May 12, 2008 at 19:37

Steven Pinker decries the conservative use of the concept of dignity. I, who always have been baffled by how effectively Fidel Castro has used it to justify the oppression he imposed on his country (and by the gullibility of his worldwide supporters about it) can't agree more.

"Despite the best efforts of the contributors, the concept of dignity remains a mess. The reason, I think, is that dignity has three features that undermine any possibility of using it as a foundation for bioethics.

<< First, dignity is relative. One doesn't have to be a scientific or moral relativist to notice that ascriptions of dignity vary radically with the time, place, and beholder. In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. We chuckle at the photographs of Victorians in starched collars and wool suits hiking in the woods on a sweltering day, or at the Brahmins and patriarchs of countless societies who consider it beneath their dignity to pick up a dish or play with a child. Thorstein Veblen wrote of a French king who considered it beneath his dignity to move his throne back from the fireplace, and one night roasted to death when his attendant failed to show up. Kass finds other people licking an ice-cream cone to be shamefully undignified; I have no problem with it.

<< Second, dignity is fungible. The Council and Vatican treat dignity as a sacred value, never to be compromised. In fact, every one of us voluntarily and repeatedly relinquishes dignity for other goods in life. Getting out of a small car is undignified. Having sex is undignified. Doffing your belt and spread- eagling to allow a security guard to slide a wand up your crotch is undignified. Most pointedly, modern medicine is a gantlet of indignities. Most readers of this article have undergone a pelvic or rectal examination, and many have had the pleasure of a colonoscopy as well. We repeatedly vote with our feet (and other body parts) that dignity is a trivial value, well worth trading off for life, health, and safety.

<< Third, dignity can be harmful. In her comments on the Dignity volume, Jean Bethke Elshtain rhetorically asked, "Has anything good ever come from denying or constricting human dignity?" The answer is an emphatic "yes." Every sashed and be-medaled despot reviewing his troops from a lofty platform seeks to command respect through ostentatious displays of dignity. Political and religious repressions are often rationalized as a defense of the dignity of a state, leader, or creed: Just think of the Salman Rushdie fatwa, the Danish cartoon riots, or the British schoolteacher in Sudan who faced flogging and a lynch mob because her class named a teddy bear Mohammed. Indeed, totalitarianism is often the imposition of a leader's conception of dignity on a population, such as the identical uniforms in Maoist China or the burqas of the Taliban.


<< The volume contains fine discussions by Pellegrino and by Rebecca Dresser on the avoidable humiliations that today's patients are often forced to endure (like those hideous hospital smocks that are open at the back). No one could object to valuing dignity in this sense, and that's the point. WHEN THE CONCEPT OF DIGNITY IS PRECISELY SPECIFIED, IT BECOMES A MUNDANE MATTER OF THOUGHTFULNESS PUSHING AGAINST CALLOUSNESS AND BUREAUCRATIC INERTIA, NOT A CONTENTIOUS MORAL CONUNDRUM.

<< Worst of all, theocon bioethics flaunts a callousness toward the billions of non-geriatric people, born and unborn, whose lives or health could be saved by biomedical advances. Even if progress were delayed a mere decade by moratoria, red tape, and funding taboos (to say nothing of the threat of criminal prosecution), millions of people with degenerative diseases and failing organs would needlessly suffer and die. And that would be the biggest affront to human dignity of all."

Having said that, I must add that I subscribe Pinker's rival's (Leon R. Kass) outcry against the licking of ice-creams:

"Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone--a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive. ... Eating on the street--even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat--displays [a] lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. ... Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. ... This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior."

Well said.


May 11, 2008 at 10:32

Held some packages due to a font problem in Firefox and chmviewer if I upgrade OpenOffice. Packages held:


May 07, 2008 at 17:13

Ahir la fruitera del mercat de l'Olivar em va tornar dos euros de més. No és la meua fruitera habitual, no és gaire simpàtica i té una aparença que em desagrada, però ahir tenia la fruita en l'estat just de maduració que jo necessitava, així que li'n vaig comprar. Dues coses són d'interès. Primer, que la decisió de fer cap enrere per tornar-li els diners em va costar de prendre un minut o dos. Al final, va ser útil la regla que diu que, en cas de dubte, facis el que toca. I això em va servir per després poder contar-li a M. el que havia passat i sentir-me'n orgullós.

La segona cosa d'interès és que la doneta esquerpa ni tan sols em va donar les gràcies; de fet, no em va dir res --va agafar els diners i ja te'n pots anar. No crec que ho fes per caràcter, però --i això és l'interessant. Per mi, que ella sap que no és la primera vegada que li passa; potser el seu home, o els fills, li han dit més d'una vegada que els comptes no quadren, que manquen uns doblers. I ella ho sap però no vol reconèixer que ja no és la que era, que de cada vegada més no torna bé el canvi, que alguna cosa passa en el seu cap que no passava abans. I en això que arriba un i li diu directament: 'Senyora, vos heu equivocat; ve-t'ho aquí, m'heu tornat de més'. No és sorprenent que, en comptes d'agraïment, la meua conducta li suscitàs una incomoditat emocional per no sentir la qual dos euros era un preu més que raonable de pagar, i d'aquí la improcedència del seu comportament.


April 30, 2008 at 17:26
Yesterday I forgot to take the notebook's AC adaptor with me, so I could only use it for about one hour and a half. With four hours and a half more to spend, I remembered a pile of mostly boring books (institutionally published, etc.) we keep at work, and thought I could make good use of them to kill time until ten. A small one caught my attention --Proverbios y cantares, by Antonio Machado. This renowned Spanish poet, and I had never directly read anything from him.

He's quite good. Of course, as with most poets, only a fraction of his poems are good; and inside the good ones, many times only a couple of lines are good --but these ones are so good it makes the reading a pleasure.

I plan to make a pdf document containing the poems I liked most, but in the meantime, I'll put here some of them.

A quien nos justifica nuestra desconfianza
llamamos enemigo, ladrón de una esperanza.


Jamás perdona el necio si ve la nuez vacía
que dio a cascar al diente de la sabiduría.


El hombre, a quien el hambre de la rapiña acucia,
de ingénita malicia y natural astucia,
formó la inteligencia y acaparó la tierra.
¡Y aún la verdad proclama! Supremo ardid de guerra.


Nunca perseguí la gloria
ni dejar en la memoria
de los hombres mi canción:
yo amo los mundos sutiles,
ingrávidos y gentiles
como pompas de jabón.
Me gusta verlos pintarse
de sol y grana, volar
bajo el cielo azul, temblar
súbitamente y quebrarse.


El casca-nueces-vacío,
Colón de cien vanidades,
vive de supercherías
que vende como verdades.


No extrañéis, dulces amigos,
que esté con frente arrugada:
yo vivo en paz con los hombres
y en guerra con mis entrañas.


Bueno es saber que los vasos
nos sirven para beber;
lo malo es que no sabemos
para qué sirve la sed.


Anoche soñé que oía
a Dios gritándome: ¡Alerta!
Luego era Dios quien dormía,
y yo gritaba: ¡Despierta!


Sobre el olivar
se vio a la lechuza
volar y volar.
Campo, campo, campo.
Entre los olivos
los cortijos blancos.
Y la encina negra,
a medio camino
de Úbeda a Baeza.


Sobre el olivar
se vio a la lechuza
volar y volar.
A Santa María
un ramito verde
volando traía.
¡Campo de Baeza,
soñaré contigo
cuando no te vea!


Los olivos grises,
los caminos blancos.
El sol ha sorbido
la calor del campo:
y hasta tu recuerdo
me lo va secando
este alma de polvo
de los días malos.


Rejas de hierro; rosas de grana.
¿A quién esperas,
con esos ojos y esas ojeras,
enjaulada como las fieras,
tras de los hierros de tu ventana?
Entre las rejas y los rosales,
¿sueñas amores de bandoleros galanteadores,
fieros amores entre puñales?
Rondar tu calle nunca verás
ese que esperas; porque se fue
toda la España de Mérimée.
Por esta calle --tu elegirás--
pasa un notario
que va al tresillo del boticario,
y un usurero, a su rosario.
También yo paso, viejo y tristón.
Dentro del pecho llevo un león.


El ojo que ves no es
ojo porque tú lo veas;
es ojo porque te ve.


Hoy es siempre todavía.


Si vino la primavera,
volad a las flores;
no chupéis cera.


No aséis lo que está cocido.


Despacito y buena letra:
el hacer las cosas bien
importa más que el hacerlas.


¿Conoces los invisibles
hiladeros de los sueños?
Son dos: la verde esperanza
y el torvo miedo.
Apuesta tienen de quién
hile más y más ligero,
ella, su copo dorado;
él, su copo negro.
Con el hilo que nos dan
tejemos, cuando tejemos.


Todo necio
confunde valor y precio.


