Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2020

Death, statistics and reality

 They are usually buried deep in official statistics folders, far away from awareness.  Death figures are not something anyone likes looking at on a regular, let alone daily, basis. Not even actuaries, presumably. It changed with Covid-19 (why 19 when the pandemics started in 2020, but that's another question). Daily death figures are everywhere. They do not make comfortable reading, listening to or talking about. For anyone who lost a relative or a friend, they are horrifically painful. If not, fear for one's own fate is a powerful enough trigger. Starting with the ancients, not just classical Greece and Rome, death was a topic to ponder and draw wisdom from. Every thing that was left undone, all the words that could have been spoken, the impermanence of life, they were brought to the forefront of consciousness, or so we like to think. It's not modern philosophers who invented "Memento Mori", nor are these two Latin words widely quoted. How could they be? They ar

Why are cats so popular? It's envy, guys

  Question of the day: how come cats are so popular on every social media platform?   Answer of the day: popularity is just disguised envy. Cat owners, more acutely, and the rest less affected, due to lower exposure, all wish they were like cats. Free, independent, vaguely domesticated. Doing what they please, when they feel like it, and unflinching when confronted with an obstacle. All of the above has been already said, written and read many times. I claim discovering the feeling behind general fascination with cats.  Envy, that is. Without going all biblical about it, let us agree envy is one constant layer of human composition. This one ingredient is lurking behind an adoring gaze: if only we could be like cats. 

Ambition drives us all

Good old reliable friend, the dictionary, is going to co-author this blog post. I would have posted its photo as well, but I was not too sure if it did not involve some copyright law infringement. Only half-joking. "Ambition drives us all' sounds very much like one of those insufferable sweeping statements, forgotten as soon as read or heard. I am not aiming for posterity here, just to make a point. A word's origin reveals its meaning better than long philosophical notes. Words, much more than people, are taken for granted because of their longer life span. Ambition is just an example. It comes from a Latin word, ambire, which means to go around. Going around is not a particularly interesting pastime, and that's being polite. It is frankly quite boring, a feature compounded by its obvious aimlessness. That's why no one goes around for any long period of time. Hidden or covert, there is an aim for being present one moment here and a bit later there.  In ancient Rome

Zoon Politikon is not political

 Did you know which are the top blogging topics?  I did not, until I looked them up, using the predictable search engines available to Internet tribes. The results were quite interesting. "How to.." and "Self-development" take the lion's share of the blogosphere, which is itself expanding at dizzying speed. Is everyone after some form of competence and also keen of becoming a better version of oneself? It seems so, but why? The ancients have the answer, nothing surprising here. Aristotle's view of man as "Zoon Politikon", for instance. Often quoted and rarely used correctly,  these two words do not refer to man as a 'political animal",  such as someone who is totally enamoured of politics as understood in today's parlance. Zoon is a living creature and "politikon" comes from polis, which means city, the complex social structure where people live and do things together.  Man is a social creature, who needs to be part of a grou

Dating in Covid Times

I have read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, including the novel "Love in the Time of Cholera".  I confess that I paraphrased his title for this blog post.

Forget after viewing

 Life’s too short for bad photos, true. Still, it’s not always possible to avoid mediocrity.            Take mobile phone cameras, for instance. Zooming does bad things to pixels and the end result is more of a failed attempt, bravely exhibited. The owl above is such a good example. There it was perching on a cold metal bar, minding its own business. I approached it, mobile at the ready. Took a pic and turned round, in search of other subjects. All of its glorious owlish looks survived on my retina and somewhere between two brain folds. Sorry. 

