Define Tyrant

The very first step towards understanding ANYTHING is knowing that a THING is a THING.

What????

Whether it’s the colors of the rainbow, or knowing if your leaders are corrupt, you first have to have a way to think about those things: colors, corruption, whatever.

These are definitions.  If my own little brain can’t define colors very well, then I’m never going to have a decent conversation about rainbows; even WITH MYSELF.

If I want to talk about rainbows with you, then I need to share my definition of colors with you as well.  If you agree, then we can have a nice conversation about rainbows.

The same goes for tyrants.  What is a tyrant?  Some people are already calling tRump a tyrant.  Many of his supporters totally disagree.  Who is right?

Let’s take a stab at a simple definition.  Let’s pretend that one way you can identify a tyrant is if they use their position as a public speaker to incite a mob towards violence.

Now, violence in general could include rugby or smashing beer bottles.  But what if the violence is targeted towards certain people?  Like people who wear yellow stars?  Or people who talk funny?  Or people with skin that looks like coffee or chocolate?

Here’s my definition.  A tyrant is someone who uses their public position to incite mob violence towards opposition or a group that is different from themselves.

Guess what?

We have video, much written experience, and even a lawsuit about President drumpf using exactly these tactics during his speeches.  I wish it was only during his campaign that he does this, but it turns out that he continues to use the highest office in the (previously) “land of the free” to do the same thing.

Now, many of his supporters will be quick to point out that this is fake news and have alternative facts.  However, Pres 45 did exactly these things even in his last press conference.  More like a press battle, but if you look carefully, you can see that he is at battle with a free and independent press, and pushing his supporters to punish them appropriately.

Disagree?  Fair enough.

So, what’s your definition?

 

 

Battle of the Sexes

Yesterday I talked about how messy Mother Nature really is.

To sum up Her methods, she throws a lot of things together and sees how they fare in the “real world.”*

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about species like the platypus, or making natural soap.  The outcome is messy, and as humans we don’t understand everything she does.  After all, we’re only human.

Speaking of humans, we are also a product of Mother Nature.  And therefore, we must also be a mess.

Here’s where the fun starts.  Ask a typical woman what she thinks of men, and she will tell you that, as a class, they are pretty much messed up.

Ask a typical man the same question, and you’ll probably get the same answer.

We think differently, we experience the world differently, and we remember differently.  As a result, we live together yet apart.  If we find a partner, we grow together, and yet also grow apart.

Let’s talk sex, raw unadulterated baby-making orgasm related sex.  Got your attention?

When humans are young adults, the sex drive goes into hyper mode.  Men think about it all the time.**

Young women think about it somewhat less.  But young women do think about babies.  They are genetically programmed to do this.  Young married women who want a family go into their own hyper mode.  As an old man I’ve been able to talk with some women who are unafraid to tell me their habits.  Sex every day.  Maybe twice a day.

This is a husband’s joy.  For a wife, she is working.  And she’s feeling a bit stressed, because it’s her job to collect that baby-making stuff and turn it into a screaming, teething mass of tissue.  And she’ll do whatever it takes.

Including, if month’s of making babies the old way doesn’t work, going to the doc and checking out the latest technology.

Let’s fast forward a few decades.  The baby has grown and left the nest.  The man is still around, and for the most part, his sex drive is a good fraction of what he had as a youth.

But for the wife, she’s done her job.  The sex drive is probably greatly reduced.  Let’s face it, for many women it may be gone.  For many women, it may never have even been there!  Once the hard work is over, why bother doing something a grotesque and messy as making love?

Here’s where our messy Mother and humanity clash.  For we have been made this way.  We are an experiment.  She has turned our women into beings that live longer, are generally smarter, and more attuned to sustainable living than the male half.

What does this mean for the future of our species?  After all, we left our own nest some 100,000 years ago.  As species go, we are still babies.  Does this sexual dichotomy mean that we are stronger than the dinosaurs?  Or does our declining birth rates mean that our species is doomed?

We didn’t get a chance to talk about natural selection, and that’s where things can get truly interesting.  But I don’t want to bore you, either.  I just wanted to point out that there is a battle between our sexes in the bedroom, and on the stage that Mother Nature has provided.

So, think about that the next time you are “getting some.”

 

 

* Lets be clear here.  Mother Nature, or Mom, always lives in the real world.  It’s us humans that prefer to live in a delusion.  Let me know if you want to hear more.

**  If you don’t think this is true, do your own research.  Just be careful.  Take backup!

 

Messy Messy Mother Nature

My friends,

Consider, if you will, the platypus.

An animal concocted of many parts: bird, turtle, otter, kangaroo, and who knows how many others.

Or take the common ant, available in so many varieties and colors.  Or the banana slug, or jellyfish.

Each in their own right is a thing of beauty, a thing wrought of nature.  A thing that should be the very essence of beauty in the eyes of their queen, or mother, or lover.

For us, they can be an abomination.  How can anyone, or thing, love a spider?

To be a true scientist, especially in biology or behavior, one must accept that all things natural are, in fact, beautiful as well.*

Here’s a fun but seemingly unrelated fact: My company manufactures natural soap.

So what! you say.  What? is this some kind of subliminal advert? you protest.  Your eyes are already getting ready to close this window.  But wait!**

What I’ve learned in making our soap is that the chemical reactions are vastly more complex than we understand.  In fact, what passes for soap in today’s society is a chemical detergent.  Highly engineered chemicals that are extremely efficient at removing oils and water from your skin.

Because they are so efficient, people also buy lotion to try and re-oil and re-moisturize that very skin.

In natural soap, anyone’s natural soap, lotion and lots of other re-moisturizers are already there.  It turns out that Mother Nature makes tens, if not hundreds, of different compounds during the soap making process.

Here’s my point.  When you put together a species, or when you combine natural compounds and make soap, the outcome is not clean and neat.  It’s messy.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Then how does Mother Nature check her own work?  Is there some way that she tests her products for “doneness” in order to make sure her improvements are greater than her mistakes?

Some people don’t think Mother Nature ever tests for improvements, but I think she does.  That’s why life may have started out as one celled plants, but has ultimately peaked with mankind.  If you’re not a fan of man, then maybe you’ll agree the peak was dinosaurs.  No matter. Overall, Mother Nature makes things better.

How she does this, and what it means for you and me, I’ll discuss tomorrow.  For now, I suggest you go and get some natural soap.  It’s good for you.

 

 

 

*We’re going to skip a definition of beauty for now.  If you want an essay on the essence of beauty, and a definition that can cross cultures, clades, and countless centuries, feel free to ask!

**I’m only bringing up the soap bit to make a point.  This is not an advert!  If you want validation of this statement, however, I will provide a hint.  Search for “Uncle Earl’s Soap.”

 

Phony Driving Laws

Wifey and I are walking down the street enjoying crunchy snow and blue sky.  We feel so much better knowing that New York is snowed under for a change.  Why should it always be us?

As we approach the crosswalk we stop and look.  We’ve learned our lesson by watching other unsuspecting tourists get run over.

Yes!  Here comes a speedy car making the turn.  He doesn’t even see us.  No signal.  He’s going fast, and he’s even driving in the other lane for a while.  Are these all driving transgressions?

Under the old regime, back when people paid attention to reality, sure.  But what makes this all good is the fact that the young man is intently talking on his phone.

Yes, the black rectangle is glued to his head.  In the few seconds of sight I see him vocalizing loudly.  I see head wagging.  I see one hand on the wheel, and at least his eyes appear to be on the road.

Should I be angry?  No!  I realize the laws need to be changed.

If you’re on the phone, it’s the other cars and pedestrians that have to get out of the way.

Let’s say you’re at a 4 way stop and you pulled up first.  But a car pulls up to your left and you see they have a phone to their ear, who gets priority?  Why, he does of course!  He can’t see you, and he’s not going to wait.  Why should he?  He’s busy.

So it’s your job to wait and respect the call.  After all, communicating with our friends is one of the few pure joys left in our otherwise dull and boring lives.

Well, that and dodging those drivers who are out to kill us.

 

Yoga Deconstructed

I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandria Crow the other day and learning about her perspective on yoga.  It was fantastic.

She’s an ex-gymnast and a push-the-envelope kind of person.  She has intimate knowledge of what our bodies are capable of, and what they aren’t.

She knows better than most because she’s suffered.  She went too far.  You’d think that would be bad news.  But it isn’t.

For that’s how the best of the best learn, and we mere mortals must learn from their pain.

Ms. Crow is like a yoga test-pilot.  She took her body to places it shouldn’t go.

She’s learned about what’s out there, the demons who live beyond the envelope.  She lived through the experience, and she’s willing to teach us about it.  We should listen.

As soon as I figured that out, I was riveted.  She wasn’t just another bendy-body beauty, but someone who could give me a deeper insight into my yoga, and yoga in general.

I hadn’t planned on being so captivated.  I thought it would be a nice way to learn some sequencing tips from a seasoned professional.  The fact that she appeared to be twenty-something gave me doubts, but by the end of the session I realized she’d blown my mind.  And not just with respect to sequencing.

For some years I’ve been learning from many different experts, people who have taught, and thought, long and hard about yoga.  I’ve studied a bit of yoga history and about some of the great players in the field.

I’ve only passing interest in the current fads in today’s marketplace.  Mostly because they’re trendy and about establishing brand.  As a business person I can pick up and understand those aspects quickly.

No, the big insight came from combining what I learned from and about Ms Crow, with what I’ve learned from other great yogis I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

Ginny Nadler has taught me that the hips and deeper are the true center of any pose.  Some independent practitioners and a bit of anthropology agree with her.  Peter Starios taught me that even the innocence of balasana (child’s pose) could be the basis for a rock solid regime.  Yes, he taught me to sweat in child’s pose.  Reading Judith Lasater has taught me that deep and gentle and listening to your body is far more profitable than any standard set of pictures.

Yes there have been others, each of whom has their own particular “angle” on yoga.  But each and everyone had something else: they had broken free of the tyranny of perfect posture.

Ms. Crow calls them fancy poses.  BKS Iyengar made them famous in his book.  Only a professional contortionist can do all of them well.  But I don’t.  I can’t.  I own an old, stiff, anti-athletic body.

But what Sterios, Nadler, Crow and Lasater have done is deconstruct yoga down to its most essential elements – body positions.  And where those body parts should go is indicated by looking at your own body, inside your own body.  Not at someone else’s picture.  Not even the person next to you or at the front of the room.

We don’t have to strive for fancy pose number 9.  We do have to strive to put our hips, feet, and shoulders in the right place.

What makes any place right?  It’s all up to you.  Are you practicing for flexibility? Balance? Strength? Endurance? Coordination? Or something else?  Then that defines where your body goes, how you get there, how long you linger and how hard you push.

Are you warming up for intense forward folds?  Then back off on the updogs!  Need some spinal twists?  Don’t force yourself with external pressures like your arms, legs or ropes.  Let your twist come from inside yourself.  You won’t twist as far, but it’s a better workout, and you’re far less likely to hurt yourself.

Don’t hurt yourself!  It’s fine to feel discomfort that goes away within a day.  But pain lingers and annoys and reduces your quality of life.

I’m a firm believer in this part of the Marine creed: “pain is weakness leaving the body.”  For us civilians, it should read that “discomfort is weakness leaving the body.”

What all these insightful teachers are creating is a new yoga.  Each has taken their bodies to beyond its normal limit, and come back using the power of yoga.

Now they’re teaching us a new way, a more rational, even scientific approach to yoga.  It’s not a trend, yet.  It will never be a fad because it’s too deep.  Right now its leaders are smart, courageous, and working hard.

The results are well worth the effort.  I’m convinced that I’ve avoided hip and knee surgeries that my friends have already had.  My busted shoulder healed faster and better because of yoga.  And I’m certainly a more relaxed person than I would be otherwise.

Yoga means many things.  For me, it’s about harmony.  For Ms. Crow it boiled down to attention.  For our proto-indo european ancestors, it meant “to join.”.

My conclusion from all of these maverick yogis deconstructing today’s yoga is this: they are all closer to the true spirit of yoga’s greatest founders, T. Krishnamacharya.

Krishnamacharya didn’t believe in fancy poses or perfect positions or their names.  His student BKS made many of those up for business purposes.  Krishnamacharya never taught the same way twice, for every student was different.  And he was always learning.

