AirToob Lightning

Tags  →  life-improvement

Signs of the Times

It's strange that so many of the people we value the most at the moment are the least well paid.

By "we", I mean practically everyone in the UK (and a good part of the rest of the world, except the USA).

In the USA "we" seems to exclude Trump, the GOP and (with honorable exceptions) the very rich.

With COVID-19 acting as Nature's stupidity filter for the planet, it's probable that more of Trump's supporters are now feeling the same way too.

COVID-19 will change the world for the better in many ways, I believe. It is already changing our working habits, greatly reducing the CO2 we are pumping into the atmosphere this year, and making us re-think what we really value in life.

Anyhow, we shall see!

I hope you are safe and well, wherever you are. If you want to remind yourself that there are still good things in life, see my personal selection here.

The Japanese art of “forest bathing” comes to Britain... and anyone who likes Miyazaki's classic animation My Neighbour Totoro will have no trouble in relating to it.

The author of this article tried it out in Thorpe Forest, near Thetford in Norfolk, a place that I can recommend from personal experience!

The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the world’s healthiest and happiest cities. It consistently sits at the very top of the UN's happiness index and is one of the star performers in the Healthy Cities initiative of the World Health Organisation (the latter currently celebrating its 30th Anniversary).

With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, this article presents Copenhagen's lessons for how to combat them culturally.

One of these lessons is that we don't do what we ought to do for our health – we do what we enjoy or what makes our lives easiest. Copenhagen planners have taken that fact on board in ways that many cities could learn from.

The key lesson in achieving happiness is perhaps this one:

It is no accident that the USA, whose current administration follows a philosoophy that appears to be the exact opposite, is far being a collectively happy place. Luckily, many parts of the USA (and many people) are not fans of the current administration, to put it mildly, and both happiness and hope are still to be found there.

If you like this...

[How to be a happy country: Lessons from Bhutan]

Meanwhile, in China...

The Liuzhou Forest City, being built in southern China, is designed to help tackle the country’s ongoing air pollution crisis. The foliage is expected to absorb 57 tonnes of airborne pollutants, and produce around 900 tonnes of oxygen every year.

A great new example of the Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) movement. Check it out!

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles... all-girl team from a low-income area teaches themselves engineering, choosing a one-year project to help homeless people (and reminding us that Trump is not America).

Meanwhile, in rural India...

...some rather wonderful things are happening.

This is one of the five Global Jet Watch observatories (conducting seriously advanced research by Oxford University into black holes), distributed around the world so that one is always in darkness.

The research has an educational spin-off. The India observatory (like most of them) is situated in the grounds of a boarding school. In this case the school was founded by the Indian Government in order to give bright children of rural families (the majority of whom are first-generation literates) a formal education. Before bedtime, the children can operate the telescope for themselves; after bedtime, the research programme takes over operation from Oxford by remote control.

Since both the research and the education programme need a clean and reliable electricity supply, a generous donor funded Operation Solar Farm, a low-tech combination of solar panels and energy storage, plus a conversion of the observatory to run on noise-free DC electricity.

And so “these children... learn something rather amazing: how energy gathered from our nearest star by day is available each night to help them explore distant stars across our galaxy.”

Many thanks to Oxford Physics Science News for the source article.

The Forest Where the Wind Returns... a major new project by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki - but it's not a movie. It's a theme park on Kume Island in Okinawa, Japan, due to open in 2018, which reflects the love of nature that Miyazaki shows in so many of his films.

The image above is my screenshot from The Wind Rises - click it if you would like to see my post “The Art of Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli”.

[Latest news about the new theme park]
[Kume Island]
[All of my posts on Hayao Miyazaki]

This talk by Brené Brown (a link worth following) is a real treat. Imagine, if you will, Bette Midler as a scholar and research professor explaining some valuable secrets of life...

Thanks to my younger daughter for this one!

If the evil things going on in the world get you down, then trust me, the antidote is BBC's series of 5 programmes called Operation Meet the Street (which can now be seen here on YouTube). The title gives no idea as to how truly wonderful and heart-warming (and effective) this initiative to combat isolation and loneliness is.

