Of posts and plots

To a good measure, my writings in this blog do not differ, in content, to what I often discuss with friends over at the bar, or during a training ride, or having a mate in the park. Here, as there, I express my own opinions, on facts and people, and take full responsibility for what I write or say. However, in the other environments, I know - usually personally - my audience, and, if needed, can immediately discuss the implications of a strongly-worded argument, or even make a request for a subject not to be commented further. Clearly, that is not the case in an open-access blog such as The Thin Grad Line.

This very issue had already been pondered upon over one of the first posts here. At the time, I opted for a different approach to the different topics I wrote about, and thus a decision was made to keep the blog open. It meant avoiding some subjects, or writing only indirectly about others - but I figured those who knew me, or were sufficiently informed about the particular events at hand, could establish the necessary connections and enjoy the bigger picture. With time, however, I learned that others, reading this blog, had formed quite a different image of me than what I believe was, or is, the one I strive to project for myself. Maybe that was in part due to the writing style, maybe due to the subjects about which I wrote, specially as, more recently, I became increasingly willing to be open about my thoughts and feelings. The reason of such (in my view) misinterpretation doesn't matter. I wrote before, and I'll repeat the Pullman quote here: nobody has the right not to be offended. This includes, for instance, when reading this blog.

Now, if you disagree - great. Leave a comment, write me an email or, better yet, join me on a cup of coffee for us to discuss the subject further. Or simply let it be - live and let live...
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Regarding La Trama: what for me may represent "going for broke" may as well be someone else's typical day at the office, nothing more than the regular bread-and-butter. Or vice-versa. It's also clear that not everything must be done balls-to-the-wall - balance, as always, is key. In a sense, what I wanted to convey was the idea of aiming high above for the overall combination - of sports, career, relationships, experiences in general. And it's no secret that one must accept giving up on one side to be able to accomplish more in another - at least in most cases.

But sometimes, one just needs to go for the non plus ultra. I promise to keep you posted...

La Trama

Uruguayan singer Jorge Drexler's latest album is named "Amar la Trama" (Love the Plot), a name he justified on his passion for the plot, "the space between the beginning and end, to be completed, in which things happen".

Drexler sings, "to love the plot more than the outcome" (Amar la trama más que al desenlace). For a long time I insist that the journey is the destination. It doesn't mean goals are unimportant, but I believe getting there should bring at least as much satisfaction as the final objective - otherwise something is clearly amiss. Maybe a good explanation can be found in MacIntyre's inner goods theory - which was the subject of a previous post. But how exactly can one assert that a particular choice will lead to (better, longer?) satisfaction as one walks down the chosen path? Can such be quantified? And does departing from the path, giving up on the objective, invalidates the whole process undertaken until then?
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On a random discussion over in a cycling forum, someone posted "If a person never quits when the going got tough, they wouldn't have anything to regret for the rest of their life". Curiously, reading an editorial on (former) minister von Guttenberg's resignation this morning, I came across "Reue ist Verstand, der zu spät kommt" - regret is the understanding that came too late.

I was recently asked what I was truly afraid of. I'm scared of a number of things, but I was always afraid of feeling regret for a decision. Thus, for a long time, I managed to avoid situations that could lead to possible regrets - and that is precisely the only thing I have to regret when looking back.

As I went over a list of objectives for the times ahead, I found a plethora of possibilities that would be fun, exciting, and still allow for a balanced, unregretful life - many of those still very much fitting the overall Whiskas' Lifestyle theme. And then I had a glimpse of myself in a Radiohead Fitter, Happier song. No way. I'm going for broke. Maybe I'll bemoan trying, but I will not resent fearing regret. At any rate, "durch der Reue niedres Tor, wandern wir zum Glücke" (Through regret's lowered gate, we walk towards happiness). Thanks, Herder.
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Coming back from Brazil, after a short, but intense week-long visit, I realised the obvious, but absolutely non-trivial answer to the identity question posed in the previous post.

In an uniquely Whiskas way, I am both.

And together we're invincible .


