The Way You Look Tonight

When my ole friend Johan went to St. Maarten to help install the upgrades he designed and built for a friend’s house, he actually did the manual labor with the local crew, all locals. Interestingly, they were very surprised to see a white dude working with his hands,  but funnily, in true Island spirit, Johan told me every time a bus would arrive at the stop right out front, they would all drop what they were doing to see if any pretty girls were coming out! As a matter of fact, a large percentage of human men is quite obsessed with the ‘hotness’ of women.  See, there’s acknowledging a female’s beauty, there’s the desire to be inside her, the hunt to get the highest number of attractive ones and then there’s picking the one based mostly on what she looks like. Even though the Holland I grew up in made no secret of the human body (boobs in all their bouncy glory in Fa commercials in my distant memory) it’s actually one of the least  over-sexed places I remember, and accordingly the place where looks are not quite as important as others.

So, is it bad to pick your mate based on the way she appears? In my experience the way your partners looks matters less the longer you are together; the most gorgeous face gets old pretty fast when the words coming out rub you the wrong way, and the most hideous defect becomes one of those constants our brains are so amazingly designed to tune out, to free up bandwidth for the things you were hoping to hear. At the same time, we cannot deny that a healthy person has a certain leg up, and that for the strength of the herd more intercourse between healthy specimens is a positive. It most places in the world, it keeps a population from becoming obese. And for that very reason, our desire for beauty is hard-wired; it can be tempered, but should not be denied, because it can be, and in my opinion is being, exploited; to our detriment!

When combined with our biggest Achilles heel (that humans are vulnerable to picking an ideology and following its mantras without questioning them) exploiting our desire for beauty has become the tool of choice in marketing. Perhaps with cars most do take a test drive, but more and more products are bought purely on the way they look. I’m not gonna name names, but we all know it’s true. Problem is, unlike with humans, the ‘beauty’ of products has literally nothing to do with its functionality. We’ve just disconnected the benefit of our vulnerability from the mechanism by which it works.

Trumpcare

And there it was: the first concrete example of what a Trump government would like to implement as a replacement for the ACA. And, unfortunately, it’s just about as bad as was predicted. Gone is the individual mandate, subsidies are not done away with completely I guess, but are replaced by what is effectively a tax cut for households making over $250k per year. Of course it came with no estimation of its effect on the nation whatsoever! People in the know are saying it would means millions will lose coverage, and that elderly and the poor will pay for a nice bump in the wallets of the well-off. It goes against everything the Donald has promised, apparently without him even noticing as he has described it as great.

Fresh of the press, all the details haven’t been completely analyzed, but it does look like even the way preexisting conditions are handled will change in a somewhat sneaky way. Insurers still won’t be able to turn anyone down based on their existence, but they might be able to offer different levels and types of coverage, leading back to the situation we had before in which some plans were nothing more than disaster coverage, not the type of healthcare system a modern nation should have. Of course Planned Parenthood will be defunded, and the list goes on.

To all of you out there urging others to “give Trump a chance!”: what will it take for you to see he’s not going to do as he says? Do you realize exactly what kind of government you’re supporting here? Donald is an alpha male, no doubt about it, but compared to the established system he’s nothing, and whatever amount of money he has, whatever amount of success he’s had, it means squat. He will have to play along with the GOP or risk complete chaos, which might be a result we do get by the way. Unfortunately for his fans, he’s simply not smart enough to effectively use the power he does have, in my opinion. He’s being used by the GOP establishment on the one side and Bannon and Co. on the other. Crazy times….

Alt Right

Everyone has an opinion on everything these days, that’s for sure! We all ‘know’ that Breitbart is a source of dangerous propaganda…. or do we? How many folks out there have actually read any substantial amount of writings published through its channels? My guess is not very many! So what exactly is the American “Alt-Right”movement and what does it stand for? How about we let Breitbart itself define it, in its establishment-conservatives-guide-to-the-alt-right.

There’s a LOT of information in there, mostly quite well articulated actually. Early on it describes how it differs from skinheads: those are a lacking the high level intelligence that’s present now: “The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much. They’re dangerously bright.” It describes the views of Gay masculinist author Jack Donovan, about how man is losing manliness, “reduced to craven creatures who crawl across the globe competing for money, who spend their nights dreaming up new ways to swindle each other.”

