Wild River Review
Wild River Review
Connecting People, Places, and Ideas: Story by Story
May 2010
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November 20, 2011

The Long Road to the Promised Land

Filed under: Wild Finance — joystocke @ 3:31 pm

by Gunter David

There were times when Arab and Jew lived in peace together. In fact, as hard as it is to believe today, Israel has more than 1.5 million Arab citizens. They have representatives in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. They vote.

I met Arabs for the first time when my parents and I came to Palestine in 1935 as refugees from Nazi Germany. The ship landed at the port of the city of Jaffa, where Arabs met us in a boat and helped us ashore. When I went to first grade, back in 1936, I walked to school in the northern part of Tel Aviv city through sand dunes. Many a time Arabs on camels were my company. Abu Kabir was a peaceful Arabic village nearby.

Arabs provided transportation on the Sabbath. They drove surreys with fringes on top led by horses. I can still see the fringes swinging in the air.

On the days before Passover, Arab women walked the residential streets of Tel Aviv, calling out “Lachem! Lachem!” It is the Arabic word for bread. Jews, who were clearing their homes of baked goods, to be replaces by matzos, gladly obliged. I recall seeing my mother pitching bread from our third-floor balcony to the Arab women below.

The peaceful co-existence ended in 1936. I awoke one night to see flames lighting the horizon. Arabs had set fire to Jewish homes on the border of Jaffa and Tel Aviv. My parents and others in our apartment house were rushing to a large field nearby where men, women and children had fled from their burning homes. It was the beginning of the Meoraot, the Disturbances, which lasted three years. Ironically, Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September, 1939, which started World War II, ended the Arab hostilities against the Jews in Palestine. It wasn’t until the United Nations partition of Palestine between Jew and Arab was announced in 1947 that the hostilities resumed.

A recent census in Israel showed a population of some six million Jewish citizens. The Arab citizens, numbering 1.5 million, are a clear minority. But as Israel and the Palestinians wrangle over the creation of an independent Palestine, the question arises as to how long Israel will have a Jewish majority.

The birth rate of the Arabs, wherever they are, far surpasses that of the Jews. The immigration of more than one million Jews to Israel from the former Soviet Union some decades ago gave the Israeli population a major boost.

A key issue between Israel and the Palestinians is the latter’s demand that Palestinians who fled during Israel’s War of Independence be permitted to return to their homes in Israel. That war was begun by several Arab countries objecting to the creation of Israel. By now, 63 years later,scattered across the Middle East, the one – time refugees number millions.

The Right of Return, as the Palestinian leadership insists on calling it, is an impossible demand, as is the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. If Israel were to agree to the return of millions of Palestinians, it obviously would no longer be a Jewish state.

Gunter David and his parents fled Germany, their native country, as soon as Adolph  Hitler rose to power. They settled in Tel Aviv, in what was then Palestine, where Gunter grew up. He subsequently moved to the U.S., where he worked on major newspapers for 25 years. The Evening Bulletin of Philadelphia nominated him for the Pulitzer Prize. He has returned to Israel numerous times, as a newsman and to visit family and friends, and covered the Yom Kippur War in 1973. His second career was as a family therapist and addiction counselor. Dalia, his wife of 57 years, is also from Israel.

September 21, 2011

The Long Road to the Promised Land: Palestinian Statehood?

by Gunter David

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*   Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, will shortly appear before the General Assembly of the United Nations to ask for full statehood recognition.

*   Israel’s embassy in Cairo, Egypt, was attacked by thousands, who broke into the building and rampaged for hours, while six Israeli security guards were trapped inside. Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement 32 years ago. An Egyptian official last week said that treaty “is not holy.”

*   Close relations between Turkey and Israel have unraveled. A technical change in Turkey’s air planes will enable that country to easily attack Israel. It also will increase its fleet of war ships in the eastern Mediterranean.

*   Thousands in Amman, Jordan, demonstrated against their Jewish neighboring state.

There is much more.

Israel is preparing for major disturbances in the West Bank, Jerusalem and other areas should the United Nations reject the Palestinians’ request. While the General Assembly stands to approve it, a veto by the United States is expected in the Security Council, the so called upper house.

These days Israel’s economy is solid. Its future is uncertain.

King Abdullah of Jordan, with whose country Israel has a long standing peace agreement signed by his father, King Hussein, put it this way, “Jordan and the future Palestinian people are in better shape than Israel today. Now it is Israel’s turn to be fearful.” It sounded as if there was a smile on his face.

Abbas’ appearance before the United Nations is designed to circumvent the decades long negotiations with Israel. At its highlight, Israeli prime minister  Rabin and Palestinian head Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn and won the Nobel Peace Prize. The meeting was arranged by then U.S. President Bill Clinton, out of office now for some 11 years. Rabin and Arafat are dead. So, it seems, are the peace negotiations.

The endangered peace agreement with Egypt is the result of the Arab “spring” that has swept over that world. The Egyptians got rid of their decades long ruler. Next came the Libyans. The Syrians are trying to extract themselves from their dictator, whose father likewise governed ruthlessly.

The problems with Turkey, a non-Arab state, arose after nine Turks were killed by Israeli war ships, which tried to block the approach of Turkish civilian vessels bringing aid to the Gaza Strip. The violence occurred when Israelis who boarded a Turkish vessel were attacked with stones, knives and other weapons. The Turkish government demanded an apology from the Israelis, who declined.

Until then, Israel and Turkey were allied, practicing war exercises together, united by their common enemy, Iran.   

It makes me wonder about the Promised Land. Thousands of years ago, the Bible tells us, Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people, left Ur of the Chaldees and headed to the far away land of Canaan, which his God promised him.

Ur is the oil-rich southern part of modern day Iraq. Canaan became what today are Israel and Palestine. Go figure.

Gunter David and his parents fled Germany, their native country, as soon as Adolph  Hitler rose to power. They settled in Tel Aviv, in what was then Palestine, where Gunter grew up. He subsequently moved to the U.S., where he worked on major newspapers for 25 years. The Evening Bulletin of Philadelphia nominated him for the Pulitzer Prize. He has returned to Israel numerous times, as a newsman and to visit family and friends, and covered the Yom Kippur War in 1973. His second career was as a family therapist and addiction counselor. Dalia, his wife of 57 years, is also from Israel.

To read more work by Gunter David, Click Here.




May 24, 2011

THE LONG ROAD TO THE PROMISED LAND – WHERE ARE ISRAEL’S BORDERS?

Filed under: Wild Finance — Tags: , , , , — joystocke @ 7:02 am

THE LONG ROAD TO THE PROMISED LAND

Where are Israel’s Borders?

BY Gunter David

The ’67 borders. Everybody is talking about them. But they are never explained. They came to the fore when President Obama said in a speech the other day that peace between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on the ’67 borders. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been meeting with the president, told his host it was out of the question. He declared them “indefensible.”

What are the ’67 borders? The year is misleading. They actually are closer to the borders that came into being after the cease-fire in 1949, at the end of Israel’s Independence War. On November 30, 1947, the United Nations approved the partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Until then, Palestine had been under British rule or mandate as prescribed by the League of Nations, the predecessor of the UN.

The partition plan was rejected by the Palestinian Arabs, who subsequently attacked the Jews. The latter welcomed the plan as their return to their Biblical homeland. Leadership of the Jewish community in Palestine accepted the partition even though it gave them a minimal territory.

On May 15, 1948, with the withdrawal of the last British troops from Palestine, David Ben Gurion, leader of the Yishuv, the Jewish community, declared the founding of the state of Israel. Surrounding Arab states promptly attacked the new country, but when a cease fire was declared in 1949, Israel had become considerably larger than when the war began. Most importantly, Israel included a good part of Jerusalem, which became its capital. According to the partition, the city was to be under international control.

As for the Palestinian Arabs, they never had a chance to found a country of their own. What today are called the Left Bank and the Gaza Strip were the remainder of Palestine when the war had ended. The ruler of Trans Jordan annexed the West Bank of the Jordan River, and declared himself king of the expanded country of Jordan. Egypt annexed the Gaza Strip.

In 1967, advance Israeli intelligence warned its government of impending war by the Arab countries. Israel promptly struck first. The result was the Six Day War, in which Israel took the rest of Palestine, all of the Sinai Desert, and a section of Syria.

Israel also reclaimed the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall – the remainder of the Holy Temple built by King Herod – from which Israelis had been barred during Jordanian rule. Once it had been called the Wailing Wall, where Jews prayed, then stuck little slips of papers, messages to God, between its stones. But on a day in June, 1967, thousands and thousands of Israelis flowed into the Old City, back to their holy places and to the Wall, where they once more sent messages to heaven.

In time, Israel and Egypt made peace. Israel withdrew from Sinai, as well as from a section of the Golan Heights which it had taken from Syria. It also made peace with Jordan. Over time, some 300,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank. The Palestinians consider the settlements an invasion of their territory. In past negotiations there had been talk of swapping land, with Israel giving up some of the settlements, or trading areas of Israel populated by Arabs for the Palestinian land settled by Israelis.

But going back to the quasi 1949 borders?

Indefensible.

Gunter David and his parents fled Germany, their native country, as soon as Adolph  Hitler rose to power. They settled in Tel Aviv, in what was then Palestine, where Gunter grew up. He subsequently moved to the U.S., where he worked on major newspapers for 25 years. The Evening Bulletin of Philadelphia nominated him for the Pulitzer Prize. He has returned to Israel numerous times, as a newsman and to visit family and friends, and covered the Yom Kippur War in 1973. His second career was as a family therapist and addiction counselor. Dalia, his wife of 57 years, is also from Israel. His fictional accounts of his family’s life in Berlin and resettlement in Palestine appear in the pages of Wild River Revew.

May 9, 2011

THE SHATZKIN FILES – The old publishing value chain got twisted a bit last week

THE SHATZKIN FILES

The Old Publishing Value Chain Got Twisted a Bit Last Week

by Mike Shatzkin

Although the value chain in trade publishing for the last century has, for the most part, kept retailers between publishers and consumers and kept publishers between retailers and authors, that has never been 100% true. Doubleday covered the whole value chain in the 1950s, when it not only owned the Doubleday Book Shops and the Literary Guild book clubs, it also owned printing plants. In the early 1960s, the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company bought (and eventually renamed itself) Macmillan (and that’s the old Macmillan that became part of Simon & Schuster in the 1980s, not the new Macmillan which was what the renamed Holtzbrinck group became a few years ago) and they also bought the Brentano’s bookstore chain.

I sold books to both Brentano’s and Doubleday in the 1970s and I don’t recall it ever being an issue that they had publisher ownership. Of course, that was before trade publishing consolidated into anything remotely resembling a Big Six.

After those two chains were sold in the 1980s (and I’m going to admit that I forget whether Walden which became Borders or Dalton which became Barnes & Noble bought each of them), in a period of two decades when publishers and book retailers grew enormously, the neatness of the division between the publisher’s role and the retailer’s was mostly respected. A number of retailers — notably B&N and Borders, but suppliers to the mass merchants as well — bought bargain books directly from packagers during that period, but joint ownership of significant publishing and retailing capabilities was, temporarily, suspended.

But Barnes & Noble was particularly aggressive at direct sourcing of book content and around the turn of the century announced the goal that 10% of their volume should come from directly-sourced product. To further that objective, in late 2002, B&N outbid several other companies (including at least one very large publisher) for the independent niche publisher, Sterling. Immediately, Borders stopped buying Sterling books and Barnes & Noble started stocking a lot more of them than they had in the past.

Meanwhile, the Internet was forcing everybody to rethink the paradigm. Even before the Kindle was launched in November, 2007, Amazon was encouraging authors to “publish” with them directly. All they could offer was the connection to the vast majority of online consumers — no print runs, no presence in any brick stores — but this could still be attractive and productive for some authors. My friend and client, David Houle, a futurist who blogs at Evolution Shift, published his “Shift Age” book with Amazon before Kindle and has sold thousands of copies, many of them at his own speeches. He’s very happy earning about $7 on every sale of a $17 book. No publisher was going to offer him as much as a third of that per copy.

As online sales grew, and then were further fueled by ebook sales starting in late 2007, it became increasingly obvious to many that publishers would have to start selling direct themselves. Some did. Harlequin has done so for years. F+W Media, one of the most aggressive publishers employing a vertical community strategy, announced a year ago that they would use Ingram to sell their books as well as those of their competitors to their direct audiences. Macmillan announced a similar plan for science fiction through Tor.com, although that idea has apparently never been implemented.

Part of what has discouraged the big publishers from selling direct is the threat of retaliation by Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both of which are much happier if the customer contact for big books is through them, thank you very much. Since both companies really exercise direct influence on many consumers, big publishers are inclined to respect their concerns.

To a certain extent.

And then we had the events of last week.

Amazon, which had previously established imprints for author-direct publishing and for translations of foreign works and had created a relationship with Houghton Harcourt to address their prior inability to get brick store distribution for books they owned, announced a new romance imprint called Montlake Romances. (Personally, I thought it was a bit strange that they announced it with just one book coming this Fall, rather than 10 books coming next week!) That put them squarely into the publishing business in a new way, and one could only imagine that the mystery shoe and thriller shoe and sci-fi shoe will be soon to drop.

In the same vein, Barnes & Noble has a program called Pub It! to enable authors to by-pass publishers and earn bigger royalties. They also still own Sterling, which gives them in-house the distribution capabilities that Amazon had to team with Houghton Harcourt to get. And with Sterling they also have the entire infrastructure in place to deal with authors and their care and feeding which could constitute competitive advantage when the gloves come off chasing brand-name authors.

So both of the giant retailers are looking more and more like publishers.

But it turns out the publishers were cooking something up too. On Friday, we learned about a new business called Bookish, which will be the “new digital destination for readers.” In its announcement release, Bookishpromises to use content and software tools to promote discussion and discovery around books and to answer the reader’s question: “what book should I read next?”

What was most eye-catching about Bookish was its backing by three of the Big Six: Hachette, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, who have apparently been planning this move for quite some time.

What was downplayed, but perhaps most significant, is that Bookish is trying to straddle the same fence that Google, and, to a lesser extent, Kobo are: being an ally of existing retailers while selling direct to consumers itself.

It really is impossible to speculate intelligently about Bookish’s potential for success. What they’re suggesting they’ll do is reminiscent of Copia and Goodreads and Library Thing, and none of them have yet replaced the marketing power of the brick store, a fact which is front and center in the minds of the trade publishers who depend on that merchandising.

But it will certainly accomplish one thing: giving the big publishers a direct path to the consumer. The hunch here is that if any one of these three big publishers had gone aggressively into direct sales, they would have risked serious retaliation from both of their two biggest customers: Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But it will be hard for them to retaliate against three publishers who, among them, deliver about half the biggest commercial books in the marketplace.

Let’s remember a year ago January when Amazon briefly sought to block agency terms for ebooks by removing buy buttons from Macmillan books when they briefly thought they could stop the plan from being implemented. As quickly as it became clear that the five publishers determined to implement agency would not be deterred from doing so, Amazon retreated. (In fact, they graciously joined Macmillan in compensating authors who might have lost sales during the brief period the buy buttons were inactive.)

And that brings up another important point about Bookish: what it says about the common interests among fierce adversaries, which the trade publishers certainly are. The times call for collaboration among competitors in trade publishing. It is a little bit nuts that several of them are building competing romance, mystery, and science-fiction “communities”, which only leaves the field wide open for a third party to be the biggest aggregator in each of the verticals and also allows much smaller competitors to look comparable on the web. But collaboration models have to withstand anti-trust concerns. Presumably three of the biggest publishers jointly investing in this web venture will.

Whether or not the Bookish team can invent the general book marketing future, or, through competition, spur Amazon and BN.com to be more creative about online merchandising, remains to be seen. But this past week certainly gave us further indications that the publishing value chain is being drastically reshaped and that the neat roles we’ve been used to for 100 years have less and less applicability to publishing’s future.

I chuckle when I think about a very smart person from a major house who was telling me just about a year ago, right after agency was implemented, “whew, now I think things can settle down for a while.” Actually, “things” are just getting moved over to the fast track so they can really change. Montlake and Bookish within a day of each other; Barry Eisler (who’s speaking at our “eBooks Go Global” show at BEA on May 25) and Amanda Hocking going in opposite directions within a week or so of each other a couple of months ago; these are significant events but they’re also signs of accelerating change.

Mike Shatzkin is Founder & CEO of The Idea Logical Company, Inc., a consulting company that also provides data management services to the publishing industry. The company also owns BaseballLibrary.com, the largest aggregation of narrative writing on baseball history.

Mike’s first job in publishing was as a sales clerk at the brand-new paperback department at Brentano’s Bookstore on 5th Avenue in 1962. Since then, he has authored five books and worked at virtually every step in the publishing value chain: editorial, production, sales, marketing and distribution. He served as Director of Marketing for The Two Continents Publishing Group in the 1970s and has been a consultant since 1979.

April 25, 2011

The Long Road to the Promised Land – Passover 2011

Filed under: Wild Finance — joystocke @ 2:08 pm

The Long Road to the Promised Land – Passover 2011

by Gunter David

Passover 2011.
Jewish people around the world celebrate the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Led by Moses, they crossed the Red Sea to the Sinai Desert, where they wandered for forty years until arriving in the Land of Canaan. The Holy Land.
Today the Holy Land, Israel, is the only democracy in the Middle East.
April, 2011
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, deposed in a rush for freedom and democracy by the people of Egypt, has been replaced by a popular government.
The Red Sea contains the Suez Canal, which the new government has reopened. Two ships recently traveled through the Canal on their way to Syria. They were Iranian ships, from the land whose leader has sworn “to wipe Israel off the map,” to another fierce enemy of Israel right on its borders.
Nabil Al Arabi, Egypt’s new foreign minister,said he would work to renew diplomatic ties with Iran. He said he did not consider it an enemy state.
On the other hand he said major changes will be made in the relationship between the new Egypt and its Israeli neighbor. He threatened to review and amend security arrangements agreed to in their 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty. “We will stick by all the treaties we have signed, and we will demand that they keep their side of the deal,”Arabi said. But “we will not be a ‘strategic treasure’ for Israelis, as they used to say during the time of Mubarak. We will only abide by the treaties.”
Background
The year 1979 was the high point in the relationship between Egypt and Israel. It was the year in which Anwar el-Sadat, President of Egypt, appeared before the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem to sign a peace treaty. He subsequently paid for this with his life – assassinated in his quest for peace by one of his own.
Sadat’s successor, President Hosni Mubarak, kept the peace. He did not visit the Israeli parliament. But he helped the Israelis fight the flow of weapons into the hands of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. He also sold natural gas to Israel at reduced prices. In return, Israelis became tourists in his land, visiting, among other places, the pyramids, which their forefathers, the slaves of Pharaohs, helped to build.
April, 2011
Al-Arabi stressed his government will play an important role in the Middle East peace process, and that “the Palestinians want peace, but Israel has not yet met their demands.”
Passover, 2011
Jewish people around the world celebrating the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, read from the Haggadah as they are seated around the dinner table, “In each generation someone rises to annihilate us, and in each generation G-d rescues us.”
Amen.

Gunter David and his parents fled Germany, their native country, as soon as Adolph  Hitler rose to power. They settled in Tel Aviv, in what was then Palestine, where Gunter grew up. He subsequently moved to the U.S., where he worked on major newspapers for 25 years. The Evening Bulletin of Philadelphia nominated him for the Pulitzer Prize. He has returned to Israel numerous times, as a newsman and to visit family and friends, and covered the Yom Kippur War in 1973. His second career was as a family therapist and addiction counselor. Dalia, his wife of 57 years, is also from Israel.

February 23, 2011

VIEW FROM DUBAI – Protests and the Power of Ahmisa

VIEW FROM DUBAI – Protests and the Power of Ahmisa

by Vibhas Tattu

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“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always”. – Mahatma Gandhi.

The regime changes that are sweeping the Arab world are an excellent example of the principle of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence at work. The ahimsa is at work not just in the hearts and minds of the protesters in Cairo or Tunisia, but also in the hearts and minds of Hosni Mubarak and his military commanders in Tahrir Square, who did not order attacks on the protesters. Ahimsa is at work in the hearts and minds of the two Libyan fighter pilots who defected their Mirage jets to Malta, refusing to bomb the protesters in Benghazi, as they had been ordered to. It is at work in the hearts and minds of the Libyan ambassadors to India and UK who quit in protest against the violence deployed to quell the uprising in Tripoli.

Ahimsa is not an esoteric or idealistic concept espoused by a ‘half naked Indian fakir’ but a force that has wrought the down fall of many oppressive regimes and even empires like the British Empire, the apartheid regime in South Africa, the communist rule in the Soviet Union, and now the latest wave of non-violent uprisings sweeping the Arab world. Ahimsa is not just a Hindu or Buddhist tenet alone – it is a universal principle that can shape bloodless revolutions while also being a code of ethics. What is to be celebrated here is not so much that dictators are being ousted as the fact that it’s being done with non-violent means. Celebrations are in order not simply for the down fall of oppressors, but the emergence of decency and human rights.

There is jubilation on the streets of Cairo and Tunis and the sentiment will soon be echoed in Benghazi and Tripoli and perhaps Manama (Bahrain). There are rumblings in Yemen, Morocco, flutters in Saudi Arabia. The ripples of this movement with its epicenter at Cairo have travelled as far as Beijing. News of the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in China is trickling out. Who knows how far it will go?

But I suspect the euphoria will be short-lived and will soon be replaced by the bitter economic realities, poverty and economic inequity, that fuelled the popular uprisings in the first place. Just as history is a witness to the power of ahimsa, it is also a witness that revolutions always bring hard ships in their wake. As long as there is dictator or a totalitarian regime in place, you can always abdicate your responsibilities and blame the regime for your problems. Once that is removed you have to face the next level of reality – that now you are in charge and must make things happen. Or to quote the Mahatma again: “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world”

Whatever governments emerge in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya, they will have to face very real and very serious socio-economic problems deeply rooted in their countries. To provide safety and food and jobs to the common man is not an easy task. Indeed this is a continuous task that nations with a long history of political freedom and democratic governance, continue to struggle with every day. It may take decades of hard work before the Arab world will achieve the goals and expectations unleashed through this movement. But at least the path is being cleared and the hard work can now begin in right earnest.

