Performing life as an act of love

This guy right here is a mixed martial arts fighter named Justin Wren.

This is also him.

Filming with Beyond Creative in Missouri today for a national Anti-bullying campaign in schools :-)

A photo posted by Justin "The Viking" Wren (@thebigpygmy) on

And if you need a size comparison, he's the dude in jeans here, picking up that other giant fighter.

He's 28 years old, and is now fighting professionally for the first time in five years. That time off? It wasn't an injury. It wasn't a suspension. It was a time of building a life of love.

Let's look at more pictures. Like one of him tickling pygmy children in the Congo.

It's pretty easy to be the tickle fight champion when it's 2-1 #FightForTheForgotten

A photo posted by Justin "The Viking" Wren (@thebigpygmy) on

Or showing the pygmy people photos of themselves for the first time.

Seeing pics of themselves for the FIRST time! #fightfortheforgotten

A photo posted by Justin "The Viking" Wren (@thebigpygmy) on

Or having his hair done.

That's fun. Let's see video of that.

Or as long as we're sharing videos, how about the first time the people he's helping saw a white guy?

Wren quit fighting through what probably could have been his strongest years — his mid-20s — to start a nonprofit to help the Mbuti Pygmy people get clean water. Fight for the Forgotten and its partner, Water4, dig wells to draw clean water for a people who are enslaved. Workers go to the fields for oppressors to earn two bananas a day to share among families of four — it's just enough food to keep them healthy enough to work, and it keeps them coming back to work because they need the food.

These are people who are still using army ants to stitch wounds — they have the ants bite the wound, then break off the body, leaving the fangs in to act as staples.

Wren has suffered malaria, parasites and other tropical diseases. His organization employs 17 people full time, but has dismissed more than that to find the right people — people who can survive dense jungle for a month or two at a time, return to the U.S. for a couple of weeks to recover, then go back.

He's back to fighting so that he can raise further awareness, and he's a partner in a documentary on his journeys.

He was on Joe Rogan's podcast this week (he's been on before), and around the one hour, 20 minute mark, he renders Rogan pretty much speechless. It's really amazing listening to Wren talk with such passion and humility, especially while Rogan explains to him that in a few generations, he's going to enter tribal mythology. As a giant, white, hairy myth.


From Wren's Kickstarter campaign.

If you're looking for more love, you should also listen to Kevin Rose's discussion with Scott Harrison of charity:water, which I've mentioned before here.

Now, the question I pose to you is: Could you love anything this much?

Can we avoid death?

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"nanoimmortality" by kemmikore, used under CC BY-SA 2.0

What would you do with an extra 10 years on your life? An extra 100? An extra 1,000? We might be heading that way.

Yuval Noah Harari, speaking to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, notes that death used to be what he calls a metaphysical problem — something decreed by the gods — now, we see aging and death as a technical problem, one to be solved by science.

He also notes, however, that over the next several decades, people will lose their value both to world militaries and to world economies, as machines take over. As that happens, Harari says, we might also see a halt to our system of mass medicine. In that case, instead of having people fix the consequences of aging (Alzheimer's, arthritis, etc.), we'll see research to prevent aging altogether.

Research is advancing in both, to be sure — scientists are using origami to design nanobots that will course through our blood, battling the bad stuff — but there are also some people doing research into helping us live, in good health, indefinitely.

Terry Grossman runs a center that tests pretty much everything that has anything to do with showing the effects of aging, with an eye toward correcting it. Some of the more underground research, though, is being done by people like the folks at Sierra Sciences. Founder Bill Andrews is looking to "cure aging or die trying." He runs an ultramarathon (50-100 miles) every month, in his 60s. His bio says his goal is to run a seven-minute mile at the age of 130. Hear him on Singularity 1 on 1.

The SENS Research Foundation is doing a lot of research into biorejuvenation — the idea that we can use, perhaps, stem cells to make our parts function as if they are in their prime with an injection or something similar. Once your heart starts to fail, for example, we'd be able to make it work well. And not just once — if a heart's prime life span is 30 years, every 30 years, we'd rejuvenate your heart. Or your liver. Or your eyes. Or whatever you needed.

