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.

Thoughts

On sounds and noise

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Thoughts

My vision for the towns and villages of the future

As I hinted in my previous post, I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for some time, and I hope to do it justice. If what I write here seems scattered, it’s because I haven’t been keeping notes on my ideas, though I’ve had many, so this is more or less ex tempore.

Even though I’ve made my thoughts on overpopulation pretty clear in previous posts (here is one of them), it’s important to state once again that I don’t believe the natural world can support as many humans as there are in the world for much longer, and something will happen to cut our numbers down. Nature will either do it for us, through the use of a blunt instrument such as a nasty disease or a series of natural catastrophes, or we can do it ourselves, by limiting the number of children we have. I have written previously that I believe one child per family would provide an immediate and constant decrease in population for the foreseeable future, and the ideal way to do it is for each family to commit to this by themselves, or we may get into a situation in the future where it will be mandated upon us.

In many ways, we are living in the best of times, and I’ve written about this in the past as well. It would be a great pity and a great loss if catastrophic events cut down the world population indiscriminately, reducing our civilization and technology back to medieval times, but that may well happen if we don’t take action ourselves. The best way to go about this is to ensure that we decrease the world population while we maintain and continue to develop the comforts that make modern life so worth it. I’m talking about modern plumbing, modern surgery, modern dentistry, modern electricity installations, modern computing, etc. Losing these would set us back hundreds of years, but that’s just what will happen through some sort of cataclysmic events if we don’t reduce our numbers proactively.

There are population controls built into nature for every species. I don’t think I need to say more on this. Nature documentaries abound, and you can see for yourselves that every species is subject to either natural predators or natural diseases that limit its numbers. When those fail, food supplies become limited and numbers once again fall. But we as humans have managed to evade our predators and our diseases, and we’ve also managed to pump up the production of our foods, to the point where there are much too many of us around. We are literally eating everything in sight and we’re consuming everything we can get our hands on. This cannot go on. Something will happen. It sounds ominous, I know, but just look around you. Everything in nature is governed by natural laws. We have been stepping all over those laws. How much longer do you think this planet upon which we’re so dependent will tolerate our numbers and our crimes against nature?

At this point you might be asking what this has to do with the towns and cities of the future. Well, this was the preamble that now allows me to say that these settlements of the future will have greatly reduced populations (one way or another), yet if we have been proactive, they will have maintained all of the modern comforts and will also provide gainful employment for people from all sorts of trades and occupations. That will be the hat trick.

Let’s look at population density. Clearly, lower population density is going to be a natural result of less population, but how about some numbers? There are many studies on this and I could link to a few, but I’d like you to do your own research on this. What feels comfortable to you? What feels overpopulated to you? For example, my house sits on a plot of land that’s about 1200 square meters in a small town in Southern Transilvania. The plots for the houses around me vary in size but I would say on average, they’re about 1000 square meters. This is enough space for a good-sized house, a driveway, a courtyard and a garden, plus some nicely-sized trees. I find this to be a good size for a plot of land in a town. Any smaller and it would feel cramped. Any bigger and it would of course be better 🙂. As for apartment buildings, that’s a different story. I would say about 100 square meters is the minimum for up to two people, but more importantly, and this is something I rarely found in apartments, there should be a minimum ceiling height, and it shouldn’t be 2.4 or 2.6 meters, but more like 2.8 or 3 meters. A small room is much more bearable when the ceilings are higher.

How about in the countryside, in a village? There, a decent plot of land that would allow you run a moderately self-sufficient household would have to be at least 3000 square meters, though that’s a bit small by my account. Let’s go with a number that’s easier to remember: 5000 square meters. That would allow you to have a bigger courtyard where you could round up your animals, keep a tractor or two, have a good-sized garden in the back to grow vegetables, etc, and you’d still have space for a good-sized house, a barn and various annexes such as stables, hen houses, etc. And you’d need some additional farmland outside the village, but since I’m not a farmer, I can’t speak to the size of those plots of land.

