Thursday, June 29, 2006

Once Upon A Time

"It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves,
and it is not possible to find it elsewhere."

I listened to a critic of the movie "The Da Vinci Code" recently, and whilst he was clearly threatened by an alternative view of history the movie suggests, he did come up with the term "exploiting illusions", which I found fascinating. There is always another side to every story, and this one, which has had more pages written about it in the last couple of months than I care to think about, is simply another one. Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Leonardo Da Vinci are all without doubt huge historical figures worth understanding and celebrating. However, institutions that evolve primarily to protect certain stories will always arouse my suspicion. What is an illusion, after all? None of us were there, and so as a result, we seek to understand the truth through others who have written down what they perceived to be true. The book does a good job of stirring up undercurrents of discord concerning the "official" version of history, that the movie fails to produce in my opinion. I am not a big conspiracy theorist, as there are far too many to count, but I will always strive to understand more than what is simply served up. Intent can often be underrated as a tool of interpretation.

That may be just the influence of the kind of social values tribe I reside in, as so articulately described in a recent dabble with an online survey here. I have done these before, but this one from a Canadian company, takes only 10 min and is more cultural and demographic than political or personality driven. My "Connected Enthusiast", with a touch of "Autonomous Rebel", did give some pause for reflection. Apparently my main motivations are self exploration and experience seeking, and key values are community and experimentation, with a bit of hedonism thrown in for laughs. Alrighty then, good food for thought. Give it a whirl.

Whatever my driving force, and I belive there are many, the story of two of the richest men in the world collaborating on a new philanthropic model is heartening to me. although some could see it as a way of consolidating World Domination, I am optimistic on this one. Even the wealthiest governments in the world do not seem to have the political will or scrotal fortitude to tackle seriously the primary issues of health and education in developing countries. Politicians have to make their decisions based on getting re-elected. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have no such problems. Friends for awhile it would seem, this excellent synopsis of the latest turn in their relationship, shows some fascinating insights into the world of capitalism's premier class. Mostly outspoken Buffet, who made his fortune in the stock market, doesn't see capitalism working for the poor. Really? Still, anyone who stands back and gifts $30 billion to a friend and says dispense how you see fit as long as it addresses the problems of disease and education, must be getting some clear messages from somewhere.

The World Cup gets to the business end this weekend, with quarter finals tasty enough for anyone to get excited about, as long as they are a football fan. There are a few of those around, apparently... The time difference here means that the legions of England supporters will be up and down to the pub or wherever to watch the game at, er, 3 a.m! I had to pass on an offer, but will see the game if not live, then shortly thereafter, most likely from under the duvet!

At the other end of town, the cultural capital built up over the last few years by The Auckland Film Festival means I have the schedule bookmarked and can rest assured to have some mind boggling visual entertainment and information coming my way through the big screen. There can surely be better ways to spend a grotty winter eve, but I haven't found too many yet...

Friday, June 23, 2006


Mai 'ena i ke kanaka i lak aku
(Do not shy away from a person who is attracted to you)

ersonal Research on Being Everywhere has led me to believe we are nowhere.

Having studied mystics from all walks of life and religions for many years, this is not a conclusion I come to lightly. But I am also a bit media obsessed, and finding quality information, opinion and entertainment in whatever format is simply getting harder all the time.
What passes for most mainstream news (msn in blogger jargon) today seems no more than canned audience-grabbing devoid of any real passion and urgency. A few periodicals withstanding, it takes some time hunting through the internet to find the quality. Maybe I shouldn't care so much, and just read what I can get to. Books have often been described as "the most powerful weapons available", and I couldn't agree more. There just seems a bit more at stake these days. Or, maybe it's just me.

However, once in awhile, the whole inquistive nature thing has its rewards, as in the Annual Cartoon and Comic Book Art Festival, which features an 8yr old prodigy, churning out the comic strips as fast as she can think them up. You go girl! The clip comes courtesy of a video blog named Rocket Boom, which apparently has a nice young woman giving the news she feels comfortable sharing. Well done to you both. I knew that my curiosity would be satiated at some point with something both creative and enjoyable.

