Talking about death

I find it upsetting when people avoid the subject of death. Manoevres such as the following seem to be common.
“I’d rather not talk about that just now. Maybe later.”
“I’d rather enjoy my life without spoiling it by thinking gloomy thoughts.” [Are they so gloomy? See below]
“Of course it’s important to talk about death, but I don’t think one should dwell on it.”
“There’s nothing we can do about it so why worry about it.”
Society does the same thing. Old people are shoved in old people homes to be forgotten about. Death is trivialized, villified and stereotyped in drama. Huge numbers of people never get to see a dead body until very late in life, if ever, because the whole thing is just swept under the carpet. People with terminal diseases are seen as strange terrifying beings because “they’re going to die” (i.e. everyone else is immortal). Just say the word “cancer” and most people tremble (me included). Skeletons are seen as a symbol of terror, even though everyone has one. As a child I was forbidden to look at the bodies of my grandparents and when my curiosity led me to buy some books about dying, my mother hid them.
Like love, death seems to be something that one instinctively knows about without needing to be told and perhaps which is a background to living. It is also an everyday thing in that the ending of the body is perhaps not so different to the many other endings and separations experienced.
I find that contemplation of death is far from a depressing thing – it seems to make me feel more peaceful. It gives me a sense of perspective on the seemingly important worries of life. Walking around a graveyard is very peaceful because there are no more exciting or terrifying possibilities there. Death in nature is not such a terrible thing. The leaves on the trees die every year and that is a beautiful and necessary spectacle.
And here’s another thought – the greatest fear for me seems to be annihilation of the person. The terror scenario is always me being crushed to a small point and the lights going out – the end of conscious existence. But this is a paradox. An end has to be experienced to be terrifying. But if it’s experienced, then I’m still conscious – so actually to experience the end of conscious life is impossible.

Against ranting

This blog was taken down by comment spam, hence the lack of entries recently. I’ve now installed new blog software (MT 3.12) which helped me to get rid of those ****ers. Unfortunately I also got rid of all the other comments that had been made. I’ll try and enter them back in manually some time when I have time.
I’ve kind of gone off the process of ranting recently. Sometimes I feel strongly about something, but then I think – well what’s the point in posting this on the internet. Some of the stuff I feel really strongly about is stuff I couldn’t write about anyway.
Of course I wanted to write something about the US elections – I had my impressions – but they were all taken from the media so who’s to say that they have any validity. Did Bush rig the voting machines – I really I just don’t know. Other stuff is coloured by my internal biases – entrenched resentments and hatreds that have less to do with their objects than with my own blind-spots.
Maybe it would be better to post the open questions I come across and I wonder about. I was going to post a great bit of Solzhenitsyn, but then I worried about copyright. It’s only one page. Maybe I will.
So here’s a question. What are the roots of evil? Clearly it’s not the fact that evil hasn’t yet been stamped out or destroyed. I absolutely don’t subscribe to the view that if you get rid of the evil people, evil will go away. There’s a great bit of Solzhenitsyn which says that there is a line between good and evil in the heart of every person, and the line shifts constantly throughout the life of the average heart – or something to that effect. So if you accept the assumption that you can’t deal with evil by “eliminating” its symptoms, then what is the treatment? Passivism and being nice to people who commit evil probably wouldn’t help much either. Very few people do bad things because they like being bad. Usually there is some kind of ideology which allows people to do really nasty things while still believing that they are doing something good, honourable, that they will be rewarded for eventually. So what conditions lead to the absense of this factor?

House prices

If prices are fixed by supply and demand, then seeing as the population of the UK for example is stable, and houses last about 500 years and only cost about 100k euros to make, why should I have to pay for one at all let alone 3 times their material value. If we were talking about video players, once everyone has a video player, if video players don’t break and no more people come into the system, you can’t sell videos. This is the case with houses – houses don’t break irreperably and their maintenance costs are not a significant fraction of their purchase costs. So surely their market value should be virtually zero. In Italy, where the birth rate is 1.2 children per couple, people should start paying me to live in their house soon. So what is the economics behind that?

