Shrunken Heads

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Typical Leftover World’s Fair Museum

When I was a kid we used to go on field trips from school or my parents, usually my Mom, would take us to the big museums in the city. Now if you live in some Podunk city like I do now, even if it’s a pretty good sized metro area like Charlotte, NC, you aren’t going to have the same experience. Your museums are crap. No real mummies or tombs. I’m talking about the old museums where they had all the stuff the imperialists stole from the rest of the world. Anyway when I was a kid we went to the museums that were left over from old World’s Fairs. My favorite was the Museum of Natural History because they had so many freaky things in it. I mean really freaky things. Cool stuff and it was real not some special effects re-creation rubber crap.

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Shrunken Heads

It’s hard to know where to start so I’ll start where we always started, everyone’s favorite: shrunken heads. The museum had maybe a dozen real shrunken heads from South America in this glass case. They were so cool. Now most of these were of natives who I suppose were always whacking each other’s heads off Hatfield and McCoy style anyway. We didn’t care about them in our ethnocentric childlike way. But there were two that were Europeans (I’m not sure how they determined the nationality; they all looked pretty much the same) and that really freaked us. I always thought: What if that was my great, great, grandma in that glass case with all those other heads? They showed how they made the heads with real photographs too. They outlawed trade in shrunken heads in the 1920s or 1930s for obvious reasons so a lot of museums don’t have any heads. They also had shrunken monkey or I suppose chimp heads but these were strictly novelty fare. However if real ones (monkey I mean) had been for sale in the museum souvenir shop we would have definitely bought them. See you’ve got to live in a city old enough, and big enough, to have important stuff like this.

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Pickled Punks

The next thing we always went to see was the Pickled Punks (I stole this from carny talk but that’s what we all called them too). The Punks were real human fetuses at various stages of development preserved in big glass jars. We always wondered where the ones that looked like an almost born kid came from since they looked perfectly normal and we felt kind of sorry for them. There were a few freaks too, two headers and the like, but we actually didn’t look at these much. I’m not sure why. The regular fetuses were the main attraction.

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The Thin Man

Next was always Roast Beef Man. Roast Beef Man was this guy they sliced in a giant deli slicer like you get cold cuts from. They sliced him sandwich thin and put the results in a series of parallel glass cases so you could see progressively all the way through all the organs and stuff, even the dick (We thought this was just the greatest of course, especially on school field trips with girls.). We always wondered how they sliced him so thin (this was way before cutting lasers were common), well actually we didn’t wonder, we figured they did use a huge deli slicer. Can you imagine pushing that guy back and forth across the giant rotating knife and seeing him come off like pastrami?

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After the Thin Man came mummies. They had a lot of crap from tombs and all, but nobody wanted to see that, although the reconstructed tomb itself was pretty good. We really wanted to see the wrapped and unwrapped mummies. There were Egyptian ones and South American ones. None of them looked like nor were as tall as Boris Karloff, which was always disappointing. I always wondered why you could dig up these people from their graves and show them off. Think about it. In a couple of thousand years they’re gonna dig you up and you’re on display for everyone to see in some museum. Not a pretty thought, but maybe better than worm bait.

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Cave Man

Next were those dioramas showing life size cave men in supposedly contemporaneous surroundings. They never changed, and looking back on it now I wonder why, since anthropology and archeology kept discovering new things about prehistoric man even back then but the dioramas never changed. They probably still have the same ones now. The Carboniferous era dioramas were cool too because they had dragonflies and their ilk that were as big as a toaster oven. Here’s a good question. If all the oil and gas and coal and diamond comes from plants and animals in Carboniferous times that were all squeezed up and transformed by tectonics or what not, why doesn’t it still happen now? Why aren’t we getting all squished up and turned into crude oil. Think about it. Did dinosaurs just not get out of the way when a big continent came rushing up at a few feet a century? Then it’s like, okay, crude oil production is geologically done now. That time is over so on to the Renaissance or whatever.

