23 February 2011

Eleven in '11 ... No. 6 (the museum)

No. 6
the museum.
Malibu by David Hockney (LACMA)

Soundcloud: No.6 (The Museum)
When I was a junior in college, I went to DC to visit family, and of course make the circuit of all of those great museums in our nation's capital.  Before I went back to my brother's house for some Maryland crabs and coleslaw and fries and beer, however, I decided one quick visit to the Library of Congress was in order to see the exhibit of the Gutenberg Bible.

I don't know if it was a lull in the crowds, or just a lack of interest that hot, humid afternoon to see this first book to come from Herr Gutenberg's press.  Whatever the reason, only two people were there examining the Bible (under thick, sturdy glass) at this particular moment: myself and one striking, olive-skinned young woman dressed in similar prepster garb to yours truly.

The Annunciation, Cloisters (The Met)
We were both standing on a makeshift platform, she and I in our loafers and khakis, overlooking a masterpiece that represented a move from the dark ages into a modern age of learning and knowledge based upon The Word, yes, but also "the word."  Ah, the power of the printing press and the written word and the freedom it gives to the individual, necessarily, of course, threatening the powers that be by a civil abrogation of their power base.  Knowledge = power, baby.

Matching woven leather belts and tortoise shell Wayfarers tucked into her chambray shirt and riding atop my dome holding bangs in place (the bangs on my former head of hair actually went down past my chin once upon a time).   It was almost embarrassing how similar we were dressed ... and our bags -- I had a worn leather backpack that I would use all through college and then give to my nephew; she had a huge (ginormous?) leather bag also, and we both almost started to giggle over the serendipity and convergence and ridiculousness of the moment.

Yellow Cow by Franz Marc (Guggenheim)
She was the first to speak.  "So, can you read this?"

"No.  I don't read Italian.  Not yet.  I'd like to someday," I thought that'd sound winning, evince a desire to master another romantic language.  This was before the ole porkster was Fat or a Scribe of any shape.

"Well, can you read Latin?  Because this translation is in Latin."  Thud.

The Wounded Indian, P. Stephenson (Chrysler Museum)
"No.  Can't read Latin either."  Sweating now, more from embarrassment than the heat.  Awkward.  "I'm just kidding, I knew this was in Latin.  You would have thought Johann would have printed this in German," trying now to say something that connected some of the exhibit's literature and ephemera into our conversazione.

"I'm not expert, but I'm pretty sure all Bibles of this time would have been printed in Latin since that's what St. Jerome translated the Old and New Testaments into working on the Vulgate," she said.

Blank stare from me, slight knowing nod.

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt (Belvedere)
"But, that's probably information overload, huh?"  she said.

"No, no. I'm fascinated by vulgarities of all varieties.  Even Latin ones," I said.  Long pause.  "I'm kidding. Yes, I know about the Vulgate."  Which I actually did, surprisingly.

Paris Street; Rainy Day by G. Caillebotte (Art Institute of Chicago) 
She smiled, either from pity or flirtation.  I figured I had nothing to lose revealing more of my assured ignorance on this topic.  "How do you know so much about the Vulgate and St. Jerome and the Gutenberg Bible?" I asked.  It was high-summer in DC which translates into high-90s temp and damn near 100% humidity.  One could tell that both of us had been trudging from a previous museum in the area.  She, however, made the perspiration on her upper lip and her slightly ruffled ensemble fashionable.  The tiny droplets on the lips of this goddess reminded me of my girlfriend back home, the hairdresser with whom I was greatly disenchanted but still committed to (she the cheater; I the cuckold), who would lay out in her backyard and work up a good sweat with baby oil and other skin-cancer-causing oily catalysts to get her "tan on."  Ah, the Southern California hairdresser, er, cosmetologist.  The stories do abound, but, we'll have to bound them over for another time.

