Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy 43rd Kwanzaa

Happy harvest to those who celebrate Kwanzaa. To those who don't, the principles include ideas we can all benefit from:
  1. Unity
  2. Self-determination
  3. Collective work and responsibility
  4. Cooperative economics
  5. Sense of purpose
  6. Creativity
  7. Faith

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

This is a message to our readers who celebrate Christmas: Merry Christmas, peace and goodwill to all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Hanukkah

The festival of lights starts today, and goes for eight days, from now until December 29th. Peace and goodwill to all.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

How to avoid Genocide

Study genocides that have happened, and vow not to let it happen again.

Here's an article from that talks about the ordinary people that served as concentration camp guards and doctors, often former neighbors or colleagues. These weren't murderers or sociopaths, at least not initially. They were regular people manipulated by their governments into thinking in an "us or them" mentality.

Below is a video of a survivor of the Bosnian Muslim Genocide from the early 1990s. It's not for the faint of heart. I urge you to watch it, and other like it.

It touches directly on a situation in my own background. My grandparents were escaped Jews during WWII, and they lost many close family members to the Holocaust, so it's a topic that has always been a part of my life. I've often wondered if I would be strong enough to survive the horrors that took the lives of so many of my relatives and people like them. But then, I try and turn it around, and wonder if I could be one of the heartless ones who did the killing. And the answer to both questions is "I don't know." I'd like to think I'd be strong enough to survive. And I'd like to think I'd be moral enough to not be party to genocide. But the undeniable truth is that you never know what you are capable of, until you are actually in the situation.

It's probably a fruitless wish, but may we never again need to be in either position. That's my wish for the world.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

UNICEF -The United Nations' Children's Fund

Find info about UNICEF activities in your country. When I was a kid, my church distributed Unicef "friend at my table" boxes, and every evening at dinner we would transfer any loose change in our pockets to the box on the table. I didn't find that same program, but there are others. They sell Christmas Cards among other things. Why not buy your cards from Unicef this year, and help a child in need while doing it?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Food Force - the Game

Check out the United Nations World Food Program game - Food Force. I love the idea of making helping others and solving problems FUN.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It

I found a recommendation for a book called "The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It" in an article from the Economist, which had this to say:
THIS slip of a book is set to become a classic of the “how to help the world's poorest” genre. Its author, Paul Collier, an Oxford economics professor, has spent 30-odd years puzzling mainly over sub-Saharan Africa and trying to work out why so many of its 48 countries have become basket cases. Crammed with statistical nuggets and common sense, his book should be compulsory reading for anyone embroiled in the hitherto thankless business of trying to pull people out of the pit of poverty where the “bottom billion” of the world's population of 6.6 billion seem irredeemably stuck.

The book seems to be well-respected at, where it's been given 4.5 stars out of 5.

There's also a Kindle Edition for those who prefer that format.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Animals get hungry, too

One of my favorite organizations is the World Wildlife Fund, which is dedicated to saving animals from extinction and starvation. From their mission statement:
We seek to save a planet, a world of life. Reconciling the needs of human beings and the needs of others that share the Earth, we seek to practice conservation that is humane in the broadest sense. We seek to instill in people everywhere a discriminating, yet unabashed, reverence for nature and to balance that reverence with a profound belief in human possibilities. From the smallest community to the largest multinational organization, we seek to inspire others who can advance the cause of conservation.

Friday, November 28, 2008

How to help end world hunger and poverty

Here's an article from eHow that outlines several different things that you can do to help make things better (shop at places that donate proceeds to charity, donate to Goodwill and Salvation Army, hold fundraisers, volunteer at soup kitchens, etc). I like this article because it focuses on relatively simple things that anyone can do to help.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fighting hunger article in the Washington Post

In this article entitled "How to Help" from last April, the Washington Post outlines several different food programs that are dedicated to fighting world hunger, including the UN World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services, Care International, Mercy Corps, and World Vision, with links to each program.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Hunger Site

This is a site that sells items, and donates profits to charities that combat world hunger. There are some nice Christmas ornaments, as well as jewelry, and clothing:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ascend Alliance

This is an organization dedicated to helping children in poverty. Consider getting involved.

Monday, November 24, 2008

360 Days of Trash ( video)

So this guy collected all of his family's trash in the basement for a year. It wasn't as gross as you might think - all of his foodstuff went into a worm/composting unit (that's where the worms in the video were), and the rest was relatively clean trash. But he did it to make a point about sustainable living, and a pretty good point it is.

He writes about his experiences at:

World Hunger and Poverty Series

Since the holidays are coming up for many folks, I'm doing a series of posts regarding world hunger, pointing you to many different organizations that are dedicated to helping get food into the hands of those who need it. I'll publish a link every day for a few days, then every few days as we get closer to the holidays.

Please consider making a donation, and as always, before sending money anywhere, please investigate the charity fully to make sure YOU believe it is legitimate. There is a link to the lower right to a site called "Charity Navigator" that will help you in this endeavor.

Solar Aid

Here's a site that tries to help fight poverty AND climate change at the same time, by distributing solar lanterns in impoverished countries. This helps them burn less fossil fuels. Check it out, and consider a donation:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mama to Mama: Caps to Cap

So, Mama to Mama. Haiti is crazily poor and needs help in more ways than can be counted. It's almost so bad that to even think about helping is to despair at the futility. But we can't just get sucked into that state of mind, so people are doing stuff. Amanda at is. She's set up a program to gather infant caps to help keep poor Haitian babies warm. My son was given a couple of these at the hospital and my daughter (born at home) had them too. The heads of infants leak heat like crazy.

So something that's great about this is that you can download the pattern and make caps to save the lives of infants while recyling your ratty old T-shirts. Double win! A couple months ago, Cathy recyled one of my ratty old shirts into underwear. This project is easier. And better.

But hurry! They need the caps in Maine by 10 December, 2008 for the first batch.

They're also looking for receiving blankets. All kinds of opportunities to do good here.

Let us know if you do this and maybe we'll post some pictures when we get ours done.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How You Can Save the World

A few months ago, Dave Howe -- president of the SCI FI Channel, started a blog devoted to how individuals can save the world. As I read through the entries, I enjoy the breadth of the domain. They're not just about green technologies or being polite or urban retooling. It's wide open.

If you hop over there right now, you'll see an overwhelming emphasis on Barak Obama. If you fit into the crowd that thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, you can enjoy that part of things. If you're skeptical and tired of hearing about him, look past those five or so articles at the other stuff. Sustainable travel. Sustainable food. School reform. Even video games! It's all good.

So anyway, I've added HOW YOU CAN SAVE THE WORLD to my reader subscription and maybe you will too.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Toy Society Christmas

I've got a post rattling around in my head about the value of giving the fruit of your intellectual pursuits away to the world for free. This isn't that post. But one of the cool efforts that I'm going to point you to when I do get around to it is The Toy Society. As I read it, it started as one person who makes toys (I think they've all been stitched and stuffed, thus far) and leaves them in public places with a note telling whomever finds it to take it home. A gift thrown out to fate!

I probably found it highlighted on craftzine's blog or something and have been subscribed to them essentially from the beginning. I instantly wanted to get involved and do the same thing. And I could have -- with or without coordination, I suppose. But I never got around to contacting them. Even as I watched drops happening all over the world -- proof that other people were getting involved.

