Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Possible Side Effects

"We are only aware
Of what we are aware of"

The climbing season in the Himalayas (as opposed to summer on Waiheke above), is a short window at this time of year where those with enough skill, or in many cases enough money, pride themselves on the achievements (which are indeed significant) of scaling the worlds highest peaks. Having spent time in Nepal and the Himalayas on a number of occasions, I have seen first hand what these expeditions involve. For myself, the base camp at Annapurna was plenty close enough to feel part of the mystery and majesty that isthe "roof of the world". For others though, nothing but scaling Everest will do, and many records have been set already this year including oldest, youngest, first for this country or that etc etc, and of course the double amputee from New Zealand. But by far the most heated debate has been about what to do in the "death zone" when a colleague is stopped mid-climb due to the severe lack of oxygen. A general rule I have heard before from many climbers is, that if you can't walk, you are left behind. The general premise being that it is too difficult to keep oneself alive, let alone anyone else. This is sport?

Anyway, as this article describes on MSNBC, and again in the Guardian, one climber that was left behind and managed to make it back to base camp alive after spending a night out alone on the mountain, a feat that has been accomplished before, but normally has fatal consequences. In fact, this is turning out to be the deadliest climbing season since the 1996 disasters described in Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air. The most likely reason being the combination of increased numbers as well as inexperienced "climbers" pushing beyond their limits in order to make another mark in their resume...

NPR has had a very good series on the Future of Fuel that are available as downloadable podcasts on their site, and I have posted about a couple of them, most notably (so far) was the report on cellulosic ethanol. Worth a look.

Bono keeps on highlighting what many choose to forget with his amazing run of influential and worthwhile jaunts to Africa, first to relieve debt and now to foster trade. Celebrity is not a station I find very useful in our cultures, and it is good to see in this case the opposite is true.

In the geekzone, not only is software available for your phone that, after a quick scan of the barcode will compare all local prices for you online while you are at the supermarket; but now if you gotta know something that others in your network may know, it is possible to search amongst friends and get that instant answer. Clever, but really necessary? And will you pay for it?

And last, but certainly not least, the alternative health care stories that won't go away, and most likely because they work. The Guardian has had a series on how the NHS in Britain despite objections still fund certain therapies (again, probably because they work), and has a few words on both homoeopathy and crystals, just in case you have an ailment that stand up to any more side effects..

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Nature and Nurture

"It will be a funky adventure..."

-Cosmo Kramer

When the temperature rarely changes from day to night, it often leaves me with a sense of ease in my environment, a prescient feeling of comfort that is harder to achieve when the elements are fluctuatung wildly in disarray. But that is nature, and I must learn to adapt to the notes in the song, not change the tune. It is always on key. I am not.

That said, it comes as no surprise when I read of our (as in us humans) collective encroachment into habitats causing problems in various parts of the globe. In Florida, it may be alligators, and in India tigers, and Australia it could be a shark. So, it is not a particularly unique American problem, it is only the press may take more notice of it here. They are not intruding into our space, I think it is the other way around. There are some places better left alone, I think is the theory.

Lots of discussion with the people I am working with at the moment on the whole GMO issue, which has not received a great deal of attention in Mainstream Media herein the States (what a surprise!) yet becoming insidiously prevelant. This article from the University of Chicago lays out yet another argument for a personal approach to Green Living via diet, for those interested in leaving a smaller impact on those much-talked-about and non renewable fossil fuel reserves. No prizes for guessing which diet is most fuel efficient.... Yup, it's thos veggies again. Not hard to figure out really, and ever since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring back in the 60's, the facts keep on coming.
Food labeling seems to be real problem here for those who wish to understand more about what they are putting into their bodies, particularly if the food contains GMOs. Pretty basic stuff really. I think personal choice is a powerful tool (and sometimes the most effective), because if we are not part of the solution, we really are part of the problem. It was Einstein, or one of those great minds that once said, "Example is not the best way to influence, it is the only way".

