Category Archives: Connection

Ideas that occur to me as I read books, watch movies and TV shows and sometimes even connect them to current events.

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.

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.

BlackLivesMatter and not just deaths

Yet another connection: this time between a short film, uncle Dinn and #BlackLivesMatter.

Yesterday morning I watched an amazing trailer for a comic book called “Raising Dion.” I rarely read comic books, but after this short video I might check this one out. The video, which seems  like a trailer for a TV series gave me goosebumps. I let you watch it, see below and then go on:

(More info about Raising Dion is at its creator, Dennis Liu’s site.) As you saw a single African-American woman, a widow, is raising her son who has superpowers. Great concept and I loved how natural the actors seemed like in this short film. That’s how things should be but the media often focusing on the violent aspect of African-American existence thus the image about them can be distorted. That’s why I loved the concept of this book/short film.

Yesterday afternoon I attended the celebration of the life of Dinndayal, an African-American yogi master, my wife’s uncle and my friend, who passed away last month. From the many speeches told about him at this event one story grabbed my attention, because of the short clip I mentioned above. Some time ago he wrote to a yoga magazine asking them why they always have skinny white woman on the cover of magazine. He suggested that they should include some women of color there too. The magazine never bothered to reply to him.

I have been following the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The death of so many African-American people by the hands and weapons of the police force is atrocious. It absolutely needs to stop. And I wish that the #BlackLivesMatter slogan would be more inclusive. Currently, as I understand it, it refers to the efforts of stopping the police killing them. I agree there is nothing more important than the protection of life. And a part of me wishes that the movement would expand and share the wide variety of values, skills, experiences, beauty, knowledge that Black Lives entail. Dinndayal often noticed that he was the only African American person at the gatherings of some yoga or business communities. He worked to change that and enable members of his community to become more whole beings and have a wider range of positive experiences. The short film above does a good job of combining the (extra-)ordinary struggle of single mom with the added jolt of superpower. Their (fictional) lives is an example of how lives can matter, not just deaths. Dinn’s did.

Refugees in The Good Lie, A Time of Miracles and World Refugee Day

Another personal experiential coincidence from a couple of months ago, when around World Refugee Day I happened to read a related book and watch a related movie on the topic.

Ever since the Hungarian government started its shameful propaganda campaign against refugees arriving to (or more commonly going through) Hungary refugees of the world were more on my mind than usual. I don’t have any revolutionary ideas or suggestions to the problem on how to balance two opposing factors: It is our humane duty to help the needy, the fallen, downtrodden including those who are forced to leave their war-torn countries vs the limited resources any given time any given government has. In my opinion the Hungarian government is excelling in two things: communication and stealing, but doesn’t provide or even want to work on real and long term solutions for problems. E.g. they spend more money on inciting hatred against refugees than helping them in any meaningful day. However this post is not about politics. Just documenting recognized connections.

A Time of MiraclesI got a notice from the library that the book I reserved has arrived. So I went and picked it up, but looking at the title. “A Time of Miracles”  or author, “Anne-Laure Bondoux” or cover it didn’t ring  a bell. It may have been recommended to me some time ago by someone but don’t recall it. Having a child protagonist and relatively simple language the book can be considered a young adult book, but it is not for my kids who are younger. Now that I had the book I started to read it, even though I didn’t know why I had it. I finished it it in two sittings, which says a lot about it. (I rarely have time nowadays to read real, paper books: I mostly listen to them in the gym.) It is the story of how a kid, with the help of her caretaker, flees from the turmoil of Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union and after and arduous journey  becomes a proper French citizen. There is much more to it, of course, including the caretaker’s an the kids real identity, but fundamentally it is the story of one refugees trek across continents, countries, borders and other obstacles. Written in first person singular it is a powerful testament of the randomness of the human condition and causes of sufferings. It really brought the world of refugees closer to me. The unimaginable became personable.

The Good LieI was halfway through the book when I noticed in my newsfeed that it was World Refugee Day, on June 20. It felt uncanny, because I didn’t know about it, and the day before that I watched, The Good Lie. (IMDB‘s summary: A group of Sudanese refugees given the chance to resettle in America arrive in Kansas City, Missouri, where their encounter with an employment agency counselor forever changes all of their lives.) Reese Witherspoon–as the first reluctant, later dedicated host of the refugees–along with the refugees–some of them playing themselves–provided not just comic moments due to cultural differences, but also an immensity humane story.

I fully recognize that I was manipulated by a Hollywood movie and a bestseller book, but I still shed a few tears during both. There is no grand conclusion to this post, just three small points:

  1. Pay attention to the humans around you. You never know the story of the other. Particularly if that other is really “other” in the cultural/geographical/religious sense. Yet s/he is just as human as you are, with same basic rights and needs.
  2. If you are like me (white, male, educated, middle class, living in a safe place) you have a special responsibility to those who are less privileged. Exactly because you/i are so lucky. (See the 4 minute video below)
  3. Appreciate of what/who you have. Just having had these cultural experiences I do .

Ecology vs. profit in Time Salvager, Mr. Robot, Clean Power Plan

Connections is a new category on my blog where I document ideas that occur to me as I read books, watch movies  and TV shows and sometimes even connect them to current events. Here is the first one.

I am halfway through reading the dystopian time-travel sci-fi book Time Salvager by Wesley Chu. I don’t know how it will end, but where I am at in it now it seems that a mega-corporation purposefully destroyed Earth’s ecosystem in chase of profits and dominance. (Spoiler: They did it by travelling 400 years back to the 21st century and destroyed the station where scientists were successfully working on finding the cure for a mutating virus that eventually took over all the living waters of Earth.) This is pretty much I feel is happening often in today’s economy/ecology. Some corporations in the line of maximizing their profit are disregarding the long-term effects of their actions. I consider this criminal: using up natural resources in a non-sustainable ways is like stealing from the future. In the book the effect of stealing from the past (which is what well-regulated time-travellers do) creates an ever-bleakening present and future. We do the same by stealing from future.

vil CorpI also watched the first few episodes of an excellent TV series titled Mr. Robot. So far it has little to do with ecology. The dayjob of the main character, a brilliant computer guy with limited social skills, is providing computer security for  corporation, but by night he is a (somewhat reluctant) hacker working against that very corporation and the “system” in general. The corporation’s name is “E corp” but is referred to in the show as “Evil Corp”. Their logo is similar to the scandalous and now defunct Enron’s. I rarely see such blatant reference in popular culture of a corporation being evil, and even invoking a specific one. It corresponds to the idea mentioned above of maximizing profits over everything else.

The final element of this “connection” is that President Obama yesterday announced the “Clean Power Plan” in order “to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.” My first reaction was how hard the corporations (and the politicians supported by them) will fight this. I understand the mechanism of how this works: they are responsible to their shareholders, who hold their shares in the hope of making money. Hence they have to do what they have to. But I don’t have to like the process. Here is what Forbes has to say about that

Critics claim that the Plan is inherently unfair, punishes taxpayers and will destroy our economy, similar to what was claimed for the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and a host of other environmental changes that have kept our country reasonable cleaner and safer than most other nations in the world. Fair to say none of that ever happened.

I will be watching how the coal industry, the biggest that would be affected negatively by this plan, will fight the enactment of this act. I have sympathies for the miners, families and individuals who would lose their livelihood due to mine closures. However I also believe that as an industry its days should be over and as a society we should turn to cleaner  sources of energy. That’s in the interest of all of us, not just the miners’.