Most important I think is the description of the ‘natural conservative’: “For natural conservatives, culture, not economic efficiency, is the paramount value. More specifically, they value the greatest cultural expressions of their tribe. Their perfect society does not necessarily produce a soaring GDP, but it does produce symphonies, basilicas and Old Masters. The natural conservative tendency within the alt-right points to these apotheoses of western European culture and declares them valuable and worth preserving and protecting.

And there it is: “The alt-right’s intellectuals would also argue that culture is inseparable from race. The alt-right believe that some degree of separation between peoples is necessary for a culture to be preserved.” And: “For decades, the concerns of those who cherish western culture have been openly ridiculed and dismissed as racist. The alt-right is the inevitable result.

It then goes on to describe a “young, rebellious contingent who feel a mischievous urge to blaspheme, break all the rules, and say the unsayable. Why? Because it’s funny!“, and compares it to metalheads: “Are they actually bigots? No more than death metal devotees in the 80s were actually Satanists.

Then there’s this: “Anything associated as closely with racism and bigotry as the alternative right will inevitably attract real racists and bigots. Calmer members of the alternative right refer darkly to these people as the 1488er”, if I understand correctly the folks advocating anarchy and fighting against the others, not just focusing on promoting one’s own. The origin of the name is certainly frightening: “It’s a reference to two well-known Neo Nazi slogans, the first being the so-called 14 Words: “We Must Secure The Existence Of Our People And A Future For White Children.” The second part of the number, 88, is a reference to the 8th letter of the alphabet – H. Thus, “88” becomes “HH” which becomes “Heil Hitler.”

Close to the end we get to the heart of the matter: “Should the liberal tribe (and let’s not deny it any longer – that’s both the Democratic and GOP Establishments these days) do business with them? Well, the risk otherwise is that the 1488ers start persuading people that their solution to natural conservatives’ problems is the only viable one. The bulk of their demands, after all, are not so audacious: they want their own communities, populated by their own people, and governed by their own values.

In short, they want what every people fighting for self-determination in history have ever wanted, and what progressives are always telling us people should be allowed — unless those people are white. This hypocrisy is what has led so many Trump voters — groups who have in many cases not voted since the 1970s or 80s — to come out of the woodwork and stand up for their values and culture.”

In my opinion this is nonsense: in our modern intermingled world we CANNOT go back, we cannot build communities populated by our ‘own’ people anymore. It’s wrong to now kick out some of the folks that helped build what we already have, and it’s simply impossible to have so much more than your neighbors. For  people with a claim of ‘naturalism’ the concept of forces has to be apparent. When a country has SO much more than its neighbors, it has to share, or expect pressure. Think of osmosis, the law of action and reaction, voltage and current, potential energy. I have to think about this more…..

 

Generations

One of the most amazing things of making music for a living is that you can work till you drop, and I mean that in the best way possible! Ronnie Gutierrez’ dad is now 86 years old, and still thrilling audiences with his Timbale solos! He might not have the stamina of a young man anymore, but there’s such beauty in seeing those weathered hands spring to life seemingly effortlessly and show all of us ‘youngsters’ how it’s done, with groove, grace and meaning.

Last night at Mambo’s Cafe in Glendale, we were having another excellent gig (with a tummy full of perhaps the most delicious roasted pork in this town by the way!) with lots a great musicians sitting in, when in walks this 13 year old kid. I knew exactly who he was: Vinnie Aguas! Much like Indonesian piano wunderkind Joey Alexander, he is a musician so far beyond what his age would suggest, it’s hard to imagine. There are lots of kids with great technical ability, but these two have a level of maturity and musical understanding that eludes even many seasoned professionals.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aq-gnQW88PA

There were some very renowned percussionists/drummers in the house, but Vinnie stole the show, with humility, groove and ability! I mean, the kid can play really interesting solo’s, no flailing, musical shit! Usually I very much dislike it when people whip out there phones and film a performance instead of enjoying it with their own eyes, but in this case the whole place was capturing it, and I can’t blame them. How cool is this? There are 73 years between the ages of the youngest and oldest on stage! Seventy….three…..years!

