Category Archives: Ideas

Before committing

Lots of things are easier to get into than to get out of, like marriage or buying a new car. So drilling down into the potential ramifications is a good idea.  Here’s a good trick from from a contributor on Kevin Kelly’s CoolTools site.

I’ve gotten in the habit of searching for “Things I wish I knew before I started X.” It can help you prepare for your next endeavor and avoid common pitfalls. I did this recently with “Things I wish I knew before I got pregnant,” and I’m so glad I did, because it eased a lot of my fears and makes me appreciate this in-between time. 

The pre-orgasmic meditator

A long time ago I read about how to refer to a woman who hadn’t experienced an orgasm. She wasn’t “non-orgasmic,”  she was merely  “pre-orgasmic.”

The implication being that the pre-orgasmic woman can, at some point, have one through practice and the right setting.

Sex and meditation are different, but are there any overlaps? Through meditation some people experience heightened sensory states while others just experience an awareness of their thoughts and feelings. So I starting wondering if the second group of meditators might be thought of as meditative version of a pre-orgasmic woman? Maybe with enough time and practice will the big wow, altered states happen?

In meditation, I don’t know if the euphoric sensations are vital, because reaching beneficial altered traits is lasting and more important the temporary altered states.

If a pre-orgasmic woman never had an orgasm before she died but she actually enjoyed sex and felt bonded with her partner, would she have had an unfulfilled life? What’s more important, headlines or trend lines?

Meditation is more often underwhelming because, for me, it’s mostly a sub-perceptual result, but one that accumulates.

You’ll rarely know what states a meditator reaches because the outcome is  internal and personal.

Over the past 2,500 years, Buddhists and others have charted many common mile markers for the inner lives of meditators. But the only real way to verify these altered states and traits is by monitoring a meditator’s brainwaves in a lab.

I don’t know what Steve Jobs level of meditative attainment was, but he said this, “If you just sit and observe, you’ll see how restless your mind is… over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things – that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”

Our economy and our culture

Someone once said, “The task isn’t so much to see what no one has seen, but to think what nobody has yet thought, concerning that which everybody sees.”

Think about this, you could do Richard Branson’s job, most of the time. Most of the time he’s just doing stuff most people could do at work.

His real job is seeing new opportunities, making good decisions, and understanding connections between his audience, his brand, and his ventures.

You could do Warren Buffett’s job, most of the time. Most of the time he’s just reading in his modest office in Omaha. He doesn’t take a lot of meetings or micro-manage his managers.

Once in a while though, he pushes a huge pile of chips across the table  making mostly successful investments in opportunities he sees.

You could do Dave Chappelle’s job, most of the time. Most of the time he’s hanging out in Ohio observing life.

But now and then, he walks out on a stage in front of hundreds of people and has to be funny.

How many more of these folks are out there but haven’t been able to realize there potential because of racism, sexism, and disproportional wealth distribution? Unfortunately, creativity is more broadly distributed than the opportunity to put it to use.

What’s great about this country is that America became the place where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. A Coke is a Coke. You can’t get you a better Coke, all Cokes are the same. Beyonce knows it, the President knows it, the bum on the corner knows it, and you know it.

But what are the tapeworms of the American system? What’s stifling economic competitiveness and impeding a better sense of  American well-being? Workers struggling to make ends meet are a drag on the economy is one. So are opportunities to advance missed because you’re the wrong color, sex, or you’re too poor.

I just saw Dave Chappelle in a routine talking about the problem in the spotlight now – men abusing their power over women (and girls). Dave pointed out that the real problem is systemic not necessarily just bad people.

One point Dave made was, what about rewarding people who come forward to report a wrong or take a stance against something wrong instead of often punishing them? Not everyone has the fortitude or status to come forward, but if more people did and were rewarded for it, the problems wouldn’t be able to fester and hurt more people.

One example Dave gave was how a new South Africa tried to resolve the problem of apartheid by having folks from both sides of the old system come forward and recount their stories. The aim was showing that the system was deeply flawed and the people in it were acting in ways that were promoted by that system.

It comes down to this, if you knew everything about a system and you’d be willing to join in a random place then it’s a fair system. I know it’s not realistic to think 300 and something million hairless monkeys can create a system that fair, but we can do better. Action expresses priorities.

