The Casual Blog

Tag: charity

Big birds, pandemic masks, non-dairy cheese, factory farms, and the war on climate change

Bald eagle at Shelley Lake

I managed to get up early three mornings this week to spend some time with the birds of our area, including these bald eagles, great blue herons, and ospreys.  The birds weren’t doing anything special — just living their lives. But it was especially heartening in this perilous time to get their orientation — intense, with all the senses open, and prepared for the next opportunity.

This week Sally got me a coronavirus mask that had been sewn by the tailor at our dry cleaners.  It’s green and looks, well, strange. I’m starting to wonder whether we’ll be getting used to not seeing much of each other’s faces.  

As the pandemic and the stay-at-home order continue, we’re trying to make the best of things.  One good thing is finding time and energy to try new projects. This week I finally got around to one I’d been meaning to do for a while:   making non-dairy cheese.  

I’ve known for some time that dairy products involve heart-breaking cruelty to cows.  Like other mammals, mother cows feel intense attachment to their young. The reason they make milk is to feed their babies.  Factory dairy farms get them to make more milk by a cycle of artificial impregnation and stealing their calves immediately after birth. 

The mothers cry out for their missing calves and grieve. Confined in small spaces, they are fed unhealthy diets that often include hormones and steroids.  Their natural life span is around 20 years, but on factory farms they are too exhausted, sick, or injured to keep going after 5 years. So they are killed to make hamburgers.     

Great blue heron in early morning fog at Jordan Lake

 

Some time back, Sally and I started finding good plant-based substitutes for milk — soy, cashew, almonds, oats.  Quitting ice cream was challenging, for obvious reasons, but we’ve recently discovered some delicious non-dairy substitutes — Ben & Jerry’s, So Delicious, and Nada Moo.   But it’s been hard to give up the deliciousness of cheese. We’ve had good plant-based cheese substitutes in restaurants, but haven’t seen them in our grocery stores. If you’re looking for a business opportunity, there’s a business idea, which you’re welcome to steal.

In the meantime, I tried a friend’s recipe for non-dairy brie, the main ingredient of which was cashews.  It took some work, and I nearly burned out the blender motor, but the result was pretty good. I used fresh herbs — rosemary, sage, and chives.  It tasted a lot like brie, but the consistency was more like a dip. I may have done too much blending. Anyhow, I’m planning to give it another shot soon.    

I just finished reading Jonathan Saffron Foer’s recent book, We Are the Weather:  Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast. It’s a book about the relationship of factory farming to climate change and to us.   Foer reviews the facts, including the fact that animal farms are a major contributor to global warming. He thinks that we need to take whatever action we can as individuals to combat the developing catastrophe of climate change.  Recognizing how deeply habituated we are to eating meat, he proposes that if we can’t quit entirely, we try eating it only at dinner.

Foer is a fine writer, and I was heartened by his good sense and good-heartedness.  But I agreed in part with Mark Bittman, the NY Times reviewer, who said that hoping to save the planet by giving people good reasons to change their habits is probably not going to work.     Old habits die hard, especially when they’re constantly reinforced by the advertising of agribusiness fighting for its accustomed profits.  

Bittman recommended a piece by Bill McKibben that was in the New Republic in 2016 titled  A World at War — We’re Under Attack from Climate Change, and Our Only Hope Is to Mobilize Like We Did in WWII 

 The war metaphor is not a new one, but it is still apt.  McKibben points out that if Hitler had been wreaking havoc on our cities with firestorms, hurricanes, droughts, and floods, we would have seen the necessity of mobilizing to fight back.  As McKibben recounts, in WWII the US mobilized in just weeks and months to make bombers, ships, tanks, and other weapons under the direction of the federal government. He argues that we’re going to need that sort of leadership to head off complete disaster.  

Osprey at Jordan Lake

One benefit of the pandemic is that it is helping us get a new understanding of what a real crisis is, and how we can’t just do nothing.  That may help us understand the need for government leadership on climate change. The idea that markets alone will solve our current problems is not going to work, and the political leadership now in place is not going to work.  

The TImes reported this week on new research on the threat of climate change to animals.  The scientists found that the risk of mass extinction is much closer than previously thought, with thousands of species at risk beginning in the next decade.  The study emphasized that this is not inevitable, if we take dramatic action soon.  

At the same time, the pandemic has brought into focus the precarious situation of working people.  With businesses shut down, no jobs, and no savings, having food and housing is no longer a given. Pending getting new leaders and a compassionate safety-net system, we’ve been trying to do some extra giving for food and other necessities.  