Finally dinosaurs; those giant bone fossils put back together and dwarfing the museum space. Brontosaurus and especially the full size Tyrannosaurus Rex were the favorites. Now I guess they didn’t have enough fossils all the time so they always filled out the exhibit hall with “reconstructed” skeletons made out of colored paper mache or something. These of course were of inferior entertainment value and thus shunned by us when we identified them as crude fakes.

There were still endless things to look at in the museum but these were all the primary attractions. Nobody wants to know about or look at dioramas of things crawling out of the ocean for the first time or fossils that were smaller than a Volkswagen so lunch at the crappy cafeteria (no McDonalds in the museum back then) was usually on tap by this time and after that either back on the bus (field trip) or begging Mom to leave ’cause we were bored now having seen all the worthwhile attractions.

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Penguins

For some reason it seemed like every time we went to the museum there would be some big group of Orthodox Jews and/or a whole bus load of Penguins (= nuns) at the museum. These were both an oddity to us although there were inevitably reformed Jews and a lot of Catholics in our school group. What do they do round up all the nuns in the convent and take them on a field trip? What are they interested in in a museum? Probably shrunken heads, Pickled Punks, and Roast Beef Man. I wonder if they always go to see the shrunken heads first. Maybe it’s one of their missionary friend’s ancestor. Nuns are already creepy so a nun shrunken head would be super creepy. They should make a little habit to go with the head but headhunters probably wouldn’t think of that.

Pessimism

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As I said in my next to last post you are probably becoming by now the poster boy or girl for this blog. If you can send a picture of you in your new carefree, and most of all, leisurely lifestyle I might feature it here, anonymously of course (see below for what you should really expect to happen).

I really struggled with the title for this post.  Should I call it pessimism, optimism, hope, or despair because we’re going to hit all of these here?  I decided on the straight forward approach instead of the facetious one, again for reasons that will become evident.

But onward in our journey to nirvana. The subject for this day is Pessimism, pure and simple, and I’m going to show you how to apply this little word to your outlook about everything. It’s so simple: always expect the worst. That’s it, see what I mean? We’re trending towards the Zen of life. Life is so simple really that the truths about it are almost self-evident, but really expect life to be so complicated that you are never going to understand anything. There, we’ve already applied it.  Always expect to be disappointed. This is the only way to never be let down: always expect to be disappointed, then in the rare circumstance that something good does happen, you’ll be ecstatic, however when the more probable opposite occurs you won’t EVER be disappointed.

What a great way to live. If you can apply this along with the Dminus principle (see my earlier post) then life will become unbearable but essentially worry free.

Let’s see if we can find how you can apply this to a more practical situation. At work, always assume, even with a lack of evidence, that your co-workers are sniveling, back stabbing, over-ambitious weasels who are going to take the credit for all your work and get promoted a lot faster although they never deserved it. Now you cannot imagine a day when you are going to be let down in your expectations by the behavior of your co-workers. In the rare event that you are in a meeting and someone says: “Oh no, I didn’t do all this Shirley did some of it,” you are going to be on cloud nine. I would say happy enough to take the rest of the day off, go to a bar, and call in sick the next morning (again, see the Dminus principle). If the opposite happens and they take all the credit for what was mostly your work, well you expected as much and can’t really be disappointed. Either way, you weren’t disappointed. Voilà, life is actually the dreary drudge you thought it would be.  This applies to everything in your pathetic life:  your spouse, your job, your physical fitness plan (again, see earlier posts), your health, your finances, your family, your so-called friends and on and on.  The areas for application are endless.

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However, there are a number of hazards in this lifestyle: optimists and an attitude of hopefulness. Optimists are to be avoided at all costs. Assume they are possessed by a demon that wants to knock you off your currently successful downward slide and take advantage of you at the same time. They are never to be trusted. They will get you to read books by Norman Vincent Peale, Tony Robbins, and their ilk. They will tell you about the failed philosophy of positive thinking and that you are a good person with talents that are yet untapped, and we all know none of this is true as shown by past experience. What you do know is that they are waiting to swindle you and put you on a path that will leave you circling the drain without hope.

