Category Archives: food and cuisine

The disappearance of adult music

When I was growing up in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, there was a clear demarcation between youth music and adult music. On the radio dial, the stations which marketed themselves toward the younger demographic played pop, rock, disco, R & B, soul and heavy metal. Alternatively, the stations which had an older, more mature audience played mainly classical and jazz. Most major cities in the U.S.A. had stations which were devoted exclusively to these genres as recently as a couple of decades ago. Those stations are now extinct, or nearly extinct. Teenage pop music, rap, and hip hop have taken over those coveted bandwidths on the radio waves. The adult audience has been unceremoniously evicted from radio.

This dire situation is compounded by the fact that restaurants, coffeeshops and cafes have followed the lead of the radio stations. Only in the most high-end and five-star restaurants can one now listen to classical or traditional music. I live in a large Southeast Asian metropolis, and I go out to eat and drink frequently. I can say unequivocally that teen pop music, along with cover music, has completely taken over the ambience in eating and drinking establishments. It doesn’t matter which neighborhood, which cafe or which restaurant I’m in. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chain or independent establishment. It matters neither whether it is Eastern or Western food or if it caters to tourists or locals, rich or poor.  The music is always the same; shite pop music marketed to teens.

In shopping malls, gourmet markets, clothing stores, and convenience stores, it’s the same. Every time I open a door to walk inside ANY business, my ears are assaulted with the hideous, putrid garbage commonly known as ‘modern pop.’ Most of the time, the music is played at a loud volume. It is far beyond ‘background music.’ In other words, there is no escape. 

What’s particularly interesting about this phenomenon is how utterly unaware people are of it. Whenever I question random people about the music, they reply with answers such as: “Oh, I didn’t notice it,” or “It doesn’t bother me,” or “It’s ok.” When pressed further, they are unable to identify either the genre or the artist currently being  piped over the speakers. Apparently, it’s just some noise with a melody, but they don’t have a strong opinion about it either way.

At the moment, I’m sitting inside an extremely popular and hip coffeeshop chain during lunch hour. Approximately 25 percent of the clientele is over the age of 50 and half of the customers are at least 30 years of age. Yet none of them seem aware, let alone bothered by, the loud pop music wafting from the overhead speakers.

Here in Asia, Western music has completely  uprooted traditional music. However, despite the fact that Western music is now ubiquitous and that a large percentage of the youth is studying English, the locals  still can’t understand the lyrics of the songs. The convergence of the popularity of Western pop with the inability of the population to understand the lyrics creates bizarre and sometimes hilarious scenes. For example, the elderly who practice traditional Western dances such as the waltz in the park listen to a song where the singer croons about dumping his girlfriend whom he now despises. The oblivious couples think that they are listening to a ‘romantic’ song. The managers of fashionable clothing stores marketed to tourists play hip- hop songs from playlists downloaded from the internet. Last week, I was in such a store. This is what I heard from the speakers: “Hey motherfucker, whatcha gonna do? Fuck that shit, you can go fuck yourself, bitch….” And on and on. I pulled the young kid who was working on the floor aside and politely told him that perhaps this wasn’t the most appropriate music to be playing and nodded toward the families and kids nearby. He thought for a moment and said, “Yes, ok,” and wandered over to change the music.

What about the  European parents who were in the store at that time? Did they not mind the music? Did they find that music appropriate for their children? They too seemed oblivious. We find ourselves in a predicament now where all of us, regardless of our age or preferences, listen to kids’ music. The adults in the world have abdicated the radio airwaves and the wider soundscape in the public sphere without a fight or even a whimper of protest.

I have found only one man, in Britain, who at least is trying to do something. I can only pray that he can find some support. Here in Asia, the battle is lost. All I can do now is fight a defensive battle and pick and choose the places I frequent with extreme caution if I wish to protect my brain from being scrambled with what passes these days for ‘music.’

 

The absolute horror of cover music.

When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was familiar with cover bands. These were what we called ‘garage bands,’ a group of guys who enjoyed occasionally getting together to perform gigs at parties or special events for friends. The band members were proficient enough on their instruments to learn popular songs and play them well, but they weren’t songwriters. Some cover/garage bands were better than others. The best ones spent a lot of time rehearsing and could play a cover song with real gusto and flair. My brothers had cover bands play at their weddings,  and they put on great shows.

There is certainly nothing inherently wrong with a band playing and singing the music of other bands. If people don’t have the opportunity or the money to see their favorite band perform live, then seeing a cover band play those songs at a show can be a satisfying alternative.  I have had many enjoyable evenings listening and dancing to cover bands.

However, in the last couple of decades, an entire industry has been created to record and market cover music. This industry has nothing to do with weekend garage bands. Like all big industries, it is all about money- big money. The epicenter of the cover music industry is in Asia, where people are absolutely infatuated  over cover music. How and why this came to be I have no idea. Cover music is now so ingrained in the culture of Asia that it’s almost become part of the scenery.

I know this because I often visit restaurants, coffee shops, lounges, and bars,  and cover music is played in the majority of these establishments. Managers arrive in the morning, press ‘play’ on the computer screen where there is a ten-hour long playlist of cover songs and then forget about the music for the rest of the day.

Cover music, specifically the recored playlists which are widely played in eating and drinking venues, is an abomination, for many reasons. People, particularly Asians, need to wake up to this fact and demand to hear real music again.

First, the songs which are covered are all from English-speaking bands, usually from the United States and England. Most of the people in Asia listening to this music have not the slightest idea what the songs are about. The lyrics are unintelligible to them. Even locals who have a moderate grasp of English can’t understand the vast majority of songs which are played on the sound systems at their jobs. Even worse, they don’t even try to understand the words. The music, being played all day, every day, just becomes background noise, something that is not worth paying attention to.

