Archive for the ‘Change’ Category

The Killing Fields

Posted: January 13, 2013 in Change, Mindfulness, Photography, Travels

[music: The Partisan – Leonard Cohen]

Walking through The Killing Fields was a sombre and emotional experience.

I have been asking myself what responsibility the citizens of democracies have for the actions of their government? I have the feeling that citizens of most democracies have absolved themselves of their countries’ actions, “It’s the government that did it, I didn’t agree” or “Had I know, I wouldn’t have agreed.” Terzani provided me with my own answer to this question: a vote for war with Sparta means going to fight and possibly die… whether you voted for war or not. Citizens need to have ‘skin in the game’ for a democracy to function as one.

We act as we want the world to be. Inaction, indifference, ignorance must be more than tacit approval or disapproval, they are active participation. Despite the discomfort of considering oneself a collaborator in whatever crimes the nation has committed; what other incentive do we have for engagement?   Isn’t a democracy simply a collective responsibility? They certainly aren’t limited liability companies, no matter how much this idea is attractive to leaders and the herd. We elect representatives to represent us, we can not feel that we delegate responsibility of the decisions, we only delegate the action of taking them.

When citizens fail to act to hold their leaders, legislators, prosecutors, and judges to their own standards, then they are themselves complicit in their actions; the citizen is, after all, both the initial decider and final arbiter, no matter how much how lazy or how cowardly he may be. I think that freedom has been erroneously interpreted as “right to abstain from” responsibility, when in fact it must mean “obligation to” act, challenge, change.

Evidence would suggest that our leaders would prefer that we remain ignorant. I find it ironic when references to the ‘nanny state’ refer only to state social programs (like healthcare, unemployment insurance, welfare) and not other matters of state (see link for examples). So I ask myself, why? Now it’s Orwell that provides me with an answer (see below).

My conclusion is that private opinions don’t matter, only our acts are material. Feeling helpless is not an excuse, we all have the ability to set priorities, to take small simple step. And I am the first to opine instead of act. I would go further and ask myself whether the members of groups, churches, associations bear, at the very least, moral responsibility for the actions these organisations?

I ask myself these questions because wars, genocide, war crimes, do not spontaneously appear, they are often the direct or indirect result of the foreign or commercial policy of ‘third party’ nations… our nations. Here is a Hollywood illustration.

I’ll end this with two quotes from George Orwell:

“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” 1984


11 November 2012

Posted: November 12, 2012 in Change

[music: Brothers in Arms – Dire Straits]

I don’t think too often of the time I spent with the Canadian Armed Forces, the 11th of November is an exception.  I remember one year I participated in the commemoration of a young solider, Private Thompson, the sole Canadian bestowed with the Victoria Scarfe for tending to the wounded during the Battle of Paardeberg. He died a decade later in a hospital from appendicitis.

Once democracy was “a question of voting whether or not to go to war with Sparta, and then going there in person, perhaps to die.” (Tiziano Terzani, A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East, Chapter 16).

I learnt much during my time with the Forces. Most importantly, I learnt that there are few ‘just wars’, but Democracy’s Paymasters & Leaders are also masters of invention, rationalisation and propaganda. I am glad that I was never asked to go to war, I never had to commit crimes in the name of an ideological cause none can question, and I didn’t arrive home in a box labelled ‘hero’… or send ‘heroes’ home in their own boxes.

Terzani’s observation leads us to a rather common sense conclusion: that the world, and democracy, would undoubtedly be better served when those who clamour for war have to serve on the font lines themselves – and send their sons and daughters as well.

“There’s so many different worlds
So many different suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones…

…Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We’re fools to make war
On our brothers in arms”

-Dire Straits

The Brooding Solider, photo taken 11 Nov 2011.

Here’s a more personal photo, gone are Kennedy O’Brien and Steve White.

[music: XX – The XX]– 10 hour XX intro!

At the end of July, I spent a week diving on Koh Tao (turtle island) with the very professional diving school Scuba Junction (which I highly recommend if you are planning a visit).

There are only two reasons to spend time on Koh Tao: exceptional Scuba Diving or early-twenties partying. As this island is exclusively devoted to tourism, the locals and imported immigrant workers have adapted to the touristic environment of party goers, luxury resort divers, and an occasional ‘normal’ scuba divers. Aside from diving, there is little that could entice me back to this island; it had a mini-beachside Disney feel to it, there were too many tourists, and the locals were not genuinely welcoming – to the point of being exploitative (i.e.  the very real motorbike scam).

During my stay, I did have the chance to speak with some very interesting Westerners, travellers. One gave me his copy of The Snow Leopard. Over diner one night, another asked me, “We all need money, but what does one really need it for?”