But now! Now they're organizing an event. With an explicit invitation for we readers to get involved in a massive holiday toy-drop. So I'm going to do two things. I'm going to email them right now. And I'm going to post this note so that you guys can maybe get involved too. So, what do you say? Let's make a better world this Christmas season through (nearly) anonymous giving.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Civility Solution

Another book by the same author that wrote Choosing Civility that I posted yesterday. This one focuses on how to deal effectively (and politely) with the rudeness of others. His main point, is that if you deal with the rudeness of others with rudeness yourself, all it does is make the situation more rude and acrimonious. Rarely does the original rude person think "gee, I should have been polite" after you been rude back.

Anyway, the book is called The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude and it's got 4 of 5 stars at Amazon, and I think it could be a helpful book - how to derail rude behavior in others, without resorting to rudeness yourself. I might add, the only two people who have given it anything other than 5 stars, was someone who was complaining about Amazon's service (not the book itself), and the other called it "namby-pamby", and as most of the comments point out - the reader may have missed the point, or misapplied the scenarios.

Anyway, if you've read the book, I'd love comments about it here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Choosing Civility

Yesterday, I posted a link to an article that mentioned a book called Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct. It focuses primarily on how to BE polite. As I mentioned yesterday, most people consider rudeness a serious national problem, but none of them consider themselves rude. This might be the book for all of us. I suspect that most people don't even realize when of if they are being rude.

It's rated 4.5 stars by 19 people at Amazon, and it's available both in paperback and for the kindle, for those that have one.

I haven't read it yet, but will review the book here once I've read it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ethical experiments

A few months ago, my husband and I were waiting for a table at a Mexican restaurant in Shakopee, when we overheard a father berating his young son. I think the boy was about 4 or 5 years old, and the man was really unleashing a vicious diatribe against the boy. My husband and I were appalled. Those man's words were of a kind that really scars a person. We had no evidence of physical abuse, but this definitely crossed the line into emotional abuse.

We did nothing.

Should we have intervened? I don't know.

I've heard that abusers will often escalate their abuse when strangers step in. I also don't have a problem with some nasty words being traded - I can take some name calling, if it will distract the parent out of the nasty mood. But I would have some concern that the intervention will cause an escalation against the child, or that the presence of my husband might actually cause an altercation. Alone, I doubt the man would have done anything more than tell me to butt out. But with my husband present, I think it might have escalated to something more serious. Both of us have wondered about that kid many times. I hope he is OK, and that the dad was just having a bad day, and that his behavior was the exception and not the rule.

Would intervening have done any good? I don't know. If anyone can offer any advice in intervening in an abusive situation, I'd welcome it here.

Anyway, there is a story in Oprah about a show called What would you do? that runs ethical experiment, using actors enacting scenarios, and seeing if strangers will intervene. Scenarios such as a racist clerk berating a Muslim woman (both are actors) and seeing if other customers will intervene (six side with the clerk, 13 stand up for the woman, and 22 nothing). Another includes having 3 junior high girls berating a 4th girl, calling her a loser, and seeing if anyone stopped (some did, some didn't). Another scenario involved a man and a woman fighting in public, with the man becoming increasingly aggressive with the woman - an obvious case of spousal abuse. Most people did nothing, or advised them to take it elsewhere (it's OK to beat your wife, as long as it's not in public?) Only a few stopped, and only one woman helped her to safety.

There are lots more scenarios. You can read about them here:
and here:

You can see video clips at the latter link - be sure and scroll down and see the many different dilemmas that they've looked at. It's my hope that we will be inspired to step in when necessary, do nothing when not necessary, and have the wisdom to know the difference.

Rudeness on the rise

In this CNN/Oprah article, it talks about how 80% of Americans think that rudeness is a serious national problem, but 99% think that they themselves are not rude.

Hmmmm.... there's a bit of a disconnect there.

Anyway, it's an interesting article, with a few good tips (and some appalling anecdotes about awful behavior. I was especially shocked by the gynecologist who talked on his cell phone for 10 minutes while his patient was in the stirrups. She never went back, unsurprisingly.) Give it a read:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stranger buys a foreclosed home and then gives it back to owner who lost it.

So I read on FoxNews that a woman went to a foreclosure auction, met the person who had lost the house, talked with her, and then did something amazing:

She bought the house for $30,000 (it was originally worth $80,000), and then told the woman who had owned the house previously, that she could move back in, and make payments to her, instead of to the bank.

Wow. That's awesome.

Here's the rest of the story:,2933,445110,00.html

We need more people like that woman.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Healing after a contentious election

I was in Target 2 days after the election, and the checkout clerk was still wearing her "I voted" sticker. I remarked on it, (saying something like "oh, you're still wearing your sticker" in a friendly voice) and she glared at me, and said in a voice tight with anger, "Yes, I'm still wearing it, because I'm angry. My vote didn't matter, now did it?"

I was stunned.

It was obvious that a) she had to be awfully angry to say something like that to a customer and b) was spoiling for a fight, and nothing I could say would help the matter. So, I said nothing, but was left both shaken, and saddened.

I can't address her anger. Nothing except perhaps time will heal that.

But, I can say this: your vote DID count. It DID matter. No, your candidate didn't win. But mattering, and winning are two different things. What your vote means, is that it sends one tiny message to the president-elect that not everyone agrees with him. That his presidency isn't mandated by everyone. That he must listen to and address those individual messages of dissent, or he will fail.

Your vote, win or lose is the only way you can make a difference in some cases. I have NEVER agreed with the "America, love it or leave it" mentality. To love a country is to strive to make it better. If we didn't love our country, it wouldn't be worth the effort toward trying to make it better. And voting is one of the ways we can struggle for the better.

I also have never liked the "United we stand, divided we fail" mentality. The truth is that part of what makes America great, is the fact that we have stood, and will continue to stand, as an often divided people. That our divisions do not mean we cannot work together. We have stood as an oft-divided people since the close of the Civil War, nearly 150 years now. Look at countries like the former Yugoslavia, the USSR, Rwanda, South Africa. Look at the religious divisions that have caused nearly constant fighting in Ireland, and the Middle East. We - despite our divisions - have managed to survive, and improve. Look at how we treated Japanese Americans in World War II. We rounded them up, and imprisoned them in internment camps. But after 9/11/2001, there certainly were random acts of violence against Muslim Americans, but there was never a concerted effort to imprison them.

And 50 years ago, the marriage between a white woman and a black man that produced President-Elect Obama would have been illegal under many state miscegenation laws. In that 50 years, we've come an awfully long way. Paraphrasing Reverend Al Sharpton: "Obama couldn't have been elected on the black vote alone. Many whites voted for him too." So we haven't healed the divide between conservatives and liberals, religious and non-religious. But perhaps some day we will.

To, continue to vote. Continue to make your voice heard. Because it does matter.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Take down the election signs

Lets take down those political signs, and dispose of other election-related stuff, now that the election is over. Be sure to properly dispose of everything. Can the metal frames for the yard signs be recycled? Plastic goes in the trash, paper fliers should be recycled.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Be an ant and VOTE (a metaphor from A Bugs Life )

It's election day tomorrow. People say that their vote doesn't count. But they are wrong. It does count. It really does.

Because there is strength in numbers. Watch the video, and ignore the parts about the "grasshopper world order" and pay special attention to the grass seeds/ant metaphor.

