Unprecedented

The situation is unprecedented. There will be mistakes, over-reactions, back downs, changes of directions. There will be shortages of this, that, and the other and panic buying and hoarding, people not getting the help that they should. There will be accidental and intentional breeches of self-isolation. There will be people saying stupid things (I’m looking at you Hoskins) and others doing them. There will be others selflessly putting themselves in harm’s way for the sake of you, me and the rest of us.

The authorities are moving faster than they have ever before to try to contain the situation. Many, many times faster. Obviously not everything is going to go right. That is not their fault, though they will probably blame themselves. It is the fault of the situation.

The Government is probably unable to help those stuck overseas. They are probably unable to help those from overseas stuck here. There’s no use in assigning blame.

They are probably going to change their minds on things twenty times a day. This doesn’t show indecision. This is merely day to day reaction to what is happening.

Let’s not forget that they are doing their best. The Government, the police, the medical profession, shop keepers, food growers, all the supply chain workers, from the farmers to the supermarket workers. Plumbers, who fix that pipe which burst at the worst possible time. Teachers who are struggling to keep the education system going. They are all doing their best.

In my opinion, temporarily making supermarkets the sole source of food and other supplies is a good move. Shutting butchers’ shop might not have been a good idea, but I understand why it was done. Letting booze outlets sell their wares online is probably a good idea, for morale, if nothing else. I reluctantly agree that keeping the cigarette factories open is a good idea, though I hate smoking.

Sadly, when this is all over, there will be recriminations. People will accuse the Government, the police, the medical profession, and all of those who struggled to maintain some sense of normality in these abnormal times, of making wrong decisions. Wrong decisions will have been made, but those decisions will have been made with the best of intentions. People should remember that.

(My apologies. I will not be including any images in this post. I just want to get it out there.)

The Coming Apocalypse

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Photo by Lisa Setrini-Espinosa from FreeImages

I see people and nations trying to come to terms with global warming, but the efforts to reverse it seems disorganised, incomplete and ineffective. Governments sign agreements containing measures that sound good, but which are not implemented or implemented badly, and all the time the ice melts and the ice caps break apart.

I see Greta Thunberg ranting at the United Nations about their inaction on climate change. She has a point. If the world is to be saved, then those in power should take decisive action, now. But she is preaching to the wrong congregation. Most of those in the UN are in the later stages of their careers. The people that Greta should be taking to task are those of her parents’ generation, those who are just coming into their powers, mainly the millennials.

Can the millennials save the world? I think not.

Can the world be saved through democratic processes? I think not.

The problem with global warming is not the flooding of islands and the melting of the icecaps inundating coastal areas. People can always move inland. No, the problem is inland, in the areas that grow the crops that feed the world and in the forests that provide the life-giving oxygen and remove the stifling carbon dioxide. Global warming is going to inevitably cause crops to fail and forests to die. Droughts, floods, storms that devastate large parts of whole countries will become common.

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Photo by Scott Liddell from FreeImages

This will lead to food shortages and famine. Famine leads to the spread of disease and to war, as those without food invade those areas which have food, and those who have food fight to keep what they have. Inevitably the wars will result in the inability of the food growing areas to produce food, leading to deepening famine, and deaths in the billions.

Technology will suffer. The things that we use every day, like cooking equipment, technology that we utilize to entertain ourselves, or our means of communication, like our smartphones, will not be produced as people find it necessary to concentrate on obtaining food rather than producing technological wonders. The networks will fail.

We will see the failure of democracy and the rise of autocracies as wars proliferate and famine and disease spread.

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Photo by Mike Minor from FreeImages

The autocracies and wholesale death by famine and disease may be the saving of the human race. If the human race is decimated, the pressure on the planet may ease, and the forests may return, springing up from remnants of the original forests or from species that have imported into the area by humans of our era. The autocrats may force workers to recreate the forests, because, after all, they will have experienced the effects of global warming. They can compel whereas democracies cannot. Autocrats are not magnanimous, but their best interests will hopefully be served by an end to global warming.

Where does that leave us? With a human population of much less than a billion. With the forests returning, maybe not the original forests, but forests made up of different species from other parts of the globe. There will be animals, but probably not the original species. With temperatures falling, and oceans returning to health.

There will be countries, but not the countries of today, and it is unlikely that any global organization, like the United Nations will remain. All current treaties and agreements will be long gone, replaced by other more local agreements and treaties.

Indigenous peoples may resurge in some places, but disappear in other.

It will be a world unlike our current world. Technology will have reverted as the huge factories needed to support it will have gone, but the knowledge may be retained, and the technology may resurge, but probably in a simpler fashion, using fewer resources. The day of the mega-factory will be over.

People will not fly around the world, and would probably live, and die close to where they were born. Large cities, of the size of London, Shanghi, or New York, will probably die, but smaller cities will likely survive.

That is the best case scenario. In the worst case the famines and wars will reduce the human race to very small numbers, and once the decline has got to those sorts of levels, the human race will fade away. No species resurges to previous levels after a die off of this magnitude without outside help. Where are the aliens when you need them ?

Inflatable aliens
Photo by Cheryl Empey from FreeImages

Supply Chain

When I go into the supermarket, I see foods from all over the world. I’m not talking about the items in the so-called International section, but even the stuff on the other shelves. I just picked up the nearest supermarket purchased item that came to hand. Batteries. They are packed locally, but are manufactured in China. When I say locally, I mean almost 500 kilometres away.

