Residence on Earth

Minke Whale by Deah

By Leah

Deah found two Minke whales washed up dead on Waikawa beach last week on the Kapiti coast. She wrote this poem after finding the second whale.

Minke Whale – Dead

In life she cruised the oceans deep
Sieving time as with the tides.
Awakened, untouched in her element
Fulfilled and for-filling purpose
Solitary
Free.

She looked as Minke looks,
Of fat, length, flippers long, dorsal curved.
Bullet head, baleen filters, grooved throat.
And carrying unborn calf.

She ingested mans dross
For she encountered so few and knew little of their way.
Innocent,
Trusting
Alive on the waves
Curious of man
And now dead

She died on beach,
Throat clogged.
Bulldozer ripped from element water.
Dragged  with no ceremony
Jaw removed
Unmarked grave
Duveted by dune.
Crisscrossed tracks
Wind to remake her bed.
And long dead.

Forgotten Daffodils

By Rowan Sylva

Donegal, the far north west of Ireland, is a country as lashed by the waves of history as it is by the winds of the Atlantic that carved the coastline into its high cliffs and long tidal inlets. Recently we were lucky to travel in that land, once thought by Medieval Christian scholars to be the ends of the Earth. Geologically as well as culturally Donegal is close to Scotland. The people say “aye” and the wet mountainous region of the Scottish highlands finds its most westerly extension in Donegal, ending in the cliffs of Slieve League that are among the highest in Europe. Coming from the deep forests of Germany what struck me about the landscape, and indeed much of Ireland, was its bleakness. It is a land of high hills, coated in black mud, red heather, yellow grass, lichen spattered rocks and deep blue tarns. Few trees grow here and those that do are wind swept, gnarled and twisted.

Everywhere the land is dotted with old stone ruins, the houses of shepherds and fisherman who built without motor, or walls that demarcate long forgotten boundaries and provide some relief from the sharp wind. The locals tell different stories to explain this ghost ridden landscape. Some say it was the potato famine that emptied the land of its people. To others these ruins are reminders of the great exodus of the twentieth century when the young bordered boats bound for Boston, New York or Sydney. Whole generations emigrated from Donegal and left a country of sad old men and women. There is a cairn near here, an old Derry man tells us, and each rock in the cairn was placed by one of those that left, a last reminder of their life before they voyaged across the ocean never to return. There are those who view the abandoned landscape as a testament to more recent change. “There is nothing to hold the young people here” seems to be a common refrain of the people. Whatever the reason one thing is certain these bleak hills are a hard place to eke out a living, and one has to go back a long way to the days of the proud Gaelic King, O Donnel, to find a time when Donegal was prosperous. As one local put it, all the farmers can do, “is burn the heather to grow a sour, yellow grass for the sheep to eat.”

Politically Donegal has changed radically in the last twenty years. For much of the twentieth century it was cut off from most of the neighbouring counties by a closed border with Northern Ireland, while the IRA used it as a base from which to launch operations; the county still votes for leftist Sinn Fein candidates. This political and geographic isolation has shaped the modern county. But now that the borders are open, tourism provides a growing industry and many of the old ruins are being torn down and replaced by shining new holiday homes for rich foreigners who live there for two weeks in the year. The demand for land pushes up the prices, many choose to sell, and the land leaves local hands. One of our friends is adamant that these houses will also one day be ruins. A woman drives us past a stretch of windswept beach. The travelers, the irish gipsies used to come here, she tells us, but the council built walls to keep them out, and they come no longer.

Despite the centuries of entrenched Christianity, there is a pagan feeling here. At a pub two centuries old, the bar girl shows us how horseshoes were built into the wall to give the building good luck. Another local talks excitedly about a book he has read that documents the stone sculptures that dot the landscape and the neighbouring islands. These sculptures, that have an upright stone placed in a shallow stone bowl, are thought to have been constructed as curses against the Christian missionaries that first came to this land. Our friend from Derry tells us a story about a priest that cuts down the fairy tree. The priest dies of an illness.

Along the coast of Donegal, placed on the most outward pointing fingers of land, are the signal towers. The locals do not agree on exactly when or why they were built. Some say it was to warn against the attacking French during the Napoleonic Wars, some say to warn against the Spanish Armada. Everybody, however, agrees on their purpose. A fire would be lit at the top of the tower. The light or smoke would be seen from the next tower, and the signal would be carried swiftly around the coast. Their remnants are now home to ravens which pray on dying lambs.

Inland, Donegal has one of the largest national parks in Ireland – Glenveagh. The national park was first created as a hunting estate by John Aidar who claimed infamy by throwing 244 tenants off the land. He died before his dream of a grand hunting estate could be completed, but the work was finished by his widow. Now, thanks to John Aidar’s ruthlessness, Glenveagh is a nature reserve, home to Ireland’s largest heard of red deer, and the once extinct in the wild, golden eagle.

