September 21, 2010
Ecuador Rainforest and Oil Giants: The Battle Continues
Back in 2005, many of Ecuador's indigenous people started fighting to keep the oilmen out of their ancestral homes.
In a recent visit to the Ecuador jungle, I learned that not only is it still a major issue first-hand from people I met from the Shuar tribe among others, but it's becoming harder and harder to keep the giant oil conglomerates at bay.
Over 25,000 square kilometers of the area (referred to as The Oriente) is apparently protected, although increased development and drilling means that you have to move further into the edges of the rainforest to experience untouched prestine forest.
Oil activity has been so prevalent that a town has even been named after Shell, which we drove through on the way to Macas, east of Puyo, a popular kick-off point for Jungle Tours in the south.
On our way into the Jungle to a 'primary rainforest' we were told, we noticed an abundance of telephone lines. I was shocked at how far into the dirt roads and paths they extended. By the time we hit the Shuar village, there were none in sight of course, but you could 'hear' western 'noise' not that far in the distance.
Sadly the noise was of electric saws chopping trees down; we were told it was to build lodges and homes for the indigenous people, not to sell to the outside world. Below is the head of the family in the village where we stayed who returned in the late afternoon with a large cut tree, in this case, it was to be used as firewood for cooking.
Ecuador's income from exports is dominated by oil, sadly, at over 40%. It contributes to the economy so much that the government is giving up parts of the Amazon jungle for oil extraction. Virtually all of the Oriente is apparently now available for oil drilling, including indigenous and protected areas.
As far back as 1999, the government sold exploration rights in two areas, known as Blocks 23 and 24, which are at the heart of Indian reserves - without consulting the tribes involved.
"Oil Remains a Huge
Battle in Ecuador"
This is precisely the area we went to this past August; an area that is dominated by three indigenous peoples: the Achuar, Shuar (we stayed in a village with the Shuars) and the Kichwa. Each has set up political organizations to fight the corporate battle.
The Achuar have legal title to the land but under Ecuador's constitution the state has sole right to anything beneath the soil - in other words all mineral rights.
That said, the threat remains and is only getting worse since the main external pressure comes from Ecuador's foreign debt.
Five years ago, ChevronTexaco was facing a multi-billion-dollar lawsuit there, apparently because of use of outdated technology which contaminated the soil and water systems, causing widespread health problems.
This past week, the plaintiffs suing Chevron Corp. over oil contamination have raised their estimate of damages to a range of $40 billion to $90 billion. According to FoxNews.com, a Chevron spokesman rejected the new estimate Friday as a wildly distorted attempt to discredit the oil company.
The law suit covers operations in Ecuador by Texaco from 1972-1990, when it managed a drilling consortium. They calculated liability for "excess cancer deaths" caused chiefly by groundwater contamination at up to $69.7 billion, while estimating actual soil and groundwater cleanup at between $883 million and $1.9 billion.
Whether it is unnecessary death or unnecessary loss of prestine primary rainforest in the Amazon Jungle, it was very sad but very real to witness ongoing destruction of a unique jungle that can't be replaced.
September 12, 2010
Hey Digital Maven: How Okay Are You With Silence?
Let's take a look at polarity for a minute, not chemical polarity, but linguistic polarity which does in fact change our behavior, our wants, our likes, our dislikes and so on.
The most well-known polarity items are those that are sensitive to negation and related expressions - think: negative and positive expressions. The speech and behavioral patterns that you consistently do again and again define your life experiences.
When we live 'most of our life' in a digital world, we can't possibly define our lives any other way other than digitally. The same applies to the opposite. There's only so much space, time and energy we can dedicate to a given thing - does that one thing fall into a digital realm or a non-digital realm? Those patterns become what we know, what our bodies and minds do and what we 'become' most comfortable with. While we may argue that these patterns do not define us, over time, they do in fact become part of our DNA, our make-up, our new persona, our new identity.