For me, that’s harmony, that paying attention.  And that’s having the ability to join all the different parts of our bodies and lives together in one big practice.

Namaste.

 

Disclaimer: I’m an amateur yogi and only study this as a hobby.  Any mistakes are my own.  Let me know and I’ll fix them as soon as I’m able!

 

 

Question Authority

I’m on a good sized airplane.  I’m comfortable, in my proper seat, and ready to fly.

So is the aircraft.  The pilots are almost through with their checklists, and the flight attendant is finishing up her required briefing to the passengers.

I look about, and the aircraft is only half full.  I have work to do, and it would be nice to spread out.

Since the attendant is still busy, I unbuckle and quickly switch seats.  In no time flat another attendant comes to hover above me.

We can’t have you changing seats sir.

Why?

I’m sorry, but I’ve been instructed by my superiors that no one can change their seats.  I’m sorry.

Alright.  I move back to my seat, and ponder.

Can’t move?  It’s not hard on the seats – they are designed for many butt touches.

It can’t be the airplane.  This one is large enough so that even an elephant could move around without bothering the pilots.

No, it can only be for the flight attendant’s convenience.  It makes it easier on them.  It’s for making their lives easier, not ours.  The more they can treat us like cattle, the better.

I realize that if the airline could figure out a way to put us to sleep and stack us up like firewood, they would.  No need for food, toilets, and more people on the plane.  Fewer attendants even.  Heck, they’re probably working on the idea even as I write.

More importantly, you and I live in this world, in this society, and are customers of that airline.  To the degree that we don’t question their authority in order that we can have better lives is our fault.  To the degree that we don’t insist on questioning their authority so that our children can have better lives is a sin.

I looked in that attendant’s eyes and said “sorry to have upset you.”

But in my heart, if it had been something important that I was fighting for, I wouldn’t have stopped.  The future is worth it.

 

Crowd Compression

Studying behavior never stops.  And it comes in all forms, from complex societies gasping for breath, to the simple, linear, line.

Yes, there is behavior in the simple line.

You say “What?  How can there be behavior in a line?”

Of course there is line drawing.  Drawing and art are behaviors, but not necessarily simple.

There is line dancing.  But that’s another form of expression along with a good dose of socializing thrown in.  No, not the simplest form of behavior.  There’s something simpler still!

As simple as a line in mathematics?  Perhaps not.  Let’s face it.  The one dimensional construct is as simple as it gets.  Unless you like Norton Juster’s book.

No, the line I’m referring to is the one you might be standing in even as you read this.  The line at the bank, or the line of cars getting on the highway.  Or the line heading to the ticket window for off-track-betting.  Those lines.

As a young student, I learned the art of line-manship.  I like to think it was one of my minors.  I learned to dodge, weave, thread, and yes, even cut into lines.  Most importantly, I learned how to avoid them altogether.

However, it was a recent line experience that reminded me that there’s some insight into human nature buried within every line.  Here’s how.

I was recently in a line catching a flight from Japan to Korea.  Expectant travelers filled the corridor, shuffling and fidgeting about.  The longer we waited, the greater the fidgeting.

Suddenly a surge.  Was the head of the line finally moving forward, onto the flight?

No, none of the people at the very front were moving.  Someone behind them decided to take a small step forward, compressing the space between himself and the next person more than before.  The person behind him did the same thing, and so on.

By the time the new compressed line reached my place, it was a good two or three steps!

We weren’t moving, but we were given the impression of moving.  Our personal space had been three hands in front and back, and now it was only two hands.  Not comfortable for me.

Does this new personal space distance help any of us get on board the flight any faster?  No.  Does the few steps some of us were able to take let off enough steam so that we can patiently wait another fifteen minutes?  Maybe.

What’s important about this line is that everyone waited about fifteen minutes before they decided they’d waited long enough.  Their personal space had been worth three hands before they waited.  After fifteen minutes it was only worth two hands.

Why does any of this matter?  Because every culture, every age, and every venue has a different exhibition of these characteristics.

A Korean crowd compresses more and faster than a Japanese crowd.  The Chinese crowd compresses more and faster than the Korean.

When a Western culture compresses there is likely to be conflict.  In Eastern cultures, conflict is rare.