A particularly touching sequence (out of many) occurs in Episode 3, when a man who has literally lost everything except his guitar, and feels that he has nothing left to live for, is introduced to the most wonderful place for him that you can imagine.

James Martin (a TV chef who among other things has fought to improve hospital food in Britain) gets my vote for one of the nicest people on the planet. I hope he gets an OBE for this one. The lady next to him in the above picture from Episode 1 is Denise Lewis, the Olympic heptathlon champion and sports ambassador who already has an OBE, returning to her home area to help James bring people out and get them together. The way in which this happens will warm the cockles of your heart...

From the beautiful and uplifting pages of Chaotiqual:

which reminded me of this great song, which I always associate with the movie Sleepless in Seattle:

sung beautifully here by the Russian-born jazz vocalist Sophie Milman:

If you like this:

[Random acts of kindness (links)]
[Pay it forward (from my web page)]

The 10 healthiest cities in the world (from this CNN poll):

From CNN's page:

Here are 3 of CNN's selections (in no particular order) - click any image or the links for some interesting information about the city and why it was chosen in the CNN poll. If you don't have time for them all, I recommend the links about Copenhagen - you'll want to go there if you haven't been already!

Land of the elders: Okinawa, Japan

Take a deep breath: Vancouver

Where happiness is the truth: Copenhagen

For the full list of cities and why they were chosen, see here. It seems like there are some great lessons to be learnt from these places.

My favourite part of this great talk is Alain's visit to a tabloid newspaper, this kind of newspaper being “the number-one organ of ridicule in modern times”. He presented them with plots of great tragedies of western art, and invited them to come up with a headline. For example, the plot of Othello as outlined by Alain resulted in a proposed headline of “Love Crazed Immigrant Kills Senator's Daughter”.

Perhaps we all need to spend 17 minutes listening to Alain if we want to stay sane and happy in today's achievement culture...

This wonderful happy song (click the lyrics to listen) reminded me...

Life sometimes seem just too frenetic, with no time to stop and watch the world go by.

The Norwegians, recognizing this, have pioneered a new kind of entertainment with Slow TV. You can spend hours on a train just looking at the scenery, or enjoy a slow cruise up the Norwegian fjords, or stare dreamily into a log fire (if you're not lucky enough to have one of your own), or watch salmon swimming upstream...

It sounds unlikely as a crowd-pleaser? Well, an early experiment drew 1.25 million viewers in Norway, about a fifth of the population, and the idea is certainly taking off as you can see here (literally, in the case of British Airways, who are introducing an example of Slow TV on their long haul flights).

I peek into the future and sadly see people still living in urban sprawls, but with low-cost giant HD screens showing a better world outside...

If you like this...

[A complete virtual trip (can be sampled!) on the Trans Siberian Railway]
[Caretake this moment...]
[Go placidly amid the noise and haste...]
[Creating a field of flowers]
[Things to enjoy in life (including this one)]

“Men don’t talk face to face; they talk shoulder to shoulder”

This strikes me as a great (and surprisingly interesting) example of how many of society's problems are best tackled at the community level, or “bottom-up”, rather than waiting for governments or local authorities to fix them.

The idea of a Men's Shed began in Australia, as a way of improving the quality and length of life of males. In the Northern Hemisphere the idea spread first to Ireland, where the Irish Men's Shed Association was formed, and whose work was featured a while back on the BBC, and has now been adopted in many countries (as can be seen if you click the image above).

From the Irish association's web page:

“Most men have learned from our culture that they don’t talk about feelings and emotions. There has been little encouragement for men to take an interest in their own health and well-being. Unlike women, most men are reluctant to talk about their emotions and that means that they usually don’t ask for help. Probably because of this many men are less healthy than women, they drink more, take more risks and they suffer more from isolation, loneliness and depression.

“A Men’s Shed is any community-based, non-commercial organisation which is open to all men where the primary activity is the provision of a safe, friendly and inclusive environment where the men are able to gather and/or work on meaningful projects at their own pace, in their own time and in the company of other men and where the primary objective is to advance the health and well-being of the participating men. Men’s sheds may look like a shed in your back yard yet they innovatively share some characteristics of both community education and health promotion projects.”

If you like this sort of thing...

