Thursday, January 17, 2019

Inside and Out

Ever since Einstein theoretical physicists have made the point that there is ‘nothing’ outside the cosmos. 

Indeed, Carlo Rovelli makes the point explicitly in his latest book The Order of Time  that there’s no point in asking what exists outside of space and time, by which he is possibly really stating something rather tautological: that there is no space and time outside of space and time. 

And when one delves into the nitty-gritty of the theory he most closely adheres to   Loop Quantum Gravity  one discovers that there isn’t really any space or time inside either, as both are relative phenomena that manifest themselves subjectively as a result of the networked behaviour of particles. 

It’s not an atheistic position per se, failing to fully deter the religiously-minded, as they tend not to be looking for the Divine within space and time. And rather than agreeing that there is nothing on the outside, they’d be more inclined to assert it is where one would find everything  a perfect, absolute, first cause. 

This is actually a key point that Richard Dawkins doesn’t seem to get. It strikes me that it reveals how — perhaps counter-intuitively — the biological sciences are not the ideal stick with which to whack religion, because their perspective on our predicament is essentially internal to the system. (Hence all that nonsense about giant spaghetti monsters.) 

Theoretical physics on the other hand is poking ever closer to metaphysics, and often in ways which parallel religious perspectives. The Big Bang for example can be spun to resemble a moment of ‘creation’. 

The pantheism/monism of Baruch Spinoza is another way of spinning the problem. 

Like many modern scientists, he believed it would be a total waste of time to talk of transcendent realms outside the cosmos, to hold out for eternal spiritual stuff to counteract contingent material stuff. 

Spinoza instead thought of the cosmos itself as the absolute, as a kind of God, albeit an indifferent one. For him the absolute and the contingent, time and eternity are all part of the same system, but it is our human condition to only experience the bits, not the whole. 

However, there’s another way of addressing contemporary theoretical physics which is significantly more encouraging for unbelievers. In this view the hidden, fundamental reality is not perfect order, but perfect disorder such that everything we experience is a pattern that has somehow emerged from chaos and is steadily returning to it. 

One can insist that evolution is directionless and purposeless, as it most assuredly is, but the fact remains that it is bucking the more universal trend towards ever greater disorder.


Cobarde

Corbyn's 'all options are on the table' equivocations have similar roots to the cowardly calculation that led David Cameron to propose the referendum in the first place - an unwillingness to campaign with the familiar message of class-based tribalism when there is a real danger of his base being subjected to a flank attack by populist irregulars...


Entangled Party-cles

Both of Britain's main parties are in a sort of quantum state of equivocation right now and it is the particular nature of their leadership at this crucial time that is largely preventing them from returning to a more usefully determined condition. Corbyn has in mind that May should materialise into a properly dead cat by ruling out No Deal. She of course prefers to remain in the superimposed state that was rejected by unprecedented numbers yesterday. In turn Theresa would like Jeremy to manifest as a dead cat by opting for the No Brexit position most of his party members appear to favour...but of course he knows that he cannot do that without simultaneously collapsing her into the sort of live cat that would recognised as the only leader still standing up for Brexit and the large swathes of the embittered working classes that Corbyn himself aspires to represent. May’s indeterminacy is at least partly naïve. She seems to believe it is the best way to deliver on the ‘solemn promise’ she made to the British people, even if almost nobody else does. Corbyn’s indeterminacy is of an altogether more cynical nature. May is also not recognising that ‘The British People’ is not a constant in this equation either. Since the referendum roughly 1.8m individuals have ceased to belong to that variable and a similar number have attained voting age. Do politicians need to honour promises to the deceased? How different the whole situation might be if this rather rare pair of entangled particles were both absent, along with at least some of the uncertainty they bring with them...

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Low-lying Letterboxes

Somewhat surreal experience first thing today when I turned on BBC Parliament. Minutes before the No Confidence motion and a key debate in what is becoming the political crisis of a lifetime, a new law proposing a ban on 'low level letterboxes' was being put forward.

I'm all in favour of protecting postmen's extremities and making things a bit harder for would-be mail-pilferers, but...


Click-bait

V has been getting more than usually paranoid about social media recently as we are being bombarded with Facebook ads for the well-known restaurant in the capital owned by our newest neighbour.

