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Bits and Pieces

Very often when I sit down to write my blog I have absolutely no idea what is going to come out. I generally have some sort of vague subject matter in mind and I sit down and have a go at it. This week is a little bit different. I have been under the weather with a bad chest cold all this week, so I haven’t really devoted any time to thinking about what I’m going to write about. A little bit desperate, I changed my Facebook status to reflect my problem and a few of my friends answered.

Doreen D. writes I’d love to hear your views on China today and then when you get back. Doreen is referring to my upcoming trip to China which I’ll be leaving for in May (for those wondering, we will be going to Beijing, Shi’an and ending up in Shanghai for the World Expo). Undoubtedly I’ll be doing a full trip narrative when we return but for now, this is what I think and/or know about China.

China has always held a great deal of fascination for me. Her culture is one of the oldest surviving on Earth, and yet they have had the ability to reinvent themselves regularly. At the moment, she is undergoing a renaissance, freeing herself from some of the strictures of Maoist communism and becoming in the process a greater presence in world politics and economics. This is bringing prosperity to her people, which can be seen in her changing skylines in Beijing, Shanghai and all over her vast territory.

In many ways, China is an enigma to Westerners. She is the most populous country on Earth but we really know so little about her. Sure, we all know the Great Wall, sweet and sour pork and Jackie Chan but what do we really know about her? One thing I do know; China is going to be perhaps the most dominant nation on Earth in the coming years. It behooves us to become economic partners with her and to give up our distrust of her. If China is going to indeed lead the economic way of the world in the new century, we had best get on the bus or be left behind as a second-rate nation.

In any case, I look forward to exploring a little bit of this beautiful country, even if it is for the most part her tourist centers. I don’t know that it will offer me any further insight into her people and her culture, but in any case I will let you know if my contact with China changes my opinion – and my fascination – of her.

In a similar vein, Ann C. writes why is it that when you eat Chinese food you’re hungry an hour later! In all honesty, I’ve had many hearty Chinese meals, having spent much time in the San Francisco Bay Area where great Chinese food is readily available. I think when you eat the gloppy, MSG-laden crap that is served in so many restaurants around other places you just don’t get the satisfaction of good Chinese food. That’s just a theory though – I don’t really know the physiology behind it. Still, I wonder if the Chinese people get hungry an hour after eating a Big Mac!

Ann C also writes why do insurance companies suck! Ann is a nurse in a facility geared towards the elderly, so she certainly sees first-hand the issues with our health care system. I think the basic issue is that while the medical profession is first and foremost concerned with healing the sick and wounded, whereas the insurance profession is first and foremost concerned with making a profit. The two goals don’t always mesh; the doctor wants the best care possible for their patient, the insurance agent wants the cheapest (they would say “cost-effective” but we know what they mean). I’m not saying that the insurance companies are callous and that everyone who works for them are uncaring, but let’s face it – they have been known to allow people to die rather than pay for the treatment they need. It is for that reason alone – for allowing agencies whose motivation is profit to dictate health care – that our system needs to be overhauled.

Shelley A writes I think we should limit the number of previews that movie theatres play before the feature film to four. Honestly, by the end of the third trailer and all the ads for snacks, I am ready for the main event! I have experienced 5 or 6 sometimes 7 trailers and by then, am frustrated. Well, I can understand that to a certain degree. I don’t have an issue with trailers – as a movie fan, I tend to want to see a many as possible but I think that five should probably be the limit. After all, when you walk into a theater, it’s because you paid to see the movie playing there, not to see the dozens of ads for Coke, cars and local businesses that play regularly for half an hour before the movie starts, then on top of it another ten minutes of preview.

Then again, that just shows how our attention span has evaporated over the years. Back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, you would see not one but two movies – bracketed with trailers, cartoons and newsreel footage. Of course, movies were a little shorter then, running generally no more than an hour and a half and usually closer to an hour but even so, you’re talking about three to four hours of entertainment for the price of a quarter, or even a nickel.

