Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seth Godin's essay "The chance of a lifetime"

Heading into the new year, Seth Godin reaches back for words that still resonate.
Here's a question that you should clip out and tape to your bathroom mirror. It might save you some angst 15 years from now. The question is, What did you do back when interest rates were at their lowest in 50 years, crime was close to zero, great employees were looking for good jobs, computers made product development and marketing easier than ever, and there was almost no competition for good news about great ideas?

Many people will have to answer that question by saying, "I spent my time waiting, whining, worrying, and wishing." Because that's what seems to be going around these days. Fortunately, though, not everyone will have to confess to having made such a bad choice ...

Before you finish this paragraph, you have the power to change everything that's to come. And you can do that by asking yourself (and your colleagues) the one question that every organization and every individual needs to ask today: Why not be great?
In other words, Refuse to be Afraid. And that chance you were going to take someday? Take it. Now!

Make it a great New Year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Answer these 2 questions and occupy your life

Two more questions to ponder in addition to the other two.

Why am I here? What am I doing here?

For too many of us, those are two different questions.

Why am I here? What is the purpose of the finite time I'm spending on this plane of existence? Everyone is here for a reason. I'm not convinced it's "a" reason – many people spend too much time trying to ascertain the single solitary best use of their lives. The choices are innumerable, but it's important that you settle on a purpose that suits your self.

What am I doing here? What are you actually doing, in comparison and in contrast to what your mission on this planet is?

When the answers to those two questions are in sync, you find something closer to serenity. The path ahead is more clear; decisions about which path to take are easier.

So: Why are you here? What are you doing here? Are the answers to those questions the same, or do you have some adjustments to make?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A private Armageddon

I was poking around some old columns and found one I wrote after the death of Johnny Cash, that volatile contradiction of a man and brilliant entertainer who seemed to find a modicum of peace in his later years. My thought was that we all face the "Endtimes," that is, the end of our time on Earth, and although we may very well miss the second coming of Christ in our lifetime, we face the same questions at the end that John heard in his famous dream.

Is your life hot, cold or lukewarm?

Here's what occurred to me back in 2004:
Cash shared an authentic love of God even though – or maybe because – he had a dark side that made much of his life resemble an impending train wreck. Especially after he met and married June Carter, his songs of killers and rebels blended with gospel tunes in a mix that made no obvious sense but sounded perfect anyway.

“I believe what I say, but that don’t necessarily make me right,” was the quote this weekend from a 2000 Rolling Stone interview. “There is a spiritual side to me that goes real deep, but I confess right up front that I’m the biggest sinner of them all.”

That dichotomy in Cash hit home with me, because I think we all struggle that way with darkness and light. No, I never “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” but like most people I’ve made enough missteps in life that I am uncomfortable talking about faith because I know for certain I am not holier than thou.

I think that’s what Cash meant in that interview. As time goes on, I think that while it’s interesting to speculate about Armageddon – that final struggle between good and evil that’s described in mysterious terms in the book of Revelation – we each spend our lives in kind of a private Armageddon. Every day we can decide whether we’re going to seek the truth or chase after the beast. Sometimes it’s an easy choice, and sometimes it’s like walking a tightrope over a ring of fire.

No one knows the day and hour of the “real” apocalypse; no one knows the day and hour of his own death, but the choices are the same, just on a different scale. In those last four albums, I believe his impending death was always close to Johnny Cash’s thoughts, and the choice of songs reflected his personal Armageddon. I also have a strong feeling that he won the war and is now at peace.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tis the season

It's a most amazing and inspiring story, of overcoming hardship (no room at the inn) and government red tape (everyone return to their hometown to register? Really?) to bring a child into the world who from the first was a beacon of hope.

However you celebrate this time of year, or even if you don't, please accept this in the spirit of peace and joy it's intended:

Merry Christmas.

Cross posted to Uncle Warren's Attic.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Life lesson No. 46 while walking the dog

Given the option, it seems Willow will keep playing forever. Once she gets it into her head that it's time to chase a ball, she will chase and retrieve, chase and retrieve, over and over again.

