"If I left you alone in the woods with a hatchet," comedian Joe Rogan asks, "how long before you could send me an email?"
What, like, 8,000 years?
We didn't go from spears and hatchets to email overnight. Maybe the hatchet people couldn't ever develop email. But maybe the email people wouldn't have figured out anything useful to do with the hatchet and would have died of exposure.
We're a cooperative species, and also one that grows on incremental improvements with occasional breakthroughs. When we figured out metal tips for our spears and arrows, we could suddenly do a lot more damage than we could ever do with wood- or stone-tipped spears and arrows. That was a breakthrough. for sure. But then our spears and arrows got incrementally better with the development of new metals and plastics, and our archery systems today would still be recognizable to someone 8,000 years ago, but the power would seem other-wordly.
Tim Ferriss and Peter Thiel discussed the future of products, and one thing Thiel (author of Zero to One and an entrepreneur himself) says is that he's not looking for products that are incrementally better, but those that are, say, 1,000 times better than what came before.
That's fine, but not everything can be a breakthrough. If it were, we'd be stuck with a rusty old infrastructure waiting on something brilliant to come along.
In Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, Buckminster Fuller outlines a major innovation that came as a series of incremental improvements: the water wheel. We took the basic concept of a lever, and then we put a bucket on it. Then we put a bunch of them together in a wheel-and-spoke pattern, and then we hooked some gears up to it, so that the bucket lever arms would turn the gears and do some other work.
It took a lot of incremental changes to make that major innovation happen, and if someone hadn't developed one of the incremental steps, we wouldn't have come to the major breakthrough that made powering machines with falling water a viable operation.
The lesson here, I suppose, is not to sit around and wait for breakthroughs. If you see some incremental improvements that need to take place, those are important, too, and can lead to the breakthroughs eventually.
People quit their jobs to sell stuff that is often highly marked up to handle their commission. And if you get an invitation to a party with a consultant, expect someone to try to guilt you into buying something.
"Remember, I have fun doing this, but if you don't buy anything, I can't put food on the table." OK, but if I don't like your products or your prices, why would I buy something?
You're entitled to try to sell me something, not to my purchase.
It's not just about work. Entitlement is about a lot of things. Did someone delete your comment on a news website? Yes, the company believes in freedom of speech. Do you know what you're not entitled to? Publication. You have the right, in the U.S., to say pretty much whatever you want (there are some limitations on that, of course). You do not have the right to expect someone will listen. You do not have the right to expect someone to provide a platform. You certainly have the right to create your own.
The "American Dream" has had various incarnations over the past 240 years. But I think we're at a point where many people need to be reminded that you have the right to work your ass off for your chunk of the American Dream. You have no right to just expect a chunk of the American Dream to fall into your sedentary lap.
Gypsee Yo grew up under a repressive regime in Albania. When she was 16, she and her best friend Magdalena promised to get to America for a better life.
So they took a job, dismantling bullets.
After a while, the government stopped dismantling bullets, instead repackaging them to sell on the black market. Or rather, the government was having 16-year-old girls repackaging bullets in concrete warehouses.
And then one day, a painfully hot day, one of the girls picked up a really heavy box of bullets, and she caved in under its weight, and she, along with the box, went crashing to the floor.
Quick physics lesson: Impact ignites gunpowder, which propels a bullet in the direction it's pointing. Bullets bounce off concrete until either drag slows them down enough that gravity stops them or they find something soft enough to embed in.
So if you drop a box of bullets in a concrete warehouse, you'd better get under or behind something and pray, which is what Gypsee, Magdalena and their coworkers all did.
When the chaos subsided, Gypsee found herself among the lucky ones. The two blood-stained fingers on the floor in front of her, not attached to a hand, showed her Magdalena was not so lucky.
From that point on, the government may have been her employer and some bureaucrat may have been signing her paycheck, but that's not whom Gypsee was working for. She was working for herself, for her best friend, for a future.
Think about your employment situation, then. Whom do you work for? Why? If you complain about work, think not about your employer, or your customers, but about your reason for working. If that reason isn't enough to propel you forward in your work, get out of your situation, whatever it takes.