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During our journeys in Donegal we were, as the locals constantly reminded us, “lucky with the weather.” The sun shone during the day turning me red, and speckling Daniela with freckles, while during the night the stars blazed unusually bright. But on our last day as we hiked Horn Head, in the far north, the fog rolled up from the sea. Dense and thick, it cloaked the landscape, pouring through the stone ruins and marshy valleys. It gave the land a mysterious and beautiful quality, but it bought with it a ghostly chill that our warm clothes could not repel.

As we hitched homeward to catch our bus from Letterkenny we are picked up by an old man, perhaps he is in his eighties. He was a pharmacist. We ask him how life was for him in the old time. And he recalls a time when no one owned cars, and buses were rare enough. If you wanted to get to the next town you had to walk or catch a lift in a cart. The only time he becomes emotional is when we ask him about religion. “No one tells me what to do anymore,” he says, his voice tense, “no one tells me what to do anymore.”

Photos by   Daniela Gast

Photos by Daniela Gast

 

Berlin’s Urban Wildlife

By Rowan Sylva

It was early March, and spring seemed to come all in one day. Around the neo-gothic courthouse which dominates the local park, snowdrops and buttercups had seemingly sprung up over night. I went to buy some breakfast from the local supermarket and saw another sure sign that spring had come; the corporate auguries were as finely attuned to the change of seasons as the snowdrops and the supermarket had been decked-out with garish looking bunnies wielding baskets of chocolate. It was no longer winter. As march turned to April the snowdrops were replaced by bluebells and crocuses. The willows, the last to shed their leaves were the first to regrow them and broke out in spring green. And though the Berliners have not yet donned their summer skirts and are still wrapped in winter coats, the sporadic sun does drive them from their flats.

Spring in Berlin is a great time for observing urban wildlife, which is perhaps more diverse than I might have thought, and in this post, I offer a summery of the local fauna I have been observing.

The bog-standard birds: they too deserve mention.

Pigeons: the local gang is active roosting on the roofs of flats staining building with their excrement and cooing in loud deep voices.

Crows: These large black and grey scavengers are possibly the most numerous bird in Berlin. The local unkindness (apparently that is a collective noun for crows)are the established bosses of the neighborhood. Their ominous caws and large flocks are emblematic of the city’s winter.

Ducks: living the good life, the local crew, of about twenty, floats up and down the river, reaping the bounty of the hominid’s generous bread donations. Now spring has started the iridescent males are fighting. Whenever I see them I am put in mind of a spaniard I knew who would tempt urban ducks with bread before breaking their necks and eating them.

Sparrows: no surprise that these promiscuous little buggers are found here.

Magpies: these large brutes are undoubtedly the most magnificent of the bog-standard birds. White and black, with a long iridescent blue tale and wings, they like to strut their stuff both in the park and on the street.

The not so bog-standard birds

Tits: there are a lot of tits in Berlin, great tits, blue tits, and long tailed tits. The blue tits appear to be the most prolific and are highly visible this time of year, drawing a lot of attention to themselves. Their chirp is much greater than their beak; they make a lot of noise.

Herons: these large majestic blue-grey fish eating wonders, a one of my favorites. Generally Loners these long necked, long legged pescetarians can be seen during the warmer months, hanging out on islands of debris in the middle of Berlin’s canals and rivers.

Falcons: without a doubt the most regal of the local birds. There are a breading pair nesting by the river just across the road. These apex predators control the pigeon, rat and rabbit population. I had an unusual incident at a party a month or so ago when I was explaining to a pair of serbian chicks how impressed I was to see how many falcons were active in the city. They did not believe me that they were here. I was rescued by a Berlin male who proved by use of his smart phone their well established position.

Starlings: these highly social sparkled backed beauties, are back from basking in the warm south for spring time. When the are not gathering in vast murmurations, they can be seen picnicking on worms along riverbanks or in parks.

Blackbirds: almost a bog-standard bird, I’ve never really understood why its called a black bird when the females are, in fact brown. These mildly aggressive, relatively small dudes, prefer nuclear families to larger social gatherings they are relatively common and their song can be heard above the ceaseless chirping of the tits.

Robins: these small yet buxom red breasted betties are not so common, but I have spotted one or two hanging among the tits, keeping a low profile.

Blue Bum: now we come to the mysterious and elusive Blue Bum. When walking along the Panke river right in the middle of urban Berlin, I from time to time spotted a bright turquoise bum speeding upriver, looking for all the world like a colorful humming bird. Blue bum was always traveling too fast to ever be observed properly, and for many months the identity of this exotic beauty has remained a mystery. Until recently that is, when discussing the appearance of blue bum with my neighbor I was able to identify him as an Eisvogel, the small not so common kingfisher. These shy and colorful little bastards are extremely territorial and if another of the species enters its stretch of water it will fight it to the death, attempting to drown it under water. The appearance of blue bum, however, is good news for the river as he or she requires good water quality and the existence of fish.

Stalks: these allegiant baby bringers have not yet arrived from their winter residence in Africa.

Treecreeper: As their name suggests these unusual fellows appear to spend their entire lives erratically scuttling up and down tree trunks. Their plumage is so well camouflaged that they can only be spotted when on the move, a definite weirdo.

