Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

You’re probably not the most important, or significant, or intelligent, or able person in the room. And that’s ok.

November 13, 2016

Growing up, one of the things I never understood was why aunts, uncles, or friends of my parents would claim that their little Billy or Jane was awesome in some way. I don’t think this was because I felt that I was necessarily the bees knees, but because I was always aware that there was always someone who could do it just as well.

There were exceptions of course. As a kid I can remember a cousin being able to do a no-handed cartwheel on a balance beam. Of course that impressed me. But when an adult was going on about how gifted their child was, I was inclined to think… “Yeah but I know someone who’s here, or who I can get here in 10 minutes, who can do that.” I learned not to say that out loud, but I’ll be honest, it didn’t stop me thinking it.

That isn’t me trying to belittle your child either. It’s just, you’re probably not as important, or significant, or intelligent, or able person as you think, and I don’t think it’d do anyone.any harm to remember that.

Any how I said all that to say this. My sister committed suicide over the summer, and if my family are honest I don’t think I was the only one who saw it as a possibility. She’d been struggling with issues for some time, and she was getting to a stage where she was going to have to decide to do something about it, or take drastic action.

She took drastic action.

The thing that irritates me is we were both brought up in the same household. So presumably we had similar inputs growing up, and achieved not grossly dissimilar educational outputs. So what I can’t get my head round is how you walk away and let other people deal with your sh*t. She had a partner, and 2 sweet kids. Now I never liked her partner, but how do you walk away from that so drastically?

And even if you’ve got good reason to walk away from them, how do you justify throwing yourself into traffic to be hit by a car (or leave your body so it can be found by some poor unsuspecting passerby). What makes you think you’re entitled to do that?

I’m sorry, but as far as I’m concerned, life’s a team sport, but you still have no right to impose yourself on others.


October 3, 2015

Recently, I was sent a link to an article in The Atlantic (Google American is Still a Patriarchy to find it) about how American society is patriarchal. In the article, the author (a sociology professor called Philip Cohen argues that because men run most institutions, and women take men’s name on marriage, we have evidence that society is patriarchal.

Now my instinct is one of “Well duh, it mostly is, but it’s changing, just talk to the under-35s”, but what irritated me is this last paragraph:

I expect some readers will go right to their favorite statistics or personal experiences in order to challenge my description of our society as patriarchal. In that tit-for-tat, men leading the vast majority of the most powerful institutions, and that American families usually follow the male line, become just another couple of data points. But they shouldn’t be, because some facts are more important than others.

Now I highlighted the last sentence. I did so because it beyond irritated me. It made the whole article read as if the author thinks all men are bar-stewards, and will always be bar-stewards. Facts are facts, if you can’t interpret the trend so you can make predictions about the future, or target thinking in certain areas, then you shouldn’t be in the sciences, social, or otherwise.(the author was a social scientist).

To me the issues are why do women earn less than men, when they’re older than 35? Do women and men make different lifestyle choices that can be addressed to reduce income inequality as they age? And more generally, what are the long term trends in equality between the sexes?

A funny thing happened to me on my arrival in the US this week.

July 9, 2015

I’m a white guy who lived in America for a few years. Being a foreigner I could maybe see this issues around American racism and/or sexism a bit more clearly than Americans could (in America), or I could (in England), because I was less aware of the things people take for granted (and I was trying to work things out).

One of the more surprising things that me when I was living in the US full time was the number of times I got pulled over by the police. I think it happened maybe three (or sometimes four) times a year, every year. On one occasion I was even pulled over by the FBI, though that was understandable, I was taking a bunch of pictures of the Federal Court Building in Phoenix, AZ (which I can see might be viewed as odd), In my defence, it’s a large glass building (i.e. a greenhouse) in the hottest places in America, so in my head I was thinking “the designers of that building are crazy, the electricity bill to keep that building cool will be enormous” (which one of the FBI officers who came to check my id conceded might be true).

The discussions I had never lasted too long, though the number of stops I had might be viewed as…. excessive given I think I’ve been stopped maybe twice, if I’m generous, by the police in the whole of my the UK, and it always ended up focusing on whether I had ever been to San Antonio (one officer tells me there was a suspect with the same name there), or whether there were illegals in my car.

The other oddity I remember was being spoken to in Spanish (in banks, supermarkets, or other places I queue). It happened at least as much as the the interactions with the police, and usually at the end of summer, when I’d been in the sun a fair bit (I don’t sunbathe, I just tan real easy). I’m guessing this happened because I tanned after long times in the Texas sun, and,have dark hair and eyes, so I’m guessing I can look slightly more Hispanic on occasions. Again, they weren’t being mean about anything, it was just them telling me they spoke Spanish, before they asked me what I’d like to do.

Anyhow I said all that, to say this.,I flew into the US earlier this week, and was “invited” for interview by Customs and Boarder Protection, when I arrived at the place where they take a look at your passport. THIS DOESN’T BOTHER ME, they’ve a job to do, and though it took up 45mins of my time, I KNEW IT’D ALL BE COOL IN THE END. And it WAS cool too, the officer said, someone had been using my first and last name as an alias and they felt they had to follow it up (I’ll be honest, I was surprised that this caused me to be stopped, as my name isn’t uncommon).

