Archives for posts with tag: Mutual Respect

“America’s abundance was not created by public sacrifices to “the common good,” but by the productive genius of free men who pursued their own personal interests and the making of their own private fortunes. They did not starve the people to pay for America’s industrialization. They gave the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance—and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

Ayn Rand

OK, she borrowed this idea from Adam Smith, without mentioning him… let bygones be bygones…

A more interesting endeavor would be to learn something from all this.

‘Abundance was not created by public sacrifices’.
Makes a lot of sense. In a free market everybody gets what they are offered, ideally in close accord to what each of them had brought to the market.

‘Abundance was created by the productive genius of free people who pursued their own personal interest and the making of their own private fortunes’.
Now, whose ‘productive genius’ are we speaking about here?

About Ford’s, for instance, or about that of his workers?

At the time, workers could count on about $2.25 per day, for which they worked nine-hour shifts. It was pretty good money in those days, but the toll was too much for many to bear. Ford’s turnover rate was very high. In 1913, Ford hired more than 52,000 men to keep a workforce of only 14,000. New workers required a costly break-in period, making matters worse for the company. Also, some men simply walked away from the line to quit and look for a job elsewhere. Then the line stopped and production of cars halted. The increased cost and delayed production kept Ford from selling his cars at the low price he wanted. Drastic measures were necessary if he was to keep up this production.

Tim Worstall, Forbes Magazine

Anyway you look at it, both Ford and his workers were acting as ‘rational economic agents’. Ford was paying them the going rates in the industry and they were putting in as little effort as they could afford to.

That went on until Ford came up with a ‘new idea’. “It can indeed be cheaper to pay workers more but to reduce the turnover of them and those associated training costs.” “The point is not so as to be paying a “decent wage” or anything of that sort: it is to be paying a higher wage than other employers. That gets your workforce thinking they’ve got a good deal (for the clear reason that they have got a good deal) and if the workers think they’ve got a good deal then they’re more likely to turn up on time, sober, and work diligently.”

Again, a very reasonable attitude displayed by both parties.
An attitude made possible by the fact that both the car and workforce markets were free.
Ford could hire anybody/sell his cars to whomever had enough money to buy them while his workers were free to leave their previous workplaces and accept Ford’s offer. Or leave him if they found a better one.

And let’s not forget the fact that Ford was not alone, at that time. At the turn of the XX-th century there were hundreds of automobile producers in the US alone and this was one of the reasons for which the workers could afford to be so ‘picky’ – specially those who had some experience.

In this situation – where the market was really free, each party taking good care of their own interest yielded excellent results.
Ford had became one of the leading car manufacturing corporations.
The diligent workers continuously improved their living standards.
The society, as a whole, prospered. And learned, or should have had, the long term benefits of commitment and mutual respect.

What happened after the market was no longer free?

Meaning that instead of hundreds of car manufacturers competing for the best available workers we had for a considerable number of years only three corporations more interested in short term profiteering rather than improving their products?
And instead of diligent workers striving to improve their skills we had union members more interested in their week-end barbecues?

“The U.S. government bailout of the auto industry lasted from January 2009 to December 2013. The Big Three automakers approached Congress in November 2008. They warned that, without the bailout, GM and Chrysler faced bankruptcy and the loss of one million jobs. Ford didn’t need the funds, since it had already cut costs. But it asked to be included so it wouldn’t suffer by competing with subsidized companies.

The Treasury Department invested $80.7 billion from the $700 billion authorized by EESA. It recouped all but $10.2 billion…”

Kimberly Amadeo, thebalance.com

Some of you might tell me that the Japanese car manufacturers operate along more or less the same guide-lines. ‘Cradle to grave’ employment for the workers, a rather opaque management never held accountable until too late…
A very correct observation.
Only there is a huge difference between the Japanese work-ethos and ‘the American Dream’. The Japanese have a long history of being told to ‘fit in’ while most Americans have gradually convinced themselves that ‘getting rich’ is the only possible solution for all their problems…

Considering that both Japan and America seem to have reached two different cul-de-sacs it wouldn’t be farfetched to suggest that both are doing something wrong.

