Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Out and Active

The nature of parks is changing: the equipment that is. Swings, slides, and monkey bars for the kids may now sit alongside elliptical trainers, leg-press, or quad machines for the teens and adults.

Outdoor gyms have been a phenomenon in Europe for about 15 years. But in the past three years they are growing at "an incredible rate" in Canada and elsewhere.

"The gym-makers and advocates say adding fitness equipment to green space is a way to encourage people to live healthier, more active lives – without the high cost of gym memberships. A mom who is watching her children play may jump on an elliptical machine rather than sit on a bench, the thinking goes. And people with no interest in the sweaty atmosphere of a weight room may prefer to get pumped up in the fresh air."

Community groups like the new trend. "It’s just as important to get people out as it is to get them pumped up. If a leg press machine at a park gets you to a park, then all the better, regardless of how tough the exercise might be."

One organizer said, “We need more people with excuses to be outdoors."

For example, see what several companies have in outdoor fitness equipment.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Nuclear Power All over the Map

It's interesting to peruse the chart: Nuclear Power by Country. For example:

Belgium 52%; Brazil 3%; Canada 15%; China 3%; France 75%; Germany 26%; India 3%; Japan 29%; Russia 18%; Spain 18%; U.S. 20%; ...World 14%.

Germany announced that it is phasing out its nuclear production by 2022 and focusing on durable and sustainable renewable energy.

A spokesperson for Greenpeace International, told the BBC that Germany had already invested heavily in renewable energy.

"The various studies from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that renewables could deliver, basically, global electricity by 2050."

"Germany is going to be ahead of the game on that and it is going to make a lot of money, so the message to Germany's industrial competitors is that you can base your energy policy not on nuclear, not on coal, but on renewables."

Not everyone is happy with the decision. Many in Germany fear that more wind power in the north will destroy the character of the pristine countryside close to the Baltic and create large north south grids to address the loss of nuclear power in the south.

No doubt, the nuclear catastrophe in Japan has encouraged many countries to scrutinize their nuclear portfolios.

While some countries like Germany are reducing nuclear dependency, others like China, India, and South Korea are expanding.

Image: Nuclear Power in France

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The End of Candy

My favourite store bought cookie is called The Decadent Chocolate Chip. Let's not be shy about enjoying our favourite candy and treats. However, candy now faces a serious threat from the nutritious, healthy snacks that are the rage.

Samira Kawash researches and writes on the cultural and social history of candy in 20th-century America. She is a professor at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ). She blogs on candy history and opinion at Candy Professor.com.

Her essay in the Atlantic laments 'The End of Candy: How Health Food Threatens our Sweets.' She attended The Sweets and Snacks Expo recently in Chicago where 550 exhibitors displayed their products including 2,000 new offerings.

For example,'"the Focus Food Protein EnerGI Bar in "Chocolate Fudge Brownie" flavor is no match for, well, a chocolate fudge brownie. At the end of the day, these so-called healthy snacks are actually arguments against eating any candy at all.'

Kawash concludes, "Defenders of candy, unite! Let us disavow the slippery logic of "nutritional snacking," which justifies the expansion of the processed food market with the tools and rhetoric of nutrition (or the faux-nutrition known as "nutritionism"). Let us insist that the non-nutritive pleasures of candy be preserved as such: non-nutritive, and pleasure. That is what is special, and fun, and unique about candy."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Take all the Human Emotions on the Journey

-Fools need advice most, but wise men only are the better for it. ~ Benjamin Franklin

-Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head. ~ William Shakespeare

-It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens. ~ Woody Allen

-There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect. ~ C.K. Chesterton

-As you pass from the tender years of youth into harsh and embittered manhood, make sure you take with you on your journey all the human emotions! Don't leave them on the road, for you will not pick them up afterwards! ~ Nikolai Gogol

-There is no such thing as inner peace. There is only nervousness or death. ~ Fran Lebowitz

-Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

These are the seven quotes at 365 Quote Quest this past week. I also ask three questions about each one for reflection.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reaffirm that You are Good

Several delightful websites intersected for me. Gretchen Rubins' The Happiness Project is an outgrowth of her book. Every week she has a resolution which she elucidates on a brief video. This last week is 'Keep the one minute rule' which involves completing those 'little' tasks well. Ms. Rubin concludes with a quote:

If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or beautiful. ~ William Morris

When I read this, I immediately thought of a blog which has the above as a central theme, Useful or Beautiful.

Finally Lisa Kadane for Postmedia News writes about a York University study which tracked more that 700 people that "charted the effects of being nice to others, in small doses, over the course of a week. Participants were asked to act compassionately toward someone for five to 15 minutes a day, by helping them or interacting with them in a positive way. Six months later, participants reported increased happiness and self-esteem."

Why does acting selflessly give our own self esteem a boost?

"The simplest answer is that doing noble, charitable acts make us feel better about ourselves. We reaffirm that we are 'good,' which is a highly valued trait in our society. It is also possible that being kind to others may help us be kind to ourselves," says the lead author, an associate professor of psychology in York's faculty of health.