Meanwhile, I have been quietly satisfied with the way he has been spending his money on us, albeit inadvertently, though one of these ads did entice me to get up and make a spaghetti alfredo, when I wasn’t feeling especially hungry...


Defamation

A Guatemalan friend of my wife was recently unfairly criticised on one of the local (largely ex-pats) classifieds groups in the manner that threatened to go viral on social media.  

He requested to join the group so that he could answer these criticisms, but was denied, having been informed rather curtly that it was a ‘closed group’. So he has decided to sue them for defamation, and in this I have to congratulate him. 



Handily, Guatemala has a fairly draconian provision in the penal code against calumny (section 164), with those found guilty facing prison terms of between two and five years. This should focus a few minds. 

In the past twelve months I too have twice been the victim of some pretty cack-handed attempts to defame me, though not in digital format. 

My would-be detractors both had in mind to use Guatemala’s equally draconian laws designed to protect women from male aggression. 

In the first instance, my neighbour’s not-so-smart spouse was put up to take me to court for having insulted her using what she described in the police report as obscene language. Fortunately I had the stamp in my passport showing that I was not even in the country on the day she called the cops.

The judge duly declared her to be in contempt of court and she was also informed that she was lucky to have avoided the sort of counter-prosecution that would have resulted in a custodial sentence. It was joyful to behold how pale and flabbergasted her lawyer became upon learning that she had been lied to by her client and friend. 

A couple of months later my dog and I were attacked and hurt by a loose pit bull owned by other residents of the village. When they refused to accept responsibility, I made a police report and their initial defence  recorded by the microphones in the courtroom  was that I had attacked a pregnant woman in the aftermath of the attack, thereby causing her to be rushed to hospital for a premature birth. 



Luckily for them, they changed lawyer and tack for the final audiencia, as I had security camera evidence showing how they had called up the pregnant woman and how she then arrived on scene some thirty minutes AFTER I had departed. (I also know the date her baby was actually born, as she told the world on social media. Duh!) 

I don’t think I would have hesitated to sue for defamation in this case. And if I ever get a sense that the damaging lie is still being spread around the village, I may still do so —  especially as the CCTV footage strongly suggested that the pit bull was deliberately provoked into attack by the pregnant girl's mother. 

A further testament to the somewhat heavy-handed nature of the newish 'femicide' laws in Guatemala (I’ve heard some in the legal profession here complaining that they have been funded by and largely foisted on the country by foreign NGOs) is that another resident of the village recently had a restraining order placed on him by his own neighbour before he had had any opportunity to appear in court to defend himself. He had to bring his own case against her, which he won, but the six month prohibition against interactions with her remained in place. 

Anyway, in the previous case I shook hands with my neighbour’s wife in the courtroom on the understanding that we would both try to keep the peace in future, but I may now review this ‘treaty’, as her husband clearly has no intention of honouring it, and they are now in breach of both the law against defamation AND that protecting women, as he has since repeatedly insulted my own wife (using suitably obscene language) in front of multiple witnesses...and cameras. 

That said, the due process of legal satisfaction in La Antigua is notoriously painful, with lawyers and judges seemingly working in tandem to string things along and to then deliver inconclusive rapprochements between all parties. 

My experiences in 2018 have nevertheless been enlightening and I have acquired a new legal representative  himself a former judge  who I feel will be a better guide through this minefield, if ever I have the need to traverse it again. 



Sunday, January 13, 2019

Truculent Folly

Some of the grand historical barriers mentioned here had what is generally known as 'practical value'.

Trump may be the last person alive that thinks his wall would have it...at least amongst those coming at the issue from a (supposedly) informed position.

All those strange birds that used to whisper in his ear about beautiful walls, travel bans and the like, have since flown the nest.

They surely knew that the wall would primarily be a symbolic act of defiance against the pressures of globalisation. The Donald apparently doesn't.

Britain's watery Brexit 'wall' features much of the same awkward disconnect between practical and symbolic value.

And its construction remains beset with some quite serious inconveniences — such as as fact that our ‘island nation’ actually consists of one island plus a sizeable chunk of another one.

