Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Waking up is always a bitch, and my semi-involuntary stabs at the snooze button tell a sad story of failed desire.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

After 45 minutes on the treadmill, and a very, very wet T-shirt, the most sensitive, painful part of my body is the tip of my left nipple. Highly unsexy.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lebanon---or at the very least, Beirut---is severely Westernized. As the locals like to remind me, the city is often called the "Paris of the Near East" and the people do, in fact, act much like Parisians (minus the snooty Parisian accent, but then again I have no idea whether the Beirut Arabic accent is snooty or not). What this suggests is that repressed people from all over the region converge in the city to eat, drink, and be merry. The local brew, Almaza, is a fairly palatable pilsner with moderate hoppiness and a balanced finish.

Women dress well. Like, Parisian well. Of course, no risque stuff---very short skirts are usually paired with pretty opaque tights---but the whole boots-and-bare-legs style seems to have transposed itself into a Middle Eastern variant in Beirut.

Cedars are well north of here, so not much excitement there (although I coulda swore I caught one in the mountains on the way from Damascus).

Like elsewhere in the Arab world, drivers are aggressive. The level probably goes somewhere between the drive-between-lanes-run-pedestrians-over style of Cairo, and the sanitized, genteel standards of Australia. Not unlike Syria, except that most of the time, traffic signals are not ignored.

A weariness about security appears to be at the back of everyone's minds. People talk about being bombed over breakfast. Walls of churches and hotels are pockmarked with bullet scars. And this morning they had a clarification over the office PA system that the loud, thumping sounds we had just heard were, in fact, "just fireworks."

The Lebanese idea of a sandwich is a roll:



Lebanese building go deep into the ground. Something about scarce land. All I know is that, combined with their aggressive driving, going up from the B5 in the carpark gives me a headache by the time we emerge at ground level.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Having stayed in Damascus for  several days I've had the chance to form an initial impression of the country and her people. My overall experience has been wonderful. All the Syrians I've met with, from those at the hotel to those at the government offices to those on the streets, have been warm, friendly, and hospitable (in spite of my clear inability to speak their language). Bullet points:
  • Despite generally dark features, it is not uncommon to see Syrians with striking blue or hazel eyes. It is also not uncommon to see a woman dressed in tight jeans and a sexy top, beside another wearing a hijab with only her hands peeking. Men hold hands and link arms, even the big burly ones in leather jackets.
  • Food is fantastic---bean or nut-based stuff, with fresh chopped vegetables, for breakfast, and meaty stuff with flarbread for dinner. A meal can cost you all of a buck. They like lamb and chicken (they like brains and other innards), and beef tends to be overdone and overpriced. Hotel food is also overpriced, even by Western standards: Breakfast is 28 bucks, coffee in a small pot, 10. The turkish coffee they serve in espresso-sized cups at meetings, however, is fantastic.
  • Traffic lights are optional, and crossing is a matter of a war of attrition, even when the person crossing is a military man with a semiautomatic weapon. Honking is also optional, but well-regarded. Honk to alert the erstwhile street-crosser that you have no intention of slowing down, to indicate that they were 5 inches away from getting run over, or that they are crazy kids who run across busy streets while giggling in Arabic.
  • Smoking is standard practice. Quizzical looks if you ask for the non-smoking area in a restaurant, and offices generally smell like a fireplace. Shisha is a complement, not substitute, for smokers. Street cleaners may not regard cigarette butts as trash to be cleared. Given the dry desert air and reckless abandon people engage in lighting up, I don't understand why the whole city hasn't gone up in flames, especially since there is a conspicuous absence of the constant siren-sounds you hear in a big city.
  • Every establishment---public and private alike--should have, at the minimum, one portrait-sized photograph of Bashar al-Assad. Older establishments have Hafez as well. If you're a government body, best to have a few on every wall, and if you have your own office, best to have little photostands with him at your desk, at the side table, and on the bookshelves. Full-sized busts and statues are limited to large squares and major government buildings.

Monday, April 21, 2008

As those of us with a background in international trade and development may be aware, there is a small village in Southeastern China---Dafen---that is responsible for much of the world trade in replicas of famous paintings.

Recently, a small boutique research firm commissioned some self-portraits of some of these Dafen artists. Here is a small sample of the results, alongside the painting the artist is used to replicating, used as the inspiration for their own work:



While the paintings themselves are actually quite impressive, it suggests to me a deeper trend behind the brush: That once income levels rise to substantive levels in China, we'll start to see the emergence of high quality creative works from previously "copycat" artists. This is important, because it suggests the possibility that the common contention that Chinese growth is limited by the absence of creativity, necessary to drive endogenous productivity accumulation, may be misplaced. Perhaps creativity is latent, determined largely by random draws in a normal distribution. The absolute size of these draws would be larger in a larger population, and since creative ideas are characterized by essentially zero marginal costs of replication, the Chinese may not actually run into the wall of total factor productivity stagnation, as commonly envisaged. The Chinese growth experience may yet be distinct from much of East Asian capital accumulation-driven growth, the kind criticized by Lau, Young and Krugman as ultimately unsustainable.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ever been on a flight that got canceled on you? Today, my connection from Cincinnati got canceled on me. Weather was bad all around the Midwest, and so I suppose I was half-prepared for inclement weather to throw a wrench in my travel plans. But my flight wasn't canceled due to weather. It wasn't canceled because of weather at the destination. It wasn't even canceled due to mechanical failure. It got canned because they couldn't locate the flight crew. I mean, this is not like losing a paper clip or misplacing a file. This are the folks that whose job was to get our plane from point A to point B. I'm still not sure how you could actually lose an entire flight crew. Maybe there was a wrinkle in the space-time continuum, and our captain and flight attendants are now in a parallel universe serving cyborgs on Venus.

