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30 July, 2008

Is there something wrong with Washington's tax system?

Location: washington state
Mood: perplexed

If you live here, you know that Washington State has a sales tax that is over 9%, while having no income tax whatsoever. Recently, I started thinking "That seems really unfair". It seems like the model of having only a sales tax could be categorized (in taxation terminology) as "regressive" - meaning, the less you earn, the higher the percentage of your income that is taxed. How do I come up with that? Well, if you are barely making ends meet, then chances are you are probably spending everything you earn each month. In that case, you are being taxed on everything you earn (I will return to the flaw in this assertion in a moment). On the other hand, if you are well to do, then you probably only need to spend a small percentage of your total earnings, in which case you are taxed on only a small percentage of your earnings. In theory, this sounds like it would be true.

I did some Google "research" and found a blog that referenced a report that supported my "theory". In this article, they mentioned that Washington has the highest sales tax in the country. They present a lot of data that is completely in line with my arguments. They stated that the wealthiest people in Washington end up paying only about 3% of their income in state and local taxes, compared to the poorest people who pay upwards of 18% of their income. The report has some very nice tables and figures that add up to the conclusion that "Washington’s Tax System is the Most Regressive in the Nation".

Can we believe the report? It was published by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). Do we believe them to be objective, or are they a liberal slanted group with an agenda? There is some very interesting reading on news related to Washington State tax policies on that site. I decided to click through and look at the reports for 15 or so other states, including places like New York, Massachusetts, California, and a number of small states. And it appears that the situation in Washington is a difference of degree not of kind. Almost every report said that the respective state and local taxes hit the poor and middle income more (or far more) than the wealthy. Washington just happens to be the most regressive. For a broad look at the country as a whole, look at this national report. These reports show that even the "least regressive" states (Delaware, Vermont, California, Montana) only achieve "flat-tax" status. No state is progressive in combined state and local taxing.

The other day, I was spouting forth my anger on the topic of Washington state taxes, and a friend of mine (who I am fairly certain is quite liberal) said something to the effect of "I am standing here listening to your bullshit about taxes". At first I thought he was joking, but we discussed, and he presented an alternative viewpoint that was multi-pronged:
  1. "Why should the rich people get penalized for making more money?"
  2. "A sales tax is a good thing, because it penalizes people for buying a bunch of shit that they don't need"
  3. "Essentials like food don't get taxed anyway"
I apologize for paraphrasing, and if I have somehow lost the crux of the point, then I will be happy to post corrections.

I thought about this some, and I will agree that it is absolutely true - partly. If people lived within their means, then poorer people, who a) don't own property, and b) can't afford much other than food, would not be paying a disproportionate percentage of their income to taxes. And rich people who buy a lot of stuff would be paying a lot of money into taxes (in fact, they do - in dollar amount - just not in percentage of their income). The place that the argument falls apart is that poor people do not buy only essentials. They still want to have the "American Dream" and they're buying cars and televisions and all sorts of shit that they can't afford - on credit. My friend had this part of the issue covered with the "penalty for buying shit you don't need" argument. So, in practice, he is right. Or is he? I will resist the urge to go on the tangent that our media and corporations are brainwashing us into buying stuff so that we feel "complete".

So I have now gone from being 100% sure that he was wrong, to being uncertain. There are definitely some things that I believe, which fall under the category of "socialistic" or "progressive" views (depending on your leanings). I believe that the rich should pay a higher percentage of their income than the presently do. I do not call that a "penalty" for being rich. I call it a contribution to the betterment of society from those most able to give. Forced charity... socialism, yes. It should not be so large that it negates the incentive to strive for wealth. But it should be something that affords improvements to our cities and states that would not be possible without it. There are also a number of unfair issues in the realm of property taxes in Washington, and some of the apparent unfairness may be tied to the unhealthy (artificial) inflation of property value that has happened in the past 10 years. And of course, everything that Tim Eyman has touched falls into the category of "regressive measures".

But what is the right thing to do? I don't know. I just know that it would be nice if the politicians and voters in this state could finally agree on something that improves infrastructure, rather than pandering to sporting teams or business interests.

29 July, 2008

Scrabulous... Part 2... I stand corrected... maybe

Location: the internets
Mood: intrigued

I did a little reading online, and found out that actually Hasbro/Mattel did not unilaterally elect to crush the little guy. In fact, they tried to negotiate, and buy out the name from the two brothers who started Scrabulous - offering them an extremely large amount of money ($10 million) dollars. The brothers apparently decided that they should hold out for much more money. That puts us in our present position.

Here is a link to a blog that I read on this subject, which also jumps out to other stories on the topic.

So now, the question is: "Who is the greedy one?"

Is it Hasbro/Mattel? Or is it the brothers who created Scrabulous?

Hm... who really knows? The truth is out there. But if you read a hundred news stories and blogs on the topic, the end conclusion is, "I don't know what the deal is".

And we're probably all better off if it is gone.

Scrabulous bites the dust... a victory for Corporate America

Location: facebook
Mood: the usual level of oppression

Well, we have been hearing the rumors for weeks now. Hasbro/Mattel were displeased that someone had "copied" their software and offered it on Facebook for free. From a strict legal perspective, one could argue that they are justified. If there are trademarks and copyrights, then I guess you can't violate them. They were careful to use the title Scrabulous, instead of Scrabble, and perhaps that's why it took as long as it took to bring it down. Scrabble does offer an online version of the game for free. And now, they have begun an online beta version specifically for Facebook. The sad part here is that they are crashing a smooth-operating, established environment, simply for the sake of having control over it. Any argument that they were missing out on "brand-recognition" is a bunch of rubbish, because of a few factors. First, many people who are playing online already own the physical game. Second, if they do not own it, then playing Scrabulous online may have sparked people's interest enough to want to buy the game to play with friends - in which case, they will be buying the "real" Scrabble. So Hasbro/Mattel, in a sense, were getting free advertising, with none of the maintenance or overhead of managing a Facebook application.

Instead, Hasbro/Mattel have now incurred the anger of everyone who was happily playing in their little circles of friends, with their ratings, and their preserved list of "bingos" for bragging rights. These people will mostly probably pick up the Hasbro/Mattel Scrabble application, because it is the only way to keep playing on Facebook. But I don't think it helps the company. It probably would have helped the company more to make a huge press release saying that they've decided to endorse and bless Scrabulous, and perhaps work out some sort of small advertising deal so that the community could continue to exist. But they did not do this. Why? Because they don't have to do it. They're the corporation. And they're going to monopolize their product space.

So, this morning, I tried to log on to Scrabulous, and this is what I saw:



Sad... and I initially thought "Well, that's it! No way in hell I am going to do the corporate Scrabble". But then, I saw I had an invite from one of my Scrabulous friends, already, to join the new Scrabble. So I thought "Well, I guess I will take a look".

So I went to the new Scrabble, and this is what I saw:



It's nice to see that Hasbro/Mattel got all their infrastructure ready before destroying the completely functional existing Scrabble community. Not.

Thank you very much.

P.S. I love the little extra jab they include about helping Scrabble - "the best word game on Facebook"! Yes. One way you can ensure that you are "the best" is if you use the legal system to facilitate the removal of all others! Unbelievable.

26 July, 2008

Gentrification of Seattle - Goodnight Twilight Exit

Location: Central District
Mood: uncertain

I don't know much about sociology, and I don't know much about real estate development, and I don't know much about the politics of "class displacement". But what has been, and continues to be happening in downtown Seattle is a progressive displacement of lower-income and run-down housing and businesses with construction of luxury townhomes. I have a million opinions on this topic, but I cannot say that I have many facts.

My lock-step liberal viewpoint says that we should be preserving "the old" and maintaining the feel of the city, and not converting it into a homogenized, high-density housing development. Seattle seems to have this unsettling trend of destroying that which is the neighborhood so that more people can live in said neighborhood. During my time in North Seattle, I watched as the Maple Leaf Community became little more than an urban sprawl of Northgate - with businesses gradually being replaced by townhouses. What's left? Where can you walk? There are still some neighborhood fixtures there, sure - but not like there used to be.

And in the Central District, which I must confess was a bit scary to me back in 1999, things have slowly gone through a transformation. The hallmark of that process was probably the introduction of the Trader Joe's maybe 5 or so years ago. Once that happened, it was like sticking a giant yuppie flag in the ground and saying "This Neighborhood is Ours".

And the latest piece in the CD puzzle to fall is the Twilight Exit - a dive bar that everyone knows. The Proposed Land Use Action says it will be "subdivided into four parcels". And the developers will surely build 2 or 3 million dollars worth of townhouses on that plot.

The confusing part to me is that I am really not sure how I am supposed to feel? Am I sad because yet another "local dig" is going to turn into a characterless residence for people who want to be "close in"? Or am I glad because another questionable corner with a seedy hangout is going to be upscaled - continuing the facelift of a neighborhood that is a bit of an eyesore? The latter serves my personal interests of safety and property value increase, considering that I am now a resident of the general area. The former serves that slightly nebulous goal of "keeping things the way they used to be" with a side dish of "not letting the developers make a killing on everything".

