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. 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. 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 that depict lions as evil. 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 this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us, and they know how much their arrival 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 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.

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.

 

Yesterday I Learned … IV


Yesterday, I learned that taste is so relative that it must be impossible to make any money trying to appeal to it. “If you want to write a best seller,” experts say, “read through some books already on the list. If you want to make a living at this game, you need to know the trends.” The word flavor should have a capitalized ‘f’ attached to it in this article, for it focuses on the wide spectrum of taste. Food and drink have a flavor of course, but so do music, literature, and all of the arts in the sense that some of it creates the same but different tingles in the brain.

Today, I watched a gorilla at the zoo have what appeared to be a brain-tingling moment when he removed some dung from the anus of another gorilla. I might be assigning human emotions to the gorilla when I write this, but soon after eating the concoction, the gorilla closed his eyes. I thought he was taking a moment out of his day to savor whatever that other gorilla ate and whatever flavor that other gorilla’s digestive system added to it. The elongated, almost spiritual closing of the eyes might have been a coincidence, but I thought the gorilla enjoyed the concoction so much that he wanted to savor this moment before going back to the dispenser. There was a full tray of food awaiting the gorilla, in the southeast corner of his enclosure, but he preferred going to the dispenser before him. Watching that gorilla go back for more, I realized that individual tastes are so relative to the flavors we create that it’s pointless to try to fashion our work in such a way that it pleases everyone. We can only create whatever it is we create from our own dispensaries and hope that others enjoy it for what it is.  

Yesterday, I realized those gorillas defined for me one of the most unusual and successful pairings in music history: Ben Folds and William Shatner. I enjoy the music of Ben Folds, and I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, but there is some element inherent in his music that keeps it from being listed in that “my music” category for which all artists pine. If I informed Folds how frustrated I am, that he comes so close to reaching me, I’m sure he wouldn’t care. Not only would he not care, he shouldn’t care. He should probably say that’s on you. I can only do what I do. I can’t worry about offending you, or pleasing you. I can only do what I do. If it pleases enough people that I can make a living at this game, that’s great, but I’m not going to change what I do to please you or Betty Beatle from Idaho.  

Similarly, William Shatner is not one of “my guys” either, but he’s always around. He’s the green bean casserole of the entertainment world. I doubt anyone who hasn’t tried green bean casserole looks at it and thinks, “Yum!” but it’s at so many family get togethers and potluck dinners that we eventually “what the hell” it, until we discover it’s not so bad. As long as we don’t overdo it, repetition can lead to a level of fondness for it, until we look forward to the next get together or potluck dinner that has a tray of it.

When Folds and Shatner teamed up on an album called Has Been, however, it also reminded me of one of my favorite concoctions: granola and yogurt. On its own, banana flavored yogurt is too sweet, and while cranberry granola product is tasty, I wouldn’t purchase it as a standalone. When I put the two together, however, I enjoy it so much that I’ve considered submitting it to the overlords as my reward for living a decent, moral life. When I pass on, I want to meet my long-deceased relatives of course, and I wouldn’t mind it if someone wanted to play me a Brahams Sonata on the harp, but if they’re wondering how best to reward for a life well lived, might I suggest that the floors and walls of my reward taste like the banana-flavored yogurt and cranberry granola concoction I created.

When we eat concoctions like these, we spoon too much of one flavor most of the times. Some of the times, we spoon too much yogurt, and some of the times, we spoon too much granola, but there are occasions, at least once a container, when we hit a Goldilocks spoonful. The album Has Been is the Goldilocks concoction of music for me, and when I listen to it, I close my eyes to savor the moment. I’ve listened to that album so often that I’ve tried listening to other concoctions, but they rarely hit the mark in the same manner. On their own, Shatner and Folds created interesting, quality material that doesn’t quite hit that brilliant, Holy Crud! mark, but together they created a quality, Goldilocks moment. I would think that such moments are so fleeting them that they would want to dispense another collaboration, but perhaps they don’t think they can create another Goldilocks moment, or perhaps they don’t want to overdo it.  

