Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Ideal and the Practical

The Great Way is not difficult,
If you have no preferences.

Spending time in Auckland over the past weekend, it always makes me feel grateful to get back out to the peace and quiet of the island. Only a 35 min ferry ride, it can seem like the other side of the earth at times. For me, Auckland is a nice mid size city (1.5million - I guess that would be termed small for most) and that is the point. It has all the disadvantages of a city much larger, but very few of the advantages. Never mind. Talking about the traffic is something Aucklanders tire of very quickly.

This trip was a bit different.

No shopping or visiting friends or even being a culture vulture around the film festival. No, it was an opportunity to listen to a prominent speaker. He travels widely every year, speaks to large audiences around the world, and this time stopping off in Auckland on his way to Sydney. Three days of discourses, dialogue and generally expanding the current scope of understanding on topics as wide ranging as spiritual maturity, becoming a better human being, understanding v knowledge, and the ideal v the practical was invigorating. About 1500 came each day, and the cumulative effect was one of fullness and gratitude. I am always keen to learn, and this was no exception. Absolutely riveting. If I am going to attend events, then I want to come away with something, and this session did not disappoint. It could only be termed as a significant paradigm shift in my thinking.
It was one of those events that rarely happens in this life.

If you have ever listened to Bill Moyers speak on PBS, or read any of his work, the former theologian and presidential advisor to Lyndon Johnson presents some of the most humane logic and heartflet wit in the otherwise ethical void covering U.S. policy. Now another great columnist, Molly Ivins, has made public her desire to have him elected president.
A great article. Not a hope of success really, but ideas are the first step in the creative process, and certainly some creativity is needed there!

And if you are a Ricky Gervais (The Office and The Extras) fan, YouTube has a great little exchange with him on the Letterman show. Brilliant. Pity his podcasts are not free anymore, I nearly wet myself with laughter listening last summer.

The "online social forum of choice" MySpace, has caught the eye of many advertisers who want the attention ( and spending power) of its 90 million plus users. But it seems a bit "over the top", as they say, when the U.S. Marines, desparate for young live bodies to send to Iraq use it as a recruiting tool.

The reasoning has gone that Asian diets rich in soya protein of various kinds have seen populations with less heart disease and certain types of cancers. As this Guardian special report points out, there is more to the story, and buyer beware. I have recently been drawn more to the fermented soy product called tempeh, that apparently has less of the downside of the processing. Does anyone really know what they are getting in their food when it comes to the industrialised diet? I am, as it were, suspect of anything that is packaged.

The global markets multinational food companies target and "serve", means that the thousands of air, land and sea miles travelled by many food "products" require the additional processing to get it there looking anything like food. Shelf life is king for the retailer. Try reading almost any food packaging label and see if that is what you really want to be eating. Our lifestyles fit their business model perfectly.

Local food rocks. What more important consumer relationship is there?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Deep in the Earth

"To know that enough is enough
is to have always enough"
-Tao Te Ching

With the countries, states, proxies, and "states within states" in the Middle East all deciding more violence should be used in order to solve differences (that has worked well in the past 2000 years eh?), the area of the world producing 60% of the oil we use in our economies is again at serious risk of meltdown. Which makes the Peak Oil films at our local cinema last night that much more relevant viewing.

I never much get involved in all the conspiracy theories or "conspiracy facts" as many are claiming now, but the unfolding of events ever since the Twin Towers attack 5 years ago make a compelling study in human behavior as well as the complicated geopolitical mishmash. There comes a time when thinking about life with different fuels for our energy needs is vital, and that time is now. With prices at the pump going up in leaps and bounds, "a line in the sand" will be reached pretty quickly. Creative thinking is necessary, and there are some brilliant incubators out there.

One of the films, called "The Power of Community - How Cuba Survived Peal Oil" was an inspiring documentary on the "Special Period" Cuba faced after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and was suddenly faced with an oil famine. They later worked out some deals with Venezuela, but the period of 1989 -94 saw some very innovative, cooperative and creative ventures in terms of transportation, food production and land use that saw the island state not only pull through, but really transorm their whole society with more sustainable use of energy.

