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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reporting on a Planet

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Grbzak, what to make of this civilization? It’s almost a misnomer, because uncivilization would be more accurate in many cases. One scratches his head over the peculiarities of humanoids. They’re consistently inconsistent.

For one thing, they make animated movies they call PG specifically created for younger children, and then they put warning labels on these movies which say: “Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.” What’s that all about? Are you seeing the disconnect here? Let’s rewind and try again. They make movies expressly for the kids… and then they say be careful letting kids watch them. Where’s a brick wall when you need one, Grbzak?

Likewise, the ‘may’ clause in there is since they don’t want to commit one way or the other, because after all they’re merely monitoring every single frame of the movie and categorizing it all down to the popcorn compatibility factor, and as a result they don’t know the appropriateness of the content other than rating it based on the contents that they don’t know whether they’re appropriate or not due to things they can’t determine while being in the business of recommending, which only makes sense because they’re only human, c’mon!

That explains a lot right there. It would be akin to the census coming to your house and interviewing you in the presence of your family, and then concluding on their report: ‘Someone may or may not be living there, but we don’t want to definitively state one way or the other. Although the content of the home is fundamentally organic in an undetermined manner — and governmental guidance is suggested for minors under 65’.

Grbzak, in case you’re thinking this may only be indicative of a minor defect in the human persona, also take note that they make commercials that ARE LOUDER THAN THE REST OF THE PROGRAMMING TO BE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN THAT NOBODY MISSES THEM! I don’t know about you, but it sure makes me want to go out and buy their product. The decibel level that they’re able to attain is nothing short of impressive. Give me more decibels, Grbzak! I can’t get enough of ‘em. It somehow hypnotizes me and causes me to walk to the store like a zombie to get their product. “Must… buy… more… Old Spice deodorant… Must fill shopping cart to the brim…”

Another area humans manifest their glaring flawed nature is in the comics page of a newspaper. Curiously, about three-fourths of the so-called comics are rather unfunny, to the point of mysterious bafflement. I’m pretty sure Sally Forth hasn’t had a funny strip since 1964. A more apt term for these offerings of blocked witticism would be the “Huhs.” When you read them, about the extent of what you think afterward is “huh.” And yes, Grbzak, it’s a salient point that a good deal of these comics aren’t trying to be funny in the first place. That’s the whole point! Even when they want to explore a horizon that exudes humor, they can’t usually bring themselves to do it. They’re comics, the funny papers, and yet they function as the opposite. How curious indeed. The advertised product takes a wide detour from its intended purpose, but at least the original intent was there, so they feel like they should be given credit for that. All you have to do is call it a rose and it becomes a rose. I think they have a saying like that, anyway.

What’s more, the truly funny comics are treated as anomalous. One is viewed as being on the far end of comedy, another gives the character a geeky name and draws him as an overly dweebish version of a geek just for grins. And yet another shows a curious child talking incessantly to his imaginary animal friend. And then another one depicts a neurotic adolescent who philosophizes all day with his friends who ridicule him and whose pet is smarter than them all and the adults have been cursed with a speech impediment which allows them to only converse in an ancient Wa-Wa dialect. Yes, these are the ones that are actually funny, but the underlying message is that these are almost too good for consumption and must therefore be packaged as outliers. Does that tell you something about the constituents? They want to have funny, but at the same time they feel obligated to apologize for it. And that’s where Blondie and Cathy and Heathcliff and Mowgli and Samsonite come in. They’re the neutralizers, just in case anyone was threatening something more than a guffaw.

A newspaper is also referred to as a rag. The primary purpose of a newspaper, Grbzak, seems to be that it makes a person look important when holding it, because it requires two hands. Have you ever seen someone holding a newspaper open with only one hand? It doesn’t happen, because that’s not cool. That’s why blogs aren’t really going anywhere, because you can’t hold them. But the newspaper allows you to look busy along with looking important, and you can cover your entire upper half while taking a nap, and no one’s any wiser.

The most observed part of the newspaper is the sports page where the results of simulated rituals are posted, and the human game seems to be that they want to hide the sports page to see if people can find it. Once the readers complete the scavenger hunt, then they can prey on their game and proceed. That’s why the front page has such big headlines. They’re trying to deter people from turning to the sports page. “No, don’t go there! Big monsoon sweeps through the Pyranees! Lots of people died in explosion! Hey, look — Paris Hilton’s kidney on display at museum!”

So Grbzak, the only logical being we’ve detected on this planet seems to be a man who goes by the name ‘Spock’, apparently in the mode of Sting, the two of them obviously not wanting to be known as Leonard or Gordon. We don’t know what to think of the rest who carry on like they purchased their brains with coupons at K-mart. To be truthful, the fact that there are even K-marts at all is an indictment of the entire race, so we’re not really off to a good start.

Speaking of movies, isn’t it interesting that anything at all can be said in a movie — that is, except for a real phone number, of course. We wouldn’t want to violate the sacred area of telecommunication, because it could compromise someone else’s right to caller euphoria. Some lady in Muncie, Indiana might get an overload of calls if they mentioned her number. And they’d confuse her for the psychotic Nicolas Cage character who was using that number in the movie. On a side note, if there’s one word that can be used to describe Nicolas Cage’s many portrayals, it would be ‘consternation’. He can consternate like nobody else. In fact, one might consider him to be the master of consternation. It wouldn’t surprise any of us to know that he has a black belt in it.

But even more peculiar about the hallowed cinematic phone numbers is that the prefixes must be stated succinctly as 555. Apparently we have to reserve 666 for other uses, and 444 might be needed for very important government business — you never know. Otherwise, in the movies anything else besides phone numbers that may resemble actual persons or events is purely coincidental, though it may be based on actual events, but just without resembling them. Thank you, lawyers, for getting your paws in the middle of a creative process to help formalize it. That’s like requiring painters to abstain from using Barbie pink because it’s eminent domain. Next thing you know, Billy Joel’s™ name will become trademarked. Accept no imitations. Only use the authentic Billy Joel™. When I stop and think of all the upstanding Billys, like Billy Ray Cyrus, Billy Bob Thornton, Billy Mays, Billy Martin, Billy Barty, Billy Idol, Billy the Kid, et al, I wonder why Mr. Joel™ would care to be associated with their ilk. There are lots of other names with much better ilk than that. Which makes the humanitarian work done by Billy Crystal and Billy Graham to uphold the integrity of the Billy name even more commendable.

So, what do we make of all of this, Grbzak? Should we just leave them to their own devices? When we really get down to it, I think you may be right — they may be crazy. But then again, it just may be a lunatic we’re looking for.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ode to Inertia

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Thinking of something. Breaking the ice. Tolerating the air. Sifting through the data. Buttering some toast. Melting into the psyche. Spiking the punch bowl. Pondering the expanse. Taking it all in. Clutching at straws. Making the grade. Living on the inside. Seeing the light. Keeping it under wraps. Speaking in tongues. Waiting on a friend. Smiling up the frown. Thinking outside the box. Lapping it up. Matching the ideas. Dancing madly backwards. Writhing in pain. Fixing the pipes. Beating a dead horse. Standing on the edge. Ringing the bell. Walking in Memphis. Looking for space. Sticking my neck out. Counting blue cars. Talking to the wall. Lifting shadows off dreams. Falling for anything. Walking on the moon. Shaking the tree. Jumping the shark. Swimming against the tide. Running on a treadmill. Crawling in the dark. Waiting for the sun. Jockeying for position. Taking somebody with me. Romancing the stone. Living in the past. Keeping my cool. Watching the wheels. Killing the golden goose. Standing in the light. Hanging by a moment.

Pausing for effect.

Selling the drama. Lamenting the fall. Burning down the house. Working for the weekend. Rolling with the punches. Building a mystery. Hanging by a thread. Racing against time. Staring at the sun. Learning to fly. Leaving on a jet plane. Talking in my sleep. Losing my religion. Playing for keeps. Climbing up the walls. Dragging the line. Moving in stereo. Taking it for granted. Singing the blues. Holding back the years. Picking my poison. Watching paint dry. Calling the shots. Walking the dog. Living in another world. Paying my dues. Gardening at night. Coming up close. Looking over my shoulder. Writing to reach you. Crying over spilled milk. Waiting in the wings. Living for the city. Making plans for Nigel. Going for the one. Genuflecting with style. Waxing wildly nostalgic. Leaving for Rio. Surfing with the alien. Circling the wagons. Hunting high and low. Leaving well enough alone. Gallivanting around town. Standing outside the fire. Raising the bar. Venting my spleen. Watching the detectives. Being alone together. Twisting by the pool. Walking on sunshine. Thinking in reverse. Dancing in Berlin. Expecting to fly. Throwing it all away. Killing yourself to live. Begging for mercy. Pushing up daisies. Cutting my losses. Biting my tongue. Crying in the rain. Running up that hill. Dying to know. Borrowing a line. Grazing in the grass. Leveling the field. Heading for nowhere.

Taking a deep breath.

Coming around the mountain. Mixing it up. Evening the score. Lightening the load. Basking in the limelight. Circumventing the process. Licking my chops. Creating a nuisance. Unearthing the evidence. Getting into trouble. Excavating for a mine. Blaming the system. Choosing style over substance. Testing the hypothesis. Flirting with disaster. Ordering it to go. Chewing the fat. Flavoring with salt. Curbing my appetite. Appeasing the masses. Baking a cake. Living with the law. Caring for the poor. Running on empty. Casting a vote. Supporting my case. Finishing the job. Reacting with fear. Biding my time. Accentuating the positive. Staving off the wolves. Embarking on an odyssey. Maximizing my profits. Throwing in the towel. Wearing out my welcome. Relaxing the rules. Lurking in the shadows. Gritting my teeth. Setting the record straight. Egging them on. Understanding the effects. Allocating the goods. Wasting away in Margaritaville. Following my dreams. Needing a miracle. Working out the kinks. Shooting the messenger. Aiding and abetting. Engaging in dialogue. Slipping on ice. Jumping off a ledge. Trying to love two. Nixing the algorithm. Abandoning all rationale. Turning it upside down. Packing it all in. Faxing my resume’. Striking a chord. Battling the enemy. Arguing a point. Settling for less. Fighting for a cause. Breaking the habit.

Going for popcorn.

Estimating the outcome. Sticking to my guns. Counting the cost. Giving it all away. Sleeping with the enemy. Begging the question. Drowning in my sorrows. Furthering the effort. Needing my space. Swatting at flies. Exposing a flaw. Repeating past mistakes. Leading the witness. Nearing the end. Playing my hand. Bracing for impact. Forgetting the past. Building a portfolio. Harboring restless fugitives. Spending the night. Inciting a riot. Fostering good will. Preaching to the choir. Licking my wounds. Exacerbating the issue. Pounding the pavement. Going for broke. Shouting for joy. Grinning ear to ear. Smelling like roses. Floating on air. Renovating the attic. Granting a wish. Foaming at the mouth. Beating the odds. Thinking out loud. Entertaining the possibility. Bucking the system. Burning the midnight oil. Earning a living. Developing a reputation. Getting my way. Waking the neighbors. Marking my calendar. Burying the hatchet. Missing the point. Staying with it. Playing to win. Reaping the rewards. Enjoying the spoils. Mailing it in. Running in the family. Agreeing to disagree. Sparing the rod. Bursting at the seams. Gearing up for winter. Acting on instinct. Panning for gold. Forging a path. Serving my time. Building the perfect beast. Flying off the handle. Running into the ground. Grinding to a halt. Exorcising my demons. Softening the blow. Garnishing my wages. Saving my face. Wincing the night away. Sifting through the sands.

Stalling for time.

Keeping the faith. Expecting the worst. Clinging to hope. Betting the farm. Holding all the aces. Delivering the goods. Riding the wave. Minding the store. Taking out the garbage. Milking the clock. Sowing the seeds. Wondering what everyone knows. Facing the music. Getting a second wind. Turning the tables. Having a blast. Breaking the law. Reading between the lines. Sleeping like a baby. Hitting the mark. Sailing to paradise. Flying high again. Going down to Liverpool. Fixing the problem. Catching the butterfly. Working in a goldmine. Upping the ante. Living in a box. Praying for time. Running the gauntlet. Waiting for the rapture. Wishing you were here. Living on a thin line. Catching some rays. Barking at the moon. Raining cats and dogs. Getting over it. Counting my blessings. Sweeping under the rug. Looking for clues. Zeroing in on nothing. Reeling in the years. Comparing apples and oranges. Saving the world. Making a statement. Stumbling over terrain. Walking in your footsteps. Living in a fantasy. Coming full circle. Flying without wings. Hitting the ceiling. Crashing by design. Whispering your name. Crossing the Rubicon. Believing in myself. Calling all angels...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Heading To Or From Entropy

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We figure chaos comes into the equation somewhere, even if we can’t tell with precision whether we’re regressing away from it or progressing toward it. But I’d like to think that we’re in the perfect maelstrom for either scenario. What better portal for disorder than the humanistic element?

Insanitize is that process of gradually going bonkers. And if the term is not yet accepted by the linguistic community, it’s just a matter of time. Three million years from now, every possible combination of letters will probably be a word. At that point, playing Scrabble would be rather pointless. In fact, you would have no advantage over a small child wearing blindfolds. This could actually be the juncture where babies finally take over the world and exact their revenge on us after all this time. I think it would be poetic justice, after we’ve been pushing binkies on them and talking to them like they’re imbeciles. Just you wait in another three million years. Another bold prediction you can hold me to.

Shilo Inns trumpets that it offers “free amenities.” But, but… Hmm. OK, well, isn’t it all part of the package? You could call anything free if you wanted to. I suppose I got the steering wheel and rear seat free in my car, even though the overall cost was absorbed exponentially into the windshield wipers. I hate those $14,000 wipers. They’ll get you every time.

Within a 7-year period, all our cells have regenerated and been replaced, so we’re basically a different physical specimen than we were 7 years prior. And yet we still have pretty much all our same traits and features. Plus our memory goes back a lot farther than 7 years. What is it we’re hanging onto apart from our cells? Are cells just passing information on to other cells before moving on? If so, then what pray tell is “information”? Callin’ it your job, ole hoss, sure don’t make it right. As they say on a popular kids show, “A clue! A clue!”

A closet is a place to hide things you don’t want to see. It’s historically been a smaller room that you wouldn’t allow yourself to walk into. More recently, we’ve fudged a little and decided there was a need for us to enter these areas and share that space with our abandoned belongings in an effort to become one with them again. But they are still hidden from view for a reason. What’s in the closet stays in the closet.

Essentially, humans hibernate. But it’s just that we come out of it very quickly. In contrast, when a bear sleeps in, he makes the best of it. “Honey bear, I’m gonna set my alarm clock for February 24th. If I don’t wake to it, let me sleep about another three days.” “Sure thing, honey bunches. You need your beastly rest.” The nature shows never report this, but I’m betting it’s not too far off.

So then what does “all-new” mean? I don’t believe we need that term, because I’ve never come across anything that was only partially new. It’s kind of all-redundant to restate the all-obvious. TV episodes are advertised incessantly in the all-new tack. If they didn’t say that, I would’ve thought the next airing of Desperate Housewives was only 98% new, that the last minute was somehow a rerun which snuck in there by mistake. Knowing that an upcoming episode is going to be completely all-100%-new relieves me of that irksome anxiety. Thank you, media, for assuaging a frail public’s fears.

I’m not sure about this, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been crestfallen or not. It’s never been one of the choices on my mood rings either, so I get no help there. And yes, I’ve used all the toothpaste brands, but to no avail. I’ll bet if you surveyed a thousand people, the better portion of them wouldn’t know whether they’ve ever been crestfallen before or not. And that’s a shame.

The goal of merchants is clearly to obfuscate. I went to a Toyota dealership the other day, and the sticker on a Camry was posted “4 for $93,000.” I had to get out my calculator to see if that was a good deal or not. Turns out it would save me quite a bit, although later I discovered that a dealer across town had a “6 for $127,000” sale going on, but it was too late as I’d already gone for the first one. Live and learn, as they say. And just my luck they don’t take trade-ins, either… Consequently, our driveway is filled to the brim, another two cars are on the curb, and the last two we just keep in constant motion, rotating with the rest. We’ll have to change our strategy before these $7000 a month gas expenses start adding up. I guess that $400 rebate doesn’t sound all that enticing anymore.

This entire notion of getting us in the frame of mind to buy in bulk is a little different from something like, oh, tires. I saw a deal that advertised “Buy 3 tires and get one free.” How fortuitous! My car just so happens to use 4 tires, so this is the perfect deal for me. I feel like Navin Johnson who just got his name in the phone book.

The auto industry itself is slightly off center anyway. Auto parts stores have historically bordered on the pathological, and we’d be wise to keep a close eye on them for any telltale signs that society is on its final gasp. The people who work in these stores have just a little too much fun playing with their merchandise. They systematically line up cans and containers in their windows like they’re peacocks strutting their wares. One has to ask what they are trying to prove or accomplish. (I’d do it, but I have a bout of 24-minute laryngitis) We already know they sell motor oil there. That much has been clearly established. They don’t have to build a virtual fortress to the plastic container gods in order to get that point across. After the third container, I noticed the pattern quite nicely, thank you. That would have sufficed. The rest was just overkill.

It turns out that as kids these auto parts people were the ones who lined up their blocks all in a neat row. And curiously enough, this is the very thing that made them qualified to work at an auto parts store. I’m just shakin’ my head here at the serendipity.

Tire shops do the same thing by stacking their tires. I guess they want us to drive by and say to ourselves, “Wow, look at all those tires! I’m so impressed by this plethora of tires. They’ve probably got 94% of the world’s tires right there, and not only that, but they know how to stack them twelve high, not unlike building blocks. You know, it kind of makes me all nostalgic for my childhood. Marge, we have to go buy some of them and become a part of this tire village.” And why is it that I’ve never actually known a Marge, and yet there are thousands of depictions of such people? Pure deception, I tell you.

And then what does “powered by” mean? It has at least forty-two different meanings on the internet. And none of them involve actual power or energy, interestingly enough. Some are very loose definitions. They’ll say powered by when all it does is borrow some code from another system. And like magic, the site receives power. Our grandkids are going to be all confused with this barrage of power references, and will grow up thinking that electricity is found in everything. As a result, physics in the mid-21st century is going to go right down the tubes. The whole powered-by nonsense will be the primary contributing factor to the downfall of modern society. They won’t be able to trace it back to this concept until it’s way past the point of no return. But they will take note on the hieroglyphics in the cave walls that I foresaw it in my blog on this date, and I’ll win some posthumous Nobel Prize and they’ll make a donation to a literary foundation in my name, so I got that going for me.

If you’re like a lot of people, you probably get gifts on your birthday. But I get free gifts. Mine don’t cost me anything. I don’t even have to pay shipping. I know what you’re saying… Why is he so privileged? Well, it’s because when I was six years old, I got a get out of jail free card in Monopoly and I never used it. If you don’t use those, a Monopoly pixie visits you and exchanges it for a ‘free gift for life’ card. I’ve since learned not to exhaust my resources in Monopoly, by the way. You can get a lot of nifty perks by being frugal in that game. One time I didn’t use any of my 20s all game, and it was good for a three-night stay in Mazatlan. I can’t reveal much more because then my overall strategy for the game would be uncovered, and I’d never be able to defeat any of my kids again. Then it would spiral into losing my parental authority over them, and discipline would go out the door and down the street into the gutter with the rest of society’s pitiful woes.

When someone says they're dating themselves, I can’t decide whether they’re being narcissistic or not. Regardless, if you give indications of your age, why does that need to be softened with a disclaimer? Why apologize for a universal process? “I’m sorry that I’m this old, and I promise not to let it happen again.” You’re as old as you are. Everybody is. All it means is when you showed up for the party. There’s no shame in being at the party for a long time. We should be celebrating that, in fact. “Wow, you’ve been to 53 parties? That’s great!” And this is the extent to which old people get philosophical about it all, when they’re consigned to the reality of their own age. You see, young people don’t really need to get philosophical about it yet.

In any event, happy birthday to us all! We’ll all be back here again in 12 months, and I predict we’ll all add another year. I’m even willing to go out on a limb on this one, although there are lots of other limbs below that one, so it’s not as precarious as it sounds.

I’m afraid of anything in the fridge that I don’t recognize from before yesterday. Having seen fossilized items in there, I’ve become a tad apprehensive. It could be half food storage, half anthropological findings. My first clue that I would need to clean it out is that festering outgrowth of donut-sized mold spores cascading across the crisper. After that, it’s mostly speculation.

Four-color pens are strategically placed throughout the house. It’s a deliberate military deployment exercise to accomplish a specific objective. The rationale is that if I have a four-color pen stolen from me by one of the household approximately every 3.2 days* (*-according to independent tests conducted by House & Driver magazine), I can stay ahead of the curve by having at least 30 of the pens strewn throughout the house where they cannot all remain hidden for any length of time. I bring three of them to church sometimes, because kids like to draw with them, and while they are usually very good at returning them, it’s just that they seem to return them somewhere other than to me.

These have been my pen of choice for well over twenty-three years. Indeed, I consider them no less than the penultimate writing instrument, appreciating the ability to color-code what I’m writing, or even drawing. I like to morph writing and drawing. It worked for the hieroglyphs, and I’m no less demanding.

Ringtones are nature’s way of announcing to the world: “I have no concept of my surroundings and it’s all about me!” That, and neon leotards worn out in public. If each of us thinks about it long enough, it is all about the me — my me, your me, their me, everybody’s me. Admittedly, it has to start with me, although I still don’t see where ringtones helps matters at all. “Everybody, over here! Listen to my cheesy music and behold how I fumble to press two buttons in a feverish attempt to catch that important call that makes me important because an important person considers me important enough to call me and not you. I do this all the time, by the way. The call thing.”

In the NFL last season, only 6 extra points were missed — by all the teams combined. Out of 1,176 snaps. That’s the most efficient process in all of athletics. That’s 99.49%. Those are better odds than shooting a layup. Or even a dunk, for that matter. So then the question is: why even bother with the extra point? It would make more sense to dunk the ball over the crossbars after a touchdown. And let two defenders try to block it. None of this pooch the ball and watch it, oh!, do the same thing every single time. The only thing extra points are good for now is to mention one of the sponsors — who are often very proud to be so. The fact that they are proud to be doing what they’re doing brings much more credibility to their cause. If they were merely pensive sponsors, we wouldn’t be all that impressed.

If I could do something to effect a change on computers, it would be to have them use something other than 0’s and 1’s for the data. None of this primitive binary stuff. 10010111. It’s a little unsettling to me to think that’s all anything on the computer is. 010110101100010. If we’ve encrypted all meaning here, are we sure we’ve sufficiently decrypted it? How would we know? We just accept that however it comes out is the way it must’ve gone in. We sure act a lot on faith, don’t we? Those are the inscriptions leaving other advanced civilizations in a quandary. 1101000101001101100101110. So the challenge is here: you judge which way we’re going…

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lateral Unthinking

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We all think to some degree. We all cogito a little bit. Ergo, we are the sum total of our thoughts, albeit over different things. When one of us talks, it compels those in proximity to refocus on someone else’s thinking. We like when it aligns with ours. We can also be motivated when hearing differences of opinion, challenging our existing notions and stirring up the pot. Other times, we’re threatened by the counterpoint. Many are surprised there’s a variety of opinions and not more that fit their own template. This expectation is unrealistic considering the untamed human condition.

Our thoughts come from many places, though often we presume they just pop out of nowhere, having no connection to anything ensconced in our memory, as if we could have any type of command over the trillions of synapses launches. If you think you’ve got an original thought, there’s also a good chance you’ve already thought it before, but it just hadn’t developed enough to be recognizable, or you were too distracted before to pay it any attention. You can plagiarize yourself, maybe inadvertently or unintentionally, but it still comes back to plagiarism. And if you’re lucky, you’ll drop the charges. Or maybe you’re in just the right mood where you want to teach yourself a lesson. This is why autobiographies are so risky.

The more I learn, the greater realization I have that I know even less. It’s the grand paradox of acquiring knowledge. By pursuing it, it gets farther away. As knowledge expands, unknowledge expands even more. This would suggest that knowledge is not the key to discovery, but rather more of a necessary and persistent diversion. While having its merits, relying on knowledge for ultimate answers is putting eggs in a basket unequipped to handle the weightiness. Why or how would something in the material world tell us what we need to know about meaning? The clues are telling us that solutions down this particular path are ever more elusive. Yet we like to repeat the pattern in hopes that errors will somehow be self-correcting, which is like digging to try to get out of a hole. We can easily become intoxicated by the trivial nature of our perception of facts, as well as the fact that we perceive the abstract. Though self-evident for its own purposes, what passes for factual information perpetuates subjectively. Ever learning…

We compare the human race’s current brand of knowledge with that of the past and pat ourselves on the back for being born later than our predecessors. We ought to likewise compare our knowledge with that of the future to keep us from being arrogantly egocentric. The present doesn’t represent the pinnacle, even though all generations have convinced themselves to believe this. Every era thinks it’s the one that has finally arrived. We never learn, in the midst of learning.

In every non-fiction book I read, the author outlines a master plan for humanity, prescribing what we should do to make it take that big step upward to where we’re coexisting in utopian harmony and fulfillment. They are nice sentiments for those segments who read them and have the discipline to follow them, but are generally too lofty to enact on any grand scale within anyone’s lifetime. There aren’t enough readers for one book to give its innards proper impetus to impact society in the way the author wishes, and even if one-tenth of the industrivialized world found itself motivated in a similar direction, after the book is done everybody would start branching out and the focus would dissipate. The author would need to be able to guide the readers interactively, so something powerful would have to accompany the book. I wonder if this is what the Glenn Becks of the world are doing (is there more than one?). They can attract a considerable audience in spite of being cynical toward both major camps. One need not have matching political leanings to appreciate the social aspects of their crusades. Such stories could play out parallel to our culture’s tendencies, and then historians would agonize over which phenomenon precipitated which.

Parenthetically, what should we make of determinists who choose? While clinging to their claim, they curiously won’t relinquish complete control of their lives over to something or someone else. If you really thought that nothing you did was a choice, why hang onto it? There’s an in-practice reality for some, and then a hypothetical reality that they prefer spending the bulk of their time in. They come back to in-practice reality when it’s time to refuel or shop. Otherwise, they’re subterranean existentialists. You can’t trust their opinions because they can’t either.

As we approach the 23rd century (only 69,445 shopping days left), we find ourselves at another crossroads, just like we do every half generation and in leap years that end with an 8 as well as non-prime numbered years. We have to determine as a society if what benefits us is the path of least resistance or if we want to challenge ourselves to rise above our existence. But it’s not going to develop the way we would hope it would. For one, it’s problematic trying to generate a collective conscience. No one can rally the world by coercion. We’ll have to wait for most of the people to catch the vision in their own way and on their own time. We can facilitate it to some extent, but we probably give ourselves too much credit for globally affecting a moral pulse. Also, we don’t predict so well things that haven’t happened yet, and most of the future is that way.

Alas, Coke and Pepsi can’t even share the same vending machine due to overinflated self-interest. So then how do we ever expect to be a non-territorial society and find common ground? We’ll give an inch, but little more. The inch is barely an empty gesture to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re juiced up on philanthropy. If you go through the emotions enough, you start to convince yourself that they define you.

Have you ever stopped to analyze how a zipper works? Unless you’re a zipper engineer, chances are you haven’t. Something so rudimentary, yet so rarely explored. If we can’t wrap our minds around the simple, everything else is merely simplistic target shooting. Our imaginations are so charged that while we’re letting them go wild, we’re lending a measure of undeserved credence to them on the basis of their fascinating qualities. Just our luck aspects of truth would be found in unassuming corners away from all the glitz, that it would be anticlimactic. We’re wont to spice things with drama for fear that we’ll lose interest and wither into vestiges of ourselves, and therein lies our bias. We have a dog in the fight, and subconsciously we work toward letting that dog win. And yet willing something into being probably doesn’t help the situation — rather allowing it to take its course and find you seems only pragmatic.

As an optimistic skeptic, I have faith in humanity, but even if I didn’t it would behoove me to act as though I did. My optimism isn’t going to cause humankind to turn anything around, just like the universe isn’t waiting for me to discover its truths before it can proceed. People get all caught up in whether they believe in God or not — as if they carried the sway vote — but God’s existence has precious little to do with how well we perceive Him. It’s not like if you decide ‘no’ it’s going to change the nature of how things are. While there is merit to the process of testing beliefs, I think we overdramatize it. We want to find our identity to be in touch with it, and this is laudable. But don’t attach universal importance to your decision, because we’re all spectators as much as we are participants. What we think we have control over laughs in our face and spells control back to us in sixty-eight different languages.

Watching a sporting event, it’s compelling how we think that our mental energies can have an influence on what occurs in the game. We telepathically transport ourselves onto the field and try to will things to happen. The harder we concentrate on a desired outcome, the greater chance it will eventuate. Sounds silly even saying it. Such a thing is outside our realm of influence, even though we strangely get the sense that we guided something to happen. This is probably partly due to the illusion of prediction and the illusion of the law of averages. We sense that things will return back to the norm, and they usually do. And we sense that the faulty knowledge we have about the abilities of a team will be borne out, which they usually don’t. And we mistake our surroundings as catering to us. And we just generally have problems separating our allegiances from our rational thinking. Which all produces one glorious eventful happening in the sports arena, drawing us in and in again. (The female sector, having largely progressed past the need for this type of identity validation, has yet to pass this trait along to the remaining bohemians)

We’re pursuing this thing called knowledge, not knowing why we’re doing it other than it hurts not to. It’s just what people do, in between breathing. The knowledge itself doesn’t bring us the Holy Grail, but instead tides us over in the meantime. We have to know. Do gerbils have to know? We already know a boatload of practical things to enrich our lives, but it’s never good enough for us. With the more we’ve learned, the hungrier we’ve become to increase our learning. Those who at least aren’t lazy are furiously soaking in what’s available to them. We won’t reach a point as a civilization where we’ve discovered everything we want to and will just be happy enjoying the spoils of our accomplishments. That would make us unhuman and put us on a developmental treadmill.

I guess I’m smart enough to know that I’m not that smart. And finding a place in that awareness, I recognize something that reaches beyond knowledge.

There’s something in us that makes the better part of us want to continually strive to answer and uncover whatever’s out there (or in there), and we always need to know more tomorrow than whatever we know today. I doubt we can understand to any significance why we do this. We just take it for granted that that’s the way things are. But if we were honest, we’d say it’s something both powerful and that we can’t see. And that’s always worth pursuing more.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Trilogy of Me

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My life is an open book. Except pages 473 and 474, which got ripped out somehow. They were lost on the train ride to Nantucket, and may never be recovered. I’ve been looking to see if they’re being pawned on the black market. Not having them there messes up the general flow, with some key information about espionage and reconnaissance getting missed. By page 482, you’re scratching your head, having no idea how each piece of furniture fits into the equation. It's really confusing not knowing what their nicknames are too. Sure, I could rewrite that section, but at what price? It wouldn’t be the original. The mind is funny that way. Trying to reconstruct becomes a contrivance, turning the process into a synthetic gesture, which is something nobody wants and will thank me for avoiding later.

And then chapters 6 through 8 have been listed confidential pending legal action, which was a big fiasco. I could tell you why, of course, except for the fact that it would violate the alleged phantom court order I need to abide by, and then I might sue somebody for breach of author-publisher privilege. So I can’t even tell you why I can’t tell you. (I could nod a little if coaxed enough) Ostensibly, international treaties are dependent on the outcome, so I tend to be partial to them if only for sentimental reasons. I gave my heart to the Russian mafia, and eventually I’d like to have it back. In chapter 9, I make a good case for that factor, so it will make more sense.

Furthermore, my character development overall is admittedly quite sketchy. The protagonist sadly isn’t all that believable, nor very easy to empathize with. By the second chapter, you’ll be rooting for the antagonist to be triumphant. In chapter 4, I take a nap and keep the dialog rolling. I don’t even let you know what I’m dreaming, it’s more like “Breathing in, pause, breathing out... lather, rinse, repeat...” That goes on for 28 pages, as a literary device to lull the reader into a sense of utter stunned bewilderment, which then sets up chapter 7 quite nicely. But I guess you’ll have to wait till later before that one is released to the public.

And then I originally left out important details in scattered critical chapters, which will require rewriting at some point. I forgot to say in a strange twist of serendipity my favorite milk curiously went from 2% to 1%, and then back to 2% again without any apparent cause. I can be unpredictable that way. Consequently, you never know what the hero in the story is going to do. It may alienate some reading faithful, while causing yet others to question why they even bothered getting up that day.

I likewise didn’t mention that at age 26 I spent three days in the Himalayas, where I gained enlightenment and ran up a $4000 debt on my MasterCard. I still think it was worth it, even at 16.9% interest. I probably didn’t mention it because it was blocked out of my mind due to the resulting confrontation on my return trip that I had with a beekeeper in Botswana, and I don’t even remember being in Botswana. Some of these pieces may tend to confuse the reader, but the hope is that they’ll hang on for the ride.

Starting on page 217, I ponder over whether penguins ever lie down or if they’re like Weebles. I bring in a panel of world-renowned experts to pontificate. It turns out to be the core theme of the first book, recurring in several places. I won’t give it away, but I’ll just say you’ll like how it all comes together, and things are not as they seem (wink, wink).

With page 382, I start into a series of philosophical meanderings, such as how any city could really have a population when people are being born and dying all the time, and people moving out and others moving in, and then many of those who live there are gone and many of those who live elsewhere are visiting there. It’s all arbitrary, which then leads right into a discussion of why it’s not safe to estimate anything which could potentially be above the number 4, and how this lends us answers about the nature of the cosmos. This is going to be groundbreaking, at least somewhere.

Right now I’m on page 644, which is probably a good time to bring in the mysterious swami who specializes in the art of lip-syncing to Richard Nixon’s speeches. He comes in very handy when my caravan runs into a troupe in the middle of the Mojave Desert which still thinks it’s the ‘70s. This is where the story really takes off, and works as a great segue to get the reader excited about the second installment.

Otherwise, my life is certainly an open book. I don’t see what the big deal is anyway. Even a closed book isn’t that hard to read. You just pick it up and turn the page. It’s not like books are locked. And they all use the same letters. The only difference is how they’re rearranged. If you can scramble letters good, you can write. I give this secret away in the epilogue. Well, I guess it’s not a secret anymore... but you should be able to still read the book without losing too much of your life in the process. There's your ringing endorsement, boy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Refuge For the Masses

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A day just like any other day. Except any other day didn’t exist on this planet, in this time warp, on my watch, in retrospect, with bi-focals, as a fossilized public service announcement. Aside from all that, this day was precariously stuck in now, and it was the only one I had.

In my later years, I would marvel at how poignant life was, even when it wasn’t trying to be. Myself unshackled by obligation or direction, each day opened up inordinate possibilities. By the natural order of things, I meandered down to the park to take in the solemnity.

I’ve found that at the park, some come to observe while others come to be the observed. And I suppose we fall at least a little into both categories. It wouldn’t be as fulfilling if we were each only there on our own. Even if no one notices us, the potential is always there. Say if a person happened to break out into something magnificent without warning, he’d have ample witnesses. This can be a great comfort. To be a cog in such a well-oiled — albeit random — machine is invigorating.

The weather, it didn’t matter on this day. Nobody was affected by it, and fewer noticed. The climate was no more than a hazy afterthought. Sometimes things with the capacity of being the most appreciated are the things most overlooked. Their significance is then only realized in their absence. Nothing about the wind was giving any hints. There didn’t have to be clouds if there were, because not a soul cared. I would’ve looked up if I had needed to, but the park was filled with its own atmosphere.

Yes, it’s the scenery, and it’s the scenery within the scenery.

Parks might as well be outdoor libraries. The messages found in sparse crowds as this are silently conveyed. So much is being said in the face of so little being audible. We invite the birds to help ease the awkward hush — being unaccustomed ourselves — and to help us forget that the predominance of definition of the moment is occurring separately within each of our own minds. There are a hundred different stories playing out simultaneously in a hundred different theaters. That I may have cameos in some only makes me feel wanted.