Much of the fruit and veges that I purchase come from overseas. Bananas and pineapples don’t grow here and are imported from various countries. If I want to buy a t-shirt it will almost certainly originate in Asia somewhere. I just looked at the t-shirt that I’m wearing at the moment, and yup, while it has a designed featuring a local attraction it is manufactured and printed in China.

All our electronic gear come from Asia, our clothes from Asia and plastic ware like laundry baskets also originates overseas.

This is not unique to this country though. It’s much the same in any other country. This country produces dairy products, meat and meat products, fruit and wine which are exported to other countries. The world is full of goods being shipped from one place to another, and sometimes a product will go to more than one location on its journey from where it is produced to the supermarket that it ends up in.

I don’t know if this actually happens, but one can envisage that milk taken from a cow is turned into milk powder here, sent elsewhere to be turned into mozzarella cheese, which is then sent to a pizza manufacturer, who sends the finished pizza to an pizza outlet where it is cooked and then sent out to satisfy the appetites of people somewhere else yet again.

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There’s a term for this. It is “supply chain”. Actually it’s more like a supply network as, if we consider the pizza case, the pizza is made up of multiple ingredients all of which pass through several stages. Even the box that contains the pizza may have a complex history before the pizza is dropped into it and it is sent off.

It’s also possibly that the box may be made of recycled material. Cardboard collected at a recycling station may be pulped, processed and made into pizza boxes. Some of the collected cardboard may be old pizza boxes.

Generally, though, the components or ingredients of a consumer item, like a cell phone or a pizza with extra pepperoni start out by being harvested or dug out of the ground. If you want to cut out the supply chain, you could grow your own, but then you need to source the seeds, you need to buy in compost, unless you make it yourself from vegetables that you’ve sourced somewhere else, which come from goodness knows where, and you need to feed the plants with chemicals which have all come from somewhere else, and most likely have been processed in various ways.

So what would happen if the supply chain broke? People in the cities, who have no other way to acquire things except through the supply network would quickly starve, and would likely flee the city for the countryside, where things would be much better, and where they could settle down and grow things, right?

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Except that most useful productive land in most countries has already been taken for farms, and the fleeing city folk would be forced onto marginal land and would starve, or they would be forced to steal from the farmers who are already there, or maybe they would beg for food from the farmers or work for them for food. Or they would fight to displace the farmers from their lands. In any case a flood of refugees from the city would likely be a trigger for conflict.

Actually the farmers would not be that much better off than the city folks. Most farms these days are more like little factories feeding into the supply chain and would concentrate on one or two crops. A beef farmer would have a surplus of beef, a potatoes farmer would have nothing but potatoes, and so on.

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So, it is likely that even farmers would have severe problems if the supply network broke. Even if the farmer could trade most of his produce with other farmers so that he did not have to subsist purely on potatoes, he would have great difficulty in producing more crops after the first one. He’d quickly run out of fertiliser and without insecticides he would probably loose a lot of his crops.

The problems would be even worse if his land was deficient in some critical mineral. Many farmers these days have to add traces of minerals to their land, either to help grow bigger produce or to add the trace elements that the crops need to even grow.

Of course, not everyone would starve. Some non-city dwellers would eventually, after a period of realignment, be able to feed themselves. But many, many city dwellers would die, and a significant number of non-city dwellers would also die before an new balance is found. All trade would be local, probably barter based, as the city dwellers are the ones who keep the banking systems going, and they would be dead.

I haven’t yet considered what sort of catastrophe could disrupt the global supply network. If the oil ran out, and couldn’t be replaced by some other source of energy, that would do it. Local power could be generated using solar energy or water power, but the ships that ship goods from one place to another run on oil. That means that we would not be able to source solar cells in sufficient number.

If someone started a global nuclear war, then that could cause significant disruption and throw many countries back on their own resources, especially those who are more isolated than most. Similarly, if a super volcano were to erupt anywhere in the world, and as a result the world would become shrouded in clouds of dust for years on end, killing all food crops, then there would be no food to be shipped, even if the ships were to keep on working. And without food crops animals would starve, and so would we.

Rehabilitation

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Rehabilitation. Let’s start from that word and see where it takes us. The definition that most appeals to me is the restoration of someone to a useful place in society”. I was surprised that most definitions appear to emphasise the restoration of appearance or status, which is not quite the same thing.

To physically restore something, it must have gone wrong or been damaged. Rehabilitation of a person similarly means that they have gone wrong or been damaged. By “gone wrong”, we probably mean that they have committed a crime and they may have been damaged by their environment.

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There is an argument that a tendency to commit crimes may be have some genetic component and thus you have families where several generations have committed crimes. However, while there probably is a genetic component it is difficulty to distinguish between genetic reasons and a environmental reasons for a person committing a crime. In most cases of course, both causes may be in effect. It’s the ancient nature versus nurture debate, of course.

It’s possible that a solution to the genetic predisposition to commit crime might be found and a future criminal may be offered a choice – take this pill or go to jail. At the very least, it may be possible to spot potential criminals when they are very young, and use environmental means to combat their innate tendency to crime.

