Sunday, January 30, 2011

a practical thinker……

I remember when I decided I was going to go to the University of Wisconsin.  I was going to be a writer, a journalist, Dan Rather, William Sapphire.  I was going to be a lawyer, a regular Efram Zimbalist Junior.  I know he wasn’t a lawyer, but what a cool name if we was….

So, I did something called Integrated Liberal Studies, a two year program for really smart people in the humanities, smart beyond my belief.  I never felt I belonged, but I loved it, and I grew.

But, there were all of these smart people, from great places all over the world.  I’d never been on an airplane.  How did I belong to this group?  People always said they were impressed with me, but I never saw it.

While I was in school, I worked.  I worked in a nursing home in recreational therapy.  I worked mostly with old people, getting them out into to community, normalizing their lives.  To me, it was a practical thing.  These people had lives before they got into the home.  Wouldn’t they want to do the things before they got themselves into that situation?

So, I took them to things they did, not things we thought they should do.  I took people into bars, shot pool.  We played cards, went to community festivals.   People had actual conversations with “regular” people.  We went to games.  We went to church.  I felt like my job was to extend their real lives while they were in the nursing home.  And, it worked.

But, back to school.  I transferred to the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, not because I didn’t love Madison.  But, Whitewater had a good journalism school with this great class in advertising.  So, I went.  And, I did well and…..

While I was in Whitewater, and Madison, for that matter, I was in contact with a company regarding a job.  I contacted them once a month for three years.  I was offered a job after my junior year (less than 10 credits short of graduation, and all major work completed)  for $42,000 a year (this was 1979, in the middle of our great malaise).  I took it.

I took it for a lot of reasons.  It secured my future when futures didn’t look so great.  I took it because I grew up on a farm and really never had a lot.  I took it because it validated me.

Do I regret it?   Sometimes.

I’ve had a great career, and I’m a lifelong learner.  Learning doesn’t stop because you’re not in a classroom.   I decided I could learn.  I could use my curiosity to my advantage, and I have.

But, I still have those feelings of inadequacy, especially when I’ve been around accomplished people, thinking maybe I could be accomplished, too. 

And then it comes to me.  I am accomplished. 

I guess those feelings never completely go away. 

This is a completely different blog than I intended to write.     

Saturday, January 29, 2011

a post worth reposting…..

26 miles, 385 yards (written Oct. 31, 2009)

That's the distance my daughter, Cortney ran for the first time in her life last Sunday morning at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. Amazing!

It isn't so much the distance or the time or really any of that. It's about the distance she has traveled as a person, the dedication to reach this goal, the effort and now the joy. The bucket list has one less item.

I've written before about her, about how the walls around her are dismantled brick by brick, how they become victims of her tenacity, her diligence, her patience, and ultimately, her victory. She has the mentality of the tortoise in a world of hares.

I excused myself from a business dinner Sunday night in China for a much more important appointment, to track her progress on the internet through a series of checkpoints, watching her match identical times between the first 15 kilometers and the second 15 kilometers, mirroring the consistency of her life. Each time a new time came up I smiled the proudest smile a father could have from 8,000 miles away.

Cortney has never been about being the best, just the best she can be. And isn't that all a person can ask for? Way to go, Cortney!

Friday, January 28, 2011

something singular…..

Have you ever been in a situation and wonder “How did I get here?”  That was me on Wednesday.

I was at a dinner in Las Vegas with several people from a design competition, but ended up with a small group that included Shashi Caan, Angelo Surmelis, Susan Inglis, Ed Baran and myself.

Shashi Caan – SC Collective 

Shashi’s orginally from India and now lives in New York.  Angelo was born in Germany, but is really from Greece, and now lives in New York and Los Angeles. Susan is from North Carolina.  Ed is from Philadelphia and now lives in Los Angeles.  I’m originally from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin and now live in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. 

Susan Inglis - Executive Director SFC

You can Google any of them and get pages and pages of the great work they’ve done, the national and international awards, or the shows they’ve done, or the important things they’ve achieved.

