Friday, May 29, 2009

Is NPR Still Reliable?

Below is the copy of an e-mail that I sent to the producers of NPR's Marketplace show. I can't figure out how to put a link here, but in case you want to also be a part of this e-mailing campaign you can go to the following website: you can't just click on it. Try cutting and pasting into your browser.

I have to say that I was totally blown away when I heard Monsanto's
sponsorship of NPR on the radio the other day. I love NPR and I listen to
it for an hour each way to work every day. I also go out of my way to
stay informed about agriculture, organics, food safety and biological
engineering of plants and animals. If I was not't an informed consumer, I
would believe that Monsanto was an ethical company committed to
environmental integrity based upon the sponsorship ad that NPR has chosen
to run for them.

I understand that public media badly need the money provided by
sponsorships from individuals and companies, but I have always believed
that NPR was an ethical, fair and discerning media source. Taking money
to run a lie does not fit that description. Make no mistake about it,
Monsanto did not give you money to support a worthy nonprofit media
source. Monsanto gave you money for one reason and one reason only: to
run an ad to try to derail the factual information that many NPR listeners
know to be true about Monsanto's unethical environmental and economic

I find it hard to believe that NPR can continue to be fully informative
regarding food safety and agricultural issues. Stories such as:
genetically modified rice being grown to keep third world countries
dependent upon American large agribusinesses, our dependence upon foreign
oil to manufacture chemical fertilizers and herbicides and to ship our
food an average of 1500 to get to our plate, the contamination of
municipal compost due to herbicides used on people's lawns which is made
by companies like Monsanto, studies that show that organic growers have
greater or similar yields to those who use expensive and dangerous
chemicals, the contamination of traditional crops by the bioengineered
crops produced by Monsanto and similar companies, the importance of
genetic diversity among every species of all living things.

I was wondering why I haven't heard any hard hitting stories on NPR lately
regarding these issues. Instead, my information has been coming NOT from
my main news source (NPR), but from groups like Union of Concerned
Scientists, Organic Consumers Association, Mother Earth News, etc. I
don't want to have to rely on such obviously biased resources for my sole
source of information on such important subjects. But I'm afraid that I
may no longer be able to consider NPR a neutral and reliable resource for
information. I hope that I don't ever have to put NPR in the same
category as Fox News or, on the other extreme, MSNBC. NPR has not reached
Fox News' extremist position yet, but I see it drifting in that direction
and I have a feeling that the money trail may be the reason. I will
definitely be paying attention.

The rest of this e-mail includes the text that I'm sure you are getting
from other people, that text that was written as a e-mailing campaign. I
felt it was important that you understand that many of us sending this are
actual listeners and supporters of NPR, not just clicking on some
bandwagon chain mail. (Although this one is very well written, it is
definitely worth a read if you haven't yet read it.)

Thank you for paying attention. Please continue to pay attention so that
you may maintain your historically high standards for news coverage and
other information.

I listen to an NPR station that carries the program Marketplace, and I've
been troubled by the 12 second ad that Monsanto has been running that
says, "Marketplace is supported by Monsanto, committed to sustainable
agriculture, creating hybrid and bio tech seeds designed to increase crop
yields and conserve natural resources. Learn more at"

American Public Media, which produces the Marketplace program, solicits
the support of companies like Monsanto with the slogan, "Leverage our
reputation. Magnify your reach."

Monsanto has clearly taken you up on your offer and, in doing so, has
leveraged Marketplace's reputation for journalistic integrity.

For its April 14, 2009, story "Germany says no to Monsanto's corn,"
Marketplace reporters interviewed a Monsanto spokesperson along with one
representative of a group opposed to genetic engineering and one in
support, giving the pro-GE side two-thirds of the air-time and failing to
mention that the pro-GE group, CropGen is funded by Monsanto.

On August 27, 2008, Monsanto's CEO Hugh Grant was featured in Kai
Ryssdal's "Corner Office" segment, in pieces called "Using technology to
grow more food" and "Seeding markets for food, fuel and feed." The
interview was front-loaded with softballs like, "There's a satisfaction I
imagine in essentially helping to feed the world. But it's not all
altruism. You guys make a lot of money doing it."