That's why your vote counts. Please go to the polls tomorrow, and cast your vote.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pay It Forward

"Pay It Forward is a multi-level marketing scheme of the heart. Beginning as a seventh-grade class assignment to put into action an idea that could change the world, young Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) comes up with a plan to do good deeds for three people who then by way of payment each must do good turns for three other people. These nine people also must pay it forward and so on, ad infinitum. If successful, the resulting network of do-gooders ought to comprise the entire world. Trevor's attempts to get the ball rolling include befriending a junkie (James Caviezel) and trying to set up his recovering-alcoholic mother (Helen Hunt) with his burn-victim teacher (Kevin Spacey), who posed the assignment."

Yeah, it's a little schmaltzy, and yes, the ending is a bit contrived, but I think we can all take some inspiration from it. I have been fortunate enough to have been on the receiving end of the pay-it-forward idea on a couple of occasions, and it really made my day.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What Can I Do?: An Alphabet For Living

Another handbook:

What Can I Do?: An Alphabet For Living

Concern for the health of our planet led award-winning actress Lisa Harrow and her husband, internationally renowned whale biologist Roger Payne, to create the performance piece Lessons from Copernicus. But Lisa and Roger found that, following performances of their show, audience members frequently wanted to know: What can I do to help? What can we all do to stop the destructive impact of our current way of life?

What Can I Do? is Lisa’s response, a guidebook on how to take action. What Can I Do? initially accompanied performances of Lessons from Copernicus as a resource for audiences to take home. Its immediate success led Lisa to expand the guide for public and educational use.

Now available to the general public, What Can I Do? is at once practical and charming. The book is written as "An Alphabet for Living," providing readers with an extensive annotated list of Web sites where anyone can begin to explore the practices of sustainable living. Each site in the book has been selected for its wealth of information and links, and each serves as a valuable tool for finding fresh ways to view the world and live gently in it.

A wonderful resource for both new and renewed interest in sustainable living, What Can I Do? makes a great gift. The advice inside covers a broad array of subjects: from stopping the junk mail in your mailbox to reaping the economic and social benefits of green business; from buying sustainably harvested seafood to donating and recycling your obsolete electronics; from finding local food producers to getting your town to turn garbage into soil-improving compost.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Here are some tips for a safe Halloween:

But be reasonable, too: Here are some great (and probably familiar) Halloween urban legends.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

How to Make the World a Better Place: 116 Ways You Can Make a Difference

I know, I know, another handbook. But I figure that one of them might suit any given individual, so I keep making recommendations:

How to Make the World a Better Place: 116 Ways You Can Make a Difference

This book shows how just one person can make a difference in solving global, national, and local problems. Each chapter alerts readers to problems that require attention, explains the issues and what has to be done about them, and lists the addresses and phone numbers of organizations that can be contacted.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Better World Campaign - Dedicated to a better relationship between the US and the UN

Check this out - an organization that:

. . . works to strengthen the relationship between the United States and the United Nations through outreach, communications, and advocacy. We encourage U.S. leadership to enhance the UN’s ability to carry out its invaluable international work on behalf of peace, progress, freedom, and justice. In these efforts, we engage policy makers, the media, and the American public to increase awareness of and support for the United Nations.

For more, go to the Better World Campaign site.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Technology Transfer: From Research to Realization

The Better World Project:

Soy stronger than steel? A new eggplant that can contribute to more stable farming economies? Memory exercises for those with ADHD? These topics are featured in the 2008 print editions of the Better World Report.

The Better World Project shares the surprising and inspiring stories behind innovations that have changed the way we live. It’s a must-read for people interested in research and discovery, technology transfer or economic development as well as anyone who has wondered: “Where did that come from?”

Sounds interesting. Here's their main site: Better World Project

Monday, October 27, 2008 - helping to make connections among other things, helps people find jobs that allow them to make a difference. But they are really so much more - they help folks make connections in the bigger world:

Idealist is a project of Action Without Borders, a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 with offices in the United States and Argentina. Idealist is an interactive site where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.

I've added them to our permanent links list below and to the right of the main window.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How to Turn Your Good Intentions into Actions That Make a Difference

I found another handbook for making a better world, but it's not due to be published until next spring: The Handbook to Building a Better World: How to Turn Your Good Intentions into Actions That Make a Difference

Part career guide, part activist’s handbook, The Handbook to Building a Better World provides tools and inspiration for anyone who wants to make a difference but doesn’t know where to start. Inspired by’s 600,000-member online community and their ongoing search for work that gives back to the world, this practical reference walks readers through the different ways they can get involved and the range of possibilities for applying one’s interests and skills to meet their community’s needs.’s staff gives a comprehensive understanding of the issues, options, organizations, and resources so readers can be proactive, whether it’s through one’s current job, volunteering, donating, personal spending, board service, starting an organization, or changing careers.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook

Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook

I suspect that this book will be of limited interest to those in the US, but there are many places in the world with no doctor, nurse, dentist, or medical care of any kind. If you are going to be somewhere like that for any length of time (Peace Corps, humanitarian trip, etc), or if you can get a copy of a book like this to someone who lives in such a village, you might be interested in this book:

Hesperian's classic manual is perhaps the most widely-used health care manual in the world.

Useful for health workers, clinicians, and others involved in primary health care delivery and health promotion programs, with millions of copies in print in more than 75 languages, the manual provides practical, easily understood information on how to diagnose, treat, and prevent common diseases. Special attention is focused on mutrition, infection and disease prevention, and diagnostic techniques as primary ways to prevent and treat health problems.

This 2007 reprint includes new material on preventing the transmission of blood-borne diseases, how HIV/AIDS is reflected in many health issues, and basic Antiretroviral treatment information, as well as updated information on children and aspirin, stomach ulcers, hepatitis, and malaria treatments

Friday, October 24, 2008

Designs for a better world emerge from M.I.T. Summit

I found the following article from the 08/21/2008 issue of The Christian Science Monitor:

Designs for a better world emerge from M.I.T.summit
Diverse teams brainstorm and build simple solutions to help developing nations.

For three weeks this summer, masons and mechanics, farmers and welders, scientists and a pastor threw themselves into creating low-tech solutions to big problems that persist across the globe.

Converging here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, these 61 inventors from 20 countries divided into multilingual teams, each drafting and tinkering with their own device that will hopefully make life for the world’s poor a little easier.

Check out the rest of the article:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Better World (formerly Support a Child International)

I found an organization called "A Better World," focused on at-risk urban youth in the US, and impoverished international regions. Here's what they have to say:
Our urban programs respect the interdependence of a healthy mind and body to affect sustainable positive change in children as well as in their surrounding community and family environment. Our international programs focus on creating the economic infrastructure and community empowerment to allow for the sustainable development in impoverished nations.

A Better World’s evolvement and growth is a reflection of our culture and process of never ending improvement and dedication. Our work is never done.

Read more about their work at:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Better World Books - Promoting global literacy

The online bookstore with a soul

Better World Books collects and sells books online to fund literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than two million new and used titles in stock, we’re a self-sustaining, triple-bottom-line company that creates social, economic and environmental value for all our stakeholders.
And they've got GREAT shipping prices! (Free in the US, and only $4 worldwide).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ten tips for preserving biodiversity

You might or might not believe the Earth is in an environmental mess, and you might or might not think that it's human-made. However, there are certainly things we can do that will make things a little nicer, no matter what.

