Thursday, August 31, 2006

urban myths, apochryphal tales and plain simple truth

Ever heard the one about the inventor who reinvented the lightbulb, sold the idea to a big maufacturer imagining that human life would be forever better only to see it filed away into oblivion? Ever doubted that large corporations really do have totally evil, unethical and hidden strategies?

Who killed the electric car? shows just how this little trick works in practice. It is a very depressing look at how corporate self interest and political corruption put paid to a perfectly viable, no emission, alternative to the cars we still drive today. GM and the California Air Resource Bureau (CARB) have a lot to answer for.

The film uses a low key slow burner approach to audience engagement and has scored some good interviews in particular with people who were intimately involved with the development of the EV programme at GM. They describe their first hand experience of how the company at once seemed to commit to the project while at the same time working to ensure that it would eventually be mothballed and the cars completely removed from circulation. People who come out looking particularly bad include the then president of CARB, whose conflict of interests is laid bare towards the end, and the oil industry lobbyist who lies directly to camera in a flurry of blinking about the supposed non-viability of electric cars as they were - not to mention the Bush administration.

This film is depressing and enraging at the same time. The interviews are skillfully edited amd interwoven. Californian consumers' frustration is made explicit - they wanted to buy the cars but the company that made them did not want to sell them and sabotaged the very sales and marketing campaigns they themselves had instituted.

The NZ film festival docos have been full of venom and rage this year - aimed at big business, corrupt governement and obstructive media. This is a fine example of the truth skillfully laid bare for all to see once more.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

more boarding and lots of bruises

I think that perhaps it might be wise in life to learn all vaguely hazardous sports before about the age of 10 or 12. Snowboarding only started to become mainstream in the very late 80s by which time I was an adult so sadly the option was not there for me.

I had a two hour lesson which was money very well spent as the instructor actually told me what to aim for as opposed to well meaning friends whose advice extended to 'just keep trying' and 'you need to practice more'....hmmm. There is an actual technique - and, do you know, when you apply it you suddenly find turns and the like pretty easy at lower speeds....so much fun. The falls are bruising though and I currently have a very sore coccyx which makes getting up from sitting pretty painful. Luckily it is improving and so no lasting damage. Also have hurt thumb which makes practice a little tricky. I think that's enough snow action for me this year. Riding a little close to the wind.

making finalish preps for departure to India.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

An inconvenient truth

So goes the title of the lecture/political manifesto by Al Gore about the environment which I saw last night. He does a good job of unequivocally, rudely and effectively spelling out just how critical the climate change situation is. The cinema was packed out and you could feel the guilt radiating back into the atmosphere from the audience as Gore delivered hammer blow after hammer blow.

Greenland is melting. The Atlantic conveyor is stopping. Atmospheric CO2 is so far above averages from the last 650,000 years that there is no doubt what is to blame. We are.

We are all being affected now by climate change, as it happens. 100s of millions will soon be affected by catastrophic rises in the sea level. Hurricane Catrina is merely a taster of what this might mean, from San Fran to Shanghai, Holland to Calcutta.

It's enough to make you want to go out and buy a Toyota Prius. Indeed this is something I am looking into.

The problem with Gore's preaching is that his solutions are opaque and halfhearted, mealy mouthed and half assed. He is saying his piece, yes. But his suggestions for reducing our CO2 emissions and attempting to avert the crisis are just as much hostage to big business and vested interests as are many of the 'scientists' and commentators who still refute the climate change evidence. As the titles roll we are told how we can make a difference - reduce, recycle, decrease, redesign, rethink.

Nowhere is there mention of the concept of lowering consumption and a way to achieve this paradigm shift that is really at the centre of the dilemma. To say so would be political suicide.

And the irony of all this, if we accept the thesis that materialism is simply the manifestation of subconscious fear - a fear of some threat to our very essence as humans and individuals, which results in a fight or flight response bizarrely transmuting into this phenomenon of consumerist capitalism -, is that we have in fact created by our actions the very greatest threat to our own survival of which it is possible to conceive.

If this is not as clear a demonstration of bounded rationality as is possible then I cannot imagine how to put it more succinctly.

