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September 29, 2005

Early Withdrawl

Did I just write that I was hopeful that real science will eventually win out over junk science when it comes forming public opinion and policy? I was tempted to rethink that today... but instead I am choosing to make an early withdrawl from the optimism bank. I just hope I have enough left to last until science wins out.

From Real Climate:

Today we witnessed a rather curious event in the US Senate. Possibly for the first time ever, a chair of a Senate committee, one Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), invited a science fiction writer to advise the committee (Environment and Public Works), on science facts--in this case, the facts behind climate change. The author in question? None other than our old friend, Michael Crichton[.]

It's amazing to me that anyone would even suggest that a fictional novel, written by an entertainer (even if he is a medical doctor, which is very different than a climate scientist), should be used to aid decision making in any way instead of peer reviewed scientific research. Now, technically, Chriton's novel has been "peer reviewed", but c'mon, his peers are fiction writers! and this kind of review don't even show up in scientific journals, they show up on the back cover of the novel!

It's not as if this is a new issue for which there are no scientists specializing in researching the issue to testify, or no scientific, peer-reviewed articles to base decisions on. Were they invited? Did they decline to testify? Was Chriton all that was available? Why would anyone even suggest that policy decision making be informed by a work of fiction?

It makes me embarrassed to be an American.

On the other hand, for all the senators that giddily expressed how great they thought the novel was, and how helpful it was in helping them understand the real-life issue of climate change, there were senators who recognized the folly of using a novel and the testimony of an entertainer for decision making, and I am relieved that they did not cite The Day After Tomorrow in rebuttal to Chriton's book.

Trying to understand

I have said it before. One of my favorite radio programs is Justice Talking. I love it because it gives me a chance to at least try to understand how people, who's views disagree with my own, see the world, and the logic they use to justify those views.

I really wish they would have a program debating the feasibility of factory farming and our hunger for meat. This is one issue that I have never really seen any arguments from "the other side" beyond the dismissive "People have always eaten meat." or "God put animals here for us to eat."

Don't get me wrong. I understand that people's bodies are different, and some people may need more meat protein than I do. I also have no problem with people who want to eat meat sometimes simply because they enjoy it. But c'mon. There has to be a point where "Because I enjoy the flavor" gives way to responsible use of the earth's resources. Simply put, my argument against a heavily meat based diet is that no matter your ethics regarding the treatment of the animals, producing the volume of meat that we consume is, assuming we feel some responsibility to current and future generations, simply not feasible given the very real physical constraints thermodynamics places on our ecosystem.

Joel Makower has reviewed a new WorldWatch report about factory farming and industrial production of meat, highlighting how "As environmental and labor regulations in the European Union and the United States become stronger and more prohibitive, large agribusinesses are moving their animal production operations overseas, primarily to countries with less stringent enforcement." If anyone knows the point of view of "the other side" regarding the points rasied below, and the logic behind those views, I am sincerely interested in hearing them.

  • Crowded, inhumane, and unhygienic conditions on factory farms can sicken farm animals and create the perfect environment for the spread of diseases, including avian flu, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease), and foot-and-mouth disease.
  • Factory-farmed meat and fish contain an arsenal of unnatural ingredients, among them persistent organic pollutants (POPs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, hormones, and other chemicals. Overuse of antibiotics and other antimicrobials in livestock and poultry operations, meanwhile, is undermining the toolbox of effective medicines for human use.
  • Factory farming is resource intensive: producing just one calorie of beef takes 33% more fossil-fuel energy than producing a calorie of potatoes. Eight ounces of beef can require up to 25,000 liters of water, while enough flour for a loaf of bread in developing countries requires only 550 liters.
  • Despite the fact that fisheries worldwide are being fished out, about a third of the total marine fish catch is utilized for fish meal, two-thirds of which is used to fatten chickens, pigs, and other animals.
  • Only about half of all livestock waste is effectively fed into the crop cycle; much of the remainder ends up polluting the air, water, and soil.