Portrait of Antony Valabrègue by Cezanne (Getty)
"My class is here studying in DC for 10 days for a directed research project," she looked around and I noticed for the first time a few other co-eds milling about the exhibit in pairs and clusters.  "I'm an English major, but minoring in Romantic Languages," she said matter of factly, not putting on any airs whatsoever.  Gawd, was I smitten as you might imagine, Dear Reader.  Here was a juxtaposition of monumental proportion: the vapidity  of hairdressing (no offense) against a soon-to-be writer of serious contribution to the Western cannon who was also studying the Romantic Languages to complement her erudition, and who (more importantly) needn't lay in the sun baking to a crisp in order to beam like some glow stick that had been left under a lamp to be used later that night and then tossed aside.  Too harsh?  If you knew the truth, you'd think me a gentleman still.

"So, what does that say there?  It looks like we're in the New Testament.  Matthew, right?" I asked.  "And, sheesh, I recognize the number 7 here."

Mulberry Tree by Vincent Van Gogh (Norton Simon)
"Very good," she gave me a polite head nod and purse of the lips.  "But, that's not text from the Gutenberg Bible, that's a Romanized Latin version."

"Ah.  Yeah, well, I don't read Italian or Latin, but a little 9th grade Spanish goes a long ways for this version."


Purple White and Red by Mark Rothko (Art Institute of Chicago)
"The Gutenberg itself can be a little unwieldy, to read anyway, with its textura and ligatures smashing it all together," she said raising her arms pointing at the blow-up of the pull quote in Latin and making a smashing motion like one was playing an accordion . "It says, I think, 'Do not give to dogs what is sacred or holy; do not throw your' -- uh, I don't know that word -- your whatever 'before  pigs or swine might be better, I guess'"

"Pearls," I offered.

"What?"
Lunatic of Etretat, H. Merle (Chrysler Museum)
"Don't throw your pearls before swine.  You know, what Jesus said."

"Yeah, of course," she looked around the exhibit to see if there was a translation she had missed.

"Sunday school. Five years," I offered rather puffily.

Lansdowne Herakles by unknown (Getty Villa)
She smiled a perfectly toothy grin.  "Nicely done.  A little 9th grade Spanish and Sunday school and you're translating Gutenberg's Bible."

Several others were queuing up behind us (to our side actually), so we shuffled off the platform together.  When we got to the bottom she made my day.  "Want to take a walk around the Library of Congress for a bit?"

Yama and Yami (LACMA)
I won't bore you with the rest of this story, dear friend, this has gone on long enough, I'm sure, save to say that it was a day filled with pangs of everything yearnful, sweetness, regret and plans for another day that never came to fruition because of yours truly.  I will tell you that I did ask the question that may be on your mind: "You don't happen to have a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy in that monstrous bag of yours, do you?"  Eyes widened, smiling, "You mean La Divina Commedia?  Of course."  This goddess went to university in a southern state with humid climes, where all Botticelli's are birthed, reared and educated.  Sigh.  Youth is wasted on the young, Dear Reader.


"The Divine Comedy" by Dante
Now, some men have a time-tested "go to" move when it comes to the first-date.  Dinner and movie.  Lunch at the beach. Hiking up to the Hollywood sign or mountain biking in Malibu canyon.  Some say mine is "the museum."  Not so. "I mussa protest, Missa Gorightry!" (Name that movie.)   If we're being honest here, I'm a drinks, dinner and movie guy for fun.  The museum, for me, is sacred, not like the sanctum sanctorum of relationship building, but I posit that a trip to the museum is at least a highly useful filter to help weed-out inscrutable projections that we all put on display on first dates ("there ain't no future in yo' frontin', never was 'cuz").  The museum is a great conversation enabler, and that's all we all really want, a useful device to get to know each other.  Am I right?

Do I collect?  Uh, no. (though I did buy my ex-wife a triptych as an anniversary gift during grad school.)  Do I paint or draw or sculpt?  Uh, again, no.  Do I buy art books?  Of course.  Love them, and I actually read them, the autodidact that I am.

