Q&A with Fair Trade USA founder Paul Rice
2012-04-15, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Paul Rice spent more than a decade in Nicaragua before returning to the United States to start Fair Trade USA in late 1998. Then known as TransFair, the Oakland nonprofit began to push businesses to practice fair trade. Today, the group works with more than 800 brands, including Peet's Coffee & Tea, Numi Tea and Ben & Jerry's, which have adopted fair-trade practices and carry its fair-trade label on certain products. [Rice:] The way it works is farmers organize themselves into marketing cooperatives and sell direct. When they sell direct to Starbucks, Peet's, Ben and Jerry's, or any number of the 800 brands we work with today, they're able to get a much higher price for their harvest. It's like a farmers' market gone global. Fair Trade USA plays three critical roles in the fair-trade movement. The first role - and defining function - is to certify fair-trade products. We certify 90 percent of fair-trade products in the U.S. That label gives consumers the assurance that the product came from a sustainable farm and farmers received a fair price for their products. We have auditors around the world that audit and inspect farms. We also have a supply-chain audit. It tracks the product from the farm to the grocery store shelves. We also have two other functions, consumer education and farmer support. With consumer education, our goal is to develop programs that raise awareness among consumers in the U.S. We (also) run training programs for farmers all over the world, to help them improve the quality of their products, develop strong business skills and to help them get access to capital.
Top five regrets of the dying
2012-02-01, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is 'I wish I hadn't worked so hard'. Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. "When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently," she says, "common themes surfaced again and again." Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware: 1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. "All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence." 3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. 4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. 5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Note: For inspiring articles from major media sources on at-death and near-death experiences, click here.
Small houses challenge our notions of need as well as minimum-size standards
2007-04-27, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
This dream house is the love child of artist-builder Jay Shafer, who lovingly hand-crafted it. The stainless-steel kitchen, gleaming next to the natural wood interior, is outfitted with customized storage and built-ins. But in an era when bigger is taken as a synonym for better, calling Shafer's home a dream house might strike some as an oxymoron. Why? The entire house, including sleeping loft, measures only 96 square feet -- smaller than many people's bathrooms. Shafer ... began his love affair with diminutive dwellings about 10 years ago. "I was living in an average-sized apartment and I realized I just didn't need so much space," he said. After a friend asked him to build a house for him to live in, Shafer launched Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. in 2000. The friend went on to become the president of the Small House Society -- and thus was written one more episode of the small-is-beautiful movement. Shafer began building and designing little houses for people who wanted them as backyard retreats, second homes or primary residences. Over the years, he has built and sold 10 homes and dozens of house plans, which cost about $1,000. But the real story is that he's become a poster boy for simple living, with interviews or mentions in ... the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and, last February, even on "Oprah." "Our society's been based on excess for so long, it's still a somewhat novel idea to live simply," he said. His next dream is to create a little community of small houses, with a half-dozen or more connected by walking paths on a small piece of land.
Note: For lots more on the fascinating tiny house movement, click here. For an abundance of other inspiring major media articles, click here.
Can three minutes of exercise a week help make you fit?
2012-02-27, BBC News
A few relatively short bursts of intense exercise, amounting to only a few minutes a week, can deliver many of the health and fitness benefits of hours of conventional exercise, according to new research. This apparently outrageous claim is supported by many years of research done in a number of different countries. [Welcome to] the world of High Intensity Training (HIT). By doing just three minutes of HIT a week for four weeks, [you can] expect to see significant changes in a number of important health indices. But how much benefit you get ... may well depend on your genes. The fact is that people respond to exercise in very different ways. In one international study 1,000 people were asked to exercise four hours a week for 20 weeks. The results were striking. Although 15% of people made huge strides ... 20% showed no real improvement at all. The exercise they were doing was not making them any aerobically fitter. [HIT is] actually very simple. You get on an exercise bike, warm up by doing gentle cycling for a couple of minutes, then go flat out for 20 seconds. A couple of minutes to catch your breath, then another 20 seconds at full throttle. Another couple of minutes gentle cycling, then a final 20 seconds going hell for leather. And that's it. Active exercise ... seems to be needed to break down the body's stores of glucose, deposited in your muscles as a substance called glycogen. Smash up these glycogen stores and you create room for more glucose to be sucked out of the blood and stored. Like any new exercise regime if you have a pre-existing medical condition you should consult your doctor before trying it.
Note: For lots more on this, see the excellent article on mercola.com at this link. And for two amazing one-minute videos of a highly inspiring gymnast who is 86-years-old doing her routines, click here.