Vibhas Tattu hails from India and is a manufacturing engineer by profession. He has worked in India, USA and now in the United Arab Emirates. Vibhas is interested in Shakespeare, Indian music, poetry (English, Hindi and Marathi) and a new found love of writing.

Tattu has a bachelor’s degree in Production Engineering from the University of Bombay and Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a Fellow.

He writes the View from Dubai column for Wild River Review.

November 4, 2010

Dollar in Dire Straits?

Dollar in Dire Straits?

by Vibhas Tattu

The Federal Reserve in Washington has sailed into the blue. As widely expected by many across the world, Fed Chairman Bernake announced a massive tranche of $ 600 billion dollar “bond purchases” ostensibly to boost the flagging US economy and create jobs. This exercise has many politically correct and euphemistic names and economic theories to support it. “Quantitative Easing” is the phrase being used in world media to describe this affair. Since the first installment of the QE was already done by the Fed in 2008 / 2009 to the tune of $ 1700 billion, this second round is being referred to as “QE2”. The QE2 is being hailed as the kiss that will breathe new life into the US economy. In practical terms what the Fed Reserve has actually done is simply create, literally out of thin air, a bank balance of $ 600 billion in its own current account. The economists call this as debt financing. When my current account bank balance goes up it is usually after I have worked quite hard for a month and my employers send my salary from their account to mine as a compensation for my work. In other words, I have EARNED the credit and now I can spend it. This is by and large the mechanism by which ALL individuals or organizations throughout the world create wealth and operate their finances (at least all legal ones) . Governments don’t always work that way. They are above it all, like God, and can create things out of thin air. God said “Let There Be Light” and there was light. On Wednesday morning, Bernake & Co said “ Let There Be Money” and lo presto $ 600 billion dollars became available for the dubious “bond purchases”.

It is well to dwell a bit on this event which is raising so much expectation within the US and causing so much consternation in the emerging economies like China, India and Brazil.

Let’s review the facts. Despite astronomical and unprecedented financial injections into the US economy (QE1 = $ 1700 billion), the US unemployment rate remains at its highest since 1984. Consumer spending in the US is at its lowest in many years. The economy, it is feared, will be “deflationary” or shrink. This QE2 injection is expected to reverse this deflation by making money available cheaply to banks for lending and in turn to boost consumer spending. But who said banks don’t have money to lend? All the top banks in the US have returned to profit and are flush with funds. The likes of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch turned in multibillion dollar profits for 2009 and multimillion dollar bonuses for their top exces. Even the black sheep of the banking community, Citibank, has shed all its fat and has returned to a modest profit. There are just no borrowers. It’s just that consumers and businesses don’t want to spend right now. So what will be the effect of this QE2 money? By most accounts, the huge infusion will cause the dollar to depreciate significantly and hence make US goods and services more competitive in the world market (now you know why China’s Commerce ministry is very upset with the QE2 - it makes their life difficult). Part of it will be invested within the US economy and generate fresh revenue streams and jobs. All this makes the QE2 sound like a wonderful thing for the American public, doesn’t it?

In fact what is most likely to happen is not so goody goody. A lot of the foreign reserves held by China ($ 1200 billion), India ($ 260 billion) and the rest of the world are in US Dollar currency. What the QE2 will do is reduce the value of these reserves (due to a depreciated dollar). This is unpalatable and will result in these emerging economies moving away from the dollar in the long run and cause a further erosion in the dollar value. The fact is that the US is no longer a net producer but rather a net consumer on the world scene. It is a fundamental truth of economics that unless your production of wealth keeps pace with your consumption of wealth, within reasonable limits, you are likely to end up as a sub-prime risk; and we all know how sub primes end up don’t we? By QE2 the US is increasing its long term chances of ending up as a sub-prime risk for itself and the world. Even in the short term the QE2 could well have very negative results. US funds are already flowing in large measure to foreign shores and it is feared by many that at least part of the QE2 funds will find their way to China and India and not be invested in the US at all. It is not very difficult to believe that the recent surge in market valuations in India are partly because the markets have already factored in the availability of the cheap QE2 money. At the Government level this sudden money flow could trigger what is being called as a “currency war” which threatens to escalate tensions between nations. Also the extent of the fund flows outside the US will restrict job creation within the US. So is the QE2 good at all? Probably not.

In the long run, a nation’s economy must be largely, if not wholly, self sufficient. The operative word being “self”. The reason America rose to prominence in the 20th century was due to its innovations as well as its domestic consumption. The reason why China and India are rising to prominence in the 21st century are also due to their own domestic innovations and consumption. As such if the US is facing hardships, it should look within to spur growth, and not try to spend its way out of it by debt financing. Already the fiscal deficit of the US is a matter of concern the world over. Continued US government excesses in the form of QE2 will dethrone the dollar from its position as the currency of choice. QE2, in the long run, will only hasten the exit of the dollar from the world stage. Austerity measures like the ones UK’s Government is taking are what are needed to save to US economy and the world economy at large.

The Fed’s desire to appear to take bold and concrete steps to stave off economic woes is laudable but sometimes no action is the best action. At the risk of sounding brutal, I would like to turn Marie Antoinette’s famous coinage on its head and say to Bernake & Co “If they don’t have cake, let them eat bread instead”. A little austerity never hurt anyone.

Vibhas Tattu hails from India and is a manufacturing engineer by profession. He has worked in India, USA and now in the United Arab Emirates. Vibhas is interested in Shakespeare, Indian music, poetry (English, Hindi and Marathi) and a new found love of writing.

Tattu has a bachelor’s degree in Production Engineering from the University of Bombay and Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a Fellow.

EMAIL: vibhas1@gmail.com


October 26, 2010

Romancing the Politico

By Angie Brenner


“We’ve got to work to knock down the barriers…” George W. Bush, October 15, 2002


It started with a full moon, the smell of the salty Pacific surf, and a candlelight dinner with a handsome man I’d dated forty years past. We toasted each other with glasses of Merlot, talked about past lives and our shared middle class youth in the Midwest, and how we ended up on different coasts: he in South Carolina, and me in California. The evening reminded me of many nights I’ve spent in Istanbul cafes with friends and lovers, where conversation flows easily from life to politics, to food, in a swirl of ideas that makes my head spin for days.
Somewhere between and wine and the Scampi, I lost myself in the romantic moment and diverted the conversation to the upcoming election and politics. I was just about to tell him about my newly found idea of figuring out which of the lesser candidates to vote for such as judges and supervisors, as well as confusing and contradicting Local and State Proposition. Here is my solution: Google the websites of the opposition and choose the candidate and propositions they are against.
Our conversation, however, never got this far. It didn’t get past my visible shock when my southern Republican friend asked me why I wouldn’t vote for Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christina O-Donnell; or his physical discomfort when I referred to being a Progressive.
Okay…I admit that this last comment was only to push the envelope. Politically, I’m actually disappointed with all parties, and wonder where we, as Americans, as people who care about democracy, have gotten so divergent. Is this the kind of conversation that the D.C. power couple, Democrat James Carvelle and Republican Mary Matalin, have every night over dinner?
While I finished the wine, he checked his watch. “We all want the same things,” I said, throwing out an olive branch. “But I have friends who are losing their homes.” I should have left well enough alone, but the wine was having an effect. “I still blame Bush for getting us into this economic mess. I remember thinking that when he said in a speech some years ago, that he ‘wanted every American to own their own home,’ what he really meant was that he wanted them to own a mortgage.
I was on a roll. I overheard the couple next seated next to us mention Obama, the Tea Party, and the Midterm elections. It was contagious. If we had been in an Istanbul café, we would have ordered another bottle of wine and even the waiter would be shouting opinions with us. But this was America, San Diego to be more specific. Then, my friend challenged me. “Show me that speech, I’d like to see it.”
The balmy evening ended, at best, with us agreeing to disagree. And with a nervous hug instead of a kiss.
When I returned home, It me took about two minutes to locate the speech on a VDare.com blog by Steve Sailer. It was so much more than I’d remembered:
President George W. Bush addresses the White House Conference on Increasing Minority Homeownership at The George Washington University Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2002

Foreclosure USA

THE PRESIDENT: …. I appreciate your attendance to this very important conference. You see, we want everybody in America to own their own home. That’s what we want. This is — an ownership society is a compassionate society.

More and more people own their homes in America today. Two-thirds of all Americans own their homes, yet we have a problem here in America because few than half of the Hispanics and half the African Americans own the home. That’s a homeownership gap. It’s a — it’s a gap that we’ve got to work together to close for the good of our country, for the sake of a more hopeful future.

We’ve got to work to knock down the barriers that have created a homeownership gap.

I set an ambitious goal. It’s one that I believe we can achieve. It’s a clear goal, that by the end of this decade we’ll increase the number of minority homeowners by at least 5.5 million families. (Applause.) … And it’s going to require a strong commitment from those of you involved in the housing industry. …
I appreciate so very much the home owners who are with us today, the Arias family, newly arrived from Peru. They live in Baltimore. Thanks to the Association of Real Estate Brokers, the help of some good folks in Baltimore, they figured out how to purchase their own home. Imagine to be coming to our country without a home, with a simple dream. And now they’re on stage here at this conference being one of the new home owners in the greatest land on the face of the Earth. I appreciate the Arias family coming. (Applause.)

We’ve got the Horton family from Little Rock, Arkansas, here today. … They were helped by HUD, they were helped by Freddie Mac. …

Finally, Kim Berry from New York is here. She’s a single mom. You’re not going to believe this, but her son is 18 years old. (Laughter.) She barely looked like she was 18 to me. And being a single mom is the hardest job in America. And the idea of this fine American working hard to provide for her child, at the same time working hard to realize her dream, which is owning a home on Long Island, is really a special tribute to the character of this particular person and to the character of a lot of Americans. So we’re honored to have you here, Kim, and thanks for being such a good mom and a fine American. (Applause.)

I told Mel Martinez I was serious about this initiative… And the good news is, Mel Martinez believes it and means it, as well. He’s doing a fine job of running HUD, and I’m glad he has joined my Cabinet. (Applause.)

And I picked a pretty spunky deputy, as well, Alphonso Jackson — my fellow Texan. (Applause.) I call him A.J. …

I see Rosario Marin, who’s the Treasurer of the United States. Rosario used to be a mayor. Thank you for coming, Madam Mayor. (Applause.) She understands how important housing is. …

All of us here in America should believe, and I think we do, that we should be, as I mentioned, a nation of owners. Owning something is freedom, as far as I’m concerned. It’s part of a free society. And ownership of a home helps bring stability to neighborhoods. You own your home in a neighborhood, you have more interest in how your neighborhood feels, looks, whether it’s safe or not. It brings pride to people, it’s a part of an asset-based to society. It helps people build up their own individual portfolio, provides an opportunity, if need be, for a mom or a dad to leave something to their child. It’s a part of — it’s of being a — it’s a part of — an important part of America.

Homeownership is also an important part of our economic vitality. If — when we meet this project, this goal, according to our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, we will have added an additional $256 billion to the economy by encouraging 5.5 million new home owners in America; …

Low interest rates, low inflation are very important foundations for economic growth. The idea of encouraging new homeownership and the money that will be circulated as a result of people purchasing homes will mean people are more likely to find a job in America. This project not only is good for the soul of the country, it’s good for the pocketbook of the country, as well.

To open up the doors of homeownership there are some barriers, and I want to talk about four that need to be overcome. First, down payments. A lot of folks can’t make a down payment. They may be qualified. They may desire to buy a home, but they don’t have the money to make a down payment. I think if you were to talk to a lot of families that are desirous to have a home, they would tell you that the down payment is the hurdle that they can’t cross. And one way to address that is to have the federal government participate.

And so we’ve called upon Congress to set up what’s called the American Dream Down Payment Fund, which will provide financial grants to local governments to help first-time home buyers who qualify to make the down payment on their home. If a down payment is a problem, there’s a way we can address that. And when Congress funds the program, this should help 200,000 new families over the next five years become first-time home buyers.

Secondly, affordable housing is a problem in many neighborhoods, particularly inner-city neighborhoods. … I’m doing is proposing a single-family affordable housing credit to encourage the construction of single-family homes in neighborhoods where affordable housing is scarce. (Applause.)

Over the next five years the initiative will provide home builders and therefore home buyers with — home builders with $2 billion in tax credits to bring affordable homes and therefore provide an additional supply for home buyers. …

And we’ve got to set priorities. And one of the key priorities is going to be inner-city America. …

Another obstacle to minority homeownership is the lack of information. You know, getting into your own home can be complicated. It can be a difficult process. I had that very same problem. (Laughter and applause.)

Every home buyer has responsibilities and rights that need to be understood clearly. And yet, when you look at some of the contracts, there’s a lot of small print. And you can imagine somebody newly arrived from Peru looking at all that print, and saying, I’m not sure I can possibly understand that. Why do I want to buy a home? There’s an educational process that needs to go on, not only to explain the contract, explain obligation, but also to explain financing options, to help people understand the complexities of a homeownership market, and also at the same time to protect people from unscrupulous lenders, people who would take advantage of a good-hearted soul who is trying to realize their dream.

Homeownership education is critical. And so today, I’m pleased to announce that through Mel’s office, we’re going to distribute $35 million in 2003 to more than 100 national, state and local organizations that promote homeownership through buyer education. (Applause.)

And, of course, one of the larger obstacles to minority homeownership is financing, is the ability to have their dream financed. Right now, we have a program that all of you are familiar with, maybe our fellow Americans are, and that’s what they call a Section 8 housing program, that provides billions of dollars in vouchers to help low-income Americans with their rent. It encourages leasing. We think it’s important that we use those vouchers, that federal money to help low-income Americans go from being somebody who leases to somebody who owns; that we use the Section 8 program to not only help with down payment, but to help with continuing monthly mortgage payments after they’re into their new home. It is a — it is a way to help us meet this dream of 5.5 million additional families owning their home.

I’m also going to encourage the lending industry to develop a mortgage market so that this script, these vouchers, can regularly be used as a source of payment to provide more capital to lenders, who can then help more families move from rental housing into houses of their own. …

Last June, I issued a challenge to everyone involved in the housing industry to help increase the number of minority families to be home owners. And what I’m talking about, I’m talking about your bankers and your brokers and developers, as well as members of faith-based community and community programs. And the response to the home owners challenge has been very strong and very gratifying. Twenty-two public and private partners have signed up to help meet our national goal. Partners in the mortgage finance industry are encouraging homeownership by purchasing more loans made by banks to African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.

Representatives of the real estate and homebuilding industries, through their nationwide networks or affiliates, are committed to broadening homeownership. They made the commitment to help meet the national goal we set.

Freddie Mae — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — I see the heads who are here; I want to thank you all for coming — (laughter) — have committed to provide more money for lenders. They’ve committed to help meet the shortage of capital available for minority home buyers.

Fannie Mae recently announced a $50 million program to develop 600 homes for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Franklin [Raines], I appreciate that commitment. They also announced $12.7 million investment in a condominium project in Harlem. It’s the beginnings of a series of initiatives to help meet the goal of 5.5 million families. Franklin told me at the meeting where we kicked this office, he said, I promise you we will help, and he has, like many others in this room have done.

Freddie Mac recently began 25 initiatives around the country to dismantle barriers and create greater opportunities for homeownership. One of the programs is designed to help deserving families who have bad credit histories to qualify for homeownership loans. …

There’s all kinds of ways that we can work together to meet the goal. Corporate America has a responsibility to work to make America a compassionate place. Corporate America has responded. As an example — only one of many examples — the good folks at Sears and Roebuck have responded by making a five-year, $100 million commitment to making homeownership and home maintenance possible for millions of Americans. …

The non-profit groups are bringing homeownership to some of our most troubled communities. …

The other thing Kirbyjon told me, which I really appreciate, is you don’t have to have a lousy home for first-time home buyers. If you put your mind to it, the first-time home buyer, the low-income home buyer can have just as nice a house as anybody else. And I know Kirbyjon. He is what I call a social entrepreneur who is using his platform as a Methodist preacher to improve the neighborhood and the community in which he lives.

And so is Luis Cortes, who represents Nueva Esperanza in Philadelphia. I went to see Luis in the inner-city Philadelphia. … But he also understood that a homeownership program is incredibly important to revitalize this neighborhood that a lot of folks had already quit on. …

Again, I want to tell you, this is an initiative — as Mel will tell you, it’s an initiative that we take very seriously. … Thank you for coming. May God bless your vision. May God bless America. (Applause.)

August 19, 2009

Peace Talks with Harriet Mayor Fulbright – The Politics of Healthcare – Leaders in Unexpected Places

Peace Talks with Harriet Fulbright

The Politics of Health Care

Leaders in Unexpected Places

by Harriet Mayor Fulbright

Photo by Edward Keating

Photo by Edward Keating

(Editor’s NoteThis is the third in a series of  Wednesday talks with Harriet Mayor Fulbright, President and Founder of the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center.  This talk took place at the University of Washington, Seattle where Mrs. Fulbright received the 2009 Global Health Consortium Distinguished Service Award.)

Having fought some serious health problems, I am fully aware of the importance of first rate health care delivered by medical specialists who listen to patients carefully and keep up with the steady stream of new information in their chosen fields. I have been the recipient of inspired care so it gives me great pleasure to give it the recognition it deserves. These are doctors who have great skill as social entrepreneurs, and their kind springs up in all countries. They are people who are not satisfied with current practices in their professions and lead in the development of innovative solutions for seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Dr. Devi Prasad Setty is one such entrepreneur. He grew up in a family of nine children with parents who struggled with both poverty and ill health. Determined to help families like his own, he gained entrance into medical school, first in India and then in England. After graduating as a heart specialist, he returned to Calcutta where he founded the first Indian hospital devoted to heart care and extended services to underprivileged children at no charge.

Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty

Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty

Once established in Calcutta, he returned to his native state of Karnataka where he founded an organization called Narayan Hrudayalaya, or NH, which stands for God’s compassionate Home, and there his real leadership began.

His first breakthrough came with a new method of heart surgery. Volume is the key to the NH practice of heart surgery, achieved by limiting the heart surgeon’s work to just those tasks that no other doctor has the training or skills to perform. All else is done by dedicated but less skilled professionals. This allows the heart surgeon to perform at least 5 surgeries per day instead of the standard, which is one. It means that NH spends 12 – 13% of its revenues on salaries instead of the normal 60% spent elsewhere in the country, while still maintaining the admirably low mortality rate of 1.5%, and a high staff retention rate because they are well paid for their skill levels, well treated and proud of their work. These percentages also allowed him to accept poor children with heart problems free of charge.

Dr. Shetty also focused on the fact that 70% of India’s population lives in villages but 70% of the country’s doctors lives in cities. He therefore persuaded the Indian Space Research Organization in Bangalore to provide satellite connections that allowed NH to establish a telemedicine network between city hospitals and villages. With help from local IT firms, NH built a technology infrastructure and used digitization to whittle down the cost of X-rays. The networks link rural coronary care units (CCU’s), which are staffed by general practitioners, with medical experts. Before these CCU’s were established, 50% of patients who died at district hospitals succumbed to their diseases or medical problems without any advice from a specialist. Now many thousands of patients are treated successfully via the network.

Dr. Shetty also saw the urgent need of health insurance for the working poor. To make insurance affordable, a very large number of members had to be enlisted, so he partnered with a dairy farmers’ cooperative to launch his program because it had a membership of 1.7 million farmers. All who had been members for at least one year were invited to join regardless of medical history, and the fee was five rupees, or eleven cents, per month. The system is cost effective because only a small percentage of members require care at any one time and because it also provides basic information on preventive measures.

Dr. Shetty is a perfect example of a skilled physician who had an abiding interest in his community, combined with inspired creativity and with an ability to study and analyze a situation with a deep understanding of its complexity.

Yet another example of creative leadership is more personal and has made a huge difference in my life as well as thousands of others. In the year 2000, after being told for several years that I had a tendency toward anemia, one doctor realized that the problem lay elsewhere, and after more extensive tests, found that I had a rare form of blood cancer called Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia or WM. I was told that it was both fatal and incurable and that I had about 5 good years left. I conducted a thorough search of the world of hematological oncology through the internet and uncovered a doctor who was focusing on just this disease at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Dr. Steve Treon is a caring hard working hematological oncologist who was feeling frustrated in his research on this form of cancer because there were so few of us patients in the US that he found it difficult to make progress in his efforts to find an effective response, much less a cure. We talked about the level of knowledge of WM in general, of my case in particular, and about the amazing benefits of the Fulbright Program and its ability to connect people around the world to examine all manner of issues. The tremendous benefit of these collaborations across borders is that the differing attitudes, outlooks and training broadens the research and often helps to break down and solve problems better. Dr. Treon saw the advantage of this approach, and I left feeling that I was getting the best possible medical attention. Within a few short weeks I started the regimen he suggested and with great success. In a few short months Dr. Treon sent me an announcement of the first international conference on WM, to be held in Boston, and I was invited to attend and speak.

Dr. Steve Treon Dr. Steven P. Treon

At this first meeting there were doctors from nine different foreign institutions and patients from around the country. There were the expected presentations of research in progress and unexpected interactions between patients and the attending physicians – conversations which were more leisurely and wide ranging than is possible in a hospital; it was clear that they were enlightening to both doctor and patient. There was also a pervasive enthusiasm about the potential for progress as a result of this collaborative effort, both between doctors from different countries and between doctors and patients.

Today, the outcomes of this international organization have exceeded everyone’s hopes and dreams. The cohesive community, which has really grown each year, built around this rare disease, has been able to conduct far more effective research than any one individual doctor or institute could perform because of the coordination and interaction, and the resulting knowledge of what causes WM and how to deal with it is growing exponentially. I am particularly pleased to report that they have among their number Fulbright scholars who are fulfilling their scholarship obligations as researchers at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

As of the beginning of 2006 there are 25 centers in Australia, Canada, the United States, Latin America, the Far East and throughout Europe, and Dr. Treon expects that number to double within the foreseeable future. The conferences’ ability to bring patients and doctors together has not only increased the understanding of the issues but has turned the patients into advocates of the work, thereby facilitating the fundraising necessary for continuing the research. The annual conferences are now held in a different country each year, and the doctors involved are sharing their findings in a collaborative manner and planning trials in consultation with each other to maximize the knowledge gained.

Steve Treon understood the power of collaboration. He knew that if he shared the results of his research freely, he could attract like-minded physicians around the world. The resulting knowledge about Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia is expanding rapidly, and – who knows – there might even be a cure in sight soon.

