What Happens in Vegas is a One-Timer

30 05 2018

General Managers around the NHL have been desperately seeking answers to explain why the Las Vegas Golden Knights have succeeded in their inaugural year where so many teams continue to fail. How did this team with no super stars manage to make it to the Stanley Cup Final, losing only four playoff games en route to the championship series?

I haven’t seen the following explanation yet, so I’m going to go ahead and call myself a genius hockey analyst for this incredible insight.

The Golden Knights are where they are precisely because this is their inaugural year. The very first season of an expansion team is a rare one-off situation where no one has any expectations, not even the brand new fans. They’re just happy to have a team. Expectations and pressure come later. Everyone in the sporting world expects a team to fail in their first year, spectacularly, so the bar is set as low as its ever going to get. In this unusual set of circumstances, the team really has no one to play for except themselves. They just get to have fun. For the Golden Knights, the whole season has been like shinny.

Sports psychologists get paid big money to try to instill a loose, stress-free mindset in professional athletes. It’s pretty common knowledge that people perform well under pressure if they’re engaged without all the head noise that comes with the consequences of failure. The Golden Knights got this perfect opportunity to play their game and have fun. Will the next expansion team in Seattle be able to pull off this weird one-off moment as well, or is the genie out of the bottle? We’ll have to wait and see.

You heard it here first.

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Living With An Audience

30 03 2018

A VP at Facebook sent an internal memo to the company explaining the ugly side of growth tactics. Here’s an excerpt:

The natural state of the world is not connected. It is not unified. It is fragmented by borders, languages, and increasingly by different products. The best products don’t win. The ones everyone use win. I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this. Most of us have the luxury of working in the warm glow of building products consumers love. But make no mistake, growth tactics are how we got here. If you joined the company because it is doing great work, that’s why we get to do that great work.

What is the result of connecting people? Political action? Taking down the man? Giving a voice to the downtrodden? Maybe. I suspect, though, that the most common result of connecting people in wealthy, bored countries like ours, is to provide an audience for our insipid selfie lifestyles.

Facebook is touted as a communication revolutionary because it provides a different way for people to communicate with one another. We can post things on the Internet and people can wander by and look, much like the community message boards in public areas where people post advertisements for guitar lessons, rooms to let, and drum circle life-force yogic chanting.

Communication is great when the communicator is great, which is rare indeed. The best communicators make us want to buy tickets to go and see them speak. The worst communicators grab a bullhorn and shriek at anyone walking by. I suspect Facebook is full of a lot more bullhorn shriekers and far fewer real communicators. But mostly it’s full of ordinary people with ordinary lives who thrill at the idea of an audience, like the Joe Average who suddenly finds himself at the center of a media storm and is both repelled and thrilled by the press trucks suddenly camped out on his front lawn.

I’m sure Facebook is an important tool for corralling the masses to important action, here and there, but I have supreme doubts that the majority of the people who are using it on a daily basis have any interest in anything other than striking a pose in front of the cameras. If the pose is enhanced by a canned political message (no pipelines!) that signals the bonafides of the poser, so much the better. Is that action? Is that “coming together”? Or is that just broadcast vanity at its worst?

Society as a whole… nope, not going there.





Digging Myself Out of This Whole

25 03 2018

In my previous post I used the phrase “society as a whole”. The full sentence was, “My suspicion is that society as a whole is like a toddler.” I then went on to compare the traits of a toddler to society as whole.

This sentence never should have happened, and I’m sorry. What the hell do I know about society as a whole? And it’s not the first time I’ve ruminated on society as though I have some special insight. I’m not a scientist who’s researched the anatomy of social behavior. I’m just a guy with a blog. I promise to never again make lackadaisical, unattributed statements about society.

I promise to instead make lackadaisical declarative statements about all sorts of other things, armed with zero information other than what my dull wit and profound sense of self-importance conjures out of the same thin air that all the other twits on the Internet are breathing.

