$5 million up for grabs!

I thought I’d share this. It appeared in my Twitter feed yesterday and even if you have no intention of participating there are some interesting questions there.

How are we to solve the problems of today? Humans are good at solving problems but so far we’ve failed to address the problem of climate change despite knowing about it for decades and decades now; well over a century in fact, if you include the discovery of the greenhouse effect.

Does the solution lie in a new shape for global governance? One thing is clear: the solution requires global cooperation. How can we balance personal self-interest with the interests of people living in other countries who may be more severely affected by our actions than we are ourselves? The impacts of climate change will not be felt equally across the globe. Those living in the poorest nations will be the most badly affected and yet they have contributed the least to the problem. Future generations will also be adversely affected and yet they have no say today.

More at https://globalchallenges.org/en

 

A taste for whisky

A taste for whisky

I feel like I need to embrace my new home country a bit more and learn to enjoy pure malt whisky. Ben likes the peaty stuff and so that’s what we mostly have in the house. I decided to give some of this a try, watered down with soda water.

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I’ve got my armchair, pajamas, and slippers. Everything is perfect.

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But this stuff is really disgusting. It tastes like industrial cleaner.

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I’ve heard people say it’s an acquired taste but then how did the very first person figure that out? Did they force themselves to drink it over and over again until it tasted good?

 

Newburgh seal colony, Scotland

Newburgh seal colony, Scotland

About 16 miles north of Aberdeen is a little village called Newburgh. We went there for lunch today, to the Newburgh Inn. The food was terrific. I highly recommend it. They put on a typical Sunday roast pub lunch but there were a couple of options for vegetarians. I had a chick pea and sweet potato curry and it was delicious.

After lunch we walked to the beach and this was the highlight of my day. There’s a seal colony and it is huge. I’ve never seen so many seals all one place before. It was like King’s Cross Station for seals.

See that thick black line on the sand across the estuary? Those are all seals. Hundreds of them.

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Let me zoom in for you.

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Many were swimming in the estuary and came quite close to the shore, like this one in the next photo.

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There’s something a bit doggy about their faces. This next seal could almost be Freud swimming. He loved swimming.

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The beach is very nice as the shore is lined with sand dunes, just like at Balmedie Beach, and these seem to go on for miles and miles. It’s also fairly quiet and undeveloped.

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I took a short video.

 

Film review: Local Hero

We watched a 1983 movie called Local Hero this afternoon because we’re planning to go up to Pennan, where it was filmed, in a couple of weeks. I can’t wait.

I find myself longing for the natural world and for peace and tranquility and so we decided to plan a weekend away to a remote seaside village up north. I had never heard of Local Hero until I started planning our weekend away but I knew it would appeal to me – it’s set in Scotland, stars Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who) and features music from Mark Knopfler (lead singer and songwriter from Dire Straits).

It’s a funny drama about an American oil company that want to buy up a section of coast in Scotland to build an oil refinery – they just need to convince all the locals to sell up. All but one want the cash and it’s this one old eccentric fisherman who owns the beach and who stands in the way of millions. Eventually he gets his way and the plan is scrapped.

The movie reminds me a bit of the real-life drama at Balmedie Beach in Scotland where Donald Trump built his golf course. It also has a local hero, Michael Forbes. Sadly the real-life drama doesn’t have as good an ending as that in Local Hero. Trump got his golf course and Michael Forbes and his neighbours have had a pretty dreadful time since Trump moved in. Trump’s promise of jobs for the local community never materialised either. If Americans who voted for Donald Trump think he will deliver on his promises they should have a look at his track record and Balmedie is a great example of failed promises.

Aberdeen harbour was developed by oil companies decades ago.It’s a ghastly place now. They’ve butchered it.Was it worth it? I don’t think so but then I guess we all value different things. Some people value fast cars. I value the natural world.

The view from the cycle path

The view from the cycle path

The other week I wrote about how the view on my ride to Newton Dee is different all the time. Today it looks like this.

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The cycle path had a thin coating of snow which made a nice crunching sound as I cycled along it.

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What do you think of my hat? I got it in Dublin about a year ago. The sunshade is just wide enough to shade my eyes from the sun.

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I feel very safe on Busby in the snow. Indeed I feel safer on Busby than in a car and probably go faster, as I’m sure my brother-in-law can attest (he was forced to follow behind me in the car one snowy day over Christmas and from what I gather only the local ants were going at a slower pace).

I got a new saddle for Busby about a month or so ago. It’s a Brooks Cambium C19 which is made from rubber and aluminium rather than leather.

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It looks really nice and suits Busby.

