The War On Plastic Bags Is Just Obfuscation

war on bags

There seems to be a war on plastic bags, every city around the world seems to think that charging a small fraction of a penny to every shopper will cure the world of garbage. Let’s be clear, it will not.

Plastic bags have become the target of some sort of green war, but I suggest that these bags are not the issue at all, but have become the target of people who really do not want to solve the true issue.

Everything we buy is over-packaged. Fruit and vegetables come on polystyrene (Styrofoam) trays covered in plastic wrap, with a label on the outside. ALL of this packaging ends up in the garbage.

Every packaged product comes with an inner bag, outer packaging, all wrapped in plastic and with a label on the front. All of this packaging is garbage.

What you buy at the supermarket is often over 90% packaging, which is the waste that ends up directly in the garbage.

The plastic bag you use to transport your goods from the supermarket to home, will then become the garbage bag that you use to transport the garbage to the next step on its lifecycle (the trash can). If anything, this plastic bag is actually the least of the issue. The other choice you have of course is to buy additional plastic bags to line your bins, and this is just revenue for bag manufacturers.

Here’s how we fix the issue. Charge people for every bag of garbage they ask to be taken away by the refuse collectors. It’s simple, ask the consumer to place a tag on each bag, and charge them for the tags. The more you dispose of, the more you therefore pay.

At the same time make the supermarkets take back their packaging and have them send this back to the distributors and manufacturers on the trucks that are already delivering to their shops.

Sounds like a lot of extra work doesn’t it, and guess what the shops and the manufacturers will quickly find ways to reduce their packaging to reduce their costs.

Now you have less garbage.

It’s not the plastic bags that’s the issue, it’s the process that demands you bring all this packaging into your house in the first place.

Instead of campaigning to make people use reusable bags to shop, start to campaign to have wasted packaging reduced on every product.

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There are no simple fixes for complex issues.

You start by understanding the multitude of dynamics at play that create an outcome, and you look at what can be influenced to change the underlying conditions that lead to a situation.

For example mandating car insurance, driving licenses and annual inspections leads to safer cars, better drivers and the ability for accidents to be handled more simply. It doesn’t stop idiots from driving badly or drunks from killing people entirely, but it does reduce these things over time. As a drunk or crazy driver will have their license revoked and may even be imprisoned, others are then less likely to act the same way.

Countries that have regulated guns see less guns killing people – there are still murders, but less, and specifically less mass murders, and a lot less with guns. The total impact on controlling guns is less weapons available for theft, resale, lunatic fringe hoarding and general craziness. 

The simple and obvious flaws in having different gun laws across a country with open borders between states, doesn’t need to be restated.

You don’t have to solve every potential problem to solve the majority of scenarios. 

If your reason for wanting a gun I because you are scared of the government or are worried about people who look different to you, the issues are deep and demand a lot of long term work.

Just because there are no simple solutions to complex issues, is not a reason to take no action at all.

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Brexmaggedon

History will not be kind to this decade.

Let’s be clear global warming is not a binary issue, but one that has been impacting the world for a very long time. Over hundreds of years governments have co-opted farming to generate revenue as opposed to food. Farmers in poor countries have been cutting down forests to grow cows, corn, oil baring seeds, tobacco and poppies. They have sold these products in exchange for money, which helped economies. But as weather patterns have changed and these mass crops failed to produce the volumes of previous years, along with the need to use ever increasing levels of pesticides and fertilizers or use expensive copyrighted genetically modified crops, these farmers have not been able to sustain their lives, and so are migrating.

The same has happened to desert countries which have become reliant on oil. Oil will not last forever, and so they need to invest their short-term wealth in new industries, some have chosen to become knowledge-based economies while others have reverted to using religious driven hate to grow a power base.

All of this movement of people and ideas has allowed right-wing focused sentiments such as xenophobia and racism to become mainstream. With neo-fascists appearing in the leadership of much of the world.

