Friday, August 01, 2008

My dream job.

That is all.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


[Update: Monday, July 21 -- I.R Iran's final Revue game vs. Utah Jazz was webcast on You can watch it here. Thanks for your support.]

Saturday, July 19 -- The Rocky Mountain Revue each year features up-and-coming basketball players in summer league competition. This year's Revue includes several NBA teams, an NBADL select team, and the Iranian National Team. So, the natural question is: Who dropped the ball on that one? Amidst the Bush administration's lengthy political wrestling match with Tehran, how did the NBA get away with inviting Iran's team to play summer league ball?

The answer is surprisingly simple. The Revue had a standing commitment to FIBA to include the Asia Continental Champion, which everyone expected would be China. Without superstar center Yao Ming, the Chinese team failed to advance, and Iran went on to defeat Lebanon in the championship. Iran? They haven't been competitive in basketball for more than 30 years.

So, the NBA, desperately needing some positive publicity (and with approval from the U.S. State Department), invited Iran to participate. And the Iranians, perhaps thinking it was all a joke, accepted. So, after more than a year of nuclear fear-mongering by the American media portraying Iran as our most imminent and dangerous enemy, we invited them to come over and play some pickup games? Brilliant!

Fast-forward to today, as the Iranians faced the Dallas Mavericks' summer league team in competition. If you have never been to Salt Lake City in July, it's 130 degrees, and there's not much going on other than the Revue. Also, it's not the most colorful town. And by that I mean it's mostly white folks out there in the desert. Usually.

But not today. Today the sand-colored crowd packed the gym at Salt Lake Community College to support Team Iran. They came from California, Florida, New York and Canada. They showed up two hours early with flags and banners and tambourines and cheered and chanted and sang until the very end. The Iranian team lost, but you wouldn't know it unless you were looking at the scoreboard. And I wasn't.

I was looking at the screen of my laptop, trying to find the webcast of the game through the Revue's website. Alas, I was later informed that the games would be neither webcast nor televised. I was suprised, since all of the NBA summer league games from Las Vegas were made viewable online, I assumed the Revue would be also. Certainly this tournament featuring the Iranian team on the soil of the Great Satan merits a webcast at the very least.

Then I began to notice a pattern. Revue officials did nowhere mention that Iran was participating in the tournament until opening day--all event programming listed the Iranian team as "FIBA Asian Champion." If you weren't a regular fan of Team Iran, there was no word of their participation until just a few days before the tournament. And finally, the passionate pro-Iran crowd was denied witness by national audiences, or any audiences for that matter. Why?

Why invite Iran to participate, go through the trouble of arranging the media circus and maximizing the public relations opportunities when nobody outside of the SLCC gym will be able to watch the game? If this was in fact the bold offering of goodwill that the U.S. State Department claims it to be, why back off now? So far, nobody is offering any simple explanations. The Utah Jazz, which organize and manage the Revue, offered their official statement on the matter as "No comment."

To me personally, it seems that perhaps someone didn't want the nation to see its Iranian-Americans waving Iranian flags and chanting in Farsi from the Mormon heartland. Perhaps that same someone wants us to believe that Iranians are some distant, foreign enemy, and not our neighbors or pickup-game teammates. And, as Americans, perhaps we should ask why that is.

During the course of certain events, there are moments, however fleeting or seemingly insignificant, that ultimately transcend our shared humanity. Journalists have often reflected on the the role that sports play in helping conflicted people resolve their differences. In 2006, a civil war in the Ivory Coast was put on hold to allow the embattled nation's soccer team to qualify for the World Cup. I can't help but feel that if any sport does indeed wield such tremendous influence, that influence is being egregiously wasted.

Today, I watched players representing my hometown exchange gifts and hugs with players representing my homeland. Today, I witnessed two nations with a long and storied history of polar ideologies put their differences aside, and not for some grand design, but for a simple basketball game. It makes me want to believe that anything might be possible. Well, maybe anything except watching the game on TV.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Creativity + Technology = ???

Sometimes an equation can sum up to ... music!

Nude aka Big Ideas (Don't Get Any) -- by Radiohead.

Performed by defunct electronics equipment.

