Monday, December 22, 2008

Shaping Tomorrow

I just re-read a post that I made on a online group that I belong to called Shaping Tomorrow which is a group of futurists. I thought it spoke to my passion and the overall image that I am getting of our economy and the points at which I think we need to put some pressure in the hope of effecting change.

I think the fundamental question is why is the system rewarding excessive consumption, massive flows of money and huge deficits and debts? How did this come about and what drove this process? American's are certainly the "largest" consumers but there are many other consumers in the world. I know I was shocked when I went to Asia and saw the massive malls and the huge desire to consume and posses stuff - it is not only an American phenomenon we are just the leaders.

The economy rewards the creation of useless products - trinkets, environmentally destructive extraction and production technologies, and "over-spending". Why?

Our economy grows when we "consume" and shrinks when we don't. It is what drives us - it is like having a constant carrot and stick scenario in our collective conscience. The reality is the economy is not something that operates without humans - however it can create and incentivize certain human behaviours leading often to problematic outcomes. This is why Stiglitz is one of my favorite economists because he realizes that the economy is actually part of us - rather then us as part of the economy.

We need to seriously reevaluate the values and behaviours our economic system incentivizes and work at changing that. I think it is pretty simple - value abundant clean resources, value industries and products that are zero waste and zero negative environmental costs, value human sustenance through cooperation, remove scarcity as the central driving factor of the pricing mechanism and create a pricing system that assigns increased value to increased abundance of life sustaining resources.

Just some thoughts!!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Time Magazine Talks About Complementary Currencies

I think it is really cool that Time Magazine did a three page article about complementary currencies. You can check it out here.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Netsquared/USAID Challenge Proposal

I have a submitted a proposal to the Netsquared.org/USAID challenge and I would love all of you to take a moment and go on over and register and vote for my project. I have until the 12th of December to get enough votes to get into the top 15.

The short description of my project:
Develop a mobile phone m-banking application aimed at enabling the creation of community based complementary currencies. Using open-source software, FrontlineSMS, the application would operate in much the same way as Wizzit and mPesa.

We will be working closely with Ken Banks who helped create FrontlineSMS - and whose technology is involved with the very successful Ushahidi.

There is much written on the net about complementary currencies of which there are over 1,900 currently in operation. From Switzerland to USA to Argentina to South Africa and on to New Zealand and Malaysia to Japan. Some of these are even sanctioned by governments and can be used to pay local taxes.

As we can all see in today's world there are series questions around the viability of our current financial system. We all see very clearly that when our national currency fails to circulate we are left with almost no means of trading with each other. This is not because I don't have something to sell that someone wants to buy - rather the missing ingredient is money.

My goal is to explore ways of adding additional resiliency to our financial system - one that has multiple layers of currencies. Not to end the national currency but rather to add to the system (a lot of this thinking is based on ideas of complex systems and their need for resiliency over efficiency). There are other inherent issues that are raised by the way our money is created that will ultimately need to be addressed - the false scarcity, the need for perpetual growth, the problems of compounded interest and the competitive nature that the system helps propagate.

Ultimately creating complementary currencies and getting them into the poorest communities could offer some novel development opportunities. The problem in these communities, once again, is not that no one has labor to sell or doesn't need stuff. The problem is no one has the means to pay each other!!

Okay I think I need to leave it at that. I have of course dropped some big ideas without indepth explanations. But, I wanted to keep this shorter then it already is.

So if this seems interesting and you want to help vote for my project!! (pretty please)


Friday, November 28, 2008

The Green Festival Website Needs More Social Media Elements

I wanted to followup my previous with some ideas about how the Green Festival website could advance the role it plays in the festival.

I think first it is important to emphasize that this is a really powerful part of the current community building, especially around issues of sustainability, green economics and much more.

Having said this the presence of the festival in the multiple blogging and social network platforms could be greatly increased and would also help cultivate lasting conversations and communities beyond the short 2-day event.

Some ideas include:

1) Create profiles, groups and pages in different social networks. Actively participate and keep your groups and profiles cultivated. Some examples of social networks could include Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Myspace and many more.

2) Create locally specific resources that are community created and accessed via bulletin boards or forums. These could also link directly into existing networks in the communities that are hosting the festival.

3) Set-up a live web-cast of the talks for those in other parts of the world and within the USA that don't live in the bigger cities and struggle to access these types of conversations.

4) Work at linking up with similar festivals around the world and create a single networked space were ideas can be transfered, conversations can be shared and ultimately a large global community could flower. There may be something out there already that this could link into actively.

I am sure there are other ideas that could be used here and I feel that there could really be some active community based marketing that would help get a larger story out and perhaps lead to gatherings occuring at and during the festivals that in them selves would be powerful catalysts for change and community growing.

San Francisco Green Festival

I have been meaning to share my thoughts on the recent San Francisco Green Festival that happened in the first week of November. I have been to several of the festivals, my first time as a volunteer about 5 years ago. The last few times as a "helper" for my friends over at Blue Lotus Blankets.

As with all festivals that you go to some years are better than other years. And I believe this was true for this festival too. I saw some really great talks from John Adams, Kevin Danaher and Riane Eisler. All three were very powerful and uplifting talks - dealing with paradigm shifts the green economy and new economics. Relevant and important conversations.

My concern came from walking around the festival and looking at the products that were being sold and the type of "atmosphere" that was being created. I have to admit that it felt like being in a glorified mall. Seriously - there were free samples of "green" chips in throwaway bags, "green" herbal drinks in plastic bottles, "green" health bars in wrappers, "green" beer being served in plastic bottles, stacks of magazines and newspapers.

In the end it felt like a version of a green consumer hell. This is not to takeaway from the really interesting and dynamic businesses and products that were being offered.

My point is that moving from these inspiring talks into the larger halls was like moving from the future back into the past. I was at pains to see the truly green economy, to see a community being developed or to see products that were offering innovative solutions rather then "alternatives" to the crappier product that you didn't really need to begin with.

Don't get me wrong I think that there is much gained from this movement towards greening businesses. I am a big advocate of it in many ways. What the festival really felt like it was saying is, hey listen to us talk, feel good, then go ahead and pick up some chips in a single use bag and head over to drink some beer out of those non-recyclable plastic beer glasses.

Co-op America says that they screen all of the businesses that join the festival and that this is a pretty stringent screening. But I failed to see what the message was that they were trying to convey via the businesses that they allowed to participate. I don't see how selling stuff solves the problem of over-consumption and environmental destruction. I have heard the argument of, "well, if they are going to buy a bed then wouldn't you prefer they bought a "green" bed?" My response is of course. But, a bed and a health bar, a magazine or a bottle of some herbal drink are very different things.

It forces the question of what is it that we NEED to life a decent life? What is SUFFICIENT?

The point is that if every person on the planet got up every day and purchased a "green" health bar or packet of chips that were packaged in a throwaway wrapper we would still be in huge trouble - no matter how green the product was, there are still finite resources. This is not sustainable.

This is not green, and the Green Festival has lost its focus and is not helping to change and redirect consumption behaviour but rather to offer people the opportunity to sustain the type of consumerist life styles that Americans, and many other people around the world have become accustomed to.

I am saddened by this development and I hope that the next festivals are more geared towards promoting community and a focus on what is a sufficient life style verse a sustained lifestyle.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Posts in the Making

I have been meaning to post on the blog for a while. I have been busy but have several posts lining up - some partly written others much more conceptual

1) My thoughts on the green festival in SF
2) Value - Use vs Exchange in Adam Smith
3) My latest ideas on my grad school research - alternative/complementary currencies and the use of mobile technology
4) Cre8 my wife's incredibly successful fundraiser http://www.messymonkeyarts.com/cre8

Perhaps couple more. I hope to write some of these next week when my life will slow down a bit. I have been doing lots of job hunting and networking, helping to organize events for Kelly, doing some research for others and just generally catching up with the non-virtual world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Deeply Engaged

I am deeply engaged with exploring ideas and theories of
value and how they relate to our system of money and the creation of
wealth and economic development. I have been exploring a concept of
"infinite" value. The goal of this approach, is to get our economy to
recognize that which is abundant but valuable - rather then the
reverse, the economy only valuing that which is scarce.

My classic example is the case of clean air. It is an abundant
resource, but holds infinite value - there is no way we can put a
price on it as without it we are dead and any reduction of the
"value" of this resource (eg. pollution) is a loss of value for all.
Currently our economy only values these type of resources from the
negative side - you can pay for the right to pollute via carbon
credits or fines. This to me is only a band-aid and will not solve
the ultimate problem.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Comment on openmoney.ning

I have been exploring the writings and conversations on the http://openmoney.ning.com network and came across an article by Eric Harris-Braun

"But what our current monetary system cannot structurally decide at all is what wealth itself is. That question is not decidable within the monetary system, it takes it as an axiom"

I think this is the most critical element to understand. And this is where the meta-system concept really becomes clear. Part of what this talks to is the fact that people are not empowered in this money system. Value is a product of a reflexive relationship between all the members of society.

