Scat Mask Replica II (20)


1) What does it say that I still manage to work The Theme of The Love Boat into everyday situations in life? If our brain is nothing more than the most sophisticated hard drive ever invented, how much knowledge have I lost by keeping the lyrics of that song in my head?

2) What emboldens those of us who publicly state that our beliefs system is superior? We all have our insecurities, and we join groups to align ourselves with an idea we consider superior, so we can mock and denigrate others that belong to other groups. Some of us need a proverbial podium to mock and denigrate other groups, so that our group might view us as superior. Some view their presentation as bold, but I can’t help but wonder about the raging insecurities that drive a person to do this.

3) At the breakfast table, a five-year-old son speaks about the death of his father. The mother said that the son should hope that the father lives long enough to teach him how to be a man. The son looks at the father, “Well tell me.”

4) Analysts on financial/business networks often drop the term financial purgatory. Their context suggests that the term describes one stuck between joy and misery, coupled with a level confusion that can only lead to misery. Those more familiar with Catholic Catechism know that purgatory is a place between heaven and hell, a stasis reserved for those awaiting further judgment from the powers that be. A better description of financial purgatory might involve a child of the lower middle class upbringing, finding a way to live among those kids whose parents make true money, and all of the judgment that follows. Kids don’t care about money, for the most part, but as kids begin to age, how much their parents make becomes a topic of conversation. It can lead a kid to recognize that while his family is not poor they cannot afford to buy their way into this money conversation either. Some might dismiss this as a first world problem, and that children adapt well, but any child that seeks entrée into the in-crowd knows that it feels like Armageddon in the moment. Depending on the kids around them, it can lead a kid to feel he doesn’t belong in a financial heaven or hell, and the subsequent, general idea that they don’t belong can last well into adulthood.

5) The horoscope for the new sign Ophiuchus: This will be another meaningless week in your otherwise meaningless life. If someone informs you that they have something meaningful to say about your life this week, walk away. Don’t check in with yourself this week, just go through the week on autopilot for all events and information you receive will be meaningless. Your lucky weather element is wind.

6) A writer arguing about the rules of usage is not only tedious it’s an exercise in futility. Some writers pine for the linguistic purity of Geoffrey Chaucer, others argue that a writer should strive to remain casual for greater readability among the masses. On the latter, I know that I might be banging my spoon on a high chair, but when I read the numerous ways professional writers, overuse the word “had” a layer of glaze coats my eyes. I know that writing, “I had biked over trails” is past perfect tense and “I biked over trails” is present perfect tense, but I find one drips glaze and the other flows so well that the reader doesn’t pause. There is an ample middle ground for writers to explore between strict grammatical rules and readability, and most of them know it without knowing it, but a reading of Chaucer reminds one of the strict grammatical rules that have long since fallen out of favor in modern writing. On that note, I find “I had done” a most egregious violation of readability, as in “I had done my research before writing this paragraph.” It appears redundant and awkward to me, and when I read, professional writers write in such a manner, I wonder if they don’t pay their editors enough or if they overwork them.

7) Joe Theismann admitted that while a student/athlete at Notre Dame he allowed the university’s public relations department to change the pronunciation of his name from THEES-man to THIGHS-man. The pitch the PR department personnel made was that Theismann’s chances at winning college football’s most prestigious prize, the Heisman trophy, might increase if he changed the pronunciation of his name so that it rhymes with the name of the trophy. The former football star is now a celebrity spokesman for a company that purports to aid aging men with prostrate problems that cause them to urinate so often that it disrupts their lives. An ambitious member of marketing arm of this company –that knows about Theismann’s willingness to change the pronunciation of his name– should ask him to change the pronunciation of that name again so that it rhymes with he pees man.

8) What would you say if a grown man approached your table at an outdoor café and said, “Pardon the intrusion, but I have to say that I enjoy watching the way you eat a tortilla chip.”

9) By modern cultural standards, Joseph Hupfel is a creepy man. He is dirty, unshaven and generally unattractive. He eats a very clean blt. Mayo. Toasted. Buttered lightly, immediately upon exiting the toaster. Sedimentary layers. How much of a man lies on the surface? We know creepy when we see it, until we learn more about the man. How much will we never know about him? Modern man believes he has a decent feel for the history of mankind, but how many fact-finding missions uncover something revolutionary that puts everything we thought we knew in the rear-view mirror? Some have speculated that there are miles upon miles of undiscovered artifacts lying under homeowner’s homes in Rome that could further explain the history of mankind, but the homeowners won’t let excavators unearth them.

10) In the 1890 essay, A Majestic Literary Fossil, author Mark Twain provides a hilarious condemnation of two thousand years of scientific theory from esteemed intellectuals in the field of medical science. Twain focuses the theme of this essay on the repudiation of the science behind the accepted medical practice of bloodletting. This practice relied on the accepted theory that blood doesn’t circulate in the body, it stagnates, and to achieve proper health the patient needs to have old blood taken out on a regular basis to send a signal to the body that it’s time to regenerate new, healthier blood. The scientific community regarded blood as one of many humours in the body, and they believed that all humours required regular regulation. As such, they believed that a healthy patient would allow their doctor to bleed them on a regular basis, as a preventative measure. The import of Twain’s essay is not necessarily a condemnation of science, in my humble opinion, but the idea that anyone should put stock in the consensus of science. For anyone that wants to argue that science is susceptible to occasional flights of human error, remember that the belief in the virtues of bloodletting wasn’t a blip in human history, the consensus of the scientific community considered the science behind bloodletting so sound that medical practitioners relied on it for most of human history. The import of this essay also asks us to examine what we believe today, based on a consensus of scientific theory. If we were able to go back to Abraham Lincoln’s day, and we witnessed the archaic act of bloodletting, what would we say? What would be the reaction to our reaction? “You don’t believe in science?” is a question they might ask us. To which we would tell them that we do believe in science, but we also know that some science, their science in particular, is wrong. “You realize that you’re arguing against 2,000 years of science. Why should we take your word for it even if, as you say, you’re from the future?” If a person were to travel back in time to our day, what would they ridicule us for believing? Would they be aghast at our archaic rituals and procedures, and would they end up laughing at us in the same manner we laugh at the scientists of Twain’s day? Our natural inclination will be to laugh with them, for we know all too well the foolish beliefs others in our era have, but will we stop laughing when they touch upon that which we believe, or will we continue to laugh with them under the soft lie that we were never that gullible?

11) I heard a cop once say that the rule of thumb for being a cop on the beat is to believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. Those that watch network television shows and major Hollywood movies should apply the same principle to their viewing habits.

12) Listening to one party’s version of a romantic breakup is always dicey. The listener knows they’re only hearing one side of the story, and they know where to get the other side if they’re feeling especially adventurous, curious, and nosey. They suspect that they will hear an equally partisan take on the situation from the other side, and they suspect that they might discover some key discrepancies in both accounts, and that they might be able to help both parties discover a truth that lies somewhere in the foggy middle. Before enlightening these two parties, however, the listener needs to consider the idea that their truth is just as subjective as the two parties involved happens to be, and the crucial point is that what the listener might believe is true is not necessarily the truth. Just because a listener is a third party, uninterested listener does not mean that they are objective.

