I’m in the cinema

“Hello! Wot? I’m in the cinema! THE CINEMA! Naa! It’s Rubbish!”

And so went the genius social commentary and comedy from an otherwise so-so British comedian, Dom Jolly.

To make sense of the above you need to picture a man stood up in one of the front rows of a cinema hall silhouetted against the screen which is showing a film that increasingly irate, paying cinema-goers are trying to watch.

He is shouting into his phone, which is an scale model of an early Nokia handset complete with its original piercing Nokia ring-tone. The scale model stands one meter tall.

(Unfortunately said clip is not available on the web, although plenty of  clips with the brick can be found here.)

Those were the days in the UK when mobile etiquette was still taking baby steps (and now it is an irritating teenager) and you can still see that now here in Nepal.

In the cinema, people will answer their phones much as they might do if they were on the street or in their living-room back home.

This extends to musical concerts, meetings and even during the pinacle of business professionalism, MS PowerPoint presentations. The needs of the many are every time trumped by the need of the individual and their caller to discuss banalities.

Blogger Nepaliketi (Nepaligirl) ranted about this on her blog some days back, along with men pissing against walls in the street, queue barging and lateness. Her point was “Let’s not stand for this. Who is in with me…”. “I’m in”, I said.

A few days later, and a few comments later on her blog. This message was somewhat retracted under the title of ‘Major on the major, minor on the minor’. Its good college wisdom: focus on the important things.

But I disagree that, while these behaviours are minor inconveniences, in the big scheme of things, they should just be tolerated.

Too much tolerance can also be bad, as sharp-as-a-tack commenter MoveAnyMountain once said on the Comment is Free section of the Guardian website.

To me the word tolerance sounds like a virtue. That we should accept, nay embrace, others’ differences, seek to understand them with empathy and live together side by side the best we can. It’s the rather biblical definition.

There is also the less compassionate side which says “You have your rights, do what you want and I will tolerate it, but don’t bother me with it.” and the Dutch must surely be the world leaders in this.

And of course, a younger I heard my mother shout many times, “I will not tolerate this behaviour any longer!” proving that tolerance can often be hard work.

But then there are a list of many things that we absolutely (not quite so absolutely in reality) will not tolerate and society is arguably better for it. Drunk driving, speeding, racism, homophobia, misogyny, mistreating of children, smoking in someone else’s personal space, dropping litter in public places, breaking the law even when no officer of the law is watching, corruption… the list of things UK society does not or tries not to tolerate is long.

Eating with your mouth open, spitting, not washing your hands after visiting the toilet, pissing on the street, picking your nose in public, talking in the cinema, arriving late for a meeting. Do any of these to frequently and you’ll find the distance between you and everybody else slowly increasing towards infinity, but more likely someone at some point will let you know that you are being anti-social.

Is there a thread in Nepal connecting tolerance of, say holding a loud phone conversation in the cinema spoiling the film for everyone, and tolerance of, for instance, the corruption or ineptness of public officials, spoiling the country for everyone?

Before I step further into a deep cultural waters without the lifebelt of an Anthropology degree to save me, I’ll stop.

However, Nepali Keti, I’ve got all the arts and crafts materials needed to build an oversized turn-of-millenium replica Nokia brick. On second thoughts, a spangly modern clam-shell “Hello Moto” moterola would be better. Are you ready to make a point?

“Ke? Sinema ma! Siiinneeeemmaaaa! Film Herchhu! Ke bhaneko? “

I guess social behaviour has to find its own balance over time. I don’t know why Nepali’s seem to care less about each other in public. I don’t know if it matters. Certainly worth further pondering.

In the case of the cinema, perhaps a more effective approach would be to slip a little public information in before each film. Slowly it might soak in. This is quite good. Perhaps Kiran Joshi could animate a Nepali version.

