What I’ve Been Watching: Imperial Arctic Madness Edition

Many years ago I went through an Eskimo phase and read a lot of ethnographies and some other books on them. I was wondering how I might get to travel and study in Greenland (close to an Eskimo state though still technically under Danish… authority?).

And then I learned I don’t necessarily do super well in really cold weather. I moved into a wooden house (North Central Florida) where I was afraid to use the gas heater and the chimney didn’t work very well and froze my ass off even with a few space heaters.

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Better them than me is all I can say…

In this light moving to Poland wasn’t the brightest thing I’ve ever done but overall the benefits outweigh the drawbacks (called ‘winter’) with which I’ve come to an uneasy armistice. Though icy patches are still terrible because trying to learn to walk on ice is not a skill that’s easy to pick up as an adult…

But now I’ve started the Terror and am all in and the hellish icescape is even more hellish now that I know just how awful snow and ice are as daily companions. It’s a fictionalized version of a failed British attempt to sail two ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific by going North of Canada (through hundreds or thousands of miles of uncharted sea). There’s a lot going on with a trio of eminently talented actors as the heads of the ships.

One of the reasons the expedition failed was they had few people with any experience and they didn’t listen to them. Both ships get stuck in the ice and although they had provisions to last for several years things (the idea of getting stuck in the ice for a year or so was one they were mostly prepared for) things start going wrong and they start losing their shit individually and collectively. It’s wonderfully atmospheric, the cast is superb and there are a few great set pieces. The unexpected death of one major character is as freaky as hell with panicked bewilderment and disassociation as the leitmotifs. The soundtrack is unnaturally good.

The little bits they’ve had with Eskimos so far have been off (that’s not how igloos are made for starters) but I’m willing to let that slide for the time being. A (very large) supernatural element has been added but I’m choosing to view this as a symptom of the rapidly approaching madness. This is the kind of thing I can only watch in hot weather though… all that ice and snow…..

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Language and Center of Gravity

I’ve been listening to some videos by a Ukrainian immigrant to Poland (he has enough Polish ancestry to be recognized as Polish and his channel is Polak z Ukrainy (A Pole from Ukraine). Mostly he compares things between the two countries like food (Polish słonina isn’t as good as Ukrainian salo while Polish wieners have much more meat content than do Ukrainian ones) and some of the things that have surprised him (Poland follows the German model where the ‘first floor’ of a building is what you’d call the ‘second floor’ in the US over the ‘ground floor’) while Ukraine follows the Russian (and US) model.

Situations that are awkward for him (described in one video) often involve speaking in public where others can hear. His Polish is very fluent but with a very heavy accent that he’s still self-conscious about (most commenters tell him he’s doing fine).


Pretty cut and dried in theory….

It does remind me of how different languages have different centers of gravity in the mouth. American English (for me) is in the middle of the mouth and requires a lot of jaw and lip and tongue movement. Polish is centered toward the front of the mouth with very little lip movement and the tongue has to be light and nimble as it alternately flattens (ś) or comes to a point (sz). Russian is all about the tongue which seems to fill the entire oral cavity and other sounds escape the mouth as best they can around this giant obstacle. But after getting past the tongue they still have to negotiate the lips (a Russophone speaking Polish seems to add a lot of English w sounds).

Russian speaking Ukrainians in Poland learn survival Polish with almost no effort but no matter how fluent they get the accent remains distinctive. I haven’t known/heard enough Ukrainians who mostly speak Ukrainian to say anything about their accents.



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Fourth of July Conversations

I didn’t look for any kind of July 4th celebration yesterday and treated it as a normalish working day. Now I’m reflecting on three conversations.

The first came as I was walking to work. I noticed some US flags and a couple of military guys by a monument for Woodrow Wilson (put up for his efforts to reverse Poland’s bad experience of open borders). I stopped and chatted for a couple of minutes. We talked about why they were there and a little about life in Poland.

