Category Archives: Books

THE LIFE YOU CAN SAVE

THE NEW YORKER has named Peter Singer one of the “100 most “influencial people in the world.” That is no small praise. He has also been called the world’s greatest living philosopher. A leading ethicist, he has authored over 20 books.

From my perspective, as limited as it admittedly is, Peter Singer is a voice of reason with a message that needs a far wider audience. Using rational argument and the power of pure ethics, Singer shows us how our response to world poverty and hunger is not only completely insufficient, but morally indefensible.

Singer knows that compassion is not enough to end the ravages of poverty. I am currently reading THE LIFE YOU CAN SAVE. In it Singer uses ethical arguments, case studies, and examples to demonstrate how each of us could help change the world forever.

The LIFE YOU CAN SAVE has been described by THE NEW YORK TIMES as “part rational argument, part stinging manifesto, part handbook.” I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I think THE TIMES has nailed it.

This is a “must read book” for all of us who are serious about our relationship with the least of these among us. It is one of those inspiring reads which will challenge how you think about what you give and do to help the poor. “Powerful and clarifying…Singer sets up a demanding ethical compass for human behavior.” states the SUNDAY STAR LEDGER

 

THE LIFE YOU CAN SAVE: How to DO Your Part to End World Poverty 
by Peter Singer

Random House Trade Paperback. 2010
ISBN 978–0–8129–8156–8
$15.00

 

the radical disparity is growing

In Agenda For A Biblical People, an early book by Jim Wallace, the founder of the Sojourners Community, Wallace writes that:

The divisions in the world today are less along the lines of ideology than they are along the lines of the powerful and powerless, rich and poor, strong and weak, those who benefit and those who are victimized. The scenario of our times is a growing conflict generated by the radical disparity between the rich and poor of the world.

Even though that book was first published in 1976, the words of Wallace hold true today. His prophetic stance points out some central concerns around the need for a fundamental redistribution of wealth. We will never have justice on a global scale until we address the growing divide between the obscenely rich and the abysmally poor.

People of faith need to realize that these are spiritual issues. Faithfulness in a world consumed by a thrist for wealth and power must address the need for lifestyles that reflect true community and just standards of living for all.

“Ancora Imparo”

These words, ”Ancora Impara,” are said to have been spoken by Michelangelo on his 87th  birthday. First, I hope that I am quotable on my 87th  birthday. Second, I hope that I can continue to exemplify Michelangelo’s understanding and appreciation for learning when I am 87.

Translated from the Italian, “Ancora Impara” simply means “I am always learning.”  I have always believed and totally agree that if we are not learning, always learning, constantly learning, there is something terribly amiss in our lives.

In less than two weeks I hope to reach the ripe young age of 65. and while I have seen a bit during those years and learned a little, as well, I hope that what I learn after my upcoming birthday will be far greater than all I have learned up to now.

Alvin Toffler wrote FUTURE SHOCK decades ago. Yet his premise holds far more truth today than it did when he first stated it. The speed of change has never been faster, and that speed will only continue to accelerate over time.

Learning, being open to all the new information that is becoming available is not just more critical for success than ever before. It’s actually far more critical to survival. For me, Ancora Imparo simply means that if I am not learning I must no longer be breathing.

Maybe one New Year’s Resolution might just be to be able to say, “I am always learning.

the way we look at God

One of my heros in the faith is Archbishop Oscar Romero. Three decades of faithful witness in El Salvador ultimately led to his assassination and martyrdom. He spoke the truth out of a place of deep love. His words were often hard, but they were always unambiguous.

His book, THE VIOLENCE OF LOVE, is one I find myself returning to again and again. In it I feel the heartbeat of a simple soul whose profound faith gave him the quiet courage to stand up to principalities and powers. His faithfulness never ceases to inspire me.

Thie following was taken from a homily the Archbishp gave on February 5, 1978.

The guarantee of one’s prayer
   is not in saying a lot of words.
The guarantee of one’s petition is very easy to know:
   how do I treat the poor?
      Because that is where God is.
The degree to which you approach them,
and the love with which you approach them,
or the scorn with which you approach them—
   that is how you approach God.
What you do to them, you do to God.
The way you look at them is the way you look at God.

holding hell at bay

The writer, Martin Bell, has a way with words that I envy. He is able to capture the essence of his subject and slap the reader in the face with it.

In his small book, THE WAY OF THE WOLF, Bell has a chapter called “Hunger and Hurricanes.” In that chapter is this paragraph:

To be human is to be hungry. Most children are always hungry. Some children are starving. Starvation is horrible. To be without food is hell.

It cannot be stated any more clearly. But, still, it is incomplete. It begs the question.

Yes, to be without food is hell. It is both terrible and a terrifying. To see a starving child is terrifying. To watch a grieving mother whose daughter has just succumbed to the ravages of malnutrition is terrifying.

So what? Do we ignore the terror of starving children? Do we turn away so we don’t feel the pain of grieving parents of hunger’s victims?

What do we do in the face of such unnecessary pain and terror? How do we respond? What can we do to hold hell at bay?