Thank you for your time.





All Or Nothing At All

24 03 2018

All or nothing at all
Half love never appealed to me
If your heart never could yield to me
Then I’d rather have nothing at all

-Arthur Altman & Jack Lawrence (originally performed by Billy Holiday)

 

There was an episode of Gilligan’s Island where the castaways find themselves capable of reading each others’ thoughts due to the properties of special sunflower seeds. It doesn’t take long before everyone is fighting because they can’t help but hear the true opinions of the others. When each person on the island find they are no longer each an island unto themselves, war breaks out.

I think about that episode whenever I think about the effects of social media on political and social discourse. The Utopian vision of Facebook et al., never accounted for the supremacy of the Id over the ego. The dark instincts of humanity are ever-present, even when we consciously, and conscientiously, attempt to be judicious or show constraint. Who among us can resist the siren song of moral combat from the safety and isolation of our technocratic asylums? Every comments section in every mainstream media outlet confirms the thesis has been overturned: social media is not a global community. Instead, social media is the sunflower seed that made us aware of everyone’s thoughts and now everyone is angry and Gilligan is sad.

The way we conduct ourselves in the public techno-sphere makes us a world of reactors rather than listeners. We read someone’s idiotic statements and then we inform them that they are stupid and wrong. It’s so infuriating how wrong they are, it makes us ache with revulsion. It doesn’t matter what side of the argument you’re on. The only thing that matters is that you are right and the other person is wrong. Of course the reality is that everyone is wrong and I’m the only one who’s right. I’m the only rational, reasonable, critical thinker left on the planet. Who else feels this way? Everyone? Right.

From my limited perspective, it seems that we tend to go all-in on a set of ideologies in order to align ourselves with the group that we identify with. You would think that we would be able to pick and choose our perspectives from a vast pool of ideas and information, given the data set to which we have access. Yet western society seems to be satisfied with being cleaved into only two groups: left and right. Or, to distill it further, right and wrong.

We no longer tolerate anything on a spectrum, unless it’s gender, sexuality, or race. Try putting sexual assault on a spectrum the way Matt Damon did, and see how far that gets you. Patting a bum and brutal penetrative rape? Same thing. No spectrum for you.

My suspicion is that society as a whole is like a toddler. It can only stomp and cry or giggle and vomit. We haven’t figured out how to modulate our reactions to things in subtler terms. We’re a big mass of protein with a fledgling consciousness that needs time to grow. Unfortunately there aren’t any adults around to keep us from getting into trouble around the stove, so we’re going to burn ourselves a bunch of times and will need a lot of timeouts to cry. How long will it take us to evolve to the point where we can support more nuanced interactions on a global basis? Probably many generations. We’re pretty smart as individuals. But when you add us all up, we’re just a big, fat idiot that needs to be told what’s right and what’s wrong and there’s no one around to do that. God? Aliens? Anyone? Shit.





The Birds and the Bees

24 12 2017

This year our budgies, Kiwi and Lulu, departed this mortal coil on wings of their own for the afterlife. I wonder whether birds and angels get along, or if there’s always a fight at the feeder? Do angels defecate like birds? Are all the statues in heaven covered in angel poop?

 
Anyway, our birds taught us a lot about the cycle of life. They laid eggs constantly, even though they were both female. They laid unfertilized eggs. It was all birds and no bees in our house. I feel like I should explain what that means for those of you who haven’t heard the story of the birds and the bees. I only just recently learned it myself. I’d heard references to this story my whole life, but my imagination always failed me when I tried to figure out just what the hell birds and bees have to do with sexual intercourse.
The story may have been derived from the first stanza of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Work Without Hope, a title that sounds like it might be referring to unfertilized sex:

 
All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

This bit of verse apparently inspired a very starchy and uptight 19 th century woman named Dr. Emma Frances Angell Drake to relate the story of sex to her daughters in the context of bees being pollinators (male) and birds being egg layers (female) in her book The Story of Life. This pollination/egg-laying narrative is pretty much the whole story, which quite frankly leaves out far too many details for my liking. There’s still the thorny issue of actual copulation. As far as I know, bees don’t pollinate a bird’s eggs. Birds only do it with other birds, and lots and lots of male bees do it with a single queen. The two
species really have nothing in common when it comes to relationships. Some birds mate for life, whereas bees basically gangbang a virgin with royal heritage.

