Anti-Mustachioed

Day 85: Friday

Morning, Tim!

The Pope is visiting you tomorrow — how exciting!

I’ve been pondering your chances of becoming Pope. What with your ability to speak languages and translate — somehow, miraculously, English included! — perhaps you have a shot. Now, you may remember that there were betting sites on who would become pope, with demonstrable odds. But that was back when there was a Pope opening…so we’ll have to factor that in. Here’s what I’ve found.

First, there’s a simple 14 step guide, so it seems pretty easy. There’s even a step about going back and talking to your high school guidance counselor!

But that seems perhaps too straight forward. Ultimately, what I’ve found in reading, is that you must be 1) Catholic and 2) Male.

So you’re fairly close, I suppose.

But that’s only on technicality. There’s also the piece around for the most part having to be a Cardinal (because that’s who decides…). So what are those requirements?

Well, you have to be a priest, then a bishop…so you’ll need education (Which you’re rocking now!…wait…I guess composition doesn’t count..). And some years of experience.

Ultimately I like this post’s description best:

So that’s the career path: be born into the right half of the population, become one of a billion catholics, then one of 400,000 priests, then one of 5,000 bishops, then one of 200 cardinals, wait for the current pope to die or retire, and convince 2/3rds of your fellow cardinals to select you as the one, the only pope.

But let’s be honest, Tim. This is a boring analysis because it’s already been done. Let’s think of other factors that may limit you…

  1. Handlebar mustache. To date, scrolling through the 266 Popes, I found that none had a handlebar mustache. Being the first mustachioed Pope would be impressive, but also may be a limiting factor if they weigh that and discriminate against your kind.

Well…perhaps that’s it. I’ve sat and thought of other factors. For example, age; but, while you’d be young, you’re apparently older than the youngest ever pope. I also considered height and weight, ownership of birds, an ability to ride a unicycle, sense of humor, etc., but surprisingly there aren’t readily available datasets on those…that seems like a good blog idea. If we start to run out of topics here we can go start that one.

In fact, Pope facts generally aren’t readily available, I think an oversight the internet has made! So rather than an unusual use of a spoon, I’ll offer the fact that made me chuckle the most:

There are about 5.9 Popes per square mile in Vatican City

…pretty crazy.

Until Monday,

Zak

p.s. Do you think the pope gave up something really important to him for Lent? Perhaps his new year’s resolutions…

Class Decaffeinated

Day 84: Thursday

Good morning Zak,

So I went to class today only to find that it wasn’t happening.  Our instructor was in Rome, and he forgot to tell us.  A friend of mine was there—another foreigner.  He wasn’t happy about it.  I tried to explain to him that this kind of thing is normal in Italy.

Italians are fantastically impractical.  The other day I was running a bit late for a meeting.  I was trying to buy a train ticket, but the machine wasn’t working.  This was problematic because the Italians had installed a modern art gallery in the metro-station instead of a ticket office.  No joke.  The broken machine was my only hope…

Zak, this crazy country is too much sometimes.  I recently saw a policeman writing up parking tickets.  I’m not sure how he decides which of the cars lying every which way on the sidewalk to skip.

I don’t know how they get anything done in this place.

A different class actually did happen today.  A piece of music we were looking at had a paragraph written in English on the first page.  The Maestro asked me to translate.  I did.  Everyone was surprised by how well I knew English.

So anyway, my friend and I went to get a café together when we found out class was canceled.  My friend is still relatively new to Italian.

“I’m having a café lungo.  What do you want?”

“Uh, café decafenato.”

“What is this word, decafenato?  Café with all the café taken out?”

Somehow that conversation was much funnier in broken Italian.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Flamingo and the Quotations

Day 83: Wednesday

Morning, Tim!

Let’s jump right in.

Yesterday:

I was born ambidextrous, so I know this first hand.

More like you were born ambidextrous, so, you know — both hands.

For our readers, that’s the best I’ve got today. What follows will almost certainly be downhill.

Zak, when I first met you, before you married my sister, I’m pretty sure you were under the impression that the Socratic method was not only for philosophy but also for socializing.  Actually I’m pretty sure that exact thought must have been going through your head during that season of life.

“I like your green tee-shirt.”

“Thanks.”

“Is green your favorite color?”

“Um… actually, it is.”

“And why’s that?”

To clarify, is that how we became friends? Because I’m pretty sure with your sister it was the purple dress 🙂

do love to socialize that way. What’s your favorite this? Between these two (ridiculous) options, which would you choose? How many X do you think you could fend off before Y happened?

