Book 26 for 2020: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

Murakami’s books were always of interest to me but in reading the blurbs I never really knew what I would be in for, so shied away from delving in. That changed in 2018 when I picked up a copy of 1Q84 on sale in the Kindle store.

I read the book, I enjoyed the book, but afterwards I wasn’t exactly sure why.

I feel the same with this book. It is hard to put a finger on it, but I think what I enjoy when I read these books is simply being in the moment. I enjoy the reading, the words, the experience. I enjoy the act of reading the book, less so the remembering, or the lasting things I get from it.

Maybe this is a new kind of purpose in books for me. In the past I read books and found enjoyment in them for more explicit reasons. I read Matthew Reilly when I want non-stop action. I like Kim Stanley Robinson’s books for the grounded, realistic hard science fiction worlds he crafts, and the believable utopian ideals he espouses.

Additionally I like reading non-fiction books because I love to learn. I want to know about Einstein’s life, or why sleep is important. I want to try and square the circle of my meat-eating, with my love of animals. I want to understand humanity’s place in the anthropocene. I have agendas behind a lot of my reading, but with Murakami’s books I feel like there is a different purpose in mind.

I like being able to throw this to the wind, and just lose myself in the strange worlds he creates.

For instance this book is ostensibly about a man’s search for a mysterious sheep, but as we delve deeper into the journey, and the character, the story turns into a more surreal tale where the chase for the sheep has existential bearing on reality. Or maybe it doesn’t.

I honestly don’t know, and can fully understand how academics can make a living analysing these kinds of fiction.

But for me I am starting to learn that I don’t need to ‘understand’ all fiction in this way. I can simply let the experience happen, and enjoy it for what it is.

Not that that has stopped me Googling theories, and explanations mind you….

#2020inBooks #Murakami #ReadingforReadingssake #AWildSheepChase

Anyone Can Paint

So one of my challenges for 2020 was to produce a decent piece of art by the end of June. Some of you may have seen my initial posts where I was practising sketching etcetera, but then a little thing got in the way (global pandemic), and I really left this challenge by the wayside.

Such is 2020 I suppose.

But with the deadline approaching, I took the time on the weekend to stop by Officerworks and grab myself some painting supplies to see if I could salvage the whole thing.

To give a bit more background, this challenge wasn’t just an instance of me wanting to better myself, it was actually spurred on by a discussion I was having with a colleague about painting. He was showing me some work by a favourite artist (Ben Quilty), and I commented that ‘anyone can paint’, so he ended up challenging me to produce something in six months.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to belittle or trivialise artistic skill here. My sister is an amazing artist and she works hard to perfect her craft. What I meant by the comment ‘anyone can paint’ is that I see this kind of thing is a skill, and if you are willing to put in the time and effort, anyone can develop their artistic abilities. We won’t all be Monet’s, or Quilty’s; but I think you can show massive improvement in the initial stages of picking up any new skill. 

I think the same thing when I see bodybuilders and super-fit people. Yes it is impressive, but again it is something anyone can do. I think the same thing about a lot in life. I don’t like the idea that some people are naturally talented, and believe a lot of what we can achieve is down to hard work and perseverance. We might have some inclination towards certain skills, but if you want to do something (develop painting skills, earn a muscular physique, play an instrument, write a novel, etcetera), you have the ability to make it happen.

So perhaps taking my claim to the extreme, I waited around for the majority of my six month deadline, and then chose the last two days to actually attempt to paint anything. I think the last time I painted was likely in 1997 in secondary school, so it is fitting that I used the same methodology of waiting until the last moment to complete my homework that I applied throughout my schooling.

I initially tried a portrait of Tony, then a printed off paint by numbers template, but ultimately decided to paint his VW as people are tough subjects to paint (with minimal practise).

So this is the ultimate result. A few hours work, and I am pretty happy with the result. Sure it isn’t really comparable to what professional artists can do, or even hobbyists, or simple enthusiasts; but I really enjoyed the process, and think I did a reasonably impressive attempt.

MM

Fourteen

Fourteen years ago, for the briefest of moments, my son was the newest member of humanity. It is weird to think that at one point, we were all the youngest humans on earth, but back in 2006, for approximately 233 milliseconds, that title was held by my son.

And while he may have quickly faded from world importance soon after, for the past fourteen years he has never strayed from being the central point for my wife and I.

I was a relatively young father, and I cannot recommend highly enough the experience of being a parent not only for the happiness it will directly bring into your life, or for the love and fulfilment that you will feel every day. But also because it helps you grow, and find direction in your own life.

Being a part of Harrison’s life is the greatest privilege. Being able to watch him grow, to guide him through life, and then watch as he develops into his own person, following his own path; it fills me with pride every day.

Today he is fourteen years old. He is at the point in his life where he is starting to choose the electives in school which will allow him to take agency of his own education like never before.  He is also training for his next black belt (that will be his 4th by the way), and the fact that he has been training as a martial artist for over a decade blows my mind!

He is a compassionate young man, always concerned about others. His creativity, curiosity, and passion for reading knows no bounds. If you give him the chance he will talk your ear off on any number of things, but he is also considerate, and takes the time to listen.

He has emerged from our recent COVID19 isolation more resilient than before, and perhaps even a millimeter or two taller than his mum (almost)!

Put simply he is my son, and while I think fatherhood is simultaneously the hardest and easiest thing I have ever done, I wouldn’t change anything.

So Happy Birthday Harrison!

Dad rant complete.

We didn’t see this coming…

I’m not annoyed at our scientists, or politicians, or anything for not seeing COVID-19 coming. Scientists had always said this was a possible scenario, and many governments had some sort of contingency plan. But I have to say; where were the astrologists on this one? Why wasn’t everyone’s horoscopes starting to suspiciously align a few months ago? Were peoples tarot readings warning of the coming isolations? Were people’s psychics giving them a heads up to include a few extra rolls of toilet paper for the coming weeks?

I mean they really dropped the ball on this one.

Its almost as if all of that stuff is a whole lot of bullshit…

COVIDSafe App Thoughts

COVIDSafe app | Australian Government Department of Health

Some quick thoughts I chucked up on Facebook to get peoples opinions on the new COVIDSafe app released by the Australian government, and my ultimate decision.

Original post:

Ok everyone, give me your point of view on the Coronavirus tracking app.

I am most likely going to get it, because I feel like this is an important way for us to tackle the health emergency we are all living through.

I get that there can be privacy issues, but considering the amount of my data already being mined by corporations, I am willing to give up a bit more for the good of our nation’s health. And if there ever is a push for this data being used elsewhere by the government down the track, we can always delete the app. And if that becomes a problem (i.e. we are forced to keep the app), then this is a whole new battle for a different day.
I mean I know it is a lot to trust the government with, but at this point in history if we don’t put this kind of faith in the government, then we are in trouble. If we step up and take on this duty, perhaps our government will step up and earn it.

What is everyone thinking?

I got some good replies, with I think a lot of people like myself who are cautious, but willing to do what they feel is the right thing. Overall I was glad to see so many rational thoughts on the subject, and no conspiracy theory rants and anti-government tirades.

My final thoughts as posted in reply:

Thanks everyone for your comments. At the end of the day I see the trade off I am making by getting this app as being more positive than the negative. While I see the risks in giving out more data to a government that has not been good at managing our data in the past, they are also the only government we have at the moment, and this is the moment in history we find ourselves in.

Furthermore, as far as i can tell, this app doesn’t actually track your location, but instead simply logs contact between other users of the app and reports these to a central database, so that these contact points can be utilised down the track to follow any infections. And this reporting is also something that you op in to. So the data isn’t even as significant as being able to track where you are, or have been, and seems to be quite voluntary in its dissemination.

And if the worst case scenario simply means that we have to be vigilant for any future changes or overreach, I am fine with that; keeping an eye on what our government is doing is kind of our job as a populus anyway.

