Polilogue: A New Political Podcast!

A new podcast!  Polilogue!  Poli-what?  Polilogue.  Politics.  And policy.  Together with dialogue.  The idea is this: 

Each Sunday morning, the political talk shows invite on the top policy makers in the country to talk shop.  To meet the press and face the nation.  

Each week on Polilogue, we have a dialogue on the substance and style of of those agenda-setting Sunday morning shows.  

The “we” here is me and my very new wife—Naomi Soto-Steidle.  You see, we’ve watched the Sunday morning political shows for years.  For years, we’ve celebrated this forum—where the hard-nosed political journalist meets the soft-footed politician.  Where the tangles of policy are wound and unwound and then spun all over again.  We listen and talk over brunch nearly every Sunday.  And every Monday, we’re disappointed when the political commentary in the wider world only scratches the surface of these shows.  

There are great interviews that deserve to be celebrated; strong questions that deserve applause; and weak answers that—that are just weak!  Even worse, there’s crosstalk.  Panels that go off the rails, discussions that devolve to disaster.  This podcast is here to spotlight all of it.  

There’s value in Sunday morning.  Polilogue is about amplifying that value.  We take a critical look at the policymaker, the politician—and the journalist.  Because each is critical.  And each demands criticism.  

We're already two episodes in!  So check it out!  Even if you don't follow the Sunday morning political shows, our audio clips and explanations should still make for a worthwhile listen.  

Episode 4 of "The Paragraphing Podcast" Now Available!

Join me and my brother for Episode 4 of "The Paragraphing Podcast" to hear the story behind the story of our ongoing blog.  In Episode 4, we break our writing down moment-by-moment, walking through each section of the week's posts.  Along the way, we talk about why we had to rewrite sections for the audio version, breaking of the fourth wall, unsolved literary murder mysteries, how to write action, and the aim of getting two characters in one room talking.

Listen by clicking here! 

Paragraphing (Or That New Word in the Corner)

This week, I launched a new section to Armistice Designs called "Paragraphing."  What's that, you ask?  It's a button in the top right corner, you see.  And more than that, it's a story.  A collaborative fiction project—which is to say: a story written one paragraph at a time by two people at a time. 


My collaborator in crime?  Jamie.  Jamie Steidle—my brother of...well, 26 years, at this point.  Which, incidentally, happens to also be his age.  Jamie is a fantastic fiction writer—he's actually in Ireland at this exact moment, doing just that.  Fantasizing about fiction.  Oh—and getting his Master's.  

This isn't the first collaboration—in fact, the last one resulted in a book cataloguing the misadventures of Marc Bedsum and Alexander Grey.  That project was large, though.  It started just like this one: a paragraph at a time.  But very soon it became a scene and then a chapter at a time.  Then the chapters grew into sections—and the sections into weeks.  By the time we were working on the sequel, it was a month or more between writing and reading and then writing again.  It was like living on one of the far out planets—Neptune or Jupiter.  The orbit was just exhausting.  That was too much, even for an ex-mayor and his bearded accomplice.  So...

The Paragraphing Blog:

Attempt number two at bottling that magic.  Because it very well is magic.  To write a story and not know what's going to happen next.  To write a story where your control is limited to a chance sentences!  To write a story that isn't even wholly your own.  It's like the story of life—only more prosaic!  (And fun!)  

This time, we'd like you to join us in the fun—as the story slings in tight rubber-band circles.  We're writing a paragraph and passing the keyboard back and forth across the Atlantic (and the whole of the North American Continent).  Daily!  

So, if your day is dragging or you're standing in line at the grocery store, bookmark over to "The Paragraphing Blog" and see what's happening.  Or follow the story on Twitter @graphingblog  

But that's not even the best part: each week, we're going to record a 30 minute podcast.  We'll start the 'cast by reading the week's seven paragraphs.  Then we'll get on to talking about story in general—and writing to be specific.  It'll be a boisterous 30 minutes, and the time'll fly.  I'll drop the podcast link in here as soon as we finish with these first 7 days.  Already, since the time you've started reading this post, it's day 2 of the story—!  And the eggs are sizzling.  

Will they fry?  Will they curdle?  Will they burn?  Whatever will happen next?  

Every answer is just a paragraph away—

A Defense of Two Spaces After the Period

Space matters.  Space helps us discern one word from the next, one thought from the next, one paragraph and page from another—it is, in short, the best way we have of making sense of the world.  The moon is far from the Earth.  The Earth is further from the sun.  The sun is further from other suns.  And galaxies further from other galaxies.  It couldn't be any other way.  And so it is with words, sentences, and paragraphs.  Look at paragraphs: they used to be delineated by simple indentations.  

But today—we recognize the value in spacing them apart with a blank line.  We know this.  We do it instinctively now.  We do it because paragraphs are more important than sentences—and those blank lines are more helpful than indents in helping us navigate our text.  Paragraphs deserve that line.  We deserve that line—a space to stop and think and consider before moving on.  Sentences, likewise, are more important than words.  They deserve that extra little space to breath—a pause, a break.  An intermission, if only a small one.  

I don't put two spaces after a period because of typewriters or proportionally spaced fonts or because I know that AP Style is for journalists with space constraints.  I put two spaces after a period because sentences matter.  Space matters.  The written word matters.  It's music—and without the space between the notes, all we have is noise.

A New Strategy for Daily Discovery

"That which doesn't make a man worse—how can it make his life worse?" 

I've been trying to live those words—my favorite words by Marcus Aurelius—ever since the election outcome in November.  It's been a profoundly different time for me and I know for many, many people around the world.  I'm determined not to let Trump's win make me a worse person.  Determined to make my life better despite the shock of each daily news cycle.  

The strategy has been one of daily discovery.  The guide?  A short piece of writing I did a few days after the election: 

____________________November 19, 2016

I suppose it is time to put down a few thoughts on the outcome of the election.  Hillary did not win.  And Donald Trump will be President of the United States.  It sounds like a nightmare because it is one.  So unexpected.  Nobody had any idea that this would be the true future.  And nothing about it feels true or right.  

The part that bothers me the most, I think, is that the bad guy won.  This is not how stories are supposed to end.  Look at all of the work and dedication and thoughtfulness that she put into public service.  And how great a president she could have been.  And how ready we all were for a woman president.  And yet—a tragedy of epic proportions—she lost.  And this disgusting man with zero qualifications won.  It’s just an absolute tragedy—one of the worst things that has ever happened to this country in modern times.  Truly greater than 9/11 in its power to knock you down.  

But you have to get up.  We all have to get back up and fight.  The story is not over.  So he will be President—beginning in two months—for a four year term.  We’ll see if he makes it four years without impeachment or resignation.  We’ll see what happens.  The fact is—the story is never over.  And while the wrong side may have won the upper hand for a time, they have not won the war for what is right.  And what is good in this world.  

At the same time, I must hope that there is some goodness possible in this incoming administration.  The country does need infrastructure and a bit of the zazzle of the showy hotelier—our roads and our bridges and our airports could use that.  So hopefully this period is not all lost. And hopefully responsible Republicans can steer him away from his nationalist, zero-sum, anti-trade instincts.  Hopefully a strong democratic opposition can divert him from his anti-immigrant madness.  And hopefully he can steer republicans away from the culture wars and the anti-women stance of members of that party—like Pence.  

And I will just have to keep working on the things that matter to me.  I will have to—and have—rededicated myself to learning and absorbing all that I can on topics outside of the news cycle.  The science of management in HBR.  The creative problem-solving and design in Cinefex (learning, at the moment, about the development of The Lost World).  And the politics of California—this state that I am embracing fully, now.  I am listening to an audiobook on the history of the state, and will then hear one on Jerry Brown.  And will work my way through a better understanding of this place that is my home—and will be our future.  

I’m excited and ready now for that future.  And will just have to contend with the fact that I can’t follow the news as I have for this last year.  I can check in every now and then, but just as when George W. was in office, making a mess of the world, I will focus my energies on other things.  On the future I’m building and the past I can learn from—not every minute detail of the present.  Great work, scientific discovery, and creative breakthroughs have all been completed during inept presidential administrations—and when we look back, we don’t even remember who was president when "The Fountainhead" was released, or Star Wars, or Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men,” even.  Or Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  Or the discovery of the structure of DNA.  These works stand on their own—and my work must, also.  Not to say that these works didn’t or couldn’t have an impact in their own time, or move the needle in politics—but they ultimately transcend that politics.  My life must do the same during this period.  Look, for example, at the great work still being done by Bill and Melinda Gates today—just as yesterday, just as last month and last year.  Just as next year.  We keep moving forwards.  We keep contributing.  We keep building a better world.  

There is so much work to be done. 

You must move forwards.  Forwards, forwards, forwards.  Faster.  


Almost at an instant, I stopped reading Twitter.  After 6 or 7 years of every morning waking up to Politico’s Playbook, I stopped.  Yes, it was a reaction to the poor news, but it was also a recognition that there is more in this world.  And so I began to explore more seriously other interests: 

While visiting a used bookstore, a title caught my eye.  It was one of those instances where, scanning the shelves, your reading and processing mind is slower than your darting eyes. In a sea of spines—book spines—I saw: “One Man’s Fight Against the Navy.”  Isn't THAT an interesting premise for a story!  One man literally at war with an entire Navy?  Immediately I looked back to the spine.  And was disappointed to see that in the whirl I misread it.  The real title: “One Man’s Fight For a Better Navy.”  It was by Holden Evans, a Naval Constructor in the early 1900s.  It was a memoir, of sorts, about a fight for efficiency within the US Navy’s hopelessly inefficient navy yards.  How interesting…a book about someone fighting for a better system.  An uphill battle against an institution.  The first few pages were refreshing in their clarity of purpose:

“All autobiographies have their purpose, even if that purpose be only the gratification of the vanity of an active man who looks back over his life and finds in it lessons which he thinks may interest and instruct the oncoming generations. Mine, perhaps, is that kind of life, too.  But I would be presumptuous to think that that story alone could find interest outside of the circle of my family and close friends. It happened, however, that the best and most vigorous years of my life were devoted to a fight for economy and greater efficiency in our navy yards.  It was something of a single-handed war I waged, but one which attracted much attention and drew to my support some of the leading industrial engineers of the nation.” 

— Holden Evans

So I bought it and read it, beginning to end.  

After that one, I picked up another.  One of the best books I've ever read is “Travels” by Michael Crichton.  It’s a memoir of his time in medical school and his journeys around the world—journeys of personal as much as geographic discovery.  Incisive, crystal-clear prose.  It’s worth reading and re-reading—but any reader is left wanting to read more. Crichton always identified Travels as his personal favorite work—and he always promised he was working on a Travels II.  Unfortunately, he died before it was released and it's still never been released.  Buried in an old hard drive somewhere—or, hopefully, in the galley proofs of a publishing house.  What’s always been out there, though, is an art book he wrote in the 1970s about the modern artist Jasper Johns.  Another rare book of nonfiction from this high-concept storyteller. Reading Crichton as he walks us through the development of an artist, an entire lifetime of work—art created by someone he deeply admires—is an absolute joy.  Full of surprises.  Like this:  

"When Johns says, 'I didn't want my work to be an exposure of my feelings,' he is really divorcing himself from the tenets of Abstract Expressionism, where the goal of the work, the point of the painting, was some statement of subjective emotion. Johns never had this goal. To that extent his statement is literally correct. But it is impossible for anyone to create out of purely intellectual, unemotional impulses. I doubt such impulses exist, in the first place; but even if they did, the act of creation, extending over time, would incorporate other elements which must be defined as emotional."

— Michael Crichton on Jasper Johns 

This is a fascinating concept.  That even unemotional work—work like that of science or mathematics or the simple application of paint to a surface—even this work will, in the course of creation, become emotional.  Think of it: you're washing the dishes.  That's not an emotional task.  But if you run out of soap, doesn't it become emotional?  If you scald your hand in hot water?  Or scrub and scrub and scrub but a plate won't scrub clean—there's emotion in that act.  Emotion that shapes how you scrub.  Shapes how you wash.  Shapes the choices you make and the end result of that effort.  In short, we are emotional in our process of creation—whether conscious of it or not.  Cold in our art or not.  Jasper Johns may not have a message behind every work, but working on that art makes it—by its nature—the product of emotion.  

But books are only the beginning.  I’ve also found a bit more peace.  I’ve been listening more to music than talk.  Back in 2015, my favorite artist—James Horner—died.  Before he did, he wrote and recorded a concerto for four horns.  Just a few weeks ago, I listened to it for the first time.  “Collage” is the name and once again I am amazed by what music can be.  What it can do.  How it can transport.  Music truly is the greatest creation of humankind.  It can transcend every concern.  Can rise above it all, and if you listen carefully enough, you can hear the world for what it can be.  What it could be, if you only listened.

Through all of this, I’ve tried to rededicate myself to the projects that matter most.  For the past year I've been working on a project around reducing gun violence.  It's taken too long—but I have learned so much in the process and now am nearing completion.  I really really want it to be done and to share it with the world, already.  And I really really want it to be done so I can begin to focus 100 percent of my energy on the next big project—one at least four or five times the size, and an order of magnitude greater in potential impact.  That larger project waits at the precipice.  But I fear it has been waiting too long; and I am no longer content with waiting.  There is simply too much to be done.  