But what is the right view here? Is the "preservation goal" really serving anyone's best interest? Or is it just anti-greed, anti-corporate bitterness for the sake of itself? Is the "pro-gentrification goal" really making the neighborhood safer and more pleasant? Or is it just displacing one class of people so that another can own the land, and potentially even increase tension and crime in the community because of resentment?

As I said, I am now a (town)home owner in the very neighborhood about which I am writing. I cannot say I am a "proud" townhome owner, because I didn't envision myself becoming part of that whole development machine. But (selfishly?) I wanted to be "close-in" like so many other people, and my financial situation did not afford me very many (or any) viable options that were not townhomes. So, I write this fully aware of my hypocrisy.

And I am conflicted.

25 July, 2008

What's in a name?

Location: day-to-day travels
Mood: connected and disconnected

When I go to a restaurant, I want to know my server's name. Not so I can be one of those annoying people who say things like "Tiffany, could we please have a couple more napkins when you've got a sec?" It's not that I want to make some awkward connection, or try to validate them in a way that is probably unsettling for them. I just want to know. And I will not do this by asking. I will do it by examining my bill, because it almost always says the server's name.

I am sure some of you think it is because I am a bit lecherous and pervy, but in this instance, that's "true, true, and irrelevant". The real reason is I want to put a name with the face. I really don't like to have an interaction with someone, and come away without any "identification". To further support my assertion that this is not a subtle form of flirtation, I am just as interested (okay, almost as interested) to know the names of male servers, too. The name makes me feel it was a more complete experience.

On the converse, I am not thrilled with hearing my own name. When people put that label on me, it feels like I become some type of character, or stereotype. But as much as I don't like hearing my name, I am quite protective of it, when people decide to call me by another nickname, or my formal name. Then I really feel "out of my skin". I dated someone who wanted to use my formal name because they had a negative memory associated with someone who shared my nickname. They also introduced me to others this way. And although it is my name, it made me feel like I was always "not myself" in that relationship. Like I was an imposter, or my identity was not acceptable.

So there's a weird mix of not being comfortable being called any name at all, while not wanting people to make their own choices about what to call me. But, there are some exceptions. A couple of friends refer to me by other versions of my name - and I am okay with it. The label and the identity became acceptable because of the relationship. And that speaks to the issue of using names at all. Using a stranger's name, when presented to you in the passive context of a name tag, seems like a violation of personal space. There needs to be a certain degree of connection before you do it. Because once you do it, you are somehow closer to the person. At my favorite cafe, it was a big deal for me to ask the barista her name. I did it because I have had months of friendly banter with her. And she provides a happy start to my day. It felt like not knowing her name was becoming awkward. But it took many months to get there. And now, we say hello by name... usually.

When I hear my name yelled in the street, it is always startling, and disconcerting if it turns out someone is calling another person by the same name. Whenever I meet someone with my name, there is a strange dance that occurs, as if we both need to figure out "What kind of Mick is this one?" In those cases, I am much more comfortable if they happen to go by another version of my name. That way, they're not crowding my "territory".

My fellow blogger, Jane Somebody, inspired this topic, with her blog Say My Name. She brought up the point that among friends and lovers, we rarely use names except for specific situations - e.g. humorous emphasis, or to get attention. So when we use a name, what are we really doing? Are we recognizing and acknowledging the identity of the other? Or are we elevating the self-awareness of the other? Maybe those are different ways of saying the same thing?

24 July, 2008

Pescatarian or Vegaquarian?

Location: the lexicon
Mood: halfway between amused and annoyed

Language can be entertaining. I wish that I had a greater familiarity with languages besides English, so that I could speak to the issue of whether we have a greater propensity for inventing words compared with other languages or cultures. The variety of options for describing dietary choices (or do I need to be politically correct and refer to these as "lifestyles") has certainly expanded quite a bit during the past few decades. If we think about the biological terms for animal diets, we've got "carnivore", "herbivore" and "omnivore". I do wonder why vegetarians did not simply refer to themselves as herbivores.

What's the history of "vegetarian"?

If you go to Etymology Online they will tell you that "The general use of the word appears to have been largely due to the formation of the Vegetarian Society in Ramsgate in 1847."

So that term has been around for a long time.

Other terms have evolved more recently to describe the host of dietary variations. The Vegan Society, which coined the term vegan as we know it, was established in 1944. I was not able to quickly find origins or time stamps for more recent categorizations such as "vegaquarian" (which I have seen misused as "vegaquarium", which is kind of funny), or "pescatarian" (which is referred to by Wikipedia as "pescEtarian"). And of course, there are the even sillier ones like "meatatarian" and "pizzatarian" which I am pretty sure nobody uses seriously.

And when you think about all of these, you could take two different angles. You could say "Why do we need another ridiculous word in our already bloated language?" and it would be a valid question. Though, the extra space in a dictionary required for a few new words is not much of a disincentive to inventing those words. The other angle would be "One word can tell you exactly everything you wanted to know".

Vegaquarian - 11 letters. But it tells you that the person eats fruits, vegetables, dairy of all sorts, and just about anything that comes from under the water, except for whales, seals, and otters, give or take a few - but no other meats. So there's a lot of meaning there. Compared to commonly used words like "close" or "bun" or "boost" or "chair", vegaquarian doesn't leave much room for guessing what the person meant.

The fact that these are silly words is really just a function of their newness. I imagine that "vegetarian" sounded a bit silly 60 years ago. But now, it's plain as apple pie. And when you think about it, there are plenty of words that sound silly, but have been around forever. Take "awkward", for instance (whose origins date back to the Middle Ages). Can you think of another word (other than its derivatives) that has the letters "wkw" contained within? I will give a free ice cream to anyone who can produce for me a single unique (English) word that has that letter combination. It's really quite an awkward combination of letters, when you get right down to it.

Okay, that's all.

23 July, 2008

Rebound Relationships - reclaiming the term

Location: the lovosphere
Mood: on course

If someone says to you "I think that you are having a rebound relationship", this is usually something we will receive either defensively, or with the sad realization that the "accuser" is correct. When we use the term rebound, we almost always mean that a person ended a relationship, and then hit the proverbial ground hard, and bounced right into something else that was completely wrong for them. I have had relationships like this. You have had relationships like this. We all have. But there is another way to see the term "rebound" and it can actually be framed positively. The very nature of a rebound often involves going for something that is the exact opposite of whatever we had before. The idea in our little hurt mind is that if "Old Lover" was wrong, then "Opposite of Old Lover" might be right. The problem with this game plan is that it is usually done impulsively, without a lot of analysis or self-reflection. And that's what gets us into trouble.

The idea of going for the opposite of what didn't work, in and of itself, is not a failed notion. But to grow as an individual and have healthier and healthier relationships, we need to put in the work of realizing what didn't work, and just as importantly what did work. Because it might turn out that much of what we gravitate toward does work for us, and that there were a few values or lifestyle issues, or personality traits that were the stopping points. If we can identify those little things, we can slowly build up a list from each relationship of the traits we would like to find again, and the traits that caused the friction. And then, a "rebound" becomes a "controlled rebound" - instead of bouncing like a superball from one extreme to another, we are making tiny course corrections, and slowly zeroing in on a composite of qualities with which we are compatible.

There is a possible flaw in this entire thought process, unfortunately. Maybe finding the love that lasts is not a scientific process, but a completely random one? Maybe we go through our lives making what we think are logical or illogical choices, but in the end it comes down to a magic "click" that either happens or does not? And when the click occurs, then all of the criteria on our checklists go out the window, and in we go - hook, line, and sinker - regardless of whatever lessons we think we may have learned from the past. But what is the success of those relationships? Matters of the "heart" are so difficult to predict.

Can "method" and "logic" be used to make romantic choices? Are the words "romance" and "logic" inherently in conflict? A lot of our culture and media teaches us that this is so. But I am becoming increasingly convinced that it may not be the case. Romance can be like a bungee jump without a bungee cord. Or romance can be like riding in a hang glider. It's the quality of the view that makes the romance something we all strive for. But including some self-evaluation, and at least a modicum of logic in our choices, might lead to a prolonged, exhilarating, peaceful glide across endless beautiful landscapes, instead of an intense but brief plummet, with burnout on re-entry, to the atmosphere that comprises our inescapable core value system.

22 July, 2008

New Facebook is Down - Problem seems to be Worldwide?

Location: as far away as spanish speaking places
Mood: relief, but annoyance

So, within 10 minutes of posting my blog below, I found out that someone else is having the same problem. They sent a link to the same error message (in spanish). They must have googled the words New Facebook and hit on my page. This is somewhat of a relief to know it is probably a server problem, that will likely be addressed.