Nightingale: Finally this all night party animal can occasionally be heard, singing on the treelined streets, when the drunks stagger home. Rumored to have the greatest vocal range of any bird, the nightingale is a sigil of poets and musicians.

Woodpecker: While the treecreepers are more discrete in bark scouring activities, the woodpeckers exhibits none of their inhibitions, proudly and loudly hacking into wood to extract invertebrates whenever they please.

Mammalia

Rattus Rattus: There is a local crew of common rats who have extensive network of holes down by the river and appear to spend much of their time swimming around. While the well intentioned hominids feed copious amounts of dried bread to the duck gang, I have a well founded suspicion that is in fact the rats that benefit most from this bounty. I have to remind myself that in Europe rats are not quite the evil introduced villains of New Zealand, but a natural part of the ecosystem.

Rabbits: I was surprised to discover that there is a sizable urban population of these diseased pests, the common bunny.

Red Squirrel: they’re red and their squirrels and they’re cute.

Fox: One of these lean, bushy tailed seductive vixens lives a short walk from my apartment, her hole opposite a kindergarten. Despite being a surprisingly large predator, she is a master of not being seen. So the one cool autumn day, caught in morning traffic, I saw her running for the trees.

Canis Lupus Familiaris: the common hund is a serous plague in Berlin, coming in every imaginable shape and size and littering every patch of green with their excrement. I have difficulty imagining what these large carnivores are doing when they are not straining on the leash of their corresponding hominid. Something should really be done to reduce their number.

Homo Berlinis: certainly the most numerous of all the urban fauna the hominid population of Berlin is as diverse as its bird life: some are migratory others are permanent residents. There are long legged loaners and flouncing beauties, and small yet territorial specimens. One thing they appear to have in common is an ample amount of leasure time that they spend lounging in parks or by waterways.

Pictures by   Daniela Gast

Pictures by Daniela Gast

Approach to land healing

By Leila

We are deeply impacted by land, land influences us as we grow as children, it will mould community, create patterns of ritual, of survival and culture.

As a culture we need to acknowledge that fundamental relationship rather than keep in separation from it.

We impact land through our mind, our emotions and through how we change it physically to suit our requirements.

Land healing will be required for the following reasons; where there has been any distortion of energy by humans for their own power or protection in the past, where there has been bullying/abuse creating suppression and fear, addictive behavior, depression, and hatred. Where there has been battle, violent death, accidental death and suicide and where there has been an overriding use of land without reference to the natural landscape.

Our ability to create form through thoughts, means that energy may need to be cleared regularly in offices, schools, therapy rooms and public places like council meeting rooms, retail stores and libraries.

Because we are not a culture practiced in the awareness of energy, we tend to shut down our awareness of it or be in reaction to it.

Just like any form of healing practice, we need to bring awareness to ourselves how we are in landscape, so we are aware of our own separation and projection.

So we need to look at our relationship with land, in this we may see what our relationship is with natural resources, the marking of boundaries on land and what our personal emotional response is to land. This creates identity and we also have cultural identity to land. We may not be aware of our projection of identity and how this may influence our ability to be with a particular place. The projection of identity is so powerful that newcomers to a land, will project on top of that land what they are familiar with and identify with. This is colonization of land, there is no co-creative relationship, the relationship is one of domination and this has the greatest impact on land.

So we begin with our approach to land

Protocol

Imagine you’re at home one day and a complete stranger walks into your home, without knocking on the door or even being aware there might be a door. He doesn’t even see you, it’s like you are completely invisible to him. You start to try and attract his attention. “Hey what are you doing here?” he can’t hear you or see you. He starts removing things; pushing stuff out of the way, he has tools; he starts to break up the floor boards because he’s interested in seeing what’s underneath.

Or imagine this scenario

A stranger walks into the house; he actually trips over the doorstep. He sees you for a moment gets a fright, closes his eyes. He then blocks his ears and starts humming loudly. He then opens his eyes and starts talking to the ornate dining table that you inherited from your mother in law. He tells the table he understands that he has a very special role here. Then suddenly lifts up the table, he is in a hurry and goes out the door, it’s quite a heavy burden but he knows he is up for the job. It’s a bit difficult getting it through the door but he manages it by taking the door off the hinges. You are wondering what he is doing you try to pull him back, he starts to use more force so you let him go with the table.

Protocol in land healing starts with your approach and your intention. There is a powerful intelligence that you are working with and it can read your intention a mile off. Think about where you should begin on the land and even where you should leave the car. When you come onto the land pause and go quiet. Imagine that you are visiting somebody, you are entering their house and so what you want to do is be really respectful to how that person is living. You knock on the door and they invite you in. That’s how it should be when you enter into land. In this way you will be allowed in. I have seen situations where people create an illusion of power and energy but in fact they haven’t entered into the deeper aspects of the land, which will gift you back immeasurably. This is about a relationship. The first approach to land is to arrive in a state of listening.

Begin with Greeting, a sign of welcome or recognition, to receive or acknowledge.