None of his questions could be described as "hard-hitting," but Ryssdal
didn't entirely avoid touching on the core of Monsanto's business model,
herbicide-tolerant crops. He asked, "You make a Round-Up resistant corn
and then you also make Round-Up so that the farmer can spray the Round-Up
on the corn. Not hurt the corn, but kill the weeds. That's a pretty good
business model." Ryssdal might have mentioned that herbicide use in the US
was up 138 million pounds in the first nine years after Monsanto's Roundup
Ready crops were introduced, and this increase is accelerating, with
approximately 120 million more pounds used in years 10 and 11.

Marketplace could deleverage its damaged reputation by covering a new
report from Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists
showing that “transgenic herbicide-tolerant soybeans and corn have not
increased operational yields.” The study, called Failure to Yield,
contradicts Monsanto's advertising campaign which claims that the
company’s genetically modified seeds significantly increase crop yields.

The only agricultural practice proven to sustainably increase crop yields
while improving the soil's water-holding capacity is organic.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice

In this summer season (yes, summer- Memorial Day Weekend is the new American Summer Solstice), I have begun to root out dandelions, creeping Charlie, sour grass and other assorted “weeds” from our flowerbeds and garden. (By the way, Green Tooth, Eva’s cabbage is dong well despite being frosted upon a few times, massively windblown, rained on with torrents of water, and being dug up once by either a squirrel or, more likely, one of my beloved dogs.) I have enjoyed my forays into the beloved spaces that claim me for their own. Despite painful shoulder joints and muscles, sore knees, hips and sore-well, just about everything- I am enjoying the beautiful weather and hard work. A few times over the past couple of weeks, Deb and I both have overworked our bodies and moaned and groaned I pain for a couple of days, feeling like we should buy stock in the companies that make “Biofreeze” and acetegesic.

One day, as I attacked “trees of heaven” with loppers and dug up foot long dandelion roots and clumps of grass embedded in the chain-link fence where our butterfly bush is beginning to come back to life, I felt peace and uninvoked gratitude.

Conscious gratitude has long been one of my coping skills to help fend of the depression and anxiety that constantly lurk below my surface-like zits waiting to erupt and disrupt my balance at any moment. On one of those days of excessive weeds and excruciating pain, I experienced exquisite gratitude. I also had an epiphany in realizing that my practice of gratitude has become not simply a coping skill, but a deeply ingrained spiritual practice as well. (Perhaps that is precisely what a spiritual practice is, coping skills that become embedded in the soul.)

Someone recently pointed out to me that I am lucky, that I have everything. My internal knee-jerk reaction was a mental whine, “no I don’t!”, and I mentally began listing those things or states of mind that I desire but lack. I indulged myself for a moment in that self defeating, self imposed emotional poverty, and then I reminded myself: “I have enough, plus some.” Then the anxiety that my self indulgent whine stirred, seeped back down where Mother Earth wrapped it in a soothing hibernating rest for the moment.

My practice of gratitude is much like the Buddhist notion of wanting what you have instead of having to have what you think you want. My practice of gratitude is much like the Wiccan acknowledgement that balance is the natural state of things (it’s we humans that much everything up with our insatiable need to control). My practice of gratitude is much like the Christian recognition that the divine source will provide for my essential needs as long as I keep my heart and mind open to receive. My practice of gratitude is much like the Native American wisdom recognizing the interconnected relations between all beings, where each has an impact on the others. My practice of gratitude is much like the concept within the science of evolution where the fact that each species of plant, animal, insect, fungus and bacteria have a specific ecological niche and as a human being, I am part of that niche ecology as well, and if I do not pay attention, I can easily out-want my biological piece of the Earthly pie. (As an American, I probably already do.)

On that day of physical toil, while being actutely aware and intimately experiencing these interconnections on a deeper level than simply in my mind, I felt peaceful with my place in the world, peaceful-for the moment-with my physic\al limitations, and peacefully in sync with most of the beings that I was trying to eradicate from my designated planting areas. (Outside of those designated areas, I don’t take issue with most of them and don’t consider them weeds in other places.)

