The mindless atheism

The first big idol I had was the astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan, and he is still high up on my list 20 years after he died. People that have read this blog for a while may remember some posts about religion, and then they might ask themselves how a Christian man can admire an atheist.

I am firstly interested in science. It has many fascinating aspects, not least the contradiction it is when those defending it deviate from their principles. Many are doing something similar when they use Carl Sagan to justify their atheist view. Carl Sagan used this phrase several times, like when he was skeptical to stories of people being abducted by aliens:

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

He had similar ideas regarding religion as well, but he was always a scientist, and didn’t express the hatred that many celebrity atheists do. He saw religion as irrelevant, but treated these questions with more humility. He may have been closer to atheism than anything else, but it sounds to me that it would make more sense to call him an agnostic. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that he didn’t like the label atheism, and he even said that by some definitions atheism is very stupid. That doesn’t mean he thought atheism was stupid of course. I’m not sure why he said that, but I imagine it’s because atheism is a very anti-science position.

He made a series of lectures that were collected in the book The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God:. This is a quote from the book:

I think if we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed. I think this search does not lead to a complacent satisfaction that we know the answer, not an arrogant sense that the answer is before us and we need only do one more experiment to find it out. It goes with a courageous intent to greet the universe at it reallly is, not to foist our emotional predisposition on it but courageously accept what our explorations tell us.

This is a typical scientific standpoint, or should be, but we frequently see that researchers are so eager to conclude that they are running far ahead of the evidence. They then try to make their findings concur with the conclusion. This is contrary to scientific principles, as I understand them, but it seems to me that Carl Sagan was loyal to these principles. So he concluded, as Christians do, that faith is not about something we can prove or disprove. He chose, as a consequence of his scientific belief, that the universe was not created for us and that there is no meaning behind life. If he had declared himself an atheist he would also have said that it didn’t matter how much evidence someone may have found in the future. He wasn’t going to change his position anyway. He could, at least theoretically, have accepted the intelligent design theory if someone could prove it, but as it stands this is just as much a theory as evolution.

I still believe there is a lot to suggest that the universe was  designed and that there was a designer. I can respect an open attitude like the one Carl Sagan expressed, but I sometimes wonder about scientists or people claiming to have a scientific mind. Some of them say they let the evidence lead them, which means they could end up with any position on a specific issue. That’s impossible if you reel off the kind of hate speech we sometimes hear from the likes of Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry. There’s no way back from there. I suspect most people would experience euphoria, either because they were pleasantly surprised or because this was the moment they had been waiting for all their lives, if they suddenly found themselves face to face with God (I don’t know what that means because I don’t think God is a person). A true atheist would probably have been angry, which is a strange attitude for someone looking for answers.

Some of my favourite things to wath on TV are documentaries on astronomy and I’m sometimes astounded at how far some of the scientists they interview seem to wander away from their field of expertise. I think that’s what researchers do when they say there has to be life on other planets because that much empty space would be a waste, or meaningless. So it seems like they are looking for a meaning at the same time was they say there isn’t any.

There are probably different motivations for this, but some suffer from the delusion that a discovery of life on other planets will kill the idea of God once and for all. I haven’t memorized the Bible, so I don’t know it as well as I should, but I don’t think it claims that life elsewhere is impossible. This is a fascinating topic to me and I don’t think a future discovery of alien life would make us less unique. One of the Norwegian newspapers had an article a few days ago about a possible exoplanet as close as Alpha Centauri. Astronomers have discovered many of these planets in the habitable zone, but this is the first one this close.

I took this photo with my cell phone on February 10th 2014. I believe it's Jupiter next to our Moon. I hope we get there some day.
I took this photo with my cell phone on February 10th 2014. I believe it’s Jupiter next to our Moon. I hope we get there some day.

Knut Jørgen Ødegaard, Norwegian media’s  favourite astrophycisist, was very excited about this news. The science fiction-author and science popularizer Anne Mette Sannes was also interviewed and she thinks that a round trip of 25 years will be possible in 100-150 years, but that sounds overly optimistic to me. Alpha Centauri is only 4,37 light years away, but with the present technology it would take us 80 000 years to get there. I think we would have to be closer to achieving close to light speed, or wormholes, but that could be a milennium away. There doesn’t seem to be a drive for exploring deep space because after NASA’s last mission to the Moon in 1972, they have been stuck in low orbit.