In any case, I got bumped to the wait list for the next flight, but the wait list was 13 bodies long and I was, well, number 12 on the list. Needless to say, I wasn't on that flight. There was going to be an outside chance that I would get on the flight thereafter, failure of which would mean staying over at some airport hotel. Visions of Tom Hanks camping in the terminal started flashing in my head. Still, I decided to give that later flight a go, and decided to blow my complimentary meal vouchers on beers to keep me company in the meantime.

7:55 rolls round, and I approach the ticketing counter at the gate with a mix of hope, fear, and---quite honestly---a meekness that would have allowed me to beg to get on that plane. Thankfully, the plane was big, and I somehow I made it on.

It's strange, how the human mind works. I was scheduled to arrive in Baltimore at noon. Now here I was, 9 hours later, completely elated about how something that was actually mine, which got taken away, then returned in a poorer condition, could still bring so much joy and pleasure to the point where I actually felt that I didn't even really deserve it. Strange indeed.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Note to self: Biking in to work at 18 degrees = Bad idea.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

In Cairo, headlights at night are optional. In fact, they are used for a very specific alternative purpose: To indicate to the car 12 inches in front of you that you plan to pass, preferably at high speed. While accompanied by thumping Arabic dance music.

Lane markings, likewise, appear to be optional. The focus of driving is to fill in the gaps as they appear in the flow of traffic. After they are filled, of course, one looks for the next gap. If it fails to appear, one takes charge and honks the too-slow vehicle in front. Honks are also used to signal a serious passing attempt---for example, when attempting to squeeze between two vehicles in a two-lane road.

The cab driver that I had was probably practicing for the Grand Prix. Generally fun, save for the potential for death.

Saw the pyramids on Sunday night. I must confess, they were somewhat less than impressive. Our group went for the "sound and light show,'' which was essentially the pyramids spruced up with flashing laser lights and an accompanying commentary on their history. The voiceover was right out of Ben-Hur, and the soundtrack would have made the big-hair 80s sound sophisticated and high-tech.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

I've finally managed to return the monstrosity of the U-Haul (I-Haul) truck, and so I managed to secure some flexibility to drive around and explore the neighborhood. Pleasant Hill is, undoubtedly, a massive hill (at least, when walking uphill). From where my apartment is north of the campus, pretty much everything is downhill. Which is nice when leaving but a bitch when trying to get home. In any case, the immediate vicinity comprises housing, the university, a high school, a bunch of hospitals, and a cemetery. So you can live and learn and die.

Anyhow, as a little reward for the finally finishing the move, I decided to pick up some groceries and cook up a simple meal. Since the basil was looking a little tired from the move, I decided it was best to eat it before it completely gives up on me. And since dinner was (in my view) pretty nice, I thought I would record the recipe for posterity.

Spaghetti with Garlic Butter and Miniature Basil

Ingredients:
  • 1 package spaghetti (in an ideal world I would buy fresh tagliatelle, but hey)
  • 3/4 stick butter (I think that is 4 or 5 tablespoons)
  • 2--3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 head garlic, chopped (medium-fine)
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3 sprigs miniature basil (about 50 leaves or so)
Directions:
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Actually, don't trust package directions. Go by mouthfeel, remove from water when al dente. And always salt the water.
  2. Melt butter in pan on medium heat. Mix in olive oil, which helps prevent the butter from burning when you're not paying attention. Skim off ickky stuff from butter, if you're into that sort of thing (I'm not).
  3. Throw in garlic, and reduce heat to low. Let garlic infuse into oil/butter. Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste.
  4. After about 5--7 minutes or so, throw in basil, but reserve some for garnishing, if you're into that sort of thing (I am). Let basil infuse into oil for another 3--5 minutes.
  5. Pour on to cooked pasta, pour in eggs, toss. Garnish and serve (in this case, to self).
I could see the dish matching really well with a New World chardonnay. Short of which, it happens to work really well with a brown ale, too (which I had, incidentally). The caramel nuttiness of the ale complements the savory pasta perfectly. For a less homely (and more elegant) taste, substitute eggs for roasted pine nuts (in which case definitely go with the chardonnay).

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Different people respond differently to moving. For some, you are considered "moved in" when stuff goes on the walls. For others, it's when all the boxes are finally unpacked, and the boxes relegated to recycling. For yet others, it's maybe something like "breaking in" the bed (read it as thou wilt). Well, for me, I've moved in when I've slept on my couch. And, this afternoon, after lunch, I passed out in my living room to the cool breeze on my face. Ah, to be moved in.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Singapore is, simply, too hot. It has been a strange return in many ways: You get somewhere that is, fundamentally, familiar, and yet everything is conspiring to make itself different and unusual. Friends are now a little removed, although everyone makes a genuine effort; but the difference in our worlds is too difficult to deny. I'm somewhat glad that I ended up leaving---not so much because I simply wanted to get away, but more because I feel that I would never have found myself otherwise. Still, the entire experience is a little bittersweet; not unlike the bottles of wine that I recently rediscovered after leaving them---and memories of them---behind.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I emerged last night from David Lynch's sorry excuse of a movie, Inland Empire. No doubt, critics will be raving over this latest surrealistic exploration into filmmaking and nightmare worlds, contending how it challenges meaning in moving pictures and our understanding of transcendence and meaning and purpose.

