Random Thoughts on Various Subjects

1. HIATUS

I have been on a bit of a hiatus from blogging. I've been very busy reading and interacting with various folks on Facebook. I do this gig when I am not working. But the goal is one post per day which I have not been meeting. I must also admit that coming up with new material has been a chore. I feel that I am in creative stagnation. I don't have anything new to say. I just have new ways of saying the old things. This combined with the fact that I am approaching 40 makes me wonder if I am spent in the creativity department. But I think it is just the fact that I have yet to encounter or embrace any new or compelling ideas in awhile. My personal stagnation may just be indicative of a wider stagnation in the culture.

2. WIKILEAKS

Julian Assange cause a stir with his data dump of the Afghan war logs on the WikiLeaks site. First of all, I think he is a hero for doing this. The American people need to know what the hell is going on over there in their name. Secondly, I find claims that Assange has endangered the lives of innocents to be without merit considering that he has withheld a lot of documents and gave the White House a change to vet the material through the NYT. Finally, Assange does have an ego. Who doesn't? He should be proud of taking on the governments of the world which will almost certainly lead to his sudden disappearance. Both Russia and Israel have shown no qualms in assassinating people on foreign soil. I can't say the same for the USA, but it would not surprise me if this country did the same sort of stuff.

Governments don't want us to know what they are up to, and their defense is that is for our "safety and security." No, it isn't. It is for sparing them the scrutiny of their citizenry who they claim to serve.

3. CHARLIE RANGEL

Turns out that Charlie Rangel is a bit crooked. Whoa! Really?

I don't really care about these shenanigans of Rep. Rangel. This is because I am more outraged by what folks like Rangel do in the open and in public like his constant efforts to reinstate the draft. These charges against him are misdemeanors compared to the felonies he perpetrates daily on the House floor. The only thing is that crime becomes legal when legislated.

4. BRADASS87

In a corollary to the WikiLeaks story, I am not as impressed with PFC Bradley Manning who leaked documents to WikiLeaks and now faces a shitstorm and the rest of his adult life in the stockade. This is because Manning was stupid. Assange's motives are clear and mature. Manning's motivations are childish and immature. This is why he got caught. Using the moniker "BRADASS87" and bragging to another hacker about what you did was damn stupid. Assange and Co. go to great lengths to protect sources, but you can't protect the stupid.

5. THE PROBLEM WITH APPLE

The Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field is breaking down. He is both the savior and the damnation of Apple. It's like having Hitler as CEO. He comes in with swagger and brilliance, but you begin to wonder if the fucker is just plain nuts. When Jobs told a customer to not hold the iPhone 4 that way when the customer lost reception, Jobs went to the nut side of the ledger. The fact is that Apple products are aesthetically pleasing, but they fail on the utilitarian side. Consequently, Android phones are gaining market share because they are cheaper, more useful, and more open. We are seeing a repeat of Microsoft vs. Apple.

The debate is a simple one. Should companies be democratic or autocratic? The answer to that question is not so simple. It is also bigger than just companies since the same can be applied to organizations, governments, families, etc. Apple was closed while Microsoft was open. Now, Apple is closed while Google is open. As a libertarian, I tend to favor the open side of things though I admire the sleekness of Apple products. The Nazis were spiffy dressers, too, and they had a logo, dammit. But being closed leads to failure and atrocity. I will have further thoughts on this issue.

6. MINIMALIST VS. SIMPLE

I think I am on the verge of rejecting minimalism. This doesn't mean embracing maximalism. The reason for this is because I am torn between two opposite poles. Take music, for instance. You have the maximalism of a group like King Crimson and the minimalism of Brian Eno's ambient work. Then, you have Bob Dylan with a guitar and harmonica. I love Dylan. I find the spareness of Eno and the bloat of Crimson to be equally offensive to my ears.

In terms of lifestyle, minimalism is too austere. My girlfriend says that I am a minimalist, but this isn't true. I can't afford to be a minimalist since I don't own elegant furniture or live in modernist architecture. I just live simply.

The reality is that minimalism and maximalism are joined together. Take Crimson and Eno. Those guys have been collaborators on music. This should not be surprising. The problem is that their respective music is without a soul.

I think music should be simple. I don't think it should be overdone or underdone. Similarly, architecture, writing, art, and lifestyle design should be the same way. I struggle to find this simplicity as opposed to the poles of excess and austerity. For me, the perfect house is an old farm house with wood floors and comfortable furniture but also some modern touches. I am struggling to find this balance.

HEROES-Julian Assange



Julian Assange is the founder and chief editor of WikiLeaks, a website that angers governments and corporations by publishing leaked documents, videos, and other info from whistleblowers and insiders. Assange does this at great personal cost since many governments would like to "talk" to Mr. Assange about his activities. Needless to say, Julian keeps a low profile and no fixed address. He is almost certainly on someone's hit list.

Assange is a rare individual. He has courage. He believes in what he calls "scientific journalism." He puts the documents out there and lets you make up your own mind. But he is also an activist. People criticize him for this because they expect him to take a neutral stance on all things journalistic. I think this is impossible. But unlike other journalistic outfits, Assange does publish his source material.