For almost 30 years now Japan has been running in circles. She hasn’t completely lost her edge but hasn’t performed as it used to.
The most worrying indicator – for me, at least, being the fact that they have given up ‘making’ children. As if the present generation doesn’t have much hope for/expectations from the future.
For almost 30 years now the American people has allowed a huge trench to grow larger and larger in their mist. The haves on one side, the have-nots on the other and the rift so wide that they are no longer able hear each-other. A present day Henry Ford would have no idea about how much to pay his workers in order to obtain similar results to those achieved at the start of the XX-th century…

Is there a ‘common cause’ that might explain what’s going on on both sides of the Pacific?
How about both cultural and economic spaces experiencing a somewhat similar decrease in individual liberty, the phenomenon having rather different causes in each of the two cases?

First of all, ‘dedication to duty’ can take you only that far. It is very useful for those wishing to ‘close a gap’ but acts similarly to an ankle weight for those who are in the position to attempt to ‘take the lead’. ‘Dedication to duty’ focuses the attention of the team to ‘obeying the rules’ while ‘taking the lead’ means leaving the ‘straight and narrow’ and venturing into the unknown.
These two situations imply completely different mind frames.

Secondly, those who venture outside the ‘safety of the perimeter’ need to follow a simple rule.

“Leave no man behind”.

” “When you have a conscript army and you can always replenish it just by adding more people, you don’t really have to care about whether they’re happy with what they’re doing,” Springer said.

Now the military had to care about its soldiers as individuals, and the idea that it would never leave them behind became something of a familial bond.

“It’s kind of a contract with the service,” Springer said. “You promise to serve us, we promise not to leave you.” “

 

You see, time and time again history has hinted to us that freer societies fared better, ceteris paribus, compared to ‘tighter knit’ ones.
For example, subjected to the same communist knut, Poland came out differently than my native Romania.

And while most people agree about Poland being in a better shape than Romania, there is very little agreement about a possible explanation.
Just as most people agree about ‘liberty is good’ while each of those people derive different meanings from the very concept of freedom.

Since it is so hard to coordinate ourselves about the meaning of a ‘simple’ word, how about taking the liberty to ‘agree to disagree’ and turn our attention to another concept?

Mutual respect.

Just think about what liberty would mean without mutual respect.

Can you imagine the liberty of someone driving a M1 Abrams tank on a highway?
Can you imagine what would happen if the driver of the tank wouldn’t treat the others with utmost respect? What would happen if the outraged others would band together and wait for the ‘mad’ driver to burn through his last drop of fuel?

You see, people who have more respect for the rules than they have for each-other end up belonging to a society so tightly knit that it has immense troubles whenever it has to cope with unforeseen situations. Adapt to change.  Confront a catastrophe…
For example, the Soviet Union, Japan and the US have a considerable number of nuclear power plants and have experienced a number of failures. The tightly knit Soviet Union and Japan have displayed commendable individual acts of heroism in the aftermath of such incidents but it was the more individualistic US who has somehow ‘ducked’ any serious experience of this kind.

On the other hand, I see potential trouble when I hear people stating that “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins”.
On the face of it, this sounds perfectly reasonable.
Only the whole thing absolutely depends on both individuals involved in it having comparable reach. Do you really think that a guy with twice the ‘wing-span’ of his opponent would continue to stick to this rule if the by-standers would not band together to stuff it down his throat?

My point being that no ‘market’ is really free if its freedom relies primarily on a set of rules instead of depending on a healthy dose of sincerely upheld mutual respect among the participants to that market.
In this instance ‘free’ and ‘freedom’ are perfectly interchangeable with functional/sustainable.

The communist centrally planned economies had failed abysmally  simply because the powerfuls of the day had nothing but contempt for those under their rule.
Japan’s strict set of rules about what constitutes proper behavior in each situation seems to act as a brake whenever decisive action is needed.
America’s new mantra, ‘greed is good’, has time and time again produced speculative bubbles which have inevitably ended up badly. Under its spell, the market actually looses every shred of liberty. Exactly as a hypnotized group of people think of themselves as being free while sheepishly obeying the orders of their herder.
I gather you all know what ‘herd behavior’ means…

Compare Ayn Rand’s words to Adam’s Smith original idea.