The Melbourne Herald Sun reports the earth is the hottest it has been in 400 years, and again, I would always wonder about the record keeping back then... but whatever.However, The Friends of the Earth site in Australia has some very useful links if you are so inclined to help with the cooling...It really is nice to know that former presidental candidate Al Gore is making an impact with his road show and documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which I am looking forward to seeing. The warming has not yet reached New Zealand however, as the whole country shivers under major snowfalls and power outages. Meanwhile, they argue in Parliament over whether dogs should be microchipped, and send off an 85 yr old serial shoplifter to jail. Gimme a break. Or him.

By the way, if you work in downtown Sydney, (and most likely in many metropolitan cities), you will have been told to pack a map, a flashlight and some food under your desk, just in case of well, you know what. But don't worry, we have your security in mind. It's just that fear works so well.

And if you are a fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, or Anderson Cooper of CNN, then you will enjoy this lively interchange between two of the rising stars in American media. One is a comedian, thankfully. I mean if we can't laugh at some of what is going on then well, er, maybe it's time to do something else, or go somewhere else. I am about as far away as I can get at the moment, but any suggestions will be listened to.

Right now there is some warm lentil dal on the stove, and for a cold Friday, when the World Cup is just getting interesting, well then maybe this is somewhere after all. Who knows?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

An Aquarian Thing

" Loss is nothing else but change,
And change is nature's delight"
-Marcus Aurelius

I have thoroughly enjoyed the downloads from NPR in the last year, many of their programmes are superbly done, and the new Radio Expeditions, a collaboration with the National Geographic Society, is certainly no exception. Celebrating and exploring the natural world and cultural diversity, the latest episodes have been in the Himalayas, which will always get my attention, having been there on a number of treks. Investigating the effects of climate change on the alpine environment and the state of medicinal plants found in high altitudes, the professionally done productions take the listener to some very far away places in just a few minutes. Have a look, and listen if you can.

Meanwhile, back in the cultural immersion pod... as a long time music afficianado, this NYTimes article on a resurgent festival season in the U.S. with leading proponents bringing a kind of "freak folk" back to centre stage was heartwarming. No, the hippies have not gone away yet and don't hold your breath, these committed musicians are a whole new generation. Any artist taking their craft seriously and living a life that supports that principle as best they can will always have my support. A first time performance down under next summer of one of my favourite musicians, Eric Clapton, would appear to be a somewhat different (and closed) affair for the "members" of the Hawkes Bay Mission Estate Concert series. Not exactly how I remember seeing him (more than just) a few years back with Derek and the Dominos. Now playing to middle aged chardonnay-sipping boomers, he still can do the business, it just may be more appealing to the Rod Stewart set. But then hey, good for them. I mean, we are talking about those infamous species... 60's rock guitarists!

However they have more urgent problems in Australia, where the Army is being called in to stop the relentless stampede of...cane toads! OK then. Extreme measures for extreme situations I suppose. I often think of Australia in that way. Extreme. Weather, wildlife, or (what else begins with W?) It has offered up to me in the past some of the heaviest rainfall, hottest days, biggest surf, longest roads, and now...cane toads. Let me know what I can do.

In New Zealand, the (sort of) streaker with an interesting past (that's always going to come up in these situations, eh?) at one recent rugby match has auctioned off her bikini for a little over $4000, and the Japanese have managed to bribe some of our Pacific neighbors into voting against the moratorium on whaling down here. Wassup with that? Have they not learned to leave those creatures alone YET? Never a dull moment in the Land of the Long White Cloud...

Staying with Aotearoa, the Maori New Year, or Matariki, is being celebrated this month, and for those with the burning desire to know more, it translates into The Eyes of the Lord, and refers to the small grouping of stars (called pleiades by others) rising in the Northeast sky on June 2. Matariki begins on the first new moon after this, which is June 27. Te Papa Museum has a nice summary of the significance here. Any celebration giving thanks and respect to the source of life is worth mentioning in my view. Meanwhile, the solstice is here now, which for those of us who work the land means (in this hemisphere anyway), we are now at the point of our shortest day, the soil temperatures to start rising soon, hopefully along with the air!

Kia Kaha and Aloha

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Winter Wanderings

"Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted"

-Albert Einstein

It would appear that more than a little of my current "social jet lag" would be due to the myriad of sporting events that taunt me endlessly to witness superb physical prowess in action.

