Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Moodbank: New Zealand's answer to growth at all cost

Alexandra Newlove

This ATM doesn't care how much money you have, and will be in Whangarei from today with the aim of get fresh ideas flowing ahead of the October council elections.

A new ATM in Whangarei will focus on how you feel rather than how much money you have.
Moodbank - a public art project with Wellington roots - is an ATM-style machine which asks passers by to "deposit" how they are feeling, with a list of more than 1000 emotions to choose from. The data is then fed into a system which analyses the overall mood of the city.

The ATM is being brought to Whangarei today by TogetherTahi, a collective focused on citizen engagement and community well-being, which is putting up candidates in Whangarei's urban wards in the coming local government election.

Spokesman Ash Holwell said the idea was to provide an alternative discourse to the obsession with "economic growth" which often dominated in politics.
    
Moodbank uses well-being, rather than money, as its currency.

"So, is how we're feeling as a city a valid conversation to be having? Rather than just 'oh, we've created another 60 jobs at McDonald's,'" he said.

The ATM's 1000 moods also aimed to validate the entire human experience including unspoken and unacknowledged emotions, not just the feelings that were useful in consumer culture.

Mr Holwell said the aim was to set the ATM up in the CBD initially. It would then tour public places around the district.

Manaia PHO had expressed an interest in hosting the machine at its service providers, with schools and community halls other possible locations.

"We'll be able to spatially map the moods of Whangarei ... The more it moves, the more we get a sense of what's happening," Mr Holwell said.

He said the machine would also raise awareness about the October elections and gave people an easy and accessible way to contribute to the conversation.

Information deposited would be publicly accessible via a website, but the final aim would be to display it in town, possibly using a large projection which would update in real time.

Moodbank was created by Wellington artist Vanessa Crowe, who wanted to "mimic and subvert" the banking industry's interest in moods, and explore the role machines now play in sharing feelings and experiences.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

* The first steps of sustainable travel

By Anne Haeming
In our daily lives we're environmentally and ecologically conscious, buying organic products and using renewable energy. But what about when we travel? In an interview, an expert* explains what a sustainable vacation looks like.

* Petra Thomas holds degrees in art history and archeology. She is the director of Forum Anders Reisen, an umbrella association for 130 travel agents that specialize in sustainable vacations.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Thomas, if I'm looking to take a sustainable vacation, I'm probably best advised to stay at home on my balcony, right?

Thomas: Pretty much. You don't produce many CO2 emissions on your balcony. But we don't want to discourage anyone from traveling -- we just want to sharpen their awareness of what responsible vacations are.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Most Germans prefer to spend their time off in Germany….

Thomas: That doesn't necessarily mean they're adhering to a certain way of life, but nearby travel destinations that can be reached quickly are generally fairly sustainable. Much of that has to do with the fact that they are accessible by public transportation, such as trains.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is important to consider when planning a sustainable holiday?

Thomas: First of all, everyone should ask themselves: Why am I traveling? Am I looking for a cultural experience or to go to a spa? Then think about which places meet those criteria. You don't need to travel halfway around the world to find a spa -- it's enough to just go up to the Baltic Sea. And when you're packing, it's good to keep in mind that not all countries recycle their trash, so it's best to leave any packaging at home.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And what about once you've reached your destination?

Thomas: It's best to frequent locally owned or family-run lodgings rather than international hotel chains. Additionally, you can eat at small restaurants, shop at markets and take three-wheeled rickshaw taxis whenever possible. That way you're supporting the local economy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your website offers long-distance travel bookings. When is it OK to fly places?

Thomas: Taking ground transportation from Germany to India, for instance, is unrealistic. If there's no way to avoid flying, you should always try to book a direct flight. Every takeoff and landing causes additional emissions. Also, one long trip beats three short ones. The ratio of travel distance to holiday duration is an important factor. When it comes to CO2 emissions, a weekend trip to New York doesn't make a lot of sense. After such a long-haul flight, you should plan to stay at your destination for at least two weeks.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But I could buy green airline miles for my New York trip at Atmosfair. Wouldn't that be enough of an indulgence?

