The opposition candidate Raila Odinga is somewhat ahead presently, but the results are too close to call yet. The voting process was pretty uneventful, with only modest violence, and international observers reported little sign of fraudulent activity. There was a brief hiccup when Mr. Odinga was turned away from his own polling place because his name could not be found on the register. But he calmly visited the local officials and learned that a new system of alphabetizing was being used so that he should have been directed to a different line; he returned and was able to cast his ballot. Otherwise, millions of Kenyans stood in miles-long lines for hours to exercise the privilege of selecting their nation's leader. No one complained about the wait.

Perhaps you've heard all this on some newscast or other, but we pay it special attention here as an offset to the horror in Pakistan. A colleague in my office is from there; she was distraught yesterday and explained that every day is filled with the kinds of violence we saw directed at Ms. Bhutto. "There is no system to promote security for anyone," says Sadaf, "and the ordinary people face danger all the time."

These two contrasting situations make us think about the Millennium Development Goals. The goals themselves say nothing about law and order, but the UN's supporting material is quite clear. According to the page "About the MDGs: the Basics" on the website of the United Nations Development Programme, the goals "acknowledge that development rests on the foundations of democratic governance, the rule of law, respect for human rights and peace and security; . . ."

So we wish the Kenyans well and hope they can set an example for the rest of the emerging world; a peaceful election and a firm footing for a new government are key steps in moving even the weakest up and out of daily anguish and poverty. And most of all tonight, we reach out in prayer to the people of Pakistan. This is paraphrased a bit from A New Zealand Prayer Book (page 637):
Universal and unchanging God,
we are one, unalterably one,
with all the human race.
Grant that we who are all made in your image
may, through your unifying Spirit,
break down the walls that divide us.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Time Magazine/O Little Town of Bethlehem

As last Christmas, our hearts and prayers are drawn especially now to Bethlehem. Some weeks ago, Arab leaders, President Olmert of Israel and George Bush gathered at Annapolis. They agreed to start again on peace talks that might lead to a Palestinian State. We pray for progress and for mutual respect in this holy, but frightening and threatening center of the world's great religions.

Jamil Hamad, a Jerusalem correspondent for Time Magazine and a Muslim, writes in the current issue a "Postcard: Bethlehem" that tells of his experiences with his friends and family as residents of Bethlehem. Paired with Phillips Brooks' touching words about Bethlehem, it is reminiscent for us of Simon & Garfunkel's "7 O'clock News/Silent Night", but, importantly, Hamad's piece has a better ending. . . .

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

There are still strings of lights draped around Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity--perhaps many more lights--but for me, every one of them burns with a memory of . . . splendid days lost and of my Christian friends who have left. Why did they go? After all, some of their families had lived here since the birth of Christ or even longer. The simple explanation is that Bethlehem's Christians are caught between the rise of Islamic extremism and the rigors of Israeli occupation. Because the city is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, Israeli security forces are building a 26-ft. (8 m) high concrete wall around it. The Israelis lump Christians in with all Palestinians as possible terrorists. . . .

Wearing a cross at Israeli checkpoints doesn't help. To security personnel, we're all Palestinians and all dangerous. . . . Sometimes it can take an hour to clear the checkpoint. As a Christian university student said the other day, "Jesus Christ wouldn't be able to leave Bethlehem today unless he showed a magnetic ID card, a permit and his thumbprint."

At least the Israeli security wall is attracting a new kind of tourist, the graffiti guerrilla. The phantom British artist Banksy recently led a posse of foreign artists to the wall. He spray-painted a picture of a peace dove in a flak jacket that was captured in a sniper's crosshairs. . . . At times, the graffiti lifts my spirit. Other times, when I'm angry after being delayed at the checkpoint, I think that art alone can't bring down that wall around my Bethlehem. But what makes me laugh--with some bitterness, I admit--is the sign the Israeli military put up over the checkpoint at the entrance to Bethlehem. It reads: PEACE BE WITH YOU.