As an exercise in empathy and understanding, I have tried to imagine the views of someone who disagrees with my point of view. I suppose one might say (please correct me if I am wrong):

  • Industrial methods have allowed us to produce more meat at lower costs than can be produced in the fields of smaller local family farms (the costs to the environment should not be factored in because future generations will develop technologies to fix any problems that may arise).
  • The ability to eat more meat is an indicator of a raised standard of living. This is a good thing. Health issues and health care costs from higher consumption of saturated fats should not be taken into account because economic growth will allow future generations to develop new medicines that solve these issues.
  • As for the POPs, PCBs, and other chemicals, the industry has commissioned studies which indicate that there is either no link between these chemicals and negative effects to people or, at worst, these links have not been proven conclusively. It would be foolish to risk economic progress without being certain. Overuse of antibiotics is not an issue because the economic growth and raised standard of living will lead to new technologies in the future that will solve this issue before it becomes a problem.
  • The amount of energy used to produce the meat is a non-issue. Our current energy demands will not out-grow supply. (Before that happens, the free market will intervene forcing current oil subsidies to be shifted to renewable energy research). As for the amount of water needed to produce a loaf of bread compared to an eight ounce steak, people in developing countries will benefit from the jobs brought by foreign agribusiness. The short term economic benefits will allow them to invest in technologies that will solve any issues arising from decreased local grain production, depleted fresh water stocks, and environmental pollution.
  • The earth is resilient. Fish stocks can be replenished and those species that can't are probably not even that important anyway since the market will simply find a new favorite sea-food. Likewise, if too many species are lost, the market will step in to find some other solution. Besides, the economic benefit from investing the profits gained by using up as many of these fish stocks as soon as possible will allow future generations to develop technologies that resolve any issues that may arise.
  • Look out the window. The air, water, and soil look cleaner than they were fifty years ago. Besides, reusing livestock waste in not currently economically feasible. Introducing regulations now would hurt industry profits, having an overall negative effect on the global economy. Before any real environmental issues develop, the free market will cause the people of developing nations (using their new economic might) to demand foreign industries to act more responsibly. By that time, the global standard of living and economy will have grown to a level where we can afford to the new technologies that make such re-use of waste unnecessary, and future generations will solve any problems that may arise on their own.

Grasp and reach for a leg of hope

So, I've been reading The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America and thoroughly enjoying it, though perhaps not for the reasons the author intended. I find that it gives me a little hope.

It is so easy for us to look at how much destruction we as a society have caused to the earth in such a short time. It is easy to be frightened and disgusted at some of our leaders' and industries' lack of respect for scientific evidences.

But, I forget (or maybe it's more accurate to say 'never really learned') how bad it was in the very recent past. I'm encouraged to see that only a century and a half ago, even the best main-stream scientists readily discarded evidence because it did not fit with their personal philosophy and religious beliefs. How (even more than today) it was perfectly acceptable to use religion as an excuse to deny science and actually support discrimination.

[T]he Lawrence Scientific School was established as an institution that trained researchers. At a time when almost every American scientist received the specialized portion of his education in Europe ... One of the things that had held back scientific education in American colleges (there were no graduate schools, strictly speaking, in the United States before the Civil War) was the dominance of theology in the curriculum, which obliged scholars in every field to align their work with Christian orthodoxy.

and

Morton had published two major works on his skulls. Crania Americana, which appeared in 1839, was a study of the skulls of Native Americans; Crania Aegyptiaca, published five years later, analyzed skills that had been retrieved from ancient Egyptian tombs. Morton's method, like Agassiz's was empirical and comparative: he measured the interior capacity of the skulls and then he compared the results by race. His conclusions ... ranked the human races (as Morton classified them) by cranial capacity. In descending oder of volume these were: Caucasian, Mongolian, Malay, Native American, and Negro ... Morton correlated these measurements with generalizations about the attributes of the different races as he had gleaned them from anthropological and travel literature.

...

Morton's data were completely unsound. Since he possessed only the skulls and whatever information their donors chose to send along with them, he had no way of checking the reliability of his racial attributions. He failed to factor gender and overall body size -information he somethines did not even have- into his calculations. And he dealt with skewing in his samples by making sear-of-the-pants adjustments. Some of his Caucasian skulls, for example, had belonged (as one might expect) to men who had been hanged for murder; Morton argued that the Caucasian mean should therefore be adjusted upward, on the assumption that murderers have smaller cranial capacity than law-abiding persons. He dropped the Hindu skulls from his calculation of the Caucasian mean because the Hindu figure brought the overall average down, but he retained a disproportionately high number of Peruvian skulls in his calculation of the Native American mean, even though the Peruvian average was the lowest within the category. And he made elementary statistical errors. but his studies, published in oversized volumes with elegantly designed plates and charts were widely circulated, and his results were cited as authoritative by scientists in the United States and Europe.

and

Two theories of racial difference predominated in Western science in the century before Darwin; neither was egalitarian. People who believed that all humans are descended from a common origin (a position known as monogenism) attributed racial inequalities to differing rates of degeneration. The entire species has declined since the creation, monogenists thought, but some groups, due (usually) to the effects of climate, had declined farther than others. Polygenists, on the other hand, believed that the races were created separately and that they had been endowed with different attributes and unequal aptitudes from the start.

...

The Bible, [Samuel Cartwright] explained, describes two creations, a black one, (with the animals) and a white one (Adam and Eve). The Hebrew word for the serpent who tempts Eve is Nachash, meaning "to be or become black": the Biblical serpent is, Cartwright was thus able to reveal, "the negro gardner."

Yes, yes, I know. Discarding evidence because it doesn't fit with personal, political, or religious beliefs is still a major problem today, and yes, yes, Christian orthodoxy is still fighting hard to get itself in the science classroom, but obviously that the problem is no longer as prevalent, and certainly not among main-stream scientists. It seems that it's only a problem because the fringe scientists who do disregard evidences are visible because they are so well funded by those who benefit from creating confusion.

Anyway, my point should not be taken as anti-religion, but point out the obvious -just how much religion shaped the minds and attitudes of the people then. But, we can rejoice in the fact that, as a historical trend, true science has, in a way, succeeded in changing views that oppose it, rather than the other way around. Even the "science" that was once seen as backed by scripture has gradually given way to true science -and faced with the evidences, people interpret scripture in much different ways than just one-hundred years ago. My more modern religious training certainly never made any mention about the serpent being "the negro gardener".

The examples above deal with science making it almost impossible for thinking people to justify racial and gender prejudice (and, except for an unfortunately powerful group of holdouts, has made it difficult for a rational person to justify discrimination based on sexual preference as well). But what it also illustrates to me is that eventually, the more we know and discover, the more evidence builds illustrating our unsustainable ways, the more difficult it will be for people to seriously reconcile their previous beliefs with reality -no matter how much they profit from denial of that reality. I would like to go so far as to say that there has already been a huge shift in just the past decade, as companies realize that sustainability is an issue that has to be dealt with, just as huge strides have been made in the area of human rights in just the past century.

To think that this has happened within only a few generations gives me hope. I just have to find some way to feed the hope that we have a few more generations left before it's too late because it does seem that critical mass of understanding is growing faster than the pessimist in me likes to see. But then again, I have not tested this hypothesis. Perhaps it is based simply on denial.

September 23, 2005

Heal thyself

That was the most traumatic and unpleasant experience I have ever had. Next time I have an ulcer I am just going to have to hope that it clears up naturally. It only lasted about ten minutes, but ten minutes is a long time to manually over-ride your gag reflex, "throat clearing" reflex, and "swallow that pool of drool collecting at the back of your tounge" reflex. The more I concentrated on not coughing, the more I JUST HAD TO.

Anyway, it's over now. They found a few little ulcers, but nothing big enough to close up with their laser.

As wrote before, I usually would never go to the doctor, always trusting in my body to do the right thing and heal itself. I'm almost over the hill now though, so I thought I should check out this whole "doctor" concept, and what do they tell me? "Go home and heal yourself." And by the way, you owe us $200 for the opportunity to have a camera shoved down your throat.

AND THEY DIDN'T EVEN LET ME SEE THE TV SCREEN WHILE THEY PEEKED IN MY TUMMY!!!!

September 21, 2005

Jyoubunaishikankensa

I love learning new words. This is a word I learned today at the hospital. It's really quite exciting actually. In thirty years the most serious reason I had to go to the hospital (that I remember) was for a bruised kidney after a car accident. I was kep overnight for observation.

I have seen people having jyoubunaishikankensa on TV before. I always cringe at the thought of it. Now I have to go there tomorrow morning and get it done... and to think, I almost ran away today when they pulled out the needle for the blood sample.

Anyway, jyoubunaishikankensa is just a fancy Japanese word for endoscopy. They have to put a camera down my throat and plug up my gastric ulcer(s). I guess life in the Swedish countryside was just too stressful.

September 20, 2005

Help Wanted

I am working on a little project now to save the world, and I need some help, or at least some free consulting.

If anyone out there:

  • Is a Wiki wizard - At the very least I need a little help conceptualizing how I can use MediaWiki to it's full potential. At most, I need someone to help get it going. (It's installed, but I haven't had time to learn how to really use it beyond simply adding new pages and very basic formatting)
  • Is a designer with a little free time - As the blue parakeet in the corner will attest to, I never was good at making logos...
  • Knows a lot about, or wants to learn more about Sustainability / Sustainable Development / Environmental type stuff - I am looking for feedback on some aspects of the project, and maybe even people to participate in it.

