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.
Human trafficking is a practice I condemn deeply, particularly the practice of sex trafficking or sexual slavery, because it could have touched very close to home. My wife went to college in the city of Constanta, Romania, which is one of the main cities in the country where abductions and other crimes of sex trafficking occur. When we met, she still had about two years before graduation. Because we were apart for long periods of time, and she was and is very beautiful, I had this constant fear of her being a target for sex traffickers. Thank goodness nothing happened.
My fear may sound absurd to you, but it was real to me, and it’s real to the parents of girls in that city and in other large Romanian cities. Constanta in particular, being a port city on the Black Sea, invites a lot of unwanted attention from criminals of all varieties. Girls are routinely abducted there and carried off to Middle-Eastern countries, where they’re either made part of some filthy Arab’s harem or forced into prostitution.
Romania is one of the major trafficking source countries for women and children in Europe, among others such as Albania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Just next door to Romania, the Republic of Moldova, Bulgaria and Ukraine also have the dubious distinction of being among the main trafficking sources for the world, along with Thailand, China, Nigeria, Albania, and Belarus. So you see, the entire Eastern Europe region around the Black Sea is a hot spot for human trafficking. I’m not saying this of myself, but many statistics bear this out. Check out the reference links at the bottom of this article and see for yourselves.
Girls and children abducted or manipulated into going abroad may be taken through a transit country like Mexico or Israel, or end up in a destination country, which is usually rich enough for the “customers” to be able to afford the human trafficking “products”. The list of the biggest destination countries is as follows: Thailand (also a major source), Japan, Israel (also a transit country), Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the US.
After talking with people in Romania, I found out that a lot of girls from the country end up in Germany and Turkey. Not all are physically coerced into going there. Criminals exploit lack of opportunities, promise good jobs or opportunities for study or marriage, and then force the victims to become prostitutes, or they may abduct them outright. Through agents and brokers who arrange the travel and job placements, women are escorted to their destinations and delivered to the “employers”. Upon reaching their destinations, some women learn that they have been deceived about the nature of the work they will do; most have been lied to about the financial arrangements and conditions of their employment and find themselves in coercive or abusive situations from which escape is both difficult and dangerous. They are psychologically manipulated by skillful, experienced traffickers into the practice of prostitution and are kept in that lifestyle by any means necessary, such as continual psychological or physical abuse or drugs.
Another tactic is for a trafficker to seduce a girl, pose as a couple as they go abroad, then, while the girl is still in love with him, get her to sleep with other men in order to make money while they “start from scratch”. He’ll keep saying he can’t find a job yet, she’ll keep sleeping with other men for money, and before she knows it, she’s a prostitute, and he’ll waste no time calling her one, each and every day, beating her down psychologically till she’s too broken down to resist the sordid lifestyle. When she’s broken, there’s no need for the captor to pretend they’re a couple, so he’ll revert to the job of an outright pimp.
The girls’ families usually know nothing of their girls’ whereabouts and doings. The girls tell them they’re going abroad for jobs, then, when they’re already caught in the web of prostitution, will lie to them and tell them they’re working somewhere, out of shame for what they’re doing. The girls are usually over 18, they’re going willingly, the police can do nothing about it, and once they’re abroad, it’s too late. Some people I talked to were pragmatic, even downright dismissive. “They’re old enough to know what they’re getting into,” they said. “If that’s what they want to do with their lives, it’s their business.”
The vile practice of human trafficking is a profitable one. People in Romania can usually finger the ones who are doing it, and can tell you how quickly they got rich, how many houses and cars they have, and so on. The sad part is that there’s little the police can do, unless abductions are involved. Even then, since the victims are taken to other countries, any moves require close cooperation with police forces in those countries, who may or may not care at all, so authorities are stuck.
Human trafficking is condemned and forbidden by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (also referred to as the Trafficking Protocol), which is a protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The protocol defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
While the UN and many civilized countries condemn the practice, and many celebrities have signed on to the cause of fighting human trafficking, little headway is being made. In part, this is because collaboration between police forces in various countries is difficult, as few protocols with too few teeth are in place for this sort of thing. Also, governmental organizations set up for the purpose of fighting human trafficking are busy bickering among themselves over the definition of human trafficking. Finally, what makes this a difficult fight is that at least where sex trafficking is concerned, the majority of the girls go willingly, because they’re duped into it. Some are even okay with prostitution, though they may not be aware of the real working conditions until it’s too late.
Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. The US estimates the market at up to $9 billion, while the EU laughs at that estimate and states it to be around $42.5 billion. No country, rich or poor, civilized or not, is immune from the problem of human trafficking, which can take many forms, but is most often identified with the exploitation of women and children for the purposes of prostitution.Victims of traffickers are usually transported over state borders, though it’s not a pre-requisite, since they can be also coerced and manipulated in their own countries.
Still, good news exists when it comes to catching the criminals involved in this practice. Just a few years ago, while living in the DC area, I heard that a brothel disguised as a massage parlor, staffed by South-Asian women, was closed down, but not before the investigation revealed that prominent politicians and other men of supposed standing in the local community frequented the place, some quite often. In October of 2009, US authorities broke up a child prostitution ring where 52 children were recovered and 60 alleged pimps were arrested, during a three-day operation, tagged Operation Cross Country IV. Law enforcement actions were taken in 36 cities across 30 FBI divisions nationwide. It was part of the FBI’s ongoing Innocence Lost National Initiative, which was created in 2003 with the goal of ending sex trafficking of children in the United States.
The movie “Taken”, released in 2008, starring Liam Neeson, does a good job of showing what an abduction situation for the purposes of sexual trafficking looks like, how one can begin to tackle the situation, and how entangled the whole web of human trafficking really is, with many interested parties holding significant stakes in the matter, including the police, who are often on the take in order to turn a blind eye toward the matter. In the movie, Brian Mills, the main character, manages to track and save his daughter as she is exchanged through the hands of several captors, though in real life, this seldom happens. I’m not knocking the movie — I loved seeing all those sex traffickers get maimed, tortured and killed, because it’s what should happen to all of them — but the people who do this usually prosper while countless women, children and men suffer at their hands.
The Vancouver Film School also put together a short documentary about human trafficking, which they recently released to the web.
In the end, I think the problem of human trafficking can be tackled along multiple avenues:
- Prostitution and other forms of human trafficking should be made illegal. On one hand, I can understand arguments for making prostitution legal, such as the ability to provide medical care to prostitutes and to check on things a little better. On the other hand, you’d be legalizing a business whose product is the exploitation of women as sex objects. A bad practice shouldn’t be made legal just because some people choose to engage in it.
- The burden of the punishment for human trafficking should be on the shoulders of those who are behind the scenes — not the prostitutes or human slaves themselves, who should be helped to reintegrate into society — but those who organize the business of selling them to the public and “recruiting” them. The human traffickers themselves should bear the heaviest legal punishments that can be meted out, probably on par with murderers. The clients themselves should have to pay significant fines if caught trying to solicit prostitutes or purchase human slaves. Heavy fines are a great deterrent for this sort of thing.
- So that the bickering can stop over the definition of human trafficking and ways to combat it, separate organizations ought to be set up that deal with each category of offenses that have been grouped under this umbrella. In other words, sex crimes ought to have their own set of laws and organizations that fight them, and other kinds of human trafficking offenses ought to be separated under their own sets of laws and organizations. For example, I think someone that sells women as sex slaves ought to be punished differently and more severely than someone who sells men or women into indentured servitude, and someone who sells children into sexual slavery ought to be punished most severely.
These are just a few of my thoughts on the matter, but if you have anything to contribute, please comment below. For more information on human trafficking, please consult the following resources, on which I drew for facts and figures as I wrote this article:
The newly redesigned Kindle from Amazon now comes with both US and International wireless coverage built right in. This means you can use it as you travel in most of the civilized world and not have to worry about internet access. It’ll automatically find a wireless network it can use, you won’t pay anything extra, and it’ll let you browse and get books from Amazon, or deliver your daily newspaper and blog updates to you.
I checked to see if there was coverage in Romania, where I am at the moment, and sure enough, there is. Pretty cool.
