Monday, August 27, 2007

Dancing In The Streets

"The question that motivates this book originates in a sense of loss: If ecstatic rituals and festivities were once so widespread, why is so little left of them today? If the 'techniques of ecstasy' represent an important part of the human cultural heritage, why have we forgotten them, if indeed we have? If we possess this capacity for collective ecstasy, why do we so seldom put it to use"?
-Barbara Ehrenreich

Dancing In The Streets, A History of Collective Joy

No problem for the annual migration of "Burners" that take to the Nevada desert for a bit of "ecstatic celebration" and all sorts of creative foreplay in the process.. All the latest from SFGate here, and from 10 Zen Monkeys here, which includes the silly guy that wanted to "Burn the Man" a couple of days early. Not a good boy...

But what would you expect from such a character?

Everyone else seems to be having a grand old time..

I always thought it might be a bit uncomfortable camping out in the blowing sands for a fortnight with very little else to do but build and burn...but hey, haven't been there, so I will trust it is a tribal thing.

In tech news, the Wikipedia vandals have been found out, and now you know where some of those entries come from, and what happens to them (and by whom). Pretty clever.

Who's afraid of Google? The Economist asks the question, and according to them, plenty of folk. Mainly around privacy concerns, but anytime you have a company that grows that fast, it just has to have some kind of secret agenda. Doesn't it? Simply to organise and rule the world's information, seems fairly innocent enough... Yeah right. It is really a targeted advertising company selling you products aligned with your specific interests that they just happen to know about because of your search history. OK with that?

At least they have got some characters working for them, like this guy, reported in NYTimes, who gets his photograph taken with all the VIP's passing through the
Googleplex. Just an ordinary engineer, eh?

Gotta be a fun place to work, though...

No doubt everyone saw Miss South Carolina give her answer to on a Teen Beauty Contest as to why so many Americans cannot find their way around a map...
It makes Bush seem articulate!

Biopics of famous people, dead or otherwise, have been prolific in recent years, especially in the musician category. Paul Harris in Alternet asks why Bob Dylan himself doesn't play a role in the upcoming movie about his life called I'm Not There. Perhaps he thought 6 actors was enough.

Want to know all about private islands, and the eccentric people that own, inhabit and visit them, for say, up to 8years at a time? Well look no further. Private Islands blog is here.

Pick one up today. And don't forget to invite me around.

Gotta love those Africans.. They are becoming adept at blending culture and technology into a real art form:

Now that's what I call Hands Free!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Under Mouse Arrest

"I will visit a place entirely other than myself.
Whether it is the future or the past

Need not be decided in advance."

-Susan Sontag

A plethora of links, clips bits and bytes of completely unrelated, yet undoubtedly culturally important information on offer today, in case curiosity got you as well as the cat:

That icon of American journalism Bill Moyers, has a chat with Barbara Ehrenreich (author of Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch) as well as Clive James, Australian born cultural critic living in U.K. Lively and entertaining discussions on the state of affairs here, there and just about everywhere. Moyers' PBS show called The Journal, is indeed a worthwhile view, either on the television or the net.

The current state of the Music industry, how it got to where it is, and where it might be heading in this article "off The Record", by Robert Sandall in Prospect Magazine.

A nice little ditty from the SF Chronicle on the beautiful Waimea Falls Canyon on the North Shore of O'ahu, since it has been run by the Audubon Society these last few years. One of my favourite spots, and worth every plaudit.

Why are we so afraid of offending Muslims? asks Christopher Hitchens in online magazine Slate.

Gee, I dunno, maybe it's something to do with being afraid of what we don't understand?

Not to get stuck into politics and World Affairs for too long, there is always that little bit of 40 yr old gossip for ardent music fans about 2 greats: George Harrison, Eric Clapton and their relationship with well, one lady. Patti Boyd tells what she remembers here.

Leave it to good ol' New Zealand to come up with some innovative ideas for getting out there and enjoying the scenic wonders this country has to offer: All the Great Walks are now free for under 18's including great accommodation in the Department of Conservation Huts (DOC). Take it from me, that is a really good deal.

If you are a reader, you will appreciate Venezuela's mobile library that has 4 legs. Great stuff.

A new documentary film entitled Dr Bronner's Magic Soapbox about a one Emmanuel Bronner, a chemist who escaped from a mental asylum and developed his own brand of peppermint soap (as you do) is previewed here on NPR, as well as chat with the director, Sara Lamm.

Staying with the health and food, an interview with Andrew Kimbrell , author of Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and The Secret Changes in Your Food is important. This is not going to go away. Half of the processed food on American shelves has been genetically modified in some form or another. Own the brand, and own the business.

Wiser Earth, Paul Hawken's enormous database of NGO's and environmental activist groups (literally thousands) all on one portal website. Head off wherever your interest and time take you. What a great visionary. His latest book is entitled Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in History Came Into Being, and Why No One Saw It Coming.

