Stuart Smalley Sign

Our anonymous Third Street Bridge sign artist has struck again.  When I walked by yesterday morning, I saw that the latest hand-lettered sign channels an inner Stuart Smalley, the fictional character played by Al Franken on Saturday Night Live years ago.  You may recall that the mild-mannered, sweater-wearing Stuart gave a Daily Affirmation with a positive message that always concluded:  “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

I’d say that “You are worthy” falls squarely into the Stuart Smalley mindset.  (Those of us who don’t share Stuart Smalley’s hopeful and constructive world view might ask, in response, “Worthy of what?”  But never mind that.)

It’s nice to know that some unknown person cares enough about the well-being of their fellow Columbusites to create inspirational messages to help us feel good about ourselves and spur us forward on our days.  I’m looking forward to the next sign that helps to put a spring in my step on the way to work.

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From Early Bird To Night Owl

For as long as I can remember, I’ve  been an early riser.  When I was a kid, I was the first member of the family who was up in the morning.  In college, I was never able to sleep in like my friends could.  And once I started working, I established the “early to bed, early to rise” regimen that would have made Poor Richard proud.

tumblr_n0gk0hqryh1qmw1oho1_1280But here’s the thing:  as time passed, I found myself waking up, and going to bed, earlier and earlier.  When it got to the point this summer where I was opening my eyes at 4:30 a.m., with no hope of going back to sleep, I knew I needed to do something.  Those hours might be ideal for a farmer, but they seemed a bit out of whack for me.

So lately I’ve been trying to change from an early bird to more of a night owl.  It isn’t easy.  Working to modify ingrained daily habits that have prevailed for decades is a challenge.  The effort for now focuses on the back end of the day, where I’ve been striving to stay up later than usual.  This means no night-time reading, which will always cause me to doze off, and trying to find some really riveting TV shows — like Peaky Blinders, which Kish and I have just started watching.  Through concentrated effort, I’ve actually been up past 10 p.m. every day this week.  This may not seem like anything to those people who regularly catch the late show on TV, but it’s a significant step for me.

And this morning, I slept in until 5:30.  5:30!  I feel like a slugabed, but progress is being made.

Rewatching The Best Documentary Ever Made

The other night I was searching for something to watch on TV.  I flipped over to our Roku option, clicked on Netflix, and started to flip through the Netflix offerings.  When I saw to my delight that Ken Burns’ The Civil War was available for free as part of my Netflix subscription, my choice was made.

arthjtf-show-poster2x3-q87qozzFirst broadcast in 1990 — 29 years ago! — The Civil War is, in my book, the best documentary ever made.  And while Ken Burns has made many fine documentaries since then, The Civil War remains his masterpiece.  From the first strains of Ashokan Farewell that began playing at the beginning of Part One, to the lovely footage of cannons at sunset and the sun-dappled pastoral scenes and shimmering rivers on the battlefields that were drenched in American blood long ago, to the historic photographs of generals, privates, politicians, battle scenes, and the dead and the voice-over readings of speeches, letters, and diary entries of the participants, The Civil War is note-perfect from stem to stern.

Of course, Ken Burns had some great material to work with, but his great achievement was sifting through the enormous historical record and capturing the essence of the titanic, nation-defining struggle in an accessible way.  The result is as riveting, as fresh, and as deeply moving now as it was when a nation first watched it, enthralled, during the George H.W. Bush administration.  The Civil War tells a powerful story, and as I’ve watched the early episodes this week I’ve found myself rooting for Lincoln and the Union, and bemoaning the inept and egotistical Union generals and all of the early Confederate victories, just as I did almost three decades ago.

Sometimes TV is better the second — or even the third — time around.  If you’ve got Netflix, The Civil War is well worth a second look.

Self-Proclaiming “Bad Ass” Status

Can you properly proclaim yourself a “bad ass”?  Or, is “bad ass” status something that can only truly be conferred by others, in recognition of your record and your lifelong body of work?

il_570xn.1459814370_mhh7This compelling issue arose because a friend at work referred to herself as a “bad ass.”  Admittedly, she did it in a carefully phrased, utterly lawyerly way — I think she may have said that she “projects a bad ass persona,” or something similar — but the implication was essentially the same.  And that raises the question of whether self-proclaiming that you are a “bad ass” is really valid.  Can you become a “bad ass” simply by buying a “bad ass” nameplate for your desk?

I think earning true “bad ass” distinction can only come from your recognition as such by third parties, and not by a personal declaration.  A “bad ass” is defined as someone who is tough, intimidating, and uncompromising.  (And wouldn’t you like to know, incidentally, how the phrase came to have that meaning, and when it was first used in that context?)  Being a “bad ass” therefore is a quality, like being deemed “smart,” that is difficult for individuals to self-assess, in part because it involves some comparison of your qualities to others.  And true personal evaluation isn’t easy for people.

Samwell Tarly, for example, desperately wants to be seen as a tough guy, and he’ll remind anyone within earshot that he once killed a white walker — but despite poor Sam’s pleading, no one is going to call him a “bad ass.”  Arya Stark, on the other hand, is recognized by one and all as a “bad ass,” without really even trying.  She has that quality and everyone knows it, and Sam doesn’t.  Indeed, the Urban Dictionary website says that the first rule of actually being a “bad ass” is that you don’t talk about being a “bad ass.”

I therefore question whether self-proclaiming that you are a “bad ass” really works.  However, I acknowledge that my friend is indeed tough and uncompromising — so I hereby declare that I consider her to be a “bad ass,” thereby conferring upon her official “bad ass” status.  Now I just need to find one of those nameplates for her desk.

Fiddling With The Murk

The most recent episode of Game of Thrones featured an epic battle, but the presentation was so dark and murky that I felt like I was missing a lot of what was happening.  Hey, is that dragons tussling in a dim, inky cloud of ashes, or . . . what?  How in the devil is Arya running through a pitch-black tunnel?  I think that’s Sam screeching under the onslaught of the undead, but everything is so muddled maybe it’s not.  And am I supposed to be able to see the expression on Jon Snow’s face as he stands in the darkness, backlit by some feeble flames?

game-of-thrones-s08e03-759I couldn’t believe that HBO would air an episode of its top-rated show that was so difficult to see, so I decided the fault had to lie with the specific settings on my TV.  The TV is years old, I’ve long since misplaced the owner’s manual, and I haven’t tried to adjust the settings in as long as I can remember.  That meant just looking at the buttons on the TV remote — as opposed to the cable remote — to try to figure out which ones might change the video quality so I could rewatch the episode and hope to actually see what was happening.

There was a tiny button at the bottom of the remote marked “pict” that I figured probably referred to “picture” and not to Scotland’s first people, so I pushed that and saw that the options were things like “sports,” “custom,” “theater,” and “vivid.”  I have no idea what the different settings meant, but “vivid” at least sounded like it could help me decipher what was happening in the HBO murk, so I chose that.  But it seemed like there had to be a way to address the brightness of the picture, specifically, so I kept searching.  Another button labeled “menu” seemed promising, and I found that it included “brightness” and “contrast” and other options, so I cranked the brightness up to 100 and adjusted the contrast up to about 85, and then settled back to rewatch the GOT episode.

Alas, it didn’t really help — I was just seeing some lighter murkiness and was still struggling to determine exactly what was happening in all that blurry blackness.  And when I switched over to regular TV, I saw that my adjustments had really messed with the screen so that, for example, I had somehow cut off the bottom of the picture in sports broadcasts where the score is displayed.  How did that happen?  So I found another button that allowed me to shift everything back to the original factory settings, and found that that fixed everything — except the picture quality on the GOT episode.

Oh, well . . . I guess the Battle of Winterfell was just meant to be an exploration of darkness in the world.

Estate Planning Lessons From . . . Game Of Thrones?

With the first episode of the new, and final, season of Game of Thrones set to air tonight, everyone’s trying to horn in on the buzz of the show and the excitement of the fans who want to see what happens to the bloody island of Westeros.

5imy29fw-720Don’t believe me?  Exhibit A is this clickbait article from the wealthmanagement.com website for financial planners entitled Eighteen Estate Planning Lessons from “Game of Thrones.”  Here’s an example of one of the “lessons”:  Daenerys Targaryen demonstrates that you should “take inventory of your clients’ assets” when helping them plan for retirement.  In case you’re wondering, apparently a British financial has actually tried to value Daenerys’ army of Dothraki, Unsullied, and three — wait, scratch that, two — dragons and has concluded that she’s got several hundred million in assets to account for in her estate planning.  Other estate planning advice tied — in some cases, pretty loosely — to the GOT plot includes don’t rely on do-it-yourself wills and thinking about how to provide for your descendants beyond simply having a will.

If you’re a big Game Of Thrones fan who’s been ruminating about estate planning, it’s clearly the perfect article for you.  Of course, the biggest estate planning advice you can draw from GOT is to get the heck out of Westeros, so that your estate planning efforts, whatever they may be, aren’t immediately triggered by your untimely death at the hands of a murderous and sadistic bastard son who you stupidly decided to legitimize, turncoat allies, scheming witches, giants, or white walkers.

It’s pretty amazing how Game of Thrones has pervaded American culture these days.  What’s next?  18 Game of Thrones lessons on diplomacy?  18 Game of Thrones lessons on child development?  18 Game of Thrones lessons on how to buy a used car?