13) If someone were to ask me for dating advice, based on my experiences, I would say the key to attracting a person is to try and be as genuine, and as normal, as possible on a date, unless those two characteristics conflict. The best dating experience of my life involved a woman that convinced me she was relatively normal. She went through some stuff in her previous life, but she managed to extricate herself from those situations relatively normal. Everyone says that they managed to escape prior relationships unaffected, but when we’re honest with ourselves, we recognize that this is not true. One of her key selling points of this fact was convincing me that she did not attempt to influence those affected parties with intimate details of her ex’s past transgressions. Most people I know adopt the time-honored tradition of slash and burn politics to assure all parties concerned of their nobility, but thoughtful people know that nobility is a long-term value that will reveal itself. She claimed that my greatest attribute was authenticity. I went through some stuff in my previous life, but I maintained whatever it was she sought in a man. If the person I knew was dating someone they feared were not normal, I would warn them that putting a best foot forward and creating a façade of normalcy is easy in short spurts. I would tell them to watch that person around their family and friends and pay special attention to the way they interact with the people they’re most comfortable. Most people don’t want their friends and family to think that a boyfriend, or girlfriend, can change them. If that doesn’t work, take a long trip with that person. That prolonged involvement should reveal the characteristics of the other party and allow one to make a more informed decision on them.

14) “What do you believe in?” I’ve asked those that ridicule me for believing in a person, place, or thing that turns out to be wrong. These people inform me that I should’ve been more skeptical, and while that is true, my question to them is, “Have you ever believed in something, only to find out you’re, to one degree or another, wrong?” The answer for some of them, has often been no, because they’ve wrapped themselves in a cocoon of fail-safe contrarian thinking to avoid ridicule.

After the facts roll out, it’s easy for a cynic to say that they never believed in it in the first place, but there is a point shortly after one learns of a novel idea, or a new approach to solving humanity’s problems, when the new information appears exciting to the reader. This point, just before the reader can personally research the subject, defines them as a hopeful person that wants to believe in people, places and things. For the purpose of discussion, let’s say that we’ve just finished an intoxicating nonfiction book that espouses radical, new secular and apolitical ideas to solving one of the world’s many problems. Let’s also say that this book in about a subject matter is covering a matter the reader knows little to nothing about, by an author they’ve never heard of before. How does one react to the information in that book, before doing personal research on it?

Some of us are more inclined to believe in something if the presenter builds a solid case for it, cynics are more inclined to seek out refutation for any person, place, or thing before the facts roll out, and then there are those cynics that ridicule everyone that believes in anything before the facts roll out. They prefer to call it skepticism, but I call it cynicism. It’s in my nature to believe in people, places, and things, until the facts prove otherwise. I believe, for example, that for just about every tragic situation mankind faces there is an ingenious problem solver that will eventually solve it. In the court of public opinion, this mindset often places me in a vulnerable position for ridicule.

When I first read John Douglas’ Mindhunter decades ago, I was a believer. I believed that Douglas laid out a solid case for how, why, and where criminal profiling could provide useful tools to assist law enforcement in their efforts to locate a criminal. It was a temporary setback for me to discover how often profilers erred. The naysayers used those instances to claim that criminal profiling is essentially a form of confirmation bias that involves throwing out a bunch of commonalities that most serial killers have, for example, to form a standard profile for the next serial killer they profile. The naysayers further this repudiation saying that after law enforcement captures the perpetrator, and the perpetrator confesses, the profiler then aligns the perpetrator’s characteristics with elements of the conclusions they made in their profile. The question these naysayers have for those that believed Douglas was, “How often was John Douglas wrong, and did he list those instances in his book?” It might have something to do with the idea that I was ready to canonize Douglas after reading his book, but the factual refutations of his work, by the naysayers, were eye opening to me. Once I recovered from the setback, I discovered that while flawed, criminal profiling might be on par with all that informs a doctor’s profile on a patient, before they reach a diagnosis on that patient’s ailments. In the back and forth on this issue, I began to question the effectiveness of criminal profiling more and more, but I also began to question the motives of the cynical naysayers. What drives an absolute cynic to tear down everything they read, hear and see? Dissecting any idea to locate truth is not only necessary it’s admirable, but how they approach their research is fundamental to their being.

Believers might approach personal research of such matters in a cynical vein, but they only do so in a scientific method to disprove. Absolute cynicism is so foreign to my thought process that it’s difficult for me to portray without bias, but I think it’s a fail-safe, contrarian approach that some use to ward off ever being incorrect and enduring subsequent ridicule for their personal track record. When I learn of an interesting new concept, or problem solving measure, it excites me until I learn that it is not as effective as the author believed, or presented it to be. I view this belief as food for the mind, and that a person that doesn’t believe in anything might have a more difficult time achieving fulfillment, and again I’m reserving this space for secular, apolitical ideas and philosophies. It seems to me that those empty spaces in the mind of cynical contrarians cry out for sustenance in a manner equivalent to an empty belly crying out for food, and that those vacuous holes do get filled by the belief in something. That something, I’ve often found, are alternative modes of thought that they consider almost impossible to refute.

15) Anytime I think I might be smart, I dip into a discussion involving the creations of our universe. One such discussion involved the time-space framework, another involved the idea that our universe is flat with a slight bend due to cosmic background radiation, and a third informed us of the idea that there are efforts now looking through the Microwave Background Radiation for evidence that some other universe at one time collided with ours. I don’t know what these people are talking about, and I dare say most don’t. Most of us, even most scientists, prefer to argue about the knowable.

16) For most of my life, I’ve managed to avoid caring what happens to celebrities. I used to strive to know what was going on in their worlds if only to understand the cultural references comedians drop better. I’m to the point now that I don’t understand three-fourths of them. I did manage, however, to land on a decade old story involving the messy divorce between singer Shania Twain and the producer Mutt Lange. It appears that Mutt Lange had an affair with Twain’s best friend, and he eventually married that best friend. In a noteworthy turn of events, Twain ended up marrying her best friend’s husband. The Hollywood writers love to give cute names to marrying couples like, Tomkat, Bennifer, and Brangelina. I suggest we call the Twain/Lange eventual arrangements, getting Shlanged.

17) Every time I watch a professional athlete make a mistake, I empathize. I arrive at this empathy from a much smaller vantage point, as I didn’t engage in organized sports past junior high. I played intramural games and pickup games constantly throughout my youth, however, and I made errors ESPN might have added to their Not Top 10. I have to think those laughing the hardest at the foibles of professional athletes never played sports in their life, or they’re seeking to diminish whatever laughable errors they made by laughing harder at other’s errors. What follows such laughter is some incarnation of the line, “I made some errors, sure, but I never would’ve done anything like that.” If I didn’t commit an error similar to that one, I think of all the egregious errors I made that were as embarrassing if not more so, and I follow that with the thought that at most, I had maybe twenty people witness my error. These professional athletes commit errors in front of millions, and sometimes hundreds of millions of people depending on how many times ESPN replays their errors for the enjoyment of those without empathy.