So 1000 square meters in towns and 5000 square meters in villages sounds good to me. And in order to meet the demands of farmland in-between settlements, we’d need to ensure a good distance between them. I can speak to the distance, because I’ve been doing a fair bit of driving. In order for these distances to be enjoyable and for the cars to be run properly, so the engines to have a chance to heat up during each drive, 10 minutes would have to be the minimum, with a 20 minute relative max, otherwise the drive gets a bit tedious, especially if you have to do it often.

How about the size of towns and villages? What numbers should we be looking at? Once again, I’ll speak to what I know. My town has about 47,000 inhabitants. By most standards, it’s a small town. But as it turns out, 47,000 people are too many for its infrastructure. The streets can get crowded during rush hour, partly because they were built for a much smaller town and partly because there are simply too many people crowded into the edges of the town, into neighborhoods full of apartment buildings built during communist times. When all those people get into their cars or into trolleys and start going through a medieval town that was built for about 10,000 people, it’s too much. So if we’re going to try to preserve the existing infrastructure, and I think we should, our town could probably handle somewhere between 20,000 – 30,000 people, and of course these numbers would be different for each town or city. Some people would be much more comfortable living in larger cities, but even there, I would caution against encouraging ridiculous growth. I could look at one city where I grew up, and that’s Cluj-Napoca. It’s one of the most prosperous cities in Romania right now, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s become unlivable. It’s much too big, much too crowded, much too stretched out, much too expensive and it’s chaos to try and get through it during the day. I wouldn’t want to live there.

As long as I’m on the subject of density, I’d like you to think about another number. When you walk through your town or city, count the people around you and think about what feels comfortable to you and what feels overcrowded. To me, more than 1 person per 10 square meters feels overcrowded. 10 square meters may sound like a lot, but it’s not. It’s about 3 meters by 3 meters, roughly. Given that our personal space is roughly about 1 square meter, we’d need at least 1-2 meters of space around us which could be navigated by other people without impinging on our personal space (keep in mind they may be carrying bags as well), and you’re already at 9 square meters (1 sq m + 2 sq m in each direction). Add another square meter to the total for a little more buffer and you’re at 10 square meters. I guess at peak times we could go as low as 1 person per 5 square meters, but anything lower than that would be overcrowding and even though you may not realize it, your body would feel the effects. Your heart rate would go up, your stress levels would go up, you may get a headache, etc.

Let’s talk about transport and roads. There are huge costs associated with building and maintaining roads and highways. There are also so many vehicles on the roads. Should the population levels come down, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but we’d still have this ongoing debate about pollution and consumption of natural resources and so on and so forth. I for one love cars and furthermore, I love old cars. While I enjoy the convenience and reliability of modern cars, I love the way old cars look, inside and out, and I love their fantastic, cushioned ride quality that’s so easy on the back, especially during long drives. If there were a way to combine the advantages of new and old cars, I’d be all for that. Some people say electric cars are the future. I’m not so sure, not unless we invent batteries with much higher capacities and whose raw materials aren’t as toxic and difficult to obtain from the ground. A number of years ago, I had a rough idea about a car that might be able to harness the gravitational force of the Earth and turn it into propulsion and possibly even levitation, but it’s something that has so far stayed in the realm of scifi. Beyond a wild hunch that this might be doable, I don’t have the scientific knowhow to even begin planning a prototype. The advantage of such a (scifi) vehicle would be that it wouldn’t pollute and it wouldn’t need the tremendous expenditure of paved roads, since it would be able to float just off the ground. Back to reality though: I’d be happy with cars that pollute less, last longer and look better, and by better I mean they should look more like the old cars, with organic curves and endearing appeal.

Let’s talk about buildings and architecture. I think most buildings in existence today are copy-paste jobs and have little to no originality that would make them worth saving when they start breaking down, and that’s a great pity. In terms of environmental impact, getting a house or a larger structure built takes a tremendous amount of natural resources and manual labor, and if you’re just building some nondescript box with cheap materials, you’re guilty of not only using up natural resources, but also for using them improperly, for a structure that will eventually be torn down. Furthemore, if you’re gilding that same crappy architecture with expensive finishings that you then tear down every decade in a stupid effort to keep up with fashion, you’re guilty a third time. There’s an old saying with a clear message that goes, “three strikes and you’re out”.