Second, the young Asian crowds listening to the songs are wholly unfamiliar with the original songs. They know they’re listening to cover songs, but haven’t a clue who wrote the song in the first place. And they couldn’t care less. They don’t know that the original song was sung nothing like the cover version and had a completely different feeling to it.

Third , the bands whose songs are being covered, recorded, and marketed are not given their rightful  share of royalties. The musicians who wrote the songs don’t have the time, money, or energy to travel around the world with lawyers and try to rein in the huge and ever-growing cover music industry. Intellectual property rights, contracts, and royalties are not the concern of customers who sit and listen to cover music for hours on end in coffee shops in Seoul, Tokyo, and Saigon.

Next, the songs are all covered and sung by young women who change the tempo and feeling of the songs. You see, in Asia, they love what is called ‘relaxing’ music. Music in Asia is seen as  something which should calm the nerves after being out in traffic all afternoon. This is the main reason why Kenny G is a god-like figure throughout Asia. So, in the cover music factory, probably located somewhere in the suburbs of Tokyo or Seoul, the female singers take the songs and sing them in a mellow and ‘soft jazz’ kind of style. Now, that might work for some songs, but the cover music managers have their singers do this for all songs. I’ve been in Asia long enough now to realize that probably every Billboard Top 100 song from 1965 to the present day has been covered, recorded, and sold.  I used to think that they just preferred to cover the ‘soft rock’ hits from the 70s and 80s, like the Carpenters and Terry Jacks, but now I’ve heard nearly every genre covered.

For example, I recently heard the famous hit from The Police, ‘Every Breath You Take,’ being played as a cover song in a Japanese restaurant which I frequent. That song was always creepy; after all, it’s about a stalker. Sting sang it with just the right amount of menace in his voice to make it work. However, in the Asian cover version, the female crooner turns the song inside out and tries to make it into a mellow  love song! “Hey, I’ll be watching you, la-la-la.”

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of Bob Marley’s songs on cover playlists. The gourmet market where I shop has been playing this list frequently in the last month. It is bizarre to hear some young Asian female singing “I remember when we used to sit….in the government yard in Trenchtown.” (From Marley’s famous song ‘No Woman No Cry.’) That woman singing the song probably couldn’t even find Jamaica on a map. It was always bad enough to hear cover songs from the Carpenters, but now they’re covering Reggae and Grunge music!

Herein lies the rub: these companies pumping out cover versions of famous songs can copy the melody and the lyrics, but they can never duplicate or replicate the feeling or the soul of the song. They know this, and they don’t even try. They slow the beat down on every song and just tell the girl to sing it like it’s a lounge song. It simply doesn’t matter if the original feeling of the song is obliterated in the process. The cover music  industry managers do this to every song. Hell, I recently heard ‘Come as You Are’ the famous song from Nirvana played on a cover playlist. It’s not a very good song; it’s completely nonsensical  and the only reason it had success was Cobain’s hoarse and edgy voice and the thumping bass line.

I’ve asked various people over the last few years, both customers and restaurant managers, why they were playing and listening to cover music. After all, since the original versions of the songs are available, for free on the internet, why not just play the originals? Why listen to a 20-year-old Korean girl sing ‘No Woman No Cry’ when you can just play the entire ‘Exodus’ album from YouTube and hear Bob Marley sing it? I’ve never gotten a clear answer. The customers don’t pay any attention to what’s playing, and the managers always say something like, “Well, we like cover music. Her voice is so good. It’s so relaxing. The customers like it.” Or, “My boss likes this kind of music.”

It appears that cover music has taken over Asia. Not only are the original songs being lost, but the indigenous music of Asia has receded so far into the background that it, too, risks going extinct. I protest as much as I can, but I’m just one person. Unless people demand an end to this nonsense, this is what we will be living with in our future: Soul-less, corporate junk music which will continue to lobotomize the public into a permanent zombie state.

 

 

 

 

 

Five disturbing trends in the restaurant industry

There have been a numerous new trends in the restaurant industry over the past decade, and, unfortunately, all of them are bad. Restaurant owners have proven to be susceptible to all the recent technological fads and have  contributed to the generalized dumbing down of society.

  1. Menus with photos.

This trend seems to be most prevalent in Asia and probably began here.  Almost every Asian restaurant that I visit now has a picture menu. Even the most basic, simple, and elementary dish requires an accompanying photo. Take, for example, the classic Vietnamese dish, Pho. It is sold on every street corner of the city, in every Vietnamese restaurant and in every shopping mall. It is eaten in every Vietnamese home. Yet, restaurant owners apparently believe that customers need to see a picture of a soup bowl with noodles inside next to the word ‘Pho.’  A can of coke requires an accompanying photo. So does a bottled water.

These elaborate picture menus require considerably more expense and effort than a good old-fashioned written menu. The pages must be much thicker; indeed, many of these menus are printed on cardboard instead of paper. Or, they are laminated with hard plastic. Picture menus  are often extremely large and one needs to carefully use the entire half of the table to open it. And because fewer items can be printed on each page, thanks to all the photos, the menus must be considerably longer as well. The longest menu I have seen in Southeast Asia was 70 pages.

Picture menus are for children. They have no place in any respectable restaurant. No owner with any sense of pride in his establishment and respect for his customers would have a picture menu. The photos are unnecessary and are a waste of space, time, money, and effort. In the ‘old days,’ owners had to spend time writing creative descriptions of their dishes for their menus. Nowadays, they take the easy way out and slap a photo next to the item. ‘Idiocracy’? We’re living in it.