And she won't take "enough" for an answer. If the ball is within my reach – and often when it isn't – if it doesn't appear that I'm interested in pitching it, she will lie in wait with her tail pointed in my direction, ready to pounce on anything tossed over her head, whining. And whining. And whining. Until finally, I reach down and toss the ball. So she can chase. And retrieve. And chase ... Inevitably she will convince me to throw the ball at least a few more times than I thought I wanted to.

Yesterday was our first walk in a new place, and Willow did her usual dance once connected to the leash. She will grab the tether with her teeth and make a show of trying to chew through it, while dancing and prancing around me. After a few moments she settles into the rhythm of the walk — except, of course, for when she is stopping to investigate interesting odors on the ground.

It wasn't long before we both were walking along the path at a brisk pace, and I reflected how good she was at this unnatural task of traveling while attached to a long rope-like device. How good she is at chasing the ball or her beloved orange disk. How well she stays close enough when we are walking our property without the leash, and how well she knows that "Willow, come!" means she needs to run to my side.

"Willow," I said, "I can't think of anything you're not good at — except maybe quitting."

And there, I realized, was the business/life lesson to be learned from the puppy today: Be good at what you do. Be good at everything except maybe quitting. It's the secret to her success.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A place for books

Call me a Luddite.

The news story I posted from 2001 the other day was actually my second choice for a post. What I really wanted to do was reprint the column I wrote not long after, expanding on the thoughts expressed by the man who tried to circulate a petition supporting something called the Constitutional Rights Clarification Amendment.

The problem was, I couldn't find that old column. It may be on the hard drive of the home computer I was using in 2001, which is in a storage container. But it's apparently not anywhere on the Internet anymore, because the Great and Powerful Google couldn't deliver it to me. No doubt it's preserved on paper somewhere, although I can't find a printout - but there are collections of the defunct Green Bay News-Chronicle here and there that must have the original column.

A lot of stuff stored on computers 10-20-25 years ago is pretty tough to retrieve. It's not common to find a device anymore than will read a 5 1/4" floppy disk of data generated on a Commodore 128. If you didn't make a hard copy, it may be as good as lost forever.

This compatibility issue is at the root of why I'm reluctant to give up paper and books - you know, those information storage devices made out of dead trees. I don't need a certain software or hardware or any electronic device to read things I wrote in 1972 - I just need to find those notebooks and use my eyes. The pen or pencil or typing on paper still works just as well as it did then.

Last week I attempted to take Seth Godin up on his offer of a new, free book: The Flinch by Julien Smith. The catch: The book is only available via Kindle.

I don't have a Kindle, nor do I currently have the money to buy a Kindle. No problem – there are free programs that allow you to read Kindle ebooks on your computer. Except that Kindle for Mac only works on computers equipped with a later Mac OS system than mine, and I don't currently have the money to upgrade. My only options to obtain this "free" ebook, it seems, involves spending money I don't have.

I would be more than willing to spend $5-$10 for a book that can be read 200 years from now, but I'm less inclined to spend $80-$100 to buy software or hardware that will obsolete in less than 10, so that I can have the same book for free. The first thing I usually do when I download an ebook is to print out a hard copy so that I know I will always have it.

We're talking about the storage of ideas and information. One technology (print) has proved to be fairly reliable for centuries. The other (digital) is constantly evolving, and ideas and information published with earlier versions are constantly becoming harder to access. As a result I believe hard copies will be important for a long time to come.

J. Paul Getty is credited with giving the advice, "Watch what the herd does ... and do the opposite." My observation is that the herd is abandoning paper and rushing from electronic toy to electronic toy. That's why I'm more convinced than ever that books are a better long-term investment.

Friday, December 16, 2011

About those other 9 Amendments

Like the good twit that I am, I decided to get in on the big #FreetoTweet event Thursday for Bill of Rights Day. Using every one of my 140 available characters, I wrote:

#FreetoTweet - Free to tweet, speak, worship, publish, assemble, petition, bear arms, protect person and property, etc.
I pushed the "Tweet" button and went to see what my fellow hash-markers were saying. After a while I thought maybe I'd misunderstood the purpose. Almost all of the messages were about how great the First Amendment is. Many of them advertised sweepstakes and sales related to Bill of Rights Day. Somebody had a contest going - best First Amendment tweet wins a scholarship.

