Yesterday I Learned … VII


Yesterday I learned that some of us still don’t know how to perform drive-thru transactions properly. Some say the first drive-thru restaurant to open a side window happened in 1928, some say 1947, but whatever the case is, they’re been around for as long as most of us have been alive. Thus, those of us who didn’t grow up in a subculture that avoids technology know how to perform a drive-thru transaction. Yet, we read a decades-old menu of a decades old franchise as if it requires a Rosetta Stone to decipher its hieroglyphs. When we finally decide what we want, we search for the button to ignite the speaker device. For those who don’t know, restaurants in the 1970’s had buttons customers were required to use when they were ready to speak. When the time to perform arrives, we scream into the speaker as if we don’t understand the mechanizations behind the audio amplification a speaker can provide. What should take two minutes, often takes ten. Today, I realized that those of us who fall prey to the confusion this transaction provides are officially as old as the people they used to mock for being old.

Yesterday I realized that most artists spend most of their time skimming the core. Think about your favorite artists in any milieu. How many earth-shattering pieces did they create? The best artists, be they in literature, music, painting, etc., are extremely fortunate to develop four unique pieces that stand alone and above their peers’ creations. How many pieces did da Vinci create? Two? We have under twenty definitively proven da Vinci works, and only two are known throughout the world. How many pieces did Van Gogh, Picasso, James Joyce, and Andy Kaufman create? Some artists limited themselves to a few creations, and they spent most of their time perfecting those pieces, but others created hundreds of pieces, but most of them were not great, as we’re defining great here. Those of us who love music, fall in love with certain artists. How many great, epic, I-can’t-wait-to-listen-to-them-again albums did these artists create? I’m not limiting this discussion to sales figures here either. I’m talking about you-know-greatness-when-you-hear-it great. Three examples from my youth are King’s X Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, Queensyche’s Operation Mindcrime, and Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I was so in love with each of these albums that it didn’t matter how great their next album was, I was going to greet it as a normal person might greet their child into the world. I would listen to these new albums thirty times, before I began skipping through some songs, until I eventually tossed them into my personal dustbin. Each of these artists followed up what were for me magical, transcendent albums with admirable efforts, but the albums top-to-bottom didn’t have the same magic as their predecessors. The subsequent albums had some great singles, but the artists seemed to skim the core of their greatness for the rest of their careers. Now that we’ve achieved some distance, we can reflect back and evaluate our favorite artists more objectively. I think most music aficionados will now admit that their favorite artists probably had two albums that stand the test of time in them. Yet, it’s so exciting to see an artist come so close to their core that we buy their entire catalog without hearing any of the songs or reading critical reviews. Today, I realized that I love a great book, and I enjoy the occasional painting or two, but I never understood how someone could stare at a great painting for a half hour. There is something different about music, however, something that reached me when I was far too young to understand the connection, and something that, to quote the cliché, soothed my soul. Music is the universal art form that brings us together and drives us apart. I gave three examples of albums that inspired me in ways no other art form could, but I could probably list 100 off the top of my head that ‘set the sick ones free’. That list of 100 albums is so personal to me, but could it have been a time and place matter, or is a great album always a great album no matter when they come out, and how difficult are they to follow up?    

“I’ve got no imagination. I never dream. My so-called inventions already existed in the environment—I took them out. I’ve created nothing. Nobody does. There’s no such thing as an idea being brain-born. Everything comes from the outside. The industrious one coaxes it from the environment.” –Thomas Edison

Does art reflect life, or does life reflect art? How many of the most brilliant pieces of art are nothing more than interpretations of the world around the artist? Isn’t that the definition of art? Aren’t all artistic pieces “brain-born”? I understand that Edison was trying to be humble, but it doesn’t make much sense, if you consider Edison artistic in a universal sense. Artistic pieces are born through a complicated algorithm that arrow through influences, experiences, and individual interpretations. Whether it involves the creation of the lightbulb, the novel, and every other form of art, most of the artistic minutiae of a creation occur in the individual interpretation stage, but most artists could not arrive at that place without the first two.

Yesterday I considered most psychological tests a total waste of time. I don’t put much value in Rorschach tests, I don’t know what the spiral eye test does for anyone, other than being a little neat, and I think fill in the blank tests, insert letters into this b_ _t, are pointless. They’re all neat and fun, and they seem to say something fun and interesting about us, but what does it say about us if we answer boat? Today, I found an interesting nugget from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers suggests that suggests I might be wrong that they are a complete waste of time. In one test, the examiners gave a fill in the blank test to a group A. They then gave the results of that test to group B, to have them help the examiners decipher the answers. Group B psychoanalyzed the answers. Unbeknownst to both groups, the examiners created the test for group B, with the theory that we say more about ourselves when we analyze others than we ever do when we analyze ourselves. I still don’t know if they’re valuable tests to determine our characteristics, but this little twist suggests they’re not a complete waste of time. 

Yesterday, I wondered if others might consider what I was writing funny and interesting. We all have people in mind when we write. Today, I realized that that is an utter waste of time. You do what you do, work your tail off, and the accolades might follow. The ‘you do what you do’ principle does not work, however, if you don’t know the rules. As most comedians know, this is always funnier than that. The ‘this’ in this equation is rhythm. Most of the time one needs to economize. Brevity is the soul of wit, and all that, but one can get away with extended punch lines if they’re gifted. There are those especially gifted few who can upend and redefine the rules, but if we enjoyed betting, we would probably say that you and your gimmick are not for long.

Yesterday, I realized I’m probably as far from a ‘betting man’ as one can get. Anytime we hear analysts address a situation, they say, “If I were a betting man …” When I watch game shows, and the contestant is allowed to double their money by answering a final question, I don’t understand how anyone could take that bet. “You mean to tell me that you survived the three strikes and you’re out portion of the game with ‘X’ amount of money, and you risked it on the double or nothing final question?” Today, I realized that I would be that guy who disappoints the audience at home by taking the money and running so far away that I might not think about the chance I didn’t take. I might think of my refusal to take a chance every once in a while, but even if I took that chance and answered the question correctly, I wouldn’t feel so much gratification by answering the final question correctly that it would be worth it. It would pale in comparison to the face slapping nights I would endure if I missed that final question.

Defeating the Aliens


“The aliens are not evil, but they are here to eat us,” our main character replies to the first question the talk show host asks him. This contradiction draws some laughter from the studio audience, as they don’t understand the difference. “Do we consider the lion evil? Of course we don’t. When lions eat cute, baby antelopes, they don’t do it to satisfy some perverse love of violence. Anyone who thinks lions are evil is assigning their thought process to the primal actions of the lion, or they might watch too many cartoons. I agree with those who say that the aliens are not evil in the same vein, and I disagree with my colleagues on this note, but I can only guess that the lion’s prey don’t care what their intent is. We know the only reason lions kill is that they’re hungry. I think the aliens who landed on our shoes are desperately hungry, and they know we have meat on our bones. They just want to eat it. If you consider that evil, that’s up to you, but my bet is that the baby antelope doesn’t suffer their fate without, at some point, mischaracterizing the lion’s motive.”

The reactions the various players have to the main character’s appearance on the talk show ends up saying more about them than it does the main character, or the aliens. When the scientists and reporters attempt to interact with the aliens, soon after the shock and awe of their arrival subsides, they do so to understand why they’re here. They want to befriend them, and we follow their lead on the matter, because we want learn everything we can about them, so we can learn from them.

