Thursday, December 11, 2008

J.R. Moehringer - The Tender Bar

This book is just great. J.R. grew up without a father, and looking for male models, he found the fellowship of the men at The Tender Bar. The way he writes about these people makes you know them, and love them, just as much as he does.

The book is about people, but also the hard work of growing up. Being so attached to a bar J.R. makes a good job. Reading the last pages I had tears in my eyes, due to the pure beauty of what he writes.

There are a lot of memorable passages. About his father not being cut to be a father, but J.R. wanting to be a father's son (p.150). He says farewell saying "You drive like nuns fuck".

A priest gives advice (p202): "Do you know why God invented writers? Because He loves a good story. And He doesn't give a damn about words. Words are the curtain we've hung between Him and our true selves. Try not to think about the words. Don't strain for the perfect sentence. There's no such thing. Writing is guesswork. Every sentence is an educated guess, the reader's as much as yours. Think of that the next time you curl a piece of paper into your typewriter." (This makes me think of the way of mastery, how you can master a thing only when you no longer have to think about it.)

J.R. makes a mistake writing an article and is all upset. Until Bob the Cop tells a story and ends it with: "Honest mistake. Like I told you, that's why they put erasers on pencils. But J.R., believe me. They do not put erasers on guns." (The USA, hello!?)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thomas Cleary - The japanese art of war

This is a book about japanese mentality, trying to explain why japanese and western cultures often clash. Some parts, where he goes into psychological explanations, are written in an inaccessible way. But what I like about this book is the quotations from old masters, before the original ideas of eg Buddhism and Zen got distorted and simplified. The overview of Japan's history is very interesting too.

The art of war, as it is called, can be used to achieve anything. It is a guideline for politics, war, craft - basically for life. It is fascinating how ideas dating centuries ago are still valid, but nowadays often seem to be forgotten:

Huainanzi: "There are no wasted people and no wasted things." (p27)

Musashi: "Amateuristic martial arts are a source of serious wounds." (p25)

The art of doing something well is to not think - to master whatever it is so well that you can do it without thinking (p28). Thinking screws things up, basically. (This is an important part of the way of mastery, see my coming entry about that.)

Takuan (p29): "You need to realize that when you practice from the state of the beginner all the way to the stage of immutable wisdom, then you must go back to the status of the beginner again. ... As a beginner you know nothing... you just fight without thinking of anything... But if you practice day after day and month after month, eventually stance and swordplay don't hang on your mind anymore, and you are like a beginner who knows nothing. ... Completely ignorant people don't show their wits, it seems, because they haven't got any. Highly developed intelligence doesn't hide because it has already gone into hiding. It is because of pseudo-erudition that intelligence goes to one's head, a ludicrous sight."

(p32) "As the testaments of Yagyu and Musashi illustrate, warriors followed the Zen teaching on emptying the mind for several purposes: one was to learn the secret of learning itself; another was to learn to act with spontaneous efficiency, free from doubt, hesitation, and fear, in whatever circumstances they might find themselves; they wanted to see realities independently, without extraneous influences; and they wanted to learn to see things before they happened, to make themselves invulnerable to enemies and become masters of their own fate."

Musashi attempted to establish a basis for rounding out the personality of the warrior (p38):
1. Think of what is right and true.
2. Put the science into practice.
3. Become acquainted with the arts.
4. Become acquainted with the crafts.
5. Understand the negative and positive qualitiesin everything.
6. Learn to see everything accurately.
7. Become aware of what is not obvious.
8. Be careful even in small matters.
9. Don't do anything useless.

Shosan (p45): "Be aware of yourself and know yourself. No matter how much you have learned and how much you know, if you don't know yourself you don't know anything. Indeed, if you don't know yourself you cannot know anything else. People who don't know themselves criticize others from the point of view of their own ignorant selves. They consider whatever agrees with them to be good, and hate whatever doesn't go their way. They become irritated about everything, causing themselves to suffer by themselves, bothering themselves solely because of their own prejudices. If you know that not everyone will be agreeable to you, know that you won't be agreeable to everyone either. Those who have no prejudice in themselves do not reject people, and therefore people do not reject them."

Shosan (p47): "Fools disregard their lives for sake of desires. Even though they trouble themselves mentally and physically by their cravings, they are never satisfied, and yet they never give up."

Shosan again (p50): "When people forget they are going to die, and act as if they think they are going to live forever, they do not fully appreciate and utilize the passing months and years. As long as they are like this, they only act on greed, anger and falsehood, turning away from social and family duties, not understanding human kindness and obligation, employing flattery and cajolery, neglecting home and work for useless hobbies and amusements."

Shosan (p51): "Both Buddhist and social principles are nothing but the application of genuine honesty, making reasoning accurate and action just."

Superficiality is bad, "thought of as a loss, or alienation from the autonomy of the 'original mind', which Zen teachings identify with 'buddha nature'. (p54)

In "modern" teachings, speed has often been associated with spontaneity. This is wrong, however. Speed doesn't come from automatic reactions, but from "the precise awakened response of fluid awareness as originally developed in authentic Zen." (p59) (D.T. Suzuki seems to be one of the culprits.) The idea is to not set your mind on anything - not your own body, not the opponent, not any weapon used - but to keep it free, "fluid", ready to be used wherever needed, but never linger on anything. "It is not quickness of action but immediacy of attention that makes this possible, the Zen master [Takuan] writes, emphasizing freedom of mind." (p58)
Takuan continues (p64): "The mind that stays fixed in one place doesn't work freely. A wheel turns precisely because it isn't fixed. if it is stuck in one place, it won't turn. The mind won't work either when it is fixed in one place."

An interestin difference between japanese and chinese culture is pointed at on page 69. The legitimacy of revolution against tyranny is clearly defined in native classical philosophy, where the doctrine of killing one tyrant to save many people from oppression can be traced far back in history. (Makes you wonder when the Communists of China will finally be exterminated, doesn't it?) In Japan, on the other hand, the Shinto bias of political thought represented the ruling classes as racially superior.

Continuing the thoughts about not letting your mind linger, Yagyu says (p74): "The immovable or imperturbable mind is normal. If something comes at your eyes, you blink. This is the state of not being upset. The essential point is just not losing the normal state of mind. To try not to move is to have moved. To move is an immovable principle."

Musashi continues further, describing the warrior's postures of balance (p78): "Even when you are still, your mind is not still, even when hurried, your mind is not hurried. The mind is not dragged by the body, the body is not dragged by the mind. Pay attention to the mind, not the body. Let there be neither insufficiency nor excess in your mind. Even if superficially weakhearted, be inwardly stronghearted, and don't let others see into your mind."

"Because of the extremely long duration of military rule in Japan, the balance in Bushido between Zen and the art of the advantage seems to have tilted decidedly to the latter. ... This book therefore turns from Zen for warriors to the topic of pure strategy." "The 36 chambers", or strategies, are listed starting at page 87. The author is unknown, but he was a master warrior in the classic tradition of The Art of War.

(p93) The Taoist classic Tao Te Ching says, "Knowers don't generalize, generalizers don't know."

"To be sure, the myths of the difficulty of the japanese thinking have contributed most of all to their own authentication. ... their creation and maintenance are among the thirty-six classical strategies..."

