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Tuesday 15th January 2013
The Surgeon? He say 'Yes!'
Contributor: Jeremy Bugler

I have a good friend, who is going to appear in this blog from time to time.  Let’s call him The Surgeon, because surgery is what he did all his working life  - surgery on people’s eyes, saving their sight.  Now The Surgeon Sez:  “Jerry, you can’t just serve people up gloom all the time.  Give us some daylight, some hope, some sunlight.”   So saying, he’s just got on a plane to fly to the Canary Islands, in search of the golden orb. The Surgeon has a point.  It came home wonderfully to me in a new movie, yet to go on general release,  I was watching the other night.  The movie is called NO, though what it says is –Yes! 

Its subject is Chile’s fascinating referendum held in 1988, when the merciless dictator Pinochet was forced by international opinion to hold a referendum on his authority to rule.  The people were encouraged by every means to vote Yes to Pinochet.  Victory was assured, because the No campaign was given its TV slots after mid-night.  Margaret Thatcher’s pet fascist was seen at ease in the Yes commercials, shaking hands with small children and waving to renta-crowds.

But the No campaign fell into the hands of a young advertising executive Rene Saavedra, played by Gael Garcia Bernal.   Rene watches the No campaigns first efforts - shots of torture victims and police baton charges.  Rene says No to all that, and insists that in the No campaign, every image will be positive.  “everyone in every shot must be smiling” he says.   He orders cheerful upbeat music, giving the message that change is coming and the dark years are drawing to a close.   Astonishingly, the No campaign won.  Pinochet was forced out and democracy gradually re-introduced into Chile.   Directed by Pablo Larrain, I urge you to see this film (just as I urge you not to go to Zero Dark Thirty, Katherine Bigelow’s justification of US torture.).

I ended NO feeling I could take on, if not the world, well at least Katherine Bigelow.   From now on, I aim for this blog to have the gloom shot through by the Surgeon’s rays of sunshine.

Sunday 13th January 2013
New think tank aims to help fix 'broken' food system
Contributor: Will Bugler

A new think tank that focusses on issues relating to food, from hunger to obisity and from farming to waste. The Food Tank provides research, policy analysis and a weekly newsletter with the aim of improving policy on food issues. Food Tank's co-founders, Ellen Gustafson and Danielle Nierenberg, hope to bridge the domestic and global food issues by highlighting how hunger, obesity, climate change, unemployment, and other problems can be solved by more research and investment in agriculture. 

The website www.foodtank.org will feature innovative ideas that are already working on the ground, in cities, in kitchens, in fields and in laboratories. 

Friday 11th January 2013
We'll all need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows...
Contributor: Jeremy Bugler

I’ve just had an email sent from Uganda.   We’re going there next month, to tag along with some great people who get clean water to remote villages.   Going at this time of year month should be the best time.  It will be in the middle of the dry, hot season.  The Landrover should be able to bounce along the country roads and not be up to its axles in mud.  We should be in a state of euphoria at seeing the sun after months of English grey-gloom.

Should be. But perhaps not.   In Jinja, there’s an inspirational Dutch priest who has spent his life in the country at the service of others.  Scores of young Ugandans owe their education to this man.  Gerard Picavet is even planting a wood along the banks of the Nile to counter all the tree felling around him.    In his email that I’ve just received, he says that it should be dry now but it isn’t.  The weather is all over the place.   One of his protégés has also just emailed to say it’s raining in Kampala.

Christine Masaua runs a small farm with her family in Kagoma Parish, outside Jinja.  She writes to say that it has been raining cats and dogs for months and the ground is so soft with rain that it is hard to get on the land and cultivate the crops.

Interestingly, I heard the very same words last week when listening to Farming Today on Radio 4.  Then they were spoken from a West Country farmer.  Crop yields in 2013 will be down because he was so late in planting in 2012.

One senses that the implications of unstable weather with global warming is only just dawning on us.   Yesterday, a Mr Mark Price of the supermarket chain Waitrose warned that food prices would rise from now on.  And The Observer recorded that food banks in the UK are getting requests not just from the jobless but from those in work too.

Wednesday 19th December 2012
Small acts of kindness remain what binds our societies
Contributor: Jeremy Bugler

A seasonal tale: last month a New York cop patrolling near Times Square on a bitter cold evening noticed a homeless man on the pavement, with bare feet.  The cop, Lawrence DePrimo, did something unexpected.  He walked into a nearby shoe store and spent $70 dollars of his own money on a pair of warm boots, which he then gave to the homeless man.  By chance, a tourist snapped the act and sent the picture to the NYPD, which then posted it on Facebook.

In no time at all, millions had seen DePrimo’s act of compassion, and the cop has been hailed as a hero.  According to an article in the New York Times, it’s likely that DePrimo’s kindness stimulated other acts of generosity.  Results published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology showed that subjects who witnessed an act of compassion  - such as one person comforting another in distress- were more likely to be more compassionate to others immediately afterwards.   One of the researchers said: “The Dalai Lama is right: the experience of compassion towards a single individual does shape our action toward others.”

