Thursday, 27 June 2019

Democratic debates, June 2019

I watched the first of the two Democratic Primary debates last night. The first I have ever seen, because this is the first time it's mattered to me. It was interesting to note how different it was to a British political show. Much less hostility from the hosts, much less control of the situation (why the politicians' microphones were powered when their time was up, is beyond me) and much less fair. John Delaney, for example, barely had a chance to speak.

I strongly suggest that the next debates be held such that each politician has exactly the same amount of time to speak, and as soon as they have spoken for more than their fraction of the show is up, their microphone goes off, permanently. Giving more time to leading candidates is unfair - and maintains the status quo.

I will leave the punditry to others, for now, but there were clear winners, and clear losers: Tim Ryan, Jay Inslee, the Hawaiian woman, and Beto O'Rourke appear to be out of the running, as far as I am concerned. I am sorry not to name the Hawaiian lady, but her unfortunate first salvo and her lack of apparent conviction, personality, or policies made me forget her name every time the little caption slid back out of view.

Debate 2

I have not yet managed to watch the second debate, but the discussion around Andrew Yang's <3 minutes of talk time, and his off microphone, bewilder me. He is polling eighth in a field of 20 - he should have been in the top eight of speakers by time, not in the lower quarter.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

A dear friend...

I lost a dear friend recently. I would love to write a eulogy, but her best friend did such a good job - a better job than I ever could - that I won't even attempt it.

The eulogy was clever. Clever in a way that I did not think a eulogy could be; and insightful about our mutual friend in a wonderful, and moving way. Jesse talked about her higher power, and that of our too-soon departed friend. Jesse described her higher power as science, and that is the higher power I claim for myself. But in my mind there were only a few options:

  1. Religion
  2. Science
  3. Apathetic consideration of nothing

Jesse, though, described another higher power - community. Our friend, she said, believed in community. In making the world better by caring for each other.

Now some Christians (and probably other religions) would say that that is the point of their religion, but I have never seen that work in practice*.

Our friend lived life in the way Jesse described. Genuinely putting her needs and desires behind those of those less well-off (materially, but most importantly, psychologically and due to circumstances such as homophobic parents and peers, racist institutions, or drug addiction).

The reason I started writing this post: I wonder if the good really do die young. Maybe those of us who try to be good, and look good from the outside, fail just enough not to be taken quite yet? Maybe our mutual friend really was as good as my memories of her think?

* The most religious Western country has the worst outcomes in all sorts of measures of quality of life. Maternal mortality, for example, is higher in the US (excl. California) than it is in the rest of the developed world, according to last month's Scientific American. That's just one example of many. There are no tent cities in European countries, for example, except when those tent cities are filled with asylum seekers unwilling to ask for assistance in the country they are in.

On the subject of churches, and tithes, they raise a lot of money in the USA, and they spend a lot of it on flashy lighting, music, on 'capital works' such as church buildings, on church plants, and on 'show' rather than the day-to-day problems of the church-goers and their communities. If churches spent more of their money on the needy, more like the Salvation Army, then perhaps the USA would not look like Scandinavia's poor cousin, when in fact it's richer. And if churches fail - and they do at the moment - to take the place of government, then I think the will of the people for others not to suffer, should be taken up by our elected officials. Just my two pennies.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Sugar, self-control, and free will

I have recently decided to reduce my sugar intake. I would tell you why, but insurance companies might use it against me in the future. And I don’t think it matters: I am trying to reduce my refined sugar intake.
Just now, I was talking to my lovely wife on the mobile phone (cellphone) while sitting on the sofa (couch). Suddenly I realized I was standing up, and was about to go and get some chocolate from the kitchen.
At no point did I consciously think “I would like some chocolate” or even “I am going to have chocolate”. Before I had had a conscious thought, I found myself standing up and ready to walk.
If I didn’t decide to stand up, who did? Even if we suggest that there is a subconscious me who could tell me what I want, or what I need – the same one that breathes in and out without interrupting the other task I am doing – can it make me stand up?
If it can make me stand up, what else can it make me do? Is there a proportion of people in prisons who genuinely did not do the thing that their body did?
And even if it doesn’t go that far, are there choices that we make that we don’t really make?
Before we look at that, there’s another important question: Who is making me do things I consciously don’t want to do? Is there some part of me that makes these other decisions – my subconscious – or is there a pre-ordained path for my life? If the latter, presumably my choices are illusions created by other.
CGP Grey has a great video on this: You Are Two
The notion of free-will is more important than a “that’s interesting” or a hypothesis. If we are not free, the notion of punishment, of fairness, and of a whole lot more changes… fundamentally.
But, of course, if we don’t have free will, none of us can do anything to change the status quo and get people to realize that prison is inhumane. Or perhaps there is a greyer version of free-will, where we (where we is humanity) can make a difference in the trajectory of humanity, but only on a large scale. At the small scale, we do not get to make many of the choices we make on our own…
The following is said casually, so don’t be mad at me. I don’t want people to think that quantum physics and quasi-spiritual considerations can or should be intermingled. But…
I am no physicist, but I would also be interested on what free-will, or the absence of it, means for the collapse of probability curves in quantum physics. Probably, I suspect, nothing – there is another universe perhaps, where the ‘decision’ went the other way, even if we didn’t have any say over it in the universe we find ourselves in. But the observation of a system causing the collapse has always interested me…

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Veterans...

Americans are obsessed with Veterans. Not just people who were drafted into wars like the Vietnam War or World War II, but also anyone who volunteered.

This is odd! Nurses, Social Workers, Teachers, Fire Fighters and Police all put themselves in harms way and do unpleasant jobs, despite low pay. But they don't get special parking space at shopping malls, and they don't get arbitrary discounts at myriad stores.

America has a weird nationalism in its psyche, and the worship (for that is not too strong a word) of people who chose a career where they could end up having to murder people, is one symptom.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Sleep...

Sleep - that noun that hangs in the corner of your eyes when you have slept, starts off wet and dries during the night.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Tea spoons...

This blog won't be about spoons, but I noticed that American tea spoons are bigger than British tea spoons, but the imperial tea spoon measure is bigger than the US teaspoon measure. Very confusing.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The sound...

The sound of a spoon stirring a cup of hot chocolate or milk, and how it differs from the sound of a spoon stirring a cup of tea or coffee.
Incidentally, the sound of a cup of Barley Cup being stirred, is more like hot chocolate, despite the lack of milk.