Archive for April, 2011

Making the world a better place, part 2

April 27, 2011

I can’t believe how many hits  my first blog on this subject got!  I guess it is an actively searched subject. So…. let’s explore this further….

It’s important to read about how the rest of the world view us, the ‘do-gooders’— to know what they think makes their communities strong and livable. Too bad they don’t teach this stuff in elementary school social studies. Maybe the facts are too scary.

What follows, in no particular order, are some aspects of  life to consider:

Restorative Justice.  I recently  became interested in this subject after reading an article in a magazine.  Most of us in America—probably due to the media, have a sort of melodramatic view of prisons, prisoners, and the  criminal justice system.  Lock ’em away, make them rot. They are all psychopaths.  Well, ah, no.  Not true. That is naive. I worked with  ex-offenders  at a non-profit.  Most are  just regular guys who  got involved with the wrong people. Truly.  I hate to put it this way—but the  people in your church:  the flock—going with the crowd, not taking individual initiative, respecting  and following the wrong guy.  Many did not mean to harm anyone, but they did.  Now, they want to turn their lives around.  It takes more than forgiveness.  Heck, I am not the most forgiving person.  But most of these guys will get out of jail, and they do not  want to reoffend.  If we don’t create a space in our communities to mentor these guys, they will re-offend, because they know that way of life more than they know how to  fit into a community.

Yet,  in very few  jails or prisons do  they  get any  services analyzing whether they have learning disabilities, psychological issues  that they can over come, or learn any viable skills. They don’t even grow their own food!   This is not the 1960s!  We’ve learned what best practice is, but we allow our  politicians to  maintain a medieval system!  The only people who care at all are families of offenders or victims…and the emotions involved cloud how to redevelop the system.

The United States has more people in prison than any other country.  We pay more  to keep people incarcerated than we do to get people college educations or vocational skills. Why? We  interpret the ‘Bible’ to mean that vengeance is more important than any other value.  I am not sure the opposite is understanding or tolerance.  But—with jails so over crowded, who  do we want separated from the rest of us?  Drug dealers or psychopaths?  People who drove the getaway car where  someone was murdered in a crime, or actual rapists? Think!  We can’t lock them all up. We can’t afford to anymore. How about making sure those who will get out of jail learn skills they can use to support themselves.

Hey—I  know it’s tough.  I can barely support myself with the skills I have…but the reason is….I can’t afford to get my car fixed, or other work around my home.  However, if there was a co-op I could join to get my car fixed more  cheaply, or get  my house repairs done more cheaply, we’d all benefit.  Also, I have been told that the average service dog costs $40,000 to train.  Some prisons have programs where inmates train dogs. There is no logical reason why all prisons should not be partnered with their local  pounds and humane societies to make  dogs more adoptable by having them obedience trained, and identifying possible service dogs.  Yet, the politicians make this almost impossible.  We can not afford to have so many  people —particularly physically strong men—in prison who don’t  know how to function in the greater community.

Recycling.  It’s the easiest thing to do that  makes an impact quickly.  It’s no secret that the throw away concept was marketed to Americans after World War 2.  Disposable everything. Well, there is no  away.  Don’t believe what you hear about stuff not really being recycled & ending up in landfills.Yes, loads do get contaminated… but most does go for remanufacturing—especially  paper & metals.  So, quit using paper plates & cups, plastic dinner ware, & start bringing your own bag for when you go shopping.

Advocating for or mentoring kids in the foster care system.  This is a huge issue to me.  Most of us don’t think about kids in foster care.  Well, start thinking. They don’t get mentored, & they don’t have  advocates.  Most of them end up being homeless or in jail, because they don’t feel part of a community.  They have no resources. Once they age out, that’s it.  I know  they make it difficult to volunteer…but you can provide the agencies with books, art supplies, clothing, tickets to  shows & events, etc.

There is a wonderful nonprofit called SOS Childrens villages and they sponsor housing and foster mothers all over the world. So, if kids luck into their housing, they have ‘families’.  Most state foster care systems pay barely enough to keep a kid going.  It’s not a profit making venture…& with so many people having kids because they just didn’t think about birth control or even tomorrow, this is a problem for all of us.

