Jonathan-David Jackson's Blog
January 2, 2015
These people want your job. (Source: James Cridland)
You’re trying to get a job. You’ve applied for a bunch of them. Maybe even got some interviews. Sadly, none of those big fish have bitten yet, and your savings are dwindling. Maybe the problem is your resume (spoiler: it’s not). So you take some resume advice, say from Google’s HR Manager, like here. Now your resume’s really swell. You’ll get some better attention from an interviewer, and perhaps you’ll get a job. Good news for you.
Now let’s imagine that everybody takes that resume advice, everybody makes their resume better, which is apparently what people giving resume advice want to happen so that they don’t have to see a single terrible typo in front of their delicate resume-reading eyes. The problem is that still only one person is getting that job, no matter how great everybody’s resumes are. If you improve your resume and get it, that means the person who would otherwise have got it still needs a job.
There are 2,600,000 unemployed people in the UK with 400,000 jobs available (source). There is a similarly unpleasant ratio in America (source), and while I haven’t checked every country, I’d expect that there aren’t likely to be any countries where there are more jobs than people wanting them. There simply are not enough jobs for all the people unemployed. The point I’m making here is that while for some individuals it may be their fault if they don’t have a job, for the limitless majority it is not their fault. The system is to blame, because there aren’t enough jobs. And even while we know there aren’t enough jobs, we tell everybody to get a job, so that there are 10 people competing for every 1 job.
As with most things in life, if you want to know why something is a certain way, you can follow the money. Who benefits financially from there being more people than there are jobs? In a free-ish labor market such as we have, if there is a larger demand for jobs than there is a supply, then the job-suppliers (i.e. employers) get to raise their price, which means lowering the wages for the job. They don’t have to make their jobs more appealing, because we believe in a system where everybody must have a job, no matter what that job is. Most companies who pay minimum wage for an undesirable job have no incentive to pay more – the supply of workers is far above what they need.
I don’t see any incredible system which is going to create all those millions of needed jobs. We need to move away from a system where everybody needs a job just because. Processes are becoming more efficient. Robotic or automatic systems are taking over human jobs. There will steadily be less and less jobs, and a world where we believe everybody should have a job is not going to be sustainable.
December 21, 2014
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)
We like to see things as black and white. Pedophiles are emotionless land-monster predators (basically the equivalent of sharks, except they can’t breathe underwater (and also they want to have sex with children, sharks probably don’t do that)); we can all agree on that, right? Women who abandon their newborn babies are hardly women at all. Politicians who misbehave should lose their jobs. Or should they? Is being a politician just a ridiculous, thankless job? Is being a new mother one of the most stressful things a woman is likely to go through? Is the life of a pedophile already a terrible one, except for the millionaire DJ ones? We’ve all avoided nuance at one time or another, and I want to examine the reasons for it.
One reason is because there’s a perception that people believe things are black and white (I’ll be talking a lot about perception in future blog posts; please try not to pee yourself in excitement, otherwise when people see you they’ll get a certain perception of you because of the wet spot on your trousers). This doesn’t mean that people genuinely believe that everything is black and white, only that they believe that other people will express that opinion, that other people have that perception about still other people. That belief keeps us from publicly examining the shades of grey, because we cannot expect support from others. If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry, it only barely made sense to me as a wrote it.
If we admit that other people can be good as well as bad (for example, did you know that Hitler also did some not very good landscape paintings?), then we also must admit to ourselves that we can be bad as well as good. That’s a dangerous thing to admit publicly because nobody else would be willing to admit the same thing. It’s also an uncomfortable thing to admit even privately, because nobody wants to think of themselves as bad. If we think about it, though, we all have the capacity for an incredible range of thoughts and actions. There, but for the grace of God, go we all.
Probably the main reason, I think, is just due to the architecture of our brains. You’ve probably heard of the idea that our brain is made of separate parts, with the highest part sometimes referred to as the mammalian brain and the lower parts as the reptile brain, etc. (I just can’t remember the others, so the etc. has to stand in for them.)