Musak rant

The musak/sensory pollution problem seems to have gone up a notch. On a recent trip involving plane, hotel, an interview and Eurostar, I had
a. TV while you wait at the plane gate, pushing ads at you.
b. Musak the entire plane journey not just the taxiing bit (Alitalia).
c. Musak in Brussels airport (even the toilets)
d. Musak in the hotel corridors. Actually it wasn’t so bad but it was so quiet you couldn’t hear it enough to enjoy it. (Marriot)
e. French tv in the waiting room for the interview while trying to prepare for an interview in English and Italian.
f. Very poor musak in the Eurostar waiting room, bathroom and platform. I went to the information desk to find out where I could complain and the guy at the desk said he was going through hell with it too and said “please please complain as soon as possible.”

I want a choice about what I put in my ears. What if you want silence or even to listen to your own mp3 player. Not possible…
Usually they try to find a music that is not going to offend anyone with the result that it is completely insipid and doesn’t please anyone either.

If I am going to advertise to you, there should be a choice to turn away, to switch off, etc… So often now I find myself being forcefed media. My mother was recently in hospital in the UK and she told me that there was TV at the end of her bed, with hospital TV including adverts, which she could not turn off. I’ve seen similar at the UK post office and in petrol stations – they put multiple screens so there is no way out – no position in which to avoid it.

Obviously you can’t go too far in controlling your sensory input. You can’t expect to go on a long journey without hearing people saying things you might not want to hear, loud and unpleasant noises and sights you might not want to see. But I am not suggesting we give the people a sort of virtual private residence in the realm of their senses. I’m just suggesting that we extend the same principle we already apply to spam and junk mail, to non-mail media that is the right to opt out of advertising and perhaps media content in general.

The screwy science of happiness

There is something particularly topsy turvy about this paragraph quoted in the Sunday Times article about the science of happiness (an up and coming field). Even if they had gotten it the other way around it would have been pretty bad.
“If someone is happy they are more popular and also healthier, they live longer and are more productive at work. So it is very much worth having”

Why Insurance is usually a waste of money

Imagine someone says to you. You pay me 30 cents and if you throw a 6 (with dice), I’ll give you $1.20. Does it make sense to give them 30 cents? No of course not (6X30=180 therefore on average you wil pay 50% more than you get back). Insurance is just the same equation. Insurers use scientific techniques called actuarial science to work it out so that on average you lose money by paying them. So over a long period, if you buy insurance, you will always lose money by buying insurance just like you will always lose with enough throws of the die in the above example.
But it gives you peace of mind, I hear you insurance salesmen say. But it doesn’t give me peace of mind to know that I am giving money to someone on the basis that probability says I will lose money in the long run as against not giving them money.
There are 2 exceptions when I do pay for insurance.
1. When I’m forced to by the law. In the case of car insurance, this is fair enough – see reason 2. But in the case of insurance for my rubber motor boat engine, it’s bollox – another story.
2. When if the thing happened I could never pay for the consequences – e.g. house burns down, write off a lamborghini – etc…
Otherwise, even if the amount is large – e.g. a car, it still doesn’t make sense. The dice equation doesn’t become invalid just because the amounts are larger – as you can actually cover it…

Why I don’t have a TV


  • In the time people spend watching TV you can learn an instrument, a foreign language, etc…With 2 hrs a day, you could be pretty good in a foreign language or an instrument in 2 yrs.
  • Because it’s supposed to be relaxing but it makes me tense. People are always saying things like: “I just want to have some time to relax in front of the TV, it’s so nice to just switch off”. I don’t like the idea of switching off
  • It’s full of adverts which people get paid a lot of money for just to make you do things you don’t really want to do.

The Odd Sock Problem and how to solve it

The problem of odd socks is one of the perennial problems of the modern world. But it is essentially solvable. The main source of the problem is of course that we have pairs of socks which are different color. If everyone had socks of only one color, the problem would simply not exist.
Enter the sock color exchange program.
Sock color homogeneity is essentially a solvable problem. Through co-operation, sharing and understanding, we can reach a state where the world is free of odd socks (is this a desireable state.)
For example – I need about 20 pairs of socks to get from one wash day to the next. I have about 10 pairs of burgandy socks and 10 pairs of black socks and various green and brown ones. If I could find someone who also had 10 pairs of burgandy socks and 10 pairs of black socks then all we need to do is swap black for red and we need never spend 10 minutes trying to find the right color sock again. Of course if you want to solve the problem of the green and brown ones too, you need to get more people together, but if you had enough people willing to swap socks, then you’d have at least 20 pairs of green ones between you and so you could club together and give those to one person.
If anyone is interested in exchanging different colors of socks, please email me on giles at