Bullshit.

First, a caveat: I do not have an instinctive distaste for Lynch's work (actually, it is pathetic that I need to include a caveat to prevent my review from being dismissed outright; but such is the cult of David Lynch that even with one, your credibility is challenged if you do not pay some homage to his other films). Mulholland Drive, as opaque as it was, was able to draw me in, and provoke a reaction to its sweeping ideas and characters. Inland Empire did none of these. It was a nonlinear patchwork of vignettes, carelessly stitched together for the sake of discontinuity (or worse, for the sake of style), rather than designing and using the melange as a plot device.

The few threads of linkages between the otherwise incoherent scenes were, at best, poorly contrived. Instead of thoughtfully introducing subtle metaphor or allusion to the disparate scenes, Lynch resorted to cheap tie-ins: A common prop, a phrase or two used repeatedly in dialogue. There was little imagination, little that was original, and that which was was uninspiring.

The scenes, themselves, were pieces of sophomoric filmmaking: Weakly directed, unimaginative takes. The scene where a girl flashes her breasts to her friends was reminiscent of opening scenes in Girls Gone Wild. The kissing scene between Laura Dern and Karolina Gruszka seemed recycled, and unnecessary. The filmmaking scenes between Dern and Justin Theroux were pedestrian. The dance sequences seemed like they could have been the product of a high school film project.

How can I fail to mention the Dern-Look-of-Terror? Every 10 minutes in the final hour or so, we were treated to the spectacle of her explorations in what must have appeared in the script as . That performance was the worse of all: Stoic, wooden, and unidimensional; saved only by the fact that closeups pick up nuances that we seldom intend or can control. Also, she had too much foundation on. Intentional? Perhaps, but a nice distraction from acting that would be otherwise undistinguished, to put it politely.

Inland Empire does have its moments. The conversation between a man and woman on a snowy Polish street had depth and underlying tension, despite seemingly innocuous dialogue. The scene where Laura Dern lies bleeding to death while others discuss the best route to Pomona has flashes of brilliance and deeper meaning. But overall, these are few and far between, and the hodgepodge is a mindfuck for the sake of being a mindfuck.

If Inland Empire was Lynch's first piece for the large schreen, I think he would simply have faded from the public consciousness as a controversial director. Thankfully, it wasn't, but this does not exonerate the traversity of a movie that is Inland Empire.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

There is something disarmingly honest about a spring rain. It's not like a winter rain, dull, methodical, and clouded in a dense fog. It's intense, and the short burst where it lets its presence be known screams for your attention. Then, in the aftermath, the earth is refreshed. The shrubs and grass have a sparkle, like the eyes of a mischievous five-year-old. The damp ground gives forth the scent of renewal. The angelic twitter of birds permeates the air, and their innocent arias complements the melody that began with the pitter-patter and roar of the rain concerto. Finally, the sun is restored, and we are bathed in its glorious, golden glow: A glow that is pure, and declares that the momentary dark moment of clouds and thunder is over, and we have arrived. As you sit there, with your morning coffee, and you inhale the mix of the medium roast and the pollen and the spring air, you are invited to forget, to absorb the magic that is le printemps, and you whisper silently to yourself, This could not get any better.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

There is something is strangely amiss when you have to find out about your sister's current happenings from her blog. Still, I suppose it is a testament to technology that, at the least, I get to read the random gossip that constitutes my sister's infinitely more exciting life.

Both Jerraine and Mom come in today. I'm excited, and at the same time, led to wonder why I've become so accustomed to living far away from home. There's something missing when you can claim to having visited more than a dozen different cities in the past year, but none of them were your home city.

Now, don't get me wrong. I made a calculated choice, reflective of the balance of costs and benefits. I chose to live in Danville. And while I don't regret it, there's always an emptiness---possibly bordering on nostalgia---when you think about what you've left behind. It's not a bitter taste, but a rather odd one. Almost like what happens when you taste escargot for the first time: You're not quite sure if you like it or not, but yet you're not sure if you want to give it up and just be boring and go with the steak.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The end of something is often a somber time: You think of things that you could have done, should have done, would have done; you resolve to do these things in future, and you rue the erroneous past. The end of this first semester at Centre has been one of those moments. By and large, I'm happy with the way things went: I've learnt from my experiences, from my mentors, and most importantly, from my students. It's been a long 15 weeks, and while I'm glad it's over, I'm also keenly aware that there's far more to come. Who knows what the future holds? While I'm recharging the batteries in California, I'm also taking the time to reflect on the work that lies ahead.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Jamus's commandments for new apartment creation:
  1. Thou shalt bite the shipping cost bullet and order thy furniture online. Sleeping bags and carpeted floors get old very quickly.
  2. Thou shalt obtain power tools when constructing furniture. Or at least gloves. Unless thou liketh callouses.
  3. Thou shalt not second-guess the Ikea instruction manual.
  4. Thou shalt not leave containers of half-drunk beverages around when constructing furniture. The combination can prove hazardous to carpet, new furniture, or foot.
  5. Thou shalt recognize that birch and beech are two distinct colors that, despite their woodsy-sounding names, do not actually match.
  6. Recognize that houseplants are a cheap way to add interior decoration.
  7. Thou shalt water said houseplants.
  8. Not with half-drunk beverages.
  9. Thou shalt buy posters only of standard size. Unless thou wisheth to blow significant sums of cash on custom frames.
  10. Nails on walls are unforgiving to the thumb and index finger. They are also unforgiving to fixtures on the other side.
  11. Put off purchase of a microwave at thy own peril.
  12. Storage boxes have a tendency to break when you overfill them.
  13. Leave tools on the ground at thy own peril.
  14. Scented candles, despite their less-than-masculine connotations, are a good way to cleanse the house of smells left behind by spilt beverages.
  15. A bed is a man's best friend.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Perhaps the most disquieting aspect of being in a small Southern/quasi-Midwestern town is that you immediately discount the first 6 beers on tap at any place you go to: Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, Coors, Coors Light. The trick, then, is to work on the one or two taps that they have that carry "exotics": Most places have at least one other drinkable beer. When the exotics tap, however, is wasted on something parading as a Belgian beer such as Blue Moon, then there is a problem.

