Thoughts

Post-quarantine thoughts

The quarantine period, while financially problematic, was a welcome respite for a world too numerous and too burdensome to bear; it was a world so caught up with itself that it practically screamed out for an intervention. Cities were cleaner and quieter. There were much fewer people to be seen everywhere and much less traffic. Days could be used for work and for lovely, quiet pauses where one could hear and commune with nature, and the nights could be used for sleep and quiet reflection, which is as it should be. It was a lovely time.

As the shelter-in-place rules were lifted here in Romania on the 15th of May, the filthy underbelly of society began to show itself again. Dirty, ugly, loud people began to crowd outside again, gathering in bunches like fleas on a mangy dog, standing close together and gossiping, making up conspiracy theories, littering everywhere once more. Their misbegotten progenitures began once again to rev their cars and turn up their subwoofers, getting in their cars just to speed up and down the street, blaring their horribly loud music throughout the neighborhoods, only to stop here and there so they could grunt at their like-minded “pack animals”. Others put their speakers in their yards once again, and turned them up for everyone to “enjoy” (a time-honored “tradition” among village morons everywhere) with no regard whatsoever for other people or for the laws regarding public disturbances of the peace. Just last night, rowdy, uncouth youth (not wearing masks) were walking up and down our street, yelling at each other about some party in the neighborhood. Music was blaring a few hundred yards away while suspect smells were wafting in the air, what seemed to me to smell suspiciously like burning plastic that would mask the odors of other illicit substances being consumed. (I was cleaning our yard and got a bit nauseous from the smell.) Countries in Europe are still supposed to be “on alert” and gatherings with many people are still illegal, and yet one was happening last night, and it wasn’t the only one I’ve heard of recently.

Whereas during the quarantine police forces were joined by the military and by the gendarmes, and there was a real push from above to enforce all of the laws, particularly the ones regarding quarantine, now things are “back to normal”. Police forces are once again slow to hand out fines or warnings in order to keep in check the noise violations and other illegal activities of certain problem individuals and ne’er-do-wells. I find the mere existence of these individuals to be a double danger for civilized society and I’ve written about them before: on the one hand they get free money from the taxes collected from working, law-abiding citizens and on the other hand, they are habitual violators of the laws in place; they don’t work, don’t contribute to society and spend their days drunk and/or violent, watching TV and stuffing their mouths while living in their own squalor and filth. They are the dregs, the refuse of any civilized society, and they’re more than a stain on that society, they’re parasites that degrade the quality of life for all other law-abiding, decent folks.

And so I’m left to conclude that this time, that could have been used for reflection, for learning, for a turning inward and a thorough examination of one’s life, for resolving to lead a better life, was wasted by most people in their typical pursuits of ways to fill their bellies and dull their minds. Now they want to pick up right where they left off, keeping on their parasitic behaviors, taking and taking and taking from the Earth and leaving only garbage and destruction behind.

You see, the real test of a society is not how it behaves during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. It’s easy to pull together and to obey the law when you don’t have a choice. You know the old saying, “there are no atheists in a foxhole.” The real test comes after the crisis. It’s when people can be themselves again that we see the real worth, the real weight of that society. And it’s much easier to see it then because we’ve got the benefit of contrast. We can see how they behaved when there were strict rules in place and they were being watched, and we can also see how they’re behaving now that the rules have been relaxed and they’re left to their own devices, more or less.

So if nothing was learned from this time that could have been used so productively by many, if nothing was gained by them, then I’m left to wonder why they’re still around. Many politicians promised solemnly that “every life matters” and that they’ll “do everything in their power to make sure”, etc. Was all that effort really necessary? Was it so important to save everyone, or would we, the human race in general, have been better off if we had shed off the excess weight? We all have scales at home and as we get older, we step on them and we shake our heads and say things like, “I’ve got to shed off some pounds, time to go on a diet.” I wonder, if the human population as a whole was put on a scale and weighed by a higher authority, what would be the result? Quite probably this: mene mene tekel upharsin. I do hope corrective action is taken sooner rather than later.