2. Big Screen Televisions

Televisions in restaurants used to be associated exclusively with sports bars. The idea was to draw in customers who were traveling and wanted to catch their favorite sports team or watch a special game. Sports bars had their place the scheme of things and I never saw much harm in them. One day, though, some restaurant owners who were looking for a new gimmick to increase sales said to themselves, “Hey, maybe we can get a piece of that action. Why should sports bars be the only ones to have televisions? Let’s put a big screen tv up behind the bar and see what happens. We’ll keep everything else the same, but now we can say that we provide a television for the local sports games.”

And so it went. Pretty soon, every other restaurant, reacting to the competition and the trend, installed giant flat screens in their bars and dining rooms as well. The old clearly demarcated line between sports bars and fine dining was obliterated, almost overnight.

Once the televisions have been turned on, managers don’t like to turn them off. As an experiment, I encourage my readers to go to their favorite local restaurant and ask the manager, politely, to turn off the television and see what kind of reaction you get. He will most likely look at you as if you are insane.

A couple of years ago I visited my family in Washington D.C. My brother took me out to a trendy neighborhood with dozens of upscale restaurants. I asked him to take me one without televisions. He thought about it for a moment and replied, “You know, I can’t think of one. I’m pretty sure every single one of these places has a screen.

The invasion of televisions into restaurants has reached a height of absurdity unimaginable even a few years ago. Some resto-bars have a dozen televisions playing, along with music. Combine that with loud customers and street noise and you have a chaotic scene. Even though not a single customer can be seen who is actually viewing one of the screens, managers refuse to turn them off. They are now seen as ‘ambience.’

I have attempted to talk with managers and owners about this, but my protestations fall on deaf ears, always. I point out that having televisions does not bring in customers. I mention that nobody views them anyway. I argue that they are energy hogs. I tell them that they destroy the ambience of the dining experience. No matter. The trend has been set and now there is no turning back.

In researching this article, I did a google search on televisions in fine-dining restaurants and was heartened to see numerous articles written about the subject. There is a debate about it, but it needs to be much broader and reach a much bigger audience.

3.  Free Wi-Fi

Although flat-screen televisions had already mostly destroyed the ambience of many restaurants, the installation of free Wi-Fi put the final nail in the coffin. Once again, we saw  restaurant owners tripping over each other to be trendy and caving in to fickle and superficial customers who just wanted their damn Wi-Fi! Dude! Owners took the short-term view versus the long-term view. The short-term view means giving customers what they demand, now. The longer-term view, I argue, involves preserving something called the ‘restaurant experience,’ which involves far more than eating  delicious food. It encompasses the entire experience of eating out, from the moment you enter the restaurant until the moment you leave. When a customer is able to eat exceptional food in an elegant, relaxed setting and engage in stimulating conversation during the meal, the experience can be almost transcendent.

The availability of free Wi-Fi guarantees that customers will never be able to enjoy that kind of experience. A quick glance around the dining area of any restaurant today will show more than half of the customers with their heads bent down at unnatural angles, staring into the bright screens of their smart phones, their faces eerily illuminated. Conversation is entirely absent. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends ignore each other entirely for the duration of the meal.  A person can choose not to use a smart phone while in the restaurant, but there is no way to block out the surrounding customers who exist in their zombie cyber-world.

4. Servers using iPads and smartphones to take orders

I experienced this loathsome trend last week in the Bangkok airport. The nervous young girl who waited on me didn’t want to talk at all; she was nervously focused on her hand-held device, using her thumbs to carefully enter in my order, which was, apparently, sent at the speed of light to the kitchen a few feet away. What idiotic owner really believes that supplying his waitstaff with computers is going to improve service? The device creates a totally unnecessary barrier between the server and customer. The server’s eyes and attention are now entirely focused on the gadget and away from the customers, where it should be. The ability of the server to engage in conversation, banter, and even flirtation with the customers is severely hampered.

I recall a rather humorous experience I had a few years ago in Seattle when I first observed this trend. I was eating in an Indian restaurant for lunch. My table was just a few feet from the kitchen. Indeed, I could see the chefs through an opening in the wall behind the register. The owner decided to take my order and he entered it onto his hand-held device. It was clear to me that he was immensely proud of his high-tech way of taking orders. He assured me, with a broad smile, that my order would be received ultra-fast by the chefs in the kitchen and, hence, I could receive my food that much quicker. Alas, I was not impressed. I told him, flatly, that I thought his gadgetry was unnecessary, silly, and pretentious. Furthermore, I told him that I was not in a particular hurry and if I wanted ‘fast food’, I could go to McDonald’s. This portly owner seemed to regard efficiency as the highest goal in the restaurant business.

5. Servers unfolding the customer’s napkin and placing it in his lap

This may not be a new trend. Perhaps some fine dining restaurants have always done this. I’m not sure. But if it is a new trend, I hope it will disappear as quickly as possible. I remember clearly the first time a waiter grabbled my napkin and attempted to put in my lap. I was so shocked at the action that I didn’t know quite what to do or say. All I could manage at the moment was, “What in the hell are you doing? Do  I look like a baby?”

What kind of sheer nonsense is this? Customers now need assistance unfolding their napkins? Only babies and incapacitated geriatric patients should need assistance like this. The servers don’t ask customers, either. No. They simply come to the  table and with a big smile place the napkin in customer’s  laps.

I was in a nice Italian restaurant a couple of weeks ago when the server attempted this silly maneuver. I kept repeating, ‘What are you  doing? What are you doing? What.. are… you… doing…?’ She didn’t answer and continued to unfold the napkin and reach over to place it in my lap. I finally had to forcibly grab her arm and shove her away from me. Really, if owners and managers think this pretentious little dance is necessary, then why stop there? Why not have the server sit at the table and lift the fork and spoon for the customers? It’s the logical next step.

