Shadow of a Doubt

An offer on twitter of a free ticket to see a Hitchcock film that I was sure I’d already seen. Little did I know – it was one of the middle period Hitchcock movies, and I was in for a treat. I had not only not seen it, but it has one of my all-time favourite actors in it.

Cotten. This guy’s a dream.

Apparently, he was in three world class directors best-known masterpieces. This one was dear Alfred‘s, The Third Man was Carol Reed‘s, and Citizen Kane was Orson Welles’. Not too shabby, eh?

Actually, lemme let Wikipedia explain what this film is:

 is a 1943 American / directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and starring Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten. Written by Thornton WilderSally Benson, and Alma Reville, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story for Gordon McDonell. In 1991, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.’

What an evening.

The day had started with a visit to The Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment and then a trip with one of my closest friends and his 9 year-old to The British Museum, which we sailed through in record time. Not that I’m proud of that. The whole point was to spend time with them. What we did was irrelevant. The British Museum was as nice a place as any for us to go, and she’d never been.

To imagine seeing all of those things through her eyes, I walked through the exhibits covering the ancient world. Saw the Rosetta Stone and the dude from Easter Island. What must it be like to be nine and wander through those rooms.

My goal?

To try seeing all this – this life I’m knee-deep in – from a nine year-old’s perspective. Certainly can’t hurt.

Five things to harass the Dying

thoughts of mortality are understandable especially when one’s on a Greek island like Astypalea (photo from 2010)
Recently, I was handed a German article about five things one should or could say to the dying to help them in their journey to the afterlife.
Never to pass up an opportunity to take the piss, I’ve decided to write my own list. Here are Five things to harass the dying:
  • Remind them what they’ve done or what they did
  • Point out to them that this (their life, their family, everything good and bad that they’ve done) will eventually be forgotten
  • Whatever palliative medicine they’re receiving, take it away and no matter how they beg for it, don’t give it back
  • Invite each of their enemies over (unexpectedly) for one last little chat
  • Make as many references to your plans once the dying person is finally gone

Now, I realise this isn’t the nicest of lists, but I have one very pointed question for those of you who may or may not be offended.

Why are we trying so hard to make things easier for the dying?

Certainly, if they’ve had a good life and made some sort of peace with everyone in it, then the above list will be useless. It won’t touch them. They’re immune from my machinations.

Lucky them.

Please don’t think I’ve done any of these things on my list. I’m actually quite pleasant and caring to the people in my life who’re at death’s door. I learned quite a lot while watching my father slowly die of complications related to his diabetes.

He died six years ago last week, and lately my thoughts’ve been swirling around topics of mortality. It’s actually quite understandable.

So, what’d possess me to make such a heartless list of cruelty like the one above? What’s wrong with me?

Well, I’ve got a simple answer for you in the form of a few questions.

Why? Why should I forgive what’s been done to me? What benefit does it serve?

I know a bit about Buddhism, and I know the tenet that carrying around such bitterness is akin to taking poison. Not only am I aware of this, but I even try to practice forgiveness. And most of the time I’m pretty good at it. Most of the time.

But like an irregular French verb, there are always exceptions. And what to do with those? Aren’t there some things that’re unforgivable? I believe that the jury’s still out on that one.

Believing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Are you really going to listen to Winston?

What I’m going to talk about, probably many or most of you have no idea. Well, you might know about it. But it’s very likely not the obsession for you that it is for me.

Yet the actual thing I want to talk about is universal and quite applicable to many people’s lives. It’s the way I want to get there that might need a bit of ‘splainin‘.

If you know me elsewhere, particularly in real life or on twitter, you know that I’m quite passionate about football. Soccer, Fußball, fútbol…whatever you want to call it. I could go into how I got into football, but that’s for another blogpost. Instead, I want to talk about my hometown team: FC Bayern München (although it’s my adopted hometown, it’s very much my home). In the interest of full disclosure, I should inform you that I support the other local club in Munich…again, that’s for some other time.

