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Friday Afternoon Confessional: back on track or backtrack?

I confess some things should be as they were. Traditions provide comfort. I confess that this confession is provoked by a day struggling to be – I think this is a sufficiently universal term for it – independent. After today it strikes me that being (an?) independent involves being dependent, a lot, on the ability to chase practical and administrative things.

Gathering all of my courage (and a bunch of paperwork prepared by my accountant) I traveled  to the court. Well, the office of the clerk of some court. The building was the same as the one in which criminals are convicted. The people were nice. I handed over the paperwork expecting this or that stamp as a permanent testimony of me having faced the administrative music. Fat chance. A nice lady told me that my nice accountant – whom I hold no grudge – forgot a not so unimportant detail: to establish a partnership there has to be more than one partner.

Now I need to ask my partner to become my partner, my accountant to adapt the paperwork such that my partner is described as my partner & return to the court’s clerks to stamp me and my partner into partner-hood. If my partner in life is allowed by her boss to become my partner in business.

I confess after that doing the grocery shopping felt like the pinnacle of efficiency and effectivity combined (I see that the word “effectivity” gets a red wavy underlining from wordpress thesaurus. WordPress thesaurus should definitely be mandatory in corporate circles).

To remain on the topic of dependency, I further confess I’m on twitter now.

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June 20, 2014 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional | 2 Comments

Sunday Stories: Anti-political politicians

“I will not allow anybody to destroy the education that allowed me to become who I am.”, said a politician in response to the question whether it was possible for him to agree on reforming an education system reported to increase inequalities. A sentence which he knew to appeal mostly to the unfortunately many with unfortunate experiences with schools. As he knew whom the sentence “I am the living example that you can make it also if you’re born from working class parents.” would appeal to. Sentences hovering like drones above the heads of voters which believe there is only one bigger enemy than politics: statistics. Sentences that will fire their charge with surgical precision on any politician daring to rely on a statistical finding.

Some politicians like to focus on the ever increasing gap between politicians and their electorate. From another politician: “I earn only a modest income so I know what life is like for an average voter.” The anti-political politician is not monopolized by the right. Politics by hysteria replaces politics. Nobody even tries to explain what we know about the facts. If somebody tries she’s set aside as a naive nobody, the real politicians who hate politicians smile wearily and that’s that. I know who stands to gain from this type of politics although I don’t know whether it’s by design or by invisible hand that our politicians get converted into a selectorate of one-lining sons of bitches which glorify and praise science as long as it is not applied in the social sphere.

It matters: if it’s by design we can only fight it. If we fight it we need to use weapons even more powerful than theirs. Which means we will lose. If by invisible hand we can educate and apply some real politics to cancel out the bias and move on.

I’m naive but the question is: how naive are you?

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May 18, 2014 Posted by | media, politics, Sunday Stories | , | Comments Off

Friday Afternoon Confessional: Reading List

I confess I put my life on hold for the last 12 months chasing a ghost. It took me more than a month just to start to remember how life was. Was it worth it? I confess I have no idea. Am I done chasing ghosts? I confess my best answer is: time will tell.

The piles of books which have amassed to the left and right of me do suggest I kept on reading though. I confess I want to boast about that.

To my left, pile n°1: Kripke, Naming & Necessity; Bolaño, Amberes, El Tercer Reich & Estrella Distante; Zweig, Schachnovelle.

Across older piles lying open on pp. 150-151 for reasons I confess I forgot entirely: Gadamar, Elogio de la teoría. Which brings me to the piles to my right featuring more Gadamer, On Education, Poetry And History as well as Wer bin Ich und wer bist Du. The latter sits on top of Fitch, Saul Kripke and Peinado, Futbolistas de izquierdas. Further down in that pile: Gass, Middle C and the almost most recent one: Piketty, Le capital au XXIe siècle.

To my left, pile n° 2: Jaeger, Paideia: los ideales de la cultura griega & Aristoteles; Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung.

I confess all this name dropping leaves me feeling I really have something to confess about. I am unsure however whether it is arrogance or lack of reading quality/quantity (certainly as far as fiction goes). In order not to have to dwell on that issue I’ll just mention what I’m reading now (& only talk about that one below the fold): Steven Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for You. As you can tell from the Capital letters in the title I’m turning to vulgarized science from time to time (I blame Dawkins for that) but I’m not addicted to it, yet (I might add now I’m at it that I quit smoking if, I confess, without quitting nicotine given I just have put an “e-” before my cigarettes).