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Thoughts

On sounds and noise

As I think about the sounds and the noises we make as households, and what might or might not bother others, I can’t help thinking about loudspeakers. They’re responsible for the largest percentage of calls to police about noise violations. When we call to complain about so-and-so playing their music too loud, or having a loud party, what we’re really complaining about are the devices that enable them to produce those loud sounds, that terrible noise, the din that keeps us awake at night or drives us bonkers during the day, as we try to do our work or to relax.

I can’t help wondering what person in their right mind would invent a device that would enable morons of all shapes, sizes and ages to indiscriminately bother their neighbors or entire neighborhoods, and I also can’t help wondering what irresponsible companies would bring such products to the market, year after year after year.

Don’t misunderstand me. The speaker as a device that allows us to listen to recordings, to music, to the radio, to television, is an amazing invention. However, the speaker as a device that can be turned up to its maximum power and left like that for hours on end, is a terrible (and illegal) invention.

Every year, companies continue to develop these devices and they give them more power and (this is the really bad part) they give them more bass. Bass is the lower range of the sounds produced by a speaker, and this is what travels for long distances, through walls, through windows, through roofs, through vegetation, etc. and can drive you cuckoo in your own house. It could be the best song of the year or it could be the worst song of the year, it really doesn’t matter, because if you’re not in the room with the music, all you hear is the bass, pounding on your walls, hundreds of yards away. It’s a horrible experience.

At what point will it occur to lawmakers that it’s not just the people that need to be stopped from playing loud music, but it’s also the companies that make speakers that need to be stopped from making loud speakers? As I said before, it’s the speakers themselves that are enabling people to misbehave and to commit noise violations. At what point will there be some legislation that will force these companies to develop speakers that do not allow idiots to bother their neighbors? I see the need for truly powerful speakers at venues for public events, but what need is there for ridiculously loud speakers in an apartment or a house? Instead of focusing their R&D on pushing more power and more bass out of their speakers, these companies could focus on producing pleasant, balanced sound that does not penetrate through walls. I’d like to see speakers that can play music loudly, but do not bother the neighbors! That’d be a real achievement — not the indiscriminate increase in wattage and bass we see today.

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Thoughts

My vision for Transilvania

What follows here is a subjective, ideal scenario for my native region of the world, so if it doesn’t sit well with you, read this first sentence again.

I was born in a Saxon town in Transilvania called Medwesch. Its name in Romanian is Mediaș and in German, it’s Mediasch. However, its name originates from the Hungarian word “meggy” which means “sour cherry”. It’s entirely possible that the Medias region was known for its sour cherry trees. (Its name is spelled Medgyes in Hungarian). It recently celebrated its 750th anniversary, having been first mentioned in written documents on the 3rd of June, 1267.

Quick aside: as it turns out, I am half-Hungarian and I have sour cherry trees in our courtyard and garden. I love sour cherries and we make sour cherry liquor and sour cherry jam every autumn. Some of the trees here at home are almost as old as I am (over four decades) and one of them is possibly even older. This post has to do in large part with trees — not just sour cherry trees though.

My city is even older than its 750 documented years. Archeological findings in the area point to settlements that go back to the middle Neolithic period, certainly long before the Romans conquered what was previously known as Dacia and called its most beautiful region Transilvania, which means “through the forest” or “beyond the forest”. And here’s where we get to the crux of this post. Those neolithic people got to experience Transilvania in its most bountiful days, with old growth forests that stretched as far as the eye could see, with rivers and streams overflowing with pure water, with fertile fields set among rolling hills and mountains filled to the brim with precious metals and salt (which was more expensive than gold at certain times in history). That was an unpolluted, wild Transilvania with few settlements and long distances between them — the kind of world that made you seek and cherish human connections instead of being overwhelmed by overpopulation and left searching for quiet and solitude.

While some of the things that once were can’t be restored (such as the many, many thousands of tons of precious metals taken from our mountains), it is my dream that we roll back some of the damage that humans have done to this beautiful place and we restore some of the conditions that existed before there were too many of us around and we started messing about irresponsibly.

Here’s where the trees come in (the ones I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back). I’d like to see a massive reforestation effort take place in Transilvania, one where every available piece of land that’s not being used for agriculture is peppered with fast-growth and slow-growth trees. It should even be mandated that groupings of trees be planted in fields used for agriculture, for example one rectangular spot of 4m x 60m on every hectare of land, at a minimum.