If there is too much to be done, I should be done with writing this particular post right now.  But still I write on—and the reason is simple: I'd like to contribute something now.  Everyone, in the wake of November's outcome, has been trying to find a way to contribute.  To do a little bit of something to make a difference in the world today.  The majority of my focus today is on building projects for tomorrow—but that's not enough.  I'd like to try something a little bold.  Something a little different.  Something I've thought of but never delivered.  Here's a note I made from years ago:  

"CONSIDER turning this blog into a truly open and transparent look into the creative process—and a creative mind at work.  How do you do that?  By commenting on interesting things you find, sharing ideas AS THEY COME TO YOU, and sketching out photos and thoughts on the fly.  You would make it, literally, your "live journal" - to steal a phrase from the technology of yore.  It would be a look into your creative notebook.  A place where you could literally share and shape interesting content.  No more keeping things so close to the vest.  Rather than fearing that you might give away some big reveal in a big project, why not think that showing the pieces of an idea coming together might serve as a teaser, an introduction, a commercial for the main event?  Having looked at the idea as a sentence, why wouldn't the reader be interested to see where you took it as a full project?  Why does this blog have to be the occasional essay once every few weeks?  Why not make it—literally—a living document?  Wouldn't you enjoy following a site like that more?  Wouldn't you like the look into the creative process?  Consider beginning this on Monday.  You're NOT diluting the great things, you're showing how they are only constellations in a galaxy of ideas."  

Beginning now—today—I want to share some discoveries; something I've read or learned—and at least one thought.    Daily.  To share it will keep me thinking and engaged with the content, with the ideas—and maybe, just maybe, it'll be something like a song in the noise of this time.  A melody, a few sentences that catch in the mind and stick there, if only for a moment, to shine a light and point the way in a new direction.  

A Letter of Optimism to President-Elect Trump

President-Elect Trump, 

Congratulations.  You have won the greatest contest in the world.  You will be the next President.  The next president for all Americans—those who voted for you and those who didn't.

I did not vote for you—millions did not vote for you—but you will be our President.  Those who voted for you have already been convinced—think of them as existing customers.  But we are the new customers, the new visitors to your hotel.  We arrived from a competing hotel.  That hotel had to shut down—there was a fire in the middle of the night and we were evacuated—and now we are all a little disappointed.  We are all a little on edge.  And we are all very tired.  It is late, and we have been rebooked to stay in a Trump Hotel.  Please, treat us well.  Treat us as visitors to your great hotel who did not choose it, but who are hoping—truly—for a good night’s rest.  Please work hard, as your employees work every day, to surprise us.  To sweep us off our feet with the quality and attention to detail and the service.  Your existing customers—those who voted for you—they are already sleeping happy in their beds.  We, however, are standing grumpy and grim and maybe a little charred in the lobby.  Inpatient with the situation and in a state of mind to be unimpressed by the opulence of the marble.  Don’t give up on us.  You can win us over because we are all your customers now.

But this isn't all on you; we can step up, too.  You deserve serious thought and consideration. You have been mocked and made fun of for years—decades, even.  And some of it people will say is fair and some of it people will say is unfair.  But lots of it really is mean—and I don’t think it’s right to be mean to anyone.  You have been mean to people in the past, but meanness met with meanness doesn’t get us anywhere.

Those who mock you discount your better qualities.  And everyone has better qualities.  Your love and genuine care for your kids.  Your skill at building the business that your father started.  At building it far bigger and far greater than he had started it.  And your generosity: remember that time you rebuilt the ice skating rink in Central Park?  The entire city was grateful for you.  Not just because you gave the money—plenty of rich New Yorkers could have given the money.  But because you had a vision for what the city could have been—what the city should have been:  The greatest city on Earth.

Greatness has always been a motivation for you.  But as a man who is always striving for more, being elected President is not and could never be your greatest achievement.  There is always more to reach for.  And now, having been elected President, your goal must shift.  Certainly your aim—to make America great—must still motivate you.  But at a personal level, when you think of what you want to achieve for yourself, it must now be to become a great President.  Every President has that chance—and now it is up to you to become it.  To strive for it.  To work everyday as hard as you worked during the campaign—day after day after day—to become not just a great President, but the greatest President.

Some will say this is impossible.  I know many will consider these words crazy.  Even those who voted for you may think that no one could surpass George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.  But our future as a country is always greater than our past.  We must believe that the future will bring greater possibilities than those that came before—greater opportunities, and bigger wins.  So I genuinely believe that you have the chance to achieve this—and I want to help you do it.  I hope that everyone wants to help you do it.  Because as my President, I am 100% invested in your success.  As you succeed, this country succeeds.  And everyone in it.

The work starts with those around you. Those on your team who helped you reach the Presidency deserve your appreciation.  They deserve your thanks.  But they are not entitled to anything more than that.  You know this better than anybody.  If it is not in the contract, in writing, then it is not an entitlement.  If you had an open position at your company, you wouldn’t hire the person who held the door open for you just because they helped you get where you were going.  You would look carefully at the position and the candidates, and you would decide who would be most likely to do a great job in that role.  Who would be most likely to greatly advance the reputation of your business—and your reputation.  Because what you care about above all—above pleasing loyal people—is making a great hotel. And now, a great country.

Yes, it is fair to thank those who helped you, fair to appreciate them and consider what they could help you with next.  But you must decide what is best.  That is the trust that every one of your voters put in your candidacy, and it is the trust that the Constitution puts in you as President.  You have earned the right to say no when helpful people expect favors.  And the right to request help when the best of people turn away.  Very few can turn down the privilege to serve their country at the highest level.

Reach out to every person you ever respected, reach out to those who are the best in their industries, and sit with them.  Have a conversation with them.  Ask them to serve and they will not turn you down.  Maybe they turned down the opportunity in the past, maybe they were quiet during the election. Don’t fault them for it.  Remember—this was a brutal campaign and this is politics.  Lots of smart people don’t like to get mixed up with it—just as you hadn't run for office before this.  But outsiders, great social and business leaders, can bring new perspectives and new opportunities.  That’s why so many Americans elected you President.  And it’s why there’s such a great opportunity for you to achieve greatness as President.

The Republican Party is interested in the Republican Party.  They don’t want you to be the greatest American President, they want you to be a great Republican President.  Or maybe greatness is too great for their political imagination.  They just want a Republican President who they can work with.  Who can push their agenda and serve them and their needs.  Don’t let them push you into mediocrity.  Don’t let them turn you into another George W. Bush.  Or even a George H. W. Bush.  Who remembers those Presidents fondly?  Who thinks of their achievements as great—or even helpful—for the country?  They will be forgotten—or worse, panned for failures that Republican leaders recommended.  To invade Iraq.  To bankrupt the country.  To expand the powers of the federal government.  Just remember—that was the same Republican Party that is now advising you.  That wants to make you just another Republican President.  Don’t let them.

It won’t be easy to say no.  For every subject, Republicans will have a plan.  They will have plans for lots of things—pre-made, ready to go.  Just push a button.  Don't push it.  Don’t buy it.  Just because they’ve thought about it longer than you have, doesn’t mean they’ve had the best thoughts.  Resist the easy choice—and find your own solutions.  How?  Well, you’ve already shown it: with an open mind.

I know that some fault you for changing your position on things—but changing your mind is not a fault.  It’s the only way to always be right.  You may have the most open mind of any President in recent history—you’re not bogged down by years and years of brainwashing by a political party and financial donors.  So use that open mind.  Fill it with differing ideas and differing solutions—so that you can choose the best one.  As President—as George W. Bush famously said—you are “the decider.”  But that power is only great if you give yourself great options.  So seek out options—from every side of every issue.  The more options, the more opportunities for greatness.  Those around you will try to shelter you, to block competing ideas, to put you in a box with one choice and one choice only: theirs.  Don't let them box you in.  Don't let them limit your options for greatness.  Trust your own instincts to decide for yourself what is best.  Trust that when you can see every path, the right one will be clear.

Talk to Republicans.  Talk to Democrats.  Talk to Libertarians and independent voters.  Talk to scientists and cultural leaders.  Talk to those of all faiths, all backgrounds and histories.  Talk to historians.  And talk to those who have lived history.  Even Hillary Clinton, who wrote a book called Living History.  I know you respect her grit and determination.  Her refusal to blink in the face of a storm.  She’s worked hard on these issues and has considered lots of options.  She's smart and she is a peer, an equal—like a rival businessperson.  Her hotel may have burned down, but she still knows all there is to know about hotel management.  Don’t be afraid to talk to her and use her experience to enhance your own decisions.  Just as she swallowed her pride to work with Obama, she will brush off her wounds to help make you a great President.  She is a believer in this country and loves it as much as you do.  And just think—what incredible news it would make if word got out that you were big enough to talk with her.

In that same sense, befriend your recent predecessors—President Obama and President Bush.  They are the only ones who know what it's like to stand where you stand.  Yes, they have both made mistakes.  Like the rest of us, you’ve seen those mistakes from the outside.  Make these Presidents explain those mistakes from the inside—from their perspective.  Learn from them so you don't repeat them.  Make them point out their missteps so you don’t fall into them.  The more mistakes they made, the more you have to learn.  The more success they share, the more likely you are to be successful.

Foreign policy is fraught with failure—both of those presidents failed in foreign policy in one way or another.  And you, too, will face failure on the world stage.  It’s inevitable that something will go wrong—some call will be blown or plan unravel.  But success is still possible—even great success.  American Presidents have helped to end the Cold War—they’ve inspired democracy across the world, and led the charge to draw down nuclear stockpiles, to reduce the chance of a new Holocaust.  And even Bush and Obama succeeded in stopping another terrorist attack like 9/11.  Your own instincts aren’t wrong on foreign policy—to defend the country with strength, but to focus the majority of our time and energy here at home; rebuilding our own country. This is not a dangerous plan—as long as you remain engaged in the world, foster real relationships with foreign leaders—treating them with the respect and dignity that they deserve.  Many of the greatest presidential successes have been achieved—not in opposition to the world—but in partnership with it.

Just keep in mind that foreign policy is more a sport than a science; governed by its own rules and assumptions—many of them hundreds of years old.  The formality can be claustrophobic, the expectations infuriating: if the President of Taiwan calls to wish you congratulations, why shouldn’t you give her the courtesy of picking up the phone?  It seems unfair that you are constantly criticized for being rude but you take one friendly phone call and the whole world is up in arms.  I get it—believe me, I’m sure that Presidents Obama and Bush get it, too.  They’ve all made mistakes of protocol and expectation.  It’s unavoidable—but you can get better at it if you remember that:

Protocol is not policy.  Get some people on your team who understand protocol: who know whose hand to shake, whose calls to take, and where to stand at a State Dinner.  These things are important—but following them doesn’t mean surrendering the State Department to the status quo.  Protocol is not policy.  You can make bold policy changes while still respecting the rules of diplomacy.  Just look at JFK.  When the Soviet Union put nuclear weapons in Cuba, Kennedy set up a military blockade.  In diplomatic terms, a blockade was an unmistakable act of war—unless he followed the right protocol.  Which he did: JFK got the Organization of American States to vote unanimously to approve the blockade.  No war was declared, and the world was saved from nuclear annihilation.  Kennedy achieved his bold military objective, and he did so by plying the rules to serve his purposes.  Remember that as you move forwards: protocol is always worth respecting—because it saves you from embarrassment, and can win you bold policy achievements. 

Travel to new places.  The White House is a new place, and Washington, D.C. a new city to live.  You’ll be moving out of New York for the first time in decades.  Get a sense of DC, get out and enjoy the hiking trails, learn about the history of the C&O Canal and the building of the Pentagon.  Wander the museums and monuments—and meet the locals.  Learn about why their license plates say “No Taxation Without Representation” and think of ways that you can represent them and their hopes.  Then—get outside of Washington, D.C.  Get outside of your comfort zone.  Use this opportunity to see places you haven't seen before, to meet people that your business interests haven't put you before.  You are now the President of the United States.  You are the leader of the free world.  Everyplace in the world is your business.  Listen and learn from these places, find new ideas and innovations that you can bring back to this country to re-invigorate this economy.  Challenge yourself and those around you to try new things.  And find a few moments—simply—to relax in new landscapes.

You may be one of the oldest presidents to hold office, but for millions of Americans—you represent the new.  So never stop trying to deliver the new.  Remember: you have the power to change people’s hard-held beliefs.  You did it during the election.  Millions of Republican voters held different stances than you on things like infrastructure and trade.  But they changed their minds and voted for you.  Remember this when advisors tell you that you can’t disappoint your base.  You are the leader of your base—they will go where you lead them—if you lead them well.  And if you are the great leader that you aspire to be, that you have the capacity as President to become, so many more will follow.

That’s not to say that you don’t have a responsibility to help those who voted for you.  For decades, they voted for Republicans who promised to help them—and no help was delivered.  So they turned their back on that tired establishment—in search of something new.  They took a chance on you; don’t let them down.  Work hard to understand new ways that you can help them—ways beyond what the Republicans promised and failed to deliver.  Ways beyond what has been tried in the past.  Just remember that America is built on the idea of unity—e Pluribus Unum—together, one.  America’s central belief is that building a stronger country will help everyone.  That you don’t have to knock other people down in order to lift some people up.  And it’s been the history of this country to keep lifting people up.  Whether that’s slaves who became citizens or women who got the right to vote or immigrants who found the promise of a better life for their children.  It won’t be easy to find a way to lift everyone up—it’s far easier to leave some people behind, or to stand on their rights to get a leg up.  But America has always been about achieving what other countries find impossible.  Greatness is in finding a way—and as President, it’s for you to lead that way.

