The path is the goal

Para sanar o solucionar un problema se necesita una férrea voluntad. No poder hacer lo que deseamos ni poder no hacer lo que no deseamos, nos provoca una falta de autoestima profunda, causa de depresiones y enfermedades graves. El luchar incansablemente por lograr una meta que parece imposible desarrolla nuestra energía vital. Esto lo comprendieron muy bien los hechiceros medievales, creando recetarios que proponían actos imposibles de realizar, como por ejemplo un método para hacerse invisible. «Ponga a hervir un caldero de agua bendita con leña de vides blancas. Sumerja dentro un gato negro vivo, dejándolo cocer hasta que los huesos se aparten de la carne. Extraiga esos huesos con una estola de obispo y colóquese delante de una lámina de plata bruñida. Métase hueso tras hueso del gato escaldado en la boca, hasta que su imagen desaparezca del espejo de plata.» O bien un filtro para seducir a un hombre: «En un vaso modelado a mano con el barro que ha excavado el hocico de un jabalí, mezcle sangre de perro con sangre de gato más su sangre menstrual, agregue una perla molida y dele de beber a su amado diez gotas de este brebaje disueltas en una copa de vino». En el primer consejo, podríamos pensar que quizás no se habla de invisibilidad material, sino que quien debe hacerse transparente es el yo individual del aspirante a brujo. Después de tanto empeño en realizar algo tan cruel y dificil, se esfuma la personalidad individual y aparece el ser esencial, que es por esencia impersonal. En el segundo consejo cabe imaginar que si la bruja, por amor a un hombre, logra encontrar barro removido por un jabalí, asesinar a un perro, a un gato, y sacrificar dinero haciendo polvo una perla, despierta en ella tal seguridad en sí misma que se hace capaz de seducir a un ciego sordomudo. 

Ciertas curaciones en lugares lejanos declarados milagrosos son en gran parte debidas al largo y costoso viaje que debe hacer el enfermo para llegar a ellos.


Fictions and facts

A picture hung on the wall of our parlor. In it, a woman was taking a shirt from a clothesline. She had clothespins in her teeth and it was windy and a boy was tugging at her dress. The woman looked like she was in a hurry and the whole scene gave me the idea that, just outside the frame, full, dark clouds were gathering. But that was not what it was. It was paint. So I decided right then and there to see the picture as it really was. I stared at the thing long and hard, trying to only see the paint. But it was no use. All my eyes would allow me to see was the lie. In fact, the longer I gazed at the paint, the more false detail I began to imagine. The boy was crying, as if afraid, and the woman was weaker than I had first believed. I finally gave up. I understood then that it takes a powerful imagination to see a thing for what it really is.


Death is a funny thing. Not funny haha, like a Woody Allen movie, but funny strange, like a Woody Allen marriage. When it’s unexpected, death comes fast like a ravenous wolf and tears open your throat with a merciful fury. But when it’s expected, it comes slow and patient like a snake, and the doctor tells you how far away it is and when, exactly, it will be at your door. And when it will be at the foot of your bed. And when it will be on your flesh. It’s all right there on their clipboards.


Matter Turns Intelligent

Hydrogen…, given enough time, turns into people.
Edward Robert Harrison, 1995

One of the most spectacular developments during the 13.8 billion years since our Big Bang is that dumb and lifeless matter has turned intelligent.

(...) there’s clearly no undisputed “correct” definition of intelligence. Instead, there are many competing ones, including capacity for logic, understanding, planning, emotional knowledge, self-awareness,  creativity, problem solving and learning. (...)

intelligence = ability to accomplish complex goals

This is broad enough to include all above-mentioned definitions, since understanding, self-awareness, problem solving, learning, etc. are all examples of complex goals that one might have. It’s also broad enough to subsume the Oxford Dictionary definition—“the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills”—since one can have as a goal to apply knowledge and skills. Because there are many possible goals, there are many possible types of intelligence. By our definition, it therefore makes no sense to quantify intelligence of humans, non-human animals or machines by a single number such as an IQ. (...)

It’s natural for us to rate the difficulty of tasks relative to how hard it is for us humans to perform them, as in figure 2.1. But this can give a misleading picture of how hard they are for computers. It feels much harder to multiply 314,159 by 271,828 than to recognize a friend in a photo, yet computers creamed us at arithmetic long before I was born, while human-level image recognition has only recently become possible. This fact that low-level sensorimotor tasks seem easy despite requiring enormous computational resources is known as Moravec’s paradox, and is explained by the fact that our brain makes such tasks feel easy by dedicating massive amounts of customized hardware to them—more than a quarter of our brains, in fact.

