Night Sky

I’m not saying the Stonington is out in the boondocks, but it’s really not close to any big city.  The village itself hugs the coastline, and the views from most places look out over the bay, granite outcroppings, and apparently primeval forest.

So, that means there’s not a Target or Home Depot only a few minutes away, which I guess is an inconvenience of sorts.  But is also means that there isn’t a lot of light at night — which means you can get a new, different perspective on the night sky.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the nights when it is clear, I’ve been enjoying sitting outside, staring slack-jawed at the night sky of Stonington.  It’s different from the night sky of Columbus.  Where the night sky in Columbus is a kind of dark gray color, due to the many bright lights on the horizon from downtown buildings and surrounding houses, the color of the night sky in Stonington is deepest ebony — like a shroud of black velvet.  In Columbus, you see a few constellations, like Orion and the Big Dipper, but most of the stars simply aren’t visible due to the light pollution.  In Stonington, where there really isn’t any appreciable light pollution, the stars blaze with a brilliant white color, as if someone is standing with a flashlight behind that black velvet shroud, shining the light directly through pinpricks in the fabric.  Even dimmer stars stand out in sharp relief, and I’ve seen constellations that I haven’t seen since I was up in northern Canada years ago.  I have no idea how many individual stars are visible from our deck, but it’s got to be thousands, if not tens of thousands.  And the blackness feels empty, and limitless.

And the Stonington night sky gives you a fresh appreciation for how the Milky Way got its name, too.  The spread of stars along the band of the Milky Way does look like a river of spilled milk.  Even if you can’t make out individual stars or galaxies, the Milky Way is noticeably lighter than the surrounding, deep-black space.  Looking at the brilliance of the Milky Way, it’s easy to conceptualize our little planet as just one rock at the rim of a great galaxy.

When you gaze at the Stonington night sky, you quickly understand why our human ancestors going back to caveman days were fascinated by the night sky, and the stars.  I may need to get a telescope.

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Every Man A Groper (Or Worse)

Every day, it’s getting more embarrassing to be a guy.

Every day, it seems, some new revelation comes out about some guy doing something that is just flat out appalling and inexcusable — if not outright criminal.

623-03695485Every day, it seems, some prominent actor, director, or other entertainment figure, or some well-known liberal or conservative politician, or some high-powered business executive, is alleged or shown to have engaged in activities that could easily be characterized as gross sexual imposition, indecent behavior, sexual assault, or outright rape.  The steady drip, drip, drip of allegations makes you wonder whether there is any widely known male public figure who hasn’t grabbed what they shouldn’t have grabbed, or exposed what they shouldn’t have exposed, or tried to grope a young girl, or engaged in some forced sexual activity with someone who was unwilling.   And it’s to the point now where you wake up each day and ask:  Who’s next?  Who else is going to be shown to have done something that is totally, disgustingly inconsistent with their pure-as-the-driven-snow public reputation?

Once, in the past, there was a sense of chivalry and manners, a pride in self-control and behaving like a gentleman, and a Victorian attitude about treating all people with politeness and decency and respect.  I’d like to think that there are still men out there in positions of power who continue to adhere to those concepts.  But the news we’ve heard over the past several weeks, from the Harvey Weinstein disclosures to whoever is the subject of today’s revelations, really makes you wonder how many of those decent people are left.

Men need to start rethinking what it means to be a man, and how we can teach boys a code of conduct that allows them to be proud, upright members of society, rather than evil predators who ruin people’s lives with their depredations.  The problem here seems to run awfully deep.

Many Americas

Recently I was up in Detroit, gassing up the car at a service station at an exit just off one of the freeways, when I noticed this provocative sign on a tire business across the street.

Commerce doesn’t lie.  The business owner obviously thinks that theft of wheels from parked cars is a sufficiently widespread problem that advertising about the ability to help victims of the thefts will generate additional sales and revenue, and you have to assume that there’s a factual basis for that belief.  I thought:  “Really?  Wheels on cars parked on public streets are being stolen, and police haven’t caught the perpetrators of such brazen criminal activity?”  The sign, and the real message it was sending, made me uneasy.

The sign was just one more bit of tangible evidence that we don’t live in one America any more, if we ever really did.  Instead, there are lots of different Americas, dealing with lots of different issues.  Where I live, we thankfully don’t have to worry about coming out to our car and finding all of the wheels taken by wheel theft gangs.  In this particular neighborhood of Detroit, however, there is obviously a different reality.

This shouldn’t be a revelation, of course.  Read the news and you quickly understand, intellectually, that there are pockets of the country where the heroin epidemic is raging and leaving families devastated, where the local economy has been bottomed out and there are no jobs to be had, and where the relations between police and the local populace has been poisoned, and there are parts of America where people are concerned because housing values are too high, where companies are concerned because they just can’t hire enough high-tech workers, and where people are lining up to spend a thousand dollars on a new cell phone.  And don’t get me started about how different places like Hollywood, or Washington, D.C., seem to be from the rest of the country.

And yet, when you live in your own world, it’s easy to view everything from your own personal experience, and wonder why people could possibly have different perspectives on the issues of the day.  The next time I feel that kind of self-absorbed conceit, I’ll think about that unsettling sign in Detroit and try to remember that there are a lot of people in this country dealing with lots of issues and problems that I’m not even aware of — much less affected by.  America is a diverse place not only in terms of its population and demographics, but also in terms of personal experience.  We shouldn’t forget that.