Speaking of which, that is one of the reasons I don't have alot of time for Americans complaining about the gas prices here, which are probably the lowest in the world, all while they are driving these huge, and I mean huge SUV's and trucks. Get over it. I can only imagine what all those celebrities on the Vanity Fair "Green Issue" drive.

Love that GREEN news, like the gift that just keeps on giving! Cellulosic ethanol, it turns out, is the most energy efficient process for making this biofuel, because the stalks and spent plant material that are used to break down into sugars (for fermenting) have already made their contribution, and the waste is the biomass required. Brilliant. A much more detailed (and probably accurate) assessment of this not-so-new-but highly touted technology, which is gaining momentum in Canada and the States can be found in this Wired article. You gotta be impressed. I am anyway.

Take a moment for yourself and read this piece from the NYTimes about how one multitasker sees her predicament. Wow, I sometimes don't know how fortunate I am! Is it the sandwich generation, or just folks loving their new gadgets?

A little history of The Geek Squad, a great business that so many of us may have wished despertely for on a frustrating hour or two at the keyboard....Now a part of a large chain, but certainly still retaining its character. Island calls?

"Lifestyle Treatments", is what they are labelling some of the pharmaceuticals that are being invented so that you too can have a disease and get some expensive new prescriptions. "Discuss with your doctor if ________is right for you", is the mantraon the saturation TV ads. C'mon, gimme a break! Restless leg syndrome, which I experience regularly, now has pills that are being pushed along with a host of other heretofore never heard of "conditions". A bit of energy surging through my leg at night might keep me awake for a moment or two, but it also lets me know I am very much alive and in my body (for better or worse), and which I am positive these little colured products of lab experiments can do nothing at all to enhance. All this research money for the wealthy with a twitch, and some yet some mosquito nets and clean water could actually save thousands of lives. The corporatisation of health care.

I do like the story of the Amazon tribe that simply walked out of the jungle and into a nearby town and world they had never seen before. Running out of food and not sure what to do, they have settled somewhat reluctantly, and are beginning to understand the basics of commerce. With no word in their vocabulary for "future" though, I wonder whether they are going to be better off. Reminds me of what Ghandi said when asked what he thought of Western Civilisation:
"I think it would be a good idea..."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Pacific Ponderings

There are many things about Hawai'i that are appealing to me, the least of which is that it is a part of the United States. I prefer the Polynesian culture immensely, and enjoyed reading this piece about Mark Twain's visits to the islands waaay back then.. Everything about island life is centered around the water and land, and the relationship to both, which is a close one. Everything about US culture seems to be about how big, how much and how fast. It just doesn't really fit. Never mind. Still a beautiful place to come work in the winter of New Zealand..

And it would appear that the biggest retailer in this country namely Wal Mart, is looking to add organics to their long list of profitable items. Hmmm. I am not sure if that really adds anything to the debate over sustaining our land and eating real food. In fact, I believe it could harm the movement by devaluing the hard work of local and small growers. A good synopsis from NY Times here.
Watch this space.

A great little cultural microrythm in Japan (where else) is Media Immersion Pods. As if you don't get saturated enough just walking through life, now you can cut out anything to do with nature, and just become one with the net, DVD's books, mags TV, whatever. In your own pod, for hours on end... A monitor is not reality, folks. Or is it? Or as Robin Williams said once, "Reality is for those who can't cope with drugs". Whatever.

Speaking of which, and I wasn't, but it is everywhere here, the Presidents of both Russia and Iran made fairly direct shots across the bow of the U.S recently, and in my opinion calling a spade a spade. Male egos, ...whew! The letter from the Iranian president was, although a bit long and rambling, I felt very sincere. I mean if you are going to be a fanatic, at least do it properly!

Back to the tropics where, in this part of the world they have lovely breezes that they call "trades", to keep the palm fronds swaying and the humidity very bearable. The other thing that is in abundance is the birds. They start at the crack of dawn, and their habitat allows a great many different songs and species to thrive. They love singing, and can they can do it, hundreds at a time!