I love this metaphor from Hans Moravec: "Computers are universal machines, their potential extends uniformly over a boundless expanse of tasks. Human potentials, on the other hand, are strong in areas long important for survival, but weak in things far removed. Imagine a “landscape of human competence,” having lowlands with labels like “arithmetic” and “rote memorization,” foothills like “theorem proving” and “chessplaying,” and high mountain peaks labeled “locomotion,” “hand-eye coordination” and “social interaction.” Advancing computer performance is like water slowly flooding the landscape. A half century ago it began to drown the lowlands, driving out human calculators and record clerks, but leaving most of us dry. Now the flood has reached the foothills, and our outposts there are contemplating retreat. We feel safe on our peaks, but, at the present rate, those too will be submerged within another half century. I propose that we build Arks as that day nears, and adopt a seafaring life!"


Entrepreneurship never sleeps

The phenomenon of disruption occurs when successful firms fail because they continue to make the choices that drove their success. In other words, it does not apply when firms are poorly managed, complacent, fraudulent, or doing things differently because they are now shielded by barriers to competition. To be sure, firms can fail because of those circumstances, but that is not what we mean by disruption. (...) a “disruptive event” occurs when a new product or technology enters the market, causing successful firms to struggle. (...) an organization strains most to assimilate new architectural knowledge when it has been successfully focused on exploiting innovations based on the previous architecture.

The key to dealing with disruption is to understand that it emerges surrounded by uncertainty. While hindsight often suggests that certain disruptive events were obvious, this is far from clear when those events are emerging. (...) Some firms may be shielded from disruptive events because they possess key complementary assets, the value of which is not changed and may be enhanced by those events.

Self-disruption was proposed by Christensen as a means of proactively avoiding the consequences of demand-side disruption. The idea is that the firm takes control of disruption by charging a new division with the competitive role that would otherwise be taken by a new entrant. While establishing an independent new division can appear to be an effective response, firms often fail to translate it into successful and sustainable models as they kick the dilemmas associated with disruption down the road. Managerial conflicts emerge, and established firms find themselves unable to resolve them effectively.

If a firm wants to ride out continual waves of disruption, it needs to maintain organizational structures that preserve and can evolve architectural knowledge. Integration and continual coordination of component-level teams in product development has been shown to be an effective way to avoid existential threats to successful firms. But what has not been appreciated is that integration and coordination stand diametrically opposed to the independence and self-disruption mantra many firms have adopted to mitigate disruptive risks. It stands to reason that if your problem is how the parts fit together, adding another unit charged with doing its own thing is not going to solve it.

Dealing with disruption to ensure a successful and sustainable business involves more than just taking some additional bets with autonomous units that may get you slightly ahead of the game. (...) you need to bake your response to disruption into your mainline organization. The dilemma you face is that betting on sustainability is not without cost to short-run competitive advantage and profitability. Not all businesses will take the same path. However, once you have gone through the journey of disruption—its intellectual history, its practical reality, and the way leaders have dealt with it—you will have the two paths clearly laid out for you. What you do at that point is up to you.


Beware of friendly enemies

I don’t prefer to work with one actor rather than another, I don’t have a troupe like Bergman has in Sweden. I'm interested mainly in the story, and I cast to realise that story. I don’t know who I shall use in my next picture, which will be made in Greece, but it will probably be somebody brand new again, only because it's more real to me that way. An actor is a person who quickly becomes “an actor," whereas there's a simplicity and unselfconsciousness and mystery about a new actor that an experienced actor often loses quickly. A person when he feels something in life would prefer to hide it, whereas an actor is in the habit of showing it. I’m not saying this is a general rule for other directors or that it is right for anyone but me, but it fits my own temperament and my own feelings about a film.

A star undercuts a story in some ways; you know he’s not going to die in the second reel or going to do anything unpleasant and that he'll get the girl in the end, and if he doesn’t come out well, the audience is disappointed because they've gone to the cinema to see him. I don't want an audience to come to see a star. I want them to see my story.

Very often recognised actors in a very subtle way condescend to a part; they clean it up, and make it more pleasant, glamorous, brave, courageous or resourceful than it is. There's nothing more boring than the bravery of an actor, and when you get a person that's new, he’s not on the lookout to always be brave or be cleaned up.

I can't stand a hairdresser on the set, and I try not to have one. But if the unions force one on me, I tell her to go in a room and play solitaire or something. If I see one fussing with the leading lady’s hair, I have a fit the first day, and then they don’t come round again. I mean I like them personally, but I don't want the hair in place. One objection I have to most costumes is that they obviously look like they were made for the film and have never been worn or used before. It's a very hard thing to fight unless you’re terribly determined and persistent; everybody's trying to clean everything up on you.

