Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Most Important Government Job

The most important job in the U.S. government now: Secret Service.

And I do not mean the counterfeiting guys. Though I realize they are busy too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cracking Happiness

I recall someone once drawing an analogy between writing a paper for a grade and cracking a combination lock. It's apt for so many quests: money, affection, understanding, music, health, goodwill. Perhaps happiness itself. I turn a lot of knobs. I hear a lot of clicks. Being close feels about the same as being far — qualitatively separate from being there. Winning buys a little time, and rehearses for the next gig. Among my cringe-worthy idioms is "having a life" but I guess it conjures the set of knobs I am currently working. Some pithy wisecrack belongs here to distinguish this from pathetic whining, but I'm still working that knob too. I'll let you know when something clicks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


(Below is a respectful and good-natured reply to a [slightly rearranged and numbered] post by John F. Wear on the Marine Open Discussion Forum on, originally written by Tom W., and first forwarded to me from my strong-willed-yet-oh-so-feminine, gorgeous, mouthy, Republican sister Penny, whom I've madly adored since I was two and a half. She is affectionately known as the white sheep of our family, for some reason. The following are excerpts of John's post, and my replies.)

Before you dismiss the fact that Sarah Palin is Governor of Alaska, consider this: 1. Alaska is the first line of defense in our missile interceptor defense system, that protects the entire nation from ballistic missile attacks.
Really? We can "intercept" and "protect" the nation from ballistic missile attacks?? Are those just fancy terms for watching and yelling?
2. The Alaska National Guard is on permanent active duty, unlike other Guard units. As governor of Alaska, Palin is commander of The 49th Missile Defense Battalion of the Alaska National Guard. She is briefed on highly classified military issues, homeland security, and counterterrorism. Her exposure to classified material may rival even Biden's and certainly by far exceeds Obama's.
Have the The 49th Missile Defense Battalion of the Alaska National Guard been terribly busy lately? How about ever?
3. Palin is privy to military and intelligence secrets that are vital to the entire country's defense. Given Alaska's proximity to Russia, she may have security clearances we don't even know about.
Oh, so it's a ground issue as well, you know, a Bering Land Bridge thing? Do analysts assert that 12,000 years since anyone tried invading that way is no excuse for a lapse of vigilance?
4. She's also the commander in chief of the Alaska State Defense Force (ASDF), a federally recognized militia incorporated into Homeland Security's counterterrorism plans.
Isn't it true that 93% of the actual work of the Alaska State Defense Force has been to field complaints from irate online merchants about suspicious accounts purporting to be from asdfasdfasdfasdfasdf?
5. According to the Washington Post, she first met with McCain in February, but nobody ever found out. This is a woman used to keeping secrets. She can be entrusted with our national security, because she already is.
Isn't watching the arctic skies for incoming ballistic missiles already about the most harmless conceivable federal job? It's really not much basis for the least.
: : :

(Elder sister speaks: “Love clouds your vision, little brother. The only part you have correct is strong-willed and mouthy. In real life I'm just a 61 year old disillusioned conservative Democrat that thinks the selection of candidates is so poor it's more like voting for which of your knees you want to receive a bullet. I'm not the white sheep - I'm the sheep with the more ordinary life. I don't know about the madly adoring part, but you have my love and admiration for life. You're way too sweet always. p”)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bluffing The Time Ninja

My new time management trick: pretend I'm already an expert at choosing what to do. That I always know the optimum way to spend time; and I'm always doing exactly that until inventing the next optimal task. I appreciate the positive-feedback, self-reinforcing-illusion loop:

  1. The better I do it, the more I believe in it.
  2. The more I believe it, the better I do at it.
Even while playing some bit role, of a sucker doing something I couldn't argue my way out of fast enough, I tell myself "The Ninja Knows" and pretend it's what I decided to do. Gullibility is a boon sometimes. Another example, the ninja says writing this blog entry will invest more ownership in the tactic. Rationalizations, party of two or more, your circular table is ready.

