These are photos from a housing project here in Karlskrona which is on the ten worst places to live in Sweden list. It has a nasty reputation around town, and not many people would choose to live there. It's amazing though how even one of the ten worst places to live in Sweden is so much more desireable than most of Tokyo.
In case you were wondering why I was so depressed about not having my kayak for the past month... look at where I live !!
I took the kayak out today right after class, paddled for a couple hours, stopped on a deserted island, studied for a test tomorrow until the the sun began to set, then hopped in the kayak to paddle home. Imagine if I would have been able to do that every day for the past month...
Everything is going well again, after a short battle with depression last night. It's amazing what a little care package in the mail can do. Especially when the care package is one that I sent to myself three months ago, and it contained three important parts to a sea-kayak which has been sitting incomplete in my room for over a month, which is when I received the other two boxes containing the majority of the kayak (I sent all boxes on the same day).
Depression seemed to grow as I sat watching my window of kayaking opportunity grow smaller as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer.
Now everything is well though. I have made a major leap in my Swedish ability... who would have thought that all it takes is a little bit of actual study? My absentee ballot finally came the other day and I express-mailed it home. And the final load of my mind is that I got around to paying my rent for the first three months I lived here. I didn't know it, but they were planning on moving all my stuff out of the apartment... two months from now. If I had known, I might have let them It would have been five months of free rent, which would have more than made up for the cost and inconvenience of moving a few boxes into a new place. (Too bad I am a good, law abiding type of guy.)
A classmate and I set out with a video camera today to the local market today to interview some of the natives as a part of a project we are working on. I had a great chance to bust out my Swedish, but instead my Swedish seemed a little busted. Usually the subject could speak english so it was OK, and even if they couldn't, we were filming the answer, so we can have it translated later, but one lady couldn't speak english, and didn't want us to film. I think she was giving us some really good material, at one point she got really animated and a little emotional looking. I kept pretending like I was taking notes in my note-pad, but unfortunately, I don't have a clue what she told us.
Spending a lot of time working with the group lately, and very little time on independent reading. It's strange how when I spend time reading by myself, I long for a chance to discuss it with other people, and when I am discussing it with other people, I long for a chance to read more about what we are discussing.
* * *
Despite lamenting the fact that I don't have enough time to read, I have been spending my time looking at this this fascinating site with Civil War Photos (via Franklin Family ). To think that some people complain about the size of a digital SLR (I never have)... take a look at the camera these guys lugged around...
* * *
When I wrote about Nellie McKay the other day, several people commented to me that they liked her. I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce another one of the artists I have been listening to lately. (I tend to only pick up a new artist or group about three times / year)
Jolie Holland. She "rawks", as someone I know might say. I guess I have some kind of fascination with young singer / songwriters playing original, "rawking" music. You can read the entire Bio of Jolie Holland.
If you happen to be on the BTH network, you can hear her two albums in full in my iMusic shared.
This of course leads to The Be Good Tanyas, also really great, but that is for another post. Watch The Be Good Tanyas perform live in NPR's studio 4-A (Holland was one of the founding members and co-wrote the first song of the video). The album also features trumpet playing by Olu Dara , who is the favorite musician of mine. (Tomoe and I shelled out big bucks to see him in Blue Note Tokyo where he was great, but the Japanese businessmen watching were a major let-down.)
Yesterday I wrote how I felt that the Natural Step, which I am studying now, was a little too soft-core for me. I should make clear that I am a flip-flopper. Today, as I think about it, I realize that what I said is not entirely fair. For one thing, the actual framework that The Natural Step puts forth can not be touched. That is clearly "right". No scientist has ever stepped forward to dispute this and retained any credibility in the scientific community. What's more, it's pretty darn hard-core. It pretty much shows us that we must rethink and re-invent our entire way of life. I am in total agreement. The basic framework goes something like this:
A sustainable world (which is subject to the same physical restraints as ours is), is not subject to
- Systematic increases of stuff from inside the earth, into the biosphere. (For example, taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the atmosphere at a rate which is higher than nature can put it back in.)
