Consent to Tea

It took me a long time to like tea. Even to this day, I prefer tea that tastes something other than just tea. I simply hate "Earl Gray" and "English Breakfast Tea". Although I today actually have found a number of teas that I like, such as the Chilli Chai Tea Pig (first encountered on a trip to Anglesey in Wales a few years ago) and tea from Kenya (although it requires new equipment since it's grounded), I'm a bit concerned that I actually started drinking tea as a way to fit in. It was a bit too much to not drink coffee, or tea, or alcohol. In the beginning, I simply did not fancy tea.

From Copenhagen Feb 2012

Tea can also be used as a metaphor. You've probably heard the expression "it's not my cup of tea" but there are others. In a blog post at MetaFuture.org, Marcus Bussey writes about the connotations associated with a tea bag:

"Tea is murky water. As a metaphor it is also ambiguous. On the one hand it is a symbol of colonial power. Many millions over the centuries have laboured, warred and died because of tea. The humble cup of tea is not so innocent.

Yet tea is also a symbol of refinement and stability. It represents both tradition and continuity, propelling us into a future that is safe and reliably familiar. The tea bag makes this future more accessible and manageable."

I must admit that I use tea bags. Sometimes. But most often I use some kind of infuser. I'm not sure about what that says about me. Perhaps that I'm both traditional and progressive? I'd like that.

A rather recent addition to the set of tea metaphors is the "consent explanation" that has become viral and now even been picked up by Caitlin Moran. It all started as a blogpost by Rock Star Dinosaur Pirate Princess on March 2, where the author Emmeline May expressed concerned about the consent debate in the UK and decided to explain what's it all about using tea as a metaphor. It was then quickly picked up by many people, making the number of views rise from 13 to 30.000 a day in less than a week.
It probably helped that animator Rachel Brian and cinematographer Graham Wheeler from the animation company Blue Seat (with the appropriate tagline "educate with humor") brought it all to life with a simple, yet efficient movie. Maybe a little bit like putting the tea into a tea bag.

Lots of people commented on the blog post, which in turn made Emmeline May reflect in an additional post:

"To have people say they enjoyed your words, to see them shared over and over and to see people going YES, THIS was bewildering and wonderful and strange. But those messages telling me that I didn’t just write something funny or clever but that my words actually had real impact for people; to know that my brain ramblings have affected people, touched people and even helped them is an extraordinary feeling, and one I will treasure, even if no one ever reads this blog again"

Her work has definitely proven that metaphors are very powerful indeed, in many ways. From now on the phrase "Would you like a cup of tea?" may be considered ambiguous. Similar to the phrase "I'm gonna make myself a cup of tea", which is what I'm going to do right now.


Birds of East Africa

During my first trip to Nairobi in 2009, I bought the novel "A Guide to Birds in East Africa" by Nicholas Drayson at my hotel: The Fairview (said to be the most secure in town, since it is located opposite the embassy of Israel). Although this book, and the sequel "A Guide to the Beasts of East Africa" contains lots of information about the wildlife in Nairobi and its surroundings, they are basically heart-warming feel-good books about middle-age love and culture clashes.

From Nairobi February 2009

Although I spent most of the time indoors during my latest visit to Nairobi, due to work and rain, I managed to get an early morning walk in the valley bordering IRLI. I saw and heard a lot of birds: swifts, bustards, green pigeons, orioles, swallows, sunbirds, sparrows, wagtails (what an excellent name in English!) and many more. Unfortunately, I had not brought my Nikon with me. Next time I'll do that, and also make sure to visit the Arboretum.

From Nairobi March 2015


Missing Rain

The weather in East Africa is changing and becoming more difficult to predict. For example, the temperature in Kenya is rising. According to an ILRI report, climate model simulations under a range of possible greenhouse gas emission scenarios suggest that the median temperature increase for Africa is 3–4°C by the end of the 21st century, which is roughly 1.5 times the global mean response. At the same time, the rain is becoming more intense, threatening to destroy crops and wash away nutrition. As a result of climate change, Kenya could see significant areas where cropping is no longer possible and the role of livestock as a livelihood option increases.

The Swedish and Danish foreign aid agencies have funded the development of The Kenyan National Climate Change Response Strategy. The recommended actions range from adaptation and mitigation measures in key sectors, to necessary policy, legislative and institutional adjustments, to ways of enhancing climate change awareness education and communication in the country, to necessary capacity development requirements, and to ways of enhancing research and development as well as technology development and transfer in areas that respond to climate change, among many others.