 
Our birds were both virgins, yet they still laid eggs. How immaculate is that? Were they visited by a parakeet deity while we slept? Was it consensual? As I pondered the source of our birds’ miraculous and relentless fertility, I found myself wondering about the details behind the conception of Jesus. Was Mary expecting a visit from the Holy Spirit, or did he show up unannounced? Was she a willing vessel, or did God abuse the power of his position? In this age of scandal, one wonders whether Mary might come forward with an ancient grievance about holy robes being flung open unsolicited and uninvited. Meryl Streep famously referred to Harvey Weinstein as “a god”. Does she know something we don’t? And where was Joseph when all this went down? Was he watching from behind the potted plant? Just another enabler, if you ask me.

 
I have some extra tickets to Hell if anyone cares to join me.

 
On that note, let me finish by wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a scandal-free New Year. May the grotesque realities of fevered sin be mollified by the benign innocence of birds laying eggs and bees gently humping them.





Feelings Of An Almost Human Nature

10 06 2017

I think studiously avoiding social media may be the smartest thing I ever did. I cringe at the pernicious deployment of Facebook and Twitter “quotes” in the mainstream media, with those awful screenshots full of illegible #hashes, @handles, and sophomoric OMG’s, LOL’s, and IMO’s. It’s an affront to the true power, potency, and depth of human language. Centuries of rhetorical skill and linguistic mastery have enriched humanity beyond measure, only to be deposed by the lazily-thumbed elucidations of minds so sluggish and paralytic they can’t even manage the pedestrian exercise of looking both ways before stepping off the curb.

As much as I try to avoid the shallow waters of social media, I hear about it from those close to me who’ve been lured by its siren song. Almost everyone I know regrets the decision to take that initial plunge now that the medium’s fishy mermaid flesh lies rotting in the sun, surrounded by greedy gulls and swarms of hungry, trolling flies, but they can’t look away from the carnage. Social media is the mother of all train wrecks, with all the world slowly drifting by to catch a glimpse, after which you can check into the nearest trauma center and answer that most fundamental of modern questions: how do you feel?

How do you feel? Tell us. We want to know. Speak directly into the microphone. Go on, the whole world is listening! They want to hear you say, in all your idiotic hashtag vanity, how important your feelings are. Your feelings are so important, I dare say, that they will be weaponized to form public policy. The concept of hate speech, initially provisioned to deal criminally with racist propagandizing, has been retro-fitted to provide legal recourse for almost anyone’s hurt feelings, provided the victim fits into an ever-expanding definition of the term.

The concept of repressing one person’s point of view in reaction to the limbic liabilities of another is so overtly Orwellian, it’s almost embarrassing to draw the comparison. Yet the power of modern phraseology propagated throughout social media is terrifying. In Orwell’s 1984, citizens of Oceania were accused of crimethink, sexthink, oldthink, etc. Today people are publicly accused of hate crimes, hate speech, transphobia, islamophobia, and so many sins of privilege that you’d think Trotsky had returned from the grave to lead a new revolution.