18) We’ve all mistakes large and small. Some of us have made life-altering mistakes, and some of us have made mistakes that affect others’ lives in a manner we have to live with, but few have made mistakes that change the course of history in the manner mapmaker Martin Waldseemuller did. Due to the popular observations of an Italian writer/explorer Americus Vespucci, the mapmaker named an entire continent after him. The general practice of naming continents involved leaders of expeditions, but Vespucci was more of an observer that wrote about the expeditions that he took part in. Christopher Columbus led the expedition to find a new path to the East Indies. When he arrived back in his home country, Spain, that’s what he reported as his findings. In the course of the confusion over what Columbus actually discovered, Vespucci wrote about his many expeditions to foreign lands, and conflicting accounts suggest Vespucci might have participated in Columbus’ expedition. Regardless if he participated in that particular expedition or not, Vespucci took part in expeditions following Columbus’, and he reported the discovery a new continent. Amid the sensation of that report, Waldseemuller mistakenly labeled the new continent Amerigo’s land. The standard practice of the day also suggested that continents have feminine versions, such as Asia, Africa, and Europa, so Waldseemuller took the feminine version of Americus’ name and called the land America. Some suggest that Waldseemuller attempted to correct this mistake by removing Amerigo Vespucci’s name from later editions of his maps, but it was too late to change it in the popular culture of the day. Columbus’ home country, Spain, refused to accept the name America for 200 years, saying their explorer should get credit for his accomplishment, not an Italian writer, but they couldn’t defeat the consensus on the topic. Thus, some suggest that Americans should call their homeland Columbia, the United States of Columbia, or the United States of Columbisia. From this, we can say that not only did America become a land of vagabonds, creeps, and cast offs, but we were mistakenly named after a writer that achieved some decent sales, and that popular opinion derived from those sales defeated all attempts to correct the record.

19) Those that enjoy reading biographies as much as I do know how little the childhood chapter has to do with the overall narrative of the subject’s life. The childhood chapter deals with the subject’s childhood, the child’s genealogy, and some elements of their upbringing. Other than familiarizing the reader to the subject, the only reason to include the childhood chapter is to reveal the research the author has performed on the subject. Chekov’s Razor applies to writers of fiction, but it does not apply, unfortunately, to writers of biographies. I’ve decided to skip the passages that inform us that the subject played hopscotch, their relationships with peers and siblings, and if their parents encouraged them or not. I now start a biography at the subject’s first major accomplishment, and I find that I don’t miss anything I consider substantive.

20) Reading through the various portrayals of George Orwell, the reader finds most authors claiming the Orwell loathed the idea that right-wingers adopted many of political theories. He was, to his dying day, a libertarian socialist these authors repeat at the end of every description. Some of his works, including Animal Farm and 1984, appear to denounce Stalin and the U.S.S.R., but Orwell didn’t limit his fears of totalitarian principles to locales or leaders. He feared the idea that too many citizens of the world were willing to give up their freedom for comfort, and he feared the susceptibilities were just as inherent in people of Britain and The United States. I understand that when people we consider political opponents adopt our theories, we might blanch at the notion, but when you’re right you’re right. If a political opponent adopted one of my theories to explain their beliefs, we might find that we disagree on an end game, but if we continued to find some agreement on a principle regarding fundamental elements of human nature, I would find that a compliment regardless of their political viewpoint.

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Leonardo’s Lips and Lines


My takeaway from Walter Isaacson’s Leonard da Vinci biography is that hypervigilance is not a switch an artist turns on to create. Artistic creations are often a display of one’s genuine curiosity about the world, a culmination of obsessive research into the miniscule details that others missed, and a portal through which the artist can reveal their findings. Did Leonardo da Vinci’s obsessions drive him to be an artist, or did he become obsessed with the small details of life to become a better artist?

Da Vinci might have started obsessively studying various elements, such as water, rock formations, and all of the other natural elements to inform his art, but he became so obsessed with his initial findings that he pursued them for reasons beyond art. He pursued them, the author states, for the sake of knowledge.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book capture an artist’s artistic process as well as this one did. The thesis of the book is that da Vinci’s artistic creations were not merely the work of a gifted artist, but of an obsessive genius honing in on scientific discoveries to inform the minutiae of his process. Some reviews argue that this bio focuses too much on the minutiae of da Vinci’s work, but after reading the book, I don’t see how an author could capture the essence of what da Vinci’s accomplished without focusing on his obsessions, as focusing and obsessing on the finer details separated him from all of the brilliant artists that followed.

Some have alluded to the idea that da Vinci just happened to capture Lisa Gherardini, or Lisa del Giocondo, in the perfect smile for his famous painting The Mona Lisa. The inference is that da Vinci asked her to do a number of poses, and that his gift was merely in working with Lisa to find that perfect pose and then capture it, in the manner a photographer might. Such theories, Isaacson illustrates, shortchange the greatest work of one of history’s greatest artists.

Isaacson also discounts the idea that da Vinci’s finished products were the result of a divine gift, and I agree in the sense that suggesting his work was a result of a gift discounts everything da Vinci did to inform his work. There were other artists with similar gifts in da Vinci’s time, and there have been many more since, yet da Vinci’s work maintains a rarified level of distinction in the art world.

As an example of Leonardo’s obsessiveness, he dissected cadavers to understand the musculature elements involved in producing a smile. Isaacson provides exhaustive details of Leonardo’s work, but writing about such endeavors cannot properly capture how tedious this research must have been. Writing that da Vinci spent years exploring cadavers to discover all the ways the brain and spine work in conjunction to produce expression, for example, cannot capture the trials and errors da Vinci must have experienced before finding the subtle muscular formations inherent in the famous, ambiguous smile that captured the deliberate effect he was trying to achieve. (Isaacson’s description of all the variables that inform da Vinci’s process regarding The Mona Lisa’s ambiguous smile that historians suggest da Vinci used more than once is the best paragraph in the book.) One can only guess that da Vinci spent most of his time researching for these artistic truths alone, and that even his most loyal assistants pleaded that he not put them on the insanely tedious lip detail.

Isaacson also goes to great lengths to reveal Leonardo’s study of lights and shadows, in the sfumato technique, to provide the subjects of his paintings greater dimension and realistic and penetrating eyes. Da Vinci then spent years, sometimes decades, putting changes on his “incomplete projects”. Witnesses say that he could spend hours looking at an incomplete project only to add one little dab of paint.

The idea of a gift implies that all an artist has to do is apply their gift to whatever canvas stands before them and that they should do it as often as possible to pay homage to that gift until they achieve a satisfactory result. As Isaacson details this doesn’t explain what separates da Vinci from other similarly gifted artists in history. The da Vinci works we admire to this day were but a showcase of his ability, his obsessive research on matters similarly gifted artists might consider inconsequential, and the application of that knowledge he attained from the research.

Why, for example, would one spend months, years, and decades studying the flow of water, and its connections to the flow of blood in the heart? The nature of da Vinci’s obsessive qualities belies the idea that he did it for the sole purpose of fetching a better price for his art. He also, as the author points out, turned down more commissions than he accepted. This coupled with the idea that while he might have started an artistic creation on a commissioned basis, he often did not give the finished product to the one paying him for the finished product. As stated with some of his works, da Vinci hesitated to do this because he didn’t consider it finished, completed, or perfect. As anyone who understands the artistic process understands, the idea that art has reached a point where it cannot be improved upon is often more difficult to achieve for the artist than starting one. Some might suggest that achieving historical recognition drove him, but da Vinci had no problem achieving recognition in his lifetime, as most connoisseurs of art considered him one of the best painters of his era. We also know that da Vinci published little of what would’ve been revolutionary discoveries in his time, and he carried most of his artwork with him for most of his life, perfecting it, as opposed to selling it, or seeking more fame with it.

After reading all that informed da Vinci’s process, coupled with the appreciation we have for the finished product, I believe we can now officially replace the meme that uses the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album to describe an artist’s artistic peak with The Mona Lisa.

Boring Investment Advice from a Know Nothing


“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” is one of the most valuable pieces of advice I made up for myself, while working at an online brokerage company. Soon after I landed this job, I entered the training room. The information overload I experienced in the training class was intimidating, overwhelming, frustrating, understandable, illuminating, and intoxicating. I thought I knew something when I finished these grueling classes, and I was eager to put that knowledge into play. Every time I did, throughout my tenure there, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” became the refrain of my pain.

Watching the brokerage’s customers put their knowledge into play in the stock market only reinforced the idea that I didn’t know what I was doing, because some of these callers knew a lot more than I did and they spent a lot more time studying trends. They could recite a company’s tiny, accounting numbers and explain to me how those numbers were indicators for future success. They could explain cyclical trends in the company’s industry and how those trends and numbers coupled with prevailing winds in the market and the nation’s politics could indicate that the company’s stock was ready to explode. They were eternal optimists on the subject of their stock, yet their results ended up being as unimpressive as mine were.

Some of these callers didn’t have the money to pursue their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, some didn’t have the stomach to pull the trigger, and others didn’t have the brains as evidenced by the fact that they asked me for advice on what they should do. Those in the latter group were more memorable for the creative ways they tried to blame the company, and me, when their too primed to fail moves fell through. The theme of these calls was, “You, and your company, shouldn’t have permitted me to do this.”

My lifestyle at the time was such that I provided friends the opportunity to use all of the clever and humorous variations of the word frugal. I had money at my disposal in the post-Reagan era that preceded the tech bubble bursting. Momentum stocks were exploding all over the place, and the excitement from these gamblers was infectious. I forgot everything my grandpa and dad told me about investing, and I put my foot in the tide. I learned the hard way, that if I was going to make any money in the market, the last things I should be counting on were my knowledge, or my knowledgeable instincts.

Invest in What you Know

“Invest in what you know,” The wizard of Wall Street, Warren Buffet, advised those of us overwhelmed by the information required to invest in the stock market. The question I ask those that follow this wisdom is how often do your personal preferences align with the popularity of products?

An aficionado of coffee might know that the blend corporation ‘X’ puts together is superior to their competition, but do they really know that, or do they think that? More vital to the subject of personal investing is the question, does the coffee aficionado know anything about the business practices of ‘X’. They might know that ‘X’ makes a superior blend, because ‘X’ only uses the finest quality bean, but do they know how much that bean costs the company? Do they know what percentage of that cost the company passes onto the consumer? The idea that ‘X’ might charge the lowest possible cost possible to the consumer might be a key component to their personal loyalty to the brand, but how does this action affect ‘X’s profit margin? Repeat after me, “I know nothing.” Buffet’s advice might be great for novices who have some money to play around in the market, and for them investing in ‘X’ is a great way to show brand loyalty, but for serious investors seeking a path to some level of financial independence, it’s been a formula for failure in my experience.

Why do our employers provide us a select list of mutual funds for our 401k? They do it to protect us from indulging in our creative impulses when investing. They know that the key to long-term investing involves the slow growth, and they study the mutual funds market to determine which funds will produce long term and consistent growth.

“Investing doesn’t have to be boring,” I’ve heard creative investors say in response to the adage that if you find investing exciting, you’re probably doing it wrong. Creative investing involves an otherwise intelligent person finding creative end arounds to prove they are as skilled in the investing world as they are in their profession. Creative investors seek to impress their friends with exclamation points!!! They want to tell their friends that they were in on the ground floor of an idea that made them millions, they want to show their friends a physical product to “wow!” them, and they want their friends and family to talk about that investment that put them over the top in the arena of accumulated wealth. Any common Joe can invest in a slow growth, blue chip companies that have an extensive record of paying consistent dividends. Investments in those companies require no creativity or ingenuity, and they are the antithesis of sexy, creative investing. Watching such companies plod onward with miniscule, but consistent profits is about as boring as the professions, most common people have, but seasoned investors will say that that long-term boredom might provide the most probable route to long-term success.

On that note, a vital mindset that an investor should have is one that recognizes the continental divide between investing and gambling. Some seasoned investors might say that all investing is gambling. If that’s true, we maintain that there is a continental between gambling on an upstart and gambling on a blue chip stalwart that has a proven history of consistent returns. There’s nothing wrong with investing in momentum and growth stocks versus defensive stocks, but most momentum/growth stocks are more volatile than defensive stocks.

The difference between stalwart, blue chip stocks that some call defensive stocks and momentum, or growth stocks are often found in their volatility. A theoretical measurement of a stock’s volatility is the beta number. If a stock  has a .44 beta number, for example, the investor knows that that company is theoretically less volatile than most of the stocks listed in the market, a .62 is a little more volatile, but not as theoretically volatile as most stocks. A 2.15 beta, on the other hand, is a number that suggests that that company’s stock is theoretically more volatile than the market. This number is a theoretical variable that suggests that a 1.0 stock moves in line with the market.

The opposite of investing in growth stocks that promise growth based on momentum are the defensive stocks that generally sell the staples of consumer related products. Defensive stocks generally provide more stable earnings when compared to those in growth stocks, and they generally provide consistent dividends to the investor, regardless what’s happening in the rest of the market. There is always going to be some volatility in a company’s stock, of course, but some would say that a blue chip, defensive stock that offers a dividend could be a better investment for a potential investor than a bank’s certificate of deposit (CD). At this point, many of these companies offer a yield (dividend) that is better than what most banks can offer in the form of a CD, and taxes are lower on dividends from stocks than they are on interest from a CD. The one caveat on investing in a dividend paying stock is the prospect of losing some, or all, of the principle investment in the stock, whereas a bank enters into a locked in agreement on the principle with the consumer when providing a CD for a specified amount of time.

Some call blue chip companies the major players in their industry, or the household names. The Dow Jones Index lists thirty of the major players that have a propensity to either move with the market, or dictate the movement of the stocks in their industry, and the subsequent moves of the overall market over an unspecified amount of time. The stocks listed in the Dow Jones Index are blue chip stocks that generally offer slow growth and dividends to its investors. These investments are what a creative investor might call boring investments.

Be Boring 

I am not an investment advisor, and I don’t pretend to be one on this site, but when I talk about investing it inevitably leads some to ask me what particular investments I would advise they put their money in. I tell them that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night thinking that they might purchase a stock I’m tracking, because I know how much their family is counting on them to make wise investments choices. My one piece of general advice is that they avoid creative or sexy investing and develop an investment strategy that involves getting boring. I tell my friend if he wants to up his income, his best economic opportunities available to him are at the office and in his work ethic and loyalty to the company, for that might result in raises and promotions. If he wants to get filthy, stinking, and “I hate you now because you have so much money” wealthy, the best route to accomplishing that is to have your money working for you. “Working for you” can mean a variety of different things to a variety of different people, but I would advise that an investor in an optimum situation that entails having some disposable cash on hand find the least volatile, blue chip company that pays a consistent dividend. If they are in this optimal situation where they don’t have immediate need for the money from those dividends, they set up a Direct Reinvestment Plan (DRIP) on that stock to watch the slow growth accumulate over the long term.

Those readers that blanch at the notion that “You don’t know what you’re talking about” is solid investment advice, should know that it parallels the advice Warren Buffet gave elsewhere. “If you’ve got 150 IQ and you’re in my business, go sell 20 or 30 points to somebody else, ‘cause you really don’t need it,” he said. “You need emotional stability. You need to be able to detach yourself from fear or greed, when that prevails in the market. You’ve gotta be able to come to your own opinions and ignore other people. But you don’t need a lot of brains.”

I agree with everything Buffet says here, except for the idea that the novice investor should ignore the advice of others. I advised my friend to  create a fake portfolio on one of the platforms that provide that function. I advised him to input data that suggests that he’s made a purchase of some shares at the amount of that day, and then chart that stock’s progress for however long he finds necessary and read all of the data and analytical reports that the chosen platform provides. Then, allow some earnings quarters to go by and read, or watch, interpretations of the company’s quarterly report, and digest all of the negative and positive data provided. (The optimum is to read the company’s own quarterly report, but most of these are about as long as Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and about one-tenth as interesting.) If he is still uncomfortable with his knowledge regarding individual stocks he chose to fake invest in, I told him to delete the stocks in that fake portfolio and start charting mutual funds and index funds in it. Investing in these vehicles requires as much homework as investing in an individual stock, but some outlets like Morningstar.com provide comprehensive ratings on various mutual funds. They also provide a description of the risk the potential investor will experience if they push the button on a buy, a full breakdown on the mutual funds’ investments, or asset allocation, and an outlook that ranges from one month to ten years.

Investing in mutual funds and index funds might be even more boring than investing in blue chip stocks, as it takes away the personal rewards investors seek when picking an individual stock and riding it to the top. If the investor is using the art of investing to prove their craftiness, I suggest that they might want to consider the far less expensive route of downloading one of the thousands of strategy and war games in app stores to satisfy this need. If they are seeking immediate returns on their money, just about every state now has craps tables and roulette wheels in their casinos that provide gamblers a guaranteed payout. For those that have worked hard for their money and now want their money working hard for them, it’s vital that the investor take stock of what they don’t know, as opposed to what they do, or what they think they do. For those people, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” is the best advice I’ve ever heard.

https://leonardodavincigallery.com/what-is-leonardo-da-vinci-sfumato-technique/

Da Vinci’s Sfumato and Chekov’s Razor


Leonardo da Vinci introduced a mindset that every author should be employing in their writing, if they are not already. This mindset resulted from a technique da Vinci used in his paintings called sfumato, or “gone up in smoke”. I use it so often that I don’t think of it as a technique anymore, but I found it interesting to read the explorations of it by one most famous artists in history. The basic tenet of the sfumato technique da Vinci made famous, was to avoid using specific and concrete lines in his paintings. This might not sound like a novel technique to the accomplished artist of the day, but it was groundbreaking in its day. Da Vinci did not invent this technique, as some evidence suggests it dates back to the chiaroscuro effects used by ancient Greeks and Romans, but da Vinci took it to another level. As author Walter Isaacson wrote, Leonardo was so obsessed with using shadows and reflected light that he wrote fifteen thousand words on the topic, “And that is probably less than of half of what he originally wrote,” Isaacson opined.

The sfumato technique also applies to writing. When an author begins writing a story, they characterize their main character with bold lines through unique, individualistic, and semi-autobiographical lines. The more an author explores that character, the more they chip away at strict characterization and allow the character to breathe for themselves in a manner that adds dimension. They characterize the character with shading and reflection, or refraction through supporting characters, until they have done little to characterize the main character except through their interactions and events. Their main character becomes more prominent through these literary devices, until the central character becomes the literary equivalent to an eye of the storm.

In writing, we call the sfumato technique “the show don’t tell” technique. The author uses supporting characters and setting to define their main character, and they use all of this to bring the events involved in their stories to life. The takeaway might be that the optimum characterizations are those characterizations that appear more organic to the reader. In other words, the author should be working his or her tail off to make the work appear so easy that the reader thinks anyone could do it.

Chekov’s Razor

The aspiring author should also be using Chekov’s Razor so often that they don’t realize they’re doing it. The idea of Chekov’s razor is that the first three paragraphs, or pages that an author writes, are for the author, and the rest is for the reader.

Anyone that knows anything about the writing process knows that the blinking cursor, or the blank page, can be daunting. To defeat the blinking cursor, the writer should start writing an idea down. This technique opens the author to subject matter. Once the author is in, the material might have the wherewithal to be in a near proximity to where a story lies, but the real story could take paragraphs, or pages, to develop.

Chekov’s razor focuses on threes, the first three paragraphs, and/or three pages of a manuscript, short story, or essay, but I’ve found this an arbitrary length. When I begin a story, I think I have a full-fledged introduction on my hands. I think this idea, warts and all, will be the story. I know I will eventually need a pivot point(s) to take me to the next stage(s) of the story, but I don’t consider them anything more than what they are at the time. In the course of rewriting, however, I discover that the pivot point is the story. I can’t tell those reading how many times it has happened to me, or a general area in which they occur, but I often find it frustrating to realize how much time I wasted building upon an original idea only to realize it’s all dreck compared to a pivot point I wrote and everything I wrote after it. Thus, I don’t believe there is magic in the power of threes in employing Chekov’s Razor to storytelling. A central idea, or pivot point arrives at in the course of writing.

An important note to add here is that if most authors work the same way I do, we do not write for the expressed purpose of finding the core of a story. We think we’ve already found it, and that the only chore involved thereafter is building upon it. The discovery of the core of story often humbles the author and slaps them back to the realization that no matter how many times we write a story, the art of writing involves mining the brain for ideas rather than having a brain loaded with brilliant ideas. That conceit eventually reveals itself to those willing to write a lot of material, and it’s up to the author to recognize the difference for what it is if they want a quality story.

It happens in the course of writing it, editing it after we’re done, or in the daydreaming stage that can last for days, weeks, or months. I do not enjoy deleting the chunks of material I’ve written, and I don’t think anyone does, but the quality author will develop the ability to recognize what portion of the story is for them and which portion is for the reader.

I don’t consider the revelation of these techniques a glamorization of my process. I think it demystifies the process by suggesting that anyone can do this, as long as they write as often as they need to discover what should become the central focus for the reader. Every author needs to move past their conceit of their self-defined brilliance to find the story they’re trying to tell, and learn how to work from within it.