So last night Padre and I went to an actual bar. I mean, like with a pool table, jukebox, and musty bartop. Now, for most folks, this is no big deal but when you're in Danville, Kentucky, trust me, this is a special treat. The best they had to drink, alas, was another pretend-micro (Amber Bock).

What we need is a shift in local tastes. A revolution. Taste shocks can happen.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Online furniture shopping is a funny thing. Buying furniture is possibly one of the most personal tasks one can take on, perhaps short of underwear shopping (I would argue that furniture shopping is even more personal than clothes or car shopping, since clothes are changed everyday, and we probably spend proportionately more of our time at home than in our automobiles). Yet the inherent anonymity and distance one takes on in any online transaction means that there is a built-in paradox to the whole project.

Nonetheless, given that the closest Ikea is an 8-hour drive, and the inherently tiny frame of Tiffany, I made the plunge and went about the painful task of seeking, online, to fill my empty apartment with more than just boxes.

Today, the firstfruits of my labor (okay, labor may be overstating the case) arrived, in discrete packages, courtesy of UPS (there are more to come, but they seem to follow a Poisson process). I now have three boxes of incredibly disassembled furniture, to be converted to usable objects for the apartment.

Ikea furniture is really Lego for grownups. You try to piece the 5 million pieces together, using assorted widgets, and try to discipher the pictoral instructions (yes, literally, cartoons) and wonder whether it would be easier if they just gave the damn instructions anyway. Isn't there a superior way of communicating to me which is the top end of the given sideboard with five unevenly-spaced holes aligned in a particular pattern? I mean, seriously.

On the bright side, I now have two trestle legs for my desk (no desktop yet) and a bedside table (with a drawer assembled after much toil and frustration). More to follow.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

So everyone here is always "Michael Lewis" or "Tom Jones" or "First Name-Last Name". I've been introducing myself as Jamus and folks look at me like I just called myself Prince or Bono or something. So I'm intent on starting a revolution, and getting folks to call others by first names. I think I will start with the students, but I've been told that they may actually be more comfortable calling professors as "Dr Stevenson" and stuff like that. Well, my difficulty is that I'll probably look over my shoulder if someone tries to call me Dr Lim. I mean, seriously, I can't even tell the difference between Penicillin and Paracetamol.

Still no furniture. The floor, and sleeping bag, are increasingly becoming a tired concept.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

People who say they just want to escape from their problems by dropping everything, running away, and starting a new life really don't know what they are talking about. Starting a new life is hard work. I've living it, and I would much rather deal with whatever problems I have.

Those fifty boxes or so that constitute your life? Well, they have to be packed, and then unpacked. If you have an office, you need to haul your stuff to the office. And if you happen to have the bright idea of moving over the weekend in order to "avoid the crowd," well, you have no access to an elevator (since you're using the "weekend entrance," which is a stairwell. And suddenly the great view you have from the third level isn't looking so hot anymore).

And then there's cleaning. Whoever lived in the apartment before you, was probably not the greatest cleaner in the world. So it's Lysol and scrub pads and acrobatic stunts as you try to reach into the impossible parts of the kitchen cabinet that probably hasn't been cleaned since antediluvian times. Just offer a silent salute to the carcasses of the dozens of exoskeletonous creatures that you chance by.

But thank God for Walmart. Cheap stuff to fill your home with, and you can even do your groceries there, to boot (although I remain amazed at how a store can stock live lobster but fail to carry parsley).

Friday, August 11, 2006

"Yeah, ayn't it hawt to-daye?"

I've yet to get fully used to the accent, but I think it's lovely.

What is less lovely, of course, is the absence of electricity. Kentucky Utilities decided to cut off power to my apartment the day before yesterday. Apparently, power gets cut off when you don't pay your bills. Which was the case in my apartment, since the previous tenant had moved out. Donc, n'il y a pas de électricité dans l'appartement.

You never realize how much you depend on electromagnetic waves, until it's gone. And, without a car, I couldn't even escape. So it was a warm, dark night and a cold, cold shower.

On the bright side, I discovered a drugstore within biking distance. So now I've upgraded my diet from ham and cheese sandwiches (which died in the refrigerator sans power) to instant noodles and canned sardines. Dining in style, as always.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Danville, Kentucky, is a perfect example of small-town America. It's small enough that everyone seems to know everyone else, so if you're the new face in town, you have to get friendly real quick. The accent is an interesting blend; it's not quite a long drawl, but there's a definite twang in the words, which makes it seem almost like people are singing. And it's nearly impossible to be independent without an automobile. The closest grocery store is about a mile and a half away from downtown, which means either a long walk or a ride from somebody you know.

