Cider Press Hill

A house divided

Monday, 1:55 pm

By Kate

Apr

30

2007

partly sunny

Robert Novak wrote a column that appears in today’s Washington Post, called Hagel’s Stand. In it, Novak says that Hagel just returned from his fifth visit to Iraq. He spoke on the record to Novak and says that Iraq is coming undone and growing weaker by the day. We need to start pulling back some troops and we have a very large mess—thanks to people like Elliot Abrams. (Welcome to reality, Mr. Hagel.) Novak puts a lot of faith in what Hagel says because, well, Hagel is a Republican. In fact, Novak devotes the last paragraph of his column to reminding the party faithful of Hagel’s bona fides.

These judgments come from someone credited with rebuilding Nebraska’s Republican Party and who has earned a lifetime conservative voting rating of 85.2 percent from the American Conservative Union. Hagel represents millions of Republicans who are repelled by the Democrats’ personal assault on President Bush but are deeply unhappy about his course in Iraq.

I think the inescapable point that Novak is making is this: If a respected Republican says it, we should pay attention. Never mind that Democrats and independents across this country have been saying the same thing for quite some time.

When a respected Republican says it, we should pay attention.

Even lefty blogs are noted for quoting Republicans when they stray off the reservation. As if the Republican’s words give weight to the argument they’ve been making for years now. When a Republican says it, that lends gravitas and affirmation to the same argument they’ve (we’ve) been making for the last 3 years, at least.

But such are the times we live in.

And that, I believe, is going be one of George W Bush’s enduring legacies. He and his faithful so divided this country that policy arguments were no longer considered on the basis of merit—they were considered on the basis of which party faithful said it. That was calculated, intentional, encouraged—and they accomplished that division with ease. All the right ingredients were in place for it.

Now that a few of the Republican faithful have begun to stray off message, that division may become more muddied. It’s still a powerful force in the minds of many, particularly the media, when assessing issues. And I think it’s becoming a source of confusion for a good many people in this country. Perhaps the media more than anyone.

It was a dangerous experiment that worked very well. I hope that, collectively, we will eventually have the hindsight to recognize what that calculated and orchestrated division in the people wrought. It was and is still dangerous. Fact and truth are never the province of one ideology over another. When we discard intelligence (brains) based on party allegiance, we are only half a nation and you know what they say about a house divided.



 

The care package

Sunday, 7:20 pm

By Kate

Apr

29

2007

mist

Another day, another phone call from the lad. I answered. He was happy. Actually, he was very happy. I’d sent him a small care package mid-week and he received it on Friday. I’d filled it with the regulars—microwavable Kraft macaroni and cheese, packets of Gatorade powder, Triscuits, squirtable American cheese in a can, stuff like that. But, as kind of an afterthought, I also dumped in a bag of Dove chocolates.

I’d bought them at CVS’s post-Easter sale. They were priced two for one and I do love my chocolate. While I was salivating over the package of dark chocolate, I grabbed another that I thought was milk chocolate. When I got home, I discovered it was milk chocolate with a creamy caramel center. Eww. I know the lad likes caramel, so I spread them around in the care package so that when he’d shake the box it would rattle in an intriguing way.

After I mailed it out, I opened the dark chocolate package and it dawned on me that Dove chocolates are definitely made and marketed for women. On the inside on the foil wrappers, Dove has printed all kinds of cutesy sayings. Like..."You’re allowed to do nothing.” Or..."It’s definitely a bubble bath day.” Oh brother, I thought, wait til his roommate gets a look at those.

Well. He called this afternoon and said he’d received the package and it was the best ever. I asked if he liked the chocolates.

“Are you kidding?” he said. “Those things are the best chick magnets ever. That was inspired, Mom!”

“Heh. Moms know these things.” (I am such a liar.)

“Oh yeah,” he said. “A couple of girls found out I had a box full of them and they told everyone. The chocolates were gone in an hour. The girls really love ‘em. You’ve gotta send me more.”

I was curious. “Did they notice the sayings printed on the insides of the wrappers?”

“Oh man, yeah. They were all comparing and swapping them. Those things are great!”

Well, how ‘bout that. Maybe I should write a letter to the company and let them know. That’s a marketing angle they probably haven’t thought of yet. Campus tested and guaranteed.