Hegel, the German philosopher, talked about how the concept of private property (which is used as the root of wealth creation in this current system) is only private property because others choose to recognize it as such. This is where the collective consciousness comes into play. If I say something is private property (or public property) and no one recognizes it as such then well - no matter how loud I yell - it still will not be private property until others recognize it as such.

I believe this same concept holds for value. Our monetary system does not have the ability to recognize value in things that we, as a society, have not yet created a viable value structure for. A system that includes and recognizes these sets of values. For me a concept of "infinite value" - a value that encompasses that which is so valuable as to prevent the possibility of ever actually putting a price on it, you can't buy it, you have no right to destroy it and it is non-tradable - is a critical part of the process.

The idea is to create a value that recognizes things that are abundant but critical - elements that are not driven by a concept of scarcity value. I believe the work of a new monetary meta-system is critical to this process as the current system does not have the capacity to incorporate this value structure.

I am excited to participate, watch and collaborate with all those that recognize this critical element in our society and economy.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Value

I think one of the most fundamental issues here is a concept of value. If we use Hegelian thinking we can come to the conclusion that most of our concept of value has been derived from its "recognized" value. In other words much of what we buy and consume only has a value - and a price point - in part because others want it or said another way, recognize it as having value.

This is where our value system, as currently theorized, breaks down. Our environment has a value that our current value system - and hence our monetary system - has no way to identify. It is because the value system is based on a concept of scarcity - we have theorized that which holds more value is in greater scarcity.

How then do we deal with that which is abundant but incredibly valuable? Like clean air or clean water? How do we create a value system that recognizes this? So, that our monetary system can represent this value and ultimately give us the ability to protect and rightfully share that value? Which, will lead to a continued "wealth".

I propose an idea of "infinite value". Infinity is a number, a mathematical variable that we can use and incorporate into our "writing/language". If we can theorize a value system that knows how to contain everything from the "zero" value to the "infinite" value then we can start to invest a concept of a recognizable value that has meaning to our monetary system and apply this to our clean water and air.

I believe this approach will bring us closer to being able to protect and "grow" our wealth that is most clearly stored in that which is abundant and holds infinite value.

Incentives

This is a quick post - but I just watched this very short video on CNN about pollution in China. This is a story that we have heard a few times and it is one of great concern with such rapid industrial growth.

My question ultimately is how do you build a different incentive structure into the economy so that there is no reward for pollution and the destruction of something as important as fresh water. I think that laws and policies are always just a band-aid and as long as there is incentive - monetary - that you gain from polluting and "reducing" costs then these things will keep happening.

This is why it is a much deeper question, a question that we have to truly explore and understand why our economy rewards this behaviour when it is so obvious that it is the last thing that should be rewarded.

I continue to explore this in a deep way through understanding our monetary system and our concept of value that our monetary system is set up to represent. I have been exploring such organizations as The Transitioner and other such groups. I think this is a very, very fundamental question we need to answer.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Africa Image

As someone that grew up in Africa, poor but not abject, and have traveled to some of the poorest parts of Africa I agree that "happiness" is experienced often regardless of your "material" conditions.

This said - there are basics that we all need, to feel a sense of "humanity". They are age old things that the great philosophers have talked about for eons. In modern terms they are things like - fresh water, food, clothing, security and a place to sleep.

In America we think that this means - Gucci, 3600 sq foot houses, every imaginable food and more. We have excess but think it is what will get us closer to satisfaction and happiness.
Africa needs to build up the basic necessities - this is what leaders in Africa are starting to talk about.

The image of Africa in America is sooo distorted - but this is true for the image of America in Africa too.

We all come up with easy to grab soundbites. It is our challenge as citizens to change those views and challenge those perceptions.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Change

I get so furious and sad. In fact it brings me close to tears. The fact that we are so trapped in a story of our own creation and most of us don't even realize it. Those of us that do are not really sure what to do with this information - not to mention that our society constantly tells us that we are wrong to think that there is an alternative or that maybe there is something inherently wrong with this system - this culture!

I am not just referring to American culture or even European culture. I am talking about western culture but also the overarching human cultural story of violence, power, sex and capitalism. It is not that these are the only cultures that have or do exist. In fact we know that there are far more healthy ways to co-exist.

I just heard Derrik Jensen on the radio show Flashpoints on KPFA. I had not heard of him before but he spoke so blatantly to the ugly truth of our cultural situation. Sure - he may be attempting to highlight and emphasize the outliers in our culture - the extremes. But, he is right to do so in an attempt to capture the story line and the space in our media. What he said, that really struck me, actually there were two things that he said.

First, that when you seriously think about it and recognize the fact that when the Europeans arrived here in the USA they had been living here for close on 12,000 years. That the entire land was in pristine shape, that they lived decent lives filled with leisure and a deep sense of community (this is not to say that there were not issues and troubles with their lives).

In the course of the subsequent 400 years we have managed to pollute, decimate, and wipe out most of what was indigenous about this land. Were are we now? Well, according to the EPA you can't drink out of a single river or stream in the US because they are almost all poisoned with carcinogens. We have to work to earn salaries to buy food because all the wild food has been killed, co-modified or fenced off.

Somewhere along the line a sense of value and worth has been lost. The fact that we are part and parcel of this place has been removed from our sense of being. Derrik may say that this is a form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome - that we live in a culture that traumatizes us from start to end; through our schooling systems, our police forces, our media of violence and sexism, our constant reminder to be afraid and our sense of having to work as slaves to the dollar bill.

Repeated stress, repeated trauma with no relaxation or down time. No sense of security has been emphasized, a sense of the ability to explore, to be who you are and to do what is natural to you and me.

I sit in my life now - at 30 years of age with my stunning wife and my beautiful baby and I wonder what I can do as a husband and father to provide the space and community that will raise a baby filled with a sense of safety and love, compassion and exploration. How do we do this in our own lives? How do we engage this in a way that both transforms our selves and our culture?

I wish I had the complete answer here. But, what I do know is that I do not want to be a slave to my money to the need to earn dollars, to be afraid and to feel stressed and overwhelmed. These things make us operate from a place of adrenaline and leads us to see life in a vision of a tunnel - thereby excluding options and opportunities that are there but outside of our tunnel.

I know that my contribution to this is around exploring and evangelizing a new form of value thinking - of what we value, how we value it and why we value it.

To me this is one of the roots of our problem - one of the big lies we have been fed. That of value! We need to value things that are not valued things that can't actually be commodified and that is why it is such a threatening space to go into. Because, as far as our economic and cultural system is concerned - if you can't commoditize it it holds no value. The problem is that the things that are of some of the highest value are not things at all but are rather rights and access. "fresh water" "clean air" "access to healthy food" "clean environment" "the right to rest" "the right to health care" "the right to relaxation and compassion"

What I do know is that I need to make this change in my life as quickly as possible because there is not much time to sort this out. There is no time to wait to see what happens - I need to voice my voice to share my ideas and help to lead this change - because this change will not occur till enough of us choose to lead.

I don't know what this is nor where it is going. But - I hope we will all help each other get there with love, compassion and joy!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Revalue Value

I think I am pretty convinced by much of the economics that exists today - I think that corporations have many incredible functions, that money serves a purpose that will not be easily replaced, trade certainly has its advantages as do certain clusters of specialization's. Therefore I wonder what drives the economy to destroy the very backbone of our existence? Is it because the economy is something separate from us? Has it really become so unembedded (to play of Karl Polayni)? Perhaps it has, perhaps we as a a society have forgotten that we created this entity, this thing called the economy. It is a product of human ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness. It is not something separate from us like water, and sky - rather it is something that will not exist after us, it did not exist before us and perhaps we may even be able to live without it.

Therefore it is about taking ownership of the economy - not in a revolutionary overthrow the rich or the powerful. No, I am actually talking about it in a much more participatory and creative process. I like to think of it very academically but actually it is something far more creative actually something co-creative. It is a creation of a theoretical understanding and interpretation of our society and how we "need" to exist. The economy has been and continues to be in many different forms - socialist, capitalist, communist, authoritarian etc...there is a long list of many smaller and more refined understandings of these economic differences.

What I am after is how do we recreate our economy from a fundamental point - from the point of value! How is value understood and interpreted. And, why do certain things, the things that we hold to be the most sacred in so many levels hold minimal value in our economic system? How do we add to the story of our economy a new understanding of value. I play with it by calling it Infinite Value - this is a value that encompasses that which holds so much value due to its critical role in our sustenance as people.