So I am going to get the app. I would encourage you to as well, but I understand if you don’t. This isn’t like social distancing, where I think you have a moral imperative to take this action, or proper washing of hands, where it is just stupid not to join in. This is more of a ‘if you want things to get better quicker, do this’ kind of thing.

But hey, I am an introvert anyway, so social isolation is suiting me quite well.

Anyone else have any interesting takes? I would love to see them try and release this kind of app in the United States with their current government/electorate.

MM

Keeping an Eye on the Democratic Primary

When Trump was elected, I would keep an eye on his Twitter feed daily, fascinated by the bizarre spectacle taking place in American politics. But it didn’t take long for fatigue to set in, until I got to the point that even Stephen Colbert’s monologues couldn’t keep me interested (only Bill Maher has staying power for me, because at least he swears and gets properly frustrated with things).

So I have been interested to watch as Bernie Sanders has been rising in popularity, and eventually taking over as the front runner for the Democratic Primary. I would love to see what Bernie could do with the presidency, and to see America start to take the lead in world issues again would be great. But I am still pessimistic of his chances.

Here is the current forecasting from FiveThirtyEight; lets see how the South Carolina primary changes things tomorrow morning:

Before SC

 

Don’t Eat Octopus; Read About Them!

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When I was in Scotland last year I picked up a copy of the book Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith. It is on sale for Kindle readers at the moment, and a recent article I read brought the issue of eating octopodes back to my attention.

The book is a fascinating journey into the mind of an octopus. It discusses how these creatures came to be and their place in the natural world. It includes chapters theorising on how their minds may work, on the physiology of a cephalopod body and how this might relate to their alien minds, detailed descriptions of their behaviour in the wild, and how this speaks to the presence of a deep inner life that is surprising in its familiarity as well as its alienness.

Octopuses (and their equally brainy relatives cuttlefish (and to a lesser extent squids)) have often been recognised as intelligent animals. However their nature is so peculiar to our own, and their path to intelligence so different, that we often forget to take this into account in our treatment of them in our anthropogenic world. Unlike the majority of the other animals we are quick to recognise intelligence in (dolphins, chimpanzees, orcas, wolves, etcetera), octopuses are not social animals. So while there are convincing theories that social animals develop intelligence in order to function in a complex society, this kind of thinking leave the solitary octopus, tellingly, all by itself.

But the exclusion isn’t just an unconscious or capricious one; it is also a legal expulsion in many instances, where octopuses, and other cephalopods, are not afforded the same animal rights as other species, though their capacity for suffering is almost beyond question. Indeed after reading this book I felt a profound sadness in learning about the behaviours of some of these animals, particularly when I learnt that on average they only live for around two years, yet express an inner life and personality that seems a shame flourish on this earth so briefly.

This is why, ever since finishing the book last year, I have made a point of raising the issue of consuming octopuses more and more with those around me.

Yes I know, I am one of those annoying people that seeks to impart my ethical beliefs on what arrives on your plate. But when I bring this up. I hope I am being more persuasive and rational than the average exhortation to leave an animal off ones menu.

Indeed, my argument isn’t to stop eating all animals in general (at least not yet), but rather when it comes to what animals we choose to eat, that we make better decisions as to what should and should not find its way to the end of our forks. In particular when we are deciding whether or not to eat an octopus, I think special consideration needs to be given to its intelligence, and its species place in the environment.

Octopuses are extremely intelligent and complex animals; they are able to use tools and solve intricate problems, to the point where we like to measure this cognitive ability against our own human development (how many times have you heard an animal’s intelligence to rival that of an X year old child?).

From an environmental point of view it is also important to note that octopuses are carnivores, so their place in the food chain is different than that of the various herbivorous land species that we cultivate from the wild. Given that most all octopuses that we consume have been caught in the wild, harvesting these animals from an ecosystem that is already arguably being overfished, is only going to cause more trickle down effects that we aren’t even yet fully aware of.

