Is Elon Musk Rasputin or Cosmo Kramer?


How many of us thought we would not live long enough to see the mind-blowing innovations displayed in countless sci-fi movies? How many of us thought we’d live to see portable communication devices that we could put in our pocket? How many of us considered self-driving cars and vision phones where we could see the person on the other end of the line? How many of us thought we’d have a computer in just about every home? How many of us thought with all these wild innovations that defied boundaries that we would all be wearing silver suits while watching TV, mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes in the distant year 2000? If you watched movies or TV during the bygone era, you knew these were the visions of life on Earth in the future.

Photo courtesy of American Conservative

How many of us now laugh when we picture our deceased relatives trying to figure out how to use our current innovative gadgets? Our generation now knows that these sci-fi movies portrayed life in the 2000s correctly in some ways and incorrectly in others, but one thing they were right about is we know more technological innovation than our forebears did. Even the generation below us is more accustomed to life with such innovation than we were. Walk into any junior high in the country and you’ll witness work in robotics that is no longer speculative. You’ll also witness the work they do with computers that belies the fact that they are so accustomed to computers being a facet of human life that they’ve worked through any intimidation they might have had with the machines a decade before junior high. The question now is are we so accustomed to technological innovation that we’re more open to wild, crazy ideas than every generation before us, and are we so open to it that we leave ourselves susceptible to the possibilities of more from an ingenious charlatan?

The early 1900’s were another period of great innovation. Individuals such as Nikola Tesla and Henry Ford were at the forefront of innovations that intimidated most of their populations. How many of them had a difficult time initially conceiving of the extent of man’s capabilities? How many people thought the advancements made in medicine alone bordered on the heretical? How many of them feared that “modern medicine” was coming close to messing with God’s plan when it came to prolonging life? As the people of that era attempted to come to grips with the advancements man was making in the fields of automation and medicine, the image of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam must’ve danced in their head. Over time, the people of this era became more open to mankind’s ability to make life easier and better for their fellow man through advancement, but were they so open to these ideas that they became more susceptible to proclamations of a charlatan?

Some say the time Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin spent on farms in small, obscure parts of Russia may have helped him understand the healing properties of some natural medicines better than most. Some say that he might have learned hypnosis techniques elsewhere in life, and he understood how to employ it before most understood it. Others suggest he may have learned autosuggestion techniques that some farmers used to calm their horses, and that Rasputin may have used one or all of these techniques to calm the nerves of the mother of the young heir to the Russian Empire. Whatever the case was, his ability to alieve the young heir of some of the symptoms of bad case of hemophilia was a cause célèbre in the nation of Russia. Some honored the great achievement, and others were in awe of the possibilities of what Rasputin could achieve. Some also fear him with that rationale. The largely ostracized Russians believed Rasputin displayed mystical powers, God-given powers. They thought he was a chosen one, and the Russian Empire gave him an influential role in the empire as a result. Some say that this precipitated the decline of the Russian Empire, but others say that implosion was inevitable.

Is Elon Musk our nation’s modern day Rasputin? Rasputin cloaked his rise in mystical wonderment, and Musk drapes himself in the speculative questions of what a genius in the field of technological innovation can achieve. Both men also used their newfound status to make wildly ambitious claims to cause the citizens of their nation to hold them in speculative wonder.

Columnist Norm Singleton paints a far less provocative portrait of Musk in his, Elon Musk is the Cosmo Kramer of Crony Capitalism” column. In it, Mr. Singleton details the wildly ambitious ideas Elon Musk and his fictional counterpart relayed to their respective audience. The difference between the two, of course, is that Cosmo Kramer never received the federal grants the taxpayer has given Mr. Musk to pursue his wildly ambitious ideas. Another difference, and one Mr. Singleton does not explore, is that Mr. Musk has achieved some results that have established him as a certified genius. He founded X.com, which later became PayPal. He has an admirable record of accomplishment at SpaceX and Tesla, and he has a list of accomplishments that no one can deny. Singleton’s column does not focus on that list of accomplishment, but it does challenge the current resume of Elon Musk in a manner that no politician dare explore by asking if Musk’s current accomplishments align with the continued, all too generous federal and state grants he receives. Some might argue that Musk is not a charlatan, because of those accomplishments, and because he actually believes in all of his ideas, but Cosmo Kramer believed his ideas too, and so did Rasputin.