This is my effort at going at the understanding that we do not need to save the planet - I am 100% certain that the planet will live long beyond our existence. The thing that needs saving is us and the way we can save ourselves is by valuing what is critical to our survival. This is not a dictatorial approach or a "rule" based approach that tries to constrain the behavior of people and companies with a set of arbitrary regulations that have been placed after long battles. No, this is rather an attempt to get the economy to recognize the value of certain elements upfront despite their apparent abundance or short-term lack of utility.

We need an economy that takes this into consideration. The economy is based on value and value is based on ideas that we have theorized and put together in books like Marx and Smith etc...It is at this place that we step into a realm that starts getting a bit more complicated. The essence, and to keep it simple for this post, is that I want to see how I can incorporate a value concept that recognizes that which is critical and holds Infinite Value.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Synopsis - I think

What I am trying to get at is the difference in ways of thinking and how effective these are in creating different types of opportunities and realities for us. This thinking is deeply embedded in Quantum Physics, Sciences of Cognition and in understandings of theory.

How we frame what it is that we believe we are experiencing leads us to identify certain limitations that may only exist because of the way we have theorized and framed our reality. If we can rewire the framework (the theory) that we have founded our reality on new opportunities will suddenly appear, along with new limitations. This is actually a very powerful concept that we can all use in our lives and always creates a sense of empowerment and hope. As long as we recognize that we have the most power over our thoughts and minds we can always find some new set of opportunities we previously would have never have recognized.


It is at this intersection that I want to explore the theory of value. How has value being theorized in a capatilist monetary based system and how has value actually landed up manifesting itself. This then leads into how can we add an additional element to value and create the ability for it to recognize things that hold a type of infinite value due to their i) critical importance to our survival ii) there current relative abundance iii) that certain things hold value prior to their relative scarcity.

The Power of Thoughts

So often we forget that there are power dynamics at play, that there are structural limitations in place (in some ways these may be slightly open to our interpretation and I think that quantum physics may have something to say about this). However one of the most powerful things that I have seen in action in my own life most clearly is our "state of thoughts".

In fact I think I want to coin this term. This is the most powerful force in our active lives, it is the one element that we actually have the most power over. The more we can rewire our brains to notice love, compassion, opportunity, light, empowerment and to associate our bodies with these thoughts the closer we get to a sense of satisfaction and calm. This is truly what we are after and it brings us a step closer to happiness.

I also think that this idea can be extrapolated outwards and incorporate and entire town, city, state, country and continent and ultimately globe. You see - how we all think about our lives impacts everything around us and most critically ourselves.

When I move from one space to another, one country to another we are empowered to realize the power of this thinking mechanism, this creating of reality and this experiential experience that we all go through.

When you leave America you realize that our culture is not really the "global culture" we are lead to believe it is. You also realize that we are not the only ones creating it and that ideas are just as permeable from there to here as they are from here to there. This is were the power dynamic actually starts getting really interesting in my mind.

It is actually part of the power dynamic - the light verse the dark perhaps - call the parts what you want but I think it plays into a level of the power dynamic. Why is it so often that those that believe in opportunity and success, empowerment and light succeed in their ways regardless of where they start in life?

You see it is the actual sustaining force - it is this that we work at trying to share with those around us. This is what is infectious, this is what makes America a wonderful place, it is also part of what is currently crumbling here in America and growing in other places, most importantly and interestingly for me, this includes Africa as a whole and most specifically South Africa.

When I go back to SA I experience the difference of the mindset I also see the mindset of my family and of their community. I contrast this with my community here and those I surround myself with. They are very different communities and they also live very different lives of economic opportunity. Okay, this can just be a structural difference - America has more money, more education and therefore more opportunity.

My first response to this is that there are plenty of people in SA living very successful and materially comfortable lives. It is, therefore, not a structural thing that plays the dominant role here in my opinion. The real difference is the difference of thinking - America was poor once too. It has had other advantages - slavery amongst its biggest. However, this can not account for all the difference. Okay - I may be going down a rabbits hole here...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Babalife & Babajob

I have always believed that traveling is a good thing to do. It broadens your spectrum and you get to see ideas, things and concepts that you would never have previously come across. I have traveled to many places and one of the most interesting and different places I have been is India. It is a place filled with such a type of dynamism that it is hard to put your finger on it. I only spent 10 days in southern India a few years ago and it was truly a magical experience.

So it was with no surprise that, while doing research into SMS technology that I came across Babalife and Babajob.
They are sister companies that provide social networking for job seekers and job hunters. The really incredible aspect of it is it is primarily built around the ability to utilize SMS technology. You, as someone looking for a worker, can query the system via SMS. While checking on the background of people via your social network - how are they connected to you or people you know. Kind of a six-degree's of separation idea.

This is brilliant!! I have to tell you. And, it is something that so speaks to how the rest of the world is going to grow up interacting with the web. Their interactions are not going to be computer based - rather they are going to interact via cell phones. They are going to text, use WAP and eventually 3G cell based interactivity.

I realized this while I was in South Africa this winter. Everyone outside of the USA uses text way more then voice, not to mention the cell phone is so much more ubiquitous. In fact - it is the primary life line for the majority of people. Many of these people have never had a land line, never mind a high-speed internet connection.

You see we forget that the way we interact with the web is not universal and that the future is going to be very different for the majority of the world. India is showing that as are many other companies that are emerging from the rest of the world.

I of course have not used Babalife or Babajob, but even if the service is not very reliable the technology and the structure are what will be the start of a whole much bigger revolution. It is like cell phones are still in the "dial-up" phase with the MS-Dos screen.

More to come......I'm sure of it!!!

Friday, May 16, 2008

TED Africa 2008 - Canceled

Okay - well I will be the first to admit that I am completely biased towards anything positive and exciting about Africa. After all I am an African and grew up on the continent. After 15 years of living in the USA I will be returning to explore opportunities, to enjoy the sun and to relax on the beach all while ingesting the loveliness and magic of the African soil.

So, it was with a very sad heart that I saw this blog post from one of my favorite African bloggers - TED Africa Canceled. The reasoning appears to be pretty vague - something about the delay in getting licenses sorted out. I am not sure - I wish I knew more about why because I would gladly donate my time to getting the conference to happen.

For those of you that have not heard of the TED Conferences you should most certainly check out there website. The original conferences happened in Monterey, California and have brought together some of the most exciting and greatest minds in a broad range of fields - technology, arts, academia and more. There conferences are legendary and I have salivated (as has my wife) thinking about having the blessing of attending one of these workshops.

In true form to the basic motto or goal of the TED conference: "Ideas Worth Spreading" they hosted a TED Global in Arusha, Tanzania in 2007. This was a very successful conference and everyone was excited about a followup in another part of Africa. Perhaps it would be better to host it again in Tanzania, after all they already have the know-how and have done it before.

I am South African and would love to see it hosted in SA - but I would rather see it happen in Africa this year then it not happening at all. Who knows, perhaps something miraculous will happen and it will be pulled together. In the mean time other efforts will continue I am sure.

I think what this all points too is the growing importance of the "emergent economies" of the world. (Yes, emergent and not emerging - think about it and let me know if you have a question about the use of the term). These economies in Africa, Asia and S. America are going to reshape the world over the next 20 to 30 years. The odds are shifting - you can feel it in the air (or at least I can) - and these places are where so much ingenuity and creativity is going to explode into the global scene. This time, I hope and I pray, that the "forgotten" part of the world will actually prosper and benefit and show how it can all be done differently.

Hopefully the NextEinstein will be from Africa!! I am almost certain that he/she will.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Emptiness-Hidden Potential

I have started reading a book called "The Diamond Cutter" by Geshe Michael Roach**. I have only read the first 4 chapters and have found it rather interesting. The subtitle of the book is: The Buddha on Strategies for Managing your Business and Your Life.

I know that the subtitle makes it sound kind of cheesy. And, I wouldn't normally pick up a book like this. But it came highly recommended by my wonderful father, who I turn to regularly for reading material.

The first major "lesson" in the book is around the concept of Emptiness or Hidden Potential. In summary the idea is that everything in our lives has hidden potential and that that potential in great part is dependent on our perception. That any single event, person or action acquires differing values dependent on the perception of the person viewing/experiencing the action or event.

For me personally this is nothing new. It is one of the things that I have struggled to integrate into my life for a long time. It requires you to kind of take a step back and evaluate things very differently. Or, at least, that is how I have gone about dealing with it.

This being said how does one pay attention to the way we are perceiving things? Can one change one's perception? If so, how do you go about doing that? I think that these are questions that will be answered later on in the book.

