If you’re not familiar with Dr. Charles Eugster, he’s 93 years old and began working out when he was 80-something. He’s a living, breathing example of the kind of life we could all have when we’re older. In this TED Talk, he offers enlightening truths about aging as it currently is throughout the world, and as it could be.
My use of the term “civilized countries” in my previous video on men’s personal hygiene sparked some confusion, so I thought I should clarify what I meant. In this video, I offer a basic definition of “civilization” and some examples to help illustrate my point. You can watch it on YouTube or below.
Here’s a short video log I recorded yesterday as I got to thinking about how we as humans tend to separate into groups and sub-groups and identify with them. We form separate cultures and sub-cultures and nowadays, we want to stand apart from what we see as the commercialism and consumerism of modern society.
And yet, when we do that, we actually make it easier for advertisers to target us, because instead of making general ads for general products, they get to make very targeted ads for products specifically tailored to particular groups. So the effort to escape consumerism then becomes a moot point.
People think this is a bad thing for some reason. But I say it’s a good thing. I don’t think there has ever been a time in the history of mankind when products tailored for specific uses could make it to market faster than nowadays. Sure, you have to sort through the crap, and there’s a lot of it, but there’s some really good stuff out there, made just for your needs.
I also touch on the idea of money as currency and the inherent benefit of being able to convert skills or objects into such a portable currency that you can take pretty much anywhere and exchange it for what you need. Some people say we don’t need money, that we can trade directly, service to service, product for product, etc., but I sa that only goes so far. It’s so much more limited than money, particularly when you hold a very portable currency like the dollar, the pound or the euro.
Yes, I’m still in bed, so please excuse my disheveled appearance.
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.
There’s a lot of talk and controversy in the news about the migrant issue nowadays. Some are calling it Europe’s biggest political issue in decades, and they’re partly right. It’s certainly a big issue, but it’s not as big now as it may get in the coming years, if it’s not addressed correctly.
Here’s what I think: it’s not about race, it’s not about color, it’s not about war or the economy; it’s about religious fanaticism vs. tolerance. That’s the subject that should be discussed openly here, without mincing words.
I’m not going to name any particular religion. I don’t need to. The question to ask is: how tolerant are the religions practiced by these migrants? I ask this question seriously, given the problems we have encountered in Europe just in the last decade, in France, in the UK and in other European countries, all caused (directly or indirectly) by religious fanaticism.
Given the problems caused by intolerant religions in Europe, do we really want to introduce more of those same problems into the mix? If you look at photos of the migrants, or even better, go and inspect the situation for yourselves, you will see an overwhelming abundance of young males. Let’s do some simple math: add impressionable young males, plus religions which espouse intolerance, and what does that equal? It equals more of what you can see in the UK or in France, in certain well-known places where normal people don’t dare venture for fear of being attacked or killed, simply because they’re not of the same religion or have a different skin color.
In today’s civilized world, where science is widespread and superstition is all but absent, there are certain religions that still cling to medieval practices, and those religions have no place whatsoever where civilized society lives. Not unless you want serious problems.
The real litmus test is this: go ahead and wear a t-shirt with a controversial message in Eastern countries where an intolerant religion thrives and see what happens to you. Then, should you live to tell the tale, wear a similarly controversial t-shirt (or even more so) in Western countries and see what happens there.
I’m not of any religion, because I prefer to think for myself instead of regurgitating what religious books teach me. But I certainly appreciate tolerance among those who are religious, because it is a sign of higher thinking, of “using one’s noggin”, to put it into American vernacular. It’s a clear sign that a particular religion has managed to pull itself out of medieval practices of torture and killing and has come out into the light of the modern, enlightened world. Sadly, some religions are still stuck in the past, hundreds of years behind the times and show no sign of wanting to progress. Those religions and their believers have no place in the civilized world.
That’s what we should be talking about, because if this situation is dealt with correctly now, we’ll avoid a whole slew of problems later on down the line, such as the de-stabilization of European society and the safety of its citizens, and the regression of our Western civilization down to the levels we can now see in Eastern countries, which is unthinkable.
