Why are We So Obsessed With: Celebrities?

Reading about the lives of ‘Great Men’ became a popular pastime during the 19th century.

Most worked soul-crushing hours at miserable, backbreaking jobs, so immersing themselves in exciting, dangerous tales provided a much-needed form of escapism. Fueling this new hobby was the advent of modern technology and increasing literacy rates across society.

Stories of great Napoleonic battles and the fierce, unforgiving lives of Roman gladiators injected some much-needed adrenaline into the factory-like repetitiveness of life during the Industrial Revolution. Thinkers such as Voltaire and Byron rose to prominence, Mozart had his legions of adoring fans, and Franz Liszt concerts often caused mass hysteria amongst his female spectators.

The enduring fascination with Great Men sowed the seeds for what we’d now refer to as celebrity culture. The weathered hardback books of our Victorian ancestors may be long gone, but our obsession with famous (or infamous) people is more alive than ever.

From Plato to Presley

In fact, celebrity worship is a billion-dollar industry. Every year, millions of us tune in to the Oscars to watch our favorite actors, directors, and animators receive a pat on the back from Hollywood’s elite. Celebs’ outfits are scrutinized, their performances analyzed, and their acceptance speeches often go viral.

To analyze how we became such unapologetic celebrity worshippers requires us to explore a behavioral trait endemic to the human race – the state of reverence.

Historical studies show us that human societies have always had a need to ‘worship’ things — and sure enough this was often special people in society — the best hunters, athletes, the most beautiful, the smartest, the most spiritual.”

James Houran, clinical psychologist.

Even the earliest human societies had celebrities. A master hunter-gatherer would’ve used his skills to illicit his share of respect, adulation, and female attention. Other males would’ve envied him, whilst others would have liked to have been him.

Ancient Greece cherished their great thinkers. Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates seemingly possessed the solutions to all of life’s problems, and would’ve had a flock of admirers themselves. Despite our technological advancements, humans haven’t changed a lot since then.

What Makes Celebrities so Alluring?

History shows that humans are no strangers to putting people on pedestals. A big component behind our celeb-obsessed culture is good old fashioned envy. Whilst this is hardly a groundbreaking observation, it remains true whether we like it or not.

Celebrities have, undeservedly, taken the place of Greek philosophers and Neolithic hunter-gatherers. They’re presented as society’s most talented, most interesting, and most beautiful, and we gladly lap it up.

However, the jealously that we feel towards our celebrity overlords can quickly sour – sometimes with even fatal consequences. Take Mark Chapman for example. His adulation of John Lennon took a dark turn after the singer’s ”bigger than Jesus” remark was one of the driving forces behind Chapman’s mission to kill Lennon.

We develop deep bonds with celebrities. We watch them grow up, we become immersed in their love lives, we emulate their fashion senses, and we see their mistakes and mishaps. Whether or not we know them personally is irrelevant. There’s a bond with our favorite stars that is built on envy, admiration, and, sometimes, borderline obsession.

Sometimes we even use our all-encompassing knowledge of celebrities as a coping mechanism. promoting in people the illusion that we can actually know and develop a relationship with celebrities. ”In essence, people seem to confuse having a lot of information about a celebrity with genuine intimacy,” states James Houran.

Real-life relationships can be scary, hurtful, and plain disappointing. Therefore, developing a far-away infatuation with a movie star or rock musician provides a low-risk alternative. The fantasy relationship can never hurt us due to the simple fact that it’s not real in the first place.

I think the biggest reason why we become so enamoured with the rich and famous, however, is because they help us escape our often-monotonous lives. As Hunter S. Thompson said:

Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality.”

It’s one of my favorite quotes because it is so true. Perhaps we’re not so different from our 19th-century ancestors. We’re still reading about Great Men as they give us the license to escape the office cubicles, gridlocked traffic, and obnoxious fluorescent lights that are such big parts of our lives.

Though the Great Men of yesteryear have been replaced by actors, socialites, and billionaire app developers, our obsession with celebrities remains.

3 Small Things I Would Do If I Ran The World

Everybody wants to rule the world.

We’ve all had dreams about what we would do if we were loaded with money and in charge of the welfare of this planet we call Earth – and most of us have good intentions when we do so.

Aside from a few bottom-fedders who are hellbent on causing mayhem, inciting war, and creating European Super Leagues, I choose to beleif that the human race is fundamentally good until proven otherwise. Call me an idealist, but it’s this baseline faith in humanity that helps keep me sane.

Of course, it goes without saying that I were in charge of the planet I’d end world hunger, stop war, and provide free healthcare (sorry, America) to everyone who needs it. Those are the obvious things. Ask somebody what they would do if they were in charge and pretty much everybody will agree with those.

Therefore, I thought I’d change things up a bit and include three smaller, more down-to-Earth things that I would do if I was in charge of our green and blue sphere.

  1. Teach Kids About Money, Relationships, and How to Deal With Success/Failure

A lot of what they teach us in school is just kinda…well, useless.

