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The tea ceremony in Buenos Aires


I sit on a win­dow ta­ble at La Faro­la de San Isidro and the wait­er will bring me a cor­ta­do en jar­ri­to with three fac­turas sur­tidas with­out be­ing asked. Then I will read the news­pa­per (al­ways back to fron­t), pay and go back home to start work­ing.

I would start ev­ery day that way if I could. It makes my day start great. I get to work re­laxed. It puts a def­i­nite bound­ary be­tween me be­ing dad tak­ing my son to school and me be­ing at work, even if I am do­ing it at home.

Rit­u­al­iza­tion is com­fort­ing. Rit­u­als are good for most peo­ple. On the oth­er hand, rit­u­als suck, are a waste of re­sources, and hurt you.

Sure, my cof­fee+news­pa­per is nice, but it would cost me $15 a day, which means over $5700 a year, which is more than half of what my son's school cost­s. So I ony do it once a week, and the rest of the time I just buy the same damn fac­turas and take the cof­fee at home, while read­ing the news­pa­per on my net­book (BTW: there's just no way to read news­pa­pers back­-­to-front on the we­b).

What I did was re­al­ize I had fall­en in­to a rit­u­al, de­cide if it served a use­ful pur­pose, es­ti­mate the cost­s, and de­cide against it. That means I act­ed ra­tio­nal­ly, and the choice I made seems cor­rect to me. The best part of do­ing that is not even sav­ing mon­ey, but know­ing that I am pay­ing at­ten­tion.

I was read­ing yes­ter­day a news­pa­per I should­n't read 1 and ran in­to a fluff piece about teach­ing tea pro­to­col to kids about girl­s, ages 6 to 13, at a par­ty in the Alvear ho­tel.

It's mean­ing­less non­sense, but it's the kind of non­sense that can piss me of­f. Here are some choice quotes, trans­lat­ed:

"A girl asked for sug­ar, even though the right thing is not to sweet­en the tea."

"When it's time to put jam on your scone or toast, you should nev­er cov­er it. 'S­mear jam on­ly on the piece you are eat­ing, and nev­er from the jar, al­ways put some in the plate, then from the plate to the toast"

"... the bel­ly of the fork should be at the bot­tom if you fin­ished eat­ing cake, or at the top if you ate a piece of meat."

"Even if it may seem a nov­el­ty, pro­to­col for chil­dren has 500 years of his­to­ry. A pre­cur­sor was the dutch hu­man­ist Eras­mus of Rot­ter­dam who in 1530 pub­lished a treaty on ci­vil­i­ty aimed to all chil­dren, spe­cial­ly those of the court, where he pre­sent­ed a com­mon code of be­hav­iour..."

Where can I start... how about this is all made up non­sense? The bel­ly of the fork aim­ing down or up? Put the jam in the plate first? Bit­ter tea for 6 year old­s? Eras­mus of freak­ing Rot­ter­dam in 1530?

Here's what this is, it's rit­u­al. It's mean­ing­less rit­u­al. We don't live in the dutch court in 1530, why should we feel it's "right" to act like they did? Why should we not act like 20th cen­tu­ry mo­roc­cans and eat with our right hand in­stead?

At least mo­roc­can food tastes good, un­like scones!

Of course I am not against things like us­ing a nap­kin in­stead of suck­ing on your fin­gers (but hey, I am not go­ing to call you names if you do it, and I will bloody do it if there's no nap­kin­s), but all these ran­dom rules with­out any ex­pla­na­tion are the ex­act kind of things kids should not be ex­posed to.

Yes, some­times you have to put your feet down and say "it's done this way and I can't ex­plain it to you yet", but that's the ex­cep­tion not the rule.

Why should you use a nap­kin? Be­cause if you don't your fin­gers are sticky and leave mark­s. Why your fork should stay on the plate af­ter you use it? Be­cause I don't want to wash the table­cloth to­day if I can help it. Why you should put the jam from the jar in­to the toast? Be­cause I don't want left­over jam in the plate, thank you.

If you teach your kids that there are ar­bi­trary rules with­out rea­son­s, even in sil­ly things like tea, you are form­ing the wrong thing in their brain­s, you are teach­ing them that au­thor­i­ty is right, that habit is truth, that tra­di­tion is law.

And if you do it, al­lah for­bid, then maybe they will do it too, and rit­u­als os­si­fy, and you get a coun­try full of mo­rons that have echo cham­bers in­stead of opin­ion­s.

The rit­u­al­iza­tion of ev­ery­day things is a sign of deca­dence in so­ci­ety. The more rit­u­al­is­tic the sim­ple things get, the more those peo­ple are not think­ing com­plex thought, the more they waste their mind in the triv­ial.

So make my day, leave the fork bel­ly up af­ter eat­ing cake to­day. Even bet­ter: don't look and don't care.


I have high blood pres­sure. This news­pa­per drives me mad, so it's bad for me.

