Archive for October, 2010

31
Oct
10

poison candy

This being Halloween, parents must be vigilant for creepy adults who do bad things to children (like razor blades in apples), especially in these final days before the elections.

I didn’t realize what a bad guy Pennsylvania Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett is until someone in Pennsylvania put me onto a website called “Protect the Hersheys’ Children” (www.ProtectHersheyChildren.com), which is accusing Corbett and other powerful Republican cronies of exploiting a trust established to benefit poor children in order to line their own pockets.

This is the same Tom Corbett who has permitted the politicization of the Jordan Brown case to persist, allowed the perpetuation of official lies about the case evidence to protect incompetent and dishonest cops, and who condones the wrongful imprisonment of an innocent child whose formative years are being squandered in captivity.

Corbett’s indecent and callous disregard for children appears to follow a pattern.

Protect the Hersheys’ Children, Inc. (PHC), is a nonpartisan watchdog group that monitors the Hershey Trust, the world’s largest residential childcare charity with total assets of $8.5 billion.

PHC is led by its founder F. Frederic (Ric) Fouad, a commercial lawyer and alumnus of the Milton Hershey School; PHC’s membership includes a nucleus of other MHS alumni, as well as childcare professionals and other supporters. Ric was separated from his family as a child and spent seven of his formative years at the childcare facility funded by the Hershey Trust, a circumstance that informs his reform efforts. 

“I have no heirs—that is, no children,” said Milton S. Hershey. “So I decided to make the orphan boys of the United States my heirs.” And he meant it to be literally so. He organized his estate so that all his assets—including his famous candy company—should exist to ultimately serve the needs of the nation’s most vulnerable and needy children. What has actually resulted is something much different than Hershey envisioned and which is, in fact, the fulfillment of Hershey’s worst nightmare.

“If the wrong people or organization get control, they can spend or give away more money than I have been able to make in my life, to build monuments unto themselves, for their own financial gains, for their ego and recognition—whose heads will swell and hearts will shrink, who would give to those who had plenty and withhold from those who had little or none,” Hershey worried to his friend and physician. This is exactly what has come to pass.

The Hershey Trust is under the supervision of Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, who is running for governor. The charity has been burdened by a host of problems, including excessive board compensation, questionable and wasteful spending, and poor childcare results, to which PHC claims Corbett has been turning a blind eye until it has suited his campaign’s need for publicity to recently announce an investigation into the Hershey Trust and their use of charity funds to purchase a golf course to make money for the trust’s board members and friends, among other things.

“The Milton Hershey School has been plagued by problems for years, and we have been bringing these problems to the attention of Tom Corbett to no avail,” said Fouad. “Corbett has ignored us time and time again until now, when he finds it politically advantageous to launch an investigation to generate positive headlines while running for Governor.”

The chairman of the Hershey Trust board is LeRoy Zimmerman, a former two-term state Attorney General and close political ally of Corbett; so it is unlikely Corbett’s investigation will result in any changes or (more unlikely yet) charges.

This large-scale plunder of Hershey’s charitable trust and betrayal of its founder’s purpose has been happening over a long period of time through a complex series of events which you can learn about in this video of “The Chocolate Heist,” a one-hour April 2010 presentation by Ric Fouad at the Harvard Law School:

http://www.youtube.com/user/ProtectHsyChildren

(This link will take you to the first of six video segments, each about ten minutes long.)

There are two things about Mr. Faoud’s presentation that I find fascinating. The first is the decades of conniving that ensued almost as soon as Milton Hershey’s body was cold by selfish and jealous men to lay their hands on the huge fortune that Hershey had left for children that no one cares about. It makes me think of stories I have heard about eccentric old ladies leaving something like ten million dollars to their cats, and the kinds of self-serving stewards their estates seem to attract. Corbett and his cronies seem able to justify taking money from Hershey’s heirs—the “orphans” of America—with as little shame or compunction as if they were stealing money from a housecat.