At the same time Europe was created as a Union, with possibly the most impressive social programs anywhere in the world. With free trade and free movement of people and laws allowing people to live their lives with greater levels of personal freedom than anywhere else in the world. But there was a price for these freedoms, which wasn’t that obvious initially, but is still there. Much of Europe was running these freedoms without a way of paying for them, and the way they were able to do so was by buying into the European Central Bank and the Euro. Quite simply every country joining the euro, had to ship all their money and gold to the European central bank, and in exchange were given huge piles of euros. Sounded fine, until it became clear that the costs of all the incredible social programs was greater than the about of Euros they had. So they needed more, and unlike when you run your own currency it isn’t as simple as just printing a bunch more, creating some inflation but being able to pay the bills. Instead to get more euros each country has to give more of itself to the European central bank, literally given them banks, mines, railways etc. It’s a simple idea, over time it will increase the power of the European union and reduce the power of individual countries. But some countries were not willing to give up control and didn’t want to join the Euro. This created a problem, because if a country isn’t being fully absorbed into Europe, then the big plan would fail. And so came the next issue of Brexit. The UK population wasn’t happy to become a full state of Europe, and wanted to trade and have the social benefits without the political cost.

But the UK is only one of a small handful of countries in Europe that actually pay more than they take, and if you take the UK out of the mix, it’s unclear that the other net-investors will have enough to cover the shortfall. So Europe needed the UK to either not leave, or pay a massive divorce bill to help cover the gap. And the UK was not willing to do either of these.

If the UK does leave Europe (and it really doesn’t matter to history if it’s hard or soft), then Europe is screwed in the medium term.  And if Europe can’t change their spending and funding model to balance the books, it will not end well. If they do change their spending to solve the problem, it also will probably not end well.

So between global warming, oil rich countries looking for their next phase and a broken Europe things are not well.

Now add to that the desires of other major world players, Russia (who is still sore from losing the USSR) and China who desires to become the leader of the world in terms of economics by breaking any and all treaties and laws they need to (copyrights, trademarks, patents, currency pricing etc). Add to ths the usual distribution of crazy (The Koreas, a bunch of countries no-one remembers but all end in -stan, and more)

And all the elements are set for a really messy period of instability.

History has a way of making events look ridiculous in the rear-view mirror, and frankly it seems that the people alive today are going to be remembered are possibly the biggest idiots of all time. The choices we are making don’t show any signs of being either sane or ending in any way well.

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No Problem Ever Gets Solved By Using The Same Logic That Created The Problem In The First Place.

Hearing politicians espouse about their new plans to solve student debt, healthcare, immigration or even war leaves me with a sense that they are all either frauds or simpletons.

Student debt has several causes, including the high prices of education, predatory lending, and the legal framework that has been placed on education, driven by lobbyists promoting the cases of those who sell education services. Strained vocal cords with impassioned pleas change nothing.

Healthcare is driven by profit, and as such is always going to find new ways to charge more. It doesn’t matter if it’s private, public or a mix, if you pay a healthcare provider more for delivering more healthcare then that is what they will do. The only healthcare systems that buck this trend and those that are focused on key outcomes such as the length and quality of human life. And those systems are “socialist” and it’s easy to scare people away from, and no one running for the office of president is willing to go that far.

Immigration has been the evil of empires for all time, and the USA is no exception. Our track record of care of migrants is among the worst in the world. From classifying people as white and non-white to signs stating Irish, Italians and Jews not welcome, to the sending back to Germany of ships full of fleeing immigrants during world war II who were subsequently murdered to the inhuman care of babies separated from their parents happening right now, we have never been a Bastian of care for those who most need it, and tears on stages changes nothing.

And the USA has been at war continually, with more wars happening right now than most people could even name. We have the largest military in the world, and it’s very busy, and yet we hardly notice. Wars only ever end when worn out warriors decide it’s time to put away the swords and talk peace, and politicians just get in the way.

I listened to 10 people on a stage yesterday, and the difference between them was tiny. And the difference between them and the guy that currently holds the job they are all after isn’t big enough.

Frankly I’d take any of these 10 over the Crook in chief we have today. But not one of them is going to solve the endemic problems we suffer from today. They probably will just make them slightly worse at a slightly slower rate, and maybe the world will survive a little longer.

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Augmenting Reality – For Real!

In the 70’s kids carried their steroes on their shoulder.

In the 80’s we used walkman’s (I guess it’s not walkmen)

In the 90’s we wore earphones with a splitter cable so we could share the music with our buddies.