So don’t be led down the narrow path—because that only leads to darkness.  The Alt-Right, white supremacists, the disgruntled and mean—these groups are going to try to use you and take credit for you and your work.  Don’t let them.  They are going to try to push you to affirm their beliefs.  Or to turn a blind eye to their blind hatred.  Don’t do it.  Face them head on and take them down.  Want to show strength?  Show the country that you are stronger than the thugs who are trying to steal and smear your brand.  Show the country you have the power to denounce those you disagree with, even if they agree with you.  The sound you hear when you do it will be the roar of the rest of this nation cheering.  It’s an easy win—and an important one.  Don’t miss the opportunity.

There is strength in action like that—but there is also strength in restraint.  Remember that though your power is great, the limits on your power are even greater.  You may be the head of state, but you are just one part of one branch of three branches of a federal government of the United States filled with 50 states with 50 governors and legislatures, and even more county and municipal and city governments.  You are not the boss of anyone but the people you hire to head the departments and agencies in D.C.  There is power in the Presidency, but there is also strength in the restraint of power.  Respect the role of those elected before and beside you.  Respect the will of the people who elect—and of your predecessors who appointed your partners in governing.  You will be most effective when you focus your energies where energy aligns with the office: your cabinet.  Those who work for you and those who work with you.  So choose the best—and fire the rest. Respectfully.

Fire those who fail.  You built a reputation on saying “you’re fired.”  Don’t give it up now.  The power of firing is even more important, here.  Don’t hesitate to show people the door.  Don’t let their failure to live up to your hopes and expectations drag you—and the country—down.  There’s no reason to keep people around when they disappoint—especially when there are people who could better the job.  Just look at what happened with George W. Bush.  He took the advice of his father’s advisors—appointing them all to run his White House and his government.  And where did that get him?  In Iraq.  In debt.  And with his approval numbers in the toilet.  By the end of his second term, George W. had fired most of the people that were dragging him down, and he was finally starting to make some good decisions.  But by that point, he had wasted 6 or 7 years with the wrong team on his team.  The wrong people running things.  Don’t let it happen to you.  Fire those who fail and invite new perspectives to the table.  They'll bring new options—and new opportunities for greatness.

Your advisors, of course, will advise against it.  Don’t listen to them.  And don’t let them talk for you.  One of your greatest successes this election season has been your ability to reach voters directly.  And you reach them directly in two ways: your rallies and your press.  Yes, your press.  The press that you earn not by having reporters write about what you do, but by talking directly to reporters yourself.  Unmediated.  Without handlers and spin-doctors.  Remember when you used to call in to every Sunday morning talk show?  That’s the kind of President you should be.  Direct and present.  Citizens should never wonder what your position is on a subject—they should never have to figure it out through something that one advisor said, or another advisor implied.  You are authentic—be present.  You are strong—be direct.  Nobody likes a politician who won’t face the press.  Let the press ask questions; you have the answer.  Even if you’re not sure or you’re not ready to say—that’s an answer.  Being present won’t hurt you in the press—it will help you to spread your message to the American people.  As it did during the campaign.  They can't misquote you if you are the one doing the talking on their show.

What do people expect to hear from you, now that you are President?  They expect you to make them proud.  Proud that you are President.  Proud to be Americans.  But what you’ve said and what you’ve implied has often made this difficult, if not impossible—even for your supporters.  You say what you feel in the moment—not what you feel the moment suggests you should feel.  Not what some political consultant told you to feel.  There is power in this approach, but there is also danger: the tone of that feeling can turn your words into weapons of anger and fear.  So many Americans are today viscerally afraid of you and your presidency because of this.  But the danger in your feeling-centered approach is rooted in more than the tone and tenor of those feelings.  It’s rooted in the fact that feelings are often fleeting.  You may feel one thing one minute, and something totally different the next.  For example: you felt friendly and respectful towards the Mexican President one hour, and unfriendly and aggressive towards immigrants just a few hours later.  Where you stand on an issue shouldn’t be determined by how you feel in the moment—because your standing, then, will shift by the hour.  In the same sense, what you say—and the tone you set—shouldn’t be hardwired into your feelings: instead, you should find an optimistic, friendly tone that anchors all of your emotional responses.  A tone that centers you and your presidency—and by extension this country—in a strong but calm frame of mind.  I know you are capable of this because you do it every day in personal meetings.  It’s the tone you struck with the Mexican President to gain his respect, the tone you shared with Paul Ryan to rally his support; it’s the tone that you project one-on-one.  And that personal, one-on-one space—it’s exactly the tone that Americans seek in their president.

Because Americans seek not just emotional resonance—but a genuine connection.  A connection that communicates that you can be trusted to stand with them.  To stand in their corner.  As President, you have to stand with them when they lose their job.  You have to stand with them when they lose their health insurance.  You have to stand with them when they make a mistake and wind up in prison—or when they make no mistake but wind up there just the same.  You have to stand with them in good times—to celebrate when they get their commission in the Navy.  When they get their first paycheck.  Or—after 20 years—earn their citizenship.  You have to stand with those who could never afford to lie down in Trump Tower.  And you have to stand with those who took selfies flicking it off.  It seems crazy—and it is; but you will be the President for all of them, at all of these moments.  Make it count.

Because each of them will outlive your presidency.  You only have four years guaranteed.  Four short years to make a difference in the lives of over 300 million people.  A meaningful, positive difference.  A great difference.  Ask yourself, then, with each decision whether you are making life better for people.  If you’re not, you could just be wasting time—and you don’t have any time to waste.  And if you’re making life worse for people—you're moving in the wrong direction.  Momentum is a powerful force.  Every President wants to keep moving—to keep moving above all else.  But don't fall into that trap.  Movement isn't always positive movement.  Movement isn't always forward momentum.  Always check that you are moving forwards.  That the force and momentum you feel is in the right direction.

Deporting 11 million people puts you in the wrong direction.  But it’s a difficult problem, no question about that.  How to create a fair and just immigration system.  How to protect security and the rule of law.  And how to promote American jobs.  Immigrants are easy to point fingers at, but deporting them won’t point anyone in the right direction.  In truth, immigrants are critical to America's future success.  Most developed countries are having problems because their populations are aging—not enough kids are being born, so there aren’t enough young people to create a dynamic economy.  That’s why these countries will shrink in size and importance in the coming decades.  But not the United States.  The United States is the only developed country that breaks that trend.  It’s not because we have more births.  It’s because of the immigrants who come here for a better life and make a better country for all of us—by keeping our economy young and vibrant.  But you already know all of this—your own family is a family of immigrants.

Yes, our immigration system is broken.  But believe me, it’s more broken for the 11 million people who are undocumented than it is for those who want to deport them.  The best solution is to fix the problem with the American economy, fix the problem with the immigration system, and treat everyone who came here under a broken system as full members of society.  Until then, people will continue to be paid under the table, black markets will continue to cut into legitimate American jobs, and lawlessness will persist.  Extending the rule of law to those living outside of it doesn’t mean forgiving crime—it means helping to prevent it.  Help people come out of the shadows and you’ll help the whole of the American economy—and gain millions of voters at the same time.  After decades of failed Presidents, you would get us moving in the right direction.

Of course, immigration reform will only be acceptable to some of your voters if you first solve very real problems with the American economy.  This won’t be easy, either.  What are you going to do to deal with the computers and machinery that make life better but make jobs harder to find?  Do you find ways to help Americans transition into other traditional jobs?  Do you help train people in new and emerging careers?  Or do you take some bold steps in areas like a universal basic income—or a newer New Deal?  Boldness is what voters expect—so be bold in this and other areas.  Prove that you’re not afraid to think outside of the box—even when staying in that box might help you personally.  For instance, here’s what could be a very bold first initiative:

Repeal the electoral college.  Both you and I agree that it’s fundamentally unfair.  Each vote should be counted the same, no matter where you live.  For years, the electoral college has been protected by politicians afraid of the consequences of bold change.  You can prove at the outset of your Presidency that you’re not a politician governed by fear.  And you’re not afraid of the consequences for yourself and your next election—like everyone who has come before.  Instead, prove your confidence in your future Presidency—and show your commitment to earning the trust and the vote of all Americans.  Maybe you could even partner with someone like Hillary to make it happen—proving wrong every person who thinks you only think about yourself.  You will be a bold, fearless President, then—the likes of which this country has never seen.

And it would make your children proud. Listen to your children—their counsel is more important now than ever before.  They are some of the only people who you can trust—who truly have your best interest in mind.  So, listen to your children—particularly your youngest.  Yes, you are serving all Americans—but the focus of your Presidency must be for those future generations.  To build a world that is better than the one you grew up in.  To create the country that they deserve.  Fill your thoughts and fill your plans with their future.  And fill your cabinet, too, with some young faces.  With a few young people who can tell your youngest son—when he is your age—what it was like to create the future that you built for him.

Winning the election was a surprise.  Nobody saw it coming.  But I hope that the greater surprise will be what a great president you become.  I did not vote for you, but I am investing in you every hope for this great country.  We are all privileged to be Americans—for all that was fought for, all that was bled and died for.  It’s up to us, now, to keep fighting for more.  To make America great—not just again, but for always.

I’m looking forward to what’s next.  And to writing you from time to time as we work to make this world a better place, together.

Godspeed, President-elect Trump.  


Towards a More Notorious Supreme Court

Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave three rather critical interviews on the state of American politics this week.  Three interviews that she now admits were ill-advised.  She’s been shouted down by Donald Trump for doing so—and the editorial boards of the Washington Post and the New York Times seem to agree.  This is against decorum, they say—against the traditions of the US Supreme Court.

Yes, the same newspapers that decry Hillary Clinton for not holding a press conference in 200+ days are now criticizing a leader of an entire branch of our government for giving three interviews.  The press complains about Hillary Clinton, who doesn’t yet hold any formal position of power—and yet these editorial boards don’t want any visibility into the perspective of a powerful public official.  

How powerful?  

In the mathematics of our three-branch system, Ruth Bader Ginsburg holds as much power as 67 members of Congress combined.  But learning how she feels about important current events is, in the estimation of these newspapers, too much for our system to bear.  

We treat the Supreme Court more like a church than a public institution.  We treat its members—not like living breathing people—but like the oracles from Minority Report; embalmed and unspeaking.  We think it improper for them to give interviews.  Or comment on public events.  Or even to clap at a public speech.  None of these prohibitions made it into the Constitution, of course—but we treat it as gospel.  Ezra Klein calls it the “fetishization of ‘objectivity.’”

There’s a long history to this.  A long history of past Supreme Court Justices living in their ivory tower.  But a democracy is supposed to tear down ivory towers, to deconstruct them and in their place build something more equitable for all.  Yes, there’s precedent for having a decorous Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court is in the business of setting new precedent.  We shouldn’t be surprised when its members do.  

The surprise comes from a good place (most of the time).  Because the argument for a quiet Supreme Court isn’t a crazy one—it’s just wrong.  The argument goes something like this:

Justice is supposed to be blind.  If we stop believing that our judges are looking fairly at a situation, we might lose faith in the justice system altogether.  That’s a dangerous thing.  When the justice system breaks down, people seek their own justice—often through violence.  

So the edifice of “impartiality” is important.

But we all know that Notorious R.B.G. is not apolitical.  We all know that she is more likely to sympathize with Democrats than Republicans.  She was appointed by a Democrat, after all.  Every member is appointed by one partisan or another.  This isn’t news—so why can’t she say how we all know she feels?  Is there really any harm to it?

Yes—some might say.  Because the Supreme Court isn’t the only court.  Not all judges are partisan appointees.  If we doubt the impartiality of Supreme Court justices, we may lose faith in all judges.  All courts.  And the whole system of justice might unravel.  

I doubt it.  But if it does—if getting more visibility into the workings of a key part of our government system makes us lose faith in that part’s ability to work fairly, then we should unravel it.  If only to find ways to fix it.   

By limiting visibility into the Supreme Court, we have tried to serve the idea that justice is blind—but we the people are the ones left blind. Blind to how a whole branch of our government works; blind to the goals that branch believes it is working towards; blind to whether it’s working for us at all.  Blind to all accountability.  And blind to the individuals behind the bench.  Who are these people?  How do they see the world?  How are they shaping our lives?  

There isn’t much public scrutiny into how the Supreme Court operates—or debate over why they operate as they do.  There’s not a lot of talk about who they benefit by operating in this way.  Who does it serve to have a Supreme Court with members unaccountable to media questions?  Who does it serve to have a court woefully paper-based in a digital world?  Who does it serve to continue banning cameras from the courtroomIs it really in the public interest—or is it merely a convenience to the justices?  Is it really the best for everyone—or an elite few who are in the business of the Supreme Court’s business?  Because the court isn’t there for convenience or to edify the political class.  It’s there to serve the people.  The more information we have about it, the better.  

Yes, stripping away the cloak of reverence will open the court to criticism.  But criticism in a democracy is a good thing.  It’s how problems are found and solutions forged.  It’s how we get better.  

But opening the court will have perhaps an even more profound effect—it’ll also make it accessible to millions of Americans for the first time. 