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

See what I mean?

Smith sees all ‘market goers’ as equals who freely address each other while Rand applauds “the productive genius of free men” who, in pursuit of “their own private fortunes” had the magnanimity to bestow upon “the people better jobs, higher wages, and cheaper goods with every new machine they invented, with every scientific discovery or technological advance”.

I, for one, fail to detect any shred of actual respect towards “the people” in the behavior so laudatory described by Rand.
And I’ll let you be the judge whether her description fits the current ‘state of the nation’.
Anywhere on the planet, not only in the US.

“and thus the whole country was moving forward and profiting, not suffering, every step of the way.”

jobless men keep going

 

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People tend to treat it as if it was a ‘point’.
A theoretical concept that has been put on a table, studied from all angles, found desirable/unacceptable and which is now aggressively marketed by fervent apostles/rejected by ‘die-heart fundamentalists’.

I’m afraid it should rather be treated as a continuum.

People belonging to diverse cultures who freely decide to live together will, sooner rather than later, generate a meta-culture based mainly on intercultural mutual respect.
People belonging to diverse cultures who have to live together, without previously being asked whether they want this to happen or not, will, later rather than sooner, generate a meta-culture fusing together various cultural segments appropriated from the various cultures that were forced to coexist.
I am fascinated by the fact that both ‘extremes’ can happen simultaneously.
Individuals, usually unaware of what is going on, find ways of cooperating with members belonging to other cultures to impose/reject ‘cultural artifacts’ upon/coming from individuals belonging to other cultures.
The key of all this being a simple matter of ‘perception’.
We find it easier to cooperate with people belonging to cultures which we perceive as  ‘friendly’ and to treat with disdain those belonging to cultures which are different enough to be perceived as inferior. Hence ‘unfriendly’.

‘Democracy’ comes from ‘demos’, the Greek word for ‘people’.
Basically a democratic society is  a social arrangement where the people is in charge. Through representatives, as in most cases, or even directly – the Swiss organize referendums whenever they have something really important to decide.

‘Republic’ comes from Latin. ‘Res publica’ means ‘public matters (=issues)’ so a republic can be seen as a social arrangement where everything is out in the open.

Would it make any sense for the public to know everything that is going on if they don’t have any say in the matter? Could democracy work if people are kept in the dark?

So.
In communism the state (in fact the rulers) decide everything – who does what and who gets what.
In socialism there is not much difference from the previous state. (I can vouch for both propositions, I’ve lived under both regimes)
‘Anarchy’ means no rules. If you happen to have two cows you need to defend them constantly, by your own, against anyone who covets them. Remember, anarchy means ‘no rules’ whatsoever. You cannot cherry-pick. I like this rule (property rights are fundamental for me) so this one stays in place while the the rules that I don’t like will be discarded.
As in ‘I won’t respect but the rules I like and I’ll hold everybody else to respect mine’.
That would be an absolutely one sided anarchy. If you’d be able to enforce such an arrangement it would be perceived by everybody else as the most authoritarian regime ever and Stalin would be jealous of your accomplishments.
As I said before ‘democracy’ means people having their say about how things are settled in a that particular society. If people respect each-other you have real democracy. If people band together to decide, against the will of the owner, about the fate of those fabled two cows we can no longer speak about true democracy. That would be ‘mob rule’, just another form of ‘anarchy/authoritarianism’. One ‘organized’ by a ruler who is a callous spin doctor skilled enough in his trade to make a considerable portion of the population follow him, usually against their better interests.

I was just speaking about the mutual respect that exists among the members of a truly democratic society…. I have a distinct feeling that those who promote this meme think of themselves as being ‘the true democrats’… I’m not a religious person myself, not in the classic sense of the word anyway. But I won’t ever think of a religious person as being ‘ignorant’ based solely on his creed and I’ll never refer to him using such a word, regardless of his level of education. One of the reasons being that if I ‘indulge’ in such a barbarism he’ll never listen to me again.
Why should he? To get some more abuse from me?