[Ways of making life better]
[Beyond “Big Society” (and partisan politics)]

The International Dark Sky Association

Casa Grande from Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park, Texas - Feb. 25, 2012
(from Texas Parks, Towns, Embrace the Dark Sky Movement)

This is what the night sky looks like from Cherry Springs State Park, PA. You can see up to 12,000 stars on a clear night.
(Click the image above for a full-size version, and more on dark skies at Cherry Park here.)

I came across the International Dark Sky Association when the BBC reported that the IDA had awarded Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water and Forest Park dark sky status. The status means the night sky is protected and lighting controls are in place to prevent light pollution. In honour of the award the area will be renamed Northumberland Dark Sky Park.

As so often happens when eco stuff is done right, Northumberland is set to make a lot of money from astro tourism, as well as improving many people's quality of life.

England suffers particularly from light pollution. I haven't properly seen the dusting of stars in the Milky Way since a trip to a turtle protection area of Florida many years ago, and before that when camping in the Massif Central of France - and just a few more times in my entire life.

The real evil of light pollution, IMO (he says, waxing philosophical) is that it removes from us the sense of our place in the Universe - so these developments are great.

If you like this...

[Watch this beautiful video of the Northumberland sky being enjoyed at night (full screen recommended!)]
[Realistic images of darkened cities by Thierry Cohen]

While walking through Washington Dulles Airport recently, I passed this arresting poster from the American Academy of Pediatrics. I notice the obesity problem particularly when visiting America, but it's getting to be a real problem here in the UK too. Many of our kids (and adults) spend too much time in the virtual world, and not enough in the real world. Also, the media's ability to show us every scary thing happening to children, however far removed from where we live, is making us over-protective, depriving them of a healthy exposure to the adventures of the outdoors.

Many organisations recognize and try to tackle this problem, and on a recent visit to a National Trust property (see my previous post) I was really pleased to see the National Trust doing their bit.

Here's a great check list from their "50 Things" web site (how many of these things do our kids do now?):

One of the nicest stories to come out over the festive season... the true spirit of Christmas.

I came across this great scheme a few weeks ago at our local Waitrose supermarket. A volunteer hands you a small shopping list as you come in, like the one on the left. You buy one or more items off the list as part of your shopping, and leave those items in a collection trolley on the way out.

it's a very direct (and deduction-free) way to donate, and obviously quite popular with shoppers.

From the page:

Every day people in the UK go hungry for reasons ranging from redundancy to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income. Trussell Trust foodbanks provide a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK.

In 2011-12 foodbanks fed 128,687 people nationwide, 100% more than the previous year. Rising costs of food and fuel combined with static income, high unemployment and changes to benefits are causing more and more people to come to foodbanks for help.

The Trussell Trust partners with churches and communities to open new foodbanks nationwide. With over 250 foodbanks currently launched, our goal is for every town to have one.

If you're interested, read more here (or click either image).

Bhutan girls - click the image to read an extraordinarily fine article in a very fine blog

Quietly, one small step at a time, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and the vision and common sense of its Prime Minister Jigme Yoser Thinley in particular, is influencing the way that governments across the world try to bring about "progress".

In Bhutan, after many years of developing the ideas, the materialistic measure of GDP is being extended to a measure called GNH, or Gross National Happiness.

The problem with the word "happiness" is that it suggests that GNH is about some Utopian, flower-power dream. As conceived by Jigme Thinley, nothing could be further from the case. Time Magazine reports that after many years of work, researchers in Bhutan refined the original GNH concept into nine equally-weighted components: Psychological well-being, Health, Time use, Education, Cultural diversity and resilience, Good governance, Community vitality, Ecological diversity and resilience, and Living standards. A very detailed survey established a GNH baseline in Bhutan, a number whose absolute value doesn't matter (it was about 74% of a theoretical maximum), but whose changes can be monitored and tracked.

The important thing in Bhutan is that every government policy decision will be run through a GNH filter - and that is the key idea which is spreading, in a variety of forms to suit individual countries.

If you are interested in how this is happening, check out (for example) the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, the London-based Economic Foundation's Centre for Wellbeing, and many more examples here.