Angelo Surmelis –TV Design Guy

I feel like I might have “faked” my way into this situation, but I’m glad to have been there.  I remember saying, more than once, after hearing the credentials of people in this party, “I grew up on a turkey farm.”  Seriously, I did.  I am self-taught in the world of practical thinking.  I am not a designer.

Publicist Ed Baran with Cher

So, what did we talk about, all of these important people, all of these people who do important things? 


Not design?  Not how everyone is important?  Not “Look at me”?

So, here we are, from everywhere and every walk of life, talking about something singular.  Even though we are all different, we all came back to the one thing that impacts all of us.

It was a great night.      

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

time for a diet….

With four percent of the world’s population, Americans use 25 percent of the world’s oil.  T. Boone Pickens was a guest on “Morning Joe” and brought out that statistic.

We need to go on an oil diet.  We’re the fat man at the buffet table pushing everyone else out of the way so we can get more.  When the food runs out, we’ve determined we want more.

We no longer control everything, and soon we could control little, unless we make a lifestyle change. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

a time to work…..

It looks like our economy is beginning to stabilize.  Many companies that were bleeding red are now beginning to show profits. 

But, most companies that down sized, or “right sized” as we now say, are not hiring, or hiring at much lower levels than anticipated.  They found out they can work with fewer people, and they will.

So, this leaves us with a nine percent unemployment compensation problem.  What value are we as a society getting from those payments?  And, really, what are the recipients getting?

I believe it’s time we ask those receiving unemployment to work, not in a punitive, orange jumpsuit way, but in the skill sets that people can offer. 

I think it would reasonable to have people look at jobs that need to be done and match up people for those needs.  That’s how temp agencies work.   

And, if we ask people receiving unemployment to report for work 20 hours per week, there’s plenty of time to look for real work.  It may also be incentive to get a job.

I believe working has its own rewards.  There’s a lethargy about not working.  People lose their edge.  They lose their dignity. 

We’re constantly being told there aren’t funds for fundamental services, yet we pay people to not work.  It doesn’t make sense to me.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

a glimpse of Cologne (Germany)….


So you don’t like dead animal heads hanging from your wall.



a simple, round sheet of metal turns into a beautiful table.  No tools, just cut and bend.


Who says blinds have to be boring?

SAM_0579 these simple pieces turn into….


Walk this way….


We’ve seen this before, just not like this….




I’ll show more later.   But, I want to enjoy this first.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

tone deaf….


After the tragic slayings of Tucson last week, former presidential candidate and Governor Sarah Palin was vilified as one of the culprits in creating the environment in which this event could happen.  Some people even said it was her fault.

While not a Sarah Palin fan, I felt the criticism went over the top, although the gun sight imagery was unfortunate at best and reckless at worst.  Her approach of lock ‘n load is not that of a leader, but a cheerleader. 

But, with all of that said, she didn’t pull the trigger, nor could she imagine what all of this meant.  She doesn’t have the imagination or the leadership skills to look down the road, to see her message in all of the ways it could be sliced and diced.  She’s an instant pep rally, but no leader.

Right after the shootings, she chose the right tone, the right message on her website.  She was gracious.  She seemed empathetic.   

But, she couldn’t help herself.  She couldn’t leave it alone.  She didn’t have the discipline to just shut up.

She had to make herself the center.  She had to make herself the victim, even using the words “blood libel”.   She’s just tone deaf. 

an adventure…..

Tomorrow, I head to the furniture fair in Cologne, Germany.  I haven’t been there for a few years.   I only go for a couple of days, but get a tremendous amount of information.

As I began to plan this show, it was apparent it was going to cost my left arm and other parts.  I really wanted to keep the cost in just dollars and cents, something that made sense to me.

So, I started looking into transportation options, so I could fly into another airport, and then take the train.  Europe is flush with high speed trains.  I figured that out and made it so I could get to Cologne at a reasonable price, but the hotels were outrageous ($300-$500 a night), at least for me.  I wasn’t going to pay that, but I wanted to go to the show.