The lower parts of the brain are more easily activated than the higher parts. You don’t have to think about something to be afraid of it or angry at it. You have to think pretty hard to get yourself to stop feeling angry or afraid, though. When someone punches you in the face, you’re angry, upset, defensive. You don’t stop to think that maybe it was an accident. The lower parts of your brain can also easily override the higher, thinking parts.
Those lower parts are being activated all the time, partly because it’s so easy. All forms of media are activating the lower parts of our brain constantly, activating our fear and our anger and our judgement and our sexuality. Thus, those parts get practice, and we don’t even have to do anything about it. The thinking parts need practice too, but it has to be an active thing, we have to make ourselves think about something or we’ll just think about nothing or let other people do that thinking for us.
December 8, 2014
Recently, a woman at Claridge’s, a luxury hotel in London, was asked to cover up while breastfeeding her baby. If you’re in England and have any media exposure you’ve probably heard about it, if you haven’t here’s a link. There are some absolutely uninteresting debates going on about that (in the sense that I can’t believe we haven’t moved past it as a society), but it got me thinking about something else when someone on the radio was quoted as saying “It’s one of the most natural things there is.” I agree with that, certainly. Being naked is also one of the most natural things there is. Simply having exposed breasts, nevermind feeding a baby with them, is perfectly natural. You might think I’m going to say something like “So just because something is natural doesn’t mean you should do it in public,” but in fact, I’m going to say completely the opposite of that.
A body is something that everybody has. Whether you’re rich or poor, black or white, in the southern hemisphere or northern, you’ve got a body. Everybody has the right to be proud of their body. Until we’re a few years old, we get to enjoy that right. After that though, we’re forced to cover up their bodies. Most children do not take kindly to that at first, as I’m sure most parents know. Children want to continue being naked, they want to enjoy their natural right to pride in their body.
The world we live in says your body is not good. You have to cover it up. Hide it away. The hidden message to all children when we introduce them to our civilized world and clothe them is that their bodies are dirty, possibly dangerous, and absolutely bad; this explains why so many adults have those ideas – they’ve had that hidden message given to them over a lifetime. The fact that the message is hidden is what makes it particularly effective. Every days, billions of people clothe themselves even when there’s no legitimate need to protect them from the elements. As far as they know, there is no message, it’s just what people do.
Yet, if you look clearly and closely, the message is obvious. Your body is not fit to be seen. The only bodies most people see are their own, those on TV, in movies, and magazines. We all tend to be overly critical of ourselves, and the bodies we see in media are, of course, fake. It doesn’t take anything more than that for physical self-esteem to plummet. We feel that way about our bodies, and we raise our children to feel that way simply by clothing them as we clothe ourselves. We have not enjoyed our natural right to our bodies, we have given it up in the name of civilization.
Those who say that breastfeeding is natural so it should be allowed are absolutely right, but they don’t know just how far their argument goes if carried to its logical conclusion. Nearly any argument in favor of breastfeeding will also include such things as public nudity, yet the same people campaigning in favor of breastfeeding would not dream of campaigning for the right to bare all. They have made the connection between breastfeeding and our very nature, but have not yet made that connection between our bodies and our nature.
I suppose it’s hard for me to reach a conclusion with this, simply because it’s complicated and I’m also going against a lot of messages that society has built into me, which is a difficult thing to do. I’ll just finish by saying that I believe enjoying our bodies and being proud of them is a big part of our humanity, and giving that up is giving up a lot. Maybe it’s something to think about. What do you think?
October 24, 2014
Missy in better days, with her cheek pouches crammed full of food and ready for a day of adventuring.
In October of 2012, a hamster entered our lives. She got the name ‘Missy’, which I thought of as a ridiculous name for a hamster, but she became Missy, and I loved her.