I open myself to connect with you. I allow space and time for you to come forward to meet me. I acknowledge I do not know you, so that I am able to listen and see with new ears and eyes. I am here, I am not needing to be any where else

This is the nature of greeting. It is about connection. When we connect there is a two-way movement. There is a lovely dance with connection where two people very slowly allow their forefingers to slowly connect. It’s the practise of connection, the focus of it is also allowing an insight into the consciousness of the etheric to connect as well, the slowness of this play of connection pulls away at our barriers and protections. Oddly the slowest most respectful connection may feel vulnerable, as to see is to be seen.

Take the time to greet and thank the guardian of the land, the trees, the animals, the birds and recognise that we are part of everything. It is important to begin simply.

Look at what the wind is doing, observe where the pre-dominate wind is, you can do this by observing the trees, how they grow, trees will ‘create a back’ to the wind, like someone turning their back to the wind and curving over to try to open an umbrella. Trees are worth while observing, check out the predominate species, they will give a sense of the essence of place and to feel the essence of the place is crucial in land healing.

Take time to connect to the soil and the rocks. Smell and taste the minerals. Lie back and look up at the sky, hang out with the overview. If there is a hawk, imagine you are flying with it feel the lift of the wind, the hill formations, the valleys and the plains. Come to land, be with the plant world, the skin of the earth and then observe the trees again. What trees attract your attention, look at where they are positioned? I work with trees often in land healing; they are already helping energetically as well as creating healthy ecosystems. Observe the waterways how they are flowing, how they have been changed. This also impacts the flow of the energy of the land. Check where the directions are.

This will open the doorway to be allowed in.

 

California runs out of water: Nicolas Cage has a bad morning

By Rowan Sylva

California is running out of water. Scientists now claim that the worst drought in a millennia is striking the world’s fifth largest economy, an effect of climate change. The situation is greatly exacerbated by the mining of  “fossilized ground water,” irreplaceable reserves of fresh water underneath the ground. As the drought takes its toll more ground water is mined, but now even that is beginning to run low, and NASA predicts thatCalifornia could run out of water in just one year. But what does this mean? Let us imagine.

It’s another blazing hot day in Orange County. There is not a shred of cloud in the sky. It’s forty-five degrees centigrade in the shade. But Nicolas Cage doesn’t feel it, locked safely within the walls of his new, Newport beach mansion. He has had a late night. His head pounds. He needs water, water and pain killers, water to rehydrate his aging body – he’s to old for this kind of drinking. He opens the fridge to fumble for a bottle of mineral water, but he’s out.

Cage takes a glass from the cupboard and flicks his hand over the electric tap. Nothing happens. Then there is unsettling gurgling and a brown brackish sludge spurts out of the faucet. He looks at it with disgust. Another gurgle, than nothing. Problems with the plumbing? This can’t be happening. His head is hurting now, pounding. He throws back the pain killers and washes them down with a beer.

Standing inside his large mahogany paneled bathroom, Cage pisses into the gleaming porcelain bowl. He pushes the button for the flush, but nothing happens. He watches the yellow froth mingle with what seems to be an unusually precious pool of water. He washes his hands with whisky. He’s not sure what to make of his plumbing problem. He stares out toward his large bean-shaped swimming pool. Its empty. Was it empty yesterday? As he watches, a gust of dry wind blows across the yard bringing dust shriveled leaves into the aqua blue pool.

Cage opens a packet of salted almonds and chews on them slowly. A door opens and his house keeper enters carrying a stack of dry-cleaned towels. What are the point of towels if there’s no water? The house keeper gives a slight curtsy acknowledging the apprising look of her employer. Cage has never adhered to the modern mantra that a good housekeeper is invisible. Indeed his current wife, who he hasn’t seen for several weeks, was a waitress. There is something that Cage finds appealing in talking directly to staff. He likes to awe people with his celebrity. It gives him a feeling of worth and his house keeper, well she’s a competent and pretty Italian.

“Something’s wrong with the plumbing,” Cage remarks, “could you call the water guys.”

The house keeper stares back at her employer with a look of bewilderment. “You, you haven’t heard?” She averts her eyes.

“Heard what?”

“California, it’s run out of water.”

“But do they know who I am? They can’t just cut off my water. I’m Nicolas Cage.”

“But, but, its been allover the news for weeks. Everybody is leaving. It’s nothing personal. There’s just no water left. We’ve used it all and now its gone.”

Cage, keys to his new Mercedes in hand, strides out of the house and onto the lawn. He is instantly hit by the burning heat of the sun like he has just walked into an incinerator. He stares for a few moments at a sign one of the staff has put up, “keep off the grass,” it reads, “fresh paint.”

Cage stares for a few moments at the bright green grass. It’s funny it looks almost real. He gazes at his prize Spanish oaks. They’re tough trees, but they’re dying. Their leaves are shriveled green. He has to go somewhere where there is water. But where will he go? Where has everybody else gone?

