Walking thru the Weirdness

For various (non-calamtious) health reasons I’ve been making a point of walking for about an hour a day. Since I get bored walking in the same place every day one of the things I’ve been doing is getting on a random bus or streetcar, get off at a random stop and walk around a while. I thought it might be nice to take pictures (from my phone) and post some here some times.

One of the things I like about living in Poland is the weird mix of architecture, a lot of the most fun comes from the communist period. In addition to the better known brutalist or pseudo-gothic styles a fair amount of communist architecture is endearingly weird, a style I call communist eccentric.


Buildings can never have too many ruffles…

This is an indoor sporting and entertainment arena, called, with typical communist anti-flair “Arena”, completed in 1974 and still going strong….ish. There are periodic calls to tear it down and build something bigger or in better taste, but I’ve always been fond of it. It’s in  a big park with limited parking (though reasonably good public transport connections) so that might have something to do with it.

One thing I don’t understand is why the slanting supports that surround it aren’t constantly in use by skateboarders or extreme bikers..

arena slide

C’mon, this is just made for skateboards!

There’s no real barrier and the sign at the bottom “no entry” (literally “entry prohibited”) has never stopped anybody from anything in this country. I’ve heard of people climbing up and getting on the roof but I’ve never seen (or heard of) people using the impressive potential ramps.





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More Post Religion Religion

Back in 1989 I picked up a copy of the RE/Search book “Modern Primitives” and within a day or two I realized that body modification was going to be a yuuuge thing in the 1990s and beyond. I’m not right on big trends all the time but sometimes I can pick up on things just before they hit the mainstream.

That’s was very much the feeling I had when I stumbled on the videos of Jordan Peterson. I’m not a big fan of a lot of his content, but I realized before many others that he was headed for the center ring.

If I had to describe his appeal (thinking with my typing fingers) I’d say it’s two pronged.

One,  he reinvents Christianity for post religious reality. He doesn’t stress the supernatural elements but he distills the ethical essence not as a hyponymic example of the human capacity for belief or necessity of faith but as a universal symbolic retelling of the eternal individual struggle for self-improvement.

Secondly, under the guise of a self-help regimen he’s creating an individualized ritual initiation into manhood. Most traditional societies had some kind of ritual (often imbued with physical and emotional pain that were to be stoically endured) to mark the transition from youth to adulthood. The modern world has largely given up on that leaving many men unsure of how to be adults and adrift in an extended adolescence they can find no exit from.

The reason he’s connecting with so many men is that he offers them a road map for thinking of themselves as men (and as carriers of ethics and values). By keeping it individual and embedded in meta-understanding one’s own life as a new instantiation of eternal processes his public presentations don’t degenerate into the weirdness of previous attempts to retro-define manhood a la Robert Bly’s forest rituals or the addlepated silliness of the Promise Keepers (not to mention the noxious snake oil peddled by MRAs or PUAs). He’s offering a road map to self-aware manhood that’s dignified and simultaneous religious in nature but not content (or vice versa). You can disagree with a lot of what he says, but he’s connecting with a lot of men in ways that no one else is now by repackaging the eternal narrative of initiation into manhood.


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Overheard in a Polish Bakery

While on a walk I was feeling peckish and so I stopped at a bakery for something to nibble on like a cheese roll. Since Easter is approaching they had a bunch of fresh mazurki and the person ahead of me asked for one.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania mazurek

You’re going to eeeaaat that?????

The lady behind the counter got out a little cardboard box and the customer stopped her.

“Just put it in a bag” he said.

“A baaaaaggg????” the lady said in a stunned voice, he might as well have asked her to smear it in his hair.

“Yeah, I’m gonna eat it on the way” he explained.

“Eeeeaaaat it?” (do jedzeeeeenia?) she asked hopelessly confused and more than a little horrified. Nonetheless she did as he asked.

“Smacznego (bon appetit)…” she volunteered  as he left in the type of voice usually reserved for dealing with the deranged but harmless.

I think she was confused because most people seem to use them more for decoration than to eat and after a few days of sitting on the table they become as dry and hard as concrete… and just about as appetizing, I tried eating one many years ago and was afraid I’d break a tooth and never tried again.

