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18 Nov 2015

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Things that make me think

See also "Reactions", with frequent additions.


This is not philosophy. Just opinions. Things that begin to matter to me, hopefully to others as well. Our "Western Civilisation" has become so polished, so dull, that thinking and expressing one's opinions seems to be politically incorrect. This is no place for long discourse, so I'll try to be concise.

Land mines Landmines
A very fine weapon.
Fist Violence
More sex, less violence.
Maurice Politically correct
??
Supermarket Consumerism
Are we just consumers?
Yin-yang Spiritual
Or supersitious?
Café Trade
Life or NYSE ?
Wheat Garbage
Do you care ?
Ice cream Food
What do you eat ?
Haddock Journalists
Or blood-thirsty?
Diélette Silence
Or free-of-charge noise?
Tap Drinking water
Tap or bottled water?
(separate page)
Windpower Energy
Renewable?
(separate page)
 
Land mines
Land mine
Wars and land mines

ICBL logo

Hundred civilians (mostly children) are killed, and a greater number are maimed every day while stepping over a personal landmine laid by unscrupulous military forces. Who are these forces? Afghanis, Serbs, Tchechens? No: Americans, Chinese, South Koreans, all of which pretend to be civilised... Why should a super-power, keen enough to give lessons on human rights to everybody, refuse to sign the agreement banning landmines? Enough people have lamented the death of Princess Diana, but we are missing her for her action in this respect.
Child

A landmine is cheap to produce, and expensive and time-consuming to remove once it has been placed in the field. As long as it is not removed, it kills. 30 years after the war is over. France has 1.4 million of such mines in its arsenals (is that by fear of a Belgian invasion?). It has now committed to destroy them within two years. Will China, India, Pakistan and the U.S. ever follow?
Governments tend today to be more sensitive to the pressure of the public opinion. Your opinion counts. For a better information, goto the American site supporting the ban of landmines.

FR
 
Violence
Rambo-Schtroumpf
To be distributed worldwide (and specifically in North America), a film may show any amount of violence, but if the hint of a buttock or nipple appears, it is immediately censored.
Are we supposed to understand that violence is normal and legitimate, but sex isn't? Why do we read every week in the paper that a 14 year old kid has shot someone dead with a gun? Why do we hear on radio that a gang of youth has assaulted a bus driver?
Do we need more police for more safety? No, we need less violence. We need to teach our children what is wrong with it. What happened to the motto "Make love, not war"? One of the good ideas of the late sixties was wiped away with the surge of materialistic ideals. The other side of the medal, in the sixties and seventies, is that many young people abruptly decided that they had nothing to learn from the elders. Parents and teachers gave up. And now, the education and moral values of many have just gone down the drain, specifically in so-called "developed countries".
And today, a few adepts of Islam are advocating discrimination and violence as a way to gain Paradise (see Spiritual below). This is a clear return to Barbarity.

 

Gandhi
Sociologic studies* have demonstrated that global violence, as shown in the 20th century Holocaust, and more recently in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, is not genetically determined, i.e. is not a common human instinct. In small societies domestic conflicts related to territories or women do create violence, but usually stop after the first bloodshed. Global violence results from the will of large political or religious organisations that can be manipulated by violent men. Cultural teaching and traditions can develop the sense of violence. This is why I believe that one of our most biggest duties is to teach non-violence, and I consider Gandhi as one of the most important men ever born. More generally, if the nations spent in education the money they are wasting in weapons, our Earth would be more peaceful.

(*) See F. Héritier and P. Karli in "Science et Vie", N°1031, Aug 2003, p.43.

 

Naked man
Click
Naked woman
Click

...less violence
FR
 
Politically correct
Maurice
This one is particularly slippery (I mean, the topic): am I a racist, antisemitic, misogynic white male?
Who has decided that black people living in North America should be called "African Americans"? I wonder if they really feel African... When I am sitting in a meeting in India, and I am the only non-Indian, I don't feel hurt if Mr. Shankar asks Mr. Bakshi: "Who is the white man?" rather than: "Who is that man with the rimless glasses?"
Minorities are, by definition, different. They have the right to exist. Many of us try to be different. But basically, we are all humans, with rights and duties. One of them requires efforts to live in good harmony within the society. Once again, peace is the keyword. I agree that my freedom stops where the next man begins to be hurt.
However, I am also a strong defendant of the free speech. If my neighbour or my friend has lost his eyesight, I call him blind. Whilst it is a terrible pain to be blind, I cannot understand that describing my friend as a "man with an eyesight handicap" instead of just blind will alleviate that pain. Those complicated circumlocutions are just ridiculous.
This being said, I totally support the opinion of an American resident who recently expressed his views on racial identity in an article in the International Herald Tribune. A contribution of Feb 2007 was written by Jeremy, a South African columnist and cartoonist. If you like to read in French, see what Aimé Césaire wrote about "négritude".

