Thursday, May 30, 2013

How to Play Poker by Omar Sharif

When I was at Fort Benning, I sweated through basic training with Omar Sharif. Perhaps I stated that a bit deceptively, but it fits. He was at least as good looking, had middle eastern heritage, seemed to be continually acting, and played cards. He was such a strange and secretive soul that I'm afraid to give his real name for fear that he's involved in some clandestine operations somewhere. While the real Omar Sharif was a world-ranked bridge player, my Omar played poker like no one I've ever met.

I could never be sure about Omar. He had "the uncertain glory of an April day"—alluring, likable, energetic and cheerful, but completely untrustworthy. Well, I never trusted him. I never could tell if he was simple or shrewd, if he was genuine or jesting. On the one hand he acted disarmingly naive, but on the other, it often seemed an act. "Elvis is the king!" he would say. Who knew whether to believe him or not?

Though effortlessly friendly, as far as I could tell, he had no intimate friends. When he spoke, he frequently sounded as if his lines were rehearsed. His favorite expression was "like love and particle physics" which, like his homage to Elvis, struck me as more flippancy than fact. If someone mentioned they were hoping to receive a letter from home, "Like love and particle physics, there's no way." If the conversation turned to the latest camp rumor, "That's as real as love and particle physics." It was his comment on pretty much anything in life. "Like love and particle physics, the chance of truth here is damn'd rare." And I never could tell if he meant "rare" in the sense of unlikely or precious. I don't know what others thought, but I found him an enigma.

Whether he was serious or seriously spoofing, he did, however, confide in me how to play poker. What follows is how he viewed the game, or at least, how he said he viewed it. I could never tell with Omar.

Like love, you play poker for pleasure. You endure pains and feigns during the game, all for the sake of coming out on top. For him this meant winning, but he recognized that some could enjoy the game without winning. Those people, he said, made the perfect partner(s). Who knows if he was only talking of poker.

Like particle physics, poker is all about probability. Therein lies the great conundrum, he would say. We act in accordance with learned likelihoods that we believe are true in the long run. Unfortunately, every single event, or 'hand', is unique. Plus, of course, we are all dead in the long run.

He insisted that you must learn all the probability statistics in poker and calculate odds, outs, and expected values. Anyone who didn't know these basics, he grouped with those trying to have fun at poker without winning.

But his main focus, and the denouement of his metaphors, was this: like love and particle physics (and possibly much of what he said), there is just one overriding principle in poker you need to remember. It is the principle of deception. If you understand this you will play well. And unless I am completely deceived, he understood deception better than anyone.

Unashamedly, he would then pronounce that the best strategy is, therefore, cheating. "Don the djellaba of deception," he urged as he simultaneously mocked slipping one on and Islamic clichés. If done well, cheating leads to your most successful chance of winning. If done poorly, however, it leads to loss of friends, game, and possibly kneecaps. He readily admitted he could cheat at poker and we would be none the wiser. He once stayed up all night practicing his second card dealing because someone told him that you could tell from the sound. I couldn't—even before he started. When we played with him, I'm not sure if he cheated or not, but he would graciously pass the deal when it was his turn. He probably didn't need to cheat with us. I don't remember him ever losing.

Deception in poker begins before you even sit down to play. The first deception is choosing your playing companions—more appropriately called, opponents. What did that say about us? As mentioned, those who could enjoy the game without the need to win or calculate odds were always welcome. In addition, he would look for two other types of individuals—the wealthy and the superstitious. But his views on wealth and superstition were, not surprisingly, unconventional.

I think deception, for Omar, meant marketing, and marketing was point of view. Wealth, in his mind, did not necessarily denote piles of money but, rather, your view on how to spend it. Players will strain and sweat over a five dollar bet in poker, but never, ever, even consider five dollars when negotiating the price of a new home. The five dollars remains the same value, but the point of view does not. When Omar bet five dollars, he wanted you to think like a homebuyer—that was his deception, his marketing. For Omar, wealth meant the willingness to let go of money.

Secondly, Omar believed everyone is superstitious—everyone. It is a consequence of being self-aware. He found it incredibly strange, and seemed genuinely shocked, that we access everything, the entire universe of sense and sentiment through only one person—ourselves. That unbelievable detail guarantees superstition. If everything is in your mind, then how could you not think you were special. We are superstitious because we only have one frame of reference, and it is ourselves.

While so much of his behavior I sensed was lightly contrived, his reaction to this very limiting view of the world seemed seriously to confound and upset him. This was life's one mistake. It didn't fit. More than once I found him on his bed or in the cafeteria shaking his head and mumbling "stupid singular access" or "suffocating singular access". It may have disturbed him, but he used it to his advantage. He knew, as perhaps no one else, that you have a small, singular entry into life, and he would market the hell out of it.

He always encouraged speculation about your hand, your place at the table, your good fortune, or the boundless opportunities in your life. What if you would have stayed and drawn that six? What if the three would have been a club? Is that your lucky shirt/skirt/socks/underpants? Why is it you always win when someone farts? For Omar, superstition meant thinking life is personal.

He loved when a player would ask the dealer to deal out the next card or the next card plus 3 after play had ended. He couldn't hope for a better example of life's personal promotion of superstition. Even though there is no possible card that could show up which would help you in any way, or reveal anything about poker or the laws of physics—unless it turned out to be a fifth ace (see cheating above), you willingly reveal your hand and your strategy! You learn nothing, but your opponent learns a little more about how you play. I can still picture him agitatedly waving his hands as he spoke. Of course, when he played he would encourage such behavior. If the revealed card made you believe that you would have won in some alternate universe, he would joking insist that you should share in the pot, or that the winner was lucky you dropped out, or something to the effect that you really didn't lose. In other words, he got the double deception of encouraging superstition (the hand was about you), and that the outcome should really make you feel more wealthy.

Omar said he learned to play poker from Edgar Allan Poe. Then he would recount a scene from The Purloined Letter where Poe describes a children's game, the object of which is to guess whether the number of marbles held by your opponent, behind his back, is odd or even. If you guess right, you win one; wrong, and you lose. One precocious boy won all the marbles in the neighborhood. Poe writes, "Of course he had some principle of guessing; and this lay in mere observation and . . . the astuteness of his opponents." His initial guess would be random, "Odd", for example. No, the opponent would show that the number of marbles was even. Now the gifted boy executed his two-fold strategy. If the opponent was "an arrant simpleton", he would just switch from even to odd. With "a simpleton a degree above the first", he would first reason as the "arrant simpleton" but then, being clever, switch back again. Thus, the boy captured all the marbles by knowing his opponent. And how did he know his opponent?

When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.
And this was the essence of Omar's game. Discern the acumen of his opponent and act accordingly. However, he harvested a lot more information than just a stranger's countenance. He encouraged his opponents to reveal as much as possible.

But reading the competition is only half the battle. For his part, Omar categorized three types of deception: 1) arrant simple, 2) a degree above, and 3) Vizzini. The first two, of course, were from Poe, Vizzini is the erratically cerebral character in the The Princess Bride. Omar said the vast majority of the time 'arrant simple' was all that is needed for deception. Typically, he would play his hand subtly hinting the contrary of what he held. His talk, his betting, his demeanor would suggest pocket pairs when he looked for a straight, a straight when he had nothing or a full house, a queen when he held an ace. Generally, he felt people are easily fooled. His trade mark was going 'all–in' at the most surprising times. It was maddening, and he was fearless.

In special circumstances he would resort to 'a degree above' where he would double back and hint at what he actually had, in hope that you were clever enough to think you are being deceived. Chances are you would be, but not in a the manner you thought. Lastly, more as a strategy to keep people confused about his play, he would pull a Vizzini and bet in a totally unfathomable, random manner. This was rare and he didn't expect to win—that hand.

Omar had plenty of other advice on poker, but it basically all came down to techniques of deception. It came naturally to him. His unusual personality of pretense was inherently suited for poker. But as peculiar as Omar's idiosyncratic behavior and uncommon outlook on life were, his reputation at camp became legendary from the most memorable hand of poker I ever witnessed. It's distinction stemmed not from the amount in the pot, though not inconsiderable, nor from the sequence of cards dealt, though not unsurprising, but from the shocking events immediately after the hand and the unsettling long term consequences that followed.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Here's What Happens When You Hire a Jesuit to Be Pope

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”  “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.

