Two Wrongs Still Don’t Make A Right

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I weep for my city. I weep for my country. I weep for our ancestors who worked so hard to overcome the obvious frailty that is all humanity.

I cry for those swept aside by events. My heart bleeds for the bystanders who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I grow sullen, knowing the damage done cannot be quickly repaired.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of our citizenry that a noble cause has devolved into a self-inflicted chaos. Surely, no one believes it’s fair to punish innocents. Yet, clearly, we enable those who feel justified in doing precisely that.

None of this should have ever been allowed to happen.Continue Reading “Two Wrongs Still Don’t Make A Right”

Which Way To The After-Party?

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Following the last show of a performance, everyone involved in the production gets together and celebrates. The “cast party” has long been an entertainment tradition – from high school musicals to Saturday Night Live. It’s an opportunity for all to release the tension and anxiety that comes with acting in front of a live audience.

Other events have a similar tradition. It’s called an “after-party.” As the name implies, it’s the party after the event. Even big parties can have their own after-parties.

If you search “after-party” on the internet, you’ll get definitions galore, references to a video game, and a couple of claims that the first after-party occurred in either 1961 or 1945.

But don’t believe everything you read on the internet, especially if it’s something that pops up on your favorite search engine. When it comes to algorithms, it’s “garbage in, garbage out.”

A human search engine (a.k.a., a historian) would immediately look for the earliest recorded mention in the proper context.

A quick review of old newspapers indicates the term was in use by 1903. The Cosy Restaurant, courtesy of E.M. Hegglund, Proprietor, advertised his establishment was “Just the Place for a Sunday Dinner, An After-Party Lunch.” (Pierre Weekly Free Press, Pierre, South Dakota, December 17, 1903, page 7)

Not only that, but a description of the turn of the century happening sounds strikingly familiar.

“After-theater parties and suppers are affairs of long standing, but after-party suppers are rather a recent fad… The scene of the after-party festivities is in some one of the dairy lunchrooms down town, and as the hour chosen is well along in the wee sma’ ones, the young people have the places very much to themselves.” (The Indianapolis Journal, Indianapolis, Indiana, February 7, 1904, page 29).

You know after-parties were a serious problem when, in 1904, the President of De Pauw University issued an edict that said, in part, “On nights when functions or college exercises are in progress girls or boys shall not remain away from their rooms later than 10 p.m. No after-party, after-church, after-service calls will be allowed.” (“No Dances, No Cards, Chaperones Everywhere,” The South Bend Tribune, January 19, 1904, page 9).

Today, the after-party represents a rite of decompression. Following a period of densely packed heightened tension, an after-party gives you a chance to unwind, take it easy, and, yes, bask in the glory of what you’ve just accomplished.

Fate blessed me with the opportunity to have played a major role in organizing national and regional trade conventions. They were fun, they were hard work, and they were quite satisfying. At the end, we all gathered together at some agreed upon spot, sat down, and enjoyed not so much what we had just done (that took time to settle in), but simply that we were done.

To say we were exhausted would be an understatement. Oh, what a relief to know you no longer had to stick to a tight, highly scripted, schedule.

There was one other thing about these conferences. They were all in-person. They were just like every other conference you’ve attended. This made the overall job of the organizers and the attendees easy. Everyone knew what to expect.

In the Age of Covid, there are no in-person conferences. All conferences are virtual.

Virtual conferences are not new. Over the past few years, I’ve attended several. And they have their advantages.

First, you don’t have to travel. That saves you time and money.

Second, you don’t have to stay in a hotel. That also saves you money (and time if you’ve ever had to wait forever for an elevator).

Finally, it’s much easier to multi-task, which includes implementing what you just learned in a session.

Of course, there are counterpoints. Some people like to travel. Some like the disruption of staying in a hotel (as well as experiencing the amenities that come along with many of our finer lodging establishments). Of course, some just like meeting people face-to-face.

