Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

March Sunshine

Friday became OK.
Unnamed leafies.

Anonymous petals.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Getting more

How to negotiate to achieve your goals in the real world.

This is about a book.

This is not about a book.

There is a book by this title, and I read it. In the middle I thought hey, I understand this.

Living somewhere else would be constant negotiation. Maybe this method could provide a model for understanding, for living. For not being a doofus.


One thing I can say is this is a pleasant book to read. I can see why it is popular. It's the anecdotes. Anecdotes all over. It may be exactly 99 and 44/100ths percent anecdotes, but who's counting? The reading is breezy.

It is a smooth ride down a wide street with wind in your hair. Everything always works. Smiles abound. There are surpluses of satisfaction.

You forget that you expected to learn "How to negotiate to achieve your goals in the real world." You get all kinds of stories, with whipped cream and a pinch of catnip for Fritz as well. You forget that some negotiations fail.

Not to complain though. This is fun, done well. The core is there, a few pages in. You have to pay attention. You can still learn it. It's there.

Stuart Diamond wrote this. He is "one of the world's leading experts on negotiation", and taught at Wharton, and Harvard, and Columbia, NYU, USC, and Berkeley, and, in Dnepropetrovsk, put his hand right on the nozzle of a nuclear-tipped missile that had once been aimed pretty technically at Minneapolis, and negotiated there.

And I haven't, and didn't, and all that. Which is cool. We can't all do everything, which in turn is a good reason to read a book like this and find out stuff. He's good at this. I'm not. I need to learn.

Here is a spoiler: you can read "How to win friends and influence people", by Dale Carnegie instead. And get mostly the same story.

They are really the same book in a lot of ways, though Dale Carnegie is more general.

Key points:
  1. Goals are paramount: What you want? Get that.
  2. It's about them: Know the pictures in their heads.
  3. Make emotional payments: Logic helps but feelings rule.
  4. Every situation is different: Flex. Adapt. Scheme.
  5. Incremental is best: Like dawn, bring the light with baby steps.
  6. Trade things you value unequally: Big, small, tangible, intangible. Barter them.
  7. Find their standards: That's what they stand for, right? Then they stand for it, right?
  8. Be transparent and constructive, not manipulative: No faking, no bluffing, no bluster.
  9. Always communicate, state the obvious, frame the vision: Talk. Be open, be honest, be real. Listen.
  10. Find the real problem and make it an opportunity: Don't get lost in the fuzz.
  11. Embrace differences: More perceptions, more ideas, more options make better negotiations.
  12. Prepare - make a list and practice with it: If you are prepared, you do well.
The short version: Get your head on straight, figure out what you need to get, be open about it, trade things you don't need for things you do, be honest, listen, listen some more, listen even more, think, plan, build emotional connections, see things as the other side does, get to the root, get what you need, and don't be a jerk.

"Done right, there is no difference between 'negotiation', 'persuasion', 'communication', or 'selling'." See?

If not Dale Carnegie, you could instead read "Dress for success", by John T. Molloy. It's almost the same too. Or if you want, you can pick up all this on your own, though a good book hands you a framework to mull over.

So the main point is, if you are living in a new culture, then bringing deep negotiating skills may be seriously smart. Once you are there, then what? Use them. Be all you can be.

I did wonder why all the stories about getting a few cents off one thing, a free upgrade on the other, but the material comes from the author's experience, and his classes emphasize learning this way. An early assignment is to get a discount on something. Anything. Then they proceed, probably repeating the same process until it's ingrained.

I generally agree with something Bruce Burrill, a Buddhist friend, told me around 1970. Which was, you don't solve problems, you leave them behind. Me in general, I normally leave money on the table and get on with it to avoid getting neck deep in the give and take.*

But mine is not the only way. Probably not the smart way. I'm not smart a lot. I keep hearing that. Maybe I should learn too.

Most of of life isn't a single transaction. Life is all day, every day, in the same place, with the same people, and they like it if you learn your way in and keep negotiating.

So if you establish relationships, join a community, fit in, be accepted, be respected, and do more than just showing up, you might be doing it right.

Getting back to Bruce, I'm thinking there may be two ways to move on: by leaving or by landscaping.

