Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Average Man

Missed a few Thursdays.

A Funeral one Thursday, San Diego another, and I don't know what on the third ... but as I said from the outset, if the appointment with self is missed, there is always next Thursday.

The trip to San Diego was fabulous. I had dinner with a friend I have not seen since my days in Japan and it was just so cool to do catch up...we were just like kids! So much fun.

The reason I went to San Diego however, was to attend an internet marketing seminar. If I have never mentioned it here, that is what I do: internet marketing. As with any profession it is important to keep up, learn new things and meet colleagues and peers in your line of work. To that end the weekend did not disappoint.

I loved the venue which was at the Hard Rock Hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. The whole area is uber chi chi. At the seminar of 500 or maybe 600, I met a lot of people from all parts of the world. We had time to chat, and scope out business opportunities and joint venture options and just make new friends. Life is good.

What completely blew me away at this seminar however, was the opening address by the host. Frank Kern is a surf dude, extraordinarily successful in internet marketing and showed a side of human depth that he does not often display - at least not publicly. I had the privilege to briefly chat with him and you know how you get a certain feeling about someone? The feeling I got was that this young man is a very kind human being.

In his opening address Frank spoke of the Average Man and how the average man is no longer average. Summarized in my own words, which do little justice to the original:

Back when the average man went out to work, to get a job done, to feed, clothe and house his family, being an average man meant something. The average man took responsibility for his wellbeing and did not sit around listening to excuses as to why he was no further along in his life than he was. He put in an honest day’s work and looked forward to putting in another with the hope in his heart to do better and to give more tomorrow. Being average was something to be proud of.

Yes there was always more to aspire to. The average man in those days did not buy into excuses peddled by feel good professionals. He did not think there was anything wrong with him and if occasionally the world was not rosy, well that was life and in time things improved.

Today a new industry has blossomed – the feel good industry, the instant fix for whatever is wrong with you. The media is awash with psychiatrists, psychologists, and self annointed professionals who tell the average man that indeed there is much that is wrong with him but not to worry, it is not his fault and if he but listen to them they will fix that which is wrong with him. He is sat down to an aptitude test which tells him what he can be when he grows up: a doctor, lawyer, garbage collector. Don’t worry, nothing wrong with garbage collector – it is not your fault if this is all that you are suited for, it is not your fault if:

- You can’t read – In the US 27% are functionally illiterate
- You are able to read just enough to get by – 25% - 30% in the US fall into this category.

That makes more than 50% of Americans who can barely read. But that’s not their fault. They are probably dyslexic, have ADD or ADHD or their parents did not love them enough.

Today the average man

- spends 20% of his time at work making non-work related phone calls
- 38% of those calls are job hunting (now that makes for an excellent employee)

But that’s ok … it’s not the average man's fault. The job is not meaningful, the boss demands too much and pays too little. Why would the average man not steal some time from the man who pays him for a job he hates to look for another job?

And get this … the average American household watches on average 8.35 hours of TV every day. Needed escapist therapy to handle the boredom and tedium of a life that seems to be going nowhere.

Systemically the feel good industry of “Hey you’re OK, I’m OK – its not your fault that yada, yada, yada” … systemically the average man has succumbed to a litany of lies that say

“it is not your fault…”
“ are entitled to”
“…it is your right…”

and so the standards of the average man have been dumbed down. Today the average man is no longer proud of who he is and is not willing to do anything about it. The average man is no longer average, is bereft of values of his forebears.

This is not who we want to be, to aspire to. Today’s average man is not who we want to hang out with.

“If you want to do the things that other people can’t do, simply do the few things that other people won’t do”

Frank was diagnosed as being dyslexic, and to compound that "problem" he was pronounced to be ADD which, when the experts became even more knowledgeable, was upgraded to ADHD! Meds were the answer. For a while life was absent of chaos and internal turmoil, it flowed smoothly if somewhat artificially. The rose colored glasses he was given to wear, were, hey, OK!

Got him into college. Performed abysmally. Sure enough the aptitude test confirmed that he was not suited for higher learning, indeed collecting garbage was more like the kind of life he should be aspiring to.

Fortunately there was enough of a contrarian still lurking in Frank's body. He took off the rose colored glasses. Collecting garbage did not appeal to him. He refused to accept what others had decided for him and made his own decision: to take responsibility for himself.

Today Frank is not only wildly successful, but a bright and articulate man and all because he refused to be an average man and to accept the pablum that was being fed to him.

Till next Thursday .....

