El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

I just wanna say

Although I agree ideologically with people that are upset at officials within the Trump administration, if you are berating someone while they are having a meal or kicking them out of your restaurant, you are a crackpot.

Wow – this article came out today

It’s like Richard Stallman is reading my blog! 🙂 Haha, is joke.

Finally, don’t forget the software in your own computer. If it is the non-free software of Apple, Google or Microsoft, it spies on you regularly. That’s because it is controlled by a company that won’t hesitate to spy on you. Companies tend to lose their scruples when that is profitable. By contrast, free (libre) software is controlled by its users. That user community keeps the software honest.

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This is pretty much why I use only software libre. I can’t write it all myself, but I have more trust in groups that don’t hold profit as a motive when I entrust to them my data. These non-profit companies develop software that allows me to see and manipulate the source code. I can do anything I want with it, except close it up.

Open Source serves the user – Closed source serves the company

Just wanted to jot down another frustrating example of how closed source software serves the creator company before it serves the user and why particular choices are made at the point of development.

I have been doing some research and have come across hundreds of PDFs of doctoral dissertations written by smart people about extremely interesting topics, but surprisingly nearly all the papers begin with “Microsoft Word – …” as the prefix to the paper’s title field embedded in the PDFs property data and dutifully indexed by Google as such. In none of the cases is “Microsoft Word” relevant to the topic discussed.

Curious, no?

So let’s ask ourselves why might Microsoft Word appear as a default suffix to the topic title of the work you are producing. Maybe it’s the particular manner of the chain of custody between Word and the PDF renderer (I don’t use Windows, so I have no idea how it works in that world). Maybe it’s Microsoft Word itself. I have no real idea. But the problem exists – your work, your data, your investigation has Microsoft branding barfed all over it.

Why?

Microsoft wants more search engine traction. By making all PDFs produced with Microsoft Word embed the string “Microsoft Word” into your work’s title, they ensure that every search for your work will also yield a boost for them. Microsoft is piggybacking on your hard work.

Microsoft just wants everybody everywhere to know that there is only one way to write an academic paper. Using the same motivation as the search engine, Microsoft hopes that for every paper published or read, people will continue to regard the string “Microsoft Word” as the only manner in which people may produce textual works. It becomes so conditioned into our expectations that when it doesn’t appear we think, something must be wrong.

I mean, it’s no secret that Microsoft, a for profit company, seeks its own ends, that these decisions are made to benefit them and no one else. Why else would they helpfully embed their brand into your document? Does that help you?

There’s a better way, however. Contrast Microsoft’s tack with that of the Document Foundation, whose values favor and empower the user rather than the organization. Among others, here’s a particularly nice gem from their core values: We commit ourselves to allow users of office productivity software to retain the intellectual property in the documents they create, by use of open document formats and open standards.

And we find that when you outout a PDF from Libreoffice it doesn’t alter your title. Cool.

White Privilege – A Clarification

Hey, I get it. You don’t feel privileged. You’ve worked hard to accomplish something in your life. You’ve faced some hard knocks, but you’ve persevered and you have achieved. You might hear “white privilege” and dismiss it as offensive and racist; somebody’s trying to take away something from you that you earned.

I hear you, but I want to clarify something.

White privilege is a group phenomenon, a larger social issue rather than an individual one. In fact, I’ll equate it to climate change. Human driven climate change isn’t weather change, as certain U.S. Senators would like to imagine. Climate change works on a global level and is manifested as an increasing global average temperature. Yes, there are local fluctuations, but OVERALL the planet temperature is rising. White Privilege is a social phenomenon whose effects are felt in aggregate as asymmetric incarceration rates, greater income inequality etc. Yes, there are fluctuations. There are some suffering white folks just as there are some affluent black folks, but overall, there is a general social and economic advantage in America to being white.

I will concede that perhaps “white privilege” is a term that is probably unnecessarily antagonistic and when launched as a rebuke certainly isn’t building bridges. Still, I would exhort people who would classify themselves as white to attempt to understand where it comes from and own the concepts behind it. Try to see the collective position of power not as privilege for oneself, but as a duty to correct the sins of the past.