In the 00’s we had to turn on the speakers in our phones to share music, and it sucked. And it still sucks today! I still don’t want to hear your music through a Bluetooth speaker.

I dream of being able to share music with Bluetooth headsets with my partner, while walking around the city or sitting on a plane. But Bluetooth technology is not designed for multiple people to listen at the same time. A couple of companies have tried to make Bluetooth headsets that can connect together to allow music to be shared. And it nearly works.

What I really want is to be able to share music with one or maybe two other people, but still have it be private, and this tech is just out of reach today, until now!

It’s not easy buy we have made it work, and at the same time taken it to an entirely new (and better) level.

There were several problems that needed to be solve.

  1. How can you share the sound from a single device (phone or pad) to multiple Bluetooth headsets.
  2. Is it possible to have the sound without the need to wear on ear or in ear headphones, so that it’s immersive and yet you can still be present, enjoying the world around you and be part of conversations, and not annoy everyone else with your music.

And here’s how we did it.

Firstly, after quite some hunting, I found this device on amazon.

This plugs into an iphone and allows 2 bluetooth headsets to be connected at the same time. It’s a little fiddley to configure, as you have to turn-off the Bluetooth in your phone to ensure that the connection is made through the device and not the phones own Bluetooth. But once the two headsets are synchronized it works.

It’s not the longest range of Bluetooth transmitter I’ve ever seen, so you have to stay reasonable close together (a few feet), but it works, where nothing else I’ve found does.

The next thing we did is invest in Bose’s new Bluetooth connected glasses. These use focused speakers built into the arms of the glasses to project the sound directly into the ear canal. And they work better than I would have ever expected. When two pair were synced to the Bluetooth splitter, we were able to walk around the city listening to excellent music, while still being able to talk together and hear the world around.

I require prescription lenses, which Bose do not offer, But are offered for sales on glassesusa.com, which took 2 weeks to arrive, but work perfectly.

It is incredible!

In summary :

Adaptor to allow multiple bluetooth headsets to be connected to a single iphone – a little techie, but work’s!

Bose Bluetooth glasses – incredible sound, without sweaty ears on a hot day, and when combined with the above mentioned adaptor, totally incredible.

Prescription Lenses for bose glasses – While not officially supported by Bose, it was easy to pop-out the lenses and replace them with new prescription ones. I went for transitions, but basic tinted ones would make awesome sunglasses.

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Why are so many billionaires investing in space travel?

Here’s a thought experiment:

Money is not power, debt is power.

In days of olde, you acquired metal of value (gold or silver for example) and you’d store this in a bank and allow people to see it, and when you wanted something from them, you would write them a note that said if they did this thing for you, you’d pay them in gold. 

These notes become promissory notes and that become money. And so long as you had gold and silver in the bank you could write notes to the value of the metal you had.

Then banks wanted to start to offer more money than they had gold, so the rules were changed to say that if you had gold, you could offer money to the value of several times the gold you had. Because no one actually wanted the gold, they wanted the power of the money.

And then people started borrowing money from the banks, and the banks started to literally create money at a rate of several times the amount they were lending. Most money is not paper and coins, it’s a reference in a ledger that someone was loaned a specific value, and based on this entry in a ledger they can buy other stuff.

And then the rules changed again, and the banks were allowed to create money at many many times the amount that they lent. 

And so, for banks to create more money, all they have to do was lend out even more money.

And somewhere along the way the actual relationship with metal was pushed aside.

Today the more you lend, then the more money you can create. And so long as people can pay back the monthly payments everything’s good.

But when you lend more and more, people have to borrow more and more, and so to make the monthly payments achievable the term lengths for loans are getting longer.

You can now borrow more, over longer periods, and in exchange the banks can print even more money, which they must be able to loan out to be able to grow. Lending and borrowing is the source of the money. Debt is therefore the ultimate power.

If things stop growing, that would be a huge issue, because then the whole house of cards would collapse.

WE MUST CONTINUALLY LEND AND BORROW MORE AND MORE!!!

But the resources of the earth are quickly being consumed, oil and coal are being burnt at unpresented rates, causing global warming that is effectively shrinking the useable land mass. We need people to continually borrow more and more.