I think all structures built should have a planned lifespan of at least 100 years. Given the age of so many of the historic buildings in Europe, I think we could successfully plan for building lifespans of 500 years and we could and we should be building structures that could make it to 1,000 years. We owe it to ourselves (to our collective civilization and advancement) and we owe it to the planet, to build structures that last as long as possible, so that once we’ve used up valuable natural resources, we’ve put those resources to very good use. And there should be real, concerted effort from governments everywhere to conserve and restore historic buildings with time-proven methods, using high quality, traditional, natural materials and workmanship.

I’ll give you one pertinent example: in Southern Transilvania, we have many Saxon villages and fortified churches whose architecture was shaped by the industrious people that built them and whose architecture further shaped the land and created an integral artistic and historic whole that is unique in Europe and in the entire world. Nowadays, most of those churches are falling down and the houses are occupied by people who no longer see their historic significance or even appreciate their aesthetic appeal. Historic facades are being mangled. Historic reliefs, sills, cornices, socles, thrusts, pilasters, frontons, gables, porticos, brackets and other ornamental shapes are being stripped away and the bare walls are being covered with styrofoam insulation, with no regard for what was once there or for what will happen to a breathing brick wall once it’s sealed up. We have villages where the churches no longer exist, so even if the houses may still be historically accurate, the village has lost its focal point, or where the churches still stand, but they’re out of place, being surrounded by houses which have entirely lost their shape and are now some ugly, non-descript boxes for the so-called living, painted in garish colors. Ideally, the historic sections of these villages would be declared historic monuments and the whole ensemble (fortifications, church, schoolhouse, village center and village houses) would be conserved and restored accordingly.

Let’s talk about law enforcement, or as I sometimes call it, pruning one’s garden. I’d really like our collective societies to have stricter rules around what is and is not acceptable behavior in public, around public order and noise levels, and about gainful participation in society through work or other involvement such as volunteering, and about the consequences of not doing so. I’d like our towns and village to be quiet, peaceful places where we can do our work and live our lives undisturbed and without disturbing others.

I’d love to see noise violations punished more severely — and this is much more important, with frequency and constancy. I’d love to see people who play loud music get serious fines, now and in the future, and it doesn’t matter whether they do it at home or in their cars. I for one have had it with people whose loud speakers blare and boom up and down our streets and I’d like this kind of behavior stamped out completely. I’d love to see bad behaviors in public punished instantly, even if it means having policemen beating down offenders with sticks on the spot, like they used to do not so long ago.

I am all for people having rights under the law, and I am very glad for the equitable treatment we now espouse for people of different races and particularly for the equitable treatment of women. These advances are humane, they make sense, and they should have happened earlier. But there is a flip side to this: some of these rights should not be inalienable; they should be based on behavior. In the future (and also in the present), participation in society should afford you the same rights as anyone else who participates in that society, but if you’re just a parasite who portends to be part of a society but does not contribute to it through work or other proper involvement, you should, by rights, lose some of your rights. Let me give you some present-day examples.

Those who continually shirk work should not get aid from the government, and those who abuse society’s aid mechanisms by having multiple children just so they can get extra money, should also have their aid cut off, and they should be put to work. But there are currently no legal mechanisms in the EU through which someone can forcibly be put to work, so what we have now, although not many countries talk about it openly, is a certain percentage of the people in those countries who know they can’t be forced to work and who actively choose not to work and live on aid all of the time. This needs to stop in the future. It’s not sustainable and it’s not tolerable.

There are also no legal mechanisms through which policemen can adequately defend themselves and arrest people, should they be attacked. I don’t know if this is the case throughout Europe, but I know, directly from policemen, that it’s what’s going on right now in Romania. Should a policeman pull out his gun and defend himself in Romania right now, it would most certainly mean jail time for him. Should they want to arrest someone, they’d have no jail to take them to, because most, if not all police stations have no holding cells. You can’t put someone in county jail without due process, and you can’t leave someone violent or too drunk on the streets, so what do you do? Right now there’s nothing to do, so policemen will sometimes take these people for a ride to the station, hoping they’ll cool off. This needs to change in the future.