The Biggest Public Food Forest in the Country
2012-02-16, Seattle Weekly blog
Seven sloping acres at the southwest edge of Jefferson Park [are] being transformed into an edible landscape and community park that will be known [as] the Beacon Food Forest, the largest of its kind in the nation. One full acre will be devoted to large chestnuts and walnuts in the overstory. There'll be full-sized fruit trees in the understory, and berry shrubs, climbing vines, herbaceous plants, and vegetables closer to the ground. The entire project will be built around the concept of permaculture -- an ecological design system, philosophy, and set of ethics and principles used to create perennial, self-sustaining landscapes. Friends of the Food Forest undertook heroic outreach efforts to secure neighborhood support. The team mailed over 6,000 postcards in five different languages, tabled at events and fairs, and posted fliers. And Seattle residents responded. The first meeting, especially, drew permaculturalists and other intrigued parties from all around the city. More than 70 people, mostly from Beacon Hill, attended the second meeting in mid-July, where proposed designs were laid out on giant sheets paper with markers strewn about so the community could scribble their ideas and feedback directly onto the plans.
Boulder Votes for Municipal Utility
2011-11-03, Wall Street Journal
Voters in Boulder, Colo., narrowly backed the creation of a municipal power authority to replace Xcel Energy Inc., the biggest electricity provider in Colorado. The city can't cut all ties with Xcel right away. The shift to a municipal utility will take at least three years and could be derailed over issues such as how much Boulder will pay Xcel for its infrastructure. Supporters of the move argue that a public utility would allow Boulder, a liberal college town, to embrace renewable energy and sharply reduce carbon emissions. Xcel relies heavily on coal-fired plants. Xcel spent nearly $1 million to try to defeat the Boulder ballot measures, outspending supporters about 10 to 1. "People like a David-and-Goliath story, and that's absolutely what this is," said Ken Regelson, who led a community group supporting a public utility. Nationwide, 16 new public power authorities have been formed in the last decade, including 13 that have taken over from private utilities. Nearly all serve communities of less than 10,000, said Ursula Schryver, a vice president of the American Public Power Association, a trade group. Boulder's population is nearly 100,000. The last large-scale municipalization took place in 1998, on New York's Long Island.
Note: This is significant positive news as the largest city yet in the U.S. has voted to take control of their energy and make it greener. For a more optimistic and detailed description of this major victory, click here.
Homicide Drops off US List of Top Causes of Death
2012-01-11, ABC News/Associated Press
For the first time in almost half a century, homicide has fallen off the list of the nation's top 15 causes of death. The 2010 list, released by the government [on January 11], reflects at least two major trends: Murders are down, and deaths from certain diseases are on the rise as the population ages, health authorities said. This is the first time since 1965 that homicide failed to make the list, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The government has been keeping a list of the top causes of death since 1949. Homicide has historically ranked fairly low. It was as high as 10th in 1989 and in 1991 through 1993, when the nation saw a surge in youth homicides related to the crack epidemic. In the past decade, homicide's highest ranking was 13th. That was in 2001 and was due in part to the 9/11 attacks. Murders have been declining nationally since 2006, according to FBI statistics. Criminologists have debated the reasons but believe several factors may be at work. Among them: Abusive relationships don't end in murder as often as they once did, thanks to increased incarcerations and better, earlier support for victims. "We've taken the home out of homicide," said James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist who studies murder data.
Note: For lots more inspiring, yet little-reported news on the major drop in violent crimes (over 60%) in the last two decades, click here.
Travelwise: Bike sharing around the world
Bike sharing is on the verge of becoming an integral part of public transportation in cities across the globe. This system of impromptu bike renting is helping urban areas reduce automotive traffic and pollution while providing locals and tourists with a convenient, cheap and healthy means of transport. Currently, there are nearly 300 organized bike sharing programs worldwide. That number is growing – and not just in the West. In India, for example, the Ministry of Urban Development is preparing to launch a 10-city public bike scheme as part of its “Mission for Sustainable Habitat”. So how does bike sharing work? In most cities, visitors can purchase short-term subscriptions at bike stations themselves. Just walk up to a station’s electronic kiosk, choose the duration for which you need access to the service, and swipe your credit card. With more than 50,000 bikes and 2,050 bike stations, the Chinese city of Hangzhou is home to the world’s largest bike sharing program. Bike sharing is well integrated with other forms of public transport, with bike stations available near bus and water taxi stops.
Note: For more on this encouraging development, click here.
