Category Archives: Personal

Posts that do not fit elsewhere

Do too frequent elections undermine democracy?

Infomocracy by Malka OlderYesterday I finished reading Infomocracy by Malka Older. (Thank you Bryan, for the recommendation.) Part of the plot was about what to do when elections go awry, i.e. one or more sides influence or hack elections in ways that are illegal according to the rules. One option is to repeat the election and hoping that the changes in voters’ behavior due to the fact what it was repeated election won’t be too anomalous. But what happens when the second election as the same or similar issues. Should the authorities just keep repeating elections until they get the results they want?

Today I came across a short AP piece in The Washington Post, titled “What’s Bundespraesidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung?” and included this:

It’s “Bundespraesidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung,” or “postponement of the repeat of the runoff of the presidential election.”

The tongue-twister was born of the record time it took to elect Austria’s president, and was announced following a poll of 10,000 people carried out by the Research Unit for Austrian German at the University of Graz, in cooperation with the Austria Press Agency.

A first round in April was followed by a May runoff between the two most popular candidates. This was annulled because of irregularities. A new date set for October was then postponed because of faulty absentee ballots to Dec. 4, when the vote was won by Alexander Van der Bellen.

Right now there are a number of suggestions running amok on Facebook about what should happen in the US:

  • electors should not elect Trump as POTUS,
  • they should set Clinton, Pence, Sanders, or Romney as president,
  • there should be a new presidential elections.

I cannot avoid noticing the pattern in my readings that new elections are called for or happening. In a lot of areas of life scarcity equates value. The rarer a stamp is the more expensive and collectible it gets. I am wondering whether the value of elections is similar or not. The less frequently we have them the more valuables they can get. The aforementioned book touches on this. Meanwhile I keep chewing on this idea/ What do you think?

*”Connections” are ideas that occur to me as I read books, watch movies and TV shows and sometimes even connect them to current events.

A multi-angle trip to Berlin and its summary

I love my lifeI am holding multiple perspectives of my trip to Berlin last month that I want to share with my future self along with a quick summary of the trip. I went with my Mother for three days. She was there last time in 1987 and never ventured to West Berlin. I did managed to cross the magical “West” around the same time for a  few hours and I also passed through Berlin a week before the Wall came down in 1989. So we both wanted to check out the new/changed city. Hence the first perspective: comparison with itself from almost 30 years ago. I think the most memorable difference is the contrast between the vast empty spaces back then around the Wall–along with the general  dreary grayness–versus the bustling constructions and new buildings everywhere. Yes, the changes on the streets could not be more tangible. We didn’t venture out too much to the East and West part of the city, so couldn’t fully compare the success of the unification. However we got the sense that it is mixed success. There are parts where it was hard to decide/remember whether which side we were on. Other spots were clearly belonged to one or the other too in their former selves.

We met an old friend from Hungary who has been living in Berlin for decades. He wasn’t the only one who described the city as “livable”. I cannot imagine a highest praise for a city. After all that’s what city folks want to do there live. This is where the second perspective comes in. We came directly from Budapest. Which is a great place to visit. It can also be made quite comfortable if one puts the effort in it and ha the resources to do so. However in Berlin I felt that the leaders of the city do a lot, including legislation and the way they must make decisions (involving the populace and experts) to ensue that the city serves its inhabitants and visitors. This concerted effort seems to be lacking in Budapest. So from the second perspective, comparing contemporary Berlin to Budapest the former comes out as a winner. It was most obvious when we were looking at the people on the streets, buses or S-Bahns. And I am not just talking about the multitude of skin colors and styles/types of people who coexist cheerfully. (After we returned to Hungary and watched the people on the public transportation they seemed so monotone, way less vibrant.) No, the its the general outlook and the mode of the people that I found more interested/interesting in Berlin. Yes, a lot of people look at their smartphone at both places, which seems alienating. However Berliners also looked up and were engaged with their surroundings and people lot more. And their face was more vivid, alive. Hungarians just keep looking stressed and sad. (Of course it is a gross generalization, there are lots of counterexamples in both cities, but I am just sharing trends I noticed.)

