The Problem with textbooks

Few people outside of the field of education are aware of what has happened to the textbook industry. A small percentage of parents who take an active role in their children’s education have some idea, and perhaps some politicians who are involved  in education know a bit as well. While many in academia see the downward spiral of textbook quality, few are speaking out about it.

The trends in textbook publishing affect all levels of education, from preschool to postgraduate studies. Public and private schools, rich and poor, urban and rural, all draw from the same pool of textbooks. They have little choice in the matter; the textbook industry has gone through the same relentless wave of consolidation as almost every other industry over the past few decades.

The textbooks I am most familiar with are ESL (English as a second language) books since that is the subject I am currently teaching. However, I have looked closely at my students’ textbooks for their biology, physics, chemistry, history, and health classes, and I see the same design and content changes occurring everywhere.

First, the overall dumbing down of the texts is undeniable. One rarely encounters a word that requires  a dictionary to understand. In the secondary school texts, the lexical, grammatical, and syntactical level seems to be stuck at around the 6th grade. At the university level, it’s not much better.

Much of the content presented in modern textbooks is thinly disguised corporate propaganda. Textbook publishers are reluctant to divulge how much of textbook content is taken directly from corporate sources, but we can be sure it is substantial. Corporations are known to write entire and complete legislative bills which they hand to congress for approval.  Corporate lobbyists write speeches for politicians. Transnational corporations now control everything of value on the planet, so it follows that they are writing textbooks as well. Some of this corporate propaganda is subtle and woven into the content unobtrusively.  In some chapters, the propaganda is more blatant, such as when biology texts discuss GMOs. Monsanto definitely has its dirty hands in the education field.

Besides the obvious propaganda pushing GMOs , Darwinian evolution, quantum physics, and space exploration, there’s also the social engineering type of brainwashing. This includes the celebration of rampant consumerism, transgenderism, homosexuality, multiculturalism, hi-tech, celebrity culture, shopping, social media, and general superficiality. Parents who have not looked at an English textbook for 20 or 30 years would  be appalled at what they see. Nearly every page of the ESL text which I used for a recent course discussed one of those subjects. Consumerism and high-tech gadgets such as smartphones are especially popular topics for learning. The not-so-subtle message being taught to students, outside of the embedded grammar lesson, is this: The only meaning you can derive from life is through shopping, consumerism, acquisition, and the acceptance of a multicultural and inclusive world. The only pictures one sees on the pages are photos of models,  smiling and joyful in their sleek modern offices, making loads of money which they will spend in fancy restaurants and department stores.  Traditional families are absent. Pictures of rural life are nearly absent as well. The world is presented as one giant playground, basically. It’s filled with exciting and exotic cities which  you can visit on your next ‘holiday,’ and return home with giant shopping bags filled with the loot you collected overseas. Oh, the joys of being a yuppie! That, essentially, is the dream being sold. Everyone can be a rich yuppie, living in a high-rise in some ‘bustling’ metropolis.

Every page of modern textbooks must have a photo. On some pages, more than 50 percent of the total space is filled with photos. The people in the photos are utterly fake. Most of them are models. They looks about as real as a GMO tomato. They’re always smiling and laughing, of course. They’re always attractive. They always seem to be on holiday. They’re usually talking on their smartphones and striding confidently to their next high-powered business meeting.

Do these photos contribute anything to the lesson being taught? Do they enhance the subject matter or clarify important points? No, they do not, not in the least. They’re just filler. Publishers insert them because they claim that students will not look at a page filled only with text. Actually, the publishers are correct when they state this. I once gave my students a book to read. It had no pictures. They gasped audibly and complained loudly and bitterly to me. How could they possibly read a book with no pictures? It would be so boring….

We must ask, though, how our kids became so frightened and/or bored with a page of text. Television and computers deserve the bulk of the blame, but parents and educators have done too little to instill a love of reading to students. Education publishers help to create this problem, and then turn around and state that they are merely responding to market demand.

The hundreds or thousands of photos placed into a typical textbook today drives up the cost of the text enormously. The expensive and glossy paper on which the photos are placed is considerably more pricy that simple paper for text. Moreover, it’s not just lots of unnecessary, ugly, and fake photos that one sees on textbook pages. Graphic designers now play a role even more important than content writers. Every page must be a different color. Oh, yes. Pages must be multi-hued with flashy background themes. Black text on white background, white text on black background, green on black, blue on yellow-whatever. Every page must now resemble a website. Many pages are so repulsive to look at that I ignore them when working through a chapter. I don’t want my students to look at something so ugly and so manipulative.

Students coming up through the system today have no idea that textbooks used to be different. With their immaturity and lack of perspective, they naturally assume that things have always been this way. They are unaware that students used to read books with no pictures! And sometimes those books were hundreds of pages long, and filled with highly technical details.

In conclusion, I regard modern textbooks as abominations. They are filled to overflowing with shameless propaganda, touting GMOs and transhumanism, among other things. Their slick and glossy pages, designed by well-paid graphic designers, are all about style, not substance. Content has now receded into the background. Actual text now coves less than half of most pages and the lessons are presented in small doses so as not to stretch students’ minds too much.

