Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thought for the Day

Talk show hosts have become the moral leaders of our generation.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Family Traditions

Hat tip: LGF In a stomach-turning video clip from Al Aqsa TV (the Hamas television station) broadcast on March 8, 2007, the children of female suicide bomber Rim Al-Riyashi talk happily about their mother’s act of mass murder. (Courtesy of MEMRI TV ) click on the link

I am speechless

Riverside Walk

Saturday was such a beautiful day I thought about taking my camera to get some shots of the river, but by the time the battery charged up I knew it would be too dark. I charged it up anyway with the hope that Sunday would be just as nice. It wasn't. But in other ways it was, with the chilly wind and overcast skies reminding me more of my home country, Scotland, than other times I could remember.

People imagine Tokyo doesn't have much to offer in the way of nature, but it's there if you know where to look. Sakaigawa ( meaning Border River ) is the naturally formed border running between Tokyo and Kanagawa, and for me, the stretch just east of the station has served as many a backdrop for stress-release runs or after-dinner strolls.

The river plays home to a surprisingly large number of bird species, even I, not exactly an avid bird-spotter, have enjoyed seeing the variety and colour of the creatures I share the local habitat with. Not that I could name many. Duck, pigeon, sea-gull, is about my limit. Same with plant life. But the soothing effects of just being out there, especially this time of year when things are coming out of hibernation - colours vivid, blossom scents vivifying - makes you feel good to be alive.

But unfortunately it isn't just flora, fauna and fish that gather along the river, but also gomius nautilus, also known as junk, garbage, rubbish. Who knows where it comes from, or how it manages to accumulate along such an otherwise soothing stretch of the country's heritage? Some things I've seen in there spark the imagination, others defy belief.

Why the river? I know it costs to have large rubbish taken away, but why dump things in the river? Isn't that what we have vacant lots for? Disused carparks? Do people think that when something is dumped in the river that it somehow disappears from human consciousness? That it will wash away the next time there's a heavy rain and all will be well again? It must be the psychological benefits of discarding the broken or no longer necessary over a fence to lower ground. It becomes someone else's problem.

Well I can see it, I can see it all too clearly.

I can't suggest any solutions. I don't know who is to blame, nor would gain any satisfaction from doing so. But perhaps if each town had an accessible free dumping ground, paid for out of our city taxes, where all the junk could be separated into recyclable, or at least raw materials for the making of something else, then people might be tempted use it. And council guys whose job it might be to periodically clear the rivers and ferry the garbage to such a processing plant. I understand the rivers are cleared out by the community occasionally, but I don't think it's often enough, especially judging by my own photos. Or it could be a useful project for local schools. What the hell, give the job to homeless guys if the council doesn't want to do it. Just a suggestion.

I love the river, always have done. Often wondered if it's something to do with the magnetic field the moving water creates that calms my soul, or just the rippling sounds, the wildlife, the sparkling light. I don't know.

But I am grateful.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Consumers Are Revolting

Consumers' revolt: Power to the people
Consumer militancy erupts as individuals join forces on the Internet to fight back against the state and big business
The Independent. Published: 23 February 2007
Copied from Peter's blog: 11 March 2007

A mass revolt has left the high street banks facing thousands of claims from customers seeking to claw back some of the £4.75bn levied annually on charges for overdrafts and bounced cheques. More than one million forms demanding refunds have been downloaded from a number of consumer websites. The banks are settling out of court, often paying £1,000 a time.

While average gas and electricity bills approached £1,000 last year, a record 4 million householders have dumped their supplier after an internet-led consumer campaign. British Gas admitted yesterday it lost 1.1m customers in just 12 months, and two weeks ago slashed gas bills by 17 per cent and electricity bills by 11 per cent. Other big suppliers, Powergen and npower, are expected to follow suit.

Road pricing
Plans for road pricing have faced massive public opposition spearheaded by an internet campaign. In just three months 1.8 million people have signed an online petition, linked to a new section of the Downing Street website, launched by a disgruntled motorist from Telford.

From Devon to Inverness, planning applications for superstores are being thwarted by residents' campaigns orchestrated on the internet. Tesco scrapped a superstore plan in Darlington last year following opposition and this week residents sank a Tesco plan for a £130m retail development in Tolworth, Surrey. Friends of the Earth is co-ordinating the protests across the country.

