Nothing But Flowers

Legendary economist and social commentator Peter Drucker once wrote, “Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation…a ‘divide.’ Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself–it’s worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions.” He goes onto claim that we’re currently living through just such a transformation.

I believe that postmodernism is an implement in the transformation Drucker writes about. In fact, the very aspects that bring criticism raining down on it–the disconnection, fragmentation, and numbness it generates–are creating a cultural, intellectual, and philosophical clearing that fosters this transformation.

As messages mash together into some relativistic white noise, and the significance of ideas and philosophies reach a point of equal banality, the din will eventually morph into a form of silence, similar to the phenomenon where sensory stimuli of a static nature is eventually tuned out by our brains. Therefore, instead of having a merely entropic effect, all of this postmodern chaos might just help create a new “quiet.”  In this quiet, new ideas, philosophies, and conversations may be heard with greater clarity, in which case, we should be more clearly guided by them (their Marco to our Polo) through the old arrangement and into the new.

In this environment we will, I believe, be guided into a nexus of objectivity.

Today, as I was driving, the Talking Heads song, “Nothing but Flowers,” popped up on my playlist. The song is a testament to this notion. Talking Heads were postmodern poster children, yet bandleader (and Renaissance man par excellence) David Byrne never came off as a deconstructionist or a hedonist. Moreover, it never shocked me as much as I thought it should when he abruptly changed musical genres, from art/pop/punk to Latin world music.  Yet, today is the day I think I finally, really grokked Byrne’s shift.

I think Byrne’s “old” music with Talking Heads served as a tool to desensitize audiences to the inherent absurdity part and parcel with the existential hell we’d created for ourselves. Talking Heads helped us look at all that in way that helped stay our hands from slitting our own throats.  They helped us just laugh at it.  Once we were done laughing, rolling our eyes, or being downright ornery about the whole thing…once we were past our “fear of music,” as it were, we ceased to notice either the music or its underlying messages much anymore.

I believe that Byrne was aware of all this at some level, and he knew that we, his audience, were ready to receive new messages…ones that represented the real things he wanted us to know. He delivered these to us wrapped in a happy Latin beat so we would recognize them as different from his previous messages and connect his new songs to a contiguous stream of thought. “Nothing But Flowers,” a standout track on Talking Heads’ final album, was Byrne’s introduction to this new paradigm. It didn’t even present his thesis yet, but it was certainly an invitation to all of us, “Jump in, the apocalypse is fine.”

And on the other side it’s quiet.  And nothing but flowers.

Years ago
I was an angry young man
I'd pretend
That I was a billboard
Standing tall
By the side of the road
I fell in love
With a beautiful highway
This used to be real estate
Now it's only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it's nothing but flowers
The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we'd start over
But I guess I was wrong

Once there were parking lots
Now it's a peaceful oasis
you got it, you got it

Wood stir sticks for coffee: an environmental impact analysis

A short paper I just wrote for my Sustainability for Business class.  It ain’t Shakespeare, but it does represent an important epiphany I had this morning: the businesses that are selling wooden stir sticks as a “green” alternative to plastic ones could very likely be full of shit.

Here it is:

Recently, I’ve noticed a move from plastic stir sticks to wood ones in nearly every shop I visit. I’ve assumed this change is an attempt by coffee shops to be more “green” because a move away from petroleum-based to organic products intuitively seems to be a good one. When it comes to wooden stir sticks, looks may be deceiving. Upon conducting a brief lifecycle assessment of wooden stir sticks, I would have to rate the trend a 7 or 8 in terms of its impact on the environment. In other words, despite distributors’ assertions that wooden stir sticks are “better” for the environment than plastic ones, they still represent a potentially significant negative impact on the environment–specifically as it relates to the destruction of virgin resources required to make the sticks and the waste generated after their use.

There are five stages in the lifecycle of a wooden stir stick: 1. Growing and harvesting white birch trees (the wood primarily used for stir sticks), 2. Manufacturing the sticks, 3. Distributing the sticks, 4. Using the sticks, 5. Disposing of/recycling the sticks. Although one could find red flags at any step in the process, the types of concerns raised in stages 2-4 are common across today’s commercial spectrum. The rise in the amount of white birch to accommodate increased demand, however, presents a real and immediate environmental concern. Further, although technically compostable, companies selling these sticks tout it as a presently meaningful benefit. This claim is erroneous, if not outright misleading.

