Moral dilemmas

Some of the current moral dilemmas I face:

  • Feeding meat to the cat and being a vegetarian
  • Flying to the UK to see my parents and friends and other places for my job and polluting the planet while still wanting to stop global warming.
  • Driving a car or C1 moped to work while still wanting to stop global warming

Dictators and Corruption

In the last few years, I’ve been reading biographies of some of the world’s nastiest people. Here are some I’ve been reading.

I’m currently reading
Mao – the unknown story – Jung Chang (of Wild Swans fame) , John Halliday (her husband)
In the same vein, I’ve also read Gulag – a history of the soviet camps and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and various other books about the Gulag such as Evgenia Ginzburg’s accounts. (Do Michael Moore’s books come under the same heading?)
I’m not sure what is behind my fascination with the story of these people but if I give myself the benefit of the doubt, it’s perhaps to try to prepare myself for what to do if I found myself in the grip of that kind of regime – or in the worst possible situations in life (there but for the grace of god go I). Maybe it’s also to see how a human “tabula rasa” – a child brought up like most other people – can end up doing such terrible things.
The questions that always nag me are:
1. How could people let such a git get away with it?
2. How can one person exert control over millions/billions of people?
3. How come nobody assassinated them?
4. What is it in their upbringing or experiences that made them like that.
Some answers so far are:
1. They create a pyramid of trust – they surround themselves with people who they can trust and they choose people only on that basis. Those people do the same and the control permeates transitively down the chain of control.
2. They dump people in the muck by making them do horrible things so that if they try to duck out of it, or doubt the ideology they have to face what they did, which they can’t.
3. They mostly don’t have much contact with the results of their orders. So perhaps it’s their isolation from the reality of what they’re directing that allows them to do it. Having said that, Jung Chang says that Mao liked to go out in disguise and watch public executions. Stalin apparently loved to hear reports of how people reacted under torture. So that doesn’t seem such a good theory.
4. They control the media – so other people don’t realize what’s going on. It’s difficult for us to imagine in the west what it would be like to have no source of accurate information. The press is pretty trashy at times but it’s nothing like the propoganda of a state like that.
In my own experience, I’ve seen how corruption takes root. A boss has control over his subordinates – he has the power to hire and fire and ruin people’s livelihoods. If he’s being a bad person, you don’t like to blow the whistle because you think if it doesn’t work out, he’ll fire you – or at the very least he won’t give you that promotion you’ve been looking for. You look above your boss and you see the same structure – a tacit alliance. The boss’ boss will support the boss because he knows that if he lets someone blow the whistle on the boss, then someone will blow the whistle on him. And this goes right to the top – so you are entirely impotent.
Sometimes there’s even threats of violence involved – in Italy, the Mafia is alive and kicking.
I haven’t seen any Mafiosi first hand, but I’ve read Giovanni Falcone’s Cose di Cosa nostra (Stuff about Cosa Nostra). An incredible book for which (among other things) he was assassinated about a year after he wrote it.

Why does it take more energy to run than to walk

Amazingly I read the an argument in the new scientist (it was one of those readers questions answered by readers) which claimed something like:
“because kinetic energy is 1/2m(v squared) (school physics), the faster you go, the more energy it takes by the square of your velocity. But distance increases linearly with velocity so that’s why it takes more energy to go faster ”
This is of course complete rubbish. If it were true then the earth would use up energy by travelling around space at high velocity. What this formula means is that it takes a certain amount of energy to accelerate an object to a certain speed. But of course you can potentially get that energy back again when you decelerate – that’s how some modern cars make efficiency gains when breaking – by absorbing the car’s kinetic energy back into a battery.
This is what I imagine the main reasons are:
1. You bob up and down more
2. Your efficiency is less because you have to cool yourself down a lot more which means pumping the blood around the arteries faster etc… and probably exceeding the body’s optimal temperature
3. Some chemical stuff about respiration

Here’s a tip for hotels:
If you’re staying in one of those high rise city hotels where you can’t open the window but you’re supposed to use the air conditioning but it doesn’t work. If as a result of this you can’t sleep: take a bottle out of the fridge (one of the ones that costs a lot of money), put it against your wrists – it will cool your blood. It will take about 4 hours to warm up fully. When it does, you can take another one out. In the morning you can put them all back.

Yesterday I did an interview for a job at ENISA. I’ll get the results in 2 weeks. If I got the job it would mean moving to Crete. More about it when I get the result.

Question: what happens when you send a load of insurance executives to set up a holiday resort (taken in Switzerland – val versasca) – I’m sure they’ve got a good point of course and a lot of people do die in the river. It just struck me as something you’d never see in neighbouring Italy…

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Is a book I enjoyed reading last weekend. Written from the perspective of a person with autistic tendencies (the blurb says Ashbergers but this is never explicitly mentioned and I don’t like labels anyway). I very rarely read novels (like the hero of the book) so it has to be brilliant if I do. This is mainly because I don’t like to create alternative fantasy realities because I do that enough of the time anyway.
I love the literalistic style and his very frank way of talking about things.

Administrative post

You can now make comments on this site easily because I’ve installed the human detector plugin (Scode). Thanks a lot to James Seng for that.
Also I’ve made a pact with my friend Tom Dyson that we’ll write at least one blog posting a week or give 10 Euro to a selected charity (barring holidays to be announced 1 week in advance). So there’ll be a few more posts. I’d like to mention that meta-posts such as “this is my post for the week” (and this post) don’t count. My chosen charities are – Oxfam ( for online donations, if Tom, like me is too lazy to put the cash in an envelope and post it) and Europa Terzo Mondo.
Finally as I’ve had a few requests for personal entries I might start breaking my policy of not mentioning anything personal on this blog.

Why doesn’t glue work

I’d like to know why it is that for things which companies can obviously make work if they want to, they sell things which don’t work. My biggest problems are with:
1. Glue:
I don’t know how many times I’ve bought glue which claims to stick things better than the original, only to have it fall apart on first use. Yet I know that it’s possible to make extremely strong glue because the furniture I bought from Ikea is made up of lots of short lengths of wood which have been glued together. But you can take a 2 metre 4cmX4cm beam made up of 30 cm sections and put it between 2 pillars and stand on it and it won’t break.
2. Car engines:
I know that truck, taxi and bus engines are built to run for 1 million km. So why can’t I buy a car that will do this? Why do companies advertise major advances in reliability (do they?) when they already know they can make a car run for 1 million km.