Saturday, January 3, 2015

Nobody is a Villain

In the joke the officer tells the child visiting the precinct that all these pictures on the wall are of people wanted by the police, and the child asks why didn't the police catch them when they took their pictures... Same here, I had no chance to take her picture. This lady made me break the strict rule of using only pictures taken by myself. For this story I had no choice.

If I ever learned anything about self perception it is that nobody is a villain in his own mind. Not even the smiling lady you see here, 

She is a well educated lady from Barueri (Sao Paulo) in Brazil. She is an outspoken critic of Brazil's corruption and is even vocally asking for the impeachment of the president Dilma Rousseff. But in her own mind she cannot be the villain that cheats in one of the many ways the era of e-commerce and airbnb allows one to cheat. 

Alessandra rented a country house through her well verified airbnb identity for the best weeks of the southern season, only to send some friends instead of Alessandra Daloia herself. These friends used the property for two nights while searching for alternate accommodations, accommodations closer to gambling and night life. Alessandra Daloia Souza cancelled the reservation while creating bogus excuses about moldy swimming pools. The brazilian males abandoned the property, never contacted the owner, and sheepishly screened phone calls from then on. 

I already knew that nobody sees him or herself as a villain, but Alessandra upped the ante.  She painted herself as the victim while filling her mouth with anti-corruption diatribes. Maybe airbnb should have a Hamlet test to screen out the lady that doth protest too much, methinks.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rule the World

Twenty two brave athletes sweating the Brazilian weather on beautiful World Cup pitches may impress many, but being there only reinforced my notion that the world is ruled by women. At least the world around me, in near proximity or with which I have broader affinity.

The subtleties of soft power cannot go unnoticed over time. Who sets priorities, who makes the tough calls, who really has sway in eight-out-of-ten households, who decides on a house purchase. One can go from fact to stereotype to caricature, but the idea has been brewing in my mind that we men are just useful idiots, and often not that useful.

The metaphor of men is that of World Cup players, physical, determined, with a sense of purpose that may or may not transcend gender. Pawns in a bigger game. Look "La FIFA" has a female gender.

The sweetest paradox is that cultures where women do not rule (yet), have no soccer presence in the world stage really.  And the conclusive proof may have gone unnoticed to the armies of commentators in Brazil 2014. Three of the four semi-finalist countries are run by a woman head of state, and the fourth, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was run by queens since 1890 until Beatrix abdicated last year, probably to have more time to follow the World Cup.

This blog proves I retain my freedom of opinion, even if our male opinions may matter less than we thought. I do not complain, relevant or not my blog has alway done one thing to perfection. When I read my own posts I feel exactly the way I did when I wrote them. That is as close as I can get to a time travel machine. Plus that picture takes me back to Fortaleza, Brazil just before the madness started.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When Nobody is Watching

"Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching". 
I find different forms of this quote going back more than one hundred years. So many variants, so many authors, they can't be wrong.

The chances to exercise our integrity are dwindling. An estimate of 1.85 million CCTV cameras in the UK, one for every 32 people. The Washington Post says the NSA can scan 1.7 billion emails a day. Everybody wants our data to rummage through. The privacy ambiguity introduced by the cyber lives we invented makes it hard to know when no one is watching. 

Given this is only getting worse we need new workable quotes for integrity and character. Something like "character is what you do when you think nobody is watching", and I have already read variations of that sort. 

Or maybe "doing the right thing when nobody cares", because all these Big Data engines are not really judging me I believe. Even if they are I may not care about their opinions of me. It would read as "doing the right thing even though we do not care about our reputation to the watcher. Nah, too long. 

The sign at Dojo had it right, "doing the right thing regardless of the consequences".

But then again there was another Japanese proverb used at the Dojo that conveyed the opposite.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Degrees of Separation

An instructor once told us that a classic conflict source was expectations mismatch between parties. She gave us marital and corporate examples. Her point was that these mismatches are solvable with the right appreciation and tools. They are not irreconcilable.

Arizona desert trip planning guides we read last year made the same point. Frictions surface in family trips precisely at the time people should be in their most fun and easy going moods. Mismatched expectations, nothing deeper than that. And once identified we can fix it by aligning expectations, I guess.

To align expectations in our trip we can divide the time to visit each other's friends, we can divide meal preferences. If we can split atoms what could possibly get in the way? 

It is August in Tel Aviv, hot as always, and air conditioners have gotten very good indeed.

But temperature remains indivisible. Setting the thermostat is an unsolvable mismatch in expectations. This time we have technology to blame. We went from suffering together to fighting over who suffers the other's temperature preferences.

I found the reason, its the thermostat stupid. Next comes an academic paper plotting divorce rate vs. temperature preference differential. It is titled degrees of separation.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Poor Man Rejoice

Finding anything previously misplaced around the house always follows this script:

- Me: "When does a poor man rejoice?"
A rare case where the original expression "Cuando se alegra un pobre?" sounds better and more compact in Spanish than in English.
- Her: "Oh shut up you are not poor.

The expected answer, from my father, is: "When he finds what he lost"

"A poor man rejoices when he reclaims what he lost" is the best approximation. Though it is not really joy, and what I reclaimed was not exactly lost.

It feels more like a boxer winning a fight. In many ways.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Most Interesting Man in the World

He has received acceptance letters from all Ivy League schools... that he has not applied to...
He was awarded a full scholarship... just for posing in their college
He graduated Summa Cum Laude... from elementary school..
Teachers ask him for letters of recommendation...
He was only once a point short of a perfect exam score... only because he was given the wrong test form...
A fellow student once received an approving nod from him... and ended up listing it on his resume...
Schools ask him for merit-based financial aid...
Universities send him essays on why they are a good fit for him...
He is... The Most Interesting Applicant In The World.

'I don't usually send out applications, but when I do, I send them to BU.'

That was Ben's essay for Boston University where the Most Interesting Man In The World really studied. 

In my day it barely required having a pulse, but today college admission is a highly choreographed game refereed by arbitrary characters behind a desk. Applicants go to the far ends of the planet for community work credentials. My spleen says that if all submissions were true there would be more applicants volunteering in Asian orphanages than orphans in Asia. Artifacts of a game they make you play.

Game over, now colleges fight for Ben while we sip a Dos Equis. Stay thirsty my friends...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Incredibles

The dust has long settled on the theme of teams beating individuals, or viceversa. We already passed judgement on that in the old post Teams vs. Individuals.   But what if the participants are of the Superhero class. A Superhero in a comic book and in real life has extraordinary powers of some sort.

These extraordinary powers are generally uni-dimensional, either the ability to fly, run at amazing speeds, climb walls like arachnids, or some other very specific quality. Even a Superhero cannot excel at everything.

Specialized traits force screenwriters to sacrifice credibility through plots where a narrow ability somehow saves the day. This is compounded by most superheroes working independently, so if there is no use for the skill, that is it, the superhero is as powerless as any mortal.

Sometimes, like in The Incredibles, Superheroes operate as a team, in this case as a family of superheroes. Interestingly its creator, Brad Bird, was open to a sequel of the movie if he could come up with a plot superior to the original one. 

Here are the powers the sequel characters should have. They are not physical powers, that is boring, we already have powerful machines.

One has the trait of knowledge. Knowledge is power you might say, and we can use that character in half the action movies you see on TV. 

A second one knows how to read people, a not so subtle variant over raw knowledge. Reading people helps untangle things involving human motives and actions. Tangle and untangle people.

And the third just understands. Hard to explain what understanding the essence of things means, but superheroes are seen in action, not explained.

Reality provides abundant plots. Having named their powers I can now stop and let plots happen.

Monday, August 20, 2012


I remember the earliest diagrams of transistor circuits from Professor Rasines and how they worked. Professor Rasines was a mentor, because in my book a mentor is one whose teachings we remember, not one whose teachings we understand. 

One may argue that my mind was then "tabula rasa" and recorded anything new thus turning every teacher into a mentor, but that is not the case. His sentences were important and synthetic enough to be stored. For example the mysterious precept "beware of a person that does not laugh".

I never understood why I had to beware of them. I do use and abuse humor, possibly because I believe people take themselves too seriously. And just like that, a couple of days ago, a comedian-academic shows up on my radio dial to prove Rasines' wisdom.

Check out this link for Robert Lynch's take on the role of humor in human evolution. Lynch believes a reaction to a joke reveals if people's beliefs and preferences matched what they found funny. By laughing at the same joke we signal to each other that we share the same values and beliefs. 

So far so good. A way of predicting the fate of a blind date, or an engagement would be through laughter and humor. I buy that. 

But it gets better, Lynch experiments with laughter vs. self-deception (where self-deceivers are people who don't see their own values and beliefs clearly), and remarkably self-deceivers were less likely to laugh.

Rasines has been vindicated, my use of humor has been vindicated, I am just too lazy to find out the hard way what others are all about, so I just test their reaction to my humor.

Today, on the same dial, the late Gore Vidal is asked what does he want to be remembered by. He bluntly replies that anybody stupid enough to want to be remembered will surely be forgotten.

Want it or not, my mentors are remembered.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Compound interest stopped being the most powerful force in the universe way before I heard that Albert Einstein may have never said it was. I have heard about the power of exponentials from other credible people, and I heard that in person. But is exponential growth a force in the usual sense of driving action? Or is growth a force only to the extent that it pushes and displaces things around it?

A powerful force must lie behind actions that otherwise would not occur, or that otherwise would be unexplainable. Specifically human actions that are unexplainable either under the opposing models of Homo Economicus or Homo Reciprocans. 

These actions pop up everywhere, from people running in front of a dozen bulls in Pamplona every year, to entire countries placing a Queen and her family in Buckingham Palace to lead a life of idle ceremony for 60 years and then make a big fuss to thank her for her service. What service? Privilege is no service.

Mysteriously unexplainable are familial episodes of honor killings. Make one to reconsider if all parents really want the same for their children, and if we are all really driven by the same forces.

Partially unexplainable are the self sacrifices of the Fukushima nuclear plant workers deliberately taking radiation. One may argue they fall under the same self-sacrifice umbrella of suicide bombings in war, a la kamikaze or their well known Middle Eastern variants. But the latter ones are hardly explainable, because when a young person sacrifices their entire descent bloodline disappears, by not ever happening. Why is then the suicide bomber profile a really young person as opposed to an 80 year old bomber whose bloodline is already spoken for?

The invisible force behind all these is Culture, making it more powerful than compound interest. Anthropology early on defined culture as some sort of cultivation of the mind, but the URL in your browser shows that this is my blog so I get to pick the definition, one with some McGrew elements. Patterns of behavior that are consistent across performers in social units, patterns that endure across generations. 

Or Culture simply as a set of actions we take automatically, without questioning, out of group tradition.

Right or wrong, postulating Culture as "the force" is a more benign view than the alternate mantra of the only common thread in the world being absurdity.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Time to break a lance for gas guzzlers. A curse affects most oil producers and many oil consumers, and if gas guzzlers hasten the end of our "Oil Age" they are welcome. Walking is the wrong metaphor here but I walk the walk by feeding a 3.5L engine for as long as I can.

Given Sheikh Yamani's mantra "The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil" does conservation delay the end of the Oil Age as I suggest?

GM folks are doing high fives since the Chevy Volt earned multiple Green Awards in 2011. Not earth shattering to have a plug-in-hybrid in 2011 when GM had a fully electric vehicle in 1996, the EV1. And really old news when Ferdinand Porsche made Lohner-Porsche mixed gasoline electric cars (aka hybrids) around 1901. The same 1901 year the Oil Age arguably started at the Spindletop oil field in Texas.

I want to witness the end of the Oil Age. Electric cars are long overdue, but I do not have another hundred years to wait for them. And it is not clear conservation is always welcome. Riding a bike and using solar energy are great, but more efficient gasoline cars can have unintended consequences.

Doubling fuel efficiency, for example, means oil supplies will last twice as long. Is that good?

Actually with double car gasoline efficiency producers could raise fuel prices with no impact to consumers. That is what I would do in their place, and cartels are smarter than me. Producers would get twice as much per unit of production, instantly making them twice as rich either on revenues or reserves. A higher sustainable oil price also adds production capacity that would not be viable at lower prices, along with the environmental impact of production, emissions, and the prolongation of the Oil Age.

Granted, one can dig deeper than my facetious plot does. Me, I find no heros in the story worth a curtains call when it ends, preferably sooner rather than later.