Kadane recommends to make "being nice your own happiness project."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Restoring Beauty and Perfection

Want to behold one of the greatest archaeological renaissance projects without boarding a plane?

The Acropolis Restoration Project in Athens, Greece is reassembling the Parthenon, "a 100,000-ton, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle with 70,000 individual pieces—combining the latest science with the techniques of ancient Greek architects and builders."

12 interactive slides take you through the ambitious project, in which the builders are combining ancient and modern tools to create the transformation.

First they had to identify all the pieces, then correct some previous restoration mistakes.

The team also turned to the very quarry the ancient Athenians used. Just 12 miles from the Acropolis, the quarry is known as Pentelicon. "Scholars estimate that in the time of Pericles, the Athenian leader who spearheaded the Parthenon's construction, workers cut 100,000 tons of marble from Pentelicon. The quarry remains a rich source of marble even today."

As in ancient times, the Parthenon workplace today is less a construction site and more a sculptor's studio. Master stonemasons do all carving by hand.

"When the Acropolis Restoration Project began 30 years ago, Manolis Korres and his colleagues could have chosen to approximate the Parthenon's original state, adorning it with sculptures and friezes, and painting it in vivid colors. Instead, they decided to preserve what has survived for two and a half thousand years—a majestic ruin, a witness to what we needlessly destroy, and the beauty and perfection that we can create."

Report and image via NPR and Nova.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Willing to Grow

There is much to like about Oprah, including her courageous departure from her Oprah Winfrey Show. Why leave one of the most successful television series in history?

There have been 5,000 episodes, spread over 24 seasons, since September 1986.

"Everybody has patterns in their lives, and knowing the pattern will tell you what your purpose is. My life pattern has been, whenever I've outgrown a situation, I move on, regardless of whether I know what the future holds.

Everybody has to make choices based on what you feel is best for yourself. If you're so comfortable with success that you're no longer willing to take a risk, it means you're not willing to grow, to take that step to the next level, whatever that next level is for you.

And if the next level is not as successful as where you were, the experience still teaches you something. Because all of us are here to become more of who you really are."

Winfrey, on her last show said that she never missed one day of work in 25 years "because this is what I was called to do." Then she told her audience, "What sparks the light in you so that you in your own way can illuminate the world. I didn’t even imagine that the show would have the depth and the reach that (it has now). ... Wherever you are, that’s your stage, your circle of influence. That’s your talk show, that’s where your power lies. … You have the power to change somebody’s life. Everyone has a calling, and your real job in life is to figure out what that is and get about the business of doing it."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An Ocean of Plastic Soup

Most of us have walked along a beach and seen the inevitable plastic flotsam. (I saw too much of it at our local community beach this past weekend during glorious spring weather.) This miracle of packaging and convenience endures for generations in our landfills and in festering view in our seas.

The largest area of this disgusting waste is a "plastic soup" floating in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of the continental United States.

"The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world's largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting "soup" stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan."

An American oceanographer who discovered the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" or "trash vortex", believes that about 100 million tons of flotsam are circulating in the region.

Another oceanographer compares the trash vortex to a living entity: "It moves around like a big animal without a leash." When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. "The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with this confetti of plastic."

'A former sailor, came across the sea of waste by chance in 1997, while taking a short cut home from a Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race. He had steered his craft into the "North Pacific gyre" – a vortex where the ocean circulates slowly because of little wind and extreme high pressure systems. Usually sailors avoid it.

He was astonished to find himself surrounded by rubbish, day after day, thousands of miles from land. "Every time I came on deck, there was trash floating by," he said in an interview. "How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week?"'

Image and article via The Independent

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bike Sharing: It's the Future

My wife and I noticed them first on the streets of Paris: convenient bike stations for city commuters.

Bike sharing is a growing public service globally.

For example, since February 17 the system is up and running in Mexico City with Ecobici. Their goal is to "reduce the number of vehicles that go through the city everyday (over 5 million), while recovering public space, reducing pollution, and improving life quality.

The initial phase includes 1,000 bikes in 85 stations (although so far only 50 stations are fully functional), which can be taken for 30 minutes a trip with an annual cost of 300 pesos (about 23 US dollars). Registration is all made online through the system's website.

Stations are located at about 300 meters from each other, in strategic areas throughout the city. It is expected that about 24,000 people will make use of the system."

Other cities with a bike sharing program or planning one include: Barcelona, Montreal, Toronto, Rio de Janiero, New York City, Buenos Aires, Dublin....

"Bike-shares are the fastest growing form of transportation in the world, according to a leading consulting firm. And there's plenty of room for more growth. Nearly every major city in the U.S. has drafted some sort of bike-share program." The Bike-sharing Blog provides updates of global developments.

What's not to like about them? Of course, an infrastructure is needed to support them with safe dedicated bike lanes and secure, aesthetic stations. (Unfortunately some areas have been prone to theft and vandalism as in Paris.)