Whenever I travel for business, if I am anywhere (2 hours drive) near a presidential library, I will go pay my respects whether liberal or conservative, impeached or not.  And, like you, Dear Reader, if I have any free time when on the road, I will always make time to visit or revisit a local museum or two.  That's just the way we're wired, you and I.  And, you never know, a friendly, engaging and brilliant adonis or goddess might step off the canvas to spend an afternoon with you.

Some favorite museums for your consideration:

The Met
Has over two million (2,000,000) works of art housed in its collection.  

Interestingly, the Hermitage Museum in Russia has over 3,000,000.  How much of it due to looting and plundering by its brutal forces and corrupt leaders during and immediately after WWII?  Much.  Let's see ... goes like this:  the Germans looted the French and shipped untold priceless works of art back to Berlin from Paris and occupied France (some of it going to the Swiss).  Oh, and don't forget what the Nazis took from Italy!  The Russians then plundered the Germans and shipped untold priceless works of art back to The Hermitage (some to the Swiss).  I'm sure a good bit goes back to Sotheby's or Christies and the UK and the States there somewhere, with some to the Swiss and Japan and now China.

LACMA
Has over 100,000 works housed in its collection.  Great way to spend an afternoon listening to jazz, have a cocktail, and then visit some great art.

The Guggenheim
Frank Lloyd Wright.  Enough said.  Oh, and art too.  I've linked to a great video on the "great upheaval" in the art world in the early 20th century.

Getty Center
A billion dollar campus that always impresses me each visit.  I flew home from grad school on its opening, with something like 30,000 people that day.  The stone/marble on this project cost a half-billion alone.  Art work is great ... my favorite Cezanne is there.  Decent restaurants.  Spectacular views, especially on a stormy afternoon.

The Chrysler (Norfolk, VA)
Over 5,000 works housed in its collection.  It has a best-in-class Tiffany glass collection that is extraordinary.

Getty Villa
A great place to while away the day.  About 30 minutes from the Getty Center, it's the original museum, and houses the Greek and Roman collections.

The Norton Simon
Small museum that packs a punch.

belvedere
Gorgeous museum ... and they have the Klimt (bastards).  LACMA had it for a temporary exhibition.  Awesomeness.

MOCA
Downtown L.A. across the street from the Disney Hall and down the street from Our Lady of Angels church.  If you're in the area, all three are worth the time.

Art Institute of Chicago
Over 450,000 works of art are housed in its collection.  Rothko, Chagall, Caillebotte, Seurat ... cripes this is a great museum. 

Up next?
No. 7.
the Bible.

20 February 2011

blog crush No. 1

Barbara Iweins from Au coin de ma rue
Sometimes you come across a blog and you just stop in your tracks filled with longing and jealousy and total inspiration.  Barbara Iweins from Au coin de ma rue has been featured in Vogue, and her website fills me with envy.   She features average folks and passersby from the corner of her "street" in the Netherlands and Belgium.  Well then, that settles it: I'm off to church on this fine (oh-so-fine, wonderfully chilly and rainy) Sunday morn to make amends for my jealousy and envy ... and longing.

Au coin de ma rue
I hope you find some inspiration here as well, Dear Reader.



14 February 2011

From This Week's FatScribe Satchel

From the this week's FatScribe satchel ...
For a couple of months since my mother's passing, I took a break from the company my business partner and I formed.  Around this time (end of '10) we also received some negative feedback from several of our clients (and two prospects) and one or two of their advisors about a grey area of the law that concerned them.  As I have explained in this space, this has been a true labor of love -- this potential business -- and there are no monies falling lovingly into my pockets yet (until a serious investor steps up, read several million dollars), and our small, non-equity angel investor's funds that we received last year have run their course over the past 12 months.  So, during my personal break, I stepped up considerably my search for consulting employment, working with headhunters and my connections and searching websites ... while at the same time spending considerable time with my 80 yr-old father and helping him during this adjustment period.

