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Shuffle Up and Deal: Pinback–Bbtone

Wherein I mash that shuffle button and use the song as writing prompt.

Sometimes the ol’ shuffle deals you a song that has layers of meanings for you. I got into Pinback during some difficult times and found great comfort in them. Some people find the band to be a bit gloomy and I get that. I appreciate their subtle humor and experimentalism. They are so fun to see live and I happened to move to their hometown so my appreciation of them has grown over time.

pinback

best pic i could find from last show Mari and I went to at Belly Up.

I associate Bbtone with the daily struggle of the cluttered mind and brain chemistry issues. The lyrics seem to reference the claustrophobic feelings that come from dealing with said struggle and the frustration of approaching feeling good or “normal” but not quite making it there. The last verse spells this out well:

Forever wishing
Someone near the goal
Forever pushing
Sisyphus would know
Forever wasting
Promise as it goes
Foresenics (sic) show
A summer in the hole, buddy

This isn’t a “sad” song for me though or one that puts me in a sad place. The struggle IS the point. Life is difficult, people are difficult, your own brain can be difficult.  But the drive to get by and endeavor to make things better is amazing. I take not only that lesson from this song, but also the thought that better or “normal” will (and should be) always over the next ridge.

You’ve got a nerve to be asking a favor

Gonna try this blogging thing again like it’s 10 years ago.

I keep my car parked outside at home. It’s not a big deal for me because I’m not really a car person. To tell the truth I’m still not acclimated to how big of a deal car culture is in Southern California. My visits to the car wash are few and far between and in the past my car has taken on a freeloading arachnid passenger.  This time my vehicle provided more than free rides.

My car is getting older and components and parts are starting to fail. My headlights have multiple bulbs in them and they’re starting to go. The car uses more engine oil than it used to. It’s new enough to have a handy sensor that lets me know when the engine oil is low or bulbs are out. I tend to let these notices accumulate until there is a critical mass, then I’ll grudgingly do something about it. I know, not the best way to take car of a vehicle.

It wasn’t time for an oil change yet so I set out on Sunday to buy more oil and light bulbs at the local auto parts store. I  bought the oil and equipped with my paper funnel tried to pop the hood in the parking lot. Didn’t work. Pulled on the latch harder (my solution for everything) and nothing. I walked around the car a few times, muttering and finally banged on the hood a few times and tried the latch again. No dice. I headed home, defeated.

I turned to your friend and mine — the internet–once I got home. There were theories (More about this later) regarding my make and model year and the hood not opening. If they were correct, I’d need some help from professionals so I headed to the local dealer. They tried all of the tricks they knew. They banged on the hood a few times and used a plunger-thingy to try to help it open. Nothing.  The mechanics stated the latch mechanism has two parts, one for each side, and that the linkage between them must be broken. They said they’d be willing to fix it but it would be expensive.  My mechanic suggested a body shop that could do it for less.

I made my way to the body shop. It was busy as hell and I waited for almost an hour before I could get someone to look at my car. The Body Shop explained up front they were not comfortable because they couldn’t guarantee the hood to latch again. I explained to them that I understood, but there were some pressing maintenance issues (like engine oil) that could only be solved by opening the hood.  I’m OK with taking a chance. They told me to come back the next morning (not ideal) and would see what they could do.

I went back the next day, dropped it off and went to a coffee shop to wait. The mechanic called me an hour later, told me had opened the hood and to come back. The shop workers were laughing when I walked up and told me they figured it out and the hood was fixed. I was surprised as I had been game planning on how I would get to work with a non-working vehicle.

The issue? I had a rat living in my engine.

The rat had been bringing in palm tree seeds and pods and storing them where the hood latches were and jammed them full so it wouldn’t open. The rat also shredded the engine blanket on the hood and fashioned himself a little home. There were seeds everywhere in the engine. The mechanic did his best to get most of the debris out some are just too tough to get to.

Now that the mystery was solved I had another problem. How do I prevent my rat from returning? A few days later I went to get an oil change and there was another lovely nest on the engine. I still have all kinds of questions about this. Would the rat leave when I got in the car? Would it cruise with me? If it left, where did it go? Eventually I started checking every day before I left whether it was still building nests. Every morning I would see this: rat nest

Looks comfy, right? Eventually I bought a rat trap and placed it directly under the car.  This rat was too crafty for my trap and I spent weeks throwing away nests and getting rid of seeds. Eventually it gave up or died, but not in the trap. The rat lives in my memory as a comfortable, fat rat much smarter than me.