Irrelevance filled with Importance

I am probably way behind the curve on this one: The Best of You Tube. The site provides the most popular videos in a handy index for: Today/Yesterday/Week/Month/Year/All Time.

-From 'All Time' I enjoyed the surprising twist in choreography in 'First Wedding Dance as a Couple.'

-There is also the video of a cute German Shepherd pup grow to an adult in 40 seconds. (Our family enjoyed four German Shepherds over the course of 25 years and several litters of pups.)

You Tube was created by three former Pay Pal employees in February of 2005, and bought by Google in November of 2006 for $1.65 billion.

Finally, several sobering quotes from Neil Postman, media critic:

-Technology always has unforeseen consequences, and it is not always clear, at the beginning, who or what will win, and who or what will lose...

-"Our culture's adjustment to the epistemology of television is by now all but complete; we have so thoroughly accepted its definitions of truth, knowledge and reality that irrelevance seems to us to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane.

-When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.

-Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Think into Health

Can one's mind nurture good health?

Dr.Edzard Ernst, a leading professor of complementary medicine in England, will soon step down after 18 years in his post. Despite his job title, Dr. Ernst is no ardent promoter of snake oil.

Instead, he and his research group have pioneered the rigorous study of everything from acupuncture and crystal healing to Reiki channelling and herbal remedies. The conclusion after 160 studies is that "95% of the treatments he and his colleagues examined—in fields as diverse as acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and reflexology—are statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments."

The conclusion weakens the cause of the many forms of alternative medicine, but Dr. Ernst believes there is something that conventional doctors can usefully learn from the chiropractors, homeopaths and Ascended Masters. There is a "therapeutic value of the placebo effect, one of the strangest and slipperiest phenomena in medicine."

"A placebo is a sham medical treatment—a pharmacologically inert sugar pill, perhaps, or a piece of pretend surgery. Its main scientific use at the moment is in clinical trials as a baseline for comparison with another treatment. But just because the medicine is not real does not mean it doesn’t work. That is precisely the point of using it in trials: researchers have known for years that comparing treatment against no treatment at all will give a misleading result.

Unlike their conventional counterparts, practitioners of alternative medicine often excel at harnessing the placebo effect, says Dr Ernst. They offer long, relaxed consultations with their customers (exactly the sort of “good bedside manner” that harried modern doctors struggle to provide). And they believe passionately in their treatments, which are often delivered with great and reassuring ceremony. That alone can be enough to do good, even though the magnets, crystals and ultra-dilute solutions applied to the patients are, by themselves, completely useless."

The article in The Economist certainly offers much opportunity for reflection as to what ails us and as to how the mind may play a central role in achieving wellness.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Housed all the Civilizations

Should Hasankeyf, Turkey be inundated by a dam project?

It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on Earth, a town on the banks of the Tigris that dates back to the bronze age. (3,300-1,200 BC)

"Over the years it has survived the rise and fall of empires, drought, war and the harsh vicissitudes of nature.

But Hasankeyf is facing the prospect of being flooded out of existence as Turkish authorities seek to speed up a dam project in south-east Anatolia that will raise the level of the river by 60 metres (200ft).

Hasankeyf has housed all the civilizations of Mesopotamia: Romans, Byzantines, Assyrians, Arabs, Mongols and Ottomans; they have all passed through here and left their marks on the town.

The remains of a medieval bridge, one of the largest of its era, still withstand the currents of the Tigris." (See the 10 second video of the 2,000 year old bridge over the Tigris River.)

Hasankeyf is in the south eastern area of Turkey below Diyarbakir.

And from the Smithsonian magazine:

"The ancient city of Hasankeyf, built on and around the banks of the river in southeastern Turkey, may be one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world, spanning some 10,000 years. Hasankeyf and its surrounding limestone cliffs are home to thousands of human-made caves, 300 medieval monuments and a unique canyon ecosystem—all combining to create a beguiling open-air museum."

(What an interesting slice of history and travel perspective with complex implications.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Stitched in the Fabric of our Pop Culture Psyches

The 125th anniversary of the first Coca-Cola sold - on May 8, 1886 for 5 cents- has inspired the release of Coca-Cola, a collection of images of the beverage, in "realms real and imagined."

"Arguably the world’s most ubiquitous brand, the jolly red logo has been pasted on just about every susceptible surface on the planet, and this book serves to remind us youngsters of the breadth and endurance of its appeal, just in case it wasn’t already stitched into the fabric of our pop culture psyches. Indeed, at times, “Coca-Cola” seems less a birthday tribute to the stamina of a yummy, fizzy black taste with mysterious origins and more a tribute to several generations of successful advertising. And let’s not forget its importance as a symbol of what’s great about our republic.

As Andy Warhol, no stranger to ubiquity or commercialism, contests on Page 8, Coke “started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. … A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good."

Read the review and a selection of several more images included in the book here.

The image depicted above is Out Fishin’, the first of six paintings by the American artist Norman Rockwell for Coca-Cola which debuted on the company calendar, 1935

Sailin’ ‘round the world in a dirty gondola
Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!