That’s Not Dirt


“In my professional opinion,” a plumber said. “I think we’re stuck.” The plumber said that after assuring me that a cranking mechanism on his truck would make “easy work” of snaking the sewer line of my home. He allowed that mechanism to snake the drain for about fifteen minutes. When that didn’t work, he attempted to assist the mechanism manually. He finally turned the mechanism off and attempted to perform the task manually.

I was impressed when the plumber informed me that his mechanism would make this a quick process, for that went against everything I heard. Everyone from the tree experts I talked to, to the plumber that snaked this drain before told me that the silver maple leaf was the worst possible tree a homeowner could have when it comes to plumbing. Our silver maple leaf was about sixty-feet tall, and the previous plumber informed me that that means it probably goes sixty feet down, “and as I’m sure you can guess, a sixty-foot tree does not go straight down. It builds itself a foundation by spreading outwards infiltrating whatever is in its way.” I told this current plumber this, but he insisted that his truck’s cranking mechanism would make easy work of this task.

“Just watch,” he said before flipping the switch on the crank.

The crank on the plumber’s truck did make some progress before we reached that point of being stuck. Evidence of that progress lined my basement in the form of piles of debris on newspapers throughout my basement. The debris consisted of numerous silver maple leaf’s twigs and some dirt that I assumed followed the twigs in the drain.

“Well,” I said, looking down at one of these piles. “It should be easier to work through since all the dirt is wet?”

“You’re kidding, right?” he said looking down at the same mound of debris. “There is some dirt in there, no doubt, but most of that is not dirt.”

I looked at him in confusion for about half a beat, until it dawned on me what he was saying. I colored with embarrassment for a moment. “Wait a second,” I said, “isn’t that what we’re supposed to have in there?”

“Sure,” he conceded, “but it’s not dirt.”

The plumber’s confidence turned out to be false bravado, as evidenced by the fact that the effort he put into trying to clear the drain physically drained him. His hopelessness led him to consider calling a professional colleague at one point, and he considered calling the home office for advice. “I hate to ask you this,” he said, “I’ve never done this before, and I’m sure my colleagues would frown at this, but could you help me?” After I agreed to do just that, he added, “I think the two of us could do this together, don’t you?” He put me on the lead, and he said he would also be pulling from behind. He then added, “I want you to pull as hard as you can, of course, but when I say stop. Stop.”

He asked me to look at him, and he repeated that line to make sure I understood the importance of stopping. I told him I would do as instructed. As I began to pull, however, I began making significant progress. It was obvious, at one point, that I was making more progress than a certified plumber had. I was proud. He was helping me to a point, but when I started making real progress, he stopped pulling from the back and said, “You’re getting it.” That led me to start pulling even harder.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when another fella tells me that I’m displaying feats of strength beyond his own, it invigorates me. When I’m outdoing a professional on his own profession, I try to live up to that compliment and expound upon it. As I sought to expound upon it, the primary source of our concern appeared in the sewer clean out fitting built into the wall of our basement. I was excited, I thought I was accomplishing something huge, but the plumber informed that working it through the fitting was often the hardest part. I had this in mind, coupled with the progress I made, when I began pulling for what I thought would be one last time. It wouldn’t happen on the first couple of pulls, as the entanglement popped up in and out of the fitting on the side of the wall like a ground squirrel taunting its tormentor.

After those first couple of tantalizing pulls failed, I let the snake go slack and regrouped for one final pull. I inhaled and grabbed ahold of snake line, and I put everything I had into one final pull.

“Stop!” the plumber shouted. He was too late.

The mass, that was not dirt, entwined with silver maple leaf twigs, finally made it through the fitting. Its release, combined with the force of my pull, caused me to fall backward until I was flat on my bottom. The result of that fall not only prevented the mass that was not dirt from hitting me, but it put me in a perfect position to watch the mass fly up over my head.

As anyone with a basic understanding of physics can guess, this did not happen in slow motion. It happened so fast that I didn’t see the glop hit the plumber in the face, and I didn’t have enough time to see if the plumber failed to duck in time, or if he accidentally ducked into it. Regardless what his reaction was, some of the glop that was not dirt landed on his nose and eyeglasses.

It took the plumber about two seconds to digest what happened. Once he did, the expletives flew. One of those expletives could adequately describe some of material in the glop that was not dirt, now on his face. He blamed me for not stopping when he told me to, he blamed himself for not calling in a professional colleague to assist him, and he displayed some anger at the world for a moment. Throughout this understandable tirade, the plumber did not wipe the glop from his face. He just stared at me, and with me, in mutual disgust for what just happened.

“This is, by far, the most disgusting thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said after he cooled down a little, “and I’m sure you can guess that this profession has provided me quite a list!” That was a good line, I thought, and I wasn’t sure if he valued good lines as much as I did, but I wondered if he allowed this glop to remain on his face, because he thought his appearance might enhance the comedic value of such a line.

I don’t know what he was thinking, or if I was assigning my values to his reaction, but my guess was his years spent as a plumber raised his tolerance level for that which others consider unspeakably disgusting. What I couldn’t understand, however, was his ability to stand there with that on his face without feeling embarrassed. I also couldn’t understand why wiping this glop off his face wasn’t an instinctual response. Whatever his reasoning, he continued to leave it on his face to deliver one last comedic line, “All I can say, and I never thought I’d be saying this, but I’m glad I need to wear glasses.” 

Dumb Guy’s Disease


“Taken care of me. Mike, you’re my kid brother, and you take care of me? Did you ever think of that. Ever once? Send Fredo off to do this, send Fredo to take care of that… take care of some little unimportant night club here, and there; pick somebody up at the airport. I’m your older brother Mike and I was stepped over! … It ain’t the way I wanted it! I can handle things. I’m smart. Not like everybody says, like dumb. I’m smart and I want respect!” –Fredo from The Godfather II

“What happened?” we ask ourselves. “I thought I’d be one of the smart ones. I know I was a disinterested student in school, and I probably cared more about partying for far too long in the afterlife (the afterlife being the era of life that occurred immediately after we finished school), but I thought I would’ve gathered enough wisdom by this point that someone would consider me wise, but I have to face it. I have a mean case of dumb guy’s disease.”

Dumb guy’s disease doesn’t necessarily mean that the carrier is dumb, but that they are not as smart as they thought they would be at this point. We all know dumb guys, those men and women that by our calculations don’t know enough to enter into our league of intelligence. We never considered ourselves one of them, until someone far more intelligent than us gave us a condescending “you don’t know do you?” smile. We would love to dismiss that look with the notion that they had an agenda, but we know that we choked in crunch time, because we didn’t know. When enough of these moments happen, we conclude that we’re not half as bright as we thought we would be at this point in our lives.

To prove ourselves to us, we seek less structured forms of education. We might begin reading better websites and better books, we might watch more documentaries, and listen to a wide array of podcasts. No matter what venue we choose, we will focus our renewed thirst for knowledge on vanquishing the structured concepts we failed to learn in school. This is our way of putting all those poor grades behind us by rejecting traditional, accepted knowledge as a form of intellectual rebellion.