Somewhere on the road to technological innovation, someone (likely a politician) convinced us that if our nation is fortunate enough to house a certifiable genius, we’re going to have to pay for the innovations he creates to make our lives easier and better. We’re not talking about paying for the final product of ingenuity at the proverbial cash register either, though there are some on the consumer end who don’t understand that concept. (They think the corporate responsibility suggests that all online innovation should be free.) We’re talking about taxpayers funding the creative process of the bona fide genius. For those who haven’t read as much as I have about the creative process, artists love to talk about it almost as much as they love creating. They love to talk about their influences, the structured method they used to bring their product to life, and the future projects they have in store for us. If someone were to pay these artists for such talk alone, I think most artists would give up the painstaking process of actual creation and opt for the life of describing their process instead.

Filing for government grants has been around for as long as I’ve been alive, and as one who has never filed for a grant, I will admit ignorance on this topic, but I would think that success in field of receiving successive grants requires constant proof of success on the part of the artist. Enter the technological genius. Many consider Elon Musk the rare innovative genius who should not have to worry about pesky concerns like money. Politicians, specifically, appear to believe that Musk should not have to provide continued results for continued money, apparently, for demanding as much from a technological innovator that promises breakthroughs in science, would be tantamount to career suicide for them.

Norm Singleton concludes his piece by saying that the best thing we could do for Elon Musk is to cut off all government funding for his ventures. Those who believe the concept that if we want technological innovation, we’re going to have to pay for the process, have never heard the quote, “The best we’ll ever see from an individual often occurs shortly after they’ve been backed into a corner.” Those who think the removal of financial support damages the creative process might want to go back and read that quote again. The politician who sticks their neck out to remove federal funding from Elon Musk would risk insulting Elon Musk, and Musk’s lobbying group might mortally wound that politician, but that insult might inspire Musk to prove the politician wrong, and that motivation might drive him to pursue greater profits as a result. Cutting him off from all state and federal funding might also force him to be a more traditional CEO, in that he would be more accountable to disgruntled shareholders, more cognizant of his companies’ profit margins, and it might force him to be more of a results-oriented man and less of a theoretical idea man.

I think Mr. Singleton has a great idea, but in order for his idea to work, he would need to find a significant number of politicians who have the fortitude to say no to an established genius in the field of technological innovation. That politician would also have to fight Musk’s powerful lobbying groups and the stigma of the “against science” label. No, Elon Musk carved out an enviable place by being an established genius. He has also developed an enviable formula for all artistic geniuses to follow. Once a person has established themselves as a bona fide genius (no easy feat to be sure) all that genius has to do is develop some ideas for wildly ambitious projects on a semi-annual basis to achieve headlines in major newspapers that no politician can ignore. Their projects may never see the light of day, but they will secure nonstop funding from easily intimidated politicians.

It may be a gross exaggeration to insinuate that the brilliant, innovative Elon Musk might be a charlatan, but when it comes to securing such regular, enormous chunk of the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars, we the people, and our representatives, should hold the prospective recipient guilty until proven innocent.

I may be alone in this regard now, as those in charge of allocating our tax dollars appear unafraid of defying logic, but I hold an achievement devoid government funding in higher regard. As former president, Calvin Coolidge said shortly before his demise, “I feel I no longer fit in with these times.” Perhaps I no longer fit in with these times, but if an entrepreneur states that his or her project made it to the marketplace based on individual ingenuity and sheer grit, I respect that accomplishment more. I also appreciate the effort it takes to pound the pavement and secure private funding, but the Elon Musk methods of convincing a bunch of politicians to part ways with other people’s money seems far too beneficial to all parties involved and way too easy.

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Octopus Nuggets II


Octopus Nuggets I discussed some unusual characteristics of our favorite cephalopod, including the idea that two thirds of the octopuses brain is in their arms, the manner in which the three hearts of an octopus operate, some stories of their reproductive process, and the near-unprecedented loyalty a mother octopus extends to her offspring. We also discussed the ink cloud defense, and the fascinating pseudomorph the octopus creates when, presumably, a simple ink cloud doesn’t confuse the predator enough. If any of these characteristics fascinate the reader, I suggest they read that post first, as this second installment is more of an extension on the more elementary discussion on the characteristics of the octopus.