Just wanted to publish here a post I wrote on Facebook this morning about body image and the recent controversy surrounding its representation in the media:
Something I don’t get: people are making such a big deal in recent times about being thin and how the fashion magazines are promoting it. They’re making it into a huge issue, as if the plump girls are being persecuted and they’re putting it as if this has been going on forever.
Truth is, this is only a recent thing. Until the 60s, it was a plump girl’s world. Yes, all the way from antiquity to the 1960s or so, people liked bigger women. The thin ones were the outcasts. Nobody wanted them because they were too skinny. They were told to put on weight. There were ads in magazines everywhere for fattening creams and lotions and vitamins and lard and all kinds of stuff to help girls put on weight fast and become “attractive”.
So here’s what I think: all this bulls**t be damned, if you want to be plump, be plump, if you want to be thin, be thin, but do yourself a favor and stop blaming others for your body type. If you’re plump and you’d rather be thin, stop complaining about fashion magazines and learn to love yourself. If you’re thin and would rather be fat, well then, you’re in luck because there are a ton of processed foods out there to help you achieve your goal.
And if you like yourself just the way you are, congratulations! You’re one of the lucky few who get what it’s like to enjoy life. Go on enjoying it, we typically only get 70-80 years of it and we shouldn’t waste it complaining! 🙂
So often in life we meet with situations where the question of respect and discrimination comes up in our minds. We get to decide whether to extend respect or to discriminate and after the fact, probably question our decisions, wondering whether we did the right thing.
In this video from “The Elegant Gentleman” series, I wanted to talk to you about the meanings of these two words and to give you a few simple criteria (such as appearance, personal hygiene and behavior) for evaluating a person or a situation that should ease your decision-making process. I should make it clear here that I refrained from talking about the more controversial meaning of the word “discrimination” in my video, simply because it’s not the word’s primary or even secondary meaning; it is something we’ve chosen to associate with the word in recent times, which perhaps says something about the state of our society.
Here’s this video posting on my Facebook page:
I filmed a short vlog today about the need for true craftsmen, which is becoming more apparent in developed countries pretty much everywhere. The more emphasis is placed on white collar jobs, IT and college degrees, the less people you have going to vocational schools in order to learn how to become craftsmen. Countries don’t run on computers alone. We need people doing real, physical work, building the infrastructure and taking pride in their jobs, building with the best methods and to the highest quality available to them, otherwise fields like construction are going to get worse, not better. (Have you looked at the build quality of the sheds we call “homes” these days?)
I hope you take a few minutes to watch the entire video and do your part to encourage your children or your students in schools to become real craftsmen. They can make a good living, even a great living, doing craftwork, and they can do it without going into debt by the tens of thousands of dollars, getting college and post-graduate education which isn’t going to be useful to them. If you’d like a list of good, honest trades and crafts, this article which lists 19th century occupations alphabetically should help.
I’m not alone in my views. You can also watch Mike Rowe, host of “Dirty Jobs”, give a testimony before Congress where he urges the US government to encourage our children to choose to go to vocational and tech schools, because there’s a real need for these kinds of people in the US economy.
Not sure if you know this, but Romania is a virtual no man’s land when it comes to movies, books and music. Romanians often get to watch movies before they’re in theaters in the US, and there’s a large loophole in Romanian copyright law that makes it nearly impossible to prosecute those who break the law and share digital copies of movies, books or music online.
I consulted with our IP lawyer, and the gist of it is that in Romania, you’re allowed to make a copy of a “book” for “private, home use”. But since there’s no reference to movies or music or anything else in the law, courts extend that same privilege to them. And by “copy”, the courts have come to understand digital copies as well. As long as you don’t charge for them, the courts consider them “private” copies. So that leaves the door wide open for all uninformed (and informed) people to share “private copies” of movies, music and books all over the net.