Speaking of politics — but this is actually a different subject — I recommend you to read the opinion of Vaclav Havel.

FR
 
Six billion consumers
Rolex
Coca-Cola

Shopping cart

From the International Herald Tribune dated 29 February 2008, written by Garrison Keillor an American radio columnist:
I want my kid to grow up in a society that values knowledge and hard work and public spirit over owning stuff and looking cool.

Obviously, fashion is not something new: Molière already denounced it (1659) in Les Précieuses ridicules. Today, ten year old children fume against their parents if they are refused sports shoes with a bright Nike or Reebok logo.

Coca-Cola is sold in Goa (photo taken in 2003). The company already advertised this beverage in 1900. Advertising (disguised as "communication" by those ashamed of speaking openly of advertising) tries to make us buy all sorts of products that we do not really need — and often succeeds. And this is how, going to the supermarket to buy a box of washing powder and a tube of tooth paste, you come back home with a load of sweets and a miracle can-opener that will soon find its last residence at the back of the kitchen drawer.

Clearly, if I really have to buy something, I wish to find information helping me chose among a vast offering. I am thus not totally opposed to advertising. But I vehemently combat magical claims about the health benefits of industrial food, "rich in omega three and calcium". See an example in my "Reactions" page. It is mostly a deception.

A few consequences of our consumer frenzy:


Links:

The story of stuff: a little simplistic, but basically correct, about the life cycle of products, designed obsolescence, why our society turned human beings into consumers, how it harms the planet and what will be done to avoid a total ecological disaster. Watch the 20 minute video to its end.

"5 reasons not to shop in supermarkets" (from Environmental Graffiti).

FR
 
Fair trade
Grains de café
Is coffee essential to our lives? No. Is it a small, affordable luxury? Yes. Who is supplying us with coffee, cocoa, bananas? Not the Breton farmers, who survive at least partially thanks to the subsidies of the EC. No, our suppliers are the Latin American and African producers. Who helps them to survive? Nobody. Who sets the sales price? A European or "Global" commission? No: Nestlé, United Fruit, Cadbury, Danone.

When you pay 3 Euros for a cup of coffee on the Champs-Élysées, the Indonesian, Ugandan or Colombian producer gets less than a cent.

The revenue of the coffee producers dropped from 12.5 G$ (Gigadollars, or billions of US$) down to 5.5 G$ over the last ten years. In the same time span, the turnover of the five biggest coffee traders moved from 30 to 60 G$. In other words, the income of the producers was halved, and that of the traders has doubled.

It does not seem vital to me that the value of the Nestlé common share maintain a high level. On the other hand 500,000 jobs have been lost in 2001, because the market price for coffee beans has collapsed. 25 million rural families (yes, 25,000,000) are suffering a dramatic decrease of their income. This is blatant injustice, and throws a peculiar light on the "global policies" which are developed for the sole benefit of the rich countries. We are creating explosive conditions amidst the peoples who suffer from these policies. The day a revolt appears, you and I will have created a part of it.

We can act, modestly, against this trend, when we buy coffee, chocolate or bananas for which we know a fair price is being paid to their producers.

More information on "Fair Trade" (links).

