Religious Dieting . . .

I am a Reform Jew (don't really worry about what that means - beyond the context of this post) so that means that I don't "have" to (there is no gun to anyone's head) follow a Kashrut diet. That being said if there is one thing I'm "known" for it is going to extremes so I CHOOSE to follow a modified Kashrut diet year-round. 

What does that mean? I'm glad you asked . . . 
  1. No pork, shellfish, or other "forbidden" animals (think of birds that don't fly, fish that don't swim, etc.) ever. 
  2. No milk (dairy) or meat (flesh of even allowed animals) at the same time.
  3. No grape products that aren't made by Jews/ (Sorry, Welch's . . . we rock Kedem (and Tom Ford, bring back the Concorde (jet vs. grape)) in the Amore home)
  4. No half-ass cheats like turkey bacon. 
Pretty simple, frankly. And - sure - there are exceptions (I still (occasionally) eat tacos with cheese and I ate ham (in cheese potatoes) at Special Lady Friend's sister's rehearsal dinner last April) but you get used to them and life is still pretty full (stop laughing, crazy bacon-obsessors). 

But here is the point . . . it is about making a conscious decision to make small sacrifices and to honor rules that are bigger, and older than me (like respecting my elders and hazing frat members). But there is a week or so out of the year - Pesach (aka Passover if you prefer your blog posts in English) where the nine or ten rules (of which I observe about three) - where all Jews have to really up our game . . . sorta. 

You see there is "Kosher" and then there is "Kosher for Passover" where additional foods are taken off the proverbial table. If you are an observant Ashkenazi Jew you can't eat and chametz. If you are a observant Sephardic Jew you can't eat chametz or kitniyot

I, of course, chose to go "whole hog" (see what I did there - I brought a pig in to a discussion of Kosher eating) . . . I am, as a convert, neither Sephardic nor Ashkenazi (my actual lineage would make me an Ashkenazi, for the record). I am, as a Reform Jew, a very atypical Reform Jew. So - I just avoid allllllll the foods. 

It is fine. It is a week out of my life and we'll enjoy a nice, hot cheese pizza at sundown on Saturday, April 11th. Want to know the BEST part? There are lots of parts of "Kosher for Passover" foods that are DELICIOUS. Wanna' bet?
  • Maybe you've heard of a lil' something we call the coconut macaroon
  • Perhaps you've enjoyed the gefilte fish (don't dismiss it . . . the jarred stuff is an "acquired" taste but you can make your own that is down-right splendid). 
  • And who could forget the soup so good and iconic and amazing they sell it year-round at some of the world's finest Jewish eateries. That's right - matzah ball soup is Kosher for Passover. 
  • Which brings me to the most controversial of ALL the Passover foods . . . MATZO itself. 
Yes, yes . . . "bread" (a very liberal application of the word) that spends less than eighteen minutes going from separate ingredients to the oven is not, on its surface, all that appetizing BUT . . . think of the applications!

Moisten and crumble them and use them in lieu of granola. Put them in eggs with cheese and salsa. Make nachos with them. Put an approved jelly (no peanut butter for us "extremists" on them and crunch, crunch, crunch. Heck - use it in downright COOOL-ih-nairy dishes.

Bring on Passover. I'm READY! 


Modern Day Plagues . . .

Several months ago I went and saw "Exodus: Gods and Kings". I rather enjoyed it in terms of size, scope, and spectacle (I had a few issues with the liberties taken in compressing and then dramatizing the story). 

The part of the movie that most unnerved me is that watching the film was the first time that the ten plagues (the Israelite G-d's attempts to humble the Pharaoh and convince him to let the Israelites go) seemed "real" to me. I mean - sure, sure . . . I saw "The Prince of Egypt" so I've seen them animated and set to happy show tunes (featuring Mariah Carey AND Whitney Houston) but this was very, very real. And horrifying. The idea of having stenches in the air, bugs all over me, sores all over my well-hydrated skin, etc. etc. etc. Just too much. 

Yet here we are, a few days ahead of Pesach and I have to wonder if these messages and challenges from high would still even get people's attention (sure, the cicadas awaking from slumber get lots of media headlines but are they scary?). Think about blood in the water - we've got bottled crap everywhere. Frogs? Bah. I'll work from home. Gnats. Gnat scary. Flies? We have those - alllll over. Livestock - Boca for the win. Boils? Okay . . . those are still a thing but I'm sure someone will come up with a cover up that is passable. Hail? I live in Kansas. Try harder, Omnipotent one. Locusts . . . see cicada dismissal above. Darkness? I seriously hate the sun. HATE the sun. Firstborn? Okay . . . that one is still very real and very terrifying. But - 1:10? These are not timely threats in the year 2015.

So here, for your consideration (you, the reader - I would never be so bold or blasphemous as to give ideas to my G-d) are ten things that would probably be equally horrifying to us (middle class Americans) in the year 2015.
  1. Facebook Outage. Don't laugh. I've seen people actually freak out on Twitter (and vice versa) when the social media platform is down.
  2. Lack of WiFi. Terrifying, isn't it? Just being tethered at all times - where you can even find a port to plug in to? Absolute chills.
  3. The Kardashians Disappear. Sure, sure. We all "hate" them and we never pay attention to them but - as soon as you read that a ton of first names that started with K flooded in to your brain and if we really didn't "like" them . . . they would not be, as a family, on their way to being billionaires making money in different industries and ways. They are actually becoming true "entrepreneurs". Horrifying. 
  4. You Had to Answer Your Ringing Phone. Everytime. Every. Time. And we'll take away your caller ID to keep it interesting. Are you freaking out yet? Ready to let (G-d's) people go?
  5. Nicolas Cage. He's going to call you, hourly. And be in every movie moving forward. Worst part? No more National Treasure sequels (one of his few roles that I truly enjoy).
  6. Pets. We're taking them allllllll away. Even your chinchillas and hermit crabs. There are six billion people in the world - find and bond with one of them. Just try. Seriously. 
  7. Buh-Bye, Fast Food. All food served in wrappers, paper or plastic bags, and/or handed through a window in the side of a building will just disappear. We'll have to actually cook all of our own meals. Then eat them as families. Without Facebook or WiFi to distract us. 
  8. Jeans. Only ONE style of denim will be available "parent ("mom" or "dad") cut". With pleats. 
  9. Freedoms and Rights. We'll have to take an actual course, taught by actual experts, on our "rights" and "freedoms" and "privileges" and we'll have to stop pretending that they are all things to all people. They are not. And we're all created equal but never treated equally. We'll have to embrace that one, too.
  10. First Born. That one stays in place because it is horrifying and eternally horrifying and horrifyingly eternal. 
So - there you go - pay attention. Be a good person. Live well. Prosper.   