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Any genetic tendency to crime may arise from something missing in a person. One obvious lack would be lack of empathy. If a person is empathetic, they can put themselves in the other person’s shoes so to speak and can imagine what it feels like to be robbed or raped or even murdered. I’ve simplified a bit there, but it will do.

On the other hand, if you live in an environment where violence is common, and lying and cheating is commonplace, then you are likely to come to think that such behaviour is normal. You literally wouldn’t be able to conceive of an environment where violence never happens or is very rare.

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Society promotes the view that crime should be punished and that retribution in the form of punishment is to be expected if a crime has been committed. Punishment often takes the form of locking the criminal up with other criminals away from their home environment.

Without anything else happening, this seems like a singularly ineffective strategy. It does remove the criminal from society, but forces the criminal to associate with others who have similar antisocial defects. They learn off each other, not to be better people, but to better at whatever criminal activity that they have indulged in.

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When the criminal is released, he or she is sent back to the very environment that may have been a large factor in causing him or her to become a criminal in the first place. The result is that he or she may go back to behaving as he or she did before, and indeed may introduce new antisocial behaviours that he or she has learnt in prison.

Another aspect of punishment of any sort is that it is supposed to deter others from similar actions. This assumes that the others in question have the empathy to understand the effect that punishment has on someone and the effect that this punishment would have on them.

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How would we rehabilitate someone, if we had to resources to do so? Most such attempts appear to involve teaching the criminal a trade, so that when they get out of prison, they can take up a useful trade and not have the desire to commit any more crimes.

There’s a couple of problems with this, and one is what I’ve already mentioned above – they are going back into the same environment that had probably been a factor in their committing the crime that got them sent to prison in the first place. And they have more skills which could be used in criminal pursuits.

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Of course being taught a trade in prison works for some people, or so I believe. These people would be those on the borderline environments where there is some criminal activity, but not much, and prison is seen as a deterrent and not as an occupational hazard. Nevertheless, they still face huge barriers, not the least of which is getting a job when they have a criminal record.

So it’s not surprising that rehabilitation, as it happens today, doesn’t seem to be effective, and that is because it doesn’t address the causes, genetic and environmental that cause people to commit crimes.

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I suspect that any genetic tendency to commit crimes would be next to impossible to remedy. If the genes which cause a tendency to antisocial behaviour were to be identified, then the next question is what to do about it. Until and if it is possible to medically change the expression of these genes in utero or after birth, it would become an ethical dilemma. Just how far should society go in ensuring that crime is not committed. Should society prevent the full expression of a human being’s abilities and tendencies, even if they are criminal.

Society could somehow prevent people who carry such genes from reproducing, or at least stop then from producing offspring with those genes, but again that merely makes the issue an ethical one. Such meddling is usually labelled “eugenics” and generally frowned upon.

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Various science fiction novels present arguments both for and against it. The major argument against eugenics as a way of reducing crimes is that the preconceptions and biases of individuals and societies make their choices suspect.

The environmental issues may be easier address. It is often thought that crime and poverty are linked, and that removing poverty may reduce crime. This is plausible, but while someone who is poor might be pushed over the line and commit a crime, there is no doubt that there is a great deal of crime committed by people who are not usually considered to be facing poverty.

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So called white collar crime can be committed on all scales from defrauding individuals to crimes committed by people in huge corporations. While poverty related crime affects a few people, white collar crimes can be perpetrated on millions of people, and by people who have never had direct contact with their victims.

So, it seems to me that society is not really addressing rehabilitation. We concentrate on punishment, which is a deterrent, but once a person commits a crime, no real attempt to rehabilitate them happens. For it do so, society may have to change dramatically, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

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2018

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Today is the last day of 2017. I will probably stay up tonight to “see in” 2018, but I’m not about to follow other traditions, such “first footing“. It’s all superstition anyway.

I think it’s interesting and a little illogical that we celebrate arbitrary dates throughout the year, such as midsummer’s day or May Day, though I understand that the origins of these celebrations. When the Church ruled (in at least the part of the world that I come from) and when times were uncertain and you could be fine one minute and dead of the plague the next, superstition comes naturally.

I can understand the joy that a winter solstice or other celebrations at that time of can bring. We are, at those times, at the lowest point of the year, and things can only go up from there. Strangely the low point of the year in the Northern Hemisphere comes at the top of the calendar. Who arranged that?

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There are no equivalent large celebrations around the time of the summer solstice, at least in the places in the Northern Hemisphere that I have lived. In the middle of the summer, winter is so far away, and I guess that we don’t want to celebrate it. In the Southern Hemisphere the summer solstice occurs round about the time of Christmas and New Year. In either hemisphere we celebrate the summer solstice by getting out in the sun more.

In the spring, in the Northern Hemisphere, there are some celebrations of May Day, around the time of the Vernal Equinox. At that time of year, we are leaving the darkness of winter and the short days for the longer sunny days of summer, and that is probably worth a celebration. May Day actually falls closer to the middle of the climactic spring than the equinox does.

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Of course any spring festival coincides with the increased fertility of the soil, plants and growing and animals are mating, spring plantings are complete, humans also respond to this. Some spring festivals acknowledge this time of the quickening of the blood in various ways, and sometimes the establishment, notably the Church, tries to suppress or at least put the reins on some of the excesses.