 

 

 

 

 

Transhumanism, wearable tech, and the Neo-Luddites

Walking through an airport last week, I caught a glimpse of the new issue of Time magazine. The eye-catching cover shows the bottom half of a man’s forearm and a clenched fist. Superimposed on the bare forearm is a multi-colored computer interface illuminating various graphs and charts showing pulse rate, calories consumed, time, temperature and other data. The title and subtitle of the article  reads: “Never offline- The Apple Watch is just the start. How wearable tech will change your life- like it or not.”

The editors and headline writers at Time have always had a penchant for headlines that subtly talk down to their readers, with phrases like ‘Here’s what you need to know’ and ‘why everything you thought you knew about (insert issue) is wrong’ and so on. This particular title is not even subtle about its message: transhumanism is here and resistance is futile. 

Wired magazine, the bible of tech zombies:

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The article itself discusses the launching last week of Apple’s newest trendy gadget, its wearable watch. I expected the author of the piece to be a gung-ho techie who was going to be breathlessly touting the wonders of the watch. So,  I was surprised that the author, to his credit, took a rather neutral,  even nervous,  tone regarding where this kind of gadget is taking us. The author claimed that ‘this is technology attempting to colonize our bodies.’

Overall, the article appears to neither wholly support nor condemn the watch; the writer simply accepts that this is the direction we are heading in and we will have to adapt.

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Apple’s introduction of its watch and the media campaign, with the likes of Time magazine, surrounding it, is yet another salvo in the transhumanism offensive to move us to ‘post-humanity’ , a term which the article’s author even mentions.

No doubt the young tech zombies will rush out to buy  whatever new product Apple introduces and the rest of the herd will soon follow. (The Iphone 6 was selling on the black market for 3x the retail price in China.) Will there be any resistance to the transhumanist agenda?  A year ago a small fracas erupted in a neighborhood in San Francisco as a number of bar patrons violently objected to a girl who was walking around the bar wearing google glass. The story  got airplay in the Bay Area press but wasn’t picked up by many other media outlets. At the time, I wondered whether a Neo-Luddite movement might be possible to finally give some push-back to the tech onslaught. (The Luddites were a group of English textile artisans who protested, sometimes violently, against the introduction of machines during the 19th century.)

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The chances of such a movement developing are slim to none, but I did read that article with great interest and a sense of hope. The ‘powers that be’ (TPTB) are in a rush to decimate most of humanity and microchip the survivors. Companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, which after all are mostly owned by the same stockholders and work together,  are at the forefront of the agenda to modify us into something that is more machine than human. The iphone laid the groundwork and the watch is the next step. The implanted phone/computer has surely already been developed in a lab somewhere and will be foisted upon the public in another year or two. We can expect that the launching of the implanted computer will be accompanied by the same brand of media coverage as we have seen for the iphone and watch. That is, the writing will range for joyous acceptance to limp resignation.

Televisions and Wifi

A new restaurant opened last month in my neighborhood. I like what they have done  with the interior, especially the enormous wooden table which they placed in the center of the main room to use for shared dining. It has a nice, functional wraparound bar with recessed lighting and a selection of wines by the glass. The new manager was there last week when I stopped by and we chatted for a while. I thanked him for doing something different on Bui Vien Street and not filling the restaurant with televisions showing sports. However, a week later when I returned two enormous televisions were hanging from the ceiling. Disappointed,  I asked the manager, “How could you?” He lamely replied that ‘customers asked for it.’ I didn’t believe him, but nowadays all restaurant owners feel pressured to install televisions lest they lose customers to the loud bar next door. It’s all about catering to the herd  masses.

And god help you if you are a restaurant owner who hasn’t installed free wifi. Be prepared to be crucified on Yelp, tripadvisor, and other review sites. Recently I read a review of a restaurant on Yelp and a young man gave an otherwise good review to the restaurant in question, but was apoplectic that they didn’t offer Wifi. “How do they expect me to enjoy my meal if I can’t check my Facebook??? Waaaaaaahhhhhhh!”

To the few remaining restaurant owners out there who have not caved in and still offer a television- and wifi- free dining experience, GOD BLESS YOU. You are a dying breed.


 

 

The rise of ‘super bugs’ and the decline of allopathy

I recently came across  two articles which addressed the issue of antibiotic overuse and abuse. One of them was written by Ranjita Biswas of IPS (Inter Press Service) and the other was an article from an English language newspaper in Viet Nam.  The first one gave a global overview of the problem with a focus on India, and the latter  was an analysis of the acute problem we are facing here.

Perusing these articles and sharing them with my students, I was hit with the realization that we really have come to a dead-end with this 200+ -year-old Allopathic model of medicine. Allopathic, or ‘modern’ medicine started to gain serious traction in the 19th century in America, and really took off when the Rockefeller family got behind it and began to fund medical schools and hospitals in the USA and monopolize the cancer ‘treatment’ industry. The Rockefeller influence is a fascinating and little-known part of American history that is never taught to medical and nursing students. For a good introduction to the topic, I recommend Eustace Mullins’ ground-breaking work, “Murder by Injection. The Story of the Medical Conspiracy against America.”

 

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Prior to the rise, and eventual overwhelming dominance, of Allopathy in America, most people visited a homeopath when they became seriously ill. If history had gone in another direction, it’s possible that today we would have allopaths, homeopaths, chiropractors and others all working together and none claiming dominance or hierarchy, but that’s not how things went. The doctors of the new medicine didn’t want competition and homeopathy and chiropractic were suppressed vigorously. Although today you can certainly still find any kind of medical practitioner you choose, it is undeniable that when most people think of ‘medicine’ , they are referring to the Allopathic model, which can be boiled down to pharmaceutical drugs and surgery.

