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April 30, 2005

Consumed

I'm in real trouble. I have a deadline of tomorrow for a short (six pages) essay about leadership. I have well over one thousand lines written, but most of them are just random, crappy ideas and thoughts and starts of essays. The big problem is that I am so used to writing, every day for my blog, in less than one page, that I am no longer able to think in longer, multi-page essay format. By the time I get to page two or three, I have made my point. If I go further, I am no longer talking about the same thing as I was on page one.

Sure, one can just pad their main point with crap, but I don't appreciate reading such drivel. I sure don't want to write it. I enjoy reading something short and to the point. If I am interested, I will look further into the details. If it is six pages, you better well have a lot of points that need to be covered. I don't. I have nothing insightful to say about leadership. I have not had enough time to conduct a study, I have not had enough time to do the in-depth research that would require six-pages (or more) worth of backup. I only have my own unfounded ideas to write about. Those ideas only take one page, because I have so few.

One thing that has really struck me about this whole ordeal is that I have spent much more time worrying and fretting over how I will write this six page essay than I have over my thesis. Part of that is because I know the thesis will be read by no one. Likewise, the essay will be read by no one, but for some reason it seems more personal. This makes it impossible to finish. I feel the same as I did in my favorite, and most difficult university course... creative writing 101. IT was a course I took for no credit, just to pass a requirement, and I was so surprised to find that it was the most difficult class I had ever had. It was the only class that I ever stayed up late to work on. It was the only class in which I ever made an appointment to meet the teacher and discuss how I can overcome the hardships I was having. It was the most time consuming class, the most exhilarating, the most satisfying, and the most humbling.

My current situation is quite similar. Of course I want the thesis I am currently working on to be good, but since it really has no value other than to get me a grade, I don't worry much about it. I don't fret about it. It doesn't disturb my sleep. This essay though, which has no grade, for some reason has become a big deal to me... maybe because I promised some friends that I would complete, but I don't think that is the major reason. I don't think it is because it will be widely read (it surely wont), but the very idea that it may be published is daunting... and it's not like something that I write on my blog, and can then change my mind about a few days later. If I write this, and if it is published with my name, I am screwed for life. I have never felt so consumed by something as I do this, and it kills me that I am no where closer to finishing than I was the day I started.

I love this feeling, but I hate it. My major discovery form this ordeal is that I am not a writer... I can't meet the deadlines. On the other hand, if adrenalin is something I am looking for, being a writer may be just what I need.

April 29, 2005

Creative non-writing

If there is one thing I have learned this year, it's that I am nota writer. Sure, I write a lot on this site, but that's just personal babbling. When it comes to writing for deadlines, such as school papers, essays for a book, and lately, even emails related to work, I find that I am just too creative. You would be amazed at the number of things I can come up with to do instead of the actual writing.

photos are from Lund, nearby where my sister lives.

April 28, 2005

Realistic or Pessimistic?

I'm disturbed.

Today some of us got together to watch The End of Suburbia. the basic message was

  • Our way of life is built on cheap energy
  • Cheap energy is a thing of the past
  • The way of life we know will end

It's hard to disagree with this, and I don't think anyone did, but what disturbs me is that after the film, I felt that several people, including the program manager, were deriding it for being pessimistic. I saw it as realistic.

This digs up a major point I don't like about the official course philosophy. Much of it is based on the idea that to plan strategically for the future, we should build "a vision of success", and then make our decisions now based on that vision. The vision, of course, includes principles of a sustainable socio-ecological system. So far so good. I agree one-hundred percent.

But what has never sat well with me was the fact that the "vision of success" they promote does not appear to be grounded in reality. While they do not promote a particular scenario (although there is one strongly inferred), it is always presented as though the vision can be whatever we want, so long as it incorporates scientific principles. What this leads to of course, is people creating visions where we live in a world much like that of today, but we have somehow, miraculously discovered ways to reproduce the conveniences we now have in a sustainable way. A key concept is that we do not have to sacrifice, we can keep what we like by simply doing it in a way that is somehow so efficient that it is sustainable. When people speak of their vision of the future, I have never heard anyone mention global warming... it's as if simply envisioning it away will stop what is already inevitable. Guess what. Global warming is happening. Even if we stop all fossil fuel burning today, it will still happen. What's more, the implied vision, where fossil fuels are phased out at a rate that lets us make a smooth transition, will only ensure that it gets worse.

Now, I am all for doing what we can to lessen the impact of global warming, and I know it's not realistic to have a "vision of success" where we stop using fossil fuels tomorrow, but lets be honest with ourselves. Our future will have global warming. Our future will have degraded and destroyed eco-systems. Our future will not be pretty... even if we do somehow somehow reach a point where society is sustainable (adhering to the basic scientific principles).

Now, perhaps I am too pessimistic as well, or maybe just too ignorant to recognize how we can have a bright and cheerful sustainable future... I would like to think so, but then I ask myself why we were not introduced to any of these miracle cures... these ultra-efficient technologies... these biodegradable materials that can be produced in a quantity and stability to ensure that society does not need to sacrifice our modern comforts in the journey toward sustainability. Instead, we were taught to "envision" a future that is attracitve to us.

