Archive for December, 2013

Thinking Like a Mountain

December 26, 2013

A deep chesty bawl echoes from rimrock to rimrock, rolls down the mountain, and fades into the far blackness of the night. It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world. Every living thing (and perhaps many a dead one as well) pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet. Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.

Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion about them.

My own conviction on this score dates from the day I saw a wolf die. We were eating lunch on a high rimrock, at the foot of which a turbulent river elbowed its way. We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.

In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy: how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable slide-rocks.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

Since then I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.

I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

We all strive for safety, prosperity, comfort, long life, and dullness. The deer strives with his supple legs, the cowman with trap and poison, the statesman with pen, the most of us with machines, votes, and dollars, but it all comes to the same thing: peace in our time. A measure of success in this is all well enough, and perhaps is a requisite to objective thinking, but too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.

— Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

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Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds

December 26, 2013
Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds

Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds

Winter of last year, Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman did a tour in the US, every note of which has been recorded, and released as a multi-album set FingerPainting.

Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds is recorded in San Jose on 1 February 2013 at the home of Paula Chacon on the 5th date on the tour.

Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds features Artemis on vocals on Kaleidoscope.

Entrevista Exclusiva con Paulo Coelho

December 26, 2013

Interview with Paulo Coelho, in Spanish (en español).

Wayfarers Nativity

December 25, 2013
wayfarers nativity

wayfarers nativity

Merry Christmas!

Painting by Rima Staines.

Angels We Have Heard on High

December 25, 2013

Christmas greetings from ThePianoGuys.

Merry Christmas from Brighton

December 25, 2013
Christmas Card Brighton

Christmas Card Brighton

Christmas on Brighton beach.

One Rolex short of contentment

December 24, 2013

That they are crass, brash and trashy goes without saying. But there is something in the pictures posted on Rich Kids of Instagram (and highlighted by The Guardian last week) that inspires more than the usual revulsion towards crude displays of opulence. There is a shadow in these photos – photos of a young man wearing all four of his Rolex watches, a youth posing in front of his helicopter, endless pictures of cars, yachts, shoes, mansions, swimming pools, spoilt white boys throwing gangster poses in private jets – of something worse; something that, after you have seen a few dozen, becomes disorienting, even distressing.

four Rolexes

four Rolexes

burning money

burning money

bar bill

bar bill

The pictures are, of course, intended to incite envy. They reek instead of desperation. The young men and women seem lost in their designer clothes, dwarfed and dehumanised by their possessions, as if ownership has gone into reverse. A girl’s head barely emerges from the haul of Chanel, Dior and Hermes shopping bags she has piled onto her vast bed. It’s captioned “shoppy shoppy” and “#goldrush”, but a photograph whose purpose is to illustrate plenty seems instead to depict a void. She’s alone with her bags and her image in the mirror, in a scene that seems saturated with despair.

drowning in bags

drowning in bags

Perhaps I am projecting my prejudices. But an impressive body of psychological research appears to support these feelings. It suggests that materialism, a trait that can afflict both rich and poor, which the researchers define as “a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social image they project”, is both socially destructive and self-destructive. It smashes the happiness and peace of mind of those who succumb to it. It’s associated with anxiety, depression and broken relationships.

swimming pool

swimming pool

There has long been a correlation observed between materialism, a lack of empathy and engagement with others, and unhappiness. But research conducted over the past few years appears to show causation.

For example, a series of studies published in June in the journal Motivation and Emotion showed that as people become more materialistic, their well-being (good relationships, autonomy, a sense of purpose and the rest) diminishes. As they become less materialistic, it rises.

In one study, the researchers tested a group of 18-year-olds, then re-tested them 12 years later. They were asked to rank the importance of different goals: jobs, money and status on one side, self-acceptance, fellow feeling and belonging on the other. They were then given a standard diagnostic test to identify mental health problems. At the ages of both 18 and 30, materialistic people were more susceptible to disorders. But if in that period they became less materialistic, their happiness improved.

giant sofa

giant sofa

In another study, the psychologists followed Icelanders weathering their country’s economic collapse. Some people became more focused on materialism, in the hope of regaining lost ground. Others responded by becoming less interested in money and turning their attention to family and community life. The first group reported lower levels of well-being, the second group higher levels.

These studies, while suggestive, demonstrate only correlation. But the researchers then put a group of adolescents through a church programme designed to steer children away from spending and towards sharing and saving. The self-esteem of materialistic children on the programme rose significantly, while that of materialistic children in the control group fell. Those who had little interest in materialism before the programme experienced no change in self-esteem.

in the plane

in the plane

Another paper, published in Psychological Science, found that people in a controlled experiment who were repeatedly exposed to images of luxury goods, to messages which cast them as consumers rather than citizens and to words associated with materialism (such as buy, status, asset and expensive), experienced immediate but temporary increases in material aspirations, anxiety and depression. They also became more competitive, more selfish, had a reduced sense of social responsibility and were less inclined to join demanding social activities. The researchers point out that as we are repeatedly bombarded with such images through advertisements, and constantly described by the media as consumers, these temporary effects could be triggered more or less continuously.

A third paper, published (ironically) in the Journal of Consumer Research, studied 2,500 people for six years. It found a two-way relationship between materialism and loneliness: materialism fosters social isolation; isolation fosters materialism. People who are cut off from others attach themselves to possessions. This attachment in turn crowds out social relationships.