Yesterday, I thought I had a universal sense of humor. Today, I realized that most appreciation for humor is conditional and polite. If our audience is predisposed to find us disagreeable, they will not laugh at anything we say. Humor and laughter also involves a certain quid pro quo agreement that calls for us to laugh at their attempts at humor. If we fail to live up to our end of the agreement, they will not even laugh politely at our attempts to be humorous. Toddlers and other kids are not a part of this agreement. Kids are the very definition of honesty, and they have no agendas, especially the ones we’ve never met. If we’re behind one in our local Wal-Mart, we might try out our best “baby laugh” material to see what kind of reaction we receive. They will turn away at some point, but if nothing else distracts them, we’ll get a second glance followed by a reaction. If we don’t get a second look, or a subsequent reaction, we can go ahead and assume that we’re probably are not as funny, or as charismatic as the polite and conditional reactions led us to believe.

Yesterday, I thought people people were so unusual. “I’m just a people person,” they might say when we ask them why they enter a business enterprise just to chat with some of the employees. “I don’t know why, I just like being around a lot of people.” Today, I found the term people person an unusual, accepted description healthy men, and women, use to describe themselves. We all enjoy speaking with other people, we do it all day, but some people go out of their way for some quality conversation. 

When I was much younger, I hung around my friend’s liquor store, and I worked in restaurants, and hotels. I saw a wide array of people people who walk into an establishment and just start talking to whomever would speak with them. These people “stick around” for a chat that can last hours. They even endure long lulls, hoping that some provocative conversation will weave its way through it all. They just stand there silently, trying to think up something interesting to say. My first thought was that these conversations sprang up in a more organic manner, until my friend said:

“Nope! He stops in here, every other day, and talks my ear off about the most inane stuff.”

Some men would walk into the restaurant where I worked, alone, and ask for a table in their favorite waitress’ station. Most of them didn’t have a newspaper or anything to busy themselves while they waited for her to chat with them. They usually entered after the breakfast rush and before the lunch crowd, so the waitress would have a couple of minutes to chat.

“Why do you stop and chat with these guys who seem to be a little creepy,” I asked one of the waitresses.

“You can tell he doesn’t have anyone,” she said, “and he’s harmless … trust me. Plus, he adds a couple bucks to the tip when I take the time to chat with him.”

I thought they were wrong. I thought they underestimated these guys. I didn’t want anything to happen to them. They were my friends. I was wrong. I over-estimated these guys. They were, in fact, harmless, insofar as nothing ever happened in my time there. These men weren’t just alone in life, they were lonely, and they had holes in their soul. Some of them were old, but most of them were men in their prime who would get dressed up, perhaps sprinkle on a little cologne, and get regular, fashionable haircuts for the purpose of fostering the belief that they might have a chance to spend some quality time, between the breakfast crowd and the lunch crowd, to speak to young, attractive girls.

If the traveling businessmen who frequented our hotel were lucky enough to time their entrance into our hotel, so that one of the cute, young women on staff checked them in, they would remain at the front desk long after their check in was complete. They just wanted to chat with some young women, and hopefully make them laugh a couple times. I intervened in these conversations multiple times, but they made it clear they had no interest in speaking to me. They weren’t rude, but I was obviously not the purpose of their chats.

“So how you doing?” they would ask these women with all of the urgency removed from their voice. They, too, were harmless individuals who just wanted someone to speak with young women. Most of them didn’t want to date these girls, or see them in varying stages of undress. They just wanted to chat. They wanted these girls to think they were people people. They were so alone that they just wanted a couple of minutes of that girl’s time to break up the quiet, tedious monotony of their lives, and have just one attractive, young female on God’s green earth say:

“Hank Schwertley, how are you doing? How’s that God forsaken Cutlass Supreme holding up for you?”

Business needs often ended these conversations abruptly, and when they interrupted the conversations, I could see the beaming smiles on the customers’ faces collapse. Their face went back into the more customary expression of fatigue, sadness, and loneliness that the muscles in their face were used to supporting.

The customers at the hotels and restaurants appeared to be normal men, with normal and pleasant dispositions, and it seemed impossible to me that they couldn’t get some woman to pay consistent enough attention to fill that gap they needed filling.

“You want to be a traveling salesman?” one of these men, a traveling salesman who stayed at our hotel so often I knew his whole life story said when I expressed some polite, conversational interest in his profession. “The first thing you’ll need to do is forget about ever having a family,” he said. When I asked why, he added that, “It would be unfair to any woman, much less the children you produce, to be on the road about 200 hundred days a year.” My shock was obvious in his expression, as he sought to lessen the blow, but he could not redefine the impact of his statement. Prior to his cautionary description, I considered this man a successful, self-defined man. After it, I saw how lonely he was. From that point forward, I realized he was a second fiddle. I finally saw him as the Stan Laurel, Bud Abbot character he was, who bounced off the more charismatic centerpiece of the conversation. Even in the polite, time-filling conversations we had with him at the front desk of the hotel, this man was always a second fiddle.

When we have such conversations with the people who orbit our lives, they remind us how fortunate we are to have people who enjoy being around us. I’ve felt lonely before, but I’ve never felt so alone that I went into an establishment just to speak to someone for five minutes.

Who are these people, and what do they do in life to gain some separation from the lives they selected. They want moments in life to help them make it to Thursday, and they want to find someone to notice them long enough to achieve some level of companionship, even if it’s only for five minutes. My experience in the service industry also taught me that they are a lot more common than most people think.

Yesterday, I Learned … III


Yesterday, I thought carnivores in the wild were mean bad guys. The cartoons we watched when we were young depicted lions, sharks, alligators, and bears with such jagged teeth and menacing growls that we all thought they were the bad guys of the wild. As we often do, we confused being scary with being mean or bad. Today I learned that they’re not mean, or bad, they’re just hungry, and like all other animals, they eat when they’re hungry. What they do to their prey, when they eat, might appear scary, but they’re not mean or evil in the manner we define such terms. Regardless what it does to their reputation as a wonderful, beautiful animal, wolves enjoys eating fluffy bunny wabbits. Today I learned that they don’t select their prey based on who’s naughty and nice.

Yesterday I learned that even if the animals at the top of the food chain are not the meanies we thought they were when we were kids, we should still consider doing everything we can to avoid one in the wild. After watching videos that contain animals biting humans, nature lovers qualify it by saying, “We are not on their diet.” The nature lovers then provide a number of theories regarding how these particular incidents often involve nothing more than a case of mistaken identity. These theories are true, of course, as most animals in the wild or in the ocean have never witnessed a human, and self-preservation is more important to animals than eating in most cases. Most of the time, most animals will pass on anything unfamiliar if they think they could get hurt in the process. Some of the times, they’re so hungry that they’re willing to eat anything that moves, especially if it moves slower than other prey.

Most animals don’t know what a human is, and that’s why they fear us, but we are also a point of curiosity for them too. Thus, when they see us walking around in their domain, or floating on the surface, they’re curious, and that curiosity is almost exclusive to considering whether they should consider adding us to their diet. Yet, seeing, hearing, and smelling something unfamiliar might not be enough to satisfy their curiosity, and they obviously cannot communicate with us, so their last resort is to try tasting us to try to figure out what we are to see if they might want to start adding us to their diet.

The nature lovers further their argument by opening up the belly of a bull shark. “When we open up the belly of a bull shark, we find everything from license plates to cans of paint to packs of cigarettes. They’ll eat anything they see floating on the surface of the water, even if it is a human on a surfboard.” Translation: They do not intend to devour us. They’re just curious. They just want to taste us to see what we are. I see them working here. I know they’re trying to relieve our fears about sharks, and in turn preserve the shark population, and I know wild animals are not bad or mean in the context humans define the terms, but it does not comfort me to know that all they want to do is taste me. If I happen upon one of these carnivorous beasts, and it’s clear that all they want to do is taste me, I’m still going to do whatever I can to get away. If that fails, I’m probably going to shoot it, because I have to imagine that even though they’re just tasting me, it’s still going to hurt like the dickens.

Yesterday I learned that I’m an old fogey. I don’t use hip, chic, or en vogue terms when I’m excited. My vocabulary consists of phrases I’ve said my whole life, and I’m old now, so some of my terms are outdated. Today, I tried using what others consider modern terminology, and I decided I don’t mind being an old fogey.    

Yesterday I learned that conventional wisdom plus uniformity equals conformity.

Yesterday I learned that the basis for our confusion with most people is a result of assigning our thoughts and thought patterns to them. It’s a little easier to spot when we do it to animals and kids, but some of the times, we accidentally do it to adults. Our world is all about our viewpoints and patterns, whether we care to admit it or not. Everyone we know thinks the same way we do, and they act the way we act. When others follow the first two steps of our process, we’re confused when they take a different third step. Today, I realized that to understand other people we need to remove ourselves from the equation. By doing so, we might minimize our confusion by learning how, and why, others think the way they do. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but it’s not that complicated either.

Yesterday, I learned to judge not lest ye be judged, and that we should be careful not to judge others until we put ourselves in their shoes. In other words, try to think as others might in a given situation. The problem with ridding our lives of all judgment is that we’re defining and redefining our own sense of morality on a perpetual basis. If we were in the same situation as the subject of the story, would we act in the same immoral way? Nobody wants to have another accuse them of being a hypocrite, but we have to learn from our errors and the errors of others. If we absolve others of immoral acts, is it our goal to receive the same absolution from them? Lady luck plays a role for some of us, as we’ve been able to avoid humiliation and tragedy. Perhaps we should amend the line and say, “We should use the lessons others learn to enhance our own life, but we should not judge them too harshly when they choose a different path, or end up on a different one due to circumstances they either can’t control or have trouble doing so.”

Yesterday, I learned that a huge corporation paid very little in taxes. Today, I learned that we should all be upset about this. Why do we care what anyone else, corporation or otherwise, pays in taxes? Why do we care what another person pays at a restaurant, in a drug store, or at a casino? It’s none of our business. If this corporation did something illegal, the IRS and the market will punish them, but if that doesn’t occur, the matter should be between the taxpayer and the IRS. Most of the critics qualify their disgust with, “I’m not suggesting that the corporation did anything illegal, but c’mon.” Unless we’re shareholders, or prospective shareholders, we shouldn’t care how much the corporation is worth, what kind of profits they make, or how much they pay in taxes. Nobody is saying that corporations shouldn’t report their tax returns, or that the media shouldn’t publish those records, but the general sense of outrage seems misguided. Rather than focus our outrage on the percentage of taxes a corporation pays, we should redirect the focus of our outrage on the percentage of our taxes that the federal government wastes, in fraud and abuse.

The inference critics make is that either the corporation cheated in some way, or the IRS turns a blind eye when it has the taxes of Big Corporations before them. Anyone who knows anything about the public sector versus private sector mentality knows that public sector lawyers and accountants pine for the day when they can beat a team of private sector tax lawyers and accountants at the game. The corporation’s accountants and lawyers also know that any attempt they make to cheat or defraud the government will form the lede of every news outlet and do great damage to the reputation of the corporation. Until someone can show us how anyone paying more in taxes benefits us, or the country, we should ignore these stories, because they’re none of our business. These stories are largely between the corporation and the IRS.

Yesterday I learned … II


1) Yesterday, I learned that some love to hug, and they hug so long that it starts to feel weird. We can feel the message they want to convey. We know that they want to tell us that they’re fond of us, that they miss us, and that they want to strengthen the bond we once had, but in the midst of trying to create that moment, some overdo it. ‘Why are we still doing this?’ we ask ourselves while in the embrace. ‘Is this becoming more meaningful to them, or did they lose themselves in the moment? Would it be impolite if I started patting their shoulder here to signify that this is over for me? Why are we still hugging? They didn’t fall asleep did they?’

Today, I learned that a hug is not just a hug. For a greater portion of my life, the hug was largely indigenous to the female gender. We knew males who hugged. We called them “huggers”, as in, “Watch out for that one, he’s a hugger.” At some point, a shift started to happen. Suddenly, men were hugging each other to say hello, to celebrate their favorite team’s touchdown, and to say goodbye. No one knows when this shift started, but I blame the NBA. We teenagers could distance ourselves and mock the huggers we knew, but NBA stars were the essence of cool in the late 80’s-early 90’s. When they hugged, it took an arrow out of our quiver. For these NBA players, a hug was nothing more than a physical form of saying hello. It was a step above a wave or a handshake, but to us, it was a deep and meaningful physical embrace. We didn’t have anything deep and meaningful to convey to our friends. Others did, and they appreciated the NBA influence. They took these “hello” hugs to another level.

“We’re cousins,” huggers would say. “Cousins don’t shake hands. Cousins hug. Get in here bro.” Some of them even embraced us when it hadn’t been that long since our last hug. Their hugs were so deep and meaningful that they thwarted our attempts to break free. Their hugs bordered on combative. “I think the world of you bra.” We non-emotional, non-huggers learned to adapt to the need others have to hug, but we never fully embraced it, and they could feel it. They adapted to our adaptation. “All right, I won’t hug ya’,” they would say, and they stopped, and we sighed in relief, until we were the only ones they didn’t hug. We never wanted back in, but we recognized the strange way abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.