It would have been good to see the space agencies launch generation ships into space, but it probably won’t happen during my lifetime. I think there will be people on Mars within 30 years, though. In the meantime I think science can give us a lot of answers, but it is not without speculations, cheating and corruption. So it may not be a bad idea to believe in a philosophy that is not dependant on people because we are corrupt. That’s what religion is all about, trying to keep us honest.

Communication in the real world

Internet brings people together. This network of people eradicates loneliness, doesn’t it? That seems to be the asumption at least, but is it true? Many people thought, and still think, that internet was the best that could possibly happen to people on the autism spectrum, especially the high-functioning aspies. It’s not hard to see their point because e-mail, instant messaging, social media and games (such as playstation or Xbox) are just some of many possible channels for us to communicate. It doesn’t matter how stressful or difficult we may find oral communication because many of us function just as well as neurotypicals, sometimes better, when we write. There is still a but.

One may wonder how beneficial this is when parents wish to encourage their children to develop sosial skills. It can be quite overwhelming for parents the day they are being told about their child’s diagnose, but there are two things they need to focus on: There is both research and anecdotal evidence to suggest that high-functioning autistics don’t function better socially than people with other diagnoses on the autism spectrum. There are some good news, however, because the story is completely different for people that get help from childhood. There is a lot you can change through measures like diet, physical therapy, occupational therapy and cognitive training. I think researchers will get a very different result when they in a few years compare children from the 1980’s with children from for example the 2020’s. Intervention helps.

I am wary of the excessive use of screens today, however, both because of the effect it has on the brain and because it reduces the time spent on necessary training. My daughter attends a youth club, an after school program, ballet, horse back riding and she spends a lot of time with her friends as well. She gets to spend some time on playstation, smart phone, and computer too, but the other activities restricts her time watching a screen. When I was working as a teacher I had several students with ADHD and autism, and it was not uncommon for these kids to have pc, ipad, smartphone/iphone, and TV with cable in their own bedroom. There is research to suggest that internet changes our brains long before addiction becomes a problem. It also contributes to the sleep problems that some children with ADHD have because staring at a screen may trick the brain into believing the sun is still up. It would be very convenient to let our child watch TV until it was time to go to bed, but we have a rule about no TV, computer, phone og playstation the last hour before going to bed. That means we have to give her alternatives of course.

When one of the Norwegian newsapers wrote about Pokémon Go they started the article by stating that John Hanke, the man behind the game, had managed what many parents had given up: Enticing the kids away from the computer games and into the open air. It’s hardly that simple! There has been a lot of talk about Pokémon Go this summer, and in addition to the obvious warnings about focusing more on virtual reality than reality, this game seems to go further than any other game. It is quite remarkable to see grown ups from different walks of life get so hooked on this game that they are willing to keep playing even when it exposes them to danger or embarrassing situations.

It’s interesting that some people are using a similar justification as with autism and the internet. Some believe that Pokémon Go encourages physical activity and that it brings people together, but it’s still about focusing more on a screen than on people. We are a sort of fellowship (of the android or iphone) that chooses solitude, and the other members are only helpful to us if they can show us where to find another pokémon.

There is no doubt that technology can help us in many ways, but it can also make us passive. I think this is something we should pay attention to because we are probably moving towards a future where we work significantly less. Professor Moshe Vardi at Rice University believes that the main challenge for many people will be to find a purpose in life. This is because he thinks that machines will take over many of the jobs from the middle class. Read about it in The Telegraph. The Economic Report of the President from February 2016 partly supports his conclusion.

There is reason to believe that the next generation will have much less to do, which could make virtual reality a problem. That could be more interesting than a reality with too much time on your hand. This could give us challenges,  something people on the autism spectrum don’t need more of. I am not in any way an opponent of technology, but if we are not using it sensibly, we could get caught in an unreality we can’t get out of. We do need some alternatives, though, because the author of the Proverbs in the Bible had a point in chapter 16, vers 27: Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.

