Monday, March 28, 2011

Like an earthquake every day - Child hunger

The outpouring of support that has emerged since the earthquake in Japan is heartwarming. Just the other day, I was in World Market and saw that they were donating proceeds from their Japanese goods (which they had put in the front of the store) to the situation in Japan. Every Sony Playstation 3 now has a "Donate to Japan" icon that appears when the device is turned on, and there are many more examples of this. It's a great sign of the innate compassion within us that arises for people suffering in times of disaster.

Although I have friends and family in Japan, about whom I'm very concerned, it's also important to keep in mind that every day children around the world are suffering from the equivalent of several earthquakes and tsunamis, and yet receive hardly any attention. Somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 children die every day from starvation and easily preventable diseases. I first learned this shocking fact from a book by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.

Here's a quote from UNICEF's 2000 progress report, entitled "A Spotty Record":

"The continuation of this suffering and loss of life contravenes the natural human instinct to help in times of disaster. Imagine the horror of the world if a major earthquake were to occur and people stood by and watched without assisting the survivors! Yet every day, the equivalent of a major earthquake killing over 30,000 young children occurs to a disturbingly muted response. They die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death."

Researchers talk about "empathy burnout," and it's certainly true that at first glance we might want to turn away from this horrifying reality, thinking that it's too big for us to take in, or that there's nothing we can do. After all, that is 11 million children each year dying unnecessarily. But if 11 million people around the world each took responsibility for one child (at a cost that might only be about $100 per year), the tragedy might be ended, or at least very significantly reduced. If each person took responsibility for a few children, maybe you'd only need 2 or 3 million.

Seeing the response to the situation in Japan, and the earlier response for the situation in Haiti, I do not at all believe that people simply do not care about these children. I think the problem is rather that too few people know about the situation. Definitely we need to spread the word, so that people can support the many organizations that are trying to feed and take care of these children.

Here are links to a few I know of. Let me know if you know of others that are good:



Stop Hunger Now

Children's Hunger Fund

The Situation in Japan

The recent disaster in Japan has taken a toll on the Japanese people in a variety of ways. Here's one recent example, which doesn't seem to have been taken up by the western press.

A vegetable farmer in Fukushima who had meticulously grown organic cabbages for thirty years committed suicide after a ban on spinach and a limitation on cabbage was extended by the Japanese government. His son reported that he repeatedly uttered "This is it for Fukushima vegetables..." before his death. The farmer had devoted his life to growing safe and healthy cabbages and supplied them for a local school, taking great pride in their high quality and method of cultivation.

Asahi news reported that although the farmer's house and barn had been damaged by the earthquake, 7500 stalks of cabbage remained safe. His daughter told reporters, "All the farmers are anxious. I don't want there to be another victim like my father."

Original article in the Asahi newspaper (Japanese language)

Not very good English translation of the Japanese article (by Google Translate)

Picture: Asahi Shimbun

Nespresso Pixie

Just picked up a Nespresso Pixie on Saturday. After searching for an espresso machine for two weeks and reading everything I could find on-line, it seemed like I would have to spend $400 for a machine, $200-400 for a grinder, and $50+ on additional accessories (tamper, etc.) and then another several weeks experimenting to find the right grind size, temperature, tamp pressure, etc. in order to make reasonable espresso.

Then I stumbled across this little wonder at $250 (plus a $50 off coupon on coffee, from Williams-Sonoma). It's brilliant! I had reservations that it wouldn't feel like "true espresso," but after three days of using it, I'm already sold. It's just so simple, practical, small (in countertop size) and easy to clean and maintain. And the espresso is reliably yummy.

Since buying it I've come across numerous stories of people going from a full semi-automatic set-up to the simpler Nespresso way. Someday I may still go for a Gaggia Classic (the semi-automatic machine I had set my mind to, prior to coming across the Pixie), just to learn the trade of pulling espresso shots and being able to select my own beans. But for the time being, this little wonder is doing just fine. Apparently, all Nespressos make drinks of the same quality, so my only thought now is whether to trade it in for a cheaper model like the D90 (which is $149).

Photo source: Williams-Sonoma

Marina Abramovic

I didn't know much about performance artist Marina Abramovic, but had read about her retrospective last year at MoMA, and her performance of "The Artist is Present," in which she sat for some 300 hours in silence, and museum visitors could sit face to face in front of her.

Fortunately I heard about her invitation by SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) to come down from NYC and give a few talks. Having heard her in person and seen some of her works, I'm really amazed. She is in a league of her own: a very reflective, courageous and exceptionally talented artist whose broad vision of art makes me think of other pioneers of modern and contemporary art: Breton, Dali, Picasso, Pollack, Yves Klein. We don't have the good fortune to chat with them and see them work, but we do have Marina Abramovic.

I was also glad to hear her mention H.H. the Dalai Lama several times in her talk. She has spent time working and meditating with Tibetan monks and she takes what I feel is a deeply spiritual approach to her art. As she put it, she confronts aspects of humanity that are alien, frightening and suppressed, in order to show others that they, too, have the courage and ability to face and transform their fears.

Here is the link to her keynote address for SCAD. If you are at all interested in modern art, in any medium, watch this:

Marina Abramovic Talk At SCAD

Photo credit: MoMA