Having seen how clunky the 1st generation Kindle looked, I’m glad to see Amazon took the time to re-design it and to build in extra features like this one. Sure, it helps them too, since they get to sell more stuff to you, but I know just how annoying it can be to travel internationally and have to deal with different cellular plans. They put in the work needed to make sure the Kindle would just work wherever there was a serious wireless company available to provide coverage, and that’s definitely not something that happens overnight.
Ann Wizer from XSProject Foundation (as in “excess”) is making custom-designed bags and other products from non-recyclable plastic waste found in Indonesia and the Philippines. She buys the raw materials from trash pickers, whom she pays at above-market rates, and, using trained artisans, creates beautiful products from trash that would be clogging landfills, streets and waterways in those countries.
Through its work, the Foundation is protecting the environment, reducing poverty, and teaching locals how to sustain themselves through the work of their own hands. The end results are beautiful, as you can from the photos and the embedded video below. The cause is noble, the work is noble, the means are innovative, sustainable and ennobling, and so I think Ms. Wizer and her XSProject Foundation deserve our applause for the wonderful work they’re doing.
Embedded video from CNN
Turning trash into usable products (CNN)
* I would have linked to their online catalog of products, but at the time of writing this, it seems to be down.
Images used courtesy of XSProject Foundation.
While most agree that global warming is occurring, they do not agree on the root cause. Some say global warming is caused by man, mainly by CO2 emissions, while others say it is part of a larger picture of cyclical global warming and cooling events that have occurred throughout history. Unfortunately, the debate is mostly one-sided, with man-made global warming proponents getting most of the media coverage, and the cyclical global warming proponents ostracized and denigrated as false scientists.
A new salvo was launched recently against the man-made global warming side, with the publication of an article by Danish professor Henrik Svensmark, entitled “While the Sun Sleeps”. As the title alludes, Mr. Svensmark believes the sun shows reduced magnetic activity and is about to go into a period of hibernation, which means a period of global cooling will likely begin soon. The full translation of the article from Danish to English is available on Anthony Watts’ blog, and I encourage you to read it. Here’s a quote:
“When the Sun is active, its magnetic field is better at shielding us against the cosmic rays coming from outer space, before they reach our planet. By regulating the Earth’s cloud cover, the Sun can turn the temperature up and down. High solar activity means fewer clouds and and a warmer world. Low solar activity and poorer shielding against cosmic rays result in increased cloud cover and hence a cooling. As the Sun’s magnetism doubled in strength during the 20th century, this natural mechanism may be responsible for a large part of global warming seen then.
That also explains why most climate scientists try to ignore this possibility. It does not favour their idea that the 20th century temperature rise was mainly due to human emissions of CO2. If the Sun provoked a significant part of warming in the 20th Century, then the contribution by CO2 must necessarily be smaller.”
As for me, I’m still on the fence about this, but I’m leaning toward what Svensmark says. It makes more sense to me. While there’s little doubt that the Earth has been warming for the past few decades, that weather patterns are screwed up, and that pollution and emissions are running rampant and must be reduced drastically or eliminated where possible, I’m still not sure we’re behind the global warming phenomenon.
What tilts the balance of my opinion further away from man-made global warming is the face being used for the campaign — that of Al Gore. Try as I might, I can’t stomach the guy. When I think about his claim to inventing the internets, and his electricity-chugging lifestyle (which goes in stark contrast to what he’s saying when he speaks publicly), and his face, which just isn’t the face of a man that should be trusted — I’m sorry, I just have to look for more proof before I believe what he’s got to say. I’m also still in shock that the man got a Nobel Prize for the stuff he talks about — after all, he’s little more than a pusher of carbon credits, which are dangerously close to a green, global Ponzi scheme in my book.
Who knows, I might be wrong about Al Gore — he may be genuine for all I know — and in that case, I hope the agenda he and his supporters are pushing goes through, but right now, I believe global warming is cyclical, and only time will tell for sure who’s right.
More importantly, I believe global pollution must be addressed regardless of who’s right and wrong on global warming. Our environment is on the verge of collapse due to all the crap we’ve been pouring into it since the 1800s. Pollution is a real threat to our survival, as countless studies have shown. Let’s do something about that, right away.
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.