Wise Czar

Archive for June 2013

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More people attended the Chicago Blackhawks victory rally than attended the end of World War II celebration in Times Square.

Over 2 million people descended upon the Windy City this past Friday for the Chicago Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup victory rally. The downtown Loop area was a sea of red, as supporters and fans, some of whom arrived in the wee hours of the morning, came out to worship and adore their beloved hockey team.

Meanwhile, 5,000 miles away in Sao Paulo, Brazil, millions of people continue to rally in support of massive government reforms. Originally assembled in response to high transportation costs, the protests have evolved to address the lack of healthcare and education resources for many middle and lower class Brazilians.

Furthermore, Brazil will be hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and many protesters are decrying the amount of money their government is willing to spend on soccer stadiums, while millions live in neglected shanty towns, called favelas, located on the outskirts of major cities.

Comparing these two rallies side by side, a third party observer might conclude that things must be pretty great in the United States, since people can afford to rally in droves to support a group of entertainers who are paid millions of dollars to skate around and hit a puck into a net.

But things are not super great here, at least not great enough to justify being so carefree. The unemployment rate is 7.6 percent (as of May 2013), 6.5 percent of Americans do not have access to healthcare due to cost, our education system ranks 17th in the world, the national debt is rapidly approaching $17 trillion, our government is spying on us, and the list goes on and on.

Where are the droves of Americans rallying in the streets to address the issues that actually matter? With the exception of hit and miss protests held by polarizing groups like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, Americans rarely come together to voice their collective concerns about the state of the country.

Instead, the only causes that seem to bring us together revolve around pleasure and entertainment. That is fine, and there is a place for such festivities in every society. But always placing “play” over work or choosing what is “fun” over what matters is not a good long-term strategy for our country.

To put things into perspective, this Blackhawks rally brought together more people than Martin Luther King Jr’s.  March on Washington in 1963; it saw more people in attendance than the 2013 presidential inauguration; most spectacularly, it  surpassed the amount of people who gathered in Times Square, New York on the day World War II ended, which was around 2 million!

So less people turned out to celebrate the end of the most destructive war in human history than turned out to celebrate a hockey team winning a giant cup. If that doesn’t reveal that we don’t have our priorities straight, then I don’t know what does.

There is a lesson to be learned from the events in Brazil. Traditionally a soccer-obsessed nation, the Brazilians, like the Americans, often placed sports on the highest pedestal. But now, as they realize just how much the World Cup will cost to run and how lacking their country is in the areas of healthcare and education, the people have chosen to rise up and address the issues that actually impact their lives.

Back in the states, we still have not woken up. To be sure, all those millions who attended the Blackhawks rally had a great time, and no one should begrudge them. After all, it was a nice, relaxing way to end the week. But at the end of the day, most of those people have to go back to reality and face the high gas prices, the high healthcare costs, etc. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks players and owners, enriched at the fans’ expense, have no such worries because we have essentially made them demigods.

We need to get our priorities straight here, like the people have in Brazil. Life does not revolve around sports and entertainment. In ancient Rome, the rulers used to heavily promote mass entertainment for the common people. It did not take long for the Roman populace to become so obsessed with “bread and circuses,” that they paid little attention to politics or what those in power were doing. This ignorance lead only to abuse, corruption and the decline of Roman society. Let us not follow in the same path.

Sources

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/29/blackhawks-rally-2013-att_n_3522201.html

http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/28/world/americas/brazil-protests-favelas

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/access_to_health_care.htm

http://www.ibtimes.com/us-17th-global-education-ranking-finland-south-korea-claim-top-spots-901538

Feinberg, Alexander. “All City ‘Lets Go,'” New York Times  (New York, NY), Aug 15, 1945

        A spy thriller is playing out before our very eyes as Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who revealed the United States government’s surveillance program of U.S. citizens, is seeking asylum in Russia. Reports have arisen that Snowden plans ultimately to seek refuge in the South American nation of Ecuador. Meanwhile, the U.S. is desperately seeking to extradite him for prosecution, resulting in a manhunt worthy of a Jason Bourne film. 1332361939-whistleblower

            All of this is vaguely familiar. It resembles the 2010 hunt for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who apparently leaked a host of secret U.S. diplomatic and military records on his website. Thus far, Assange has avoided extradition by seeking asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

            Both Snowden and Assange have a broad base of supporters who argue that they should be pardoned, and that it was right for them to reveal those secrets to the world. Indeed, on the surface, it appears that both men represent the same breed of whistleblower. Some will argue that both are traitors to their country, while others will praise them as heroes.