Thursday, April 9, 2009


It is Easter this Sunday - a week this Sunday if you are Eastern Orthodox. May the Easter Beagle scatter many Easter Eggs, on your lawn, behind bushes and if a yard is a mere twinkle in your eye, well then, behind the sofa and underneath the low table and behind the potted plant that should have been thrown out a long time ago but which somehow manages to survive one year after the next of near neglect.

Easter has morphed in my lifetime. Just like Christmas it seems to have lost its religious significance and has become all about chocolate. But how did the coloured easter egg become a chocolate bunny? It escapes me (but yes, I always eat the ears first)

When I was growing up Easter was an even bigger feast than Christmas - it is the most holiest of celebrations in the Eastern Orthodox Church. There was great preparation and anticipation. First - we observed lent ... well kind of. We kept Fridays free of meat and for some reason which we could never quite understand, no butter, at all. We "gave up things" for lent. I gave up candy one lent and never went back to eating it (now, lets not confuse candy with chocolate).

It was the week just before Easter - Holy Week - that was the week when all the lent observances were kept; never mind Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday and of course Good Friday which isn't good at ll, but its all the other things that happened on the home front that made it a particularly difficult week for us kids.

The week before Easter was the week that was devoted to spring cleaning. Every window in the house had to be washed;the floors washed, polished and buffed; rugs taken outside, hung on bamboo struts, and the winter dust beaten out of them; down bedding laid out in the yard to be freshened by the clean air and sun. Heavy winter curtains were taken down and replaced with light summer cotton ones. The silver had to be polished, the china washed, the cupboards lined with clean paper. These chores and more were ours. Fortunately we had two weeks' holidays for Easter, so the first week was all about cleaning. We grumbled a lot, we kids did, but it did us no good. Mom turned a deaf ear to every objection that we had. I have to admit, that when every nook and cranny was finally clean, and everything shone just before leaving for midnight mass on Saturday, there was a special glow to the house --- it just felt so fresh and ... well, CLEAN!

Mom on the other hand spent the whole week cooking. Pies of fish, and meat, and carrots and mushrooms and cabbage and eggs filled the air with their mouthwatering aroma. Cookies and Easter Bread Kulich which is similar to the Italian Panetonne and tortes which we were allowed to decorate but not eat! Then the last to be cooked were the roasts of lamb, pork, beef, chicken and something called Holodetz which is a cross between head cheese (not so dense) and jelly (but denser)but made from pigs feet. Now this last delicacy was special not because we liked it so much, but because it was the only thing that we got a taste of before Easter - not with the finished product, but we got to suck the juice from the pig knuckles and that, after a week of gruel was the biggest treat of all. Typically this was made on a Friday because it needed all of Saturday to gel so that it could be served on Sunday. You know, in retrospect I can't believe it, we kids actually were pretty good about not eating all the yummies that were being created around us - that would never happen today!

There was a day devoted to colouring easter eggs - these were real eggs, from chickens, not chocolate eggs, and no, we could not eat them until Easter Sunday as well!

When Easter Sunday rolled around - there was no cleaning to do, no cooking, just time to enjoy the day. I don't know quite how it worked, who went to whose house when, but it all worked out well --- on Easter Sunday it was either we at our cousins or they at ours, and then the rest of the week, visits to and from other family friends.

Of course Easter meant new outfits for everyone - to wear to midnight mass. That was kind of special too. We girls got to dress in pretty dresses which gave way to ensembles and "outfits" as we grew older. Shoes and bags to match, gloves of course, and maybe a new piece of jewelry to wear around the neck or on our wrists!

I know. That was another time, another era. But, it was a good time, a good era. Can't say that I miss the cleaning ... but honestly, what I don't understand is how did the easter egg become the easter chocolate? And with apologies to Charles Schultz that beagle had best concentrate on flying his sopwith camel!

Happy Easter Everyone!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The murky world of assassins

A recent conversation centered around assassination with generous servings of political condemnation. It is always a source of wonderment to me as to how it is so easy for the armchair pundits to paint the world a simple black or white. Our increasingly liberal mindedness is quick to fault everything about the western system of government. What prompted this conversation was a taping of an interview with Walter Mondale in which he reveals that political assassination is common amongst the western nations.

Gasp! Isn’t horrible! My friends were aghast and were quick to jump on the guilty wagon. There must a better way to govern, they said.

Political assassinations are an extension of a type of war. We won’t go into the technicalities of it here, indeed far too complex and beyond my scope.

Taking a slight tack to the left (or would that be to the right), I asked what their take on the world’s most famous and beloved assassin of all was, one James Bond, aka 007.

Blank stares met my eyes.

Immediately I was met with protests. Oh, but he’s a spy and a fictitious one at that.

Hmm. Is he?