 

A Good Man Down

We lost another friend yesterday.  A colleague from work, Tom passed away after a short but valiant battle with pancreatic cancer.  He was only 60.

meteorWe met 31 years ago when I joined the law firm and was assigned to an office next to his.  We shared the same curse, both being diehard fans of Cleveland sports teams, and became workplace friends.  Because I had worked for a few years between college and law school, he was already a seasoned associate when I was a raw rookie, and he happily served as a sounding board for the kinds of questions that inevitably arise when you start working at a new place.  It quickly became apparent that he was extremely smart, a very talented lawyer, and somebody who was viewed by firm partners as a rising star.  He invited me to join a group of older associates who went out for lunch from time to time and swapped stories about the firm at a place that specialized in apple dumplings, and it made me feel included, and a little bit more like a part of the firm.  He didn’t have to do it, but he was just that kind of person.

After a few years in neighboring offices he exercised his seniority and moved to a better office, and we saw less of each other.  He got married and we both focused on our families and things like trying to build our law practices, but he remained the kind of guy who would send along an article and funny observation about the latest crushing Cleveland sports disappointment or email a wry comment about national politics or a development at the firm.  Since his death yesterday, several people have said that he had no enemies — and that’s true.  He was a person who was happy with his wife, happy with his life, and happy in his work, content with his circumstances and satisfied with how things worked out.

And that’s one of the things that made the news about his discovery, only a few months ago, that he had already advanced pancreatic cancer so difficult to accept.  It simply doesn’t seem fair that such a friendly, mild-mannered, fundamentally decent person could be taken so cruelly and never given the opportunity to retire and enjoy the fruits of his years of very hard work.  But after you’ve seen untimely death take a number of good people, you realize that fairness really has nothing to do with it and stop trying to make sense of it.  The key thing is to live a life that, when the time comes, hopefully leaves those who must move on with fond memories of a good person who will be missed.

Tom Ruby accomplished that.

Thanks, And Thanks!

We got into a discussion the other day about proper etiquette when it comes to the ubiquitous “thanks” email in the workplace.  Put aside the fact that some people hate it, and accept that the “thanks” email needs to be sent as a matter of common courtesy — and also, by the way, to confirm that the prior email has been received and read.

rapkprhNo, the question is: should the email be “Thanks.” or “Thanks!”?  How important is it to put that ending exclamation point on your expression of personal gratitude?

Exclamation points are, of course, used to add emphasis, and can express excitement, surprise, astonishment, or other strong sentiments.  Interestingly, exclamation points were apparently originally called the “note of admiration” — and admiration seems pretty close to gratitude.  Also, the “Thanks.” email comes across as just a little bit flat, doesn’t it?  If you’ve asked someone a question or made a request and they’ve provided you with the information or response you want, the least you can do is put a little emphasis on your expression of appreciation.  If you then ask a follow-up question and get a follow-up response, you can always go with the “Thanks again.” email on the second go-round.

I do think, however, that we need to guard against overuse of the exclamation point in workplace communications.  For example, one exclamation point is perfectly sufficient, and multiple exclamation points should be reserved only for the most extraordinary circumstances.  And let’s remember that the exclamation point should be used rarely, and it is the good old period that should be liberally employed.  Too many exclamation points make the writer seem breathless and overly excitable.

But none of that should prevent the use of the exclamation point on that initial “Thanks!” email.  As in, to all of the readers of this blog:  Thanks!

“The First Chicken That Tastes Like Chicken”

The other day I was on my morning walk when a commercial truck rumbled past.  It was a truck for the Gerber Poultry Company, advertising its “Amish Farms” brand chicken with the slogan:  “The first chicken that tastes like chicken.”

Intriguing slogan, isn’t it?  It’s a bold claim, as many commercial taglines are, but it’s far more subtle and nuanced than “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet” or “M-m-m good!” or “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.”

After all, at a certain level, everything — from frog legs to rabbit to squab to alligator — tastes like “chicken.”  At least, that’s what people will tell you.  If it’s the flesh of a creature that has mild, soft white meat that isn’t particularly gamey in flavor, the inevitable culinary reference point is “chicken.”  So, obviously, you’d expect any brand of chicken to taste like . . . chicken.

chicken-surprisedBut the Gerber Amish Farms slogan goes deeper than that.  By claiming to be the first chicken that tastes like chicken, it’s really saying that those of us who haven’t had Gerber poultry don’t really know what chicken tastes like.  Fans of The Matrix will remember the scene at the mess table on the Nebuchadnezzar where Mouse raises the profound question of whether anyone really knows what chicken actually tastes like.  After all, the computers that designed the Matrix presumably would have no idea what chicken truly tasted like — they would simply create a taste, plug it into the Matrix program, and all of the humans linked into the Matrix would accept it as “chicken,” just as they accepted everything else in the simulation as true reality.

So the Gerber Farms slogan presents a jarring concept.  Knowing what “chicken” tastes like is a foundational building block for modern Americans.  If you don’t know what chicken tastes like, what do you know, really?  It would be like learning that the sky actually isn’t blue, or that space aliens live among us, or that Donald Trump is secretly one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists.  Suddenly, your perception of reality is shifted forever, and there’s no going back.

So I’m not quite sure I want to try that Amish Farms poultry and learn what chicken actually tastes like.  It might be like Morpheus offering the red pill . . . or the blue pill.

Cranial Reflections

Earlier this week they moved a towering red crane onto a construction site on my walk to work, and as I strolled past one morning I saw the crane reflected in the glass windows of a neighboring building.  It looked like a piece of modern art, with color gradations from the background sky, the cubist boxes, and the red colors threading upward and across from bottom to top.

Interesting, isn’t it, how the human brain searches for pattern wherever and whatever it perceives sight or sound?  It may cause us to see creepy faces on wallpaper or presidential profiles on potato chips, but it’s also useful– and would cause most people to recognize this distorted image as a reflection of a crane.