I’d like to see common sense and clearly enforced measures in place when it comes to felling trees. What is clear is that we need wood for construction materials and for firewood, but what is also abundantly clear is that Romania has been cutting a great deal of wood illegally (about two thirds of the wood being cut in Romania per annum is cut illegally), so that needs to stop, even if it means armed forces will patrol the forests and shoot tree thieves on sight, be they regular people or employees of corporations.

Massive reforestation efforts, coupled with proper measures to check and control tree felling, would go a long way toward restoring Transilvania’s historic forests. And no tree cutting of any sort should be allowed in certain old-growth forests. We need to restore some semblance of the wild Transilvania in ancient woodlands and allow those old trees to stick around for a few hundred years more. Trees are more majestic and have more dignity in them than most people I see on a daily basis, yet dimwits with chainsaws think nothing of felling them illegally. I think that cruel sentiment should be mirrored back to them, and that’s why I am in favor of armed forces patrolling forests and shooting offenders on sight, without due process.

Together with the reforestation efforts, I’d like to see massive cleanups take place along all of the roadways in Transilvania. I’d like to see video cameras that work with mobile SIM cards and recharge from mini solar panels, mounted in hidden locations along the roads, and those people dumping construction debris or other garbage along the roads, identified, fined very serious amounts of money, and forced to clean up their own messes.

Furthermore, I’d like to see river and stream cleanups take place everywhere, with dredging where necessary to get the garbage and overgrown vegetation out and to restore proper water flow. We should have people in charge of the waters who are constantly maintaining the shorelines and keeping our waters clean. The harvesting of sand from the riverbeds should be done responsibly and only in select areas, after consultation with committees of geologists and archeologists, because the way it’s being done now absolutely destroys the riverbeds and the flow of the rivers.

When it comes to agriculture, I’d like to see more sensible, organic agriculture that employs crop rotations and allows certain plots of land to rest every seven years or so. I’m fed up with the ridiculous amounts of fertilizers and pesticides being dumped on our lands every year — much more than the recommended dosage from the manufacturer is sadly the norm when it comes to peasant farmers here. I’d like to see grazing lands used properly, by rotating the sheep and the goats and the cows so they don’t overgraze. The size of one’s herd or flock ought to be determined by the size of the land available to it, not by the projected year-end revenues, pumped up by extra tens or hundreds of head of cattle that have overgrazed the land and have needed extra hay to be trucked in from who-knows-where in order to support their feeding needs.

How about all the garbage left behind by the herders and shepherds every year? The hills are practically strewn with plastic bags and bottles of all kinds, and no one holds them accountable for it. How about the excessive use of communal water to feed thirsty crops in dry years, to the point where a village’s water supply runs dry and the water levels in people’s wells go down to the bedrock? That’s thoroughly irresponsible and heavy fines ought to be in place for those who water their crops excessively.

If you’re a regular reader, then you know my opinion on overpopulation already, but I think I’ll write about my thoughts on the ideal population density in the towns, cities and the countryside in a later post.

For now, I’d like you to close your eyes, like I do every once in a while, and try to imagine a Transilvania full of tall forests every which way you look, where cool breezes sway the tops of these beautiful trees and cool down the valleys below, where happy little streams that started as springs deep in the forests, flow unobstructed toward the bigger rivers, alongside scenic country roads that are clean and well-maintained. Should you drive on those roads, you’ll enter a village or a town every once in a while, places where people are productive and work the land or work in the crafts or run a shop or a business, or perhaps tend herds of cows and sheep, but everyone sees to their work and to their household and makes a solid contribution to their community and society. That’s what I’d like to see in my Transilvania.

And it starts with the trees. We need to get the trees growing back in the forests.

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Thoughts

On bad behaviors in public

I’ve written time and again here on my site about my repulsion for people who disturb the peace and about products that enable them to do it. I think most of today’s governments are, in general, much too lax on their stance on this, and it’s the kind of thing that should not be tolerated at all, given how many people are affected when, say, a single idiot decides to play his music too loud. Hundreds of people could be bothered by it (if not thousands in more densely populated areas). Then there is the matter of one’s taste in music, which is an individual choice and should not be forced on others at all, period.