“Food, shelter and health. The rest of what we need, money can’t buy.” he replied. “I use money to buy myself freedom from the things the rest of the world covets.”

Since we spoke, I have been giving this idea a lot of thought; what I have come up with is not terribly original, but it’s not the originality of the thought but how one puts it into practice that I have found to be interesting. [Generalization warning] The world is increasingly being driven my a notion that we need stuff, iPads, smartphones, designer clothes, 64 megapixel cameras, a 64″ 3D flatscreen TV in every room (24″ in the WC), you get the idea. We spend time thinking about these items and then once acquired, we move on to the next target.

So I have made a few decisions: (1)  Get rid of everything I do not use. (2) Buy to replace, not to add. (3) Favour manual over electric. (4) Reduce my physical possession footprint. (5) Favour local over multinational (the human drive for profits and improvement on a human scale is admirable). (6) Focus on what I can achieve with what I have, rather than buying into the belief that something new will make my ambitions effortless.

This post was originally going to be a simple photographic journey, so here are my Koh Tao photos (Lightroom Koh Tao preset):

Ghost Station

Posted: October 13, 2012 in Brussels, Change, Photography

[music: Left Behind – Aqualung]

I visited the extensive remains of an ambitious plan to relieve Place Louise of it’s traffic congestion problem. A vast tunnel running between Place Poelaert and rue Blanche was built and then abandoned due to pressure from local merchants, worried that reducing traffic would impact their business. During this visit I heard of a number of similar projects around Brussels that had been abandoned, usually because of pressure from one local group or another.

It is sad to visit progress abandoned. Public transport in Brussels is not the best but it appears as if the ideas are there; their corpses slowly decaying beneath our very feet. I thought about this for a while and noticed that often connected, priviledged, or vocal minorities hold back societal betterment. These Ghost Stations should not be hidden away like some embarrassing relative, but held up as testament to lost opportunity, wasted effort, squandered resources.

I then though of my own Ghost Stations: lost opportunities and wasted efforts. Maybe it’s normal to have abandoned projects, perhaps there is a natural level of ideas that are wonderful, plans that are made, projects started and then never completed. So instead of sadness, maybe it’s just a good idea to count them, visit and study them, without judgement, with the objective of building fewer of these stations in the future. While the number of ideas I have has not abated,  far fewer projects are started than 1o years ago, and those that are started have greater likelihood of realisation; one can become more discriminating with one’s time and resources.

I am not sure I see the same phenomenon in society today. Was it always this way? Is Societal Wisdom harder to come by?

October part III

Posted: October 1, 2012 in Change, Mindfulness, Music

[music: October – U2]

And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care

And Kingdoms rise
And Kingdoms fall
But you go on…

…and on…”

October, U2, 1981



Posted: July 19, 2012 in Change

[music: Time – Pink Floyd]

Time to go. Bye for now.

P.S.  July is living up to my expectations, as much of a paradox as that might be.

Ready to go

[music: Le Vent Nous Portera – Noir Désir]

This is a Summer Exercise for all of my readers, it’s called the Pizza Walk Experience. It’s designed to eliminate hesitation; the task is very simple: “Go into three shops over the next week & make an absurd request.”

I did my Pizza Walk Experience this week. I was going to start with Corné Port-Royal. But every time I approached the shop, I started to laugh out loud. So I decided to ask for a Ham-Pinnaple Pizza at Quick. The experience was exactly as described; I was nervous, my stomach was telling me that this was definitely not a good idea. I waited my turn and when I got to the counter, with a straight face,  I asked “Could I have a ham and pineapple pizza please.”

“Pizza?” an astonished girl replied.

“With ham and pineapple.”

“We don’t sell pizza here.”

“Isn’t this a Chinese restaurant?”

“This is a establishment that sells hamburgers.”

“Ah, well have a nice day then.” – I left feeling elated.

My next stops were: Corné Port-Royal (chocolate boutique) to ask for an espresso and Voyageurs du Monde (travel agency) to enquire what kind of backpacks they had in stock. My experience is that the longer you can draw it out, the more absurd you can make it, the more fun it will be.

So – if you read this blog be a good sport and take the time to do this exercise and write about it in the comments.* Do the first one today – write while it’s fresh. Here are some suggestions: ask for jet fuel at the gas station (to make your car go faster), ask for a Hemès scarf at Louis Vuitton, ask for MSG on your food at a bio-restaurant, a Samsung Galaxy at the Apple Store, a car wash at a dry cleaner, a pepper mill at a Peugeot car dealer, a BMW at a Ford dealer… Use your imagination and try it – 3 absurd requests over the next 7 days, starting today. You will be amazed.

* call it my need for external cyber-validation 🙂