This weekend, one in which the weather seems to all too willing to allow me some indoor time to watch grown men chase balls around. Wassup with that? Well, in no order of particular priority they occur: a) on beautiful tree lined grassy walks by those with corporate logos engraved on their hats and shirts, hitting a small white ball into a cup in the ground, b) on a hardwood floor by giants trying to stuff (with their hands only) a slightly larger ball through a netted hoop 10ft off the ground, and c) In a stadium with a slightly smaller round ball not to be touched by the hands at all, but kicked into a net; dubbed "the beautiful game", it is supported by colourful fans around the globe. This year their month long party is in Germany.

A bit odd I think at times, all this interest; yet sporting contests remain for me one of the most intriguing of all human activities by no other reason than they are still (by most accounts) unpredictable. In almost all other current events, a certain level of predictability creeps in. Terror strikes? Fuel prices? Government policies? (Big) business as usual, really. Not a cynical analysis as much as a pragmatic one given the current environment. But with the athletes on the course, the court or the pitch, I remain optimistic the random outcomes really are a result of effort and synergy as well as preparation. Maybe I am just dreaming. As one who has taken part in the many of the sporting events taking world stage presently, I would only hope the hard work does have as much effect on the results as destiny. It is fun to think it does, anyway.
Perhaps I should just admit to myself that the stirring and emotional national anthems, hakas and sense of culture and place play into my tribal feelings for goodwill on earth. Who knows what language they are speaking with 32 different countries competing, and who cares. If we can play football together, we can surely talk over differences.

The USA, always an underdog at these world tournaments, do have their fair share of fans, even if they are from another country and enjoy just being able to watch the game there. As difficult as that may be at times.

And what a party. Colours, passion, culture. Oh yea, and let'snot forget the "style factor" with these footballers. Worldwide trends hang in the balance depending on the latest hairstyle from Beckham. Or did anyway, he has grown up a bit, and I might say a better player as well.

Meanwhile Bill Gates (nothing to do with sports, oddly enough) plays his part on the stage by stepping off it, and in the process actually doing more than most governments to address chronic problems in health and education worldwide through his philanthropy, always a noble profession. Love him or loathe him, as this article suggests, he is actually getting the mosquito nets to those who need them. A simple thing really, and someone with the resources in doing something about it. I like that.

What I don't like is baseball teams serving as recruitment centres for Christian evangelists, or the President of the U.S. trying to be funny (he is not).

As a former rock fan at numerous memorable (not so much now, but you get the point) concerts, I am always interested in "the best live concert" recording claim, which depending on who you talk to, usually falls somewhere around the Rolling Stones. I have always been partial to the Allman Bros live at the Fillmore East, but as this intrepid reporter claims, and I would have to give some credence to, the Who Live at Leeds, was " total visceral excitement". Guess I shoulda been there. It was hard to be everywhere in the early 70's, though many tried.

As the gadgets appear to manifest rapidly in both number and complexity, the technology to serve them increasingly is found online as well. Why go anywhere, see anything, or have anything tangible when it can all be done online? As far as the digital information and entertainment world goes, that is rapidly becoming the case. Got photos or a video? Edit and show them through online tools. Encyclopedias, libraries, and doctors visits all fit the model. So, not only is the internet become the fastest distributor of content in history, but now the sophicticated production processes can be done there as well. Whatever your needs, it is there online, as this NYTimes article points out.
Just in case you might be tempted to take your eyes away from the sponsors ads for a moment..

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Waves (part 2)

"True generosity toward the future
Consists in giving everything to the present"

Albert Camus

Kamehameha made short work of the unfortunate souls who inhabited Hawai'i before him (see above from the Pali pass), and as a result probably was a bit occupied with matters warrior-like to really enjoy what the Hawai'ians are duly famous for: surfing.

However, the man they refer to as simply "the Duke," Kahanamoku was aptly referred to as a real "water man," and brought surfing to the world in the first half of the 20th century. Then came a steady stream of outstanding surfers and watermen in the late 50's and 60's that gained notoriety by conquering the monsterous surf of the North Shore. This group was led by some wild and talented haole (white boys) from California, but it gained the respect and mana of the local Hawai'ians when a youth by the name of Eddie Aikau began both taming the building-sized waves and rescuing the hapless souls at now famous beaches like Sunset and Waimea Bay. In his excellent book Eddie Would Go, author Stuart Coleman traces this the short life of this iconic figure in Hawai'ian history with detail and verve. He died as he lived, in the water, trying to save others, this time from a capsized boat rather than a surfing mishap. He did however, put alot of living into his 32 years, and for that he is remembered with great respect throughout the islands. He and his family represented the true mana and aloha spirit for which the islands are still regarded by many who love the sea and respect its power. A great read for anyone interested in Hawai'ian culture and history, as well as the story of a real hero.