India Eye Care Center Finds Middle Way To Capitalism
[Aravind Eye Care System] began modestly in 1976 with an 11-bed hospital. [It] now has 4,000 beds in seven hospitals, most in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It was late founder Dr. G. Venkataswamy's goal to eliminate needless blindness. About 45 million people in the world are blind. About 80 percent of them could be cured through surgery. Dr. "V," as he is known, founded the organization on a deep belief in the spirituality of service. R.D. Thulasiraj, a top Aravind official, says that early on the organization embraced the simple idea that if it wanted to have a real impact in reducing blindness, its surgeons needed to work as efficiently as possible. That attention to process has made Aravind surgeons quite possibly the most productive in the world. In total, the number of sight-restoring eye surgeries that Aravind Eye Care System conducts each year is 300,000 — and about half, or nearly half, are free. The push for more efficiency forces down the average cost of a surgery for Aravind. But that doesn't mean quality is sacrificed. Aravind surgeons have just half the number of complications that the British health system has for the same procedure. That high quality allows Aravind to attract patients who are willing to pay market rates. Then it takes the large profit made on those surgeries to fund free and subsidized surgeries for poor people.
Note: For the inspiring review of an excellent book written on this amazing service to humankind, click here.
She's 'Indiana Jones, Mother Teresa, Susan Sarandon' to Peru's poor
Nearly 21 years ago, Patty Webster landed her dream job as an adventure tour guide in the Peruvian Amazon. But as she shared the area's beauty and culture with tourists, she realized there was a darker side to the rainforest paradise. "I saw how poor they were and realized that people were dying because they didn't have medical care," Webster said. She started sharing her supplies with the locals and soon began waking up to find people waiting outside her mosquito net to ask her for medicine. At one point, Webster -- who had no medical training -- gave someone stitches, following instructions from a book. Since 1993, Webster has been bringing medical relief to some of Peru's poorest and most remote areas through her nonprofit, now known as Amazon Promise. Webster ... and her volunteers have provided free health care and education to more than 55,000 people. Today, she runs Amazon Promise from Iquitos, considered the most populous city in the world that can't be reached by road. It's in the northeastern corner of the country, in the middle of the rainforest, and is the capital of Peru's largest and most remote region. She organizes several expeditions to these underserved areas every year. Each trip is staffed by adventure-seeking medical volunteers from the West -- often from U.S. medical schools -- and Peruvian health professionals. A traditional shaman, or healer, frequently accompanies them.
If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Consider Time
2011-04-19, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Our search to understand what makes humans happy (or happier) goes back centuries. New research takes a fresh look at this topic. Jennifer Aaker and Melanie Rudd at Stanford University, and Cassie Mogilner at the University of Pennsylvania, published “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Consider Time,” in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2011. They discuss how happiness is ... a consequence of the choices people make. So what can people do to increase their happiness? Their answer is surprisingly simple: spend your time wisely. “People often make career choices based on how much money they envision they can make now or in the future. Surprisingly little thought goes into how they will be using their time — whether they can control their time, who they will spend their time with, and what activities they will spend their time on,” said Aaker. Over the years, there has been relatively little research on the relationship between the resource of time and happiness. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is another resource — money — that has been investigated much more thoroughly as a potential key to happiness. Yet, very little research corroborates the idea that more money leads to more happiness. “We know that people with meaningful social connections are happier than those without them,” said Mogilner. “The more time that individuals spend with their partners, best friends, and close friends, the happier they are.”
Chocolate curbs stroke in women, study suggests
2011-10-11, CBS News
Chocolate seems to be good for the cardiovascular system - no secret there. Studies have tied the sweet stuff to lower blood pressure, healthier blood vessels, and reduced risk of blood clots. And now Swedish researchers have linked chocolate to a reduced risk for stroke. The scientists found that the women who ate the most chocolate - 66.5 grams a week, or about 2.4 ounces - were 20 percent less likely to have a stroke than the women who never or seldom ate chocolate. The study was published in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. But before you unleash your inner chocoholic, be aware that not all forms of chocolate are thought to be beneficial. Dark chocolate is best because it contains more of the antioxidant-rich cocoa and less sugar and fewer calories than milk chocolate.
Note: For key reports from reliable sources on important health issues, click here.
