Thursday, February 26, 2009

Refuse to Be Afraid of life

I mentioned not long ago how I was brought up short by Dan Miller's description of procrastination as an expression of fear. It's an interesting and, near as I can tell, spot-on observation. The question becomes: What are procrastinators afraid of?

A dear friend of mine went into the hospital 20-odd years ago for open heart surgery. It was a risky proposition at the time, and she made all the necessary preparations just in case: Funeral arrangements, a will, arrangements for her pets to be adopted by friends.

Then she survived the surgery with flying colors. I remember seeing a confused expression in her eyes as her friends surrounded her hospital bed with cheer.

The reason for the confusion became apparent as years went by and her life spiraled downward, or rather, she drifted without direction. She had tied her life up in a tidy ball and prepared to die, you see. She had given no thought and made no preparations to live.

I think procrastination might be a fear of living. You have made no plan and considered no purpose, as my friend did, or else you have the plan and you're afraid to execute it. Fear of failure? That seems logical — no one wants to pursue a dream and lose everything tangible. I think fear of success is a real thing, too — look how miserable are so many people who have achieved the image of success. For one thing, they've lost their privacy: That's how we can see how miserable they are.

If you're procrastinating, resolve today to take one step towards the dream. Just one will do; for me it was taking an extra 15 minutes to write this before pushing myself away from the keyboard. Breaking the chains of procrastination fear is as simple and as complicated as overcoming inertia, which is accomplished merely by a sufficient push: Just get started.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Refuse to be Afraid of death

A line caught my eye the other day in coverage of TV consumer advocate Clark Howard's announcement that he's been diagnosed with very early stage prostate cancer.

Because it was caught this early, Howard said: "I have virtually a 100 percent chance of survival."

Well, yes and no. The odds are very good that this is not what will kill Howard, but truth be told, he — as all of us — has a 100 percent chance of not surviving. That's the tough thing about this plane of existence: No one gets out alive.

That is not only the tough thing about life, but it's the most empowering thing, as I alluded a few weeks ago. I think that's in part because one of the greatest motivators is a, um, deadline.

It's one thing to say, for example, "I'm going to quit this job and start my own business someday." As long as it's "someday," you're likely to just tinker around the edges of the dream. But if you say, "I'm going to quit this job and start my own business by May 1," all of a sudden you've added a sense of urgency. You start working on OK, if it needs to get done by May 1, what do I need to do today, where do I need to be at the end of next month, etc.

"Someday" is a dream. A deadline is a plan. And death is the ultimate deadline. The difference is you don't know precisely when time's running out.

You have only two real choices with death: You can live your life in fear, avoiding anything that could be risky — I'm not talking about stepping in front of a bus here, but more everyday-risky things like submitting to injustice or putting up with abuse because you're not sure how (or if) you'd survive. Or you can embrace the inevitable and make the best use of the time that is left.

The reason the mere title of the song "Live Like You're Dying" has such impact is because it's a philosophy rolled up in four words, and because if you think about it for more than two seconds, it smacks you in the face: Live like you're dying, because you are dying — someday. There's that fuzzy word someday again.

Running out of time is a helpless feeling. That's why one of the greatest Super Bowl ever ended with the guy reaching towards the goal at the 1-yard line with another guy dragging him down: We all felt the helplessness of the ball carrier and the desperate urgency of the defender as the clock ticked down to zero. But great Super Bowls have also ended with teams making the best use possible of the time that's left, and scoring the winning touchdown before the clock ran out.

Having a deadline forces you to prioritize what's important. If you knew at 5 p.m. today your heart would quit, or a drunken fool would drive his car into your lap, you'd organize your day differently.

Here's the good news: You're probably going to survive the day. It's not all that desperate. There's no need to fear. Here's the bad news: Time will run out someday. You have a finite amount of time to leave your mark on history, however it is you wish to do that.

You can let that scare you and let death catch you short of the goal, or you can make the best use of the time that's left. Oh, and by the way, everyone's scared — the successful folks have figured out you can convert the negative energy of fear into the positive energy of motivation. That's the gist of what I mean when I say: Refuse to be afraid.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Enver and Tahmoh and Dichen, oh my!

Who are these folks with the funny names on the Dollhouse show anyway? A cute blurb found at Hulu.


If every life is sacred ...


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Random thoughts on a Thursday morning

Lacking a specific reason to write but wanting to experience the sensation of fingers tapping over a keyboard, I searched through my hard drive's nethers for inspiration. My software jumped at the sight of Fay Wray.

The images are 76 years old this year, but I'm still drawn to King Kong, one of the magnificent movies, and the performance of Wray, a beautiful woman and talented actress. Yet whenever I sit down and doodle my "favorite 10" or "favorite 25" movies of all time, the big ape and the ravishing woman never seem to make the cut. Maybe I should rethink the list. Again.

— The New Prez made a pitch for refinancing mortgage debt Wednesday. He'll confiscate the future cash from our children's and grandchildren's paychecks and give people a chance to stay in the homes they haven't been able to afford so far.

Why does it seem that everyone in America except the politicians have finally come to realize that debt is not a good thing?