As you can see, leadership is about listening and interacting with those around you, knowing how to use your skills and equipment for the benefit others. It is about conducting an examination of a problem, careful enough to understand the core of that problem, being willing to entertain unusual approaches and knowing how to arrive at a truly effective solution. It is a willingness to reach out and collaborate freely with others on a problem of common interest, no matter how daunting. It always takes hard work and perseverance

With these attributes a leader can engage the hearts and loyalty of a friend, a community, a nation, or any group so that all its members can together engage in meaningful work leading to satisfying improvements and accomplishments. Like Dr. Devi Prasad Setty and Dr. Steve Treon, we can all give real meaning to the words of Margaret Meade:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that has.”

Harriet Mayor Fulbright is president and founder of the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center, which works to create peace through education exchange programs around the world.

November 18, 2009

PEACE TALKS with Harriet Mayor Fulbright: Testimony on Health Care

(Editor’s NoteThis is the seventh in a series of  Wednesday talks with Harriet Mayor Fulbright, President and Founder of the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center.)

Testimony - Hearing on Health Care and Public Option

2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington DC - 27 October 2009

Harriet Mayor Fulbright

Harriet Mayor Fulbright

I would like to thank you and your colleagues for providing leadership on this most important topic namely, a health care bill with a public option. It is in the tradition of the hearings of my late husband, Senator J. William Fulbright – public hearings on issues of supreme importance to the American people. I can think of no subject more important than health care for every citizen of this country.

And I talk about this from personal experience. A little over ten years ago a very rare blood cancer called Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia slowly began to dominate the marrow of my bones. The progress of the doctors who were trying to figure out why this supposed simple case of anemia was not responding properly to tried-and-true methods of eliminating the condition was even slower because it took a more complicated blood test to arrive at the proper diagnosis of a cancer that is not simple nor is it anemia and is, indeed, incurable and deadly.

The ensuing year was a struggle. I felt as if I were living on transfusions, which were necessary every two to three weeks. The subsequent sessions with a chemotherapy agent slowly dripping into my arm were more uncomfortable because of the extreme fatigue that followed, but my concerns were not the immediate situation. It was the future that had me worried. I was used to traveling, sitting up late writing speeches such as this one, gardening and playing with my grandchildren. That was “living,” not this routine.

My doctor at Johns Hopkins, whom I liked from the start, finally told me that even though the chemo was indeed killing the cancer, it was also causing such damage to my immune system that he felt I needed a second opinion and suggested that I go to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. (See  Mrs. Fulbright’s August 19 Peace Talk immediately following this post.) Dr. Stephen Treon agreed to see me, and a few months later my life began to improve. The complete transformation you now see before you came slowly but feels to me like a miracle. I am not and cannot be cured but I am in complete remission.

And it came about because of a medical team extending around the world – doctors who shared research findings and techniques freely, swapping patient stories in an effort to treat us all with greater efficiency and compassion, brainstorming ideas about how to spread the word about this disease so that future Waldenstrom’s patients will not go through a year or more of frustrating treatments for the wrong malady.

I also want to emphasize that I was able to take advantage of all this medical expertise because my health insurance, which came from my Senator husband, is the best this country has to offer and should be available to all US citizens. Without it I would now be deeply in debt or dead, unable to afford the extremely expensive and prolonged treatments.

And while I would never choose to experience this or any other life threatening disease, I am eternally grateful for what it has taught me. The disease has shown me who my friends are and introduced me to more wonderful people. It reintroduced me to my family and made me realize that our deep caring for each other was priceless and needed more nurturing. It has taught me what it takes to be a real companion. It has made me realize that fancy titles, prizes, medals and honors are no match for loving human relationships.

Over time it has also raised my sights to look at the wider world. You here at this hearing on health care are, or should be, an example for other groups. It is a collaborative effort, and therefore more powerful. Senator Fulbright understood the transforming power of collaborative efforts and established an international education exchange program founded on that principal. He would, I am sure, applaud you for your efforts and often spoke of what makes the United States of America such a magnet for so many:

“It is not our affluence or our plumbing or our clogged freeways that grip the imagination of others. Rather, it is the values upon which our system is built. These values imply our adherence not only to liberty and individual freedom but also to international peace, law and order, and constructive social purpose. When we depart from these values, we do so at our peril.” He went on to say that “our future is not in the stars but in our own minds and hearts” and that “creative leadership and liberal education, which in fact go together, are the first requirements for a hopeful future for humankind.” This group adds to that hope, and I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.

Harriet Mayor Fulbright is president and founder of the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center, which works to create peace through education exchange programs around the world.

December 3, 2009

Dubai World: Debts and Dates

by Vibhas Tattu

dubai-palm-tree-island-300x1442

When Lehman Brothers collapsed in Sep 2008, the US Government was not a party to it, since Lehman’s woes were entirely of their own making. The US Government‘s tacit decision to let Lehman Brothers collapse under its own inefficiencies, was, at the very least, a legally as well as morally defensible position.

As Dubai World, a large Dubai company with operations around the world, prepares to default on its massive debt burden, the Dubai Government is quite truthfully saying that it is not legally obligated to stave off this debacle. Whether this position is morally defensible however, is probably another question altogether. But then in the delusional world of international finance, moral grounds are not factored into the balance sheet anyway.

What is at play here is the legal fact that the owner of a commercial entity is not personally liable to bailout the commercial entity if it fails. Dubai Government is the owner of Dubai World but has not signed any guarantees on its behalf.  As one of my sources, a senior functionary in a local bank said, those institutions and individuals who gave massive sums of money to Dubai World perhaps thought they were taking a lesser risk since it was a ‘quasi-sovereign risk’. If this was so it was a misapprehension, as recent media reports have clarified. The risk, therefore, has just become riskier if not quite junk. That’s the executive summary of the situation, as it were.

Delving deeper into details we find that what happened was this: On November 25, 2009 Dubai World, a large state owned and diversified company in Dubai, issued a ‘request’ to all its creditors for a standstill on the payment of its sukuks (Islamic Bonds) and other debts for a period of six months upto May 30, 2010 since it was undertaking a major restructuring exercise.  The total debt, which runs to billions of dollars, is believed to consist of bilateral debt s (like bank loans) and sukuks. A sukuk is a Sharia compliant bond, similar to a bond used in Western financial markets, with a fixed maturity date. Sukuks are commonly used in the Middle East to raise money. These sukuks are traded on the Europeans as well as Middle East markets. Some of these payments are due as early as Dec 14, 2009. In layman terms the ‘standstill request’ means that Dubai World is unable to pay its debt obligations on the due date. The details of the restructuring have not been disclosed as yet. What is known is that the total debt of DW is around $ 59 billion. 

This unceremonious announcement has sent shockwaves around the world. When a giant tree is about to be felled, the woodsmen shout ‘timber’ to warn all those in the jungle to get out of harm’s way. The DW announcement has been heard as a cry of ‘timber’ in the financial jungles around the world. The first predictable reaction has been of panic.  The thought that the Dubai bubble has finally burst may have crossed many minds. In the first few days after the announcement there was even talk of a run on banks. In response, the UAE Central Bank announced that it was ready to provide ample liquidity to all local and international banks in UAE , should such a stampede ensue; which in the event did not.  In this same panic, Dubai and Abu Dhabi bourses have hacked off around $ 9 billion (8 %) of market value in the last few days alone. The sukuks which were trading at around $108 before fell to $43 and were then suspended from being traded. The bourses of Europe and India have also dropped significant valuations of various stocks.  Some international banks like HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank which are believed to have large outstanding positions with DW, have taken a massive drubbing in share markets around the world. 

So let’s get to know this company ‘Dubai World’ a little better. Dubai World is the management umbrella to a host of high profile companies like Nakheel, Limitless, Istithmar, DP World, JAFZA etc. Nakheel, the flagship of DW, has built some serious pieces of real estate such as the Palm Jumeirah Islands, Atlantis Hotel, Jebel Ali and Deira Palm Islands, World Islands, Jumeirah Lake Towers etc. Other than the Great Wall of China, the Palm Islands are the only manmade object visible from outer space. Being almost exclusively a real estate developer, Nakheel’s assets have shrunk very seriously in value over the last twelve months and its cash flows have dried up, as the real estate bubble has burst in the UAE, as in the world at large. DP World, another crown jewel in the DW basket, is one of the largest port operators in the world with operations in dozens of countries. DP World’s acquisition of some US ports a few years back caused a furore in the US Congress and it had to ultimately divest its US assets. Istithmar is the overseas investment wing of Dubai World. Some of the prestigious acquisitions of Istithmar or its subsidiaries include a slice of MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Barneys Luxury Stores, New York, and the world’s largest luxury liner Queen Elizabeth 2. JAFZA (Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority) another DW company owns and operates the free zone located in Jebel Ali on the outskirts of Dubai. JAFZA is host to over 6000 local and international businesses in Dubai and is the largest free zone company in the world. These then are the constellations in the DW firmament. The combined asset base of DW companies is estimated at around $100 billion. It can readily be appreciated then, that by any standards, the entity called Dubai World is a giant oak in the business jungle. As of now the markets perceive that this giant is at best unsteady on its feet and at worst about to topple under the weight of its debt of $59 billion. This is reason the cry of ‘timber’ is echoing in the money market jungle.

As with most things in life, it’s all a question of timing. It’s a matter of arranging the dates when the debts will be paid. DW, we are told, is restructuring its debt and its member companies, and not defaulting or filing for bankruptcy. On Dec 01 DW announced that only $26 billion out the total $59 billion debt is up for restructuring. The balance debt is ‘stable’ since it belongs to its more profitable companies like DP World, which are quite able to service their debts, thank you. In fact JAFZA paid the dues on its sukuk on the due date November 30. 

However, those who are heavily invested in the troubled assets of DW like Nakheel are probably in for a rough ride. While the details are not known it is reasonable to assume that investors may have to provide for significant capital losses in addition to factoring considerable delays into their cash flows. Another source who works for an international bank in Dubai told me that if heavy provisions have to be taken against these loans, lots of people in the banking sector could lose their jobs. Out of about 70,000 employees of DW, the restructuring has already taken toll of over 10,000 employees. The collateral and consequential damage in terms of job losses in related sectors could be much wider since this will affect the already weakened banking, construction, real estate and logistics sectors in UAE. As the process of restructuring unfolds in the coming months, the full extent of the debacle and loss in jobs and capital value will become apparent.

On a business outlook level, this event has already made Dubai a riskier investment destination than before. This is reflected in the Credit Default Swap rates which jumped to above 550 basis points in the last few days and are likely to remain high. What this means is that investors will charge a high premium for lending to Dubai companies and institutions operating in Dubai. International ratings agency Standard and Poor’s today cut the ratings of six government related entities in Dubai to junk status. The six GRE’s (govt related entities) are DP World, JAFZA, Emaar, DIFC Investments, Dubai Holding Commercial Operations Group and Dubai Multi Commodities Center Authority.  The PR machinery has swung into damage control mode with analysts making all the right noises saying it’s a relatively minor problem. Rating agency Moody’s has stated that UAE’s overall ratings will not suffer due to this. UAE Leaders have made statements about a strong and vibrant economy that can weather storms. Nonetheless this event may well change the perceptions about Dubai and UAE. Surely some of the hype and gloss will lose its sheen, its being said. 

When Lehman Brothers collapsed and triggered the global meltdown, many giant institutions seemed irreparably damaged. The media had sounded the death knell of investment banking then. Yet barely a year later many of the troubled institutions, including Citibank, Goldman Sachs etc have returned to profit and bonus to boot. So also Dubai may well face considerable turbulence for a while, but who knows, a year from now it will soar into the blue once again.

Vibhas Tattu  hails from India and is a manufacturing engineer by profession. He has worked in India, USA and now in the United Arab Emirates. Vibhas is interested in Shakespeare, Indian music, poetry (English, Hindi and Marathi) and a new found love of writing. He routinely practices Vipassana (“mindfulness”) meditation.

Tattu has a bachelor’s degree in Production Engineering from the University of Bombay and Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a Fellow.

EMAIL: vibhas1@gmail.com

December 23, 2009

Wine, Popcorn, Thirty Percent Discount – Christmas Shopping at Two Buttons

Wine, Popcorn, Thirty Percent Discount

Christmas Shopping at Two Buttons

jose-chest-of-drawersJose Nunez

by Joy E . Stocke

Confession:  I am one of the world’s shopping-challenged people, especially at Christmas when the chance of buying the wrong gift for people I love – or even for people I like a little – keeps me up at night.  And then there’s the question of how much to spend. How easy it is to  ”throw money at the problem.” (See Scroogenomics by Joel Waldfogel).  All you have to do is get in your car, or on a bus or train, and hurl yourself into the fray at the not-so-local (in my case) mall.

My husband is especially hard to shop for. Year after year, even as the cuffs of his shirts fray and his pants get holes in the knees and he piles his clothes on a chair because he doesn’t have a dresser, he says he needs “nothing.”

And so, it was with great relief that I received a phone call from our daughter.

“Mom,” she said, “Dad saw something he liked at Two Buttons in Frenchtown, a chest of drawers made from old boats and teak.”

Clever, I thought. But would it work in our house?

Later that evening, my husband came home from work and said, “I saw the most interesting chest of drawers at Jose and Liz’s store – made from old boats and teak.”

And then, even later that evening at a friend’s annual Latke party, my husband again mentioned the drawers.

Now, Jose and Liz are Jose Nunez and Elizabeth Gilbert, she of Eat, Pray, Love fame; and he, of Eat, Pray, Love fame as well. For those who have read the book (spoiler alert for those who have not), he is the gentleman who swept Liz off her feet in Bali.

And so, I got in the car and drove north along the sparkling Delaware River to their store, Two Buttons, a bazaar of color and shape and form that instantly transported me to other places I have traveled, places where I have been very happy. Since Two Buttons is a collaborative effort, I can easily understand why Liz and Jose might have swept each other off their respective feet.

But the dresser made of boats? For that I needed to find Jose.

Because the treasures housed in Two Buttons – prayer flags, Balinese puppets, carved Ganeshas, Buddhas, tables carved from teak, jewelry displayed beneath beveled mirrors – take up two warehouse rooms; and because it’s winter, the temperature is chilly. Jose appears in a yellow jacket and wool hat, remembering instantly the chest of drawers. He tells me the story, explaining that the reason the drawers open so smoothly is because they were made by a German cabinet-maker. He quotes a price that is little more than my budget.

And then, he says something that seals the deal.  ”If you can wait until Saturday, we are having a 30 percent off sale. Why don’t you come back and buy it then?”  He pauses, and then says, “Since I know your husband, you can have 30 percent off today if you like.” His kindness catches me off guard and I say, Well, since you put it that way, I’ll buy it.”

He takes me on a tour of the store, describing the treasures he has collected and those he’s had made, talking about friends we have in common and places we have been. And then he says, “Would you like a glass of wine?”

Sure enough, he returns with a bottle of Chilean Pinot Noir and a paper cup, and explains that he bought 40 cases, “I would have bought 80 if I could,” he says. ‘Because it’s delicious and the price was right.”

While I sip the soft, lovely wine, Jose offers wine to all his customers (it’s just shy of noon) before hurrying to a popcorn machine and bringing back small bags of perfectly salted kernels.  I’m reminded of a shopkeeper in Nicosia, Cyprus who just a month earlier had shared a glass of homemade Retsina with me, and it makes me glad to see such hospitality so close to home.

And so, my husband and I will return on Saturday post-Christmas to pick up the chest of drawers (I couldn’t get them home in my car), and surely other things: a necklace of crystal flowers, a Balinese puppet.

Wine, popcorn and a thirty percent discount – now that’s my kind of shopping.

img_2333Vicky Dudas & Janine Carroll

Two Buttons is located on the Delaware River in Frenchtown, New Jersey. To visit their website, click here: Two Buttons.

Joy E. Stocke is founder and Editor in Chief of Wild River Review. Her travel memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights, co-written with Angie Brenner, will be published in 2010. You can visit the book’s website at: Anatolian Days and Nights.com.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism, she participated in the Lindisfarne Symposium on The Evolution of Consciousness with cultural philosopher, poet and historian, William Irwin Thompson. In 2009, she became a Lindisfarne Fellow.

She has worked with numerous writers shepherding their manuscripts and articles into print and onto the web, and is currently Director of Public Affairs for the J. William and Harriet Mayor Fulbright Center focusing on economic development and women’s and children’s education in rural areas of North Africa.

December 28, 2009

Green Tara and A Dresser Made from an Old Boat (30% 0ff)

by Joy E. Stocke

two-buttons-dresserDresser made from a Teak and Ironwood Balinese boat

The statistics aren’t yet in, but if holiday shopping makes the world go round (at least in the U.S), then by anecdotal accounts those that had, spent more this year than last. And the shopping ain’t over yet.  If you live near Macy’s, rush on out. Yesterday the newspaper advertised 40 percent off already reduced prices, plus another 10 percent with an easy to clip coupon. (You could go online and make one if you wish.)  That makes the merchandise practically free, if you don’t include sales tax.

In our family’s case, a lot more practical gifts were purchased – comforters, blankets, pots and pans, clothes, and in my husband’s case, a dresser from Two Buttons, made by a German cabinetmaker in Bali with scrap wood from fishing boats. (Exceedingly practical, especially if your basement – where the dresser will rest – is prone to flooding.)

As I described in the preceding post, Two Buttons owner, Jose’ Nunez, kindly informed me to wait until AFTER Christmas to buy my husband his Christmas present so as to receive the 30% discount, which the store began offering on December 26.  And since, my coffers have dwindled over the past year (thanks to a spiffy new upgrade on the Wild River Review website) I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  And so, I gave my husband a photograph (see previous post) of said dresser, and dutifully on Saturday morning, we set off for Two Buttons in Frenchtown, New Jersey.

My husband, the founder of this blog (and a professional financial advisor), likes stories, and having been raised as one of 14 children (He was given a yearly budget starting at Age 10 and taught to manage it)., also likes a good deal. We arrived for our bargain 15 minutes before the official opening time. Nunez hadn’t arrived, nor had his wife, Liz Gilbert.  But, store manager, Shea Hembrey, a painter, welcomed us, and in ten minutes we had not only purchased the dresser – the first one “I’ve had since I was 13,” my husband of 25 years informed me. (Not to worry. He has a closet.)

And then, with all the money we “saved” on our bargain dresser, we bought a statue, Green Tara, a Tibetan Buddhist figure whose name is the root of the word star, and whose meaning is, “She who ferries us across.”

green-tara1

And so, my husband’s new socks are tucked safely in his water-proof drawers and Tara watches over the green woods outside our house.  And if I could ask Tara for anything, it is this: May we all be safely ferried out of this challenging decade into a new one with warm clothes, somewhere to put them, and a few pennies left in our pockets.

Two Buttons is located on the Delaware River in Frenchtown, New Jersey. To visit their website, click here: Two Buttons.

Joy E. Stocke is founder and Editor in Chief of Wild River Review. Her travel memoir,Anatolian Days and Nights, co-written with Angie Brenner, will be published in 2010. You can visit the book’s website at: Anatolian Days and Nights.com.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism, she participated in the Lindisfarne Symposium on The Evolution of Consciousness with cultural philosopher, poet and historian, William Irwin Thompson. In 2009, she became a Lindisfarne Fellow.

She has worked with numerous writers shepherding their manuscripts and articles into print and onto the web, and is currently Director of Public Affairs for the J. William and Harriet Mayor Fulbright Center focusing on economic development and women’s and children’s education in rural areas of North Africa.

January 4, 2010

When the World Goes Bust, Build Up – Burj Dubai

Filed under: Wild Finance — Tags: , , — joystocke @ 9:41 am

by Joy E. Stocke

91548-burj

At a cost of $1.5 billion and a reported 2,684 feet (nearly 820 meters), the Burj Dubai has become the tallest building in the world. From the observation deck on the 124th floor, one can look beyond the city to rolling sand dunes and the blue sea – open vistas that make a mockery of the financial crisis that hit the United Arab Emirates this past fall.

According to Mohammed Alabbar, chairman of the tower’s developer Emaar Properties, the tower is nearly 90 percent sold.

“Crises come and go,” he said.  ”You have to move on. Because if you stop taking decisions, you stop growing.”

For more on Burj Dubai, click here: http://www.ameinfo.com/219718.html

Joy E. Stocke is editor in chief of Wild River Review.






January 6, 2010

Secrets and Lies: Turkey Addresses Genocide

Secrets and Lies: Turkey Addresses Genocide

by Joy Stocke

hamam-bowlHamam Bathing Bowl

This morning, The New York Times published an article about one of the taboo stories of the 20th century – A Family Uprooted by a 60-Year-Old Secret – the Armenian Genocide which took place in Ottoman Turkey, and which, under the Presidency of Abdullah Gul is now being gingerly addressed.

In 2005, Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk made an off-the-record and subsequently published comment about the genocide, which caused a furor in Turkey.  That year, in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, West Coast Editor Angie Brenner and I met an antique dealer who spoke about his own experience.

But first, he sold me the hamam, or bathing bowl, pictured above, made in the town of Van in the late 1800s by an Armenian craftsman. The fish is made of copper and jointed so that it swims when the bowl is filled with water, and the bird symbolizes our highest aspirations.

***

Osman sits behind his desk in the tiny antique shop he owns tucked into one of the labyrinthine streets of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. “Yes, it happened,” he says. “To my father and my grandparents near Erzincan in what was then eastern Anatolia.”

He speaks slowly and clearly, a British inflection threading through his perfect English. “My father was 6 and his brother was 4. When the soldiers came for my grandparents, two families of Alevi Turks — who follow the tradition of Shia Islam — hid my father and his brother. The soldiers gathered the people of the village and brought them to the fields in the shadow of the mountains, and slit their throats. For three years, the Alevis hid my father and his brother in the chimneys of their baking hearths. To protect the boys, they changed their Armenian Christian names to Muslim names.”

His son arrives with small cups of coffee, and then shuts the door. The air grows warm and stuffy, but Osman doesn’t seem to notice. “When my father and his brother were freed, they became separated. For the rest of his life, my father looked for him, visiting every town no matter how small, hoping that his brother would appear on the street or in a coffee house. When I was 12, my father died of a broken heart, I’m sure. But there is irony in my story, because the government had a special program for orphaned boys. They sent me to one of the best schools in Turkey.”

