Still mortal (after all these years)

Screenshot anime Hanada Shounen Shi.

Give me immortality or give me resurrection! Death is not on my wishlist at all. Unfortunately, it won’t always be up to me.

“My goal is to be immortal. So far, so good.” Uh, about that…

I am double-vaccinated against COVID-19, but I can still get cancer. And probably have, but we’ll know more about that by the end of August at the earliest. But when I saw the patch of red, scabby skin on my face had grown a new little blood vessel, I did not tarry overlong requesting a doctor appointment. Angiogenesis – the creation of new blood vessels – is not something bacteria or fungi can do, but cancers do this routinely as they mature, because without extra blood supply their growth is limited. So yeah, probably cancer this time, or at least a precancerous growth. Which sucks, but not as much as it did a couple of generations ago.

When I was a kid, the word “cancer” was pretty much a death sentence. But that is no longer the case, especially with cancers that are easily detected, like basal and squamous skin cancers. (This is probably one of those, if it has even advanced to the cancer stage at all.) Today, the greater risk for me is the simple and streamlined structure of Norwegian public health care (which is almost all the health care we have, except for a booming beauty industry).


Norwegian health care: Each person is assigned a regular doctor, called “fastlege” in Norwegian. Unfortunately this has nothing to do with the English words “fast” as in speedy, but rather means fixed, immovable doctor. (They can be replaced though, but it is a procedure.) Mine has been looking out for me for many years, most lately by gambling on me getting vaccinated in a far-away location without getting infected along the way. So I’m fine with the system in general. But doctors need a vacation too. Regular doctors, specialists, all kinds of health personnel celebrate the short Norwegian summer by taking a month or so off. Last time I was suspected to have cancer (false alarm, yay) I had to wait a couple of months for further investigation because of summer vacation. This time I am only waiting 1 month for my regular doctor, but of course it feels longer.

After seeing my doctor, he will hopefully apply for an appointment with a dermatologist. (Ideally my local doctor would remove the skin lesion first, but that may be too much to hope for.) Then a couple more months (possibly more since people have stayed away for 18 months during the pandemic). Hopefully the dermatologist will remove the thing and get it checked for cancer. I would like to have this done before Christmas, but again, there is likely a backlog from the pandemic. And I guess I have contributed to that, so fair is fair.

Generally, our health care has two lanes: Emergency and everything else. Cancer is not an emergency, at least not until it is too late. So it is perfectly normal for people to wait for months to diagnose and remove a small cancer, and then have a fortune of tax money spent trying in vain to get rid of all the metastases that were created during the wait. This may not be perfect, but it is simple and streamlined, the way we like things here in Norway. It wouldn’t be like this unless the people wanted it this way, what with us having a pretty effective democracy as such things go. A small downside of our current democracy is that dead people don’t vote. (Unlike what I hear from some other countries.) So if some feature causes people to get removed from the voting pool, those who suffered from it will not be around to vote against it.


Well, it is not like I was in doubt about the mortality of my flesh before. I am that age after all, where I could live another thirty years or another thirty seconds. You have to get used to it. “All flesh is grass” a better prophet than me once said. But episodes like this one remind me of the unofficial motto of the Chaos Node: “We must say all the words that should be spoken, before they are lost forever.” And I wonder if I have done that. Probably, and then some. But as long as you live, there are new things to learn.

COVID-19: Be like Norway, maybe?

“Be like Sweden” they said. “It will be fun, they said.” (Image from the Swedish course on

Since I am still alive (surprise!), I should probably write this. It is still a time of confusion for many, and a time of uncertainty even for me. How long I shall remain in the world of forms is literally up in the air. But at least I am still alive as of writing this. And living in Norway may be a big part of that.

“Be like Sweden” say homemade banners from people who are not usually big fans of the Nordic social democracy. Social Democracy is generally grouped with Socialism among those who have no education in the field beyond hearsay and rumors. So what did Sweden do to summon forth this sudden love? It allowed a few thousand people to die for the economy, it seems.

I should make it clear that we are not talking about “Hey, we have too many old people here, let’s kill some of them off for the good of all of us, except the ones who are dead.” Nope, nothing like that. More like “Some of you are going to die, probably, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.” Obviously, with COVID-19 being a brand new disease, nobody knew for sure how many might die, but optimism prevailed. It was thought that children were immune and also could not spread the virus, and that maybe 95% of those infected never developed the disease at all, or not beyond a common cold. Hey, seriously, people believed that for a while. So much like any drunk driver, Sweden took the chance that it would probably be fine. Well, they were kind of right, in that only 5000 have died so far (officially at least) out of 10 million. Of course, those who died might have seen it in a less positive light.

My native Norway, Sweden’s smaller brother to the west, was || this close to taking the same path. But our female Prime Minister chickened out and slammed the emergency brakes. As a result Norway could open up again around the time Sweden realized that things were not really going as well as expected.


On March 12, the Norwegian government declared the most severe restrictions in peacetime ever. (Arguably the most severe ever, since we’ve only been in war once after our independence in 1905, and then it was the German occupation force that introduced the severity.) Schools and kindergartens were closed down, as were one-on-one services like hairdressers or physical therapy; gatherings of more than 5 people outside the household were forbidden, and travel was severely restricted even inside the country while the borders were closed almost completely. Health personnel were forbidden from leaving the country, and others who crossed the borders were required to quarantine on return.