Autumn is the time of harvest and any festivals around the Autumnal Equinox acknowledge this fact. However the tone of such celebrations is likely to be restrained as people buckle down for the chills of winter.

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In the Southern Hemisphere, all this is messed up. The calendar is the same, so the southern Spring Equinox happens in September, around the twenty first of the month. Since most of the traditions have been imported from the Northern Hemisphere, mainly from Europe and particularly the UK, there is no obvious spring celebration to copy.

However, the southern Autumnal Equinox happens in March, and there is a northern celebration at the beginning of May. May Day is celebrated as an almost purely political holiday, with roots in the union movement, and is not, generally celebrated in the same way as May Day is in the Northern Hemisphere.

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When people emigrate from the Northern Hemisphere, specifically from Europe, they often experience homesickness. It can take a lifetime to shake off, but most people eventually relocate their roots. In particular, people from the Northern Hemisphere often find it strange that Christmas falls in the summertime.

People from the Northern Hemisphere expect Christmas to be in the winter. Short days, inclement weather and the perennial question “Will it be a white Christmas?” At one time carollers used to travel from door to door, wrapped up in thick coats, scarves and wearing woollen hats. Father Christmas is well wrapped in thick red and white clothes as he takes orders in the frantic malls before Christmas.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Father Christmas still wears his thick red and white clothes, and sits in a grotto decorated with fake snow and snowflakes, but he is most likely to be near hypothermia as the mercury rises.

There is however a southern version of Father Christmas. This version wears red swimming trunks and usually retains the red hat with the white rim and the white bobble, but may sport sunglasses and wear jandals on his feet. He may even carry a surfboard. He may be lying in a sun lounger shaded by a parasol, and with a non-alcoholic (of course) fruit based drink to hand.

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While Rudolph and his team may feature south of the equator, in Australia Santa’s sleigh is pulled by six white kangaroos, known as “boomers” (at least according to the song recorded by Rolf Harris). The implication is that the traditional reindeer can’t handle the summer heat in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ve drifted somewhat from my initial topic, which was the New Year. New year in the Southern Hemisphere is about beach parties, if you are below a certain age. For those above a certain age, New Year means backyard barbecues.

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Beach parties can be riotous, to the point where police intervention is required, but largely they are good natured and convivial gatherings. New Year comes towards the beginner of the seasonal summer, and the celebration doesn’t really equate to any Northern Hemisphere celebration.

The northern Christmas and New Year celebrations are constrained by the short days and the long nights and are celebrated indoors in cosy snugness. In contrast the southern celebrations revel in the long days and short but warm nights and celebrate the outdoors.

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I think that we in the southern hemisphere got the best deal. If Christmas and New Year in the northern hemisphere had, for whatever reason, fallen in the summer, then the southern hemisphere Christmas and New Year would have fallen in the winter, and we would have got the short nights and the bad weather.

We would have had to celebrate Christmas and New Year indoors and during the short winter days. There’s no doubt that it would be enjoyable, the interactions with family and friends, but I’m glad that our main holiday falls in the summer.

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But, whatever, the New Year is in ninety five minutes, at least here in Wellington, so, when it swings around to you, I hope that you have a good and enjoyable New Year. I’ll sit here in my t-shirt and shorts, with bare feet enjoying their freedom from shoes, and wish all you there in the Northern Hemisphere, togged up in your woolies and gloves and hats, a Happy New Year.

Tau Hou hari!

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Do as you would be done by.

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In the book the Water Babies by Charles Kingsley there are two fairies, Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid. These two fairies embody two principles of altruism.

Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby represents the principle that if you want other people to treat you well, then it would be advisable to treat them like you would wish other people to treat you. Obviously, everyone wants to be treated well by others.

Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid represents the other side of the coin. If you treat other people badly you can expect others to treat you badly too. Together the two fairies represent the Golden Rule.

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This implies the philosophical concept that other people are internally much like you. They are thinking beings with feelings, beliefs, and prejudices, just like you. Even if they are philosophical zombies it be a good idea to treat them as if they actually were conscious, sentient beings, because, if they are zombies of this sort, they are constrained to act as if they were conscious, sentient beings.

Unfortunately there are people who don’t know about the Golden Rule, and who return kindness with unkindness. The sort of people who make friends with people only to scam them. As an aside, I find such people incomprehensible. Why would anyone make friends with a pensioner, say, just to get at their life savings.

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Of course, such people may have been treated in this way themselves, but, reading between the lines, that doesn’t seem so. Or they may have an addiction or something which drives them to desperate measures. It’s true that some scammers do have a gambling addition, but others just splurge the stolen money on luxuries.

Scammers obviously don’t believe in the dictum that you should do as you would be done by, but it seems that greed or addition makes them believe that it is acceptable to take money from vulnerable people, though when questioned, they are often unable to explain why they have committed the crime.

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Some may say “Oh, but I meant to pay it back,” and stolen money is sometimes characterised as “loans”, but after the second or third time of committing similar crimes, one wonders how they can hide from themselves the fact that paying back the “loan” is never going to happen.

If someone treats you in a way that you certainly don’t want to be treated, and that you wouldn’t want to treat other in that manner, what options are there?