Consumer Protection

When reading back my ramblings a few posts back on the subject of lies and the US, the seemingly never-ending barrage of negativity startled me. A very stark indictment of a culture indeed, a serious matter. But then, a couple of days ago I watched “Kassa”, a Dutch sort of ‘consumer advocacy’ show on public TV, and the subject was truth in advertising. A large electronics store turned out to jack up many, many prices of various items, just before starting their heavily advertised “we pay the sales tax” sale event. Blah blah blah, they tried to spin, representatives who don’t know/make up shit, blah blah blah…. in the end there wasn’t even someone on the show who didn’t get any discount on the regular price, it was always just less than expected. They felt SO betrayed!!!!

Amazingly, not a single time of the 3 or 4 that the host asked a ‘victim’ whether a return visit to the offender would happen in the future, was the answer “no”! What the hell am I watching? After close examination, the practice is completely legal in the Netherlands. You see, in all honesty, this retail game is getting completely out of hand; even with all its valid origins (end of season sale to clear out inventory for the next), times have changed. Unlimited information flow has enabled us to know the exact price before going to a store. The only thing that matters is the exact price at the time I’m ready to buy.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is the danger of getting away from reality and living in a world of lies, where the ‘list price’ is twice the truly expected price at sale. The US now spends north of two hundred BILLION dollars a year on advertisement. That’s more than $600 per person per year! A family of 4 pays $2400 a year for the privilege of being told, over and over and over, what to buy, what to want.  Is that really necessary? Is it turning us in to whiners with expectations completely disconnected from reality? Can a person for sale complain about the corruption of his leaders?

Too safe!

Is this day and age of fear and paranoia, fewer and fewer of us are seeing the negative side of our obsession with safety. How could you ever be too safe? Well, today in an article in the NYT, there was a perfect example of what can happen when you are, although specifically this is about the ‘behavior’ of a car….

Quite possibly the most dangerous thing in our everyday lives is driving: more than 35,000 people die every year in the US alone in a car accident and after years of decline, fatalities are on the rise again. Google has been testing fully autonomous vehicles for quite some time now, and they have logged more than a million miles driven without causing a crash! They’ve been hit by others, but it was always the human’s fault. It’s really incredible how advanced these machines are, navigating not only the insanely complex physical world we call home, but also reacting to and even anticipating the behavior of the humans doing the same. But sometimes the rules don’t solve all the problems one encounters on the road! The New York Times writes:

“Google’s fleet of autonomous test cars is programmed to follow the letter of the law. But it can be tough to get around if you are a stickler for the rules. One Google car, in a test in 2009, couldn’t get through a four-way stop because its sensors kept waiting for other (human) drivers to stop completely and let it go. The human drivers kept inching forward, looking for the advantage — paralyzing Google’s robot.”

How funnny! You see it happening to people too: old ladies that really are too afraid to be driving, waiting, waiting, waiting……… The right of way HAS to be taken, a certain amount of ‘aggression’ is necessary to navigate reality where the ‘rules’ sometimes are treated as nothing more than suggestions.

As a daily bicyclist in L.A., the land of the car, I’m somewhat of an anomaly, although less and less these days. Many drivers will cross WAY into the opposite lane of traffic to leave insane buffer zones while passing me, some stop in the most ludicrous spots, for NO apparent reason other than panic, the fear of colliding with a bike. I would say a couple of times a year I find myself in a dangerous situation because of someone else’s action in trying to ‘be safe’.