I have had a recent experience with this in my work/career life. I have identified some, what I perceive to be, fundamental flaws in the structure of a certain company that I have interacted with. One could perceive this as a purely negative thing - but this is exactly the crux of the argument. An event, situation, action is not in its purest sense anything more then an empty moment waiting for the varying perceptions that help "define" it. So - something is only what it is through perception.

I think I am going on a little tangent here but I am going to follow it anyway, because I think it gets at some of the esoteric and quantum physics elements of this argument. We know that our perception our "action of watching" an event affects the outcome of it. So, therefore an event or action is more of a container filled with an infinite amount of possibilities. Which possibility actually plays out and how it affects the viewers is dependent in great part by how it is is perceived.

One of the easiest ways to think of it is in the negative/positive dichotomy (though I hate binary thinking). Some people will perceive the collapse of a house as negative; the occupants, the owner. This is an accurate and fair perception. Yet others may perceive it in a positive light; the contractors, the architect. Once again this is an accurate and fair perception after all the collapse of the building has created additional work for these peoples.

So, we have to always remember that an event or an action are not inherently bad or good, but are rather open to multiple perspectives and interpretations all of which may be accurate.

To get back to my story about the "flaws" that I spotted in a business. These flaws can be perceived as "fundamental" and therefore prevent the company from growing in any long term situation. Or, it can be viewed more positively and a solution may be proposed, which is exactly what I did, that provides additional opportunity and creates new "hidden potentials".

What this understanding does on one level is it frees us up from being concerned about the inherent "rights" and "wrongs" - the good and the bad decisions. And, allows us to become far more empowered. We can now affect the outcome because the outcome to a great deal is dependent on our perception. Or rather the result can be interpreted in many different ways.

This is where the personal becomes so important. We have to take control of the situation in our selves, in our minds in our emotions and understand that how we are perceiving things is what is affecting the power of the events. That we can truly affect how experiences effect us.

I will keep you guys posted as I progress through the book and let you know if I have this right according to Roach.


**I want to note here quickly that there is some controversy surrounding Geshe Michael Roache as a person and some of his practices. I am not interested in commenting on this aspect of him personally but rather on his book and some of the ideas that he is sharing. If you want to read more about the controversy check out www.diamond-cutter.org

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Kelly Tells You About Our Trip

Hello All! - near and far, far & wide!

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO'D PREFER NOT TO READ A NOVEL, PICS WILL COME EVENTUALLY!.
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO LIKE THE UPDATE - HERE IT IS!:

O.k. - we've been in Cape Town for 4 months now - we are leaving today!
It's been full of adventure.
We had 12 guests in total - 2 of whom we, unfortunately, had to kick out!, but 10 who were lovely! :)
2 who came for 6 days and 7 nights ( 30 hour+ flights both ways), jet-lag included!
2 who came solo - (I think they had the best time!)...
& the list goes on...
but a few of our very closest friends, whom it was so sweet to share this existence with!
It felt nice to have "home" here with us!

As you may remember, we lived (are still living), RIGHT on the beach.
We woke up (wake up) to the sun rise in our face (literally - we see it in bed), to the wave's crash...
Saul goes down every single morning to meditate, do yoga, and go for his daily swim.
Eyala and I join him sometimes...
(she watches us do yoga) :)
Otherwise, we sit there & watch the sun/eat sand ourselves.
We've gone for MANY a walk!
We did buy a surfboard, signed up for pilates, french, & dance...
all of which we're essentially taking "rain checks" for!
At the end of the day, between work & baby, the walks & sun rises out the window, etc., were all we needed on this round!

what else?
things have happened here.
We've been bombarded by "business ideas".
BASICALLY - this is California at the tip of Africa.
But - this is California at the tip of Africa in the 60's...
it's fresh.
it's fertile.

SAUL:
Basically, this company Saul's been working for - this PR/marketing firm (on-line), has given him the thumb's up to start to manage a "S. African" wing. Basically, Saul is going to be starting his own company with his dad (who also lives here).
They will be outsourcing work here, as it is much cheaper for the company he's working for now to function this way.
Basically, it's in so many words, they're forming a "call center", but via the internet on blogs! - & with integrity & clear intention.
It's not Saul's dream, but yet it is.
It's an opportunity he cannot pass up!
ps - his job has been a sort of crash course in the corporate ring...
we thought it would've made a tantalizing reality show!...with all the main players in Mauritius, South Africa, Germany, India, & the US.

While doing this, he's also looking at a master's program at UCT.

He's also been working heavily on a travel site (more to come on this), with a bunch of guys in Cali, and his dad. This is a very large-scale project, hopefully to be launched sooner than later.
We'll keep you posted on these details!

KELLY:
I, on the other hand, have connected with the UCT Business school for Messy MOnkey!
Our dearest friend Michaelle set up an "incognito" meeting, if you will.
She invited us all out to her sister's country home...us, and a couple of her other friends she thought we might just hit it off with.
Well, firecrackers, my friends...
firecrackers!
The woman is an artist, but has an MBA.
She is connecting me to the most fascinating people in the Monkey world - global.
Basically - she wants me to come back here in August, and work on something called the THINK INDABA.
It's a 2-week intensive "leadership training" program for leaders from all around Africa (usually around 30), who all pay about $8,000 to come take this course.
They want me to do some creative consulting with them, and to integrate some Monkey!
wow. - o.k.!
Cannot pass this up!
But, it's just the tip of the iceberg.
They've also connected me to a company called: CREATEGY (Creativity + Strategy), & HUDDLEMIND - a lab of sorts for creative experimentation of many different kinds...
I've had 5 different meetings re: all of these things since this "incognito" connection occurred!
Again - it's ripe.
It's fresh.
It's California in the 60's.

So - yes, it looks like we must come back here in August.
Think of us as bi-continental people!, 'cause to me, Cali is home.
Oaktown is home!
460 43rd St. is Home!
However, we've gotta follow this lead/these leads!, and eat this ripe fruit!
Opportunity knocks!
(plus, I must say) - living in between the mountains and the sea ain't too bad!
The food is getting better and better!

&, on that note, since we'll be here anyway, I'm starting a farmer's market in this little town we live in!
It's called Kalk Bay, and it's really funky - already.
It's full of hipster color/character, antique stores, fishing boats, and interesting restaurants...mediterranean-style landscape/houses...
BUT, it's seriously missing a good grocery store & a farmer's market!
So - I've already been calling the "council" & meeting with locals to get it sorted.
Since I'll be running it (it'll be called EDIBLE VILLAGE, by the way!)...
I'm also gonna have a taco stand at it, and a coffee cart!
(which they don't have either of yet) - at least not Really!
So - we'll have an umbrella company called: MAMA'S
the coffee cart will be: mama's PAPA DAWG coffee (it'll be drip-coffee, by the way).
&, the taco stand will be: mama's MUCHO BUENO tacos (fresh, stone-ground corn tortillas, heirloom beans & tomatoes, etc.)
we'll start there, and see what happens.

In the meantime, we're excited to go back to Oaktown!
I plan on painting 10 paintings.
I've just been asked to illustrate a children's book.
But, mostly, I plan on hanging out with my Baby!, & all of you! (who apply here! - live locally!),
& work a couple farmer's markets, etc.
do some of that Bay Area stuff I haven't done yet, or in awhile:
full moon kayak,
Yosemite?
Tahoe trip...
lots of bbqs,
brunches...
seek out some good Oaktown gospel church singin'?!
party with Eyala on July 12th (the big: 1)
Speaking of which,

EYALA b.:
aka: bubu:
(almost) walkin'!
2-teethed CUTIE!
She's doing great.
She spent most of her time on her mama in the ergo-carrier walkin' here/walkin' there...jibber-jabberin' to strangers, etc.
You'll see most all of this in the photos.

THE HOUSE:
basically, we've been camping in a huge, 5-bedroom house, which will be Exquisite when it's restored!.
Regardless of that, it is a gem - location! location! location!
hardwood floors are great, white-painted wood ceilings are great, sun room is awesome! -
what we will look forward to upon returning home to Oaktown is:
furniture,
aesthetically pleasing sheets,
a nice shower,
Kiran :),
our hot tub,
& an "average"-sized washer!, & a dryer!
And, a DISHWASHER!!
(btw, we will not stay here on our return).
We are looking for a 3-bedroom cozy spot in Kalk Bay.

IN OTHER NEWS:
we did also experience:
calling in (911) re: a drowning :(
maggots!
potent stomach bugs,
Saul fainting in the bathtub,
Eyala's fever of 104,
& then, Eyala's oral thrush/rash...
(seemingly all in a row!)...

HIGHLIGHTS:
(the unexpected moments!):
those moments in the water where you catch the wave!...
(what is that)?!
it always catches me by surprise; bliss!
Saul is often found frolicking back to his beach towel after rounds of this.
giddy.
best is when we get to do it together (when aunt sasha's around?!)...