These thoughts were swirling around my head as I waited for the next good set to roll in, not in any hurry to work my weary arms any more, and simply enjoying the beauty of the warm water. It is no accident the Islands were where surfing was born, and for those who ride waves, it is easy to see the reasons: great water temperature, coral reefs creating breaks of all kinds at countless beaches, the trade winds holding up surf for shape, and of course year round weather enticing one into the water, which is what most of the schoolkids do every afternoon, much like the mainland kids would go to baseball or soccer.

Speaking of which, "the beautiful game" of football's Big Bash called the World Cup is already showing signs of being a wide open tournament with plenty of surprises for all. Wearing yellow like favourites Brazil, Australia is fast making its way up the global ladder of international teams to note, with its thrilling 3-1 defeat of Japan.
I am not making any comparisons or predictions, but they are a fun team to watch, and coming from a New Zealander, that is sometimes a hard thing to say. England failed to impress, but got through their first match anyway, and of course their press was damning of them even in victory. Talk about high expectations! Yes, I know, it is hot, and yada yada..

Meanwhile, digital dilemmas continue to clog up the arteries of modern culture in ways we can only imagine from one day to the next. A friend of mine recently set up her site on the wildly popular, and after trolling through for a few minutes to find where it was, I was confronted by numerous offers to visit and "chat" with what is no doubt a growing number of (mainly) young people looking to meet others and announce their individuality in a way never before available. Your songs, videos, photos, blog, and indeed your self, for others to see. As only you can be. But, as this NYTimes article points out, get carried away (and why not?), you might find it showing up on a prospective employers screen, for better or worse. A new trend in reference checking now most definitely includes Googling job applicants to see what they have been up to online, which in many cases, is quite alot. I am not sure which generation this is mostly likely effecting, X, Y or Z, but in event, digital tracks are most certainly well, er, available. No doubt part of the wider trend (social epidemic?) of creating persona and identity that is individual and like no one else. This seems to be important, for reasons I will let the psychologists debate, but it is apparent in everything from playlists on iPods to cellphones to... whatever. Personal, digital, virtual and mobile are the key aspects, which seem to me more in line with setting up barriers rather than breaking them down. We shall see what the cultural microrythms bear out in the coming years.

I don't think I will be fronting up with suit and tie anytime or anywhere in the near future, so anyone (please!) can feel free to read what they want from my posts. This has particulaly hit home with the brilliant book I just read by Barbara Ehrenreich, called Bait and Switch - The Futile Pursuit of the American Dream. She has been called the "premier reporter on the underside of capitalism," a label I would agree with completely. Not seeking either the American Dream or the underside of capitalism, I nonetheless have had dealings with both, and find her style and substance in exposing the desperate measures unemployed corporate workers go to, and the industry waiting to serve them quite fascinating.

Now that the latest storm has passed over the island, I must dutifully encourage the "upside of capitalism," by providing some more services for currency, or in the local vernacular, push on.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Dylan on Descent

"I see my light come shining
From the West down to the East
Any day now, Any day now
I shall be realeased"

-Bob Dylan

At 7:08 am on 6/6/06, the sleek aircraft makes its way through one of the many layers of atmoshphere reeling from the activity below, and quietly brings islands of familiarity into focus for me. The red band of light in the east signifies another morning is approaching. I decide to put the trusty iPod into action for this last half hour or so whilst crossing the Hauraki Gulf and my home. The air looks cold, and the readings on the navigation helper on the screen say something like -58C, which I am hoping will warm considerably on the next 4000 or 5000mtrs of descent. It does, but not by much, and my body is in full adjustment mode as I promptly make my way through the Auckland traffic, onto the ferry and out to the end of the island.

The house is a bit moldy and dark from a months neglect; but a fire, some good Kona coffee and a walk on the beach help me get settled into the isolation and peaceful surroundings I call home.

There is nowhere quite like Aotearoa.

My astrologer friends tell me it is something to do with the Neptune effect or transit, but the fact is, I simply love being in and around water, and the warmer the better. When it is not warm, it is just nice to be around. A healing force if ever there was one.

