Thoughts

The best of times

Isn’t it interesting how timeless and true good writing proves itself, even in our modern age, and even though it was originally intended for a different literary context?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, 1859

We are indeed living in the best times of current recorded history and because every coin has a flip side, there are surely plenty of things to complain about. Yet I thought I’d point out some of the good things in this post.

Out of all our known and written history, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a time like this, when most of the world is enjoying a period of “not war” and when the options available to us in areas such as healthcare, living conditions, hygiene, infrastructure, learning, jobs, possessions, transport, personal freedoms and just about everything else you can think about are so many and so readily available. Yes, some of these options can get expensive, but they are there and they are available, whereas most of them simply did not exist in the past.

We get so caught up in our daily, mundane routines and our various disappointments that we allow to blacken our lives, that we forget we have it so good. I’d like to invite you to find and watch documentaries and TV series that portray our various periods of history with accuracy; there are quite a few these days. I’d like you to become acquainted with how people lived and how hard it was to simply get through a day and have some food to put on the table, much less be able to afford a few knick-knacks here and there.

Most people have never been able to afford what we call a proper home and have lived in sheds, hovels and small cottages for most of history. Most houses were a one-room affair in the past. The toilet was a pot under the bed or a communal outdoor hole in the ground. Chamber pots would be thrown into the street every morning. Think about taking a walk in those cities! Even in civilized cities, right up to the 1960s-70s, people would have to share a common bathroom or bathrooms in apartment buildings or subdivided houses. And now we’ve gotten to the point where we mind sharing a bathroom with our guests and we complain if our house has less than 3-4 rooms.

The capability to take a daily shower under hot running water, with a pleasant soap and shampoo, has been unheard of in all our recorded history, until recent times. And yet people still find excuses when it comes to maintaining proper daily hygiene and complain about water hardness and water pressure and soap quality, etc.

Dental care is so important. Without it, most of us would be toothless by our 40s and those who’d still have teeth would have some rather nasty decoloration and build-up on them. Should we be part of the majority of the population without teeth, we’d have to wear dentures made of wood or animal teeth, or of metals such as lead, dentures that wouldn’t fit properly and cause us daily pain. We now have access to orthodontics, fillings that match the color and hardness of our teeth and are almost invisible, crowns, implants and now stem cell implants, which can regenerate our own teeth! This was never available in the past. We’ve had to struggle with primitive tooth care for so long.

Of all healthcare options available, I would single out trauma surgery as the most important development. Nowadays we have the option of receiving triage and trauma care that allows us to fully heal without infection, including proper bone and joint surgery and for most of known history, we simply didn’t have this. Broken arms stayed broken. Torn joints stayed torn. Cuts and flesh wounds often got infected and led to death. Yes, healthcare is terribly expensive. Yes, good basic healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. But look at the bright side: it exists! How governments choose to make it available to their citizens is an open and ongoing discussion instead of a “No, we’ve never heard of that, it doesn’t even exist” kind of discussion.

How easy is it to learn things nowadays? Access to information is virtually free, and more resources (historical and modern) have become available online than we’ll ever have time to read, and yet I’m hard pressed to come across than a few learned, thoughtful individuals during the course of a day and sometimes even a week; (perhaps that’s also due to the way our educational systems are structured.) Various apps on our mobile devices compete to make learning as fun as possible for us. Universities and colleges post videos from their courses for free online access. For most of history, people didn’t know how to read or write. They were thirsty for learning but it was out of their reach. It was simply too expensive or just not an option for them. Trade secrets, for example, were closely guarded and only revealed to tradespeople in secrecy, after long apprenticeships. Now everyone can watch how-to videos and learn how to do something, but how many follow through and actually do those things or even more, persist at them until they get good? Most of us tend to confuse reading or watching the news with learning. Opening up our minds and pouring in the news isn’t learning, it’s just a deluge of unhelpful and depressing bits of information.

For most of our history, people couldn’t pick their jobs. There was little social mobility. If you were born into a peasant family, you were a peasant, end of story. Only the aristocracy could pick and choose what they wanted to do, but even if they were passionate about something, it could only be a hobby, because they were expected by all to be aristocrats, not do things (I know, boo-hoo for them…) Now anyone can be just about anything, and training for that job is within reach if they want it enough. One way or another you can make ends meet and get to do what you like in life. I know, I know, student loans are huge… that’s why it’s doubly important to figure out what you want to do before you start going to school for it, else you’ll be spending money you don’t have so you can get to do what you don’t want to do. While I’m talking about this, allow me to pitch you on choosing a career in the trades; good craftsmen are in severe demand these days.