Conversación de gitanos:
--¿Cómo vamos, compadrito?
--Dando vueltas al atajo.


Conversación de gitanos:
-- Para rodear,
toma la calle de en medio;
nunca llegarás.


¿Tu verdad? No, la verdad,
y ven conmigo a buscarla.
La tuya, guárdatela.


Tengo a mis amigos
en mi soledad;
cuando estoy con ellos
¡qué lejos están!


¡Oh Guadalquivir!
Te vi en Cazorla nacer;
hoy, en Sanlúcar morir.
Un borbollón de agua clara
debajo de un pino verde,
eras tú, ¡qué bien sonabas!
Como yo, cerca del mar,
río de barro salobre,
¿sueñas con tu manantial?


El pensamiento barroco
pinta virutas de fuego,
hincha y complica el decoro.


Dijo el árbol: Teme el hacha,
palo clavado en el suelo:
contigo la poda es tala.


¿Mas el arte? ...
      --Es puro juego
que es igual a pura vida,
que es igual a puro fuego.
Veréis el ascua encendida.


April 30, 2008 at 17:19

My cousin Eva is pregnant! It takes courage. Congratulations and good luck, Eva and JM!


April 30, 2008 at 17:09

An interesting study about the TOT (tip of the tongue) state:

(you know, when you know you know a word but can't remember right then)

So it seems that if you go on trying to remember, you reinforce your mind in not getting at the word ('the time spent not remembering causes our brains to reinforce that "mistake pathway."'). So, instead of getting mad at wanting to remember, a better course of action would be 'to repeat the word (out loud or in your head) once you find the correct answer.


April 30, 2008 at 16:41

In 'Men and their mothers. What's it all about?'

the mother's journalists says:

'As a mother of boys, you know that your job is to prepare them to be handed on, she tells me. You know that you harm them by keeping them too close for too long. “I was constantly torn between not being overinvolved and not seeming indifferent,” she tells me. “It’s a hard balance to strike, and you never know when you’re getting it wrong. I still don’t know.”'

Constantly torn between not being overinvolved and not seeming indifferent. How true, and yes, especially for mothers.


April 28, 2008 at 17:54

Jeremy, from Scatterplot, says:

'As further evidence that I am in the throes of the lamest midlife crisis ever, I have spent much of the weekend spurning pleasant social opportunities in favor of working alone on a new hobby so geeky/dorky I cannot bear the idea of talking about it publicly [...]

<< OK, while I still don’t want to talk about it, part of what I’ve been doing involves some computer programming.  I say this only because the thing with me and programming is that when I’ve got something I want to program, I CAN WORK FOR 12 OR MORE HOURS STRAIGHT WITHOUT ANY ESPECIAL NEED FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION, WEBSURFING, REFLEXIVE E-MAIL CHECKING, FOOD, OR HYGIENE.'

How good a checklist to help one discern his true vocation...

April 28, 2008 at 16:13

I was hearing this morning one of the Cloverdale's podcasts
and they were talking about hostile environments. I wonder how many times I have been in a hostile environment. Well, as long as I remember (and you know, it only matters what you remember; or put otherwise: whatever you have forgotten it's been of no consequence in your life), only twice.

The first one, as a child of eleven or so, we went to a field at the city outskirts by name 'Los Almendreros', and after a while, a gang of troublemakers, most of them gipsies, came in and asked for a match. We conceded (first mistake) and the game began. Well, it wasn't exactly a game --it was a pantomime: you let them freely play and score as many goals as they wished, or you risked serious harm to your legs. When we decided to leave, they began amassing oranges, stones, and whatever hard objects they could find, and started to throw them at us at full force. We were on the run when one of us said: 'Hey, stop fleeing! Are we hens or men? We'll fight them', and to my astonishment, my peers stopped and got convinced they were men, and started preparing for the battle. Myself, I went to our courageous leader and said: 'Well, I'd love to stay, but I promised my mother I'd be back home at 12:30 and look, it's 12:25, so I'll see you on Monday at school'. Well, on Monday at school I found he had a black eye, and the other ones weren't in any better condition, and they had fled anyway. They hated me for a while, that's for sure. This is, up to date, the most bittersweet experience in my life, one I'm proud and ashamed of at the same time.

The second one is much less romantic --it's about a former place I used to work in, so I'll spare you the boring details and will give you just the gist: not only most of my coworkers were noticeably nuts, wretched creatures, and ugly --in addition they were mean and perfectly successful at create a hostile environment I, again, flew away from in a hurry.

So I think I can feel happy just to have been twice in such a situation. What about you? How many times have you been in a hostile environment?


April 27, 2008 at 20:18

This dialog in Josep Pla's 'El quadern gris', corresponding to the April 26, 1918 entry ( ):

–Això que dieu, Coromina –diu Gori animant-se sobtadament–, és una veritat literal, axiomàtica, indiscutible. El règim capitalista és un règim desordenat, irracional, caòtic. Irracional: aquesta és la paraula exacta. És, a més, un règim de pur caprici i, per tant, dolorós, cruel, trist. Sí, sí, teniu tota la raó. El règim capitalista és tot això que dieu i encara moltes altres coses desagradables més. Podríem passar tota la nit acumulant-li penjaments. Però, si em permetéssiu, us faria una pregunta. ¿És que vós, de tot això que acabem de dir i de tot el que encara podríem afegir-hi, en deduïu la necessitat de substituir aquest sistema per algun altre sistema elaborat apriorísticament?

–Francament, de vegades, m’ho sembla…

–Us ho sembla? Valga’m Déu! Discrepem. A vós, us sembla que, de tots els penjaments que hem proclamat –penjaments perfectament objectius– sobre el capitalisme, se’n dedueix la necessitat de substituir-lo. Jo crec, al contrari, que aquestes invectives demostren l’absoluta necessitat de defensar-lo i mantenir-lo en tots els terrenys. El capitalisme és irracional, caòtic, incomprensible, desordenat, capriciós, injust, dolorós, trist, absurd… exactament com la naturalesa i la vida. La naturalesa, la vida humana, és igualment caòtica, irracional, desordenada, injusta, sanguinària, capriciosa, delirant, incomprensible, cruel, trista. A vós, que sou un home intel·ligent, actiu, honrat, el banquer només us escoltarà si li aneu a portar diners. En canvi, obrirà la caixa a aquell senyor que viu tres portes més amunt que és un perfecte imbècil. Però, a mi, la naturalesa m’ha donat aquest nas impresentable, quan me n’hauria pogut donar un de perfecte. Aquest home ja ric, que viu com un miserable, carregat de brutícia, acaba d’heretar una fortuna que no sabrà què fer-ne. Però també a tots nosaltres ens haurien pogut proveir d’una melsa forta, resistent i fresca i hem d’anar tirant amb una melsa que sembla que ja ha servit…

–I què en deduïu, de tot això?

–En dedueixo que naturalesa, vida i capitalisme són tot un mateix vi. El capitalisme ha nascut de la vida humana per les mateixes raons que a la primavera neix l’herba de la terra. Aquesta naturalitat de naixement i de manifestació no prejutja pas la moralitat o la immoralitat del sistema. En la naturalesa, no hi ha res intrínsecament bo ni res intrínsecament dolent. En la naturalesa no hi ha res més que pura cosmografia, absoluta indiferència. No hi ha res que obeeixi a cap fi transcendent. El que pressuposa, en tot cas, aquesta naturalitat de naixença i de manifestació és una indiscutible fortalesa biològica, una puixança intrínseca…

–Aquesta fortalesa, en tant que creadora d’injustícia, és repugnant, fastigosa, intolerable…

–Entesos. Perfectament d’acord. Però no he pas vist mai enlloc que la naturalesa pretengués instaurar la justícia. On ho heu vist vós, això? Hauria estat perfectament just que, enamoradís com sóc de mena, la naturalesa m’hagués dotat d’un nas elegant, graciós, fascinador… i aquí em teniu circulant amb aquesta deplorable tarota que veieu. ¿No consideraríeu ridícul que jo m’atribuís la pretensió de substituir aquesta naturalesa per una altra de més justa, repartidora de nassos perfectes, hel·lènics i de melses impermeables a l’alcohol, fortes i resistents? Seria una pretensió manicomial. Ara vós, indignat davant de les malvestats del capitalisme, el voleu substituir, li voleu matar la seva forma biològica, l’espontaneïtat de la seva manifestació, la seva interna puixança. El voleu substituir per un règim racional, just, ordenat, satisfactori des del punt de vista de la moralitat rutinària i mitjana. Vós creieu que la mera substitució d’un règim real, encara que cruel, per un règim artificial, encara que hipotèticament perfecte, ha d’implicar per força un guany segur per a la generalitat. Ho dubto. No ho crec pas. Els francesos solen dir que sovint es perd el bo per la mania de tenir el millor. Jo parteixo de la idea que passar d’un règim real, encara que irracional, a un altre qualsevol règim imaginat no implica pas necessàriament passar a un règim millor. Pot molt bé representar, malgrat la perfecció teòrica del règim proposat, passar a un estat infinitament pitjor, més dolent, més dolorós, de moltes menys possibilitats.

–Sou un conservador recalcitrant –diu Coromina, nerviós i enervat–, un home sense imaginació…

–I vós sou una criatura de bolquers… –fa Gori abocant dues ampolletes de canya a dins del seu cafè.

Thank you to the guys behind bloQG, Jordi Palou and Ramon Torrents,


April 27, 2008 at 11:02

Happy to have subscribed to the Gutenberg Project's RSS feed. Now I daily receive update on their newly published books, so I can go and do a quick browsing of those ones I think of interest, to see if I should pay some more attention to them.

Right now I'm perusing 'Moral Principles in Education' by John Dewey, and 'Slave Narratives. A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves'.


April 27, 2008 at 10:52

Focus on abstract equations:

“The motivation behind this research was to examine a very widespread belief about the teaching of mathematics, namely that teaching students multiple concrete examples will benefit learning,” said Jennifer A. Kaminski, a research scientist at the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State. “It was really just that, a belief.”

<< The researchers said they had experimental evidence showing a similar effect with 11-year-old children. The findings run counter to what Dr. Kaminski said was a “pervasive assumption” among math educators that concrete examples help more children better understand math.

<< But if the Ohio State findings also apply to more basic math lessons, then teaching fractions with slices of pizza or statistics by pulling marbles out of a bag might prove counterproductive. “There are reasons to think it could affect everyone, including young learners,” Dr. Kaminski said.

<< It has not been shown that lessons in which children learn to count by using blocks translate to a better understanding of numbers than a more abstract approach would have achieved'. (login required, free).


April 26, 2008 at 21:43

I'm a bit worried about sunflower oil. Not that we use it directly (we exclusively use olive oil) but we're big fans of canned tuna, and the one we buy it's preserved in sunflower oil. Should I trust the manufacturer (Calvo) to not resource to the most cheapest rotten Ukrainian supplier?


April 26, 2008 at 16:47

All day wanting to write something and finally I can.

Fixed M's computer. The reiser file system is really impressive when it comes to recovering from bad crashes.

I'm introducing M. to numerical systems. Said that way, it seems out of bounds. But I'm doing nothing more than making him aware that the way we count it's based on the tenth unit. I'm afraid next year (being optimistic) he'll be explained at school how to add two-digit numbers the same way I was taught to: purely mechanically, without any understanding of the reason we carry one unit for each ten we get in every column. Later on, I'll make him think about how differently we count numbers and hours, since we use a different numerical system for the latter.

Saturday shopping now, I'm afraid.


April 25, 2008 at 21:36

'We who stutter speak only when we must. We hide our defect, often so successfully that our intimates are surprised when in an unguarded moment, a word suddenly runs away with our tongues and we blurt and blat and grimace and choke until finally the spasm is over and we open our eyes to view the wreckage'.

(From Erving Goffman's Stigma. The quotation is from C. Van Riper, 'Do You Stutter?').

Also cited there is Rolph, 'Women of the Streets':

'Doreen, a Mayfair girl, says that court appearances are "about the worst part of it [i.e. prostitution]. You go in through that door and everyone's waiting for you and looking at you. I keep my head down and never look on either side. Then they say those awful words: 'Being a common prostitute...' and you feel awful, all the time not knowing who's watching you at the back of the court. You say 'guilty' and get out as soon as you can"'.


April 25, 2008 at 16:41
M.'s Suse lost its knetwork manager applet. Restored from Acronis' security copy, it doesn't boot --grub problem. Tried restoring mbr --failed. Tomorrow I'll try booting from installation disk and making a repair.
April 25, 2008 at 16:21

Tried upgrading Gutsy (Kubuntu 7.10) to Hardy Heron (8.04), through Adept Manager, option 'Upgrade to new version'. Upgrade successful, but I'm back to Gutsy due to the following reasons:

1. I forgot to attach the network wire, so when Hardy asked to install the proprietary drivers for my wireless card, it failed --and I wasn't able to get that dialog box back again.

2. Sound didn't work, and when I tried to play a song through Amarok, it crashed (Amarok).

4. The dots it types when in the initial login screen, which replace the characters in your password, are very ugly --too big and bad-centered.

I think I'll try again when Firefox 3 leaves beta (Hardy ships with FF 3 beta 5, another reason not to upgrade yet).


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