There are many answers. We can pray for guidance and wisdom. We can study to learn how to be effective fighters in the war against hunger. We can give to help feed the hungry. We can get involved with organizations working to end hunger. [The links listed on this site are all good, accountable organizations worthy of gifts and involvement.] We can talk to others about the plight of the hungry. The list goes on.

Starvation is horrible. To be without food is hell. But, we can do something. Every one of us has the power to make a difference on behalf of the world’s hungry. Starvation is horrible, but no more horrible than allowing it to exist in a world of plenty.

Do something for the hungry every single day. Working together, we can end the obscenity of starving children.

the new politics of food scarity

I am still jet-lagged and trying to catch up from my vacation, but I thought this was an important piece for those of us fighting to end hunger. I haven’t read the book yet, but Lester Brown has been a leader in fighting hunger for the past thirty years.

Knowing the political background that impacts the poor and hungry is one more step in devising effective strategies that can help use change the world into a better place. Stop Hunger Now must be a leader in helping educate about the true causes of hunger and poverty at every level of society.

by Lester Brown, Washington, D.C on 07.14.10
A dangerous geopolitics of food scarcity is emerging in which individual countries, acting in their narrowly defined self-interest, reinforce the trends causing global food security to deteriorate. This began in late 2007 when wheat-exporting countries, like Russia and Argentina, attempted to counter domestic food price rises by limiting or banning exports. Viet Nam banned rice exports for several months, and several other minor exporters also restricted exports. While these moves reassured those living in the exporting countries, they created panic in the scores of countries that import grain.

At that point, as world market prices for grain and soybeans were tripling, governments in food-importing countries suddenly realized that they could no longer rely on the market for supplies. In response, some countries tried to nail down long-term bilateral trade agreements that would lock up future grain supplies. The Philippines, a leading rice importer, negotiated a three-year deal with Viet Nam for a guaranteed 1.5 million tons of rice each year. A delegation from Yemen, which now imports most of its wheat, traveled to Australia with the hope of negotiating a long-term wheat import deal. Egypt has reached a long-term agreement with Russia for more than 3 million tons of wheat each year. Other importers sought similar arrangements. But in a seller’s market, few were successful.

The inability to negotiate long-term trade agreements was accompanied by an entirely new genre of responses among the more affluent food-importing countries as they sought to buy or lease large blocks of land to farm in other countries. As food supplies tighten, we are witnessing an unprecedented scramble for land that crosses national boundaries. Libya, importing 90 percent of its grain and worried about access to supplies, was one of the first to look abroad for land. After more than a year of negotiations it reached an agreement to farm 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of land in the Ukraine to grow wheat for its own people.

What is so surprising is the sheer number of land acquisition agreements that have been negotiated or are under consideration. In 2009 the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) compiled a list of nearly 50 agreements, based largely on a worldwide review of press reports. No one knows for sure how many such agreements there are or how many there will eventually be. This massive acquisition of land to grow food in other countries is one of the largest geopolitical experiments ever conducted.

The role of government in land acquisition varies. In some cases, government-owned corporations are acquiring the land. In others, private entities are the buyers, with the government of the investing country using its diplomatic resources to achieve an agreement favorable to the investors. The land-buying countries are mostly those whose populations have outrun their own land and water resources. Among them are Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, Kuwait, Libya, India, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is looking to buy or lease land in at least 11 countries, including Ethiopia, Turkey, Ukraine, Sudan, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Viet Nam, and Brazil.

In contrast, countries selling or leasing their land are often low-income countries and, more often than not, those where chronic hunger and malnutrition are commonplace. Some depend on the World Food Programme (WFP) for part of their food supply. In March 2009 the Saudis celebrated the arrival of the first shipment of rice produced on land they had acquired in Ethiopia, a country where the WFP is working to feed some 5 million people. Another major acquisition site for the Saudis and several other grain importing countries is the Sudan–ironically the site of the WFP’s largest famine relief effort.

For sheer size of investment, China stands out. The Chinese firm ZTE International has secured rights to 2.8 million hectares (6.9 million acres) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on which to produce palm oil, which can be used either for cooking or to produce biodiesel fuel–indicating that the competition between food and fuel is also showing up in land acquisitions. This compares with the 1.9 million hectares used by the Congo’s 66 million people to produce corn, their food staple. Like Ethiopia and Sudan, the Congo also depends on a WFP lifeline. Among the other countries in which China has acquired land or has plans to do so are Australia, Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and Myanmar.

South Korea, a leading world corn importer, is a major investor in several countries. With deals signed for some 690,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) in the Sudan for growing wheat, South Korea is one of the leaders in this food security push. For perspective, this land acquisition is nearly three fourths the size of the area South Korea now uses at home to produce rice, its staple food. The Koreans are also looking at the Russian Far East, where they plan to grow corn and soybeans.

One little noticed characteristic of these land acquisitions is that they are also water acquisitions. Whether the land is rain-fed or irrigated, it represents a claim on the water resources in the host country. Land acquisitions in the Sudan that tap water from the Nile, which is already fully utilized, may mean that Egypt will get less water from the river–making it even more dependent on imported grain.