Venus should listen to Mars

What an opportunity these days to cure ourselves of the confirmation bias! Sharing the same views with someone else can be a source of comfort.  Too much of it leads to mummification. Naturally, it feels good to be part of a group, it's in our genes. No one would deny that. Apart from families, there is some strong solidarity manifesting itself among people belonging to the same generation or football club.  Does it matter they can have more men than women, or the other way round?  Same as families,  any socially formed  groups are not less of a club or association if one type of chromosome combination is represented in greater numbers.  Or not? On the internet, new types of communities spring up all the time. Gamers, baby boomers, entrepreneurs, real and fake gurus, you name it. Choice is enormous. Do men and women gravitate towards one genre or another? Podcast, video, blog? Lecture or dialogue?  It's hard to say, still early days, but there is one distinct advantage in the n

Virus vs Face ID

A latecomer to the Apple fan club, I was quite pleased when they introduced the Face ID feature. I admit enjoyment must have been born out laziness and some other kind of human flaw. Let’s say it is very convenient. Or rather it used to be. All good until the Virus decided  to come and stay. I was just getting used to instant access into my mobile’s world of wonders when face masks became the new norm(al) outside our homes. Fair enough, how about raising the device to my face and realising it now wants a passcode? Embarrassing as it may be, there’s always a chance of not remembering that magic formula straightaway. Disaster always lies in ambush behind a forgotten password. Fortunately, wiser people thought of possible solutions. I have not tried any of them, you can check them yourselves if you carry out a search on Google. I, for myself, have come to the conclusion that I can survive being out and about without a mobile soldered to my hand.  As no one is sure how long the Virus lives

The magic and curse of a new diary

 It's only mid-October, why are diaries and wall calendars already up for grabs?  There must be some inexhaustible demand for these memory aids and planning tools. Old style, of course, printed format. Sure, the present moment can be quite unbearable or just boring. The unknown titillates imagination. Despite later disappointments, a jump into the future fascinates, subjugates and throws open the gates of possibility. Possible is not equal to probable though. People who know the finer details of risk theories can explain the difference in marvellous ways. They also warn against mistaking one for the other. For quite a long time, I have been blind to the fact that what is possible in general can be quite improbable in particular. Day-dreamers will understand. Naive ladies and gentlemen will do too. We have been the ones buying a new diary each year and taking deep pleasure in filling in the first pages. Some of us, the adventurous-type ones, are going further. We write down reminder

Dear Cinderella

  If you read this and you think it's an exercise in self-victimisation, you are so right and you should stop...  at the full stop. You came to this blog to find out something new, insightful and useful when talking to people you need to impress. Did you?  It's very unlikely that anyone would spend any amount of time reading about another inner crisis and how to overcome it in 10 steps. Where is the self-victimisation, you may ask. Hang on a minute, it's round the corner, just needs to be summoned. Let us get Cinderella first, the one and only rags-to-princess story that makes grown-ups, irrespective of gender, fantasise about miracles and chance. Has anyone felt bit Cinderelly while toiling in a very normal existence? Was there any remote possibility of a fairy godmother?  If the answer is no, you have a second opportunity to stop reading, yet again, at the upcoming full stop. What comes next is for Cinderella types, those who dance away the night, but just one night only,

The Arm and the Grabber (how could you do this to me, part 2)

  Picking up litter, piece of cake. Before The Arm's insurrection, of course, and implicit dereliction of duty. A heavy blow to carrying out trivial tasks, like collecting various objects strewn all over the place (personal bad habit) or other people's leftovers (their bad eating habits, irrespective of age). The Arm and its Hand used to be able to pick even tiny bits of paper or specks of dust fluff (but that's another story, the OCD one). Much faster than the vacuum cleaner and instant disposal, true? Now The Arm is just hanging there, apparently recovering, although no traitor should be ever given the benefit of doubt. It has been replaced by a tool mostly seen outdoors, where brave people do their best to keep streets and parks clean by cleaning after lazy people's rubbish. Besides an increased sense of appreciation for cleaners' work, The Grabber comes with an unexpected benefit. It's a focus aid, it trains the eye and the working hand to turn picking up in

THE ARM (how could you do this to me?) - act 1

Out in the wild, an injured leg or just paw bring about a quick exit from life. Hunting or foraging becomes difficult and soon after the predator turns into prey. Mankind has many flaws but limb injuries don't automatically mean an early death. They just transform living into a quasi-continuous experience of pain combined with sharp bursts of despair. This is even before dropping everything, realizing that lifting a paper towel is pretty hard and stains are the very sign of regression to baby-style eating. No one is totally in love with their body, but there must have always been an amicable relationship with the right arm, if born right-handed. After all, it's there for so many small and big actions. To have that right arm become  a disobedient and quarrelous servant, a traitor in one's own camp, that is so unfair. Double unfair, actually. Firstly, to its twin limb, now forced to do a crash course in tasks previously unknown (yes, wiping is among them). Then it's unfai