What is not so inspiring is the behavior of one of our world leaders, who honestly, doesn't seem to have a clue. Russell Brown from Public Address sums it up neatly:

... WTF is up with Bush? In the midst of a major crisis in the Middle East there was his inadvertently broadcast chat with Tony Blair, in which he appears incapable of sustaining any gravity and possessed of an understanding of the situation that might kindly be described as folksy. And then there's this: Bush walked into the room for an important summit and gave the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, an uninvited neck massage, by which she was surprised and apparently not pleased. I'm sorry, but that's just weird. Photos and video via AmericaBlog.
Just googling Peak Oil comes up with hundreds of pages filled with facts and figures researched and presented (for the most part) by qualified and experienced scientists and engineers who realise the gravity of the situation and feel the need to shout from the nearest hilltop, or in this case, blog. Matt Simmons, longtime energy analyst, and author of Twilight in the Desert, compared the crisis with global warming, which in his view would receive a 3 on scale of 1o, with Peak Oil a 12.

The main thing to realise about this, is there is currently no advanced alternative preparation to a scenario many experts believe is happening in this decade. That is, reaching the full production capacity of all available global oil reserves. As demand continues to rise, the gap between supply (decreasing) and demand (increasing) widens. In the absence of alternate energy sources (which I believe will be developed, just perhaps not in time to ward off some more wars and catastrophes) we will face severe economic hardships, due to the industrial economies so heavily reliant on cheap energy.

I like the opportunity living on an island gives me to work with others in preparing for the challenges ahead, and in particular food production, where every calorie of food produced today with unsustainable practices, takes 10-16 calories of hydrocarbon input. That simply will not be available soon, if we are to believe the geologists, so another way of producing food is, well, quite important. It's called organic farming, or sustainble agriculture, and it is more about working with the planet instead of against it.

Just to leave on a lighter note, Jon Stewart again gets to the point in this great little piece about the internet here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Path

"At the edge of everything you know,
Is something you can't quite imagine..."

At the moment I am preparing a paper on mystical teachings to be delivered this weekend, ahead of a programme of discourses the end of the month by a well known spiritual teacher at the same site. This is not something I have recently acquired an interest in, indeed, I have been studying and practicing both here and in India this topic for somewhere near 25 years. This in no way makes me any nearer to understanding that which can be beyond understanding. In fact, it makes me realise how little I do know. Perhaps once I realise that I know nothing, then I will know everything. Zen and the Art of Becoming Human, or something like that.

It does however, allow me as a member of humanity to look upon the topic of mystical experience with a certain sense of pragmatism. When the scientific community makes announcements about drug- induced mystical experiences that are "descriptively identical" to those of religious nature, I believe they are missing the point. Although this new field of neurotheology does at times raise the issue of where science and faith meet, the proponents exclaim they are not interested in the question of whether "God exists" or not. Psilocybin, as anyone who has read the Carlos Castaneda classics would attest, has long been known to have certain effects on the consciousness. Leary et al in the 60's, and now scientists from John Hopkins University would claim the effect was spiritual in nature. The trouble I find in this thinking is that it is all about the mental parameters. Drugs affect the mind. The concept of three separate bodies: physical (we are in and aware of), mental (we go to with drugs, out of body experiences etc) and spiritual ( beyond mind) is not a new one. The trouble with trying to explain the unexplainable, is that it all has to be done with the mind. And this, the mystics say, is the reason we won't get it until we go beyond the mind. Not with words or drugs, or anything manufactured, but by direct experience. And humanity has been trying to do that for all ages. If it were as easy as taking a pill or a mushroom, everyone would do it. And if it doesn't last (which it doesn't), then how real is it?

Back in the realms of a decidedly mental sphere, this little tester from NZ will let you know if you are tech obsessed, and I would say the author of this fascinating piece from the NY Times is most definitely. The explosion of social networking sites like MySpace and Friendster etc seem to have grabbed a nerve in the generation of 20-somethings that is both cultural and technological. If freedom really does come from belonging rather than belongings, then the deep sense of wanting to stay connected is really a feeling of freedom for those with large and complicated networks, such as the person above. Social intercourse loses much of its inherent value I believe without the physicality of real-life presence. But then I'm not 20.