2) Yesterday I learned that “a little after three” can mean 3:23. In what world is 3:23 a little after three? When I hear a little after three, I think 3:01-3:10. Anything after that should be a little more vague, such as “after three”. The next time block, the 3:23 time block, should list at “around three-thirty”. Today, I learned that we become more aware of time constraints and the relative definition of time blocks when a six-year-old is tugging at our sleeve.    

3) Yesterday, I learned that pop culture defines deviancy upward by defining any actions a criminal uses to evade law enforcement as those of a criminal mastermind. True crime authors characterize actions such as wiping fingerprints off door handles as brilliant. When compared to most impulsive, criminal acts, perhaps it’s worth noting when a criminal puts some thought into their criminal activity, but I’m not sure if I would call them brilliant criminal masterminds. If we take a step back from our desire to view them as brilliant, we might see that their methods are relatively mundane, based on information available to anyone with a TV and access to the internet. Today, I learned that criminals don’t want to get caught. They want to be free, and they want to be free to continue to hurt, maim, and kill as many people as they can. The Unabomber, for example, enjoyed the characterization of a secluded genius with a cause, but court documents of his trial reveal that he was “often unconcerned” with his targets. They reveal that he was meticulous about the construction of his bombs, and he went to great lengths to avoid capture, but he didn’t really care who the victim was as long as he maimed or killed someone. He basically wanted to shower in whatever rained down upon him in his elaborate fireworks show.    

4) Yesterday, I learned that criminal masterminds need a cause to justify their actions. They might not be able to justify their actions to anyone but themselves, but they do seek the satisfaction a cause provides. No self-respecting criminal mastermind would say that they did it, because they enjoy hurting, maiming, and killing people. That would diminish their value, their self-esteem, and their historic value. Today I learned that criminal psychologists say that we learn more from their initial crimes than those that follow, because impulses drive those initial crimes. If this is true, we find that most criminal masterminds are petty people who resolve internal and external, disputes in a violent manner. They also have a bloodlust, and as this bloodlust escalates the need for a cause escalates, until they slap a sticker on their actions to satisfy those questions we have about why they did it. It strikes me that everything these criminal masterminds say is window dressing to conceal their simple, primal bloodlust. They want to put a cause on it, because we want the cause. It wouldn’t be very satisfying, or entertaining, if a mass murderer, or serial killer said, “I just had some basic psychological, primal need to hear people scream.” No matter how many causes we assign to people hurting people, the simple truth is that some of us enjoy hurting people, and the rest of us enjoy reading and watching everything we can about it.

5) Yesterday, I learned that bad boys fascinate us. Some of us want to know more about them than otherwise peaceful, normal individuals who accomplish great things. On a corresponding scale, too many of us want to know about the minutiae of the Unabomber’s actions, the motivations, and the aftermath of his terror, and too few of us, by comparison, are as fascinated by the actions and motivations behind Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic output. We label them both brilliant in their own, decidedly different ways, but the Unabomber fascinates us more. Today, I learned that I’m no different. Most of the people who fascinated me in my youth had violent tendencies. Some of my friends in high school, and some of my parents’ friends had violent tendencies on a much lower scale of course, but they fascinated me. I found their ways hilarious and engaging. Is this human nature, or do some elements of our culture encourage this mindset? Most of our favorite critically acclaimed movies have something to do with some low life committing violent acts. When someone found out that I listed the simple, feel good movie Forrest Gump among my favorite movies, they asked, “Why?” with a look of disdain. When I told her that I thought it was a great story, that didn’t help my cause. When I told her all of the others I had one my list that mollified her, but she still couldn’t understand why I would list a feel good movie like Gump among them. Today, I learned that the fascination with violence is universal and cool. 

6) Yesterday, I learned that I’m no longer interested in writing about politics. Today, I realized that I am far more interested in the psychology behind why every day citizens decide to become so political that they’re willing to create a divide between those who think like them and those who don’t.

7) Yesterday, I learned that psychologists state that we have a “God spot” in our brain. Today, I realized that this spot is inherently sensitive to the belief in something, if the rational brain accepts the rationale for doing so. This view suggests that the brain needs belief in a manner similar to the stomach needing food. We seek explanations and answers to that which surround us. Some of us find our answers in God and religion and others believe answers lie in a more secular philosophy, and the politicians who align themselves with our philosophy. They seek a passionate pursuit of all things political, until it becomes their passion, because they need something to believe in.   

