I got this book as a free PDF after reading about it at Wondermark. I had not read any short story collections in a few years and had forgotten the best thing about them: if some piece is weak, it goes away quickly.
I read this by recommendation of my friend Nico César and... it's so much fun even the spanish slang didn't bother me.
Recently I was delighted to read in Boing Boing posts by a modern Stoic. The delight was because it put into words something I had been grappling with for years and never really grasped: people have replaced philosophy with religion.
It used to be that someone would call himself a stoic, or a cynic, or a hedonist, or whatever, and others would understand that he was telling them the principles that rule his life.
A life philosophy! You could choose, from the buffet of the last 3000 years of thought, what you thought made most sense, and try to use it as a beacon to guide you through a (hopefully) happy life.
Nowadays, society seems to have rejected that idea, and the closest thing most people have is religion, following what his sect says, or atheism, defined by rejection of religion.
The main difference (as I see it) between a life philosophy and a religion is that a religion usually implies the others are wrong. If you are not of my sect, you will not be in heaven with me.
If you don't share my philosophy... well, I expect you will take a different path through your life than I would have taken. But if it works for you and doesn't hurt others, why should I give a damn?
So here's my life philosophy as I see it today. It's not how I saw it yesterday, and surely is not the same it will be tomorrow.
From now on, when I say I "believe" something, it's shorthand for "my personal life philosophy implies that". It should be obvious why such a shorthand is needed.
I am a materialist. No, that doesn't mean what you think it does, at least not in this context. What I mean is that I am not a dualist, or a spirituallist, I am not an idealist or a vitalist, and not a phenomenalist.
What it means is that I believe that reality is material. I don't accept that immaterial things have any sort of "reality". Or at least that their reality is of a totally uninteresting kind.
This means that I don't believe in souls. I believe the Turing test is a reasonable test for consciousness. I believe if there was an entity that acted like a human, we ought to treat it like a human. I believe I am not intrinsically different from a robot that could do what I do.
I believe the purpose of life is to have a good time. I believe everyone is as entitled to a good time as I am. I believe part of having a good time is being surrounded by happy people. I believe people that hurt others are a buzzkill and shouldn't be allowed to do it.
I believe in purpose, and I believe I create my own purposes and that makes them better than if they were given to me. I believe in being kind to others because they are all I have.
I believe in learning, because we are surrounded by wonders. I believe the Egyptians piled up lots of very heavy rocks. I believe Saturn is pretty. I believe giving the merit of those things to aliens or gods is an insult to the Egyptians and adds nothing to Saturn.
I believe in making things and fighting against local entropy. I believe that a certain end makes things better and more precious. I believe in love, because I know I feel it and it's precious.
Short intro for foreign readers: the largest newspaper in Argentina (Clarín) is in a catfight with the government. Therefore, we are treated daily to stories in the newspaper about how everything is terrible and the government is going to eat our children, and stories in the official TV channel about how Clarin wants to implant dancing contests and biased news into our prefrontal lobes.
The family subsidies are a recent policy that can be easily described: if you have a kid and you send him to school, you get a little money ($220). That's because having kids in school is a good thing. This has caused school enrollment to increase a lot in one year, meaning a ton of poor kids are now back in school instead of working in the streets or just staying at home.
Since it's hard for Clarín to go ahead and say that's bad, it has to find an angle. How about saying that inflation (which has been raising) is making the subsidies useless? It's an idea.
Having said that, it's hard to take this story and not say... dudes, you are giving biased journalism a bad name.
Here's the title and intro:
The raise in food prices has eliminated a big part of the family subsidies.
Depending on what indicators you use, the erosion can reach 92%
Taken at face value, that's pure nonsense. In order for that to be right, it wuld mean that the peso has lost 92% of its value and it has lost between 10% and 20% depending on what you compare it with.
What they did instead is take the cost of a basket of basic goods that has raised 36.2% (according to some estimates) and convert that raise into pesos. That's $404. Which is 92% of the family subsidies you get if you have two kids.
What's the problem? Well, of course the problem is that it makes no sense, because it's comparing two unrelated things.
Let's consider two moments in time, at the beginning of the subsidies and one year later. The basked of goods has raised from $712 to $1116.
Let's consider the case where that family only has the subsidies, both parents are unemployed and receive no help at all:
They have gone from covering 62% of their basic needs to covering 40% so they are obviously worse off now than a year ago. But not 92% worse, no matter how you cut it.
A bit more realistic: the family had some income other than the subsidies. Imagine only the mother works cleaning houses part time. That means she makes perhaps $500 discounting travel expenses.
