Archive for April, 2008

Mahabharata TV Series

April 30, 2008

My dear friend Noah downloaded the entire Mahabharata TV series made in India some years ago. There are 94 episodes, each about 45 minutes. The Mahabharata is one of the longest epic poems in the world. It is the story of ancient India during the Dvapara yuga. I have read abridged copies of the Mahabharata but this movie version is much more complete. It is great. The Bhagavadgita is a small section of the Mahabharata. I can’t wait to see what that section will be like, but I have a long way to go. These stories are so fun to watch because they are full of vedic teachings and show the plight of human existence and the quest for dharma.

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Global Food Crisis

April 28, 2008

I wrote about the rise of in food costs a few months back. Here is the post. The UN has caught on to this problem and apparently the threat has made it to a global scale. There are different opinions as to the ultimate cause for the high food prices. Some say it is all related to the high price in energy costs and others say it is because of the ethanol based alternative energy program which is using our food crops to make gasoline. It seems to me it must be a combination of the two. The Environmental News Service has an excellent article outlining the current food situation. The article states:

The United States and the European Union have taken a “criminal path” by contributing to an explosive rise in global food prices through using food crops to produce biofuels, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food said today.
At a press conference in Geneva, Jean Ziegler of Switzerland said that fuel policies pursued by the U.S. and the EU were one of the main causes of the current worldwide food crisis.

Ziegler was speaking before a meeting in Bern, Switzerland between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of key United Nations agencies.

Ziegler said that last year the United States used a third of its corn crop to create biofuels, while the European Union is planning to have 10 percent of its petrol supplied by biofuels.

The Special Rapporteur has called for a five-year moratorium on the production of biofuels.

The article also gives an argument taking the blame off bio-fuels.

But not everyone agrees. Toni Nuernberg, executive director of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council based in Omaha, Nebraska, says, “I can unequivocally state that ethanol does not take food from the mouths of starving people.”

“Ethanol production uses field corn – most of which is fed to livestock with only a small percentage going into cereals and snacks. In fact, only the starch portion of the corn kernel is used to produce ethanol. The vitamins, minerals, proteins and fiber are converted to other products including sweeteners, corn oil and high-value livestock feed – feed which helps livestock producers add to the overall food supply,” said Nuernberg on Tuesday.

Great White Shark Attack in San Diego

April 25, 2008

LA Times

Sad News for Humboldt County 2nd District

April 25, 2008

Roger Rodoni, Humboldt County 2nd district supervisor died in a car accident yesterday evening. Rodoni had been a county supervisor since 1996. Humboldt newspapers and blogs have more.

2nd District County Supervisor Election

April 24, 2008

I have been trying to gather information about the candidates running for the 2nd district supervisor here in Mendocino County. The incumbent, Jim Wattenburger, has decided to not run for re-election, I guess he feels the public has seen his work as unacceptable and he does not have the votes to remain in office.

Those running for the position are: Estelle Palley Clifton, Jim Mulheren, Ross Mayfield Jr., and John McCowen. This page has a brief overview.

Palley Clifton is running as a forester and has a strong natural resources background. A quick look tells me that Palley Clifton is too young for the job and does not have the experience necessary for this powerful county position (I know, people said the same thing about Barak Obama, and look how far he has gotten). It is nice to see a young ambitious woman who has the guts to make the attempt to secure this position, but I believe her 26 years on this Earth is not quite enough to have the life experience that makes a quality county supervisor.

Mulheren is running on a very pro-corporate/pro-big business platform and would like to see Target and Costco in Ukiah. Mulheren points to the large amount of money being spent by Mencocino County residents in Santa Rosa. He would like to bring that spending to Ukiah by bringing the shopping options to Ukiah.

Mayfield Jr. has been a life-long community member and business man. He has been a contractor for twenty-five years. It seems he is interested in Native issues, and I believe he is Native American himself. Mayfield Jr. may make a great supervisor but my concern is his electability. I don’t believe he has the name recognition of other candidates, but if he continues to run a good campaign he may make some significant progress in getting the votes on June 3.

McCowen seems to have the most support and the most likely winner. McCowen is running on his experience sitting on the Ukiah city counsel and long time business owner. From what I can see on the west side he has the most lawn signs. McCowen has been active in deciding what will happen with the Masonite site and is working on the tax sharing plan between the city and the county.

I do believe there is much more potential for change in local politics and democracy is at its best at the most local level. However, I know the budget right now is dismal, which is going to make creativity an essential quality in the next county supervisor.

Hightower Lowdown

April 21, 2008

Gotta love ol’ Mr. Jim Hightower. In his latest Lowdown he writes:

If you’ve ever entered an enclosed, industrialized hog facility where hundreds of fattening porcines live out their short lives, you know that the smell of pig excrement completely redefines “stink.” This stench will knock you to your knees, sear your lungs and brain, and make you scream for mercy. For nearly eight years, the White House has been a confined hog pen for corporate porkers, right-wing ideologues, imperialists, autocrats, and other swinish mess-makers. America’s next president must not only set a new direction but will also have to clean up the mess and eradicate the stink left by the Bushites.