This is now the leading candidate for displacing the time management strategy I've been using for decades:

  1. Berate myself for wasting time until I work harder (at something blameless)
  2. Blame others for distractions and for not helping, or for helping poorly, at least until they leave me alone (this works eventually)
  3. Avoid and agonize over unfun undones, then do them with inner melodrama, then seek sympathies and distractions as if deserving them
The best part of bluffing the time ninja is I no longer have use for stress or resentment. I'm actually kinda serious, I've been practicing this for about forty-eight hours now, and it is actually kinda working. Use your inner ninja.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Questions That Time Out

Question Timeout Default Answer
Do you want coffee this morning? 12 sec Yes
Anybody here? 10 sec No
Hey, how about we watch *this* movie? 7 sec No
(in a horror movie) Honey are you all right? 6 sec No, I'm dead
Need help with that? 5 sec Yes
Do you want the last piece of pie? 4.5 sec Yes
Are you going to eat that? 4.2 sec Yes, or No but I'm disgusted you want to eat after me, but by letting you know that I'm vaguely insulting myself
(after being struck by a car) Are you ok? 4 sec No
(from mother) Is there a new girl / boy in your life? 3.9 sec Yes but you would not approve of her / him, or No but I'm afraid you'll help, or Maybe except how to tell you it's a boy / girl
So, did you like my casserole? 3.8 sec No
(from mother) Are you happy in your life? 3.6 sec No but if I let you know I'll never get off the ph... Darn it.
Who farted?!? 3.5 sec Me
Are you choking? 3.2 sec Yes
You didn't eat the last piece of pie did you? 3.1 sec Yes
I didn't offend you, did I? 3 sec Yes
Do you like my new dress / haircut / nose job? 2.8 sec No
Do you love me? 2.5 sec No
Are you happy I'm pregnant? 2.2 sec No
Are you having an affair? 0.64 sec Yes
(implicit with all unconcluded email exchanges) Do you still like me, or foresee any advantage at all to association with me? 72 hours, or 3 times median response time No*
* or Yes, I'm still composing an eloquent, original, charming way to get it across
or No, I'm still composing a face-saving way to avoid saying so
or Yes, but not enough to notice your last email had a question in it
or No, and I can't believe you haven't picked up on it yet
or Maybe, but something more interesting is happening in my life
or Don't know either, but other neglected emails have scrolled yours out of view

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Double Irony

Making fun of people who ridicule is at least intellectually dangerous. If you care about being mistaken for the wrong team, that is.

PunditMom raises some interesting questions about the, shall we say conversation-stimulating new cover of the New Yorker. (I call it a double-irony because it makes you ask, 1, are they making fun of the Obamas, Muslims, or Black Panthers? Or, 2, of the people who infer an association?) Mocking the number one team is highly fashionable. The interesting observation PunditMom makes is that it's not only unfashionable to mock the number two or three team, but those who do are passionately censured. It's unfashionable *not* to censure said mockers.

Ethnically mixed societies at uneasy peace are nothing new of course. And so there must also be a long precedent to the effect PunditMom illuminates. Some sound reason for the rigid byzantine rules of political correctness. Here's a try at answering her question. Once ethnic groups begin commercial integration, insulting the disadvantaged groups must be stifled. Otherwise you got your insurrection. So when someone says "whatever you do, don't disrespect Muslims" they may be channeling subconscious instincts "don't encourage Muslim revolt". Think it's sincere? The best way to appear sincere is to believe it yourself. Just notice how rarely westerners get passionate about anything else Muslim. But hey, I'm really very content with selfishness doing more good than evil.

Back to the complexities of double-irony. After Obama is elected, I look forward to the doubly-ironic political cartoon (here and now I predict it) where U.S. Christians parade Obama as a conspicuous human shield on display for the benefit of the Muslim world, wearing a sandwich board "Lookit his name, will you? Now PLEASE don't hurt us!" I think it might be the shrewdest ever phantom campaign platform. Not for duping Muslims, but Christian voters.

Speaking of double-irony, reminds me of Nellie McCay. Is she mocking feminists? Or feminist bashers? Probably the latter, but I revel in not being sure. I adore ambiguous people because I think the rest are just up to something that will ultimately confuse me more.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Things I like whether they cause cancer or not

Inspired by Gwen:
  • breathing
  • focused conversation when at least one party tries to understand more
  • Matryoshka dolls nest, one inside another, etc...failing to find the end of a conversation for good reasons, e.g.
    • spawning new converations
    • matryoshka-doll-like complexity
  • music and other art soul-to-soul
  • how big my home planet is
  • brevity
  • clarity
  • accuracy
  • trying for all three no matter how impossible
  • five senses
  • ten fingers
  • two hands
  • the company of children
  • the company of women
  • I like my coffee:
    • strong and creamy
    • great smelling
    • savored patiently
    • at time very hot, at times very chilled
    • the option to bottle for later
  • making a person laugh
  • making a person think
  • making a woman come
  • the universe's patience
  • discovering new delusions
  • irony
  • meditation
  • building
  • figuring things out
  • inventing memes
  • Arrowhead Mills brand tahini doesn't turn to concrete on the shelftahini
  • rivers
  • mountain tops
  • hard physical labor, followed by
  • hot shower, followed by
  • healthy food, followed by
  • movie that changes, followed by
  • verbal analysis, followed by
  • cuddling, snuggling, kissing, etc., followed by
  • nap
  • silence
  • solitude
  • cosmology
  • blue skies with cool air with white sunshine
  • hot water
  • cold air
  • any change in weather
  • first light
  • thwarting waste, decay, misunderstanding, filchery
  • useful originality
  • smiles
  • brushing her clean, healthy, dry hair
  • skin
  • eye contact
  • patience
  • persistence
  • birdfeeders
  • uncluttered, light, airy workspace
  • starting something
  • finishing something
  • purpose
  • inspiring people