The aliens know their arrival is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us, and they know how much it excites us. They operate in good faith, in the beginning, and they focus on public relations to build trust with us to hide their real motives. When one of the reporters, assigned to cover the aliens, disappears, the aliens’ approval ratings suffers a dive. The public begins to suspect that the main character might be right when he suggested that the aliens captured her, filleted her and refrigerated her to take her meat back to their home planet.

“They had their eyes on that reporter,” the main character suggests, “because she had right combination of muscle and fat. My friends and I have studied all of the people who have gone missing since their arrival, and we’ve found no discernible patterns, other than they’re not too fat or too muscular. We think the aliens are eating those of us of a certain body mass index that contains a quality mix of fat and muscle. We think there are so many humans on earth that they’ve developed a finicky preference. They prefer those of us with a little fat to add flavor to our meat, in the manner a little fat flavors a ribeye steak. 

“Their initial landing was awe-inspiring,” our main character says on another talk show, “and I was as affected as anyone else by their initial messages, and their attempts to help us advance our science, but the number of missing people that followed alarmed me so much that I began studying them. It’s them, I’m telling you, they’re the reason we now have so many missing people. They’re filleting them, and refrigerating them to feed the starving population on their home planet. I don’t know why it’s so hard for us to accept this idea. Our water supplies have not diminished, nor any of our other natural resources, and I don’t think they’re here to build friendly relations between the planets, as they suggest. There’s no evidence to suggest that they’re here to breed with us, or any of the other things we’ve guessed aliens might want over the decades. So, what’s their motive? I don’t care what their public relations team says, we should still ask why they came here in the first place? We’ve heard them say they had the technology to come here decades ago, so why now? Why are they here? I think they regard us as food, and I’ve been trying to get that message out before it’s too late. As we sort through all these complex arguments regarding their intentions and motives, we forget Occam’s Razor, “All other things being equal, we may assume the superiority of the demonstration that derives from fewer hypotheses.” Simply put, the best answer is often the simplest.”

Most moviemakers line “alien attack” movies with hints of the adversary’s high-minded intelligence. The aliens, in these productions, are required to be of an intelligence we cannot comprehend, and they are of unfathomable strength and power. Our production would state that evidence suggests that power and strength usually counter balance one another in most beings. Is the lion smarter than the human is? No, but that wouldn’t matter in a one on one conflict. Is the body builder smarter than the average person is? Most are not, because we all focus on one pursuit to the usual detriment of the other characteristic. Thus, the alien cannot be of superior, unfathomable intellect and superior strength and power. Not only is it a violation of what I consider the natural order of things, it’s not very interesting.

Yet, even productions that try to have it both ways, be they sci-fi novels, movies, or otherwise eventually begin to train their focus on one of these attributes. If they depict the aliens as the literary equivalent to the bloodthirsty lion is this nothing more than a slasher flick? If they focus on the superior intellect, do they do so to achieve a level of complication that might lead to more favorable critical reviews? Whatever the case is, we now require our moviemakers to provide subtle hints of alien intelligence. The more subtle the better, as that makes it creepier. The moviemaker, as with any storyteller, might be feeding us the entertainment we want, but I don’t think so.

I think the quality moviemaker modifies his material in such a way that it provides subtle hints of the surprising and unusual intelligence of the aliens. They spool out hints of the aliens’ intelligence in drips to further horrify and mystify us. They do this to mess with our mind in a way that a slasher flick doesn’t bother doing. They want to creep us out and scare us somewhere deep in our psychology.

In our production, the aliens have developed powers that we cannot comprehend, but as with any decades-long reliance on a power, it comes at a cost. To explain this theory, the main character says, “Imagine if we could emit super gamma rays from our eyes, in the manner these aliens do. It would be a superpower to be sure, but it might lead us to neglect the intelligence we might otherwise employ in tactical and militaristic conflict. We might rely on those powers so much that it could result in a deficit of our intellect. I submit that even though these aliens employ some war-like tactics, they’re as intelligent as a lion and not as smart as we are. I think we can defeat them with our intelligence.”  

Every alien/monster movie eventually also eventually turns into an allegory about our inability to accept outsiders. In our production, the aliens would use our compassionate approach to outsiders against us. They are intelligent enough to put together a seductive war-like plan, and in doing so, they purport to support a cause that most humans adore. They don’t have a cause, but they know that we’ll follow them to our own demise if they cater to our heart correctly.

The reporters and scientists in every alien/monster movie are always correct in the designs they create for how we should approach and handle our relations with aliens. What would happen if they operated from a faulty premise? Everyone who employs the scientific method to resolve a crisis, approaches the situation with a question, does background research and eventually reaches a hypothesis. At what point in the attempts to prove or disprove that hypothesis, do we troubleshoot and find out if we approached the issue from a subjective or biased view? At what point, do we arrow back to the beginning on our algorithm and correct the question that led us to an incorrect conclusion? 

In our production, the reporters and scientists are operating from a flawed premise they develop as a result of their own biases and subjective viewpoints. The aliens enjoy that premise and begin building upon that narrative to sell it to all earthlings. These useful idiots inadvertently aid the aliens’ public relations campaign to soften us up. They discover, too late, that the less worldly main character’s simple truth that while the aliens are not as evil as their detractors suggest, they’re also not hyper-intelligent as the reporters and scientists theorized. The idea that they just want to eat us bears out, and we realize that if we all agreed to these facts earlier, we could’ve saved a lot more people. We all had a difficult time agreeing to the idea that we were of superior intellect, but once we did, we used it to defeat them. We used our intellect to nullify their superior force. We were elated with the victory, of course, but once life returned to normal, there was that sinking feeling that if we just ignored the reporters, the scientists, and all of the people who believed we should be more accepting of the aliens sooner, we probably wouldn’t have been victims of the worldwide slaughter that ensued. If we listened to the main character, and all of the people who supported his view, and we followed his simple strategy for attack, we could’ve saved a lot more lives.

What Happened to Cam Newton?


[Writer’s Note: At the time of this writing, the former Carolina Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton is unable to find a team, and Robert Griffin III (RGIII), Kaepernick, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota are in similar straits, or they’ve accepted the role of a backup with a team other than the team who drafted them. This might change for them, but the theme of this article remains.]   

Like RGIII, Colin Kaepernick, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton was the most talented athlete anybody ever saw for most of his life. He never met anyone bigger, better, or faster than in high school, college, and some might argue he was the best athlete anyone in the NFL ever saw. If he encountered someone who was one of the above, along the way, they weren’t all three. If he encountered one who was close, that player was not a quarterback. Cam won the National Championship in college and the Heisman Trophy. He was then the first player chosen in the NFL Draft. He went onto win rookie of the year award, the NFL MVP award, and then he did something, five years later, only 63 other quarterbacks in NFL history have accomplished, he led his team to the Super Bowl. He was fast, big, elusive, and he knew how to win. Some might argue that with the rules of the NFL game being what they are today, Cam Newton’s play almost single-handedly determined whether the Carolina Panthers would make it to the Super Bowl that year.

Prior to that Super Bowl, Cam led the Panthers to three straight division titles and a 15-1 record in their NFC Championship year. Following the Super Bowl, the trajectory of his career and the plight of the Panthers, has since followed a downward trajectory. The Panthers are now 29-35 since that Super Bowl appearance.

Cam’s measurables, coming out of college, were almost unprecedented. He had almost unprecedented size (Dante Culpepper was 6’4″ 260 lbs, Cam was 6’5″ 250 lbs.), and he had an almost unparalleled athletic ability (Culpepper ran a 4.52 40, Cam ran a 4.59). The three best QBs of the era (Brady, Manning, and Brees) would’ve killed for Cam’s measurables, but the question we now ask, in hindsight, is would those three have won as often as they did if blessed with Cam’s size and ability?