Of course, I don't quite know many people, so it's been meals have been exceedingly simple: Lunch? Ham and cheese sandwich. Dinner? Let me think... oh, a ham and cheese sandwich. Lunch the next day? Um, ham and cheese sandwich. Tiffany isn't due to be shipped here till May 18th, so I don't see a major change in this particular modus operandi.

Thankfully, the fifty-or-so boxes that constitute the sum of my earthly possessions arrived this afternoon. I managed to unload about forty before the heavens gave way and it started pouring. Mind you, this was no California early-fall drizzle. It was coming down. The road actually started to resemble a bubbling brook, and so I decided to take a break and go inside for a ham and cheese sandwich.

The apartment, of course, is just great. It's massive by California standards, and all that for $350 a month. $350 bucks rents you tent space in someone's backyard in California. But here I've a pretty fancy apartment, save for the fact that the airconditioning didn't work on the first day, hot water failed on the second, and today the power went out. But hey, nobody's perfect.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Whither ethics? When one sits down and thinks it through, the logic behind choosing a life of amorality is really very sound, and even more so when one does not believe in the existence of a God. Naturally, this sits uncomfortably with most people, but one needs to examine the case without any priors.

Consider an individual who is choosing a moral code. We consider two cases: (a) That he/she is religious; (b) That he/she is not. In the former, religion---whichever one this may be---would generally be the guiding principle by which he/she chooses a moral code; for example, a Christian would subscribe to a moral philosophy that is consistent with the doctrines of the Bible, that he/she subscribes to (note that there can be variation within this subset, but the central argument that there is a fixed point with respect to morals guarantees the existence of it. Also, note that this argument need not be invalidated by nonconventional religious practices, such as Satanism, since there is an underlying moral code to such believers, too, just that the code is generally in opposition to what we have come to understand as standard "morals").

Hence, we have established that if one is religious, then it would be the case that one subscribes to a moral code. Moreover, since the existence of a God cannot be proven or disproven (although many have tried), we take the probability of this to be one-half. Thus, we should have a moral code half the time (using simple expected utility theory).

Now, consider the latter, namely, an individual that is not religious. In this case, there is no greater, underlying meaning beyond the grave: We live only in this world. I can think of two main (mutually exclusive) subcases: (a) The individual has an existing set of moral codes, established generally by developmental psychology or social conditioning (e.g. a childhood religion, parental guidance, societal pressure); and (b) The individual does not have an existing set of moral codes. In the second, the rational choice then is to choose a life of amorality, since doing so would suggest that one is maximizing the expected utility of action at each period of time (not that this is ex ante expected utility, since the realization of an event may lead to ex post regret over a particular moral action, but this does not change the ex ante decision problem). For the first, the question then boils down to whether the present discounted value of the cost of changing a moral code exceeds the present discounted value of making a transition, and the payoffs that accrue thereafter. While this is an idiosyncratic problem, I would venture that for most individuals, the transition costs would not be so great (especially if we assume an individual some time in the middle of his/her life) that a rational switch should not be undertaken.

A caveat here is that I am not taking preferences as given. In particular, I am assuming that it is possible for an individual to make moral codes a choice variable. While this is debatable, this is precisely the problem of interest when one is going through, as I am, a period of existential angst.

Note also that amorality does not imply immorality. All that is required is that the individual choose a (potentially) immoral action when it best suits the circumstance, and a (potentially) moral one otherwise. The classic example of this would be the choice to tip (or not) when one dines at a highway rest-stop, with the assurance that one would never revisit the place again (thus assuming away the possibility of repeated interaction). With a sense of morality, one may---rationally---choose to leave a tip, since the utility gained from doing so may exceed the utility of the cash saved. However, in the absence of a moral standard, the utility from tipping tends to zero, and one should always not leave a tip. This action is not immoral, merely amoral. If one were at a restaurant where one may potentially return to someday, or if one may meet the person again, then a decision to tip may be favored.

I think, ultimately, I need to resolve this within myself. I am led to recall a scene in Forrest Gump, where Lt Dane is at the top of the mast in a fierce storm, yelling at his predicament and at God. The storm ends, they survive, and in the next scene, he dives off the boat and swims, on his back, into the sunset. Forrest then says something to the effect of "I believe at that point that Lt Dane found his peace with God". Perhaps that is where I need to arrive at. But I am definitely not there yet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Existential angst: I am at a turnpike in my life which may determine my future path on the road with respect to religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular. I am severely uncomfortable with the notion of myself becoming an agnostic, but a confluence of events have rendered such a questioning inevitable and undeniable. The rhetoric of "what is the meaning of life" has taken on an entirely new, profound dimension---one that is enough to keep me up at night, and spawn a deep emptiness and anguish.

On a more personal note, I am not suicidal, merely very disillusioned and disheartened. The trajectory of my future, one so frighteningly clear, is now---more than ever---a seemingly opaque and meaningless one.

While I have been trying to stay in "the will of God", I am starting to see the futility of the entire endeavor. Why remain holy, when it is an ideal that is perpetuated by our minds? If this life is all that it is, what do we live for? Meaning in life has begun to fade; and I am desperately trying to find a moral compass. This is what philosophers over the ages have anguished over, so I know that I am not unique in this.