Any/everything we do with our friend Michaelle.
She's so cool/fun.
So - there's this big bike race here called the ARGUS.
Anyway, it goes Right in front of our house.
So- we cooked b-fast in the driveway, and danced to Michael Jackson.
Michaelle, Sasha, & I were dancing for all the cyclists.
so much fun.
(only wish I'd had Madonna!) :)

Again, Michaelle hosted us at her sister's country/modern home.
She has a knack for wining/dining/hosting/pampering
.
yum!

She, Saul, & I went and kicked it on this beach the size of your sofa. It's where the 2 of them grew up together.
It was so sweet!

I really like hanging my laundry at noon - when I can still see the moon.

the sunrises!
the sunsets!
the full moons!

Meeting Caitlyn & Jess - the daughters of Penny (the woman who owns the local organic shop).
so sweet.
(love it there!)...
Bubu and I walk there along the sea.
It takes 20 minutes (max).
We also pick up our veggie box once a week at the OLIVE STATION.
We know everyone there too.
Small Town!
Right now we owe Penny for 2 cookies, and the local bakery for an apple danish.
love that! (yes - those are saul's delicacies!)...

spontaneous girly shopping with Dalila & Glendy.

singing rounds with Peter, Mer, & Dalila. :)

all the unexpected:
watching bubu love the rain.

84-degree days (which happened more regularly in Jan./Feb./early March, but sometimes in April)!

sitting in a sandpit (on the beach), as though it were a bathtub, and just watching bubu marvel at the dogs, waves, other babies, birds, & other such Fascinating things!...

&, the coolest thing happened just yesterday (the day before we are to leave!)...
We visited a pig farm in the middle of the City - hidden in the dense residential area...I'm going to try to set up a farmer's market there...
soo cool!

See you all soon.
So much Love!
kel & the wainwrights.

In DC

Hey everyone that reads this blog - I think it might only be me that does though....

We are in Washington DC, actually just about 3 miles from the Pentagon. It is very beautiful here and the weather has been supreme. Our flight from Cape Town to DC was just perfect. We each had a whole row of seats to sleep on and Eyala slept for about 14 or the 18 hours of flying. That was fantastic!!! She is such a trooper.

We leave for Oakland tonight at 4:45pm and arrive at 7:26pm PST. Our dear friend Rachel has volunteered to pick us up which is fantastic. I am really looking forward to being home and sleeping in our bed and just enjoying our very cozy home.

I will be posting a whole bunch of photos from the trip in a couple of days so keep an eye out for those. I may start trying to embed the flickr link for those of you who are interested - though the photos will be password protected most often.

More thoughts will follow on this blog in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My Jewish Family


Here is a picture from my Grandmother Betty's 90th Birthday

Deparment of Home Affairs - And the Moaners

Okay so today I went to pick up my South African passport at the Department of Home Affairs in Wynberg. I had applied for it about 10 weeks ago. Last time I went in, which was about a week ago, my passport was not there but they assured me it was on its way and I could pick it up the following week.

Of course I was concerned it would not arrive in time as I am leaving for the USA on the 6th. None the less, I took their word for it and returned this week. And, with much relief, got my passport. Phew!!! Crises averted.

But, what inspired me to sit down and write this blog post was the people sitting around me and bitching. I mean, complaining about waiting and the slow service and the fact that they had landed up sitting in the wrong section for an hour only to find out they had to get in a different line.

I have dealt with beauracracy for many, many years. I had to navigate the US immigration system. Let me tell you that was hell. I used to get up at 4am to drive to the nearest office, and sit outside until 8am when they opened the doors. Waiting and waiting - no water, no cell phones and no food allowed. That sucked. But, I got my green card, and after 12 years got my US passport. No easy feat.

One thing I learned was that there was no point in bitching or complaining. It was only gonna stress myself out and piss off the people behind the counter that were generally trying to help.

Come on now South African's stop complaining. Everyone, all the bloody time, complaining about this and that. About how bad the service at this department was, how slow this process was. This attitude just sucks - and it is annoying.

I guess my point is that everyone's complaining and negative attitude about these things in reality has nothing to do with South Africa as a nation-state, but has everything to do with the attitude of the individuals. I know this because I have heard people bitching in other parts of the world - where, in the USA, if you are a citizen it take 2 to 4 weeks to get a passport. That is pretty darn efficient but it is a pain to apply for - very specific photographs, huge amounts of very specific documents etc.

What I am confused by is what everyone is comparing South Africa too? Where did they get this impression that South Africa is so bad? Is there something in the water? Is it a legacy of Apartheid? The food people eat? Anyone got any ideas?

It is so strange for me. Because, when my wife and I decided to return to South Africa it was because we were inspired by the space. That it was filled with opportunities and is exciting and interseting. In fact the vast majority, in fact everyone that I know who has visited this country, feel that is an incredible place. They all want to come back, live here and play.

South African's you need to wake up and realize that you live in a wonderful place - filled with its own problems - but certainly nothing we can't ultimately overcome. The better your attitude the better the experience the better the space and the more chance of us all coming together and building an even greater country.

And, those people at the Department of Home Affairs - they deserve a good pat on the back for workign hard and trying to get it all sorted out. In fact, they even volunteer on Saturdays so that the office can be open for those of you that have to work.

Be positive!!! Stay positive!!! And, it will all be so much more pleasant an experience for you and those around you.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Africa-The Land of Creativity and Ingenuity

I am soo excited by this space and place. Africa is happening people!!! Seriously. It is a place filled with so much creativity and ingenuity. I could spend days digging through all the interesting blogs and reading about all the interesting projects and technologies being put together. And, remember, this is only a fraction of what is going on. The rest doesn't even make it on to the net.

Some people have likened South Africa to California in the sixties - I hope so, but I hope that the end result will be so much more then that. People have to be creative you have to come up with out-of-the-box thinking and solutions when you can't run down to Office Max or Best Buy (two massive electronics stores in the USA) to "purchase" your solution. Here you have to get creative.

I came across two blogs recently that have really excited me (and when I say recently I mean in the past 24 hours) and I haven't even been able to really dig through these blogs yet.

Check them out: Afrigadget and WhiteAfrican

Both of these are focusing on technologies and I think that is awesome. As any of you know, that have either read my blog or know me personally I am not a techie kind of guy. Nor, do I believe that the only real way to solve our problems is through technologies. For me the most critical thing is how we think, what we think about and how we theorize and frame our problems and solutions.

This is why these sites and what they identify excites me so much. It shows a way of thinking an understanding that we can create solutions that we don't have to think along the regular paths and within the normal theoretical frameworks. That we can break out of the mold that Africa has placed itself in and actually start solving and creating alternatives ouselves. Using what is available to create new ways, new options and new solutions.

If you dig around the Afrigadget site you will find two cool articles. The first one is about using recycled parts, and dual sim chips in cell phones the other one is about building bicycles out of bamboo.
These are not people that are trying to come up with the latest million dollar solution. But, rather are looking at solving everyday problems - transport and communication.

Everyday I get more and more excited about my return to South Africa. To climbing into my bio-diesel (made from waste oil, or non-edible plant matter - and hopefully from blue-green algea on of these days) and driving into Africa. Finding and exploring, learning and giving. Because, for me this is the next play ground. Africa is where it is at. Africa is where our solutions are to be found. Africa has to think differently - it has to follow a new path an emergent path.

I hope all of you get a chance to come to this lovely place and explore and be excited.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Oh Beautiful Days


A picture taken at Clifton Beach in Cape Town.

27 Dinner in CT

I have been living in my home country for the past 4 months with my wife and child. It was meant to be just a visit - but we are planning on returning in August for an indefinite period of time. There are many reasons for this decision - beautiful city, family, cost of living but one of the biggest reasons for both my wife and myself is the incredible amount of entrepreneurial spirit and opportunity in this country.

I spent last night at a dinner with about 20+ social media entrepeneurs in Cape Town last night. It was an interesting and exciting time. It is a dinner that happens monthly on the 27th of each month - they rotate the dinners from one city to the next - Cape Town, Jo'burg, Durban etc. It is known as 27Dinner and is organized by the affable Dave Duarte who I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago through an old friend while spending a weekend in a cute little town called Stanford. Dave is a great guy and runs multiple projects - among one of the most interesting is his work with Huddlemind.

If you explore the link to the 27Dinner wiki you will get a chance to check out many interesting companies and bloggers in South Africa. Several of these guys have gone global, or are partly owned by larger companies. There were two speakers last night - first was Eric Edelstein who has started several successful companies the better known one being incuBeta. His latest venture is SpringLeap which allows you to vote on t-shirt designs and then have them made up and shipped off to stores around the country - if not the world. It is a proudly South African company with all the work, printing, CMT of t-shirts being done in SA.