 

 

The absolute horror of cover music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Five disturbing trends in the restaurant industry

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

  1. Menus with photos.

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

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

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

2. Big Screen Televisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Free Wi-Fi

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

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

4. Servers using iPads and smartphones to take orders

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Some thoughts on The Mandela Effect

The first exposure I had to the Mandela Effect was watching a video about The  Berenstein Bears. Various people were commenting that the books that they grew up reading were called The BerenSTEIN Bears, but now the books were titled The BerenSTAIN  Bears. It wasn’t just the new copies that were being printed either. Google searches revealed nothing except the A spelling, including the Wikipedia entry. I had never read these books as a kid; indeed, I had never even heard of them. So, I didn’t think too much about the issue.

However, it wasn’t long before I came across more videos being posted on YouTube about this phenomenon. Vloggers started posting videos about all sorts of things- books, movies, product names, celebrity names, the map of the world- that had suddenly and inexplicably changed. The Mandela Effect had quickly gone well beyond the Berenstein Bears. After watching a number of these videos, I did my own research, both online and on the street, to verify the veracity of the claims presented. What I quickly found was that the Mandela Effect is real, verifiable, mind-blowing, and frightening. If there is anything else happening on Earth at this moment that remotely compares to this, I’d like to know what it is.

What exactly is The Mandela Effect? It is a phenomenon whereby people notice numerous aspects of our physical reality that are different from their memory of those things. These things can be lines from a movie, a book title, the name of a shampoo, or the map of Asia. People have known something to be a certain way for their whole life, perhaps many decades, and then suddenly they wake up, look around them, and see it is different. This awareness is startling and unsettling.

There are now hundreds, perhaps thousands, of examples of the Mandela Effect that have been catalogued. Facebook groups and YouTube channels devoted exclusively to the cataloguing of effects have been established, as well as discussion groups. The following is a very brief list of some of the more obvious Mandela Effects.  New ones seem to appear almost daily now.

  1. The map of the world.

We humans are now, apparently, inhabiting a completely different planet from the one I grew up on. I say this as someone who has spent his entire life studying maps and atlases. I have a very good grasp of world geography. I know (knew) the shapes and sizes of the continents and countries and their relative placement. The maps that I now encounter when I open an atlas, a textbook, or google maps are nothing like the world as I remember it. South America has now shifted 2,000 miles to the east. Panama has become an East-West country instead of North-South country and the canal now cuts Northwest to Southeast. Cuba has doubled in size, moved a thousand miles to the west, and now practically touches the Yucatan. Florida has shrunk. Denmark now juts up between Norway and Sweden and is much, much further north than it was before. Spain has shifted westward. Italy now points  in a southeasterly direction, instead of southward. Sicily has moved northwestward about 500 km and now touches the tip of Italy.

Moving to Asia, Japan has moved westward and is now much closer to Korea and China. It is far less elongated than it used to be. Australia has moved at least 2,000 km northward to the point that it now almost touches Papua New Guinea and has become part of Asia. This is just a partial list of geographical Mandela Effects. Readers, feel free to investigate this for yourselves, especially if you had an interest in geography as a kid.

Before I move on to some other notable effects, it must be emphasized that this is not a matter of a mere handful of maps being changed, nor is it just the new maps. A search online of old maps, or even a glance into an old atlas printed 30, 40 or even 100 years ago, will show the same bizarre shifting of landmasses. In other words, it is reality itself that has shifted. I have gone into numerous libraries and bookstores since I began investigating the Mandela Effect and have verified this for myself.

2)  Lines from movies.

A) This list keeps growing all the time. Everyone over the age of 40 remembers the famous line from Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” This has changed to become “Life WAS like a box of chocolates.” Again, this is not just evil google tinkering around with online versions of the movie. Your dusty old VCR copy will now have the updated version with “Was like a box of chocolates.”

B) The famous line from the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come,” has now become, “If you build it, HE will come.”

C) In the movie Jaws, Roy Scheider now says, “YOU’RE  going to need a bigger boat,” instead of “WE’RE  going to need a bigger boat.”

D) The evil queen in Snow White now says, “MAGIC mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” instead of the famous incantation, “MIRROR, mirror, on the wall….”

E) From the 1984 movie Purple Rain, Prince now begins the film by gazing at at the audience and announcing, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here tonight to GET THROUGH this thing called life.” WTF? The line was, of course, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here tonight to CELEBRATE this thing called life.”

3) Book titles

A) The famous Anne Rice novel Interview with A Vampire has shifted to become Interview with THE Vampire. By now, hopefully you’ve noted that the new lines in movies and new book titles don’t sound quite right and are often nonsensical.

B) The Berenstein Bears have now become The Berenstain Bears.

C) Oscar Wilde’s famous novel The Portrait of Dorian Grey has now shifted in this reality to become The Picture of Dorian Grey. 

Let me take a short digression here to relate an experience I had six months ago when I traveled to Phnom Penh for a weekend. I had been doing a lot of online research about The Mandela Effect, but I wanted more physical evidence. To that end, I ventured into the biggest and best bookstore in the city to have a look around. I walked over to the fiction section and searched for Oscar Wilde. When I pulled the copy of The ‘Picture’ of Dorian Grey off the shelf, my hand was shaking and my heart was pounding in my chest. Here was the hard evidence and it was undeniable. I mean, c’mon! The ‘picture’ ? It doesn’t even make sense! The story revolves around the portrait, hence the title.