But, humans being humans, we are looking into the problem of octopus meat being wild and not farmed, and not for the first time I am dismayed by our ability to innovate and overcome problems, rather than optimistic about it.

Our current inability to farm octopuses is not an obstacle we need to overcome, but rather a boundary we need to respect.

And yet according to an article I read yesterday on Vox, scientists are hard at work figuring out ways to farm these intellectual creatures. Rather than try and regiurgitate the facts of the article here, I will leave you to read it there if you are interested. But I think one salient point the author makes is the unique point we find ourselves in at the moment.

We live in a world where currently we factory farm many animal species, causing who knows what kind of suffering and despair. I don’t doubt that in generations time we will still be eating meats of some sort, but I highly doubt it will be extracted in the same manner, and that the way we do things now will be looked back on with remorse and revulsion.

But right now we are at a point where we can stop one point of future regret. Currently we do not factory farm octopuses, and it would be easy to ensure that this never come to pass. It is a good test for our more environmentally minded population to see if we can be this forward looking now, The majority of us acknowledge the harm we are causing the environment, but can we turn this understanding into preventative action? That will be the real test.

I particularly liked this chunk of the article:

There’s a bigger picture here. Jacquet pointed out that one of our biggest struggles this century has been to mitigate or fix many of the harms we’ve done in the course of modern industrialization — climate change, garbage in the oceans, factory farming, pollution.

“We’re constantly trying to scale back problems we’ve caused,” she said. “What we’re trying to do here is to stop a problem before it starts. Let’s do something preventative for once instead of dealing with this problem 40 years from now.” In that sense, combating octopus farming is a rare chance to exercise the foresight that we often wish previous generations had exercised.

I will leave you with that food for thought. Apologies for the poor quality of this post, I churned it out pretty quickly in the hopes that the book is still on sale (was around $3 when I last looked).

I highly recommend this book as an eye opening look into a truly fascinating animal, and  an interesting attempt to try and imagine not just how an animal might experience the world, but how an animal so distinct from us and our mammalian kin might develop their own form of consciousness.

Buy this book!

Source:

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/1/31/18203959/octopus-factory-farms

What I Want from The Last Jedi

When The Force Awakens came out, naturally I was excited. As a lifelong Star Wars fan, the chance to slip back into that world was thrilling. But even so, there was a slight trepidation. The prequels, though still something I enjoy, and as a child was adequately enthralled by, had left me cautious.

But now, two years after JJ Abrams showed that there was more than one way to make a Star Wars trilogy, I have high hopes for The Last Jedi.

I have been steering clear of most spoilers and content, and slowly raising my expectations at what few snippets I let slip through. The trailers; amazing. And now the early reviews; very promising.

I don’t have the time for a detailed explanation of what I am hoping for as I previously posted for The Force Awakens, so instead I am just going to offer a brief list of what I am wanting from my ninth journey to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

  • Humour – one of the most pleasant surprises from TFA was how funny it was. The original trilogy had its fair share of levity, but the prequels never managed to capture the casual humour of characters like Han Solo. Finn got many genuine laughs. So I am hoping that continues here and things don’t go too dark.
  • Something different – Force Awakens was great, but it was also very familiar. That is good with a new trilogy trying to pay homage to its origins, but now is the time to strike out in a new direction. You can remain true to the spirit of Star Wars without having to just rehash things, so that is what I am hoping for.
  • Cool new planets – I don’t really recall much about the planets from TFA. Sure Jakku was pretty cool, but it was also too similar to Tattooine to evoke any new sense of wonder (though yes the crashed Star Destroyer was awesome). I want new locales that stretch the imagination. I want weird environments that look aliens to us, but also realistic. Throw in some funky wildlife and we are on to a winner.
  • Answers! – I want answers damn it!
  • Secrets – I want secrets too…
  • Lightsabers!
  • Weird new Force powers – Not midichlorians, nothing like that. I want more Kylo Ren freezing powers, I want some mystic crap that lines up with Force ghosts and chosen ones.
  • Millennium Falcon.
  • Some new ship – I want a new iconic ship. TFA didn’t really offer up much new in this regard, and if anything I was more impressed by Rogue One’s U Wing than anything else. So hopefully there is something here I can desire in LEGO form next year.
  • Porgs- Really I just want them not to suck.
  • Death! – I want main character deaths that raise the stakes, and are meaningful. More like Han, and less like whoever Kylo killed on Jakku.
  • Ambiguity – Kylo Ren looks like a complicated and conflicted character,and I like that. The original trilogy took Vader from generic baddie, into conflicted person. I want more of this. I want grey areas, and flawed people.
  • Complexity – Empire bad, rebellion good. Jedi good, with bad. Give me something in the middle. Give me real life, where goodies and baddies are never that easy to seperate.