These are some of my favourite local reality sites:

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The Economic Report of the President

Too much screen time damages the brain

Good enough

What is good care?
What is theory of good care?

The Norwegian Child Protective Services is very controversial and there’s been protests against it worldwide. You may not have heard about it because we are not talking about the massive support and media coverage we have seen with for example Occupy Wall Street or anti-war demonstrations, but it is significant when a small group of people in 40 countries have protested specifically against the Norwegian CPS.

Norwegian media regularly reports on some of the outrageous decisions CPS tends to make, and we are generally getting a struggle where the weapons are information and rhetoric. Very few outsiders, if any, believe the assertion that the CPS is stealing children, but it may not be true that the CPS is a hundred percent correct, while parents only spread lies. The truth is rarely, if ever, that simple.

The CPS has been criticised a lot in recent years, especially after cases where children from countries like Lithuania, Poland and The Czech Republic have been taken from their parents. The problem is a lot bigger than many realize, though. I have a feeling that most people think traditionally about the CPS. In this view you only get the attention from the CPS if the children are victims of sexual or violent abuse, or if the parents have severe alcoholic or mental problems. These are the cases where children need protection. That’s when we need the CPS, but there is an increasing number of cases that has nothing to do with this.

There are many cases where parents lose their children because they can’t explain well enough what good care is. They don’t have a language or an understanding of theoretical concepts that meets the requirements set by the CPS or the court. How do you transfer practice to theory, and does this mean that you need academic qualifications to become a parent? There are many cases where the family GP, the kindegarten or school, The Mental Health Clinic for Children and Adolescents (they test children and give diagnoses) and specialists at the hospital concluded that the parents did a good job, while CPS came to the opposite conclusion. How is that possible?

This is an example of a family with mother, father, children and extended family. Does the new structure hurt children?
This is an example of a family with mother, father, children and extended family. Does the new structure hurt children? CPS seem to think so.
Photo: Evil Erin via Wikimedia Commons

I read an article in a Norwegian newspaper recently that described two ethnic Norwegian parents as loving and caring. This was how professionals had described them, but the parents had difficulties communicating this in court. That was an extreme situation and they couldn’t express themselves in ways they were expected to. The result was that they lost their twins and these two children were also separated from each other for the first time in their lives. Their attorneys believe this could have something to do with the large requirement for achievement you find in society. This is something we encounter from kindergarten to university, at work and when we socialize because there are strong social expectations as well.

There are some that see the lack of eye contact as a problem for example, even though this is common with people on the autism spectrum. There are also women from certain cultures that are not used to having eye contact with the person they are talking to. These are a couple of situations where case workers in the CPS could come to completely different conclusions if they follow different criteria. If there is an absolute requirement for eye contact, and there are absolutely no exceptions, autism or NLD could actually be the only justification the CPS needs to remove children. In addition to the family being separated, growing up in different foster homes or institutions is not any easier.

A Norwegian doctor of philosophy wrote a comment in a newspaper in 2003 following a case where the CPS had removed a child because the mother’s IQ was too low. I think he had a point when he said that no one can say for sure what kind of care is needed for your child to develop normally. We are talking about developing very subjective brains, and many parents with more than one child will tell you that what worked with the first child didn’t work with the second. There seems to be a lot of guesswork involved when caseworkers make their decisions. There are no narrow definitions because the professionals can’t agree on one, for obvious reasons.

If you were pressured to give an accurate accounnt of what good care is and describe concepts related to your own children’s feelings, while radiating security, would you be up for the task? Remember that this has to be done while you are under investigation, and later in the court room, knowing that whether or not you’ll see yoor children again will depend entirely on your amswers. I think the CPS should stick to what abuse or neglect is, but the way things work today they make conclusions that not even doctors and psychologists can defend. The CPS may overrule professionals, and they frequently do.

