Religious zeal – or what's worse

Politics:

An interview with Hanif Kureishi about what has happened to the world since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses. It’s very interesting and deserves to be read by anyone who takes an interest in these matters. Here’s a quote:

The Rushdie affair, Kureishi believes, transformed not just his own work, but also “the very notion of writing.” The fatwa “created a climate of terror and fear. Writers had to think about what they were writing in a way they never had to before. Free speech became an issue as it had not been before. Liberals had to take a stand, to defend an ideology they had not really had to think about before.” How have they borne up to the task? “The attacks on Rushdie showed that words can be dangerous. They also showed why critical thought is more important than ever, why blasphemy and immorality and insult need protection. But most people, most writers, want to keep their heads down, live a quiet life. They don’t want a bomb in the letterbox. They have succumbed to the fear.”

They also touch on the Danish cartoon controversy. I thought then and I still think that it was perfectly all right to publish those drawings, if they had been in some sort of context. The most controversial one, the one with the mullah with the bomb in the turban would probably had gone by quite unnoticed had it accompanied an article about one of those insane Islamic fanatics who we always see on videos thundering about the imminent demise of the Western World. But the context of the drawings, if anyone should have forgotten, was a purposeful attempt to insult Muslims. Plain and simple. Nothing else. And I find that despicable.

I’ve read several of Kureishi’s books and of course also seen the lovely My Beautiful Launderette, but bow my head and admit that I’ve never gotten around to read the Satanic Verses or any of Rushdie’s other books. I don’t like Rushdie much and, although I’m always preaching to others about not letting the artist overshadow the work, I guess that’s what’s influenced me so I haven’t read any of his books. I even have one or two on the shelf… It was the clever twitterer @howardsends who alerted me to the interview.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Here’s a video from a congressional hearing on climate change. You will have to see it to believe that so much nonsense can come out of the mouth of a grown up and totally sane looking suit-clad congressman. (notice how the girl behind him tries not to smile). Pointer (again) from Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic.

Here’s a good, reflective piece from Time Magazine about the Earth Hour.

IQ:

Thorough and well written review of important book about IQ as being hereditary or environmental. As with almost everything else, it’s not either or, it’s AND. Of course intelligence can be cultivated. And of course black people don’t have lower IQs than whites because of their race. And of course women don’t have lower IQs than men. As with any other gift you inherit from your ancestors you can either do something with it or not!

Tech:

If the management on NYT and International Herald Tribune are this dumb, there’s very little hope for the world!

Food:

How to use chopsticks. Instructional video. 90 secs. It works. Found on this interesting looking blog via Sheamus who never fails to twitter about interesting stuff.

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All about being organised & turning the lights out

New glasses this morning. Ah, revelation! My 15″ Mac-baby now looks like it’s 17″. Nice.

Have been constructing a Netvibes site for a paper I’m doing for uni and inspired by that I’ve completely revamped my personal Netvibes (RSS feed organiser and more). So I haven’t read so much today, just organised all my feeds to ease future reading. Therefore, it’ll be short and sweet today. Also, dinner needs to be ready before 8:30 when lights go out in honour of the Earth Hour. We’ll light some extra candles and turn off all electricity (except the heating). Maybe a candlelit game of Monopoly? Young son loves Monopoly.

Tech:

Our bank – and many other banks – has a very annoying system of what they of course refer to as EXTRA SECURITY. Now a security expert shows how it’s practically made for phishing. When you have to go through a really annoying extra procedure to access your web banking service, it’s downright infuriating to be told that the thing makes fraud easier, not harder!

Decision making. Doesn’t it just drive you crazy sometimes? One of the co-founders of Flickr is launching a new web service called Hunch to help us decide. I’ve signed up already, just can’t wait! It’s sort of built on some of the ideas that my favourite happiness guru also promotes, that we don’t always know what’s going to make us happy, but with a detour around other things that’s made us happy in the past (but which we’ve forgotten) will help.