I believe this.  I myself felt stirred when once seeing a London taxi driver (not always a profession oozing the milk of human kindness) skid to a halt, jump out of his cab and run cross four lanes of traffic to help a disabled woman across the road.   Kindness is catching. By the same token, cruelty is infectious.  The late great Guardian writer Peter Lennon wrote in a valedictory to his years as Paris correspondent that the city was, then and very possibly not now, a hard one.   He gave as an emblem of the city’s spirit an act he witnessed at a Metro station.   A blind person, complete with white stick, was standing at a ticket office, in front of him a printed notice saying the ticket prices had gone up.  The man was asking why his ticket was more expensive now. The clerk rapped on the glass and shouted: “Can’t you read?”

Kindness or altruism is not confined to homo sapiens, though we seem to have made it a distinguishing feature to be cruel to our fellow creatures.   A few years back, we had on our farm one sheep that was blind, its eyes having been pecked out by crows one day when it got on its back and could not right itself.  The ewe survived the trauma and went on to have lambs for many years.   The lambs, once they had grown a bit, acted as her guides, leading her around and keeping her up with the flock.

One day though I was in the Long Field when I saw the blind ewe was plainly lost.  She was going round and round in circles, bleating piteously.  The main flock was far away at the other end of the field.  I was preparing to walk over to rescue her when another ewe beat me to it.  She left the flock, went up to blind ewe, and then led her back to join the others.  There can, I thought, have been no other motive for this act than kindness;  if anything having another ewe in the flock would have been against the rescuer’s interest, as there’d be less grass to eat.

If there were stratagems to increase the numbers of Lawrence DePrimos and kind hearted sheep, I think we should adopt them.

Footnote: A few weeks later the homeless New Yorker was seen back on the streets  - barefoot again. He explained “Those shoes are hidden.  They are worth a lot of money.  I could lose my life”   Well, New York is a tough city, but still a little kinder with DePrimo’s boots.

Monday 3rd December 2012
After last week's floods Jeremy Bugler asks can we afford to miss 2 degree target?
Contributor: Jeremy Bugler

Late last week, I was sitting in a car being driven by the Editor of this site.  It was seven a.m, dark and the rain has been tipping down all night.  We drove along country roads, hitting floods where floods had very seldom been before.  In the imperfect light of dipped headlights, which are not good for showing up the road surface, the Editor hit a stretch of flooded water. It went on, and on, and on.  The engine coughed but the car, being an ancient Audi, kept going.  We emerged the other side, dripping but mobile.  A few miles further on, following another car, we hit another flood, but this time saw little, being inundated in a wall of water thrown up  by the other car. It’s fair to say I have rarely seen, in 20 years, our roads so flooded as they are now.

The good citizens of St Asaph, Britain’s smallest city, are saying much the same, as 500 hundred of their houses were flooded last week.  Looking at the aerial shots of this North Wales settlement, it is clear that many of the houses that flooded are relatively new and built on the floodplain of the small river than runs through it.  In terms of resilience thinking, the message is that it is folly to build on flood plains, unless the houses are specially constructed like some of those in Asia, that is, on stilts.  It is unfair on the home-owners, who have their houses wrecked and find it difficult to get house insurance again.  It is a waste of resources.

Yet the rains we have seen this week are I suspect nothing to what we will see in the future.  Two reports from Price Waterhouse Cooper last week,  referred to on the website www.acclimatise.uk.com/network, indicate that we are in danger of missing the ‘politically stated’ target of 2 degrees C warming.  It reports that to hit this target, we needed to cut back global CO2 emissions by 3.7 per cent a year since 2000.  In fact we have managed to cut back only by 0.8 per cent, leaving it necessary now to decarbonise by 5.1 per cent all the way to 2050.  As the Acclimatise website says: “This is a rate of decarbonisation that has not been exceeded since World War 2”. Small chance then.

I think it is plain that we are headed for global warming of 3 degrees or more, and all that implies.  How can we deal with this?  I am tempted to say that we will need all the resilience strategies that we can get – and we will also need our human spirit.

In this light, I must tell of a flooding that hit good friends who live a few miles away in Herefordshire.  On June 29th, in the midst of summer, the heavens opened and wept upon Brambledown,  the home of Paul and Lorna Selfe.  In just ten minutes, a bit of lane where Paul and Lorna parked their cars filled completely with water.  The Selfe cars, no bangers they, were inundated. All this in a piece of land that has never flooded in 37 years. 

Paul was watching, mesmerised, from inside the house.  He laughs as he reports:  “It was a bit like watching the Titanic go down. Headlights glowed, horns sounded, windows opened and closed – and a prized CD was found the next day washed to the end of the garden.”

Paul, however, refrains from mentioning just what this CD was.   I suspect it was The Best of Barry Manilow.

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