Image courtesy of Cool Facts for Kids

With the recent and largely refuted click-bait story that the octopus may have originated on another planet, my interest in the octopus was reborn. A word of caution here, the information in this second installment may blow your mind. I’m not going suggest that you take a seat, as I am biologically predisposed to avoiding clichés of this stripe, but if anything happens to anyone while reading the final third of this piece, I hereby absolve myself of all responsibility.

Most of those who love stories regarding the surprisingly complex brain of the octopus have heard the myriad of stories regarding the ability the octopus has to figure puzzles out and escape the best, most secure aquariums, and the tales of SCUBA divers playing hide and seek with an octopus. A writer for Wired, Katherine Harmon Courage, has presumably heard the same stories, and she has an interesting, provocative idea for why we should continue to explore the octopus for more stories though more research, as they might prove instrumental in developing a greater understanding of the human mind.

“If we can figure out how the octopus manages its complex feats of cognition, we might be closer to discovering some of the fundamental elements of thought –and to developing new ideas about how mental capacity evolved.”

As stated in the first installment, the octopus has more neurons in its arms than it does in its brain. I assume the arms and brain work in unison for some sort of prime directive, but what if one of the arms disagrees? As Scientific American states, “Like a starfish, an octopus can regrow lost arms. Unlike a starfish, a severed octopus arm does not regrow another octopus.” So, if the brain directs the arm to perform a dangerous task, does an arm ever exhibit self-preservation qualities? Does an arm ever say something equivalent to, “I saw what you did to arm number four last week, and I witnessed you grow another arm, good as new, in a short time. I do not consider myself as expendable as arm number four was. I am a quality arm that has served you well over the years,“ arm says to brain. “Why don’t you ask arm number seven to perform this function? We all know that arm is far less productive.” I realize this is largely a silly rhetorical question that no one can answer, but it gets to the core question, how much autonomy do the arms have?

Blue Blood: How many of us believed the tale that humans have blue blood, and that it only turns red when introduced to oxygen. The octopus actually does have blue blood, and as Laurie L. Dove writes in How Stuff Works, it’s crucial to their survival.

“The same pigment that gives the octopus blood its blue color, hemocyanin, is responsible for keeping the species alive at extreme temperatures. Hemocyanin is a blood-borne protein containing copper atoms that bind to an equal number of oxygen atoms. It’s part of the blood plasma in invertebrates.” She also cites a National Geographic piece by Stephan Sirucek when she writes, “[Blue blood] also ensures that they survive in temperatures that would be deadly for many creatures, ranging from temperatures as low as 28 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 1.8 degrees Celsius) to superheated temperatures near the ocean’s thermal vents.”

On the planning front, the Katherine Harmon Courage piece in Wired by states that researchers have discovered that octopuses in Indonesia will gather coconut shell halves in preparation for stormy weather, then take shelter by going inside the two pieces of shell and holding it shut.

Courage’s Wired piece also suggested, “If you asked Jean Boal, a behavioral researcher at Millersville University about the inner life of octopuses, she might tell you that they are cognitive, communicative creatures. Boal attempted to feed stale squid to the octopuses in her lab and one cephalopod sent her a clear message: It made eye contact and used one of its arms to shove the squid down a nearby drain, effectively telling her that stale food would be discarded rather than being eaten.”

The freaky almost unnerving elements of this story, for me, lay in the details of the Jean Boal’s story. The idea that an animal might exhibit a food preference suggests a certain level of intelligence, but I’m not sure if that level of intelligence surpasses that of say the dog or the cat. The eerie part for me occurred in contemplating how the octopus relayed that message. Boal suggested that she fed the stale squid to a number of her octopus subjects, and when she returned to the first octopus in that line, that first octopus waited for her to return. It looked her in the eye when she did and shoved the stale squid down the drain, maintaining eye contact throughout the act. I wasn’t there, of course, and I can only speculate based on what Boal said occurred during this incident, but she made it sound like the octopus made a pointed effort to suggest that not only didn’t want to eat what Boal served it, but it was insulted by her effort to pass this stale squid off as quality food.

We all characterize our pets, and other animals with human emotions and statements, but how many dogs and cats will do something more than sniff at the food and move along? How many will wait for a human to return, so they can be assured that the message will be received, and how many will look the humans in the eye before discarding the food in such an exclamatory manner? I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but the thought creeps me out in the sense that I thought I had a decent framework for how intelligent these beings were.

The characteristics we’ve discussed thus far in part I and in the portion you’ve read thus far in part II are fascinating to me, illuminating, and as I say unsettling to those of us that find comfort in the idea that humans are heads and shoulders more intelligent than the other species. This next part may be where the reader reconsiders whether they should set up some reinforcements behind them.

Recent scientific discoveries are suggesting that the octopus can edit their Ribonucleic acid (RNA). Boom! How are you doing? Did you forget to remove any sharp objects behind you? If the only thing keeping you upright is the idea that you kind of, sort of don’t know what RNA is? Don’t worry, I had to look it up too, and the Google dictionary defines RNA as an enzyme that works with deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in that it “carries instructions from DNA for controlling the synthesis of proteins, although in some viruses RNA rather than DNA carries the genetic information.”

For those that don’t consider this a “Holy stuff!” fact, think about this. The next time you’re in your man cave engaged in a spider solitaire marathon some octopus somewhere is in their cave re-configuring their molecular structure to redefine their characteristics in a manner that will help it escape a shark attack better. One example might be the pseudomorph. The octopus may have sat in their cave one day realizing that the simple shot of ink was no longer confusing sharks the way it once did, so it reconfigured its typical ink cloud shooting abilities to produce a self-portrait of itself that might confuse predators for just enough time to secure the octopuses’ survival. As we will discuss later, octopus researchers aren’t sure why they edit their RNA, but we have to assume it has something to do with predation, either surviving it or finding nuanced ways to perfect it. If you’re is nowhere near as fascinated with this idea as I am, at this point, you will have to excuse my crush with these cephalopods in the ensuing paragraphs.

An article from Business Insider further describes the difference between DNA and RNA as it applies to editing them, by stating, “Editing DNA allows a species to evolve in a manner that is more permanent for future generations. This is how most species evolve and survive. When a being edits their RNA, however, they can essentially “try out” an adaptation” to see if it works. One other note the authors of this piece make on this subject is that “Unlike a DNA adaptation, RNA adaptations are not hereditary.” Therefore, one can only guess that if an octopus discovers an RNA rewrite that is successful for survival or predation, they can presumably teach this to their offspring, or pass it along information by whatever means an octopus passes along such information. (Octopuses are notorious loners that don’t communicate with one another well.)

A quote from within the article, from a Professor Eli Eisenberg, puts it this way: “You can think of [RNA editing] as spell checking. If you have a word document. If you want to change the information, you take one letter and you replace it with another.”

Research suggests that while humans only have about ten RNA editing sites, octopuses have tens of thousands. Current science is unable to explain why an octopus edits their RNA, or when it started in the species. I must also add here that I don’t know how they can determine with any certitude that an octopus can edit their RNA. I’m sure that they examine the corpses of octopuses and compare them to others, but how can they tell that the octopus edits their RNA themselves? How do they know, with this degree of certitude, that there aren’t so many different strains of octopus who all have wide variables in their RNA strands? I’m sure someone will tell me that the process is far more elementary than I’m making it, and I’m revealing my ignorance on this topic in this paragraph, but I’ve read numerous attempts to study the octopus, and almost all of them suggest that the live octopus is notoriously difficult to study. Some have described their rebellious attempts to thwart brain study as obnoxious. If that’s the case, then I have to ask if the conclusions they reach are largely theoretical based on the studies of octopus corpses.

If it’s an embarrassing display of ignorance on my part to ask how we know if octopuses edit their RNA, is it more embarrassing to ask if we know how they do it? For those that consider this a futile task, I again ask how do we know that they do it in the first place. The answer to that question circles back to Katherine Harmon Courage’s provocative notion that “If we can figure out how the octopus manages its complex feats of cognition, we might be closer to discovering some of the fundamental elements of thought –and to developing new ideas about how mental capacity evolved.”

If we are able to do that, Gizmodo.com quotes scientists that suggest we might be able to root out a mutant RNA in our own strands to see if we can edit them in a manner that helps us cure a number of ailments heretofore considered incurable.

For those scientists that seek guidance on how to edit human RNA the authors of the Business Insider, David Anderson and Abby Tang piece cited above suggest that if these scientists “Have recently proven ways of using the [genome editing tool] CRISPR-Cas9 to edit RNA, perhaps they can learn a thing or two from the experts [octopuses].”

Scat Mask Replica III


1) The Rasputin Paradox. Are you involved in an enterprise in which one person’s alleged ineptitude is holding you back from realizing the vast potential of that enterprise? Is your enterprise one-step away from removing that alleged ineptitude? Those who know the history of the Russian Empire know to be careful what they wish for. Some speculate that Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin had far less influence in the Russian Empire (circa WWI) than history details, and they double down on that by saying that the Romanovs would not refute what others said about Rasputin’s influence, because they enjoyed having Rasputin play the role of the scapegoat. If they did not know the level of blame others placed on Rasputin while he was alive, they definitely found out after his death, because after Rasputin was murdered the focal point for the Empire’s ineptitude was gone. Those in politics, business, and in personal crisis should note that casting blame on one particular person for the failure of your enterprise may prove cathartic in the short-term, but once that person’s gone, it might reveal more about the general ineptitude of that enterprise than any of the other players ever imagined.   

2) “If you have facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you don’t have either, pound the table.” One of the more uncomfortable situations I’ve experienced involve someone pleading with me to accept them as a genuine person. It’s a gross over simplification to suggest that anytime someone pounds the proverbial table to convince me of something that they’re lying. We’re all insecure about our presentations, and some of us pound the table even when we have the facts on our side. I know it’s easy to say, but those with facts on their side should relax and allow them to roll out as they may. The truth teller who finds it difficult to avoid pleading their case should also know that after we reveal enough supportive evidence most will believe you, but some just enjoy watching us squirm.

3) Speaking of the genuine article, it has recently come to my attention that some pathetic soul stole at least two of the articles from this site. Some call this plagiarism, but I call it pathetic. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose I should consider it a compliment, but this is outright theft. It seems redundant to me to clarify the rules on this matter, but if a writer is going to “repost” they are required to provide attribution. (For those unclear on the definition of this term, it means that a writer is supposed to inform their audience that they didn’t write the article.) Not only did this pathetic soul avoid attributing the article to me, but they also didn’t provide proper attribution to the quotes I did in the article they stole. So, this person (who provides no discernible path back their identity) anonymously steals posts to presumably receive checks from companies that pay writers to sport ads on their site. I don’t care how much those sponsored ads pay, how does this person sleep at night knowing that the profession or hobby they chose is one in which they cannot produce their own quality material. If I were ever to reach a level of such a desperate act, I would seek another profession or hobby. 

4) The difference between selfishness and self-awareness. A complaint about young men and women is that they’re too selfish. It’s the root of the problem, they suggest. I don’t know if it’s true, but if it is I would suggest that those speaking out against it are delivering an incomplete message. My platform would suggest that these selfish types are focusing on self-awareness, and that they should seek it to achieve a level of fulfillment. We could view striving to achieve greater self-awareness as a selfish pursuit, but self-awareness can take several forms. Performing selfless acts, for example, can teach a person a lot about themselves, and it should be encouraged, as people performing many selfless acts can become more aware of themselves and more selfless. The process could lead to an antonym of the vicious cycle these complainers decry. If I had a pulpit, I would also declare that an individual could learn more about themselves through spirituality. I’ve been on both sides of the value of scripture, and I think this gives me greater perspective on the matter. I look at scripture and other Biblical teachings as a roadmap to personal happiness through reflection. Self-interest drives me to follow those teachings because I believe it’s in my best interests to follow them. In short, I would play my sermon to the selfish predilections of the young. I hear sermons that suggest otherwise, and I can’t help but think that the priest is missing a beat.

5) As a former service industry employee, I’ve encountered my share of disgruntled customers. I could provide a list of examples, but the material of their complaints is irrelevant. Most experienced service industry employees know that the most disgruntled customers are the most disgruntled people. They might hate their kids, the spouse, and their life. Whatever the case is, the discrepancy they find causes them to unload, “What kind of Mickey Mouse operation are you running here? Your ad says this item is on sale today for two bucks. If you think I’m going to pay more than that, you must think I’m stupid! Or, are you singling me out based on my characteristics?” These statements are often a mere introduction to a heated exchange that reveals the effort of the disgruntled customer to achieve some satisfaction they can’t find elsewhere in life. A more confident customer would simply say, “Your ad says that this item is on sale today for two dollars.” Those of us who have experience in the service industry know how intimidating a confident presentation of the facts can be, especially from a more secure individual.