Silence also brings with it an aura of slow motion. Noise speeds things up, and the quiet brings it all back to being suspended in time. Perhaps if we could peer beneath silence, we could go backward in time. Our best chance may be at a park.

A curiosity about observing the park faithful: they all appear to have separate yet important agendas. Even the ones who don’t know what they’re doing seem to be doing it with purpose. In those cases, generally a good idea to bring a dog along, because the dog will gladly plot out your purpose for you. I surmise that people led by dogs are otherwise not self-assured enough to forge a purpose on their own. A dog, whether leashed or not, is an extension of ourselves, representing our ambition in greater energy and pace. It’s not so much that we walk the dogs, but more the other way around. Besides, who’s out in front?

Some in attendance attach wheels to their feet apparently to allow them to progress more steadily along their path, yet it’s often these people who retrace their path instead of lengthening it. As a result, they don’t get anywhere, but they do get there more quickly. Also a wonder is how the wardrobe choices of many park-goers seem to depend on two things: If it’s not an ice age, they’ll wear shorts and sandals. In the event of an ice age, they’ll reluctantly forego the sandals.

Parks can hold a menagerie of before-and-after pictures, with wannabes and already beens. The park discriminates against no one. The thing is, I usually enjoy watching the befores more. They seem to still have a hold on their passion. Maybe some of that preference is pity, maybe some of it’s relating. People trying to get in shape, others trying to stay in shape, others trying to show off their shape. People out for a picnic, or a stroll, or to become one with the ecosystem.

All in all, parks provide a wonderful humanitarium with no admission. You sit in one place, and they all come to you. Parades do happen every day if looking in the right places.

Some lounge on the grass to read or just collect in the sun. Funny how small blades of grass can not only accommodate this phenomenon, but invite it as well. We are drawn to large patches of grass as if it were magnetic. Sand can have similar effects for the loungers, yet it must be accompanied by a considerable amount of adjacent water to offset the connotations of dryness and heat. Grass, meanwhile, is self-contained. It acts as its own blanket, as it provides padding and is not hot to the touch. As a consequence, grass parks are much more popular than rock parks, cement parks, or those of other non-porous substances. Despite squeezing it out, urbania will never be able to replace the grassy oasis with anything more worthy of its expanse.

I presume I’m not the only one present mesmerized by the spectacle of humans in their recreative state, even though at first blush everyone looks to be caught up in their own space. If I looked around ever so unobtrusively, I may be able to see whose observation realm includes me. This is where subtlety works best, for if two people looking through binoculars were to happen to spot one another in unison, it would tend to spoil the moment. The lens you look through can’t be in the picture and retain any objectivity, let alone anonymity. So the best way to enjoy the park experience has to be as an undercover spy.

As I bask in the serenity of my surroundings, I find myself rejuvenated. The simple, uneventful drama of a park fills the lungs with a uniquely passive kinetic air. Watch them unceremoniously recycle as they arrive, take it all in, and then fade away. No announcement, no formality, no structure. People don’t check into a park, nor do they need to arrive on the hour or half hour. These are the ones who came at their leisure, partook, and once sated, floated off to be siphoned back into civilization.

As they say, life surely isn’t a walk in the park… but a walk in the park is.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Taking Sides

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In a contest between a lion and a gazelle, I root for the gazelle. The gazelle looks so good running that it would be a shame to waste all that gracefulness by turning it into lunch. Likewise, in the match between lion and zebra, I root for the maligned zebra. It’s not that I don’t like lions per se, but in this case they aren’t picking on someone their own strength or speed. And further on to lion vs. wildebeest, I side with the wildebeest because the wildebeest has the disadvantage of no claws and an older transmission. Again, the lions aren’t playing fair.

In spider vs. fly, I go with the spider. After building such an elaborate web, they ought to get something out of the deal. See, maybe if lions set traps like that, I could respect them more. But lions just laze around most of the time yawning and stretching. They’re the overpaid professional athletes among the beasts. I suspect they got their vaunted king of the jungle status through purely tyrannical methods, not due to any public veneration.

In cat vs. mouse, I go with the cat, because domesticated cats are one of our few natural allies in the animal world, even if they could be spies, which is for another discussion. What’s apparent is they treat us passively, and they have yet to have their day in court. Add to that the fact that mice are simply up to no good, the cat is doing us a nice favor by eliminating them.

In cat vs. bird, I generally go with the bird, because birds are good singers. For the ones who can’t carry a tune, like a crow, the cat can have at them. I’m sorry, but going “caw-caw-caw!” isn’t singing. You probably weren’t aware that birds had their own version of rappers, but check them for chain necklaces next time.

In bear vs. salmon, I go with the bear, because I admire its tenacity in this situation, and salmon aren’t necessarily that easy to catch. On the salmon’s part, jumping out of the water is frankly just being cocky and setting yourself up for disaster. It’s hard to feel sorry for a species that doesn’t stay within its own natural habitat, that being, uh… what is it again? Oh yeah… water! Note to salmon: You were born to swim. Yes, your Shamu impression, while quite laudable, is highly inadvisable out in the wild. When your paying audience is the bear family, take a tip and stay in the pool.

Cougar vs. rabbit — in the snow, no less. You’ve seen it thirty-seven times during childhood in educational videos from thirty-seven different angles. As public sensitivity waned, eventually we were subjected to seeing a fate considerably less subtle than the distant Bambi gunfire, which allowed us the final perspective from the one being pursued. Yes, the cougar is starving, and it is extremely cold out. Although isn’t that the same reason that the rabbit should eat the cougar? I go with the rabbit here in an upset.

In cobra vs. mongoose, you’ve got to admire anything that’s crazy enough to take on a cobra. The cobra is trying to invoke fear in everyone by deforming its features and painting eyes on its head. So derivative, you cobras. Clear preference for the mongoose.

In wolves vs. anything else, I’d go with anything else. Wolves are dastardly scoundrels, they gang up on things, and then run away if confronted by an equal opponent. And notice how their heads hang down like they think they’re low riders. Give them points for effort, but the choreography is all off. If they were on The Forest’s Got Talent, they’d be summarily booed off the stage.

In hyenas vs. anything, it’s the same deal as with wolves. I’d always vote against hyenas, the quintessential wimps. They couldn’t be uglier if you painted them ugly. In the unlikely event of hyenas facing wolves, I’d want both sides to die from a heart attack. Neither side could rightly win such a confrontation. But at least I would let lions gladly beat either one of them, if only by default.

In cheetah vs. anything else, I’d have to go with the cheetah. They’re not arrogant like lions or tigers (or bears, oh my!). And cheetahs put on a good show for your money. Those 65-mph bursts make for great theater. The only exception where I would not be rooting for a cheetah would be against a starfish. Starfish are my friends. They have nuance to spare, and they’re never in a hurry. Starfish don’t look like they’re moving, yet in high-speed film, they chase after their unsuspecting prey quite methodically, and then otherwise keep to themselves and just hang out. And they’re very decorative. How many animals can say that? So what’s not to like?

Now if lions could go from zero to 65 in 4.8 seconds like the cheetah, then we could talk. But you don’t build up your racing skills lounging around in the brush like a hedonist. I’m thinking lions received their name precisely because they’re always lyin’ around. I mean, if the moniker fits, use it.

In horse vs. penguin, I gotta side with the horse here. The penguin is way out of its element trying to confront the equine family. On the flipside, several penguins postured at the track in racing regalia for the Kentucky Derby would be a sight well worth the price of admission. Yes, horses are gallant, while penguins are pleasantly wonky. Still, that’s not enough. Penguins for the loss…

In ants vs. grasshopper, I’d have to go with the ants. It’s not as if it’s a hundred hyenas picking on a humpback whale or something. Besides, hyenas would never have the requisite chutzpah to even imagine doing that. Ants, however, aren’t intimidated by a bug fifty times their own size. They back up their talk with results and build hills wherever they darn well please.

In elephant vs. scorpion, I think I’d be taking — oops… um, never mind. What’s the next one? Clean-up on aisle four…

In oyster vs. clam, I like the oyster. But then depending on the day, I might be inclined to go with the clam, it all depends. I could easily be talked out of my opinion. This one’s always befuddled me.

In planarian vs. paramecium, I’d definitely be rooting for the planarian, no hesitation. Even though underappreciated among the many micro-organisms, the planaria’s fortitude isn’t lost on me. Planaria are very flexible, reproducing by cutting themselves in two. They can do family planning on a daily basis. But, oh, talk about the headaches in re-zoning their political voting districts…

And here’s another thing… When they say the lamb will lie down with the lion, that’s because that’s what the lion is usually doing on any given afternoon. They don’t say the mountain goat will soar to new heights with the lion, because the lion’s too busy flossing with a blade of grass to be ascending anything higher than a bluff.

In Sumo wrestler vs. gorilla, I’d be pulling for the Sumo wrestler. It takes a great deal of courage to wear a diaper into the ring, and even more self-discipline to do it with a straight face. And while the gorilla is perfectly suited for the three-point stance, that’s not enough to sway me in the other direction.