One of the options is to “turn the other cheek“. This option  is the one where you continue to treat the person in the same way, presumably in the hope that he or she will realise that they have harmed you and will change their ways. This is very unlikely to work in the majority of cases, but it allows you to feel morally superior. Big deal.

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If the harm is a crime, like conning money out of you, you have the options of going to the authorities with the problem but this goes against the golden rule. If you imagine that you were a scammer, then you would not like to be arrest and charged of a crime. You would imagine that it would be better for the conned person to forgive you for the crime, and that you, as an imaginary scammer, would change your ways.

The Golden Rule assumes that there is mutual empathy between you and other people. With normal well adjusted people this is so, but there are enough of the other sort for this strategy to be a big risk. Scammers and thieves do not have empathy for their victims. They can’t imagine that the iPad that they have stolen contains irreplaceable photos, (did you not back them up?) and in addition, it took you months to save up the money to buy it.

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One of the issues is that fraudsters almost always come across as friendly and helpful when they gain the trust of the person that they are aiming to defraud. They are very plausible, otherwise, when they ask you for a “loan” or to “invest” in some dodgy scheme you would immediately become suspicious.

I don’t think that society has an answer to this issue yet. If a fraudster is reported to the police, is arrest and charged, found guilty and tossed into jail, then all that happens is that the fraudster spends some time there, then comes out and immediately starts looking for someone new to defraud. There is no serious attempt to rehabilitate them.

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It is often said in court that a person who is charged with a crime has shown remorse. That may be so, but even if the remorse is genuine, and not just regret at being caught, showing remorse doesn’t really prove that the perpetrator of the fraud has fundamentally changed.

There seems to be a certain blindness or lack of forethought in some people. To a large extent they don’t think that their actions will deprive their victim of money or possessions, and also they don’t believe that they will be caught. In the vast majority of a cases they will be caught.

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This blindness also occurs in those who have repeated business failures. These days, when we are told that various entrepreneurs have succeeded in business in spite of academic difficulties and made millions, then the less competent and the downright incompetent see this as a green light to fail and fail again.

While it is true that successful entrepreneurs may have had a few failures in the past, this does not imply that all who try will, eventually, succeed. In fact the reverse is true. Many people will fail repeated and never ever succeed. This is a dangerous example of survivorship bias.

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It would be nice if everyone followed the Golden Rule, but unless the nature of humans changes, that is impossible. While there are still people around who do not follow the golden rule, there will be scams and scammers, and it is difficult to think of a way to address the issue, so ensure that if anyone asks you for money, that you check with someone else that they borrowed money from before you. It may end the friendship, but it might save you from a nasty surprise.

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Cashing in the Cash

I can’t remember the last time I used cash. In fact, I actively avoid it. I don’t want crumpled grubby bits of paper in my pockets and heavy pocket wrecking pieces of metal weighing me down. When you have a pocket full of cash, you have a pocketful of inconvenience.

You have to keep track of how much you have, whether it is enough to pay for what you need and you have to periodically top up your supply from inconvenient locations at inconvenient times. I have no idea why people still use cash, I really don’t.

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We got a cheque the other day. Yes, a real cheque with words and numbers written on it. A piece of paper worth a not inconsiderable amount of money. So we tried to pay it into my wife’s bank account. Oh no, sorry, this cheque is made out to both of you. You can’t put it into the bank account belonging to a single person.

So, we fortunately had a joint account, albeit with a different bank, so we took the valuable piece of paper to the second bank. It is not my purpose here to protest, complain or whinge about customer service, so I will merely say that it wasn’t a fun experience. Firstly we had to travel to the location of the second bank, who had, for very good reasons which I find acceptable, just closed our local branch. Secondly we had to deal with a ‘real person’, and actually living and breathing human being.

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Now, I’ve got no problem with real persons. As long as they keep their distance, I will keep mine, and I grudgingly admit that sometimes you have to deal with a real person. But I shouldn’t have to deal with a real person just to deposit a cheque into a bank account, surely?

OK, most cheques can be deposited into your account via a hole in the wall ATM, I know, and this cheque was slightly different. It was a cheque from the UK being paid into a local account so currency conversion had to be done.

I’ve paid local cheques into local accounts in the past, and the process was much the same. The only difference was that we had to sign a piece of paper, extruded from a machine on the real person’s desktop, to agree to refund the money, should the cheque not be honoured by the UK bank.

There are other ways of transferring funds between local banks and the UK, of course, which don’t involve pieces of paper travelling the world, of course. We maintain a bank account in the UK, and it is relatively simple to transfer money from that account to one of our local accounts electronically with having to once deal with a real person.

We could, of course, get people to use electronic means to transfer money from their UK accounts to our UK accounts, but some people, for whatever reason, prefer to send pieces of paper. Probably they are either think that electronic transfers are complex and challenging, which of course they aren’t, or they prefer to send something at least a little tangible.

What kicked off this train of thoughts? It was one of a number of articles by finance industry players which were dismissive or antagonistic towards BitCoin. I bought $200 worth of BitCoin in November 2013, and if I still had it now it would be worth around $4200. Rumour has it that it will rise a lot more. Other rumours are that it is a bubble which will soon burst.