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It’s not a soft and cushiony seat but comfortable, nevertheless. I can tell the bones in my pelvis are taking the weight rather than my private bits and so I can recommend it. I haven’t gone any great distance on it yet – I’m a commuter cyclist and cycle every day but only short distances. The furthest I’ve gone is Newton Dee which is about 8-9 miles in total and it’s fine for this length of time. It’s definitely a huge improvement on the haemorrhoid seat.

Never put cyclists between parked cars and traffic

I was nearly doored this morning by a motorist opening her car door on us as I cycled passed. Fortunately I always take a wide berth around parked cars – for this very reason – and as it was the door missed the three of us by mere centimetres. It was a mother dropping her children off at school and she was very apologetic. She said she checked her mirror but didn’t see us.

Cyclists should never be put between parked cars and traffic. Not ever. Unfortunately this is common in Aberdeen. To reduce the risk I take a wide berth around parked cars but the problem with this is that we end up taking up a lot of space on the road – much more than we ought to. This means cars cannot easily overtake us and we’re slow. I could never go as fast as a car which means cars and buses stuck behind us have to drive very slowly.

I feel so frustrated that more isn’t being done to make it safe for cyclists. I want to reduce my carbon footprint. I want to make sure I exercise everyday and I’d love it if my kids could exercise everyday by cycling to and from school but it’s too dangerous right now. Getting regular exercise reduces the health burden on the NHS. It also reduces air pollution. Why is there such a barrier to doing the right thing? There’s no incentive not to drive and definitely no incentive to cycle.

 

What to tell the man at the post office when posting Mooncups?

Yesterday I posted a couple of Mooncups to a friend who wanted to try them. For those who have no idea what a Mooncup is it’s a reusable, silicon cup which women can use when they have their periods instead of having to purchase disposable pads and tampons every month.

The man at the post office asked me what was in the package because I was posting it overseas and I had to write it on the customs declaration. I think they also need to make sure we’re not posting any forbidden items. I hope it is obvious that these were brand new and unused, in case anyone is wondering. I replied with, “Mooncups”, to which he responded, “I take it you mean cups with moons on them?”. I just smiled and nodded. What should I have said? They’re silicon receptacles that women insert into their vaginas for catching menstrual fluid?

Goodbye, Derek Parfit

Imagine you’re in a car crash and the only part of you that survives is your brain. Suppose your brain is transplanted into the body of a brain-dead patient. Does the person become you? Are you still alive? What if instead your brain is cut in half and transplanted into the bodies of two people. Are there now two of you?

These are the sorts of questions Derek Parfit asked during his career. He was one of the greatest moral philosophers of our time. He died last weekend, aged 74.

Derek Parfit wrote two significant books during his career, Reasons and Persons (1984) and On What Matters (2011). He argued that personal identity does not matter and this made him less selfish and concerned about his own death.

When I believed [that personal identity is what matters], I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.

When I believed [that personal identity is what matters], I also cared more about my inevitable death. After my death, there will be no one living who will be me. I can now redescribe this fact. Though there will later be many experiences, none of these experiences will be connected to my present experiences by chains of such direct connections as those involved in experience-memory, or in the carrying out of an earlier intention. Some of these future experiences may be related to my present experiences in less direct ways. There will later be some memories about my life. And there may later be thoughts that are influenced by mine, or things done as the result of my advice. My death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations. This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me. Now that I have seen this, my death seems to me less bad.

[Excerpt from Reasons and Persons copied from http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/1/3/14148208/derek-parfit-rip-obit]

In On What Matters he argues for the existence of universal ethical truths. In the past philosophers have argued that no such ethical objectivism exists because it’s so hard to agree on what is right and wrong and much of our thinking on this topic has, in the past, been shaped by religion. However it’s no longer acceptable to use “God’s command” as an argument since we live in an increasingly secular world. Parfit argues for ethical objectivism from a purely secular perspective. If there are no moral truths, he says, then anything is permissible. Peter Singer writes a good review of his book on Project Syndicate. Here’s an excerpt:

One major argument against objectivism in ethics is that people disagree deeply about right and wrong, and this disagreement extends to philosophers who cannot be accused of being ignorant or confused. If great thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham disagree about what we ought to do, can there really be an objectively true answer to that question?

Parfit’s response to this line of argument leads him to make a claim that is perhaps even bolder than his defense of objectivism in ethics. He considers three leading theories about what we ought to do – one deriving from Kant, one from the social-contract tradition of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and the contemporary philosophers John Rawls and T.M. Scanlon, and one from Bentham’s utilitarianism – and argues that the Kantian and social-contract theories must be revised in order to be defensible.

Then he argues that these revised theories coincide with a particular form of consequentialism, which is a theory in the same broad family as utilitarianism. If Parfit is right, there is much less disagreement between apparently conflicting moral theories than we all thought. The defenders of each of these theories are, in Parfit’s vivid phrase, “climbing the same mountain on different sides.”