The second was at work where I was catching up on end-of-the-year paperwork. The only other American in the workplace stopped by and we spoke for a time, mostly on work related issues (the weirdness of students in the last couple of years and some office politics and their possible ramifications).

Lastly, I’d been invited to go out for a beer or two with some students. We had a very pleasant time discussing a wide variety of topics including (but not limited to) plans for the summer, the vagaries of cheap airlines, how expensive Scandinavia is, the World Cup, Eurovision, Ukrainians in Poland, traumatic movie experiences, bad driving in other countries, warning signs of bankruptcy (the company one of the students works in is about to go belly up in an ugly way) and puzzlement about what young people are listening to nowadays.

I just realized this morning (while scrolling through blogs and twitter) that none of the conversations revolved around the current president of the US or moral outrage about trivia. I’m very glad of that….




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If Microsoft Made Office Equipment

I’ve been thinking lately how much I hate Microsoft and their increasingly useless interfaces and I remember my own past doing office work and wondered how that would have been different if Microsoft sold real, physical office equipment and not software that becomes more difficult to use with each new downgrade (I refuse to use any word with ‘up’ in it to describe it).

So here are a few to get started.

You walk into the office one morning and find a new typewriter sitting on your desk. The keyboard is slightly different and you waste a bunch of type having to make corrections and/or start over.

You’re in the middle of typing a document and a repair guy comes in and saying that he’s going to ‘upgrade’ it takes it away and you sit staring at the wall for a few minutes until he brings it back with assurances that it’s been ‘improved’. The main thing you notice is that the J key doesn’t work at all now and the U key always types twice each time youu uuse it, which is very fruustrating.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania microsoft update meme

How I wish this were an option….

One morning the file cabinets have been changed and the size of the drawers was decreased so that you have to fold each piece of paper a little to fit in the folders.

One day instead of the copy machine producing a copy by the machine you have to go down three floors and pick up each copy in a room that is usually locked.

After lunch, you find the typewriter keyboard has been completely reorganized with the z and y kezs reversed which makes tzping verz confusing. Also the carriage return has been removed so you have to hit reverse 90 times to get back to the beginning of the line. This is supposed to be more “intuitive”.

Two weeks later the typewriter has been reconfigured so that the old paper size no longer fits and you have to throw out five boxes of typing paper and buy new Microsoft standard siye Pay-per. The new paper size doesn’t fit in the new filing cabinets.

Also the staplers have been removed and you’re expecting to use Microsoft Attach-it, an awkward device that presses papers together but which stops working after a day or so.

The week after that the filing cabinets change again, to another awkward size that no paper fits in. Also all the alphabet tabs have been removed. It’s more ‘efficient’ to put all the tabs on the outside of each cabinet. The only problem is that once you label a drawer the label can’t be changed, (nor can the drawers be changed). You need to buy a new cabinet if you want to put the files that go under C in the A-B drawer.

Finally, you arrive at the office one morning (rather close to an important deadline) and find the locks have been changed and you need to buy a new KEE to get into the office. Locks have been put on all the equipment and you have to get a new KEE authorization for each piece. Oh and the keyboards have all been rearranged again.

I can’t express how much I dread the horrible news that there is some new change Microsoft wants to make. Productive work requires, among other things, continuity and the goat fuckers at Microsoft either don’t understand that or don’t care.

The absolutely best version of Microsoft Word was 1997-2003 and almost every change made since then has made work more time consuming. I’ve got a lot of work to get done this Summer but I’m also hoping to be able to find a better system…

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My German Problem and Ours

If you live in Europe you have to spend time thinking about Germany. It’s the largest (in population) country and unquestioned economic motor of the whole EU…. and it’s just not a normal country, there I said it.

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The German approach to everything…

Ironically enough the diagnosis as to what makes it so weird can be found in the Hegelian dialectic. Again and again once Germans find a thesis they’re blind to (or reject) any kind of antithesis and so they can never reach any kind of synthesis. They just pursue the thesis headlong until its natural conclusion or beyond or until outside forces make them change direction (and they go charging off again).

