Monday, August 19, 2019

Free water

Summer, over 30°C outside and they cut off the water in our flat. The previous tenants didn't pay their bills, there were letters from lawyers and even the police came for a friendly visit. At some point the water company had enough and that was it. Since the responsibility lies with the owners of the flat – a company owning the whole urbanisation – they connected us to the communal water system until they solve the problem. Water is flowing, so all is good.

A few days ago I was watering the plants on the terrace when it suddenly dawned on me: this water is free! No matter how much I give to the plants, how long I take showers and how thoroughly I wash the dishes – for the time being, I won't pay a single cent. So my first thought was 'great, I can use more water than I usually do!' My second thought, however, was 'why would I want to waste water?'

We're living in wasteful times. If there is an offer of 50% extra tomatoes for free, instinct yells 'take it!' The 50% extra tomatoes will probably rot in the fridge, because most people don't need 50% extra food. Same with clothes: buy three shirts, get one free. I only need one, but hey, I'd be stupid if I didn't grab the opportunity. We waste food and packaging; we fly on weekend trips around the continent because it's so damn cheap; we enjoy millions of songs on Spotify, accepting that artists receive next to nothing for their work; we demand free banking when there is no such thing as free banking without investments in highly profitable (and ruthless!) war business.

Somewhere, someone is paying for the stuff we think is free. The farmer, for example, who gets less for his harvest from the supermarket wholesaler, or the employee who is under pressure to sow more shirts. Countless souls pay with their sweat and time and the planet suffers and cries.

Now, you could say it's no big deal to waste a bit of water. It's not. The big deal is the underlying mindset which leads us to believe that free stuff is actually free. It's a delusion of separation – thinking that we aren't connected to everyone and everything else. We assume it's okay to waste some resources because our small actions don't make a difference anyway. But far from it! It's one big hyper-connected world in which all actions do make a difference. The only question is: does my action make it a tiny bit better, or worse?

Thursday, July 11, 2019

I love this world

It's a bizarre place we're living in, the world of humans. And it's seriously fucked up, too. There are many examples, but recently I stumbled across something which beautifully illustrates the level of madness we've reached. It's rather comical, at least the beginning of it.

Have you heard of the MLE? The first two letters stand for Major League – there's a Major League Baseball (MLB), a Major League Soccer (MLS), a Major League Wrestling (MLW). So what about the E in MLE? Equestrianism perhaps? Elephant riding? No. It's Eating.

Major League Eating (MLE) is an organization that organizes professional competitive eating events. (Wikipedia)

Basically, a bunch of weirdos come together once in a while, get served a certain type of food and whoever eats most in a set time, wins. Thousands of dollars of price money are handed out and millions watch the battle on TV. Here are some of the records of recent years:

Hot Dogs – 74 in 10 minutes
Pasta – 4.5 kilos (Spaghetti and sauce) in 8 minutes
Eggs – 141 hard boiled eggs in 8 minutes
Onions – 3.8 kilos in 1 minute (picture yourself doing it)
Cheesecake – 5 kilos in 9 minutes
Frozen Yogurt – 4.7 kilos in 6 minutes
Mars Bars – 38 in 5 minutes

If you want more examples, just check out the MLE records. And if you haven't vomited already, here's a yummy video of the 74 hot dogs record.

Does anyone still think we've evolved since Roman times? The clothes are different and there are cameras today, but otherwise it's the same sickening feast as two thousand years ago. Probably even worse.

Now, in a fair and just world, it wouldn't really be a problem. If everybody had enough food, we could laugh at twenty people behaving like pigs. The thing is though, the world is far from being fair and just. Yes, we've made some impressive technological progress, but beyond that, the human race is as stupid as ever. And as ignorant.

People who died of hunger in 2019 (first six months): 18,820,789

Just step out of your own daily drama for a moment and look at that last number again. Over 18 million human beings have starved to death this year, while in a different part on the same planet, in the so-called civilized world, people are heroes because they eat 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes. I mean, if you met a friendly alien and he or she asked you about it, what would you say? Didn't know? Didn't care? Shit happens?

Of course it's neither your fault nor mine. Or is it? True, neither of us has eaten five kilos of frozen yogurt. We'd probably be dead. And neither of us has let a fellow human starve to death in front of our doorstep. But fact is, in a world which has enough food for everyone, every second a person dies of hunger. This is just sick. And in one way or another, we help to keep this sick system going. Through ignorance, through greed, through selfishness. It's really really sad and heartbreaking, it makes me angry and disillusioned and I wonder whether we actually deserve to live. So much unnecessary suffering and so many people who don't give a shit. Hope? Almost gone.