Image by Daniela Gast

Reclaimed By The Forest

By Rowan Sylva

Konstancin, Poland – the habitable town transitions seamlessly into the crumbling ruins reclaimed by the forest. Indeed the town itself is a forest. Where elsewhere the yards, lawns and gardens would be well trimmed, groomed and delineated, here the trees grow through the lawns just as they do in the nearby unbuilt-in forest, where the trunks of the trees are ghostly blue with lichen.

The shop is one corner of an abandoned mansion, behind it the decaying spiral staircase has roots of myriad broken bottles from myriad drinking sessions. The church grounds are thick with eager saplings. Its steeple hangs crooked. It’s interior is a ruin. Crows nest in its rafters. Its terrace, where once men and women waited for communion in their sunday best, is another drinking spot. A pile of ash and a charred log show evidence of a fire. We drink a round of vodka.

My old friend tells me that these buildings are from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before the first war, in this town’s glory days after it was founded, and named after the countess Constance. On the back of the church a recent detailed piece of stencil art commemorates the 1943 jewish ghetto uprising.

Looking at the art, I have a feeling of synchronisity – the flat, where we have been staying in the city, was part of the big Ghetto. From there the Polish Jews, the largest Jewish population in Europe, were contained before being sent to the death camps. Poland was once a multi cultural land, with large minorities of Jews and Gipsies. It is no longer so.

We cross a small canal where the roots of a moss covered oak tree now extend across it, forming a bridge to the estate behind – the servants quarters, the stables, all peeling wallpaper, crumbling plaster, but solid stone. The noble’s house was built to last but it too has been swallowed by the wood.

The talk of the town is of the wild boar that infest the forest and increasing the heart of the town itself. One of the residents swears that the boars are the size of Ponies. Two others tell us to be careful of being attacked by these beasts as we approached the deeper parts of the forest. And everywhere, even on the mown avenues and the grounds of the bank in the centre of town are gored into a mess of turned earth by their feeding.

As we walk along the trail leading through the wetland back toward the house of my friend, we catch a glimpse of geese migrating north. The singing of a nightingale heralds the coming evening as we walk past trees ringbarked by Beavers. We walk back, back to borscht, hot beat root soup. There is a beauty to towns like Konstancin. For though the council tries to mask it, with their electric lit mown park. Konstancin is a town partly reclaimed by the forest and therefor it is a reminder of temporal nature of civilisation and ultimately our great glass cities. For one day perhaps they too will be taken by the primordial boar infested forest. I certainly hope so.

Photos by   Daniela Gast

Photos by Daniela Gast

 

Mars Settlement: You Too Could Make Your Way To The Promised Land

By Rowan Sylva

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For those who have not heard, Mars One, a project to establish a permanent human colony on the red planet is well under way. In ten years time the first colonists are scheduled to arrive from their eight-month one-way journey. They are to spend the rest of their lives on Mars – their dream. The Mars One official webpage sells it well. In 2013, 200, 000 people applied to become colonists. A lucky one hundred were selected for intensive and rigorous training.

Once on Mars the colonists are to live in 200 square meter pods. And are to begin growing their own food – specifically tomatoes and rice. They will apparently be able to shower in the “wet room.” They may leave the pods, putting on Mars suits, and are expected to conduct research. Further colonists are to land on the planet every two to four years, expanding the settlement. Presumably food will continue to be sent to the colonist as long as Mars One doesn’t run out money or the settlers become self sustaining permiculturalists.

This all sounds very well, How glorious for the human race. But Mars One moves into the bizarre and slightly grotesque, when one considers their business plan. The project requires an overall budget of around six billion US Dollars. Governments aren’t funding it; it is the ailing entertainment industry that is expected to cough up. Mars colonization is to be funded by making it the most expensive reality TV show ever made.

The contestants competing for the privilege of living on this red wasteland full of solar radiation and an unbreathable atmosphere are to be chosen by popular ballot by viewers. The final frontier becomes less the heroic expansion of mankind and more a perverse version of Americas Next Top Model. Living on Mars sounds bad enough to me, but living on Mars in some kind of weird Truman Show sounds much worse.

However, there are plenty of people that are keen. Or are there? Last week IFL Science reported that a Mars One finalist and Nasa researcher, Joseph Roche, left the project amid criticism that Mars One was a shambles. Allegedly contestants are not picked on their suitability but on the amount of money they contribute. Roche claimed he had not undergone any training other than filling out questionnaires. Instead he explained a point system where candidates are awarded points based on how much money they spend. Roche said it was untrue that there were 200, 000 applicants, claiming there were 2,671. Bas Landsthorpe, CEO of Mars One denies the allegations calling them, “lies.”

But why listen to the haters, when, as The Mars One website describes, we could be like, “the ancient Chinese, Micronesians, and untold Africans, the Vikings and famed explorers of Old World Europe.” But the ancient colonizers were after all going into the unknown, to discover fertile lands. In this case we know where they’re going – a cold lifeless planet. The website explains the arduousness of the eight month journey but claims the colonists will endure it, “because this will be the flight carrying them to their dream.” Yeah great, they can look forward to their fifty square meter pod and the odd fresh tomato, while people on earth watch them go steadily insane on youtube and their backers runout of money.