Man made deltas and concrete rivers. The south drinks what the north delivers.

Happy Earth Day everyone. To celebrate, let’s have a discussion about the least popular animal in California since the infamous spotted owl. I present to you the delta smelt.

delta smelt
Cute little guy, isn’t he?

So, what did the delta smelt do to deserve the hatred? The same thing the spotted owl did — lived its life. People chose to utilize the law to protect these species and their habitats. This in turn inconvenienced some narrow-minded people. These narrow-minded people advance one of the stupidest arguments ever to attack the protection of these species. It goes something like, “California cares more about a fish than they do humans.”

So let’s unpack that argument. It falls apart rather quickly with some analysis and an understanding of one concept. The delta smelt is an indicator species. Generally an indicator species is any biological species that defines a trait of the environment. Zooming in on resource, species and habitat management, an indicator species is one that is sensitive to and therefore to serve as an early warning indicator of environmental changes. Typically an indicator species is in the middle of the food chain. They eat critters/plants in the habitat. They are eaten by other critters. So the rationale behind monitoring an indicator species is that if it’s healthy and doing well it is likely the interconnected system that constitutes its habitat is also thriving.

Here’s a quick example about how people intuitively understand the concept. When the settlers were emigrating from the east coast out to the plains and the west access to fresh water was at a premium. Sometimes they ran out and had to source drinking water. How would one go about doing that? The settlers looked for frogs. The presence of frogs indicated a (relatively) healthy source. No frogs equaled trouble. So that is the gist of indicator species.

It is patently absurd to state that regulators and advocates “care” more about the health of the delta smelt than the humans. The fallacy here is that regulating only in the interest of humans would always benefit humans. Remember, we are (still) completely dependent on the Earth and its systems. We know relatively little about how these systems interconnect. I believe we should err on the side of caution because the effects can be wide reaching from operating solely for the benefit of people. What about people that enjoy recreational uses of water (fishing, kayaking, etc.)? What about increased costs of treating water to drinking standards as the system degrades? Lots o’ questions here.

So, why do I think that people push this argument? One reason is that it appeals to “common sense”. I’ve written about previously. The baked in presumption that the simplest approach will bring the best results is off base. The next reason is just plain tribalism. Hippie-punching is a treasured hobby for a segment of people. California is a shining beacon of everything that is wrong in the world to that same segment. So it’s no big deal to twist logic to get some cheap shots in. The last one I’m going to advance is the complete self-absorption of our culture. We demand that everything be done so it benefits us directly. The concept of indirect benefits is becoming un-American, apparently.

So on Earth Day, try to think in a utilitarian manner. Let’s try to do things that benefit the greatest number of people because we are dealing with shared resources, health and safety issues, and a future for our children. We can all go back to being petty tribalists tomorrow (or not!). Give the delta smelt a break. It’s only trying to survive and ensure a future for its family and specie. The people who are trying to assist it by protecting flow rate, habitat, food sources, etc., are doing so for your benefit.

ETA: If anyone is curious as to how the delta smelt is doing, sampling at 40 previously friendly to smelt sites found one delta smelt. h/t Trollhattan. Thx buddy!

I’m Sean Connery, James Bonding with none of you

My favorite recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live is Celebrity Jeopardy.  I realize this doesn’t exactly make me unique.  I make up for this with fervent fandom.  My buddy Greg got me an outstanding shirt that lists some classic Celebrity Jeopardy categories.  Whenever I wear it (sorry can’t find pic) I get at least one remark from a rando in public.  Thanks for the shirt, Greg!  My brother-in-law Robbie graciously made me a CD (way back when) that had all of the audio files.  Still have it in my car and still laugh at it.

Despite all of the love I have for the sketch, I managed to miss the 3 hour SNL 40th Anniversary show AND neglect to DVR it.  Because I’m smart like that.  My friend Andy that knows I love the sketch even texted me to let me know it was on and I completely flailed. Thanks for the effort, Andy. Good looking out.

The lesson, as it frequently is here, is that I’m a moran moron.
moranHere’s a picture verifying this.

