Friday, September 25, 2009

a dog, a boy, and a farm

Tonight we had an outing. I would call it an adventure, but that would be exaggeration. Jono and I went to the World Hunger Relief farm to do some tests on our solar powered chicken coop. I wore my knee-high rubber boots just to look cool, and carried my tool bag brimming full of gadgetation. I was prepared for science. Jono brought Maggie the dog on a green nylon leash.

We stopped at Fazoli's for a little spaghetti dinner and bread sticks, and shared a diet coke. We talked about the computer games he played at school today. Maggie the Cocker Spaniel sat in the car sniffing out the windows at the 60 degree blue skies and listening to NPR. She agrees that Ahmadinejad is a mad man.

After dinner we drove about 20 minutes to the farm. As we drove I called Sergio, our foreman and friend in Honduras. He informed me that the generator that caught fire last week had been repaired (yea!) and that things in the villages were actually going smoothly. In the city, however, there are curfews, even during the day, because of the political crisis. His taxi business has greatly decreased, as you can imagine, and he and his friends are very concerned about their future. I got off the phone as we arrived at the farm.

----- this line is a visual symbol of an emotional break -----

The weekend had begun at the farm. Everyone had stopped working and the sun was sinking over a quiet pasture. Down the dirt road and to the right, two mobile chicken coops sat in a field, slowly fertilizing it, one chicken bowel movement at a time. On top of one coop sat two solar panels resting after a hard day's work of harvesting the sun at a distance of 93 million miles. Their crop of energy sleeps in a car battery during the day, but at night comes out to light up rows of white LEDs, specially designed for people cooler than me to trick out their cars in order to meet women who like that kind of thing.
You see, chickens lay more eggs when they have lights in their coops because they think the day is longer. My students and I are helping them go green which gives new meaning to "green eggs and ham". (But I have already written about how sleep-deprived chickens stay up late to ovulate.)
Today's post, however, is about father and son. And dog. When we arrived, Jono took Maggie out for a romp in the field. I entered the chicken coop to push back the frontiers of knowledge with a volt meter and a pair of needle nose pliers. I stood there, hunched under the low roof, surrounded by about 25 clucking hens, and fiddled with my tricorder. As I looked up I smiled. My son and my dog were running around the fence line, "herding" stray chickens by chasing them until they flapped ungracefully back into the right field. I'm not sure which of them was having more fun. My heart was surely full.
After sunset we drove home with the windows down to enjoy the weather. We had shared a special moment, just the two of us and the dog and 25 chickens.
Somewhere on I-35 Jono said "Maggie just threw up". Well then.

I had nothing to clean it up with in my tool bag, so I had to get off the freeway to find some paper towels. It took me a couple of exits because traffic was heavy. By the time we got to a convenience store, she had it on her leash and paws and was trying to climb into the front seat, spreading doggie puke around willie nillie. Did I mention it was my mother-in-law's car?

By this time I'm thinking the evening has become blog-worthy. I start to review it in my mind so as not to miss any details. Later in the evening I began to write it all down on my laptop. The house is quiet, The M and David are at a swim meet out of town, and the air conditioner is silent for the first time in months. I am at peace.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Honduran non-coup

"I say 'Obama, let's go Obama! Let's work truly together to promote peace! But I hope, hope, hope to God ... that Obama could become the instigator for a process of internal change."
- Hugo Chávez, socialist leader of Venezuela, in his address to the United Nations, September 23, 2009

Are you, like me, dumbfounded at the Obama administration's position on Honduras? Do you wonder why they still refer to the outing of former President Zelaya as a "coup" when the Honduran Supreme Court, the Honduran Congress, and members of Zelaya's own political party have clearly shown that under the Honduran Constitution, Zelaya's own actions terminated his presidency? Do you wonder when Hilary Clinton became a higher authority in interpreting Honduran law than the Honduran Supreme Court???

The answer, seems to me, to fall into one of two logical positions. Either
1) Obama and Clinton are unaware of the facts, or
2) Obama and Clinton are choosing to ignore the facts for some other reason.

I find option one, ignorance of the facts, extremely unlikely on account of the emails I have sent the State Department explaining it to them. And if those didn't make it clear, perhaps the recent report by the Constitutional Research Service could offer a "serious legal review of the facts". Please, please read Mary O'Grady's recent article on this subject from where I borrowed the above political cartoon.

So it must be option number two. They are ignoring the facts for some other reason. Surely, it must be a good one. The evidence points to a political reason. Obama has chosen to put the rule of law on the back burner in favor of courting post-Bush political favor with the likes of Hugo Chávez, Daniel Ortega, and Raul Castro.
And judging by today's quote by Chávez, he's doing pretty well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

We Won It!

Our Honduran company, Energía Para Aldeas, is one of 21 winners of the Energy Innovation Contest sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank. Over 1000 applications were submitted and yet we made it! "The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; he guides it wherever he pleases." Surely God's hand was upon us. We are so grateful to be able to join Him in what He is already doing in Honduras!

Our great partner in this endeavor is the Asociación Hondureña de Pequeños Productores de Energía Renovable which, in English, is the Honduran Association of Small Producers of Renewable Energy. They are a natural partner for us, having legal and environmental expertise in small renewable energy systems in Honduras.


Q: I thought your company was called Village Energy Inc. (VEI)?
A: Energía Para Aldeas is the Honduran company owned by the VEI, the U.S. company. Energía Para Aldeas, or EPA, means "Energy for Villages". Neither company is actually incorporated at this point, on account of we need some money. But both have a web presence, which makes us practically legit.

Q: Is Ryan moving to Honduras?
A: Yes. As soon as we can get him there. Hopefully he will be there by Thanksgiving, which is like, half an hour later than Thanksgiving in the U.S..

Q: Are you allowed to use the grant money to buy refried beans?
A: No, sadly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Bucket of Fried Chicken

Sleep-deprived chickens lay more eggs. It's true. If you put a light in the chicken coop after dark, they think it's still daytime, so they lay more eggs. This is not what we normally teach in engineering school, but normal is overrated anyway. For more chicken theory and corresponding fowl jokes, see part 1 and part 2.

It has been raining for the last week or so; I knew it would be muddy out at the farm. So I wore my overalls and knee-high rubber boots. It's important that the chickens think I'm a farmer.

Diana and Brian joined me and we devised a system to monitor the battery voltage. The electronics, including a battery from a riding lawnmower, are in the white bucket that hangs from the roof. We put a lid on the bucket to keep the chickens out. I mean, we all like fried chicken, but just not that way.

She's not a tame chicken, but she's good.

Brian went back after dark to disconnect the system and measure the battery voltage. The chickens were sitting on their seats above the lights. See their chicken tails hanging out? "Do these lights make my butt look big?" The sleeping/egg-laying areas are the boxes to the left, so that's where we shined the lights. We also made a disco ball and a light saber, but the chickens weren't comfortable with us photographing those.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Maggie the Dog

We brought home our new dog today. She's not new new, just new to us. Sorta like a used car. She's a used dog. A 2007 Cocker Spaniel. No cash for clunkers with this pooch. She seems to be in good condition. Of course, the new dog smell has largely disappeared, but there's no body damage and the miles are low. She came with On-Star too. That is, there's a microchip implanted under her skin with an ID number traceable back to us. That's in case she gets lost, or the department of Homeland Security needs to spy on me. Or both.

We have a dog-training DVD that says you should bribe them with lots of treats. That's what I'm doing here: buying her love.

She sure looks a lot like the dog I had growing up!

At first we kept the cats sequestered to let everyone get used to each other. When we did let them into the same room, the cats made some sounds I have never heard before. Something like a cross between a growling lion and a Harley Davidson. Maggie just ignored them and kept smelling everything.

The training DVD (and our friends) tell us that "crating" a dog, or having a special enclosure for them, is a great aid to house training. They say it actually helps them feel safe too. So we are easing her into it, 10 minutes at a time. So far she seems to like it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hillary v. Honduras

The Obama administration declares it won't recognize the results of a free and fair election.
by Elliott Abrams09/04/2009 11:40:00 AM
There is an obvious compromise available to end the Honduras crisis--or there was, anyway, until Secretary Clinton rejected it on Thursday. Honduras 's ejected president Mel Zelaya saw the Secretary and apparently persuaded her that the outcome of Honduras ' next elections must be rejected.
On what basis? None was stated, and no logical basis exists. The next elections will be entirely constitutional and held on time; and the term of office of the ousted Zelaya would end naturally and constitutionally when a new president is sworn in, in January.
The candidates were selected before the current crisis began, and all the parties—including Zelaya's Liberal Party, one half of Honduras 's essentially two party system--are participating. There is no reason whatsoever to doubt that the election can be monitored by international observers (and we could have demanded more of them than usual) and fairly conducted. Honduras 's vote for a new president on November 29 was the obvious way for everyone to dig out of the current mess without hurting the Honduran people and without damaging Honduras 's democratic institutions.