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources states, “The volume of paper birch (another name for white birch) has decreased significantly since 1983.” Moreover, growth rates have decreased over the past 23 years and are currently negative, which means that white birch mortality currently outpaces new growth. Present-day harvesting methods are one probable culprit, as birches grow naturally alongside aspen trees in the wild. The two types of trees fair better in “mixed” woodland systems, yet require different harvesting methods to most effectively support regeneration for each of them–aspens flourish with a clearcut method, while birches do well with a see-tree or shelterwood one. Commercial cutters typically favor clear-cutting. As a result, aspen trees often take over in areas that were far more balanced before cutting was initiated. This trend has put birch populations in a precarious position, as the number of pole-sized trees has decreased almost 35% since 1996, and the number of seedlings and saplings has decreased as well. Even more alarming is that the ratio of removals to growth tripled from 1983 to 1996, which implies that commercial cutters have not gotten the message that the birch population is in trouble.  An increased demand for this type of wood from stir stick manufacturers can only exacerbate this already troubling situation.

Companies’ composting selling point is also an area for concern. Although wooden sticks represent no more waste than their plastic counterparts (in fact, they represent less intrinsic longterm waste, as they break down easier), the composting claim as a selling point could lead to negative impacts. To be certain, wooden stir sticks have been deemed “compostable.” Whether they are “backyard” compostable or, like corn-based PLA containers, need to be composted in a commercial facility is still up for debate. Assuming they are compostable via facilities only, their use reaps virtually no net gain in environmental impact terms. At present, according to an article in Coffee Talk magazine, “There are only 144 commercial composters across the country serving 30,000 communities, the compostability…becomes almost an irrelevant environmental benefit.” Besides, in order for stir sticks to be composted, they need to be disposed of in a separate container–not the garbage. To date, I have not personally seen or heard of any coffee shop in the US that boasts a “compost bin” for stir sticks, PLA containers, or any appropriate organic waste, for that matter. Finally, one has to wonder whether the false sense of security the composting claims creates might lead to consumers using and disposing of wooden stir sticks much more freely than they used and tossed plastic ones. If this is the case, the change to wooden stir sticks could represent a net reduction in sustainability for the coffee shop industry over their plastic predecessors.

Both concerns are compounded by the fact that, according to (which purports to be the leading provider of coffee statistics), Americans alone consume about 146 billion cups of coffee each year. And the coffee shop industry continues to be the fastest-growing segment of the restaurant business. The number of coffee shops in the US grew 157% from 2000 to 2005, and it continues to grow at a robust 7% per year. If the industry is truly committed to a sustainable path, real eco-friendly alternatives to both plastic and wooden stir sticks need to be found…quickly.

You won’t like me when I’m angry

Hulk In a balanced world, it’s not hard to argue for the necessity of
anger, nor for the healthy expression of it.  In many of my talks, I tell people that I think anger is an okay
thing.  “In fact,” I say, “I feel
completely comfortable expressing it on a daily basis.”  Yet, how many times has it held me
back, stopped me in my tracks, and led me to make choices that were (ahem) not
in my best interest?

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get a handle on this anger
thing.  Not to rid myself of
it.  I don’t think that’s possible.
 There has to be a way, I would
tell myself, I can achieve some…mastery over it.  How do I get to a place where I’m running my anger instead
of it running me?

My answer came in this realization: anger, above all, is a
reflector.  Put aside everything
else you know about anger, and think about how it functions.  When someone makes you angry, your
internal dialogue is “I can't believe so-and-so did that to me.”  That thought ticks you off, and it
leads to another thought: “Why would so-and-so do that to me?”  Then, if you’re anything like me, it’s
not much of a leap to, “Why would so-and-so think it’s alright to do
something like that to me?” and, the
résistance, “Why would so-and-do want to hurt me like that?”

Each of these thoughts bounces off the anger reflector and hits you
again, knocks you around, batters you. 
Each ensuing bruise, each scrape pisses you off all the more.  Thus, begins the spin.  One “why me?” question begets another,
and so on, and so on, until your whipped into an emotional frenzy.  And worse, your mental bandwidth is
jammed with an ever-growing swirl of thoughts around this one…issue.  Pretty soon, you’re consumed, and deaf
and blind to everything around you, a captive of the reflector and the perfect
storm it creates.

The key to mastering my anger, I’ve found, is in simply
understanding that the reflector exists. 
Once I got a handle on that, I could start seeing when it would pop up.  “Wait…is this the reflector?”  This single question has given me
enough pause in potentially combustible moments that I can at least make a
choice.  I can choose to talk to
so-and-so, for example.  I can
choose ask myself a new question, ala Byron Katie: “Is that really true?”  Usually, I choose to chuckle because
when I take an honest look at the situation, I find that often I’ve
misinterpreted or misunderstood something…or put a meaning on it that the other
person never intended.  I give
myself the gift of a moment of choice…to be hurt, or not to be hurt?