What I said on this subject in January 2000: A fair price

FR
 
Spirituality
Yin-yang
André Malraux wrote: "The 21st century will be spiritual, or won't be." He is (was) right. Unlike other species of creation, we need both spiritual and material food to survive. Industrialisation and technical progress have taken ample care of the latter (at least for those of us rich enough to read these lines). What has been lost in the process is the practice of thinking. In other words, philosophy.
Now that we are amply fed with material food, we are starving for spiritual nourishment. You would think that we find some in the realms of art and science. Alas, instead of metaphysics, we turn to astrology and spiritism. There are more fortune-tellers in Paris today than ever in history.
Religion was said to be the opium of people. Religion is dying, or taking weird ways with numerous sects and sometimes violence.
FR
 
Silence
Harpsichord
Acoustic pollution is everywhere. You have noticed that I love music. But not all music. Some music for me is as unbearable as a pneumatic drill. If the owner of a supermarket thinks he gives my any pleasure by broadcasting floods of soapy music in his shop, he is damn wrong. If my neighbour loves hard rock and thinks everyone in the block should be grateful to listen to the last CD from his blasting stereo, he is wrong again.
Kids get progressively deaf through listening to loud music in their walkman or CD player. The quality of music in some public places seems to be measured in decibels and kilowatts. Under such circumstances, music is not soothening the soul, it is increasing the stress... One of the greatest luxuries of the 21st century will be silence.
Links:
FR
 
Journalism
Tintin
This is one of the professions I should have taken up. I love collecting information and sharing it with an audience. This requires, however, a good dose of "esprit critique", both regarding the value of the subject and the quality of the information.
Captain Haddock on the picture doesn't seem too pleased with what he is reading. This happens to me all the time, principally regarding articles written by journalists on technical subjects. Because nobody is expected to have a precise idea of the quantity of radiation emitted as "4 megabequerel", or of the hazard caused by it, the least the newsman should do is give us some reference: the "radioactive dust cloud" proceeding from Chernobyl two days after the accident is so many MBq, and the natural radioactivity of this village in the Massif Central of France so many. The newsman just doesn't care. He just says 4 megabequerel and hopes to scare his entire readership. Does that sell more copies?

See also: Reactions (updated regularly)

FR
 
Garbage
Wheat field
Do you care about the environment?
I was tempted to write this in German, for a change, but then I realised that the German-speakers are the most disciplined in respect to waste. In Switzerland, each village has a site where you can dump your garbage into various containers. One for metals, one for paper, three (!) for glass, according to colour, one for plastic bottles (but it says "PET only", and I am not sure if my olive oil bottle is in PET...). In Bern, the garbage collectors will not pick up your garbage bag on the street unless you have affixed a tax stamp worth 1.50 US$, so you won't put in that bag things you can dispose of in a different way.
In Singapore, chewing gum is banned completely in the whole city-state. So you don't find the ugly marks on the sidewalk and on the platform of the MTS (their Métro).
In Paris, we are not so advanced, although glass and paper are in principle collected separately. I have not put a glass bottle in the common garbage bin for the last 15 years or so, when Chirac (then Mayor of Paris) installed the green spherical containers in the streets. I have however a strong suspicion that only a minority of the population cares. You can hear the sound of broken glass when the garbage collection vehicle is on duty in your street. It will take until our children, who are taught about environmental issues, become adults.
Some simple things you can do to to preserve the earth: All this may look a bit simplistic - some will say childish - but let's just begin to act responsibly.
FR
 
Food
Ice cream
According to Michel Montignac, the per capita annual consumption of sugar in France has been:

In the USA, (source: USNews.com), the per capita sugar consumption was 65 kg per year in 2003...
My father used to say: the people of Wallis (a mountainous area of Switzerland) used to have excellent teeth until commerce with the bottom of the valley, and thus with the rest of the world, developed, and they had access to sugar. In less than a generation, they all lost their teeth.
I am not saying that their life was all rosy: they suffered other diseases due to malnutrition, especially goiter caused by insufficient iodine in the food and in the salt.
Since the beginning of life, many populations had to struggle everyday to get food. Many still have to. In the so-called "developed world", plentiful food is available to - almost - everybody. But what food? White refined sugar, glucose from starch, wheat flour as white as snow, plus any amount of chicken and beef raised with generous doses of hormones, processed carcasses and antibiotics. Here is a list of the permitted food additives in Europe, with a few comments.
A few years ago, Europe was sitting on a "butter mountain" that seems to have melted since, meaning probably that we have eaten all. This is now our food: sugar, white flour, cheap meat and milk fat. The basic ingredients of a hamburger. When you happen to pass through Los Angeles or Philadelphia airport, you can't help wondering at the number of obese people wandering around.

See also:

Elian

The danger expecting Elian, the Cuban kid, if he stays too long in Miami...
(according to the satirical paper "Le Canard Enchaîné" dated 19 Apr 2000)
Click to enlarge

© François de Dardel
FR


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