James is that rare breed of spy. Blessed with killer looks, nerves of steel, charm and wit, athletic agility, and other qualities we mere humans can only dream of. James overcomes adversity, leaps over impossible obstacles, and against improbable odds vanquishes the bad guy, saving the day yet one more time for Mother England and the world.

James Bond, the spy, carries a license to kill. That makes him a professional assassin.

James Bond is fashioned after a true, real life spy – Sidney Reilly, who served in Her Majesty’s Service a century ago. An excellent series. Reilly Ace of Spies starring Sam Neill, ran on the tube several years back; it chronicles the dirty, underground grit of the business of being a spy. The trailer reads:

”At the turn of the 20th century, one remarkable man single-handedly tried to alter the course of history. Cold, ruthless, enigmatic, this Russian-born British agent radically transformed modern espionage techniques and set the mold for a new kind of secret agent-the super spy. Reilly: Ace Of Spies is the thrilling, suspenseful dramatization of the real-life adventures of Agent ST-1, aka Sidney Reilly, the inspiration behind Ian Fleming's James Bond. Shot in glorious period detail, one heart-pulsing mission after another captures the arc of Reilly's brilliant career.

With acclaimed actor Sam Neill (JURASSIC PARK) in the lead role, REILLY: ACE OF SPIES was a gripping crime series, with all 12 episodes included here. Neill played Sidney Riley, an ace spy who risked life and limb to allow justice to prevail. What sets this series apart from the deluge of other titles in the genre is that Riley was a real person, and the events portrayed all actually happened. With that in mind, viewers are taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotions as the deft crime solver undertakes some jawdropping feats of bravery during his missions. The original inspiration for the James Bond character, REILLY: ACE OF SPIES is a glowing testament to one of the all-time great spies”

You can get the DVD. It is worth the $49.95.

Reilly fell a tad short of accomplishing his mission. I can’t help but think how different the course of world history would have been, had he succeeded. Better than going to war.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pursuit of Happiness

If you are feeling a tad out of sorts because life has just taken a turn for the worse, perhaps you’re feeling a bit sad --- or maybe a lot.

No worries. The Band of Happiness will come and play for you and shake you out of your doldrums whether you want to or not.

There is an easy solution for everything. It seems that we somehow have evolved into a society that is all too eager to reach for the magic potion that lulls us into a state of wellbeing while numbing, or would that be dumbing down our natural instincts and feelings so that we can be citizens in good standing in the land of perpetual happiness. It is not for nothing that we have been dubbed the Prozac Nation.

I was knoodling on this thought recently. Whether it has been socially engineered by psychiatrists (doubtful) or the growing gaggle of lifestyle coaches, there is definitely a movement afoot that if not happy, we should take corrective measures and embark on the pursuit of happiness.

Noble though the thought may be it is such a bunch of hooey. I am not talking about people who have serious mental illnesses – although I sometimes question as to just how many are truly ill, but that is altogether a different matter. What I think is a bunch of hooey is the readiness of kith and kin – add well meaning friends and armchair professionals to that list - who, having genuflected at the alter of Oprah, Dr. Phil, and the latest life guru once too often, are now willing and able to dispense advice on how to be happy. They are like serial some things … what? Serial happiers? I know, no such word. Maybe I can coin it. Or maybe it should be serial happymakers. And if the advice does not work, well a little bit of Valerian or St. John’s Wort might do the trick. Still no joy? Get your doctor to prescribe a little something for you.

With all this stuff flying around about being happy I don’t think people know exactly what it is. Somehow we have been conditioned to think that we should be in some state of constant euphoria or enlightenment, bereft of all that is negative (because negativity makes us unhappy), and tripping the light fantastic with ripples of happy laughter lightly tripping off of our happy lips.

Resist the temptation to examine your life with microscopic detail. Am I happy? Trust me, if you have to ask yourself that question rest assured that you are not unhappy.

Enough already.

This is life. Get used to it. There is life and death, good health and bad, success and failure and all of us are faced with one of these situations, not once, not twice, but many. Friends betray us, lovers leave, partners cheat. Get over it. There is much that is good, dwell on that.

The tough parts of life build strong emotional muscles and help us deal with those times when things truly turn difficult. To unnaturally shield, protect and to avoid, breeds soft tissue of the stuff of life and develops namby pambies who cannot stand up for themselves when the situation calls for them to do so.

I think happiness is a general feeling of wellbeing. Anxiety, worry, sadness. Unless chronic and descriptive of who you are, do not make for an unhappy life. Yes, there are times when our happiness is heightened: winning, achieving, falling in love and myriad more. I think the depth of such moments is made the more precious still for having had endured at least some moments of unhappiness in our life.