8) Yesterday, I learned that there were as many differing opinions about Calvin Coolidge, in his day, as there are our current presidents. Today, I realized that no one cares about the opinions opinion makers had 100 years ago, and few will care about what our current opinion makers write 100 years from now. Some of those writers passionately disagreed with some of Coolidge’s successes, and history exposed some of their ideas as foolish. The historical perspective also makes those who passionately agreed with Coolidge seem boring and redundant. Once a truth emerges, in other words, it doesn’t matter what an opinion maker thought of the legislation at the time. Most opinion writers are less concerned with whether legislation proves effective or not, and more concerned with whether their philosophical views win out. In one hundred years, few will remember if our political, philosophical, or cultural views were correct or not, and even fewer will care. Yet, some of us believe in politics, because politics gives us something to believe in.

9) Yesterday, I learned that Tim Cook is an incredible, conventional CEO of Apple. Former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, was the company’s incredible, unconventional leader, and he helped build the company from scratch. Steve Jobs was a brilliant orator, a showman, a marketer, and a great motivator of talent. If we went to an It’s a Wonderful Life timeline, in which Steve Jobs never existed, Apple wouldn’t exist. I had a 200-word list of superlatives describing Steve Jobs, but I decided to delete it, because it didn’t add any new information we know about the man and what he did. I decided to leave it at those two sentences. Better, superlative descriptions of the man, and what he did, are all over the internet. Walter Isaacson’s book might be the best of them. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created and oversaw a team of talent that created the most innovative company of our most innovative era of America, but Tim Cook has proven to be an incredible steward of that technology. If we flipped the timeline around, and Tim Cook was the first CEO, Apple wouldn’t be the innovator it is today, but I wonder if the less conventional and more mercurial measures Jobs employed would translate to the same consistent levels of growth of Apple we see today under Cook.    

10) Yesterday, I learned that Apple’s stock was ready to fall. Anyone who reads independent analyses from stock market analysts thinks that not only is the smartphone market capped out, but Apple’s position atop this industry is also nearing an end. Reading through some of the analysis of Apple’s projections for their various quarterly reports through the years, we arrive at some common themes. “There’s no way the iPhone (insert number here) can deliver on the projected sales figures Apple is promising,” they write. “Everyone who wants an iPhone already owns one, and numbers show they’re not going to upgrade. Those who don’t want an iPhone are loyal to another brand. The market is saturated, and Apple’s reign is about to end.” Today, I learned these analysts began making such predictions years after Apple began controlling the market between 2008 and 2012. Some of the times they were right, in the sense that Apple missed some quarterly projections, but most of the time they were wrong. Some think that there might be an anti-Apple bias, and there might be, but I think it’s human nature to cheer on the little guy and despise the big guy. I also think analysts/writers want us to read their articles, and the best way they’ve found to do so is to feed into our love of doom and gloom. These stories have a natural appeal to anyone who owns Apple products, Apple shareholders, and everyone else in between, because we love the prospect of the leaning tower. Apple will fall too, for what goes up must come down, particularly in the stock market, but the question of when should apply here. After it falls, one of the doomsayers will say, “I’ve been predicting this would happen for years.”

“Fair enough, but how many times did you make this prediction? How many times were you wrong? How many times did a reader act on your assessment and miss some gains? Nobody asks the doomsayer analysts these questions, because most of us don’t call doomsayers out when they’re wrong. The answer to this question was that on 2/3/2010, Apple stock closed at 28.60 a share, adjusted for dividends and stock splits, per Yahoo Finance. If one of the doomsayer analyst’s customers purchased 35 shares for a total investment of $1,001.00 that investment would be worth $11,170.60 on 2/4/2020. Anyone who invests in the stock market relies on expert analysis to know when to buy and when to sell. We consider the positive assessments and the negative, and some of the times, it takes an iron stomach to read the negative and ignore it. These negative stock analysts had all the information the others had, and yet they consistently predicted Apple would fall, because they knew a negative headline would generate a lot more hits than a positive one.