The second thing that strikes me is the extraordinary amount of dedication, effort, and sacrifice Mr. Faoud has invested in his mission to clean out the nest of vipers that has taken control of Milton Hershey’s fortune and subverted Mr. Hershey’s charitable purposes. Mr. Faoud seems to be the one true trustee in this story.

In his time, Mr. Hershey was known as an innovator and advocate of what was then called “corporate welfare.” No, this had nothing to do with welfare payments to the poor as we understand “welfare” today, nor does it have anything to do with big corporations receiving bailouts and taxpayer-paid handouts. Rather, it was about the then-revolutionary (and now extinct) idea that if you look out for the welfare of your workers, you will earn workers’ loyalty and get better quality and more productivity from their work. Hershey designed his factories so they were well-lit, well-ventilated, clean and safe. He established Hershey PA as a “company town” with health clinics, parks, schools, libraries, community centers, etc., which were to serve employee welfare holistically in a total work/life/community context.

It was a brilliant and progressive vision, as was the Milton Hershey School. In establishing the school, Hershey did so in order that his values and principles should be carried on after his death and, hopefully through the school’s graduates and alumni, have a transformative impact on the greater society.

I spent a fair amount of time in my career consulting with major foundations and view what has happened to the Hershey Trust as shameful and scandalous and at total variance with commonly accepted standards within the foundation community. Mr. Faoud appears to have a truer ethic of trusteeship than the selfish and untrustworthy stewards who have the formal titles of “trustee” for–and who have reaped millions in compensation from–the Hershey Trust.

In the Q&A segment following his formal presentation at Harvard, Mr. Faoud expresses his frustration of having worked so relentlessly for a decade with so few results. His frustration is telling in his reaction to a recent campaign promise by Dan Onorato, Corbett’s Democratic opponent, to “see this charity reformed so all these resources go to needy kids and for the best possible programs.”

“This is the first unequivocal statement we have seen from any major political leader acknowledging the grave problems in Hershey,” said Faoud. “Of equal importance to us, Dan committed to action if elected, something we never saw from Attorney General Corbett despite six years in office and every chance to address this charity’s problems.”

Unfortunately (and thanks in part to political contributions to Corbett’s campaign by the Hershey Trust) Corbett is favored to beat Onorato in this week’s election. Thus, it is likely that Mr. Faoud will experience many more frustrations before his goal is achieved.

This might be a good time to send a financial gift to Mr. Faoud’s organization if you can afford it. He’ll be needing encouragement to keep up the good fight. If you live in Pennsylvania, please consider voting for Onorato.

Otherwise it’s looking like there will be the equivalent of poison candy given out to kids from the Pennsylvania governor’s mansion for the next four years.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush performing “Don’t Give Up”

30
Oct
10

close call

The day started off with such excitement that I forgot what I wanted to tell you about this morning.

There was a frightful commotion at the chicken coop just as I was coming down from my sleeping loft and, as I stepped out onto the driveway to see what was happening, a loud shot rang out from the door of Paul’s camper.

“Did you see that big coyote?” Paul asked. “The big rooster was outside the coop fighting him!”

No, I didn’t. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and I was standing at the wrong angle to have seen anything—the coop was blocking my view of the action.

“Well, the coyote saw you—when you and Sadie came outside you scared him away,” he said. Paul was disappointed the coyote made a getaway. “Next time he won’t be so lucky,” Paul vowed.

We later saw some blood on the rooster’s comb—he had been lucky, too. It had apparently been a very close call all around.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Pat Benatar performing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”

29
Oct
10

hitting the trail

I’m sorry, but I have been away all morning and must leave again in another twenty minutes—so I haven’t had time to write or even collect my thoughts. This quick entry will just have to do.

I’ve decided not to run for the board of the property owners’ association. I’m living a happy life right now and don’t want to do anything to screw that up. Everyone I’ve consulted has told me not to do it, including the guy who was recruiting me. “I had to ask you because you’re so well qualified; as your friend, though, I’m recommending that you turn me down,” he said.