If anyone reading this fits into any of these three categories, and has time to even just chat or exchange emails with me, I would really appreciate it.

Email me please at kevin AT kevincameron.net.

Interesting Place

Don't you hate it when you go to the local office at 10:00, take a number, and don't get out again until... 10:10! I didn't even have time to read the book I had so much been looking forward to.

At any rate, I am once again in the land of the insured. My insurance ran out Sept 1, and as usual I procrastinated in getting it renewed. Then of course the big sickness came, and I would have gone to see the doctor this time for a change (in the past I would never go to the doctor on the first day of a sickness, but this time the dark color of my...errr...led me to believe that I have some bleeding in my stomach. That, and I am over thirty now.) At any rate, come to find out, I could have gone to the doctor without insurance and get reimbursed once my reapplication is approved. And, even if they found out that I had stomach cancer, alcoholic's liver, or some other disease guaranteeing that the insurer would loose, they would just smile as they approve my new application.

Interesting place this is...

September 19, 2005

Purchasing Choices.

I was in good health again yesterday as I slaved under the hot sun together with Tomoe at the farm.

A question that has been on my mind recently is "When does choosing not to buy from a certain business do more harm than good?"

The farm I have been helping out at is not a completely "organic" farm. They do use some chemicals and pesticides. They do however make an effort, per an agreement with the Tokyo coop, to reduce the amount they use. In exchange, the coop agrees to buy the vegetables at a fixed price regardless of shape and individual size.

Doing this can be seen as an attempt at helping the farmer move toward a more sustainable farming method which does not use chemicals that bio-accumulate, or have adverse effects on surrounding ecosystems. In addition, because this farm is so close to Tokyo, we can have very local foods, reducing the milage and carbon emissions used to transport it.

Despite the coop's efforts to encourage this farm to use less chemicals, I find myself opting for the organic veggies. I want to support those farmers as well. I want to know that my money is causing less harm to the future. There are personal health factors as well, but I can't really talk about those considering how unhealthy some of my other lifestyle choices are.

To make it worse, seeing how much Naoki-san (the farmer I am helping) has to manage, and how few people and resources, when he seems to be doing all he can to stay afloat, I am not sure that simply buying his vegetables would even be enough of a push for him to move closer to an organic farming method -even if he wanted to.

Not to say that I really know anything about the difference between traditional farming and organic farming other than that which I have read, but it seems that to shift mid-course, even a slow, planned out shift would be a tremendous amount of work and require him to re-learn some of the methods he has grown up with.

If he is spending time "re-learning", who will be making sure the farm doesn't go bankrupt, and if he takes a "traditional" field out of commission in order to convert to organic methods, should I pay more for the low-chem veggies than I even do organic just make up for his lost volume during the transition?

Or, do I buy from full-on organic farmers, supporting them and possibly choking any hope that Naoki might have to move in that direction, inadvertently pushing him back in a less desirable direction?

What are the consequences of "boycotting" (too strong of a word here) a business that is actually making efforts to meet my demands, and needs my help to do so?

September 17, 2005

body at war

I was already sore by the time I got home from the farm two days ago, but other than that, I was feeling good. A hard days work picking and planting stuff - clearing out an entire pumpkin patch (food pumpkins, not the jack-o-lantern kind). Luckily, I had remember to put a beer in the fridge before I left that morning, so it was nicely chilled. I knew something was wrong however, when I was unable to even finish half of it.

As difficult as throwing away half a can of beer is, the stomach pain scared me so I opted to just lie down and, being the masochist that I am, enjoy the occasional cold sweat and heightened sensitivity over my entire body... so much so that even covering up with a sheet caused me immense discomfort.

The night passed without incident.

Friday 07:30 - I wake up to Tomoe's alarm, planning to get up and have breakfast with her as usual, but after getting up for a drink and realizing how sore and unusually weak I am, I opt to go back to bed. She's in a hurry anyway, and times like this it's safer for me to stay out of her way.

10:30 - Somehow I had fallen asleep again until 10:30, which is rather unusual considering I slept so much the night before. It takes me another half-hour to muster the strength needed to prepare a piece of bread and jam, let the birds out, and move to my desk and check my email.

11:30 - I feel a slight pressure in my abdomen. Morning poop seems to be calling. I won't go into details but it was not pretty. What's more, it seems to have left me drained of all energy (although it was not an exceptionally difficult delivery).

