War on waste

Just when I thought I knew enough about this…

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I’m not sure how similar your culture is to mine, but I’m guessing that most parts of the world have a strong emphasis on recycling and the dangers of plastic bags to our environment. I’ve been well aware of these issues for some time – in fact decades ago (the early 90’s?) Australians were first exposed to dramatic and detailed exposes of the desperate need for recycling and what we could do about it. But recently, to my surprise, I watched a 3 part series which rocked me now (and apparently much of our nation as well) almost as much as we were rocked back then.

More of that later. But for now, let me recount history as I remember it. It was only in the 1990’s that recycle bins came to be the norm here in Australia. Before then, all rubbish went into the same bins and into landfill. I’m not sure what was the groundswell behind it all, but I remember various documentaries that captured the nation’s attention. Everyone was talking about the needless waste of our planet’s resources, and, via TV, radio and newspaper, we were all exhorted to develop recycling habits. It was the era when recycled paper was born.

At first, if I remember correctly, we had elaborate suggestions of up to 5 different rubbish bins (or trash cans, as some of you might call them) – one for food scraps, one for glass, one for paper, and so on. Over time that has settled down to one normal bin for typical rubbish and one recycling bin for plastic, paper, glass and tin. I’m curious to know what recycling measures your country typically has in place.

Like most things, intensity of feeling can’t last for ever, and whilst recycling is a firm part of our modern agenda, the fervour that gripped our nation back then has settled into a more or less comfortable routine. But recently, the ABC aired a 3 part series called “War on Waste” – a fascinating and surprising look at the amount of waste that occurs in our Australian society. When Linda and I first decided to watch it, my feeling was one of interest but not much more. It didn’t take me long to become quite shocked all over again at the waste in our society.

The series is separated in 3 parts – the first episode deals with the waste of food, the second with the dilemma of plastic, and the third with clothing. And it wasn’t your typical sensationalist kind of documentary. The way the series was handled was simply brilliant (or maybe that’s just my Australian demeanour shining through). The presenter was relaxed, laid back, thoroughly non-fanatical but still sharp and to the point. No deep, dark music or disturbing “Star Wars” type soundtracks to remind you how ‘serious’ this all is, just a laconic, easy going Aussie who was a pleasure to listen to and even a bit humorous, whilst driving home lots of uncomfortable truths that most of us were unaware of.

For example , did you know that up to half (yes half) of our food is thrown away? It happens at the farms where produce that doesn’t ‘look’ just right is dumped and left to rot in piles; it happens at supermarkets where produce that is slightly damaged, or not moving off the shelves, or reaching its use by date, are dumped in bins; and it happens in our own homes, where food is bought, not consumed and then thrown out.

I don’t know if that’s news to you, but it was to me. In a prosperous nation like Australia, that ‘s an awful lot of food. Of course, there are charities and various groups at work to try and pick up this food before it spoils and redistribute it to the needy, but it is apparently still only a small percentage that gets meaningfully redistributed.

There’s a lot more to the series than just food, but I thought I would use that one issue as an example. I know that, depending on which country you are in, you may not have access to the series, but if you’re interested in checking it out here’s the link to it (not sure how long it will remain up for, but it’s there at the moment):

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/war-on-waste/

And just like in the 90’s (well, maybe not quite as strongly as back then) lots of people are responding to the show and it’s revelations. In our world of online participation, ABC websites are being inundated with requests and support for the various calls to action that are presented throughout the series.

So what effect has it had on me? Well, I’m not about to rush out and try and change the world (maybe that’s just my age showing). But in little ways, my wife and I are being challenged.

Though we were well aware of the dangers of plastic bags, we’re trying harder now to use even less, and are gathering up the ones we do have to deposit in special recycling bins available in select locations (apparently plastic bags and other “soft” plastics are difficult to recycle and require a different recycling treatment to normal hard plastics like soft drink bottles etc). We’re also seriously considering reusable coffee cups, as the disposable ones are not only very difficult to recycle but they are used in the tens of thousands every hour in Melbourne alone. I say ” seriously considering” because although we really don’t want to add to the waste problem, carrying around a reusable coffee cup is awkward, especially for us guys who don’t tend to use handbags. Apparently more coffee shops are accepting them now though, and I’m sure we’ll at least give it a go.

