Why won’t anyone eat my pizza?

Day 73: Friday

Good morning Zak,

I saw this the other day, and I thought of you… you know, since your real name is Ernest:

"The Importance of being Named Ernesto"

“The Importance of being Named Ernesto”

Just judging by the title… they don’t get, it do they?

Sad how much gets lost in translation.

Have you ever been lost in translation?  It’s hard to find your way back out.  It’s dark in there.  If you’re not careful you’ll trip over surreptitious syntaxes and run into cultural barriers.

But here’s my real problem: why won’t anyone eat my pizza?  Mamma mia!  About once a weak I make a big beautiful pizza from scratch.  But my roommates don’t like me enough to accept the offer.  So I have to put it in the refrigerator, which is a real peccato, as we say.  It’s best right out of the oven.

I don’t get it.  Is it something I said?  Do I smell funny?

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So that’s my sad story.

I think I’ll make one today.  If anyone reading this would like to come eat it with me, leave a comment.  If you’re not far from Milano, maybe we can arrange something.

Maybe I should try craigslist.

Anyway.  Cooking takes a long time.  But I think I want to make a habit of doing it.  You can save time by getting ready-made food, but it costs more and it’s not as good.  I don’t ever want to end up in a vicious circle where I’m paying more for worse food to save time so that I can work more to afford the bad food.  You know, that’s silly.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

The Connection Crisis

Day 61: Monday

Good morning Zak,

Remember this post from before Christmas?

I wish I could bring you back something that would summarize what Milano means to me… There’s just something in the air here that I wish I could share with you.  Cigarette smoke, smog, and then something else.

What I ended up getting you was coffee and conversation.  Here in Italy, coffee is what you Americans call “espresso.”  In retrospect maybe I should have gotten a different gift, since the coffee-drinking habit might kill us some day.  On the bright side, it may also help us live longer

Many news sources and journalists say that our society is entering a post-truth age.  This is supposedly a recent development.

“What is truth?” -Pontus Pilate c. 32 A.D.

what-is-truth02

The public too often disposes of facts and evidence in favor of conspiracy theories and other unfounded nonsense.  In a post-truth society, science and fact are sometimes replaced by gut-feeling, superstition… and mystery.

Every year in ancient Greece there used to be this famous religious rite known as the Eleusinian Mysteries.  Maybe you’ve heard of it.  This was an initiation ceremony for the cult of Demeter and Persephone.  As any good history student can tell you, participants in this ceremony were required to… well…

We have no idea what they did.  It’s called the Eleusinian Mysteries not the Eleusinian Tell-Everyones.  Initiates to the cult were required to keep its practices a secret, and they remain a secret to this day.

It’s easy to understand why people were attracted to this sort of thing—it’s about connection.  I mean, secrets can be a lot of fun. They can bring people closer together.  As a case and point, take our blog’s secret peer review process for unusual uses of spoons.  It’s nice to be a part of a small community that shares certain exclusive knowledge—even if that knowledge is of no real consequence.

fvf-lgThe scientific community is like that.  It has its secrets I mean.  Only scientists really understand why we believe humans evolved from fishes, or how the entire universe once fit into a mass the size of a golf ball.  As a layperson, I don’t really have access to all the data and methods that lead to those conclusions.  But Bill Nye, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and other public pundits insist that I adopt these beliefs and the ideologies that accompany them as an article of faith.  Faith in a method and process that I do not see.

Speaking of faith, it might be worth pointing out that the modern English word “pundit” comes from the Sanskrit paṇḍita—a Hindu pandit is a priest or wise-person.

The gradual dogmatization of science has begun to cause us problems.  Whenever philosophical opinion gets presented as scientific fact, it undermines faith in the objectivity of the field as a whole.  Needless to say, this is starting to have very negative consequences…

280px-a_small_cup_of_coffeeBut the biggest problem with the cult of science has nothing to do with politics.  In my view, the main issue is much more personal—it’s about connection.  Unlike traditional cult mysteries, the secrets of science don’t bring people together; if anything they do the opposite.  The founders of the new religion have failed to consider some very fundamental questions: where are the faithful supposed to gather? what rituals will they perform together?

“And if I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, […] but have not selfless love, I am nothing.”

Corinthians 13:2

Those are not rhetorical questions; they represent the main syndrome of our society.  If we solve the connection crisis, if we figure out how to have meaningful human contact in the Age of Information, a lot of the symptoms we’re experiencing will start to go away.

To our American readers, hope Saint Valentine is good to you tomorrow… or whatever you people say.  Seriously though, hope you can find yourselves some coffee and conversation.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Socrates was Smart

Day 55: Friday

Good morning Zak,

Under the present circumstances I am reminded of something the wise old Socrates once said: “there is nothing more annoying than someone who quotes the wisdom of Socrates on almost every occasion.”

Maybe you don’t remember that one.  There’s a long tradition of falsely attributing things to Socrates, so it’s hard to know what the dude actually said.  For all we know he might have said that.  He might also have said, “come on guys, stop pretending to quote me all the time.”

Can you imagine being Socrates?  This is one of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about.  I mean, how frustrating would that be.  Like, one of my students represents me and my views however he wants in his books, and then those books get read for millennia after my death.  And I’m just supposed to be cool with that?

Zak, you raise a serious moral question. 

“Thinking about healthcare as a business feels kind of grimy at times — you are making money off of those who desperately need help, many times in order to live.”

This is the sort of thing that could keep a person in your shoes up at night.  But to me, it’s just a mildly entertaining intellectual exercise.  I’m not in your shoes.  Your shoes are like, ten sizes too big for me.  But in the face of an issue like this it would be nice to have access to some real wisdom…

The other day I walked past a mom with two boys practicing their multiplication facts:

“Tre per quattro.”