To continue with my research, I walked a couple of blocks to a used book store. The friendly owner informed me that he had a large selection of used children’s books. I found four old copies of the BerenSTAIN Bears. The owner was unfamiliar with the books, but when an elderly woman walked in, he introduced her to me and said, “She’s the one to ask about children’s books.”

Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hello, are you familiar with the Berenstein Bears books?”

Friendly woman (FW): “Well, I should be. I was a librarian for 40 years!”

Me: “Excellent! So, let me repeat the title, if I may. The books are properly called The BerenSTEIN  Bears, yes? ”

FW: “Yes, they are.”

Me: (Showing her the books that I was holding, with the alternative spelling) “Well then, what do you make of this?”

FW: “What….? Well…… I’ll be damed! (Laughing nervously)

Me: “How do you explain that?

FW: “Well, I guess I must have remembered incorrectly.”

At that point, I tried to impress upon her that it was not the fault of her memory that the title had changed. I suggested that something far more mysterious and creepy had happened and that she should investigate something called The Mandela Effect when she got home.

But here’s the rub when it comes to introducing people to this topic: It’s nearly impossible to discuss it without sounding like a loon to people who are unfamiliar with it. I’ve tried, tentatively, to broach the subject with a few of my close friends. What I try to do is find something they know well, whether it’s maps, movies, books or consumer products,and then point out anomalies. It they say, “Yeah, that doesn’t sound right,” or “Yeah, that’s not the way I remember it,” then I tell them they should do further research themselves.

4) Consumer products

There are now dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of Mandela changes with consumer products. The one that nailed it for me was  Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar. I’ve been using Bragg’s products for 30 years. I have read their books. Their names are Paul and Patricia Bragg. Their smiling faces adorn all of their products. I also used the Liquid Amino Acids. So, I’m quite familiar with who they are and their company. And then, whammo! The Mandela Effect struck. The company is now called ‘Bragg.’  Every week when I go to the Western and health food market, I see ‘Bragg’ Apple Cider Vinegar and it never fails to send a shiver down my spine.

5) The human body

According to many Mandela Effect researchers, the human body itself has undergone a transformation in this new reality. The heart has now shifted to the center of the chest and the stomach has moved a number of centimeters to the left. All anatomy charts now show this new configuration.

The preceding list was meant to only be a brief introduction to the Mandela Effect. The list of effects is long and continues to grow. The big question is WHAT IS THE MANDELA EFFECT?  There are a number of theories floating about, all purely speculative at this point.

The first theory is that a certain percentage of humans now alive have relocated, somehow,  to this new ‘Earth’ from an old Earth that was destroyed in a cataclysm. Our residual memories from the old Earth are what is causing the so-called Mandela Effect. Perhaps the old Earth was destroyed in an event in 2012.

Another theory holds that we are now in a parallel dimension, an idea that was postulated and expounded on by Nikola Tesla himself. Readers who might wish to research this further can search on ‘Nikola Tesla’s theories on parallel dimensions.’

Yet another theory postulates that we live in a literal Matrix, very similar to the reality presented in the famous sci-fi cult films. Some kind of Artificial Intelligence (AI) can, and does, manipulate reality at its whim.

John Lamb Lash speculates that the Great Mother Sophia, written about in the Gnostic Gospels, and known also as Mother Gaia, is showing her sense of humor by tweaking reality and having a little bit of fun with homo sapiens.

I am neither dismissing nor leaning toward any of these theories at this point. I surmise that in the near future, more effects will manifest, more people will take note of them, and more theories will be put forth to explain it all. However this all shakes out in the end, one thing is clear: Reality is not what we thought it was and things will never, ever be the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My problem(s) with British English

I don’t like British English. Only in the last couple of years did I realize this. I was born and raised in the United States and wasn’t exposed to much British English during my time there; besides watching the occasional Monty Python movie, BBC documentary or BBC newscast, I heard and read little of it.

However, my circumstances have changed. I am currently  teaching English as a second language in Southeast Asia, and my daily exposure to British English has caused me to form some strong opinions about it. This exposure comes in two forms: 1) the local media and 2) the British  ESL textbooks which most, if not all, language centers in Asia use.

The various print media in Asia , including newspapers and magazines, are always written using British spelling and the British lexicon. The ESL textbooks are often printed by Cambridge or Oxford University Presses. If not, they are  printed by  giant publishing houses such as MacMillan (British) and Pearson PLC (British).

Journalists and writers working in Asia use, presumbably, the Oxford Style Manual when composing their articles. They certainly are not using the Associated Press Stylebook or the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Hence, when I am perusing the daily newspapers in Saigon, Phnom Penh, or Bangkok, I always read about ‘labour’ disputes, ‘tonnes’ of rice, and ‘programmes.’

