My Favorite Zen Koan

A man walking across a field encounters a tiger. He fled, the tiger chasing after him. Coming to a cliff, he caught hold of a wild vine and swung himself over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Terrified, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger had come, waiting to eat him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little began to gnaw away at the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine in one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

Zack Parsons sent me this over IM when I was in college. I never knew why but that could describe most of our conversations. It moved me so much that I have, to this day, never forgotten it.

Writing Prompt One

A trickle of light bounces out from behind the door, into the bedroom, and shimmers across the wall-mounted television. Anger volleys back and forth, crossing the light’s path. The sheets are forced to shake and slough off onto the floor, into an inchoate linen pool. Darkness immures the room, and the only thing left is the sound of cheap electronics coming to a halt against something solid and shattering into pieces. Silence happens and leaves.

A cellphone’s screen illuminates the space, quickly followed by another sound of cheap electronics exploding. An extended quiet overtakes all things. Only muffled city sounds can be heard. Light fills the room with enduring calm.

Writing Prompts

Nathan Carter, maybe my favorite artist


Some links about Nathan Carter:
Nathan Carter: THE COVERT CAVIAR FREQUENCY DISRUPTOR Profile of Nathan Carter
Nathan Carter at the Tate Modern (I first saw his work there in 2006)

The Case for Kiva

Kiva is a microlender front-end which allows lenders to give interest free loans to designated borrowers. Most of the borrowers are located in third world countries and the loans are typically $600-1500; it is not atypical for the borrower to be a pooled group of people. Most loans are provided by multiple lenders.

The Grameen bank has proven that microlending leads to sustainable economic improvements for the borrowers via allowing entrepreneurial financing within the context of the disciplining effect of debt and incentives. Sustainability has been the weakness of efforts to effect economic improvement via traditional foreign aid, which has been focused on unconditional grants of money or goods. Micro-finance is not a panacea as frequently the funds are used not to build the borrower’s business but to offset certain business costs and allow the borrower to fund things like their children’s education or medical costs. But micro-finance is progress, sustainable, incremental and meaningful progress.

More reading on Microfinance:
What Microloans Miss
The Micromagic of Microcredit

Kiva is an organization that allows an individual to participate in microlending on a granular level. It functions as a coordinator of individual lenders with a distributed network of third party local micro-lending organizations; the process is seamless to the lender. Kiva also provides information and statistics about each loan and each originating organization.

Give or learn more:

The Case for TEAM Schools

TEAM Schools is a subset of KIPP, an organization which sponsors or otherwise helps the development of charter schools. In 2006, a good friend of mine became a founder and the principal of Rise Academy, a TEAM school with 180 current students in the 5th and 6th grades; over time, it will be expanded to 360 in grades 5-8. The results which the TEAM schools have yielded thus far have been impressive. Education generates long term social benefits to society and TEAM is situated in a location where the education choices available are poor.

They recently complemented their two middle schools with a new high school, Newark Collegiate Academy, so their short term funding needs are substantial. TEAM gets 73% of its funding from the Government, but that amounts to only half the per pupil public funding of an average Newark public school. Here, the impact of a marginal dollar of giving has a real and lasting impact in a place of great need.

Give or learn more: TEAM Schools