Here's a list of 10 things from National Geographic's Green Guide:
  1. Switch to tree-free billing.
  2. Join a community supported agriculture (CSA) program.
  3. Get involved at the local level.
  4. Buy local honey.
  5. Turn your backyard into a wildlife habitat.
  6. Buy a native houseplant at your farmer's market.
  7. Help the butterflies.
  8. Conserve an endangered or threatened species.
  9. Eat healthier fish.
  10. Join Frog Watch USA
There's plenty more detail in the article - like, how to find a CSA, and links to Frog Watch, and stuff like that. So, check out the article here: Ten Tips for Earth Day: Preserving Biodiversity

Become a Library Advocate - ALA

Take a look at the issues facing public libraries these days:

There are a number of upcoming and current legislation and other actions that could help or harm our libraries. Click on the link above, and make some calls to your Senators and Representatives.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The art of making amends

'Sorry' just isn't good enough.
That was something my daughter's kindergarten teacher told the kids when someone made a mistake. I must say that as much as I liked her - she really is a great teacher - I disagreed with how she handled the issue of apologizing. First off, the first step (and unfortunately it's often the only step) to making amends that we as parents teach our kids is to say "I'm sorry." The words are really important to getting along in this world. And this particular teacher removed that important tool, and left the kids floundering.

I understand her point. It's best to behave in such a way, as to not need to apologize. In other words, act right. However, everyone makes mistakes, and part of growing up is to learn how to treat people decently. But even adults make mistakes.

The secret to successful apology is this:

  1. Say it like you mean it. (That obnoxious Saw-REE you hear out of tweens and teens doesn't cut it). And if you aren't sorry, don't apologize. An insincere apology is worse than none.
  2. Ask how you can make it right. And then follow through. What I think the teacher should have said when a child apologized was "I'm so glad you've apologized. That was a great first step. Now, ask Naomi how you can make it up to her."
The second part is very important. Apologizing and then continuing to misbehave is meaningless, and why so many people hate apologies from people, and consider them empty words. It's the reason the teacher told the kids that sorry isn't good enough. Sometimes, all that's needed to make an apology meaningful is the honest (and noticeable) attempt to be better, even if you aren't perfect going forward. So, say you're sorry, and then try and make things right. A little of step 2 goes a long way.

Call for ideas: 1000 ideas for Creative Reuse

Got an idea for a great way to re-use something? There's a trend toward recycling clothes, "upcycling," etc. Here's what they have to say:
We are seeking submissions for 1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse, an upcoming book by Garth Johnson of, which will feature 21st Century craft and design, all made with recycled, upcycled, repurposed and reused items. We are looking for the best examples of paper and book arts, jewelry, clothing, home and personal accessories, furniture, art, and miscellanea for possible publication. We invite designers, artists, visionaries and crafters of all stripes to submit their work.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Better World Handbook

The Better World Handbook: Small Changes That Make A Big Difference is the definitive guide for the average person wanting to make a positive difference in the world. Our book is specifically designed for well-intentioned people who may be too busy to be actively involved in social change organizations. Our intention is to reach people who normally would not consider themselves activists, people who care about creating a more just and socially responsible world for everyone but don't know where to begin.
I haven't read this book, but it looks interesting. It's got a companion volume if you are interested: The Better World Shopping Guide - 2nd Edition: Every Dollar Makes a Difference

World Without Oil - serious game for the public good

The power of gaming is huge. Imagine creating a virtual world without oil, and then letting people come in and see if they can work through the crisis. And this is something they can do for fun. Think about all the time your favorite computer game spends playing on his or her computer, and then think about how we can turn that into a force for good. (Game designers, pay attention!).
It was the world's first serious alternate reality game, a cooperative pre-imagining of a global oil crisis. Over 1900 players collaborated in May 2007 to chronicle the oil crisis with their own personal blog posts, videos, images and voicemails. The game ended after simulating the first 32 weeks of the oil shock, but its effects continue, as game designers analyze its unique gameplay and we all watch the continuing drama with global oil prices and supply.
The game won the Activism Award at South By Southwest. Here's some further reading:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Woogi World?

This is a game/site/virtual world that helps teach kids about how to be good people by using virtual gaming. I'm not endorsing it - just suggesting that it might bear some closer scrutiny.

According to the the blog entry (linked below): is the ONLY children’s virtual world that is benefiting society!
  1. WW promotes BALANCE by bringing elementary children online to learn, and motivates them (through points and prizes), to apply their learning through offline experiences.
  2. WW games, activities and adventures teach and promote positive behavior and character development.
  3. WW actively promotes selfless serving as it discourages materialism, greed, and hoarding.
  4. WW teaches the “Power of One” as it motivates and rewards families to get involved in charitable organizations.
  5. WW promotes, teaches and rewards healthy, active living—physical, mental and emotional fitness.
  6. WW’s full program is free to all children.
  7. NO Fortune 500 corporation owns or controls CW, so we maintain complete autonomy over WW.
  8. WW’s sponsorship model allows corporate America to actively participate in the process of teaching leadership, integrity, critical thinking and community participation.
  9. WW is endorsed by lawmakers, government and private organizations.
  10. WW is distributed to, and nationally endorsed by elementary schools.
  11. WW games, activities, and adventures are critically-thinking couched, thus assisting elementary schools and staff to meet national NCLB (No Child Left Behind) mandates.
  12. WW is committed to providing a meaningful environment where children and their families continually learn how unique and important they and their contributions truly are.
Caveat: I've only glanced through the site. Anyway, read the whole blog entry, and then check out the Woogi World for your kids, to see if you think it's worth considering. If anyone knows more about it, I'd love some feedback (polite, of course).

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Internet - making the world better? I think so.

I found this from CNet: The Internet is making the world a better place...but not for CEOs

So is the Internet making the world a better place? I think so. At least I like it a lot. If I have a question or an issue about a topic (any topic will do), I can go find groups who will bend over backward to help me figure out how to fix whatever I need fixing. It hugely helps folks to help each other.

This article focuses on how it changes the world of business, and I think it's good there too. What are your thoughts?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pangea Day

I mentioned Pangea Day in a post yesterday, and it's so neat, I thought I'd devote another entry to it. It's named for the ancient supercontinent that originally included all of the world's continents in a single landmass. Pangea eventually split apart into the continents that we have today. The event uses it to represent how the people of the world are coming back together, and overcoming differences and conflict.

Anyway, go to the Pangea Site, and read the overview, the FAQ, watch the films, and the program (either a 1-hour highlight, or a 4-hour show). It's wonderful.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WIRED: Use the Web to End Poverty

Lots of people are concerned with poverty, right? I just ran across a new article at the WIRED magazine how-to wiki (a web site that anyone can edit — for the betterment of the article) on using the web to end poverty. There's not much there as I type this (hey, it's brand new) but there are a few great ideas and there will be more. Maybe you have some ideas that belong there too.

Religion and Ethnicity and Politics

I found a kindred spirit in Campbell Brown who wrote the following article. Here's a sample of what she had to say:

So what if Obama was Arab or Muslim? So what if John McCain was Arab or Muslim? Would it matter?

When did that become a disqualifier for higher office in our country? When did Arab and Muslim become dirty words? The equivalent of dishonorable or radical?

Whenever this gets raised, the implication is that there is something wrong with being an Arab-American or a Muslim. And the media is complicit here, too.
Religion and ethnicity in politics is an important issue, in that it should be a non-issue. Vote for the candidate that you think will do the best job for your country. Look at what they've done. Examine their voting records. Be naturally cynical of any information about a candidate coming from the opposite party, because I guarantee it WILL have been taken out of context and spun in a blender before being fed to the public. Remember that this is true for both sides, not just the "other" side.

I suppose it's natural to pick the candidate who you feel you have the most connection with. And that might mean being naturally drawn to someone of the same race or religion. But, stop and think. Before being a member of a specific ethnicity, or a religion, each individual is a human being, with all the same wants and needs as any other.