The subject of possessions is huge, both figuratively and literally. We could talk all day about rampant consumerism and fake economies and fast fashion. The point is, it’s incredibly affordable to buy things today, and it simply wasn’t the case for most of our history. Even something that we often take for granted and is typically rusting in our garden sheds, such as a simple hand saw, was incredibly hard to make and buy during medieval times. Even an axe or a pick was hard to make. They cost lots of money, the equivalent of small cars nowadays, so people saved up for years to buy tools, then cared for them and handed them down to their sons and daughters. Clothes were made by hand, and that included the materials. You cared for them and mended them as long as you could. Someone would typically only have one change of clothing. Nowadays clothing is literally clogging up our homes and people are desperate to get help in order to clean them up and organize them.

In the last 100 years, means of transport have progressed tremendously. Whereas travel was slow and expensive, it’s now fast and inexpensive. We can travel by car, train, ship and airplane. We can even skip physical travel and visit locations virtually by looking at photos from those places, or street views in mapping applications. We can even immerse ourselves in 360 degree videos and virtual realities.

We find time to bitch about every little bump and pothole in our public roads, yet we’ve never had it so good. It’s true that Roman roads are legendary, but you have to remember they were cobblestone in a time where suspension hadn’t yet been invented. Every single bone and sinew in your body would have been shaken out of sorts by the time a day’s ride would be over. After Roman civilization degraded, we were back to mud ruts and dust for over 1500 years, plus frequent attacks from highway robbers. Now all but the most rural roads are paved and can be safely traveled.

How about personal freedoms? Have societies ever tolerated so much free speech, even when it’s hateful and offensive, and offered so much personal freedom for various lifestyle choices, even for something that we now consider so commonplace as divorce or adultery? Do you know how shunned people were for adultery in the past, or how impossible it was to get a divorce, even when situation was terrible and abusive? How about the open criticism and ridicule of politicians, business leaders and other figures of authority or fame that we now tolerate? When was that sort of thing well-tolerated in the past? And yet we still find ways to take these things to the extreme, and we keep pushing the boundaries till things get truly and downright brazen and defamatory, instead of celebrating the freedom of speaking out against someone and doing it with some sense of decency.

I do wish more people would realize how good we have it and would be more grateful for all of the opportunities, amenities and conveniences that modern times offer us. We certainly don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we lose what we’ve worked so hard for as a human race and civilization, because then we’ll have really failed ourselves. I think the way to become more grateful is to pay attention to the past, because it offers up enough contrast to the present to make us have those little epiphanies of conscience that raise our collective morale.

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Raoul and Ligia
Video Log

How to behave toward women

Someone asked me to make this video a long time ago. I put off doing it until now and you’ll see why as you read on.

I am an introvert and have trouble relating to people (to women in particular). Some would label me an extreme introvert with anti-social behavior, although I manage to mask this when I’m in public, for the sake of others. Fact is, I’m most comfortable and clear-minded when I’m by myself, far, far away from everyone. I get splitting headaches when I have to be in public or speak with strangers, and the rub of it is that I organize public events with my wife (it’s part of our business). These things take their toll on me, but I do it because I have to. I find ways to retreat and hide during those days, so that I can recover my sanity. But enough about my bats in the belfry and on with the bread and butter of this article.

Given what I’ve said, I encourage you to draw your own judgment about the advice given in my video (just as you should with any advice you receive from anybody). It’s a long video, as I’m wont to do, so if you do make it to the end, thanks for watching!

Here are a few notes I jotted down before I sat down for the video:

  • Women and men are different in the way they look at the world. Clearly. But the differences aren’t black and white. There’s a spectrum of sexuality and traditional female and male roles are becoming outmoded as our understanding and acceptance of “man” and “woman” gets more nuanced. So it’s up to each of you to discover how different each woman you meet is from you and from other men and women, and to respect those differences.
  • My own personal history with women doesn’t give me much background and knowledge to go on. I’ll let the video speak for itself here.
  • When you find a good woman, one that you’ll want to be with, one that you dream of being with, you’ll know it. Of course, the woman may not know it and that’s where you can screw up big time. All introverts know what that’s like. Thank God there are women like my wife, who take the time to understand a social screw-up like myself and see me as I am in private.
  • Some women deserve wonderful treatment, some are downright nasty. Just like some men are wonderful people and some men are pricks. Being an asshole is a gender-neutral thing. And figurative assholes are to be avoided, no matter their sex.
  • The most important thing is to realize that women have the right to the same opportunities, pay, treatment and choices as men. Choice is the most important thing in a woman’s life and as men, we should give them that choice. Choices in life, relationships, choices in growing up, in love and in their jobs. We owe them that choice, especially because of our despicable behavior toward women during the past few thousands of years. No one can argue that women have been empowered and treated equally in our patriarchal society, and everyone I think will agree that women have had to fight, tooth and nail, to get rights and privileges that we as men have enjoyed efortlessly, by virtue of being born with a penis and two balls.
  • Just because women are fragile, it doesn’t mean they’re weak. Just because they’re small, it doesn’t mean they can’t do great things. Just because they’re pretty, it doesn’t mean they’re stupid or that they can be objectified. Just because they have a vagina doesn’t give anyone the right to enslave them and force them into sex trafficking.
  • Things like restrictive clothes are remnants of our male dominant culture. Dresses that zip up at the back, they take control out of a woman’s hands and put it in someone else’s. High heel shoes make it difficult for them to move and escape a potentially dangerous situation, plus they ruin their feet. Flimsy materials used in their dresses can be easily torn, exposing their bodies and encouraging abuse. I realize some of these things are meant to celebrate the beauty, the unique and amazing shape of a woman’s body, and so clothes are made thin and shape-fitting and shoes are made thin and tall, to accentuate their beauty, but there are clear downsides to these practices, and they’re also remnants of a past where males dominated and abused females.
  • Some would say women choose to dress and act this way… But when little girls are raised to believe that’s how they should dress and talk and behave, it’s no longer their choice. They see bad examples of the status quo everywhere and they’re brainwashed into thinking that way. That’s how their choices are taken away from them. Just like many of our choices as people are taken away from us simply because we’re raised to believe certain things, to not question some things, to do things because that’s the way they’re done, etc. We need to question everything. It’s our duty as we mature to sit down with ourselves and reason out what makes us tick. See where we’re right and where we’re wrong.

Finally, treat each woman as a person. A real, breathing, talking, feeling human being, not a sex toy, not a body with breasts and a vagina, not something to possess and f**k, but a soul. Relate to them that way. The rest will follow… or not, but the focus should be on a soul to soul connection, not on a penis to vagina connection. Do you get me? Treat each woman as your equal. Different but equal. Show respect, be honest and where needed, keep your distance. Not every woman is a flower, but when you do meet a flower, remember to be gentle and move slowly, as not to break it. To continue this analogy, although it’s nice to have a bouquet of flowers in a vase in your living room, flowers are meant to be outside. That’s where they get pollinated, form seeds and give birth to new life but most importantly, that’s where they live freely, enjoying their time in the sun and being seen by everyone. Give every woman the freedom she deserves.

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Thoughts

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.

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Events

We voted today!

We got back a few minutes ago from voting for Barack Obama. Our polling place was Walter Johnson High School, in North Bethesda, MD. The line wasn’t too long. We waited about 25 minutes in line and it took about 5 minutes to vote.

The voting machines were electronic, and — I’m disappointed to say this — they were Diebold machines. After all of the controversy and research that Diebold has spurred since the last election, I am shocked to see the machines still in use, particularly after Maryland passed a paper ballot initiative a couple of years ago. These machines used a card with an embedded chips, that I inserted in the machine to get the votes written to it. When I got done, I put the card in a collection box and walked out.

Somehow this whole electronic process doesn’t inspire me with confidence. When I read up on it a few years ago, I found out that Diebold tallies the votes on a single computer, in an Access database that is easily hacked. Having designed and built Access database systems, I know how easy it is to bypass any sort of login restrictions and get right at the tables where vote totals can be changed in an instant without any sort of tracking record.

All I can say is that I hope for the best. Let’s hope this transition of power occurs smoothly, correctly, and in a democratic fashion, as George Washington wanted it to be from the get-go.

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Reviews

The Education of Little Tree (1997)

A little boy loses his parents during the depression, and his grandparents take him to live with them in their mountain cabin. The premise is simple, but the lessons are many. I liked this movie because it taught respect for native Indians.

Let’s face it, the “red skins”, as they used to be called, owned this land. It was theirs long before it was ours. The early American settlers drove them out of their homes and used every possible means to push them aside, to disown them of their inheritance.

That was shameful. And what added insult to injury was the way they tried to “integrate” them into society after they’d been pushed aside for so long. This film tells the story of one such boy. Half-Cherokee, he is forced into an “Indian” school, where he is treated like an animal. The idea is to erase all sense of individuality and family out of him, and to get him to become an “American”.