11:40 - After having rested a bit, I decide to move back to bed for little nap. I make it about four feet from the bathroom door when the room starts to fade around me. It's not spinning, as happens in the movies, but I know that I am about to faint so I opt to lie down of my own accord.

11:45 - Morning poop Jr. seems to be calling. This time however, I decide that I need a plan. I see a blue bucket atop the washing machine next to the bathroom. Although I don't feel sick in a puky sort of way, I think it might be a good idea to have it near me. The plan goes as follows, and I was able to execute it flawlessly.

Step 1) Crawl on my stomach toward the washing machine in order to conserve energy.

Step 2) Climb to my knees so I can just reach the bucket and knock it to the floor.

Step 3) Rest.

Step 4) Gather all my strength, pulling myself into a sitting position on the toilet.

Step 5) Wait and see...

11:50 - This time is equally as disturbing, equally exhausting, but is followed by cold sweats (somewhat enjoyable)

12:00 - Time to make a new plan. A simple plan, but perhaps the most important plan of the day. I must somehow get my weakened, faint, shivering, sweating body into the bed, two rooms away. I grab the bucket and run, feeing the dizziness just as I enter the room with the bed.

The human body is capable of much more than we often think. Somehow, against all odds, I was able to take the two extra steps needed to collapse into the soft, waiting bed. Within seconds the worst (or best) of the sweats begin and within minutes I am drifting in and out of consciousness.

13:30 - I am awaken by a sharp pain in my foot. The birds are still out and Klee has found a scab to pick at. Awii is taking advantage of my weakened state to chew a hole in the tatami-mat floor, stopping only to laugh at me as I manage to croak out "Awii, get away from there."

Realizing there is no way I will be able to catch them, all I can do is to kick Klee away from my bloody foot and hide it under the sheet. Over the next hour and a half I will drift into restful sleep only to be awakened by Klee's incessant picking each time my foot finds it's way out from under the covers.


15:00 - I am awakened this time not by klee, nor the sound of wallpaper being picked and peeled (living with the birds our ears have become attuned to the slightest sound of anything being picked at), but rather, to the strange absence of any such sound. At first, a flash of panic almost gives me enough strength to bolt upright, remembering the last time I heard such an ominous silence was a few years ago when Guri (the blue parakeet in the top left corner of this site) managed to escape out a window.

I managed to turn my head to survey the room only to find that Awii and Klee and returned to their cage of their own accord. It's time for another mission.

Aided by my lack of energy, I lie quietly, careful not to make any sound that will alert them to the fact that I am awake. It was my corpse like stillness that caused them to return the to cage bored, and once they realize there is someone in the apartment to antagonize, they will move toward the door of the cage with lightning speed.

15:10 - For ten minutes I have been surveying the path between the bed and the cage, making meticulous note of any obstacles that may trip me up, giving them even a tenth of a second advantage in the race toward the cage door.

15:11 - The cage is closed, and I stumble back to bed, feeling a bit better, and confident that I will be able to move the computer from the desk to a chair near the bed.

15:20 - After three round trips from bed to desk and back, with short rests in-between, I am back online. The first order of business it to let Tomoe know what is going on, giving her a heads up that I have not managed to clean the kitchen as promised, in fact, there is now a rotting pot of miso soup stranded on the stove.

The rest of the day is pretty boring. Other than Tomoe telling me that once when she had similar symptoms she had to spend two weeks in the hospital, and that she had heard that such dizziness can cause deafness (when I almost passed out earlier I did in fact experience a little "stuffiness" in my ears"). I was actually feeling better now. Although I still felt faint when I stood up, lying in bed and surfing the web was not problem.

This morning, I feel a little weak, but I think this has more to do with not having eaten yesterday and having spent the entire day in bed.

There's something great about being sick like that. Laying there helplessly sweating, shivering, even puking, imagining your body at war with some evil intruder. I'm almost sorry the battle is ending so quickly. But, my biggest concern now is that I whatever has invaded my body may not be fully gone by tomorrow when we are scheduled to work on the farm again.

September 14, 2005

An hour's work worth of beer

As I was walking by the local liquor shop tonight, I decided to stop in (not unusual). As usual, I perused the selection of expensive beer, cheaper beer-substitute, and the cheapest "third-generation" beer substitute substitute.

