Related: I keep this on a sign hanging above my desk, because while most truths are indeed self-evident, most of us need frequent reminders about obvious things; this is just such a thing. Consider this a #PRO-TIP.
I’m not natively a “New Year’s resolution” person—but as a freelancer, I live and die by forming and keeping good habits. Over the years of not starving to death or losing our home, I’ve learned a few shortcuts to faking a disciplined life. Principal among these:
This principal principle is super-duper useful for addressing the two most popular New Year’s resolutions:
Stop making “to do” lists; instead make a “Stop Doing” list.
For New Year’s Resolution Type #1 (which require doing more with the same number of free hours that already feel over-packed), the usual approach is to try to cram in one more thing.
That is obviously destined for failure. You aren’t going to suddenly have more free hours or more energy just because you added one more item to your calendar.
Instead sit down for 10 minutes, uninterrupted, in complete silence. This is vital, and insanely hard. For real, lock yourself in the bathroom or sit in your car in the grocery store parking lot or go to the laundry room—whatever it takes to get a solid 10 minutes without distraction.
Take a hard look at what you do on the daily—especially what you do with your phone in your hand—and ask yourself if you really love doing that stuff, or if it is vital to you earning a living.
Now write a quick “Stop Doing” List. This is a bulleted list of things that just really aren’t worth your time or attention. Just an example, if I glance at YouTube, I end up loosing an easy 20 minutes watching video compilations of old Vines or “Wins/Fails.” I don’t even really like those videos; I’m just stressed out, so I glance at YouTube, and YouTube knows what I watch, and there’s a whole endless scrolling list of distractions and . . . and I don’t enjoy it, it’s no good for my family or my business or my bank account. There’s no point to it. It is time squandered.
So, Funny Fails are on my “Stop Doing” List. So are:
If your resolution is to work in a 20 minute walk every day, trust me, you can find those 20 minutes easily just by cutting out two or three phone-based distractions alone.
Don’t cut back on Bad Stuff™; load up on Good Stuff™.
When it comes to things we like but are bad for us (cheap pizza, salty snacks, pricey coffees, etc.), the usual advice is to cut back. We resent this for a variety of deeply ingrained psychological reasons (from loss aversion to just plain perversity).
So don’t cut back; load up on Good Stuff instead:
Need to lose weight? Don’t say “I have to cut out cookies” or “I have to cut calories.”
Instead, say “I have to eat a ton of fruit.”
Any damned fruit you like—sweet n’ juicy berries, melons, bananas, grapes, carrots (veg is fine, too).
But, two important things:
Buy your chosen fruit or veg by the sackful. Take some with you every time you leave the house. Pack it with every lunch. Every time you’re hungry, start with whatever your chosen fruit/veg is. Have it first thing in the morning, have it last thing for desert.
Sick of your chosen fruit/veg? That’s fine; just means it wasn’t the right one. Pick a different one. Keep trying. There is a fruit or veg out there that you will never, ever get sick of having fresh and whole. That is your special fruit; cherish it.
I am a middle-aged White(ish) American man with a sedentary job. I don’t go to the gym (I do walk a lot, because I like walking and I have a dog). I drink alcohol daily. I drink a ton of coffee. I used to smoke.
My body should be a damned wreck. But I pack away five apples per day, minimum, and am subsequently in good health. ’cause you know what? If you have three apples before lunch, you don’t feel like stuffing your face. And if you’re full of apples and then a bowl of chili (or whatever), you don’t feel bloated and logy. You feel like going for a damn walk.
And you lose weight.
This is one of those bone-simple virtuous circles. Just ride it ’round and ’round and ’round: Do LESS, earn MORE; Eat MORE, weigh LESS.
If you’re an American tax payer, then you owe it to ~3000 dead Americans, 20,000 wounded Americans, and more than 100,000 dead Afghans to read this whole thing:
This long piece is worth every second of your time—and deserves every moment of your attention. It’s full of gems: nauseous, heartbreaking facts, brief tales of uncertain moral.
“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich. We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic.We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”— James Dobbins, former U.S. diplomat
Also—and I’m not being flip here—but I sorta love that Rumsfield called his frequent memoranda “snowflakes.” Over the years, I’ve grown to realize that he may have been one of the most profoundly clear-eyed thinkers of the dawning of the American 21st C. Again, I’m not being sarcastic in any way here: The shit he said frequently sounded nuts, but it was and is perhaps the only clear and honest way to talk about Now.
Anyway, here’s a #fact you should know:
One unidentified contractor told government interviewers he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’ ”
The gusher of aid that Washington spent on Afghanistan also gave rise to historic levels of corruption.
In public, U.S. officials insisted they had no tolerance for graft. But in the Lessons Learned interviews, they admitted the U.S. government looked the other way while Afghan power brokers — allies of Washington — plundered with impunity.
Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three U.S. generals in charge of the war, said that the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006 — and that U.S. officials failed to recognize the lethal threat it posed to their strategy.
“I like to use a cancer analogy,” Kolenda told government interviewers. “Petty corruption is like skin cancer; there are ways to deal with it and you’ll probably be just fine. Corruption within the ministries, higher level, is like colon cancer; it’s worse, but if you catch it in time, you’re probably ok. Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.”
And here’s another:
“We stated that our goal is to establish a ‘flourishing market economy,’ ” said Douglas Lute, the White House’s Afghan war czar from 2007 to 2013. “I thought we should have specified a flourishing drug trade — this is the only part of the market that’s working.”
No single agency or country was in charge of the Afghan drug strategy for the entirety of the war, so the State Department, the DEA, the U.S. military, NATO allies and the Afghan government butted heads constantly.
The agencies and allies made things worse by embracing a dysfunctional muddle of programs, according to the interviews.
At first, Afghan poppy farmers were paid by the British to destroy their crops — which only encouraged them to grow more the next season. Later, the U.S. government eradicated poppy fields without compensation — which only infuriated farmers and encouraged them to side with the Taliban.
And here’s a picture. No trigger warning, because we should all look, regardless of how it makes us feel. Do you see the writing on his forehead? The duct tape on his shirt? These tell me that there is a tourniquet on his right leg. It was put on at 2:55 pm. I wonder if he kept that leg, if he survived at all.
Incidentally, here’s the previous winner for “Most American Sentence Dave Can Imagine”:
This is us, folks. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.
Read this article:
…and saw the chart:
And then did some math:
The “average American” (that’s a family making $50k–$99k in this article here) gives ~3–6% of their income to charity each year. Now, that’s income, not wealth. If we want to apples-to-apples this, we need to gauge giving vs. wealth. It appears the “average” American’s wealth is something like $97,000 (which kinda sucks, given that the average American home is worth more than twice that—and is mortgaged to the gills). So, we end up in about the same place: The average American annually gives money worth ~3% of their wealth.
In other words, the average American is significantly more generous with their wealth than pretty much every goddamned billionaire out there. Even Warren Buffet (who I actually really admire) is just a tiny bit above average on this one.
So, if your argument against a wealth tax is “It’s OK for folks to sit on billions of dollars, because rich people are super charitable”—well, they just aren’t. In fact, multiple studies have found that as folks get poorer in this country, they give a higher percentage of their income to charity (and generally have zero or negative wealth). People at or below the poverty line often give ~10% of their annual income to charitable causes each year.
So, yeah, give thanks on Thursday, sure—but give some fucking money, too, dammit.
I wrote this essay a few years back, as a little bonus for the folks kind enough to have subscribed to my newsletter. A good friend, Chris Salzman, was gracious enough to make something pretty of it, and I’m sharing that with you now. Every word is both true and factual—which is a harder trick than you’d think. It begins like this:
You’ll be invited to your wife’s Full Family Thanksgiving Feast in Michigan
Attending means driving to the hinterlands around the middle knuckles of the Mitten’s middle finger. Shortly before leaving you’ll learn that this Full Family Feast does not, in fact, exist. Instead you’ll be directed to a somewhat lesser Secondary Family Feast in a somewhat less remote part of the hinterlands, at your in-laws’ cottage in a town mostly known for holding an annual ice fishing carnival on a frozen lake.
You’ve witnessed this carnival. You’ve ridden the ferris wheel atop the ice with your wife and young son, a ferris wheel you were told was unique for its age and direction of spin. You learned this from the man operating it, the man who proclaimed that he’d bolted it together himself, a man with something very clearly wrong with one side of his skull.
These are things you do in Michigan. These are the decisions you make by just letting things keep going the way they go in Michigan. …
And goes on from there. You can read it all free online here:
“IN MICHIGAN: A PRIMER, A TRAVELOGUE” by David Erik Nelson
This video is mostly narrated by Dr. Robert Cialdini, who’s most famous for his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (where he first presented most of the ideas seen here). This is a text book—if not the Bible—on how to talk to people about things that you really care about, and get them to see your perspective.
Cialdini started out as a research psychologist, and my understanding (which fits the tone of the book) is that he began working on the book—which catalogues and examines several categories of sales/influence tricks and techniques—as a sort of warning to lay folks. After its first publication, it became enormously influential among marketers, copywriters, businessfolk, and all manner of modern propogandists. If you write for any purpose (e.g., speechs, op-ed, news, fiction, non-fiction, persuading folks on the fence to vote for this or that) or run any sort of business, you need to read this book. For that matter, even if you don’t seek to persuade anyone of anything, I still strongly recommend every adult in America read this book, in order to better understand how it is you’ve come to believe what you believe, embrace what you embrace, and reject what “just isn’t your thing.”
(While we’re on the topic, you really should also read Darrell Huff’s HOW TO LIE WITH STATISTICS; the black arts outlined in these two books cover the two major toolsets that the politically and economically motivated are using to manipulate you and your loved ones every single day. Get your hands on Master’s tools; consider their possible applications in tearing down Master’s house*.)
Caveat: Yes, some of the hard data and studies in the original Influence haven’t aged well, but the bold strokes—about how people behave and how our minds get changed without our realizing it—is still rock solid.
BONUS: Check out this analysis of Oprah, and compare it with what Cialdini describes above:
The images below are taken from Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy: A Child’s Book About Satanic Ritual Abuse. This is a real book that was earnestly written and actually published, then presumably read to actual children (who, one presumes, were duly traumatized) in order to help them cope with having not endured fake things that never happened to anyone (see also “Satanic Panic”and D&D as thrill-kill gateway drug—and recall, these were current events, reported in the newspaper, recounted in measured tones on the evening news, endlessly explored on the afternoon talk shows I watched while my folks were at work. I was a fat, gullible, ill-monitored Jewish pre-teen at the time. These cases enthralled and terrified me.)
The craziest thing about all this, to me, is that the author and publisher really did have their hearts in the right place, I think. In contrast to most materials surrounding the issue of Satanic Ritual Abuse, this wasn’t an attempt to bait the hook of Fundamentalist Christian propaganda or Normative White bigotry with raw meat ripped from the tabloid headlines.
This book comes from the “Hurts of Childhood” series, which honestly and directly tries to address real burdens that many children really face: parental alcohol abuse, sexual assault, traumatic family situations, and so on. Yes, every single title in this series is just as maladroitly handled—but, jeez, at least they were trying.
Let me stress: This stuff looks silly and ghoulish and comically naive now, but we actually believed these things were happening back in the 1980s. Real people really went to prison—and stayed there for years—having been accused of heinous abominations and convicted of committing a type of crime that hasn’t ever happened:
The survey included 6,910 psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers, and 4,655 district attorneys, police departments and social service agencies. They reported 12,264 accusations of ritual abuse that they had investigated.
The survey found that there was not a single case where there was clear corroborating evidence for the most common accusation, that there was “a well-organized intergenerational satanic cult, who sexually molested and tortured children in their homes or schools for years and committed a series of murders,” Dr. Goodman said.
Many psychotherapists who have been vocal about a supposed epidemic of sexual abuse by well-organized satanic rings have grown more cautious of late. “There’s clearly been a contagion, a contamination of what people say in therapy because of what they see on TV or read about satanic ritual abuse,” said Dr. Bennet Braun, a psychiatrist who heads the Dissociative Disorders Unit at Rush-North Shore Medical Center in Chicago.