Well done Hurricanes and Crusaders, for the Rugby-ites in New Zealand. My focus in the sporting world has been more on the "beautiful game' of football (soccer to some), and that will continue through the World Cup in June. I am happy to see that the man whom I consider to be the best footballer in the world, the Frenchman Thierry Henry , has signed again for his club Arsenal in England. Go Gunners. I missed both the FA Cup and the Champions League Final whilst here in Hawai'i, but thanks to a good wireless connection, was getting regular updates when I could dash in from my property development work and grab a quick fix. Hopefully I will have a replay back in NZ. Scarcely a mention of either match in the American media here, which is a shame, but they are wrapped up in the drawn out NBA playoffs.

And finally, for all the Simpsons fans out there, a great article from the BBC looking at the deeper philosophical underpinnings of satyrical cartooning. Brilliant. Finally, someone else sees what I have all along with that great show. If we can't laugh at ourselves and our bumblings like a truly humble Homer does, well, good luck.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Aroha and Aloha

The temperature is now a good 10 to 15 degrees warmer than when I left New Zealand, which by the way, was without a great deal of planning. I am usually thinking of the islands at this time of year, and it was fortunate that a good friend happened to be in the middle of hectic property development chaos, and really needed my help. Work being slow in New Zealand at this time of year means here I am! The refreshing trade winds rustling palm trees, my trusty laptop piggy backing on someone's wireless network, and my blogging carries on at the further end of Polynesia. Warm water. Great surf. Aloha spirit.

I don't consider myself an impulsive person, but I do like to have the flexibility to respond when opportunities arise, particularly when they are in places I love, doing work I enjoy, and well, yes getting paid for it as well is certainly a bonus. Funny that it isn't the most important part of the decision making process anymore, and probably should be...but so many other factors are involved. Health. Friendships. Adventure. All big deals for me.

One of the new occupants of the complex I am working on is a lifetime mathemetician, spending hours at his computer working out formulas on.. well, just about everything. He has a nice kayak and little trailer sailer that I want to get out on soon, but I am hopelessly fascinated by his theories of monetary complexities and investment models. Yes, I found out early today as I was in the middle of installing irrigation systems that gold has hit a 25 year high, reaching $US700. Terrific. Titanium is up as well, and the US dollar will be worth very little once Asia has its own currency, and the Euro stays strong. Actually, I would rather be surfing, but it does make one think about where to be when the s**t hits the fan soon. And I must say, I believe it will. His colourful graphs are kind of cool as well. They do show a real "trendency", which is a term entirely suitable for the situation. Being a trader in words, naturally I said "invest in that, why don't ya"?

" A rich man is not one who the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least".

So, Keith Richards falls out of a coconut tree in Fiji and needs brain surgery, 2 miners are trapped underground for 14 days in Tasmania and are rescued, the New Zealand government breaks up its monopolistic Telco and promises faster and cheaper broadband, US schools must stop selling coke etc in schools, and another CIA director quits ("I Know Nothing..."). All of which I had found interesting links to share from various media; but lo and behold dear reader at the present time, that is not possible. My wireless connection here on the outskirts of Kailua, amongst the flowering jacarandas and flame trees, and the vast warm Pacific is erratic at best. But hey, I made the effort to post and and share, and will continue to as long as I am able with merry tales of the eccentric and tropical. Both of which I seem to be heavily involved with.


Friday, May 05, 2006


We had a tsunami alert this week, and amongst other things that went through my mind, was definitely an urge to go and check out the surf over at Onetangi beach. Turns out the earthquake in Tonga did little to send anything down this way, let alone a tsunami. There is certainly no laughing mattter involved here, but as a long time wave lover, it is seldom we get any kind of swell that arrives here in the Gulf Islands with any veracity, so if anything was coming (like good surf), I wanted to be there. I suppose if there was anything really dangerous happening, the Civil Defense people would let us know right? I mean, I only live 50mtrs from the beach (albeit on the wrong side for anything like this, but still, I am close) But no, I heard nothing until I read about it after the fact on Google News. So much for emergency planning.