If you, like most of us, flip the calendar tonight, you're probably also doing two things: reviewing your year and thinking about some resolutions for 2015.
My year in review basically consists, chronologically, of becoming a Freemason, getting married and moving 1,000 miles. There were other pieces along the way. Lots of great conversations, lots of lessons. A longer-than-two-week bout with poison ivy. My first real experience with animal stress (the dog had something called hot spots, which means he was literally trying to — and succeeding in, until we got some medicated shampoo and a cone of shame — PEEL HIS FACE OFF for a month).
In all, it's been a fairly chaotic year, punctuated by highs and lows. (It seems that was more or less the way of the world in 2014.) I might be willing to trade some of the extremes over the next 12 months for a more subtly happy, peaceful existence. As far as what's in store for me? I'm looking back and taking some lessons from me.
It's also some of the wisdom I have to pass on to you, take it or leave it. I'll write like it's for you, but it's really for me. But it's for you, too.
Benjamin Franklin came up with some guiding principles for life, and they're not faith-specific. In fact, Jesus is paired with Socrates, and there's no other mention of anybody. You could do a lot worse, and I'm betting you couldn't do a lot better.
I think moderation and justice are the most important here, and I hope for more of them — from and for everyone — in the coming year.
Find a quest, and see it through. It doesn't have to be monumental, but it has to be big enough to call a quest. Something greater than an adventure. I think with a quest, it's OK to make parts severable. If you don't fulfill your quest, you can still accomplish a lot, and have many adventures on the way.
Find some ritual, even if it's drinking your coffee in silence in the morning, or writing exactly 1,029 words in the first hour you're awake every day, or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand so you have to concentrate a little more.
Tim Ferriss asks just about every one of his podcast guests about their morning rituals. It's usually in the last 10 minutes; that's a great place to start.
The artist John Baldessari once destroyed all of his artwork. He didn't tear it up in a rampage. He collected all of it, cremated it, and he still has the ashes. He felt he had spent the past as sort of an apprentice, and he was ready to become a master. So he got rid of all his apprentice-quality work, and set out on his master's journey.
Hey, if you're celebrating today, happy Christmas.
I'm not celebrating. As a Jew, I've been not celebrating Christmas for 38 years now.
It's not that I hate Christmas (though, I'll be honest, a bunch of the stuff that it'd be nice to have in the house is waiting until next week because I do hate the mess retail outlets are for the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas), it's that Christmas isn't an everybody thing.
It's not a war against Christmas, any more than your insistence on wishing me a merry Christmas is a war on me more here). I intend to have a very nice December 25, actually. It involved waking up early, having some coffee and some eggs, kissing my wife as she headed off to work, getting this blog post up and then getting to work myself.
I suspect it will be a fairly quiet day at work, beginning with photos from Mass at the Vatican, then parades, then a Knicks game, and about half time in the Cavs game I'll be done and heading off in search of some Chinese food.
Maybe this is a time to talk about the war on Christmas. You know, because a movement toward political correctness is a direct exclusion of Christians. No, it's not, really. It's meant to be inclusive of everyone. I suppose a proper greeting might be, "Merry Christmas, happy Chanukah, happy Kwanzaa, happy New Year and enjoy whatever else you might celebrate this season." It's a little cumbersome, though. I don't see it catching on.
You may have seen this one floating around Facebook:
I don't care. I'm probably not going to wish you a merry Christmas unless I know you celebrate it. Otherwise, just deal with my, "have a great day," because that flow chart includes tolerance — gratitude, even — for that, too.
I believe those folks who can live a moral life without a God figure looking over them. Me, I'm a primitive monkey. I need to believe there's something bigger than me out there. Not to fear, not to blame, but just to say, hey, thanks, I'm doing all right down here, and I'll get better.