In pursuit of profit…

Its the dry season in Nepal. Or rather the very dry season. The vast majority of rain falls in the monsoon period between June and early September. This heavy rainfall recharges the water tables that everybody relies on to supply water until the following year. Some light rain falls in January and February, but in comparison to the monsoon, this is not much to speak of. By April and May the water table is dropping and streams high above the valley floor are drying up. People then have to go hunting for water, or do without.

Recently I travelled to Kaskikot, a small village on a panoramic ridge close to Pokhara. They have a huge issue with water supply. To cut a long story short, rainfall is decreasing and temperatures increase, both attributed to climate change. This means that people have access to water for as little as one hour per day, and roughly speaking, the per capita allocation of water is around 10 litres per day. That’s one traditional toilet flush to give it some perspective. So that has to function for drinking, cooking, washing and toilet usage. Its a very tough situation.

The story is not uncommon in Nepal. A popular perception held by outsiders is that Nepal is a land of snowy mountains and raging rivers, and that that somehow implies that water is in abundance. The former is true, the latter is far from the case.

Every week news reports cite another village as being in desperate shortage of water. In Kathmandu it is no different. Many houses, those that can afford it that is, are resorting to having water delivered by tanker.

Last week on a short hike up a hill beyond Swayambu I saw children ever so patiently waiting for something no more than a trickle from a standpipe to fill their assorted buckets and bottles.

The climate is undeniably changing and the debate on whether industrialisation and consumerism are responsible is all but closed.

Imagine the irony then of seeing bottles of Perrier and San Pellegrino mineral water for sale in a nearby supermarket in Kathmandu. Yes it is patronised mainly by tourists, but still, if there was ever a symbol of the profligacy of modern (western) society, it is shipping bottled drinking water long distances.

Wine however…

Slowly growing things will one day get ridiculously big

“the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function”

So says Dr. Albert Bartlett, a professor of physics at the University of Colorado. I stumbled upon a transcript of his well-honed lecture on Arithmetic, Population and Energy.

It is a polished lecture, replete with wisdom and well worth reading. If his statement above is true, then by reading you are getting insight in to the greatest shortcoming of the human race. So, really, it is worth 10 minutes out of your day (or out of your facebook time).

In his lecture he looks at the oxymoron “sustainable growth”. Think about it business people. He offers a very simple trick to understand growth rates and what they mean in terms of doubling time.

You just take the number 70, divide it by the percent growth per unit time and that gives you the doubling time. So our example of 5% per year, you divide the 5 into 70, you find that growing quantity will double in size every 14 years.

He goes on to use this to make us look at population growth, space and the use of natural resources. Using the simple maths, he shows how intelligent people can be rather dumb. It reminds me of an intelligent friend who’s mother was involved in a pyramid scheme. He just couldn’t see that after several levels, there simply wouldn’t be enough gullible (or otherwise) people left in the universe to join the scam.

Anyhow, his main thrust comes back to population. Its worth re-quoting a quote he quotes by Isaac Asimov:

“What happens to the idea of the dignity of the human species if this population growth continues?” and Asimov says, “It’ll be completely destroyed. I like to use what I call my bathroom metaphor. If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then they both have freedom of the bathroom. You can go to the bathroom anytime you want, stay as long as you want, for whatever you need. And everyone believes in freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the constitution. But if you have twenty people in the apartment and two bathrooms, then no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there’s no such thing. You have to set up times for each person, you have to bang on the door, ‘Aren’t you through yet?’ and so on.” And Asimov concluded with one of the most profound observations I’ve seen in years. He said, “In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive overpopulation. Convenience and decency cannot survive overpopulation. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies, the more people there are, the less one individual matters.”

And from this he summarises.

“And so, central to the things that we must do, is to recognise that population growth is the immediate cause of all our resource and environmental crises.”

So, there you have it. If you don’t decide to read the article, at least try to work out right now what the doubling time is from a 1.3% growth rate is. Then you’ll know, theoretically at least, when you’ll be sharing the planet with 13 billion others.