- Systematic accumulation of stuff that is not found in nature, or can not readily be assimilated in nature. (For example, something like DDT)
- Systematic degradation of physical aspects of nature faster than it can be renewed. (For example, cutting down forests faster than they can be re-grown... including the entire degree of bio-diversity which was present in the original forest)
- There is a fourth one about social conditions, and although I agree with it in principle, I still have not figured out how to fit it into this scientific framework, so I am going to leave it out.
I also realize that in order to get a company to adopt this framework, they can't just go in and say "Hey, you are breaking the conditions. In fact, society does not even need your product. You must stop!". In order to change the company, it is surely more efficient to introduce the concept in a way that is least threatening to them, and allow them, and hope that they come to the realization on their own that their very existence is compromising the existence of my grandchildren.
Leaving out much of the obvious negatives is fine, and it's a good action plan. But I guess what I have a problem with is that they actually speak of sustainability without sacrifice, and I see no reason to even throw that in there. It is not a scientifically proven idea. In fact, given the out-of-control population growth, I see a huge contradiction with the "no sacrifice" idea, and the scientific framework they promote.
I feel that to say that we can do it without sacrifice is giving the green light to go on with business as usual, and hope that technology somehow fixes everything. I have a good imagination, but no matter how hard I try, I can't imagine a scenario where there is such a technology that allows, through simple dematerialization and substitution, billions of people to live lifestyles such as we have now. It must also include a radical reduction of crap that we choose to buy, regardless of how eco-friendly it is if consumed in small qunatities. Even SUVs are sustainable... unless there are billions of people driving them, or other gasoline powered vehicles around the world.
Just wanted to clear that up.
I have mentioned before how, although I am really happy here in Karlskrona, I feel torn regarding the actual content of the program I am studying. The Natural Step is a good thing (compared to bad things), no doubt about it, but I am torn because I feel it doesn't go far enough. It's goal seems to be to build a sustainable world... as long as it looks a lot like the one we live in today. For example, there is rarely discussion about what I feel are the two most important issues when discussing sustainability. 1. There are just too many people. and 2. Those of us in the wealthy nations have abhorrent consumption habits.
There is often talk of achieving a sustainable society without sacrifice. I just don't buy it. Even if Ikea (the Natural Step's golden lover) makes a "more sustainable" lamp, there is no way that it can be sustainable considering our current consumption habits... it's even worse considering that there are billions of people waiting to buy the lamp. We have to sacrifice. There is no other way.
I do believe however that if we change our mind-set, so that some of what would be considered a sacrifice to us now, is recognized as an improvement in well-being, even though the actions may be the same, the "sacrifice" is less. But even then...
The reason I bring this up has to do with something we were discussing in class today, but also because I just heard a song, "John John" by Nellie McKay (I'm in love with her) written especially for NPR this year. The song is about how she is torn between her true beliefs about what is best, and realization that the current reality requires her to forsake that belief.
I feel the same as her regarding Ralph and John John, but also regarding The Natural Step. I realize that TNS does not go far enough, not willing to tell people. "Hey you have to change your habits. You have to sacrifice".
I have met so many people that are for Nader, but will not vote for him because they are so terrified of Bush, that I can't help but wonder if it might not have a greater impact for all Nader supporters to vote for him (I think there are a lot more than I imagine) even though it would give the election to Bush. What kind of a message would it send? And what kind of a message does it send to settle for Kerry? Voting for Kerry might help him to win, making things a little better in the short term, but in the long run does it just further entrenches the problems?
Likewise, perhaps advocating for radical change of lifestyles and consumption practices is too radical to lead to such change, but deciding to go the middle route, promoting the idea of "sustainability without sacrifice" will help more people to climb aboard, and lead to quicker change toward short-term improvements. The problem is of course, that promoting "no sacrifice" does little to change the root of the problem. In fact, it reenforces it.