It is easy to try to seek simplicity. Sometimes I wish that I had a simple faith. But that is not who I am. It does not resonate in the core of my being. I am inquisitive, and I want to know. Although faith can never ever be reasoned, I need a reason for that faith. For the longest time, this was the personal experience of my communion with God.

I arrived here rather innocuously, actually. What I had taken to be the voice of God for so long, while always a challenge in faith, had never been refuted by events. Now, however, I cannot square the hermeneutic circle that I have somehow---consciously or subconsciously---created. What is worse, the "voice" remains eerily silent; silenced, as a matter of fact. All which lead to the logical conclusion that all that I believed to have been God was simply a matter of thoughts that were somehow manifested by my own devices.

The task now, then, is to establish a belief system that I can subcribe to. It seems, however, that the extreme choices are the most rational ones: Either a hard leaning on faith, an unquestioning reliance on what has shown itself to be very potentially untrue; or a descent into hedonistic living. A middle ground, that attempts to take the moral philosophy of religion and adopt it as a way of living, just seems to be an unstable---and maybe even irrational---choice. After all, it may provide some temporal comfort in that I am simply hedging my bets, but ultimately, such a system cannot be an equilibrium. We must necessarily move toward one end or the other of the spectrum, in order to be time consistent.

In a practical sense, this has left me in a rather uncomfortable position. The past ten or more years of my life seem to have been chasing after the wind. But who knows? It may have been the choices that I would have chosen, regardless. All I can say is that, absent this moral compass, I feel much more alone and unguided in what I need to do now. There is some relief: I am no longer bound by an exogenous force; but that endogeneity also rests on, ultimately, the shifting sands of a stochastic and messy and meaningless existence.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The only way I can reconcile my preponderance toward procrastination in finishing the program is to rationalize grad school as a deontological, rather than a teleological, process.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

I have decided, definitively, that I am austistic. I have all the classic signs: Impenetrability to emotional cues; a dense approach to interpersonal relationships; a predisposition toward systematic reasoning and mathematical logic; and a generally linear mode of reasoning.

So, there you go. Autistic. It explains it all.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Wisdom from Jonathon Adams-Kane:

Drinking coffee everyday is like keeping the interest rate low: When something comes up, you have nowhere to go.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Life, while busy, is taking a distinctive turn for the better.

Which simply means that as the quarter inexorably wears on, I am finding space to actually breathe. Trying to hold on by one's fingernails to the edge of a cliff, when one is both acrophobic and has short fingernails, is not something that I try to make a habit.

That being said, at least a couple of the items on my whinge-list have made themselves less stifling. Or perhaps, I have managed to make them loosen their grip on my schedule. But the battle rages on, and papers continue to call for my attention, and I'm still probably spending too much time in the pub....

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

My life is currently swamped:

1. Leftover summer RAship with Phil;
2. TAship this quarter;
3. 2 politics classes, with 1-2 books a week each, on average, plus term papers for both;
4. That thing called the dissertation;
5. Sailing class;
6. GSA + International Economics Network webmastering;
7. Project with Jon, and now Thorsten;
8. Applying for fellowships for the next academic year;
9. Other random commitments: PPNT videoconferences, helping out with SCCIE conferences, attending departmental seminars, creative nonfiction writing group, church choir on Sundays.

Doesn't help that I go out for drinks way too often for my own good. Argh.

Friday, October 22, 2004

As dawn breaks on the cusp of yet another new day, Sir Jamus the Lionhearted, knight of the Order of Econ, rises yet again to do battle with the indomitable Dissertation Dragon. The dragon's constitution is thick, and its purpose inscrutable, but the faint call of graduation ignites his failing heart and soul. Ten months he has fought; nay, some say eleven: Yet hardly a kink in that evil armor of Greek brass and Arab steel. With thunderous roars, flames of mathematical logic and differential calculus spew forth from the beast's razor-toothed maw, renewing Sir Jamus' inner demons: Errors of calculation, lapses in deductive proofs, and the deepest fear of all: An acute sense of the irrelevance of the research agenda. Valiantly, nonetheless, he enjoins again into the perils of another engagement.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Foxes, run for cover
Behold: The Wolf has come
The ex post ravages of sweet golden nectar
Leaves a fiery brand.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A passing thought on the understanding Shakespeare: For the past two summers, I have had the pleasure of enjoyng the Bard's plays as interpreted by Shakespeare Santa Cruz. The company's style is to remain true to the original text, but to spin the setting (for example, they set this year's Shrew to 1950s small-town Europe), and provide nuanced, but accurate, presentation of the meaning of the dialogue through carefully crafted delivery and body language. Hence, despite never ever reading most of the plays that I have watched, and not being a scholar of Shakespeare (or even the humanities, for that matter), I was able to immerse myself in the language and fully appreciate the immensity of the work. The bottom line: An excellent wine depends on not just the type of grape, but also the ability of the winemaker and the sophistication of the wine drinker. An absence of skill on the part of the enologist, or a lack of appreciation on the part of the consumer, will render the noblest of grapes impotent.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Quiet afternoon
Puntuated by
The blaring of rock & roll
Through ancient speakers
In the ancient café.

Students with minds buried in books
The hustle and bustle of looseleaf sheets
A scattered tapestry
Of knowledge.
Heated discussions
Inflamed by a thirst for truth
Is there a truth?