6) A new documentary captures an ant crawling down from a piece of cheesecake with a piece of it lodged in its mandibles. The makers of this documentary capture the ant’s progress, in stop action photography, as this permits progressed commentary from various filmmakers talking about the brilliance of each segment. Where does the ant go, and what will it do with the small, round ball of cheesecake? This is the plotline of an amazing new documentary called Posterula. (Spoiler alert) The ant makes it off the plate, but the viewers don’t know if the ant ever takes the piece to the colony to feed the queen. This leads this viewer to believe that an as of yet undisclosed plan for a sequel to this brilliant documentary is in the works.

Hi, I’m Rilaly, and if I were to take you on a tour of my young mind, this would be but an example of what you would read. Some suggest that such humor is too niche, and if that’s the case I would’ve niched my way out of the market. If I had one of my stories published, customers at bookstores would’ve walked past my serious pieces, thinking that I’m nuts, too far gone, and unserious. They probably still think that. I’m niche.

7) I landed upon the term “vague and flexible by design” the other day. The author of the term intended it as a compliment for the subject, but if they directed such a characterization at me, I would view it as an insult. I understand that we’re different people in different surroundings, and that we should all remain flexible with our ideals to prepare for new findings on the subject in question, but the “vague and flexible by design” compliment would register a ‘no core’ insult to me.

8) What hotel, or meeting space, first decided to serve a ball of meat as a solitary entrée? Someone somewhere should’ve stepped in and said, “Woops, you forgot the fixins.” Those who have attended more than twenty corporate galas, weddings, or any catered event are now more than accustomed to the items served in a buffet line. I now eat before I attend one of these functions, because I cannot eat another pinwheel, I’m burnt out on hot wings, and I hit my personal threshold on room temperature potatoes au gratin somewhere around 2004. I am not a finicky eater, but I can no longer stomach this list of dietary choices. I will acknowledge that being American provides me the luxury of making odd and unreasonable dietary choices, but if I’m going to limit myself to one meal a day to maintain a plump figure, as opposed to fat or obese, I’m not going to eat something just because others provide it in a visually pleasing manner.  

9) There is a difference between writing a grammatically correct sentence and quality writing. I took college classes on creative writing, I’ve read the MLAs, and I’ve learned through word-of-mouth what leads to quality reading. I’ve fixed the passive voice sentences, deleted the word “had” as often as possible, and I’ve tried to avoid what fellow writers call “the you-yous”. The goal for the writer is to adhere to the rules of writing while attempting to maintain a stream-of-consciousness style that makes for quality reading. It’s not considered grammatically incorrect to write that you may not enjoy this sentence, but writing that the reader may enjoy it without the word you is considered a more pleasant reading experience. I’ve also attempted to write “who” instead of “that”, and I’ve attempted to limit my need to “that” too often. Example: “You don’t want to write that it was someone else that said something, when who said it is much more familiar to you.” In that sentence, fellow writers suggest using the word “Writers” to replace the first you, and “Readers” is an advisable replacement for the second you. Beta readers suggest that doing otherwise means the writer has a bad case of the you-yous. You is too familiar to you, and that is too unfamiliar, and you do not want to be too familiar or too unfamiliar. The first reason for following this rule is that the writer does not want to write in the manner they speak, because the way one speaks in one locale may not be as familiar to a reader in another locale. These standards set a common base for readers, free from colloquialisms. The you yous also creep up on a writer in free flow, and they may not notice how redundant the use of the word is in their document. The question that haunts me is do I want a perfect document to impress accomplished writers, or do I want to pleasure myself with a document that might have some flaws. The notion one writer lofted was every writer makes mistakes, we readers weave them into the cloth of our expectations, but is there a point when the mistakes distract from the whole.

10) “He’s such an idiot,” Teri said after her boyfriend left the party table to go to the bathroom. “He cheats on me all the time. For all I know, he’s arranged something in the bathroom. I’m serious. I can’t even trust him to go to the bathroom.” Such comments are so unexpected that they’re hilarious.

“Why the hell are you dating him then?” I asked. Room silencing, impulsive comments like these are my gift to the world. I can flatten the smile of any decent person from fifty yards with a single thought implanted in their brain.

The comment sat right with me, but the moment after I delivered it I realized it was so loaded with complications that no one in the right mind would deliver it to a table of people gathered together for the sole purpose of mixing in some laughter with their fun. I thought it might add to the fun, or spur her into extensions on the joke, but I was wrong. I made her uncomfortable.    