Every American knows the President—many know the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.  But hardly anyone can name a single Supreme Court Justice.  This isn’t because courts are boring places.  Courts are inherently dramatic—there are far more court dramas on TV than there are dramas about politics.  So why don’t we know these cases the way we know cases like the OJ Simpson trial?  It’s because of the way we—and the media—treat the people serving on the court.  We accept a standard of obfuscation in the court that we’d never accept from any other branch.  

Imagine if President Obama gave no speeches, no interviews, no press conferences or town halls.  Imagine if he was rarely seen on video.  Imagine if his face appeared mostly in still images and that these images were sketched by a sketch artist—because no photographers were allowed in the White House.  Imagine if the only way to know the workings of the executive branch was to actually read Executive Orders, or arcane articles about Executive Orders.  That would be an absurd burden to the average citizen.  Few would read the articles.  Fewer still would read the Executive Orders.  Most knowledge of the presidency would be limited to what carried by word of mouth or random cultural references.  And all of us would be in the dark about how important decisions were made.  What’s worse—we’d have no insight into the president’s agenda for future decisions to come.  

That’s no way to run a country—but it’s how the Supreme Court exists today.  That’s not good enough for the 21st century.  That’s not good enough for democracy.  And it’s certainly not good enough for the American people.  

The job of opening the court doesn’t end with Ruth Bader Ginsburg making jokes at Donald Trump’s expense.  But it’s a start.  It’s a start because with that little glimpse of her personality, America glimpsed the court for who it is not just what it does.  America glimpsed a living, breathing, thinking court—a court made up of people from this time and place.  A court that cares about what we care about, that follows the news we follow—that’s handing down judgments not from on high—but from right here in this messy world of uncertainty.  A court grounded firmly in reality.  

I want a court that speaks its mind.  I want a court that stands up for itself.  I want a court that is equal to the other branches of government—and equal to the challenges we face.  A court unafraid to show its face.


The Sexism in Apple's Advertising

Watch this:

Notice anything?  The idea of the ad is empowering—and that's great!  That everyone—kids and adults alike—have access to the tools to create something great.  It's at the heart of everything Apple has stood for over the past 40 years—all the way back to Steve Job's idea of the computer as a "bicycle for the mind." 

Here he is explaining the idea: 

But there's a problem.  Because in this ad, nearly every single person of authority is a man.  Men in power—validating this girl's video. 

News Editor:


Studio Executive:

Hollywood Agent:

Professor (again):

Award Show Host: 

In fact, there is just one woman of authority presented in the 60-second commercial—but she seems to be edited out of the shorter versions of the ad spots that have run on web video services like Hulu.  

Museum Curator:    

Someone at Apple created this advertisement.  Someone at Apple thought of men in these roles before they thought of women.  And so will millions of people who see this ad.  It will be just another confirmation of men in positions of authority, and of women vying for their attention and praise.  

This matters.  A lot.  Because if you're showing kids a world where only men have authority, or only white people, or only straight people, or only people of a certain age and disposition—that's the world they're going to grow into.  

This is why it matters that we finally have some movies with female protagonists

This is why it matters that we finally have a President who is not white.

And this is why it will matter so much when we finally have one who isn't a man.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple (and the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company who is openly gay) said that Apple’s “commitment goes beyond the products themselves…to the role we play in demanding and promoting equality.

Promoting equality isn't just about having a woman or a girl as the subject of your ad.  It's about the world that girl exists in.  Is it a world where authority figures are representative of all people?  Or a world ruled by white men?  

Unfortunately, the world we live in today is ruled way too much by men.  But is this the world we want to celebrate?  Is this the world we want to promote and advance?  

How could this happen?

Apple itself isn't diverse enough.  The company more than admits it—every year, they report on their progress towards this goal. But every year, more men stand up on their keynote stage than women.  And every year, from companies far and wide, advertisements like this make their way to the public without a peep of criticism.

It's not just Apple's fault.  Before writing this, I did a quick search to see if the ad had been tagged as sexist by someone else.  If someone else had seen it, maybe I could just retweet or reblog their post.  But I couldn’t find it.  I couldn't even find it in six pages of comments related to these ads on the MacRumors online forum.

That's not surprising.  This kind of sexism is everywhere because on the face of it, this is a perfectly good-humored ad.  The sexism might even be dismissed as subtle and harmless.  But there is nothing subtle about it—literally everything about the world presented in the ad is sexist.  That shouldn't be subtle to people anymore.  We shouldn't accept these weak excuses anymore.  The sheer force of this kind of sexism is overwhelming.  

It's the kind of sexism that assumes girls grow up to be nurses and men grow up to be doctors.  

It's the kind of sexism that assumes girls want to play with dolls and boys want to build.

It's the kind of sexism that approves of conference panels filled with men.  Or policy podcasts dominated by interviews with men: 

In Ezra Klein's new policy podcast, women are featured in just 3 out of 13 episodes.  How is this kind of imbalance still acceptable today? 

In Ezra Klein's new policy podcast, women are featured in just 3 out of 13 episodes.  How is this kind of imbalance still acceptable today? 

Apple probably didn't mean to advance a sexist world.  But it doesn't matter what they meant to do, it matters what they did—and what they did was present a sexist world.  That stands in the face of everything Tim Cook believes in—and everything their diversity efforts are trying to promote. 

Apple should—today—pull the ad.  But they should do so publicly, not quietly. To begin a conversation about how this happens, and to discuss how everyone can work to change it.  

The world we project to people matters.  The language we amplify, the images we choose—the assumptions we make are all products of our experience.  For millennia that experience has been dominated by men, but that doesn't mean our future has to be.  Laws and regulations and policies make a difference, but so do the stories we tell—and how we tell them.  

Computers may be bicycles for the mind, but it's worth remembering that even bicycles can perpetuate outmoded ideas of gender.  For example—that bar that's lower on "ladies" bicycles than men's?  It's lower to accommodate women wearing dresses and skirts—because that's what women were expected to wear in the early days of bike design.  That’s how men expected women to ride in the past.  

What do we expect today?  What from bicycles?  What from Apple?  What from the products we make, the promotions we share, and the world we celebrate?  

The Quick Startup Guide to Hillary

Hillary Clinton.  Hillary.  Hillary Clinton.  What do you think, I wonder, when you hear the name?  What did I?  

I’m a millennial who didn’t vote for Hillary in 2008.  Back then, I was still in college in Washington, DC.  It was an exciting time.  As an intern for Senator Kennedy, I could just walk over from our offices in the Russell Senate Office Building to Obama’s office—two buildings down—where there was a constant sense of excitement mounting.  I sat in on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing where Obama questioned General Petraeus.  The room was packed and electric.  Obama—no drama!—was sober and level-headed.  

But I wasn’t an immediate Obama voter.  My roommate at the time was.  His argument: “Here is somebody who could completely change…everything.”  My argument: “Yeah, maybe.  Someday.  But Obama doesn’t have enough experience.  Give him time to learn more, to work more, to actually accomplish something!”  

What did I think of Hillary?  Not much.  I thought—and have for years—that Hillary was the wife.  The wife of Bill.  It's true, she was.  The wife of the President.  Ambitious, sure.  Thoughtful, maybe.  Smart?  She seemed smart.  She was the wife of Bill and liked the White House.  She was the wife of Bill and wanted more.  Who could blame her?  Who could fault her?  Wouldn't you?  She ran for the Senate and she won.  She won and she worked.  And she worked and she worked until she could run for President.  

That's what I thought.  That's what I knew in 2008—when the excitement was with the Democrats.  And though I wasn't sold on Barack from the beginning, I watched him; I studied.  And I saw: he got better on the campaign trail.  He got smarter on foreign policy.  He grew into a qualified candidate.  Hillary I didn't need to study.  Hillary I didn't need to watch.  Hillary I knew.  Like everyone else.  The most famous woman in the world.

When my Florida absentee ballot arrived, Obama had already secured the nomination—but that didn’t stop me from making a thoughtful choice.  I voted for Barack Obama.  

Eight years later, and Hillary’s back.  Eight years later and she’s asking for my vote again.  But this time—this time I’m taking a closer look.  This time I want to know—who is she, really?  Over the last few months, I’ve read articles and op-eds, commentaries and comment-sections—even a great biography by Carl Bernstein.  I’ve watched speeches and debates and town halls—trying to understand this person whose very name connotes understanding.  And based on what I've seen and read and realized—Hillary Clinton is not the cardboard cutout I thought she was. 

I made a mistake eight years ago.  And so did a lot of my friends.  We won’t make the same mistake again.  And you shouldn’t either.  Because from what I’ve seen, she might actually be better than Obama.  Better than Bill.  Better than anyone who thinks they know her knows.  

Here's why.  Here's the quick startup guide to Hillary: 

Hillary is not just “a First Lady with ambition.”  

I had always assumed that Hillary was a very smart woman married to the president who decided to run for office. 

But that’s not her story at all.  Hillary was on track to be a political superstar long before she met Bill Clinton.  In fact, it’s entirely possible that if there was no Bill Clinton, she could have been elected president in 1992. 

Not long after she accepted [Bill’s marriage proposal], [Bill] told Betsey Wright that he and Hillary were going to be married. Wright was not pleased. “I really started in on how he couldn’t do that. He shouldn’t do that. That he could find anybody he wanted to be a political wife, but we’d [the women’s movement] never find anybody like her” to run for political office. Wright promptly called Hillary and told her she hoped Hillary wouldn’t marry Bill. Hillary laughed and said she was going to marry Bill and live in Arkansas. Elective office was not the only way to lead. She was going to make a difference wherever she was living. —Carl Bernstein, 'A Woman in Charge'

Hillary established a reputation for making change rather than enemies—even in college. 

Hillary was elected Student Body President at Wellesley College in 1968—after a three week campaign that saw her knocking door-to-door in every single dorm on campus.  As president, she focused on making change happen, rather than making enemies: “Part of her skill was finding a careful middle ground that brought progress without engendering unnecessary enmity,” her biographer Carl Bernstein wrote.  "Fellow students, even those uncomfortable with her politics, were drawn to Hillary’s natural warmth, humor, and obvious ability to get the job done. There was something both generous and gracious about her character that made people like being around her. She possessed a seemingly unselfish ability to praise others, recognize their personal concerns, remember meaningful details about their lives.” 

What did she get done?  

At Hillary’s insistence, a summer Upward Bound program for inner-city children was initiated on campus, antiwar activities were conducted in college facilities, the skirt rule had been rescinded, grades were given on a pass-fail basis, parietal rules were a thing of the past, interdisciplinary majors were permitted for the first time.  —Carl Bernstein, 'A Woman in Charge' 

Just a pause here—to explain parietal rules.  Wellesley was a woman's college—one of the seven sister colleges that were made to mirror the all-male Ivy League schools of the day.  As a woman’s college of its time, men were not allowed in dorm rooms.  Hillary helped put an end to that.

She has always been the opposite of Bernie Sanders.

The biggest difference between her and so many others in politics today?  One that was there from the beginning: a “willingness to participate in the drudgery of government rather than simply direct policy from Olympian heights," Bernstein explained.  "She attended committee meetings, became involved in the minutiae (of finding a better system for the return of library books, for instance), and studied every aspect of the Wellesley curriculum in developing a successful plan to reduce the number of required courses.” 

As a fellow student said of her at the time: “she was more interested in the process of achieving victory than in taking a philosophical position that could not lead anywhere.”  Is there any better way of contrasting her with Bernie Sanders?  

The death of Martin Luther King, Jr. was a test of leadership for Hillary. 

One of her most significant moments as student body president at Wellesley came in April 1968—when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated: 

Hearing the news, she stormed into a dorm room, shaking and shouting. She threw her book bag against the wall. One witness said she screamed, “I can’t stand it anymore! I can’t take it!”…King was perhaps the man she admired most in the country, if not the world. She had met him in 1962, shaken his hand, sat spellbound as he preached, twice. —Carl Bernstein, 'A Woman in Charge' 

It was just two months after her election as president—and the town exploded.  Students threatened to go on hunger strikes if Wellesley didn’t hire more black faculty and admit more black students.  Other students planned on shutting down the school.  

Instead, Hillary put herself forward as a mediator between students and the administration—in search of a solution.  With her leadership, a solution was struck: the college promised to recruit more minority students and faculty.  Wellesley even committed to pushing other employers in the region to create better living conditions and job opportunities for minorities.  

Hillary has been studying how to make government more effective for the poor since she was an undergraduate.

What did she study as an undergrad?  Her thesis was on the effectiveness of public programs.  She went to the same kind of impoverished neighborhoods of Chicago that Obama would one day organize in—speaking to community leaders to see if Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty programs were on the right track.  Her conclusion?  They weren’t.  The programs put too much on the shoulders of community members without providing enough federal resources to get the job done.  As part of the project, she interviewed Saul Alinsky, the famed organizer—gaining his trust and even a job offer.  

Hillary came to national prominence before Bill Clinton.  

Hillary was the first student in Wellesley’s history to ever speak at her graduation—but that’s not what made the headlines.  It's what she said.  Her speech followed a guest commencement by Senator Edward Brooke, the only black member of the Senate at the time—and the only member of the chamber who wasn’t white.  Hillary had campaigned for him as a freshman, but his speech was disappointing.  More than disappointing, it seemed to side with Nixon on the war in Vietnam—and called anti-war and civil rights demonstrations “coercive protest.”  He said he had “empathy” with their goals, but that was about it.  Hillary rejected his premise:

I find myself in a familiar position, that of reacting, something that our generation has been doing for quite a while now. We're not in the positions yet of leadership and power, but we do have that indispensable task of criticizing and constructive protest… —Hillary Clinton

Constructive protest. 

I find myself reacting just briefly to some of the things that Senator Brooke said…Part of the problem with empathy with professed goals is that empathy doesn't do us anything. We've had lots of empathy; we've had lots of sympathy… —Hillary Clinton

But it wasn't enough. 

She went on to highlight three key themes: integrity, respect, and trust.  

Integrity: “If the only tool we have ultimately to use is our lives, so we use it in the way we can by choosing a way to live that will demonstrate the way we feel and the way we know.”

Respect: “There's that mutuality of respect between people where you don't see people as percentage points. Where you don't manipulate people…”

Trust: “Trust. This is one word that when I asked the class at our rehearsal what it was they wanted me to say for them, everyone came up to me and said 'Talk about trust, talk about the lack of trust both for us and the way we feel about others. Talk about the trust bust.' What can you say about it? What can you say about a feeling that permeates a generation and that perhaps is not even understood by those who are distrusted? All they can do is keep trying again and again and again. There's that wonderful line in 'East Coker' by Eliot about there's only the trying, again and again and again; to win again what we've lost before.”

The speech gained national recognition and earned Hillary a prominent place in the student protest movement.  You can read her full speech here.

She chose to go into law because politics alone couldn't get things done.  

Hillary chose to go to Yale Law School because it was part of a movement—sparked by Thurgood Marshall and civil rights lawyers—that began to recognize law as a powerful force for social change.  It wasn’t just Congress or the Presidency that could reshape the country.  Her interests “were not in the legal academy. They were in the legal profession and the use of law in the service of people,” a classmate said. 

She also chose Yale for a very different reason—it wasn’t as sexist as Harvard. On a tour of the Harvard Law School, one top professor told her: “we don’t need any more women.”  Even at Yale, she was just one of 27 women in a school of 235 students. Yes, even at Yale, women only comprised 11 percent of the student body.  A big difference when you’re coming from a place like Wellesley—where it’s 100 percent women.  

Classes were an afterthought to her time at Yale. 

She served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.  And she joined pioneering children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman to research the discrimination facing migrant farm laborers and their families.  She then developed this information into data for a Senate Subcommittee.  As Bernstein notes, it was “an education in how the most powerless citizens were further punished by malevolent government and misuse of the law.”  

She also worked to expand her own understanding:  

She audited classes at Yale’s medical school and worked at the Yale–New Haven Hospital on problems of children’s physical and mental health, including child abuse—which was being seriously studied for the first time as a significant sociological phenomenon. She helped establish the hospital’s legal procedures dealing with incoming cases of suspected child abuse. At the Yale Child Study Center, she spent much of the academic year observing clinical sessions with children and attending subsequent case discussions with their doctors. The center’s director [and one of her professors]…asked her to become their research assistant on a book…Beyond the Best Interests of the Child, [that] became a standard text of the era. —Carl Bernstein, 'A Woman in Charge'

When they met, Hillary was a bigger deal than Bill Clinton.

When they first started dating at Yale, Hillary carried more cache than Bill Clinton.  In fact, according to Bernstein, some thought that Bill Clinton’s initial interest in her was just a way for him to cash in on that cache.  To (as Bernstein put it) trade “on her renown to advance his own stature on campus and beyond.” 

She has the martial spirit that Obama lacks. 

You know that recent Obama Supreme Court pick?  The one that seems a little lukewarm?  A little too old?  A little too white?  A little too middle-of-the-road for progressives?  Hillary’s not like that.  Here’s Bernstein defining how she differs from Bill—describing her toughness:

…A kind of military rigor: reading the landscape, seeing the obstacles, recognizing which ones are malevolent or malign, and taking expedient action accordingly. Bill’s process is different. He is slow to recognize the malevolence in others, he wants to assume the best about them, and he is willing to spend months trying to win their hearts and minds. Hillary means to cut off the enemy at the pass. Carl Bernstein, 'A Woman in Charge'

Her first job out of law school was on the Watergate Impeachment investigation. 

She was there in the Miami Convention Hall in 1968 when Nixon accepted the nomination.  There in the room and disgusted by the direction of the Republican Party.  And just a few years later she was on Capitol Hill, working as a lawyer on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee to take him down.  

In Arkansas, she broke glass ceilings all over the place. 

When Bill Clinton told his mom Virginia that his fiancé Hillary wouldn’t be taking his last name—that she would remain “Hillary Rodham”—Bill’s mom literally cried.  It was so contentious that a friend called Hillary his “political Waterloo.”  During Bill's run for Governor, it was just the first of a thousand so-called “scandals” targeting her: 

Clinton’s opponents criticized him for having a wife with a career—a lawyer to boot—who was so independent-minded that she wouldn’t take her husband’s name. The “name issue” would become one of the most talked about of the campaign. Men and women around the state argued publicly and privately about it. “People thought even his wife didn’t like him enough to take his name,” said an acerbic political columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Meredith Oakley, who would make a name for himself writing about the Clintons. Within the campaign itself and among supporters, there were a number who urged Hillary directly to change her mind. Carl Bernstein, 'A Woman in Charge'

But that wasn’t the only convention she flaunted.  In Arkansas, she joined one of the top law firms in the state—as the firm’s first woman lawyer.  She wasn’t afraid of the boy’s club.  “In our morning meetings she didn’t hold her tongue,” a partner at the time remembered. “She was simply never intimidated by anyone, partner or client, and that in itself is often intimidating to others.”

Hillary went to battle with President Reagan—and won.

In the late 70s, Hillary was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve as chair of the board of the Legal Services Corporation.  The organization served the poor and downtrodden—those who by no fault of their own couldn't afford an attorney.   At the time, the Legal Services Corporation oversaw five thousand lawyers handling a million cases a year.  Cases by the poor.  The abused.  The vulnerable.  Hillary was the first woman ever to hold the post.  And she was confirmed by Congress.  But it wasn’t an easy job.  

Republicans hated the program—and maybe none more than Ronald Reagan.  In 1980, Reagan was Governor of California and angling to be the Republican Nominee for President.  When he tried to cut legal services for the poor, Hillary fought back. She led an effort to convince the board to completely reject his plans in California.  And she won!  But Reagan wasn’t done with the Legal Services Corporation yet.  

When he was elected to the presidency, Reagan struck back. He lobbied Congress to cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation.  He even tried to stuff the board with appointees to shut it down.  As chair, Hillary didn’t let it happen.  First, she sought a restraining order to stop Reagan’s appointees from meeting and coordinating before their confirmation by the Senate.  Then, she rallied with Democrats on Capitol Hill.  The result?  The Senate rejected Reagan’s conservative nominees.  Under her leadership and in spite of Reagan, she increased the organization's funding from $90 million to $300 million—more than tripling its impact.  Still in her early thirties, she had gone to battle with President Reagan—twice—and won both times.  

She once served as "best person" in a friend's wedding—and wore a tuxedo. 

Enough said. 

Oh yeah, and through all of this, she killed it as a lawyer. 

After helping take down Nixon, her first job in Arkansas was as a professor of criminal law at the University of Arkansas. A decade later, she was repeatedly listed as one of America’s 100 most powerful lawyers by The National Law Journal.  And she kept publishing influential journal articles.  In 1992, the New York Review of Books looked at her impact on the legal profession and declared: “She is one of the more important scholar-activists of the last two decades…what set her apart from other successful and scrambling lawyers was her attempt to undergird practical activity with legal theory.”  

Her focus?  Extending and defending the rights of children. “She deplored the ad hoc nature of reform efforts in a field where slogans and sentiment blunt responses to the right-wing defense of ‘family values,’” Garry Wills wrote in the New York Review of Books.  Here’s just a quick survey of some of her writings of that time:

  • 'Children Under the Law' in Harvard Educational Review

  • 'Children's Policies: Abandonment and Neglect' in Yale Law Journal

  • 'Children's Rights: A Legal Perspective' in Children's Rights: Contemporary Perspectives

  • 'Teacher Education: Of the People, By the People, and For the People' on Teacher Education Policies, Practices, and Research’ published by the Center For Teacher Education, University of Texas

She confronted China’s human rights abuses—and advanced the women’s movement—in one of the top 100 speeches of the 20th century.  

“Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”

Hillary declared to a packed crowd.  It was 1995 and she was addressing the United Nations Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing, China.  The speech is ranked number 35 on American Rhetoric’s Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century (ahead of Bill, who ranks at 90 on the list).  And it almost didn’t happen.  There were those throughout the Clinton Administration who cautioned against her going to China.  Upsetting the Chinese government.  But she insisted.  And in so doing, she made a lasting impact on the global women’s movement. 

One fact she mentions that isn’t underscored enough—and that she would do well to highlight during her historic election this year: “It took 150 years after the signing of our Declaration of Independence for women to win the right to vote.”  

Also striking in the speech are echoes of phrases she still uses 20 years later, such as “that everyone can live up to their God-given potential.”  The first six minutes of the speech focus on conference logistics—so start at 6:13—

Hillary learns from her mistakes.

Watching these past few months as she has refined her style, it’s clear that Hillary is someone who is constantly evolving her tactics, constantly learning and making adjustments. Called too laid back at one debate, she brought the fire.  Called too bracing, she turned on the charm.  But it’s not just an issue of style.  Look at her work on universal healthcare in the early 90s.  When her proposal failed spectacularly, she evolved that effort into a success on the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  Her biographer described it like this: “Hillary’s finely tuned sense of her own evolution, the ability to learn from her mistakes, to replay in her mind the macro-and micro-factors that moved a project from conception to realization or collapse and then rearrange them to get a more satisfactory result the next time, had always been part of her makeup.” 

The most that any of her personal emails have revealed is the human behind the politician. 

The email controversy continues to swirl—but one good thing that’s come of it is the insight it provides into the daily life of this modern Secretary of State.  Including some pretty funny moments.  The following are gleaned from an incredible article by Michael Kruse.

… right now I’m fighting w the WH operator who doesn’t believe I am who I say I am and wants my direct office line even tho I’m not there and I just (g)ave him my home # and the State Dept # and I told him I had no idea what my direct office # was since I didn’t call myself and I just hung up and am calling thru Ops like a proper and properly dependent Secretary of State – no independent dialing allowed.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC)

Or this goofy email about apples from New York State:  

How can I buy some for personal use? —HRC

When she breaks her elbow in her first year, get well messages stream in.  She responds:  

Thank you for your good wishes. I am finally on the mend and starting physical therapy. One word of advice — watch where you step! —HRC

When she is interviewed by Chelsea Clinton for a Clinton Global Initiative event, Hillary writes to a friend:

I had to concentrate so hard on the purpose of the conversation just to avoid acting like a total goofball mother overcome by pride and struck dumb! —HRC

And she notices things.  She remarks on the beauty of snow—even when it may get in the way of her making it to work.  She delights in a trip to Paris.  And the design of carpets in a state visit to China:  

Can you contact your protocol friend in China and ask him if I could get photos of the carpets of the rooms I met in w POTUS during the recent trip? I loved their designs and the way they appeared carved. Any chance we can get this? —HRC

And whenever you hear her current or former staffers talk about her, it’s always as a demanding but pretty good boss.  

“You’re doing a wonderful job,” she writes to [her deputy, Jake] Sullivan.
“I’m both delighted and honored to call you a colleague,” she writes to Deputy Secretary Bill Burns.
“I appreciate your efforts in producing such a first-rate product,” she writes to aide Dan Schwerin. 
—Michael Kruse in Politico

For more insight into her as a boss, listen to this insightful interview with Neera Tanden, former policy director for Hillary in the Senate.

Those who say that Hillary is bad at campaigning haven’t been watching this election cycle.  

If Hillary suffers from anything, it’s an outdated understanding of who she is and what she’s capable of.  Because she’s constantly learning and improving, there’s a tendency for old stories to get lodged in the media narrative.  Even after she’s grown past them.  For instance—this idea that she’s bad at campaigning.  From what I’ve seen this election cycle, she is blowing away every low expectation.  Her debating skills are consistently on point.  And she excels in the most personal settings—like town halls.  Where Barack stumbles, she shines. Where Bernie fails to acknowledge the humanity of the questioner, she responds in humane terms.  

Compare, for example, Bernie’s answer to this question: 

With Hillary’s answer:  

What others see as strategies, she sees as tactics.  

Hillary doesn’t believe in symbolic wins.  She also doesn’t believe in shallow goals.  What’s a shallow goal?  How about raising the Social Security income cap beyond $120,000?  When asked in a Town Hall if she agreed with it, her response was revealing. Watch this answer: 

Where others might see this as a goal in itself—or a strategy to reach a goal—she sees it simply as one tactic in a three dimensional game of chess.  One choice of many choices.  One choice to weigh against the choices of the opposition on the track to reaching an ultimate goal: effective policy (or in this case, solvent Social Security).  She repeatedly demonstrates a 360 degree view of this and nearly every issue tossed her way.  Even to the point of explaining her opponent’s ideas better than her opponent.

Hillary, if elected, will be able to hit the ground running like no other President in modern history. 