On page 96, the subject of moral is touched again: "When people lack a constant means of livelyhood, they lack psychological stability. When they are desperate, people steal. When society is not functioning properly and people are cold and hungry, there can be no end to crime." Well, this explains it all, doesn't it? The riots in Greece, the crimes in the USA and the stability of eg Sweden. The society has to be fare. In fact, in Japan, "a great deal of thought is given to extenuating circumstances in criminal cases". (p97) Maybe this is why the crime rate in Japan is so low?

On page 98, the virtue of modesty touched: "It is best not to pretend to know all about everything. Even if thay do know something, cultivated people do not advertise the fact... When ignorant people make assessments of others and think that they know what others know, they cannot be right. For example, when someone who lacks intelligence but is good at chess sees intelligent people who are not as good at chess, he thinks they are not as smart as he is. And when he sees people who are skilled at all sorts of arts but don't know how to play chess, he thinks he is better than they are. This is a big mistake." "In all actions and attitudes, success is based on singleminded seriousness, while failure is based in whimsicality."

On page 99, Total Quality Control, TQC, is mentioned. This is an important part of the japanese industrial success. An example is given learning archery: "Beginners shouldn't hold two arrows, because counting on the second arrow results in carelessness with the first."

I'm writing about the silliness of believing in any Deist religion ("the case just isn't strong enough") in my entry about The God delusion, but this early writing by the Japanese about the religion the Portuguese tried to shove down their throats is straight out fun (p102):
"According to what I hear of the Christian teaching, there is a great Buddha called Deus, who is the one sole Buddha, master of the universe and lord over all. This is the creator of the universe and all beings. This Buddha came into the world in some foreign land to save people sixteen hundred years ago. His name was Jesus Christ. Ignorant of this, they say, other countries honor the worthless Amida Buddha and Gautama Buddha, the height of folly.
Refutation: If Deus, as the master of the universe, created all lands and all beings, why has that Deus hitherto neglected countless nations, not appearing among them?
Ever since heaven and earth were opened, the buddhas of past, present, and future have emerged over and over again to liberate beings. How many hundred of millions of years would you say this has been going on? What basis of proof is there for saying that Deus never appeared in such-and-such country?
If Deus is the master of the universe, he is sure doing a slipshot job of it if he lets a multitude of the nations he has created be taken over by subsidiary buddhas, suffering them to spread their teachings to liberate beings, ever since the opening of heaven and earth. This Deus is indeed a foolish buddha.
Furthermore, they say that Jesus Christ came into the world and was crucified by ordinary men of the lower world. This is the master of the universe? How could anything be so illogical?
The Christians do not know the unified enlightened state of the true likeness of original awareness. In their ignorance they have taken over one buddha to worship. Their fault in coming to this country to spread devilish teachings and false principles cannot avoid the punishment of Heaven.
There are many ignorant people who cannot understand such simple logic, and throw their lives away out of reverence for that teaching. Is this not a national disgrace? One hardly dare mention what this does to our international reputation."

(p105): "What the Christians teach, on the other hand, is focused solely on a view of the reality of existence, which increases thoughts, worries, and conscious emotions, leading them to to make up a 'creator of the universe', thus reinforcing the habits that make them revolve in mundane routines, while believing this to be the way of enlightenment." Hello!? No wonder so many people is the West is walking around depressed while going to a shitty job and doing "what has to be done"! A tale is quoted in the book, "illustrating the Buddhist teaching that formulations of doctrine are provisional expedients designed to provoke special perceptions, not to be elevated to the status of absolute truths. Everyone is aware that purely subjective impressions and feelings cannot be exactly conveyed in words; Zen teaching takes this to the limit by insisting that the experience of the clarified mind cannot be understood just by descriptions of procedures or results, but must be verified in direct experience."

Some thoughts about nature (p108): "The Shinto relationship of humanity to the environmentis through a feeling of gratitude to the world of energy and matter as mush as for it; the Western Christian relationship is based more completely on a kind of gratitude for the material world, not to it."
The Japanese have a mush closer relationship with the nature than the West has (p111). Christians believe only humans have souls, which Buddhists think is a very cruel and merciless way of thought.

(p115) While the West tends to think about sides, that think they are opposed to one another, from a Buddhist point of view, this makes little sense, as it is not a people or a system as such but the alliance of ignorance, greed, and aggression that is the same problem everywhere.

Finally, to round it off, some sex (p118):
"Several symptoms of alienation of the sexes, all commonly noted by observers of Japan, are linked to this militaristic suppression that began in earnest eight centuries ago: simultaneously stimulated and repressed sexuality, a resulting undercurrent of violence, and acute manifestations of these phenomena in the form of sadomasochism, are quite evidently products of extended military domination. Similar phenomena can be seen in all societies when they are in militaristic phases of their development."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Do the Swedes have balls at all?

I admit I thought Reagan was cool back in the days, but I defend myself by saying I was just a kid. Luckily I didn't stay a kid, but studied the world we live in, the history we have and learned from my mistakes.

That's why I've looked with a growing sense of disgust on how Swedes look up to the USA. It's true it used to be a country that you could look up to - The New Deal and The Marshall Plan to name two examples. Before the negative effects of an economy where people are left on their own was known, it looked like a marvellous place where anybody could succeed. But with the facts at hand we know it's not good having a government that doesn't give a shit about its citizens. That companies shall not be supported by the government. That a system that leads to great divides grows greed, which in the end leads to a society where any thing and any body can be bought.

Now that the "Freedom" of the USA has proven to be a very bad strategy, where the greedy businesses crumble, shocked that chasing for easy fast bucks wasn't a sustainable strategy (they even beg the Swedish government for money!), where people realize that living on borrowed money isn't a sustainable way of life, you might think that also Swedes have come to their senses. But no. What do I read in one of the biggest swedish newspapers, Svenska Dagbladet? One of these Hale-the-USA "liberal" idiots who wants swedish politicians to be bought as well. Makes me want to believe in God and Hell and eternal suffering...

But why is this??? Why do so many people still think the USA is so great? Because the USA have the biggest guns? Because they're not capable of realizing or admitting a mistake? Because they're conservative non-thinkers? Because they too got blinded by greed? Because they haven't got the balls to stand up against "the greatest nation on Earth"???

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

You can't rely on borrowed money alone

I like this mess. Everybody is scrared, screaming, clinging on to cash, not understanding what the hell happened. Well, reality struck back.

For the past 20-30 years most of the "gain" of economy has been built on borrowed money. Companies borrowed more in order to increase the ROI. Private persons could borrow more and more as the value of their housing rose and the credit in general became available everywhere. Why not by a 42" plasma TV, I don't need to pay it until next year! Why not buy a car, the bank is willing to give me the money!

This is not economic growth, this is living on money that does not exist. Well, sure, right then you could have made a fortune selling your house, but you never did. So did that money ever exist, really? I'm not going to go as far as some left-wing people claiming it's all fake money, that most of the money we see is not real. Look at "The truth about Central banks oppression" and "Failing monetary system" for some loony examples. But sure enough, they have a point, after all.

You can't rely on borrowed money alone. As long as everything goes well it's not a problem. But since much of the value in the system actually isn't real (somebody says your house is worth a million, but if you don't sell it, how do you know?). The bank trust you to borrow a certain sum of money only because they think you could get that much for it if you sold it. But if they suddenly, for whatever reason, don't believe you can get it, you're in trouble. Because the whole system relies on trust. There used to be silly amount of trust, banks etc were just throwing money at you. But now suddenly there is no trust left at all. Not anywhere. But has anything really changed? No.

The only thing that happened was that the trust died. Well, it didn't die totally. After all the whole monetary system is based on trust, so if the trust totally died money would be worthless. We'd be back in a barter trade system. Now, that would be a disaster!