Among other things, I suppose I could call myself a 'digital maven.' It didn't start that way -- I'm not a daughter of an engineer or from a family who spent their life employed at HP, Intel or Apple. Quite the contrary, I'm about as opposite of a poster child for Silicon Valley as you can find, yet.....here I am, a victim of the digital revolution. (G'head, slam for me the use of the word victim, but not unlike other addictions, technology takes on its victims in the same way cocaine and alcohol do).
We can make our own choices and create the necessary life balances but that doesn't mean we don't fall prey to the addiction. Pattern repetition: repeat, repeat, repeat. Ever have this feeling? I'm a mouse caught in a digital and social media maze -- please let me out.
I grew up in an environment where access to a digital life was limited and discouraged. The mantras I received included getting an old fashioned education, reading literary masterpieces and more than anything else - world experience. "Get your hands dirty, and walk on the dark side, the tough side and there.....there, you'll learn how to get ahead in life."
If it came easily, my grandfather believed, it wasn't real, or at least not sustainable. Two main things that fell into the easy category as a teenager: TV and fast food. Both were off limits without some kind of negotiation. We were also a family who held onto a rotary phone for longer than most.
Falling into technology twenty years ago had its rewards then as much as it does today. Innovation is exciting - you can feel the pulse of leading edge.....you have an opportunity to see it, hear it, taste it, feel it, and experience it.
If you're not an early adopter at first, the digital world soon converts you into one. Suddenly you wake up and you've become a geek, unclear of how you made it from luddite to digital maven. It's not as if there's a single moment where a lightbulb goes off and you suddenly can fix your pal's PC or set up your aunt's cell phone. It's gradual like all addictions.
Once you move into that world, it's hard to turn back to a mindset where silence becomes your truth rather than your digital persona.
Let's face it - while many will argue that their digital persona, in other words, who they are online, IS their physical persona, it's not the same - it can't be. The medium changes us, whether it's a large monitor, a small mobile screen or a GPS gadget. As humans, we simply respond differently to human touch -- sound, sight and smell in the physical world than we do in a digital, virtual one. It doesn't mean that innovation and progress isn't blurring the lines (read: singularity), but it's important to acknowledge the distinctions for us to understand the digital addiction and how it can and does lead us further away from presence, and further away from silence. Singularity enthusiasts and futurists may think differently about this of course.
Enter my world. This world is one which never shuts off and is rarely disconnected from the web in one form or another. In other words, life is almost never offline. What does almost 'never' lead to?
Almost 'never' leads to a world where silence can't exist, at least not as we have known and understood it for centuries.
Enter Silicon Valley, a place some call its own planet. Others call it a insular bubble shut off from the 'real world.' It doesn't mean that everyone who lives in Silicon Valley is living in an insular bubble, but what it does mean is that the technology culture Silicon Valley has created is all digital and as such, removed from the way the rest of the world thinks and lives.
I moved here after the 2000 crash, but before the recent economic downturn when start-ups were not getting funded, companies were not hiring and the outlook was grim. That said, there was still advancement - products were still being launched, companies were sold and innovation ploughed ahead economic surplus or not.
The early adopters and creators continued to throw invites my way for every new social media service, plug-in, mobile feature and software download under the sun; I got a daily dose of them for months. In this increasingly 'more authentic than ever' time, I was asked to 'friend' people I never met or heard of on Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn, MySpace...........the list goes on. And on.
Are you tired yet? At what point do you say "get a life, enuf already." It's not about keeping up with the Jones anymore; it's about keeping up with the digital mavens and these mavens keep coming at you from all sides. Their persistence is so prolific that you can't really escape them if you work and play among them, nor can you create uninterrupted time for silence.
Ahh yes, that magical word: Silence. Being connected to all of these disparate digital worlds takes time, energy and focus because for the most part, these worlds are silos even though there's an attempt to integrate more and more of them. Integration isn't happening fast enough nor is it a priority, and so we continue like mice in the maze of ever exploring one path (i.e., social network with no clear value-add or problem that it solves) after another.
*Check to see what my friends are doing on Facebook, do status updates and write on their walls.
*Find out who poked me and why and then respond.
*Respond to comments in MySpace world.