Now, I'll be honest. Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo, their all pretty much crap relative to real beer such as those brewed in Kalamazoo. In fact, they don't really differ much from the beer-susbstitutes. Yes, there may be a slight difference, but I can almost guarantee that without seein the label, most people would not be able to tell them apart -though most people like to believe that they can. Anyway, I usually feel that if I am willing to stoop to the level of Asahi or Kirin just to save a few yen by not buying the imported belgian, I might as well stoop a micro-step lower.

Tonight however, was different. Tonight I was feeling rich. Tonight my eyes wandered to the big can of Ebisu. Ebisu is still nothing compared to the belgian or a Two Hearted ale, but it does have a hint of beer flavor, and it is more than a micro-step above both the other beers and the beer substitutes.

Why was I feeling rich? Because today I did my first paying work since... well since my contract with my old client ran out in the end of August. Sure it hasn't been that long, but it's more about the feeling I guess. As I walked home though, I reflected on the difference between the paying work. Namely, that when I was working behind the computer, the can of ebisu cost me a few minutes and a little pain in my wrist. Today's beer cost me almost an hour's work, and a wonderful soreness in seldom used muscles.

Today I finally got started working with a local farmer (just over an hour from my apartment). It's technically on a volunteer basis, but they give a "thank you gift" of 500 yen per hour (about US$5). When I think about it, I realize that this is the lowest wage I have ever earned since I was seventeen and working at Burger King for minimum wage -which I think was about $4.75 then.

Of course, I am getting other benefits from working there as well. Besides about 1000 yen worth of fresh picked veggies, I also get to learn some new stuff, like where my food comes from. My fascinating find of the day was learning how myoga grows, and even more fun, how to harvest it. I was also surprised to find that this farmer's work style is very fitting to someone like me who has a short attention span. Basically, in order to fill all the orders, we hopped around from field to field, greenhouse to greenhouse for most of the day spending about an hour at each place to pick just enough of whatever grows there to fill the orders. There was also some planting and soil preparation work which was also split up into short bursts of energy. It's nothing like the monotonous work I had long imagined.

Anyway, I will be going back to the same farmer tomorrow for another nine-hour work day at below minimum wage, and then again Sunday together with Tomoe.

Between his rugged looks, the beautiful green, the wrinkled grandpa, the cute kids, and the old house, I saw soooooo much that made my shutter finger itch, but I have some ideas for a more disciplined photo-essay type project so I am waiting to build a relationship with the farmer and his family before I start annoying them with a camera in their face.

* * *

To comemorate this farming moment, I have posted some self-portraits from back in Sweden when I was sporting the "farmer" look. I am now back to my boyishly beardless self, but it was an interesting experiment while it lasted.

September 13, 2005

Learning from the flood

At the risk of displaying some perceived political leaning, I have to say that I think everyone would benefit from listening to This american life, a public radio program, as they talk with people from NO in the aftermath of Katrina.. I know, I know. This is all you probably hear about on the news in the US -but I, being relatively limited in terms of US news exposure, have never heard a report that spent so much time giving such a clear picture of what it is like for real people stuck there.

To be fair, I have heard parts of one of the stories they relate from other news sources, but as with most news programs, it was just ten second sound-bites. That is what I love so much about some NPR programs.... they don't just play the sound-bites, they spend time to listen to the whole story, to talk about what is going on behind the "news".

In this case, although I surely don't advocate for listening only to this particular program as your sole news source on NO/Katrina, I do think that hearing this one hour's worth of real people's stories may change the way you listen to the sound bites -it has for me. It gives some context, so that when you hear a ten second mention of "looting" or "stranded people", you have some realistic context to understand what they actually means, as opposed to simply imagining for yourself a band of evil, lawless, mad-max style gun-toting gangs roaming the city.

The big problem is trying to figure out what I myself have "learned" from it. How can I make it more than just the personal fascination I feel with disaster -the same as I felt finally watching "The Day After Tomorrow" the other night?

I guess what I have "learned", is simply a clear picture of what fear can do to cloud the judgment of otherwise undoubtedly good people -The police who prevented people from fleeing New Orleans based apparently and perhaps subconsciously on their skin-color or perceived economic standing, the stupidity of jumping to conclusions about people's motives, just because they are usually people I would not associate with.

Perhaps this will all come into play when "the big one" hits Tokyo, as we all know it will, just as everyone "knew" that some day a storm would hit New Orleans, and the levy would break.

Maybe when the earthquake comes, and I am surrounded in fear and chaos, I will remember a little bit of what I have heard on this program. Maybe I will be able to understand a little bit more of what the frantic and scared around me are going through -and maybe what I am going through myself. Maybe having heard this program, I will be able to overcome my first self-preservatory reaction, and I will be able to empathize with those around me. Maybe it will cause me to be a force of good in the tragedy instead of something that makes those who are not involved shake their heads with disgust, just as I did today hearing the stories from New Orleans.