Mark 9:38-40

Pope Francis' homily on this scripture given on May 22, 2013:   
They [the disciples] complain, "If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good." And Jesus corrects them: "Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good."   [The disciples] were a little intolerant... [convinced that] those who do not have the truth, cannot do good. . . .  This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.  The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation.
The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. "But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good." Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. Instead, this "closing off" that imagines that those outside, everyone, cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some people throughout history have conceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, simply, is blasphemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.
Instead, the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil.
The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! "Father, the atheists?" Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. "But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!" But do good: we will meet one another there.
Text from page of the Vatican Radio website

Pope at Mass: Culture of encounter is the foundation of peace

Friday, May 24, 2013

Science ≠ Superstition ≠ Religion

If I see one more 'respectable' web site or blogger posting something like this:
It was the first really large conflict between science and religion, where religion made one prediction, and science made a different one. 
Science -- and the prostitutes who believed in it -- won.
I will…well… make this annoying post.
Please just stop. . . . Everyone. It's just stupid. Granted, your intentions may be good. There is no end to bad science, just as there is no end to bad religion. However…

If you wish to report about science, consult scientists, not someone who took eighth grade science.
If you wish to report about religion, consult theologians, not someone who took eighth grade religion.
And the scientists and theologians should probably have lived after 1900 or the chances are great that their knowledge is outdated.

Just because someone thinks they know about science or religion without studying it, does not make it so. That is called superstition. Science ≠ superstition ≠ religion although both science and religion may have grown out of superstition. We should rather say science = ignorance = religion.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


A few reflections on Kierkegaard on the occasion of this 200th birthday:


As the article points out, Kierkegaard was known for his difficult prose.  Kierkegaard himself wrote:  “People understand me so little that they do not even understand when I complain of being misunderstood.”  And Ludwig Wittgenstein, obscure enough himself, said of Kierkegaard, “He is too deep for me.”

When I was young, I read The Sickness Unto Death, his book on despair, and found it to be comprehensible enough.  But then, as is true for anyone in their 20's, despair was a pretty familar subject to me at the time.

Although the book does contain the following line, and the more power to you if you can figure it out:  "The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self, or it is that in the relation [which accounts for it] that the relation relates itself to its own self; the self is not the relation but [consists in the fact] that the relation relates itself to its own self."

Friday, May 17, 2013

And Then Then Were Twelve

On May 14, 2013, Minnesota, the home of Garrison Keillor and Rocky and Bullwinkle, became the 12th state to legalize same sex marriage. 

This develpment gives me the opportunity to promote once more one of James Carse's big points, and that is:  religions are the opposite of belief systems.  They must be in order to survive.  Despite the "official" position of the Catholic Church, among the 12 states which have legalized same sex marriage are Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which by perecentage of population, are the three most Catholic states in the nation.  New York, also a same sex marraige state, is the 5th most Catholic state.  Vermont, New Hampshire and Minnesota, also same sex marraige states, are among the top 15 most Catholic states in the country.   But then, as we all know, rejection of church teaching on the grounds of one's own conscience is itself fundamentally Catholic:  "It is better to perish in excommunication than to violate one's conscience."  Thomas Aquinas. 

Next state to embrace marriage equality:  Illinois

A simple take on the IRS Situation

Alright Jim, you talked me into it... Posting some thoughts on the blog. 

I'm refusing to call this a scandal, it just doesn't seem like a big deal to me.
My simple take on the "IRS Situation" and my attempt to inform normal people: 

501(c)4s are tax-exempt non-profit organizations. More specifically, according to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), 501(c)(4)s are:

1) “civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare,

2) "or local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality,

3) "and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.”

"Neither 501(c)(3)s nor 501(c)(4) earnings may benefit a private shareholder or individual."

501(c)4s can engage in political campaign activity, so long as this is consistent with the organization’s purpose and IS NOT THE ORGANIZATIONS PRIMARY ACTIVITY.

Are people who name their organization "Tea Party" or "Constitution" surprised they are being asked how they are spending money, or to clarify their organization based on the requirements listed above?

To be honest any organization that files for this exempt status should have records, plans, mission statements, and financial evidence ready to prove why they qualify.

I was trying to think of great liberal phrases that organizations could use to target organizations raising money for liberal candidates. All I could come up with was "More Atheists for Government" or "We Fight for Obamacare" or I think the IRS would look into organizations seeking non-profit status with names like those. 

Can anyone come up with some other liberal key words to target? 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Why I want to go to Mars

OK, 78,000 signed up in the first two weeks, but only about 600 have completed their application which includes paying a small fee and making a video answering a few questions such as why you would want to go on a one way trip to Mars. So, at first glance, it appears that the dream to go to Mars is especially strong for…well, dreamers. Here are just a few of the forceful reasons given to go to Mars:

  • Allergies
  • I'm currently in prison. It would save taxpayers' dollars if I went.
  • I'm excited to get on reality TV.
  • I was high when I sent in my application
  • I'm on the witness protection plan
  • It beats Venus!
  • I need a job.
  • The challenge really. Never seeing family or friends again. Never coming back to earth. Who wouldn't want to go?
  • First I thought it would be too dangerous, but then I checked the data: thousands of people die each year from car accidents, no one has died taking a spaceship to Mars. It's the safest thing I could do.
  • I've always had this sort of Through the Looking Glass reaction to The War of the Worlds.
  • I'm an environmentalist and we're destroying Earth. I'd like to live in a place where the atmosphere has not been polluted by mankind. 
  • No big deal—I have cancer.
  • I haven't been out of my room in 16 years. Mars would be perfect for me. 
  • I keep reading that the dust on Mars is like cigarette smoke. I love to smoke.
  • Ya know, I enjoy Doctor Who.
  • Ya know, I'm pretty clueless about everything here on earth. I'm betting Mars will be 360° different.
  • Sooner or later an asteroid will wipe out all of humanity with one blow. Watch the movie "Armageddon" with Bruce Willis. Mars is much smaller so the chance of an asteroid hitting is smaller.
  • 3 times space camp; 5 times adult space camp.
  • Excitement, history, scientific opportunity. The list goes on
  • Have you looked at nightly news lately? Mars is bound to be better.
  • The final frontier
  • I'm 20 years old. I don't know any better.
  • Because there is an end for the Earth. We need a better place to survive.
  • I love science fiction.
  • Why would I leave the Earth, birds eating in the forest, beautiful sunsets, walking on the beach, warm sand beneath your toes. those and a thousand experiences I will never have again? because not going would be a real tragedy.
  • Why wouldn't I want to go to Mars? It's a dream come true.
  • I've spent my whole life in an iron lung, so I know exactly what the experience will be like.
  • A large burial plot is barely an option any longer on earth.
  • I love hemp.
  • I hear we get to watch Star Trek for the entire 8 months travel time.
  • I'm a nice person. 
  • After watching the videos of the people applying, I find that basically they are all nuts. Those are my type of people, and I'd like to be with them.

More Why I want to go to Mars
(Frankly, you can't make this stuff up.)

  • I would like to go to Mars because I like eating food out of pouches.
  • I want a do over.
  • It would broaden the meaning behind of the word 'adapt'. 'Adapt' is a very upper filled word.
  • My theory is that we have grown old. We have grown older much like childhood cartoons. We are no longer in the experiencing phase, because everyone is always into the last one.
  • Hi, what's going on? I love space travel and all that stuff.
  • I have no idea how to answer these questions without sounding cheesy, so I would like to give it a go.
  • Men are from Mars. I'm just trying to get back home. Hey, come on, give me a boost.
  • I think maybe I have what it takes.
  • Well! I love intellectual adventures. I will write your name on Mars. Thanks for everything.
  • I've always dreamed of doing something that others can only dream about and getting to Mars is certainly one of them. 
  • I believe it's time to go to another planet.
  • . . . and I'm stable.  .  . . I'm just so excited I could beat myself.
  • It would be easier to list the reasons why I wouldn't want to go. I grew up wanting to be Arthur Dent or Zaphod Beeblebrox. 
  • Frankly, I'd like to go further. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

'Things' keep seem to be losing importance to events or energy

This is a video from one of my favorite science blogs, Veritasium. I probably should say my favorite science blog. It is updated fairly often. The subjects are often surprisingly simple and fundamental. The explanations are extremely well done, memorable, extraordinarily researched and cautiously humble. Derek Muller is the intelligent hard work behind the videos.

This is his latest which I found pretty remarkable. Even more evidence to Derek Muller's good sense and intelligence: if you listen at the end, he will confirm Ted's thoughts and recommendation.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Back to God: Poet as Believer

Poet Christian Wiman (he's been editor of Poetry for the last decade) has recently written My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer.  I happened to read Adam Kirsch's review of the book in The New Yorker.

We could, perhaps, add Wiman's thoughts to our list of God definitions.   Wiman's faith is personal and ultimately mystical.  Kirsch quotes from Wiman's poem which gives rise to the title of the book:  "I say God and mean more/ than the bright abyss that opens in that word."  Kirsch goes on to say, "In this image, God is a present absence, who leaves a space lit up by his departure. 'We feel God in the coming and going of God -- or no, the coming a going of consciousness (God is constant),' Wiman writes.  'We are left with these fugitive instants of apprehension.'"

Wiman still has plenty of doubts:  he feels at times that he's "simply wandering through a discount shopping mall of myth, trying to convince myself there's something worth buying."

Wiman grew up Baptist in a “flat little sandblasted town” in West Texas. He abandoned his faith for decades, only to find it again after two events occurred:  one was falling deeply in love; and the other was, shortly thereafter, discovering that he had a rare form of cancer.  As he puts it,  "When I fell in love with my wife at the age of 38, it became clear to me that I believed in something. When I got sick, it became clear to me that I needed to decide what that something was."  But just as George Santayana recognized (“The God to whom depth in philosophy bring back men's minds is far from being the same from whom a little philosophy estranges them”), Wiman's new religion little resembles his old:  "If you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, you have not lived."

Wiman is after something at once important and elusive:  "I tell myself that I have no problem believing in God, if 'belief' can be defined as some interior assent to a life that is both beyond and within this one, and if 'assent' can be understood as at once active and unconscious, and if 'God' is in some mysterious way both this action and its object, and if after all these qualifications this sentence still maskes any effing sense."

Again, as the poet, Wiman does not commit himself to any creed or doctrine:  "Truth inheres not in doctrine itself, but in the spirit with which it is engaged, for the spirit of God is always seeking and creating new forms."

Matthew Sitman, writing for the Dailey Dish makes this comment about Wiman's book:  "You do not finish the book with a sense of closure, that you can put your anxieties and uncertainties aside for pat answers. Wiman makes the skeptic confront uncomfortable possibilities – he asks the doubter to doubt even his doubt. And he makes the believer realize how much of what passes for faith is idolatrous nonsense, evasions and wishful unthinking."  Although religious, clearly Wiman struggles with the nature of things and the difficulties of human existence.  Once again, I find myself wondering what Richard Dawkins is talking about in his declaration, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

If You Want to Increase Your Income, Shorten Your Name

A new study from TheLadders, an online job searching site, analyzed first name data from their 6 million members. The study discovered that people with shorter names tend to have better salaries and higher-ranking positions.  Among the top five highest-level executive names are Bob and Bill, Cindy and Sarah.

And when it comes to salary, the study says, each additional letter added to your name results in a $3,600 drop in annual salary.  See Study Says Shorter Names Earn More .

I'm thinking that Tom's friend from AY in Chicago, T Sharp, has got to be a millionaire by now.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Practical Benefits of Philosophy Postscript

In the linked clip, is George Costanza behaving as an essentialist or an existentialist?  Extra points for creativity and humor in your answer.

George Costanza

How rational are your fears?

Here's a chance to measure your worries against statistics. (I'm assuming these stats are reasonably accurate, but I certainly have not verified any of them.) It's easy to do thanks to a very well conceived graph. Compare your big death worries against the chance they will happen (at least in the last century).

A couple of observations. Look at airplane accidents which confirms what we've said in the past. Also, I found interesting ideology deaths: communism vs democracy vs fascism, although, in defense of communism and fascism, they had some unusual circumstances. However, maybe "unusual circumstances" are the norm for those ideologies. Also, related to this current news story—and confirmed by the graph—perhaps parents should be more worried about suicide than car accidents.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Pat Toomey: Democrat?