It’s not just that she’s watched and learned directly from the mistakes and missteps of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—she’s also doing everything possible to prepare her administration today.  She’s like the student who gets the syllabus a few months early and not only completes the reading—but has outlined every assignment before the first day of class. 

She wouldn’t just be the first woman president—but a president who uniquely leans on the advice and counsel of women.  

Look at Hillary’s campaign staff.  More than 50 percent are women, 40 percent of her senior staff are people of color, and one third of her 500+ staff nationwide are people of color.  Throughout her career, she has elevated women to senior positions—and there’s no reason to expect anything different from a Madam President.  In a world where who-is-in-the-room matters more than ever, she’ll finally inject some balance into the unfairly unbalanced history of male-dominated policymaking.  Here’s hoping for at least 150 years of female-majority decision-making in this country.  


When the argument broke out a few months ago over who was a “progressive,” Hillary described herself as a “progressive who likes to get things done.”  That may sound simplistic, but it’s supremely accurate.  And yet, she continues to be defined by those who disagree with her:

  • As someone who can’t be trusted.  
  • As someone who is working only for herself.  
  • As someone in the pocket of moneyed interests.  
  • As someone who only cares about the establishment and advancing the status-quo.  

Why is that?  Why do so many view her so negatively?  

Here’s one theory: she has been defined by her critics because her critics have had the microphone longer than she has.  Consider this: when you’re running for public office, you have a platform to define who you are and what you stand for.  It’s one long job interview—and it’s all about you.  But Hillary hasn’t had all that many interviews.  While she’s been in public service for much of her life, she hasn’t actually been elected to many public offices.  Just the Senate, in fact.  And just twice before running for president in 2008.  

Think about it: all those years next to Bill Clinton, her job wasn’t to define herself.  To stand up for herself.  To explain and espouse her own policies and values—it was to support her husband.  And all those years as President Obama’s Secretary of State; her job wasn’t to hold press conferences about herself and her policies—it was to support her president. One might argue that her run in 2008 should have been all the time in the world to reintroduce Hillary to the public—but in truth, she didn’t even make it to the general election.  It was only about six months of serious campaigning.  Not nearly enough time to reform her image—to retake it after the decades she had to sit silently by while others chiseled away at her character.   

But this election season?  

This election season, I’ve tried to mute all of those ready-made reactions—the ones that say she’s cold and calculating, that she can’t be trusted, that she is only in it for herself.  The commentators and critics.  Instead, I’ve tried to listen to those who have known and worked with her.  And I’ve tried to hear what she has to say.  To see how she acts.  To understand—even just a little—how she operates.  And what I’ve seen is someone so very different from the conventional wisdom.  And someone even more different from past Presidential contenders.  

There have been Presidents who excite us by their speeches.  Presidents who inspire us by their past accomplishments.  Presidents who dared us to dream big, and to think beyond ourselves.  But Hillary?  She is the first in memory who excites based not on the intangibles of vision and rhetoric, but her very real capability to get things done.  To transform a shared vision into reality.  I think she is supremely capable—but I believe that her lifetime of service has demonstrated that she is also supremely inspired.  I am confident that she won’t just tackle the problems that cross her desk—but that she will rise beyond the daily crisis, harnessing her experience and capability to move this country forward in bold ways.  Because from everything I’ve learned, Hillary could be the greatest President of this century.  If we only give her the chance to put everything she’s learned into positive action.  

Let’s not miss this opportunity to choose a great President.  

That was the conclusion, but here's even more—

The article's over.  But because I mostly wanted to focus on two parts of Hillary's life (before she was First Lady and during this election season), I’ve skipped a whole lot of her actual accomplishments.  So here’s a freebie:  

She’s accomplished more than anyone who has run for President in the past few decades.

Republicans like to ask: what has Hillary actually accomplished? Here’s a long list of short answers if you ever get quizzed:  

  • As chair of the Legal Services Corporation, she tripled the budget—despite President Reagan’s repeated attempts to kill the program.  
  • As chairwoman of the Arkansas Education Standards Committee, she successfully brought core classes like physics, math, foreign languages and music to more than 200 high schools, and increased the number of high school graduates going to college by 25 percent within four years.  
  • Led the fight for universal healthcare in the early 1990s.
  • As one of the most prominent women in the world, she went to China and proclaimed that “women’s rights are human rights.”  Later, as Secretary of State, she reprised that speech, proclaiming to the world that “gay rights are human rights.”  
  • She was a leader in the creation of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which to this day helps millions of uninsured children access healthcare.  
  • As First Lady, she helped shepherd the Adoption and Safe Families Act to passage, which changed the way the country looked at adoption—focusing on the needs of children ahead of all other needs.  It was an idea that she herself helped develop two years before and one that ultimately increased foster adoptions by more than 60 percent. 
  • She broke the glass ceiling repeatedly, including serving as the first female senator from the state of New York and the first former First Lady ever to win elective office.
  • As Senator for New York on 9/11, she helped secure $21 billion to rebuild the city—and fought to pass legislation to provide first responders with health care. 
  • As a Senator, she was an advocate for veterans and service-members.  On the Senate Armed Services Committee, she introduced legislation to help family members care for veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury.  She also worked across the aisle (with Senator Lindsey Graham, no less) to expand health care access for members of the National Guard and reservists.  For those who had lost loved ones who served, she worked to increase military survivor benefits from $12,000 to $100,000.  And she fought and succeeded in keeping the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station open, saving 800 jobs in New York.  
  • In the Senate, she championed immigration reform, serving as a key member fighting to pass the DREAM Act.  
  • In the Senate, she co-wrote a law that requires drug companies to actually safety-test drugs before they are prescribed to children—and to relabel drugs with information about safety and dosing for children. 
  • In the Senate, she “led the charge” on the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which ensured that companies could be held accountable for equal-pay discrimination.
  • As Secretary of State, she played a key role in the decision-making behind the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. 
  • As Secretary of State, she promoted American interests in China.  During that period, exports to China increased 50 percent.  
  • As Secretary of State, she brought China and Russia to the table—leading to the harshest-ever sanctions on Iran.  This effort ultimately resulted in the nuclear deal with Iran, which more than any other action may have kept the United States from going to war.  
  • As Secretary of State, she achieved the New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia.  
  • Speaking of Russia, she achieved a number of successes on that front: in addition to the New START treaty, she got Russia to agree to bring sanctions against Iran and convinced Russia to abstain from a UN Security Council resolution granting intervention in Libya.  
  • As Secretary of State, she personally negotiated a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.  
  • As Secretary of State, she created a new position—the “Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues,” which works to promote women politically, economically, and socially around the world.  #ImWithHer


Hillary Clinton did not win the presidential election—though she did earn more votes.  I've written about the outcome here and here

As Hillary said: "Turning the personal into the political is sometimes the only way to stay true to the personal."

This election was personal to me.  It's time now, more than ever, to turn the personal impact of that outcome into real political change.  Keep fighting. 

—Brendan (February 2017) 

Stuck in Traffic with Vladimir Putin

Stuck in traffic.  It's something that just...happens.  It's the worst traffic I've experienced in my two years in California.  Backed up in the Pass between Palm Springs and LA.  Car after car—brake lights all—pinched to a solid, burning red.  But I was lucky today—I wasn't alone.  Naomi sat beside me and we surfed through our various options: 

Music at first, wordless so we could talk.  Then a podcast or two.  HBR's Condensed January-February Issue—talking about super bosses like John Stewart who foster great talent—and stats on corporate America today: that 80 percent of the average knowledge worker's time is spent in collaboration (read: "meetings" mostly), and the majority of actual value-added work-product is produced by just about 5 percent of the workforce.  After that it was a "Stuff You Should Know" on left-handedness.  But the hosts seemed unfocused, sloppy.  Stuck.  Like we were.  

"Do you want to play a game?"  

Naomi asked the question.  And I smiled.  So we settled on the one-word game.  

Each person says a word and we slowly build a sentence—the stranger the better.  A kind of crowd-sourced, micro-storytelling.  A riot.  

Here are the stories, one word at a time:   

Tomorrow, my little brother will correct egregious errors after collecting 17 minute pebbles in sandy crevices.  

Nicotine straws slurp ashes deliciously toward his healthy children.

Golden Pillsbury squeezes wink sinister motives during service of the Royal Poodle.

Something must be diminishing if inches continue to recede on my waist. 

Twice vegetables encountered resistance against their spicy attacks and vengeful knives.

Should everyone really decide themselves to market features of intimate detail on children's magazines? 

Fried shoelaces turn purple in ultraviolet chemicals following 47 experiments sequentially undertaken by Grandpa Putin. 

Never trust wig-makers on Thanksgiving because you don't know what the stuffing will influence. 

St. Bartholomew noticed peculiar transgressions from suspicious waiters serving tea on people's haunted laps. 

Squeaky windows rattle four rattles and five whistles each instance she bathed. 

Mountain Time changes 13 teenagers' fates because altitude calibrates brains and confuses libido. 

Forget deceiving tricks; they won't free prisoners today—however, seductive entreaties entice and delight tomorrow. 

Credible lips whisper half-truths and seduce quarter-lies to merchandise sex. 

By the end, we were sitting in our driveway, miles from where we started.  In those few miles we had witnessed the crazed science experiments of Vladimir Putin, learned important rules for dealing with wig-makers on American holidays, and followed the fates of confused youths in a confounding mountain landscape.  

Home wasn't the destination.  Humor was.  And there was no traffic in the way.  

Table Manners as Gun Control

I'm reading a book at the moment called The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker.  It's a fascinating read—but what's caught my attention today is a bit where he talks about how the violence of the Middle Ages was reduced not by law or decree—but social mores.  By something as seemingly toothless as etiquette manuals.  

You see, in the Middle Ages, everybody carried a knife.  You needed a knife at least three times a day—for each and every meal.  This was a time before place-settings and utensils at each plate.  A time when each diner brought their own knife.  But for the whole population to always have a weapon within arm's reach was a dangerous thing.  It meant that what today might evolve into a fist fight would in that day devolve into a fatal confrontation.  How did we ever get past this violent era?  

By making the use of a personal knife at the table something completely uncouth.  Enter the butter knife and the fork.  Enter norms and conveniences in the culture that made it not only unnecessary for everyone to carry a knife: it made it a faux-pas.  

Today, very few carry knives around with them, and even fewer take those knives out at the dinner table.  And yet—we have an argument taking place in our national dialogue around gun violence and gun safety.  We have an assertion:  

"The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." 

For a moment, let's step beyond the easy sexism in the phraseology of "good-guy"/"bad-guy" to consider the argument itself: 

If a "bad actor" is armed with a weapon, we need "good actors" to be armed to stop them.  This would be a perfectly logical statement except for the fact that we've tried it already.  And it's not a pretty sight.  

Pinker describes an age where violence was within arm's reach—and striking distance—of every soul.  An age when sayings like "to cut off your nose to spite your face" were born, and doctors debated whether a cut-off nose could grow back.  An age when stabbing wounds were essentially as common as colds.  

Gun-rights advocates are often accused of fear-mongering—of casting a dark shadow on the American psyche, but in truth it's the exact opposite.  This latest argument takes a tremendously hopeful view of human nature:  

That the majority of people are "good actors" and that more good actors with force in their hands will overwhelm the few bad actors out there.  To these advocates, more guns for everyone is a good thing, not a bad thing—because most of these everyones are at heart good people who will do what's right.  But the world isn't quite like that.  

The world isn't divided into "good people" and "bad people." If it was, it would be pretty easy to reduce violence down to zero.  The problem is that people aren't all one thing.  They do good things sometimes, and sometimes they do bad things.  Most people most of the time are doing good things—or at least not destructive, dangerous things.  The problem is that most people at some time or another will do a destructive or dangerous thing.  At those moments—when someone at the bar is being an asshole or when someone you deeply care about betrays you—it's a bad idea for society to have put a weapon in your pocket.  Or on your belt.  

Pinker begins his chapter describing the stupidity of some of our table manners.  Why is it bad form to use your knife to push food onto your fork?  By the end of the chapter, he's learned that it's little things like this—as insignificant as table manners—that have reduced violence so dramatically in modern times.  

How, then, should we greet the Texas law that was just passed—the one that lets citizens carry guns openly on their belts?  Maybe not only with competing legislation—but competing social mores.  Sure, the law says you can carry your gun openly—but will your friends and neighbors?  Will your dinner companions?  Laws can change what people do; but society can change what people want to do.  Who people want to be.  

Where does this take the gun debate?  To the kitchen table. 

In Memoriam: James Horner

James Horner, the artist I most respect and admire in the world, died last week while pursuing his passion for flight. I struggled to gather my thoughts at the shock of this event. Below is that struggle—in the rawest and most personal post I've ever written...about this most personal loss.  If it doesn't make sense...listen to the music.  

Listen to the music...

-Brendan (July 1, 2015)

___________________June 23, 2015

August 14, 1953 — June 22, 2015  

James Horner.  


I have listened to his music every single day since 1997.  And I have known it for all of my life.  

The news of his death in an airplane crash.  Impossible.  I still can't believe it.  I am reeling.  I cried for a solid hour.  Naomi held me.  I have not felt this way since the loss of my father.  