Back in 2009, I wrote an article about software piracy in Romania, explaining that when software costs $300 to buy (i.e. Windows), a typical Romanian won’t be able to afford it, because that’s their monthly salary. My advice back then, to those who wanted to do the right thing, was to look at Ubuntu, which is free, friendly and completely legal. Now I can add OS X to the list. At $29, it’s certainly affordable for a Romanian, and for the tech savvy people, it shouldn’t be too hard to put together their own Hackintosh. Although not entirely legal, as pointed out in this comment, it’s still a better alternative to running a pirated copy of Windows.
Something I cannot condone though is the piracy of books, movies and music. Their price is affordable to the typical Romanian. A book costs somewhere between $10-30, often even less than that. A movie can cost anywhere from $1-5 to rent and $5-20 to buy — or you can subscribe to Netflix and watch all the movies and TV shows you want for $7.99/month. Music costs $0.99-1.99 per song. There is no excuse for stealing these. Most anyone can save 20-50 RON in order to buy a book or a movie, if they really want it, and anyone can most definitely spare 3 RON to buy a song. And yet, most Romanians don’t. They willfully elect to download pirated movies, music and books whenever they can.
When did it become acceptable to steal something just because you can’t afford it? If you can’t afford it, then you can’t have it. Save up for it and get it later, you’ll appreciate it a lot more than if you steal it.
Want to hear the sad part? It’s not the poor Romanians who are stealing books, movies and music. No, it’s people who have the means to buy these things in the first place, who could afford to part with a few RON in order to get the latest song from their favorite artist, or to see the latest movie. Their lame and legally/morally invalid excuse is that the artist/movie studio/writer is already rich or that everybody’s doing it, because society’s progressing and the old ways no longer work. Which old ways would that be? The need to pay for a service or a good? Well, when I can pay for my utility bills or my mortgage with a movie I downloaded from a torrent website, that’s when we’ll talk about the old ways no longer cutting it.
Since when did someone who has no idea about the hard work that goes behind making a song or a movie or writing a book and getting it published, get to make a judgment about the artist’s financial health or about whether or not it’s okay to steal their work? When did it become okay to steal? This is tantamount to stealing a piece of clothing from a store, or a chocolate from a supermarket.
These same people who complain they have no money then go out and eat at restaurants, they have vacations at sea side resorts, they spend their weekends in the mountains. That is hypocrisy. Ever since my wife and I came to Romania, I keep hearing there’s a financial crisis going on, and everyone’s complaining about how little money they’re making, but whenever I travel the country, mountain resorts are full, seaside resorts are booked up, restaurants are full, coffee shops are full, marketplaces, supermarkets, stores and malls are full of people, everyone’s barbecuing, there are tons of cars on the streets, and money’s flying left and right. Where’s the financial crisis?
I don’t care if the law’s not up to snuff, stealing’s never okay. Romanians always brag that they’re good Christians. If they were good Christians, they would know the eighth commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal.”
It’s easy to decry TV, movies and sports as nothing more than a time suck, as a constant push toward looser morals and a consumer culture, but they also provide a benefit that’s not often discussed — that of giving people something acceptable to do with their time. Among other things, they redirect energy that would be spent on real life behaviors into vicarious behaviors, and in some ways, that’s a good thing in today’s world.
You look back through recent history, and you’ll see that as societies became more civilized, people distanced themselves from nature and segmented their existence not only in terms of time but also in terms of space. When economies were based solely (or mostly) on agriculture and crafts, people had plenty to do all day long. Life and work followed a natural cycle, and they intermingled. (You see some of that these days with telecommuting.) People had homes, and they had land, and they worked on that land and around their homes all day long. They put in long hours during the spring, summer and autumn, and relaxed during winter, at home with their families. Nowadays, very few people still live on that cycle. Most people have office jobs and live in apartment buildings, particularly in the larger cities where the costs of owning a home are prohibitive. When they get home at night, what’s there to do? Little, really. When you have an apartment, what are you going to do? Stare at the walls? Vacuum the floors? Re-organize your sock drawers? I suppose that’s how the need for mass entertainment developed, first with sports, then movies, then TV. When you have (roughly) five hours of free time per day, you’ve got to spend it somehow, so why not become a sports fan, or why not watch movies or TV?