In chinchilla vs. marmot, my sentiments would tend to lean toward the marmot. Chinchillas move around too fast and give me the willies anyway. If they did it with some form of panache, that would be another thing, but they act like they’ve popped one too many pep pills, and it makes me nervous. I couldn’t in good conscience root for something that makes me nervous.

Starfish vs. snail, for the ultimate duel. Land ho, ye mighty starfish! Chase down thy honorable foe and bring back yer righteous bounty… All hail the inimitable starfish, the pinnacle of all creatures above and below the earth, great and small. I have no compunction in rooting against the snail here. All I know is their S-car better go, or they’re gonna be the main course.

And finally, in shark vs. porcupine… imagine if you will, a dimension of sight and sound… where after all is said and done, we can chow down on shishkabobbed shark meat.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Compared to What?

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The desire to improve is a nagging double-edged sword. It’s good to be always striving and growing, yet at the same time there’s an accompanying human tendency to keep wanting more and never feeling fulfilled. Whatever we have, we want just a little more, often represented by what someone else has. We’re constantly on the lookout for what we’re missing and where our surroundings are surpassing us. Oh, this human is in a curious predicament, for he should be content with what he has but not with what he is. And many times distinguishing the two is like a blind cola taste test where we keep going back and forth before we finally just guess. Such can be our dilemma.

What if somebody has more than you or is currently happier than you? What does that matter? How does that affect you? As long as you have the same fundamental opportunities and freedoms as them, if they happen to be in a situation where they’re enjoying things more, how does that negatively impact you? Why should happiness be on a scale, where if we see something higher than ourselves, then our situation is somehow not good enough? Isn’t that idealistic? Do we always have to have the best? What about second or third best? Are those failures?

When you think about it, what does it matter how happy someone else is? Do other people have to be less happy than you in order for you to be happy? How does their happiness make you any less happy? The only thing along those lines that should make us unhappy is if we don’t reach our own potential, not whether we measure up to what someone else is.

Life can’t be zero-sum. When one person rises, it doesn’t lower someone else. Win-loss is the best model we could come up with through simulation. Win-win, however, is reality.

We earthlings seem to be competitive by nature. We try to defeat someone else in a game. We try to do better than whatever it was that they did. And what does it prove? Certainly, accomplishment is worthy in of itself, as long as we don’t take away from it that it makes us superior.

If our team is better than their team, then what’s the conclusion? Maybe we were both bad. Maybe we were both good. Maybe we won but we were the recipient of a considerable amount of luck. That’s not to detract from the team effort working toward a victory, but it underscores that winning doesn’t elevate you above someone else.

Think of the implications of the whole idea of status symbol. It proclaims that my status can beat up your status. An unnamed SNL alum used to mock the media elite in his newscasts with “I’m Chevy Chase, and you’re not.” There is often wisdom in the underlying messages of comedy, which can reveal elements of life in surprising ways. Here, the astute Chase displayed how people can get caught up in themselves, and even have the gall to take credit for it!

What’s missing is the minor detail of context. Since most anything in our experience is relative, using the average as a standard doesn’t really tell you any more than how many people you’re better than. Maybe the 95th percentile for you is falling short. (By the way, there is no percentile that we have any direct access to)

How much does height matter, really? It’s all relative. I heard it said that if it weren’t for short people, tall people wouldn’t know they were tall anyway. Which is true, in a strange sort of way. What if the human species were the size of Barbies, and some of us were 11 inches tall while some of us were 14 inches tall? 14 inches doesn’t seem all that tall to us, but it would then, even though it wouldn’t be. And compared to a giraffe, a 6-foot person is in the same class as a 5-foot person. You’ll notice that people who are 6 feet tall like to mention their height, and people who are “just” 5-11 don’t bring up the subject much. All over one lousy inch!

If your neighbor makes $30,000 more than you, does that make your earnings insufficient? There’s something to be said about being a big fish in a little pond. If you lived in the slums and were the only household in the neighborhood, would you feel richer? The fact that people are so conscientious about how much money they make is a little disconcerting. I make $45,000 a year, which is probably quite a bit less than people my age (47), another area that we don’t like to mention. Are older people less worthy than younger people? Does advancing age make us inferior? The rhetorical nature of many of these questions suggests that they should be no-brainers (wink-wink, nudge-nudge). You’re better off when you realize that social stigmas aren’t worth the computer screens they’re printed on.

The size of the pond you’re in doesn’t define you as much as it defines the pond. A change in environment may make you look good, but appearances depend upon contextual factors to support them. Measuring ourselves by other people is a somewhat lazy way to be analyzing our progress, not to mention unreliable.

There seems to be a psychological urge to want to do better than others so that we have a supposed advantage. Over what though? We seem to believe that if misfortune befalls someone else, then there’s less of it to go around and affect me. The law of averages is therefore on our side, so we think.

Overall, we aren’t made more impressive by trying to make others look bad, though it may be perceived that way in the short-term or by the unsuspecting. We’re actually made better by lifting others up with us. I would hazard a guess that a God wouldn’t be grading on a curve. However many people it is that fail, it still doesn’t make you come out better in the wider scope. We should do more than to just play to not lose.

The message learned is that while I should be grateful for what I have, I shouldn’t be grateful simply due to having more than others. What they have or don’t have ought to have no bearing on how grateful I am.

If the U.S. is 17th in the world in academic success, how bad or good is that? How good is the rest of the world? What do we have to compare it to? Neptune? Or our subjective expectations? You can’t really judge success simply by weighing two apples. Quantitative measurements need a frame of reference, and what authoritative gravity exists in the moral spectrum? While you can get a sense of how you stack up in relation to something else, it doesn’t speak to quality. It’s an indicator and little else. Taking a lot of stock in it is flattering ourselves.

We want to keep up with those elusive Joneses, except that they don’t exist. We create an ideal and then can’t be satisfied with what’s real. There’s no one we need to keep up with. The illusion of a race is the biggest sales pitch of all.

Thoreau adroitly remarked, “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” Ouch, on several counts. He’s got us pegged from 150 years ago. We were doing that way back then too? That makes us a little predictable. Which then suggests that we’re more creatures of habit than we realize.

Thoreau’s insight conveys various importances: We’re swayed by trends, and our perspective changes as phenomena move along the timeline. We can have an irrational bias for what’s immediate to our experience. We can easily envy whatever’s paraded in front of us. And our vanities can have too much say.

We think to improve ourselves outwardly when it’s the inner man that deserves the main focus. Looks are nice, but how could they ever define who we are? Our outward appearance can only accentuate what’s under the hood, not substitute for it.

The problem with appearances is that they can be deceiving, plus we typically don’t have the wherewithal to verify them. So making cross-judgments between ourselves and others based on what is apparent is a futile game of false readings. Besides, what’s the point in trying to see who’s got the better character anyway? Do you think J.D. Power & Associates is keeping track? Just work on yourself, help those around you, and save the world in another life.

We know within ourselves how hard we’re trying. Sometimes people don’t think we’re trying enough when we really are. You could play to the audience and spend your life attempting to appease them and put on a good show, but there are too many song requests to ever uphold that one. Within your inner circle, those people you love most will tend to be the most understanding, and you won’t have to worry about satisfying the critics.

It can be good to partially compare yourself to someone you aspire to become more like. But it should work to motivate us instead of get us discouraged. And while we can learn from others’ mistakes, we shouldn’t take those as opportunities to build our own self up by comparison.

I can still judge bad behavior. It’s just that I don’t need to place emphasis on personifying it so much. And my conclusion should be that I don’t want to repeat what bad behavior I see, instead of taking away from it that so-and-so is a good-for-nothing ne’er-do-well.

If you have to compare yourself to somebody, compare to what you were yesterday. If yesterday is better, then work on that. If today is better, then build on that. Don’t worry about becoming ten degrees better each day, just incrementally better than what you just were, and keep going. So simple to say and yet not so simple to master. I think a lot of it comes down to the attitude we take toward it, and that’s certainly under our control. If we’re of the frame of mind that we can do a little at a time and hang in there, not give up, persevere, and you know the rest, then we’re already on our way.

Does this mean we shouldn’t compare people with other people? What a great future topic... And preliminarily, I’m inclined to say that we each are compelled to live with our own selves, having no other option there, but we do have options in who else we associate with and on what level, so the logistics seem to dictate the conditions for us.

Ultimately, it should be very comforting to know that we don’t need to compare ourselves to others. That should take a lot of the pressure off and let us just be our best selves. Even if the grass is greener on the other side… so what? Use it as motivation to make your yard better if it needs to be improved. But don’t dwell on what you might be missing across the fence.

The whole moral of the story seems to be “chill out,” “go with the flow,” “take it easy,” “don’t worry, be happy,” “be in your own shell,” and “enjoy the ride”… There’s no need to covet, for if you were that other person, you might very well be coveting you.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Open Letter to a Higher Power

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To whom it may concern:

Adoring life, it’s fitting to remind oneself that it’s all worth it. As I peruse this big bad beautiful world from my lowly perch, I’m compelled to hand out a heavy dose of grazie. It’s hard to rate life, because it is what it is, yet at the same time it’s more than we have any right to expect.

