Monthly Archives: January 2007

heavy thinking

‘Men are free…as long as they act, neither before nor after; for to be free and to act are the same’. Hannah Arendt

Of late action has been on my mind. I tend to overthink and overanalyze some situations, and I been known to debate the pros and cons of even the most insignificant decisions, such as brushing my teeth. As my father has pointed out on more than one occasion, life is just a series of decisions. But lately I have begun to believe that it is actually a series of actions. At least if you look at the way that we are affecting the planet. I read today that the average Canadian’s ecological footprint is 4.8 hectares, which is comparable to three city blocks, and that if the rest of the world lived like us, we would need at least three earths to provide all of the material and energy essentials we currently use. Also, the average energy and waste matter wasted, or caused to be wasted by North Americans, is a million pounds per year. Small actions leading to big waste is something I think we could all afford to think about. And I hold myself deeply accountable.

What is action after all but a disruption of the static state of the present. It is novelty and flush with possibility. As graphic designer Alan Fletcher pointed out in the current playful installation at the Museum of Design in London, “The person that you love is 75% water”. For human beings action is a rather large part of being human. It is programmed and hardwired into us. How else can we explain Hamlet and his painfully prolonged deliberations over what to do next. But his problem had more to do with his internal decision-making abilities than the actualization of his decisions. What about the wiley Coyote? He just couldn’t help himself and had to act, even if it landed him in hot water and in dire circumstances, time and time again.

But I am sidetracking. Lately action has been on my mind, because one of my resolutions for this year is to consume less. I have walked out of the smokey underground bar a little fogged by the cult of consumption, and I have reached a decision to consume less. The question is will my actions hold up? Can I become more of a conscientious human and less of a consumer? There are things I could do right now to reduce my consumption, and none of it actually means less action. When I think about it, in some ways it involves more action. Walking more, and travelling less by automobiles, which is easy in my case, since I live in London, and I don’t actually drive. It means going through the disciplined motion of making my lunch each day (cut the cucumber, slice the cheese or dab the hummus, wash the evidence of sandwich-making) as opposed to lining up at the vast assortment of eateries around me and walking out with more packaging than any one person needs.

Somehow I have imagined that reducing my consumption would bring with it an overall reduction in my life. But it wouldn’t. It would actually create more activity, but reduce the peripheral garbage so that at least the waste in my life (packaging, carbon emissions, energy waste) would be reduced. In my mind I imagine a Zen existence. The clutter that has come to define my nomadic lifestyle, which in principal was supposed to mean a less heavy life but seems to bring with it lotsa trailing stuff, would evaporate to reveal a chic svelter minimalistic me. Eat your heart out Greta. But wait. That is not the case. At least not yet. My room is currently being swallowed up by three suitcases, my clothing spills precariously over shelves, and I swim through a pile of work related printed documents and books I felt I had to bring along with me as travel companions. Not to mention the garden of electronic wires and battery rechargers I also had to tug over from North America. This is not the weightless existence I came to imagine would be represented by a nomadic lifestyle. Where did I go wrong? Something tells me thinking about it all on its own is not the answer. I need to begin to work through the clutter, and face up to some of my habits, which seem to add to the pile of plastic water bottles tap dancing across my floorboards.

To act, or not to act, that is the real question.

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Blame USA

Sorry but as a Canadian I couldn’t not blog about this latest piece of legal history in the FT. Canada has launched a WTO case on US agricultural subsidies condemned as “trade-distorting”. The case was filed in Geneva on Monday and is apparently the most significant legal challenge to the structure of US agricultural subsidies since a landmark WTO ruling in 2005 condemned “trade-distorting” help to American cotton farmers to the detriment of Brazilian cotton farmers. The Canadian agricultural minister Chuck Strahl has said that “Canada is concerned that these US subsidies continue to cause economic harm to our corn farmers”. This is one time that you just can’t blame Canada.

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reaching kids with CGI

I had the pleasure of seeing Happy Feet on Imax yesterday afternoon (the movie trailer can also be found on MySpace). I had to convince my friend Rob, but I think my childish tugs at his arm finally persuaded him, and we joined the throngs of children and obliging parents. Let it be known, that if someone needs me to take their children to see an animation, I am very happy to do the job. I can’t believe the high quality of computer generated imagery. The snow, the looming ice floats, and the turbulent ocean in motion looked fantastically realistic. I was pleased to see the producer trying to reach a younger target (Inconvenient Truth was better for the adults) regarding the threats of climate change and human expansion.