You might think the subject matter is outdated, but only recently, the Canadian government has had to issue an official apology to Canadian Indians for their treatment of their children.

Quoting from the article: “Between 1870 and 1996, an estimated 150,000 indigenous children were wrenched from their homes and sent to Christian boarding schools, where many were sexually and physically abused.”

The movie offers a solution that I only wish more Indian children had taken. The little child runs away from the school (aided by his grandfather) and spends his teen years hiding from government officials who want to put him back in what they call “schools”. He gets a real education from his uncle, an experienced Cherokee who acts as his surrogate father and prepares him for a solitary, sometimes troubled, but free life in the mountains.

I get raised hackles every time I hear the word “freedom” trumpeted about, yet find clear proof of forced behavior or oppression. For all its talk of freedom, the US has always managed to oppress certain of its population, throughout time. First it was the native Indians, then it was the slaves, then its Japanese and German citizens during WWII, then the presumed Commies during the vile McCarthy trials, then various other groups during the 20th century. Now, this oppression has culminated into the mass reduction of our liberties through the so-called Patriot Act, a filthy lie of a misnomer if I ever heard of one.

The real patriots always stand up for the rights of all, and they always question the system in order to keep it in check. Sometimes, the best statement a free person can make is to stay free, even if it means thumbing your nose at idiotic rules and policies and living in the mountains, outside of society. Because eventually, the government comes around to realize its idiocy, and issues an apology. By the way, the American government is long overdue on just one such apology.

If you want to find out more about the movie or buy/rent it, you can find it at Amazon, Netflix and IMDB.

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Thoughts

How is your private data getting used?

I read the Red Tape Chronicles over at MSNBC on a regular basis, and one of their latest posts really struck a chord with me. We really have become a nation where everything gets tracked, whether we like it or not. To some extent, I don’t really care. If the government wants to tap into my phone calls, fine. Been there, done that. I grew up in communist Romania, and our phone was tapped. There’s nothing of real interest to strangers in my phone calls anyway. And besides, you’d have to be a sort of a peeping tom to want to listen in on strangers’ conversations, anyway. Not my type of job.

What really irks me is that every little footstep off the beaten path gets documented somewhere. Not that it’s happened to me, but say I get in a brawl and get locked up overnight, then sort things out in the morning. That little brush with the law may affect me for years to come, even though that’s not the type of person I am. I may regret it, I may not usually do those things, it may be that it just sort of happened, but it’s going to stay on my record. And the payback’s brutal. I may not get new jobs, and if I want to attend classes at some school, I may not be able to get in. It may even affect my credit history. It’s all because of a stupid system that tracks one’s every legal move with no discernment.

This whole mess wouldn’t be a bad thing if there were only one system, and updates to that system were handled properly. But no, there are hundreds and thousands of various government databases, and data from those databases flows into private background check databases and clearinghouses, until there are copies of that single incident all over the place. I may be able to get the government to edit out that little troublesome incident, but there’s no way to track down all of the other digital copies of that record and make sure they get changed. That’s VERY disturbing.

Just do a search on Google for background checks. There are a ton of websites where you can check details about anyone. It used to be that only law enforcement officials were able to conduct such searches, but now any Joe Blow with a credit card can find out information about anyone. That really gets my goose! What right does some freak somewhere have to know stuff about me? Exactly how have our public officials let this happen? You can find out anything: properties, debts, criminal record, demographic information and possibly income, address, phone number, marriage and birth information, anything. I find this VERY DISTURBING.

What’s worse, who knows where these businesses get their data from, and how often they update their information? Looks to me like most are fly-by-nite operations that only care about having a record about someone, not the record. If they list bad information about me, how do I go about changing it? I can’t possibly contact every single one of these shady operations. Yeah, I call them shady, because I think they have absolutely no right to my private information. Only licensed law enforcement officials (read certified and cleared government employees) ought to have the right to view my aggregated private information. Yet these people profit from MY private information by selling it to whoever wants to get it. This disgusts and angers me.

Anyway, what got me started down this warpath? Those of you who know me know that I like old movies. Remember scenes from those movies where people would get into brawls, or there’d be some misunderstanding, and they’d get booked? They’d spend the night in jail, get out in the morning, and be done with it. Everyone would laugh about it. That’s how it should be for the occasional offense. It should NOT affect one’s career, education and finances. Everyone messes up here and there. These mistakes should not be recorded for posterity, or if they are, they should not be made available to every idiot that wants to look at them. It just isn’t right. And no, I’m not talking about serious or repeat offences.

We may have modernized our data storage and retrieval, but we’ve lost our good, old common sense about how to use it.

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