Sunday Funday . . .

Guy Ritchie movies have been "up" and "down" but I can honestly say I've enjoyed them all (that I saw - his Madonna movie was not going to happen for me) but this one looks just terrific . . .


Trucks . . .

I have only owned two cars in my life. I didn't buy my first car until December, 2003. When I was 27.5 years old. I bought my most recent car a little less than two years ago. I don't care for or about cars. Literally. I actually have to do that "up talk" thing when I tell people I own a Nissaaaaaaaaaan? Rogggggggggggggue? when they ask because, frankly, I'm not 100% sure.

I know, I know. Cars, trucks, mom, apple pie, baseball, and porn are all things that "men" are hard wired to love (I do love three of those things - you can pick the three, it doesn't really matter) but I can never get behind it. Even when people I know get new cars do you know the sum and total of my interest? New car smell. Seriously. Let me inhale that for a few seconds and you can keep your brand new Cabriolet for as long as you want. I don't care.

But to prove I am in the minority on this whole car/truck (truck, specifically) thing I took some actual stock this morning of my colleagues. I work for a company that builds, franchises, and runs hotels. As part of that, our employees run the gambit from accountants, to strategists, to marketers, to construction guys. Couple that with our Kansas roots (and proximity to Texas) and that means there are lots and lots of trucks in the parking lot (admittedly many belong to the law firm we share the building with).

But here is the thing that confuses me about these manly men and their trucks . . . trucks have gotten "pretty". I mean they are like really, really nice. They have 19 cup holders, leather interior, fog lights, Bose (TM) surround sound, lock boxes under the seats (for your guns - let's be clear), and little ladders that descend from the side of the truck when you open the door (to help you in and out, duh). And these fellas (they happen to all be men - the three women in the department drive a Civic, Jetta, and Buick something-or-other) love their trucks. They get them detailed at lunch. They back them in to spots. They park at the far end of the parking lot to prevent neighbors, scratches, dings, or stares.

Huh? I thought trucks were supposed to be big, hulking, beastly things with ripped fabric seats (bench - no buckets with warmers) and were supposed to have just two doors with a manual (forget push button) window you could open so you could pass road sodas from the cab to passengers riding in the bed. I want dents, scrapes, scratches, dings, dirt, and junk (literally garbage) in the back. When did we get four doors and electric windows? When did all the knobs on the dashboard become permanent and slick? What is with the steering-wheel-borne controls of the entire system?

I mean I get it . . . they have the same payload and they have the same dogs/chicks love trucks feel but I am not impressed. These are not the trucks George Washington road his horse for.


Winter 2014 / 2015 Playlist . . .

I'm a few days late sharing but here is the Winter 2014 / 2015 playlist. About 90 of the songs that I have been listening to the last few months. Sorry if you don't have Google Play music and can't enjoy. It is really, really good (I'm slightly biased).


Magazines . . .

As I sit here and type there is a stack of 17 unopened/cracked/read magazines sitting next to me on the floor. They are all my magazines. 

They range in subject from cooking, to fitness, to Jewish fare, to brain fun, to home care, to lifestyle (Yes. Fine. I read Martha Stewart Living. Pound sand). 

I want you to know - I NEED you to believe that I LOVE magazines. Always have, probably always will. As a kid I would go to Mayer's in Ithaca and smell all the great pipe tobacco and look at the hundreds and hundreds of magazines and newspapers and other "periodicals" (quarterly journals and scientific research, etc.) and just enjoy all the words and pictures and cologne samples (yep - I was THAT guy).

I always loved that magazines were full of a lot of little things (I feel like I have a slight touch of ADD) that I could read and learn something from (or just delight in) and then I could move on. Fast forward 10 (or however many) years and this "thing" called the Internet came along. The early days of the Internet seemed great - remember zines/eZines? And then things like e-mail lists came along (seriously - there is a dude named Kwame that went to Syracuse with my friend Josh that used to delight me to the CORE once a week). Then that gave way to web portals that repurposed news and then the blog movement came along and then social media and, by now, we just communicate with photos and/or thoughts composed of 140 characters or less. 

So here I sit - with 17 beloved magazines just feet from me. I'm staring at a screen and typing on a keyboard and Special Lady Friend is next to me doing the same (she is working, I am not). I'm not learning anything. I'm not getting any more bright. I'm not getting any more engaging or endearing. I'm not at all better off for it.

Okay. I'm going to go now. There is a terrific article I need to read . . . 


Parenting Fail . . .

I have said many times that I will never give parenting advice (unless directly solicited) and I think that people who just dole out parenting advice (staring, angrily at you - "Mommy Blogger") as though you have the right are the worst sort of parent (because they don't get how individual every kid, every parent, and every family is) but I've come to realize that I have, as a parent, been an absolute FAILURE as a parent in one very important aspect of my life . . . I have never, ever, ever just "checked" on my daughter when I go to bed.

What am I talking about? Be warned - it is something between neglect, asking for a crime to be committed, and glib arrogance and you might also be guilty of it.

Here we go (I can trust you, right? You're not going to call Child Protective Services are you? Tell me now if you are . . . ). I have never felt the need to ensure that my 8.66 year old child, in her approximately 3,160 nights of life, was where I left her when I put her to bed.

Why does this suddenly seem like a a "thing"? Simple. Pop Culture. Special Lady Friend and i have recently (I say "recently" like this has not been going on since Netflix came in to my life) been binge watching shows about horrible crimes against children and it seems that alllllll the kids of the world would be fine if ONLY their parents were less trusting of the safe confines of a child's bedroom at night.