For anyone's information who cares, I have a second Facebook account, on which I never viewed the new format - and that page still works. However, to view it, I needed to delete the Facebook cookies from my browser. If the New Facebook remains down, you may need to do the same thing that I did. I didn't blow away ALL my cookies - just the Facebook ones.

Thanks for posting your comments here, and I am happy to hear from anyone else regarding the upsetting status of our little social network.

While you're here, why don't you take a moment to read some of my other entries! I promise it is not all computer geeky stuff!

Thanks again.

A final comment: The STUPID thing here is that Facebook designed this as a forced redirect, instead of making users explicitly type "new.facebook.com" every time. So now, even though I WANT the OLD one, I can't get it, because this stupid redirect is happening probably via some parameter tied to my account info. This is bad. Broken, and no way to get ourselves out of the broken state.

Facebook. Shame. Shame. Shame.

The New Facebook has screwed the pooch

Location: somewhere in palo alto
Mood: scrabuless

Well, you've got to hand it to them. Facebook made a bold move this week by releasing their brand new interface. And now, as a consequence of their bravery, I am no longer able to obsessively play Scrabulous, because my ability to access Facebook, is at present non-existent. Spontaneously, and brutally, my access "went away".

Instead of seeing my page, that I lovingly crafted, and my fantastically high Scrabble rating, I now see this:



This makes me unhappy. The bigger issue here is that the nonsense that Facebook released this week as an "upgrade" was in virtually no way an improvement on their existing design. The site already is famous for awkwardly navigated menus and privacy settings, and very strange UI elements. The newer interface now features even more bizarre "features" such as items that jump out from under your cursor when you hover on them, requiring you to move your mouse to try to click, but then no, you cannot click because the thing you hovered on has gone away, and you get to try it again.

Someone needs to inform Facebook that navigating through a web page should not, in and of itself, constitute a "video game" of sorts.

I am not sure right now if maybe Facebook is "down" or if it is just my account that is rendered non-functional by my mistake of checking out the new UI. But I wonder what it will take for me to get back in again? I have Scrabble opponents who are waiting for me to make my next move!

Do you really want to know what people think of you?

Location: the space outside yourself
Mood: guarded

When I was younger, maybe in high school, I always used to wonder what people thought of me. I imagined such scenarios as being able to see a printed list of everyone's impression of me. Or of being in the room, invisible, and listening to people discuss. Or of dying, and then wondering what people would say in the aftermath. That desire to know about this hung with me for a long time. When I got to be older, maybe 30 or so, I started to realize that the impression that I thought I was giving was probably not incredibly similar to that which I am actually giving. This was a result of some observations that people made to me, unsolicited. I heard things like "intense", "confrontational", "argumentative", "defensive", "intimidating". Granted, those are some of the negatives, and I am sure there were plenty of positives as well. But especially the fact that many of these centered around intensity was something that I had not fully realized at an early enough point in my life. I guess it is because I am living inside my own mind, the level of "intensity" is all relative. When I have a thought, I want to express it. When I have a question, I want to ask it. When I have a complaint, I tend to voice it. To me, anything else would seem illogical. But apparently, this is not the way the average person sees it.

I wonder sometimes if this is because, at age 30, I moved from Boston to Seattle. The East Coast confrontational attitude may have been considered the norm, but arriving here, it was suddenly uncomfortable for people. I remember being told to chill out, or relax, early in graduate school, by friends who are from the Northwest. Now that I think about it, I guess that is probably a big part of it. And that is interesting. In a way, we are defined not just by who we are, but by who we are in the context of our surroundings. I did not necessarily change, but the impression I create did change because of the expectations of people in my life. I guess I knew a lot more people who behave like I do back in Boston. But on the contrary, I know many more people who think similarly to me out here.

I guess I just can't win.

20 July, 2008

The Mariners versus... me!

Location: safeco field
Mood: finding the good in it

Well, I routinely say "I am never going to see the Mariners again". I think I say it at least once a year. And for the past few years, I have gone to exactly one game per season - each time making the same proclamation. But somehow, I keep resetting the "Meter O' Disgust" just long enough to go one more time. I have written before about why I don't like going to the stadium. But the reality is that time spent outdoors with close friends is never something to skip. Because that is worth doing again and again, even if it happens in the price gouging context of corporate athletics.

It is killing me not to start my usual rant. I mean it. I am even ready to rationalize that maybe some of you haven't seen the older blog, and that you will be entertained to listen to me bitch about baseball and professional sports, and how every pore of my sensibility is offended by every stimulus that bombards me at places such as Safeco Field.

I will try not to go down that route. But I will say that it offends me that much more that all of these things that bother me anyway are all happening in the name and support of the worst team in baseball. People keep paying. People keep going. People keep clapping.

One of the ways Seattle is not as good as Boston. If this were the Red Sox, people would not be clapping. They would be booing. Daily. And they would be demanding the heads of the players and the managers and the owners. But not in Seattle. People are happy to go and watch the worst team in baseball get paid millions of dollars, while they sit in the stands and eat a one ounce piece of Ivar's Deep Fried Batter for a low, low price of $9.00. Unless you want fries. Then it will be $16.00.

See. I couldn't do it. The rant is just bleeding out of me. I must confess, it is one of my favorite complaining topics. It mixes so many things. Southerners, republicans (since most baseball players are), religious people (since most baseball players are), uneducated people (since most baseball players are), spoiled millionaires who cannot even fulfill a simple duty of role model (since most baseball players are).

Please get me a tourniquet. This rant will bleed my dry, giggling and spouting forth vitriol.

There are all the usual enragements, including such items as:
  • The cheering drum machine that tells us how to stomp our feet and when
  • The cartoon hydroplane races on the big board, to which people are giving each other high fives when they pick the right boat, as if it is some type of accomplishment
  • The rubbish trivia about the players, and their stupid goateed photos on the scoreboard
  • The way the players trot around the field like dressage horses
There was a special one this time, though, which actually amused me, more than annoyed me.

Examine the following image, which appeared on the scoreboard at the end of every inning, up to and including the 6th inning:



Yeah. So what? Why am I posting this boring photo?

Well, I am posting it because the Mariners were playing THE INDIANS.

Okay. I am done with my rant.

In the end, I had a very nice time with friends. And I cannot promise that I won't do it again next year. Only next time, I hope our Mariners lose.

Final score: Seattle 8, Cleveland 2, Integrity 0

Morning people

Location: the early hours
Mood: engaged

I am starting to think that I like morning people. And I wonder, will I become one myself? It's a strange thing to be saying that, because I like the nightlife. I like to boogie. But there's something lonely and dark about 2am. And there is something uplifting, peaceful, and inspiring about 7am. I don't know how to put it other than that. Though the middle of the night is someplace I have often indulged, I cannot say that it has brought me any form of happiness, enlightenment, or connection to the world. If anything, my forays into the wee hours have more often than not led to feelings of disconnection, isolation, and despair.

The problem with being up late, is that the further you go with it, the later it gets, the more tired you get. In the morning, on the other hand, you might start off tired, but the further you go with it, the less tired you get, and the more activity is occurring around you. There's a pleasant feeling to being "at it" before anyone else, and seeing the world wake up around you. Instead of that late night feeling of becoming lonelier and lonelier, the morning is the opposite.

And I really like the people that I encounter in the morning. Everyone seems to be glad that they're awake. I don't work in an environment where an early start is mandatory. Thus, wherever I go in my week, the people I see in the early morning are people who have chosen to live their life this way. People have a bounce in their step. An extra warm greeting. Insights about the beauty of the world that seem genuine. An energy to them, possibly fueled by large amounts of caffeine, but nonetheless something that puts me in a positive place. And I stay there the whole day.

Contrast that with a late start... up until 4am... no matter how late I sleep, wake up tired, and feeling hung over (even without drinking). And the later I sleep, the more I feel like life has been stolen away from me. My day is shorter. No matter how much I lengthen it on the back end, those hours gone from the beginning of the day feel like hours you cannot recover in any way. And if it's late to work, then there's the guilt. Not that there is an absolutely concrete consequence to late arrival, but I still hear those critical internal voices of "slacker" inside my head. Contrast that with an early start... even if I waste hours of my morning, I am still proud of myself for being up and around.

What is it about people of the morning? Why do you choose to be here with me? And why am I so excited to see your faces, or your little green dots online? Because you are part of my happy start? I don't know. I never thought of myself as a creature of routine - but now I realize that I really like to see the morning faces. I want to pay those visits. I want to see Donica in the morning for my coffee at Essential Baking Company. She knows exactly what I am going to order, and she knows my name, and I feel like there's a little positive spark of energy that comes from my hellos with her, or any of the other employees there. I want to go to Cafe Presse on a Sunday morning, and be the first one (or one of the first) to arrive, at 7:30am, and be recognized. And to know all the familiar faces.

