Commentaries and Opinions

  • Image: think.dk

    Change is coming. Soon.

      • kaestel.dk

    For the past 7 months I have been busy re-establishing think.dk as a think tank and center for acceleration of sustainable change. It's an ongoing process, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just last week we hosted our first Rebelle Yoga class and there is much more to come.

    The think.dk project has been an ongoing project for almost 20 years. I actually registered the domain name all the way back in 1998, but years before that I had this overwhelming urge to cause reflection and ... change.

    Yesterday, when I was considering having an updated door-poster made for our new center, saying: "Change is coming", I also remembered that one of my very earliest online chat names was "change", and from a certain angle it almost appears as if nothing has changed. Unfortunately this is both true and untrue.

    For some reason, I have kept a stack of old news papers. By now they are about 10 years old and when I occasionally browse through one of them I am shocked by how close it comes to present day news. The names may have been changed, but all the themes and problems are the same. Nothing has changed.

    And yet, when looking into the details, a lot of things have changed - not in terms of theme, but in terms of severity. My stack of old newspapers provides a very interesting reference point and, in my opinion, one that paints a more realistic picture than my memories of 10 years past.

    We get older. We gain new perspective. We have positive individual experiences. We collect more faaantastic stuff. We probably feel a bit richer in one way or another and all of this may leave us with the impression that things are generally getting better. That life is easier. But it isn't.

    If you feel richer, it is only because you have worked hard for 10 more years. That is 10 years less to live, and what do you have to show for it. The result simply does not match the effort, only most of us are too busy working (and being distracted by clever advertising) to notice. Oh, Ice cream ... and then back to work.

    Maybe that is also what leads us to not act, though we are continuously being made aware of the severity of our problems through social (and critical) media. Some even try hard to avoid the critical news - I don't have time to deal with that – as if my life weren't complicated enough already. It's all conspiracies anyway. I wish it was.

    think.dk is indeed my attempt to counter this tendency to not act, just because you don't have time. I don't have time either. I find time. I stir it up with endless patience and appreciate every little step I make.

    Change is coming!

  • Questioning the Phillipines

      • kaestel.dk

    On a personal level, visiting the Philippines have been a both joyous and frustrating exploration of "letting go". It is a concept I find troubling, especially due to my own control disorder. And in the name of exactly that disorder, I need to stress that there is a big difference between "letting go" and "giving up". Just saying. I am definitely not training my "giving up"-side, but I clearly need to keep practicing my "letting go" skills a little while longer.

    When observing the quality of life here, it is easy to feel the need to tell the Filipinos how things should be done, because from a Danish point of view, there is so much room for improvement. But aside from it being rude (and yes, I am well aware I am generally rude - now and all the time), it would be a complete failure for a number of reasons, rudeness not even being one of them.

    You can't be too obsessed with details out here. In fact, details doesn't appear to exist. If you order an omelet and get a sunny side up fried egg, just roll with it or prepare to wait another two hours to get an eggnog. You ordered something with egg, you got something with egg, you should be happy.

    If something would be expected to take 30 minutes anywhere else in the world, be prepared for it to take two hours here. After two hours, I think it is OK to become impatient - as long as you realize it might not help the least. It is a very different life out here - there is no rush, there is typhoons. There is no point in rushing, especially as you would be the only one - everyone else is busy typhooning (keeping calm and waiting for it to go away).

    There is this confusing mix of vaguely expressed and unnuanced personal opinion, with an undertow of self interest, well balanced with humility and best intentions, that seems quite unique. Personal opinion is, of course, very directly affected by the ever present need, but since details do not exist in the Philippines, nuances are rarely a factor in any expression, and their truly honest humility simply prevents them from really cheating you - even when you are clearly either stupid or desperate. On more the one occasion I deliberately didn't ask for the price of a tricycle ride beforehand just to test this, and when asking for the price (when it is in fact too late to undo), I was met with this answer: What you like, sir. Now, I really do appreciate the trust put forward in that response, but I think it also illustrates how hard it is to get a clear answer out here.