Speaks for itself, really.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Being Bob

"There must be some way out of here", said the joker to the thief
"There's too much confusion", I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, ploughmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

"No reason to get excited", the thief he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late".
All Along the Watchtower

The cynical reviewers harp on about the ageing audience, and lack of intimacy , or the clinical nature of his performances in Bob Dylan's current tour down under. His re-working of the songs, far too many in nearly 50 years of performing to reach everyones favourites, also cops some flak.

None of it matters. Not to him. And not to those who experience the essence of a living legend performing the way an artist does best: with creativity and surprise.
Since when is music just for the young? Yes, each decade I see him is a different show, and each one has a magic all its own. Auckland sold out its first show last night, and after a stint over in Australia, he is due back for two more shows at the end of the month in a small theatre. He must be doing something right for that kind of demand. And for someone who has been called everything from god to the spokesman of his generation, the lyrics say it all:

You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion'
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud.
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

Masters of War

That was Vietnam, now it is Iraq et al. The words mock and they taunt, they make you think. His backup band as tight a R&B unit as you will ever see. No, rock concerts are not as they were 30 and 40 years ago, and a commercial pall hangs around some of the concrete arenas like a bad odour, totally inappropriate for the man who set the tone launching an important cultural revolution in the last half of the 20th century.

He says what he needs to say, plays what he likes to play, and does it with truckloads of class.
For me, that is enough.

Winter creeps slowly along it path towards conclusion in the Southern Hemisphere, with warmer and longer days pointing towards Spring, albeit the skies still frequently showering us heavily, and keeping the ground too wet to work for us growers.

Waiheke Island only has about 7000 inhabitants full time, and in the winter, it is isolated and removed from the mainland by a 30 min boat ride, and everyone feels it. Especially when the weather cancels the ferries, which is not too often.

One of the things I like most about living in a small rural community (at least this one) is the fact that so many people wave as they drive past. I don't know who they are, most of them, but it doesn't really matter. They are saying hi and smiling, content in the knowledge that they too, are experiencing something unique in todays urbanised and industrialised world. there are no traffic lights on this island. No MacDonalds and no Wal Mart. Refugees all of us, it's as if we all have a very special friend in common.


I take the opportunity to embrace the solitude available, and though I have been called a bit of a hermit by more than one of my friends, it is not an exclusionary practice, but one borne out of both desire and circumstance. It certainly has its benefits, not the least of which is an ability to practice the art of living in harmony with my environment, which at times can be a challenge. It's both serene and wild, a small island in a big ocean,
and I don't want to miss any of it. Right now, the clouds hang low and dark, pellets of rain pounding down from one of many showers today, and in between welcome sunny periods to walk and refresh from the onslaught of power that so characterises the natural beauty.

Hare Mai.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Grape Expectations

It's mid-winter in Aotearoa, and the pruning for grape growers is well under way. The two main types of pruning the vines are finding healthy canes with sufficient number of buds and laying them down on the wires for shoots in the spring(left); or leaving spurs with a sufficient number of buds on last years canes as shown in the picture on the right.
Both methods work well, and depend upon variety, terrain, labour and growing styles. The essential purpose being to have new shoots burst through in the spring from last years growth and produce canes healthy enough to flower and fruit. Viticulture experts will have any number of reasons for using either method. In the end, the production of quality fruit will have to start with an appropriate number of buds, and from there, it all begins, as with most plants. Note the heavy under planting of a winter cover crop on the left and lower shots as opposed to the right. This will be due to a simple timing issue effecting the strike rate of the seed put down (the row on the right picture was sown a week later, after the soil temp had dropped), as well as the bird population catching on!

Heavy rain is falling at the moment, and July has had a number of moist warmer low pressure systems dropping copious amounts (100mm+) of rain on several different days. Needless to say, it is pretty soggy out in the fields. We keep all the equipment off until it is dry to avoid further compaction. 100mm= approx 4 inches in N American terms. About what Southern California gets all year!

I thought Auckland might rate as one of the 15 greenest cities on the planet, but not so, according to this poll from online magazine Grist, as reprinted in Alternet. West Coast USA cities Portland, Vancouver and San Francisco came as no surprise, having lived in each of them. But places like Sydney and Bangkok were eye openers for me. See for yourself why the initiatives these cities have taken are putting them at the forefront of urban environments making a difference. Still, Bangkok? I could hardly breathe last time I was there. Apparently recycling residents' cooking oil for biodiesel fuel is a winner. Whatever.

For Jack Kerouac fans, the legendary scroll on which he typed non-stop the book On the Road, is a priceless piece of literary history. The truth, according to this NPR article citing the curator for the famous piece of paper, is that he worked through many drafts over the period of 1947-49, but the actual typing only took about 3 weeks, as he typed 100 words a minute. He thought it wasted too much time replacing sheet after sheet, as his mind raced along, reportedly aided by any number of substances that eventually killed him not long after. Great book nonetheless.