And you got it right — the money question follows: “Why”?  We get a glimpse inside someone’s head, how they reason, feel, communicate, react. By beginning with ‘random’ questions there is an innocence to that barrier slowly eroding — the opposite of global warming, if you will.

Zak, in other letters I’ve often bemoaned the lack of sound advice to be found in classical literature for picking up girls.  It turns out I’ve just been reading the wrong books all this time.  The Greek philosophers certainly didn’t let you down.

Not a lot of commentary here. I just really appreciate this observation. A hearty laugh burst out when I read it. It rings just as true this morning and makes me smile.

I agree we can’t always take the advice of Greek philosophers — that why may only get you so far. But hey it got me to the girl, and for the rest, there’s that faith thing you mention.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I realize I mostly just commented on your post yesterday. I had originally wanted to write about why curiosity was a good thing, and to some degree, I suppose we’ve suggested the benefits of being curious. But your post yesterday was just that good that I couldn’t help myself – my brief musings on curiosity simply wouldn’t have been as good.

p.p.s. I’ve had this thing lately where I’ve been acting like a flamingo. Your sister has been irate and told me to stop it. I didn’t want to, so I put my foot down. I guess she won anyway…

p.p.p.s. The title of this post kind of sounds like a really bad name for a band…

Writing Rightly

Day 82: Tuesday

Good morning Zak,

As a writer, or at least as someone who poses as a writer, I like thinking a lot about words.  Especially about unusual uses for words.

There are a lot of ways to use the word “right.”  People can be right-handed, right-winged, or just generally right about things…  In Italian, the word we use for “left” is sinistra, which comes from the Latin sinister, also meaning “left.” 

Today’s unusual usage for a spoon: determining a child’s dominant writing hand.

Incidentally, our English word “sinister” has the same etymology.  The ancients used to believe left-handed people were daemon-possessed.  That’s why right has traditionally carried auspicious connotations and left  inauspicious ones.  There’s a symbolism behind it all.

But discriminating against left-handed people is clearly not right.  I was born ambidextrous, so I know this first hand.  I used to drive my parents crazy by picking up my spoon with the opposite hand for every bite of cereal.  But I can’t discriminate against half of myself.  That would be not only logically incorrect, but also wrong.

In your last entry:

“At work, we have this commitment to ‘being curious over right.'”

But there are some things we simply can’t know first hand.  Like, Zak, as much as I’d like to know what it’s like to be you, there seems to be some kind of insurmountable barrier that separates us from each other.  I’m not talking about the Atlantic ocean.  Although that is one obstacle between us at the moment, it’s nothing compared to the ever untraversable threshold that separates one human consciousness from the next.

We all have different ways of handling that barrier.  Some people don’t deal with it at all, which is probably the saddest way.  Other people read and write things:

“I felt I had escaped for a moment from the prison of my own head and caught a brief glimpse inside someone else’s.”

And still others just try asking people lots of questions:

“Too often someone will state their point of view, perhaps more confidently than what they could […] back up if [we] continuously asked [them] ‘why.’”

Now that’s one very charming strategy.  I’m given to understand that philosophers call this “the Socratic method.”

Zak, when I first met you, before you married my sister, I’m pretty sure you were under the impression that the Socratic method was not only for philosophy but also for socializing.  Actually I’m pretty sure that exact thought must have been going through your head during that season of life.

“I like your green tee-shirt.”

“Thanks.”

“Is green your favorite color?”

“Um… actually, it is.”

“And why’s that?”

Zak, in other letters I’ve often bemoaned the lack of sound advice to be found in classical literature for picking up girls.  It turns out I’ve just been reading the wrong books all this time.  The Greek philosophers certainly didn’t let you down.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is I feel like there are some cases where we’re better off doing right than being right.  (I’m sure that sentence must be on a bumper-sticker somewhere.)  Empathy is one of those cases.

If someone asked me why I believe the people around me are conscious, I’d have a hard time justifying it.  I guess I could appeal to older philosophical systems… Descartes certainly comes to mind… but in the end it wouldn’t be a matter of precise science.

We come into this world confident in a few things…  Maybe the burden of proof lies on the side that opposes our intuition.  I honestly don’t know.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Passionately Curious

Day 81: Monday

Morning, Tim!

At work, we have this commitment to “being curious over right”. The idea here is that, rather than being committed (with ego) to a position or idea, to take on the lens of curiosity and understand why people might be coming to a different conclusion, how their background and experiences contribute to their understanding of the thought at hand.