Ruptured Goya

My goya has ruptured, spilling it's seeds all over the infertile concrete.

September 12, 2005

Forever

I don't know if they do this in other countries, but in Japan giddy couples love to decorate fences that overlook a large body of water with pad-locks with their names on it. I guess it symbolizes how their love will last forever. It makes me wonder how many people keep a spare key so they can remove the lock later.

It also gives me an idea for a new business. I could document all the locks around the area, regularly updating my database. When someone wants to research how many un-breakable relationships their new lover has been in (or their current long-term lover) for a fee they can search my database for locks with the same name / handwriting.

September 10, 2005

Git yo Hands off my man

Goya's growing

This morning took some more portraits of my friend and neighbor,goya - trying to get it right. He seems to be getting bigger every day and soon he will be my lunch.

September 09, 2005

Jump

My natto making career may be over. Last night I almost died from eating my home-made natto. I guess there is a "good" rotten and a "bad" rotten when it comes to beans.

I'll give it one more shot though. First I let my system clear out and then eat some more of the allegedly evil natto -just to make sure that it is really what caused me to writhe with stomach pain all night. If that was the cause, I try making a new batch but with a little shorter fermentation period.

September 08, 2005

Clarification

Clarification: A while back I wrote how I was torn about exotic pet shop in my neighborhood. A reader left a comment the other day encouraging me to not buy animals from them, rightly citing the death and destruction most-likely caused when collecting the animals.

Now, I realize that I don't spend enough time proof-reading my post for spelling or clear content, making sure it is representative of how I really feel, but usually I don't mind being a little misunderstood. This comment however has bothered me for several days now.

I never considered buying anything from that shop. I would never knowingly promote the abduction (legal or otherwise) of those living, feeling, thinking, creatures. When I say I am torn, I mean that my conscience is torn. On the one hand, I hate to see them in that condition, but on the other hand, I am fascinated by them, and take full advantage of their disadvantage in order to "educate" myself, or satisfy my curiosity.

* * *

Looking at a photography exhibition on the UN Millennium Development Goals is something I have added to my list of "things to do now that I have all the free-time in the world". That list has grown way to long. I hope I have time to look a the photos.

* * *

My conspiracy theory. I received an email claiming to be from a Nigerian oil worker saying how he is screwed over by the oil company. Obviously I deleted it because I receive so many spams from "nigerian" royalty who want to transfer all their money into my bank account. My new conspiracy theory is that the people sending the bank account spam are the oil companies. It is an effective plot to keep people from listening to the real pleas and plights of real Nigerian people.

BTW, I'm kidding. I don't really believe that.

* * *

The photos are from Malaysia. I'm working hard at getting caught up so I can start taking pictures here again.

Sex and the Kitty

No comment.

September 07, 2005

Beauty of war?

More photos from the Kawaguchiko area.

While in Nagoya, Tomoe, her dad, and I went to check out the Tokugawa art museum. The plan was to set up our painting / sketching tools in the garden and get some free water color lessons from her dad. Upon arrival however, we decided that it would be a waste if we didn't at least peak into the museum... then we ran out of time for painting, which I would have much rather been doing.

While at the museum Tomoe's father commented on something that I had never really thought of... the majority of the museum was dedicated to displaying the beauty of war and weapons of death. Swords, armor, guns, war stories painted on scrolls... no matter how intricate the carving on a sword handle is, no matter how colorful the armor is, when you think about it even a little, there is nothing beautiful about it.

Taking that idea a bit further, I began to wonder as well about why farmers' tools, the tools used to create as opposed to destroy life (please temporarily set aside the idea that the advent of agriculture actually allowed societies to focus more energy on making weapons, gave them more reason to use those weapons, and was an important step leading to our current unsustainable lifestyle). Sure, there are plenty of museums showcasing such tools, but they are almost never presented as "art", never referred to as "beautiful".

So, back to the story...

Although I didn't get a chance to paint or learn any techniques or tricks from her dad, the next day we did have some time to rummage through his studio. I tried to paint a bit, but just found it frustrating that I did not have the technical skill to transfer what was in my head to the paper. After a few crap paintings I just gave up and started looking through some of the photography books he uses for reference when making an illustration. While there were books on many different topics, the really fascinating ones were black and white shots of life in Japan during and after the war. Looking at those photos (I can't remember the photographers names) really made me want to pick up my camera and start shooting. I realize that I rarely see a painting that makes me want to pick up a brush and start painting (although it does happen occasionally). I guess this is a sign that I should stop wishing I could paint and focus that energy on learning to photograph.