In the end, I guess I will vote for Kerry, and I will probably promote a watered down vision of a sustainable future. And I become just as much a cog in the machine that keeps us on track toward the status quo and a systematic degradation in the quality of life for us and all future generations... at least it is only for as long as the earth can support future generations.
So that's just what I was thinking about.... that and I was thinking how cool it would be if Nellie McKay came here to give a concert, and somehow we met and she fell in love with me like in some movie...
NPR: Nellie McKay, Live in Studio 4A
Singer-songwriter Nellie McKay, 19, has been compared to both Doris Day and Eminem. And throw in a bit of Billie Holiday for good measure. Her debut CD, Get Away From Me, includes jazz, rap, blues, Latin, rock and more, reflecting her eclectic life -- she was born in London and grew up in Harlem.
There's a definite air of confidence in her songs, which she attributes to the social tensions of growing up. "You know, if I can survive marching band, I can survive anything," she tells NPR's Bob Edwards during a performance chat in Studio 4A.
You can check out two of her songs in full leangth on All Songs Considered. The difference in style between these two songs alone goes a long way to illustrate her originality and flexibility.
The photo above represents a light-bulb that went off in my head tonight.
I have been working off and on with forty people in my class for the past few months. I am amazed at myself at how accepting I am of the various personalities. Not only have I been accepting of traits that would have driven me insane in a working environment, but I have actually learned to enjoy them.
I was trying to think about what might be so different about the Kevin in Karlskrona, and the Kevin in Tokyo, and I guess it has to do with two things.
I am "in school" which, by context, puts me in a "learning context" rather than a "getting things done" context. As such, I am more accepting of strategies that seem to contradict what feels most efficient to me. Even though the artificial goal is to complete a group project, I honestly don't care much about that (sorry group members). To me, the end goal is learning, which happens through the process, and is in no way reflected by grades. This includes learning how to work with others. Once learning how to work with others becomes part of the goal, the annoying differences between style suddenly have value.
Of course, once I get back into the working world, where we are measured only by our output efficiency, I will, again, probably care more about completing the project, than I do about what I learn in the process. This will again cause me to become frustrated at work styles that seem (to me) to be slower and inefficient. Or just plain annoying.
How can I keep this sense that the goal is to learn (including how to work with others) in a real life working situation where the real goal is just to get finished an move on to the next project?
I think that to some extent I am more accepting of people here because I know that we are working toward a somewhat shared goal. I know the intentions are good, and I want them to succeed, so I am willing to allow deviation from my preferred work style if I see it moving toward a goal I care about. In my old job however, even I didn't care about the end result, so there is no reason to tolerate any other work style. I simply wanted to get it done and get done with it as soon as possible, in the way that is most convenient to me. Sounds selfish, I know, but there were certainly no other reasons that I would want to do it.
I guess I have nothing to add. This is just an observation I made tonight. If I must have a takeaway, I guess it is that one more reason working toward a goal I truly believe in might make me happier is that I will be more accepting of the other people's work-styles, that in another situation would really tick me off, causing undo stress.* * *
I suddenly feel a huge sense of responsibility to make my sustainability site better. I took a look at the server logs, and see that many people are coming to my site from search engines, searching for phrases like:
I regret that I had little to offer them in their search. I feel that I have to somehow fill my site with more value, more resources, more... something.
In case you haven't noticed, I am into photos of reflections.
When I came here to Sweden, I had two goals. One was to save the world. That seems to be going well. The other was to become fluent in Swedish so that I can call up the old high-school girlfriend (a Swede) and scare the bejezuz out of her by pretending that I have been stalking her for past twelve years, and I am here now. I'm not sure if I will be able to meet that goal...
With the wedding, school, and work, I have not had time to study much Swedish for the past two weeks. It's really frustrating. From a grammar standpoint, Swedish is much easier than Japanese, considering my progress when I first went to Japan, and the fact that I have studied Swedish in the past, I figured that I would be able to hold a somewhat intelligent conversation by now.