Thank you for the richness of aesthetics, much of which we take for granted. A simple delicate cloud wisp in the sky, that remarkable canvas that’s painted over daily. Simple, yet divinely awe-inspiring.

Thank you for the world of art, where we explore the outer reaches of our selves and discover more than we presumed.

Thank you for colors themselves. For green in particular, and how comforting it feels to look at lush grass and thick bunches of trees. For the fiery orange horizon at sunset. For dense, shiny brown hair that glistens. For the elegant skin which houses our being, for white on black in the starry night, for light blue frilly dresses. For a gallant purple tint which is somewhat of an afterthought, but pleases in its own way.

Thank you for a wide array of spectacular, blossoming flowers, which would have no earthly business being in a purely naturalistic existence for anyone to enjoy in such a manner.

Grateful for all the times you subtly intervene, and for all the times you don’t. For letting us stumble and meeting pain face to face, and realizing that it’s not permanent. For falling down and being lifted up again. For crying out of agony, and then crying for utter joy. For smiles that brighten all existence and permeate our memories when all else is stripped away.

Thank you for putting me in circumstances you did. Someone knew what was needed better than I, and it couldn’t have been picked out better myself. In fact, I sadly would have missed a lot of unsuspecting pathways. I’ve learned incessantly to defer in these matters. Second-guessing universal authorities is so unbecoming of us, after all.

I’m thankful for doubt and confusion during mortality, to incite me to work harder to find answers, and to also realize that many things aren’t meant to be understood as it’s going on. You better believe that I do, however, want someday to be right on the front row when this is all explained though. And I’m buying that ticket right now.

Thanks for the imperfections, letting us know that life can still be great despite bumps along the way, that a painting can have flaws and still be immaculate. For measuring by effort and desire, instead of by abilities and outcomes.

Thank you for such penetrating music, that winds its way into our very core and speaks to that inner being in its own melodic fashion. Life is a long song, and let’s all join in. Thank you for poetic verse and the people who know how to create it most eloquently. They decorate the language and enrich our communication. Thank you for putting the likes of Shakespeare in a place for him to emerge as he did, and make literature all the better.

Thank you for precious babies, who bring heaven with them down to earth, and emanate this aura so we can’t help but be mesmerized by its effects. Thank you for innocent little children, whose wonder is contagious. For their boundless drive, their striving to learn, their unqualified genuineness, their patently cute faces, their soft cheeks, and for how they look when napping.

Thank you for smells, which bring such pleasing sensations into our minds, developing a mood or triggering our memories in vivid detail.

Thank you for our ability to reason, to analyze, to use intuition, to make judgments, to have preferences and tastes. To be able to process mathematically, logically, intellectually, instinctively, emotionally and spiritually.

Thank you for the vast array of foods, and all the ways they can be prepared. For bacon, no doubt. For succulently ripened summer peaches drenched voluptuously in milk and sugar, just begging to be consumed. For wondrous melted cheese on any respectable entrée. And to the entire delightful realm of cheesedom. For jerky. For smoked salmon. For homemade bread and luscious butter. Ahhhhh! For grilled chicken that sings to our palates. For cashews. For blackberries picked fresh off the bush. For cinnamon rolls. For glorious unnamed spices that make our taste buds dance the marimba. And for chocolate… Mm-mmm. Chocolate, that is the clincher. You really outdid yourself there. Additionally, someone wise once said that ice cream was your apology for cold, and if that’s true, apology accepted.

Thank you for that blissfully refreshing respite known as sleep, at night or as cozy, heavy-breathing napfests. To escape for a time into dreamland and let go, floating in slow motion at the end of a suspended rope where no care can go or wish to subsist, all the while making perfect, lovely sense.

Thank you for sight itself, for which many other things would not be possible. To look even upon a pile of garbage is actually a wonderful thing in its own right.

Thank you for the touch of a hand to heal, the irreplaceable nonverbal tactile assurance that helps you know that everything is going be fine. A stroke on the cheek. A pat on the back. A head on the shoulder.

Thank you for comforting voices, for soft whispers, for soothing laughs. For lilts in speech, for accents, for manners of elocution, for the signature sound left by each individual. For idiosyncrasies, for unique attributes, for personalities.

Thank you for opposites. For coldness so we can appreciate the warmth. For heat so we can appreciate the coolness. For darkness so we can appreciate the light. For anger so we can appreciate the kindness. For sharks so we can appreciate the dolphin, for pigs so we can appreciate the gazelle. For chaos so we can appreciate the calm. For fear so we can appreciate security. For illness so we can appreciate health. For loneliness so we can appreciate companionship. For exhaustion so we can appreciation rest. And for the rascals so we can appreciate the genuine articles.

Thank you for giving me arms and legs to ambulate and let me interact with the world. For being able to move and feel motion, to sense progression and arrival to a goal.

Thank you for the grace of a horse running in a field, for migrating ducks speckled across the vast atmosphere, for the splendor of a sandy beachfront setting with cascading waves kissing the shore, for waterfalls, for sparkling, stunning, scintillating rainbows, for varied gems and precious metals, for water, for air, for breath.

Thank you for the excitement of surprises. For the variety in life. For life’s seasonal miracles… the solemnity of a fall morning, a gentle summer breeze in the shade, or snowflakes silently making their descent to the whitened ground below.

Thank you for giving us each an intricate mind, with the curious potential to ponder past its limits, with the ability to simultaneously consider the cosmos as well as the atomic scale, and then the deep philosophies regarding the very essence of being.

For the mystery of time, of gravity, and of the DNA imprint. For the thousands of ways to have a hobby. For endorphins in copious quantities. For inside jokes and their accompanying smirks. For three-year-olds falling asleep in your arms.

Thank you for the pitter-patter of rain, the most blissful and cleansing of all weather, as a rainy day is that occasion when the soul can expand to join with the sky. To be drenched in the profound ecstasy of wet.

Thank you for the pastoral nature of baseball, the grace of its movements, its majestic parks, for the sound of wood on horsehide, for mammoth drives into the nether regions. For having a catch.

Thank you for chess, which managed to avoid the extraneous human machinations and remain pure.

Thank you for the wonderful aspect of funniness, which can tickle us into submission and help us internalize that in life, though ultimately serious, can be garnered plentiful instances of mirth to temper any festering doldrums through using that glorious sixth sense of humor.

For wiggle room, gray areas, uncertainty, ambiguity, limbo, fogginess, margins, and cushions.

For challenges, for tests of will, for struggles, for hard work, for lofty aims to shoot for. For energy, for inspiration, for motivation, for comfort, for peace.

Thank you for putting me in this time, this place, and amongst all these flawed individuals with whom I fit in so perfectly. Our stewardships are curious things as they all intertwine. Thank you for those you can trust and depend on as if they were your own self. These are without price and defy description, truly encompassing all that is.

Thank you for the strong bonds of family, who bring us greater identity, who can be there when all else is lost, and who can transcend distractions of the world and the bands of death.

Thank you lastly for love, a manifestation of the infinite worth of souls and of the incomprehensible glory of life which you have made and have chosen to share with us.

Miracles? What miracles? This is all commonplace, right? I digress, and look up for direction.

I spell out the words upon each movement. My life — it’s my thanks, and every breath I live it is to further express it.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Don't Knock it Till You've Rung the Bell

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(Disclaimer: I'm not responsible for the content of this blog post. Some guy in New Jersey has graciously taken it upon himself to assume all liabilities and serve prison time for me. In exchange, I housesit his cat every other weekend.)

Digging deep into the recesses of sociological intrigue, a strong argument is made that etiquette is no more than common sense that sometimes gets out of hand. After cutting the cord, we find that we can figure out etiquette on our own. Plus, it's generally advisable not to trust any systems which end in -ette anyway. Wiser people learned that nugget a handful of centuries ago. -ette, coming from the latin root of "to adorn; fabricate," spells trouble for most any word it accentuates.

That is all to say in a most roundabout way that prescribed handbooks written by people named Manners won't add insight to inquiries such as this, and might even bring with them a level bias tinged with excessive sophistication, rendering the effects too great to be meaningful. So, like a good feline knows, it's just better to start from scratch and use the noggin you were entrusted with.

What has piqued my curiosity in this case is the optimal number of knocks at someone's doorstep. Dylan penned his own personal take, and gave it the knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door, although that may have simply been out of convenience for meter and verse. He was known to be a stickler about that too. Some people, what are you going to do with them?

The scholar will take note that Dylan also asked the perennial question of how many times, and like any good poet, he concluded that the answer was blowin' in the wind, so we'll have to look a little harder to uncover something more concise.

At the outset, it's apropos to mention that if you're one of those select people who bangs loudly on a door seven or eight times, you've really got to seek help. You're not the brute squad. It's not necessary to cave in my walls to get me to come to the door. Memo: We hear you. The people down the street hear you. Saskatchewan hears you. Not to mention you woke up all my termites. Ease up a little, eh?

The purpose of the knock is to alert the inhabitants of a home that someone is at the door and wishes to come in. It is not, however, to scare the inhabitants clean out of their scivvies. Highly audible and rapid knocks are rather intimidating to dwellers who otherwise feel safe within the confines of their home. When you go and play the bongos with their front door, you're encroaching on their space, and so any intrusion should be done more respectfully and discreetly.