See, the local team lost an important match the other night, and it got me thinking about winning and losing. About success and failure. About the things that sport allegedly teaches us, but that are so often lacking at the highest levels.

Saying that this particular  soccer game was important is an understatement. They were playing the final of the Champion’s League on their home pitch (their own stadium), which is something no-one had done since AS Roma in the 80s back when the Champion’s League was still called the Europa Cup. From what I understand, it’s never been won by the home side.

FC Bayern wanted to be the first. There was an air of inevitability about it. The football gods were assumed to be smiling down on this team. All was set up for their domination of the final match against what many thought was an inferior football team (London’s Chelsea FC).

But then the home team lost. Dramatically. Painfully, if you were a fan of said club. However, if you supported the visitor’s, the whole thing could not have been better scripted. You’d be much happier with those football gods in the post-game elation. Deities that you’d formerly cursed were now not only forgiven but even given their due. It was a beautiful night in the Bavarian capital for an English football organisation that had formerly experienced bitter defeat at the international level.

So those of you who could care less about sport…if you’re even still reading, what does this have to do with you? Actually, even if you have no interest in football, the bigger picture might have something to offer you. See, FC Bayern is quite proud of their ability to plan.

I could dislike the team for it’s success, but that is something I support and appreciate. Succeeding is all it’s cracked up to be. I suppose part of it is the money, but many football clubs at that level have astonishingly massive war chests. It’s not as if Chelsea is lacking for funds. Oh, and I could also fault the hometown club for their arrogance. Nothing surprising here. Any team, in any sport, that’s had as much success as they have, is likely to be arrogant about it.

But as much as I dislike all of those things, there’s one last component that irritates me as much as the others do. It might even annoy me more than the others.  This is the bigger picture I was talking about.

They think that if they plan properly, then they’re guaranteed success. That quite simply one can organise and strategise his way to victory. That’s not how it works. Not in sport and most definitely not in life.

Now, you may be one of those self-actualised sorts who believe you can do anything if you put your mind to it. What do I have to say to that? Nonsense. Maybe you’ve had some success with that line of thinking. In all likelihood, you’ll have more. But my experience has been that as much planning one does, you can’t disregard the intangibles.

You can’t guarantee winning. 

This is what sport is supposed to teach us. That you can fight and strive and struggle all you like, but eventually it could just not turn out the way you wanted. Not such a difficult concept to comprehend. Believing in one’s self or one’s destiny isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even my seven-year-old niece understands that one.

deciding in Portuguese

deciding in Portuguese

Often, I wonder if I’m at a severe disadvantage living in a country where the language being spoken is not my own. My German is quite good – well, passable. I love the culture, as well as the language, and I’m eager to learn and understand more.

Nevertheless, there’s still this niggling thing in the back of my mind that says, ‘You’re not a native speaker and you’re most likely losing your questionable English skills.‘ Oh, the horror.

Then I found this thing on Wired.com, and it somehow makes me weirdly optimistic. Most of us need a bit more optimism, so here it is:

Thinking in a Foreign Language Makes Decisions More Rational

This has nothing to do with other areas of life, but when it comes to decision making, navigating in a foreign tongue might be advantageous. Here’s how Boaz Keysar and his team at the University of Chicago put it:

‘It may be intuitive that people would make the same choices regardless of the language they are using, or that the difficulty of using a foreign language would make decisions less systematic. We discovered, however, that the opposite is true: Using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases…’

How do you like that? I wonder if the less you know a language, the more unbiased your decisions are. So, my Portuguese is nonexistent. I should only make decisions in Portuguese.

Am certain the majority of you are going to appreciate the complete and utter wonder of my resolve.

Eu fiz a minha decisão

beeps and burps

The video above starts with the woman asking her father how he’s getting along with the new iPad he was given recently. He answers that it’s just fine while he finishes cutting vegetables on it, rinses it off, and then loads it into the dishwasher.

Have been hearing a lot of noise from luddites lately. It’s understandable. Technology isn’t always easy to get accustomed to.

And rather than admit that it’s difficult or frustrating, it’s easier to say, ‘Why do I even need that newfangled gadget?’

