A bit of radio-silence

As people might have noticed, I have been fairly quiet since the whole COVID-19 pandemic started in Europe. It is not because I have been sick, but rather it is because I have been very, very busy working on some essential IT-systems, used while paying compensation to Danish companies in the lock-down.

Obviously, I cannot talk too much about it, but it has been challenging to work on such systems in an ever-changing world.

But I consider myself lucky – I have had something really meaningful to do, which has been beneficial to a lot of people, at a time where others have lost their job, or haven’t been able to do their daily job.

We are not quite out of the COVID-19 crisis yet, not even in Denmark, where we have started to open up again, and I am not quite out of this extra-ordinary work situation just yet, but things are quieting down, and I hope to post more often.

This is why you cancel conferences in times like this

A facebook friend posted this link to an overview of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Cases in MA (pdf link), and pointed out that three quarters of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts are attributable to a conference in Boston for a company called Biogen.

NBC Boston has more: After Spreading Coronavirus, Boston Biogen Meeting Serves as Stark Warning

As the NBC Boston link says, this should serve as a warning. Don’t hold these large gatherings while a pandemic is going on. It will create a easy path for the virus to spread, making it more likely it will get in contact with vulnerable people.

 

Shutdown of Denmark

After a few weeks of trying to contain the COVID-19 through placing people in quarantine, the Danish government took much more drastic measures the last couple of days.

  • New time-limited emergency laws have been put in place, allowing:
    • The closing of schools and other institutes of learning, as well as public institutions in general
    • Forcing people into isolation if they have a dangerous disease
    • Allowing police to force their way into homes without a court order, if the Ministry of Health asks them to do so
    • Prohibiting events over a certain size
    • To put aside certain laws guaranteeing treatments for certain ailments within a certain time frame
    • Make it possible to limit access to public transportation, hospitals, and nursery homes
    • Create protective measures that guarantees delivery of goods
  • All public schools, high schools and places of higher education is shut down for two weeks from tomorrow (most closed down today)
  • All public cultural institutions (e.g. museums), libraries etc are closed down for two weeks
  • All state employees working in non-critical roles are sent home with pay for the next two weeks. If they can work from home, they should do so, otherwise they will get a paid leave.
  • Courts have closed down for the next two weeks, except in exceptional situations
  • The travel from certain places (Italy, Iran, China, parts of South Korea, different parts of Europe) are restricted, in the sense that you are forced to a mandatory examination
  • The government has asked for all events with more than 100 people to cancel the next two weeks
  • The government has suggested that cafe, restaurants, and bars consider closing down the next two weeks
  • The government has asked everybody to try to limit their travel on public transportation, especially during peak hours
  • The government has suggested that all private schools, high schools, and institutes of learning close down the next couple of weeks
  • The government has asked all private employers to get their employees to work from home or use their vacation if possible
  • The government has suggested that private religious congregations, museums etc close down for the next two weeks

As you can see, the actions taken are quite far-reaching, and affect most Danes. Personally, I will be working from home the next two weeks, communication with colleagues via the internet. For a lot of introverts, this probably sounds fantastic, for me, as an extrovert, it is not something I look forward to.

I am not too happy about the temporary law allowing the police to force their way into homes without a court order on behalf of the Ministry of Health, but I guess I can see the need for it under certain circumstances. If it is misused, the police and/or the Ministry of Health can be dragged in front of a court (unlike in some countries, people actually occasionally win over the state in Denmark).

The reason the Danish government is taking these actions, is because the spread of the virus was getting out of control, and because the Italian health minister warned Denmark that they needed to take drastic actions to avoid getting into a similar situations as Italy.

The measures taken is an attempt to both try to limit the spreading of the disease and to protect the most vulnerable. Before this, the idea was to contain the virus through asking people to go into quarantine – this clearly didn’t work, as the spread has more than doubled every day this week.

Generally, the steps taken by the government are widely supported, though a large minority believe that the whole threat is overblown. None of the later group appears to be working in health care or similar.

For more coverage, see The Local which has made the article free to read.