Oddly, that's not a vain hope. My son has put up a tree in his Muslim home; I've been told to find a Santa suit, and my grandkids are learning carols. This is the peace I find in Bethlehem at Christmas.
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may his His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

* * * * *

Warmest Blessings to you all from Ways of the World . . . .

* * * * *

Jamil Hamad, "Postcard: Bethlehem", Time Magazine. December 31, 2007 - January 7, 2008, page 13.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rice Isn't Free, After All!

A couple of weeks ago, Debbie Hodgepodge introduced you to "Free Rice", a fun word game I heard about from a friend and passed on to Debbie. As you might recall, it's a multiple-choice game about vocabulary, and for every word you get right, the website owner donates grains of rice to the UN World Food Program.

We write here today to urge you to go and play again – and again and again. The world price of rice is not free at all and it is getting more expensive all the time. Today's Wall Street Journal alerts us to the fact that this week, in the Chicago commodity markets, a key futures price hit a 20-year high and is up 30% just since the beginning of 2007. So the good people who benefit from really need everything you can help them get. [Indeed, while copying the URL from Hodgepodge just now, we clicked on it unintentionally and donated 400 grains right on the spot. It's so easy! But do finish reading this article first, OK?]

What is going on with the rice market? The same thing that is happening to other commodities, including energy. World demand is rising as the population grows and living standards improve. Some grain prices are also rising as the burgeoning markets for biofuels add new kinds of demand for them. Global production can usually keep up, but if there's a drought or if grain distribution has become more costly because higher priced energy raises shipping fees, then product prices will reflect those forces.

Interestingly, the biggest emerging markets, China and India, are not seeing squeezes on their overall rice supplies. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data published last Tuesday show that China's domestic production has expanded over the last five years while its consumption has actually decreased slightly; domestic supply and demand are now just about in balance. India produces more rice than its people consume, and it is a major exporter. At the same time, individual locales may experience shortages, if there is drought or storm that impacts a regional crop, and India is so large, this situation does occur. Thailand is the largest rice exporting nation and Vietnam has been second, although its government has recently imposed an export ban. Prices for Thai rice rose $23/ton or 6.8% from early November to early December, according to the USDA.

Bangladesh is one of the largest consuming countries and its consumption has increased markedly in recent years, but it too has been producing nearly all of its needs. This year, though, will be an exception as the recent cyclone caused the USDA to cut its estimate of the Bangladeshi crop, so its import demand will be larger. Do you catch this? Some countries are restricting exports even as import demand goes up elsewhere. Ergo, prices rise.

Rice is a wonderful food. The appearance of the Free Rice game yielded a teaching opportunity in my office, where some of the young people seemed unaware of all of rice's benefits; we learned that it is full of the most helpful nutrients. It is just what poor people need to maintain their health and strength.

So we can't overemphasize the importance of keeping the rice going into places where it's needed most. If you want to do this in more than 20-grain increments, contact the World Food Program directly: And for us, it almost goes without saying – but we won't pass up the opportunity! – that several Episcopal Relief & Development programs are involved in "food security", in many cases providing seeds and tools to help folks produce their own. Go to Gifts for Life right here on the Farm; choose "Basics of Life" or "Animals and Agriculture".

Now you can go play!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

An Advent Reading List -- with a Twist

If you've visited this blog more than once or twice, you know that I'm an inveterate reader. I have three really interesting books going at the moment that, as I think about them, make an interesting and thought-provoking trilogy of Advent reading, as only Ways of the World could conjure it. In between the pages of Barbara Crafton's new book about Mary, try these out as well . . . .