Family planning & health services  Support this. The fact of the matter is, most women  want to have large families if they can afford them. What has happened, however, is that, as the world has urbanized, and women (particularly better educated women) come to understand that you can’t rely on a man to support your kids, they are choosing to have smaller families and space their births so their kids can thrive.  Very few women in the  developing world want abortions, unless they are raped.  One of the reasons many women want more kids  is because so many kids die, and there is also no governmental pension or social security for old age:  you expect your children to look out for you.  Yet,  now, there is also the challenge of coping with diminishing resources–especially fresh water.  Zero population growth is 2 children per couple.  I have no sympathy for people having more than 2 kids & complaining about how expensive things are—especially in the USA.  It’s short sighted & disingenuous.

Fresh Water, access to real information/communications infrastructure.  We are creating  more ways to access more information more quickly  due to the  cell phone revolution, but we have all the fresh water that has eve been created. There is a net energy loss with desalinization (meaning, it takes more energy to make water fresh than it provides back to us).  This is shocking, until you remember that matter is neither created or destroyed.

Literacy (particularly  science literacy)  Literacy is still a huge issue in many remote places in the world—particularly Africa. If you can read and write, you can save information and don’t have to remember everything.  If you can read and write, you can learn about stuff you don’t  deal with every day.

Sustainability & renewable resources  We can’t worry about the Chinese taking all the resources, when we are doing nothing in the USA to curtail our own greediness.

Democracy.  Gosh, what a messy system of government…but it is the only way to get rid of corrupt politicians.

Vegetarianism.  I have to admit, I am a carnivore, but since I know how  food animals are treated, transported, & slaughtered…& how  many resources they  use…the  compassionate thing to do is eat lower on the food chain…if only for personal health reasons.  You’d be amazed at the ways you can make beans, lentils, & soy products taste like meat. Worth looking into.

Humane treatment of animals.  It’s not   can they feel, or can they think…but can they suffer.  It shouldn’t be an either/or choice.

Animals—particularly pet animals, are big business in the USA.  If you have a choice…and you do…choose ‘cruelty free’.  Stay out of pet shops that sell animals.  Don’t buy meat if you don’t know how it was slaughtered. There is no reason to test  cosmetics or  home cleaning products on animals. Don’t wear fur.  Don’t go to rodeos or circuses for entertainment…and if you see animals neglected in zoos, report this to the  General manager & local news media. Its’ important.

We can’t afford to live here anymore….

April 21, 2011

My roommate, a foreign national, told me his impression of Americans is that we are …”loud, rude, fat, and you spit when you speak.”  We spit when we speak because we have ‘p’ & ‘b’ sounds in our words, and we enunciate.  This really has nothing to do with  the rest of what I have to say, except his  view of us is that we are dimwitted and thoughtless.

I have to add to that description that we are innumerate, impulsive, and naively trusting. We trust the government (more than people in other countries trust their governments), and we trust  people in power to act with honesty and integrity.  & we just don’t do anything about it when they don’t act with honesty & integrity.

We are in a financial crisis of a magnitude that I would never have imagined.

About 10 years ago, looking for a better way to make money without spending years in school, I looked in to brokering cash flows:  payment streams. They are traded among investors.  It works like this:  Say you agree to  payments—like a mortgage.  A 20 year mortgage  is 240 monthly payments.  It was—& still is— legal to by certain payments in that stream. You could buy payments 15 through 125, or  payment numbers 128, 146, 238, etc.  It didn’t matter.

My question was….what if the mortgage got paid off early?  Or was defaulted on?  Would you get the principal and  no interest?  How would you ensure this if the mortgage was sold several times?  Ah…this was the rub.  I realized that I didn’t have the back up capital to be involved in this industry.  I chalked up what I spent on learning this to ….education.

Years passed, and the  mortgage/cash flow industry (as it was known) continued to develop  creative financing, and it was legal because it was not illegal.  The  real estate appraisers were in collusion with this, and the term for this slice and dice was ultimately called the credit default swap.

