Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some are just meant to die...

Already when GM bought Saab I thought this is the end. They didn't even manage to make a profit during the extremely good years of the last two decades! Don't blame it on management (even though US management has proved to be lousy) or hard times (you have to be able to handle tough times). The company stinks, let it die.

This is the very simple, but beautifully efficient basic mechanism in the market capitalism - strong companies make money, weak might survive for a while, but in the end - weak means death. This is great! Because then no more money is wasted on a lost patient - the resources can be better used in some other way. And never forget that hard times do wonders for the creativity!

Any company that begs money from the state should be executed, as fast as possible. And, of course, the management shall have exactly zero pay. This goes for Saab, as well as GM. May they rest in peace.

Comment: The company shall die, not its employees, of course. They will be taken care of by the social security system and will soon enough find other work. If they got greedy and made financial commitments they can't fulfill? Well, as we say in Sweden: You sleep like you made the bed...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Yann Martel - Life of Pi

I love it!! It's about a boy named Pi who ends up on a lifeboat with a tiger, crossing the Pasific. Or how is it, really? It's about belief, and atheist as I am, I choose to believe. Because this story is wonderful.

Pi grows up in India, with a father who has a zoo. So we learn a lot about zookeeping. That animals that are "free" (to be eaten at any time) might not be happier than those in zoos. That animals that somehow leave zoos come back as soon as they can.

Pi is very religious (in fact he's Christian, Jewish and Muslim) and has understanding for atheists, but none for agnostics: "To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation." (p36)

Oliver Sacks - Musicophilia - Tales of music and the brain

Just like the subtitle says, this is a collection of stories about our fascinating brain, and its musical (dis)abilities. Oliver Sacks is a Jewish atheist and physician who has written many books (The man who mistook his wife for a hat might be the most well-known) and has collected many stories over the years.

This is a fun book, due to its stories, but as the brain is still so unknown, no real answers are given. It's more like a collection of thoughts and ideas of how the brain might work. The importance of music is thrilling. It makes you want to force every parent, every school, to put every kid through musical schooling! Music makes the brain grow (enhancing mathematical, verbal and visuospatial abilities (p101)) and it can cure, or at least help, all kinds of mental disorders (Parkinson's, Tourette's, dementia). Tod Machover, at MIT is trying to democratize music, making it available to all, by making computer systems like Guitar Hero and other interactive systems.

Most people "have a radio in the brain" - the brain plays all kinds of music to us, in some only small clips, in some full symphonies! Is this the real source of musicality? Music that is created and just has to come out? Like Schumann talked about "the inner hearing of wondrously beautiful pieces of music, fully formed and complete!" (p56) Shostakovich was even more sophisticated: "Shostakovich, however, was reluctant to have the metal removed and no wonder: Since the fragment had been there, he said, each time he leaned his head to one side he could hear music. His head was filled with melodies - different each time - which he then made use of when composing. Moving his head back level immediately stopped the music." (p78) This explains how Beethoven could still compose even when he was deaf. Che Guevara, on the other hand, was rhythm-deaf. Freud didn't care about music at all. Tolstoy didn't like it because it had the power to induce in him "fictitious" states of mind.

On page 126 Oliver Sacks talks about Rachel, who has "a difficulty in synthesizing the elements of an entire scene at a glance... thus she would notice one thing, then another, then a third". When I read it I thought that's how I do! At least when I enter a room filled with people...

Absolute pitch is often mentioned and funnily enough, it might not always be a blessing! In fact, it makes it a pain to hear anyone out of tune and even transposing a song can screw it all up! (p132) The absolute pitch may shift with age (p133) making it even worse, because the F might change to an E-flat! This is a capacity that can be trained as a kid. 50% of the children born blind have absolut pitch! (p135) The language matters too - far more Chinese (Chinese being a tonal language) than English (non-tonal) speaking people have absolute pitch. (p136)

The brain and ear are forming a two-way system where the brain can tune (via the outer hair cells) the inner hair cells. (p146) This ability makes it possible to pick out a single voice in a crowd eg.

Not all people are lucky enough to have symphonies playing in the head. Some people hear an awful noise, or screaming, when they listen to music! (p112)

A book is often mentioned by Sacks - The Oxford Companion to Music. I need to check out that book!

There is a brain phenomenon called synesthesia. It can have different effects, but usually a tone or a key or an instrument is seen as a colour. (p180) This effect can increase with increasing deafness or blindness.

Music is not just notes and instruments, it's somehow more of a feeling. And there are different kinds of memory, one of the strongest being the emotional memory. Music being very emotional is therefore often very well remembered! So if you one day don't feel the music anymore - watch out! You might have had a stroke or something...

When I read the book I first thought I'm not musical at all. After all, I don't invent symphonies in my head! On the other hand I hear music most of the time, and I certainly feel music (if it's any good) and I have some kind of pitch, just need to train it... Maybe I'm just normal???

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Illusionist

First I thought I was just tired and gloomy. I was after all watching this movie all alone, on a Friday night, from a DVD on a 20 inch screen. It was well made after all, I liked Edward Norton as the illusionist, but Jessica Biel was just as bad as I had thought and I just didn't give a shit about the characters.

So I took a break to check out the reviews. All swedish reviews I swiftly found through Google were very positive (like and Moviezine) so for a while I thought I was actually just very grumpy. But as I couldn't see any reviews from any serious source (like GP or SvD) I started to wonder... and sure enough, the British reviews weren't licking any arse! Pocket lint said "As Paul Daniels would say, 'you'll like this but not a lot'". Big Picture Big Sound wasn't too happy either.

So I stopped watching it. I didn't even rip it. A life is too darn short to waste on the mediocre, after all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Expensive housing is not a blessing

I know politicians are no more clever than anybody else these days, but still - why do they think expensive housing is so good? Everytime the interest rates are lowered everybody is happy, talking about increased housing prices as if this was good. First of all, a low interest rate is a sign of a week economy, so any politician should be ashamed and think about what (s)he did wrong to get us there. Of course the real estate people are happy because they will make more money, but for the common man, is it really that great? No. The more expensive the housing is, the tougher it will be to create a good life for oneself. Already back in the 60's this was understood in Sweden and they did all they could to build housing, so that everybody could get a decent life. This was the basis for the "swedish miracle", the reason why Sweden still is the best country in the world to live in. Now, this is totally forgotten.

Is it simply greed? In that case it's actually stupidity, because you can't cash in on that fine deal! You need a place to live, no matter what. Not only does it get tougher to enter the housing market in the first place, but it will also become much more expensive to afford bigger housing. The only good thing is that you can make a buck moving to a smaller place, or moving abroad. But is this really what we want? Smaller housing? Poorer people?

It's time to say goodbye

The USA is pushing a new foreign affairs strategy. I'd say this is a prefect moment to say no. We don't want to help them with their illegal prisoners from Guantanamo. Or cleaning up the mess they created in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not to mention any nuclear "shield". And isn't it about time that the occupation of Europe ends? Why have thousands of foreign troop on our soil, listening to their own radio stations, shopping in their own stores, never learning the local language or culture? Even paying US prices for gasoline! Why do we still tolerate this?