Make Your Mark

I listened to a discussion the other day that I liked. It was centered around the thought that happiness is more closely related to acceleration than velocity. When an airplane is at cruising speed you never notice how fast you’re going. But you do notice it when you take off. It’s the relative change from low to high that we remember. On paper you may have every reason to be happy, but if every day is status quo and never changes… it’s easy to feel dissatisfied.

The moments we remember, the events that give us the feeling of happiness are those times when things are new and changing. Going on a vacation, trying a new sport or hobby, visiting a restaurant or museum you’ve never been to. If you’re not continually accelerating you may have an impressive velocity, but are you really noticing it?

Last week I had an encounter with a * patient that made me think. This gentleman was not from around these parts as the saying goes. He was from a country in a different hemisphere that very few westerners would even remotely consider visiting. When it came time to sign his discharge paperwork, he very carefully made an X.

This fellow had never had the opportunity to learn how to read or write. He did not know how to write out his own name. That brief encounter impacted me fmark2or some reason. It’s so easy to forget what a bubble we live in here in the west. Sometimes (very often) we take for granted how fortunate we are. Any why are we so fortunate? Because we won the ovarian lottery by being born here and not in this gentleman’s country. He had no options from day one. So many people in this country have every opportunity you can imagine, yet spend their time unhappy and complaining.

What do these two things have to do with each other? Nothing really. Just sitting here, marveling at how fortunate my family is and how grateful I am. Grateful that I have the ability to worry about something as trivial as daily happiness and what am I going to do to continue accelerating forward.

Today’s acceleration will definitely not include yardwork.

* HIPAA overlords, this is a hypothetical patient. Not real. Definitely did not happen. I made this up. Fictional. Please don’t report me.

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Tyler Durden:   I know who you are. I know where you live. I’m keeping your license, and I’m going to check on you, mister Raymond K. Hessel. In three months, and then six months, and then a year, and if you aren’t back in school on your way to being a veterinarian, you will be dead…

Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.

You’re A Whiny Little B*tch

Something happened the other day that perfectly illustrates what’s wrong with politics, government, and the media today. The president may or may not have said something that called into question the general favorability ratings of a few countries. Whether or not his views mirror Haiti’s TripAdvisor reviews is not my concern. What got me thinking was the sequence of events.

A group of senators had a private meeting with the president. A sitting senator left the meeting and then immediately called someone at the Washington Post and tattled that he’d heard the president say something controversial. This was done for no other reasons than to sabotage the purpose of the meeting, to personally harm the president, and to score points for your own party.

In my book this makes you a whiny little bitch. A snitch. That one annoying kid in grade school who raised their hand near the end of class and said “Mrs Smith, you forgot you were going to give us a quiz.”

This is the perfect illustration that allegiance to party and elections rule everything.  Our elected officials don’t care in the slightest bit about policy – they care about scoring points against the other party at all costs so they can raise more money and stay in office. Don’t get me wrong, this is not unique to one side of the aisle. Both parties are guilty.

What bothers me the most about all this is that the fourth estate and journalism is used to be a buffer of sorts against this. There were standards of tabloid sensationalism most true journalists wouldn’t resort to. Now the media is used daily like a weapon. Because page views and ad sales rule all, “reporters” will print anything they think will score them a few more views and a thirty second appearance on a talking head show. There must be a 1-800 number folks utilize to leak. Press 1 to leak info about the president. Press 2 to leak independent council investigations.

I don’t think it’s possible any longer for our government to implement actual thoughtful policy. How do you privately meet and discuss something when every single word uttered will show up on a CNN breaking news crawl two hours later? We’ve become a nation of political parties that are nothing more than battling social media departments, each vying for the approximately 60 seconds of attention span Americans have.

That kid that constantly reminded the teacher there was a homework assignment due? Nobody liked that kid. Now we elect them to public office.

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Charlotte: I’m going to tell mom on you.

Pete:  Try it. See what you get for Christmas. Nothing. Snitches end up in ditches. Remember that.

 

The Problem With Protests

Quick – what is the NFL-anthem-kneeling debacle about? What do they want?  I’d be willing to bet that most folks only have a vague sense that it’s about some sort of injustice, maybe the first amendment, or because Trump said something.

Colin Kaepernick, who liked to take the field wearing pigs as cops socks, said this: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people kaepernickand people of color. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder”. If you’ve been supportive of Kaepernick and the kneeling movement, is this really what you feel? If you do, great. More power to you, stand up for your convictions. Otherwise, are you supporting something only because it’s popular? Don’t want to be the only one who didn’t hit the “Like” button?

You have every right to hate your country and what it stands for. I’d personally suggest you move to whatever country is the utopia you feel the U.S. should be, but whatever floats your boat. You don’t have to like this country. You don’t have to salute the flag. You don’t have to show respect. Playing the national anthem before events is nothing more than a tradition, not a requirement.

Protest all you want. You have that right. Just realize that if you choose to do it on your employers time… there may be repercussions. I know that my employer won’t be thrilled if I choose to march around and protest the plight of the endangered snowy plover while at work. Just ask Mr. Kaepernick. He may feel some satisfaction in seeing his actions briefly becoming a bit of a movement, but he’s still sitting home in his pajamas on Sunday without a paycheck.

How many people are praising the protest because they agree that cops are pigs and this country is a bastion of oppression, or are they joining the bandwagon because it’s popular on the Facebook? I think there’s a special irony in folks who are in the top 1% of wage earners, protesting the evils of virtually the only country on this planet where you can earn wheelbarrows full of cash to run around and catch a ball. They have every right to do so. And the free market has every right to react. The current 2017 Chicago murder count is 539. Primarily gang/drug related and black on black crime. Yo, oppressed NFL players – where’s the protest and call for action on that?

Symbolic protests have their place. They have the ability to spark a movement that can achieve change. That can be a good thing. But to be effective they have to have a clearly identifiable injustice and an outcome that everyone understands. To me, the kneeling thing has neither. Therefore it’s stupid, pointless, and will only hurt the NFL brand. Ultimately the players are doing more harm to themselves over something that will be completely forgotten several years from now.

My poorly thought out point is that as you’re doing a cut-n-paste of some clever meme to your Facebook page, do you really understand and support the protest du jour, or are you simply being a herd animal? I’d suggest you be a little bit of a skeptic before you hit that Like button. As the saying goes, reserve your f**ks for things worth giving a f**k about.

Lemmings_off_cliff_2* No, lemmings don’t really march off cliffs.

 

 

Nobody Is On The Fence

Watching the chattering heads last night providing their “in depth analysis” of the RNC convention prompted a few thoughts. First, I’d like to gouge my eyeballs out with a spoon. Second, this notion that people are “on the fence” about a candidate is idiotic drivel and any pundit who says it should be banished to covering local school board meetings. Let me be clear – PEOPLE DON’T SWITCH PARTIES from election to election. Period. Full stop. End of discussion. People vote party line. Always have, always will. Sorry, but nobody is watching a speech and thinking “boy, my family has voted for the same party for four generations… but wow this guy from the other party is moving me to tears with his speech and he wears a really nice tie I think I’ll vote for him.” If such a shallow person actually exists they’re out playing Pokémon Go and won’t bother voting anyway.

There is only one valid discussion in a political campaign… voter turnout. All the verbal diarrhea spouted by both parties is not there to “welcome others into oublenderr tent” or to “broaden the base”. It’s to whip your followers into a frenzy so they’ll postpone stopping at the Fancy Freeze on the way home and vote instead. A politician has to convince his/her party that the other candidate grinds up small puppies and endangered koala bears in a blender and drinks them for morning smoothies and if you don’t vote, they’re coming for your little fluffy next.

The best gage of the probable outcome of this election isn’t polls or TV pundit lectures. It’s the MPM® factor. What is MPM? It’s the number of memes per minute created on social mememedia. Each speech, every rally, the daily news cycle spin, seems to produce a varying number of frantic meme and Facebook posting all showing some variation of the other candidate as a lying, evil, Chihuahua-smoothie drinking, troll. The ebb and flow of this is probably the most accurate measure of how motivated each parties faithful are. If the rabid followers of your particular meat puppet aren’t frantically creating clever posts showing that the other meat puppet did indeed fail to yield at a crosswalk in June of 1983, then they’re probably not going to turn out on election day.

I should write that app. Create and post the real-time meme posting trends. I could become the next Nate Silver. I could monetize it and make millions. But that would take motivation. And I’m a busy guy with actual real world adult stuff to do. I’ve got Pokémon to catch.

 

 

On Making Sausage. And Political Correctness

Who doesn’t enjoy a juicy sausage link hot off the grill? (apologies to my vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarian friends) However, as the saying goes – nobody wants to actually know what happens in the sausage factory. The same is apparently true when it comes to our pesky little conflict with some folks in that there middle east region of the world. When a certain orange politician says that we should temporarily ban Muslim immigration to the US until we have better screening… the more liberal half of the country collectively voids their bowels in horror at the inappropriateness of the comment.