— The current storyline of Heroes focuses on an attempt to round up super-powered folks for The Greater Good. The storyline highlights how much we've morphed into a surveillance society: The Heroes can run, but they can't hide from all the cameras. This is a positive development, although movies like Enemy of the State failed to rouse people from their comfort that Big Brother is watching us so he can, um, take care of us.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Remembering Bob

Forgive me, but the story of the TV executive charged with beheading his wife because she filed for divorce reminds me of a bad joke and good proverb.

Muzzammil Hassan founded Bridges TV, a network designed "to foster a greater understanding among many cultures and diverse populations," specifically designed to show Muslims in a positive light after violent extremists made many fearful and suspicious about the faith.

Whatever good Hassan may have accomplished with his network is negated by an act that plays to the stereotype of the controlling Muslim man who treats his wife as his property, and the stereotype of Muslim terrorists who behead their victims, even though — as is the case with all men and women — this is just one individual whose sick act should not be generalized as representative of a group.

The joke/proverb: You can spend your life building a thousand bridges, but if you shag one sheep, no one will remember you as Bob the bridge builder.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dollhouse: OK, I'll come back

Friday night was opening night for Joss Whedon's long-awaited new show, Dollhouse, starring Eliza Dushku and — hey, who IS that woman? — Dichen Lachman. OK, we didn't really get to know Dichen's character, but we (well, I) wanted to.

Bottom line: Too soon to tell. This one was high on exposition — introducing the Dollhouse, having a couple of things go horribly wrong, and dropping in a few other odds and ends to set the stage for future episodes.

But I'll come back. Anything with Whedon's touch is usually worth a little patience.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Eulogy for a fish

Listening to:
American V: A Hundred Highways, Johnny Cash.

Two more years. OK, a little less than 23 months. That's how much time I bought for my little handicapped fish by choosing not to put him "out of his misery."

And probably he would still be here today, if I had hung around to watch the fish eat the other day.

Longer-time readers will recall this little guy, who seemed to me to be on his last, err, legs in March '07. In fact I thought he was already gone, laying on his side at the bottom of the pond fishes' winter quarters, but when I reached down with the net to scoop his body out, he scooted away.

What I wrote then:
For several mornings now, I have come in to feed the fish and found this little one on its side at the bottom. When I come with the net, he rights himself, and when I set the net aside and drop the food on the surface, he wriggles all the way up - taking one or two wide, shaky arcs to get there - and grabs a flake or two. He's obviously sustained some physical damage, because he tends to overshoot the surface and get his whole face out of the water in his effort to grab some food.

No doubt the "humane" thing to do would be to "put the poor thing out of its misery." My guess is he's had the fishy equivalent of a stroke and may never be "right" again. But as long as he's so interested in food that he makes that daily struggle to the top, I think I'll let him and nature decide when it's time to kick off. Every little life deserves that chance.
Two summers and a winter-and-a-half later, he was still doing fine. More days than not, he'd just hang around on the bottom, but he never failed to come up when the food came out. And he didn't just lie on his side when it wasn't suppertime; especially during the summer, he'd do some bopping around the water in his shaky little way. And he'd still often overshoot the surface; I think that's what went wrong in the end.

This little fish became a role model of sorts for me. Don't let the setbacks keep you down, he seemed to be saying. Even when you're not quite right, you can still reach the surface and survive another day.

The last time I went in to feed the fish, I noticed the water level was a little down, so I filled the tank back up a little, until the water was a couple of inches from the top. Then I tossed the fish food in, watched for a few seconds - I always made sure the little guy could still make his way up - and then I left the room.

Today, I found my little guy on the floor outside the tank. My guess is he got up his energy and launched himself at the food, overshot the surface and went over the side.

He's only the second fish whose death ever made me cry. Remind me to tell you the other story sometime. I didn't think it was appropriate to drop him down the toilet or into the garbage, so I found a leaf pile that wasn't frozen and mixed him in with the outdoors. Silly, I know, to mourn a fish. What can I say?

But still - two more years. OK, 23 more months. That's how much time he gained because I decided not to "put him out of his misery," and not once did he ever seem to be in misery anyway.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009


This is a great video; the sad thing is the folks responsible don't seem to realize they're advocating, tongue-in-check, to replace the current system of IOUs federal reserve notes with "fake" IOUs. They seem to have an inordinate faith in the power of government to right wrongs and serve truth, justice and the American Way.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Make something

Something in the human soul makes us creative. We make things, for ourselves and for others. Created things are the basic unit in the massive, unwieldy structure that has been dubbed The Economy.

I remember a comforting detail about the belovedly strange television program The X-Files: At the close of the program, a very young voice proclaiming with pride, "I made this." Little boys and girls have an inherent understanding of the joy of creation, the satisfaction that comes from building or making something.

I remember a chill going through my soul when I heard they were closing the last Zenith plant in the US of A, and no Americans anywhere were to be building television sets anymore. It is a little more than 15 years later now, but it was about then that I started to believe the U.S. economy might reach the precarious stage where it now seems to be perched.