Over and over, I hear Barak Obama being "accused" of being an Arab, or a Muslim - on the news, on Youtube, at rallies. Not that it should matter, but he's neither. His mother was an American from Kansas originally. She was white. His father was from Kenya, in the U.S. to study. And yes, he was black. Senator Obama was born in Hawaii, and lived in Hawaii for most of his childhood. He is by all the rules that count, an American. Just as John McCain is. And Obama was raised a Christian, just as McCain was.

But surely that doesn't matter. Both are good men. Either would probably make a good president (of course, no one knows for sure how they would do until they are actually in office). Neither is planning to bomb us, and both believe they have our best interests at heart. I know that many people hold Muslims at fault for the 9-11-01 attack, but that's not fair. Do we hold all Christians at fault for Timothy's McVey's actions in Oklahoma City? Or what about David Koresh in Waco or the ATF agents who might or might not have mishandled it? Since Hitler was a devout Catholic, should we hold Catholics at fault for the Holocaust? Going back even farther, should we consider all Christians as being violent and untrustworthy, because they - as foreign invaders - sought to "liberate" the Holy Land 1000 years ago? The answer is NO, of course not. All of the examples above claimed to be Christian. Just as the perpetrators of 9-11 claimed to be Muslim.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims have ALL done a lot of good in this world. They pray to the same God. They share many of the same prophets, (Abraham, and Jesus are two, though they vary in importance from religion to religion) and finally, the religions have remarkably similar rules and morals.

On the same token, all three religions have examples of bad people, as well. Prisons here and in the middle east are full of Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Each person should be judged on his or her own merits, on his or her own actions and history. On election day, go and vote for the best person for the job, but don't you think it should be in a color-blind manner?

Healing the world through short films

Here is a short film in support of Pangea day, which aims to heal the world's differences. They evidently made a number of short films in an attempt to reach people around the world.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

World Connections Fair - anyone up for getting it going again?

I found this page from 1993, about a World Connections Fair, and it had a lot of interesting ideas for kids. It appears to be defunct, as I couldn't find any web pages devoted to something like it (though I admit to not looking very hard).

The World Connections Fair is an annual creative problem solving program designed to encourage youth, ages 10 to 15, to be actively involved in making the world a better place.

Program Goals
  • To encourage and empower youth to really have an impact in making this world a better place.
  • To promote greater understanding and acceptance between the world's diverse cultures.
  • To promote creative solutions to the world's problems.
  • To promote cooperative creative problem solving and teamwork.
  • To promote computer literacy and the knowledge and use of multimedia technology.
Anyway, there's lots more detail in the original message, so if this sounds interesting, go take a look: World Connections Fair.

And if I was mistaken about it being defunct, I humbly apologize. Please feel free to post a comment with the correct info.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Squidoo - making the world a better place, one lens at a time

Check out Squidoo's collection of pages devoted to making the world a better place:

We are making the world a better place one lens at a time! Does your lens make a difference, solve a problem, make people smile, or just generally help people live better lives! Then you are welcome to add your G-rated lens to our group!
It's a collection of hand-built pages by all sorts of individuals with idea for making things better. Check it out:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Making the world a better place, one box at a time

A birthday party might not be necessary to someone's survival, but for kids whose parents depend on food shelf donations know, it's awfully nice to have.

Students at the University of Minnesota-Morris donated "Birthday Boxes" to local food shelters:
Twenty Birthday Buddy Boxes were assembled, decorated to be party-ready and distributed to the Stevens County Food Shelf. This birthday-in-a-box provides the party ingredients for children celebrating birthdays whose families rely on the food shelf for basic needs. The boxes’ contents were donated by UMM staff and faculty and included a variety of items from a small stocking stuffer, gift bags and tissue paper, cake mix, frosting, candles, balloons, paper plates and napkins to toothbrushes, socks, books, art and school supplies and more.

Read the whole story here:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Davos: Making the World a Better Place (a video commentary)

Here's another Youtube video commentary on how to make the world a better place:

Measureable results.
Quick feedback loops.
Third party reporting.
Not top down, but bottom up.

Not donations and charity but equal partnerships and grassroots collaboration.

Don't fight poverty, increase economic opportunity.

Don't fight global warming, increase environmental sustainability.

Don't fight aids, hunger and obesity, increase healthy behavior.

If you're a well-off philanthropist, powerful captain of industry, or high level government official working to "make the world a better place" you must read the following two books: Despite Good Intentions & The Lords of Poverty
Actually, even if you're not one of the elite and simply want to make the world a better place, you should read both those books too. is a global all-volunteer, member-governed, online social network (in combination with real-world locations) that is made up of social entrepreneurs, activists, artists, social purpose enterprises, grassroots nonprofit, non-governmental, and community-based organizations, and is collaborating and taking action locally, nationally & globally, in order to make the world a better place. Please join us:

Friday, October 10, 2008

Guiding principles of abetterworldblog

I thought I should write a few words on the guiding principles of this site. These are the rules that we'll be following when posting, or soliciting articles, and also the rules for any visitors to the site who might be leaving comments.
  1. Be polite.
  2. Watch for ways individuals or organizations can make the world a better place. This necessarily subjective, so I welcome polite suggestions and other points of view.
  3. Be non-partisan. No one ever agrees in politics, and because of that, I am trying hard to address things that are near and dear to everyone, regardless of political persuasion. Because of this situation, I will only post articles about politics as long as they appear to be (at least to me) non-biased toward any one candidate. That doesn’t mean I won’t post things by someone who is specifically liberal or conservative, or that I won’t post something from a source normally considered leaning toward one party or the other. As long as the article or point in question is non-partisan, it’s fair game here. For what it's worth, I'm not a non-partisan person. I've voted for the same party nearly every time since the 1988 election. But personal politics have no place here. I might or might not post on other blogs about my political beliefs, but not here. However, I'll still try hard to observe the politeness tenet no matter where I post.
  4. Be polite.
  5. Avoid proselytizing any specific religion. Just as no one ever agrees on politics, no one agrees on religion, either. Matters of spiritual belief are private, and we should only share religious tenets, if they apply across the board. For example, "pray for them" is OK, but "pray to [insert holy name here]" is not, as it excludes followers of other religions.
  6. Be respectful of other people’s opinions. They aren’t stupid or deceived or evil for not agreeing.
  7. Be polite when you are leaving comments on an article. I will remove impolite comments without notice. This is non-negotiable. If I remove a post, and you want to know why, I’ll answer your questions as to how I felt it was rude, but it ends there. You are more than welcome to rewrite and then post a polite version of your removed comment. Now, I really hate being put in a position where I must censor and/or police a site. Please don’t put us in the position of having to remove a comment. It’s simple to not be censored: simply remain polite under all circumstances.
The rules can be boiled down to: be respectful, non-partisan, and look for ways anyone can make the world a better place. All the rest were details.

I also need to mention that we do have advertisements on the site, but aside from the decision to allow the ads, we don't control their content. Software looks at the articles and other content of the site, and then picks what it considers appropriate ads. At this point in time the software isn't always particularly intelligent, and the ads don't always make sense given what we are about. They also don't necessarily represent the ideology of the contributors, as on this site we strive for neutrality in politics and religion.

And on a final note, we will donate 25% of the revenue generated by the ads, to charitable organizations. We will try to notify readers when we make donations, and to whom.