Don't believe me? Where's Rosie on The Killing? What happened to Danny in season one of Broadchurch? What happened to Tom on Secrets and Lies? Sure, sure. Sean was kidnapped from a Science Fair in Ransom and let's assume that 84% (I am making that number up) of all real kidnappings happen (tragic as they are - let's be clear about the jovial nature of this post vs. the real horror of a child taken) anywhere BUT the kid's bedroom. That is NOT what pop culture wants you to believe. They want you to think that the best way to lose a child to horrible "next" is to let them sleep in their rooms without checking in at bed time.

If this makes me a bad parent - I'm fine with that. My kid is a light sleeper and I chose to believe we would hear any compromise of her room and I believe her mother would hear the same at her place. I, more over, chose to not live in a world where I have to check on my sleeping child to get a restful sleep.

The ONLY time I can think of where I went "Man - those are some sh*t parents" for how they handled their sleeping child is the horribly tragic (and probably never to be solved) case of little Madeline McCann. In that case a British family was on "holiday" in Portugal and the parents (not just Madeleine's but other family members and friends on the group vacation) left their children sleeping at 8:30 PM to go to dinner at a restaurant about half a football field away. They returned at 10:20 PM to find her gone (all the other children were exactly where they were left - slumbering). The parents were believed to be suspects but were never charged and there were other suspects that were never formally charged either. I could argue they are horrible parents but a) I don't judge and b) I don't know if I would not have done the same thing (my gut instinct is "no" but - they are European and the resort was pretty secluded and yadda, yadda, yadda). I would like to think their own torture and lack of answers is enough to make them know to never do it again and - frankly - it is enough that I won't leave the house with my kid sleeping alone.

Would I run to the hotel lobby with the door locked behind me? Yep. I have done that. She was fine and still sound asleep upon my return. Judge allll you want, Mommy Bloggers.


Social Norms . . .

You know how everyone has like a secret "agenda" or things they would like to see in the world? Like you know those women who own multiple cats and think that someday a man who goes by Prince Charming will arrive or a man who is a serial cheater who believes that "this time" he'll be faithful . . . like that. So everyone has something (and many of us have a few dozen things on their "If I Ruled the World List"). 

Well here, ladies and gentlemen, is mine . . . a revision to the rules of public displays of affection. And I would, if I am being honest, change the entire construct. 

Here's how it would go . . . 

1) You can hold hands all you want. Literally. With parents. With kids (as appropriate - I feel like my daughter and I will stop holding hands in public as soon as she gets her menses). With early love. With late-in-life love. Just hold hands.

2) Hugging can happen for ten seconds or less unless one or both people are crying, at which point, you can hug as long as it takes for the first person to cease and desist said tears.

3) Kissing is okay as a polite sign of affection. NO "making out". NO tongue. NO really "going for it" but a quick peck or a celebratory smooch . . . perfect.

4) Now here is where it gets really progressive - cupping will be fine. Yeah. Yeah. I mean it. Now . . . granted . . . there are going to be some general "ground rules". a) You have to be seated with the tokens of your affection at least partial obscured. b) Ideally this would be in the dark (a theater, under a table, in the back of a cab, etc.). c) You can't go any farther (further?) than the hand cuddle. d) There can be no actual stimulation and/or release of anything above the "boys" e) Everyone has to be at least 18.

There. I said it. I want to change the rules of public displays of affection. For the betterment of ALL of us. 


The Fire . . .

Long, long before The Roots became the "house band" for Jimmy Fallon's two late-night shows they were "The Fabulous Roots Crew" out of Philadelphia. We're talking a LONG time before (the group started performing together in 1987 and joined Fallon in 2009) and I am proud to say that I've seen them in concert - THRICE - before many audiences ever knew of them (I have a very good friend who considers himself a hip hop aficionado who thought the group was formed for Jay-Z's fantastic, wonderful "Unplugged" performance in 2001). I'm not braggin' - I'm jussayin'.

As a matter of fact - The Roots is one of my five favorite rappers/rap groups of all time (5) Jurassic 5 4) Notorious B.I.G. 3) The Roots 2) De La Soul 1) Jay-Z) and I like them for a very simple reason - they are crafty. Musically they are gifted (live music and inclusion of the band is rare) and lyrically they are wonderful. But that is not crafty . . . what makes them crafty is how they can bury inspiration in their songs (check out "Tomorrow" of their recent " . . . and then you shoot your cousin.")

There are dozens of The Roots songs (with at least ten studio albums and some concert stuff and some collaborations floating around that is not hard) that I find inspiring but my favorite . . . my FAVORITE is "The Fire" off their 2010 album "how i got over".

Give it a listen . . .

When this album came out I was running for State Legislature. I was doing new business (sales) for an ad agency. I was struggling with my marriage. I was struggling with my faith. I was just sorta . . . well . . . struggling. This song came out at the perfect time to get me focused back around (for a few months, anyway).

I won't get in to the specific lyrics or why I appreciate them but I would bet that - if you give it a listen - you will find the inspiration yourself.


SAE . . .

For those who don't know (and shame of you if you don't) there was an "incident" a week ago at the University of Oklahoma (yes, Boomer Sooner indeed) involving members of a fraternity (Sigma Alpha Epsilon or SAE (who reminds you to "Be True" as their tagline/slogan/laughable rhetoric)) on a charter bus (nothing good ever happens after 10 PM or on a charter bus) shouting racial slurs and laughing about lynchings. This, I should point out, was done by a group of white children (I would call them "young men" but their apologists - like any time someone old enough to vote, die for their country, pay taxes, legally marry, buy firearms, and even buy booze - want to make them little bundles of joy on their first bright-eyed adventure into the world) and they were doing it while in their Sunday finest and on their way to get rip-roaring drunk and probably defile some co-eds. Because frat.

I know I am late on this one but I didn't want to just sort of spout off and let the rhetoric of the media and other people's opinions and social media rub off on me or how I said this and I wanted to be sure that I was really this made versus just being reactionary. Turns out - I am THIS pissed about it.

Am I pissed about the word? Eh. Honestly - that is about 20% of it. Am I pissed that a huge chunk of people (as important as their lay opinions are in these matters) think that to sever ties with the fraternity and even expel some of the students who were caught "leading" the chant? Eh. That is - let's say 15% of it. The rest of it . . . the last 65% of my anger is about one simple thing . . . this incident proves that we're not really getting any better at understanding (much less "fighting" racism in America - sorry President Obama who believes that these incidents and the debate they spark are good for progress).

