Cats and Theories
a blog by coticheque
a blog by coticheque

October in New York 

In every country, bureaucracy has its own unique flavor. Every clerk abuses power in his own unique way. In Russia, they do it Gestapo style, something between a resentful school teacher and a labor camp officer. In Canada, they try to be your friends and sway you with politeness. In NY, they treat you like a convicted criminal. The first impression after stepping on American land: JFK airport is managed like a prison. Screaming and shouting orders. Hey, move on. Next. No trays on the floor. I said remove this tray from the floor immediately. I’m getting libertarian when it comes to airport security checks. Airport signs. No threats. No verbal abuse of TSA. No physical violence of any kind. NY subway. Assault of MTA employee is a felony with a maximum penalty of 7 years. Highway billboards remind that killing a road worker would cost you $7,500 and 15 years in prison. Everything has a price tag. There was arrest on the plane when it landed at O’Hare. Two questionable looking girls walked out by policemen from the backseats. Never ever in Europe have I seen arrest on a plane, and I took at least 118 flights.

NY subway. A guy in black huaraches and flower jacket is sharpening his long red-painted nails with a file. He has a 90s-style bag from Juicy Couture. There’s a tall and very muscular black man with tattoos wearing futuristic Neo-style sunglasses – reading a massive hardcover Bible, looking very worn out. A large homeless man occupying a row of 6 seats. Others look rather unremarkable. When I was in the US in 2012, my first serious trip abroad, everything looked so amazingly progressive. Now these billboards with ads for latest Netflix shows inspire nothing but boredom. I’ve seen it all before. America is losing its edge. Soon it will repeat the destiny of Japan: once at the frontier of innovation, gradually becoming just a blurred vision of the future it used to behold. Freeze-frame stagnation. Retro images of the future that never came. Something William Gibson likes to write about.

Côte d’Azur diaries

21 August, Sunday
On the plane from Vienna to Nice

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to commence our in-flight service. You will receive KitKat and peanuts from us at an extra discount, and pay only 5 euros 50 cents. Gosh, I have to wear over-ear headphones on top of earbuds just to cancel out this insufferable nonsense. The apotheosis of Western lukewarm consumerism. Men around looking so content, clean shaven, wearing polo shirts, they must be so proud of their career achievements. Women seeking to hide signs of ageing in their Dior totes and Bottega slides. The epitome of indifference.

Landing at Nice airport. A bookstore with a few dozen pathetic fiction novels. Always attracting significant curiosity. Non-fiction too. The future of workplace, the power of branding, the psychology of money. How to build self-confidence. Learn to forgive yourself. Now in bite-sized, easy-to-digest format. Time management for mortals. Master your mind. Push past pain, reach your full potential. The power of habits, the 5am club. Become more effective at selling your soul to the corporations.

Cheap therapy. How to survive among narcissists. Being so clean and comfortable, having resolved all childhood traumas in therapy sessions. ‘I’m not psychologically comfortable in this situation’. Well, I’m not comfortable in the world that places such stake on comfort. The world where best people are set ablaze with explosive devices installed and detonated from under the trunks of their cars. And women in Bottega Veneta keep being bored at airport lounges with their petty fiction books.

Denmark: travel notes

I’ve spent the past 5 days in Denmark. Here’re some notes about Scandinavian style, smørrebrød, Greenlandic Inuits, as well as civilizational struggles and perils of social revolts (alright, there’re no posts in this blog that don’t dwell on these two topics).

Why Denmark looks so great

The two best-looking nations in the world are Denmark and Japan. The style of Danish citizens is spotless: wool coats, classy scarves, neutral color palettes. No wonder that brands like Arket, COS, and Acne Studios all originated from Scandinavia.

Let’s compare the style of Danes to the style of people in the Czech Republic (perhaps one of the worst-dressed nations in the world). Where a Czech woman would wear a puffer coat of a bright neon color (making her look like a Michelin mascot), a Danish woman would wear a classic wool coat and a classy cashmere scarf of navy, beige or grey shade. Where a Czech man would wear a sporty jacket from Decathlon (making him look like a fisherman), a Danish man would choose a wool pea coat with brown leather boots, or perhaps sneakers to make the outfit more wacky. What especially delights me is that barely anyone in Denmark wears blue jeans (just like in Japan), preferring classic black or grey trousers. While an average Czech woman would dye her hair in peroxide blonde, put it in a tight ponytail and paint her lips with a bright pink lipstick, a Danish woman would have a simple natural hairstyle and a minimal make-up. These small details make the entire nation look classy.

What’s striking is that nothing forces Czech people to deliberately choose horribly-looking clothes. The climate in both countries is comparable, so there’s no excuse for choosing puffer jackets over wool coats. Financial necessity is out of question too, as all types of clothes can be easily found in all sorts of mass-market stores. What determines the style then, if climate and financial considerations are held constant?

Visiting CERN in Geneva

If you want to get a feeling that the stuff you’re doing at work (or generally in life) is totally irrelevant, just visit the headquarters of CERN in Geneva. This is the place where people are preoccupied with real problems. Not some made-up issues in made-up spheres like law, marketing or finance. No, more serious problems – such as figuring out the origins of the Universe. Or, to put it more precisely – verifying the hypotheses of how the Universe could have happened – mainly the Big Bang hypothesis. Scientists have their own cosmogony.

Esplanade des particules

CERN headquarters are located on a street with a beautiful name – Esplanade des Particules (Geneva is situated in the French-speaking part of Switzerland).

As the street name suggests, CERN is preoccupied with particles. The organic stuff is made out of molecules, molecules – out of cells, cells – out of atoms, atoms – out of nuclei and electrons. Nuclei – out of protons and neutrons. Protons – out of quarks. And quarks? That’s how far we’ve gone yet. Any combinations of quarks are called hadrons. Protons and neutrons are the type of hadrons called baryons. And that’s exactly what the Large Hadron Collider is designed for. It accelerates protons and collides them.

But why to collide? Since we know that E = mc2, and that energy can be directly transformed into mass, colliding particles at enormous speeds is supposed to produce new particles with extremely high masses. Such massive particles include mysterious entities with enigmatic names such as muons, tau, quarks, W and Z bosons and others. Apparently that’s what the Universe was full of in the first seconds of its life. And in the past 10 years of operations, CERN has discovered more than 50 of such new particles.

Swiss notes

On direct democracy

Libertarians call Switzerland a political heaven: unlike most Western countries that have a representative democracy, Switzerland has a direct democracy (at least partially). Meaning that most political issues are decided through mass referendums. There’re usually four rounds of referendums organized annually, and citizens typically vote on around 10 matters per year: anything from the social welfare to… foreign trade with Indonesia.

On the first sight, direct democracy seems to be a perfectly fair and just system, where everyone’s vote has an equal degree of importance. However, as it always happens with democracy, the reality is more dismal than any theories and expectations. In 2005, Swiss citizens unanimously voted against the import of GMO products, while in 2017 they voted to phase out all nuclear power plants on the territory of Switzerland in the next years (that account for a third of all electricity generated in the country). Sounds pretty upsetting.

In the Ancient Greek polises, being a citizen was considered a full-time job: before making a vote, all citizens had to listen to long speeches of multiple orators, have a lengthy discussion of each topic afterwards (that often went on for many days), and only then make a final decision, as long as everyone agrees on it unanimously. On each political matter! I doubt if Swiss citizens do the same research before exercising their vote: it’s likely that their knowledge on many issues is limited to a superfluous information read on the Internet or heard on TV. How the hell are you supposed to become an expert on the foreign trade with Indonesia in a matter of days?

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