Aubrey de Grey is that center's outspoken lead scientist. Hear him on Joe Rogan's podcast. One thing I find really interesting on this podcast is that the two do get into some discussion of the ethics — while defeating aging certainly sounds like a noble cause, when do we run out of resources, both as a planet and as individuals?

Grossman, Andrews and de Grey are all featured prominently in the documentary The Immortalists.

There's also another branch of immortality research called transhumanism, which really seems to be a live-forever-at-all-costs movement. Artificial limbs are the beginning of this line, but merging humans with machines — what science fiction calls "cyborgs" — is the direction this research is going.

The most visible proponent of this, at this moment, is author Zoltan Istvan, who is running for U.S. president in 2016.

This is, indeed, an interesting time we live in.

This week in political correctness (or is it?): Trump, Schumer, Mexicans, the Confederate flag and the Washington Redskins

Wow, it's an interesting week in political correctness, or whatever we're calling it these days.

Let's see. Should we start with the Confederate flag, Mexicans or the Washington Redskins? Hmm. Maybe Mexicans.

You may have heard that the Miss USA Pageant had to set up streaming video on its own website after being dropped by Univision and NBC (and later picked up by Reelz) after pageant owner Donald Trump called Mexicans "rapists." You know who else called Mexicans "rapists" (or insinuated that they are)? Comedian Amy Schumer. A couple of WaPo columnists are saying she should be Donald Trump's running mate.

Really, what I think they're saying, is that Schumer has a new movie out and a show on Comedy Central and maybe you should put up a boycott. Uh...here's the thing. Schumer is a comedian. She's trying to get a laugh. If she tries a joke and it doesn't work, she won't use it anymore. If people find her funny, she'll keep saying it, even if she doesn't believe it.

Donald Trump is trying to be president of the United States. You know, the guy who helps make laws and is expected to be able to talk to other world leaders about international policy.

Nobody really thinks Tom Segura wants to gain 800 pounds or that Louis CK thinks it's ridiculous that people have Chinese babies or Daniel Tosh this his his sister getting raped is a good practical joke. Know why? They're comedians. Donald Trump? Not a comedian. If Trump's elected, the president of Mexico can skip the Amy Schumer movie but is stuck sharing a border with a guy who said publicly he's probably a criminal.

On to the Confederate flag.

The biggest debate right now, of course, is the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina Capitol. It's been there since South Carolina joined the Confederacy integration movements in the 1960s. It represents racism to some people, states' rights to other people, and a whole bunch of other stuff to other folks.

The question facing the government is, should it come down? The state Senate said yes it should, and the House debated for 11 hours before agreeing.

Of course it should come down BUT here's why. It represents nothing more than a rooting interest, and it's at a government building. The U.S. flag is a symbol of the United States. The South Carolina state flag is a symbol of South Carolina. The Confederate flag is a symbol of a union of states that hasn't existed in 150 years, and now represents a variety of things to a variety of people.

They might as well put up a Gamecocks banner and wait for the Tigers fans to lose it.

Ever since the Charleston church shooting, the Confederate flag debate has also seeped into popular culture. Golfer Bubba Watson said he'll remove the Confederate flag from atop his "General Lee" (the car from "Dukes of Hazzard," a show TV Land pulled).

Some are really angry about that. They say TV Land and Bubba Watson are bowing to popular pressure; they're "selling out." Of course they are! You know what happens to television stations when people stop watching? They go off the air. Know what happens when people won't buy tickets to PGA events because one of the athletes is doing something to bother them? The PGA takes away his livelihood. Of course they'll bow to popular pressure. That's how they stay popular, because that's how definitions work.

On almost a side note, some NASCAR fans in Daytona were flying the Confederate flag — sometimes above the U.S. flag. Now, I get the flying of the Confederate flag, but above the U.S. flag? That's at the very least disrespectful (and a violation of U.S. flag code); it might actually be treasonous. As in, actionably so. As in, your choice of what you fly on top of your camper could get you drawn and quartered.

More: Minnesota firefighter suspended for flying Confederate flag on fire truck »

Another thing that happened this week is a judge said the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office was right to cancel the trademark of the NFL's Washington Redskins. The trademark was canceled last year, though the team can keep the trademark until it completes the appeals process.