~ Bob Dylan, "When I Paint My Masterpiece"

Finally was Coca Cola's secret recipe ever revealed, particularly ingredient 7X?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Addressing the Deeper Spiritual Values

Can classical music augment social action and change?

An essay at the Atlantic suggests that it has and will with such concerts as the one at the Kennedy Center on May 22nd, when the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra present the world premiere of Seven Songs for Planet Earth by Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas.

The Artistic Director of the Choral Arts Society of Washington, says, "Our mantra is two-fold: celebrating the past and embracing the future. It's a permanent philosophical commitment to the ongoing presence of classical music in our lives, and why we carry forth the tradition of this category of music. Classical music addresses the deeper spiritual values of our existence and strives to encapsulate our culture in the highest possible way."

In choosing a theme for the commission, the director said, "We never seriously contemplated anything other than something that celebrates our Earthly home. It's a subject that's absolutely universal and unifying. There are many political views about the Earth, but no one disputes the fact that in some way, shape, or form we have to take care of our home."

The concert is a work in seven movements. Symphonic choruses are based on texts, and four of the movements are poems by acclaimed poet Wendell Berry.

"Any work of art," says Mr. Kortekangas, "whether it's realistic, abstract, or even conceptual, is an act in itself, more than doing nothing, and can serve as an example, can stir the listeners' imagination, evoke emotions."

Consider Wendell Berry's poem, The Peace of Wild Things':

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Or the following lines which are a part of the world premiere composition:

Sowing the seed, my hand is one with the earth.

Wanting the seed to grow, my mind is one with the light.

Hoeing the crop, my hands are one with the rain.

Having cared for the plants, my mind is one with the air.

Hungry and trusting, my mind is one with the earth.

Eating the fruit, my body is one with the earth.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It Starts with the Product

My family attended the wedding of my nephew last Saturday and the centerpiece on each table was a floral arrangement of scrumptious cupcakes. We wanted to jump straight to the desserts!

CNN at Eatocracy interviewed Candace Nelson, founder and pastry chef of Beverly Hills based Sprinkles Cupcakes.

"My thought was to take this beloved American treat and elevate it with ingredients used for special occasion cakes. Working with beautiful chocolates, vanillas, making cupcakes in other flavors than chocolate and vanilla. Something for everyone’s tastes. The idea was that if we did that, cupcakes could really stand on their own.

Prior to opening our Beverly Hills location, there had never been a retail bakery that sold just cupcakes. There were certainly bakeries known for cupcakes as we know Magnolia and Crumbs, but they are traditional bakeries. We developed a new genre of bakery. Now, you can go into towns across the country and there is a name for it, the cupcakery. That term didn’t even exist before.

The idea was to make a more sophisticated cupcake while keeping the same elements of playfulness and fun so a kid can still enjoy it. From there came the look of the bakery which was modern, sophisticated yet playful with the colors. We were lucky to work with someone who really got it. It definitely starts with the product. People appreciate a beautiful space and the artfulness of the cupcake, but it starts with the product."

Sprinkles has enjoyed its share of celebrity endorsements over the last six years which has helped to raise the profile of the company now with ten stores.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Perfect, Ironic Shower Gift

Paradoxical? A children's book for parents to be released in June, 2011 is #1 on Amazon's best seller list!!! It's not even published yet, and the book has gone viral.

'Go the F___ to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, began its life as a joke Facebook post in June. It was a particularly trying instance of bedtime with his 2-year-old daughter, and Mansbach let off some steam in the form of a humorous status update to his friends: "Look out for my forthcoming children’s book, ‘Go the — to Sleep."'

'The response from his friends was so fierce that Mansbach decided to make his joke book a real one. Go the F___ to Sleep, which he bills as a "children's book for adults," will hit stores on June 14, published by the Brooklyn press Akashic. If it's not even due for a month, though, how did a little 32-page book already snag a film option deal with Fox 2000 and, today, reach the pinnacle of online publishing commerce world?'

One issue arising out of its amazing popularity appears to be piracy. A PDF version of the book, released to publishers and executives, has made its rounds, and now it's common knowledge on the Internet.

On the one hand, the piracy raises serious questions about copyright, but on the other, the promotion of the book reduces the need for an extensive advertising campaign.

"It's hilarious. It's honest. Humor books tend to do well in general, as do parenting books, as do short books. Not to mention it's the perfect ironic, light-hearted shower gift." It taps the common emotion of parental exhaustion and desperation.

Thanks to my son-in-law for the link to an article by Fast Company. He is proud father of an adorable five month old who has yet to inflict the parents with considerable sleep deprivation.

By the way, it's interesting to go here and peruse the list of bestsellers on Amazon which share the limelight with this featured book.

Centuries Old Weaving Meets Internet Marketing

A new website combines ethical fashion weaving and social media.

The IOU Project offers scarves, shirts, dresses and each item is unique and identified by its own QR code.