According to The Adaptation to Climate Change and Insurance (ACCI) Project, a bilateral Project between the Kenyan and German Governments, rain-fed agriculture, which accounts for 98% of the agricultural activities in the country, is the backbone of Kenya’s economy. It is very vulnerable to increasing temperatures, droughts and floods, which reduce agricultural productivity. Increasing temperatures are also likely to affect the growing of major crops in the country and threaten the livelihoods of farmers and processors.

A very good illustration of the predictions have been put forward by Chris Funk in his article Current Climate Trend Analysis of Kenya.

The World Bank has gathered a lot of statistics concerning the weather that you can play around with, but how about predictive tools?

The climate change of course also means that the market for weather prediction software is growing. This is something the Swedish start-up Ignitia is taking advantage of. The CEO Liisa Petrykowska, is one of only seven Swedish Ashoka fellows. Together with four other researchers, she developed a model that using data from satellites from Eumetsat, Nasa och Noaa provides a very accurate prognosis.

"Noticing that global models for weather predictions were made from simple algorithms, the research team quickly realized that part of the solution would be to calculate a different, unique algorithm for the tropics. Using the convective process—a process that wasn’t naturally used to predict weather but rather measured the moisture in the air—in addition to the same satellite images and geo-stationary data that had previously been available, the team put together different equations that represented the reality of the region. Factoring in pressure and temperature differences, Liisa’s scientific team was able to create a new algorithm that predicted tropical weather with an 84% accuracy—a rate that had previously been unheard of for the region." Ashoka

According to Dagens PS, this can be compared to the accuracy of the African television (30%) and the BBC (39%). The company has received support from the Swedish innovation funding agency Vinnova and the incubator STING. It has also been featured in a lot of Swedish media such as Ny Teknik and Dagens Industri.

Not only the technology is novel, she has introduced a new business model as well, adjusting to her main customers (low-income farmers):

"Liisa’s business model includes three ways in which someone can receive the text message weather forecasting service—direct payment, corporate payment, and third-party reselling. First, individual farmers can subscribe directly to the service. Liisa uses a very low pricing model, costing approximately .026 cents per text message. Thus, farmers who subscribe individually pay less than $1/month and an average of $5/season. Second, corporations or organizations can subscribe to the service. Within a short period of starting the SMS service, Liisa already had seed companies, pesticide companies, USAID, and IFDC (International Fertilizer Development Center) wanting subscriptions to the service. Third, Liisa’s strategy also includes third-party reselling. For example, farming co-operatives can subscribe and then re-sell the information." Ashoka

According to Epoch Times, one of the "secrets" behind Ignitia is to help farmers overcome their suspicion of science and their faith in the weather gods. Apparently, Liisa suggests to use the traditional methods in combination with the app, although only sacrificing half a chicken.

From Nairobi March 2015

I think the story of Ignitia is very good when it comes to how to go from research knowledge to impact. Cross-disciplinary research team, novel use of existing knowledge assets in combination with new knowledge, iterations, proof-of-concept trials, close conversations with potential users, collaborations with international organisations, patient investors, use of mobile technology, novel business models together with a social impact ambition paves the way. Should you like to have a go at getting a piece of the action yourself, USAID has put together information on current ICT weather apps and recommendations for practitioners.

By coming to Nairobi in May, I apparently came in the month with the most rainfall, and for sure, I got wet. This is what Expert Africa calls The Long Rain, with the shorter version occurring in November-December (note to self: try to avoid going back to Nairobi then, since I've had enough of rain in Sweden).

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
Toto, "Africa"


Tales That Sting

When I first moved to Stockholm in 1996, I decided I wanted to try something completely different. So I signed up for a singing-class: "Afro-American Rock and Pop Songs". The week before my first class, I went on a holiday to Lefkas in Greece with my friend and flatmate Marie. We had a great time since it was off-season but still very nice weather. Unfortunately, I caught a very bad cold. When I came home I could hardly speak, and singing was out of the question.

I went to the lessons anyhow. In the beginning I just listen to the instructions and mimed. Much too soon I tried to sing, why it took more than a year for my voice to recover completely. Towards the end of the course, we were told to pick a song to sing on our own. I'm sure I was tempted to select one song from the then recently released Sting album "Mercury Falling", probably "I Was Brought To My Senses", a song that later became one of my favourites. However, I went for the more upbeat "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free".

