Yann Arthus-Bertrand: 6 Billion Others

6,000 interviews and 4,500 hours (450 translated and subtitled) from people in 65 countries. Bertrand conceived of the idea while traveling and shooting for The Earth From Above. The full project is forthcoming in 2008, but there is sample footage available now on the website.

Created at the beginning of 2003, “6 billion others” aims to create a sensitive and human portrait of the planet’s inhabitants.

Previously: Earth From Above, We Are Cancer

Explorer Wade Davis on the Ethnosphere

If you can listen past his voice – trembling with excitement – National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis, here speaking at TED 2003, has some excellent insight to share from his travels. Here he discusses world cultures, dying languages and unique spiritual practices including tribal psychoactive rituals.

On a variant of DMT:

To have that powder blown up your nose is rather like being shot out of a rifle barrel lined with baroque paintings and landing in a sea of electricity.

… and on how one particular ethnic group distinguishes the subtle variants of a plant species they use to make Ayahuasca, a psychoactive tea:

You ask the Indians and they say the plants talk to us. Well what does that mean? This tribe, the Cofán, has 17 varieties of Ayahuasca, all of which they distinguish at great distance in the forest, all of which are referable to our eye as one species. And then you ask them how they establish their taxonomy. And they say, ‘I thought you knew something about plants, don’t you know anything?’ And I said ‘no’. Well it turns out you take each of the 17 varieties on the night of a full moon and it sings to you in a different key. Now that’s not going to get you a PhD at Harvard but it’s a lot more interesting than counting stamens.

The problem is that even those of us sympathetic with the plight of indigenous people view them as quaint and colorful but somehow reduced to the margins of history as the “real world”, meaning our world, moves on.

Wade has written several books including The Serpent and the Rainbow & Light at the Edge of the World.

Mike Davis: Fear and Money in Dubai

image credit: Niki Atashfaraz

An excellent article about Dubai’s past, present, and future:

On the rim of the war zone, a new Mecca of conspicuous consumption and economic crime, under the iron rule of Sheikh al-Maktoum. Skyscrapers half a mile high, artificial archipelagoes, fantasy theme parks—and the indentured Asian labour force that sustains them.

image credit: Ryan Lackey

Thanks to his boundless enthusiasm for concrete and steel, the coastal desert has become a huge circuit board upon which the elite of transnational engineering firms and retail developers are invited to plug in high-tech clusters, entertainment zones, artificial islands, glass-domed ‘snow mountains’, Truman Show suburbs, cities within cities—whatever is big enough to be seen from space and bursting with architectural steroids. The result is not a hybrid but an eerie chimera: a promiscuous coupling of all the cyclopean fantasies of Barnum, Eiffel, Disney, Spielberg, Jon Jerde, Steve Wynn and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Although compared variously to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Orlando, Monaco and Singapore, the sheikhdom is more like their collective summation and mythologization: a hallucinatory pastiche of the big, the bad and the ugly.

image credit: Hisham Binsuwaif

The lodestone of Dubai, of course, is ‘peak oil’ and each time you spend $50 to fill your tank, you are helping to irrigate al-Maktoum’s oasis. Fuel prices are currently inflated by industrial China’s soaring demand as well as growing fears of war and terrorism in the global oil patch. According to the Wall Street Journal, ‘consumers will [have paid] $1.2 trillion more in 2004 and 2005 together for oil products than they did in 2003’. As in the 1970s, a huge and disruptive transfer of wealth is taking place between oil-consuming and oil-producing nations. Already visible on the horizon, moreover, is Hubbert’s Peak, the tipping point when new petroleum reserves will no longer offset global demand, and thereafter oil prices will become truly stratospheric. In some utopian economic model, perhaps, this windfall would become an investment fund for shifting the global economy to renewable energy while reducing greenhouse gas output and raising the environmental efficiency of urban systems. In the real world of capitalism, however, it has become a subsidy for the apocalyptic luxuries that Dubai is coming to epitomize.

World History Timeline

A wall chart about 6.5 x 4.5 feet in size, containing an overview of nearly 13.7 billions years of universal history: biological evolution, culture, literature, religion, philosophy, science, technology, art and music. Authored by Tom Schoepen and four years in the making, it will soon be published and sold. Unfortunately, I can’t find any version online that is readable.

Babel Fish, Quod Erat Demonstrandum

The Babel fish, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, translates any language instantly if placed in your ear.

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful [the Babel fish] could have evolved by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”

“But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

“Oh, that was easy”, says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white, and gets himself killed on the next Zebra crossing.

Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy