Man, my head feels like somebody stuffed it with mouse mulch.
I got coughed and sneezed on for a week in Disney World (at Rich Schefren’s seminar) (and why he chose to hold a marketing summit there, among teeming hordes of snuffling kids, remains a mystery)… and now the buzzards of Nyquil are circling.
If anybody out there has a good remedy for colds, let’s hear ’em. I went to the doc, and he tried to give me antibiotics. You know — the stuff Americans are criminally overusing (especially for ailments like colds and flu, which are not responsive to antibiotics at all ) thus exposing us all to freshly-evolved sci-fi-style plagues resistant to all the drugs we have.
“You’re kidding, right?” I asked. “I’ve got some virus cooking in my system. Antibiotics won’t do shit.”
The doc just shrugged. “Most folks ask for ’em,” was all he said.
I did some Web research on colds, flu and bronchitis (which I just had in December). It’s startling to note that on this, the wacky and the wise concur. Both the Harvard Medical School site and the “herbs will heal us” sites I perused gave identical advice: Buck up, sleep a lot, drink fluids, and don’t be a putz about your health.
Personally, I like OTC stuff like Cold-Eze candies (they seem to alleviate symptoms, though it may just be wishful thinking), buckets of sizzling Airborne tablets (17 herbs and nutrients in the effervescent formula!), echinacea root, “House” reruns on Tivo, and my own nightime concoction of ibuprofen, tea, honey and a stiff shot of cheap bourbon to bring on the zzzz’s.
Plus, of course, lots of aimless Web surfing.
Anyway, during this kind of down-time, I purposely avoid all serious thoughts about biz… and try to keep a Zen attitude of being non-critical and non-judgemental as I allow massive quantities of weird data to flood in.
And this can help you get a little bit of perspective on things.
As a card-carrying news junkie, I am just as vulnerable as the average American to seeing the world the way the mass media presents it. Which is, basically, La-La Land (if facts and reality mean anything to you).
People with a stake in keeping our minds muddy and confused love to over-emphasize the gore and hide the good in life. Even in a so-called “free” society, you must fight hard not to get caught up in the fear mongering and demands to conform.
Fortunately, back when I was writing for the financial market (in the go-go late 1980s), I fell head-over-heels for the contrarian viewpoint of investing… and have been using it ever since for everything in life.
It’s like a natural system of calling “Bullshit” on the Powers That Be.
In contrarian philosophy, you never, ever, ever follow the crowd. In fact, you USE the movement of crowds to decide your next move — when the crowd zigs, you zag.
For example… I knew the real estate bubble was about to go blooie when (around 2 years ago) I sat slack-jawed through a dinner with friends-of-friends, and all they talked about was mortgaging their homes to get money to put into more houses, because it was so easy to flip ’em for a fat profit. Or rent ’em out at, you know, hefty rates, so “other people” paid your mortgage for you. Or whatever… it would all work out, somehow.
They were confident. They believed in that gravy train.
I was slack-jawed because none of these good people had the slightest idea what they were doing. None were in real estate, none had financial savvy, none considered for a moment the dire consequences of their actions should homes stop escalating in value at a 20% clip. (Ah, those were the days, weren’t they?)
I think it was Carnegie (or Vanderbilt, or one of those rich dudes) who — on the eve of the great stock market crash of 1929 — decided it was time to liquidate and sit out the coming disaster when his taxi driver started chatting up a hot stock tip he’d just invested his life savings in.
Economists get frustrated with people, because they act so irrationally all the time, and screw up their nice, tidy formulations for how markets “should” perform. That’s a stupid view to take, of course… since there would BE no markets without people… and anyone who’s been paying attention knows that people are whacky, deluded, stubbornly irrational, obscenely greedy, and prone to take stupid risks (while ignoring the consequences).
I read an interview with Howie Mandel, host of that dumb game show where people pick suitcases held by stunning models, hoping to win a million bucks. He knows it’s a silly premise, all just raw luck with zero level of skill required at all… and yet he said he nearly gets physically sick when he sees people pass up the right decision based on unsustainable greed.
So I watched the show. Nice guy, war veteran, young pregnant wife and parents in the audience, insists he “knows” he’s picked the case with the million bucks in it. Just “knows” it, in his heart and all that. (Hint: In the two-year-plus history of the show, no one’s won the top prize yet.)
After a few rounds, he gets an offer of $175,000 to stop the game. This is more money than he will earn over the next six-to-ten years of his life. His preggers young bride is in tears, saying they can buy a small house with this money, start a college fund for their kid, have a nest egg that they previously never dared dream of sitting on.
But no. The guy “knows” he’s on a roll, because… well, because he “feels” it in his heart. Or something like that. Worse, his uncle is in the audience, mocking the bride’s willingness to throw away the much bigger amount that they “know” is waiting for them.
You know how this ends.
Humbled, in shock, the guy finally accepts something like $12.000 to quit. Not a bad sum… but I don’t think the family dinners are going to be very polite when the uncle is visiting (amid the ghost of the fortune he helped talk them out of accepting).
If this was an isolated case, it’d just be an interesting story.
But, as Howie said in his interview, it’s the NORM for the show. There are even complex financial studies highlighting this human need to gamble away sure things, and to trust irrelevant “feelings” on matters that are not influenced by feelings even a little bit. (One of my favorite South Park episodes is when the town loses everything to the Indian casino, then — in a spectacular display of undeserved luck — wins it all back at the roulette table. They’re even, they have their old lives back, they can walk away completely out of the serious trouble they’d gotten themselves into… and after a short pause, they all scream “Let it ride!”, and lose it all on the next spin.)
There are lessons for marketers here, but I’m not gonna go into that right now.
Remember? I’m sick.
Okay — one lesson.
My first task, back when I started working closely with Gary Halbert, was to keep an eye on his top client. It was a guy (who shall remain nameless) mailing a promotion that was raking in massive quantities of moolah, month after month after month.
And all this client had to do was continue mailing. He didn’t need to screw with the marketing, or tamper with the product, or branch out, or do anything else. Just mail the piece we’d given him, and cash the checks (and send us our cut).
But no. He was like a kid picking at a scab.
And he did things that caused the promotion to die an early death. It would have tired, eventually, anyway… but he hastened the knell.
Still, he had vast wealth. And all he had to do was enjoy it. Become a philanthropist, maybe run for office, write a book or two, whatever… just don’t blow the nest egg.
In horror, though, we watched as he initiated a slow-motion train wreck. The great success of that prior promotion, he “felt” (strongly, too), was all because of him. He couldn’t tell you specifically why… but he was certain he was some kind of genius. And he brushed aside notions that it was the advertising created by Halbert that brought in the dough.
Within a year, he’d launched two of the stupidest marketing campaigns I’ve ever witnessed, and lost everything.
That was one of the first times I’d gone slack-jawed at the silliness of another human being. Soon, however, I learned to expect such silliness (and was slack-jawed, instead, when someone acted sanely or rationally).
Consider this, the next time you’re scratching your head over someone’s bizarre actions.
I see where Iran, for example, is gonna shut down its share of the Internet during its elections this month. I read the news story, and spent a little time researching on Google… because I was kinda unclear on how a country shuts down Web access.
They do it by keeping tight control of in-country ISPs… by pillaging Internet cafes (and imprisoning stubborn surfers)… and (get this) by hobbling download connections with forced 128kbs speeds.
This is a country trying to be a major force in the Arab world… and they expect to do it with dial-up connection speeds that were embarrassing in 1997?
This got me thinking. And a little more research brought up all kinds of interesting perspective. Like, for example… if you read the mainstream media, you’d be excused for believing that Iran has replaced the old Soviet Union as a worthy Cold-War type enemy.
Except that their gross domestic product is around the same as Portland, Oregon (or Poland)… and their military budget isn’t even on par with what the average state in the US spends for National Guard readiness. (And we got fifty of ’em.)
They have THREE subs, total, according to Wikipedia.
Sure, they’re dangerous. With modern “Jericho”-style technology, I’m told that suitcase bombs have replaced air forces, and germ warfare is back in ways that even Hollywood can’t get a handle on.
But the Soviet Union, Iran ain’t.
And a role in world politics won’t be forthcoming while they insist on 128kbs, because they’re afraid one of their citizens might accidentally download some porn or, I dunno, a copy of our Bill of Rights.
If only more of our OWN citizens would accidentally read the friggin’ Bill of Rights once in a while.
We do live in strange and challenging times. I’m all for focusing on getting back into a groove with Mother Nature, and realigning our priorities so that the greedy among us are held in check a little bit, and maybe aiming for a new Golden Age of reason and enlightenment instead of this steady slide into mediocrity and silliness we seem intent on.
A little perspective can go a long way.
What do you think?
I’ve got tea and bourbon simmering here…
P.S. Hey — thanks for all the advice. (And I’ve corrected the typo’s, for posterity.)
I’m hip to Vitamin C and Linus Pauling. We have this “natural pharmacist” in town who has vast stocks of the really good herbs and nutrients and shit. I’m constantly stunned by what his advice accomplishes. (A few years ago, he helped my Pop’s wife get off prescription medications that were ruining her life, and she’s still dancing three times a week with the old man in their late 80s. She was NOT a believer, but willing to try some alternative stuff… and got amazing results. The Western medical establishment should be ashamed of itself for ignoring natural cures.)
Not sure about the wet socks every night, though. I gotta sleep with someone, you know.
I OD’d on garlic, liquids, Vitamin C, and a bunch of herbs… along with ibuprofen, that shot of bourbon, echinacea tea and (finally) one of those Thera-Flu packets. I still feel like I lost a brawl, but I’m definitely over the worst, and it’s just been a day or so.
I rarely got sick in my youth. In my 20s, I decided it was okay to get ill once a year or so, if only to slough the sludge in my system. A cold ain’t much more than a vicious hangover, and it’s good to pay attention to your body once in a while. Most of us wouldn’t remember we had kidneys if they didn’t occasionally bleat.
Part of me wonders if I don’t “use” the rare cold as forced downtime. In fact, I know that’s the case — I’ve been pushing pretty hard these past months, and I needed some perspective. I’d have rather gotten this persepctive in an email from God or something, but maybe colds ARE ethereal email.
Spring is coming fast — the high desert is ablaze with stars at night, a brisk pine-scented wind rustles the stark trees, and it just feels good to be alive. That feeling of having survived another winter is part of the reason I moved here from boring old one-season Southern California.
I have too many friends saddled with very serious illness or challenges right now to be too giddy about things. For every breathtaking sign of rejuvenation I see, more bad news arrives about impending curtain calls.
And that’s life, isn’t it.
With perspective, you take the good with the bad, and you cobble the best situation you can from what you have available. And you’re grateful. And you do what you can to help, when help is needed.
Thanks again, guys, for all the input.
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