Group identity and commercialism

Here’s a short video log I recorded yesterday as I got to thinking about how we as humans tend to separate into groups and sub-groups and identify with them. We form separate cultures and sub-cultures and nowadays, we want to stand apart from what we see as the commercialism and consumerism of modern society. 

And yet, when we do that, we actually make it easier for advertisers to target us, because instead of making general ads for general products, they get to make very targeted ads for products specifically tailored to particular groups. So the effort to escape consumerism then becomes a moot point. 

People think this is a bad thing for some reason. But I say it’s a good thing. I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of mankind when products tailored for specific uses could make it to market faster than nowadays. Sure, you have to sort through the crap, and there’s a lot of it, but there’s some really good stuff out there, made just for your needs. 

I also touch on the idea of money as currency and the inherent benefit of being able to convert skills or objects into such a portable currency that you can take pretty much anywhere and exchange it for what you need. Some people say we don’t need money, that we can trade directly, service to service, product for product, etc., but I sa that only goes so far. It’s so much more limited than money, particularly when you hold a very portable currency like the dollar, the pound or the euro. 

Yes, I’m still in bed, so please excuse my disheveled appearance. 


A tale about dealing with pain

As I write this, I’m lying in a bed, where I will have to spend the next 10 days. It’s part of a process where I am dealing with what has become constant, debilitating pain. I’m sharing this with you in the hope that it will spur you to deal with your pain as soon as you experience it, before it gets serious and it starts to dominate your life.

There are few things one can do when they’re stuck in a bed. Sharing their thoughts, whether it’s in written form or as recorded media, is one of those things. So here is a video I recorded last night about my experience with pain and the process I went through in order to deal with it.

Before you watch it though, I want to share the most important point from the video, the clincher if you will, and it’s this: pain begets misery; misery begets more pain, and so the downward spiral goes, bringing you into darkness, into a personal hell out of which only you can escape, and the more you stay down there in that hell hole, the harder it becomes to see the light, to live your life, to enjoy what the world has to offer, to appreciate the love of those around you, and to accomplish your goals. Your life gets put on hold and you’re stuck dealing with the pain, thinking about it constantly, gritting your teeth, trying to ignore what cannot be ignored. Do not get to this point. Do whatever you can, as soon as you can, short of illegal stuff, to feel better and to be able to do what you need to do in order to feel alive and happy.

The lure of the West and its subsequent disappointment (for some)

Here’s a thought: the very people who rail the most against the restrictions imposed by the state in autocratic countries, the most vocal opponents of such regimes, the ones who crave an escape to the West, are the ones who fare the worst after emigrating to free, democratic societies such as those in the Western world. You can think of it as an inversely proportional relationship between one’s dislike for a government or a regime and their likelihood of doing well in a freer, Western country that runs on capitalist principles.

They, unlike those who make their own little worlds at home in spite of the surrounding conditions, those who make the best of the situation, these vocal dissidents have let themselves be defined by what they perceive to be the restrictions of those societies. In other worlds, their lives have become dominated by what they criticize; they themselves have become the voice of those restrictions. Their very purpose of being is now defined by those societies: they live to criticize them. Because of this, their transplantation into a Western society would be fruitless. I don’t say this triflingly; I saw this happen first-hand.

These particular people would quickly find the faults in such a society (because they have become wired to do this) and would become dissidents of the West, criticizing the overt commercialism (for example) of such a society. They would find no solace in the freedom offered there and would instead resort to vocal criticism of the faults of that society. They would make poor use of the facilities of that society, they would contribute little or nothing to its betterment, but would instead fill their days with discontented moans. They’d likely pen editorials about the shackles of the West, etc.

If you want immigration success stories, you should look for those who can find the good in any situation, those who in spite of the conditions imposed on them, managed with what they had, provided good lives for themselves and those in their families, and were bright points of light in those autocratic societies. Get those people in the West and they’ll likely do the same, if not more, with the opportunities provided to them in those free societies.

Accountability for Syria

I want to point out a few more things related to my previous post about the Syrian refugees. Things such as the lack of accountability within foreign governments for the actions and strikes they authorized and which have contributed to the severity of the situation in Syria.

Here’s a video put together by Hans Robling that talks about the numbers:

And here’s an article on the need for accountability and responsibility in the actions of those who hold positions of power, with a short quote from it:

In short, the Romans honored the man who held absolutely nothing back — who put all he was as stake in everything he did and said.