The impact of disturbing the peace is huge when you factor in the stress and its health effects (seen and unseen) on the people within reach of the noise and by and large, the fines for this sort of bad behavior are next to nothing in a country such as Romania. Not only are the fines fairly small here, but there is little to no enforcement in most cases, mostly because the population tolerates it (because they don’t know better), and also because in some cases, there is corruption and collusion with the offenders within the police force, particularly in the countryside, where the police force is stretched thin and they have few checks in place to catch bribes and other types of collusion.

On several occasions, I have experienced this sort of public disturbance myself, have called the police about it and they either did nothing, or ended up fining the individuals involved some small amount, but the noise levels were insufferable for most of a day, so all that time was wasted while hundreds of people were inconvenienced by a single moron or a group of morons.

I truly believe this is the sort of thing that spirals down. An asswipe who is tolerated by those around him when he decides to disturb the peace is only encouraged to break the law even further. Bad behavior unchecked leads to more bad behavior.

It’s the same sort of thing with littering in public. Certain people in Romania have this nasty habit of eating roasted sunflower seeds in public, then spitting the shells on the ground. They are unfortunately tolerated by the police force, in part because they feel it’s beneath them to fine someone for an offense this small, and also because they don’t want to bother. They know those types of individuals will make a scene, so they prefer to ignore their behavior and see to their other duties. But if you follow the thread of sunflower shells, to speak figuratively, you’ll see those same people, unchecked, dump trash by the roadside. It could be just an empty plastic bottle. It could be a bag of garbage. Or it could be a cart or a van full of construction debris or various things they want to dump out of their home. Instead of disposing of that litter properly, at the dump, where they’d have to pay a small fee, they simply throw it by the wayside at night. And I believe it starts with spitting sunflower seeds in public. Or throwing a candy or gum wrapper on the ground. Doing that sort of stuff, unchecked, for a few months or a few years, will gradually lead to greater offenses.

We need serious policing in a lot of countries today, particularly in Romania. We need serious fines and even more severe punishments for the people who engage in bad behavior in public. Unchecked, things will only get worse.

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Thoughts

Excessive bass is the bane of modern music

In much the same way that too much sugar will give you diabetes and too many calories will make you fat, bass-boosted music ends up being a hollow, crappy experience that will make you deaf and piss off your neighbors. And hopefully, it will also bring you lots of fines for noise violations, fines which you will thoroughly deserve.

Manufacturers are sticking more bass into everything with speakers these days. Singers and studios are busy boosting the bass on their songs too — hey, it doesn’t matter if your song is tired and it recycles the same rhythms and loops used by every talented music creator in the past… just stick a few reverse beats in there (they freshen up the whole mess) and turn up the bass! Bass bosted songs are all over the internet, much like pigeon poop is all over rooftops and statues in busy cities. You’ll find tons of these “improved” songs and you’ll also find tons of tutorials on the subject. So in that sense, this article is going against the grain. I’m aware of it. But I’m sure I’m going to be made aware of it repeatedly by some of you.

The problem is made worse by the people listening to these cacophonies. It’s the wrong type of people, isn’t it? It’s the screw-ups, the ones who don’t amount to much in life, the ones with no regard for those around them. The idiot son of the neighbors a couple of houses away, the one who can’t hold down a job and mooches off his parents, he’s got speakers with lots of bass and he plays them loudly. The no-good neighbors who practically live off social aid and whose idea of a good time is grilling pork in the yard, getting drunk and listening to loud music, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass and they love their bass boosted songs. Any dumbass, jackass or just plain ass who buys a car nowadays and drives it with the stereo turned up and the windows down, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass and they’re sure to let you know. They want everyone to know! Heck, they’ll also stick a subwoofer in the trunk, to ensure the whole bodywork rattles with every shitty bass beat.

Even the partially deaf and elderly neighbors who just bought a new TV, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass, even though they didn’t ask for them when they bought their TV.