She was a cautious hamster, and gentle. She explored slowly. When we played with her, she walked with the air of someone who is expecting at any moment to be eaten by a predator. Over time, she became more comfortable with our house and would zoom from room to room. Hearing her little feet pattering as she runs under my chair at the computer is all it takes to make me smile. After a few months she would sometimes escape her cage to roam around the house at night, and it was enjoyable to think of the adventures she may have had while we were all asleep. She improved her skills until eventually she escaped her cage every night, sometimes within seconds of being put back in. She would stuff her face full of food for later, then climb out. A few times she got behind the cupboards for days at a time. Finally we had to put locks on the cage doors so she wouldn’t accidentally leave our house and die outside.
She appeared to not have much interest in anything other than cleaning herself, eating food, and pooping every ten seconds. I’ve never heard of a hamster that wouldn’t run on a wheel, but she never did. We left it in for the first few months she was with us, but after discovering her just sleeping on it several times, we took it out to give her more room for cleaning herself and pooping. We bought her a cardboard hamster castle – she immediately left it. We bought her a ledge to sit on – she never did. A fluffy fur-lined warm bed – nope. After watching videos on YouTube of hamsters cutely cleaning themselves in a sand bath, we bought her a kilogram of sand. We placed her in the sand. She stepped off, never to return. Each unused gift was annoying, but also hilarious – “Oh, that’s just Missy.”
I often wondered what she was thinking, whether she loved us the way we loved her. It’s hard to say. But when a creature barely two inches tall makes an escape from a cage, climbs two flights of stairs unassisted, climbs onto your bedside table, and makes tiny noises until you wake up so it can look at you, it certainly makes you wonder.
For the past few months, she’s been slowing down a little. That’s natural – everybody slows down when they get old, and coming up to her second birthday she was certainly getting old for a hamster. She stopped planning escape attempts. We took the locks off the cage. We held her. We petted her. We gave her tasty hamster treats. We got her a new kind of bedding, something softer, easier for her to use.
This October, two years after she first joined us, she slowed down a lot. She didn’t run around anymore, not even outside her cage. Sometimes she made a kind of wheezing sound. We took her to the vet, who said she had a lung infection, an eye infection (not too bad for her, since hamsters don’t use their eyes that much), and a large tumor on her left side. He said there was nothing to be done about the tumor, but showed us how to clean her eye and gave us antibiotics for her lung infection with a tiny syringe to administer 0.1 milliliters of it twice a day.
Just this week, she has stopped eating her food. We cooked her scrambled eggs, which we were advised would be easy for her to eat and give her lots of protein for energy. For a few days, she ate it. She even seemed to be getting better. Sometimes she fought against it when we gave her her antibiotics, which she hadn’t done at first, and that seemed like a good sign. She had trouble reaching her water bottle, so we put a platform under it for her to stand on. Then she stopped drinking, and we used the syringe to give her water. Then she stopped drinking that.
Apparently she also had a stroke sometime recently. She can’t stand up most of the time. She struggled to make her bed, and then became completely unable to burrow in the bedding. When she was still drinking for the past couple days, her head shook so much that I had to hold her still so she could get a few drops. If I go for an errand, I find my eyes blurred by tears from thoughts of Missy, from the good times we’ve had, from how she can’t do anything that she used to do, not even pooping, which seemed to be her favorite activity.
This morning, she was lying still in her bedding, which we had torn into extra small pieces to make it easier for her. We gave her the antibiotics, although it seemed like just a formality at that point. I knew, and I believe she knew, what today would bring. Her breathing was much too slow, just one shallow breath every several seconds. My wife held her and stroked her, warming Missy’s cold little body with her own. She kissed her and told her we loved her, which somehow, incredibly, brings me comfort. Harriet Beecher Stowe said the bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid. At least those words were not unsaid.