The other person that I got to hear speak last night was Charl Norman. He gave a little talk on building social networks - and the work that he has done, very successfully, with at least 3 social networks. The first and biggest being Blueworld (which just partnered with one of South Africa's biggest media companies 24.com). Blueworld is a specifically South African social network - working on bringing South African's together, and giving them a chance to meet people they haven't met before.

It was a really great time. It is incredible how active social media/new media is in South Africa. How many of these young, talented and excited people are invovled in doing really cutting edge and interesting stuff. It is so cool hanging out at the tip of Africa experiencing something that you wouldn't expect to find. How people in the rest of the world really don't get what is going on in Africa today. I wish they did, I wish everyone could focus on what is great about this country and this continent.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hips, Surgery, Cists

I am sharing this story with all of you. Inspired by my reading of the book by Jerry White, the co-founder of Survivor Corps (previously known as Landmine Survivor Network). I haven’t written about this before. I don’t even think I will re-read what I have written before sharing it. It is intense. There is so much blacked out, so much I don’t remember. I am not sharing this for sympathy, I am sharing it because I have not shared it before.

When I was 6 years old my mom took me to see a doctor because I had been limping, and complaining of pain in my left hip. She thought at first that it was nothing, just a regular, hyper-active boy that had probably bruised his leg playing with friends.

I don’t remember the date of this visit but I do remember the moment when, while I was sitting on the floor at the doctors office tying my shoelaces after the x-ray, the doctor turned to me and told me not to move that they would get me a wheel chair immediately. That they were going to have to operate on my leg the very next day. I remember the shock, I remember being wheeled out of the doctors office into the ward.

They had found a large cist in my hip joint. Right in the ball and socket joint. The cist had eaten, yep pretty much consumed, the bone in my hip joint to the point that the hip had actually fractured because it was so weak. The doctor was worried that if he didn’t operate on it that the amount of blood getting to the rest of the bone in the leg would not be sufficient. That, essentially, gangrene would set in and I would loose the whole leg.

I remember many agonizing hours of lying in cat-scan machines, these things sucked – if you moved, even slightly the whole process would have to start again. For hours, it felt – especially for a hyper-active 6 year old – I would lie in this tube while they studied my hip.

That very next day I went into surgery – I think the surgery lasted around 8 hours. My poor mother was pacing around in the hospital corridor waiting, no news just waiting. My father didn’t even live in the country at the time. My mom was a single mother with a 3 year-old, my sister Sasha, and her 6 year-old son in surgery.

They had to cut into the hip, scraped the cist out and chipped chunks of bone from one part of the hip and put them in the part where they cist had eaten – they call this a bone graft. All in the hope that the bone would take and re-grow.

I remember waking up from the surgery the next day – in a plaster cast from my chest down. I was essentially immobile. There was a tube coming out the side of my body running into a jar that was draining my blood.

The pain, my God, the pain was like nothing I can explain. The hip throbbed, it felt like it wanted to explode, that it would explode. It felt like it was thumping against the side of the plaster cast that it was going to break out and explode.

There I lay, in the hospital, unable to move, having to shit and pee into a tray. No privacy, no sense of self-control and so alone.

I was young, I think that was the best thing I had going for me at the time. I was resilient. I don’t remember thinking too much about it. I was just in live mode. I lay in that hospital for several weeks. My mom would come visit me daily, spend time with me. The nurses were awesome. I got a remote control car that I would drive around the ward, much to the annoyance of the nurse.

I remember the other kids in the ward. There was a young child who had been burned terribly when a candle fell into his cot. My mom would go over an comfort this boy, his mom was poor and worked and couldn’t come and visit him all the time. He cried all the time. Even at that age I understood the importance of not feeling sorry for ones self. That others had it tougher. That I had my leg, that I had my mom by my side and that I would be fine.

I remember going home, still in my plaster cast, having to in a bed, day in and day out. I was a kid, and surged back quickly. I found ways to push myself around on a piece of wood that my mother put four wheels on. I could motor around the house like a maniac, much to the horror of my mother. I would be wheeled up to my local primary school in an old stroller. Legs sticking out and a blanket over the part of the plaster cast that was cut out – so that I could pee – for privacy. I would go to school to get my reading books and stay in touch.

I think it was several months before the cast was removed. I remember the day. Going into the hospital – having the cast cut-off. It was scary, what was even scarier was seeing the leg. It was emaciated. Thin, real thing. No muscle. It was essentially useless. I remember trying to move it and nothing would happen. I remember freaking out thinking it was actually dead, that it wouldn’t work again. The nurses assured me it would be fine. After a couple months on crutches I would be walking soon enough.

This wasn’t the truth. After many more hours in cat-scans and x-rays they found that the cist had grown back. That they would have to operate a second time. I remember crying, telling the doctor that he couldn’t. That they were wrong, it was fine. No please not the cast again!!!
I made the doctor promise that he wouldn’t put me in the cast again. Please!! He said he would try his best.

Back into the operating room, back under those lights. Passing out to fading voices. Waking up in pain. Throbbing, throbbing!! But no cast…I was sooo happy. I knew that I could at least move around. That I wouldn’t have to lie in bed all day and call for help every time I needed to pee or shit. What a relief.

The next 6 to 9 months I walked on crutches. Leg in a sling!!! Everywhere. Hey, man I was good on those crutches. I could move fast and furious.

But it was long and slow. It was tough. I remember when I stopped having my leg in a sling. It was almost 18 months since I had stood on my left leg, had walked. It was intense. They didn’t do much therapy. It was kind of get your shit sorted and move.

I don’t remember much about learning to walk again. About rebuilding my leg. I do know that I threw myself into running, swimming, playing rugby and playing in general. Gosh, how good it felt to run 800 meters – like the best meditation in the world. To swim 1 km in the morning before schools started. I was blessed, I had a working leg.

Crazy when I think back on it now. I have never written openly about this time in my life. I still have two big fat scars on my hip. Sometimes my hip hurts, the muscle structure is vastly different between the left and right hip. But, it works. I walk, I swim, I jump, I run. I have two legs. What a marvel.

I read Jerry’s book and I think how lucky I am. How blessed I am to have both, to walk on the feet I was born with. Thank the Lord!! Truly.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Food Value

The world seriously seems to be going a little haywire. I have been reading all about the food riots. Well, maybe not all about them – but I am certainly aware that they are happening. That prices have gone up and that this of course hurts the poor first and foremost. If you barely have any money to eat and prices outstrip any wage increases, with no room for cutting discretionary spending then you are certainly in a shitty position.

I came across a blog that was talking about this – it is in great part an anti-capitalist blog post but that is not really the point (here is a link to it: http://www.empirenotes.org/). The most relevant part of the blog post to me was the raising of the issue of having global markets for food and as a secondary note the fact that the US food aid has to all be produced in the USA.
The first issue; that having global food markets can of course be argued as both a good thing and a bad thing. Lets look at the good thing – effectively you as a farmer are able to produce your product and sell it at the highest price, therefore making a profit and being able to continue to be a farmer. In fact it is supposed to act as an incentive. It also should mean that when one region of the world is lacking in food it can go into the global commodities market and purchase the necessary food to feed its people. Also, you would think that this setup would incentivize increased production – because with global futures markets farmers can often hedge their bets and know, to a degree, what price their grain will fetch on the market come harvest time. So therefore I will produce X because price is Y.

This has held relatively true. And in fact we are producing massive amounts of food. More then we need to feed everyone. However, and this is where the bad comes in, food is now treated purely as a commodity. Not a necessity, not something that holds a value far above a pure dollar figure. It after all is needed to sustain life – no food no life. No life no food. Okay, well, my point is – and maybe you can guess this by now – is that this is something that on a certain level holds an infinite value – food for eating is priceless. People need to eat – that is a fundamental need and a fundamental right. People do not need to drive cars, grow pigs or make disposable containers out of corn.

What we have then is a market distortion. An incorrect value has been placed on a product/commodity/entity. Once again this is a capitalist failure. The question is how does the market correct this one. If we believe in free markets then what we should expect is that food production will rise sharply and the price will drop accordingly and everyone will have their bowl of rice. However the global distortions continue to exist – subsidies is one of the biggest ones. We can nit-pick it in all of these ways. But, for me it is about a system that does not value something above and beyond a quantifiable price. Essentially infinite value.

Once again how do you bring infinite value in to a pricing system? Can a pricing system hold infinite value? Or, are we just barking up the wrong tree and need to realize that capitalism is bust. Kapoo!!