And Gore is suggesting that we leave our fate in the hands of consumers

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Napier Film Festival

Saw a beautifully made film from India yesterday evening at the Napier Film Festival, by writer/producer Deepa Mehta. Water is beautifully filmed with a lovely young protagonist who lends immense charm and sensitivity to the whole story. In some ways it reminded me of Midnight Express - the dour, crushing weight of religious and cultural institutions bearing down on individuals in both films nags at your very soul. A young and innocent main character caught up and tossed around by forces so immense and overpowering that escape seems impossible as well as the faithfully rendered influence of interpersonal relationships as they develop over time and peoples' lives intersect, each touching the other briefly whilst at the same time firmly locked into their own individual fates, all this makes Water compelling and the moments of true darkness bearable. In the end, with the coming of Ghandi and the end of British rule comes emancipation for little Churyia and we are so happy to see her clasped into the arms of the peaceful revolution.

Had a blast on Limewire/iTunes (you know how it works.....) the other day and unearthed this beauty of an album - Boogie Angst - by Kraak & Smaak which is super funky dance stuff now being overplayed on my iPod.

On the subject of yoga I am pleased to report that Padmasana has just become possible again after an absence of several weeks due to previously mentioned knee injury - cool.

new look

I quickly tired of the old template and blogger have made it super easy to tamper with ur templates - so, here is the new look.

Monday, August 21, 2006

snow and lakes

Just had a fabulous weekend skiing/snowboarding on Mt Ruapehu, clubbing in Ohakune and lazing by Lake Taupo. I kept seeing great snow reports all week and so decided that with Friday still looking good I would sneak in a weekday on the slopes. Headed up there on Thursday evening and struggled to find somewhere to stay on arrival since the good weather and mid season rush meant Ohakune was fit to burst. Still, got a good old dorm bed at Ohakune YHA and sweated the night away in the superheated room - luckily no snorers, which was a small mercy. After a very sluggish start, mainly due to dehydration I think, I got up the car park. A small dilemma was presented since I had imagined getting in a second day's snowboarding, but with conditions so good the attractions of a whole day on the learner slopes were somewhat outshone by the seductive upper reaches of the snow clad mountain - which won out after a brief tussle with my conscience. As it happened Saturday turned out to be the day for snowboarding as by then I was at Whakapapa on the other side of the mountain. Thus Friday ended up as an almost faultless day of skiing. Blue skies, plenty of space on the slopes, beautiful snow and loads of really friendly people - having compared the two stations now I can say that Turoa definitely has a better vibe - much more fun to be had! Maybe it's because of the fact that there are fewer Aucklanders and more Wellingtonians.

After that I headed over to Pukawa Ba y on the southern shores of the Lake to meet up at a friend's batch where a few of us stayed. Lake views from the kitchen/dining room and lots of Tuis with their lovely morning song in the surrounding trees. Very Kiwi.

Saturday was snowboarding at Whakapapa, very busy and not such an appealing ski field. Having said that, by about midday I did start to feel like I was getting the hang of boarding which was pretty satisfying - still a little awkward turning onto the back edge but even this would probably get ironed out after a 3rd day so looks like I have nearly, unexpectedly, learned to snowboard this winter! Everyone else had a good day too. In the evening we had a roast at the bach then I headed over to Ohakune again, with S who was the only other person who wanted to go clubbing, to check out the dance party for which I had seen a flyer the other week. We had a lot of fun but the music wasn't really up to scratch. Made me realise how much I want to go and get into that stuff again. Will it win out in India I wonder at some point?....perhaps!

Sunday was another good day - a little bit stiff from a couple of jarring bales on Saturday but nothing serious. Having got to bed at 3am I slept in until 1030 then munched some toast, had a bit of yarn with everyone and then went to the hot pools at Tokaanu where we lounged for 20 mins in the very hot water - it was actually my first visit to thermal pools in NZ and I've been here nearly 4 years. We had a private pool to ourselves. You could easily seat 8 people in one of them. In fact it reminded me of the big communal baths you have after playing rugby - but in a good way. Feeling somewhat soothed and refreshed we headed back to the bach and had a spot of lunch then chatted and read by the fire. I started to feel like I was really enjoying a proper life in NZ perhaps for the first time ever. Don't know why that came up, but it did.

One thing I forgot to mention was that on Wednesday evening I went to a gig by the Black Seeds that turned out to be a really great night of funky reggae. They are superb live - just great to dance to and a really good crowd to. They are touring Europe in September.