As soon as she recovered from the blow, aided by my discomfort, she displayed the idea that she locked herself into a certain, cynical dynamic of life. She knew the world was full of it, and everyone around her was too, in one way or another, because she knew she was. She thought her beau was full of it too, but “He’s a nice guy…most of the time.” I didn’t know if that was her final answer, but I overemphasized my acknowledgement of her answer to suggest that was what I sought.

No matter how often I affirmed her answers, Teri kept coming at me with answers. She said he was “Funny and fun to be around.” She said he was good looking, and she said he did “Sweet things for her.” I couldn’t get out of this uncomfortable spiral of my own making. I pretended to be interested, because I knew I put her in the uncomfortable position of having to explain one of life’s most illustrating choices, but I was trying to end the episode with every word she said to me.

Most of us cannot explain our life altering choices so well that we can weather interrogations. I knew this, but I thought I could explain most of my choices at the time. The question that even the most reflective must ask themselves is, is their base so solid that we make rational, informed choices in the impulsive moments? I don’t think many reflective types would pass their own interrogations, in the moment, for I think we color in the blanks later to make us believe we made informed choices.

Teri told me he was a good man, with a good job, and he had an unusual curiosity about life that she found fascinating. I also learned that while it was obvious he had a restless, nervous energy about him, “He’s incredibly lazy. If he had his choice, he would spend his day on a couch.”

I still didn’t understand the dynamics of their relationship, even though she provided me numerous answers. I wouldn’t understand it for a while. I had no idea at the time that their relationship depended on the idea I had that she enjoyed playing the jealous girl, because, I can only assume, she considered him worthy of her jealousy, and in a world of average men with no discernible qualities, that is something. He was the naughty boy, and he enjoyed that role. “We fight like cats and dogs,” she said with a gleam in her eye, “but then we have makeup sex.” I wondered if she dated guys that wouldn’t cheat on her. I wonder if they wouldn’t fight with her. I wondered if they bored her. He provided her something to focus on other than herself. He was the dunce, but he was an amiable dunce. He provided her drama. He was always on the cusp of cheating on her. She also had a desire to date a guy that she could be better than, and she wasn’t much. Either that, or there is a desire to care for something that could break. “He’s an idiot, he doesn’t know how good he has it,” she said more than twice. The guy was fulfilling the age-old male need of feeling like a bad boy. Most guys need this coursing through their veins, and some girls apparently need a guy like this too.

11) Unhappy couples fascinate me. They don’t smile often, but smiles are a refuge of the simple minded. They don’t hug, kiss, or touch very often, but they’re not that type of people. They’re emotionally distant people, and happy people make them sick. Do they have a greater understanding about who they are than we ever will, or are they jealous? She didn’t date in high school, and he was a broken boy. Death of a loved one breaks some, divorce breaks others, and still others experience a seismic betrayal that creates an irreparable break. Yet, they found something in one another that they always wanted. As an outsider looking in, we can’t understand the allure, but the two of them stay together for years. Some stay in a job they hate, because they fear the unknown. Do people stay in relationships for the same reason? He doesn’t speak often, and relatives find it difficult to strike up a conversation with him. He gives off the vibe that he’s not interested in what others have to say, and this affects the way others react to him.

My initial instinct was that he wasn’t interested in what I had to say, for reasons endemic to our relationship, until others informed me they shared similar experiences with him. He’s more interesting when he drinks, but when the night is over, the participants realize he wasn’t really interesting in the truest sense of the word, but he was more interesting than they expected him to be. A couple of drinks loosen our inhibitions. A couple more might loosen them even more, until the potential exists for us to become interesting. That’s the mindset of the drinker anyway, I’m not sure if this is his mindset, but he does have a drinking problem. He is emotionally distant, because those that formed him devastated him emotionally. Yet, it many ways he appears satisfied with who he is.

12) No one is as boring as we think they are, but no one is as interesting as we think we are either. How many of us look back to our authentic years with the belief that we weren’t nearly as authentic as we are now, and how many of us will look back ten years from now with the same thought? One could say that the effort put into being authentic provides progressively diminishing returns. 

13) How many of us remember the first person who told us about America’s atrocities? Did they package it with a provocative statement such as, “This is something your moms and dads don’t want you to know about.” For those of us who are now parents, it’s probably been so long since someone introduced us to the dark side that we forget how intoxicating it was at the time. I don’t remember my first messenger because I’ve heard about these atrocities so many times since that they’ve all but drowned out my first messenger. Thanks to a myriad of resources I’ve encountered since, I am now able to frame those atrocities with the virtuous acts America has done throughout her history to arrive at the independent conclusion that America has been a noble nation overall. It did take me a while, however, to arrive at that conclusion. 