Here's what it boils down to . . . this crazy old bag (who has either suffered a few strokes or likes having a few Adult Sodey-Pops with the "kids" in the frat that call her "Frat Mom") SHOULD be the face of racism in America (and she is - they got her on video saying the "N-word" several times in a row while cackling from behind her unnerving teeth . . .

Why "should" she be the face of racism in America? Well - "should" is not the right word here but let's say that she personifies the presumption that racism is something carried by the old. We want, so badly, to believe that the casual use of racial slurs and epithets and the attitudes of segregation and open hatred, etc.  are things that Grandparents do. We excuse it - they knew a time "when". We (at least in my case) hope that it means that with their eminent death (my last Grandparent died 17 years ago - what are the rest of your Grandparents waiting for?) means the death of the bull shit.

Instead? Instead? THIS contemptible little f*ck is the NEW (same taste, new look) face of racism in America.

Congratulations, Parker Rice (let's presume you are "Parker Rice III" or "Parker Rice IV"). You are now the most obvious target of rage in America. Not "Black America" but ALLLLLL Amerca. I sorta hate you. And why do I hate you? Because you are proof that open, proud, loud racism is not going to end when your "Frat Mom" dies (any day now - seriously - she looks super, super old).

And here is the real problem . . . you and your ilk (your frat brothers and all the other racists in this country who only care about your small minds and shitty positions when you get busted) have DEFENDERS.

Oh yeah. SAE is thinking about suing the University of Oklahoma for kicking you out and for telling your "brothers" to pack their stuff (and seriously BIG props to OU President David Boren for taking no pause, taking no measured reaction, and taking no heat for his swift action and strong words) and get out. Apparently he broke laws and didn't observe these men's "right to free speech" in his reaction.

Yes. That's right. There are people walking among you who want to make this about Constitutional Law - you know - right after the part that "All men are created equal" and just before "the right to laugh about lynching 'n*ggers' who might want to join your fraternity at OU".

There are people who want to blame this on rappers and "black culture" for the open and unapologetic use of the "n-word" in lyrics and other artistic impression (yes - the "If they can say it, why can't our SAE brothers at OU" defense).

Many have come out and talked about an innocent mistake of youth. Tell the truth - fellas - if you had not gotten caught . . . if one of your own brothers had not shared the video with the world . . . would you have any "I'm sorry" for the world? Would you even give it a pause? Would you even wait until your next fancy chartered bus ride to use the word again?

And here's the thing about that "I'm sorry" - these "men" aren't even adult or person enough to issue them directly. No, no. Their parents issue statements on their behalf. They were apparently raised "better" than using a racial slur and they have "character" that is outside of that "behavior" (Yep, sure, Parker Rice the Previous). They let their high schools (some ultra inclusive-sounding Dallas Jesuit) do their apologizing. Apparently the whole community of students and alumns will benefit from this painful lesson in humility and love. Stop vomiting. They are serious.

But the worst part . . . the WORST part is that Parker Rice the IX (or whatever horribly dreadful nickname his "brothers" call him) is just waiting this out. He's probably chilling, as you read this, in the basement of his 19,000,000 square foot home in the Dallas suburbs (and by "his" I mean the one his parents own) and playing a video game and texting with his friends who are "being subjected to hateful speech and intimidation" back on campus . . . hey goose - meet gander or looking at either UT, or KU, or TCU, or Tulane, or some other moderately-prestigious University where he will resume his long, steady climb through undergraduate education where he'll, again, be a business major (bet your ass he was studying some form of business) and he'll, in due time (six years - no need to rush the college experience) he'll graduate and get a job working for some firm where Parker Rice the XVII was once a partner/executive vice president and he'll make more money in his first year than some of us in a decade and he'll, in time, get a 20,000,000 square foot home where he and Buffy O'Pearson will fornecate just enough to make two more kids and they will teach them to be "better" than using the racist words daddy used while laughing, smiling, and having fun until the video surfaced that pointed out the error of his ways.

And then - in sixty years - Parker Rice XVIII will look at his Grandma Buffy (who will be drunk on a couch and shouting "n*gger" in to a recording device and go "Man, I can't wait until the older generation dies off - their racism is out of control."

WE did this to us - anyone who made apologies for this little shit. YOU did this to us - anyone who wants to bring the law to the defense of these little shits. YOU did this to us - anyone who wants to presume that racism will be buried with Grandma. YOU did this to us - system that just lets people who say and do the stupidest things in the world get away with it as long as the money is still good. YOU did this to us - parents of Parker Rice who would come to his defense and not just bury the kid in guilt, shame, and humility. But you didn't just do it to us . . . you did it to the next generation of Rices. That's even worse.


Gran Torino . . .

Special Lady Friend and I had one of our patented "fights" the other day. We don't fight about toothpaste in the sink or dirty clothes in the hamper or hopes and dreams. No, no. Nothing that standard . . . we fight about pop culture and other things of absolute inconsequence. This particular row was about Gran Torino.

Yes. The 2008 movie from the once-bad-assed, now crazy-old-man (did you see his "Speech to An Empty Chair" in 2012 or his "Jersey Boys" farse? Dude has seen more lucid days) Clint Eastwood that deals with, essentially, change. Here is the trailer if your long-term memory needs a jog . . .

What was the fight about? Well . . . it makes very little sense by way of seque . . . but it was about whether or not while, middle aged (or older), middle class (or higher) men can or should take on diversity and sexism and racism and other policies in an artistic or explanatory way.

Now I know, I know . . . Gran Torino is more about a man losing his wife and realizing, at the end of a long life, that he is not at peace and he is not in a good place. But there is so much more to the movie that, for me, felt self-indulgent.

Clint Eastwood's "Walt" saves Sue (his young, female neighbor) from gangs of every nationality and ethnicity short of Jews and Martians. He is brave, brave, brave (which might be a real thing) in the face of every one of them and - when out-numbered, out-youthed, and out-gunned (as he always is) - he stands proud in his resolved, old, white skin. Eastwood additionally indulges his own pride to make himself a grand hero where people literally leave food and plants on his porch in honor of his bravery.

I struggle mightily with this notion that he would be so received after using racial slurs earlier in the film and showing his own multi-cultural stupidity throughout the film. Yes, yes. I know - he has other things going on that might compel his bravery and reformed mindset (no spoilers). I get that. But I don't know, as a filmmaker, if Eastwood is justified to take on the notion of ethnic neighborhoods, turf wars, and cultural evolution.

I should disclose here that I'm a white man. I grew up in a very, very white town. It was not until college (where 2% or so of the students were "of color") that I really began to see other cultures and ethnic perspective and really not until I moved in to southeast DC that I was in any way immersed in cultures that were not my own tradition. It fascinated me. In a very real, very awkward way, the same way rap music and the Malcolm X autobiography did as a teen. I wanted to learn. I wanted to understand. I wanted perspective and - in a strange way - to be of the strains and struggles that come along with being the proverbial underdog or having something to prove or trying to protect what is mine and what is threatened. I'll never really, truly have that urge met in my own life (at least not here in Kansas). The closest I come is my Jewish faith - which I adopted just a few years ago so I can't exactly claim a lifelong/ingrained/justified threat to it.

I will never be so bold as to try to tell stories of other nations or ethnicities or - heck - genders. I don't know what it is like to be a woman, to be gay, to be Korean, or Latino, Black, or all of the above. I can watch movies, read books, read articles and even blogs. I can listen to music. I can observe still art. I can maybe - MAYBE - "understand" but it would never be enough of an understanding to entitle me to tell the stories. Best, I would presume, to let someone who really does get it and has walked the walk and talked the talk to tell their own stories.

So where was the fight (between SLF and me)? In what the movie Gran Torino was about. I guess she just saw it differently. That is her perspective. I might someday understand it but I'll never try to relay it on (smile).


Sunday Funday . . .

The Weepies are back! The Weepies are back! That's right. One of my all-time-favorite musical delights (the married couple Deb Talan and Steve Tannen) are back following a five-year layoff since their last studio album and Deb beating breast cancer.

Even BETTER news? Special Lady Friend and I are going to go see them LIVE and in concert (something I've always wanted to do - they rarely tour (three small kids, etc.)) in July. In Iowa. That's like three things off my bucket list in one night!

The new album won't be released until April 28 but we have "Sirens" (the first single off the album) to tide us over.


Miles To Go . . .

Soooo, I'm back running (going strong, thanks for not asking) and while I don't really want to talk about how absolutely horrifying it is to run at my current weight and general level of physical fitness - there is something I want to share with you.

The pain. The PAIN. THE PAIN. 

Because, well, as we have discussed, I have this big body and the roads are made of hard, compacted surfaces and the cold weather makes those surfaces even harder. Yet. There I am - five days a week - before the sun even rises (literally, I have maybe run 7% of my 170-some miles I've done this year under the cover of sun. 

Anywho . . . what the heck was I even talking about . . . oh yeah, yeah. MILES. So what is a big man, trying to get less fat while running and sweating profusely in the pre-dawn hours on the frozen streets of East Wichita to do to help the miles pass?

Think about all sort of random crap. Here (and I really did keep track yesterday morning) here are the things I thought about while running:
  1. Why polyester is unacceptable in some clothing contexts (men's suiting) but completely okay in others (like the running gear I am sporting).
  2. If Hillary likes BlackBerries for their security, their functionality, or as a sorta "I live in a bubble and this is the only smartphone I've ever owned way." (I decided it is security protocol.)
  3. How I can convince Special Lady Friend to start wearing dark tan chinos (which she would look great in).
  4. What I want to get my ex-wife for a wedding gift.
  5. Which Weepies song is my absolute favorite (I think it is "Stars".)
  6. If Vladimir Putin watches "House of Cards" and if he is, in any way, flattered or annoyed by this "character" in Season Three of the show.
  7. Why I love bananas so friggin' bad.
  8. Why more people don't love bananas quite so friggin' bad.
  9. Navy blue. 
  10. If I would be flattered or annoyed if House of Cards had a character based on me.
  11. What I'm going to do if the OTHER (lesser) Sean Amore blows the f*ck up in the movie business.
  12. How much I enjoy the show Archer. 
  13. Navy blue.
  14. East High School (I was running by it).
  15. Why their aren't more people interested in navy blue and/or The Weepies.
  16. That if it is not "Stars" my favorite Weepies song is "All Good Things".
  17. Celery and why I will eat it for hours at a time with peanut butter and raisins on it but never without those two things . . . or bleu cheese dip.
  18. Brooches. Specifically Madeline Albright's and how sharp they look on women.
  19. If Jay-Z ever ponders going back to Shawn Carter and just hanging out with his billions.
  20. How little "hanging out" I would do if Beyonce was around my house. She's the worst.
  21. Navy blue.
  22. Women - when spelled w-o-m-y-n.
  23. Why "feminism" is such a fractured and otherwise inconsistent movement and effort and why I don't care more about the wage gap (yes - full disclosure - I don't spend much time pondering it . . . what with not being a job creator, an employer, or someone who pays anyone anything).
  24. If I should stockpile a few more pair of Brooks Trance 12s and/or Brooks Transcend 1s (while they are still available) or if I should try a pair of New Balance 1080v5s just to diversify.
  25. How weird it is that I've been wearing shoes for four weeks and they are already 30% exhausted (based on 400 miles of use/wear).
  26. How great it would be to be one of those random shoe-tester guys that gets free stuff.
  27. A great advertising campaign for some shoe company "brave" enough to feature fat people (if high fashion, cosmetics, and advertising in general can/do - why can't gear designed to make us more fit).
  28. How much I hate the NFL.
  29. Navy blue.
  30. How much I love being done running - and wearing navy blue.


Frozen . . .

I had dinner with a colleague last evening and we were talking about who we "are" versus who people think we "are" and we stumbled upon a simple theory that I think sorta makes sense.

Let me run something by ya' and then you maybe let me know what you think. Mmkay? Mmkay.

We both think that people continue to age and we learn various social cues (personal and professional) that can help round us out, make us more interesting and give us one-dem fancy "filters" all the real adults talk and brag about as we meander through life but those are just the proverbial masks of this analogous Halloween.

Some of us are lucky enough to get fatter and balder as we go. Some get healthier and richer (poor bastards). Many will act under different personas and personalities including the naughty librarian, the officer and gentleman and the compassionate Christian, etc. etc. etc. BUT we both think that, ultimately, we are all little more than who we were as children.