“Everything they taught you in school is wrong,” is popular click bait for dumb guys hoping to succeed beyond the fools in school that regurgitated accepted facts back to the teacher. We dumb guys learn the truth, but this version of the truth should not be confused with the truth, in most cases, but rather a subjective truth that an author spends decades writing in various forms and incarnations. This is one of the many attempts we make to rectify the past.

***

Literary agents and publishers provide prospective clients a preemptive list of ideas for books that they will accept and reject. These lists normally include a list of genres that they are interested in and some notes regarding what their institution is about for the interested writer. On occasion, they will provide a note to humiliate those that have poured their heart and soul into a book. “I do not want a book that seeks to rectify a past transgression committed against the author,” one agent’s note read. “Please, do not send me an idea fora book that puts your bully in his place, or one that suggests your parents were wrong all along.” This agent was alluding to the idea that anyone that attempts to write such a book is, by his estimation, a hack.

My initial reaction to this note was that a total upheaval of my writing might be necessary if I ever hoped to have a prestigious outlet consider one of my works for publications. It also caused me something of an artistic identity crisis, because I realized that most of my fictional stories focused on rectifying my past.

With this comprehensive condemnation in mind, I put everything I read, watched and heard though this agent’s funnel, and I thought, ‘Listen, Mortimer, this is kind of what we do.’ When I write the word we, in the context of describing rewriting the past to rectify it our mind, I don’t find this characteristic to be exclusive to writers. I consider it a comprehensive term that applies to all human beings, artists and otherwise. When that fella at the water cooler provides us a testimonial about his days in high school, and how bullies subjected him to cruel and inhumane levels of abuse, how much of his testimonial is 100% factual? He might say that bullies picked on him, a confession that we consider more acceptable in our anti-bully climate, but how many people delve into the specifics of the pain they experienced in those moments? I met the guy who did, and he was such an anomaly that he characterized for me, the 99.99% of the population who won’t. For the rest of us, our rewrites involve a main character of our story reacting to our bully in a manner equivalent to Indiana Jones shooting the Arab swordsman after his intricate displays of prowess with a scimitar. If this agent’s goal was to limit the number of authors vying for his services, I suspect this note accomplished that for him, and put the fear in a whole lot more.

Those that attempt to rewrite their past at the water cooler with fellow employees that no nothing of the man’s past, might be lying. When an author writes such a piece in a book, however, they do have a license to do so. It’s called an artistic license. Now, readers of this site should know by now that I consider nonfiction more compelling than fiction. They should also know that when I encounter an image, a story line, or a turn of a phrase that could make a retelling of an event better, I will err on the side of nonfiction. Nonfiction is simply more compelling to me, even when it is not as entertaining as a creative spin could be. The second rule concerns fiction, and that is there are no rules regarding truth, as I believe the reader and author have entered into an agreement that it’s likely that none of this is true in any way. I do have one rule with fiction, however, and this might fall under the agent’s note. It is that I do not exaggerate my main character’s prowess to the point that he is an Indiana Jones character with little in the way of vulnerabilities. My main characters do make mistakes, and they are wrong, but I don’t do this to follow some elitist agent’s guidelines, I just find flawed characters more interesting. It’s why I’ve always preferred Batman to Superman. Perhaps the agent should’ve included some variation of the word exaggeration. Without that word, the agent is condemning about 95% of the world of fiction.

***

To be considered a successful author, Truman Capote once said, “All an author needs to do is write one great book.” The initial thought, and that which informed much of what Capote said, was that he was saying that all an author has to do to achieve fame is write one great book. Capote, after all, appeared to enjoy the fruits of fame as much, if not more, than any other author did on the back of In Cold Blood. Capote’s brief quote might have also referred to the idea that greater sales result from one great book, for one could say that writing one great book puts an author on the radar, and any books that follow will achieve greater attention on the coattails of that one great book.

The rhetorical question I would’ve asked Capote is one solely concerned with artistic integrity. Such a question might not concern anyone outside the literary world, but I would ask him if an author writes one great book, how many other self-sustaining works can one author create based on his or her experiences in life? How many creative plotlines, varied characters, and philosophical chunks of exposition can one writer develop before treading upon the familiar ground exposed in that one great book? They will try, of course, because the competitive drive of every artist compels them to try to write two self-sustaining books to differentiate them from the well-traveled idea that everyone has one good book in them. On a side note, some cultural critics have argued, “Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

For most authors that aspire to write two great books, to four, to so much more, the astute reader can spot their formula. The author’s formula encapsulates their worldview, the imprint the world has made on them, and that which they hope to leave on their readers. There is also, within the artist, the drive to escape the imprint left on them, but most human beings, artists or otherwise, have a difficult time escaping their philosophical DNA. We are creatures of habit that can’t help giving our bad guy the characteristics that terrified us most in our friend’s dad. We can’t avoid the urge to harm him, or kill him off in the creative ways fictional outlets provide, and we can’t avoid telling him, in all the ways our creative minds have at our disposal, that he isn’t as terrifying to us as he was when we were young.

On that note, writing can be therapeutic. I was well into rewriting my past when it dawned on me how therapeutic it was. My main character could come up with the witty retort that I didn’t when his bully confronted him, and the main character forced the bully to confront the main character’s attributes. I had a number of plots, subplots, and asides built on this premise, and they were all pretty awful, but they provided seeds for the better material that would follow, and it helped me get over some of the psychological bumps I have experienced in life. It was my formula, and my drive to right the wrongs done to me in life by rewriting my past in such a way that I could live, vicariously, through my main character. I discovered, soon after reading that agent’s post that I could not escape this route, as it was part of my artistic DNA.

The faults of my imprint, as it pertained to what I was writing, dawned on me when an interviewer asked one of my favorite musicians why his lyrics were subpar. (The interviewer’s question was more artful than that, but that was the gist of the question.) “Too many lyricists attempt to write a song, as if it’s a college thesis,” is a rough synopsis of the musician’s answer. “I just write lyrics that fit the music.”

The dumb guy’s disease involves the author of a book, or song, informing the world that they’re not as dumb as they were in school or in the immediate aftermath where the focus of their life was partying. The quote informed me that when I injected politics and music appreciation into my fiction, I was writing my college thesis. Some big name fiction authors make political overtures to enlighten their readers, and they attempt to woo us into listening to their favorite groups with forays into music appreciation. I used to write about my main character’s appreciation for my favorite group of the moment, in the manner that big name author does. My modus operandi was if he can do it, why can’t I? I hit a realization that he could do it, because he was a big name in the fiction world, and I wasn’t. I finally realized, under the guise of a dumb guy writing a college thesis, that this big name author didn’t introduce his political, or music, preferences as well as I thought he had when blinded by the awe I had of his big name.

In the years I spent trying to prove that I was not a dumb guy, I never heard the notion that intelligence and brilliance could be considered different strains of intellect. (I realize that in the strictest sense of the terms, some might consider another so intelligent, in a structured manner, that they consider them brilliant, but for the sake of argument let’s say that brilliance and intelligence are two parallel roads.) The two strains of intellect could be broken down to left-brain versus right brain, as in that one type of brain has an almost natural aptitude for math and science, while the other is more of a creative type. One could also say that the intelligent person knows how to fix a saxophone while the other knows how to play it brilliantly, and while both can learn how to accomplish the other’s feat, neither will ever do it as well as the other, for their brains work in decidedly different ways.