So, I ventured online to see what I could see and have been watching snippets. But the coolest thing I found was Norm MacDonald talking about the history of Celebrity Jeopardy and what it was like helping to write the Celebrity Jeopardy sketch for SNL 40. Well worth your time to read through it. Here’s a storify link, which is much easier to read than when using twitter. I learned a lot from it. Check it out and let us know what you think. 🙂

Here’s the skit from SNL 40:

thanks again Andy G for linky!

Shuffle Up and Deal

Wherein I hit shuffle on whatever music device is handy and detail the 1st song that comes up.

Queens of the Stone Age — Little Sister

Queens of the Stone Age have really grown on me over time.  With repeated listens I found new and interesting things that they do with time signatures.  I just find it really fascinating.

Little Sister is a solid song in their repertoire.  The video above is a live version they did on Saturday NIght Live that includes Will Farrell as Gene from Blue Oyster Cult on the cowbell during the 2nd half of the song.  Kills me every time.  Most songs need more cowbell.   Enjoy!

Don’t look back in anger

Welp, Mari and I took a bit of a blogcation.  It was quite lovely and I, for one, feel refreshed and ready to word-vomit all over this place.  So let’s get to it, shall we?

Over the past 5 years or so I’ve made a Christmas wish for humanity.  In 2014 I wished that everyone could experience empathy for people that aren’t in their own tribe.  In hindsight, that was waaaaaaaaaaaay to much to ask for.  If 2014 taught me anything it taught me people use empathy as a tool in conversations but they’re not getting what it means.  I think there are good reasons for this.  Empathy is difficult.  Empathy also leads to undesired self-reflection.  It is much easier to take the easy road of applying your beliefs to everyone and think you’re awesome and no one else “gets it”.

So a definition seems appropriate here:

The ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

Many people conflate empathy with sympathy. I choose to view it this way to avoid confusion: Sympathy is “feeling with” a person, such as compassion or commiseration; Empathy is “feeling into” someone else. It is the ability to project one’s own personality into another person to better understand that person.

Over the course of 2014, as empathy became a buzzword, I observed many people attempt to demonstrate that they are empathetic. Some people succeeded and it made my heart happy. Some people failed (I’m definitely in this group–it’s a work in progress). Some of these fails were spectacular or made me chuckle. I had someone tell me, “I’m trying to be empathetic but everything you think and say are just wrong.”. I appreciate the initial effort but this person isn’t taking things far enough, in my opinion.

I had another person, after saying he treats all races the same state, “no one cares about race but race-hustlers”. He refused to listen to racial groups alleging institutional racism because he believed “it doesn’t exist”.  When I disagreed and poked some fun (I had predicted earlier this would happen) he went completely off the rails. He listed numerous things that he does for charity, launched into a diatribe about what he perceived were my personal failings (which he had to imagine/make up), then passive-aggressively tell me that empathy is telling me that he’s sorry I’m so angry (which he again made up). That was a complete empathy failure during a purported demonstration of empathy. Good times.

I’m tempted to be disheartened about these developments.  However this year I’m choosing to be hopeful about them. I’ve known the above referenced people for a long time and even those efforts are significant for them. On a broader level empathy is injected into political campaigns, lawmaking and normal conversation at a higher rate. Empathy is aspirational. I think these are good things and I’m going to work harder to get it right. I’m hopeful because the elevation of empathy as a desirable trait will do us all well.

Shuffle up and deal

NOFX — We Called it America

Love it when a punk song comes up on the shuffle and this song is appropriate for the dark and dreary times we’re struggling through. Saw some great NOFX shows back in the 90’s. Good times. Accordingly I’m more of a fan of their 90’s stuff but this song is a good piece of their later work (2009).

The song opens with a quote from Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross.

The leads are weak? Fucking leads are weak? YOU’RE weak.

The vinyl version of the song uses a different quote by Jack Lemmon instead of the Baldwin one. I’m not really an Alec Baldwin fan (I find him to be quite insufferable), but his work in Glengarry Glen Ross is his best.

