Monday, December 14, 2009

The convexity of the system

The other day checking the post, among all the rubbish that you get with the letters, I found a consumer survey. It was interesting, the main claim was that filling it would improve my life in many ways, if you consider an improvement in your life getting more leaflets, or telling Wallmart or Target what would I like in their shelves. Freaky enough, my name would enter in a raffle in which the first prize was a $1000 cheque to be spent in goodies from those shelves!

Anyway, I was amazed with the questions; I have a cat, but I don't particularly buy cat treats or stuff like that. I don't buy hand sanitizing products or bottled water but I learnt on products, which I didn't know their existence. So, I got really interested in the survey because it was pointing to a certain citizen who live in a certain part of America who seems to be my neighbour, and more important than that: somebody out there is sending me a lot of stuff in the post that I don't even bother to open and goes straight to the recycling bin!

So, I did the exercise and spend about half an hour filling the survey, skipping whole sections (like cigarettes) or answering "We don't buy" or "One every ten years". Some question had to be answered in an additional added line, because my option wasn't considered within the answers.

I have to say that it was quite satisfactory to fill. In fact, I had a very entertaining half an hour doing it, learning about my neighbours and on brands of products that I don't even know of their existence.

So I sent it; they provided a paid envelope so it was the case of just stick it in the mail box, which I did (what would be the point of an incomplete exercise)... and I forgot about it.

And now the amazing fact and the title of this article in one go: you really cannot leave the system as some people (California?) might believe. You can pretend that you are out, buying organic products and composting your green left overs. But you cannot really leave!

Few weeks after the exercise the amount of posted material did not decrease; but the kind of leaflets that I am getting now are from companies who offer subscriptions to "lefty journals", charity organizations with the same flavour, and organic products that you can buy in a catalogue. In particular, I was surprised with a journal of clear anarchist flavour... asking for a formal subscription; what kind of anarchy is that one?

You never leave, the options can be disguised or adapted to fill your particular profile... but at the end of the day, there is a label stick on your forehead always.

But I personally, don't have any problem, I really don't want to leave. If I need food I buy it in a supermarket, if I need some electronics I will head to Target, but if I need clothes of shoes I guess I will end in a charity shop (thrift store in America). I am trying to get the best of both worlds in a cynical way. I might not have a straightforward label in the consumption map (or perhaps the label "cynic"), because I move through the categories horizontally. This is a sort of label anyway, one that the system does not take care because the numbers or cynic people are very small... so far I haven't subscribed neither bought anything that it has been posted at my door. Freedom is to be alone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Resumé

Yesterday I was updating my Curriculum Vitae (i.e. Resumé for American speaking people), updating all that kind of irrelevant information that seems to be relevant only at the time of showing the CV to a new employer or else.

I was told that it is the standard in American CV not to put the date of birth and I was told is for avoiding discrimination that could come linked with age, dodgy to say the least.

Anyway, I also realized that in most cases an update picture is not normally included in this particular kind of documents, and, I am guessing here, for the same reasons (discrimination) age is not included. So, where is the line? it could be argued that profesional qualifications shouldn't be added because that will bias the employer in a clear extent (in fact it happened to few years ago; I was "overqualify" for a particular job and I wasn't hired because the company realized that a less qualify bloke was cheaper)... What about your name? Perhaps the company does not like some ethnic group so your chances are slim because your name is Pedro or Muhamad? Gender is out of question; it is in fact the most recurrent issue in term of discrimination in human societies.

So my suggestion: next time when your CV is requested you could send 6 or 7 A4 pages neatly stapled in utter white! (an electronic file pdf or Word can also be prepared for printing purposes).

Monday, April 13, 2009

On the Barbie doll

Perhaps dolls are one of the oldest toys that can be found among archeological objects. I have seen in a museum a roman "pupa" and also Egyptian dolls (quite a thing that we now use the word "pupa" for the early stage in the develop of some insects). All of these dolls are representations of babies or children and clearly they represent dramatic playing so children learn by playing the real roles of adult life. Thus, as felines learn the art of hunting pretending fight with the other cubs in the litter, little girls used to learn the concept of maternity, playing with dolls. In other words, doll playing used to be a instinctive behavior inherited from our primate past. Now, what's all about the Barbie doll, which does not seem to fulfill such instinct? I have been thinking what does she represent and how it found such place in our culture. Barbie dolls appear in the American society as a sort of post war toy, roughly at the time when women left their houses and became an essential part of the working force. Feminism as a movement dates from the beginning of the 20th century but became a practical issue during the same period when women began to fully support their families with their work. Under this context maternity became an out of date concept, being replaced by the idea of the working woman, no longer motherhood an accepted game, since a mother is primarily the sales manager of a very important company rather than a mother. Now the paradox: dramatic playing is pretending to be what we will be doing when adulthood comes; rather than a doll, girl should be playing with toy computers or mobile phones to pretend to be their mothers! Instead, doll playing is not abandoned in the same way than such sales manager cannot simply forget that she is a woman and also a mother. The solution is the "voodoo" projection of the dramatic playing to the doll, transforming the baby doll in a sales manager doll. So Barbie replaces the pretending daughter for a pretending mother, subtle changing the dynamic of our instinctive background. It is not clear whether this development is positive or negative, there is not enough data to assess this, but it is clear from the way that children are growing faster and Barbie dolls are hated and tortured by angry children, that it is indeed a deep change in our collective subconscious.

