Life Lessons from Danny Ocean

The inaptly named Ocean's Eleven series (better to call it Ocean's X?) is a superior example of the caper movie. I'm referring to the recent version and not to the original Frank Sinatra film, which I regret to say I could not get into. The plots of the original and remake are quite a bit different, anyway.

It's not clear how one would number all eleven of the Eleven, but it is clear that #1 is Danny Ocean (George Clooney), #2 is Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), and #3 is Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon). It fascinating to consider how the three characters manifest the three components of the Freudian psyche... aah, who am I kidding? What's great about these movies is the cool.

Danny Ocean perfectly exemplifies Paul Kyriazi's Rule #5: "Always dress up, even at home alone." The guy always has a dress shirt and jacket (even when being released from prison), is never underdressed, and yet always looks comfortable.

Ocean's Apophthegm is also worth remembering (as heard in Ocean's Thirteen):

Always play the game as if you have nothing to lose.

But my favorite principle out of the Ocean's X series is this (not stated explicitly, but demonstrated): When you're cool enough, everything you do becomes cool.

For example, as a rule TV and movie characters set their cell phones to vibrateor else use a neutral "phone ringing" sound. This is to avoid distracting the viewer with contemplating the character's choice of ringtone. Rusty Ryan is a noteworthy exception, as we get to hear a cheesy bubblegum-pop tune whenever his phone rings. He is secure enough not to worry what we think of his ring tone.

Danny Ocean also well illustrates a corollary that certain irritating people I know fail to grasp: The cool need not always be the smartest guy in the room. Consider this discussion from Ocean's Thirteen about the Greco security system, among tech guru Roman Nagel, Danny Ocean, and right-hand man Rusty Ryan:

Roman: The data is analyzed in real time in a field of exabytes.

Danny: Exabytes?

Roman: You know what a terabyte is?

Danny: Yeah, it's a....

Rusty (sotto voce): An exabyte is a million terabytes.

Danny: Right.

Roman: The Greco is housed in an impregnable room. Shock-mounted, temparature-controlled, and it locks down if it even senses it's under attack, If it locks down, they wouldn't even be able to get out of the room.

Danny: Couldn't we just shut it off? You know, cut the wires?

Roman: That could work. Better still, kick the plug out of the socket.

Rusty: Seriously.

Roman: Short of walking into the room with a bloody magnetron around your neck... You know what a magnetron is?

Danny: Something that screws up the Greco?

There is also an amusing bit of byplay later on where Danny is watching Oprah on TV and drinking wine, which in my book is just about the least cool thing a person can do. Most likely the writers wanted to underscore the point with the most extreme example they could think of.

Rough Waters for Huck and Jim

Photo by shimgray

Some friends have asked me what I thought of the latest attempt by Auburn Professor Alan Gribben to sanitize Huckleberry Finn by removing all instances of the N-epithet. (By the way, if you tuned in here hoping to hear me use the the term, you're out of luck. Go buy your own copy of the book, big spender.)

In one sense, there's nothing new to this story, and nothing controversial either. As Jon Stewart points out, previous editors have gone so far as to eliminate the character of Jim altogether. And the book is long since in the public domain. Gribben is legally entitled to recast Jim as a space alien, a hot cheerleader, or anything else that tickles his fancy.

But is it a good idea? Of course not, at least not if one is concerned with preserving the essence of the book. But it is an understandable idea. The conceptual error at heart is to think of Huckleberry Finn as a children's book, which it definitely is not. Even with the language scrubbed, you still have a protagonist abandoned (except for occasional beatings) by his alcoholic father, who turns up a ways into the story as a very unattractive corpse. The confusion arises because Huckleberry Finn is technically a sequel to Tom Sawyer, which is quite accessible to children. A comparative glance at a random page from each makes the difference obvious.

One could speculate what the author himself would think of this. To that end, one may consider the following letter written by Twain to an acquaintance who had taken on the burden of editing a piece that Twain had written:

The time-honored etiquette of the situationnew to you by reason of inexperienceis this: an author's MS. is not open to any editor's uninvited emendations. It must be accepted as it stands, or it must be declined; there is no middle course. Any alteration of it—even to a word—closes the incident, & that author & that editor can have no further literary dealings with each other. It was your right to say that the Introduction was not satisfactory to you, but it was not within your rights to contribute your pencil's assistance toward making it satisfactory. Therefore, even if you now wished to use my MS. in its original form, untouched, I could not permit it. Nor in any form, of course. I shall be glad to have the original when convenient, but there is no hurry. When you return will answer quite well. If you have any copies of it—either amended or un-amended—please destroy them, lest they fall into careless hands & get into print. Indeed I would not have that happen for anything in the world.

Mark Twain and I, at least, have an understanding. Neither of us is going to edit the other's work.

Practical Joke #9

1. Start with a memo you receive from your boss or a colleague.

2. Edit the memo. Replace any verb starting with the letter "f" (like "finalize") by "f___". Replace any thing starting with the letter "s" (like "status") by "s___". Replace any descriptive term referring to an individual who happens to be female that starts with the letter "b" by "b____". Make sure the original author's name stays on the memo.

3. Show the memo around the office and ask your colleagues what they think. With a subtle hint of indignation, explain that you edited out terms you find offensive.


Original memo:

I got a call from Mary late last night. She seems satisfied with the schedule we sent her. Since she is our busiest consultant, my guess at this point is that our project is totally finished.


Edited version:

I got a call from Mary late last night. She seems satisfied with the s___ we sent her. Since she is our b____iest consultant, my guess at this point is that our project is totally f___ed.


Product Review: Paul Kyriazi's James Bond Lifestyle Seminar

Parents of boys could do worse than point them towards James Bond as a role model. Those who think of Bond as a self-indulgent alcoholic womanizer will react with shock. Others merely smirk.

This dismissive attitude is based on the compound error of focusing on minor aspects of the Bond character and then misunderstanding those aspects anyway.

To shift gears for a moment, let me point out that we are facing (and any tone of alarm here is entirely intentional) a looming crisis in masculinity, due to factors both physiological and sociological. Consider some of the trends: (1) American men have been showing a significant decline in both testosterone and sperm count for some decades; (2) while more and more women are going to college (and good for them), the number of male college students is on the decline; (3) according to psychologist Terri Apter, the percentage of young adults living with their parents went from 11% to 20% between 1970 and 2005. I suspect that after decades spent fretting over the (admittedly genuine) problems arising out of male aggressiveness, we are going to find that male passivity doesn't yield the hoped-for utopian outcome either.

Let's take a minute to think of some of the many things James Bond would never do. You would never find him living on his mother's couch and spending his days playing video games. He never spends an entire Saturday watching football on TV. He doesn't go to the supermarket in sweat pants. He doesn't let his weight get out of control. If he has a problem, he doesn't bemoan his fate but takes corrective action. He doesn't wait for opportunity to come to him. He drinks, but in moderation. He demands the best from those around him and from himself. Time and again he saves the world, but savors life while doing so.

So choosing James Bond as a role model isn't crazy. Since Paul Kyriazi first coined the "James Bond Lifestyle" idea it has burgeoned into a bit of a movement.

Now to the product: Kyriazi has produced successively expanded versions of the seminar. The version I used comes on 8 CD's, which consist mostly of narration by Kyriazi himself, with an introduction by two-time Felix Leiter actor David Hedison, and punctuated occasionally with music and interpolations by Hedison and other voice actors (Kyriazi has considerable experience producing audiobooks).

The topics covered range from large to small--but one must understand that the large is the small. To take one example, consider the discourse on the seemingly trivial matter of valet parking, which was an eye-opener for me personally (and includes a most entertaining little audio-play). First of all, there is no question that James Bond always uses valet parking--we see it several times in the movies. Kyriazi points out valet parking's many practical advantages, especially when considered against the cost (usually only a few dollars tip). But there's a philosophical point to be made as well. When you force the woman you're with to walk through the rain or cold in order to save a few bucks on tipping the valet, what message are you sending about the value you place on her? What message are you sending to yourself, for that matter?

Some of the other topics covered in the seminar: Health and fitness, some philosophy about the relationship between one's inner state and the outer world (this reminded me much of Buddhism, but Paul Kyriazi told me there was no overt connection), maintaining your home and car, the importance of planning and taking action (a core principle), how to play craps--both the game and the social customs around the game, much more about tipping, how to check into a hotel properly (yeah, you think you already know, but Kyriazi takes it to the next level, including tips such as how to get a room in a booked-up hotel), what clothes to wear, how to walk, what you should be wearing.

One more topic deserves special mention and that's the Bond girl. For Kyriazi your Bond girl is your wife, your girlfriend, your date, or whatever woman is making up a couple together with yourself at the moment. The phrase "Bond girl" is among the most widely misunderstood. A recurring amusement for anyone who follows the Bond movies is hearing the actress signed for the upcoming Bond film discuss her character: "Oh, she's not the typical Bond girl, she's strong, she's smart, she's self-sufficient, etc., etc."--missing the point that the Bond films have a tradition of strong, smart, self-sufficient women going back to Honeychile Ryder with a knife on her hip.

And though Bond has been labeled a misogynist (and admittedly the early films have a few cringe-worthy moments--I'm thinking of a young lady who gets patted on the buttocks early on in Goldfinger) he actually follows a code of conduct considerably more chivalrous than some guys I know. His vocabulary does not include terms such as "bitch" or "slut", nor by word or deed does he suggest that any woman is unattractive, unintelligent, or not worth spending time with. (Okay, he does occasionally twist arms or even shoot people, but only for the purpose of saving the free world and stuff like that.)

More to the point, I can't imagine any woman being unhappy if the guy she's with follows the guidelines laid out in Kyriazi's seminar, which are based not only on treating any lady with respect, but going the extra mile to be a worthy companion.

In summary, though I originally bought the seminar with an attitude of curiosity, it turned out to be one of the most useful, practical and inspirational pieces of self-help I have come across. You can find it on Kyriazi's James Bond lifestyle at