Attending virtual conferences, therefore, represents a trade-off between lower costs/higher efficiencies and getting out of a rut/socializing. You may have preferences that differ from your neighbor. Such is the nature of the freedom to choose.

Yet right now you do not have the option to choose. You and all of us must conduct our conference business on a virtual basis.

This is where the excitement starts.

You see, I just hosted my first virtual trade conference. It was national in scope and lasted two and a half days. Here is an amazing thing I learned that I can share with you.

The most important lesson is that a virtual conference is not an in-person conference. The failure I’ve seen in other attempts enlightened my own efforts.

Here’s what I mean.

Many are too tempted to merely duplicate “brick by brick” all things an in-person conference has. But not everything translates precisely. For example, you can’t give a lively in-person presentation, complete with props and pyrotechnics, in a remote situation. The impact is not the same. In fact, it probably comes off as distracting, pretentious, or, worse, boring.

This is the problem with most webinars. They’re conducted like in-person seminars. Folks, we’re talking two different forms of media here. Why would you think what works in one works in the other? Imagine doing a radio show that expects the audience to see two nearly identical pictures and guess what’s missing in one. That works for TV, but not radio.

Virtual conferences have the power of the electronic engagement. You can interact with your wired audience in ways that you can never achieve with your in-person audience. These are the presentation tools you should explore, emphasize, and exhibit. Leave the fireworks for the Fourth of July.

By this way, the “translation” mistake occurs in arenas beyond trade conventions.

You’ve probably noticed the difference between the recent party conventions as they each tried their hand with remote meetings. One tried to duplicate what had always been done in the past and lost viewership with each succeeding night. The other took advantage of the new media and saw its audience grow each night.

Here’s a place where this matters and it hits much closer to home: education.

On-line learning is not new. It has been around for a while. In the early years, it was nothing more than a professor giving a hour-long lecture – just like in the real classroom. Today, it isn’t anything like that.

As our secondary schools venture forth into the new media of remote learning, teachers and administrators, along with parents and students, will discover you can’t simply overlay the old way of teaching onto the new technology.

I’ve been advising every teacher I know to teach to the computer camera and place your back to the in-room students. Your audience is no longer the physical classroom, but the virtual classroom. The tricks that worked so well within the walls of the schoolroom won’t necessary be as effective in the on-line world.

Learn new tools. Learn new tricks. Be amazed at what it feels like to rediscover your profession.

Do this and you’ll find each day’s lesson is not just a page in the syllabus, but an amazing event.

Now, which way to the after-party?

When Did You Start Your Rosebud Quest?

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In the opening scene of Citizen Kane, the titular protagonist breathes his last breath. “Rosebud,” he whispers as he releases his last grasp of a snow globe that falls to the floor and shatters.

We then spend the next two hours reliving the life of Charles Foster Kane as reporters vainly search for the meaning of his last word. Why would the world’s richest man, a collector of antiquities galore, a prominent citizen, say “Rosebud”?

What did “Rosebud” mean to Charles Foster Kane?

More importantly, what does “Rosebud” mean to us?

In the interest of avoiding revealing a movie’s ending, I won’t tell you what “Rosebud” represents in Citizen Kane. If you’re one of the rare people who have not seen what many Continue Reading “When Did You Start Your Rosebud Quest?”

The Dog Days Of Coronavirus

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On April 21, 2020, the New York Post ran a story titled “Dogs could get extreme separation anxiety when quarantine ends, experts say.” That was four months ago. Back then, we expected the whole matter of Covid-19 to have been a memory by the summer.

We were wrong.

And the dogs of the world rejoice. (For those asking, cats don’t care. If anything, our physical proximity tends to grate on them.)

It’s almost as if this master/pet thing has been turned on its head. The dog is now king of the castle. We humans, mere subjects to his beck and call, perform as trained servants, heeding his every desire.

There’s a reason why writers often speak with a touch of lamentable envy when they refer to “a dog’s life.” It’s a life of ease, a life of contentment, a life humans can only wish they had.

