Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Testing For Reasonableness

Today, I sat in on 'The Business of Entertainment', hosted by Charlie Rose. The most interesting character was not the accomplished blue blooded CEO of Time Warner Inc., Jeff Bewkes, but rather Joe Roth, a self-made eccentric film producer. After discussing the ups and downs of his own career in producing blockbuster movies, his inherent message was that learning the business was the easy part.  What set him apart were the necessary street smarts, savvy, and ability to trust his own gut.  That loyalty was most important in his line of work. He attributes his overwhelming success to this faithfulness to his primitive brain.

A few years ago, I had a boss try to train me out of my instinct. He thought of me as a leader in the making and thought I could be greater, if it wasn't for my pesky habit of leading by my gut. He attempted in every way possible to force me to trust market research and conventional wisdom first, rather than the innate wisdom that I knew to be truer. It caused friction and questioning of him and myself.

This was not something I could abide. Throughout my life I've been guided by my instincts, my sense of people, my perception of my environment. When I've listened, truly listened, they have never steered me wrong, I've seen success, growth and have been awed. But when I haven't heeded the 'little voice', I've had some of the worst blunders and failures of my life.

Maybe for some people, statistical certainties and market research data inform their decisions better than their own sense of how the system should work. It helps them trust the rules outside themselves. In engineering school and even with children I've mentored, the best ones, the ones who really 'got it' had a sense for numbers. Beyond basic calculations and understanding of complex concepts, some students were able to hazard an estimation on the back of an envelope or know that a written calculation was somehow wrong. Those people have a deep feel for orders of magnitude and have automatic mental tests for reasonableness. The ones who never questioned an answer, no matter how absurb, because they followed a formula, frustrated me.

It reminds me of my experience last night. I attended a special board meeting for our condo building. The complex is in a heated debate about a construction contract, soon to be completed and another soon to be negotiated. Thomas and I are have been frustrated by the lack of transparency coming from the board, which makes them seem more dishonest than they actually are. After arguing with some board members on specific numbers quoted and assumptions made, we both realized that it is really not a matter of veracity. We realized that it is about a basic sniff test for reasonableness. It is sadly just not within everyone's bandwidth.

Maybe we need people to be the guardians of the rules, the ones who seek out experts, calculate by rote formulas, think within the box. I think I need them most of all, so that the defiant child in me, and others like me can find ways to break them--- the rules that is.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Facebook, we're not friends...

It is no secret that I really, really dislike facebook.  Given full disclosure, I do 'troll' around from time to time, peeking in on people's lives, who under normal circumstances (read: pre-FB), wouldn't pop into my mind for years.  I always say that Zuckerberg created it to distract everyone else--- hung up on the mundane routine of acquaintances' daily lives and the social mores of high school--- while he goes on to take over the world.  Or maybe I watched too much 'Pinky and the Brain' as a kid and it is just an ancillary and unforeseen consequence of social networking.   Whatever the case, Facebook is something I try my best avoid like the plague, because inherently I see the social reverberation of 'status updates' and 'friend networks' as just that--- an incurable disease.  Yes, a blood-borne anxiety inducing disease, like malaria. 

There has been plenty of press lately about 'Facebook Depression'. I wouldn't doubt it.  Take the dynamics of high school sophomores with the perceived social hierarchy, have everyone of every age use those rules, stir in tough financial times and an anemic job market.  And there you have it, the experience of a catty high school reunion every day, on live feed.

I recently overheard an argument between a girl and her boyfriend about comments on her 'wall', the tone seemed as if their on-line lives were more relevant than their off-line relationship. A few weeks ago, over dinner, a friend updated me on the goings on of a third degree friend on her network, she compared their career accomplishments and potential salary discrepencies. A girl at a cocktail party told me that the photo 'commenting' and 'liking' got so arduous and political she quit FB cold turkey and now she has anxiety about going back on for a work assignment.  The environment plays to people's most baseful insecurities and weaknesses, where many market a 'profile' they want everyone else to believe (and envy). The ironic part is that those who work so hard to maintain and impose rule of order and promote their image are probably the same insecure social climbers from the good old days of adolescence. 

As I've said before, I am extraordinarily private and completely averse to self-promotion.  Unavoidably, I see even 'sharing' the good that's going on in my life as not only unnecessarily bragging but also making myself a ripe target for an evil eye.  My childhood home was a superstitious one, where my baby crib was painted a deep candy apple red and most comments about good fortune were immediately followed by a 'Kanina Horah, poo, poo, poo'.  So I can't help it really, I don't like talking about myself unprompted, not even to my supposed 'friends'.  As I see it, very few people need to be updated on my daily trials, trivals and triumphs.  Averaged over years, the hope is that life experience will be positive.  It can't be healthy or natural for a near stranger to know the instantaneous events, positive or negative, of one's live.  Not for me at least.

So where does someone like myself fit into the modern age--- this second-life-like world of perpetual updates?  A world, as I see it, where you are either a bombastic braggart or a self-concious braggee, or possibly both simultaneously.  Facebook, and people's use of it has created a zeitgeist of overexposure and insecurity, of personal uses for social media and search engine optimization, all that seems increasingly like an outgrowth of youthful social bullying and popularity contests. 'Neither a borrower nor a lender be'; I don't wish to share nor to envy.  So where do I fit in? 

I had stopped asking that question a long time ago as an eccentric and self-assured teenager.  I am not about to start again now.  So, it seems there isn't a place for my kind--- not at this lunch table.