Let me clarify - the theory is that our sense of self and our internal voice and mantra come out of a very, very young version of "us". Were we happy? Were we confident? Did we feel listened to? Did we see opportunity in the world? Did we know all our letters and colors? How many friends did we have? How were things with us and the 'rents? When did we first process the notion of "self"? Did it happen in a warm and happy place?

I look at myself - I was a fat kid with a great sense of self, a want to entertain and please people, a relative assurance that people will either like me or not, a low expectation or want for anyone to do anything "for" me, a penchant to read and write, a love of arts and crafts, a musical enthusiast, a pair of loving parents and brothers that were different enough from me that I felt a sense of self and an appreciation for our differences. I had a naive view of what it meant to love and be loved. I wanted very little by way of physical possessions. I wanted it all by way of clout, respect, responsibility, and opportunity.

Fast forward 33 years or so . . . yeah. Theory holds.


Archery . . .

Something truly random happened in our home on this weekend . . .

1) We went to Cabela's.

Okay TWO truly random things happened.

2) We spent money.

Okay THREE truly random things happened.

3) We bought an archery set for the kiddo. A junior bow, six arrows, and a target.

Okay FOUR truly random things happened.

4) My ex-wife and her fiance came over and the five of us (the two of them, the kid, Special Lady Friend, and I) stood in the back lawn for over an hour on Sunday and shot said arrows at said target using said bow.

Oh. FIVE truly random things happened.

5) Only four total arrows pierced the target - just 20 feet away - including THREE of mine (fun fact - we hit the support posts of the neighbor's fence (twice as far away) MORE often).

SIX truly random things happened.

6) Special Lady Friend misunderstood the physics of a taught bow string and zapped her arm and has a bruise that even a well-crafted domestic abuse joke (NO such thing exists, to be clear) would do justice.

Why did all this happen? Simple. Because it was there. -Ish.

When I was a Boy Scout working at a summer camp I LOVED archery and would spend hours out on the range just pulling and releasing (that sounds way dirtier than it probably is). It was the most calming, relaxing, focus-inducing thing I probably ever did (close second was playing my flute which I could also lose myself in for hours (that also sounds dirtier than it is)). Another reason? The kiddo, in our and professional opinion, needs some focus in her life and could benefit from some sunshine on her cheeks (and an arm-guard on her left forearm).

Next up is an adult bow (about as dirty as it sounds), more arrows, and some sort of backstop for errant arcs. After that? Better floodlights in the back lawn for when the urges outlast the daylight.


Pay-For-Either Way . . .

I'm not a total hippie. Sure, sure . . . I use all-natural and all-organic personal care products (parabens and petroleums are not meant to be held against the skin) and I try to avoid waste, abuse, and misuse when it comes to energy and the environment but I drink diet soda, I drive a "cross over" and I love beef (one of the world's most prolific harmful gas creators are cows).

I am, generally speaking, in favor of being responsible and I truly believe that you should be rewarded . . . perhaps more accurately not PENALIZED for being responsible.

Yet here comes our leading electricity Overlord here in Wichita (fun fact - a small part of our city is powered by Black Hills Energy) . . . Westar Energy.

Fair and balanced . . . Westar HAS done a fair amount in the last decade or so to ease "grid tension" including programs where they pay for digital thermostats and "smart" meters for homes and building a fairly robust web portal that allows users to look at their usage by the month, and week and where you can set up alerts for usage spikes, etc. This is all good stuff.

But here is where I get anxious . . . these techniques, efforts, and initiatives are working. That's right. Kansans are not using as much electricity off the grid. Maybe it is conservation. Maybe it is solar or wind. Maybe it is the LED bulbs and the "Energy Star" appliances. Maybe it is just random coincidence but - whatever it is - it is eating in to the profits of Westar so . . . they have some new ideas.

About a year ago they announced the "option" to pre-pay for your power. Even a (somewhat) tense exchange with their Twitter-bot (probably some poor junior marketing hack or marketing agency junior exec who saw no pennies from the profits) netted no LOGICAL answer for WHY the company thinks anyone would ever want to pre-pay for power (mind you there was no incentive in terms of capping your bills or allowing points or rewards, etc.). The real reason (in my never-educated opinion)? So they could force deadbeats and underpayers to either establish credit for their power or risk getting cut off. Also . . . if you pre-pay for power and don't use it for whatever reason they get to keep that. Not likely - but lucrative when it happens.

Here's the latest scheme . . . moving to a "flat fee" with reduced prices for usage. In other words Westar wants to charge you $50 or more per month just to have energy flow to your house. Think that seems fair? When I lived in 400 square feet my electric bill was less than $30/month (and was frequently more fees and taxes than power use anyway). That means - in a year - I would pay $744 ($50/month fee plus $12/month in usage times twelve) vs. the only $360/year I paid before. That is more than double per year. Now apply that to the thousands and thousands of households Westar services . . . very, very lucrative.

Now I know, I know. The infrastructure for bringing power to homes is dated and struggling . . . in some areas and in densely populated spots where getting time and access to enhance the system is difficult but if you figure all the wind storms and needed enhancements (many of which have been used for previous rate hikes) and if you factor in the profit margins for the company . . . how does Westar really believe that we should all have to pay more for them to keep afloat?

Think I'm just shouting at the Heavens here? Think the profits and fees Westar charges are in line? The Kansas Corporation Commission agrees with me (and if there is one thing Kansas has made clear - it is FINE with corporate profits and "pro-business" policy).

Long story long . . . if Westar doesn't want to run their high-risk/high-reward utility business in a way that is truly fair and just to them and their customers, they don't have to. There are lots of companies that would, no doubt, love to take their crack at the Kansas energy market . . . you know we could produce more wind power than cows do harmful gases - if only our energy company would not lobby to block it from happening.



Advice for the Young Professional . . .

I had the privilege (and I really do consider it to be that) of speaking to fifteen seniors, all about to graduate, at Wichita State University's Elliott School of Communication today. This was my fifth time giving my standard (although always slightly varied) remarks on Workplace Conflict (I'm an EXPERT - on the topic and the "lecture"). I ramble on for a little over sixty minutes and give lots of random chunks of advice and opinions and "counsel" but I think - for the fall - I'll add one more point . . . have. An. Opinion.