The problem is two-fold:

  1. Adding anything extra to the music as it was recorded and as it’s meant to be played ruins the music, the inherent goodness of the song (well, if the song is any good at all, anyway). Mind you, I’m not talking about sprinkling a little salt on the soup! Boosting the bass on a song, both in the studio and on a stereo is the equivalent of heaping shovel-fulls of salt onto the soup. Let’s face it, if all a song has going for it is the boosted bass, then it’s a crappy song.
  2. Excessive bass angers everyone around you, no matter how low the volume on your bass-bosted stereo is kept. The bass sounds travel through anything, and that’s all that your neighbors will hear.

A great speaker is supposed to reproduce sound just as it was recorded, with all of its frequencies, not just the low ones that are collectively called “bass”. A good speaker comes fairly close to it. An idiotic speaker made for dimwits will have thumping bass sounds and little else. Even if you listen to an idiotic speaker at low volume, it’ll still transmit the bass sounds through walls, disturbing everyone around you, because all they’ll hear is the thump-thump-thump noise, the beat, without any of the accompanying sounds. Even if the song is great, it’ll still sound like shit as the beats pound the neighbors’ brains, boom-boom-boom, until they get a migraine.

The situation is made worse by the compressed music of today, sold mostly as MP3 and AAC files, which cannot reproduce all of the frequencies of the sounds that were recorded in the studio. It muddles them with the compression algorithm. So the producers rely more heavily than necessary on bass and beats in order to make the songs catchier. I realize this is an oversimplification, but it is true.

I would like excessive bass to be outlawed, just as excessive noise is currently outlawed. I’m not kidding. I realize I’m going completely against the grain here, but this has become a constant nuisance and these people who go on abusing our ears and our laws are everywhere. I’d like you to begin to notice them as you walk through a city and you’ll soon realize there’s a constant cacophony of bass beats that pollutes our lives, whether we’re indoors or outdoors, whether we’re awake or trying to sleep. If it’s not the neighbors playing music or watching a movie, it’s some douche driving down the street with the music turned up in his car; even if he’s got the windows up, the bass beats travel through the body of his car, across the street, through the walls of your house and into your brain. Why do we tolerate this nonsense?

To me, this thing is akin to a deranged hobo who throws poop at people as he wanders the streets. Bass beats may not be made of physical poop, but they’ll stink up your life and leave a mess behind. You may not need to wash them off, but even if you wanted to, you couldn’t. As the years go by, you’ll be able to see those same crappy beats as furrows on your forehead, as white hairs on the temple of your head.

Civilized cities already have very good noise regulations in place but they do not address excessive bass. In Europe, noisy cars aren’t even allowed to enter certain city centers, which I think is a wonderful thing. And yet no one directly addresses the problem of excessive bass. I don’t think the measures to be put in place should be complicated. Let’s not have to measure the decibels or the frequency of the sounds. The measure to be used should be as simple as possible. Is the sound traveling through the wall or the window of the house? Can it be heard on the street, or by the neighbors? Then it’s too loud. In the case of cars, is the sound of their stereos coming through the car’s body? Can it be heard on the street, even if the windows are up? Then it’s too loud.

Let us start to penalize excessive bass with excessive fines. The manufacturers, the studios and the people listening to music will follow suit, unless they enjoy paying hefty, wallet-burning fines.

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Thoughts

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.

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Thoughts

The prohibition and Key Largo

key-largo-movie

In the 1948 movie “Key Largo”, starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson, and one of the phrases in the movie got me thinking. Rocco (Robinson’s character), terrified by the hurricane, commands one of his gangsters to start talking, to say anything.

screenshot-key-largo-movie

The gangster, Curly, starts talking about the prohibition. Here’s what he says:

“I bet you 2, 3 years, we get prohibition back. This time we make it stick. Bet you 2, 3 years prohibition comes back. Absolutely, yeah… The trouble was — see, before — too many guys wanted to be top dog. One mob gets to massacring another, the papers play it up big, see, so what happens… naturally, the papers play it up big, and the public get the idea prohibition’s no good, and if they can get rid of it, prohibition, I mean…”

[here we get a separate scene of Rocco being completely terrified by the power of the hurricane, then the talk turns to prohibition once more, continuing the previous line]

“… so the public votes out prohibition, that’s the end of the mobs. Next time it’ll be different, though. We learned our lesson, alright. Next time the mobs’ll get together.”