    I was continuously disappointed and confused with the poor quality and assortment of fruit in the Philippines. Everywhere I went - in the local markets AND in the big supermarkets. How the hell can a country like the Philippines have so little fresh fruit to offer locally and why (the even more hell) is a fruit smoothie made up of 4 different powders and ice cubes, instead of fresh fruit, when I can pick 10 bananas fresh off a tree less than 15 meters away? WTF?

    The Philippines is a major Avocado producer, and yet I didn't see even one Avocado during my 3 weeks here. Every single (pitiful small) orange, mandarin or clementine was imported from China. Most Pineapples where simply rotten, right there on the shelf. With all the fruits supported by this climate, I am still looking for a valid explanation, why mangoes, bananas and watermelons were the only fruits of decent quality, regularly present.

    (My deeply depressing guess is that the majority of the production is owned and exported by the multinationals)

    And ... Catholicism is clearly no ones salvation. Despite intentions it is more likely what keeps the poor in line - in order to maintain the status quo of a privileged few, paid for by the lot. Since I was here alongside both the pope and the Sinolog celebration, meanwhile they were arranging pedigree (or whatever) demonstrations against Islamic Fundamentalism back in Denmark, especially one thing requires a mention: Religious fanaticism is not reserved for Islam. It is equally scary in any dress. And especially so when its followers are scared and desperate.

    I really don't have any suggestions for the Filipinos. It's a hard life, keep the good mood. I wish you good luck and hope the weather improves ... soon.

    Sigh.

    Image: Enough rice?

    Image: YAG's eatery

  • Uganda, final comments

      • kaestel.dk

    I've spent 17 days in Uganda. I have mingled with the rich and the poor and done my best to see the world through their eyes, though what they see is painful to me in very different ways.

    I am left with a confused mix of hope and helplessness. The existing power structure is completely caught in its own need turning to greed. Everyone simply accepts "the way things are" and plays the game skillfully to leave the table with their pockets full. The ones who tries to do right, looses out. It's a dangerous game of everything or nothing.

    The powerful people we have talked to here, all seem very inspired with the prospect of collecting more taxes. When we talk about education and free internet they loose focus and quickly the topic close in on the "what is in it for me"-rhetoric. It appears no one will do anything here, unless they themselves benefit financially from the deal. Regardless of them being business men or appointed officials.

    It is not very surprising but still more extreme than expected. My initial thoughts on who to lube the chain wasn't nearly enough. Towards the end of our stay we were debating how to balance more direct means of bribery, without compromising the overall intention of granting free internet and education. It is tough being an idealist in Uganda.

    If Uganda established a government controlled internet provider, surely such an organization would have highly acclaimed positions ready for the willing aids of such a program. Establishing it as a private company might allow for purposeful distribution of ownership through stocks. And establishing free internet would surely accelerate the infantile IT industry of Uganda, allowing the entrepreneurial to acquire valuable stakes in this new and profitable industry of digital services and media. The market already has 17 million under-nurtured customers.

    I consider this initial research trip to be successful and I have a feeling I'll be coming back. Even if it is just to sit at the lake and write or having another Rolex at the intersection.

    Image: Strip mall

    Image: Jesus cares

  • Image: Mobile Money

    Uganda tomorrow
    - Ideas for a brighter future

      • kaestel.dk

    Before I arrived to Uganda, I had been working with some ideas. An attempt to inspire new approaches and unconventional solutions.

    A few facts about Uganda:

    • Population: 36 mio
    • People with sanitation: 12 mio
    • People with electricity: 3 mio
    • Life expectancy: 57 years
    • Dominant religion: 84% Christianity
    • Literacy rate: 67%
    • Fertility rate: 6 children born pr. woman

    And the finances:

    • Total tax revenue: 8 trillion shillings (US $3 Bn)
    • Estimated black economy: 50% of GDP
    • Fake notes in circulation: > 3 trillion shillings (US $1 Bn)

    In addition to all these somewhat saddening facts, surpricingly enough mobile penetration is extremely high and the Ugandan telecom system offers Mobile payments. Real mobile payments - transanctions between phone subscriptions, excluding the banks completely from the equation. They call it Mobile Money. This is primarily used by the broad, poor population, and most of them do not hold bank accounts.

    • Mobile subscribers: 17 mio
    • Mobile money transactions: 22 trillion shillings (US $8 Bn)

    Initial conclusion

    Uganda has lots of problems. We know that, they know that. It almost seems like the ones who knows this better than anyone, are the ones stealing all the money.