So, I thought maybe I could stay in another city and just take the train.  I was able to find a hotel in Brussels, which is a 90 minute train trip to Cologne.  The hotel is a block from the train station in Brussels and the train station in Cologne is just a short walk from the show.  Since I was only going to the show for two days, not a big deal.

So, why do I go through all of this stuff? 

Because the Europeans are the best at making stuff that is multi-functional.  They think differently than we do.  And, it is important, at least to me, to have different perspectives when designing new products.

They also have the best student design show in the world.  Cool doesn’t begin to describe what I get to see.  The last show, I saw a lampshade that opened and closed like a window shade, changing the light in the room from reading to ambient.  Simple idea.  Simple product.  Great idea.  

So, I leave with an open mind, small notebook, camera, and comfortable shoes.  I hope it’s great.  Pictures will be forthcoming.

Friday, January 14, 2011

another idea on guns….

Gun control.  This is a topic that makes everyone crazy.

I live in an area where people use guns to hunt.  It’s a tradition that’s gone on for years.  And, it’s a tradition that will continue.

Generally, people who hunt are law abiding folks who shoot one, or a couple of rounds at a time.  I don’t know of any hunters who go into the woods with a semi-automatic weapon and start blasting away.   And, I don’t want to take their right to hunt away. 

Some people want guns around to protect themselves and their property.  That is a perfectly legitimate reason to own a gun.  Constitutional constructionists always use the second amendment as the basis to own and carry firearms. 

But, there is an argument out there that doesn’t make sense to me, and that is the “guns don’t kill people, people do” argument.  But, I’ll even let that one go.

Here’s my idea.  Tax the crap out of semi-automatic and automatic weapons.  Tax them as personal property at a rate that would cost more than a house.  Tax the magazines they come in.  Tax the bullets that can be shot through them.  Tax the business that sells them so they can’t afford to sell them.  Put tariffs on the imports that make them impossible to sell.  Tax, tax, tax.

That’s how we caught Al Capone.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

the right touch…..

President Barack Obama delivered an incredibly healing message for the nation last night.

In something that seemed more pep rally than memorial service, grieving parents, friends and siblings were forced to watch as dignitary after dignitary delivered their own message on what happened last Saturday in Tucson.  It was sort of a “Field of Dreams” for political speakers.  If you have it, they will speak.

There were two messages that resonated with me.  One was from Daniel Hernandez, the intern who attended to Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  He spoke of not being a hero, that other people deserved that label.  He spoke without notes, eloquently and selflessly.  It was refreshing to see.  I felt so proud of him.

The other was  from President Obama.

Coming to the dais after speech after speech, catcalls and shrieks coming from the rafters, the tone of the pep rally turned into the appropriate event.

With echoes of Ronald Reagan speaking after the Challenger crash,  Obama set out to heal all those hurting.  He spoke in terms of first names and nicknames, personalizing all of them, referring to them as our fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers.

He spoke of the dead and their fullness of their lives, their hopes and dreams, and their commitment to each other.

He spoke of the everyday heroes who acted selflessly during the chaos of the moment, those who stepped up when others were going down, those who ran in when others were running away.

He spoke of healing and hearing each other, empathy for others thoughts and ideas. 

Finally, he spoke of us living up to the dreams and expectations of nine year-old Christina Greene.  With cameras focused on Christina’s parents, some good could come out of these tragic events. 

The meaning of Christina’s life and death became magnified to something real, something significant, showing how a nine year-old held answers to problems that most adults couldn’t seem to fathom.

With the news of Gabrielle Giffords opening her eyes just moments before, Obama sought to have us not only open our eyes, but our hearts and minds and souls to the things that bring us together, instead of what tears us apart.

I was in tears. 

Thank you Mr. President.  Well done.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


There’s an empty chair at Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson today.  It’s the seat of nine year-old Christina Greene.  What a tragedy.