I need to learn this (especially for being immersed in a different culture): quit searching for a better garden and cultivate the one you're in.

More quickies from the book:
  • Always communicate.
  • Listen and ask questions.
  • Value, don't blame them.
  • Summarize often.
  • Do role reversal.
  • Be dispassionate.
  • Articulate goals.
  • Be firm without damaging the relationship.
  • Look for small signals.
  • Discuss perceptual differences.
  • Find out how they make commitments.
  • Consult before deciding.
  • Focus on what you can control.
  • Avoid debating who is right.
The stories are like this (imagine it in Spanish if you like):

"It was pouring rain, and Chuck McCall had forgotten his umbrella. His office was four blocks away, and he had an important meeting in thirty minutes.

"He spotted someone getting off the same train who worked in a building a block away. He didn't know her, but he'd seen her on the train before. 'Hi,' he said 'I work a block away from you and I forgot my umbrella. Can I buy you a bagel and coffee on the way if you walk me to work? I know it's a block out of your way.'

"'I'm Chuck,' he continued. He looked up at the sky. 'It's wet. Maybe I can return the favor someday.'

"They walked to work under her big umbrella. He bought each of them coffee and a bagel. When they arrived, she told Chuck she felt good about doing this. They had each made a new friend for the train. 'What I've learned the most,' said Chuck, now the CEO of Astoria Energy, a big energy provider to New York City, 'is that being candid about what you want is a key to success in business and life in general.'

"In a world that sometimes seems full of muggers and other threats, we still have to get through the day. We have dozens of small interactions from the time we get up to the time we go to sleep. Together they can spell a life of frustration, or one of mastery and joy. Using the tools in 'Getting More', you will have a greater consciousness about the world immediately around you in a million different ways."

The fundamental business is living, and this might help with that, especially in a new culture.

Getting More

* Doofus: A person with poor judgment and taste. Dimwit. A stupid incompetent person.


Another Junk Mail Day

First day of spring though.
Alder. Smooth. Bark

A small peek around the trunk.

Thick, it.

Slim, lean, growing machines.

But still a bit flippant in private.

Arf. Bark. Woof.

Beauty, eh?

Another walk to the post office and back. Really, truly the first day of spring, though each day is spring in my heart when my pockets are full of hamsters.


Friday, March 18, 2011


I'm likin' the lichen
Me walk to post office today. Me get new thingy what I ordered. Me now able record noise. Me cool, eh?
Me come home again. Me see drippy bush. Me have camera. So me make pichurz. Me like.
Some is flowers. Some is lichen. All same me. All good. Spring here in two day. Me can't wait.

Howz by you then?


Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring Are Here

Pushing up from below.

I don't know whodunnit but it's nice.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Biz Thoughts At A Distance

Chewing twigs and other thoughts

Ordinarily I don't listen to Rick Steves.

Once in a while I'd trip and fall into a travel video, but since losing free basic cable, and following the digital homicide of even the minimal analog television signal I was able to suck in through those metal feelers on the set, I'm glad to say that this can never happen again.

If there was ever a good reason for intercontinental nuclear war, it would be to put an end to Rick Steves' prissy little voice dicing vacuous thoughts into bits of pearly foamed sibilant inanity.

Being chained to the wall in an endless room of fingernails dragging down an infinity of chalkboards would be ecstasy compared to enduring another of his mindless travelogs. You know. The ones suited for retired bank tellers and aged, redundant clerks. People who have long ago experienced brain death. Without noticing.

If that war comes, the first hit should be on Rick Steves' studio.

Not long ago I read a couple travel books by Chuck Thompson.

I am not a traveler. I am totally ignorant of this stuff. I'll trust Chuck on travel. He's been around. He hates Rick Steves.

"The biggest reason travel writing is dull... is that most of it is devoid of anything approaching an authentic point of view. On those rare occasions when travel writers are allowed to express an actual opinion, it must be a completely harmless one that's also shared by the travel industry at large. These are usually offered as hard-hitting commentaries describing how 'quaint' a hotel room is, how 'mind-blowing' a nature park is, or how 'mouthwatering' a chef's specialty is."

In "To Hellholes and Back", Thompson, who was once left penniless and possessionless on a remote island after a band of giggling, seemingly charming Thai girls made off with his valuables, and who was forced, in the only futile act of desperation left to him, no matter how hopeless, to jump into the sea in his underwear and swim after the retreating ferry, explored four destinations that were previously on his no-go list.

Places that will kill you, and then feast on your soul.

Democratic Republic of Congo. India. Mexico City. And (leaving the worst until last) Walt Disney World.

Rick Steves also has a weekly radio show. I hate that too.

But this week one of two featured guests was Seth Kugel, who writes the "Frugal Traveler Blog" at, and who last summer traveled Latin America for several weeks, including Nicaragua.


Total dud. Thud.

The other big guest was Paul Theroux.

I like Paul Theroux. He complains for a living.

If there are bugs in his bed he'll count them all, and tell you about them all.

Typically though, his issues and observations are much deeper than that. And hey, anyone who can drink traditionally-brewed kava after watching it being made gets my respect. I'd have to pass, being allergic to human saliva other than my own.

Go, Paul.

Theroux was also one of the very first to serve in the Peace Corps. Fifty years back.

He thought of Kennedy as a right-winger.

Early on he learned to dismiss all other politicians too. They will say anything and everything just to stay in power another two weeks. And he saw first hand the effects of foreign aid, which if ever done right would do good, but whose only tangible effect is to keep sleek, fat local politicians supplied with shiny suits and large, softly-sprung expensive cars.

These days it's less of governments doing this, and more of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which continues to ship wads of money, which filters down through infinite layers of bureaucracy, and dissipates before it hits the ground, spent on shiny suits and tail fins.

And as for the Peace Corps itself, Theroux ultimately decided that its only real value was to the volunteers. They got to see life from a different angle. He seems to generally think that locals everywhere can use help, but really have to do the work themselves.

I see maybe three ways of dealing with business in a poor place.

One is the common capitalist approach of coming in with lots of money, putting up buildings, and treating the locals as a cheap resource in a sweatshop environment. Wealth then flows right over the heads of the locals.

Another approach: Come in with lots of money, put up some buildings, and create a business like seaside resort that makes money off the relatively rich visitors coming through. Or sell real estate to rich foreigners. Still not a bunch of benefit for the locals though.

A third (and, being an ignorant fool, I'm going to claim for now that this is the last way) is to start a small business which may or may not employ anyone at first, and probably doesn't directly rely on the local economy, at first. As time goes by, if it grows, a business like this can use innovative practices to improve itself, to become more efficient, and ultimately to share the wealth.

The locally-hired staff learn how to think and do differently as they earn money. Say it's a bit like the Grameen idea, applied in small dabs here and there.

This would take time and thought, and the right local people, who would have to change slowly, over time.

The principles aren't that hard, though.

About 1990 I heard of an article just published in the Harvard Business Review.

It was about sausage. Making sausage. It was about Johnsonville Sausage of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

About how the owner realized he couldn't keep it together, and had to do the one thing that a business owner never wants to: trust the people who work there.

Trust them to do good work, to want to do good work, to be smart, and efficient, and innovative. Not just to be cooperative and follow orders but to take the bit and run with it. To run the place.

They blew his socks off.

I know almost nothing about Nicaragua. I've been reading, but if I get there this summer I know it will be more different than I can imagine.

I am though from the most agricultural state, with consistently low unemployment and consistently top tier rates of high school graduation, but where, once you're out of grade 12, you stop growing. And can't find a decent job. Upward mobility is hard to imagine. Imagination is scarce. Tradition isn't.

People do what they do because they always have, and don't see how it could be otherwise, and I imagine that in Nicaragua it ain't so much different as the same, that way. But give someone a reason and a chance and eventually they'll catch on. And run with it.

If you don't like Mr. Stayer's story about the sausage plant, take a look at Sebastian Mallaby's piece from "The Atlantic" last summer.

Think about it. Just imagine. If.

Footnote: I've heard two speeches that Rick Steves gave, totally outside his business. About the value of travel in broadening and educating both oneself and those one encounters, about being human, about growing up. Floored me. This guy is really a frickin genius when he gets off his leash. He has also been on the board of NORML. ( I still hate his travel crap.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Birth, death, war, and desperation in the new hemisphere.

  • Title: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
  • Author: Charles C. Mann
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Length: 465pp (hardcover)
  • ISBN-10: 1400032059
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032051
  • At Amazon.
  • Charles C. Mann web site.
  • Review by Tim Leffel.
  • Charles C. Mann articles.
1491 is a prime number.

Not mathematically, but historically.

Life on any day of that year was like a day on the beach just before a tsunami. The next year, 1492, initiated a frenzy of death.

If others have told this story before, better, more thoroughly, more rigorously, and in a more entertaining way, fine.

But I don't think so.

I like this book. I didn't know how ignorant I was. Now I do. It's good to learn.

The life of Europe officially hit the West in 1492, and hit hard. I know the unbelievable stories of the random handful of freebooters and psychopaths who brought down empires with their few bands of drunken miscreants, a horse or two, and firearms.

But they didn't. Diseases preceded all of them. European diseases. Which killed as much as 95% of the inhabitants.

Disease swept all the western hemisphere before most of it had even heard of the strange beings who reeked of filth and were so hairy they were mistaken for animals. Those who became the new masters of two continents.

"The earth's population in the beginning of the sixteenth century was about 500 million. ... Disease claimed the lives of 80 to 100 million Indians by the first third of the seventeenth century. ... The epidemics killed about one out of every five people on earth. ... It was 'the greatest destruction of lives in human history.'"

And what came before?

"In 1491 the Inka ruled the greatest empire on earth. Bigger than Ming Dynasty China, bigger than Ivan the Great's expanding Russia, bigger than Songhay in the Sahel or powerful Great Zimbabwe in the West Africa tablelands, bigger than the cresting Ottoman Empire, bigger than the Triple Alliance (as the Aztec empire is more precisely known), bigger by far than any European state, the Inka dominion extended over a staggering thirty-two degrees of latitude -- as if a single power held sway from St. Petersburg to Cairo."


"Not the least surprising feature of this economic system was that it functioned without money. True, the lack of currency did not surprise the Spanish invaders -- much of Europe did without money until the eighteenth century. But the Inka did not even have markets. Economists would predict that this nonmarket economy -- vertical socialism, it has been called -- should produce gross inefficiencies. These surely occurred, but the errors were of surplus, not want. The Spanish invaders were stunned to find warehouses overflowing with untouched cloth and supplies. But to the was all part of the plan. Most important, Tawantinsusy 'managed to eradicate hunger,' the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa noted. Though no fan of the Inka, he conceded that 'only a very small number of empires throughout the whole world have succeeded in achieving this feat.'"

The story presented in this book is thin on North America west of the Mississippi River. Europeans simply got there too late. Very much too late. The die off had hit around two centuries earlier. The author also does not have much to say about southern Central America. Since I am still deeply ignorant of most things I don't know the answer to that.

But much of what Europeans did find existed because of the tens of millions who had created it. The sweeping, rich, open, hardwood forests of the east, the Great Plains, and many other aspects of the continent didn't just happen. They weren't the results of natural processes.

I have hiked wilderness, and lived in it for weeks, but wilderness is a false notion. There never was such a thing. Lands in North America were deliberately burned on an annual schedule. Species were selectively hunted and thinned. The land was made useful, but in ways that even today the Old World mind still hasn't realized.

If you want to know what North America was like you can read that part of the book. Or if you want to know about western South America. Or the Olmec, the Zapotec, the Mixtec, the Toltec of northern Central America.

You can read about Tenochtitlán, capital of the Mexica: "Tenochtitlán dazzled its invaders -- it was bigger than Paris, Europe's greatest metropolis. The Spaniards gawped like yokels at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away. Boats flitted like butterflies around the three grand causeways that linked Tenochtitlán to the mainland...Even more astounding than the great temples and immense banners and colorful promenades were the botanical gardens -- none existed in Europe. The same novelty attended the force of a thousand men that kept the crowded streets immaculate." A miracle to those who had grown up wading ankle-deep in Europes' sewer-like streets.

You can read about all that, but I want to mention something else.

I saw Werner Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God". That was enough. Enough of the Amazon.

It was as close as I ever wanted to get to the Amazon Basin. Loosely based on Gaspar de Carvajal's insane journey of despair and betrayal, the movie "Aguirre" made me relish the clean, hard-frozen winters of the northern Plains. Ice and wind yearly sweep the land clean of mold, mildew, slime, slithering things, and all creatures with sucking parts.

I have no desire to spend my last few days, in the Amazon, covered in a blanket of mindless crawling things with twitching feelers, multiple legs and ever-clicking mandibles. While the sky is dark with poisoned arrows.

Or I didn't used to. (And am still arrow-shy.)

The Amazon, aside from Antarctica, which is a hopeless and blank desert of emptiness and ice, must be the original wilderness, you think. A leafy urschleim.

You have to think that. The Amazon may only be, can only be, must only be the original land in its most basic state where humans were never meant to be. It is a place which, once entered, can never be left again, except by passing through a digestive system. You think.

So let's talk about that.

The oldest pottery in the Western Hemisphere dates from around 6000 B.C. It was found in the Amazon Basin. "By about four thousand years ago the Indians of the lower Amazon were growing crops -- at least 138 of them." And most were trees. Maybe 80% of them were trees.


"The Amazon's first inhabitants laboriously cleared small plots...but...they planted selected tree crops along with the manioc...'Visitors are always amazed that you can walk in the forest here and constantly pick fruit from trees,' Clement said. 'That's because people planted them. They're walking through old orchards.'"

Again: Yeeps?

Peach palms, for example, which yield an extremely oily fruit rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, and protein. Its pulp can be made into tortilla-like cakes. Fermented, it becomes beer. Its wood is hard enough to make saws from. Per acre, these trees are more productive than rice, beans, or even that miracle crop of the world, maize.

"People domesticated the species thousands of years ago and then spread it rapidly, first through Amazonia and then up into the Caribbean and Central America."

"The 'Stone Age tribespeople in the Amazon wilderness' that captured so many European imaginations were in large part a European creation and a historical novelty; they survived because the 'wilderness' was largely composed of their ancestors' orchards."

But the most surprising story of all, one that is only beginning to be understood, is radical terraforming.


The ancient peoples of the Amazon created earth. Not the planet, but the earth they farmed. They created it. They invented the process for making it. And it is possibly the most valuable farming technology ever. Clark Erickson, a University of Pennsylvania archeologist, has said that "the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet".

Impenetrable wasteland? No.

"Amazonian Indians literally created the ground beneath their feet." Called terra preta do Índio, it might cover as much as 10% of the Amazon Basin, an area the size of France. Over centuries of intensive farming, amid all the tropical rainfall and flooding, the soils steadily improved. In some places, old plots like this are dug up and directly sold as potting soil.

The secret, discovered so long ago now, is charcoal. One of the secrets.

Organic matter sticks to charcoal. Excrement, offal, plant waste, and anything else that might contribute to the soil was dumped on it. And millions of pieces of pottery, some appearing to have been produced solely so it could be smashed and scattered across the fields, holding the soil in place, aerating it, and shielding it from the hammering tropical downpours.

"Faced with an ecological problem, the Indians fixed it. Rather than adapt to nature, they created it. They were in the midst of terraforming the Amazon when Columbus showed up and ruined everything."

This is a good read.



Tales Of Pre-Security

Deja voodoo all over.

I want to leave the country. Legally. At least for a while.

To do that I need a passport.

Last week I checked at the post office to find out the days and hours I could do this.

The man I talked to said I'd need a photo. I knew that. He said it would cost $110. I knew that.

He said there was a $25 fee. I didn't know that, but OK.

To confirm I said "So that's $135." No, he said, $110 plus $25. "$135, right?" I said, hopefully.

He said that the passport fee was $110 and there was a $25 processing fee. I wrote all this down, added it up, and came to $135, which seemed to make sense at the time. He seemed dubious.

The hours were OK: Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

So far so good. He reminded me that I'd need a photo. Twice. (Three times in all.)

So far so good.

Today I went back.

I had:
* The official form, filled out.
* $135 in cash, since I didn't want to mess with a check or credit card.
* Two photos, as required, in the correct size.
* An official birth certificate.

I didn't know my mother's or father's day and month of birth, so I put down the years. I hope that works. We'll see.

The clerk saw that I had already signed the form and told me I'd have to come back in three years, after getting a spanking, because I shouldn't have. He was right. On line 1476B, subsection 18, in bold, 3-point type it says not to. I'm a naughty one, I guess, but he pulled out a scrap of paper and had me sign it while he watched. To prove I could write, I guess.

OK so far. I passed.

Time to pay.

I offered $135 in cash.

They don't take cash.

There are two fees: $110 and $25. They have to be two separate transactions. The first one is $110. To pay that I had to buy a money order with cash, at a cost of $1.10, print my name on it and hand it back to the clerk.

I tried not to.

I tried giving him my credit card. He said it was good for only $25. But I could pay with a check if I wanted.

No. I had brought cash so I wouldn't have to do that.

But after a while we got it worked out. Meaning that we did it his way.

$110 in cash, plus $1.10 in cash, he gave me the money order, and then I handed back the money order.

On to part two.

The clerk accepted cash for the $25 fee, without twitching, while I held my breath.

But he forgot to make me kiss his ring. I'm having some guilty feelings now.

Then he cut my photograph in two. I had brought two images on one sheet of photo paper, and handed them over, then he cut one out and handed the other to me. He said I could keep it for my records. But I have a mirror in the bathroom, which fills my needs.

I said I was supposed to bring two. It's on the form.

He said they don't do that any more, so I should keep the second one.

I told him it's a good thing I'm not the kind of guy who, about now, would be standing there waving his arms and screaming. He didn't say anything. I'm not sure he heard me. Or maybe he was thinking how bitchin I looked in my 2x2-inch photo.

But probably not.

I don't think he's like that, and I'm not, so I guess I just wasn't funny. And I wasn't trying to be funny.

Then the clerk disappeared.

I had my credit card out. I had one superfluous photo floating around, and that had to be recaptured too. And I had another piece or two of paper there, plus two receipts, one for $110 and one for $25, signifying the two transactions.

But I had no driver's license.

You have to bring one.

For identification.

And I didn't want to lose it, because, you know....

And now I couldn't find it.

After a while the clerk came back and handed it to me. He had gone off to make a photocopy, which I hadn't known, because he's a mumbler. A good one.

In fact it was only then that I realized why I hadn't been able to understand any more than every third or fourth word. Because he must have been a mumbling instructor.

They are the best of the best.

I imagined him in the front of a room, showing every counter clerk how to talk like you talk when you have a whole cheeseburger in your mouth. But he didn't have one.

I know.

I had him open his mouth and stick out his tongue and there was no cheeseburger in there. Anywhere.

He's a pro.

I could never be that good.

But we got past it.

Only one thing left.

For some reason he had to check my birth certificate and find my birth date. I'm not sure why. It could be his hobby. But he got it wrong. He found the date I applied to get the copy, which is on there, and it says "December 23, 2010".

And that confused him. I'm too young.

I directed him to the birth date line but it still, to him, appeared wrong.

I tell him that I should write Harry Shearer about how my day went but I don't think he heard me. Or he didn't care. Or he thought I was bluffing. Or doesn't know who Harry Shearer is. Not that Harry Shearer would care.

I'm just this guy, you know?

But it passes. The clerk finds my birth date and reads it out loud. Four or five times.

It must be a good one.

It may be a first for his collection.

He seems pleased in his non-expressive, mumbling way.

Almost done. I only have to gather up my collection of waste paper and receipts, and leave.

While I do this the clerk tells me that the process will take three to five weeks. He says this at least four times, except that once he says four to six weeks.

I think he wanted to see if I was paying attention.

I was paying attention.

Helpfully, the clerk finally informs me that if I want to know about the progress of my passport application I can check the web site. I pull out my receipts, looking them over while asking if there is a tracking number I can use.


But I can go to the web site and search around. Somewhere.

Fine, I say. I'll keep that secret close to my heart. I say it with feeling. And I will do it too.

I am now free to go.

I can't wait to meet the TSA. I hear they're nice.

On the way out of the post office I check my box.

In it I find, exactly on schedule, my latest DVD from Netflix. "Duck Soup".