When I was a teenager, I had six hamsters. I didn’t name them. One of them ate the other five and then died the next day – apparently eating five hamsters in one day is not healthy. I didn’t feel sad. A few years ago we had another hamster named Nibbles, who was the absolute opposite of Missy (other than that he, too, was a hamster), and was frankly a jerk. He was rough, rowdy, always biting, throwing his bedding out of the cage, and probably hated us. He died young, after a life likely filled with bitterness and planning our murder. I didn’t miss him then, and I don’t now. I didn’t expect to feel anything for Missy, based on my past experiences with hamsters. But this hamster, small enough that I could hold three of her in one hand, and unable in her last days to even burrow into her own bed, has burrowed into my heart and will live there forever.
October 9, 2014
(Artist: Pawel Kuczynski)
I have some pretty non-traditional views of schooling. From the time I was 5 to the time I was 14, I went to a school where the pupils sat at desks attached to and facing the wall with large dividers between us. Quiet ruled the air, and distractions did not exist. Our work was largely self-directed – we chose what we wanted to work on each hour and each day as long as we kept a consistent pace among all subjects over time. If we finished a certain amount of work before the school day was finished, then the rest of the day was yours. We even checked and graded our own work day-to-day. That school closed down when I was 14, and I was homeschooled until 18. There was no formal curriculum in my homeschooling (some might know this as “unschooling”), and my learning was then entirely self-directed.
During the nine years I went to that formal school, I can recall having homework perhaps ten times, or just about once per year. Now my children get homework that many times in a fortnight. Some schools are giving their students as much as three hours of homework a day. Even my six year old nephew gets homework daily. Immediately as a child starts formal education, does the school intend to own that child’s evenings forever?
To me, homework represents a failure on the part of the school. Homework is the school saying, “Yes, your daughter was with us for seven hours today, but we didn’t actually teach her this thing she needs to learn. Can you teach it to her, or see that she learns it on her own?” Over a full childhood of schooling, the school will have your child for 15,000 hours, or two solid years. Somehow, that isn’t enough, and they want to invade your home for a further hour or so per day with homework, packing on another couple of thousand hours.
There are positive aspects of homework. If someone is interested in learning about something, then the familiar, safe, quiet environment of home can be an ideal place to learn more about it. Also, at home you can have the mostly full attention of your parents for help, while getting undivided attention from a teacher occupied with nineteen other pupils at school is rare. Many times I enjoy helping my children with homework. Still, that doesn’t excuse it, and my children and I could get that same enjoyment without the time waste inherent in the current school system.
In the UK, if a child is ill or otherwise can’t attend school, the government will arrange a private tutor for a minimum of five hours, which is thirty hours less per week than most children will be in school. This is the government saying that a child only needs five hours of education, provided that it is in a concentrated form. So why don’t all children just have five hours of tutoring per week and be done with it? That’s where our society fails. Rather than spend money to educate people efficiently, we’ve just spent $10,000,000,000 (ten billion) on a new aircraft carrier so we can kill them instead. And that’s just in the UK – what grotesque pile of money is America spending on bombs and jailers instead of books and teachers?
Because of our society’s misplaced priorities on spending, every day children and teachers across the world are having their time utterly wasted by the current inefficiencies of school. It could be fixed, but there seems to be no will for it. Instead, educators and politicians cry for more of the same. An extended school year. More homework. Education finishing at a later age. If what we’re doing now isn’t working properly, simply doing more of that same thing isn’t going to fix it.
September 15, 2014
This room is missing something.
Minimalism, or Simple Living, can mean a lot of things. For many people, it means minimizing your possessions. If you don’t have a lot of furniture, you don’t need to dust it – simple. If you only have one slow cooker instead of three, you don’t have to decide which to use – simple.
I used to live the opposite of minimalism. I had years of magazines from multiple subscriptions piled up under my desk. I bought a new shirt every few weeks, and stuffed them into my closet. Some things I had just for the sake of having them.
Then, about 5 years ago, I chanced upon the Minimalism movement. Something about it clicked with me, and I wanted the benefits that a simple life could bring. I got rid of 90% of my clothes, from around 100 shirts to about 10. I’d been building up a library of a couple hundred books, but I realized I was never going to read most of them again, so I sold, donated, or gave away nearly all of them. I was able to get rid of a chest of drawers because I no longer had enough things to put in it.