And yet, strange as it may sound, despite all cruelty and stupidity, I still love this world. It's beautiful and special and I'm happy to be here. Each and every moment, somewhere on this globe, people help each other, care for another and love each other. Someone is planting a tree right now, believing in a fruitful future; some are sharing food, others are changing their selfish attitude. It's not always easy to see, but loving action, coming straight from the heart, is practised by millions all the time. And as long as there's love, it ain't over yet. For love can make it better.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Green dictatorship

Do you care when a product suddenly costs 5 or 10 cents more? Say a bar of chocolate, 5 cents more; or some fresh pasta, 10 cents more. Would you stop buying chocolate and pasta because of a few cents? Probably not.

The other day I was in a supermarket, standing at checkout and watching what others bought. Most customers, when asked if they want a plastic bag, nodded and usually even ordered more than one. It was 10 cents per bag. Students, pensioners, socialists and fascists – no one hesitated to pay a little extra.

So, here's the question: What's the point of charging 10 cents for a plastic bag? Supposedly it's a 'green' thing, trying to convince people to save the planet. But no one cares about 10 cents, so it's not working, is it? If you want to make a difference, dear politician and supermarket owner, charge one Euro per bag. Or even better, two or three. If people had to pay that sort of money for a single bag, you'd bound to see a miracle: within a few weeks, everyone would suddenly remember to bring a reusable bag from home. Problem solved.

Another question: Is it essential for a happy life to have cheap flights? Yes, it's nice if relatively poor people can afford a weekend trip to Lisbon, too, but is it necessary? No, it's not. And so why is kerosene not taxed? In Europe, no airline pays tax for the fuel they use, but, even worse, every train operator does. Perhaps not the best strategy to promote environmentally friendly travelling...

People are stupid, unfortunately we can't change that. We are selfish and short-sighted beings, and very slow learners. That's just the way it is. However, can you really trust seven billion monkeys to make the needed changes so they don't destroy the planet they live on? I'm all for individual responsibility and grassroots action, but...we are monkeys. Some are kind and some are clever, but even the kindest and most intelligent ones are still facing the limitations of their stupid and selfish nature. Mind you, I wouldn't be surprised if some real monkeys out there would feel offended by this comparison, because I don't think real monkeys would cut down the forest they live in. So let's forget monkeys. We're actually much inferior. More like brainless bacteria.

Now, how can you make sure that the human bacteria doesn't eat up its home? You need a dictator! A good, green dictator. Someone who decides that, from today, bags are 3 Euros each. 5 cents go to the Supermarket, 2.95 Euros to reforestation and ocean cleaning projects. Flights will be at least five times more expensive than the same journey by train. And like this with everything else. Cheap meat? Nope. Cheap clothes? Nope. Cheap plastic plates? You've guessed it.

Of course one could argue that rich people wouldn't be affected by this green dictatorship. No matter the price, there'd be still many who'd be able to pay for 10 bags on each shopping tour, fly around the globe for weekend trips, eat meat and fill their wardrobes until they burst. It's a problem – lack of fairness always is. So maybe it would be better to simply ban all of these things. I don't know. But any first step is better than no step.

The real problem, however, would be to find a perfect dictator. Remember, humans are brainless bacteria who voluntarily vote people like Donald Trump and, soon to come, Boris Johnson as their leaders. Sure, not all are that bad, but if we look honestly at the situation, there simply might not be a perfect dictator amongst us. So now what?

Well, I'm afraid, we're screwed. All we can do is shake our heads and hope that friendly aliens will come and rescue us.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Make migration great again

The way things are going, it's quite unlikely that the human species, or any species for that matter, will survive. If you consider the continuous growth of consumption and environmental destruction, I don't think anyone will be here in one thousand years. And chances are good that we won't even last another hundred.

But if we do survive, what is it going to look like? Will it be much fun to continue with all the wars and abuse and the hateful existence? Living between dirty rivers and hostile walls?

Here's a little Utopia:

Huge environmental disasters will trigger the establishment of a global council of the wise. Like the UN, just without corruption and with real power when it comes to pollution of the land, the water and the air. And yes, all those passionate conspiracy theorists out there, if you want you can also call it a New World Order, I don't mind. Something NEW is definitely needed. Actually, the choice we now face is between something completely new or something completely dead. In this little Utopia, we chose the new.

With environmental protection being the number one priority, the selfish interests of countries will lose importance. That doesn't mean that culture will become unimportant too – culture is beautiful and hence it should be treated accordingly. But most countries are too big to really represent culture. Go to Andalusia and then to Galicia – same country, but culturally they're worlds apart.

