Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holiday Season

"Beware lest you lose the substance
by grasping at the shadow"


This is the view out of my window towards the playground and Kauakarau Bay. Beyond that is Omiha Bay, where the Rocky Bay Memorial Cruising Club held their annual Regatta Saturday(amongst quite typical blustery summer weather conditions), Beyond that is the expansive and tidal Rocky Bay, encompassing the wider Whakanewa Regional Park.

It is a quiet and windy little settlement, with only a scattering of houses dotting the hillsides and bays. Most are empty for months of the year. But not now.

It is that wonderful and most ephemeral Time of Universal Holiday in New Zealand, where a large part of the population stops working completely and heads out to rural and beach locations to unwind for Christmas and New Years celebrations with family and friends, putting end to another calendar year of whatever it is they have been doing.

If there was any doubt the landed gentry were out in full force here in one of the trendier spots to holiday in New Zealand, Waiheke Island is awash with Big Black SUV's and other fashion accessories not seldom seem on the island, this being New Years Eve, 2006. And to make the statement complete, the tranquil park scene above, normally with just few youngsters, some dog walkers, and a friendly duck family, had the uncharacteristic commotion of a helicopter land this afternoon, in order to party a bit and inspect one of the waterfront properties. Ahem.

The tide was out on my New Years Eve walk, and in between some harmless showers, it took me through the native bush descent into the park onto its long stretch of sand and shells, nesting dotterels, and oystercatchers:

Only the recent hoof prints of some horses were to be seen, and the constant badgering of the protective dotterels were my company on this magnificent beach. I though about all the things I am grateful for - the opportunities, experiences, and people that have graced my life this past year. All the little dramas and stories that make up our individual neuroses try to force their way into my thinking at times, but both the beauty and significance of the moment were far too powerful. Rhythm and oxygen clear the head in no uncertain terms. Over an hour walking, and what many people around the world need to undertake just to survive once, twice, maybe more each day, I took as leisure. Our perspective can be as valuable as the ground under our feet.

No helicopters. No real estate mingling chit chat. No wineries and their trendy products. Just the elements in raw and unhindered natural change. A nice afternoon reflection for the last day of the year:

A few days ago, on another little summer outing to catch up with my daughter and partner, along with friends and family, I visited Gisborne for the first time in over a decade. The flat, fertile plains, now largely taken up with vineyards, still have wonderful fresh fruit stands dotting the road in from the Bay of Plenty side. We tasted the local produce with gusto, cooking up some great meals in a nicely appointed holiday home overlooking Poverty Bay and the great surf beaches of the Gisborne and Eastland Area:

Christmas revelers in amongst the
vines and lush plains around Gisborne, prior to setting off to play gigs in the Rhythm n' Vines Festival.

Not too bad, really.

Much better time than this guy, anyway:

Which may have reminded me of some Christmas past, but we don't need to go there! It has been a pleasant Holiday Season for me, a balanced mix of social activities and parties coupled with restful and contemplative personal time. There has been some fun reading and regular writing. May we all be so fortunate as to know when enough is enough.

Then perhaps we will all have enough.

Monday, December 18, 2006

State of the Union

To know that enough is enough is to always have enough


If you are a reader, then online magazine Slate has its top picks for books of 2006 here. NPR radio has its picks from booksellers here. I have a couple lined up for the Christmas holiday break (in New Zealand that usually means at the beach, so for Northern Hemispherites, well, it might be a different sort of list). I just finished a great novel by Douglas Kennedy called State of the Union, that I happen to pick up at an airport on my way to the South Island, and was pleasantly surprised. A real page-turner that kept me guessing, laughing, crying, and most of all, thinking. Well written.

Another in the Only-In-America Dept: Yoga and Wine retreats, reviewed by NYTimes.
Well, it had to come, didn't it?

On the serious side of yoga, if you are a devoted follower, this Columbia Journal Review has an excellent history of its turbulent entry into the West.

Not into yoga, but thinking of getting married? OK then. I am going to two weddings soon myself, one in California, and one down here in New Zealand. This YouTube video clip of "honest" wedding vows is hilarious, although I would not probably show it to the couples on the verge of reciting theirs just yet.

If marriage is not on the cards just at the moment, but you are wanting to increase your "mingling" (called networking by the PC brigade, which is far more professional sounding) skills at Christmas parties, have no fear, this piece on NPR has just the tools for the not-so-bold.
So much useful advice!

Not getting married, into Yoga or mingling? Well, you can always get a new job by sending out a video resume that will surely get someones attention. Apparently it is the newest thing for job seekers. Whatever.

I am off to the beach for a few days, but always close at hand when one is a grower in the "season".

Best Wishes to all for Peace and Contentment in this Festive Season, and throughout the seasons.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

South Island Serenity

"Beauty is the moment of transition,
as if the form were just ready to flow into other forms"

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Reading the fine print on the map was always going to be a big ask, and in the end, it made little difference. It was too late. We were half way through the second day of our 5 day tramping adventure in the Kahurangi National Park, and it had been raining pretty steady all day. The forecast was for clearing during the day, but I didn't like our chances. After exposure to the alpine-like Tablelands around Mt Arthur, we began dropping down into the Leslie River Valley, and took some shelter in the famously eccentric Spludgeons Rock Shelter, complete with fireplace, dirt floor, and photo of Albert Einstein...

...whose dilapidated, but still framed photo had the following quote under it:

"The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the source of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive form- this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.”

Inspiring as his words were, there appeared from the track sign to be another 3 hour drop down into the Leslie River valley, and then some way along to our destination, Karamea Bend Hut. The fine print I mentioned earlier by the way, warned of long delays if weather was poor, due to flooding creeks and rising river levels. OK then.

That made me feel a little less than the bold adventurer I picture myself at times, when I read it the next day, after a 7 hr ordeal of fording streams and racing the dwindling daylight in an effort to get somewhere dry. My tramping companion was less than sympathetic the next morning when his first words were: "Called that helicopter yet?"

Water is omnipresent in this part of New Zealand , and I was fairly certain we would see some rainy days, if not all of them. It has been a particularly unsettled Spring, and so we packed accordingly. It looked to be a fairly straightforward tramp, with a slight climb up to Mt Arthur tablelands the first day, then down into the valley for a stroll along the rivers edge (more debatable was the route back to a pre-arranged pickup, which involved a place called Batons Saddle, which ominously had "horror " written on the track marker).

The storm lasted a day longer than we anticipated, and had a very significant and immediate effect on the water level, so much so that I thought it might be the first and last trip my partner would take with me. All ended well, and although a bit of a stretch at times. Some altered plans were necessary (Baton saddle, with all its rumour of "horror track" was given a swift boot in favour of a more reliable return route), and of course some very wet feet were had. The pictures of me pouring over maps with a look of concern will no doubt come up again in discussion.

On the first day, we came across several great looking rock shelters that are strategically placed throughout the park. They are obviously well used and full of character. Great in a pinch, or if there is a bad storm out (ours was tolerable). This one had it's own built in loft and fireplace:

Here is the hut that did save us from the wet, halfway to the West Coast. After a long 7 hr tramp in the rain down the swollen Leslie river valley , it was a warm and welcome home for a days rest:

The Mt Arthur tablelands and Ballon Hut, where after 4 days of no one in sight, we ran across at least 3 different parties in one of the smallest huts. However, by then we were somewhat relieved to know there were others actually in the park:

Kahurangi tranlsates into "prized possession" in Maori, and a prize it is. The nearly 1 million acre national park is the second largest in New Zealand and only brought under Dept of Conservation since 1996. Its unique biodiversity provides a sanctuary for some of the rarest of flora and fauna in the country. It is well known for its superb geographic diversity as well, with some unique landforms and a complex network of ranges, peaks rivers. It is home to a Great Walk called the Heaphy Track, with its trademark lush coastal scenery.

The birdsong was outstanding, with comments in all the visitors books in huts raving about it. Tuis, bellbirds, bush robins, grey warblers, fantails, are amongst the common bush birds, whilst the park protects a number of other notables such as the kiwi, falcon and blue duck. It is the northern most point in the Southern Alps for the alpine birds the kea and rock wren. Trout are abundant in the rivers, with deer and goat are amongst the more common mammals. We spotted some baby goats, obviously separated from their mother and not pleased about it).

I have been over the map many times now, fine print and all, and the only thought that comes to mind is: what track will I choose next when I return?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Metaphysics of Quality

"Nature is a unity in diversity"

-Alexander Von Humboldt

Summer is slowly making its way down under.

One of the more stunning shows put on by the nature divas are the huge icebergs floating around just a few hundred kms off the southern tip of the country. People are flying out to see them and exclaiming their beauty in all manner. This couple decided they wanted to get married on one, but apparently the helicopter tours are not so sure. It seems they break up quite easily. Oh well. It may be global warming, it may be just normal chunks of Antarctica. In any case, it does not happen often

An amazing interview with the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance from the Guardian. Such a fine line between brilliance and insanity. Perception, I believe it is called.
Robert Pirsig has flirted with that line gracefully. Well worth a read.

I enjoyed the Seinfield Show immensely, and although not one to go out and own all the episodes, I am sure that I have seen every one. Jerry Seinfield was on the Letterman Show the other night, and has not lost any of his quick wit or amicable nature. Unfortunately it would appear that Michael Richards, the actor who took eccentric to a new level with his character Cosmo Kramer, has. This clip of his prolonged racist rant at a comedy club and apology via satellite a few days later has been the rounds on the net, and his career will no doubt never be the same.

Anger is a strong emotion, and often creeps up when one least expects it. There is so much power locked up in this kind of thing, one has to wonder what all that energy could produce if it were not addicted to negativity and intolerance.

I posted recently on a conference in La Jolla, California with the leading non-theists in the scientific community, and this NY Times article sums up the mood quite clearly. An excerpt form the article titled A Free for All on Science and Religion:

Somewhere along the way, a forum this month at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., which might have been one more polite dialogue between science and religion, began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told.

Whew. I gather the scientists are on a mission of their own.

And not to miss out on any 60's nostalgia, this NPR article on guitar legend Jimi Hendrix covers some new ground on a man that was going places himself. Hope he got there..

Friday, November 17, 2006

Concentration Care

"He lives well who is well hidden"


The life and times of Rene Descartes, the 17th century French scientist and philosopher is an interesting one. Better known for his metaphysical musings ("I think, therefore I am"), than his early quite remarkable understanding of analytic geometry and mathematics, he lived outside of France for most of his life, and once buried in Sweden, was exhumed and re-buried several times back in France. As many came to later call him, "The Father of Modern Philosophy" had writings on both science and philosophy that are best understood in context together. Think about it. A scientist trying to prove the existence of God. No wonder they call it The Enlightenment. A New Yorker article sums up his life and a couple of new biographies.

Having a paper to deliver on mysticism in a couple of weeks, it has been an inspiration to read about him once again.

All kinds of little gems leaping forth from the digital domain recently, as well as from those sentient beings curious enough to be involved in my surrounding social architecture here in wonderful Aotearoa...

My friends within the Paradise Duck family are enjoying a wet spring here, which suits them fine,

and the young ones are now nearing the 50-60 day mark, where they are strong enough to fly on their own. Pa then hangs around a bit for the summer, takes off again, only to return late winter to enjoy the company of his lifetime mate and have another family.

They do alright.

More good news (really!) from the Auckland Regional Council which has announced a plan to create a wildlife sanctuary on Rangitoto and Motutape islands, the closest to Auckland, and between our island of Waiheke and the city. "Breathing new life into the Hauraki Gulf Maritime Park", it will be significantly larger than any other of the sanctuaries in the country, and twenty times larger than Tiritiri Matangi, our closest wildlife sanctuary.

Typically, the Grey Lynn Park Festival in Auckland kicks off a summer festival season that this year will include WOMAD, a biennial cultural and musical extravaganza in New Plymouth. For the second year running, the weather has been very wet on the day, but at least they did not cancel this year, which was nice. We make the most of our summers here, and this one will be no exception. Lots of free music, dance and art for the adventurous.

As the BBC reports here, sometimes the low-tech and easy approach to solving problems may be the most effective. They are discovering how to capture and store rain water more effectively in Africa now, and use it where and when it is needed most.

Tastes great too, believe me. My tank is overflowing at the moment. I drink much more water than I ever have.

Now if they can just get some mosquito nets over there sometime in the near future, lives will be saved...

On a lighter note, NPR continues to deliver excellent quality and useful information to help navigate the digital world, this short audio file explaining quite clearly how to transfer those old vinyl and audiocassette tapes onto your computer for longevity and portabililty(they can then be downloaded to your Mp3 player if you so desire). Like much of the work in this area, it sounds easy. We'll see. I have a large collection of priceless audiotapes, and look forward to having them safely stored and backed up on my PC.

I think it's time to "go bush", as they say down here, and get away from all things digital, to enjoy some of the natural wonders of the South Island. Watch this space.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Belief Biology

"I have just 3 things to teach:
These are your greatest treasures"

-Tao Te Ching

I have to admit that after nearly 20 years living down in the Antipodes, I am now officially a Rugby Fan. Not fanatical, but certainly an ardent admirer of the game. When I first moved down here from the U.S., I looked at these hulking guys with no necks and no protection running at full speed into each other as something slightly akin to organised brawling. When the ref did blow the whistle for any number of unknown infractions, I was most puzzled. Get the ball over the line anyway you can seemed the point, and whatever happened to your body or anyone elses, well, so be it.

