#1114 A hope-filled birthday


Birthdays in the 7th decade of life are so different from the days when they were about being old enough to start school, ride a bicycle, go on a date or learn to drive. They are more of a celebration…


#1113 Lettuce in LED-lit tiers; food factory of the future grows in Japan today

The future is today; lettuce factory in Japan; photo from video below

The future is today; lettuce factory in Japan; photo from video below

Food waste accounts for somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of all the food produced around the world. That is a shocking number. That means land, seed, water, storage, manufacturing and everything else that contributes to the food on our table is wasted.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, a Sony factory abandoned in the wake of the 2011 tsunami is producing lettuce with only 3 percent waste. According to Truth Atlas (a good source of hope), one of the main reasons for that impressive percentage is water. It isn’t leaching through the soil, and it isn’t evaporating, at least not the way it would in a conventional lettuce-growing operation.

Shigeharu Shimamura, a plant physiologist, is CEO of Mirai Co. He explained that conventional farms can grow 26,000 plants on an acre of land. By stacking the plants and growing them under LED lights, the plant factory can harvest 10,000 heads a day in a much smaller space than an ordinary farm. In terms of feeding a burgeoning population, the ability to grow lettuce is a small start, but this factory is pioneering techniques that can be applied to other kinds of food plants.

Maybe it’s my age, but I have a hard time getting excited about food grown in tiers in a 2300 square metre factory. I think I’m lucky. I will go to my grave with the image of seed, soil, water and sun producing a miracle of food. Still, it appears we humans are reproducing like rabbits and using up the planet’s resources at shocking speed. A factory like this will stave off disaster while we figure out more rational ways of living in harmony with the beautiful earth.

With water and food in peril, a growing population to feed, and the future of my grandchildren at stake, I am encouraged by the creativity of people such as Shigeharu Shimamura. They are working hard to ensure a future for all of us.


#1110 One of Anthony Hopkins’ dreams came true after 50 years

Sir Anthony Hopkins

Sir Anthony Hopkins and his wife acknowledging André Rieu’s orchestra and the debut of Hopkins’ waltz; photo clip from video of the performance

Millions of people have watched the YouTube video of Dutch violinist and conductor André Rieu playing “And the Waltz Goes On” with his Johann Strauss Orchestra. But if you have somehow missed or forgotten it, you are in for a treat.

The composer of the waltz is Sir Anthony Hopkins, better known for his roles in such hit movies as The Silence of the Lambs, The Lion in Winter, The Elephant Man and 84 Charing Cross Road. His success on the screen overshadowed another of his talents, composing.

“And the Waltz Goes On” is a piece Hopkins wrote in 1964. The thought of one day hearing it performed was one of his dreams, but it was on hold for nearly four decades. He told the UK Independent he was watching one of André Rieu’s concerts one day and told his wife he would love to have the waltz played in Vienna. Without telling Hopkins, she sent the score to Rieu, who called Hopkins and invited him to Maastricht to hear his orchestra play it. Hopkins was in the audience when the piece was premiered in Vienna. Subsequently Rieu recorded it for his next album.

For a musician whose showmanship attracts thousands to his concerts and an actor whose talent has kept him busy for decades, the connection proved to be both an artistic and personal success. Hopkins told the Independent, “I have few sentimental attachments in my life but with André – well, I think we’ve become good friends.” Rieu echoed, “…there are not many people from whom I feel such openness and warmth without any shit.”

Watch Hopkins’ face in the video below, and see a look of sheer delight. This isn’t the actor’s only musical success, but it may be his favourite.


#1108 Jews and Arabs plant love in place of hatred

Collage made by Arab and Israeli youth

Part of the collage of their days, created by Arab and israeli youth; photo clip from top video below

Only someone who’s been hiding under a rock is unaware of the tragedy unfolding between Israel and Hamas. Whatever our judgments of both sides, those of us not living in the region have the luxury of safety while we express our opinions. For young people in the path of conflict, the cause of peace is no abstraction. It is a necessity.

In 2013 the Peres Center for Peace collaborated with Google and the ORT Education Network to bring Arab and Israeli youth together via Googe+ Hangouts. The video collage they created of their daily life does not need translation to make its point: teenagers’ lives across their two cultures is more alike than different.

Even better than the video itself was what preceded it. Youth from Arab and Israeli high schools got to know each other through a series of Google+ Hangouts. They used Google Maps to plan a tour together, of archaeological sites sacred to both.

As Wasim Jaas of Ort Hilmi Shafie School says in the video below:

There are Arabs who hate Jews without even meeting or getting to know them, and now they found out that we have a lot in common. To be honest, I felt the same. After participating in the project I learned that we can cast off the hatred and plant love in its place.

Hanging onto hatred is always harder when we get to know the ordinary, beautiful, flawed people behind the label of “enemy”. As these young people become tomorrow’s leaders, they will carry the seeds of peace planted by this project.