The rendering of cuppucinos
Michelangelo of arabica and lactose and cinnamon
The sepia tone
But a testament
Of it temporal beauty.

Quiet afternoon
Puntuated by
Jerry Lee Lewis
On the wooden speakers
In the Union Street café.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

As summer draws to a close, it is natural for me to become a little more reflective. In a sense, being in a contemplative mood is not entirely out of ordinary: Having being immersed in the academic lifestyle, my internal clock that evaluates the passage of time seems to align itself more to academic years than calendar years. A new fall, with new classes, new students, new ideas, and new promises, heralds the end of the summer mindset; a mindset is relatively more self-indulgent, clutter-free, and more occupied with one's own agenda. Thus, the turning of the seasons lends itself to reviews, resolutions, and recollections. To introspection.

Soon, the student crowd will return to the café, and finding a table in the bustle will be more of a challenge. Parking will once again be a hassle when one succumbs to the lure of another hour in bed. The "regular" crowd changes, as does the tenor on campus. The difference highlights a fundamental tension in my being: The preference for solitary - maybe even reclusive - time, versus a need to feel loved, cared for, and to be a part of a larger macrocosm. Introversion versus extroversion. Hermit versus socialite.

Where am I headed? My sense of calling and purpose has faded, but yet I still feel a twinge deep within the soul. Can I live my life in its suppression? God knows.

Another tension springs to mind: One sees the world as a beautiful place, filled with people that ultimately stop to help those in need, people who are able to laugh at themselves while accepting the magic of diversity and uniqueness, people who return wallets they pick up on the streets, and people who are connected by out greater sense of humanity. Another sees the world as harsh, life as brutish and short, filled with dog-eat-dog competition and self-interested drive. In this world, others rejoice when you stumble, because they can get ahead; the pie is fixed and everyone wants a larger piece; there's no place for those that are different, or weak, or meek. The ditch is littered with victims, with ostracized misfits, with racist jokes and social stratification.

A final contrast, this time on a more personal level: Do I want to be a person that lives life with an absolute trust, as a bulwark of patience and calm, or should I engage myself, seek practicality and responsibility, take charge of my future? It's easy to kick back and expect a Higher Power to work it all out. And yet it can be so hard, since the old adage that God helps those who help themselves seems to ring true. Wait and watch, or work - it seems hard to decide.

What do I expect in the coming year? It is hard to tell. I certainly hope for some things, the selfsame things I silently pray for when a meteorite streaks across the night sky. But should I place hope on an uncertain timeline? Or should I exercise patience - that fruit that is so elusive and yet necessary - in the ordering of my affairs? Again, the answers seem not to lie on a dichotomous choice, but on a continuum that isn't even cardinal. Much as I wish for it not to be so, life shows itself to be highly nonlinear, and I am trapped in its spiralling complexity.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

I have developed an index of my teaching ability. It consists of a sleep counter (number of students that nod off), a boredom indicator (number of students that have decided that the construction in the building outside is more interesting that introductory macro), a confusion measure (number of students that have a look of either a bad wedgie or a itch in the inner ear) and a participation share (number of students that voluntarily respond to questions without the need for me to resort to the roster). According to this index, my teaching definitely needs improvement (I think my level may lie somewhere between Arnie S. talking about raising taxes in California and John Ashcroft discussing the merits of abstention before marriage). So... could be worse, but could be better, I suppose.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I am an emotional panhandler.

I seek, although am often not granted, emotional cues which may indicate a sense of my self-worth. In some ways, then, I suppose that my self-esteem is fragile: Too fragile, being dependent on how others perceive who I am, and not so much based on my own innate abilities, which in turn engender self-confidence.

Is that the way to approach life, though? Probably not. While it is surely modest to take into account the perception of others, one cannot base one's self-worth on such a shaky foundation.

So this brings a need for some resolution: Do I continue on this slippery slope that guarantees crazy, unpredictable winds, or do I forge my own way, scary as that thought may be? In the short run, burying my head in the ground sounds infinitely more comforting; it is, after all, a continuation of the status quo, and humans are risk-averse when it comes to change. In the longer run, however, I will have to face the inevitable: The need to love myself, as God would have me, and as I would have myself, regardless of the opinions of those around me, whether they be good or bad.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Strange as this may sound, I believe I have proctalgia fugax.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Why do people pray?

The question seems rhetorical, since people who pray obviously see its merits. Certainly, there are many who pray because it is a convenient exercise: Praying alleviates the present sense of helplessness, by providing an outlet for Someone has greater power to resolve a situation that seems hopeless, at least by their own estimation. There are also those who pray because they truly, sincerely believe that the hand of God will come and take control of the situation, and render things right. And there are those who pray not out of desperation, but out of a sense of duty; a need to do so because that is what they were taught to do, how they were taught to respond to life's ups and downs.

I think I pray because I need an expression of how I feel, to One whom I believe is ultimately in charge. While, like so many others, I have prayed in situations of helplessness (I think of the desperate prayers by my father's deathbed); in situations of fear and pain (the emotional trauma of breakup, the emptiness of my bedroom at night); and out of pure habit and discipline (before meals; before exams) - I believe that the deepest moments have been those where I touched the robe of God, just through either a silent communion, through inward groanings that need no explication, through listening to His voice, rather than clouding the conversation with speaking.