I always think of the “what ifs” when I hear of a bright, young person dying before their time.  I always wonder about the unrealized potential concealed in that person, the enduring gift inside that package.

I don’t just think about little Christina, but I think of it when somebody dies in a car accident.  I think about it when somebody dies in war.  I think about it when somebody overdoses on drugs.  I think about it when somebody dies of cancer.  I think about it when I hear of an abortion.

Somebody cured polio.  Somebody founded Microsoft.  Somebody painted the Mona Lisa.   Somebody wrote the Declaration of Independence.  Somebody stood up to Hitler.

Did one of these somebody’s have the cure for cancer?  Did one of these somebody’s have the answer for global warming?  Did one of these somebody’s have the answer for renewable energy?  Did one of these somebody’s have the answer for conflict around the world? 

What greatness did we lose?

We’ll never know.

What we do know is that somebody, in this case,  decided to take all of this one person’s hopes and dreams and potential away.

What a waste. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

just like them….

I just read a post from a blogger friend that disturbed me.  It was about the shootings in Arizona yesterday that left six dead and many others wounded.  I also posted about this yesterday.

The foundation of the blog is the vitriolic nature of reporting and people who capitalize on division.  People were blamed and names were named:  Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck.

Let it be said, I have no time for any of these people.  They are transparent prostitutes for people’s minds and money.  They don’t represent me.  They like to blame others for our woes.  They wrap themselves in the flag and offer judgment on what is “right” for America.   

But, I’m not about to blame them for what happened yesterday.  I can’t go that far.  It would give them too much credit.

Yes, we are a divided country, but because we’ve allowed it to become that way.  The networks report the way they do because we buy more soap when they act this way.  We buy more bubblegum at the checkout when we see the rags talking about who’s sleeping with whom.  Even NPR stepped across the line, reporting the death of a lawmaker without proper confirmation, hurrying to conclusion before the story was even completed.  This is all reckless.

The news commentary shows all are run by political hacks, and I include Rush and Sarah and Glenn with Rachel and Keith.   They all have agendas that should cause us to pause. 

And, because one, or some, might espouse my political views, doesn’t make them speak for me.  There isn’t one more noble than the other.

There has to be room for other ideas, other thoughts.  The I’m right, and because of that, you’re wrong mentality has to go away.  We cannot be at war with each other over ideas.  We have to be bigger than that. 

I can’t get into the mind of a kid who decided to load up his automatic weapon and start spraying death and pain around like it was some sort of movie. 

Maybe he saw it in a movie.  Maybe this was this person’s one shot at becoming famous, or infamous, or relevant, or remembered.  Maybe he was tired of being nothing, and in others’ pain he could become somebody. 

I don’t know.  I’m numb.

No, I can’t even blame this on Rush and Sarah and Glenn.  As much as I want to, it would make me just like them. 

If we’re going to point fingers, let’s do it to the mirror, with each of us taking our measure of responsibility.  Only then, will we be able to sort this out.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

a step back….

Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot and critically wounded this morning at an event at a Tucson, Arizona Safeway.  Reports vary, but at least six people died, and more are injured.

There will be all kinds of speculation as to why this happened.  But, one thing is for sure, the caustic nature of our political process, the 24/7 nature of reporting, and the hard edge of opinion makers make our way of government almost impossible.

There is no room for nuance.  While the people inside the game know how it’s played, it’s the people on Main Street who watch in horror, without clear understanding of what’s going on.

When the red light on the TV camera goes on, the politician is an actor playing a role, sometimes slamming the opponent in public, but winking and nodding at the same time, and having a drink with that same opponent later in the day.

Most don’t understand the public versus private nature of the people who make laws.  Most don’t understand that in many cases, the lawmaker postures and positions to prove a point.  Most don’t understand that most lawmakers are like you and me.

In a time when unemployment is at an all time high.  And, when, for many, the future looks bleak, all of this is personal, and events like what happened today occur.

It’s time we take a step back.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

under God…..

This post makes me a little nervous, but I think I’ll write it anyway.

In 1892, a Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy devised the “Pledge of Allegiance”.

 I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Over the next 50 years, the Pledge was changed to ultimately become the one that was recognized as the official pledge of our flag in 1942.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In 1948, “under God” was inserted in the Pledge as part of a Lincoln’s birthday celebration to commemorate the words being part of the Gettysburg address.  This was done independently of the government during a Daughters of the American Revolution event.

In the ensuing six years, pressure was brought to bear to put “under God” into the Pledge until it was ultimately recognized in 1954.

Remembering the 1950’s, it was also the time of Senator Joe McCarthy and the communist witch hunts, the Cold War, bomb shelters, and the middle of the Korean conflict (never a declared war), and just after a great victory in World War II.

Putting “under God” into the Pledge was meant to let every country on earth know that the United States of America is under God, while they were not.  We were the exclusive sponsors of God.  In short, putting “under God” into the pledge was our way of “strutting our stuff”, using God as our “mascot”.

While I understand our forefathers, or at least most of our forefathers, arrived on our shores as a result of religious persecution, we never seem to recognize the real natives were never included in that conversation.  We never to seem to recognize there are others with other beliefs, or none whatsoever. 

We are all citizens of the Republic.  We are all taxed the same, whether we believe or not.  We are all expected to follow the rules of the land, whether we believe or not.

It makes me nervous when our government is involved in religion.  It makes me nervous when religion becomes official.  These are exactly the reasons why the Puritans came over in the first place.

There are examples all over history when the government hijacks God making the head of state also the head of a religion.  Religion is a private relationship between God and the person, not the government and God. 

I have no problem with the Pledge of Allegiance having the words “under God” in it.  I do have a problem with the United States Government recognizing it as the official pledge.  And, it makes me very nervous when our government, or a school, or a courthouse, or any public land or event, mandates its inclusion.    

Sunday, January 2, 2011

confusing foreign policy….

I heard a couple of numbers that astounded me the other day.  One was 3000.   That is the number of 2010 drug fatalities in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso.

The other numbers were $40 billion and $150 billion.  Those are the wholesale and retail numbers of the drugs passing from Mexico into the United States.  $40 billion represents almost 5% of Mexico’s gross domestic product, greater than the impact of Wal-Mart on the US GDP.

Government statistics in Mexico also show over 22,000 drug related slayings over the past three years. 

According to The Huffington Post, we’re spending $3.6 billion per month in Afghanistan for war that seems to be getting muddier and muddier as we go along.   I’m not sure what the end game is, but we’re there spending and spending in lives and money.

While that is going on, we’re hell bent on building a fence to keep out the Mexican bad guys, the runners who look to escape poverty in their homeland.  Otherwise, it seems like we’re hands off.   

It seems odd to me that we are embroiled in conflicts around the globe when the greatest risk to our society lies south of our border.

Sometimes, our foreign policy confuses me.  Shouldn’t we be fighting the enemies who immediately impact us?  How are the drug cartels different than the Taliban?

5 words…

I love sports.  I love how it gives us hope.  I love how it makes us cheer.  I love how it makes us think.  I love how it unites us. 

For those who never played sports, it’s tough to understand the concept of running until you throw up.  It’s tough to understand the brutality.  It’s tough to understand why people would do things to their bodies that will always hurt.

Sports, for many, is the great divide.  It’s the place where learning occurs.  It’s the place where what you do affects more than you.  It affects the person next to you.  It’s a place where your success or failure has real impact.

For those who never played, it’s easy to think that sports is unimportant, that nothing is really gained or lost on the athletic field. 

I was a very good student, a straight “A” achiever in the classroom.  But, no teacher ever made me lead like the athletic field.  No class ever  made me accountable to the person next to me.  No school ever demanded the excellence of the athletic field.  Nobody ever made me commit the way my team did.  And, no teacher ever asked me to trust the person next to me for my success.

Leadership.  Accountability.  Excellence.  Commitment.  Trust.