Compression at sporting events, and large musical rock concerts generally see the most compression.  Classical and operatic events see the least.

Why it matters is it allows us a little window into the heart of the culture, and ourselves.  it may also teach us how to deal with lines during emergencies so that people don’t get crushed to death.

Finally, perhaps we will all learn enough about lines so that no one has to stand in one any more.

I wonder how long I’ll have to wait in line to see that happen?

 

Body Swap

Are you ready to swap bodies?  For fun?  For profit?

Wait, there’s more!

We’ll swap bodies AND do some time travel at the same time.

But first, let’s set the scene.

In my favorite hardware store the other day.  Stu, one of the owners, was having a semi-political discussion with Pete, a customer.  Stu is incorrigible, irascible, and constantly wearing a snarly face; and that’s on his good days.  Pete is a tall, barrel chested, clean shaven, square jawed, silver-crew cut of a man.  Pete was bemoaning the current state of the economy, government, especially complaining about our “imperial president.”

In his own diplomatic fashion, Stu said “All I know is that we didn’t have to start working 7 days a week until the first year of this President’s term.”

Right there, in that instant, time stopped and I froze the scene.  My time travel body swap was ready.

Our 20 trillion dollar economy is so large that no one president can impact it very much in one year, let alone two or three.  Whatever pain the owner was feeling came from the previous president.  And that even assumes the president truly has much influence over the economy anyway.

But as people, as humans, we’re not geared that way.  We like to look at our local gods, whether they are good or evil, and blame them.  Whether Obama likes it or not, most people deify him – and not always in a good way.  Ultra conservatives give him credit for destroying our future, our way of life, and the Constitution.  Pretty good for a guy who’s limited to running the executive branch and vetoing the occasional bill.

As a nation, as intelligent adults, we should be smarter than to deify anyone.  We should know by now that the economy is large and complex.  That policies put in place 5 years, 10 year, even 50 years earlier could be impacting us today.  We shouldn’t be measuring our pleasure and our pain by the year of someone’s reign.

Yet here was an American, doing just that.

Body swap:  Stu becomes Japanese.

Did you know the Japanese still have an emperor?  In fact, they claim they’ve had a continuous line of emperors since 700 years before the common era (BCE).

But what’s even more fun is that we can stick Stu into a Japanese body, and get him to say the exact same thing.  Because many Japanese measure life events in terms of their current emperor’s reign.

Stu could say something like “Business was terrible in the first year of the Chrysanthemum Throne (1989).”  Or, “The first decade of the Chrysanthemum Emperor was all recession.”

Many Japanese remember their birthdays or anniversaries based on the emperor’s reign.  How quaint.  Are they also blaming the emperor for what is good or bad?  Perhaps.  But the very fact that they mark time based on a celebrity instead of a more objective system says something in itself.

Time swap:  Stu becomes Egyptian

In that next moment, I can take Stu and put him into the desert sun of the upper Nile.  Pharaoh Sesostris III has undertaking great tasks to unite many separate states into a greater Egyptian empire.  It’s 2,000 years BCE.  The pyramids aren’t quite yet built, but paper and mathematics are well on their way.  Meanwhile, most of humanity is still running around in skins.

And what do we find Stu the farmer doing back in the days of Sesostris?  According to written records, we know that his harvest, his battles, and his marriages and births are all being recorded based on the year of Sesostris’s reign.  In year one I got married.  In year two we gave birth to a son.  In year three the harvest was good, and so on.

Time swap, body swap: Returning to the present.

So, I smiled at Stu and Pete.  I may not agree with their politics, but in that instant I was able to watch Stu become a modern Japanese, and then an ancient Egyptian.  As far as I can tell, he’s none the wiser.

 

But is humanity?

 

 

President Trump

What goes through your mind when you hear these words?

President Donald Trump.

My brainy and / or more liberal friends shudder.  Then they gag.  Then laugh, hug each other, cry, and finally acknowledge that it could happen.

Quite a few other people are counting on it.  In fact, they plan to vote for him.

And why not?  Who’s to say he won’t make a great president?

The sad news is that our country doesn’t have any standards for what make a president good or bad.  Popularity got George Washington in for two terms and he’s voted our best president ever.  But the second-most successful president was also one of the least popular; Abraham Lincoln.

