Category Archives: Heads or Tails

Placebo is a column by Raymond K. Yeung. A photographer from Hong Kong, he’s now living in Queens New York, which means he is a cheep judgmental jerk by nature. Pearls of wisdom abound, if you can handle his take it or leave it attitude.

NYC: Moving On Two Wheels

On a sunny sunday morning, near New York City’s Intrepid Museum, the Hudson Greenway is filled with cruise ship patrons, joggers, and cyclists of varying speeds.

The path feels narrow given the swelling volume of traffic on a picture perfect weekend, especially with summer cruise ships filling the pier. But this is only one section of the Hudson path; the greenway stretches uninterrupted, roughly from the southern tip of the island all the way to the northern tip. There are many amenities alongside the path to keep people entertained, a far cry from what you would have seen just a decade ago when most of the city’s waterfront was in ruins, filled with garbage and unrecognizable faltered structures.

The development alongside Hudson has been a huge success, renewing land and creating open green spaces for all.

Currently, the city is rapidly extending the ambitious path to circle the entire Manhattan island. A costly and huge undertaking — yet worthy, considering the trends. This is especially good news to cyclists and people interested in taking advantage of the waterfront.

Summer Streets is a NYC program that closes some 50 blocks of city streets to cars. Bicycles and pedestrians rule. (photo: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)

Summer Streets is a NYC program that closes some 50 blocks of city streets to cars. Bicycles and pedestrians rule. (photo: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)

The Hudson Greenway turned out to be quite popular, and this should be viewed as a sign that good public land development does not mean simply adding ‘nice features’ to already wealthy parts of the city.

Still, even the casual observer will find New York to be in dire need of more cycling infrastructure. New York is already home to the most cycled bridges in North America, and successes like these are indicators that should serve as momentum for further developments.

It took New York years to realize that, apparently people want to move around freely, and preferably not in bumper to bumper traffic, and for some, not even air conditioned subway cars. In just the past two years, the city has aggressively added varying degrees of cycling infrastructure and hundreds of miles of bike lanes, with an even bigger ambition yet still looming.

Hidden Dangers

Among the most recent additions is the 8th Avenue bike lane. Like others, it puts the cyclist on the left most lane of a one way avenue. The lane is cushioned by some three feet of paint on the ground, dictating the area when cars are meant to park. While the design seemes logical and perhaps fitting at first glance, a test drive of the lanes reveals many life threatening hidden dangers.

Unlike some of the other lanes — 1st Ave or 9th Ave — the 8th Ave lane does not have dedicated light signals for turing vehicles nor for the cyclist. While the surprise of an opening door is highly reduced — this danger makes up for over half cycling related accidents in the city — the highest risk of injury or death still comes from vehicular impact.

The Left Hook as it is sometimes referred to, is a concern at every other block.

The other risk for any bike lanes users comes from pedestrians who find it so irresistibly fitting to dash into the lane without looking, while texting, walking a dog, jogging with headphones pumping full volume; on top of all that, imagine delivery bikes zipping the wrong way, sideways, whichever way they feel like, hundreds of delivery vehicles and other  irresponsible drivers making a “quick stop,” then throw in street vendors and random garbage and the bicycle lanes are perhaps only a bit safer than not having them.

Why So Fast?

The big ambition — and soon to be reality — for the city is a massive bike share program. Whenever there is a bike share program being developed, fantastic images of European cities with overjoyed cyclists can be found. But is it particle to apply small-town-Europe ideas to main-street-America? While New York’s traffic chaos is not comparable to say, New Delhi, there are still substantial consequences to consider. In a city of 8 million, can the same stretch of road, butchered into genres of traffic, alleviate said traffic and protect the weaker, slower moving all at the same time?

New York’s bike share program is soon to be available, planned for late July, though it has already been delayed. The CitiBank sponsored project will bring some 600 share stations into Manhattan and some parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Skeptics have criticized the seemingly hastily put together project as adding congestion to an already crowded city. But Mayor Bloomberg — who has been a huge supporter of just about anything that will improve health — argued that not only will the program promote good health, but it will also lower congestion and pollution, a win-win for city planning, and for slowing the damage to our environment.

In the days leading up to the program’s due date, many major avenues have seen a seemingly overnight metamorphosis, with twenty-block long streets being repaved, painted and remodeled for dedicated bike paths in just under one week.