In actuality though, at this time in my life, Swedish is a harder language to learn than Japanese was nine years ago. For one thing, it is almost impossible to find a Swede who doesn't speak English. (This is definitely not a problem in Japan). I have been trying to meet with a Swede a few times each week to speak swedish for an hour, but I have even been having trouble doing that, let alone find time to study on the side. When I studied Japanese that was priority number one. I spent almost all my free time either studying or struggling to speak it with friends. I also worked in a restaurant with non-english speaking coworkers, so even at work I was learning. Now of course, I have this "saving the world" thing taking up my time, so I am left with little time to study Swedish, and even if I do, I have even fewer opportunities to practice it.
Of course, if I compare the actual number of language exposure hours in my first two months in Japan vs. my first two months in Sweden, and look at how well I can speak each of them in relation to time spent, I guess Swedish is still a little easier. If I spent this little time studying Japanese when I first went there, I would not even be able to count to ten by now (I can do that in Swedish).
If only saving the world somehow required everyone to know Swedish...
The life of parasites is amazing. Listen to This American Life with Carl Zimmer to hear how a certain parasite will be eaten by a snail, which is then induced to puke it up. Snail vomit is especially attractive to ants, so now the parasite is in the ant... but where it really wants to be is in the stomach of a sheep. So how does it get there? That's easy, create an uncontrollable urge in the ant to climb a blade of grass where it will be eaten by the sheep.
A parasite that wants to be in a cat, is first eaten by a rat. The parasite then controls the rat's brain, causing it to loose all sense of danger when it smells a cat. I think you can figure out the rest.
Or hear about a parasite that eats the tongue of a fish, then turns around to act as the tongue. The fish can still function, because it has an artificial tongue, and the parasite benefits from the fishes hunting skills.
Amazing. I have put the book, Parasite Rex on my "to read if it is cheap or at the library" list.
And to think that some people believe it is possible to predict the environmental impact of our actions in such a complex system.
* * *
Over the weekend I went out on a Kayak trip with the Karlskrona Kayak club to watch a seal colony living nearby in the Baltic Sea. At first they kept their distance, but after a while they were swimming along with our kayaks, popping their heads up every once in a while just a few feet from our boat. I think they were more curious than we were.
* * *
In an attempt to make this as boring as possible for the reader, I have to tell you about how I searched for 15 minutes today at the supermarket for unsalted sunflower seeds. I could only find a huge (yet cheap) bag in the bird-seed section. They taste better than the seeds they make for humans. I'm a little afraid that there might be less stringent health regulations for bird food than there is for human food, but on the other hand, the human food we usually eat is full of so many dangerous chemicals and poisons that I guess there can not be much difference.
* * *
I have been annoying my classmates for two months now with my constant photo-taking. I guess I might as well annoy them more by posting their photos online for the world to see. See also this collection of photos from my birthday party on Oct 1. (it also happened to be Nigeria's independence day)
To be fair of course, I posted a few photos of myself above as well.
When I was in about 5th grade, my school (a small, private, Lutheran school, in Bay City MI, with about 100 students in eight grades) began to offer McDonalds as a school lunch once a week. Of course I probably thought it was great then, but as I look back on it now, I wonder what were the adults thinking? Did no parents complain? Why not? Did the teachers not see anything wrong with this? Why not? Now that I am older and see the obvious damage that fast food does, I am baffled by the lack of outrage about this decision. But that was a different time, and people have more information now, so perhaps the adults of that time can be forgiven. I can't say the same for adults of this time of course, but that is not what I want to write about.
Juliet Schor, economist, sociologist, best selling author, and hero, has a new book out. Born to Buy, about the marketing attack on children. If you are a parent, or think there is even a remote chance you may become one, I urge you to at least listen to this interview with her on NPR's Diane Rehm Show this week.
While I don't understand why our parents and our school allowed McDonalds to be brought in as a school lunch (not to mention took us there when we were kids) The interview brings up some other things I can not fit my tiny brain around...