We must find new ways to get people to spend, loan and borrow. 

So space!

If we can build cities on the moon and mars, mine asteroids, and built starships the gravy train of civilization can roll along. There is a whole universe of stuff out there to create reasons to create money.

If people’s ability to borrow money was to stop, then literally the basis of western civilization collapses.

It’s funny to think that the future of humanity as a space faring species is being driven by the desires of scared, egotistical, savants to keep their wealth, but hey whatever works!

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Personal information has become a gateway drug for business

We treat commerce as some sort of separate entity today, but it is quite simply one element of the integrated society we have built. Money is nothing more than a promise, a contract between people. It only works if we all have trust in the system. Money was created as a way of allowing people to trade goods and services in a consistent way.

Money only works if we all accept it as having value, if we lose trust in money they we all need to start carrying around purses with precious metals and shiny objects, that we could use to negotiate for goods and services.

Decades ago we moved away from using coins and notes to using numbers, but initially we had to have a copy of the numbers on our person to share with those we were trading (credit cards, checks etc).

Now all we have to do is give someone our numbers and they can suck money from our bank accounts or credit cards for us to pay later, or implement more complex contracts such as loans or major purchases. Your employer pays you the same way, numbered accounts in numbers locations is all that is needed to move money around.

Numbers are easy. You go into a restaurant and they suck money out of your credit card account. You take a taxi and the same happens. It’s very easy to move money around.

But what happens when the system breaks? What happens when a criminal gets hold of your numbers. They go to CVS and swipe a copy of your credit card, who checks? What happens when the disillusioned minimum wage worker at a fast food restaurant scans your card when they take your order and sells your information. And what happens when the bank doesn’t have enough security around your personal and private numbers, and they are stolen? What happens when one of the largest consumer credit reporting agencies, which has been collecting vast amounts of your personal and private data, loses it?

Quite simply we rely on a small series of numbers as our personal identity. These numbers are published in public documents, as well as being collected by many different organizations. And we have almost no control over how they are published, stored or used.

Theft of these numbers, our identities can take place across political boundaries, meaning it’s next to impossible to bring criminals down.

When someone collects and stores our personal information, they are taking on a responsibility to each person whose information they collect. If by their actions or inactions, that information reaches a criminal who steals from us, they have an absolute responsibility for the loss.

If a person dies because a car manufacturer installed brakes incorrectly, they are responsible. If a drug company creates a treatment with an adverse effect that wasn’t fully understood, they are responsible. And if you suffer a loss because a bank, a financial institution or a vendor failed to protect their copy of your personal data they should be directly responsible for the loss, and for repairing any damage it causes.

The law must reflect the importance we all place on personal data. Today it does not. There are some “soft” laws that describe how data must be protected, but when a business fails to implement these rules effectively the legal response is almost imperceptible. Let people know you screwed up, and maybe offer them a service to monitor their finances for a period of time, and then it’s business as usual.

Most of the world uses a Chip and pin credit card system. Where you have to both have a physical credit card and know a secret pin number to complete an in-store transaction. And nearly every county in the world mandates that that transaction must be entirely performed by the purchaser. In the US, this is not the case, we have a chip in our credit cards, but no pin number. And virtually every restaurant in the US uses a system where the waiter takes your credit card off of you and takes it to a machine out of your sight. These weaknesses lead to thefts that the rest of the world have already solved.

The US also relies on a social security number as the sole piece of personal data needed to prove your identity. Nowhere else in the world is this considered an acceptable practice.

Why is the US so weak in identify protection? Because the banks and vendors are not held responsible for loss, it’s normally left up to the consumer. If the bank makes a loss, they hike up their rates to cover it, the consumer pays.

We need a solid legal framework to protect the whole system, and that probably means much more infrastructure than a piece of paper issued to every citizen and legal immigrant when they are kids or first get the right to work, with a single nine digit number on it.

It’s time for the law to catch up with the requirement. And this means strict regulations and draconian penalties for non-compliance.

Today we have the technology to encrypt data, capture and use biometrics, spot fraudulent access using advanced artificial intelligence, communicate directly to everyone, anywhere, anytime and validate any number of ways.