It's weird to be a regular. But the funny thing is this. Consider this contrast: If you're a regular at the cafe in the morning, then it certainly has a very different feeling, and context, than if you're a regular at the bar on the other end of the day.

Now that I am awake so many mornings, it is interesting to see who else from my world is out there at this time. And to see who is not. I know who I can contact at what time, and sometimes it does feel a little sad to realize that I need to wait until x o'clock to make any phone calls on the west coast, lest I should piss off my friends.

So why does it feel so good? Really? I suppose this is the "circadian" way of living, yes? In the absence of technology, we rise with the sun, and we set with the sun. So am I closer to living naturally? Am I reducing the strain on my body by aligning with the pattern that it naturally would seek?

But I am less lonely this way. And I feel less isolated. I feel like I am okay with myself. I feel like the morning is my time to explore the world, and just be. On the other end of the day, I always felt like I was left alone because I had nobody, and because I wasn't tired enough to sleep, but there was no one left to talk to. And it felt like I could not let go of the day, or else I would be losing something precious. When I start the day off early, the day rises to greet me.

I am at Cafe Presse, and one of the servers is wearing a beautiful summer dress, with a maple leaf in her hair, as she walks around on the benches along the perimeter of the room, dusting the paintings and pictures on the wall.

And this is a great morning.

19 July, 2008

Relationships...

Location: essential places
Mood: awake

But do relationships really fit into the same architecture of measuring value as other "possessions"? I decide to buy a different car, for a number of measurable reasons, and there are absolute concrete realities that drive the decision. Defensible. But people are not as easily definable. And unlike inanimate objects, which are only capable of being (grammatically) just that - "objects" - people are also subjects. The laws of physics do not apply. Every action need not necessarily have an equal and opposite reaction. In fact, you never know what you're gonna get.

There are so many different variables. And there are no rules.

When talking about perceived value, it is difficult to just look at a laundry list of "what does this relationship do for me?" or "how does this interaction enrich my life?" because there can be greater issues that go beyond the answers to those questions. When I buy a new guitar, I might think "This is really cool" or "This will provide me with an inexpensive backup to my main guitar" or "This is a tone that I wanted, but didn't previously have" or even, sometimes, "I am kind of down right now, and I think if I get myself this new thing, the novelty and reward will raise my spirits, ever so slightly".

The only consequences to balance those with are things, maybe, such as "Well, do I really need to spend another $300 on another guitar?" or "Am I just trying to fill up an empty space with more possessions?" or "I sure am stockpiling a rather needlessly large collection of instruments". But in the end, it's just a couple of cubic feet of space, a few nice dinners worth of cash, and maybe an emotional bandaid that doesn't stick to my skin, or heal my wound. But that's it. Over and done with, and it is just a possession in the end, like any other piece of wood, metal, plastic, stone, or cloth.

But people are different. You weigh the consequences with a friend, and you have your entire identity up in the air. Because not only is it the question of "What do I get from this?" but it is also an ongoing examination of "Who am I because of this?" I don't believe in a soul, per se, but metaphorically, what we give to each person in our lives is a piece of the proverbial soul. And we are defined, both internally and externally by these connections we make. They impact us. They push us. They pull us. It is unavoidable. When deciding the value of another person in our lives, we have to look not only at the 1 on 1 relationship, but also on how it affects all other relationships. It's a giant network. And I almost want to think of this massive tangle of human interconnections like an elaborate clockwork (orange) where the movement, addition, or removal of a single cog results in a complete reordering of the machine.

The challenge is to have any window into your own machine. Can you see what the movement, addition, or removal of this piece will be? Sometimes it is impossible, of course. You meet a new romantic interest, of whom you know very little. And you elect to insert them - perhaps blindly - into this churning, whirring, buzzing organism that is your social network and psyche - and you just wait and see what breaks. And I don't say that cynically. It is a reality, though. As much as anything, I strongly believe, the success of a relationship is defined by the absence of its failure, and the absence of a significant disruption to the inner workings of the big machine.

And as you know, there are a million ways a machine can break.

When I was briefly engaged to Irina, whom just about everyone knew was not good for me, one major sticking point I had was that it required a complete dismantling of my machine (I tried to think of another Russian name to use instead of hers, but I think I also know people by just about every other common Russian name, and I honestly cannot be bothered to perform this extremely transparent editorial operation). I needed to willingly sever, or allow to rot, many connections that were part of the core machinery of my world. The biggest of these, of course, was Edna. And in my little value balancing act, at that time, I went along with it. It made sense at the time, because I had just exited a relationship with Edna, so I did feel that I should be trying to replace that gear with a new one. But there was a case where looking at the machine while you're standing inside of it, leads to a different conclusion than when you are standing aside and observing the machine.

And in the end, though there were a million reasons why that relationship needed to be discarded, the first "revelation" I had when I realized that Irina and I were not going to be okay, was that "At least I can be friends with Edna again". And there was the valuation that took into account the entire system as a whole. That balancing act. I lost something, but I got something else, and that something else was part of the core.

I wonder can our core even change? Are we, at the root, defined in a fixed manner? Maybe we are, and any divergence or digression from that path is just an indication of self-deception or denial, or perhaps a noble attempt to wear a different hat. I had a friend, whom I think I have given a pseudonym elsewhere, but I can't remember what it was, so I will just refer to her now as Ellen - and Ellen loved the saying "Wherever you go, there you are". She also loved to say "Small dogs often notice me in the street" so I am not sure we need to pay too much heed to her wise sayings (though, I think the latter actually is a statement that comes from the DSM-IV test for paranoid schizophrenia, which she found amusing).

Anyway, Ellen's point was that no matter what you do, you can't escape yourself.

I am on a tangent here.

Back to the point.

When it comes to relationships, and decisions, and feelings, and our own valuations, it is really difficult to decide when to communicate, what to communicate, how to communicate, and how much to communicate. And again there are no rules. If I were to follow every impulse I have on a day-to-day basis, I would be perceived as having multiple personalities. There is a certain need to "be with the feelings" before expressing them. We cannot just be so direct. In all relationships, but especially romantic ones, it is fairly important for partners to feel safe with one another. And that requires creating a positive environment where you can trust that you're not hanging on by a thread. In my most recently ended relationship, one major disservice I did to her with my directness and honesty was that I put her on incredibly unstable ground. By telling her I was afraid of the complexity of the situation, I put her eternally in a defensive position. She knew I was scared. She knew I had one foot on the floor, or out-the-door, or whatever. She knew that our position as a couple was tenuous. And all that did was to make our position as a couple more tenuous. Now, I don't think that was the "death" of the relationship, because there were a lot of reasons why it was not going to work in the long run - but there are certain times where it might be better to keep things inside. That's all I'm saying. Keep some things inside, until you've sorted them out. Because if you say "I'm not sure this is going to work out" and then it turns out that you were just having a bad day, then you've done damage to that special safe place that is your romantic bubble. And it's really hard to reinflate a balloon once there is a hole in it - it's never as strong, and the air will keep leaking out of it.

That's not to say you should never bring anything up in a relationship, until you're packing your bags and walking out the door - because that is bad too. But perhaps a rule of thumb would be to sit with the feelings until you believe there is an action that can be taken. Until you are ready to describe the problem, and have the talk, and figure out what type of resolution there could be. If it's just an uneasy feeling, but not actionable, then what can you really do with it?

Not too long ago, I created what I call "the three month rule" for relationships. I decided I would give anything, or just about anything, 3 months. But if at the end of 3 months, there were more problems than there were positives - or rather - if there were not far more positives than negatives - then "the end". Door closed. Onward. And it is almost something you can say to one another and be up front. I really like you! Let's give this 3 months, and see where we are then! If things are going very well, then you both know it, and the 3 months is not a "deadline". If things are kind of a constant struggle, then, well, no surprises when the 90 day mark arrives. It's not like I have had a whole bunch of 3 month relationships, though. But it's a good mental model to have. It is easy to get comfortable with someone because it is better than being alone, and then next thing you know, you're at 3 months, 6 months, a year. And you're not really fulfilled, but you're at a year, and now it would be kind of ridiculous to just end it because you are comfortable together. By a year, you've probably moved in together, so it starts to become a logistical mess to get out of it. So you stay. And things get a little more distant. But it becomes 2 years. And now you've bought a car together. Or adopted a cat together. Or gone on trips together and built memories that you will always associate with one another. Now, ending it would lead to pain - because you associate part of your intrinsic identity with the other person. And now, if you end it, you have the painful logistics of dividing up the loot. And figuring out who gets the cat. And visitation rights. So you stay in it. For 3 years. And then, much like graduate school, you're at the point where no matter how bad things are, or how much it is not measuring up to "how you hoped it would be", you have to keep going because you've invested way too much to bail now. You are officially at that point, where to leave would be construed by you, your friends, and your family, as "a failure". So you stay. And you stay. And you stay. While other opportunities pass visibly, or invisibly by you.