Now lets get this straight.
Mutual respect is absolutely essential for democracy.
There can be no such thing as mutual respect among individuals whose goals are mutually exclusive.
This meme actually doesn’t make much sense. No matter how well armed the lamb is, a determined wolf would eventually sink its fangs in the lamb’s sweet flesh so a rational lamb would do his best to shoot the wolf at the first opportunity. What kind of democracy are we speaking about here?

Most governments don’t get this. You can stretch it only that far. At some point, no matter how authoritarian the regime, people will take to the street.
This doesn’t mean that democracy will automatically be installed after a public uprising, far from it. The Arab Spring is only the latest example.
It only means that people have it in themselves to try to improve their lot. If they find a way to do this together then the sky’s the limit.
And this is a fact. Only the democratic America successfully landed a man on the Moon. The Soviet Union was the first to start this game but wasn’t able to keep up.

Yeah? And what are bragging about here?
About not finding a candidate to suit your wishes AND not doing anything about this situation?
How about running yourself? Or at least going there and annulling your ballot…
If you do not vote at all the political establishment will consider that you are either content with what is going on or so despondent as to not care anymore. So why should they even consider your plight? In which direction should they change their behavior in order to suit your needs if you don’t express them when you have the chance?

Really? Is he indeed unable to make distinction between democracy and mob rule?
‘Democracy in and of itself is not necessarily a good thing’…
I’m afraid he didn’t get the gist of it!
Real (=functional, stable over long periods of time) democracy IS good while mob rule IS bad. Period.

So, any chance for this cute fellow to have nailed it?

Close but there is space for improvement so I’ll try to rephrase this.
A democratic system invariable becomes weak/unstable if the general public becomes complacent and the power is grabbed by short-sighted but arrogant and callous spin doctors who, by eviscerating the true nature of democracy, transform the concept into an empty shell. This way the democratic process becomes a beauty pageant and an erstwhile democracy becomes a subtle dictatorship.

The strangest part of all this is that exactly those who should have known better – the professional politicians and some members of the academia – are the first to fall into the trap.

 

At some point the significant individual involved in a situation will have to make the relevant decision.

And here comes the difference between a human and a horse.

The horse will wait until it becomes thirsty, no matter how ample opportunities to drink would present themselves before him while the human will first make sure that the water is safe to drink and only then decide what to do: drink pre-emptively, fill a flask, take a nap by the spring…

The point I’m trying to make here is that while animals, no matter how ‘sophisticated’, act according to their instincts (or ‘training’) we humans sometimes act instinctively/emotionally and some other times ‘rationally’ – we ‘identify opportunities’ and try to use them to further our goals.

And here lies the watershed…

Our ‘rational’ decisions can be good or bad and there is no real way to tell before hand which is which. Hence the ‘primum non nocere‘ (“first do no harm”) rule used by the professional healers of this world.
The problem with our rationality is that we  never have all the pertinent information at our disposal, enough time to process whatever information we do have nor the wisdom to realize the first two limitations. And this is why we too often proceed as if those two limitations never existed….

Why haven’t we failed miserably until now? (Miserably enough as to never be able to stand up again or to finally learn the lesson?)
Because we relied heavily on ‘tradition’/’religion’. Usually these two are taken together but I prefer to treat them separately. You see, it is true that both of them are nothing but information accumulated in time as a result of the social cooperation that takes place even without us being aware of it but there is a fundamental difference between them.
‘Tradition’ usually has to do with ‘technology’, the way we do things, while ‘religion’ (which comes from the Latin word ‘reliegare’ = ‘connecting to’) is mostly about sharing a common understanding of the world and acting, collectively, according to that ‘Weltaunschauung’.

And here comes the interesting part. Being the member of a certain religious cult/church is nothing but a set of circumstances. Each individual is ultimately/personally responsible for the path he chooses ‘inside’ his religious tradition, for the way he interprets/acts upon the religious teachings he has received during his upbringing.

moderate Islam

And this is exactly why I am in full agreement with Erdogan: “There is no moderate Islam. Islam is Islam”.
You see, I grew up in communist Romania and in those times we had a saying that went like this: “it’s not the “ism” but the “ist” who causes the trouble!”.