I enjoy Hightower’s way with words. It’s good to see a Texan (Hightower) speaking this way because so many people see Texas as total Bush country. Can’t wait for some fresh blood in the White House, just hope it’s not McCain’s, I guess his blood isn’t that fresh though.

The Lowdown also points out the irony that Starbucks is now yearning for the image of cool, independent hangout that it spent the last 20 years trying to drive out of business. Hightower writes:

About a year ago, a stinging message was delivered to the corporate honchos of Starbucks, the mega chain of costly coffees.

The writer decried the “commoditization of the Starbucks experience,” bemoaning the fact that outlets “no longer have the soul of the past and [instead] reflect a chain of stores vs. the warm feeling of a neighborhood store.” He’s right, of course. You go into a Starbucks these days, and the barista who used to make your cup is operating an automatic pushbutton coffee machine.

This commoditization of the corporate experience is a very powerful tool and I have seen it lure even the most “progressive” and “liberal” thinkers into their snare. I myself am occasionally tempted to indulge in the $4.50 mochas and be part of the starbucks team.

Sacred Bovine

April 20, 2008

BENARES, India—Overlooking the ghat, 1997.

The cow is sacred in India. This is an interesting phenomenon. I think the cow became sacred for practical purposes. If there was a beef industry in India, like the one in the U.S., the environment would have collapsed much earlier. Cows entered Hindu cosmology because the cow provides much more to society alive than dead. The dried dung is used to burn. They also mix the dung with mud to build structures. The milk is used daily. And the peaceful docile nature of the animal is a lesson to all humans to strive for peace and harmony.

Meglomanical Travel Guide

April 19, 2008

Recently my soon to be wife turned me on to this story of a travel writer who was commissioned by Lonely Planet to write on Columbia, but did not provide him with the funds to go to the country. LP states that he was contracted to just write sections on history, food and drink, and environment and culture, and it was understood that he would not be traveling to the country to write, but because he holds a Masters degree in Latin American studies they did not think it necessary for him to actually go to Columbia. The writer, Thomas Kohnstamm, states,

“They didn’t pay me enough to go to Colombia.” I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating – an intern in the Colombian Consulate.”

Through my own travel experience I have been disturbed by the power travel guides possess. Making it into the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide can make or break small business holders in many countries. For this reason, many businesses will take the same name as one that made it into the guide. This brings up the nature of tourism and makes us think about the darker side of this leisure activity invented by the West. I love to travel. I believe the cultural exchange is mutually valuable. However, the power of money, the extreme differential, can often taint the experience. Kohnstamm also states:

“even on a good day, a fair amount of what ends up in a guidebook is arbitrary, and therefore people shouldn’t necessarily treat them as gospel”

This “arbitrary” entry often has life and death ramifications for many small business owners and their families. These guides have a tremendous responsibility but, can there really be an objective way to decide weather to put one restaurant in book verses another. Sure, sometimes it is obvious, but often it is just a random lucky act.

These publication companies are making billions of dollars, because the guide becomes outdated after just a few years they have a constant market for their new guides. Is this ethical? What kind of responsibilities do the publishers have to the places they write about? When I first decided to spend a year traveling in South Asia I asked a friend some good places to visit and he replied, “Get the Lonely Planet and go everywhere that’s not in there.” I can definitely say that I had the best experiences when I diverged from the guidebook map.

Kohnstamm is coming out with a book titled, Do Travel Writers Go To Hell? I’m looking forward to seeing what it has to say.

I should add that during my travels in India I did meet a writer for Lonely Planet and he was one of the most unpleasant people I met the whole time I was there.

Where do you stand?

April 15, 2008

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle

Albert Einstein

Beauty Ignored

April 14, 2008

I just read this fascinating article by Washington Post reporter, Gene Weingarten. Weingarten asked Joshua Bell, one of the world’s most famous violinists to play at a metro station in Washington DC during the morning commute. Bell played for 43 minutes and only a very few people gave him any money, yet alone stopped to listen. The author writes:

No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

This was an exploration into the meaning of beauty and how it is appreciated. The author of the article uses Kant to explain that beauty is:

What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

The article ends by stating that we may not be able to see this as people’s failure to appreciate art and beauty, because there is something called optimal viewing and when you are in a hurry to get to work you are not in the optimal mindset to appreciate beauty, but the author does question Americans ability to enjoy life. He writes:

“This is about having the wrong priorities,” Lane said.

If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on Earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that — then what else are we missing?

I strongly recommend reading the entire story, but that will require you to take time out of your busy day and this experiment shows how hard it is for us to “stop and smell the flowers.” The author won the Pulitzer prize for this piece of work and I think it is well deserved.