Boys Gone Wild

Is it just me, or has there been a recent rash of high-profile males caught with their pants down (some quite literally)?

From actors, to politicians, to religious figures, this current crop of powerful thugs sinks to new lows of lowness.

Arnold

Starting with Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose career has progressed from The Terminator to The Governator to The Impregnator. Apparently, he fathered a love child with his housekeeper (fresh on the heels of doing the same with his wife), and he co-existed peacefully with all of them until it all came crashing down. [Open the floodgates of other supposed mistresses.]

John_edwards

Moving on to John Edwards, that titan of virtue whose $400 haircut was the least of his indiscretions. This one-time favored son had his own affair and love child, all while his wife was battling cancer. Now he’s on the verge of facing indictment for using his presidential campaign money to hide his torrid affair.

Ricardo_seppia

And finally, the most tragic, disgusting, reprehensible thug of them all: Father Riccardo Seppia, an Italian Cardinal who has been working with the Pope on reforms to address pedophile priests. In the ultimate horrific irony, this “man of God” was just arrested on pedophilia and drug charges. Allegedly, he bribed a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters with young. vulnerable boys. “I do not want 16-year-old boys but younger. Fourteen-year-olds are OK. Look for needy boys who have family issues.”

I’m disgusted and I’m angry. 

Being a man means honoring your vows, taking responsibility for your life, and living with integrity. 

These jerks missed the mark on all three counts. And the consequences of their irresponsible behavior are far-reaching. 

What I Miss Most About Working with Architects

Glasses

It’s been more than eight months since I left my 9-year communications gig at HOK.

My time away from the AEC grind has allowed me to reflect on the many positive aspects of working in the design professions.

Beyond the creativity and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants reality, I also miss those pesky architects. Challenging and incorrigible as they can sometimes be, those hybrid right-brain/left-brain creatures also bring some pretty dynamic traits to the table.

Here are a few of the qualities I miss most about working alongside architects*:

The Passion. For most architects, their passion propels them to thrive in an often-thankless field that is largely under-appreciated, undervalued – and underpaid.

The Perseverance. They willingly sacrifice time, food, money, etc. for the sake of the project/client. And we all know how most of them refuse to retire at a reasonable age, choosing instead to design until they take their final breath.

The Pride. I loved witnessing the proud papas (occasionally mamas) beam at the public unveiling of their projects. I imagine there are fewer more satisfying experiences for an architect than ushering a project from idea to built form that will serve people for decades to come.

The Idealism. Most architects possess an inherent desire to “do the right thing” (in the areas of design, sustainability, resources, etc.), even if it’s not practical or feasible. Ultimately, it’s because they believe in the power of architecture to change the world.

The Glasses. A signature accessory for many, quirky glasses symbolize a designer’s creativity, individuality and not-so-veiled desire to be noticed and taken seriously.

The Black. It’s an unwritten (but almost universal) maxim that serious architects don’t wear bright colors. Or, usually, any colors. 

The Aloofness. OK, this one can definitely be annoying to someone whose role it is to communicate with and engage people. But I grew to welcome the challenge of breaking through their independent-mindedness. 

The Writing. Sometimes frustrating, often confusing, the convoluted “design speak” of architects always served as a rich source of comic relief. I was frequently amused and dumbfounded by the number of big-ticket words could be strung together to say relatively little.

The Egos. A controversial characteristic, I realize, but this elephant-in-the-room quality of many architects can be quite endearing (because it is a direct outgrowth of each quality listed above).

Although not currently employed by the architectural profession, I retain special memories of my time there and am grateful for the special friendships I maintain with folks at HOK and throughout the AEC industry. Hope you enjoyed my commentary.

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* My broad definition of “architects” encompasses interior designers, planners, landscape architects, exhibit designers and other design professionals.

See Spot run. Help Spot help.

Seespotrun5

See Spot run. Run Spot run.

These simple statements helped teach several generations of American children to read, as part of the reader series that featured the legendary Dick and Jane.

Two sentences. Six words. Six syllables. Twenty letters.