Naturally, soft taps will not get the job done. And one or two knocks would be too easily confused with other sounds. You can't believe in knock-knock jokes to provide the answers either. Those jokes are so unrealistic to begin with. I'm skeptical that they truly tested the two-knock procedure, and it hasn't been peer reviewed.

Instead, it's the successive distinctive sounds that will announce your arrival. We can find a balance. Too many an eager salesperson ruins the sale before the door is ever opened because their adrenaline taken out on your knobholder makes it sound like there's about to be a drug bust. Anything with more than five knocks should be followed by "You're under arrest."

I think we can narrow it down further and reach an ideal amount of knocks. The question is thus: at what point does the human psyche cross over from "Oh, there's someone here" to "Who's that maniacal banshee on my porch?" I would suggest that even five raps on the door is excessive. That fifth knock sounds too much like you're playing Chicago's 25 Or 6 To 4, at which point it becomes so derivative. A knock that isn't original isn't really a knock.

Perhaps we need to consult the Book of Armaments for further enlightenment...

Armaments, Chapter 2, verses 9 to 21...
‘First shalt thou approach the Holy Door. Then, shalt thou count to three. No more. No less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shalt be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then waitest thou for thy host to respond.’

So it almost sounds like Armaments is alluding to something somewhere in the realm of three, if I'm not mistaken. It may require a more detailed interpretation before we fully uncover it though. But that would be simple yet effective. A truly minimalist approach. No need to expend more energy than a triad of taps.

I understand there will be many progressives out there who will insist that anything less than four knocks would be insufficient. I'm not here to argue with these people. They have their own radical worldview, and we'll just have to disagree to agree on this matter.

The best salespeople have always realized that a three-knock method causes curiosity in the listener, and then they want to know what comes next. But with four or more knocks, they've already heard everything they need to hear. This lesson has been continually taught in the school of hard knocks, but we find that not everyone learns it.

Even more sadly, many people have taken the big bad wolf story way too seriously, feeling compelled to act out childhood fairy tales. If they would only remember that knocking louder and longer doesn't increase the chances you'll be invited inside. The point of diminishing returns seems to be at about the sixth repetitious knock. And highly audible knocks can make people more fearful of answering the door. Peak performance is a three-pronged approach, though. Four puts an unneeded exclamation on it, and five will get the RIAA lawyers after you for infringement.

The prudent will play it safe and stick to the basics. We complicate so many things in life, and this is just one more indication of that phenomenon. Resist door rage, and go for the trifecta. You'll notice a change in your demeanor, and the people you visit will appreciate you more for it. Be three dimensional for once. You may find it suits you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

James and the Giant Teach

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OBAMA: As each of you are finding your seats, I’d like to welcome you to the first annual Foot-in-Mouth Beer Summit at the White House, because as we know, beer washes away all our troubles, and we’ve got a lot to wash away here. Sgt. Crowley, if you could take this seat on my right and Professor Gates, if you wouldn’t mind sitting across from me so that we don’t get one race all on one side of the table, that would be lovely. Also joining us is my esteemed vice president from the great state of Delaware, the venerable Joseph R. Biden.

BIDEN: Welcome, gentlemen. We’re glad you could join us. There’s nothing too important on the nation’s agenda that can’t be pushed back another day for a friendly photo-op between rivaling colleagues who hate each other’s guts with a passion. Prof. Gates, this strategic move should jettison your publishing career greatly, I would assume. And Sgt. Crowley, at least you get your 15 minutes of fame. Suck it all in, my friend.

CROWLEY: Thank you, sir. I’ll do my best.

OBAMA: I’d like to introduce our two parties… I’m previously acquainted with Prof. Gates from my days at Harvard. Prof. Gates, this is Sgt. Crowley of the Cambridge Police Dept.

GATES: Pleased to make your acquaintance. Hope I’m not causing too much of a commotion for you here. I can whisper if it makes you more comfortable.

CROWLEY: Good to meet you, Mr. Gates. And you look different without the cuffs, I might add.

OBAMA: All right… gentlemen, we’d like each of you to order beers from overseas suppliers, which will hopefully serve to spur foreign trade. Choose very wisely, as this will affect market trends for years to come. No pressure... Mr. Crowley, what can we get you?

CROWLEY: I endorse Blue Moon. I mean, I’ll have a Blue Moon.

OBAMA: Mr. Gates?

GATES: I have a deal with Red Stripe.

OBAMA: Excellent. And Joe?

BIDEN: I don’t want to turn into a Kennedy, so just give me a near beer… you sorry bunch of excuses for alcoholics. I hope your livers rot while you play out your final years in an old folks home regretting you ever imbibed.

OBAMA: OK, and for me, I’d like a Bud Light, so as not to give the impression that I overindulge. As we know, drinking light is drinking responsibly. Mr. Press Secretary, could you get those from the Presidential Wet Bar? Thank you ever so kindly.

OBAMA: Now, there’s been a lot of furor over this incident you two were involved in, and the subsequent comments. It seems we’ve all gotten ourselves in a little bit of a mess here, and coming together will hopefully serve to heal the wounds that it’s opened. Are there any questions up front?

CROWLEY: Mr. President, if I may, why did you say I behaved stupidly, and you haven’t apologized for saying that?

OBAMA: Now, Sgt. Crowley… you must realize that my comments were somehow improperly calibrated.

CROWLEY: Tell me when you’re going to use English here, sir.

BIDEN: Don’t get uptight there, little man. I snuff you under my thumb if I choose to.

GATES: And that’s racist, implying the President doesn’t speak English.

OBAMA: To clarify, I didn’t mean stupidly in the sense of someone being stupid, or even behaving stupid, but of encroaching ever-so-lightly upon the stupid milieu, if you will. Also notice that I said the department ‘acted’ stupidly. I meant they were acting out a role, but it wasn’t in their true character.

CROWLEY: What does any of that mean?

OBAMA: Never you mind. Let’s just absorb the aura of it and not make it any more specific than it needs to be. It was nothing personal against you, James.

CROWLEY: Even though I’m the one who arrested him.

OBAMA: Yes, but it was the police collective who acted within the realm of stupidity, not you in particular. There were a lot of officers involved in the stupidness. I didn’t want to make this about one person. I just wanted to take a jab at law enforcement officials in general. Can’t you see the difference? Maybe if you’d gone to Harvard like us, you’d understand.

CROWLEY: I think I may need another beer.

GATES: Notice who’s drinking the most here. Just an observation.

OBAMA: So James, if I may be so bold to ask, what were you thinking when you arrested this man?

CROWLEY: I was simply going according to standard procedure, sir. It had nothing to do with his race.

OBAMA: Yeah, but don’t you see all the flap this caused? Next time, could you please tone it down? Understand that he’s my friend, sergeant. It makes me look bad when my friends get into trouble all the time. I do have friends who are good citizens, and I’m trying my darnedest to locate them.

CROWLEY: Sir, if I may, the situation was escalated by Mr. Gates’ tirade. Don’t you think he is the one who should have toned it down?

GATES: I’m a Harvard professor, son. I have more citations than you could ever hope to sneeze at.

OBAMA: Now, now, gentlemen... Let’s keep this civil.

GATES: The Civil War was about slavery.

OBAMA: How am I supposed to convince this country that I can bring people together if I can’t smooth over a situation with a couple of chums sharing an adult beverage? Now, to be sure, there were overreactions in this whole incident.

CROWLEY: That’s the closest you’ll come to saying your friend was out of line. For heaven sakes, he said ‘yo mama’ to me... What if I said ‘yo mama’ to you?

OBAMA: Now, Mr. Crowley, don’t irritate me.

BIDEN: We could sweep you across the floor faster than a Swiffer.

OBAMA: All right, the media is watching us closely. Let’s do something cordial, maybe bringing our mugs together for a toast.

BIDEN: To alabaster marigolds in the springtime... May we and they blossom in harmonized convergence... Ah, nothing like marigolds. (sighs)

OBAMA: Joe, don’t you have a briefing to go to, or to get your cholesterol checked?

BIDEN: I don’t think so, why? Is today Thursday again? Dang, I hate when that happens.

OBAMA: All right, everybody chuckle like we’re getting along famously.

ALL: (laughs)

GATES: What a bunch of crock.

OBAMA: Hey, Joe, we look pretty cool with our shirt sleeves rolled up, don’t you think? We look like regular guys...

BIDEN: I like it. We’re real dudes, if you ask me. I think this will help us get the listless barefoot walker on the beach vote in 2012. Brilliant move, sir.

CROWLEY: Hey, did you notice our beers are called different colors?

GATES: That’s racist.

CROWLEY: Oh yeah? Hey, anybody in Cambridge want to break into his home now, he ain’t there, and his keys are under the plant on the porch. Take everything you want. The police will probably show up in, oh, a couple hours or so. No big rush.

GATES: Why, you ignorant...

(The cameras are cut as Gates and Crowley wrestle each other to the ground, their chairs toppling on the White House lawn, a moment to be later characterized as 'agreeing to disagree.')

OBAMA: OK, this is over now. Thank you all for coming, and mending the tension between us all in a truly teaching moment...

Dance Like Nobody's Watching

Philosophy Soccer