Stiff shoulders today made me think that practice might hurt but it was fine, an much appreciated as for some reason had actually felt pretty flat all day. Amazing what ashtanga and Thai food can do for one's state of mind!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

anon

There are lots of anonymous blogs out there - I love the idea, and perhaps it's the epitome of individual freedom of expression, unconstrained (except by the fact that we don't know who it is), totally frank and often compulsive reading whilst also being unfettered by the pollution of direct commercial and political influence. Imagine if everyone was doing one, honestly and openly - imagine the stuff we would get to read! But the private is only one part of life eh?

The last two practices have felt just fab - and my knee is returning to normal slowly, bit by bit.

Saw a 15 year old lad at practice with his Mum the other day. Such a young person has quite simply not had the chance to pollute and neglect his body to the same extent as those of us further along in life. He has only been practising for a month or so (in India) and looked like he could probably do the whole primary series now, without too much problem.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Blogosphere

In blogland we can meet people as they would never appear to us in any other context. Wow. That must be what people said about books when they first appeared.

Had an interesting chat with Mum this morning about blogs, Mysore, ego and ashtangis. There is a lot of crossover of course! I had showed her a few of the Mysore blogs out there and we have talked about the types of people likely to be inhabiting the world of ashtanga study in Mysore. Yoga, food, self, quest, india obsessed type A people. All this is of course relatively uncontroversial stuff and each is open to judge (or not, or accept) such assertions. I was not surprised that she has decided not to read them too closely. It can be a voyeuristic pleasure but the blogosphere is a funny and unique place fit to burst with neuroses, exhibitionism, insight, surprise, honesty, frankness and duplicity all woven together. It's easy to read this stuff like some kind of priviliged guide book to the soul - which it may in fact be if it were consumable in one go. But what about actually experiencing something firsthand for oneself?

The latest web/blog 'outing' has hit the headlines in the media. Girl with a one track mind has been hunted down with a vengeance by scummy UK journos and her identity has been revealed to all. It's a shame as it will obviously end the blog as it has been.

She is a person who has chosen to write with total frankness about her lively sex life for over 2 years. It is entertaining, compulsive and fun. It is also kind of daunting and a bit scary. Most of all I wonder - although she seems to love her sexuality and what it brings to her life - how it might be hard to be so constantly at the beck and call of one's hormones. She is turned on pretty much all the time, by just about anything. Though there are many passages of reflection about 'will she ever find a suitable relationship/have kids etc' there is never any about how she came to be as she is - why is everything sexualised for her, about desire and constantly seeking satisfaction. To know some of that would be fascinating, as has her blog thus far been. It won't happen now thanks to the sad Sunday Times journos.

Film obsession

One thing I have not mentioned so far is that I am (increasingly) obsessed by and engrossed in the world of films - in particular, in the last few years I have begun to watch a huge amount of films after it occured to me one day that, quite simply, I could. In the vein then I recently went to Wellington for a couple of days to catch some of the offerings at the NZ film festival. I think I will offer my thoughts on all films I see right here from now on. You will see that I am not joking when I say I watch a lot of them.

First up was Thankyou for Smoking. Aaron Eckhart plays the slimiest most neo-con postmodern morally corrupt relativistic slimeball lobbyist. Rob Lowe plays a character almost as hateful as the one he plays in Wayne's World. I think he has worked out that people prefer to hate him rather than love him. Really it's nothing more than a dressed up anecdote as a whole but it works beacuse of what 'off Hollywood' is so good at - very snappy dialogue and slick production seamlessly combined. Ironic (as far as American stuff can be), amusing and current.

Next was 49 Up. A long running (42 years and counting) documentary serial, the first ever, and still most authentic, attempy at reality TV that has never failed to engross. If, like me, you love documentaries with substance (as opposed to most of the shite on History Channel, Animal Planet or Discovery) that are made with sophisticated production values and attempt to tackle subjects, such as what it means to be human, that require some thought and reflection, then this is not to be missed.