Conversely, the man with nothing to lose, who risked nothing in his speech and behavior, was considered to be literally shameless (that is, unable or unwilling to be shamed). A shameless man acted without the check of honor and was thus regarded as contemptible, dangerous, and unworthy of trust. His whole being was considered a vanity; as Roman writer Petronius put it, a man who would not submit himself to test and challenge became nothing more than a “balloon on legs, a walking bladder.”

Finally, here’s a brief timeline that shows the escalation of the conflict. Allied forces condemned Assad, then negotiated with him, then armed and helped the militants, then started bombing them. This horrible flip-flopping and side-switching only made the situation worse and ultimately led to the situation we now see in Syria, with over 12 million people who have been forced to leave their homes by the fighting.

Is it just me, or have the United States been meddling long enough in the Middle East? I’d love to find out at least one instance during the last 60-70 years when their meddling in that region of the world led to something good.

Some may say, but we needed to go in, they were using chemical weapons. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. False flag events have been used before to trigger wars. The main point here is that a stable regime was in place in the country, a regime where most people could live their lives in relative safety. Now, after foreigners meddled there, the country is in shambles and we have seen the uprising of yet another radical terrorist group who’s literally having a blast, killing people and blowing things up left and right.

So I say those countries who’ve meddled directly in Syria should be the ones now responsible for fixing the situation. Instead of the EU having to shoulder the burden of integrating Syrian refugees, the United States and the other countries who triggered this horrible situation in one way or another should do it. It’s high time we instituted a certain level of responsibility in international affairs. If you break it, you fix it.

I don’t want to hear a peep about the chance of putting a “democratic” regime in place in that country. Look how effed up the situation is in Iraq and Afghanistan, where allied coalitions brought “democracy” a few years ago. I mistrust the Arab Spring movement, I’m not so sure it’s genuine. I think it’s orchestrated. It’s time we all realized democracy can’t work everywhere. Some regions of the world are best led autocratically, and as long as most of the people are doing okay, we shouldn’t stick our noses in their business, even if that autocrat doesn’t want to play nice with us.

Right now, what the US and its allies in the strikes on Syria need to realize is that they’ve got a terrorist group on the loose there that they’ve helped arm and strengthen and more to the point, this terrorist group is recruiting new members right from Western Europe, so it’s using Westerners to fight Eastern conflicts. That’s very screwed up and the West is directly or indirectly (depending on how you want to look at it) responsible for it.

Finally, this stupid meddling has displaced over 12 million Syrians from their homes, has exposed them to countless dangers, both in their own countries and abroad, as they try to get to safe places, and has created yet more bad blood between the East and the West. This stuff will haunt us for generations to come, and it’s all thanks to irresponsible politicians who aren’t being held accountable for their actions. 

Let the punishment fit the crime

Our penal system is ailing and I’d like to propose a fix. I think a lot of the time, we’re punishing people for the wrong crimes and we’re filling up our prisons with people who’d be better off serving our communities rather than sitting around at taxpayers’ expense all day long.

For starters, I’d legalize all drugs and put safeties in place to control how they’re made and sold. After all, a drug is a drug. It’s no coincidence that the drugs you get at the pharmacy and in the hospital, and the drugs you can get from your “friendly neighborhood dealers” are all called drugs. That’s because they’re all supposed to be made in labs and they act on the human body according to specific pathways. If we legalized them (and the legalization of cannabis is a good model to follow), that’d get rid of a whole bunch of inmates from the prisons and would ensure that certain things happen before and after a person begins to use the more dangerous ones. I may post more on this topic in the future if you’re interested.

Next, I think we should go through the books and clean up all the laws, particularly old ones that no longer apply. I’m sure that in every country, the penal code could do with a bit of housekeeping.

I would then re-classify crimes according to the punishment they’ll receive: prison terms or community service. And I would also introduce laws that would mandate community service that cannot be appealed in court for things such as:

  • Urinating on walls
  • Spitting on people, particularly on policemen
  • Harassing women on the street, for example whistling after them or making lewd comments
  • Exhibiting poor personal hygiene in public
  • Insulting people on the internet
  • Blocking the road with your car, motorbike or bicycle
  • Vandalism (even minor scratching) of someone’s property
  • Cursing in public or insulting other people

These are just a few example. I believe strongly that imposing penalties for these sorts of things (even though they may seem like petty actions to some) has a big ripple effect down the line and can reduce the number of bigger crimes, because it will cause people to have more respect for one another and for each others’ properties.