The Mars One website provides some examples of the kind of the discussions with the Mars colonists that the earth dwellers might find interesting – “What is it like to walk on Mars? How do you feel about your fellow astronauts after a year? What is it like living in the reduced Mars’ gravity? What is your favorite food? Do you enjoy the sunsets on Mars?”

I’ve taken the liberty of preemptively answering these questions.

What is it like to walk on Mars? Really boring. Its rock and dust.

How do you feel about your fellow astronauts after a year? I want to kill them.

What is it like living in the reduced Mars’ gravity? I live in a fucken pod. What do you think?

What is your favorite food? I haven’t had a shipment of food in five years. Is that supposed to be funny?

Do you enjoy the sunsets on Mars? I want to kill you too.

The very thought of living on Mars makes me realize how precious Earth is. And if we can raise six billion US dollars to colonize a freezing waterless wasteland shouldn’t we be able to raise at least a similar sum to save our own planet from destruction.

 

Fudged Reporting on Death of Sea Lions.

By Mike Johnson

What would you think if, lets say, after a meteor shower one night you heard a radio report next morning saying that ‘puzzling lights’ were seen shooting through the sky? You’d wonder, wouldn’t you? Wonder if you hadn’t wandered into an alternative universe in which nature of shooting stars was not understood.

That’s how I felt when I heard a radio NZ news story claiming that the death of over 900 sea lions along the Californian coast was due to … wait for it… ‘puzzling weather conditions.’

There is nothing mysterious or puzzling about these weather conditions at all. Warmer Pacific waters due to man made global warming are making the making the Sea Lion’s feed source more scarce, they have to travel further for food and pups are starving. Read all about it in this article in the Huffington post and also the Scientific American.

We are at the point where our media will do anything to avoid mentioning the terms global warming or climate change. Watch the duck-shoving over the language used to describe the South Island drought at the moment. It’s a drought that’s not a drought, just a dry spell. And don’t for one minute think that turning off the tap on some Southland irrigation schemes has got anything to do with the long term degradation of the water table due to climate change. Don’t even think it! Whatever you do, don’t connect the dots!

Meanwhile, with the world hottest year on record just past, and this one lining up to be as hot if not hotter, the lie machine, created by the same crowd that lied to you about smoking, is cranking along.

 

Confucius and Materialism

By Rowan Sylva

Materialism: An ideology and philosophical disposition that afflicts both poor and rich. It pervades modern capitalist society. Screams from now moving billboards, depicting luscious airbrushed beauties wielding shopping bags filled with stuff, their larger than life eyes scream for you to buy more. The cult of the super rich, cars, rolexes, money, the dream, materialism saturates our society. Materialism makes us sad. Materialism atomises us, isolates us. It makes us envious. It makes us apathetic. In places where spiritual ideologies once supported zero growth economies, the glittering golden allure of materialism drives people to destroy environments that once supported them. Beijing was once a city known for having ten million bicycles; today it has ten million Mercedes and unbreathable air. There can be little doubt the materialism is the engine of climate change.

We all struggle to contain the dangerous pull that materialism exerts on our own hearts and minds. One way in which we can combat the ideology of materialism is to evoke the powerful moral ideologies of the ancients. In this article I look at the Analects of Confucius.

Why Confucius? China has become a global hub of conspicuous consumption, wedded to a philosophy of endless growth and driven by materialism. But for more than two millennia, from the founding of Qin dynasty to the fall of the Qing, China was governed by Confucianism; stability took precedence over growth and to a certain degree, moral development took precedence over wealth accumulation. An ideology that so clearly offered a persuasive alternative to capitalism deserves investigation. Confucianism provides a personal moral philosophy without positing the need for a higher spiritual power, making it palatable for those with atheistic dispositions. Confucianism strongly critiques materialist dispositions, and, ironically, it can be read as a radical alternative to the modern-day paradigm.

Confucius has never sold well in the West, associated with a rather dry adherence to perceived irrelevant rituals of ancient China; western consumers prefer to engage in Daoist texts finding mystery in their unintelligible sentences and profundity in their rejection of moral standards. But I love the Analects. Unlike the Daoist texts something of Confucius the person, flawed, stubborn yet unwavering in his conviction shines through the centuries of editing. The prose is crisp. The story of his wandering is captivating, and through the remnants of his words we glimpse the man who birthed an ideology.

Here I have collated some passages which deal most directly with issues of materialism, and invite the reader to muse over them.

3.4: Lin Fang asked about the root of ritual. The Master said, “An important question! In ritual it is better to be frugal than extravagant. In funeral ritual it is better to be guided by one’s grief than to simply follow what is done.”

4.8: The Master said, “If a gentleman sets his heart on the dao but is ashamed to wear poor clothes and eat poor food, he is not worth engaging in serious conversation.”

4.12: The Master said, “If one allows oneself to follow profit, many will have cause for complaint.”

4.16: The Master said, “The superior person comprehends according to right. The small man comprehends according to profit.”

6.11: The Master said, “How worthy is Hui! A simple bowl of food and a dipperful of drink, living on a shabby lane – others could not bare the cares, yet Hui is unchanging in his joy. How worthy is Hui!”