Groceries and supermarkets were kept open and it was made clear that they would remain so. This prevented most of the hoarding seen in some other nations. Actually, my local supermarket had a sale on toilet paper at the time when lack of toilet paper was a recurring headline in many other countries. There was some extra sale of dry and canned food. (I had shopped that a month or two in advance, since it was glaringly obvious already in January that the pandemic would hit us like a giant wave.)

I had also worked from home for a while when the order came for all office workers to work from home wherever possible. Mass transit was ordered to leave every other seat marked as unavailable. Like that would be enough, as one person sneezing in a bus will reach at least half the bus if not all of it. Data so far imply that mass transit has been the main scene of transmission along with shared workspace, so sending most office workers home was probably the single most effective move, far more than some of the more draconian restrictions.

By the end of April, the first wave of the pandemic was fast receding in Norway, and society began to open up.


The re-opening of Norway started with kindergarten, as one could expect since it is quite rare to have stay-at-home parents here, of either gender. If you’ve ever seen pre-school children awake, you probably can imagine what having them around would do for productivity at the home office. Even grade school kids tend to get restless pretty quickly if they don’t get attention (especially if they don’t have the good luck to be born introverts). So a week after their smaller siblings, the first four grades of primary school were off to class, followed by the rest in early May.

Also in early May, gatherings of up to 20 people were allowed, or 50 for formal gatherings in public spaces. Recommended distance was lowered from 2 meters (yards) to 1.

In May, the rapid fall in new infections stopped and the disease stabilized on a very low level, typically 10-20 new cases registered per day, in a population of 5 million. For some reason everyone seems happy with having rolled the boulder almost to the top of the hill and leaving it there, ready to roll all the way back down again, rather than end the threat more definitely. One reason for that can be seen by looking over the border to the east: Neighboring Sweden still had a raging epidemic, even though the top of the first wave had been passed even there. The top was far higher though, and the decline slower. Eradicating the disease in Norway was perhaps pointless if anyone sneaking across the border could set it off again from the start.


It is now late June, and contrary to my expectations, we have not had a second wave. The number of infections has increased marginally, occasionally rising above 30 new cases per day. We also know that there are some unregistered cases, because we get new patients who have no idea where they were infected. There are probably some asymptomatic carriers, or people with so mild symptoms that they can’t be bothered to get tested, as well as people who avoid health personnel or anything resembling government for personal reasons. The testing capacity is far, far higher than needed, although there are occasionally unnecessary wait times for results. Mostly just a couple days though.

Norwegians have been encouraged to vacation in Norway, meaning evidently that they are supposed to travel to other parts of Norway on vacation instead of staying at home as would be the sane thing to do. Now they are going to throng together at the popular tourist spots (one of which is right here where I live) and we can expect local outbreaks.


Speaking of local outbreaks, one reason the topic came to mind again was that a shop worker sneezed right by me this past Friday. Nobody here wears face masks – by ancient tradition, only criminals wear masks outside certain parts of hospitals – so now I’m waiting to see whether I got COVID-19 or not. A bit of excitement in everyday life, since I’m in a couple risk groups. That said, there’s been like 1 registered case in this province so far in June, so if I get COVID-19 from this episode I think we’ll have to chalk it up to Divine intervention. Which admittedly seems to play a pretty big role in my life, looking back on it, but usually for the better. Starting with the amazingly great fortune of being born into Norwegian citizenship, which is already like winning a lottery.

Mighty judgment coming

Sceenshot anime Tokyo Mag 8

In the anime “Tokyo Mag 8”, a girl writes an angry text, wishing that the world would just break. Right after she sends it, the city is hit by a devastating earthquake. Even in the anime, she is not the reason for the disaster, but it still has to feel pretty bad looking back on it.

I live in Norway, but most of my online friends and acquaintances are American. Among the Democrats there circulate some “funny” memes like “Godzilla 2020” or “Giant Meteor 2020”. The meaning behind this is that even a horror or a natural disaster would be better than the current Trump administration.

Rejoice, then, for your cries have come before the ears of the LORD. A new coronavirus has emerged that preferably kills elderly men, although it will attempt to devour also others who are elderly or sick. It seems to leave children and the young mostly untouched, so far, and is rarely severe in those under 40 and rarely (so far) deadly in those under 60. When this spreads in the USA, it should thoroughly decimate the Republican voter base, where the elderly and men in particular are over-represented.

Are you happy now? Of course, as such things go, it won’t spare your own friends and relatives, or yourself if you are in the risk group. But at least it is a more “surgical strike” than the disasters you mockingly invoked.

(I should probably note here that of course I don’t literally believe American Democrats have some kind of divine backchannel that lets them unleash death on the patriarchy. Just that, like the girl in the anime, it is not really something I think they will be happy about when looking back. Not that they don’t sincerely think of the current government as a disaster, since thousands of real lives could have been saved if the US had a Europe-style health care system. So it is easy to think that the wealthy old men presiding over the system could deserve to taste their own medicine, or lack thereof.)

Now you may say that I’ve grown bitter,
but of this you may be sure:
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor,
and there’s a mighty judgment coming…
but I may be wrong.
You see, you hear these funny voices, in the Tower of Song.

-Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song.