'With each piece of clothing there is a link called "This item's journey" that leads to pictures and profiles of the weaver who created the fabric and of the artisan who cut the material and created the design. Using the IOU Project's iPhone app, you can take a photo of the QR code to pull that story up again.

You can also snap a photo of yourself and upload it so that the weaver and the artisan can see their creation being worn by someone out in the world -- helping to complete the story.'

Each item is unique because it starts with one particular piece of hand-woven cotton fabric measuring about 8 meters by 6.25 meters. They are collected from weavers in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where the craft has been practiced for centuries. A weaver needs four or five days to produce one.

From there it goes to a participating manufacturer in Europe where individual items are cut from a particular madras check, ensuring no two items are quite the same.

'With IOU an individual can become a reseller of any particular item. First you apply to become a "trunk show host." When applying you share your real contact details and links to your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles. This kind of hosting will surely spread the appeal of the fair trade type endeavour.'

View an engaging introduction of the project here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Questions about the Nature of Art

A spotlight shines on Cindy Sherman (1954), photographer, film director, model, whose untitled photograph (1981) sold for a record $3,890,500. In the photo she is portrayed as a "cashmere-clad ingénue, (stock character who is endearingly innocent and wholesome) seductively reclining with a crumpled personal ad in one hand."

"Through a number of different series of works, Sherman has raised challenging and important questions about the role and representation of women in society, the media and the nature of the creation of art.

Sherman works in series, typically photographing herself in a range of costumes. To create her photographs, Sherman shoots alone in her studio, assuming multiple roles as author, director, make-up artist, hairstylist, wardrobe mistress, and of course, model."

In her art, Sherman is both "revealed and hidden, named and nameless." She explained to the New York Times in 1990, "I feel I'm anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren't self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear."

So what's so special about a photo which achieved such an astronomical price? A former director of a modern art museum, says that mainly, it's a function of two people wanting the same thing:

"What matters to most of those collectors is winning. When art becomes a competitive sport, all it takes to win is the guts and the money to go further than anyone else, and then, voila, you win. And winning feels really good."

Sherman's work also reinforces the importance of pop artists who can "challenge tradition and convey that an artist's use of the mass-produced visual commodities of popular culture is contiguous with the perspective of fine art."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hope to the Oppressed

The CNN Freedom Project: 'Ending Modern Day Slavery' helps to document the injustice facing millions worldwide and provide hope for an end.

For example, there is Emmanuel Jal, a former child soldier in Sudan, who has defied the odds to become a musician. His We Want Peace campaign raises awareness of justice, equality and conflict prevention.

Emmanuel explains why he joined CNN's Freedom Project:

"I grew up in the south of Sudan when rebels were fighting for independence from the rest of Sudan.

The memories of the past are still strong in my mind. When I was five I did not understand what rape was but I saw my aunt being raped in front of me,...

It was not long before government soldiers destroyed my village. We kept running from one place to another and it was during one of these attacks that I lost my mother....

At eight I was recruited as a child soldier. I was susceptible because I wanted to take revenge for my family. The training wasn't easy, but I promised myself I would find the people who destroyed my home, get an AK-47 and kill as many enemies as possible....

The CNN Freedom Project has raised my hopes because it will open the eyes of millions and create a positive energy. People will want to be a part of this campaign to end modern slavery.

It is going to give hope to the oppressed...

A referendum took place on January 9 where the people of Southern Sudan were given the option to vote for a split from the north and become their own nation. Things have gone relatively smoothly for now and people have voted for separation...."

The Freedom Project encourages one to think about how freedom and justice can be taken easily for granted.

Spiritual Belief Systems

If one believes in something strongly enough, one tends to share the information?

Dare2Share.org is an evangelical based Christian ministry which helps young people to understand divergent perspectives. For example, how does one discuss one's faith with:
- Alisha, the Agnostic; Andy, the Atheist; Bailey, the Buddhist; Erin, the Evolutionist; Hari, the Hindu; Jenni, the Jew; Mo, the Muslim; Nicole, the New Ager; Willow, the Wiccan...

Utne Reader provides a perceptive assessment:

"Given the source, the basic information about each “worldview” is surprisingly fair-minded, breaking down, for example, even the dark abyss that is Satanism into bite-size bits. But things steer quickly out of hand when it comes to the proselytizing tips, which are presented under the innocuous-sounding “things to remember” heading. Because apparently the only reason evangelical Christians would try so hard to understand another spiritual belief system is so they can tear it down—slyly and strategically, that is."

Where in the understanding of other belief systems is there a desire for inclusiveness?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Love Letter to Anyone with a Passion for Tea

Where have you enjoyed a perfect cup of tea?

For Robin Esrock one of the best was at Ceylon Tea Trails, in Sri Lanka, a luxury bungalow resort originally built for the tea barons who ruled over the estates. "Owned and operated by Dilmah, one of the world's largest tea brands, Ceylon Tea Trails is a love letter to anyone with a passion for tea, tranquillity, hospitality and the region itself."