Air travel
"Green" travellers are boycotting air travel because of climate change. Campaigners have staged sit-ins at airports while hundreds of people have signed up to an online pledge set up by a veteran environmental campaigner. An estimated 3 per cent of people have stopped flying to help the environment, while 10 per cent are cutting back on flights.

A campaign launched by The Independent urging supermarkets to reduce excessive packaging has prompted a remarkable response. Supermarkets have had to defend their practices after thousands of readers emailed examples of environmentally damaging packaging. The campaign gained widespread public support - a day of action is planned later this year - and has been backed in an early day motion in the House of Commons.

Football tickets
Football fans fed up with paying £50 a time to watch games have joined forces online to put pressure on clubs to slash prices. Manchester City fans led a boycott of the club's match at Wigan in protest at the cost of tickets. Chelsea have announced a freeze on most ticket prices next year and Bolton promised a 10 per cent cut.

Post Offices
Government proposals to axe 2,500 post offices has prompted an organised revolt from pensioners and consumer groups across Britain. The Federation of Subpostmasters and a number of other organisations have launched online petitions opposing the plan, and a rally was staged in London on Tuesday to increase the pressure on the Government to save the post offices from closure.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

9 month-ish anniversary

I wanted to call this a 9 month anniversary, but I can't remember exactly when I started this blog - must have been last June or so, which is close enough.

I have to confess I got a bit distracted in February and lost my way a bit. Sorry about that, folks. Many thanks to those of you who continue to read anyway - very encouraging.

I used to be able to post from my cell phone, but can no longer do that, which is a downer, but at least now I can read comments on my cell almost as soon as they're added.

There have been a couple of encouraging things in the papers recently, for example, Richard Branson's offer of a $25 million prize to anyone who can come up with an effective way to capture the CO2 in the atmosphere, and Al Gore's movie did the rounds here in the cinemas, getting people's attention, which is great. But who knows if it will be enough to make a dent?

I'm on detox today by the way, meaning no coffee, which hopefully explains why I sound like I have a hangover, which is actually also true...

Anyway, some successes :

  • The Thought Foundry still exists, even after 9 months and brush with destruction
  • 4 chapters of the story "The Omikron Plague" written in an attempt to encourage people to wonder what might happen should we carry on the way we're going
  • Scrap book started for interesting, pertinent newspaper articles on environment, politics etc
  • Speech suggesting ways people can cut down on energy consumption or needless wasting of resources written in Japanese and delivered (unskilfully) to hall full of about 60 Japanese people. Same speech posted on Japanese Thought Foundry and contact made with one Japanese blogger
  • Got three real people on the contributor's list (excluding myself) and a regular readership of a handful of friendly, proactive - minded folk
  • I did actually write a blues song about what a homeless guy might be thinking when he watches commuters drift through a train station, but have yet to sing it on the streets (I'm still plucking up the courage..)
  • Quite a few Oxfam Unwrapped Christmas presents were given and received by family members, which is great, and my parents have suggested the same if anyone wanted to get them prezzies for their 40th wedding anniversary. They put that on all the invitations, which would be spreading the word for next Christmas/ birthdays etc. too
  • The benefits of herbs and herbal teas discovered to promote health
  • I haven't had a Coke since the last Virtual Activist article

Things to regret:

  • I find it difficult to reach practical solutions to things because of emotional hang-ups due to work, or worrying about my own hypocracy, and hosts of other mental blockages, when really I should try harder to just do the things I set out to do
  • I deleted most of the Thought Foundry due to my own stupidity
  • I still haven't written any letters to politicians/CEOs/newspapers
  • I haven't made much effort to contact more people
  • I'm getting a bit sick of the sound of my own voice, especially on Friday nights in bars over beer and (Marlboro) cigarettes
  • I haven't re-suggested the sponsored Riverside Walk idea to my boss

Things to aim for for the next anniversary:

  • Focus on getting results rather than all the mental BS
  • Write 2 letters/emails. One to local paper, one to a politician
  • Spend more time trying to find like-minded bloggers
  • Give up smoking for good
  • Re-suggest the Riverside Walk idea
  • Design a poster for the copying room in the school encouraging teachers to switch off lights and use paper sparingly (shrinking A4 worksheets to halfsize etc)
  • Find an online T shirt printing company and get some funky green slogans designed
  • Talk less and do more

There. I have a direction. Now all I have to do is try and induce a little effort and get moving.

Thought for the Day

"A happy man is too satisfied with the present to dwell too much on the future."