There are also no legal mechanisms to force someone to pay police fines. Ridiculously enough, if they have a job, they can be forced to do it, but if they don’t, if they’re parasites, they can go to court and argue they have no job to pay the fine with, or they can go to their local mayor and get a written excuse from the fine. These local yokel mayors are only too happy to give them these written excuses, because they’re desperate for cheap votes and don’t want to put in the work that wins real votes. Lots of nasty characters take advantage of these loopholes in the current laws and they go on offending, knowing there won’t be serious consequences. So we literally have people in Romania who’ve been violent toward their families or toward the police, or have committed other illegalities, who are staying at home on government aid because they don’t want to work, who are not paying their fines because they have no jobs, and who are also making more children so they can get more government aid. That’s a trifecta of crime and it goes on, unpunished. This needs to stop in the future, which I’m hoping will be much more orderly and disciplined. I’m all for rights, but in a logical and rational world, there are also consequences to one’s actions.

These are the things that come to my mind when I think of the future of cities, towns and villages. Thanks for reading!

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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

On gardening and civilized society

Ever since we’ve begun the restoration work on the historical monuments in the Transylvanian countryside (see Asociatia P.A.T.R.U. for the details), I’ve had to tend to the landscaping, among other things. And if there’s one thing you learn when you garden, is that you have to prune the weeds constantly. Some weeds you simply cannot just pull out and throw in a compost pile, they’re so invasive that you must burn them in order to stop them from spreading.

Yet in our modern, civilized society, we are led to believe that we must tolerate the weeds, including the really nasty ones. That somehow, we are to be as tolerant as possible, that there is a place for everyone in our all-inclusive civilization. It’s as if everyone’s a precious flower that we must tend to and nourish. Inasmuch as I want that to be the case, and lots of other idealistic people want that to be the case, a lot of people are weeds. Nasty weeds that we shouldn’t tolerate, that do not deserve our respect, attention, or our help. These are people that constantly shit the bed of civilization, so to speak. They take every chance, every opportunity given to them by society, by well-meaning people, and they abuse it. They turn it into something to be regretted. Like weeds, if they’re not pruned, they spread everywhere, and then there’s no garden anymore. They must be thrown out of society. For some, a little time in the compost pile might be enough. For others, there is no coming back. It’s like trying to stick a square peg in a round hole. They’re anachronisms, throwbacks to more barbaric times. Unfortunately, unlike anachronisms, they’re not self-eliminating, they’re self-perpetuating. And so more drastic action must be taken.

This isn’t something that’s done once. It requires regularity. Punishing regularity. Real effort, real sweat. A constant battle against the weeds. Just like gardening.

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A Guide To A Good Life

Learning English

This is the fifth video in a new series where I talk about the people, experiences and things that have helped me in life. Who knows, perhaps they’ll help you as well! In this one, I talk about how learning English well has shaped my experience as an immigrant to the United States, about how learning English is still very much of relevance in today’s world, and I also offer some comments on the state of immigration in the US and Europe.

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Places

Carderock Wall

Back in the late winter – early spring of 2008, I went out over multiple days to photograph a spot called Carderock Wall, located in the Carderock Recreation Area in Maryland, USA. It’s a 100-acre park, part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The area is well known as a destination for its outdoor activities of rock climbing, hiking and biking. It is bounded by the Potomac River on the south and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on the north, and it is accessed from Clara Barton Parkway from the same exit as Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center. (I have published a photobook about the C&O Canal and Potomac River, by the way.)

The area has a long history of climbing and is notable for being the closest significant climbing area to Washington, D.C. As such, it has some of the most climbed cliffs in the eastern United States. The particular spot where the cliffs are located is known as Carderock Wall, although it’s made up of a series of cliffs, not a single wall.

I’m not a rock climber, so all I can say is the rock formations are interesting and you can find more details about them here. Some of the cliffs are just a few degrees off vertical, while others are more sloped. Some have deep crevices and protuberances, while others are sheer. The neat part is there are hikable ravines between them, so you can quickly jog to the top to secure a climbing rope, then get back down to start climbing the wall, although most people were climbing with partners who “belayed the rope” — that is, had it secured around their own waist and were controlling it with their hands and body weight, in case the person climbing lost their footing and fell down. It’s a good place to practice your climbing before you tackle big cliffs like those you’ll find in some of the national parks. I also saw a few people engaged in bouldering, the practice of climbing without a rope and without a safety. I guess another name for them would be adrenaline junkies. You certainly will get a rush of that stuff going through your body when you’re high up on a cliff with no safety and your hands start to go soft.