So in my little Utopia, small regions are celebrated and respected, while at the same time a global nature government protects the interests of planet Earth. Also, culture will be seen as what it really is: A living organism which is evolving like all other living organisms. People – all people! – can roam the world freely and are welcomed with curiosity, rather than rejected out of fear. No one will ask a differently looking person for his or her migration background, but for his or her migration foreground – because migration is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that should be hidden away; after all, it's what makes life colourful!

There will be more cooperation and less competition, plenty of Fusion festivals and no fascist marches, clean rivers and friendly border patrols. And who knows, perhaps, if people start to heal the hate within, there will be even peace...

I know, just a silly Utopia by a guy who had a tiny moment of hope. But hey, what would we do without Utopia? Surrender to misery?

Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. 
I walk another ten steps and then horizon runs ten steps away. 
As much as I may walk, I'll never reach it. So what's the point of Utopia? 
The point is this: to keep walking. 

(Eduardo Galeano)

Friday, April 19, 2019

Jesus was a Buddhist

Today, almost 2000 years ago, Jesus died on the cross. He was buried and two days later he came back from the dead, sent by God. Known as the resurrection, it's an event that is the foundation of the Christian faith. But was he really sent by God? And did he actually die?

There is a period in Jesus' life which is called The lost years, or, more poetically, The silent years. From the age of 12 to 29, there's a gap in his timeline, It's an accepted fact – 'modern mainstream Christian scholarship holds that nothing is known about this time period in the life of Jesus' (source). There are all sorts of theories about these missing years, the most common ones saying that he had worked as a carpenter in Galilee or that he had studied in the desert. But there's another one which sounds at least equally plausible – including a fascinating twist of the known resurrection story! Here it goes:

To 'improve and perfect himself in the divine understanding', Jesus went to India. He studied with Brahmin priests in Odisha and later travelled to the Himalayas where he spent many years in monasteries, learning about Buddhism. There is an interesting documentary from the BBC about this, where historians say that, in those times, it was a fairly simple journey from the Middle East to India. I also read somewhere that Jesus was seen as crazy in his teens, and well, if people think you're crazy, what better place to go to than India?
With 29 years, he had learned enough and returned to his homeland in Galilee.

I've spent quite some time in India in my early twenties – I know what it can do to a young man. It certainly can make you even more crazy! But it can also initiate a spiritual revolution within, it can take you to beautiful deep places that basically change the way you look at life. And yes, there's Buddhism too.

To me this theory makes absolute sense. A young, curious guy goes to India, spends many years learning and practising Buddhism, and then he comes back with a bright smile and teaches what he's learned. People are first intrigued, then fascinated and finally they follow him around, because they want to be like him: happy.

Now, monks who are very experienced with meditation are able to alter their body temperature and also to lower their heart rate significantly, resulting in an almost absent pulse and no heart sounds. So what if Jesus, the Buddhist hanging on the cross, had applied the breathing and meditation techniques he had learned in the Himalayas? He would have been declared dead (no one could have double-checked with an EEG back then), put in a tomb and everyone would have thought he's dead. Two days later he climbs out and is the hero. Not that he cared to be the hero (true Buddhists seldom do), but it was perhaps the only way to escape death at the cross. Can't blame him for this little trick, can you?

If you strip the teachings of Jesus of all the religious add-ons, at the core of it all he talked about pretty much the same stuff as Buddha. Love, compassion, peace. Therefore it's totally possible that Jesus was actually a Buddhist, inspired by Buddha, sharing love and wisdom with his fellow people. That he wasn't the son of God, but instead a soul-searching Dude who got into meditation. Could have been you or me...

So why does this matter? After all, it's just another story. Yet that's exactly why it matters. They're all stories. Nobody can travel back in time and find out for sure.

We need stories. They inspire us, comfort us, give us hope and help us to connect with each other. But the importance of a story isn't the historical setting, it's not the details of events and characters and it doesn't even matter whether any of it has actually happened. All these things are irrelevant. What's important is the message.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The one trillion tax talk

Would you like to pay less tax? Less income tax on your earnings, less VAT on your purchases? Having 30% more money at the beginning of the month and paying 20% less on all things that can be bought? Sure you would – who wouldn't?

Unless your tax consultant is a genius though, or unless you're willing to fight a fierce David vs Goliath battle with the tax office, you won't be enjoying the benefits of less or no taxes. Or unless you are a powerful corporation.

I don't know about you, but I pay almost always the full tax. I don't mind doing it – I put something into the big pot and then the government takes money from this pot to finance hospitals, schools and roads, plus giving the really poor a helping hand. A good and sensible invention, this tax thing. Of course the government also does a lot of stupid things with that money, like subsidizing already profitable or even harmful businesses, fighting wars, building walls and so on. Enough material for 50 years of blogging, but let's ignore it this time.