7.12: The Master said, “If wealth may be ethically sought, though it would be as lowly bearer of the whip I too would pursue it. If it cannot be ethically sought, I will follow what I love.”

7.16: The Master said, “To eat coarse greens, drink water, crook one’s elbow for a pillow – joy lies therein. Wealth and high rank obtained by unrighteous means are to me like the floating clouds.”

7.17: When the Master fished he did not use a net; when he hunted he did not shoot at nesting birds.

7.36: The Master said, “extravagance leads toward delinquency. Thrift leads toward uncouthness.It is better to be uncouth than delinquent.”

10.14: When the stables burnt, the Master returned from court asking, “Was anyone hurt?” He did not ask about the horses.

 

Radical Philosophy and the Question of Leadership

By Rowan Sylva

On Saturday I attended the 2015 radical philosophy conference in Berlin. Held in the House of Culture and the World, the conference drew a sizeable crowd. I attended two panel discussions: Animalities andOrganisation.

 

Animalities focused on the animal world in capitalism, the first speaker, possibly my favourite of the day spoke about the philosophical move away from a behaviourist view of the animal world, arguing instead for an approach that viewed animals as individual political actors with their own desires and consciousness.The speaker used the examples of habitat, a word that is usually assumed to denote a set of ecological conditions in which a species can live, the speaker argued that such a position was flawed because animals often have a connection, even an attachment to a specific place. The second speaker reiterated the position of the “animal turn” during the seventies, arguing for its continued validity and rejection of the use of animal products. The third speaker laid out a Marxist analysis of animals in human communities, arguing that they were the ultimate “proletariat” and discussed the ways in which working animals have resisted their exploitation. Though the third speaker had a good rapport with the audience, I felt he stretched his point a bit far.
By the time the second panel discussion, Organisation, was under way it became clear to me that the whole conference was really a Marxist symposium that had lured much of the audience to the event on the pretence that it was about general radical philosophy. The odd non-Marxist on the panel were, it appeared, simply straw-men for the Marxist organisers. Nevertheless the discussion on organisation did raise interesting points and ones that do indeed apply to the global left and can be applied to the climate action movement in particular.

 

  •         The premises from which the panel debated were as follows
    1.  Leninism traditionally provided a successful strategic model for left wings groups wanting   to take power.
    2.   Leninism and its various twentieth centuries off shoots have become widely discredited.
    3.  In response to the rejection of Leninism, (and I would add Marxism generally) the global left has centred on mass decentralised movements e.g., Occupy Movement, Ferguson protests, Anti austerity movements in Europe etc.
    4.  These movements, though laudable, have failed to keep up their momentum and ultimately fizzled out, failing to produce any meaningful social change.
    5. They failed because they lacked the leadership to carry them forward.
    Conclusion: A rethink of leadership structures in left wing movements is needed if they are to compete with the rising popularity of the new extreme right.

In looking for a solution to this leadership problem the first speaker’s solution was to look back, before Leninism, before Marxism, back to Hegel, and the concept of the Hegelian monarch, the idiot monarch. His argument posited that in order to galvanise people a figurehead was needed, somebody like an Obama but with credibility, who through having a common appeal could unite people and appeal to the masses, even idiots, as he could be an idiot himself. The charismatic appeal of this kind of leader would hold the movement together and take its momentum forward while getting around the abuse of power that springs from Leninist centralisation by absolving the leader of any real power, he would be a unifying symbol a figure head, while the real organisation of the movement would be in the hands of more decentralised and democratically organised cells.  The Hegelian model has a kind of Taoist essence that appeals to me – “the greatest leaders are those that do not lead.”
The second speaker, had more contemporary and less theoretical content, he pointed to the South American, “Bolivarian,” approach to leadership, where left wing movements maintained a focus on leadership and personality, and combined this with the, “yes we can,” slogan co-opted by Obama from the South American movements. According to this speaker this combination of positive campaigning and strong leadership had built the strongest left wing movements in the world and that they had arisen from the ashes of the brutal Monroe doctrine (from the sixties to the eighties US installed regimes waged a political genocide on the South American left.) This “Bolivarian” approach, the speaker argued, had inspired the strategy and organisation of the hugely successful Podamos party in Spain (the name of the party translates as “yes we can”). Podamos is a far left party that grew out of the Indignado Movement – a protest movement with links to Occupy – they have however taken the momentum forward, and placed a heavy electoral focus on their charismatic leader, Pablo Iglesias. They are currently the highest polling party in Spain, were only founded last year and are now poised to win the general election in December.
As Andrew Dobson, author of the comprehensive Green Political Thought, demonstrates ecologists – with the exception of some thinkers who advocate a kind of green authoritarianism arising form a frustration with anthropocentric liberalism – are deeply suspicious of centralised power. Most green thinkers advocate the diffusion and decentralisation of political power as a central tenet of the sustainable society. There are myriad reasons why and this article is not the place to expound them, surface to say that a glance at twentieth century history shows a strong coloration between centralisation and environmental destruction; while successful conservation efforts tend to be on the part of mobilised local communities.  Decentralised localism is a strand that connects much deep ecological thought e.g., bioregionalism, transition towns. This model has had notable successes (the Bougainville war, where native tribes successfully threw out an international gold mining company is my favourite example).
Climate change, however, poses problems for the localised model of organisation. Though it has both local causes and local effects, it is a global problem and requires a global response. Perhaps climate activists, like the Marxist philosophers hosting the conference should re-examine their organisation and the role of leaders. Perhaps they and the green movement generally could learn from the “yes we can” movements of South America.