We're nowhere near such a disaster, though. We only see a correction of the values, down to more reasonable levels. Finally!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Richard Dawkins - The God delusion

This is the book to read for any one that persists on believing on a God, or just wants to make up his/hers mind. The case is just too thin - after reading this book it's amazing that any one actually has ever believed in the crap. I mean, the Japanese saw through it centuries ago (see The japanese art of war for some eye-opening views on Christianity). I guess the only reasons why people still cling on to these silly ideas are to be found in our brains (see Stumbling on happiness for fascinating facts about how our brains deceive us).

For those wanting arguments against deism, please read this book.

In the preface to the paperback edition Dawkins mentions another reason why people cling to religion: "...that they have been let down by our educational system and don't realize that non-belief is even an option. This is certainly true of most people who think they are creationists. They have simply not been properly taught Darwin's astounding alternative."

On page 28 Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, is quoted: "When one person suffers from delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from delusion it is called Religion."

Darwin writes about Einstein, known for sayings like "God does not play dice". On a quick glance it might look like Einstein was a believer, but Darwin claims otherwise. Back in those days (even today in many parts of the world) it wasn't possible to say you were a non-believer and still be taken seriously, and Einstein played along, using God in his sayings only metaphorically.

Dawkin is quite upset with the fact that religions get undeserved respect. Blame it on your religion and you can say basically anything (p41). Religious wars (Northern Ireland, Iraq) are referenced as "ethnic" or other terms, just to avoid saying it's all due to different believes (in the same God, strangely enough). It includes killing and all kinds of criminal acts. Any kind of "hurt" or "offence" can be blamed on religion too. The Islamic world got all upset when a few cartoons were published in Denmark. On page 49 the journalist Andrew Mueller is quoted: "If any of you clowns out there are right about anything, the cartoonists are going to hell anyway - won't that do? In the meantime, if you want to get excited about affronts to Muslims, read the Amnesty International reports on Syria and Saudi Arabia."

Gore Vidal (p58): "The great unmentionable evil at the centre of our culture is monotheism. From barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal - God is the Omnipotent Father - hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates."

Another person is brought up and argued to have been an atheist, Thomas Jefferson (p64). He said things like "Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man". Continuing (p65): "All the Founding Fathers, whatever their private religious believes, would have been aghast to read the journalist Robert Sherman's report of George Bush Senior's answer when Sherman asked him whether he recognized the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists: 'No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.'"
Being an atheist in the USA seems tough, and rare, but in fact they are numerous. And one of the main things Dawkin wants to achieve is for the atheists to dare to "come out of the closet".

In the chapter "The poverty of agnosticism" Darwin expresses his dislike of the indecisive, those that are too week to take a stand. After all, the proof clearly indicate that it is much more likely that a god does not exist rather than he does.

It's very funny to read how Dawkins totally ridicules the religious ideas: That a single entity would have created the whole universe? If you think the universe is complicated, imagine how complex the one who created it must be! It simply doesn't make sense (p147). And prayers? Why would any God consider any one man more important than the others? Where is the logic? (The logic, of course, is to fool the people to believe in this idiot idea, so he shuts up, does his prayers and does what you want him to). And miracles??? Saints? There are earnest investigations going on to discover whether any miraculous cures can be attributed to prayers offered up to people thought of to be declared saints (p84). Can you believe this shit??? And how about people who claims to have seen Him or heard Him in his head (p112)? These "experiences" are of course made up. Again, read Stumbling on happiness to see how the brain constructs things based on what we know. If we think it might be possible that God is talking to us, our brain might actually make us believe this is what is happening, when in fact only the cat walked by or something. Sam Harris, in The end of faith:

"We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common we call them 'religious'; otherwise, they are likely to be called 'mad', 'psychotic' or 'delusional'... Clearly there is sanity in numbers. And yet, it is merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window. And so, while religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are."

In the chapter "The argument from scripture" (p117) Dawkins points out that the bible is nothing but ancient fiction. And ancient as it is, it is filled with stories about killings and incest and rape. No wonder people are fighting in the name of religion, and doing all kinds of atrocities. Not to mention how women have been oppressed. Chapter 7 is filled with vicious stories, and commands to kill in the name of God, from the bible, making it very hard to believe that any one can believe anything in that book.

Woody Allen (p144): "If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that he's evil. But the worst that you can say about him is that basically that he's an underachiever. "
The bottom line in Dawkin's book is that every thing can in fact be explained by Darwin's theory. It is in fact the only way to explain how such unbelievably complex organisms as us humans could have been "created". Sure, there are gaps in science, things still unknown, but this is very natural. The sad thing is that e.g. creationists claim these gaps prove they are right, filling them with 'intelligent design' theories.

Chapter 5 - The roots of religion - mentions some reasons why such silly ideas have been able to pursue (pretty much the same as in Stumbling on happiness); such as Darwinian side-effects and indoctrination.

In chapter 6 - The roots of morality - the pure evilness of some religious people are shown in death-threats against people with other views. The chapter clearly shows morality has nothing to do with religion. It shows eg that people exposed to different religions, or none at all, all share the same basic values of good and evil. Some religious people claim that without religion there would be no good, everybody would be evil. Just as if they are good themselves only to suck up to God! As Einstein said: "If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed." In fact, looking at crime data in the USA (p262), it shows that states and cities that are Republican (conservative Christians) are more troubled than others.

Chapter 8 starts with George Carlin saying: "Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man - living in the sky - who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry for ever 'til the end of time ... But He loves you!"

On page 329 Dawkin talks about abortion and how some religious people can't see the difference between a living man and a blump of cells, killing doctors performing abortions, in the name of God. Sick people. They have arguments such as an abortion could have made Mozart never to have been born. If that is your level of reasoning, then an abortion could have stopped Hitler too... Then Dawkin comes to the subject of religions fostering fanaticism, how some people would be happy if New York would be eliminated in a nuclear blast, as they would see it as Armageddon, the return of Christ. Basically he says that just accepting things without thinking is a very good way to become a fanatic.

Chapter 9 is about advanced child abuse - religious schools - and how hard it is to escape from the claws of religion. It ends by saying that an atheistic world doesn't mean that the bible would be burnt and forever forgotten, but that we can still be in touch with a treasured heritage.

Page 403 shows how weak the religious reasoning is. This is the "proof" that purgatory exists: "If the dead simply went to heaven or hell on the basis of their sins while on Earth, there would be no point in praying for them. 'For why pray for the dead, if there be no belief in the power of prayer to afford solace to those who as yet are excluded from the sight of God.' And we do pray for the dead, don't we? Therefore purgatory must exist, otherwise our prayers would be pointless!" Another "argument" says there must be a God, because if there were not, life would be empty, pointless, futile... Un-fucking-believable...

Ok. After reading this book, I am proud to call myself an atheist. And just to piss some people off, I call myself a radical atheist.

Time to give up?

I never give up. But if I ever would, now seems to be a very good time. When the "capitalistic" governments are reintroducing socialism just to save bad business. At the same time the true socialism, where you care about the people, is dying all over the world. The biggest problem of them all - the climate change - is coming faster than anticipated. Politicians do nothing but giving the people a bad consciousness. Companies do a little - if they see any money to be made. A major system change is needed ASAP but nothing, absolutely nothing, is done.