Which brings me to my second hazard: hope. Never ever hope for anything to get better. It won’t and you already know this. Hope leads to the ultimate disappointment unless it is hope for the worst to happen. If anything gives you even an inkling that things are going to work out, get as far away from it as possible, mentally and physically.  Again, avoid at all costs.

I apply this principle of unbroken pessimism as often as possible in my own life. If you look at some of my earlier posts, I expected the worst outcome in both the Dunbar and stock market situations. Was I disappointed? No way the worst outcome I had expected happened. I could go along in my already depressed state knowing that only something worse could still happen.  There you have it.

Oh, and have a lousy day.

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In my next to last post I told you I was going to tell you about Chicago Nice. Well I didn’t and you were on the edge of your seat waiting for what I was going to say. Now you’re disappointed. See how it would have been so much better to assume I was lying or forgetful and not have anticipated that I would reveal this other principle of a nirvana-like life.  I promise I’ll get to it in a later post, but you know what?  Don’t be disappointed if I don’t.

Physical Fitness

imageBy now you’ve probably started to model your life around this blog. That’s what I’m here for. Between my Grandfather and myself, we know pretty much everything there is to know, so relying on this blog when making big life decisions is a good thing for you to do. That’s what I’m here for. Ooops, already said that. Well you know what they say about repetition being the…

132_oval_decalLet’s now turn our weary heads to look at something I’ve begun to notice: those little oval stickers on cars that say “13.2” or “26.4.” It’s a secret code between a secret society of fitness nuts that we, the slovenly, are not supposed to know. Except they really do want us to figure this out so we can ask them: “When did you run your last half-marathon?” or something like that. For some stupid reason these people put this magic number on their car or t-shirt and we are supposed to be clever enough to break their code and realize that 13.2 is how many miles are in a half-marathon. So what? Why didn’t they just put a sticker on their car that said “Ask me about how I ran my last half-marathon?” No, I’m supposed to play dumb and say: “Hey, What’s that 13.2 sticker for?”

First, yours truly has zero interest in your current jag of ego-stretching self-torture that you like to call fitness. Second, I know nothing about it. I don’t know or want to know anything about your shoes, your special running shorts, your iPhone running app, your running social network, your training regimen. Remember you are talking to someone who has zero interest already in spectator sports where they actually keep score, so watching, hearing, thinking about a little thing like running faster has no appeal; especially listening to your self-torture sagas, isn’t on today’s to-do list.

I used to try to run. Actually ran a few races but I found I hated it. I have some physical debilities which we won’t go into here that makes running a pretty painful and unrewarding experience anyway. Let’s call it a physical limitation. That got me thinking about exercise and physical fitness in general.

Exercise is always painful. It is always harder to do than not do, as Hamlet or Yoda would say. I mean what’s so bad about being lazy? Why are we so crazy about exercise? We take the idea of a pleasant walk hither and yon to some extreme painful sweating, pounding, breathing, agonizing speed obsession. There you have it. “I can run a Marathon just like some Greek messenger with a Post-it Note did a coupla thousand years ago.” Big deal! They didn’t have cell phones back then so this was pretty much the only form of speedy communication. Pick up the phone! Why do we imitate this poor sucker who probably had to do this or he wasn’t getting any dinner?

It makes me feel better…

What? You felt better while you were trying to come up that steep hill at 10 mph than you would have if you had been sitting with me having a few watching Spongebob Squarepants? I don’t think so. Oh you meant afterwards, like when you puke your gravy at the finish line and have to drink only Gatorade for two days straight to get rid of that headache and the trots. That feelin’ better. I tell you what, I feel a little winded when I get up to get another cold one from the fridge, so why don’t you put on those fancy shoes you just bought and get me a brew and then we’ll both be feelin’ a whole lot better.

SpongeBob_main_charactersSo now we have established the universal rule that all exercise that’s going to be “good” for you is also going to be painful and boring while you are doing it.