I don’t know what else; just give me a good time!

P.s. excuse the rushed nature of this post, I wrote it on my phone.

February 2017 in Books

Well I did it (kind of). I made it through February without purchasing any new books!

What’s that you say? What is that handsome hardcover book currently gracing the mantle in my lounge room…

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Yes fine, I admit it; I bought David Attenborough’s book when my son and I saw him live last month. But as this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, I figured I could count it as memorabilia, rather than an actual book purchase.

But apart from that one technicality, I didn’t purchase a single book last month; hoorah!

So, in keeping with my tradition of giving extremely late catch ups for the previous months reads, I present all of February’s reads.

Livia Lone

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I first discovered Barry Eisler books on my honeymoon. I grabbed a copy of One Last Kill, the fourth book in his John Rain series, from the airport as a quick read for the plane ride. I was hooked.

A holiday in Sydney was just the right setting to read this book. An unfamiliar location, staying at swish hotels; it was the exact environments mentioned in the book!

Eisler’s writing is so detailed, his understanding of the craft so complete. His books have given me a much greater appreciation for spy craft, and whats more it has made it extra difficult to suspend disbelief when I watch anything involving espionage or counter-survelliance.

“That character should run a surveillance detection route” “There is no way they wouldn’t have seen that tail” “What a sloppy choke point”. These are the kinds of things that enter my mind during movies all the time now.But that all being said, I am much happier for this education; ignorance is not bliss, the truth is always a better state of being.

So when Amazon, with their relentlessly fine-tuned recommendation algorithm, sent me an email about the release of this book, I couldn’t resist.

This is my first non-John Rain Eisler read, and I was not disappointed. All the same attention to detail was still there, but with new exciting characters along for the ride.

The story follows Detective Livia Lone as it concurrently tells her story of being sold into child slavery by her parents, and of her current life trying to track down her sister, and prevent others from suffering her same fate.

Livia is a compelling character. Her origin story is fascinating, and borders on superhero, were it not for the cold-blooded nature of her vigilante actions. Less Batman, more Punisher. But given her targets of her vendetta (child slavery and rape) you are rarely sympathetic to those she dispatches.

Eisler signature combat writing is also on display here, with Livia being an expert in wrestling and brazilian jujitsu. And as dry and technical as detailed explanations of chokeholds may appear, it really gives me not only a greater appreciation for the art itself but also an extra dimension when viewing my sons own black-belt level martial arts.

Hopefully in the future this book will move from the ‘stand alone’ section on Barry’s website, and we can get some more adventures centred around Livia Lone.

The Reluctant Yogi

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For a while now I have been interested in the idea of yoga, but I could never get over all the……wank.

I understand that there is a lot of scientific evidence for the benefits that yoga offers, and that intuitively the stretches and meditative qualities it possesses would be good for the body and mind. But when people start talking about chakras, or energy, I quickly lose faith in their objective nature.

So I was really looking for a more objective analysis of yoga; what is it, how does it work, and is it the thing for me?