A Perfect World: Making the world a better place one cartoon at a time

I looked through a few of Linda Causey's cartoons, and they sometimes funny, sometimes not, and sometimes kinda sad.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Eco-friendly weddings

Weddings can be very wasteful events. Here is a video clip with a lot of little things that you can do to have a more environmentally-conscious event.

Yes! Helping visionary young leaders build a better world

Yes! is a cool organization that helps prepare world's youth to build a better world. I've also added a permanent link to their site. Their mission is to connect, inspire and empower young change-makers to join forces for a thriving, just, and sustainable way of life for all.

Check them out:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Give Back (a video commentary)

I found out that Youtube has LOTS of videos with ideas to make the world a better place. Here's one by a guy named Anakin 1814. He writes:

Just watch.

We can do this in any way, big or small, to whoever we choose....and to make a difference.

And yeah, this idea's been done a million times before on YouTube. What's wrong with a million and one? :)

So what is this "Fair Trade" thing I keep seeing?

I don't know about you, but I keep seeing the phrase "Fair Trade" on products at the grocery store and other places, and I saw logos like the ones below and at the end of the article:

Anyway, I wondered what it's all about. Here's what I found at Wiki:
Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach to empowering developing country producers and promoting sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a fair price as well as social and environmental standards in areas related to the production of a wide variety of goods. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably handicrafts, coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit and flowers.

Fair trade's strategic intent is to deliberately work with marginalized producers and workers in order to help them move from a position of vulnerability to one of security and economic self-sufficiency. It also aims at empowering them to become stakeholders in their own organizations and actively play a wider role in the global arena to achieve greater equity in international trade. Fair trade proponents include a wide array of international religious, development aid, social and environmental organizations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, Catholic Relief Services, and Caritas International.
There's much more to the article, and it seems fairly balanced, addressing not just positives of the program, of which there are many, but also some of the cons: "Some economists and think tanks see "fair trade" as a type of subsidy that impedes growth. Segments of the left criticize fair trade for not adequately challenging the current trading system." There are are groups that feel the program distorts prices. Please do read the whole article, and decide for yourself if it's a worthy organization to support. For further reading, there is a list of links at the end of the article.

As much as I'm a proponent of charitable giving, I especially like programs that are designed not just to give relief, but also to help folks help themselves. There is a rather famous Chinese proverb that goes like this: "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." It seems like a reasonable way to go.

Oh, and in closing, I thought I'd mention there are some funny variations of the fish proverb here: My favorite is, "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to use the Net and he won't bother you for weeks."

Eco-friendly Jewelry

This spot details buying Fair Trade jewelry that supports poverty-stricken artisans in developing nations. The materials are usually hand-made and not harmful to the environment. It also talks about buying conflict-free diamonds (there are companies that only buy diamonds from mines that do not employ child labor, or other unethical practices). It also suggests buying vintage jewelry, or jewelry made from recycled materials.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The kids' opinions

I asked my kids what they thought we should do to make the world a better place, and here's what they had to say:

Garrett (age 14): "Stop fighting wars."


Kivi: (age 6): "Clean the air, pick up the ground, and plant flowers to make things look pretty."

Sounds good to me.

Politcs of the Meanest. Again, and again, and again.

It seems there are lots of people out there, not just me, who are turned off by the negativing campaigning of the four candidates running for the top two slots in the executive branch. Today alone, I counted at least 6 articles on CNN and Fox News that talked about it. This is something that is transcending partisan politics. Washington - take note. People want the negative campaigning to stop.

Campbell Brown has an excellent non-partisan commentary urging the candidates (both of them) to stop the negative campaigning:

By now you've probably heard about how ugly things have gotten out there on the campaign trail in the last 48 hours.

But we thought for just a moment we would take you back to kinder, gentler times.

Remember this:

Sen. John McCain: "I pledge again a respectful campaign. A respectful campaign based on the issues and based on the stark differences we have on the vision for the future of America."

Sen. Barack Obama: "I said I was looking forward to a civil substantive debate on the issues and he agreed."

McCain: "I've pledged to conduct a respectful campaign and I urge, time after time, various entities within the Republican party to also do that."

Obama: "We don't need John McCain and I to be demonizing each other. You won't get that from my campaign."

Oh how far we have come in such a short period of time. . . . There is just one month left. Please, please don't let this devolve into a campaign you are sickened by and embarrassed to be part of.

Here's a purely practical reason: The negativity you are spewing now will only make your job harder after Election Day.

Bipartisanship is really tough to achieve when everyone on both sides is left with a bad bad taste in their mouths.
There's more. Please be sure to read the rest of her excellent commentary.

And on the same day that Ms. Brown's commentary was published, there were many other articles on many different news services, both liberal and conservative, about the ugliness of the campaign:

Here's one about independent voters and the riskiness of attack ads. Independent voters, who make up nearly 25% of the electorate, and who are a) likely to decide the next election given how close it is, and b) likely to be repelled by negative attack ads. And honestly, those who have decided are likely to be repelled by the ads, too.

And finally, here are two stories about the brand-new ads being released where the two candidates call each other liars: here and here.

As I proposed in an earlier article: Lets make fear-mongering, negative campaigning ineffective. Let folks of both parties know you won't be swayed buy such negative ads.

Dave Berry's ten rules for making the world a much better place

This list boils down to how to wait in line and when to save seats, but Dave Berry tells it a lot funnier than I can, and most of his rules are pretty good.

Check it out: 10 rules for making the world a much better place.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Buy year passes for state and national parks

Even if you aren't going to be going more than once or twice, buy a full-year pass to your state parks (usually around $25), or a national parks pass ($80). That money goes right to the park system, which rely on taxes (which are never enough) and these passes for funding. Our state and national parks are an incredible resource.

Here's a link to my favorite state park, near where I grew up:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Adopt a highway

Take responsibility for the trash around you. When you see a piece of litter, pick it up. Leave your campsite cleaner than when you found it.

Yeah, it's gross to touch other people's garbage, but your hands are easy to wash.

If you are up to it, you or a group can even take part in the adopt-a-highway program in your state. It's pretty easy to find. Just type in "adopt a highway [state]" in the search engine of choice, substituting your state's two-letter abbreviation for [state]. It should bring up the program on your state's site.

And then, you get to see your name up on one of those signs on the side of the road.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Project 10100

Do you have a great idea to help lots of people, but lack the funding to get it off the ground? Google's Project 10100 (that's ten to the hundredth) is calling for ideas to change the world by helping as many people as possible.

Check it out:

To celebrate their 10th anniversary, they are committing $10 million to fund the top 5 ideas that will help as many people as possible.

So put on your thinking cap, and submit a proposal.

Bipartisan Politics of Meanness, Part II

In part I, I mentioned how vicious individuals can be, when confronting political ideas that differ from their own. Individuals aren't the only mean entities out there. So are political parties, and so are the candidates. All candidates. Doesn't matter if they are red or blue.

Nearly all accusations of spin-doctoring, waffling, lying, are all universally true about any candidate. They outright lie. It's a sad, though true situation. Just do a search of "fact check" and you'll turn it up plenty of examples on both sides. It always puzzles me, when I hear someone accuse a candidate of these things, and then give these problems as reasons why the candidate is a bad choice for office -- their own candidate can also be accused of these things, too. And the accusations would be true. For both of them.

I don't hold such behavior against candidates particularly, because that's what they have to do to get elected. If one candidate ran a friendly campaign, never spun anything to their advantage, they would lose. Because fear-mongering is EFFECTIVE.