Our next hurdle:

You’ll live longer…

Yeah, so you can torture yourself with more marathons. Here I introduce the science of the “life extension equation.” The principle is simple: exercise effort time (feelin’ bad time) has to be less than life extension time for exercise to be a net gain in life. So, say I run a marathon in four hours (what is a reasonable time? doesn’t matter just for example), if my life is extended by only four more hours I want my money back. See 4 hours of pain = four hours longer life is the game breaker. If I can’t at least get more life extension than time I’ve spent in exercise hell then I’m a loser.

Well this is easy, sure you’re gonna get more than four hours of life back for running that marathon (versus Spongebob + Beer). Now wait a minute. The devil is in the details. How do we define the feelin’ bad time, the torture time? Is it only the actual exercise time, or is it something else? Maybe we should include the training time, or the warmup time, or the time it took to drive, fly, bike to the event. But hey, those were all “feel good time” life wasters, weren’t they. Yeah sure. But were they as good as they could have been? (Spongebob + Beer) To be fair you’ve gotta include all the time you spent jogging, preparing, training, shopping, etc. for the marathon as bad feelin’ time. No way were they as fun as Spongebob+Beer time.

beer%20can%20genericI’m pretty sure when you total it all up you would have been better off in the old life extension equation spending your time with me watching Spongebob and drinkin’ beer.

So I don’t run, I don’t go to any gym, I don’t own any exercise equipment (=clothes racks). When I go for a walk it’s to get somewhere, or listen to the tweet tweets (Mother Nature), or an excuse to listen to an audiobook or some loud music my family hates. I don’t wanna live longer if it includes some self flagellation ritual I have to exchange daily for my life to be extended.

Because I figure when I go there are going to be three options: nada, Spongebob+Beer, or a Treadmill machine and I won’t get to pick when the so-called inevitable comes at whatever time of life. I’ll know when I get there if I’ve been good.

Suckers

We’re all suckers. Everyone of us; marks, dupes, half-wits, morons, dumb-asses, you name it. Why, because the universe doesn’t actually work the way we think it does nor the way everyone told us, even in academia, it does. The real why is outliers; unpredictable and profound ways the future does not resemble the past. And sometimes you cannot avoid it. That’s why we’re all suckers.

Take the chicken for example. For 1,000 days the farmer brings it food; every day food, and even more food each day as it grows bigger. The chicken likes the farmer, he even tries to get at the front of the line when he comes out to feed the other chickens because then you get even more chicken feed. Then on day 1,001 the farmer comes out and chops off his head. The chicken is a sucker, a mark, a fool. Why? Obvious right. In hind sight, even though the farmer never came out with a cleaver to cut anyone else’s head off in the past 1,000 days, he shoulda known this could happen. Right. We’re that smart. Suckers.

In fact the chicken should have been trying to escape from the coop those 1,000 days instead of being at the front of the line so he could be the first sucker, every minute of those 1,000 days, escape, at least when he was fat and happy he should have been trying to get out of that coop and get away. He shoulda seen it comin’ just like we would have. Right? Serves him right, the sucker.

We would have known better. We would have taken a lesson from the past and applied it to life today and avoided being the sucker. Right. Suckers.

I’ll give one example: the real estate bubble that popped in 2008 and took the world economy into “The Great Recession.” Everyone lost their retirement savings, pension fund savings were depleted, even world governments (Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain) went into the dumper. In hindsight we shoulda, woulda, coulda, avoided this. We shoulda known everyone wasn’t going to live in Las Vegas or Dublin eventually. We shoulda known those nebulous mortgage backed securities were potentially pretty shaky. Right. Suckers.

In fact, we had an advantage over the chicken, we actually had prior knowledge that this could happen. Remember the Internet bubble in 2000? Everyone’s gonna want to buy their dog food on-line eventually. Right. Look up “Tulip Mania” for an example a long, long time ago. Go ahead, Google it, this’ll still be here when you’re done. Alright, everyone (no one) back? Suckers.