What did surprise me was the number of Hispanic individuals they “invited” for interview. There were maybe 20 people who CBP had asked to talk to. One was African-American. Two were non-Hispanic whites, the rest were Hispanic. I’m assuming that that skew was just a coincidence, but I suspect it would look odd to the more naturally dubious.

I’ve been watching the BBC coverage of dog meat consumption in China

June 21, 2015

I live in China, and have for almost 5 years, this after a good chunk of time in the US. When I first moved here there wasn’t a day that I didn’t think “Wait, stop, what, you do what again?” This varied from the obvious like spitting, crazy ass driving, the way people talk to each other, toilets, the smells, and public urination, to the weirder, like dog eating, and the way guys of my age, and older, are very touchy feely. The gaps between those “Wait, stop, what, you do what again?” moments are getting further apart, but I still think it’s happening every month or so.

I have made a conscious effort to be less judgemental of differing cultures, after I didn’t do myself any favours in the US by questioning things they did that I thought of as weird (it still blows my mind that Dallasites can’t see the incongruity of priding ithemselves in being part of the “moral majority”, despite being the big city with the most sex shops per capita, and having adverts for sex shops on the radio when you’re taking your kids places).

I said all that to say this. The BBC are doing a thing about dog meat consumption, and how wrong it is. I don’t eat dog meat. I never have, and never will, but can someone explain why people who eat meat have an issue with people in other countries, with differing cultures, eating dog? I could understand it if dogs were on the verge of becoming extinct (maintaining genetic diversity on the planet is good), but they aren’t so why are they hung up on it, when they eat meat themselves?

The only people who have a leg to stand on are vegetarians, for everyone else, can you explain why eating a non-endangered animal, like dog, is any more wrong than eating cows, pigs, or chickens?

Introverts vs. Extroverts

April 4, 2015

When I started my MBA at TCU a few years ago, they had us do a Myers Briggs Personality Type Inventory (as I think it was at called the time). Put briefly, it helps you identify how you approach the world. It was fun, and perhaps confirmed some things about how I approach the world (or maybe just reinforced my pre-conceived ideas).

One of the elements they test is your introversion/extroversion. It was a 60 point scale ranging from E30 (i.e. extreme extrovert) through 0 to I30 (i.e. extreme introvert). The presenter who explained the results had the class line up with the most extroverted at one end and the most intoverted at the other. I came up as so introverted on the scale that there would have been a 7 or 8 foot gap between me and the next person in the class, had he done it to scale (I came up as I26, she was I10). Had he explained the definitions before we arranged ourselves, about that spectrum I’d have known I was introverted. but even I was surprised how strong a score I presented.

The presenter asked me a bunch of questions about my score (way to go presenter, play to my wheel house), where I conceded that I wasn’t much for parties, or small talk, and just needed a small number of good friends.

I’ve always been told I’m intense, or earnest, or focused, or driven, or determined, or “walking to the beat of my own drum” (in a way that implies that I’m a bad, bad boy for feeling that way), and I think that this is related to introversion in some way, but I’ve never been sure exactly how to find out (or cared sufficiently, I’m earnest about stuff, shouldn’t everyone be?)

Anyway, I said all this to say that…. I was trying to explain the difference between extroverts and introverts to a friend recently, and made a right pig’s ear of it. What I should have said was…

“Introvert know exactly how the meeting/presentation will be. They can’t be sure of the outcome, but they’re prepared. Totally prepared. They have followed a set of rules he discovered years ago, and has developed them ever since. They knows they work, and why they work.

There may be a crowd of people tomorrow, but they don’t phase the introvert. They’re is prepared – this is no longer down to social skills, but to how good his preparation is.

For the introvert presenter, there is nothing more important than preparation – it lets you put together all the hard parts of communication without anybody looking at you. it lets you shape ideas in your own time and your own space. Spend as much time as you can on the preparation, and the presentation will take care of itself.”

To my friend that sounds like control issue. It isn’t it’s just playing to our strengths as introverts. The problem is, when it comes to new things that are outside my wheelhouse, I can come off as nervous, when it’s not. Extroverts are better at thinking with their mouths. I’m not. I couldn’t wing anything, no matter how had I tried, but give introverts time, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I know I’m not the most naturally funny guy in the world, but come on…. really?

January 9, 2014

It’s exam season at our school at the moment, and (as usual) we’re getting a crop of humorous answers in our exam papers. This isn’t surprising, given our kids aren’t native English speakers, but it always gives us a smile when we get comments like “a white prostitute would be made” as an answer in a Chemistry exam (we assume he was going for precipitate, but it speaks volumes for this particular teenaged boy that his mind alighted on that other word instead).

Anyhow, the response of a lot of teachers I know is “Blame the teachers.” It’s a sort of.ironic dig at people who blame teachers for everything from the way 5 year old’s behave, to the rise of teenage mums, to increasing knife violence. It’s a way for teachers to acknowledge that we seem to get blamed for the the fact that that we don’t live a land of picket fences, warm beer, cricket being played on the village green, and the poor knowing their place.