I was listening to another program a while back in which they were talking to child psychologists who work for advertising agencies. The psychologists proudly and excitedly explained how far they have come in specifically target children. Does anyone have any idea why someone would spend so many years studying child psychology if they don't care about kids? And if they do care about kids, how can they feel so proud about convincing them that they are worthless without a room full of crap, or tricking them into begging their parents for crap they don't need? I tend to believe that most people are good, and want to do the right thing, but this really makes my head hurt... I understand that some people care about money above all else, but if that is the case, why didn't they become investment bankers?
Anyway, the interview is infuriating. Just a few of the things she talks about
To connect this with something more personal, I have been thinking recently about my own studies with "The Natural Step", which consults with companies on how to be more sustainable. While I agree with most everything they do say, there are some things that are being left out that I think really must be added. So far, they only talk about how a company like Ikea can produce more sustainable products... Yippeee! Weee! Great!... but Ikea's goal is still to sell sell sell to people who don't need it. I don't believe sustainability can happen if people are constantly manipulated into wanting and buying crap they don't need. Why doesn't Ikea stop their marketing blitz? Are there really that many people who don't have enough furniture?
Someone was looking at the archives of my blog and noticed that I used to write as well... before I had a camera. It makes me long for those days when I was a little braver. Now I just post impersonal photos, or make very vague remarks. Part of it is because I have grown lazy, and part of it is because my readership is much larger now than it was when I wrote more. This of course makes me think twice about what I write, because I no longer know all my readers personally, and also because I guess the reason people come here anyway is to see the pictures. I don't want to drive them away with words. But... I really liked writing dumb crap that no one but me cared about. So, I am going to try to make a bigger effort to do more of that. At the same time I will be posting photos as well of course.
Now it is just a matter of time. I am also writing on my other blog dealing with sustainability, and that takes much more time than just posting photos. I would like to have even more time to post on that site also, so from now, I will be making it a goal to write for at least three to five minutes on this site about nothing in particular, without any revisions or extra-strict proof-reading, since worrying if I got everything right is where most of the time is lost.
Oh crap. Now I've already used my five minutes for today, and I have said nothing of value... just you wait until tomorrow though.... no wait. Tomorrow I am taking a kayak trip with the seals in the Baltic Sea, just north of where I live. Maybe I'll tell you all about it Sunday.
I arrived back from France late last night. My butt is killing me, having sat on the train 24+ hours (each way). It saddens me that so many people look at me as if I am crazy to take the train when flying on one of the discount airlines in Europe is so cheap in the short term. They, of course, are either not taking into account the long-term environmental costs, or (less likely I think) just don't care.
Before I get too high and mighty about sacrificing my time and money because the cheaper, quicker option is so much worse for my hypothetical children however (I bring it up because so many people have asked why I took the train, and also because I hope it helps other people to make the right choice if they know that they are not the only ones sacrificing), I have to confess that all my values and convictions flew out the window while I was there. I had me some of the best (and only) beef I have had in quite a few years. The restaurant didn't have any vegetarian options, so I figured if I can't be a vegetarian, I might as well be a raw-foodist. A big pile of raw beef, topped with a raw egg... I generally am not impressed with beef, but mmmmmm was that good. Lucky for the world I didn't grow up in France, or I would be having that three times each day my whole life.
It probably sounds quite snobbish, but I just can't figure out how we in the US became so desensitized to flavor and what could perhaps be considered quality, (or lack of it) in our food. Even the regular-joe coffee (again, breaking one of my rules) was amazing.
Anyway, I had a great time, had some great food, got to see great friends from Japan, and took hundreds of not-so-great photos. I will have the rest of the photos on the site sometime in the next few weeks.
Just a few more photos from around Karlskrona, Blekinge, in the south of Sweden.
I took these photos about a month ago, and looking at them I remember how warm and sunny it was. It aint anymore. It's cold now, and it's only going to get worse.