There were over a dozen students - let's call them young adults - in the room. That's more than twelve perspectives, twelve (young) lives full of experience, twelve sets of hopes and dreams and aspirations, twelve whatever else you want to say.

And yet - and YET - there were six different times (in sixty minutes (that is one every ten minutes - I'm no math major but I know a little bit)) that not a single one of them had anything to offer to the discussion . . . and I'm not talking about me asking what the fifth decimal place of Pi (it is nine, for the record) . . . I'm talking about "How many of you would like to work in a _____________ (environment - corporate environment, agency, non-profit, etc.)?" (To clarify - this is probably a weak example . . . almost everyone in the class had an workplace picked out but a few did not.)

NOW! I know, I know. I'm overly opinionated and I am often intimidating. I get that. But if you are going to graduate in two months . . . shouldn't you know where you might like to work? I'm not saying you MUST work there but you don't have an inkling?

Another example . . . "How important is passion in what 'we' do?" Not a single person had an opinion. NO one wanted to offer their perspective on passion. One could say they were passion-less.

Yes, yes - generations change and styles evolve and this group is not as aggressive or assertive as mine was (then - and still is now) but I would like to think that, after 17 years of formal education they would have figured out that at least having an OPINION (much less a well-informed one) at all times is step one to growing up . . . if not being obnoxious.


Sunday Funday . . .

We're just four weeks away from the most anticipated movie since Fast & Furious 6. Let. It. Begin.


Our Obsession with Average . . .

The world of Irrelevant Fixation was abuzz earlier this week as researchers announced what is widely believed to be the DEFINITIVE figures around something that humanity has obsessed over for at least thirty-five years . . . average penis size.

Yes, yes, yes. That's right. We now know exactly how long and, um, inches around a "man" should be.

Curious? Of course you are . . . 5.16" long and 4.6" around when thinking happy, happy thoughts. These numbers are based on over 15,000 men around the world who allowed their fun sticks to be measured at attention and at ease.

You know the WORST part? I'll bet a good chunk of folks read those numbers and/or the article linked above and breathed a sigh of relief because, well, they found out that they - or the fellas they lay with are at or above average. But WHY do we care?

I can honestly tell you that I have NO idea how Sean Junior would measure up against the 15,000 men who participated in the study or the 3.55 billion-ish other men who walk among us and I can honestly tell you I do not care.

I mean I CARE. I think all men are at least a wee (pun intended) concerned that they are "small" or "inadequate" when it comes to their Happy Makers. And WHY? Because "they" tell us we should be. Who is "they"? The porn we were raised watching, the mocking comments and sneers of our peers and would-be conquests, the old, wrinkly bastards in the YMCA bathroom that just let it alllllll hang out, the "one size fits all" condoms we use (when/where our religious, ethical, and moral values allow us).

It is such a weird thing for us to get hung up on though, really. Unlike our weight (we could gain or lose weight - generally speaking) or our thinning hair (they make expensive and largely-ineffective chemicals or sell expensive and largely-unconvincing wigs and toupees) or our eye color (contacts) or income (ehhhh) or a myriad of other things we can control we cannot - realistically - control the size of our members. CERTAINLY losing weight could help with visual presentation (if you pull the tractor out from under the barn it shines in the sun - I've heard (yes, I've actually had someone say that to me). Another fun fact - size has nothing to do with potency by way of reproduction or even output (we were raised on porn, ladies - we are pretty convinced this is important). Final fun fact - A button I read in Spencer's Gifts reads "It is not the size of the boat it is the motion of the ocean." That must be try - Spencer said so!

So WHY do we care? Why does it matter how long a penis is? From a clothing perspective, smaller is easier to smuggle in those leather pants we all want to wear. From a real, clinical, and reproductive angle we might certainly be more likely to reproduce if we can start our, um, fertilization efforts closer to the starting line of the egg our little swimmers chase but - well - we know that a million other factors come in to play inside the womb that negate many of the presumptions of what another 1/8" (or even 16/8") might mean. Sexually most receivers of the Purple-Headed Yogurt Thrower (I am running out of "charming" euphemisms) will tell you that less is typically, let's say, easier to deal with and/or, well, accommodate. The average woman, according to statistics, will tell you that no more than two or maybe three inches is needed to get them, let's say, "off" (for the few that can even "finish" internally).

So if not for form, not for function, and not for fashion WHY do we feel like we want or need to be average - or bigger - than average when research like this comes down?

Simple Theory #1: Manifest Destiny. Carpe Diem. Ad Astra Per Aspera. Vini Vidi Vici. Whatever. It is some stupid urge or desire to be at least as good as, if not better, than the next guy. The same reason that we want to see our exes end out with men fatter, balder, dumber, less-employed, poorer, or at least less hung than us.

Well . . . I say "we" but I really mean those among us who give a damn. I don't care about any of that stuff. Other than Manifest Destiny. What a complicated and powerful legacy that left. Amirite?


2015 Objectives Update (Part 2) . . .

"They" say that if you want to reach your goals - you should share them and your progress. Soooooo . . .

  1. Read 24 (or more) books (for ME - reading with my daughter doesn't count) 4.62 finished
  2. Run 10 miles/week (on average). Yes. That is 520 miles (or more) in 2015. 16.1 miles/week (161 total miles)
  3. Finish a half marathon in under three hours (as many tries at it takes). First attempt is 05/03/15.
  4. Lose 100 Pounds. That's right. Get. Less. Fat. 23 pounds down. 
  5. Reduce wasteful spending by 10% (this is actually more about not growing my spending - I'm pretty friggin' frugal now). Reduced overall spending by 22% year-to-date. 
  6. Increase savings contributions by 12.5% (I've been pretty minimal on this one lately - time to grow my future). Updated 401K, IRA, 529, Investments, and Insurance products by 113%.
  7. Earn college credits (I'm going back to school, one way or another, in 2015)
  8. Reduce social media time by 25% (10 minutes/day or less). Logging an average of just over 14 minutes/day (not including blogging, or efforts for work and/or my congregation). Getting better (less) all the time.


Focus Groups . . .

One of the greatest things a marketer can participate in - on either side of the one-way mirror - is a focus group.