In that school, Osman met Nuri, a Muslim, who owns a carpet shop nearby. “All these years, Osman and I have been friends.” says Nuri, “brothers really, but we’ve never talked of this subject. He knows it happened. I know it happened. Why make problems between us?”

Nuri and Osman spoke these words, well aware that on April 24 many Western countries mark Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, the beginning of massacres and deportation of Armenians from a land where they had lived for more than 3,000 years.

Five years ago, most Turks wouldn’t speak openly about what they say is a “so-called genocide,” but with Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union, friends who once were afraid to voice their opinions about an event deleted from their history books are beginning to talk.

The Turkish government, at odds with many of its citizens, denies that systematic deportations and killings of Armenians occurred. Yet, if you travel to the eastern border of Turkey, you will find abandoned churches. And in travel posters and ads in most tourist offices, you will see a lone red brick church sitting on an island called Akdamar in the center of a lake called Van, named for a once-thriving metropolis of Armenian farmers, craftsmen, businessmen, and traders.

You begin to wonder: If a well-photographed Armenian church sits on an island — and in the nearby abandoned city of Ani sit hundreds more churches — where did the Armenians go?

Until the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was known for tolerance of its Christian minorities, but things changed when the Empire went into decline. In July 1908, a group of Turkish nationalists known as the Young Turks — junior officers in the Turkish Army — forced the Sultan to allow a constitutional government guaranteeing basic rights to Turkey’s citizens.

But in 1913, three leaders of the Young Turks seized control of the government, planning to expand the borders of Turkey into Central Asia, creating a new empire called Turan with one language and one religion. Armed roundups of Armenians — who, encouraged by the European powers and Russia, had considered establishing their own state — began on the evening of April 24, 1915. Three hundred Armenian political leaders, educators, writers, and clergy in Istanbul were jailed, tortured, then hanged or shot.

In the following three years, somewhere between 700,000 to more than 1 million Armenians were killed or died of starvation, thirst and disease, and deported to camps in the Syrian desert.

Osman finishes his coffee, gently setting the cup in its saucer. “You ask me what to call the murders of my family?” he says. “What good is a name if we can’t openly admit it happened?”

Joy E. Stocke is founder and Editor in Chief of Wild River Review. She is completing a travel memoir,Anatolian Days and Nights, co-written with Angie Brenner. You can visit the book’s website at: Anatolian Days and Nights.com.


January 14, 2010

Haiti and the World Wide Web

Haiti and the World Wide Web

by Joy E. Stocke

100114143323Google Map of Port Au Prince After Quake

On Thursday morning, in the wake of Haiti’s earthquake, on my Facebook page I followed a link posted by my colleague and Inquirer Staff Writer John Timpane to a piece he wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer titled: Social Media a Lifeline After Quake.

What came to mind is how communication has been transformed in a little over a decade. In 1999, West Coast Editor Angie Brenner and I were in Istanbul the day after an earthquake (measuring 7.6 on the Richter Scale; the Haitian Earthquake measured 7.0) devastated the city of  Yalova on the Sea of Marmara.  The earthquake destroyed 50,000 (poorly constructed) houses, killed nearly 17,000 people, and left approximately half a million people homeless.

At the time Angie and I weren’t traveling with cell phones.  And truth be told, since we didn’t own cell phones, we used phone booths and phone cards.  Although we were on a research assignment and I had my laptop with me, our hotel (an old Ottoman Sea Captain’s home) was not yet set up for in-room internet connection.

The hotel, while safe enough, had no phone service, which meant no Internet and fax service; and as the news trickled out, our frantic families had no way of knowing where we were or if we were all right.

Contrast that with a quote from Timpane’s article:

In countless instances, the first word from quake-ravaged areas was a post, tweet or text message. The Lawrenceville Presbyterian church sent a group to Haiti the very day of the quake, and after hours of anxiety, the first word was a text message: “I’m ok. Can’t call. I’m ok. Start the list” – the telephone tree.

By comparison, according to Turkish government documents:

A massive international response was mounted to assist in digging for survivors and assisting the wounded and homeless. The rescue teams were dispatched within 24–48 hours of the disaster, and the assistance to the survivors was channeled through NGOs and the Red Crescent.

Twenty-four hours after the Haitian quake I was getting my hair cut. In the chair next to me sat a woman texting on her iPhone as the hairdresser maneuvered a blowdryer over her curls.  She told me that she was a missionary who had returned from Haiti in  November after a year working with a school outside of the now-devastated city of Port Au Prince.  She was frantic to get back, she said.  But it wasn’t so easy. People were eager to help, but with limited air strips only so many planes could land and take off.

A friend had just texted her to say that the Partners in Health compound outside of Port Au Prince, set up by medical anthropologist and physician Dr. Paul Farmer, was still standing, while so many other buildings had collapsed. Farmer’s buildings remained because they were constructed of limestone instead of poor quality cinderblock. She also said that she was nervous that some aid organizations wouldn’t be able to get funds and supplies where needed. (She said that Partners in Health had a very efficient system for administering donations.)

As was made so clear last year in Iran, we are all deeply connected, at least on the information end of events – and for loved ones missing a lost relative this communication is vital.

But when I read the end of John Timpane’s piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I couldn’t help thinking he was reading my mind. And so I’ll quote him:

Can social media mobilize as much money, blood, blankets and food for Haiti as older means? Too soon to tell. But there’s no doubt: They’re how we connect now when catastrophe hits.

Joy E. Stocke is founder and Editor in Chief of Wild River Review. She is completing a travel memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights, A Love Affair with Turkey-Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints, co-written with Angie Brenner. You can visit the book’s website at: Anatolian Days and Nights.com.

To support WRR’s mission, and our commitment to support artists and good storytelling, please make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here: Wild River Donation.


January 19, 2010

EARTHQUAKES: THE AFTERMATH

EARTHQUAKES: THE AFTERMATH

picture-1

Tent City, Earthquake aftermath, August 1999, Gulhane Park, Istanbul

By Angie Brenner

Earthquakes are nothing new to those of us living along California’s San Andreas Fault line. I’ve experienced rolling, jolting, and grinding quakes, yet have managed to remain unscathed from death and damage. There are, in fact, so may small shakes here, that we become complacent. Well, almost. I still avoid sitting under concrete freeway overpasses, remembering those who lost their lives in the 1989 San Francisco Bay Area earthquake when double-decker highways collapsed.

I missed all but the aftershocks of the devastating August 17, 1999 earthquake near Istanbul, Turkey (when more than 17,000 died and half a million people were left homeless) by a day. WRR editor, Joy Stocke, and I were floating in ignorance and bliss near Cleopatra’s cove in the Mediterranean Sea.

We learned via television in a local taverna that a disaster of major proportions had struck the Istanbul area, an unfathomable event that left its mark on our Turkish friends to this day, and inspired a novel by author Alan Drew, Gardens of Water. Mr. Drew writes about the aftermath, the communities of displaced people, and American aid workers.

Wild River Review Editor in Chief, Joy Stocke, and I spent 48 hours in the aftermath of Istanbul’s quake where millions of Istanbul’s citizens, as well as most of our fellow hotel guests, slept outside in parks and gardens.

Fear gripped the city. Everyone wondered what the future would hold and laid blame on shoddy construction and greed. But time does heal. Last November, when Joy and I visited Istanbul, there was no trace, physically or emotionally from the earthquake ten years prior. The city was celebrating its’ founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and scheduling the many cultural events in preparation of a year as the 2010 European Capital of Culture.

picture-4

Istikal Boulevard, Istanbul, Turkey

While we reconnected with friends over mezas and raki and walked along Istikal, the pedestrian boulevard in the hip neighborhoods of Beyoglu, Cihangir and Taksim, we talked about the resilience of the human spirit, and the people who come together to help – it was the Greek government (long thought to be an adversary) who were the first to help Turkey’s earthquake victims.

The losses of life and property which the people of Haiti are experiencing today are difficult to imagine, and our heartfelt sympathies are with them. Yet, I know that the Haitian survivors, like the people in Turkey a decade ago, will work through this disaster.

There are many who are coming to their aid, and many blaming the high loss of lives on the lack of infrastructure. It leaves me to wonder why we are so generous to help in the aftermath of a disaster, but reluctant to help people move out of the poverty that exacerbates such catastrophes. Haiti might have been a place on the moon for many of us who never thought once about their day-to-day plight of poverty – until last week. Like New Orleans, the signs were there: the threads of colonization, capitalistic opportunity, political despotism, apathy. Who will be the next people to suffer such loss after an earthquake, tsunami, or other disaster?

Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for Wild River Review.  She is completing a memoir about her journeys in Turkey, Anatolian Days & Nights.

To support WRR’s mission, and our commitment to support artists and good storytelling, please make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here: Wild River Donation.

January 21, 2010

Hey Democrats, Is the Party Over?

Filed under: Wild Finance — Tags: , , , , , — joystocke @ 12:55 pm

Hey Democrats, Is the Party Over?

By Angie Brenner

It's my Party!

It's my Party!

The win in Massachusetts by Republican Scott Brown proves once again that the Democratic Party has lots to be sorry about. I don’t know much about Massachusetts politics except that it was the bluest of the blue states; and I have my hands and mind full in California with Arnold and the budget shortage in Sacramento. It seems to me that Ms. Coakley should have walked away in this race by a landslide – but I thought the same thing in 2000 about Al Gore.

One can only imagine the partying going on today at Fox Network whose pundits (Karl Rove clones?) spun tales of this election being pivotal (read essential) to Obama’s healthcare bill and his re-election. Of course these are lies, but if “they” say it, it must be true. Right?

Well, no, but the left-leaning congressmen and women waffle and stumble, and become hesitant and unsure. They wring their hands and argue amongst themselves. Maybe they even begin to believe the lies and fulfill the prophecy.

Why haven’t they learned the lesson Bush taught so well: The American people want to be TOLD what is right for them, they don’t really want dialog. Several witty and firmly spoken lies are better than reality any day. One only has to view a town hall meeting or watch Fox News to realize this. The spinsters these days are so good that one memorable quote of 2009 was from a town hall meeting discussion on the healthcare bill where a fellow stood up and told the panel to “keep your government hands off my Medicare!” Hummm.

Kerry & Coakley Commiserate

Kerry & Coakley Commiserate

The Democrats – and I still count myself among this sorry-$%#@$ group – often go out of the way of logic to lose. The faux-pas of Ms. Coakley may appear minor to many of us, but I mean, really, misspelling your state! Perhaps the intern who put together the ad needs to learn about spell-check. Maybe she deserves to lose; it was a sloppy campaign at best. But, it saddens me to think that this amazing country chooses to be run by former nude center-fold, Scott Brown, who has the agenda to kill a chance for universal healthcare, and not so long ago, spread lies about Obama’s mother, rather than a solid, proven candidate.

The New Face(?) of a State Senator

The New Face(?) of a State Senator

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the spin is way bigger than the truth.

Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for Wild River Review.  She is completing a memoir about her journeys in Turkey, Anatolian Days & Nights.

To support WRR’s mission, and our commitment to support artists and good storytelling, please make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here: Wild River Donation.

January 31, 2010

View from Dubai – Burj Khalifa – What’s in a Name?

by Vibhas Tatu

burj-topBurj Khalifa – From the top of the world

When the global financial crisis reached Dubai, it made headlines around the world.  But for much of this new century Dubai has been recognized as a happening place on the world map. Now, with the glitzy christening of the Burj Khalifa tower, the world’s tallest building, talk about the debts and bailout funds from Abu Dhabi have again surfaced. There are whispered conversations and shoulder shrugs. The fact that a wonder of the world has just been born is lost in the gossiping grapevine.

Yet, from a grain of sand, people tend to conjure up a Sahara of speculation.

That which we call Burj Khalifa, by any other name, would still stand as tall. At a height of 828 meters (2716 feet) the newly inaugurated Burj Khalifa, is head, shoulders and torso above the next tallest man made structure in the world. With one hundred and sixty floors, 58 elevators and the highest observation deck in the world at the 124th storey (442 meters), it does scale new heights literally and figuratively. The term skyscraper seems inadequate so they’ve coined a new word: superscraper to describe this amazing feat of vision and engineering. It rises from the ground through several climactic zones to reach the steel pinnacle. The temperature at the top is a cool 10 degrees below the temperature at the foot of the tower.

In Dubai they don’t do things by half measures. The unveiling, so to speak, of the world’s tallest building was accompanied by all the glitz and glamour that we have come to expect of Dubai. The show consisted of fireworks, laser light beams, choreographed water displays, light and sound effects , all accompanied by a music score specifically written for the Burj. In all 868 high powered stroboscopic lights were strategically placed all the way to the top, over the façade of the Burj. The fireworks that were set off lasted only fifteen minutes but took three years of meticulous planning and two months of hard and dangerous work to execute.

The architect of the building is Adrian Smith of Chicago who has designed other well known structures like Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai and the Rowes Wharf in Boston. The project design and structural engineering of the building was handled by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, with offices in Chicago and London. The overall project execution was handled by Samsung of Korea which has also built the Taipei 101 – the erstwhile tallest building in the world.

The Y shaped design and tapering structure of the Burj Khalifa is inspired by a desert flower – Hymenocallis or desert lily. This Y shape and the unprecedented height of the tower also necessitated the creation of a new structural system which the engineers called “the buttressed core” which consists of a hexagonal core reinforced by three buttresses forming the Y. This system provides lateral support and prevents the building from twisting. The buttressed core structure reminds you of the keystone and flying buttresses used to take the lateral thrust of the heavy arches in Gothic architecture.

The Burj Khalifa is loacated very aesthetically in the middle of The Park which is an 11 hectare oasis at the foot of the towering structure. The Park has six wondrous water features including the Dubai Fountain whose water jets can shoot upto 50 storeys high, along with lush lawns and gardens with colourful flowering trees and palm fringed walkways. One of the interesting ‘green’ features of Burj Khalifa is its one-of-its kind condensate collection system, which gathers the condensation from the tower’s cooling system and uses this water to irrigate the Park gardens. An estimated 15 million gallons of water will be so generated and recycled annually.

Up to 35,000 people at a time can be housed in the Burj Khalifa complex. In fact, Burj Khalifa  will be home to over 12,000 people. It is a multipurpose building with the 6-Star Armani Hotel, restaurants, swimming pools (including the highest in the world), hundreds of residence apartments and corporate offices. Its elevators run at a dizzying speed of 10 m / sec or 36 kms / hour.

The opening ceremony which was attended by 6000 invitees and tens of thousands of spectators in and around strategic points in Dubai, had a really wow finish when Sheikh Mohammad the Ruler of Dubai named the building as Burj Khalifa bin Zayed, after the President of UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Till the evening of Jan 4 2010 the building was known to the entire world as Burj Dubai. The official website of this building is still www.burjdubai.com but it got a new name that night. In some ways the new name sparked of as much amazement that evening as the building itself.

With the birth of The Burj Khalifa, it seems to me that talk about the debts and bailout funds in Dubai is rather short sighted. It appears more like a knee jerk reaction than a studied thought. When you look at UAE as a nation, you must remember that it came into being a mere 38 years ago. To reach such heights and to create such global awareness, to bring into existence global landmarks like the Palm and Burj Khalifa, to create an economy that is still attracting the best talent from all over the world, all this in a mere 38 years is no mean feat, for any country.

Even if any deals or arrangements may have been struck internally, they are surely not for us to pry into. When any family is in crisis it takes some decisions to protect the family as a whole. It is not fitting for outsiders to comment and criticize, to dissect and decry the actions of the family or its members and to gossip idly and draw inane conclusions from these actions. The developments in UAE of late and in the last few years present, in my viewpoint at least, a picture of a family working in competition well as collaboration. Of late it has been the picture of a family closing ranks in the face of a crisis.

At the end of the day, this is the UNITED Arab Emirates. There has been no sign of discord within this nation since its birth.

So if Burj Dubai is named as Burj Khalifa out of respect for the patriarch of the Federation, why should it cause any ripple? After all, that which we call Burj Khalifa, by any other name, would stand as tall.

Vibhas Tattu hails from India and is a manufacturing engineer by profession. He has worked in India, USA and now in the United Arab Emirates. Vibhas is interested in Shakespeare, Indian music, poetry (English, Hindi and Marathi) and a new found love of writing.

Tattu has a bachelor’s degree in Production Engineering from the University of Bombay and Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a Fellow.

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February 19, 2010

Dionysian and Apollonian Political Archetypes

Thinking Otherwise

By William Irwin Thompson

We Irish think otherwise.” Bishop Berkeley

February 19, 2010

Dionysian and Apollonian Political Archetypes

tesseract1

* I am indebted to Karen at Oddity Journal for this wonderful image of the tesseract.

“America is the greatest country on Earth! Why do you think all those foreigners are trying to get a Green Card? If you don’t believe that, then you should go back to wherever you came from. Love it, or leave it!”

How many times have we all heard that invocation, whether on a stool in a bar, in a chair in a barbershop, or in a mental recliner, watching emotional manipulations on TV?

The problem is that every country thinks roughly the same of itself, especially those that are feeling slighted or intolerably embarrassed at their own failures and immoral actions. The worse we become, the louder we get. Germany, humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles, grew loudest of all, but Mussolini’s Italy and Tojo’s Japan were not far behind, and even British restraint was no protection against the jingoism of the Boer War.

blakes-michael_satan

William Blake, Michael and Satan

The closest parallel to the almost religion-like quality of American patriotism seems to me to be the patriotism of Nazi Germany. Our spectacles of exaltation in Super Bowls, World Series, and Presidential Campaigns were pioneered by Leni Riefenstahl with her film The Triumph of the Will. In such a state of exaltation, the patriot emotionally cannot tolerate any criticism of the object of his adoration. Nazi Germans would insist on their cultural and racial superiority, and if told about the camps and the Holocaust during the war, they would dismiss such talk and insist that it was aiding the enemy by passing on his propaganda. Today Fox News would call any criticism of American foreign policy “Liberal America-Bashing” and insist it was aiding the terrorists.

T. S. Eliot observed in his poem “East Coker” that “In my beginning is my end.” Now  at the end of “The American Century” we can look back to the beginning of the American Empire and hear again the voice of William James as he exclaimed in disgust at the atrocities of the Spanish American War, “God damn the U.S. for its vile conduct in the Philippines!”

Patriotism is not a propositional system of logic in which we seek to determine the truth. It is a consensual delusion in which we give permission to one another to lie in order to strengthen our sense of belonging and emotional security. Japan will not admit to “the rape of Nanking,” nor will Turkey to the Armenian genocide. Israel denies what it is doing to the Palestinians, and we Americans insist that we are always and only “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Since history is written by winners, history books lie “for the sake of the school children.” As Voltaire, said: “History is the lie commonly agreed upon.”

Lying is more than human and one can find its origins in the behavior of the higher primates. Like the primates, we humans are social animals and we need others to provide us with a sense of identity, so if patriotism is not of a sufficiently satisfying intensity, we will create more intimate and exclusive systems of identification with our local sports teams or neighborhood gangs. To maintain identity humans will happily lie.  St. John may have maintained, “The truth will set you free,” but in doing so it sets you free of the group to which you used to belong.

War seems to be as intimate a form of contact as sex, and like sex there is a diploid exchange of traits. The Irish mystic and poet A.E. watched the Irish Troubles and the struggle for the liberation of Ireland turn dark as Republicans became terrorists and the British Black and Tans and secret services became torturers. In A.E.’s words in the twenties, “We become what we hate.”

The United States, having defeated Nazi Germany, now seems intent on imitating the Gestapo in affirmation of torture and the suspension of the Geneva Convention. When one looks at the snarling countenance of Cheney and the relaxed but reflective smile of Obama, one sees two archetypal political gods overlighting their avatars. Following the descriptions of Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy, we can identify these two gods as Dionysus and Apollo. The former is the god of ecstatic transfiguration and dismemberment, the latter the god of reason and harmonic proportion.

Working alongside Cheney, the Evangelical Right is now following the lead of Nazi Germany by seeking to rewrite American history to insist that the Founding Fathers wanted to create a Christian theocracy with no separation of Church and State. They won’t stop until they have created a Christian version of Iran for America ruled over by Christian Mullahs like Pat Robertson. Aided by the Neocons and the Israeli lobby, Americans will be encouraged in OpEd essays in the New York Times and Washington Post to “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.”

In his very Apollonian book of common sense, Engaging the Muslim World, Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan and famous blogger of Informed Comment, has challenged the American Christian theocrats by giving us a piece of real American history.

As early as 1797, the U.S. Senate (in which several Founding Fathers sat) and the  Adams administration approved a peace treaty with Tripoli (now Libya) that noted:

As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or       tranquility, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. (Juan Cole, Engaging the Muslim World, Palgrave/Macmillan: New York, 2009, p. 239)

Iran, as the reincarnation of the civilization of ancient Persia, ideally, should be the civilized leader of the Middle East; and America as the polity born of the Enlightenment should be the civilized leader of the West. Unfortunately, the reality of American behavior with its CIA and oil companies deposing the popularly elected Mossadegh and installing the military dictator of the Pahlevi Shah has been anything but enlightened and ideal. And equally un-ideal has been the Iranian Revolution , which like the French Revolution before it, has consumed its own children and replaced liberation with tyranny. Now two evil theocracies inside Iran and America are becoming caricatures of republics and are heading for war. Sunni Osama bin Laden in his hatred for the United States and the Shia will clap his hands and sing and louder sing for every tatter in our mortal dress.

Politics is not based upon reason or reasoning, but emotions and identity; its seat in the brain is the amygdala and not the frontal neocortex. We like to think that when there are political problems, there are political solutions, but our tragic predicament is that there is no simple solution to the emotional dynamics of human culture, because as the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has pointed out, emotions are necessary and empower our sense of values and good judgment. The brain is not a digital information-processing computer, so we cannot achieve wisdom by stripping ourselves of emotions and values. We have to learn how to deal with complexity and ambiguity, and for this process a sense of humor and compassion for one’s opposite or opponent is better than ideological zealotry.

The American government is now broken and dysfunctional, because it is blocked by the patriotic excesses of ideological politics and not motivated by problem-solving and governance. Human culture is also broken and dysfunctional, because it is about excess in our numbers and consumptive behavior and excess in our emotions and seizures of identity, and not about the pursuit of wisdom and enlightenment. Even in communities devoted to the pursuit of wisdom and enlightenment—the spiritual communes and ashrams of the seventies–the primate politics of the alpha male there too took over and gurus and cult leaders sexually and financially abused their followers. Our species has been tried, but the tragic truth is that we have failed. Exeunt omnes may very well be the stage directions for the end of the human drama.