If it is then what is the alternative? What do we construct in its place? I have a friend that talks about a gift economy. She hasn’t really developed the concept much further then the idea that if we all approach the world, our friends and our lives from a place of giving then we will all be taken care of. Well, I of course have issues with this on some levels because at the root of it is still a value judgment. How much do you give? When someone gives do you take? What if you take more then you give? Perhaps on a purely esoteric level this equates. I am not sure. But, the point for me is that we are still caught in having to construct some sort of value system.

Ultimately any system of economics has value at its root. The question is how is that system constructed and what holds the highest value – so far capitalism is tapped out at the trillion dollar mark. Once we get beyond trillions we have an issue. But, that which is recognized as holding an infinite value is something that it cannot contain and therefore ignores.
This is a shame because those are the things that we need to value the most. They are something that we need to incorporate. They are values that are above all other values.
We need to feed people first and foremost. It is not about how much money you can get for your corn that matters. Hell, if everyone is fed and there is corn left over then go ahead and make your fork and knife out of corn. But, if there are those in hunger then a value, an infinite value, is being ignored.

I am sure this is a rambling two pages of scrambled text. I am trying to decipher all of this and find a way to put it together so that it makes sense. How to apply infinite value and how to construct a system that includes this. A theory that fits.

Any idea?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Linear Paths

I am always amazed at how many people view time as a linear experience and then use that understanding to conceptualize development theory. Essentially coming up with the conclusion that we are all on a single path of development – following stages from 1 to 2 to 3…. I know that this is actually a very Marxist way of envisioning the world. But, our greatest scientist, Einstein, showed us in a very basic fashion how time is relative. In fact, depending on your vantage point your experience is different vis-à-vis someone else’s experience. In essence one can apply this to the global physical geographic landscape. Those of us standing in Africa view development – the trajectory of it – differently then those in Europe and that the end result – the final station/stage (if there can even be such a thing) – are not necessarily following the same path as others.

I am no physicist – and perhaps I am completely misapplying Einstein’s thinking, but hopefully you get the point. Essentially I am amazed at how people place development on a single path, a trajectory that all nations, no matter where they are located, no matter what their relative position is – view, experience and follow the same path; that development is a linear process. I am emphatically disagreeing with this view, and in my favorite professor, Gillian Hart’s words – it is always constituted of historically and geographically specific parts. That it always, always, depends on where you are, what you have experienced and how the world has interacted with that space.

What this means for so many people is places like Europe or America are ahead of places like Africa and S. America. And that places like China and India are somewhere in the middle. And, that we in South Africa are still a hundred years behind those in Europe.

In fact I sat today at one of my favorite little coffee shops in Kalk Bay, very Euro/very French coffee shop, with a young Greek-South African brother and sister. They were talking about how the culture of Europe is so much further ahead of South African culture and that that is why they no longer want to live here in South Africa. I didn’t challenge them on this notion. But the truth is that these are not two cultures on the same path just at different stages. They are two cultures on the same planet in different phases of their historically and geographically specific emergence. South Africa is not European it is not American it is a version of an African culture with elements of these other cultures. It is what it is and will never be something that it can’t be. It can never be European; in fact the only place that can be European is Europe.

Sure we can argue that there are elements within the European culture that are important and valuable and aught to be integrated into our South African culture. But, hell, has anyone read the South African constitution lately. That seems pretty “advanced” to me and incorporates ideas that Europe has struggled to integrate into any legal structure for eons. Remember it was only 60 years ago that the Europeans were slaughtering each other because of the differing religious ethnicities.

In a discussion with a new friend a few weeks ago, while hanging out in the ever so quaint town of Stanford – about 1.5 hours outside of Cape Town – we were using and debating terms like “1st world/3rd world”, “developing/developed” etc. (You all know the different versions of this.) She started using the term “emergent” - South Africa is an emergent culture. It is not emerged, it is not emerging as something. It is under constant formation that is historically and geographically specific.

We all need to remember that the thinking has been so dominated by those in the north that we have bought into the greatest marketing achievement of all time. That some how Europe and America, in the infamous words of the scholar Francis Fukuyama, has reached the “end of history”, which somehow Europe and America have beaten us to the final station on the road of “progress” and “development”. Yet, no one has considered what Africa may still have to offer South Africa’s very specific historical experience and that its very specific geographical location affects and continues to affect what cultural experiences will emerge.

You are fooling yourself if you think Europe is more advanced; that somehow it has something over the rest. The primary thing that we all want is the ability to feel physically safe, for our children to feel safe and that our ability to provide for our family and ourselves is somewhat guaranteed. Europe and America have traditionally (or at least in Europe for the past 60 yeas) been able to create that sense of security. There is nothing about the way that Europe operates or the “stage” that it is in that guarantee this. That at some point this ability will be reduced and Europe may not be so advanced.

What I think is so often missed is that we are heading towards an end goal – that there is somewhere that we are going to end up. In the end it is this view of life that we are all so caught up in – that this is what has been marketed to us. That the goal is to own a big house, a fancy car and cool sunglasses. And, that when we have this we are done and can sit back and be happy. What crap. That is just the start – that is where it all begins. We are all in a constant process of emergentness – that we are trying to find our space and that anyone that tells us that those are already there and we are just playing catch up are, well, in for a surprise one of these days.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Strip Mining

There is something wrong with our economy when it rewards something like coal strip mining. That this is considered more economically efficient and profitable to society. How do you get the economy to recognize that blowing 300ft off of a mountaintop to get at 2 feet of coal is neither truly efficient nor economical? Are the ultimate costs far greater then any other method – ecologically, socially? Is it just a matter of externalities not being included in the cost of production? If you included the externalities would it make this method too costly? Yet, how do you include the loss of something like a mountain top –how can you place a price on something like a mountain, a forest a cleanly flowing river. These things have values that are priceless – their value is infinite in its nature and there is no way to truly place a price on this.

Therefore we are faced with the recognition that a pricing system that is based on ideas of scarcity cannot fully account for what needs to be recognized by the economy. This leads us to the need to create an economic system that in someway can account for things of infinite value. That infinite value is always part of the equation and that ignoring that which holds infinite value results in the environment and social horrors that we see capitalist economics imposing on our society and earth.

How then do you include this value, how do you create a system that recognizes things of infinite value? What needs to be changed in an economy? Is capitalism inherently unable to include that which holds infinite value? What happens if we focus the economy on the concept of abundance instead of scarcity? What if the economy pays attention to abundance and the pricing system is based on a concept of abundance?

In today’s world abundance is actually more prevalent then in any other time. Money is more abundant then at any other time, food is more abundant then at any time, there are more commodities above the earth then below the earth. There are more homes, more people; there is more of everything then at any other time in history. Yet, our economy is still driven by concepts of scarcity. Decisions and prices are still focused on scarcity.

What would an economy look like that focused on abundance? How would you create a pricing mechanism that paid attention to abundance? Can you create such a system? Does the system have to be something completely different that doesn’t even use a pricing mechanism? Doesn’t use money? A gift economy? This is where the juicy questions arise. This is where one truly has to delve into theories and explore what is contained within this train of thought.

I am constantly thinking and exploring these questions. From my basic research, and asking some big time economists. No one has answered this question of infinite value in capitalist pricing mechanism. It is a void in the thinking of a pricing system and is something that needs to be answered. I am committing myself to exploring this idea further and trying to see if I can’t come up with a theoretical understanding that is able to include that which holds infinite value.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Global Dewey Decimal Point System

http://www.netvibes.com/

This is a site that attempts to aggregate your information/sns profiles across the web. This is an element of what I have been trying to get at. This is essentially an aggregation, much like signing up to a bunch of RSS feeds, that you can then participate in multiple spaces but have a single point of entry. It is personalized however and in that sense is not community based - it is individual based.

What happens if you can create an aggregation site that organizes this information based on what is being pumped out by, for starters blogs. I wonder if this exists. There are two trends here. 1 is the people that are willing to spend the time on the web to follow the information, to create the profiles and to sign up to RSS feeds etc. So that they create their own little "social library".

Then there are the others - like me - that don't care to do this yet still use the web as a resource and a place to find information. The only real way that one does this is through google searches. Yet, if I went into a library I would be able to look through the catalog using the dewey decimal point system. Can one create something like this for the web? Can one actually use the web as a library? I guess that is what google is trying to do. Except that the commercialized aspect of it has driven the system to be gamed. No one ever needed to game the dewey system. Either your book was good or it wasn't, either it was relevant or it wasn't. You don't really know what is relevant or not. So, google tries to create the personalized search. Google is willing to follow your personal trends and use algorithims to estimate/guess what it is that you are actually looking for.

In the end there is something missing here. There is an element of access to this information that makes it a complete waste. Well maybe not complete but problematic none the less. The barage of information has created a certain level of redundancy that can only be truly accessed through your own personal search and aggregation methods. The community, this idea of social media, is really a fallacy because it is only if you participate directly in it that you benefit.