*Answer questions from people who send me notes on LinkedIn despite the fact that they have my email address and have known me for a decade.
*Check messages on the six vertical market social networks that promise to keep me appraised of the latest in the world of my top passions and interests.
*Check aggregator for top news and to sift through favorite blogs and sites.
*Read Google News. Read Yahoo Alerts.
*Check Google Analytics. Check Statcounter. Check feeds.
*Check blog post comments. Respond.
*Respond and monitor spam on blog. Respond and monitor spam on Facebook. Respond and monitor spam on.....
*Try to find useful and important stuff in email in the midst of useless and irrelevant stuff.
*Wonder daily how on earth you got on so many newsletter lists for so many companies. Try to unsubscribe and note that the volume continues to go up despite your best effort.
*Update location on FourSquare. Update again on Gowalla.
*Tweet something useful on Twitter or retweet someone else's thought provoking comment. Tweet again. Respond to tweets.
*Update status on LinkedIn.
*Write Blog Post. Respond to comments and emails about blog post.
*Make silly correction from something someone didn't like from blog post they see as inaccurate but isn't really.
*Update contact database.
*Do back up.
*Copy files over for trip and then do again. Back up. Do it again.
*Synchronization. It always works flawlessly right? Don't get me started.
*Download new updates and upgrades for software, hardware, web browsers, mobile phones....
*Download new apps for phone, laptop, iPod, iPad, Droid, Blackberry, do it again.
*Upgrade to new operating system: Phone, Laptop, Blackberry, iPod, iPad, Droid. Do it again.
*Download new printer drivers.
*Windows Crash. Firefox Crash. Chrome Crash. And yes, Apple fan boys, iPod Crash. It happens almost daily and I own five.
Since I work in this industry, go there I must, at least to some degree. Create more boundaries, more balance, you might say. And I do and others I know have tried also. In making that conscious choice however, bear in mind that the inevitable happens: you move yourself further away from your 'digital tribe.' If you are not fully integrated into your 'digital tribe' yet you're not 'out of it' either, you're living a luke warm 'digital existence,' at least in the eyes of the tribe.
Yet, if you have your toes dipped into the waters of the digital tribe, you're not fully living in the tribe that lives, breathes and honors 'silence' either. No-man's land. Doris Lessing remains a great read for those who have never been attached to any one label, any one culture, any one name.
When there's nothing to click, nothing to push, nothing to update, nothing to respond to, silence takes over. It can be disconcerting at first, especially for the digital maven. For example, watch a digital maven board an airplane. As they walk onto the plane, they're checking text messages -- head down -- paying little attention to the announcements or people around them. They check into Foursquare, send out a tweet and make a phone call the instant they sit down, thereafter begrudgingly switching their device off when the order comes from the cockpit.
Continue to watch. They'll look around, then back down to their lap, then at their device, which is turned off. They play with the keys anyway just like a smoker coddles the unlit cigarette when they're forced to abstain. They're at a loss where to turn and what to do. Read a magazine? A Book? Unless it's on a Kindle, it would appear foreign, out-dated.
The neurons don't know how to fire up that part of their brain - it's out of practice and 'hooked' on digital connection.....addicted to that digital connection. Enter the world of no silence. Silence doesn't have the juice they need, the 'hit' that keeps them engaged, connected, in motion. Hey Digital Maven, ask yourself an important truth: "how okay are you with silence?" Then, sit with the question for a long, long time. In Silence of course.
April 29, 2010
Saving Whales: It's Not Just WhalesI heard Dr. Paul Watson talk this past week at the California Academy of Sciences. For over thirty years, he has been at the helm of the world's most active marine protection Sea Shepherd Conservation Society His real passion? Saving whales.
Originally from Canada, he says with force, "I'm not here to watch whales getting killed, I'm here to save him. I'm here to bankrupt and sink the Japanese whaling fleet." He reinforces how serious the state of our oceans are in and reminds us that if our oceans die, we die.
Paul worries that we're going to destroy the diversity in our oceans and one of these days, we're going to pull one too many and we won't survive it.
Part II of his story.