The capitalism of the USA has fostered a country of egoists. Just as if this wouldn't be bad enough, this same attitude is spread around the world. If 300 million Americans don't care is manageable, but if you add most of Europe to that and 1,3 billion Chinese, we face a serious fucking problem. The National Geographic's China issue says this is the case. The communists have made people think about themselves only, just as the government of the USA, only to stay in power. It is claimed that the Chinese care about their own business, their own family, but nothing beyond that - politics, environment... If this is the case I'd say we're screwed. The climate change has to be targeted now, strongly, but having people and their governments not caring in the amounts of billions is just too tough.

Reading the Economist I saw an article about green protests, how people are using the Internet in order to make others aware of how the environment is destroyed. This is great, really, but imagine all the damage done that is not cared about! Knowing from other fields, it's likely that just a fraction of the damage is noticed, and of those rare cases even fewer are actually stopped. So, the vast amount of protests just shows how very much is being destroyed, by companies, governments and people alike.

Now I read, in The Economist again, what I'd say is the certain proof of a nation in decline - suddenly education is no longer important! As India and China spits out millions of engineers and, I guess, a great deal of PhD:s, then innovation and education is no longer that important. Now it's the ability to cash in on inventions that is important, so MBA:s are better than PhD:s. And the global companies (from the USA) can find innovations and commercialize them. Sure, but a country that relies on the rest of the world for educated people, for innovations and also the production - how stable is such an economy? I'd say it's hanging on to a very, very thin rope. The bad thing is that Europe tends to sniff America's arse, so maybe these dangerous thoughts will get here as well.

Now, this is bad. But if we use our imagination a bit and look forward: What will the only remaining superpower do when it finds it complicated to feed its people? And is running out of money? Beg? Help the billions drowning and starving around the world? Help stabilize the utter chaos that the climate change will bring? Give land to the refugees? Stop using cheap energy? Of course not.

Fuck it, I say. I've given up being a vegetarian already. I never stopped flying. I never started those economy studies. Right now I think the smartest thing would be to save up some cash, buy a piece of land far enough from the rising see and watch our civilisation go under. Goodbye

Don't bail out the loosers

Now when everybody is running around scared of the big bad wolf it's easy to use these upset feelings for your own good. So companies are trying to get money from governments to bail them out, not having to take the full responsibility for bad business.

This is very bad news - the basic functionality of market capitaism is ruined. If you do good business you are rewarded, if you do bad business you die. Changing this you have socialism and no longer any working markets.

So, let GM apply for Chapter 11, and let people who can do business take over the crumbs. Scrap the rest. It might sound tough, but remember that you get what you deserve. The GM leadership deserves nothing but a big hit on their heads. The employees will survive, after all the good parts of GM will survive in some way. In a way that is sustainable.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hale cooperation!

Read an article in SvD and got upset with the bullshit they published. So after writing a couple of e-mails pointing out the errors they had made, I wrote this.

As the heading indicates, I very much believe in the European cooperation efforts of EU and EMU. When it was time for Sweden to decide whether to join the EMU or not, I did a thorough analysis and came to the conclusion that we should join. Then I joined the Yes campaign and did a very fine job convincing the people on the streets of the benefits of the EU and the euro. Had we had more time we would have won, but unfortunately all the money we got backfired and the neigh sayers won.

Let's start with the arguments. The neigh sayers have no arguments. They sound like religious people when you say there is no god - they can't argument but instead withdraw to a desperate infantile state of aggression. Pathetic. The members of my team even received death threats! As the saying goes - when you run out of words you start using your fists...

There are claims that prices shot up when the euro was introduced. These are false claims. First of all, prices (almost) always rise. What the studies show is that the prices in general did not rise more than normal. Some small businesses used the situation to rais the prices a bit more, rounding up, but this was a marginal action (on eg a cup of coffee). This is a good time for a psychological note: We remember what we want to remember. People who were against the euro noticed only the prices rising, because that proved them right. They failed to notice the not rising prices (and most likely ignored the normal inflationary rise that would have occurred anyway). This is a totally normal behaviour of the human brain, we don't see what doesn't happen (see the coming blog post about the book Stumbling on Happiness for more information in this matter).

Another claim the neigh sayers like is that a monetary union would lead to taxes on an EU level and in the end a super state. That is like saying that a step towards the south would take you to Australia. I wish it was true, but I'm afraid it's not. Introducing taxes on an EU level has nothing to do with the euro, even though the cooperation a common currency needs is a good base for such an evolution. But it will not happen automatically.

When it comes to economical arguments, they don't really matter, as the pros and cons are equally strong. It's true that a small currency is more fragile in tough times (as we certainly see now), but also is it true that a monetary policy of our own would help us better in a crisis. On the other hand a small currency can rush past a big one in good times, and financial policy can be used instead of monetary policy. So forget the tech. Let's get back to basics, politics. Saying no to the euro was to say to the rest of Europe that we don't want to be with you. We're actually a bit better. I don't know what has caused this, but it seems Sweden has always considered itself to be better than Europe, wanting more to be best friends with the USA than with its neighbours. Of course such an attitude fires back, and now as you travel Europe, they don't really give a shit about Sweden. "Oh, you don't have the euro?" they say, not really caring, after all we're talking about a mere 9 million far up in the bloody cold north. Who cares? If we were in the EU, for real, then they would care - we'd be a part of the process that decides the future of Europe. And of Sweden. Because no matter what, we are in fact an intergrated part of Europe, not the 51st state of the USA (thank you Lord!).

Daniel Gilbert - Stumbling on happiness

This is a fascinating book about how our brains work, as we try to foresee our future. Unfortunately, the conclusion is that we can't, because our minds deceive us. The book doesn't give us any advice in how to find happiness, but it explains why we stumble while doing it.

In short, the brain doesn't have the capacity to remember everything, the amount of input is simply too huge. So it uses some tricks to cut down the amount of information. Unfortunately this has some side-effects...

One way in which we are deceived is that we don't remember feelings, but rather our own description of that feeling (p32). That we might recall ourself saying that the food was a bit bland, rather than actually feeling the taste. Another is that we have different"scales of happiness" (p51). Somebody might think it's cool to slide down a snowy slope, but that is only because she never flew down a slope on telemark skis with the adrenaline pumping at 100 km/h! These scales are individual and also change with time, so there is no way to predict how we will feel about the same thing at a later time, really.

We are born as realists - we see what we see and believe that everybody else see the same (p84). We believe the brain remembers the world like a movie camera captures it. However we soon realize that this is not the case, we are idealists. Even though we know the cookies are in that drawer it doesn't mean mommy knows (unfortunately it's usually the other way around, though). And all we see is filtered by the brain. If we want to see a Jesus walking on the water hard enough, we will, and if we totally refuse to admit the weather is shit we will think the winters in Frankfurt are lovely. This explains UFO:s, God's miracles and god knows all. "We tend to forget that our brains are talented forgers, weaving a tapestry of memory and perception whose detail is so compelling that its inauthenticity is rarely detected." (p89"

Another side-effect is that we don't think of things that are not present (p98). It totally makes sense, why think about hot-dogs when we're eating entrecote? The sad thing is it makes us not see the whole picture. In a study people were asked which two countries are the most similar - Ceylon-Nepal or West Germany-East Germany - and then which are the most dissimilar. And they answered East-West Germany on both! Because they focused on the similarities, not the lack of similarities, and the dissimilarities, not the lack of dissimilarities. In another test people were shown three-letter combinations (ABC). After seeing a few they could conclude eg they all have the latter "X". But if the pattern to find was a lack of any character, they were never able to find it out! (p97)

Just as with our eye sight, the mind sight is more clear about something close than something far away (p104). The closer we get, the more detail we see.

