How do you change the world?


One of the ubiquitous BIG ideas du jour is that we need a “paradigm shift”, a global change of consciousness away from the eternal growth, more money trumps sanity cycle of human development, and towards a sustainable culture with an equitable relationship towards each other and the earth.  But change is hard and slowing the machine that is running the world seems impossible without a major shift in thinking about our relationships with it.  As a media maker, my question is: what is the (a) message that people will hear and heed? 

People around the world, non-profits, NGOs, progressive politicians, academics, civil society groups are all calling for a change, but for the most part it is a change within the existing framework, not the radical shift that we need to take on the enormous forces of neoliberalism.  “Save the Whales!” “No to War!” “Stop Citizens United!”  Each of them is aimed at one piece, one symptom of the increasingly commodified world. Few are looking at the root cause of it all. 

Is everyone’s idea of utopia the same?  If you are wealthy, does the plight of the poor in a utopian future even enter your picture? Does great wealth even figure in a utopian future?  For me, people would all have plenty, creativity would be valued as highly as intellect, and concepts of class and race would disappear.  How do we get there? 

Movies about the future are mostly about dystopia, since that’s where the conflict is.  And in many ways we are living that dystopia. So how do we turn this into utopia without a superhero? 

If most people believe that wealth is the be all, end all, how do we show them a better future to strive for?  Media is everywhere these days.  We are bombarded with messages whereever we go. TV, magazines, movies, billboards, cell phones, the Internet. For a great majority of people they are being hit most of their waking life with messages try to sell them something: all kinds merchandise, normative ideas, the truth from someone’s perspective.  The stories that we hear are curated by people with an agenda, usually not in our best interest. 

How could we take back the media and sell people on the ideas that will make life better for us all? 

One way is through alternative media, be it low power radio, streaming Internet, and tactical media. The reach may be smaller, but we are the gatekeepers. But one of the drawbacks is that now that we have so many ways to receive our information, people tend to go to sites that reflect already held opinions, so having a media site that challenges the status quo does not mean that the people who need to hear it will.

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Who has access?

This is a great infographic! Just a few of the findings: Global Internet Usage Statistics 2013 Infographic Highlights:

44.8% of the world’s internet users are located in Asia.
21.5% of the world’s internet users are located in Europe.
11.4% of the world’s internet users are located in North America.
South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong are the 3 countries with the fastest average internet speed in the world (the US is 12th).
Hong Kong, Tokyo and San Francisco are the top 3 cheapest cities in world when it comes to purchasing a 200mpbs internet connection.
The top 3 countries in the world when it comes to fast and cheap internet service are South Korea, Finland and Sweden.
In Finland, it is a constitutional right to have access to broadband internet.
94% of the people in South Korea have access to a high speed internet connection.

Global Internet Usage Statistics 2013 InfographicView more infographics from

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International Public Enemy #1

2 days ago a video went viral. For a few hours people were inspired, but quickly it turned into vitriolic critique not only of the film but the concept. Many of the negative critiques have been targeted at Invisible Children’s practices as an organization, not whether Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, is a war criminal. It has drawn a line between optimists and pessimists. Between people who want to believe that they can help make the world better and cynics who see this kind of thing as useless and manipulative. It has quickly devolved into a discussion of whether clicking on a link can help and whether this is a money making scam. The criticisms break down like this:

This is called slacktivism – the self-deluding idea that by sharing, liking, or retweeting something you are helping out.

It would be great to get rid of Kony. He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years. But let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

Yes, the guy behind this campaign acted with a lot of hubris. And probably did not think about the amount of scrutiny that an idea this big would have to go through. Some are calling it a a scam because the heads of the non-profit are paying themselves ninety grand  /yr., which doesn’t really sound unreasonable to me.

For me it is a cautionary tale about dealing with a huge international issue with a simple media message. You need to craft it well, have a kick-ass communications person ready for the back-lash, and think through all the ways that you could be misunderstood. My take on this is that they thought that their concept was so good and so simple that everyone would jump on board and they would save the world.

But now I am not sure whether people think Kony or Jason Russell, Invisible Children’s founder, are the worst.

And some of the criticisms from “experts” are a bit hyperbolic on their end. For instance the leap like this:

One of the biggest issues with a simplistic “Stop Kony” message is that discussions of Navy Seals or drone strikes are inevitable when patience runs out with Ugandan-led efforts. But what about the dozens or hundreds of abducted and brainwashed kids? Should we bomb everyone?

Many of the criticisms are coming from other relief workers in Uganda who think that Invisible Children should have a different agenda. But I got tired of reading lots of bloggers and opinions and decided to go to a non-blogger for some clarification and found a UN site that stated the following:

[This was written several months ago, before Invisible Children’s video] Economic and social recovery in northern Uganda has been slow, despite more than US$600 million having been spent in foreign aid in the years since the LRA was active there. According to development agencies and local communities, many are still living in abject poverty and in constant fear of a return of the LRA.