Apart from those specific things, we’re more alert to the issues and will see how that unfolds over time. Though there’s not much we can do about the waste in supermarkets and farms, we can choose to buy more of the ‘odd shaped’ fruit and veg available in some stores. Woolworths, for example, has an “Odd Bunch” line of fruit and veg that is exactly that – a deliberate choice to sell odd shaped produce, at a cheaper rate, that would not normally sell because it isn’t asthetically pleasing to look at. And though I doubt that we’ll join a picket line any time soon, there may be online petitions that we can add our signatures too, or politicians we might write to as part of a broader attempt to raise issues.

So that’s it for now. I’m pretty sure you can tell I’m no radical ‘save the world’ fanatic, but just a normal person who is being made more aware of just how ridiculous some things have become. I don’t want to see our food wasted, especially when there are so many starving in the world; I don’t want to see our oceans clogged with ever increasing levels of plastic; I don’t want to see clothing being worn once and thrown away (not quite so riveting to me personally, but an eye opening example of the incredible waste and misuse of resources in our throw away world).

Of course, it’s up to you what you do. Maybe you knew all of this already. Maybe you didn’t, but you’re already waging an effective war on waste. Or maybe you are neither of those things, but somewhere in between. I’m posting this in an obvious attempt to motivate others in the same way as I have been. I hope it motivates you too.

 

 

When fair arguments are in short supply

Brain

There seems to be a dearth of people who actually think these days.

Wow, provocative statement. Who am I to think I am among the elite? Because of course, I do regard myself as a thinker, and I’m seriously frustrated by what appears to me be a lack of ability by others to sift through rubbish and find the truth.

Because there is a lot of rubbish these days. Fake news might be relatively new, but false arguments and smoke screens have been around for a long time, along with the tendency that people pay attention to what they want to believe, and ignore what they don’t want to believe.

At regular intervals, I dialogue with my friends/contacts on Facebook. And regularly, I despair that anyone is prepared to think. Now don’t confuse what I’m saying – I didn’t say I despair that people agree with me. That’s not the point – but that they don’t think.

Any of you with any experience of Facebook are probably about now shaking your heads and saying “Why would you expect anything other than that on Facebook?” For you would know, as I do, that to attempt rational discussion on Facebook is akin to banging your head hard against a brick wall, repeatedly and at regular intervals. Point taken – I agree, though I’m probably still going to bang my head again every now and then.

But what undid me recently was a dialogue I had with someone who I respect. They are intelligent and knowledgable, and we agree more than we disagree on things. I would describe him as left wing (but not extreme) whereas I regard myself as centre-left. I also personally don’t believe in demonising those I oppose, and will try to apply fairness and logic to their point of view, and even to arguments raised against them. My friend, not so much. I have yet to see him grudgingly agree that an opponent has been unfairly treated. But I can assure you, no matter how bad your opponent is, you can’t believe everything that is said against them.

I’ll try not to bore you with too much detail of our dialogue – just enough to create a frame of reference. Our PM, Malcolm Turnbull, recently announced changes to the Australian citizenship test, and to be frank, it sounds to me like he is trying to emulate Donald Trump a little, in order to appease some hard right wingers here in Australia. I’m pretty sure my friend would agree.

He (my friend) posted a video provided by a prominent activist group in Australia, showing Malcolm struggling, very badly, to try and answer a question about the test. The question had more to do with the administration of the test than its content, but the post linked the (very embarrassing) answer to their view that the PM couldn’t defend the test against the accusations of racism.

Well, full marks for amusement and poking fun, but zero in terms of accuracy. I made a comment to that effect, and all of a sudden it was on for young and old. My friend strongly defended the group and its reliability as a source of information, which surprised me.

I thought it was a conversation worth having, so I went on to state that the activist group who made the post often made posts and videos that were light on truth. They were no doubt very effective in cutting through to their audience, but I could not trust them to be a reliable or reasonable source of information. What surprised me again, was that my friend ending up dodging the issue and restating his conviction that the citizenship test changes were racist, a point that I had had no real problem agreeing with in the first place.

I hope I haven’t lost you in all that description! But it does bother me that groups can post videos that are inflammatory and inaccurate (even if I agree with their point of view!) and that intelligent people can’t see it. They don’t want to look for the truth, or if they do, they are not prepared to critically examine the evidence.