There are actually tactics and strategy in this mayhem, and having never played the game, it just took me a bit longer than the locals to get the gist. New Zealand has the best rugby team in the world right now, and with the World Cup being played in 12 months time, it creates very high expectations from the public. Luckily, they thrashed France today, or the whole country would have been in a funk. They are warriors alright, and very focused as you must be in battle, lest you lose your life. The Haka, a Maori challenge brought on each time they face an opponent, is unseen anywhere else in sports, and is really the best part of the whole match. It is an adrenaline-surged dance of life and death, played out before millions by those who are about to enter combat with rules. Spine tingling stuff.

My Tui friend pictured above has gone off in the mornings for sweeter and perhaps easier nectar in the lush bush around my cottage, but he will be back. That shot is from my bedroom window, just a metre away from where he would wake me every morning. Their call is like no other in the bird world, perhaps I can post a audio of it. That would be pretty clever for a non-geek!

Staying with the geek world of gadgets and more, Microsoft has now decided to enter something called the Zune into the portable digital media player (MP3)market dominated by Apple and iPod, only an astonishing 5 years too late. According to this review by the Tech Maven, it may look cool, and have some new features to shout about (like sharing files with other Zune owners), but in the end, they are short of content, and just a bit late, really. Apple and Steve Jobs impress me more and more with their ability to hit the button with timing, design, and well, coolness. That is a recipe for success for the MySpace generation, who are undoubtedly the main target consumers.

I subscribe to the New Scientist podcasts, which I find brilliant in their production quality, subject matter and presentation. This week is a report on a group of highly respected scientists getting together at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California to debate what they can do about the growing threat of religion undermining all their good work on quantum physics and neurobiology. Not much, I don't think. As long as they see it as a threat, they will be in a constant confrontational and adversarial position, rather than one of collaboration and tolerance. That is unfortunately not a position of productive or positive outcomes, in my view. Consciousness, free will, and belief are not areas that science has been able to fit in to their model very easily. Instead of always hearing Religion v. Science, why not Religion and Science? Once we start feeling threatened by the way other people think, we all become fundamentalists.

No one I speak to seems at all upset that the power in Washington has shifted somewhat, and now we can (not) all look forward to a protracted Presidential election leading up to '08. Do they have time for anything else there but trying to get elected? I guess that is the point of being a politician. Anyway, in this Vanity Fair article, even the die-hard neo-cons giving Bush all the gun-ho advice are now distancing themselves from their failed policies. A sure sign another election is on the way.

If you regularly go to the doctor for a diagnosis of ailment, as most of us would, would you be surprised to know that many of them use Google to get it right? Don't be, it makes sense. I am not recommending to make all our own diagnoses, but it does make me think about what we might be paying for.. My broadband is as good as his! There are lots of medical sites, Web MD being one of the more popular.

And still on health, marriage is given a fairly rough treatment in this NYTimes article, suggesting it may be our heavy reliance on this one relationship at the expense of others, that can lead to a less than balanced life and health. A good social circle and healthy close personal friendships are certainly something to be cherished. The trick I suppose, is to balance those relationships and interests within a marriage, if success and longevity are sought. Nice concept, anyway.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Going International

"Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power"

-Tao Te Ching

I really love Fiji. I spent a great deal of time there in the mid-80's on a safari from California, and we chartered a boat delivering water to some of the outer island resorts. There have been 3 coups since then, and so news of another one did not upset too many, tourists or locals alike. It seems whenever the military does not like what the government is doing, or feels it is getting a bit too stroppy, then the whip is cracked. Fijians are very laid back, the Indians not so much. Therein lies a great deal of the problems, which are usually ironed out when everyone realises how much they need the tourist dollar, and so reluctantly pull their heads in.

Another interesting international event that will no doubt have long reaching and significant impact on all our lives in the not too distant future: China and Africa buddying up. This is big. One is hungry for resources, the other hungry period. A well thought out strategic alliance will have consequences on everything from the price of oil to World Trade. Watch this space.

I am strictly staying away from the midterm U.S. elections, as it is done to death, and well, it's U.S. politics. Down and dirty.

My cousin runs one of the larges construction and engineering companies in the world, and with all their experience and history building everything from airports to cities across the middle east, even they can't stomach the ongoing violence in Iraq. Time to move on. Sad but true.

Whist in Iraq (and there won't be many if something doesn't change quickly), I am disturbed every time I hear of another fatality in the country that isn't; but what is most unfortunate, is that there is plenty of press for the nearly 3,000 Americans that have lost their lives, when barely a word is spoken for the estimated 600,000 Iraqis that have perished in the last few years, according to this NYTimes article. That is major warfare, no matter how you count it, or what methodology you use. Human life is precious. It should not matter whether it is a civilian, U.S. military, or Iraqi. Sadly, it does to those who manipulate media.

Here in New Zealand the recent Stern Report on Climate Change used New Zealand as an example of excess in terms of the "food miles"used to get its kiwifruit around the world. Much to the outcry of politicians and exporters, the claim is that our production methods are more efficient, that it is actually less carbon hungry than buying in Europe. Perhaps. But that is not really the point.

The carbon market trading will do little to change behavior. And a change in behavior is what is needed. If there are extra green taxes on a country's exports from far away, that will make them less competitive for sure, but people will pay what they have to. Protectionism comes in many forms. The idea is to get local food production back into the hands of people who are local. It is entirely unsustainable to continue to fly produce around the world, taxes or not. Buying carbon credits so that you can continue unsustainable practices does not make sense. Food in particular, is going to be the first to go. It is a global marketplace, but the added value products and services that will need to be exported must be of high value and low volume in order to effect the excessive air travel has on the climate. Food is neither.

A quick glance at the recent Bioneers Conference held in California, and growing year by year.

And last, but certainly not least... the outrageously funny duo of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert being interviewed by seasoned journalist Maureen Dowd for Rolling Stone magazine. Gut-splitting!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Irreducible Complexity

How does it feel
How does it feel?
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a Rolling Stone?

-Bob Dylan

I posted recently about the undercurrents of the religion v. science debate raging in certain elements of the blogosphere, and now, the NYTimes confirms the discussion carries through in other media, with many of the current best sellers lying firmly in that category. Along with documentary films and non-fiction, people want to consume their media with more interest in how it will effect their lives in the here and now. Stories are great, and I am reading one now that is highly entertaining (more on that later); but it would appear a momentum is swinging towards seeking out truth, in whatever form that can be absorbed in. More than just authors promoting their work on tour, it seems the desire is their to cut through the crap and get real about certain things. Too much deception will do that.

Along with Jon Stewart, Bill Maher seems to be one switched on and funny guy (at least to me anyway). With the "New Rules" segment on his show, and regular blog, he has some very poignant comments. Especially about why in the hell they are drug-testing librarians. Dear me.
As long as they still allow people like that to satirize what needs to be satirized, then I suppose all the civil liberties in that country have not yet been abolished in the name of fighting terror. How do you fight a noun, anyway? With a verb?