In your last post:

You could present the most pointless and ridiculous ideas to him, and he would always dive right into them with you head first.  There wouldn’t be even a moment of hesitation to ask how worthwhile something really was.

I think there are hints of that theory in your professor’s actions. There seems to be a passionate commitment to curiosity, a keen desire to explore in order to better understand patterns, connections, ideas.

It’s curious that we have a commitment to being right. Certainly, the spot of dopamine the brain receives when being right helps. But put up mechanisms to fight our own ignorance, as if we don’t want to even explore the possibility that we aren’t right. What causes this blindness?

First, we love putting on the lens of confirmation bias. I’ve linked to the below comic before, but it’s one of my favorites so here it is again.C4C4E4A9-363E-4112-97D0-11964D9AC29F.jpg

The idea here is that we seek information that confirms what we already believe. Rather than take an objective lens, we put on blinders to information that is contrary to our existing beliefs.

Second, we don’t want our ego to be hurt. The way this pans out is our unwillingness to challenge others. We accept as fact or highly researched opinion others points of view, failing to challenge for fear of embarrassing others. Too often someone will state their point of view, perhaps more confidently than what they could otherwise back up if someone continuously asked “why”. But societal norms suggest we don’t do that to others — and likely because we would have a hard time handling that being done to us.

Third, there are elements of peer reinforcement. We fall prey to group think, choosing to go along with the crowd to balance the need for relationships and/or not have to do the hard work of thinking ourselves.

I like the idea of being curious. It’s something I look for in those I hire — people that are passionately curious to learn more, to understand how things work and why others think the way they do. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed that too. I hope we can continue to be curious.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Peanut Butter

Day 80: Friday

Good morning Zak,

So I’ve been thinking a lot about peanut butter recently.  Especially about its texture.  There’s something very interesting and unique about that silky quality it has.  It can take just about any shape, but it always has the same generally smooth and even consistency.

We don’t have peanut butter here in Italy.

Zak, one thing I’ve noticed through my experience as a composer and a poetaster is that writing takes a bit of frivolity.  Writers are usually the sorts of people who take pointless things very seriously.  Things like pyjamas.

That’s one aspect I admired about my composition teacher in undergrad.  You could present the most pointless and ridiculous ideas to him, and he would always dive right into them with you head first.  There wouldn’t be even a moment of hesitation to ask how worthwhile something really was.

In the end, I think pointlessness usually does turn out to be worthwhile, but an artist needs to be willing to invest in something while it’s still just pointless.  There was once a 34 year-old man who started spending all his energy thinking about four little notes.  He was clearly just wasting his life, and if he had any sense he would have dedicated himself to something more useful.  But then we wouldn’t have Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

In your last entry:

“I’ve been a bum of a correspondent recently. […] I have allowed myself to become overwhelmed.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI used to think that lyricism was kind of pointless at its core.  Lyrical poetry could express its meaning just as clearly without so many rhymes.  Lyrical melodies could be taken out of a composition without really disturbing its functional structure.

But none of that is actually true.  Lyricism is a fundamental part of communication.  If even our everyday language were fully devoid of lyricism, it would quickly become unintelligible.  That starts to happen whenever we write complex sentences with lots of prepositional phrases and parentheticals.  Try reading this sentence:

“At a time in the history of Western thought of serious skepticism toward teleological thinking in general, I admit that a theory of semiotics based on the purpose of language may seem like a naive proposal.”

Don’t hurt yourself.  I had to revise this because each of the prepositional phrases seemed isolated from the overall flow.  When you read it aloud, it sounds like the individual bricks are falling apart and the overall building is crumbling.

A certain amount of lyrical peanut butter is needed as mortar to hold together the meaning of language, even when it’s prose.  Rhythm and euphony are not just fun games for people with nothing better to do.  They are an essential function of human expression.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Alive

Day 79: Thursday

Morning, Tim!

I have a new mentor of sorts at work. He’s a pretty amusing guy – wise in how he approaches situations, doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s retired from a great job, and I think he does the work with my company largely because it’s intellectually engaging and he can make a difference – but he doesn’t ever (seem) to let it overwhelm him. I admire that. When we get on the phone and I ask how he is, he has always responded ‘alive!’

Not that there couldn’t be more, but it’s enough to move along the conversation and, at least honest.

I’ve been a bum of a correspondent recently. Lots going on. Unlike Bob, I have allowed myself to become overwhelmed. I hope to dig out soon.

Until then…I’m alive.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Ps here are a few pictures of all the new geese exhibits they had at the zoo! Remarkable.


Also one close up of the sleepy bear…