This book was exactly what I was looking for. A guide to yoga written by a journalist who approached it from an equally skeptical standpoint. And while at some points it might sound like she has drunk from the yogi Kool-Aid, she is always quick to explain her experiences in a rational manner, and to point out that these experiences are not always a commonly shared affair.

All this being said, i have yet to salute the sun, or imitated a dog, no matter the direction it faced. Bt it has given me a far greater understanding of yoga and how it might eventually find a place in my life. It is reassuring to know that there is much secular basis for undertaking the practice, and that so many of its benefits can be divorced from the mumbo-jumbo that is often touted as being an intrinsic part of yoga.

One day I shall get out my yoga mat and start reaping these benefits, but until then I will have to make do with the occasional stretch.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life

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This book really delivered on the second part of its title; it really opened up this whole other dimension of life.

When I told people I was reading a book about microbes they usually commented on whether it was making me become a germophobe, or was I now revolted by all the things I was learning were squirming around in the microsphere. But really the opposite is true. Instead of being disgusted I was fascinated. Instead I found myself embracing this new, grander view of life.

Perhaps this isnt the best thing after all. I now feel less worried about the bacteria flowing through the world around me. hopefully this doesnt lead to a loss in hygiene practices…

Anyhow, this book is fast looking like a favourite of 2017. Much like last years The Genius of Birds altered my perspective and allowed me to look at our feathered friends through a new lens, now I am constantly reevaluating the world around me as representing only a small fraction of what life has to offer.

The book is full of interesting tales that really turn around a lot of the things you thought you knew. Like how hospitals are realising the benefits of leaving windows open occasionally, to help keep the microbiome of the building more on balance. The theory being; that if you clean too much, you effectively wipe the microbial garden clean, which allows some of the bad microbes to take root like weed in an empty lot. Keeping many of the neutral bacteria and other mini-life in the environment actually halts the growth of some of the nasty ones, thus keeping eveything safer.

I cant recommend this book enough for anyone who wants to start really understanding the complexity of the world we live in, and the wonders that this extended view of life offers us.

Graveyard of Memories

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My second Barry Eisler book of the year, of the month even! After enjoying delving back into the authors writing at the turn of the month, I was pleased to find this book awaiting me on my kindle.

February’s goal of not buying any new books definitely worked in my favour here, because I wasn’t even aware of having purchased this book, and so it could have gone for years without finding its way onto my read list. But after finishing I Contain Multitudes one night and struggling to find the energy to reach my bookshelf (beer may have played a part), I instead delved into the depths of my Kindle, and found this beauty.

A prequel to the John Rain series, this book finds our anti-hero in the streets of Tokyo just as he finds himself unwittingly entering the workforce as a professional hitman. He isn’t as polished as the John Rain we have come to know and love, but his central character traits are definitely on show. Whats more, we get to watch on as the signature elements behind the character begin to form. His fastidious nature, his ‘rules’, his love of jazz. All of that starts here, and starts convincingly.

My only criticism with regard to unplanned prequels, is that you begin to wonder why none of these events were really mentioned in the subsequent tales of the character. So much of what happens here is formative, and yet other story elements are never mentioned in the following books. And given we are told these stories in first person and are privy to the stream of consciousness of Rain throughout them. The fact that the girlfriend he has in this book for instance, is ever mentioned again, is questionable.

But hey; i get the practicality of this, and while it was something that entered my mind, it didn’t stop me loving every chapter of this book.

Barry Eisler is a very reliable writer, and if you have liked anything he has written before, then you are in for a good time here.

Invasion

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This was my last book of the month. As you an see by the above quote; it is a bit of a weird one. As I mentioned with some of last years books, I like a good hook. That initial weird sentence that gets you intrigued. So when Amazon sent me this book with the premise of hairy beach-ball shaped aliens invading earth, and hacking into government systems, I couldn’t turn it away.

The book started off quite intriguing. The aliens were bizarre, different from the usual sci-fi invaders. Their motivation was mysterious, and their means were quite frankly, amusing. The main character was compelling, and funny, so I was engaged enough to continue on, despite the story offering no real direction at first.