This, then,  is my first major complaint with British English: the spelling. Why do the Brits insist on doing stupid things like adding unnecessary letters to words? Program is just fine as it is. It does not require or need an extra m or e to make it more official sounding. It’s the same situation with ton. T-O-N. It’s simple, direct, and to-the-point. Yet, the Brits want to glop on an n and an e to this word as well. And what is with the equally irritating habit of inserting unnecessary u’s into otherwise functional words such as labor, color, neighbor, and favor? I once had a British colleague here tell me that the extra u ‘softened’ the words. Give me a break.

The list of British English words that are spelled nonsensically is too long to list here. However, it should be noted that it is, indeed, a long list. Why spell complection as complexion? That just looks wrong. Where else do we put an ‘x’ into the middle of a word like that?

The British take logically spelled words like center, fiber, theater and liter and insist on transposing the e and r which makes them look retarded. Last week, I came across one of those glossy travel mags that are often left lying around in 4- and 5-star resorts. It was titled ‘Traveller.’ I had to blink to make sure I was reading it correctly. My first thought was, “Is that possibly a typo?” I mean, that’s not how traveler is spelled. But then the idea hit me: “Is that some stupid alternative British spelling?” I looked it up online and sure enough, adding an extra ‘l’ to words like that is standard practice in the British Isles. Thanks, Oxford and Cambridge.

It gets worse. Words like maneuver and estrogen are bludgeoned  with extra o’s in Brit-land. Just look at this word: manoeuvre. Does that look correct? Yes, I know we stole that one from the French, but we are using English, so let’s use the spelling that makes the most sense and reflects how we pronounce it.

British slang words and phrases are equally tiresome. This too is a long list. Let’s begin with one of the worst- knickers. Does that word conjure an image of something colorful, silky, and sexy under a woman’s skirt? No, not at all. The word panty however does conjure that image. Score one for the Americans.

A Brit might say, “What about the word herb? You Americans, for no logical reason, don’t pronounce the h while we do. Now who’s the silly one?”   It’s a fair observation, but I’m inclined to think the hippies (American)  had a hand in this one. You see, hippies have for a long time used herb as a synonym for marijuana. Every day at 4:20 p.m., they sit down and say, “It’s time to smoke some herb (silent h).  Any hippie will tell you that word rolls off the tongue  so much more smoothly when the hard h is dropped. ‘Erb’ just sounds sexier than Herb. So even here, Americans have been on the right track.

If you live in a room, or group of rooms, inside a building, then you live in an apartment. It’s not a ‘flat.’ That word is properly used to mean ‘level.’ If I am interested in something, then I am, well, interested in it. I am most certainly not keen on it. If I am really interested, then I might say that I am excited about it.

When I was growing up, the word brilliant always meant ‘having or showing great intelligence.’ However, it seems that over the decades more and more meanings have been attached to this overused word, thanks to our British friends who love to use it like confetti: a brilliant goal, a brilliant show, etc. In these circumstances, there’s always a better, more precise word to use in the context, if they would but try.

The loathsome recent trend of saying ‘sorry’ whenever ‘excuse me’ used to suffice must have been started in Great Britain. There’s no way brusque and direct Americans would initiate such a tortured  assault on meaning. Hell, they’re even teaching this now in textbooks!  Seriously. Chapters that teach phone manners, social gatherings and such state that when you interrupt, ask directions, or bump into somebody, you should say ‘sorry’ instead of ‘excuse me.’

Hey Brits, percent is one word, not two. It’s a synonym for percentage, you know. I don’t care if the dictionary says that both spellings are acceptable. The American usage is better and more commonsensical, as usual. And finally, the woman who gave birth to you is your Mom, not your Mum.  Listen to a baby calling for his mama. It sounds like MOM-A, never like MUM-A.  Let’s keep the word Mum with its proper meaning- silent.

 

 

 

YouTube censorship heating up

I believe that YouTube is the best platform that we, the human race, have right now for spreading the truth. ‘Truthers,’ ‘The Truth community,’ and all truth seekers in general have found YouTube to be an absolutely invaluable tool for reaching large audiences around the world. However, as recent events have shown with crystal clarity, the owners of youtube and the shadow controllers behind them, are ready and willing to clamp down on channels that are spreading a little, er, too much truth.

YouTube is, of course, owned by Google, one of the most powerful corporations on Earth. Google works hand in hand with the CIA, NSA, the defense industry, and the shadow government and NWO in general. Google’s controllers are quite happy to have you uploading videos of pet tricks, cooking techniques, and boy bands from Korea. But, they are far less tolerant of channels that deal with serious content and hot-button political issues. More specifically, YouTube’s Zionist (read- Jewish) masters have zero tolerance for those who wish to question some of the sacred cows of 20th century history, such as the holocaust, WWII, Hitler, Israel, global Zionist power and the like.

Some of the prominent channels that have recently been shut down include peekay truth, ODD TV, EvaLion, Storm Clouds Gathering and goyim goddess. The excuses given by YouTube range from copyright infringement to ‘hate speech.’ The term ‘hate speech,’ if you didn’t already know, was invented by the Powers-That-Be to muzzle anyone who dares to question Jewish power. This was the same group that invented ‘Political Correctness.’  These terms are Orwellian in the extreme, as well as anti-intellectual, anti -free speech, and anti- critical thinking.. Any forward thinking person who embraces political correctness or who supports those who stifle free speech under the guise of stopping ‘hate speech’ need to do some serious research into the origins of societal control. Start with reading about Edward Bernays and the Tavistock Institute.