One of the boys was literally jumping up and down with energy, anxious to beat the other to the answer.

“Quindici!” “Dodici!”

We train little people to be very fast at these kinds of things.  I remember those days of training myself.  They might as well have thrown us circus peanuts when we got the answers right.

Some people know other things in the same kind of way.  Things besides math facts.  Many of us haven’t outgrown the habit.  For grownups in higher education, the fastest and loudest person… to identify the source of a Shakespeare quotation… wins the smartness contest.  That’s why we have standardized testing.

But, Zak, something’s just occurred to me: when thinking about a moral issue like healthcare monetization, the ability to quickly recall a large number of Shakespeare quotations is actually not that helpful.  I mean, I’m trying to remember… did Othello ever say anything smart about medicine?  Maybe if we recite the lines loudly enough the answer will come… “O THAT THIS TOO TOO SULLIED FLESH WOULD MELT!”

“The sages there were marked with dignity
And grave authority their faces showed.
They spoke infrequently with gentle voices.”

-IV.112-4, Inferno

One day, Zak, we’re going to make ourselves a nice little locus amoenus, a “pleasant place.”  You’re going to build us a library like you always say, and we’ll find one or two friends who will sit, read, and think… especially think.  That’s really all one could ever ask for.  Nothing beats rich conversation (well, nothing except for the fast, loud person who beats it).  For as Socrates himself once said, “the answers to the modern public health crisis lie in proper legislation and systemic reform.”

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Fake news, Earl Grey Tea, Automation and Changing Greatness

Day 10: Friday

Morning Evening, Tim!

End of week 2. What a delight!

I wanted to give a quick update on my bit of fake news from Wednesday. In short, I just wanted to point out that there are quite a few takes on the issue and its resolution; that said, it’s important to remember the issue isn’t quite as cut and dry, and when you get into the implications of some of the suggestions of resolving it you soon realize there are many nuances to the argument, balancing incentives among them.

I also wanted to let you know I am at our family’s house writing this, sitting by the fireplace. Some cool, blistery air outside makes it nice to be here; moreover, I checked the cabinet to see your leftover stash. You better get back here soon, lest you have no more of this! Importantly, though, we’ll have to refresh with some new, fresh loose leaf.IMG_0847.JPG

You had mentioned perhaps, but likely not admitting to it, maybe, if perchance had it’s way, maybe, perhaps feeling under the weather:

My eyes will be all glossy, and my voice will sound like a frog who spends most of his income of Camels.

Perhaps you should drink more tea to make if feel better. Moreover, along the lines of voices, if you’d prefer not to be followed by J Biebs perhaps try a different radio station. On my ride through the beautiful mountains, this came on; perhaps a bit froggy, but wow is that impressive (Spoiler alert, he gets down.)

Calabria looks beautiful. It would be fun to visit, but I’m not convinced it would be somewhere I’d have much space to think. I’d much prefer your Earl Grey, posted up in a library in Oxford (I know I can’t drink tea in that library, my dear Tim. This is simply a dream), reading a bit of philosophy (or a hometown library wouldn’t be bad either!)

You may be wondering when I’m going to leverage that segue I touched on back on Wednesday. With respect to tech and automation, I’ve been thinking about responsibility within the tech industry to ensure wealth is distributed a bit more than it has been. Being predicated on scale, companies work themselves into virtuous cycles – they get users, and because they have more users suppliers line up, bringing a better experience…and then more users, etc. The created wealth then gets unevenly distributed, and those that bear the brunt of the financial ramifications are often left feeling powerless (and many times are powerless). The incentives are set up this way – companies are able to do this, and in order to succeed should operate in a way that benefits their user base and employees of the company.

Ben Thompson (linked earlier) has recently called into question actions which are

legally acceptable, though morally dubious

I like the wording – I feel it brings out a rich discussion on right and wrong, as often people focus on the law to determine what they can/should do.  It’s what they can get away with. And without touching too much on the election, no one who feels powerless, ignored, or abandoned likes the feeling. That said, in a new era predicated on the internet, globalization, and a very different kind of scale, bringing back the “greatness” of eras past will not occur by reverting to the way things were – incentives don’t point in that direction, and so new rules need to be put in place predicated on the new era; on microchips, on global connectedness, on 0 distribution costs, on AI and automation…on a new set of technology.

Until Monday,

Zak

Stop and Enjoy the … Weather?

Day 4: Thursday

Morning, Tim!

Do you carry an umbrella when it rains? I’m picturing something with a wonderfully curved, wooden handle — sleek, black, perhaps “modern chic” (it is Milan after all)? I’m curious just what it means to “kind of like the rain and the clouds.”

I’m not sure if it would do the meteorologically judgmental people any good to point out that, unless they are airplane pilots or astronauts, there’s a pretty good chance they spend most of their lives under the weather.  Like it or not.

My immediate thought was “ahh some wit!” But then, this can’t be right. Even if one is an airplane pilot or astronaut, they live no more under the weather than anyone else; all of us simply live in it (with acknowledgement, my dear brother, that an astronaut may have brief periods of escape).

And this living in is something I’ve enjoyed about life, about weather. We are in it, fully immersed; and, importantly, we are in it together, whether we like it or not. Through good times and bad, we weather what comes our way, and make choices about how to respond, how to move forward.

I get to visit some family today – I’m reminded how blessed I am to have support when weathering what can feel like the rollercoaster of life. That support includes the relationship we get to have, Tim, bantering away, simply sharing in life’s adventures together here on Thily Fin!

Wise old Tom is right – there really is “a lot of weather out there.” And because we get to choose how we respond – perhaps to dance in the park, to kiss in the rain, to learn diligently about others – we should pause and reflect, reflecting on the supports around us, on the response we want to give to the adventure we are on.

Until tomorrow,

Zak