Bosch - Temptation of St Anthony

Bosch - Temptation of St Anthony

The Evolution of life first manifested in cells, then multi-cellular forms, then organisms, then the meta-organism of the planetary biosphere that James Lovelock called Gaia and that Peter Ward now calls Medea. Humans seem about to lose their biblical dominion over the Earth as a new biosphere self-organizes around scenarios of our extinction.

Had we had what Jonas Salk called “the Survival of the Wisest,” we might have found that other forms of biospheres already exist on the moons of Jupiter and other solar systems. In extremis, I pray that the dead and floating spirit of Mankind may drift in a bardo meditation through the stellar nebulae and having learned its lessons of Earth will try again on the evolving debris of some other broken-hearted star to unfold the mystery of what Dante called “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

Cultural Historian William Irwin Thompson writes regularly for Wild River Review

April 13, 2010

COLUMN – THINKING OTHERWISE: Child Abuse and the Catholic Church

Filed under: Wild Finance — Tags: , , , , — joystocke @ 12:22 pm

“We Irish Think Otherwise.” Bishop Berkely

fra-angelico“The Annunciation” by Fra Angelico

Secrets of the Confessional

(For Pope Benedict XVI)

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

It has been one week since I last

confessed and I have disciplined

that sin of peeking of the past,

but a friend had a picture book,

and I confess, I took a look.

Were these dirty pictures, my son,

girls, or boys with their pants undone?

(I’m thinking why would anyone

want to look at school boys undone

since he can see them every day

in the boys’ gym at towels’ play?

I began to see the priest had

more ideas of being bad

than I ever had and could teach me

how to flesh out his fantasy,

suggesting sins I could commit

or was too ashamed to admit.)

Poetry is not fiction, and the incident presented above actually happened to me in confession in Los Angeles at the age of eleven–before I quit the Church for Good (and I mean that literally) at the age of thirteen. I still remember my feelings of shock and wonder why anyone would want to look at pictures of naked or exposed young boys. The priest seemed quite interested in the act of confession as a kind of phone sex in which he asked me if I looked at pictures of boys, touched them “down there,” or touched myself “immodestly.”

At the time the boys in the schoolyard had invented a game called “Squirrels” in which they grabbed one another in the crotch and yelled “Nuts!” Being a philosophically inclined child, I remember wondering why they were always talking contemptuously about queers, but liked to grab one another’s nuts.

The tough Mexican pachuco who dominated the alpha male hierarchy of the seventh grade liked to brag about his seven inch cock, so we all began to take our school rulers home to see how we measured up to his standard. He also stole cars to impress us with his daring. As the best student with the highest grades in the class, I was, of course, beaten up, first by him, and then by his Aide-de-Camp. Ireland may have been “the Land of Saints and Scholars,” and is what E. R. Dodds called “a Guilt Culture,” but Mexico is a “Shame Culture” in which you are to identify with the students and their leaders, and not the teachers. Excelling beyond the group, except in athletics, is an act of group disloyalty. So I was asking for it when I was attracted to scholarship and learning.

I remember one day, his lieutenant got my Irish up and I exploded in a fury and beat him up. For this, I gained the respect of the pachuco—the word Anglos used for Mexican rat-pack gang members in the nineteen-fifties—and I was granted permission to exist. He was, after all, more powerful than the priests or the nuns in our parochial school; they might occasionally terrorize us, but he really terrified us. In recognition of his status, he had as his consort the pretty girl I liked, Marion—who at eleven already had full breasts. She, however, was only for him, but she would allow a schoolyard game in which you could push your fist slowly into her stomach which would cause her to stick her breasts farther and farther out toward you. Their fifties pointy bra-enhanced shadow covered my toes and my soul.

I also remember at our first school dance in the seventh grade that Archbishop (later Cardinal) J. Francis Macintyre dramatically appeared and shut it down because he was shocked to see us all dancing so close. Coeducation had consequences that had to be stamped out.

So the priest’s interest in boys puzzled me in the confessional, since precisely  because of coeducation I liked girls for all the obvious reasons, but also because they were allowed to be smart and get good grades, so you could actually talk to them. Guys at school never talked, they just shared primate identity-signals about sports teams, the best cigarettes, or getting their “first”–all to be cool and gain status. At home, after Sunday mass, my two older brothers and I would have long philosophical discussions with our Dad about whether God really existed, or whether Truman was a good President.

I was also interested in girls because I had no sisters at home but did have an Irish Catholic mother who was embarrassed at any talk of sex or reference to those body parts. I did not learn about the facts of life from her or my Dad, who lazily commissioned my older brother to explain the facts of life to me. My brother in his embarrassed efforts to explain sexual intercourse neglected to inform me that a woman had a vagina, because at 16 he didn’t really know all that much about sex himself. A year later at the age of twelve, after the unpleasant task of explanation was out of the way, my Protestant Scots-Irish father confided that if we were still doing things the right way that they used to do in the farmlands of rural Indiana when he was a boy, he would have taken me to his favorite whore and asked her to break me in. The alternative to the Catholic cosmology of sex and the Fall was the Protestant Enlightenment’s initiation into sex in a whore house. I didn’t get it, because I liked girls and just wanted to find out about sex with them.

To my knowledge at the time, no priest at Immaculate Conception School actually molested anyone, and the main sin of my group of altar boys was drinking the unconsecrated wine in the sacristy when the priest wasn’t around. Although no priest fondled or fellated me, I would still call the whole system of a Catholic education organized child abuse–of body, but especially of mind.

When I was seven and eight, I lived in a Catholic military boarding school all year round, summers included. When we moved from Chicago in 1945, there were no apartments in Los Angeles that were willing to take in noisy small children, so I was packed off to what was in effect a Catholic orphanage, where I was allowed to see my parents from 2:00 to 4:00 on Sunday afternoons after Mass. The school was run by a shell-shocked Major from World War II, who had a paddle with holes in it so that it would scream like falling bombs in the movies before it struck you. The other punishment–usually for fighting, insolence, or outright insubordination–was to stand in a uniform of collar and tie in the hot Southern California sun for the five hours between lunch and dinner. Children often fainted. I obeyed and was given holy cards, but I developed eczema and other psychosomatic allergies from life in that miserable penal colony.

I lived in a large dormitory of forty beds that was policed by a large scowling nun, who had a thick strap belt with which she would hit you on the calves or hands for slight infractions such as talking in ranks or talking back. She stood like a bouncer at a club by the open door of the boy’s room, and if you looked down at your penis in the fallen act of urination, she would yell: “Don’t look down. It’s evil!” Even at seven, I began to question the One True Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by thinking to myself: “What am I supposed to do, pee on my shoes!?”

The Pope and the College of Cardinals and all the Pope’s Bishops would like us to believe that all the thousands of reported cases of child abuse are just the cases of a few bad apples. But let’s do a little thought experiment to test this official theory.

Imagine that you are creating an institution in which you first exclude women because they are the source of the Fall and the presence of evil in the world. Then create for this institution a special faculty of priests who are not allowed to have any sexual relations whatsoever and certainly not with these evil women. Sex with women was like the fall of the soul into matter. Then further imagine that these special men get to wear long skirts called soutanes, and that the best of them get promoted and are allowed to wear lovely skirts with purple sashes, and for the best of the best, flaming taffeta dresses with lovely white lace negligees and the most gorgeous jewelry and costly accessories. And, best of all, these privileged men are granted a cadre of young choristers with angelic, unchanged voices and a following of assistants of young altar boys. What kind of people do you think would be attracted to such an institution?

Choir Boys

Not the organ answering Job out of the whirlwind,

nor the tiny pointed notes of the harpsichord–

metallic and discrete as knights in armories

unfurled and elevated above the clubbed blood

of churlish battle or bones struck on mammoth skulls,

nor the sun’s arteries drained in stained-glass truncheons;

bound in cassocks to their claustral occulted place

where priestly functions anoint the choir boys’ throats

in Borborite eucharist older than the Mass,

cherub buttocks lean on the misericord’s hard love

tangled in wings of the dove and coils of the snake

that soon break sunset’s shaft on the rising full moon;

but now the pianoforte in thundering halls

breaks the hold in revolution’s noisy applause.

So the God’s Truth is that the One True Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is in its deepest essence an institution built on the hatred of women camouflaged by its adoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary–she of the Immaculate Conception. From Mary Magdalene on, the control of women and families has been through fabricated doctrine. In my extended family, one woman was warned by her doctor that if she had another child with her failing kidneys, she would either die of renal failure or go insane from uremic poisoning. She consulted her priest in the confessional, who told her it was god’s will and she had to have the child– the same priest who before had told her birth control was evil. She spent the rest of her life in an insane asylum.

To run an institution like the Catholic Church, you first have to promote this alienated class of men so that they can take charge of women and families through its control of sexuality. Next you have to take charge of history, and fabricate a myth of apostolic succession upon which to found your claim to a higher authority. To accomplish this Stalinist task of rewriting history, the early Church fathers rejected any documents they didn’t like, especially those like The Gospel of St. Thomas that showed that Jesus recognized the sacrality of women. A century or more after Jesus, they constructed Gospels that they doctored up to say were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and dismissed all the others as Apocrypha or Gnostic heresies.

In the early years of Anno Domini, the standard practice to gain authority for a text was to sign it with the name of a famous personage; thus we have the angelology of the Pseudo-Dionysus. Once Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon had constructed an orthodox canon by eliminating the Gnostics, the Church moved on to consolidate its institutional structures of power. Although the legendary Jesus was said to be a simple man of no fixed address and a wardrobe of one seamless robe, the Church Fathers created an institution of hierarchy and palaces for Bishops and Popes who would sit on thrones and give sermons about the virtues of poverty.

So it is not a case of a few rotten apples in the bushel; the whole institution is rotten at the core. To be sure, there are good folks in the Church doing good work in spite of the Vatican and the Hierarchy, and who sincerely believe that Catholicism is the religion of Christ and not simply the religion about Christ. But what we are experiencing in all the reports of child abuse now is a new revelation in which we must indeed regain the innocence of little children before they were indoctrinated by the Church if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Once Isis and Osiris was the religion of a Magnus Annus in the zodiacal precession of the equinox, then it was Jesus and Mary for the age of Pisces. Now in this new millennium, we are experiencing the cultural evolution from religion to a personal spirituality in which the unique mind learns how to immerse itself in the Universal Mind through a process of meditation: no churches, mosques, or temples needed.

In evolution, both natural and cultural, nothing ever disappears, it is simply incorporated into a larger structure. Ancient mitochondria still exist, but they are now part of the larger and more complex eukaryotic cell. So paganism did not disappear, but was incorporated into the magical rituals and relics of the Catholic Church, and pagan gods like Brigid were transformed into saints. Prehistoric shamanism is still being practiced, so I don’t expect to see the Catholic Church fade entirely away like the withering of the state in the Marxist utopian fantasies of communism.

At the present moment, the Catholic Church is in denial, lashing out at the New York Times and other media for exposing it, and closing ranks to defend the Pope: all of which is precisely the kind of behavior that got it into trouble in the first place with a philosophy of “protect the Church, not the children.”

For the Catholic Church to survive its current global crisis, I do believe a second Reformation will be needed and require a demotion of the infallible Pope as the singular Vicar of Christ on Earth to simply the human and fallible Bishop of Rome, a Bishop who would co-exist in a Christian ecology of mind in which the Bishops of the Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Celtic, Anglican, Greek and Russian Orthodox, and American Episcopal Churches were all recognized as equals. As in the case of the American Episcopal Church, priests should marry and women should be admitted to the priesthood, with celibacy reserved for nuns and monks. Since I don’t expect this Pope and College of Cardinals, or any future Pope and College, ever to be willing to demythologize its pretensions to authority through its fictitious doctrine of the apostolic succession, I expect they will continue as they are, and Catholics such as I will simply leave and move on to “fresh woods and pastures new.”

In Matthew 6:5-6, we are counseled not to pray and proselytize on street corners to impress our fellows, but to go into our closet and pray in secret to our Father in Heaven. In a personal and contemplative spirituality we learn how to quiet the linguistic prattle of the fidgeting monkey mind, and to follow the words of Psalm 46:10 , “Be still and know that I am God.”

Free Street

A parking cop marks the tires

with chalk before he writes a ticket

for the over-stayed residents of time.

I marked out Portland with poems

as I prepared to move on in.

Impermanence is good for Buddhists.

We Judeo-Christians need to nail

down time to God, after all we

crucified Christ in Jerusalem

and Christianity in Rome.

April 22, 2010

EARTH DAY 2010 – Eco-Chicism and the Stain of Sustainability

eco-chic

by Peter Soderman

It’s Earth Day here in New Jersey, which is like having a one-day moratorium on gambling in Vegas. Eco Chic is shaking up and shaking down the world with a post-nineteenth century Shaker furniture blowout frenzy. The coffers of the climate control complex are also filling quickly with government contracts.

I love my planet earth and, due to my own failed attempts at capitalism, try to practice a Buddhafied version of material minimalism with strict ownership abstinence. Because I don’t have any money this is self-righteously easy for me, although I’m environmentally shame-based about the grey and soot-filled fact that I’m from New Jersey, America’s ecological Armageddon to the lower forty-eight.

Most of the Eco-Chicism marketing movement is not really about going green as much as it is about handing over greenbacks and creating a good feeling for the consumer who is not willing to practice less consumption. It works on the same model as the diet industry by assuring any glutton that his or her hypothalamus has been lying to him and they will supply the easy fix.

Hollywood has gone green, rappers have gone green; and Oprahlitic, talked-out, name the category, survivors have gone green. Celebrities, rockers, and politicians have reinvented their careers and become pine-scented, pundit guardians. Barbie, the breast-enhanced, dimorphic doll made in China has gone green; and Mattel marketed a new eco-perfect Earth Day outfit to mark the occasion.

Coca Cola has gone green, invetsting $20 million to clean up the world’s waterways, but they need to change the color of the can. Having chased indigenous people away from the village well for decades, Coke, an insulin resistant water fountain to the world, is still providing the liquid candy corn syrup while serving the pancreatic needs of global contestants every day on American Aspiring Diabetic Idol.

Weapons systems manufacturer BAE Systems, an 18.5 billion dollar a year company, has gone green as in lead-free, creating environmentally friendly bullets capable of blowing away you and your entire family’s carbon footprint in one arching ire of an eco-friendly machine gun.

The alliterative marketing phrase “Clean Coal” is an oxymoron as much as the myth of the new “green” American Christmas ecological idol, Frosty the Coal Man. British Petroleum is still BP, but now it stands for Beyond Petroleum, which will be true when BP sells as much oil as they can until it’s all gone. Then, like anyone experiencing a loss, they will have to get beyond it.

A convoy of suburban tree companies has gone eco-linguic with names like SavATree and Lawn Doctor, where the tree surgeon will perform triage on the ailing elm in front of the children and the family iguana before it’s Dutch Elm Disease time and into the chipper. Most of this wood goes straight to the dump, Eighty-Sixville. Many tree companies don’t even sell firewood any longer.

SavATree (a reputable company) has a subdivision called SavALawn, which approaches any yard like a social worker with an inner city youth interventionist approach. Warning – Fescue at Risk

The carnival barkers of the Green Industrial Marketing Complex understand that it is all about educating the consumer in one way: Either you’re for the planet or against it.

Environmentalism is the new secular global religion and the cash cow is mooing in the field. Akin to donating to the Tazered Children’s Swine Flu Handicapped Fund, the least an earthfidel can do is tithe to their eco-charity of choice with a vague, but wallet-willing understanding. (see Josh Dorman’s web site, The Lazy Environmentalist.)

All of this keeps me vigilant and guarded like a good cynic in a Green Sopranos episode “I got a problem with that” kind of way, making me a nature-loving, mob-tied, shovel-hugging guy with an apostate’s conviction and meadowland way of knowing to look both ways when crossing a one-way Turnpike.

I’d swan dive off the outer railing of the Pulaski Skyway for Gaia and whack out any polluters, then bury them in soft Pine Barrens sand after hitting them over the head again with a shovel.

However, like any seagull could tell you at an all-you-can-eat, Alka Seltzer-sponsored shrimp buffet at the Fresh Kill Landfill, this cabal is out of control. Something is not right. The Greenwashing movement is unsustainable.

The poet CC Guile once called this the sustained stain of sustainability. Big Organtha has launched a similar sales strategy in what Michael Pollan calls the Organic Industrial Complex.

“You can eat this organic banana now, or die poisoned by the other to be found dead in your dacha with your all-natural, hemp fiber, goat placenta tote bag lying by your side. However, the bag will get recycled unlike your stiff and toxic corpse.

Let’s face it. This planet needs people like animals need the zoo. If you really care about the earth, you need to get off the grid, live in a yurt and eat buffalo grass; or practice a Wendell Berryan pact of minimalism, and then some kind of attempted husbandry such as sprouting your own avocado pit.

There is always the ultimate sacrifice I once saw advertised on bumper stickers in Boulder, Colorado: “Save the planet. Kill yourself.” Until I am gone or I flail off the railing of the Pulaski Skyway, I’m not buying any of it. I try to avoid the hype by keeping quiet in the woods and recycling everything.

Landscape artist, curator of ideas, Peter Soderman is the brainchild behind Writers Block andQuark Park. He is the subject of the film, American Landscaper.

To support our mission and passion for good storytelling, please make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here: Wild River Donation.

April 29, 2010

OPEN BORDERS – The U.S. and Immigration

OPEN BORDERS – The U.S. and Immigration

Many Americans are children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren of immigrants from among many locations including immigrants from the last great boom – the 1920s: Russian, Eastern European, German and Irish.

They were called called Babushkas, Polacks, Krauts, and Micks, respectively; taunted, and at times told to “go home.” And yet, immigrants like my grandparents worked in factories and cleaned the toilets of their hosts, earned citizenship and enough money to send their own children to school, many of whom created the boom the US enjoyed during the second half of the 20th century.

In addition, these immigrants sent resources to “the old country,” to support their impoverished (less lucky in many immigrants’ opinions) relatives.  Immigration has been and is crucial to the growth of the United States. We are currently in the midst of another great immigration boom, powered by immigrants from Latin and South America. In 2008, an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants were living in the U.S. contributing their labor to the housing boom, planting fields and harvesting crops, cleaning toilets, mowing lawns, keeping restaurant kitchens going.

This week Arizona adopted the U.S.’s most stringent Immigration Laws, effectively putting illegal immigrants at risk.  Since 2009, Wild River Review has been publishing OPEN BORDERS, a series in which immigrants tell their own stories.  We invite you to join the conversation:

Joy E. Stocke, Editor in Chief

s-garcia

The first time I told my story to a group in the U.S., I had to cover my face with a bandana.  I was afraid for my life, since I had been labeled as an illegal alien.  I imagined myself being arrested by immigration agents, being deported and– once back in my homeland– being taken by soldiers, thrown into a secret prison and tortured to death without anybody ever knowing.

I had lost several members of my family at the hands of the Guatemalan military.  Afraid for my own life, I fled and crossed the US/Mexico border through the Arizona desert.  I was one of the lucky ones who made it to America, escaping from political persecution. I was fortunate because in the 1980’s many Americans were furious about their government’s wrong doing in the wars that afflicted Central America.  Some even risked their lives in defense of justice. As it has happened so many times in history, many innocent lives were lost in wars in the name of God and democracy.

I have spoken about my experience many times, about my reasons for having violated immigration law and about the importance of listening to the stories being told by many who, like me, had come to America to tell the truth.  And the question that really mattered: Whose truth was that? It was my truth, and whether people agreed with my truth or not, having the opportunity to tell my story in public saved my life.

I can say now, with all certainty, that I owe my life to those Americans who walked with me across the Arizona desert, to those who welcomed me –the stranger- in their homes and gave me food and shelter.  But most importantly, I owe my life to those who listened to me.

Being able to tell my story somehow helped me to own my own reality, to become more aware of what had happened to me and my family. It gave me a vehicle for expressing my grief in a constructive way.  Otherwise, I could have easily become severely depressed or self-destructive, or violently taken my rage out on other people.

Instead, telling my story saved me and made me better understand my own life, my dreams and my frustrations.  It helped me express ideas that would have otherwise remained hushed or unprocessed.  It even helped me an awful lot with improving my broken English.

My truth confronted the official truth.  Through my story I connected with many others who saw in me their own pain, who identified with me not because they felt we had issues in common, but because we had common values.  It was this connection that gave us hope and a sense of power.

Time has passed now and the wars have long been over.   However, twenty-something years later, more people continue to leave their homes and families behind in search for an opportunity in this land of milk and honey. For poverty sometimes can be the greatest killer.

During the last several years I have worked with many newcomers helping them to tell their story.  Listening to them has taught me more about the power of storytelling, that whether we record the story, film it, write it or simply follow it in reverent silence, the story is everything.

–Manuel Portillo, Series Creator and Editor

kids

It is time for immigrants in the United States to take back their stories—stories that have been re-written by people in a campaign to drive them out of the U.S. The revised stories read in the press and heard on the streets, promulgated by mayors and legislators and citizens who have a vision of America the Way It Used To Be go something like this: our towns are being taken over by (dark-skinned) immigrants who drive our crime rate up and overwhelm the criminal justice system; these immigrants drain our economy, sucking our resources for schools, health care and welfare programs; they take away jobs from Americans and drive our wages down; they don’t really want to be American—they stick to themselves, won’t learn English, they are only here to take advantage of our way of life and not contribute to it; and now, post- 911, they are a terrorist threat.  Citizens, we are being invaded, take back your communities before it’s too late.

One problem: the stories are not a true reflection of our community of immigrants. The truth is reflected more accurately in the story of Jesús Villicaña López, age 16, who picks mushrooms over 80 hours a week, lives in one room with eighteen men, and has built a new house for his family in Mexico.  Or the story of Sarbelia C., who teaches immigrants computer skills, trains them about their rights in case of an immigration raid, supports three families,  and grieves daily for her son in Ecuador who she hasn’t seen in seven years. Or Salvador Garcia, who had to sing La Bamba to the judge before she would grant him his green card. Or Mayra Castillo Rangel, a recent college graduate who is living the dream that brought her parents here.

