Stealing the Silence

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It’s said that all sins are a form of theft: adultery is stealing a spouse, a lie is stealing the truth, etc. This idea helps explain what I find so annoying when I walk into a coffee shop only to hear loud music playing or being forced to listen to CNN through the tv displayed prominently above each gate at the airport: it’s not the bombardment of sounds as such that’s so annoying (though that’s pretty terrible) but, rather, that the natural rhythms of life are being taken from me. From us.

I like hearing the steaming hiss out of the espresso machine. I like hearing the sounds of little kids talk, the hum of commuters walking by, of the hard-working waitress speaking through her smile. All of these sounds help us to connect with life and our surroundings and are stolen by Wolf Blitzer or whatever musical artist Starbucks decides you need to know about.

As for those who show YouTube videos to others on the plane without the benefit of headphones, I have more respect for pickpockets.

Return to or watch me perform the Flaming Marshmallow Balance of Death.

If Life Was Fair You Wouldn’t Have It So Good

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 9.31.25 AM You’re walking down the street and find a $100 dollar bill on the sidewalk. Do you ask yourself “What did I do to deserve this?” What about when you receive a good diagnosis from your doctor?

I didn’t think so.

Why, then, do you do so when your car gets a flat en route to an important meeting or you wake up with sore throat?

Is misfortune to befall only the unjust? Are good people to go from success to success? Why must so many decent people walk miles for clean drinking water? Why is Donald Trump so successful?

The ability to rise above life’s vagaries – it’s thrills, disappointments, satisfactions and savage unfairnesses – affect every single one of us on a daily basis. A certain degree of calm is required to be effective, not to mention to remain sane. And calm isn’t possible if you don’t appreciate that truth we constantly remind our children: that life isn’t fair. If it was you’d be subsisting on tree bark like North Koreans or have a life expectancy of 46, as in Sierra Leone.

If it was, you wouldn’t have it so good.

Return to or learn how a head injury instigated my transition from a conventional- to comedic juggler.

Moderates in Paradise: David Brooks

David Brooks during a commercial break on Meet The Press.

David Brooks during a commercial break on Meet The Press.

The reflexively moderate New York Times columnist David Brooks is at it again, this time lamenting those poor, confused Iowa Christians who believe that the Bible’s injunction “Do not show partiality to the poor” means, well, not showing partiality to the poor. According to Brooks, this idea should extend to both policy and political discourse, but the parlance employed by the likes of Ted Cruz is deemed by the pant-crease impresario un-Christian.

According to Brooks, to win Iowa’s sizable evangelical population one must speak in the reassuring tones of Mike Huckabee or the pleasantly sleep-inducing Ben Carson. This is why Ted Cruz’s lead in Iowa is confusing to Brooks, a man who, tellingly, has never met a study he didn’t like.

Cruz’s lead in Iowa is confusing to Brooks, a man whose most recent New York Times column is characterized mostly by his unfunny and apparently unself-aware tendency to lecture Christians about how they should comport themselves. According to Brooks, these Iowa Christians don’t seem to know their place anymore. Trump? Cruz? Please! Iowa evangelicals haven’t witnessed much undesired change during Obama’s tenure. Sure, on same-sex marriage they’ve gone from “against it” to facing jail time for refusal to bake a cake. Refusal to bake a cake. Other than that it’s pretty much a wash. Of course all this took place over the course of a couple of years so there was the phase-in aspect.

It would seem to Brooks that Iowa Christians must be thrilled that while divorce law is seen fit for basket cases likes Oregon and Illinois whereas marriage shall be defined once and for all on our continent-spanning nation by one man in a robe: its a play so absurd the minds of Harold Pinter and Harold Becket together could have conceived of it.

President Obama arrived unfashionably late at the marriage-rights party, his though his fellow partygoers didn’t much seem to care. Future histories will show the president as characteristically behind the times, knowing that it took his vice-president’s coming out party on the issue to make him realize that he is only in left in the room to not-yet get the joke. (Imagine for a moment being deemed less-hip than Joe Biden.)

For Brooks it’s a given that Christian values like fairness and love are inherently progressive values and cases his argument in a Third-Way-Al Gore vein for added annoyance. And it’s not just social issues that have Evangelicals nonplussed. At any rate, these social-issues ingrates don’t seem unduly impressed by the managed loses of both the “bad” war in Iraq and the “good” war in Afghanistan. They don’t seem to marvel at the apparent ingratitude of the the Libyan people to Obama, Congressional Republicans and Democrats  and NATO for their special brands of magic.

But don’t take my word for it, read David Brook’s latest column in the New York Times, The Brutalism of Ted Cruz. In Cruz’s speeches there is “not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy.” He continues “Traditionally, candidates who have attracted strong evangelical support have in part emphasized the need to lend a helping hand to the economically stressed and the least fortunate among us. Such candidates include George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.”

That no misprint: George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum all cited positively in a single sentence.

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The Virtue of Mixed Emotions

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In a recent episode of The Libertarian podcast, Professor Richard Epstein was asked if he had mixed emotions about a particular issue. He began his answer with an aside: “First of all, I have mixed emotions about everything”. This philosophy is a good one and is best embodied by the words engraved upon the ring given to that famously wise King David: “This too shall pass”.

Good times don’t last – nor do bad ones. The best course – the course which leads to the most calm and contentment – is the mindset which prevents the emotions from becoming too strong in either direction.

“But my smartphone is an unqualified good” you say. “It allows me access a myriad wonderful things instantly and at the tip of my fingertips.” This is true. It also makes it much easier to waste time. What about the birth of a child, you ask? That child will cause you no end of trouble and worry, I can assure you.

On the other (very far) end of the spectrum, there are things like the Holocaust. Think the Holocaust did not result in anything good? Tell that the state of Israel, which wouldn’t exist were it not for it.

If these examples demonstrate how how virtually everything has an upside and a downside, how much more so do more commonplace events such as losing a job or winning the lottery? (Winning a huge sum in the lottery is one of the worst things that can happen to you).

This is not meant to downplay the devastating effects of losing a job but merely to point out that it’s precisely during difficult times that one should seek out the good.

Appreciating both the good and the bad of any situation doesn’t come naturally but learning to do so has a profoundly calming effect: your highs aren’t as high and your lows aren’t as low.

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Testimonials: “They Say” versus “I Say”

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The endorsement of a product or service from someone you know and trust is more powerful than one from a mere acquaintance or stranger. Similarly, an endorsement from someone who has personal experience with a product or service carries more weight than one from someone who heard from someone that your product is great: “My cousin raves about it” just doesn’t have the same impact as as “I’ve tried this heartily recommend it”.

When an emcee introduces an entertainer or speaker, it’s an endorsement which usually takes the form of the two categories described above. Let’s call them the I’m-told-this-guy-is-great introduction and the I-need-you-to-see-this guy intro.

The I’m-told-this-guy-is-great introduction, when reduced to plain English, boils down to “Let’s hope our guest speaker is fantastic. If not, you can’t blame me.”

The I-need-you-to-see-this-guy introduction sounds more like this: “I first saw tonight’s entertainer at an event last year and afterwards we couldn’t stop talking about her. After the show I immediately invited her to perform at tonight’s event and I’m thrilled that she is able to attend.”

A personal endorsement requires courage and confidence: courage to give your imprimatur and confidence that you are right to do so. The difference has nothing to do with stroking the speaker’s ego and everything to do with getting the audience to sit up and pay attention.

Return to or see how a head injury initiated my journey from conventional- to comedy juggler.