Which brings us back to the subject of the recent articles: antibiotics and their use and abuse.  The IPS article highlighted the problem in India where the average person takes eleven (!) antibiotic pills a year, which means that the country as a whole consumed an eye-popping 12.9 billion ‘units.’  The problem with widespread and regular use of antibiotics is that the bacteria for which they were designed to kill become resistant to them. Eventually, they adapt and evolve, or mutate,  into ‘super-bugs.’ And then pharmaceutical companies must design a new antibiotic which the bacteria will eventually become resistant to as well. We’re in a vicious cycle and the only way out is to exit the system completely.

 

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This has become a deadly serious matter. According to the article, in Europe alone 25,000 people die annually from drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

The overconsumption of antibiotics takes different forms depending on whether you live in the Western developed world or in the so-called developing world where I have lived for the past 3 years. In the USA in particular where many M.D.s have been  corrupted by pharmaceutical pay-offs (disguised as seminars, dinners etc.), antibiotics are routinely over-prescribed.  In the developing world, the problem is the completely unregulated buying and selling of the drugs. Many years ago when I got sick with an infection in Peru, I was delighted that I could walk into a pharmacy and simply buy an antibiotic without a doctor’s order. It saved me a lot of time and money. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that everyone in the country was doing that whenever they got sick. Neither the populace as a whole nor the pharmacy workers were educated about the potential harmful effects of the drugs.

 

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Going back to India, the article states that the problem is a combination of ‘increasing income and affordability, easy access without a prescription, willingness of physicians to prescribe antibiotics freely and a high background of infections that should ideally be contained  by better sanitation and vaccination.’ In fact, that statement describes quite a few countries in our world including Viet Nam. With the crisis in India growing larger by the day, people are starting to recognize it and dumping Western medicine altogether for  Ayurveda , homeopathy, and naturopathy.

A group has been formed in India to raise awareness of the issue. Ashok Tamhankar, the coordinator of the organization IIMAR stated, “The ignorance and callousness are at every level of society-from care providers like doctors , to pharmacists, lawmakers, manufacturers, and even the consumers.”

Such an awareness-raising organization is sorely needed in Viet Nam where the problem of rampant antibiotic overconsumption is acute. No doctor’s order is needed for most drugs and people routinely take an antibiotic for even the most routine health issue. I have read numerous stories here about people who run down to the pharmacy for a ‘pill’ the moment they start sneezing or coughing. The pharmacists, who lack the necessary training and are rarely held accountable, dispense the drugs without even discussing dosage and side effects with the customers. Is it any wonder that drug-resistant strains are multiplying rapidly in this unregulated environment?

Health authorities are belatedly realizing the magnitude of the problem and are trying to put some programs into place to combat it, such as unannounced visits to pharmacies. A recent survey found that 88 percent of antibiotic sales in the cities did not involve a prescription!

One hospital director here stated, “It’s no exaggeration to say that antibiotics are bought and sold at many pharmacies in Viet Nam as easily as vegetables.”

With the rise of the new bacterial strains, M.D.s in hospitals are prescribing  ‘antibiotic cocktails’ to  their patients, comprising 2,3,4,5, or even 6 or more different antibiotics. What insanity.

In Viet Nam, the level of ignorance around antibiotics and  drug-resistant strains is massive. The government has a big job to tackle and lacks the resources to do much in the short term. In the long term, education at the grass roots level combined with strict enforcement at the national level are the only options to get the issue under control. And when we look further into the future, we will no doubt see a return to the past as well, with  people once again embracing the holistic forms of healing that so many cast aside in the rush to modernism.

http://www.thanhniennews.com/health/rampant-antibiotic-abuse-has-left-vietnam-vulnerable-doctors-29598.html

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jun/11/uk-urge-global-clampdown-antibiotics-g8

 

 

The catholic church, McDonald’s and Facebook: time for a divorce?

Psychologists, social theorists, and philosophers have all attempted to answer the question of why people remain in abusive relationships. It is well documented that people, especially women, will stay in relationships that have been abusive for years, sometimes decades. Instead of simply walking away or filing for divorce, humans will create all kinds of rationalizations for the behavior of the abuser and for their refusal to leave.

“He only does it because I deserve it…..Deep down, he really loves me….He’s going to change some day, I know it…….It’s only because he had a difficult childhood, I need to be compassionate…..If he didn’t have me, he would have nobody, what would he do”?…… I can’t just abandon him”…….And so on.

This unwillingness to extricate ourselves from abusive relationships carries over into our relationships with governments, institutions, and corporations as well. It is human nature to cling to the familiar and habitual even when those habits are destructive and inimical to our self-interest. Many of us develop ‘brand loyalty’ over the course of our lives. We tend to trade in our old Honda for a new Honda. We throw out our old Adidas shoes for some new Adidas shoes. We root for the same sports team that we grew up with even though we moved away from that city 30 or 40 years ago.

But what do we do, or what should we do, when faced with evidence of corporate or institutional malfeasance and corruption? When is it time to punish corporations for reckless and immoral behavior by withdrawing our financial support for them? It appears that we humans have almost as difficult a time divorcing these companies as we do our abusive partner.

The catholic church, McDonald’s and Facebook

About ten years ago, when yet another huge scandal erupted within the catholic church, the daily headlines were filled with scandalous stories of hundreds, perhaps thousands of priests who had been accused of molesting young children, mostly young boys. As horrifying as these stories of molestation were, what was equally or perhaps even more horrifying was the additionally uncovered fact of  a church cover-up. The bishops at the very highest levels of the catholic  hierarchy in America and other countries knew very well that this child abuse was occurring, much of it inside the churches, and yet did nothing to stop it. In fact, they colluded to hide the crimes from the eyes of police. One could say, without exaggeration, that much of the catholic church was nothing more than a sophisticated pedophile ring.