The only ones who made money on this were the investors who  hedged bets against this—like Michael Burry (who was profiled by Michael Lewis in his recent book).  Because we are innumerate, and can get high school…& then get college degrees without being able to balance a checkbook, our neighbors were tricked into buying houses they could not afford because  the mortgage brokering foxes running the henhouses told them all they COULD afford those houses when common sense said they could not.

Never mind that if they added up what they paid for utilities, groceries, clothing, insurance, CABLE TV, gym membership, eating  out, vacations, GETTING THEIR HAIR & NAILS DONE,  saving for retirement—and my very favorite:  getting the dog’s hair cut—- they’d see  that all this cost more than they brought into their households as income.  They could not afford the house (tho the dog’s haircut was the first casualty of real life in their faces…)

Nobody ever brought up:  what if the prices of gas, insurance, food, PROPERTY TAXES. or a repair to their homes—were more than they could handle.  What if they lost their jobs?

Nobody counseled them.  It’s a free country.  It was their business to figure all this out.

When I started making mortgage payments over 30 years ago, I was not living so close to the edge…and since the  economic crash of 2008, I am living precariously close.  I’ve had to do some fancy footwork.  I can see right now, though, that  I can’t afford to  live in the house I live in now when I retire unless I win the lottery.

My biggest concerns are energy costs and property taxes.  Our governments are too bloated, and our elected officials are really too clueless.  Otherwise, how can you explain that , despite a federal deficit, we have money for wars, foreign aid, and to bail out banks & large industries?

Thanks to the internet, we can now see h0w other countries fare in terms of budgets…especially  when they are not fighting wars.

Let’s get a grip.  For decades, due to the concept of credit, we had the largest/strongest economy.  That is no longer true.

It is just incomprehensible to me that the Republican Party, and the tea partiers are so concerned about the deficit, and want to whittle away at social security, medicare, & medicaid (hey—it they  reconfigured the system & cut fraud—& allowed all of us to have the same type of health insurance they have, we’d all be ok…), but  money for wars, the military,  and foreign aid can’t be touched.

Thanks to the internet, we can now see how other countries fare in terms of their budgets—especially when they are not fighting wars.

My grandparents  were first generation Americans, and raised my parents to believe that the USA is the greatest country.  For decades, we has the strongest and most diverse economy, but that is no longer true.  Granted, our constitution allows freedoms that all humans should have—-no doubt…but the Supreme Court (Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion)  says it’s legal for prosecutors to withhold evidence that might free someone convicted of a crime. How can that be in the greatest country?

There are a lot of people who have a vested interest in keeping you and your children misinformed.

It makes no sense that our prisons are filled with drug addicts, the stupid, and homosexuals (really), but there is no room for the truly dangerous.  It makes no  sense that the politicians can decide what to pay themselves and how many people to have on their payrolls, yet allow major industries (banking, health insurance, law) to influence what laws we have.

You might wonder how I started thinking about how all this works.  It started by  having to deal with people who impulsively bought pets they weren’t prepared to care for.  It’s just too easy!

It goes like this:  If you go to an  ethical hobby breeder,or a shelter, they will ask you a bunch of questions, like:  Have you ever owned a pet?  What happened to that pet?  Who do you live with? Can I meet them?  Do you own or rent where you live?  Do you work outside of your home? When will you have time to train your pet? Do you know what  grooming (food, shots) cost?  What if you have to move?  What if the pet has a major health issue?  Where will you go for obedience training (in the case of a dog)?

The shelter or hobby breeder will have you sign a contract take the pet back—but not commercial sellers  or backyard breeders, breeding animals as livestock. They don’t have to be responsible.  It is up to the rest of us to deal with the misery these  livestock breeders produce.    You walk into a pet shop (or answer an ad in the paper), pay your money, and nobody asks you a damn thing.

When  these buyers realize they were not prepared to  care for a live animal. some just abandon them. Some try to sell them or dump them in shelters, but they never think to return it to the seller, who—by law—doesn’t have to be responsible for it.  It’s legal because it’s not illegal.

If we made the pet stores and unethical sellers liable for the animals they breed, there would be fewer pet sales. There would be fewer pets in shelters.  The municipalities that fund  animal pounds & shelters  would have  more money for education or health care.