Information Technology Marginalization

It’s been twenty years, and I keep observing it, in all places, and at all levels. It doesn’t matter your education. It doesn’t matter if you are an employee or upper management, Puerto Rico has a problem with information technology marginalization, made worse by all the status, power, and access issues associated with its colonial status with the U.S.

I looked over the shoulder of an employee editing a document in Microsoft Word. She was proudly showing her boss the changes she made. She dutifully highlighted her changes and created a legend to mark deletions, insertions, and changes. She had carefully thought through the problems related to sharing her work, and cleverly developed a system to communicate it.

After her boss left, I gently showed her the track changes features of Word. I have never interacted with her in English, and I don’t imagine she speaks even a word of it, but her version of Windows 10 as well as her office suite, Microsoft Office were entirely in English. In fact, every single computer in the organization was the same way. I don’t doubt that there are people there that speak English, but no one has it as their first language, and no one wouldn’t benefit having their computer system presented to them entirely in Spanish. Your native language invites discovery, ownership. Your non-native, opacity and confusion.

I know this, because I always use unfamiliar systems in English. Even though I am perfectly fluent in Spanish both reading and writing, there is a distance from the words that is a challenge to overcome, and I don’t pay a social cost for choosing my native language.

The people of Puerto Rico pay a social price for choosing their own native tongue.

“Oh, no, these things are understood better in English. I’m accustomed to it that way.”

I commonly hear this, and I always shake my head internally and I have never been successful getting people to switch to a Spanish interface. There is no way that you are benefited by using it in its native tongue. Us it in your native tongue.

The resistance, of course, is due to issues surrounding status. English is seen as the language of the elites, those richer folks who put their kids in bilingual or English schools, vacation in the U.S. and send their kids to American Universities. If you admit you don’t speak English well, then you are effectively labeling yourself as lower class.

If you choose Spanish, you stigmatize yourself. You buy into the imposed narrative that you are less. Lesser politically, of lesser intelligence, a lesser human being. This young woman clearly showed both intellectual and emotional intelligence. She had successfully thought through the problem domain of how to track changes in a text document, and then placed herself in the shoes of anyone who would see it after herself, making sure that they could follow. And yet, she is held back, relegated to a second-class status because of her lack of access to English. Forget about English, I say, make the computer YOUR servant, and leave the idea that you must interact with it in its language in the past.

By the way, I later showed her boss how to turn on “track changes” as well.

 

Post María Calm

I approached the counter at the DMV smiling and said, “Good morning!” Well, actually, “Muy buenos días.” or VERY good morning. I asked the clerk how she was. Did she have electricity? Water? No, no electricity, only water. “Gracias a Dios,” I said. At least. That makes me happy. I told her that I hoped she’d get electricity soon. I was still smiling. I explained why I was there, what I had, and what I needed.

I have to be aware how I come across. I am impossibly physically large for Puerto Rico. I look like a big white American gringo federal agent, and that can immediately put people off for their assumptions of how I will act based on how I look. I don’t want to traumatize anyone. Yes I speak Spanish, no you don’t have to go find someone who does.

I slouched to make myself smaller, fumbled with my papers, and dropped the pen. I filled in the wrong field and then made a self deprecating remark about not being good at following instructions. She chuckled, and told me not to worry about it. When she finished with the computer, she passed me my activated RFID sticker, and I paid the small fee. I thanked her profusely for her time and wished the people in line a good morning as I made my way to the parking garage. I waved at the parking attendant and thanked the cashier for taking my parking fee, paying with exact change.

I queued up a gentle string quartet on the car stereo, nudged the car out onto the street, and waited at the non-functioning traffic light to let some cars pass. They were in a hurry. I wondered what their lives were like, how they were, what they were feeling, what they were going through. No aggressive moves. There is no hurry for me, just go with the flow, be in the moment. Let others go first.

Puerto Rico is a nation in crisis. We are a people in crisis. Every individual is in crisis. We are all aware of how delicate our state is, and there seems to be some sort of tacit understanding that we must treat each other delicately, because we could lose it at any time. We are all broken, held together by a revisited gentility post María.

But we know we may crack and shatter at any moment for the loss of our livelihood, a loved one, the care for elderly relatives, for living without electricity, and worrying about the future. In the dark after the sun goes down and the hum of generators drowns out the night creatures we find ourselves alone. What about our hopes and dreams, our utility, our self? Where will I go? What will I do?