For those who use and rely on YouTube to spread the Truth, be always aware that the hand that giveth can also take away.  Have backup channels, as well as a blog and website so that when Big Brother comes to shut you down, you are ready to go to Plan B.

Addendum: YouTube had just launched a new feature called ‘YouTube heroes’ which blatantly and unashamedly encourages viewers to snitch on channels which espouse unpopular viewpoints and go against the prevailing propaganda, spouted by NWO mouthpieces such as CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, et al. They are getting desperate.

 

 

A Bill Mollison tribute

I learned a few days ago of the passing of Bill Mollison. While few people outside of the organic and sustainable farming community have ever heard of him, his legacy has already spread to every continent and will continue to grow in the years and the decades ahead. There’s a good chance that the farmer whose organic produce you are eating has studied and implemented many of the permaculture principles that Mollison developed back in the 1970s along with David Holmgren.* The theories on gardening and farming which tried to mimic nature instead of subduing it  would later be put into print in such books as ‘Permaculture One’ and ‘The Permaculture Designer’s Manual.’

I had already developed an interest in organic gardening and farming back in 1996 when I first came across the term ‘permaculture.’ I learned that there were a group of visionaries who were ‘going beyond’ organics and attempting to develop whole systems of sustainable living which including not only food production but also sustainable housing, energy production, village design and social dynamics. This small but growing nucleus of visionaries were putting Mollison’s principles into practice in various rural communities and small homesteads, refining and adapting them to fit into different regions, climates, and micro-climates. Mollison’s core group of students from the late 1970s and 1980s soon became teachers themselves and ,through hundreds of permaculture designer training courses,  spread the knowledge of the techniques and theories far and wide. Today, you can find farmers and gardeners practicing permaculture in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and North America.

 

I never got the chance to meet Mollison in person though I did have the opportunity to study with some of his students including Peter Bane, Chuck Marsh, and the Bullock brothers in Washington state.  Mollison was rumored to be irascible, rude-tempered, impatient, and provocative. Some found his personality and temperament to be offensive and there was, for a time, a split within the permaculture community over the ‘cult’ of Mollison. However, this drama eventually subsided as Mollison retired from teaching and the movement developed organically, without leaders and gurus.

Permaculture has evolved in leaps and bounds since its introduction almost 40 years ago. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, more books have been written on the subject since ‘Permaculture One’ was published in 1978. Dozens of websites connect practitioners from all over the world who now exchange information, techniques, and knowledge. No matter where you live, there’s a good chance you can find someone offering a course in the core principles. Three-day introductory courses to two-week or even one-month designer courses are regularly offered in most regions of the U.S., Australia, and Canada.

For those who have no knowledge of experience in permaculture and want to get a quick introduction without  leaving home or reading a book, two excellent documentaries are available to watch for free on youtube: ‘In Grave Danger of Falling Food’ and ‘The Global Gardener.’

 

 

The Rise and Fall of Zen Gardner

People who follow the so-called ‘alternative media’ know Zen Gardner and his popular eponymous website. From the site’s beginning, it  attracted a loyal readership and fan base. When I first happened upon Zen’s site back in 2012, I was immediately drawn to it. I was impressed with the elegant design and  the articles.

The articles were drawn from a broad range of writers, bloggers, vloggers, and free thinkers. Most of them took an unconventional perspective on the issues facing our planet and species and were edgy enough so that the site couldn’t be dismissed as New Age escapism.

I really liked the streamlined design, with a bare minimum of advertising and  click bait. Many of the writers whose articles I read stretched my mind and enlarged my view on world events. During the first couple of years I visited the site, I wasn’t even aware that there was a person named ‘Zen Gardner.’  He didn’t post his own articles at that time and I thought the name of the website was just a homage to Zen Buddhism.

However, by late 2014 and into  2015, a noticeable shift began to occur. First, the website  underwent a dramatic redesign. The streamlined design was jettisoned in favor of one with far more advertising; furthermore, the advertising was sponsored by that evil Israeli-run company, Taboola,  After reading through the list of articles on the home page, readers were confronted with a TMZ-esque smorgasbord of celebrity gossip stories. To see this advertising on Zen’s site was jarring, and I was shocked to see that few of his readers objected to it in the forum section.

The next major shift to occur was the appearance of Zen Gardner himself from ‘out of the shadows,’ so to speak. Suddenly, his articles were at the top of the homepage, and he began to write prolifically. Although many of his supposed fans in the forum were effusive in their praise of his writing ability, I never thought much of it. All of the articles were a rehash of the same theme: ‘the shift of the ages is occurring, we are ‘riding the waves’ of seismic change, hold on to your hat, stay centered, blah, blah, blah. ‘The content was uninspiring, derivative, and repetitive. The writing itself was of poor quality, though again few, if any, of the readers seemed to notice. Zen also started doing dozens of interviews, all of which were of course posted on the top menu bar. When I first heard his voice, I had an uncomfortable feeling. His voice just didn’t resonate with me; it was high-pitched- almost feminine- and didn’t sound like an enlightened man in his late 60s.