"I've never enjoyed a fresher cup of tea than the one waiting for me on the patio. It tastes like fine Bordeaux after years of quaffing box wine. As I sip, the early-morning sun sparkles on the evergreen tea terraces that look like surreal layers painted onto the hills. “What are those yellow and blue specks moving around up there?” I ask my butler. (I've never had a butler before, and I think it rather suits me.) “Those are the tea pluckers, sir.” My education in tea is about to begin."

Included in his education is that the tea is plucked always with two leaves and a bud. Left alone, these plants would grow to more than seven meters tall.

"The estate's army of pluckers consists of short, skinny ladies wrapped in colourful saris, each with a long basket strapped around her forehead, hanging down her back. The women are paid according to weight, so with lightning fingers they pluck as much as 16 kilograms of tea leaves a day. I ask one lady if I can give it a try, which solicits a cackle of laughs. The basket is heavy, already straining my neck, even though it's relatively empty. I clumsily pluck away for a half-hour, before deciding that it's work best left to wispy women with necks of steel."

Since its inception, Dilmah has prided itself on being an ethical tea company. Through its charitable foundation, the company "supports 1,500 community projects, including child care, geriatric services, arts programs, counselling, even prisoner rehabilitation. The company also provides free housing, education and medical services to estate workers."

See a short video of Esrock's memorable tea education and visit here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Baking Soda Panacea

When it's my turn to make pancakes I reach for the trusted ingredients including flour, eggs, oil...and baking soda.

Apparently people can't get enough of sodium bicarbonate, including searches on the Internet. Good's article "Seven Surprising Uses for Baking Soda" still gets regular hits months after its posting.

"Not that we're complaining, of course. The article itself isn't bad at all: Servicey, smart, and nicely illustrated—it's a piece of which we're still quite proud. Nevertheless, we just can't seem to figure out why, every single day, it still gets so much traffic. Despite being nine months old, the baking soda story kills, and it's showing no signs of slowing."

Included in their list is: brushing teeth, washing the face, creating a deodorant, healing acne, cleaning hair, soothing the stomach, and soaking the skin.

Other informative articles include:

The New Homemaker: "27 Ways to Clean with Baking Soda."

Yahoo Green: "40 Fantastic Uses for Baking Soda"

Life Hackery: "75 Extraordinary Uses"

How Stuff Works: Baking Soda for Health and Beauty

Looks like it may be a good idea to get the large economy size from a place like Costco and transform your life with the natural, cheap home elixir.

Care to use the share buttons below?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Authenticity at Work

Creating a dynamic and happy culture in the work place can be illusive. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, sees it as an important process in building a brand.

"At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own.

We believe that your company’s culture and your company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up.

Your culture is your brand."

To build and maintain a desirable culture Hsieh defines the Zappos culture in terms of 10 core values:

1) Deliver WOW Through Service
2) Embrace and Drive Change
3) Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4) Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5) Pursue Growth and Learning
6) Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7) Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8) Do More With Less
9) Be Passionate and Determined
10) Be Humble

Of course, it's easy to come up with a list like this, but another to work it out in practice.

Sarah Hampson in an excellent article about work place culture reflects on her years in England when a tea trolley came around at four p.m. "It was a welcome break and a chance to gather and chat."

Similarly a leading management consultant reflects, "What we’re serving up is an emotional or behavioural tea trolley. A lot of companies think civility means withholding, not saying anything, making nice. But it’s not about that. It’s about being truly nice, which means being authentic and saying what’s on your mind in an honest and accountable way.”

Creating the right conditions may include providing opportunities for staff to share a lunch or break in engaging ways.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Google Logo Bonanza

I've sensed a proliferation of decorative and commemorative Google banners of late. Well, wonder no more about their origin. All the Google logos and artwork used to decorate our search since 1998 is conveniently documented here. Here is a sampling:

- April 29, 2011- The Wedding of Prince William of Wales and Catherine Middleton
- April 27, 2011 Freedom Day - (South Africa)
-April 26, 2011 226th Birthday of John James Audubon
Feb. 9, 2009 Lantern Festival (China)
Google also provides the latest collection of their logos here.

One is also invited to subscribe through RSS for an explanation of all the new ones which come along.

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The Greatest Precept

We all know the date selected by worshipers for Jesus' birthday. What is the date for Buddha's arrival?

Life.com (your world in pictures) provides a profile of South Korean Buddhists who joyfully prepare for the Buddha's birthday. "Buddha was born approximately 2,553 years ago, and although the exact date is unknown, Buddha's official birthday is celebrated on the full moon in May in South Korea -- which in 2009 falls on May 2."

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without. ~Buddha

The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the worlds ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.
~ Atisha about Buddhism

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Forever Saturday Afternoon

The New York Times 'Well' blog teamed up with Smith Magazine and the Six Word Memoir Project to create six word 'momoirs.'

The challenge and contest is to "explain your mother, someone else’s mother or motherhood in general in just six words."

Here are some examples:

-Sometimes mom needs a time out.

