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