The photographs were supposed to be published in a local magazine, but they ended up not using them. It was a learning experience for me: the magazine asked me to do this as “spec work”, meaning I would only get paid if they used the photos. Being a somewhat fresh-faced photographer with my first magazine “job” seemingly close at hand, I accepted. I drove out there three times, got people to sign release forms, spent hours and hours taking and editing the photos, only to have the magazine not use them. To be fair, when the magazine told me it wouldn’t use the photos, they actually didn’t use them, so they were still mine. They didn’t try to weasel the copyright out of me. And I liked the place anyway, so I would have gone out there to shoot some photographs — maybe not three times, but I’d have done it. Still, the experience taught me not to take on any more spec work.

Here we are, 11 years and change later, and I thought it a nice time to publish these images. I went through them again, edited them again, and they’re good to go, this time on my own website, which will turn 19 later this year.

Enjoy the photographs, there are 74 of them!

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Thoughts

Work

The single highest purpose in life.

The more one lives, the more they ask themselves about the meaning of life. What’s the point of it all? Why are we here? Who made us? We get into all these complicated discussions about origins and God and the afterlife, discussions that amount to just about zero. All the while life goes on, with or without our answers.

The point is, we are here. And if our lives are to have any meaning, if we are to get any enjoyment from them, we need to contribute. We need to do something. We need to work. It’s not an external mandate but an internal one. We ourselves get to find out that our lives have less and less meaning once we stop working. Even if it’s work we don’t like, it still gives some meaning to our lives. And when we do like it, oh boy, then our lives become wonderful!

Some of you will say, “Surely love is the single highest purpose in life. You’ve got your priorities wrong.” Nope. Love without work is dead. That’s a paraphrase, and I bet it sounds familiar to some of you. The actual quote is “Faith without works is dead.” A wise man wrote it. What is love but a kind of faith? The two imply each other. Faith cannot exist without love and love without faith just isn’t love. Furthermore, what would your love be worth to your partner without works? If you profess your love for them, but your deeds (your works) say otherwise or say nothing at all, then that love is dead. I’m not talking about esoteric things here, I’m talking about human love, the kind I hope you’re experiencing in your lives.

If all this talk about work is ringing false for you, then I am sure you don’t like your work. You see, for most of our written history, a lot of people have been engaged in doing unpleasant work. That’s still going around these days. Instead of each of us thoughtfully considering what work we should do, because we can do that nowadays, we jump at jobs for the wrong reasons, only to find out we hate them, and therefore we wrongly assume we hate work.

Even if we can’t pick our jobs, we can actively choose to do the jobs we have better. It’s a choice we can make every day, to do good work and let that be what makes us happy in our jobs. When we do that, the wonderful thing that will happen over time, is that our jobs will get better. We’ll find ways to make them better and new opportunities may open for us, perhaps advancement, perhaps other jobs that we’ll love. But we have to do good work first. We have to make that choice and we have to follow it through.

Rest assured when I tell you that work is the highest purpose in life, and that we can only find meaning in life by doing good work.

In recent years, research has been done on productivity that has shown that people who take proper vacations (where they break off from work completely) are more productive in their jobs. It’s easy to misinterpret those results and say that we need more vacations as rewards for substandard work, but I’d like to point out with quite a bit of personal certainty that vacations only make people who love their jobs more productive. In case you hate your job, you’ll simply dread going back to work and once you’re back, you’ll do the same crappy work you’ve done in the past. When someone loves their job, the contrast of being away from it is what charges them up. It’s the lack of work that winds them up like a spring-driven toy, and once they’re back, they unleash their newly gained energy on the work they love. That’s why we see increased productivity.