"Omväxling förnöjer" we say in Sweden, change is stimulating (or something like that). But this is not true! (p132) In a test people had two things to eat, a favourite dish and something ok. If they were eating at a normal pace, they enjoyed having a change every now and then, true enough. But if they ate slower, they preferred the favourite every time! (Hmm, could this somehow be translated into the realm of infidelity??? If you have sex with your partner so often you loose interest, do youl then want to sidestep?)

In the interaction with other people our brain is playing tricks on us too (p166). We surround us with people who say what we want to hear. We ask questions in a way that delivers the result we want to hear. We ignore the people not supporting us and focus on them that do. We also compare ourself with those people that make us look good. A C is not that bad after all, compared to all the D:s!

As if all this wasn't enough, there is the "psychological immune system", that steps in when we feel really bad. This makes us feel better when something that is bad enough happens. Which is great, but the odd side-effect is that we might feel better if we get our ass kicked than just being insulted! Because the psychological immune system doesn't care about the insult, but helps us overcome the beating. Also, you might feel better being the victim of that beating than being a bystander!

Another funny trigger we have is the inescapability trigger. This makes us accept things that are inescapable, and hense make us like them much more. So, having a wife knowing there is now way to get rid of her, you like her more! So, no wonder the divorce rates are rising in these days of freedom! It only explains why you like your shitty old car (it's quite charming after all, isn't it!) if it wouldn't be saleable, but the neighbour's brand new car just wouldn't do (Toyotas are bloody boring, aren't they?) (p185).

Rare and unusual events triggers our memory more than normal stuff. That's why we remember all the birds shitting on us, but not all the days this didn't happen (p188). This is one reason why unexplained events catch our attention. The other is that the brain spontaneously tries to explain things. When an explanation can't be found, the thoughts still linger on that fact. (This could be a reason for religion, couldn't it? Some things just can't find a reasonable explanation so you invent some silly idea of a man with a beard that knows it all, just to get some peace!)

"The fact that the least likely experience is often the most likely memory can wreak havoc with our ability to predict future experiences." (p200) You don't remember all the times the queue moves in a normal pace, but everytime it's painfully slow! So you think you never choose the right queue...

Our memories are also shaped but what we think we ought to remember (p207). As an example, women are supposed to be more emotional than men. So even though this is not the case, we remember it as if this was the case. No wonder people can be brainwashed! If you are told that "Pray to the Lord and you'll feel good" often enough, we eventually will start to remember that it actually works. "Our inability to recall how we really felt is one of the reasons why our wealth of experience so often turns out to be a poverty of riches." (p210)

When trying to look into the future, due to how our brains work, the best way is to listen to others. (p228) But do we do that? No. (p229) Because we think we're so different from the average person, or actually anyone that is saying anything about how he/she is feeling in a certain circumstance...

Close to the end Gilbert walks out into a hot political minefield when he explains some very interesting mechanisms that make our society work as it does. As an example we believe kids make us happy even though they don't (p221). In fact the happiness of people deteriorate as the woman gets pregnant and then doesn't recoup until the kids have left the house! Money don't make us happy either. "The declining marginal utility" shows us how we get very much more happy lifting ourselves from poverty, but then for every step further the positive effects decline. A billionaire is not happier than a multi-millionaire. And a worker is just marginally less happy than an engineer (p217). Already Adam Smith was aware of this: "In what constitutes the real happiness of human life, [the poor] are in no respect inferior to those who would seem so much above them. In ease of body and peace of mind, all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level, and the beggar ... possesses that security which kings are fighting for."

How come we act act such fools? Because these believes are "super-replicators" (p214). Just like some genes are passed on to the next generation better than others, some believes are passed on better than others. A belief that "you cannot have sex" will of course die, because few children will be born (there actually is such a religion, and babies were still born, but the last members are about to die by now). This explains why we think we must have kids. This explains why we think we must work our asses off. And it explains religion: "False beliefs that happen to promote stable societies tend to propagate because people who hold these beliefs tend to live in stable societies, which provide the means by which false beliefs propagate." (p217) "The belief-transmission system is rigged so that we must believe that children and money bring happiness ... while we believe we are raising children and earning paycheques to increase our share of happiness, we are actually doing these things for reasons beyond our ken. We are nodes in a social network that arises and falls by logicof it's own, which is why we continue to toil, continue to mate and continue to be surprised when we do not experience all the joy we so gullibly anticipated." (p222)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Simple rules for food

There is so much being said about food it easily makes you very confused. Once in the food shop, what the hell should you choose??? In order to make this easier I have a few golden rules that makes my life much easier.

First of all, see if there's an organic food store close to you. Then you can just buy what you need in there, with no need to think at all, really. They often don't have all you need, but maybe you should rethink then. Do you really need that super big pack of potato crisps???

The basic rule is to use as organic and natural ingredients as you can afford. Avoid fast-food as well as ready-made dinners, sauces etc as these dishes are filled with extra ingredients to make the food taste more or just anything at all!

Other rules that will help you make your food both healthy and tasty:
- As unprocessed as possible. Just plain, pure grains, vegetables, fruit etc.
- As organic and fair trade as possible. If there is a fair trade product, have that, if not, look for an organic variant. If that is also missing start considering going to another store...
- As natural as possible. No light products. No funny colours.

That's it! But the implications are vast:
- Brown sugar instead of white sugar (white sugar is a nasty industrial, artificial product invented in the 19th century).
- Butter instead of margarine (this is another industrial product, invented during WWII as a butter replacement (war is over!)).
- No TV dinners. (Make a salad!)
- No snacks, funny-coloured sweets or soda (it's just silly expensive water with weird substances to make it taste like something).
- More fruit! More vegetables!
- Eat chocolate with as much cacao as you can handle, preferably 70% (pure chocolate is healthy!), but avoid the sugar bombs also called chocolate with as little as 10-20% cacao (these will make you fat). In fact cacao will decrease your hunger and could therefore even help you keeping your weight.
- Bake your own bread. (Why do you think the bread stays tasty so long? Is so evenly coloured and shaped? Yes, it's all fake.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wise voices

Again the swedish magazine Affärsvärlden proves itself as the number one economy/business magazine with this excellent article about the current crisis.

Just as I said the other day, the writer is not happy with how gready banks is now being bailed out by tax money. And that the house prices have been kept up on artificial levels basically by the USA consuming chinese and arabian money.

The bad thing is that our politicians don't understand the impossiblility to maintain this pattern forever and once they do, it will take a long time to recover. Another important matter (that I regretfully missed earlier) is that with the current policy spending is favoured instead of saving, it's better to borrow money to consume than to save money for consumption. Hopefully this idiocy will soon end.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Great Flying Circus!

These guys are unbelievable! They come from North Korea and what they do is just awesome to watch. Look at YouTube and FlickR.

Unfortunately I can't find a homepage of them, just some info about their shows at the homepage of Stardust Circus (only in German though, for some reason). Internet isn't too well thought of by Kim Yong Il and the other bastards oppressing the poor people of the country I suppose. Funny thing they don't all just use their powers and leave! Then again, I guess they are treated very well back home... Go admire them if you can! But don't miss any chance to criticize the screwed up politics of North Korea.

Keep the faith!