Upon my return to focus on the company, I had some ground to make-up and a few relationships to repair (maybe three of our 30 clients).  This required another luncheon with a client in Beverly Hills.  This particular client is a major music and TV and radio and film legend who has done better financially away than they ever did being in front of the camera, behind the mic, or performing on big and small screens.  Because of a shrewd investment, legendary client was able to realize and amass a small fortune (south of $100million) that secured for several generations of their family all that they had been working toward over the last several decades (of very hard work ... which this client loves doing).

That's the nature of this nascent business my partner and I are in ... well, trying to gain admission to over these last 18 mos. or so.  It deals with intellectual property, and the concept of the long tail, and especially with the very real business disruptors that are impacting several industries that we have on our radar.  It is eye-popping the amount of monies that are sitting on the table.  One competitor signed a deal with a studio and their client that translates into about $60million for this competitor when the dust settles (which could take YEARS to see to completion).  And therein lies the very real rub for yours truly.  The time, aka the gap, between signing new clients and securing new monies for client and our group.  We, like many lean start-ups are looking for gap financing to help sustain our efforts (and to hire lots of like-minded professionals to assist) for the next three years.  Anyhoo ...

There we were, his staff (not successful client) and I having lunch on Sunset Blvd. Also to be found in our humble little Thai restaurant were two real rock-n-rollers.  One was solo with his Pad Thai, and the other was with supermodel, Ms. thin thighs.  Now, I've written about personal experience of the supposed male French maxim of what I call the calculus amore for men dating younger women (1/2 old guy's age + 7 years = age appropro).  But, this rocker, Mr. 60-yr old, was violating this rule by 15 years at least.  You know how it is, Dear Reader, you see it on TV and whatnot, but in person ... yikes.  But, in fairness to him, she was all over him and his Tom yum gai (my favorite soup), as if he were some hot young guy.  Takes all sorts, I guess.  "Wuv, twue wuv."  Name that movie for Valentine's Day bonus points.  (Answer below the jump).

We walked outside and said our goodbyes, and I jumped in my car to send out an email.  In front of me was Paul Blackthorne (Lipstick Jungle/ Dresden Files) chatting up his buddy from the mother country about a parking ticket on his SL500 because of no front license plate.  The Brits have such great accents.  Now, catnip for most American women that I know is the foreign accent on any decent looking man.  British, Irish, Aussie, Indian ... good cripes those ex-pat blokes have a leg up on their very average, American bald guy competition here in the states when it comes to their accents.

Does the jury need proof?  Case in point: the next week I was at The Coffee Bean working on the ole CV and there was an actor from one of my favorite adapted Dickens novels, Nicholas Nickleby.  Charlie Hunnam was there in biker-chic gear (leather not lycra) chatting up two (of course) lovelies.  Actually, they were chatting him up and he just sort of chilled.  In one interview I read, Charlie spoke about how much he didn't like working on Nickleby because of the director's (Douglas McGrath who also helmed Emma) very sure way of how he wanted the role played.  Could've fooled me.  I loved that film and him in it. Not a big fan of TSOA, his TV show, btw.  I also like McGrath's adaptation of Emma.

Dinner with dad four nights a week now has meant that I see a different type of celeb than my norm.  Tom Selleck lives out by my folks (if memory serves correctly, he purchased Dean Martin's old place, a very cool ranch in Lake Sherwood, where my brother is a caddy at the country club).  Whenever Tom's wife would walk by my mother -- my mom the lovely silver-haired woman in a wheel chair due to a stroke a decade or so ago -- she would stop Mr. Selleck's wife (the talented dancer Jillie Mack) to comment on her jewelry or outfit, etc.  In spite of her communication struggles due to the stroke, mom was always able to communicate her appreciation of one's ensemble.  I have to give it to Tom (I've had friends tell me otherwise), he was patient and a gentlemen re: some stranger fawning over his wife's outfit.  Good on him.