Thomas: I don't like the word "indulgence." In its original Catholic meaning, that was how sinners bought their salvation, and that's not at all what Atmosfair is about. The money is invested in regional climate protection projects that use new technology to improve people's lives. The principle is comparable to a customary tourist tax, thanks to which beaches are kept clean, for instance. It's remarkable that such a thing hasn't been implemented yet for air travel.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You run Forum Anders Reisen, which bundles together 130 tour operators and travel agents that have committed themselves to sustainability. Your list of criteria is 12 pages long. What does an operator have to fulfill in order to become a member?

Thomas: Is the journey to get there eco-friendly? Are room and board in the destination country provided by locals, so that the money supports the local economy? Are the local culture and nature respected? And most importantly, we're part of the service industry, so there are many people involved who should be able to live from the work they do and, ideally, also have a say in decisions.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: A number of countries that rely on tourism, such as states in the Maghreb region or Egypt, have become politically unstable. What do you recommend: Should people avoid these countries or support them?

Thomas: There's no general answer to that. First of all, no one should travel to any country where their safety is at risk. But the question of whether your money is going to support dictators is one that we should all be asking ourselves. North Korea, for instance, wouldn't be an option because there's no private infrastructure. It's worth looking into whether human rights, protection of endangered species or child labor are issues in a certain country. And not being able to move around freely is a problem, too. However, boycotting a country tends to adversely affect the wrong people. Burma is a good counter-example: Tourism contributed massively to the country opening itself to the outside world.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Vacations where people can work on social or environmental projects -- so-called voluntourism -- are becoming increasingly trendy. It sounds sustainable, but in fact it's controversial. How do you deal with that?

Thomas: We had to expand our criteria to encompass this new kind of travel. We're very critical of stays at orphanages, where children are briefly looked after by people who lack any educational training and then left again. On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with voluntourism projects in the Black Forest, where you can help collect dead wood after severe storms.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How cheap is too cheap for a vacation if you want to be sustainable?

Thomas: When you look at the price of a trip, it's easy to calculate whether the cost is realistic. Take, for instance, 1,000 euros ($1,119) for an all-inclusive vacation in the Dominican Republic in a four-star hotel. You can safely assume that the hotel personnel are not being fairly compensated. At a price like that, a company is probably skimping on working conditions.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to the tourism research association FUR, at least two out of three Germans say that sustainability is important to them while on vacation -- but their bookings suggest otherwise. How can this be?

Thomas: We're very conscientious in our daily lives when it comes to using renewable energy or buying organic food, but sustainable vacations are going to take some time to catch on. One reason for this could be that the package tour market in Germany is dominated by seven corporations that account for 70 percent of sales. It's tough to find sustainable offers.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have you taken a vacation yet this year?

Thomas: No, but I'm leaving soon. I'm going hiking in South Tyrol -- and I'm taking the train to get there.

Friday, 5 August 2016

* « Moins de religion » ne signifie pas moins de violence. « Plus de religion » non plus

La Vie
Laurent Stalla-Bourdillon, directeur du Service pastoral d’études politiques

Pour pouvoir préciser les rapports que peuvent entretenir les religions et la violence, et pour dépasser les simplifications enfantines, il est nécessaire de bien voir d’abord ce qu’est l’être humain doué de foi et de raison. Alors seulement, devient-il possible de comprendre le mécanisme qui associe « la violence et le sacré » et d’y répondre de manière adulte. L'analyse du père Laurent Stalla-Bourdillon, recteur de la Basilique Sainte-Clotilde (Paris) et directeur du Service pastoral d’études politiques (SPEP).

Les journaux n’ont pas manqué de relever et de commenter les propos du pape François de retour des JMJ de Cracovie, le 31 juillet 2016 : « Je n'aime pas parler de violence islamique, parce qu'en feuilletant les journaux je vois tous les jours que des violences, même en Italie, (...). Si je parle de violence islamique, je dois parler de violence catholique. Non, les musulmans ne sont pas tous violents, les catholiques ne sont pas tous violents. (…) Je crois que ce n'est pas juste d'identifier l'islam avec la violence, ce n'est pas juste et ce n'est pas vrai. » Nul ne connaît précisément son degré d’expertise en islamologie, et tant pis pour ceux qui s’imaginait que François serait le pourfendeur de l’Islam, de ses mœurs, de sa doctrine… François ne cède pas au relativisme, sa remarque porte tout simplement sur une autre réalité.

Si nous entendons correctement les propos du Pape, il ne serait pas juste d’identifier une religion – quelle qu’elle soit – avec la violence. François s’inscrit ici à rebours de ce que nous entendons souvent : « les religions sont intrinsèquement source de violence ». Naturellement des doctrines religieuses peuvent être attentatoires à la dignité humaine, elles ne sont probablement pas à mettre de facto sur le même plan, nous y reviendrons. Mais pour François, il est essentiel de comprendre que la violence est d’abord le fait de l’homme avant même toute adhésion à une doctrine religieuse.

C’est toujours à partir de l’engagement d’une liberté humaine qu’une doctrine génère selon l’interprétation qu’on en fait, plus ou moins, peu ou pas de violence. Avant d’incriminer la doctrine religieuse, il faut regarder ce qu’il y a dans l’homme ! Si le Pape dit qu’il y a chez les catholiques aussi des fanatiques, c’est bien que – pour lui – la source de la violence n’est pas contenue dans le corpus de doctrines chrétiennes, mais dans l’homme lui-même. C’est d’abord le cœur de l’homme qui est malade, son intelligence blessée, et la religion peut devenir alors pour certains, le révélateur de cette violence déjà là. Le Pape a ainsi voulu dire qu’il sera toujours plus facile de défausser sa propre violence sur des doctrines religieuses, pour s’affranchir de la regarder au plus profond de soi-même.

Il reste certainement vrai que les religions servent d’alibi à cette violence en nous. Cela est d’autant plus regrettable que ces violents attribuent à la « parole de Dieu » la légitimité de leur violence, une violence qui est en eux et non d’abord dans leur livre. A quel type nouveau d’éducation devons-nous réfléchir qui puisse intégrer la dimension violente de l’homme ? Qu’on le veuille ou non, l’homme ne vient pas au monde indemne du mal. Hélas, il saura en faire sans qu’on le lui apprenne. Nous le savons tous, mais nous feignons de croire que l’on pourra éduquer des jeunes sans les aider à nommer les puissances, les désirs, les élans qui sont en eux. Comment avons-nous pu concevoir un système éducatif muet sur les aspirations de l’âme, sur ses tensions contradictoires ?

Si un « livre » (religieux ou pas) devait entraîner à la haine, une sagesse collective devrait aussitôt interroger sa crédibilité et son autorité. Chacun est libre de lire ce qu’il veut, mais chacun est aussi responsable de ce qu’il décide de croire. Nous consentons trop facilement à ce que les religions soient vues comme des « contraintes à ne plus penser par soi », à ne plus questionner, à croire sans discernement. Toute la faute incomberait aux religions.

Or, tout croyant authentique donne librement son consentement. À qui décide-t-il de faire confiance ? En vue de quoi s’engage-t-il ? Ce sont là des questions qu’il serait heureux que nous apprenions à nous poser. Nous verrions alors que toute personne se forge ses propres doctrines personnelles. Ces conceptions subjectives que nous nous faisons sont sans doute très éloignées du sens authentique des doctrines. Et ainsi nous comprenons ces remarques de « défense des religions » comme « ce n’est pas cela le véritable islam, ou le vrai christianisme, ou le vrai hindouisme … », que nous retrouverions pour toutes religions. Les terroristes auraient donc conçu une version dégénérée de la vraie doctrine. Qui dira alors le « vrai » dans cette affaire ?