When placed in a certain situation some people act naturally – they drink if they feel thirsty – or they may decide to use whatever opportunity they identify in order to further their goals.
You can study communism in a library or conspire to impose it on people exactly as you can practice Islam in your community or try to impose it by force to all your neighbors.
It’s neither  ‘communism’s nor ‘Islam’s fault, it’s the communists who cannot understand that communism doesn’t work and the hard-line Islamists who fail to understand  that by acting exactly as the Catholic Inquisitors did during the Dark Ages they’ll eventually drive their flock away from their pulpits.

The real problems arise from the arrogance that blinds those “ists”, individuals so ‘concentrated’ on their self-assumed/assigned goals (no matter if they are well intended, like trying to spread – by force – the wealth around and to – administratively – reduce social inequality, or on the contrary – obsessed with becoming filthy rich at the expense of everybody else and/or accumulating dictatorial power over those around them) that they forget/fail to realize that human rationality is inherently limited. And so they fail to understand that ‘the law of unintended consequences’ will eventually bring them back down to where they belong – with a bang!

There are three sets of social circumstances that these kind of ruthless ‘political actors’ perceive as opportunities: inflamed nationalistic feelings, strong religious beliefs, wide spread social malaise due to economic hardships.

For instance the French Revolution (remember, today is Bastille Day) was fueled by the desperation that ‘doused’, at that time, the French people. They were not only hungry but they also felt abandoned/neglected by their rulers. Marie-Antoinette, the French Queen beheaded during the Revolution, was described as being so callous/ignorant of the real life of her subjects that when informed that her people didn’t have enough bread she interjected: ‘Let them eat cake instead!’
Some historians debate whether this really happened, one of their arguments being that the same words have been attributed to many other historical figures that lived before her but the simple fact that the utterance itself was so widely circulated remains and speaks volumes.
A century later Lenin was able to manipulate the same kind of public sentiment and imposed the Soviet rule over the Russian imploded empire while Ataturk, the leader of the Young Turks, fashioned the freshly minted Turkish nationalism into the glue that held together, until recently, the modern – and secular – Turkish state that succeed the ailing Turkish empire by 1925. It is often forgotten but if we really want to understand Turkey we should always remember that until the late XIX-th century it still was a feudal empire and the social costs of such a short/hasty transformation into a modern nation state were tremendous. Unfortunately in the last decade Erdogan has been working hard, with the unwitting help of the Euro-skeptics who reject Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, to replace secular, and relatively moderate, nationalism with religious zealotry as the backbone of the Turkish republic.
Coming back into Central Europe we have the classic example of how Hitler used nationalistic tensions exacerbated by the economic crises deepened by the unwisely imposed war reparations to implement his demented dream of a Reich that was supposed to last for a thousand years.

The same process is happening again, under our own noses. This time all three ‘components’ are present. The economy of the region is in shambles, arguably because of foreign intervention, nationalistic tensions are rife while religious ones are heated way beyond boiling point.
So why wonder that the al-Baghdadi led Isis uses Islam as a pretext to impose a new dictatorship in a region that has no real need for another one?

“Though al-Baghdadi constantly invokes the early history of Islam, the society he envisions has no precedent in history. It’s much more like the impossible state of utopian harmony that western revolutionaries have projected into the future. Some of the thinkers who developed radical Islamist ideas are known to have been influenced by European anarchism and communism, especially by the idea that society can be reshaped by a merciless revolutionary vanguard using systematic violence. The French Jacobins and Lenin’s Bolsheviks, the Khmer Rouge and the Red Guards all used terror as a way of cleansing humanity of what they regarded as moral corruption.

Isis shares more with this modern revolutionary tradition than any ancient form of Islamic rule. Though they’d hate to hear it, these violent jihadists owe the way they organise themselves and their utopian goals to the modern West. And it’s not just ideas and methods that Isis has taken from the West. Western military intervention gave Isis its chance of power.”