But in the end it turned a bit preachy. Rather than giving me the point of view of some aliens intelligence, instead it felt like I was being told how to solve all of earth problems by some idealistic liberal (and don’t get me wrong I am a big fan of leftist style politics). In the end it all seemed too human, too much like a straw man argument brought to life.

So while I was slightly losing interest in the story, I was determined to finish it off, due to my belief in some kind of last minute twist that would provide the adequate pay off.

And then, I was confronted with this:

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Argh!!


 

Well I am feeling good about my February readings. I learned new things, enjoyed some reality escapage, and broadened my understanding of the world. Whats more, I didn’t spend a cent on new books.

But March, oh March; you are looking good!

First of all, a new Kim Stanley Robinson book! My favourite author by far. So much of who I am is down to reading this mans books in my formative years. And with this instalment set in a  future still dealing with the effects of man made climate change, I am really looking forward to seeing what it has to say.

Then, the beginning of the new John Scalzi space opera arrives with the novel The Collapsing Empire. I have read the first three chapters over here and it was pretty damn good.

And lastly, Luna: Wolf Moon. I had never heard of this author before, but last years Luna: New Moon blew me out of the water, so I am really looking forward to this instalment, especially if it involves (as the title hopefully suggests) of the wolf pack mentioned in the original book.

Here is to March (which is already over a third over, but none of these books have arrived yet!).

MM

 

It’s Getting Better All The Time

Looking at the news, and listening to the sentiment of those around you, sometimes it can appear as if things are getting worse and worse. But really, I think people are just getting more pessimistic, and more prone to sensationalising the problems they see in the media.

In fact, I think that because we have things so good these days, it blinds us to the actual problems facing the world. Just look at how Trump got into power by exaggerating the problems of crime and terrorism in the United States, or even when Abbott and Co managed to whip up a frenzy about how terribly Australia was doing, when we performed better than most other developed countries throughout the Great Recession. We live in one of the best countries in the world, at arguably the best time to be alive, and yet people think society is on some downwards spiral. These days you are less likely to face violent crime, disease, illiteracy, or discrimination than ever before. Yet people pine for some imaginary past where things were better (or ‘great’…)

This is why I like to make sure I read the Annual Gates Letter every year. This is the letter that Bill and Melinda Gates produce each year to highlight the progress they are making through their various humanitarian efforts. In this letter, they point out that:

“Actually, in significant ways, the world is a better place to live than it has ever been. Global poverty is going down, childhood deaths are dropping, literacy is rising, the status of women and minorities around the world is improving.”

There are so many people working hard around the world to make things better. The problem is, slow and gradual improvements to people’s lives doesn’t make for a good news story. You won’t see the news reporting that extreme poverty has been cut in half over the last 25 years; but it has. You won’t hear about the 122 million children’s lives saved in the past 25 years, but the numbers show this to be the case. These days the percentage of children vaccinated is higher than ever. You won’t see any front-page stories about these continued trends, and yet it is happening. In fact, when the general public was polled on this, only 1% of them believe poverty was decreasing; madness!

This year it is predicted that one of the things that humanity has been working hard for will finally pay off, and we will have zero cases of polio. Rest assured, this will make it on the news. But sadly, it will be a one-time only report, whereas negative news (like terrorist attacks, or other crimes) get repeated daily, with constant coverage of the fallout, and victims. Don’t get me wrong; I think this kind of reporting is important. But it is this very reason that people develop a pessimistic view of how the world is functioning.

Reading the Gates Letter helps me maintain optimism. It gives a clear picture of how these sustained efforts are making measurable differences, and gives me confidence that, as Bill Says, “The future will surprise the pessimists.”

And sure, there are a lot of other things that we need to address when it comes to the world stage, with inequality, war, and the environment being prime examples. However, I think it is important that we take the time to see the actual progress being made, and to take stock of the real gains being achieved each and every day by determined and dedicated human beings.

Read this letter!

MM