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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Recalcitrant Dissonance in Nascent Autonomy

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An age-old question that’s worthy of further inspection: Why do I write on blogs? Maybe for the same reason that Sir Edmund Hilary said he climbed Mt. Everest. When queried on his desire to ascend its lofty heights, the esteemed Hilary reasoned, “Because it’s free.” He was truly a man before his time, and it’s too bad he couldn’t have blogged about it back then.

I’ve always taken for granted that flocks of ducks are noisy just because, but then I started wondering why it would be that they are all quacking away on a long journey. I’ll bet if we understood their language, we would be hearing a cacophony of “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Quack-quack.” Odds are 3 to 1 that that’s what they’re saying. What else is there to talk about up there? Do they know the Spanish term “Andale, andale!”? I tend to doubt that.

I saw some small birds yesterday on the sidewalk, and about seven of them were feverishly bickering with another one, and walking after him. He seemed to have a piece of food that he wasn’t sharing, although their reaction to him still seemed quite bizarre even for that. He didn’t fly away, and so they were all scurrying about on the ground. As I came near, they all flew about fifty feet away, and then continued on with their grudge match. A few seconds later, it took them into the street. The funny thing was, the birds weren’t paying attention to the traffic. Cars had to keep stopping for the birds, who would eventually get the hint and scoot out of the way, but then go right back to what they were fighting about. I was on my way back to work after lunch hour, but I had to keep peeking out the window at them. It proceeded for several minutes. The bird in question was the same size as the others, but with a blacker coat of feathers. Maybe he was from another flock and he was trespassing onto their territory. Now, I’m assuming it was a he, but I’m not certain. As it crossed the road, I noticed that it didn’t ask for directions.

At some point during a profound thought recently, I realized that the hair on the average person’s head grows collectively at a little over 1 inch per minute. No wonder it’s hard to think straight, with all that activity going on. And that comes out to over 130 feet per day. You’re sprouting and you didn’t know it. What this also means is that the cumulative hair growth of all humanity is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 miles of new hair every minute. And over 40 million miles of new hair per day. (Don’t worry, I already accounted for all the balding people in the world) There is definitely a market for giving haircuts. To offset this tremendous growth of hair and curtail hair overpopulation, barbers and hair salons must work furiously on a continual basis. Think of the great service they’re offering here. If we had a hair-cutting strike for three months, there could be over 3 billion new miles of hair, in addition to what was already there. Where would the world store 3 billion miles of hair? Well, I guess it would still be on our heads, but it would make things a lot more cramped. I’ll bet if we all got haircuts regularly, no one would even think there are too many people in the world. There, I just solved another apparent crisis.

Have you ever considered what life would be like without salt? How much harder it would be to make a tasty dish? If salt didn’t exist, what would you ask someone to pass? I mean, we’re really lucky on this one, because it was that close to not having something available to sprinkle on our food. Let’s say you’re having squash, cooked until it’s hinting of collapsing, with steam emanating from its inner being. As good as squash is, like most foods it needs that little extra umph to give it just the right taste. So if we had no idea about salt, what would we do? “Could you please pass the, uh… uh, the rosemary?” Talk about a culinary faux pas. In short, we would be perplexed. Hence, salt is one of the greatest features of life. But we take it for granted, because it’s always been there as far as we can remember. Just because it’s that way doesn’t mean it has to be. Be grateful for salt, and everything else like it in life. Think of that when you’re shaking the little morsels again. They work hard for you.

The other day I thought I might be getting bored (it turned out to only be an idle threat), so I got a long strand of hair, caught me a housefly, then lassoed its neck with the hair and then held on to the other end. Instant fly pet. It will follow you around everywhere. Definitely the most loyal pet I’ve ever had, too. Of course, then you have to get a new one every thirty days, but that’s just a minor inconvenience compared to all the benefits. And putting two of them in the same vicinity doesn’t work, because they get tangled up, and at least one of them ends up doing a nose dive. So remember to keep these ferocious pets at a distance from one another so that they may peaceably co-exist. Some of you may be saying it’s cruel to put a leash on a fly. Well, what about dogs? Domesticating flies: the next new wave.

You do a lot of your best thinking while you’re eating, which could be because you’re generally not overthinking about something but have to spend some of your mental energy on your food, and your digestive system is praising you all the while, giving you props, handing out endorphins and basically making you feel loved. So anyway, in the midst of my clear thinking, I developed a theory that at some undetermined point whenever I’m eating a sandwich, invariably it assumes the precise shape of Idaho. It doesn’t matter what kind of sandwich it is. Peanut butter and jelly, lunchmeat, tuna fish, grilled cheese… you name it. I even tried weird combinations like an onion and banana sandwich to try to fool it, but no such luck. I think this could be a clue in the mystery of life. Maybe something about… wait a minute. If I tell you, what are you going to do with that information? I better patent this first. I’m sure Google will want to capitalize on the mystery of life so they can make an app out of it. But just be aware that our sandwiches are trying to tell us something important.