On the one side of it, there's Kevin Smith's film "Dogma." The assertion is that God gets a little miffed that everyone's just out there speculating and killing each other. Enter Sam Harris, who basically says, "Not all religions are equal, and some of y'all really need to cut the shit." Those are my words, by the way, not his. Go read him and listen to his stuff. He's a really smart dude, don't let my watering his ideas down steer you away.
I think we're getting into rambling territory here, so I'll leave you with some Nat King Cole and a fire to warm your day. Happy Christmas, if you're celebrating.
For the second time this year, I was glued last night to live streams from on the ground in Ferguson. I have a lot to parse and process for myself, and I thought I'd mind dump here. Maybe it will spark some conversation.
Here are the filters I'm viewing this through.
I am white. I am middle class. I have an admiration for those who have it in them to act on their own radicalism. I have a strong preference for information presented through as few filters as possible (a camera on the ground will show you what the camera holder wants you to see, but that's infinitely better than a reporter in a studio talking about what s/he sees through a drone lens). The only "conflict" I've ever had with a police officer was as a journalist when there was some small-town squabbling between the chief and an elected official. I have a healthy respect for authority that comes with a healthy dose of skepticism regarding that authority (read: I respect an officer's authority to enforce laws, but I'm willing to question the law being enforced and to ask respectfully about my rights and responsibilities).
I also understand as a Freemason I have taken an extra obligation to adhere to the laws of the places I venture, but I also understand the context that a bunch of Freemasons were involved in founding the U.S., in direct violation of the obligations they took when being raised under the laws of Britain.
I didn't catch any of the news of the bridges being blocked in New York City until this morning. While I certainly understand people demonstrating in other areas, I feel like it was more important for people to express themselves in Ferguson directly.
Here are some facts I can't be blind to.
The announcement was scheduled for a bad time. The announcement came in prime time. Most people were out of work. Many people were glued to the television. People were available to demonstrate, and people were available to watch. If you want to minimize both, have it at 11 a.m., before the East Coast heads to lunch and as the West Coast hops in cars to commute to work.
Still just can't believe how poorly this whole announcement was planned and presented. What did they expect? #Ferguson
Demonstrators were organized, and were prepared for both peace and violence. This was certainly an organized demonstration. People with bullhorns had access to benches or other structures to stand on and be seen. People with cameras and strong social media presences were allowed to be close to those people. Leaders called for 4 minutes, 30 seconds of silence after the announcement. While a lot of people were clearly prepared for smoke/gas, I saw a lot of hands up and I didn't see any weapons.
Police were also organized, but only appeared prepared for violence. I understand you prepare for the worst-case scenario, not the best, but if you don't appear ready for the best-case, you're never going to get it. This photo made the rounds last night. I have no way to verify this is from Ferguson, and I have no way to verify it's from last night, as opposed to the night in August when things blew up. But it's an accurate representation of what I saw. Nothing in this photo says, "We're ready for people to just hang out and hold signs."
A couple of things to consider. These are things we can easily make changes on with policy, rather than trying to change attitudes or train people.
Call it a conspiracy if you like, but a system with with two possible outcomes that comes out one way 99.993% of the time is only working in one direction.
Body cameras for police officers could help. For the past three and a half months, Michael Brown's family has been succinct in their reactions in the press. They haven't asked for riots, they haven't asked for money (although I think the system should allow them to file a wrongful death suit, and I certainly would in this case, given the option), and they haven't asked violent demonstrators to do their bidding.
But they are asking for some reforms that could avoid the hearsay reports in this case. Only two people for sure know what happened the day Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, and one of them is dead.
Vox breaks down some of the pros and cons of body cameras (including things like, if an officer enters a home and the video is public domain because it's a police officer, is it a violation of privacy if there's nothing illegal going on?).
Some things I remember from watching on-the-ground video.
• Some protestors were certainly peaceful. They stood around with signs, chanted, took photos and tweeted.
• Some protestors were certainly not peaceful. They threw rocks and other objects, broke things, and some stores were looted, while others were burned.
• Some protestors were not violent, but were belligerent, taunting officers, who I thought showed good restraint under the circumstances.