I have enough plates spinning, anyway. We still have issues to resolve in the David Champ case and events will begin heating up again with the Jordan Brown case. These kids need my time and energy more than a dysfunctional board of directors that seems not to have the wisdom or backbone to act responsibly.

And then there is so much to do here at Estrella Vista. I finished my hillside restoration project yesterday, and now it is time for me to start stacking rocks and mixing adobe.

Getting anything done out here requires single-minded focus… and right now I must focus on hitting the trail to pick up Paul at work.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Roy Rogers performing “Happy Trails to You”

28
Oct
10

windy and cold

Oh, I shouldn’t have been so smug in yesterday’s entry. I feel somehow responsible.

This morning the sky was clear and the sunlight was crystal bright, but there has been a steady wind from the east all day. This afternoon the thermometer was in the low 70s, but the chill of the wind made it feel much colder than that.

Yes, Minnesotans, we do have wind chill on the desert!

I’ve just gotten off the phone with someone who is trying to recruit me to run for the board of directors of the property owners’ association. He says he already has the votes lined up to assure my election. “You’re honest, you have a wide base of friends, and you think outside the box,” he said.

Yeah, I’d like to keep my friends. And honestly, I don’t want to end up in a box!

The board has been so inept and dysfunctional for so long, my only assurance if I were to say “yes” is that my happy and carefree life would cease to be. Yet I do want to be of service to my community which is being bullied by special interests. Only 20% of the money collected by the association for road maintenance is spent for that purpose; the remaining 80% is spent on legal fees defending the board’s policies against lawsuits that the board knows it is going to lose.

Do I need to have any of this in my life?

The deadline for filing to run for election is tomorrow at 5:00 pm. I need to weigh this carefully, or I could find myself in a storm that has nothing to do with the weather.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Jack Teagarden performing “Blues After Hours”

27
Oct
10

let it snow

Forgive me if I gloat.

The radio is reporting that a record storm with winds topping 60 mph has swept over Minnesota overnight, leaving trees down and power out for tens of thousands of people. A full blown blizzard is raging over North Dakota and much of northern Minnesota. There are snow flurries in Minneapolis and temperatures in the 30s.

They are calling it the amazing “Land Hurricane of 2010.” 

Here my windows are wide open as the morning sun warms our desert home. Sometimes I miss Minnesota, but not today. Yesterday someone at the Grub Shack was actually complaining about how warm it was overnight. Not me.

One thing that especially warms me is that there are friends Up North who will be thinking today about making a visit soon to sunny and warm Estrella Vista.

Their weather is my friend, too.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Frank Sinatra performing “Let It Snow”

26
Oct
10

wartime songs

A few nights ago I was watching Wolfgang Petersen’s epic war film, Das Boot, when I heard a familiar German wartime tune, Heimat deine Sterne (Homeland, Your Star).

“Oh, I know that song,” I said. I’d probably seen that film three or four times before, but this was the first time I noticed the song’s brief inclusion as atmospheric background sound.

Paul rolled his eyes; of course I knew it. Paul is not a fan of my ancient music, yet he gamely tolerates it. He long ago learned the futility of getting me to abandon my musical obsessions. The pull of old music is sometimes so strong, I wonder if it is evidence that I’m a soul misplaced in time.

I’m fond of Heimat deine Sterne because it is a sentimental piece evocative of the homesickness soldiers experience while serving far away from home and the people they love. The song was written in 1941 by Erich Knauf and Werner Bochmann for a comedy film, and it became very popular with the troops. Yet in 1944 Knauf was overheard cracking jokes about Hitler and Göring while he and a friend were huddled in a bomb shelter during a bombing raid; he was subsequently arrested, tried by a judge hand-picked by Goebbels, and executed (ironically) for “undermining military morale.”