Personally, I don’t think so, because when a quarterback doesn’t have the measurables Cam had in high school and college, they, and their coaches, trained their focus on the immeasurables in practices and scrimmages. It’s those immeasurables, those intangibles, that have led those three best QBs of their era and many other lesser talents in the NFL playing QB to enjoy longer, more sustained success in the NFL.    

As another most talented athlete, anyone ever saw, former NFL MVP, and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner wrote an article that alludes to the idea that the NFL has a way of humbling even the most elite athletes. For Kurt Warner, that “most talented athlete, anyone ever saw” era ended for him when he left high school, but it didn’t end there for Cam Newton, and it didn’t end for him in college either. Few athletes can maintain this rarefied air in college, and even fewer like Cam, Colin Kaepernick, RGIII, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota maintain this stature in the NFL. Kurt suggests this might be a blessing and a curse for them.

The blessings are immediate, as everyone they’ve ever encountered told them that their athletic talent was such that they could achieve what nearly 100% of the rest of the us could only dream. The curse, that which arrives much later, happens when an elite athlete encounters a brilliant, NFL-level defensive coordinator uses his elite athletes to minimize the once-in-a-lifetime talents at quarterback to force them into jams they can’t escape with athletic talent alone.   

When forced into such jams, a quarterback learns why all of his previous coaches focused so much attention on developing their immeasurables during their formative years. One of Kurt’s college coaches taught him what to do when the offensive line breaks down, all the receivers are covered, and the defense has assigned one of their linebackers to spy on him, so he can’t run. This college coach instituted what he called a “Kill Kurt” drill that Kurt described as:

“One of my least favorite times on the field, but it may have also been the most valuable. That drill taught me to read defenses and keep my eyes downfield instead of looking at the rush and bailing out at the first sign of trouble. It forced me to know exactly who I was reading on each play and to make a quick decision, inside the pocket, or I was going to get hit. 

“I am grateful my coach installed that drill early in my career, because even though I may have been able to avoid a lot athletically at that age, there was no question the ability to do that would be over sooner rather than later. If I was going to be successful playing the position, it would have to come with what I processed mentally — not what I was able to avoid physically.” 

The young Kurt Warner probably hated the drill as much as he described, because it showed him he was no longer the “most talented athlete, anyone ever saw”. It informed him that if he was going to succeed at the collegiate level, he was going to have to stay in the pocket and develop instincts. The drill taught him that he would have to figure out what to do when things broke down, without taking off and running. When no receiver was open, he had to learn how to scramble in the pocket effectively, throw the ball away, throw it into a tight window that led the receiver to being open, or take the sack. Most coaches, as Kurt alludes, accidentally begin to rely on their QB’s athleticism as much as the QB does, to get him out of jams.  

“As we can see when we look at [Cam Newton], [he] never had to worry about not being the best athlete on the field,” Kurt wrote. “Where many of us lose that tag in high school or college, [Cam has] been able to sustain it all the way to the NFL.

“Sounds like an incredible blessing, and of course to some degree it is, but it has delayed [his] overall growth and remains the main reason [he might be] struggling at the NFL level now.

“Many [elite athletes playing quarterback] have never been taught how to play the position the way it has to be played against the best athletes in the world. They have always been taught the basics, but then been encouraged when things didn’t look right to “Do what you do.””

I inserted Cam Newton, in place of the examples (RGIII and Colin Kaepernick) Kurt listed to explain his point, to maintain the theme of my article, because I believe everything Kurt writes apply to Cam Newton’s current state. Some might state that the ‘X’ factor in Cam’s decline include the injuries he accumulated over the years, and they played a role, but there was some level of decline before the injuries that sidelined him. We also have to factor Cam’s style of play in the NFL, as the hits a running QB take are largely unsustainable, as evidenced by the short career of RGIII among others.

Somewhere along the way, incredibly gifted athletes, like Cam, RGIII, Kaepernick, Winston, and Mariota needed a coach to teach them how to avoid relying on their athleticism, and it has to happen in the formative years of the Quarterback’s career. Sports analysts suggest that playing quarterback in the NFL might be the hardest position in sports, and it has everything to do with the measurables and the immeasurables.

Kurt’s point is that the idea that an elite athlete’s failure to develop alternatives to their athletic talent is not always the player’s fault. Yet, some of the times it is. We have to think that when “once-in-a-lifetime” talents develop their talent, they also develop quite an ego, and most high school coaches and some college coaches don’t feel qualified enough to tell them what to do. They might try to enhance and adjust the quarterbacks game, but in that difficult adjustment period, the QB had a couple of horrible outings that hurt his stock. Their friends and family then tell them not to listen to the coach, “You do what you do. You be you. Did you see what Michael Vick did to the Vikings? That could be you. The game is changing, and you need to tell your coach that.”    

Like most professional sports, the NFL is comprised of the most talented athletes anyone in their local areas ever saw. Most of us don’t know what that feels like, and we don’t know what we would do or say when a middle-aged coach, who didn’t have one-fifth of our talent, tells us how to play the game. Even fewer of us, the most elite of the elite, would ever know what it’s like to prove that coach wrong, when the NFL drafts us in the first round, or as three of the four listed here, the first or second NFL pick. When these once-in-a-lifetime talents, who were the best athletes anyone ever saw, then run into the extent of their talent, it’s often too late to make any substantial adjustments necessary for a prolonged, successful career in the Not for Long league, we call the NFL. 

Yesterday I Learned … VI


Yesterday, I heard a joke that suggested if we were to accept that the now decades old television show 24 as a realistic depiction of 24 hours of Jack Bauer’s life, we were going to need to see him go to the bathroom every once in a while. Every single person has to use the facilities every once in a while, this joke implied, and if we were going to accept the fact that Jack Bauer was truly human, the writers should’ve included a line like, “I know lives are on the line, Mr. President, and I’m well aware of the fact that every precious second counts, but I have to take a squirt.” The joke is funny, because it has an element of truth to it. We don’t need to know that Jack Bauer does this, of course, but if the show’s directors and writers seek a version of true reality, shouldn’t we see him relieve himself in some way?

It’s here now. Enterprising young directors heard that call, and they responded. Whatever remained of that artistic abstract, known as the fourth wall, is now coming down. These young and ambitious directors now force their actors to engage in the ultimate form of reality by relieving themselves on camera to indulge our desire for this ultimate form of reality.

Today, I realized that if a director asked me, twenty years ago, how far they should go to depict reality, I might have told them I’m all for injecting a sense of reality in various entertainment vehicles, and I might have encouraged them to pop whatever bubble they could find. I would’ve kept that advice general, of course, as I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to making visual productions, and I don’t know how to depict reality on screen. If that director then asked me what I thought an audience might think of seeing their favorite character squat on a commode, I would’ve told them that that’s probably a step too far. If they asked me if I thought hearing a character’s water hit the water might help audiences relate to their character better, I would’ve said, “No, I think most people accept the fact that the characters these actors are portraying are human, and while there are some elements you can introduce to provide some hyper reality on a cases by case basis, the idea that one uses the facilities is better left assumed. I also don’t think seeing or hearing bodily functions, add to that sense of association or cements that bond any further.” It turns out some modern directors decided that I was wrong. When they depict a character vomit now, it’s not enough for them to provide the audio of the act or show the convulsions a body goes through in the act of vomiting. In the king of the mountain mentality of depicting reality, these directors decided that we need to see the chunks and fluid flow from the mouth. We can only guess that these ambitious directions heard the 24 joke, and they decided to heed the call and add all sorts of bodily functions to address these complaints. We’re not at the point, yet, where we demand to see waste move out of the body before we accept the fact it’s truly happening, but recent evidence suggests we’re probably not too far away.

Go to Your Room

Yesterday, I heard a great joke from Jerry Seinfeld. “The penal system we have is so American. ‘You do something bad, you go to a room. You think about what you did,’” Jerry Seinfeld said mocking the convention of our country’s archaic idea of imprisoning criminals. I don’t think I need to qualify my reply to Jerry Seinfeld by saying I think he’s a comedic genius. If the reader thinks I do, let me just say that I think there are but a handful of comedians who can put a clever spin on the conventions of daily life, or our societal conventions, on a level anywhere close to Jerry Seinfeld. How many comedians could take a large societal issue like the philosophy behind incarceration and associate it with the punishments our parents inflicted on us when we were naughty as kids?

Today, I thought about how much his clever and hilarious point misses the mark. Before I write anything further, let me also write that I understand that his comments are satirical in nature, and that satirists should not be required to debate their jokes or provide solutions. The first, obvious rebuttal I would make is that the idea of crime and punishment is not exclusive to America. Other countries, throughout the world in history, tried imprisoning those who committed transgressions against their fellow man, and that historical precedent worked so well that America adopted it. The second question I would pose to Seinfeld is, “If you were king for a day, how would you handle this whole idea of people committing crimes? And before you answer, remember that there are victims of crime, and there would be subsequent victims that could be harmed by your edicts.” The third, and related, point I would make is that lawmakers decide laws and appropriate punishments to provide cultural definition. We know we live in a ‘You do this, you go there for a certain amount of time relative to the crime and the nature of the crime.’ In a Representative Republic, we select lawmakers and judges to decide those laws and the subsequent punishments, and if we don’t like them, we vote them out of office and select another representative we believe better represents our views. Again, I know Jerry Seinfeld is a satirist who pokes fun at conventions, and this joke involves some healthy, insightful commentary on a situation that plagues our country, but I’d love to know how he might better fix what he calls our flawed system of punishment.

It’s Not about You

Yesterday, I borrowed a book from the library on the former Nirvana singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, and his influence on music and society. About twenty pages in, I realized that this author was personalizing his narrative under the ‘Where was I when I first heard?’ theme. “I couldn’t believe it,” he wrote. “I was so shocked. We couldn’t believe it. I called friends I haven’t talked to in years, and we consoled one another.” Who cares, was my first thought, and I couldn’t shake that thought no matter how much further I read. I didn’t care about this author’s reaction any more than he would mine. 

I learned a valuable lesson, twenty pages in, if an author is going to write about someone or something we all know, their first job is to tell us something we don’t know. If an author is going to make it about the author to illustrate a point, that’s fine, as long as they employ the ‘get in, get out’ methodology to achieve a greater point. At some point in his long-winded narrative, the author made it obvious that his book was more about him than his subject. As far as I’m concerned, there is no fine line here. In this case, the author described his reaction to Cobain’s suicide to be part of the moment. I don’t care what the subject is, whether it’s fiction or non, I read with an ‘I don’t care what the author thinks’ mentality. A gifted storyteller might tell us what they think, but they should do so in a carefully structured method that leads us to think we thought it first.

As a reader, my advice to all authors is, don’t write about you until people care about what you think. Even then, the reason we might care about you is that you’re such a gifted writer that we never know it’s you telling us what you think. Today, I realized how difficult this is in the Twitter age. We make posts about our friends, our feelings about our friends, our feelings about our feelings, and the fact that we’re now at Arby’s. People tell us that they enjoy our posts, and we morph this into creative ways of telling everyone how everything is about us in one way or another. We continue doing so, until we are unable to make the separation necessary to write about our subject without including our feelings on the subject. Some suggest that it’s impossible to be objective, but there’s subjectivity and then there’s subjectivity. Some authors obviously think that when they begin writing about their feelings on a subject that their readers will appreciate their ability to be vulnerable on paper and that they will value their unflinching and refreshing honesty on the subject they’re addressing, and we might, if we cared about the author. If we cared about the author, we would’ve knowingly purchased their autobiography, their memoirs, or some catalog of their musings. If the author decides, instead, to write about someone that someone else might be interested in reading about, the author needs to remember that we purchased the book, because we thought it was about them, and no one is ever going to purchase a book about you, because not everything is about you.

The Media and the Coronavirus

Yesterday, I believed in a couple crackpot, Chicken Little conspiracy theories and some depressing doomsayer stories. I didn’t believe a majority of them, but I believed enough of them to recognize these theories for what they are. It took some embarrassment to reach that point. “You don’t really believe that do you?” friends and family would ask when I would repeat their drivel. It also took the humiliation of being wrong more often than I was right to help shape and form my beliefs system, but as I said in another post on this topic, I was eventually able to shed that skin.

We believe these theories because we’re afraid, and fear can be a good thing when we use it properly, as it can lead to self-preservation. A fear of heights, for example, can prevent us from going so high that we could get hurt. Some fears are irrational, such as a fear of alien attacks, sharks, and ghosts, but the brain uses fear to protect itself and the body. The 24-7 news outlets, and other companies that send out email blasts, also learned how to manipulate fear to get us to do what they want us to do, mainly tune in. They played on our fears to get ratings and clicks, and they did it so often that we were numb to it when they begin reporting on what we should fear for our own self-preservation.

How much of our time and fear did these networks and email blasters waste over the years on frivolous matters that would blow over by the end of the week? How many “News Bulletins” followed by exclamation points did they waste on stupid stories that had no relevance? How many people were afraid to invest their hard-earned dollars in the stock market? “Just wait,” rational minds advised, “this whole thing will blow over by Wednesday,” and so many of these Chicken Little conspiracy theories and some depressing doomsayer stories did. The market rewarded diligent investors, who ignored these stories, for their patience.

The job of various news outlets is to report on matters that require our attention. When they report on natural disasters, for example, we tune into their broadcasts for information on how to act and react. They know when we tune in, as do their advertisers, and the two of them join forces to develop, or enhance, subsequent stories to demand our attention. As any artist will tell you, a novice can enhance relatively meager paintings with shading and artistic framing. The 24-7 news networks often enhanced such relatively meager stories in this manner, until we began believing every story was a national tragedy, and then we experienced burn out.    

I don’t know what difference it would’ve made, but I think we might have taken the coronavirus more seriously if they didn’t break us down with every over-hyped hurricane or political story that was going to end our country, as we know it. I also have a special place in the black parts of my heart for the financial doomsayers who, for years, predicted the market would fall for whatever reason they dreamed up to get us to click on their emails.      

Today, I realized that the coronavirus is a full-fledged pandemic, and it took a lot of convincing to break through the thick, hard shell I developed to all of these Chicken Little, crackpot theories and depressing doomsayer stories. I don’t know about anyone else, but I had a threshold. By the time the coronavirus broke, some of my instincts told me that this might be different, but after being inundated by so many disaster stories that required my attention for so many years, I thought it would all blow over without too much pain. So, I direct some portion of the blame of my financial pain on all those crackpot, Chicken Little conspiracy theorist and depressing doomsayers who exaggerated every story to the point that they scared me. Over time, I found that the best course of action was to do nothing and to recognize conspiracy theories and doomsayers for what they are. If I believed one-tenth of them over the decades, there’s no way I would have invested my relatively meager savings into the stock market. I wouldn’t believe in America, and I probably wouldn’t have left my home. I didn’t believe the coronavirus was as bad as they were saying. I thought it was more 24-7 news bulletins on a story that would blow over like an over-hyped hurricane, and I now blame them for it.   

