Nov 252014
 

Unplugged

 

To every season Turn, Turn Turn

Relationships, born of hope and faith, flourish, thrive, and sometimes seem to live forever.  But many such connections have a very specific beginning, middle, and, ultimately, an ending.  Such is my relationship with my Blackberry.  The end is near.

I was walking around the Freedom Tower in New York City.  I took a picture or two with my phone and set off to see the Memorial.  It is breathtaking.  Subtle.  Dramatic.  Tasteful.  I’d share a picture with you had my Blackberry not failed.  Even though it had been on the charger overnight, two pictures zapped the battery and I was stuck with an expensive paper weight in my pocket.

Manhattan-20141107-00427

I had not brought a charger with me.  I began walking up Broadway.  There had to be a T-Mobile store where I could get my phone resurrected.  I had plenty of time.  Dinner was more than six hours and 55 blocks away.  We are so used to being accessible that I found this experience of being disconnected disconcerting.  I couldn’t contact my office.  I was alone in the City and I couldn’t find a T-Mobile.

I wandered into a Verizon store in SOHO.  I detailed my predicament to one of the employees who explained why they couldn’t help.  They weren’t allowed to risk someone claiming that their phone became damaged by the store’s equipment.  Then with a wink she directed me to a display where I could disconnect a speaker and charge my phone.  None of my readers will be surprised to learn that I disconnected the wrong plug and set off the store’s alarm.  The store’s manager quickly assessed the situation and decided to offer assistance.  It took 40 minutes to get the phone sufficiently charged.  I left Verizon in 2006 after a minor service issue.  My current contract ends in February.  I will take a serious look at Verizon this next time around.  If I lived in New York, I know where I’d go for my next phone and contract.

I bumped into a T-Mobile store about an hour later.  The employees had no interest in helping me, but they were the exception.  My trip to New York, like all such trips, was marked by witnessing people at their best and meeting interesting characters.

I was sitting on a bench at the entrance to Central Park enjoying an excellent cigar.  Ten feet away from me was a guy, on blocks, dressed as the Statue of Liberty.  All green.  Green face point.  Plastic torch.  He stood there, his tip box by his feet, and waited for tourists and children.  Lots of people took his picture.  Some posed for pictures with him.  He mugged for the cameras and put his arms around a gaggle of Japanese tourists.  The children were captivated by him.  I wish that I could have taken pictures of the little kids who squealed with delight when they first focused on him in the dim early dusk.  The Statue-guy was incredibly patient and generous, even when the tips weren’t forthcoming.  I finished my cigar, put some money in his box, and said, “Nice job with the kids”.   He smiled and waved as I walked away.

The flight home was on Southwest.  There were no assigned seats.  We were advised that it was a sold-out flight.  I boarded the plane in search of an aisle seat.  Half way back was a young African-American woman seated by the window.  The other two seats were empty.  She was wearing a surgical mask.  I verified that the aisle seat was empty and sat down.  No one ever sat between us.  We introduced ourselves once the plane achieved cruising altitude.  We celebrated the extra room.  She laughed at the fear some must have had of catching Ebola or some other dread disease had they sat in our middle seat.  In truth, she was the one at risk.  She was on her second liver.  We had a lovely conversation and my common sense was rewarded by the opportunity to meet an interesting person.

I believe that it was Sigmund Freud who once observed that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Nov 052014
 

Mayfield Heights-20141105-00424

Well, that was ugly. I won’t pretend that I enjoyed last night.  Neither the election results nor the CAV’s game were anything I wanted to watch.  And yet I did.  I flipped back and forth from the various television news outlets, including PBS which was pretty good, to the game in hopes of seeing anything that I would find positive.  I didn’t.  Tough night.  So congratulations to those who won last night, the Portland Trailblazers and darn near anyone with an (R) next to his/her name, and let’s move on to the annual election wrap-up.

Ohio – One more time, with feeling…

Bob Hagan, is a Youngstown Democrat.  There is no backing down.  He doesn’t need to be pretend to be anything he’s not.  And so if he asks a question on Facebook such as today’s “What went wrong?  Why did our voters stay home?” It is to elicit real answers from the community that he represents.  At last count there were over 140 responses.  Some were thoughtful.  Some were constructive.