I don’t look forward to this one myself either. I’m 61, with moderate exercise asthma and paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. I’m in the “maybe die, maybe struggle for breath a couple weeks” category. My brothers are all older than me, but seem to be in better health, long may it last. Whether any, some or all of us will survive this year is all up in the air now. More than usual, I mean.

It may still not be too late to make a vaccine and distribute it, but there probably isn’t enough time to prevent at least some degree of disaster. The latest reports from China say that the virus incubates for up to 14 days, but transmits during part of that time. That means screening at airports is pretty much a waste of time and money – patients with the virus will go undetected for days, go about their lives, interact with friends and families and coworkers and door knobs. This puts the virus squarely in the pandemic class, unlike the previous outbreaks of SARS and MERS which could be quarantined once authorities took them seriously. It is more like the swine flu, only (so far) without the vaccine. And much more deadly.

Looking at the current stats from China, with 56 dead and 2000 sick, it does not seem particularly lethal. Until you realize that those 56 dead are people who were hospitalized when there were 500 diagnosed or less. And of those, there are still some – or many, we don’t know – who are going to die in the days ahead.

The World Health Organization originally wrote it off as a Chinese problem rather than a global one. I hope they are willing to admit their error and allocate any available resources. The virus is already in the United States, there is nowhere in the world it can’t reach from there, and quickly. It is time to hide your kings, presidents, prime ministers and supreme court judges. There’s a mighty judgment coming… but I may be wrong. Let’s all hope so.

Limits of redistribution

Screenshot anime GJ-bu

Redistribution of cake may seem like a good idea, but how will you redistribute the fat?

In “honor” of the international holy day of Socialism, I will write briefly again about why I am thoroughly anti-socialism.

Basically, socialism is a movement in which it is assumed that people should not need to take responsibility for their choices. But you can only do this up to a point. Even if we imagine that a society could exist where people will work just as eagerly for the common good as for their own – although no such society has ever existed – we would still only have come a short way. You can redistribute money, but you cannot for instance redistribute health, knowledge, happiness, meaning.

You can certainly redistribute health care. Those who are healthy can work and pay taxes which are then spent for medication, hospital stay, tests, surgery and so on for the sick. Indeed, if the government did not arrange for this, we ought to do it on our own accord. But this can only fix what is broken. We cannot transfer health itself. Health is something more than being repaired every time we break down. Living a healthy life is much more than that. To compare it to something else, even if you are not freezing to death, you are not necessarily warm. In the same way, even if you are not dying, you are not necessarily healthy.

If every person who had functioning legs decided to walk half an hour a day, we would not only save billions in preventable lifestyle diseases. People would also feel more energetic, their mood would improve, they would think more clearly, they would look more pleasing to the eye, and they would sleep better at night. This is not some revelation just I have had, this is solid scientific fact and ought to be in school textbooks if it isn’t there already. As you can understand, only a small part of the benefits can be transferred by taxing those who walk and using that money to patch up those who just sit there.

It is like this all around. If you don’t read good books, no amount of taxing me can give you the knowledge and insight and pleasure that I derive from reading. If you don’t meditate, no amount of taxing me can give you the peace and wisdom that should have been your birthright as a human. If you envy others, your frustration will never stop gnawing inside you. These things cannot be transferred by the state, or by any other human institution.

Redistribution is sometimes necessary, and we should have done so voluntarily. When we as a society did not, we were punished with socialism. But for the most part, redistribution is not possible. Most of life we must take responsibility for anyway, or suffer the consequences to some degree.

Food is too cheap now

Screenshot anime GJ-bu

What is the proper way to eat hamburger and fries? No more than once a day. ^_^ Food has become so cheap that there are now more obese humans than starving ones.

Back to our world, which has its own troubles. But most of these troubles are not natural or technological or even economic, but moral: Greed, anger and ignorance. Today, let us look at the Quora question “What would be a good plan to produce enough food for everyone on the planet?

Ryan Carlyle pretty much nails it in his answer, and I am happy to say that this is the most upvoted answer at the time of writing. We already produce 2700 calories a day for each human on Earth, enough for everyone to get a little chubby. But some of the food spoils, some is wasted, and much of it is eaten by those who already are a little chubby (and then some). The real problem however is bad government, says Carlyle.

I tend to think that for the most case, bad government stems from bad culture, specifically a culture of war and strife. The most terrible places to live on earth are those where people have a tradition for war, civil wars or tribal feuds. It is impossible to have a good government in such places. Bloodthirsty people will follow bloodthirsty leaders. Those who do not feel bad about people being shot will not feel bad about people going hungry either.

If it is not obvious to you that the problem of starvation is human rather than natural, just read his explanation again until you get it. It is pretty straightforward. If there is more than enough food for all, then the problem is not in the soil but somewhere between the farm and the mouth, at least I hope we can agree on this.


What I want to bring up is related to that, but not quite the same. What would happen if all the wars ended, the dictators set their peoples free, and the ruined roads and warehouses were repaired? What would happen if hungry could finally eat their fill? The price of food would go up.

Today, because a billion people don’t get to eat their fill, there is that much more for the rest, and this presses the prices down. You may not think food is cheap, but in that case you are probably thinking of the wrong food. (Or you are reading this in the future, when various things have happened that I may or may not have predicted.) The price of food to farmers is so low that a great deal of arable land lies unused – the people who might have farmed it prefer to do things that are better paid, and buy their food in the supermarket. In the rich world, almost the only land being farmed is that which is suited for full-mechanized farming, where the work is done with large diesel-powered tractors and other farm machines. This is because if it required more manual labor, the hourly wage would simply not be worth the trouble.