Keep it simple

Try to keep things simple. For example, find out what you aren’t good at and don’t do that. Or, from Warren Buffett, “Rule #1: Never lose money. Rule #2: Never forget rule #1.”

It boils down to trying to see the situation clearly and not making mistakes.

Believing that people use reasoning when making important decisions sometimes leads to disappointment. Here’s situation I read somewhere:

“If you play a slot machine long enough, eventually you’ll…what?” The whole group yelled out “WIN!” Well actually, everyone’s a loser in the long run, except for the casino.

They confused the benefits of persistence with the actual odds of succeeding.

It’s the same thing for folks playing the lottery, it’s a loser’s game made for people who’re bad at math.

Try to figure out if the game is rigged, and if you’re good, or not, at playing that game.

Less Stuff

People who have a lot of stuff at home are usually surprised at how much less stuff we have in our house.

Our house’s sparseness isn’t by necessity or due to lack of money. We’re not really minimalists or cheap.

In our case, it’s the result of a system rather than the goal of being minimalists. By just optimizing our lives for happiness rather than maximum consumption we just wound up with less stuff.

There’s less to worry about, clean, or have to make room for. Having less stuff is an easier and simpler way to go through life. End of story.

Longer Douglas Coupland quotes

Earth was not built for six billion people all running around and being passionate about things. The world was built for about two million people foraging for roots and grubs.

After you’re dead and buried and floating around whatever place we go to, what’s going to be your best memory of earth? What one moment for you defines what it’s like to be alive on this planet. What’s your takeaway? Fake yuppie experiences that you had to spend money on, like white water rafting or elephant rides in Thailand don’t count. I want to hear some small moment from your life that proves you’re really alive.

When someone tells you they’ve just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality. You can immediately assume so many things: that they’re locked into jobs they hate; that they’re broke; that they spend every night watching videos; that they’re fifteen pounds overweight; that they no longer listen to new ideas. It’s profoundly depressing.

Clique Maintenance: The need of one generation to see the generation following it as deficient so as to bolster its own collective ego: Kids today do nothing. They’re so apathetic. We used to go out and protest. All they do is shop and complain.

But I guess the nice thing about driving a car is that the physical act of driving itself occupies a good chunk of brain cells that otherwise would be giving you trouble overloading your thinking. New scenery continually erases what came before; memory is lost, shuffled, relabeled and forgotten. Gum is chewed; buttons are pushed; windows are lowered and opened. A fast moving car is the only place where you’re legally allowed to not deal with your problems. It’s enforced meditation and this is good.

Short Douglas Coupland quotes

There’s a lot to be said for having a small manageable dream.

Figure out what it is in life you don’t do well, and then don’t do it.

You can’t get mad at weather because weather’s not about you. Apply that lesson to most other aspects of life.

Life need not be a story, but it does need to be an adventure.

Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad lasts for very very long.

Q: If you could be an animal, what kind of animal would you be? A: You already are an animal.

Most of us have only two or three genuinely interesting moments in our lives; the rest is filler.

Healthy people are bad for capitalism.

Bleeding Ponytail: An elderly sold out baby boomer who pines for hippie or pre-sellout days.

Their god was called Gun

Maybe you’ve heard this little story about aliens visiting us. Aliens, on first observing humans, might think we serve dogs. As soon a dog poops, their attending human quickly recovers the precious gift from the dog in a special bag.

Maybe future historians, after reviewing the actions of modern Americans, might assume the American religion was built around a god called Gun. They’d see the records of mass killings using guns occurring fairly regularly, daily self sacrifices using guns, and the constant settling of disputes (usually with someone close to the shooter) with guns. Future historians would even discover there’re more pre-schoolers shot dead in America (about 75) than police officers are in a typical year.

These future historians might speculate that mental illness, criminal activity, or racial issues were the root of the problem before coming to the conclusion current researchers have come to. Namely that American violence comes down to the vast number of guns in America. These findings could lead future historians to theorize that the  US culture’s predominate god is named Gun.

They’re a couple of good articles about in the NYT , here and here, about gun violence and possible solutions. Here’re a few takeaways from the articles. The bottom line is this: The only variable explaining the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

Worldwide, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when excluding the US, indicating that it couldn’t be explained by some other factor particular. And it held when controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence. 