Of course, those days are over. Movie-watching is a different kind of animal these days and it will have to continue to evolve to fight home viewing, which is taking more and more of a chunk out of the theater-going experience. Maybe the solution is to split the trailers up into two viewings; two or three before the show, another two or three after it. Of course, the ones after the movie wouldn’t get the exposure the ones shown before the movie would so that might not go over too well with Hollywood. Ah well, think outside the box I always say.

Finally, Elaine L. writes why not write your blog on wealth and why some people see the size of a bank balance as an indication of the amount of happiness they have. That’s a good question and there’s no easy answer to that. Greed has always been a part of human nature, to want more than what you have. We all have it to a certain degree, but I do think that at this stage in Western history it is at its worst. We have become defined not so much by what we do but rather by what we don’t have. If we don’t have millions of dollars, we are somehow less important than by those who do. I worked for several years for a large financial firm; they routinely catered to wealthier clients and quite frankly, that made a lot of sense for them; after all, it was the wealthier clients who generated the most income for the firm.

Still, that way of thinking permeates our society now. Our political leaders have made laws that have tipped the playing field further towards the wealthy, where the playing field has always been tipped towards. It wasn’t enough for people to be millionaire, now they have to be billionaires. For the 5% of the population that is the wealthiest, it wasn’t enough to control 80% of the wealth – it soon became that 2% controlled 95% of it, leaving the rest of us to struggle.

We’ve bought into that mentality as well. We see advertisements for a lifestyle that is nice but unnecessary. We have to have laptops, 60” 3D plasma screen televisions, outrageous sound systems in our cars, iPhones with bluetooth headsets and gadgets of every sort imaginable. We’ve become acquisition zombies, shambling mindlessly through Best Buy, Target and Toys R Us, credit cards in our sweaty palms, looking for the fix that will make the feeling of being inadequate go away.

And that’s really why we do it. We shop for more stuff because it makes us feel successful. The more stuff we have, the more successful we are. That’s kind of been the equation for a good long time in the Western World, and it’s even more prevalent now. Not only do we have to have a lot of things, we have to have the latest things. And once we have them, we can’t wait to upgrade.

We are a disposable nation, one of planned obsolescence, where we must completely change out our things for new things over a five year period. It’s no wonder we can’t save any money – we’re constantly spending it on newer computers, newer cars, newer clothes. Our entire economy is based on our willingness to do that.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all about having a comfortable lifestyle in which you can afford to do the things you want to do. I think we all need to take a collective step backwards and take a deep breath. Is this really who we want to be?

I can understand the feeding frenzy. Da Queen recently got herself an iPhone or as we have been known to call it, iCrack. It certainly has an addictive quality to it and as is her royal prerogative, she has immersed herself in the world of apps; some useful, some not so much. Still, it is her new toy and she is giving it the attention that any new toy will receive.

But do we have to have a GPS? Aren’t maps good enough anymore? We can’t find our way from point “A” to point “B” without some supercilious voice telling us how to get there? I understand the convenience of the device, but not the need. Same for most of the things we “have to have.” Do we really need these things? They have become electronic pacifiers for us; they keep us feeling secure. We need that security to keep the feeling of being a failure at life at bay.

And the fact that we are not billionaires doesn’t make us failures, folks. To make that kind of money you have to have a certain amount of ruthlessness in you and quite honestly, a part of your soul needs to die. You can’t achieve that level of wealth without screwing over quite a few people to get there, and you can’t do that with a soul that is intact.

I’m not saying that all billionaires are evil or amoral but as the Bible says, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to go to Heaven. Whether you believe in Heaven or not, the sentiment is accurate. Is that what we really want to be? In Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, the fictional Gordon Gekko said “Greed is good.” Unfortunately, our society has taken that literally. It is time to re-learn what our society once knew; greed is bad and it is bad for society as a whole. When we learn that again, maybe our society will find our morality again as well. Until then, don’t expect things to change a great deal.


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