If you need somebody, call my name
If you want someone, you can do the same
If you want to keep something precious
You got to lock it up and throw away the key
If you want to hold onto your possession
Don't even think about me
If you love somebody, set them free

From Läckö 2012

I've recently ordered "A Sting in the Tale" by Dave Goulson. Partly because the content seems to be very relevant to me because of its focus on sustainability, but mostly because the cover is so beautiful. Reminds me of Maj Fagerberg's illustrations, that evoke the sounds and smells of childhood summers in the southern parts of Sweden.

"You can publish experiments in high quality journals again and again but they are only read by a few dozen scientists who work in your field. It achieves little or nothing in the real world", Dave Goulson

Goulson has published more than 200 scientific articles on insects, but he's also worked really hard with respect to utilisation, in addition to writing popular books. Concerned with the steep decline of bumblebees he started the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006. It provides useful tips on how to design a bee-friendly garden. I would just love to have a bumblebee nest at my allotment! Sadly the Bee Kind tool seems to be only for UK fans.

review of Goulson's book by The Guardian, points out how much we depend on the eco-services provided by creatures like bumblebees. Another good reason for why to give them a helping hand!

"Ketchup. Nothing better illustrates the mess we've made of managing the environment on which our survival depends. When you next plop it over your chips, as Dave Goulson points out in his enlightening account of a life studying bumblebees, consider that it was probably made in the Netherlands from tomatoes grown in Spain, pollinated by Turkish bumblebees reared in a factory in Slovakia." The Guardian

And out of the confusion
Where the river meets the sea
Something new would arrive
Something better would arrive


Deserve to Live

A couple of months ago, a well-known and admired headmaster at our local high school passed away. He was not very old and died after a rather sudden illness. Although I didn't have him as a teacher when I was a kid, I knew of him. I remember feeling somewhat embarrassed by the fact that he had been one of my mother's pupils, when she had first come to Mölnlycke.

He was the strong, silent kind of leader. One that made you smile. A level 5 leader, using Jim Collins' terminology:

"The term "Level 5" refers to a five-level hierarchy. Level 1 relates to individual capability, Level 2 to team skills, Level 3 to managerial competence, and Level 4 to leadership as traditionally conceived. Level 5 leaders possess the skills of levels 1 to 4 but also have an "extra dimension": a paradoxical blend of personal humility ("I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job") and professional will ("sell the mills"). They are somewhat self-effacing individuals who deflect adulation, yet who have an almost stoic resolve to do absolutely whatever it takes to make the company great, channeling their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It's not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves". From Jim Collins

We sometimes have opinions about who should live longer and who should die sooner. None of the countries in EU practice the capital punishment since it is against the rules for EU membership and the goal is even to achieve a universal abolition. In the whole of Europe only Belarus use it. In the U.S. 32 out of 50 states still practice it. Methods vary by state, federal, and military policy, but include lethal injection, hanging, firing squad, the electric chair, and the gas chamber. This puts the U.S. into the same league as China, Sudan, Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia. 

There are many very good reasons against the capital punishment. One wrongdoing can not be corrected by another one. There is no such thing as a perfect legal system, why somebody totally innocent may and probably has been executed. Since we don't know what awaits us after death, how can we be sure it is a punishment? Also the capital punishment does not prevent people from committing crimes.

"The death penalty brutalises the people who administer it", James Guthrie, The Death Penalty Project, in an article in Intelligent Life

In the second part of David Edgar's play about the nazi architect Albert Speer (my uncle Henric played Hitler, and had many concerns about that), as I recall it, Speer argues that there is more to a human being than the worst thing he has done in his life. Being Hitler's second in command he narrowly escaped hanging after the Nuremberg trials. Although there is much in the character to loath, I must admit that I agree with him on that. Or, I suppose, I too ask for forgiveness for my wrongdoings and hope that my good deeds count for something.

From Berlin Augusti 2009
"The notion that there is a thing called evil which separates the wicked off from the rest of us is a comforting illusion. The uncomfortable truth is that to understand does involve recognition and even empathy. It does require seeing the world through the eyes of the wicked person, and thus finding those impulses and resentments and fears within ourselves that could - we painfully have to admit - drive us to commit dreadful acts under different circumstances." David Edgar

With the capacity of doing both good and bad things during a life, who can tell what good someone sentenced to death can bring to this world given the chance?

The last Swedish execution took place in 1910, and it has been abolished for peacetime offences since 1921 and for wartime ones since 1973. 

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Fyodor Dostoevsky

From Berlin Augusti 2009