Laura is this cool geeky girl with curly red hair who’s out looking for a “really cool laptop”. In this ad for Microsoft she discovers that Macs are more expensive than PCs! Oh wauw, I’m sure there are lots of people out there who thought differently!

Education:

Get a free one without leaving your home. Lifehacker has it.

Science:

Yes, viruses do jump from animals to humans – and back.

OK – not long till lights out now. Computer must also be shut down, obviously. Don’t read this between 8:30 – 9:30 pm your time! (Can one Twitter during the Earth Hour?)

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The perfect is often the enemy of the good

What will eventuallly become dinner
What will eventuallly become dinner

The above is a quote from this long, thorough and extremely well researched article on Mother Jones about the world’s food crisis and what to do about it.

The article details the problems facing food production in this century. It looks at the alternative farming methods that are not quite organic:

After decades as an unrepentant industrial farmer, the tall 59-year-old realized that his standard practices were promoting erosion so severe that it was robbing him of several tons of soil per acre per year—his most important asset. So in 2000, he began to experiment with a gentler planting method known as no-till. While traditional farmers plow their fields after each harvest, exposing the soil for easy replanting, Fleming leaves his soil and crop residue intact and uses a special machine to poke the seeds through the residue and into the soil.

But he still uses pesticides, only much less than he used to. The organic farmers though, turn their backs to him. And this kind of attitude is all too common in the battle for a sustainable planet. Instead of embracing every attempt to do things differently, better, wars are waged against different ideas as to how to save the planet.

The article also looks at food miles:

Consider our love affair with food miles. In theory, locally grown foods have traveled shorter distances and thus represent less fuel use and lower carbon emissions—their resource footprint is smaller. And yet, for all the benefits of a local diet, eating locally doesn’t always translate into more sustainability. Because the typical farmers market is supplied by dozens of different farms, each transporting its crops in a separate van or truck, a 20-pound shopping basket of locally grown produce might actually represent a larger carbon footprint than the same volume of produce purchased at a chain retailer, which gets its produce en masse, via large trucks.

And at the notion of only eating locally produced food:

Conversely, rural areas with good farm potential will always be able to outproduce local or even regional demand, and will remain dependent on other markets. “One farmer in Oregon with a few hundred acres can grow more pears than the entire state of Oregon eats,” says Scott Exo, executive director of the Portland-based Food Alliance and an expert in the business challenges of sustainability. “Attention to the geographical origins of food is great, but you have to understand its economic limits.”

Finally, about the need for government funding and hitherto unconsidered economic factors:

If we’re going to ask the market to pull in a new direction, we’ll need to give it new rules and incentives. That means our broader food standards, but it also means money—a massive increase in food research. (Today, the fraction of the federal research budget spent on anything remotely resembling alternative agriculture is less than 1 percent—and most of that is sucked up by the organic sector.) And, yes, it means more farm subsidies: The reason federal farm subsidies are regarded as anti-sustainability is mainly because they support the wrong kind of farming. But if we want the right kind of farming, we’re going to have to support those farmers willing to risk trying a new model. For example, one reason farmers prefer labor-saving monoculture is that it frees them to take an off-farm job, which for many is the only way to get health insurance. Thus, the simplest way to encourage sustainable farming might be offering a subsidy for affordable health care.

Discussing whether to buy organic or not, whether to buy Fairtrade or not and whether to look at food miles while shopping or not, mostly produces answers along the line of: “I read an article about how this Fairtrade operation wasn’t fairtrade at all and the workers on the tea plantation were treated awfully and underpaid, so I’m not going to support Fairtrade any longer.” Or “They can’t really check if eggs or flour is produced organically and I don’t really believe it is, so I’m not buying it – I’m not going to be fooled by that label into paying more for my foodstuffs.” Add your own answers. I find this pitiful. These people don’t stop shopping at Tesco’s just because they once in a while get a rotten tomato or meat that’s not tender. And they don’t stop dining at their friends’ house because once they got a dish they didn’t like. And they don’t stop driving their car, because they have a minor accident. But any excuse will do, to do nothing on this count. They also can’t be bothered to sort their rubbish, because so many other people don’t, so why should they?

What do I do and is it enough? To take the last first, NO, of course it’s not enough. I’m such a slave to convenience that there are endless things I could do, but don’t. What I do do, however, is to buy mostly organic – I guess that about 50-65% of what we eat is organic. Everything that can be bought Fairtrade, we buy Fairtrade. When we were in Costa Rica last year, we visited some fair trade coffee farmers and if we hadn’t been convinced before, then that visit convinced us for good. I’m also trying to look at food miles. Oh, but it’s so difficult! Yet, sometimes it’s easy, like when the choice is between American and British apples! And I’ll choose non-organic British apples over organic American apples. We should of course forego our beloved blueberries, when you can’t buy British, but I admit that I still buy them. From Chile or Argentina. And what about coffee? Should you buy African rather than South American, because there are fewer airmiles? I don’t really like African coffee :-(   What I’ve started doing lately, after reading Mark Bittman‘s book Food Matters, is to use less meat. Husband doesn’t favour a lot of no-meat days, so instead I just use less meat and more veg, beans, lentils etc. in each meal. So far it’s worked fine and I’ve found that my “I don’t like beans” standard reply to such recipes, shall now change to “I’m not too keen on kidney beans and I don’t like baked beans”. It was on Mark Bittman’s blog I found a reference to the above article.

I believe, that just because something is not THE ANSWER to a burning question, it doesn’t mean that we have to scrap that notion entirely. Because the Perfect is often the Enemy of the Good!

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Powerless

At 9 o’clock this morning the power went. Not just in our flat, but in the entire neighbourhood. And it stayed off long enough (around 2 1/2 hours) to make itself felt. What was there left to do? Mobile phone still worked, so could talk, text and also browse web, post on Facebook and Twitter. But that’s not really what I want to do between 9-11, which is normally my most productive time of the day. So I went to the gym, which is far enough away so it wasn’t hit by the outage. On coming home, the power was back on – and so was the heating, brrr it got cold very, very quickly! We have central heating, but that too needs electricity!

A good chair, a warm shawl, something worthwhile to read and a nice cup of tea...
A good chair, a warm shawl, something worthwhile to read and a nice cup of tea...

Husband and I talked about what we REALLY need, how we would enjoy – or not – living in a more frugal society, if that indeed becomes the reality as predicted by James Lovelock.

In such a life we wouldn’t be entirely without electricity but would have to prioritise what we want to use the limited amount on. Main priorities:

Heating (incl. hot water), light, fridge, computer, Internet access, washing machine.

Picture from Agathyme.com
Picture from Agathyme.com

Although it would be quite a change, we believe we could live happily with a gas fired AGA, which would produce heat in addition to food (besides taking up half the space in the kitchen…). I already bake all bread myself, so would just have to get friendly with the AGA. Electric kettle, toaster, Kitchen Aid & hand mixer, microwave, clothes dryer, dishwasher, hair dryer, electric razor, TV, DVD-player, game consoles, stereo etc. we decided that we could live without. Some with more regret than others. The computers, the mobile phones and the digital cameras could all be charged via some of the better solar chargers out there.

If we had our own house and garden, we could have solar panels on the roof and probably generate enough power to heat the water we needed. Also, we could grow our own vegetables, we did that in our house in Denmark. Besides being enjoyable, the veg tastes better and it’s healthier. If we also had a greenhouse, we’d be able to prolong the season a lot.

Most houses and flats today come without a larder. For the younger readers I’ll explain that a larder is a smallish (or big, in a big house) cool and dry place where you store foodstuffs. If you had a larder, you’d only need a fridge half the size of the ones we have today, because lots of the things we put in the fridge, don’t need temperatures that low. It’s only really milk products, fish and meat that need such low temperatures.