-It's their words I'll remember most.

-What was I thinking? She's right.

-Trapped in Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar

And here's a fond memory of my mother:

Saturday afternoon zwiebach and cinnamon buns

There's still time to submit your six words.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Change in Format

A good blogger acquaintance decided to bid farewell to her readers recently. She expressed her concerns very well which echo some of my thoughts:

'The year has quickly come and gone and I now feel that I can no longer give the time to write my postings, to respond to the many, many comments and, most importantly, to read and enjoy your wonderfully varied and interesting writings. I shall, I know, miss you all dreadfully and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your kindnesses and support. I wish you much happiness and success in the future...'

I have asked myself similar questions over the last few months about my own online writing and networking. What began 3 years and 4 months ago has resulted in an accumulation of over 1,300 posts. I have enjoyed the pursuit of getting out an almost daily mind fix, networking, and building a following. As well, my two other blogs 365 Quote Quest and 365 Word Quest have almost 500 posts each.

However, I have felt somewhat guilty about not visiting more of you regularly with your own perceptive blogs. I have several other ongoing interests which need to be cultivated as well.

I am choosing, therefore, to disable commenting. There are several blogs I follow which use this format. Their intent is to offer readers what they have come for: thoughtful and poignant perspectives.

Similarly, I publish my posts to the world like a stone cast onto the water. I hope that some of them may cause ripples of enrichment.

Contact can still be made through email.

Image: I am in Zion National Park, Utah, October 2010

Building Sustainable Communities

Imagine new neighbourhoods incorporating a working farm ready to accommodate the community's nutritional needs. It sounds like a utopian vision but some architects and planners are working with the idea.

Community gardens are a familiar manifestation of residential-area agriculture, but many of the new designs are incorporating bigger and more integral farms.

Several communities are being planned. One in Milliken Colorado is planning an 'Agriburbia' of 618 acres where almost half the land is used for commercial farming. Another 135 of the acres would go to parks and natural habitat, and the rest would host 994 dwellings.

"In Vancouver, a 536-acre proposed project, dubbed the Southlands, would host 2,000 housing units ranging from multifamily dwellings to single-family homes to small farmsteads and larger farms. All the residents in this 'agrarian urbanism,' would contribute, in their own way, to food production."

Indeed some issues which need to be worked out are farm smells and noises, pesticide drift and genetic cross-contamination. (A good argument could be made for organic produce.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

A New Smaller World

One slide at a conference places peak oil in perspective. It's a three century run with a precipitous decline.

It reminds me of Jeff Rubin's book Why Your World is about to Get a Whole Lot Smaller. As a chief economist and observer of global markets, he paints a scenario of rising prices and argues for a much needed rethink about our energy usage.

"Life as we've known it is up for grabs in a world of expensive fossil fuels. Expensive oil means a severe curb on the free-spending lifestyle that cheap energy has afforded us for some time now. It means you can say a long and wistful goodbye to the inexpensive products manufactured on the other side of the world. You may not love them, but they have been stretching our dollars for a while now and holding down inflation at the same time. You'll miss them when it starts to become clear that your pay cheque just doesn't go as far as it used to." (He is forecasting $7 a gallon for gasoline in a few years.)

Rubin provides an alternative,

"Not only must we decouple our economy from oil but we must re-engineer our lives to adapt to a world of growing energy scarcity. And that means learning to live using less energy. While much could go terribly wrong in this transition, don't be surprised if we find more than a few silver linings in the process, like a solution to carbon emissions, for example. And don't be surprised if the new smaller world that emerges isn't a lot more livable and enjoyable than the one we are about to leave behind.

Either way, your world is about to get a lot smaller."

Via NPR and Treehugger

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

An Ode to Mayo

When it comes to food there are two kinds of people: the parsnips and the gravies. The parsnips dissect each food item for its nutritional value while the gravies float on a boat of rich culinary pleasures...

That's one metaphorical distinction. Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer prize winning author, sees the difference another way in "The Guiltless Pleasure" which is the definitive ode to mayonnaise. He calls it a "story of tragic romance."

"I love that condiment, love it the way Odysseus loved Penelope, Samson loved Delilah, Lancelot loved Guinevere. I know, as they all must have known, that this will not end well, but I am not ashamed.

When I am on my deathbed, probably from a lifetime of bad cholesterol, I hope someone gives me a little packet of Hellmann’s, or Kraft, or Duke’s, or Bama, so I can slip it underneath my pillow like a scrap of scripture or a family photo. It will comfort me, I believe, as darkness falls. Then again, someone could just make me a sandwich."

Unfortunately his wife does not share his passion,

"My wife, who knows everything, says there are two kinds of people in this world. First, there are people like her, mustard people, who wake up in the morning and run five miles, or at least talk about how they used to. They wear clothes ordered from catalogs, the ones that show people hiking, fly fishing, or paddling a canoe, usually beside a Labrador puppy. They eat flax and what appears to be horse feed and swear they like it, and would no more let whole milk pass their lips than hemlock. They have never had high blood pressure, except when talking about their feelings. They have never had gout, which they even like to say, but can eat a whole pound of dark chocolate without ever having to check their blood sugar. They will tell you with a straight face that sometimes they just forget to eat....

