Archive for January, 2023

Elephants & Science

January 18, 2023

Two interesting articles this week that at least I see a connection with. Then again, I’m no scientist.

One is the first public study I’ve heard of linking (at least potentially) the growing trend of self-violence, self-medication and suicide with a decline in religious belief. I originally saw the reference on a Roman Catholic web site, but then saw it picked up by the Daily Mail. Although I’m sure it won’t result in any measurable change in public, academic or political policies, at least someone has pointed out that these two trends – falling levels of religious behavior and rising levels of deaths of despair – might be related.

Of particular interest is the correlation not between religious belief and despairing actions, but the correlation between religious behavior (weekly worship attendance) and deaths of despair. What you say isn’t nearly as important as what you do. And whether you think you have a deep spiritual life or not, spirituality and privatized beliefs are not the same as active participation in religious life.

How could such an obvious (at least to me) correlation have escaped study for so long? Perhaps it’s because there is an overall trend for scientific research and studies to be less challenging than they used to be. In other words, disruptive science has seen a marked decline since the mid-20th century. This could of course mean we’ve reached a plateau and we aren’t able at this time to make more disruptive discoveries.

But it could also mean science as a whole is less interested in looking for disruptions.

As such, elephants in the room such as a decline in religious life and a rise in self-harm (as well as harm to others, which the study didn’t cover but which I think is also directly related) are simply not seen. People don’t want to see them, perhaps. Or they’re simply so inculcated in a particular line of thought as to not even conceive of such possibilities.

I also think there are deeper spiritual powers at work here. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to think of Satan and his powers being particularly interested in prompting lines of thought and inquiry that appear to render religious understandings of creation invalid. And that having accomplished this (or convincing enough people that it was accomplished) there’s no further diabolical interest in sparking scientific inquiry in such directions. After all, a diabolical misdirect might be discovered if science was truly as objective as it claims to be. Since people are inherently non-objective, the idea that science is not either shouldn’t be a shocker to anyone, peer reviews and other mechanisms aside.

It could also be that science has reached a certain level of institutionalization, financially and otherwise, where bold ideas are suppressed as unhelpful to the larger edifice. Scientists nurtured from primary school through their doctoral work might be so inculcated in an acceptance of the status quo that outside thought seems, well, blasphemous. As well as directly threatening to their livelihood. We witness the vitriol and professional bans applied against those who dare disagree with an established line of scientific thought, and it’s obvious that even the best-intentioned of scientists or academics would be loathe to challenge such a juggernaut. Watching your funding disappear and facing the wrath of school administrators is terrible. Being blacklisted on social media for simply asking questions is the same sort of terrorism those now in control (apparently) of our culture levied against the cultural movers and shakers of just a few generations ago.

I’m all for science in it’s proper contexts. But it’s no shock to me that those contexts have been warped and exceeded wildly on the one hand, and curtailed perhaps unprofitably on the other hand. Science as a monolithic institution of sorts may find itself caught in the very same difficulties it so glibly derided the Church for (and not entirely unfairly, to be sure). Either reason or faith when misapplied or misdirected can be terribly damaging, and Satan has proven himself adept at using whichever extreme is most advantageous at the moment.

Adjusting Tactics

January 15, 2023

I’ve done a fair bit of traveling in my life both domestically and internationally. I’ve moved from paper maps to Mapquest and now rely mostly on Google Maps for directions and information about locales. Although Google is far from perfect, and although their use of customer data is quite suspect (despite their original motto of Don’t Be Evil), it is overall quite reliable. Specific driving or walking directions can be a bit wonky at times but their information on locations is generally good.

Except for Hanoi.

At least, that’s the place I’ve noticed a disjunct thus far.

Places Google Maps provides me information on (and reviews) don’t exist any longer when I try to use a ride-hailing app to get to them. Other places the ride-hailing apps tell me are in existence don’t appear on Google Maps. For the first time I’ve had to cross-reference many things in Hanoi between the two apps to try and discern what reality is. Post-covid this has been a reality more with hours of operation, and holiday hours are always uncertain. But it’s the first time I haven’t been able to trust Google Maps’ basic information, and on multiple, multiple occasions here.