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One of the accusations levelled against BitCoin is that there is no single entity behind it and if the bubble burst, people will be hurt and no one will be held responsible. Well, is that any different from a fiat currency or a commodity currency? A fiat currency is one whose value depends on the support of a government diktat, while a commodity currency has a value that is related to the value of a commodity such as gold.

In the case of a fiat currency, it is effectively the government saying “You can buy things with the dollar things”. So you take along pieces of paper, or these days more likely a bit of plastic, and get back a tin of beans, plus some heavy metal circular things if you use the paper, and feel (relatively) happy.

The government doesn’t do much more than guaranteeing “this is a dollar” and printing pieces of paper with that message, and similar for metal coins, but the number of coins and paper in circulation aren’t anywhere near to, say, the number of dollars in the government’s budget. The majority of dollars only exist as a number in an account somewhere, usually with a bank.

In the case of a commodity based currency, such as that based on gold, a government agrees to supply a given but variable amount of gold for a currency on demand. Of course no one ever demands gold for their dollars or whatever. Why gold? Because there were originally coins made out of gold and gold was relatively more valuable than silver or bronze.

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This has meant that the metal gold is these days worth much more than its relative abundance would imply. In spite of gold rushes gold is a fairly common metal that is fairly useless for anything except decorative candlesticks and similar.

BitCoin is often represented as being different from either of these two types of currency. It doesn’t have a central authority to say “this is a BitCoin”, and no one is going to give you a hunk of metal for it, unless they actually want to buy the metal to make candlesticks.

But BitCoin is not really that different from the other two types of currency. Both of the above types of currency are just numbers in an account of some relatively reliable organisation like a bank or other organisation, just as the BitCoins in my wallet are just numbers in the bitchain.

The difference is that because no one owns the bitchain, that all sorts of dodgy dealings are possible and people like drug dealers and cartels and so on are adopting BitCoin and other so called cryptocurrencies.

However it is no use trying to ban such currencies. That particular genie can’t be forced back into the bottle. Any attempt to regulate cryptocurrencies will simply lead to them going underground.

Why did he do it?

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Why do people become murderers or rapists, or even petty thieves. I mean, sure, sometimes a person could irritate you to the point where a fleeting thought of carnage crosses your mind. But most people would immediately shut down that thought and even be shocked and revolted by it. They certainly wouldn’t act on it.

Surely no one wakes up one morning and thinks “Oh, I’ll become a career criminal,” or “Oh, I’ll violently attack someone today.” It’s easier to explain when the person is immersed in a culture where crime is normal and maybe even expected of one. But there are law abiding people even within the worst of environments, where crime is common.

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Fear of consequences is often used to try to deter people from crime, but in many cases the fear of consequences is not enough to prevent a person committing a crime. Prison may be seen as normal and expected. So called petty criminals may expect to be thrown in to jail many times in their lives and to them it cannot be much of a deterrent.

Of course, one’s better judgement can be nullified by drugs or by alcohol. Many assaults happen when the person who assaults another person is drunk or high on drugs. Other crimes like rape, burglary, and vandalism are also more likely to happen when a person is intoxicated.

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One way that is often suggested to reduce crime is to increase the severity of the punishment, so that fear of consequences is increased. However, this has limited effect only. People still committed murder even when capital punishment was still used. When in a blind rage, if a person is mentally ill, or if the person believes that they can get away with a crime without being caught, then the consequences often do not come under consideration.

In a court of law it is assumed that the person knew that consequences and still continued with their action. In many cases I believe that this is simplistic to say the least. A person sees another person leave a phone or wallet somewhere that the first person can take it from. Often the first person doesn’t think through the consequences of the theft. They don’t even consciously think that they can get away with it. They just react to the item being accessible.

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Also each successful theft reinforces the thief’s feeling that he or she will not be caught, so they do it again. In fact, of course there is a chance that they will be caught each time that they commit the theft, and the more times that they commit the crime, the more likely it is that they will eventually get caught.

If they are likely to get away with the crime nine times out of ten, then if they commit the crime seven times, the chance of them getting caught is better than even. Maybe one way to reduce crime is to teach criminals statistics!

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It seems that the propensity to commit crime is inherent in human beings. It is not related to social standing, as crimes of theft and of fraud are seen to be committed by people of all social standings. The criminals, even those higher up the socioeconomic ladder tend to make the mistake of repeating their crimes, which, as I mentioned above, renders them more likely to be caught.

Of course those lower down the socioeconomic ladder commit simpler crimes like theft and violence often fuelled by alcohol and drugs, and those higher up commit the so-called white collar crimes. A person’s position on the ladder doesn’t seem to bear much relation to whether or not they commit sexually related crimes, and in fact, a person’s higher standing often seems to protect them against being caught – they are able to convince people to look the other way when such a crime is committed, by using their influence or by using their money to buy people off.

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If the propensity for crime is to be found at all levels of society, and the punishment of criminals is relatively ineffective as deterring criminals from committing crime, what is there that we can do about it? In my opinion, not a lot. But nevertheless we need to try, if only to reduce it to the minimum possible.

That is what society, from the beginning up to the present day is trying to do, of course. The consequences of being caught committing a crime don’t stop everyone, but it is likely that they do stop some people. Over harsh penalties from crimes don’t work beyond a certain point, and this has been recognised in societies that have dumped capital punishment.