That makes me wonder if I am a bit of a freak. Am I being too clever for my own good? Am I splitting hairs? Should I just go along with the crowd if I agree with their point, but don’t agree with how they get there?

There is another friend I have, who is probably smarter than me, certainly knows a whole lot more, and is excellent at separating a good argument from a poor one. But even he recently threw objectivity out the window about a guest who appeared on a respected intellectual TV panel (“Q and A” for those who are interested). He basically ranted against Q and A for having an ultra right wing individual on the show, when firstly, the guy didn’t say anything provocatively right wing, and secondly, if he had, didn’t he have as much right as a left winger to have his say? Q and A should, and does, have varied views and opinions represented on its panel.

So I‘m a bit flummoxed. It seems to me that the vast majority of people, no matter how smart they are, just gravitate to one point of view and then stay there, taking pot shots at the other side. If that’s true, then we’re all in for an increasingly bumpy ride. Hang on folks – polarised communities and points of view are likely to be the norm, and here for a long time.

Are ‘special days’ really worth it?

Lots of days are set aside annually to celebrate a person or an event.

Candles

I read a post recently that criticised “National Women’s Day”. The author quite rightly pointed out that it had led to massive commercialisation of women’s products and only token gestures about women’s issues. I don’t know what happens on that particular day so I can’t make any informed comment, but it sounds about right to me.

It’s not uncommon to hear people deride special days or events. Yet I fully support the idea of special days to commemorate something. Just because it is abused by those with ulterior motives doesn’t make it wrong in itself.

Let me start off with a simple event that most of us (but not all of us) would probably agree with. Birthdays. I’m a great believer in celebrating birthdays, whether the celebration be lavish or simple. It’s an opportunity to let someone know they are special in a way that’s different from normal. It’s a way of underscoring a truth that is hopefully present all the time, but highlighted on this special day.

And this is where a lot of people protest. They say, surely if you are special, it should be something communicated every day. In relation to National Womens Day, women’s issues should be important all the time, and not just once a year.

Well, pardon my bluntness, but “duh”. Of course women’s issues are important all year long. Of course this person is special all year round. But you try and make something “special” every day and guess what? First of all, it can’t be done (you would wear out sooner or later) and secondly, if every day day you treat everyone and everything as special, then no-one, and nothing, is actually special at all.

Huh? You heard me. To draw attention to something, it has to be something that is not always drawn attention to. Let’s say your child keeps on getting A’s for her work at school. Should you congratulate her every time and tell her how proud you are? Absolutely. Should you throw a party every time? Well … no. Your congratulations is nothing special – it’s something you regularly do. Winning Olympic gold isn’t special if it is achieved every day (I know it can’t be, but run with me on this). Telling someone you love them every day is great (and absolutely doable) but it’s not ‘special’ to do so (and if you expected them to react as if it was special every day, then they would soon tire of it!)

If we want something to be special, if we want to draw attention to something, it simply can’t be highlighted all the time, because that makes it average, or normal. So if I’m loved all year round, and people appreciate me all year around, do I need a special day? Maybe not “need” exactly. But appreciate? Yes, definitely.

My daughter knows she is loved. But you should see the look on her face when we celebrate her birthday. She loves the reminder that she is special, as do all my kids, my wife, and myself. And we all have times when we feel worn down by life or our own limitations in spite of an encouraging atmosphere. From that perspective, we do need birthdays.

By the way, you can actually overdo encouragement to the point where it means nothing. If every time I do something you tell me that it’s “wonderful”, the word wonderful ceases to have any meaning. Seeing I’m not God, there will be many things I do that are less than wonderful. If I know you love me, then I don’t need constant praise that becomes meaningless. But give me a special day when I’m reminded you love me even if I haven’t done anything wonderful – yes  please!

So, getting back to special days. If it’s important to make people feel special at least one day in the year then this also applies to special days in a larger scale – National Women’s Day, Remembrance Day (that’s what it’s called in Australia, but I’m sure you have similar days), Mothers Day, Fathers Day, and whatever other day you care to name.

Can this be abused? Absolutely. Can this be overdone by giving reasonably unimportant things a special day? Absolutely (Valentine’s Day comes to mind, but you might disagree with me there).