Now it’s up to us. Just as our great fathers used the opportunity presented to them at the end of WWII and helped Germany refashion itself, both economically and socially, by including it in the Marshall Plan instead of making it pay for the rebuilding of the war ravaged Europe we should try to help the peoples in the Middle East find their own respective ways instead of impose on them whatever we might think it would be better for them. And I mean real help, not just let/prod them fight each other to exhaustion.
In fact it would serve our interests also.
The Balkans were considered the powder keg of Europe and indeed the tensions accumulated there helped ignite the WWI. After communism imploded those tensions resurfaced precisely because the previous arrangements were imposed, more or less, from ‘above’. Exactly as the map of the Middle East was drawn by Sykes-Picot.
No, I’m not advocating wholesale dismantling of borders, as it happened in ex-Yugoslavia. If they find a way, by themselves, to preserve the present situation we should encourage and help them to do so. But we should never try to impose something on them just because we consider it would serve our (short term at best) interests.

Lebanon might serve as a good example, both to them and to us.

It won’t be simple, every major power has vested interests there, including Russia, but it can, and should, be done. Specially since the the alternative would be horrible.

I ran across this article published by CNS News.

Unusual Answer from Panelist Receives Standing Ovation at Benghazi Coalition Meeting.

It is about a meeting organized by Heritage Foundation to discuss the terrorist attack that took place in in Benghazi  in 2012.
At some point a young ‘Muslim student’ asked “…how can we fight an ideological war with weapons? How can we ever end this war? The jihadist ideology that you talk about – it’s an ideology. How can we ever end this thing if we don’t address it ideologically?”.
One of the panelists answered her that ‘there might be some 75% peaceful Muslims in the world but this is of no consequence: they follow the lead of the extremists, they don’t make their voices heard and, because of that, ‘the peaceful majority are irrelevant’ ‘. The panelist’s answer was received with standing ovations.

I’m afraid those people are making a huge mistake.

For those of you who don’t have time to read the article I’ll summarize the arguments used by Brigitte Gabriel, the panelist:
– The Germans are known as peaceful people yet the Nazis imposed their agenda and provoked horrible massacres.
– The Russians are normally peaceful people yet the Communists among them caused tens of millions of deaths, among their own people, without significant protest from the general population.
– The same happened in China.
– The otherwise peaceful Japanese allowed the militarists to take power and to start a war (the Pacific ‘portion’ of the WWII) in which another 12 million people found their death, “mostly killed by bayonets and shovels.”
– “On September 11th in the United States we had 2.3 million Arab Muslims living in the United States. It took 19 hijackers – 19 radicals – to bring America to its knees, destroy the World Trade Center, attack the Pentagon and kill almost 3000 Americans that day,” Gabriel said. “So for all our power of reason, and for all us talking about moderate and peaceful Muslims, I’m glad you’re here. But where are the others speaking out?” Gabriel asked.
The people in attendance began to applaud.”

First of all we need to differentiate between the two situations presented here.
The Germans, the Japanese and the “19 radicals” committed acts of international aggression while the Russians and the Chinese allowed themselves to be overrun by ‘misguided’ people.
Not at all the same thing.
On the other hand the German and Japanese examples are extremely interesting. A significant number of historians agree that the WWII was produced, at least in part, by the manner in which the defeated Germany was treated after WWI – they were imposed crippling war reparations which burdened Germany during the Great Depression so heavily as to produce the set of social circumstances that allowed Hitler to accede to power. This lesson was well understood so after the WWII Germany was included in the Marshal plan instead of made to pay for it. As a consequence we had, since then, 69 years if uninterrupted peace in Europe.
Japan was a ‘closed society’ until Commodore Perry forcefully ‘opened’ it in 1854, at first for trade and then to other western influences: Centralized state administration, modern army, modern management and technology, etc. And in those times the Japanese were treated, by the ‘white people’, with a ‘healthy dose’ of disdain, just as all the other non-European nations were. After the WWII all this has changed and nowadays the ‘peaceful majority’ of the Japanese have found a way, with a lot of help received from the Americans, to build a democratic society not at all different from what can be currently found in Western Europe and in North America.
Something rather similar happened with the Chinese. After Nixon went there and started to treat them as partners they basically stopped killing each-other.
But, unfortunately, this change of attitude didn’t come about between the West and Russia after the end of the Cold War. For instance we call the Ukrainian rebels  ‘pro-Russian’. Are they of any real service to Russia or to the Russian people? On the contrary… Somehow the old habit of blaming the entire Russian people for actions perpetrated by their leaders survived. Maybe because we can no longer understand the workings of a non-democratic society…since we are so accustomed with censuring our leaders.