April 05, 2010
TEDX Berkeley: Inspiration, Music & Form Under the Wheeler RoofTEDX held their first Berkeley event, with curators Jessica Mah and Kai Chang behind its organization together with dozens of other co-organizers and volunteers. Held in Berkeley's Wheeler Auditorium, I ran into TEDsters I've known for years, but the event also drew a number of students who heard loud and clear: Anything is Possible. Find Your Purpose. Follow your Dream.
Psychologist Dacher Keltner who focuses on the biological and evolutionary origins of human emotion, talked to us about the idea of compassion and sympathy breakthroughs. He used the example of Miklos Nyiszli, where 75% of soldiers refused to shoot the enemy.
To give us some background on others who have given this topic some thought, he also brought up Alfred Russel Wallace who believed that something as 'raw' as cmpassion and sympathy couldn't be formed by evolution.
Let's face it. Compassion is highly contageous. Human goodness has to be viral. We've all seen example after example where gratitude has spread through networks. Keltner shows us an unfortunate and yet not surprising chart on sympathy and compassion across about a dozen countries, which ranked U.S. children close to the bottom, only to be surpassed by the Brits. (the chart was referred to as A Compassion Deficit, sadly appropriate I thought).
Another favorite on the TEDXB stage was an overview of the latest research and unveilings of David Ewing Duncan, who wrote a book I'm eager to read called "Experimental Man: What One Man's Body Reveals about His Future, Your Health, and Our Toxic World. From mercury and obesity to lifestyle and chemicals in our environment, we explore what we can do from what we learn through very early testing and what is simply beyond our control. He gives us examples of what cutting-edge medical technology can and cannot tell us about our future health and what the implications are, including Orwellian possibilities. He talks about four of them: 1. Big Brother - we have to be careful about what we learn and where our medical records end up. 2. The Obama Effect - things are changing but we still have a long way to go. 3. Discrimination 4. Genetic thrallism (Gattaca) David also shows us some frightening results of mercury from fish and discusses anxiety and fear factors - how and where they come into play. Physician Daniel Kraft gives us a future glimpse of medicine, with so many examples that it was overwhelming - so many implications. Fascinating and yet scary innovations that are within our grasp today and more coming within the next decade, shared a common theme: it's all going digital. There's an increasing integration of IT, devices and the web. We look at new 'creations' of wearable devices, which are continuously shrinking in size. Seniors can now wear attachable and embedded devices which means that loved ones can monitor their health and changes from miles away. Wearable devices are turning up trends we've never been able to discover before. Robotic surgery will enable surgeons to be 'super-enabled,' by adding layers of augmented reality and augmented decision support in real-time. With brain-computer interfaces (BCI), you can use thought to control things you couldn't in the past. Minute robots will be able to move through your colon and perform surgery. Chips can turn into microscopes. Microbots will clean out our arteries after gobbling down a heavy-cheese layered pizza.
Other speakers included Neuroscientist Bradley Voytek, inspired by the personality shift and decline of his grandfather's brain from Parkinsons, TED prize winner Jill Tarter from SETI who reminded us that we are all made of stardust and come from the same source, and Diane Benscoter who talked about how her brain was affected by her time spent with the Moonies. Eric Cheng encouraged us to save our oceans, Amit Deutsch shared his experience about a trip taken with Palestians in an effort to move closer to understanding and further away from hatred and Gerver Tulley, who I heard speak at TED several years ago, showed examples of students who learn in an exciting, dynamic way at the Tinkering School.
Amit Deutsch Bradley Voytek Drue Kataoka Eric Cheng Eric Gradman UC Men's Octet Gerver Tully SETI's Jill Tarter Curator Jessica Mah UC Men's Octet TED Berkeley's recap here.
March 28, 2010
From mercury and obesity to lifestyle and chemicals in our environment, we explore what we can do from what we learn through very early testing and what is simply beyond our control.