Please give me some shred of evidence that will help stimulate an optimistic vision!

April 27, 2005

More Farm Fotos

Just taking a break from transcribing the hours and hours of thesis interviews, so I have not time to write a long boring post. Lucky you. Here are more photos from the farm.

April 26, 2005

The Farm

From Skärva (PDF), the nature reserve at the edge of town. I will be living there for June and part of July.

April 25, 2005

April 24, 2005

impossible to capture

Looking at my various photos of Karlskrona, people have remarked that I must be editing them because "Karlskrona doesn't look that good". I feel sorry for them. They don't know that most of the time I don't even bother taking the photo because there is no way I could capture what I am seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling.

I just got back from a quicky over-nighter (leave just before sunset, return just after sunrise). Even if I had managed to capture what I saw, no one would believe it anyway. The fullest full moon, the calmest water, a seal popping his head up to check me out, the sun coming up over the frost covered rocks. Everyone should really get out there at least once in their lives.

April 23, 2005

Summer Plans

My plans for the summer have become a little more solidified. I will be moving to the nature reserve in the photos above for the months of June and July. I had originally planned to kayak north from here as far as possible in July, but after taking a closer look at the region I am in (and some advice from a Swedish friend) I have decided to be a little more strategic with my kayaking. Instead of just following the coast north, I will probably make use of the portability of my folding kayak. I guess I will take a few smaller trips in various locations. Maybe take the train up to Stockholm and kayak in the archipelago there for a week, then across to the west coast, near Gothenburg for a week, and then into the fjords of Norway for a week. The rest of the time I will be paddling here in Karlskrona.

Or, maybe I will just stay and work on the nature reserve (the photos above are from winter. It is AMAZING now that spring is creeping in.)

April 22, 2005

My Life is so Exciting!

I've been busy with thesis, and parties, and watching Alias, and reading, and all kinds of cool stuff. Yesterday some people from class gathered at the nearby nature reserve where we learned a bit more about permaculture. Permaculture is something I have been wanting to learn about for a long time now, ever since the first time I came across it a few years ago in Fujino, the town where I almost moved to a few years ago.

Anyway, you will surely be hearing about permaculture from me in the future. At first I thought it was about agriculture, which was interesting, but not really something I would spend a lot of time on (being a city boy and all) but now I find that it is more than that, it's about learning to use what is around you to live in a more sustainable way. Rather than fighting your surroundings, "dance" with it to make it beneficial. I have learned that many of the ideas I have had in the past, such as doing pushups to heat my small Tokyo apartment with body heat, are actually "permaculture".

So exciting it is.... so exciting.

April 20, 2005

Wild People


A couple weeks ago, as I was kayaking, I noticed how loud the birds were all around me. Screaming and crying, flapping and diving... I thought "how great this is". It dawned on me that, had it been a group of teenagers making all that noise, I would have been extremely annoyed, thinking something to the effect of "Those jerks are ruining my ability to experience nature". Yet, are they not nature too? What is the difference from a bunch of rowdy birds playing, and a bunch of rowdy kids?

A few days later, I was sitting at a picnic table in the woods, overlooking the Baltic, reading a book. Along came a group of young folk with BBQ gear. They asked if it was alright if they set up their picnic there, and I said sure.

Remembering my thoughts about how I perceive the sounds of the rest of nature differently than I perceive the sounds of people (also nature), I decided to re-frame this occurrence. I consciously chose to view them as part of the "wildlife", rather than a group of hoodlums attempting to break up my peace.

Sure they were loud, but as I started to think of them in the same terms as I think of a pair of birds playing loudly in the water, I began to actually enjoy having them nearby. The fact that I didn't understand what they were saying may have played some role in helping me to view them as I do the rest of nature, but I did understand the laughing and vocal inflections.

This brings me to my point (somewhat).

Sometimes I think things similar to what I wrote about yesterday, other times, I think:

Why not just let people enjoy their life? Why not just do whatever I want? It is certainly easier to not think about the results of my actions. In fact, thinking about it, and doing something about it is a full-time job (for inefficient me that is). If trying to be responsible is that much work, why do it?.

Let's face it. Becoming "sustainable" is impossible, and humans have never been "sustainable". Why should se sacrifice things to achieve the unachievable? Maybe I should just enjoy life the way it is until it is gone. Sure, a lot of people get in the way of my ability to enjoy life by doing things such as driving cars where I want to ride a bike, and yes, being locked into a system that bases ones worth on economic status above all else can make it hard to live the way I want to, almost ensuring that I have to be what I have, until now, called "stupid". But since living smartly is really not an option, why not just enjoy the stupidity, and why try to force other people to realize their stupidity? Why not just let them be?

As part of my thesis project we have been interviewing lots of people, taking a look at how a structured strategic planning framework looks when people apply it to their own life. Part of it is taking a look at their values and desires, their vision of what they want their future to look like.