Don't become a victim of the happiness gang. Live life fully. Enjoy the good, suffer the bad. On balance, you should be naturally happy.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

When the Rich Get Poor .... The Poor Get Destititute

Richard Adler hosts a show. It is syndicated and here in Vancouver he is broadcast on the radio station CKNW. I like Richard. I like him because he dares to call the kettle black and challenges the sensitivities of the ill informed politically correct smug as a bug army of hypocrites. I listened to his show this afternoon. It really got me thinking.

Apparently the world billionaire pool has shrunk to a mere 800, down 30% from a year ago and that is not good news because you see, it is a myth that when the rich get rich, the poor get poorer

Lets explode a myth, a long held belief that goes something like this: When the rich get rich the poor get poorer, in fact, when the rich get richer, the trickle down effect benefits everyone, yes, even the poor.

When the rich do well and increase their wealth, they are prone to spend more, travel to exotic places, buy nice cars and wear expensive clothes; they eat in the best restaurants and drink fine wine. The money they spend pays for the wages of the flight attendant, the auto worker, the factory worker, the chef and the waiter, and for those who pick the fruit off the vines that grow the grapes for the fine wine. Then, each one in turn, makes other purchases: bread from the bakery, meat from the butcher, shoes for their children, tuition for piano lessons and fees for soccer/hockey/martial arts, and perhaps a family vacation. Money circulates and there is more for everyone.

When the economy is buoyant and bellies are full, grumblings about the inequalities of life for the most part are kept under wraps. When the economy wavers the grumblings get louder; when it falters the wailing is positively ear splitting. Politicians seek such moments to make false promises of redistribution of wealth: lets take it from the rich and give it to the poor and hope to get elected on their newly found religion of equal riches for all.

Idealistic as it sounds it’s been tried before, in countries such as Russia and China, and it didn’t work. Indeed it had quite the opposit effect: everyone needed first to be equally poor before becoming equally rich, everyone that is, except for the party politic.

Lets put this equality bunk on the table for once and for all – there is none. We are not all equally smart, handsome, beautiful, talented, tall, athletic, nor powerful. No, not at all. Some are more gifted in music, some in sports, still others in sciences and maths. A rare few are very good at making money. I am glad they do.

Adler’s topic today was “We should pray for the rich to get richer” (Barstool economics) and I think you might enjoy it. Click on the transcript for a good read, or click on the audio for an even better listen.

Quick Links:
Transcript: We should pray for the rich to get richer - barstool economics
Audio: We should pray for the rick to get richer - Barstool Economics

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Why I Drive a Japanese Car

I drive a Japanese car. It is my seventh Japanese car … in a row. My Japanese car is made in the US. I choose Japanese because it is reliable, holds its value and has staying power in styling as well as in the quality of the material used. The mileage is good and it drives well. It is both comfortable and gutsy – I like to feel the road when I drive.

The last time I was changing cars I thought I’d try American again, particularly the Ford Thunderbird. At one time it was a good car, stylish, sexy and sporty. Heads turned when a Thunderbird roared down the highways and the byways of the country. That was in the fifties. Years took its toll on this classic. It grew large and cumbersome and just plain old ugly. But hey, it was just keeping up with the trends, the direction of Detroit.

The new one that I was interested in was reintroduced a few years back- it had that retro style of the original machine and it came in colors of not just black and white, but a scorching red and a vibrant yellow. I drove into the Ford lot, parked my Prelude and walked into the showroom to take this babe for a spin around the block, down the freeway and some rough country back roads ... I did mention that I am driving my seventh Japanese car in a row.Right?

Why do I bring this up? Well yes all the controversy about the bailout of the US Auto industry may have something to do with it, or, it could be the letter that Jim Jackson of Elkinds Fordland of Michigan wrote to the editor of his local newspaper. That letter has now been published in many newspapers and has made more laps around the internet than all the cars at the Indy 500 throughout its history. Combined.

Mr. Jackson has some compelling arguments in favor of the American Auto Makers – most of his supporting data is based on the Ford Motor Company itself. Now it appears that Ford manufactures some pretty good cars --- they can be seen on the streets of Moscow where the price of one is on par with some its European competitors. But here is the thing, the Fords that the Russian billionaires, oh, ok, the millionaires - the billionaires drive Bentleys and exotics - yes, the Ford models that the Russians are driving are not seen here. They happen to be stylish and evidently worth the coin. Are these manufactured in North America? Is the Ford Motor Company saving its best for the export market? Or are these marquee cars manufactured in one of Ford’s European plants? Pity they are not here.

Mr. Jackson also mentions a few of the American cars that outperform their Japanese counterparts and he decries the perception held by the American public that being that the Big Three build inferior cars. Maybe so but two or three cars outpacing the Honda and the Camry does not an industry make.

I remember a time when Japanese cars were scorned for their poor quality, their inferior styling, but the “rust buckets” were cheap and good for a second set of wheels for the family, for mom to run the kids around when needed and to pack home the groceries. For serious driving however, such as the commute to work or the family vacation, it was the American car that held pride of place. And then a funny thing began to happen – the rust buckets began to outlast the favorite model.

It did not happen overnight. What the Japanese did well was to try and improve the quality of their car with each and every new model, in small increments. They could not go up against the “Big Three” from the get go, but by one small improvement at a time, they became a dominant player in the quality automobile market.

With the exception of the Corvette, if GM and Chrysler make quality cars then we certainly don’t know about it. Even the Cadillac has been struggling and the Lincoln, good as it might be, fades in an out of the stream of consciousness. Some of that might just be perception and you know that saying about perception being reality. But I think the truth is that in the low to mid price range of the GM and Chrysler cars, the parts used are inferior, the headlights burn out more often, the standard tires wear out quicker, the breaks need to be replaced sooner and the accessories just look plain cheap. They don’t age well and they don't hold their value well either.

Oh, why did I not get the Thunderbird? It just did not drive well. it rattled, cornered poorly, and if there was a power house of horses underneath that hood, compared to my then lowly Prelude, they seemed slow to respond. What is more telling is that I remember the salesman asking which cars I was test driving --- when I told him (they were all foreign models except for the Thunderbird), his response was simple, he said that the “bird drives differently.” I did not know what he meant exactly but could not help sensing a reluctance of sort on his part as I turned the keys in the ignition and took the babe for a drive. Yup! She shore drove differently!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Harper Rolls Out the Welcome Mat to Obama

I don’t know whether I am sad or just plain miffed. No. I am not angry.

Let’s start with miffed … yes, you could say I am. President Obama and his entourage flew into my nation’s capital to meet with our Prime Minister, Steven Harper. This was Obama’s first trip outside the United States and I hope that our hospitality was worthy of our esteemed guest. It was a quick visit as visits go, a scant six hours, but that’s enough time for a sit down, perhaps a bite or two, a bon mot here and there, and some serious stuff to put on the table. Our media was all over the event … air waves crackling across the country reporting on this visit. Soooo…. I checked, what was the coverage like in the President’s home country? Hmmmm… I wonder, do the Americans even know that their President is out of the country? Does anyone care?

Here are some items that were considered to be more newsworthy by the media in the United States:

- Tiger Woods is going to play again … well of course that will make a difference to the state of affairs in the US
- George Clooney had something to say on Darfur … who better to quote on a poignant political issue than a movie star?
- Mortgage plan won’t help all … lets all get on the pity train for the victims of this economic fallout
- Pill could help you forget bad memories …. Whaaaaaa???? Oh yes, there was a book or something written about this being A Prozac Nation.

MSNBC made mention of “Obama, Harper Talk Economy”.

Canada is the United States’ largest trade partner. We are the next door neighbor. We share the world’s longest border. But a visit by the US President is not worth more than a cursory nod by their media.

And that makes me sad, not for Canada but for the US. How can a country so big and so powerful be so insular. I love Americans and often feel like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness defending them. I think that the US gets a bums rap. But you know, I have to say, when I travel in the US I don’t see much coverage of things outside of the US. Yes, there is CNN but its always the same old, same old. Unless the United States is somehow involved in something, rarely is there any coverage of matters of importance happening in other parts of the world.

I remember being in the US during one of the summer Olympics. Even though this was a holiday we took time to watch the events on TV. It soon became clear that the only events that were being covered were those in which the American athletes had a better than middling chance of standing on the podium. There was no mention of how other countries were doing --- and I don’t mean the small countries which may have copped only a medal or two, although that would have been a good thing to cover in the spirit of the games --- I mean the bigger ones that took home enough hardware to sink a yacht or two.

I think the American public deserves better. I think that their media should show a bit more of the world to their people … I mean I do love their national pride, but I think there would be innumerable good done if their interest of the world spilled over to other borders, and, oh hey! I think George Clooney is a hunk but he ain’t no Prime Minister and he ain’t no President and he does not represent his country in any official capacity.

Hmmm….maybe there might be some coverage on the evening news? Da ya think? Maybe?

8.58 PM... Postscript ... Finally!!!! Cooper Anderson on 360. YES!

Harper, Obama video