He gives us examples of what cutting-edge medical technology can and cannot tell us about our future health and what the implications are, including Orwellian possibilities. He talks about four of them:
1. Big Brother - we have to be careful about what we learn and where our medical records end up.
2. The Obama Effect - things are changing but we still have a long way to go.
4. Genetic thrallism (Gattaca)
David also shows us some frightening results of mercury from fish and discusses anxiety and fear factors - how and where they come into play.
Physician Daniel Kraft gives us a future glimpse of medicine, with so many examples that it was overwhelming - so many implications. Fascinating and yet scary innovations that are within our grasp today and more coming within the next decade, shared a common theme: it's all going digital. There's an increasing integration of IT, devices and the web.
We look at new 'creations' of wearable devices, which are continuously shrinking in size. Seniors can now wear attachable and embedded devices which means that loved ones can monitor their health and changes from miles away. Wearable devices are turning up trends we've never been able to discover before.
Robotic surgery will enable surgeons to be 'super-enabled,' by adding layers of augmented reality and augmented decision support in real-time. With brain-computer interfaces (BCI), you can use thought to control things you couldn't in the past. Minute robots will be able to move through your colon and perform surgery. Chips can turn into microscopes. Microbots will clean out our arteries after gobbling down a heavy-cheese layered pizza.
Other speakers included Neuroscientist Bradley Voytek, inspired by the personality shift and decline of his grandfather's brain from Parkinsons, TED prize winner Jill Tarter from SETI who reminded us that we are all made of stardust and come from the same source, and Diane Benscoter who talked about how her brain was affected by her time spent with the Moonies.
Eric Cheng encouraged us to save our oceans, Amit Deutsch shared his experience about a trip taken with Palestians in an effort to move closer to understanding and further away from hatred and Gerver Tulley, who I heard speak at TED several years ago, showed examples of students who learn in an exciting, dynamic way at the Tinkering School.
UC Men's Octet
SETI's Jill Tarter
Curator Jessica Mah
UC Men's Octet
TED Berkeley's recap here.
Sarah Palin: the Dangerous AirheadThis past week in the Huffington Post, Mona Gable writes an amusing but scary account of Palin's most recent examples of her ongoing hunger to become a celebrity and folksy hero, regardless what it takes.
Her first example is Palin's documentary deal on Alaska she struck with The Discovery Channel.
Gable writes: "beyond semantics, what were the folks at Discovery Channel thinking? Did anyone there consider the irony of hiring a woman to host a "nature" show who disdains nature? I mean, before she fleeced you for more than $1 million an episode, (for that matter, John McPhee would have been excellent, and I'm sure he'd have done it for much less), that maybe it wasn't the smartest choice given her strange relationship to the truth and her polarizing politics? Did you forget that in her brief and erratic tenure as governor, Palin had a dreadful environmental record, championing such animal-friendly policies as the aerial shooting of wolves? Or refusing to give protected status to such endangered species as the beluga whale? Even now, Palin proudly and avidly flaunts her ignorance about climate change."
The essence of Gable's piece however is about her "refusal to take responsibility for stirring up violence on the right with her incendiary rhetoric."
She writes about Palin's suggestion that Obama was "paling around with terrorists" when she was running for vice president. Mona also reminds us of her other vocal assertions, when she "claimed that the president had inserted "death panels" in the health care bill, precisely so they could kill her Down syndrome infant and her aging parents."
Read more, including her final plea for someone to hold Palin accountable and set things straight.
March 14, 2009
Economic Slump: Time to Tap into Nature's Ancient Wisdom
Ever notice that when you stop writing for awhile, writer's block takes over and cripples you? I've known for awhile that I needed to take a couple months off from blogging and from the web in general, but not because I grew tired of writing or new stuff. Disconnect from the web and new media when its your bread-and-butter? You must be mad I can hear you say.
When I was in Africa late last year through early 2009, I had laptop in hand and blogged but not nearly as much as I expected. Nor was I connected as much as I expected I'd be.
I've lived in Africa three times, so its not as if I didn't know what to expect and yet somehow I figured I'd be so inspired since it had been awhile since my last visit, I wouldn't stop writing. Blog posts would be pouring out of me.