As we swim through the muggy summer air of the Dog Days of August, we might imagine these extended Dog Days of Coronavirus.

(Incidentally, the original source of the term “Dog Days” comes from ancient times and refers to the reappearance of the star Sirius – the “Dog Star” – in the night sky. Sirius is the brightest star. Ironically, we more commonly associate it with the winter months, when it shines brilliantly just below and to the left of Orion’s feet. Yet, to get to that prominent place in the frigid nights of January, it must first rise in the pre-dawn hours of summer. That event marks the beginning of the Dog Days. Sirius, by the way, lies in the constellation Canis Major, Latin for “Big Dog.”)

Wally is no different than any other dog. Except, maybe, he can talk. He hasn’t talked for some time, however, perhaps because he’s got nothing to say. I mean, why bother talking when you’re completely satisfied with life.

Don’t get me wrong. Barking and talking are two separate things all together. Barking is a form of play. It’s instinct. It’s just something dogs do. Sometimes with purpose. Sometimes for no reasons whatsoever.

But forget about the barking. It’s not at all about the barking. It’s about the bonding. These months together have only strengthened the bond that already existed.

We only think of this bond from the point of view of the pet. “For most dogs, the attachment they feel towards their owner is fundamental to their well-being,” says John Bradshaw Ph.D. in an article he wrote nearly ten years ago (“The Bond Between Pet and Owner,” Psychology Today, November 19, 2012).

But the bond between a dog and his master works both ways. This is because dogs can talk to us as well as listen to us. Bradshaw explains dogs have “a unique sensitivity towards human body language, gaze and gesture.” This helps them understand us more so than other pets. It’s what builds the mutual bond.

It used to be, on weekends, Wally wallowed in Nirvana. His humans stayed at home (for the most part) and even when they went out for Church, to run an errand, or to visit someone, the separation was short, sometimes shorter than a nap.

Now, everyday is a weekend. Everyone – except his one and true master, Betsy – is working from home. Funny. This reaffirms his earlier understanding that Betsy is the master of us all. Everyone else – me, Peter, Cesidia, and Catarina – are his peers.

If not his servants.

When Wally wants to go out, we take him out. When Wally wants to eat, we give him food (although less people food than before). When Wally wants a belly rub, we give him a belly rub. When Wally wants to bark, he barks no matter how much we insist he stop.

So, the dog is the master.

And that comforts us humans. For the needs of the dog now represent the pleasant baseline of life. They have become a routine we can rely on, something we can effortlessly perform. More important, we can derive immediate satisfaction from them, knowing and seeing the intended recipient gleefully accept what we offer.

Perhaps, then, we are living the Dog Days ourselves. Maybe we just don’t realize it.

What happens next?

Eventually, the day will come when we return to an activity level approximately what we’ve done in the past. We will leave the home more frequently and for longer periods of time.

With this in mind, the New York Times attempted to rewrite the topic addressed earlier by its metropolitan rival (see “How to Help Your Pet With Post-Quarantine Separation Anxiety,” August 8, 2020). Unfortunately, this article fails to differentiate between dogs and cats in the manner that the Psychology Today article explains. It also makes the same mistake as it merely repeats the prejudicial point of view.

This equation – this bond – contains two balanced sides.

Yes, our dog may pine away, alone, waiting for our return.

But what about us?

In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the (Summer) Evening

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It was about thirty years ago that I threw in the towel. After a little more than three decades of roughing it without central air conditioning, I broke down.

I have to admit. There’s something sweet about swimming in the hot muggy midsummer air. Like the reassuring aroma from your mother’s kitchen, you can smell it. Like the snuggling comfort of your favorite blanket, you can feel it. Like the glittering neon signs of the exciting night, you can see it in the twinkling above.

Yes. All the radiating vapor creates waves of transparent turbulence, only visible through Continue Reading “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the (Summer) Evening”

‘The Coming Thing…’ Thoughts on Turning 60

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OK, OK, so I admit it. This is a vanity post. I’ll be writing to you this week (and, it turns out, next week, too) in an unusually personal fashion.