Perhaps this is why some drugs are still illegal, like marijuana. I realize the debate is much bigger than this, but still, it’s possible that some stand to lose a whole lot of money if marijuana were to be legalized, just like the mobsters lost a lot of money when alcohol was once more legally available. It’s a good theory, right?

In my opinion, marijuana is no dangerous than alcohol, so I don’t see what the big deal is. I don’t consume it, and am only concerned with the unfair scrutiny all hemp varieties get due to their association with marijuana. Hemp seeds, for example, are very nutritious, and hemp string and rope is quite useful around the house. It’s gotten to the point where you can’t grow any kind of hemp, because you’ll be automatically raided, even though you have nothing to do with marijuana at all. It’s silly.

The prohibition/drugs discussion aside, “Key Largo” is a great movie, definitely worth watching. You can get it from Amazon, or you can rent it from Netflix.

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Thoughts

Hot teachers and sex with students

Three more female teachers have been jailed after it was discovered that they had sex with students in Tampa, FL. MSN has a video report on this. Plus, if you do a search on MSN Live, you’ll get plenty of search results summarizing recent news stories about similar events.

What bothers me about these reports is that the boys in question are always categorized as “abused”. It’s a great example of societal hypocrisy. To those that say that, I say this: BS! Seriously, does any male in their right mind think these boys were abused? Young boys practically swoon and fawn over attractive female teachers. It’s been going on for ages. They fantasize, and they do “other things” as well to “cope” with those crushes. So when these boys — in spite of what they might say now to the authorities — had the chance to engage in those sexual encounters, do you think they had doubts for even a second? Not a chance. Seriously, have these adults trying the women’s cases forgotten their own childhoods?

Sure, those boys will deny it now, and agree that they were corrupted, and to some extent, I agree with that characterization, as you’ll see below, but they engaged in the encounters willingly, happily and repeatedly. Given the chance to do it again, they did it and still would do it again. They went back for more, time and time again. In the case of one of the teachers, she had an orgy in a hotel room where more than 10 teens were in “attendance”. That is not abuse. That’s really slutty behavior on both sides.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I agree that the teachers did something unethical. They abused their position of authority as teachers, and they corrupted the normal teacher-pupil bond by engaging and participating in those situations. Furthermore, it was morally wrong to start an adult-level relationship with a child, in spite of their physical maturity. From a religious point of view, what they committed was adultery, and that’s clearly wrong. But we need to look at this objectively, from a civic point of view.

We should look at how much damage was caused to what we call the “victims”. It’s possible that the teachers corrupted the boys, in the sense that they introduced them to sexual situations that boys don’t normally encounter. One’s perspective in life changes once one has had those sorts of experiences. They will look at sex differently. They will look at relationships differently.

Then again, it depends greatly on how those teachers approached the situations, and how the boys viewed the encounters. In the context of “love”, not sex — and suspend for a moment the disbelief that love can exist when the age disparity is so great — it’s quite possible to have a healthier outcome, whatever that means. There are varying degrees of perception, and they depend on each individual. One must ask how ready the boys were, physically and mentally, for such an experience, and how much mutual respect there was in each “relationship”, etc… It’s a gray area, and it needs to be looked at as such. Clearly in the case of the hotel room orgy, there was no respect or “love”, simply animal sex, and that should be looked at as corruption of a minor (or rather, multiple minors).

If one is to look at this as a black and white situation, was there sex with a minor? Yes. Should it have taken place? No. Should the standard punishment apply? NO. This is not typical sexual abuse. The boys weren’t coerced. They enjoyed it, every minute of it. They went back for more. They probably bragged to their friends, etc… These are all attenuating circumstances.

In the grand picture, are these situations going to create more long-term sequelae for the boys than any of the following situations:

  • A young girl who has consensual sex with her boyfriend, but then finds out he is calling her a slut to all his friends, and is bragging about having “bagged” her, etc.
  • A young boy who has consensual sex with his girlfriend, but then finds out she is making fun of his naked body, or the size of his… manhood, or about the sounds or face he made during sex, etc.
  • A young boy or girl who are convinced by their “friends” to experiment with same-sex encounters when they’re not really interested, just questioning themselves.
  • A young girl who is forced into sex by her boyfriend, but is too ashamed to admit it afterwards.
  • A girl who is slipped a mickey or gotten drunk at a party, then gang-raped by classmates or friends while she’s unaware of what’s going on.

