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Sunday, September 14, 2003

The Sunday Five
Five Things Every Person Should Be Able To Do

Once again, I was out of town on Friday itself, and once again my "Friday Five" is tardy. I suppose that my fans are about to become fed up with my inconsistency and will desert me for some other blog.

Another great topic this week, this time from Melissa, based on the following quote:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher
a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts,
build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders,
cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch
manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die
gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
- Robert A. Heinlein

I think that Heinlein is right on all counts, which may be the first time I've ever vigorously agreed with him. So I'll cross those off my list and add another five.

1. How to seriously disable or kill a human being in self-defense. Sometimes, people of good will are confronted by violent people who will not be deterred by any form of talk, whether due to inebriation, rage, or that quality that St. Thomas Aquinas called "simply being an a**hole." At those times, all people should know how to defend themselves.

This topic wasn't intended as a course, but my black belt training taught me two simple principles. First, aim for soft connective parts, not hard bones. The old-fashioned Gary Cooper punch in the jaw is a good way to break your hand, while a slug to the neck works much, much better. (Other good spots: the eyes, the soft part of the nose, the elbow and knee, the instep, and the always-good-for-a-laugh groin.) Second, no matter how skilled you think you are, your best strategy is to kick out your attacker's knees and run like hell. Remember, as Mr. Miyagi said, "someone always know karate more." Try to kick the knee in a direction it would not normally bend, like sideways.

2. How to shine your own shoes, hem your own pants, and launder your own clothes. A good case can be made for letting other people do these tasks, if you have that luxury, but there is no excuse for being unable to do it. And a vague understanding of the process is not enough, such as the belief that shoe-shining is merely applying polish and wiping it off again. Everyone needs to know how to perform these tasks to a level they would consider acceptable in others.

3. Willingness to change a diaper. It's not so much that every human should know how to change a diaper. As the clerk says in Raising Arizona, "it's self-contained and fairly explanatory." No, I have no tolerance whatsoever for people that won't change a diaper. They tend to be the sort of deluded people that have no connection to humanity as a race of defecating, micturating, vomiting bags of flesh, and no one can be truly human unless he or she has that connection.

4. Describe the basic scientific principles underlying the tools one uses. That is, I frown on humans that drive a car but cannot explain the principles of the internal combustion engine, use a computer but cannot use the operating system efficiently, ingest a drug without understanding the effect that drug has on the body* or vote without being able to locate our enemies on a map.

* Sadly, some of our most powerful drugs work for reasons not entirely understood by the researchers that refined them.

People that use tools that they don't understand are willful slaves, pure and simple. It's a principle explained much more thoroughly in James Burke's The Axemaker's Gift: with each new technological development, society becomes stratified into Those That Understand and Those That Are At The Mercy Of Their Own Tools. I believe it was Benjamin Banneker that said that "knowledge is power." No, wait. It was "Schoolhouse Rock."

Bonus points to those that can explain why you can't put metal in a microwave, why it's hard to make a flat television tube, or why the Wankel rotary engine did not replace the standard camshaft engine.

5. Efficiently bring about orgasm through oral sex. I think this is pretty self-explanatory.


 12:55 PM

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Wednesday Five
My Personal El Guapos

"I suppose you could say that everyone has an El Guapo. For some, shyness may be an El Guapo. For others, lack of education may be an El Guapo. But for us, El Guapo is a large ugly man who wants to kill us!"
- Lucky Day from the Three Amigos


After a long hiatus, in which I have thought long and hard about the nature of the universe and my role in it, I am finally ready to offer the five things that serve as an "El Guapo" in my life. Frankly, I'm sick of all the e-mails and telephone calls I've been getting from the media wanting to know when I would "release the El Guapo Five."

I have three "source" El Guapos, each of which is the source of numerous "symptom" El Guapos.

1. Anxiety. I can't recall a day that I lived without feeling a nauseating, boiling anxiety in the pit of my stomach. From my anxiety comes overeating, nailbiting, perfectionism, and fear of success, failure, and the future. It has also resulted in some serious errors of risktaking, when I try to react to my anxiety by being "bold" and end up going much farther than I should.

For me, anxiety does not come from anything that I've done, it's a state of being (like my tinnitus). Of course, making an error really sets it off. Sadly, I'm not like Injun Joe in Catch-22, who calmed down when his greatest fears were realized. It just makes things worse.

2. The Unhealthy Desire to Please Others. My self-image is unhealthily dependent on others' view of me, which means that I miss out on a lot of personal happiness. It means that I have a hard time making decisions or being satisfied with my choices.

This problem gets mixed up with the anxiety to create some interesting Reese's Peanut Butter Cups of stress. For instance, I fear making a mistake at work, and my self-esteem comes from satisfying the people I work for, so I end up fearing and resenting every project I work on.

3. Ronnie Wayne Sims. I shot him late one night in a bar in Pascagoula. It was some stupid fight about a pool game. I hit him twice, but the bastard didn't die, and he's been trying to kill me ever since. I reckon he's entitled to try, but I'm sure as Hell not going to take it lying down.

 1:27 PM
If you haven't been reading Nicholas Kristof's columns from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, you're missing something special. Fed up with the heated rhetoric about ANWR from both sides of the issue, he decided to go there for himself and see exactly what was being endangered. His answer is more complicated than either side is willing to admit -- which is exactly what the very best reporting is all about.

And, in a completely unrelated matter, it turns out that a black hole makes a noise in "B-Flat." Since everything entering a black hole will quickly "be flat," I think NASA is just pulling our leg. And is it really fair to say that it makes a "sound" ("a B-flat flying through space") when the thing we colloquially call "sound" cannot travel without a medium? And can my subwoofer replicate a sound 57 octaves below middle C? I don't know the answer to the first, but I intend to engage in some serious scientific experiments to confirm the latter. I'll let you know the results, if the cat doesn't freak out and kill me first. For more info on the question of sound waves in space, I can only direct you to the designated "music" and "space" expert, Dave.

 9:13 AM

Friday, September 05, 2003

On Vacation

I'm on vacation this weekend -- a retreat to really try to get in touch with my feelings and try to answer the new Friday Five question: "What is your personal El Guapo?" I think it's going to be a weekend filled with great personal insight and deep rewards, and I'll be sure to write a bestselling book about it titled "Deepak Chopra, Dr. Phil and Me: Discovering the Self-Centered Pundit Within."

I've been away from the blog this week trying to get a very large project completed. When you're already working late, the thought of blogging away the hours just seems like so much wasted time. But much has happened in my life, including major life insights and a bold new vision for the future. Well, something like that.

In the meantime, I leave my devoted fans with this picture.

 10:00 AM

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