Back at church on Sunday, the day after my 13 yr-old broke his arm skateboarding (like good ole dad had done 30 years ago!), and as I was waiting for my boys to finish up from their Sunday school classes, Mr. Joel McHale (Community, Talk Soup) walks by nice as can be with a little smile on his face.  He was heading to pick-up his own kids and seemed pretty comfortable around a bunch of non-industry folk.  Okay, okay.  The place is lousy with Hollywood studio execs and editors and actors.  But, it is a church, so that must be a bit of a shock for most Hollywood types.  (Movie Trivia Answer: The Princess Bride)

So, to sign-off.  Let me combine the stroke of my mom with Hollywood.  Last night reporting from the Grammy's, our local CBS O&O station had a reporter seemingly suffer a stroke (or TIA) live on the air reporting on-location (click here).  It's pretty scary to watch.

Now.  If this were to happen to a friend of yours, do three things immediately:

1. ASK them to smile or "show their teeth."  The smile should be symmetrical.  One side droopy is a concern.

2. ASK them to raise both arms above their head.  One-side weakness is a concern.

3. ASK them to repeat a simple sentence like, "All dogs with wings cannot fly to the moon."  No, wait.  That will make them seem like they had a stroke.  Try this one instead: "The moonlight in Los Angeles is the best."  That will work.  Difficulty repeating this simple sentence, as well as the others above, call medical professionals immediately.

Bottom line?  Strokes can happen to the young as well as the old.  Hollywood celebs, politicians, and sports stars have all been humbled by this deadly killer.  Early intervention is very important (3 hours and less).  My sons' "papa" had a stroke two weeks ago (my ex's dad).  He is in his early 60's, and thankfully he's doing all right.  My mom was 62, and her speech and ability to use her left-side was wiped out.

I believe that's a first PSA the ole porkster has ever produced.  That was ... awkward.  Be safe, Dear Readers.

.

12 February 2011

Egypt ... and the "Mystery of Capital"


I have been recommending to friends and netizens for years now two excellent books on economics by Hernando de Soto, viz., The Mystery of Capital  and The Other Path.  Both of these books focus primarily on the impact real property rights have on freeing up capital and wealth in third-world countries.  Richard Curtis (Girl in the Cafe) might want to read one of these tomes before he lectures the West again on simply writing checks to these ravaged countries.

Recently, I had a conversation with a national talk-show host and his guest from the American Enterprise Institute, and reminded him on the air that when Reagan was lecturing Gorby at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to "tear down this wall" two years before it did fall, there were Vaclav Havel's and Solzhenitsyn's and others who were ready to pick up the mantle of freedom and democratic leadership once their countries were freed from their shackles of tyranny.  We don't have that now in Egypt.  I am not suggesting a paternalistic approach in Egypt, just a fundamental focus on what matters during this transition for the Egyptian peoples (the 97% of whom are not in Tahrir Square!) early on, e.g., the primacy of property rights.

I also expressed my disappointment with President Obama (No. 44) and the missed opportunity regarding his speech in Cairo (University of) in 2009 where Obama could have called out (politely, in his inimitable fashion) the ruling oligarchs in the middle east (i.e., billionaire despots) who are sitting on stacks and stacks of blackened, oil-slicked cash, to recognize officially the underground economies that are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.  Who better than our President to reach across the Persian rug aisle to the skeptical and tribal (sectarian?) leadership of the Middle-East? If only ... What we got instead was pablum and banal talk of past greatness to placate his audience.  No one was challenged. No leadership awkwardly called to the carpet in front of the world.  A mere two years later (a timespan ironically similar to Reagan's post-Brandenburg Gate speech), Egypt is changed forever and US statecraft under this administration was revealed to be sorely lacking and feckless ... again.

Nature and tyrants abhor a vacuum.  And, when this wide-body kleptocracy of Mubarak exits the Sinai Peninsula, I fear we will have radicals entering the vacated public square ready to bring new direction and dictates to the masses that do not have the rights of man at the fore of their agendas. I'm afraid that radicalism will replace corruption, and then the West will have both to contend with.