Next, the content of the aggregated articles changed markedly. The hard, edgy content of the previous years was replaced by hundreds of gloppy, syrupy, new-agey fluff pieces. Most of the newer articles  focused on how to meditate and what foods to eat. Linked videos of George Carlin and Bill Hicks appeared almost daily, apparently to attract hipsters.

The appearance of in-your-face advertising and  new age writing, coupled with  the  deliberate cultivation of the cult around ‘Zen Gardner’ set off alarm bells in my mind. I sensed something very wrong was happening and surmised that perhaps the site, and its founder, had been co-opted by Intelligence. Here and there, a few thought-provoking articles still appeared, but the new direction was clear.

When I read Zen’s revelations last month about his time spent in a pedophile cult, I was shocked and disturbed, as was everyone. I read his utterly unconvincing explanations for this episode of his life. I also followed the subsequent articles he wrote where he attempted to douse the flames and claim that those who were exposing him were merely on a witch hunt  and should examine their own skeletons instead of lambasting him. To see so many of his groupie fans defending and coddling him, including Jon Rappaoport, was disheartening and disgusting.

There is much food for thought here in this sad drama and some hard lessons to be learned for everyone who participates in the alternative media, whether as a producer or consumer. Was ‘Zen Gardner’ , aka Don Ferguson, a CIA plant who was set up from the beginning to fail, and bring his followers down with him?  I think it’s quite possible. In fact, until I see a more plausible explanation, that is the one I am going with.

It’s also a possibility that he began with good intentions but was turned to the dark side by the powers-that-be. As I have shown above, it’s quite easy to trace the arc of the site’s downward spiral and see when and how it lost its way.

For those of us who wade daily into the realm of truth-seeking, we need to be ever on -guard. Those who at first glance appear to be on our side often turn out to be gatekeepers, shills, double agents, spooks, and monsters. We must use our intuition at all times and bring people to task when they fail to live up to their rhetoric. We have seen so many big names come crashing down in the last few years: Alex Jones, Joe Rogan, Mark Dice, Jesse Ventura, Gerald Celente, Jeff Rense, Jeff C, and many, many more have been exposed. Zen Gardner has now joined this infamous club of shame. We should have seen it coming.

 

 

 

Surviving the mid-life crisis

While some might debate whether the transition from young adulthood  to middle-age is traumatic enough to be labeled a ‘crisis,’  there’s no doubt  that for most of us, saying ‘goodbye’ to our youth is not an easy task.

I was the youngest child with three siblings, two of whom are considerably older than me. Hence, I was always and constantly referred to as ‘my younger brother.’  My parents, of course, called me ‘our youngest son.’ I must have heard the words ‘youngest’ and ‘younger’ tens of thousands of times. By and by, I began to think that being the young one was part of my identity, that I would always be younger than everyone else in the room.

Furthermore, many of my friends during my teenage and young adult years were older than me by quite a number of years. I enjoyed going to parties and events where I was the ‘kid’ in the crowd.

Physically, I had a youthful face throughout my 20s. I kept myself in good shape through running, biking, and martial arts during my 20s and 30s. When I was 35, people were guessing that I was 25.  I had no problem keeping up with my 20-something friends. I began to feel that this situation could go on indefinitely. Nature, however, had other plans.

I remember clearly when ‘it’ happened. In my 37th year, my  hormones began to perform their pre-programmed function, and the switch was flipped. Nature is so ruthless and dispassionate in the way it goes about changing our bodies. It  doesn’t give us any warning signs, nor does it  go about things gradually, step by step. NO. The changes come all at once. 

I remember in my 36th year, I noticed a couple of white hairs in my beard, but I wasn’t unduly alarmed. “Oh look, a couple of white hairs, how interesting,” was my attitude. A year later, those few white hairs covered 60-70 percent of my beard. What the hell was going on? Then the thinning of my hair began and I developed the classic bald spot on the crown of my head. A kind doctor suggested to me that I should start wearing a cap during the daytime so that I wouldn’t get ‘sunburned’ on the top of my head. I wanted to smack him.

Strangely colored  and unsightly moles sprouted like mushrooms on my back, arms, torso, ears, and every other spot on my body. This concerned me so much that I felt I had better visit a dermatologist. (Everything was benign.)  The hairs that I was rapidly losing on the crown of my head and my hairline were mysteriously reappearing inside my ears, where I could neither see them nor trim them. I had a new request each time I visited the barbershop: “Please don’t forget the ears.”

I had always been slightly underweight, hovering around 160-170 pounds, but now suddenly belly fat accumulated around my waist. My pant-size increased noticeably. Gravity had taken hold of the skin under my chin. The white hair virus reached into my nose hairs and even my eyebrows, for chrissake.

All of these changes occurred over the period of one year. I recall waking up one morning, going to the mirror, gazing at myself, blinking, and thinking, “Who the hell is that person?  That pudgy, white-haired, middle-aged man can’t be me.” The first of the five stages of death and dying had arrived- denial. ‘This can’t be happening. There’s no way.  There must be some mistake. This is all happening too soon. Isn’t this supposed to happen in my 50s?’ And so on.

After a  couple of months of denial, anger soon erupted, mostly at God. Who else to blame? Luckily, at the time, I had a big punching bag hanging from the tree in the backyard and I went outside nightly to pound on it with punches and kicks.