If a billion more people came to bid for the same food, the price would necessarily rise. The supermarket may not look like an auction, but the food that ends up there has often passed through an auction earlier. Grain, potatoes, even cattle are auctioned. Unless you are getting your food from the local farmers’ market, chances are it has been auctioned. And even the local vegetable farmer will keep an eye on the Net to check what the current prices are.

So if all goes well, if we manage to end the wars and not start new ones (a big, big if) then food prices will go up. But this is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. First, it is a good thing because it is a sign that more people are getting food. But it is also a good thing because it means farmers will reopen their fallow fields, and small farms that would have been closed down will get new owners and continue to operate. With higher food prices, it will be worth the time to farm in terrain that is not quite as perfect for large machines. The production of food will expand until the price stabilizes, and it will likely do so on a level that is still very comfortable for us in the rich world. Even a ten percent increase in the hourly wages of the farmer would bring a lot of land back into production.

Over the last couple decades, the number of Chinese who have gone from poverty to middle class is large than the population of the USA. This means their eating habits have changed. No longer eating rice for all meals unless it is a public festival (in which case the family eats a chicken), people now eat pork and beef. It takes about ten pounds of corn to make one pound of beef (somewhat less for pork and poultry) so a lot of grain has gone into this process. But the world has not really noticed. The prices of food vary somewhat, but other factors have much larger effect. (Here in Norway, for instance, groceries have been consolidated into a few chains so the competition is less fierce. The chains have a lot of profit now, which they would not have had if we bothered to enforce competition. But food is too cheap for us to bother. Your state may vary.)

The population is expected to peak around 9.5 billion at the middle of the century, barring some unimaginable disaster (which will likely happen, but it is not clear whether this will make the number lower or higher). We can feed them all with a moderate increase in food prices. Of course, this is not a big deal in northern Europe or America. But there are other parts of the world where food is a big part of the budget. The solution to this is to let these people earn more. And this is currently happening.

While my friends in Europe and America feel like they are trapped in an endless recession, the developing world is growing at about 5% a year. That is from a low level, of course, but as Albert Einstein said, “compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe”. The next time it grow by 5%, it is 5% of a higher number. And as an old friend of mine would say: “$10 is a lot of money when you don’t have it.” For the poor, 5% more money makes a big difference. It allows them to improve their lot even more. With a bike, they may be able to commute to a better paid job in the town. With that better paid job, they may be able to afford an Android tablet. With that tablet, their kids may improve their school skills and get a better job than their parents ever could. Poverty is a deep valley, but the higher you climb, the higher you can climb. By 2050, it may not be the same parts of the world that are struggling. It may be those who are fat and lazy today.

We do not need cheaper food – we need less poverty. And we know the way to that. As the Buddha said, we need to remove the 3 poisons of the mind: Greed, anger and ignorance. The world is not Heaven, but we could make it a lot closer just by this.

Norway and Sweden

Norwegian spring - circa 2005

If not for the telltale Norwegian flag, this picture from a half forgotten spring day could just as easily have been from neighboring Sweden.

The “brother kingdoms” of Norway and Sweden should be of interest to all of the world, for the way they illustrate what really matters in a highly developed country.

The two nations share the Scandinavian peninsula, my native Norway to the west and Sweden to the east. Most Norwegians are genetically indistinguishable from Swedes (and Danes), the culture is very similar, and even the languages are mutually comprehensible. Well, older Swedes may have a hard time understanding Norwegian unless they are paid for it, but the reason for this is psychological. For centuries, Sweden was the big brother, not just in population but in prosperity and culture as well. From 1814 to 1905 Norway was basically as Swedish province, but gained independence peacefully after a dramatic cultural revival in the latter half of the 19th century, led by world-famous names such as Ibsen (playwright), Grieg (composer), Munch (painter) and Vigeland (sculptor). This golden age turned out to be temporary, and Sweden remained the leader of the Nordic countries.

Then in the 1960es, Norway won the nature lottery: Under the North Sea lay enormous reserves of oil and gas. Over the next decades, great wealth started flowing into the country: Mostly directly to the state through oil taxes and ownership, but the high-tech oil supply industry also earned large amounts of money. By now, a Norwegian worker is likely to earn substantially more than his or her Swedish counterpart, and pay less tax. For some years now, the UN has declared Norway the world’s best country in which to live. Some envy from the Swedish side cannot be avoided, but there is actually less reason for it than one might think.

It is true that a Norwegian worker (or pensioner) has quite a bit more money left after tax. But it just so happens that most things are more expensive in Norway too. Food is so expensive that Norwegians who live near the border often drive to Sweden to buy their groceries for the week, and even on the south coast people take the ferry to Denmark – a rather long trip for something called a ferry – to buy meat and alcohol. Alcohol is expensive in both Norway and Sweden, but even more extreme in Norway. But it is not just food. Books are substantially more expensive in Norway, cars are a lot more pricey, and housing is disturbingly overpriced. (In Oslo prices are comparable to the world’s largest trade centers such as London, New York and Tokyo, with 10-20 times the population density.)