And  I'm OK with that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Chris Christie & My Uterus

To me, it is clear that our governor, Chris Christie, is positioning himself for the Republican nomination for a Presidential election.  I just wish his professional aspirations would leave my (and every other woman's) reproductive system out of it.

Always the diplomat, I try my best not to talk politics in mixed company. However, I do have strong liberal views, and given an audience of like-minded people, I unabashedly speak my mind about all things Democrat. Unfortunately, I'm coming to realize that I stymie my own voice, not only to make everyone in a given room feel more comfortable, but I am also intimidated by the bullying and aggression that all too often comes from the other side particularly on the topic of abortion. Yes, I, the fearless opponent of conventional wisdom and authority, get a little scared to talk about a one of my most empassioned topics. 

I am not the only one.  After a number of women's political trainings and being 'asked' to run for office by Emily's List, I find that women are hesitant to cause confrontation and take leadership roles without good reason. And by 'good reason', there's usually something that keeps her up ranting, hopping mad, in the middle of the night.

So here I am angry and outraged--- standing for those too intimidated speak.

Which brings us back to our New Jersey governor. It seems beyond his 'fiscal conservatism' he is trying to appeal to the fundamentalist base of the Republican party and is now commenting on matters of abortion warming. New Jersey being a fairly left leaning state, I don't see these topics necessarily falling within his purview or pay-grade. It seems he's attempting to position himself for a bigger seat on a national stage. To me, it's devastating that the desire to strip any woman of her reproductive rights becomes the litmus test for a tried and true GOP candidate. All the tea-party-ers have now prioritized gutting planned parenthood funding and violating Roe v. Wade through the creation of egregious and unconstitutional state laws above the 'fiscal reform' platform on which they were elected . We all saw the health care bill get hung up on insurance reimbursement for abortions.  And the irony isn't missed on me, that conservatives want less government every where else, except as it relates to my medical decisions and family planning. Why? Why is a woman's uterus the central issue in national political discourse and policy reform?

It forces me to believe that maybe it is a fiscal maneuver. But it is one where poor women are never able to break the cycle of poverty, one where a woman is never seen as a competent decision maker even on matters of her own body. To enact this type of assault against half the population, to me, is a declarative and resounding message to women, 'no matter your advances in industry and education, you are a submissive class.'  Keeping the poor poor and schooling woman on weakness is certainly a fiscal decision. However, I have to believe that it is one most people would not support.

So here I stand, me and my uterus.  Who's with me?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CPH: A Visitor's-Eye View

Copenhagen is going to be big. They will become the next major player in trade, tourism, influence and overall coolness in the next few years.  That's my bet, and I'm rarely wrong about these things. 
Those Frankfurters
Let's start with my stomach.  They apparently have an inordinate amount of Michelin star restaurants.  However, my palette has never been all that socially aware or demanding, and as our place on the waitlist at Noma never came due, we roamed into random places to eat.  The nordic options seemed limited, we found places that either served very greasy fair with lots of mayo-based dipping sauces or meats that were shaped, pickled, and cured, either way cost of living is surprisingly high (nice burger joint, a plate could run 110Kr = over 20 bucks and coffee to-go costs $4-$7).  Beer is a big thing, frankfurters are huge literally and figuratively, especially off a truck for breakfast. 

Speaking of coffee, I had the opportunity to meet up with Sandra for a long chat on the lakes, she's a hip well-travelled bohemian lady who authors an amazingly helpful insider's view of the city, Classic Copenhagen.  We talked about her perception of her home city and my sense as a foreigner looking in. I was scorned for my food choices and she was schooled on the need for local influence in the tourist trade.  What a personalizing travel experience!   She definitely changed our trip for the better and I'd like to think I had a little influence on her too. 
Nozzles for Spray Cans!

Little Yogini
Copenhagen is entirely populated by artists, industrial designers, and architects, it seems, who love American and New York culture almost as much as their own.  We stayed in the world's first carbon neutral local hotel chain.  Stores house inventive and ergonomic housewares.  The streets are covered in stickers and posters and street art, and we even came across a store specifically for the graffiti trade. It seems these people's creative juices can't be bottled.  Also there is a yoga studio on every other block.  And yes, those two sentences are juxtaposed for a reason.  We rented bikes from Baisikelli (a suggestion from Sandra), an outfit that's gives money to a sister organization in Africa.  Social enterprise is innately a part of almost every business. And everyone bikes.  There are designated bike lanes everywhere throughout the city and most have fittings for small children--- special seats, strollers attached to the front axle or a small bike attached to the back. 

There are young couples and more babies then I've ever  seen in one place before.  And when the couples aren't together, men in sunglasses, hip leather jackets and pompadours are often seen pushing the strollers alone. Co-parenting is tres chic.  Danes are a forward thinking people it seems in many ways.  They protected their Jews in war time, Copenhagen has 'five fingered" plans for continued urban development and growth, and is a leading attractor of biotech and clean tech.  I can dig it.

So there's a taste of Copenhagen--- filled with egalitarian creative hippies--- one of whom is now a ven.
Last Sun in Copenhagen

CPH: At a Glance

A few of the 1000 pictures we took of people, places, and things:



Graffiti Shop

Mikeller Microbrewery (thanks, Sandra)


Little Hippy Family

Little Audio Engineer
Fashion Shoot

Little Clown
Tres Chic Daddy-hood

Little Family


Daddy & Naked Baby

Little Family

Proud Danish Daddyhood