I guess folks forget that we’ve put together a massive governmental security operation specifically to prevent a segment of the Muslim population from targeting our airline industry. We don’t willingly stand in three hour lines for invasive body scans because of tpche Swedes, Taylor Swift fans, or the seven remaining members of some sub-Saharan pigmy tribe. No, we submit to warrantless searches because a few of our Muslim friends have an annoying habit of blowing up airplanes. We make ourselves feel better by also letting the TSA shopping mall security guards randomly search 90 year old grandmothers from Nebraska. See, we’re being fair. God forbid someone thought we were actually profiling anyone.

I guess if the orange one had simply said “I’m temporarily banning all immigration” everything would be ok. Whew, thank god he didn’t single anyone out – they might have been offended and sparked global jihad and issuance of fatwas directing followers to do evil to us. Oh wait, we already have that. Never mind.

If you’re a Muslim American, I feel for you. A few of your brethren are making things difficult for you. I’m sure there are some instances where you’re being tarnished with the same brush. That, unfortunately, is human nature. I’m sure the vast majority of Catholic priests are fine, virtuous people. Unfortunately that group as a whole has pretty much lost their babysitting privileges for a while. As a country I think we tend to be one of the most tolerant places around most of the time. We certainly don’t always get it right, but there is a reason the rest of the world is trying to come here. So I think we can cut out the hyper vigilant “offensive speech” monitoring. I’m reasonably sure that some goat farmer in Afghanistan is not going to be driven to a murderous anti-American rage if you forget to include the “I stand with Muslims” hashtag on your latest facebook post. And that whole ISIS/ISIL/al-Qaeda/Taliban/Muslim brotherhood thing… well they pretty much already hate us. I doubt they’re going to stop the global jihad if we just hired a few really good speechwriters.

We need to get over our faux political correctness. Muslims are responsible for the vast majority of terror in the world at this moment in history. It’s ok, you can say it. It’s the truth. We’re smart enough to figure out that it’s not all Muslims. It doesn’t make you a racist xenophobe to be slightly concerned about folks declaring jihad against you. Similarly, we have folks streaming across our border from the south. No, they are not just “undocumented” as if they accidently got in the wrong line and their paperwork got lost. They entered into the country illegally. I shouldn’t have to feel like I’m being looked down upon by the intellectual elite like some sort of racist, uneducated, country bumpkin if I think securing our border is a good thing. Just because I don’t like Adel, Madonna, or the Beatles I shouldn’t be ostracized by the iTunes community like I’m some sort of music Neanderthal.

My point? I’m not sure. I got mesmerized looking at the Donald’s hair. It’s hard to look away. Someday the architectural blueprints for his hair will be published and we will marvel. Meanwhile, we’re a long ways from the racism that spawned Manzanar. I think we can be adults and speak about our security without the fear that we might offend someone. Besides, we have plenty of real offenses going on today. Like those Kim Jong-un pantsuits Hillary wears. Someone really needs to have a talk with her.

 

On Star Trek, And Tricorder Repairmen

We are at a crossroads in America. We no longer have a middle class. It’s disappeared. Poof, gone. You can work in the retail or service sector for low wages, or you can try and get an advanced degree and work in the tech world. There’s almost nothing in between. We cannot compete with the global economy when it comes to manufacturing. Period, game over, it isn’t coming back.

Of course there will be niches here and there we succeed at and offshoring isn’t quite as cheap as it once was. At the end of the day though, you cannot compete against a country whos workers are paid pennies on the dollar compared to the U.S. The sooner we come to grips with that the better off we’ll be.

I was listening to Department of Commerce Secretary Pritzker on a morning show today and she made an astounding comment. When asked what U.S. sectors are doing well right now her answer was “construction, housing, and consumer retail”. That’s it. That’s our economy in a nutshell. Sectors that are based upon low skilled labor and are volatile and bubble-prone. That oughta scare the holly bejeezus out of you. I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that comfortable banking our economic underpinnings on the hope that Americans will continue to embrace the iPhone 9s with a screen size .02 cm larger or the resurgence of the hover board craze (guaranteed fire resistant!). It’s ok though, ’cause you’re going to need a bigger home to store all that stuff – and boy, do we have some exciting new mortgage options for you!

So what will be the economic engine for the middle class in the future? I’m certainly not smart enough to figure that out or I’d already be investing in it. It clearly won’t be the manufacturing of “things”. It has to be a commodity that can’t be easily shipped from overseas. Something that takes development of an actual skill or expertise, yet doesn’t necessarily require years of schooling and advanced degrees. A job that is valued and recession-proof enough that the average Joe/Jane can support a family and, with some prudent saving, can afford to go drink fruity adult beverages with tiny umbrellas on a beach occasionally.

