The presidential race and the problem with politics in the US


Note: This podcast was recorded before Ted Cruz's Super Saturday victories and Ben Carson dropping out of the race.

We have problems with our politics these days. I've been holding off on posting about it because I'm not sure I've had reasonable words, but comedian (and UFC commentator, etc.) Joe Rogan and former CIA covert operative Mike Baker really get it right.

Baker, who is more a rationalist than anything else (he has operational issues, for example, with Hillary Clinton — he explains in plain language what happened with her email), spells out the issue with anyone willing to run for the presidency: "There's a certain personality type that's way up its own ass that allows you to think, 'Yes, I should be president of the United States.'"

"We're down to assholes, basically," agrees Rogan. "Bernie Sanders seems like an old kook, he doesn't seem like an asshole," but he doesn't seem to think we should really be voting for anyone who would actually want the job.

That all happens in the first few minutes of the podcast, by the way. You needn't put yourself through very much of the video above (the first five or seven minutes will be plenty to get you started) to see where they head with the conversation.

Let me be honest with my perspective, before we get too deep in here. I'm a disenchanted liberal. I grew up in a strictly Democratic household, and identified as a Democrat until about 2000, when I really saw Ralph Nader's point. Barack Obama brought my back into the party, but quickly lost me (here's my very hopeful post after his first inauguration, and my jaded look forward after his reelection). I now live in a state with open primaries, so I have no need to register for a party ever again. In political "quizzes," I match up as a left-leaning Libertarian.

Louis C.K. — another comic — writes, in what I think is a really important rant about Donald Trump, puts it nicely:

When I was growing up and when I was a younger man, liberals and conservatives were friends with differences. They weren’t enemies. And it always made sense that everyone gets a president they like for a while and then hates the president for a while.

Around 11 minutes into his discussion with Rogan, Baker points out that somehow compromise is now seen as a weakness. And that's really a major problem for me. That's what we're built on: discourse and compromise. The rhetoric from both sides these days is not only angry, it's vindictive. And that's our fault as voters.

It's been pretty well figured out, I think, that to win a primary, a candidate has to move toward an extreme, and then will have to move to the middle to win a general election. What we don't know is what happens when the president gets into office — on Day 1, is he handed a book (he, here; we haven't had a she yet) of what we know and then he has to look back on his campaign promises and say, "Holy crow, we can't do that!"

Baker says soon we're going to need an end to the two-party system, to really have stronger other options. He also goes on to say he thinks presidential candidates should have to disclose who they'd like in their cabinet: after all, presidents don't know everything about everything, they take advice from their circle. Rogan goes even further, saying maybe we should eliminate the position of president, instead making decisions by committee.

We sort of do that, actually. We need a point person, and the president sort of acts as CEO — the board (cabinet, generals, etc.) gives him all the options, and the president has to make the final call. For example, Baker points out, there's a lawyer in the White House who advises the president on whether the secondary casualties that would result from going after a "high-value target" make it a doable operation.

As for Trump, Rogan says that people like him because he "talks shit," which he clearly does. Personally, I don't want someone who's verbal political tactics are a great way to get into a bar fight. "There's so many goofy white guys who are ready and psyched to have a reality star as president," he says.

C.K., in his rant, calls for people to just read up a little on Trump. "If you do vote for Trump," he writes, "at least look very carefully at him first." Here's a guy who has said he likes people who weren't captured, but further, that John McCain, who was the target of that criticism, "has to be very careful" for criticizing the candidate and that "he'll find out" why. I don't know about you, but the way I read that, any US soldier who gets wounded or captured is going to be in trouble, and that if you say anything bad about Trump, you'd better be prepared for...something.

We do know that Trump wants to change libel laws (that's a conservative publication I linked to, by the way). The Daily Beast (which claims to be independent but seems to lean liberal at a quick glance) has a good explanation of our current laws and Trump's proposed law.

Whatever you think of the Chronicle's take on Trump gutting the First Amendment, I can say that I watched his Super Saturday rally and noted that Trump said, before taking questions, "you know the press is among the most dishonest people created by God, so I would love to take a few questions from these dishonest people." Start around 12:37 here:

If I'd have been there, I probably would have left. As a voter (and Jew and member of the media), I'm scared of Trump; as a journalist, I'm over him. If you could get me to go to cover a rally, I'd be there with duct tape over my mouth.