La vérité qui devrait nous intéresser n’est pas d’abord celle des doctrines dans un jeu de concurrence, mais celle de l’homme ! Qu’est-ce que la vérité sur l’homme ? C’est à cette unique question qu’entend répondre la foi en la personne du Christ. C’est en révélant l’homme à lui-même, que le Christ établit l’homme en face de Dieu, son Créateur et Père. L’Homme est né de Dieu et appelé à vivre en « fils de Dieu ». Aussi obscure que soit cette parole, elle énonce une vocation, un chemin d’accès à une identité qui nous échappait jusqu’alors. Il y a là quelque chose qui n’est pas le produit de l’homme, mais qui le rejoint par révélation et l’élève aussitôt qu’il le conçoit.

Les documents normatifs des religions, les textes dits « révélés », « inspirés », ou « commentaires autorisés », sont toujours sujets à interprétation. L’instance de réception dans le croyant, reste toujours sa liberté. S’il est vrai que nous sommes appelés à découvrir la vérité du sens ultime de nos vies, cet appel fonde notre liberté. La lecture des livres religieux n’enclenche pas automatique des actions qui y sont prescrites, à moins que nous soyons en présence d’un homme-machine qui réponde à un programme, comme nous essayons ou rêvons de les concevoir aujourd’hui. Nous devrions avoir un peu moins peur de nous familiariser avec les notions religieuses, afin de pouvoir mieux en discuter librement. Nous devrions faire davantage confiance à la capacité de notre conscience de rejeter le faux, de discerner le vrai.

Après ce regard sur l’homme lui-même comme première source de violence, revenons aux religions en tant que telles. Des doctrines peuvent être cause de violence, s’il est vrai qu’elles contiennent un message contraire à la dignité de la personne, à l’unité de l’unique famille humaine,…
Des religions visent-elles à obtenir sous la contrainte une confession de foi verbale ? On s’interroge. Si tel est le cas, il faut dénoncer une triste conception anthropologique et théologique, et redire que c’est à partir de sa seule liberté que Dieu appelle l’homme à lui exprimer sa gratitude. Qui pourrait croire un « merci » ou un «  je t’aime » prononcés sous la contrainte ? S’il devait apparaître qu’une simple confession verbale envers Dieu, indifférente à la liberté de conscience soit le signe de la foi, la preuve serait faite que ce « dieu » ne connaît pas l’homme et est sans intérêt pour l’homme.

« Moins de religion » ne signifie pas moins de violence. « Plus de religion » non plus. La question est ailleurs : la violence est dans l’exercice contrarié de notre liberté faussement certaine d’avoir atteint la vérité. Nous n’aurons rien à craindre d’une ébullition du sentiment religieux si nous savons dans le même temps, travailler ensemble et avec la raison à la recherche de la vérité. Nous aurons tout à craindre si l’ignorance religieuse déjà répandue se doublait de la démission de l’effort de raison.

Il serait essentiel aujourd’hui que notre société se penche sur les mécanismes de la croyance, constitutifs de l’humain. Plutôt que de se battre pour savoir lequel des « livres » serait supérieur aux autres, sans plus réfléchir… il serait davantage pertinent de travailler sur les aptitudes du cœur et de l’intelligence communes à tous, à discerner la vérité et ses modes d’expression dans l’histoire.

Ce travail est urgent parce que vital. C’est le travail de la raison à mener de l’école à l’Assemblée. Dans l’errance de croyances privées de raison, l’homme meurt. De même, il étouffe sous le poids d’une raison enfermée sur elle-même. La raison sauve la foi en précisant les critères d’une confiance qui humanise, et la foi fait rayonner sur la raison humaine, la lumière de l’humilité requise pour s’ouvrir, découvrir et s’unir à la Raison divine.