While I don’t know what that sector will be, if I had kids or if you’re just starting out in the job world, I’d make damn sure I was comfortable with data, information management, and device connectivity. Learn how to create a website beyond just using a canned template. Can you connect a device to a network and troubleshoot problems? Can you write simple scripts to connect various programs and do something with their output? Can you take data from a program and do something with it to present it in a compelling way? None of these things take years of advanced math or electrical engineering to understand. These are skills anyone who applies themselves can master.

What is clear about the future is that we will be driven by data. Billions of cheaply manufactured devices will all be connected to various networks and attempting to communicate with each other. Yes, eventually your refrigerator will be not only ordering your weekly groceries, but will be preparing nutritional summaries for your health care provider. My report will be exclusively cheese, beer, and hummus. Beef and pork will be too damn expensive for anyone but the evil one percenters.
medical_tricorder
I’ve  gone the route of helping sick people. There will always be sick people, right? Meanwhile I’ll probably be replaced by an $11 an hour, 17 year old medical assistant wielding a Star Trek medical tricorder. I should have been training to be a tricorder repairman. Or an Obamacare v.12 website administrator.

 

 

Tribes, Or I Just Wanna Surf

I’ve been following a story for a while now about a group of well-to-do, middle aged men in the Southern California town of Palos Verdes who’ve become a surf gang of sorts. Seriously, what 50 year-old belongs to a gang called the Lunada Bay Boys? It sounds like a skinny jean wearing boy band from the 80’s. Unfortunately they’re violent and preventkook anyone who’s not a local from surfing there. The conflict is heating up and now a federal class-action lawsuit has been filed against them. Way back in the day I spent more time surfing than I did going to high school (no, that didn’t work out so well for me kids) so I’m very familiar with the locals-only mentality. Back then you needed to know the rules of each break if you wanted to avoid your car getting keyed. Some places were short boards only. Some didn’t allow leashes. Others only allowed all black wetsuits. Pretty silly in retrospect, but violate the rules and something bad was sure to happen. You’d see some non-local kook come traipsing down the beach in a neon green wetsuit and just know it wasn’t going to end well.

Meanwhile, back in the batcave, I just watched a TED talk from one of my favorite writers, Anand Girdharadas. I’d highly encourage you to watch it when you have a moment. Powerful and motivating, it made me feel bad about myself and how judgmental and shallow I can be at times. He talks about inclusion and the American dream. And then he said something that really jumped out at me – that our tribal separations are the great moral challenge of our generation.

He’s right. But he’s also wrong. At the end of the day we are all tribes. We are not accepting of people who don’t fit into our tribe. I don’t think that’s right or wrong, it’s just human nature and has been from the beginning of time. A black kid with long dreads, saggy pants, and walking with the gangsta strut in a middle to upper class suburban neighborhood is going to get a very chilly reception at best, if he’s not first greeted by 5-0. But put some white dude wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase in the middle of Watts and he will be relieved of his Apple iWatch, Fitbit, and Starbucks rewards card in a jiffy. Two tribes, neither are tolerant of others that don’t fit in.

This will be true anywhere on this planet. It’s a myth that America is this great melting pot and somehow now we’re becoming less tolerant. We’ve always been tolerant – as long as you embrace the collective tribe that is the American culture AND you do your best to fit in with whatever local culture and tribe you’ve chosen to locate next to. If you continue to cling to your old tribe, the new tribe will remain a bit frosty. That doesn’t make it right and it certainly doesn’t justify some of the behaviors you’ll find in the news – but it is the human condition. We are all members of “our” tribe.

Intellectually, we’d like to think we can rise above our tribal loyalties. The reality is that it takes very little discomfort for us to revert back to our own groups. The solution is not for politicians to admonish us to “rise above” or “this is not who we are” at the slightest hint of opinion differences. It is who we are. We do not easily accept tribes that don’t look like us. It makes no difference if those tribes are political, religious, economic, racial, dress, or music. The dude will abide when it comes to the norms of my tribe. The answer is the economy. Generally the further down the economic ladder you are, the more you’ll cling to your tribe. A prosperous middle class will be tolerant of anything.  Want to get rid of tribal unrest in this country? Make sure you elect a political representative with a viable plan to spawn a new middle class economy. (hint, it’s probably none of the current meat puppets)

Meanwhile, I’m going to go figure out how to fit in with the mountain biking, climbing, fishing, craft beer drinking tribes. And stay away from that Taylor Swift tribe. They’re pretty damn scary.