Even as I was yanking dandelions, I still was grateful for their cheerful yellow and fuzzy beauty, their healing properties and nutritional value, and I admired their tenacity. As I oh so carefully, with gloved hands, cut up and bagged the six foot tall dried out thistle plants, I thanked the plants and Mother Gaia for its exquisite purple display of flowers from last year. That ouchy plant provided succor and sustenance for a few local bees last year which had not succumbed to the mysterious disappearing bee syndrome. As I hacked away at the “trees of heaven” and renamed them, “the demon weed that wants to be a tree and is trying to take over the world”, I tried to find some sort of gratitude for them. To do so, I tried to find some sort of redeeming value that I could grasp onto in order to maintain my calm synergy-with-the-universe moment. I could not. But I was grateful for my new awesome loppers and fabulous pruning shears as I chopped the demon weeds up to get hauled away. (By the way-if anyone does know what value they have to the ecological balance of things, or some medicinal or other redeeming value, let me know, if you will.)

There are plenty of things that I want. I think about them each time I balance my checkbook or try to schedule some fun time with Deb and see my limited available vacation days. So, no, I don’t have everything, but I have plenty (including plenty of demon weeds). I have learned (and have to keep re-learning) that rather than dwell on what I think is lacking, I feel privileged and blessed when I take moments in time to experience gratitude for those things that I do have. There is always something to feel grateful for. Sometimes for me it is something as simple as a set of loppers, a beautiful sunset or a six foot tall thistle that most would name weed.

At least once a day, I feel myself start to panic about money. Then I realize that I have a job and health insurance, my house payment is up to date, my refrigerator is stocked, my garden is beginning to grow and my tuition is taken care of by treasured angels. At least once a day, I feel myself getting annoyed or angry (often unjustly) with Deb or the dogs or the cat drooling on my face. Then I realize that I hve a beautiful smart partner and codependent affectionate animals who remind me what unconditional love looks like.

How could I not feel grateful?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Friendship Paths and Prizes

I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately. I think that I have been taking too many people for granted. Not just today’s friends, but friends from my past.

I recently got back in touch with a friend from my hometown who really meant a lot to me. Even though he meant that much to me, somehow, we lost touch. Somehow, I lost touch. For years, he occasionally called my mom’s house to reach me or my brother, John. She would update him on how to reach one or the other of us, and he would call us wherever we were living at the time. I never reciprocated-until now. I looked him up on facebook and have been touching base with him now and then for the past few weeks. Granted, it is nowhere near the three hour phone conversations we used to have a couple of times a week when we were young, but it is good to be back in touch.

Something that I need to tell him, that I never told him before, is that he is one of the reasons that I am alive today. When I met him, I had very little sense of self-worth and often wondered if the world might be better without me in it. He helped me to know that I had some worth in this world. And, he is the reason that I got involved in the church that I went to in high school, where I found other people who valued me as a person, as a unique individual with a brain and a heart and a soul that was my own and valuable to this world. I don’t think I ever told Brian that he helped to save my life.

Church once again plays an important part in my perceptions of myself, and once again, transformative friendships are essential to that experience. Although I no longer consider myself a Christian, and go to a church where more people are likely to call themselves Humanist than Christian, that loving sense of community and welcome are very similar. I still get that “Cheers” bar feel where everyone knows my name that I used to get at my high school church. (I also used to get that when I lived in Lansing, when I’d go to dances at the Center, or to a couple of the gay bars in town. Now I know no one there and get those feel-good moments at UUCF.)

I have heroes there who are transforming our troubled community one garden, one workshop, one bowl of food and one load of recycling at a time. I have heroes there who helped me through my cancer days with Reiki treatments, massage, meals, verbal encouragement, help with the yard work, and just plain being. I have heroes that I have gotten to know through there who are struggling with health or aging issues and who still find energy and love enough to share with me and with others in their lives through words and work. I have heroes there who have not only encouraged me to finally go back and finish my bachelor’s degree, but also have been helping me pay for it. I have the confidence there to get up in the pulpit and be myself and speak my mind and heart and not feel that I have to conform to someone else’s ideal of who they think I should be. I feel honored to be among people who are willing to pick up rakes, shovels, clippers and chainsaws when they know that someone is in need, as several good people that I know through church did for some friends last week.