I'll close with Baker talking about Trump and the American Dream. Baker served the US as a covert CIA officer abroad for many years, and now runs an intelligence agency called Diligence LLC (around 51 minutes into the conversation).

How does it happen that this country — this fantastic country, and again I've spent most of my life overseas — I can go to the deepest darkest shithole out there, somewhere out there [in the] middle of nowhere, and someone will say, "if I go to America and I can work this hard and I can do really well, I just have to, you know, if I can get to America," they still — people out there in the middle of nowhere — still believe the American Dream.

And yet you worry about it, because I think we seem to be giving up on it here. If this is the best we've got, if we're willing to follow this guy down the tunnel, I don't know where we're heading, but it's not good."

What we’re reading

I decided to get back to some fiction early in the year. My reading had been slowing down, and I'd been a little overwhelmed by life in general. Fiction always provides a nice respite, which in turn lets me relax in other aspects of my life, and now I'm all relaxed and ready as spring hits here in coastal Georgia.

Some recent reads:

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk. Madison Spencer, who beat Satan at his own game in Damned, returns to the world of the living for her annual Halloween candy collection (candy bars are currency in Hell), but through some trickery on Satan's part, gets stuck for the year (if you're not back in Hell by midnight, see ya next year).

She had previously communicated to her Hollywood do-gooder parents that the way to Heaven was through general rudeness: cussing and flatulating cheerfully. She was kidding, of course, and now she faces an Earth full of joyfully disgusting humans, all doomed to Hell for their behavior, thanks to her. And she's back to fix it.

Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club and a pile of other books I love, and while this isn't among my favorites of his, it's definitely good for a few hours of escapism.

Not a Star by Nick Hornby. What happens when you're a middle class English mum and you come home to a DVD slipped through your mail slot, and the guy on the cover looks a lot like your son? What happens when you discover it is your son? What happens when the film on the DVD is pornographic?

Hornby is another one of my favorites (High Fidelity, A Long Way Down, others), and this novella from the Open Door series is great for a rainy day with a cup of coffee.

Bad Monkeys by Mike Ruff. I'm not sure how I've never heard of Ruff before (I mean, there's a quote on the book's cover from Christopher Moore), but this book is a twisted, paranoid look at the world. I don't even want to give much away, but if you think you're being watched, you probably are — but not by the government or your ex.

I've said too much.

Have your mind blown in just two hours: Walter O’Brien on Tim Ferriss’ podcast

You may have heard the name Walter O'Brien in your sitting-on-the-couch moments. It's the character played by Elyes Gabel in the CBS television drama "Scorpion."

Also, he's a real dude. "Scorpion" is his nickname, and also the name of his company. It's a company that does a bunch of stuff, including inventing a lot of the systems you see on the show — notably a device that feeds oxygen to the blood so that you don't have to breathe, giving you, say, 20 minutes or so underwater, as long as you remember not to try to bring air into your lungs, thereby swallowing water.

Scorpion was his hacker name back in the '80s, when, as a child in Ireland, with a 400-baud modem before most of us had heard of the Internet, he downloaded mechanical drawings of the space shuttle. The U.S. one. From NASA. From their "secure" servers.

Imagine his parents' surprise when he produced an extradition waiver from his book bag, since he figured law enforcement would be knocking on his door.

He turned 41 yesterday; it's not like he's been at this stuff for all that long.

In case you're wondering, and I imagine by now you are, his IQ was measured at 197.

He recently talked to Tim Ferriss. It was amazing. Let's talk about three pieces, specifically.

One is the possibility of head transplants.

O'Brien notes that the purpose of our bodies is really to keep our heads functioning, and more specifically, our brains. Our brains are essentially wired data networks. While we have memories that it's easy to think about as data, like computer files, they also have a bunch of software in them, if you will. The brain keeps the heart beating, the lungs functioning, and moves our limbs, without conscious thought.

It stands to reason, then, that all that data could be backed up, the way a hard drive is backed up. O'Brien thinks we'll be able to get a brain's worth of data on a chip in about 10 to 12 years.

Pair that with some of the work that some transhuman groups are carrying out (for example listen to Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation talk to Joe Rogan about the future of life extension), and we could keep our brains going, perhaps, forever.