My four-year-old boy made a profound admission the other day. “Daddy, I don’t know how to count to zero.” And before I could follow up on that, he asked, “What number does zero come after?” And before I could think of a suitable answer for that, he said, “I think it’s the last number.” Which actually isn’t such a bad proposition, since infinity and zero are thought by some to intersect. I explained to him in as simple terms as possible that zero had no value and was therefore essentially an imaginary number, and that technically the field of mathematics was theoretical to begin with, so numbers may only exist in our minds. He seemed satisfied with that, and went back to playing with his toys. When he starts asking deeper questions, though, I know I’m in trouble. I hope the teachers don’t enable him in kindergarten. That’s all I need is for his mind to expand. He won’t be in kindergarten for another year and a half, so this could all get interesting. We might be able to send him to remedial school to keep him from getting too smart.

I’ve been thinking about infinity, and until I finally looked at it in another light, I hadn’t really understood it. It turns out it’s just an 8 that got tired, and that is precisely why philosophy is better equipped to handle the more difficult questions we face. Math, meanwhile, is stuck in equations that were built to input questions and output answers from the same original source. So if we didn’t know coming in what a concept was, math wasn’t going to tell us anything outside of that system. Math is much like a self-fulfilling prophecy, replete with assumptions. It assumes that whole numbers are real. It assumes that existence is not singular. It assumes a necessary linear progression in most facets of existence. And it all makes a big assumption that reality is quantifiable. Note that I have to think about these things so I’ll be prepared to answer my child.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Miraculous Save

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While I’m not going to name culprits, sufficeth to say that an influential rogue group within the advertising industry has been trying to push the whole idea of being saved on western culture until it has become second nature. Or maybe we’re on third nature by now. I have a few indications of this.

They first guilt you into being a responsible fiscal planner by imploring you to save for the future through investing your funds into savings plans. Their bank is saving your money, and thus your hide. In essence, they want you to have yourself saved at their bank. But this is not all...

Some tactics are more devious. With the advent of the personal computer over the past few decades, we’ve become oblivious to how computer language has slowly transformed us into being willing accomplices. You realize now, of course, that you have no choice but to save your work if you want to keep it. This is by design. More than simply the perfect religious metaphor for the technological age, it’s now a patterned response. A file, as you’ll remember, is hereby condemned to the scrapheap of computerdom if it is not righteously saved. And then for any of you religious progressives out there, there’s also ‘Save As’. For all their other faults, at least computers aren’t prejudicial. Don’t want to be saved the traditional way? Fine. Just as long as you pick something, like a secular pdf format. You see, pdf's are kind of the non-sectarian way to go through the motions of being saved — producing a more generic result not fit for the altar, because nobody alters a pdf.

Remember that if you fail to save a computer file, it goes into oblivion. The PC user therefore has the potential to determine the fate of a microcosm of society. That’s a lot of power in a mouse click. The file even begs your forgiveness if you get distracted and forget to save. It says, "Are you sure you want to prevent me from embarking on my journey toward digital salvation?" And so you unhesitatingly click on "Yes, you lousy plebeian file. Besides, you don’t deserve to be saved... You load slowly, you don’t follow orders, you get lost, and you crash frequently. Why should I do anything for you?" They have a button that says that.

I thought I might be overreacting, but then after crossing over to other media and listening to the wall-to-wall radio ads pushing the same agenda, a pattern emerged in what was not unlike an epiphany. Without the need for much analysis, I’ve gotten the distinct impression that they want me to save. That’s kind of the theme I picked up from their 30-second ramblings. Did you know that there’s never been a better time to save? And guess what else? Savings like this won’t last long. Yup, hard to believe, but I heard it myself.

They’re saying that for some reason, this current point in time is the ultimate opportunity to be saved. It kind of makes me feel privileged to be living right now. Whatever you’ve saved before, and whatever you’ll save later, it won’t be able to compare with that level of savings you can partake in within our glorious present. They’re practically preaching to us, folks. And the only fundamental difference between ad narrators and evangelists is that evangelists get caught.

I didn’t know what they were selling or how much it would cost me, but as they were hypnotizing me at least I knew that in the grand scheme of the council on saving money, I was coming out way ahead if I heeded their words of advice. They were even likely to put me in the Savers Hall of Fame for those clever purchases I was so expertly negotiating. Frankly, I couldn’t believe how much they were letting me get away with there. I believe they were losing all their money just so I could get the best deal possible. I felt compelled to make an extra donation to them or something so they could spread this joy around to more people.