So…

My point is that of course we have to defend ourselves from the direct actions of the ‘radicals’ – ‘shoot back’, effectively and efficiently, when ever somebody attacks us. Yet there is something else we dearly need to do, at the same time. Find a way to connect, in a respectful manner, with the ‘peaceful, yet silent, majorities’. They are “irrelevant” only as long as we treat them with the same disdain they are receiving from their own rulers. Even worse, confronted with two different kinds of disdain they’ll naturally prefer the one they are accustomed with – the one displayed by their own rulers – so if we keep packing together radicals with peaceful people and treat them as one the result will be that we’ll have to deal with an ever increasing number of radicalized ex-peaceful individuals. I propose we learn something from our parents, the ones who found a way to change the atmosphere between them and the German and the Japanese people. And since we pretend to be wiser – as all children do – than our parents were, how about doing this without wagging all-out wars? (Unless attacked, off course)

japanese kids earthquake

israeli kids rockets

 

Japanese kids learn what to do when earthquake strikes while Israeli kids learn how to deal with incoming rockets.
When are we, the grown ups, going to learn?

Initially politics was an activity. “Was” and not “were” because it was something in which every concerned citizen played an part, a collective effort. Oh, I forgot to tell you that this happened in Ancient Greece during what we now call the ‘first stage of democracy’.

Then, after a little less than two millennia, it became an occupation. People who had successful careers behind them were deemed trustworthy by the rest of the community and elected into government positions. The countries which used this ‘democratic mechanism’ thrived: the US, Britain, France, …to name just a few of them.

Lately politics have become a profession. People study it in Universities and engage in it without any prior experience outside the field. I believe you all know what ‘community organizer‘ means, right?

No, I’m not going to discuss this notion right now. The results can be both good or bad, exactly as it happens with almost all human professions: both Mengele and Albert Schweitzer were MDs…

For now I’ll refrain myself to observing that people have less and less tolerance for digression on the part of the politicians.

“Nicholas Sarkozy arrested over corruption allegations”

Gerhard Schroeder, lionized in his time for cutting down to size the German welfare state is now widely criticized for his involvement with GAZPROM.

Silvio Berlusconi is serving time, disguised as ‘community service’, for tax evasion.

Need I go on?

And this is happening in what we call ‘democratic countries’. In other places former rulers are stabbed to death  or brought to justice in a cage.

In fact we have indeed progressed, as a species. The last time the French got really pissed off by their leaders quite a few people lost their heads…

The most disturbing thing in all this is that the politicians were supposed to be the ones capable/willing of doing ‘the good thing’ AND professional enough as not to exaggerate in anything they do….

Is there anything to be done about all this?

How about upping the ante?

I keep hearing ‘we need a strong leader’ or ‘we need more true leaders’. Are we really sure about that? Leaders would do almost anything to take us where THEY see fit.
How about politicians acting as ‘administrators’?
Right now politics is played, in a lot of places, as a beauty pageant. Would be rulers (leaders) come up-stage to make promises and we choose the ‘best-looking’ charmer. After a while he unfailingly fails so we ‘boo’ him out of office.
Switzerland, for instance, has another way of doing things. They talk a lot more among themselves, many ideas are put forward and then some of them get to become policies and other get dumped.
When have you last heard about a Swiss political leader or about a Swiss political scandal?

intelligent design

 

So this is what ‘intelligent design’ is about!

In fact it’s funny even if rather inappropriate since pigs appeared on the face of the Earth long after dinosaurs went extinct.

Thanks to “I fucking love science” for this subject and for the cartoon.

urine powered generator

So what do we have here?

Four crafty teenage Nigerian girls have put together an ingenuous rig for a ‘science and technology’ fair.

“The system works like this:

Along the whole way there are one-way valves for security, but let’s be honest that this is something of an explosive device…”

A well meaning ‘eager beaver’ journalist wanting to help promote their exploit  has branded the whole contraption as an ‘urine powered generator’.