House poem

Do not lie to yourself: In the heart of the heart of the house No memories abide No flickering shadows reside No secrets there to hide. A house is a box full of toys, Long forgotten, half-broken, Once full of noise Now in a precarious poise. Look, the doll is hanging out Hair entangled, mouth in a pout Beady eyes forever half-shut One push and it would fall, but There is no one around to put it back So leave it on its rack A martyr to this place of joy and loss. Time keeps tabs on the dross.

Fridge magnet as fortune-teller

Bought more than a decade ago, a fridge magnet became a source of comfort. That and chocolate. Free advice: no expectations is the cheapest way to avoid suffering. That and instant coffee.

The bearable side of social distancing

The carefree and the cautious, the well-behaved and the morons, they all walk up and down the same pavements (sidewalks if you prefer). Whoever wrote a book on how people behave when they approach a stranger, needs to add a new chapter. It could be called the Virus Effect. Before the pandemics, there used to be a kind of social ballet, especially on narrow lanes. One step to the right, maybe a bit of backtracking, eyes averting direct connection. At times, so many of us have been fooled by the fellow passer-by's moves (neurons mirroring someone else's neurons , as they do). We would move in the same direction, ending up in an amused half-collision. Nowadays that benign bumping into each other is not on at all.  Social distancing, or physical distancing rather, has altered pedestrian behaviour. People scan the approaching human traffic and assess pretty fast if they need to stop, step to the side and wait. A lot depends on how rushed or distracted the other party seems to be. Wa

Which virus is more dangerous?

Lockdown reflections 1.3 Update: How could I miss that street litter can end up as ocean litter? * There was a meme a while ago, widely shared, about people having to fight two pandemics: the corona virus one and stupidity. I forgot about about the quip until I saw a disposable latex glove on the ground.  It's not that I have never seen other objects of personal use discarded nonchalantly in a very public place, like a street.  Condoms for example, although very very rarely (it can't be that comfortable, using a small wall as a prop, I'd guess). There have been as well the odd sock, a T-shirt, cigarette butts.  This is not fly-tipping  as such, we are talking small stuff, not humungous fridge-freezers or king-size mattresses. Small things do get lost or forgotten or thrown away.  In the middle of a pandemic though? A disposable glove of the type that has become associated with precautionary measures meant to defend us against the Virus? I can understand someo

Black and White

Lockdown reflections 1.2 It's not easy to spell the adjective "manichaean". The word that has ended up meaning "black and white thinking" has its origin 17 centuries ago.  At the time, it was not that simplistic. I think it is definitely worth looking into Manichaeism, the religion founded in the 3rd century AD by a Persian prophet and the idea of a battle between light and darkness. Modern use of "manichaean" is pretty much divorced from the ancient belief system. Rarely employed in writing, it has the undertone of a rebuke. These days, it is not exactly a compliment. Could it be that we are so in love with nuances? There's always a "but..." dangling from the end tail of a sentence. To be more precise, there used to be a "but", before all nuanced conversations went out of the window. Or were rather locked down. Duality in its strictest, most dogmatic form is reigning supreme. It's an either/or situation,  no mid

The new normal is the old normal

Lockdown reflections 1.1. It started with the frequency of phone calls and messages. Everyone was worried. Interest in other people's welfare took on an unexpected turn. "Are you alright"?  became a magic phrase. The speed of sharing immunity tips increased. There was a definite fervour around any bit of new information. Some became suspicious that others may know something and hide it. The spurt of activity on various channels was matched by what happened in the media and to a more significant degree on the internet. The two spheres, the personal and the public one, were in synch up to a point only. Then some sort of fatigue started gnawing away at individual hyper-communication. Phone calls became less frequent. Text messages turned into forwarding funny videos and memes, mostly. Family members and friends, let alone acquaintances, settled back into their usual routine. The new normal, under lockdown, reverted to the old normal, and it's a comforti

Crowdsourcing the Virus

CROWDSOURCING THE VIRUS QUESTION The Virus does not deserve a photo. Just words, mainly arranged in questions. As signing up for an online course in virus genetic sequencing is not a priority right now, let's first stick to popular science.  Even better, to what every possible outlet has written about its appearance: spherical, with leech-like tentacles.  No idea how the crown analogy came about. I looked long and hard to find any connection or identify the spiky crown that gave it its name. That blob we all now recognise is full of spikes, true, but that's about it. Anyway, it has a name which is not necessarily its important feature, IMHO. The package is far far more important.  It is made of fat, "an envelope", as it's called. Have all similar viruses a layer of fat?  Apparently yes, but why fat and not something else? Is it because fat is such a good preservative (think of meat kept for months in lard) ? Is it then a survival techn

Runner's new syndrome

"Running is good for you", or so they have been saying. They had said it long before the Virus turned up and they have not rescinded that bit of advice since. As a form of exercise, runners can boast of displaying certain rare virtues. They are resilient, accept pain as a rite of passage and ignore weather conditions. Running is also a good introduction to old-age loneliness. With some exceptions,  a very long life ends up being a solitary life. If not through lack of companionship, loneliness is born out of not being able to join in and do what everyone else is doing. This "all by myself" quality of running does have it drawback though. It seldom came to light before the Virus and the new rule of physical proximity. Running requires single-mindedness. 'Social distancing" is an exercise in the opposite.  Getting from A to B has to be negotiated and pace adjusted. It involves stopping and sometimes backtracking, to avoid getting too close to passers-by. This

The Virus (not a computer one)

If a 4-year old can ask a parent who has just sneezed :"Have you got the virus?", something has definitely changed in the world. The new player on the stage ( I know, Shakespeare has said it before, "all the world's a stage"), this new player is terribly feared and ferociously pursued. It's both fast and  evasive, it carries no ID (do scientists know something we don't?),  it can kill. It does kill and maim. For short, more than just a bloody nuisance. Fleeing communism or fascism or any -ism used to involve crossing some form of physical border, risking life and limb. No point anymore in viewing the other side of any border as a safe space. The Virus has made sure old perceptions have become totally useless, even dangerous.  It loves ridiculing us, the whole lot.  Take that "There's safety in numbers".  Gotta be joking, no? Is it still true that "No man is an island "? (I know, just quoting J

Get your own pocket dictionary, learn it by heart

I think I have stumbled  upon something which could be life-changing. Not arrogant enough to think it could change other people's lives. Let's stick with myself. Get rid of the old dictionary in your head. Someone says; "You are too over-sensitive, that's the problem". Automatic translation: "I am at fault, they don't like me". You're going to fail the exam if you use that translation. Try: "I am not thick-skinned enough for you, you would like me to be able to withstand an outburst of frustration so that you can get relief from what's praying on your mind and needs bringing out". Think of what people do when there is no one around and they need to release some internal pressure. Do they get on with their life as if nothing is whirling inside their brain? I very much doubt it. My theory is that if they suppress it, they become ill, and if they seek relief through external methods, they'll do anything, from banging their

Bitterness is a healthy substitute for sugar

If you were expecting some diet advice, sorry for disappointing you, this is not a dieting blog and advice is such a cheap commodity nowadays that it's practically worthless. Bitterness is a... almost wrote metaphysical... state, the result of being bashed around the head with other people's best intentions. One wants to relieve you from some innocuous agitation that has got nothing to do with them.  You start by telling them about some upset and end up defending your reaction. Moreover, you get some extra bashing disguised as genuine interest in your welfare. Resist, and the final blow will be administered as a suggestion to go and see a therapist. Another one assesses your moods with clinical precision. Variations get quickly pushed into generalized statements. "You're always so and so on Mondays". Really? Who could have thought that being as emotionally active as a corpse is the desired state. Everyone, apparently, everyone apart from you, the fick