The two varieties of materialism which have this effect – using possessions as a yardstick of success and seeking happiness through acquisition – are the varieties that seem to be on display at Rich Kids of Instagram. It was only after reading this paper that I understood why those photos distressed me: they look like a kind of social self-mutilation.

my painting

my painting

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why an economic model based on perpetual growth continues on its own terms to succeed, though it may leave a trail of unpayable debts, mental illness and smashed relationships. Social atomisation may be the best sales strategy ever devised, and continuous marketing looks like an unbeatable programme for atomisation.

Materialism forces us into comparison with the possessions of others, a race both cruelly illustrated and crudely propelled by that toxic website. There is no end to it. If you have four Rolexes while another has five, you are a Rolex short of contentment. The material pursuit of self-esteem reduces your self-esteem.

posing with bottles

posing with bottles

I should emphasise that this is not about differences between rich and poor: the poor can be as susceptible to materialism as the rich. It is a general social affliction, visited upon us by government policy, corporate strategy, the collapse of communities and civic life and our acquiescence in a system that is eating us from the inside out.

This is the dreadful mistake we are making: allowing ourselves to believe that more money and more stuff enhances our well-being, a belief possessed not only by those poor deluded people in the pictures, but by almost every member of almost every government. Worldly ambition, material aspiration, perpetual growth: these are a formula for mass unhappiness.

— George Monbiot

Published by George Monbiot on his blog.

Materialism, far from making us happy, increasing our well-being, simply destroys our lives.

In the last few days before Christmas, the news was how much is being spent, is it more or less than last year. No one questioned this mindless consumption.

In conversation with Dougald Hine in Dark Mountain 4, Gustavo Esteva makes the point poverty is relative. He worked with poor peasants and contrary to the received view, he found them to be happy.

Install a new kitchen because that is what the marketing says you want. It dies not improve the cooking skills, this despite cookbooks are the best-sellers. Quality food is not bought from local suppliers, no, the cheapest rubbish the supermarket has to offer.

We are not poor because we lack the latest iPhone, clothes with a trendy fashion label.

When not engaged in mindless consumption, sat like zombies in front of a widescreen TV watching garbage.

I only have one Rolex, a Montegrappa pen. Do I need more? No.

Christmas at Bethlehem

December 24, 2013
Bethlehem Christmas

Bethlehem Christmas

Christmas as experienced in Bethlehem.

Cappuccino and latte at Stokes on High Bridge

December 24, 2013
coffee beans

coffee beans

teas

teas

cappuccino and latte and cookie

cappuccino and latte and cookie

Excellent cappuccino and latte at Stokes on High Bridge, but then I expect no less from Stokes.

I knew to get there before ten o’clock as from ten onwards, packed, but already busy and had to wait for a table in their little coffee shop. I looked upstairs, packed.

Sad not to find the staff from last year.

It is a pity Stokes were not able to acquire next door and expand their coffee shop. It has been taken over by a tacky pie shop, which lowers the tone and is completely out of character with the building.

Top Story in Daily Cup of Joe (Boxing Day Thursday 26 December 2013).

Morning of Christmas Eve in Lincoln

December 24, 2013
Lincoln Cathedral

Lincoln Cathedral from The Strait

The weather was so bad the day and night before, bad storm, heavy rain, strong winds, that I had decided not to go into Lincoln, but then checking the weather forecast, I saw there was going to be a break, cold, windy, but not raining, until the evening.

Surprising, little traffic going into Lincoln, the roads almost deserted. Maybe everyone else had the same thought, bad weather, plus Christmas Eve, the town will be packed, best avoided.

I arrived a little before 10am, the High Street not too busy. I knew to head straight for Stokes on High Bridge for a coffee. Get in before 10am, not busy, from 10am until 4pm, it is packed.

Sad to find none of the staff I knew are there. Depressing a tacky pie shop has opened next door, which lowers the tone.

Occasional lunchtime live music at Stokes at The Collection.

Looked in the Central Market. The little wholefood stall has music by Karl Svarc, not that you would know this as not on display. You have to know, know to ask. I was in luck, Karl Svarc himself dropped by. We had a long chat. I said a must, upload his albums on bandcamp, can then embed on his website, not re-invent an inferior wheel, and not a rip-off like iTunes, Amazon or Spotify. I also suggested he check out Steve Lawson and Imogen Heap, apart from being great musicians, they are also innovative in their use of internet. Steve Lawson recorded a tour last year, to be released as a multi-album set FingerPainting. Imogen Heap is releasing Sparks as a special limited edition deluxe set.

Serendipity plays a big part in what we find, be it books or music. It was through serendipity that I came across Karl Svarc, music on a wholefood stall. Far from killing the music industry, technology has provided opportunities.

Karl did not have his latest album. He offered to drop in the post. I said not to worry, I would pick up next week.

I was shocked to find Café 44 closed down. At least looked closed down, as all boarded up.

Revival, lovely coffee bar cum arts centre at the end of Sincil Street not open.

It is tragic much of Sincil Street is earmarked for redevelopment, destroying Victorian buildings and local businesses, but that is what happens when corrupt local councils get into bed with greedy developers.