Elections have winners and losers. If the losers don’t learn anything from the election than they will lose again.  But both winners and losers can take the wrong lessons from an election.  That’s one of the reasons we get to do this all again every couple of years.

John Kasich won Tuesday evening. Well, the win was codified Tuesday, but it really happened months ago.   Why?  Weak candidate?  A media vendetta?  An unpopular president?  Take your pick.  What it wasn’t was an outbreak of Kasich fever.  Hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters, people who cast their ballots four years ago for Ted Strickland, didn’t cross over to the Kasich fan club.  There was no love fest.  The Democrats stayed home.

2010 Kasich votes – 1,889,186                                                      Strickland votes – 1,812, 059

2014 Kasich votes – 1,922,241                                                      Fitzgerald votes –     989,117

Kasich received 33,055 (unofficial vote tally) more in 2014 than he did four years ago, one percent of the total votes cast this year.  Ohio didn’t excitedly vote for Kasich.  We dumped Fitzgerald.  It may be a little too early to play Hail to the Chief.

Goodbye Harry Reid

I was reviewing the client’s health insurance renewal. As has been the case several times already, he and his family, staunch Republicans, are big winners under Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He reluctantly admitted that there might be some good to the law but he was anxious to change the subject.  He excitedly talked about the defeat of Harry Reid.  “He is a bad man, a very bad man.  Have you read anything about him?”  “Well yes I have,” I told my client.  And I wouldn’t vote for either Mitch McConnell or Harry Reid.  That surprised him.  If you only watch FOX or MSNBC you wouldn’t realize that Mitch and Harry are two sides of a worthless coin.

My little corner of the world is filled with the concerns, mine and my clients’, about health insurance. As noted in my recent insurance post, there has been an amazing lack of intellectual honesty about Obamacare.  I want to know how yesterday will affect my clients.  I’m still guessing that it won’t.  It is just hard to accept how cynical politics can be.

We bemoan, each election, our pathetic voter turnout. The American public chooses to not participate.  By the time Election Day arrives we know just enough about the candidates to disqualify them.  The policeman smiling next to the politician is probably an actor, or worse, a cut and paste job.  There is little truth and nothing positive.  Proud news organizations have sullied their reputations.

Over 800,000 Ohioans, people who had voted four years ago, skipped this year’s contest. Those aren’t 800,000 votes for Kasich.  That is close to a million people who were too fed up to participate in what turned out to be a one percent landslide.

Oct 122014
 

Mayfield Heights-20141012-00413

 

Regular readers know that I aggressively pursue moderation. Politics?  I am a centrist Democrat, have been since high school.  I have, however, friends up and down the political spectrum.  Religion?  Jewish.  Happily, intentionally, Jewish.  And I have friends who are ritualistically more observant than me and plenty of friends who define themselves as culturally or socially Jewish.

My needle is stuck in the middle.

I met Roger (name changed) for coffee last week. He chose Panera, the essence of moderation.  Roger would hate for anyone to mistake him for a moderate anything.

Roger is a well-educated young man. He and his wife have a house full of children out in the suburbs.  He is politically to the right of almost everyone choosing to have coffee with me.  And his faith, proudly worn on his sleeve, is a Jesus-focused Christianity.

We danced around politics and healthcare for a while, but all along I could tell that there was something else on his mind. Finally he asked if I was open to a personal question.  Me?  The Prince of Transparency?  Sure.  He wanted to know my thoughts about Jesus.

To his shock and amazement, I wanted to know his thoughts about Mohammed. I predicted that he doesn’t spend any time contemplating the Koran and Islam.  And I spend just as much time on the New Testament and the various forms of Christianity.  Again and again he returned to the story of the Resurrection and asked me to determine whether it was fact or a hoax, as if those extremes were the only choices.  And more importantly, as if I really cared.

I don’t.

My friend Heidi is an atheist. She doesn’t care what you believe as long as you don’t try to impose your faith on anyone else.  From her perspective and mine, Bill Maher and the Jehovah Witnesses have more in common than either have with us.   Proselytizing is proselytizing. Roger wasn’t recruiting.  He was just unprepared for someone failing to embrace his “Truth”.