Maybe tomorrow, when the sun comes up, it won’t seem so grave. Things will seem brighter, more hopeful. Muy buenos días. ¿Cómo se encuentra? Very good morning to you. In what condition may you find yourself? or How are you?

Perhaps we can hold each other gently enough and for long enough that we may not fall to pieces.

Okay, I Get it. Small Government is Best. The Constitution Never Made Provisions for Social Welfare…

…but can we stop fetishizing the “founding fathers?” Please?

I do get “it,” though. The nearly religious beliefs of the right are that the founding fathers were enlightened individuals endowed with some sort of special insight into what it takes to govern. They had the prescience to foresee all the basic needs of humanity going forwards hundreds of years. They were brilliant and made the US Constitution so specific and at the same time so general as to make it universally applicable. Bravo. Clap clap. Here’s a gem from the Declaration of Independence:

All men are created equal.

All men?

Well not African men, or African women or children for that matter.

What about white women?

Are they men?

No.

Then not them.

You see how this is starting to sound like the Monty Python Cheese shoppe skit, right?

These are the same guys who didn’t see the acute moral problem of slavery? Oh, but it was the times, you say. Times were different. Sensibilities were different. They did the best with what they had. I could agree with you, yes. But then you want to eat all that delicious slave cake too when you ascribe to them some sort of mystical transcendental infallibility. They knew exactly what our modern diverse society needed but had no clue about their own time? Remember, for as long as there has been slavery there have been abolitionists. Don’t give me that, “they didn’t know better” crock. Lots of people knew it was wrong. How come our super smart humanist Enlightenment thinker guys didn’t get that “little” detail right too?

Bah! Stop fetishizing the past, the Constitution, and the founding fathers. I do not want to be shackled by them (for many it would be literal) to a history replete with genocide, injustice, inequality, slavery, no collective bargaining, where half the population had no vote, where the monied and the landed had all the power, where the rich made laws that benefited them and exploited the masses. Wait! Hold up, I’m starting to think this sounds vaguely like the present. Maybe the founding fathers had it right all along, and this outcome is exactly what they intended.

My prediction. The Republican tax cut bill will increase inequality in the U.S. The rich will get richer. The poor will find their ranks swelling. Maybe if we wish hard enough we can go back to the way things were in 1788 and make America great again.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

I’ll be offline probably for a couple of weeks if past hurricanes and storms are any indication. Maria looks to be heading directly for us like a freight train, and I don’t think we’re gonna be able to slip this one. We will probably have no water or electricity for a while.

I think we’ll be okay, though. The island will be mostly okay too. That is, the people are resilient and of good humor. When confronted with human need, I think most people rise to the occasion. The people of Puerto Rico seem to excel at having a generous spirit. Maybe it comes from not having a lot. I don’t know, exactly, but sometimes it’s the people with the least that are the most generous. I think it’s a learned thing.

Most everyone here has concrete houses and the topology is rather mountainous. We don’t get deep storm surge like in Florida or the Gulf Coast. It’s still super deadly near the water though, and tons of small businesses, mom and pop diners, stores, gas stations, hardware and furniture stores and assortments of small offices will probably go under. The crushing poverty in oppressed communities will get worse. The struggling owners of a small business that were probably just making do, will now throw in the towel, leaving their boarded up locale to collect mosquitos and rats.

But us personally? We’ll be okay, and I’ll check in again when things are less hectic.

*update note – haha, María was WAY worse than we thought. This post is laughable in hindsight 🙁

For the Love of It

Asier: Daddy, what should I do with my Pokemon cards?

Me: I dunno, Asier. We should play…

I trailed off a bit, because I knew where this was going. Asier has been fascinated with Pokemon this past year, but his interest has begun to wain. We hadn’t been playing the card game with him. I’ve put him off. His brothers have put him off. So he’s been a little down about his whole Pokemon phase coming to an end as he begins to outgrow it.

Asier: Yeah, but I haven’t asked… it’s because I want you to play for the love of it.

Me: Asier, you are the dearest sweetest self-aware little boy in the world. I want to play, because I love you!

Denormalization

I’ve been ruminating on this public catfight between the left and right for quite some time, trying to wrap my head around the subject, the debate, and the issues. Is it really a debate of equal sides of the same coin? Am I deluded? Are they deluded? Is there a way to peer through the veil and find something resembling an absolute truth of the matter? Who is right? Are both right, but different?