Instead of asking ourselves charged, difficult questions about the meaning of life and our origins, we should be asking questions like these, questions that will help us see right away that our lives have purpose and are worth living:

  • Am I working?
  • Am I doing good work? (Here I’m referring to the quality of our work.)
  • Is my work contributing to the greater good?
  • Do I like my work?

If the answers to those four questions are yes, then I’m fairly sure your life is good and you’re also feeling good. You wake up each day with a sense of purpose and at the end of the day, though you’re tired, you go to bed content because you’ve done good work. If not, then find out how you can turn that no into a yes. You know exactly what to tackle in order to get your life in… order.

These questions are also good criteria to be used when evaluating those in our societies who prefer to shirk work, the goldbricks, the ones who seek to be on social aid perpetually, the ones who complain about not having enough and about being downtrodden while they sit at home wasting their days glued to their TVs, making children so they get more aid from the government. Sadly, there are plenty of those human bed bugs around. What’s even more sad is that governments are willing to tolerate them and use them for cheap votes instead of requiring work from them. Those are exactly the kinds of people who deserve to do unpleasant jobs, because they’ve been living off the blood and sweat of honest folk and they haven’t contributed anything to the greater good. They need to go through plenty of tough work so they can compensate society for their squalid, useless lives where they’ve only consumed resources and generated trash and bodily waste.

Okay, back to pleasant things…

Let me entreat you to find work that’s meaningful to you. See if you can do work that contributes to society somehow, work that adds to our civilization, that builds upon that of others in order to yield even better results.

If you’re retired, see if you can do some consulting or mentoring work for 3-4 hours each day. Not only will you supplement your fixed income, but you’ll wake up each day with a renewed sense of purpose and you’ll contribute your lifetime of experience to those who need it, even if they’ll take a while to realize it.

Here’s to good work from all of us! 🤲

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The answer to a great many questions of today

This post will seem to fall right out of nowhere for you, mainly because you haven’t been privy to my thoughts in recent years — how could you be, after all? It may also strike you as highly inconsiderate and you may even become angry with me. Let it be so. You will inevitably calm down and you may also agree with me in a few months or years. 

The pompous title may lead you to think I’m going to philosophize. Nope, it’s just a little bait meant to entice you to read on. I’m going to speak plainly, because this must be said plainly and repeated loudly, for all to hear and understand: the answer to a great many questions of today is “too many people”

Go ahead, ask a question about the state of the world or the state of the planet. Any question at all. The answer, if you dig right down to the core, is inevitably overpopulation

Shall we have a go right now? Here are a few examples; keep in mind you already know the answer: 

  • Scarcity of clean drinking water?
  • Disappearing forests?
  • Disappearing fish? 
  • Disappearing animals?
  • Garbage piling up everywhere?
  • Pollution?
  • Overconsumption?
  • Poor quality of manufactured goods?
  • Poor quality of foods? 
  • Traffic jams?
  • Growing numbers of lonely and depressed people in large cities? 
  • Filled up cemeteries that are now contaminating water tables and surrounding land?
  • Crowded schools?
  • Crowded hospitals?
  • Crowded nursing homes?
  • Crowded mass transport? 
  • Crowded buildings/smaller apartments/taller buildings/feeling like a sardine in a tin can?
  • Natural beauty ruined by poorly planned and poorly made modern development?

I could go on and on, I suppose, but I would also get sadder and sadder as this list grew bigger. It’s daunting to face up to the problems we’ve created for ourselves, simply because we collectively thought there should be more of us. “Sure,” we thought, “let’s go on f*****g, it feels good and we’re making babies. The world needs babies…” 

It turns out, the world doesn’t need that many babies. Babies of all species are absolutely adorable and they melt your heart with their cuteness, but the overpopulation of any species is a real threat to the species itself and to the planet as a whole. 

In the past, people thought the answer to many questions were more people. How do you solve a labor shortage? How do you fund social security? How do you gather enough revenues as a government in order to build and maintain a modern infrastructure and have enough employees to take care of it all? How do you grow the economy? We thought “more people” was the answer. Well, it turned out not to be so. 

