Tuesday, November 20, 2007

wino's unite!

I live in Santa Barbara, California and it is hard to not love wine here. Each year, wine grapes are the #1 or #2 crop in Santa Barbara county and they make some wonderful wines here. If you saw Sideways, you got a taste of that even though I think the Rhone style wines here are better than the Pinot Noirs. It is always a fun day to hop in the car, drive over the mountains and do some tastings.

One of our favorite wineries is called Beckmen Vineyards. They are a family owned and run, biodynamic winery that makes wonderful syrahs, grenaches, cabernets, and Rhone style blends. In fact, we like this winery so much that we are members of their Purisima Club. I highly recommend their wines if you enjoy great reds.

Some time ago, a wine loving friend of mine from back east sent me a link to Gary Vaynerchuk's website and daily webcasts of wine reviews. He is fun, knowledgeable, and honest in his reviews even if his descriptions are not always what one expects from a wine lover - "who doesn't like jockstrap filled with pickles because let me tell you right now this is man sweat with pickles all around..." Yep, he actually said that about a wine he loved (2005 Guillon Gevrey Chambertin Pere Galland) on episode 353!

Even if you don't love wines or if you do and think he is insane, he is fun to watch... And jockstrap filled with pickles certainly removes any of the pretentiousness that often surrounds serious wine drinking. Click on the widget on the right to see his latest reviews.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christmas giving

Back in seminary my Hebrew professor once mentioned meeting an elderly man in Egypt who was illiterate in 7 languages. He was making a comment on our US education where we don't learn languages. It has often come back to me as a lesson regarding those who are able to learn without formal opportunities.

While in India, we encountered a number of children begging who were fluent in multiple languages. Most of the time we saw them, they should have been in school but instead were out trying to work the tourists to stay alive. I found myself wondering what would become of them... and what could become of them if they had the opportunity for education.

Some months ago I remember vaguely hearing about some Silicon Valley types dreaming about a $200 laptop that would run via a crank and bring wireless computing to children in the developing world. It sounded like a good idea but it seemed a bit crazy and impractical. Well, they have done it! Check out this link to learn about the project.
and this link to give a laptop to a child in the developing world. Plus, if you do it before November 26, for a donation of $399, one XO laptop will be sent to empower a child in a developing nation and one will be sent to a child in your life in recognition of your contribution. $200 of your donation is tax-deductible (your $399 donation minus the fair market value of the XO laptop you will be receiving). Plus Tmobile with give you one year of free wifi access.

Wanna know what is on my Christmas list? One XO laptop fr a child somewhere in the world who's name I will never know.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More India

India - a land of contrasts...

We were constantly amazed at the craftsmanship that surrounded us. In Jaipur we were particularly taken by the hand work. This first photo is of a person doing block printing. Each color is applied via an individually hand carved block, one color at a time as the printer goes down the fabric, placing each block so as to complete the design. It is amazing how fast they go while keeping each block exactly where it needs to be.

This second photo is of a man making a wool carpet. We were told that this carpet would have about 820 knots per inch and in a 6X9 size would take three people about six months of work to complete. Notice in the photo that the knife is a little blurred... that was because of the speed of movement of the craft person's hand. We saw a silk carpet with over 3000 knots per inch. It was amazing.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Taj Mahal, and indeed many of the magnificent buildings of India, is the inlaid marble work. The marble used is among the highest quality available in the world and it is inlaid with pieces of cut semi-precious and semi-precious stones as well as abalone and mother of pearl shell.

One crafts person grinds the stones into the tiny pieces that will fit together to make the design. If you look carefully at the photo, you can see the tiny pieces of orange stone waiting for the rest of the design and further to the left, you can see designs of lapis and shell waiting to be inlaid into marble.

This person is using tiny chisels to cut the indentations into the marble so that the stone and shell pieces can be inlaid. You can see the completed flowers that are already in the table top. The brownish color on the marble is henna to help the worker to see the design on the marble. Because this marble is not porous, the henna wipes right off when the design is completed.

The attention to detail and the beauty of the work really was amazing... No matter what you saw in India, incredible beauty was always close by.

Friday, November 09, 2007

who do we want to be?

A number of politicians have rightly noted that torture is not about the character or lack thereof of the folk in custody. It is about us. If we torture prisoners, it says something profound about who we are as a nation. I do not want to be that nation.

John McCain said that one of the things that enabled him to endure his torture in a North Vietnamese prison was the knowledge that if his captors were in a US military prison, they would not be treated the same way.

And here we are, once again leaving the door open to torture. Michael Mukasey was confirmed as attorney general in spite of his inability to decide whether water-boarding is torture. I am once again ashamed of the Democratic majority in the Senate and I am deeply saddened to think that this is who we have become. This is not the America I grew up in, nor is it the one I love. This is not who I want to be.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


We just returned home from a 7 days in India... We visited Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra.

I'm not quite sure what I expected, but whatever it was, India wasn't that. We had visited Haiti in the mid '80's so I have been in the developing world before. At the same time, I have read so much about a developing middle class in India and an economy that is going great guns. And of course, we were going to see some of the antiquities so I had them in mind also. Who doesn't think of the Taj Mahal when thinking of India? I guess I expected a little bit of Haiti and a lot of Silicon Valley with a few really old buildings added for flavor.

We arrived at the airport about 9:30 at night. Immediately on getting off the plane we smelled burning wood. (It was a smell that we experienced almost everywhere we went). That brought back memories of Haiti and the ubiquitous smell of burning charcoal. It was the first surprise.

Once we connected with our daughter, we went out to the car. There were hundreds of men gathered outside of the entrance. Two of them tried to carry our luggage. As I didn't know who was with our daughter, I allowed that... we got to the car and they wanted $5 for their work. And rubble... rubble everywhere. As we drove to the house I felt as if we had been transported to Blade Runner. All along the roads there were groups of men, sitting around piles of burning trash. We saw very few women outside that evening. The density of the buildings was higher than I had ever seen. In the mix there were vacant buildings, buildings that looked as if they had been bombed, buildings in use, and new construction in process everywhere. And the traffic was like nothing I had ever experienced. As Alexis said months earlier, traffic signs and lights, were only suggestions. Lane markers weren't even that. The roads were filled with cars, trucks, bicycle rickshaws, motorized rickshaws, pedestrians, feral dogs, cows, carts pulled by animals, buses, and motorcycles, all of them fighting for inches of space as 5 vehicles all rushed to fill a space meant for 2, snaking back and forth, all acting as if that single inch was the last one in the universe and that if they didn't get it, they were lost forever. Needless to say, in our time there, I don't recall ever seeing a vehicle that didn't have at least a few dents in it.

My friend Fernando Gros had lived in Delhi for 3.5 years and had told me that it was the "most challenging place" he had ever lived. Even during our ride to the house, I began to see that would be more true than I had imagined before going there. Little did I now. I also began to understand the difficulties that Alexis had been having in doing her work.

Over the next few days I'll try to process some of our experiences there and share my thoughts. One question that has already been asked is whether we would go back again. I don't know. If Alexis ends up back there at some time, which is very possible, we might. If she doesn't, I don't think so. I guess I see the fascination that some folk have with the place, I experienced the beauty, but I also saw the ugliness. For me, I'm not sure that the beauty outweighs the ugliness to a degree that would make me choose to visit there again. I do realize that a week and only three cities along with the countryside in between was only a tiny taste of the country... but for now, I think it was enough of a taste.

More to come...