Response to an Email

So I recently received an email from some CAL Berkeley faculty asking about my experience at CAL and what has happened since… to be honest, I had wanted to ignore the email. But I also wanted CAL to understand that not everyone had a “great” experience going to CAL. Below is what I initially wrote which I later cut down:

To be honest, I had a negative experience while as a student at CAL.

  • I admittedly wasn’t prepared to handle the cut throat competition and new academic material
  • I also wasn’t prepared for the suddenly new found freedoms gained living alone away from parents.  
  • I wasn’t able to navigate the bureaucratic nature of the school system.
  • I mistakenly thought I knew what I wanted to do and to major in but only came to realize that I knew nothing about myself.
  • I struggled through… somehow able to graduate and find a job but left full of anger and regret.

Looking back, I was lulled into this false sense of security during my freshman year when all the classes I took were topics that I had already covered in high school. AP Chemistry covered Chem 1A/1B. AP Calculus BC covered Math 1A/1B. AP Physics covered Physica 8A/8B. I would spend hours reading, reviewing, and understanding the material to gain the knowledge and mastery of the subjects. Starting my sophomore year, I honestly believed that it would be as easy as the freshman year. But immediately, I started struggling in courses such as organic chemistry and biochemistry. What I failed to recognize was that my traditional way of understanding and learning might not have been the most efficient or effective way to learn the new material. I stubbornly kept reading, reviewing but never quite understanding the basic concepts completely. I also refused to adapt to a different learning style i.e. rote memory since I hated this kind of forced memorization technique. Ultimately, the struggles compounded upon each other creating a vicious negative cycle of being demoralized, questioning my intelligence, failing to understand the new material, becoming even more demoralized, etc… This added to my anger and bitterness as I saw more successful people achieving much more than I did. This kind of cycle continued through most if not all my classes and I somehow was able to graduate and even find a job. I spent a good 9 years feeling bitter and angry as if the world was conspiring against me. 

During these 9 years though, I had three paradigm shifts in my thinking that resulted in the person I am now.  The first shift came after reading a christian/spiritual book called Living the Art of Christian Love by Morton Kelsey. I discovered this book before I graduated but it left a huge impression on me. This book helped to calm the bitterness and keep it from cycling out of control. The two biggest lessons from this book were “to quiet my heart” and “to listen without judgement.”   The second shift came from watching an anime called Aria.  I learned that I need to slow down and to start enjoying the simple things in life as well as to appreciate everything that I have.  Finally, the third shift came from after reading Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage. This book was a game changer for me. Everything I had done from the first two shifts came into alignment with the lessons from Achor. After finishing this book, I started to truly let go of my anger and my bitterness. I came to realize that the drivers of the anger and bitterness were outside my control. By that time, my heart had settled and began to listen to others. I saw the world completely differently and noticed the simple things in life. In many ways, I finally understood who I am.

Today… I am grounded in spirtuality. I am self aware. I am at peace with myself. I control my Circle of Zorro. I understand my happiness. From time to time, I’ll go back to read both books. The anime takes a bit of time to watch but there’s one song called Symphony that I associate with the anime that brings a sense of calmness.

Yet another hate crime.

The recent racist killings of Asian Americans by “not a racist” white male suffering from a sex addiction and a “bad day” has been in the making it’s way around the interwebs and news media. Of course, the white male suspect has been captured without any further incident.

Can you imagine if he were black, latino, or asian? Wait… Did you think that too?

Wait… Why did you think that? Hmm… but I digress….

*****

Here’s a fun fact… Columbine HS shooting/massacre happened 21 years, 11 months ago. This guy is 21 years old. He probably wasn’t even born yet when Columbine happened.

Here’s another fun fact… Apparently, this guy bought his gun the SAME DAY he killed the Asian Americans. How the FUCK does that even happen?

Here’s another fun fact, since 1982, whites have dominated the mass shooter market (another data set) making up the majority of the incidents relative to other racial/ethnic groups. I think it’s actually white males but the data set doesn’t seem to make this distiniction.

Here’s a final fun fact. HE WAS KICKED OUT OF THE HOUSE BY HIS OWN PARENTS. As much as his parents and the church community attempted to help him with his “sex addiction,” the moment the parents kicked him out of the house, they should bear some of the responsibility of his actions. Do we know if his parents called for help when they kicked him out? Did they advise him to go to his church group for help? What we do know is that he ended up with a firm belief he had to “eliminate temptations.”

*****

On Friday, an employee resource group where I work held an impromptu session to listen and discuss the events of Atlanta specifically but also as a broader forum with other people and experiences. The discussions got me thinking too much and is now prompting this post that’ll probably be written over the course of a few days. There is one question that people always ask… how can I help? As much as I appreciate this question, I think as a society, we have to reframe this question two ways…

  1. How can society change?
  2. What can society change?

Apart from the typical “create an open dialog” mantra that you hear from everyone, that’s clearly not enough. Ever since the LA riots in 1992, the dialog has been open but it’s not enough. Fast forward 30 years from the LA riots, the Black Lives Matter marches from 2020 shows us that there has been progress but why is there still violence against minorities? We ask all sorts of questions yet change comes slowly. But society has shown it can adapt from the rotary phones to a hand held computer/phone/camera/video camera in just 40 years. What does that mean? IT SHOWS SOCIETY IS CAPABLE OF EMBRACING CHANGE.