I confess it was not my plan to write that many words before I got to this pink book by (the maybe venerable) Steven Johnson and the Flynn effect.

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May 3, 2014 Posted by | bookstores, economics, Friday Afternoon Confessional, shameless self-promotion, teaching | , | Comments Off

Fired Man Working

The unit of human capital writing this blog post is planned to be scrapped. End of June. This is partly because of a basic design error of almost all of the known units of human capital better know as free will. Most capitalists know free will to be a bitch to be kept at bay in production and to be abused only from the point of view of consumption. In my case I couldn’t handle being ‘owned’ anymore to continue something we started, dreaming to improve the world of education, in order to fuel some organization’s desire to make money on pushing more Theon taming (known originally as training).

I won’t put in my LinkedIn profile that my will to consume is as weak as my will to create is strong. I wonder whether there is a maximum of will meaning a stronger will to create weakens the will to consume, and vice versa. If so it might explain why the wealthy are so concerned to ensure our will to consume is stimulated. The wealthy are só smart (how else would they have become wealthy?): they most probably have enough will to create amongst their happy few to count for all of us. Anyway they have the money so we will just have to consume what they create with what little money they leave.

We can take some comfort in the ideas of Thomas Piketty: as the wealthy will appropriate more and more wealth, there will be less and less for us, leading to a system break-down. At that point most of us will either be death or die quickly in the service of one of the factions of the wealthy, but at least the happy few will become unhappier and fewer for the briefest of moments. It’s not much but we’ll take what we get.

I’m just being bitter, of course. On top of not making any sense. Bottom-line is: I didn’t get it my way. Continue reading

April 27, 2014 Posted by | boredom, innovative technologies that shape our lives, shameless self-promotion, teaching, torture, waking up in a cold sweat | 3 Comments

Periodic Confessional: Moving off the offensive

“You are a special kind of jerk,” she said. “Not only did you try to steal my parking spot, but when I tried to go ahead and give it to you, you went and parked somewhere else.”

“I wasn’t trying to steal your parking spot. I needed to move because nobody else in the parking lot could move if I didn’t.”
Now to me and anybody in earshot, “You try to do something nice for somebody! What a jerk!”

“Look, I wasn’t trying to steal your parking spot. I’m not a jerk, and it was just a misunderstanding. I think we should just put it behind us and move on with our days.” I looked to the Dunkin Donuts cashier who was watching this unfold, a bit slackjawed, while handing me my receipt. “Thanks. Have a good one.”

This was literally a new me. Not two weeks before, I had sat with my wife and our friends on New Year’s Eve and said I was going to move beyond being mean. I didn’t want anybody who didn’t deserve it to regret having run into me or (over)hearing something I said.

In this situation, the old me probably would’ve scanned my brain for a stinging insult. I would’ve wanted to find something that would find its way under her skin and nuzzle in for the rest of the day. If I came up short of such a zinger, I would’ve let my failure to “win” the confrontation bug me for the rest of the day.

“What the hell was that all about,” my wife asked when we got outside. We were just popping in for a donut and coffee before going our separate ways to work. Having arrived at DD first, she was unaware of anything having happened in the parking lot.

“I had to kind of pull in front of her to free up a jam in the parking lot. I knew whoever was in the truck would think I was trying to steal their spot, but I had to move. There was a car behind me turning left into the parking lot and they were hung out in the middle of the road.”

“Well you handled that a lot better than I would’ve. She didn’t even yell at me and I want to go back in there and call her a bitch.”

I couldn’t believe how good I felt. In the past, I had welcomed the chance to get upset. I would engage because I welcomed the anger, the chance at indignation. I would downplay the fact that I knew from the other person’s perspective it did look like I was being a jerk. I would retell the story at work and act like I was feeding off its energy when in all honesty, it would feed off me.

When I had made the decision to try to avoid saying offensive things or making offensive jokes, I was nervous about it. I crack jokes. Lots of jokes. In a social setting, it’s what I’m most comfortable bringing to the exchange and making people laugh is one of my favorite things. But in the course of a night, many jokes are at somebody’s expense. Maybe somebody at the bar I suspect is a douche, somebody on TV who made an easy target or somebody in a newspaper article who came off looking bad.