Who is the rightful owner of our stories?  How do we give a voice to our lives? How to we find a way to be heard?  For the last three years at Open Borders Project / Proyecto Sin Fronteras, in Philadelphia, we have worked with immigrant teens and adults in the Healing Stories Project.  Participants record their stories, mix them with music, and share them on CDs, the radio, webcasts. The process of creating our stories and sharing them has been profound.  Listening to each other’s stories and reflecting on our common experience is an act of honoring our lives and affirming our dreams and sacrifices. Through our stories we develop a collective identity as immigrants. Telling our story allows us to take risks, to talk about missing our families, our isolation, our frustrations as we try to feel at home in our new world. Our stories create openings for conversations with our friends and family, to say things unsaid. And now we are taking our stories to the world—to immigration authorities developing deportation guidelines, legislators who are deciding whether to provide healthcare for undocumented children, communities terrified by the specter of immigration raids.  These stories must become part of The Great Immigration Debate.

We invite you to listen to some of these remarkable stories, filled with honesty and risk-taking and possibility and anger.  Over the next few months we will share stories of sacrifice, separation and grief, of teens who talk about pregnancy and homelessness and finding a way to connect with their father at a baseball game, of farmworkers who harvest our food, of the terror of immigration raids and deportation, of high school graduates who came to the U.S. ten years ago and whose dreams of going to college are deferred because they have no documents, of learning English while hanging on to their culture, of frontier justice.  And more. We will tell the story around the story—how sharing stories changes the way people see themselves, each other, the world.  How stories demand an act of listening—the basis of all relationships.  You will be able to listen to many of these stories on this website—three to six minutes in length, often produced by the storytellers themselves.  All will be in English; some will be in Spanish, as well.

Immigrant stories are part of a universal diaspora:  of Mexicans crossing the desert into Arizona, of Haitians going to the Dominican Republic, Turks going to Holland, Algerians going to France, Indians going to Dubai. These stories need to be told, demand to be heard, to set the truth straight, and create a dialogue between immigrant communities and their new countries.  Our stories give us a voice, make us visible. We invite readers of WWR to submit stories of the immigrant experience—both in writing and audio. We prefer that the stories be personal, telling the story of individuals while reflecting the universality of immigrant experiences. Written commentary that puts the story in context is also welcome. Our general guideline is to limit the audio to less than six minutes.

–Mark Lyons, Series Creator and Editor

To follow the series, click here: OPEN BORDERS.

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May 7, 2010

Drachmas/Euros/Athena and Greece – The Financial Meltdown

by Karen Guthrie

images-1

I believe that the financial meltdown in Greece transcends economics. It goes to the very heart of a society. I lived in Athens for two years, from July 2007 until July 2009, and observed a culture that believes all rules are made to be broken. Once broken, there are no consequences. A mindset of not just “me first”, but “me only”, prevails in the homes, on the streets, and within the office buildings. I saw the meltdown coming because it was incomprehensible to me that this type of society could go on without a crash.

I watched parents beam with pride when their 12-year-old children decide to occupy their school, keeping teachers and administrators at bay for a week because the young people do not like the snack selection.

I saw a community capable of living in its own filth. Greek homemakers tackle the cleaning of their black-dust-covered home as if it were an Olympic sport. Yet on the sidewalk outside of their front door, all types of foulness could, and would, collect. Translation: My house is clean, why should I worry about what is on the street”

I saw near anarchy on the streets of Athens as drivers dangerously intimidated all in their path. Sidewalks are considered extensions of the road. Simply walking to the grocery store required vigilance or a death wish. Translation: If I want to drive on the sidewalk, why shouldn’t I?

Civil servants have jobs for life. Therefore, the need to be competent, responsible and courteous is no longer apparent. The rudeness I experienced time and again in my local post office made me quake in my shoes and long to be anywhere else.

I witnessed government money allocated for business stimulus spent by the recipient on the redecorating of his private home. Translation: Me first; me only.

I was a stranger in my Athenian neighbourhood, and a stranger I remained. The universal language of a smile was not readily spoken. Hospitality seems to extend only to friends and family. The Soup Kitchen for Refugees where I volunteered was completely staffed by foreigners living in Athens: Australians, Spaniards, Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, French, Austrian, German, Italian – a United Nations of volunteers, conspicuously missing Greek representation.

I saw the meltdown coming. I see the rioting in the streets as a tragic outburst from the “me only” heart of a society, a society Europe coveted.

ATHENA

Athens bears a Goddess’s name, but she wears not a pretty face.

Her blue-sky eyes turn smog-cloud gray,

while tears paint dirty trails along her cheeks.

Her mouth spews words–angry, loud, intimidating.

Her breath smells of unspoken kindnesses.

The scars of a perpetual frown, crease her face

in waves of concrete,

and fall in rumbled piles around her feet.

She is a smoker; her skin stained the pale pallor of sickness.

Arteries clogged, lungs darkened, she coughs and wheezes,

choking on the soupy air.

Her  body rejects embraces.

She is hard as ice; August hot flashes will not melt her.

Her children race like packs of dogs, each one striving to be the alpha.

Her abandoned pets close their sad, soft eyes and sleep on the neglected streets.

Athens bears a Goddess’s name, but she wears not a pretty face.

Karen Guthrie is a poet and writer currently living in Portland, Oregon.

To support our mission and passion for good storytelling, please help support my work and make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here:  Wild River Donation.

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May 11, 2010

E-BOOKS – We’ve had “Gradually”; Get Ready for “Suddenly”

images1by Mike Shatzkin

(Editor’s Note: Mike Shatzkin’s weekly blog, The Shatzkin Files, sheds light on the world of publishing, where books are headed, and by extension how we’ll read content in the very new future.)

I don’t think too many future predictors are .300 hitters, and one ground ball I tapped out to shortstop was my hunch that the iPad wouldn’t have an immediate significant impact on ebook sales (although I thought it would be important over time.) According to data and analysis uniquely developed and provided by Michael Cader, published last Wednesday (which you need to subscribe to Publishers Marketplace to get and, if you don’t yet, what are you waiting for?), I was proved wrong in less than a month. Apparently if we get slightly larger and portable screens into people’s hands, they want to read books on them. And they don’t need to be e-ink and be lightweight (like Kindle and Nook and Sony Reader and the new Kobo Reader and a slew of forthcoming devices) to have that impact.

All we know from Apple is that they sold about a million iPads in the month of April, with 3G sales beginning only at month end. (Virtually everything sold in April was wifi-only.) We got download numbers, but no real guidance about what they meant in terms of sales. We can figure out that any sales numbers we can gather are for an average installed base of 500,000 iPads.

We wouldn’t expect the monthly sales rate of a million units to be sustained; there were a lot of pre-orders and launch-hype sales in April’s numbers. But with May being launch month for the 3G version and both the wifi and 3G models available going forward, and the 3G model apparently much more popular than the wifi-only, a sale of 500,000 in May which is 3G launch month and a “run rate” of 300,000 a month going forward would seem a modest expectation. If that’s right, then the average installed base in May will be 1.25 million, in June 1.55 million. So the installed base for June will be triple what it was in April.

Cader got anonymized information from an unknown number of large Agency publishers for the April sales. He says that for most of the companies he surveyed, iBooks sales were 12 to 15 percent of their ebook total before the 3G models landed! And then two companies reported sales jumps of 300 and 400 percent on the weekend that they did. And one publisher who showed Cader figures by title revealed that there were already books on which the iPad sales exceeded Kindle sales.

Cader’s analysis pointed out two nuances that need to be considered when interpreting these numbers. The Agency Five impact is overstated because of relatively restricted competition. They have far fewer titles competing with them in the iBooks environment than they do in the Kindle store, the Kobo store, the Sony store, or from the ebook independents. Giant Random House and lots of smaller publishers just weren’t there. So even if the sales of all five publishers were 12 percent of their total ebook sales in April, it wouldn’t suggest that iBooks constitute that portion of overall ebook sales. Yet.

But, at the same time, these numbers also understate the impact of the iPad because iPad owners also buy and consume books on the device from the Kindle and Kobo and B&N readers which wouldn’t be reflected in Cader’s survey numbers. One ebook retailer who shares information told me that sales for his company were very strong in April. I had asked that question to probe whether sales were adversely affected by the price increases mandated by the Agency model. Were they reducing business? No, definitely not. (This is a very big sub-point, but we’ll leave it for another day.) So while one must assume that some of the sales being made from iBooks would otherwise have been made by Kindle or Kobo or another existing retailer, the market is apparently growing fast enough to mask the impact of any cannibalization.

With five of the Big Six and most of the big titles in the iBooks store, it would seem reasonable to assume that 65% of the sales potential is reflected in those books. Applying that assumption to the average of the reported 12-to-15 percent market share (13.5%) would suggest that the overall share of iBooks sales is just a tad under nine percent.

But it would seem to me that number will more than double in May. The installed base will be more than twice as high and the 3G model, from which publishers are reporting much more activity, will constitute a significant portion of the May base after having been non-existent in April. In fact, it seems at least as likely that the number could triple! So by June, we could well be seeing a quarter or more of all ebook sales occurring through iBooks. The rise will probably be slower after that (May sales will reflect the huge installed base increases generated by initial sales in April of the wifi model and in May of the 3G) but Apple climbing into a solid second place behind Kindle in 60 days is pretty dramatic.

Even more exciting for publishers is the evidence that the iBooks sales are expanding the ebook market. Cader reported that many strong titles skewed to a younger and male demographic and that iBooks sales boosted the performance of some nonfiction titles. Most people figured that the iPad would appeal to an audience of not-as-heavy book buyers compared to Kindle, which was part of the reasoning behind my own flawed expectation that sales would be modest at first. But what we may be seeing is that people who get a decent reader in their hands might consume more books digitally than they had in print. If that proves to be true, it would be very good for publishers and authors.

Meanwhile, even before this analysis was delivered, we got news last week from two publishers that increased ebook sales were their best financial news. Both Simon & Schuster and Harlequin reported that print results were disappointing, but digital sales were stronger than expected.

It was only about six weeks ago that I looked at the IDPF’s most recent numbers, applied them to what I’d heard in my own anecdotal conversations with major publishers and agents, and had an epiphanic moment realizing how close we were to what we called at BISG’s Making Information Pay conference last week a “point of no return.” I wrote inmy London posts and then repeated at the conference last week that I saw ebook sales to be 25% of a narrative book’s unit sales expectation by the end of 2012. With print book sales made online thrown in, I saw virtual cash registers ringing up half the units for narrative books by then. Two Big Six CEOs privately agreed with me as did a retailer knowledgable about both print and ebook sales. Then I spoke to a Big Six digital strategist who said I was being conservative.

This view is not universally accepted. An executive at a trade book distributor last week told me (nicely, he’s a nice person) that he thought I was nuts. He still sees ebook sales as trivial and not likely to reach the levels I expect by the end of 2012 by even the end of 2016.

Well, I intended to be conservative because I was so surprised at my own realization at the beginning of April. But I remind myself (and all of you) that things happen “gradually, then suddenly.” It now looks to me like the iPad — joined as it will be by a flood of new ereaders and tablets and even whole new platforms like Blio and Copia — may be the catalyst for the transition encapsuled in those three words.

When I examined the Random House tactic of staying out of the iBook store initially, I said it made sense but that it constituted a bet that iBooks sales wouldn’t be robust right out of the box. Now that sales results seem to have proven that conjecture (which I shared) wrong, I’d expect that Random House will join the other big publishers in moving to the Agency model to enable them to join the iBook offering. The numbers we discuss in this piece would suggest they’re losing sales and the agents representing the authors not in the iBooks store are bound to be pointing that out. In the meantime, Random House has gained some benefits from having less expensive ebooks in the marketplace in other storefronts, but it would be surprising if that compensated for not having an outlet selling 12% or more of the ebook units.

Mike Shatzkin is founder of The Idea Logical Company, Inc.

The Idea Logical Company provides strategic thought leadership to book and journal publishers and to their trading partners. As digital book publishing futurists, we have a special interest in the challenges and opportunities presented by digital change.

You can follow Mike Shatzkin’s blog at: The Shatzkin Files

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May 26, 2010

No Nukes – Turkey, Its Allies, and Iran

by Joy E. Stocke

images2Turkey (green) and Iran (red)

There they are – kissing cousins, if you will, Turkey and Iran – sharing a border to the south with Iraq. Where the three borders meet and overlap, you have Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkey herself has a complicated history: From the 3rd to the 15th century Turkey was known as Byzantium, where Christianity was debated and codified. In the 15th century it became the Caliphate of the Muslim Ottomans, who, until the 20th century, not only tolerated but relied upon the mercantile skills of its Christian and Jewish citizens. In 1934, the Secular Musilm Republic of Turkey was created under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk. Secular Muslim Republic, a unique oxymoron if you will – considering that in Islam there is no separation of church and state. For every other Muslim country in the region, Sharia – the Quranic rule of law – is the law.

Into this mix, Istanbul, a city straddling Europe and Asia, is home to numerous forward-thinking Turks, a large community of expats from around the world, as well as millions of immigrants from traditional and often conservative villages. And herein lies the paradox: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a conservative Muslim, has raised concerns among secular Turks that he and his party, Justice and Development, are intent on, if not bringing back Sharia, creating a Turkish version of it.

And so, Turkey and Brazil, acting as brokers for the West, reached a deal in Tehran a week ago where Iran would ship much of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey. Sounds noble, but the deal did not ease concerns in the West about Tehran’s aim of building a nuclear weapon.

Erdogan, who has cast himself as conservative and pro-European Union, who has instituted several democratic reforms including giving the European Court of Human Rights supremacy over Turkish courts and passing a partial amnesty to reduce penalties faced by many members of the Kurdish terrorist organization PKK, is also playing ball with his Muslim neighbor, on the short list of Human Rights Watch’s abusers.

What he and his party aims to achieve in the long run remains open to debate. But, it’s important to remember that Turkey has some powerful assets of its own including within its borders the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which flow into Iraq and Syria. Brazil –  Turkey’s partner in the deal for Turkey to become the repository for much of Iran’s uranium – has oil.

And Iran? Erdogan has described Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a friend. Iran has become an increasingly important Turkish trading partner, particularly in the energy sector. Erdogan also seems intent on upsetting the balance with Turkey’s longtime ally, Israel (and Iran’s sworn enemy), who does have nuclear weapons.

East/West. In Turkey ever thus. In Roman Mythology, Janus – the god of gates and doorways – who gave his name to the first month of the Roman calendar, has two heads, one facing toward the past and one toward the future. In Turkey’s case one may ask, but which past and which future?

erdogan11Recep Tayyip Erdogan

300px-janus-vatican1Property of the Vatican, Rome

Joy E. Stocke is Editor in Chief of Wild River Review. Her book, Anatolian Days & Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses, and Saints will be published in 2011.

To support our mission and passion for good storytelling, please make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here: Wild River Donation.

June 1, 2010

Oil in the Bookstore Ecosystem Marshlands; Danger Ahead

220px-upton_sinclair_oilUpton Sinclair selling his book Oil

by Mike Shatzkin

(Editor’s Note: Mike Shatzkin’s weekly blog, The Shatzkin Files, sheds light on the world of publishing, where books are headed, and by extension how we’ll read content in the very new future.)

I am finding an eerie similarity between the disastrous Gulf oil spill and the parlous state of America’s bookstores. In both cases, the forces are in place for a disaster that will play out over the coming months and years. And while the tragedy of what is happening in the Gulf is far more consequential to everybody on the planet than what is happening to our bookstores, we are appoximately as powerless to prevent an eco-system disaster of the first magnitude in both cases.

Of course, the causes of the problems are quite different. British Petroleum, it would seem from here, could have operated differently and the blowout might not have happened. If the US government had the same offshore drilling rules as the Canadian government, requiring the relief well to be dug at the same time as the main drilling well, the disaster might have been averted.

Just like the shrimpers on the Gulf Coast, we are entering the highly visible stages of what will be a painful and accelerating change in the circumstances for general trade publishing. In an exchange in the comments of a post here from last November called “Why are you for killing bookstores?”, I was told by a resident of Orange County, California, that he didn’t even know where his nearest bookstore was. Now there is news that Laredo, Texas, is aware of its status as the largest city in America without a bookstore because its local B. Dalton outlet has been closed. Unfortunately, I don’t think Laredo will retain that status for very long. Much larger cities will be joining Laredo. These are like ships not bothering to leave the harbor because there is nothing out there worth catching.

Bookstores in the US are being pushed aside by the forces of what in the larger sense is definitely progress. The four biggest villains are the switch by consumers to Internet shopping (which affects all brick-and-mortar retail; Walmart’s sales are down too) and three aspects of that switch that amplify the problem: the ubiquitous availability of used books sold alongside the new, competition from long tail books that would have disappeared from commercial view in years past, and the rise of ebooks. All three of these effects reduce print sales in terrestrial stores, crippling retailers and damaging publishers as well.

The trend is impossible to ignore. Borders, just rescued by the latest White Knight that believes the business can be saved, announced that same store sales were down over 11% in the first quarter compared to a year agoBarnes & Noble’s reduction in same-store sales was put at “2 to 4 percent” in its most recent reporting. [Late add: B&N actually reported same store sales down 5.5% in the most recent quarter.] Borders is a financially challenged operation with an inadequate supply chain, which could have led to not having the books they need to get all the sales that might have been available to them. But, if that’s true, the well-financed and well-operated B&N would be benefiting from their rival’s problems. (They probably are; sales would have been down more if they weren’t.)

I first worked in a bookstore almost 50 years ago, in the summer of 1962 in Brentano’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue. I’m going to guess that there were about 25,000 titles in that store: 10,000 hardcovers upstairs on the main floor and about 15,000 paperbacks downstairs in the brand new paperback department where I worked. Maybe there were more, but not a lot more. And this was one of the best bookstores in America at that time.

There just weren’t a lot of bookstores in America in 1962. Mass-market paperbacks were on sale in many drugstores and on many newsstands, and were in somewhat limited supply in bookstores. Paperback distribution then was just about exclusively through rack-jobbing local wholesalers and offered lower margins than trade books. Even Brentano’s, which was one of the few stores served direct by mass-market publishers, displayed the mass-market paperbacks by publisher rather than by subject to make it easier for the publishers’ reps to check their stock and fill in empty pockets every week.

Department stores were critical outlets for publishers. They provided what amounted to local chains in each city which were, at that time, just beginning to expand into suburban locations through a nascent shopping center industry. Reps for Dolphin Books (Doubleday) and Collier Books (Crowell-Collier, later Macmillan), two trade paperback lines begun by my father, were putting racks of their books into barber shops and motel lobbies in many parts of the country which had virtually no bookstores at all.

Running a bookstore was very hard. Publishers were numerous, title acquisition was fragmented. The only national wholesaler, Baker & Taylor, was really a provider for the libraries, which were willing to wait for B&T to go get the book after they ordered it from them. Local wholesalers, sometimes the same operations that rack-jobbed the mass paperbacks, didn’t attempt to stock much more than the bestsellers, the resupply for which was their real profit center.

In the late 1960s, as shopping center construction heated up, this started to change. Two national chains, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Booksellers, grew on the back of that expansion. Shopping center developers preferred a national chain to a local independent as a tenant; they were more “bankable” when the developer was borrowing money to build. So these two chains started to grow as fast as suburban mall development would let them, which was pretty damn fast. When I went into publishing sales in 1974, each of the chains had about 300 stores nationally.

Dalton revolutionized backlist sales. Before scanning technology existed, Dalton instituted unique SKU numbers for every title which the cashier would punch into the register when each sale was made. (The SKU number was on a sticker on the book.) That enabled an automated reordering system to bring core backlist (designated “model stock quantities”) back in as they sold it.

Dalton had a “hot list” and a “warm list” of titles. The “hot” titles sold 10 copies a week across the chain. The “warm” list sold 10 copies a month across the chain. That was in a chain of about 300 stores and gave me my first real understanding of how few titles sold very much in a bookstore! Those lists were very important. If your book wasn’t on the hot list, it wasn’t going to get noticed by a buyer for re-ordering. And if it wasn’t on the warm list, the title was likely to be returned.

At about the same time, the early 1970s, the Ingram Book Company introduced technology that changed life for the independent bookseller: the microfiche reader that allowed every retailer to know, before they ordered, what Ingram was carrying. All of a sudden, just as Dalton was demonstrating how important a broader selection and in-stock backlist could be to a store’s economics, independent stores could imitate that strategy by ordering regularly through Ingram. Although computerized inventory management help was still a few years in the future, just being able to get the books from a single reliable supplier enabled independents to begin to compete and grow. (Of course, independents still didn’t have the advantage of 300 locations providing data so they could detect a “hot” book or “warm” book that might not be evident in a single store.)

There were two newer operations spawning stores with robust backlists in the 1970s: Paperback Booksmith and Little Professor. Both jump-started new independent stores with their branding, their inventory, and systems to support both new title buying and keeping key backlist alive. The Doubleday and Brentano’s chains had fewer stores, but bigger and richer ones.

From the publishers’ perspective, this was all providing more and more opportunity: more stores, more efficient stores, more backlist-conscious stores. So general trade publishers grew. Title outputs grew. Dalton and Walden grew. Independents and various smaller chains grew. Ingram grew. Baker & Taylor grew.

In the 1980s, the growth continued, fueled by increased efficiencies. Machine-readable fonts enabled Walden to imitate Dalton’s point-of-sale monitoring without having to sticker every book. Computerized inventory tracking systems improved efficiency at stores far and wide and at the wholesalers as well. New retailer Crown Books pioneered a new idea: a more limited selection of new books, combined with a lot of remainders and bargain books, and aggressive discounting of bestsellers. Even while the chains grew, the independents grew and became more powerful. A newly-energized American Booksellers Association became an aggressive advocate. They sued major publishers, ultimately forcing changes in sales policies that were deemed too chain-friendly.

Throughout the 1980s, the independents were the ones building the big category-killer stores. Good independents were confident that they beat the chain stores on title selection. They were even competing pretty much at full price against Crown’s deep discounting simply by being the place you could find the books you wanted. In the late 1980s, Borders and Barnes & Noble, along with Wall Street, saw the opportunity. Borders acquired Waldenbooks and B&N acquired B. Dalton to give them operational scale, and then they started to open very large 100,000+ title stores (under their own brands, not the acquired ones) in a model that had been developed by a Texas operation called BookStop (which was acquired by Barnes & Noble.) This just meant more growth for publishers; more backlist being stocked in more places. This might have been when the big indies first started feeling a pinch; I recall Andy Ross of Cody’s expressing concern about a big Barnes & Noble opening in Berkeley about that time. But the indies and the chains had a much bigger problem just over the horizon.