But no. Not even close. Notice the break in between my last South African blog post and the most recent ones. The closer I got to nature -- on a regular basis -- the more disconnected I felt from the blog. It was all about immersion.
Think about it: all of the best coaches in the world pitch immersion and language courses based on immersion or living in the country are the best way to go. That's what off-site business retreats are based on and one of the reasons why the Aspen Institute and Renaissance weekends are so insightful and inspiring.
We're human. We need immersion or as the Aussies put it: walkabout time. Frankly, most of us don't get enough of it. I read a Brad Feld tweet recently that updated us on his run in the mountains behind his house and that because of it, he was "completely and totally broken."
Of course he was. Bravo. Nature does that to people, particularly when you're really present with it. It's our roots - all of us regardless of what continent we were born on or connect to.
There was something about being so close to the African earth, particularly in the parts of the continent where humanity began, that begged me to listen to its silence. Over and over again. Listening to its silence calls for a dismissal of machines, at least it was the case for me. As much as I was inspired to write, I couldn't do so on a "machine." It would have disrupted the silence. And so, I took it all in, digested it and secretly hoped it was getting 'baked' into my DNA so I wouldn't ever lose the feeling.
I felt the same way in the Israeli desert, the Arizona desert and when I drove across country a few years back. I thought I'd blog about the whole trip and instead, took notes along the way and blogged after the fact.
The downside of the latter is that the posts ended up reading like a travel log rather than the richness you get from live-blogging. I'm a fan of the latter but when I'm that close to dirt, flowers and trees, its as if the force of Mother Nature herself pulls me away from anything that has a power cord or battery.
Isn't it a great time to reconnect with nature, in an era where you've either been laid off, your contracts are smaller than they've been in years or you have a full time job but most of your budgets have been slashed by ten?
When I was 21, I traveled around the world with my 32 year old British boyfriend, who was at the time a marketing rockstar in the London scene where we were living at the time. He took nearly two years off if I recall correctly, but not without thought. Would he be able to slot back in after being intimately plugged into every thread and conversation twenty four months later? After all, he was a 32, not 22. Unforgiveable? Perhaps, but certainly not traditional. We returned, he got a job and life carried on.
Years later, I did the same thing. I took off for a few years - Africa, Europe, you name it. I'll never forget an experience I had a month or so after my return.
I used to do PR for Computerworld so there were a ton of old copies of the magazine in my grandparents basement where we stored everything at the time. The industry stories hadn't changed all that much and while there were new versions, new companies and new solutions, I couldn't believe how easy it was to slot back into the industry without being connected with anyone for a few years. It took me three long days of reading to get back up to speed.
Today, the story may be a little different. With countless examples of Kurzweil's Singularity coming into play, everything is moving at a much faster pace and jumping out of the game and back in a couple of years later may be tougher. Perhaps true, perhaps not.
This much I know. Despite all the articles and blog posts I've read that traditional media and PR is dead, Jeff Jarvis' WWGD book tells me that the middle men are dead and that the economic recession means marketers will starve for quite awhile, there are always opportunities.
Remember Helen Keller's famous quote, something I remind myself of often: "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us." Newspapers have been doing this for years, Hollywood too.
Wherever there are threats, there are opportunities; it just may mean taking a step back (for awhile), taking less money (for awhile) and looking at the world a little differently (for awhile). Reinventing oneself or simply a role can be magical and rewarding.
If you're good at what you do and you listen and think strategically, there will be a need for your skills even if they get used in a way you never imagined. And trust me, if you're in marketing or communications, they will.
Ignite the universe, spend a little time with the trees and ask them for ancient wisdom. Ask them what your "real value" is. And then listen. In that silence, you may just learn something very powerful about yourself and about what is happening around us.
Remember that not just the industry is seeing a significant shift, but the world is undergoing a dramatic change as well and if you're not tapping into that energy source too, you're missing the mark (we just elected a black president baby and money is getting pumped into energy at home and countless other things.....)
While it may sound like a flighty "new age" solution to the changes we're undergoing, I'm not suggesting that asking the ancient skies and trees for guidance is all you do. I'm simply suggesting that you do it.