Albert Einstein

The Omikron Plague : Part 4 : Shelter

"... Yes, that's affirmative, we can actually see it! We gained a visual out of the star-board viewing windows about five minutes ago. According to the instruments panel our starship is around 12 light minutes from the Plague's surface, and that's more than close enough for us, let me tell you. It's ... it's unbelievable. It's huge! It's like an ocean of ... of black ink moving across. Yeah, like looking down at the surface of the sea, except it's coming towards us like a wall of oil! "
"How can you see something black in space, Captain Erikson?"
"The stars. The stars are just gone. And there's a ripple, like waves. Some of the ship's 'scopes are picking up some kind of storms that are like, raging just beneath the surface, with lightning discharging static differentials and sending enormous arcs of the stuff out like ebony sunbursts. There's no end to it - it stretches off, seemingly to infinity in all directions - which is terrifying, but, but I have to say also kind of fascinating. I've never seen anything like it. My God. That I could live to witness this."
"Captain Erikson, are you all right? You don't sound ..."

- Excerpt of a transmission from Capt D. Erikson, Starship Explorer, 387-47-2984

It took her fourteen steps to make it from one side of the street to the other. But every step was frought with pain that she mostly took through gritted teeth. Like running under a shower of sparks made from a welder's oxy-acetylene torch, except the sparks didn't just burn for a second and then go out. The sparks burned, and kept burning, even as they sank in, through her clothes, through her skin.

The bent iron sign protected her head, shoulders and waist, but she was exposed to rain blown under by fierce gusts of wind, as well as drops hitting the ground so hard they ricocheted up onto her legs.

On Alice's fourth step, her sights were set so firmly on the broken window ahead that her boot landed in a puddle of acid. It splashed up and she screamed inside the mask.

Just past the halfway point, a dribble of acid rolled off the edge of her makeshift umbrella and landed on the arm holding the wrapped bundle, half catching the wrist-com, which started to bubble and spit. "Time till take-off ... zzzt ... six minutes ...ffff ... 41 secssss ..."

At step twelve the first hole began to appear in the iron sign.

Before Alice started to cross the street she had figured out how she was going to pass carefully and unhurt through the broken window, but by the end of her journey her plans had changed.

She dived through head first.

The bent sign fell to the ground outside the window with a hissing clatter, rain turning it into swiss cheese. Alice had managed to twist in mid air so that she'd landed on the floor inside the building on her back, jarring it badly, but with the bundle still clutched safely to her stomach - a move she'd done a hundred times in high school gym. But then of course there'd been a crash-mat to break her fall, not a concrete floor littered with shards of glass.

Smoke was rising up from countless holes in the clothes of her lower body, and although she could barely see due to the tears and steam of exertion fogging up the mask lenses, her right boot appeared to be disintegrating before her eyes.

Alice breathed a lungful of air in through the mask, held it, and then forced it all out in one long, agonized and desperate scream. It echoed unheard down the empty hallways and deserted offices of the Toyota-Ford building.

She checked there was no rain damage on the outer blanket wrapping the bundle, and hurriedly kicked off the remains of her right boot. It flew into the corner of the empty storage room where it came to rest, a fuming scrap of leather and rubber. She pulled out another sachet of white powder from her pouch with shaking hands and tore it open, spilling the stuff everywhere but where she wanted it to go. She dropped the white grains of alkaline powder onto her burns as best she could, wondering about and finally deciding against taking off her cloak to tear into strips to dress her right ankle. No time!

Alice picked up the bundle and, against every natural urge inside her crying for rest and a chance to recover, limped out the door into the corridor.

" ... pzzt ... five minutes ... zzt ..."

Alice tried to run, but pulled off her other boot, and then ran barefoot. Her stockinged feet slapped on the corridor floor as she belted along it, changing the bundle from arm to arm whenever she got tired. She was sure she was heading in the right direction, but one thing she wasn't sure of was the luxury of an unlocked door onto the street on the other side. Or whether she could face the rain ordeal a second time.

She sped round a corner to the right at a T-junction, her feet slipping on the corridor floor. Never mind, she thought, taking the next immediate left. She'd worry about that bridge when she ca-

Alice slammed full-pelt into a shutter. The words Emergency Fire Partition were painted on it in large red letters.

Her hand splayed out on the shutter's surface, and she shook it in exasperation, the rattling sound deafening in the quietness of the deserted corridors.