The set is full of many charming and very friendly enemies, people who are in the habit of making things pretty and more comfortable. This is the whole technique of Hollywood, to make everything more digestible. My whole effort is to bring the impact of life to the screen, so you don't ever know quite what’s going to happen.


(Not always fake, but often sloppy) Media

I’m tired of television announcers, hosts, newscaster, and commentators, nibbling away at the English language, making obvious and ignorant mistakes. If I were in charge of America’s broadcast stations and networks, I would gather together all the people whose jobs include speaking to the public, and I would not let them out of the room until they had absorbed the following suggestions. And I’m aware that media personalities are not selected on the basis of intelligence. I know that, and I try to make allowances for it. Believe me, I really try. But still… There are some liberties taken with speech that I think require intervention, if only for my own sake. I won’t feel right if this chance goes by, and I keep my silence.

The English word forte, meaning "specialty" or "strong point," is not pronounced "for-tay." Got that? It is pronounced "fort." The Italian word forte, used in music notation, is pronounced "for-tay," and it instructs the musician to play loud: "She plays the skin flute, and her forte [fort] is playing forte [for-tay]." Look it up. And don’t give me that whiny shit, "For-tay is listed as the second preference." There’s a reason it’s second: because it’s not first!
Irony deals with opposites; it has nothing to do with coincidence. If two baseball players from the same hometown, on different teams, receive the same uniform number, it is not ironic. It is a coincidence. If Barry Bonds attains lifetime statistics identical to his father’s it will not be ironic. It will be a coincidence. Irony is "a state of affairs that is the reverse of what was to be expected; a result opposite to and in mockery of the appropriate result." For instance:
If a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck, he is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony.
If a Kurd, after surviving bloody battle with Saddam Hussein’s army and a long, difficult escape through the mountains, is crushed and killed by a parachute drop of humanitarian aid, that, my friend, is irony writ large.
Darryl Stingley, the pro football player, was paralyzed after a brutal hit by Jack Tatum. Now Darryl Stingley’s son plays football, and if the son should become paralyzed while playing, it will not be ironic. It will be coincidental. If Darryl Stingley’s son paralyzes someone else, that will be closer to ironic. If he paralyzes Jack Tatum’s son that will be precisely ironic.

I’m tired of hearing prodigal being used to mean "wandering, given to running away or leaving and returning." The parable in the Book of Luke tells of a son who squanders his father’s money. Prodigal means "recklessly wasteful or extravagant." And if you say popular usage has changed that, I say, fuck popular usage!

The phrase sour grapes does not refer to jealousy or envy. Nor is it related to being a sore loser. It deals with the rationalization of failure to attain a desired end. In the original fable by Aesop, "The Fox and the Grapes," when the fox realizes he cannot leap high enough to reach the grapes, he rationalizes that even if he had gotten them, they would probably have been sour anyway. Rationalization, that’s all sour grapes means. It doesn’t mean deal with jealousy or sore losing. Yeah, I know you say, "Well many people are using it that way, so the meaning is changing." And I say, "Well many people are really fuckin’ stupid too, shall we just adopt all their standards?"

Strictly speaking, celibate does not mean not having sex, it means not being married. No wedding. The practice of refraining from sex is called chastity or sexual abstinence. No fucking. Priests don’t take a vow of celibacy, they take a vow of chastity. Sometimes referred to as the "no-nookie clause."

And speaking of sex, the Immaculate Conception does not mean Jesus was conceived in the absence of sex. It means Mary was conceived without Original Sin. That’s all it has ever meant. And according to the tabloids, Mary is apparently the only one who can make such a claim. The Jesus thing is called virgin birth.

Proverbial is now being used to describe things that don’t appear in proverbs. For instance, "the proverbial drop in the bucket" is incorrect because "a drop in the bucket" is not a proverb, it’s a metaphor. You wouldn’t say, "as welcome as a turd in the proverbial punchbowl," or "as cold as the proverbial nun’s box," because neither refers to a proverb. The former is a metaphor, the latter is a simile.

Momentarily means for a moment, not in a moment. The word for "in a moment" is presently "I will be there presently, Dad, and then, after pausing momentarily, I will kick you in the nuts."

No other option and no other alternative are redundant. The words option and alternative already imply otherness. "I had no option, Mom, I got this huge erection because there was no alternative." This rule is not optional; the alternative is to be wrong.

You should not use criteria when you mean criterion for the same reason that you should not use criterion when you mean criteria. These is my only criterions.