Not that I'm trying to sound cynical :)

But this is why I like the 3 month checkpoint. At 3 months, you probably don't live together. You probably haven't adopted cats or babies together. You probably haven't left too many CD's or bathroom products at each others' houses. And your friends will say "It's good that you got out of it quickly". And you can't resent the person for "wasting your time". And even if you think, hope, or know that you're in love, you can still convince yourself "it was probably just lust" because true love takes time, right? And 3 months is nothing. A quarter of a year. 90 days. One season. Three one-thousandths of a lifetime (wow... it sounds even briefer, when you put it that way!)

But what about friendships... how do we even measure those? It's so different. We usually only get to have one romantic partner at a time. But we can have as many friends as we want to have. And how do we decide who becomes closer, who stays at arm's length, who we confide in? Does all of this just happen, or is there a conscious point where the person crosses from one category to another?

I have friend lists on Facebook that I defined for the purposes of setting different privacy settings, though I haven't fully implemented that. I described these categories as: Inner Circle, Middle Ground, Outer Bounds. And it was interesting to categorize people into these groups. It is especially interesting because which category you are in has nothing whatsoever to do with how long I've known you, or how often I see you. But I have little difficulty putting people into these buckets. But what defines the buckets?

Maybe I will tell you about that in my next blog...

18 July, 2008

Breaking new ground

Location: Malaysia
Mood: feeling bloggy

Apparently, I now have a reader in Malaysia. Cool.

Since some were curious...

Location: the zodiac
Mood: indifferent

Here is my "chart" - It appears to be full of Libra, Scorpio, and Virgo, with the only major divergence being the Moon in Gemini which probably explains why I am completely insane. I don't know what that means.

I am glad I don't have Taurus in Uranus, because the horns would probably be quite painful.

Buh-dum-bum...


17 July, 2008

Thoughts on Astrology (not that I believe any of that shit)

Location: the stars
Mood: skeptical and intrigued

Every time I mention anything related to the "science" of astrology, I always feel the need to parenthesize with "not that I believe any of that shit". It has become a standard disclaimer, and it is almost an ongoing joke for me.

A fair number of people I know have at least a familiarity with the assertions of astrology. It is a good bet that probably 9/10 or more could name all 12 signs of the zodiac, not that this is an amazing feat, since I can name all 12 months of the year in English and French, and that doesn't make me a French scholar. And this doesn't just hold true for Americans - it seems that in other cultures, including people from places as far away as, say, Kazakhstan (not that I am referring to anyone in particular), also have a strong familiarity with the "concepts" of astrology.

And while I could assert that probably 95/100 people I would meet are familiar with at least some of the concepts, and probably 2 out of 3 people think that some of the things that it predicts about peoples' personalities are at least "intriguing", and maybe 1/3 of those people (that would be 2/9 overall) think there is "definitely something to it", we would be hard pressed while standing here, to make a single valid argument based on any experimental "science" that exists on Planet Earth, to assert that astrology is, in fact, a theory.

A classmate in my first round of graduate school (Engineering, at University of Massachusetts) probably said it best, when he asserted that "the cars in the parking lot have more of an effect on us than the planets or stars in space". What he meant was, if you consider the universal law of gravitation that describes the force that two planets exert on one another to be proportional to the mass of each planet, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, then a 2000 pound vehicle that is 400 meters away will have a greater gravitational "force" on you than, say Jupiter at a distance of a few hundred million miles, or the constellation Taurus, at a distance of about 484 (+/- 14) light years (the +/- 14 is critical to keep in mind!).

And Steve was right.

But if it is not about force, then what is it? If there is to be any science in it, then it must either be about force, or about radiation, or magnetism, or something? If not, then we are talking about a phantom, and we might as well subscribe to the Loch Ness monster and all sorts of other things. Maybe the electromagnetic spectra from these heavenly bodies exerts some force on us? But when you think about it from the standpoint of pure astronomy, it becomes even more absurd.

The earth, one planet in our solar system among 9, orbits the sun. The sun is situated at some fairly arbitrary position among all of the other constellations. As we look out into the night sky, we can make the observation that "Mars is 'in' Taurus" but all this means is that if you look, from our perspective, at the planet Mars, and draw a straight line, the constellation that you see in that field of view is Taurus.

Now, another important thing to remember, other than this extremely egocentric nature of that perspective, is that the naming of "constellations" is a completely arbitrary thing. The stars that comprise Sagittarius did not come into existence in the shape of an Archer, and they were not born at the same time, and they do not even reside "close" to one another. In fact, they do not even remotely resemble much of anything other than that our minds are quite adept at seeing patterns where there are none.

So what we assert when we "believe" in the "science" of astrology is that our arbitrary named groupings of stars, hundreds of light years away, and their apparent alignments with tiny insignificant planets in our own solar system, somehow translate into deterministic factors in human character and/or development.

Can we assert that without laughing at ourselves?

If we decide to assert that all of this is plausible, which of course it is not, but if we do - then there are a few additional things that must be considered.

First, why is our "astrological" sign ascribed to the moment of birth? A baby develops for 9 months (give or take) in the womb, and then emerges. Between last week, and this week, not much has changed in this baby, but that exact minute of birth defines the "sign". If we were to assert that a force is acting, then I would be far more likely to believe that such a force would need to be acting at the most vulnerable, most sensitive, most transient time of development - namely, conception. At that moment, you have the greatest opportunity for massive results from tiny influence. If one little subcellular compartment were to receive slightly more pressure than another, it is conceivable that this would translate into that cascade of cell divisions and developmental decisions taking a different course. If there were to be an astrological force, that would make the most sense that it acts on the newly fertilized egg. It also seems relevant because this is when that organism is technically "born". Now, I am absolutely not making an assertion here about when life begins, and this is in no way supporting ANY pro-life argument. But once the egg is fertilized by a sperm, the genetic identity of that prospective creature is effectively set. And this is where I would assert that the force would be acting.

Now, if you really believe in astrology, then this assertion could actually help your theory (as you call it). The reason is this. Maybe the reason why some people do not apparently fit the personality of their sign is because the sign actually should be measured at conception! Maybe if you are born early or late, it messes up the computation. So maybe, in reality, "Libra", as we call it, is not the sign of people who are born between September 23 and October 22! Maybe Libra is really people who were conceived between December 23 and January 22! So if you were conceived on February 15, but then you were born 3 weeks early, you will be labeled a Libra by our system, but actually, you are a Scorpio who needed less cooking time! Anyway, that's just a thought.

But it's a bit of a tangent, because we cannot make those assertions if we have no basic grounds for doing so.

Here is problem number two with astrology. It professes to be deterministic in an important way. Unlike social sciences, astrology is asserting that external forces are defining a physical result. This is not like psychology or sociology, which look at what is and try to understand it. This is akin to a hard science where cause and effect are mapped more tightly. And, importantly, unlike any social science, astrology negates all observable "cause and effect" explanations, and replaces them with nebulous (pun intended) phenomena.

And if we want to consider astrology, in any way, shape, or manner, to be a science, then it must endure the rigors of the scientific method. Can we construct an experiment to "test" astrology? Not sure. The big snag comes in the area of the "self-fulfilling prophecy". It is difficult to rule out the fact that we may "fit our descriptions" because we read about them at an early enough age, and started to believe that we were destined to become what they say we are. And that self-fulfillment also ascribes to our parents. If my parents think "we've got a Libra on our hands" and then they raise me with those footnotes always in mind, then I have been "honed" for those attributes. So the only way to test validity is to find people who were raised completely in the absence of any form of popular astrological culture.

Hm... there may be data on this. And it is almost interesting enough to investigate.

However, my first search of biological/medical/psychological literature revealed this article. And to think, it took me SIX years to get my Ph.D. Sigh...

But the bottom line is, what would the experiment be? And what objective data could we collect? I guess if we got 100 people from an astrologically naive culture, and chose them to be 10 from each "sign" of the zodiac, and then observed these individuals day-to-day behaviors, in work, love, friendships, decision making, etc. And then our team of observers binned them into categories of what we thought each person's sign was - if we saw significantly better than random assignment - that should tempt us to buy in. But what would we be buying in to? That's the problem. I don't know what we would be "buying".

If I take a leap and assume that self-fulfilling prophecy is not playing a primary role, then I have a very strange data set out there, which is incredibly compelling. I know multiple people who are textbook examples of a particular sign, exactly as any book would describe them. I know some people who don't fit at all.

Case in point:

The drummer for my last band has the exact same birthday as I do. But the two of us, in my estimation, were extremely unlike one another. But then again, I don't know him very well. I think of myself as extremely friendly. He did not strike me that way. But I also think of myself as non-committal, and he certainly did strike me that way. I think of myself as valuing fairness, and balance, but also being able to become quite confrontational when my beliefs are challenged. I never saw any of that in him. But maybe we were touching our lives on points that weren't really "big things" for him, so I never saw it. Or... maybe it is the difference in our Moon signs that could be the cause for our apparently dissimilarity.