If you are unacquainted, think of a focus group as like this . . . a handful (eight-ish) of people chosen based on exact, and often assumed-to-be-relevant characteristics (like "Favorite superhero and why?" or "Most exciting color?") and exhausting traits (age within months of a target, racial/ethnic background only slightly less over-thought than Hitler's Aryan plan), etc. The group is brought together and they are all put in a big room with a mirror (and any GOOD focus group moderator will clarify what they already know - on the other side of the mirror is a team of marketers, researchers, consultants, experts, and other euphemisms for "hacks" that are about to have their thoughts, ideas, notions, or career ambitions put to the test) and they sit around for about an hour talking about, you know, "stuff".

This "stuff" is often consumer behavior and preferences but it can also be about how they "feel" about a word or what emotions a phrase brings to mind (let's presume, for instance, that "Gimme' a break" (the once/forever Kit-Kat slogan) was tested exhaustively among candy consumers, candy decisions makers, and candy advocates who are white, believe red is the most exciting color, and have not hugged a stranger in at least ninety days) and they have their every thought either indulged or ignored.

And this is why focus groups are so great . . . moderators and group think. FORGET the individual participant. They are just 15.8% of the opinions in the room and there will be three more sessions tonight ALONE to make that influence even less. Forget the people behind the mirror. Their egos, bonus structure, and fragile grasp on reality are all at play as they listen. No, no. The MODERATORS are the best part about a focus group.

They are like Sipowicz if he was properly medicated . . .

They have to decide, in the moment, if they want to slap someone around or pretend like they are not even there. And that is a constant struggle. I was once in a focus group where a participant straight up admitted to abusing their children (in the context of how they decide what the feed their children for dinner each night, for the record) and the moderator had to not only ignore it (in the moment - we did the right thing later) but to convince the rest of the group that to degrade in to a conversation about parenting would be off the point . . . we were here to talk about frozen entrees with reduced sodium.

I could never, ever, ever be a good moderator. I would have to share my opinion (I have to constantly remind myself that the mirror and wall between us and the groups are not actually soundproof enough to keep my laughter and snide insights at bay) or at least indulge my every whim . . . "What is UP with that opinion on this idea, putz?" would be a constant inquiry.

So here's to the moderators. Here's to the opinions. Here's to the focus groups. Here. Is. To. Sipowicz.


Buhlmore, Hun . . .

I was "back east" all last week, for work. My company has an office in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC and I am always happy to get to go back and spend some time in the DC-area. This particularly trip was doubly wonderful because we had some meetings in Baltimore (a place where I lived, while still working in DC and considering myself a "DC-guy" for about 18 months).

I loved Baltimore. I really, truly did. It is a fantastic example of a city that seems forever on the edge, forever on the rise, and forever on the decline. It is a true "American City" in every way - as the slogan "BELIEVE" (still visible in random places around the city) would have you, well, believe.

Many people only "know" Baltimore because of TV shows like The Wire, or Homicide: Life on the Street, and movies like Failure to Launch. Ha. You just mentally admitted you saw that friggin' movie and it stuck in your craw or because of that random cake show that was on for so many years (might still be) or for sports teams like the perennial "blah" Orioles and the rapist, murderer, and domestic abuser employing Ravens. Oh, oh . . . and crabs. The food, not the STD.

I feel bad for people who only know the city in these ways. If I'm being honest - Baltimore is not, in my opinion, all that different from Wichita. Sure, sure - it is way bigger. It is more diverse. It has higher income ranges and more art and culture but where it really counts . . . the cities are similar.

People and history. Pride and tradition. These four things are the cornerstones of Baltimore and, for those of us who aren't so focused on being cynical and negative about it . . . they are the hallmarks of Wichita, too.

I have not been to Baltimore in a few years (my younger brother's wedding was the last time I snuck inside route 695) and, frankly, it is very different than I remembered and there are lots of the city that I have all but forgotten - including which exit I needed to take to get to my old house and where that one really random coffee shop I used to love so bad (I can't even remember the name of it to Google it).

I wonder if anyone ever comes back to Wichita, nine years removed, and considers how we have changed and grown and if they can still find that one place they loved so bad. I sorta' hope so. I sorta' BELIEVE they do.

Baltimore - a great American city.


Chuckles . . .

I was sitting at a red light last night and the randomest thing popped in to my head . . . Candy, candy, candy. CANDY!

As you may know - I try to avoid processed sugars as much as possible. Long story why. Failure abounds. Etc. Last night was not so much about longing/lusting for candy (I, truth be told, had stuffed myself on Tex/Mex from one of my favorite Mexican places in DC and could not have eaten one more morsel of any food if I wanted to).

No, no. This was more about memories. Truly thinking ABOUT (vs. "of") candy. When I was a kid I would do just about anything for candy. I'd clean my room, wash dishes, brush my teeth, kill a foreign double agent with a chopstick, go to Sunday School, etc. etc. etc. I loved it all and my favorite candy treat was probably the randomest candy ever . . . CHUCKLES.

Now many of you readers (I'm huge with the Millennial crowd) are too young to remember Chuckles and that. is. regrettable. Chuckles, it turns out, are pretty amazing. They are sorta a gummy candy that is coated with granulated sugar (think orange segments - another favorite candy of mine from back in the day) and they come in five flavors . . . Lucious lime, outrageous orange, yummy yellow, ridiculously good red, and horrible, gross black.

This isn't a food racism thing . . . some of my favorite foods in the world are black.That's a lie. There are no good black foods in the world and anise flavored gummy candy is probably at the bottom of that list of horrific, black foods.

And yet I could not help myself. I loved friggin' Chuckles so damned much that I would knowingly purchase a candy that I know I would only ever want to eat 80% of. Sure, sure, sure . . . you might think I was mature and sophisticated beyond my years and life experience to be so wonderfully aware that not everything in life was going to please me and to be able to parse out the things I did enjoy even at the cost of those I did not and blah, blah, blah but - truth be told - NONE of that was the case.

I just loved me some Chuckles. At least 4:5 of them.  


Sunday Funday . . .

Somewhere in America the boys of Blackstreet are nodding their heads in appreciation of this fantastic cover of their 90s mega-hit. No Diggity? No DOUBT!