Although nothing is likely to happen in Washington D.C. until more people in the USA's political system become less interested in partisan dogma, some individual U.S. states are going ahead strongly (e.g. Vermont's Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI).

Since presumably even Ebenezer Scrooge was happy in his own way, not everyone's idea of happiness is the same. There is a fascinating web site called The OECD Better Life Index which lets you see how different countries rate against each other on a number of measures of well-being. Initially these measures are equally weighted, but you can change the weighting according to your own ideas of what's important.

If you don't follow any other link, may I strongly recommend this article, and the fine blog from which it comes. And thanks to the paper edition of Time Magazine for many of the links included here.

As a footnote... however you measure it, the UK became an obviously happier place this summer, with a community spirit and a sense of achievement that has not been felt for a long time. The reason for this was the events leading up to, around and through the London Olympics (my posts on which are here), followed by the equally wonderful London Paralympics (my posts on which are here).

If you like this...

[More links on how Bhutan is affecting the world
[World Happiness Report]

Detroit is a city with many problems, but it is also a source of inspiration to many as its people work together to bring the city back to life (some examples here).

There are few more inspiring stories from Detroit than that of Joshua Smith, who ran a lemonade and popcorn stand (in a neighbourhood where precautions had to be taken against Joshua being robbed) in order to raise money for the city - over $4,000 at the last count.

This story went nationwide (and beyond), proving again that one person can make a difference.

If you like this...

[From Seedlings to Servings: 11-Year-Old Grows Tons of Veggies for the Homeless]

Aung San Suu Kyi, amazing human being, politician and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, at the age of 65 (she is now 67).
Photograph © Platon (2010)

Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the world's true heroines. I learnt most about her from that wonderful 2011 movie The Lady, where she was played so well by Michelle Yeoh, with David Thewlis as her Oxford-based husband Michael Aris. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.

On 16th June, in a very moving ceremony, she accepted the Nobel peace prize more than 20 years after it was awarded to her.

She is currently in England, accepting today an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, and tomorrow on 21st June she will make an address to both houses of the British parliament in Westminster Hall - a rare honour for a foreign dignitary, as will be seen from this list.

21st June 2012:
[Video of Aung San Suu Kyi's complete address to both houses of the British parliament]

This is one of those two-reviews-for-the-price-of-one deals!

My younger daughter recently gave me two great recommendations, which are linked. The first is this book, an effective antidote to depression, apathy and the fast materialistic world that offers us so much, yet somehow prevents us from enjoying life.

It contains a wide range of suggestions, with activities ranging from "Go out and look at the stars" and "Sit still until you see wildlife emerge" to "Be a BookCrosser" - which was my daughter's second recommendation.

Here is Alex Quick's description from the book, complete and unabridged:

BookCrossing is the world's biggest free book club, with three-quarters of a million members in around 130 countries. There are no membership subscriptions, nothing is ever sent in the post, and there is no obligation ever to buy anything. The idea instead is to share your books with people by leaving them in public places on park benches, in tea-houses, on the bus, on church pews or in changing rooms.

Each book is first registered online so that it can be individually tagged as a BookCrossing book. Members write the BookCrossing ID number of the book inside it and release it into the wild. The person who picks it up can (if they wish) log on to the BookCrossing site to say they've found it, before themselves re-releasing it (after reading it, obviously). In this way a BookCrossing book can travel around the world, its former owners following its journey like anxious parents keeping tabs on a gap-year child.

Book-crossing is worthwhile for several reasons: it clears your bookshelves of books that you've enjoyed but would like to pass on; it brings you into contact with an online community of readers where books are discussed, reviewed, rated and tracked; and it's possible to hunt for books that have recently been released in your area. To date, nearly six million books have been registered, and it's quite likely that there are dozens floating around near you. In effect it makes the world one big free library.

If you are interested, click the image above to visit the BookCrossing site.

This is as heart-warming and perfect a story of Pay It Forward as you are likely to see this Christmas. If you watch nothing else, spend 10 minutes on this one...

Thanks to Gentle-Gypsy for this one.