What I am is an earth-bound boomer trying desperately to hang on to wave after wave of personal technology that changes faster than...well, I can ever remember, that is for sure. I recently has a hard drive failure in my laptop, and realised the importance of regular PC housekeeping. So much so that the last few weeks have somehow added more hours into my day just getting everything back to normal on my "tool of choice". Now I have a full external drive for the programmes etc, a USB memory stick for documents on a daily basis, and CDs for the photos, etc etc I won't know what to do with them all. A gadget for all seasons. Very humbling.

Then of course there is the very Orwellian brain implant patient that works his computer just by looking and thinking about it. How important is important?

In the end, it needs to be about balance. My priorities as a farmer and writer arrange themselves gently around the elements in preparation for simple pleasures that seem to come and go each day. That could quite simply, be as mystical as anything in this life.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Never Too Late

It is not who is right, but what is right that is of importance.

-Thomas Huxley

Visitors to our lovely shores here would most definitely be dropping their jaws of late, as this piece in the NZ Herald suggests, with the national psyche up for review (once again), this time not as a result of a rugby match or yachting exploits, but from the far more revealing dark underbelly of society. The scourge that is child abuse exists almost everywhere; yet in idyllic New Zealand, it somehow gets lost in the effusive declaration of ourselves as innovative, caring and adventurous folk. Not quite. We have an apalling rate of youth suicide, and the statistics around the care of our young are almost unbelievable when taken in the context of how fortunate we are to be living here.
Twin infants were murdered in their own home, and the non-stop analysis with socio-economic, political, and racial underpinnings have gone on for almost a month. I have to admit I was a bit shocked, and yet the recipe has certainly been there for some time, with similiar type offensive behaviour emerging (publicly anyway) every year or so. Former Listener editor Finlay Macdonald has a well written piece here that is able to mix common sense with outrage.

Children, for heavens sake! What more can you say?

My daughter meanwhile, has taken a month off from her hectic life in the fast lane for Auckland creatives in order to soak in some warmth and culture in the U.S and Canada. Amongst the endless goodbye drinks, dinners with colleagues, shooting a music video, and painting the house, she did get the old man off the island to make good on his promise of a decent digital camera. Duty free was definitely the way to go, with a great little 7 MPixel camera and all the extra memory and accessories (normally extra) for under $500. The relatives are ecstatic to say the least, as she rarely gets up that way. The list of gigs, museums, galleries etc she has earmarked will take a well organised schedule to fit in. Yeah right. One of her Grandmas is in a place called Bullhead City, near Las Vegas. It's Air Conditioned entertainment, Wild West style, as they cruise the casinos and stay out of the 45 deg C heat. Anyway, other than the film festival, July is certainly a good month to head up to the northern hemishphere. The little island that could is fairly quiet, thanks.

So, what do you do if you owe $100million, have been convicted of fraud as the ringleader in one of the highest profile corporate collapses in U.S history, and you are awaiting sentencing? Why, hang out in your Apen holiday home, of course. That is, until the stress gets to you, as it does, and the heart stops. That is apparently what has happened to Ken Lay, former CEO of Enron. And when you think of how many people are still behind bars for something as harmless as cannabis, it makes you realise how it really is the best justice system money can buy.

A few more morsels of astonishment from the "only in the U.S. file" include a remarkable revcovery of sorts for a man who has been termed in a "minimally conscious" (now there's a term for the ages) state for 19 years. Apparently, his brain is starting to heal itself. Go for it dude! Then there is the city of Seattle, long a favourite of mine, deciding they have had enough of the winos and drunks vomiting all over the streets, and so they have bought them all new apartments, no strings attached.

Finally, one of my favourite things about the iPod, (and there are plenty of things that are not), is listening to books whilst commuting or on the tractor. The publishing industry likes the idea as well, as they are gearing up to meet the demand of more and more people who like audiobooks. And whilst on entertainment, (and where else should we be?), Johnny Depp, one of my alltime favourite actors, has hit the jackpot with his Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and good for him. His selection of offbeat and quirky roles over the years has culminated in this success, where he has adopted the mannerisms of one Keith Richards for the outlandish character Captain Jack Sparrow. I am not much on sequels, but the word is Keith is up for a cameo role as the Captain's father in the upcoming episode. That is, if he stays out of Fijian coconut trees long enough to play another tour first with what's that band?..