For me the real interest comes not mainly from the ample fodder for consumption of the minuteae of the subjects' lives but rather from the fleeting glimpses of their attempts to subvert and challenge the whole exercise. An oxbridge educated lawyer and his wife sit guardedly in front of the cameras and profess, in response to probing, that they are 'guarded about being guarded'. Reality TV fatigue takes on a whole new dimension when you have been visited by this type of inquisition every 7 years. The same couple ask 'what is the point...or value.. of such a programme?'. Originally the makers seem to have envisaged a sort of social experiment in televised reality, when the idea was new, taking the ideas behind mass observation a few steps further. There is huge value and much to learn for all concerned both watching and participating and each person may draw this out for themselves. One of the most striking challenges to the whole concept comes from a subject who expresses anger at the makers, making explicit the previously unstated fact that there are and have been disagreements between subjects and crew over the decades about how each person is presented and how their lives are examined and assessed. She tells the interviewer that 'you don't give me enough credit - you don't think I am clever as I am...and you always focus on what has happened rather than on what I want in life, where I want to go'. It is a point forcefully made and what she is getting at must resonate deeply with a reflective audience - the inherent bias in the production process and how ineffectual the concept of objectivity really is; the subjects as we see them are filtered through many layers of language, culturally determined perception and preconception, as well as the hidden individual values of those making the programmes. This subject, a woman without any higher academic education and with obvious strength and immense dignity, objects to the profound insults inherent in the production values, agendas and personalities to be found in the film crew.

What is the point of such a film? True social comment at its most poignant, powerful and irrefutable.

Factotum showcases what is possibly a career best performance from Matt Dillon (maybe Drugstore Cowboy is up there too). The trials and tribulations inherent in a life dedicated to alcoholism of the bar fly variety are explored in this film with many echoes of American Splendor. Henry Chinaski, the alter ego of beat poet Charles Bukowski, is bumbling through life led primarily along the path of least resistance to the next cold beer and whisky combo. If anyone embodies the concept of being happyily depressed it's this guy. If you read Ham on Rye you begin to understand how he got there in the first place. Even without that though the pleasure in the film comes from the brilliantly conveyed sense of what it means to be a true drifter in urban life's wilderness. Chinaski is totally surrendered to his addiction and never fights it. You begin to wonder whether, when done like this, the choice to remain an alcoholic is perhaps more noble than the other option of attempting to recover - and thus through this mechanism a deep level of compassion becomes available for exploration within the viewer.

Last of all was Into Great Silence. Carthusian monks in the most ascetic monastery in Europe are the suject of this nearly silent 3 hour meditation on what it might be like to live a lifetime in such a way. It is beautiful and profound to look at. The silence is at once delicate and robust, impossible to ignore for the first 2 hours. After this I became almost entranced as we watched one of the Brothers pray and meditate. He kneels for a few minutes over the bible as motes dance in the light streaming through the ancient, narrow glass, the wooden panels of his quarters in soft focus behind him. Then he stands and crosses himself. Then he kneels for a time once more....then stands...then, what? He kneels again. Each minute, incremental development on screen has become precious and fascinating. Things we are aware of only subliminally day to day become the very substance of being.

Perhaps the only concession to modernity in the monastery is that the prior apprently has email - it is preferable to the phone as it is silent. Nothing else has changed for perhaps a 1000 years. Remote, spiritual and unique and a perfect rebuttal of soundbite life.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Keeping amused

The great thing this year so far has been the mild winter and toasty apartment. This has gone a long way to making the winter tolerable here in Hawkes Bay. Also, its been a really good snow season so far and this has meant a couple of trips up to the local ski fields for North Island at Mt Ruapehu. There are two fields, Turoa and Whakapapa. So far have tried only Turoa and the last time I went up was to try snowboarding for the first time. Bruising. But anyone who has done it knows that. Easier to pick up than skiing but a lot harder on the bum and lower spine! Also not so good for hard packed pistes, since you only have one edge to rely on! Still, its worth pursuing simply to have more winter sport options when conditions allow. Can't wait to try boarding on soft off piste snow. Must be the best. Also, got called 'dude' by a 14 year old girl which made feel old and young at the same time.

Also recently went down to Wellington to catch as much of the international film festival there as is humanly possible - which I think I acheived by viewing 10 full length films in 2.5 days. The festival now comes to Napier and I have only seen 3 of the films that will be shown so it's gonna be a slob fest all over again. Bring it on. Cultural diversity can be a little lacking at these latitudes sometimes.

Mysore report

A couple of people from our practice group got back from a month in Mysore and, second hand, have reported a lot of disappointment with the experience. Lots of people talking about nothing but Ashtanga, little attention from the teachers at AYRI and even - apparently - an inkling that that PKJ is getting greedy with regards to money from fees etc. Ever heard that before? If one reads the current crop of Mysore blogs on ashtangi.net for example there is never any serious griping about the experience. Far from it in fact. Observations of all sorts but very little opinion. Many of the bloggers of course are based in the US and there is a distinctly American flavour to the Mysore/Ashtanga blog community although this may moderate over time. No-one though is slagging off the AYRI experience.