Yesterday I Learned … V


Yesterday, I learned that every job has its drawbacks. I learned this when I informed a group how much I now love green bean casserole, and one of my friends said, “I can never eat it again. The sight of it makes me want to hurl.” She explained to us that when she was a member of an Emergency Medical team, they received a call for an overdose. When on this call, she performed mouth to mouth on the victim, and the victim vomited into her mouth. He vomited the last thing he ate, of course, and that happened to be green bean casserole. Today I learned that while every job has its drawbacks, I don’t think I’d be able to become an EMT after hearing this. I come from a long line of strong stomachs. My dad spent a majority of his life eating Swanson’s Mexican TV dinners, and he lived a relatively long life. Yet, I have to imagine that if I was an EMT trainee, and one of the on staff veterans said, “This job has it’s drawbacks,” and they explained the possibility that while trying to resuscitate a victim I might get vomited into my mouth, “I’m out,” would probably my response. “It happens,” is something they might add, “and you have to prepare for that possibility.” If they, then, provided a visual anywhere close to the stomach-turning display in the season 2 finale of Amazon Prime’s Catastrophe, I think half the training class might politely stand and proceed to the nearest exit in an orderly fashion.

Yesterday, I thought about how many exciting opportunities I missed in life. I thought about how cautious I was, and I was cautious, too cautious at times. I probably didn’t have as many opportunities as I think I did, but some were undeniable. I didn’t cash in on them, I tried to avoid talking about them, and yesterday I tried to figure out why. Today, I realized that I based some of these decisions on the unique brand of crazy I knew they had deep inside their Cracker Jack box.

Some of us loved the unique taste of the molasses, caramel confection of popcorn and peanuts the Cracker Jacks company offered, but most of us did not. The flavor isn’t awful by any means, but if someone told the individual, who decided to package and ship the Cracker Jack product, that it would prove a sales juggernaut for over a hundred years, they would probably be surprised. When they heat the confection at a fair, or some outdoor venue that offers it fresh, the adoration for the confection is more understandable, but there was always a certain, stale taste to it in the Cracker Jack Box. Yet, as kids, we always asked for Cracker Jacks as a treat, because the prospect of a prize in each box was tantalizing. The prize often turned out to be as disappointing as the flavor of the super-sweet molasses-flavored caramel coated popcorn and peanuts, but the next time our parents offered us an open invitation to the store shelves, we chose Cracker Jacks again. “Candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize” proved a provocative marketing slogan to those of us of a certain age who couldn’t wait for our surprise. Several other enterprises have taken the prospect of a “prize in each container” to greater lengths, but I don’t know if a company did more with less than the Cracker Jack Company and later Borden.

As we made our way out into the world, and we met a number of exotic and beautiful people, some part of our subconscious kept this disappointing allure of a surprise near the bottom of the package in some deep recess of our subconscious. We knew who these people were, and we found their special brand of crazy such a unique characteristic that we considered it engaging and endearing. Imagine, we thought, waking up to meet a new person, in the same person, every day. Chaos and unpredictability can be exciting in the short-term, and when we wrap it up in beautiful packaging, it can be difficult to remain rational. This idea that the surprises inside the box might be disappointing has always stayed with us. We don’t draw any correlations between this innate sense and the disappointment we experienced when we opened the Cracker Jack surprise, but Cracker Jack taught us this emotion well during the formative years of our life. If we ever have a chance to meet those exciting prospects, years later, it dawns on us why we decided to go with what we knew, as opposed to ceding to our impulsive desire to chase the prospects of exciting things. We learned that what makes us healthy, wealthy and wise in the long term is often more important than the prospect of surprising and exciting opportunities.

My kid said something political yesterday. He didn’t know what he was saying. He was repeating what he heard. Some might consider it cute when such a complicated thought comes out of a kid’s mouth. Some might not view statements with which they agree as political. I did, and I found it a little disturbing. Today I realized that I don’t want my kid to be political in any way. I’ve heard kids who have words put into their kid’s mouths by their parents, and it doesn’t sit well with me. Kids aren’t democrats or republicans, they’re kids, and I don’t think we should let our agenda get in the way of their childhood. We should consider it our job to make their childhood last as long as possible.

Yesterday I realized that some of us have problems answering direct questions with direct answers. “I’m going to place my question in the form of a question. Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to say yes or no. I don’t want to hear equivocations that contain sections and subsections of the “yes and no” answer. I don’t care if you’re right or wrong, or if I’m right or wrong. I don’t even care if your answer hurts my feelings. Just spit it out for the love of all that’s holy and unholy.” Today, I realized that when I answer direct questions in a direct way the recipient often misinterprets my answer. Their feelings get in the way, they dream up sections and subsections of my answer, and they think I’m wrong about everything all the time. After experiencing this a number of times, it dawned on me that most people answer our questions the way they want us to answer theirs.

Yesterday, I realized that other people don’t always have it better than me. My dad was one of those guys who thought everyone had it better than him. He could walk out of the most flea-ridden, dilapidated home with a week-long smile. “That’s the way to live,” he would say. Influenced by my dad’s thoughts, I revered his people. Even though most of them weren’t living the ideal life, I thought they had something going on that I wasn’t able to process yet. Today, I realized that most of those people were younger than I am now, and age tends to emulsify delusions. My dad believed in them though, so I believed in them.

Yesterday I realized my friend’s parents were younger than I am now when I first met them. I remember thinking that they had it all together, and they knew more about life than anyone I ever met. I believed my friend’s propaganda about his parent’s level of intelligence and success. Today, I realized I bought into all that because he did.

Yesterday I learned that when we have nothing to complain about we will find something. Today, I learned that one of the reasons we complain is that we’re not happy, and the idea that something new can make us happy often results in disappointment and more unhappiness. I also learned that buying things makes us happy, and when that happens begins to abate, we repeat the formula, until we realize we can’t buy happiness.

Yesterday, I learned that there is a blueprint to success, and it should be our goal in life to learn it and follow it. Some try to deconstruct and reconstruct that path in a contrived manner. They are rarely successful. Today, I learned that those who won’t follow it are afraid of the risks involved. “What if we fail?” they ask. I’m a firm believer in the fact that the greater the risk, the greater the success if one succeeds.

Yesterday, I learned that politicians are here to help us. Some of them devote their lives to serving in government. Today, I wondered how often we should be grateful for their lifelong devotion to public service, as it pertains to a representative sitting in one of our seats of government for 20+ years. Some might herald such a lifelong commitment, but I think we can all admit that serving in the federal government provides a representative an undue level of influence almost unparalleled in America today. I think we can also suggest that some 20+ year representatives fall prey to satisfying their own narcissistic will to power.

Yesterday, I learned how important it is to have a philosophy for just about everything we do. Today, I learned that we all have some advice to pass on. As someone who didn’t date as often as I could have, I’m probably the wrong person to turn to for dating advice. I didn’t enjoy dating, because I hated all the messy emotional entanglements. I didn’t want to get into a relationship, find out I didn’t like it, and end up hurting a girl’s feelings. On top of that, I avoided women I thought might end up hurting my feelings. My friends and family told me that I overthought the matter. I probably did. On the few dates I went on, I probably wasn’t very good at it. I enjoyed women learning more about me than I did about them. I have talked to enough people who loved to date and did it as often as they could, however, and the following is a list of advice I heard from them: 

1) Most of us are very insecure individuals and dating people reveals our flaws. The people we date will break our hearts and leave us as if we’re starting over, but it’s important to date as often as we can when we’re young.