A light-year is a measurement of distance, not time. "It will take light-years for young basketball players to catch up with the number of women Wilt Chamberlain has fucked, "is a scientific impossibility. Probably in more ways than one.

An acronym is not just any set of initials. It applies only to those that are pronounced as words. MADD, DARE, NATO, and UNICEF are acronyms. FBI, CIA, and KGB are not. They’re just pricks.

I know I’m fighting a losing battle with this one, but I refuse to surrender: Collapsing a building with explosives is not an implosion. An implosion is a very specific scientific phenomenon. The collapsing of a building with explosives is the collapsing of a building with explosives. The explosives explode, and the building collapses inwardly. That is not an implosion. It is an inward collapsing of a building, following a series of smaller explosions designed to make it collapse inwardly. Period. Fuck you!

Here’s another pointless, thankless objection I’d like to register. I say it that way, because I know you people and your goddamn "popular usage" slammed the door on this one a long time ago. But here goes anyway:

A cop out is not an excuse, not even a weak one; it is an admission of guilt. When someone "cops a plea," he admits guilt to some charge, in exchange for better treatment. He has "copped out." When a guy says, "I didn’t get to fuck her because I reminded her of her little brother," he is making an excuse. If he says, "I didn’t get to fuck her because I’m an unattractive schmuck," he is copping out. The trouble arises when an excuse contains a small amount of self-incriminating truth.

This one is directed to the sports people: You are destroying a perfectly good figure of speech: "Getting the monkey off one’s back" does not mean breaking a losing streak. It refers only to ending a dependency. That’s all. The monkey represents a strong yen. A loosing streak does not compare even remotely. Not in a literary sense and not in real life.

Here’s one you hear from the truly dense: "The proof is in the pudding." Well, the proof is not in the pudding; the rice and raisins are in the pudding. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In this case, proof means "test." The same is true of "the exception that proves (tests) the rule."

An eye for an eye is not a call for revenge, it is an argument for fairness. In the time of the Bible, it was standard to take a life in exchange for an eye. But the Bible said, No, the punishment should fit the crime. Only and eye for an ey, nothing more. It is not vindictive, it is mitigatory.

Don’t make the same mistake twice seems to indicate three mistakes, doesn’t it? First you make the mistake. Then you make the same mistake. Then you make the same mistake twice. If you simply say, "Don’t make the same mistake, " you’ll avoid the first mistake.

Unique needs no modifier. Very unique, quite unique, more unique, real unique, fairly unique, and extremely unique are wrong and they mark you as dumb, although certainly not unique.

Healthy does not mean "healthful." Healthy is a condition, healthful is a property. Vegetable aren’t healthy, they’re dead. No food is healthy. Unless you have an eggplant that’s doing push-ups. Push-ups are healthful.

There is no such thing or word as kudo. Kudos is a singular noun meaning praise, and it is pronounced kyoo-dose. There is also a plural form, spelled the same, but pronounced kyoo-doze. Please stop telling me, "So-and-so picked up another kudo today."

Race, creed, or color is wrong. Race and color, as used in this phrase, describe the same property. And "creed" is a stilted, outmoded way of saying "religion." Leave this tired phrase alone; it has lost its usefulness. Besides, it reeks of insincerity no matter who uses it.

As of yet is simply stupid. As yet, I’ve seen no progress on this one, but of course I’m speaking as of now.

Here’s one you can win money on in a bar if you’re within reach of the right reference book: Chomping at the bit and old stomping ground are incorrect. Some Saturday afternoon when you’re getting bombed on your old stamping ground, you’ll be champing at the bit to use this one.

Sorry to sound so picky, folks, but I listen to a lot of radio and TV and these things have bothered me for a long time.

George Carlin (1997) If I Were in Charge of the Networks
In Andy Borowitz (2011) The 50 Funniest American Writers

I'll drink to that.

The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time. The four twentieth-century writers whose work is most responsible for it are probably Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and the poet Dylan Thomas. They are the writers who largely formed our vision of an existential English-speaking wasteland where people have been cut off from one another and live in an atmosphere of emotional strangulation and despair. These concepts are very familiar to most alcoholics; the common reaction to them is amusement. Substance-abusing writers are just substance abusers—common garden-variety drunks and druggies, in other words. Any claims that the drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit. I’ve heard alcoholic snowplow drivers make the same claim, that they drink to still the demons. It doesn’t matter if you’re James Jones, John Cheever, or a stewbum snoozing in Penn Station; for an addict, the right to the drink or drug of choice must be preserved at all costs. Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t drink because they were creative, alienated, or morally weak. They drank because it’s what alkies are wired up to do. Creative people probably do run a greater risk of alcoholism and addiction than those in some other jobs, but so what? We all look pretty much the same when we’re puking in the gutter.