Paradoxically, at over 7.2 billion people, we still have massive labor shortages, social security and other social safety nets are in the dumps, it turns out that governments can never have enough revenues, and most puzzling of all, that economies and companies do and must stop growing. As a matter of fact, the very economic model that drives every economy in the world is based on constant growth. We can talk about “boom/bust cycles” and “contagion” and “recovery” all we want, but in the end, it’s about growth. And you can’t have growth forever. At some point it stops. It has to stop. You either run out of people or you run out of resources. To pick an example out of recent memory, there are only so many smartphones that people will buy. Given the limited resources available on Earth, there are only so many TVs/cars/houses/pieces of furniture you can make before you turn the whole Earth into a dug-up wasteland. 

This is a huge topic: an immense “minefield” that we’ve built and that we’ve got to wade through and “disarm” if we want to have a sustainable future. It’s filled with “hot potatoes” that no one wants to touch or step on, because there’s a real price to pay in the real world if you are a person of any clout and you dare talk about these things publicly. But these things must be said and someone must make the hard decisions, or else… 

Shall I tell you what you’re thinking? If you’re a parent, the basic question swirling through your mind right now is: “How dare YOU tell ME whether or not I should have MY children?” How dare I even bring up the question of procreation, which most people, at some level or another, conscious or subconscious, believe is their God-given right and even more so, God-given blessing? 

I wonder though, should God ever truly speak to us — if He or She or It would even deign to speak to an arrogant, dirty, criminal and avaricious species like ours — would would be said? We don’t know. God isn’t speaking to us, in spite of what some deranged “religious leaders” seem to think on the topic. We are left to figure this out on our own. 

I think it boils down to egotism. We are all so caught up in ourselves, most of us much more so than we realize, that we believe the world would be deprived of something if we didn’t have children, as if our exact chromosomes will combine to create a super-child that will solve the problems of the world. Let me assure you, right here and now, that collectively, the world won’t miss a beat if any one of us stops having children. It might even breathe a sigh of relief, as in “Thank God, I’ve been spared another mouth to feed!” And no, your “super-child” won’t solve the problems of the world. YOU need to work on solving them RIGHT NOW, so STOP procrastinating and passing the buck to future generations! 

What about the other egotistical question, “But who will take care of me when I’m old?” Does it always have to be about you? Must you be a burden to your children in old age? How about you figure out some other way, such as taking care of yourself and your money, so that you reach old age in relatively good shape? That way you can be independent and function well, living from your own resources. Why, you might even be able to give back to society, through volunteering and donations, instead of being a feeble shell of your old self, depending on social security and being carted around by a nurse. 

Is it any wonder that the rate of birth among well-read, well-educated folks all around the world is declining rapidly? As people better themselves and start to think beyond their bellies and their willies, they begin to see that all is not well with the world, and they choose to have less or no children. 

When I think of the people who are having more children, it is unfortunately those who shouldn’t be having them. Let me make it CLEAR here that I am NOT talking about RACE. What I am talking about is: livelihood, education, household resources, strength of the couple’s relationship, geographical location, available opportunities and so on. Let me make it plainer: a child born to a couple who abuse each other physically and verbally, living on government aid or in poverty, or in a country roiling in upheaval and conflict, will have limited or no opportunities and will have a poor quality of life. That child will likely be abused by its parents, perhaps even sexually — certainly and at the very least emotionally — and will grow up just like them, stunted, tortured, a stump of a human being that will likely continue to hurt others, just as it was hurt, knowing no better way in life, unable to do better in life even when shown and helped. That mother and father should give serious thought as to whether they should be having children at all, because they cannot provide for them, but unfortunately they give no thought to this at all and typically have them in droves. Is that the right thing to do? 

The solution is simple in theory but near-impossible to implement: we must each of us choose to have but one child or no child. It must not be forced upon us, or else it’ll feel horrible. We must make that choice. If all the families in the world would choose to make this decision, for the sake of our world as a whole, the world population would enter a steady and unforced decline, a very welcome decline that would allow us to slowly plan and become accustomed to an ever-decreasing population and re-work our economic and government models in order to account for it. 