If you have the funny feeling that the gap between rich and poor in whatever measure makes sense is getting wider, this article in the U.K.'s Observer is a real eye opener. Welcome to Richistan, USA, gives some sobering statistics. Just a few lest you are in any doubt about what is happening in the Land of Plenty:

"In 1985 there were just 13 US billionaires. Now there are more than 1,000. In 2005 the US saw 227,000 new millionaires being created. One survey showed that the wealth of all US millionaires was $30 trillion, more than the GDPs of China, Japan, Brazil, Russia and the EU combined".

Pretty cool. Especially if you are one of the 227,000 every year(presumably many from the emerging online industries and dot com booms) - was there a bust? Doesn't sound like it. That is only one year! It is an interesting article about how new economies are building around the super-rich and all the social implications of that (can it be called a sub?) culture. Apparently net worth needs to be in the $100 million region even to be considered part of the club.

Hope they're all happy.

In the end, we all come into this world and depart it with the same amount.

On the health front:

A great article here on the famous Dr Bronner and his soap empire (ever read those labels?)

And of course nothing would be complete without a quick update on the latest research around Soy and all its related products. It would appear the fermented variety (such as tempeh), as noted earlier on this blog, has less of the adverse effects present in normal soy.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Blessed Unrest

"Ideologies exclude openness, diversity, resiliency and multiplicity, the very qualities that nourish life in any system, be it ecosystem, immune system, or social system...Ideas are living things; they can be changed and adapted, and can grow. Ideas do not belong to anyone, and require no approval. History demonstrates all to eloquently that no ideology has ever amounted to more than a palliative for any dire condition. The immune system is the most complex system in the body, just as the body is the most complex organism on earth, and the most complicated assembly of organisms is human civilization. The hundreds of thousands of organizations that make up the movement are social antibodies attaching themselves to the pathology of is what the earth is producing to protect itself".

-Paul Hawken
Blessed Unrest

Paul Hawken's latest contribution to the increasingly complex dialogue on social and environmental justice movements is more like a resource encyclopedia. While he meticulously outlines the urgent nature of many imminent global crises, he is at pains to steer clear of languishing in blame and recrimination. Instead, in one important chapter, he takes the example of the human immune system as proof that living things will respond to potential threats in a complicated, yet efficient way. That is not to say all is well, and we can sit back and watch as things work themselves out. He devotes nearly half the book, as well as his latest project Wiser Earth, as an opportunity to catalogue and celebrate the action and interconnectedness of the thousands of NGO's, civil society organisations and groups that are filling the leadership vacuum left by governments and politicians. The website is a truly global resource centre and portal for those whom action on issues as pressing as global warming, real food production, AIDS, poverty, and all aspects of sustainable living are given tools for "solving as pattern", as Wendell Berry termed addressing multiple and interconnected issues.

How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why no One Saw it Coming is the appropriate subtitle.

One such example in wht he terms "the movement" is The Center For Food Safety, informing consumers what really is in their food, what they can do about it, and how to eat real food. They have pulbished a new book called Your Right to Know, Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food, by Andrew Kimbrell. It might be useful to know that over half the processed foods in the grocery shelves of the U.S. contained genetically modified ingredients.

A good place to start this journey of discovery is to be aware of what we are putting into our bodies. Food is not what it seems in many cases, and many large corporations, in the name of increased productivity and "feeding the world", are indeed toying with an unproven and highly unstable area of science, now selling at your local shop!

As Hawken points out, " Ecology is about how living organisms interact with one another and their environment. Sustainability is about stabilizing the currently disruptive relationship between earth's two most complex systems - human culture and the living world".

Having children often puts a different perspective on some of these matters, as we ponder what they and their children and grandchildren will face in coming years in dealing with the living world, which they are a part of.

If the issue of sustainability is really about ensuring adequate resources for future generations, it becomes quite personal and relevant once some of those "generations" start staring you in the face, wondering WTF you did to leave something to live on for others, like well, them.

If we continue to consume in the same way, there will not be enough, and ways of living will alter dramatically. This is already starting to happen with many, but life as we know it will not be the same...

Consuming is part of the process of living of course, and then there is hyper-consuming, a mode of living made famous in the U.S., and spreading like a virus throughout the world, thanks to the marketing saavy of our best persuaders, that teach us how to want things we don't need.

Like perhaps 66 hot dogs at one sitting. A perfectly normal activity to celebrate Independence Day...Or whatever.

Good luck with that gut, buddy.

If you are not familiar with Google's newest controversial toy, Street Video, apparently one can get even closer to the neighborhood than with its famous maps, which by the way, did not even get Waiheke Island in the picture, not that I am disappointed in the least. I don't need people trying to locate and zoom in on my home. Mark Morford's column in SF Chronicle gives it a review to remember, in "I can see your thong from here". Pretty funny if it weren't actually happening. Wasn't there something by George Orwell about Big Brother and all that around 1984?

