Blog: Erster Besuch

Erster Besuch
Erster Besuch
Date: 2019-Apr-12 01:15:40 EST

In Berlin a few days early for a neuroscience conference. This is my first visit to Germany - been enjoying walking around the city and learning its sense of normal. My level of German is turning out to be useful but limited - I can reasonably easily make myself understood, but people often ask me questions involving words I don't know. So for me it's like a write-only language. Kinda. Simple exchanges work well, particularly if I talk first. English is fine as a fallback, and there's a surprising amount of (slightly off) English around. If I lived here I'd be tempted to drop off sheets of corrections to storefronts that have English below their German. Still, I'm trying to speak as much German as possible while here, and I'm getting used to the tonal patterns in nearby conversations I don't quite hear. The city Berlin reminds me the most of so far is Philadelphia, with some street design from San Francisco, and much cleaner than either. One of the things I was curious about was whether the former boundary would mark a dramatic difference in architectural style or general feel, and while I can still trace that boundary by many streets changing their name over certain lines, most of the differences are subtle if still present at all. It's been too long - I regret not getting to visit closer to reunification. Berlin in general seems to take culture pretty seriously - like Boston I see a lot of mention of famous musicians and philosophers of the past, and one nearby store offers a curious service - a personal cello concert (the cellist was playing alone in a storefront as I walked by). I think it's also election season - there are endless adverts for various political parties on the streets, talking about healthcare, attitudes towards the EU, and so on. People? Nobody here would be out of place in New York (even speaking German there). The one surprise that I've seen so far is the canals, which are quite prominent. Foodwise I'm doing okay - not great (travel is always hard on that front, but just like my visits to San Francisco, people here seem to have a different food aesthetic than I'm used to, and the attitudes towards water in restaurants or availability of other drinks are frustrating). I slept poorly on the plane last night so I was tired today, but I expect to have more energy tomorrow to see museums and other things. There's a lot to do.

I'm more lonely than normal - I don't have many people in my life at home either, but the familiar habits help there. As I write this I'm telling myself that I should try harder to build connections because work will only last so long and I don't want that to be all there is for me. But I know promising myself things is cheap and I've done it countless times over the past years. Anything real must come from more than a realisation that things *should* change. On some level I'm impressed that I can function without a social life because at times it really rips at me emotionally, but on another it's deeply miserable and not even something I feel I should do out of some ethics or choice.

About the Never Trumpers - I've followed several on social media as Trump's presidency continues. I don't think they're pulling me towards their view, but it pleases me to see one bright spot in Trump's disasterous presidency - that principled people on the other side stand out. And that in this era they're probably becoming more principled and that helps me see principles I have in common with them. They still occasionally remind me of our political differences - Tom Nichols, for example, recently rattled off a list of major government agencies he'd like to remove, sometimes with very flimsy reasons (e.g. the Ed, with a justification that most people don't understand what it does). Still, a belief in princple and long-term thinking is refreshing. Particularly given that it's about as rare on the left, and presidential hopefuls are eagerly exploring ideas that either strike me as a bad idea (Sanders looking to use precedent-breaking ways of trying to pass a universal Medicare plan, or Warren looking to end the filibuster in the Senate) or as crossing a red line (Cory Booker pushing a reparations commission bill, which is to me an absolute disqualifier for my vote).

On that last point, I feel I should explain - progress in fixing divides in society is primarily about moving people's behaviour to the level where in the important domains of life (employment, finance, daily necessities) they ignore the distinctions at hand, generally treating both genders and all races the same. That's the primary driver of dealing with these issues - there are some rare, time-limited circumstances where we might accept other methods that are in fact incompatible with that primary driver, but they run the risk of damaging it or just not achieving much good. I believe that reparations are a logistical nightmare which are unlikely to accomplish much good and which significantly damage that primary driver (I support affirmative action in education precisely because supporting it for a limited duration limits damage to the primary driver).

Anyhow, I should probably be asleep right now to make sure I'm up at the right time tomorrow - time zones are tricky.