Listen to an unknown artist performing “Heimat deine Sterne”

(“Thousands of stars sent to me from my beloved soil…I dream of my distant home.”) 

I doubt that wars requiring great levels of sacrifice from soldiers and civilians could be sustained without songs like these, which became iconic features in the popular cultures of all the combatants in World War II. Here are a few of my other favorites:

Listen to Rina Ketty performing “J’attendrai”

(“I will wait…day and night. I’ll wait forever for your return.”) 

Listen to the Alexandrov Ensemble performing “We Were at Home a Long Time Ago”

Listen to “GI Jo” Stafford performing “Long Ago and Far Away”

Listen to Vera Lynn performing “Goodnight Wherever You Are”

Even when they highlight the pain and losses of war, these songs tend to normalize and even romanticize wartime experiences, which is perverse. Therefore, in the interest of balance, I’ve selected this piece from my own generation’s culture as today’s Groove of the Day. It’s not pretty, but it’s the truth.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Edwin Starr performing “War”

25
Oct
10

wrong metaphor

I heard the noise all last week about National Public Radio’s firing of Juan Williams, and I have had it up to here (I’m gesturing to the top of my head). For a nation which supposedly prides itself on its diversity, our national discourse about multiculturalism is downright retarded. We might as well be talking about sex education.

Over the weekend Germany’s Chancellor Andrea Merkel set off a firestorm of controversy when she said that her nation’s attempt to create a multicultural society has failed completely. She called on the country’s immigrants  (many of them Muslim) to assimilate, learn the German language, and adopt Christian values. “We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don’t accept them don’t have a place here,” she said.

No guiding light there, either—at least for us.

America is, and can function as, a cultural microcosm of the world. We might find ourselves at the threshold of one of the greatest opportunities for leadership in the history of the world, but we will miss that opportunity as long as we allow the discourse about how widely diverse people can live and work together productively—and govern themselves wisely and fairly—to be defined by the politicians and pundits and schoolteachers. Left to them and to their bankrupt ideas, we will remain mired in our current spiritual, intellectual, and economic paralysis.

America can be an engine of innovation and productivity for the whole world, but it must first solve its diversity problem. And yes, it is a problem that’s papered over at every turn by political correctness which ignores the very real differences which characterize individuals, nationalities, and (dare I use this word?) races.

I say these differences are significant, valuable, and must be not only appreciated but leveraged and optimized. But such an approach is not possible as long as differences are ignored and suppressed. It starts with our cookie-cutter education that enforces conformity. Firing a black news analyst for making a frank admission that people in Middle Eastern clothing on an airplane make him nervous, or demanding that Turkish immigrants adopt Christian values does not promote respect and understanding between people with distinctive differences. These things deny the individuality that can fuel creativity and performance.

We are being told that the way to get along is to pretend that people are really all just the same, even though we’re not. We are being told to water down our differences in order to coexist.

The problem, I believe, is the “melting pot” metaphor which has framed the way we have been thinking about multiculturalism. It is a root cause of our social dysfunction. I think it would be healthier and more realistic to adopt a new metaphor: The Human Body.

Think about it. If you look at the human body at a cellular level, you would see that the cells of every organ and other specialized system are, within each of those organs and systems, almost identical—and very different from the cells of the other organs and systems. This sameness is what enables each part to function efficiently. This sameness protects the health and integrity of each part. If a different cell is ever present, it is likely cancerous and destructive.

The wonder of the human body is that all these separate organs have their own functions, but each depends on coordination with, and the proper function of, all the other organs and parts for the whole body to work properly and thrive.

Applying this metaphor to our social, political, and economic processes, wouldn’t it be preferable to focus on strengthening diverse individuals, families and communities, celebrating and encouraging their unique attributes and assets, and helping them learn to better interact with others for a common good?

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to the Youngbloods performing “Get Together”

Listen to H.P. Lovecraft performing “Get Together”

(Savor the differences!)