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We try to keep down crime by locking up those who are caught committing it. Again this has only limited effectiveness as well as, effectively, targeting those at the low end of the socioeconomic ladder. A rich person who is fined for jumping a red light is likely to notice it much less than a poor person. The fines represent a much bigger portion of a poor man’s income than that of a rich man.

The only way to reduce crime to zero is to change the human race. If the genes for criminality and violence were to be bred out of the human race, then we would have no problem with crime. Women would not be raped and funds would not be embezzled. People would not drink drive, and would not bash other people.

However, the genes for criminality might be perilously close to the genes for creativity. Creative individuals are often those who break the rules, who go beyond what is allowed. Creative individuals also tend to be those who are close to the boundary between sanity and insanity. They are the eccentrics among us, the ones who do not fit in.

Maybe we could prevent crime by changing the human race, but we risk creating a society which also has no artists, no eccentrics, and essentially no Leonardo DaVincis, no Isaac Newtons, no Shakespeares, no Albert Einsteins. Society would be the poorer for that.

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Two Hundred and Fifty

Ferrari 250 GTO
Ferrari 250 GTO

This post will be my 250th. 250 times approximation 1,000 words. A quarter of a million words. Wow. I didn’t think that I could do it. I hit the target. I reached the summit of Everest. I ran a marathon. And other similar metaphors for success.

Of course, I could be posting into a void. I see that I get, usually, a few dozen views for each post and some people are actually “following” me. I even, now and then, get a comment. I’ve done zero in the way of self promotion. I finish each post, figuratively pat it on its back and send it on its way, never to be seen again.

On its way
On its way

This doesn’t concern me. It seems that, for me, writing this blog is a bit like playing a piano in an empty room, or doing a jigsaw on the Internet. The reward is in the doing. I certainly feel a sense of achievement when I hit the “Publish” button, but I don’t often follow up on the post.

What I found amazing is my ability to ramble on for 1,000 words on any subject. I reckon that I could probably stretch any subject out to 1,000 words. In fact, I usually go over. Around the 300 to 400 word mark I’m wondering if I will reach the 1,000, and then suddenly I’m a couple of dozen words past the mark and wondering how to stop. Many times I will just stop so if you think I dropped a subject abruptly, you are probably right.

Analog television ends in Japan
Analog television ends in Japan

Some subjects have come up more than once. If you have been a regular reader you will have noticed themes running through my posts. There’s science, particularly physics and cosmology, there’s philosophy, there’s maths. I’ve tried to steer away from politics, but Trump has crept in there somewhere.

There’s weather, there’s seasons, there’s discussion on society, as I see it, and occasionally I discuss my posts themselves. These things are, obviously, the things that interest me, the things that I tend to think about.

River Arun
River Arun

Apparently I have 144 followers. That’s 144 more than I expected. I hope that some of them read my posts on a regular basis, but that’s not necessary. I hope that more dip in from time to time and find some interest nugget.

That sound disparaging to my followers, but that’s not my intent. My intent is to reflect on the realities of blogging. I follow other blogs, but I don’t read all the posts on those blogs. Maybe one or two of them I read pretty much every time the blogger posts a new post.

Someone's blog post
Someone’s blog post

That’s the reality of blogging I think. Millions of blog plots are published every day, and I reckon that very few of them are read by more than one or two people at the most. Some blogs strike the jackpot, though, and have millions of followers.

I’d guess that the big blogs are about politics in some shape or form, or fashion and fashion hints and tips. Maybe cooking? I’ve seen a few cooking blogs and they seem to be quite popular. Some big firms have taken to publishing a blog. Some people blog about their illnesses and their battles with it. The best of the latter can be both sad and uplifting.

Protest
Protest

You know the sort I mean? You go to the firm’s website and there’s a button or menu item that proudly proclaims “Blog”. When you look at the blog, it’s simply a list of what the CEO and board have been up to, or releases of new products, or sometimes posts about workers at the firm getting involved with the local community. All good earnest stuff, but scarcely riveting. I wonder how many followers they get? Probably about as many as me! I hope so. At least they are trying.

(Approaching 600 words of waffle. I can do it!)

Since I’m not doing a political blog, I don’t think that anything I post is controversial, which is probably reflected in the number of my followers. I don’t stir up any furores with my words on Plato’s Cave analogy, so far as I know. I get no furious comments about my views on Schrodinger’s Cat. “You should see what he says about Plato’s Cave! You must go on there and refute it!” Nah, doesn’t happen!

Plato's Allegory of the cave, Engraving of Jan...
Plato’s Allegory of the cave, Engraving of Jan Saenredam (1565-1607) after a painting of Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem (1562-1638) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said, the low number of hits doesn’t worry me. It would be a hassle if suddenly my followers shot up to thousands, and I felt obligated to provide all these people an interesting post on a regular basis. As it is I can ramble on about prime numbers or the relationship between the different number sets and potentially only disappoint a few people. If any.

What have I learnt from all this blogging? That it is hard. It’s not just a matter of sitting down and blasting out a 1,000 words. Well sometimes it is, actually, but most times I grind it out in 100 word or so chunks. I aim to write the blog on Sunday and add pictures and publish on Monday.

