Archive for category thoughts
(This is part three of a series of posts about my impressions of Japan. Please forgive any generalisations, inaccuracies and the taint of a mindset unaccustomed to the East)
This post is loosely concerned with food and socialising in Japan. Cherry blossoms, sushi, cats, apples, bars, and more, including pictures.
(This is part one of a series of posts about my impressions of Japan. Please forgive any generalisations, inaccuracies and the taint of a mindset unaccustomed to the East)
I am currently in Tokyo and perhaps one of the strangest experiences I’ve had is being thanked and greeted, in unison, by all the waiters when I left a restaurant. It was as if the king and his retinue had just visited. This is not uncommon, apparently. The last customers to leave a store are often bowed to, I’m told, and it’s a distinctly unpleasant experience for a Western mindset.
The singularity is, by one definition, the first point at which an artificial intelligence equivalent to that of a human is created. There are several ways this could happen, but there is one that I find particularly interesting and that I which I envisioned in a kind of post-apocalyptic story some time ago. Recently, I learnt that a rudimentary first step in realising this future has been taken by science: scientists have mapped the brain of a worm and used it to control a robot.
In South Africa we have an interesting phenomenon: car guards. These are people who stand in parking lots and parking spaces generally, typically wearing a neon vest, “looking after” your car. Typically they receive (at least part of their) income as donations from the motorists whose cars they have kept safe. I have encountered car guards for years and I realised I actually know little about them.
I suspect international readers may find this concept hard to understand and I refer you to this comical video by a South African comedy duo. Despite the comedic element, the portrayal is fairly accurate. As in this video, car guards are almost always male, but unlike in the video, they are also almost always black.
Many car guards are hired by the owners of the premises. I am not sure of how much protection they actually provide. I have never heard of a car guard actually stopping or attempting to stop a theft. That does not mean, however, that car guards do not prevent attempts – like visible policing they may make thefts less likely. For the most part, however, their role seems to be to help motorists get into and out of tricky parking spots. These men are not security guards – they are not armed and I suspect most are not trained to deal with proper criminals.
Many “car guards”, I suspect, take advantage of the fact that anyone with a neon vest has a legitimate claim as guarding any otherwise unattended parking facility. Car guards have become so ingrained in daily lives that we hardly even think about paying them. Much like providing a tip to a waitron, it has been customary and we feel guilty if we shirk this duty.
In so far as car guards are not actually providing a useful service, they effectively represent a form of charity, a means of creating employment not unlike asking people to dig holes and fill them up again. This is probably not entirely fair and we must consider that South Africa sits with a glut of unskilled labour that is not being put to productive use (our youth unemployment rate is notoriously high). Car guards represent one way of giving an income, one that is earned, at least in some measure, to a portion of our unskilled labour force.
The question of whether this is good or bad is moot. It is certainly better than having a larger supply of beggars. The fact that this country has no better way of employing much of its population is the problem. It’s also probably true that the South African public has come to expect car guards: we want them there.
I leave you with some questions. If you have something to say about any of them, please leave a comment:
- Do you know of any research on whether car guards do reduce car thefts?
- Do you feel safer with a car guard nearby?
- Have you heard of a car guard preventing a theft?
- How do you feel about paying car guards?
- Do you think there are more “productive” means employing a larger part of our population?
I have been using Strava for only a few weeks and already I feel that it has changed how I feel about exercise (it remains to be seen if this change is permanent). The instant availability of my speed and distance have a strangely motivating factor about them. I used to run for exercise (it was a chore). Now I run to improve my speed or distance – it’s even (just a teeny tiny bit) exciting.
“What if you could turn it all around? Lose weight, regain the ridiculous energy levels of your youth [….] How about if you could do that while still eating really well? You know… all the good stuff […] juicy steak, eggs pretty much any way you like them, roast chicken, heavenly bacon and more?” – The Real Meal Revolution
The above is a quote from a suddenly popular book, The real meal revolution, which proposes that people should follow the Banting (low carb, high fat) diet for weight loss and health (it is essentially a paleo-style diet as I understand it). In two previous posts I considered, respectively, healthy eating and ethical eating. One of my problems with these new-fangled diets, in my opinion, is that they make it much harder to do something I find to be an ethical imperative: eat less meat.
In a previous post I briefly discussed the difficulties of trying to eat healthily with all the pseudo-scientific claims about what is healthy. The topic of food ethics is, perhaps, even more convoluted. Vegetarians, vegans and environmentalists all have a view. There is Fair Trade and non-GMO (Monsanto is evil, apparently). With all this clamour there are so few unambiguous truths and I feel I would need several PhDs and two lifetimes to be able to sift through it all.
Now that I am no longer a student, I find I have some need not to eat like a student. I’d like to eat proper food, perhaps even food I myself prepared, with some thought for things like health and ethics. This is starting to feel like Herculean task. What on Earth is healthy and how do you know what is ethical? In this post I will write about eating healthily. I’ll look at ethics in a follow-up post.
On the health side, there seem to be a host of “healthy” diets being propagated. The adherents of these diets, which have names like “paleo”, “low carb”, “Banting” and “mediterranean” are more fervent proselytisers than most missionaries. They claim to rely on studies and books, but I have trouble distinguishing them from mere ideologies.
I do not have the time or inclination to wade through the mess of opinions, half-substantiated claims and assumptions that underlie these fad diets. Nor can I wait entire lifetimes for these diets to truly prove their worth. Unlike with, for instance, smoking, I no longer think that just sitting down and reading the relevant information will make how to eat healthily much clearer. For many things there are no real answers. Some things are clear and you need to act on those, for the rest you will need to use heuristics.
I think the following simple approach should be effective. There are three principles:
1. Change the easy things first: This is simply because I am lazy and have better things to do. If I tried to give up all carbs, I’d starve as I would not know what to eat, so I focus on making the carbs I do eat of a better quality.
2.Then change the most clearly harmful things. It seems everyone agrees that sugar (refined carbohydrates) is the most destructive fiend. Thus, for instance, cutting out fizzy drinks and juices.
3. Everything in moderation. This is a simple risk management strategy. Eating a moderate amount of something that turns out not to be too healthy is unlikely to do a lot of harm. Eating nothing of something that you need could be very dangerous. Similarly for eating lots of something that turns out to be harmful. This is why I am sceptical of the Banting diet (proposed by Tim Noakes) – it has virtually no carbohydrates and lots and lots of saturated fat. If the diet is founded on facts, great. But there’s a large risk that we find that over the long term too few carbs are harmful.
If you have any ideas on how to eat healthily, feel free to leave a comment, particularly if you can substantiate your claims.