2) Don’t marry the first person with whom you share a spark. The reason we love the stories of the high school sweethearts who stay married for thirty years is that they’re rare. I’ve heard some theorize that we’re so different every ten years that we’re almost completely different people. I’m not sure how true that is, but there’s enough truth to it that if we marry a person who isn’t willing to change with us, it can get messy and result in a messy separation.  

3) A friend of mine came from a culture of arranged marriages. She said she believed arranged marriages were the ideal way for young people to marry. We didn’t agree with her, but she had an interesting point, “We don’t make quality decisions when we’re young. Our parents not only view matters from a perspective outside romance, but they’re wiser and they have more experience.” Most of us stated we wouldn’t want to see what our parents pick for us, and we thought we were wiser and more experienced than our parents were. This conflict introduced the strange mixture of confidence and insecurity we had when we were young. We’re confident that we know more than our parents do, and we have a general sense of arrogance in this regard, but we’re so insecure about our choices that we tend to stick with the one who brought us.

4) We shouldn’t stay in a relationship for the sole reason that we’ve invested so much time, effort, and emotion into it that we don’t want to start over again. We’ve all been burned, and we remember that when things start to go awry with our current significant other. We don’t break up with them, because we don’t want to go through that turmoil again.

5) “I didn’t enjoy dating either,” one person said, “but don’t make the mistake I made of thinking that you might be letting the right one slip away.” Such an admission is always uncomfortable to hear, and we’ve all heard some people openly admit it, but we rarely hear it when the significant other is listening in on the conversation.

6) Date the good the bad, and the ugly. That trail will help us make an informed decision when we think we’ve met “the one”. When we date, we see qualities in another that we enjoy in some and those we don’t in others, and we learn a lot about ourselves along the way.

7) Date with the mindset that you know nothing about the other party. Those who experience success in any field learn to focus on what they don’t know as opposed to what they do. We should use this mindset when it comes to dating. We should enter into every relationship with the mindset that don’t know anything about the other party of a relationship, except the qualities that they enjoy sharing with us. Most of the people we date aren’t dishonest in the sense that they’re lying or being phony, they’re just their best self when you’re around.

8) Meet their friends and family and watch how they interact with them. How different are they around their people? Are we seeing the person they are around their friends, or are we gaining quality insight into who they are? What are the differences between the person we know and the person their friends and family know?

9) Introduce your significant other to your friends and family. When we’re young, we walk around with an “I don’t care what anyone thinks” mentality. Dump that in these encounters. If they find faults with our significant other, our initial instinct is to suggest they don’t know them as well as we do. That’s going to be true, but is there anyone who cares more about the decisions we make than our family? As someone who has lost a number of intimate family members who cared about me, I now know what a precious commodity they are in life. It doesn’t mean they’re right of course, but their perspective is one we should value. Also, know that most of our people are not jealous, and they aren’t overreacting. They know that we’re proud of this individual we selected, but they care about us, and they don’t want to see us make what they regard as a mistake. Is it a mistake? They don’t know, and we don’t know, but our best bet is to make an informed decision.  

10) If the relationship moves into a more serious phase, take a vacation with them to take them out of their element. Watch how they act around flight attendants, waiters, and hotel staff. How do they react to unnecessary delays, cancelled hotel reservations, hotel amenities, and all of the other mishaps that happen on vacations? 

11) The final, and perhaps most crucial question, who are we around them? Are we putting our best foot forward? We all develop a façade of sorts around the people with which we spend significant amounts of time. We are different around them than we are our mother, for example, or our best friend. Do we like the people we are around them, and if so why? If not, can we change that persona, and if we do, will they still like us?

The Philosophy of the Obvious


Anyone who has messed around with Lego knows the seemingly insignificant, yellow, see-through Lego principle. Soon after we open a package of Lego, we put the larger pieces together. It probably has something to do with our need for immediate gratification and an underlying lack of intelligence, but we like to snap big pieces together. It gives us a false sense of accomplishment we find pleasing. At some point in the process, and it’s usually 3/4ths the way through, we recognize an error. One of the other larger pieces doesn’t snap into the larger structure quite right. We go back through the instructions and realize that in one of the earlier steps, we failed to attach a seemingly insignificant, yellow, see-through Lego properly. With some frustration, we realize we have disassemble the project, almost in total, to put that seemingly insignificant, yellow, see-through Lego on. In our frustration, we know that the designer Lego could’ve added a quarter inch protrusion to the larger piece to make the tiny, yellow Lego unnecessary. We might even say that aloud, but in the midst of our frustration, we recognize the Lego designer might have had a philosophical driver behind making the tiny, yellow piece so relevant.

In most real-world constructs, the little parts are as important as the big ones, and sometimes they’re more important. The spark plug might not be the smallest part on a car, for example, but if it’s not firing properly in a spark ignition system, proper combustion is not possible, and the car won’t run. Perhaps, the Lego designers wanted to teach their loyal customer base the kinesthetic knowledge inherent in the Heraclitus quote, “The unapparent connection is more powerful than the apparent one.”  

Unapparent connections are often so obvious that they were staring us in the face all along. If we learn to incorporate the seemingly insignificant, yellow, see-through Lego principle into our thought processes, and we disassemble and reassemble our larger thoughts accordingly, it might be possible to unlock other confusing and debilitating complexities that inhibit us.

Most of us view philosophy as the study of larger concepts and abstracts that govern human behavior. Philosophers call this the accurate and abstract philosophy. The other branch of philosophical thought is considered the easy and obvious philosophy. The latter, writes David Hume, “uses examples from everyday life so we can see the difference between right and wrong. He says that this type of philosophy is popular and follows from common sense, therefore there are rarely errors in it.” Some consider the easy and obvious philosophy, and the discovery of the obvious, a “Well yeah” and “Of course!” study. The second philosophy, the accurate and abstract philosophy, does not direct our behavior. Instead, it focuses on what causes that behavior and why we do the things we do and uses abstract reasoning to attempt to make sense of it.” The Group 3 Blog goes onto write, “that Hume says that since this area of philosophy does not use common sense, errors are made often and because of this, this area is sometimes rejected.”

“I deal with the obvious. I present, reiterate and glorify the obvious – because the obvious is what people need to be told,” Dale Carnegie. We have to imagine that as a young upstart, Carnegie didn’t put much focus on the obvious, and that he initially considered those smaller elements somewhat irrelevant and trivial. We can guess that he set out to find a mind-blowing concept regarding the general principles that govern human behavior to impress his peers, and the world in general. At some point in his studies, he realized the larger concepts don’t seem to fit quite right without the more obvious tenets, and he realized he needed to disassemble the larger concepts and reassembled them with the philosophical equivalent of the seemingly insignificant, yellow, see through Lego of the mind.

After he reached that point, we can guess Carnegie saw little-to-no reward for his modified thinking on a subject like, How to Make Friends and Influence People because he was just pointing out what was so obvious to everyone. He probably also learned that if he transmitted his version of the obvious philosophy properly, the recipients would assume they arrived at the conclusion on their own.    

“It takes a very unusual mind to undertake analysis of the obvious,” Alfred North Whitehead said. Most authors worry about insulting their readers by introducing concepts that are so obvious that the reader might view their writing as condescending. They also don’t want their readers to consider them authors who deal with matters so obvious that they’re not worth reading, so they qualify it in an almost apologetic manner, “This might seem so obvious as to be unworthy of discussion, but-.” If the author is cursed, or blessed, with an unusual mind, however, they consider the point in question so noteworthy that they need to explore it.  