OneGoodMove seems to be still posting these handy clips, but the days of mass circulation from the likes of YouTube may be over. Fun while it lasted, but that's corporate life for you.

In the What's-Wrong-With-This-Picture-Dept: Ford Auto Company posts a $5 billion dollar loss in the last quarter, while Google continues to please investors with a $750 million dollar profit. That's per quarter, folks. 3 months.

I remember hiking in the Cascade mountains many years ago, with the majestic Mt St Helens and Glacier Peak always in view. It was a great place to be in the fall, with apple orchards on the eastern side for some between-semester income during University days, and the San Juan archipelago on the western side with all its hidden isles and great sailing. The Mountain Larch is one of the striking icons of these ranges, a gorgeous golden display on a deciduous conifer that now draws walkers and hikers at this time of year up to witness the fall color "Cascade Style". Must see area.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sympathetic Vibrations

"And it taught us more about living
Than we ever cared to know
But we came to find the secret
And we never let it go"

-Van Morrison

Now I know why they called it a cursor. Mine blinks defiantly at me on the screen in front of a grey day, almost taunting me to try and figure out what to write. There is nothing to figure out, and once I had gotten that, words and ideas emerge much easier.

I have written a bit lately about another great internet story, YouTube, a wildly popular user-friendly site that oh, just plays 100 million video clips a day for a hungry audience, and the bright young guys that just sold it to Google for a billion and a half and some change. These are not just tech stories or get-rich-quick American success stories either. These entrepreneurs and purveyors of a very disruptive technology called user-generated content, are the vanguard of the revolution in media that has been taking place over the last few years. A revolution taking place that effects the way we do just about everything in our lives. Particularly if we communicate, create, share, or otherwise collaborate with anyone on just about anything. Good luck to them. If you are interested in some of the videos that were posted over the year and a half of its independent life, drew huge audiences, and finally the attention of Google, NPR has an article and links to some of the most popular here. And they are not all frat-boy type prank videos, but mainly clips from mainstream media that gained massive sudience share by way of their uniquely simple platform and distribution.

It is not without its challenges however for the new owners, who have copywrite issues galore to deal with, and have already pulled 30,000 clips for that reason.

A Free Hugs campaign is something I definitely would not have seen anywhere else, and happy to have it forwarded. Worth a look.

Elsewhere in cyberspace, ominous clouds of greed appear to be gathering around the concept of Net Neutrality and cooperative commerce by none other than the providers of bandwitdth, (i.e. corporate media conglomerates) who apparently would like to enhance their position both financially as well as physically by deciding what content would be best for us to consume. Bill Moyers has an excellent article here, and a short video clip is here. Watch this space. It may not be the same for much longer.

Spring in New Zealand is a real hit-or-miss affair. We have the droves of "day trippers", boaties and other tourists out on the island looking for sunshine and creating long queues at the ferry terminal this weekend due to the Labour Day Holida. Sure enough, it is raining so hard right now, I can hardly hear Bob on the stereo. Great for the farms. Not so for holidaymakers trying to entertain the hordes of kids with boardgames I imagine.

Not quite the beginning of the camping season, most will find themselves supporting our local economy in the cafes or pubs today, before overloading the hopelessly under-resourced ferry system, which has at least 2 or 3 boats out of commission on one of the busiest holidays of the year. I think they blew another engine last week or something, I can't remember, it happens so often. Which is why I stay out here as much as I possibly can. Kayaks work well.

In grittier parts of the world, there is now a consensus of sorts that the debacle in Iraq, which many informed journalists have been declaring a disaster for the last 2 years, is finally reaching a Tipping Point, and major changes will ensue. Oh really? This Guardian article sums up the wasted bloodshed and political fallout in the U.S. as well as Britain.

Our local cinema is showing The Power of Community, How Cuba Survived Peak Oil again, a powerful doco detailing what happened in Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I like the approach that was taken, finding innovative and collaborative solutions on a local level to problems that seem too large on a global level.

Dwelling still in the realms of the global, I haven't been flying much recently, more due to timing and the hassles involved than anything else (though I would like to think I remain conscious of the carbon dioxide released from jet aircraft). Carbon trading is meant to be an incentive for us to "balance" the emissions we create from our activities with those that reduce those emissions. In case you are interested in how much CO2 is released on a flight from A to B, this Climate Care site is one that can inform you on such details. My sisters wedding in California next February now appears to be more expensive than I first imagined.

The Green Jet Setters have one more PR issue to deal with as a result.

Still, all one has to do is spend a few hours in the sun on a warm summers day down here in New Zealand, and it will become rapidly apparent something is not working in the atmosphere, and needs immediated attention (as will your skin from the super strong UVs).

A bigger picture of the Spinach/E.Coli problem in the States recently from besteselling author Michael Pollan (Botany of Desire and The Omnivores Dilemma).

And finally, for those of us who like to read alot, there are now (surprise!) digital readers that will download and carry lots of books around for you in yet another gadget. So far, not such good reviews, and personally, I like the feel of paper pages, rather than the scrolling a screen which often drives me mad on the computer. This review in Slate Magazine asks if the new Sony Reader is the new iPod for books. Er, not quite.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Cultural Momentum

"Relationships of ownership
They whisper in the wings
To those condemned to act accordingly
And wait for succeeding kings.
And I try to harmonize with songs
The lonesome sparrow sings
There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden"

-Bob Dylan

Yesterday, whilst mowing a large hillside of weeds in the tractor and listening attentively to the latest Eckhart Tolle offering The Findhorn Retreat on the trusty iPod, it occurred to me just what was happening. A nest of Pukekos was scampering for a hasty retreat, lest it come to rest under the tractor. Yikes! All safe and sound in the end with some NASCAR type driving. Tolle, the soft spoken German and author of the best selling non-fiction Power of Now, has in this latest recording continued sharing his conceptual thinking on presence of mind and the difference between form and formless. If you believe there is more to life than living, and more to death than dying, it will be understood and received with familiarity. If not, you won't make it very far through the 4 CD set.

Staying in the world of personalities, although most definitely in the worldly sense; two men I have come to enjoy listening to for their sense of humour and wit, as well as timing and intelligence are on this clip together. Yes, Jon Stewart on the David Letterman Show. Jon talks about his family, having the President of Pakistan on his show, and a few other tidbits. From the site of choice for the agnostic crowd, One Good Move.