My third and final perspective came form the fact that I have been living in the US for 21 years and somewhat internalized its culture and frame of reference. Looking at Berlin as an American tourist was also refreshing. “We, Americans” are used to convenience, we like when things are arranged in a way that is easy to access, digest, consume. Berlin is a vary tourist friendly city. The signs are clear and unambiguous, everyone speaks at least some English, the spectacles are numerous, well maintained and vary enough to keep the visit interesting. One can find any kind of cuisine at any price range, although didn’t see “traditional American” food; not that I was looking hard. So my American self was fully satisfied with the visit.

So what did we do and see? Here are some highlights along with links to the images I took

  • The afternoon of the day we arrived Stiftung Neue Synagoge (official site, my pics) Old, partially destroyed/reconstructed synagogue including a rebuilt dome, with a nice vista I ventured up to.
  • Mitte district (my pics), where we stayed and wandered around quite a bit
  • We started off the second day, our first full by going next door to our lodging to the Designpanoptikum – surreales Museum für industrielle Objekte (aka Surreal Museum of Industrial Object (official site, my pics). It was well worth the entrance fee.
  • Then we went to the free, Tuesday noon lobby concert at the Berliner Philharmonie (official oncert description, video segment of the show)  where we listened to Beethoven’s Romance in F major op. 50 and César Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano in A major. The same day we checked out an outdoor exhibition about the Nazi’s euthanasia program,  the Sony Center at Potsdamer Pl, the Holocaust Memorial, the Brandenburg Tor, the LaFayette (French department store)  (see pics of this part of the day).
  • Still the same day  we saw Gendarmenmarkt, the  Ritter Sport chocolate store, Alexanderplatz, had coffee with a friend and took a double decker bus to see the West side of the city (see pics).
  • We packed the next day tight too. Visited two major museums Pergamon and Alte Nationalgalerie (see my pics), utterly enjoyed the DDR/East Germany museum, checked out the Aqua Dom, “a 25 m (82 ft) tall cylindrical acrylic glass aquarium with built-in transparent elevator”  (wiki) and at the end of the day took an hour long boatride on the river Spree (pics).
  • Our flight left on the afternoon of the next day, but that didn’t stop us from going to Checkpoint Charlie on our way to the Jewish Museum, where our visit was cut shor as we had to head back to the airport. (pics)

P.s. From the hundreds of pictures I took on this trip I chose the one you see above, because it represent my biggest experience. I had a strong epiphany that I do love my life, which is how the German text translates.

More or less 40 days without more or less sugar

SugarI stopped eating refined sugar on September 1. I’ve known for a long time vaguely  that it is not good for my body, but what prompted me to do so was this article in Fast Company. This explained to me that (over)consuming it is not just relates to weight and metabolism issues, but also affects the brain, including cognitive abilities. I think of myself as being good in that area so I decided I want to keep it that way by giving up refined sugar for an indefinite time.

I ate sugar knowingly only 4 days in the last 40 days, including a wedding and a birthday. (The two other days I just couldn’t capitulated to the craving.) But not once in the last 20 days. Even on the other days I might have had some trace amount of sugar. E.g. I had ketchup the first week, as I forgot that it contains sugar and more recently ragu for my pasta. Now I know better.

The article mentioned that the withdrawal syndromes would be the worst between day 2 and 6.  Knowing this was a double edge sword. On one hand it prepared me for the worst. On the other hand maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, because indeed, those days I could barely think of anything else than sugar. But now that time period is way behind me I feel much better. I still crave it quite often, but not that bad. Easy to resist, just need to think of my personal fear of addiction to other kind of drugs.

Some people who were aware of my sugarlessness asked me whether I feel different. I know that I am not the best person at self-observance, so I couldn’t give them an answer on the spot. Now that I think about it, I think there are 3 parts of the answer:

  1. Yes, my body feels cleaner, but it might be just a mental thing. Either way it feels good.
  2. I still eat sweets in the form of fruits and honey. As a matter of fact my consumption of these increased. Part of the reason for giving sugar was trying to lose weight. That didn’t happen and it might have to do with me having more “natural” sweets and lack of portion control. So I clearly have more work to do.
  3. I feel proud of my accomplishment. I would have never thought that I can do it.  Compared to a certain stereotypical or even the average Americans I didn’t consume that much. E.g. I had one or two sodas a week and not a gallon, like the average (source for the “gallon”). I didn’t drink sugared fruity drinks and usually have 1-3 candy bars a week. (I admit sometimes more). All of that is gone now from my diet.