A corollary would be that if we told everyone signing up for military service what they might actually be fighting for…and that the government health care they would receive (to deal with their injuries) would probably not be adequate, and they would not be assured of accessible housing (and they might want to visit a V.A, hospital before signing on the dotted line), we might have fewer people signing up to  essentially be  mercenaries fighting rich peoples’ wars.

Think about this:  if everyone who graduated 8th grade  had to demonstrate numeracy:  understanding a profit and loss sheet, or a budget, or how to balance a check book, and what diapers cost and how many a child under 2 years old goes through…we might have fewer people losing their homes.   I guess we’d have fewer people graduating  from high school, too…& college—with thousands of dollars in debt & no job.

But, I guess I am out of step with the rest of America.

The Falacy that Prong Collars are Humane

April 15, 2011

This is the  4th or 5th time I am updating this. Please read carefully.  I think  I’ve clarified my own thinking on this. However…I have not changed my mind!

They are legal, and  probably the top selling style of dog collar in the USA:  the ‘prong’ , ‘spike’ , or ‘pinch’ collar.  You know what I am talking about:  the  martingale collar of links that can be removed or added,  where the  spikes  poke into the dog’s neck if he pulls.

In 40 years of dog training (admittedly, I have only put obedience titles on 2 dogs), I’ve only seen the collar used properly once:  on an out of control Malamute—& even then, it was not effective.  The dog had been  behavior shaped to pull his owner around, and she could not control the dog—& even the prongs poking into his neck  did not slow him down.  There is a reason  this did not work, and I will explain.

Think about it & look at the collar:  it is designed to PINCH the dog all around his neck. Why would you do this to your dog?  & then, why would you deny it hurts?  Yet people do deny it hurts.  IT WAS DESIGNED TO HURT.  That’s the only reason to use it:  to hurt the dog enough that if he  tries to pull you,  the pain will slow him down.  I’ve even had people defend this, saying—-veterinarians have said it does not harm the dog.  So—what’s the pount of doing it if you don’t want to hurt your dog into submission?

Yet—we’ve all seen those dogs wearing the prong collars who still pull their owners in spite of the pain.  The reasons are probably two:    1: According to Temple Grandin, in her book, Animals in Translation, it hurts, but not enough to bother the dog.  2: The dog might be trying to get away from the ‘pain’, so he pulls harder.

So—- people retort that the dog is NOT being hurt. Well, not enough to slow him down!  So, what’s the point?  Why not  just  put a buckle collar on the dog  and get his attention to follow a treat he likes, and TRAIN HIM TO NOT PULL BY USING THE CLICKER /TREAT METHOD?  What are we missing here?

Prong collars are not only illogical—they send   a message to anyone that sees you walking a dog with such a collar that you can’t control the dog.  Worse, you are too stupid or lazy to train the dog to not pull you!

I work in boarding kennels where lot of  out of control dogs are boarded.  I have been injured.  However, because we don’t have time to fit a  prong collar to each & every dog, we just use  slips or choke chains.  I would prefer Martingale style combos—but these places are owned by NON-DOG business people!    I am not defending the use of chokes as regular day-to-day collars, but  we can’t risk a dog slipping out & running. I have trained dogs using properly fitting choke chains—and if you  think they are not humane…here’s the deal:  you can train a dog quickly not to pull. I have ‘trained’ dogs in less than 2 minutes to NOT pull me using a choke or slip. They ‘get it’.   You just stand still.   I don’t like using a  choke or slip, but  free spirit dog  owners who  give their dogs over  for care to someone  the dog does not know, and has no  idea of what is expected of him leave us no choice. A slip is  “1 size fits all’.  BUT THERE IS A MORE HUMANE METHOD!   I have recently used this method to  train a dog with a martingale. The  trainers I work with suggested moving backwards, and the dog will learn to not forge ahead. You just have to be the boss of the dog.  I have to do this, or I am going to be injured.   What this means to me is  being in control.  I wouldn’t have to  do this if so many idiots  didn’t walk their dogs on either prong collars or harnesses.   These days, however, on my own dogs,  I use  nylon Martingale collars.  I am also walking backwards a lot.