I’ve used it when a kid’s done something dumb, and had it used against me when kids I teach have done something dumb. It’s POSITIVELY NOT supposed to be criticism of something where you (as a teacher) actually did something wrong (I’d let you know privately about that), it’s just an ironic recognition of the fact that all criticism isn’t justified.

Anyhow, we got a particularly silly answer off a student (he’d been asked explain something in pictures, and not used them), and jokingly said “I blame the teachers.” One teacher took issue at this, and assumed I was having a dig at him. Now let’s just disregard, for a moment, the fact that the guy’s got a tonne of experience. Let’s disregard the fact he’s been selected by the firm for potential future advancement, Let’s disregard, finally, that I asked him the yesterday to show a new teacher how to build relationships with students (surely a sign I have some regard for him), and ask what sort or person do he think I am? Does he really think I’m the sort of idiot who’d publicly undermine someone who was being a a sound individual?

Don’t get me wrong, I’d support your honest efforts to improve if you were bad. This might involve talking to other people about you, but I’d NEVER, EVER publicly throw you under a bus. I just wouldn’t.

An interesting conversation with a student.

November 23, 2013

As I’ve said before, I teach in China. This is my fourth year here, and I like to think I’m pretty clued into the culture, the kids, and how the kids at my school think. Well, just when I was feeling comfy about all that stuff, the kids go and do something that makes me think…. wait, what, run that by me again.

Last time I checked, China was communist, so, perhaps naively given the conversation I had, I assumed they’d be familiar with notable communists of the past (most notably Lenin, Marx, Stalin, Castro, and Guevara). Anyhow, the school I work at had an art display by local artists, and I noticed the kids were looking, so I wandered over and saw them looking at a portrait of Che Guevara. I could tell the some of the students were confused as to who he was, so I asked the students who he was, and what he’d done. I got the blankest of blank stares, and admissions of cluelessness..

When I asked them who said “December 7th -a date that will live in infamy” they decided on “the President at the start of World War II” (which I’ll give credit for). I followed this up with “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for you country” and got “US President again the one who was shot” (which I’ll give credit for too). Finally I asked ” ‘Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” They got very excited by that one, and came “Black leader, he was shot too, said in Washington.” It’s been a few hours now, and I’m still surprised the kids knew more about American political leaders than notable communists.

Does this comment sound maybe a tiny bit suspect?

November 22, 2013

I saw this post about the lack of diversity at UCLA the other day…….

In it the author argues that there’s something wrong when there are only 48 African American males enrolled in the freshman class at UCLA this year, and 32 of those managed to get in (at least in part) because of their sporting prowess (they’re being selected for collegiate athletics programs), and of the original 48, only 36 will graduate in 4yrs.

Now I know the arguments about it being a socio-economic issue (African-Americans and Hispanics tend to earn less, and so are less likely to have the expectation of college in the future because of impoverished family backgrounds), and I know that people are wary of affirmative action, but part of me is still somewhat shocked by a woman saying “I was the first person in my family to get a college education. You have to elevate yourself. You can’t blame someone else for not elevating you.” Part of me wants to yell “Oh come on really? You’re really going to make THAT argument?” I mean 150yrs ago in American African-Americans were property, women couldn’t vote, and poor children we sent up chimneys and down mines.

Sure, things are much better now, but women and African Americans still earn less (it’s actually GOT WORSE FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS SINCE 1979), people still dressing up in black-face and assuming its ok, Jim Wright (the Texas Democratic politician) unable to register to vote (for reasons which WILL harm minorities disproportionately), and we’ve got people saying you can’t blame someone else for not elevating you.

I mean…… Jeepers.

There are times when I can’t understand myself.

August 29, 2013

I was looking at my results today, and there’s a bunch of reasons I should be proud. More that 50% of my kids got an A or better. I got more A*s at A Level than I’ve got in my career to this point. More kids got A* to B than I’ve ever got before.  85% of the kids I taught got A* to B at AS. The figure rises to 93% for iGCSE. In terms of A*-B scores, I did 33% better than my closest rival at PAL. At A2, I was 1.5 grades better, on average, than my nearest rival.

Can somebody tell my why I’m still ticked about these results, telling myself I need to do better next year?

This brou-ha-ha about Abercrombie and Fitch

May 12, 2013

There’s this storm in a teacup thing going on in America at the moment over comments made by the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch where he says his company tries and sells his overpriced clothing to the “cool kids” at school (so long as they’re so thin as to get blown over by anything stronger than a mild breeze).

In response I’ve seems people comment that he’s being cruel for not selling his clothes in “XL Sizes”, that he’s never had kids who’ve been bullied at school, that he’s “heartless”, and a bunch of other things that the speakers feel about him that cover much the same ground.

To a degree I can see why the complainants are upset. No one wants to feel as if they’re on the “outside” or whatever. But equally why should the company cater to the fat, ugly, or downright weird if they don’t want to? If you want to raise a child who is so craven in their need to belong that they buy jeans for $150, then be my guest, but I don’t know I’m sure that’s something you should be proud of.