Are we then only left with google? Is that all we have? How do you determine relevancy? By the amount of people viewing a site? By how often the person blogs? By how many links are sent into it? I am wondering what would happen if you create a global dewey decimal point system that people could submit their blogs too. Regardless of perceived relevancy. In the end isn't google just acting like any other big publishing house that chooses what it thinks the people want/are interested in?

Lets create a global dewey decimal point system.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Economics of Infinity

I live in Cape Town, one of the most magnificent cities in the world. The lifestyle is splendid, truly. South Africa is splendid, all my friends know that this is something I say almost daily. Yet, there is a side to living in Africa (or perhaps it is just what happens when you leave Europe or the USA) life becomes so filled with contrasts. Big beautiful homes and shacks, comfort and opulence next to poverty. It is the world in a microcosm. You can't hide from the differences. In America you can. You can forget that people live on a $1 a day, that people don't eat, have no home and suffer in poverty of unknown proportions.
It is somethign that is so strange about my life in America it is so disconnected. Here you are alive you have to be alive, you have to value what splendor you have been given. That what those of us have is somethign to be cherished.
Today I had a man come to my door, dying of Aids, had been stabbed in the arm by young punks in the ghetto that he lives in. He was broken out with a horrible rash of sorts that said kept him up at night. He needed money, money to pay rent in his shack so that he had a place to sleep. His story is long and winding. He wants to go back to Malawi so that he can die in a place where he will be buried.
Can't I give him a R100? Yes, I can, I can give you that money, I can give you more then that. Here, here it is. I am not a rich man, but I am richer then you. I have a home, a family a job, an education a passport and my health. Here, here is some money. Yes, it will not solve it it will not make it better for him any longer then the R100 will last (maybe $15). But, I will give it. I will give it with my heart of sadness for I know I can not help this man, nor the next or the next that comes to my door.
So, what do you do. How do you help, can you help? What is help? What is giving? I don't know the answer to this question. I do know that I want an answer. That I want to know how it is that our societies, everywhere, have people that need to beg to ask to plead, to cry for your help. They see me, they see you, they see all of us. In our homes, our cars, our restaurants. Laughing playing singing. They see our pleasure and our happiness.
I am thankful, I am so thankful for all that I have and I will always be grateful and I will always acknowledge what I have and pray that I am may help, even a little, those that do not have those that beg and those that have some how fallen outside of societies compassion.

Monday, February 18, 2008

the Olympia Bakery

so - every Thurs., Friday, & Saturday, they offer 3, 4, or 5-course meals (your choice), in the guts of their big bakery.
So, yes, you eat next to the ovens, and the bags of flour.
It's also incredible food.
In all essence, this area (including this restaurant!) is the Bay Area, in a 1-mile strip of antique malls, unique/interesting restaurants, and colorful botiques.
"This area" is: Kalk Bay (if you look at a map, it's in between Muizenberg & Fish Hoek).

Kalky's

Kalky's:
local fish & chips.
fishermen & grime.
love it!

the Harbor House

the most beautiful restaurant I've ever been to.
everything's white.
the rest is all windows
it's Right on the sea.
It's incredible food.
lots of fish.
what else to say?
this is where saul wants us to go for our "regular" Friday-night drinks.
fine.
p.s. - this is also where he happened to propose to me!

Penny's

Penny's: Penny's is our favorite natural food store. It is owned by Penny. It is in the little "village" of Muizenberg. It's essentially a little "farm stall", with a bunch of produce, raw milk, unpasteurized cheese, & meat from a bunch of (or a few?) local, biodynamic farms.
We love it there!
I've since befriended Penny's daughters Caitlyn & Jess!
Caitlyn is ordering eco-diapers, etc. for them, and helping to open up the new "smoothie" section of the store.
They are adding on, and with that is a big "farm table", where people can come in and eat salads, etc.
We barely need to go to any other store.
We love it.
It's like eating out of your own garden - (or, as close as that!).

Our next stop shopping is the Olive Station.
There we get our weekly "veggie box".
It's pretty there.

Tokai Market

Farmer's Markets:
there are a few.
The most local is the Tokai market.
It's really cute.
You can go for pancakes in the morning, coffee, or smoothies.
"Beware of baboons" as you eat.
They don't have a ton of produce, but do have really nice olive oil, exotic local mushrooms, flowers (we got a bunch of roses with mint last time!), some crafts, & the most gorgeous, artistic cheese I've ever seen!
It all has a nice "chalkboard & wooden stall" look/feel.

Fish Out the Sea

the fishermen go out in their colorful fishing boats.
We try to spot them at the right time coming in, so that we can go fetch their goods on arrival!
We need to make this more of a daily ritual!
Apparently the fish aren't coming in everyday?
ahh...this must come to an end!
We need our fish in plenty!
*We Finally went & bought our first fresh fish!

Woodstock



Woodstock is exceptional!
So exceptional that I'm not sure if we'll go again!
It's bumper to bumper in there of gorgeous falafels, wine, specialty ice cream/gelato, other delectable gourmet items, and a fashion show of capetonians in all their nicest summer apparel.
sweet.

Olympia




Olympia: This is the local cafe/deli that we frequent pretty much daily, be it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
We know the staff.
they know our baby.
It's so small-town.
It's loud.
It's local.
It's perfect, in that sense.
We eat things like the most perfect, fluffy eggs there, or goat cheese, salami, & berry salad.
hmmm...
we never eat things like that in the States!
We just don't.
But - it's here, so we're eating it!
And, it's good!
Saul often gets coffee, wine, cookies, creme brulee...
mussels, hamburgers, fish...
*So - we just went there AGAIN, last night. Saul got the most Delicious leg of lamb that just fell off the bone. We walked past the back of the restaurant before we went in this particular evening. We noticed they have their own vineyard right there. The grapes are young, so the wine is not all that yet. And, we know the owner, & know that he only looks for the best quality food.
More & more - I really like this place!
I would describe it as french - buttery & oily, but really done so well.
yum.
And, the staff is some of the best I've ever had - truly.
laid back, yet completely on top of it.
Olympia - our home away from home here...
our 2nd kitchen.

View's from the front yard


Hey, so I wanted to share this pic of the view from my front "sun-room". Bloody brilliant!!!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kalky's Valentines 2

It was Saul's turn to do Valentine's.
He made me breakfast, got me my pick of flower boquets at the store, & got me fish/chips from Kalky's.
really sweet - I liked it!, 'cause we got the same thing last year - (tradition!)...
He got me local, organic red wine (which I haven't had in decades).
I had some, & it was alright!
My view was watching him eat in the sun room, and surfers surf in the background/backyard, in the sea!
He had a bunch of tea light candles lit in the shape of a heart.
It was very nice/somewhat surreal.
The 3 of us sat there & watched the surfers after we ate.

Cafe des Arts

just down the street.
opened by the former chef of the Olympia.
It's actually my favorite place here.
There's nothing to it.
It's the exact same wood ceilings & floor as our house here.
They have about 8 tables.
They seat them all once per evening, and that's it.
amazingly fresh.

Konnichiwa! - a slice of Taiwan in Africa

Glendy Tseng was our first visitor.
She had some very quotable moments.
Glendy is a good friend of mine from college, now living in SF, originally from Taiwan.
When she got to the airport, and was standing in line for customs, she was so stoked, 'cause she was the "only asian"! :)
I love that!
Then, she said some of her friends/family were worried about her coming to "South Africa" -
with it's reputation, etc.
She said she just told her mom, "No mom, I'll be in Cape Town. It's totally different. There are lots of wealthy people here. They do things like have plastic surgery."
Her mom was pleased, and felt content!
Then, Glendy discovered the "black beach". It's in the harbor.
I guess it was the only beach in this area during apartheid that they were allowed to go to.
Glendy thought the kids were so cute.
She wanted to take their photographs.
She hesitated though - she was the only asian amongst all of these blacks!
She went in though - walking through all of their "braais" (S. African version of bbqs).
She asked the mamas if she could take photos of their kids.
They obliged, and she did get the Cutest photos!
Several were of 3 little girls, all wearing the same, matching suits.
They then started posing for her.
Cuuuute!
Then, 3 fishermen noticed what was happening, and yelled, "Hey! Konnichiwa! Take our picture!" :)
Glendy obliged, but explained to them that she was not japanese.
They said, "oh - 'nee-ha'!" (k - I don't know how to spell in mandarin!)...
Glendy said it was the "best trip she ever took in her life"! wow! :)
She said we could quote her on this!
She also said she was pretty sure we would retire here.

my other favorite moment re: Glendy's trip was her endearing postcard to herself:
"Glendy - what a great idea to go on vacation now.
Kalk Bay, South Africa is so beautiful!"
Glendy - you're cool!
xoxo