With a grunt of defiance, Alice changed the bundle to her other arm and backed out into the corridor. She ran down to the next turning, spun round it, and slammed right into another shutter.

Emergency Fire Partition.

She retraced her steps, bolted down towards the next left, and managed to take it only narrowly avoiding slipping right over.

Emergency Fire Partition.

"No!" she screamed, pulling off her mask and throwing it at the floor.

Despite the emotional state that she was now in, it was difficult not to notice that Alice was beautiful. Her face, now smeared with grease and tears, had skin almost as smooth as it had been at birth. Her brown eyes, screwed up in futility and exasperation and with lashes laden with tear droplets, were vivid and clear and potentially heart-breaking. She could have been born from a water lilly.

" ... zzt ... zzt ... " the wrist-com stuttered.

The sign for the stairs caught her eye, above a door, and she made for it. Up, or down? She hesitated for a breath on the landing. And then chose down.

Alice made her way as quickly as her painful feet would allow, and the faint sounds of the rhythmical rattle and crunch of factory machinery rose up to meet her.

Maybe if she'd chosen up things would have turned out differently ...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Eamer VS Akula

So it came to be decided that Dr Eamer and Dr Akula would meet on a hill one stormy night and have a punch up. Whoever won would take over the Thought Foundry and the defeated one would disappear from the blogosphere and never be seen or heard from again.

Lightning cracked, thunder boomed, and all the other things associated with dark and stormy nights happened too.

At midnight the two men stood on the hill and faced each other.

"You can't win, Eamer! You know that, don't you?" Akula shouted, his face white, teeth glinting. "You're a big softy! This blog belongs to someone with guts! Someone who knows how to have a good time! Someone who knows what it means to truly live, and I know more about that than you do!" He laughed wildly, shaking beneath his black and red cloak. "And I'm the Undead!"

Eamer didn't flinch, but held his head high, rain dripping down his rugged jawline. "That's what you think, Sharky!" he called out over the sounds of the elements, refering to the NATO codename for the Russian nuclear submarines, Akula, Russian for shark. "This is my blog, and I don't care how well you dress, you're a bad apple, and I'm here to show you on your way for good!"

"Come on then!" Akula shouted.

"Right, I will!" Eamer replied.

"I'm waiting!" taunted Akula.

Eamer ran at the figure in black, head down, head-butting him in the stomach and lifting his feet an inch off the ground. Akula hammered on Eamer's back with his fists as he was driven backwards and into a tree. Eamer lifted his head and their eyes locked.

Akula grinned. He said, "My turn!"

Akula shoved Eamer, who tripped over a tree root and went sprawling on his back in the mud, and in a second Akula was on him, hands around Eamer's neck, squeezing. Eamer brought up a fist in an uppercut, knocking Akula's head back and bringing out a scream of pain.

"Aargh!" shouted Akula, staring down at Eamer with a look of hurt in his eyes. "I bit my tongue!"

Eamer twisted onto his front and tried to crawl away, but Akula grabbed his boot to pull him back. The boot, lace broken for ages, came off in his hand, and a warm stench exuding from it cause him to flinch back and cast the thing aside. "Grargh! That's garlic!" he snorted in disgust, before sneezing uncontrollably for several seconds. "I thought we agreed. No garlic, crucifixes, silver bullets, stakes, icons or four-leaf clovers. And I wouldn't bite, scratch, turn into a bat, levitate, or turn into mist!"

Eamer shrugged apologetically. "Sorry about that. Last night's pizza."

"Graargh!" Akula hissed, and pounced on him.

"Ah ah ahh," said Eamer waving a finger. "No hissing."

Akula stopped short, eyes wide. "No hissing!? What do you mean, no hissing!?"

"You're unfairly using your superhuman eerie undeadness to frighten me and gain the upperhand," Eamer explained patiently. "And that's just not cricket."

Akula threw his head back and laughed, "Not cricket, he says!"

Eamer chose just that second to bring his knee up as hard as he could into the vampire's groin.

A long, pain-filled howl filled the night, passing over the rooftops of the villages below, causing dogs to wimper and midwives to cast wary glances at their ceilings.

Eamer stood holding his boot, watching the dark, stooped figure of the defeated prince of darkness limp dejectedly down the hill. He could just hear the mumbled words " ... not cricket, he says ... " drifting back up to him on the breeze, and then Akula was gone.

Eamer sighed and gave a weary smile. "Right," he said. "Now. Where was I?"