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.