It’s taken me a long time to get here, but once I understood this
aspect of anger it…helped.  The
reflector still pops up, and there are still times when storms brew.  Nowadays, though, they’re more
cloudbursts than full-fledged gully washers.  My mind is clearer, I don’t get stuck as often as I used to,
and my relationships—with others and with myself—are better for it.

Confessions of a “go for it!” guy

Folks perceive me as a “go for it!” guy, it seems, and
they all ask me how I do it.  They wonder what quality I possess that allows me to
walk forward while they feel stuck at square one on their
journey to achieve their own aspirations.

They’re usually surprised at my answer, because manifesting
aspirations, in my opinion, has little or nothing to do with who you are or
what type of person you are.  No one
would accuse me of being a type-A personality, for example.  I am also neither fearless nor infallible.

So what’s the secret? 
How do I live into being the manifesting “go for it!” guy?  It’s not who I am; it’s what I do.  And it’s very simple. 
I wake up every day, and I make an active choice to ask and answer two

1.     What’s one thing I can do today to move me
closer to achieving my aspiration?

Every day, Saturday and Sunday included, I do one
thing.  It could be as easy as
sending and email or making a call. 
It could be something larger. 
It could be resting and spending time with my family or friends.  It could be working out.  The bottom line is I make a conscious
effort to check in with my journey every day and land on something I can do that
truly moves me closer to realizing my chosen aspiration.

Even more important, no matter how large or small that thing
is, I remember “it’s better than nothing” is something!  If I did nothing that day, there’s a
100% chance I’d feel bad.  This
way, there’s at least a chance that I walk out the day feeling…okay.  And sometimes great.

2. Do I trust myself
to get my “one thing” done?

Walking the walk is usually a lonely and tedious business.  More often than not, there’s no one in
the room nudging me onward other than, you know, me. 
Making good on my promise to myself to do “one thing” is the
difference between standing still and moving forward.

Anyone who’s been in any kind of relationship in life knows
that trust isn’t an automatic thing. 
Trust is built.  I’ve gained
a level of trust with myself by being honest with myself.  If I think, for whatever reason, I
can’t do my chosen “one thing” that particular day, I accept it and don’t beat
myself up for it.  Then I ask
myself question #1 again, this time putting the emphasis on “can do” instead of “one thing”
when I ask it.

As I’ve kept promises to myself over time, I’ve grown to
trust myself more.  Now, as the
“one things” I tend to come up with each day are larger and more challenging,
it seems that my answer to the “Can I trust myself?” question is typically
yes.  I have a track record now and
credibility with myself.

I can’t promise you what works for me will work for
you.  I have, however, learned
this:  everything you try—even if
it doesn’t work—gets you one step close to discovering what really does work
for you.

And for those of you who are wondering…Yes.  This blog post is my "one thing" for today.  🙂

The top of the mountain ain’t enough

These were two good men in this race–two men whom I would have been proud to call my President.  Yes, I had my issues with John McCain.  Mostly, though, they were of the "scratching my head and wondering where the hell the John McCain I thought I knew went" variety.  But I knew in my heart that both of these good men truly put "Country First."

So…first off, thank you, John McCain.  Thank you for everything you have given to this nation–so much–and thank you for your continued service in its name.

Last night, monkeys tumbled off our great nation’s back in droves.  So much history was made last night–I love the way David Gergen on CNN kept saying, "The significance of this night cannot be overstated."  Certainly, it is going to take this country, its citizens, and the world years to understand and then live into that significance.  It sure feels good, however, to be here today.

I am excited.  Strangely enough, it’s not because we’ve just elected our first black president.  I clearly pay homage to this amazing milestone, but what truly excites me is how President-Elect Obama brought something back to many, many of us that it felt like we’d lost.  How, above all, he embodies this.

I feel like an American again.

When Michelle Obama said at the beginning of the year, "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback," she took a lot of heat.  Of course, what those who seized on that comment didn’t mention was that her remark was a follow up to this statement: "People in this country are ready for change and hungry for a different kind of politics."

How folks could misconstrue her comment as somehow un-American, was beyond me.  In fact, I took it as one of the most American statements of the election year.  I mean, since when did questioning our leaders and our political landscape demonstrate a lack of patriotism in this country?  Questioning authority is, after all, the foundation upon which this country was built.