Horner is the most influential artist on my life.  One of the most influential people in my life.  There is no writer who comes close.  No musician or filmmaker.  His music has been the music of my life.  It's been there in moments of great excitement and hope.  In moments of desolation and despair.  In moments of exploration and discovery.  In moments when no other soul has been there.  It has been a friend and a guide and a mentor and an inspiration.  

I can't think of another person in history who has meant so much.  The pain is so great.  

I knew that this day would come.  I just didn't know it would be so soon.  

James Horner.  Gone.  In pursuit of the heavens.  

His music is here.  His music and his spirit will never die.  And suddenly every note feels so much more personal.  

But his music is not all about loss.  He was not all about loss.  His music is a celebration of life and of nature.  Of this world.  

I am so immeasurably lucky to have his music in my life.  Forever.  

When I was younger I knew that one day bad things might happen.  But I would always have this music.  And nothing could ever take it away.  Not failure or loss or death.  

There is very little in life that is permanent.  But this music is as permanent as the firmament.  

He gave so much—so much more than any creative artist or person I have ever known.  I can never even come close to his contribution.  It is an inspiration.  It is the very fabric of my world.  And it is not torn or tarnished today—but rings with a new strength.  

There are scores yet to come.  We await the music from his aviation documentary.  From the film Southpaw and the film The 33.  We await a recording of his concerto for four horns.  And there is the rejected score for Romeo and Juliet out there somewhere.  And all of the work that has gone unpublished...This year alone we will have seen: 

  • Wolf Totem 
  • Pas de Deux 
  • Living in the Age of Airplanes 
  • Southpaw
  • The 33 
  • Concerto for Four Horns 

These albums alone could make a career in music.  

And what would Horner say?  What does his work say?  

Think of the heart; of the love at the center of the story.  Listen to the sounds of nature, explore the forest, and hear the mist move on the ocean.  Touch the clouds.  See the world from 30,000 feet, and hold those you love close.  Be bold in your passions.  Fall in love.   

A tribute.  I have always dreamed of sharing my love for Horner's music in a musical essay of sorts.  An audio essay.  I wonder if now is the time to do this.  To trace the development and the themes and the heart of the music.  To touch on what it's meant to me.  Or to simply feature the artist in his own words, describing his work...

I must consider this project very closely.  What direction it should take.  

"The music of cinema has lost one of its great creative lights with the passing of James Horner. James’ music was the air under the banshees’ wings, the ominous threat of approaching aliens, and the heartbeat of TITANIC. We have lost not only a great team-mate and collaborator, but a good friend. James’ music affected the heart because his heart was so big, it infused every cue with deep emotional resonance, whether soaring in majesty through the floating mountains, or crying for the loss of loved ones in the frigid waters of the Atlantic. James Horner stands with a handful of the grand masters of cinema music. We will miss his humor and intelligence, his genuine warmth as a human being. And we will miss the music that never gets written now, the scores we will never hear. But James' heart will go on, in his music, which lives within so many films that will never be forgotten. Thank you, James. Fly brother."

— James Cameron & Jon Landau


"James Horner was a rare artistic genius. He did not merely augment the image he was presented with, he was able to transcend its matter and logic & travel straight to the heart and soul with his magical gift … a gift that truly reflected his own heart & soul. I will miss him."

Mel Gibson


  • Schubert lived to 31.
  • Mozart lived to 35.
  • Gershwin lived to 39.
  • Mahler lived to 51.
  • Beethoven lived to 57.
  • Respighi lived to 57.
  • Horner lived to 61.  


"It is important to note that Horner died engaged in something he loved. He followed his heart’s passion and that’s a valuable lesson for us all no matter what the consequences of that pursuit may be."



"I am raw, I bleed, I do not sleep well. I am angry! I struggle to find a path forward...I cannot accept this. This is not right. . . I will never be the same."

Craig Richard Lysy


"Why write today? This day does not exist.  This day is a nightmare and I want to wake up."

 Jean  Baptiste Martin


“I saw Apollo 13 when I was 13, which will have been 20 years ago exactly, next Tuesday.  It was a seminal moment for me.  I wouldn't be me without him.”



"Today will have me listening to nothing but the man that took off in his plane, but never landed (for me he is still soaring above there somewhere, for all eternity)."

— DreamTheater


"Without James there is no 'me.'"

 Conrad Pope (orchestrator, collaborator with Horner)


"No words. My sadness is so deep that it is difficult to process. Perhaps God needed someone to help write His music. Godspeed Maestro."

John Debney (composer)


"What a sad day for all of us. A great composer gone - and with him the world will be a little less beautiful, less soulful. We lost an artist that everyday created music that touched our hearts and souls, invented memories for us to share and who's music brought us closer together. James, we miss you."

 Hans Zimmer (composer)


"I think some people are satisfied living vicarious adventures through film, and I think he and I were attracted to real adventure.”

— James Cameron 


"There's a sense in which the composer of an old-fashioned orchestral score could almost be considered the second, shadow director of a film—the one who's putting the finishing emotional touches on the movie and also sometimes perhaps suggesting what the film is supposed to be, even if for whatever reason that's not coming through without the music. I get the impression that Horner did that a lot..."

Matt Zoller Seitz


"James Horner's music is the sound of an absence made present. It is the sound of a bond that by all rational accounts should be severed but is saved by the depth of its impression on memory."

Sophie Monks Kaufman


"The subtext of almost everything he did, even something as concentrated as Searching for Bobby Fischer is a sort of generalized astonishment at being able to see and hear things and think about them."

Matt Zoller Seitz


"James Horner was not just a master composer, but one of the great modern American storytellers in any art form."

Matt Brown


"Horner's skill at richly and romantically capturing the emotional language of personal transformation draws many of his best scores together."

Matt Brown

"He was one of the most extraordinary dramatists of our time."

— Scorekeeper

"His music is eternal." 

— Jean Baptiste Martin 

"He seemed to be such a kind and well-spoken person. He really cared for the music, for the emotion that he wanted to evoke in the movie. He was a romantic with a huge heart."

— Mike (on Filmtracks)

"He was magical to work with, and I feel blessed that we had the opportunity to collaborate together.... We have lost a special soul who touched so many people through his art. Rest in peace my friend, you left us with the gift of your incredible music."

— Antoine Fuqua, director of Southpaw


"They say you should never meet your heroes, because they will never live up to your image of them. James Horner exceeded my expectations. He had a warm embrace and a smile that could light up a room. He devoted hours to talking with his fans. He had a solid, real respect for each and every one of us. He made us all feel like he was the one that was waiting in-line to meet us. A gentlemen, a genius and a wonderful human being. He will be fiercely and sorely missed, but his music and his smile will live on forever in every single person that he made cry, cheer, fearful, nostalgic, pensive, filled with utter joy, and stunned with dazzling wonderment."

Lee Allen 


"He spoke the language of the human soul." 

— Scorekeeper


"I feel compelled to track down some albums that I don't own and bear witness to some of his beauties that lay undiscovered for me. It'll be painful, but the good kind then. I'll be appreciating and celebrating instead of grieving." 

— Azulocean


"Perhaps his passion for flight was part of the sound we came to love and the two can't be separated."



"I asked him who his favorite film composer was: 'I have tremendous respect for John Williams. He is in a class by himself.' We then gushed over Williams’s output and evolution as a composer, citing case after case of terrific compositional cleverness and invention. I found James to be a true gentleman, a smart businessman, an excellent teacher, a sensitive artist with a big heart, and a composer who loved the art of collaboration—despite not always getting his way.  In our final private meeting, I told him something I knew would be important for him to hear. When the composition area at UCLA interviews prospective undergraduate students in composition, one of the questions we often ask them is, 'Who are your favorite composers?' Expecting to hear Stravinsky, Schoenberg, or John Adams, to our amazement year after year the majority of applicants put James Horner at the top of that list.  I saw a gracious, generous, sensitive but outgoing and humble man."

Roger Bourland, Chair, UCLA Music Department

"I only met Mr Horner a few times and was privileged to attend some of his sessions. A very kind and intelligent man. Someone who cared deeply about those composers who came before. Very rare in Hollywood to meet someone who completely understood the art form he worked in. I met him shortly before I was heading to Europe to try my hand at conducting for the first time. He gave me some very encouraging words. Ran into him six months later and reminded him of our chat. Perhaps he was being polite but he claimed to remember me and inquired as to how my conducting turned out. I was honest and told him I’d leave it to more talented people as I was barely adequate. He laughed and invited me to another session after complimenting my efforts to broaden my understanding of music and the orchestra. I couldn’t attend those sessions and never saw him again. Glad I had the chance to meet a master. Hollywood will never see another James Horner and he will be sorely missed."

Rick (at SlippedDisc)

"Man, what this guy could do! He led Achilles into battle, guided Alfred to redemption, ushered Eddie Murphy into stardom. He gave Balto his heritage, turned a cornfield into a baseball diamond and charged Fort Wagner. Yep. He rescued Jenny and made a champion out of Dre. Wow! This man found Spock! He almost got to the moon!! How many of us mere mortals can do that?? That's probably the difference. We're just mortals. This guy James Horner was... no, is immortal. His music will never stop."

Doug Fake


"This is sad news indeed, and brings to mind what Grillparzer said of Schubert, ‘Here music has buried a treasure, but even fairer hopes.’"

Hank (at SlippedDisc)

Thinking about this last night, I couldn't help but think about the place of the soul.  Is it true that death truly is the end, or is there something beyond?  I have always had my doubts—but have always been hopeful.  I took solace in the quote at the beginning of a book I once read: that there is no such thing as destruction of matter.  Everything is energy and no energy ever disappears. It is simply transformed and recycled.  Why should we think then that the part that makes a person a person somehow ends?  I wondered then—what is a life?  What are we?  And what of the soul?  The thought that occurred to me last night was that perhaps the soul is everything that we have ever done—and will ever do.  And that who we are at the moment is just the tip of the pen in the great story being scrawled out on the paper.  Our soul is not in the pen—but in the words that were written—and that are yet to be written.  In this way, it's so clear that Horner's soul lives in his music more than the man who died this week.  He even said it himself: "write your soul."  In this way, he is not gone.  But lives as he always did: through the music that will live forever.  

As a writer, this idea resonates.  There is so much that I have written—so much that even I cannot remember.  So many sides and colors of my own personality; that I could never carry it all with me in this eye-blink moment of NOW.  I am not just this moment, but the sum of all of those past moments, and all of the moments yet to come.  Not just the moments that I directly interact with, but that my actions and works have sparked.  How, then, do you measure a life?  Not by the individual, but by the collective works and passions of that individual.  And Horner's work lives still.  

Listening to Boy in the Striped Pajamas on Thursday now and I still feel like I'm living in an alternate reality.  Like I got off on the wrong Universe—a Universe where Horner dies way too early.  Where is the Universe that he's still alive?  What is he working on right now?  Where is he flying?  

I see his name on the album covers and it doesn't seem possible.  That name always stood for so much life—so much ...living, breathing, wind gently blowing through the garden.  

I want to collect every piece of raw footage from every "making-of" film and put together a documentary.  There are those making-of films out there.  Three to five minutes each.  But for each, think of how much unused footage, unused interview material was left on the cutting room floor.  It must still be out there, right?  Somewhere?  

It’s been a few days now.  A few have passed and here we are—on Saturday.  Thinking of James Horner.  That name, those words, when I see them, still have so much life in them.  His work defined my life in so many ways that it’s impossible to see them now and to think that he is gone.  

I’ve thought throughout this week that I should sit down and meditate on Horner’s impact on my life.  What is that impact?  

And yet, the perfectly formed paragraphs that I want to write are still impossible here.  They seem so impossible with my mind still fractured by this crash.  My thoughts scatter like leaves in a downdraft.  

I have 58 hours of his music.  Each hour takes me somewhere different.  This isn’t music—it’s a passport to a new universe.  Horner described his music as painting—and if he painted anything it was landscapes.  Why landscapes, when his work was so emotional—so focused on the heart?  Why not a portrait or a set piece?  Because of how personal his music was.  

If you think about it—portraits are always in third-person.  You the viewer are expected to look on at some other person.  To see their personality and the emotion on their face.  A portrait is not a mirror, it’s a photograph—always at a distance…always with a space between.  

But a landscape…a landscape is a window—it let’s you look through the eyes of another—to see another world and to make it your own.  Horner’s music draws you in—surrounds you with the colors of another landscape.  This time dark and split with shadows.  This time bright and bubbling with green.  This time swirling blue.  Through Horner’s eyes we breathe underwater.  Through Horner’s voice we hear the vacuum of space.  He dismantles the walls, drops out the floor, and lifts you into the clouds—into a sky he knew so well.  A sky that he saw in every light—painted by the burning embers a setting sun, or the purple depth of a rising storm.  

He looked down on a world of noise and saw patterned there in the busy roads and sparkling roofs a geometry of stillness.  He looked up beyond the sky to a void echoing in a space without walls.  Suspended between two worlds, he now rises—leaving us behind but in his leaving, lifting us up to fill that void of his passage; lifting us up as he always did to see our world in a new way; and new worlds beyond that we could never see without him.  

We are without him now, but not without his music.  Everything he was to me still is.  

58 hours of his music.  How incredible is that?  How exceptional in the history of music?  How lucky I am that the musician whose work I fell in love with was so prolific?  And I have fewer than 60 albums of his music.  He wrote music for over 100 films. 

All of Beethoven’s symphonies together are just about 6 hours of music.  