A final note. I decided to write this little summary after 40 days of (imperfect) abstinence, because 40 days has spiritual/religious significance. Moses was on Mount Sinai (working on the Ten Commandments with God, see Exodus 34:28), Jesus was in the wilderness (and got tempted by Satan, e.g. Matthew 4:1-11), Muhammad prayed and fasted for the same amount days in a cave. I am not comparing myself to them (or my tribulations to theirs), just borrowed the idea of forty days from these traditions. However I will keep not eating refined sugar, albeit won’t stick to it religiously. Every once in a while, on special occasions, I won’t deny myself from it.

RIP Árpád Göncz and László Lugosi

Árpád GönczTwo famous Hungarians passed away today, that I know of. Árpád Göncz was the president of Hungary for ten years, between 1990 and 2000. Before, and possibly more importantly, he was a writer and translator. Some of his notable translations include E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime,  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Ernest Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and many more. As the commentators and obits mention He might have been one of the last politicians in Hungary who was respected and even liked across the political aisles.

László LugosiLászló Lugosi was the guitar player in the band called Beatrice. It’s a famous/infamous band with a rich history, see the linked wikipedia page. One of the first LP’s I ever got, probably when I was around 13-14, had 4 songs from by them. I listened to it repeatedly and that probably influenced me quite a bit in my formative years. The song below has Lugosi’s signature guitar sound. After the video I share the lyrics in Hungarian and my attempt of a translation. The song is called “Meditation” and a good one to reflect upon passings.

May the memory of both of them be a blessing.

Ha elnémul a város, oly magam vagyok
és egyedül sokszor rámtör; a depresszió,
Ó, nem, ó én nem tudom, hogy ki vagyok
Minek születtem választ nem kapok.
Mond miért él az ember és hol van a cél?
… és tényleg van-e Isten, mely bennünk él?
Ó nem, ó én nem tudom, hogy ki vagyok
Minek születtem választ nem kapok.
És sokszor sírnom kellett, ha nem bírtam már,
a cinizmus mögé rejtem, ha valaki bánt,
Ó nem, ó nem tudom, hogy ki vagyok
Az álarc lehullt, hát itt vagyok.
Ha elnémul a város, oly magam vagyok,
és egyedül sokszor rám tör a depresszió,
egy könny lefolyik az arcomon,
ha elhagy minden; hát meghalok…

When the city quiets down I am so myself
and when alone it often attacks me: depression.
Oh no, oh I don’t know who I am
What was I born for – I won’t get an answer.
Tell me why do we live and where’s the purpose?
… and is there really a God, who lives in us?
Oh no, oh I don’t know who I am
What was I born for – I won’t get an answer.
And I often had to cry, when I couldn’t stand it any more,
I hide behind cynicism, if someone hurts me,
Oh no, oh I don’t know who I am
The mask has fallen, so here I am.
When the city quiets down I am so myself
and alone it often attacks me: depression,
A teardrop runs down my face
If everything leaves me behind, then I die.

Cost and automation of weapons (Lem vs Credit Suisse)

Today’s connection* is between a book and an article.

Stanislaw Lem's science-fiction piece "Peace on EarthOne of the books I am reading is Stanislaw Lem‘s science-fiction piecePeace on Earth from 1987. In it he envisions a future where warfare’s methods, locations and even actors are different. One detail of Lem’s complex vision is that because war machines are becoming more and more expensive only superpowers can afford them and even they only in limited numbers. Another aspect he predicted was that due to the increased pace of automatization “robots” (really, any sophisticated non-human machines) will do the actual fighting and then later will be in charge of strategy too.

As I was taking a break from reading it this article popped up on my screen. It is from Business Insider, summarizing a Credit Suisse‘s research paper titled “The End of Globalization or a More Multipolar World“. It is a fascinating and mostly depressing document. The BI article includes this quote:

“The growing automation sector could lead to robotics warfare, which will lower casualties and the risk to human life. It could also make war seem less costly than it is now, since robots are more replaceable than people.”