Well, I am as big a fan as anyone of the First Amendment. Free speech, the freedom to worship as we please, publish what we want, peaceably assemble and give grief to the government (I paraphrase) are all rights that ought to be etched in stone.

It's just that, well, Thursday was Bill of Rights Day, not First Amendment Day.

It's as if everyone decided to ignore the right to own and carry weapons, the right not to have a standing army in the neighborhood, the right not to have your person and property searched or seized without probable cause, the right to remain silent, the right to a speedy trial by a jury of peers, the right to face your accusers, and the right that states and the individual have to any and all powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution.

Oh. Wait. Everyone has decided to ignore those rights. Sorry.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy Bill of Rights Day

To mark Bill of Rights Day and to celebrate the new look and name of this blog, here's a little something I wrote for the dearly departed Green Bay News-Chronicle for July 7, 2001 ...
July 4 festival-goers lukewarm about Bill of Rights

Americans celebrated the nation's 225th birthday on Wednesday without apparently having a firm grasp on what we were celebrating.

In a survey taken during Green Bay's Celebrate Americafest by the Libertarian Party of Northeast Wisconsin, slightly less than 60 percent said they were unwilling to support what the pollsters called the Constitutional Rights Clarification Amendment.

The problem is that the "amendment" has already been passed - more precisely, the 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights, which were printed verbatim on the petition.

Eric Christianson, vice chairman of the local party, said that only 11 of the 232 people who were surveyed realized they were reading the amendments that recognize freedom of religion, speech and the press, the right to bear arms, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, protection against self-incrimination, and the other tenets of the Bill of Rights.

Some people signed or declined without reviewing the document very carefully, but most took the time to read it through and ask questions about some of the issues, he said.

"My favorite response is from the guy who declined to sign saying, 'This would interfere with the judicial system because there's a vagueness inherent to the Constitution and this would make it black and white,'" Christianson said.

The response that Christianson said was either the scariest or the funniest was from a man who identified himself as an off-duty police officer.

"He said he knows all about the Constitution because he works with it every day," he said. "But then he handed it back and said, 'I can't sign this - there are portions of this with which I disagree.'"

Bob Collison, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin, said the results reflect his belief that Americans are not very well-informed about what is happening in politics.

"They'll parade in the name of freedom, but ask them about these issues and they really don't come down on the side of freedom," Collison said. "When you come down to it, even during the Revolutionary War a minority of people were involved in the fighting. It's always a minority that makes the changes."

The Constitutional Rights Clarification Amendment

1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

2. A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

3. No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

5. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

6. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Under construction

The "A Scream of Consciousness" reboot of this blog appears not to be working ... so your humble host is working on new options. Please enjoy the fun at Uncle Warren's Attic in the meantime.

And I welcome any suggestions you might have to make this a more vibrant corner of the blogoverse. Send me an email or leave comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fleeing the screens

I'm spending today away from electronics - gotta do that sometimes. I hope to scratch out some direction with pen and paper - will let you know what I learn. Check back here over the next few days and beyond.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Our deepest and highest impulse is to peace

Somewhere near our core is a violent impulse, and so there will always be men and women who choose force to get their way – and we must be vigilant.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Smoke and mirrors

It's troubling news that a significant amount of the Black Friday business boost came because people were putting it all on credit:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wow. Just wow.

It was a hectic and crazy summer, and we missed almost all of the movies we wanted to watch. Now that the DVDs are coming out, we're starting to catch up. Thor? Pretty good, entertaining at least. Captain America? Very good, worth seeing again. X-Men: First Class? Enjoyed it while we were watching it, but I can't remember a thing about it right this moment. Talk about in one eye and out the other ....

Last night we watched Super 8.

Wow. Just wow.

Let me get back to you when I've come down a little bit. They don't make many movies like this one anymore.