Between the mystical underpinnings of a New Age guru to the world of cultural transformation, my media consumption can
be called anything but limited at the moment. The book I finished this weekend, called Escaping the Matrix by Richard Moore, is a convincingly well written indictment of current as well as historical "democratic" societies; using the metaphor of the Matrix as a vehicle for the manufactured reality perpetuated by the wealthy elite to keep power. His remedies for getting out of "dominator" type societies into more "participative" societies include optimistic but very plausible local action initiatives gaining momentum for eventual political revitalisation and cultural transformation. I could comment at length on this, having been a supporter of community and local initiatives as opposed to any type of centralised governing structure for many years. It hits home when I see the genesis of the movement in my own community on this island. An excerpt from the book sums up a bit on its own:

"The situation is much different, however, when people have sovereignty over their own communities, and when they use harmonisation instead of majority rule. Under such a democratic system, there is no tyranny to protect ourselves against: each of us participates equally in the decision-making process, and our concerns are taken into account along with everyone else's...The only fixed guarantees needed in a democratic society are guarantees that communities have sovereignty, and that participatory democracy be used to decide issues within and among communities. And the best guarantee for these things is a culture based on harmonisation."

A bit Utopian? Perhaps. But, if you live in a small community, and local decisions effect your life in a very direct way, you can see often how productive it is to switch from adversarial politics to collaborative. The local food movement, and the enormously popular CSA, is just one example.

Another great example, is the just recently named winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Muhammed Yunis, and the Grameen Bank he founded to make local loans to the local poor. In the process, he created a new economic movement called Microcredit. Primarily focused on the rural, and women, it is a system devised around collaborative effort that has been successful in lifting millions out of poverty. That has got to be a good thing.

Anything is possible.
And some things actually happen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Densely Saturated with Meaning

"Beauty is the moment of transition,
as if the form were ready to flow into other forms"

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don't normally write Letters to Editors, but it was a nasty day yesterday, with a Spring hailstorm that wreaked havoc on the wonderous beginning to an otherwise benign Spring. We have a passionate populus here on the island, and many are rightly concerned with the direction it will be taking with regards to future developments. So, much is played out in the 3 (yes three!) weekly newspapers that cover the changing demographics of our 8000 permanent residents. We have the pro-, we have the anti-, and we have the I-don't- care-I-just- want- to- make-money- on- my- house brigades, each reflected in their own type of periodical. One editor/publisher was spouting off about the demise of democracy hijacked by the "barrow-pushers", etc., and really needed to have a word with himself. So I helped. There's democracy for you.

Just in case no one has listened to my rants about the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, now showing regularly on NZ television, here is a video clip from a MSM source interviewing other media players who all agree that he has major influence on under 30's in the States, is one of the most trusted names on TV, and that spells trouble with a capital T for the established players. Great viewing.

Hong Kong's Standard newspaper with a view on the recent buy out of YouTube by Google.
30 million pairs of eyeballs each month! Advertisers only dream about that kind of attention. It was bound to attract interest from someone. And only 20 months old.

Whilst on video, if you are a reeeeal geek, and can figure out how to do some sort of complicated mathematical equations, Netflix will pay you ALOT of money to upgrade their rating system for DVD's so that it more accurately reflects what people like. It is a classsic upselling model that works well on the net. Think Amazon.Com's "others who bought this, also liked this..." sort of thing. Amazon does it brilliantly, I must admit.

Away from pixels and back on to the farm...No doubt the industrialised food chain is susceptible to more outbreaks of E.Coli and other bacterial problems, that are inherent in food that is sourced from farther and farther away, warehoused, and trucked, and stored, and... you get the picture. San Jose Mercury News gives the lowdown here. Business Week online jumps into the fray with the Organic Myth, being the next big ticket margin for Supermarket chains, who want it to go mainstream as soon as possible, because it is such a "growth category". Right. The problem is, if standards are inevitably lowered to make it into WalMart and Costco, then where is the stewardship of the land that is the backbone of the movement? Remember Small is Beautiful? At the crossroads, I am afraid. What is the point of buying organic if all the ingredients have been flown in from around the world, emitting tons of carbon dioxide in the process?

Also on health related topics, this oversimplified, but truthful article on water as an underrated part of our nutritional makeup form Alternet.

Finally, another great essay from the NPR series "This I Believe", on failure as a good thing, from a regular SF Chronicle columnist.

Nice to know. Hopefully not a habit, anyway.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Only The Strong Survive

"It is not a sign of good health
to be well adjusted to a sick society."

- J. Krishnamurti

I love American sports. They may have alot of their geopolitical and social priorities all twisted up in fear and greed, but man, do they do sports! Although admittedly, nothing can replace the "beautful game" of football, and in particular the European clubs, the Americans get pretty close with their playoff seasons in both basketball and baseball. Ever since coming down to the Antipodes, the flow and athleticism of rugby has surpassed girdiron or "American Football" for me, but the very uniquely American baseball and basketball showcase individual talents superbly. That can also be a problem for them on the world stage, as their is so much talent, that when they compete together representing the U.S., apart from the familiarity of their clubs, they do not do well. However, there is such tangible passion from the fans, great action, drama, and tactics that highlight the tremendous effort and concentraion that goes into being a professional athlete. These guys are focused. I have often wondered what it would feel like to walk off a stadium with 50,000 people applauding and congratulating your efforts in securing the victory for the home team. Adrenaline surging through the veins is the "juice" that keeps them going like nothing else. Some decide to artificially inject, but why take a needleful of it, when it is freely available after a great performance?

I have been to a couple of new sites recently that may be of interest to some, and certainly has me appreciating the hard work and imagination that goes into creating these entertaining and informative interactive media. Imagination Cubed allows one to draw and share artwork with others collaboratively, which would have all kinds of educational uses, especially to younger ones perhaps just getting their confidence in artistic endeavours. Qunu gives instant real-time help online for those tricky tech problems that may be slowing down your productivity at the keyboard, or just plain annoying you(yes, I have been there). Experts donate their time, and from there, it is up to you to get what you can from them. Both of these came from a great show on BBC called Click, keeping us abreast in laymans terms, with the fast paced world of IT and all its spinoffs. Great presenter and format.

Also worth sharing are a couple of very good docos that are available at, if not your local NetfLix or video shop. One is about the soul singers of the 60's and 70's from Stax records like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and the like, some of whom are still alive and performing, with all the amazing energy and rythm of 40 years ago. Only The Strong Survive, is an entertaining and informative DVD I would recommend to anyone who loves the old R&B and soul from the USA. They made it, and are still going.

The other is a PBS documentary called The Persuaders, all about the innovative and insidious efforts marketers are making in these times to separate you from your money. In this age of YouTube and MySpace, advertisers increasingly require a dialogue with consumers in order to keep their attention, rather than just broadcast messages at them. This kind of emotional branding helps sort out the clutter for us, so we know just exactly what we want. Products and services that reflect our values and lifestyle, and of course, they have just that. Yeah right. The best line in the whole film is someone defining what the secret of real persuasion is: Inducing a person to persude themselves. OK then.

On a totally different note, and one closer to my passion, would be the elegant and ephemeral work of Andy Goldsworthy, and Scottish artist whose sculptures made in collaboration with the natural world around him is shown brilliantly in the film Rivers and Tides. A truly great documentary, that I enjoy every time I see it.