 

Newark Leads the Way!

By Mike Johnson

Newark, with its large, black population, is one of the most economically depressed cities of America, with a whacking 30% unemployed. The local authorities have come up with what looks like a novel way of making people feel better about themselves and their wretched lives – renaming streets, parks etc with more optimistic, feel good names. So, 10th Avenue, where a vicious murder took place, might be renamed Renewal Avenue. The most hopeless and depressed street in town may become Hope Street and so on. (I have made up these details since I am relating a BBC radio story which I cannot as yet find on the net with a quick google search)

Of course there is nothing new in this. Back in the bad old days of Soviet Russia, streets, avenues and squares were given names that reflected official economic optimism. Reconstruction Ave, Prosperity Drive, Happiness Highway… that kind of thing. It’s an effort to try to convince people that things are better than they really are. Large corporates and their tame governments have quickly grasped the principle that you can, with constant effort and repetition, get people to believe the opposite of what they actually experience. How many fingers do you see?

With the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) having just officially declared 2014 to be the hottest year since records began in the late 1880s,

I suggest we use the Newark initiative to counteract some of this negativity around man-made global warming. Islands and coastlines sinking could use place names like, the Highlands, and Cliff Edge; drought stricken regions like Texas could adopt names like Sweet Rain Park and Rushing Waters Avenue; flooded areas… but I can’t continue with this farce. The irony has become strangely leaden. It’s no longer funny.

It’s not funny because the Newark initiative is cruel and contemptible, and treats its victims as fools. Is an unemployed person going to feel any less separate and alone walking down Togetherness Road? Are we going to be any less affected by global warming because of official optimism?

In the meantime, fueled by official optimism, the logical absurdities roll on. Have a wonderful 2015 everybody!

Winter is coming, and the night will be long, dark and filled with terrors

By Rowan Sylva

Early November in Berlin, and winter is indeed coming, causing the thermometer on our window to plunge below ten degrees. With each passing day the sun hangs lower in the sky giving a perpetual sense of evening. The wild geese swarm south, the swallows are no longer seen, but the flocks of crows become more visible and more vocal. The trees turn gold and red and shed their leaves into the streams which clog with Autumn’s debris. And one can almost hear the howling of wolves in the blood-red forests of Brandenburg. People also prepare. A man on the street puts winter tires on his car, the neighbours stock up on coal and we fill our cellar with wood scavenged from the forest to heat our nineteenth century flat. The pot of mulled wine sits slowly heating on the wood stove.

A new study, using comprehensive computer modelling demonstrates, that global warming doubles the probability of severe winters in Europe. The Arctic warms at a faster rate then the rest of the world, and freezing air is pushed south, over Eurasia. This, combined with a possible slowing of the Gulf Steam, is a recipe for the kind of Arctic weather that caused the great lakes to freeze, and it to snow in Florida, as temperatures fell to as low -38 Celsius in parts of the USA last winter. The phenomenon of severe winters is claimed by the authors of the study to be temporary (a couple of decades) before overall warming changes the climatic model.

Whether or not the coming European winter will be severe, or even below average temperature, is open to speculation, however, analysis of early snow fall in Siberia provides an indication that 2014/15 could be bitterly cold. And if it is severe it could initiate a political and humanitarian crisis in Europe, as the continent’s “new cold war” gets even colder. America’s severe winter cost the economy around five billion dollars, and similar damage could be inflicted on Europe, but it is the situation in Ukraine that should cause the most concern.

A friend of mine recently returned from Ukraine, where he was visiting his girlfriend’s family, and described the situation there as dire. Cut off from Russian gas supplies, Ukrainians have no hot water and no central heating. On top of this people are being drafted to fight the Russians in the east after completing a measly three months military training – a veritable death sentence. The bankrupt government is unable to pay its civil servants and it is cheeper to drive to Poland and back to buy medicine then to purchase it in Kiev. If this sounds bad it is nothing to the effect a severe winter would have on a population cut off from its primary heating resource – gas. General Frost may once again prove to be Russia’s greatest military asset.

If a severe winter strikes, western Europe and Kiev must come to an agreement with the Russians to prevent the potential mass deaths, as western Europe lacks both the infrastructure and the reserves to supply Ukraine with its heating needs. This problem would be exacerbated by skyrocketing demand for heating in western Europe itself, and associated spiking gas prices. If, and it’s a big if, a severe winter strikes, it has the possibility to draw Europe closer together and indeed to create peace, or it could tear it irrevocably apart.