So Trump may become president, and he may be a great one.  At least, by his standards.

We have a pretty crazy country going on here.  It’s run by millionaires for one thing.  And those millionaires take lots of advice from very rich friends who make lots of money off the rest of us.

Anyone can be president in the USA.  Of course, certain conditions apply.

So, my advice to all of you who may be feeling a political chill, is to put on a sweater and deal with it.

Should you still be afraid?  Sure.  But not because Trump got in.  He’s just the symptom.

The reason someone like Trump gets elected (or any other idiot you’d like to nominate) is because not enough of us ordinary people care.

The reason Trump may be president is because there are too many special interests who are allowed to spend as much money as they want.

The reason our government feels like it’s going to hell in a handbasket is because it mirrors exactly what is happening in our society as a whole.  Yes, our poor government is also a symptom of our disease, not a cause.  What is that cause?

We’re getting older.  We’re getting poorer.  We’re getting dumber.

Perhaps worst of all, we are all of us getting tired of fighting the tide.  We don’t want to stand up in public and debate the issues.  We don’t want to demand better performance out of our candidates, out of our government, and out of our journalists.

I’m also getting older.  And poorer.  But I’m fighting the dumber.  And I haven’t given up fighting, not yet.

This is my weapon; the pen, and education.

So, to all of you who also haven’t given up as yet, get up and get out there.  Fight!

If you don’t, you’ll have to live with the alternative.

 

Mental Accounting

Accounting is the profession of adding up money.  Accounting records are among our oldest.  Clay tablets recording Ahmet’s twenty bales of hay is among the oldest writing we have.  Keeping track of our money has always been important.  How could something so old be improved?

Within the last century a new kind of accounting has emerged.  It’s the kind of accounting that looks at the brain as real estate.  My brain.  Your brain.  Everyone’s brain.

Here’s how it works.  If you owned a piece of land in the desert, it would only be worth as much as you paid for it.  If no one else visited, or wanted it for any reason, it wouldn’t be worth much.

If you owned a piece of land in the center of Tokyo, then you would have something of great value.  Some land in Tokyo goes for as much as a million dollars a square meter.  That’s the same area you make when you twirl in a circle with your arms outstretched.  Many people want that land.

It turns out that inside our heads we also have real estate.  Today we call them “brands.”  A brand is something that a company owns and can put a dollar value upon.  Donald Trump isn’t only a person, he’s a brand.  Even the President of the United States is a kind of brand, not only as a person, but as an occupant of the office.

A search for popular brands comes up with this file.  It lists them by companies, but if you look for individual brands they are harder to find.  For instance, Disney is extremely popular, but how popular is Mickey Mouse alone?  What about the actor Harrison Ford?  I read that this last Star Wars movie makes him today’s most expensive actor.  That’s because he’s not only an actor, he’s a brand.  And you can take that to the bank.  Or, more exactly, HE can take that to the bank.

The reason he can bank his own brand is because you and I know who he is.  He occupies a little piece of our brain.

It’s possible that you may never have heard of him, but unlikely if you live in the US.

It’s possible you know more about him than just his name.  For instance, he’s also a pilot.

It’s possible you know very much about him: his birthday, his family, even his favorite color.

In any case, you have dedicated some amount of your own mental landscape to the brand of Harrison Ford.  The more of your brain you have given to him, the more his brand is worth.

So Disney was willing to pay billions of dollars for Star Wars because so many people already have the story inside their heads.

Disney itself is worth so many hundreds of billions of dollars because it has billions of heads filled with all of its storied brands: Mickey and Minney Mouse, all the Pixar characters, its entertainment parks, video broadcast companies, and so much more.

What other kinds of “brands” can we consider within our brains?  Concepts that aren’t so directly entertaining or profitable?

Consider these unconventional brands: Like the concepts of good and evil?  Right and Wrong?  The First Amendment of the US Constitution?  What about democracy in general?

How much of your mind is devoted to understanding nature, or working to fight things like injustice or hate?

Now that we can start accounting for what’s in our minds, let’s be honest with ourselves.  Which is more valuable to you: True Love, or Star Wars?  They are both “brands” and they both occupy some of your brain space.

I’m willing to bet you a lottery ticket that I know the answer.