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!