Outliers, I finally get to my point. History, economics, politics, even science, just about everything is ultimately mainly because of the outlier (head chopping day), not the average (feeding day). Most of our hindsight is worthless. Those nice rising graphs about Pets.com stock. Worthless, all stocks tend to rise in a rising market. Tomorrow is going to be just like yesterday. The graphs tell us so. Financial advisors tell us so, politicians tell us so, historians tell us so, and even some scientists (THEY should know better) tell us so. When they make their graphs they omit the outlier, (That was just one day. Look at the trend, that can’t happen again, it’s too far out of the norm. Something was wrong that day. And the real kicker: The numbers don’t support it!) we can safely ignore it. If anyone says any of these things to you, get as far away as possible from them. They’re suckers and they want to make you one. Blood sucking vampires and werewolves that will change you into one of them overnight. A sucker.

History is the facts conveniently packaged where the historian decides in hindsight what to include and what to ignore (If you don’t believe read the basis for the criticism of most history papers) and combines them into a linear narrative and almost always they will ignore the outlier when predicting the future from that past history. Life isn’t linear, it’s real bumpy and dominated by the outlier. Numbers that work in the idealized realms of science (sometimes, be careful) and mathematics don’t work in the squishier realms of the real world. Suckers.

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Why is this relevant now? Simple: The Dow Jones Industrial Average, DJIA. Look at the graphs and then throw them away. Don’t be a sucker. But most of you will keep on being suckers, the sheep herded every day by the media, advisors, politicians, city councilmen, the doom sayers. You’re gonna keep your mutual fund in the stock market too long. But don’t worry because even if it crashes things will get better, they always do, and it can’t happen again anyway. It never did before, sucker.

If you have the slightest interest in this and how to potentially not be a sucker please read

    The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He conveys it so much better and in a more entertaining style. I never had an original idea in my life so that’s where it came from.

D minus

Having worked for The Man for most of my life and always attempting to get/do the best I can while not working too too hard, I started to think about the positive aspects of underachieving. Since life has a finite span, why not take it easy and get as much leisure time in as possible? Why work so hard for anything except what you like to do? And if someone’s gettin’ paid to do it, it ain’t called a hobby but another four-letter word that starts with a “w”, and I do not want to have to do it. Besides lowered expectations are the key to never getting disappointed and a happier life in the first place. Aren’t they?

Let me tell you a little, absolutely true story. When I was in High School I knew a guy who was our Zen master. He didn’t know it, but we did. His name was Rob A., but that’s not important. We called him The Dead Man. On a certain day and at a certain time that he could tell you, when roll call for the day was being called, the Dead Man decided not to care anymore. He decided the key to a happy life was not caring. Why this time? Just luck sorta. At roll call or attendance the teachers would always get Rob’s last name wrong. He heard Anders, Anderson, Anthony, Andrews, etc. but never the correct last name. He tried to correct whoever was taking attendance each and every time, to no avail. On this particular morning though Rob decided to become the Dead Man. He just said “Okay” when his name was called incorrectly and life was beautiful, if somewhat more planar in elevations.

The Dead Man had all sorts of interesting consequences to his changes in outlook. He only ever had one new pencil and one sheet of blank paper for that day and if either was lost or stolen would not finish anything else for the day, even tests. When asked why he was turning in a blank test he would reply: “I lost my pencil.” The teacher of course asked him why he didn’t ask to borrow a writing instrument and he would reply: “I lost my pencil and I don’t care.” If this useless train went on for too long the Dead Man would inevitably finish it by saying: “Alright, okay,” and that was it. He was done. He would not speak again on it. He had ceased to care about it or answering the useless question again. Once again a happy Dead Man.