42

Tomorrow it is the International Women’s Day, and I have a couple of posts planned for that, but I also want to note that according to The Economist tomorrow is the 42th birthday of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

EVERY YEAR the world celebrates the anniversaries of masterworks and maestros. In 2020 there will be a host of events and publications commemorating the lives of Ludwig van Beethoven, Raphael, Charles Dickens, Anne Brontë and William Wordsworth. Such milestones usually come in neat multiples of 50. The 42nd anniversary of anything is rarely observed.

Yet on March 8th fans of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (“HHGTTG”) will pay tribute to the comedy science-fiction series, which had its radio premiere on that day in 1978 and was subsequently adapted into novels, TV series, video games and a film. To mark the occasion, Pan Macmillan has reprinted the scripts and novels in colourful new editions (“HHGTTG” was the first book published under their “Pan Original” imprint to sell more than 1m copies). The British Library will host a day of “celebrations, conversation and performance”. BBC Radio 4 has aired the original episodes; Radio 4 Extra will put on a “five-hour Hitchhiker’s spectacular” including archival material and specially commissioned programmes. Such is the enduring interest in Douglas Adams’s story that it is due to be adapted into a new television series by Hulu, a streaming service.

I first read Hitchhiker’s Guide in the Danish edition when I was a teen (it was published in Danish as Håndbog for vakse galakse-blaffere in 1985), a couple of years later in the English edition, and I have re-read it multiple times since then. It is at least 5 years since I last read it, so it is probably time to dust it off, and re-read it again (together with the sequels).

As most of you probably know, the Hitchhiker’s Guide didn’t start out as a book, but rather as a radio comedy, and has been turned into a TV series, several other radio shows, a movie, stage plays, vinyls, comics, and of course, a book (with sequels). I think the book is the best medium, but no matter what you medium you prefer, take a moment to appreciate the fact that Douglas Adams created this fantastic work 42 years ago.

 

A couple of great ones are gone: Katherine Johnson and Freeman Dyson

Just under a week ago, we lost Katherine Johnson:

Katherine Johnson Dies at 101; Mathematician Broke Barriers at NASA (NY Times link)

She was one of a group of black women mathematicians at NASA and its predecessor who were celebrated in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures.”

PZ has written more about her here.

Today, we have lost another important figure – this one more well know and celebrated through his working life.

Freeman Dyson, quantum physicist who imagined alien megastructures, has died at 96 (livescience link)

Freeman Dyson, Math Genius Turned Visionary Technologist, Dies at 96 (NY Times link)

Freeman Dyson, like so many scientists before him, did some brilliant work, and the turned towards less scientific ideas. This shouldn’t make you dismiss his importance, just make you weary of his later works.

 

I, a philosophical zombie

I have just listened to the newest episode of the Serious Inquiry Only, which is about how peoples’ brains work differently.

SIO227: Do You Have an Internal Monologue?

… because one of your beloved hosts of SIO does not! Needless to say, this was a mind blowing realization to that person. We talk about the extraordinary differences in human internal experience, and some of the current science and philosophy on the topic.

The episode mostly focused on internal monologues, but the hosts also mentioned the fact that not everyone have a mind’s eye, and even mentioned someone on twitter who had neither an internal monologues nor a mind’s eye.

In the podcast, one of the hosts, Thomas Smith, said that people with neither an internal monologue nor a mind’s eye must be philosophical zombies.

As I understand the podcast, having an internal monologue means that there is an auditory aspect to peoples’ thought process, where they hear their thoughts as voices, either their own or someone else’s.

You might have guessed it from my description and the post’s headline, but I don’t have an internal monologue. Nor do I have a mind’s eye (I just learned that not haven’t a mind’s eye is called aphantasia,I have just always said that I’m not visual).

This means that, for me:

  • An earworm is just a song that I instantly recognize
  • I don’t visualize characters in books
  • I don’t read dialogue in the voice of the characters/people
  • For me, picture this/visualize this is just a metaphor for thinking about some

It also means for me that most memorizing techniques doesn’t work for me, since they often require the ability to visualize things.

What it doesn’t mean:

  • I am unable to make figures and diagrams that are useful

Quite contrary, I often make quite clear and useful diagrams/figures, since I have to think about how to communicate through them than people who make them “on the fly”.

  • I don’t enjoy reading

I have always read a lot, and I enjoy well written books. Unlike what some might think, I can also be affected emotionally by books.