This idea applies to dumb guy’s disease, because some creative types do not discover their aptitude for creativity, until the afterlife. (Again, this term refers to the life after school.) We recognize some forms of artistic expression, such as an ability to draw or play an instrument, early on, while an aptitude for creative writing usually occurs later in life. The math and science types discover an aptitude for the structured learning, memorization, and problem solving that occurs in school, and it puts them in the upper echelon of learners, whereas the young, creative types live outside the bubble, looking in with jealousy. Screaming, as Fredo did in The Godfather II, “I’m smart. Not like everybody says, like dumb. I’m smart and I want respect!”

If I had one piece of advice that I could give myself twenty years prior it would be to try harder to succeed within the system. Do whatever it is you do to the best of your ability and quit thinking your above such structured knowledge, or that some subjects are pointless. I would also ask myself to work harder to acknowledge that there’s nothing special about me, but hold onto the idea that I could be. I know this sounds confusing, I would add, but it’s the key to prosperity and happiness. The reason you’re experiencing an individual strain of dumb guy’s disease is that you focused too much energy on the idea that there was something special about you. It’s the reason you were so frustrated that you weren’t a better athlete, student and employee. You got ahead of yourself in other words. Slow down and capture the moments better.

If there were an antidote to dumb guy’s disease, I would say it involves an unhealthy dose of self-reflection coupled with a dose of self-actualization. As our grandmother’s told us, there is always going to be someone stronger, more attractive, and smarter. There is always going to be some that have their areas, and we might know little to nothing about that area, but we have our areas too. Unfortunately, when someone backs us into a corner, intellectually, there is a tendency to panic. If we were able to sit back and say, hey, you have your areas and I have mine, we might be able to avoid the fear that we’re not as dumb as we think we are.

Harry Reid and the UFO Program


A number of publications now report that the federal government appropriated over $22 million of my money, spread out over five years, to study UFO’s.(1) I have no problem with ordinary citizens that believe that aliens from outer space are infiltrating our skies, and I have no problem with independent organizations that use private funds to conduct research into proving it. I don’t even have a problem with a private organization seeking government grants for such research in an open and transparent manner. When a sitting U.S. Senator devotes my money to something like this, in such a covert manner, the first thing we citizens should do is question that Senator’s motives.

The motive, we skeptics opine, is that the former head of the Senate, Democrat Harry Reid, initiated The Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program as a creative way to send a chunk of our money to his friend, government contractor, and a major Harry Reid campaign contributor, Robert Bigelow and Bigelow’s company Bigelow Aerospace.

The reports from these publications state that the program’s leader, Luis Elizondo, resigned declaring that the program “was not taken seriously enough.”(2) If Elizondo was being honest, as opposed to attempting to avoid the scrutiny he might face for participating in this sham, we skeptics ask, on what basis should we take such a program seriously? If, as Elizondo infers, we should be on guard against a worst case scenario from flying saucers, such as an attack on the homeland, our response should be, “Based on what?” If you, Luis Elizondo believe we should study UFO’s in a preemptive manner that’s fine, do it on your own dime, collect a number of like-minded investors, or apply for a grant in an open and honest manner, so voters can hold those that acquiesce to such a request accountable. (Editor’s note: Various reports report that Mr. Elizondo is now participating in just such a quest that doesn’t appear to have government funding attached to it.) To suggest that the government should be required to use my money, however, to prepare a defense against a threat that most taxpayers don’t believes exists, without facing open scrutiny, suggests to me that some of the players involved knew this was an elaborate sham to cheat taxpayers. If they weren’t co-conspirators, on the other hand, they enjoyed the fruits of it.

If this worst-case scenario were to occur, I’m guessing that 99% of the population would be empathetic to those government officials that declared, “We didn’t prepare for this disaster, because, well, how does one prepare for such a thing?”

Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye, and Alaska Republican Ted Stevens were two Senators that secretly joined Reid in his bid to send this money to Bigelow, but these three Senators did not inform any other Senators of their actions. For those readers that make note of the fact that a Republican that joined in on a Reid’s scheme to funnel money to one of his major contributors, they should also note that Citizen’s Against Government Waste often targeted the former Senator, Ted Stevens, for his creative ability to spend taxpayer’s money to the benefit of his Alaskan citizens.

“I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry I got this (Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program) going,” Mr. Reid said in an interview in Nevada. “I think it’s one of the good things I did in my congressional service. I’ve done something that no one has done before.”

The first response that pops into mind when reading this quote is, if it was one of the good things he did while in the Senate, where are the results? When publications report on this particular program, they include various videos, though they do not note if these videos were part of the program’s findings. Even if they were, however, the videos feature the typical, oblique videos of flying objects that have been around, on various sites, for decades, and there are some oblique testimonials from those that were there, but these findings do not provide more definitive information than what we had before the program. If there is such information, it has an all too convenient Top Secret label on it. Other than the points, we should probably give Harry Reid credit for finding a creative way to reward a financial contributor to his campaigns, I can’t think of any good this idea did for the country.

As for the “I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry” comment, Harry Reid has a history that suggests he was not easily embarrassed or shamed throughout his career. He stated that most of the people that are not him smell. (3) He has also all but admitted that he lied when he stated, from the floor of the Senate albeit, that 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn’t pay any taxes over the past decade. When pressed to account for this lie, Reid responded with a smirk, “Romney didn’t win, did he?” The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza characterized the lie, the refusal to apologize, and the subsequent glee Reid displayed in the CNN interview as “both remarkable and remarkably depressing”(4). More recently, Harry Reid added, “If I had to do it over again, I’d do it again.” (5)

The point in establishing Reid’s less than stellar record of honesty, and lack of any shame, is that when he says that the $22 Million that was devoted to the program was black money that means that only he and the other two Senators above knew about it, and he was not willing to endure any “open and honest” scrutiny for his action. When Reid says that he is not embarrassed or ashamed or sorry for what he did, his record suggests that maintaining integrity was never a driving force for him. The point is, also, that while Reid did nothing illegal in his pursuit of funneling this money to a contributor, his actions did not live up to the 2006 promise Democrats made of being “the honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history”.

As has been proven over the last half century, various members of the American public have been willing to invest millions of dollars of their own money, and a large percentage of their lives, to explore a truth about big foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and UFO’s. Why would a venture, such as this one, need government funding? The answer, it didn’t. As Reid himself stated his act of rewarding a campaign contributor was unprecedented, in that no politician in government ever did it before. Is this because no previous politician had the stones to face scrutiny from the public for such a move? If that’s the case, Reid didn’t allow his program to face scrutiny. My personal belief is that no politician has attempted funnel the taxpayer’s hard-earned money to a major campaign contributor in such a way, because no politician has been as shameless as former Democrat Senator Harry Reid was before. If there has been, and I’m not aware of it, they weren’t so proud of it that they didn’t mind it becoming a part of their historical legacy.