Monday, April 28, 2014

This just in.



>>> Here's a quick update on two sports that nobody in the USA really cares about, English football and Formula One. It's coming down to the wire in the English Premier League, with the top dogs Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City all having at least a mathematical chance of winning the trophy. Oh, and for those of you who don't know it, they don't have playoffs. And you can tie. "Why do you even do this?" ... The rules have changed, yet again, in F1 for the new season: the engines are smaller and less noisy (not a good thing), and only two teams seem to have figured out how to make the most of these changes (also not a good thing). But, it has made for some very competitive racing, not against teams but against teammates. Yes, the 'number one' and 'number two' guys for the top teams are actually being allowed to race against each other. In an auto race. Go figure.

>>> April is the new March. Have you noticed a gradual shift away from March being the harbinger of springtime? My mother was the first one who told me the meaning of "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." In recent years, its been more like, "March comes in like a Tasmanian devil and goes out like a badger." It's now on April's shoulders to announce all the glorious promise of the spring season, but given the increasing inconsistencies of this year's edition, I'm guessing that May is now the new April.

>>> Nope. No sign of that damn airplane they seem to have lost. Not a trace.

>>> A friend recently asked me what possible interest I could have in the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau, so here's a taste of it: "Authority built round the concept of private property is the principal cause of humanity's decline. The publicly authorized appropriation of the earth by some men at the expense of others has led to the establishment of a civil society gained through guile and injustice."

>>> The Boston Marathon bombing, which happened just about a year ago, has become a recent obsession of mine, mostly because of an ongoing communication with a friend who is a tireless watchdog of all media and a champion skeptic. The more you read into it, the more farcical it all seems; as this friend states, "it makes for a movie script that even Quentin Tarantino would reject."

>>> I think we need to send some of our ship captains back for re-training, especially the part where they tell you to 'go down with the ship'. Its either that, or we change the rule to "Women and children and pussy-assed captains first." What the fuck with that South Korean ferry?  This guy didn't wait for a minute; he was one of the first to bail, that is, after he took his uniform off so he would look like one of the passengers. He makes that other seafaring weasel, the greaser who jumped out of the Costa Concordia, look like Captain Edward Smith. I'm no battlefield hero, but I gotta say, this has got to be one of the most egregious displays of cowardice in the long history of cowardice.

>>> Still no sign of the plane. They keep looking, but there's not even a seat cushion to be found.

>>> And, finally, one more thought from our friend Rousseau: "While our Creator had made everything good, anything corrupt and depraved has been forged by man; evil is the characteristic outcome of human enterprise, if not always the object of human design."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sage Advice and The Shaving Chronicles, abridged, version 73.


I am in a particularly generous mood today, my fellow Scat-heads, and when I'm in this kind of mood I feel like giving everybody a smattering of good advice. I often talk to my clients about health, fitness or nutrition, but I doubt most of them actually follow any of my suggestions or tips. I once complained to a colleague that I keep doing this over and over, and often to the same people, until I'm blue in the face, so when should I stop? His reply: "Until you're red in the face."

Before I dispense any of this wisdom, I always include the disclaimer that, as a licensed massage therapist, I'm technically not permitted to advise clients on anything outside of my limited scope of practice, but that's never stopped me from trying to enrich their lives with some knowledge that just might lead to a more robust, healthy life.

FOOD JOURNALING: If you are seeking to shed some weight, we all know that you need to eat less, exercise more, and sleep well. For that first item, I remind you that keeping a daily journal of everything you stuff into your pie hole (which, hopefully, does not actually include any actual pie) will almost certainly help you identify what's good and what's bad about your daily intake. I attempt to follow the 80/20 rule, in that 80% of the food and drink I consume is either a whole food, minimally processed, organic whenever possible (or, sensible), and is of high nutritional value, and the 20% is 'marginal', by which I mean, those foods and beverages that are generally nutritious but that might include added ingredients, like sugar, that should be consumed in small quantities.

This simple exercise will clearly illustrate how much of your diet is really not so wholesome and healthy. If you decide to do it, you must not cheat or lie, nor leave anything off the list. Try to document the portion size and/or the weight in ounces, the time at which you consumed each meal or snack (very important!) and the cooking method as well; after all, it makes a difference if you cooked those morning eggs using butter or olive oil and it also matters whether that fish for dinner was deep fried or broiled.

Try it for three or four days, and, again, be as exact as possible. I kept such a journal for two days this past week, even though I'm not attempting to lose (oops, I mean "shed") any weight. To take it one step further, you could calculate the number of total calories as well, but that would take major research and way too much math for this guy. Good luck!

OIL PULLING: I've mentioned this to you Scatters in at least one previous post, but here I go again: First thing in the morning, upon rising from bed, one teaspoon of good quality, unrefined coconut oil into your mouth. Swish (do not gargle) for anywhere from seven to ten minutes (or more, if you wish), then spit it out. The Ayurvedic camp believe it helps to suspend and then eliminate the toxins and germs in your mouth that accumulate overnight. They've been doing it for 5,000 years; I've been doing it for about eight months, and I am happy to report the following findings... my dental hygienist was very happy with the decreased amount of plaque and scale on my teeth at my last cleaning and I have also successfully avoided any full-blown head cold or sinus infection this past fall and winter for the first time in many years. I've done nothing different nor have I added anything to my health regimen other than oil pulling almost every morning. Highly recommended.

AVOID CONFLICT: The current situation in Ukraine is the latest, most notable flare-up in an often violent and dangerous world, but if you read some of the details of the story, it might not be as combustible as the media would have us believe. One of my few trusted news sources is reporting that Russian and Ukrainian soldiers are jointly keeping guard over those military and naval installments in Crimea, they're sipping tea and taking meals together and there's a general sense of cooperation; in other words, these guys really don't want to shoot at each other. Now this isn't to say that we might soon be reading headlines about a breakdown in the stalemate and that Russian soldiers have been ordered to take their fast friends as prisoners, and at gunpoint if necessary, but for now, it's nice to think that people who are at such obvious opposing ends of a serious argument are, for the moment, valuing life over death.

I think we should borrow this lesson and apply it to our personal and business affairs. An impassioned response to a potentially unpleasant situation is not always the best approach. Keep a lid on that snarky email reply to the disagreeable client, friend or family member; let the asshole who's tailgating you on the highway pass, and don't give it a second thought; allow your Facebook friends of friends to offer their opinion, however ignorant and irrelevant it is, on your wall; and, above all, try hard not to take anything personally, as that is the one thing that usually leads to conflict.

*   *   *   *   *   * 

The Shaving Chronicles, abridged, version 73:
I plan on making this installment concerning my never-ending battle with the blade my last, but I can't make any guarantees. Complaining about shaving my beard, after all, has been a hallmark of Tiger Scat almost since its inception, and the traditionalist in me wants to pay due respect to the storied legends that helped build this citadel of knowledge, wit and wisdom.

I am happy to report that joining the Dollar Shaving Club has thus far proven to be a good decision. I have been using the four-blade option, the one they call the "Lover's Blade" and I've yet to suffer one nick on my pretty face in almost two weeks of almost-daily shaving. I do have some complaints: the blade head is pivoting, a feature that I heretofore found useless, as it takes some of the control out of the user's hand. I can't quite seem to get the sharpest line on my sideburns or that troublesome little spot under my nose, but I'm getting accustomed to it. Also, that 'lubricating strip' at the top of the blade head leaves behind a sticky residue on the bathroom vanity counter, that is, if the head is rested on the surface while still wet. I think the solution is to place the shaver handle upright, allowing it to air-dry properly.

These minor quibbles aside, Dollar Shave Club receives high marks. It's costing me $6/month for four cartridges, shipping included; compare that to about $16 for 'the other guys' and it's easy to see why over 350,000 men with hair on their faces have joined up as well. The good folks at DSC urge us to toss out the used cartridge after every week of use. I plan on following their advice, unlike the people to whom I offer advice, as I truly believe that starting out the week with a fresh set of blades will go far in avoiding any conflict.

*****

Now that I've held you captive to read my entire post without navigating away from it, here is the link to Dollar Shaving Club. I've recruited two friends this week, and at least one other is expressing real interest. Shave on!https://www.dollarshaveclub.com/

Friday, February 28, 2014

Some thoughts on art and artists...


The School of Visual Arts in New York City is offering an MFA degree in "Art Practice" that takes a slightly different approach. They define the artists in their program not by medium or by discipline, rather they allow them to engage their 'ideas' first, then develop their plan, which may or may not follow a traditional path to realizing the outcome; often, these artists might utilize technologies or methods that are not usually associated with the making of 'art'. That sounds awfully progressive to me, and I think that any artist who has enough talent and balls should look up this program.

Which begs the question, what do we think of art or of those who make it? Or, who live it? Or, who suffer it? I've selected a number of thoughts and quotations from a recent SVA press release, from some familiar and not-so-familiar humans who have weighed in on the subject, and I offer them herewith to my 'Scat faithful:

"I am interested in art as a means of living a life, not as a means of making a living."- Robert Henri
----
"I believe that if it were left to artists to choose their own labels, most would choose none."-Ben Shahn
----
"My life and my art have not been separated. They have been together."-Eva Hesse
----
"Art is either plagiarism or revolution"-Paul Gaugin
----
"The hardest thing is to do something which is close to nothing because it is demanding all of you."-Marina Abromivic
----
"An artist is someone who enters into competition with God."-Patti Smith
----
"We do not escape into philosophy, psychology or into art; we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones."-Anais Nin
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"To be an artist means never to avert one's eyes."-Akira Kurosawa
----
And, finally:
"Only from art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees."-Marcel Proust

Now, this cut is deep.



The year was 1976. Concorde took off on its first commercial flight, ushering in the short-lived era of supersonic travel. North and South Vietnam joined together to form the new Socialist Republic of Vietnam, bringing an end to almost 30 years of armed conflicts. And, the progressive rock group Genesis released two masterpiece albums of the genre, nine months apart.

"Squonk" is taken from the first of these, "A Trick of the Tail", the first Genesis record following the departure of Peter Gabriel. There is some interesting background on this one: with Gabriel moving on, the band needed a lead singer to replace him, but after auditioning a few and getting down to the last, it was suggested that Phil Collins give it a shot. The rest is history.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

People have the Power

Let's talk about boycotts, shall we?

A boycott is defined by Merriam-Webster (online edition of their dictionary) thusly: "To refuse to buy, use or participate in (something) as a way of protesting until changes are made." To this is added: "To engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with, usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions."

If you read this carefully, a boycott is usually of a 'temporary' nature, and the duration of any avoidance of a product, service or other such 'something' is usually engaged in with the hope that, at some point in the future, the person staging the boycott will return. Unfortunately, some of the targets of my own personal snubs will most likely be permanent, as the conditions under which I would consider returning might never improve enough to satisfy my standards.

This post was inspired by your Scatter-in-Chief's latest boycott, that of National Public Radio. I've touched upon the subject of boycotts in the past, and I've always offered a full explanation as to why I've decided to undertake any of them. Lest you think I am some sort of easily-offended refusenik with an ego that is similarly bruised, I would like to recap my current (and some past) boycotts. As a friend once told me when explaining his own avoidance of the airline industry for a full calendar year, a boycott is sometimes the only power of protest we have left. I bet a few of you reading this might realize that you participate in your own form of protest or boycott, sometimes without a conscious understanding of why or when you started it.

(Editor's note: I have withheld the names of all of the local businesses that I am currently avoiding so as to not directly offend either the owners or patrons of these establishments.)

---NPR: This one caused a minor flare-up of emotions on a Facebook post announcing my decision to "take a hiatus" from tuning in. I have been a listener for more than 30 years, I estimate, of our local affiliate, WNYC and I also seek out any local NPR frequency when we travel within the USA but I have noticed a gradual shift, that has recently gained speed, away from their progressive, investigative positioning and toward one that is more mainstream, more benign. In other words, NPR is playing it safe, as any other huge news corporation that depends upon corporate and government funding would do. NPR is also having trouble holding on to CEO's; they've gone through seven in the last seven years. For those of you who did not attend a school befitting the intelligence of the typical NPR listener, that's one every year. I have other reasons to support my disapproval but for the time being, I'll be taking a break from this old friend and turning to other, more adventurous sources of news for my daily fix.

---Cable television: We pulled the plug on this back in October of 2013, along with the land phone line, thus ending about 30 years of continuous payments to either Bell, Verizon, Cablevision or Comcast. The only service remaining here is high-speed wifi. When I received the first reduced bill from our carrier, showing a $162 credit for payments already submitted, I felt as if I had won the lottery. There's so little quality programming, and I've been watching so little t.v. over the past ten years anyway, I barely miss it. New Scandinavian Cooking is on Channel 25 anyway, which I get through the antenna, so it's all good.

---The National Hockey League: I've been a fan of the New York Rangers since I was nine years old and hockey is one of the most enjoyable sports to watch in action. But with an increase in on-ice violence and the continued big-money wheeling and dealing and lockouts perpetrated by the league's commissioner, Der Fuhrer Gary von Bettman, I'm out. I can't watch the games anyway since I don't have cable, so I can devote more screening time to New Scandinavian Cooking on Channel 25.

---The local diner: This was featured in a TS post from February 1, 2012, and I'm happy to report that I have maintained my abstinence. The combination of a nasty-spirited owner, increased prices and decreased quality of food makes this one a no-brainer.

---The local shoe repair shops: Its a good thing that I am no longer employed in the occupation that
had me dressing up every work day in my Ferragamo's and Allen-Edmonds'. I would either need to ship my shoes out for resoling or other such maintenance or travel to another town to seek a more agreeable merchant. The two repair shops nearest to me have two of the nastiest curmudgeons behind the counter that you'll ever have the displeasure of dealing with. I suspect its the daily exposure to chemical fumes used in tanning and shoemaking that is creating such an unpleasant environment, but whatever it is, I haven't stepped foot (tee hee) in either of them for almost eight years. I learned how to shine and polish my shoes in military school anyway, so fuck 'em.

---The local 'Mediterranean' lunch shop: The home of the 30-minute wait for the $12 sandwich. Also the home of yet another nasty, reluctant employee. Notice a trend?

---The local 'globally sourced' gift shop: This is not so much a boycott as it is a complete disinterest in the goods they offer, but if I were in the market for a $70 teak candlestick made by an eight-year old in Indonesia that probably costs about $7 at wholesale, and would also like to fork over that money to (yet another) nasty shop-owner, this would be the place for me.

---Exxon/Mobil: The Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster took place in March of 1989. I avoided filling my tank at any Exxon station following that, but this total lockdown only lasted a few years. I gradually drifted back to the sign of the tiger, eventually becoming a credit card holder when they merged with Mobil. I have at least two friends who still refuse to buy Exxon products, and I applaud their persistence, and, resourcefulness, as Exxon dominates the gas station landscape around these parts.

 But, let's take a look at this more closely: nearly every major oil company has blood on its hands from either an environmental disaster or from negligent operating practices around the globe. Shell has a horrendous environmental and social track record in Nigeria; BP had its own Exxon Valdez with Deepwater Horizon; Mobil has had numerous spills of varying magnitude causing widespread damage. The list is huge. If you drive a car that requires motor fuel to power it, you need to visit a gas station regularly, in fact, you are directly contributing to the underlying problem merely by driving your car. Do you really want to stage a protest against the oil companies? Get a horse.

-----------------------

I also avoid the following businesses or types of businesses based upon emotional, psycho-somatic or socio-economic conditions or reactions: Costco or BJ's (I've suffered an anxiety attack on the two occasions that I reluctantly visited either of these big box stores); Fast-food outlets (The last time I walked into a Burger King or McDonald's was way back in 1979 while on spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; the ensuing nausea and intestinal distress scared me off for good); and, finally, mayonnaise. I have never even tried mayonnaise, not even mistakenly. I daresay I am the only person of my age, or other, who eats solid food and who has never even sampled mayonnaise. I also daresay that this is one boycott that will most certainly be permanent.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Eight Hundred Witnesses


It was like a flare, a cheap firework
bright, very fast
high and very fast
but swirling, spiraling up

a flash of light,
hard white,
twirling through the humid summer night
like a roman candle launched from the beach
at a fourth of july clambake.

The phone rang.
It was my daughter, calling to see if I could pick her up.

Another flash from straight out of the water,
then two showers of flames
spreading over the water, my ocean.

I told them I saw something
a missile or something
but maybe I didn't see anything.

I'm certain of it, that flash of light, a missile
or something.
I know I saw it but maybe I didn't.
And now?
It's just a poem.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Shaving Chronicles, Part the seventh.

If you are a regular visitor to the 'Scat, you will know my deep and very real hatred for shaving. I hate it. Really hate it.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I love the feeling and the look of my freshly-shaven face in the morning; it's the work involved in getting to that point that pisses me off so much. It's like painting a wall in your house: preparation is 90% of the job, and if you mess up one or more of those steps, you're screwed.

I've tried everything since my last shaving rant, including growing beards of various lengths, shapes and styles, but, I gotta face it, I'm just not a beard guy. I need to shave.

Enter "Dollar Shave Club".

I've been a past subscriber to Esquire magazine, and even though I've allowed it to lapse, they still find a way to email me every so often with a plaintive, heartfelt request for my return to the fold. So, I hit on the site every so often, mostly to look at the ads. One day, I noticed a no-nonsense promotion for something known as the Dollar Shave Club, with a tag line, "Shave Time. Shave Money.". I was intrigued by any cost-saving yet effective alternative to the drudgery of this almost daily ritual of removing the unsightly and unevenly distributed whiskers from my 53-year old mug, so I decided to find out more.

DSC is an online retailer selling what they describe as high-quality razor blade cartridges at a huge cost savings over the big brand-names we find in the men's grooming aisles. Their home page features a short video starring the company's founder and CEO, a young, good looking fella with considerable acting skills. This guy had me laughing enough to make me suspect that he was, in fact, an actor, so, in true 'Scat fashion, I engaged in some research to make sure this wasn't just a front for Gillette or Schick.

Turns out the dude's for real. His name is Michael Dubin and he did actually have a short career in the entertainment industry, starting out as a page at NBC and doing some writing and production work at MSNBC. So, that bit of ham acting in the promo video is genuine. But the best part of the story is the genesis of the company. Dubin is a lot like me: he's pissed off at the big name shaving industry. So pissed off that he took his $35,000 life savings, drove around to Los Angeles' media outlets to get exposure. He got his first 1,000 customers without spending a dime on marketing or advertising.

The big idea was to sell shaving cartridges at cut-rate, on a monthly 'subscription' basis, to other men who are pissed off. He offers three varieties from which to choose (2-, 4- and 6-blades); I went for the four-blade version and it will cost me, here it comes, only $6/month, shipping and handling included. Not bad when you've been dropping up to $18 for four cartridges at the CVS, and hating every minute of it.

The company gained momentum, Dubin got investors on board, and now he has about 330,000 pissed off men who shave as 'members' of the club. I've yet to receive my first shipment, but I fully expect to be dazzled beyond my wildest expectations. Hey, as the video states, their blades are "fucking great".

* * * * * * * * * * *

Here's a postscript to the story: Dollar Shave Club has gotten the attention of at least one of the big guys. During one of the Olympics broadcasts, a commercial for Gillette's Fusion blades has the voiceover telling us that it only will cost you "about a dollar a week" to use. It was only going to be a matter of time before they addressed the challenge, and by deftly using the word "dollar", they've made an association that is hard to ignore.