I understand very well why some people use strong language when they criticize CPS. There is a good reason for it and most Norwegians should try to educate themselves on some of the things these families struggle with. Norwegians have an extreme loyalty to authorities, and many assume that if CPS say that children are exposed to neglect, it has to be true. The truth is a little different because many decisions are left up to the case worker’s own descretion, and the experts they consult rely on a vague gut-feeling. Incidentally, many psychologists say that they can’t afford to disagree with CPS because they get this well-paid job directly from CPS, and not from the court. They have observed the family in an extreme situation, which it is when parents and children know that a wrong impression or word could determine whether or not they get to stay together. It’s not at all certain that this information, or the psychologist’s gut-feeling is accurate, while a long term contact with doctors, teachers, and specialists at the hospital could tell a different story.

What makes this especially serious is that decisions made by CPS are rarely reviewed by a judge. Decisions made without any support from evidence could be influenced by prejudices, which I believe everyone has to a certain degree. These prejudices could be transferred to a report, not necessarily consciously, but the language in the report could change the outcome. If the case worker has a vague suspicion that the mother (for some reason they are usually the target) is cold or has a psychological disorder, and decides to put this in the report as a fact, it will probably not be challenged by a professional evaluation. This is one of the reasons why CPS-workers sometimes reach a surprising conclusion,  one that the court in almost every appeal case confirms. This is the reason we see many of these cases related to minorities, low income, disabled people  and people that live an outside the box kind of life.

I don’t advocate for attacking CPS, or for removing this agency, but I want to make it better. CPS must become more professonal and listen to people that are already professionals within their own field. By the way, the government agreed last year to scrutinize CPS after many controversial cases, but the problem is that the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision is going to do it, the agency that is the supervisory body for CPS. Nothing is going to change, and many feel that no one is listenning. I do think some parents have the right to be angry because the care they give is in most cases good enough.

Nature’s killers

Are we committing atrocities when we kill insects? We don't know how much they feel, after all.
Are we committing atrocities when we kill insects? We don’t know how much they feel, after all.

One could easily get the impression that ethics is about what is right, but that depends on how people justify their choices. Moral is concerned with the values that have been accepted in a specific milieu, while ethics is a deliberate reflection on the issues or values. In other words, we need to be able to explain why we defend or attack the content of someone’s moral.

I think ethics has a lot going for it, but these reflections sometimes lead to bizarre conclusions. We have a black slug in Norway. They have never been a problem, but after the brown slug turned up in the late 1980’s they are everywhere. It’s quite strange that we didn’t get them sooner because they are common in the countries we import flowers and vegetables from, and it is believed that they came from the Netherlands. I think they are also common in Denmark, a country we have had close ties with for at least 500 years. As a consequence of what media likes to refer to as “the snail invasion” the papers write a lot about the most effective ways of killing them. The slugs are especially fond of gardens, so they do tend to be a problem for many people.

One of the newspapers recently ran a story about the ethics of killing slugs and they had talked to the Australian moral philospher Peter Singer. He suggested we should kill all animals, including slugs, in the most humane way. He gave this advice because we don’t know how much pain animals feel. We can still kill the slugs, but there are no simple solutions, and boiling them or putting them in the freezer is probably more humane than salt or ammonia. It sounds like a sensible general advice, but how far should we take this?

Commercial fishing is a violation of the slaughter methods recommended by animal rigths organizations, but if we followed these guidelines fishing on the scale we have today would probably be impossible. We would probably have to accept higher prices and less fish.

Whales are in a category of their own. Many people say it’s wrong to kill whales, no matter what method you use, because they are intelligent. This argument doesn’t seem to apply to everyone, though. The so-called international community is eager to protest when countries like Iceland and Norway support modest quotas, but allow it among indigenous people, such as inuits. The rationale is nutritional and cultural needs. In other words, if you have a long enough history of whaling, it doesn’t matter how intelligent the whales are. Another thing is whether we ascribe animals properties they don’t have.

Some may see killer whales as malevolent for example. These toothed whales can kill seals seemingly for fun, or chase a newborn whale and its mother for hours until one of them is too tired to continue. This intelligence may be more governed by instinct and reward than ours, although we also have more of that than we are probably willing to admit. It might be best to leave the whale alone as long as we don’t know how intelligent it is, but we shouldn’t construct an ethics where a long history makes it acceptible.