Contrast that clarity with the opening two sentences of this representative press release:

“Mavenir Systems, the leading innovator of mobile infrastructure solutions for LTE operators, today announced the VoLTE Edition of its mOne™ Convergence Platform. Available now, the Mavenir mOne Convergence Platform – VoLTE Edition provides operators with three options for quickly and cost-effectively deploying voice and messaging services over LTE.”

Huh?

I’d say we’ve lost our way, trading simplicity and clarity for cumbersome prose laden with jargon, hyperbole and empty-calorie phrases.

This is progress?

As our world becomes increasingly polluted with bulky, incomprehensible writing, there’s a simple way to reverse the trend and stand out from the fray.

By returning to Spot-like simplicity.

That’s one of the reasons I am such a fan of Twitter. It imposes discipline. Each thought is limited to a tidy 140 characters.

But I’m dismayed by the recent introduction of services like TwitLonger, which touts its service as “a way to let you post to Twitter when 140 characters just isn’t enough.”

Rather than forcing you to edit and synthesize your ideas into a shorter, more cohesive thought, it just facilitates your chronic lack of discipline.

In the words of Mark Twain and/or Blaise Pascal, “I would have written a shorter letter but didn’t have time.”

I’m reminded of the majority of my classroom teachers, whose essay assignments carried with them a required minimum number of words (or more commonly, pages). At the time, it seemed like a perfectly acceptable guideline for defining the assignment and establishing a consistent expectation for students.

Now, I think it’s a lazy technique that teaches students to value volume over substance.

Who among us hasn’t done some creative stretching to achieve page minimums – only to be rewarded with an exceptional grade? Not only did we learn that filling space is valued more than economy of thought, but also that length is one of the most significant arbiters of writing success.

It isn’t.

I’ve discovered that limits are much more effective than quotas in forging writers. I have become a much stronger writer and editor from having to shave down an article to fit a precariously tight word count. Painful as the process may be, the resulting piece is immeasurably stronger and more readable.

Do you think Hemingway would use TwitLonger?

Spot thinks not.

Seespotrun3

 

Are You a Modern-Day Chicken Little?

Learn the Danger Signs of a Sky-is-Falling Persona

Chickenlittle2

According to the fable, Chicken Little believes the world is doomed after an acorn falls on his head. “The sky is falling!” he proclaims to everyone he passes on his way to see the king.

CL persuades others to buy into his tragic belief, but eventually this chick loses all credibility.

I’ve seen my fair share of modern-day Chicken Littles. For them, everything is a fire drill – even mundane, insignificant drivel. And, they believe, it all deserves immediate attention.

Folks initially take heed and treat them with respect, but eventually, they tune ’em out.

Because most offenders aren’t even aware of their “issues,” here are some handy danger signs to watch for:

  • “High priority” is the default setting on your Outlook account.
  • Your life plan is modeled after The Battle of Midway.
  • You call in sick to work when it’s partly cloudy.
  • You find Lady Gaga’s music to be quite understated. 
  • You’ve never forgotten that nasty flu shot from 1993.
  • Your mother’s great uncle once met the Pope.
  • Each time you watch “The Wizard of Oz,” you’re convinced the Wicked Witch will finally kill Dorothy.
  • You were one of those kids who believed he was dying everytime he got a bloody nose. 
  • You’ve heard the sun is gradually burning out.
  • You think you have the most amazing dog ever.
  • You can’t spell (or say) the word “subtlety.”
  • One time, during that terrible snowstorm, you nearly fishtailed.

Chicken-little

P.S. The same principles apply to Henny Penny as well.

 

See related post: My Exclamation Point

Laughing at Chuckles the Clown

When Hilarity Takes Charge.

Chuckles

“Chuckles Bites the Dust” ranks as one of the most beloved 30 minutes in the history of television. The classic episode first aired in 1975, during the sixth season of the legendary Mary Tyler Moore Show. 

Mary spends most of the show berating her colleagues for making shameless jokes about the untimely demise of Chuckles, the WJM-TV children’s clown who’s killed in a freak accident (dressed like a peanut, he’s crushed to death by a rogue elephant…)

While Murray, Lou, Ted and Sue Ann can’t help but be utterly amused by the scenario, Mary is completely offended and sees no humor whatsoever in Chuckles’ sad situation.

Yet during the most somber occasion of all – Chuckles’ funeral – Mary absolutely can’t control herself and bursts out into a full-on belly laugh. 

As they say, timing is everything.

I’m reminded of an incident in high school when my best buddy Bob and I were interacting with the school librarian (affectionately nicknamed ‘Bird Legs’ by an uncredited but insightful alum).

BL was lecturing us about the challenges of shelving quartos (oversized books), a topic she clearly found both serious and riveting.

And let me just say it took every ounce of strength I had to quell the burning desire to burst into hysterics. My body quivered, ached and yearned to be freed from its forced captivity.

Finally, I reached that point of no return and started laughing convulsively. Rather than dare look at Bob, I simply placed my hand in front of my face – as if that would conceal the shaking shoulders, flushed face and guttural sounds.

I can’t fathom that Bird Legs didn’t know exactly what was happening, yet she just continued her lecture on large books. Which, of course, acted as jet propulsion fuel to our hysteria.

Never was I so grateful to hear the tone that signaled the end of class.

I suspect it may not have been BL’s first encounter with hysterical students. And although she probably didn’t appreciate our poorly timed revelry, the incident did forever create a special place in our hearts for libraries, quartos – and birds.

Neuroscientists have discovered that our brains actually “get ready to laugh” whenever we hear laughter, suggesting that the activity is meant to be shared.

Individual senses of humor vary, but laughter is universal. On average, people do it about 18 times a day. It’s so embedded into our humanity that babies laugh before they speak. Beyond producing endorphins that make us feel better, laughter also can relax muscles, lower stress hormones, boost the immune system and prevent heart disease.

Lots of physical and emotional benefits, to be sure.

If only it could be corralled.

Birdlegs2

 Mary Tyler Moore 20th Anniversary (Chuckles excerpt begins at 1:20):

Learn about the psychology of laughter from UCLA Professor Sophie Scott:

 Tips to stop laughing at inappropriate times.

 

 

Concocting Enemies

In Support of the Rally to Restore Unity.

A few years ago, I tuned in to Larry King Live as he was moderating a friendly debate between a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister (despite being an avowed agnostic, Larry frequently welcomed religious-minded guests and treated them with uncommon respect).

As a born-and-bred Catholic currently attending a Protestant church, I was drawn in by the discussion.

I can’t even recall the specific topic at hand, but I do remember wanting to immediately pick sides. The debate was civil and non-confrontational, yet I felt the need to align with “my guy” (the Protestant minister) while awaiting opportunities to discredit the other guy.

After the first commercial break, the discussion continued – but with the addition of a third guest: a Jewish Rabbi

Now the stakes had changed. Suddenly – and unwittingly – my perspective shifted, and I latched onto the priest-minister duo. Given the new threat on the scene, the differences between the first two guys didn’t seem as significant.

This conversation progressed until it was time for another break, after which a Muslim cleric appeared on the set. 

Now my world was really shaken. Clearly, this new imposter was the real adversary, and the Judeo-Christian trio was an alliance I felt compelled to throw my support behind.

The final segment introduced the most troubling panelist of all: a card-carrying atheist. And darn it if I wasn’t forced to revise my perspective yet again to accommodate the latest configuration of guests. I cocked my gun and aimed it squarely at newest Enemy #1.

No question about it, this show cleverly messed with my mind, stretching and challenging it in the process.

I came away from the experience with a few personal epiphanies, which I have taken the liberty of broadening into general principles about humanity: 

1. We are most comfortable with those who think, act and look like us. It’s safer and helps preserve the status quo.

2. The more we surround ourselves by “clones,” the more uncomfortable, threatened or frightened we are by anyone who isn’t one. Our holy huddle ends up serving as a bomb shelter whose primary function is to protect the occupants.

3. Getting to know – even like – someone with a different belief system doesn’t have to threaten or diminish ours. In fact, it can strengthen it.

When we completely dismiss someone or deem him dangerous/untouchable, we essentially release ourselves from having to treat him with dignity or respect. Which means, of course, that we also negate the potential of actually developing a relationship that is potentially life-changing for both of us.

All because of fear. Or pride. Or complacency.

I’m grateful to Mr. King (a non-religious Jew) for illuminating that reality for me.

Clonesaredull

 

 

The Weirdest Part of Weird Al

Is anyone else puzzled by the enduring career of nerdy musical ‘artist’ Weird Al Yankovic?

Decade after decade, this accordion-playing, polka-loving purveyor of pop parodies just keeps banging out mildly clever derivative hits.

His latest creation is “Perform This Way,” a spoof of current pop phenom Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Recent reports that Gaga refused granting Al permission to use her song escalated into a frenzy he skillfully dubbed The Gaga Saga. Alas, it was apparently just a misunderstanding, and the sweet Lady has given the green light to include the single on Al’s “Alpocalypse” album (his 13th!), scheduled for release on June 21.

Collective sigh of relief.

Although some artists have previously denied Al access to their work (Prince foremost among them), others report being quite flattered by his request to rework their tunes (including Michael Jackson, Madonna and Nirvana).

And so far, the 51-year-old’s prolific parodies have sold more than 12 million albums, including six platinum records and four gold records, as well as garnering three Grammy Awards and nominations for nine others.

Ironically, Weird Al’s musical career has outshined and/or outlasted many of his targets: Joan Jett, Toni Basil, Billy Ray Cyrus, Robert Palmer, The Knack, Coolio, etc., etc.

He’s a fascinating character, to be sure. 

Some interesting factoids about Mr. Alfred Matthew Yankovic:

  • valedictorian of his high school senior class.
  • earned a degree in architecture from California Polytechnic State University.
  • practices veganism.
  • opened for acts as diverse as The Monkees and Missing Persons.
  • directed music videos for numerous other artists, including Ben Folds, Hanson, The Black Crowes and The Presidents of the United States of America.
  • named as the top artist that should be nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a 2009 Rolling Stone poll (followed by Rush and The Moody Blues).

But for me, the weirdest part of Weird Al is that he’s still piloting a thriving musical career.

In a fickle industry that relegates artists to the bargain bin with relative ease, this nerdy gimmick of a guy has exhibited real staying power (although I’m fairly certain his CDs are available in many a bargain bin).

Don’t get me wrong…I’m grateful for any ’80s pop singer who is still considered relevant in 2011. But given the chance, I’d really like to trade Al in for someone along the lines of Pat Benatar, Level 42 or The Go-Go’s.

So again, I ask: Is anyone else puzzled by the enduring career of nerdy musical “artist” Weird Al Yankovic?

Life Before Running Water

Water

It was really tough growing up in a house with no running water. Each day, one of us would have to rise before dawn, walk for miles to the community well, and fetch the day’s supply of water. Those few gallons had to accommodate our family’s daily routine of drinking, bathing, washing and cooking. The next morning, the whole process would begin again.

OK, that scenario is a total fabrication. I actually grew up in a comfortable suburban home with numerous working spigots and sinks. Water was plentiful and pure and completely taken for granted.

What we didn’t have was Internet access – or even a single onsite computer.

That’s because my ‘80s youth preceded the digital age.

To anyone born in the last 20 years, my Internet isolation probably seems as primitive to you as a life without running water seems to me.

Yet we managed just fine, as we were completely oblivious to the technological advancements awaiting the next generation.

I sometimes wonder what my grandpa (who died when I was a little boy) would think if he were suddenly transported into our 21st century world. Undoubtedly, he would be amazed and overwhelmed by our “modern” lifestyle, clothing, food, music, recreation, and especially our technology. To someone who truly lived a large chunk of his childhood without access to running water, our world would seem positively opulent.

Yet I have to believe he’d also be disappointed by what’s been stripped away from modern life and culture.

Grandpa might yearn for the social interaction that was so common in his day. A true sense of close-knit neighbors and face-to-face community that defined daily life.

He also might crave a return to the more physical demands and expectations of his era. When exercise was strongly embedded in daily life, and it served as both a physical and mental workout. When sweat was valued.

I think the facet of life Grandpa might miss most is a slower, simpler pace. A time when time was savored instead of raced. When the concept of multi-tasking would’ve been considered an absurd notion. When life wasn’t hurried along.

Though few of us would opt to return to the days of no Internet (or running water), there are definite trade-offs to the “advances” we now enjoy.

Think it’s time to go take a leisurely walk. Minus the iPod or water bottle.

When I’m One-Hundred-And-Fourteen

Kimura_1875946c

You’re looking at Mr. Jiroemon Kimura, of Kyoto, Japan, who just celebrated his 114th birthday on Tuesday.

Not only does that qualify him as the world’s oldest man and last surviving male from the 19th century, but it also advances him a full 50 years past the ripe old age referenced in The Beatles classic “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

A 15-year-old Paul McCartney penned that catchy tune, which declares life-long devotion to a lover. From his teenage vantage point, 64 most certainly would seem ancient. 

In 1967, when the song was released, the life expectancy of a U.S. male was 67. Today it’s about 76.

Mr. K. blows both those figures out of the water.

This man has witnessed two turns of the century, two World Wars, a Depression, Holocaust, ~30 Olympics games, and numerous other world events.

His living legacy spans four generations: seven children (five of whom are still alive), 14 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great-grandchildren. His marital history is a mystery.

Reports say Mr. Kimura spends the majority of his time in bed, but wakes up early in the morning and reads newspapers with a magnifying glass. He enjoys talking to guests and following live parliamentary debates on television. 

And, of course, he has a Facebook fan page.

The key to his longevity, Mr. Kimura says, is to eat healthy and in small portions. He’s particularly fond of red bean cake and rice.

And he’s nipping at the heels of the world’s oldest person, Besse Cooper, of Monroe, Georgia, who’s just four months his senior. Not to be outdone, she, too, has a Facebook fan page.

“Will You Still Need Me, Will You Still Feed Me, When I’m One-Hundred-And-Fourteen…”

 

 

 

When Tree Huggers Meet Jesus Freaks

The Confluence of Holy Week + Earth Week 

Treehug3

This is the week when Jesus Christ and Mother Earth collide.

For billions of Christians, it’s Holy Week, honoring the final few days of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.

For countless environmentalists, it’s the annual campaign for promoting awareness and appreciation of the natural environment.

Both groups will commemorate sacred milestones on Friday, April 22: Good Friday and Earth Day. In fact, it’s the first time ever that these two “holidays” are occurring simultaneously.

Some might find it sacrilegious or ludicrous to compare a 2,000+-year tribute to the crucifixion of a Savior with a 40-year-old anniversary of a bunch of green fanatics.

Yet. as someone who aligns with both groups, I find the two quite complementary.

My faith inspires my desire to be a responsible steward of the Earth, and vice versa. It’s my love for God that compels me to honor His creation. Conversely, it’s when I savor the beauty and majesty of the Earth that I’m naturally drawn back to the source and ultimate sustainer of our world.

Strip away the politics and hyperbole (on both sides), and you’re left with two movements that really shouldn’t be in conflict.

And increasingly, that seems to be the case. The Green Christian movement is a growing grassroots network of faith-based environmentalists. They, too, believe their commitment to ecological principles and practices is an authentic act of worship to God.

It’s my prayer that we “Jesus Freaks” and “Tree Huggers” continue to lower our walls and open our minds and hearts to one shared reality:  we are standing on holy ground. 

Feet

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it.
     –  Genesis 2:15
 

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that this week also marks Passover, which commemorates the Exodus of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Although I don’t practice Judaism, it’s an important part of my heritage, as my dad’s family is Jewish. 

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Learn more about the Green Christian Network.

Make an Earth Day pledge.