Although the point is to look at how that desired vision fits into a sustainable world, it is obvious that it does not. I find myself feeling guilty about asking them to give up their vision. I do believe that with a little imagination and some more recognition about how some things they think are making their lives better are actually making it worse, they could build a vision of an attractive future which is more sustainable. But if they believe that it is good, why burst their bubble?

Who am I to ask someone else to give up what they believe is best for them? If someone really likes their job, who am I to point out that it is accelerating our inevitable end? If someone really loves their shrimp cocktail, who am I to point out that it is destroying the ecosystem? If someone really loves that diamond ring, who am I to point out that people die that they may be happy?

And that is where I find my answer. It may sound as though I am being sarcastic with this whole post, but I'm not. I seriously think (all the time) "Why not just live the good life until it's over?"

The answer I always come up with is not that living the good life we know today greatly reduces the chances that my grandkids will have anywhere need a good life. This is something that can be prevented by simply not having kids.

The answer I always come up with is that, sure, I can live the good life. Even if the more we live it, the harder it becomes to sustain it. If I chose to, I could make enough money to afford to ensure that I can, within reason, not be so directly effected by my own actions. But how can I ever forget that every "good life" point I accumulate, is at the expense of someone else. For every shrimp I eat, there are people in southeast asia loosing their valuable ecosystem. For every diamond ring I could buy for Tomoe, there are people being killed and enslaved. For every coffee refill I have at the coffee shop, there are people being denied the ability to meet their basic needs. For every mile I fly, there are people in Nigeria who can no longer grow the crops they need to live because the oil companies have polluted their land and water.

Yet, despite knowing this, despite the fact that I can't forget it, and I hate knowing it, I still keep asking myself "Why don't I just give it up... live the good life and forget about all that... it's not going to last that long anyway. After all, we're all part of nature, and nature works in cycles. Soon the human race will be gone, and something else will start. Who am I to get in the way of that?"

April 19, 2005

A Beach in Norwalk

Norwalk, Connecticut that is.

April 18, 2005

I almost shaved my head

So, I was cutting my hair today with my favorite clippers. It has been a few months since it was last cut, so it was quite long. I had finished about two thirds of it, so there were very short places, with random patches of long hair srouting out in various directions. Then I dropped the clippers on the floor and it broke into pieces.

For about forty five minutes, as I struggled to put them back together, I was afraid that I would have to walk downtown to the barber tomorrow with my hair like that and pay thirty bucks to have them finish clipping it. Either that, or try something I have always wondered about... shaving my head bald with a razor.

Fortunatly, (or unfortunatly if you wanted to see me shaved bald) I was finally able to get the clippers back together, and all is well.

The photos are from Niagra falls in December. You can see by the look on Tomoe's face how romantic it was.

Building a better boat

Warning: The following post was written as emerging thoughts over a period of three days (with little editing). The flow of logic makes sense to me, but just barely. If you can't figure out what the heck I'm talking about, there is a recap with the main points at the end.

I was taken to task a few nights ago, and rightly so, regarding my level of community participation. The topic came up because I did not know that Charles had re-married, a dead giveaway that I had not read a newspaper in the past week.

My argument was that no, I don't read newspapers so often, but that the important news gets to me anyway. Either I will hear about it in daily conversations (as I did the ever so important news about the royal wedding), I will hear about it a few days late when I catch up with NPR, or it will start popping up on blogs somewhere. There is, of course, news that is important to me but not covered in the newspaper. As such, this is what I spend most of my time searching for and reading.

There are two drawbacks to this "let it come to me" approach.

1) I find out late. Fortunately, there is rarely anything happening that is so time sensitive that my reading about it two or three days later becomes an issue. I have never had a need to know about something happening "in real time"

2) More importantly, it was pointed out that the news likely to find it's way to me via daily interactions and NPR or similar national news-sources, will not include local news from my community. The problem with this of course is that the place I can have the most impact is on a local level.

This is where the problem lies. I have no community. I have not lived in my home town for ten years, although I am officially registered to vote there. In the past ten years I have lived in eight different localities. Three of those were in Michigan.

This is an issue I have been contemplating a lot lately as I think about what my role would be in a better future, one where we are not acting so stupidly as we do today. I also think about what my role would be in actually helping to create a better future, one that I would like to live in.

It has been obvious throughout history that community is important. We are social animals. I, for one, hate living in isolation. Yet, how often do I participate in my community? How often do I interact with my neighbors? With work and study and grand ambition to save the world by changing how other people do things (forget about changing myself), I spend very little time on community.

It seems apparent to me that the future will require us to get back to a local community based living. Either we will do it by choice, because people gradually come to see that it is the only way to stop the ecologically devistating trends we see now, or we will be forced to as globe-trotting and purchasing goods produced around the world becomes prohibitively expensive. There are really no foreseeable, viable alternatives.

If this is the direction the world must head in, what is my role to help take us there sooner? After all, part of the reason I am here studying is to see what, if anything, I can do. Over the year, I have come to see it as if our entire culture, economy, and way of life is a big ship. There are huge holes in the ship and water is gushing in. One approach is to work like hell to patch those holes before the ship sinks. This seems to me to be the method advocated in the courses I have been taking. The idea is to patch the holes, but save the ship. Many peopler are working hard at this.