Adding to my misery during this dreadful time, I had a number of teeth problems that needed to be dealt with. In the following years, I  made numerous  visits to the Emergency room for a variety of freak accidents, food poisonings, eye infections, and a bout with walking pneumonia. I started to use phrases like, “My doctor.”

I became jittery and nervous every time I felt a weird sensation or feeling anywhere in my body; I was a bit neurotic.  At this time, I started work on the night shift at the hospital. I read articles that showed statistics of how much more often night shift workers died of heart attacks. Two years later, my friend and colleague died of a heart attack. I knew it was time to get out of that job.

I’m 50 now, and the phrase ‘middle-aged man’ no longer bothers me. I’ve learned, finally, how to savor and appreciate this time of my life.  I appreciate the perspective that  the advancing years gives me and have no wish to relive those difficult years of my 20s and 30s. It’s been said that life never gets easier as you get older- your strength and ability to deal with problems just gets stronger. I think that is true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The expat’s life: Why I left Ecuador

One of the most popular destinations for American expatriates is Ecuador. Thanks in large part to websites such as internationalliving.com, Ecuador has become a hot spot for gringos  looking to relocate, particularly over the last ten years. The majority of those moving to this small South American country have been retirees, mostly baby boomers.

Though I am not a baby boomer and am nowhere near retirement age, I was enticed by the information I came across on the internet regarding Ecuador. I was already leaning heavily toward South America as my ultimate destination, so I just had to narrow down my choice of country. Ecuador offered many inducements; the climate was tropical to temperate. The geography varies  from tropical beaches to spectacular Andean mountains to lush Amazonian rainforest.  Ecuador is considered a ‘megadiverse’ country and has more biodiversity per square kilometer than any other country. Its political leader is left-leaning and independent minded , steering clear of U.S. hegemony. The cost of living is relatively low, compared to the U.S.A. ,and the country uses the U.S. dollar as its currency.

I chose the southern Andean city of Cuenca which is where the majority of North American expats settle in Ecuador. Within a few short weeks of my arrival, I was feeling disappointment in my new home. It seemed like every day there was a new problem. Some of those problems were the normal circumstances which a new expat can expect to encounter in a foreign country; however, a realization was quickly growing inside of me that I had chosen the wrong country.

Note: The following observations are generalizations and certainly do not reflect all the people of Ecuador. I met some wonderful people there and made a few great friends. There are always exceptions to any rule.

Lying, cheating, stealing

The prevalence of lying, cheating, and stealing in Ecuador was far beyond anything I had experienced previously. The general standards of ethical behavior were quite low.

Theft is rampant throughout large swathes of South America, and Ecuador is no exception. In fact, it seems to be a way of life for many, not just juvenile delinquents and thugs. Most people I met in Cuenca, both locals and expats, had been robbed at least once. During my second month there, my colleagues were robbed at gunpoint after leaving  class at 9 p.m. in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood less than one kilometer from the downtown. The experience severely traumatized a young female teacher. My backpack which contained my computer was stolen right out from under me in a cafe, in the middle of the day by a group of professional thieves. The house where I lived, which was located in an upper-class neighborhood, was broken into and robbed. A pair of young female tourists in Quito related to me their horrifying experience of getting robbed their first day in Ecuador. 

Some of my friends and colleagues started to carry weapons with them when they walked around at night. I contemplated doing the same. Expat newcomers and tourists learn quickly to carry nothing of value with them when they go out and avoid most areas along the riverfront. Some of my Ecuadorian friends told me that they didn’t even trust their own family members when they came to visit. After the family members returned home, my friends discovered something missing from the living room or bedroom.

The high occurrence of robberies in Ecuador has had a number of sociological effects. For example, every bank has two or three armed guards standing in front with machine guns. The guards stand at the ready, with fingers on the triggers, and have severe expressions on their faces. When an armored car pulls up to take cash out of a bank or an ATM, at least a half-dozen heavily armed guards jump out and hold their machine guns tightly, looking extremely tense and frightening. All houses are heavily fortified. Nobody takes chances. A typical house, even in a lower-middle-class neighborhood, has a ten-foot -high concrete wall with embedded glass shards surrounding it. This wall is often supplemented with razor or barbed wire above the glass shards. A large and vicious dog such as a pit bull is often present as well.

To live in a society with such a profound level of paranoia and fear was a jarring experience for me. I reflected on what this fear did to human relations. If people are hiding behind their fortified compounds, what does that do to neighborliness and interaction with strangers? What does this fear do to street life itself? To community?  In my neighborhood, I never saw neighbors talking to one another.

I also pondered the root causes of robbery. I came up with some rough hypotheses. First, there appeared to be few consequences for those caught stealing. By law, any theft in which the stolen item has a value under 500 USD is punishable only by a small fine and perhaps a night in jail. Juvenile offenders are usually set free with a fine, a warning, and possibly probation. That’s not much deterrence, is it? Furthermore, most boys and young men in Ecuador, and South America in general, are overly coddled , especially by their mothers. They understand intuitively that no matter what they do, their mothers will only give them a mild scolding, and go right back to cooking and cleaning for them, even when the boys are well into their mid- to- late 20s. Finally, the Catholic church, which plays such a prominent role in people’s lives in South America, does nothing to stem the rate of robberies. Boys and young men know that they can go to confession and obtain ‘forgiveness’ from a priest.