The key to success in the marketplace is to make something other people need or want. I'm all for the things produced by a service economy — I'm a wordsmith by trade, for God's sake — but I have always had an uneasy feeling about moving the facilities to create things far, far away. Steel factory closings, automobile factory closings, television factory closings, shoe factory closings — labels that say Made in China, Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Japan — I'm not declaring patriotic platitudes here; I'm simply asking the question: What is left for my neighbors to make? Where does the steelmaker or the shoemaker get her next meal?

This is not intended to be an appeal to your fears, although these words and phrases are often cobbled together by fear mongers to make you afraid. But I am saddened and troubled by words attributed to Barack Obama from Tuesday night's audience with journalists: "... with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life."

"... the only entity left ..."? I suspect many people will not recognize in Obama's words the fulfillment of Mencken's ancient prophecy, the one I have quoted here more than once: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

It is always false that "only" the federal government can lead an alarmed populace to safety. You certainly understand this in your soul, or you wouldn't be attracted to writings like this one. If you want resources to jolt the economy back to life, look at the ends of your arms. Peer into the mirror and consider the resources between your ears.

What we call an economy is the cumulative product of billions of exchanges among folks like you and folks like me. You have created something I want or need, and I have created something you want or need, and we exchange them. It doesn't all begin with the federal government. It begins with your hands and your head.

The president or Congress do not have the power to feed you or clothe you or shelter you. Arguably they can only get in your way. Again, I am not saying this to scare you. I am saying this to empower you.

If you want to jolt the economy, learn how to make something, and make it. The rest will follow.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

B.W.'s Book Report: State of Fear

Imagine my surprise.

I've been working on and off on a book called Refuse to Be Afraid, which aims to convince folks that fear clouds the mind and prevents us from freeing ourselves to our full potential as individuals. And now I find a book that already accomplishes that objective, from an entertaining storyteller who clearly was thinking along the same lines.
"Has it ever occurred to you how astonishing the culture of Western society really is? Industrialized nations provide their citizens with unprecedented safety, health and comfort. Average life spans increased 50 percent in the last century. Yet modern people live in abject fear. They are afraid of strangers, of disease, of crime, of the environment. They are afraid of the homes they live in, the food they eat, the technology that surrounds them. They are in a particular panic over things they can't even see — germs, chemicals, additives, pollutants. They are timid, nervous, fretful and depressed. And even more amazingly, they are convinced that the environment of the planet is being destroyed around them. Remarkable! Like the belief in witchcraft. It's an extraordinary delusion — a global fantasy worthy of the Middle Ages. Everything is going to hell, and we must all live in fear. Amazing.

"How has this world view been instilled in everybody? Because although we imagine we live in different nations — France, Germany, Japan, the U.S. — in fact, we inhabit exactly the same state, the State of Fear. How has that been accomplished?"

Peter said nothing. He knew it wasn't necessary.
Michael Crichton's State of Fear was released in 2004. It may be even more relevant now, five years later, than it was then. As with all of the Crichton novels I've encountered through the years, it's a quick read — I dashed through most of its 600+ pages this weekend.

If my forthcoming little collection of essays and anecdotes is one-tenth as powerful as this novel, I will have considered my efforts a success. Somewhere between my covers I will have to acknowledge Crichton's meticulous dismemberment of one especially powerful set of fear mongers currently afoot around the world.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

If it was us

It took about three minutes to find what I was looking for — all I needed was to Google "sentenced income tax evasion."

Here's what I found ... all but one of the names have been removed to protect the guilty. And I barely went halfway down the first page of links. The first page had "Results 1-10 of about 94,300 for 'sentenced income tax evasion."
XXX was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 36 months, supervised release term of 3 years and ordered to pay restitution of $717,899 to the IRS. In August 2000, a federal grand jury charged XXX with three counts of income tax evasion for the years 1993 through 1995. According to the indictment, XXX attempted to evade paying a total of about $180,000 in taxes.

YYY was sentenced to a year in prison to be followed by one year of supervised release. YYY was also ordered to pay costs of $1,227 and an assessment of $200 ... YYY admitted evading over $183,000 in federal income taxes for tax years 1997, 1998, and 1999.

ZZZ has been found guilty in federal court on four counts of income tax evasion ... He will be sentenced Jan. 21. He faces a maximum five-year sentence and $250,000 fine for each count, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

On October 18, 1931, Capone was convicted after trial, and on November 24, was sentenced to eleven years in Federal prison, fined $50,000 and charged $7,692 for court costs, in addition to $215,000 plus interest due on back taxes.
If it was us, and not Tom Daschle or Timothy Geithner, we'd be going to prison. For the rulers of the U.S. of A., all it takes is an "I'm sorry" and a check. You may not get to be health & human services secretary, but you get to go home tonight — and you may even get to be treasury secretary and give the IRS its marching orders.

"Hope and change," my muscular buttocks. The U.S. government is still run by thugs and criminals. People are angry. Angry enough to change things? We'll have to see.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Halftime outshines The Game

OK, let's just do this: Just as Guy Lombardo and later Dick Clark owned New Year's Eve, Bruce Springsteen must be the official Super Bowl halftime entertainer every year from now until the end of his life, or he retires, whichever comes first.

'Nuff said.