So how can society change? Unfortunately in the past 20+ years, I’ve come to realize (as many people should) the government is ultimately the only place where societal change can be implemented. Slavery? Gone with the Emancipation Proclamation, a Presidential executive order followed quickly by the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Women can vote (again) via the 19th Amendment. But have you noticed that every time the change has always resulted in issues. Jim Crow Laws, poll taxes and literacy tests come to mind. This makes me wonder…. why does the government HAVE TO EXPLICITLY GRANT these freedoms? I don’t know but I think society fears the unknown and the unfamiliar and thus have a tendency to push back against this.

So back to my original question… how can society change? I believe there needs to be a concerted effort to CHANGE the dialog of the selfish “You’re infringing on MY rights” and to CHANGE the government at all levels. With the “infringing on my rights” dialog, I’ve always admired at how crazy and self-centered certain segments of the US population are when it comes to rights and freedoms. Let’s take healthcare… certain people were rabidly opposed to having to pay for health insurance and also opposed to paying the tax penalty for NOT having insurance. It was “my right” to not pay for health insurance. What about the all the rights of the others who paid insurance? If you went and used services like ER/urgent care, where do you think the majority of those expenses get passed to? Your lack of insurance passed the costs down to the insured. With more than 60% of bankruptcies caused by medical issues/bills/expenses, you’re “right to no insurance” now infringed on all the rights of the insured. Why should the insured have to pay for such stupidity? So what is the proposed change? I think a very simple change might be to start thinking about how our actions will affect other individuals and then adjust accordingly. As a society, we might not get it right all the time but if everyone is trying to think of others then at least we’ll get some great change out of it.

Now… how do we change government? Society holds power over politicians in at least two simple ways. The first is to vote. Society should vote against politicians that do not support the values that lead to a “positive society.” What is a “positive society?” A simple answer would be a society that embraces the mantra of the “golden rule” aka “treat others as you would like to be treated.” The second way is to control where the money flows to. Politicians require money for their campaigns and to stay in office. And since politicians require money, society should control where the money flows. We should only support politicians that values a positive society. In addition, corporations (since they are people too) also have the power to affect government. The workers should also encourage their companies to only support politicians that value a positive society. Simple yet very complicated. I think if society can embrace or even strive to follow the golden rule, only positive outcomes will be expected.

So what can society change? First, what are common themes everyone can agree on? I can actually think of a few items…

  1. Healthcare reform. In US, the amount of care relative the amount spent for the care is considered horrible. Studies have shown that medical inequality is a significant issue for low income families potentially even bankrupting them. Providing a basic level of healthcare that consist of yearly medical, dental and vision visits, routine bloodwork (metabolic panel, lipid panel, CBC), STD checks, and other basic female/male tests should be mandated. Additional services would be provided through insurance and the private market.
  2. Tax reform for individuals and corporations. Currently, there is a growing divide between the top richest and the poorest. The growing disparity should be a concern especially since the the bottom incomes are slowly being pushed into perpetual poverty with minimal paths to middle income. What’s even more concerning is that the poorest are forever saddled with unfavorable situations that continually keep them in the same poor economic situation. Would universal basic income for the poorest help? What percentage of taxpayers are actually living below the poverty line? I think there is some equitable way to allow people to keep getting rich from their businesses while at the same time provide help to the poorest to live with some sort of dignity.
  3. Education reform. The idea of “free 4 year tuition” is nice but I actually don’t think that is feasible. I think what’s most important is tuition and loan borrow reforms. The tuition has gradually increased over many years. One study implicates the free “unlimited” lending power of the government to provide loans for students to attend college (source data, second source). The government should offer a capped loan amount to the students. This would restrict the “supply” of money forcing students and colleges to reevaluate where to spend the capped amount.
  4. Political reform. Let’s get rid of lobbyists from even being able to interact with politicians. Else, there should be a system where lobbyists must register who they will talk to during the day. If found to have conversed, the politician should be immediately removed from office and the vote transferred to the politician’s party. Coupled with the ability to direct money, this reform has the most potential of creating political operatives who will work towards a positive society.
  5. Gun Reform. NO ONE SHOULD BE ABLE TO PURCHASE and KEEP A NEW GUN on the same day!!! This does not limit the 2nd amendment rights of “bearing arms”… it is a matter of accountability, background check which leads to a safer society.