A recent study estimates that 1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion) Euros are lost each year in the EU from both tax avoidance and tax evasion. Even if the estimate was bad and it came to only half of that, there'd be still 500 billion Euros lost each year. In other words, if everyone – individual people and corporations – paid the tax that corresponds to them, the EU would basically have no more financial problems. All public debt would be paid off within nine years and absolutely everyone would have their basic needs covered, such as education, healthcare, food and a home. No higher taxes needed – just pay your fair share. And yes, Amazon, you too!

Tax law should be enforced and all should be required to pay what is owed by them. If that is not done actual inequality arises: those who pay their taxes are worse off than those who do not. Resentment builds amongst taxpayers and non-compliance increases. More worryingly still, honest business is undermined by dishonest business. This means that honest businesses are more likely to fail.” (source)

So why is there such a huge tax gap? There are many reasons, but the underlying cause is probably human greed. Greed for money and greed for power. Just as a poor woman might steal a pen when she gets the opportunity, a middle class woman saves cash when paying a cleaner in black and a rich woman steals two million from the tax pot. In the same way, a corporation, guided by its shareholders, also grabs the opportunity for extra profit when it arises.

I don't like greed, but I can accept it. It's an ancient human weakness – wanting more, always more. However, given that the facts are so clear, that it's greed leading to tax theft leading to reduced public funds, there are other things that I can't accept. Like blaming immigrants for example.

The whole tax gap disaster needs to be solved, the sooner the better. That's where most attention should go. Instead, people go crazy when we open the borders to help those we've exploited in the first place; they say we can't afford more immigrants, so why should we rescue those sinking boats? Europe first – those black folks just want to steal our money.

Greed is causing inequality. Hence greed needs to be faced, addressed and, if not eliminated, at least it has to be tamed and controlled. Racing against immigrants is not only a sad human tragedy, but it's simply the wrong strategy. It will only worsen the problem, it will divide and breed hate and it definitely won't generate 1 trillion Euros...

And just because it fits so beautifully, here's Donald Trump: 
“The point is that you can't be too greedy.”
Any questions?

Monday, February 11, 2019

How to bake a new world

I've got a new passion: bread making! My girlfriend even says it's already gone far beyond a passion and has become an obsession. Bowls and bags of flour are taking up all empty space in the kitchen and the oven is almost constantly on. I feel like I'm doing a master degree, I read books and articles and study videos on YouTube. Lots of videos! A couple of weeks ago I had one of my occasional down days and when a good friend heard about it she sent me a message, trying to cheer me up and telling me not to watch any doomsday videos online. I laughed out loud and sent her a message back: “You know the suggestions you get on your YouTube feed? All I get these days are videos of people making bread. There's no space left for doomsday stuff!”

Every bread has four basic ingredients: flour, water, salt and something that makes it rise, ie yeast or sourdough. But a really good bread needs a fifth ingredient. Something that most breads you find in shops nowadays lack. It's a very simple yet also incredibly precious and important ingredient: time.

Some of the breads I make take over 24 hours. However, the amount of work needed for mixing the ingredients, for kneading, forming and scoring is actually quite small – most of the time the dough just sits there and slowly develops and ferments. It made me think of writing: A book can be written very quickly, but a good book needs time. And just like with making bread, the time spent writing isn't that much – what takes so long is the slow fermentation of ideas.

Looking at the world and the changes that are so desperately needed, perhaps it's a similar story as with bread making and writing. There are lots of ideas out there to make everything better, for people and the planet, and some of these ideas are already put into practice. Sometimes I get impatient though when I observe the slow progress, I get frustrated because I feel that everything should be changed today. It's hard to accept, but maybe certain changes simply need time too. Because just like you can't expect a good bread in one hour or a great book in one month, neither can you expect a perfect world in one year.

With all the accelerating environmental problems and social conflicts, the question is of course whether we have enough time to patiently wait for a better world. Perhaps it will be too late if we don't speed up our actions very soon, if we don't start to live in a sustainable and peaceful way latest by tomorrow. But even if we got our act together right now, it would still take time until we see major positive results. No matter how much we hurry, we still need to be patient and allow the changes to grow organically. Like watching ideas unfold into stories and a bit of flour and water turn into a beautiful, delicious bread.

Thoughts alone don't write any books though, just like time alone won't turn the bread ingredients into a tasty loaf. Ideas need to be put on paper and the dough needs to be kneaded and cared for. In other words: It requires time AND action to write a beautiful future and bake a new world.


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