On the healing front, I found a pretty good site called Consumer Lab that will test all your remedies for you, seeing as many of the appropriate agencies are at odds on what and how to test, let alone publish the results. Worth a look if gingko is your thing, or would like to find out more about a certain herb or remedy. I was surprised at some of what I found out.

I was heartened however, to see that one of my favourite athletes, Lance Armstrong, multiple winner of the Tour de France, has been cleared of any doping charges for the umpteenth time. Either he really is and has been clean, which I like to believe, or there is some pretty poor testing programme protocol. It's nice to think, however naive, that there are some extraordinary stories out there of mind over matter resulting in incredible physical performances. I'll steer clear of Barry Bonds and the Home Run record etc., even though I do like baseball. It is World Cup Time. Say no more.

Apparently it was time for the schools and universities to quit for the year up in the States (we have year round schooling here, and don't ask me what the difference is, just take my word for it, education is different in many ways from learning, which can at times only be done in life..) So, I have picked out the best Univeresity Commencement addresses for you by Bill Moyers here, and Stephen Colbert here. Both are talking to young people in America as they head out of the nest (or not), and try to make some sense of the world through the perspective they have presently, which will no doubt change dramatically over the coming years.

One of the great joys of being home is of course drinking the delicious water straight from my tap, and straight from the sky before that, by way of my roof, tank and filter. Not so lucky for many, and this article in the highly informative and upbeat Utne Reader, warns about the water predicament many are facing, and the hazards of all those ubiquitous plastic bottles..

The vineyard is in full colour at the moment, and so I am called out to attend to some winter testing and plans for the spring, which as we all know, comes sometime right after that Equinox leveler in the heavens. Happy June.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Reality Acquisition Devices

"Nature always wears the color of the Spirit"

Not really being a fan of her blog, which mainly consists of collectively hyper politicos trying desperately to get the dirt out of the system (can't blame them there), The Huffington Post however does at times have some links to creatively enjoyable cyber time. Today was a report on yet another Digital Conference, in my old stomping ground Southern California, where Bill Gates is starting to show signs of weariness in the bloodied software battleground, and a renewed passion for his philanthropy. Not a bad career choice if I do say so myself.

Another of my regular jaunts to the sunny isles of Hawai'i comes to a close this week as I head back to the other corner of what is oft described as the "Polynesian Triangle", namely Aoetearoa. Winter can be a bit long and challenging in the elemetal sphere, however it does definitely bring a certain sense of being alive to the forefront of existence. If indoor activities are necessary, the World Cup will be starting, and as this NYTimes post describes, perennial sentimental favourites England will once again have an opportunity to show what, if anything they can do with all that ridiculous talent.

Nothing indoor about the Isles of Hawai'i though, and that is one of the joys of being here. Any time day or night, people are out strolling on the beach, listening to the hypnotic local music and enjoying the tropical air. One of those famous "south swells" should be reaching our shores today, after a trip up the Pacific from Aeotearoa, and the surf will be once again the center of attention for those who live for the water. A clan I must admit, is very near and dear to my heart.

Can't leave here without making the most of some of my "Only in America" head shaking moments. Once again, the demographic gods have decided that there is a new target to market, and they are the LAT's (Living Alone Together). You don't want to get me started, and this article sums it up in good fashion sense for you. At least they have decided to take out the soda drinks from the schools, and many kudos for that brainstorm!

One of the many and varied situations I have managed to get involved in whilst here has to do with a friends dying mother. The care and attention we are able to give those who are about to make the most important transition of their life is indeed a worthwhile and important service. Fear of the unknown can be tremendous, so the comfort of the known is all that more precious. Hospice is a big organisation, and although helpful in this case, the real story has been the volunteers who come and sit, with all their various beliefs (or not) just out of generosity with their time. One of the ladies calls herself an "escort", and would be disappointed not to be there upon the passing. Whatever. It has worked well for my friend who finds himself in a growing category of the "sandwich generation", who have multiple responsiblities caring for their elderly parents as well as grown offspring.

And just so I can feel at home returning to little old NZ, this acerbic piece from the Australian paper The Age, poking a bit of Trans-Tasman fun at us now that we have reached a hefty 4 million population and finally decided to put PostCodes into the mail system. Post Modernism is what we are apparently approaching. Goodness, whatever will they think of next?