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

Category: Pensamientos (Page 2 of 3)

Random thoughts, comments, should be short, a paragraph or less

Functions as Designed

I passed another tangled iguana carcass on the road today. There he lay, twisted and bloated, flattened in places, tire tracks decorating his thick hide. It got me to thinking how in those moments before his death, that that poor iguana had functioned exactly as he was designed.

His design is among the oldest on our earth. His kind have survived because, although primitive, they are effective. Their design is tried and true. I tried to picture the confidence on his face at the last instant of his life. “I got this,” he thought, as he stared down the barrel of fate, sure that his ancestors throughout the millions of years evolution would protect him. “I have not just prepared for this instant all my life,” he thought, “but for all of existence.”

“Bring it,” he breathed.

And then BAM, it was all over, his spine twisted, the vegetation of his gut splattered this way and that.

What went wrong? He stood his ground. He can’t be chased, because he wasn’t running. That big thing will stop, give me a sniff and then I will whip him with my tail, make a menacing sound and he will leave.  Or perhaps I will climb a tree. But no, this time the big thing did not stop.  The big thing came barreling down with nary a thought of satisfying its belly. In fact, it seemed not to notice me at all.

What do we do when our preparation does not yield the desired results, when it becomes irrelevant, when we function as designed for an environment that no longer exists?

Pancakes a la Irene

It’s the lining that’s important, we said, the silver lining, that is.  It is always a struggle to see it, dulled by the swirling mists and clouds and rain.  Oh, and was there rain… 20 inches in one day in some places.  Our electricity went out first, and with it Internet, phone, and then the water.  Power was out for two days and it took a good chunk of the stuff in our refrigerator.  Water came back after three, and Internet and phone after four.

So where is the silver lining, you ask?  Look closely, and you will find it in the pancakes.  That’s right, those pancakes were made with spoiled milk.  Those rich fluffy, cake-y, awesome confections were made with lumpy cheesy milk.  They always turn out super extra special when we use spoiled milk, and with the power outages we suffer weekly, it’s a common occurrence.

So, bring it.  Hit us with your best shot.  We’ll just keep making more pancakes.

2009 in Retrospect

I got to know my compost pile.   I collected the paper, vegetable refuse, grass cuttings, and piled them up in a chicken wire silo in the back yard.  It smelled sweet as it decomposed, and I watched the little bugs and the lizards that scampered across it.  I watched the millipedes churning away in the compost’s belly excreting black gold.

Occasionally, a hearty squash seed would start to sprout and I would hesitate as I turned it under with my pitchfork.  He was trying so hard, I would muse.  As the soil became fertile, the neighboring tree’s roots reached up and suckled at its base.  The yellow flowers were bigger, brighter, more numerous this year.

I planted some tomatoes, too.  I placed the seeds in egg cartons and when they were “estrong enough” (Princess Bride, anyone?), moved them to beds mixed with compost soil.  The tomatoes grew big and round, fragrant and luscious.  Before too long, though, they began to whither.  One by one, in a period of a three or four weeks, half of the tomatoes were dead dry sticks.  I soon discovered my enemy – snails.  I poured salt on one and watched him bubble and froth until he was just a puddle.  I decided to never do that again, and the snails would have my remaining tomatoes – every last one.  I will try again this next year.

As well you may know, I’ve been experimenting with coffee cherries; from fruit to roast.  It has been fun to see how much work goes into a simple cup of joe.  It’s mind boggling how complex the whole process is.  There are infinite opportunities for failure throughout, and you never know how a cup will turn out.  How late did the cherries mature? Did they ferment too long? Did they dry too slow? How was the roast? Too hot? Too short? Too long? Not long enough? Was the brew water temperature too hot, not hot enough? How long did it steep? My goodness, and to top it off, it seems that the the particulars of the bean, our little diva bean, require all those variables to be adequate to her liking.

The cup of coffee is always good, I’ve found, but always different.  It’s frustrating and wonderful. If you’re looking to explore a variety of coffee experiences without worrying about the intricacies of the brewing process, consider trying a coffee subscription service.

My Choice – A Logical Fallacy

I’ve written about it before, and I thought that was all I could say on the topic, but leave it to recent events to tweak my logic receptors off the charts.  There are several logical fallacies on either side, granted, but the ones that irritate me the most are pro-choice.  

From an article in the Washington Post (online) on why this soon-to-be doctor would be performing abortions in her practice  (go ahead and read it, I’ll wait):

I was 14 years old when that clinic was bombed, killing a police officer and spraying Emily’s body full of hot nails and shrapnel. Back then, I lived in a small Alabama town, went to church every Sunday and was adamantly opposed to abortion…

"That’s horrible," I reply,  "Such a tragedy for that poor woman who was a victim of an abortion clinic bombing.  There are certainly some wackos out there.  I hope they rot in jail for their crimes.  But I have to ask, why does this make you think performing abortions is a good thing?  So some wacko bombed an abortion clinic, and you said to yourself, "I’m convinced, let’s do some abortions."  I ask for rationality’s sake, because I’m not following your argument."