Friday, June 06, 2008

"A lot of times in politics you have people look you in the eye and tell you what's not on their mind."—Sochi, Russia, April 6, 2008

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office." —Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008

"Oftentimes people ask me, 'Why is it that you're so focused on helping the hungry and diseased in strange parts of the world?'" —Washington, D.C., April 18, 2008

"Take the Middle East seriously because that's the center of—that's the place where people get so despondent and despair that they're willing to come and take lives of U.S. citizens."—on advice he would give the next president, Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OBGYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."—Poplar Bluff, Missouri, September 6, 2004

"I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein."—Washington D.C., May 23, 2004

"I welcome you all to say a few comments to the TV, if you care to do so."—Washington D.C., December 7, 2007

"If you've got somebody in harm's way, you want the president being ... making advice, not ... be given advice by the military, and not making decisions based upon the latest Gallup poll or focus group."—New Albany, Ind., November 13, 2007

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."—Washington D.C., August 5, 2004

"They misunderestimated me."—Washington D.C., November 6, 2000

"I'm oftentimes asked, What difference does it make to America if people are dying of malaria in a place like Ghana? It means a lot. It means a lot morally, it means a lot from a—it's in our national interest."—Accra, Ghana, Feb. 20, 2008

"And so, General, I want to thank you for your service. And I appreciate the fact that you really snatched defeat out of the jaws of those that are trying to defeat us in Iraq."—Washington D.C., March 3, 2008

"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."—Lacrosse, Wisc., October 18, 2000

"I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft."—St. Louis, Missouri, October 8, 2004

"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."—Saginaw, Mich., September 29, 2000

"And so the fact that they purchased the machine meant somebody had to make the machine. And when somebody makes a machine, it means there's jobs at the machine-making place." —Mesa, Arizona, May 27, 2008

"I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal." —Washington, D.C., May 13, 2008

"There's an old saying in Tennessee ... I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee, that says, fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. Fool me twice ... you can't get fooled again."—Nashville, Tenn., September 17, 2002

"How can you possibly have an international agreement that's effective unless countries like China and India are not full participants?" —Camp David, April 19, 2008"

We want people owning their home — we want people owning a businesses." —Washington, D.C., April 18, 2008

"So long as I'm the president, my measure of success is victory — and success." —on Iraq, Washington, D.C., April 17, 2008

"Thank you, your Holiness. Awesome speech." —to Pope Benedict, Washington, D.C., April 15, 2008

"A lot of times in politics you have people look you in the eye and tell you what's not on their mind." —Sochi, Russia, April 6, 2008

"Afghanistan is the most daring and ambition mission in the history of NATO." —Bucharest, Romania, April 2, 2008

"Soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coastmen — Coast Guardmen, thanks for coming, thanks for wearing the uniform." —at the Pentagon, March 19, 2008

"I thank the diplomatic corps, who is here as well." —Washington, D.C., March 12, 2008

"Removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision now, and it will be the right decision ever." —Washington, D.C., March 12, 2008

"Let me start off by saying that in 2000 I said, 'Vote for me. I'm an agent of change.' In 2004, I said, 'I'm not interested in change —I want to continue as president.' Every candidate has got to say 'change.' That's what the American people expect." —Washington, D.C., March 5, 2008

"And so, General, I want to thank you for your service. And I appreciate the fact that you really snatched defeat out of the jaws of those who are trying to defeat us in Iraq." —to Army Gen. Ray Odierno, Washington, D.C., March 3, 2008

"Wait a minute. What did you just say? You're predicting $4-a-gallon gas? ... That's interesting. I hadn't heard that." —Washington, D.C., Feb. 28, 2008

"I'm oftentimes asked, What difference does it make to America if people are dying of malaria in a place like Ghana? It means a lot. It means a lot morally, it means a lot from a — it's in our national interest." —Accra, Ghana, Feb. 20, 2008

"There is no doubt in my mind when history was written, the final page will say: Victory was achieved by the United States of America for the good of the world." —addressing U.S. troops at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, Jan. 12, 2008

"I can press when there needs to be pressed; I can hold hands when there needs to be — hold hands." —on how he can contribute to the Middle East peace process, Washington, D.C., Jan. 4, 2008