Still, something in the interaction piqued my interest and so I asked for a mazurek too. I did let her put in a box (how many shocks could the poor lady stand in one day?). But once out of sight of the bakery took it out and ate it. And, fresh and still soft it wasn’t bad. Not great or something I’d look forward to but not the dessicated horror that I had remembered either.


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Microsoft Officially Becomes Malware

I’m not the type to hold grudges in computing terms. I was disgusted at how the best browser ever began sefl-destructing in order to become an advertising delivery system but I found a good enough replacement (Waterfox, official slogan: We’re like Firefox before it began to suck donkeys!) and deleted Firefox from my computers and don’t care about that anymore.

Microsoft is different, it’s never been that good but it was good enough for government work (and I work, technically speaking, for a government) so… yeah. But lately it’s been on a crazed jihad to become as insufferable as possible and it’s clear I’m going to have to find replacement system.

Just under two years ago I bought an HP stream. It’s not much of a computer with an internal USB rather than a hard disc but it’s not meant to be much of a computer. I bought it to be a light portable computer (with a keyboard big enough for me to use) for travel and to take to work. I only kept a few programs on it and worked entirely off of USB pen drives (flash drives).

It did its job just fine, but now Microsoft has decided that I need an 8 GB update which there is just no room for. I tried doing the update with an external disc but no, it wants me to clear 8 GB’s of space off of the internal USB and has lately started sending threatening messages about the dire consequences if I don’t accept this pigfucker of an update full of stuff that I have no earthly use or desire for and would simply delete as soon as it was installed (if it could be installed)

And now there’s thisAnd now there’s this. The final straw. Microsoft is now officially a public health hazard and if it doesn’t back off of this I will have to waste massive amounts of time in figuring out how to replace it and learning some other system (which is again a massive waste of time that I could be using productively).

The best version of Word (in being able to quickly create and modify content was 1997-2003 and every update since has resulted in a net loss of productivity for me. Five seconds to do something instead of three might not sound like much but multiply it by the thousands and it adds up.

The rule in computing is everything gets worse and worse until only the stupidest people are attracted to using it.

The digital explosion in the 1990s was perhaps the single biggest potential advancement in human knowledge and potential since the printing press and it scared the powers that be so much that they’ve been on a concentrated campaign to roll it back ever since. And their sustained efforts are now starting to bear fruit.

Within a couple of years the entire internet will be pared down to a half dozen social media sites and the collective IQ of humanity will drop like a rock. All by plan.



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Delaying Tactics

Around a year ago I was asked to give a paper at a symposium/conference and I chose a kind of new topic for me as a test balloon (to see if I was interested enough in it to continue and to see if there was any audience interest in the idea). The talk went pretty well, a little better than I’d imagined and then I got busy with other things and didn’t really continue.  At the time they were soliciting papers to publish in conference proceedings but I declined because I didn’t yet feel qualified to put my name in writing on the topic.

I had assumed that was the end of it but then a month or so ago a colleague connected to the conference strong-armed me into writing it up (too many participants didn’t submit papers and too many that had been submitted had been turned down in the review process). I finally grudgingly wrote something up and submitted it under the assumption that the reviewer would rightly point out my inexperience and the tentative nature of it all and turn it down (or at the least suggest major revisions that would disqualify it for deadline reasons). No such luck, the reviewer suggested publishing with minor revisions… and that’s why I didn’t post for the last two weeks.

I have a vast and dazzlingly rich repertoire of avoidance tactics and I deployed them all rather than do the minor revisions required (which only took a couple of hours once all my desperate diversions had run out). What I discovered (or rediscovered) is that blogging isn’t part of my avoidance tactics.

I’m not sure why that’s the case but it does seem to be. I enjoy blogging though often when I have the time to do it all the great ideas I had for posts have flittered through the air to some other place. Still, I only seem to actually put out posts when I don’t have other pressing work problems to deal with.

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Dairy Allergies Overcome

Back just after the collapse of communism in Poland but before I came back to see what was going on, I heard about and went to a talk on someone who had just been in Poland on a trip talking to aspiring dairy farmers (they were from the College of Agriculture). They had been in a number of places around the country interviewing people as they were starting businesses and hoping to making it in the new capitalist reality they were getting (rather than the Scandinavian welfare state they’d hoped for, a story for another day).