There are some cultural highlights of a visual nature for your library. Before leaving this post, I must share one article which seemed to sum up well the futility of madness involved in recent shootings of Amish schoolgirls. From The Australian, as well as other sources, the media reports seem to focus on how the Amish have been able to accept and forgive such an horrendous violation of their peaceful lives. Perhaps even though they are not immune to the violence all around them, more people now realise why they choose to live the life they do. And how it helps them to stay together.

Whatever works.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Spring Shape-Shifting

"Reality is relative to the measuring apparatus."

In my regular wanderings through this virtual zeitgeist known commonly as the internet, the flavour of discussion often drifts towards the age old showdown of religion v. science. I don't know if it is as a result of the rise in fundamentalism, both in the Islamic and the Christian worlds, or the evolutionary demographic of the web-savy. It seems as common on news sites, as blogs, or threads to any number of articles and essays. It is almost as though the scientific community has decided to make an orchestrated attempt to bring reason, facts and evidence back into the dialogue, as a response to the perceived increasing dominance of religious based thought and infuence in international affairs. And it is not moderate religious thought, but extreme. Think Evangelical or Taliban. Either way it spells intolerance.

Scientific American has this summary of some the latest books on the debate.

An excerpt from Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion:

Fundamentalism And The Subversion of Science.

Fundamentalists know they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and they know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their belief. The truth of the holy book is an axiom, not the end product of a process of reasoning. The book is true, and if the evidence seems to contradict it, it is the evidence that must be thrown out, not the book. By contrast, what I, as a scientist, believe (for example, evolution) I believe not because of reading a holy book but because I have studied the evidence. It really is a very different matter. Books about evolution are believed not because they are holy. They are believed because they present overwhelming quantities of mutually buttressed evidence. In principle, a reader can go and check that evidence. When a science book is wrong, somebody eventually discovers the mistake and it is corrected in subsequent books. That conspicuously doesn't happen with holy books.

Maybe scientists are fundamentalist when it comes to defining in some abstract way what is meant by 'truth', but so is everybody else. I am no more fundamentalist when I say evolution is true than when I say it is true that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere. We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. No real fundamentalist would ever say anything like that.

It is all too easy to confuse fundamentalism with passion. I may well appear passionate when I defend evolution against a fundamentalist creationist, but this is not because of a rival fundamentalism of my own. It is because the evidence for evolution is overwhelmingly strong and I am passionately distressed that my oppenent can't see it - or, more usually refuses to look at it because it contradicts his holy book. My passion is increased when I think about how much the poor fundamentalists, and those whom they influence, are missing. The truths of evolution, along with many other scientific truths are so engrossingly fascinating and beautiful; how truly tragic to die having missed out on all that! Of course that makes me passionate. How could it not? But my belief in evolution is not fundamentalism, and it is not faith, because I know what it would take to change my mind, and I would gladly do so if the necessary evidence were forthcoming.

Or this from Sam Harris, author of the new book, Letter to a Christian Nation:

The conflict between science and religion is reducible to simple fact of human cognition and discourse; either a person has good reasons for what he believes, or he does not. If there were good reasons to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse, these beliefs would necessarily form part of our rational description of the universe. Everyone recognizes that to rely upon "faith" to decide specific questions of historical fact is ridiculous—that is, until the conversation turns to the origin of books like the Bible and the Koran, to the resurrection of Jesus, to Muhammad's conversation with the archangel Gabriel, or to any other religious dogma. It is time that we admitted that faith is nothing more than the license religious people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail.

What is our "rational description of the universe"? I don't know. Many are worried in places like the U.S. about the increasing overlap of Church and State. But even with these well known and respected writers and thinkers, intolerance is not far below the surface in their passionate pleas for rationalist, evidence-based thought. The rest is dogma, and has no place. How boring. How UNsatisfying.

I agree that taking something on someone's word, or blind faith in a concept is dangerous. Action without purpose ends up becoming ritual. Rituals become dogmas, and the whole spiral carries on for generations. But what these "scientists" need to understand, in their endless quest for proof and evidence to support the existence of something that may be beyond understanding, is that individual direct experience is as much evidence as one needs. But the experience may only be available to one who has tried the "experiment". I don't need a license to believe something, regardless of whether it is reasonable or not. And I consider myself a "reasonable" person. There may be other, or different scientific methods or experiments that have stood the test of time. Only when we can accept that this universe may not be all there is, will we be able to see a wider perspective, and tolerate those who believe in that which cannot be proven. For those who have gone beyond, it is not necessary either to be believed by anyone or to prove anything. It is the scientists that need to prove. They wave their "scientific method" around with as much fervour as those who wave their holy books.

As Evolution and Intelligent Design battle for the minds of the next generations, perhaps it could be that evolution is an intelligent design? Perhaps it is precisely because we can see the proof for species evolving, it will motivate us to seek more proof, however that comes, for the reasons why. Could something as intricately interwoven and beautiful as this universe be as random as a big bang?

Some thoughts to ponder as I take my daily walk, and listen. Much the same as this contributor to NPR's This I Believe series. More listening can only help us to communicate better.

And that has to be a good thing.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Cultural Creativity

"Beauty is the moment of transition,
as if the form were just ready to flow
into other forms."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

On the island, we only give the last four digits of our phone numbers. Everyone is on the same exchange, so there is no need to mention the prefix. It is another little reminder that I live in a small community; one that sells the local paper every Thursday at the community hall, where pensioners sit in the sun and read about everything from the increase in property taxes to access to the walking tracks to global warming. If one were so inclined to create a new culture, blending a bit of the old and a bit of the new, an island would be a good place to start.

And don't think for one moment the desire is not there, simmering just below the surface of the
warm beaches, bustling tourism and expanding vineyards. Communities that care open frequent dialogues and look to be inclusive in their process. A diverse and changing demographic makes it a challenge worth pusuing, and one that becomes even more relevant.

It has been a long and chilly winter, and the remnants will still be felt now and again for the next few weeks; but the recent rays of warmth have given us a flush of longer days, and the beaches draw sun worshippers, kayakers, and walkers. The tubulence of the winter sea has given way to calm glassy conditions, with only the drone of an ocassional outboard motor and occupants busily pursuing their maritime pleasures. My neighbor tows his boat down our road with his tractor at the crack of dawn and again at dusk for quick forays out to his secret fishing spots. The local paradise duck family, split up over the winter when their brood flew away, have now re-united and 7 young ducklings waddle around the foreshore. And of course, the lushness of the native bush reveal a host of flora and fauna delivering their unique brand of colorful propagation frenzy each day.