These are indeed turbulent times. The Stockholm Stock Exchange dropped 21% last week! I looked at my portfoilio and could conclude it had dropped 51% during the last one year period. Living in Frankfurt, with many friends in the financial sector, I hear a lot of negativity. But that is the completely wrong position to take!

Think positive! This is just great, actually. Money has been too cheap for too long (or rather risk has been too cheap, almost neglected completely). What we see now is just a market realizing it was wrong and need to adjust. Lehman Brothers went under because they had too thin margins. They borrowed 95% to their investments in the end. Now this is just awesome as long as times are good. If the investment gains 10% the return on capital will be 200%! Those numbers would make any banker have wet dreams, so no wonder they got greedy. But at the same time, a decrease of value with only 5% would eat up all you capital. Not good in normal times. So those now suffering killed themselves, don't feel sorry for them. But we must make sure the rules are changed, so such idiotic investment schemes won't hit average Joe again. (There are rules saying banks have to have that big margins, but those were elegantly circumvented by using very creative financial papers' constructions.)

The problems we have see now regarding the lack of short term loans is surely a problem, but why does the problem exist in the first place? Because there is no trust. Bankers don't trust each other, because when it comes down to it they are all egoistic greedy people and they now it, so of course you don't lend any money! But seriously, the margins on these loans are slim and with the situation being what it is it's no wonder anybody would rather keep the money under his pillow rather than lending it o somebody else. Normally that is not a risk, but with the slim margins even the slightest risk is too big of a risk. Again, this is where governments have to step in. Because as we can see now, in bad times the only thing trusted are the governments and their central banks. Even the Financial Times publish coloumns about the good of socialism! I find that very comforting indeed.

But what should then the average Joe do, when he sees his investments crash? Nothing. Just keep on buying funds, every month, no matter what happens. After many years of listening to the "experts" what I learned was that it's luck and luck only that makes a good stock deal. In fact, nobody can time to buy at the bottom and sell at the top. So, don't even try. Instead, put away as much as you can spare every month, through good times and bad.

Let me give a short example to explain: Let's say we start saving 100 euro a month in January. Unfortunately the market then drops 20% a month for two months and we might feel a bit bad. But then the market turns and increase by 5% a month for the rest of the year. This means that our funds are back on the January level in November (perfect for the Christmas shopping). This scenario is a bit too fast for what we have seen this fall, but look at the beauty of it! In March we will have lost 40% of our January money, but on the other hand every month we get more funds for the same 100 euro we invest. Look:

Month SharesValue
January 100 100
February 225 180
March 392 235
April 546 355
May 688 482
June 822 616
July 947 757
August 1064 905
September 1175 1058
October 1281 1217
November 1381 1381
December 1476 1550

Note how we are on plus in June already! And by Christmas, when the market is up 5%, we have a 29% win!

Of course this effect is smaller the more money we have invested already in January. In fact, if we started these monthly payments 2 years ago and have 2400 euro at the beginning of the year, we'd have to wait until October to be on breakeven! However, money that you invest in stocks and bonds must be money you don't need for few years at least. The main thing is to make a difference between the money being used to build a fortune at money already being a fortune. With the "building money" you should play tough and keep on investing, but with a larger fortune you should apply totally different strategies. I'm not there yet, so I'll be back on that subject! ;)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Keep the cool for god's sake!

So, finally it came. The day when the market realized money was too cheap. It was a bit dramatic seeing the "Lehman Brothers" letters being picked down from the facade of their building in New York last week...

For years I have been standing in awe, watching people pay ridiculous amounts for housing or borrow more on the housing they had, just to consume it. I was annoyed because I wanted to buy an apartment too, but the prices were already silly. At the same time companies have been increasing their return by decreasing their safety margins. Finally this ridiculous chase for easy bucks has come to a halt.

Don't be panicked because of what happens, it's just a natural, and in the long run healthy, adjustment back to reality. What we now see is a huge transfer of wealth from those in debt to them without. A fair change, as the ones in debt for a long time have been the winners. What we have to be careful about, though, is that the panic isn't used by some to gain power and wealth at the cost of others using foul tricks. We can see how companies suddenly expect billions from governments to cover their lack of business skill. Don't bail them out. They have to pay the price, just like they reaped during the golden days. That's the brutal nature of market capitalism. If bad business isn't punished it won't stop.

At the same time, be careful about what the governments do. Some claim we have never been as socialised as today, after some big bank takeovers. We must watch that it doesn't go too far. Governments shall not run businesses, they shall provide a climate where the businesses live well. And, very importantly, are controlled. A market that is not controlled will eventually commit suicide as markets are by their nature unstable. This is where the governments have failed. The USA has been screaming about free markets ever since the Reagan/Thatcher era and many governments have just danced along. Which we now suffer from.

Note that the average man is in no danger. Our money is safe. Some of us have stocks and bonds and they are loosing a lot in value, but hey! Rule number one is to never invest money on stocks that you can't afford to loose. If you did that - blame yourself, idiot. The same goes for the people who bought too expensive houses and now might even have to leave their homes. Of course the blame is to put on the banks, you can't trust the average man to be very business-minded, and this again just emphasises the need to make the businesses pay for their mistakes. Banks thought they were safe lending 100% of a house's value to anybody and for a while they did well. To make the poor idiot that borrowed the money to pay the whole price is not fair, it should somehow be split between the idiot and the greedy. This is another area where governments should step in and calm the people.

So, stay cool. Whatever you do, don't sell anything. On the contrary, if you have money, the coming year is a perfect time to invest. On a 3-5 year horizon you are likely to make a really fine profit on stocks. If you need to buy a house, keep cool too, next year will see a drop on the market.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Beers of the USA

Yeah, this will be a short blog entry. Not! Again, the USA struck me with a positive surprise. The fucking Budweiser bullshit you're fed with all over the world certainly exists in New York as well, but to a much less extent than feared. Instead a zillion microbreweries are all over the place and available at all places I visited at least. Here is a selection of what I tasted during a week Over There:

- Stone Mill Pale Ale - a very nice pale ale indeed
- Ithaca Nut Brown Ale - boring
- Shakespear Stout - a nice, very well roasted stout
- Rouge Imperial Porter - a really heavy porter, with many tones, complex indeed
- Black Brutal Bitter - brutal!
- Issaquah Frog Rye IPA - rich!
- Negra Modelo - a very nice ale
- El Presidente - a plain, boring pilsner
- Kelso Pilsner - boring
- Magic Hat Circus Boy - a rich butter taste, not bad at all
- Brooklyn Brown Ale - a nice ale widely available in NY at least
- Captain Lawrence Smoked Porter - tough shit, not for beginners, indeed, "edgy"
- Widmer Hefeweizen - tasteless (the porter before might have killed it...)
- Blue Point Toasted Lager -
- Captain Lawrence Pumpkin - made of pumpkins, a tasty clove twist, making the lager a bit less boring
- Goose Island Honker Ale - me like!

To be honest I think I think (funny language, English ;) the pilsners are boring due to 2 facts: I'm becoming an ale lover (the taste is so much richer!) and a pilsner should be enjoyed ice cold in a hot sauna (which is totally against the Germans' weird traditions).

A funny thing is how wheat beers (Weizen, Weissbier etc) have become popular in the USA also. The perfect summer beer. I remember my first nights in Germany when I sat on the south side of The Main, enjoying cold Weizen in the warmth, watching the sun set behind the Frankfurt skyline...

New York!