And in becoming a master purchasing agent, I was quickly learning that it’s not how much you spend per se, but rather how much you’re not spending by getting a better deal. So they taught me that even better than getting a dollar off a $2 item is getting a hundred dollars off a four thousand dollar item. You get those bonus points for how much you swindled those unknowing merchants for. In some cases, they would even let me lock in a price, which I think means that they’ll subject themselves to handcuffs and go on a 14-day fast on my behalf while I’m getting this ripping good deal. This is all against their will, by the way. They are so desperate to make a sale that they’ll let me determine the conditions.

The neat thing is that they were considerate enough to help out with the psychological aspects of confidence buying by first raising their regular prices, allowing me to save even more. The bottom line is in the save factor. Normally I’d be saving only $5 by paying $45 for an item, but thanks to them I was saving an extra $25. It still costs $45, mind you, but now I’m saving a whopping $30 off the $75 markup, dang it. That’s 40% off, and that’s something to sing hallelujah about. Those percentages, you’ll note, are more important than the actual dollar amount. A couple months ago I got 30% off on a washing machine, which is like the GNP of some small countries. Granted, I have no idea what the original price was or how much I paid. But as long as I was saving money, I was happy. That is, until I started noticing a vicious trend...

I’ve since had a great awakening and seen the light. One day I woke up, and I smelled that percolating coffee (though I didn’t drink it and didn’t inhale). It all became clear to me why they wanted me to save.

To top it all off, Gottschalk’s was holding a going-out-of-business sale, meaning their progression was stopped. They advertised 40-70% off of everything in the store. It was interesting to note that some items were marked the normal 40% going-out-of-business rate, and then they had some other items that were marked the special 70% clearance rate. No wonder they went out of business! If they’re dumb enough to think a going-out-of-business sale can have clearance items, then they can’t be saved in such ignorance.

I’m wise to all of their shenanigans now. And I’m saved — from the ignominy of falling for sales pitches forever more, amen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Happy is as Happy Does

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I had a moment yesterday where I just looked around me at all the surroundings, the trees, the clouds, took in a breath of fresh air, and thought to myself, “Hey, this is life. And it’s pretty good.” I was just grateful for nothing specific. Happiness doesn’t always have to be about something, at least readily identifiable anyway.

I know when I hear other people say things like that and I’m not in a similar frame of mind, I get the feeling that they’re oblivious and they should be summarily flogged. How can they dare be that way when there’s all sorts of gloom in the world? Princess Buttercup accused Westley of mocking her pain. But he pointed out that life is pain, highness. Acknowledging it and/or trying to rise above it doesn't have to be mockery.

Occasionally you’ll hear someone say to you, “Have a nice day.” And sometimes I’ll be thinking, “What if I don’t want to have a nice day?” Why are they forcing me to have a nice day? I might not be able to afford such a wide mood swing. Now, if they want to say, “Have a nice day three days from now,” then that could give me more time to plan and get in the proper mindset. Let's be realistic here. I’ll have to respond to the standard 'have a nice day' next time: “I wish I could, but I’m just not that impulsive.” Give me a little more lead time, and I may be able to comply.

But in general, 'have a nice day' is a endearing sentiment for them to express, if done sincerely. It can say to me, “I hope you’re able to work through the difficulties of the day, that you have time to enjoy the finer things in life and just appreciate being alive.” I want you to have a nice day, with the disclaimer of all other things being equal, assuming things aren’t too burdensome for you now, and that you have the necessary tools at your disposal and people who can support you. But that’s too hard to say at the checkout counter. Yet it could be what they mean. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt, if it comes with a smile and eye contact.

This has also made me wonder if maybe the only way to be happy all the time is simply to be a masochist, because they’ve used reverse psychology on life. To enjoy pain seems, after all, like a great strategy, doesn’t it? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? Well, I’m not finding many self-help books that take that tack. I’ll keep looking. Self-Defeating Behaviors wasn’t exactly a recommended practice.

Perhaps the way we can turn this around is to use pain to our advantage by learning from it, by taking it as a challenge to show what we’re made of. Obviously easier said than done. I can blog all day in yadda-yadda-land about ideals and platitudes, but when the rubber hits the road, that’s the real defining moment. So anyway, it’s something to shoot for. It's worth a try.

When I think of optimists, I’m curious how they truly deal with the inner struggles they have, and if they’re able to live up to what they profess. I’ve been reading Tony Robbins’ book Awaken the Giant Within, and his positive enthusiasm is infectious. I think to myself, “Can someone really have a continuous attitude like that?” Optimists are just realists in denial, aren’t they? No more than a glorified wishful thinker, I surmise.

