Reflections on Brexit

Some time last year I was reading Kleinzeit, a surreal metaphysical novel by Russell Hoban. At some point the character is taking the Underground across London: On a film poster a famous prime minister, shown as a youthful army officer, pistol in hand, glared about him, said in handwriting, I must kill someone, even British workers will do. KILL WOG SHIT, answered the wall. The novel was written in 1974.

Spring cleaning

One of the crazier things mankind does is ship large quantities of water around the planet, to places that already have water. The most egregious example you’re probably familiar with is Fiji Water, one of America’s most popular brands. Every year, they buy over 130 million liters of water from the government of Fiji. (For around a decade, that was a military junta, but the company didn’t let that spoil business.

Insinkeration

The holiday weekend detector in the InSinkErator® disposal unit triggered, and as I went to rinse some dishes on Friday I found myself standing in water. I’ve done a little light home plumbing here and there — replaced a shower head, fixed a toilet — but with a long weekend imminent, this was clearly a job for a professional. Clarke Kent Plumbing were able to visit inside an hour — presumably what with journalism being on the decline, the Daily Planet just don’t keep him busy any more.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Yesterday was our 20th wedding anniversary. One the one hand, it’s incredible. About half of first marriages don’t last 20 years, so the odds aren’t good on average. But on the other hand, we’re not average. We didn’t rush into getting married. In fact, we had to overcome major geographical, legal and financial hurdles to even get to a point where we could consider getting married. I wonder how the stats go for people who have to really put effort in?

Pizza or zap?

A few months ago we were in a pizza restaurant. Pop music was playing moderately loudly, and at a nearby table a family was tucking in to pizza. I noticed that their child had a slice of pizza, but also a tablet he was using to watch cartoons. I’m no expert on child rearing, but I think that the combination of parental interaction and pizza should probably be sufficient excitement for most kids, without having to add pop music and cartoons.

Cobblers

To quote Robert Burton (1577—1640): Him that makes shoes goes barefoot himself. This is known nowadays as the no-self buffs trope: Strangely often, the magician, witch, wizard, cleric, Evil Sorcerer, Mad Scientist, support class, etc. have the ability to bestow strange and amazing transformations, alterations, powers and enhancements on other people, for whichever reason, but are unable to use this ability to directly benefit themselves. In my case, the fact that I spend my days dealing with databases, web pages, style sheets, JavaScript and the like, left me highly unmotivated to spend my off-work hours dealing with the same things.

The Youtube Rabbit Hole Game

Here’s a new game we can all play. The rules are simple: Log out from YouTube and clear your cookies, so you’re viewing the site as some anonymous person it knows nothing about. Go to the front page, and pick a totally innocuous video from its recommendations. Clicking only on recommended videos in the sidebar on the right, see how quickly you can get steered to either white nationalism, or mad conspiracy theories.

Medicare for All

Right now there are a bunch of competing proposals for how to create a universal healthcare system for the USA. People are starting to talk about which 2020 candidates support which schemes, and who to support in the Democratic primaries based on that information. In particular, Beto O’Rourke has been criticized for not backing Medicare for All, and instead backing a scheme called Medicare for America. Based on my experience of UK public and private healthcare, and US HMOs and other health insurance, I have some strong opinions about what a good healthcare system should look like.

Social networks: What if there's no right answer?

In recent articles I’ve talked about what’s wrong with social networking and some ways I think we might improve it. This week I saw a Twitter thread about a Facebook group with a few hundred members that was being used to organize harassment campaigns. Then came the news that private Facebook groups were spreading the conspiracy theory that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in a coma, or even dead and being replaced with an impostor.

How to mend life?

In the previous article I talked about some of the history of social media, and identified 14 pervasive problems of today’s online social networks: Addiction to social media Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) and the negative psychological consequences Pervasive annoying advertising Privacy invasion to justify advertising spend and allow microtargeting Spread of extremism through engagement maximization Spread of propaganda through microtargeting Funding of extremism through automated advertising