Well, it's here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Precautionary Principles

"Reality is relative to the measuring apparatus"

I pass by this cottage on the lagoon every day in my travels. It stirs my imagination, primarily because I have never seen anyone around it, or any vehicles nearby(I don't think it even has any driveway access). It is very much part of the "Old Waiheke" many people talk about when they remember funky as the term describing most residences on the island, and affordable was the other. Some of both are still present, but well hidden indeed.

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

The tide makes its twice daily pilgrimage up and through the mangroves surrounding the red roofed retreat, shape-shifting its foundations dramatically. I recall seeing a small boat pulled up on its front shore once, a curious visitor or perhaps the owners exercising their only access. Alone and steadfast, the seasons pummeling it as can only happen to coastal property, it remains a constant feature on my daily landscape. Long may it stand.

Everything in this life can be looked at from a wider perspective, and all too often we fail to do just that. It is an opportunity lost.

One who achieves that mental architecture in a unique way, the Dalai Lama spoke recently in Auckland. I was most impressed with his ability to "re-frame" any controversial or inflammatory questions, with uncanny wit and a lack of any pretentiousness at all. The diplomacy with which he takes his very personal message of Buddha's teachings out directly to people, as well as his relationship with the media, make him a unique communicator. There is an underlying tenderness and playful quality to his manner, one which immediately puts others to ease. His talk centred around the notion of "internal disarmament".

There have been Dalai Lamas since the 15th century, all leading the people in the mountain kingdom of Tibet, until the neighbours to the north decided they wanted to put a stop to all that. He is the first one to have lived outside his own country, in exile, for nearly 50 years. Succession will be no doubt be a disputed matter. However, this charismatic individual, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989 as well as a long list of honours and Major Awards as shown on his official website, has a very high profile around the world. Called both a political leader in exile, as well as a spiritual teacher, he seems more concerned with the message of peace, tolerance and compassion within a wider social context, and that has to be given some merit.

Others also continue to ensure themselves of a high profile around the globe, for various reasons, and if you have ever wondered what people like Bono are doing at G8 conferences for leaders of wealthy nations, Brendan O'Neill of Spiked Online magazine has a few answers in this article, in which he refers to Bono as the the "9th power".

When we start to need rock star celebrities to front global conferences on poverty, it may be time to re-evaluate with deliberate caution the way we go about trying to help others. A noble cause can be hijacked in the most subtle ways, and "internal disarmament" would an important first step in avoiding such sad results.

Enough of the politics...

The Ginkgo biloba tree has long been a favourite of mine. Known to be one of the world's longest living trees, with specimens in China claimed to be more than 2,000 yrs old, it has reputable medicinal value, is very popular for street plantings due to its urban tolerant nature, and is a good bonsai tree.

This one, just down the road from me, puts on a lovely autumn display of golden foliage that lasts for weeks. Amongst all the other native NZ bush and evergreens, it stands out quite distinctively. Apparently, along with all the rest of its remarkable traits, there is a tree that withstood the Hiroshima Atomic bomb attacks in 1945. Only a kilometre from the blast site, it is one of the only living things to survive. Talk about tenacity!

Finally, if you have ever had your beloved letterbox (or mailbox as known in the U.S.) vandalised, it can be an annoying and emotional affair. Here on the island, we have a wide array of creative and artistic endeavors hosting the post, as it were. So much so, there are books of photos dedicated to them. Yet they are frequently the target of vandals out looking for something to do.

This article, reprinted in the "online directory of wonderful things" Boing Boing , describes a firm in Cincinatti, Ohio that specialises in vandal proof letterboxes. Lasting years, and surviving everything from the usual baseball bats to pipe bombs, they are made of 10 gauge carbon or stainless steel, and it is usually the vandal that comes off second best.

What comes around goes around...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cult of the Amateur

"People are crazy,
Times are strange.
I used to care,
but things have changed".

-Bob Dylan

If you asked me if I care at all about a spoiled heiress getting hauled off to serve jail time for being stupid enough not to use a driver for her narcissistic socialising around LA, I would most certainly say not at all.

But the fact that so many people are is good enough reason for any social scientist to dig a little deeper. Not unlike O.J., or that little beauty pageant girl that was murdered and the parents were suspect, or any other of the multitudes of scandal-driven media frenzies that regularly obsess the Americans, and by way of technology, the rest of the world; this has all the hallmarks of a divided and dysfunctional class system. Or should that be a divided and dysfunctional justice system. The class system seems to me to be functioning quite well.

For some. At least the princess can have some "time to think and learn" and see what life is like on the other side. Not necessarily a bad thing. Those morning showers could be a bit chilly though without heated floor tiles...

The bloggers have been out in full force on this one, with most notably Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, as well as Bait and Switch, penning a few words about what she sees as the most appropriate course of action for what she describes as the "bloated overclass" in this piece for Huffington Post.

Even Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame, gets a word in on the absurd coverage, and his scolded by Stephen Colbert here. A funny guy still.