Readers who go to On What Matters seeking an answer to the question posed by its title might be disappointed. Parfit’s real interest is in combating subjectivism and nihilism. Unless he can show that objectivism is true, he believes, nothing matters.
When Parfit does come to the question of “what matters,” his answer might seem surprisingly obvious. He tells us, for example, that what matters most now is that “we rich people give up some of our luxuries, ceasing to overheat the Earth’s atmosphere, and taking care of this planet in other ways, so that it continues to support intelligent life.”

I am interested in this because I became a vegan for ethical reasons. The other reasons for being vegan – environmental, health, financial – just reinforce my decision but they were not the motivating factor. Derek Parfit gave this talk at Oxford last year and in it he says,“It’s clear that we should become vegetarians if we aren’t already. That’s heavily overdetermined now and partly because cows produce 10% of global warming by emitting methane and we treat them terribly. That’s absolutely clear. Second, we shouldn’t have more than two children and we should know that if we don’t have any children that’s one way in which we’re doing a lot of good or of doing less harm. The children of we rich people add much more to global warming and thus to existential risks. “

He also, like Peter Singer, says we should all be giving 10% of our income to the poor.

Appreciating weather

Appreciating weather

I took this photo on my ride to Newton Dee today. I go to Newton Dee at least once a week, sometimes twice, if I’m lucky. The view is never the same. Sometimes it’s rainy, sometimes sunny, sometimes dark and gloomy, sometimes sparkly white with snow, sometimes frosty, sometimes clear blue skies, sometimes a mix of blue and grey, sometimes red and orange, sometimes there’s mist in the distant hills which is what I saw today. This is what I love about living in a temperate climate: the variability. People claim to love sunny, clear blue skies but when everyday is a sunny clear blue day it loses its appeal. I know because that’s what I had growing up in Brisbane with its merciless blue sky.

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Bobbin bikes

Bobbin bikes

Elizabeth took her new wheels for a spin today.

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She let me have a turn.

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Her new bike is a Bobbin bike and is exactly how a bike should be with mud- and chain guards, a step-through frame, and a basket on the front for carrying things. Without the mud guards she would end up with a black line of dirt and mud all the way up her back. Why would anyone want that? And yet most of the bikes you see in a bike shop today do not have mud guards. I am constantly bewildered by this. The basket provides a receptacle for carrying things – where can you put belongings without the basket? The step-through frame means she can go from walking to cycling and cycling to walking without having to stop the bike. It might be a little while before she’s capable of doing that but it’s something I value greatly on my Dutch bike. It makes cycling more efficient as it allows me to maintain the momentum. A chain guard is also essential as it protects your clothing.

It’s Veganuary. Go vegan for January! Five comedians say why you should give it a try in the video below. I can add one more good reason – you can stuff your face as much as you want and not get fat. It’s very hard to be overweight and vegan but you’ve got to make sure you stick with it and avoid dairy products like ice-cream, cream, cheese, and butter. Eat only vegan foods and you can eat as much as you want.

Happy Hogmanay!

Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year which is today and it also happens to be Elizabeth’s birthday. This year we went to the Pantomime. I’ve never been before but I’d heard good things about it.  It was superb and exceeded all my expectations.

We saw Dick McWhittington,  the Scottish version of Dick Whittington. There was singing and dancing, lots of slap-stick comedy, plenty of politically incorrect references, toilet humour and Benny Hill-type jokes. The kids loved it so much as did we. There was even a segment about Donald Trump which, I’m sure you can guess, was not complimentary. It’s a British tradition to go to the Pantomime with the family in December and I think we’ll make it our tradition too. I love living here so much and I especially love living in Scotland.

Here’s the theatre in Aberdeen. It’s lovely inside.

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Elizabeth got a new bike for her birthday.

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She also got a neat game you can hook up to an iPad where users control the character in the game with coding blocks. It’s an introduction to programming for kids which is a bit like Scratch except that the coding blocks are tangible things you can move around with your hands. It was a big hit and she played with it for almost an hour this morning.

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She got several other cool things too and had a very enjoyable birthday, I think.

Did you know that Auld Lang Syne is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns? Scotland has a lot of distinctly Scottish things – a distinct culture I guess you’d say – like tartan, whisky, kilts, golf (invented here), bagpipes, hogmanay, haggis, shortbread, Gaelic, and lots of other things I’ve likely forgotten.

Happy birthday Elizabeth and Happy Hogmanay everyone else. May 2017 bring peace, health, and happiness.

The photographer’s muse

One of my Aussie friends is a photographer and many years ago I was a muse of sorts for his art. Last week he was sorting through some photos and found some of these old ones. Here they are, photos taken of me in my home about 15 years ago. Stewart is very talented and I have high hopes of a making a cameo appearance in one of his films one day, preferably opposite Benedict Cumberbatch.