And then, there are the rest of us..."

You may read this superbly entertaining essay here. It's part of an excellent annotated anthology of "Nearly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism" published in The Atlantic by Conor Friederesdorf who writes a newsletter entitled The Best of Journalism.

A Vote for Youth: Progressive Values

The Canadian federal election on Monday, May 2 was a big deal for Canadians who saw sweeping changes to the political landscape.

The results: Conservatives 167 seats, NDP (New Democratic Party) 102, Liberals 34, Bloc Quebecois 4, Green Party 1.

The former minority government with Stephen Harper as Prime Minister is now a majority government. The Liberals for the first time in history is not either in power or the official opposition. The Bloc Quebecois, whose official party line is to separate from Canada, has been decimated, while the NDP took almost 60 seats in Quebec. And The Green Party is ecstatic with one seat in the House of Commons.

NDP party leader Jack Layton now represents the Official Opposition. He welcomes scores of new members to his caucus which has swelled from 36 to 102. Included in this list is the youngest member ever to be elected, Pierre-Luc Dusseault who is 19 years and 11 months old.

In an interview he reflects,

"I’m studying politics right now at the UniversitĂ© de Sherbrooke. I threw myself into the race knowing what I was getting into. My goal was victory. I knew I could win. I entered because I was always hearing people who wanted change, people who wanted to send a young person into politics. That’s what encouraged me to run, to propose something new for the people of Sherbrooke....

Since I’m the youngest MP in this Parliament, it’s clear that youth will be important for me, to be, if you like, the representative of all Canadian youth. That will cover education. It will be something that I will work on..." As well, "why not have a [federal] government in Quebec’s image? NDP MPs are MPs that share the values of Quebeckers – social and progressive values. That’s how I campaigned: As long as we’re in Canada, why not have a government in Quebec’s image?"

It's encouraging to think about the new political dynamics in Canada. Many lamented a rather stale election until the NDP and Jack Layton stirred the pot with some innovative vision.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In Praise of the Pen

Is hand writing a necessary 21st century skill?

Several articles extol the virtues of cursive writing and lament its decline among students.

"For centuries, cursive handwriting has been an art." However, for a growing number of young people, "it is a mystery. The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell."

Indeed, the pressure in school systems is to teach to the standardized test and to prepare students for the 21st century. Consequently less time is devoted to the art.

One education professor said, "These kids are losing time where they create beauty every day."

Neurologist Frank Wilson, author of The Hand: How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language and Human Culture, says, "Although the repetitive drills that accompany handwriting lessons seem outdated, such physical instruction will help students to succeed." His book provides evidence that these activities "stimulate brain activity, lead to increased language fluency, and aid in the development of important knowledge."

Moreover, he describes in detail the pivotal role of hand movements, in particular the development of thinking and language capacities, and in "developing deep feelings of confidence and interest in the world-all-together, the essential prerequisites for the emergence of the capable and caring individual."

The essays encourage us to think about our own language development and to what extent cursive writing should still be cultivated in the word gardens of young students.

From articles in NYT and the Atlantic.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Toward a Better Place?

With the death of Osama bin Laden the word which comes to my mind is catharsis and the similar death of Macbeth in Shakespeare.

Macbeth, of course, deserved to be decapitated by Macduff for his fiendish deeds including ordering the deaths of Macduff's wife and child. Macbeth was on a downward spiral as he was motivated by what the witches told him about his kingship.

"Catharsis is the "emotional cleansing" sometimes depicted in a play as occurring for one or more of its characters, as well as the same phenomenon as (an intended) part of the audience’s experience. It describes an extreme change in emotion, occurring as the result of experiencing strong feelings (such as sorrow, fear, pity, or even laughter). It has been described as a "purification" or a "purging" of such emotion. More recently, such terms as restoration, renewal, and revitalization have been used when referencing the effect on members of the audience."

Waves of euphoria and relief have swept through the minds of many who heard the news 9 years and 7 months after the tragic events of 9/11, 2001. Bin Laden got what he deserved.

Does this catharsis motivate the world and ourselves to move toward a better place?


We are It. It is up to Us.

I spent some time at Wikiquotes and found quite a quotepanorama.

My main goal was to research the quote by Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948):

'We need to be the change we wish to see in the world'

and found that the link carried a comprehensive list of more pertinent quotes such as

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty and

Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed.

Also, quotes are provided about Gandhi. For example,

Taken on the whole, I would believe that Gandhi's views were the most enlightened of all the political men of our time. We should strive to do things in his spirit: not to use violence for fighting for our cause, but by non-participation of anything you believe is evil. ~Albert Einstein

A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back- but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you. ~ Marian Wright Edelman

Finally to peruse a comprehensive list of quotes around the theme of love go here to see what Wikiquotes has assembled.