    And here is what we do:
    Hey, Uganda - why don't you just build more schools and sewers and make electricity available to everyone, - just like we did in Europe? We'll lend you the money, if you buy our toilets, employ our engineers  and sell us your powerplants (we think it is going to be a goldmine).

    It is a rude selfish offering, disguised as generosity!

    It simply doesn't make sense to increase the national debt, without growing the local businesses. Neither does it make sense to blindly repeat all our mistakes, when they have the option to skip them all together.

    They don't have the money to take on any real tasks on their own, regardless of how much it makes sense and they also want to. However, if they could increase their tax revenues and limit the financial corruption, then maybe ...

    New ideas

    To get anywhere, I decided to focus on these challenges:

    • difficulty in taxing the broad population
    • limited access to education and information sharing

    Here is what I came up with

    • Provide free internet in the entire country.
    • Build a digital education system, with a few educational hubs for specialized classes.
    • Introduce real-time transactions based taxation and remove all deductions and current taxes.

    Internet

    Free internet is simple. Free means free. Free for everyone. It costs a penny, but we'll get to that. First, think of the media value - everyone will look in awe. Then they will come. Most will bring money. Some will stay.

    Education

    Almost everyone who needs to learn, already has access to a mobile phone. If we give them free access to the internet, we can reach them and teach them. All study material is available online. When appropriate for your education, you will contribute to developing and maintaining the new educational system and Senior compendium includes creating study groups for the youngest students.

    Building a few educational hubs costs a fraction of regular schools distributed across the country. The hubs are open for external teachers and free to attend whenever you can to balance out survival and education.

    In my opinion this is an opportunity to build the educational system of the future. It could be implemented throughout the entire 3rd world. People will help. Open source is already here and this is what it is meant for.

    Ok, so we need some money to get started. My guess is, there is EU and possibly UN financing available for a project like this. And then there is the tax.

    Taxation

    Introducing a real-time financial transaction based tax across the banking and mobile sectors (all electronic financial transactions) of about 5%, would multiply current tax revenue, given the available numbers are credible.

    It is a complete replacement for all current taxes and deductions no longer makes any sense. Let cash be tax free for an easier transition, but stop producing new coins and notes. The modern way of making financial transactions for purchases already exist and has a broad market penetration even among the poor.

    A real-time transaction based tax implemented like this will remove the need for tax related administration (both public and private) and make it a lot harder for the black economy to thrive. Tax ovation is practically impossible as taxes are paid automatically and instantly on every transaction you make. It really is very simple.

    Leftovers

    The free internet and the online educational system, is the incentive the population needs to pursue the digital revolution willingly, and thus the reason it can succeed. A taxation plan like relies on a digital population.

    Even after building a revolutionary educational system and providing free internet, there is likely a penny left for investment in additional infrastructure. Spend it wisely.

  • Terror in Oslo, 2 weeks later

      • kaestel.dk

    As the details started to surface on day 3, I started getting the notion, that, even the gruesome tragedy in consideration, the attack itself, was just a small part of the plan. I fear, the worst is still to come. If not as a result of the obvious possible chain effect of escalating events, then possibly as the result of how we carry ourselves through this. Where will our fear lead us?

    We've got more details. Truthful details or not, this is what most of us relate to.

    We know Anders Breivik had enough money to lead a pleasant and fulfilling life. He was an intelligent student, who was generally kind to other people. We know he spent 9 years in planning the attack. He trained with extremists in Belarus. He has international friends. We know he listened to music while coldbloodedly spreading death. He called the police himself from the island. He does not regret his actions. We know he wrote a 1500 page manifesto, and that he kept a detailed diary, both of which are now published and available for anyone who seeks them. Yes. Just now, I spent less than 2 minutes to find and download the manifest. Actually I found it twice in the two minutes. I doubt I’ll care enough to read it all, and if I do, it will be out of necessity rather than interest. If things do escalate we might all need to know the details of "his" thoughts, to be able to fight back appropriately.

    We "know" a lot of details, and the more we learn, the less we understand. We simply cannot comprehend. Or perhaps rather, we don’t want to comprehend.