            However, the nature of each man’s whistle blowing is different, and the differences should be taken into account when deciding whether the action was treacherous or noble.

            Julian Assange is a hacker and has been so since his teenage years. He published sensitive diplomatic and military cables on his website that had been obtained through various means, among which was likely hacking.

            This diplomatic and military material does not infringe on any rights held by U.S. citizens. Instead, much of it deals with military operations and relations between governments that are all part of maintaining a tactful U.S. foreign policy. Public dissemination of such knowledge can quickly result in damaging consequences like straining a strategic partnership between the U.S. and another country or endangering the lives of soldiers on a secret mission.

            Thus, although perhaps some of this material can safely be released, it is better to keep, especially the more sensitive information, secret to avoid unnecessarily endangering American lives or foreign policy in any way. In other words, there is good reason to keep such material classified, and whoever steals and irresponsibly releases it is going down a dangerous road, although he will not be judged here.

            Edward Snowden’s case differs significantly. He revealed that the U.S. government is monitoring its citizens’ phone calls and possibly even e-mails and social media accounts. In essence, the government is directly infringing upon Americans’ right to privacy.

            This fact is disturbing enough. Worse still is that the government wanted to keep this a secret. Unlike sensitive documents detailing specific military strategies, public knowledge of government phone and e-mail tapping in no way endangers lives. If Americans know they are being monitored, it does not undermine the government’s attempts to monitor them.

            A government spokesperson may argue that this knowledge might make potential terrorists more careful in communicating and thus harder to catch; but if the government’s surveillance program is as thorough as Snowden alleges, they won’t be able to communicate at all short of using carrier pigeons.

            Thus, Snowden’s revelation seems to do no visible damage to his country. How is his action then treasonous? Just because Americans know that their government is spying on them does not mean it will stop doing so. Perhaps the NSA will actually begin more effective and ethical monitoring now that it must answer to the public to some extent.

            The U.S. government is seemingly ignoring this logic as it continues actively to seek Snowden’s extradition and prosecution. Snowden is not Assange. The information he released harms no one. Instead, it increases government transparency, something that every freedom-loving American, including those in power, should support.

Sources

http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/23/politics/nsa-leaks

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/06/07/100607fa_fact_khatchadourian?currentPage=all

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2010/11/2010112961154954144.html

Ever go on a job interview where the interviewer is doing everything possible to trip you up with “gotcha” questions? Worse yet, ever get weeded out from the employee candidate pool by one of those online compatibility tests that the company gives? One article in Forbes Magazine (see Sources) is entitled “Watch Out! 10 Interview Questions Designed to Trick You,” and it revealed how employers often develop questions which, no matter how you answer them, you lose.
job interview

To me, this practice is not only a testament to the vile ruthlessness present in the working world but also an opportunity for cheaters and liars to get ahead, while honest people get left in the dust. One of several interview questions on the article’s list was: “Why have you been out of work so long, and how many others were laid off?” The author explained that employers know that many employees are being let go due to budget cuts caused by the recession.

Instead of trying to help these laid-off employees, who probably need the job more than anybody to feed their families, many employers figure that those who were fired due to budget cuts must have been “second-string employees” at their old companies and should be avoided. This creates a double whammy for the laid-off worker. Not only was he or she fired due to the recession, something that cannot be controlled, but now he or she is stigmatized for it. This is despicable, and employers who operate in such a way should be ashamed of themselves.

Such employers, however, are potentially setting themselves up for poetic justice. Their cruel connivance can easily backfire if they interview a seasoned liar who paints the perfect picture of himself or herself and turns out to be the opposite in reality. In fact, the tricky interview questions that many employers ask are an invitation for the world’s cheating scoundrels to surpass the honest working person.

For example, one question the article listed that employers like to ask was: “Where would you really like to work?” According to the article, the perfect answer is: “This is where I want to work, and this job is what I want to do.”
First of all, the fact that there is a “perfect” or “right” answer that the employer wants to hear speaks to the phoniness of the entire interview process. Instead of giving the perfect answer, why not give the truth? And the truth is that someone unemployed during a recession is probably willing to apply for a job anywhere, not out of some great personal love for the company, but out of a need to survive or support his or her family. But truthfully, many employers are not interested in the truth; they want interviewees to suck up to them. Well, liars are excellent at sucking up while honest people fail.