Our conversation ended as it began. No one changed teams.  No one lost was saved.  No one saved was lost.  But I learned how someone else thinks.  And Roger learned how someone else who thinks asks questions.  What a country!

 

 

Sep 282014
 

Sunday Night Dinner

I had two recipe requests last week. One I could ignore or put off until after open enrollment.  Two?  With two you get dinner.

 

Fake Meat & Low Carb Pasta = Great Meal

¼ teaspoon Garlic Salt

1/3 cup + 1 teaspoon Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

1 ½ cup uncooked Dreamfield’s Low Carb Pasta

Florets of one stalk of Broccoli

5 ounces Vegan Chicken

6 cloves Garlic, minced

¼ Roasted Red Pepper, sliced into small strips

1 Button Mushroom, sliced

Parmesan Cheese (real or fake), optional

 

Add Garlic Salt and a teaspoon of the oil to a large pot of cold water. Bring to a boil.  Blanch the Broccoli for two minutes and remove.  Bring the water back to a rolling boil and add pasta.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 9 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, warm the oil and then add the Broccoli, Garlic, Red Pepper, and Mushroom. Cook slowly for 5 minutes.  Add the Chicken.  Continue until the Garlic softens and turns golden and the Chicken is warmed all the way through.

Drain the Pasta and return to the pot. Slice the Chicken into strips and mix everything together in the pot.  Divide into two dishes, sprinkle a little cheese on top, and serve with a tossed salad.

Feel free to change ALL of this. I would like to hear what you do to make this even better.

 

Sep 232014
 

White Kipah

 

I have been looking for a white kippah for the holidays. Some Jewish men always have their heads covered.  Some never.  Many of us wear a kippah or yarmulke when engaged in prayer, when in synagogue, and whenever it seems appropriate.

I found my black knit kippah in the street markets of Tel Aviv. Not too big and not too small, with enough heft that it would stay on without a clip, I deemed my new kippah as windproof and wore it throughout both of my trips in 2008.  A few years ago Sally suggested that I should switch to a grey knit version to better match my hair.  And that is fine for every day, but what I really wanted was a white kippah for the holidays.

Rosh Hashanah begins this Wednesday at sundown. Jews around the world are preparing for the holidays.  Some of these preparations are spiritual in nature.  Others are more focused on family and tradition.  My friend Lisa drove almost 45 minutes just to get to a store that sold the special cheese she needed to make her family’s traditional recipe for blintzes.  Another friend should be dropping off her incredible honey cake to my office any day now.  Cards will be mailed.  Dinners planned.

My memories of the holidays always begin with the color white. The Rabbi and Cantor wore white kittels or white robes.  Some of the synagogues of my youth had choirs, also dressed in white.  I remember chairs on the Bimah covered in white and even white tablecloths at home.  Against this backdrop, a white knit kippah seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

Easier said than done. I have been looking for the white version of my black kippah for over five years.  The local purveyors of such goods were of no help.  I purchased a really big, Jerusalem kippah several years ago.  I searched the New York religious book stores with no success or satisfaction.  One store owner let me know how foolish I was to expect his store to have so popular an item outside of Israel.  But I never gave up hope.

It wasn’t my first online search, nor even my second. It was on my third attempt that I found the kippah.  The company is in London, England.  I ordered one white knit kippah.  The standard shipping was almost half the final price.  It was promised by the 29th, but arrived yesterday, a week early!

Here is wishing those of you about to celebrate the High Holidays a Healthy and Happy New Year filled with family, tradition, and joy.

 

 

Sep 142014
 

 

I heard the drums of war.  Again.

We are ready, once again, to pick sides in the Muslim world. We always think that we know what we are doing.  We identify the bad actors, the Evildoers, and announce that we will destroy them.  In an effort to minimize our personal involvement (ground troops), we lionize the sworn enemies of our new enemies.  We train our new friends.  We give them lots of nifty weapons.  And when our new enemy has been vanquished by us and our new friends, we try to leave.  We give the keys to the country to the victors and walk away.

That’s the theory.

We are currently freaked about a couple of brutal beheadings. To combat this we’ll recruit the help of the Saudi’s, the government that has helped to fund ISIS, provided leadership and manpower, and who has regularly scheduled public beheadings.

It’s the blind leading the visually impaired.

Should we have bombed Syria last year? Should we have armed the “moderate” Syrian opposition?

I have no idea. I have the same queasy feeling I had prior to our last incursion into Iraq.  What are we trying to do?  When will we know that we’ve done it?  What is our exit strategy?  My biggest concern centers on our lack of presidential leadership.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a president with the courage of his convictions of a John McCain, but with the wisdom of – who?

Seriously, who? Certainly not John McCain, the human embodiment of road rage.  But not the current guy.  And not his predecessor.  Our current president can’t seem to grasp the counter-intuitive nature of these fights.  It’s not about logic.  Countries do not base their actions on President Obama’s perception of their best interest.  These decisions are based on religion, emotion, and slights that we’ve never bothered to understand.  With that in mind we must learn that the enemy of our enemy may also be our enemy.  In fact, it is unlikely that we have any friends in that region, just business partners.

And the last guy? That damage may never be repaired.

If you are looking for measured responses and justifiable restraint, you might want to consider Bill Clinton and the first President Bush. Colin Powell provided an oral history of the run-up to the first Gulf War to PBS.  Sadly, General Powell’s credibility was permanently damaged by the younger Bush.

We want to rid the world of ISIS. Sounds good.  How?  John McCain would have had us in Syria a year ago.  Undoubtedly, some of the very people he would have armed last year we would be fighting this year.

Déjà vu.

Do you remember the Mujahedeen? We wanted the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.  President Ronald Reagan, with the help of Senator Charlie Wilson (D-TX), armed and trained the Mujahedeen.  Those weapons and that training greatly benefited two successor groups, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

This link is to a Guardian article from 1999!  This article was published almost two years before September 11th.  Fifteen years later and it is difficult to prove that we have learned anything from our misadventures.

Five hundred years ago, observers from a distant planet would have seen the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Italians, the English, the Dutch, and the Germans engaged in unspeakable behavior on behalf of their Church, their monarchs, and their homelands. Forced Conversions.  The slaughter of the innocents.  The destruction of other cultures.  Slavery.  Rape.  Brutality.  And our observers, safe in the knowledge that they were beyond the reach of humans could let this play out.  Who would survive?  Who wouldn’t?  It wouldn’t matter to them.  But we, the United States and the rest of the now-civilized world, don’t have that luxury in 2014.  We can’t just let the various sects of Islam fight it out amongst themselves.  We are too dependent on their oil.  And they are too dependent on our attention.

So I hear the drums of war.  Again.

Aug 272014
 

Memorial Plaque

 

Rabbi Galperin walked over to the wall, the south wall of the main sanctuary of our synagogue, and studied the memorial plaques.  Like so many synagogues, we have an area dedicated to the memory of loved ones who are no longer with us.  Each plaque has a little bulb that stays lit during the month commemorating the anniversary of the person’s death.  Rabbi Galperin started at the top with the bulb next to the name Jerome Cunix, and gently unscrewed the bulb just enough to extinguish the light.  And with that another year passed since the day my father died.

My father succumbed to cancer on August 2, 1994, a month before his 69th birthday.  That day was the 25th of Av in the Jewish lunar calendar.   This year, the 25th of Av was last Thursday.  That was the official day to mourn his passing.  But as anyone who has lost a parent can attest, mourning isn’t ruled by a calendar

 

Aug 072014
 

 

We have been described as a nation of slobs.  I disagree.  No, we aren’t living in the early 1960’s, a time where gentlemen wore hats and long sleeved shirts beneath their tailored suit coats.  But we haven’t migrated to the other extreme.  I saw a guy in an office the other day that proved the point.  He was wearing a wrinkled suit and a tie that landed half-way up a shirt that may, or may not, have ever been tucked in to his ill-fitting pants.  He was a mess, but he was still close to where he needed to be.  And I got to thinking that there are three types of slobs.

Naturally Sloppy – This is someone who couldn’t keep his shirt tucked in and his tie straight if his life depended upon it.  Those around him realize that neatness must be like singing, a talent that some people have and some just don’t.

Personal Style – Convinced that this is either in style or HIS style, his shirt and tie are just part of his total look.  Much like the 3 day beard (not 2 day not 4), it is specific in what is and isn’t out of place.  His look has its own internal logic and truth.

The Attention Seeker – Starved for any attention, even negative, his appearance is a faux rebellion.  His attention is intentionally disruptive.  He wants to be the focal point even if it will lead to being reprimanded or to be excluded from other activities or opportunities.

Unless this is the first time you have read this blog, you know that this post isn’t about guys walking around with exposed shirttails.  It is about employees.  Bad employees.

Good employees will have to wait for another day.  People who excel at their jobs are never truly appreciated.  That is just the way it is.  Employees who do their job, nothing less and never anything more, seldom warrant much attention positive or negative.  This post is about the people that set the boss’s teeth on edge.

The Incompetent – Overmatched.  It is a daily battle.  They fight the job and the job wins.  This is an employer problem.  They have assigned the wrong person for the job.  We wouldn’t assign a guy 5’2” tall to guard an NBA center, yet business routinely puts the equally unqualified into jobs that they can not do.   It is not the employee’s fault.

The Clueless – This worker is absolutely positive that she is a rising star.  She is the reckless driver on her cellphone who has never been in an accident, but has caused numerous fender-benders.  Her mistakes are intentional.  She just doesn’t know that they are mistakes.

The Saboteur – The worst of all employees and we have all had one.  “No one could be that stupid”, you yell as you discover another mistake.  At some point the employer realizes that this employee wants to be disciplined and he hopes to be fired.  Being fired feeds into his internal narrative that everyone picks on him, nobody appreciates him, and that he was just too good and the other employees were jealous.  And, if you’re fired you get unemployment insurance.

One of my clients is dealing with a Saboteur.  Stuff disappears for a day or two, everyone gets upset, and then the hero finds the missing item where others had already looked.  Forms are misfiled, telephone messages are consistently wrong, and the rest of the employees are now left to wonder how long such behavior can be tolerated.  It is all so disruptive.  It is all so unnecessary.

My client knows what he has to do.  He has to terminate the malcontent.  But it is hard.  For one, he has to admit that he totally screwed up by hiring the guy.  For another, he also has to overcome his disappointment.  My client had been looking for a key person for a number of years.  He thought that he had finally found the right guy.  Firing any employee is difficult.  This will be that much harder.   But being a business owner requires a certain level of intestinal fortitude.  He can’t allow one employee to destroy his business.

So when it comes to negative behavior we are left to ask whether or not it is intentional.  And then we have to act.

Jul 222014
 

Ann Arbor City-20140718-00354

I could hear him before I could see him.   I was at the Ann Arbor Art Fest talking with John Russell, the guy who makes my pens, at his booth on South University Street.  It was Friday morning, the third day of the art show, and the crowd was building steadily.  John and I were talking about the various woods he uses and his unique process of incorporating exotic materials, like snake skins, into some his high end rollerball and fountain pens.  But the rhythmic playing of the karatalas cut through all of the crowd noise.

I heard the chanting and turned to see a man who appeared to be somewhere around my age dressed in off-white robes and bluer than blue high-top sneakers.  Due to the security protocols put in place after 9/11, the only place many of us now see a Hare Krishna is on a college campus.  I was now officially in Ann Arbor.  He chanted and danced to his own music.  He was not begging for money or food, just attention.   He was part of the scene, no different than the band that was performing a few blocks away.

Even though we were looking at each booth, we still managed to put about a block between us and the Hare Krishna.  This wasn’t intentional.  For the most part, he was in his own world and didn’t seek to make eye contact with the crowd.  Every now and then I could hear the karatalas or his chanting.

***

Sally and I were in Ann Arbor for my annual art shopping trip.  I still have empty walls in the Bogart, Cunix & Browning suite.  It is my goal to add a couple of interesting pieces each year.  I scored two clocks last year.  Two years ago I purchased the amazing digital picture from Beau Tudzarov.   This year I saw the new work from Beau, Ralph Rankin and Greg Billman.  Ralph, an incredible photographer, usually limits his art show booths to his ceramic works.  This year he also brought his newest passion, digital collage photographs printed on metals.  Bold. Surrealistic.  Mine will be shipped in a few weeks.  I’m already second guessing my purchase.  I’m debating whether I should have bought a bigger image or two of the pictures.  They are that cool.

***

It was the showdown at the OK Corral.  At one end of the block was the Hare Krishna.  At the other end, the most cluttered of minds, dressed in shorts and the usual offensive t shirt, eyed the infidel and marched into war.  Yes, it was a schmuck from Jews for Jesus.  The back of his shirt said that “Jesus made me Kosher” but he looked like someone who couldn’t find a Jew in a B’nai B’rith convention.  As I noted in Pigs For Bacon in 2010, few things offend me more than some guy hawking religion like an overpriced vacuum, foisting pamphlets on passers-by, and worse, dragging us into their pitch.  But I always worry that I could be overly sensitive.  More often or not, a simple “Get away” is enough to clear my path.  Buy this yahoo, also about my age, was enraged.  He marched up to the chanting Hare Krishna and began to berate him.

“You are worshipping a false god.”  The chanting continued.  He tried to dance around the pamphleteer.   He moved to the left, but was immediately blocked.  Standing in the middle of the street, nose to nose, one chanted an ancient mantra, the other chanting modern gibberish.  I thought about intervening, but realized that they were both getting what they really wanted.

Attention.

 

 

Jul 092014
 
The Vast Nothingness

The Vast Nothingness

I think this post is more fun if you click here first and then listen to the music while you read.  But that’s just me.

The Speech.  The My Life Had No Purpose speech.  You’ve heard it before.  I got to hear it again Monday evening.

Like all classics, the Speech has a time honored format.  The earnest young presenter (always earnest, usually male) tells his audience about his failures.  Sure he once made more money than most of his audience has ever made.  And of course he once had a nice home and better stuff that any of them have a reasonable expectation of owning.  But he was in debt and he wasn’t HAPPY.  His momma died.  His wife left him.  His dog snapped at him.  He wasn’t Fulfilled.  And then he found __________.

What did he find?  What turned his life around?  Jesus?  Yoga?  A new toothpaste?  It really doesn’t matter.  The only constant is that now that he and his life have been salvaged, he is ready to help you.  The price tag is somewhere between $16.99 and 10% of your income.

I turned to Heidi Cool who was sitting next to me at the Barking Spider and told her that I could give the next line of the Speech.  Two guys on a book selling tour were at the Spider to read a little from their latest tome on Minimalism, Everything That Remains.  In a little over three years Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus have co-authored five books and have spoken at SXSW, World Domination Summit, TEDx, and numerous schools, organizations and meetings.  In other words, they have built an impressive empire out of eliminating excess.

I couldn’t tell which I found more depressing, the predictability of the Speech or the audience in attendance.  I studied the faces of the people listening to the authors.  I was looking for that sense of déjà vu, that acknowledgement that they had heard this before.  Because some of them had.  They were seekers, wanderers in search of some path to ease the dull throb that wouldn’t go away.  Even though these unhappies had heard much, if not all, of this before, it was all new to them.  The oldest of the group smiled knowingly as one of the authors described in exaggerated detail his IKEA shopping experience.  The youngest, unemployed or underemployed, were looking for validation for the choices life had made for them.

And all they needed to do was buy the book.  Really, you will be happy with less stuff.  Eliminate what you don’t need so that you can fully appreciate what you will have left.  And one of the things you don’t need is the money in your pocket that would pay for this book.  I didn’t stay around till the end.  I couldn’t.  But I wanted to just to see if they would accept credit cards.

The purpose of this post isn’t to knock these guys or anyone else who makes a living leading people out of deserts.  What’s great is that every once in a while someone may actually benefit from a speaker evangelizing a particular religion, lifestyle, or hair care product.  But if you cut through the BS what you will find is that someone hated their crappy job and what they had to do to make a living.  So they drank.  Or they gambled.  Or they cheated on their spouse.  Or they spent money foolishly.  And one day, they got a new job.  And now they feel good about themselves.  As is so often the case, the new job is to stand in front of a group of people and share with them how happy they now are.

Will playing pinball all day make YOU happy?  Neither will some book.