Meanwhile in a parallel universe, those of us flirting with the digital world as well, continue to find all its fascinating opportunities and new developments most intriguing. It boggles this mind to read that a site on the web like YouTube, shows 30 million videos a day. The rise and rise of user generated content on the internet is a phenomena that shows no signs of slowing, and even now has become the new targe of hackers. I certainly have noticed a marked increase in the spam and phishing emails I get since I started blogging. However, that won't stop people from creating and sharing their words, photos, music and videos on the web. The social networking, games, blogs, and news sites all have one thing in common that makes it such a real revolution: they are all interactive. Apparently now, in the age of Web 2.0, those who use this medium for whatever purpose, overhwelmingly want to participate rather than just absorb. It is definitely the beginning of a new communication model, and one that, with all its possible dark sides, will eventuall prove to be a turning point for our cultures, just like the telephone and television, only far more powerful in its reach and impact.

Must get down to feed the ducks now. I am a bit sore from some heavy equipment operation this week, but the olives we planted will no doubt make their mark on the landscape soon, and provide oil in a few years as well. In the meantime, my salad garden needs attention, the trusty truck is off to a new owner, and a great Reggae band is here for the weekend. Wowsa.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Here and There

"If you would be a real seeker after truth,
it is necessary that at least once in your life
you doubt as far as possible, all things"

-Rene Descartes

After reading of the E.Coli breakout in the U.S. recently both here in the LA Times, and here in NPR , I was immediately taken back a few years to when I was managing multiple farm sites in New Zealand and Australia growing baby spinach and salad greens. Our main objective was of course, to deliver fresh, wholesome produce to our customers as quickly as possible. In Melbourne, we delivered the same day it was harvested, and it was in restaurants that night or the next day. In New Zealand, the same thing. Only when we started sending it to Tokyo and beyond, did we start to experience problems with shelf life and higher bacteria levels. Nowhere in the reports to date, have I found anyone talking about the transport problems and cool-chain that must be strictly followed as a source of the problem.

Fresh produce is supposed to be just that. Fresh. But because we don't grow and eat our food locally anymore, we tend to eat vegetables and fruit that have travelled long distances and spent many days before reaching our mouths. There are many reasons why this has happened, and the strain of E.Coli bacteria that is making people sick in the U.S. right now is just another symptom of an industrialised food system that is not working. For every hour spinach (and many leafy greens for that matter) is above optimum storage temp (4 -7 deg C) it loses a day in shelf life. So the more it travels, not only does the cost go up, the quality goes down, the risk of hitting a "break in the cool chain" increases, and the bacteria sets in. Eat local if you can. The finger pointing at organic produce and use of manures etc is well, just that. Bullshit.

Catherine Austin Fitts of Solari came and spoke on the island recently, and her background of high level finance and investment banking as well as government work with the first Bush administration got her into some hot water a few years ago, and her story is compelling. Apparently if something can save money for the taxpayer, it doesn't necesarily mean it will get a look in, as far as government is concerned. Fees for Friends is what counts. Try to stop that and red flags come up everywhere. Uh hello?

What she and her new company seek to do now is inform those who care, about investment models that are local, sustainable and most importantly, have integrity. Our little (or bigger as the case may be) savings, investments, pensions, etc are eagerly funding companies that may or may not be supporting the kind of world we want for ourselves and our children. Best to know where it is, because if we are not part of the solution, we very well could be part of the problem.

Her well written review of Al Gore's doco, An Inconvenient Truth brings up some interesting points that he clearly omits in the film. Like who caused this all to happen, and why?

But in India, the discovery of a new bird species is great news. The ongoing high suicide rate by small farmers who are crushed by debt pushed onto them by mutinational GE seed companies, is not. As this NYTimes article points out, they are led to believe their only salvation is (expensive) GE cotton, which will give them extra yields of disease free crops. Yeah right.

If you regularly share a bed with someone, then there is an excellent study recently completed by Dr. Paul Rosenblatt of the University of Minnesota that may be of interest to you as this NYT article points out:

"In researching his book, Dr. Rosenblatt said even though many couples said they slept better alone, they still shared a bed. 'When I asked why, they looked at me as if I’d asked them why they keep breathing,' he said."

The days are getting longer as Spring slowly makes its way down here to us in the Southern Hemisphere. The first shoots from the grape buds are just emerging, the tuis and kererus are busy feeding off the many flowering trees, and the rays of the sun's warmth are oh, so welcome. The seasonal westerly winds that crash the waves up on the slippery rocks below my house create a symphonic healing balm for my soul on nights that are still a bit chilly, but hold promise for the playful summer ahead.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Books and Lonely Girls

"Now that all your worry has proved such an unlucrative business,
why not find a better job?"


I grew up in Southern California in the 60's and 70's, and the music that was being created in both the northern and southern parts of the state at that time is still being listened to many decades to later. Out of Laurel Canyon came the Byrds, Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Eagles, The Doors, and well, you get the idea... And up in the (SF) Bay Area were icons such as The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Grace Slick, and The Sons of Champlin. A new book reviewed on NPR details the life of the Laurel Canyon (LA) crowd and the special sound that came from that time and place. It seems like a long time ago, but oh, so much fun to hear about again.

Back to the present, if you are the festival type, the Burning Man is one of the biggest still in existence in the Golden State, and a webcam captures all the action of that now famous creation in the desert that appears and disappears in the space of a couple of weeks, full of music and art.

But back here in New Zealand, I have the Going West Books and Writers Literary Festival out in the beautiful Waitakere Mountains next weekend, which is focused on local writing talent, of which we have plenty. Many of the same authors have appeared this year in The Book Show, a weekly TV show my daughter helped produce. We watched the last episode of the first series together last night in a weekend of torrential Spring rain. I enjoyed seeing her name roll by in the credits, which must be a "dad" thing.

After that, I will have to get out to the island pretty quickly, as another speaker from out of the country is spending time with us imparting informative sustainable investing advice. Catherine Austin Fitts of Solari will be speaking on Waiheke after doing some work in Wellington and other parts of the country with Scoop. A old friend of mine Anais Starr of The Center in Montana is in NZ assisting her, and I look forward to showing them some kiwi hospitality, "Waiheke" style.

And as always, to finish on a another shining example in cyberspace of what author Henry Jenkins calls "convergence culture": the online diary of "Lonely Girl 15", has been described by the New York Times in this article as the "birth of a new art form." I am not sure I would go that far, but the experiment by some art students with a series of You Tube videos that chronicles the life and loves of a young woman had the internet abuzz as to whether it was real or just some marketing hype. Does it really matter? Cute girl, cute stories, well edited, and I say, go for it.
And have fun doing it, whatever it is called(Just don't start with the product placements..PLEASE).
And now I know for sure what all those people sitting in offices are doing behind their computers all day!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Spring 2.0

"When you think that you have lost everything,
You find out you can always lose a little more.
I've been walking through the middle of nowhere,
Tryin to get to Heaven before they close the door"
-Bob Dylan

The release of a new Bob Dylan album (do we still call them albums?) or CD, is always cause for excitement, as well as a bit of nostalgia, and it would seem by a large margin the critics have acclaimed his new release, Modern Times a success, whatever that means. For such an enigmatic and influential artist, who some have called one of the great poets of our time, reviews probably don't mean much. As part or the "trilogy" of albums starting with Time Out of Mind, and then Love and Theft, this is supposed to be the best. I am really looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

The equinox not quite here yet, and blasts of wintery air still whip up from the Antarctic, but the feel of Spring is definitely in the air. All our grape vines are pruned and tied down to the wires, awaiting the warmth to burst into life. Pushing through to get the job done, the ladies said a night out would be the perfect incentive to finish on time, and I agreed. Not a pub person myself, it was however,a bit of fun with great live music and kickin' up the heals to a band named September (of course) and a 6th Birthday party for the Irish watering hole called Malones on the island. Suffice to say, my staff were not able to make it to work the next day...