I'm sure Robbins, like anyone, is not immune to rough moments, but he seems to have discovered how to approach them so that they have the least amount of negative impact. He's given lemons and sprinkles it on his halibut. Then he says, "What else ya got?"

I have the feeling Robbins is teaching me some life lessons without my even realizing what they are on a conscious level. But that’s okay. I don’t have to be informed of everything if I’m confident it’s all in place and will fit together somehow. For each medication we take, do we need to know all the inner workings of the chemical reactions that are going on in our systems in relation to the drug? The doctor needs to know this, but we just need to know the doctor.

Tony Robbins said the perspective we take determines our situation. In our various circumstances, there might be a way to generally turn our situations around with positive thinking. In about three of the last five books I’ve read by sundry authors, they’ve mentioned that positive or negative emotions can be the result of our facial expressions, our posture, and our speech, among other things. We can actually generate emotions with these built-in commands. The subconscious will take suggestions. Bring it on.

So maybe we don’t always need something to be happy about, but can just be happy for the sake of being happy. It could happen…

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Blogs Must Be Lazy

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That picture of the resident bushman in the upper right-hand corner isn’t me. It’s been up there for several months, and I’ve had a couple acquaintances say they thought at first that it was me, your lowly author for this blog, but such is far from being the case. I was a bushman in another life, though… just not this one. Plus, I’m not quite that tan. And I don’t generally carry a spear around with me. (that is, unless it’s bacon hunting season at the meat market, in which case all bets are off) And there aren’t any nudist cliffs in Oregon that I’m aware of. But other than that, I can see how I could be easily confused with a bushman.

The still photo is taken from a scene in the 1981 moving picture “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” which is a delightful story (or insert other canned phrase here) in its own right. And incredibly if not unpredictably, the sequel is just as good, if not better. It’s a down-to-earth account of civilizations in different forms of advancement, with the presentation sometimes reflective and mostly funny, while not so much in the ha-ha sense, but rather in the “life is funny” sense where you might have a silly grin on your face, not a bust-up laughing type, though a couple of those are sparsely thrown in there for good measure as well. It’s offbeat, unconventional, unpretentious, original, educational and entertaining. What’s not to like? I give it an enthusiastic eight thumbs up. And you know when thumbs are enthusiastic, that’s got to mean something special.

In this particular scene, the protagonist, Xi (makes it easier to sign his name), is looking to throw the Coke bottle off the edge of the earth, because it has caused his village much strife since it was found. That it fell from the sky leads us to infer that they would muse the gods must be crazy.

I won’t give anything away except to say that the cameo by Michael J. Fox in Bermuda shorts was extremely misplaced. No, that was another movie… I hate when that happens. And I always get Antonio Banderas and that other guy mixed up. I once sat through two-thirds of a movie thinking he was that other guy. Anyway, this cinematic event was produced in South Africa, and revolves around some more quote-unquote “civilized” people crossing paths with a primitive bushman tribe of the Kalahari Desert.

The scenery is pleasant without being extravagant, and you get quaint close-ups of the wildlife, so you feel like you’re planted right in the movie, without it screaming at you, “Watch me!!” (I'm really put out when movies do that)

It’s hard to explain what the film is like without your actually having seen it. Explanations just don’t do it the proper justice, including its day in court and a trial before a jury of its peers. It sounds either more blasé than it is, or cornier than it is, or something else less impressive, or the reincarnation of Mommie Dearest, none of which are true.

Do you ever have things in life like that which are too hard to explain to people if they haven’t experienced it? Doesn’t work so well. You have to be there to fully appreciate it. In the theatrical realm, sometimes humor or interest pervades through the atmosphere it’s presented in, or in other words, the context. To try to recapture that dynamic within an appraisal of any length would fail to give it its due.

TGMBC is a humble, low-budget film that subtly meanders about, weaving an intriguing story and making your tummy tickle, while schizophrenically being neither strictly a comedy or a drama.

I’m often fond of movies that are unlike other movies, and this one is that. Not being molded through the formulaic Hollywood machine, it develops its own completely likeable personality.

Once you’ve seen the first one, you ought to also see the sequel (cleverly named “The Gods Must Be Crazy II”) at some point too. I thought the follow-up brought added depth with it and got even funnier, with a few of the characters becoming more developed. Many of the main actors change, but Xi is a constant.

Now that I’ve been reminiscing about these hidden gems, it makes me want to watch them again. I saw #2 about a year ago, and it’s been a few years since I’ve seen the first one.

But I wasn’t trying to write a movie review. I merely wanted to show the difference between a shot of Africa and of the Oregon coast. And how I came that close to starring in a blockbuster hit. I could’ve been a star…

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