    I have collected and deducted a bit of additional information, in my attempt to see a bigger picture. If we neglect the full picture, we will fight the wrong enemy.

    The manifesto is well written. It speaks to more people than you might think. Probably as many as you would fear. We are being told it is a copy/paste job, and I ask: Does that description not fit the political programs of most popular parties in our democracy? They too recycle the same old ideas. Copy/pasted crap can still speak to a lot of people.

    A lot of other tales have been told in regards to his abilities and personality. Most are just attempts to discredit him. Things like, he did not have any money, he did not start any companies, he is not intelligent, he could never have written the manifest himself.

    So what alternate objective lies behind such statements? I think it plainly ignores what is really important, just to calm down the crowd. But that just leaves the crowd in the dark, unprotected against reality.

    In his own words, he made a cash surplus of 4 million NOK, all through legal means. He was trying to make more, to finance a slightly more political approach to his revolt, but during the Internet bubble he lost some, and soon chose a new course of action. Collecting enough money to pull of his plan, even if it is less than what he states, is no easy task. It takes extraordinary dedication. And skills beyond most of us. Or a secret benefactor.

    So either he really is very clever, or he is just a front, working for, or at least being supported by, someone else. Either way, we should be scared.

    I doubt we know the full measure of his plan yet. I think the real plan is an elaborate attempt to slowly manipulate us, into to a cause and effect scenario, finally leading to its goal. Just like we see it every day in business and politics. I think he is trying to use the methods of his sworn opponents, to achieve his own goals. If we fail to see this, he will probably succeed. At least to some extent.

    And what does all that mean ...

    I truly believe the race towards change has begun. Either we present a better alternative or “Anders” wins. Because in the battle between right wing and left wing, I’m certain the right wing will win. Simply because they are more ruthless. Right wing cares for their own, left wing cares for everyone. It’s their weak spot. But in the battle between poor and rich, the poor will eventually win, because they simply, by far, outnumber the rich. It may take a long time and surely it will be bloody.

    And so I think we should avoid that battle at any cost. Almost any cost. Who wants to fight a loosing battle anyway. We need to open our eyes and minds and accept that not everyone share our own beliefs.

    The current system and mentality will not prevail. Continuous attempts to suppress any extremity will only lead to more extremity. Extremity is not logical. It's fear. You can't deal with that using logic. Nor words. Only by acknowledging the fear and with lots of human interaction. Possibly by being patient and hoping the fear will dissolve with time and positive experiences. But no one is being patient. Now more than ever, when someone utters their fear in public, they are instantly attacked by mainstream extremists. Everyone is extreme. Calling everyone else the most obscene things. Always trying to do it in a slightly more sophisticated way than the others, hoping no one will notice they are as scared as anyone. They preach peace, but induce fear.

    For some inexplicable reason we choose to fight fear with more fear. There is no real action, only reaction.

    If a child is afraid, does yelling make the fear go away? If someone is afraid of water and you force them under, will it make them any less scared of water? If you attack someone who is already under attack, will they join your side?

    So why is that the response we choose? Because we’re just as afraid as they are. Different reasoning, same fear. Blinding fear. We want them to respect others, but yet we fail to respect them. Regardless of “them” being right wing, left wing, poor, rich, Christian, Muslim or even the Godforsaken Atheist. And within our petty nations, people starts feeling betrayed.

    They may say idleness is the root of all evil, but in that case, betrayal is the soil from which the evil grows.

    As to idleness I prefer Søren Kierkegaard over Hannah More. But of course, if you are on the side of the powers that rule, you will want to keep the minions occupied or you might be facing a riot. Sooner rather than later.

    From hereon I see a couple of possible outcomes.

    a) We let the fear drive the reaction, start fighting each other and eventually we will get the civil war "Anders" is hoping for.

    b) We let ourselves be dulled again and forget the real problem - the actual dept of our internal division. Slowly we loose everything to a system ruled by money and balanced by fear. Poor people will finally revolt, and we will have a civil war, just like it has happened over and over again throughout history.

    c) We change fundamentally. Make room for each other, both right-, center and leftwing. Broaden our societies, slowly, respectfully.

    Problem with stupid people like us is, we don't want an event like this to change our way of life. That would be caving in to terror. But will we rather continue fighting?