Under section 37 C.F.R. 1.211, Publication of applications, of the trademark code, subsection (d):

The Office may refuse to publish an application, or to include a portion of an application in the patent application publication (§ 1.215), if publication of the application or portion thereof would violate Federal or state law, or if the application or portion thereof contains offensive or disparaging material.

Essentially, under the determination that the term "Redskins" is offensive, the team can't hold a trademark on the name. That's not to say the team name has to change, but if they lose the trademark, they lose that big money on licensing. You or I or anyone else could start making Washington Redskins shirts or hats or bumper stickers or dog collars without paying the team for the use of the name. That's a huge business in sports.

That one's the most interesting to me, I think, because there's no precedent for it, it deals with a privately held business (even if the business is WAY in the public eye) and the outcome is going to swing millions of dollars in one direction or another and affect owners, employees and patrons all differently.

The president is doing podcasts; what does the future hold for the medium?

You probably heard that President Barack Obama appeared on comedian Marc Maron's podcast, WTF, about a week and a half ago (photos). It wasn't the first time he's done a podcast — he was on the B.S. Report way back in March 2012 — but you most likely heard about this one, since he said the word "nigger" (in the context of "it's not OK to call someone a 'nigger'" — he wasn't just dropping an N-bomb casually) and mainstream media freaked the fuck out.

After you've listened to that episode, take some time to listen to Maron talk to his producer, Brendan McDonald, about setting this up. Maron had been scheduled to be on vacation, so that was rescheduled, so McDonald dealt with Secret Service and such leading up to the interview.

Maron has one of the most popular podcasts on the planet. His 2010 reconciliation with comedian Louis CK was selected as the best podcast ever recorded. He's interviewed Terry Gross, Robin Williams, Mick Jagger and over 600 other people. For most of the people who aren't scared of disruptive technology and formats, Maron is old guard in a new world.

But still, this wasn't like doing Bill Simmons' podcast with ESPN (a Disney subsidiary) backing it. That's still old media, just in a new format. For his WTF appearance, the president parked his helicopter at the Hollywood Bowl, climbed into a car and went to go talk to a comedian in his garage.

If podcasting hadn't already arrived, it has now. And it's only going to get stronger.

Mind dump: Charleston church shooting

"They're already using the nuanced language of lack of effort," Jon Stewart said on a night when he had no jokes for his opening monologue.

The shooting Wednesday night at Emanuel AME in Charleston was different from the bigger racially-tinged violence we've had this past year. On Staten Island and in Ferguson, white police officers were responsible for the deaths of black men on the street. In Baltimore, it was again white police officers responsible for the death of a black man, this time in custody. These turned into citizens vs. authority figures.

Charleston was different: A young white man walked into a black church and killed nine black people who were at Bible study.

As some of you know, I work in news. The story unfolded very slowly for us. The shooting took place around 9:30 p.m. For a long time, all the news we knew came from the Charleston Police Department's Twitter feed.

My parents live in Charleston, and, in fact, my father had finished up giving a tour and left downtown right as the shooting happened. I got a text from my mother, who said their internet and cable went down right around 9:30. Interesting.

We first got a paragraph of news from the ground at about 11:15 p.m. That's a surprisingly long time. Over the next hour and a half, we got bits and pieces of information. You can see our first story, which incorporates that trickle, is clearly a cobbled together mishmash of information. By about 1 a.m., there were confirmed deaths, and when we finished about 3 a.m., this is what we knew. So, not much.

Looking back only 36 hours after the shooting, things came about very quickly. The suspect was arrested, the governor is calling for the death penalty and the mourning can start in earnest without the manhunt. Now there are some things that are definitely worth talking about.

The sanctity of church. The victims of this shooting were gathered in a place of prayer, comfort and safety. I don't understand the underlying feeling that compels someone to shoot people, but I have to think that, beyond whatever racial hatred is at play here, it takes a little something different to walk into a church to shoot people. Apparently, Emanuel AME has seen this kind of thing before. It surprises me that in a Bible Belt town, a house of worship isn't sacred.

The Charleston paper didn't pull a gun ad.