I realise I’m not the first person to say this but it’s true nonetheless. Instead of teaching our kids about personal finance, money management, healthy friendships,relationships, imposter syndrome, and establishing priorities we have them memorising the name of every British monarch or Genghis Khan’s favorite hat.

I’m not saying history doesn’t have its place in the school curriculum. History teaches us important lessons and helps us avoid mishaps in the future. Besides, it’s fascinating to look at worlds gone by and learn about the lives of our ancestors. Whilst history is great, you can’t tell me that instead of learning about how to manage your money and avoid getting into massive debt is less important than learning, in the words of Henry Hill, about pledging allegiance to the flag and sitting through good government-bullshit.

We don’t teach our kids how to cultivate, develop and grow relationships, either. Consdering how important relationships of all forms are to our quality of life this boggles the mind. Teach kids about networking. Teach them how to develop proper friendships. Let them figure out why bullying is bad rather than just slapping them on the wrist for doing so.

None this is the teachers’ fault, granted. It’s not their fault they’re serving up the same curriculum today that I had in the mid-to-late 2000s, and the same one that my parents would have had in the mid-1970s. There are more than a few amazing, talented, passionate teachers out there who would probably love to teach our kids about the property ladder or how to deal with the ups and downs of professional life. Teachers should definitely have their boundaries, and let parents deal with life’s more personal subjects. Teach children not to take success granted. Teach them about the realities of the business world when they’re old enough. Maybe young people wouldn’t seem so ‘entitled’ if they grew up realising that life isn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and learning about the Aztects?

Just a thought.

2. Legalise Marijuana and End the War on Drugs

”Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society. 

H.L. Mencken on Prohibition, 1925.

The War on Drugs was set up to fail.

Rather than an attempt to protect the health of the nation and help recovering addicts get back on track with their lives, the War on Drugs is nothing more than a thinly-vieled excuse to practice racial profiling and exercise Jim Crow-esque stereotypes on people of color. Former President and professional liar Richard Nixon pretty much admitted this to his Chief of Staff during his reign of terror.

The U.S. government has spent upwards of one trillion dollars on the War on Drugs program since its inception in the early-1970s.

Not only is a War on Drugs expensive and riddled with racial bias, it’s also pointless. You can’t cure addiction by turning it into an act of criminality. Look at Saudi Arabia for example; drug possession over there is punishable by death and yet they still have problems with addiction. Of course they do – because guess what? Addiction is part of the human condition. It’s hardwired into our DNA and all the legislation in the world won’t make a bit of damn difference.

3. Make WiFi A Basic Need

I’ve never sounded so Millennial in my life.

Whilst it’s true that my generation has grown up with the Internet and, thus, has developed a relationship with it that is unparallelled with any other, I still think WiFi is an essential need – especially in this day and age.

Speak to any university student and they’ll tell you about the utter ballache that is remote, online learning. As COVID continues to keep students out of university, courses have gone entirely virtual and students are graded solely on the work they produce from their homes. Sound unfair? That’s because it is.

Believe it or not, there are still plenty of people in even the Western world who do not have, or do not want, regular Internet access. Factor in developing nations, and you have 3.5 billion people who do not have access to the Internet. One in ten EU citizens have no digital skills whatsoever. To put it bluntly, the majority of the world still isn’t online at all, or only has a very rudimental understanding of the virtual realm.

The end result is a population that is disproportionately under-educated, unskilled, and unable to challenge their worldview or biases in any meaningful way. Of course, the Internet is an imperfect place with a surplus of misinformation, illegal images, and dangerous subcultures, but it’s also the biggest learning resource that humans have ever created.

It’s simply impossible to succeed in a 2021 world without Internet access. Call me a snowflake, but that’s just the reality.

So there you have it – what small things would you do if you were given the keys to planet Earth?

3 Unsolved Disappearances From London

London is the most watched city in the world. With its Orwellian CCTV cameras and constant media circus, the notion that someone could vanish off its streets is borderline incomprehensible.

However, London still manages to house its fair share of secrets. If you’ve read my post covering the disappearances of Andrew Gosden and Alexander Sloley, you’ll know that is certainly possible to slip through the nooks and crannies of England’s capital without anybody noticing.

Here are three more unsolved London disappearances, each more confusing and enduring as the last. As with all the missing people featured on this blog, this article is written to help raise awareness of the cases and help keep the memory of them alive.

Martin Allen

On November 5, 1979, 15-year-old Martin Allen vanished from the London Underground. After finishing school, Allen intended to visit his brother, Bob, at nearby Holloway Road.

However, Martin had to make a brief detour first, as he needed to go home in order some extra money for the journey back (this was long before Railcards and contactless payments). At 3:50pm, he said goodbye to his friends and jumped on the Piccadilly Line from King’s Cross Station.

Martin never showed. He did not reach his brother’s home, and his parents were not made aware of Martin’s disappearance until 7pm the next evening. It wasn’t uncommon for Martin to stay overnight at his brother’s, so his parents assumed that he was merely staying there. When it became apparent that Martin had not even gone to school the next day, he was officially reported missing.