So, a year ago, they made $940 and covered 132% of their basic needs, and now they cover only 84%.
But that ignores that pretty much everyone has had pay raises in the last year, precisely because of inflation. So assume she got a very modest raise: 10%, and she now gets $550.
That means she went from covering 132% to 89%.
Of course without the subsidies they would have gone from 70% to 49%! Try telling that mother that the subsidies have lost 92% of their value, and she'll laugh in your face.
Of course that means they are desperately poor, and yes, their salaries are worth less (if you take those numbers at face value, general inflation was much less than 30%).
But those $440 are something that was not there before. It is not a bad thing, and it is not a useless thing. And most certainly it's not a thing that has lost 92% of its value in a year.
Shame on you Clarín for trying to use "math" to confuse people.
A few weeks ago I was chatting with my father in law and (since I work with computers and must therefore know everything computer related) he asked me if I had heard of the 9 year old kid that worked for Microsoft as an engineer.
I said that probably, hiring 9 year olds to work as engineers was illegal, and that in most places to become an "engineer" you need to go to college, but any way it stayed in my head, like a pea in a maraca but anyway, I decided to check it out a bit.
First: no, there is no 9 year old working for Microsoft, as far as I know.
And then, a curious pattern appeared: there is not one story about that, there are several. And about different kids. And mostly in spanish-speaking media.
Let's check Mahmud Wael first.
Here's what InfoBAE says about him:
Mahmud Wael, un egipcio de 11 años y aspecto frágil, es el nuevo técnico de Microsoft gracias a su capacidad para resolver complejos cálculos en cuestión de segundos y moverse sin problemas por las redes informáticas
Mahmud Wael, a fragile looking 11 year old egyptian, is the latest Microsoft technician thanks to his ability to solve complex calculations in seconds and to move effortlessly through information networks.
If one actually bothers reading the story there's more: apparently Mahmud joined the American University in Cairo at age 9, and is now attending Cairo University for a degree in some computer-related area.
In fact, a bunch of those stories even say "With 11 years, he already works at Microsoft", which is somehow not in the InfoBAE story which is taken from the EFE agency.
Now... does he work at Microsoft? I bet he doesn't (or EFE would have mentioned it). It's just that when someone writes "Microsoft Technician" or "Microsoft Engineer" in english, well, that makes no sense in spanish, so the spanish media and readers are lead astray.
A Microsoft Certified Engineer is someone who has taken some Microsoft training courses and exams.
On the other hand, in most of the spanish speaking world, you can't call yourself an engineer unless you get an engineering degree from a university. In fact in Argentina calling yourself an engineer if you don't have one is illegal.
So, "Microsoft Engineer" is taken as "an engineer that works at Microsoft", because the alternative simply makes no sense.
What is the real story about Mahmud Wael? Well, let's check some egyptian sources, which is what all those newspapers should have done in the first place.
Here's Egypt Today's take on it from when he was 9.
Did he attend the American University?
Well, he had a scholarship from them to attend the Greenland International Language School, and attended one english course.
What about the "Microsoft Engineer" thing? He was planning to take the MCSD exams. Did he succeed? Well, Reuters says he got a MCTS.
An MCTS is not an MCSD, or an MCSE. In fact, just by saying someone has an MCTS (very impressive for an 11 year old!) you have no idea of what he knows, because a MCTS is about a specific product, and there are MCTSs for almost all of MS products.
So, in short: Mahmud is a very impressive and intelligent kid, but he is not an engineer, have a college degree or work at Microsoft.
And now the second case, Marko Calasan from Macedonia, which is the one actually mentioned to me.
And it's exactly the same story, except that he got a much better cert from MS than Mahmud, and he got it earlier.
Again the "works at Microsoft" thing seems to be exclusive to the spanish speaking media, and probably for the same reason.
Now, let's think about what this says of journalism. These stories were not hard to check. All you need is passable english skills and google. And if your english sucks, google can help you with that too.
But dozens of newspapers and sites just run with it because the "Microsoft hires (small age) kid!" is just too nice and people would accept it because hey, it's in the newspapers.
And you know what? I suspect that it's the same thing with a large part of what you read in the papers. If checking a tiny piece just because I have some peripheral knowledge about it says there are dozens of articles that are just wrong, what happens in all the areas where I am clueless?
Because we are all clueless in almost everything, and journalists are probably clueless about 90% of what they write about. It's not even a conspiracy, it's just ignorance amplified by their job description.