The iPad? You don’t need one. You really don’t. It’s just a lot of unnecessary hype.

Unless you’ve actually used one. Then it’s an entirely different story.

I’m curious why I take to certain social media so easily (and so whole-heartedly) and not others. Nothing about MySpace attracted me. I had a lot of friends who did it, and it was certainly a place where musicians could display their work. But it looked somehow childish to me. Not childlike – childish. Definitely not in a good way.

Facebook? It was exciting at first. There were so many people with whom I thought I’d never be in contact again. For the first while, I was there all the damned time. Now? Not so much.

I really enjoyed StumbleUpon at first, and always think to myself, ‘You found such interesting sites with that one – you should go check it out again…’, but then I never do. And tumblr is something I heard people rave about for so long. I set mine up, and then couldn’t figure it out. So it lay dormant for half a year or so. I’ve since decided to put photos of my dogs Ella and Louis there. I suppose I’m using it a bit like flickr was intended.

Oh, I have flickr, too. And audioboo. And have just started using Storify. I really like it. There are times when I’ve had wonderfully bizarre conversations on one of the above-mentioned sites, and I’ve wondered how I could even begin to explain to an innocent bystander how that online conversation got to the ridiculous conclusion it did.

What led someone to suggest making a whole week of Sneaky Fucker posts? All the Twitter mentions of Sneaky Fucker Week? Where could those be assembled? Well…that’s what Storify appears to be for. Little did the creators of Storify know that they could’ve potentially be such an important part of the history of the internet. If only I’d known how to use that sight when all the Sneaky Fuckery was going on.

But I find myself pondering all of this and those luddites I mentioned at the beginning of all this. They have a point, you know. When I try explaining some conversation I’ve had, and setting up the scenario takes half an hour, because I have to explain who HazelBlackberry in Perth, Australia is or why ‘You don’t know my life‘ can send me into hysterics…when that happens and they cock their head and look at me like I’m a madman, they have a point.

Another thing I didn’t get into was Second Life. It seemed so ridiculous to me. Wait, you set up an avatar and could play a character and buy things with money that only existed there? When folk don’t understand social media, I try to remember how both MySpace and Second Life were incomprehensible to me.

There are all sorts of little beeps and burps that some sites use to tell you about what a friend just said about you on Facebook. Or Echofon whirs when there’s a mention on Twitter. Don’t even get me started on Tweetdeck and/or HootSuite. The idea might be great, but the constant cacophony whenever I have either of them open nearly makes me murderous (before you tell me you can mute all of those things, I’m well aware of that – I’m trying to make a point).

Recently heard someone ponder what sort of endorphins might be released when we get such audible signals. That someone out there in the universe that is the web has gone out of there way to tag me in his quest to conquer Farmville. Someone else has written a new blog that a few months ago I’d have written in an RSS feed at some point in the next few days, but today? Today, I get an alert on my phone. My phone buzzes, I salivate, my hands go digging in my bag or under the pile of newspapers that I’m neglecting because I’m reading the latest about someone buying Mashable for some astronomical amount of money. That vibrating phone means someone out there wants my attention.

And I, by God, am going to give it to them.

How to Build a Speech-Jamming Gun

This is a simple idea, and immediately remind me of the mocking game many of us played as children. You wanted to irritate your sibling/best friend, so you simply repeated everything they said back to them. Depending on your tenacity and persistence, this could be a game that brought at least one of you hours of fun.

But think about it for a minute. Wasn’t all that repetition of what they were saying a bit taxing? Quite a lot of work, actually. So imagine if you had a device that’d do all the work for you. That’s right, it’s almost as if technology has rushed into a void that you’d never have realised existed.

Imagine my delight when I found How to build a Speech-Jamming Gun. You can once again have all of the fun you experienced as a child without any of that strenuous mocking. As the site describes:

‘The idea is simple. Psychologists have known for some years that it is almost impossible to speak when your words are replayed to you with a delay of a fraction of a second.’

Now, I must admit: the headline is a bit misleading. The article doesn’t, in fact, tell you how to build one of these contraptions. But I’m too grateful for the knowledge that this Speech-Jamming Gun exists to bicker with particularities.

Please don’t ask me where to get one. I’m too busy thinking of the people in my daily life I’d relish using it on.

deceiving the one closest to you

I don't want to think about it

Since last week’s focus on deception, I’ve been thinking about something my grandmother used to say. I’m not good at direct quotes, but the idea was:

Before you can lie to somebody else, you often have to lie to yourself.

As a child, I tried desperately to prove this false. Repeatedly. I could tell my mother something knowing full well that it was a blatant falsehood. Honesty was very important to her, and I often rejected that path. To my detriment. But the more I learn about this, the more I can now see that it was harming me more than I could fathom.

Let me be clear. I don’t think I was terribly worse than other children. My suspicion is that it’s quite typical to lie. Imagine my delight when I found What a tangled web we weave by Robert Trivers. The sneaky deceptions many of us were talking about last week seemed to only scratch the surface.

My question was: Why are we deceptive? Can we get closer to the root of this?

Trivers asserts right off that, ‘In order to lie better to others, we must first fool ourselves.’ Oh, this is going to be good. I can already feel it. He goes on to say:

‘Deception is a very deep feature of life. Viruses practise it, as do bacteria, plants, insects and a wide range of other animals. It is everywhere. Even within our genomes, deception flourishes as selfish genetic elements use deceptive molecular techniques to over-reproduce at the expense of other genes. Deception infects all the fundamental relationships in life: parasite and host, predator and prey, plant and animal, male and female, neighbour and neighbour, parent and offspring…It (deception) always takes the lead in life, while detection of deception plays catch-up.’

There’s something reassuring about knowing that deception happens on a cellular level. I’m not rationalising that it’s acceptable to be deceptive. Actually, quite the opposite. I’m truthfully more interested in the consequences.

Here’s how he continues:

‘At the heart of our mental lives, there seemed to be a striking contradiction – we seek out information and then act to destroy it. On the one hand, our sense organs have evolved to give us a marvellously detailed and accurate view of the outside world – we see the world in colour and 3D, in motion, texture, non-randomness, embedded patterns and a great variety of other features. Likewise for hearing and smell.

Together, our sensory systems are organised to give us a detailed and accurate view of reality, exactly as we would expect if truth about the outside world helps us to navigate it more effectively. But once this information arrives in our brains, it is often distorted and biased to our conscious minds. We deny the truth to ourselves. We project on to others traits that are true of ourselves – and then attack them. We repress painful memories, create completely false ones, rationalise immoral behaviour, act repeatedly to boost positive self-opinion and show a suite of ego-defence mechanisms.’

And there we have it. Take the truth, as we know it, and twist it round to use it somehow to our advantage. Maybe you read the above, and think to yourself, ‘Wait, I don’t do that. Do I? Am I automatically deceiving myself, and the more I deny it, the more unavoidable that it’s the case?’

That’s definitely not my belief. I can’t begin to know how much you deceive yourself. Or even if you deceive yourself at all. I wouldn’t even begin to assume that it’s a matter of being human. Not in the least.

But the question again is: Why when we’re deceiving others is it somehow inherent that we simultaneously deceive ourselves?

He asserts that while it might be true that we simply want to feel good, and self-deception is the easiest way to stay blithely unaware, that it’s foolish to do so. To wilfully disregard the obvious. And Trivers‘ main point seems to be that lying to others, while the truth is constantly swimming round in your brain, is actually too much data to mentally handle. It’s easier for you to just start believing the lies you tell yourself. It’s oddly more economical. Brainspace-wise.

He has a whole section on how to spot a liar, as well as one on self-deception and sex, which are both intriguing and deserve their own blogposts. He even devotes some virtual ink to body language when a woman’s ovulating. That’s sort of worth a bit of reflection. Once more, this and the part that follows it about whether deception is beneficial for marriage is something I could go on about at length. I reserve the right to do so another time. Would that be interesting for any of you reading? I mean, you can always see what he has to see about it by clicking on the link.

Yet what I’m drawn to…what I want to talk about is what he offers as a solution to all of this. Too often we’re provided with some sort of sociological premise such as this one, and it seems like it’s a foregone conclusion that we’re helpless to do anything to change it. That it’s somehow set in stone. I’m not so sure I would’ve brought this to you if I thought that was the case.

Here’s how Trivers argues against perpetuating the self-deception:

Self-deception, by serving deception, only encourages it, and more deception is not something I favour. I do not believe in building one’s life, one’s relationships, or one’s society on lies. The moral status of deceit with self-deception seems even lower than that of simple deception alone, since simple deception fools only one organism – but when combined with self-deception, two are being deceived.

In addition, by deceiving yourself, you are spoiling your temple or structure. You are agreeing to base your behaviour on falsehoods, with negative downstream effects that may be very hard to guess, yet intensify with time.’

Isn’t that great? Too much of what I hear/read about is so nihilistic. So jaded by what people seem to think of as the hopelessness of it all. Of modernity in general. But here’s somebody saying: Hey, it matters. What you do, what you say – it matters. Cynical is the easy way. The lazy road.

Then he gets personal:

‘In my life, self-deception is often experienced as a series of minor benefits followed by a major cost. I will be overly self-confident, project that image and enjoy some of the illusions, only to suffer a sharp reversal later on, based in part on the blindness induced by this overconfidence. I believe this is a general rule in life, that the cost of ignorance takes a while to kick in, while the benefit of self-deception may be immediate.’

This one I had to think about for a while. A long while. I’ve been writing this in my head for days, and it was here that I just had to take some time to let it sink in. Self-deception is the short cut. It’s the get-rich-quick scheme. It’s thinking that everyone else who’s working so hard to get something in life is a chump. If you need to ponder this one a few moments, don’t let me stop you.

Finally, he suggests a few ways in which one can go about attempting to counter self-deception:

‘There are other outlets, too: meditation, prayer, disclosure of trauma, even if only to a private journal. Friends are also useful as commentators on our ongoing life. In general, try to avoid overconfidence and unconsciousness. Showing off is a special kind of behaviour in which we tend both to be overconfident and deliberately to exaggerate our behaviour to impress others: it is one of the most dangerous things you can do.’

Oh, now wait a minute. Is he serious. It’s not enough for me to acknowledge all of this. I actually have to do something about it? No. You really don’t. The thing about the drama of life is that the more nonsense you create the more nonsense you have to deal with. But there’s nothing that says you have to stop creating nonsense. It doesn’t say that anywhere.

Isn’t it more pleasant to be unconscious? To continue to be blithely unaware?

Pleasant? Maybe.

Alive?

Not so much.

Duckie the quintessential sneaky fucker

you sneaky fucker

This probably isn’t the best way to start out my addition to Sneaky Fucker Week, but it’s all I’ve got. The thing is…I’ve tried explaining this topic to a few people in my daily life and it’s been mostly met with complete incomprehension. I think it’s partially because it’s about the animal kingdom, and so much of what we do as civilised members of society is to try and convince ourselves that we’re inherently better than the animals. We are, right? Sure we are.

As long as I kept the topic within the realm of the lowly beasts, I got a lot more interest and discussion. That’s how it was originally intended and introduced, so I’ll actually start there. Amy started the ball rolling with her post Feline Fatal Attraction, which is quite funny and worrisome and a bit odd. Exactly what one would expect from Amy. She rarely fails to deliver.

But little did she know that what she’d done would actually be the spark of something. It was Andreas, who made an innocent aside in one of his comments about the above-mentioned blogpost, and here were his exact words:

‘Feline fatal attraction’ is a good one but it’s not the best. My favourite scientific term is the ‘Sneaky fucker strategy’, aka kleptogamy. It probably is rather self-explanatory but here goes: In species where males aim to gather a harem of females to mate with, there are two male strategies for successful mating.

The first one is to be as big and strong as possible in order to fight off the competition and win access to the females. This is however both costly and risky. You might spend more energy than you can replace, or you might get seriously injured.

The second strategy is to be a Sneaky fucker. This consists of avoiding any direct conflicts with the alpha males, and keep to the periphery of the harem of females. Then, when the leading male is busy fighting off any competing males, the Sneaky fucker male can sneak in and – well – fuck. And as long as he’s out of the way by the time the alpha male is back, he doesn’t risk getting into a fight.

It’s a brilliant strategy, and this is probably why it’s a very common strategy. So beware of the Sneaky fuckers.

Not so earth shattering, right? Wrong. It was such a curious and intriguing theory that it was decided that we would all write something about the Sneaky Fucker. Who’s we? Is there some sort of insular club of people who’d be allowed to take part in this? There absolutely was not. Anyone was (and is) invited.

This was definitely going to change our week, but try to think a bit more globally. What I’m about to describe could easily change not just the way we think about natural selection and survival of the fittest, but it could change the world as we know it. Hyperbole? Why, yes. Thank you.

Amy kicked off the festivities with her I’m a Lover, not a fighter, and I’m really built for speed, which was very entertaining, but made me question some of the immediate assumptions I made about Sneaky Fuckers. More on that soon.

Once again, it’s natural and logical (and a bit less threatening) to focus on animals when talking about this, so Andreas covered the actual theory by focusing on the example of some moose (he does an excellent job of avoiding any moose porn – something I’m not sure I would’ve been able to avoid). Here’s his contribution in The Art of Kleptogamy. So if we’d wanted to avoid the offensive title Sneaky Fucker Week, we could’ve call it Kleptogamy Week. Too late. Doesn’t have the same ring to it anyway.

Then on the heels of that, Lisa followed up the kleptogamism with How to Protect your Eggs from Kleptogamists. Somehow she was able to steer the discussion back to the familiar topic of Truck Balls, which continues to make me worry about her.

A number of people have admitted a bit of hesitation about taking part in Sneaky Fucker Week. For good reason. The title itself is salacious and potentially a bit rude. Although blogs like this one (and one or two of the ones already mentioned) tend to go for that sort of thing, there are some bloggers who’re writing with more sensitive readers in mind. I think Lisa (another Lisa – there can be more than one Lisa, you know) did a very tasteful and comical take on the whole thing in her Benjie: The story of a very sneaky little rascal. She sidesteps the whole reproductive aspect of the story by having little Benjie give his love interest a hug. Very cute. Hugs are cute.

Duckie doesn’t want a simple hug

Which brings us to Duckie Dale. If you don’t remember (or know) who that was, he was the side kick/best friend of Andie Walsh (played by Molly Ringwald) in one of those John Hughes movies back in the 80s. I’m purposely being vague, because I really don’t remember the story all that well. When some people blog about cultural history phenomena, I’m astounded at the things you remember. Some people can remember the entire script of this (or these) movies word for word.

But I remember the main idea. Duckie was undoubtedly a Sneaky Fucker. No question. He didn’t want a hug. He wanted to recreate some moose porn, but with him playing the part of the moose and Andie playing the lady moose. Did he tell her he wanted her? No, he did not.

Duckie was certainly there for Andie. He understood her feelings, commiserated when she was mistreated, and did all the slimy things that Amy talked about SNEAKY fuckers doing in her post. He was laying in wait. While I pondered this during the week, I wondered what became of ol’ Duckie after high school.

My contention is that he transitioned from a SNEAKY fucker to a sneaky FUCKER. You can get the intricacies of the difference if you actually go and read Amy’s post (link above). I know it’s long, but it’s worth it. See, I think Duckie started out all sneaky but once he got his heart broken, I believe he’d hone his skills that he’d only begun to develop.

I see him moving out to the coast, and getting a nice crash pad. Probably took some yoga classes and I’ll bet he got in touch with his inner child. But ladies if you run into Duckie, I promise you it’s not just his inner child he wants to get in touch with. Watch out for that guy. He’s the quintessential Sneaky Fucker.