The Outer Boroughs

It would seem that the focus has traditionally been placed in Manhattan; the rest of the city, although they make deposits to the city’s coffers, are left with nothing. Conventional thinking tells people that government is more likely to allocate resource to the wealthy than the poor, but the trend is changing. The reality is, the poor are vastly larger in number than rich, so to speak, and screwing over the average person always ends up costing society in the long run, as they must be helped after the damage is done. Costly health care reform is one recent example of this phenomenon.

Jackson Heights Pedestrian Plaza in Queens, New York (photo: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)

Jackson Heights Pedestrian Plaza in Queens, New York (photo: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)

Recently, I had a chance to wander though parts of Queens, and was presently surprised to find a small street permanently turned into a pedestrian plaza with wide cycling lanes. This was in the heart of Jackson Heights, where folks on bikes are either without cars, or delivering food. It’s a small sign, but a sure sign that the powers in charge are willing to invest in all communities for the good of all.

It is clear that whatever anyone thinks, the city — and perhaps America — is heading into a greener future. One that is continuously being challenged by powerful interest groups and lobbying, whether it be from taxi drivers or car loving citizens. However divided the opinions are though, it is certain that we need to change our current trend of vehicular reliance.

The rest of the world took their models of urban planning from America, and perhaps it’s time again for America and its citizens to remind the world what great things can be accomplished when we work together for a greener, safer, environment for all.

Eco-Friendly Consumerism

How the Marketplace Ruins the World, and Claims Credit for Fixing it at the Same Time

What is eco? Eco is short for ecological, a term that has its routes in the study of relationships between living things and the environments they inhabit.

Today, from household items to the cars we drive, one can find more eco-friendly labels plastered everywhere on the shelves than ever before. By buying these products, we are told that we are doing a part in bettering the world, but is that really the case?

Few of us ever consider whether or not consuming more actually helps reduce waste at the same time. The answer, as long as eco-friendly merely implies buying a product with an eco label on them, is no.

Let’s recall some of the places we visit on a regular basis.

The supermarket for example, while many places of the world have banned plastic and even paper bags altogether, one is never too from an array of totes. Totes printed in a thousand colors with phrases like “I love recycling,” or worse “Save the World.” No one seems too bothered by the pollution that this variety of totes have created.

Then there are “eco” products such as coffee mugs with eco-slogans that acknowledge our good behavior. There are eco-burger joints that serve “morally delicious” angus beef that is very sustainably made from cattle raised with corn, then killed, cut up, packed, shipped, frozen, shipped again, frozen again, cooked, and served with paper and plastic before it reaches the individual consumer.

Even Trek Bicycles has their eco bike Atwood. It uses biodegradable materials, yet its very existence is to entertain the eco ego because no other bicycle in Trek’s thirty-plus aluminum bicycle catalogue is built eco-friendly. Then there’s the endless pit of eco-friendly consumer electronics that come in a million colors and a trillion plastic and silicone components.

In general there is an industry-standard practice of having an entire line of regular environmentally-damaging products and just a few eco ones for show. What does that say about our eco commitment?

An Arsenal of Eco Products, Ready to be Consumed

Starbucks has recently unveiled its newest store in the coffee giant’s hometown of Seattle. While the idea of using a recycled shipping container as a store front might seemed a novel idea, the plastic straws, caps, and paper cups yet another Starbucks will generate make even the most casual of environmentalists cringe.

And by the way, it is also a drive through.

The carbon footprint created by everything we do is so astonishing, and so there is a large disconnect between proponents of all things eco-friendly and the physical reality of executing all of them. The eco-friendliness of something is only as positive as the production end, meaning however witty an idea is, it isn’t “eco” if the source of production or end result introduces more pollution.

We cannot possibly hope to reduce our waste by consuming more.

Each and every new product, eco or not, requires varying degrees of raw materials. Regardless of how eco-friendly the harvesting process is, goods for the masses demand ecologically-damaging harvesting, transportation, and storage to minimize cost and create a large profit turnout.

On the other side is tight control over production with high cost and a limited audience; a much riskier business tactic and sheltered business practice that is nearly useless from the perspective of globalized economy.

Just imagine: new products of all kinds requiring new packaging, new delivery routes, new advertising material, storage, even web based sales uses energy; and shipping a product from continent to continent just to reach a single individual shows us only a fraction of this invisible, yet very real pollution. With over half of America powered by coal, the puny savings that entertain our intellectual arrogance can hardly be called eco-friendly.

Are the contradictions more apparent today? The eco brand was perhaps invented with good conscience, but it almost immediately became the victim of the market place.