As one follows the progress of their favorite sports team or TV show, they live in that world, through those characters or stars, and experience the highs and lows of that microcosm. Some would say that’s a form of population control, of dumbing down the population, of occupying their time with nonsense so they don’t wake up and start something. In some ways, it is, but it’s also needed. What would people do with the energy and time they spend on sports and TV if those outlets didn’t exist? Some would spend it in positive ways — with their families, on books, arts, hobbies, games, newspapers, trips and the like — and yet others (and this is a number that can’t be quantified) would spend it in negative ways — and the variety of those ways is something that would boggle the mind. For that group of people, the fact that they spend their time in front of the TV or in the stands, cheering for their sports teams, is undoubtedly a good thing.
So, beside the fact that there are very real benefits to TV networks and advertisers as more people tune in to see TV shows and sports matches, or to movie studios as more people go to see their latest creation, or to sports teams when fans fill their stadiums, there are arguable benefits to be gained for society in general as more people tune out the outside world and turn on their TVs. The issue is clearly more complicated than that, and I’m oversimplifying things, but I wanted to point out this particular aspect. It’s but one view among many that can be taken when you talk about this subject. The more I think of this, the more I realize its complexity can’t possibly be explained in a single post, so don’t expect an overarching conclusion here — just an observation.
During the past several months, I’ve had to work with people much more than before, and I learned a few things, one of which is the importance of communication.
It’s one thing to sit in front of the computer all day and communicate via email and the occasional meeting, as it happens in IT work, and it’s quite another to only do it in person, face to face, explain concepts and ideas, try to get your vision across, then see how well others understood and delivered on the stuff you needed. More often than not, I’ve been disappointed, but I’m told that’s par for this course.
So where does communication help?
Where there’s tension, it helps deflate anger and potential conflict. I’ve been in situations where the tension had built up so much the hair stood up on my back and I was ready to punch someone, and yet if we were able to communicate rationally for a few minutes and hash out the various problems that we faced, all of that pent-up anger literally melted away. Of course, if the other person can’t communicate rationally, that’s another story altogether…
I can’t overemphasize the importance of communicating with each other as you work on a project with other people, particularly when it’s new territory for either one of you. Most people aren’t good communicators. They’d rather just do their work, but if they’re not taking the time to understand what it is you want them to do, being faced with an end result that differs from your expectations can lead to bad situations all around. So what I’ve had to do is to initiate communication most of the time, and to get these people to explain to me each stage of the work they were doing, several times a day, just to make sure they’re on the right track.
In the past, when I worked on IT projects, I had to do the same thing sometimes, but more often than not, I got too frustrated with the capabilities of others and brushed them aside, preferring to do the work myself, knowing I could do it faster and better. That wasn’t possible this time. I’ve been involved in construction/renovation work, and even though I could do the work myself, I couldn’t allow myself to do it because I needed to get results on a tight schedule. Doing things myself would have meant pushing deadlines into the future, and that wasn’t an option. The teams I worked with could deliver the stuff on time, but I had to make sure we were communicating properly. It was a real challenge, and I gained a new-found respect for general contractors and project managers. It’s very stressful and exhausting to work on construction projects and ensure everything gets done according to plan and to your vision when you’re dealing with people. Unfortunately, until we invent robots that can do all manner of construction work to spec — and I doubt that’ll ever happen — that’s what we have to work with.
In IT work, if something isn’t right, you can go back in and change things. You erase or modify the code, re-adjust the software options, etc. You’ve only wasted time, not materials. (Yes, you can also waste resources and others’ time, but let’s not bring that into the equation for this analogy.) In construction work, you not only waste time, you waste materials, and that can really add up. There’s also the painful cost of tearing down stuff that wasn’t built right and starting from scratch, and you pay for this in more stress.
So yeah, communication is vital, but there are some serious flip sides to it.