Could go on like this, I guess, but what’s my point? My main point is probably that we’re so d… lucky to live in such affluence where everything we need comes out of sockets, taps, shops etc. All we need to do is pay… And as long as we have the money, we pay, but maybe we don’t think enough about the other kinds of currency we’re using when we gluttonously devour all the things on offer?

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So so sad and so so frightening

I used to grow these in my garden (echinacea) and they attracted scores of bees and butterflies.
I used to grow these in my garden (echinacea) and they attracted scores of bees and butterflies.

Just read in yesterday’s Times about the plight of the (bumble)bee. I’ve read about the trouble of the bee population diminishing rapidly before, but this article, in such a conservative paper, really spells it out so there’s no misunderstanding it: If nothing is done – and maybe even if something IS done – the bee and the bumble bee will be extinct in Britain 8 years from now. Eight years! In evolutionary terms that in the blink of an eye!

If there was ever a really good and totally tangible reason to buy organic products, this is one. For more reasons than one: To reduce pollution with fertilizers etc. To encourage the exchange of crops from one year to the next. To encourage the re-entry of clover, which is apparently the most important crop to attract honey bees.

So come on now, all you out there. Buy organic! Not just baby food, but everything you can lay your hands on.  It’s not always easy and I myself could do much better. I also realise that for some people it’s not an option for economic reasons. But I know that a lot of my readers could easily afford it if they so chose! Quite a lot of the foodstuffs that we can’t get in the organic versions in the supermarkets, we could buy online if we could be bothered. And here in England we can buy lots of lovely organic stuff at the farmers’ markets. But if we at least start by buying the food basics organically, it’s a start. So organic fruit, veg, bread and flour. And organic chickens, veal, beef and lamb.

And you garden lovers out there! You’ll be first to suffer, because a certain species of bees, specialising in fertilization of so-called deep-throated flowers like foxgloves, irises, red clover etc. are almost already extinct and their southern European brothers, which are being imported to take their place, don’t have long tongues and thus can’t fertilize the above mentioned flowers. So throw your fertilizers in the bin and get out there and do your bit for the bee!

Take out the time and read the article if you think I’m exaggerating!

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Here's another couple of reasons why you should vote for Mr. Obama if you're an American

Christopher Hitchens with whom I agree on very little, but who’s intelligence I most certainly admire, has this column on Slate. The below quote is his finishing lines. Before that he argues very convincingly – read it yourself!

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just “people of faith” but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.

I received a message on Facebook from my old friend Lone Skovgaard about the power of being FOR something rather than being AGAINST something else. It is a very relevant point. So let it be noted that I’m

  • FOR a raised standing for America in the world √
  • FOR less aggressive meddling in other countries’ affairs √
  • FOR every American’s right to basic medical treatment √
  • FOR a tightened access to weapons in the US √
  • FOR intelligence and compassion in the White House √
  • etc…
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More trees

From a father at my son’s school I heard that India does not export timber, it imports timber. This was apparently decided some decades ago, as it dawned on the Indian government that there can be dire consequences when you fell the forests without replacing them. See the Forest Conservation Act.

I’d forgotten about this again till a friend sent me this video about greening the desert. I admit to knowing very little about this, but I don’t think I’d advocate greening all desert areas in the world, because probably deserts are also good for something. But there are some deserts that are man-made, so why not start with them?

picture of desert from sustainableagriculture.org

Such a revived area of desert land can only be good in my opinion. There can be grown sustenance for local people, there will be grazing for (a limited number of) animals, there will be better access to water. AND – the lovely added win-win bonus: The trees and other greenery can help reduce carbon emissions.

Read more about Greening the Desert here and here.

picture of revived desert from Greeningthedesert.com

In the light of G8‘s unambitious agreement on carbon emissions, why not become a member of 350.0rg and/or join their fanclub on Facebook.

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Links

Now, what kind of idiot does a thing like this? Thank you to Capac for the pointer.