• Officers used some strategies that were clearly aimed at creating arrests, like boxing in protestors and then telling them to disperse, without leaving them a route to do so.
Todd's a good friend of mine, and I didn't want to address this in 140 characters, but I think it's important and it's going to be a common question.
Why destroy innocent store towners merchandise, set fire to your city & create unrest because you disagree with a decision made by others.
There's a larger context here. Last night didn't go from "No indictment" to "burn down Ferguson" in one step. It went from demonstrators on edge to a militarized police unit on hand to tear gas to cars on fire to stores being looted and burned. And, if Five Thirty-eight's data are correct, there was probably some institutional meddling in the grand jury's decision-making, and if businesses are seen as institutional, they're not "innocent." But remember, the steps along the way are important. If everything remains peaceful, or if violence is quelled early instead of perpetuated by a back-and-forth, it probably never gets that far.
I'm not so naive as to think nobody went out to burn stores and steal stuff. But I think that was an opportunistic byproduct of the night, not a goal of demonstrators.
Chris Kluwe is back at it, and I'm glad to see it.
I get ambivalent about participating in Blog Action Day most years, because, while I always think it's relevant to the world, the topic isn't typically something I'm passionate about.
But I can say something about equality. It's a topic I've given up on more than once. On the one hand, the fact that you bleed red, I bleed red, whatever, is obvious to me. On the other hand, you just can't change some people's minds.
There's so much to talk about, overall. Some of what's going on in the world...
I can't believe we're even still talking about this. Sanctity of marriage? You know what's bad for the sanctity of marriage? Domestic violence. You know what else? Divorce. You know what the rates are among gay couples? I don't either, but I'm betting in both cases, it's substantially lower than straight couples. Look, you have a religious issue? No problem. We have a separation of church and state in this country. How about we just allow marriage to be a church institution, and call the legal bit a civil partnership?
Here's another one I can't believe we're still talking about, but sadly, we are. Women on the whole still make less than men for the same work. Women are still notably absent from positions of power. And while there are a growing number of associations to help support female business owners, we still need associations to help support female business owners.
Look, 50.8 percent of the U.S. is female, we should be seeing something like that in terms of female leadership in corporate America and the like. Don't give me anecdotal evidence as "proof" that we're making progress. The fact is, we're really not.
Racism and white privilege
"People think Dr. King gave his speech and racism was over," Chris Rock tells Ice T, continuing on to say that white folks didn't even really start to watch what they said in public until 1978 or so.
Look, there is never going to be a time when we don't look at "other than me" suspiciously. It's hard-wired into us, and it's the same mechanism that keeps us glued to news about murders and robberies even though our mouths say we want to hear good news instead. But we have the ability to make our actions pair with our beliefs (or what we claim as beliefs), and treat everybody with respect.
I'm sure that many of you have read the essay Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, but if not, take 10 minutes to do so, and, particularly if you're white and haven't thought about it before, do think.
I struggle with this more than any other, I think. I grew up in what I think is what is called a high-diversity school system. While I've never spent much time in "up-and-coming" neighborhoods (that means a place where housing is dirt cheap and you may not want your kids out after dusk), I find higher-end suburbs uncomfortable as well.
I've never had to live eight to a home, but there were times my parents worked multiple jobs.
I also happen to think a lot of racism is tied up in poverty, making it really a class issue.
If you need your eyes opened to class inequality in the U.S., listen to Ms. Pat school Marc Maron. Maron's reaction is of genuine surprise.
If you need your eyes opened to class inequality across the globe, check out Kevin Rose's interview with Scott Harrison. Harrison was one of those guys companies used to pay just to be seen in public drinking their products, and then he went on a trip and discovered there are children in this world dying horrible deaths because they can't get clean water. And then you can go give to Charity Water because you will totally feel like a selfish ass after you hear it.
Rather than tell you what they say, I'll give you of the topics they hit, and my thoughts on them.
The benefits of a quest
A quest, Guillebeau and Altucher say, requires a destination (goal), includes a journey, and probably is going to take you a long time. While I have certainly set goals for myself, I can't say I've ever set a quest. I'm not sure my attention span is long enough. We'll see.