The liar, before he or she goes on an interview or answers one of those online compatibility surveys, will research what the perfect answers are. He or she will then present themselves as a flawless celestial being, while the honest man will tell the truth and present himself as a flawed human being. The result? More often then not, the self absorbed employer will buy into the liar, who will probably act very friendly and make himself seem like the perfect fit for the company, while ignoring the honest person who may not possess those same theatrical skills.

Some people might call this theatricality “selling yourself.” Well, just like false television advertisements can trick you into wasting money on a worthless product, so too can people misrepresent themselves just to get hired.

Now, the employer may argue that this is exactly the reason why trick questions are necessary—to trip up the liar. Although some may get tripped up, there are savvy swindlers out there who will convince you that grass is blue. So, I would suggest that those employers develop a greater appetite for the truth and view someone with rehearsed, seemingly perfect answers, with suspicion and a skeptical eye. Also, they should grow a heart and stop with those “A Ha!’ questions. Instead, ask about concrete experiences and skills.

Check if prospective employees have the knowledge set to work at your company. After all, job skill and merit should be what matters in hiring someone. It is OK if the new employee is flawed in other areas. All humans are. As for the people who make themselves out to be perfect, they should take up acting.

Sources

[This is the article I refer to] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/02/23/watch-out-ten-interview-questions-designed-to-trick-you/

We have, in the modern world, an expectation of continual progress. Society, technology and knowledge always seem to be improving and moving forward. We seem to believe that things can only get better in the future, never worse.

            Unfortunately, history has revealed that such optimism is not always backed by reality. In a previous article on the Indus Valley civilization, I mentioned that the Indus drainage system was very advanced for its time, and that centuries later people had reverted to dumping excrement out of their windows. This is just one example of society actually devolving.

A Roman Aqueduct

A Roman Aqueduct: An example of ancient technology that was lost.

            We pride ourselves on being so much more advanced than those who came before us, but we forget that, like the business cycle, human civilization has had its expansionary and recessionary periods. We need only look at the fall of Rome, a collapse that brought the end of the ancient world, for an example of a severe societal recession.

            The Roman Republic, beginning in 509 B.C., almost immediately became obsessed with expansion. Over the next few centuries, Rome conquered the rest of Italy, Greece, Carthage, Gaul, Iberia, North Africa, Macedonia, Asia Minor (Turkey), Syria and Palestine. In 31 B.C., Octavian reorganized the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire and took on the title of Augustus. The empire continued to expand, conquering Britannia, Armenia, Dacia and parts of Germany.

            Now, there is nothing civilized about bloodshed, and in that respect Rome was no more civilized than any other period in human history. However, Rome brought a number of technological advances to its imperial holdings which, after its collapse, were not seen to the same degree again for centuries.

            Among these advancements was the road. This might at first seem like a simple accomplishment, but there is more to it.  It is true that primitive roads and paths had already existed for centuries, but they were not in any sense orderly or systematic. They might have connected points A and B but not points A and C. At its peak, Rome had 53,000 miles of roads connecting its entire empire. Furthermore, many of these roads were paved, making them extremely durable. Rome, therefore, brought an interconnectedness to its world that had not been seen before and was not really seen again for many centuries.

A Roman Road

A Roman Road

            Another amazing technological development by Rome was the aqueduct. Aqueducts brought water from distant locations into a city or town and could carry waste out. Built in Rome itself and in other major centers of the empire, they stretched for thousands of miles and brought fresh water to millions of people. Construction was not simple, requiring years of land surveys and advanced engineering skills. The Romans even had a water purification system. Rome’s aqueduct system was actually analogous to a modern day water supply network in its sophistication, reach and effectiveness.

            Finally, Rome’s government administered its territory so effectively that it brought about the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, during its golden age. Granted, there was plenty of bloodshed occurring on the frontiers, but the average Roman citizen could traverse the empire without fear of harassment. A strict legal code created order, while cooperation with local authorities allowed for far flung control.

            All of this began to collapse with the Germanic invasions in the third century B.C., and by 476 B.C. the Western Roman Empire had fallen. What followed is what historians have dubbed the Dark Ages. Rule and order was decentralized, the old Roman roads and aqueducts, still in use for centuries after, began to deteriorate, and people could no longer get around safely. Indeed, the Romans, who had served as the police force, were gone. Now if you wanted to go from France to Spain, you were on your own. A few people began to consolidate local power, hiring warriors to fight for them and peasants to work for them—this was the beginning of feudalism and knighthood.