How? Clone yourself with stem cells, change the programming on the telomeres so that you get to about 20 years old in, say, four years before you slow the aging process back down, then simply do a data transfer from brain to chip to brain.

O'Brien tells Ferriss we should be able to transplant (such as it is) a brain with 80 to 85 percent reliability in the next 15 years or so. Ferriss' question described "success" as being able to make the new body walk and write with the dominant hand. It sounds, though, like O'Brien thinks those successful transplants might do better than that.

The second piece I want to mention is something that O'Brien talks about when explaining another of his businesses, ConciergeUP. The tagline for that business is "Any funded need." Basically, if you want something done, it's not against O'Brien's ethical code and you're willing to pay for it, you can hire ConciergeUP.

He tells the story of a billionaire dad whose wealthy son was the target of a gold-digging scheme. He wanted to stop the impending marriage without his son knowing he had anything to do with it.

It took a long time, but suffice to say it included enough actors that one point everyone in a full Starbucks except the perpetrator was working for ConciergeUP. You have to hear O'Brien tell it — it's the sort of thing that makes you think Osama bin Laden really could be alive if someone wanted badly enough for him to disappear but keep breathing.

The third thing is O'Brien's discussion of IQ (intelligence quotient) vs. EQ (emotional quotient). He's of the opinion that there's only a certain amount available in total, so people with higher IQs often lack emotional connections (like empathy), and that having an IQ over, say, 120, might start to be an impediment to getting a job or finding a good relationship. If you've watched the show, you'll recognize the character Paige, played by Katharine McPhee, who helps explain normal emotional interaction to a bunch of out-of-touch, really smart people. He's actually had to hire people like that.

I hope I haven't said so much that you're not going to listen to it now. It's so amazing I had to share.

Life as an introvert with extrovert tendencies

Many thanks to b for posting this piece about extroverted introverts.

While it's not Susan Cain-level science, it's a spot-on explanation of how things go with me: Even if I know you, good luck getting me on the phone, but I'm happy to schedule lunch; I'm not scared of parties, but I'd rather stand in the corner alone than have to deal with people talking to me about nothing.

Even if the Myers-Brigg is generally crap, I fit nicely into some pieces of it (INTJ, but you probably knew that).

Especially if you're an extrovert, if you're wondering how to deal with an introvert, here are a three tips (assuming other introverts are like me):

• Make it known you're interested in a conversation, but don't be overbearing.
• "Hello" is a fine way to start a conversation, followed by either nothing, or something really interesting. "It's a nice day" is an awful way to start. I assume either that you're just now noticing, or you think that I haven't noticed yet. If it's the first, I assume you're unobservant. If it's the second, we're not going to get along if you think I'm unobservant.
• If my headphones are in or I'm reading a book, I don't want to be disturbed. Say hello if you must, but I'm actively staying away from interaction.

Quit waiting to die

It occurs to me that the title of this post might sound like an encouragement to suicide. It's not. I promise. It's a call to quit sitting idle, waiting for your time to be up.

This is the main focus of Duncan Trussell's conversation with musician Emil Amos.

Go give it a listen. While you're listening, make a list of all the things you think – or thought – you'd might like to do someday. Everything. It's a 2-hour discussion. Then go check one thing off the list.

It’s incumbent upon us to keep creating

How did you feel when you learned David Bowie had stretched his last limit?

When you learned Hunter Thompson had penned his last story?

When you heard Tupac was out of rhymes?

Jeff Buckley could give us no more love?

George Carlin's wit would no longer bite?

How about the death of Kurt Cobain? Or Robin Williams? Heath Ledger? Michael Hutchence? David Foster Wallace? Lemmy? Mitch Hedberg? Jean-Michel Basquiat? Bill Hicks?

Did you cry for these people — these people you'd (probably) never met? For their families, whom you'd also never met? Or did you cry for you, for the end of the art?

It's that last bit — the end of the art — I get worried about. We need to remember to keep creating. No matter how much genius passes before us, no matter how much of it falls away, it's incumbent upon us to keep the legacy of art alive for our contemporaries and for our future generations.

Create.

“Tonight I will be in my bed”: Chris Sacca on getting through today

Venture capitalist Chris Sacca took some time to answer listener questions on Tim Ferriss' podcast recently, and one thing really struck me.