Some people have no sense of scale

I am writ­ing a book about python (in span­ish), and it says this:


The ar­gu­ments about how to write a tech­ni­cal book in span­ish are eter­nal. That in Spain ev­ery­thing is trans­lat­ed. That in Ar­genti­na it is­n't. That say­ing "ca­de­na de car­ac­teres" in­stead of string is bad for the en­vi­ron­men­t.

For­tu­nate­ly in this book we fol­low a bet­ter method that I hope oth­er books adop­t: it's writte like I write. Not even a lit­tle bit dif­fer­en­t. I don't think it even qual­i­fies as span­ish, maybe it's writ­ten in ar­gen­tini­an. If the read­ers of our for­mer moth­er­land are both­ered by the style... they can trans­late it.

So to­day I got this mes­sage (sender anonymized be­cause I don't do that):

I was read­ing your tu­to­ri­al un­til I got to the para­graph where you com­plain or seem to be both­ered that in Spain we trans­late ev­ery­thing and in Ar­genti­na noth­ing. Well, as a read­er from the for­mer moth­er­land tell you [sic] that we like writ­ing in our lan­guage and that not on­ly am I not go­ing to both­er trans­lat­ing from ar­gen­tini­an to span­ish, but that I am not even go­ing to read your hor­ri­ble ar­gent­inglish. One fa­vor, learn eng­lish well and stop mis­treat­ing the old span­ish lan­guage. You know: an ar­gen­tini­an is an ital­ian that speaks span­ish (or so they say) and thinks he is en­glish!. Find your­self a psy­choter­apist of those you seem to have so much and see if you can over­come your in­fe­ri­or­i­ty com­plex and stop hat­ing so much.

I an­swered in ad­e­quate­ly in­sult­ing tone, just want­ed to share the fact that there are peo­ple ac­tive­ly both­ered by peo­ple not writ­ing a book the way they like to the point of in­sult­ing a whole coun­try. Fun!



A bit old fash­ioned but in­ter­est­ing.

The good lies

Many years ago, I loved Homi­cide: Life on the street­s. If you don't know about it, it was a se­ries about Bal­ti­more po­lice de­tec­tives. It had some awe­some writ­ing, and one par­tic­u­lar scene stuck in my mind un­til this day.

There was a thin de­tec­tive called Munch (who looked like an Ed­vard Munch paint­ing any­way), and he was in­ter­ro­gat­ing some­one for what­ev­er rea­son. And then he gets an­gry, very, very an­gry, and this is what he says:

"Y­ou're sav­ing your re­al­ly good lies for some smarter cop, is that it? [...] I've been in mur­der po­lice for ten years. If you're go­ing to lie to me, you lie to me with re­spec­t."

I have nev­er for­got­ten that line be­cause it speaks to me of one of the big­gest an­noy­ances in life, when peo­ple tell me trans­par­en­t, ob­vi­ous­ly wrong or false things just be­cause they ex­pect me to go along, be­cause call­ing them out on it is too much work, or im­po­lite, or a waste of time, or make me look bad, or what­ev­er.

And you know what? A big part of the time they get away with it, and that's fine. They get away with it be­cause I al­so read xkcd, and there is this side of the sto­ry, too:

Al­ter­na­tive­ly, there are those who don't know what they are say­ing is crap. I am wrong in be­ing pissed at them for treat­ing me like a mo­ron that won't no­tice the crap, when they them­selves have not no­ticed it them­selves and de­serve guid­ance.

My last post was about such ar­gu­ments when ap­plied to the spe­cif­ic de­bate on gay mar­riage, but I could do the same thing with al­most any­thing that's worth de­bat­ing, and I both­ered to write down a bunch of op­po­si­tions to gay mar­riage with ex­pla­na­tions on why those are use­less, and while I did that in part as stat­ing my po­si­tion for gay mar­riage, it is al­so be­cause I want rea­soned de­bate. I want good ideas from the oth­er side. If they don't come hit­ting hard, what's the point? Where's the thrill in a du­el of brains against un­armed ad­ver­saries?

I share Munch's in­dig­na­tion! So lit­tle do you care about truth that you push lies that don't even look like truth? Such fee­ble fak­ery that it flies away with a breeze? So lit­tle do you care about your­self, that you show the in­dig­ni­ties of your mind in pub­lic? Re­spect me when you lie! Use the good lies!

If the oth­er side can't push for­ward a co­gent pos­tion, why is there a de­bate? Are we fight­ing against noth­ing, against in­er­ti­a, against cus­tom, against no ra­tio­nal thought? Are we fight­ing against noth­ing? That's just sad, be­cause there is peo­ple on the oth­er side, and it means they are fight­ing for noth­ing. Are you god­damn push­ers of void? Ad­vo­cates of hot air?

Yes, these peo­ple piss me of­f. Yes, I should take things eas­i­er. Yes, I look sil­ly a lot. No, I don't give a damn.

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