Christmas: A Candid History
Where else to begin in Advent, but looking forward to Christmas? But did you know that the Church had no formal celebration of Christmas until about the Fourth Century? And why is Christmas in the wintertime, anyway? We don't really know the date in the calendar when Jesus was born. Bruce David Forbes, professor of religious studies at Morningside College in Iowa, brings us the intriguing notion that the early church wasn't keen on commemorating birth-days; birth brought people into this harsh, sin-filled world. The Church was much more attuned to someone's death, which marked the passage to the bliss of eternal life. So the very idea of a birthday party was novel. Forbes also gives us the quite logical thought experiment: why have such a big party in the middle of winter? Think harvest festival and abundance plus the need to have something to brighten mid-winter's darkness. Further, he suggests, the Church co-opted the pre-existing mid-winter parties for Saturnalia and New Year's in order to rein in their wild and crazy excesses. The later chapters talk about the evolution of Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus and commercialization. Different spins on this season, which show us how the religious feast emerged from a worldly context, rather than the other way around. See what you think.

Bruce David Forbes. Christmas: A Candid History. Berkeley: University of California Press. 2007. A special order through VivaBooks; available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

The Little Ice Age
It's easy to think of Creation and Climate at this time of year. The season's first snow in New York this weekend sensitizes us to possible changing trends in the weather. Brian Fagan, an archaeologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, writes about much earlier periods of Climate Change: did you know that in the 12th and 13th Centuries, it was so warm in England that there were commercial vineyards? English wine was so abundant and popular that there were trade restrictions to keep it out of Continental Europe. The vineyards, though, faded around 1300 as the weather turned colder and stayed colder. Early Nordic settlements along the Canadian coast and Greenland were abandoned about that time, too, when ships could no longer sail safely through the increasingly icy North Atlantic waters. So there was a time that had been warm – warmer than now – but shifting ocean currents changed that. From 1300 to 1850, western and northern Europe experienced "The Little Ice Age".

Our present time of apparent global warming brought about the conclusion of that prior cold, Fagan explains. This began probably 150 years ago, with large-scale clear-cutting of forests during the spread of industrialization and massive migrations. Stripping the land of trees released huge quantities of carbon emissions. So while there have been major climate swings throughout the history of the world, this is the first known to be associated with humans' actions.

Fagan writes clearly and neatly. If the topic weren't so serious, I'd even say it is enjoyable. However you characterize the style, the story is engaging for the long-term perspective it puts on these crucial issues for our time – and all time!

Brian Fagan. The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850. New York: Basic Books. 2000. Available at VivaBooks.

unChristian? What a thing to suggest just before Christmas! But it's important, too. This is a brand new commentary on young people in the church. It's from The Barna Group, a well-known market research firm for Evangelical and "Born-again" churches and mega-churches.

These churches are the ones that are growing the most. Many mainline denominations have experienced membership declines in recent years. But Evangelicals have kept increasing, some quite spectacularly. However, they have begun to notice that young people, in their 20s and 30s, are tending to drift away from the church. Kids who've grown up in the church often separate from it during college and early adulthood, but they've usually come back as their lives begin to take shape and settle down. Until now. These churches are apparently starting to notice a new trend with the 20s and 30s, that they aren't coming back in the numbers they used to.

David Kinnaman, the President of Barna, is hardly older than the subjects of his research, but he's worried about what this might mean for the future. And I'd say that if a leader in that wing of Christianity has such a concern, we in our wing of Christianity need to know about it as well. Kinnaman and his associates interviewed and surveyed several thousand young people, and carefully analyzed the responses from those outside the church. "What is keeping you away?" they asked.

After Christmas, during the season of Epiphany, we'll talk in some detail here about church growth and what social scientists from mainline denominations – including the Episcopal Church – are learning about ways to help it along. In the meantime, we can also ponder and pray about this striking new development among our Evangelical neighbors.

David Kinnaman, with Gabe Lyons. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity . . . and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 2007. Available at VivaBooks.

Copyright © 2003-Present Geranium Farm - All rights reserved.
Reproduction of any materials on this web site for any purpose
other than personal use without written consent is prohibited.