Americans make up about 4.4% of the global population but own 42% of the world’s guns. Only in the U.S. do we lose one person every 15 minutes to gun violence.

While there’s crime in other countries, American crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.

While mass shootings can happen anywhere, they are only a matter of routine in the US.

In 2013, American gun-related deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides and 505 deaths from accidental discharge. That same year in Japan, a country with one-third America’s population, guns were involved in only 13 deaths. America’s gun ownership rate is 150 times higher than Japan’s.

The US is one of only three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the assumption that people have an inherent right to own guns. But the US has determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.

Gun safety or reducing gun violence should be framed as a public health issue using auto safety as a model with its constant efforts to make the products safer and limiting access by people who are most likely to misuse them.

We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them – and limit access to them – so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven by 95% since 1921.

States where guns are more regulated tend to have lower gun death rates.

But the problem is that lax laws too often make it easy not only for good guys to get guns, but also for bad guys to get guns. The evidence is overwhelming that overall more guns and more relaxed gun laws lead to more violent deaths and injuries. One study found that a gun in the house was associated with an increased risk of a gun death, particularly by suicide but also by homicide.

Although it’s mass shootings that get our attention, they’re not the main cause of loss of life. Much more typical is a friend who shoots another, a husband who kills his wife – or, most common of all, a man who kills himself.

Skeptics will say that if people want to kill themselves, there’s nothing we can do. In fact, it turns out that if you make suicide more difficult, suicide rates drop.

After tightening gun laws, firearm homicide rates dropped 40 percent in Connecticut. And after Missouri eased gun laws, gun homicide rates rose 25 percent.

Our laws have often focused more on weapons themselves (such as the assault weapons ban) rather than on access. In many places, there is more rigorous screening of people who want to adopt dogs than of people who want to purchase firearms. A car or gun is usually safe in the hands of a 45-year-old woman with no criminal record, but may be dangerous when used by a 19-year-old felon with a history of alcohol offenses or domestic violence protection orders.

Sunday’s horror at a church in Texas was 100% predictable. After each such incident, we mourn the deaths and sympathize with the victims, but we do nothing fundamental to reduce our vulnerability. The question isn’t whether we’ll restrict firearms, but where to draw the line. The real impetus for change will come because the public favors it.

Black helicopters in Finland

“Black helicopters are part of a conspiracy theory claiming special silent running “black” helicopters are used by secret agents of the New World Order… in short, any farfetched theory concerning any government or other conspiracy…” from the Urban dictionary.

About six weeks ago, my wife and I happened to chat briefly with a Finnish guy in restaurant. He lives a couple of hundred kilometers north of Helsinki, in the middle of nowhere.

We were in Estonia, a small country across the Baltic sea from Sweden. It didn’t take long for him to figure out we were Americans and he said he wanted to ask us something. He wanted to know if the 9/11 attacks in the US actually happened. We assured him it was true. And that the moon landings in the late sixties happened too.

For a guy living in the middle of nowhere from the standpoint of US culture, he was pretty up to date on conspiracy theories, ones predating “fake news.” With the internet, conspiracy theories are like a mutant pollen drifting across continents. And apparently there’re minds receptive to mutant pollen all over the world.

Life’s great pleasures

“I know you’re not married, but if you were, can you imagine paying somebody to screw your wife?”

“No…” I said slowly, unsure what he was getting at. But before I could relax my eyebrows, he answered for me, “Of course not,” pausing before making his point, “It’d be the same thing as paying someone to walk your dog, why would you? It’s one of life’s great pleasures.”

Should I blame it on the fumes, I wondered?

We were hanging in a yoga studio out after working late installing a new floor. The new flooring was interlocking blue foam squares, which arrived bound together in stacks of fifteen.

After unstacking the squares and interlocking them like puzzle pieces, the off-gassing of petro chemical fumes was in high gear. The place smelled like a flip flop factory, a sickening sweet new car smell times twenty.

Then he started in about his college wrestling days as being one of his life’s great pleasures. Maybe he was breathing too many fumes because next he began trying to crush me into the new mat with wrestling moves. Kinda disrespectful, fighting in a yoga place right?

People don’t really care I guess. I remember seeing a church converted to a restaurant. And the restaurant was called “Christians.” That struck me as disrespectful somehow. But maybe it’s just no different than what cell phones and bottled water did to pay phones and drinking fountains.