"In the State of the Union a couple of years ago, I addressed the issue of steroids, and the reason I did so is because I understand the impact that professional athletes can have on our nation's youth. And I just urge our — those in the public spotlight, particularly athletes, to understand that when they violate their bodies, they're sending a terrible signal to America's young." —on the baseball steroids scandal, Dec. 14, 2007

"The decisions we make in Washington have a direct impact on the people in our country, obviously." —New Albany, Ind., Nov. 13, 2007

"In other words, he was given an option: Are you with us or are you not with us? And he made a clear decision to be with us, and he's acted on that advice." —on President Pervez Musharraf, Crawford, Texas, Nov. 10, 2007

"We're going to — we'll be sending a person on the ground there pretty soon to help implement the malaria initiative, and that initiative will mean spreading nets and insecticides throughout the country so that we can see a reduction in death of young children that — a death that we can cure." —Washington, D.C., Oct. 18, 2007

"All I can tell you is when the governor calls, I answer his phone." —San Diego, Calif., Oct. 25, 2007

"I fully understand those who say you can't win this thing militarily. That's exactly what the United States military says, that you can't win this military." —on the need for political progress in Iraq, Washington, D.C., Oct. 17, 2007

"My job is a decision-making job, and as a result, I make a lot of decisions." —The Decider, Lancaster, Pa., Oct. 3, 2007

"I got a lot of Ph.D.-types and smart people around me who come into the Oval Office and say, 'Mr. President, here's what's on my mind.' And I listen carefully to their advice. But having gathered the device, I decide, you know, I say, 'This is what we're going to do.'" —Lancaster, Pa., Oct. 3, 2007

"You know, when you give a man more money in his pocket — in this case, a woman more money in her pocket to expand a business, it — they build new buildings. And when somebody builds a new building somebody has got to come and build the building. And when the building expanded it prevented additional opportunities for people to work." —Lancaster, Pa., Oct. 3, 2007

"As yesterday's positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured." —on the No Child Left Behind Act, Washington, D.C., Sept. 26, 2007

"We're also talking to different finance ministers about how we can send a message to the Iranian government that the free world is not going to tolerate the development of know-how in how to build a weapon, or at least gain the ability to make a weapon." —Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2007

"All of us in America want there to be fairness when it comes to justice." —Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2007

"I heard somebody say, 'Where's (Nelson) Mandela?' Well, Mandela's dead. Because Saddam killed all the Mandelas." —on the former South African president, who is still very much alive, Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2007

"Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your introduction. Thank you for being such a fine host for the OPEC summit." —addressing Australian Prime Minister John Howard at the APEC Summit, Sept. 7, 207

"As John Howard accurately noted when he went to thank the Austrian troops there last year..." —referring to Australian troops as "Austrian troops," APEC Business Summit, Sept. 7, 2007

"We're kicking ass." —on the security situation in Iraq, to Australian Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, Sydney, Australia, Sept. 5, 2007

"I've got God's shoulder to cry on. And I cry a lot. I do a lot of crying in this job. I'll bet I've shed more tears than you can count, as president." —as quoted by author Robert Draper in Dead Certain

"The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th." —Washington, D.C., July 12, 2007

"I'm going to try to see if I can remember as much to make it sound like I'm smart on the subject." —answering a question about a possible flu pandemic, Cleveland, July 10, 2007

"You know, I guess I'm like any other political figure: Everybody wants to be loved." —Washington, D.C., July 12, 2007

"More than two decades later, it is hard to imagine the Revolutionary War coming out any other way." —Martinsburg, W. Va., July 4, 2007

"I've heard he's been called Bush's poodle. He's bigger than that." —on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as quoted by the Sun newspaper, June 27, 2007

"Amnesty means that you've got to pay a price for having been here illegally, and this bill does that." —on the immigration reform bill, Washington, D.C., June 26, 2007

"This process has been drug out a long time, which says to me it's political." —discussing the controversy surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, Sofia, Bulgaria, June 11, 2007

"These are big achievements for this country, and the people of Bulgaria ought to be proud of the achievements that they have achieved." —Sofia, Bulgaria, June 11, 2007

"Bush goes to Hel. That's what a lot of people want." —on his visit to the Hel Peninsula, Gdansk, Poland, Jun. 8, 2007