I cannot state how dire the situation truly is. In developed countries, it’s easy to get lost in the abundance of it all, even if you’re poor. You can still dream about “having it all” and you think it’s going to be like this all the time. But we are on the precipice. We have been for some time, our end postponed for a little longer and a little longer. Mind you, I’m not talking about Biblical stuff here. I’m talking about the planet shaking and scratching us off like a bad case of fleas, but it’ll certainly feel Biblical to us. I’m talking about us doing it to ourselves, because as a species, we are all of the stuff I said we are in the paragraphs above. And it’s so easy to solve this peacefully, slowly, without the use of force and fear and horror, if we act now and we act collectively. 

I am sorry to dump this on you so near to Christmas. I’ve been mulling over this stuff for years and I’ve alluded to it here and there, but I haven’t come out and said it outright so far. Since most of us will have some downtime and our bellies full this year-end, it might be a very good time to think on these things. 

I remain hopeful. Who knows, in the near future, instead of bugging newlyweds for grandchildren, parents might ask them instead, “Have you thought about not having kids?” or “Isn’t one child enough, honey?” Wishful thinking, I know… 

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Social media and time spent on websites that produce original content

Here’s something I’ve observed in my own use of social media websites: most of the time they’re so sticky that when I click on an interesting article to read it, I tend to skim through it in order to get back to the social media site where it was posted. Why? My rationale to myself is that I want to see what other articles I might discover. But in truth, I think I’ve gotten so used to skimming the news feed for interesting stuff, that I’m more concerned with that instead of actually taking the proper time to read through the interesting stuff. And that’s not right. And I don’t think I’m the only one doing it.

It could be that we’ve gotten to the point where, without realizing it, we’ve become superficial skimmers, and I blame social media. The very websites whose mission it was (in the beginning) to present us with articles and photos and videos because they allowed users to post links to them, have now reshaped our attention span in such a way that we value browsing the news feed stupidly more than we value reading the actual content for which we browse the news feed in the first place.

What I’ve also seen, because I myself am guilty of it at times, is a tendency to form an opinion about an article from the blurb that I can read on social media, before I can read it in full, or to determine whether it’s worth reading from the title alone. And — and this is shameful but worth talking about — I’ve also caught myself giving an article or a link a like/plus/heart based solely on its title, blurb and accompanying thumbnail, without reading it. Again, I rationalized it to myself by wanting to go back to the news feed, because “I had a limited amount of time” to spend on social media and wanted to catch up on the things that were posted. What a crappy rationalization, right? And yet I don’t think I’m alone; I’m fairly sure others are doing this.

I’m curious to find out if anyone out there is doing or has done research on this and can confirm it.

What I’ve also seen from our own site stats is a drop in our visitors’ attention span. In a word, they’ve become more superficial than before. They don’t spend the proper amount of time to read through something; when I post photo galleries, they don’t look at even half the photos; when I post videos, they don’t even look at a quarter of the video. It’s gotten to the point where we’ll post an article and people will start to ask questions related to it on social media (and this happens to my wife all the time) that are so blatantly ignorant of the very article we’ve posted that it’s crystal clear to us that these people haven’t read the article. They haven’t even clicked through to skim the first paragraph, which would have answered their question.

Some will say that’s fine, we can now post our content directly on social media, in full length, along with the accompanying photos and videos. Perhaps, but that doesn’t work either. I’ve seen the same dropoff in attention spans there. I can attest to this. If a post isn’t short enough to fit within 1-2 sentences, or you post more than 2-3 photos, or you post a video that’s longer than 15-30 seconds, most people will simply not see all of it. They’ll click away. And that defeats the purpose of posting anywhere and also defeats the point of creating content. Not to mention that if you choose to post all your original content on social media, you are no longer in control of it, because it’s not on your website and you don’t get to decide if it stays up or not (down the road). You also destroy a viable business model, which is to post on your own site, make it a treasure trove of valuable information and then monetize it in various ways or use it as a stepping stone to various other projects.

I’m not sure how far this trend will go. Will we have to create shorter articles and write them in the simplest language possible? How much can we communicate doing that? To whom will we be communicating? If audiences can’t handle a page-long article and need us to speak to them in first grade or second grade language, what kind of people are we reaching? What kinds of intellects are we nurturing? Is social media contributing to a “dumbing down” of its users?

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