  • I can’t improvise speeches and writing

On the rare occasions where I am giving a speech, I usually note a couple of subjects that I need to cover, and then improvise from there. When writing for my blog, I only have a faint outline of what I want to cover, before starting to read the blogpost.

Having listening to the podcast, I did realize that there probably is a connection between my lack of inner monologue, and why I don’t particular sing along songs. I much prefer to listen to the artists doing the singing, and I don’t have a inner monologue pushing me to open my own voice.

Feel free to ask questions about how my thinking process work, but do remember that I don’t have a shared experience with most of you, so I can’t describe the differences, just how I experience it.

 

 

 

New podcast recommendation: In Research Of

I have started to listen to a new podcast In Research Of, which describes itself thus:

This is the homepage of the podcast “In reSearch Of…” a show where we go back and watch the TV show In Search Of… and consider some of the explanations the producers chose to ignore.

Hosted by:

Blake Smith (Monstertalk, The Horror Podcast) a writer, researcher, and podcaster.

Jeb Card, archaeologist and author of Spooky Archaeology.

Even if you haven’t seen the original In Search Of… (I haven’t) it is well worth a listen.

Shining a light on Victoria’s Secret

There is a lengthy article in New York Times about Victoria’s Secret, and the behavior of some of its senior people.

Note, content warning: sexual assault, harassment, misogyny.

‘Angels’ in Hell: The Culture of Misogyny Inside Victoria’s Secret

A Times investigation found widespread bullying and harassment of employees and models. The company expresses “regret.”

The article calls it bullying and harassment, but what they describe also includes sexual assault:

[I]nside the company, two powerful men presided over an entrenched culture of misogyny, bullying and harassment, according to interviews with more than 30 current and former executives, employees, contractors and models, as well as court filings and other documents.

Ed Razek, for decades one of the top executives at L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, was the subject of repeated complaints about inappropriate conduct. He tried to kiss models. He asked them to sit on his lap. He touched one’s crotch ahead of the 2018 Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Touching someone’s crotch, aside from being something the current president advocate, is clearly sexual assault.

I am not surprised that a company like Victoria’s Secret has a big streak of misogyny, but the behavior described actually shocks me – the company is nothing without the models, and these models are among the most powerful in the modeling world, yet even so, they had to experience this behavior.

Hopefully the article will put an end to this, and will ensure a culture change in the company.

How to completely miss the point

The Danish government party, Socialdemokratiet/The Social Democrats, have made a video which is supposed to show that they support all children.

You don’t have to be able to speak English to get the gist of what the video is about. It is based on the Privilege walk exercise, which is based on Peggy McIntosh’s 1989 article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, and has is meant to illustrate how privilege will affect people.

Now, look at the video from the Social Democrats, and you’ll probably notice straight away that they have completely missed the point of the exercise. The group of children in the video is extremely homogeneous, and there are none with different ethnical backgrounds or with visible handicaps.

Yes, the video ends up with great differences between the children, but the big distance this is only possible because they have changed the questions in order to remove any referring to white and able bodied privileges, and instead focusing on only those that can affect this particular group of children. It is understandable why they have done this, but it goes against the whole concept for the exercise.

I cannot even begin to understand why anyone would do this particular exercise without any representations for the groups that faces systematic discrimination in the Danish society. I can only think that this was done deliberately to not draw attention to the plight of those groups, and instead focuses on more traditionally social democratic priorities – e.g. class and education. This is, unfortunately, not surprising, given how the Danish Social Democrats has become more and more anti-immigrant, in order to win voters back from the xenophobic Danish Peoples’ Party.

Qassem Suleimani killed

As you all probably know, the US has made an airstrike in Iraq, killing Qassem Suleimani and several others.

I am not going to be sorry that Qassem Suleimani is gone, but as Mano Singham says, this is really really bad. Iran is not going to take this lightly.

Also, there is the whole problem of assassinating people – if this becomes widespread, it would mean that the US leadership would become a legitimate target for e.g. Iran. This is not a good thing, and is why most countries have signed up to use the international criminal court, ICC, to prosecute people instead – of course, the US is not a state party to the ICC.

If you want to know more about Qassem Suleimani, the New Yorker had a good portrait of him in 2013 The Shadow Commander.