See, there are a million ways to explain away differences from the expectation. But the hard thing for me, still, is to explain away the apparent similarities between people born under a given sign. And so many people base their expectations of others around this, in terms of family, relationships, friendships, etc.

How do we dismiss it?

I presented 20 reasons why it cannot possibly be valid, and more reasons why even if it is valid, it has been quantified all wrong, and yet, it still sticks. Or maybe it doesn't.

There have to be psychology tests out there that have people self-rate on various traits and then measure how they map against the zodiac descriptions. But again, we need to test naive individuals, or else we cannot remove the confound.

It's so fucking frustrating.

And all of this stemmed from someone referring to me today as a "textbook Libra", which, unfortunately, I cannot deny.

Aimee, I love you, but please don't bore me

Location: woodland park zoo
Mood: depressed, deprived, dejected

Several years ago, not sure when - maybe 2002 - I saw Aimee Mann play at the Woodland Park Zoo. After that show, I vowed two things:
  1. I would never go to see Aimee Mann again
  2. I would never go to a show at Woodland Park Zoo again
I have made bad on both of those promises. (can you actually do that? I know you can make good on promises, but can you make bad on them?)

Last night I saw Aimee Mann play at the Woodland Park Zoo, and I was woefully reminded of all the reasons why I make the previous proclamations. The problem is, I love Aimee Mann "The Icon" sooooooo much, that I cease to even observe what is Aimee Mann "The Reality".

Not sure why that is. Perhaps she represents an entire period of my adult life, from ages 17 to 39, where my romantic blunders and emotional development or lack thereof paralleled her lyrical contents.

I remember, when I worked at the pizza place, back in maybe 1985, one of our managers, Paul Duffy, who was probably like 22 or so, said that he had the opportunity to dance with Aimee Mann at a 'Til Tuesday show. Who knows where that was? I have no clue. But I was a fan of her then, and never stopped. She evolved musically, and professionally, in ways that I cannot even believe. And looking at her career trajectory, I think my love for her probably stems from the fact that her public persona (and that's all I can speak about) resembled the type of character that I truly identify with. And everything about her music - the writing, the lyrics, the production, the instrumentation - all of it became the pie in the sky that I would love to attain in my own work. But I never will. Because to be like Aimee Mann, #1, you need to actually write songs. I have written a measly handful. Though I cannot deny that the few I have written are pretty good. I will never be prolific. It's getting late for that. To be prolific, you have to start early. One of my best songs, though, was a song that I wrote with Aimee Mann on the mind. In my head I heard her singing it. And that song is one of the few songs that I could describe as something that I "gave birth" to. I created it. And once it was out of me, I had a hard time believing that it came from inside of me. And that's a good thing. And it was a strange song too, because I wrote it as a fictional story sung in the first person - where I was singing to a partner who I was kicking out of my life - dumping - because they'd finally fucked up too many times. And the sad thing is that I realized, after the song was born, that actually it was a song written from the perspective of someone else singing to me. I was the object. Not the subject.

It was called "Successful Failure" and here are the lyrics:

Leave your keys on the way out
'Cause I don't want
To ever see you again
You've been gone for a long time
From my heart
Now I just want it to end

I tried so hard to support you
Or at least ignore you
While you fuck up your life
But my efforts to resurrect you
They don't affect you
While you're turning the knife

I lost the money but I won the bet
The take home prize is a life of regret
Baby please you shouldn't be upset
You're the most successful failure... I've ever met

I'll try to remember the times we've had
Both good and bad
But now I'm just trying to save myself
I'm bailing out
Oh god, this ship is sinking

So leave your keys on the way out
And perhaps you'd be so kind
To leave my heart by the door
I don't expect it's intact
Now that you've splashed its remaining blood
All over the floor

I won the money but I lost the bet
The take home prize is a life of regret
But baby please don't you be upset
You're the most successful failure... I've ever met

I lost the money and I lost the bet
I'm tired of watching you fall
While I'm holding your net
I'm pretty sure we ain't seen nothing yet
'Cause you're the most successful failure... I've ever met

Splendid, huh? So that was my Aimee Mann song. I toyed, a couple of times, with the idea of trying to get her a demo of the song, but then it occurred to me that nine million other people probably do stupid shit like that all the time, so I never did it. And I don't fault myself for not doing it. Because I am not that unrealistic. In fact, I should say, I never seriously considered it. But it was a secret wish. Whatever.

So...

To Aimee Mann at the zoo. First problem with last night's show is that the opener was Marc Cohn. Don't remember him? Yes you do. He sang "Walking in Memphis". So you can see how the night was going to be, right?

Then, of course, the main reason for ZooTunes is so that rich hippies can bring their children to the Zoo, to eat Cheerios, while the adults each tapanade on a picnic blanket, and ignore the musical acts. And sadly, Aimee Mann was rather ignorable last night. There was a time, many years ago, where Aimee Mann had a great band - spectacular, actually. They had this guitar player named Michael Lockwood. And he was an older guy. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, he's also a Scientologist, so that sort of ruins it for me, now, I guess. Maybe that's why Aimee Mann doesn't play with him anymore? Although Aimee Mann did the soundtrack for Magnolia, which starred Tom Cruise, who is also a Scientologist, so maybe Aimee Mann is a scientologist!? That would REALLY ruin it for ME too! Better check that out!

But just so you don't think I am full of shit, here is a video from the mid-90's when Aimee Mann was kicking ass with Michael Lockwood and a competent band. Singing Sugarcoated. Not good video quality, but good audio, and you can see they were a BAND. And if you liked that one, here is another of her singing Choice in the Matter. Makes me sad that everyone's better days will eventually be in the past...

So now, Aimee Mann has a shitty band, and she has had shitty band for a number of years. Not sure why that is. But this show, she did not even have an electric guitar player (except on one song, where the bass player played guitar - and he STILL didn't play the guitar solos, which were instead played on keyboard, competently, but disappointingly).

Aimee Mann played almost entirely songs from her new album, which was slightly less energetic than her last album, which was slightly less energetic than the one before that. There were 2 kickass albums by Aimee Mann, "Whatever" and "I'm With Stupid", and I need to realize that this was a long time ago, when Aimee was a much younger and perhaps more bitter artist. And not only is her style a long stone's throw from those records, but she is most likely not going to play ANY of those songs EVER again at a show. This is partly because her band probably was in high school when they were written, and also because she is just someone who seems to quickly move beyond her own work, and have little desire to go back to it.

The best Aimee Mann show ever was when she did this "Acoustic Vaudeville" tour, where she brought a comedian on tour with her to do the talking between songs. It was funny, effective, and she had a better core set of material at that time. And the humor on stage actually brought out the best from her and the band. Now I feel like I am seeing a singer-songwriter backed by a band of hired guns, who either a) don't fit the part, or b) don't have the chops, or c) don't look like they give a damn about Aimee Mann other than the money they're making on the tour. It didn't feel like a band. It felt like a sad vestige of a once-great career.

But Aimee Mann continues to be "critically acclaimed", whatever that means.

I don't mean to bash her, because, remember, I love her.

But she let me down.

Again.

But since we're (not) bashing her, let's also note that her voice was a little more nasal than usual, she had a slightly harder time with the high notes than usual, and she wore an absolutely ridiculous pair of sunglasses that she refused to remove, even when the sun dropped behind the trees.

The highlights of the show were the few older songs she played, which were:

Save Me
Deathly
Goodbye Caroline
Wise Up
How Am I Different?

And of those, she short-changed "Goodbye Caroline" - which should have been the most rocking tune of the whole set - by electing to play it solo acoustic. She butchered "Deathly" by a) fucking up the chords at the beginning of the song to the point that she hesitated, and you could tell she was in the fleeting moment debating whether to start over, or keep going, and b) truncating the entire end of the song, which would be a rocking guitar solo jam, presumably because there was going to be no rocking guitar in the evening's set.

The only true highlight, in Aimee Mann fashion, was that she managed to figuratively give the middle finger to at least 2 sets of people - in this case, the Zoo, and the families in the audience. Before her last song (How Am I Different?) she announced that she needed to cut the set short because they had just informed her that "the lemurs are about to go to sleep". This, to me, was a bit of a cynical crack at humor - which led me to believe that she was less than thrilled about the idea of playing at a Zoo (though she keeps playing there, so go figure - guess it pays well?). And then, to complete the notion that she doesn't really enjoy playing to millionaire hippies and their adopted children, she made sure to close with a song that uses the word "fuck", clearly audible, no less than 5 times.

"Just one question, before I pack... when you fuck it up later, do I get my money back?"

Unfortunately for the real fans of the Aimee Mann from the mid-90's, the answer to that last question was "No. Unfortunately, there will be absolutely no refunds".