September 06, 2005

Kawaguchiko

I'm back. Friday Tomoe and I left Tokyo on a bus to Kawaguchiko. After a few days there we caught a but to Nagoya to pick up the birds from her parents' place.

No, we weren't going to Kawaguchiko to climb Fuji (Tomoe did that last weekend and vowed never to do it again), instead, we were going there to check out Earth Embassy, an organic farm / cafe run by an environmental architect. They accept some volunteer positions for a week or a month or longer, and I was going to check it out.

As you may have noticed, I have been interested in green growing things lately, and I figure that volunteering there would be a great way to learn a little more. I feel I should clarify a bit exactly why I am interested in volunteering or working there or someplace like it. Some people seem to have the impression that I want to be a farmer all of a sudden. Sorry to disappoint you, but that's not it. While I am certainly open to the idea should I wind up getting deeper and deeper and more and more interested, the reason I want to work on a farm now has more to do with understanding the ecological system I am living in. It's about knowing where my food comes from and learning even a little bit about what is involved in bringing it to me.

While a lot of people, including me, speak of how current big-agriculture practices are destroying the ability to meet our future needs, and having unanticipated and unwanted negative effects on societies right here and now, I admit that I do feel uncomfortable talking about something I know so little about. Although the arguments for organic are logical and backed up by science, I don't like relying soly on what other people say. I want to see for myself what it's all about.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that my desire to "work the land" is more of an educational experience now. And lucky me, based on my experience in Sweden this summer, I feel that working with living ecosystems is more exhilarating and satisfying -physically, mentally, and morally- than anything I have done before. I am certainly not opposed to "farming" as a career, but I am also a realist. I know that I am much too lazy to seriously consider such an undertaking.

Oh... I forgot about the story.

So anyway, we arrived in Kawaguchiko station just passed noon, and not wanting to spend $6 on a bus ticket to the earth embassy, we decided to walk. We arrived around noon the next day. It was a great walk though. I am thoroughly impressed with the upkeep of the Kawaguchiko/Saiko area. It was not nearly as touristy as I had expected -especially once we passed the tunnel to Saiko. Although the Kawaguchiko station was filled with not only Japanese tourists, but also more foreign tourists than I have seen concentrated anywhere in Japan, once we walked about four-hundred meters away, it was (almost) as if we were in a little out-of-the-way Japanese village. Except this one had a beautiful walking path the whole length of the lake.

Stopping often obviously slowed us down, and by nightfall we had only reached the mountain pass between Kawaguchiko and Saiko (ko is Japanese for "lake"). We decided to pitch our tent in a graveyard there and continue on in the morning.

Despite a sleepless night due to heat and cold (I was sweating to death while Tomoe was freezing to death. She tried to get close to me to warm up, and I tried to get away from her to cool off), I will remember it as a "good" experience, if only because of the strange animal calls I heard through the night (remember, I was awake all night) first getting closer and closer to, and then hanging around our tent. Though I am sure there is nothing that will hurt us, I was worried that they were monkeys looking to steal my bag which did not fit inside the tent. In the morning though the bag was still there and the only thing I know about these creatures is that their call is something like "Ahhh Ahhh AHhhh Ahhhh ohhhhh ohhhh ohhhh ooooo ooooo whoooooo whooooooo".

The next day we awoke early and continued along Saiko which was covered with a beautiful morning fog. At some point we had to turn left to reach our destination and stumbled upon a well-worn trail in the lava-forest. The earth here is made from genuine Fuji lava, filled with caves and crevasses... and signs telling would-be suicidists to give life another chance. Yes, it seems that this area is quite a draw for those wishing to end it all. I suppose this is because it has a romanticism partially due to the fact that in the old days people would disappear without a trace -either swallowed up by some crevasse (in some places you can feel the thermal heat coming from the ground), or simply lost because the lava interferes with the earths magnetic field, rendering a compass useless.

Blah blah bah... It was a beautiful forest.

When we finally reached the earth embassy, we found that it was closed for the weekend, and all the people who worked there, save one new volunteer who started three days earlier, had gone off to the big city to party. Oh well. We had a great walk and I will go back there this month to do a one-week volunteer session and tell you all about it.

These photos are all from the Kawaguchiko / saiko area.

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