While the cynics among us would like to think that children are only interested in the latest Nintendo playstation, at tail end of the movie I did notice a few young ones on the stairwell tapping their feet echoing the happy moves of Mumble the penguin.

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Envois: Drivers of Change at Tokyo Design Week

icon_design_tokyo2.jpg

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Arup at Tokyo Design Week

Jennifer sent me some links she came across by Googling the Japanese translation of the Envois installation she created on behalf of Arup. First came Googling in your native language, now comes Googling and Flickring globally …Care to keep up?

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Religious Revivalism vs Secularism: Is God Winning?

“Through the lens of secularism, negotiations and compromises are possible in a way denied by religious separatism.”

“It is the transmutation of religion into politics that is key.”

“When God is seen as winning, Humanity loses.”

Bruce Mazlish

In an article Bruce Mazlish challenges the media assertion that religious fervor is gaining ground. He argues that what we are actually witnessing is a “rearguard reaction to the threat of modernity and globalization.” As evidence he points out the lack of religion in such places as China, Russia, Japan and even secular Europe. He points to Pope Benedict’s less cited quote (not the Islam reference); his admission that the Catholic Church’s real enemy in the West is an increasingly secularized society. And he differentiates between religion, and what he describes as religiosity, the “excessive ritualistic expression of sentiment, on one side and substitute nationalism on the other”. Mazlish goes on to add that religious revivalism is in fact a sign of failed secularism, authoritarian rulers who have nothing more to provide to their people in the absence of stability and economic development. He points out the fact that disgruntled religious leaders, at seeing their flock exposed to western culture via television and the internet, are often relying on the very same mediums to denounce the Western culprit.

So IS God winning? It would appear that in an increasing globalized and secularized world where time-space compression is accelerated, religion is losing its sway with the people. At the end of the day, are we dreaming of Gucci or of God?

What I find most intriguing about the article is that Mazlish does not deny the importance of religion, he is trying to contextualize it and reveal the political intent lurking underneath its solemn façade, which proves to be religion’s greatest weakness against surging secularism.

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From the Inside: A Romanian perspective on joining the EU

I asked my Romanian friend Stefan for his perspective on the induction of Romania into the EU. It was a little less rosy than the press would have you believe. The fireworks seemed orchestrated more for and by the media than by the people who will actually be affected by the new year’s change. As Stefan pointed out, while joining “any union might be problematic, the trouble is that the UNION obscures the more pressing plight of a real planetary union – without super-block or super-powers”. Add to this the fact that friends who were formerly welcomed into Romania (Moldovians) will now need a visa to enter. Stefan sounded more resigned to the change than eccstatic.

However he was quick to point out that national prode is booming. There is the sense that FINALLY after all of these years, Romanians are finally being recognized and invited to join after years of suffering and neglect. Stefan also pointed out that the issue is twofold: while Romanians are now technically equals, they have also not lost their sense of mission. There is the sense that while their nation is being made “proper” by its due acceptance into the EU, it will not obliterate the creative spirit that is fomenting within Romanian and driving them to fully achieve a sense of self after years of suppression.

And last, one cannot help but note the somewhat ironic emptiness of having one’s nationality made real by a union’s symbolic acceptance. As Stefan notes: “The plethora of national symbols is now made proper and right by the new EU flag. I know it sounds grim – but it also incredibly funny and ludicrous. ”

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Three Things in 2007

Three things (surely there are others) that are currently on the backburner of my mind as we start 2007. One, is the admission of Romania and Bulgaria into the EU. The easterners are finally being accepted into the EU fold. This is considered the most historical moment for these countries since the end of communism in 1989. Time will tell how they will enter into the crowded political landscape.

Number 2: Social media and how it continues to grow or rather morph. One social site has just been completed, as the next one is about to launch. Note the shift from Friendster to Flickr to Facebook to digg… and now wallop? Organic takes a look at the evolution of social media in its latest newsletter. Personally, I am fascinated by the myriad of ways that social media platforms can be interpreted and adjusted. But as one former US president once said, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, and how many tweaks until we, or adolescents and twenty-somethings, get bored and decide to stick to one?

And last but not least, the third is inspired by reading Worldchanging’s “What Next” for 2007. A range of worldchanging contributors/writers were asked to deliver their own thoughts on what will come. or what to expect of the world and of ourselves in 2007. It is hard not to notice that sustainability has become quite mainstream, especially once Vanity Fair, Newsweek and Hollywood have all had a say in the matter and have become involved in the race to save our world. Amen.

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