The surprising result is that the living standard in Norway in Norway is only marginally higher in Norway than in Sweden. Indeed, for a large family the costs of housing and food in Norway may make it harder to make ends meet than in Sweden. (That said, large families are rare in either country these days.)

It seems that while money has poured into the Norwegian economy, there has not been a corresponding increase in the things you can buy for money, and so the prices have risen to meet the newfound willingness to pay.

There are some exceptions to this. One is goods that are anyway directly imported from overseas, such as electronics and everyday clothing. Scandinavians also increasingly import music, video and English-language books from abroad, in which case the nominal wealth of Norwegians translate directly into purchasing power. And with both nations having legally enforced 5 weeks vacation, it is also customary to visit foreign countries each year, where the strong Norwegian currency makes the winter-pale Norwegians into princes and princesses.

But for most of the year, the difference in nominal income makes very little difference to the actual standard of living. There is a lesson to learn from this, I think. It is true that for a developing country, lack of money is a big problem. But for the world’s richest countries, GDP growth is no longer really important. Streamlining public services and reaching compromises on political issues contributes more to the wellbeing of the people. A number of countries should pay heed to this and perhaps take a long good look at Sweden now that their own economies are faltering. Perhaps they can get some hints there.


Watching you: A dark and jealous god arises.

Atheists will often say to monotheists: “I just believe in one less god than you do.” In practice, the difference is arguably even less. I would argue that the vast majority of atheists today believe in “half a god”.

There is an invisible, benevolent but still dangerous being that has the power and the wisdom to decide over life and death. Due to its nature, this being is not visible to the human eye, but its commands are carried out by a large staff of human servants. This being is also considered competent to regulate our lives (and, perhaps more important to most of us, the lives of our neighbors) in great detail, down to who we are allowed to have sex with. But it also looks after us, and gives us each day our bread even if we don’t deserve it, and far more than bread if we serve it faithfully. Generations are born, live and die, serving this great being, giving their lives if needed. I am, of course, talking about the state or nation.

The gradual growth of the state has given it steadily more of the powers that were in the past considered suitable only for God, and this process has particularly gained speed over the last few generations. During the same time, and in the same countries, open atheism has begun to blossom. In the social democratic nations of northern Europe, atheism is now the norm. But how much of a leap is that really, if the state conveniently provides pretty much the same framework for individuals and societies, which religion provided in the past?

Now you may argue that the state is thoroughly this-worldly and does not promise salvation or a blessed afterlife to the soul. That is hopefully the case, but I will point out that neither did Yahweh back in the days of the Pentateuch. Even as late as Solomon (or whoever wrote in his name), God’s own truth was that “the dead know nothing” and have no more part in what transpires under the sun. Toward the end of the Old Testament, there are more or less clear promises of a future resurrection. But the concept of a non-corporeal afterlife in an invisible paradise is at best hinted at in the New Testament, where the resurrection is still the main event. So today the state is roughly at the level of Moses’ God in that it can kill and that’s the end of it. If the technology advances enough, it may start offering selective resurrections, and perhaps eventually promise to upload us to the Cloud. This could certainly happen in your lifetime if you are young, although it may not happen at all, depending on how history unfolds.

My point is that it is a lot easier to be an atheist these days, as long as you are allowed to trust in a state that does its best to make itself as godlike as possible. It is rather less impressive than it would otherwise have been. And monotheists may not need to actually use their faith a lot either, since they can just float along on the same current as the atheists – for now. There are times and places where you cannot serve God and State, and where the State basically says, “Thou shalt have no other god before me.” I am not  fond of this practice. I’d rather we give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and not much more.

But at least, don’t crow about being an atheist if you depend on an invisible higher power to give your life direction.

Randomness and democracy

Should not the superior man rule the masses, rather than the other way around? But it rarely is that simple, and I hope I shall show why.

In principle, in the ideal world, actions have predictable consequences. Eat right and exercise regularly, and you will live a long and healthy life. Study hard, work conscientiously, live frugally, and you will become rich eventually. Things like that.

But the world we live in down here on Earth, what most people call the real world, is not quite like that. There is an element of randomness, at least as seen from the human perspective. So many principles are active at the same time, many of which are outside of our control, that the simple cause and effect we look for is broken up. We cannot predict the future, much less create it. All we can do is increase the chances of a certain outcome. We cannot ensure it, cannot guarantee it.

Well, jumping from bridges works much as expected, but if you are walking along the road, loose cargo from a truck may hit you and kill you anyway, as happened to a guy not far from here. All our plans, all our hopes, not to say our dreams, are subject to uncertainty. The more complex the chain of cause and effect, and the longer it takes, the more randomness overtakes it.


We are all aware of this on the outside, that is to say, what the world does to us. We know there is a random element in what happens to us. But there is another randomness that we generally disregard. This is the randomness inside, the randomness of what we think, feel, say and do. This internal randomness is more or less unofficial, and with good reason.

While randomness from the outside occurs pretty much equally to all of us, randomness from inside varies from person to person. This is problematic.

Some people are just principled. If they decide to not eat snacks, they don’t change their mind when they pass between long shelves of snacks in the supermarket. If they decide to not drink, they don’t change their mind if everyone around them drinks. If they have decided on monogamy, they don’t change their mind when approached by someone extremely attractive. If there is randomness within them, it seems to be weeded out before it even reaches the surface.