Mr. de Soto in his WSJ editorial discusses the radical transformation possible in Egypt IF a fundamental shift in socio-economic policies is encouraged and implemented.  I post (in part) here for you:
After years of fieldwork and analysis—involving over 120 Egyptian and Peruvian technicians with the participation of 300 local leaders and interviews with thousands of ordinary people—we presented a 1,000-page report and a 20-point action plan to the 11-member economic cabinet in 2004. The report was championed by Minister of Finance Muhammad Medhat Hassanein, and the cabinet approved its policy recommendations.
Egypt's major newspaper, Al Ahram, declared that the reforms "would open the doors of history for Egypt." Then, as a result of a cabinet shakeup, Mr. Hassanein was ousted. Hidden forces of the status quo blocked crucial elements of the reforms.
Today, when the streets are filled with so many Egyptians calling for change, it is worth noting some of the key facts uncovered by our investigation and reported in 2004:
• Egypt's underground economy was the nation's biggest employer. The legal private sector employed 6.8 million people and the public sector employed 5.9 million, while 9.6 million people worked in the extralegal sector.
• As far as real estate is concerned, 92% of Egyptians hold their property without normal legal title.
• We estimated the value of all these extralegal businesses and property, rural as well as urban, to be $248 billion—30 times greater than the market value of the companies registered on the Cairo Stock Exchange and 55 times greater than the value of foreign direct investment in Egypt since Napoleon invaded—including the financing of the Suez Canal and the Aswan Dam. (Those same extralegal assets would be worth more than $400 billion in today's dollars.)
The entrepreneurs who operate outside the legal system are held back. They do not have access to the business organizational forms (partnerships, joint stock companies, corporations, etc.) that would enable them to grow the way legal enterprises do. Because such enterprises are not tied to standard contractual and enforcement rules, outsiders cannot trust that their owners can be held to their promises or contracts. This makes it difficult or impossible to employ the best technicians and professional managers—and the owners of these businesses cannot issue bonds or IOUs to obtain credit.
Nor can such enterprises benefit from the economies of scale available to those who can operate in the entire Egyptian market. The owners of extralegal enterprises are limited to employing their kin to produce for confined circles of customers.
Read the rest of his excellent piece here in the WSJ.  What are your thoughts?


07 February 2011

Eleven in '11 ... No. 5 (the grand gesture)

No. 5
the grand gesture.

There he is.  Standing.  Outside.   Attitudinal hip jutting out to the side.  Ratty raincoat draping his kick-boxing svelte frame. Full head of hair spiked just so.  Boombox hoisted above his head, and Peter Grabiel's enduring, endearing and searing "Your Eyes" raps gently on the heart of Ione Skye, knocking her to the core.  The grand gesture has hit its mark.
There they are.  Sitting in squalor in the big city.  Rags on their backs, stomachs empty. Children of all ages, wander the streets or live in abusive homes in New York City.  Because of displacement and death and disease, tens of thousands of these starving children are left uncared for as the line between abundance and dearth is a hair's breadth of chance or fate or poor parental choices in the big city of the Industrial Revolution.  Charles Brace witnessed this spectacle in 1854 and was moved into action.  His response was to found an organization removing children from big city squalor, transporting them out on "orphan trains" to awaiting pioneers and farmers for adoption throughout the mid-west who wanted to add to their families or needed working hands to help take care of the family farm or homestead.
30,000 children lived on New York City streets
Some statistics suggest upwards of 200,000 orphaned or abandoned children were placed throughout the mid-west over 50 years of the program's existence.  While there were reported cases of abuse or indifference (Billy the Kid was an "orphan train" kid), over 85% of the children themselves thought it worked for them, with many becoming successful businessmen and  politicians (two state governors).  And, it all started with one bold, grand gesture.


What exactly is the grand gesture?  To my way of thinking it is doing something that you would not normally do in your typical course of the day or year for that matter.  It is not ordinary, but is, by definition, extraordinary.

