Thursday, July 29, 2010

of boats, plastic bottles and the heart

A man sails a boat made largely of plastic bottles and recycled waste from San Fransisco to Sydney. He arrives, bearded and beanied, to front a media pack dying to ask him about his journey. In the wash-up, you hear something about the novelty of a man on a boat of plastic bottles, something about how he's an heir to the Rothschild fortune. You don't hear all that much about the way to get the world to end its addiction to disposable packaging.

And this is how it goes. We love the spectacle, but not the actual issue.

Waiting to interview the captain of the plastic boat this morning, I caught the end of a roundtable discussion between designers, engineers, environmentalists, campaigners and communications specialists; people with a vested interest in making people care about the environment. Many words were being thrown around about how, just how, their great ideas for solving the world's problems can be made personal. As one guy said, "engineering doesn't really lend itself to metaphor, but metaphor and story is what we need".

The room agreed - narrative is needed to make abstract issues, like climate change, real to people. In the same way people in affluent countries are desensitised to poverty or war because of remoteness, we are desensitised to the impact of global warming. The challenge is to make the abstract, tangible.

Someone else piped up, "It's about self-interest. People need to see how these things actually impact them personally." Another suggested tapping into ego - capitalising on the selfish gene so that people see environmentalism as a way to impress their peers, to do better than their neighbour. "Why not encourage people to take great pride in the fact they drink tap water?" she said. "Let's get away from negative messages." Another well-known environmentalist suggested the two problems we face are greed an ignorance. Ignorance, he said, we can combat with education. Greed, is another beast altogether. "We might not be able to get rid of greed," he said. "But we can harness it so that people see the commercial opportunities of environmental initiatives." Someone else made the observation that we tend to be a selfish, aggressive society, but that we can to tap into our primorial drivers and use them to provoke social change.

It got me thinking about the way we try to solve the world's problems. Exploiting people's sense of pride, feeding their greed - these are solutions, but they are so impermanent, so superficial. Someone's greed might be channelled for a brief moment into investing in green technology, but at the end of the day, they're still seeking personal gain and always at the expense of another (that's what competition is, in a free market, right?) What makes green greed any more noble than tax evasion greed? The impulse - greed itself - hasn't disappeared. Likewise, encouraging people to compete with eachother to be "the most green" might be capitalising on our inherent selfishness, but it doesn't do away with selfishness itself. In fact, it feeds it.

We've got to be crazy if we think we can solve the world's problems by putting a different coloured frock on our basic fears and desires. Because the problem with the world today isn't plactic bottles. Our problem is our heart, where the fears and desires take hold that end in us polluting the world, or ignoring the poor. It reminds me of Jesus' words: "Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.'" And because I see in myself these basic impulses - greed and selfishness to name just two of many- I am thankful that there is a permanent solution: Jesus didn't come to condemn our hearts, but to clean them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The journalist as outlaw

Jeff Sparrow (on The Drum) has an interesting take on today's wikileaks War Logs story. He has some interesting reflections on the state of mainstream journalism vs. a site like wikileaks which appears to be achieving more:
As one admirer put it, "Wikileaks has probably produced more scoops in its short life than the Washington Post has in the past 30 years".... What's the explanation for Assange's success?
Most importantly, Wikleaks practises outsider journalism in a time when many reporters prefer to boast about being insiders... The problem, of course, is that journalists accustomed to walking the corridors of power are quite likely to end up sharing the attitudes and sensibilities of those they're supposed to scrutinise. Not surprisingly, within the US, sections of the media have been more concerned to argue that the war logs should never have been released than they've been to dig deeper into what the files reveal. In that respect, Wikileaks represents a very different model - basically, the journalist as outlaw... it's precisely Wikileaks' adversarial approach that has made its scoops possible.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I was in a store one day..

I'm sure I've blogged about This American Life before (yes, I have), but it deserves another plug for the best podcast out there. Anywhere. By Far.

That's a big claim, but it's justified, because This American Life is the most engaging storytelling you'll encounter outside of the voice in your head or your grandfather's living room.

It's so good it's addictive. And it's what inspires me to keep going in radio, because it reveals the potential of broadcasting.

Recently I came across a series of videos on youtube where Ira Glass the presenter of TAL, gives tips on storytelling. I haven't watched them all yet, but I thought I'd pass on the link for other TAL or future TAL fans.

Also, it's nice to see the love spreading around, even down to Tassie...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

the power of good book cover design

I have a bit of a penchant for book cover design. Confession time:  if a book has a good cover, I am more likely to read the blurb/the book. Yep. I'm completely superficial.