I'll leave you with a link to this video of one of her best songs, That's Just What You Are, doing her best 90's grunge Kurt Cobain costume. Actually she's sort of 2 parts Kurt Cobain, 1 part Edward Scissorhands... in the best possible way.

An older photo of Aimee Mann, shown playing her native instrument (bass guitar), which she never once touched last night...

14 July, 2008

Attracted to shiny sparkly objects...

Location: out there
Mood: blue

There's a strange balance of the universe, that sometimes defies analysis. I try to analyze it, sure. But there are things that defy my attempts. It is all I can do to observe, accept, sometimes attempt to challenge, accept again, and eventually move on.

There's some famous saying that every exit is an entrance to somewhere else. I cannot remember where it comes from? Maybe from "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead"? Not sure. Let me go check. Yep, I was right. For being as not-well-read as I am, that was a pretty good one to pull out of my ass, huh?

Is it:

If A then B; else C

Or is it:

If A then not B;
C

Or is it:

D... E... F... G... etcetera... etcetera... etcetera... etcetera...

Who knows?

Anyway... Sometimes things shift. Sometimes seasons change. Sometimes, like chemical compounds, we undergo even the simplest of reactions, which result in an irreversible change. Can you get iron from rust? I am not sure. Furthermore, I am not sure if Iron or Oxygen will ever ask the question of whether they were better off before.

And perhaps it is better if we don't either.

13 July, 2008

Strange and stilted language

Location: the lexicon
Mood: baffled

There are many things that are commonly said in the English language that really, when you consider them carefully, make very little grammatical sense or semantic sense whatsoever. And I am not sure if these things are actually errors or just awkward usage that has become commonplace. I was just discussing this recently with a sister of mine, and we were laughing about some of these.

1. You have got to be kidding

The whole "have got" in front of an infinitive. How odd is that? Actually, this awkward use of "got" is one of the most frequent examples. What does it even mean? I don't know. "Have" is about possession, but also is used as a modifier verb in particular voices (what is it? perfect? imperfect? something like that). So the "have" is not strange:

We have been there. Fine.
We have taken a bath together. Fine.
We have had ice cream from the place next to the barber shop. Fine
We have come.
We have seen.
We have conquered.
Whatever.

But what's this "got" to do with anything? Maybe the problem is "got". Is "got" even a word? I am not entirely sure. I know that my ex-girlfriend's British father would apparently scoff at the use of the word "got" under just about any circumstance. So it stands to reason, it is not what we would refer to as "proper English".

To "get" is to acquire or buy or take. But people also use "get" as "get going" or "get lost" or "get out" or "get away", in which case it is more like "go in the direction of". Because it would make no sense to say "Acquire lost" or "Acquire out of here" or "Acquire into it".

So I guess "get" also means "become" in the imperative form.

But is it a "good" word? Or is it a lazy word? And even if we settle and agree that "get" is okay, what about "got"? It probably takes on all the same meanings as "get", but in the past tense.

He got lost.
We got going.
They got their money back.
The squirrel got away.

But this strange one is the one before an infinitive.

And I just realized, it is not only "got" but "get" too.

Not only have we got to be going... but how did he get to go? You've got to be kidding me? They get to sit in front, and we've got to sit in back? This is getting to be really annoying!

Of course you know what all these sentences mean. But are any of them "good English"?

What should we have said?

Not only must we be going... but how was he able to go? You must be kidding me? They are allowed to sit in front, and we must sit in back? This is becoming really annoying!

So it's lazy. Right?

On to example number two.

2. What it is, is that that car wasn't actually for sale!

What is strange about that sentence? Um... let me see. We have is is and we have that that. Those are really two examples, but I decided to stick them together into one sentence just to save time because it is getting to be late :)

What it is, is...

I guess that may not be improper grammar. But it certainly is odd. I guess it is conversational form resulting in awkwardness. We should really just say "That car wasn't actually for sale" but instead, we want to make a big production out of it. Here's the logic:

Instead of saying:

REASON

We say:

The reason is REASON

And that's strange.

As for the that that phenomenon, I am not really sure that that is something I have got time to get into tonight. It's not that I don't want to talk about it. What it is, is that it is getting to be past midnight, and I have got to go to sleep.

See what I mean?

Watching FOX News with the sound off

Location: the gym
Mood: shocked

At the gym, sometimes I like to subject myself to the likes of Bill O'Reilly or Hannity & Colmes, so that I can get my agitation going. But other times, I get there, I am just decide to listen to my music on headphones instead of becoming annoyed. And what inevitably happens is that I watch the "news" program, without hearing what they're saying.

And what I have discovered is that, in some ways, you can learn more about what the FOX News agenda is by watching with no sound.

This Friday, the programming on FOX News was Hannity & Colmes, and the topic, for the second day in a row, was the comment that Jesse Jackson made on a "hot mic" in the FOX News studio (meaning a microphone that he did not know was turned on). What Jesse Jackson said, was something to the effect of:

"Obama is talking down to black people about this faith based [something or other]. I want to cut his nuts off."

Jesse Jackson said this to a black news anchor on FOX, and the news anchor was looking sort of amused. All we hear is what Jesse says. We do not hear what the news anchor said before, or after the comment. And FOX News has proceeded to show this day and night, and they are trying to drum up some type of sense that maybe there is dissent in the black community about Obama's candidacy. H&C (Hannity & Colmes) had Al Sharpton on the air, and of course, Hannity tried to bait Sharpton into saying something bad about either Jackson or Obama. But Sharpton is not that dumb. You then see them interviewing any conservative black person they can find, who will come on their show as an "expert" and say that Obama should be concerned or that Jesse Jackson must have a problem with Obama. On and on it goes.

And when you watch it without the sound, what you see is footage (subtitled) of Jesse making the comment "Obama is talking down to black people" over and over and over again. Almost in a loop. Who knows what the voiceover was. Not me, because I had the sound off, the second day. But the video loop kept going and going and going. And then occasionally they would cut to some random footage of Obama getting off an airplane, or Obama waving to a room full of people with American flags, etc.

And what this all adds up to is that FOX News is trying to find ways of subtly (or overtly) marginalizing Obama. Obama did not actually do anything here. It was Jesse Jackson. And for all we know, Jackson might have been set up. We don't (or, I should say, I don't) know what that news anchor said to Jesse Jackson, but he might have been baited.

I don't know. I got really excited about this three days ago, and now I am writing the blog. And I am tired. And maybe it is not as exciting as I thought it was.

As an aside, or perhaps, more importantly (in the context of this blog), I am not a huge fan of Obama's candidacy. I did not vote for him in the primary. Actually, I did not vote in the primary, because I am a slacker, and I have no excuse. But had I voted, I would have voted for Hillary. That said, I don't think Hillary Clinton was a good choice for the Democrats either. In both 2004 and 2000, we put up candidates that should have been able to beat Bush. I would argue that we made a huge mistake in 2000, and that was to have Lieberman as the running mate, but that's just my take on things. The point here is that two good candidates were unable to defeat Bush (in the face of media manipulation, and vote fraud). Now we have McCain, who is far less horrifying than Bush was. And we have a Democrat (Obama or Clinton, take your pick) who is less electable (whatever that means) than Gore or Kerry were. The Democratic Party needed to choose a candidate who could not lose on simple demographic issues. And they didn't do that. Obama will not win, because of his race. We have only elected what? One non-Protestant in the history of our country? Or at least in the last 100 years? I could be mistaken. But I think JFK was the only Catholic to become President (oh yeah, and they killed him). And forgetting about Obama's religion, because that's not my point - he may be Protestant for all I know - and I am not even going to look, because a) I don't care, and b) it's not my point - if we cannot even get people to look past religion, how can we get them to look past race (Obama) or gender (Hillary)?

Answer: We can't.

Bet me. It's a bet I am dying to lose.

12 July, 2008

Things said or unsaid...

Location: here
Mood: neither here nor there

I told you all about the Insights Discovery personality profile that I did at work this week. It is interesting because now that we spent an entire day talking about blue this, and red that, and the other, I am seeing these colors in everything that I do, and everything that everyone else does. And I have been thinking more about the apparently discrepancy between my so-called "conscious" and "less conscious" states of functioning. Why is it that my conscious mind operates with these blue and yellow energies, but my less conscious one is in the green and red. I have been trying to figure out if this is true, or if it is just a bunch of hooey. Thinking about the question of when do I exhibit those red and green traits. Now, mind you, they did say that it could be the negative aspects of those colors when we are stressed, and the positive aspects when we are relaxed. So maybe I can see the red "bulldozing" behavior when I am stressed, or the green "needy and unproductive" when stressed. But do I exhibit any of the good ones? I really don't know.