            Essentially, with the collapse of Rome, Europe lost the only central authority powerful and wealthy enough to create and maintain technological advancements and widespread order. Just think if the U.S. government disappeared. The interstate highway system would fall into disrepair along with commerce; the various states would fight over water supply, land and access to goods. Investment in new technology, in our case NASA and other such organizations, would cease. We would suffer a severe societal recession just like fifth century Europe.

            So although it is good to be optimistic, we should understand that we are not entitled to a brighter future. Societies like ours have come and gone. It is up to us to ensure our own survival and development.

 Sources

Encyclopedia Britannica

Davies, Norman. Europe: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc.,   1996.

http://italianaware.com/RomanAqueducts

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/roman-aqueducts.html

            The Indus Valley Civilization is the red headed stepchild of the three earliest world civilizations, the other two being Mesopotamia and Egypt. Its obscurity is largely due to the many unsolved mysteries it contains.

            The study of this ancient culture, which existed roughly 3500 years ago in what is today Pakistan and India, has been left mostly to the archeologists, who have been exploring the remains of its two chief cities—Harappa and Mohenjo-daro—hoping to learn more. What little we do know about this ancient culture is truly fascinating and should definitely be emphasized right along with the ziggurats of Mesopotamia and the pyramids of Egypt.

            Chief among the Indus Valley civilization’s accomplishments is the toilet. Yes, the toilet. While other cultures at that time were building giant monuments, the Indus people focused on a more practical goal—sanitation and the removal of waste.

            In Mohenjo-daro, not only have archaeologists discovered brick lined toilets, but they have found what appear to be

An excavated Harappan bath.

An excavated Harappan bath.

ancient urinals in the form of tiny pipes protruding up from the ground. Furthermore, small bathing platforms have also been discovered in the ruins of Harappan houses, which means the Indus people cared about their personal hygiene. All waste and dirt was flushed with water.

            These toilets and baths were connected to a drainage system that was fairly advanced for its time. Composed mostly of baked brick, the drains ran along the streets and were often covered by brick or stone so as to be hidden from public view.

            Such an emphasis on waste removal and personal hygiene is especially impressive when one considers that thousands of years later, during the European dark ages up through about the industrial revolution, society was relatively careless when it came to sanitation, often simply tossing excrement out the window.

            Another fascinating aspect of the Indus Valley civilization is its many distinctions from other civilizations of the era. The Indus drainage system, for example, was unique. Ancient Egyptians had toilets, but they were not connected to a drain (the only way to clean them up was by hand).

            But the differences go far beyond waste removal. Unlike Mesopotamia and Egypt, no evidence of giant temples or monuments has been found in most Indus excavation sites. Furthermore, few weapons or evidence of a large military have been discovered. Harappa, especially, stands apart. Many archaeologists believe it was a city ruled by merchants and craftsmen, rather then by some all-powerful king who would build monuments to himself. Indeed, little statuettes and pieces of jewelry have been found, implying a more market-oriented culture.

            At the same time, new sites and pieces of evidence are always being unearthed. The remains of Dholavira, an ancient Indus city in India, does contain evidence of some monumental building. Thus, much has yet to be learned.

            Indeed, this lack of knowledge on the Indus civilization is a fascinating component in itself. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, we really have no idea about any specific political, military or religious events from the Indus Valley civilization.

            This lack of knowledge exists mainly because we have not cracked their language—the Indus script—yet. Seals, tablets, tokens and potsherds have all been found containing mysterious symbols, but archaeologists have not figured out what they mean. Some speculate that the Indus people were actually the first to develop writing, even before the Mesopotamians. If that is ever discovered to be true, then the Indus people would move to the front of the early civilizations list in the history textbooks. As of now, however, we just are not sure.

            In that sense, the Indus Valley is sort of a lost civilization. Yes, we know it existed and that it was fairly advanced for its time, but there is so much more we could learn. Forget Atlantis, the remains of the Indus Valley civilization may yet reveal some mind-blowing ancient knowledge.

Sources

http://books.google.com/books?id=pmAuAsi4ePIC&pg=PA107&lpg=PA107&dq=toilets+in+indus+civilization&source=bl&ots=8y3gEV-sG_&sig=c4fyvcezadr_N9FJyKNP1sVmEWk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=-oCnUeGXK4rlyAGG84AY&ved=0CEEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=toilets%20in%20indus%20civilization&f=false

http://www.localhistories.org/toilets.html

Edwards, Mike. (editor) Indus Civilization: Clues to an Ancient Puzzle. National Geographic, V197.6