An then the hell broke loose:

It is all over the Internet and news, three Nigerian school girls have invented a urine-powered generator that can produce electricity for 6 hours from a single litre of urine!

Really? Sadly, no.

I can’t find an original source for this story, where did it come from? [was it here?] Are there really some Nigerian school girls with a urine-powered generator or is this just a hoax? Either way, all those journalists that repeated the story really should be ashamed of themselves, it is so obviously wrong and/or untrue.”

 

I’m not in the business of apportioning blame all over the internet but after finding out about this succession of events I started to have serious doubts about who is wrong and who should be ashamed of themselves….

I’m sure that most of you have already understood where I’m headed to but please bear with me.

So OK, the ‘eager beaver’ has indeed stretched the reality a little bit. It’s not an ‘urine powered generator’ but an ingenuous ‘science project’ presented by some teen age students.
So what was it that brought the wrath of the ‘eco-scammer’ on those ‘poor’ girls? Or even on the writer of the original article…
Who, and where, claimed that the contraption produced more energy than it consumed? Yes, those arguments involving thermodynamics and all that scientific mambo-jumbo that he is mentioning inside his article are absolutely correct (“trust me, I’m an engineer”, a real one that is) but perfectly misplaced.
As is the original title but while that title is an innocent exaggeration the second article is a malicious  (or myopic?) and undeserved rebuttal.

Getting back to what had started all this, that ‘thing’ is not a ‘generator’ but can be used as an accumulator!
Solar panels produce energy when the sun is up but people need light at night, obviously.
Even more importantly, solar panels produce a type of current (DC) which can be used to ‘split’ water into hydrogen and oxygen and to light a special kind of bulb but for little else. If you want to power a ‘modern appliance’, a refrigerator for instance, you need an inverter – a pricy device that transforms DC into AC.
On the other hand the type of gas powered generator used by those crafty students is relatively cheap and common enough almost everywhere in the world. Adapting it to run on hydrogen is easy, this feat was not even mentioned in the original article.

So the real meaning of what those 4 girls did is that they came up with a way to replace a costly scheme comprising a lot of batteries and an inverter with a gas bottle, an already largely available gas powered generator, an electrolytic cell and two filters.

Not a small feat, by any means!
If you take some time to think about it, of course.

And yes, there are four girls that did this, not three like the ‘eco-scammer’, who probably didn’t even bother to read the original article, wrote insouciantly after merely taking a glance at the photo that came with the inappropriately titled  news.

The original story can be read here: http://makerfaireafrica.com/2012/11/06/a-urine-powered-generator/
and the ‘eco-scammer’ rebuttal here: http://www.eco-scams.com/archives/790

 

no piggy back

For some 30 years now the western press is periodically awash with news about the impending doom that is going to engulf China. If not now then soon, very soon.

While I’m not particular fond of the Chinese communists – every political force that enjoys monopolistic control over the space where it resides eventually becomes too rigid and looses ability to cope with the day to day challenges – I must give them what is theirs.

By drawing from the rich experience of the Imperial China the current rulers have learned something. Don’t push it unnecessarily hard, don’t appear to be callous when there is no need for such thing. Not because it would be immoral or anything like that but because it is ‘a mistake’ to do such a thing.

In most countries if something like that would have happened it would have meant that the ordinary people were getting fed with the callousness of the government officials and that generalized riots will follow. Like what happened in Tunisia at the start of the Arab spring.
In  China when ever something like this grabs the attention of the public eye the ‘Party’ springs into action and promptly punishes the perpetrator instead of trying to shield him/cover up for him. This way the ‘Party’ preserves it role in the society and makes sure it remains relevant.

So please put those doom scenarios on hold, at least for as long as things like that will continue to be severely sanctioned by the ubiquitous ‘Party’.

Click here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2666147/No-free-rides-Chinese-government-worker-sacked-picture-emerges-riding-employees-flood-avoid-getting-wet.html if you want to read the whole story and thanks Veooz http://www.veooz.com/news/WHHU7ev.html for the picture

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