Later the next day I was mingling at one of our monthly gatherings with members of the Waiheke Winegrowers Association, exchanging viticultural knowledge and social time. I started refelecting on the paradoxical nature of some of my social and professional interactions. I deal with people at the extreme ends of the socio-economic scale in my business, and realise everyone has something to offer, regardless of how much money or land they might have or not. Intent and attitude play a big part in my willingness to stay engaged or continue to associate with people. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Who are these so called Power Elites? Do they really have so much power? We'll see.

This NYTimes columist wonders where all the activists have gone after listening to a Crosby Stills Nash and Young concert. Where indeed. It maybe that this is a generation that instead of taking to the streets with the banners and facing the wrath of the National Guard, the digital world is providing a varied and fertile ground for slowly cultivating an underlying change in consciousness. So much of the benefits of the new media revolution come from the interactivity. When people feel they have a voice, then things start to happen, and when it becomes painfuly obvious that certain practices within our societies and cultures are totally unsustainable, a groundswell starts. Usually when it hits the wallet!

This article from Grist magazine lays out (once again) another strong case for knowing where and how your food is grown, and what the consequences can be when the fossil fuels become too expensive, or gone completely. I don't know whether it is because I have farmed most of my life, or whether it is the timing, but more and more people in my global circle are concerned and taking action one way or another about improving their food supply. The fact that the average distance travelled for most fresh? food in the US is 1500 miles from farm to table, is just another example of something that can not last. New models are evolving successfully, new generations are seeing the urgency. Farmers Markets, Community Supported Agriculture, Organics, and Bio Dynamics are all seeing huge growth patterns in the field and in the shops.

Once in awhile a great sporting event takes grip like with the drama and suspense (if you are a sporting fan) that is overwhelming. Andre Agassi has been at the top of tennis for 20 years, which is a long time, and although it is now dominated by a superb Swiss at the moment, Agassi's evolution and comebacks over the years have been inspirational. His 5 set victory the other night against an up and coming player 15 yrs younger before a packed NY crowd was pure theatre. Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, Roger Federer all have (or had) a spell of dominance in their respective sports like no others before them. Maybe Agassi never reached that pinnacle of superiority, but his greatness lies in the longevity of his efforts over the years, and have won him the hearts of many. Tennis will be the poorer without him. What a match.

He did lose in the 3rd round, but as this excellent article summarises, has the respect of both his peers and fans as he heads into retirement.

Finally in the Don't Try This at Home (or airport) Dept, this joker was so sick of the peculiarities of airport security, he had to see if there was some way to make a point without doing any harm. Probably a bit stupid, definitely a bit bold, but also a few laughs in there as well.

Not flying anywhere myself for awhile. Good thing too.

Friday, August 25, 2006


"Imagination is more important
than knowledge."

-Albert Einstein

One of the many buzz words used in describing the complexities of the "new" media is convergence. I think I got a good idea of what is meant this week. Oxford describes it as "a coming together or towards the same point." The guys at Google, however, have much bigger ideas. Simply put, they want to organise all the information in the world into accessible (through them of course) and convenient services. That's a big task. Personally, I enjoy turning the pages of a good book, and the feel it has in my hands. I don't really need to read everything online. I suppose some people do. That's what they are betting, anyway.

Because in farming I can spend hours sitting on a tractor, I like to be informed and entertained, and podcasts are a brilliant way of doing that. The concept of convergence dawned on me as I was listening to a BBC Archive documentary downloaded that morning, about what is actually going on in this fastest of growing internet companies, and enjoying the tour of their California facilities from my tractor in New Zealand by a British Broadcaster. That night, as I was channel surfing for a decent movie, I switched to the National Radio, where the same programme was being played over my satellite TV connection. That is convergence. The old model of having a "broadcast" pushed on us through one device is replaced by our ability to pull the content we want in a "narrowcast" delivery, i.e. when we like, how we like, and on what what we like. A growing number of different formats and distribution channels available on a growing number of different types of devices, all to reach a single point: the mind of the consumer. A quiet but very significant change in our media consumption patterns.

And don't think those admen aren't thinking of new ways to get you to consume more products as fast as they can in this new environment, either. That's why, when you do a Google search, your key words are sought out feverishly by companies who pay Google big bucks to have their ads come up in nanoseconds along with your search results, just in case you want to buy something related to whatever it is you are searching for. Pretty clever. Clever enough anyway to get the geek founders a few billion in their pockets.

A good friend and mentor once told me there was no shortage of information, only a shortage of attention. I think about that often, as I keenly take part in as many new media adventures as I am able. Not that I am addicted to information, it is more a fascination with the convergence factor that I am looking at. I like to stay informed in order to make personal choices that will best reflect my values and priorties. Social networking sites that have become so popular like MySpace and Facebook, have no appeal to me. I prefer to look someone in the eye and communicate, particularly if it is a matter of getting to know them for the first time. Typing in a social context? I don't think so.

And I am glad that those clever chaps that sit behind computer screens all day are coming up with useable gadgets, too. Like the record player that will play your vinyl, and convert (there it is again) it at the same time to a CD. I don't know, but I think the same is available for audiocassettes, another one of those anachronistic products from oh, so many decades ago. Although gathering from what the sage of sages Bob Dylan has to say in a recent Rolling Stone article, nothing much is worth listening to now anyway, because the recording is so poor. Having seen the Bob live in concert, I know what he means, but we have what we have.

In another universe, or one that exists outside of the digital realm anyway, the astronomers who seem to like to do this sort of thing, have decided Pluto is no longer a planet. I don't know what that means to my astrology chart, but hopefully they will find some more interesting science to report on in space other than nomenclature.

If that is a Mission Impossible, it won't be starring the overexposed and outspoken Tom Cruise, who has parted ways with one of the big studios in Hollywood, with all parties claiming the high ground. Never a fan myself, I recognise similarities to very cultish and arrogant behaviour in his shameless self marketing. What Scientology has to offer as a base of understanding has not been well served by his example in my opinion. Who knows, maybe they all did land here in space ships millions of years ago? Perhaps they could return and take their celebrity type converts back for some more relaxed re-programming. Converge, baby!