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Russian Roulette Fallacy

You cannot judge the wisdom of a decision using information unavailable at the time the choice was made. Winning (surviving) a round of Russian Roulette doesn't mean you weren't a moron for playing.

I first thought of this after a trade show in Chicago. The boss ordered everyone to stay and help pack the booth. A bunch of us had earlier flights and were itching to get to the airport. We mutinied. On the cab ride I hoped for heavy traffic, so we could be "right". It would have been harder to condemn our rebellion if we'd gotten to the airport just in time, hustling to catch our flights. Versus hours sitting at the gate, that would have been shameful. But these inconveniences had no bearing on whether it was a wise choice to leave when we did. We had no reliable way to know the traffic or airport conditions before we became part of them.

Finding weapons of mass destruction had no bearing on whether invading Iraq was a good idea. A motivated government, unfettered by scruples, will always find clever ways to thwart scientifically rigorous, politically correct weapons inspectors. Getting away with it would have been global Russian Roulette. Five rounds with no bad result (spinning the chamber each time) are exactly as dumb as a sixth that backfires. Five nations evading weapons inspection for no good reason may appear quite similar to the one with a great big, nasty reason. There's no reliable way to know even today who else would be arming if Saddam were still in power.

On the other hand, one white-hat affable Texan is not a smart way to police the globe. It's only a matter of time before someone perfidious and creative gets the role and does some real damage. The important question is how can we earthlings invent a body we can trust with enough power to makeover a country's governance when that is a wise decision. We're going to have those — a person or group with that much power, and a time and place that needs that call — some way or another. The question that matters is how we will choose that decider and that enforcer.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On News

All news tends to distort, and intimate news distorts perversely. Great storytellers are almost always liars.

(with apologies to Lord Acton, who said “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men...”)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Strictly Optional Customer Service

(From an ongoing discussion with a particularly shrewd customer, I've devised a new customer preference question, to keep pace with this modern, networked, customer-righteous age.)

How would you like your customer service?

  • Humorous
    • Irony
    • Camp
  • Stuffy
    • Use "Sir" or "Ma'am" every sentence
    • Use a lot of big vague words
    • Ask lots of questions
  • Obsequious
  • Obtuse
  • Chatty
  • Bored Indifferent
  • Bipolar
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Abusive
      No profanity Mild profanity Sailor Blush
  • Baby Talk
  • Animal Noises
      Farm Tropical Rainforest Cartoon
  • Ebonics
      Northern Urban Southern Rural Faked by Suburban White Boys
  • Incomprehensible
      Native English Logorrhoea Heavily Accented English Unfamiliar Language Made-Up Language
  • Loving
      Motherly Avuncular Creepy
  • Sultry
      Female Male Gay Male Butch Dyke Indeterminate Gender
  • Sassy
      Flo from "Alice" Louie from "Taxi" Lucy The Slut from "Avenue Q"

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Bet

Always a surprise. Losing this bet with myself is a boon I understand little and appreciate less. Setting: a tough problem lingers and bleeds away my righteous flow. Frustrated, I eventually remember The Bet, always with great skepticism. I never feel confident I can solve a nagging issue taking a walk or a shower or a dump. So I bet myself I can't, and then lose.

A software bug, or a thing I gotta write, or a person I gotta deal with. I scoff. Keep grinding away. I'm such a pit-bull persistoid, letting go for extended distraction feels unwholesome. But it works often enough to require some practice and some twenty-cent shifts. I wonder whether it's better to play it out cynical or confident. I'm leery of jinxing either way, so my standard attitude is cautious ambivalence. Maybe that's optimal. I do think it helps to soak in the matter to the point of frustration first.

It keeps working. A lot. I'm sure I've blocked memory of failure, but I really can't remember not coming away with a solution. Am I being clear? I have a difficult problem. I do something else for a while, convinced I won't think of a solution during that time. Bet myself I won't. And then I nail the solution. Bet lost, I feel like a winner.

Lately I've been working on a new round of online ads. (I make cheatsheets for web designers, condensed collections of arcana to jog memory when composing in the languages of web sites. If you've ever tried to remember some obscure technical fact you once knew, that's what a cheatsheet helps with. And that's why the theme of "memory" is in all my (successful) ads.) I like showing off with double-entendres. For example in one ad I use "Be more than just a memory." Meaning 1: cheatsheets augment your rote memory. Meaning 2: surpass has-been status. Out of several dozen slogans I took the half dozen that performed best and added a third slogan in fine print, and tweaked its visual attention-getting powers. (I wish I could remember who first called that "chimp-attract" but I love the term. It belongs somewhere between wiktionary and urban dictionary.)

I had a nice set of new ads done and checked the stats one more time. I had somehow overlooked my raciest ad. Anti-Freudian-slip? The text version was rejected by Google out-of-hand, but I have so far gotten away with it inside a Flash animation. I didn't think it was performing well, but over time it proved to generate the most bang for the buck of all the ads. (Puns intended. You'll see.) Here was the two-slogan version:

1. Not what it used to be?
VisiBone cheatsheets (logo)
2. Viagra for your memory.

Now of course I wanted some solid product hawking, plus a trace of shameless attention-grabbing innuendo. But even more (here's where the high vanity kicks in) I wanted some kind of sublime message. Something noble and inspiring. Tall order, eh. (Get it?)

I have this lofty, snooty theory: The only real commerce is turning one's own ideas into something useful for many. It is the connection so forged, however tenuous, with those many. All else is fake or practice. If you hate your job I look at you as a pimply teenager in the dark with smut. Ok, you might learn something that'll please your true love someday, but mostly you're wasting your time. Even worse is when you confuse pathetic habits with being pathetic, as in doing a half-assed job for people you can only half stand. So I care about my customers for three big reasons. They sustain my avoidance of a real job. They slake my ego with fan mail. And most of all for this discussion they keep me smug on my high horse point about forging ideas into usables.

So I care about people using what I make because I'm vainglorious, in a tastefully understated way. (Don't you think?) I wanted the third slogan to shout out to all my hardworking customers, something to encourage and inspire and light their rockets. Whenever I try to write along these lines the first attempts feel corny or patronizing. Yuck. I was stuck on this one ad for days. The others flowed, but this one stalled and galled. Until I remembered The Bet: I bet myself I could not think of a good third slogan while taking a shower.

Once in a while I get an idea that makes sense and works. Like all the most precious quests, the best aim is indirect. All comedy deserves at least a little credit for the risk of appearing stupid, as this may seem to me in a few days, or to you right now. But the shower epiphany felt pretty good. (No, that one was not innuendo.)

Here's the three-slogan version:

1. Not what it used to be? VisiBone cheatsheets (logo) 2. Viagra for your memory. 3. Make room to remember your finest hour. Cause it's coming.

(GIF) (SWF animation)

The last line used to start with "Make it bigger." I hated taking that out, but it really was over the top. Not just dangerous for Google-censure, but so much worse, dangerous for prospect-censure as stoopid. (But you do see the pun I left in there, right?)

So here's my theory why The Bet works, that is, why I keep losing it: Distracting my overbearing left brain (verbal, persistent, obtuse) allows my timid right brain (visual, intuitive, flakey) to wander free and work her magic. No matter how long I keep her chained in her tiny cage, she still flies and she still smiles on me from time to time.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Funny how mindless (e.g. conformity) means you don't think, thoughtful (e.g. gift) means you care, careless (e.g. email attachment) means you need to resend, and resentful means you very much do mind.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Why there are no good pick-up lines

There are no good pick-up lines. There are just good people you got to know suddenly. You only call them "pick-up" lines when they don't. Just like you only call it advertising when it's poorly targeted. When 100% targeted you call it stuff I need.

When you call it anger it's useless and needs to stop. Otherwise it's called an emergency, or an emergent cause célèbre.

You don't call whining and complaining what you know how to satisfy with worthy effort.

You call it planning when you don't know what to do.

You only call it stress when you're disappointed in yourself.

"Confusion is the beginning of all things but not their end." —Gibran
You put on a to-do list what you want permission to put off.

You call it work after obligation has outpaced opportunity. While conniving and obsessing and goofing off, you leave it for other people to make up words for whatever the heck it is they think you're doing.

You only name a struggle what you're preparing excuses to lose.