From the page:

Laice Wright (left) and Olivia Smith (right) stand in the former rubbish-strewn field which is now one of the country's biggest displays of annual wild flowers

Since buying the small estate of Barcroft Hall ten years ago, the Herricks have renovated the house and turned the 85-acre farm into a combination of formal gardens, wildlife areas, orchards, woodland and sustainable farmland.

Their latest project - the Field of Dreams - was inspired by visits to Kew Gardens, Table Mountain National Park and Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, South Africa.

They decided to turn an unsightly and rubbish-strewn field at the edge of their estate into one of the country's biggest displays of annual wild flowers from around the world...

Click either picture for more.

Thanks, anitab (Ani) (who likes the inspiration from South Africa).

(Original post: January 13th, 2011)

This was a good start to the New Year: my first loan of $25 came back to me, after about 18 months, having helped someone through one of Kiva's micro-finance schemes (see below). I started the same $25 working in another loan, and added another $25 for a third loan. This isn't charity, and it isn't lending to make money - it's just a great way of helping people to help themselves. If you're interested, read on...

Do you have $25 (or equivalent) to spare on a good cause? Instead of giving it away, think about launching it on a circular path where it goes round and round, helping one person after another to help themselves, through an organisation called Kiva.

From Kiva's site:

Kiva's mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe...

Throughout the course of [each] loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates and track repayments. Then, when you get your loan money back, you can relend to someone else in need...

[It works like this:]

1) Lenders like you browse profiles of entrepreneurs in need, and choose someone to lend to. When they lend, using PayPal or their credit cards, Kiva collects the funds and then passes them along to one of our microfinance partners worldwide.

2) Kiva's microfinance partners distribute the loan funds to the selected entrepreneur. Often, our partners also provide training and other assistance to maximize the entrepreneur's chances of success.

3) Over time, the entrepreneur repays their loan. Repayment and other updates are posted on Kiva and emailed to lenders who wish to receive them.

4) When lenders get their money back, they can re-lend to someone else in need, donate their funds to Kiva (to cover operational expenses), or withdraw their funds.

Helping people to help themselves has always appealed to me. This organisation harnesses the power of the Internet to make this practical on a large scale - a macro approach to micro-finance, in fact.

I'm a great fan of the philosophy of Pay It Forward. Religions, whatever their merits, have led to much human misery. So far as I know, this philosophy never has.

(The image to the left comes from the Pay It Forward Foundation - click the image for more information about it from my web page.)

Caretake this moment.
Immerse yourself in its particulars.
Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed.

Quit the evasions.
Stop giving yourself needless trouble.
It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now.
You are not some disinterested bystander.
Exert yourself.

Respect your partnership with providence.
Ask yourself often, How may I perform this particular deed
such that it would be consistent with and acceptable to the divine will?
Heed the answer and get to work.

When your doors are shut and your room is dark you are not alone.
The will of nature is within you as your natural genius is within.
Listen to its importunings.
Follow its directives.

As concerns the art of living, the material is your own life.
No great thing is created suddenly.
There must be time.

Give your best and always be kind.

~ Epictetus ~

(Epictetus: The Art of Living a New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell.)

Thanks to my friend Sandy for this one!

From Sharon Lebell's page:

Sharon Lebell has built her life and livelihood around "rescuing philosophy from philosophers," freeing important, popularly overlooked philosophical ideas from arid, archaic language and obfuscation... In Sharon Lebell's hands the originally practical, earthy spirit of Stoic philosophy comes alive, making available to all this great tradition's wealth of helpful inspiration and timeless life guidance...

Sharon is also a master player of the hammered dulcimer, a stringed instrument of ancient middle-eastern origin. With her books and musical composition and performance she seeks to accomplish the same purpose: to spread a little sweetness and ease into the world.

(It happens that I have a weakness for the hammered dulcimer. If you haven't heard one played with the effect that Sharon tries to achieve, see here for some good examples!)

It all began in third grade, when Katie Stagliano's 40-pound cabbage fed 275 homeless people. Now, Katie's six gardens have produced over 4,000 pounds of vegetables to feed the needy.

When Katie Stagliano was in third grade, she planted a cabbage in her family's small garden. When it grew to an astounding 40 pounds, she donated it to a soup kitchen, where it was made into meals for 275 people (with the help of ham and rice). "I thought, 'Wow, with that one cabbage I helped feed that many people?'" says Katie, now entering sixth grade. "I could do much more than that."