With little to fear from the government, family, or the church, young punks, juvenile delinquents, and professional thieves are free to roam and prey on the populace.

Lying is commonplace. Trying to get a straight and honest answer from most Ecuadorians was exhausting. Some long-term gringo expats justified this behavior by stating that Ecuadorians spoke in a ‘circular’ manner instead of a ‘linear’ manner, and furthermore they preferred to give a ‘good’ answer instead of the right answer. Well, I’m not a psychologist nor an expert on Latin American culture, so I must  rely on my common sense and the values I was brought up with. To me, this talk of circular conversation and good answers smacked of shallow apologetics. A lie is a lie.

An example of this behavior is the reply you will get if you go looking for something in a store which doesn’t have what you want. Instead of the owner telling you, “Sorry, we don’t have that and we can’t get it,”  they will smile and nod and tell you to come back in ‘a few days’ when the product will be available. So, you return in a few days to see that it is still not there, whereupon the owner will repeat the line. A few days later, you return and the scene is repeated yet again. It took me a while to catch onto this silly little dance, but it reflects how the people operate. I now live in a country where the store owner will wave me away rudely when he doesn’t have what I’m looking for. While I despise the rudeness, I much prefer it to the fake smiles and lying that I encountered in Ecuador because the end result is a much greater waste of my time.

Cheating is widespread and rampant in schools. In the school where I worked, teachers learned never to turn their backs on the class when the students were doing an assignment or taking a quiz, even for a moment. The notion that cheating was acceptable was ingrained in many, if not most, of my students. I had to wonder how they grew up with that idea in their heads and how their native teachers dealt with the issue. In any case, given how commonplace cheating is in the primary and secondary levels, it is hardly surprising that Ecuador’s tertiary education is so poorly rated.

Noise

The noise level in Cuenca was horrific. The city is surrounded by hills and mountains and noises are amplified and ricocheted by this configuration.

The city buses are old, diesel models which are loud, dangerous, polluting, and obnoxious beasts. They are manual stick-shift models, so every time the driver violently mashes  the clutch down, the buses make a low, rumbling growl which is audible from a kilometer away. In fact, I could set my alarm from the buses. They woke me up every morning at 5:30 a.m. with their shifting. Lying in my bed, I was able to distinctly hear first gear, followed a few seconds later by second gear, and then third, and so on.

In addition to the bus noise, Cuenca suffers from year-round firework noise. You see, Cuencanos and Ecuadorians LOVE fireworks. While people in other countries reserve fireworks for specific holidays, Ecuadorians love fireworks for their own sake, and see no reason to reserve their use for only a few days a year. Hence, firecrackers, bottle rockets and the like are set off nearly every day, in every neighborhood, at every hour. It makes no difference whether it is 1 p.m., 5 p.m., 10 p.m., or 3 a.m. Somebody, somewhere is setting off some fireworks. If you are a light sleeper, like I am, then you are S.O.L.  Fireworks are sold widely with no restrictions on age. With no noise ordinances governing their use, it’s hell on earth for those who like a little peace and quiet.

Ecuador is a middle income country which means that many people are now able to afford a car. Given the fact that theft is so rampant, naturally people want to protect their asset. Every car sold in Ecuador comes equipped with a hyper-sensitive alarm system. If a leaf fell  from a tree and landed on the hood of a car, the alarm would  go off. If I brushed against a car with my shirt sleeve, the alarm would go off. I lost count of how many times I saw people sitting inside their cars with the alarm going off. Nobody seemed to know how to turn it off, so they would fumble around with the controls, giggling and laughing while their eardrum-shattering alarm went on for five or ten minutes, affecting people for kilometers around. The absolute lack of awareness of noise pollution was stunning to me. One afternoon, I sat inside my apartment and counted 27 car alarms go off in the space of three hours.

If all of that were not bad enough, locals had also decided  to augment all of their  home security apparatuses with yet one more: THE HOUSE ALARM. Prior to moving to Ecuador, I was unfamiliar with this hellish invention. Compared to the house alarm, car alarms are a tiny, insignificant nuisance. The decibel level of the house alarms in Cuenca is comparable to a Rolling Stones concert. While they could, and did, go off at any time, they most often went off somewhere in the middle of the night, just when I was reaching REM sleep. I would bet that they were audible from at least 10 kilometers away. What’s more, the alarms seemed almost useless. I once witnessed one going off in the middle of the day in my neighborhood. I stood in front of the house to see what happened. Did the police or some private security agency come running to the house? Did the neighbors come over to check on things? Did anybody pay attention or do anything? NO, no, and no. The thieves could have been inside, cleaning out the house with their earphones on and nobody would have noticed.

There’s much more I could talk about, such as the lousy weather, lame nightlife, introverted and dour people, graffiti, basic lack of respect for pedestrians and mediocre food. Amazingly, I still see Ecuador and Cuenca mentioned as great landing spots for Northerners looking to relocate and retire. I only hope they are better prepared than I was.