We’re back in Aberdeen and I’m a bit sick, having picked up a bug over Christmas, but it didn’t stop me cycling to Newton Dee yesterday. Here’s a pic of me from yesterday looking a bit more wrinkly than I was in the photos above but I would say I’m happier and more confident. Getting older and having frown lines is a positive thing.

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I dragged Grandad along for the ride and he seemed to enjoy it.

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Highland Safaris, Aberfeldy

Highland Safaris, Aberfeldy

We went on a Highland Safari today and it was the highlight of my week. It was sensational. The sun came out, there was snow on the ground, the views were superb, and I felt like I was on top of the world. We went up into the hills on a guided tour in two four-wheel drives. We stopped a couple of times for some tobogganing, lunch, a walk, whisky, and lots of photos. I highly recommend this tour as they take you off the road into areas you wouldn’t otherwise see and the guides are very knowledgeable. We had a picnic lunch in the bothy at the top. A bothy is a Scottish word for an outback hut or cottage. There was a log burner inside and so it was a cozy and warm place to stop and rest – not that it was arduous in any way given we were driven up there!  We also spent some time playing in the snow. I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.

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Queen’s View and Pitlochry Fish Ladder

Queen’s View and Pitlochry Fish Ladder

It snowed today!  We went to Queen’s View which is apparently one of the most photographed views in Scotland. It was beautiful in the snow.

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Sister and family:

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Me and family:

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Sister and father:

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Ben got his obligatory “bored in the snow” photo.

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I got my usual “excited in the snow” photo.

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Afterwards we went to see the fish ladder at Pitlochry. We’ve been there before but I still find the place fascinating. Pitlochry has a hydro-electric power station that was built in the 1950s. Due to an Act of Parliament in 1943, all hydro-electric power stations were required by law to preserve fish stocks and so a fish ladder was constructed alongside the power plant to allow salmon and other fish to swim past unharmed. There’s a counter at the power station which counts the number of fish; it’s currently at 6,449.

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Here’s a close-up of the fish ladder.

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The dam on the other side.

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A selfie.

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We saw some fish in the dam which seemed a bit strange. There were three about the same size as this one in the next photo. I think it’s a salmon. I don’t think this is typical as I’ve never seen a salmon hanging around the surface like this – maybe it was sick?

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Here’s the power station from a distance.

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Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas to everyone in the blogosphere! I had a great day yesterday – lots of food and friends and family and fun games. Here are some photos of our day.

Four sisters (there are more; not everyone could make it):

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A morning walk:

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Christmas lunch:

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Handing out gifts:

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New outift:

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New toy:

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Festive glasses:

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A dalek:

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Cousins:

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Beatrix Potter Exhibition, Dunkeld

Beatrix Potter Exhibition, Dunkeld

There’s a Beatrix Potter exhibition in the village of Dunkeld in Perthshire. Dunkeld is one of the oldest towns in Scotland and apparently Beatrix Potter’s family rented a house nearby and spent many holidays there. The local wildlife likely inspired some of the characters in her stories.

Dunkeld is cute and the Beatrix Potter exhibition is a dream place for children. Everything there is very hands on. Elizabeth spent most of her time selling groceries.

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The Birks of Aberfeldy

The Birks of Aberfeldy

The Scottish village of Aberfeldy is renowned for being the inspiration for Robert Burns’ poem, The Birks of Aberfeldy. A birk is the Scottish word for a beech tree and the Birks of Aberfeldy is a forested walk along Moness gorge. We did the walk this afternoon and met Robert Burns along the way. He’s the one on the right in this next one.

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My sister (on the left):

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The local wildlife:

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Saw this in a shop window in the village:

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Perthshire for Christmas

Perthshire for Christmas

We’ve taken off a bit early for the Christmas holidays; we’re spending it in the very lovely Perthshire. Here are a couple of pics from the drive today. We just managed to squish everything into the Co-Wheels car, including Creeper.

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There was a dusting of snow today which made the landscape look beautiful. Perthshire is very beautiful anyway but gorgeous with snow.

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You can just make out the wind farm on the hills in the distance. I think it looks beautiful. I don’t understand why people dislike them.

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We’re staying at the best place. It’s a holiday house but from a different era. I feel like I’ve gone back in time and I’m loving it. There’s a 100 year old, fully functioning toilet here.

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Isn’t it beautiful? It’s amazing to think that some humans on the planet today don’t have a toilet and yet here’s this beautiful one the Victorians had 100 years ago. It has a flush lever under the seat and automatically flushes when you stand up!

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There’s also a record player and a fantastic record collection.

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I don’t ever want to leave.