Brits have been left asking how much they are prepared to pay for symbolic satisfaction, though the older generation do appear more inclined to dismiss the question, having discerned that it won't be them picking up the tab for their momentary exultation.

And in said tab there lies another distinction between Trump's truculent folly and ours — there’s no way to suggest that the people on the other side are the ones that are going to pay for it.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Those Heir-bnb Shutes

Welcome Home is a bit of B Movie mediocrity is set in Todi, a gorgeous Umbrian town that V and I had the pleasure to visit in January 2002, shortly after the fateful introduction of euro banknotes. (An acute taste of the chronic pain to follow.) 



In a more abstract sense it is set in the liminal space between Wop-o-philia and Wop-o-phobia
The screenwriter clearly influenced by the particular paranoia peddled by those articles about Airbnb host-voyeurs, though perhaps not by the associated plugs for handy apps that largely deal with the problem.
This movie is deeply silly. There's a rabbit stew scene that is practically on the plane of self-parody. The female interest is 100% a male interest. 
Yet the final 20 minutes or so up the levels of silliness to a point that almost redeems all that came before.


Anti-colados

Yesterday a member of the local ex-pats group on FB wondered out loud why there were native Guatemalans colados therein. 

The comment stream was soon disabled. 

An obsession with the protection of purity is a key part of the American mindset.  I’ve written (ranted?) here before how the puritan origins of the USA still inform its politics quite dramatically. 

Whether we’re talking walls to keep outsiders out, McCarthyist purges - on both the left and the right  - #metoo, no-platforming and so on, the neuroses of self-purification persist.

These amorphous, pitchfork wielding, context unaware, puritanical mobs have gone digital and have thus spread beyond the borders of the US in a way that no wall, however beautiful, can prevent. 

The contagion has reached British politics undoubtedly.  Our barrier wall will be Brexit and the end it promises to the free movement of foreign contaminants.   

Yet perhaps this is not so new or indeed alien. If you trace back some of the more educated leavers’ obsession with parliamentary sovereignty in historical terms, you eventually reach the 1650s and the English civil wars, an era when puritanical mobs were very much de rigeur.


Friday, January 11, 2019

This did not bring me joy....

Netflix has clearly stumbled upon the idea for one of the worst television programmes ever made. It's so bad that for the first ten minutes or so of episode one I was convinced it had to be on of those satirical fly-on-the wall documentaries. 





The format is derivative  resembling in its essence Dog Whisperer — that show where the patronising bloke from Culiacán enters the homes of annoying people ostensibly to sort out their unruly pets, but ultimately managing to resolve at least some of their #firstworldproblems along the way. 

In 'Marie Kondo' for pets read houses, houses owned by even more annoying people and frankly not all that untidy by global standards. One senses that the whole set-up is offensive, racist even, but it's not clear whether it's middle-class, white America or the Japanese that are being most savagely mocked.

It reminded me of what Ben Elton used to say about the Ferrero Rocher ad (Ambassador’s party): that it was impossible to take the piss out of it because all the piss had been pre-removed in the making of it. 






Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Replicas


This is a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie in so many ways. 




First the most obvious: it’s about a man of science who via an unorthodox experiment chooses to defy nature and mortality. 

I say man of science, because while Keanu’s character Will Foster has plenty of bizarre technology at his disposal, the screenplay is noticeably almost entirely science-free. 




Then there’s the fact that it consists of several not-entirely-compatible plot premises seemingly sown together. 

At the start the movie seems to be about a man in a medical facility in Puerto Rico attempting to transfer the conscious minds of dead soldiers into a robot. As quick as a flash however, it’s suddenly about a bereaved man cloning his dead family in order to create synthetic replicas that may or may not think and act like the originals. 

This conceit surely has the most potential and Replicas may well be a textbook example of an enticing premise made lastingly toxic by one epicly-bad implementation. 

Should we have expected any less from the people who brought us London Has Fallen and The Day After Tomorrow?  (Not to mention 'From the producers of...') 

The lameness of the last thirty minutes or so can best be explained by suggesting an alternative final act of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece in which the doctor and his creature have to escape from an assortment of incompetent goons dispatched to kill them by Frankenstein’s boss, and for reasons which remain largely opaque to say the least. 

And yet, it was vaguely entertaining. The Keanu effect again, perhaps.