I’m always going on about TED (Technology Entertainment Design). As the happy owner of an Iphone I have taken podcasts to a higher level and sit on buses, trains and airplanes etc. and LEARN things in a very entertaining way by watching video-podcasts from TED. If you still haven’t taken my hint and tried to watch a TED video, here’s your chance of watching some of the very best ones, picked out by really brainy people. The theme of TED is “Ideas are Everything”. And what the speakers have in common is that they have one or more original idea(s). Some speakers are world famous, some “only” famous within their field. Some of them aren’t famous at all before they appear on TED!

A spinoff of TED is this lovely online shop based in San Francisco with messenger bags made of discarded plastic bottles. I want one!

The Long Now Blog links to this very funny post about the messages that we, Earth, have sent into space since we were able to go there. It’s not uplifting reading, but it’s so funny! I’m going to keep an eye on that guy.

The Times (and most all other media) has the story this morning of an American court ruling against Google/Youtube. Viacom has sued for infringment of their copyright. Oh, I’m tired of hearing the big media companies going on about Artists’ Rights. It’s not really the artists’ rights they care about, but their own sources of income. And very often they – mysteriously – are biting the hand that feeds them. For instance, the many, many clips in Youtube from Britain’s got Talent and all the other similar shows. Do those clips give the shows more viewers or less viewers? More interest or less interest? Your guess is as good as mine… It really is worrying that Viacom can look into the viewing habits of every single Youtube user and maybe even access their IP-address. In a statement Viacom says that they are not going to do that, but only time will show. Reading about this led me on to this honourable organisation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. How glad I am that people have the time and energy to found and run such organisations. It’s for the benefit of us all. More on this issue from Jeff Jarvis.

Also from the Long Now Blog a pointer to an article (disguised as a book review) in the New York Review of Books about global warming by British physicist and author Freeman Dyson (what I would not give to be as clearminded at the age of 84!!!). Before you roll your eyes and move on, let me tell you that this article is about the whole issue. The arguments for and against whether global warming is a serious problem or not, the economic aspects of all the different paths we could take and a very interesting finale about Environmentalism as a new religion. If you’re interested in this and want to read something that is truly unbiased, then try this. It’s not exactly an easy read and I will not claim to have understood all of it. But I understand lots more now than I did before…

The News is now Public ( a site dedicated to the publishing of news ignored or played down by other media) tells about Patrick Waller, the 31st innocent man freed by DNA in the state of Texas. The state of Texas apparently has a double record in the US. It’s the state where the most sentenced have later been found innocent based  on DNA and other evidence. And it’s the state with the highest rate of executions. That’s bone-chilling! CNN is the source of the story. An organisation called the Innocence Project are fronting and financing many of these cases. God Bless them!

As many of you will know, I’m an “Apple Person”. I love all things Apple and have much more of that “I Can’t Live Without It”-feeling in the Apple Store than in any department store. But there are things that aggravate me with Apple too. And mostly that has to do with the copyright thing. I absolutely detest that I can’t do with my own paid for CD’s and downloads exactly as I please. That absolutely INFURIATES me. And reading that I couldn’t watch Netflix films on my Mac if I so chose, infuriates me further. Give me my rights back! Why are my rights influenced by what platform I’ve chosen? Grrrr…

Jabberwock, an Indian blog, reviews the debut novel by Mohammed Hanif, which I’ve also read good things about elsewhere. He tells about the similarities to a book I read a long time ago and really, really liked: Mario Vargas Llosa‘s The Feast of the Goat. Mr. Hanif himself acknowledges the inspiration from Llosa. If you’ve never read anything by Llosa, he can be recommended as good – and very entertaining – summer reading. I’ve added the Exploding Mangoes to my Amazon wish list.

Oh, just realising I’ve been going on like this for hours and you’ve probably left this page a long time ago. Let this then be the last link. A funny post by Megan McArdle on The Atlantic about the demise of the SUV. I was never fond of SUVs in the first place, them being petrol-consuming and even more dangerous to pedestrians and bicyclists than other cars, so of course I love her little piece. Have a laugh over some of the comments as well.