He won $3.4 million — then went back to work as janitor
Someone has to turn on the lights in life. Someone has to do the jobs we take for granted. But you’d think Tyrone Curry would kiss his trash sack goodbye. Five years ago, the Evergreen High School custodian won the Washington State Lottery’s Quinto game. “I was dumping garbage,” he says. “Just like today. This is where I was when I found out I won the jackpot and took off running." His wife, Michelle had his winning ticket — worth ... $3,410,000. To celebrate, Tyrone went bowling, like he’s done every Wednesday night for 25 years. At 4 in the morning, he could be sleeping instead of raising the American flag outside Evergreen High. But he ducks his head and smiles. “Nah. You need to be doing stuff: That’s my philosophy.” Five generations have grown up around him since he came home from war and started taking care of kids. Budget cuts eliminated Tyrone's teaching assistant's job 35 years ago, so he stayed on as a janitor. He never went looking for another classroom because he found a better one — and a second job — out back. Tyrone isn’t just the Evergreen High School custodian; he also coaches the track team. And that’s where he decided to splurge with his lottery winnings.
“I’m getting excited!” he says, watching runners circling toward him on the school’s old cinder track. This summer he’s building them a new one. State-of-the-art. Cost him 40,000 bucks. “I’m not done,” he chuckles.
Note: For a great two-minute video on this inspiring man, click here.
Panera Bread CEO Says Pay What You Can
2011-06-14, Reuters News
One in six Americans live in "food insecure" homes. This means one in six Americans is seriously hungry, likely under-nourished or malnourished and doesn't know when he/she will have their next meal. When Panera Bread Founder and CEO Ronald Shaich learned this, he thought about how Panera Bread opens two restaurants every week, employs 60,000 people, and he knew Panera's resources could have impact on America's hunger problem. He personally set out to help, pitched his board (with a lot of respect and credibility under his belt), created a foundation and the result is a new kind of chain restaurant: pay-what-you-can Paneras. Panera Cares shops look like any other Panera Bread, but the prices are just suggestions. If you can pay, you do. If you can't, you don't. If you can pay more, you're welcome. More than one year into the program, Panera Cares has restaurants in St. Louis, Detroit and Portland, and the shops will serve between 500,000 to 1 million meals this year. Each restaurant must generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining, and so far, all of them are. One out of five customers leaves more than the suggested donation; three in five leave the suggested donation; and one in five customers leaves less or nothing, usually because they have real need. "People get it, people feel it and people appreciate it," said Shaich.
Note: It is interesting that no major media reported this inspiring Reuters article. Could it be that they don't welcome a new paradigm like this?
Political prisoner: 'I owe Amnesty International my life'
2011-05-26, BBC News
For Maria Gillespie, the memories of what she endured in a prison in Uruguay, when she was only 15 years old, are almost too much to bear. She remembers being hooded, interrogated and tortured. Eventually every tooth was wrenched out of her mouth. But she also remembers - as Amnesty International marks its 50th anniversary - how much she owes to the organisation that helped end the horror and set her free. "I don't think that if I say 'thank you' it will be enough," Mrs Gillespie says of the Amnesty activists around the world who campaigned on her behalf. "I think that I do owe them my life." Amnesty was founded 12 years before she was jailed. It called for collective action on behalf of those unjustly imprisoned around the world. Maria Gillespie fell into that category after the military seized power in Uruguay in 1973, ushering in a period of severe repression. She was ... married to a trade union activist who was wanted by the authorities, and had fled the country. In his absence ... Maria was arrested. She was accused of aiding the regime's enemies, and sentenced to 75 years in prison. And so she began her solitary confinement in a windowless cell lit only by an electric bulb. She was repeatedly taken - with her head in a hood - for questioning about her husband's associates. But she knew nothing of his activities. She had no answers for her interrogators.
Note: The brutal repression of political activity in Uruguay described in this article was supervised by the CIA in its Operation Condor, a campaign of torture and killing across Latin America.
Japan pensioners volunteer to tackle nuclear crisis
2011-05-31, BBC News
A group of more than 200 Japanese pensioners are volunteering to tackle the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power station. The Skilled Veterans Corps, as they call themselves, is made up of retired engineers and other professionals, all over the age of 60. They say they should be facing the dangers of radiation, not the young. It was while watching the television news that Yasuteru Yamada decided it was time for his generation to stand up. No longer could he be just an observer of the struggle to stabilise the Fukushima nuclear plant. The retired engineer is reporting back for duty at the age of 72, and he is organising a team of pensioners to go with him. For weeks now Mr Yamada has been getting back in touch with old friends, sending out e-mails and even messages on Twitter. Volunteering to take the place of younger workers at the power station is not brave, Mr Yamada says, but logical. "I am 72 and on average I probably have 13 to 15 years left to live," he says. "Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop. Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer." Mr Yamada is lobbying the government hard for his volunteers to be allowed into the power station. The government has expressed gratitude for the offer but is cautious.