Most Norwegians don’t have a problem with the fact that wolves, bears and lynx may go completely extinct in Norway. We think it’s alright when farmers send their sheep to remote mountain areas to graze alone all summer, and we buy the argument that the farmer loves each individual sheep. Statistics from the Environment Agencey shows that the threat is a little more nuanced than the farmers are saying. According to the figures from 2015, 20 percent of the sheep the government paid compensation for were killed by an unspecified hunter, while wolverines and lynx killed 55 percent combined. Everyone wants to exterminate bears and wolves even though other animals kill 80 percent of the sheep.

No one is talking about a humane massacre, and what about the sheep? The farmers are bothered when they find dead sheep, but they didn’t mind sending this unprotected meal far away from the farm where wolves, bears, wolverines and lynx just follow their instincts. Why is that? Anything else would be costly and make the meat expensive. Are we willing to pay for ethics? We frequently talk about predators as vicious killers that constantly plan heinous acts against the sheep we have made defenseless, but they are actually just following the laws of nature.

I know a great deal about how people treat each other, and then we may talk about calculated, deliberate malice. If we follow the principle that it is wrong to inflict pain, and even more wrong if the animal is intelligent, shouldn’t this have some consequences in our own society?

The pussy generation

Clint Eastwood is 86 years old, but still tough. Photo: Fanny Bouton via Wikimedia Commons
Clint Eastwood is 86 years old, but still tough. Photo: Fanny Bouton via Wikimedia Commons

I read an interview in Esquire where the actor Clint Eastwood referred to these times as “the pussy generation.” When I wrote this in Norwegian I felt I had to explain the word pussy, a word many Norwegians have learmed from films, where it often has a rather vulgar meaning. It has several denotations and this time it means weak or cowardly.

There are many things I strongly disagree with him about, but he also has some points. I recommend reading the original interview and not articles like the one in The Guardian with the headline Clint Eastwood defends Trump’s racist remarks: Just get over it. The actual interview doesn’t support that claim.

I agree with Eastwood about the get over it part, though. There is a lot of whining these days. Some of the worst behaviour you can show in 2016 is to say that you don’t like the lesbian, gay , bisexuals and transgender movement. People that say they don’t feel comfortable about men who identify as women when that suits them are concidered to be the most narrowminded people in history. This is in fact seen as such a big problem that we have to bully these bigots into following the crowd.

The refugee crisis is something similar. I don’t think the strong altruism we are seeing towards Syrians is a coincidence. Europe is facing a demographic crisis. The birth rate is so low here that the population would be dropping rapidly without immigration, and many were under the false impression that the level of education was very high in Syria. That meant we’d get qualified people we didn’t have to educate, so when a few of us pointed out the costs of having a large of amount of people that are not likely to work, the majority started whining about how heartless we were. Get over it!

The Americans created the politician Donald Trump, which is a big mystery, or is it? Trump appears to be the ultimate populist because he has no politics, no answers. You’d think that any populist that found himself in the situation Trump is in at the moment would at some point start putting together something that resembled an answer to some of the key questions. The fact that Trump hasn’t even attempted to do this makes it look like he never intended to win the nomination, that it was too hard to leave the race he was winning. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it would explain something.

Many are angry at Trump these days. but you can’t leave the voters and the Republican party off the hook. Trump may be an extreme populist, but all parties love populism. That’s what gets politicians elected. No one wants to listen to politicians talking about the boring details. They want entertainment and promises everyone knows it will be impossible to implement without support from political enemies.

It might be fair to let some of the anger many feel towards Trump be aimed at his party as well. The Republican Party, and not John McCain, seems to have chosen Sarah Palin as the candidate for Vice President eight years ago. Many people think it’s a frightening scenario to have Donald Trump as Commander-in-chief, but imagine if McCain won in 2008 and was forced to take a long sick leave. That would give the Tea Party movement a lot of influence. Does that reassure you? I don’t know why Republicans supported Trump, but it could simply be because the competition was too boring. Most presidents rely on populism to get elected and it is possible that the Republican Party didn’t stop Trump because he was the most entertaining, the one people llstened to.