Lem’s novel from 28 years ago and the fresh report provides an interesting contrast. They both agree that there will be less humans on the frontlines of war. But they diverge on the cost aspect. Lem didn’t put a figure in his calculation on the value of human life and for him the cost of a few** big machine would result in the overall rise of expenses for war. But if you consider that robots are easier to replace and the cost of production is continuously going down robotic warfare is getting cheaper. That is a scary thought for me because we humans proved that if something is cheap we are more willing to use/abuse/waste it. I wish war would be so expensive that everybody would see that it is such a waste that could be spent better on constructive problem resolution and resource allocation.

*”Connections” are ideas that occur to me as I read books, watch movies and TV shows and sometimes even connect them to current events.

** In Lem’s estimate a superpower would be able to afford on 18-22 of the top of the line war machines, while other none or only a few.

#10 of 10Q: How Will I Feel by Next Year

The tenth question of 10Q*: When September 2016 rolls around and you receive your answers to your 10Q questions, how do you think you’ll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you’re at as a result of thinking about and answering these questions?

SuccessMy answer: I hope that by this time next year I will feel more  comfortable with inevitable change (#9), more in touch with my wife (#8), more able to manage my grumpy mood (#7), have improved the quality of my life (#6), have been more in nature and be spiritually aware of it too (#5), have the refugee crisis in Hungary and Europe behind us (#4), have seen my wife having a successful first year at her job (#2) have spent less time on worrying/stressing (#2) and have seen my daughters grown physically, mentally, emotionally (#1). Based on the answers of the first nine question these are my hopes. This seems a pretty ambitious plan and right now I don’t believe in 100% success. so to answer the question how I will feel (as opposed to what I hope) I have to stay that I think that by next September I will have gained traction in all of these areas, but may not have achieved all of them fully.

* “10Q” is a series of 10 question to be answered between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

#9 of 10Q: Limiting Fear

ThinkerThe ninth question of 10Q*:  What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year?

My answer: The theme that keeps coming back to my thoughts is the fear of uncertainty; i.e. lack of security. I need to acknowledge that there are external conditions that may change that I have zero control over. Acknowledgement means stop fretting about it. E.g. worrying about a coming earthquake doesn’t help me. OTOH making sure that my home is reasonably earthquake -proof is something I can work on. So my tasks is find the things I can change, attack the cause of the fear I can.

On a more fundamental level I have to learn to embrace change. The opposite of uncertainty is not being overconfident, but realizing that (total) control doesn’t exist. Yes, planning is still important, including gathering the best information to base decisions on, but being attached to the plan under changing conditions just causes frustration. Plans need to change to eliminate the frustration from uncertainty.

 

* “10Q” is a series of 10 question to be answered between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

#8 of 10Q: Investigate in 2016

AnyaThe eighth question of 10Q*:  Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in 2016?

My answer: My wife. This year will include the tenth anniversary of our wedding. I have changed, she has changed, our lives has changed in this decade. I want to spend more quality time with her and re-get to know her. No, I don’t want to “investigate” her. :-) I do want to go beyond the mundane (, which is important and often fun) daily routine and make my life, her life and our family lives more meaningful, spiritual, and deep.

* “10Q” is a series of 10 question to be answered between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

#7 of 10Q: Self Improvement


The seventh question of 10Q
*:  How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you?

hello-sunshineMy answer: I wrote too soon again. Yesterday, for the achievement questions I wrote stress less, which really should have been today’s answer. So the next best thing, although related to the first is mood management. When I get grumpy sometimes I am having  hard time to get out of it for no good reasons. I want to better utilize the tools I already know of and find new ones if necessary to change that. Snapping out of it is possible. Not getting upset or at least not showing being upset when doing so can cause more harm than ideal is also possible. I can learn how to do it.

* “10Q” is a series of 10 question to be answered between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippu

#6 of 10Q: Achievement by Next Year

The sixth question of 10Q*:  Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

StressMy answer: My first thought was to keep my family financially afloat. Then I realized that’s exactly the same thing I thought last year so I felt it would be a failure to do it again and be unoriginal. Then I realized that we are still here and doing well, so it was not a failure. So my next thought was to achieve work/life balance. But that still didn’t sound wide enough, thus I finally got to the notion of significant improvement of quality of my life. Considering that finances will be OK, and considering that I have a loving, healthy and beautiful family the main thing that stands between that achievement and me is my own tendency to stress. So what I really want to achieve is stress less. Changing my attitude is the name of the game.

* “10Q” is a series of 10 question to be answered between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur