July 27, 2005

An e-mail interview with Tom Kilroy, co-founder of Contra Café

Posted in Contra Cafe, Nicaragua at 10:11 am by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]
Background: Contra Café markets coffee grown by Nicaraguan farmers who were Contra freedom fighters against the former Communist regime. They tell their own story better than I possibly could, so go visit their website, read more about them, and order some coffee!

Recently Contra Café enjoyed an “instalaunch”, having been mentioned by Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit. That’s how I found out about them.

The co-founders of Contra Café are two Dartmouth students. Tom Kilroy was kind of enough to respond to my request for an “e-mail interview”, which appears below. Thank you, Tom!


Interview with Tom Kilroy, co-founder of Contra CaféDD: Tom, first I want to say thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.

Let’s start with the coffee itself. Although I am an addict, I’m not necessarily a connoisseur. How would you describe your coffee in terms of some of the lingo I’m familiar with? For example, Starbucks shows three categories (Mild, Smooth, Bold) with multiple coffees in each. Where would you say your coffee fits in?

TK: Our beans fall towards the mild end of the spectrum. The taste is smooth, almost sweet, with no harsh overtones. This sweetness is actually pretty standard for really high quality Central American beans. What’s unique about the Contra Cafe coffee is that it also offers an extremely full body and rich flavor. I’m not a coffee expert, but I find the taste to be outstanding. It’s definitely one of the best coffees I’ve ever had.

DD: Personally speaking, do you take milk and/or sugar in your coffee?

TK: No milk or sugar for me. I learned to drink my coffee black when I worked in the coffee industry down in Nicaragua. With really great coffee, there’s no need to mask the flavor. That said, it’s really an individual thing. Almost all of our farmers drink their coffee with very heavy milk and sugar.

DD: Are you planning to sell using other channels/distributors besides the website?

TK: We’re exploring other distribution channels but haven’t had much luck so far. I think that most retailers and distributors shy away from carrying products like Contra Cafe. Most businesses want to stay away from controversy, not attract it. This is especialy true in the coffee business where most cafes have sympathies on the left. So if we’re going to move beyond the web, we’ll have to find a partner who is willing to weather a few angry customers. Right now the most promising possibilities for us are in Southern Florida with stores that serve communities of Cuban and Nicaraguan exiles. We are looking into that market and hoping to make some progress.

DD: Tell us a bit about the Nicaragua of today. After the whole Iran/Contra thing and, later, the fall of the Sandinistas, we don’t hear a whole lot about the country anymore. What are the government and economy like now? Is the economy, relatively speaking, a free market? Do communists still enjoy a large voting bloc?

TK: It’s not a bright picture right now in Nicaragua. The democratic government is controlled by corrupt strongmen who are out to increase their own power, not improve the welfare of the country. The current president, Enrique Bolanos, is above corruption and a strong supporter of free markets, but he’s been hobbled by a lack of political support from his own party. It’s hard to believe, but Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas still enjoy a large voting bloc. Ortega basically owns the judiciary because he appointed most of the judges during the Sandinista dictatorship. Now he leverages that power over the judiciary to build his own political base and undermine opponents. Just last week, on the anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, he gave a speech that still harped on the same Marxist themes: rich vs. poor, capital vs. labor, etc. It’s amazing that people still buy these lies, especially when Daniel has stolen so much that he is now one of the richest of the rich.

DD: What are some other Nicaraguan exports besides coffee?

TK: Nicaragua mostly exports other agricultural products like beef, tobacco, sugar, and shrimp. There is also a bit of textile manufacture and export. I’m wearing a pair of Columbia shorts right now that were made in Nicaragua.

DD: You make it clear on your website that Contra Café is not “certified Fair Trade Coffee”. What is “Fair Trade Coffee” and why have you chosen to not be part of it?

TK: When you see the Fair Trade label on a bag of coffee in the store, it means that the farmer received at least $1.26 per lb for the beans (or $1.45 in the case of organic coffee). It also means that the coffee is coming from small farmers as opposed to large producers. We chose not to put the Fair Trade label on our bag because the groups that control Fair Trade in Nicaragua blocked the Contra farmers when they applied to sell as Fair Trade about five years ago. Even though these former Contras met all the requirements — they are small farmers and produce coffee of outstanding quality — they were put on a waiting list and told there was little chance they’d make it off the list. The groups that control Fair Trade certification in Nicaragua have strong ties to the Sandinistas, but I actually think they blocked the Contra farmers more out of greed than political avarice. They preferred not to expand the circle of eligible farmers because that would have meant sharing the wealth of higher prices with more farmers rather than keeping the group small and enriching themselves. Indeed, many believed that the Fair Trade-certified cooperatives were purchasing coffee on the local market for 50 cents then turning around and selling it as their own Fair Trade for $1.26 and pocketing the difference. I should mention that the Contra farmers now tell me that Fair Trade in Nicaragua has cleaned up a great deal in the last few years. Apparently, they now run things much more transparently. Be that as it may, I’ve decided to stay away from the Fair Trade label.

DD: You’re too modest to mention it in your short bio at Contra Café, but nosey people like myself will have noticed that you earned two awards within the Notre Dame Great Books program. In ’98 you won the Edward J. Cronin Award, “the highest prize for writing in the course of ordinary course work.” Then in ’99 you won the Willis D. Nutting Award as “that senior who has contributed most to the education of his or her fellow students and teachers.” Which of your writings do you think (or know) was most responsible for the Cronin award?

TK: I’m impressed by your detective work! I received the Cronin award for an essay comparing the merits of the Ptolemaic, Tychonic, and Copernican cosmologies using the evidence available in the early 16th century. However, most of my academic work in the Great Books program focused on the Federalist Papers and the American Founding. My senior thesis argued that Publius thought a democracy could not be built on self-interest alone; a reasonably virtuous political leadership is also a necessity. I’ve seen this theory come to life in Nicaragua’s struggle with venal politicians.

DD: Are you looking forward to doing in Cuba — hopefully soon — what you’re doing in Nicaragua today?

TK: I look forward to visiting Cuba (and buying their coffee and tobacco) when it is a free country. I’m optimistic that day will come soon.

DD: Tom, thank you again.

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She’s out of this world.

Posted in Eileen Collins, Space Shuttle at 9:54 am by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]

Eileen Collins is commanding a Shuttle flight for the second time.  This time she even gets to dock the orbiter with the International Space Station.  I think she’s pretty cool.

Last night before bed she said:

“And finally,” she concluded, “we reflect on the last shuttle mission, the great ship Columbia and her crew — Rick, Willie, Mike, K.C., Dave, Laurel and Elan. We miss them, and we are continuing their mission. God bless them tonight, and God bless their families. Good night.”

Here’s are excerpts from her 2004 pre-flight interview:

I have always loved flying, ever since I was a small child and growing up in Elmira, N.Y. I’d watch the gliders fly overhead. Elmira, with its Harris Hill, is the “soaring capital” of America, and I was very fortunate to have grown up in that area. I went to summer camp near the Soaring Museum and the glider field. My family never had the money to get me flying lessons or even get me a ride in an airplane. I think my desire to fly just continued to build. The way I helped satisfy that as a child was to read books. I learned about flying from every different perspective, civilian flying and military flying; I read about, World War I, World War II, all the way up through the Vietnam War. And, when I got a job at age 16 I started saving money. Eventually I had saved up $1,000 and I took that to my local airport, at age 19, and I asked them to teach me how to fly. Very timid, very shy, you know, there are no other women up there, this was a guy thing but I wanted to do it anyway. And, my flight instructor was a former F-4 pilot from Vietnam, and, he really inspired me. I went on to military flying. It turned out that the year that I started military pilot training for the Air Force, 1978, was the same year that NASA took their first women into the Shuttle program. The six women that were in the first Shuttle class became role models to me. They were Mission Specialists but I knew that I wanted to be a pilot. I knew that this program existed, and that’s when I decided that someday I was going to go on and fly as an astronaut.

(…)

In 1986 after the Challenger accident, I was in graduate school. The accident, obviously, was just a terrible tragedy, and as the news was unfolding in the media I found just how interested I was in learning about what happened and learning more about the Shuttle program. But I immediately wanted to apply to the astronaut program after the Challenger accident — I thought they needed help, and I wanted to be there. I wanted to be part of helping the space program move on and do great things … along with the fact that I wanted to fly.