Parties think a great deal about strategy and it is a mystery how they could choose Palin and Trump in subsequent elections. They practically handed Obama the victory eight years ago, and they may have done the same this time. It’s hard to see how Hillary Clinton can lose this. I think Bill Clinton is a bigger threat to his wife at the moment than Donald Trump, so if the former president stays in the background, Hillary Clinton will probably be the next president. I am not sure Trump is tearing his own party apart. They all seem to be doing that job together.

 

Who are you?

I went to this school for seven years, which together with my first address gave me many stories.
I went to this school for seven years, which together with my first address gave me many stories.

I sometimes think that it would have been an exciting project to read through all the bookshelves in the library. The one we have in my hometown is small enough that it probably would have been possible during a lifetime, even for a slow reader like myself. I quickly dismiss the idea because I realize the amount of candy I would have to eat, and some of them are pretty tasteless. Even too much of the candy I like is boring.

I like a good detective story, but this is an extremely popular genre in Scandinavia, and there is a fair amount of quite boring books. This desire to take advantage of our appetite for murder has made many books just as entertaining as a soap opera that has spewed out episodes and actors since the 1970’s. The library also has a few titles it would be hard to get rid of because they are the library’s literary alibis in a way. Many people think that books like Moby Dick, Frankenstein, The Great Gatsby, Walden and The Catcher in the Rye are the best books they haven’t read. There are quite a few disappointed people left when they finally do get around to reading these books.

That doesn’t mean they are not worth reading. I find some of these books fascinating, but different people have different tastes. When I googled “boring books” I found a list of books on Goodreads that many people had contributed to. This tells you how different we are because I really enjoyed books like On the Road (Jack Kerouac), The Jungle Book (Kipling), Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) and Sense and Sensibility (Austen), but they were all on the list. I think these books are worth reading, but they belong to another time and another reader. Reading for example Jane Austen requires more from you than reading Nora Roberts, and authors like Shakespeare and Dickens are not effortless today. They are, admittedly, harder for me than for people from English speaking countries, but I think everyone struggles more with these authors than contemporary ones. It’s not just about the language. I might explore Jane Austen’s dark side in a later post, and I believe she has one. I would probably have added Ernest Hemmingway to the list on Goodreads. I have a feeling that many place him on a literary “bucket list”, but I just find his books incredibly boring. We should be different, and there should be people that would miss Hemingway if his books disappeared, and clearly there are.

This is a quote I find redeeming, though:

The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places.

The US Vice President, Joe Biden, used this quote in his speech at the Democratic National Convention recently. He had ambitions to become president himself, but there were probably several reasons why he decided not to fight for the nomination. His son died of a brain tumor, so he probably knows what he’s talking about.

A program about my life would have gone back to these low rises where I grew up in the 1970's. It looks idyllic, but was a difficult place
A program about my life would have gone back to these low rises where I grew up in the 1970’s. It was in some ways as idyllic as it looks, but it was also a difficult place.

Many people today show a perfect image of themselves on facebook or their blog, including the pink bloggers that are celebrated as role models for young girls. The problem with the official version of ourselves is that it can limit us. We are vulnerable, because that is what we are when we know we are not perfect, but still willing to show the world our weaknesses. Showing a perfect picture of yourself is problematic because it can lead to some serious anxiety. You could become afraid of failing. That increases the chance of not trying. I’m not hiding the fact that it is my dream to become an author, and as always with dreams it requires a lot of work. So I’m working hard to make that dream come true. Perfection kills creativity and it is possible I will succeed because I have no perfection to offer. I believe I can make a strong attempt because I know I am not perfect. That may sound absurd, but a less perfect life could be a more interesting one.

The Norwegian state channel (our PBS) had a serious of interviews in 1991. I watched one of them recently because they are available for streaming. The interviews with some of the most known people in Norway at the time were called Who are you?  Most people think more about who they want others to see, or who they think others want to see. It takes courage to show the real you, or to move to a different place, and submitting a manuscript to a publishing house would be a scary place for me. It is still the weak spots Hemmingway wrote about that will get me there. That’s where the courage and stories come from. I think that’s what people want to read; not a perfect life. Not always at least, but even I like the perfect lives of Jane and Elizabeth Bennett sometimes. I also like heroes like Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins because they have so many flaws, but still succeed. The title from one of the Star Trek films has always fascinated me: The Undiscovered Country. That’s where I want to go, but it’s a daunting and arduous process.