More Global Gymnastics of the Gentrified: Bono and Bob Geldof both make their regular appearance at the G8 type summits where political leaders pose and preen, looking like they are serious about some of the pressing problems of the world. To get a photo with one of these guys can help with some of the Generation Y vote or some such ditorted logic. Not so impressed, however with the follow through on recent pledges, these crusaders of cool give one back to the governments here.

Meanwhile, The i-Phone is coming, and if anyone were interested in brand equity at business school, the current juggernaut that is Apple would be the right place to start. The hype is nearly suffocating in the tech world, and Jobs and co are trying to lower expectations a bit just to avoid disappointment.

Not in the product itself, but in the ability to get one while simply everyone else is trying to as well. Mark Morford of the SF Chronicle has the lowdown here. But will it make really you happier?

Marketing genius, or the Secret of all Persuasion: induce the people to persuade themselves.

Whole Foods, the uber-store for greenies with cash, has opened up in London. Not everyone is impressed. Apparently the idea of cherries that are $10/punnet organic or not, is the one of the deal-breakers according to this Guardian piece.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivores Dilemma, has researched the chain store at length, and has another installment in his food politics writing from the Bioneers people here, called Beyond the Bar Code.

Back in Godzone, political leaders here are as usual scrambling in an awkward dance when it comes to meeting with the Dalai Lama. Is he a spiritual teacher or a political exile engaged in "splitist" activities for a long time, as per the Chinese foreign embassy? One thing is for sure, he is a winner of the Nobel Peace prize, and an engaging orator. I for one am looking forward to hearing him speak next week when he is in the country. I have heard him several times, and on no occasion has he ever spoken ill of anyone, let alone the large country to the north that invaded his tiny sovereign nation all those years ago.

Winter is setting in for us Southern Hemisphere residents, grass is greening, temps dropping, and the shortest day appears around the corner. Matariki, or the Maori New Year celebrations take place over the next couple of weeks with the rising of the Pleiades constellation. The literal translation is "small eyes", and signified the right time to plant, as well as historically serving navigation purposes in their maritime voyages. I am not so sure about their waka travels, but with climate change making such an impact on our atmosphere and weather, it is gradually becoming a bit late with wet and cool weather requiring an earlier sowing.

I am a big fan of singer songwriter Jeff Buckley, who tragically died 10 years ago last month, in a drowning accident at the peak of his career. Sad story, but his memory lives on, thanks to clips like this on YouTube. Enjoy. Life can change at the blink of an eye.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Titans of Tech

"The less one knows,
The longer it takes to explain what one does not know"

Sultans of Swing... well, not exactly. Titans of Tech, most definitely. Wall Street Journal hosts another All Things Digital Conference with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs on the same stage together for the first time in a decade, having a sentimental chat. Video and transcript here. Life moves on, as they say.

It has been raining in Godzone. Having my autumn planting done, I am happily reading an acclaimed novel by the author Richard Ford, called The Lay of the Land. It is a witty and sardonic tale of mid life crises amongst the disillusioned Boomers of East Coast America that takes place at the turn of the millenium. Very enjoyable.

Ford was one of many internationally recognised authors at our recent Auckland Writers and Readers festival. Fast becoming a must do on the early winter calendar, the speakers, venue and discussions all were superbly done. Now the country's largest gathering of of New Zealand and international authors, attracting 11,000 guests over the 3 days. I must say I had never heard of the widely published travel writer Pico Iyer; but he was one of the hits at the festival and his books are now on my must read list.

Next up on the "culture vulture" list will be the Dalai Lama visit on 17 July, the Annual Film Festival, and then the iconic Bob Dylan playing on Aug 11. Definitely indoor stuff at this time of year.

The San Francisco Chronicle looks back 40 years to the Summer of Love in the City with a series of articles by Mark Molford. Well worth the time even if you were not there. It didn't last, as these things are apt not to, but the ramifications still percolate through our western societies.

On that theme, The Guardian has a list here of the so-called "hippie hot spots", where the living is relaxed and cheap I would assume. If that is your thing, then you will want to know whats hot and what's not anymore. And I thought I had been around, but apparently not so..

A final North American roundup: the widely followed story of two humpback whales that took a wrong turn at the Golden Gate Bridge is fascinating. In their annual voyage up the west coast from Mexico to Alaska, the two mammals got lost halfway up the winding estuaries of the San Francisco Bay for a couple of weeks. Of course it was a New Zealand man who invented and developed the dart gun especially used in these circumstances to inject the whales with some antibiotics to ward off infections from their travels. Hard to imagine what could be in those waters..

Check out where your city ranks in these increasingly popular polls of the best cities in the world to live. There are always variations in the criteria with these, so if you aren't listed, well, maybe it's just because the pollsters don't recognise the true value of where you live. (hint: Australian and Canadian cities rank high).

Also from the BBC: interesting but not surprising research claiming both Newton and Einstein had a form of autism.