I never touched on the great taboos, but there are still plenty of ways to be very mean without too much fear of being called out. It was evident when I’d let a joke fly and see a hitch in somebody’s reaction. Maybe it hit on a problem they used to have. Maybe it made fun of something that affected somebody close to them. They usually wouldn’t say anything, but I’d catch their “look” and regret the ill-advised joke the rest of the night.

After this happened enough times, I just grew tired of trying to figure out what was OK to joke about and what wasn’t. Cheap laughs weren’t worth knowing you were responsible for “that look”. After having spent years trying to argue this joke or that joke wasn’t offensive, I realized when I defended jokes I wasn’t really making an argument about the joke. I was trying to convince myself I’m not the kind of person who’d laugh at offensive jokes. That’s an ugly light to shine on yourself and I wanted to get out from under it. Still, would I be able to fill the void where these types of jokes used to come out?

This was the surprising part. There was no void. It seems when I sincerely wanted to avoid saying hurtful things, the part of my brain that supplied them withered on the vine. Actually, I’m hoping it moved on to better pursuits. Every once in a while a joke will pop into my head and I try to make sure that’s where it stays. I’m sure some still slip through a filter that has blind spots. But for the most part, it’s not a flood of material I have to carefully sort through as I had originally feared.

Another surprise has been how much of a relief it is to come across everybody you meet and not size them up for potential material. It’s no longer “Look at this guy.” It’s just “there goes a guy”. What I feared would be limiting and restrictive has in fact been remarkably liberating. So in the end I have to agree with the woman at Dunkin Donuts. It takes a special kind of jerk to clutch so tightly, for the better part of thirty-eight years, to hurtful behavior that benefited noone and was likely most harmful to myself. Maybe I would’ve been more accurate to say, “I’m not the jerk you think I am.”

 

This post was inspired by a couple of Adam Kotsko’s posts at An und fur sich on free will that have struck a chord. 

April 17, 2014 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional | 4 Comments

Monday Morning Satire: The Race Expo!

Race weekend is approaching and I am getting so psyched. When I started training on New Year’s Day, this seemed so far away. When all my friends said I was “crazy” and “neglectful of my responsibilities” and “annoyingly obsessed with running”, it was because they don’t know the excitement I feel as my race weekend approaches. When I realized that, I thought it might be fun to talk about one of the best parts of a race weekend, the expo. I’m not sure I can properly convey how awesome they are, but I’ll trust the marathon bumper stickers’ message, “You can do this.”

I guess the most important part of the expo is picking up your race packet. These packets include your running bib (that piece of paper with the number on it), your free race shirt, instructions for the day of the race (pay attention to parking!) and a bunch of coupons to all the area stores. But I don’t just go to the expo because they don’t let you get your race packet any other way.

All you have to do is pull into the parking lot and it’s already evident you’re not going to regret taking the time to visit the expo. There are SO many magnets, bumper stickers and vanity plates (“FastrNU” – we’ll see about that!). If you’re like me, you gain inspiration from these, especially the magnets. If I get a swelled head after setting a personal record (PR) for a half-marathon, somebody else’s 26.2 magnet reminds me I can always work a little harder. I assume marathoners think the same of ultra-marathoners, who probably have to look to the 140.6 magnets of the ironman triathletes for their inspiration.

Who do the ironman triathletes look to? I’ve always wanted to ask. It seems kind of sad to me, not really being able to go any farther in an organized race. I suppose they just keep trying to set PRs. Although, I did read one time about a 130-mile run through Death Valley, a lot of which is uphill. The neat thing about that race is there’s no way to duplicate the grueling conditions when you train. Until you’ve finished it, you have no way of knowing if you have enough to finish. Or even survive! But I bet if you do survive and finish, you come away thinking that was the best week of your life…once your toenails grow back, you can walk again and your kidney treatment is successful.

Until you’re ready for that kind of thrill, though, you’ll have to settle for things like your race’s expo. Whenever I walk in to one of these, I like to just stop and take in all the vendor booths. This is my chance to gain some perspective. By the time I walk into that expo, I’ve been training for sixteen weeks. Something like 240 miles and 25 hours of running. All that time, all I’m doing is turning inward to my thoughts, sorting out problems or issues and using the thoughtful time alone to try to put my life into better order. It’s almost meditative.