(…)

But I have an older daughter, who I really do need to talk to [about the Columbia failure], and I have been talking to her. In fact, to share a little story with you, in December, around Christmastime of 2002, I told her about the Challenger accident. She had just turned seven and she had never heard of the Challenger accident or the crew. So I showed her a picture of the crew, and told her their names and who they were and what they had done, and how they were heroes — and, and they, you know, really loved what they were doing. I told her about the accident and how it happened, and I told her (that problem) has been fixed … and that will never happen again. Then, five weeks later, we had the Columbia accident. I had to start that process over with her. That was difficult, but it’s going to be a long process. Immediately after the accident, I told my daughter, “Mommy’s not going to fly for a long time so I don’t want you to worry. We have lots of time to talk about this, and we’ve got lots of time to figure out what happened and to get things straightened out.” Occasionally I’ll bring up our mission and what we’re doing, but I have made it a mission of mine to help her learn more about what we’re doing in space, because I find that a person will have less fear if they understand what’s going on.

She will come home safely, I’m certain of it.

July 25, 2005

I’m traveling…

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:46 am by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]

I’ll be away from the blog until the middle of the week.  I’m going to London on business — my chance to say hello to a great city and a great country.  I haven’t been there in years.  I will kiss my hand and then touch the wall when I get inside Heathrow (I don’t want to be too dramatic and kiss the ground like the Pope.)

Speaking of the UK, how do you like this book cover?  Can’t wait to read it.

If you’re new here, have a look around.  I just started with a new blog host this month, so everything beginning in July has “categories” — you can use the category links on the right.  For everything before that, have a look at the older archive pages.

Some of my own favorite topics here include:

Wolfgang Welsch: here, here, here, and here.

EU constitution: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Sophie Scholl: here, here, and here.

See you when I get back.

July 24, 2005

Great, great idea: Contra Café

Posted in Contra Cafe, Uncategorized at 4:46 pm by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]
I love this idea on many levels, including political.

At the height of the Cold War, the Nicaraguan Contras successfully fought to secure their freedom and block the spread of Communism. Today these freedom fighters need our help. Many former Contras are small-scale coffee farmers who produce high quality beans but struggle to break even because of low coffee prices. Your purchase of Contra Café allows these farmers to earn the livelihood they deserve.

Started by two Dartmouth MBA students, Contra Café promises great coffee, and I want to order it.  Will they ship it to Austria?  I’ve already asked and I’m hopeful for a quick and positive answer.

Muslims in Egypt Protest Invasion of Iraq

Posted in Egypt, Iraq, War on Terror at 1:08 pm by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]

At least I assume that’s the reason behind the attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh.

In all seriousness, some guy interviewed on CNN International — I guess he was an Egyptian journalist or an Egyptologist or something important like that (he had an Arab name) — did indeed blame the invasion of Iraq. Though he half-heartedly conceded that some attacks such as the one in Luxor (1997) occurred long before the invasion of Iraq, he asserts the existence of a general instability in the region caused by the American invasion of Iraq.

Readers will no doubt recall how quiet and stable the region was prior to 2003.

At least they didn’t throw a Bible in the toilet

Posted in Australia at 12:59 pm by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]
A group of young Pakistanis apparently went on a raping rampage in Australia.  I hadn’t heard of this story before now.

They are probably the most violent, prolific gang rapists Sydney has known, with as many as 18 young victims. But until now the extent of the horrific crimes of four brothers from Pakistan has been kept secret.

Yesterday, more than three years after they went on a six-month rampage, luring girls as young as 13 to their home in Ashfield to rape them, suppression orders forbidding publication of their trial details were lifted.

Assuming some of their victims were “Christians”, I imagine now we will see massive uprisings of militant Christians around the world.  Perhaps not as massive as they would be had the boys desecrated a Bible, however.

July 21, 2005

Be on the lookout for Red Ken and a backpack

Posted in London, UK, War on Terror at 5:13 pm by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]

From a Times Online article re attempted bombings today:

Dr Brighton added: “It may be an attempt by people to cause panic, maybe people with similar ideas or ideological sympathy with the people that did the recent bombings…The nature of the incidents doesn’t appear to be anything like as serious.”