Another instance of Whiskas' travel-motivated commentary

Echoing Monica's comment of a few weeks ago, Brazil impresses by its accelerated economic growth. Internationally-traded stocks are on all-time highs, exports blossom, and foreign companies invest heavily. Nevertheless, the magazine I picked for reading on-board still had as its cover story racism issues and the social disparities between races. Browsing through the articles, this contrast is strikingly visible: whereas one discusses the Central Bank's decision on interest rates and another reports of BMW's plans to expand its dealerships and even contemplates setting up a manufacturing plant, reports on the low levels of investment on primary education or a story about the lack of an effective witness protection program to safeguard the lives of those who attempt to raise voice against the ever-present corruption in the higher spheres of the Brazilian society show that the South American giant still has a long way to go before it can have the label of 'developed country' stamped upon itself.

I dwell further. Brazilian science advances with the growing economy as local industries realize the potential of applied research in the vast - and capable - University environment. But at the same time, laboratories still struggle under the bureaucratic machine to maintain their expensive lab equipments running: a million-dollar atomic force microscope (AFM) employs probe tips costing, in Europe, but a few dozen dollars each. Boarding to Brazil, a fellow physicist asked me whether I could help out their lab by bringing some AFM tips, as they are hard to find - and then, usually prohibitively expensive - in the local market. I don't want to go Machiavellic here - that is to say, employ the "the ends justify the means" adage -, merely illustrate another point where the land still must come to terms with its own progress.

And then there is the Critical Mass incident. Critical Masses (CMs) are anarchic manifestations, mostly by bikers, attempting to call attention to the fact that today's urban (traffic) planning leaves alternative forms of transportation mostly sidelined, what in greater part can be blamed on the automobile-centred mentality which permeates the views of (almost) everyone living in an urban environment. The first CMs took place in North America, before spreading now to be found in virtually every continent, and in particular in cities and countries where a sufficiently large community of alternative, liberal minded cyclists attempt to fight, outnumbered, the status quo. As a cyclist, I took part in some of the first CMs in Porto Alegre, then dubbed "Bicicletadas". After a few rounds, I ceased to participate, as I had the impression such events would foster more annoyance among drivers rather then actually spreading a positive image about the idea. But I digress.
Two weeks ago, during the monthly edition of Porto Alegre's CM, as the manifestation cycled through a tight downtown street, a driver lost his temper and ran over over a dozen cyclists, knocking them out of the way or over his windshield, fleeing immediately afterwards. Behind, the almost one hundred participants were left in uttermost shock - amateur videos of the attack remind of a Carmaggedon game scene, and it was by sheer luck that no one was killed, no, wait, murdered. (Shameless plug: always wear a helmet!). After overcoming the shock from the news, and finding out that my friends who took part were mostly unscathed, I was, needless to say, relieved to be cycling in a way friendlier environment...
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I flew Business for my 26th crossing of the Atlantic. I'm terribly spoiled by having insiders in Brazil's largest airline - which usually translates into getting cheaper deals for a ticket or an upgrade for the 12-hour haul over the Big Water Pond. I figure I wouldn't have enjoyed most of these crossings so much, were it not for the added comfort of the extra leg room, fully reclining seat - and the wine menu, of course :) . Thanks again, Roni!
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Put together all the points above, the bending of rules, or their re-interpretation, and one should be able to draw a pretty good picture of the famous "Brazilian way" - the jeitinho brasileiro, which could be translated as the institutionalization of helping one's own (including oneself) out. This unique approach leads to innovation, flexibility and tolerance, but seems also to be, at the very same time, the most infamous character trait of the Brazilian society - precisely when it is translated to impunity, or lack of observance to valid standards, regulations or safety measures.
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Among the ponderings of the past few months, I've spent time trying to figure my identity more precisely. I was born and grew up in Brazil, but I don't fully grasp the culture or the people in its entirely. Most of the country is unbeknownst to me, being familiar only with the European-influenced southern states - and, in fact, I had never cooked the traditional beans dish until last week :) . At the same time, I am German, I live in Germany, and have grown up in a half-German family with many influences from my Old Continent relatives - and yet, in many senses I am still a foreigner.

During my time in Canada, I would often identify myself as Brazilian, but spent more time with German-speaking friends. Coming back to my home town this week, I again faced myself with the identity question. Fortunately, I came to realize that such lack of a properly defined answer must not be taken negatively: never mind that most of my closest friends have some sort of migration or living-abroad background; I am among my own in different countries, continents and cultures. Home, finally, is always where the heart is.