 

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There is no greater crime in this world than stripping a child of his innocence prematurely and traumatizing him for life. And this was happening on a vast scale with the trail of guilt leading right back to Rome and the doors of the Vatican itself. During the height of the news coverage of the latest scandal, I recall reading a story with the provocative headline: “Why in the world is anybody still catholic?” The writer of the article detailed the scope and nature of the crimes committed within the church and the refusal of the Vatican to take responsibility for its priests and even on many occasions to enable them to continue in their predatory actions. The writer asked the simple and straightforward question: If that is not enough for you to divorce the catholic church, then what is? It was, and is, a fair question. If catholics really believe that the church is capable of reforming itself, then they are as delusional as the battered wife of 20 years who thinks her husband can change. Sadly , a large number of catholics worldwide cling to the notion that if they leave the church, they are leaving god. They still have not grasped Jesus’ main teaching that the kingdom of god lies within you. 

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/specials/clergy

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/a-secret-shame-inside-the-latest-scandal-to-rock-the-catholic-church-1739889.html

Last month a food scandal in China rattled the stock value of McDonald’s, along with Yum! Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut) and Starbucks. A local news organization had smuggled a hidden camera into a meat processing plant which sold its products to McDonald’s and others. They filmed some workers scraping meat off the floor to package and sell and others mixing  old, outdated meat with fresh meat. The story quickly went viral and the fast food companies scrambled to go into recovery mode as sales in China and Japan tanked. In the immediate weeks following the release of the story, many McDonald’s restaurants in both of those countries were empty. However, the impact of the crisis appears to be limited to those two regions and there is no reason to believe that sales will not bounce back in a few short months as the scandal blows over. Here in Southeast Asia, the McDonald’s restaurants are as busy as ever as consumers seem blithely unconcerned with what is happening in our giant neighbor to the north.

NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION:

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What was lacking from most of the coverage of this latest story was any perspective. This is hardly the first time that McDonald’s and other fast food conglomerates have been accused of using substandard products, especially meat products. Investigative reporters and writers have been covering this for decades. John Robbins’ pioneering work in books such as ‘Diet for A New America’ and ‘The Food Revolution’ covered these topics in detail, as did ‘Mad Cowboy’ and Eric Schlosser’s ‘Fast Food Nation.’  Movies and documentaries such as ‘Food Inc.’ and the movie version of ‘Fast Food Nation have also reached a mass audience.

Executives at McDonald’s will make some superficial changes, perhaps change suppliers and engage in their usual spin. But the core of their business model demands large quantities of  cheap, low quality beef. That is not going to change. Ever. What was uncovered in China is happening right now  in many other locations around the world. Perhaps another intrepid reporter will take a hidden camera into more giant meat factories. When will we say ‘enough is enough’ and quit giving this seller of toxic ‘food’ our hard- earned money?

http://www.prweek.com/article/1304517/china-food-scandal-rocks-mcdonalds-kfc

Last month, a story broke on the news wires about Facebook implementing a large study on its users, without their knowledge or consent. FB wanted to see if it could alter its users emotions by manipulating their news feeds. The vast majority of the stories which resulted from this embarrassing leak were variations of “How dare they do that?” Indeed, I don’t recall reading a single editorial or blog where someone tried to defend FB. And yet, what real fallout actually occurred at FB?  Specifically, how many of its billion or so users ‘filed for divorce’ and deleted their accounts? If my students, colleagues, friends, and family are any indication, not many. In the two or three weeks following the initial story, I noticed all of my students logging on and going about business as usual. They are willing to ‘forgive and forget.’ FB’s well documented casual disregard for its users rights and privacy is nothing new. This latest outrage will only fuel the ever present rumors about the company’s close relationship with spy agencies such as the CIA and NSA. But the abused partner, er customer, will rationalize this behavior away, and be content, for now anyway, to keep this relationship going.

 

Facebook-Emotional-Manipulation

 

 

 

 

Neil deGrasse Tyson outs himself as a corporate shill

GMOs, chemtrails, our RF saturated environment (cell phone towers, GWEN towers et al.) , and technology addicted youth are all serious issues facing our planet, but for transhumanists , they are not ‘problems’ at all, but simply logical and necessary steps that we need to take in order to arrive at what they call the ‘singularity,’ the final merging of man and machine.

 

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In order for the human race to be successfully led to that point in the near future where we have morphed into a completely different species, it is necessary for the ‘powers that be’ (TPTB) to convince us that the technological trends and innovations  we see happening around us are in fact a ‘good thing’ and beneficial. To this end, they occasionally need to employ celebrities, media talking heads, and prominent scientists. In a previous post, I discussed how one such well-known scientist, Michio Kaku, is now a leading cheerleader for the transhumanist/singlularity movement and how we would do well to take anything says with a heavy dose of skepticism.

Corporations such as Monsanto work tirelessly to insert their employees into governmental positions to ensure favorable regulation. However, Monsanto has an increasingly bad reputation around the world and they too need to utilize big name celebrities to  give a smiley face to their  wicked agenda. Hence, we have the recent spectacle of Neil deGrasse Tyson, famous astronomer and scientific celebrity,  making a complete fool of himself by publicly stating that GMOs are a natural progression  of what human farmers have been doing for the last 10,000 years and that opponents of genetic modification should ‘chill out.’

 

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This is a pure psy-op and is about as transparent as you can get. Tyson is immensely popular and regularly works  the talk show and news program circuit to discuss recent astronomical discoveries and his thoughts on the universe. Affable, humorous, self-deprecating, and humble, he is a brilliant scientist who the ‘everyman’ can relate to.

If science truly is our new religion, than Tyson is one of its high priests.  When he speaks publicly on an important scientific issue such as GMOs, people tend to listen. Therefore, it was with no small degree of shock that many of us heard him utter his recent opinions on GMOs. Does he really believe what he said, or was he simply bought off? We will probably never have a definitive answer to that question, but for a man who claims to adhere to the scientific method, his thoughts on GMOs are puzzling indeed.