In the meanwhile, there are other people jumping ship, attempting to build their own boats, boats without holes, boats that float. These are boats that may resemble the sinking ship, but they are rebuilt from the ground up, having learned from the structural flaws of the predecessor. The hope is that when the poorly designed boat does sink, at least there will be people who know how to float. We can only hope that the sinking of our current broken way of life does not suck down all the other boats with it.

What does this have to do with the whole community thing? I'll (try to) tell you.

A part of me wants to stay and try to fix the sinking ship. It would mean that I can continue to live my life in a way that more closely resembles the culture I have grown up in. It would allow me to justify my travel and inactivity on a community level because I am busy working for the betterment of the world. Sacrificing what we have come to believe are necessary comforts is for other people. Spending less time at work, and more time building strong communities is for other people to do... people whose job is not so important as mine...

As heroic as that sounds, I don't think it's the way. If I want the world to be in a certain way (less stupid), I have to stop telling other people to change, and start changing myself. I envision a world where people spend less time working to pay for a week-long trip to the bahamas, a second car, or a flat screen TV, and more time interacting with people in their local community, helping each other to be less stupid. I envision a world where there are no uber-leaders flying the world over telling everyone else how they should live, but rather a world made up of people active on a local level, showing other people and communities how to live through example.

If a world of people leading by example is what I see, I guess I better lead by example as well. And if a world of people more active in their community than in their global company or crusade is what I see, I better live as though I mean it.

Easy enough to say.

Now comes the hard part, the part I have been contemplating for months now. How the hell can I do that in Japan? Especially in Tokyo where even if I was Japanese (Japan is notoriously prejudice), interaction with neighbors is kept to a minimum. I really see no way that I can make meaningful connections with the people around me in Tokyo. It's about as great a challenge as you can find... certainly more challenging than anything that has ever caused me stress in job up until now.

Of course, I have to work too (or Tomoe will throw me out). What this means though, is that when finding a job, I have to keep in mind that I want to do more than just preach... I also want to live what I feel is right. The major obstacle to living how I believe has always been time. Even just thinking about what I believe takes enormous amounts of time, let alone planning and then actually realizing those beliefs. Taking a more active role in community, even if it is just getting to know the neighbors, is something that has to be done, along with all the other things I wish other people would pay attention to.

I know everyone talks about balancing their life and work, but somehow they only talk about it after their work has already been decided, and then the question becomes, "how can I fit a full private life into the time left over". I am going to have to take the opposite approach. Build my private life first, the way I want it, and then ask myself, "How can I make money in the time left over?"

Uhhhhh..... Anyone get all of that? What I wrote sat there on my computer for a few days. I was trying to decide if I wanted to post it. In the end, despite the incoherent ramblingness of it all, I have decided to keep it in the hopes that making these thoughts public might put a little more pressure on my to follow through when it comes time.

In case you didn't get anyhting of what I wrote above, or don't see the connections, I'll recap. A friend made note of the fact that I am not active in a local/community level. This is something that I too have recognized and have been trying to figure out how to fix. I still don't know how, and living in Tokyo makes it all the more difficult, but it is one of the main pillars on which I hope to start building my life. I feel that it is more important to live how I wish others would live, rather then just finding a job that keeps me busy preaching, and then trying to figure out how to live what I preach in the time left over. I have no idea how I will do it. But if I can't, I have no right to preach it to other people anyway.

April 17, 2005

POSTED

I Just back from a long awaited overnight kayak trip. I had meetings yesterday afternoon and again this morning, so I didn't really get to go far, but I got far enough.

Planning my July kayak trip, I have been worrying a bit that I might get a little bored, an entire month of kayaking every day, sleeping in the tent with no computer, internet, or NPR. The biggest worry though is that I would only have enough room to cary about a week's worth of books. I don't worry about that anymore. In fact, I can't wait. I just hope it will be a bit warmer as my kayak is rather small and I can't carry a whole lot of cold weather gear.

The greatest thing about it was that there are no "POSTED: Trespassers will be shot!" signs. In Sweden I'm allowed to camp a-n-y-w-h-e-r-e I want. (except that dang nature reserve)

photos from December in Michigan

* * *

Interesting: (at least to me)

The True 'Johnny B. Goode' Dies (Fresh Air)

Legendary blues and rock pianist Johnnie Johnson died Wednesday in St. Louis. He was 80 years old. For more than 20 years, Johnson was Chuck Berry's pianist. He played on all of Berry's greatest hits, and he gained rock-and-roll immortality when Berry wrote the song "Johnny B. Goode" about him. (Originally aired July 31, 1991)

April 14, 2005

my "I kinda think I might be close to believing" manifesto

Wow, so I started writing my post for tonight over an hour ago. It was supposed to be a quick one, but it just keeps going and going. I guess I should have realized it would take some time after I had finished the first few paragraphs:

Some people make manifestos and "this I believe" statements. I, however, believe most firmly in flip-flopping. Ask my thesis partners. One day I argue passionately for one thing until it is accepted, and the next, after having had time to digest their arguments, I suggest we drop it.