Development agencies and local communities cannot envisage economic and social recovery in northern Uganda until the LRA is disbanded and stability is brought to the whole region. “The fear of the LRA returning is affecting development,” said Bishop John Odama.

Lobongo Eromoja, a survivor of April 2005 LRA attack on the town of Atiak, in which some 200 people died, said: “When I hear that Joseph Kony is arrested or killed, only then will I know peace has returned… until then, we can’t rule out the possibility of them returning.”

And not all report are negative. The NY Times reports:

In this case, some experts said Invisible Children’s campaign, while oversimplified, could help add to the international resolve to stop the killing.

“It’s ultimately a good thing,” said Pernille Ironside, a senior adviser for child protection at Unicef who is an expert on the Lord’s Resistance Army. “It’s not just one organization in the United States who has discovered this issue,” she said. Still, Invisible Children “is essentially distilling a very complicated 26-year war into something that’s consumable and understandable by mass media.”

And so at the end of the day, there are many shades of gray in this scenario. If it helps the traumatized people of Uganda, and focuses attention on the other child soldiers in Africa, and catches a despicable war criminal, then it is successful. It has certainly gotten millions of people across a wide spectrum talking.

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The New Old Hatred of Women

Oklahoma Senator protests "personhood" bill

To paraphrase a male friend — “Mandatory transvaginal ultrasound, restrictions on contraception, being forced to bring your rapist’s child to term and simply accept it as “a broken gift from God”, demonizing Planned Parenthood, Rush Limbaugh calling woman who want contraception to be covered by health care “SLUTS”, WOW … these Republicans are a bunch of weird and repressive (repressed?) characters who would undoubtedly have been more at home in the 15th Century telling people how to pray and when and whom they could screw …

I find it extremely difficult to believe that all my conservative girlfriends are okay with this kind of idiocy. I get that we can be on opposite sides on a lot of issues, but in this case I can’t see it at all. Why aren’t they up in arms? And the contradictions are almost too twisted to believe.  The old white men don’t want the government in our lives, yet they want to mandate that women can be denied medicine prescribed by a doctor because your boss doesn’t want to you have it.  Don’t like death panels?  They bring us rape panels. Forcing doctors to do unnecessary and intrusive procedures (we won’t even discuss the extra costs) and in some states to read from scripts written by non-medical bureaucrats. And who is getting between women and their doctors?  The Grand Old Party itself, mostly a bunch of old white farts.  This has gone too far!  What will it take to stop them? 

THE NEW AMAZONS. 13 October 2011. Inna Shevchenko, 21, is one of the leaders of Femen. The feminist Ukrainian protest group organizes topless protests against sex tourists, sexism and social problems. Photo by Guillaume Herbaut.

These women in Ukraine have the right idea!

This photo, recognized on Friday with a World Press Photo award, is bound to grab attention, as breasts often do, and the Ukranian feminist group, FEMEN, clearly plays to that reaction.

The Stance: Shevchenko’s pose, with the raised fist, speaks of her mission to teach women to be more assertive. The figure of the ‘Amazonian’ is a central reference FEMEN utilizes. If the identification is to the “other,” suggesting the marginalization these women feel, it also points to ‘Amazonians,’ in the cultural imagination, as a matriarchal tribe made up of fearsome and fearless women.

The Headdress and Tattoo: The headdress is another a reference to the Amazonians, as well as political protest as public theater. This actual garland and brightly coloured ribbons also suggest femininity, something which the group is keen to display in contrast to some feminist groups in the past. As for the garland tattoo, it shows how Shevchenko’s cause is so essential it is physically mapped to her, her body as both cause and message. The strategy overall involves the reversal of signs: if femininity is seen to equal weakness and vulnerability, Shevchenko and FEMEN demand that it equal strength. What could be the crown of a beauty queen is willed to equal the headdress of a tribal warrior.

The Location: Shevchenko is depicted in open grassland on the edge of what seems to be a cluster of Soviet-style apartment blocks. This speaks of marginalization as well as the groups Ukrainian and urban environment. The grassy field upon which Shevchenko stands is another clever double symbol representing both marginalization and pastoral freedom. It reveals a dream of an Eden, a renewed innocence directed at and by the female body in contrast to the body’s exploitation by mainstream culture.

What this portrait also tells us is that, exposed or hidden, women’s bodies are a hot topic. (I mean, see all the worry over the fact that the woman in the World Press winning photo is wearing a burkha).Veiled or on display, the female body is defined by sexuality in a way that male bodies are not. (It is worth pointing out that if a man walked down the street topless he would not get arrested, and neither would he attract much extra attention at a protest). With this simultaneously innocent and knowing revelation of the female torso, I think Shevchenko is also asking us to realize how “exposed” or “hidden” are false distinction — that it is the human form and, as such, represents identity, physicality and power.

