This was the question I asked—tongue in cheek, almost a year ago—in The Agora. How come that I bought a bottle of ‘organic water’ in Scamander (north-eastern Tasmania), or the high prices for crappy ‘organic tomatoes’ (small, full of blemishes and tasting no different from a normal one), or the resistance against GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) in many parts of the world?
I have participated in a few discussions about GMO and some people have a visceral reaction against them, because they are unnatural. Well, plastics, planes, cars, computers are unnatural and we happily interact with them in a day to day basis. People eat varieties of crops and fruits that are the result of mutations induced through radiation exposure, but they will complain against GMO plants. People complain against cloning, but they will buy apple or rose varieties that are, in fact, a clone. What does make a chimera, clone or GMO so different from a ‘natural’ organism?
Similar issues arise with the distinction between native and exotic animals, for example. Of course exotic animals must be native to somewhere in the planet. A related distinction is often made between ‘cute and furry’ and ugly animals. Thusly, people complain about poisoning a possum, but will happily eat a beef steak or a chicken burger, poison a spider (normally native) or squash an insect (probably native too).
I have no answer for this situation, but my sense of curiosity makes me wonder about the differential treatment given to living organisms based mostly on cultural codes.
Any time management book worth its salt will tell you that you must make the most of commuting time. Well, at least that is the theory if you spend a reasonable amount of time moving from point A to point B. Living in Hobart and spending between 12 (no traffic) to 20 (lots of traffic) minutes going from home to work there is no much that one can do with commutes (particularly if I am not travelling alone). However, there is radio. I do not mean FM-greatest-hits stations but old fashioned AM Radio National. (Digression: I am quite geeky about gadgets and things like that, but concerning media I like AM mono radio. I believe this is a vestige of driving my Ford Cortina 1972—that I sold in 2002—which only had AM radio.)
Yesterday the program was an interview to Chilean writer Isabel Allende, of “The house of the spirits” fame. Actually, I think that most of her books are rehashing “The house of the spirits”, but that has nothing to do with this comment. She was talking about feeling at home in a culture, and how she never felt that in the USA. However, despite of living many years outside Chile, she feels culturally at home every time she visits the country. She would understand every reference, body language, expression, etc. This did not mean that she felt like returning home for good; she didn’t. It was just the relaxation that comes with familiarity.
Isabel Allende’s explanation got me thinking. Yes, going back to my country of birth presented the familiarity (although I grew up in three Latin American countries). However, it was only familiarity with the old aspects of the culture. I would miss many references to newer events and TV programs, and TV really permeates any modern culture! Familiarity did not translate into “I want to stay here”, though. It was more like “I know this, but I want to go back home”. In Australia I feel familiarity with the newer aspects of culture, but when people talk about the “Whitlam era” is like they were talking about ancient Egypt (in Egyptian). I have only lived under Howard’s era; yes, it sounds pathetic, but I didn’t choose him as Prime Minister.
It might well be that, having grown up in many different places and then moved to other countries as an adult, I am destined to have only partial familiarity with many cultures. It is a strange, sometimes difficult, sometimes really enjoyable destiny.
“Playing politics” is very close to the top of my list of nonsensical expressions, together with gems like “you have an accent” (doh, you too). This is a year of federal elections and to see the government accusing the opposition—and vice versa—of playing politics is, well, ridiculous. What are political parties supposed to play? Soccer and music may seem more interesting than politics, but would you pay a politician to play that? I wouldn’t.
Long lists of scandals, broken promises and short-term-gain tactics have certainly reduced the value of the word politics below any acceptable standard. However, I prefer to think that politics is still “the art of government” and “the art of the possible”. I still expect to see political parties playing politics, in the sense of following an agenda that—hopefully—will improve the lives of people.
Two nights ago I received a phone call from Newspoll, a market research company. I normally (99.99% of the time) say no, thank you; but this time I thought the survey could include politics, so I said yes, I have thirteen minutes to participate. I was right, the survey included the “if the elections where held tomorrow…” question. It also included a survey about people’s perception of the Australian Navy, real estate agencies (seemed to be payed by L.J. Hooker) and internet travel agencies.
This “omnibus style” survey made me wonder about what sort of biases could arise from the methodology. If you ask people “we only need five minutes”, and ask only about one topic they will get a very different sample compared to “we need almost a quarter of an hour” and ask you questions about many topics. Yes, they can get the correlations between political affiliation and preferences on real estate agencies and internet travel, but who cares? It certainly must be cheaper for the market research companies (and maybe for the client) but how good are the results? It might be that the sample just gets a lot of bored people.
I would like to be asked one day “what do you think of the language of the candidates?” I would much prefer that to “would you vote for X or Y?” and “what is your income bracket?” We already know that people with more money tend to be conservative; it happens all around the planet.
Every so often there are times of rediscovery; words, ideas and books that reenter our lives. Some days ago was a paper by Bill Venables. Today was Buddhism without beliefs: a contemporary guide to awakening by Stephen Bachelor.
I ordered that book from Amazon.com in 1999, while living in New Zealand. A few years later, I lent the book to an acquaintance, who took over two years to read it the one hundred and twenty seven pages.
Bachelor set himself a difficult task: to explain Buddhism as a set of actions, or principles to be acted upon, rather than a set of beliefs. Using that approach it is possible to set a path for agnostic Buddhism. The book has mixed reviews. I enjoyed very much reading it, other people hated it. You may want to give it a try.
It was a beautiful day in Hobart when I drove up to Bellerive’s Esplanade (Eastern Shore). For reasons beyond this note I spent one hour sitting next to the river reading the paper. I really enjoyed the language and the examples. The paper is elegant, witty and guides the reader around many interesting topics.
Near the end of the paper, I was suddenly distracted by intense sounds around. It was a combination of seagulls (I was completely surrounded by them) and the sails of five boats, twenty metres from my seat, flapping during a race. Just another day reading statistics.