Jean Paul II débutait son encyclique Foi et Raison par ces mots : « La foi et la raison sont comme les deux ailes qui permettent à l'esprit humain de s'élever vers la contemplation de la vérité. » De ce point de vue, notre société ressemble à un avion qui aurait éteint ses deux réacteurs, celui de la foi et celui de la raison, ne sachant plus s’il est pertinent de s’élever vers une hypothétique vérité. La crise actuelle est donc plus philosophique que religieuse. Mais c’est à la lumière des convulsions religieuses – de fanatisme, d’athéisme, de consumérisme – que nous la percevons aujourd’hui le plus clairement.

Friday, 29 July 2016

* Why is/was "Blade Runner" influential?

James Sey, Research Associate, Research Centre, Faculty of Fine Art, Design and Architecture, University of Johannesburg
   
OK. Confession time. I’ve seen Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” at least 50 times. I know the entire screenplay of the director’s cut off by heart. I have owned three different VHS versions, three different DVD versions (including a very collectable 12" laser disc) and have downloaded the ever-expanding online FAQ. Sad, isn’t it?

My only excuse is that this version of acid-head science-fiction pulp genius Philip K Dick’s novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, is a movie of almost total prescient brilliance.

Cyberpunk guru William Gibson went to see it when he was just beginning to write his seminal debut novel, “Neuromancer”. Legend has it that he walked out halfway through, saying later that the movie was too much like the inside of his head.

“Blade Runner” is one of those films that seemed predestined for underground immortality. Generally consigned to the “flawed but fairly interesting” category by most movie critics on its release, it was famously withdrawn from release to be re-cut. It was also given a laughable voice-over narrative to explain it better to the popcorn brigade.

Since then the film has, like “Casablanca”, transcended its formula trappings as a sci-fi cum hardboiled noir detective thriller to spawn a dedicated cult following and fill a special niche in pop culture. One of the touchstones for its cult value over the years has been its singularity – it has never spawned any overt remakes or sequels, despite being hugely influential. Until now, that is. The news that Scott himself is involved in bringing a sequel to the screen, scheduled for release in late 2017, is making fans edgy and ambivalent.

“Blade Runner’s” storyline and theme is on one level a well-worn one. It is the Frankenstein theme – science creating life, or technogenesis. But it’s the way in which the film broaches that theme that has remained prescient and influential. It was released long before the advent of the commercial internet, and long before the headline experiments in stem cell research, genetic modification and human genome sequencing.

The film posits that commercially viable superhumans – known as replicants – have been created by science, and now pose a threat to their human creators as a rogue band of them return to earth to seek answers to the mystery of their lives. Police agents, known as blade runners, hunt them down and terminate (or “retire”) them.

The genre combination of savvy sci-fi with hardboiled noir thriller was unique at the time, and has since spawned many cinema imitators – “Minority Report”, “AI”, “I, Robot” – but the film’s most marked influence has been visual. Its celebrated “retrofitted” production design – of a 21st-century Los Angeles megacity gradually imploding, overpopulated, largely Asian, and constantly raining from self-created weather conditions – has inspired numerous copycats, especially in advertising.
           
The term “retrofitted” was coined to describe the film’s clever design, with its postmodern flourishes and visual in-jokes. One of the best of these is a decrepit building in the city in which the final showdown between blade runner Deckard (Harrison Ford) and lead replicant Batty (Rutger Hauer) takes place.

An existing architectural landmark in Los Angeles, it’s called the Bradbury, a nod to Golden Age sci-fi author Ray Bradbury. Another building is called the Hundertwasser, a nod to the famously quirky Austrian architect.

The film’s main theme is brilliantly realised, even with, and perhaps because of, the lack of sophisticated computer-generated imagery. Drawing on its own visual template – Fritz Lang’s sci-fi cinema classic “Metropolis” (1927) – for the vision of a technology-saturated early 21st century, it achieves the same level of visual artistry about a city of the future as Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” did about outer space.

It also gave two relatively unknown actors major cachet, which they used in different ways. Harrison Ford, who plays world-weary, compassionate, perhaps even a replicant, blade runner Deckard, went on to A-list Hollywood stardom.
          