Some might think that learning of the atrocities for the first time might leave the recipient feeling cold, disillusioned, and/or depressed that their parents sold them a pack of lies. In the combative environment of my youth, one of the many focal points of ridicule was naïveté. “Don’t tell me you believed all that baseball and apple pie crap?” someone would say in the aftermath of a discussion on American’s atrocities. I did, and those early messengers in my life provided me information to combat the characterization that I was naïve. I considered them more informed, brave and righteous. I thought they were cooler than cool for speaking out against the marketing arm of America, and I thought they were treating me with the type of respect than my dad never did.

Now that I’m a seasoned adult, I know my dad wasn’t necessarily lying to me, and he wasn’t withholding a truth, but he didn’t give me the whole picture either. He didn’t know some of the atrocities these messengers told me, but there were incidents that he did know, and he neglected to tell me about them. Anyone who remembers their teenage mind knows how much we exaggerate the characterizations of our parents, especially when “truth tellers” package such information accordingly. Their presentations excited me in a way that’s tough to describe. I thought I was finally hearing the truth from someone.

A vital mindset for parents to have, while sharing our knowledge of American history, is that they are in a constant battle with their peers to avoid appearing naïve. For those worried about telling their children about the awful things the country has done, consider it ammunition to combat these stories with the stories of the country’s virtues. Our goal should be to instill a love of country in a comprehensive manner. To a certain point, we parents have told them what to think and how to think for so long that we may have a difficult time giving up those reins. On this particular subject, however, we need to present this information in a manner that allows them to decide, and we might even add that we understand it’s a lot to take in one setting, so we should allow them to think about it.

If we don’t do this, the truth will rear its ugly head when we least expect it. Those who provide them this information will likely not frame it in the manner we think they should, and our kids might turn around and accuse us of lying, telling half-truths, and not trusting them enough to deal with such sensitive information. Whatever the case is, we might never be able to win them back. My advice is we teach them the virtues of this country and couple it with a healthy dose of the horror some Americans have done since the country’s birth. Do some research on the atrocities and prepare for the follow up questions, because there will be questions. Once we’re done, we should repeat the cycle so often that by the time that cool, rebellious person tells our children, “The things we don’t want them to hear,” they will turn on that person and say, “I’ve heard all of this a million times, and to tell you the truth I’m sick of hearing about it.” If condemning your country in such a manner is difficult, much less teaching it to your child, ask yourself how you would prefer America’s atrocities framed? Would you rather provide your child with a more comprehensive narrative, or would you rather someone who hates their country do it for you? One way or another, your child will learn this information.

14) I’m about 15 years into using devices to stream music on a daily basis at this point in my life, so it might seem a little odd to show appreciation now. Anytime I take a very short drive, I gain greater appreciation for the freedom technology has offered when I turn on my local FM stations and I hear a DJ offer tidbits from their life. I’m not talking about morning show hosts, as I think I listened to one-show decades ago, just to hear what everyone was talking about, and I never listened to another one. When a DJ informs me about a day in their life, I switch the channel so hard my fingers hurt later. I don’t care about the private lives of celebrities, but I understand that some do. No one knows who these DJs are, and I think even less care. Yet, when they are on the clock, moving from one song to another, they tell us about their day. They tell us about a party they attended, a soup they enjoyed yesterday, and something their significant other said to them in the movie theater. Nobody cares! The only line we should hear from a radio DJ is, “That was one song, and here’s another.”  

15) Most people have heard the quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” The quote is widely attributed to Albert Einstein. Most people know this quote, but they only apply to innovative qualities that appeal to them and their relative definitions of the status quo. When another is in the process of doing the same thing in a different way, their process receives scorn and ridicule. “Do you know the quote?” we ask. “Yes, but it doesn’t apply here. That just isn’t the way we do things.” Okay, but the way you do things hasn’t worked for decades now. The counter argument is that they’re on the cusp of it working and the new person could damage all of the progress they’ve made. Again, they’ve been on the cusp for decades, and they might even recognize some merits of the innovative pursuit of the matter, but most innovators take arrows in the process.

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 that both accounts might uncover 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 concerned, 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.

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.