In short, I guess that today, I just wanted to say thank you to all of you in my life who have extended friendship toward me-whether just for a moment or a lifetime. I too often forget to express how much you mean to me. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Can You Read While Riding a Dinosaur?

Written May 1, 2009 but not posted until today:

For extra credit in my Philosophical Foundations of World Religions class, I recently read The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. (I wonder if I could talk my evolution professor into taking some of my philosophy extra credit and putting it toward my anthro grade, since I’m not very confident about how I did on the final which is 35% of my grade.) This is another one of those books that I liked enough that to want to share it with people.

I laughed my butt off in some parts and was moved to surprised insight in others. All throughout the book, I admired A.J. (I feel in a way like we are on a first name basis since reading this book) and his biblical alter (altar?) ego, Jacob, for their rigorous honesty that he expects from himself (he says he lies all the time and this seems to surprise him/them). A.J.’s obsessive compulsive disorder shines as he researches and tally’s up all of the Old Testament blue laws and almost frantically tries to abide by them, at least for a day. He thoughtfully tries to sort out the contradictory rules and tries to prioritize them in some way. Some of these directives are just plain bizarre, like having to shoo a mama bird away from the nest before taking her egg-and it has to be a wild bird- a kosher wild bird- a kosher, female wild bird sitting ON the egg- not next to it. (Although, by my reasoning, this egg thing seems to contradict the do not steal thing. Kosher or not kosher. How can a pigeon be kosher anyway, it eats garbage. If a pigeon is kosher, why isn’t a catfish?) Some of these rules make no sense to a city boy like A.J., but make perfect sense to anyone who grows stuff or reads about how to grow stuff. For instance, the rule about only eating fruit from trees at least 4 years old, that one makes perfect sense since most trees won’t produce fruit at all in the first few years anyway. And, if other trees are like the pear tree in my back yard, if it does produce, the fruits are small and mysteriously disappear before they are ripe anyway. (I’m hoping to get a real pear or two this year, I think it is year 5.)

Not only do I admire A.J.’s tenacity and honesty, I admire his wife for putting up with all of his tenacity and honesty and compulsiveness. She is able to tell him when he’s over the top or crossing a line she doesn’t want to cross with him. And he listens without taking offense. I wish I had her knack for drawing a line in the sand without creating a messy sandstorm.

I even found myself channeling both of them on Wednesday when we took the girls to Ana’s little league game. As she was warming up, I felt my but pucker when the girl she was playing catch with kept throwing insanely wild balls toward her. Of course, I wanted to run over and say “STOP” and wave Deb over to give some throwing lessons (my throwing is just as bad as the wild first and second graders’). I heard myself mumble under my breath, “helmet” and then started laughing out loud. I had to explain to Deb that A.J. and Julie Jacobs have a code word for when he gets crazy overprotective of their son. Can you guess? “Helmet.”

A.J. begins his year as an agnostic father of one and ends it as a “reverent agnostic” father of three boys (all circumcised). I’ll leave it to you to read the book to discover day by day how he makes this transition, along with his transition from a beardless regular Joe- type to a crazy-looking bearded guy dressed in white to a clean-shaven baby face.

I have definitely enjoyed riding along with him during this adventure. I wish I could ride a dinosaur. (See the picture in the book, each month has one.)

In the back of my current journal, I’ve started to write lists of books I’ve read while writing in this particular journal (The Red Tent, Audacity of Hope, The Year of Living Biblically, etc.), and books I want to read (Waking, The Power of Intention (again), etc.). Now, I’ve also added a list of places I want to visit. The top of the list is the “Creation Museum” in Kentucky. A.J. has shown me that it is okay to visit places like that as a tourist without necessarily being a believer (or a loud, obnoxious critic as I would probably want to be). Now that I’ve spent an entire semester reading about evolution and several religions’ explanations for how the world began, it might be fun to spend a few hours exploring how those who bury their heads in the sand claim creation happened. I’d like to see how the Dikika baby fits into their Eden-scenario. I want to see some T-rexes crack open coconuts. I love coconut.