In the summer of 1995, Amazon.com opened for business. And, probably since Day One, but certainly increasingly and increasingly obviously, Amazon has been damaging the ecosystem which spawned a robust bookstore network and, which, in turn, fostered large and powerful general trade publishers. That was when the wall protecting the water that fed bookstores and trade publishers was breeched by the oil of digital distribution.

The analogy is not precise. Amazon is not a villain like BP. They aren’t just destroying an old eco-system; they are building a new one. To the consumer that is finding shopping easier than it ever was before, finding books they could never find before, being presented with cheaper choices of used books and electronic books that were not available before, there is no crisis here. In fact, there is no problem.

But to bookstores that depended on customers that had little other choice but to come to them for the books they wanted, shop from what was available under the store’s roof or wait for something to be brought in from outside, and who were effectively restrained by geography from shopping around for price or selection, the waters have become toxic. And to publishers that built a business whose principal competitive advantage is their ability to take intellectual property and put it onto bookstore shelves, the imminent prospect of reduced revenue, increased costs, more difficult title acquisition, and competition from old IP long-sold or long-dead, are now fouling the drink for them as well.

All of the eco-destroying forces that have so far hit the  bookstores, like the oil coming onshore in the Gulf, are just harbingers of much bigger waves of challenge to come. More and more people buy ereaders and cut print consumption drastically; more and more books get digitized; the long tail only gets longer as more and the more digitized stuff meets increasingly efficient print-on-demand. And more and more competitive material enters the supply chain with some appeal to the public but with no participation in the structure that makes bookstore stocking easy. The bookstores’ problem is not just about demand, it is also about supply. That’s competitive advantage for trade publishers in getting their books on bookstore shelves, but it is competitive disadvantage for bookstores competing against a universe of content a click away from more and more eyeballs and mindshare.

In an exchange in front of a large audience at BookExpo last week, one prominent publishing executive took relative comfort in the fact that “more than 90% of our business is still print.” That’s (still barely) true, but only about 70% of the business is still occurring through brick-and-mortar outlets. That number will be under 50% in 12 to 18 months, and the slide will still be accelerating. Big publishing grew in an eco-system of expanding retail shelf space. It has been challenged in the past 15 years as all that growth was stopped by the new forces unleashed online. Now that shelf space is going to start to shrink faster and faster, it is hard to see how big trade publishing can avoid doing the same.

Another aspect of this problem was raised this morning on a mailing list I’m on. Public libraries are losing the funding they need to stay open. Public libraries buy a lot of books from trade publishers, although most of those sales go through wholesalers and not all publishers are managing library sales discretely the way they should. Library purchases have tended to act like ballast in previous recessions; public funding wasn’t usually as volatile as consumer spending. Unfortunately and somewhat coincidentally, the erosion of the bookstore infrastructure is occurring when we’re also facing what is likely to be a longterm crisis in public funding as well.

Two Australian booksellers were in my office last week. The trauma they face is even worse than it will be here. Geography has protected Australia from competition so books are priced 50-to-100 percent higher than they are here. That’s been great for bookshops. Their trade looks like ours did 15 or 20 years ago.  With the arrival of ebooks and POD, they’re probably facing the changes we’ve seen since then in the next two or three years.

images1Mike Shatzin

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June 21, 2010

THINKING OTHERWISE – Technical Hubris: and the Sinkhole of Obama’s Centrism

THINKING OTHERWISE – Technical Hubris: and the Sinkhole of Obama’s Centrism

by William Irwin Thompson

“We Irish think otherwise” Bishop Berkeley

Tower of Babel, Bruegel

When a technological enthusiast recently called for an undersea nuclear blast to seal the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, I recalled another time some forty years ago, when another American engineer, fascinated by the entire moon’s vibration at the lift off of the Apollo moon capsule, called for an atomic blast on the moon to measure its scale of resonant vibration. It was, no doubt, an opportunity for a fascinating experiment, and our short-sleeved and short-sighted, flat-topped but unlevel-headed NASA engineer probably got off at the thought of shaking Mother Nature up a bit.

It never occurred to the lunatic engineer to consider that the moon’s orbit might be disturbed enough to be gravitationally attracted back to Earth, or displaced from its protective position for us on Earth as an attractor for asteroids; nor did it occur to the atomic bomb enthusiast that a tsunami might take out all the Florida Keys and coastal cities of the Gulf and poison the food chain for a quarter of a million years.

Speaking as a former MIT professor, I must say that the fact that two technicians could utter such nonsense indicates our great failing in the education of engineers, architects, and technical experts of all sorts. We Americans have an admirable “Can do!” mentality, but considering our fixing of Iraq and our present fixing of Afghanistan, it is time to step back, re-assess, and perhaps develop a new and humbler mentality, one that is no longer based on the World War Two mind-set of fixing the old world order with a new one based on atom bombs and Marshall Plans and newsreels of GI’s passing out Hershey bars to the admiring children standing to the side of history in their tattered European rags.

We need to think in a new way. When designing anything, the first thing we should ask is: What does the system excrete and how can we recycle that shadow-form into its on-going forms of production? The second question we should ask is: What are the ways the system can fail, and how can we make failure reinforce a process of correction and rescue?

All human systems fail at some point. Bowstrings snap, bullets jam, boilers explode, and airplanes crash. Deep sea oil rigs and nuclear reactors are simply too complex for Homo sapiens sapiens to be wise enough to manage. And if human cleverness is compromised by the greed and short-sightedness of a Halliburton or a BP and capitalism’s systemic purchase of government officials, then we are doubly exposed, as the surrounding system of management is not one of protection, but of menace.

In the Jeffersonian eighteenth-century agrarian vision of governance, “That government is best that governs least.” Since history has been said to repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, Jefferson has found his farcical reprise with the contemporary Tea Partiers.

Because our TV instantiated short-term memories have robbed us of the long-term memory of history and the reflective ponderings of reading, our contemporary citizens, incited by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, are angry and threatened. But they do not direct their anger at the invisible forces that do actually threaten them–such as Goldman Sachs, Fox News, Halliburton, or BP; instead, they direct their anger into the channels suggested to them by the owners of the media. So birthers claim Obama is an alien and that his programs are socialist, when they are entirely centrist and completely lacking in the ability to re-vision our historical situation and energize a new paradigm of political and civilizational thinking.

Were the Tea Partiers and the fans of Sarah Palin reflective citizens and intelligent readers, they might be able to recall in the long-term memory of history the real conditions of life in an unrestrained world of free enterprise. There were twelve hour work days, child labor and no public education; there was no public health or safety requirements for the work place; there was no public inspection of meat factories or sea food and produce. What was indeed free and omnipresent was disease and death. Government was, and has become again, a more civil form of organized crime.

These were the good old days of the culture of the real America, before uppity blacks from Harvard and Latina judges from Princeton led the rural white Tea Partiers and Libertarians into this miasma of a multi-culti world.

President Obama ran his campaign on a program of hope and a renewed sense of the invincible American “Can do!” spirit with his incantatory slogan of “Yes, we can!” Readers of his book, Dreams from My Father, will recognize in his presidency the traits he showed early on as the nice young black man who learned how not to make elderly white women like his grandmother feel afraid. He was always an idealist, but never an ideologue. And so to save the economic system, he rescued the banks. To get health insurance passed by Congress, he appeased the medical insurance corporations. To keep the lights on for American cities and the American economy running on its airplanes, trucks, and SUVs, he has called for off-shore drilling and more nuclear reactors. Nowhere has he called for the re-visioning of industrial civilization, the rethinking of the global projection of American military power, and at no time has he recognized that our technological mentality is contributing to our extinction. While President Obama seeks to fix failed states in Pakistan and Afghanistan northern Mexico is fast becoming a failed state.The drug wars have opened a giant sinkhole that can swallow up the entire Southwest and turn El Paso, Tucson, and Los Angeles into other versions of Ciudad Juarez.

In fact, the sinkhole, like the black oil jet in the sea, has become an archetypal symbol of our new political landscape. Obama reached across the aisle in a spirit of rational compromise, but the aisle was only a red carpet over an abyss.

Sinkhole, Guatemala

William Irwin Thompson (born July, 1938) is known primarily as a social philosopher and cultural critic, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry throughout his career and received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986. He has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. He is the founder of the Lindisfarne Association. In 2009, Wild River Books published his latest book, Still Travels: Three Long Poems. To order, click here: Wild River Books.

To support our mission and passion for good storytelling, please make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here: Wild River Donation.


July 20, 2010

So You Think You Want to be an Organic Farmer?…Just ask Judy Dornstreich

Filed under: Wild Finance — Tags: , , , , , — joystocke @ 10:15 am

by Elizabeth Bako

Mark and Judy outside their home on Branch Creek Farm.

A Day at Branch Creek Farm

“Just one more minute,” says Judy Dornstreich as she scrambles around her kitchen. From my seat at the large wooden table, I watch her balance a cheese plate in one hand and the demands of an overactive tea kettle in the other.

Her luminous gray hair is pulled back at the nape of her neck, and when she flashes a distracted smile I notice her trademark single silver earring hanging from her left ear.

Tea cups filled, she sits down at the table reclining in her chair, knees to her chest like a high school sophomore, and pulls a ball of yarn and two needles from her knitting bag.

“One of my favorite quotes,” she says, glancing over the blue-gray pattern of a long wool scarf, “is from Kurt Vonnegut, which is ‘Changes in plans are dancing lessons from God.’”

I take a sip of my tea and smile – She’s on.

I’ve come to Branch Creek Farm, the organic farm Dornstreich and her husband, Mark, established in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1977 to hear her own story. With her husband, she is a strong and active pioneer (she refers to herself as an elder) in the organic foods movement.

I’m smiling because I’ve found myself in this very position before: Several times over the past year I’ve sat at her kitchen table asking questions about her life and Branch Creek Farm; and I know I can sit back and let her take me where this story needs to go.

Then, she says, “One of my favorite quotes from myself is: ‘If you told me I was going to be a farmer with four kids, I would’ve said, ‘What drug are you on?’”

But she has never been on any drugs that I am aware of. So, ultimately, my question is this: How does an intellectual, professional woman break standards so unconventionally by doing something so traditional?

The mud room door remains propped open. Sunlight skips in over house plants and scattered papers in the glass office nook behind us. However, I know that if I had come later, after the sun goes down, I would likely find the wood burning in stoves in the kitchen and stone-walled living room. I would also likely find a man in earthen overalls and a thick grey beard sitting at the table, stroking his long-haired prince of a house cat and chatting over clippings from the New York Timesthat he and Judy set aside for one another.

Photo copyright The Philadelphia Inquirer by Michael Bryant.

Breaking With Convention: From Urban Academics to Organic Farmers

Judy’s story as an organic farmer begins, more or less, with her husband Mark. The couple met in their final year at the University of Pennsylvania. Mark went on to complete his Ph.D. in Anthropology at Columbia University while Judy recieved a Master’s Degree from the Teachers College there.

Settled in New York City, Mark taught at Livingston College of Rutgers University and Judy practiced as a counseling psychologist. Although established in their professional lives, they took a year’s sabbatical to travel and to study in India with Swami Chinmyananda, Master of Vedanta Philosophy, the philosophical, meditative part of yoga.

“Chinmyananda,” Judy explains, pointing to a framed photograph hanging on her wall, “was my teacher. He was intellectually rigorous, and I needed that. In India, he would regularly draw a crowd of 40,000, but he wasn’t that well known here. I listened to him for years and Mark and I developed quite a relationship with him.”

In the front yard at Branch Creek Farm.

One evening, in their tiny rented room in Bombay, Mark turned to Judy and said, “I don’t think I want to teach anymore. I think I want to grow vegetables.”

“I was,” she says modestly, “(I believe) a very good counseling psychologist. However, my sense of identity was not wrapped up in my profession. So,” she adds with a shrug, “When Mark said I want to plant vegetables, it was very easy for me to say, ‘Okay, let’s do something else.’ It was, yet another adventure.”

This decision was not what anyone, especially their parents, expected from Ivy League educated, urban, Jewish academics.

“Here we were,” says Judy, “with two successful careers and we say to our assembled parents, we think we want to go into farming.

“My mother-in-law was a New York City person. My parents – all of these people – grew up in the Depression. For people who had been through poverty, you didn’t go back to farming, to financial insecurity. But this is the glory of these parents – they helped us. We talked to them later on, and they said, ‘Well partly it was because you were grown-ups. You weren’t twenty-two years old, you were thirty-two years old. You were mature adults and if you had a dream, it seemed good for you to pursue it.”

She pauses, and then adds, “But it also seemed nuts to them.”

Mark’s Seeds: The Cannibal’s Diet in New Guinea

In addition to their time with Chinmayananda, Judy believes their Green Acres-style move to organic farming has much to do with Mark’s Doctoral fieldwork in the Mid-Montagne highlands of New Guinea among the pygmies. “Mark studied, photographed, measured and documented the food intake of one of the region’s indigenous tribes in order to determine if cannibalism in New Guinea was due to a lack of protein in the diet,” she says.

For almost two years, the couple lived in a grass hut next to the one communal hut where all the villagers slept and ate.  They had only rare and intermittent contact with the rest of the world through airmail. If they wanted to go to ‘town’ (or what was as close to civilization as was within their reach), they embarked on a one-week trek down the mountain.

“This group was pretty isolated,” Judy explains casually, no suggestion in her voice or expression that studying the native diet in a distant rainforest may be a bit out of the ordinary. “They had only ever seen one or two white patrol officers before, and they had never seen a white woman.”

The tribe may have slept and dined in their communal hut, but the majority of their lives were spent out in the bush.

“So, when a man threw his mesh bag over his shoulder and headed out to fish or hunt, Mark would follow and participate,” she says. “In New Guinea he saw how the native people joined intellectual life with physical life, and this activity was enticing to him.”

She sets her knitting down and leans forward as if to directly address the recorder in front of her, “In some other article we could discuss the amazing stone age technique of extracting sago from a sago tree. How generations of humans figured out how to do it, I will never know. But it’s brilliant.”

For those of us who have never lived in a remote hamlet on a mountaintop in New Guinea, the Sago Palm is a  Cycad, of which the sago, a starchy food crop, is extracted.  The Sago Palm, like the people that harvest the trees, has changed little over millions of years and are referred to as, ‘Living Fossils’.

“Mark’s dissertation concluded that there wasn’t a lack of protein in the tribe’s diet, they were lacking fat,” continues Judy.I have memories of people eating big hunks of fat, because, when you killed a pig – hunted or domestic – every part of the animal was eaten.”

I can’t help but ask, “Were they…cannibals?”

“No, they weren’t,” she answers emphatically.  “They would say things like- Oh, there are some people way up river, over on that second mountain over there- we’ve heard that they eat people, but we never did. They were actually a very peaceful group of people.”

Lavender grown in one of the greenhouses on Branch Creek Farm.

Judy’s Seeds: Eating the Apple

If exercising the intellectual with the physical led Mark to turn to his wife one day and declare he’d like to grow vegetables, what was it in Judy that led to her life and career as a farmer?

“When I was a kid I was content walking through the fields, lying down in the meadow, and looking at the details of all the little plants growing there. And I can remember being in New Guinea in the pristine (almost uninhabited) rainforest and, again, looking at the details; going close up to a tree and seeing all the mosses on that tree or maybe a little bromeliad coming out of it. I would just appreciate and love the details, as well as the greater, more powerful vistas.”

She takes a breath, and says, “Some clichés are true, and one is: ‘You want to live until you die.’”

Then, what is it to live?

“In a sense, one of the things about being alive, which we are told by every spiritual tradition, is to be present to the present moment, and to pay attention. If there’s such a thing as reincarnation, which I don’t know for sure, I took this birth to be able to do all this, because, from the time I was a little girl I wanted to eat the apple. I wanted to taste what it was to be a human being.” She pauses, looking up and asks, “What is human experience?”

Calypso the Cat on one of the tractors.

Raising the Roost: Farming as a Couple

And so, with the blessing of their parents, Judy and Mark took an apprenticeship on an organic farm in York, Pennsylvania and ultimately had four children. Judy raises her eyebrows. “Children which, at first, we didn’t think we wanted since we had important things to do.”

“I don’t understand something,” I interrupt.  “How did you go from not wanting any children to having four kids?”

“We went gradually,” she answers dryly.

With a thoughtful sigh, she adds, “At a certain point it may have just been the old biological clock.”

Mark and Judy with their three eldest children (and fourth in the oven), now grown:

Elijah, Sophia, and Jesse.

“Did you know farming would be so… all encompassing?” I ask.

Judy brings her palm down to the top of the table and looks me square in the eyes.  “Not. A. Clue.”

We laugh and she shakes her head, “Total, total cluelessness.”  Still shaking her head she says in a slightly higher tone, “We’ve had apprentices who were equally starry-eyed and clueless. Out of the hundreds of people who worked our farm during the early years, there’s just a few couples who have gone into farming.Because,” she notes, “they were working six days a week and would turn around and see Mark working seven – and working even later than they were.”

So How Does She Do It?

“One of the secrets of farming is that it is best done as a couple, traditional or same-sex, it doesn’t matter,” says Judy.

She’s quick to point out, “There’s a very good reason for the traditional division of labor. Actually,” she laughs, momentarily paused in her knitting, “Extended families doing agriculture together.”

She sits back and continues her knitting, head tilted to one side, “Women can do all of it and men can’t do some of it. They can’t produce babies. But what happens with traditional agriculture in western civilization is that one person is out there in the field and the other person’s cooking dinner. It winds up that if you’ve got a little kid and you’re nursing the kid, you’re the one that’s gonna make dinner.”

Crops in one of the greenhouses.

Farming as a Solution

After Judy and Mark’s apprenticeship in York, Pennsylvania and the birth of their first child, Elijah, the couple moved to England, to study agriculture at Emerson College, a bio-dynamic training center in East Sussex, England.

“I had this little baby,” says Judy. “and was going to lectures and enjoying living in England, but there wasn’t much ‘Judy’ in that. I started to have dreams about Swami Chinmyananda.  I wrote to him and he said, “So come to India.  I’m going to be in an ashram in Uttarkashi (in the Himalayas) for the summer and we’ll hang out.”

“Now, here I am in England with an under two-year-old, planning to go to India,” she laughs. “And I hear the Jewish mother in my head going, What? You’re taking the baby to India?  Are you nuts?  Do you remember how sick you were when you were in India last time?

And Mark said, ‘You know what?  This whole trip, this whole thing in England has really been my trip.  You pick where you want to go for the summer.’

So, the way I answered…”  She stops, adding a pointed aside, “The Jewish mother in my head was to visualize all of us healthy, walking around India. And so we were.”

Micro greens, a signature crop for Branch Creek Farm.

Solving a Monochrome Existence

“About every six months, I throw a temper tantrum saying I don’t want to do farming, I’m sick of it, it’s so monochromatic…  And Mark always replies, ‘Ok. What would you rather do?’”

“And so I have to ask myself: How does farming enrich my life? And the answer is simple: There has to be intrinsic value in the activity itself.”

She sets her knitting down and puts palm to forehead, closing her eyes in thought, “One wants to do activities that are three-centered: emotional, spiritual, and physical.

Laughing, she quickly adds, “And let us not forget that this is a business. We’re in it to make money. So when the kid says, ‘I want this pair of sneakers,’ you don’t always answer,  ’Use your Hannukah money because I can’t afford that fancy pair.’ That’s what our children grew up with, but if we have grandchildren, we’ll give them the fancy sneakers.”

She looks up at me, “You know what people think, Dumb Farmer.  Not true. Because first of all it takes years to learn…  And every year is different, so you’re dancing always with different conditions and the conditions are always changing.  Your senses and your intellect are very involved. I’m talking about the kind of farming that we do, which is with many, many different kinds of crops, which all had to be learned.

Raised beds for growing microgreens.

Farming Organically

As for the crops grown on Branch Creek Farm, another twist to Judy’s story is this: Although she broke conventions and ‘turned back’ to farming, the type of farming she and Mark endeavored to do was an incredibly forward-thinking pursuit.

Acknowledged as pioneers in organic farming, having started before it was even a notion in most people’s minds, Judy and Mark never questioned the concept of organic versus non-organic farming.

“We wanted to farm organically because we had enough consciousness about the environment and the world to see that it is important. Mark’s anthropological degree was in ecological anthropology. The word ecology is used in a different way now.Ecology’ originally meant the relationship of the individual with its environment, or a group with their environment. That sort of ecological orientation with how you relate to your environment was, of course, important to us then, so the idea of doing anything but organic farming didn’t even enter our minds.”

Now, if this were a story told from Mark’s point of view (or even from one of their children’s points of view), it would be told quite differently.

It would be about technique, about how Mark is one of the world’s first farmers to grow micro greens, about sustainability and cultivation. It would be about product, the meaty, almost seedless tomatoes they’ve bred through careful hand selection year after year; and their famous strawberries grown on raised beds.  It would be about politics, how they’ve fostered a community of organic farmers. And how, unlike some other local organic farms, they have resisted the idea of factory farming their products.

Baby radishes Baby carrots

But this is Judy’s story, and so it’s also about the spiritual connection farming can bring to one’s life.  As she continues, her voice becomes somewhat softer.

The Spirituality of Farming

“There is an emotional connection to nature that is spiritually gratifying,” says Judy.  When you’re doing any kind of farming activity, you have to pay attention.  So you’re paying attention, but there is something else –you’re peaceful, you’re focused, you’re connected with your life, you’re living your life. But the activity is somewhat like meditation as well, and very essential.”

She looks up at me to be sure I’m paying attention, and then smiles, “This gets into the realm of far-outness, but here is my experience. I was in a state of real anger against God because a friend of ours had a brother who was thirty, and he was riding down the road on his motorcycle and was killed in an accident. This arbitrary death… I felt almost as if God was stomping on a bug. One minute this guy’s alive, the next minute he’s dead. Of course, this is part of the condition of being on planet Earth, but it hit me hard.  The suddenness, the randomness, pissed me off, big time.”