More to the point, Ms. Obama’s comment, In a sentence, it summed it all up.  I don’t know if I could put myself as squarely in the "not proud of my country my adult life" as she was.  I felt pretty damned skippy voting for Bill Clinton in ’92 and ’96.  I felt like our country was moving in the right direction.  But these past eight years…

I had, myself, begun to lose hope.  How we could allow an election to be stolen.  How we could buy into politics of divisiveness and ideology.  How we could be at each others’ throats.  How we could, in eight short years, become the "bad guy" in the rest of the world’s eyes.  How we could move from relative prosperity to the brink of economic ruin.  And how, as Rome was burning, we were fiddling–still arguing and bickering as flaming pieces of our society fell charred and broken at our feet.

I felt like an alien in this place.  Or like I’d somehow waken up in a parallel dimension, in some strange Shadow America.  Like the evil Star Trek Universe: American Political Landscape Edition.

I woke up again last night.  Finally at home.  And my hope returned last night.  Not in the feeling of having bet on the right horse, but in Obama’s first words as President-Elect where he told the nation:

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.  Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers – in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.  Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.  As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, "We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

I was and am proud of our resiliency as a nation and as a people.  Of our ability to learn from our mistakes.  Of the renewed sense of purpose that seems to be taking root in our hearts and, more importantly, in our actions.

For the first time in a long time I stand on the road and look down it thinking, come what may we might just be okay.  Not because Barack Obama was elected President, but because of how he was elected President.  By people of all ages, colors, and creeds coming together under the cause of reclaiming our unity while celebrating the diversity this nation–a nation of immigrants–was created to celebrate.  Because for the the first time in a long time, it seems not about how "I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m good and you’re bad."  Rather, it seems to be about "how can we lift each other up."

I can get behind that.

That said, I woke up this morning feeling only mostly good.  The world didn’t suddenly change over night, though we would like to think it somehow did so magically.  We face the same problems waking up this morning that we faced yesterday and the day before–and not just the tangible ones, like the economy or the war in Iraq.

I am talking here about the harder to peg, much less resolve, issue of defining ourselves and each other by our differences as opposed to our similarities.  I’m talking about the thing that gives us permission to de-humanize each other and knock each other down.  The thing that puts me and my agenda above you–sometimes at any cost.

That didn’t go away last night.  Truth be told, in some ways, the potential for it to raise its ugly head even higher was kicked up a notch or two.  That makes this time one of great potential, but as I’ve told my kids time and time again, potential is a double-edged sword.  Because from this vantage point, I can see how we can go either way, folks.  This could lead to our darkest hour as easily as it could lead to our brightest one.

Achieving our potential as a nation won’t just happen; it requires great vigilance and patience and sensitivity and action on all our parts.  It requires each of us reaching across the divide.  Graciously and humbly.  Everyone…no matter who you voted for.

Yes…I want a healed economy and a healed international landscape, but even more I want a healed country.  A country of healed hearts and spirits–across the spectrum.  If we’re ever going to live up to our claim of "one nation under God", we need that.  All of us.

So, President-Elect Obama, I congratulate you.  And I call upon you…to be your word.  To be the leader we all pray you are.  To really be President to all of us, as you promised.  And to lead us not merely to the top of the mountain, where the view is great.  Yessiree.  But also to the other side, where, as Martin Luther King envisioned, "all of God’s children, black men and white
men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands
and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last!
thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’"

Can we do that?

This I believe: Yes, we can.

Don’t Panic

Today is a day that we all stare into the face of the boogey man.  Today is a day that many of us, already teetering in the day-to-day, wonder what tomorrow and the next day will look like?  And the day or the year after that.

Or we’re asking ourselves if there’s even gonna be a "tomorrow".

My mom was a child of the Great Depression, so I’ve heard my share of stories about the hardships that time inflicted on people.  Real people.  Losing jobs.  Losing homes.   Going without.  Going hungry.  On the street, even.  Lives and families devastated.

And even if it didn’t deal a death blow to you and yours, it left scars.  Ones you carried through the rest of your life.  No one was immune from that.

I’ve spent a lot of time this past weekend wondering if we’re on the verge of repeating history.  I mean, we’re damn right on the line now, correct?  True dat.

I asked myself what is the one thing I can do–the most important thing in the moment–to help maintain the integrity of our country and our economy in this hour of need.  The answer came to me in the form of the timeless motto from the great British philosopher, the late Douglas Adams.

The answer is, simply, "Don’t Panic."