I guess it has a lot to do with a combination of previous teacher/pupil experiences and expectations about the trip as well as personality. Certainly there are rumours of some pretty 'brutal' treatment being meted out by teachers at AYRI - for example the fabled 'head drop' in back bends. Gotta see it to believe it but on the other hand I have now heard it from an eye witness so who knows....as well as the ubiquitous claims that they try to 'break' your ego as a preliminary stage of instruction. All sounds pretty macho and inimical to the yoga mindset commonly assumed to prevail doesn't it?

I was interested to hear the refelctions of those who have recently returned, particularly since my own visit there is only a month away now. One thing that may be helping me to remain firmly detached is the fact that since I hurt my knee recently my asana practice has essentially gone into stasis - at least as far as any progression through the series is concerned. Thus I have no great expectations for the moment of myself with regard to 'being given' new asana or 'getting further' through primary series. Which means that, for the moment, I believe I will feel content to just go there and practice as instructed, hopefully not get too ill too often and enjoy the chance to meet lots of different folk, find a good place to live in for the duration and spend fun time with my mum when she comes to stay for a month from Oct 10th!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Killing of innocents and survival of the war weary

First let me say that we all abhor the killing of innocent people in military conflict. There is never a justification, never anything one can say to right the injustice of it. And this is indeed part of what Israel is doing, and has done systematically, ever since it was founded.

In Gaza and the so called West Bank where a democratically elected Palestinian government now sits impotently, the Israeli government has ruthlessly elected to repress, harass and assassinate members of the Hamas administration.

In Lebanon, where the organisation whose name means Army of God, Hizbullah, is entrenched in rural and urban areas alike, garnering local support from often poor and disempowered populations, the fury of Israeli military aggression has been unleashed with considerable force into areas, densely populated, where the Army of God has chosen to site its military infrastructure.

In both these cases they are killing Lebanese and Palestinian civilians in far greater numbers, it would seem, than are Israeli civilians being killed by any of the suicide bus bombers, cross border rocket attacks or other means of attack deployed within the borders of Israel by her enemies.

The kidnappings of Israeli soldiers by Arab guerilla organisations in protest at Israeli holding of combatant Arab prisoners, which was the original flashpoint for this whole recent eruption, has of course been forgotten by both sides and the media. Indeed those incidents can be seen now for what many feel they really were - tactical manoeuvering to precipitate conflict, by one side or the other.

This leaves us then contemplating the current manifestation of a conflict that has raged since before the very inception of the state of Israel. Much of the Arab world does not want Israel to exist. The administrations of Syria, Iran and others would happily see the whole place bulldozed into the Med. To them and their scions Israel is nothing more than the incarnation of American/Zionist foreign policy. Indeed Israel is a tool of American foreign policy, as long as the interests of the two are aligned. For they are not one and the same even though it is difficult to conceive of a political environment where their interests might not intersect. That would require the diminution of radical, and even moderately militant, Islam. In the long wave scenario of east vs west, judaeo-christian vs islam, that day is a long way off.

Killing civilians, on purpose and as part of a political strategy informed by a strongly militaristic bent, is never right. However just because one side of an equation is not moral it does not mean that it cannot be read and understood. For what is Israel to do? As a country whose raison d'etre is almost in many ways, and for the time being, simply to survive, what is it to do when threatened? In this case the aim to is to destroy Hizbullah in Lebanon so that they can no longer fire missiles and rockets into Israeli cities and settlements. This is a very hard task as the Israeli army is finding. Army of God units are merged into rural and urban Lebanon. This means that to engage in combat and kill these fighters the Israelis must attack some heavily populated areas. In addition, it would seem that a part of Israeli military doctrine is indeed informed by the belief that terrorising civilian populations is a way to weakend support for the organisations operating in the midst of those populations. Counter intuitive? It would seem to be. It is what partly informed French and American strategy in Algeria and Vietnam and still to this day drives many of the decisions made in the Whitehouse about Iraq. Even the British operations in Helmand province in Afghanistan show elements of this thinking. Of course this element of strategy has the opposite effect from the one intended. It is a mistake that history has seen repeated many times. Hearts and Minds crossed with Scorched Earth.

Israel cannot hope to have broad support from the publics of so called liberal democracies. But neither can it afford to pay heed to those voices. As always, put in the simplest way, this is about survival and survival for Israel may be the most moral choice of all.

This article and this one, both in The Guardian Newspaper, give a partial overview of recent events.