A listener asked about an Ironman Sacca completed recently (for the not-so-inclined, that's a triathlon that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mike bike race and wraps with a full marathon). How did he make it through? He kept repeating to himself, "Tonight I will be in my bed."

No matter how much pain he put himself through, at the end of the day, he'd find himself in his bed.

The pain doesn't have to be extreme athletic adventure. It really can be anything.

Bad traffic? Tonight, you will be in your bed.

Beating yourself up over a lost client? Tonight, you will be in your bed.

Lost a loved one? Tonight, you will be in your bed.

You can get through anything. Just know that tonight, you will be in your bed.

Running goal 2016: 1,000 miles

It's a new year, and we're looking ahead to a new challenge. Miss J and I started the year with a walk/run of the Color Vibe 5K, which was a lot of fun, and then I took a much-needed week off from running and the gym. Believe me, it wasn't easy.

Fun morning at #colorvibe5k #savannah

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

But I got back at it pretty quickly; as soon as that week off was over looked like I was wearing a waist cincher corset, I went out for four miles and thought about a new goal. We're going to shoot for 1,000 miles this year.

With a week off, that means I can average 20 miles a week and still get another week off, or I can average 25 miles a week for 40 weeks and not force myself if it gets really hot (and if this winter has been an indication, we could be in for a hot, humid summer). Teach your toddler how to ride a 3 wheeled scooter to go workout with you.

At any rate, there's a widget on the site (on the right side if you're looking on a desktop or tablet) with a marker. I'm using Runkeeper to track mileage and time, and I won't count anything I do on a treadmill. And if, like it did last week, Runkeeper goes wacky and thinks I did a three-minute mile, I'll try to map it out and round down.

What are your goals for the year?

David Bowie and Charles M. Shulz: Life’s work and legacy


"Look up here, I'm in heaven I've got scars that can't be seen / I've got drama, can't be stolen / Everybody knows me now" — David Bowie, "Lazarus"

David Bowie died Sunday, two days after turning 69 and releasing a new album, which includes the song "Lazarus." The track is a farewell. Bowie was fighting cancer and knew he was making his last record. The Telegraph did a nice piece on it.

I'm not going to post a bio or history. If you don't know who Bowie is, go do some Googling. Listen to some music. Watch some movies. His career was long and varied. It was also very creative and very intentional. He almost passed up working with Bing Crosby because he didn't think "Little Drummer Boy" was the right song for him. So, he and Crosby did the now-famous "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" a month before Crosby died.

Bowie was able to do something a lot of us should aspire to: go out having said a recent goodbye, his legacy speaking for itself.

It calls to mind the death of "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz, who died hours before the final comic appeared in papers.

My friend Matt, who is both a musician and cancer survivor, has an interesting take on mourning musicians we've never met, and on Bowie's death, specifically.

You know, admittedly I sometimes feel a little silly to feel so personally affected when a famous artist or musician...

Posted by Matthew Larsen on Monday, January 11, 2016

In addition to firming up their legacy right up to the time of their deaths, both Bowie and Shulz worked their respective crafts right up until the end of their lives. We should all be so lucky.

I think my friend Seth says best how you can honor Bowie. He wanted this work out in the world, and it's out. Listen to it.

Legends with caveats: Keep showing up

On a recent podcast, Joe Rogan calls Lance Armstrong "a legend with a caveat," putting him in the same category as Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson was a highly productive, highly influential writer with one helluva daily drug routine.

I recently re-watched Alex Gibney's Thompson biopic, "Gonzo." I was having a bad day. Maybe it was more of a bad week. I needed a reminder that even the great ones slip sometimes. Sometimes, they slip far. They make mistakes. Things don't always go as planned. But if you keep showing up, things turn around.

So, I decided to keep showing up. I guess if it worked for Thompson, who finally quit this world when his body wouldn't let him show up anymore, and if it's working for Armstrong, who might have been a cheater but he was the best of the best at it for a long time (I bet if you took away all the cheating, he'd probably still be the best of the non-cheaters over that same period), it can work for a bad day. Or week. Or month. Or year. Or decade, it seems.

I think I like this concept of "legends with caveats." It brings to mind the image of the flawed hero — also important in that everyone has flaws — but without the pressure of being a hero. A legend? We should all be remembered. And we should all have caveats.

The best way to be remembered? Keep showing up.