Friday, February 11, 2011

Dean's Beans Writes

From Dean of Dean's Bean's:

"Sorry to write again so soon, but I need to take responsibility for a mistake I made in my last blast. I need to clarify that it was actually NOT PBS calling me. Apparently, a small industry has developed of production companies that claim to work with PBS, NBC and others, but who really don't. They get people like me to sign on, they produce a three minute DVD, send it to PBS etc so that they can say it was "distributed" to PBS. Then you get a copy, which most of us would put on our website proudly, especially as it bears a PBS logo on it. So it looks like it was made for and shown on PBS when in fact neither happens. PBS gets hit so often by this that that have a FAQ on their website about this, even naming the companies that do it. PBS has a legal department which apparently spends a lot of time calling people who put these DVD's up on their website, telling them they have to take the logo off as it is not a PBS production, although folks are free to keep the DVD up otherwise.

So please don't be angry at PBS for this. They are victims of this scam, as is anyone who falls for it. I am sorry for the misinformation. The point of the blog holds, that there is a play for pay world around recognition. Just add the occasional scam on top of that."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Awards for Mer ...? Never Mind,

Roger and I, thanks to an endorsement by Scot McKnight, buy mail order Fair trade coffee beans from Dean's Beans or did in those halcyon days of prosperity. I found this e-mail from Dean's Bean's in my mailbox this morning and wondered what you think:

"I just got off the phone with PBS Biography, a show I have watched since I was a little kid (that's how I learned about the great figures of history when I was young). They called to say they were interested in doing a spot on me and Dean's Beans. I was honored, but I have been here before. So I bluntly asked what it would cost me. They said the same $22,000 "production fee" that they would charge George Bush or anyone else they were working on. I told them that $22,000 would go a lot further doing development work in farming villages or even keeping our prices down here at home. Also, to me, if we are doing something newsworthy, I still believe that newsworthy outfits, be they blogs or national newspapers, will pick it up and report it. We don't pay to play.

This is not the first time this has happened around here, but it is happening with greater frequency. We were approached by Visionaries, another series. That one was $40,000 We have been hit on by a ton of food shows who would feature us if we wanted to pay to play. Similarly, we were awarded the National Republican Council Small Businessman of the Year Award and the Ronald Reagan Gold Medal for Business Freedom several years ago on the promise that we would be big contributors to their cause (I did send $25 as it also got me an invitation to the Inauguration Dinner with then President Bush - if I was willing to fork over an additional $4,000-no dessert at that price - I still have the invitation, which is a pretty cool memento).

More problematic for me are the number of times we have been approached for Green Awards from organizations that want to recognize our achievements in sustainability. Several prominent new organizations supposedly dedicated to sustainability have offered to consider us for an award - for a fee. Even the august United Nations Global Compact, with whom I have worked for about five years, recently offered to put me on a board of top world thought leaders in sustainability - for another $20,000.

I know I might be naive to think in the current ethical climate that recognition for good works should be based on the works themselves, not on the ability of the person or organization to pay. Just call me old fashioned."

I had no idea awards were for sale this way. Did you? I was distressed, especially having just read Margaret Benefiel's moving The Soul of the Leader, about company heads who care about people and principles and prosper as a result. Beyond that, with all the self-examination a Quaker seminary education invites, I have been wondering at my own distrust of ... everything, and I realized that it's not an isolated, pathological paranoia but rooted in the reality that almost everything in this culture these days is commodified, almost everything for sale. An e-mail like the above suggests I am probably still too trusting. I know there is hope, but where, incarnated, outside of the Divine (of course, everything is part of the Divine, but you know what I mean) and prayer, both obviously powerful, is the hope manifesting? What can we do?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."

I decided to start, once again, rereading John Woolman's Journal and was struck by the famous story of the young Woolman killing the baby birds after he had killed their mother. This is a story that is so familiar that the last few times I have read the journal, my eyes have slipped over it unreflectively.

I have read or heard that Quaker children, when they are distressed and ask why Woolman killed the baby birds, are told he was a farm boy, understood without sentimentality the death of animals, and was trying to by merciful, because he knew the baby birds would die without their mother. He was being kind.

Yet, in the text, Woolman himself describes his act as cruel. What comes to his mind about what he has done is a scripture verse: "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."

This story is crucial, not just because Woolman was a tender-hearted and empathetic child who felt badly about causing distress to innocent creatures. That is a fine morality tale as far as it goes. It's heart-warming to see someone have the goodness of heart to regret the cruel results of an impulsive act of killing. It shows that the young Woolman already had an advanced moral sense: He was able to put himself, even as child, in the shoes (or nest) of more vulnerable Others and see the world from their perspective. He cared about the birds even without fear of outward negative consequences to himself for his act. This is a beautiful, St. Francis of Assisi-like tale.

Yet, I think his purpose from the very beginning was more than to tell a confessional story. With this tale, he establishes from the outset a theme that runs throughout the entire journal and pertains to all creation: Once you or I start doing even one evil thing, we create a chain reaction. It's never just one thing, period. Killing the mother bird for "sport" meant bringing suffering to her babies, which led to a "cruel mercy," and then to an anguish that might have led to hardness of heart. What we do reverberates beyond itself. I think he wants, from the start, for his readers to dwell on the paradox of a world where societies become so messed up that even mercies are cruel.Taken to it's extreme, it's the "mercy" of the torturer we know from spy movies, who warns his victim: By the end, you will be begging me for death.

"The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." This is an unsentimental statement, a quote from Proverbs 12:10 that begins with "a righteous man regards the life of his beasts..." (Obviously, there was a childlike literalism that led Woolman to think this after killing the birds.)

What worries me about this Proverb is the application to charity. If we move to a system a individual charity, and away from the government system, what about the mercies of the wicked? Will everyone treat the poor and vulnerable with justice and compassion? History tells us no.

However, I am reading Woolman for another purpose, two, in fact. One is for the benefits that always come with reading the words of a person of universal compassion. The second it in search of the literary influences on Woolman. Certainly, the Bible as an influence hits us from the beginning as an explosion. He starts off, like a good Quaker, with "the pure river of the water of life" in Revelation. He mentions reading "some religious books" as a youth. Do we know what they were? I strongly suspect George Fox's Journal, but what else? What, beside the Bible, structures the narrative of his life?