It is unfortunate that commercial interests crowd out special days. I can’t see that that is ever going to change, because that is what retailers (and politicians, and not for profit organisations and ….you fill this space…) do. They look for ways to capitalise on an event, and nothing is ever going to stop that.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. If it’s important to us, then we simply have to try harder to make our voices heard. Take National Womens Day for example. The blogger who spoke about it used the event to highlight her concerns that the real issues concerning women were being ignored. She then went on to spell out a whole range of issues, and she sounded pretty spot on to me. But it’s a bit of a contradiction – she used the day that she had berated to put forth a strong agenda for women. She just capitalised on the day in the way that it should be used.

That doesn’t mean she won’t have more to say about women’s issues on many other days of the year, and shame on her if she doesn’t. But as least she used the day in question to further the cause.

For the person whose birthday we have just celebrated, God forbid that we then ignore them for the rest of the year. If we do end up doing that, then shame on us. We can’t use one day of the year to validate ill treatment or indifference for the other 364 days. But I’m sure most of us don’t act like that anyway.

So let’s celebrate our loved ones’ birthdays – let’s make them feel special, important, loved, in ways we don’t normally show it. And then let’s at regular intervals make sure they’re reminded, in little, unplanned ways. And ditto for special days of the year – let’s pay attention, let’s highlight that cause, and then, for the rest of the year, make sure that, as part of our everyday life, we contribute something to it as well.

The rise and rise of great TV

Some brilliant shows out there these days

Well, Game of Thrones is back (and no, this blog isn’t about Game of Thrones, so if you hate it please keep reading anyway!). I want to watch it but don’t have Foxtel or any other pay TV organised, so I will have to wait till the season’s over, then download it through iTunes and watch it then. It’s what I did last time, but man was it hard to wait!

Not just that – I had to avoid all the newspaper articles that talked about each episode (thank goodness these days they at least have “Spoiler alert” at the beginning). But sometimes even the title of those articles gives something away, and on the very last episode of Games of Thrones last time, something terrible happened that had everyone on Facebook getting angry at George R.R. Martin, the author. So when I finally watched it, I had this sense of dread leading all the way up to the last episode.

In a way that was good I suppose – kept the tension up (not that it needed it, as Games of Thrones has bucket loads of tension – that’s what makes it so good).

It’s interesting, the rise and rise of TV shows in the last several years. I know that TV series have been around for decades, and some with a very strong following (I loved MASH for example) but it does seem that a whole new world of TV series has emerged. They are calling it the Golden era of television, and some of the best scripts (so I’m told) are being written just for TV.

I can’t help myself – here’s a few of my favourites. Deadwood, Breaking Bad and True Detective are possibly my top 3. Close behind would be The Walking Dead, Fargo, The Fall, Game of Thrones (not the best in terms of acting, but the twists and turns and shock factor keep me riveted), Broadchurch, then a bit further back Ray Donovan, The Bridge, The Killing, Borgen, Fortitude….. And the list goes on.

And there’s heaps of shows I haven’t seen yet or heard of (chances are you are yelling at the computer screen right now “but what about (such and such) or (some other show)”. Happy to take recommendations – would love to hear from you what your favourites are.

How do you watch them? Some people watch the whole series in one go, or as close to it as possible. I don’t think I could do that, but I have on occasion watched three episodes in a row (that’s about my limit). And of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum, those who are right now watching Game of Thrones Season 6 are having to watch it once a week as each new episode unfolds, and it’s killing them!

So how is this all different from the TV shows of past decades? I think what has made the difference is the varied means in which we can view them. You never could just watch a show when you wanted, and would almost always have to wait a week for the next episode. Now you can download the series, buy the series on DVD, watch them on iView if you have an iPad, rent them at a DVD store (but do they still exist? Our local rental store closed years ago). Or of course, watch them on pay TV.

And as much as I enjoyed MASH, and lots of people enjoyed E.R and other huge shows like them (I wasn’t a fan sorry), they’re just not in the same ballpark in terms of the acting in some of these series (True Detective I thought was just amazing), and the camera work, cinematography, and plots are typically brilliant.

I suppose at the end of the day, the writers and TV show makers just realised this was where the money is, so quality writing and production gravitated towards it, and now we are the beneficiaries.

So I am going to patiently wait for Game of Thrones Season 6 to finish, dodge all the newspaper articles and Facebook comments (or try) and then download Game of Thrones again  from iTunes. Or maybe along the way my resolve will falter, and I, like many hapless others, will throw my cash at Foxtel and grab my hit of instant gratification.