I must admit I was a bit sceptic. I was in Detroit last year and it only confirmed my view of the USA as a beautiful place destroyed by lazy fat occupants. But New York proved to be something else! :)

This place rocks! Or should I say jazz, because the jazz scene is phenomenal. For a night out, having some drinks or beer and enjoying live music, try the Zincbar. We saw the Jazz For Obama concert, with the best of contemporary jazz musicians and singers and it was absolutely fantastic! Most of the concert we spent sitting in awe at the equilibrists' skills. I will never ever again think any pop or rock musician knows anything about the instrument they handle... I have to go back and visit all the clubs I can manage!

The food was great too, but damn the portions were huge! No wonder most people in the USA are fat. I say most, because the New Yorkians are quite fit, as many of them use the subway system and in general have to walk to move in the city. The subway has very few escalators too, so you get a good exercise walking the stairs. Bad thing with the subway is that it's usually darn hot. The ventilation simply stinks, it's obviously not dimensioned for the amount of traffic and the fact that all subways are air-conditioned (in normal US manners way too much).

A great surprise was the amount of bike lanes. As examples I biked down from Park Slope to Coney Island, most of the way on a secluded bike lane, lined with trees, and all along the west coast of Manhattan, mostly along a narrow park. A wonderful way to see New York!

One day we took the train up the Hudson river. After about an hour we arrived in Peekskill. This is just a tiny shithole to be honest, but I had to jump into the Hudson to take a swim and then we found a wonderful little brewery! To be honest the food was quite bad, but the beers were great! They make their own beer, as well as serve other local brews, but the few kegs they produce is eagerly consumed within a week or two by people from all around the place. The Hudson, by the way, changes direction of flow 4 times a day, with the tide, and its water is salty, all the way up to Peekskill at least.

Of course I did the shopping, walking Manhattan 10 hours a day running into every little shop in Soho, on Broadway and all. Afterwards I learned, however, that the thing to do is to go to New Jersey. They don't have any tax on clothing and shoes, so the $35 I paid for a pair of Levi's on Broadway, wasn't the best deal around...

If you need a haircut (or just some candy or a fun time) visit the Brooklyn General Barber Emporium on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The service is great, the barber shop the cutest place you can imagine and the street, all the way between 3rd and 9th Street is as hip as it gets. There are loads of restaurants, bars and shops. I bought a nice bicycle Brooklyn T-shirt for myself as well as for my 1-year old niece at Brooklyn Industries.

Another pleasant surprise with NY was that they actually have realized the climate issue and the benefits of organic materials. The first ad I saw at the airport was about the climate change and there's organic clothes and food all over the place. I guess the bike lanes can be traced back to this issue too. But when I saw 4 helicopters running on the pier close to the Brooklyn Bridge, and then heard that you take a 'copter to the airport, I was upset...

There are all kinds of neighbourhoods in NY. The manic, intense Times Square area. The sterile, concrete, high-rising Upper East-side. The cool, shop-dense Soho and West Village. The student, cafe- and bar-filled East Village. The money-hungry Wall Street. The relaxed and lovely Park Slope in Brooklyn. The tourist-packed Broadway. The hip and happening Williamsburg in Brooklyn. The Coney Island (which isn't an island!) at the southern tip of Brooklyn. The well taken care of parks. But almost everywhere you can also find run-down houses and areas, forgotten by capitalism...

Since I'm studying Spanish I was thrilled to see all the Spanish used. All signs, on the subway etc, that were meant for the neoyorquinos (or new yorkians) had a Spanish translation. Often even was written in Spanish only. Excellent practise!

One thing that I reacted on was how divided the town is though, not only that money flows only into some areas, but also how people hang out with their own only. You never saw Jews, with their small hats and black clothing, mingling with others, as an example. The Chinese stuck to Chinatown. Could it be that in a country without any social security systems worth mentioning you tend to stick to your kin? This is sad, and maybe this could explain the violence in this screwed-up country? I mean, you don't kill somebody you know, only the "other ones", people you don't know...

But I can't end this on such a sad note, so let's go shopping! Paragon Sports is a nice, huge shop for outdoor things. There's a fun store on 33rd Street, run by Jews, that have decent deals, good service and a huge selection of anything electronic - B&H. They have a very complicated system where you line up to get serviced, they then send your stuff on a transport system down to the exit, you go to the cashier and pay (one line for cash, one for credit cards) and then finally can pick up your stuff at the exit. The shop is filled with tourists and men in green clothes and small hats. So, I doubt they have the best deals in town. In fact I bought a camera in a dodgy store somewhere on 18th Street and was easily able to cut the price by 25%. B&H don't bargain.

And as a nice finish, let's eat! :) How about some excellent cookies at Mrs Fields on Broadway (all over actually). When it comes to cookies I prefer the once we found in a street van one day in Park Slope, but how shall I ever find that again? Maybe a lovely vegetarian panini beside the Flatiron building instead? No, why not treat ourselves - L'orange Bleue at Broome/Crosby has amazingly good food, and really creative too. Of course we should have burgers in the USA. P.J. Clarke knows how to do them! And as a finish, why not read a newspaper in the european style Cafe Borgia (I don't understand the bad reviews they've received, I found the place just fine and very charming).

Wow, yeah, it's time to stop. A great place it is, New York!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bad food

The book by Mats-Eric Nilsson - Den hemlige kocken (The secret cook) - gives a very scary and up-to-date telling of how the food industry of today feeds us with the worst possible crap they can manage to sell. In general everything is done in order to save money. For the producers. If this was known to all, the market would sure look different!

I'll try to condense what he says into a format that is manageable:

The first chapter is about companies specialized in making products making food taste as it should do. Yeah, it's just as screwed up as it sounds. The modern food industry is so industrialized that what comes out of it has to be faked in order to even resemble food. Special ingredients to make the beef taste and look like it was grilled. Colours to give the food the right look. Taste enhancers to get the tiny remains of real ingredient to taste enough.

In fact, there are so many phony things they add to food, just listing them makes me sick of it. So I won't. But there are chemical solutions to alter everything - shape, taste, texture, sweetness, smell. If you really care exactly what, please get this book or an equivalent. Otherwise you could stick to my simple rules for food that I've listed on this blog already.

What I find interesting is why these problems exist at all. Why don't the governments stop this? A few simple rules are all that is needed! Of course you can blame it on the customers, as usual. "But the customers buy this and that so obviously there is a market." "But the people buy this and that, why would they not be allowed to?"

This is making things far too simple. The problem is that nobody can know what kind of crap there is in the food, because there is simply too much of it! But why? Why does the consumer buy light mayonnaise even though it's not possible to make a light mayonnaise? Because there is one! Somebody that likes mayonnaise but is concerned about her intake of fat, will of course be delighted to see a light mayonnaise! Which is why the market provides the product, no matter what. It doesn't matter that it's filled with chemicals but still doesn't taste like a proper mayonnaise. The producer wants to sell and the customer wants to have it, wants to believe it's just as good but far more healthy. The only way to stop this is for the government to step in and say that using all these chemicals is not ok. Or, as with some other products, say that a "mayonnaise" must include this and that and nothing else. I'm sorry, but I can't see any other solution than government regulation, in order to save its citizens.

Because that's the point - this ignorance is a threat to our health. Light products make us fat. Chemicals making sweets colourful makes my skin burst out with pimples and can cause allergies and even worse side effects in big doses. The animal food industry is stressing animals to death. And whatever we do as consumers, this won't stop. But for your own sake - eat healthy!