Unfortunately for Tyson, the issue of GMOs is not akin to astro-physics and I’m afraid that he seriously underestimated the intelligence and knowledge of his audience when he claimed that genetic modification of plants and trans-genics is no different from the plant breeding that we have been doing for thousands of years. Really, it’s as if he thought he was talking to a bunch of schoolchildren.  To make matters worse, when people called him out on his statements on Facebook and other social media, he retrenched and reiterated his stance instead of going home and doing the scientific research on the subject which he so obviously needs to do.

I am happy to see GMO researcher and author Jeffrey  Smith publicly call out Neil deGrasse Tyson and challenge him to a debate. I’m not holding my breath. The last time a GMO/Monsanto shill agreed to a public debate, he was dismantled and humiliated by a fifteen year old girl.

http://www.activistpost.com/2014/08/jeffrey-smith-challenges-neil-degrasse.html#!bCv7pY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX_-Zoom9Uc

I also heartily encourage Mr. Tyson to take some time off work and work on a GMO farm for a summer. There’s some wonderful GMO cornfields in Iowa that might be looking for farmhands. There’s nothing quite like an afternoon of breathing in heavy doses of Round-Up.

The death of literacy. Restaurant owners leading the charge to a dumbed down world

In many places in Asia, it is not necessary to be able to read when you wish to order food in a restaurant. The majority have menus which require dozens of pages as each page only has two or three items. The reason? Each entree and item must have an accompanying photo. Apparently, there are people out there who do not know what french fries look like. Or a bowl of soup. Or a coconut. Or a can of coke. Literally everything needs a photo. The menu pages have also become cardboard thick. Have we lost so much dexterity in our hands that we cannot turn the pages on regular size paper?

A new dim sum restaurant opened last week on my block. Out front, two six foot tall sandwich board signs are plastered with photos of the menu items. Inside, each wall is covered with enlarged photos of entrees and various dim sum items. Above the counter is yet another three by six foot backlit sign with food photos. You see all that before you even lay eyes on the menu itself, which of course has even more.

A chimpanzee would easily be able to walk in and place an order there. Some day soon, I’m going to do my best chimpanzee imitation and walk into one of these restaurants and not say a word. I will be hunched over and dragging my arms along the ground. I will make high pitched screeching noises and point excitedly at the picture that I like.  I will press my stubby fingers on the menu picture that I like and wait for my food to arrive.  No doubt this will work.

This past weekend I made my first trip to Kuala Lumpur.  My girlfriend and I sat down to eat in a fairly nice but not too expensive restaurant in a downtown shopping mall. The young, fresh-faced server, who was somewhere between late teens and early twenties,  came to take our order. He arrived not with a pen and order book,   but with an iPad computer. He asked for our orders and then proceeded to enter them into the iPad with his thumbs. I couldn’t see the screen but I feel confident that all he had to do was press the corresponding picture on the screen.

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We have now come full circle. First, they made it unnecessary for customers to be literate. Now, even the servers need not be able to write. They can merely listen to the order and find the accompanying photo on the screen. Restaurant owners, like owners of many other businesses, are quick to respond to current trends and even quicker to cater to the lowest common denominator. My dear readers, do you see where all of this is heading? Right now, orders to the kitchen are spat out on a ticket which the chef has to read before he starts to prepare the item. Soon, large flat screens will be installed in restaurant kitchens and a light will flash with a photo of an entree whenever an order is placed.

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I observed this young kid fumbling with his computer at our table while taking our order. Instead of being focused on us, the customers, he was focused on the screen which he was holding up to his nose. His face was bathed in that eerie computer screen glow. I’m sure the pencil -necked geek owner who thought of the idea of giving all servers an iPad thought he was being clever and efficient. All this cute technology however did not prevent the kid from bringing me the wrong order. Sigh….

What happened to Europeans? The evisceration of Europe

I remember twenty years ago when I encountered Europeans in the supermarket, on the street, or in restaurants, how impressed I usually was with them. I recall thinking to myself that I could identify a European amongst a crowd of Americans very easily even without hearing anyone speak. They dressed better, appeared healthier, and had a prouder attitude than Americans, or so it seemed to me at the time.  I surmised that they hadn’t yet been crushed by the vicious form of predatory capitalism which had overrun  the United States and still ate real food as opposed to the junk food diet which had made the U.S. the fattest country in the world.

The economies of most European countries in the mid to late 90s were doing well. Trade was flourishing. Banks were  lending and people were setting up businesses. These were the pre-Euro days, before the EU and the EU commission and central bank ruled everything.

How times change.  Europeans these days look depressingly similar to Americans. They have grown obese. Many have the look of someone who’s just been sucker punched and is looking around him thinking, ‘what just happened?’

Americans, unhealthy  as they are, at least have made an effort to quit the smoking habit. Europeans have kept their smoking rates steady, in spite of all the studies and anti-smoking legislation that have occurred over the past five decades. If you’re otherwise very healthy, you might be able to mitigate some of the effects of smoking. But if you’re fat and smoke, you’ve got a problem.

But its not just the skyrocketing obesity that has changed Europe. The Europeans I see and meet don’t possess  confidence anymore about their countries, the future, or even themselves. More and more, I notice  people with a cynical attitudes  who live only for the moment.

What happened?  Globalization, the European Union, and immigration have combined to squeeze the life out of much of that continent. And furthermore, these forces are still increasing, despite some of the recent gains made by anti-EU parties in the elections.