So Katie started planting vegetable gardens as part of her nonprofit Katie's Krops - she has six right now - including one the length of a football field at her school in her hometown of Summerville, S.C. Classmates, her family and other people in the community help plant and water, and Bonnie Plants donates seedlings. This past year, Katie took her commitment to a new level: she has given soup kitchens over 2,000 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables. Katie and her helpers are now harvesting the spring planting, and another 1,200 pounds will be donated by October.


Thanks to my friend Aline for Katie's story, which is a great example of Pay It Forward.

From the page:

One generation from now most people in the U.S. will have spent more time in the virtual world than in nature. New media technologies have improved our lives in countless ways. Information now appears with a click. Overseas friends are part of our daily lives. And even grandma loves Wii.

But what are we missing when we are behind screens? And how will this impact our children, our society, and eventually, our planet? ...

This documentary follows six teenagers who, like the "average American child," spend five to fifteen hours a day behind screens. PLAY AGAIN unplugs these teens and takes them on their first wilderness adventure - no electricity, no cell phone coverage, no virtual reality.

"What they do not know, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose."

--Charles Jordan, The Conservation Fund, PLAY AGAIN

Found on the extraordinarily fine pages of Comely1 (Jame)s.

I recently watched a local news programme about a small girl with diabetes, whose life has been saved at least once by her "Bio-Detection" dog. The dog's nose is sensitive enough to detect the onset of a coma before it occurs, and the dog is trained to alert the girl and her family.

The ability of dogs to detect certain forms of cancer is also known, but the full extent of their capabilities is still being researched.

Charities supporting this work, Cancer Dogs and Hypoalert Dogs, have combined forces and you can now follow their activities here on Facebook.

This seems to me like a cause well worth supporting.

"Reading in the park", from a new study into the learning benefits of green school settings

The Landscape and Human Health Laboratory (LHHL) is a multidisciplinary research laboratory at the University of Illinois, dedicated to studying the connection between greenery and human health.

I really believe in this kind of stuff - if you're interested, see the links below for why.

From my web site...

[It's not easy being green... Actually, it is]
[A philosophy for life: Pay It Forward]

[More of my life improvement favourites]

(Original post: March 26th, 2010)

I see that James Cameron and Sir Richard Branson (an interesting combination) are among the many speakers at the upcoming Business for Environment Global Summit, which takes place 21-23 April 2010 in Seoul. If I had the money, it would be worth visiting the conference just to hear what these two speakers had to say.

With Avatar, James Cameron (with a huge contribution from WETA Digital) has produced what must be the most popular environmental-message movie of all time, and possibly the most awesomely beautiful movie ever made. His technical and artistic master-work has inspired countless environmental activists, as well as (apparently) infuriating some people who see it as threatening their particular belief systems.

The person I would go to Seoul to hear, though, is Sir Richard Branson, one of my personal heroes. From the programme notes:

"In the summer of 2004, Richard launched Virgin Unite to pull together all the resources of the Virgin Group internationally and, most importantly, Virgin's best asset - its people - to tackle tough challenges facing the world. He and on-the-ground partners participate in efforts such as sustainable health clinics in Africa and the fostering of new entrepreneurs through the Branson School of Entrepreneurship in South Africa. He helped incubate the Disease Control Room, a new health resource for South Africa and the sub-Saharan African region that will help transform responses to devastating diseases such as HIV and AIDS, TB and malaria.

"In 2006, Richard pledged 100% of profits of Virgin transportation companies to clean tech investments through Virgin Green Fund. In 2007, he joined Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, and Desmond Tutu to form The Elders, a group of independent leaders that seeks sustainable solutions to global humanitarian issues. In December 2007, Richard was recognized by UNCA as Citizen of the Year.

"Richard recently helped start the Carbon War Room, which taps into global entrepreneurs to mobilize capital, innovation, expertise and international collaboration to fill in the gaps of climate change efforts already underway. Its Green Capital - Global Challenge is mobilizing capital and resources into city-led energy efficiency initiatives."