What bugs me more than the prong collar on an untrained dog, is the prong collar with a flexi!  Totally incomprehensible.

I am not fond of harnesses, either. I would use a  Halti or ‘head harness’ before I’d put a harness on any of my dogs. Harnesses were designed to  allow dogs to pull you without pain—which is why sled dogs  & guide dogs wear harnesses. Why would you want to  train any dog that it is ok to lead you around?   Yeah, I’ve heard it:  the collapsed trachea.   so, TRAIN THE DOG to follow a cookie, use a wide greyhound type flat buckle collar or head harness, and  don’t allow the dog to pull.  Not only  this, but  putting a dog in a position of leading an owner may make a dog even more insecure , or more aggressive than he would be otherwise .

For some reason, most American dog owners still think they are buying Lassie, or have some sort of  idea in their heads that training a dog requires magic.  It just requires patience and persistence….and the idea in your own mind that you are a leader.

Because Americans don’t take   responsibility for controlling their dogs, there are breed bans and dog restrictions all over. Out of control dogs are dangerous.  No doubt.  But hurting your dog is not the solution.

For all of you who don’t want to be swayed by the facts:, abd you might want to check this out as well:

I want to do something to make the world a better place

April 8, 2011
Topiary, Bangkok.  Tourism is a huge foreign exchange erner for the Thai people, and in spite o what you hear,  the government does invest in human capital.

Topiary, Bangkok. Tourism is a huge foreign exchange earner for the Thai people, and in spite of what you hear, the government does invest in human capital.

We Americans are a bunch of naive ‘do-gooders’.  We still think we have the market cornered on altruism and integrity.

I have to admit that I started out as a ‘do-gooder’ when I  started volunteering overseas.  As I learned more about the world, my motives changed.  I still  want to continue to volunteer, as I am not a sot-on-the-beach type of person, but I want to share some information  that affected me and that might affect you.

Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, said: “When the Europeans came, we had the land, and they had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible.”

Several people suggested that I read Franz Fanon’s classic, The Wretched of the Earth.  Fanon was an  psychiatrist from Martinique, who was trained in France, and assigned to work in Algeria who  realized that those living under colonial rule suffered mental illness for trying to be free.  He also realized that there would be a false consciousness after any revolution, and that the neocolonialists would be worse than  the colonialists, because they were of the people they ruled.  That’s  the gist in a nutshell, but the book, published  in 1963( a difficult read) is worth reading, as Fanon was such a visionary.  It is particularly important for the  north American ‘do-gooder’ to read.  Then read, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man,” by John Perkins. Be a little skeptical about  what making the world a better place really means.

You can still find The Ugly American , by  Lederer & Burdick. It was published in 1958, and it is still  disappointingly accurate.

Familiarize yourself with how our U.S. government really works. Read  Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, published by Dee Brown  in 1971.  Embarrassing—but well documented and true.

Finally, before you go off to volunteer to make the world better, you must—ABSOLUTELY MUST—read Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe published in 1958.  It is a great story about how a community was changed by ‘do-gooders’.  It is a classic.

You can’t make the world a better place if you don’t know the issues that affect most of the world’s people.  Most don’t have access to clean drinking water. that is a huge issue.  It affects  health more than any other issue.  Most don’t have access to real information or  education. When I served  in Malawi in the early 1990s, less than 15% of households had access to a radio!

Most people in the world do not have access to affordable medical care.  That includes Americans.

Literacy is still an enormous problem.  Governments will not invest more than they have to, so they can maintain a cheap, placid labor force.

If you want to make the world a better place, think about what YOU have to offer. Can you teach anything?  Do you have any skills?  You can volunteer overseas.  Google “Cross Cultural Solutions,” or “Volunteer in Africa.”  Living in a place, for as little as 2 weeks, gives you a much different perspective than just traveling though.

Don’t waste resources. Turn off the lights. Really.  Make sure you don’t have leaky water taps.  Recycle and compost your trash.  Because we can afford to waste resources, the rest of the world can’t afford them.