I get that there are perfectly legal reasons to own guns. I definitely respect the right to hunt, and I understand that by getting my meat at the grocery store I'm just asking someone else to kill an animal for me. But also note that the suspect arrested in this case, Dylann Roof, owned his gun legally. By and large, guns used in crimes are obtained illegally.

But let's look beyond gun control for a moment. A newspaper is historically the conscience of its community, and The Post and Courier is a really good paper. But I think placing an ad right on top of a major shooting story is something I hope took a lot of discussion when they were getting ready to distribute. Sometimes it's worth saying, "Sorry, we had to pull the ad."

The confederate flag is the only one at full staff over the state capitol. Far be it from me to tell you how to show your state's colors. But. The U.S. flag and South Carolina state flag were being flown at half staff at S.C. government buildings, but the confederate flag is at full staff. The flag is a point of pride for some, and a point of hatred for others. State officials decided at one point over the past few years it should remain at the capitol. Go ahead, remember it as a symbol of states' rights. But admit that it means something else entirely to a lot of people. To many, it's a symbol of oppression. This might be the right time to take it down entirely, but at least have the respect to fly it at half staff with the others.

#WeWillShootBack. This is among the more difficult things we're going to have to deal with as a nation. While up until this point, the unifying cry has been #BlackLivesMatter, the conversation on Twitter has shifted from a position of resistance to a position of revenge. With that necessarily comes a responsibility for all to be vigilant, and to not take on an act of pure revenge — that is, walk into a church and shoot a bunch of innocent white worshippers. That would be an identical act of hatred.

What are your initial thoughts?

More discussion: Parsing Ferguson »

Get smarter: 3 places to get free books!

I've been reading all the Sherlock Holmes books this year. A couple of pages a night, just about every night before bed. The books are easy to read, entertaining, a good transition from the day. It will take me the bulk of the year to finish. I'm sure there will be a post when I'm done.

That's not all I'm reading, of course. But rather than spending hundreds of dollars a year on books that sometimes sit on the shelf for years, I've become a fan of discovering interesting free stuff. Here are some great places to find free books.

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is named after Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of moveable type. They're approaching 50,000 ebooks available in several formats, and they have some audiobooks as well — some of which are auto-generated from the texts.

LibriVox

LibriVox, as the name suggests, is free audiobooks, read by volunteers. All the books are public domain. Some of the readings are dramatic, some are funny, and some are collective. I listened to James Joyce's Ulysses, and each chapter was read by a different volunteer. LibriVox has a mobile app, too, and offers its titles for download. I was in the car for five hours on Saturday, and listened to a bunch of Gulliver's Travels, which I'd never read.

Open Culture

Open Culture is something else entirely. The have fewer titles, and often they'll link out to other sources. But you can spend hours perusing ebooks, textbooks, language lessons, audiobooks and a variety of classes and films.

BONUS!

Did you know there's a single source to search public libraries? If you're looking for a specific title but don't have access to a good library catalog, WorldCat will find a copy near you. And if you're looking for the takeaways from great books, Maria Popova does an amazing job with Brain Pickings.

Now you just have to figure out what's next on your list!

Are you your cause? Art, and life, for your own sake

He died seeking the cause, seeking A cause. He was already dead, he never really lived — uptown, downtown, crosstown — his body was found all over town.

Every now and again I wander back toward the edge. I rewatch "Piñero" (watch) and "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and remember to be open my eyes a little — maybe not wider, but differently, both outside and inside (myself and the house).

In a world in which we're focused on Baltimore and Ferguson and train wrecks and royal babies and underinflated footballs, we need to take time to remember that while the world might be bigger than us, we are not. And further, we are us. I am me. You are you.

I often look to others for inspiration, but those I feel most inspired by are people who do things outside my field(s). I understand the Miguel Piñero portrayed by Benjamin Bratt. That got me started doing some spoken word about 11 years ago, and I've since had some of those poems published in juried journals and compiled chapbooks.

But street artists like Shepard Fairey (known for the Andre the Giant "Obey" posters and the Barack Obama "Hope" posters), Banksy, Invader and even Mr. Brainwash make me want to dabble in something different; not what they do, since that's not my thing. But they open my eyes in different directions.

The same holds true when I watch parkour videos.