 

Neighborhood notes

Sunday, 4:09 pm

By Kate

Apr

29

2007

mist

I’ve been clomping around the house in kind of an ugly mood today. Because it’s just so darned ugly outside. Cold, drizzly, gloomy. Bleh. And I was thinking that spring doesn’t seem to be unfurling the way it oughta. At least if we have to endure this string of cold, rainy, gloomy days—there should be lots of pretty plants and trees to gaze upon. So far, I have a flowering weeping cherry tree. It looks so forlorn, even though the blooms are pretty.

I was thinking that maybe this is another one of those anomaly type springs. I looked back at my April 28th post from last year which tells me that most of the trees are more or less on schedule. This year the crab apple trees and tulip trees bloomed much earlier, though. The crab apples are finished blooming and are already leafed out. The maple trees and willows are also leafing out. My lilac has started popping leaves, too. But the dogwood trees haven’t bloomed and don’t look as if they are even thinking about it yet. Neither have the daffodils nor tulips bloomed, nor have the rhododendrons or azaleas. But the forsythias are a riot of yellow, sparcely placed though they are.

Things just aren’t singing in harmony this year. Considering the weird winter, I guess I’m not surprised. And I’m still crossing my fingers over my brand new baby redbud trees. They’re supposed to be early spring bloomers, too, but they’re doing a great imitation of dead twigs. I’ve checked them over thoroughly and they are alive. The little branches are all still supple and green. But there are no telling bumps on the branches which herald the imminent emergence of something green or flowery. A couple of warm days might help, but we’re stuck in another cycle of mid-40s sunless weather. Spring is reluctant to let loose and howl.



 

kiva.org

Saturday, 6:13 pm

By Kate

Apr

28

2007

overcast

A few months ago, while tuned in to my public radio station, I heard a piece about the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank. Yunus, who received his PhD in Economics at Vanderbilt University, has spent a lifetime studying poverty and opportunity in his native Bangladesh. Well, let me amend that—he’s spent a lifetime studying and implementing the concept of microcredit lending. Yunus began, after the 1974 famine in Bangladesh, by lending $27 to a group of 42 women to buy bamboo supplies so they could make and sell stools. Their enterprise was a success and they repaid their loan. Yunus thought that if it worked once, it would work again. And again.

By 1983 he had officially established the Grameen Bank, the first formal microlending institution on the planet. His was a revolutionary idea, but simple: Lend very small amounts of money to the poor and they will help themselves. Not only that, but he discovered that the loan repayment rates were better than 98% and the loan recipients were lifting themselves out of dire poverty by establishing trades and livelihoods. Incidentally, nearly all of his borrowers were women.

His idea and success caught on.

Kiva - loans that change livesJump ahead to this weekend. I stumbled across a reference to Kiva. They are a small microfinance outfit who have partnered with several microcredit institutions across the globe. (they also have a fascinating blog on the Social Edge website.) Kiva is a donor based outfit with a growing internet presence—they raise the cash so that their partnering microcredit institutions can lend small amounts to people wherever there is need. As with Yunus’s experience, repayment rates are consistently in the 98-99% range.

The way it works: I (or you) choose individuals to lend dollars to. Say for example a woman in Cambodia who wants $400 so that she and her electrician husband can buy second hand televisions and radios to repair and resell for a profit. He’s good at what he does and she has sales experience. They apply for a loan with one of Kiva’s microcredit lending partners and are approved. I lend them $25 (or any other amount I choose) and other Kiva lenders do likewise. Within a short time Kiva has raised the donor dollars to lend to this woman and her husband. She agrees to repay the loan within 12-15 months. And there is a 98-99% chance that she will. I will get my $25 back and I have the option to withdraw it or re-lend it to another borrower.

So why, you may wonder, don’t these folks get loans with regular ole banks? Because regular ole banks can’t afford to lend microcredit amounts. Writing a loan for $400, and managing it, would cost more than the loan. To make it a break even enterprise, the rates of interest charged would have to be beyond usurious. Commercial lending institutions just aren’t geared for or interested in microlending.

Microcredit institutions are set up to lend out small amounts. But according to banking laws, they can’t qualify as official banks. They cannot offer banking services like checking accounts or savings accounts from which a regular ole bank draws to make loans. Therefore, microcredit banks must rely on donor dollars. Ideally, this is not how it should work (Yunus, Expanding Microcredit Outreach to Reach the Millennium Development Goal- Some Issues for Attention, Jan. 2003), but changing banking laws is a ponderous, glacial process—so until laws change, that’s where places like Kiva and you and I come in.