“The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards.” Arthur Koestler. Those who consider such discussions unworthy should ask themselves how many times they’ve discussed something so obvious that it was a complete waste of time, only to realize that that discussion modified their thinking on the issue. We could call this almost imperceptible progression an epiphany, unless we remain fixated on the image of an epiphany involving an inventor toiling away in a basement until they make that mind-altering, “Eureeka!” discovery. This definition of epiphany usually involves a light bulb above the recipient’s head. Epiphanies, like most matters, come in big and small packages. In this case, it involves seeing something a certain way for our whole lives, until we run into the unusual mind who sees it a little different.

Smaller epiphanies arrive when we view an obvious matter one way our whole life, only to see a small, obvious addition or contradiction to that way of thinking. It might be so obvious that we think we thought of it ourselves, and we make that imperceptible change that incorporates this line of thinking into ours, until we can no longer “unsee” it back to the way we saw it before. As Koestler says, we might view the obvious concept as so obvious after we hear it that we may never remember how we saw it before, if we never face a contradiction that exposes how we used to view it. In this sense, we could call this modification of our thinking on an issue an epiphany. Some epiphanies are small, as we said, but some are so tiny that we might never know we made a change. If we do, and we want to tell our world about it, they might consider it so obvious that they wonder how we didn’t see it before.

For some, obvious philosophy might be, as Alfred North Whitehead writes, “Familiar things happen and mankind does not bother about them.” It might be something that generates an, “Of course!” after reading. Obvious philosophy might also analyze the obvious in a way that we’ve never considered before. The careful study and processing of an obvious quote might eventually result in clarity on some complex concept that required obvious don’t-I-feel-stupid for never seeing it that way before. “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication,” Leonardo da Vinci. “That’s the way things come clear. All of a sudden! And then you realize how obvious they’ve been all along,” Madeleine L’Engle. 

“There is nothing as deceptive as an obvious fact.” –Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“No question is so difficult to answer as that to which the answer is obvious.” –George Bernard Shaw.

“The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it.” –Kahlil Gibran

“Nothing evades our attention as persistently as that which is taken for granted.” –Gustav Ichheiser

“Because it’s familiar, a thing remains unknown.” –Hegel

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” –Aldous Huxley

“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something – because it is always before one’s eyes). The real foundations of his enquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless THAT fact has at some time struck him. And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.” –Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The best place to hide a needle is in a stack of needles.” –Robert Heinlein [Finding a needle in a haystack is difficult, but what about finding one in a stack of needles? That would be so obvious.]

“We are like people looking for something they have in their hands all the time; we’re looking in all directions except at the thing we want, which is probably why we haven’t found it.” –Plato

***

Yesterday, I thought I could help a friend with my version of the obvious philosophy. I did it before. I offered another friend some platitude on a crisis that they were experiencing. To my amazement, they used it, and it helped them. Drunk on this success, I later tried to help another friend in a similar vein. Today, I realized that I’m not the genius I thought I was, and that the best thing we can do is help those who are open to constructive criticism, our loved ones and ourselves.

The late sixties Star Trek crew sets foot on a foreign planet. They know a beast awaits them on this planet. The beast, in this case, is a large, red carnivorous flower. The guy in a red shirt (aka Redman) is the first to encounter the beast. As he attempts to perform some scientific readings on the flower, it shoots a tentacle out, captures Redman, and begins to devour him feet first. By the time the Star Trek crew happens upon Redman, he is in the flower up to his waist, and his reaction suggests that the pain involved in the flower’s digestion process is excruciating. When we witness the veins in the man’s forehead pulse, we immediately mistake for his agony, but it might be part of the flower’s digestion process. Captain Kirk is in the corner shielding Lieutenant Uhura from the scene and the man’s screaming, and the other players attempt to avoid looking at the scene. Spock steps forward and examines the episode from a relatively safe distance as the man screams in agony. “Fascinating,” Spock says. He then explains to the rest of the crew what he thinks the beast’s digestive process is doing to Redman. He does so using unemotional, scientific jargon.

This specific scene never happened on the show, but if it did, and I wrote it, I would focus on the Vulcan characteristics of Spock’s lineage, by depicting him as oblivious to Redman’s screaming. I might even have him swipe Bones’ scanner to conduct further scientific readings of the digestion process, and what the flower is doing to Redman’s body. I would have him look at the scanner, lift an eyebrow and repeat, “Fascinating,” as he walks away from the scene.

I might have Kirk and the rest of the crew aghast at Spock’s reaction. I might have Kirk confront Spock about his unwillingness to save Redman. “Captain, it was obvious, by the time we arrived that it was too late,” Spock would say. “If we hope to defeat this beast, we need the data necessary to understand it first.”

It’s obvious that if the Star Trek crew was going to survive the threat of the beast, they were going to need the data necessary to understand it first. The logical, Vulcan side knew this, even while Redman suffered, but why did Spock’s human side permit him to allow for human suffering to continue regardless of the overall benefits? Anyone who knows anything about Star Trek, knows Spock regularly faced the conflict of his nature. He was part human and part Vulcan. The Vulcan side of him viewed matters without sympathy, empathy, or any other human emotion, and the human side contained all of them above. The interesting contrast often played out when Spock was confronted in situations like these regarding how he should react. The human side probably wanted to save Redman, but the Vulcan, rational and unemotional side, won out, because he knew that the emotions of humans often play a role in their doom.

Spock’s Vulcan reaction, in this scene, displays the scientific approach we layman should pursue when studying our fellow man. The obvious logic is we cannot save everyone. By the time we encounter victims of their self-imposed downward spiral, it’s often too late to save them. Those of us who try, often hear “Who the hell are you?” from those we’re trying to help. More often than not, we don’t know what we’re talking about when we try to help others. We don’t know any more how to correct the course they’re on than they do, but when we watch others continue to flail about, we develop ideas how we might avoid a similar plight. Today I realized, we should do everything we can to help our fellow man, but most of them don’t think they need our help. The best thing we can do, while others scream in agony, is study them from an analytical, emotionless Vulcan perspective to try to use our obvious logic and obvious philosophies to avoid falling prey to what ails them.

***

Had I heeded the tenets of obvious logic, I wouldn’t have done the stupid thing I did yesterday. Yet, if I ever wanted to sleep again, I thought I had to do it. I knew it was wrong, and the corporation had a list of the consequences for such an action expressly stated in the employee handbook. My boss, and the HR department did not waste any time delivering the consequence. I paid a heavy price for doing something that was obviously stupid.

Today, I remembered the obvious advice one of my friends offered his son, “Don’t do stupid things.” I found that philosophy so obvious as to be hilarious. Would I have been able to avoid the pain and humiliation I experienced if someone told me to avoid doing stupid things when I was younger? Of course, but stupid things are what we do when we’re young. We jump from an unreasonable high for the adventure it promises, then we get hurt, and then we learn. We throw something at something, we get in trouble, and we learn from it. Some of the stupid things we do are impulsive, and some involve knowledge and forethought, but they all provide one vital component to maturity: lessons. Our elders and superiors tell us to avoid stupid things, but for some reason those lessons don’t stick as well as the lessons we learn on our own. Those who know how to advise children suggest that if we raise our children properly, we will help them avoid experiencing one-tenth the pain and humiliation we did. If we achieve this, we should consider our parenting a success. We know we all have to ride this merry-go-round on our own, in other words, and no advice is going to prevent us from doing stupid things. We might know these things are wrong, but we will do them anyway for reasons we might not be able to justify. The best we can do is teach them what to do in the aftermath.