Just kidding, but still, takes some kahonas in this Republican party to buck the party and say you actually want to work with the President.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Practical Benefits of Philosophy 8. The End of It

For my money, there seem to be more essentialists or fixed mindset people walking around than existentialists.  People tend to believe they are restricted  at least in some ways by pre-ordained unchangeable boundaries.  But, every once in awhile you run into those who don’t imagine themselves so limited.  They adjust to the situation at hand, however imperfectly, and don’t make excuses.  Mostly, they see themselves in control of their own fate.  If they don’t succeed, it’s only because they didn’t make enough effort or took the wrong approach, and not because some outside agency thwarted them.I recently heard an installment of This American Life called “Back to School.”  This hour-long episode argued that our ultimate success in life has very little to do with raw intelligence or I.Q. scores.  It suggested that there is a “dark matter” of resources in each of us which is much more difficult to quantify than an intelligence quotient.  The best term they could come up with for this “dark matter” was “non-cognitive skills.”

Paul Tough, a reporter who writes about education, including the book, How Children Succeed, describes non-cognitive skills like this:

Well, there's not sort of a master list of non-cognitive skills right now. The ones that Heckman [James Heckman, Nobel Prize winning economist at the University of Chicago, who also writes about this stuff] would refer to and that I think are most important, some of them have to do with self-control.  There's a number of different terms – things like self-regulation skills, self-control, conscientiousness.  So that, I think, is one set of things.  Just the ability to delay gratification, to resist impulse. When you're about to make a bad decision, to think twice about it. To keep your temper. All of those things, I think, matter a lot.
The thing is: according to Heckman and others, while IQ may be fixed, non-cognitive skills can be taught and mastered by almost anyone.

The “Back to School” episode then went on to discuss a program that operates in 23 Chicago high schools, called OneGoal, whose purpose is to improve academic achievement and help students get into college.  Its focus, however, is teaching non-cognitive skills to students rather than any academic content.

The NPR program highlighted one of the graduates of OneGoal.  And it’s a rather spectacular story.  Kewauna Lerma was a child featured in Tough’s book who grew up poor in Chicago.  As Tough describes it, “She had a really chaotic childhood. Her parents split up. She moved around a lot. She was homeless for a while. Just all the bad things that happen to poor kids were happening to her.”

At one point Kewauna got arrested.  When she got out of jail, she had a very emotional heart-to-heart talk with her great grandmother and her own mother.  It produced a lot of tears and caused her to start taking school a little more seriously.  In her sophomore year in high school, Kewauna started doing her homework, and she stopped skipping class.  But perhaps most importantly, she signed up for OneGoal.

In her freshman year before this talk and OneGoal, Kewauna’s GPA was 1.8. In her sophomore year, it was 3.4.  Then in her junior and senior years, she managed a 4.1 average.  She’s now at Western Illinois University.

How did this young woman from the South Side of Chicago end up in college?  By thinking existentially, and being responsibility for who she was.  Here’s what she said about her approach to her classes at the university:

The first thing I did when I first got to every class, I introduced myself. First – no, first, I sat in the front. If everybody else was sitting in the back, no. I sat in the front, like right on it. Like I'm nearly touching your desk and let them know, let them see my face, and let them remember it. And then after I go, the first step is to make sure they see your face, like they know who you are. As long as they know who you are.

And I always, like after class or before class, I introduce myself. Ask them about their office hours. And have like a little calendar on my wall and say, "This day." I always did a check-in to see how I was doing.

I will go to a teacher. I will go to a professor and get help. I have no shame in my game no more.

I think it fair to say that Kewauna has decided to be responsible for her own existence.

And I have a less dramatic but more personal example of existentialist thinking that I’ve mentioned to people before.  Back when she was in high school, Ellen had a biology teacher we shall call Mrs. C.  By all accounts, Mrs. C. was an impossible person to deal with and a terrible teacher.  She behaved irrationally and could fly into rages without warning.  Sue matter-of-factly calls her a psychopath.  One day, shortly after Ellen started her biology course, I happened to hear her make some mildly favorable reference – I don’t recall the specifics – to this teacher.  A little surprised, I said to her, “I thought you told me that you hated Mrs. C.”  “Trust me, Dad,” she said with just the slightest smile, “by the end of this semester, Mrs. C. is going to love me.”

Sartre no doubt would be proud.

This concludes the series.  There will, however, be a test following this last installment.  Please reveiw the past material.