This is why after WWII West Germany became the most Americanized capitalist country in Europe, devoted to consumption and prosperity with a drive that other continentals couldn’t match. East Germany on the other hand became the most Orwellian Dystopia of the Eastern Bloc where at any given time half the population was spying on and anonymously denouncing the other half. Reunited it’s become an unrelenting pusher of greater and greater EU integration, reacting with bovine ignorance at countries that are less enthusiastic at erasing their national heritage.

Hoping to become multi-cultural (the ‘right way’) they make the unilateral decision to take on all comers in a real life Hunger Games rush to their temporarily open borders.

Germany,  there’s a lot I like about you, but stop being so intense and single minded. It’s not reassuring. Just relax and try to be a normal, fucking, country for once.

Usless, I know, Germans are gonna German but every once in a while I have to say it…

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The Limits of Teaching

The failure of this and similar programs doesn’t surprise me at all. The dirty little secret of teaching is that… it’s actually pretty easy – it’s learning things that’s hard. But learning things isn’t the teacher’s job. Teachers can present information (preferably in multiple ways) and give general and individualized help on the best ways to learn it but… they can’t actually learn it in place of the students which is what expensive failed projects like this one seem to try to do (even if unconsciously).

She’s my idol and constant inspiration!

It’s true that a really, bad teacher can mess students up or turn them off a subject and occasionally a gifted pedagogue can make a previously dull subject interesting (for a time). But most of the time the very best teacher isn’t much better than an average, competent teacher. The desire to learn and the follow through work in actually learning has to come from the student (and the adults in the student’s life). Without that no teacher improvement will make any difference in the real world and with out no great teacher improvement is necessary.

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Is Your Policy Cup Half Full or Half Empty?

Most people have no idea of what kind of immigration policy they want for the country they live in (or the country of citizenship if they differ). When asked, even people who think they know what they want only list half a policy – that is the criteria for entry. But that’s only half the question, you have no policy unless your recommendations also include

  • who you don’t want to allow in the country,
  • how you expect to keep them out,
  • what you want to do to them if they make it in anyway.

I’m no exception. I don’t have a clear, consistent idea of a coherent policy for either the US (citizenship country) or Poland (where I actually live).

I have the basics of an ideal pie-in-the-sky policy for the US but it’s impossible to implement so it’s all irrelevant.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania hungarian border wall

Hungarian border fence failing to be useless….

Rather than “skills based” immigration (a wish list rather than a policy) my wish list would be based on “cultural affinity” and “willingness to assimilate”.

But this is just for immigrants. Part of the modern degradation of rational though about migration (and other issues) involves impoverishing language so that people can’t think very clearly. Toward that end I’ve come up with a preliminary taxonomy of people who migrate but no one seems interested in the idea that different people have different values and agendas and crossing a border doesn’t change those.

So, for me “immigrant” means a person who moves to another country in order to join a new society (sensu largo). People whose primary intention is to be gastarbeiters (working temporarily for higher money than they can make at home) are an entirely different category and won’t fit in to immigration policy.

That’s why I don’t like “skills based” programs which reward contacts and formal qualifications but not internal values. I’d much rather a poor semi-skilled person with an individual orientation whose not very hierarchical and isn’t afraid of new ideas over a super-skilled person who thinks of their family as a corporate unite and doesn’t want any ideas in the new country to ‘contaminate’ their way of doing things.

By “willingness to assimilate” I’m referring to children born in the new country rather than the parents (adults don’t assimilate – at most they integrate to some degree).

I’m in favor of people immigrating who are perfectly happy with their children rejecting the parents’ culture (or cultivating it privately). I’m in favor of adults who can accept the idea that their children born in the new country will be more like the children in the new country and will be free to reject most or all of the parent’s world view and culture (including religion).

Of course my policy is impossible to implement but there it is (or at least there’s one part of it).

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