Al Gore, the consummate politician who everybody wants to run for President, and who is still playing coy, has another new book out called An Assault on Reason, and is interviewed by Jon Stewart here. Michael Moore with his new movie Sicko, chatting with Bill Maher here. Strong opinions, good points, and articulate. Great viewing.

Having installed and maintained several boutique vineyards on the island, so I know a little bit about what it takes to create some interesting flavours from varieties of grapes. Most viticulturists here say sarcastically the first bottle they produce cost them roughly 3-4 thousand dollars after several years of pouring the money in. So, the story of "2 Buck Chuck", a renowned winemaker in California, and one of my mothers favourites, will get some winces and low-brows from this part of the world. To buy a bottle of wine for $2 is an indeed an accomplishment in production efficiencies, volume, and distribution(no mention of quality here). We could not even get an empty bottle for that much.

And finally, it is nice to see UK food retailers taking the lead informing consumers of what the carbon footprint is for many of its products, including production, transport and eventual disposal. This is not going to go away. It is not too much to ask I believe, what exactly is in the food we eat, and what its production is doing to our planet. I also think it would be fair to say those food "products" doing the most harm to our bodies are also doing the most harm to our environment. As within, so without...

Buyer be Aware.
"You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity"
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Getting Over It

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work;
and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

There may be many stories just like this one, but for Julie Amero, the American schoolteacher facing 40 years in prison for supposedly exposing her pupils to online pornography, it is a nightmare that is not yet over. Her claim is that she is the victim of unwarranted pop-up porn ads via some malware, and was unable to fix the problem before students saw the images. Anyone who has spent anytime at all on a computer knows how easy that can happen. Where is the schools IT manager in all of this? Not a good look, as they say.

And speaking of nightmares, if your name is David Bain, and you lived in Dunedin, NZ in the early 90's, then the last 13 years in prison came to an end last week. Arrested and jailed for allegedly killing all 5 members of his family, he has steadfastly claimed his innocence. A long and arduous campaign has gone all the way to the Privy Council in London, where Law Lords (what is a Law Lord?) quashed his conviction and he was subsequently released. He may still face another trial, but do you think he might just have paid his dues already? To lose your entire family and then spend over a decade in prison as the murderer if in fact you were not, would be a nightmare hard to top. More to come surely, in what some call "trials by ambush".

Not a good week for New Zealand all around really. First they are told they blew it in the trial of Mr Bain so many years ago, and then visiting European tourism students give the "clean green" image a bit of workover.

They claim the lack of recycling ("plastic bags everywhere!"), as well as lack of cycle paths and other car-alternative transport options do no favours to the visitor on an eco-conscious trip.
Outside the cities lie vast unspoilt regions of exceptional beauty, for sure, but apparently our carbon footprint per capita is not to be proud of. Ouch again.

However, the wildlife have got it together..

The New Zealand godwits head north every year, and their journey is now being tracked
by scientists, according to this BBC report.
Not one to rest much, the godwit is a small bird that makes its way all the way to Alaska every year, by way of China. Fattening themselves for the epic jaunt, they travel over 10,000km with only a short stop for food and water along the way.

That's alot of flappin'. Carbon neutral as well!

A new biography is out on the great thinker of the early 20th century, Rudoph Steiner. Along with founding the Waldorf schools and Biodynamic agricultural methods, he was fond of pouring his remaining coffee from his cup each day on the earth, so it could have the benefit as well. A very prolific writer and lecturer with some interesting ideas and supporters, anthroposophy was the name given to his mystical and holistic approach.

Attention (pop) culture vultures: The Simpsons has reached 400 episodes! Haven't seen a bad one yet, actually.

Another guy to steer way clear of: First, he promotes the invasion of a sovereign country and makes a mess of that whole neo-con imperialist post 9/11 hysteria, then slips out of government to take up a post at the World Bank.

There, he gets his girlfriend a hefty pay rise and cushy post, while heading up an anti-corruption task force to tell other governments how to act so they can get money from the Bank. Charming. I'd say Paul Wolfowitz has some explaining to do.

Michael Moore's new film Sicko, premiering in Cannes this week, should be another shaker for those who have something to hide. Like the U.S. government apparently, who have tried seizing the film before he could "sneak" it out of the country to the festival. You can't buy publicity like that.

However, all is not lost.
If you were a housewife circa 1954, you might have enjoyed some portable music in the kitchen as you went about your duties (or not). This shows just how far we have come for the audiophiles, if not in gender equality:Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Misallocation of Attention

" It's not dark yet,
But it's getting there

-Bob Dylan

It had to happen. Just as the current backlash on religious fundamentalism has produce pundits from all corners of the atheistic spectrum; we now have internet entrepreneurs saying the offerings of the last couple of years ( commonly referred to by those in the tech world as "Web 2.0") have led to "digital narcissism" and are wrecking our culture.

Eh? It is what it is. The internet simply reflects that in a quicker, wider and more visual manner.