Following your gut
Sometimes your pro-con lists don't help. Sometimes the math is wrong, even if the numbers appear to add up. A lot of times, if you listen to what your gut (or the voices in your head) are telling you, they'll be right. See my post on intuition for more.
Following your calling, following your passion
Does everyone have a calling? Maybe. Does everyone have a passion? More likely. I'm not convinced your passion will always earn you a living, but you should still take the time to follow yours. It helps a lot with the next bit.
This is always hard. If it were easy, we wouldn't have self-help sections in bookstores or bestseller lists. We wouldn't have life coaches. We wouldn't have business coaches.
If you can't ever be self-motivated, though, your life is probably pretty hard. You probably work a job you hate, don't have a relationship worth getting out of bed for, and certainly don't have a 70-pound black Lab telling you to get your ass out of the chair and go outside (OK, Rufus, we're almost done here).
Specifically, they discuss the need, even on a 10-year project, to check something off your to-do list today and something else tomorrow. But take into consideration everything lots of parts of your life. Trying to lose weight? Lose between a tenth of a pound and two-tenths of a pound each day, you'll lose a pound a week, over 50 pounds in a year. Baby steps. Looking to save some money? Put away $2 a day, and you've saved over $700 for the year. On a 10-year quest, saving $2 a day gets you over $7,000, and that's assuming you're not picking up any interest.
Every little bit helps. There's no need to get everything done tomorrow.
I'd love to hear from you on this. They tackle some pretty big things. What are your takeaways?
We said our farewells to Fritz over the weekend. I don't expect you'll go read through his obituary, so I'll give you the gist.
Fred Mills, "Father Fritz" to his flock, was a reverend, a weightlifter, a hiker, and a Red Sox fan (a die-hard fan — literally — there was a Red Sox logo on the shroud covering his coffin at calling hours).
His family relationship to me is kind of tenuous on the surface. He is my wife's first cousins' stepfather — my wife's uncle and Fritz's widow raised a couple of women. Fritz had his own children coming into that marriage as well.
While Fritz's family stayed in New England (primarily Cape Cod), he lived in Central New York, and he was always at family gatherings. I met him first in 2010, five years after the stroke that ended his power-lifting days and his ability to hike on his own two legs. The three things I remembered from that first meeting were still true when I last saw him a couple of months ago:
• He had a crushing handshake. If you weren't ready for it, you risked taping up a couple of fingers for a week. And he held on for a lot longer than is generally deemed a social norm. One of his daughters inherited that grip and the hold, and I thought to mention it when we met.
• He looked you in the eye, not in a challenging way, but in a gentle, respectful way.
• He wanted to talk baseball. It was common ground, and since I grew up a Red Sox fan in Massachusetts, it was a good way for us to connect.
His funeral was at an Episcopal church. I don't really understand the inner workings, but strictly from a standpoint of observation, it's almost Anglican (Church of England), I guess. They take communion (so it's in a Catholic tradition), but priests can marry, they have female priests, and I didn't see any crucifixes (a cross being a cross, a crucifix having a crucified Jesus on the cross).
There were some rituals that were curious to me, an outsider (I'm Jewish). One was something they called in the program The Peace. It's a stopping point in the service during which you look around and wish those around you peace. The priest later explained the communion ritual (which I'm guessing changes a bit from church to church), but it was almost another half hour before the communion ceremony. Some of the readings began and ended with the priest elevating the bible above her head and making a declaration.
As I mentioned, these were curious to me, but they probably felt perfectly normal to someone else.
As some of you know, I'm a Freemason. One of the things that connects the fraternity to its past is its ritual, which can vary from place to place, but remains integral to every meeting and every degree ceremony.
The ritual is certainly unusual to an outsider, and was to me when I first saw it, but is now a mark of comfort that, no matter what else happens before, during or after the meeting, the meeting will open and close with ritual.