FEMEN considers it a risk worth taking to draw attention to the problems women face in their society. This picture as a photographic object must undergo the same difficult process of interpretation – is it a kind of pornography or a protest item that raises the awareness of FEMEN’s cause? It is highly reliant on context. But in a world where the female body is so often appropriated by others, especially by visual media, it’s also FEMEN’s statement and demand to use their bodies as visual tools to further the cause of equality. Full article here

American Women Unite! We can take back our power, too! Lysistrata, Amazon Women, good old Frontier Women. We do not have to take this crap!!!

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Time for the Paradigm Shift

This guy is fascinating. And thought provoking. I am ready for the revolution. What do I bring to it?

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A Masters in Arts in Cultural Sustainability? (via A Chesapeake Journal)

This is what I have been up to lately. And why I am tired in a really good way.

A Masters in Arts in Cultural Sustainability? Yup. Wow. Think about that for a minute. Cultural sustainability. It includes identifying ways to protect, enhance and support the cultural traditions of local communities, wherever and whatever they are. Critically important work in a country where day by day, minute by minute, our communities are looking more and more the same, our neighborhoods and lifestyles are looking more and more the same, kids are doing the same stuff from sea to shining … Read More

via A Chesapeake Journal

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The Culture of Impermanence

Books, records, photos. Tangible things. They are disappearing. Kids growing up now don’t even know what a negative looks like. What will happen to our libraries when everything is digital?

As I write this blog post, I am aware that it is only going out in bits and bytes and could with a single key stroke disappear in an instant. Back in the day, 20 years ago, if you wrote something, it was permanent for at least the amount of time it took to disintegrate or be destroyed by you on your own time line. A book could be passed on to your friend, or checked out from a library to read and return. With Kindles and their clones, the book could simply disappear. Will they still be referred to as books? Digilit? Will the library survive? Will the poor be shut out of the reading world? Will all books have to be downloaded to a digital tool? Will it take some sort of energy just to read a book?

As more and more newspapers and magazines go digital, will it become cost prohibitive to publish and the magazine disappear, too? Will the differences between high end publications on a really nice stock and the tabloid printed on newsprint be erased? What of tearing out photos and those perfume inserts? Will Mom and Dad read their morning news on a tablet at the breakfast table?

On the one hand, the computer age did promise a paperless society. In futuristic sci-fi movies there were always computer screens everywhere, and it all seemed very clean and tidy. But now that we are living that future, already there have been some significant losses. I loved album art. The cover of a CD is about 14% of the size of a record album and the art you can see on your iPod is even smaller. Yes, I know that artists always find places to display their talents, but the album art was and the book covers are extensions of the art they wrap. And while they will still be made, viewing them on a tiny screen is an entirely different experience.

And there is the sharing part. When you had an album, a CD, a book, a magazine and you wanted to share it with your friends, no one told you that you couldn’t. Not any more. The new paradigm is you pay more and you can’t share. And should you have a problem with your computer, tablet, iPod, etc. and lose your digital copy, you can just pay again.

For photographs it is a whole other set of issues. We have so many ways to take a photo and so more and more digital images are floating around, but fewer and fewer are getting printed. We upload them to Facebook, show them to our friends on our cell phones’ tiny screens, post one or two from time to time to our families, but mostly they live and die on our computers or phones. I have several friends who have no idea how to get them off the phone and onto their computers, so when the phone is full, they get trashed.

And the most serious problem to me is that we do not have any permanent way to save our digital information. Every few years a new medium comes along and we copy everything over, but there is always the chance that some of it won’t be there, will be lost in translation. I have a box full of floppy disks with information that I might want, but no way to access it. I also have a few other disk formats that only lasted a moment. And I have tons of photo CDs and DVDs and know that some of them may not be playable. I bought an external disk to copy things on and have an off site backup of some of my documents, but I miss having negatives. My old photography is preserved in a dozen or so binders full of proof sheets with negatives and several boxes full of old family prints. I can look at them any time I want without having to boot up a computer and search through a file structure or a binder of CDs. They are different sizes, different kinds of paper and different color qualities and touching them really does make a difference.

I know it sounds like I am a total Luddite, but I’m not. I like my computer and my digital camera and I am happy that we are saving trees by putting literature on a tablet, but I am lamenting the death of permanence. And I worry that by having everything brought to the same weight by virtue of impermanence, the concept of importance will disappear.

Maybe the digital age is the great equalizer. All things made of bits and bytes are equal and the people can decide. Of course, even online right now, there are sites that get it right and those who don’t. The best rise to the top. But qualities that differentiated the best are being tossed aside. And formats are disappearing. There is a difference between reading something in Vogue and in Teen Beat. And the layout of a page in one of the artier magazines was a thing to behold. But now everything is the same computer screen size with a scroll bar. Or even smaller for the cell phone screen. The beauty of the whole page is lost. I have no doubt that since we are still in the early years of the digital age, the art that is lost from the printed page has not had time to migrate into cyberspace. It feels like certain kinds of tangible beauty are slipping away and I guess I am more than just a little impatient for the digital renaissance.

But the Buddha’s last words were: All conditioned things are impermanent. Strive on with diligence.


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