I realize that my flexibility and open-mindedness may make it hard for people to know what I "stand for". Sometimes, it may even lead to misunderstanding where people think I have flip-flopped on an issue which I have not. Case in point, a while back I wrote that I had finally "bought in" to what this class was trying to teach us. While I meant what I wrote, I realized yesterday, when some readers (who also happen to be classmates) reacted, that I expressed it poorly, in a way that made it sound as if I suddenly flip-flopped and was now singing the praises of the program.

The point of this post, is to make it a bit clearer as to where I have been flopping to recently. I will offer some of my recent "seeds of belief", which have yet to sprout into unquestionable faith. These are ideas I am leaning toward. As such, I try to spend half of my study and contemplation time taking the idea deeper, and the other half trying to dis-prove it.

Of course, I can't list everything I kinda-think-I-might-be-close-to-believing. Nor, do I have room enough to list all the things I am pretty sure I don't believe. I will however list some of the ideas that have been on my mind the most in these past weeks, and months.

So I suspect I will need a little more time to really get my thoughts down. But my "I kinda think I might be close to believing" manifesto is coming soon to a bastish.net near you.

The photos today, and those from yesterday, are from my trip to Connecticut to visit Tomoe over the holidays.

April 13, 2005

What's Next?

as you read this, please imagine the cheerful voice of a man with a lust for life.

I have just found today that I am spending waaaaaayyyyy too much time working on this thesis thing, or at least I don't have to beat myself up for times when I slack off. Doing an informal survey of some fellow students, I find a wide range of hours per week. From over forty, all the way down to an hour a day. The point of mentioning this is not to say that some people should work harder, but rather, because I realized that I have somehow fallen prey to a preconceived notion that I have to somehow feel guilty about choosing to have a personal life, and follow personal hobbies, even if they don't contribute anything special to society. Whoever said that we have to "contribute"?

As you may have guessed, with my year here coming to a close, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what's next.

For now, I have a lot of ideas, but there are a few which seem a little easier to imagine. When I am able to construct a story or vision of what my life might be like (usually very inaccurate visions) should I follow a certain course, I tend to focus on those. The very fact that my brain is working over-time to imagine is a sign that it is meaningful to me.

The short term future is pretty clear. After the program is finished, I will spend a few weeks here in Karlskrona finishing up some web work which has taken a back seat to my thesis. It is far from full-time, so it will be peppered with copious amounts of kayaking, bike riding, camping, hiking, and maybe a mini-trip to Norway again. Anyway, the web work requires an Internet connection, so I will keep my apartment until the end of June. Then, in July, I hop in the kayak and go off-line for a month as I paddle (sail) north to Finland. Depending on how long it takes me, I may even have time to paddle south along the Finnish coast, then ferry back to Karlskrona.

I had been toying with the idea of returning to Japan by land, taking the trans-siberian railway across russia, then ferry over to Hokkaido, and train down to Tokyo. This would be the "more sustainable" way to get back, and would certainly be interesting.

If I choose to fly back (Unfortunately, my flight to get here was a round-trip ticket, so I have already supported the airline industry when I purchased the seat last year. If I give it up now, they will just sell it to someone else and profit even more.) I have a layover in Malaysia. When I purchased the ticket I thought I may take the opportunity to visit Thailand again for a few weeks. That was before I met a classmate here from Malaysia, and suddenly a week in Malaysia looks very appealing. Unfortunately, although the classmate works for the government timber industry, she wont be able to get me a free VIP tour of the rain-forest, but I can still pay to see it.

So, once I get back, I will be living in Tokyo again. Tomoe has found a beautiful, sunny sounding apartment in Nakano, a few minutes away from Shinjyuku. Apparently it's not as nice as our old place, which came with it's own flower laden river, but it is closer to her work, and is on a smaller side street, so no loud cars passing by.

I have not lined up any work for once I get back to Tokyo, thinking that I would rather spend some time getting the lay of the sustainability land since I will be trying to get into a new field (no more web stuff?). I would rather work on some of my own projects, including some volunteer work. Although it would not pay in the short term, it would be a convenient way to make connections and build relationships that will turn into something later, when I have a clearer view of what's what. Of course, I have not ruled out "real" work, but I am really wary about taking a job right away that requires so much effort and dedication that I do not have time to explore my full range of options.

Although I have several Tokyo or near-Tokyo personal projects in mind, I am not comfortable enough with them to talk about them here. I have, however, been imagining some other things I could do which would once again take me away form Tokyo.

Part of "sustainability" (the biggest part in my mind) is the social aspect. I have realized that I am not here to learn to sustain the earth. The earth will still be around no matter what happens to us. Nor am I here to sustain only the plants and animals, or the polar ice-caps. If that was the goal I would focus on eliminating the human race.

No, it would appear that the goal is to make our planet livable and tolerable for all of us. This of course includes ensuring that we have viable, working eco-systems, but it also requires some serious thought about how to make life better for the majority of the people in the world, those who live lives so different from the "developed" minority, lives that I can't even imagine.