Watch some baseball players as they step up to bat. Some of them have elaborate rituals before they get in the batter's box, including touching different parts of their bodies, adjusting their uniforms or batting gloves, touching the bat to a specific point on home plate, etc.
Ritual guides us in practice, connects us to our past, and brings us a comfort of familiarity in unfamiliar situations.
I began my career as a reporter before we started shoveling news online, so I've been interviewing a while. Actually, it's been a while, but I know a good interview from a bad interview, for sure.
One of my first professional interviews was with Tish Hinojosa. It was awful. I didn't even know how to pronounce her name. I couldn't get her to open up about anything, and it was all my fault. I'd received her most recent album the day before the interview, didn't particularly enjoy it on first listen, didn't have time to study it, and didn't know who Barbara Kingsolver was or why her writing some of the liner notes was a big deal.
Another bad interview I had was with someone whose work I really enjoy: Bruce Campbell. Now, if you know Campbell's work, you have some idea of his personality. He's warm, confident and doesn't enjoy taking crap from anyone. I was so nervous for the interview – he was on tour for If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. I'd read it twice in three days, already knew the Evil Dead trilogy by heart, and even went and checked out some of his more obscure stuff, like 1992's Mindwarp. I thought I'd impress him by referencing it. I did so by asking if he thought The Matrix had merely ripped off the concept with a higher budget. Then he gave me a list of about 15 other films Mindwarp had ripped off.
I've had some great interviews, too, and some of those were surprising. Joan Jett, who comes off really shy in person offstage, gave me 10 minutes over the phone in an airport once. It was amazing. She even let me get away with a bad question. I asked if she was tired of being known primarily for one song ("I Love Rock 'n' Roll"). She told me no, in fact, she could play whatever she wanted and it didn't matter how the rest of the show came off. By the end of the night, she could play that one and everyone would sing it for her and be into it.
David Clayton-Thomas [via]David Clayton-Thomas, best known for work he did way before my time (as frontman for Blood, Sweat & Tears), wanted to talk at 7 a.m. (yes, a musician wanted to talk at 7 a.m.), and we were on the phone for two and a half hours.
This is not about name-dropping. Hell, it's not even about me. It's about interviewing. Maybe more accurately, it's about how to have a conversation.
You might know Biz Markie from 1989's "Just a Friend." You might know him from the scene in Men in Black II when he beat-boxes in the back room of a post office. If you have kids, you might know him from Nick Jr.'s "Yo Gabba Gabba."
James Altucher, who does one of my favorite podcasts, interviewed Markie recently (see episode 35). And it was awful. So bad, in fact, that the podcast wasn't the straight interview. Altucher ran a commentary track, stopping every time he had a criticism.
Now, Altucher had done his research. He knew a lot about his subject. But it took a while to let his subject know that. It was really, really awkward. Sometimes, when it's like pulling teeth to get an interview, it's time to give up on the interview.
On the other side of the spectrum is comedian Marc Maron, who's had one of the top-rated podcasts on iTunes for years. It's called WTF, and, apart from having amazing guests, features amazing interviews, even the ones he's really nervous about doing. They all turn into good conversations that flow easily between topics and across timelines. Some of my favorites include his interviews with the likes of Roseanne Cash (No. 511), Bob Newhart (No. 523), Shepard Fairy (No. 497) and Lewis Black (No. 485).
I came to his podcast late – there are dozens of interviews I'll probably spring for the premium app to hear. Go give them a listen; the last 50 are always free.
That brings us to this: What makes a good interview? Does it take a professional? Does it take practice? Does it take research?
No, it doesn't take a professional. It definitely takes some practice. A little research is not a bad thing, but is entirely unnecessary if your subject is patient.
A good interview winds up being a conversation. And you can have a conversation that essentially turns into an interview. And if you've never heard of your subject, or conversation partner, just ask the pertinent questions without appearing nosy or pushy.
Have an idea of points you'd like to hit along the way, but be as open about yourself as you want your subject to be about himself or herself. It should feel natural after the initial discomfort of meeting a new person.
Go try it on a friend, then a stranger, then someone famous. Good luck!