Saw a recent blog where a friend was talking about those differences in how we process things at work versus not at work - the difference in personality depending on the circumstance. They perceived a clear difference in how they addressed difficult situations based on the context. Interestingly, I think that my bipolar handling of situations is more a function not of context, but of my own internal state. When I am in the mood to engage, I will be completely engaged, and confrontational, and questioning, and energetic, and persuasive. And when I am in the mood to disengage, good luck even finding me. And it just sort of goes back and forth on some type of internal clock that I cannot even say has a periodicity to it.

Of course, I am continuing to realize, lately, that my perception of my affect and my actual affect are probably only loosely correlated. I believe often that I am behaving badly, and this is entirely an internal state. It's late, and I am not being very interesting right now, so I will stop there. Wish this were better.

See... I did it again.

10 July, 2008

Taking a compliment

Location: awkward places
Mood: pensive

I just read a blog by a friend and fellow blogger. This blog was titled "Receptivity: Taking a Compliment". This friend is a really good writer (we'll see how she takes that compliment). She is an especially good writer because for her, blogging is not about self-exploration via self-absorption. A lot of her writing looks outward as a means of reflecting inward. And this is something that I appreciate. Most of the places I go on here, and sadly, out there as well, are more along the "me - me - me" vein. This is something for which I have received a number of criticisms in my life (not with respect to blogging, but with respect to the "out there" part of things).

Anyway, her blog inspired me to do this topic in the Mick Feeble way. I am not sure what that means, but I think it is going to be me telling you about how I deal with compliments, and what it probably means to me. I may accidentally make some type of universal observation, but it will probably just be self-indulgence, as usual.

There. How's that for beginning on a totally self-deprecating note?

So, I don't take compliments well. I guess I never really noticed how poorly I took them, until recently. I am not sure if it is because recently, for whatever reason, I have been receiving more of them, or if it is that I have become even more uncomfortable with receiving them, so that I am hyper-aware of it. It has been brought to my attention by a number of people that when I am complimented, not only do I not take it gracefully, but I probably either refuse it or refute it. I often do this to my detriment. Probably, it would be more accurate to say that I always do this to my detriment.

In the workplace, this comes about regularly. Someone will tell me that they are impressed that I did something quickly, and I will tell them that it was simple, and that they shouldn't give me so much credit. This does two things. First, it decreases the credit that I could earn for an accomplishment. And second, it is somewhat of an insult to the compliment giver. Because what I have done is inform them that they do not have an accurate perception of the difficulty level of things. It is like saying "You must be stupid, if you're impressed with this!!"

Another example is that I receive a compliment at work about what a nice report I wrote, and how it is detailed, thorough, and brings up a lot of good points with great ideas for solutions, and is well-written. All that. About one report. Pretty impressive, huh? I should be proud, right? Well, my typical response to this is to tell them that it took me way longer to finish than it should have, and that I got completely bogged down in things that probably didn't matter, and that unfortunately, it detracted from my ability to work on other projects that I should be doing, and that I am really quite embarrassed at how long it took, and that I need to start learning how to generate results more efficiently. So what this did was tell the other person that I am inefficient, and it also told them that I don't respect their value of precision and detail.

This happens all the time.

Outside of work, in the band, a friend says to me that I played a great show at Neumo's. And I tell them I had a hard time hearing my vocals and was singing out of key a lot. Or I tell them that I made a ton of mistakes on the guitar, and that hopefully no one noticed. This tells them that they are not good judges of ability. Now, it may be that they were just saying this to be nice. In that case, what I did was refuse their kindness.

In a relationship, if I am told that I look really nice, and I say that I feel fat, or my hair is a mess, or I didn't shave, or my pants are too big, or... the list goes on.

Why the refusal? I don't know. Am I uncomfortable with taking credit for anything because I don't believe it myself? Or is it a perverse form of modesty? Or is it the unwillingness to let anyone close to me, because accepting kindness can lead to intimacy? Or is it that I don't wish to reciprocate, so I feel I cannot accept, like a gift?

I am not sure if any of those things are true. It might just be a bad pattern of behavior that I learned from somewhere, that I now adopt as habit. Is it me? I don't know.

Fellow blogger pointed out a really wonderful cultural response to compliments. Apparently, in Afghanistan, the proper response when complimented is "and you have beautiful eyes". This is the kind of artful language that seems to be lacking in our culture. That response not only acknowledges the complimenter, but delivers a compliment back at the same time. And furthermore, it indicates the reality which is that beauty is, indeed, in the eyes of the beholder.

I have no conclusions here.

Things my girlfriend and I have argued about...

Location: the internets
Mood: amused

Now that I got your attention with that title, I can significantly reduce your interest by informing you that this will not be a blog about things that my girlfriend and I have argued about. This blog is about a guy in Britain named Mil Millington, who created a website (and a novel), and publishes a regular mailing list on the topic by the title:

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

I should note that Mil is a grammar stickler, so there is a humorous irony in the website title, being that prepositions are a bad thing to end a sentence with. (did you see that?)

Mil and his girlfriend Margret (who is German) have lived together for a long time, and are not married, but seem to be stably in a state of war with one another. The site, and the mailing list deliver many entertaining and insightful tidbits from their relationship. Some of these may be exaggerated. Though I suspect they are not. It is very entertaining.

If you would like to check out his site, go here. If you would like to read his most recent mailing list entry, go here. And if you would like to sign up for the mailing list, I believe it can be done at the bottom of either of those pages, or it can be done by clicking here.

If you would like to see pictures of Mil and Margret, to inspire you, then here they are:

09 July, 2008

Apparently I am as complicated as I thought...

Location: jungian psychology
Mood: voila

Well, I knew that I was not "normal", or "typical", or any of those other things that most people are. And today, I learned that I am very far from any of these things. I am a misfit. I am greater than 3 standard deviations from the mean. I am an outlier. Today, at work, we did this training course, called the Insights Discovery Seminar, or some such thing. It's a full day event where they basically tell you what your personality type is. It is based on the Myers-Briggs and all those things, but it is a little bit different.

Instead of the E/I, N/S, T/F, J/P stuff that Myers-Briggs uses, this personality test uses 4 colors that are represented in a circle, as follows: blue, red, yellow, green, around the circle. And each color represents traits, roughly, as follows:

blue = analyzer, data collector, observer, careful, deliberate
red = decision maker, leader, thinks fast, action, get things done, aggressive
yellow = motivator, high energy, entertainer, communicator, persuasion
green = collaborator, team, supporter, mentoring

Those are approximations of the actual definitions. Before the course, we had done some 25 question survey that was used to generate our personality types through some fancy statistics. And then, based on the descriptions above, we were asked to also say what we think our types are. Blah blah blah.

So, to make a long story short, nobody is just one color. We are all a little bit of everything, but there is always an order. We are mostly something, and then a little less of another, etc.

I guessed that my colors would go in this order: blue, yellow, green, red.



And I was correct. The reason I am an outlier is because this is apparently very rare. Most peoples' top two colors are adjacent to each other on the circle, because there is a good degree of overlap between adjacent colors. So, for instance, a manager who makes decisions and wants to have all the data, might be a red/blue combo. A manager who likes to build team collaborations and motivate people to do their best work, might be a green/yellow combo. A researcher who likes to build collaborations across disciplines to get the most use out of data, and to teach others new techniques for collecting data, might be a green/blue combo. And (excuse the non-sequitur) a movie producer who needs to decide what films to produce, and then motivate cast and crew to get on board, might be a red/yellow combo.

All of those combos I listed are logical pairings.

The reason the other two pairings (blue/yellow, and red/green) are not logical is because those color pairs are opposites of one another. The red leader type who makes quick decisions, and the green supporter type who likes everyone to get along... not a logical pairing in one person. Likewise, the blue introverted observer who wants lots of data, and the yellow cheerleader who likes to use broad strokes to persuade others... not a logical pairing in one person.

They said that only 9% of the population falls into these two categories, and only 3% of the population is truly in that pairing, as opposed to just testing that way due to life circumstances skewing responses.

So I guess I am an oddball, and I am pretty sure I would be in that 3% because I was highly certain that those were both my colors.

There was all sorts of other hocus pocus that came out of the testing, that said that while I consciously behave like blue/yellow, that when I am acting on instincts (as in, when under stress, or when very relaxed and not monitoring my behavior), I am then more like a red/green.

The course instructor said to me, "People like you are both unique, and difficult to handle, because under different circumstances, you might display the positive or negative traits of any of the 4 colors, and you are also going to be fairly unpredictable".

So if you've been having a hard time figuring me out, there's your explanation. I am undecipherable! I sort of suspected this from Myers-Briggs, which has shown me to be anywhere from ENTJ, to ENTP, to ESTJ, to ESTP, depending on the mood I am when I take the test.

People often say that it is very important to understand yourself, in order to find out what it will take to make you happy or successful. And these tests would seem to validate my quandary in this area. How can I understand myself, if I don't fall into a simple bucket? How can I figure out what I want in life, if I am a mixture of all these different things?