Hard work
Hard work

Sometimes I miss the Monday deadline, out of sheer forgetfulness, mostly and pop it out on Tuesday or even later. Sometimes I forget to write my post until late on Sunday, but it is only rarely that I have to write it on Monday or even later. So far as I can tell, I’ve not completely missed a weekly post since the earliest days.

This is not the first blog I’ve tried to write. I had several goes before this one and I think that maybe this attempt “stuck” because I set out my aim to publish weekly early on. Maybe. It may also be the target of 250 posts that I set myself early on. Now I’ve achieved that goal.

Mud
Mud

So what next? I’ve not decided. I might stop now, or I might go on to 500. I may not know right up until the last minute. 500 posts is approaching 10 years of posts which seems a phenomenally long time. But then again, 250 posts is around 5 years of posts and I achieved that. We’ll have to see.

(As I sail past 1,000 words, I reflect that I can extract that many words from practically nothing. It seems to be a knack.)

Fireworks in NZ
Fireworks in NZ

Fake News

News
News

All news is fake to some extent. When a reporter watches some event unfold he or she will have their own in-built and acquired biases, no matter how hard they try to keep them under control. Those who watch or read the news report will also have their own leanings and belief systems. In addition they will tend to view only those sources which fit with their world view.

Although I attempt to show that “news” as such is a severely distorted view of events, and that everyone has their own viewpoint on news events depending on their innate beliefs and acquired biases, this phenomenon is not restricted to news and the events that get reported by the news media. We filter all that we see through the sieve of these beliefs and therefore what we see conforms to our world view and naturally this acts to confirm these beliefs in our minds.

Beliefs Knowledge and Truth
Beliefs Knowledge and Truth

Back in 1991 Jean Baudrillard said that “The Gulf War did not happen“. Of course, he did not mean that the events referred to as “The Gulf War” or “The Liberation of Kuwait” did not happen, but that the events as reported by the US authorities and others were highly edited and presented in a way that but the US and its allies in the best possible light. Baudrillard also contended that the so-called war was not a war in the usual sense as the American troops did not directly engage in conflict with the opposing forces.

I am not arguing on the rights or wrongs of the Gulf War, as that is not the main purpose of my posting here, but that what was reported by the Western media was a distorted view of the events that happened during that war. As I live in a “Western” nation, the view that I and billions of others had was highly tilted in the direction of the United States. If I had been able to see the reporting of the Iraqi media, I am sure that I would have a very different view of the events. Similarly it too would also be highly distorted.

Destroyed tank
Destroyed tank in Gulf War

Neither viewpoint could be considered “right” or “wrong”, as such. Neither is intended to be an accurate record of what actually happened, while the events as reported happened, the interpretation of the events may omit or emphasise some aspect over others. One report may record that several “insurgents” or “terrorists” were killed, while another report of the same event will record that some “freedom fighters” were killed. One report may leave out the fact that “non-combatants” were killed while the other may call them civilians and children.

In recent times though, so-called “fake news” has had some attention in the media itself. Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” to explain the claim that President Trump’s inauguration had the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe”, when less partial estimates put the crowd at a much lower level than it was at the previous three inaugurations. She was widely ridiculed for this, though, to be fair, she maybe meant to say “alternative information” or “incomplete information”, as she has claimed.

Presidential inauguration
Presidential inauguration

Unfortunately for that interpretation, she later referred to something that did not happen. This may again have been a slip of the tongue or incorrect remembrance of the event referred to, but two such slips probably indicates that she should not be doing the job and should let other handle the interaction between the White House and the media. However while the media is focusing on her missteps they are not focusing on the President, and that may be the whole point.

Of course, “alternative facts” or alternative interpretations are not found just in politics, but in many walks of life. How many people have watched a sports match and have been surprised by the interpretation of the way that the match went that appears in the media. One group of supporters may think that the referee was biased in favour of the other team, while the opposition’s supporter might believe that the referee made the right calls. Of course it may depend a great deal on whether or not your team won!

Referee (Massimo Busacca)
Referee (Massimo Busacca)

However, in spite of all that I have said above, there has been a rise in recent time of true “Fake News” sites. These sites publish news items which are simply not true and the intent of these sites is to deliberately confuse and deceive those who read it. One interesting consequence is that China supported Americans who accused Facebook of spreading false news.

The most controlled regime outside of North Korea pointed out that in the free for all of democratic and liberal societies anyone could set up a web site and promulgate false news and views. In China however any site which published fake news would be hit by the full weight of the state. Of course the issue with this is that any site publishing views opposed by the state would be shut down immediately whether or not the news was actually fake.

The article on Chinese support for the opponents of fake news on Facebook come from the Huffington Post, and as such contains its own biases of course. Therefore the amount of credence that you put on the above article will depend on your political stance. However, it is likely that while the Huff may post satirical articles, it is unlikely, in my opinion, to post out and out fake news. Just use your brains when you read it, and be aware of your own and the site’s political biases.

The same goes for sites which promote miracle cures, or medicines which are outside of the mainstream medical province. Sites which promote anti-abortion, anti-vaccination, anti-fluoride, anti-folic acid, and other fringe beliefs really annoy me because they either ignore medical evidence or call into question by invoking conspiracy theories (“Big Pharma” anyone?) Beliefs like homeopathy and many other alternative medical beliefs belong with beliefs in psychic powers – in the rubbish bin of history.

Rubbish bin
Rubbish bin