I spent hours poking around to see just how sound this operation is and whether I should lend my dollars. Well, lots of people got there before I did. I learned that PBS’s Frontline aired a program, back in October 2006, on microfinance in Uganda, spotlighting Kiva. It’s an excellent program and viewable online at the link.

Then I learned that New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, wrote a column on March 27 of this year extolling the virtues of Kiva. He even traveled to Afghanistan to visit the man to whom he loaned dollars for his bakery business. The column is behind the NYT’s paywall, but you can read it reprinted in it’s entirety at The View From Here blog (thanks, Google) or via Kiva’s pdf file, which includes the column’s photographs. It’s a good read. Even better is Kristof’s video, which is available to all. Really, go watch it.

And finally, I honed in on two of Kiva’s citizen lenders. Tom’s publicly viewable Kiva portfolio shows that he’s been a Kiva donor for a little over a year, lending to nearly 100 individuals. The 100% repayment rate of his older loans is impressive. Several of the loans are in the ongoing process of being repaid and other’s have not started repayment yet as they are brand new loans. Tom also wrote a great blog post (with lotsa pictures) on Kiva and was another one who traveled to visit a couple of the people he loaned to. This time in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Similarly, Nathan’s publicly viewable portfolio shows the large number of folks he’s loaned his donor dollars to with just a fantastic repayment rate.

These are people who are making a difference in the world. One person at a time, but a whole bunch at a time, too. It was enough for me. I started my portfolio last night. It’s tiny, but I plan to expand it a little bit each month. I’ve loved the concept of microfinance since I first heard about it. Little did I know that, several months later, I’d be able to participate. To me, this gives a whole new meaning to recycling. I know, an odd thought, but really, I loan money to create opportunity, get it back, and get to send it out again to create more. Over and over. No, I’m not earning any interest on my dollars loaned (laws prevent it), but that’s not why I’m doing it. When I donate to charity, my money is used once. This way it’s used many times and the benefits are far reaching.

Improve the life of one person by helping them to develop, establish, or expand a trade and you’ve already helped a community. Remember the old proverb? Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime. Or as The Nobel committee said, Yunus and his Grameen bank received the 2007 Peace Prize for their efforts to create economic and social development from below. It works.



 

Price of groceries

Friday, 4:50 pm

By Kate

Apr

27

2007

overcast

This afternoon I had to go grocery shopping. It wasn’t supposed to be a major fill-up-the-cart trip, but I had a list of 12 things I needed. I ended up adding two impulse purchases—potato chips and a half price cheapo coffee maker that will probably work a heck of lot better than my rotten fancy one that only works three quarters of the time. So I don’t feel too badly about that impulse.

Nevertheless, the total bill for my little list was crazy. It would have been much worse if not for the store practically giving cat food away. My list hardly represents a full week’s worth of food and supplies. And I’m just one person. What is going on with food prices lately?! I can hardly wait for summer to arrive. My grocery bills are going to be nuts with the lad home. I can’t even imagine what a grocery bill for a family of 4 must look like. It seems to me that prices have really skyrocketed in the past month. And the healthier the food is for you, the pricier it gets. Anyone else been having sticker shock lately?

3.99  - 4 bosq pears (certified organic)
3.99  - 4 granny smith apples (certified
        organic)
8.18  - 1.49 lbs boneless chicken breast
        tenders (about 12 meals for me)
6.71  - Whole roasting chicken (3.75 lbs, 
        free range organic)
2.79  - Hummus tahini (8 oz)
4.49  - Taboule (14 oz)
2.50  - Cape Cod russett potato chips
1.50  - Coffee filters
11.00 - Purina One dog chow (8 lbs)
3.00  - 10 cans canned cat food (no glutens 
        of any kind)
2.38  - 6 cans of fancy cat food (no glutens)
8.37  - Huge bag of rawhide dog chews
7.47  - 12 Cedar’s sundried tomato and basil
        wraps (like tortillas)
9.99  - Proctor Silex 12 cup pause-n-serve
        coffee maker (total impulse purchase)
1.86  - Tax
79.21 - Total



 

I dare ya

Friday, 1:08 pm

By Kate

Apr

27

2007

light rain

This one of the funniest stories I have read in a long time. It’s called The Chicken Story. Perfect for the end of a long week. It’s about a chicken, her owner, and shopping for ...the chicken. I dare you not to laugh while reading. Bet you can’t do it.



 

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