On the other extreme, we have the extremely spontaneous people. They want to graduate with honors too, but when they drop by the store for some bread, they somehow end up with beer instead. They want to do well in the job interview tomorrow, but end up playing World of Warcraft till 5 in the morning and oversleeping the whole thing. They may be fun to be around, but not so much when the bills come due.

Even if we follow a course of action firmly, randomness from outside means we can only raise the odds in our favor. But if randomness already intrudes between our aspirations and our actions, we can hardly even raise the odds at all. If what we do is random, what happens to us will be even more random.


Based on all this, one may be tempted to reconsider the whole general emancipation thing. You know, the whole thing about letting pretty much everyone vote.

Some states actually don’t let convicted felons vote, and this is a pretty good test of impulsiveness – if you are less impulsive, you probably either don’t commit the crime, or you wait until you can do so without getting caught. But not all people have the same impulses. Why let fat people vote? People with STDs? You can invent endless such tests until you and your friends are the only people left who can vote. Wouldn’t this be a good idea? For the good of all, I mean…

Probably not. To understand this, we should take a look at how people become principled in the first place.

Some people may be born to be principled and strong-willed. Perhaps it is genetic, unless you believe that it lies in the human spirit and each person is given a certain amount of this trait before being sent down to Earth.

Some people may have been raised to become principled. I can’t think of anyone, but this could be because we lack a control group. We don’t know how the kids would have grown up if they had been allowed to run free.

But there is a path for the adult who wants to become less random. It consists on having a living interest in the higher principles, as found in higher religions and philosophies. Those who think of the Eternal Laws  frequently, who meditate on them when alone, who ask about them and seek the companies of those who follow them, these people tend to gradually become drawn toward these Principles, and in time become more principled themselves. It may take its sweet time, depending on their starting position, but that is the trend. That is the direction in which they move, out of chaos and onto a steadier path.

You may think that having an over-representation of these people among the voters would be a great idea. I don’t entirely disagree, but there is something you need to know about these people. Beyond a certain point, there is a tendency that their kingdom is no longer of this world. In short, they may not feel very strongly about politics. If we have greatly reduced the number of other people who can vote, we may end up with mostly political fanatics, who are principled because of their monomaniacal devotion to some (probably unrealistic) cause or dream. These people tend to not understand ordinary people as easily as do those who have been one. They also tend to not consider other people’s lives very important compared to The Cause.

Having general emancipation introduces a great deal of randomness, and thereby inertia, into the political process. This is bad when it impedes rapid progress toward the better, but it is great when it impedes rapid descent into pure madness, which is historically rather likely. After Caesar and Augustus there is sure to come a Nero and a Caligula and a long parade of self-serving or outright insane people. This is why, as Winston Churchill pointed out, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.

I will leave you with another image. Imagine a large and densely packed flock of sheep. You and some other human are at different places in this sea of woolly randomness. If that other person is a friend, you should be able to move toward each other, albeit slowly, and eventually meet. The sheep were an impediment, but not fatally so. But if it is someone you want to avoid, the sheep is as much a hindrance to him as to you, and Light willing he will never catch up with you.

In this way, randomness will eventually yield to persistence, it just takes time and cooperation among those who share a goal. But it gives those who don’t share a goal, time to oppose each other. The strength of democracy is its inertia, which it derives from the randomness of the majority. It makes a liability into a benefit.

Problems of our time

She's grown up to be really considerate of other people

If we could grow up to become really considerate of other people, we could overcome the challenges of our time. It is this we lack, more than money or technology.

Modern technology and economics have certainly made life easier for billions of people. But the challenges we face now in the 21st century are mainly challenges of the mind. I don’t mean necessarily insanity and such, although of course mental health problems are widespread and very troubling. Rather I mean what we might call “spiritual problems”, although they should be obvious even to those who don’t believe in spirit. Perhaps we could call them “problems of attitude”?

The error of our times is to try to fix attitude problems with technology, economics or legislation. I will not say that these are entirely ineffective. But they can be compared to fixing a leaky roof by placing umbrellas. Not only does it look absurd to those who see it from outside, but it is a short-sighted “solution”, suitable only for those who have no responsibility for the building and are planning to leave soon with their whole family. Hopefully we won’t all be in that situation with regards to this world.

For example, there is now plenty enough food in the world for everyone to eat their fill, and then some. But that is not exactly what happens. True, obesity is now actually afflicting a greater number of humans than is starvation, but there is still starvation. It usually only happens – at least widely – in countries at war or civil war. So it is certainly a problem of attitude, although not necessarily the attitude of the starving. (Although that can certainly happen too, that they are one of the sides in a war, and have some responsibility for it. That is not always the case, though. And in most wars, it is the stronger who attack the weaker.)

Speaking of obesity and health challenges: I know, I know. There are various hormone and metabolism problems that cause people to gain weight at an unnatural pace. It seems unlikely, however, that a fifth or so of the population have mysteriously mutated over the course of a generation or two. In any case, there are good news from science: Even if you are heavier than recommended, this will do little or no harm if you are physically active, exercising at least at moderate intensity for half an hour a day or so. (Or an hour every other day.) So unless you have a mutated metabolism and also a broken spine, you should be doing fine. If you have the right attitude, that is. The attitude that makes you force your body to do things it does not particularly like sometimes.