No, here’s the last bit. On a very nice social outing with neighbours here in our convent, one person collected money for a “kitty”, for drinks at the pub. I did know what a kitty was, but hadn’t heard the word in many years, not having lived in England before. Asking all these knowledgeable and well educated people about the origin of the word “kitty”, they all drew a blank. But view possible explanations here, here and here.

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Samsø via The New Yorker…

A reporter from The New Yorker went to Samsø recently to learn about the island’s status as “Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island” and how they’ve actually had considerable success in renewing their energy sources so as to leave less of a carbon footprint. So Samsø is now energy selfsufficient. Well done!

Where they have not succeeded, the article informs us, is in cutting down on the actual energy consumption. Selfishness, is the simple answer to the question of why… We’re all waiting for the neighbour to start cutting down on consumption before we’ll consider it ourselves, says the interviewee. I tend to agree…

Apparently, Samsø has had the status of Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island for 10 years now and I had to read about it in The New Yorker. If you go to the project’s homepage and take a look in their press section, you understand why. It’s not exactly something that has mesmerized the Danish media…

But some international media have visited and reported. NBC, Italian RAI Uno, CBS and more.

The reporter from the New Yorker also visits Switzerland and the father of an organisation called the 2000 Watt Society. It does not have it’s own homepage, but it’s pretty well covered in the article and also on this Swiss organisation’s homepage. Its goal is rather obvious and it suggests numerous ways to get there. But you and I can’t do it on our own. Our governments and local councils must take the lead. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything at all. At the moment we Europeans use 6000 watts (the Americans use 12000 watts), so must reduce our consumption with two thirds. What can we do?

  • Drive less – in more energy-efficient cars (walk more, use public transportation more). Shop for more than one day at a time. Share the school run with another family. Get the (bigger) kids to walk or use public transportation. This is England (or Denmark, depending on the reader…), not Chicago or Philadelphia…
  • Fly less. This one’s hard because the footprint we leave everytime we do it is HUGE! I’ve just flown around the world for the pleasure of it! And been to Denmark twice in two months! And David flies (that’s work, but still flying) to Berlin or Geneva or whereever almost every week!
  • Don’t buy more food than we can eat. Use leftovers instead of binning them. (Try entering some of the contents of fridge into Google – you’ll be surprised!) Be conscientous when sorting rubbish. Compost if possible. Collaps all cartons before binning them. When they take up less space, we need less containers = less lorry-miles.
  • Change all lightbulbs to energy-saving ones. It also saves money! And switch the light off!!!
  • Try to think in food-miles while shopping. It’s not easy, but the exercise is educational…
  • Try to avoid the dryer and hang clothes instead. Fill up the machines, both washer, dryer and dishwasher.

I do believe that every little thing counts. And – for instance – everytime we pick an energy-saving lightbulb from the supermarket shelf, we encourage the supermarket to buy more of those and less of the other ones.

More about sustainable living and about the importance of diminishing our carbon footprint NOW on 350.org. Why not become a “fan” of 350.org on Facebook?

And more about sustainable living on the microplane from No Impact Man and on Carbon Footprint.

This is a portable eco fridge. The above picture is an energy-saving halogen bulb. Both and lots more can be bought at the Ethical Superstore.

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350!!!!!!

Global warming… Copenhagen 2009… Waterlevels rising…

The answer, apparently, is 350!

OK, so what’s it all about? I didn’t know that that number had any kind of significance until a little earlier today, when I read about it on the No Impact Man blog.

350 is the red line for human beings, the most important number on the planet. The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth.

The above is quoted from the about-page on 350.org.

When the object of the countries participating in the next climate conference (the one in Copenhagen, thanks to Ms. Hedegaard) is to agree on 450 (optimistic) or 550 (much more likely), it dawns on you why some people out there suddenly think they need to build an entire organisation around the number: 350.

The post on No Impact Man is full of good and solid references.

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