I read the entire article.  Ms. Love seems to be a thoughtful person, a decent person.  I’m not knocking her intentions, nor her conscience.  I’m kickin’ it to her logic.  Here’s another gem:

One friend begged me to help her concoct a legitimate-sounding excuse — painful or irregular periods, say — for why she needed to be on birth control. No one could know the real reason: She was sexually active and didn’t want to get pregnant.

Her point, using the ever helpful friend scenario, was that people were kept ignorant by the bible thumping masses, that they didn’t know about their own biological reproductive systems, that they couldn’t get the pill or condoms.  First, I don’t think in this day and age, that these anecdotal stories should be the basis of public policy, but again I’d like to know what this has to do with abortion? 

And finally:

It wasn’t until I spent time in ultrasound rooms during a research job in graduate school that I began to see late-trimester abortions in a very different light. In one case, the patient’s baby had just been diagnosed with a lethal congenital anomaly. The high likelihood was that it wouldn’t survive after birth for more than a few minutes. As long as the baby remained in her mother’s womb, however, she would live. I asked the physician what this woman’s options were. The answer was, not many. She could choose to continue the pregnancy, but then she might be waiting for almost 20 more weeks to give birth to a baby that would never take more than a few breaths on its own. She was past the point where she could legally terminate the pregnancy in Alabama.

Instead of evaluating these issues on a case by case basis, she’d be more willing to say that now she favors late term abortions.  I’d wager that late term abortions are rare and heart wrenching in any scenario, but here we have another logical fallacy, or at least a conclusion being made with a very small data set, and it leaves out something very important.

The child.

The little baby was forgotten, malformed or not, wanted or not, imperfect or not.  That little baby was everything it was going to be at the moment of conception.  You hear that?  Conception.  It’s not magic, breath of God, type stuff.  It’s simple biology.

When my children were born (all four of them), they were locked in at the moment of conception.  Jaimito became Jaimito at the point.  Olaia became Olaia.  Javier, loud as he is, was Javier.  And little sweet Asier was nothing more and nothing less than Asier at the moment of conception.  What else could they have been?  Somebody show me how that little embryo could have turned out to be something other than what it was unless someone intervened? 

I have the benefit of hindsight, of course.  I didn’t know what my children would be like until they were born, but that doesn’t change their history.  Just because I was not privy to their uniqueness in utero, doesn’t mean they weren’t unique and special.  I can step their biological development back to that point, start it up again, and they would still be them.  Before conception?  They didn’t exist in a fixed format.  There is no beginning point.  Statistics and probability govern their futures before conception.  No one can say what would have happened if conception had occurred an instant before or an instant after.

No, it is at the moment of conception, that their being, their essence was fixed.  I can’t and won’t debate souls, or magic pixie dust, or legalities, because I find no value in proving the existence of a soul, nor am I a lawyer.  All I can say is what I know – that at the moment the sperm fertilized the egg, each of their little lives was on a irrevocable march through life and onward to natural death.

In our society, a society that cares about whales, stray dogs, and trees, I find it hard to reconcile the absolute rights of a woman with a basic right to live, to breathe.  If a gestating human is not a person, what is it?  At what point does it become something other than what it is?  Is it magic when it passes the birth canal?  If it is a person today, what was it yesterday? 

If a doctor’s first duty is to do no harm, how do we reconcile human rights with what a mother wants?

The Wuxi Finger Hold

I don’t know exactly what the writers intended, but from what I can gather from "Kung Fu Panda" I think I have figured out the secret of the Wuxi finger hold.

There is no secret.

The Wuxi finger hold is a bluff.  The golden explosion at the end represents the last shreds of Tai Lung’s ego going skadoosh.  Tai Lung had bound up all his self-expectations in obtaining the scroll, and when he finally looks upon it  reflecting his own face, he says, "It’s nothing."


Po’s realization that there is no secret ingredient opens up numerous truths, among them that the Wuxi finger hold is a bluff designed to crush an opponent’s ego by using his fear against him.  The secret of the finger hold lies in belief of its power. Once Tai Lung realized he had been fooled and had quivered in fear in front of Po, his mojo went bye-bye.  Tai Lung was no more the big scary bad guy.

Tai Lung believed that the scroll held everything.  He believed he was nothing.  By this logic the Wuxi finger held nearly infinite power over him.

I figure Tai Lung didn’t die at the end of the movie though, the golden explosion simply a metaphor for his exploding ego.  Tai Lung realized for the first time that day he was lost.  Crushed and broken, without a sense of self, he is found limp and listless by the noodle duck.  "Why are you lying there, snow leopard?"

"I am not the dragon warrior.  I was defeated by a Panda.  I am nothing."