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/french-idea-restaurant-changes-so-does-law

http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/new-french-law-would-allow-restaurant-dishes-to-be-labelled-homemade-1.1682645

Globalization meant that multinationals  bludgeoned their way into every facet of European life. All of the most loathsome of American corporations now do big business throughout Europe, including the fast food conglomerates and big box chains. McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Taco Bell and all the rest can be found in all European cities. Budweiser, Coca-Cola, and Marlboro are sold everywhere. This has an effect not only on people’s physical health, but on culture itself. Every week, a news story is published about yet another traditional  facet of European life which is falling by the wayside. Last year, I read an article about the ‘disappearing Irish pub’ in its homeland.  Around the same time, another article appeared chronicling the demise of the traditional fish and chip shop in the U.K. France, home to such an old and proud culinary tradition, recently had to pass a law specifying exactly what constitutes a restaurant. The reason?  A large number of restaurants nowadays, even mid-tier, well-established ones, are simply re-heating food brought in from elsewhere. In other words, there is no cooking going on in the restaurant’s kitchen. 

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/economic-crisis-leads-to-mass-closing-of-irish-pubs-a-914375.html

http://www.altreading.com/fish-chip-shops-gone/

Some may argue that there are other forces at work besides globalization, and they may well have a point. In Ireland, the police have increased DUI patrols, thus contributing to  the decline of pubs. In England, many fish and chip shops simply refused to adapt to changing  tastes and simply went bankrupt out of laziness and incompetence.

The EU has been a disaster. It’s stunning to think about, really. This experiment which less than twenty years ago was being heralded as the dawn of a glorious new age for Europe has crashed and burned with a rapidity that I would not have thought possible. How quickly everything unraveled! Those that stayed away from the Euro , like Norway, are doing quite well. Others that kept the EU at arm’s length, like Great Britain, are hanging on. Those that jumped in with both feet are now struggling for their very existence: Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Spain. The rest of the EU is a mixed bag, but what is without debate is the fact that all of those countries gave up a significant amount of their sovereignty to a centralized governing authority run by a bunch of lawyers, banksters and apparatchiks who have no accountability.

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Mass immigration, formerly an American phenomenon, has become a huge issue in Europe. For a number of reasons, many governments in Europe have opened their doors to large numbers of immigrants from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The resulting and predictable dilution of native culture along with tension with locals that sometimes flares into violence has further undermined Europe’s stability. When you consider the the secular and liberal culture of a place like Holland or the Scandinavian countries and contrast that with the deeply religious and  conservative culture of many Middle Eastern and African countries from which these immigrants come, it’s hard to imagine how these new neighbors are going to live forever in peace and harmony.

This three-pronged assault on the physical, cultural, and political integrity of Europe has taken a terrible toll. Poverty, suicide, and despair are on the rise. Europe is so entangled now in so many different messes, it’s difficult to know where to begin the housecleaning. This recent anti-EU backlash is a good place to start. Countries regaining their sovereignty from the EU and rapacious corporations can be followed by a healthy reinvigoration of the native culture.

Ten things I love about Viet Nam

10) The Weather

In the southern half of the country where I live, it’s never cold. Sweaters and coats are unnecessary. My clothing budget is minuscule;  I get by with shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops when I’m not working. That’s not to say the weather here is perfect. Far from it. The heat, humidity and rain can all be unpleasant.  But overall, the climate here is conducive to my lifestyle and I love seeing the bright sun every day.

9) Cost of living

Inflation is happening and the bowl of pho that cost 25 cents a few years ago now costs $1.50.  However, the cost of basic items needed for daily living is still a bargain, especially if you shop around. Everything from pedicures to taxis is a fraction of the cost of Western countries.  If you can manage to avoid the more expensive touristy areas and the stores geared toward the wealthier expats, you can live quite cheaply. Shop for food at the markets and share housing, especially with a local family, and you can actually save money.

market8) Street Markets

For convenience, cost, and freshness, you can’t beat the local street markets. Even though there is a family of ten living in this house where I rent a room, their refrigerator is only 1/4 full. Why? Because they shop for fresh food every day at the street market. A refrigerator becomes redundant when you shop daily for fresh produce.

7) Tropical fruits

soursopExotic fruits that I only read about back in the States are now a part of my daily diet. Mangosteen, dragon fruit, durian, rambutan, lychee, jackfruit, soursop and more are just a few steps from my front door. In-season fruits sell for 25 cents a pound.

6) Being in Southeast Asia

Cambodia (with the otherworldly Angkor Wat ruins), Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines are all just a stone’s throw away. With discount airlines such as Air Asia offering daily flights all over the region, there is enough to explore here to last a lifetime. A bus fare to the Cambodian border costs a mere ten dollars.

5) Opportunities

constructionViet Nam is a developing country. It is growing rapidly in an economic, political  and cultural sense which means there are many opportunities here for aspiring entrepreneurs. Many young Vietnamese who studied abroad are now returning here from Europe, America, and Australia and helping to build the country.  There is still far too much red tape to navigate for foreigners to start a business, but that is improving, albeit slowly.

4) A respectable English language newspaper

Viet Nam News is published seven days a week and is superior to any daily paper in the United States, and operates  on only a fraction of the budget of papers  like The Washington Post.

3) A sense of optimism about the future

Vietnamese believe that the best days lie ahead.  After two brutal wars of liberation from foreign powers, the country is rapidly industrializing and joining the global market. Foreign investment is flowing into the country and the internet is exposing the population to the wider world. Not just new technology, but new ideas are gaining ground quickly.

2) A well-established ESL job scene

ESL language schools have been around now for over 20 years, (some longer than that), and the demand for English instruction seems to be as robust as ever. This is good news for teachers like myself. Most of the bigger schools are reputable and treat their teachers with respect and courtesy. Now, if the government could just simplify the work permit process….

1) Vietnamese women

The women of Viet Nam are the most beautiful in the world. From their soft skin to their long silky hair, they are gorgeous in every respect.

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