Today, the eco branding is no longer here to better the world, but to exploit consumer demand.

The question is: do we need to feel rewarded for consuming?

Marketing directors everywhere will agree that people need a big pat on the back for being good consumers, even if it is contradictory to the cause. And what’s good for business is good for the economy, and what’s good for the economy is good for the government; a very unfortunate branch of logic when policy sides with commercial exploits. With our current state of economic distress, I doubt any leader will dare to stand in the way of economic growth at any expense of nature.

But I digress.

Our chauvinism and arrogance is clear, but let’s take a moment and consider the worst case scenario which scientists claim: at the peak of global warming comes rising water levels, run away green house effect, everything dies, but the planet is still around. The lesson is that we humans, just don’t really matter. As once said by George Carlin “a planet don’t need saving from a species that can’t even take care of itself.” And so we are trying anything. It’s not about saving the planet, it’s about saving our own asses, and we are doing a terrible job at it so far.

All of this negativity might seem a bit extreme because under this dark umbrella, almost everything we do for fun is a cause for concern. But we have a daunting task in undoing damages from the past to avoid more damage in the future, so perhaps extreme is not a good word to describe it all, and perhaps minimal is what we should consider.

Fixing the environment is not about feelings, it is about scientific examination and application of realistic solution in this finite world.

So don’t let this turn into yet another casual chat over lunch or dinner, take guilt and knowledge and turn it into action, reconsider every time you make a purchase whether it is a gas stop, a restaurant, or at school. Reconsider your purchases everywhere, all the time, and maybe, just maybe, it could be that you should not make that purchase at all.

 

Further reading:

National Geographic Channel: Six Degrees Could Change the World

Impact from a Cattle Waste Lagoon Rupture on a Downstream Fish Farm: A Case Study

Starbucks Opens New Reclamation Drive Thru Made From Recycled Shipping Containers

Coca-Cola Polar Bear Support Fund

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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Reconsidering Laissez-faire

How May I Help You? (illustration | sociecity)

Laissez-faire: a French term roughly translated to Let Do, meaning let it be or sometimes, more passionately, leave it alone.

For centuries people have debated the effectiveness of the laissez-faire free market economy. While the benefits of this theory seem obvious enough to some, there are just as many faults and contradictions, making the Laissez-faire model equally hated as it is loved.

Many of these often overlooked problems can only be identified if one is willing to peek into the development of society and economics from more grand perspective, spanning centuries and continents, instead of decades in a domestic sense. If we do take that peek, history shows us why any who have ever uttered the words laissez-faire have often lacked historical perspective, tending towards shortsighted, survivalist outlooks. It is worth noting that many of the supporters of the so-called pure laissez-faire are mostly lucky, well-off, self-congratulatory industrialist intellectuals. A mouthful, but necessary in explaining their highly questionable vision of society which consists of upstanding, able-bodied citizens drinking wine and dining on red meat while the rest of existence is left to fend for themselves.

The main argument for laissez-faire is that there should be less government involvement in business affairs. But people cannot be trusted, and that is why laws are created to safe guard individuals against coercive powers. But what is coercion? Who decides when it is coercion? For example: should we allow the oldest business, prostitution, to prosper? Weapons dealers to profit freely from both sides of the law? Doctors to perform “necessary” abortions?

It seems that laissez-fairers have failed to establish — and have never agreed on — a standard by which to govern their system. In this everlasting tug of war over what is considered “coercive”…

…the let-it-be theorem in its most natural form would seem to side with the convenience of profit, even if it may come from ethically questionable practices.

It is often said that having no government oversight in the employment market will propagate itself and in turn create amazing jobs and amazing workers. I beg to differ, and here is why.

Two Sides of Coercion

If there are no rules against business practices, some businesses that are less desirable to work in — such as retail and service industry jobs — will hire employees to work just below full time as to prevent any overtime pay. Additionally, employees will be provided with an unpredictable schedule as to prevent them from having the time to seek employment elsewhere. In this example, whose side should we take?

Do we side with the employers, in favor of job creation and staying competitive in the free market?

Or should we side with the employees, in favor of human freedom and protection against employment traps?

Both sides can be equally coercive to the other and will also prevent each other from generating any growth. Under the let-it-be doctrine, it is assumed that this type of standoff will work itself out naturally. If labor laws remain unchanged, it can be assumed that undesirable jobs will be naturally phased out because of unpopularity, and everyone wins.