How then can I, after spending a year in cozy, unpopulated Sweden, even pretend to know anything about "sustainability"? How could I make a responsible argument or decision that will effect people I don't know anything about?

This is the thinking that has led me to research options, paid or volunteer, in developing countries. Even if it is volunteer, I would rationalize it as the second year of my masters degree, and as such, another year without pay would not be bad at all. The only question then is about where to go, how to get there, and how I can help and learn?

I don't know why, but somehow saying this makes me feel ashamed. I feel that somehow our culture has been perverted to look down on people who volunteer. For example, I have never had a good impression of the Peace Corps. (although I never even researched them until recently). The impression I got from TV and movies was that it was for rebelling rich kids, who, once they grow more mature, realize the selfishness of their ways... that the only reason they joined was to shirk their really duty, being contributing to the betterment of the world economy thorough a real, paying job, rather than just trying to appease their concience.

From what I read, the Peace Corps does not appear half-bad. Sitll thoguht, I find it difficult to shake that image. In the mean time I am looking for other, similar opportunities as well, pay or not, so any suggestions would be helpful. (As would any thoughts on peace corps, either substantiating my prejudice, or dispelling it.)

My Situation

The thing that scares me the most is that she thinks she would be the best dictator of the world...

My situation reminds me of a movie I saw where a man was transported back in time where he met hitler as a boy. He had, of course, a choice to make.

Can you imagine having the author of this excerpt as the world dictator? (as you read it, imagine a sorority/GAP girl... like the old Saturday Night Live GAP skits.)

3. I have been like, up to my ears in thesis interviews. Ohmygod! Each one takes like, at least 2 hours of preparation (and that's like, after I've carefully negotiated an interview time where both of us will be like, available?), plus the time it takes to like, have the interview, write up the summary, and like, email it off for approval? Hello-oh! Thankfully, I've like, got it down to a science, and it now runs quite smoothly.

Note: I added the "like"s, the "Hello-oh", "Ohmygod!" for effect

Well, maybe she wouldn't be such a bad dictator. Maybe I'm just upset because she, of all my readers, should know the tone with which I am writing. We speak in person so often, and I have never, to my knowledge, used a whinny, depressed, woe-is-me voice. Yet, as she was quoting my blog to me tonight, she used the tone of voice of someone about to hang himself. (to make it even more confusing, she has a photographic memory... yet somehow forgot how I sound when I talk)

It's one thing that shes hears such a voice in her head as she reads my blog, but what really scares me is the fact that most of my readers have never spoken to me in person. They have no idea what tone I am using as I write.

I just want all my readers to know, that when you read what I write, although it may be a little depressing, or it may sound like I am in a deep depression, were I to read it out loud, it is more likely to have a cynical/sarcastic voice. That is not to say that what I write is always sarcasm, it's often in good humor, despite the content, but it should always be taken with a grain of salt. I am, after all, just trying on ideas. I am seeing how well they resonate with me. It often is what I believe at the moment, but probably not with such a heavy voice as it appears.

And, I should point out that Jennifer does not sound like a GAP girl. Sometimes she actually sounds a little intelligent.

April 12, 2005

Pointless

I have been reading over some of my older posts, from years ago, and I find them so much more entertaining that the crap I write now. The photos were also better and much more interesting.

What the hell happened to me? Why have I become such a looser?

From now on I am making a new year's resolution (it was just the Iranian new year a couple weeks ago) that I will no longer be boring, or fill the site with crappy photos.

Of course, you have to wait a bit for the good photos until I work my way through the crappy to average photo back-log. But from now on, I will only take excellent photos.

But the writing! That is something I can take care of now! From now on, only interesting stuff.

Stuff like:

last night So, here I am, sucking on salty, sugar-free pastilles, watching Alias, wondering how realistic it is. Can a CIA agent really get a graduate degree, learn karate and all the rest of the spy crap she knows in just two years and still have time for a more active private life than I do? Why am I such a looser? I can't even seem to find time to clean my apartment.

today Now I'm in a cafe downtown. I have to come here to study and write because there is no internet connection. I am still trying to force myself to write about "leadership" for a little book project I am working on with Laura, Jennifer, and Mandy. The problem is not writers block. In fact, far from it, I have written thousands of words about it in the past few weeks. The problem is pulling them all together into a coherent form. I blame blogging for this cohesion block.

Over the past few years my writing has grown ever more into a stream-of-consciousness style. There is no single topic, no thesis statement to prove. Instead, I find myself simply writing random thoughts and trying to connect them to a vague theme.

But maybe it is not so accurate to blame blogging. Perhaps this stream-of-consciousness style is this a natural result of an ever increasing complexity of our lives? Or rather, an increasing awareness of that complexity? I have been finding that with the leadership topic, there is no one strong belief which can be backed up by argument. Whenever I try, I always end up proving my argument wrong, leading to an essay that is about as coherent as if I were to say "leadership is this, except when it is that, or the other thing, and in all of those cases you have to take these into account, which means that it is not even really all of those."