These bilateral land acquisitions raise many questions. To begin with, these negotiations and the agreements they lead to lack transparency. Typically only a few high-ranking officials are involved and the terms are confidential. Not only are many stakeholders such as farmers not at the table when the agreements are negotiated, they often do not even learn about the deals until after they have been signed. And since there is rarely idle productive land in these countries, many local farmers may simply be displaced. This helps explain the public hostility that often arises within host countries.

China, for example, signed an agreement with the Philippine government to lease over a million hectares of land on which to produce crops that would be shipped home. Once word leaked out, the public outcry–much of it from Filipino farmers–forced the government to suspend the agreement. A similar situation developed in Madagascar, where South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics had pursued rights to more than 1 million hectares of land, an area half the size of Belgium. This helped stoke the political furor that led to a change in government and cancellation of the agreement. China is also running into on-the-ground opposition over its quest for 2 million hectares in Zambia.

This new approach to achieving food security also raises questions about the effects on employment. At least two countries, China and South Korea, are planning in some cases to bring in their own farm workers. Is the introduction of large-scale commercial, heavily mechanized farming operations what is needed by the recipient countries, where unemployment is widespread?

If food prices are rising in the host country, will the investing country have to hire security forces to ensure that the harvests can be brought home? Aware of this potential problem, the government of Pakistan, which is trying to sell or lease 400,000 hectares, is offering to provide a security force of 100,000 men to protect the land and assets of investors.

Another disturbing dimension of many land investments is that they are taking place in countries like Indonesia, Brazil, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where expanding cropland typically means clearing tropical rainforests that sequester large quantities of carbon. This could measurably raise global carbon emissions, increasing the climate threat to world food security.

The Japanese government, IFPRI, and others have suggested the need for an investment code that would govern these land acquisition agreements, a code that would respect the rights of those living in the countries of land acquisition as well as the rights of investors. The World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development have drafted a set of recommended principles for responsible investment in agriculture. This will likely evolve as these agreements move forward.

Growing world food insecurity is ushering in a new geopolitics of food scarcity, one where competition for land and water is crossing national boundaries. The risk is that this will increase hunger and political instability, which could lead to even more failing states.

Adapted from Chapter 1, “Selling Our Future,” in Lester R. Brown, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), available on-line at www.earthpolicy.org/index.php?/books/pb4

halving hunger by 2015

This morning I just found out about (what appears to be) another good book supporting the case for ending hunger in our lifetime. I haven’t read the book yet, but the premise of cutting hunger in half through a renewed focus on agricultural development and social protection makes sense.

Halving Hunger Halving Hunger: Meeting the First Millennium Development Goal through
Meeting the First Millennium Development Goal through “Business as Unusual”

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
In 2000, the world’s leaders set a target of halving the percentage of hungry people between 1990 and 2015. This rather modest target constitutes part of the first Millennium Development Goal, which also calls for halving the proportion of people living in poverty and achieving full employment. However, the effort to meet the hunger target has swerved off track, and the world is getting farther and farther away from realizing this objective.

The goal of halving hunger by 2015 can still be achieved, but business as usual will not be enough. What is needed is “business as unusual”—a smarter, more innovative, better focused, and cost-effective approach to reducing hunger. The five elements of this new approach are as follows:

Invest in Two Core Pillars: Agriculture and Social Protection
The first step in reducing poverty and hunger in developing countries is to invest in agriculture and rural development. Most of the world’s poor and hungry people live in rural areas in Africa and Asia and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but many developing countries continue to underinvest in agriculture.

Research in Africa and Asia has shown that investments in agricultural

the future of faith

Harvey Cox, one of the most provocative American theologians for over 40 years, has a new book, The Future of Faith. The book is basically an argument that Christianity is now moving from an “Age of Belief” into an “Age of Spirit,”

 

Cox thinks that we are coming into an era where spirituality is displacing the formal creeds and church hierarchies with which most of us have grown up. After years of observing both individuals and religious movements around the globe, Cox feels that there are a growing number of people who no longer are interested in doctrinal questions. What is important to these people is how Christianity impacts their daily lives.

 

I do not know whether Cox’s arguments are correct or not. What I do know, however, is that the arguments ring true in my own life. What is important to me is how my faith impacts the decisions I make, the actions I undertake, and the way I relate to those around me.

 

Creeds and doctrinal statements have their place. All too often, however, they can be far more divisive than unifying. They can cause more confusion than clarity, and can actually be flash points for contention. The need for “theological correctness” builds walls of separation.

 

In a loose paraphrase of John Wesley, I don’t care what you believe, or what creeds you recite, if your heart is as my heart, give me your hand. The heart of the gospel is the love of God above all else and the love of each other as we love ourselves. That’s pretty simple, and a solid basis for a good and moral life.

 

As Harvey Cox writes in The Future of Faith, we all have a yearning for a taste of the sacred. If doctrinal correctness and creeds help you taste God’s love, more power to you. But, if like me, you need a faith experience that is more experimental, more existential, you might really enjoy Cox’s new book.