I highly suggest watching the movie “Surrogates“. It describes a future in which people have decided the real world is too dangerous to go out into, but of course ‘experiencing’ it is the definition of living, so they come up with a system of artificial humanoids through which one can live vicariously. Staying home, all kinds of sensors in the surrogate relay sensations back to your system which allows you to feel everything as if you were there……

By Reason Of Insanity

Louis Theroux has done it again: his new 2-part documentary about the “Criminally Insane” in Ohio’s state mental institutions is quite something. The most revealing parts shows us how thin the line between actual insanity and playing-the-game is. One guy in particular who turns out to have committed multiple serious crimes, has found a simple strategy to avoid court: insist that all lawyers are “baby rapers”. It’s such a put on you can smell it from a mile away, but he’s willing to go bananas and thus………. there’s not much I can say about it, but I would highly suggest watching it somewhere if you can. Below a link to the BBC page:

Louis Theroux – By Reason Of Insanity

Disney

When I was a kid, my mom adored Disney movies and thus so did I. In all fairness, gems like Jungle Book are true masterpieces in the realm of children’s entertainment, with enough depth to be appreciated by adults just the same. However, something has changed, hasn’t it? Partially because of living in L.A., but not only because of that, do I now view the empire as quite fascist; it’s quite strange because the Mouse has never wronged me personally. Still, back in the day when I still had cable I would once in a while stumble upon its channel and be plain horrified by what I saw. No wonder kids these days act the way they do: all I saw was bratty, self-obsessed beauty princesses with more make-up on than Tammy Faye Baker. Add in some of the most uninspired attempts at humor, so predictable and unoriginal the memories of it hurt almost as bad as those first realizations that some children are actually consuming this stuff…..

So after logging into its WiFi today, Starbucks presents me with this article:

Every Female Character in Every Disney/Pixar Animated Movie From the Past Decade Basically Has the Same Face

In it, Isis Madrid explains realizing that all women’s faces in current movies have the same basic shape: round face, button nose…. It turns out the animators make sure at all cost that the girls remain pretty at all times! Because of that, they find it “so hard” to animate women!  Is this really what you want your daughters to see? It’s one thing to deal with her inspiration to become a princess, now she has to look perfect too, just like all the others.

Satisficer

In the 1950s, psychologist Herbert A. Simon described a distinction between two types of humans, “maximizers” and “satisficers”. Wiki says:

A maximizer is like a perfectionist, someone who needs to be assured that their every purchase or decision was the best that could be made. The way a maximizer knows for certain is to consider all the alternatives they can imagine. This creates a psychologically daunting task, which can become even more daunting as the number of options increases. The alternative to maximizing is to be a satisficer. A satisficer has criteria and standards, but a satisficer is not worried about the possibility that there might be something better. Ultimately, Schwartz agrees with Simon’s conclusion, that satisficing is, in fact, the maximizing strategy.”

It’s a fascinating distinction and as we are presented with more and more choices to make in our increasingly complicated lives, a more and more important one. It perfectly explains the power of the Fruit! If you just accept (like the Lord!) that Apple is the best, the only choice to be made is which size gadget you have to buy! One of my best friends is a perfectionist, but realized the smoke screen and thus decided to go Android for his first smartphone. His process of narrowing down his choice had become almost unbearable! I understand the attraction of simplicity……

What brought me here was an article in the Volkskrant about Barry Schwartz’ book called “The Paradox Of Choice” which deals with possible negative effects of having too many options. There is even a Voluntary Simplicity movement out there, I guess competing with religions if you will. I have this discussion often with people who are against religion: people need a reduction of options, that’s where faith has its greatest strength! We humans simply cannot get rid of God or Allah without implementing a different set of rules that cannot be simply questioned.

A very interesting part of the Wiki about Schwartz’ book is the following statement:

Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues have shown that what we remember about the pleasurable quality of our past experiences is almost entirely determined by two things: how the experiences felt when they were at their peak (best or worst), and how they felt when they ended.”

It should serve as a lesson to performers who are perfectionists! Oftentimes, musicians are incredibly hard on themselves, mostly focusing on all the things they did wrong at a performance. It has its advantages, because if you want to get better, you need to know where you can improve. At the same time, the performance is the product, and if Kahneman is right, the mistakes will not be remembered, as long as you reach a good high, and end strongly. That means, NO long face at the end of the gig, because you fucked up, but a confident smile and attitude for all the things that went right!

But I digress! This piece is about choice, and every year we have more choices to make: what to wear, what to watch, what to eat, what to buy….. A lot of people are getting overwhelmed, but we have to relax about it. Remember the last two sentences from the first quote?