There is only one thing I am certain of; life is going to kill me. Before I get that far there are many undiscovered countries I want to explore. Courage or lack of it will decide how succesful I am.

Vulnerability: Getting strong in the broken places

The beaches of Rio

Brazil is known for economic growth and favelas or slums. This is Rocinha favela outside Rio.
Brazil is known for economic growth and favelas or slums. This is Rocinha favela outside Rio. Photo: Chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons

The Olympics will start in Rio this weekend. I won’t be watching because I am not that interested in the obscure sports they tend to show, and because I don’t want to support corruption, but sadly non of the stories I’ve read so far have anything to do with sports. You would think that most athletes would protest, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I am not going to give you all the details about the many social issues, and there are many. You can read about this in any newspaper, but I would like to briefly mention some topics. The country has an extreme inequality with the poorest third of the population receiving 1,2 percent of the country’s income, according to Wikipedia. Brasil has also a serious crime problem and according to a report from Human Rights Watch policemen in Rio alone killed 645 people in 2015 and 8 000 the last decade.

There has been a lot of talk about the sea where some of the athletes will compete. A Dutch sailor said they would have to keep their mouths closed because of the amount of human fecis in the water. This is not a surprise and media have reported on it for at least a year. Some athletes, including a few of the biggest names in golf for examples, are not going to Rio. They are understandably worried about their own safety, mostly related to the Zika virus, but I haven’t heard anyone talk about what the locals have to live with. This is a good example of what happens when you keep politics completely out of sports. Incidentally, Qatar will host the World Cup in 2022. Do you think they are more concerned with doing the right thing towards the poor, and the people that built the arenas?

Many countries apply for the Olympics because they think it will lead to economic growth, but I don’t think the majority of the population can expect much of it to sprinkle down on them. This should interest us more, especially if we go there to support the games financially, something I wish people wouldn’t do.

Sadly these games make me think about a song from 1994. The Norwegian country singer Steinar Albrigtsen did several songs with Tom Pacheco, including Beaches of Rio. This is the not so sexy image behind the facade. I don’t think there’s a video of the song, but you can read the lyrics here. I wonder how many people in the slums will benefit from the equastrian events, rugby or synchronized swimming.

Research funding gives me the chills

I mainly use facebook as a start page and because of the news outlets I’m following I’m getting interesting headlines in my feed. Some of the newspapers were unable to hide their triumphant attitude a few days ago when they believed they could prove the critics of “the ice bucket challenge” wrong.

The news was that the people who had participated in the challenge had contributed to research that had resulted in a major breakthrough. Some even went so far as to claim that the people who accepted the challenge made this research possible. Let us ignore for a moment the accidental deaths, the people that spent more money on the challenge than they donated, and those who simply forgot that they were expected to donate. What is interesting is how much money the ALS Association received and what they spent them on.

I am not implying that the money was wasted because this money did a lot of good, but it is not as simple as media says it is. They gave the impression that the ALS Association was directly responsible for this research, or that it would not have been carried out without their support. The organization’s own website gives a different impression, one that says that this research was not entirely dependent on the $ one million donation. They are not lying, and the “every drop counts-heading ” shows that they haven’t overestimated their own role, but they give the impression that this research had been going on for a while and would have continued with or without this million. It has probably sped up the process, though.

The ice bucket challenge raised, according to CNN, $ 115 million and 77 of them have been spent on research. That is a significant contribution, but still small in the grand scheme. The pharmaceutical industry spends more money on marketing, and according to Last Week  Tonight  on HBO “big pharma” spent 3 billions on marketing to consumers in 2012 and $ 24 billions towards healthcare professionals. Nine of the ten biggest companies spent more on marketing than on research. These figures describe the situation in the USA.

This is John Oliver from the aforementioned program. He presents facts, although this is entertainment, and he is making some valid points:

There is a lot of money in circulation that can do more than discovering a gene; they can find a cure. This priority makes it shiver down my spine, and I don’t even need ice water. Incidentally, the Norwegian Oil Fund owns a large amount of shares in the Swiss pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Roche Holding. In other words, we may profit from false marketing and people dying as a result of publication bias.