The duck replies, "Oh, come now, I need help in the noodle shop.  You would make a fine noodle chef.  Come with me."

Tai Lung eventually learns humility, and by serving others he begins to realize his true power.

A noodle cook becomes the dragon warrior, the presumed dragon warrior becomes a noodle cook. 

I’m still alive, but stuck. Throw me a branch or something

Sorry I haven’t kept up.  It’s always a pain to get it going here after a long vacation. 

For some reason all the momentum that I had heading into the holidays was just eaten up by a soft mushy substance.  We refer to it in engineering as a dampening material.  You rush with great speed into this pool of sticky stuff.  You collide with it at high speed and a single stupid low amplitude undulating wave makes its way only a few feet before it subsides, dragged back to the depths.  Some small perturbations emanate outward and dissipate in soft waves through the viscous liquid, but if they have any affect at all, it is only to increase the temperature imperceptibly.

You get extracted out of your normal flow and life just seems to slow down.  It slows down to the point where you’re like a fly caught in amber, stuck solid. 

That’s where I am now, stuck to the trunk in tree sap.  Get a little stick and pick me out, will you?

We’re all back in Puerto Rico now, trying to get back into the routine.   There’s lots of work to do.  I’ve got a couple of posts in my drafts, but I have to clean them up a bit.  They need a lot of proof reading.  I really don’t know what my deal is.  Perhaps I need more alcohol or something.  Coffee makes me edgy and difficult, but alcohol seems to release the inner joy.

Sigh.  Here’s to some inebriated posting in the near future.

Proper Perspective

The debate between terrorism and security theater has been built up on logical fallacy after logical fallacy. The victim? The truth, lost long ago, buried it was under the rubble of stupidity. I’ll start with the, "there are a million things worse or more dangerous than terrorism" line. It begins like this:

You have more chance of dying in a car crash than you do of a terrorist attack. Cue smug look. Oh how right you are little snarky fella. Why didn’t I think of that? Gosh, the terrorists would have to blow up ten World Trade centers for us to feel as safe as we do in our cars. Man, I feel stupid for being afraid.

Let me illustrate my sarcastic point with some details from my personal experience. Laura and I lived in the Basque Country of Spain for two years. While we were there, ETA was active. There was a car bomb that went off near our apartment. We witnessed riots, riot gear, marches, murders and political assassinations. It all sounds dire, but in fact, I felt "safer" in the Basque Country than I have felt ever in my life. "Crime" was virtually non-existent. Robberies, home invasions, car-jackings? Nobody had ever heard of such a thing. And apart from the targeted violence against agents of the Spanish state, life was extremely tranquil.

By contrast, I had a much better chance of being mugged, murdered, or car-jacked in New York, DC, or St. Louis.

The question now is, where would I rather live?

Me personally? I would rather live somewhere else besides the Basque Country. Yeah, you heard that right. The Basque Country’s ETA problem makes me madder than random violent crime… even a lot of it.

It’s not a mechanism of risk per se. My net risk of dying through crime or accident is much higher in the US than the Basque Country, but net risk of dying isn’t the main metric that I go by.

Your net risk of dying is much higher driving a car than going your office in the World Trade Center. Why did the country go crazy after 9-11? Why have we taken such extreme measures when surely the raw logical dispassionate numbers of the situation relegate it to a minor event?

I think it has to do with intent. I’d much rather be mugged randomly than targeted politically. If I were to live permanently in the Basque Country, I would have a political opinion. It would be my right to have an opinion and discuss it as I see fit with those whom I consider my friends. If I should run for political office, I would expect that if my opinion differed from those in the extreme that we would be able to discuss our differences like reasonable people. If your violence exists for the purposes of political coercion then it is deadlier than physical harm. If your violence is targeted at someone for the purposes of silencing them for what they say or think, then you are more deadly than a random car accident. There is malevolent intent far beyond the death of the individual involved.

The terrorist hopes to spread his influence far above his real capability as an individual. The terrorist’s target isn’t you. His target is the freedom of ideas in an open society.

That is why it is dangerous, more dangerous than a traffic accident. In a world where the worse possible thing you can lose is your life, then I guess they are more or less equivalent. But in a world where we value justice and liberty higher than individual life, that terrorist is a whole lot more dangerous than your car.

Security for Windows Guys

P.J. and I discussing some of the confounding requests we get from windows admins as we try to protect them from themselves:

"Yeah, it’s like, ‘I want you to secure it, but I also want be able to do every stupid thing I can think of.’"

P.J Cabrera

 And there you have it in a nutshell the security problems with Microsoft users.

A Deist’s Dream

Is it better to come upon a flower and to believe it was created for me, or to see the flower, know its blossom, and rejoice for I was there to see it.

Music to Save the World

The big question is how are we going to share the world.  Music is one of the good ways of conversing, because if I know what you love and you know what I love then we actually start a different kind of conversation.

Cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, on an episode of NPR’s Performance Today


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