A Polish woman in the audience also mentioned that there wasn’t much of a market for milk (as a drink) and that Polish people didn’t like the taste of fresh uncooked milk. As it turns out this was due to the wonders of communism (which produces and institutionalizes incompetence on a level that has to be experienced to be believed). The communist distribution system wasn’t able to reliably get milk to customers before it went sour and so people immediately cooked it (if it had gone sour, but not spoiled, it was used to make a kind of white cheese). This was also why most people drank coffee black and tea with lemon.

The speaker said that many of them had no realistic shot at success given the infrastructural realities and the number of cows needed and transport to get the milk to market and the prices they could realistically expect. Yet they were all ready to try and someone suggested this is the old rule of capitalism (and why it outperforms every other system). “Only one in ten will make it but each is convinced that he’s that one in ten”.

It took a few years, and lots of experimentation in packaging (as a customer base had to be built more or less from scratch) but ultimately at the collective level things worked out and now high quality fresh milk (an erratic product you could never be sure of) is easy to buy. As it turns out some Polish people now like drinking fresh milk when there’s enough to go around (not the case under communism) and many like putting milk in coffee and hardly anybody makes white cheese at home when it’s also so easy to buy. People still are suspicious about people who put milk in tea though… some things just don’t change.

Basically that’s the strength of capitalism, it’s tough on the individual (I’m sure those early dairy farmers went through hell trying to keep their heads above water) but it works better than anything else at making like easier and more pleasant (in some ways) at the collective level. That’s why the  temptation is to extend that magic to every possible sphere of life including those like education or infrastructure or human relationships or governance where problems can’t be solved by just throwing more products and consumption at them. But it’s a temptation that needs to be resisted. Figuring out where market style approaches work and don’t work is rational, simply treating every possible area of life as a market problem for capitalism to solve is a recipe for the same type of incompetence grown and nurtured by communism. Or rather a different and equally horrible type.





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How Long Does Collective Trauma Last?

Longer than 30 years. In Poland, under pressure from old time Solidarity (Solidarność) activists to whom some favors were owed the government decided to introduce a law that would close most stores on Sundays. Not all Sundays, just two a month (to begin, the plan is to expand this later).

Podobny obraz

Welcome to the bounty of socialism! (Polish butcher store, 1970s or 80s)

And… people are losing their shit. For the last couple of weeks there have been almost daily stories in the media for how people are going to deal with this and different plans for possibly trying to get around it (or make the most of what is assumed to be a terrible situation).

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania karty na mięso

Ration cards for food, introduced in the early 1980s (if you could find meat or butter on sale which was very far from a sure thing).

The reason for all the drama goes back to the 1970s and 1980s when for various reasons the economy hit the dumps and massive food shortages (and shortages of everything else) began. No one starved but buying food in regular stores became an exhausting ordeal of standing in line (many people spent several hours in line every day just trying to do normal shopping) and other alternatives (private markets, black market, underground trading networks) were expensive or risky. There were also lines for big ticket items that lasted weeks or months and were maintained 24 hours a day (people had shifts they had to report to wait in line).

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania kolejki prl

Line to buy paper…. let me repeat….. paper. Polish people are still not over this.

The lines ended about a year or so before the fall of communism, I forget the details but I’ve heard that sometime in 1988 stores were suddenly much better stocked. But the trauma related to shopping was extreme and everybody had stories about weird, funny or tragic things that happened while waiting in line. And the effects can still be seen. Even now when stores will only be closed for a single day (as on January 6, Epiphany) people crowd stores and buy what seems to be enough food to feed an army division. Closed stores make Polish people very, very, very nervous.

On the scale of collective trauma, difficulties in shopping rate pretty low maybe between a two or three on a scale of ten. As I said, no one starved (in the countryside people had too much food and bought subsidized bread to feed to livestock because, wonders of socialism, it was cheaper than animal feed). But the scars are still present in people’s psyches and have been handed down to some people who were born after the fall of communism in 1989. It’s not universal and people born in the last twenty years or so are mostly (not entirely) more relaxed about the idea.

The takeaway here is that people are not blank slates ready to be filled up with government policy (or to be nudged as they say now) but instead are complex and motivated by all kinds of different things that would be social planners never consider.





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