So, naturally the only logical thing to do is head off to Hawai'i when in need of some surf therapy. Yes, it is getting on winter here, and the lovely rain that keeps our country green and full of energy is falling with regularity. I don't mind the rain. In fact, there are fewer more comforting sounds than the drops of precious life giving water running off the roof into the tank and into the earth, while I am inside with the comforts of shelter and warmth. All living things rejoice with water. When it is combined with cooler weather, a slight problem starts to exist in the comfort zone. C'mon, you know what I am on about. I used to live in a place called Seattle, and it rained alot there, with cooler winds from the North, so I head down to the South Pacific. But hey, any further and I would have ended up in Antartica, which is where the wind comes from that chills New Zealand. Think about that one. Hawai'i is at the other end of the great oceanic region of Polynesia, and the two island groups have much in common. One thing they don't is the weather.

Something about getting thrashed around in the surf cleanses the body and mind in ways that are hard to replicate in other areas of life. In the movie Step Into Liquid, there was a great description of becoming part of another element in nature, one that is changing rapidly in complete immersion. Nothing is quite comparable. Fortunately, I have long time friends, ohana, that look for me at this time of year, and it makes the trips quite an adventure. I could stay in the ocean for hours, silently floating in another world, another element...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Island Living

"Language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction"

Harold Pinter

There are two ways of leaving an island. By air or by sea. Being as close to my usual destination (Auckland) as I am , the sea is my normal mode of transport. It is a calming 35 min journey, unless the northerly kicks up, and then there are a few white faces. The boats are generally on the hour, and during holidays they are overflowing with tourists, daytrippers, townies, as well as locals just trying to get home or to work.

Saturday morning at 8 is not generally a busy time to leave the island. Nevertheless, the coffee kiosk had its usual line up of bleary eyed suspects, including me, and the goth-esque teen with a coin-sized ring through his lip was doing his best to keep up. Still, the minutes ticked away until departure...6,5, then 4. the ferries don't care if you have a warm drink or not. I felt the pang of a combined caffeine need with missing-the-boat anxiety. Not pretty. Naturally I had already paid for my latte, and no one in their right mind would buy coffee on board, so the situation was quickly becoming dire. Other java-heads were also nervously watching the clock, the boat, and him in sustained glances that quickly became agitated. Juggling my laptop, paper, suitcase and coffee while producing my ticket is an act worthy of more practice, but in the end barista boy pulled his Heavy Metal hands into gear, and we were away on time, with a thundery downpour adding to the drama of a simple trip into town on a Saturday morning.

They say that one of the definitions of karma is "that which arranges your priorities" for you. That may be so. Those things which are most important should never be sacrificed for those which are least. Between the boat and the coffee however, there was a real dilemma: I needed both. A big shout out to "coffee guy". He jumped right into my karmic field of action and arranged my priorities for me. Nice one.

Among the more interesting social epidemics I follow in my role as an unofficial observer of humanity in action is what I call the "personal space syndrome". It is very evident with early morning ferry commuters, as well as pedestrians. Many are plugged into their media of choice, usually by earphones, with a signal to all that says "I am engaged". On the other hand, so much can be missed without a connection to the immediate environment. I was looking all around me, at the sea, the people, and the other islands as we sailed by, feeling the story behind each. They all have one.

Walking up the busiest street in downtown Auckland is an exercise in avoiding contact. Not just eye contact, but full physical. Some are talking on their cellphones, some are texting, some are listening to their iPods, and some are doing a combination of all three. Not many are aware of their surroundings. Pity the marketer in the 21st century. How to connect with these people? They don't watch commercial TV, they don't buy CD's anymore, and their world is made up of all that is digital/personal/virtual/mobile. What will they buy? More devices to stay connected? Perhaps. But to what are they connecting?

I probably sound old fashioned in championing the art of conversation and social engagement outside the digital realm. Imagination plays a big part in this practice of participatory observing, and judgement must cast aside to be effective. Apparently there is a world wide "Slow Life" movement, incorporating Slow Cities, and Slow Food, etc. I say good work. So much is missed when one is in a hurry. The seductive idea of being fully present in our daily life brings with it an image of expanding our awareness, and in the process becoming a better human being. Not a bad trade off for missing a boat or a coffee. Or both.