Unfortunately, many people really exercise their mind making up excuses instead. If people would eat when they were hungry and stop before they were full, and be physically active at least some minutes each day, that alone would stop the huge growth in health expenses in the rich world. I am not kidding. Sure, there are many expenses that come because we can treat illnesses that were fatal in the past. Treatment for these is typically very expensive. But living a life of moderate self-restraint will dramatically reduce the risk of falling gravely ill. Mind you, we are talking of risks here, possibilities and percentages. It is not like the law of gravity which is very simple and predictable. So you can eat right, exercise regularly and die horribly anyway. But on a large scale, like that of a whole nation, a more responsible lifestyle would have a dramatic impact.

Then there is the whole thing about fearing death. Now, this is an attitude that I sympathize with personally to a very high degree. There are few things I want less than death! But even so, here is something to think of: A very large part of the medical expenses in an average human life happens in its last year. This is independent of the age. If you live to 90, most of the expenses will be in the year from 89 to 90. If you live only to 50, most of the expenses will be from 49 to 50. Of course, this is not without exception, but it is the rule. In other words, a great deal of our hospitals, our doctors and our medicines are employed to prolong life by months or weeks. Of course, in some cases we just can’t know. There is a chance, even if it is small, of survival. And there is nothing we want more, usually.

Still, if we are actually old and we have an illness that is anyway going to end our life within months, I feel that there should be an option to submit to the course of nature. I am told that in America this is what happens if you are poor. But for those who have nothing to fear from death, I feel that it should be an option even if you could afford to stay around for a few months longer. In days of yore, it was not uncommon for old people to feel that they had accomplished what they came to Earth for. “Now let thy servant depart in peace.” I can’t say I feel like that now, but I hope to be able to say that some day. We may long for eternal life, but it is folly to think that science can do that for us, even with tax-financed health care.

Another attitude problem is that we consider our personal luxury more important than the planet. There has been some progress in this, in some parts of the world. But not enough. We are still destroying the biosphere at a terrifying speed. Species go extinct all the time. Fertile soil is washed away or blown away by the wind because of thoughtless agriculture that leaves the soil open to the elements at times when flooding or drought occurs. Forests are cut down that protected the soil, wetlands are drained that absorbed floods. And of course arable land is covered with roads and buildings. So far we have managed to keep food production high enough, higher than ever actually. But we cannot afford to lose more arable land as population is still set to grow. And we should not unravel ecosystems except in the most dire emergency.


In short, the great challenges of our times and probably the next generation as well, is our attitude. As long as we think in terms of money and not time, of luxury and not happiness, of receiving and not giving, of being done to and not doing – as long as we think in this way, it will be difficult to solve our problems, and new ones will appear. The roof will leak in more and more places until it collapses on our heads. For now, we have only this one planet, and we must share it with each other better than we do today.


Carbon taxes

We may think we live in the post-industrial era, but we have actually just moved the smokestacks out of sight.

This entry is inspired by the book The World in 2050, published by The Economist, a magazine I have spoken well of over the years. In its chapter on global warming, the book takes the position that it is already too late to avoid the climate change in 2050, but it is still not too late to avoid multiplying this for the centuries after this. Of course, most people who read this book are probably grownups at the very least, so it may not interest them much how the world will look in 2070.

Climate change literally happens at a glacial pace. And I mean literally literally, not the way people these days have taken to using the world “literally” as an amplifier. The world is dotted with glaciers, and these grow and shrink very slowly, thus the “glacial” speed. The melting of these is a major part of the climate change. As long as there is plenty of ice to melt, the temperature will not increase rapidly, since the process of melting (technically called a “phase transition”) requires a much larger amount of heat than simply warming the same amount of water by one degree.

We have been able to pour large amounts of carbon dioxide (and some methane) into the atmosphere and the temperature has only increased a little. We have literally (literally) “seen nothing yet”, in the sense that all that has happened at any one place on Earth lies within the natural band of fluctuation. Whenever a particular place is extremely warm or cold or humid or dry, someone will usually be able to dig out that it was even more so in 1937 or 1899 or some other time in the past, and conclude that It Doesn’t Really Matter, the more things change the more they remain the same.

Some of my friends, God-fearing men and women, are absolutely convinced that man-made global warming is just a socialist hoax. This is a reasonable thought: When socialists agree on something, it is probably something nefarious. In this case, however, the greenhouse effect has been known since well before the first internal combustion engine. We just never thought it would be a problem. It will be a problem, but as usual not one socialism can solve. It will also be an opportunity, something socialism is spectacularly bad at.

The amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are in fact quite small even now, by interplanetary standards. Venus has an atmosphere of mostly CO2, while here on Tellus it is less than one tenth of a percent! It is natural to think that this cannot possibly have any noticeable effect. Therefore, the whole climate hysteria is simply a way for the left to introduce even more taxes, now called “green taxes” or more correctly “carbon tax”.


In so far as carbon taxes come in addition to other taxes, I am as wary of them as any conservative. Since the panic is still entirely theoretical, if we increase taxes now it is a safe bet that the government will use the money to play Santa Claus and barrel pork to important voters so as to remain in power and live it up. The idea that the green taxes will be used to combat or adapt to climate change is unlikely to actually be practiced until some visible horror arrives, such as water lapping into the streets of London and New York. This is still some years off, thank the Light. Thus, we are not going to do anything, except fly around in jet planes and hold conferences about how to reduce the use of jet planes, stuff like that.