But this is not what made him our Zen Master. I remember the day another friend said we were going to be in the class block with The Dead Man. He said it was going to be great. We couldn’t wait for next Fall (actually we hated school so next Fall could be a millennium away even with the Dead Man in our classes and it wouldn’t be far enough off). Well next Fall came of course and during the first week the teachers were sorting out how things were going to work. The teacher told us and showed us clearly what was going to be necessary to get an A, a B, or a C. Normal stuff except the Dead Man raised his hand. Now this in itself signaled an event of earth shattering importance. The Dead Man never raised his hand. He answers if called upon, but he never volunteers. Never. If he gets things wrong it is the usual “alright, okay.” Anyway, the teacher asks the Dead Man, “Do you have a question, Rob?” And the Dead Man replies with the single most important question you could ask in your life: “How much do you have to do to get a D-minus?” This of course brought the house down, but he was clearly serious. And he was right. He had captured the essence of a fulfilled life: not caring and a D-minus effort.

We were the snooty kids; the “gifted” children in our school so we were in all the “advanced” classes. The Dead Man had figured it out. All he had to do to graduate high school and go to college was get a report card peppered with C’s D’s, and D-minuses. They had to graduate him as long as he didn’t fail, get an “F.” Brilliant! He had perfected, in the academic world anyway, the art of getting by with just the minimum. Just squeaking by. He was going to college no matter what since he was smart. His SAT’s were going to be outstanding (as long as he didn’t lose that pencil) so grades were a non-issue. He was going to the big in-state college anyway. He had two full years ahead of not caring rack time sewn up.

It turned out that actually getting a D-minus was one of the hardest things imaginable. Harder than getting an A. You had to beg for it and that required at least C effort. Teachers loved giving out B’s and C’s and D’s and even F’s but a D-minus was almost impossible to get. The Dead Man actually graduated without getting a single D-minus. It was unattainable. This proves how little a D-minus effort takes. The Dead Man was a pretty smart guy really and even though he never took notes or did any homework he did well above average in school. Tests cinched it for him, unless he lost that damn pencil. However, he had clarified for all of us, for the rest of our lives, the philosophy to follow to maximize happiness: do the absolute minimum to get by, get a D-minus.

So, to make my already long story even longer I began thinking recently how you could apply this principle to every part of your life: work, yard maintenance, car repair, and on and on. The amount of free time it opens up is incredible. I’ve even found a way to solve the unemployment problem in the world. If everyone could embrace the concepts of not caring and just getting by, what I call the D-minus Principle, everyone will be happy, or as happy as someone without cares can be. See what I mean? The other beauty of my system is it’s totally dependent on you alone. You are now pretty much your own boss because instead of putting in all the time and effort to do an A+ job, you are now going to do just enough to do a D-minus job, just enough to not get fired. It has no dependence on your coworkers, your spouse, your church, or anyone else. Whatever they do doesn’t reflect on your D-minus performance. The only effort is the little bit it requires to find out how you can get a D-minus instead of an F. The benefit of the doubt is usually all it takes. In fact, it is to your benefit if only a few people take my advice, but once they see the benefits everyone will want to slouch on board.

Now think about it. If everyone embraced this principle then everything in the world will tend toward a D-minus, just good enough not to fail. This means actually more workers will be needed to do even a substandard job just to get by. You’ll need tons of them to get even the smallest complex task accomplished. Voila, no unemployment. Sure things will get crappier in general, kind of like they used to be in those good ol’ days you’ve been pining for anyway, but hey it doesn’t matter. Example: your car breaks down more because now everything is based on just getting by on the minimum. Where’s the problem? You already don’t care right? That was the first part of the principle. But on top of that you’re trying to do a D-minus job at work and that means weaseling out of the maximum number of days at work without getting fired. You call in, late of course, ’cause you’re sleepin’ in today, and say “Hey my car’s broken I won’t be in today.” Benefit of the doubt remember? In addition your boss is doing a D-minus job so that involves not reporting how many workers are laying out each day and firing you to hire anyone else is going to take at least a C-level effort. The system reinforces itself. Full employment – maximum leisure time for everyone. Perfect.

You know what? I’m not going to even proofread this before I post it and I’m not attaching any photos or links or anything. You know what, I’m going to push the “Publish” button right now. Know why? I wanna watch WWE Raw and kill a few brews. Because I’ve got better things, more fun things, to do now and I’ve already put in a D-minus effort.