My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.

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4/22/2008

A letter to the times.

Sir,


Melanie Reid's article "I don't want to live in a scratchy world of hemp
lingerie" made me reach straight for a pen to reply (this email is a
transcription of that, you see), with many references to women's
impending return to a boring dark age devoid of skiing, exotic food and
sleek accessory porn, forced by "eco-purists" to go back to sewing
buttons, wearing rags and to the absolute unhappiness of the world that
preceded household appliances.


I'm sorry for Melanie, but these are in themselves dark times, in which
our senses and ability to experience emotion are dulled by the intensity
of the world around us, where any exotic meal, place or piece of
information is seemingly at our fingertips, or as Daisaku Ikeda, the
Japanese Buddhist philosopher puts it, "This imbalance takes the form of
a dulling of our natural responsiveness to life and the realities of
daily living". And I believe this dulling has in many ways been brought
about by the rationalist, and very masculine nature of the past
century.


All the things Ms Reid lists as disappearing in a world run by her "eco
purists" will remain in some form. Her list of joys under threat of
extinction seem to be precisely the things enjoyed by an upper middle
class in a prosperous society like the UKs, as many of them are not
available to anyone below the poverty line. She will not tell me that
the coming age will eradicate poverty for example, lovely though that
thought might be, there will still be extreme divisions between the rich
and poor. Perhaps in a booming economy like China's those things will be
around more, so maybe she should practice her mandarin? But they are not
the preserve of the un-ecologically minded.


I believe as a Buddhist myself, that it's not "things" in themselves
that make one happy - anything in life can be a burden or a joy. It's
your relationship to these things that can excite and enliven. And this
is the same with Reid's relationship to the world and it's current
situation - should her opinion of eco-nazi's change for the better, her
excitement should follow.


Ms Reid is not without fault though, in criticising eco-do-gooders who
pride themselves in alienating others. Like monks who wear masks so as
not to kill microbes and then act violently towards those of other
faiths, these people are living in some kind of imaginary world where
they are devoid of their share of negative states of mind, or in this
case, of the capacity to push away others, who they should instead be
trying to engage in dialogue with. This is the spirit in which I write
this letter. The future will not be as exciting without Melanie Reid's
input!


But what I'd like to repeat, as many times as necessary, is that whether
you believe society will collapse due to climate change and fuel
depletion, or that this is just a passing fad, this is what we should be
doing anyway: connecting with nature, acting as a builder - not just a
consumer of the valuable things around us, not being greedy, talking to
other people more. Because the world is changing, like it or not, and it
doesn't have to be boring and lifeless.


Here in Bristol for example, fashion designer Viva Cazeaux
(http://www.retrio.co.uk/) creates beautiful, (possibly exciting?)
upmarket clothing made using recycled materials of all kinds. In
Birmingham, the recent renewal of the canal side area has helped bring
back the beauty of inner city travel by boat, for leisure or work. Hemp
itself can be woven in many ways and doesn't have to resemble potato
sacks. From a place like The Urban Shop (http://www.theurbanshop.co.uk)
you can buy a stylish, organic hemp men's t-shirt - hemp is expensive
and heavy because it's not freely grown in this country, but that was
not the case years ago and many styles of clothing can be made from it.


I can't really speak for women, and I'm sure they can speak for
themselves, but returning to the words of Ikeda, in his 2003 peace
proposal presented to the United Nations -


"We need to restore our sensitivity to life itself, our palpable
awareness of the realities of daily living; and here, I believe, women
have an especially important role to play. I have for some time
expressed my view that the twenty-first century must be a century of
women."


http://www.sgi.org/about/president/works/proposals/2003sum.html


I certainly would not be as confident as I am now in the exciting beauty
of our future had it not been for the many many modern, sophisticated
women who introduced me to these issues, and who through these past few
years since I became aware of them, have worked harder than I ever could
in so many ways for local, down to earth and intelligent ways to make
that reality happen.



Alejandro Fernandez, Bristol

4/06/2008

3 books for Bristol

Yesterday I went to the shops, in a desperate last push to get some new curtains, the inner liner white £1-a-metre ones that people put in a drawer when they move in somewhere, and then put back when they move out. And mine were all mouldy... Bleah! Anyway, I stopped in Waterstones for ages and bought 3 books: Clay Shirky's "Here comes everybody", Noam Chomsky's "What we say goes"(hope I don't get in trouble for linking to a torrent, but they're interviews, and that link will give you the full original audio for them) and Rob Hopkins' Transition Handbook.


All these purchases were devoted to my quest for finding a way for the re-use and investment in technology to become a strong part of the Transitionista's vision. I think we've got loads of equipment these days that we can recycle and make use of for a long time, and if we all have generators or solar panels, some of that charge can be spent on the laptop... So no matter how stupidly apocalyptic the future is going to be, there has to be a place for robot overlords or it just won't be fitting.



I also think - due to Clay Shirky's many videos from recent boing boing entries, and from his book, there is a big problem with adoption of technology and engineering skills required to maintain it, and the transition movement: there's a cultural gap between the people who use this technology more readily - instant messengers, Skype, social networking sites etc - and other people who can't or don't want to for various reasons be as acquainted. But on the other hand, these are tools which allow a huge change in the way things are working, and this is evident even locally, where the Railway Path's celebration last week brought together 1500 people via mostly online word of mouth (lots of last minute problems with flyers) and where the council meeting had the most people attending that the mayor had ever seen in all his time there. He thought maybe we'd come to wish him goodbye, as it was his last meeting. The meeting was also different because it was webcast, it resulted in a video statement on the planned transport route by Mark Bradshaw, and because there was a lot of correspondence, mostly in public view, since the meeting, between residents condemning the labour backroom anti-green pro-consumerism deal - this after many labour councillors had marched with railway path lovers just a day earlier. I doubt there is any other organising power than that which technology provides, that's able to ensure communication and organisation between disparate communities, dealing increasingly with all manner of public and private, local, national and international entities around them, who have historically been more organised than the individual.



The transition handbook and it's corresponding movement of transition towns - local initiatives to guide a small geographic population - a village, town, city or suburb to resilience against peak oil and climate change. In Bristol this is gaining popularity - I've heard Transition Bristol described as "intelligent and sexy" and they have lots of funding (due to run out soon though) for glossy posters and showings of various inconvenient films, as well as a very popular subsidised distributed tree planting - but village meetings seem without scope as many local initiatives have still to get off the ground. The transition thing in general is still looked at a bit cautiously by other groups, as it does seem to have a lot of spiritualist, permaculturists' "positive thinking" and simplistic, step driven information on how to deal with this fossil fuel-bad millenium. Maybe they will turn out to be a cult of happy shiny people, but if it really works out, this isn't really an organisation, but a framework, and a framework for it's own future development.



And finally, Noam Chomsky, because I think I can back up quite well that the guy is an anarchist and peaceful, and intelligent, and I think he only says things that are really well researched or he won't talk about it, and in this little red book he says all kinds of things that we were asking ourselves about politics - all from his point of view as an outspoken US political historian, but that can apply in many ways to the behaviour of councillors at a council meeting and our anthropological understanding of it.

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