Meanwhile, we continue to pump up oil and gas and dig up coal and tar sand, and burn it off as fuel mostly. Just how much we drill depends in principle on the expected demand, but there is also a time delay because you can’t just sail out in the Arctic Ocean one day and come home with a ship full of oil. It takes several years to make all the installations ready. But in principle, it is the demand that determines the drilling. And it does so by influencing price. The higher the demand, the more people are willing to pay for fossil fuels, and the more money there is to earn from drilling, and the more places people will drill.

Enter the carbon tax. Europe has had such taxes for so long now, it is taken as granted. Here in Norway, gas now costs $2.68 per liter, which is about a quarter of a gallon. So around $10 a gallon, most of it tax. Scientists are still uncertain whether this has had any effect on driving distance at all, but it is thought that people may have switched to modern, fuel-efficient cars slightly earlier than they otherwise might. It is hard to quantify, though, since we don’t have a parallel Norway in which the taxes remained low.

But what if we dared raise taxes to a point where it actually would curb demand? Wouldn’t we save the world through taxation, for the first time? After all, with higher prices, demand would go down; but the higher prices would not transfer to the oil companies as higher profit, so drilling would not increase. Win! Or…?

Well, yeah, to some extent this would work – if the whole world did it. That would require a massive alien invasion, and I think that would be more of a problem than the greenhouse effect. So what happens in the real world when Europe increases its “green taxes”?

The demand for oil goes down just a little. This causes the price to go down just a little too – perhaps a dollar or two, although that may be exaggerating. What happens next? The slightly cheaper oil means the remaining 6.6 billion earthlings can afford to use MORE oil than they otherwise would, and they will do so until a new equilibrium appears, close to the previous.


I don’t  think people really have realized that we already may have passed “peak oil” in its original sense, not in the sense of the scare stories where suddenly cars become useless because one day there is no gas. It does not work that way. What happened was that one day we extracted the most oil we had ever done, and the next day we didn’t, because it was so hard to get to. The IEA, which is the closest there is to an official authority on energy, claim that this happened in 2006 with crude oil. However, thanks to technologies for converting oil from tar etc, actual peak oil may have happened in 2011 or even be in the near future. In any case, what really happens is that demand is increasing at a whole other scale, as emerging markets keep growing toward western levels of energy use, while production of fossil fuels (including gas and coal) is rising more slowly and will eventually fall.

Because energy demand is rising steadily among most of the world’s population, fossil fuels are already becoming more expensive year by year. If we suppress the demand in one corner of the world, this is a godsend for the rest of the planet, since demand there is limited by the high cost. The production remains the same – the prices are already so high that it is the technical challenges that delays production, not waiting for a better price. Even if Europe and the USA both completely stopped using fossil fuels, which would definitely send the prices down, all fossil fuel will still be gone over the course of a generation or so. What remains will be what is ridiculously hard to get to, so that you would need a price of $1000 a barrel or more to make it worth it. Actually, I confidently predict that crude oil WILL reach $1000 a barrel unless something miraculous happens, although at the time it will be used as a raw material in chemistry rather than for fuel.

The upper limit of the fuel price is going to be decided by something entirely different: Alternative energies. When sun power, wind power, wave power etc gradually come online in large enough quantities, the demand for oil will begin to fade. But as I said, it will still be valuable for chemistry. And alternative energy is still dependent on government subsidies even though crude oil now costs over $100 a barrel on a regular basis. There are only a few limited, local uses where renewable energy is profitable today. This will change, but it will take time (and an even higher oil price).

The short of it is, aggressive taxation in the rich nations may delay the End of Oil – the point where almost all of it is in the atmosphere – by somewhere from weeks to a couple years, depending on how extreme the taxes are.  The effect is utterly dwarfed by the ever growing demand and the growth of alternative energies, which will decide the cut-off point of the fossil fuel price and thus the speed of emptying the known reserves. The taxes are almost but not quite irrelevant.

Let us be excessively optimistic, unrealistically so, and grant the remote possibility that Draconian carbon taxes may delay by as much as five years the day when all fossil fuel is converted to CO2. But climate change is a process that continues at a slow, steady pace for several centuries. A handful of years delay (during which we will still have extracted and burned ALMOST all the oil, gas and coal, just not absolutely all) will not be visible in the climate statistics – it will drown in the random noise, the wobbling of the planet, changes in the solar wind and natural fluctuations in the cloud cover, the occasional volcano eruption, stuff like that. We won’t ever notice.


 So is there any reason at all to have carbon taxes? Oh yes, but on one condition: That they replace other taxes. It is better to tax something that is less useful, such as oil, over something that is more useful, such as work. If we can make people drive a little less, it won’t do much good but it won’t do much harm either. If we make people work less, everyone will suffer.

So moving taxes from production to consumption is generally a great way to make the world a better place without actually cutting the taxes. I guess doing that is too much to hope for. But if we move taxes to fossil fuel use, this will cut itself gradually over time. When the fuels are gone, they are gone. And it will likely happen over the span of a generation or so. At that point, the more of the taxes that are on fossil fuels, the better, since no one will be paying them. Go go green taxes!  ^_^