Actually, I guess I do hold it against them, but against all of them. I just don't use those things when making my decision, because I'd never vote for anyone at all if I did, and I do think we should vote.

But I would like to propose something radical. Lets make fear-mongering ineffective.

Don't just blindly believe everything your party says about their opponent, because they really aren't above spinning things to their advantage. Be cynical, especially if your information about the opponent comes from a campaign ad, or from a candidate.

Try to avoid giving money to anyone who will use nasty rhetoric. If that's not possible, then start policing your own party -- let them know that you don't want them to fund mean statements or be affiliated with vicious politics. Whenever you see a nasty ad, call your party, call your senator, write your representative, whatever. They will -- eventually -- get the picture. Don't just stop there - complain to the opposite party too, when they do it, and they most certainly will.

Bipartisan Politics of Meanness, Part I

In politics, as in everything else, people that don’t agree with you aren’t stupid for holding other opinions. And, even if they hold other opinions, even ones you disagree strongly with, please don't fall into the easy trap of making vicious statements toward them that you'd never in a million years say to their face (or if you would, stop it. You are doing the world no good).

Orson Scott Card wrote in the afterword of his novel Empire:
But any rational observer has to see that the Left and Right in America are screaming the most vile accusations at each other all the time. We are fully polarized -- if you accept one idea that sounds like it belongs to either the blue or the red, you are assumed -- nay, required -- to espouse the entire rest of the package. . . . and yet, if you hold any of one group's views, you are hated by the other group as if you believed them all; and if you hold most of one groups views, but not all, you are treated as if you were a traitor for deviating even slightly from party line.

It goes deeper than this, however. A good working definition of fanaticism is that you are so convinced of your views and policies that you are sure anyone who opposed them must be either stupid and deceived or have some ulterior motive.
Want some examples? Here you go, although they are comparatively tame:
Not an Obama fan? Yeah right. All your lies/talking points come straight from the DNC. Please.


The reason they don’t want her to speak to the press is because shes a loser bozo who cant talk let alone think. how stupid is she when she believes the **** she does. No wonder they want to hide her, she’s a right wing religious exstremist who wants armageddon.
Asterisks and misspellings belong to the original authors. Both comments were left on a Christian Science Monitor article entitled "Why won't Sarah Palin talk to the press?")

I can't help but wonder what the respondents were trying to accomplish. Calling the Democratic National Convention attendees a bunch of liars isn't very nice, isn't substantiated in any way and isn't going to convince anyone of anything. Republicans already agree with the sentiment, and Democrats aren't going to change their minds because of it. And calling Governor Palin a "loser bozo" is also nasty, and will accomplish nothing, and is just incorrect; by most measures of success, she can be considered one. I don't think she would have gotten where she did, regardless of her politics, without some brains. In the end, those who don't like her will agree with the name calling, and those who do will just be offended. And I doubt the people who are undecided are really going to appreciate (or be swayed by) comments such as these. It's fine to disagree with her or even an entire party, but name calling is not fine, and just adds to the vicious atmosphere of politics.

So what DO these people accomplish by writing such vitriol? Since it's not going to actually accomplish their surface goal of trying to sway people to their way of thinking, then I can only speculate. It must make them feel better, or superior in some intangible way. And that makes me feel sad that people need to tear down others in order to feel good.

I think everyone should put their political statements to the "mom" test. Would you allow someone to say that about your mom? No? Then rephrase it so that the meaning is there, without the vicious rhetoric.

We have the right to speak out against the government, or about injustices, or any wrongs in particular, and as Americans, I believe we have not just the right, but the responsibility to do so. However, as decent human beings, we need to share the ideas, but without the vitriol.

Put a stop to nasty politics on the individual level. Agree to disagree and give those who you disagree with a measure of respect - because though you disagree, they are in the end, human beings who deserve courtesy. If you are offended at something you see or hear, then POLITELY respond, or even ignore it. When you respond in kind, you are adding to the meanness quotient. Don’t be a part of that.

Show some respect. Really.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Share the little stuff

This will be obvious to most of you. But it's a reminder to myself and there must be a few others out there like me.

On of the most significant opportunities we have to make the world a better place is social. You know, just telling your friends, family, coworkers, neighbors about good stuff helps form a bond. It's an opportunity to connect and to share — both good things that are happening in your life and opportunities to which others might have access. And it doesn't have to be a big deal!
Hey, tomatoes are on sale down at the local market. And they're even pretty good!

My son got three "A"s on this quarter's report-card and only one "A-" last time -- I'm really proud of him for deciding which classes really matter.

My mom called last night and we had a great talk!

None of these are world-shaking events but talking about them helps people relate to you. They set a context upon which other relationships can grow. It's just keeping in touch, but it matters. When you share a little thing people share back.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Respect each other's spiritual beliefs.

Religion is a big part of politics today. Mike Huckabee is or was a Baptist minister. Mitt Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints - also known as Mormons. John McCain is apparently not religous enough, but Sarah Palin might just make up for it. Some people still believe (incorrectly) that Barak Obama is a Muslim, and for some reason have a problem with that. I wonder what they would make of me, a non-practicing Presbyterian Jewish agnostic Unitarian?

The thing is - none of that matters. Because, really, a particular religion isn't what makes someone a good leader, or even a good person. Most religions actually agree on many parts of what a good person is. It doesn’t matter if they are a follower of Christianity or Confucianism, Judaism or Jainism, Islam, Paganism, Buddhism, Baptism, Atheism, or even a garden variety follower of Unitarian Universalism, but they ALL agree that the following things are part of what makes someone good: Caring. Polite. Helpful to those in need. Gives to charity. Takes responsibility. Avoids hypocrisy. Loving to their family. Honest. Loyal. Thoughtful. Cleans up after themselves. Takes action when there is a need. Lends a hand.

A specific religion isn't what makes two of my neighbors, who are as far apart religiously as any two people can be, good people. Both are caring, involved mothers. Both are loving, and give back to the community. But one is a member of a fundamentalist church, and the other is a pagan. Yet they get along fine, consider each other friends, and are always polite to each other. They give each other and everyone else respect because they see the common ground: they and everyone else are still human beings, and as such deserve respect.

Be like my neighbors, and respect each others' religious beliefs. People don't have to agree, but should strive to be respectful. I think we'd all be better — and happier — for it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Turn out your lights

I was a kid during the last — or some would say the start of the current, energy crisis in America. In the first grade we were thoroughly subject to energy-conservation propaganda. This is a good thing. I brought home from school these stickers with "Make Every Kilowatt Count" printed on their face and stuck them to our lamps and switches. You can be sure my folks loved that!

So I have this deep programming to turn the lights off. No one else in the house does. This is a point of contention and anxiety for me. I regularly get home from work to find that all the bedroom lights are on and have been all day. It makes my skin crawl. So, I was getting after my son who is a young teen to turn off his light and told him I was going to bill him for the wasted power. So I had to figure it out. OK, sixty Watts times nine hours times whatever our cost per kWh is comes out to about nine cents per day. Oops. Needless to say, he wasn't much daunted by the dime looming large over his head. But the incandescent bulb puts out a lot of heat too. We could count that. And amortize the life of the bulb... But really, this was simply the wrong approach. The truth is, it's just a drop in the bucket.

But how big is the bucket? What if every American changed their ways? How about everyone in the world? How big could our impact be?