Without being cynical, one can easily predict that once businesses discover a way to maximize profit without consequence, it is only logical that such practice should continue. And while smaller, boutique-like businesses might be able to maintain a certain moral standard based on a niche market, major businesses — the majority of hiring entities — will have to forget ethics in order to stay competitive.

It is also worth noting that there are many important people giving lip service as to the advantages of small business who are themselves, monopoly millionaire playboys. All the while, some lesser laissez-fairers want to have it all, desperately calling for free enterprise, while also wanting to be moral gods; a total impossibility.  Remember that in this global market economy, there are entire nations willing to offer an equally educated, twice as hard working population for pennies a day.

The central idea is that people of great power and wealth — in short, monopolies — conceived of this let-it-be ideal. The monopolies’ motivation to apply the free-for-all model seems to be an attempt to put limits on the very people they exploited in order to achieve a monopoly. The idea of free market is often expressed by those of great power and wealth after a period of success through years of exploitation and warfare against the weak. Laissez-faire comes up as these people wish to justify and maintain the wealth accumulated, easily shrugging off any remaining guilt.

It surely would be convenient to “let-it-be” if I made incredible profit through labor and resource abuse instead of being held accountable by the people and building my model on a sustainable future.

Deregulation has always seemed laughable when considering the harsh lessons learned before any particular policy was conceived. Should we reinstate slavery? How about ending laborer’s rights? Revoking intellectual property laws? Who is to decide what is coercive to the free market ideal?

When applied in full, the ideas behind laissez-faire are contradictory and awkward for both sides. Lassiez-faire is only a matter of convenience, favoring short sight and a narrow-minded self-interest. Think slavery, conquest, colonialism and the modern West, and inside you will find all of the same contradictions of the laissez-faire model. Laissez-faire always has and always will serve to promote selfish, idiotic, survivalist behavior that, left unchecked, will quite easily end the world.

Freedom ≠ Success

I feel that we should also mention some popular vocal supporters of this model. These are the people who refer to the less-competitive as moochers and/or looters. The reality is that no one can achieve anything based purely on merit; there is luck, and then there is luck, and then there is also luck. To think that people are capable of succeeding based solely on their “talent” is elitist thinking. By now we must have learned that a talented person’s talent can sometimes be untimely, misunderstood, or even misguided by the times.

Laissez-fairers are also quick to use independently successful individuals with humble beginnings as examples of how a free society will help proliferate more of the same fantastically successful human beings, ignoring the reality of pure random luck, inheritance, and the brutal formations of many so-called free societies. In the context of achieving anything in this society, it seems the route to success is shown to those most willing to exploit the current exploitables. Meaning, if blood is a good seller now, you’d better be getting into blood production or contributing in some way to the blood trade. You will, of course be most successful if you can maximize your blood to profit margins.

Is this what we wish mankind to be? A thoughtless creature that preys on any opportunity to profit, even if it means damaging the future for themselves or those who may come after them?

I can understand why some cannot fathom an end of our times. All we can see are cities that stretch across the horizon; the free market economy is like this grand paper mâché bull, fooling people of the world into blind action.

There are misguided souls around the world who wish to look to the West for moral support when it comes to applying laissez-faire on their compatriots. We must remind ourselves however, that centuries of warfare and violent land grabs are what made today’s Western world so dominant. It was not carefully fostered creativity that built the modern Western world, it was mostly military power and random opportunities to exercise said military power.

World dominance through force also improved the prospect of success for many Westerners; so success stories in the modern West are by-and-large less respectable than they might seem. Those who see Americans as pioneers and devoted users of laissez-faire, are a bit misguided and misinformed as well, for even America’s beloved founding fathers could be summed up as money-hungry, slave-owning, tax-evading violent militants. And each year as we contemplate deeply the meaning of “Thanks Giving,” we might also do well to wonder how the original colonists would have fared if the natives simply applied their own brand of laissez-faire and let the colonist be with their disease and famine.

But yes, of course laissez-faire is the most ideal way to govern the world. Take China, a country who’s success has been achieved largely by self-inflicted exploitation, something that economists consider the only way out for a nation which has only natural resources and raw manpower to offer.

The correlation is undeniable: exploitation, not freedom, equals success.

In today’s world economy, imagine if we treated each nation as a person. Who would survive if we were to apply the laissez-faire model?

Nations without any natural resources would be at the mercy of nations that have natural resources. Here, it becomes apparent that someone born small and limited can only achieve more by taking what’s free, or robbing from another. Today however, with every useable land occupied by flags, guns, and tanks, it is hard to justify making it on one’s own like in ancient — or even colonial — times, where one could land anywhere and start extracting resources and wealth by enslaving the indigenous people with no consequence.

