Posts Tagged ‘life’

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?

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.

Ok, so maybe America can’t handle what it does to their….. poor? Or minorities maybe?

May 20, 2014

One of the things that I liked about America, when I was living there, was that it made me more aware of my own tendency to stereotype. The thing was that I saw their stereotypes, and they were different to mine, they shone a light into the dark recesses of how I thought.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We all do it. We just do. It’s a simple shorthand, and while they’re not always accurate, we still use them until we stop and think, at which point we’d probably say “Well I don’t mean it like that….”

My favorite stereotypes in college focused on how diverse the university was (it was diverse, the lecturers were white, the jocks were African American, and the gardeners Hispanic). My favourite “diversity” piece though was the college prospectus. They interviewed foreign, white, and hispanic students, asking them to explain how cool the place was. The problem I had was with the pictures. They had picture after picture of students sitting round “discussing” and “thinking deep thoughts.” In a lot of them it had 3 or 4 white kids looking as if they were teaching the African American kid something. I know it wasn’t meant to be that way. The people who took the picture didn’t mean it to be that way, but if you looked at how they were stood, it looked like they were teaching the African American something. And it was never the other way round. It just never was. That made me laugh, because the Americans never saw it.

Today, I read an article (or more accurately, a book review) about the Duke Lacrosse Rape case in the Wall Street Journal. The book focusses on the former prosecutor in the case, as he tries to defend his actions. The article itself was pretty skewed against the book, which shouldn’t be surprising, given the students were described as innocent, and won damages against the District Attorney who brought the charges against them,

What surprised me was the vehemence against what I saw as a pretty innocuous statement of the obvious on my part. I said something along the lines that the District Attorney tried to use intimidatory tactics (to get a confession) that might work with the urban poor, but which wouldn’t wash against the better off, because they were better educated, and could afford better lawyers.

Well in the last 12 hours I’ve been accused of “Seeing racism everywhere.” Apparently it’s African Americans who are holding themselves back, with their anger against white society, and despite the fact that Americans have a number of laws that disproportionately target minorities (crack vs. powdered cocaine sentences, and the enforcement of the death penalty), I need to get over myself and stop seeing racism everywhere.

This made me laugh. Is America such a “Look out for number One” society, that they can’t see institutionalised racism when it’s slapping them in the face with a wet cod?

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.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…….

October 30, 2013

I was invigilating our mid term exams today, and during the Biology exam that our first years took, they were asked to “Draw and label the underside of the leaf.” next too a picture of a leaf.

I saw one child draw a perfect mirror image of the leaf in the question, and label it “This is the underside of the leaf on the left.” I don’t know about you, but I think they might expect a little more detail than that.

Staffing In China

June 11, 2013

In the West, you hear all this stuff about China being a communist society that part of you starts to think that there must be a degree of egalitarianism here. It isn’t. I’ve been here approaching 3 years now, and it isn’t really. It might have been in the past, but I suspect that people here are becoming more self centred.

One of the issues that you do see here (which might tie into equality) is over-staffing. As an example, there are “bike parkers.” These people don’t park your mopeds for you. They aren’t valets. They’re thereto tell you where to park your scooters. At one stage last week there were 7 outside the 2 major supermarkets in the area. I kid you not, and their main job is to say where to part you bike. Even if you assume we need these people(and I suspect we don’t, even if the typical Chinese driver’s crazy), seven is too much. They needed two at the outside if they’re honest.

I wish I could say that this staffing issue was an equality issue (i.e. “Let’s give people jobs”), but it’s not. I think it’s more to do with the fact that people are seen as somewhere between cheaper and more expendable than machines, and that sort of depresses me.

GaoKao always impresses me as being surreal.

June 5, 2013

The GaoKao is the Chinese university entrance examination. It’s a really intense experience for any kid who has any chance of doing (even remotely) well academically.

Put simply, the students do exams in Chinese, a foreign language (usually English it seems), Maths, Chemistry, Physics, and History over a 2 day period. This year it’s on Thursday 6th and Friday 7th of June, and the pressure on the kids is huge. The whole “One Child ” policy, combined with the fact that their lives won’t be that great if they don’t do well means they’re aware of the potential downside if they fail.

Our school is a host school for the GaoKao. This means that the students run round like crazy, trying to get the school in ship shape. The process is amusing to foreigners, because Chinese classrooms are a pigsty from about the third day of the year. The kids seem unwilling to use their lockers (the result is desks piled high with books -their heads poking up from behind them), and always smell of takeaways. In short, they’re a pigsty, and Western teachers hate how their Chinese counterparts let the kids treat the classroom. We run a constant running battle out make our rooms better (but after 9 years of “anything goes” it’s hard).

The preparation process involves the students removing every scrap of evidence that the room is a classroom (save the blackboards), nailing 2 nails into the wall (presumably for a clock, but I’m not sure, and I’m not sure why they have to do that every year), making the floors spotless, and having a man come round to check if the desks and chairs are stable, and are exactly 80cm apart (they seem to make rulers that length especially for GaoKao), and 20cm from the wall.

What gets my goat about that is if there’s even the slightest issue, the chair or desk is replaced. I wouldn’t mind but our parents pay 36x more than the parents of the “main school” kids (yes 36x more), and yet you can guarantee that our stuff won’t work, and trying to get it replaced requires a stubbornness about things that boarders on dogmatism.

On the day of the exam itself, the kids and staff are turfed out (noone’s allowed on site), the police block access to the road, cellphone masts are turned off (to prevent cheating) and parents congregate in areas round the school sending “Do well or you die” vibes to their children.

So all in all, the experience is strange, and the pressure intense. We had a child commit suicide our first year here, because of the pressure placed on him from pretty much everyone and his dog.