I’ve found out that you can still be misunderstood and judged even when you do your best to communicate as much as possible — and here I’m not talking about construction work, but life in general. Your every action can be perceived as the opposite of what you meant it to be. You’ll try to help someone else and they’ll think you’re trying to hurt them. You’ll do a good deed and it’ll get mocked or your kindness will be abused when others seek to take advantage of you. It is so painful to deal with this crap, and yet there’s no way around it unless you go live someplace away from everybody — and let me tell you I’m sorely tempted to do it.
There is so much potential in each of us to create, to do good things, lasting things, beautiful things, to achieve lofty goals working in harmony, but we’re stuck using language to communicate what’s inside us. There’s no better way to transfer information and ideas between us. Unfortunately, words can be sorely lacking in the power to transfer information and vision, in most situations where it’s really important for them to convey that. And yes, this is coming from a writer, someone who loves using words. It’d be so much easier if we could communicate what’s in our hearts, unequivocally, when we needed to do it, so there would be no doubt in the mind of the other person of what our true intentions really are. Of course my vision is somewhat utopic. After all, many people simply don’t aspire to do good things. Their goals stop at the ordinary or downright sordid aspects of life, and you can’t do much good with those people. You’re better off avoiding them, unless you welcome extra stress in your life.
I suppose one antidote for all this pain caused by living and working among people is to not care. By this I don’t mean we should be callous. I mean we shouldn’t care what others think of our actions or of us. We should stand rooted in our morality and do what we know is right, treat others the way we want to be treated, and let others think what they will of us. As long as we’re true to our own moral compasses, nothing else should matter. Right? But somehow it does, doesn’t it? And it’s so damned painful, too.
Douglas Rushkoff, an award-winning writer, documentary filmmaker and scholar, has written a book entitled “Life Inc”, where he delves into what he calls the “corporate mindset” of today’s society, and how to overcome it in order to make our lives and our world better.
I’ll let him tell you what the book is about in his own words:
“What I started to do was to look at the different ways we as modern Americans have become disconnected from one another, disconnected from the places we live, disconnected from the value we create, and even disconnected from our own sense of self-worth. I came to the conclusion that corporations, or what we call the corporate mindset, were really at the center of this phenomenon.”
“We’re living in a world where if you want to make money, you’ve got to work for a corporation.”
According to Rushkoff, it turns out this “corporate mindset” can be traced back to the Renaissance, which is when kings began to monopolize on the income created by people. Instead of letting them trade freely among themselves, they created charter corporations which had exclusive control over certain industries. The kings got shares of stock in those monopolies, thus income, and those companies got to make all the money there was to be made in those markets. This centralization of power continued right through to our own time.
“The society built through the Industrial Age was built to mythologize the mass-produced object, because we needed to create a society of consumers who thought buying all of this stuff would somehow make them happier.”
“Most of us spend so much time working and consuming that we have very little time left to do anything that has to do with other people.”
“The more we behave as individual actors in competition with one another, the harder it is to encounter one another in a friendly way.”
“People can start investing in one another and with one another, make their towns better, and earn returns that you’re not getting from your Smith Barney broker… and see the return of your investment in the place you actually live.”
“This [economic recession] isn’t just a crisis, it’s an opportunity. It’s the first moment in the last couple of hundred years that we’ve had to rebuild our society and our economy on principles that serve humanity instead of killing life.”
I agree with most of what he has to say, and it’s important to realize he’s not against corporations per se, but against the slow creep of the corporate mindset into everyday life. After all, it’s thanks to corporations that we have industrial design, which allows us to get products designed to exact specifications and high standards. And the concentration of capital and research at some corporations and organizations has resulted in amazing advances in technology that have benefited all of us. Yes, you can do a lot of things in your garage, and you can get a lot of stuff done with your neighbors and in your community, but you can’t build a highly sophisticated computer, digital camera or a modern car at home. (You might be able to assemble them from purchased parts, but those parts were made in factories, too.) There is plenty of value to what he has to say, and the book warrants a close read. We do need to become more human, more connected, more dependent on our communities.
There’s a 9-minute video summary of the book at his Vimeo account. He’s also posted video clips summarizing the main ideas of each book chapter there. I’ll post the main video summary and the first three clips below. There’s also more info on his website at rushkoff.com. You can get the book from Amazon.