When the punishment is community service, those who get it must wear special community service attire with their crimes listed on it. At night, they wouldn’t return to their homes and would instead return to special community service facilities (similar to army barracks, with bunks set up in common rooms) and sleep there. While there, they’d have to prepare their own meals, wash their own clothes and clean up their rooms. Truant officers would monitor their activities and people on the street could text or call a number listed on their special attire to report them if they aren’t doing their service.

Where fines are involved, their amounts shouldn’t be fixed but should instead be set at a percentage of the offender’s income, say 10% of their monthly income for a certain offense, with the percentage set higher or lower for various offenses. And just to make sure no one gets out of paying the fine, a minimum threshold amount should be set that everyone must pay, even if it’s higher than the percentage set for a particular offense.

Let me give you more specific examples to drive the point home:

  • Let’s say a man is caught harassing women on the street. I would mandate the completion of a 2-day basic course in manners for him, with a test that he must pass at the end. He would then have to pay a fine and apologize in person to the women he offended, and complete a 14-day community service period and perform duties such as sweeping the streets, picking up litter, opening doors for women and other such activities. I believe such a punishment would better fit his crime and would in the end be more likely to achieve its goal of correcting the man’s behavior.
  • In the case of acts of vandalism, those people would pay a fine and be mandatorily assigned to work crews in the local community would be supervised by city personnel in the restoration of public buildings and public housing. Depending on the severity of the vandalism, they would get 2-weeks or 4-weeks or more of mandated community service. Their work performance would be graded and if they didn’t do a good enough job, their sentence would get extended.
  • In the case of those insulting people on the internet, I think the current model gives every Tom, Dick and Harry too free a hand in venting on anyone they choose and this is completely wrong. I think we should have better checks in place so that the identity of commenters could be easily traced and these people be held responsible for their actions. I believe they would also benefit from the completion of a 2-day basic course in manners, plus the payment of a fine.

In the case of crimes requiring prison sentences, again the punishment should be tailored to fit the crime. For example:

  • A convicted rapist whose guilt is proven would be physically castrated. I’m not talking about chemical castration. I’m talking about that man losing his testicles forever, so that he can no longer hurt someone else like that. He would also serve a lengthy prison sentence and go through counseling. When it is deemed possible by the psychologist or psychiatrist in charge, that man would have to apologize (either in person or on video or in writing, depending on the preference of the victim) to the victim and/or to the victim’s family.
  • Those who did serious financial crimes would in addition to their prison sentence also be mandated to suggest fixes for the loopholes or faulty laws that allowed them to exploit the system in such a way. They would also be required to assist the government in their ongoing financial investigations. In other words, if a lot of footwork and manpower is required for certain investigations, they’d be required to go through the physical or digital paperwork and assist the government as needed. After their sentence is complete, they would be required to complete years of community service where they would offer free financial counseling 2-3 times a week to college students and young couples, to help them understand how finances work and what they need to do in order to manage their money correctly. The counseling would be done by the book and would be monitored by truant officers.

These are just a couple of examples. I’m sure you can think of more if you’re thinking along the same lines as me.

East meets West and troubles ensue

There’s a lot of talk and controversy in the news about the migrant issue nowadays. Some are calling it Europe’s biggest political issue in decades, and they’re partly right. It’s certainly a big issue, but it’s not as big now as it may get in the coming years, if it’s not addressed correctly.

Here’s what I think: it’s not about race, it’s not about color, it’s not about war or the economy; it’s about religious fanaticism vs. tolerance. That’s the subject that should be discussed openly here, without mincing words.

I’m not going to name any particular religion. I don’t need to. The question to ask is: how tolerant are the religions practiced by these migrants? I ask this question seriously, given the problems we have encountered in Europe just in the last decade, in France, in the UK and in other European countries, all caused (directly or indirectly) by religious fanaticism.

Given the problems caused by intolerant religions in Europe, do we really want to introduce more of those same problems into the mix? If you look at photos of the migrants, or even better, go and inspect the situation for yourselves, you will see an overwhelming abundance of young males. Let’s do some simple math: add impressionable young males, plus religions which espouse intolerance, and what does that equal? It equals more of what you can see in the UK or in France, in certain well-known places where normal people don’t dare venture for fear of being attacked or killed, simply because they’re not of the same religion or have a different skin color.

