Thursday, February 24, 2011

Homeland

“One organisation wrote to a national newspaper saying that whatever I believed about literature, its nobility and reach, I couldn't escape the politics of my decision. Reluctantly, sadly, I must concede that this is the case. I come from a country of relative stability. We may have our homeless, but we have a homeland.”

Ian McEwan (on winning the Jerusalem Prize), The Guardian, 24th February, 2011

God is Brazilian

“Singapore's success shows us that...a country's wealth need not depend on natural resources, it may even ultimately benefit from their absence.”

Margaret Thatcher, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World (2002)

Friday, February 18, 2011

This is not a chair

It is made of wood. It costs R$50 ($30/£18) and we require about twenty of them. Two long tables have been graciously donated - now all we have to do is surround them.

If you'd like to buy one for the rescue house, shoot me an email/comment and I'll send you some details on the best way how.

If you don't, that's OK. I'll thank you anyway!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I had closed my eyes

We’d like to believe that most of what we know is accurate and that if presented with facts to prove we’re wrong, we would sheepishly accept the truth and change our views accordingly.

A new body of research out of the University of Michigan suggests that’s not what happens, that we base our opinions on beliefs and when presented with contradictory facts, we adhere to our original belief even more strongly. The phenomenon is called backfire.

We even make up stuff - “confabulated” - to justify our convictions. Schultz cites an experiment carried out by psychologists in Michigan in the 1970s where a group of shoppers were asked to pick out their favourite from four varieties of pantyhose. In fact, the four were identical, but that didn't stop the shoppers from explaining their preferences in terms of non-existent differences in colour or texture.

Of course, refusing to confront the evidence in front of us can have much more serious consequences than being made to look a fool in front of a pile of tights. Kathryn Schultz quotes from the memoires of Nazi armaments minister Albert Speer:

“I did not query Himmler, I did not query Hitler. I did not investigate...for fear of discovering something which might have made me turn away from my course. I had closed my eyes.”

My favorite denial quote comes from the neighbour after the arrest last year of the Russian spies known as Richard and Cynthia Murphy of Montclair, New Jersey. Jessie Gugig told the New York Times she did not believe the couple could be Russian agents:

“They couldn't have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”

Sources: bbc + npr + ft

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Roadside Observance

The dull buzz of an electric fence. Time to cross the road.
Time. To. Cross. The. Road.

Looking right. Looking left.
(Lines of white and lines of red).

Now, a horse, ridden bareback by a boy.
Now, a steamy bus. Armpits pressed into sad faces.

Here, a canine's outline - pancaked by impatience.
Here, a gaping storm drain - dry and fearless before the rain.

There, a transexual hooker prances.
Fearless (it seems) too.

Totally forgot it was Valentine's yesterday

Looking back is the first sign of aging and decay

Jenny Holzer
Truisms
(1977-present)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

the city (as perhaps envisioned by G.K.Chesterton)

You'll never even know

Commenting on personal responsibility, Sartre once wrote that you can say anything you like, so long as you don't say I (but then again, he was also famous for saying that Hell is other people, but I digress). In my neighbourhood, it's often best not to ask why.

When poverty becomes part of the view, part of the very bricks and mortar of the cityscape, the question becomes almost an irrelevance. And if one does (as I have done), you might very well feel frustrated at the sight of a homeless man tearing open garbage bags that the street cleaner has neatly piled by the side of the road. You just might start to question whether some are deserving of help, or whether they will use that gift (tangible or otherwise) in a correct or efficient manner. A bit like looking for the response on a friend's face when they open the present you just gave them. Are they sufficiently appreciative of the time and effort you spent?

Best not to go there when that starts to happen. Best to give and never get to see the response. To loan as if you're never going to get it back (the bankers know how to do this already).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We don't need no education

Q: What's the time, S?
A: It depends

“Recent progress merely upgrades Brazil's schools from disastrous to very bad. Two-thirds of 15-year-olds are capable of no more than basic arithmetic. Half cannot draw inferences from what they read.”

The Economist, 11th December 2010.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The greatest Oprah of all time

Chris Rock, the comedian, was recalling an episode of Oprah Winfrey during which a woman confessed to her husband that she had frittered away $300,000 and as a consequence their home was about to be possessed. “By the end of the show, it was all the guy's fault,” a clearly impressed Mr Rock told David Letterman. “He was apologising for not loving her enough - it was the greatest Oprah of all time.”

L's departure was - after two years at the rescue house - frightfully sudden, but not wholly unexpected considering his behaviour (or, as it is called here, his comportamento) in the weeks approaching his leaving. Always one of the more difficult cases (I like the difficult cases), he was - like J - another bright, able and strong-willed kid from Crackland. Unlike J, though, he had no close family to speak of and his time with us has been marked by stratospheric highs (the threshold of adoption) and catastrophic lows (a relapse into drugs at school and then several attention-seeking attempts to run away).

And so – as when any relationship terminates suddenly – the inevitable self-analysis begins. Was I culpable, in whole or part? Did I contribute in some way, by deed or omission? Could I have loved more? Better? In many cases the answer is invariably yes, to a greater or lesser extent. One can always love more, stupid. But in this case, the answer is solidly in the negative.

When I think of the countless times he fell and we restored him, he lied, cheated, manipulated, stole...but forgiveness was always forthcoming. The demonstrations of, yes, unconditional love.

But, with him, the arrogance always seemed to overwhelm any possible realization of grace. The assumption of forgiveness was – and is – so wrong on so many levels. Just as the poor can love money, even in poverty there can be a particularly reprehensible arrogance.

“[Last] summer, Catalonia's employment agency offered jobs picking fruit to 7,800 unemployed people. Less than 1,700 accepted. Many of those [who did] were thought to be of non-Spanish origin.” The Economist, August 14th 2010

Asking why someone would reject a refuge is a bit like asking a mathematician why a minus times a minus equals a plus. Try it. He cannot answer, except by specific reference to the man-made artificialities of algebra. Outside of these, the concept has no application and (worse still) no meaning. And, similarly, I am tempted to conclude from this episode that L's actions have no meaning. However, just because something seems meaningless to me doesn't mean that it is beyond understanding. Just my understanding.

I earnestly hope that L finds help and a refuge that can serve him elsewhere.
Anyway, who can understand grace, really?

“Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness.” (Isaiah 26:10)

If you can’t leave your mark give up

Jenny Holzer
Truisms
(1977-present)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nights/Bites

the dark of bogs and the muzz of bosquitos keep me awake all night
spoonerisms have sadly become my norm