Some of the best advice my dad passed along to me, when I experienced a crisis was, “Some of the times, you just have to take it on the chin.” If we don’t have a valid excuse for the stupid thing we did, in other words, don’t bother trying to dream up other excuses. Just take your medicine. 

The worst advice he passed along was, “Some of the times, you just have to take it on the chin, even when you know you’re right, because you didn’t got caught for all of the other stupid stuff you did.”

Even the most obvious philosophies and advice don’t work all of the time, but I think that’s obvious. 

For those who can’t leave well enough alone, the two lists of these great quotes can be found here and here to support your theories that a discussion of the obvious is not always a complete waste of time.

 

Scat Mask Replica VII


Human beings operate in patterns. As much as we hate to admit it, we’re all about routines. Those who doubt that they live in patterns and routines should add a dog to their life. A dog spends so much of its life studying our patterns that when they peg them, they can tell us what we’re about to do soon after we decide to do it. Some suggest that our rituals are such that they can tell what we’re before we decide.  

On that note, my primary takeaway from the movie My Dinner with Andre was to do everything possible to break the routines of life. In that movie, one of characters talked about opening the door with his left hand for a day or two just to break that routine in a way that might lead to other breaks. The gist of this is that we have so many patterns and routines that some of the times we sleep walk through life.

In an attempt to break one of my routines, I decided to mow in a different pattern. I was hoping to break the tedium of that otherwise tedious task. I spent so much time wondering if I was saving time mowing that way that I focused too much energy on trying to save time. In my typical routine, mowing the lawn seems to take minutes. This experiment seemed to take hours. The difference between the two is that I normally sleep walk through routine mowing, in much the same manner I sleep walk through all of the routines I’ve developed over time. We develop so many routines, as we age, that life has a way of slipping by quicker. How many times do we say, it’s July? What happened to June?

We wake, we eat two eggs and toast, with a glass of OJ, and we top it off with a delicious banana. “Is this banana as delicious as yesterday’s banana could’ve been?” I asked myself one Tuesday morning. On Monday, I purchased a bunch of sparkling yellow bananas shortly before breakfast, and I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into its brand-new solidity. While eating Tuesday’s banana, I realized I completely forgot to appreciate Monday’s banana for what it was. I looked forward to that first bite, while in the store. I thought about it a couple times on the short drive home, but by the time Tuesday rolled around, I realized that I accidentally slipped Monday’s banana in the routine of eating breakfast that day. When I bit into Tuesday’s banana, it was delicious, and I appreciated it, but I couldn’t help but think about how much more fresh and delicious Monday’s banana might’ve been if I remembered to appreciate it.

One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid falling too deep into routine is a grueling workout. I’m not talking about a simple workout, because some of us workout so often that working out becomes nothing more than a part of our routine. I’m talking about a grueling workout that leaves the buns and thighs burning, and when the buns are burning, the brain cells are burning just as bright. This idea led me to believe working out might be the cure all.

When our Mondays melt into our Tuesdays, the best way to break the routine is to push our body beyond our otherwise lazy boundaries. If we’re feeling excessive fatigue, we can burn our brain and body bright with a long and grueling workout. I’ve expressed variations of this cure so often that those closest to me say it before I do, mocking me for routinely advising that this was the ideal way to fight routine. The footnote I now add, based on personal experience, is make sure you’re happy first. Before we start going to the gym three times a week, with at least one grueling workout mixed in, we need to make sure we’ve attended to life’s matters and we have someone who loves us at home. We also need to enjoy the job we have, because after a couple of long, grueling workouts we will be acutely aware of our life choices, and we will probably arrive at some painful critiques.

Some call it hyper-awareness, or hyper-vigilance, is the ability to notice things most don’t. Those who have it, call it a gift and a curse. Yet, even the most hyper-aware person can have their senses dulled by routine. I’ve snapped at people on a Tuesday for something that didn’t bother me that Monday, and the only difference was I had a grueling workout in between. My various computer chairs were comfortable for years before I decided to discipline myself to working my buns rock hard. I loved the life I led before those rigorous workouts led me to recognize how unrewarding my job was. I knew the basic functions of my job were equivalent to data entry, but it never dawned on me how unrewarding the job was until I snapped out of the routine.

When people would ask, I would tell them the title my company gave me, and the tasks I was assigned. After a few rigorous workouts, I realized that the company might have seduced me into believing the position was prestigious, in a manner I suspect a garbage company seduces a prospective garbage man applicant into the job by telling them that they’re about to become sanitation engineers. I wondered if some garbage men tell people that they’re in engineering. When my brains and buns were all soggy, I found the basic elements of my job unrewarding, but I managed to convince myself that receiving bi-weekly paychecks and living the independent life were admirable no matter what the other circumstances were.

With my brain firing on all cylinders, I realized that the core tenet of the job was to make the boss happy. If she was happy, then I should be happy. This description probably defines 99% of all jobs, but I have to guess that most employees find their jobs personally rewarding. If we hit the peak productivity numbers for our department, it makes our boss happy, but how does it affect us overall? Was I being productive in a sense larger than the relative barometer my department laid out, or was the work I did a colossal waste of time? Did the company truly value what I do? Do I clock out with a sense that I accomplished something that day? Those in my department knew that no one, outside our department, read the reports we wrote. If we wanted a raise, we knew the company didn’t devote much of the budget to the work we did, as most of the work we did could fall very comfortably under the title “busy work”. If one of the employees on our team wanted an in-house transfer to another department, we learned that the various recruiters therein don’t value the work we do, or the title we have. They knew the inner machinations of the job better than those outside the company might, and they knew the work didn’t provide a potential applicant to their department valuable experience. I knew all this, to a certain degree, when my buns and brain cells were all soggy, but when I was firing on all cylinders, it became painfully clear to me that I was wasting my life in that position.

Working out so often made my buns rock hard, and while the health benefits of that level of exercise superseded everything else, it also made my once uncomfortable computer chair intolerable. I could smell the flowers better than ever before, and peanut M&M’s were so delicious that I considered eating them by the pound, but I also realized how fraudulent my bosses were, how lonely I was, and how I had no home life to look forward to when my excruciatingly slow work day ended. I noticed all the little things life had to offer, and some of them made me happier, but others made me so angry and depressed that I realized one of the reasons I drank so much and smoked so often was to dull my brain to the point where I wouldn’t question the choices I made in life.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “if at first you don’t succeed try, try, and try again.” An addendum to this quote, that some attribute to W.C. Fields, suggests, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try—and then quit! No use being a fool about it.” A quote by the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock and published in 1917, suggests that, “If you can’t do a thing, more or less, the first time you try, you will never do it. Try something else while there is yet time.” My addition to this quote is, “if one thing doesn’t work try another.” It seems so simple, yet how many people try to jam a square in a round hole and make fools out of themselves by screaming at the manufacturer of the tools in question. We scream with an “It ain’t me. Don’t look at me. The instructions say this should fix it.” We then throw a fiery temper tantrum that suggests we’re better than this. We just fixed something just last week with wonderful aplomb. There’s nothing different about us with this particular project. It’s the manufacturer. “That’s fine, but have you tried a way other than just jamming it home? Try another way.” We then paraphrase Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is trying one thing one way, over and over, and expecting different results.”

When running down the street be mindful of your feet. Studies show that the chances of tripping increase exponentially when we run. Been there, done that. Experience has also led me to offer another quick warning to my loved ones: Watch out for the ground, it hurts.