David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, mentions something along these lines when he talks to Marc Maron. Byrne grew up in suburban Baltimore, and it wasn't until he went off to college at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) that he started meeting black people and Jews and rich kids and people from California — California! — who all helped broaden his horizons and help formulate what became his style: something of a fusion of a variety of influences. Did you know he couldn't actually speak any French when he wrote "Psycho Killer"?

These artists and poets and athletes don't do it for the money (though Piñero eventually made a living writing for TV and Fairey and Banksy have become well-known artists), they did it, and continue to do it, for themselves.

The important thing, though, is to remember something Rick Rubin tells Tim Ferriss: Compete only with yourself, and don't think too much. Write a better song tomorrow than you did yesterday; don't try to write a better song than The Beatles wrote. Lead with your heart, then let the brain look at what the heart has presented.

He died yesterday, he’s dyin’ today, he’s dead tomorrow. Died seekin’ a Cause, died seekin’ the Cause, & the Cause was in front of him, & the Cause was in his skin & the Cause was in his speech & the cause was in his blood but he died, he died seekin the cause. Seekin A cause. He died deaf, dumb and blind and he died and never found his cause because he never, you see, he never never knew — HE was THE CAUSE.“

What are you going to do for you?

[Both excerpts from Miguel Piñero, "Seekin' the Cause".]

Discovering your photos: The world we live in now

google-images-screengrab

2015-04-14 10.02.30Above is a screen grab from Google Images' search page. At right you'll see a smattering of the sweetgum tree seed pods that fell in our yard this spring.

I know they're sweetgum seed pods because I took my phone out of my pocket, took a picture with it, uploaded the photo to Google Images (you can do this by clicking the photo icon at the right of the search field), and it spit out and bunch of like images that I could click on and learn about the contents.

Pretty much none of that last sentence made sense 20 years ago. A phone in your pocket? Maybe if it was a cordless, and you definitely couldn't sit down. Take a picture with your phone? I'm not even sure that was on anyone's radar. The rest of it? Well, google.com was first registered in 1997. Pretty much all Internet 20 years ago was dial-up, and even the "high speed" stuff still took a long time to upload a photo. There were probably people working on the "what is this a picture of?" thing, but with the sort of speed I found this out with? Not even a thought.

I know I've written about innovation recently, but I am just continuously astounded at the world around me.

Next time you complain about poor cellular signal or the crappy battery on your phone, remember that it wasn't too long ago that if you wanted to talk on the phone you had to be attached to a wall, and if you wanted to take pictures, you had to carry your camera bag.

How do you see a blank page?

Marc Maron spoke to Amber Tamblyn this week on his podcast (listen here). The actress has a new book of poetry, Dark Sparkler, out.

In the book, Tamblyn uses troubled and deceased child actresses as inspiration for poems (she herself began acting professionally as a preteen).

One notable moment in the podcast is when Maron opens the book to a poem dedicated to Lindsay Lohan, and finds nothing but a titled on an otherwise blank page. He finds it very pessimistic, but Tamblyn doesn't agree. She says she's not willing to impose anything on Lohan (though to be fair, putting her name on the page sure does impose something, it's just a bit more open to interpretation, I think).

While Maron looks at that blank page as pessimistic — empty, devoid — I feel very optimistic about it. There's still a chance to write a whole story there — and not only that, but a new story, leaving a past behind.

On the other hand, some of you will have read The Wit and Wisdom of Spiro T. Agnew or SEX after 60, which are famously blank for humorous reasons.

So, what is it? How do you see a blank page?

Get smarter: Seth Godin talks to Srini Rao about responsibility and work

It's not often that a podcast comes along that really, truly teaches some lessons. Sure, there are often great lessons hidden in podcasts, or you can come away from them as a whole saying, "I definitely learned something," but very few really require a notebook and a pen alongside your earphones.

Such is the case, however, when Seth Godin talks to Srini Rao on The Unmistakable Creative.

I'm not going to ramble on too much; I'd rather you just go give it a listen. Godin's new book is called What To Do When It's Your Turn (And It's Always Your Turn). He and Rao discuss the benefit of blogging every day, of ability to dodge responsibility in a corporate workplace, and a bunch of other stuff you should be ready to examine yourself over.