The song has the usual strong guitar interplay and lightning fast tempo from Fat Mike and the boys. The lyrics paint a bleak (but accurate) portrait of where America has been and where we’re going. Some lyrics:

Remember when America had a middle class
And an upper class, that was way before the exodus
That was the America that we thought was number one,
Thought would overcome, thought would never die
That was just our pride and faith, two shitty deadly sins
I know faith isn’t one of ’em but it should have been
Cuz when things were crumbling, we had no camaraderie
Just a faith someone would save us from despondence

Seems like they’re onto something, no?

A cracked polystyrene man. Who just crumbles and burns.

Robin Williams’ passing is just terribly sad on many levels. Not going to get into most of them as I’d like to concentrate on the politicization of his death and hopefully provide some perspective for people.

The next time I hear someone say, “Robin Williams could have just chosen to be happy,” I’m going to start windmilling hammer fists until the cops show up. The presumption that clinical depression stems from lack of effort or unawareness or the wrong type of effort is just plain false. The majority of depressed individuals are acutely fucking aware that they’re unhappy every waking moment of every day. They’re endeavoring each day to feel happy. But a “mindset change” isn’t going to do the trick for the vast majority of sufferers.  I’m typically wary of “common sense solutions” to complex problems and have written a bit about it here and Marianne has here. One of the problems with applying a trite solution is that it ignores the myriad of different illnesses and treats them all the same. It also treats all people identically. Those are horrible assumptions.

Some people I see advocating for people they know little about to change their attitude are applying their beliefs to a medical issue. When someone proceeds in this fashion they are showing they don’t care about results, only process. I feel the opposite. I do not care how someone who is suffering gets better. I only care they get better. Medication, talk therapy, attitude change, exercise, meditation, whatever works for each individual. I will not trivialize their suffering and I will not TELL them how to do it.  This is about a person’s life not a validation of one’s belief.  Those utilizing political/social agendas by saying nonsense like “PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY” or “THE PUSSIFICATION OF AMERICA” or Rush Limbaugh saying “negativity is a hallmark of the left”. These illnesses know no ideology or tribe or political orientation. To say otherwise seems borderline-sociopathic.

Other people (who should know better) try to tell those suffering  the path they took is the only right path and what didn’t work for them are per se wrong. This is straight up narcissism trying to obtain validation.  If Anti-depressants didn’t work for you but meditation and exercise did, great!  Telling people not to try medication or therapy or any of the myriad of options because it didn’t work for you? NOT COOL. Again, this is not results-oriented and is instead process-oriented. It’s also another pathetic attempt for validation. One could share their own experiences without imposing their values. It’s a question of phrasing, really.

So there’s a simple fucking solution to this. Stop telling people what to do and listen. Sublimate your fervent beliefs to try to ensure that this person gets help. Don’t close doors or paths. Open them.

I need a fix. I need a front. I need a new approach, a new approach.

The mid-2000’s were a high-water mark in contrarian thinking.  “Out of the box” approaches dominated the business, policymaking, writing, and personal arenas.  2005, in particular, stood out for writing that advanced this phenomenon.  Malcolm Gladwell’s follow up novel Blink and Leavitt & Dubner’s Freakonomics were runaway best sellers.  I eagerly read them during that summer and noted a shared theme about thinking differently.  For Freakonomics, it is thinking differently about economics/culture and for Blink it was thinking differently about, well, thinking.

After I read those, I had a new arrow in my quiver.  I started to try to approach thorny issues by looking at them in a “completely new way”.  It’s not easy to do.  I found myself coming up with fantastical rationales (because they had to be different than conventional wisdom) to reach what was 99% of the time the opposite to the established understanding.  I was essentially picking an outcome and backfilling the justification with fluff and “thinking differently”.  I’m not saying that Gladwell, Leavitt & Dubner, et.al. do this same thing.  They’re far more rigorous in their investigation and methods.  They picked specific issues that lent themselves to the application of a different approach.  But I only applied their conclusion that thinking differently was beneficial and led to results.  Once I realized this my excitement was tempered.  Contrarianism can work but doesn’t always work.  The Freakonomics bunch went on to form a cottage industry based on the book.  There’s a movie, a radio station, and a blog that churns out more examples of how going against the grain of “mainstream” understanding can open one’s eyes to the “right” answer.  Over the years I’ve noted that they’re falling into the same trap I did.  I admit it’s got to be tough to keep coming up with subjects that prove their beliefs.   But sometimes (not all of the time) I suspect that they’re starting with a preferred conclusion and backfilling.