She gestures to the family’s backyard behind the house, “There are sugar snap peas out there. So, I’m picking peas for about an hour and I was really fuming. And I stopped fuming by the end of it. There was something that…” She pauses, then asks, “Was it the life energy that surrounded me?  What was it? I do not have the answer. Do you want to call it healing? I would shy away from that.  It didn’t solve anything… It didn’t answer any questions of why planet Earth has disasters where hundreds of thousands of people get killed. There’s no intellectual satisfaction in any of it – in dissolving the anger –  but the anger dissolved as a result of picking snap peas. And I think any farmer would agree with me.”

Judy, The Basil Queen of North America, at her farm in the summer.

“One of the farmers under whom we apprenticed said an absolutely amazing thing, ‘I feel like I’m healing the Earth by farming this way.’”

Supporting Local Farms

Judy and Mark have developed a reputation for their exceptional produce, and Mark is widely acknowledged for the years of cultivation and innovation he has devoted to his field. They are sought out for the exceptional quality of their hand-raised food.

If you visit the Philadelphia area, there are several restaurants who take a concerned interest in the food they serve and bring Branch Creek Farm’s produce to their tables.

A list of restaurants that serve Branch Creek Farm produce can be viewed below, with links to their websites:

The Four Seasons Hotel, Philadelphia.

Fork, Philadelphia

Alba, Malvern

White Dog Cafe, Philadelphia

Rouge, Philadelphia

North 3rd, Philadelphia

Nectar, the Main Line

Susanna Foo, the Main Line

San Marco, Spring House

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July 29, 2010

Quarks, Parks, and Science in Everyday Life

Filed under: Wild Finance — Tags: , , , , — joystocke @ 10:42 am

by Kim Nagy

Lithophone Exhibit: Photo by Dale Cotton

The miracle is that mathematics is the language that nature talks.” Freeman Dyson Mathematician, from the film Quark Park

“Where will the next generation of scientists come from?” lamented Hai-Lung Dai, Dean of the College of Science and Technology at Temple University during a recent graduation ceremony.

If, once upon a time, science and scientists ignited the world’s imagination rivaling movies and movie stars for airtime, today it might seem that we’ve lost access to the childlike joy of curiosity (and deep methodical satisfaction of problem-solving) so essential to scientific inquiry and appreciation.

In 2006, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) reported that American 15-year-olds ranked below average in scientific literacy, falling behind many other industrialized nations including The Republic of Korea, Canada, Sweden, Poland, and Hungary.

That same year, a grassroots organization of citizens, scientists, and educators worried about decreasing scientific literacy in the United States, formed the Coalition for the Public Understanding of Science(COPUS). The National Science Foundation (NSF) panel from which COPUS’s mission emerged, says:

For sixty years in this country [the United States], there has been a symbiotic relationship between science and industry. That system is now in jeopardy. The nature of science is being successfully challenged, reducing the interest in and support for it, and thus reducing the flow of people and ideas to industry. Science is poorly understood and often misrepresented to the public, the news media, and to political decision-makers.

The ultimate goal would be to increase public appreciation of science, the scientific process, and the impacts that scientific advancements have on our quality of life.

The Birth of Quark Park

In Princeton, NJ, the very same year, landscape designer Peter Soderman; architect, Kevin Wilkes; and later, landscape artist Alan Goodheart, decided to take action and address the American public’s lack of scientific knowledge by creating a garden devoted to science.

“We have a problem in America with the widening gap between profound scientific knowledge and the empirical existence of everybody’s daily lives,” says Wilkes. “We thought that maybe through the combined pathways of art and science we could bring children of all ages into a garden of revelations and insight.”

They found a surprisingly powerful setting in which to showcase wide-ranging scientific research a vacant lot in the heart of the Princeton commercial district and transformed it into a garden.

“I thought, well, fifty scientists who live in Princeton have actually won the Nobel Prize,” remembers Soderman. “How extraordinary for one town’s culture, and it was germinating right in front of me. It was the right time for Mr. Wilkes and me to start building a garden.”

The first seed for Quark Park was planted by the Dean of Faculty at Princeton University, David Dobkin who was impressed with Wilkes, Soderman, and Goodheart’s first collaboration, a garden of follies called Writer’s Block, which featured local poets including Pulitzer Prizewinner Paul Muldoon, historians such as James McPherson (another Pulitzer Prizewinner) and internationally regarded playwrights such as Emily Mann. Writer’s Block won two major architectural awards in the state of New Jersey.

Dobkin, with a background as a mathematician and computer scientist, suggested, “If you do it again, you should do scientists because science doesn’t get that kind of play in public.”

Quark Park highlighted the scientific work of Princeton-area scientists, including Professor of Molecular Biology and Princeton University president Shirley Tilghman, and Templeton Prize-winning mathematician and physicistFreeman Dyson. By fusing the talents of architects, artists, and landscapers, Soderman, Wilkes and Goodheart created an interactive outdoor gallery where you could taste, touch, and smell the mechanics of science. And scientists appreciated the opportunity to interact with the public.

As George Scherer, a Princeton University materials scientist and one of the leading researchers on stone preservation says, “Anything that makes people realize that science is entertaining as a career and valuable socially is a good thing. We have a serious problem attracting American students into Graduate school. I saw Quark Park as a real opportunity to introduce people to how science works and how it can benefit people.”

Today, the lot where Quark Park stood, once a magnet for locals and out-of-town visitors, profiled by the New York Times and the Wild River Review, will soon be condominiums.

Yet, the thrill of Quark Park is permanently chronicled in a new documentary by Chris Allen, including clips from interviews with scientists such as Freeman Dyson and Princeton University President, Shirley Tilghman, and artists such as Kate Graves, Jonathan Shor, and Robert Cannon.

Filming Quark Park: Chris Allen

An NYU film school graduate (who has shot film in Chicago and the South of France) Allen felt pulled to tell the story of Writer’s Block and Quark Park in his hometown: Princeton, NJ.

“I was deeply inspired by Writer’s Block and Quark Park because they brought people together in creative ways, says Allen. “My hope for the film is that it may open someone’s eyes to more possibilities through seeing what Soderman and Wilkes did, starting with nothing but an idea. Ideas are easy, but the courage to fulfill them against heavy odds is an inspiration.”

Molecular biologist and Quark Park participant Paul Schimmel agrees. “The park presented the uplifting nature of science and how science is based on human thought. To communicate with the public this sense of wonder, this sense of awe, in a way, a sense of reverence, and at the same time a sense of fun, to poke fun at itself. All of those things, artists can do better than scientists, much better.”

One moving shot from the film lingers on sculptor Robert Cannon’s interpretation of Schimmel’s work . It captured the wind moving through sunlight, swirling glass prisms reflecting DNA codes caught for fleeting seconds in random flickering shadows upon a silver screen. This vision, beneath a blue sky, seems to portray the ever-changing intellectual energy and creative fluctuations behind the pursuit of art and science, one vast formula behind our multifarious lives that will continue to surprise and inspire us.

WRR: You draw from many different interviews with scientists, writers, artists and poets including Freeman Dyson, Tracey Shors, Paul Muldoon, and Paul Schimmel. How did you know what to include and what to cut?

Basically I’m trying to tell a story and not bore anybody. I start by watching the footage to get a feeling for it. I want to keep the film moving, so I don’t stay with any one interview for very long and try to find other interviews that build on the point.

There is no narration in the film, so it is told by the interviews and the footage of the parks being built. Once I put a segment together, using everything that seems to belong, I look at it critically and start cutting. Something that is really great may have to get cut because it just doesn’t fit.

In the end, you can’t make a perfect film, so I don’t try to. With over 30 interviews and hours and hours of footage to work on, there are an unlimited number of ways to put it all together. Anybody else would make a different film out of that footage, but this is the one that looked best to me.

WRR: What can film do unlike any other medium?

Pretty much everything film does is unlike any other medium. It is experienced in a set time frame and it’s all about image, motion and sound to create feeling. Unlike music, it’s also visual. It can be emotional, funny, dramatic, as can other art forms, but I think what it can do that’s unique, is to transport you to another time and place and recreate the feeling that was there.

WRR: You use Paul Muldoon’s poetry in the film. Tell me what drew you to the poem, Why Brownlee Left, as it is a very moving piece of the film?

——————————————————————————————————–

Why Brownlee Left
by Paul Muldoon

Why Brownlee left, and where he went,
Is a mystery even now.
For if a man should have been content
It was him; two acres of barley,
One of potatoes, four bullocks,
A milker, a slated farmhouse,
He was last seen going out to plough
On a March morning, bright and early

By noon Brownlee was famous;
They had found all abandoned, with
The last rig unbroken, his pair of black
Horses, like man and wife,
Shifting their weight from foot to
Foot, and gazing into the future.

The poem was actually shot for another project. Paul was recording his poetry for a spoken word CD release and I was shooting video of his reading. While I was editing Quark Park, the role he played in helping Peter and Kevin Wilkes was being discussed, and I thought it would be great to include one of Paul’s poems, both to introduce him, and to underscore the idea of writers as inspiration. There were about 30 poems and I started watching them to see if anything would work. I wanted one that wasn’t too long, as it was sort of a departure from the film, and somehow Why Brownlee Left seemed to fit.

I asked Paul if I could use it and he said “Go for it!”

I’ve worked with video and poetry before, and love the way they can combine, and so I looked for imagery that supported the feeling of the poem. It isn’t a direct telling of the poem or anything, but it somehow evoked an emotion, and it worked, both with the footage I used and with David Sancious’s music. Some of the best things seem to happen by chance, and that’s how Paul’s poem got into the movie.

WRR: How did you choose the music in the Quark Park film?

The music was taken from performances at Quark Park by David Sancious and The Tony Levin Band. The park was packed to capacity for these acts, and you could see why. I shot both performances and knew I wanted to include them. At first, I wanted to use a song or two as background and show that it was being played at Quark Park. But the more I auditioned the music, the more of it I wanted to use. I’m thrilled with the soundtrack.

WRR: How did you get started in film?

In 1965 I talked my mother into using her Green Stamps booklets (remember those, old-timers?) to buy an 8mm movie camera. It was supposed to be a present for my dad, but I just grabbed it and started shooting. I graduated from NYU film school (after a long circuitous route), and have worked in film and video ever since. After a long stint in corporate video, I started my own production company, Open Sky Cinema, in 2001 and have been producing documentaries since then.

WRR: Scientist Paul Schimmel, a participant in Quark Park, described the Quark Park initiative as a beautiful expression of a “sense of wonder, imagination, the sense of joy and happiness that the scientist feels, that the artist feels, that society needs to feel.”

You capture that sense of wonder very well in your film. Quark Park was a magical place where “children of all ages” could learn about science. How did you as a filmmaker approach capturing the magic of these gardens?

Really, I just went into this to document what happened. I was enthused by what they were creating and was happy to have the opportunity to record it. I hope the film inspires other people to open up their creative spigots.

WRR: Can you envision communities following the model in other areas of the country?

Certainly, and if people are made aware of this project through the film, I think there may be some who are inspired to beautify an unused lot in their community. It takes a lot of work and a lot of cutting through the red tape. But I know that everywhere you go, people can be found with original, exciting visions of what they would do to turn an empty space into a work of art – be it a folly garden, sculpture garden, a garden of vegetables and flowers, or something completely different.

WRR: What is your underlying mission in the creation of the Quark Park film?

Again, I wanted to document this wonderful process of artists, sculptors, writers, architects, landscapers and gardeners working together for no other purpose than to create something beautiful out of nothingness. That’s a holy endeavor when you think about it. And more so when you realize that all the people involved, volunteered their time with great joy and enthusiasm.

There’s no overt message of spirituality in the film, but it is certainly there just under the surface, and that is the critical element necessary for anything I devote my time to. My association with the project was very rewarding in that regard.

You can buy the film from: http://quarkparkmovie.blogspot.com/

Or contact: chrisallenfilms@comcast.net.

To support our mission and passion for good storytelling, please make a tax-deductible donation by clicking here: Wild River Donation.

August 12, 2010

Publishing and Bookstores: Learning Some Things in Sao Paolo

Publishing and Bookstores: Learning Some Things in Sao Paolo

images1

by Michael Shatzkin

(Editor’s NoteMike Shatzkin’s weekly blog, The Shatzkin Files, sheds light on the world of publishing, where books are headed, and by extension how we’ll read content in the very new future.)

I was struck when I visited Australia three years ago at how the protection of thousands of miles of ocean had kept their book trade looking like ours did three decades ago. Prices of books were very high in stores and there were lots of stores and lots of independent stores. But the biggest moat in the world couldn’t keep the forces of digital change at bay forever. All of the forces of online bookselling, discounting, and ebooks are now hitting Oz, and booksellers are feeling a dramatic impact. When an old publishing salt brought two Australian booksellers in to visit me last May and I was pretty apocalyptic describing what they should expect, they didn’t disagree with me. They were feeling it.

So a purely anecdotal report of the difficulties of one specialist independent in Australia resonates, even though I generally don’t put much truck in one person’s opinion about one entity’s fate.

This week I am in Brazil. My new friend Ricardo Costa, who runs Publish News, a local operation reminiscent of our Publishers Lunch (and who has been translating a post from The Shatzkin Files into Portuguese for his audience weekly for several months) gathered a group of publishers and a bookseller to join me for dinner on Monday night so I could learn a bit about the state of the Brazilian book trade. Because they were not joining us to be put on the record, I’m keeping my dinner companions anonymous.

For many reasons, the situation on the ground in Brazil is much more like Australia three years ago than it is like the US today. There has been very little take up of ebooks. One major reason for that is that there is a paucity of devices. Brazil charges punitive taxes on electronics assembled outside the country, which all ereaders are. The only device that got any play in the market previously was the Cool-er Reader, and that company has gone bust. One of our dinner companions is a bookstore owner (a small but very important chain) that started selling a new ereader yesterday. This e-ink device with no wifi or 3G, requiring (like Sony) that you import to your computer and then transfer to the device, will sell for the equivalent of just under $400. That’s about triple what Kindle is charging US consumers for its new wifi-enabled device.

I got to handle the device. It’s smaller and lighter than a Kindle, with touch-screen capability and a built-in dictionary, and a more solid feel. But at its high price and without the direct connectivity to enable acquiring new books directly into the machine, it is no more than a step on the path to widespread ebook uptake.

Discounting through online resellers has entered the market. (The retailer in the crowd, which has a very successful web operation, refuses to discount his online sales below his store prices. “That would be telling my customers not to visit my stores!”) My dinner companions were concerned about the effects of the discounting. The online resellers get books from publishers totally on consignment (no inventory carrying cost) and are selling at very deep discounts. This inevitably will have negative consequences for brick-and-mortar stores.

As one of my dinner companions, who runs a large publisher, said, “we want to know what happens in the US because it is what will happen in Brazil five or ten years later.” Both he and the bookstore owner could see that the future for stores will get increasingly difficult.

The entire table agreed that retail price maintenance, such as exists in France and Germany but which is almost universally sneered at by the Americans and British, would be a boon to the entire book trade.

One of the party, a children’s book publisher, reported that Mexico had just introduced retail price maintenance. As a result, her company was renegotiating all their terms with retailers and wholesalers in Mexico to take discounts down. And, at the same time, they will be lowering the prices of their books. From her perspective, the prices to the consumer will remain pretty much the same as they were with discounting, her take will remain pretty much the same as it was with the lower prices and lower discounts, and the effective margin to the retailers will also be pretty much unchanged. But the market will be more stable and less subject to control by the biggest players who can afford to be the most aggressive discounters.

This is not the picture that is painted by most powers-that-be and economic experts in the US and the UK.

One thing that became abundantly clear here in Brazil is that epub conversion in smaller languages is going to be a bottleneck. Most of the ebooks available in this market are PDFs because the market is too small to encourage publishers to invest in the conversions. Of course, PDFs don’t deliver nearly as attractive a reading experience. But there aren’t the same resources available for epub conversions in Portuguese that there are in English (and, presumably, in Spanish or French). That is going to slow down adoption of ereading in many parts of the world and, furthermore, tilt those who do use ebooks to read in English rather than their local language so they can get the benefits of reflowed delivery. I’ve seen ebooks as a potential boon to publishers in smaller languages, enabling them to reach a scattered diaspora, but it isn’t going be as effective if putting Welsh or Danish into epub is expensive.

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September 2, 2010

Long Road to the Promised Land – Middle East Peace Talks Obama Style

Long Road to the Promised Land – Middle East Peace Talks Obama Style

Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama, Mahmoud Abbas, Photo Courtesy of the New York Times

Hosni Mubarak, Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama, Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah II, Photo Courtesy of the New York Times

by Gunter David

Presumably they serve good food at the White House. That is where the-face-to-face talks between Israel and the Palestinians began once again with a dinner on Wednesday evening. I don’t know the menu, but hopefully it started the negotiators on the right course.

Guests of President Obama included Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and King Abdullah of Jordan and Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt, whose countries have peace treaties with Israel. The latter two symbolize that peace between Israel and the Arabs is possible, but they won’t participate in negotiations.

Marring the new peace talks was a fatal shooting of four Israeli soldiers on the West Bank the day before.

Other problems hindering previous talks include the fact that Abbas governs the West Bank only, while the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million inhabitants are controlled by Hamas, the terrorist organization with a history of firing rockets into Israel. Abbas has not been strong enough in the past, and there are no indications that his status has changed.

On the Israeli side, the major problem is the settlers. Some half-a-million Israelis live in the Palestinian West Bank, so called as it is on the west bank of the river Jordan. Among them are some 130,000 ultra orthodox, who believe that G-d promised the entire territory between the Jordan and the Mediterranean to the Jewish people. It was the land where kings David and Solomon ruled, where the 12 tribes of Israel settled following the exodus from Egypt. To any suggestion that they give up the land, they respond with the equivalent of “Hell no, we won’t go.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who essentially supports the settlers, under pressure from the U.S. imposed a moratorium on the construction of new settlements. It ends on Sept. 26. Construction of several hundred new homes by Israelis in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want to establish their capital, is a key issue.

Abbas has threatened to withdraw from the negotiations unless Netanyahu extends the moratorium.

But what will such an extension solve? Won’t it only be a postponement of what appears to be a problem that cannot be resolved? Religious faith dominates on both sides, along with Zionist and Palestinian nationalism.

And then there are the other long-standing issues: the future of Jerusalem, borders of the Palestinian state, and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, many of which are now in Israel.

There is a history of failed peace talks between the parties. The Nobel peace prize awarded to both sides some years ago underlines the irony of the past.

Will Israel and the Palestinians ever live side-by-side in peace? Consider the following, which Naomi Chazan, a former member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, wrote in January, 2008, after what had been considered successful peace negotiations in Annapolis:

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come full circle. The successful completion of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations following Annapolis, may, finally, complete the process that began with the adoption of the Partition Plan 60 years ago. Truth be told, no better alternative exists.”

Nothing has changed

Gunter David and his parents fled Germany, their native country, as soon as Adolph  Hitler rose to power. They settled in Tel Aviv, in what was then Palestine, where Gunter grew up. He subsequently moved to the U.S., where he worked on major newspapers for 25 years. The Evening Bulletin of Philadelphia nominated him for the Pulitzer Prize. He has returned to Israel numerous times, as a newsman and to visit family and friends, and covered the Yom Kippur War in 1973. His second career was as a family therapist and addiction counselor. Dalia, his wife of 57 years, is also from Israel.

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October 5, 2010

Ecuador – Was it a Coup or Not? The Fate of President Rafael Correa

Ecuador – Was It A Coup or Not?

The Fate of President Rafael Correa

by Angie Brenner

Ecuador ProtestRafael Correa – December, 2007

Last week’s attempted coup d’état and violence toward Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa by a group of government policeman protesting pay reductions was shocking, yet perhaps not so surprising. Consider this: Prior to Correa’s election in 2006, Ecuador went through eight presidents in ten years.

Elected to a second term in office, Correa, Ecuador’s popular, leftist president, has given Ecuador a sense of stability. A trained economist, he has brought hope to his fellow Ecuadorians by increasing spending on healthcare and standing up against the big oil companies that have dictated the country’s future for decades. He has also steered Ecuador clear of a recession, and the country projects a 2.5 percent growth in 2010.

On September 30, a gun battle broke out in Quito’s central square, the Plaza Grande. Correa was tear-gassed, doused with water, held captive by his own police at a Quito hospital for half a day, and then rescued. His response was to loosen his tie and open his shirt to show that he wasn’t wearing a bullet-proof vest.

He then taunted his foes: “If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough.”

Later, from the balcony of Carondelet Palace , Correa once again showed his public he was not planning a change of address any time soon. He would lead his country according to the rules of its constitution and they had elected him to do just that. To those involved in the violence, which struck other Ecuadorian cities including Cuenca and Quayaquil, Correa promised ”no pardon or forgiveness.”

The video I watched of Correa on the palace balcony  brought back my almost surreal memory of a day nearly three years before when I stood on the verysame balcony with Wild River Review Editor in Chief, Joy Stocke, an entourage of politicos, reporters, interpreters, guards, and one Nobel Prize winner.

However, the circumstances were vastly different.

In December 2007, Stocke and I were invited to Ecuador by Ivonne Baki, current president of the Andean Parliament, to join a week-long delegation of business people and politicians hosting Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi banker and economist who won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for creating a successful micro-credit lending business and founding Grameen Bank.

Mr. Yunus – and the rest of us – were invited to the presidential palace one afternoon where President Correa honored him and pledged government money for micro-lending projects throughout Ecuador.

My head was spinning as I sat in the palace room with its gold brocaded walls, formally dressed guards and politicians. Then, Mr. Yunus graciously gave his talk, one we would hear repeated from dining hall to stadium across the country during the week that followed.

Later, we filed up stairways and outside onto the palace balcony. Correa and Yunus stood center front, Stocke and I sood at the rail to the right of them. Below in the city square a crowd had gathered, some in colorful skirts of the Andean Highlands. Guards on horeseback filed past holding their standards, followed by a marching band playing the national anthem: “The worthy sons of the soil….”

As the crowd cheered, it was so easy on that warm December day in Quito to stand a few feet from the president of Ecuador and believe in a bright future for him and his country.

Last week on that balcony, Corred raised his fist in defiance of those who struck against him, holding on to a tentative peace.

marching-bandFrom the Balcony of Carondelet Palace in the Plaza Grande, Quito, Ecuador

Angie Brenner is the West Coast Editor for Wild River Review.

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