Apply the laissez-faire model and the motivation for murder and mayhem will increase ten fold.

And government? Supporters claim that governments are only good for protection from coercion, from rude, uncivilized looters.  This official coercive force, such as police or army is laughable when you consider the people they are protecting. The government under laissez-faire is basically an all-too-necessary police and military force, put in place to protect business interest, and ironically funded by the very people they must oppress.

Gentleman v. Hypocrite

We must notice now, that the application of laissez-faire is only beneficial to those who are already well off. Supporters of laissez-faire are not ready to compete, they simply want everyone to respect their achievements, or exploits, and adjust to their world order. Should they realize the possibility of destructive competition, do you think they will stand idly by and accept a gentleman’s defeat?

In the 1980s, did we think that a proud all-American-cowboy like Regan would bow down to the awesomeness that is the Japanese automotive industry? Today, will the United States’ unprofitable farming industry survive under the model of free competition? How about the airlines? The banks?

Many of these entities were conveniently bailed out by the exploited and we all wonder… is it even possible to be any more ironic? All of these proud developments of the deregulated free market failed, and they will fail again, and again, even if we let-it-be, because we never learn from history unless someone beats that bit of truth in our face and stops us from doing it again.

A society without consequence is a society no more.

Academics will be quick to point out that law and order is necessary to promote fair competition, but it is obvious that laws are made in favor of those who are already in power. So of course we cannot expect fair competition. Natural selection means creatures will do anything at any cost, to compete, to survive, to the point where we cannot even trust the democratic process, a concept which has been around as long as man lived in society.

The explanation — or excuse — most often used to describe this legislative power transfer is that the powers in charge, the all too important millionaire playboy job creators, need maximum freedom to stay competitive. This competitive streak will guarantee this amazing thing call trickle down wealth. But how contradictory is it for laissez-faire supporters to enjoy the thought of trickling down? Is trickling down some philanthropic saying utilized to calm the masses? It seems rather arrogant for the rich to ban government from being able to help those in need indiscriminately, and that only the rich should be relied on to fill this need with their selective benevolence.

Those who believe that pure merit and creativity will always prevail are utopian dreamers, lunatics. Creativity alone cannot solve or defeat matters such as economics, or limitations in physical resources. When a person or nation simply does not have resources, it doesn’t matter how non-violently creative they are, pretty soon the reality of doom will motivate the most natural behavior of all, aggression. That’s nature’s instinct, and I’d dare anyone to let that be.

Pure laissez-faire is founded by unscrupulous, individualistic, blood thirsted hypocrites who want the world to quietly put their hands up and comply with the monopolies. There is no doubt laissez-faire is elitist. It is also cruel, and it poses a living-breathing contradiction, especially when supporters of the laissez-faire model deny the obvious cold-bloodedness of what they do.

But I’d have no problem in supporting such an economic and governmental doctrine… if it weren’t for the hipocricy.

 

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Hong Kong: Thoughts on Elderly Care

Some who is lucky enough to past and enjoy the 65 years retirement age. It is being purposed to be risen to 70.

Some who are lucky enough to make it past and enjoy the retirement age of 65, a number which is proposed to rise to 70. (photgraph: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)

Free Ride

Hong Kong, once a British colony, boasts a much-praised socialized medicine program. After the handover of power from England to China there was much concern over the possibility of the program failing under communist rule. Yet, such decline did not come close to happening and for the most part Hong Kong prospered. Today, the city enjoys the luxuries of a government run medical system, with state of the art technology and ample resources at its disposal. Through the marvels of modern medicine and surgical procedures, life expectancy in Hong Kong is one of the highest in the world.

One of the city’s biggest challenges however — and a common one for many modern cities — is servicing a rapidly aging population.

According to Hong Kong Council of Social Services (CSS), as of mid 2008 persons aged 65 and above make up 12.6 percent of the population; this figure is expected to rise to a staggering 27 percent by 2033. What is also of concern is the rapidly increasing elderly dependency ratio. CSS research tells us that by 2023, every 1,000 employed persons will need to support 282 elderly persons age 65 and above.