Next week’s column (which was bumped a week for this week’s column) will make more sense. It’s written in a true “drama in real life” fashion. Oh, you needn’t worry. There’s very little real drama in it. But it will hold together in a way the following potpourri of random thoughts won’t.

Don’t mistake me, though. There will be portions of this mishmash very alluring. Some of it may even elicit the thought, “I’m glad someone finally said that.”

And with that, here we go…Continue Reading “‘The Coming Thing…’ Thoughts on Turning 60”

No, Freedom Doesn’t Come In The Mail

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Do you know the same tactic used by Democrat candidates to oust several long-time Republican Congressmen in 2018 was also used successfully by a North Carolina Republican to win his congressional election that same year?

It’s called “ballot harvesting” or “ballot collecting.” In a nutshell, it allows campaigns to organize staff who then gather mail-in ballots from legitimate voters and submit them on behalf of those voters.

Sounds efficient, right?

It is. Both for the voter and for the campaign.

The voter avoids the long lines on election day. The campaign gets to target constituencies more likely to vote for their candidate. In effect, it cuts out the “O” in GOTV (“Get Out The Vote”) strategies by transforming it simply to a GTV (“Get The Vote”) effort.

Here’s the odd thing, though. Ballot harvesting (or collecting) is legal in some states (like California) and illegal in other states (like North Carolina).

The winning California Democrats went on to serve in Congress. The winning Republican’s election was invalidated and he opted against running in the subsequent election re-do. All used some form of ballot harvesting/collecting to gain their electoral victories.

The inequity of this treatment has caused quite a debate. While it may seem like a partisan Continue Reading “No, Freedom Doesn’t Come In The Mail”

To The Class of 2020

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You live in strange times.

You dream of greatness, of achievement, of success. Others have captured their dreams. You’re no different from them. You can earn your desires. You either have a plan or you know you can make a plan, by yourself or through the aid of helpful allies.

But now, at this very moment, your life has been disturbed, uprooted by forces you cannot control. Your carefully crafted plans, your jubilant expectations, your equitable share, all have been stripped from you. Together, they represent a loss you can never regain.

You are not alone.

Why do bad things happen to good people? This is a question long asked by theologians, pondered by philosophers, and analyzed by psychiatrists. Yet, for all the mental, physical, Continue Reading “To The Class of 2020”

A Bothersome Burden Has Just Been Lifted From My Shoulders, Did You Just Get the Same Feeling?

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A terrible bothersome burden has just been removed from my shoulders. Did you just get the same feeling?

The last time I felt this weighed down was, well, maybe a half century ago. For those of you who think “half century ago” must refer to ancient times, do the math. I’m talking about the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It’s a very uncomfortable feeling. It’s a drag. And I don’t mean “drag” in the sense that was used in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but “drag” in the sense of physics, specifically as engineers use it in automotive design and aeronautics. It a gnawing downward pressure that prevents you from moving faster or soaring higher.

Like so many others, I am free of that burden now. I didn’t do it alone. I have Hal to thank. Continue Reading “A Bothersome Burden Has Just Been Lifted From My Shoulders, Did You Just Get the Same Feeling?”

Home, Sweet Home: The Joy of Our Return to Space

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I sat fixed in front of what seemed a massive TV screen, my eyes glued to the shreds of white steam shooting from the rocket’s body.

My own body remained tense. “Would the mission be scrubbed at that last minute?” “Would there be an in-flight ‘anomaly’?” “Is there any Tang left?”

What year is it?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

1968? It was a terribly bad year.

1969? It was a joyful year of ascending achievement.

Today? Well that’s an interesting idea.

Let’s return to the beginning. If you’re a member of the “space age” generation (like me), you’ll enjoy (and reflect) on this brief trip down memory lane. If you’re too young to remember the 1960s, you’ll appreciate the eerie similarities that might have you question Continue Reading “Home, Sweet Home: The Joy of Our Return to Space”