Rutger Hauer, the prodigal son and leader of the rogue replicants, turned in the performance of his life as Batty (cult trainspotters can quote the entire “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe … attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” etc speech), and then descended into the cult movie underworld, reprising the outlaw cyborg figure in a stream of dire B-movies (the brilliant “The Hitcher” perhaps the only notable exception).

A well-loved scene from ‘Blade Runner’.

Perhaps the true index of the movie’s cult status is the vociferous debates about its different versions. One of the first contemporary films to have a collectable director’s cut version, which is radically different in feel to the commercial, noir voiceover release (as well as suggesting that the hero is a replicant), it also has the aforementioned laser disc version that, for initiates, contains subtle differences in soundtrack and visual editing.

Its astounding look has not dated at all, testimony to its intelligence and style. It has given the contemporary lexicon at least two new words – replicant and retrofitted – and its compelling urban future vision has been widely imitated.

In the final analysis its influence and relevance, as well as its continuing hold on me as a writer and film fan, are also tied into the age-old theme of technogenesis. In an effort to control the replicants better, the genetic engineers install implanted memories and a four-year lifespan.

The replicants constantly refer to their self-knowledge (Batty memorably says to the genetic engineer who makes eyes for the replicant series, “if only you could see what I have seen with your eyes”), and develop their own emotions as time passes. This astonishingly stylish realising of a complicated philosophical theme is the real triumph of the film.

The central concern is an ontological one: what are the psychological consequences for technologically created subjects who cannot reconcile their human-like consciousness to their status as made, not born?

Finally, the tragic fallen angel replicants of the film are denied “truly” human status by their relation to their own deaths. That is, they can have no productive conflict between life-instincts and death-instincts if they are always already aware of the hour of their deaths. It remains one of the most poignant aesthetic representations of the issue.

If ever a film was worthy of its underground reputation and cult influence, “Blade Runner” is it.

Friday, 22 July 2016

* Hotels vs. Airbnb: Let the battle begin

Elaine Glusac
Airbnb, the largest home sharing network with over two million listings worldwide, is newly targeting business travelers, the bread-and-butter clientele of hotels.

Phocuswright, the travel research firm, noted that one in three leisure travelers in 2015 used private accommodations, up from one in 10 in 2011, and that 31 percent of travelers who used Airbnb in the last two years had used it for business.

“This is a more challenging event in the history of the lodging industry than almost any other,” said Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor of the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University.

How — and even whether — hotels are responding to the competition is a matter of debate. Only AccorHotels, the French hotel company whose brands include Sofitel and Raffles, has invested directly in the sharing economy, in its acquisition of Onefinestay, a London-based home sharing service that focuses on the high-end market.

“There are things that are happening at traditional lodging companies that are accelerating related to Airbnb, and that is less uniformity,” Mr. Hanson said. “Ten years ago at a hotel in Honolulu and in New York, the art and decoration might be identical. We’ve seen brands recognize guests want a more genuine experience and a place that’s more reflective of local culture.”

Hotel companies have expanded their portfolios by adding brands that are designed to appeal to millennial travelers and those who want less service and more connectivity — both technologically and with shared space.

“The way this consumer likes to travel is not to spend time in the guest room but to have access to communal spaces,” said Tina Edmundson, global brand officer of luxury and lifestyle brands at Marriott International, which just opened Moxy New Orleans, its second American Moxy hotel.
Moxy’s rooms (from $69) are compact, and entry is keyless, connected via a smartphone app. The lobby has a full-service bar, grab-and-go food, games and plenty of outlets for charging electronic devices.

Hyatt Hotels & Resorts’ new brand Hyatt Centric is testing fresh approaches to things like room service. At three trial hotels, guests can order in from hotel restaurants, an express menu of sandwiches and salads delivered in 20 minutes, or through the delivery service GrubHub and have the meal charged to the room.

Managers empower employees to connect with guests on a more casual basis, offering local tips not unlike an Airbnb host.