A task force was formed to help uncover the mystery of Martin’s disappearance. Photos were released, officers began questioning people, and the Allen family began campaigning for answers. Despite the high-location where Martin went missing, no concrete clues were found. Days and weeks began to race by, and the complexity of Martin’s disappearance only became more and more pronounced.

The ‘Gloucester Road’ Man

There was, however, a breakthrough in the case when a witness came forward to report a suspicious interaction on the London Underground. Speaking several weeks after Martin’s disappearance, the witness described seeing a man in his 30s with his arm around a boy who looked like Martin. The man, who was 6ft tall and very well-built, allegedly told the boy not to run when the pair exited the train at Earl’s Court Station. Both parties appeared nervous, but special emphasis was placed on the boy as his body language seemed to connote a feeling of severe uncertainty and panic.

Artist’s impression of the Gloucester Road sighting

The alleged sighting prompted a massive door-to-door search. Every property in Earl’s Court was visited, and hundreds of suspects were questioned. Unfortunately, the promising lead went nowhere and Martin’s disappearance remains as much of a mystery in 2021 than it did in 1979.

Both of Martin’s parents have since died without learning anything about their son’s fate. To make matters worse, the original files on the case were obliterated in a flood.

Martin Allen’s brother Jeffery claimed that the original detective who worked on the case said that there was ”high up people involved” in the disappearance and that the family should cease searching for their son before ”someone got hurt.”

More than 40 years have since passed since Martin went missing. No trace of the boy has ever been found.

Lee Boxell

Lee Boxell in 1987

Lee Boxell (15) disappeared from the London borough of Sutton on September 10, 1988. After spending the early part of the day meandering about town with some friends, Boxell stated that he wished to attend an afternoon football game at Selhurst Park between Charlton and F.C. and Millwall. After parting company with his friends, Boxell headed in the direction of the stadium.

He hasn’t been seen since. Nobody who attended the game (which ended in a 3-0 Millwall win) recalled seeing Boxell at Selhurst Park – leading the police to believe he never made it to the stadium altogether.

A witness came forward to state that they had seen a boy resembling Boxell outside a Tesco store on Sutton High Street at around 2pm on the day he went missing. This made it extremely unlikely that he would’ve been at Selhurst Park in time for the usual 3pm kick-off.

The Shed

After it became apparent that there was little chance Boxell attended the match, investigators began to consider the possibility that Boxell attended an unofficial youth club named The Shed on the day he went missing.

A 2012 tip from an unknown source came forward to say that they had seen Boxell at The Shed (located in a church annexe in the nearby village of Cheam) on September 10, 1988. Police later discovered that The Shed was, in fact, ran by a network of peadophiles and that there had been several alleged stories of sexual abuse there.

Investigators then began to develop a theory that Lee Boxell may have tried to intervene on an episode of sexual assault and was subsequently silenced in the process. If this is the case, then the young man must be commended and recognised for his bravery and it’s a true shame that his disappearance has not received the headlines that it deserves.

Lee Boxell may have been buried in the graveyard that surrounds St Dunstan’s Church in Cheam. However, an excavation of the land yielded no results, and his ultimate fate still remains unknown.

Suzy Lamplugh

Suzy Lamplugh’s disappearance has remained unsolved for almost 35 years.

The 25-year-old worked as an estate agent in Fulham, London, and attended an appointment on July 28, 1986, with a man known simply as Mr. Kipper. The name was not recognised by any of Suzy’s co-workers and may very well have been an alias.

Lamplugh’s diary confirmed that she had made the appointment, and she left her office in time for the 12:45 meeting outside a property in Fulham, only a few minutes away from the estate agency.

Sketch of the ‘Mr. Kipper’ suspect

Witnesses recalled seeing a woman matching Suzy’s appearance outside the property conversing with a man resembling the sketch above. The two conversed for a while before getting into a car and speeding off. Suzy has not been seen since.

Her car was discovered a few hours later. Parked less than a mile from the property, Suzy’s purse was found inside and the position of the drivers’ seat indicated that someone other than Lamplugh had driven it there. However, the vehicle’s interior failed to produce any clues.

John Cannan

Convicted murderer John Cannan is the only noteworthy suspect in Lamplugh’s disappearance. Not only does he resemble the aforementioned witness sketch, but it has been suggested that he was involved in a relationship with Suzy during the summer of 1986.

Sadly, no concrete evidence has surfaced linking him to the crime – but he remains the prime suspect in her disappearance, and has given multiple recanted confessions over the years.

Cannan will eligible for parole in 2023, and still protests his innocence. The lack of a ‘smoking gun’ piece of evidence means that the fate of Suzy Lamplugh remains unsolved.

D.B. Cooper – Robin Hood, or Dumb Fantasist?

Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men’s reality.”

Hunter S. Thompson

On November 24, 1971, a man in his forties bought himself a plane ticket.

I’m guessing you know the rest of this story.

Now, over 49 years since the man who called himself Dan Cooper jumped out of Northwest Airlines Flight 305 and into the pantheon of American folklore, his legacy as a cult figure remains foggy.

For some, D.B. Cooper’s skyjacking represents the ultimate victory for the American ‘little man”. Average in both height and looks, dressed in a cheap suit, and cursed with a hairline in heavy retreat, the non-descript, middle-aged Cooper is an everyday Robin Hood – bundling out of Flight 305 with a new fortune to enjoy his twilight years with.

Cooper was described as being almost pleasant. He never used crass or vulgar language and even paid for the drinks of all the passengers on board prior to their release in the exchange for the ransom money. For Cooper-lovers, his heist wasn’t about ego, bravado, or fragile machismo – it was about ‘sticking it to the man’ and defying corporate greed right under their noses. In an era dominated by unpopular, bumbling bureaucrats, Cooper’s heist was his interpretation of the American Dream. Work hard, come up with a plan, and escape to the countryside with 200 grand.

Two-hundred grand of ”negotiable American currency” as Cooper called it – leading some to conclude that Cooper wasn’t American himself. Once the parachutes and the money were dropped off, Cooper requested the plane take off once again. This time, Mexico City was the destination.

I think one of the reasons why D.B. Cooper has endured in our minds for so long is that he challenged the archetype of what a 1970s aircraft hijacker could be. He wasn’t a long-haired, bandana-wearing Cuban shouting pro-Castro rhetoric, nor was he a frizzy-haired mental patient armed with more bullets than sense. Cooper was, by all accounts, a James Bond-esque type of hijacker who calmly handed a note to flight attendant Tina Mucklow containing his threat to blow the plane up. Aside from his ”no funny business or I’ll do the job” comment later on, his demeanour on Flight 305 remained calm and personable.

Cooper’s loot is almost laughable by today’s standards however $200k was a sizeable bounty in 1971 in certainly would have been enough to provide the hijacker with a comfortable existence considering he was estimated to be in his forties at the time.

Well, that’s if he lived.

This is where the other camp in Cooper case come in.

Facing sub-zero temperatures with a 135mph wind in his face, Cooper launched himself off of Flight 305’s aft airstairs dressed in only a suit and loafers. His reserve parachute was not functional (something he failed to spot prior to jumping) and he failed to request a helmet. None of the money given to him has turned up anywhere in the world (aside from Brian Ingram’s 1980 discovery of $5,200 in Tina Bar) and there was no indication Cooper had any idea where he was when he jumped.

The FBI has always maintained that Cooper’s daring feat was one of stupidity and one that he certainly didn’t survive.

 “Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, he probably never even got his chute open’

Special Agent Larry Carr

Some argue that Cooper’s theft was as pointless as it was stupid. Even if he survived the jump he could not spend any of the money and I am certain Cooper knew this. He was familiar with the Lindbergh baby abduction case – whose perpetrator was caught after investigators tracked both the serial numbers of the ransom bills and then brought in additional handwriting evidence to seal the abductor’s fate. This is why Cooper took back the handwritten note given to Tina Mucklow and why he certainly knew that all of the money he had received was essentially useless.

So why do it? Was Cooper a desperate outlaw with nothing to lose, or was he a bored, directionless man going through the ultimate mid-life crisis? Did he hijack Flight 305 because he felt he had to or did he do so just to prove it could be done and inject some much-needed adrenaline back into his life?

We’ll never know for sure. Aside from a placard and a small percentage of the ransom money, no evidence of Cooper’s fate has materialized anywhere on Earth. Numerous people, from L.D. Cooper to Kenny Christiansen to William J. Smith, have been investigated as suspects but no hard evidence has ever linked any of these men to the crime. Nor has it legitimised any of the deathbed confessions made over the years by men claiming to have been Cooper.

It’s up to you to decide whether D.B. Cooper’s hijacking was an act of heroism or a moronic display of suicide. I prefer to think he did survive the jump. It was 200k. The world would only get darker and aircraft hijackings would only get more barbaric over the years. For me, D.B. Cooper’s crime is just not that big of a deal. He beat the machine at their own game and has infuriated the FBI by doing so. They knew that Cooper got the better of them and whether he died in the jump or not – his heist still represents a victory of some sort.

In 2016, the Cooper case was finally closed and, rightfully so – there are just bigger things to worry about these days. It’s entirely possible D.B. Cooper lived the rest of his life walking around with an expression on his face that was telling of man who knew something we didn’t. It’s also possible that his skeleton still resides in the Hoh Rainforest.

Either way, his name and legacy live on. Isn’t that what the American Dream is really about?

The Mysterious Death Of Edgar Allan Poe.

October 7, 1849

Edgar Allen Poe, the patron-saint of Gothic prose, dies.

A far-cry from the talented, eloquent writer we all all know him to be – Poe dies a haggard, frail shell of a man.

Four days before, he had been seen at Ryan’s Tavern in Balitmore, crashing into furniture in an apparently-drunken stupor – one observer noted his ”beastly state of intoxication.”

Dear Sir—There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker

Printer Joseph W. Walker

Poe’s condition was shocking – one observer noted his ”lusterless and vacant eyes” whilst making note of his ”haggard, unwashed face”. It seemed baffling how he ended up in this condition, and Poe himself was in no shape to answer any questions about his plight. With the rain in Baltimore cascading down in a blitz, Poe stumbled its streets mumbling incoherent gibberish.

But Edgar had not always been like this. Just days before, he had left Richmond, Virginia, bound for Philadelphia to undertake some editing work for an up-and-coming writer. Still only forty, Poe was robust, energised, and working regularly. Although hampered by an alchol problem, his career showed no signs of slowing down.

From embarrassing pleas for money to nationwide recognition following The Raven, Poe’s life echoed the archetypal American Dream native of his homeland – somewhat. Despite the immediate success of The Raven, Poe was only paid $9 (around $300 in 2020) for its publication. Although no longer a pauper, Poe’s life was hardly that of luxury.

It had been turbulent since the death of his wife, Virginia Clemm, in 1847 from tuberculosis. Thirteen years his junior, Clemm was also Poe’s first cousin. A bizarre arragement, no doubt, but her death only worsened the poet’s already burgeoning alchohol problem.

He seemed completely out of it at Ryan’s Tavern. Rambling and incoherent, the mystery of Poe’s condition only deepened – nobody was sure why he was even in Baltimore in the first place, or how he ended up so far off-route from Philadelphia. Even the clothes on his back didn’t belong to him. Overpowered by delusions and hallucinations, Poe’s dreadful showing seemed like the kind of gritty mystery found in his own works.

A large figure in the Poe mystery of the identity of the person simply known as ‘Reynolds’. As Poe meandered through the streets, he was heard repeatedly shouting this name – albeit in a slurred fashion. Nobody could verify who ‘Reynolds’ was, or if this person was responsible for Poe’s sudden steep decline. Poe was not conscious enough to answer questions, so the identity of this person has been cast in a dark shadow for over a hundred years. Was ‘Reynolds’ Jeremiah N. Reynolds? The newspaper editor whose presence may have inspired a Poe novel? Only Poe knew the answer to this – and the person’s identity rests with him.

As his condition worsened, Poe was taken to a windowless, cell-like room at the Washington College Hospital. It was here that the severity of Poe’s hallucinations began to accelerate as he repeatedly mentioned wife in Virginia. He could have been delusional enough to think that his original wife, Virginia Clemm, was still alive – or he could have been talking about his fiance – Sarah Elmira Royster – to whom he had offered his hand in marriage. Once again, the name ”Reynolds” was shouted by Poe who was now close to death.

Confused, delirious, and without any of the possessions he took with him, Edgar Allen Poe succumbed on October 7, 1849. Less than a week had passed since his appearance at Ryan’s Tavern, and the relatively young poet died a shell of his former self. A humiliating end for a man of his talents, Poe’s death certificate, if listed, has never been found.

Edgar Allen Poe was buried in an unmarked grave with nothing but a cheap casket for his body to lay in. Few people attended his service, so few that a sermon was not even conducted. Although moved to a nicer gravesite in 1875, Poe’s death did little to gain headlines, and he was quickly forgotten by the contemporary American public.

Only Edgar Allen Poe could have made death such a mystery. Rumours continue to surface regarding the cause of his demise – from alcoholism, to a brain tumour, to rabies, to even a murder plot known as ”cooping”, where a person is abducted by a political party, poisoned, forced to vote, and then thrown out in to the streets. His demise continues to echo the kind of detective mystery so often found in his works, and the curious death of Edgar Allen Poe continues to haunt, intrigue, and fascinate us.

The death of Edgar Allen Poe will remain a mystery – forevermore.

Knowledge is Power: The Tilly Smith Story

The seawater on Maikhao beach was beginning to froth.

Like a fresh pint of beer, the bubbles in the ocean formed a white, cream-like foam on the top of the surface.

Tilly Smith was ten years old at the time. She was on a Christmas holiday with her parents – for once, Christmas day was going to be spent on a golden, sunny beach instead of rainy England.

The young girl noticed something peculiar.

The sea.

Not only was it frothy, it had receded all the way back from the sand and was now several metres away from its usual location.

She had seen this before – in geography class, Smith learned that these were the warning signs of an impending tsunami.

She told her father – who brushed off the warning. After all, if the lifeguards weren’t worried, why should he be? Smith was only a kid who didn’t know what she was talking about.

Tilly told her father again and again. Still, he didn’t listen.

Mr. Smith found himself in a tricky predicament.

He could either ignore his daughter, upsetting her, or he could mooch over to the lifeguards and risk embarrassing himself in front of them about this alleged ‘tsunami’ that was apparently just about to happen.

He chose the latter option – a father’s love, right?

Rather than tell the lifeguards, however, he told the security guards about the supposed danger.

The security guards then informed the lifeguards who evacuated the beach.

Shortly after, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami arrived and devastated the whole country.

Two-hundred and twenty thousand lives were lost. Millions of homes were lost. Billions of dollars’ worth of damage occured.

Nobody on Maikhao beach died.

Because one ten year-old girl was listening in class.

Because one ten year-old girl wouldn’t change her mind.

Because one father gave in to his parental instincts.

If I was a better writer I’d think of a profound, insightful lesson to write here.

I’ll try my best:

Perhaps we should listen to our gut feeling more and not give in regardless of what others might think – the result could literally mean the difference between life and death.

Actually that wasn’t too bad.

The Man Who Saved the World

Stanislav Petrov was a Russian military officer whose career parallelled with the peak of the Cold War.

There was major beef unfolding between the USSR and the United States – both sides were involved in a perpetual dick-measuring contest to see who was the true dominant force in the world.

By 1983, things were getting heated.

The Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 over Moneron Island which caused the deaths of all 269 passengers and crew.

Three weeks later, Petrov was at the helm of the state-of-the-art missile detection system, Oko.

Oko can detect incoming foreign missiles milliseconds after they are launched. Even by today’s standards, the speed and effiency of Oko is impressive.

So impressive it was thought to be foolproof.

On September 26, Oko’s alarm was raised – a missile had been launched by the United States.

Then, two missiles were launched.

Then three.

Then four.

Then five.

The Cold War had finally graduated in to all-out battle and by the looks of things, most of The Soviet Union was seconds away from being blasted in to smithereens.

Millions of people were going to be killed by the incoming missiles, and the Soviet Union had no choice but to retaliate. They had weapons capable not only of destroying the United States, but most of Europe as well.

Except Petrov was suspicious.

Why, after 20 years of muscle-flexing and chest pounding, would America only launch 5 missiles in their ”all-out” attack?

Something wasn’t right.

Petrov did the unthinkable – he ignored his training and did not report the incident.

He questioned the ‘foolproof’ technology of Oko.

Oko may be sophisticated but it lacks a human touch.

Petrov’s civilian training equipped him with strong reasoning skills.

Something Oko, and its military subjects, didn’t have.

Now, the sweat-ridden Petrov was in quite a predicament.

He had the lives of millions of people in his hands – the Soviet missile strikes could wipe out the lives of 90 million people. The U.S. counterstrikes could wipe out another 100 million. If he got this wrong, almost 200 million people would die.

So it was a good thing he was completely right.

A freak reflection of the North Dakota sun on the clouds was mistaken by Oko as a missile launch.

There was to be no nuclear war, no widespread destruction, and no incomprehensible death toll.

Petrov’s actions weren’t recognised by the Soviet Union at the time, but he was subsequently awarded with a host of honours such as the World Citizen Award courtesy of the United Nations.

All because he ignored blind loyalty and followed his gut instinct.

And you thought your day was stressful.

The Assassination of Andres Escobar

”Life doesn’t end here” – Andres Escobar proclaimed after his Colombia side were knocked out of the 1994 World Cup at the first hurdle.

It had been a long road to get here, one rife with hardship and challenges – Colombia’s reputation had been dragged through the mud in the 1970s and 1980s thanks to figures like Pablo Escobar (no relation) whose stranglehold on the nation before his 1993 death had ruined the perception of the country to outsiders.Despite his (overseas) reputation as a greedy, thirsty warlord, Pablo Escobar was a deeply patriotic man whose funds helped build the football pitches so many of Colombia’s players mastered their craft on.

But those days had gone – Pablo was no more, he was killed the end of 1993 and Colombia entered the new year in a state of total disrepair. The nation was still healing from decades of bloody, gruesome internal conflict between militant left and right-wing groups that had been the catalyst of thousands of deaths and hundreds of disappearances. Football, it seemed, was one of the only things capable of bringing the nation together. The team known Los Cafeteros (The Coffee Growers) seemed to have diplomatic powers stronger than any elected official. For 90 minutes, differences are put aside, rivalries are forgotten, and enemies become allies.

The World Cup, hosted in the nearby United States, was the perfect opportunity to showcase Colombia on the world’s biggest stage. Fans from all over the world arrived in the U.S., donned in the colours of their respective countries and chanting the hymn-like rallying calls of their respective nations. Colombia was no exception – ”football is the only thing that unites us” you’d hear more than once from Cafeteros fans. Thousands of Colombians travelled to the United States in a sea of yellow and blue ready, as always, to spur their team on.

Their tournament began on June 18th at the Rose Bowl in Pasedena, California with an underwhelming 1-3 loss to Romania. Meanwhile, the United States (potted in the same group as Colombia) drew the tournament’s opening game 1-1 with Switzerland. As a result, the upcoming Colombia vs United States game was a must-win for both teams if they had any hope of qualifying for the knockout rounds.

Talent was evident in Colombia’s squad. Carlos Valderrama, considered the nation’s greatest ever player, was the captain in charge. The talents of Alexis Garcia and Faustino Asprilla also galvanised the squad, who lost just once in their previous 26 games. Marshalling the Colombian defence was 27- year-old Andres Escobar of Atlético Nacional. Nicknamed El Caballero del Futbol (The gentleman of football), Andres was a reserved, highly professional defender whose calm, stoic play took place behind his more flamboyant teammates. When Pelé suggested that Colombia could go all the way in the competition – he wasn’t lying. They had the talent, drive, and had the advantage of only travelling a few thousand miles to the tournament. However, so far, their campaign had gotten underway with a damp-squib defeat to an under-par Romania.

The Rose Bowl was once again the setting -the game game against the United States was a must-win. Colombia easily possessed the better players, but the U.S. had the home advantage. A whopping 93,869 fans sat down, nervously, to spectate. Colombia hit the ground running – attack, attack, attack. That was the game plan. The ball seemingly playing fugitive to the United States’ goal. “We attacked from all angles, but the ball wouldn’t go in”, remembers striker Adolfo Valencia. Panic begins to set in when your game-plan isn’t bearing fruit – as soon as the opposition has a spell, the pendulum of momentum begins to swing the other way. In the 22nd minute, a low cross by John Harkes flashed across goal – Andres Escobar tried to deal with it and ended up converting it in to his own net. For a few seconds, he lay on his back defeated, before rising to his feet and jogging back to his position. As was typical of his demeanor, the calm defender showed no outward signs of panic or grave concern.

Those watching on TV had the opposite reaction. “In that moment, my nine-year-old son said to me ‘Mommy, they’re going to kill Andrés,” his sister later recollected, to which she replied  ‘’No sweetheart, people aren’t killed for mistakes. Everyone in Colombia loves Andrés’’. Escobar was indeed beloved by his teammates and the public alike – the vast majority of the country sharing in his feelings of sorrow following his calamitous mistake, there was still plenty of time to turn the game around and win.

Despite the best efforts of the talented Colombia side, the United States’ goal remained empty until the last minute of the game – by that time, the hosts had scored again and the game finished 2-1 to the U.S. Despite winning against Switzerland, Romania’s win against the U.S. meant that Colombia were out. Andres Escobar and his team went home with their tails behind their legs – Escobar was particularly devastated.

It was shortly after his return that he gave his ”life doesn’t end here” statement to the press. There had been warnings. There had been rumblings and rumours that Escobar would come into harm following his mistake. Still, he was young and full of life – he wanted to live normally and peacefully, and make amends at the next World Cup.

Sadly it wasn’t to be. On the evening of July 2, 1994, Escobar went out to bar, in Medellín, his first night our following the World Cup . He had turned down the opportunity to visit loved ones in Las Vegas – he wanted to be home in the country he loved so dearly. His manager had hold him to keep a low profile – to which he responded ‘No, I must show my face to my people’.” Andres did show his face but, sadly, it was to the wrong crowd. After enduring a night of heckling from the customers regarding his mistake, Andres got in his car and drove towards the group. ”It was an honest mistake”, he insisted with his patented brand of pragmatism – unfortunately, this only made the situation worse. ”Faggot!” they shouted at him, before one man pulled out a gun and unleashed six shots in to Escobar’s bang. Six. One for every ””¡Gol!” shouted by the commentator during the game’s live broadcast. Andres was rushed to the hospital where he died 30 minutes later.

Escobar’s death still haunts the nation of Colombia. Over 25 years later, he remains beloved by Atlético Nacional fans and is still widely mourned in his home nation. His assassination is thought by some as an act of revenge by jaded bookmakers, and, to others, to be merely a case of a man being in the wrong place at the wrong time – either way, his death brought notoriety and shame to a nation whose image was already fragile overseas. ”Life doesn’t end here” were Andres Escobar’s prophetic words – and he was right, it didn’t end there, rather, it ended on the tarmac of a seedy nightclub’s car park.

I guess football, to some, really is more than just a game.

”Find Your Passion” is Terrible Advice

I was stood on stage at graduation last summer and a man dressed in a gown and mortarboard looked at me square in the eye.

”You’ve done the hard work, now it’s time you follow your passion”.

I nodded, thanked him, and pretended I knew what that was.

You see, I had heard the phrase ”follow your passion” several times that day from parents, students, teachers, and chancellors alike – it was a phrase given out so liberally I was beginning to think I was going mad and hearing things over and over again like a broken record.

On the surface, it’s good advice – sure. Graduation is a proud day for everyone, and the sight of wide-eyed students clutching their diplomas and wearing their mortarboards is enough to get any professor misty-eyed as they release their inner Robin Williams and hope the students take their wisdom on board. Follow your passion. Follow your passion and the money will follow. It’s almost sage-like.

Well, ultimatley, it’s banal, hollow, useless, fortune-cookie-quality advice that has no actual meaning for most people when they actually break down the saying.

I’m sure the man who said that to me had the greatest intentions and was just trying to inspire a young man with his whole career ahead of him – so, whatever your name is, it’s not personal – it’s just your advice really sucks and I hate you.

Ok, maybe that’s a bit far.

It’s just most people aren’t born with an innate passion they ‘find’ one day whilst stargazing around a campfire. Most people aren’t born with a talent that puts them in the 1% of their chosen field. If you’ve read my post on mediocrity you’ll know that the vast majority of people on this planet are in the middle of the bell curve – having no extraordinary ability, gift, or passion for any one predetermined thing.

Now imagine if the professor told me that on stage – a lot of awkward silence would have followed, I bet.

So, hold the phone a minute – if ‘follow your passion’ is such useless advice for most people, why do some people end up loving their careers?

Well, Cal Newport answered this question in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. It’s wonderful look at people in differing careers and investigates why some people love what they do whilst most of us loathe what we do.

The results are pretty interesting.

Cal found that passion is hardly ever pre-determined, but is created as a result of years and years of mastery. Ira Glass was once a radio intern with barely any skill in his craft and a voice that was hardly as easy on the ears as some of his much more famous contemporaries. He was born with neither the talent or innate passion for broadcasting – and, despite this, is perhaps the most famous radio man in the world.

He got there by getting really fucking good at what he does. The skills came about after he spent hours upon hours practicing the fundamentals – making sure to increase the difficulty of his tasks along the way. He didn’t stay in his comfort zone only doing the things he knew he was good at. His skills got better and better doing the things he was, well, mediocre at. This is known as deliberate practice – the unrewarding, painstaking, and thankless task of practicing a new skill as soon as you’ve mastered the preceding one.

Glass’s This American Life is a brilliant radio show due to his skills, and that’s why he’s passionate about his job – and mega rich I’d bet. Gordon Ramsay spent years getting yelled at in the kitchen, practicing dishes that pushed his skills each and every day. If he’d spent 20 years cooking fish and chips, he’d still be a lowly sous-chef. Instead, he worked on his weaknesses, took feedback on the chin, and came back stronger each time.

Now he’s a multi-millionaire and his passion is evidently as strong as ever.

Watching yourself get better at a task is one of the most rewarding feelings out there – improvement is addictive, engaging, and does wonders for your confidence. As your skills (in any chosen area) improve, you’ll be hungry for more and more – which is the perfect breeding ground for passion.

So maybe we should chase that instead – mastery. Mastery breeds passion. So you better get real fucking good.

Are Smartphones Ruining Our Lives?

Back in 2008, I received my first ever phone – the LG Chocolate.

I was amazed – it was slick, small, streamlined, sophisticated, had a camera, and could even go on the Internet.

I mean, the Internet browser was painfully slow, sure. However, the pure novelty of being able to go online without a computer more than made up for it.

Fast forward twelve years later and I’m not sure that initial infatuation I had with phones still exists. Like a stagnant marriage, I’ve grown attached to my phone (now and iPhone) at the hip and find myself complaining about it regularly – sometimes forgetting just how incredible and sophisticated it really is. I, like many others, take it for granted each and every day.

However, recently I’ve realised my relationship with my phone isn’t actually that healthy. I check it hundreds of times a day, clock up hours of screen time, and find myself unable to focus as much as a result. Have smartphones ruined us?

Smartphones make our lives easy. We can book cab rides, order food, play games, speak to people thousands of miles away, and watch videos all with a click of a button. They have woven themselves deep into the lives of humans across the globe – and I don’t think we’re ready for them.

Humans, for all intents and purposes, are still evolving. Ten thousand years ago, we were hunting down food in the plains of Africa, outsmarting lions, tigers, and hyenas along the way. One thousand years ago, we were working in the fields, gathering our surplus of crops to put aside for a rainy day. Two hundred years ago, we were beginning to move out of the countryside and into the big, sprawling cities seeking urban employment. Our species has barely evolved to that – let alone living with an omniscient technological companion whose screens rule our entire lives.

Adrian Ward, psychologist at the University of Texas, conducted a study involving 800 participants where they undertook a series of challenging mental tasks. Some of them undertook the tasks with their phones in another room, others were allowed to keep their phones in their pockets, and the rest of them did the tasks with their smartphones on the desk in front of them. Despite all phones being off at all times, the mere presence of the devices were enough to affect the concentration of those in the latter group severely – those who had their phones in another room fared the best. Those whose phones were in their pockets performed mediocrely – their concentration still mildly handicapped by their phones.

The ability to focus, I argue, is one the most important skills in life – and it’s getting harder and harder to do that each day behind the polluting barrage of our noisy mobiles. In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport states that the ability to focus on a single task for any substantial amount of time is a skill that is quickly diminishing in the modern world. I fall guilty to this trap, too, dammit, as my ability to focus on tasks has got progressively worse each year I’ve had a smartphone. With the weight of email, Facebook, Instagram, and snapchat, working on tasks is akin to walking through quicksand at times. However, it’s not just our professional lives that are at risk – another study, conducted by the University of British Columbia, researched 300 meal-going participants and told one group to put their phones away for the entire meal, whilst the others’ had free access to their phones. As you might expect, the latter group reported feeling more distracted, less engaged, and did not enjoy the experience nearly as much as the group without their phones.

Smartphones have the ability to aid us, sure. Like anything, however, and over-reliance on them leads to problems down the road. Will humans in the next several hundred years inherit our crappy attention spans and constant need for social approval? I would hardly be surprised if that was the case. They’re also a highly insidious foe – it’s easy to lose yourself in an online game or social app and realise you’ve spent the last several hours glued to your screen – and, in this day and age, everybody else has a smartphone, too. They’ve gone from being convenient companions to dopamine slot machines over night.

I, for one, do not welcome our new smartphone overlords. But, like the sucker I am, I still let my phone rule my life every chance it gets.

Written by camerongorrie.blog for Odyssey.