Everybody be on the lookout for sightings of a Galloway or a Livingstone with a backpack on.

July 19, 2005

US Forces in Europe: The Dukes Slim Down

Posted in Military at 12:36 am by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]
If I read this right, the Big Red One’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team (“Duke”, or, when stationed in Baqubah, the “Dukes of Diyala“) is going to be reduced to cadre strength and make way for Europe’s first Stryker Brigade.  (Note: link refers to Cadre Divisions — I’m not sure what the size of a “cadre strength” brigade is.  The article makes it clear that the 3rd BCT is eventually leaving Germany altogether: “departure of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team“.)

3rd BCT is stationed at Vilseck, Germany, so I like to consider it my home brigade.

Thank you for your service, 3rd BCT.

No doubt the Dukes have multiple heroes in their midst.  One of them we know for sure is a milblogger who received the Silver Star:  1st Lt Neil Prakash, native of India, Johns Hopkins alum, United States Army officer, American hero.  And he’s Red Six at the Armor Geddon blog.

I like Lt Prakash’s account of one of his last incidents in Iraq:

The other day, we were escorting the deputy governor to Baqubah when a guy pulled up to us and blew himself up in his car, while trying to take us out. Hilarious! He only managed to kill himself. The BEST part is that his jackass terrorist friend was videotaping it and Al-Jazeera aired it, reporting that a bomber rammed the deputy governor and 3 Americans died. Our only casualty was a slightly cracked windshield. And he didn’t ram us, he pulled off on the shoulder and detonated. Does Dan Rather work for Al-Jazeera? If anyone can tell me where to find that video clip on the internet, a lot of us in my company are curious as to whether they taped it while hiding in a certain village.

Bravo, Dukes!

July 15, 2005

More lessons in the superiority of European diplomacy

Posted in France at 9:48 am by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]
(Hat tip LGF.)

Don’t forget that the Americans are far inferior to the Europeans when it comes to successful diplomacy. We all know that, don’t we?

The smooth Jacques Chirac shows us how superior they really are:

You are so lucky that you’re not British, Chirac tells his people

By the way, that headline might be a tad unfair: he is nowhere in the article quoted as saying exactly that. But he’s certainly an arsch, nonetheless.

Those of us who would like to see the EU become more free-market oriented don’t find any comfort in this bit:

He also insisted that he would “not make the least concession” to Mr Blair in his campaign to reform EU farm spending and would fight his attempts to open Europe’s service market to competition.

July 14, 2005

US Forces in Europe: Georgia

Posted in Georgia, Military at 9:13 pm by billdawson

[editor’s note: this post was “pasted” in — it appeared originally at the old Dawson’s Danube site, which is archived here.]
The United States is spending $64 million to help train Georgian soldiers:

Marine Corps Forces Europe is leading the training and providing the largest U.S. contingent of trainers. No more than 70 U.S. servicemembers – from all military branches – will deploy to Georgia at any given time. The Krtsanisi National Training Center is the site of the program, which will train and equip more than 1,200 Georgian soldiers in ground combat skills and tactics, including marksmanship, first aid, urban drills and search techniques.

Cool.  I am always happy when we do good things in Eastern Europe.  Remember, Georgia, the home of the Rose Revolution, is one of our coalition partners in Iraq.

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a website with a significant amount of english content.  If you visit there soon, you’ll notice that they have a whole section titled Georgia Welcomes USA, also available directly at http://www.georgiawelcomesusa.com/.  That site celebrates President Bush’s visit in May of this year.

Other links:

WhiteHouse.gov: President Bush Addresses and Thanks Citizens in Tbilisi, Georgia.  (Includes the video coverage – sounds like a big, appreciative crowd.)

CIA World Factbook: Georgia.

US Department of State Background Note: Georgia.

UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Country Profile: Georgia.

Publications about Georgia from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

CountryReports.org: Georgia.

Wikipedia.org: Georgia.

GlobalSecurity.org: Georgia Military.

The Georgian Times, an English-language news site.

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