What happened to these boys is peanuts, literally. Yet all these “offenders” described in the bullet list above would not be prosecuted under law. Seriously, I think any one of us has either heard of “gray-area” situations like these, or experienced them in person. I can practically guarantee you that the boys and girls who have gone through the situations I described above will have more sequelae and will experience more long-term trauma than the boys who’ve had sex with their teachers in recent news. It’s pretty much a given. Yet which situations are getting more attention? These ones? Why? Because it makes it easy for prosecutors to look good. And it makes for good news. That’s why. And it’s hypocritical.

I could go on and on and talk about situations that are much worse than that, like serious rape cases, or sexual torture, or sexual mutilation. These are much more serious, yet in terms of news coverage and severity of punishment, they’re simply not getting the attention they need. In some cultures, like Africa, female circumcision, a form of sexual mutilation, is condoned and accepted by society.

Right here in the States, I’ve heard of a case where a girl was repeatedly raped by her father from an early age, with her mother’s permission. To this day, the girl cannot bring legal charges against her parents. I’ve also heard of a girl who was loaned out (prostituted) to perverts by her mother from the age of 3, in exchange for drug money. That sort of stuff is is really screwed up. That should be the stuff that gets obsessively prosecuted. Instead, we have rapists that can get away with only a few years’ punishment, then get out and rape again and again, while these teachers in the news right now are put through the works for doing something that was pretty much consensual.

Everyone is now rushing to pronounce the verdict and crowd around the “victims” when there are countless other real victims all around us that are getting no positive attention at all. I say look at each teacher-boy encounter individually, mete punishment in accordance with the gravity of the crime, keeping in mind the attenuating circumstances, and if some of those situations only deserve a slap on the hand for the teacher, let’s be honest enough to admit it, as a society. And let’s also be honest enough to admit when a crime is heinous enough to deserve the death punishment (don’t get me started on that).

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The new water projects bill, S. 728

Senate will soon consider S. 728, a new bill that encourages massive spending for real estate development in wetland areas which are low-lying and prone to hurricane damage, like the areas that got hit the hardest in New Orleans. Senators Russ Feingold and John McCain are considering putting forth amendments to the bill that would discourage this by making sure our public money gets spent on the true priorities, requiring an independent expert review of any plans, and strengthening environmental standards.

Environmental Defense is running a campaign to make senators aware of this bill and the changes it needs to go undergo before it can be approved. They’ve also got a full report of the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, which is an instructive read.

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Part 3 of the RIP Act coming soon for the UK

The UK Home Office has decided to put through the 3rd part of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Originally introduced in 2000, the first two parts have already been implemented. This particular part would introduce penalties of up to 2 years in jail for companies or individuals who wouldn’t disclose their encryption keys at the government’s request. The final language may be amended, since the Home Office is involved in a consultation process on this matter, and results have yet to be reached.

As usual, the Slashdot people are having a field day with this bit of news. Even the language used by reputable news organizations is sensationalistic. I have to admit I was concerned, but I had a look at the wording of the act, and it says, clearly, that organizations or individuals would only need to release their encryption keys at the specific request of Her Majesty’s forces, for a pending investigation. It’s not as if the government’s asking everyone to hand over their keys, en masse. They’re also going to reimburse them for their expenses of retrieving and reproducing that data.

To me, this is no different than the powers of search and seizure police have here in the States. They can obtain a warrant to search your property, and you can be sure they’ll go through with a fine tooth comb, looking for anything important. On top of that, they won’t reimburse you for the trouble.

Well, now they’ll be able to do the same to someone’s data in the UK. Until now, encrypted data was above the law, so to speak – if it was well encrypted. If RIPA-3 gets going, the police might have a chance to take a look at it. I say “might”, because encryption can use constantly changing keys, and if you forget or misplace the original key, good luck getting that data back…

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