If only we could always have such deep moments of prayer. Alas, for me at least, they come few and far between. Sometimes for lack of an environment. And sometimes because I have crowded out those opportunities through the business and busyness of life. But, I think, most for want of trying.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

It's been a while since the last posting; given developments in my life, private thoughts seemed best relegated to private diaries. Still, I suppose there is an exhibitionist streak in us all, and it is from this angle that I recommence my blog entries. Perhaps it is a need to be heard, a need to be seen, a need to be known: To the world at large, even if it remains largely unheard, unseen, and unknown. Exhibitionism meets voyeurism. Small ironies in life.

Recent history has redirected my life in many ways. The future seems highly uncertain now, but I suppose the unknown can be both feared or embraced. It all depends on the perspective; though cloudy, maybe the best way forward is to adapt and address, rather than take either a (presumptuous) triumphal or (self-denegrating) defeatist attitude.

What is it with uncertainty, then? Merely darkness in a darkroom. In and of itself, not something that necessarily demands a stressful reaction.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

As a child, I was obsessed with roleplaying games. And everyone knows (at least of) Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). I was surfing around the other day and established my D&D character, or at least based on a bunch of Myers-Brigg-type personality questions:

Lawful Good Elf Ranger Bard

Alignment:

Lawful Good characters are the epitome of all that is just and good. They believe in order and governments that work for the benefit of all, and generally do not mind doing direct work to further their beliefs.

Race:
Elves are the eldest of all races, although they are generally a bit smaller than humans. They are generally well-cultured, artistic, easy-going, and because of their long lives, unconcerned with day-to-day activities that other races frequently concern themselves with. Elves are, effectively, immortal, although they can be killed. After a thousand years or so, they simply pass on to the next plane of existance.

Primary Class:
Rangers are the defenders of nature and the elements. They are in tune with the Earth, and work to keep it safe and healthy.
Secondary Class:
Bards are the entertainers. They sing, dance, and play instruments to make other people happy, and, frequently, make money. They also tend to dabble in magic a bit.

Deity:
Mielikki is the Neutral Good goddess of the forest and autumn. She is also known as the Lady of the Forest, and is the Patron of Rangers. Her followers are devoted to nature, and believe in the positive and outreaching elements of it. They use light armor, and a variety of weapons suitable for hunting, which they are quite skilled at. Mielikki's symbol is a unicorn head.

Thursday, November 29, 2001

I did not understand the desiderata when I first read it. It is one of those things: As you grow older, it speaks more truth and wisdom. It starts to make more sense, and taste sweeter, and richer - much like fine wine, or really good, aged cheese. And there is always something there that is new, or surprising, or applicable to the moment. It is probably one of the finest expressions of poetry/prose that I know of, and appreciate.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble, it's a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Sunday, July 15, 2001

A true diamond is a reflector. It reflects its wearer; it shines virtue and dulls deceit. The diamond is but a mouthpiece, a thesis, a thought. A true diamond is a gem beyond the physical - embodied within its glazed exterior is beauty that is not measured by the trifle of weight. Flawless and free, a true diamond does not demand for attention nor announce its presence... its glitter attracts beyond what light can merely accentuate. We search for that diamond in our lives. It may be inherent in another, or perhaps in an ideology, or even in a cause. But the true gift is when the diamond is found within ourselves.

Thursday, July 05, 2001

Strange thoughts on the idea of horizontal elevators. Of course, the mechanics of it, as well as the economy of walking a corridor, render the idea ludicrous. Yet, why do I so often dream of entering an elevator that moves horizontally? It seems reminiscent of slow-motion running, another favorite of dreams (but more often nightmares). Another theme that seems to recur in dreams are sexual scenarios. Why do dreams take a fancy to certain scenarios? I mean, surely all of us would have had some recurrent dreams. Do they signify an unsatisfied desire? A hidden longing? A suppressed lust?

Monday, June 25, 2001

I usually don't pay much attention to forwarded mails; this one, however, had sufficient impact on me to warrant my decision to post it up for posterity. Its significance? Just how it spoke to me regarding my possible future. It is a commencement speech made by the novelist Anna Quindlen at a Villanova commencement. Here goes:

It's a great honor for me to be the third member of my family to receive an honorary doctorate from this great university. It's an honor to follow my great Uncle Jim, who was a gifted physician, and my Uncle Jack, who is a remarkable businessman. Both of them could have told you something important about their professions, about medicine or commerce. I have no specialized field of interest or expertise, which puts me at a disadvantage talking to you today. I'm a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.

Don't ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for re-election because he had been diagnosed with cancer: "No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office." Don't ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year: "If you win the rat race, you're still a rat." Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota: "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."

You will walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree; there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank accounts but also your soul.

People don't talk about the soul very much anymore. It's so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you've gotten back the test results and they're not so good. Here is my resume:

I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent.
I no longer consider myself the center of the universe.
I show up.
I listen.
I try to laugh.
I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch.

I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if those other things were not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are. So here's what I wanted to tell you today: Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast?

Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red tailed hawk circles over the water or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger. Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure it is work. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Get a life in which you are generous. And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted.

Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Take money you would have spent on beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister. All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good too, then doing well will never be enough. It is so easy to waste our lives, our days, our hours, and our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of our kids' eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of to live.

I learned to live many years ago. Something really, really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and try to give some of it back because I believed in it, completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned.

By telling them this: Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby's ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness, because if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.

Thursday, April 05, 2001

Genesis. hodie mihi, cras tibi.