The mainstream media is chalk-full of stories of this campus administration buckling under pressure from a tiny aggrieved faction, or that public figure groveling at the altar of shameful contrition, or yet another charge of “insert-prefix-here-phobia” aimed at some thoughtless drip for a back-handed comment made on Twitter. Well, guess what? It all goes away in one fell swoop if everyone would finally wise up and get off their damned phones for a second! Stop tweeting altogether, and you’ll never face the firing squad for running afoul the bien pensants. Stop posting every goddamn thing you ever did or said or thought on Facebook and you won’t have to stand in front of a committee naming names to the neo-McCarthyites. And most importantly, your boilerplate, vain, insipid outrage will no longer be given universal agency by a mob so eager to light the fire they don’t care what’s at stake.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Without the soap box, there’s no sermon. If you don’t have a megaphone strapped to the front of your face amplifying every word you say, you won’t have to choose your words so carefully. Maybe social media will finally peter out and become just another ugly phase of human history, like the Salem witch burnings. On the other hand, hey, free witch burnings.





Okay, fine… let’s talk about Trump

19 02 2017

A couple people have asked me to write a post about Donald Trump and the mess in America. Literally two people. Maybe the only two people who read this thing. Anyway, I’ve avoided writing about Trump because I don’t think he’s a particularly good subject because there’s nothing you can say about Trump that isn’t true about the worst aspects of humanity in general. He’s petty, insecure, ostentatious, egotistical, small-minded, insular, unforgiving… Go to dictionary.com’s thesaurus and you will probably come away with at least a hundred aspersions to cast at Trump, but I don’t believe Trump is the problem. My long-held belief is that most of us can’t think for ourselves and are easily led by those who hold our favorite brand of carrot.

I’m not just referring to Trump voters, by the way. I’m referring to everyone on both sides of the political spectrum. Right and left. Those who voted for Trump because they were sick to death of being treated as an afterthought by the liberal elite found a stupid, blunt-object solution in Trump’s message of division and falsehoods. Those on the left who believe the Occupy Wall Street movement was “important” and advertise their moral superiority through lazy hashtag activism live by a code of self-hating cowardice and deference for anyone who isn’t white.

Trumpism is alive and well on both sides of the political divide. Trump’s presidency isn’t about him, or the victory of the far right, or the victory of white over non-white… It’s about the victory of truth as a perception rather than as something that is a priori. It’s about the victory of identity over authenticity. It’s about believing in a lie because the source of the lie masquerades as a truth.

It isn’t even the lie’s fault that it’s believed. A lie doesn’t have to be malicious, necessarily. It just needs to be understood as refutable. Trump is refutable. So is Bono, for that matter. Both of them represent something false to their followers: Trump represents the falsehood of the downfall of  greatness in America; Bono represents the falsehood of Oxfam-brand equality for all. One could argue that there is an imbalance in these falsehood’s respective menace. Expecting a certain of kind of greatness in America carries with it all sorts of narrow, nationalist viewpoints that threaten the fabric of peace, while the assumption that there is such a thing as equality for all is sort of sweet and innocent rather than perilous.

The right and wrong of it doesn’t matter much. What matters is how much of your world view was built on personal experiences rather than the shared lie of pop culture. This is not to say that pop culture is to blame. This is to say that what it represents is not substantial enough to act as truth’s emissary and it shouldn’t be counted on to entirely inform your point of view. The belief that immigration is hurting America is just as precariously constructed as the belief that humanity can overcome it’s own nature and put an end to conflict and misery. The former is built upon fear and prejudice while the latter is built upon Utopian naivete.

Much has been said about the danger of the echo chamber that exists in the social mediaverse. We tend to follow people with whom we agree and block dissenting opinions. I think the problem is deeper than that. We’ve always been tribal, and social media proves that fact at least as much as it amplifies it. What’s new is how quickly we can align ourselves with tent-pole media personalities and merely ape what they say and consider ourselves informed. Deciding that immigration is hurting America because of stuff Trump says is just as hare-brained as claiming to understand climate science because you signed a petition at a U2 concert. Both are examples of Trumpism run rampant.

 

We are all guilty of cognitive bias, which is why Trump is in the White House. He didn’t get there because of who he is. He got there because of who we are.