Julian has a unique background. According to Wikipedia, he is Australian, has been in various schools in his youth, is an autodidact, and got into trouble in his younger days for hacking. Assange is an ethical hacker, and those skills are what enable him to run WikiLeaks.

I admire Assange for being antiwar and having the courage to expose to the world what governments do. This makes him a hero in my book, and you get the feeling that he will inevitably be a martyr for his cause. I can only hope that he can find some refuge in Iceland and keep doing what he is doing. The world needs more people like Julian Assange.

Minimalist vs Maximalist



I am not a Frank Gehry fan. I think the Guggenheim Museuam in Bilbao is one gigantic silvery piece of dogshit. This runs counter to what is popular in architecture today with various critics giving Gehry rave reviews. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I can make no argument saying what is beautiful or ugly. But my own personal tastes are with Mies van der Rohe who issued the famous dictum, "Less is more."

The essence of minimalism is that form must follow function. Gehry's works are very expressive, but if you look behind those flowing swimming flourishes, you see the basic structure upholding the facade. If it weren't for those structures, the buildings would collapse. The fish skin architecture is pure decoration. It is superfluous. It is maximalism reborn. It is audacious and hideous. Consider this Gehry monstrosity:



You can see here that Gehry is attempting to do for architecture what Pollock did for art. The difference between minimalism and maximalism is clear. With minimalism, there is an endpoint. There is a purpose and a function that is fulfilled. With maximalism, there is no endpoint. You can always add more. You don't finish a maximalist project so much as abandon it.

This minimalist viewpoint expresses itself in other avenues. You have Apple with their simple but elegant devices. There is Google with their plain interface and simple Chrome browser. There is 37Signals with their simple but insanely useful software. Microsoft is in the beginning of a death spiral with their "more is more" approach.

Writing also follows the same rules. Most bad writing is maximalist. Hemingway started a revolution with his spare prose. My favorite writer today is Cormac McCarthy who writes with absolute precision and doesn't waste a single word. These men are a pleasure to read, and I do my best to imitate them.

Today, we have lifestyle design, and minimalism has made its impact there as well. Basically, you have two paths to follow. You can follow the maximalist path and acquire the McMansion, the beach house, the lake house, the ski lodge, the motorcycle, the RV, various electronic gizmos and pursue numerous hobbies and what have you. The result is an exciting but very dysfunctional and unharmonious life. Or you can have one home, one car, a wardrobe limited to the essentials, and one to two inexpensive hobbies. The minimalist lifestyle is achievable and sustainable. The maximalist lifestyle is not. The minimalist lifestyle is dictated by design. The maximalist lifestyle is dictated by failure.

It is not easy being a minimalist in anything because it requires constantly saying no. You have to live as a negative to excess. You have to forfeit options and choose not to do things even though those things might be every appealing. On the outside, the lifestyle minimalist lives a boring existence. On the inside, it is very fulfilling. The lifestyle minimalist has more money and less stress. There is harmony and peace.

The essence of minimalism is elimination of the nonessential. Edit out what you don't need. Pare it down and make it elegant but simple. There is no virtue in excess. There is no beauty either.

Why NASCAR Fans Are Tuning Out




NASCAR is in decline. Attendance at races is down. Television ratings are down. Why is this?

The bad economy argument is weak. It may explain people not attending the races, but it doesn't explain why people aren't watching on TV which is virtually free. The answer is obvious. NASCAR fans are not happy with the product. Stock car racing sucks. Here's why:

1. Junior is a loser.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the most popular driver in NASCAR. The core NASCAR fans root for him. This is because they rooted for his daddy. When Senior died, they transferred their allegiance. The problem is that Junior sucks. This reality is finally settling in. He has a great car. He has changed crew chiefs. But he hasn't secured a Cup win in two years. The hope that he would be like his dad has faded. He is the next Kyle Petty--a decent driver living in dad's shadow.

2. Jimmie Johnson is a winner.

Jimmie Johnson has won the championship four times. NASCAR fans hate Jimmie. This is because he isn't from the South, reminds them of Jeff Gordon, and is pretty damn boring. If he wins a fifth straight championship, NASCAR can say good-bye to another 25% of their audience. Jimmie Johnson is the Pete Sampras of NASCAR.

3. Kyle Busch is a prick.

Busch is the most exciting thing going for NASCAR. He wins races in a brash style. He has undeniable talent. If his name was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR would be equal to the NFL in ratings. But Kyle Busch is a prick. He is less like Earnhardt and more like Darrell Waltrip, another famous NASCAR prick who had undeniable talent and a big mouth. Busch will do well and probably win a championship. But he does not have the transcendant appeal that Earnhardt had.

Every sport rises and falls on the popularity of its stars. The NBA has never recovered from Jordan leaving. The NHL needs another Wayne Gretzky. NASCAR needs another Earnhardt. When Dale died, he left a huge hole which was never filled. NASCAR fans desperately want someone to fill it for them, but there is no one. Consequently, stock car racing is in decline. Allowing rough action between drivers nobody gives a shit about is not enough to turn it around.