Some have said, that the difference is one of evidence vs emotion. That is, the “right” thing is what you feel in your gut. You don’t really know “why” in the sense of logic, but you say, “of course” we shouldn’t just let people immigrate to our country, and of course, tax cuts fuel the economy, and of course, the poor should just work harder if they want to get ahead. It’s their values that are to blame for their poverty.

Are there studies pro or con that elucidate these concepts? Ayn Rand doesn’t count as an authoritative source, by the way.

On the left, perhaps you might have the same effect working against you. One might think that their assumptions are just as emotional and just as possibly spurious as the ones on the right. Is the left’s “evidence” just as biased as the right’s?

I worry about this. Could I be confirming my own biases by consuming news, opinion, and research that just reinforces a particular left-leaning worldview?

I think it boils down to one’s normalized experiences and a lack of opportunity to break from them. You can make your own opportunities, but I think we need to be better as a society to promote a difference of perspective.

When a person is normalized to a particular upbringing and experience, it causes them to view the world and to perceive what is normal based on those patterns. If you are a white person, living in middle class suburb in the upper Midwest, with white middle class neighbors, then what is “normal” for you is what you experience every day. The police are friendly and helpful. The schools are fine and dandy. You pay your taxes and the potholes get fixed in a timely manner. Sure, there are challenges, like Tammy the gossip at work, or the fact that you’ve got too many bills to pay and not enough to pay them with. You wish you had more, but the new car will have to wait until you get get the much needed repairs to your vinyl siding. Your worries for your children in high school consist of keeping them on the straight and narrow. Don’t get pregnant, and don’t impregnate anyone, you exhort. Don’t be having sex, and you monitor them and make sure that you’re aware. Sure, they could get into trouble, but you’re present and try to do your best. Some of the kids are drinking and smoking marijuana. Say no, kids. Then they study, take their SATs and get into a decent college you can afford (albeit with some financial aid).

Whew, we did it. We worked hard, put food on the table, raised smart kids that are now studying and doing what they are supposed to be doing. We deserve these successes because we earned them.

You suddenly hear about Black Lives Matter. What are these people complaining about? They’re just rabble-rousers. They’re ingrates, uppity. Don’t they know that they need to have good values and make better choices in order to achieve what they want? They just want to take from what little you think you have. Let them earn and merit the same things you have. Nobody gave you anything. And you believe that the so-called reality that these people espouse just isn’t true, because it conflicts with your own truths.

In Puerto Rico, we say, “El ladrón juzga por su propia condición.” The criminal judges by his own condition, that is, if you lie, you expect that everybody lies. If you steal you comport yourself as if everyone steals. The flip side of this is that if you are a generally good, honest, hard-working person, you expect that everyone else is like this as well. Police mistreatment of the poor just doesn’t jibe with your experiences. You’ve always seen them as friendly, conscious, devoted public servants. I mean they came to your neighborhood watch meeting and were always so helpful whenever you called them. You don’t see yourself as privileged or particularly special. You have always treated others with courtesy and deference, and you received it in kind, thinking that you merited it because of your behavior. Based on your normalized experiences you just can’t conceive that others are not treated the same way.

There must be something wrong with them.

I get that. I get how good, God-fearing, white Americans who are not particularly wealthy can come to the conclusion that the world is just, and that fair treatment begets fair treatment, and that those who fail generation after generation must be doing something wrong. It can’t be the system, because it’s the same system in which you’ve succeeded.

I can only come to the conclusion that it is through one’s own cultural normalization that these myths of fairness continue to perpetuate, that the false ideas of bootstrapping, of just say no, of family values, of poverty, that the world is fair, and that racism and xenophobia are dead continue to exist just inside the purview of a normalized and mostly white experience.

What can we do? Well, for one thing, I think that there should be a return to the professed Christian mandate to seek justice. Don’t make them come to you. Go to them. Find them. Listen to them. Believe them. Challenge your own normalization through a process of cultural and historical indoctrination. Accept the possibility that your assumptions about society and the “proper” way to do things may be wrong. They don’t have to be wrong, but allow for the possibility that they may be.

In short, don’t say, “I know.” Say, “I want to find out.”

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