Social Media’s Ultimate Dilemma

With social media blocking Trump after the 06JAN2021 insurrection, my initial reaction was “wow… finally!” But after reflecting a bit more, I had two follow up questions… 1) why now? and 2) what will happen in the future? Specifically, the 2nd question is really about the precedence these companies are setting. Throughout the 4+ years of Trump tweets, discussions about how much of the false, provocative, agitative tweets only really came to the forefront during the 2020 elections where misinformation had to be addressed (USA Today in 2020, CNN in 2016). Clearly there’s been discussion and pushback on how best to handle the information. Let’s also be clear here… the 1st amendment “free speech” allows free and public expression without any censorship by the government but there are exceptions to this. Most people will say private companies are excluded from the 1st amendment because they are not government. Although true, I think though many companies will try to follow the spirit of the 1st amendment to allow the speech. I think that’s why Twitter and Facebook allowed Trump tweets and posts for so long.

So why now? I think it’s a matter of convenience. First… Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election. Second… Twitter and Facebook had been slowly escalating the method of how to censure Trump’s false posts. Third… If it were not for the insurrection on 06JAN2021, I don’t think Twitter/Facebook would have blocked Trump. But because the language in Trump’s tweets potentially caused the violence, he “broke” the EULA regulations and thus de-platformed. Let’s be honest here. This de-platforming was a long time in the making. Trump has consistently spread false information during his 4 years in office (over 30,000 claims!!).

What will happen in the future? I’m not sure. I think the social media companies need to establish a clear transparent system of governance and punishment related to the spreading of false information. Trump’s actions has exposed a huge weakness in the idea of balancing social media virality, factual information, and speech. This is what I think social media companies should do:

  • Social media companies should donate to an independent fact checking service. This service can be an internal company service or a 3rd party like factcheck.org
  • When any user makes a claim, that claim should be fact checked.
  • If the claim is proven false, then the user is tagged and also educated about why this claim is false.
    • The claim will not be shared and any subsequent shares also cannot be shared again to minimize the virality of false information.
    • The user is also warned about continuing to post false information.
  • If the user makes another false claim, the user’s post will be marked as false similar to what Twitter did by flagging Trump’s false tweets.
    • This user is again warned and educated.
    • The post will not be able to be shared minimizing any virality.
    • The user will then receive a demerit. Demerits “expire” after a week of good behavior (aka no false posts).
  • If the user again posts a false claim, the post is flagged as false.
    • The user is warned and educated.
    • The post will not be able to be shared minimizing any virality.
    • The user gains another demerit.
    • The user is also banned from posting for 1 hr. Every demerit the user gains adds 30 minutes to the ban.

This should allow social media companies to limit the spread of false information while attempting to balance the “free speech” doctrine. I also think that social media companies should also define what they deem to be hate speech or speech that leads to violence or speech that have threats of violence. Then the same demerit based system should also be used for those types of posts. Can social media companies implement this?

Humans

I stumbled upon an interesting TV series called Humans on Amazon Prime Video. It’s set in a future where AI and android robots called Synthetics (synths) are common place in society. These synths aid humans in every day tasks like cooking, cleaning, and laundry as well as more strenuous activities like elder care and disability care. The premise of this three season show deals with how human society attempts to find acceptance of synths that have gained “human consciousness.” The story follows the paths of 5 synths, a human implanted with an artificial brain, a family helping the 5 synths and the synth pursuers. Their quest to survive capture and to understand purpose lead to discovering a hidden code to AI consciousness within each individual synth. This leads to understanding the significance behind the hidden code and initiating a world wide consciousness “Day Zero” awakening of the synthetics and then facing the societal impacts from the awakening.

The series explores various philosophical views including the acceptance, discrimination, and legal rights of synths. These discussions remind me of the current fear of illegal immigrants and the unfounded rhetoric behind the fears. Other discourses include the ugliness of how society uses intimidation, violence and legal actions to control what is feared and unknown. Through various plot points the show explores both sides of the issues looking at the “synth views and feelings” as well as human society as a whole. Is this commentary of what civilizations need to overcome in order to progress further as a society?

What’s clear to me is that society will always express fear of the unknown. However, the concern should be how that fear is expressed. Devolving into hatred and violence as a means of expression ultimately is a form of fight. There needs to be ways for society to identify and shift to a constructive and non-violent expression. Unfortunately, society has not reached this level of cognizance. What could be that first step for society? Perhaps teaching of empathy. Certainly understanding how others think and feel would be important to bring together disparate views. What other qualities are needed? The ability to calmly discussing views is also important too. Understanding conflict management as a tool is helpful as well. Teaching to society is the first challenge. Implementing and practicing what was taught is the second challenge. Until then… the cycle continues.

To you… (a poem)

To you…

Maybe it wasn’t destined in this life.

Maybe the stars were never aligned.

Maybe defying the power of numerology was impossible.

Maybe the road not taken will lead somewhere else.

And… Thank you.

For a moment, you were everything.

For a moment, you were dazzling.

For a moment, our roads crossed paths.

For a moment, fate took pity on us.

And… In that moment, everything was magical.

Paradigm Shifts in War

Watching this new Gundam anime about the origins of Char Aznable, I just realized that the mobile suits were literally a paradigm shift in how war was waged in the world of Gundam.  I’ve always watch Gundam shows more like military movies or action movies where battles had lots of explosions and death.  But in this anime, the creators really made it clear that mobile suits were immensely powerful over the battleships and cruisers.