Lighten your footprint by sharing
2009-12-20, Seattle Times
David Docter and his neighbor on Capitol Hill share a lawn mower and a pressure washer. "Why should we have two pressure washers when I use it twice a year and he uses it twice a year?" asks Docter, who applies similar logic to the mower and to an Oregon Coast cabin he and his wife, Alicia, share with a dozen other families. Two decades ago, when they bought into the cabin, it would have been tough to afford alone. Now, each family gets to use it several weeks a year for minimal expense. These sharing arrangements are small steps. But through them, each family has lightened its footprint, freed up cash and fix-it time, and found confidence in cooperation. Which leads to a logical question: If sharing stuff is so environmentally and economically sensible, why don't more people do it? Why do so many of us have hedge trimmers languishing and taking up space in our garages? Why are huge RVs parked in driveways and boats sitting in slips for 50 weeks at a time?
Because sharing is scary. Ask anybody. There's a reason why Nolo Press' recent book, The Sharing Solution: How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community, includes "agreements and forms." Long chapters discuss such issues as responsibilities and conflict resolution.
Can Exercise Keep You Young?
2011-03-02, New York Times blog
We all know that physical activity is beneficial in countless ways, but even so, Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, a professor of pediatrics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, was startled to discover that exercise kept a strain of mice from becoming gray prematurely. In heartening new research published last week ... exercise reduced or eliminated almost every detrimental effect of aging in mice that had been genetically programmed to grow old at an accelerated pace. The mice that Dr. Tarnopolsky and his colleagues used lacked the primary mitochondrial repair mechanism, so they developed malfunctioning mitochondria early in their lives, as early as 3 months of age, the human equivalent of age 20. By the time they reached 8 months, or their early 60s in human terms, the animals were extremely frail and decrepit, with spindly muscles, shrunken brains, enlarged hearts, shriveled gonads and patchy, graying fur. All were dead before reaching a year of age. Except the mice that exercised. At 8 months, when their sedentary lab mates were bald, frail and dying, the running rats remained youthful. They had full pelts of dark fur, no salt-and-pepper shadings. They also had maintained almost all of their muscle mass and brain volume. At 1 year, none of the exercising mice had died. The researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the impact that exercise had on the animals’ aging process. They had not expected that it would affect every tissue and bodily system studied. Dr. Tarnopolsky’s students were impressed. “I think they all exercise now,” he said.
Note: For a treasure trove of other inspiring articles published in the major media, click here.
Why the Kings of Bhutan Ride Bicycles
2011-01-14, Yes! Magazine
Bhutan has pioneered the use of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of progress, instead of the more commonly used GNP. GNH measures not only economic activity, but also cultural, ecological, and spiritual well-being. In September 2010, Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley visited the United States to promote GNH education and economic theory. Prakash: What difference has it made to have GNH as your yardstick rather than gross domestic product? Thinley: First, we are promoting sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development which can be measured to a larger extent through conventional metrics. Second is the conservation of a fragile ecology, [using] indicators of achievement, [such] as the way the [vegetation] cover in my country has expanded over the last 25 years from below 60 to over 72 percent. The third strategy is promotion of culture, which includes preservation of the various aspects of our culture that continue to be relevant and supportive of Bhutan’s purpose as a human civilization. No Bhutanese should suffer a sense of insecurity arising from loss of their cultural identity, language, and so on, under the onslaught of modernization. Then there is the fourth strategy—good governance—on which the other three strategies or indicators depend. We know that democracy is the best form of governance.
Bishop William Swing wants a U.N. for religions
2010-12-26, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
William Swing, head of the Episcopal Church in California for 27 years - he retired in 2006 - is hardly letting up. His latest endeavor is nothing less than uniting the religions of the world. "For this, I have been called the Antichrist, New Age, nuts and an apostate," Swing said with a smile in his office in the Presidio of San Francisco. United Religions Initiative, marking its 10th anniversary this year, is in 78 countries, bringing together Christians and Jews, Hindus and Muslims, missionaries and animists, and Mormons and Mennonites. The organization has taken orphans off the streets of Pakistan, brokered peace talks in northern Uganda and integrated child soldiers back into their villages, and drawn Palestinian and Jewish women together in the Middle East. The idea for United Religions Initiative came about in 1993, when Swing was asked to host at Grace Cathedral the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. "I said, 'Sure,' and went to bed that night thinking the nations of the world have met every day for 50 years, yet the religions of the world have not spoken. So I figured if there is a United Nations, there has to be a United Religions." He and his wife set out in 1996 on a global tour to meet religious leaders of the world, including the Dalai Lama at his palace in India. It took an additional four years of planning, debating and writing the organization's charter for United Religions to be founded.