Maybe another contributer to my cohesion block is my preconceived notion of how an essay for publication is supposed to look. While stream-of-consciousness in a blog written for myself is fine, an essay written with the intent to publish should follow some kind of rules right? Spell-checking, grammar, all that crap. I find myself thinking much more about what the reader may think, rather than how it helps me to think.

We all know that someone who does not subscribe to a close-minded, one-track, "this is the absolute truth - regardless of the circumstance" view is quickly labeled a flip-flopper, a wish-wash, weak, and indecisive. What a sad world we live in when people are made to feel guilty or inadequate for thinking about a topic from all angles, reserving judgment until it is well understood, and refusing to make over-arching assertions independent of context.

Then again, maybe the biggest reason I am unable to finish my leadership essay is that I am waiting for someone to force me to. Maybe I am just a run-of-the-mill follower looking for a traditional leader to take charge of my life for me.

Just out of curiosity... can anyone see a specific point or topic in this entry? If not, does that bother anyone?





April 11, 2005

CIA and Sustainability

update: The connection between our photo and American Gothic was brought to my attention by Mandy

So today I discovered Alias (yes, I'm a little slow). I have watched two episodes so far, and despite Jenipher's revelation that she never dies, there is still suspense... who knows when she will get naked?

Anyway, the question that I had was regarding the CIA, and their alternative energy policy. They must have a back-up plan that will keep them running on solar/wind/whatever is renewable in the event that terrorists or what-not prevent the US from getting their latest oil fix.

Jenyfer has decided that Karl Henrik Robert, the guy behind The Natural Step, and the program we are studying in, has actually worked with them at length, but has signed a non-disclosure agreement.

It makes me a little mad that he would keep this a secret from us for so long.

Harnessing the wind

One of the big things I got out of this year was time to think. Although from what i write about it may appear that I haven't really thought of anything useful, I have to say that it does not reflect my much greater appreciation of some fundamental concepts I was supposed to learn way back in high-school. The difference between then and now is definitely not my level of maturity. Rather, I think that it is more a question of the context in which the subject is taught. Then, it was just taught. The goal was to get good grades so I am eligible to play sports. There was no attempt (at least none that I could see) to show how such things as thermodynamics and ecological cycles were important to know about.

Enough about that though.

Along with this new-found interest in thermodynamics has come a curiosity about making due with what we have (sun, wind, rain, etc..). I doubt that I can make the connection clear in my writing, but it is clear in my head. Much of the clarity and interest has resulted, I think, from reading what was for me, the most influential book I have read this year: Gaviotas.

The book touches on a multitude of concepts. Every time I opened it I had an a-ha! moment. But what made it so powerful to me was not the concepts themselves, for they were not entirely new, but rather that it shows the concepts in implementation.

The book is about a village in Columbia where, as Social design Notes puts it:

while war rages across Colombia with the help of U.S. funds, equipment, and training, the 200 residents of Gaviotas, including farmers, scientists, artists, and former street kids, have created a thriving village and environmental research center in Vichada in Los Llanos.

(Mother Jones Article about Gaviotas)

One of the things that really inspired me was the idea that perhaps I could, without any engineering degree or research lab funding, use existing materials (otherwise waste) to make some simple things contraptions to reduce my own footprint.

Most of the fantasies bursting forth from my brain are things that I would like to try once I get back to Tokyo, where I am somewhat settled (no use trying to build a mini wind-turbine or rain water collection/purification device here when I will be gone before I can use it). However, this idea of becoming an amateur inventor have led to my current project. One that I hope to use in June or July as I kayak from Karlskrona, in the south of Sweden, to the Finland border, in the north.

I want to build a sail for my kayak. I know, it sounds simple and nothing special, but for me, raised in a world where if it's not sold at Wall-mart it'S probably not possible, it's a big step, and a big dream. About the closest thing I can remember to this once when I was a kid and tried to make a raft out of empty one-gallon milk jugs. The raft never really made it to sea.

* * *

The photos are from our day in Warsaw, Poland.

April 10, 2005

Am I affected?

Diane Rehm has a great one hour summary of the recent UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. They talk about the current sorry state of the earth's ecosystem and what it means.

As part of our project, we are asking our interviewees about what trends they see in the world right now, ecological or social, which affect them. People are having a hard time coming up with answers. It's not that they don't know a lot of the problems with what we are doing to our life-support systems, just that they don't see how it connects to them. Granted, we are interviewing people living in Sweden which seems to be quite isolated from where most of ecological damage is being done, but Sweden too has it's troubles (poisoned lakes, rivers and seas, urban sprawl, etc...).

I wonder if it would be any easier if they listened to this show first... Unfortunately, I think I know the answer. And, to tell the truth, when I went through the excersize myself, although I was able to identify a lot of trends which are having a profound negative impact on the earth, when I went back to ask myself "How does this affect me personally?", most of my answers were along the lines of "I just feel stupid contributing to it" or "If I should have kids, it would be very difficult for them to have even half the quality of life I have". There were relativly few issues with highly visible short-term effects. At least not enough to make me take any actions. I live a pretty dang comfortable life.

I wonder how long it will be before we, in the developing world, start to see the effects of our actions? Or, are the effects already all around us, just happening too slowly to recognize?