Everybody worships.

The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess of the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things–if they are where you tap real meaning in life–then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth.
Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.
On one level we all know this stuff already–it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power–you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need even more power over others to keep the fear at bay.
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart–you will end up feeling stupid, always on the verge of being found out.
And so on.
Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called “real world” will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called “real world” of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.
Our own present culture has harnessed these forces ins ays that they have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it.
But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.
That is real freedom.

Winging it.

The Unfinished Fable of the Sparrows

It was the nest-building season, but after days of long hard work, the sparrows sat in the evening glow, relaxing and chirping away.
“We are all so small and weak. Imagine how easy life would be if we had an owl who could help us build our nests!”
“Yes!” said another. “And we could use it to look after our elderly and our young.”
“It could give us advice and keep an eye out for the neighborhood cat,” added a third.
Then Pastus, the elder-bird, spoke: “Let us send out scouts in all directions and try to find an abandoned owlet somewhere, or maybe an egg. A crow chick might also do, or a baby weasel. This could be the best thing that ever happened to us, at least since the opening of the Pavilion of Unlimited Grain in yonder backyard.”
The flock was exhilarated, and sparrows everywhere started chirping at the top of their lungs.
Only Scronkfinkle, a one-eyed sparrow with a fretful temperament, was unconvinced of the wisdom of the endeavor. Quoth he: “This will surely be our undoing. Should we not give some thought to the art of owl-domestication and owl-taming first, before we bring such a creature into our midst?”
Replied Pastus: “Taming an owl sounds like an exceedingly difficult thing to do. It will be difficult enough to find an owl egg. So let us start there. After we have succeeded in raising an owl, then we can think about taking on this other challenge.”
“There is a flaw in that plan!” squeaked Scronkfinkle; but his protests were in vain as the flock had already lifted off to start implementing the directives set out by Pastus.
Just two or three sparrows remained behind. Together they began to try to work out how owls might be tamed or domesticated. They soon realized that Pastus had been right: this was an exceedingly difficult challenge, especially in the absence of an actual owl to practice on. Nevertheless they pressed on as best they could, constantly fearing that the flock might return with an owl egg before a solution to the control problem had been found.

Class struggle revisited.

In the rarified air that was pumped into the Concorde Room, there nonetheless hovered a hint of something troubling: the implicit suggestion that the three traditional airline classes represented nothing less than a tripartite division of society according to people’s genuine talents and virtues. Having abolished the caste systems of old and fought to ensure universal access to education and opportunity, it seemed that we might have built up a meritocracy that had introduced an element of true justice into the distribution of wealth as well as poverty. In the modern era, destitution could therefore be regarded as not merely pitiable but deserved. The question of why, if one was in any way talented or adept, one was still unable to earn admittance to an elegant lounge was a conundrum for all economy airline passengers to ponder in the privacy of their own minds as they perched on hard plastic chairs in the overcrowded and chaotic public waiting areas of the world’s airports.

The West once had a powerful and forgiving explanation for exclusion from any sort of lounge: for two thousand years Christianity rejected the notion, inherent in the modern meritocratic system, that virtue must inevitably usher in material success. Jesus was the highest man, the most blessed, and yet throughout his earthly life he was poor, thus by his very example ruling out any direct equation between righteousness and wealth. the Christian story emphasized that, however apparently equitable our educational and commercial infrastructures might seem, random factors and accidents would always conspire to wreck any neat alignment between hierarchies of wealth on the one hand and virtue on the other. According to St Augustine, only God himself knew what each individual was worth, and He would not reveal that assessment before the time of the Last Judgement, to the sound of thunder and the trumpets of angels – a phantasmagorical scenario for non-believers, but helpful nevertheless in reminding us to refrain from judging others on the basis of a casual look at their tax returns.

The Christian story has neither died out nor been forgotten. That it continues even now to scratch away at meritocratic explanations of privilege was made clear to me when, after a copious lunch rounded off by a piece of chocolate cake with passionfruit sorbet, an employee called Reggie described for me the complicated set of circumstance that had brought her to the brutally decorated staff area of the Concorde Room from a shantytown outside Puerto Princesa in the Philippines. Our preference for the meritocratic versus the Christian belief system will in the end determine how we decide to interpret the relative standing of a tracksuited twenty-seven-year-old entrepreneur reading the Wall Street Journal by a stone-effect fireplace while waiting to board his fight to Seattle, against that of a Filipina cleaner whose job it is to tour the bathrooms of an airline’s first-class lounge, swabbing the shower cubicles of their diverse and ever-changing colonies of international bacteria.