In our scenario, Apple experiences a significant fall in stock price, and the analyst finally proved prophetic. How many times were they wrong in the interim? It doesn’t matter, because a doomsayer need only be right once, for they can then become the subject of email blasts that state, “The man who correctly predicted Apple’s downfall, now predicts the fall of another behemoth.” The penalties for incorrectly predicting doom and gloom are far less severe than incorrectly predicting good times ahead. The former doesn’t cost you anything except potential gains, which most people inherently blame on themselves, regardless what anyone says. There’s the key, the nut of it all, an analyst can predict doom and gloom all day long, and no one will blame them for trying to warn us, but a positive analysis that is incorrect could cost us money.

The prospect of investing our hard-earned money in something as mercurial as the stock market is frightening. We’ve all heard tales of the various crashes that occur, and we know it will occur again. Most of us need Sherpas to guide us through this dangerous, dark, and wild terrain, and most of them are quite knowledgeable and capable. There are a few who will tell you that it’s so dangerous that you should get out now, and some might even tell us that it’s so dangerous that we shouldn’t even consider making the journey. Those with an iron stomach will tell us that we can get rich working for money, but we can get filthy, stinking rich when our money is working for us.  

ABG: Always Be Gauging


“Let me move the bike,” I said to my nephew.

“Why?” he asked, and he appeared confused, embarrassed, and insulted by the insinuation that he couldn’t do it himself.

“I know you can do it yourself,” I said. “I’d just rather do it, so if something goes wrong, I’m the only one I can blame.” His expression told me that that didn’t do it for him. “If you move that bike out of this garage, and you accidentally scratch my car, I will be irrationally and unreasonably angry with you, your parents, and myself.”

He appeared somewhat satisfied for a moment. “Wait, why would you be mad at my parents?” he asked.

“Because I’ll freak out when they drop the ‘he’s just a kid’ line,” I said.

ABG, is something I should’ve added at the time, Always Be Gauging. I should’ve said something along the lines of, “Listen, you’re young, you’re careless, and you have no respect for personal property, but you’re no different from any other kid your age.” This car is my property, I should’ve added, and it’s my job to protect it. If I fail to do so, I will place myself in a vulnerable position to the unwinnable war that will erupt soon after your parents say, “He’s only (fill in the blank with the kid’s age), and he doesn’t know any better. If it was that important to you, you should’ve moved the bike yourself.” I could’ve told him about how these lines bother me on so many levels, but the most prominent is that they’re true. I could’ve added that when mature adults get angry with kids for doing kid things, they should examine the role they should’ve played in the incident. I could’ve finished with, “When we don’t gauge consequences properly, anything that follows will haunt us, because we know that the truth is we have no one to blame but ourselves.”

Those who have put themselves in such vulnerable positions in the past know that the unwinnable war that follows will move the tectonic plates beneath the continental plates to the molten rock, until our frustrations erupt. Age and experience teach us if we want to avoid damage to our stuff, and the internecine squabbles that follow, we need to follow the Always Be Gauging principle and just move the bike ourselves.

Other than avoiding damage to our property and familial relations, another reward for proper gauging and putting ourselves in a position where we’re the only one to blame is if we broke it, we might be better able to fix it. If we’re incapable of fixing it, paying someone to fix it might lead to some feelings of humiliation, but humiliation is far better than pointlessly directing frustration at a kid who is too young to understand the consequences of his actions.

When incidents like what could’ve happened if I didn’t take control of the situation that day in my garage happen, we want to blame someone else, because it gives us relief from our feelings of stupidity to blame someone else. Even if it is just a kid, it gives us comfort to tell the auto mechanic that it wasn’t our fault. “My nephew was taking his bike out of the garage, and his handlebars scraped my car.” The auto mechanic might smile a knowing smile, as he passes the bill over the counter. He might add a sympathetic, symbolic acknowledgement of our situation. He might even add a story of his own, where his kid messed up something of his, but that will end soon as the two of you loom over the unsigned bill silently, as he awaits your signature. When it finally hits home that the auto mechanic doesn’t really care what happened, and your nephew’s parents don’t care, and no one will care about our possessions as much we do, that need to blame someone else will feel pointless. The frustration will then double back on us when the Always Be Gauging principle doubles back on us, and it dawns on us how we could’ve avoided the incident. 

Those who are able to whitewash their own acts of stupidity have an added bonus to blaming no one but themselves, for they might be able to convince themselves that no one is to blame for this.

For the rest of us who don’t want to go angry on a young kid and start a rift in friendly, family relations repeat after me, “Let me move the bike.” For those who might consider this decent advice, we offer this disclaimer: past performances are not indicative of future results.