But do you know what I’m not doing? Spending any money. Sure I use plenty of gas driving to the trail I run on, but I’d probably use that gas driving to the gym if I didn’t run so I can’t really count that. And yes, training for my half-marathons usually causes me to go through a pair of shoes per year. But is the economy being kept afloat by my one pair of $100 shoes a year? Doubtful. So when I stand and take in all those vendor booths, I’m reminded of my chance to make up for lost time and be one of the economy’s givers and not one of its takers.

They make it easy to spend, too. Because when you walk in, the registration table where you pick up your packet is on the exact opposite side of the arena. The really good expos arrange the vendors so your path is serpentine like a line for a roller coaster at an amusement park. This makes sure you get to see the best of performance wear, energy bars, energy gum, energy drinks, equipment you just don’t see anywhere else (like $3,000 elliptical bikes!) and info on out-of-town races. My advice as you wind your way through is to take it in as best as you can. It’s important to remember the easiest way to be accepted as a serious runner isn’t just running. It’s looking the part.

Don’t just get caught up in what you can spend money on, either. Listen to the bands or any other performers there might be. One year, I went to an expo that brought in a controversial runner comedian. His “thing” was a series of jokes that point out the differences between eight minute milers and nine minute milers.

His best bit was the part when he ran across the stage, “Nine minute milers run like this!” He had the pained expression down and everything! I heard one guy go, “Did you see his supination? That is SO me!” After he was done with that, he improved his posture a little bit, looked a little more serious and went, “Eight minute milers run like this!”. For that short a distance, the speed seemed really similar but any good runner saw the difference. You could tell some people were offended by the posture and expression stereotypes, or at least laughing nervously, but I’ve been both an eight-minuter and a nine-minuter, so I felt comfortable laughing the whole time. Anyway, you’re not always going to be so lucky to get that kind of quality entertainment, but I’ve never seen performers who weren’t trying hard.

Once I’ve made my way through to the registration table and picked up my packet, I like to people watch on the way back out. Society could really learn from running and its diverse mix of white people from all walks of life! You have everybody from struggling college kids whose parents are barely paying half their tuition all the way up to corporate execs looking for things to do besides go home after their 70-hour work weeks. It’s like every story is an inspiration!

Well, those are just some of the things I love about a good race expo. It just may be the most fun you’ll have that weekend when you’re not running. Well, besides carb loading at dinner on the way home!

April 7, 2014 Posted by | observational humor | Comments Off

Spoiler Alert Thursday, er Wednesday: Walking Dead

As the title suggests, spoilers follow. 

The second half of Season 4 made a couple things clear. Nobody much cared for farmer Rick. Even in a world overrun with flesh-eating zombies, people are the biggest danger.

In the second half’s opener, we found out Carl really hated farmer Rick. To the extent he even went so far to say he was okay with Rick dying. Later in the season, Daryl doesn’t come out and blame Rick, but he regrets letting things get lax enough to where they let the Governor come in and destroy their home. Let’s not forget that Carol was an early adopter of the “Farming? Are you kidding me? Club”. In the season finale, we see even Rick himself was slow to come around to farmer Rick. Herschel had to convince him to try to build a life worth living for his family, and that life probably shouldn’t include family trips to the fence to poke zombies in the brain.

That’s just counting the people in the show. I have a sinking suspicion fans REALLY didn’t like farmer Rick. I don’t follow a lot of people on Twitter, but my small sampling of responses to Rick tearing Joe’s throat out with his teeth had a tone of “Finally!” I have no reason to believe that wasn’t representative of most people’s thoughts. As fans, the reasoning is we’re blood thirsty monsters. Okay, that’s probably a little harsh. But it’s fair to say we tune into a zombie show to see zombie kills and zombie escapes. When the characters are safe, the show lags and fans get antsy.

Within the show, the complaint about farmer Rick is that it’s not realistic. To survive the zombie apocalypse, you have to embrace the badass. Herschel’s idea of building a life worth surviving for was nice, but the problem seemed to be it makes survival more difficult or even impossible. Rick and Herschel tried to embrace the idea that you could go back to the person you were before “the turn”. The second half of Season 4 seemed to argue that not only was that it wasn’t possible, but it will get you killed.

Why? That brings us to my second point. Even in a world overrun with flesh-eating zombies, people are the biggest danger. That’s been shown time and time again. Sure, the main characters have had to escape zombies and they’ve all had their share of close calls, but the show’s true villains have always been people. Whether it was Shane, the Governor or Joe and his band of rapists, the parts of the show that make you whoop the most are when people who haven’t “turned” but have gone bad get theirs. In other words, even when there’s zombies, people are the worst.