The legacy of contrarianism-mania is that we all have a convenient scapegoat if we see a conclusion that we don’t like.  “Yeah that’s the conventional wisdom, but have you read Freakonomics?”  I get that sort of argument quite frequently in the odd corners of the interwebs I visit and in good old meatspace as well.  Things really crystallized for me on this when I saw the following (paraphrased) comment in one of my online haunts in response to the assertion that contrarianism is a “brand”:

Contrarianism is not a brand. It’s more a business model to pitch that you can bash an egghead without doing the learning. It’s like gold ads for the willfully ignorant and conspiracy minded.

There’s something to that. I started to think about the people in real life that advanced the “did you read Freakonomics quasi-appeal to authority arguments to reach their preferred conclusion. Maybe you know these sorts. The guy who in his online bio states that he’s “Doing stuff better than you” and for education says “At the public library” but hates socialism with a white-hot intensity. Or the guy who never showed any interest in learning much about the world that got way into talk radio and now is a geo-political expert. I also noticed when and how they unleashed the argument. It essentially concedes the argument and asks to ignore all of the established evidence. It’s a suspension of belief argument. I’m extremely wary of those sorts of lines of thinking–just as I’m wary of appealing to “common sense”. But I’m still willing to be convinced. The existence of one “looking at things differently” or appealing to process just isn’t determinative in every case.

So if you hear this sort of appeal to the authority of “thinking differently”, have some pause. Is this the sort of issue that lends itself to the new approach? Are there some significant leaps of logic required to get to the proposed conclusion? Or are you being asked to forget what you know to be true just because that approached worked on another separate issue? Or are you allowing someone who doesn’t want to do the hard work of learning and knowing a subject to pretend they’re an expert?

And we’ll collect the moments one by one. I guess that’s how the future’s done.

Bailey3 (2)

When Mari and I first found out we were having a girl I spoke with several friends that had daughters for advice and input.  I remember quite a few of them remarked on how great it was when they came home from work and their daughters squealed “DADDYYYYYYYY!”  They were right.  I love coming through the door, and after surviving the initial greeting of the dogs(who go from barking at the intruder to dancing and wagging their tails) hear our girls.  Our youngest is usually in a walker or bouncer and she gets a huge smile, screams and bounces at an increased pace. Our oldest does the “DADDY!!” squeal and (usually) jumps up for a big hug.  It’s an awesome way to feel validated for going out and doing what a father does for the benefit of his family.  But it’s not the highlight of my day.

The best part of my day happens shortly after I come home from work.  Our oldest either informs me that we should go upstairs so I can get in comfortable clothes or I remind her that I’m going up to change.  We used to walk upstairs holding hands so I could help her up the stairs. Now she is older, faster and chooses to hold my hand (and my heart) about 1 in 5 times, but that one time is because she wants to.  We head to the master bathroom and I sit on a low chair.

“Daddy, I’ll untie your shoes,” she begins.  Then she’ll pull on the heel of the dress shoes.  If she remembered to loosen the laces, they’ll come off.  “Daddy, these go in your pile.”  Compared to my wife’s neatly arranged shoe section, my side definitely looks like a pile.

“Daddy, pull your socks down.”  I then pull the socks down over my heel.  She does NOT like it if I take them off myself.  “These go in the hamper.”

“Take off your watch Daddy.”  She can’t manage to get the clasp undone yet.  “This goes in your dish.”  She climbs up on the chair and puts my watch in a little dish next to the sink.

“OK Daddy, give me your belt.  This goes in your belt drawer.”  She has to get up on her tippy-toes to put it in the drawer.

“Take out your collars and give me your shirt.”  I have fewer collar stays than I should so I take them out to use (a paper clip works well in an emergency, as an aside).  “Your shirt goes into your shirt pile.”

“Daddy, now you can hang up your pants, OK?”  She usually hands me a hanger and then goes and sits on the chair while I change.  I ask her about her day and if she was a good big sister.  Sometimes she’ll ask for some music and start dancing.  Sometimes she asks me where I was and if work was OK.  It’s nice quiet time for us.  I know the routine will fade away.  But I love that little slice of time with her so much.  I’m looking forward to a different routine with our youngest as well.  Or maybe the same one.

Geez, daddy-blogging sure is sappy.  🙂

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