The latest:  Sally discovered the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which is raising money for domestic workers who have no other resources.  It’s a great time to help workers whose job is helping others and who can’t work from home.  

Ebooks and charity ideas

This week I went to Dallas and back twice. I will not complain, except to note that long periods confined in small seats do not get easier as the hours pass. I sat next to a fifteen year old kid on the way back, who, by the end of the flight, was writhing in discomfort, and I remembered how this was even tougher when I was younger.

I spent some of the seat time reading my first ebooks on my iPad. As a confirmed bibliophile, I doubted I would really like ebooks, but my compulsion to have handy several books when I travel has created problems with weight limits, and pushed me towards trying this lightweight solution. Using the Kindle software, it took me just a few minutes to fall in love with the format. I like the typeface and type size, the ability to highlight and annotate, and the light weight.

My first ebook was Against Intellectual Monopoly, by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, an against-the-grain discussion of the problems with our patent and copyright systems. I was gratified to see a discussion of Red Hat as a primary example of why patents don’t achieve anything close to their intended purpose in the software area.

It’s interesting how ideas can seem particularly interesting during cross-country flights, and how frequently new ones pop up. I found myself thinking about an NPR story from last week about individuals who commission new pieces of music or plays. The point of the story was that the cost could be shared with others and spread over time, so that being a patron and bringing a new piece of art into the world could be more affordable than you’d think.

I really liked the idea of contributing in a direct and immediate way to new art. If I can’t be a composer, perhaps I could help in the creation of music by funding one. So, how about a web site to allow composers, choreographers, or others to propose commission-worthy projects, and donors likewise to seek suitable artists? Sort of an arts-funding Craigslist. Sure, it could be there’s just not sufficient interest, but then, not so long ago Craigslist sounded like a fantasy.

The web today is a big part of my life, and of the lives of most people I know. In almost no time it’s gone from a novelty to a utility, and now I take it for granted much like the interstate highway system. Yet we may have just begun to scratch the surface of what it can do — things that go way beyond shopping and entertainment. Facebook and Twitter haven’t really inspired me, but they point in the direction of more immediate and wide-ranging connections that have more human meaning. It could reduce the barriers to charitable giving by making needs and resources easier to see and connect.

For example, it’s hard for me to visualize the enormous suffering from the current flooding in Pakistan, and hard to feel like there’s much I can personally do about it. But if I could connect with a person who’s lost everything and understand their story using web multimedia, it could help me, and I suspect others to open their hearts and wallets. People who’ve lost everything can’t easily get online, of course, but the tools that could get them there already exist. It would take some thought and energy. This could be an open source project.

The crucible of a massive earthquake in Haiti

Last week an earthquake hit Haiti with devastating force.  The destruction was so massive.  Airports, ports, roads, bridges, utilities, and communication networks were all shut down or disabled, and rescuers, aid workers, and journalists still cannot even see much of the area affected.  We know that the scale of death is huge, and the scale of suffering is enormous.  Reports yesterday said there had been 40,000 bodies recovered so far, and without food, water, or medical care, people will continue to die.

Disasters are natural crucibles.  They can reveal unexpected kindness and generosity.  At Red Hat, the population that insists on broadcasting company wide emails on their personal concerns is on an average day a minor but continual annoyance.  After the Haiti earthquake, though, there were many of those emails concerning how to contribute to charitable efforts effectively.  Many people everywhere pity the Haitians and wish they could help. For most Americans most of the time, if they think of Haiti at all, it is as a far away place of unfathomable poverty.  Some may be discovering, as I am, an unexpected feeling of solidarity, kinship, and shared sorrow with Haitians.

But disasters also expose character flaws and crazy ideas.  Pat Robertson, a well known religious TV personality, had this take on the Haitian earthquake:  that the Haitian people made a “pact with the devil.”  He was referring to Haitian slaves’ successful revolt at the end of the eighteenth century against their French rulers.  Robertson thus suggested that Haitian slavery was God’s will and that struggle against it was the work of Satin.  He implied that God personally gave the OK last week to kill tens of thousands of Haitians.  And God was justified in undertaking this slaughter based on the sins of ancestors several generations back.

To judge from press reports ridiculing Robertson, a great many people appreciate that such a view is morally demented.  But it does bring up in a starker-than-usual form difficult issue for religious people who are also concerned with ethics.  If  God is all knowing and all powerful, why would He trigger, or even permit, an earthquake to kill tens of thousands of innocent people?  Indeed, what possible justification could He have for the violent death of one innocent child?  Or for any of the other atrocities that we all see in the ordinary course of  life?  This line of questioning was really valuable to me in finding the courage to step off the path of conventional religious thinking.