 

Government pushers

I use my TV for traditional radio, but also for streaming legal music and films. I won't be buying DAB unless it just happens to be in my next car.
I use my TV for traditional radio, but also for streaming legal music and films. I won’t be buying DAB unless it just happens to be in my next car.

It feels like I’ve been hearing about Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) since 1995. That’s probably because I have. NRK (our PBS) launched the first DAB-channel that year and today half the population listens to digital radio.

There’s been a strong effort to move listeners from FM to DAB + for a number of years, and the authorities seem to be on track to reach their goal of 68 percent digital listening by 2020. FM broadcasting will slowly disappear from 2020 and it’s supposed to be completely gone from Norway four years later. That will make a lot of radios useless. Why is my government so eager to do this?

There are many conspiracy theorists and others that have offered explanations. I think this is mostly about supporting the automobile industry, and 63 percent of all new cars sold in Norway have a DAB-radio, while there are probably many that also get it installed later. We have been told for years that we need to get rid of our radios. There’s  a new kid in town and DAB + is apparently the new sexy.

It’s not true that we have to buy new radios, though. All radio stations, at least in Norway, are available on the internet. You can actually connect a mobile or a computer to the Line In or Aux on you radio, or via bluetooth, so you can still enjoy good sound without buying new equipment. I have often wondered why authorities want to take FM from us, but I don’t think it’s because we need it. I see the advantage in cars and that’s the industry we are helping with this decision. I’ll manage, but I know some old people that will be left with nothing. This decision doesn’t make much sense, but the list of products and lies my government is pushing keeps getting longer.

The tricky art of spotting suspicious activity

Terrorism: The use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal. Merriam Webster Dictionary

The term political goal narrows the definition, and there are many cases where we label someone a terrorist even though the killer never thought as far as politics. It has nevertheless become common.

I was studying at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and came out from a lecture on September 11th 2001. There were TV screens all over the place in the student cafeteria, and the college news network were broadcasting live from CNN. I believe only an hour, or two at the most, had passed since the attack had taken place, but media already knew all the details.

This seems to be the norm. Media and politicians like phrases like “could have ties to.” If they say that the killer could have ties to a known terrorist or an organization we accept this as a fact. This phrase was used early after the train bombing in Madrid in 2004, or the attacks in Bussels, Nice and Orlando this year. No one could possibly know that early, but it seems to have reassured us knowing that it wasn’t one of us. I think some were looking for ties in connection with Anders Breivik and Timothy McVey as well, but the mood seems to have turned.

Boris Johnson may be posh, but his appearance and tact resembles meat loaf or fish & chips wrapped the Daily Mirror more than Downto Abbey.
Boris Johnson may be posh, but his tact frequently resembles fish & chips wrapped the Daily Mirror more than dining at the Downton Abbey. Photo: US Embassy via Wikimedia Commons

The new British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, was recently criticised for quickly blaming the Munich shooting on terrorism. There’s been a number of attacks in Germany that can be explained as something else. A Syrian asylum seeker killed a woman with a machete. Another Syrian asylum seeker blew himself up. Some of these attackers are born in Germany and in some people’s minds that makes ties to Muslim terrorism impossible. So they are looking for motives like jealousy, revenge, fear of deportation, and mental illness. I agree that we shouldn’t automatically assume that only the Islamic State kills, but we should also be careful not to smooth over the challenges of replacing our population with migrants.

The truth is that most of Europe is facing a demographic crisis. The math is simple: The deathrate is higher than the birthrate, and in some countries this gap is very dramatic. We need young people and that could be behind the sudden altruism. The problem is that no matter how western and progressive members of other religions are, our way of life is going to be a problem to them. Most Muslims accept the need for bank loans for example, but paying interest is a violation of Islamic principes. That’s why many western Muslims, although they accept our ways, say in surveys that they want sharia laws exclusively for Muslims in Europe. Whether it’s terrorism or not there is a potential for major conflicts as the demographics change.