And while we’re at it, there are a few other "dos and don’ts" we might wanna consider:

  • DON’T think Democrat or Republican, or one ideology or another.  Let’s face it, that’s one of the things that got us into this mess.  We’ve spent so much energy–especially over the past eight years–focusing on why we’re different than the other guy, and why we’re right and he’s wrong, we’ve lost track of the most important thing we all have in common: we’re all people.  And we’re all Americans.  At this time, more than any other, we need to remember this above all because "United we stand; divided we fail" feels pretty palpable at the moment.
  • DO cut your representatives in Congress a little slack. They know they should probably vote in favor of the recovery bill before them right now, but they’re scared to death that they’ll lose the upcoming election because they did just that.  Guess what?  They know the recovery plan is as whack as we all think it is.  But they know–like we all should know (at least admit)–that to do nothing right now is to fiddle as Rome burns.  It’s the best bad solution we have.  Perhaps the only one.  And both freakin’ Presidential candidates support it.  What else is there to say?  Send them the message that it’s okay to act and, we’re not going to hold it against them next month.
  • DO vote.  Regardless of how we got into this mess, we need to stand up
    and exercise our right–our direct tangible avenue to voice how we
    believe the country can best work its way toward recovery.  It’s time to stand and deliver as Americans.  Let’s get all Nike on those voting booths next month.
  • DO look out for one another now.  Well, all the time.  But today, specifically, when the Golden Rule might just be the most potent and profitable fiscal strategy any and everyone can employ.  I have been self-employed and a business owner for going on five years now.  I’m no millionaire, but I am keeping a roof over my head and my hat in the ring.  And "paying it forward" and "helping other people succeed" and "charging what’s fair versus what I ‘could have charged’" have served my businesses well.  Both businesses–screenwriting and professional speaking–are growing.  It doesn’t matter whether or not nice guys "finish last"…they "finish".  Crossing the finish line is, after all, what matters.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the movie RUNNING.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Don’t worry so much. We’re gonna be okay.  And one good thing about tough times is that they serve to remind us what’s truly important–and critical–in this life.  Turns out it’s a pretty short list.

As I sat down to write this, I looked to the guy who lead us out of the last big mess for a bit of wisdom.  These word from Franklin D. Roosevelt, which seemed merely "historical" before, feel downright pertinent today.

"When Andrew Jackson, ‘Old Hickory,’ died, someone asked, ‘Will he go
to Heaven?’ and the answer was, ‘He will if he wants to.’ If I am asked
whether the American people will pull themselves out of this depression, I answer, ‘They will if they want to.’"
  He goes on to say, "I
have no faith in ‘cure-alls’ but I believe that we can greatly
influence economic forces. I have no sympathy with the professional
economists who insist that things must run their course and that human
agencies can have no influence on economic ills. One reason is that I
happen to know that professional economists have changed their
definition of economic laws every five or ten years for a very long
time, but I do have faith, and retain faith, in the strength of common
purpose, and in the strength of unified action taken by the American

We can walk this walk together, folks.  We can make it through the eye needle and be even better on the other side.  If we come together.  If we stand truly united.

If we don’t panic.

It might, in fact, be the one thing that saves us.

And apparently I’m not the only one…

Courtesy of Yahoo! News:

WASHINGTON – Paris Hilton’s mother doesn’t share John McCain’s sense of humor.

McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, said last week that his campaign ad mocking Democrat Barack Obama with images of Hilton and singer Britney Spears was part of an attempt to inject humor into the presidential race.

On Sunday, Hilton’s mother, Kathy Hilton, a McCain donor, registered her disapproval.

"It is a complete waste of the country’s time and attention at the very moment when millions of people are losing their homes and their jobs," Kathy Hilton said in a short article posted on the liberal Huffington Post Web site. "And it is a completely frivolous way to choose the next president of the United States."

The ad plays on Obama’s popularity by dismissing him as a mere celebrity, like Hilton and Spears. The Obama campaign has said the ad is proof that McCain would rather launch negative attacks than debate important issues.

McCain on Friday denied that his campaign had taken a negative turn, saying, "We think it’s got a lot of humor in it, we’re having fun and enjoying it."

Kathy Hilton, however, was unpersuaded, calling the ad "a complete waste of the money John McCain’s contributors have donated to his campaign."

Kathy Hilton and her husband donated a total of $4,600 to McCain’s campaign earlier this year.

Wait..!  Do I suddenly find myself in the strange circumstance of agreeing with Paris Hilton’s mom?

Either a.) I have found myself mysteriously transported into the bizarro dimension, or b.) there is some kind of consensus on the overall crappiness of your "humor", John McCain.

Your guess as to which one it is.