I got the benefits I was seeking. When I traveled, it was now easy to pack only a carry-on suitcase and skip the baggage carousel in airports. When I dressed, it took me just a few seconds to choose what to wear because I hardly had anything. Money easily piled up in my savings account, because buying more things usually didn’t fit in with minimalism.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about the books I got rid of. A lot of them helped me see the world in a new way, taught me something interesting, or were simply an excellent story. As my kids get older and want to read more grown-up books, what will I offer them? They won’t be able to read my books as I read my parents’, because I don’t have any. They’ll have to start all over. I discussed it with my wife, who also practices minimalism in possessions, and we’ve decided that we’re going to recall some of our best-loved books and buy them again, so that we can share them with our children and perhaps get something more out of them ourselves. Luckily we both keep lists of the books we’ve read through Goodreads (My list – Her list), so we won’t have to rely on our memories for it.
Last week, I went outside to play with my 6 year old nephew. He brought out an orange plastic baseball bat and a plastic baseball. As we played, I gradually recalled that it was the same orange plastic bat I had played with when I was 6 years old. Most people probably would have thrown that bat away years ago – what’s the use in keeping something when there haven’t been any kids to play with it for years? My parents never took up minimalism like I did, though, so they kept it in the garage with a thousand other things that I would’ve called junk. My parents had kept that bat for 21 years, and instead of junk, I realized that it was a bridge between the present and the past for me and my nephew.
The feeling it gave me seeing me nephew playing with the same toys as me when I was his age was indescribable, and unlike most of the time, I’m not even going to attempt describing it. I’ll just say that without that physical object, the feeling would never have been possible, and maybe one man’s trash can turn out to be that same man’s treasure.
September 13, 2014
Topics from parenthood to politics get an honest treatment from several sides in this book about an unwanted child who commits terrible acts as a teenager. If you have any opinion about what parenting should be like or why children grow up the way they do, I believe you’ll find something in here.
Kevin was creepy and almost frightening. All of the characters were hard to like, but I felt like they were real – many real people can be hard to like, if only they’d write down their thoughts on paper. The book could probably have been about 1/3 shorter if the author had left out a few thousand needless adjectives, that’s why it lost a star. Otherwise it was an interesting, engrossing read.
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September 7, 2014
About a million times more readable than Mein Kampf. A good introduction to Hitler, recent German history, Nazism, and the causes of World War 2.
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A very interesting book, and one that goes farther than anything else I’ve ever read in nature v. nurture. The answer, according to Oliver James, is about 99.9% nurture. Plenty of evidence and examples are given, such as the fact that many child abusers were themselves abused as children, i.e. ‘nurture’ made them that way. Highly successful people are much more likely than anyone else to have lost a parent when they were a child, and their despair drove them to achieve. Babies born to poor, uneducated, nutritionally deficient mothers, when adopted by well-off highly educated people, become just the same as a child from those same middle-class people. Even genetically identical twins, when separated from their parents at birth, turn out very differently from each other. I have to admit, I’m convinced by him (or at least 99.9% convinced). If you have any opinion at all on the spectrum from genes to environment, I think you would be interested in this book.
Now that I have the information, though, what am I supposed to do with it? How to stop from f***ing up my own children? Other than not beating them, the book ends without anything in the way of practical advice.
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July 24, 2014
Suspenseful and very subtly creepy for the first half, with a wonderfully built world populated with intriguing alien species, new religions, and strange rituals. I stayed up hours past my usual bedtime for several nights in a row just wanting to find out more about the world and everything in it.
The second half focuses more on the characters, though, and since I don’t think they were nearly as strong as the world it wasn’t as enjoyable – but still good. Apparently this is part of a trilogy, but I feel like this book stands well on its own with all loose ends wrapped up, so I won’t be reading the others.
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