Here’s the bad news. We’re people. Just like Rick and the rest can’t turn their backs to the brutal facts of their new environs, the show’s creators can’t turn their backs on the wishes of their viewers. It wasn’t just Joe’s gang and Terminus that forced the return of badass Rick. It was us. We watch the show and like to think the villains are bad guys like The Governor and Joe. What we found out in the finale, though, is we are the Governor and Joe. We demand that Rick be the brutal leader who bites jugulars and disembowels threats to his son. It turns out that as fans, our true nemesis was Herschel. Now if you’ll excuse me, Imma go try on some eye patches.

April 2, 2014 Posted by | Spoiler Alert Thursdays, television | Comments Off

Periodic Confessional: C-H….C-H. What’s missing?

I confess I am not a practicing Catholic. This has been the case for nearly 25 years, and most of the time it’s hardly worth mentioning. But when you were raised Catholic, it tends to pop up now and then.

Over the past couple months, it’s come up because my nephew who will be getting Confirmed, asked me to be his sponsor. I said yes immediately because my nephew – who is also my godson – asked me. I knew there were probably going to be some awkward moments to come from it, but the way I saw it was this. The church had explained to my nephew what a sponsor should do. He thought of me, ran the idea past his parents, and they said “Great choice!” or “that’s fine” or “this should be interesting”. Something. I don’t know, but he called me and with their blessing, asked, and that was good enough for me.

Things got hairy almost immediately. My nephew handed the phone over to my brother, who laid out the situation for me. He told me this church is a little…zealous. They don’t want just anybody being sponsors. They want practicing Catholics. And there’s a form.

“A form?”

Yes, a form. And they don’t want you to just sign the form that states that you understand the responsibilities of a sponsor and that you’re a practicing Catholic. They want the church where you’re a member to affix their seal.

“Affix a seal? Affix? Seal? Churches have seals?” Continue reading

March 18, 2014 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, religion | 6 Comments

Periodic Confessional: Juror #1

Warning: Though I’ve tried to remove graphic details of the case, what follows is an account of my experience as a juror on a trial that included some degree of domestic violence. It’s my understanding reading these types of things can be very stressful to people who have suffered through these situations.

I confess I may have played a part in ruining a woman’s life. Some time in January, I got a jury summons. Some time last week, I called the number to see if I had to report. I did. When I reported, I was sent up to a courtroom as a prospective juror. As we filed in, we saw a woman sitting with a lawyer, and a man sitting with a lawyer. “Thank God,” I thought. “Civil.”

Wrong. The man with the lawyer was a detective. The judge read us the indictment and revealed this was a trial for felonious assault. The woman sitting with her back to us was accused of stabbing her boyfriend. Oh crap.

After the jury questionnaires had been filled out, the judge called the first name. It was mine. All the jokes about dodging having to serve evaporated immediately. This got very real, very quickly. The judge asked whether I was married or living with a partner. Being a former math major, I instinctively answered this “or” question with a yes. She chuckled. “May I ask which it is?”

“Oh, sorry. I’m married, yes.”

She went on to ask where I worked, how long I had been there. What did my wife do? How long had she been there? Did I have any kids, and if so, how old were they? Had I brought any reading material? I explained awkwardly that I was reading a book called “Sharp Objects”.

With those questions answered, a second juror was called. In all, 18 jurors were interviewed after me. With every one of them, she found a way to take one of their answers and ask a follow-up question about how this might have biased them against either the defense or the prosecution. When I realized this contrast with my own questions, I figured I could call my wife and my boss and let them know I’d be busy for the next few days. Continue reading

February 27, 2014 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, politics | 3 Comments

Sunday Stories: Paideia (1?)

I had visitors yesterday: an old friend who moved abroad and visited his home country with his kids. His eldest is a year younger than mine is. The discussion came to choosing the right path for their higher education. My son chose politics. His son is about to chose civil engineering. There is no discussion these choices are the right ones for the two respective adolescents. The interesting part of the conversation was my friends’ sons’ question to my son on his choice: “Qué es la salida?” (could have been ‘Cuál’, my Spanish is kind of rusty).

This sums up the modern view of education: you learn to be able to land the right job. But whilst the job may be the right one, is this the right conception? Continue reading

December 29, 2013 Posted by | shameless self-promotion, Sunday Stories | , , , , , , | Comments Off

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