While the government in Hong Kong provides relatively excellent medical and social services to the elderly, the system is not perfect. For example, an elderly person who is experiencing non-critical medical problems could wait years before any detailed inspection is conducted. More often than not, the conditions of such lesser medical problems manifest themselves in the future in different ways, due to life style changes and natural aging. Urgent care will always be provided if and when such conditions deteriorate into a life-threatening situation, but the government doesn’t take what might seem like the more economical route of investing in prevention before expensive last minute procedures are needed. Such are the limitations of socialized medicine.

While there are plenty of private venues for faster treatments, the majority of Hong Kong’s population chooses to appreciate the vast resources provided by the government, and find themselves at the mercy of the waiting line.

Even with advancements in medicine and technology, economic issues often find their way to the top of all challenges.

With a small but increasing amount of elderly experiencing Dementia and other metal illnesses, it often complicates the matter even further. There have been numerous cases of patients not having provided a will before being admitted to state care, loosing consciousness, and creating a great deal of ethical debate. The existence of any life extending devices or services prompts decisions for doctors and/or social authorities, and the choice to not use these life-extending options is seen as abandoning life. Who would want to be blamed for such atrocity? Yet the cost of life extension is tremendous, and no one would “choose” to pay the tab unless forced.

In a society of socialized medicine, indecisions to extend or terminate life and a family’s inability to pay for life extending medical services often trickle down to the state. The astronomical cost invoked by unresolved ethical dilemmas compounded with a rapidly increasing population demanding more services could jeopardize the future of this state-run life support system.

With increasing cost and dependency on life extending technologies, society at large is faced with a hard-t0-stomach choice of deciding at what point a human life is no longer worth saving.

Permanent Camp

Elderly Home bathing room.

Shared among 4 or more elderly patrons, always slightly wet, always smelled of bleach (photograph: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)

Aside from fixing health problems of the elderly, there is also a great need to house them. This service is also state sponsored, though there are many privatized homes to choose from. My grandmothers from both sides of the family have both been admitted into elderly homes in the past decade. For them — one aged 106 and the other 89 — both are lucky to be staying at private nursing homes with 24-hour service including anything from meals to entertainment. For those who lack the financial power by the time they reach this age, it means another waiting line.

My father was the director of one of such nursing home, and my intimate experience with the nursing home is not entirely positive. While relatively good physical care is provided, the quality of life and enjoyment of life, is lacking. Many elderly suffering from minor medical problems often find themselves in constant, however subtle suffering, and most of these homes use dormitory styled rooms, housing same sex patrons in the same room.

Medical care is often the reason for sending one’s elderly member into private care, while less often the choice is made to segregate for social reasons. An elderly’s separation from their immediate family often creates other mental health developments within, and although is difficult to ascertain if this separation always provokes further mental health decline, it certainly does not help promote mental health.

Having been around a nursing home most of my childhood I often find the regular or irregular visits of other families not much different than people visiting zoo animals.

Most visits consist of several family members, sometimes a maid in tow with several children who have just came from school, each crowing around the elderly person, who is often disoriented by the sudden social shock and clamor. This usually continues for no more than an hour before the family disappears. It is most shocking when overseas young expats return home after years of being away, where it is not unusual for elderly to have entirely forgotten about their grandchildren. For a few, luckier elderly, the visits are more consistent and accommodating.

Perhaps this current state of board living is the best society can come up with; aside from a number of elderly left behind, living on their own in a shoe box or over crowded apartment, or the few homeless. From a moral standpoint, the future of elderly care in general is bleak, a camp-like enterprise with elements of a factory; a scripted social life for the unknown number of days left ahead, and a defibrillator ready to go, saving a half broken body again, and again.

For those who can no longer work much less walk, life in the elderly home is inevitable, even if living means just having enough awareness to wait for death to come.

 

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Resources:

World Life Expectancy – https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2102rank.html
HK Council of Social Services – http://www.hkcss.org.hk/download/folder/el/el_eng.htm
Elderly Commission – http://www.elderlycommission.gov.hk/en/About_Us/Introduction.html
Elderly Health Service – http://www.info.gov.hk/elderly/english/addressntel.htm

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Reflections on the City

Empire State (photo: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)

New York, the greatest most populist major city in America. So how did the shiny star of capitalism come to this?

Corruption and police brutally, streets filled with potholes and trash, a subway system that equates to an uncomfortable cheap thrill from a traveling carnival, astronomical disparity between social classes paired with high unemployment, blunt racism and prejudice. All the things you would see in classic sci-fi dystopian stories are emerging in this city.

Is it greed and corruption?