The latest figures I could find suggest that the US consumes 3,717,000,000,000 kWh annually. There are over 305 million of us. So that divides to over 12,186 kWh that we're each consuming annually or a bit over 1,000 kWh per month. (I'm rounding down at every step to make sure that I don't overstate the issue.) 1,000 kWh is the equivalent of 16,666 60-Watt bulb hours. Now, to be fair, that includes all the electricity we consume at work and shopping and so forth. But still, given how much we have to account for, couldn't we each find a way to save maybe the equivalent of one such bulb for eight hours each day? For my family, that would be just turning off the lights regularly. Maybe for you it means spending an extra $100 on your next appliance to get the more energy-efficient model. After all, that's only 14.4 kWh monthly — less than 1.5% of our electricity budget.

And if each of us did that, we can leverage that massive population and note that as a nation we'd save 4,392,000,000 kWh. Sounds like a lot. But looking to understand what that means in more tangible terms and being concerned about both the global oil shortage and climate change, I decided to convert that number into barrels of oil. I looked around the net for figures and when I found some consensus, I went with it. The following numbers could be wrongish. I suspect they're close enough for back-of-an-envelope calculations and that I'm within an order of magnatude. A barrel of oil contains enough chemical energy to be the equivalent of 1700 kWh. But we have to get it out of the ground and move it to the refinery and/or generation plants and the conversion process itself is lossy — heat leaves the system during generation. If we use 38% as the net efficiency, we're still getting 646 kWh of electricity generated. That's at the generation plant. Some is lost in pushing it down the wire to your house — but we'll ignore that amount. So that 4,392,000,000 kWh that the US could conserve through relatively minor efforts and expenses (it seems to me) amounts to about 6,798,762 barrels of oil. Each year.

It's still just a drop in the bucket. Just like that dime that my son might pay when he leaves the light on. But it's something. It's a start. And it's that much less carbon in the air. That much longer that we have until whatever's going to happen, happens.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Newman's Own

Paul Newman died last Friday at the age of 83. I really liked his charitable work. There's a good story at CNN about his work. Here's an excerpt:
But Newman, who died Friday of cancer at age 83, told the men he wanted to be remembered for the "Hole in the Wall" camps he helped to start across the world for children with life-threatening illnesses and to make sure that 100 percent of the profits from his popular food company, Newman's Own, would continue to benefit such camps and thousands of other charities.
You can read the rest of the story here: Newman's legacy: Good works.

Goodnight, Mr. Newman. Thanks for all your work. I'll keep buying Newman's Own products. And maybe I'll watch Butch Cassidy again. Here's the famous cliff scene if you'd like to watch it again.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Need help finding a charity?

Need help finding a charity? Or wonder if a charity is legitimate? Here's a good place to start:

They have all kinds of useful tips and guides (like what kind of questions to ask, protecting yourself from scams, donating your car, how to stop mail solicitations), as well as all kinds of lists (top ten charities in the red, charities in financial trouble, etc) and they make it easy to give money to the charity of your choice. Check them out.

Friday, September 26, 2008

When times are tight, we buy less and make more

So I've been thinking about the moral/social/aesthetic value of making things by hand. There seems to be a renaissance of hand-craft in mainstream culture happening right now; perhaps a confluence of hippy-, hacker- and artistic-aesthetic. I like making things. I like the things that others make by hand. And it feels as if it is more than a mere preference. It feels like there is something spiritual about the act of making something; resisting entropy; carving a niche in the world of chaos; saying "no" to destruction.

It is clear that here in America — and in much of the world now too, our spending-power is dropping. And with market-instability many of us fear that it could begin to drop precipitously. As we look back at our 20th century history, it's clear that in response to the Great Depression and the rationing of World War II, ingenuity spiked with truck patches, victory gardens and the boom of the DIY industry. You can make stuff from relatively inexpensive — even second-hand, elements and save money while engaging in a higher pursuit.

So these ideas are rolling around in my head on a pretty constant basis these days. It happens that one of the blogs I read is the MAKE: magazine blog. It collects lots of cool articles on various fabrication methods from all over the net. But just today, it has two links that aren't about bending a synth-toy or building homes out of styrofoam. They're kind of reflective, philosophical and along these lines that I've been thinking. So here, I'll just point you to them:

An editorial about how the maker aesthetic can make a better world.

And a piece about the reality of self-reliance in a makerly and recession-proof way.

We've really gotten away from making stuff over the past hundred+ years as we embraced large-scale industry and automation. We buy stuff made all over the world. We go out for dinner. And most of us no longer have a lot of skills that would have once been taken for granted. If you accept that the world is made better when more things of care and beauty exist, then making things — nice things, helps to make the world a better place for all of us. Let's assume that you're not among the world's most handy 1% and already making stuff every day.

You don't have to be. Learn a skill. Do it today. Anything. Weave a place-mat, learn to cook, start working with electronics simulators, sew a blouse, make jewelry from pop cans — or anything.

Lay off the horn (exception: preventing an accident)

Use your car horn solely to prevent an accident, and NEVER to punish someone’s bad driving.

Why? For two reasons. The first is that it's a question of safety. Too much horn use desensitizes us, and we simply pay less attention. It's like the boy who cried wolf. It's startling, it's loud, and at 110 decibels, it can damage hearing (as can anything above 85 dB) especially to nearby pedestrians or drivers with windows rolled down who aren't protected from the noise by closed windows.

But the second reason is just as important, and where I'm going to direct most of my comments.

Because it's rude and obnoxious and contributes to sound pollution. Remember that when you lay on your horn, you aren’t just getting back at the offending driver — but also at everyone else who is within earshot (and at 110 dB, that's a fair distance). There have been many times when I jumped out of my skin — while driving — when someone sounded their horn, and it usually wasn't even directed at me. It's rather unpleasant.

And just think how much quieter traffic would be.

I lived in New Jersey for 5 years, and I've always contended that people on the East Coast are a lot more polite than most folks give them credit for — generally as pleasant, at least face-to face — as anywhere else I've lived or visited. However, it's somewhat less true when you are behind the wheel. Why toot the horn, when a 30-second blast would do? It's like saying "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO10!!!!!!!" instead of "go" to a stranger. Why would anyone do that?

I didn't really notice the difference until I moved back to the Midwest, and I realized how much quieter heavy traffic is here than it was out east. And it's not like I don't have to deal with heavy traffic — contending with rush hour in Minneapolis is certainly no picnic. While it's not as heavy as the traffic in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, New York, or even Newark, navigating I-494 during rush isn't exactly fun.

It's quieter here, but not quiet enough. All too often I hear car horns being used unnecessarily.

Before someone who knows me (like my stepson) points a finger and tells me that I'm a hypocrite, I have to admit I can't claim perfect horn use myself. I once blasted my horn at some girl in a crosswalk at the grocery store, who for some reason known only to herself decided to stop and dance in the road (and yes, she was doing it to make me wait longer - the contemptuous look on her face spoke volumes). Maybe the dancing girl deserved something for her behavior, which was obnoxious, as she was not just holding me up, but also the line of cars behind me. I still wonder why the heck she chose me? It's one of life's little mysteries, I suppose. But I digress. No matter what she "deserved," noisy escalation that impacted lots of other drivers and pedestrians just wasn't called for, even if seeing her jump was a little satisfying (though the obscenities that followed were less so). I've also sounded my horn to make my 14-year-old stepson hurry his dawdling self out of the house. I'm sure my neighbors loved that — probably as much as parents love their teen's date, who honks from the car, instead of ringing the doorbell. So, with red cheeks I admit to being rude on occasion. But, I'll do better.

Anyway, I think we can all use some restraint at the wheel. Please use your horn as little as possible.