Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Theme Park Map to Peace

The basic problem with the Middle East is that it is fifteen pounds in a five pound bag. There’s no way to divide the territory into nations in a way that will satisfy everyone.

Rather than try to shoehorn warring ideologies into overlapping jurisdictions, why not move everyone out? The Palestinians get a chunk of Texas. The Jews get southern Florida, except for the very Caribbean and Latin-influenced coastal areas like Miami and Tampa. Details can be worked out.

No one will live in the so-called Holy Land. It becomes a religious theme park operated by a staff of sympathetic non-believers. Everything will be carefully maintained and preserved. The various religions can come in to observe their various festivals, but no one with a religious stake gets to stay over. People will have to get along whenever the needs of the various faiths coincide, but it will be a lot easier than trying to reconcile resident populations.

Palestinians and Jews, now separated by a thousand miles or so, can decide whether it’s worth making the long trip to pick on each other. And since they’ll be embedded in the United States it will be easier to keep tabs on the malcontents.

No doubt some form of this idea has been proposed. I read somewhere that Argentina was once considered as a site for a Jewish homeland. Then we would just have to deal with displaced gauchos.

People who derive their self esteem from unswerving compliance with unverifiable superstition will always be hard to accommodate, because so many of them are unwilling to accommodate anyone else. That leaves it to the rest of us to decide how we might be able to get along with them.

Wanna get High?

Just because I am not visibly overweight does not mean I don’t have a weight problem.

For some reason, my fitness inspires resentment more often than emulation. Some people ask me how I do it and then keep interrupting to tell me how it won’t work for them.

“It’s easy for you to talk. You don’t have to worry about it.”

Au contraire. I worry about it all the time. That’s why it doesn’t get out of control. Call it discipline if you will. I call it laziness. If I want to have a body to use, I have to keep it in good shape. Nature is all too happy to kill us off and let some other creature consume our substance.
Do it or don’t do it. It’s your damn body.

You do not have to be fit. Yes, obesity leads to a variety of health problems. But everybody dies of something. Enjoy yourself while you live. Make sure what you enjoy does not destroy the enjoyment of anyone else. If that means you are a little chubby or even out and out fat, and you don’t mind being that way, be that way. I honestly don’t think less of you for it, although I get accused of it. And we probably won’t spend a lot of time together, because my interests carry me in other directions.

We tend to try to share what gets us high. That was true of me in every phase of life, with every buzz. It’s still true now, with the self-propelled exploration. But I know that we don’t all enjoy the same things.

Buzzes end. The happy drunk ends with the hangover. The pot high ends up with the bong-lung cough. Other drugs carry even worse side effects. But we try to get high because, let’s face it, life can be pretty depressing. It’s hard not to peek at the end.

Because you can’t stay high all the time, whether you get high on chemicals, food or experiences, spiritual or mental resources help you get through the down times. Or maybe you just concentrate on getting hold of some more of what gets you high. Somehow you have to keep yourself interested in living.

A rhythm of exertion and rest offers a cycle of effort and renewal that adds up to a balanced whole. In that way it is superior to highs that depend solely on substance intake.

C’mon, man, let’s do some.

On Aggression

If meerkats had machine guns, the landscape of their desert home would look quite different. But they don’t, so they respond to threats generally by fleeing. Musk oxen circle up. Ants swarm and bite.

An attacked animal will flee or fight. A hungry carnivore will hunt.

Human aggressors feel the pressure of more complex motives.

“I thought he was going to hit me so I hit him back first.”

“I wanted what he had, so I took it.”

“I disapproved of how he lives, so I attacked him.”

“His way of life is a threat to my security.”

“He pissed me off.”

“God told me to.”

And the meerkats are tinkering in their burrows. Be very afraid.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Customer Relations

There are two basic models for customer relations: adversarial and cooperative.

In the adversarial model, the customer is a bag of money. The business wants to get as much money as possible with the least effort. The customer, knowing this, wants to avoid paying. It becomes a contest between gouging business and chiseling customer.

In the gouging model, work quality only serves to keep the customer calm, quiet, reassured. The reassurance may be false. Who cares? Get the dough. Get the mark out the door. Take five minutes, spray the bike with aromatic lubricant, knock the worst of the dirt off, call it a tuneup and charge $50.

If you don't really like people and have really fallen into that "us versus them" mentality, conning customers seems perfectly legitimate. They're not clients. They're prey.

Some customers are easy to hate. But not every poor-mouthing chronic chiseler deserves to be screwed. Some of them can be educated to understand the value they're receiving for the higher price. Others are simply playing the business game, trying to drive a hard bargain because they enjoy the haggling. Feel free to laugh in their face. Don't play the numbers game with them. The chiseler always wins that one.

In the cooperative model, even chiselers can be accommodated. Perhaps you have to do it by showing some of them the exit, but don't waste time being hostile. Just be courteously unavailable.

The cooperative model seems like more work at first, because you actually have to perform the services you say you offer. But I've noticed over the years that trying to get out of work ends up being more work than actually working. Once you accept that the work needs to be done, you can get down to doing it as quickly as a good job allows. Then it's done, usually just once, correctly, and it's out of your hair.

The guy who fixes my car was talking to me on the telephone earlier this summer. We both had heavy repair loads.

"Well, work too hard," said Rich, as we got ready to hang up.

As so often happens when I talk to Rich, I took it to heart. Do good work. You don't always get to choose when it comes to you. If you've created a trusting customer base, you really do owe them the expertise you've trained them to accept. Do less than that and you have to start all over again.

Question Authority

I am so reflexively argumentative that I will look for the flaws in just about any statement someone cares to make, even if it seems I should agree with it. The companion philosophy to Question Authority is Question Yourself. Don't let your own assumptions go unchallenged. Every once in a while you have to slap the bedrock hard, just to assure yourself it is still bedrock.

Moss-grown assumptions make most of the trouble for my irritable colleagues. The racism, the sexism, the elitism based on church denomination, place of origin or political affiliation guarantee that only their physical cowardice prevents them from being as ruthless as Al Qaida.

Perhaps physical cowardice is all that makes any of us hesitate that extra moment and try to understand another point of view, rather than attacking it in a berserk frenzy. But I'd like to think not.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Mr. Ludd

I'm no Luddite, though I get accused of it by technofascists so blinded by their addiction to the very newness of something that they cannot see its flaws.

I don't hate all technology. I hate half-baked technology and I hate predatory technology.

Half-baked technology is rushed to market unready to become a reliable, useful tool. Companies rush to try to establish market share, confident that early adopters, the aforementioned techno addicts, will do their research and develoment for them. Unfortunately, with modern marketing and mass production, too many innocent bystanders can get sucked in with the techno-chumps, thinking a real innovation has taken place.

Predatory technology is any item willfully changed by its manufacturer to render older versions unusable, even if those older versions were solid and sufficient to meet the need of the consumer.