Contradictions

I have a professor who loves conspiracy theories. While this person does not say it outright, one can pick up the hints by the things said in class. Things like, “This article was published by NASA revealing this information, but not it’s no longer there. I wonder why.” Or, things like, “Why does Google Earth says ‘access not allowed’ to certain parts of Mars and the Moon?”

I think it’s great that a professor can be this candid and speculate. This is a rare trait in academia, where most professors put on the “know it all” hat, even though there are many mysteries in the world around us.

While I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I am a skeptic by nature and I love to do research. So I don’t always trust what the powers that be say as fact. Instead, I like to investigate on my own and reach my own conclusions.

But, back to the contradictions part. I think this is a big part of what makes us human. In my professor’s case, this person is supposed to teach us hard scientific facts, and yet, this professor reveals a level of personal uncertainty in some scientific claims.

Examine yourself. Are you filled with little contradictions, too? Don’t you say something in public, but think or do something else in private? For instance, are you a vocal “pro-green” activist, but sometimes forget to recycle your own plastics?

Thoughts?

Paris

View of Paris, Eiffel Tower

If I had the choice to live anywhere in the world, it would be in Paris. I have neve been there, but I’ve been in love with the City of Lights for as long as I can remember. My hope is to go visit in the next five years and I can’t wait! I would go sooner, but I have no money to do so.

There are so many things that I want to say about Paris that I feel overwhelmed and don’t even know where to begin.

Is it possible to love a place that I’ve never been to? Yes, it’s possible. It’s hard to describe the joy I feel in my heart when I think of Paris. And I know that not everyone understands, but those of us who have fallen madly in love with this beautiful city, can only dream of at least visiting once in our lifetimes.

Like I said, there are so many wonderful things I love about Paris that one post will not do it justice. So here are some of the things I love:

 

The Louvre

The Louvre

Shakespeare & Co.

Shakespeare & Co.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Besides beautiful locations, Paris is just a magical city. One really amazing thing is that by paying  20€ a month, you can watch as many films as you want at any movie theater in ALL of France. That just makes me want to move there even more.

But what I really want to do (if I can’t live there just yet) is spend a full week in Paris. Besides visiting the places pictured above, I would love to sit down in some little café and just write and people watch. Of course, there will be pastries and some coffee. And that would be my perfect afternoon in Paris. Nothing fancy. I just want to sit there and absorb Paris.

And as much as I love my two kids, this will definitely be a trip for me and the wife. Can’t wait!

Paris at night. Eiffel tower from distance

Let’s Burst that Bubble

We can all learn from each other. On a theoretical level must people nod their head in agreement with the previous statement, but few put it to practice. If you think about it, most of us live in bubbles where our friends and the people we hang out with and even the people we listen to look, well, just like us.

And I’m not just talking about race, although that’s definitely part of the equation. Most of the people you admire, like bloggers, thinkers or TV personalities probably think the same way that you do. Of course, there’s great value in belonging to a tribe and in sharing common things with others, but it’s also as important to have a different perspective on things.

But I get it. You put up your protective bubble because it feels safe and familiar. You don’t want to be challenged. You don’t want to have to defend your opinion, or worse, you don’t want to change your opinion.

But alas, you’re missing out on something really important: we can learn a lot from others.

For example, there’s a TV personality, writer, thinker and now even politician that I admire for his wit and interview skills. The man is probably the best person alive conducting interviews. He gets his subjects to open up because despite of his obvious intelligence, he’s a master at self-deprecating humor. He asks the hard questions and is not afraid to voice his opinion.

With all that said, his personal views are completely opposite of mine. He’s leftist, anti-religion and pro all things that basically conservatives are against.

And yet, I still consider him to be one of the best journalists ever.

So here’s the thing, while I may rarely agree with him, I can admire the quality of his interviews, his prose and his wit. You don’t have to agree with someone on everything to find qualities that you admire. And while I don’t agree with pretty much anything he says, I admit that he gives me plenty of things to think about.

Don’t be afraid to follow and even become friends with a person that views the world in a completely different way.

There’s a lot to learn.

Being Real

How many “real” people do you know? I don’t mean real in an ontological way, but I mean “real” as in people who are honest with their struggles. Must people present to the world an unrealistically flawless persona.

I dare say that this ridiculous behavior is a lot more common in church, which is ironic since being a Christian is essentially about coming to terms with our own inadequacies. And yet, we go on about our lives putting up a front that says, “Hey, my life is perfect and I never screw up.”

That’s why I love this Bonhoeffer quote:

“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”

Like Bonhoeffer said, the final breakthrough, the real fellowship happens when we are honest with each other. The real fellowship happens when we admit that we’re vulnerable and imperfect.

The thing is that no one expects us to be perfect because we’re not. And as believers, we should know this better than anyone. However, there’s this tendency, this gravitational pull toward being fake that doesn’t allow us to be real with others.

That’s why I believe one of the reasons the apostle Paul kept saying how he was “the least of the apostles” is because he knew we have this tendency to build up a fake representation of ourselves. He repeatedly mentioned his failings so that other believers could see that he was just a man. He was transparent about his failings. He wasn’t fishing for a humility compliment. He was just being honest.

And that’s another byproduct of our ridiculous edification of a perfect persona, we look at people at the Bible and think “we can never do what they did” because despite our “perfect” front, we know all of our sins and issues. But if only we were real with ourselves and with others, we can see that God uses screw ups to advance his kingdom. We can then truly believe that despite all the miracles, “Elijah was a man just like us.”

Finally, going back to the Bonhoeffer quote:

“We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”

In the end, our desire to keep up with appearances ends up isolating us from others. Real fellowship is never established and truly deep friendships rarely flourish. And when a “real sinner” is discovered amongst us, like Bonhoeffer said, we act horrified and shocked. Instead, we should be compassionate, loving and most of all, honest. Just tell that person, “Hey, I too struggle with this,” or, “I used to struggle with something similar.”

Stop the fakeness. Jut be real.

Are you on Instagram?

Hey, if you’re on Instagram, follow me at @cubaninkansas. My account is mainly for documenting cool and interesting parts of Topeka and other places in Kansas, but I may include an occasional family shot in there. I’m still working on my style and my focus, but check out some of my favorites below:

Sunset over Topeka

 

Jayhawk Theater stage

 

Trees in the sunset

A Reflection on (Unwanted) Classes

After I wrote The Futility of Some Subjects, something interesting happened. I’m actually starting to like my geology class. I know I’m probably the only one. Everyone else in class is either falling asleep or their facial expressions make it seem like Bambi’s mom just died.

Although I still believe that any kind of advanced math is a waste of time (unless your future career requires such math), I agree that there is some value in being exposed to subjects you wouldn’t immediately choose.

While I’m not going to become a geologist, I did enjoy picking up the 30 pound meteorite that fell down from the heavens sometimes in the 1800s. I also enjoyed learning, or rediscovering, the beauty and the complexity of our planet.

Perhaps a better approach for future educators would be to not force a specific number of physical science courses on unwilling students, but instead present those courses as options. Furthermore, perhaps they can present those courses with a short intro video, or some sort of interactive element on the website. This can get the students excited and even interested about classes they may have not thought of at first.

Dreadful Paywall

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a while. The one thing that has stopped me is the respect I have for The New York Times. However, after this post, titled Emmy Winners Mostly Fall Behind TV’s Paywall, that changed. Essentially, the Times writer laments that most TV shows, such as Breaking Bad, won’t be seen by millions because they’re not on network television.

Of course, the writer fails to mention that the Times also blocks their content from millions of readers after their 10 free articles per month is up.

Is there a way to bypass the Times paywall? And is this way legal?

Yes and yes.

All you need to do is download the anonymous Tor browser. What Tor does is that it allows you to surf the Web anonymously, that is without the prying eyes of hackers and the government.

But it also has another function. It changes your ip address, which is how the Times knows when you reach your limit.

Basically, your IP address will always come up as if you’re in a different country. So, after you install the browser and you connect on the Tor network, you can open The New York Times.

After your 10 articles, all you do is “Stop Tor” and then click on “Use a New Identity.” (See below)

Tor

Then reconnect to Tor and you’ll have a brand new ip address. That means 10 free articles. Repeat as many times as you like.

Thanks to Edward Snowden for all the wonderful privacy tips.

Rebel Leader

“We want Burger King!” We yelled in unison.

I was 11 and my two cousins were about the same age. We had just left Cuba a few months earlier. We had left a country where the food was rationed and burgers were a luxury if not a thing of legend.

“You’re not going to eat there!” My aunt replied. “We made dinner so that you guys can eat at home!”

In response, me and my cousins locked ourselves in our room, and in the tradition of many Cuban political prisoners, I decided that if our demands were not met, then we wouldn’t eat at all.

“We’re on strike” I said softly, with tears in my eyes. Then I slammed the door and climbed onto the top bunk bed. My cousin Yinet was up there with me. Danay was on the bottom bunk, but was also firm in her belief. No Burger King, no food.

It wasn’t as if we never ate there. As a matter of fact, we had just had dinner there only a few days ago. But in our youthful stubbornness, we needed to eat Burger King that night. But to be honest, my reason for organizing the strike was more than a desire to eat a cheeseburger, minus the pickles.

A few months earlier, I had not only left my friends and my country, but I had left behind my parents. For legal and complicated reasons, they weren’t able to leave Cuba. The day of my departure, I remember being kissed and hugged by both my parents at the airport. And even though I wanted to say that I loved them and I wanted to cry, I felt numb. I wanted to prove to my dad that “men don’t cry,” an adage that I had been told all my life, which only confused me when I saw a few tears in his eyes.

In Cuba, you have to walk from the airport to the plane. That is, you’re actually walking on the runway. I remember walking in a single file, following my aunt and uncle. My two cousins and my great grandmother were also with me. Before I stepped inside the airplane, I did what most Cuban exiles in front of me did, I looked back, not only to catch a glimpse of my parents, but to say goodbye to the island. Our destination was South Florida.

Now, a few months later, my numbness was shattered and a wave of regret and emotion had come over me. Had I chosen the right thing? I missed my parents very much, but I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my feelings with anyone and I didn’t want to cry in front of my cousins who were girls. So, I made my stand with the Burger King issue. When I cried that night, I wasn’t thinking that my aunt and uncle were being mean, but I was crying for my parents. It was a charade. It was a ruse, just like the Cuban Revolution.

But unlike the Cuban political prisoners, many who have died of hunger strikes, my aunt finally gave in. They would drive to Burger King and buy us dinner. My uncle did warn us that if we pulled a stunt like that again we would go hungry that night. I’ve never seen him so mad, so I believed him.

Later, as I ate my cheeseburger, I felt a bit better, now that I had unchained my deep emotions and allowed myself to cry. Sometimes a good cry is all that the soul needs.