But it was rejected yesterday by Clinton and the Obama administration. The State Department's spokesman said that "Based on conditions as they currently exist, we cannot recognize the results of the election." The irrationality of the words is striking: based on conditions today, we can't recognize the results of a free election more than two months from now on November 29, even if everyone thinks it's free and even if Zelaya's party participates, and even if his term would constitutionally be over anyway.

Remember, it was Zelaya who wanted to screw around with that election, and hold a referendum on that date allowing him to be re-elected in perpetuity--just as his mentor Chavez has done in Venezuela . That's what gave rise to his defenestration. Now Hondurans want to go back to regular elections, but the United States won't allow them to do so?

The argument made around the Organization of American States (which is supporting Zelaya) is that elections conducted under the "de facto regime" cannot be considered fair.
Really? Every country in Latin America that made a transition from military to civilian rule held elections with the military still in charge, yet we don't hear the OAS saying all those elections were phony. Just to take one example, in Chile the dictator Augusto Pinochet was not only president when transition elections were held in 1990, he continued on as head of the armed forces for 8 years after that. Such history is forgotten at the OAS when it is convenient, but facts are stubborn things--even in Latin America .

Honduras was the original "banana republic," and its poverty remains extreme. Close to half the population lives on two dollars a day or less, and the country has not yet recovered from the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The International Fund for Agricultural Development put it this way: "Rural poverty in Honduras is among the most severe in Latin America .
Approximately 53 percent of the population is rural, and it is estimated that 75 percent of the rural population lives below the poverty line, unable to meet basic needs. The country still has high rates of population growth, infant mortality, child malnutrition and illiteracy. These and other social and economic factors reflect its status as the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti." Yet on Thursday the United States announced a cut of $30 million in aid and more aid cuts are in the offing. All this to shoehorn back into power a man whom the Supreme Court of Honduras voted, 15-0 (and 9 of the 15 were members of Zelaya's Liberal Party) had violated their constitution.

The Obama Administration's weak-kneed support of human rights in places like Egypt and China being obvious, the policy in Honduras appears to reflect not so much enthusiasm for democracy as a "no enemies to the Left" view of Latin America. One could laugh at the foolishness of this policy were it not for the six and half million Hondurans, fighting poverty, fighting Chavez and Zelaya and the effort to turn their political system into another Venezuela--and now, fighting Uncle Sam.

Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs in the Reagan Administration.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Jonathan's Fame

Today I watched parts of the Baylor football game against Wake Forest on ESPN. At halftime, a new commercial came on for Baylor featuring one of my former students. Jonathan appears at the 20th second and very briefly mentions our work in Honduras. The commercial is pretty slick, I must say. Click here to see it.

I count Jonathan as a friend. He not only went with me on a trip to Kenya, he also came with me to Honduras on two different occasions. He was the president of the Baylor chapter of Engineers with a Mission too, and is an all-around great guy. My whole family loves him and I am so proud of him. He's getting married next month and we hope to attend his wedding.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Phishy Phriends

A few days before school started, David and I got up early to go fishing with some friends. We drove south of town to a bridge where we launched their kayaks into the Bosque river. [This reminds me that I finally found out why it is pronounced BOS-key, not bosk. It's because bosque is the Spanish word for woods or forest. Here in Central Texas the Spanish pronunciation is still maintained, at least approximately, albeit with little Texas y at the end like frosty. I know nothing of linguistics, really, but neither am I afraid to draw unsupportable correlations or make sweeping generalizations as I see fit. I owe the blogosphere that much, anyway. Or the blogospherey. Yet I digress. Again.]

I am refusing to sell this photo to National Geographic, despite their repeated and lucrative offers. They say it has artistic framing and stunning views of nature. Who am I to argue with NG? But as an artist I refuse to sell out.

This is Ellis parking the kayaks at the little island I like to call Ellis Island.

My friend Blaine remained optimistic that we would catch something, probably a sword fish. After all, he had kayaks and a fishing hat, we had boxes of brightly colored rubber lures that even made me want to eat them, and we got up early when, it is rumored, fish are easily fooled. Regrettably, however, we didn't get a single bite. This photo of Blaine makes it seem like we were fishing in a ditch or something, but it really was a decent sized river. I suspect the real reason we caught nothing was because of my presence; based on my prior fishing experiences, I seem to be a fish repellent. I may have polluted our chances by simply being there. I wish that worked with mosquitoes.

Wordless Wednesday