The Work/Leisure Paradox



It is a chronic wish--to work less and play more. People wish they had more free time to enjoy life. The irony is these people have it wrong. The reality is that they enjoy work more than they care to admit while they enjoy leisure far less. This is the finding of author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life.

Happiness comes from "flow" which is that experience you feel when you are deeply engrossed in an activity. Despite cultural attitudes denigrating work and praising leisure, studies indicate that people experience much greater flow from their work than they do from their leisure. Essentially, you will feel better being at work than you will sitting at home watching television.

There are exceptions to this paradox. Surfing produces more flow than being a night watchman. But generally speaking, your peak experiences will be had while on the job. So, why do people claim to hate working so damn much?

The best answer we can give to this question is that it is cultural. It is learned. In school, you have class and recess. There is spring break and summer vacation and Christmas holidays. Then, there are those religious traditions that treat work as a curse for sin. Then, there is the marketing we see in the media encouraging us to take up the good life which almost always involves the beach or the mountains and buying a bunch of stuff that will collect dust. We are taught to hate work as drudgery and to prize leisure as being pleasurable. The reality is that work is engaging while leisure is boring.

Not all leisure activities are boring. The ones that are pleasurable resemble work. These would be woodworking, gardening, cooking, etc. Then there are activities that promote health and fitness such as running, swimming, weight lifting, cycling, etc. These activities fill the void left with the decline of manual labor. People used to get paid to work out. Now, they pay to work out. But for the most part, leisure is comprised mostly of watching television and goofing off on the internet.

Work is where it is at. I've known this for a long time now. A bad day at work is better than a good day fishing. I've done the leisure thing, and it is very unsatisfying. I hate vacations, and I don't take them. I have no desire to retire but plan to work until I drop. This is seen as crazy and nutty, but I know the reality of the work/leisure paradox. We hate work for no good reason. Work is life, and it is the most consistently enjoyable aspect of life. Leisure time on the other hand is just a big void that people fill with mind numbing entertainment or other forms of work.

The antithesis of flow is boredom, and when you are working your ass off, you are seldom bored. You have something to do, and you feel accomplishment when it is done. Plus, they pay you for it. Surfing is fun, too, but very few people get paid to do it. Most surf bums work just enough and live hand to mouth to achieve flow. Rock climbers do the same thing. What they don't realize is that linemen working on electrical wires and riggers working on tall towers experience the stoke just as much as the surfers and the climbers. The only difference is that one lifestyle is glorified while the other is not.

The most radical lifestyle you can adopt today is not to be a surf bum but to be an unapologetic workaholic. You hear all sorts of griping about how this workaholism is "unbalanced" and "unhealthy." In places like France, they actually take measures to limit how much you can work with a maximum 35 hour workweek enforced. Here in the USA, we have overtime pay and the like to discourage working longer hours. I find this to be ludicrous.

The easiest way to find sustainable happiness is to change your attitude towards work. Work brings happiness. Leisure brings boredom. We hate what we love and love what we hate. It is an irony and a paradox, but it is easily remedied. Change your thinking. Love your work.

A Leftard Contradiction

I posted this on my Facebook page, and I am reposting here.

I will never understand left wing people. They tell us we are a nation of consumers, and this is unsustainable at least in environmental terms but also as a matter of common sense. But then, they support Obama and his Keynesian fallacy that the way to improve the economy is to spend spend spend. We have to stimulate that aggregate demand. In other words, our economy went to shit because people bought houses they couldn't afford. The McMansion economy imploded. The left wing answer? Stimulate demand for McMansions and other consumer items. The mind boggles.

I like environmentalists. I don't know if their prescriptions for living make much sense in the big scheme of things, but it makes perfect sense in the personal scheme. They want to consume less and waste less, so they end up spending less. This results in greater savings. It is a circuitous route to thrift, but it is thrift nonetheless. Fuel efficient cars cost less at the pump. Modest homes are cheaper to buy and maintain. Reusing old stuff is cheaper than buying new. Using solar and wind at home saves on the electric bill. The only dumb things enviros do is buy organic and recycle trash that will end up in a landfill anyway. The rest is damn smart. Environmentalists are like the Amish. They are deluded, but the delusion is useful.

Simple living works. Like it or not, this recession has been very good from an environmentalist viewpoint. People are consuming less. They are driving less. They are changing their thermostat settings and switching to energy saving bulbs. They are using things longer and fixing old things instead of buying new.

Why do people waste things? The answer to that is simple. When money and credit are cheap, people buy. Their tastes get extravagant. They want more, bigger, new, and better. In short, these people respond exactly to the Keynesian prescription of low interest rates and stimulus spending. People become prudent when money is harder to come by, and the interest rates are high.

If you believe in the environment, simple living, and sustainability, then you should oppose Keynesian prescriptions for our ailing economy. You should be glad that people are saving instead of spending. You should applaud thrift and an end to easy credit. You should be happy that suburban sprawl has ceased, and people are opting to rent and live closer to the city. But you continue to support Obama and his economic policies. Why?