I have not yet read the book, but Andrew Keens The Cult of the Amateur, How Today's Internet is Killing our Culture and Assaulting our Economy, has received mixed reviews, with most claiming it to be a rant too far. MySpace and YouTube may have lots of students blogging on their frat parties or making silly attempts at directorial stardom, but it still is a creative outlet that has transformed the way we relate to each other. Some say to the worse. I think it is still too early to say. Stay tuned.

Bad News Weekend in Aotearoa: Two teenagers get run over at a party in Christchurch, a toddler gets shot dead in a drive by gang shooting, and a P Lab blows up, killing the drug baron-to-be. That's just last weekend. These are all things that make New Zealanders think hard about what kind of society we are living in now. It may be commonplace in other countries, but it puts a shudder up the collective spine of this one. Young people are such a source of energy. Losing them such a waste.

There is more to life than living,
There is more to death than dying.

The Icelandic Diva Bjork live (right) will send anyone into a spin with her eclectic and experimental mix of vocal and instrumental explosions, a recent live recording in New York is here courtesy of NPR.

And while you are using up some bandwidth, and only have time for one good interview all year, don't miss Bill Moyers chatting with Jon Stewart about what is (and isn't) journalism, what is (and isn't) happening in America, and generally looking at current events from a different perspective. From Moyers' new PBS show. Brilliant.

The Hippies were Right is an interesting article from SF Chronicle columnist Mark Morford. Since Green has become the new chic, then maybe the hippies were on to something all those years ago. I kind of enjoyed living in a teepee. My carbon footprint was more of a charcoal smudge, but it was living lightly!

Speaking of greenies, and hippies (not!), Prince Charles features in the Vanity Fair Green issue, in an article entitled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Throne. Apparently he has received an Environmental Global Citizen Award that he jetted in to pick up earlier this year. For the Prince everyone likes to make fun of, and who has been "talking to plants" for awhile now; it is clear he was on to it in the early days, pushing organic farming and sustainable land management. Still hounded by the press in all his causes both personal and otherwise, the saavy Prince is finally seeing his message get through. A big hit in environmentally conscious California, that is for sure.

His Duchy Originals boasts 200 plus mostly organic products, generating over $2M for charity. His latest idea is Accounting for Sustainability, a method of "accounting for the green costs" in products, in order to let consumers make informed choices. This has been put forward before, by Paul Hawken in his groundbreaking book Natural Capitalism with Amory Lovins, but maybe its just a little sexier now.

If that doesn't get you going, then a new study out by Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, states quite boldly that meditation is and excellent way of achieving prolonged states of concentration. This prevents the brain from "blinking", thereby losing attention at perhaps a crucial point. When things happen too fast, it is claimed, consciousness is supressed, and well, where are those damn car keys anyway? He calls attention a "flexible and trainable skill", which is groundbreaking stuff in the world of neuroscience.

Get those brain watchers and mystics together for a bit of a sit down, I say.

Michael Moore's new doco, called Sicko will no doubt take an unmerciful look at the Healthcare system in the U.S., where average annual health insurance premiums are more than what worker on the minimum wage makes in a whole year. wage. Any wonder there are 30+ million uninsured? Premieres at Cannes this month.

Gotta get down to the local Rocky Bay Hall for my weekly Qigong workout. The grapes are in, the olives as well, Winter green manure cover crops are sown, and pretty much had the last swim for the summer. (ouch!) Time for some inner work.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Time and Space

"Because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes "AWWW!"

Jack Kerouac
On the Road, 1957

No, it's not Australia in this little photo, with another case of the curious tourist; it is a poignant example of the dangers inherent in zookeepers jobs, for which I have a new and profound respect. Apparently due to the wonders of modern medicine, this vet has his arm back, and God only knows what has happened to the poor croc...

The veteran journalist Bill Moyers has a new podcast journal on PBS, freely downloaded on iTunes, and well worth the time to listen to his insight. His special called "Buying the War", a superb piece of investigative journalism on how the media rolled over early in the selling of a war without justification or strategy, has already has some pundits in Washington running for cover. It seems that Jon Stewart on his Daily Show is the only one that has the balls to ask real questions about what is going on in that country and its foreign "policy". And he doesn't even consider himself a journalist! Bill has a fascinating chat with this intelligent and witty comic. Don't miss.

Naomi Klein pulls no punches in her scathing analysis of the World Bank and it's head Paul Wolfowitz, another screw up from the Bush administration mired in yet another scandal that will hardly help the already shaky reputation as a credible aid organisation for developing countries. Yea right.

It doesn't take much digging to find out that the big 3 in development aid: WTO, World Bank and IMF are as Klein puts it playing their game of "one way strip poker" with World Trade.
You drop your barriers, and we will keep ours up, as the system goes. I guess the winners call that Fair Trade...

Tessa Mayes, of Spiked-online, after calling Vanity Fair one of the great icons of American journalism, rips into their latest Green issue, as a celebrity love-fest, complete with photo-shopped snaps of Leo and polar bears, and who is talking about what, rather than who is doing what.

Meanwhile...This guy has been quietly plugging away on the environmental issues that matter so much him, whilst becoming King of England does not seem really high on his priorties...
Charles, Prince of Wales has always been a fascinating figure to me, one of those highly intelligent, yet pampered and aristocratic individuals who seem to inherit everything, yet what do they do with it all? With the Prince it would seem, quite a lot. He would be the only figure in the entire British monarchy that would get any time at all from environmentalists, and he is treated like real royalty in the States, a position usually reserved for sport or entertainment celebrities. As the NYTimes reports, he has become a bit of a hero for the organic movement, and been at it awhile too.

One biography I read years ago had him asking a prominent spiritual teacher for initiation into a practice of yoga and meditation. He was politely refused as the story goes, with the explanation that his profile was just too great in this lifetime. Great story. Good guy. Who cares about the ears, or the personal issues (we all have them)! He actually has the resources to do something about changing our food production systems towards a more sustainable future and and walks the talk. Good for him. England doesn't need another King, but us food eaters and growers need a champion like him as a patron

On celebrity or whatever, I am sure Professor Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist was definitely having a good time in zero gravity playtime the other day, his mind no doubt racing through all the theories he has written about for so many years, while the body floated effortlessly. Brilliant. On to space for the wheelchair bound cosmologist!

Rain is falling lightly on our faire island today, and with what I can see around the world, I don't think you would catch me complaining too much about having the gift of plentiful water here in New Zealand. The hillsides are greening, the water tanks filling, and the essential ingredient for life making its way through the soil, bringing with it a nourishing mix of mystery and science.

Happy Eating.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Living To Learn, Learning To Live

Rocky Bay, Waiheke Island
April 2007

The streets of my little community start to empty out after the last holiday of the Summer, which is Easter. Not that they were busy to begin with. The 100 or so homes that dot the coastline here on this part of the island are mostly holiday homes. The remainder of us call it home for the full year, with periodic breaks. The boats and children and walkers and joggers and dogs and kites and bikes and kayaks have been mostly put away. Back to the job in the city or wherever they all go.

Even Pa in the local Paradise Duck family is looking around and planning his annual "flyabout"... Now that the little ones have flown off on their own

Speaking of flying about, if you are a traveller, and would like to see what countries you have been to on a graphic scale, this site makes it easy to "plug and play" your travels and have them displayed on a world map. It then became apparent (to me anyway), how many places I haven't been. Yet.

Don't forget to think about your carbon footprint as you jet around however, and as this Alternet article points out, the process of offsetting your personal carbon emissions from flying or whatever by purchasing credits has some fairly flawed logic behind it. One person likened it to an athlete sitting at the side of the track eating ice cream and paying someone else to run the race. Paying for something does not necessarily change behaviour, it is just another tax. The wealthy will continue doing what they do, and the not wealthy will continue not doing what they haven't been doing. Does that sound like change?

Six years into the project to catalogue all living species on earth, Smithsonian scientists have topped the 1 million mark. What a great job! Never ending might be the appropriate sidebar here. 253,000 species of butterfly and moth, and 83 species of krill, the tiny shrimp that whale eat. Well done you science boffins!

Addicted to data? I used to think I had a problem, and well, maybe I do. But without the must have mobile interface of the day, the Blackberry, I feel relatively safe from the pushers of hyperconnectedness. Like all good pushers as this Time article says, the current digital variety do not really fulfill any existing needs, they create new ones, and then proceed to fill those, thank you very much. Can you stand to be unavailable? Especially if everyone else is? I definitely can, and make sure I am, as a matter of fact. I force myself to go out (at times hesitantly) without my cellphone at least once or twice a day. Ouch.

Try it, it is really liberating. As Wi-fi becomes more and more ubiquitous, and devices become cheaper and easier to use, the temptation will start to creep in. That is exactly what they want. Good luck. There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored. And it doesn't have a digital component. Yet.

The Guardian once again gives a good sense of perspective to the online world in this article. Businesses are scrambling to understand how to get the eyeballs (especially media saavy young ones, you know the ones that spend) on to their products and services. There are so many social networking sites now, the need a social network to connect them all.

Instant Tribe, but in a very distant way.

The so called social networking "sites" are so popular because they allow one to engage without really engaging. To pick and choose who to befriend and who not to, to share personal details online that never require any real personal interaction, and the ability to be turned off or on as desired. A sort of selective and impersonal way to fill the void that being alone often brings...

Don't get me wrong, Myspace, YouTube and others are so successful because they fulfill a need (albeit one that has been created) to connect and share with others the creativity and information that gives culture its momentum. It is definitely a Tipping Point. They are great resources, and though they may not at present be used for anything too liberating or world changing, the time will come.

As long as the massive corporations that control other sources of media, as they slowly worm their way into the internet do not inflict any type of filtering process or "codes of conduct" that inhibit the very open nature of the web as we see it now. It is all simply a reflection of what we as a collective consciousness are doing, like it or not.