Friday, March 20, 2009

On the ontological argument

One of the most subtle arguments to prove God's existence is the ontological, first articulated by Saint Anselm of Canterbury during the eleventh century. The arguments goes more or less like this:

God is “that than which nothing greater can be thought”; in other words, he is a being so great, so full of metaphysical oomph, that one cannot so much as conceive of a being who would be greater than God. The Psalmist, however, tells us that “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Is it possible to convince the fool that he is wrong? It is. All we need is the characterization of God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought.” The fool does at least understand that definition. But whatever is understood exists in the understanding, just as the plan of a painting he has yet to execute already exists in the understanding of the painter. So that than which nothing greater can be thought exists in the understanding. But if it exists in the understanding, it must also exist in reality. For it is greater to exist in reality than to exist merely in the understanding. Therefore, if that than which nothing greater can be thought existed only in the understanding, it would be possible to think of something greater than it (namely, that same being existing in reality as well). It follows, then, that if that than which nothing greater can be thought existed only in the understanding, it would not be that than which nothing greater can be thought; and that, obviously, is a contradiction. So that than which nothing greater can be thought must exist in reality, not merely in the understanding.

To me, the ontological argument does not prove the existence of God, but rather, the existence in the human brain of the need of a God's idea; the need of constrain the infinite in space and time in a finite framework in space and time. In other words, why we produce concepts that we cannot constrain, why we have the skills to think on unthinkable problems?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On semantics

I am not very surprised with the fact that semantics is not just about language or linguistics; it is also about politics, marketing and finally... money!

To give you some key examples in the groceries field (although this is very general), those products that are made with "natural and artificial flavors"... it is quite clear to me what is an artificial flavor; I haven't been able to evaluate what exactly means a natural flavor. You see, you could argue that they are natural because they are made with natural products, but then the raw material to make an artificial product was taken from the "natural word"! so it seems that artificial means that the actual flavor is quite far away from the original raw material while "natural" is closer to the raw material, few processing going on.... so the semantics? in my dictionary a natural flavor comes from natural flavors, no process ought to be involved!!! thus the definition is twitched quite a bit to label the cans of products that you would buy in a supermarket; i.e. from a hard semantic point of view there is not such a thing as a natural product.
Another interesting example is found in some products that are sold in California, in which there are some chemical or something that probably is (very!) harmful for human beings. You will notice that those products would have a label that begins with a sentence more or less like this: "It is know by the state of California that this product can produce cancer" ... what does it means this? that the people in NY don't know or the people in NY pretend that does not know? here is a beautiful example of how politics change the meaning of words; in California the product is not acceptable because could produce cancer, but in some other state, this is perhaps known but not legally addressed... it wouln't be ok accept something that is not accepted in a different state unless, of course, the subject is not known! so California knows something that some other states don't know! better to be dumb and blind than an inmoral seller!

Finally, my favorite one, a "Guacamole style" sauce that does not contains avocado, the meaning of the word "style" would be "fake" but at least with "style"!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Phone Survey

Quite an interesting morning; just finishing having breakfast when the phone rang. It was a Survey on TV, Radio and Newspapers. I did have a bit of time (considering the fact that it was Saturday morning and the kids where hollering while having their breakfasts) so I answered the questions, which were quite redundant and some of them at a stupid level of detail (what is the dial number of the radio station that you were listening last week? 92.1 or 92.2? I have no idea! I just turn the knob until the music shows up!). Then, 'twas the time to answer question on TV and I answered that we don't have a TV at home... The lady couldn't registered that information in her brain immediately; in fact she had to ask the question again after the shock was over to be sure of what she was listening... that was more or less the end of the survey. So, I was wondering today whether that was the actual meaning of my status in the USA; i.e. a "resident alien"!!!!! I wouldn't know what to do with a TV plus the fact that the time (as the Bible says somewhere) is always short and there are too many things to do before tomorrow, even Saturdays.