Anyway, I highly recommend listening to the show. It's only an hour. Please? for me?

April 09, 2005

Being god

Several of us got together with the spacial planning class today to take a field trip to a nearby city known for some of it's urban planning solutions. Generally I find little of interest when visiting cities (other than some nice photos here and there), but this trip shed a whole new light on things. They started us off with a two hour presentation about some of the background of their city, such as how over the years they killed the surrounding four lakes one by one with their sewage.

They showed us how they have begun working to remedy the problems in a way that not only blends well with a vibrant community, but actually helps to make it more so. They showed us how they have made certain urban layout plans to reduce the need for cars, etc... They also talked a bit about how they struggle to fit the differing needs of stake-holders while attempting to keep the long term needs of the community as a whole the top priority.

Touring the town after such a presentation, with the head planner, really changed the way you look at it. As we went along, we saw the areas he spoke of in his presentation... things I would have never noticed on my own. He told us how certain areas used to be deserted or dangerous and the reasons they had for renovating it the way they did, all the while we talk, people ridding by on their bikes, walking, sitting, everything you would expect to see in a healthy city. I imagined he must have been feeling a little like god. Here are all these people just living their life, not realizing that they are actually living out (to some extent) his plan. The idea that he did not activly set out to change their mind, or convince them to ride their bikes there or sicialize more, instead, simply made some changes to the environment making it more condusive to the desired behaviour.

Makes me want to become an urban planner. In fact, earlier in the year, we heard another talk by a planner here in Karlskrona. It was one of the best presentations of the year, and one I will remember as really resonating with me. After that I felt that it would be an interesting job as well, so much so that I started investigating the Masters degree program for spacial planning the the university here. Then I realized that I really don't like living in the city... so why would I want to plan one?

The city we visited today however, as well as Karlskrona, are not what I mean when I say I don't like living in the city. I guess I mean I despise living in Tokyo (which has more people than all of Sweden). I think that being on a planning team of a smaller city such as this would be incredibly rewarding work, not to mention much more important, in my opinion, than trying to convince large companies who have an explicit goal to "make more money" that taking the long term social and environmental effects into account is a good thing. In the long run, as companies come and go, and their business models become impossible due to the damage they themselves caused, cities, towns, communities will still be there, and there will always be a need to look at social and environmental consequences of the decisions that go into sustaining them.

But... more school? I'm already thirty. I guess it's time to start doing something with my life.


* * *

Yes, yes. More kayaking photos. Although I'll have you know that I haven't kayaked all week. I have been working hard. These photos were from last Saturday. Before we went out, the guy at the kayak club where friends rented their kayaks made them promise that if they fell out they would only try to get back in once before making a swim for safety. He stressed the fact that if they are in the water they only have about thirty seconds before loosing the use of fingers.




April 08, 2005

Huggy me

I really hate that people smoke in bars when others are trying to enjoy themselves. In one of my rare visits to the bar tonight (rare because of smoke, but also because most bars are just too loud), it was karaoke night. Every Thursday night is karaoke night, and it has been a class tradition to go every week (without me). Despite my weakened voice from screaming conversations over all the noise, and smoke irritated vocal cords, I managed to belt out an old favorite from my grade-school days. I was discouraged to find that I had forgotten the words... after only fifteen years!

The song, "Keep you hands to yourself", was un-dedicated to my thesis partners. I say un-dedicated because I In the beginning of the project, we shared our individual goals... what we hoped to get out of the whole sha-bang. One of mine was to become more "huggy".

Mostly this was because people had some image of me being a cold, un-emotional, un-caring robot-like character. In my opinion, it's just that our class hugs waaaaaaayyyyy too much. I can't keep up. Especially considering that I have only even hugged my parents and other family members fewer times in my whole life than people this year have expected a hug from me. It's crazy really. Here, any time someone will be away for the weekend, there is a hugfest. Whenever someone comes back from a long lunch break a round of hugs ensues.

Anyway, we have been pretty good at having group hugs to end our thesis meetings. the thing is, I can't say I feel any more comfortable with the whole hugging situation of the class. After all, it was never a physical aversion, which a little practice would probably help cure, it's not a matter of me not liking to hug, simply a matter of not understanding how the situation necessitates one. Simply practicing "hugging" tells me nothing about why the hell people feel a need to hug at least once every five time they meet.

I'm all about peace and love and what-not, but for some reason I'm just never in a position where it is called for. Maybe I have to have a little more trauma in my life.

* * *

Tomorrow some of us take a field trip to a nearby town, along with the spacial planning department, to study their urban planning. I had been planning to go for a while now, but the timing couldn't have been better. Recently I have been thinking about "leadership" for an essay I am supposed to write. My thoughts have turned to bottom-up leading... the best results for the whole emerging from smaller interactions between the parts. It seems that this would be very relevant to urban planning. I can't wait to see if it comes up.

April 05, 2005

Belgium

April 01, 2005

Note To Mandy:

Note to Mandy: You missed it. Next time don't worry so much about the cold.

Streets of Belgium

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