I don’t know if that’s the result of censoring or other activities that might vary from country to country. Or perhaps Google just isn’t as big a deal here and people don’t bother to update information or register. At the very least it’s a curiosity, and one I need to remember as I travel to other locales as well.

Pool Hall – Don Lounge, Hanoi Vietnam

January 13, 2023

Located just outside the eastern edge of Old Town Hanoi, this pool hall is located on the third floor of a shopping center. Even arriving later in the evening after the other shops had closed, security directed me to an elevator. There’s a club next to the pool hall and you can feel and hear the reverberations of the music until you enter the pool hall. The name of the club is what pops up in a Google search, not the pool hall. The only way I knew about this place was my young opponent at Monaco Billiard Game Club told me about it when I asked him about other places to play.

This is a nice place. Posh, I think is not an inappropriate word here. They don’t serve hard alcohol but they do serve a variety of fruit drinks that are actually works of art as well as delicious. The tables are in good condition as are the balls and cues. The place was almost entirely full when I arrived and snagged one of the few remaining open tables. They have a plethora of table attendants to rack the balls at the end of each game.

There’s a peculiar diversity on this side of the world about how to rack the balls – or more accurately, the position of the rack on the table. Standard competition rules in the West have the head ball even with the second marker strand on the table. However here they are fond of racking the center ball on that second marker line. This makes breaking a lot less challenging. However, when I politely correct them, they’re happy to adjust to my way of doing things. I’ve yet to determine if this is a real difference between Eastern and Western pool-playing styles, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s just improper training of the employees.

I would definitely go back here to play. It’s pleasant, there’s a better selection of refreshments, and the staff is attentive. While I’d still prefer to sip on a Jack and Coke while I play, it’s not a necessity. I do plan to keep looking for such a place in the future, though!

Pool Hall – Factory 47, Hanoi Vietnam

January 12, 2023

This is not pool hall. It’s a bar/club with a pool table on the second floor. I knew that before I went, but I wanted to enjoy a drink over a pool table and the last spot couldn’t provide that (though it provided far better pool equipment!).

Pool tables are one option in Southeast Asian bars to help them stand out with tourists. They provide a way of keeping customers busy so they stay longer and purchase more drinks. Arguably no different than anywhere else in the world in this respect. Factory 47 sits at the northern edge of Old Town and the primary tourist hub of Hanoi. It’s steps away from famed Ta Hien street, noted for it’s bars and revelry.

As such, don’t be under any illusions about Factory 47. The table, cues and balls are all in about the condition you’d expect in a club/bar catering to tourists and not to pool players. It was dead the night I visited (also part of the plan), but the techno/electronica music was still at a deafening tempo.

I won’t go back, but it was good to have a drink over a pool table, even if I was the only one playing!

Pool Hall – Monaco Billiard Game Club, Hanoi Vietnam

January 11, 2023

This is the place I visited with my buddy over six years ago on my first trip to Hanoi. It hasn’t really changed at all other than it no longer serves alcohol, just near-beer which was pretty much undrinkable to me. It’s located in the East Lake area, on the eastern side of Ho Tay Lake, just a little South of the Hanoi Club. The street is full of restaurants and at least one club. But this place is about pool.

It has ten 8′ tables. The tables, rails, and cloth are all in very good condition even though they cater to a wide range of players from novice to advanced. I played a few games against a young Vietnamese man home from studying at university in Australia. House cues are in decent condition and if you want to pay 30,000 – 50,000 Vietnames Dong (about $1.25 – $2.15 at current exchange rates) you can rent cues in better condition. Basic house cue tips weren’t fantastic but were workable. They definitely keep their equipment in good condition.

It wasn’t very busy early in the night when I showed up – maybe three other tables in use. They had nothing to drink other than fake beer – no sodas, no hard alcohol. Though it’s air conditioned it’s still very humid and having something cold to drink is practically a necessity. I probably won’t return here simply for that reason. Which is too bad because it’s an otherwise great place to play.