A satisficer has criteria and standards, but a satisficer is not worried about the possibility that there might be something better. Ultimately, Schwartz agrees with Simon’s conclusion, that satisficing is, in fact, the maximizing strategy.

Right in there is some of the best advice I’ve read in years! I know it’s hard to be satisfied; it’s human nature to want more, better, faster. This exactly is the danger of advertising: it plays on one of our greatest weakness. In a world where so much unhappiness comes from unmet expectations, the last thing we need is to create more, isn’t it? Why does my buddy, who has a perfectly good (perfectionist, the thing is MINT!) Galaxy Note II desire a Note IV? I mean, why spend $750 for something that does essentially the exact same thing? The improvements are measurable, but really, in every day life even my Moto G does the same thing, albeit with a smaller screen. It’s because the TV told him to!

One more related thing. On the John Cleese episode of Dutch TV show “College Tour”, on which you get a full one hour interview with a singular guest, in front of lots of University students who get to ask some of the questions, the topic became the dumbing down of James Bond movies which Cleese blamed on their popularity in Asia. There, most don’t get subtle Enligh-language humor, but they do love explosions!  The most fascinating part of the discussion was the statement he made about Americans not understanding the phrase “enough money”. He explained that you need cash to make movies, and up to a certain point, more cash means you can make a better flick. BUT, at some point, you don’t need more! As a matter of fact, it might make the movie worse, because it needs to be made back, which means appealing to a lower common denominator.

The exact same applies to the record business and it’s where I think Los Angeles has really missed the boat. You see, with technology having advanced as much as it has, these days the gear necessary to make great sounding albums is extraordinarily low. The whole system I used to record XR7, the computer, interface, mics, preamps (16 channels!) cost $2000! That should give tremendous freedom to us to make the music we want and still be able to recoup the investments. Instead, you’d be amazed how many musicians, living month to month by the way, still believe one should buy the most expensive Mic Preamp one can afford! “Because it’s better!” I personally know people who can’t afford their lives, but are saving for $2000 units that do 2 channels…… they end up so far in debt after doing ONE album, so disillusioned with their inability to ever recoup, they will never do another!

Or, like Schwartz says: “Why more is less”

In Shorts

Would you believe that there is a man who climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in nothing but his shorts? In two days? It’s true actually, and the guy’s name is “Wim Hof“! He was the latest guest in “24 uur met”, one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  At 55, he has devoted his entire life to unlocking the inner strength of the human body on levels we didn’t realize existed. This guy holds the Guinness world record for sitting in iced water: 73 minutes and 48 seconds! It’s one thing to swim in that kind of cold, but sitting still is a whole other story. He’s learned to control his reflexes, his will to flee, and just cranks up his metabolism.

During the show he started teaching the host how to do this and you could already see progress. The wildest thing was how red his entire body was when exiting the ice bath he brought with him. I guess it’s all the blood rushing through his skin to warm him up! Mind you: he’s not doing this to set records, but to explore unknown mechanisms of self-control and one particular experiment has been done that proves he’s on to something; something so incredible in fact that the results were published in medical literature most doctors can only dream of. Not bad for a guy who never went to University!

At Radboud university in Holland 24 volunteers were tested: 12 that were trained by Mr. Hof and 12 who hadn’t been. Now I haven’t researched this further yet after watching the show last night, but supposedly this is what happened, and it is also mentioned on Wikipedia: a dead bacterium was administered to all 24, one that normally triggers an immune response in healthy people. Because the pathogen is dead, it wouldn’t be necessary for proper disposal by your body, so one could say that a typical person ‘overreacts’ to the intrusion, showing the typical signs of infection while the system rids itself of the foreign organism. The amazing thing was that the 12 that were trained were able to control their immune system, with most completely unaffected, with a couple showing minor reactions. Nobody got truly sick of course, but it’s the first proof that humans can control mechanisms in their bodies that were always believed to be autonomous!

At 55 and in better shape than most 20 year olds, the Iceman has big plans and dreams of finding ways for us to learn how to perhaps even deal with cancer or diseases like that. Imagine if we can unlock that kind of power within ourselves. The more we know, the more we realize how little we know……