A mayor who secured a third term in office by changing the law, a Department of Sanitation run by questionable characters, (to this day recycling trash is still considered a joke on the streets,) a militarized police force that takes advantage of an already broken system with gun trafficking, ticket fixing and senseless violence.

Is it the age of the city and its antiquated bureaucracy?

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and many of its defenders claimed that it is too costly to give one of the oldest, most well-used metro systems in the world a much needed facelift, and stared down any opposition with fare hikes; but fare hikes happened anyway. Meanwhile, over half of the disability claims made by MTA retirees have been discovered to be fraudulent, with employees collecting more in pension than salary when they worked.

Is it diversity?

Any diverse society with wide ranging views forced to live together, forced to contradict or tolerate one another’s ideologies, is likely to generate conflict. Many immigrants brought with them valuable insights, but along with those insights came prejudices as well. Long time locals often resisted new comers, demanding them to become assimilated with established social and culture behavior while overlooking their very own irrational prejudices.

New York is a place where ideas constantly clashed, it’s a place where no one can ever reach consensus and there is no majority. Perhaps people here have lost respect for democracy, perhaps they have lost respect for work in general. There is an aura of bitterness, disgruntledness, a constant feeling for a need to do less, out of spite. Even the most casual observations of subway stations and streets of NYC will reveal just how much respect people have for public property.

Perhaps the lack of a homogeneous social construct fostered an ever-diluted culture fueled by greed and materialism. Social diversity is a grand concept even the Romans embraced, but the level of diversity we are experiencing is generating a new phenomenon, and it is indifference.

Rarely do individuals or groupings of individuals feel obliged to care for individuals or other groups. Everything in our society is compartmentalized, linked together only by necessity of commerce. This is mine, that is theirs, and what’s not mine exclusively I have no responsibility for.

The most challenging and counter productive occurrence in a diverse society is when these various groupings of people all claim to have a solution for conflict, to bring peace and harmony to society, when they are really plotting to make life easier for themselves by wanting others to change.

The people of Occupy Wall Street are an interesting addition to this ever increasing social divide. Perhaps unwittingly carving out yet another social identity with a pretense to change the world, yet with questions as to their own goals and execution. To the elite, they look like bitter, lazy and uncompetitive workers who want to do less while receiving more compensation.

In societies with an overpowering majority — China, Germany, Mexico — a homogeneous culture with homogeneous morality and social expectations fostered cohesion, a society where there is shame, where people have fear of being ostracized, and where people have a basic level of respect for one another, for human life.

To a large extent, in America there is no such thing.

Here, anything goes: invent your own religion, invent your own science, invent your own morality, it’s all covered by freedom of speech, even if one wishes to be a completely irresponsible moron.

NYC is a prime social experiment of what will happen when all the people who think they are better than everyone else come together and are forced to live with people who they either dislike or have no concern for.

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Read more:

American Exceptionalism
LIRR scandal NYPD scandal
New York City Demographics
Electoral College

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The Irrational Cry Against Corporations

Shit is fucked up and bullshit

Occupy Wall Street Protestor

The Federal Reserve was founded because of poor business conduct and regulatory oversight. Its primary interest is to protect the wellbeing of US currency and the economy at large. So what went wrong?

McDonalds is pretty good and innocent example. Following its humble beginnings the company went public in 1965 and brought the world a million jobs, from the potato farmers to the logistical jobs, to all things remotely related to the Golden Arch. So why is there so much hatred against McD, or against corporations in general?

One thing worth considering before we move on is that any sane entity will be thinking of one thing and one thing only – self-preservation. A corporate entity is no different.

Business entities answer to market demands, investors, and must perform what is most profitable even if it means using lobbyist to alter policies to stay competitive or simply expand.

If McD did not do it Burger King or another fast food chain would, essentially all companies should. Businesses, by doing so protect their own interests, the interests of investors and — in a vague sense — also the interests of their employees and their families; everything is interconnected in the economy and everyone takes a bite.

From a voting standpoint, we should ask ourselves if there is a conflict of interest in an ordinary voter who is also a stock holder of McD, or any other corporation? The answer: absolutely. That person will more likely vote for someone who will support or directly vote for deregulation, the primary goals being more profit, more dividends, more pay off, self-preservation, etc… everything else is secondary.

The Fed may also be wise to let businesses have their way, because many people — or in economic terms, many jobs — are chained together, meaning that the nearly infinite amount of things which theses jobs touch are at stake. Among other things, panic is a primary enemy of the Federal Reserve and the economy at large.

Deregulation is demanded by businesses, not because it is in the best interest of the product, service, or business unit, but because businesses essentially have a gun to the back of their heads.