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. - Cat's cradle

I tend to read quite a lot and often the books I read are forgotten, often without justification. So I figured I should at least mention what I read here. I borrowed this book from my friend Elaine here in Frankfurt.

I guess spaced out is the best term to use for this book. It's fun, it's entertaining, it makes you think but when it comes down to it it's just nuts. It's about a guy wanting to write about the last day of the inventor of the atomic bomb and from there it just gets more and more screwed up. I totally recommend it!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Naomi Klein - The Shock Doctrine

This is a scary book. Not because it's so thick, but because of the indepth analysis of how democracy can be put aside and a policy beneficial to only very few can be enforced. But it is also a book that gives hope, because it shows that in the end democracy wins. If only the people are strong enough to care. This book gives rice to a zillion thoughts and I could go on writing about this matter forever, but let me try making it short.

The book is about one man's ideas, Milton Friedman, who's thoughts for a long time were considered too extreme. In short his idea is called neo-liberalism, the belief that a totally free market would be the perfect market, and has been implemented with the help of his disciples, the Chicago Boys. It tells us how his thoughts are way too extreme for any democracy, so they were first tried in South-American autocracies (after the elected power had been eliminated). It tells us to cut taxes drastically and sell as much as possible, as fast as possible, of the country's resources to foreign interests. It worked very well, in making a small minority very rich, foreign (US) companies extremely rich and the common man left poor. The policy has also done wonders in China.

As the tactics were refined, and the beneficiaries got rich, new victims had to be found. It was noted that no democratic countries would swallow the bitter pill (no, not even the USA), so some kind of force was needed. Dictators worked well, as seen. War was efficient too. As natural disasters. Whenever a disaster struck, all that was needed was to turn up, offer money and let the victim, that was in chock, sign a contract that in the end made him poorer. The South-East Asian crisis was a result of the countries adopting to this policy (the countries that followed it the least were best off). It was also applied in Russia when the country needed money and marked the end of its move in a democratic direction. ANC in South Africa were fooled to swallow the pill as well and has led to that the black are now even poorer as they used to be. In short: It's bullshit.

The bad thing is that these thoughts have been fully adopted by the IMF, the World Bank and USAID and they have been able to force this dirt onto people not really wanting it. Democracy has been put aside. And only a very few have gained.

This might not be all that bad, after all. A democratically elected government could make it all right again. Or can they? In the case of eg South Africa this is clearly not the case. If they try to build more houses for the poor, the currency falls and the country gets problems. It is a slave under the market.

As if this wasn't enough, the disasters and wars in combination with the fact that the US government has outsourced most of its government (!) has lead to a situation where the market gains on war and terror. Earlier the stock markets used to fall when a war was reported. Now they rice. Because it means more business. A disaster economy has emerged and it feeds on death and terror. My own thought about this is that this might be a reason why nothing much is done about the climate threat. After all, imagine all the disaster that will be the result of a collapsed climate! It might be a bit dark, and I doubt very few are actually thinking that way, but it is how this system works. It's cheaper not to do anything, and besides, if something would happen there are shitloads of money to be made!

Note how the countries volontarily applying Friedman's thoughts and the institutions promoting them are not democratic. And in fact, a market is not democratic either. They used to be controlled by a democratic rule (governments) but is now getting so powerful it might become a threat to democracy.

I must note that I first read a book by Johan Norberg and Boris Benulic, "Allt om Naomi Kleins nakenchock" ("All about Naomi Klein's Nude Chock"), where they want to protect the idea of free markets. Norberg loves the market, and since I can fully see and understand its usefulness, I have read some of his books and can agree with him on many points. But he is like a car salesman, just simply a bit too much in his blind faith. So the book is crap, he totally misses the point.

Read this if you know Swedish and want to read more about these books.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Living in a cul-de-sac

I'm a trial and error type of guy. If I see something that attracts my interest I walk there. So I've been in many cul-de-sacs over the years and would like to say I'm quite good at recognizing them. And getting out again.

This makes me worried about the state of the world, because we are running, with ever increasing pace, into a cul-de-sac and the ones leading the crowd doesn't give a shit. There are many voices saying we should stop and think, or maybe just take it easy, but these voices are silenced or just ignored.

But if you think about it it's obvious: We use more and more of the world's resources. So far this has worked because only a very small part of the world's population lived in this luxury. Now, even though neoliberalism is doing a good job making people poor, the amount of people who can afford excessive consumption is exploding and we have reach a point where we already use far more than the world can produce.

There is no second planet Earth, so we have to learn how to survive with the resources we have. The easiest way to accomplish this is to make sure the poor stay poor. That worked well for a long time, but then we got gready and still wanted them to consume our products, and we wanted them to produce our stuff cheaply. So they got it a lot better. The IMF, the World Bank and the USA have done quite a good job keeping them back, but they have failed and we now consume something like 10-20% more of the world's resources than the world can produce. And the consumers are us in the Western world, with the USA as proud leaders. We've reached the end of that cul-de-sac, we even burst through the wall at the end.

Another cul-de-sac is the superficiality of the Western society. How food is becoming ever more bland, without taste. Will we continue that until we all just have a pill a day? Or should we stop now and make sure we eat healthy natural food only? I'd say we should leave this cul-de-sac as soon as possible.

Actually the resource part could/should be divided into a number of sub-chapters: Energy. Water. Raw materials. Air. You name it... It's unbelievably childish and naive to think that some miraculous technical solution would solve all these problems - suddenly providing us with unlimited amounts of clean water, energy and raw materials. We can hope for it, sure, never give up hope. But now, right now, there are no such magic solutions. And we know we consume too much. Conclusion: Stick your head in the sand? Ignore it? Claim it's all evil anti-market, anti-capitalistic, communistic or whatever propaganda? No, we have to change our behaviour. And with "we" I mean us in the Western world, the rich world, the ones who fucked up the world in the first place.

We can not sit on our fat asses and say the Chinese cannot increase their consumption. Their consumption is nowhere near to ours! They are still poor, we can't ask them to stay poor just so we can stay fat. We have to be the leaders, we must adjust ourself to a sustainable level. It's ok to say to somebody else she shouldn't use more than you. But you can't say she has to use far less. That is oppression. And that is something we should try to leave behind. Or would you like to be the one at the bottom?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Old sins

I should mention my old blog, The world according to Auvinen, so you have something to read until I get started properly... But make sure you forget what you read, because I might reuse it!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Write when inspired only!

This is the golden rule for me when writing posts for this blog: Only write when I feel inspired, when I feel I have something to say. Second rule should be to make sure all posts are readable, somehow "good". If somebody finds the way to my blog I don't want that person to feel the time has been wasted. But I don't like rules too much...

The importance of inspiration is essential. Without it, only crap will be produced. It might look good, be fully correct and all, but it will be heartless, and therefore crap. Not worth the space it occupies. Just listen to commercial radio! B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T. No heart. No soul. Because it wasn't inspiration that produced those tunes, it was the scent of money. If you just run for the money you will never create any masterpiece, but surely a lot of crap.

Yet anoher blog

Who reads all these blogs, a friend of mine asked, herself a writer. I don't know, I answered, I sure don't. But I need to write, I need to put some thoughts in print, make them available. Not until my thoughts are "official", debatable, can I move on, let my mind take the next step. Get wiser, in short.

And I hope that these my thoughts and reflections might help making others wiser as well. If nothing else at least make you laugh, or interested, curious, upset, angry, pissed off or anything that could make you move your ass from your computer and make a change.