In Avatar, and in some of his previous movies, James Cameron casts greedy corporations as the stupid and reckless villains. In the form of Sir Richard Branson, and many other representatives at this conference, he will be meeting corporations that are a major force for good in the world, and others that are at least moving in the right direction. I would really like to be in Seoul in April.

[My "Environment and Technology" page]
[My movies page]

This is an extraordinarily interesting series of 15-minute radio programmes, available here online.

I caught this first episode and I was struck by a conversation that takes place towards the end.

Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, opens up some themes discussed in the programmes:

1. Should [ancient objects and relics] be here [in the British Museum] anyway?

2. Where do things from the past belong now?

3. Should everything be exhibited where it was originally made?

He asks the Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif about how she felt about seeing so many Egyptian antiquities so far from home, and this was the reply:

When I heard that, I thought about how isolated so many of us (many people in America, and many cultural enclaves in other countries) have become from the rest of the world, and how much better it would be for all of us if this great lady had her wish.

[More on life improvement]

(Original post: October 2nd, 2009)

It is easy to be depressed by the sheer worthlessness of many people.

You could, for example, make the mistake of reading the thoughts (I use the term loosely) of the human cockroaches who make some of the comments on (for example) YouTube, or listen to politicians or religious fundamentalists trying to tear down whatever it is that they don't believe in, irrespective of truth or decency.

And then along comes one person like William Kamkwamba, and suddenly the world is a good place again.

From the introduction to the book "The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind":

"At 14 years old, William Kamkwamba wanted to do something to help his family, his parents and six sisters, survive the famine that was spreading across Malawi. The drought had already meant his father, a farmer, didn't have enough money to send William to school. So William improvised. He went to a local library, and with limited English skills began reading books about science. He then began making several trips to the local junkyard and before too long he'd had the requisite parts to build a windmill. He knew if he could provide electricity to his home his mother's life would be easier, and if the windmill could pump water from the earth, his father wouldn't have to depend on the rain from the skies."

Do read and share his inspiring story - one person really can make a difference.

If you like this...

[More on life improvement...]
[More good stuff from Africa: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency]


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

- Max Ehrmann

Thanks for the picture (author unknown) and for the prose poem (a long-time favourite in our family) to my SU friends Mark (FredZepp) and Janine Flynn, who have sadly left SU (probably for better things) and who so far haven't left a trail...

Max Ehrmann, it surprised me to find out, was an attorney from Indiana. More about him here.

If you like this poem, do check out the poetry site on which it appears. It offers "a range of spiritual and illuminating poetry from a diverse range of cultural and poetic traditions", and there is some wonderful stuff there.

This poem features on my web page that I call The Bright Side.

(Originally posted: August 12th 2008)

In this excellent article for Time Magazine, Lisa McLaughlin describes a number of urban farming initiatives that together tackle many problems, including global warming, foreign-oil dependence, processed food, obesity and neighbourhood blight.

Some of these initiatives are high tech, some are kids from the block happily getting down on hands and knees, but they all seem great to me. Apart from anything else, my belief is that anything that changes a child's growing-up environment from concrete to greenery is going to benefit everyone's happiness in the future.

Read Lisa's article here.

Here are just a few examples from the accompanying photo essay (click each picture below for more links about that particular project):

"Vertical farms, like this one envisioned in downtown Toronto, theoretically would bring food production into the heart of population centers, with one farmscraper feeding thousands of people."

"The Food Project works to achieve both social and agricultural change by bringing together kids from diverse backgrounds to farm several lots in urban Boston, like this one on a hospital roof... [It] grows nearly 250,000 pounds of food without chemical pesticides, donating half to local shelters and selling the remainder at farmers' markets in disadvantaged neighborhoods or through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) crop shares."

"Seattle-based architecture firm Mithun designed this vertical farm so that it would not require any water from municipalities and would also use photovoltaic cells to produce nearly 100% of the building's electricity."

"On the site of a former asphalt-covered playground in Brooklyn, N.Y., the Red Hook Community Farm provides job training to local teens. Of the more than 40 crops grown here, some are sold at farmers' markets, others to local restaurants and the rest is donated to those in need."

[For more examples from the photo essay, see here]
[My environment and technology page]