In today’s civilized world, where science is widespread and superstition is all but absent, there are certain religions that still cling to medieval practices, and those religions have no place whatsoever where civilized society lives. Not unless you want serious problems.

The real litmus test is this: go ahead and wear a t-shirt with a controversial message in Eastern countries where an intolerant religion thrives and see what happens to you. Then, should you live to tell the tale, wear a similarly controversial t-shirt (or even more so) in Western countries and see what happens there.

I’m not of any religion, because I prefer to think for myself instead of regurgitating what religious books teach me. But I certainly appreciate tolerance among those who are religious, because it is a sign of higher thinking, of “using one’s noggin”, to put it into American vernacular. It’s a clear sign that a particular religion has managed to pull itself out of medieval practices of torture and killing and has come out into the light of the modern, enlightened world. Sadly, some religions are still stuck in the past, hundreds of years behind the times and show no sign of wanting to progress. Those religions and their believers have no place in the civilized world. 

That’s what we should be talking about, because if this situation is dealt with correctly now, we’ll avoid a whole slew of problems later on down the line, such as the de-stabilization of European society and the safety of its citizens, and the regression of our Western civilization down to the levels we can now see in Eastern countries, which is unthinkable.

Truly sustainable computing

Plenty could be written about this subject. I just want to call for change in two areas, because I believe they’d have the greatest impact here and now:

  1. Desktop computers should have a projected life span of 20 years.
  2. Laptops and mobile phones should have a projected life span of 10 years.

Why 10 years for laptops and mobile phones? Because they’re portable, they get banged up more and chances are they’re not going to look that good after 8-10 years, but they should be made to last that long nonetheless. Even if you won’t want to use them after a few years, you can sell them and someone else with a smaller budget will be happy to use them for as long as they last.

This means internal circuitry, which is most often the culprit in computing, should be made to last a looooong time. This is doable. There are cars and planes in use today with circuits made 15-20 years ago, which are still functioning properly. I think hardware meant for personal computing is purposely made to stop working after a few years, because computers are always upgraded and hardware manufacturers plan for obsolescence from the get-go.

There is a better way. Enclosures for all computing devices should be solidly made and finished. They should be stunningly beautiful and their design should stand the test of time. They should be easy to open and the innards serviced. And internal components should be made in such a way that they stand the rigors of heavy use through two decades, even if they become obsolete, market-wise. I think we’ve gotten to the point in computing where even if a computer is no longer desirable by someone who wants a fast machine, it’s still good enough for daily use by someone who does basic computing tasks.

I may live to eat the words in this paragraph, but surely USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, PCIe, 4K resolution and other goodies that are currently available should suffice for a while. I can’t imagine word processing applications or web applications requiring more than this, even 10 years from now. And if they do, a solid, serviceable enclosure and upgradeable hardware with backward compatibility for widely accepted standards and protocols should be enough to keep a computer going… and going… and going…

And once we pass that 20-year mark, why not make our next goal even bigger? Let’s plan for 100-year computers and let’s start doing it right now. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have machines made in 2015-2016 still in daily use in 2115-2116?

If you work in hardware, I’m sure you can think of plenty of reasons why this isn’t doable. It’s pretty easy to find reasons not to do something, and this applies to just about anything. But I want to challenge you to find ways to make this work, because it’s what we need to do in order to survive in the future. We can’t go on trashing the planet and taking from it indefinitely. We need to start conserving and giving back to it. We should focus on making it clean and beautiful.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of phones I have to throw away after 2-3 years because they turn into unusable crap. I’m sick and tired of computers and external hardware that start to break down after 3 years, some of them right after their warranty expires. And if would see what a mess we’ve made of this world, with destructive mining for rare earth minerals used in our electronics and with mountains of electronic trash polluting the ground and water tables in many places around the world, you’d be sick and tired of this as well.

There are much better ways of doing things. FairPhone is pointing the way for mobile phones. iFixit is helping too, with online service manuals and parts. But the bulk of the work still hasn’t been done. I still don’t see 20-year computers and 10-year laptops in stores. Where are they? Who’s making them? I’d like to buy one.