You don't call alive what's finished. Life is a mess. You only call gross what is or once was living. (So you should only clean up your space on those days in which you're absolutely sure you're alive. Thus closes the loophole for slobs.)

Intimacy is a memory, or an observation, or a wish, for a wordless, timeless non-place. A faraway dream of nearness.

There's only sorrow and regret for what's almost hopeless. The NTSB never cites gravity.

You call future what you hope holds your finest now. You call past what you hope doesn't.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fast,True, Easy — Pick Two

All questions include an implicit contract. If the contract were explicit, the questioner would choose what kind of answer they wanted:
  1. brief
  2. complete
  3. comprehensible
Pick two.

For example the question "How are you?" may be answered:

  • brief, comprehensible: "Fine."
  • brief, complete: (some obscure, technical, psychological term that may not have been invented yet)
  • complete, comprehensible: (what happened so far today, and the day before, a dozen or so of your recent thoughts, your life history, your most annoying habits, your best powers concealed as charming traits, your heart rate, blood sugar and bank balances)
Define yourself by what you choose. You'll be defined by what you forgo.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Courtesy Terrorism

I don't feel ready to present this concept well, but I've thought about it for years and need to get something down, something started. This story of garbage etiquette inspired me. The idea is: wise strategic acts to reform strangers. You may find this subject petty, and it is. It's about increasing the ambient respect in our world by minuscule bits.

Foremost, I must point out how rampant courtesy really is. That was not a typo. Humans are phenomenally courteous creatures. Take just one example. Imagine a noisy tin box underground packed with any nonhuman mammal. Even if there were no violence, there'd be jostling galore. Now ride the subway in any major city (well maybe not Asian cities) and marvel at the many people who go in and out of them day after day and never even touch each other! But it goes way beyond that of course. Lines (queues) are so often respected that everyone notices when they're breached. It maybe be fashionable to decry the decay of courtesy, but any scientific look at the situation has got to acknowledge the refined rarefied heights of human manners. It's a whole another subject how courteous we really are, and how we got that way, but this is a tactical topic about making it even better, a tiny bit at a time.

Here's an example of bad Courtesy Terrorism. The driver behind you is tailgating. You tap the brakes just enough to flash the brake lights. When that doesn't work (and I don't confess yet to having ever done this) comes the tapping of the brakes enough to cause sudden slowdown, shocking the tailgater into backing off. Now this has a few qualities of good Courtesy Terrorism. It's a tiny dose of fear the perp will store in his lizard memory, at least making him more alert even if he doesn't tailgate less. But it is bad Courtesy Terrorism for one important reason: punishing the messenger. An accident is so costly in so many ways that the slightest increase in the risk of one has real negative value. Courtesy Terrorists should never suffer more than their victims. I believe this makes Courtesy Terrorism out of reach when motor vehicles are operating.

Now an example of good Courtesy Terrorism. In this case the motor vehicles were parked and idle. The setting, a bank drive-through in South Florida a few years ago. The lady in front of me parked in front of the teller window in her wide-ass buick, lobbed a smoking cigarette butt out her window and began filling out her deposit slip. Where do I start, right? Somehow I got the idea and the gumption in time to act. I got out, walked between her car and the bank, stood next to her open window and made a show of grinding out the butt with my shoe. Not too dramatic or threatening, but a kind of cartoonish exaggeration to my stamping and swiveling. She turned her blank WTF gaze my way. I smiled, wide and genuine (I was feeling good and smug) said nothing and walked back to my car.

This I suggest was a particularly clever Courtesy Terrorist Act. It had all the right ingredients. There was essentially zero incremental risk of injury or criminal or civil penalties to me or my victim. More important I think it may have actually done some lasting good. By invading her extended personal space in such an uncommon way I am sure she will remember it. The next hundred times she tosses her sot-weed stub out her car window she will be looking in the rear view mirror.

Friday, May 30, 2008

On Will

I keep thinking how much work, or family life, or any attempt to impose will on the world, is like those guys who demolish buildings by setting charges at strategic places and timings. Except you get to ride the thing down in slow(er) motion. I've probably said this before. As orbit is a perpetuated fall, civilization is a perpetuated crash. Strong determination may influence the outcome, but it definitely makes it more painful. I guess I'm nonetheless addicted to those flashing glimpses of a change in ways I approve.

On Genuine

Tiny, shiny needles of genuine
inlay great, gray haystacks of fake.

On Praise and Condemnation

For a mind ignited and roaring with purpose
neither praise nor condemnation is useless.
The former soothes the winded face in fore.
The latter whitens the thrust in rear
with visions of surprised eyes in wake.