"There's a lot of blowhards in the political process, you know, a lot of hot-air artists, people who have got something fancy to say." —Washington, D.C., May 17, 2007

"My relationship with this good man is where I've been focused, and that's where my concentration is. And I don't regret any other aspect of it. And so I — we filled a lot of space together." —on British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington, D.C., May 17, 2007

"What I'm telling you is there's too many junk lawsuits suing too many doctors." —Washington, D.C., May 10, 2007

"You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 — 1976." —to Queen Elizabeth, Washington, D.C., May 7, 2007

"I'm honored to be here with the eternal general of the United States, mi amigo Alberto Gonzales." —Washington, D.C., May 4, 2007

"Information is moving — you know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogosphere and through the Internets." —Washington, D.C., May 2, 2007

"The question is, who ought to make that decision? The Congress or the commanders? And as you know, my position is clear — I'm a commander guy." —who apparently is no longer "The Decider," Washington, D.C., May 2, 2007

"Wisdom and strength, and my family, is what I'd like for you to pray for." —Washington, D.C., May 2, 2007

"Either we'll succeed, or we won't succeed. And the definition of success as I described is sectarian violence down. Success is not no violence." —on Iraq, Washington, D.C., May 2, 2007

"And so, what Gen. Petraeus is saying, some early signs, still dangerous, but give me — give my chance a plan to work." —in an interview with Charlie Rose, April 24, 2007

"There are jobs Americans aren't doing. ... If you've got a chicken factory, a chicken-plucking factory, or whatever you call them, you know what I'm talking about." —George W. Bush. Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"There are some similarities, of course (between Iraq and Vietnam). Death is terrible." —Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"I've been in politics long enough to know that polls just go poof at times." —Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"My job is a job to make decisions. I'm a decision — if the job description were, what do you do — it's decision maker." —Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"Politics comes and goes, but your principles don't. And everybody wants to be loved — not everybody. ... You never heard anybody say, 'I want to be despised, I'm running for office.'" —Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"I said to her, make sure the rug says 'optimistic person comes to work.'" —on his instructions to First Lady Laura Bush in choosing a rug for the Oval Office, Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"One of my concerns is that the health care not be as good as it can possibly be." —on military benefits, Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"Forms of government matter, in my opinion. It matters how — the nature of the government in which people live." —Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"My attitude is, if they're still writing about (number) one, 43 doesn't need to worry about it." —on his legacy, Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"A good marriage is really good after serving together in Washington, D.C." —Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"The best thing about my family is my wife. She is a great first lady. I know that sounds not very objective, but that's how I feel. And she's also patient. Putting up with me requires a lot of patience." —Tipp City, Ohio, April 19, 2007

"Iraq is a very important part of securing the homeland, and it's a very important part of helping change the Middle East into a part of the world that will not serve as a threat to the civilized world, to people like — or to the developed world, to people like — in the United States." —Washington, D.C., April 3, 2007

"Suiciders are willing to kill innocent life in order to send the projection that this is an impossible mission." —George W. Busy, Washington, D.C., April 3, 2007

"And my concern, David, is several." —to NBC's David Gregory, Washington, D.C., April 3, 2007

"The solution to Iraq — an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself — is more than a military mission. Precisely the reason why I sent more troops into Baghdad." —Washington, D.C., April 3, 2007

"That's why we are inconveniencing air traffickers, to make sure nobody is carrying weapons on airplanes." —Washington, D.C., April 3, 2007

"Some call this civil war; others call it emergency — I call it pure evil." —Washington, D.C., March 28, 2007

"I'm a strong proponent of the restoration of the wetlands, for a lot of reasons. There's a practical reason, though, when it comes to hurricanes: The stronger the wetlands, the more likely the damage of the hurricane." —New Orleans, March 1, 2007

"And there is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I'm sorry it's the case, and I'll work hard to try to elevate it." —interview on National Public Radio, Jan. 29, 2007

"I think that the vice president is a person reflecting a half-glass-full mentality." —interview on National Public Radio, Jan. 29, 2007

"And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life's moving on, that they're able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table." —interview on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Jan. 16, 2007

"The best way to defeat the totalitarian of hate is with an ideology of hope — an ideology of hate — excuse me —with an ideology of hope." —Fort Benning, Ga., Jan. 11, 2007

"I don't particularly like it when people put words in my mouth, either, by the way, unless I say it." —Crawford, Texas, Nov. 10, 2007

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Silicon Valley Fight Clubs

This story is chock-full of postmodern masculine-ideological subtext. And self-loathing.

Monday, April 14, 2008

"The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word 'war,' therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist." ~ George Orwell, 1984.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More Than Meets The Eye

Next time that your cd drive refuses to eject a disc, or your phone mysteriously loses power, it may really be the first step toward the human-robot war. Today is the launch date for the Symbrion project, a $9.3-million venture funded by the European Union to create "Symbiotic Evolutionary Robot Organisms." Robots that communicate, cooperate, adapt and, essentially, think.

Okay, Symbrion isn't exactly building Optimus Prime quite yet. The concept involves mass-producing small robots, each roughly the size of a sugar cube. The robots would then join together to form a larger robot, a phenomenon scientists have cheerfully dubbed, "swarming." The swarm could hypothetically take the shape of anything, from a bridge to a wheel to a giant spider. Each robot in the swarm would function independently, but also be able to perform specific functions to benefit the whole.

Researchers envision deploying the robots in disaster areas, such as mine or building collapses, to look for survivors. Prof. Alan Winfield, a Symbrion researcher from the University of West England, described "Dropping hundreds of these small robots into a crevice after a building has collapsed. They would find each other and maybe connect together to form a snake-shaped object that could wriggle through the wreckage."

When joined, the robots share energy and computing power and create a more versatile organism. Each robot will be programmed with software to allow it to configure and optimize its own performance, and effectively heal itself if damaged. Winfield compared the concept to a sponge or jelly fish colony, "In a sponge, even if there is damage to some parts, the overall organism still survives."

So basically, the wet dream of every Transformers fan is finally coming to fruition. To be honest, the $9.3 million budget seems quite modest in respect to the possibilities that the project offers. It might not be artificial intelligence, but how long until a self-programming, self-adapting, self-replicating, self-healing robot becomes self aware?

Military robots have been in use for some time now, and commercial robots are gaining acceptance, but the idea of a swarm of unstoppable robotic spiders and snakes is not appealing to me.

Technology has empowered us with the ability to do amazing and once-unimaginable things, but we still need to question the practical wisdom of endeavors that displace the basic element of humanity and approach the apocalyptic science fiction of Hollywood. Hopefully, the brain trust behind Symbrion will remember that there are some tasks robots were not meant to perform.

The Symbrion project is currently recruiting Ph.D.s to conduct bioinformatics, evolutionary biology and genomics research. The project abstract, written by Prof. Paul Levi of the University of Stuttgart, Germany, is available here.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

ME: If It's All About You, You're in Trouble.

Broad pronouncement of the week: We are entitled brats.

For immediate proof, turn on the television. Locate a reality show on Bravo or MTV. The "Real Housewives of Orange County" and their real children are halfway through a marathon of placating and whining. "The Hills" and "Newport Harbor" are stocked with people who expect to be treated with a disproportionate amount of respect, lest they erupt in a raging meltdown.

We watch these shows in horror, with a judgmental eye on their cast members, but how different are we from them? In real life, we want what we want and we want it now. No delay. No aggravation. No hassle, pain-free, our way, right away. We're a highly technical society in a land of plenty. We place a premium on efficiency and convenience. Tiny annoyances and inconveniences foul our moods and affect our behaviors. Why? And how can we get past these trivialities?

Consider this paradox: Things are becoming more instantaneous in an era when delays are rampant and increasing. There are faster flights and cars but more people in airplanes and on the roads.

What has happened, even though companies are improving service, is that "customer expectations are continuing to rise," says Roger Nunley, managing director of the Customer Care Institute in Atlanta. This can be attributed to "consumers doing business online, where they get instant gratification and quick turnarounds. That's quickly becoming the standard expectation."

Change in expectations is a generational thing, experts say. People who grew up during the Depression were happy to have a job and stuck with one for a lifetime. Many members of generations X and Y were raised in a different light. They expect a buffet of opportunities and are peeved when they don't materialize.

Narcissism and entitlement among college students have increased steadily since 1979, according to a study to be published this year in the Journal of Personality. Between that year and 2006, 16,000 college students were asked to pick between such paired statements as "I expect a great deal from other people" and "I like to do things for other people," and "I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve" and "I will take my satisfactions as they come."

The data are clear: The ascent of narcissism and entitlement is dramatic.

"What we really have is a culture that has increasingly emphasized feeling good about yourself and favoring the individual over the group," says the study's co-author, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. "And that has happened across the board, culturally, and it's showing no signs of slowing down."

To complement her research, Twenge offers evidence from the field: "I have a 14-month-old daughter, and the clothing available to her has 'little princess,' or 'I'm the boss,' or 'spoiled rotten' written on it. This is what we're dressing our babies in."

Schools have programs designed to boost self-esteem. Parents say things like, "You shouldn't care what other people think of you." We're inundated with the notions of "feeling special," "believing in yourself" and "be anything you want to be." Twenge ponders all these messages in her book "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before" (Free Press, 2006).

Quite a title, but doesn't it feel kind of right? Twenge also coins the term "iGeneration" ("i" as in both iPod and "me, me, me"), which includes those of us born in the general range of 1981 to 1999.

This goes beyond social conditioning and technology, though. Entitlement is something that's part of human narcissism. It's an ego thing that transcends generations. When something goes wrong for others, it's their fault. When something goes wrong for us, it's not ours; it's the fault of external forces. We project blame.

This projection often antagonizes a situation. Feeling entitled to something you aren't getting leads to frustration, which leads to bratty behavior and confrontation. Nearly 80 percent of Americans say rudeness -- particularly behind the wheel, on cellphones and in customer service -- should be regarded as a serious national problem, according to a study by the opinion research firm Public Agenda.

An airport is a petri dish for rude behavior: a bunch of people in close quarters under time constraints. Stress and impatience lay down the welcome mat for brattiness.

"You have people screaming at customer representatives at airports because it's snowing out -- as if they're entitled to have a sunny day," says professor W. Keith Campbell, who specializes in the study of narcissism at the University of Georgia. "That's where it gets out of hand. With entitlement, the issue is, yeah, there are certain times where we're entitled and other times we're not. The problem is when we have that meter wrong."

It's unreasonable to spend an hour on hold, in other words, but there are situations when basic entitlement turns into self-infatuation and blatant disrespect for others. All of this is tied to the feeling of not being satisfied, of thinking that some force is blocking the way to a goal we think we deserve.

"The question is, 'What the heck is enough?' " says writer and psychologist Carl Pickhardt, who specializes in parenting and child development in his private practice in Austin. "I see that all the time. A couple comes in for marriage counseling, and they ask me, 'Are we happy enough?' Somebody's at a job they like, but are they successful enough? People have to make that choice. We are a dissatisfaction market society. Advertising constantly creates the notion that whatever we have is not enough. We can declare independence of that."

But how? It's about realigning our expectations and then squelching the nagging voice in our minds that propels our discontent. Pennsylvania psychologist Pauline Wallin calls this voice our "inner brat," which is an evil twin to our "inner child." After years of counseling clients who routinely made mountains out of molehills, Wallin dived into the concept, named it and produced the book "Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide for Transforming Self-Defeating Behavior" (Wildcat Canyon Press, 2004).

"We have enough big things to be upset about, and people are losing their minds over small things," she says. "Frustration leads to aggression. If you don't let yourself get frustrated in the first place, then you don't get so angry and you don't blow things out of proportion."

Stress also fuels bratty behavior. It makes us impatient and irritable from the get-go. Psychologist Ronald Nathan of Albany, N.Y., recommends practicing relaxation techniques when waiting for such things as the Metro, the doctor or tech support. This turns a disadvantage (the frustration of waiting) into an advantage (making good use of that time to relax).

"Whether you are tempted to interrupt someone or are trying to get around a slow car -- when you're under stress you tend to react rather than respond," says Nathan, who specializes in stress. "Look at what you're telling yourself about your world and how you are interpreting it. We sometimes interpret the world as a set of 'shoulds,' 'oughts,' 'have to's,' 'musts,' 'deserves.' Those are exaggerations. It's a very competitive world we live in, so we easily get frustrated."

Nathan has trademarked a technique for stress relief that has a time-release formula. It involves setting some kind of unobtrusive alarm -- the vibrate function on your cellphone, for example -- to remind you to take several minutes to do some deep belly breathing and loosen your muscles and limbs. After several months of conditioning yourself to do this at certain times of the day, this kind of reframing of the mind can become automatic.

Another habit to form is being grateful. Clinical experiments show that people who express gratitude in some form every day live more-content lives, and they record lower levels of narcissism and entitlement.

"On the drive home from work, it's a matter of turning the radio off and thinking about how wonderful your job is or, if your job sucks, how wonderful your family is or, if your family's in shambles, how good your health is," says psychology professor Mike McCullough, who studies gratitude at the University of Miami.

He helped conduct one experiment titled "Counting Blessings Versus Burdens," wherein one group kept a journal of their daily hassles for a period of time while another recorded the times they were grateful. The outcome may be obvious, but it is no less instructive: People who concentrated on hassles were generally miserable; the others were pleased and satisfied.

It comes down to perspective and expectations. Do you want empty highways, no lines, a promotion and limousine conveyance to your birthday party? Fine. But don't expect them. Focus on your reliable car, your good health, your job stability or the fact that you're in a position to celebrate a birthday at all.

"When you're feeling this sense of deprivation or entitlement, try to take the longer view," McCullough urges. "Ask yourself, 'Is it really true -- empirically true -- that you are entitled to something?' In most cases, people say no."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Have You Heard This?

In searching for the best music of 2007, I reviewed the picks provided by Billboard, Spin, Rolling Stone, MetaCritic, Variety, CNet, NPR, Amazon, and several national newspapers. The verdict? I didn't like anything on any of their lists. So who's picking this stuff? Cambodian refugees? Gitmo detainees? The homeless? I like to think I know a few things about music; that I know a hip beat when I smell it.

Everyone likes to be unique (read: cool) with their music choices. Recommend good music to someone who's never heard it and they'll suddenly perceive you as a sophisticated person with refined cultural tastes; as if you've opened for them some metaphysical door to the possibility of new experiences. Those in positions of persuasion become mad with influence (because they work for Spin or RS), and start recommending overly-eclectic music (read: garbage), simply to demonstrate that they have access to it. They've heard what you haven't.

"Oooh, it's so metaphorically postmodern-deconstructionist because it doesn't even sound like music."

Yes, and not coincidentally, nobody can stand listening to it.

I had a friend from Berkeley who listened to hip-hop artists like Cunninlynguists and Andre Nickatina. I caught a whiff of her playlist, and after she heard me listening to her bands, the snob locked me out of her musical preferences completely. Later, I overheard some jazz music and asked her about it, and she replied, "Just some random African jazz." Really? The song had no title? The band was anonymous? Jeez.

For the record, your ability to sort through piles of Indie trash does not make you "cool." It is an indicator that different parts of the country are exposed to different things. One of the drawbacks of mass production is that certain geographic areas become demographically stereotyped, resulting in a narrowing of tastes into what becomes known as "mainstream." Sometimes good art gets cut out, purely because of the costs of production, shipping or advertising. More importantly, it is important to recognize that in a greater sense, our perspectives on life are directly connected our respective locations in it.

More to the point, if you want exposure to Cunninlynguists or Andre Nickatina in Santa Fe, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City or the Bible Belt, hopefully you have an enlightened friend because you're not going to hear them on the radio. What's worse, even if you have a friend in a culture-rich city like San Francisco or New York, the atmosphere in such places tends to de-generate people into snobs who won't share their sophisticated tastes with you.

They've worked hard to gain access to informed opinions, develop a certain sophistication, and achieve an elusive, elevated social status. Now, entrusted as gatekeepers for the rest of us plebians, what do they do? They lock us out.

It's a dichotomous reverse-evolution: Those who grow rich in social and cultural knowledge, who are immersed in it, tend to denigrate and even despise the individuals that are part of it. In my opinion, the joke is on YOU, music snob, because at the heart of your aggrandized egotism is a cruel and ironic self-loathing that prevents you from getting over your own ego. Personally, I'm glad I can't relate to that.

By the way, I've got something that you MUST hear ...