I know that many romantics think this is all about the love.  The Valentine's Day proposal (like the billboard pic above) is a big one here.  But, that's a little too on the nose, somehow, to my way of thinking.  It certainly is not unique, but it does genuinely touch the recipient to be sure.  As far as that goes, well done, you for making a memory for you and your betrothed.  However, I'd like to suggest that the true grand gesture is about the noblesse oblige that moves and touches all of us.  It's not just for the one recipient, but the whole of us, as far as that's possible.  Which is one of the reasons a very practical "orphan train" grand gesture can have an impact on an entire society.  The grand gesture can be cute, sure, but hopefully  it can also be impactful as well as heartfelt.

Many people find themselves today running marathons several times a year, raising money for cancer causes who only a few short years ago had never imagined they could run 26 miles.  There are teams of these like-minded marathon runners who became runners because they wanted to "do something good" to help find a cure for the disease that harmed their respective families.  They raise awareness and monies and set an example for all of us. This is a grand gesture.

If you've never volunteered to help someone read or put some time in at the soup kitchen or coach a team sport, well, then perhaps you've found a grand gesture for you personally.  It certainly is a noble obligation, and over the course of a lifetime of volunteering you will have touched many, many individuals in your community.  I like that.  Goodbye Mr. Chips shows us all the impact our involvement in the lives of people can have over a lifetime of being engaged.


Other grand gestures are massive, public spectacles.  Take the art work of Christo, who came to California in the early 1990s to place over a thousand large umbrellas throughout the rolling, golden hills of the Golden State.  He did the same in Japan, though with blue umbrellas.  Here in this one project you have thousands of large umbrellas, blue and gold, dotting the countrysides of two countries separated by an ocean, a culture, but sharing a wonderful grand gesture.  Many argued this was pointless and a waste of time.  Others lauded the project with high praise.  Either way, it was a very grand gesture.

What are some examples of grand gestures that you'd like to share with us?  Leave a comment or two!

Up next?
No. 6
the museum.


  

02 February 2011

Code-Shifters Unite! ... Redux


In honor of a two-year anniversary of the first "official" FatScribe article, I offer a redux post that is my favorite ("Code Shifters," below the fold) and a few facts about the website.  With your kind indulgence, over the last 24 months:
  • Almost 110 countries have visited FatScribe.com
  • From over 2,500 cities
  • That's tens of thousands of visitors (I know that some of you get that in a month, but still ... right?)
  • Over 120 articles written for this humble column  (that's only five a month, but it's like giving birth!)
  • The average reader (Dear Reader) spends over 7 minutes reading each visit.
As Aaron Sorkin wrote for A Few Good Men, "These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed."  What I do dispute, however, in my typical cognitive dissonance sort of way, is why anyone would even bother to read one jot or tittle of this website, besides you, Dear Reader (we enjoy each other's blog company, you and I), or any of our blogger websites for that matter.  The answer, I think, must be a lack of conversational, personal sharing on the typical big (or small) city sheet, fish wrap, rag, er, newspaper.  I say this, because here in LA, the LATimes.com website is replete with blogs now.  And, frankly, the paper is much more personal and appealing to me because of the blogger presence.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming ... "Code Shifters" (my fave)
________________________________
13 JULY 2009
I am afraid I "di'id," err, I mean I do, "code-shift" that is. Code-shifting (sometimes called code-switching) is a long-standing tradition of those amongst us who can be having dinner with our friends from the ole neighborhood (the ones called "stinky", "nails" and "princess" even though their names are Steve, Theo and Paulie), and with a "wait one" finger in the air to our pals we can take a call from a senior editor at The Times to give a comment on the Secretary of State's recent gaffe regarding an overseas speech which seemingly is at cross-purposes with current White House policy. We'll use words like "statecraft" and "hegemony" with Mrs. Senior Editor, and then when we hang up we'll use words like "bite me" and "that's what your wife said" to our pals who were mocking us brutally whilst we were on the phone. (Did you notice, btw, that I used the words "amongst" and "whilst" when its clear that I am a simpleton from SoCal? Now that, dear reader, is an affectation and not code-shifting.) Now ... wherest was I?