But do we have the collective will to change a system that’s working quite well for banks, who have become addicted to social security numbers, credit scores, and acceptable losses without penalty?

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Jumping The Chasm Between Creating Empires and Creating Equality.

History has shown that it is incredibly difficult to move from empire creation to creating a society that is fair for everyone. I am at a loss to find an example of any major society that has made the leap in a way that is seen as acceptable from everyone’s perspective.

The Greeks, Romans, Dutch, Scandinavian, French, English, Portuguese and Spanish all had well documented empires that were built using a mixture of genocide, slavery, brutality, and a clearly defined delineation of those in charge and those who were to be dominated. Slavery, servitude, and extreme poverty for those who were dominated and wealth, education and all the luxuries for those in charge.

And then at some point, in every case there was a recognition of the unfairness of these systems and efforts were undertaken to create every increasing (if slowly implemented) levels of equality, and with this equality came an end to many aspects of their empires. These are still amazingly advanced societies, but with the rules changing, their goals changed, and the lives of everyone involved changed.

Empires at their founding take blood and gold to turn what existed before into something new. But in every case there is a point reached where the advancement of society demands that the underclasses become more educated (to take on more advanced work) and with this comes the knowledge and power of how to negotiate greater levels of equality. But it is very hard for the rich to continue to become richer at the same rate when the previously free labor now requires a lot more of the wealth themselves. For some period of time there is always another even lower level of worker to bring into the endeavor, but at some point you run out of poor groups, and the wealth of society has to start to be spread out further.

Are we seeing the same thing today in the USA?

Are we at that same inflection point, where to provide increasing equality, we need to recognize that the power delivered to a few by inequity needs to be replaced with a desire for a better future for all?

There is still a very real level of inequity between those who come from families that have garnered the benefits of many generations of material wealth, cultural wealth and the interactive effect of many generations of education versus those whose parents and grandparents could barely read, write, did not have a consistent cultural background and had no material assets to pass down the generations.

If you listen to the two main political parties in the US, you would think that the choice is simple and clear, but I don’t think it is in any way obvious which pathway will lead to a better place. Obviously I (like most people) dream of a post sexist, post racial world, where it truly doesn’t matter what someone’s biology, skin tone or life choices are, it just matters what they do. But humanity is probably generations away from that ideal.

Today we have institutions that capitalize on the segregation implicitly created generations ago, and in doing so we continue them. Culturally nurtured mannerisms, fashions, accents and beliefs systems separate groups of people often into neighborhoods and this leads to the furthering of any negative stereotype. Racism is a ridiculous (but very human) way of treating anyone, and often the efforts to deal with negative racism create a “one step forward, two steps back” level of change, where those who benefit from negative racism have the power to use the short term detrimental impact (on them) of positive racism to double down on any negative stereotype. Examples such as Jim Crow after the repeal of slavery, and targeted drug laws after the implementation of the civil rights act had just these types of effect.

Making a fundamental change across society to resolve racism (or any other “ism”) takes an immense intellectual leap supported by immense and rapid investment. And this has to happen at exactly the same point when costs rise (due to everyone wanting and getting a fairer share). This is an almost impossible leap for any society to make and history has shown it to be incredibly hard to do.

But there has never been a United States of America before, and it is very possible that the USA can be the first empire (yes a federation of states with THIS must natural resource and THIS much power is an empire) to achieve this.

So much of the USA’s power and wealth is actually wrapped up in so few people, that it wouldn’t take that many of them to agree on putting society above themselves for real change to be possible.

What other country can name billionaires who actively want to help this change? Capitalism may well be the very best method of creating the very best society that is possible.

There are (of course) some who would look at the past and think that a class system derived from race and sex should be continued, but I believe the majority want a capitalist based system where race and sex are irrelevant, and where every citizen can learn to live a comfortable, long and healthy life in exchange for their work and support of society.  When I read the US constitution (actually I keep a copy in the bathroom), I see these ideas promoted quite aggressively.

I believe the choice the USA will make on November 8th 2016 will be very instructive in seeing if the USA will be the one empire ever to aim for a post-racist/sexist future or (like many before us) will give up the dream and go backwards.

Whatever decision is made in this election won’t set our course irrevocably, but it will be very instructive as to our democratic desire.

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