That gun is held by the very voters who cry when the company they invested in goes belly up.

As an example, support for deregulation of banking practices could in theory stimulate lending, job growth, and general economic wellness, but deregulation has also lead to irresponsible risk taking and consolidation. Risks are always prevalent, but the fewer entities there are, the more that risk then rests on fewer and larger entities; meaning if one mega corporation goes down it will set off a chain reaction the equivalent of an economic atom bomb.

Maybe this is when it all went wrong. We allowed ever-hungry survivalist entities to thrive and devour one another. But isn’t that the essence of capitalism? In the free market, the fittest survives, and it was this very same system that made all of these modern marvels we take for granted both ubiquitous and affordable.

Now even if one is not a stockholder, it doesn’t mean he or she is not part of the problem or solution for that matter.

In the end, it is consumer behavior that shapes business decisions and government policies. So before jumping to the conclusion that corporations or policy makers are solely responsible for our downfall, we might re-evaluate our position and the decisions we make each day in society.

We need to maintain an open mind and allow for serious consideration as to how our individual behavior can shape the course of our economic future.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]See Also: The Inside Job[/box]

Introducing: Heads or Tails

Raymond Yeung: Heads or Tails

As this is the first Heads or Tails column, I thought it interesting to reflect on the very idea of a coin toss, on randomness and how this very simple act of decision-making ties into our everyday lives.

Many mathematicians and great thinkers have found ways of explaining randomness, yet to this day it is a subject generally lacking the level of attention and understanding it deserves.

From a personal perspective, the reason why randomness is so important to me can be attributed to the many failings I have experienced, and how I was taught to accept a deterministic worldview.

From pre-school to the war room, randomness ultimately determines the outcome of one’s decision.

Yet, it’s had to accept. Most of us like to think that we are presented with choices, and that our free will is what determines our future, but how were those choices given to us in the first place? Who — or rather, what – determines the choices that any of us have? While some turn to religion for that answer, perhaps the real truth lies in mathematics.

The Coin Toss

The coin toss has come to be a standard, a way to determine the outcome dilemma with fairness, but is it ever fair? Coin tosses are only a matter of probability. If enough trials were conducted a pattern can be observed; the ever so slight weight difference between heads or tails will ultimately determine the probable outcome of a toss. So is randomness just a way of convincing oneself of fairness, of convincing oneself that these concepts which are too grand or too minute for our minds to ponder can be used to base fairness upon?

At one point or another, a great majority of people on Earth have supported some type of sports enterprise, professional or otherwise. In Leonard Mlodinow’s book The Drunkard’s Walk the merit of the coach is closely looked at, with the merit of the team often being attributed to the coach, and solely to his tactics. Individual players are seen as mere pawns in a more complex game of attack and defend; failure is equally weighted on the shoulders of the coach. But there can be many variables in a game of this or any kind, from the temperature of the game floor, to players’ psychology, all the way down to the coin toss. Each of these variables determines who gets possession of the game piece.

In business, too, from hiring to making sound company decisions, randomness is never far away. CEOs are coaches of the business enterprises who are often the sole recipients to all the praise and blame in what is often a lucky/unlucky or timely/untimely decision. While coaching tactics and pressure are only small part of the unpredictable yet probabilistic reality, many consider them important in judging success or failure.

This predominant way of thinking that we are in control cannot be attributed to any single person; we are all helplessly taught to think this way.

The very languages we use train us to look at the world and express what we see from a limited, singular, self-centered perspective.

Our very being calls for us to accept the idea that free will is the master and that chance is a servant of this free will, often ignoring possibilities that are hidden away by our pride.

This way of thinking has contributed to a growing sentiment of entitlement and highly exaggerated expectations as to what should be expected of life. Everything we experience has some kind of beginning and some kind of foreseeable end, even if it is abstract. Most of us would like to apply this deterministic world-view to our own lives, thinking that if one follows the footsteps of a happy or successful person then he or she can become happy and or successful as well.

This might sound rather silly, but the fact is that very few people take random chance seriously. On a grander scale, the world is full of probabilistic mechanisms and our ability to fully understand them will help determine probabilistic success or failure. It may sound as though we are helpless pawns of cosmic consequence, but let this not be an attack on humanity’s free will, more so than a way of thinking to encourage better use of our abilities to interpret probability and chance.

In the end, probability and chance are two sides of the same coin, and our perception of these concepts will ultimately determine our paths.