With our business colleagues on the road we mock-n-curse each other and the naughty competition with a toolbox rich with colorful insults, and then we insist that our youngins riding in the back of the car on the 2-hour ride to San Diego not say "sucks" when "stinks" will suffice. Or as Kate Hepburn's mom in The Philadelphia Story (1939 or thereabouts) said to her youngest, "Don't say stinks, Dinah. Say 'smells,' but then only if absolutely necessary."

I can see both sides of this controversy (it's only controversial because I say it is ... I want this article/website to have some substance after all) because on the one hand, it's axiomatic that we should all behave in a consistent and principled manner toward our fellow man (but not the fallow man, damn him!). This seems to be at odds with the code-shifting crowd's natural wont, but, upon deeper examination, not so much. We ALL code-shift. When we talk to our kids; when we speak to our child's homeroom mom; when we go on job interviews; when we're on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien; and, yes, even when we go to church.

There are lines that we shouldn't cross to be sure. If you are personally offended by cursing or sarcastic humor, then by all means behave consistently across each population of your friends (and here is where I take the 5th, dear friends). However, I am willing to bet that even amongst your most ardent of anti-swearers, there are phrases or slang that you feel comfortable using and yet would not venture to use that same vocab at the PTA meeting. See my meaning? Catch my drift? Are you pickin' up what I'm laying down? Code-shifting is natural and I believe helps grease the wheels of communication.

"How so?" you ask. First, it puts all at ease. When you speak formally toward your octogenarian grandmother, the one whom you still call "grand mere", she feels at ease, and believes that her 80-some odd years on this earth were not in vain, and that sending you to Smith Colllege (her alma mater) was in fact not good money after bad. When the President (Mr. BHO himself, the grand pubah of community organizing) talks with White House groundskeepers or staffers around him (say, Kal Penn, formerly of the hit series, House) he will in his inimitable way put them at ease and probably reference the Chicago White Sox's (his favorite team) recent win against the Nationals. This is how it works with those who are naturally gifted in this regard. They seek to put others at ease, yes, but secondly, it primes the pump of information. People talk more when they feel that someone is actually interested in them, but especially if they can relate to the person addressing them ... and that someone is you and I.

If you try code-shifting -- even if you feel silly at first -- then you'll begin a life-long journey of knowing our fellow man if not in a deeper way, then perhaps in a richer one. Greatness in this regard can indeed lead to accomplishing great things. Let's consider President Lincoln, from poverty to becoming arguably one of the greatest writers ever; President Truman (also from humble beginnings, he worked at a men's clothing store); Frederick Douglas, the former slave who became a leading abolitionist, is another personal hero of mine, who crossed color lines, even in his marriage, and could chat with Presidents and paupers alike; Queen Elizabeth is also said to be excellent at this and has met well over 500,000 people in her life time. She might not dap you up or high-five you, but she can ask you about cars (she was a mechanic during WWII), sheep, dogs, and anything else considered to be "common." Former President Bill Clinton was especially strong-suited here, although his touch was a little too common if you know what I mean, but I digress into truth. Sorry.

To my way of thinking, the single best modern example I can think of in this regard, is business leader extraordinaire, Richard Branson. Completely without guile (from news articles and his books that I've read, at any rate) and is just unabashedly immune to bruised ego syndrome. That is the downfall of so many leaders, viz., not considering that others may be right or at least should have a voice (insert here, Mssrs. Steve Jobs, Al Gore, certain religious leaders, et. al., for examples of impolitic behavior and those without code-shifting abilities). Branson flies around the world and has a beer with mates (aka, his employees) in Australia, the US, and the UK with abounding aplomb. He has meetings on his Necker Island with world leaders as well with equal ease. Indeed, he receives the FatScribe code-shifting award for 2009. Well done, you, Sir Richard!

And, that is, after all, what code-shifting is all about, viz., the common touch, the kind that Kipling wrote about in his If: "If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings -- nor lose the common touch." Even the Apostle Paul said "I become all things to all people." I think his point was that we have to reach folks where they're at if we want to be their friends or at least help them understand where we're coming from. That's the essence of code-shifting. I've been seeing a lot more of it recently, and that to me is a good thang!