As if I didn't need another reason to love Faber and Faber, they've just released this series of retro two-tone covers for some of their best-loved poet’s first published editions. It follows the first set which was black and white, and just as beautiful.

Even better, the print designer Miriam Rosenbloom explains on the awesome Faber and Faber blog, the Thought Fox (as an aside, what a great name for a blog), how she was inspired by the illustrations in a 1960s book of Frances Cornford's poetry.

There's also a whole flickr set devoted to the covers here.

on friendship

I changed the top picture on my last post from the Monkton cartoon about Ninja Biscuits, to the one about Two Friends because the first image kept disappearing.

The text of the new picture, in case you're reading this in an RSS feed and can't be bothered looking at the site itself is:

Two Friends:
THE FRIENDS that connect in a mysterious way without even speaking.
Perhaps they are both just PECULIAR IN THE HEAD.

Then, in a lovely moment of serendipity, I was just reading an excerpt from C.S Lewis' The Problem of Pain, about friendship. It's essentially a lofty paragraph exploring the same concept as the cartoon, without the comic ending. It's a beautiful reflection on the joy of friendship and the longing for connection that is intrinsic to being human. And dare I say it, is Sehnsucht, in disguise.

First written by Lewis in a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths about friendship (November 1959):

Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year after year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say "Here at last is the thing I was made for." We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want....

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thoughtful whimsy

There must be something about the name... because two of my favourite illustrators are called Edward.

First there's Edward Gorey, whose macarbe, yet beautiful gothic etchings frame my wardrobe. I think I've blogged about him before.

And then there's Edward Monkton. You've probably seen his cards being sold around the place. Just this week I bought my friend a Monkton Birthday card. What I loved about it was, no where did it say Happy Birthday. Instead, it made a fanciful comparison between the person I intended to send it to and an aeroplane. It was perfect.

I don't love all his cards - some seem too silly or untrue. But in general, I find that like all good comedy, the universal truths contained within (longing, beauty, a paradox, a quirk of life) sneak up on you and then won't leave for a little while. It's thoughtful whimsy - my kind of humour. So I figured I would share a few with you.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Broken Bells/Insane Lullaby

Broken Bells is a collaboration of the Shins' James Mercer and Dangermouse. This song is originally from Dark Night Of The Soul, a new album featuring songs written and produced by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse; James Mercer is a guest vocalist on this track. But I actually prefer the stripped back version that he performs as Broken Bells - which is this version. Apparently they dedicate it at shows to Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) who committed suicide not long ago.

There's an even more sparse home video of Mercer and Dangermouse playing acoustically in a house somewhere on the NPR All Songs Considered blog here.

just because

illustration by anna emilia

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Things to treasure

# Watching a four week old baby fall asleep in your arms

# Friends that, upon hearing your voice slowly dying to the flu, tell you to come out, drink whisky and sing like Janis Joplin.

# Bosses that send you home early because, as indicated above, you sound like a strangled animal

# Roast duck, artichoke and orange salad, and a chocolate tart cooked by Mum. Realising you haven't eaten that well since, well, last time you went home.

# Carrying old furniture out to the nature strip and then realising it was hand-embroidered by your Grandmother and suddenly wanting it back.

# Grasping the death of Christ all over again

# Washing up while listening to the story of a 10 year old girl who became pen pals with a Latin American dictator

# Eating yoghurt flavoured gelato

# Long-distance phone calls

# Short-distance hugs

Monday, July 12, 2010

Winnie the Pooh explains Sehnsucht

image by danske

"...although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called." - WtheP

I just picked up an essay I wrote last semester - The home and frontier in American literature and film: Sennsucht and the civilising force.

I was surprised to learn my lecturer had not read the Carson McCuller's essay, "Look Homeward, Americans", that I based it on. McCullers' essay was originally brought to my attention through discussing sehnsucht on here. So by extension, my lecturer is thanking you, the blog world, as am I. It was a great springboard to think from, even if painful to squeeze into academic form. I think Sehnsucht is something I will continue to come back to, especially as The Weight of Glory by C.S Lewis is still on my to read list.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Today printers whirr, keys are hit like a broken piano, public servants drone and a cop evades the truth. I smell a bowl of oranges and freshly brewed coffee.

Yesterday I heard wind hugging the bay and dogs barking, their yelps fading into the sun.

On the weekend I saw waves talking to the shoreline; each crash another conversation in a cacophany of water and sand.
Just now a paper bag crushes against a hand, a nose is blown. A story is told and people's faces contort.