All of Mahler’s symphonies together are about 11 hours of music.  

All of the Beatles — 217 songs totaling about 10 hours of music.  

Even a prolific folk hero like Bob Dylan…All of Bob Dylan’s written songs - about 521 total…  [On “The Essential Bob Dylan” there are 32 songs across 2 albums totaling 2 hrs, 15 minutes of music—making each song on average about 4.18 minutes long.]  That means the full catalog of Bob Dylan’s written songs is about: 2181 minutes or 36.5 hours of music.  

I have 58 hours of James Horner’s orchestral work.  And counting…

"It's all about interaction. There is no right note."

 James Horner


"The more I try ideas that are not normal ideas, the more I want them to know what I am doing up front. If you surprise someone at a recording session, you are going to have your score thrown out, it's human nature. You have to make them part of the process, and the more adventurous I become, the more I have them involved in the process."

James Horner


“With three notes on the Uilleann pipe I could say more than 30 notes on the violin.”

James Horner


"When you add the music, certain scenes that seemed like they were playing okay, suddenly go by way too fast.  Because the music is like jet fuel.  As soon as you add it—whump, and the sequence is gone." 

James Horner


"Perhaps there is a secret language of the soul, and Mr. Horner speaks it fluently."

Henning Langen


“He's earned his position in the film scoring community, and there's no question — for me — that he's one of the most knowledgeable and capable composers who ever scored films. It was always great when I was working for Horner, because he'd go over a sketch and say, "This string passage here, you could probably treat it like Tchaikovsky did in his 4th Symphony, but maybe we should go with more of a Shostakovich approach." If I said, "But what about the way Holst handled the strings in the second movement of The Planets?" And he'd say, "Well, that's a little bit too direct for this." You can talk to him about music, and he's heard it and he knows what it's about...
Actually, I gained a lot of respect for Horner during Titanic, because Horner was accommodating Cameron in ways that I thought a composer the stature of Horner had no reason to accommodate anyone. He completely handled the situation with absolute humility and professionalism. I don't think there are very many composers who would have acquiesced to Jim Cameron the way Horner did. Horner gave Jim exactly what he wanted. I think there are some people who think that the Titanic score may be overly simplistic, or some people object to the Celtic nature of it, or whatever, but I can tell you that if any other composer had scored that picture, Jim would have fired him and at least four other composers before he got what he wanted. Horner was determined that that would not happen — and it didn't happen — and I think it was the best score that Jim would ever allow into that picture. For that reason, I think he deserves all the Academy Awards and accolades that he got...
There's a point where it becomes too much of an insult to bear.  If a composer is very highly successful — and James Horner certainly is — that means that he has to take less of that kind of abuse than a composer who is not of that stature. From my limited vantage point, it seemed like changes were coming in just for the sake of changes to come in, and I was wondering — as I was picking up these changed sketches — why Horner was going to such lengths to make this guy happy. Once the film came out, I understood perfectly. That's another tribute to James Horner, because he has not only an amazing visceral insight into what a film needs musically, but he knows how these situations work and he knows when to do something and when not to do something. You've got to hand it to the guy.”

Don Davis (orchestrator for Horner and composer of The Matrix

One week after his death and I still can’t believe it.  It still hurts to think about that moment when Naomi told me that he had died.  

I’ve acquired his Jumanji score—one that I’ve never heard outside of the film.  A great and very fun and actually quite moving piece of music.  Most extraordinary: it has seeds in it of at least four scores that Horner would write afterwards:  

  1. The Spitfire Grill - Many of the gentle moments from Jumanji are early versions of this score that he would write the next year.  Surprisingly, one of the motifs that is so prominent in Spitfire Grill—a descending harp—is actually an echo of the extended theme from Jumanji that Horner uses later in the film.  
  2. Titanic - In the track “Jumanji” at 4:47, the repeating horn in the distance is played—just as he would use following the impact with the iceberg in Titanic.  
  3. Windtalkers - In the end credits, we hear the early vocal wailing almost verbatim that he would expand into whole tracks on the film Windtalkers 
  4. Spiderwick Chronicles - The mysterious movements of Jumanji are obvious precursors to the magic he’d conjure in Spiderwick

I must try to the think of Horner now as I’d think of a classical composer or an author from another time.  One whose scope of work is set—but still as deep as the Mariana Trench.  

Saying Horner is dead is like saying a part of me and my identity is dead.  Like being left handed.  Being left handed has shaped my worldview—made me feel aways a little different, a little set off from everyone else.  As a child, this helped me to build my own space, to see the world differently from this different perspective.  It shaped my identity so much.  It would seem absurd if someone said suddenly: you are no longer left handed.  Now you’re right handed.  “But,” I’d protest, “left handed is who I am!”  But—I live in James Horner’s world.  How could he be dead?  How could this part of me disappear?  I know that the music is still here—but the idea that there was someone out there in this world actively creating this music, this magic…It reminds me of something I read when Steve Jobs died.  I think it was the Onion— “The only man in America who knew what they hell he was doing has died.”  The world has lost so much…

One other thought: it’s been heartening to read all of the tributes, to know how many people’s lives were irrevocably changed for the better by this artist’s work.  That is a legacy that should inspire everyone.  And what’s more—every single story I’ve ever read about him through all of these years, every interview, and every tribute speaks to how kind, gentle, and caring he was.  And how genuinely moved to tears he was by the art onscreen, and on the recording stage.  

I like to keep my music on shuffle a lot—and I may skip Horner’s music more than any other.  Why?  Because it’s so evocative, so emotional, so powerful so often—that I have to be ready for it.  But when I’m ready—it’s an album I seek.  Not a track here or there.  Horner wrote symphonies, not songs.  

A selection of my writings and mentions of Horner over the years: 

I don't know what day it is or what time (October 1, 2006):

A note: Listening, for the first time to Horner's All the King's Men I hear, especially in the first minute of "Verdict and Punishment" the story of Horner's career.  It is a fight, an utter fight between him and himself---a fight with himself not to slip into that which he knows so well, not to use his old tools, his old words and styles and methods, his old melodies.  It is a fight, there in the first minute.  A fight I know, and fear will know better everyday.  


You know what might be great; if James Horner went blind (temporarily, perhaps, but blind).  Then he might be forced to write music simply for itself...Not to image.  Wouldn't it be a great moment of freedom?  From image, and likeness?  Perhaps I shall write a short story about it...

A new year, and what's next?  (Feb. 7, 2007)

I must give James Horner some credit here, for writing music which expresses that wilderness spirit of boy-hood wonder and communion.  I must give him credit for it, because it is music that matters.  

And we have this discussion again, and it is an important one, of form over content.  Don Davis vs. James Horner, and Newman somewhere in the spectrum between.  Is it more important to explore the craft, or to craft something worth exploring?  That is, is it important to try new things and test the waters of expression, or is it more important to use your craft to create a world, or a mood, or a reality which is invoked and involving?  These are important questions, and of all art.  But I know which ones will be remembered.  And maybe that is the final judgment.  

BUT, what if you could explore, and by exploration, expand your abilities to create a world?  I must.  I must try.  

______________August 2007:

"When a writer has found a theme or image which fixes a point of relative stability in the drift of experience, it is not to be expected that he will avoid it.  Such themes are a means of orientation."

---I.A. RICHARDS (think of Horner)

 ________________Sept. 29, 2007:

I do not know what will come of any of it, except for the future.  The future will come of it.  I am not listening to Horner as I once did---I can't.  And I am reading, now, Fitzgerald, and Austen, and discovering the power of the most literary film series, Lost, and it all is connected together into what will be.  Fall is coming on, the wind is changing---there is color on the ground, now, and it is not fall in all its beautiful death.  It is life, living-color, and I am seeing the world as possibility, and I have bought paints and tomorrow I shall paint again---I am seeing the world, in images worth taking pictures of---I am seeing the world as something worth exploring again, and it is exciting.  

_______Monday, Monday, Monday, October 15 2007

I respect a writer with long chapters.  To have long chapters, to be able to see the long-view, but to be brilliant word for word, sentence for sentence---colorful and of that genius and freshness of Thomas Newman, of the length and breadth and depth of Horner---that is the ideal, the standard of excellence by which I must measure myself.  And it is hard.  Damn hard.  

_____________________April 23 2008

More musical connections:  The wave-like pulse in Horner's Titanic, especially in "Southampton" at 1:45, is strikingly similar to the opening bars of Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting for You." 

_________________June 12 2008  

"Horner is second to none at capturing hopeful optimism that sears with hints of slow tragedy..."  

-Chris Mceneany

__________Wed. June 18 2008

In New Jersey now, catching up on my life.  For once---I have TIME!  

Wrote probably the best thing I ever did on the piano---wrote it yesterday and have perfected its play today.  It is quite simple, and only about a minute and thirty seconds long, but it has a clear development and a great deal going on at once---very complicated in its simple way, at least to play---at least at this stage of skill.  I don't, however, have a clue what to call it---to call it The New Armistice is creative murder---to substitute art for commerce!---and to call it variations on Scarborough Fair is somewhat unfair---both to myself and to Horner, whose minor theme from Land Before Time finds a place...And so I have called it, simply---Variations on Solitude, as I am alone here, and it is fine, for this time---something like a little vacation…

_____November 5 2008  

President Obama

Vice President Biden  

What do I think about the possible?  What do I think about this great, incredible, historic moment?  Sad news tempers it---for Obama, the news of his grandmother's passing.  For me, the news of Michael Crichton's.  Michael Crichton: in the end, he may be the single writer who has most influenced my thought.  Alongside James Horner, he has been there at every moment of my life---he has shaped not just what I think and what I think about---but how I think.  He is the supreme example of the independent mind at work.  The independent mind---something which we all pretend to champion, but what kind of independence?  

______________ Feb. 6 2009  

“I kept telling Terry, ‘Terry, this doesn’t have any emotion in it---don’t you understand?’  And he’d look at it, and he would say, ‘I don’t know if emotion is important here.’”  ---James Horner on Director Terrence Malick of The New World

_____May 01 2009  

On Wednesday I had to be up early for an event in DC, and so I returned home and at 4:30 or 5 o'clock I went to sleep, exhausted...I let myself sleep and lie sleeping, and how often do you let yourself rest?  I rested, and in my rest I dreamed but at some point, when the light was still soft outside, I awoke...and I wrote, to Horner's Iris, in a slanted hand in a sheeted notebook in the gloaming…

________Sunday December 6 2009  - 1059 pm  

Ice outside, snow early and my hands are hot on the keys.  The computer has been on for too long, and too little has been accomplished.  What have I written here, where has my mind been?  I have felt lost for a time---have I lost my mind?  Where have I been, here on the page, my mind working in words without a page, in ideas without grounding---”grounding” Horner says: “grounded.”  He wanted the score to Avatar to be “grounded.”  The visuals were so avant garde that the music had to be grounded---it had to be accessible.  No weird scales, no truncated rhythms; not too many, at least.  

So, how accessible will your work be?  Where have you been, where has your task been?  I have been away for too long---always I stand away too long, wander from book to article to picture to program---knowing not what I seek…when what I seek is the blank page.  A page to speak.  

________________1 23 2010  

Dream:  A movie.  The protagonist, who is me---or my character---is a little boy, six or seven years old, with a white frock of hair sticking up.  The boy is being made fun of by an older child who nonetheless is in the same grade----these two have been cast in the same grade, and there is a scene here, taking place in the cubby-room where coats are hung and the class has just come in from the cold.  The walls are dark and green, the lighting soft and the air thick with the smell of luggage and leather.  The older child is making fun of the protagonist, and he lifts him up and hooks him by the back of his jacket against the wall of a bathroom stall, and then grabs his hanging feet and sets him swinging back and forth like a pendulum.  I can’t help but laugh at the feet---but there is a sliver of magic in our protagonist, and in a blink we’re shot out of the room like a firework flare and out across the distance, into a country nightscape----and suddenly I’m walking down an old country road with Jamie as we watch this movie, the stars are out, the distance is studded with hills, a lake, quiet houses, waving grain; the air is aromatic, the wind whispering softly, and we’ve been transported into the past; we are walking towards an old castle, Warwick Castle, and as we walk through the night James Horner’s score to The Spiderwick Chronicles plays, slightly ominous and creepy---. 

We walk on; out across the distance of hills and dark houses a shock of light bursts into the air, a firework going off miles away---the landscape pulses a soft blue and the flare thins out, reflected laser-like across the small pond.  I point towards it, to show Jamie this lightscape, the realness of the image; and in that instant the sky above crackles with silent bolts of lightning, sewn through like glowing string.  We pass through the silent grain, beyond the log fences and down a widening hill, where the path wraps out towards the castle walls---when another firework bursts ten feet away, purple sparks falling skyward---from somewhere deep inside the cornfield.  Jamie is startled, but I’m unperturbed---except by the implication that there in that spot someone has set the fuse.  We do not who he is.  As we move down the slope we come to a small stand, four poles and a tent of white cloth---where an older, bonneted woman and her daughter serve pewter mugs of hot tea and milk.  Jamie takes one, I take another, pour a bit of milk from the heavy pitcher, and we stare out across the sky---it’s completely transportive. 

Look at the stars, I say; don’t they seem real?  Here is a movie, almost better than Avatar---don’t you feel like you’re here, like you can explore this space?  But in the rounded globe of horizon and sky I can see that the stars are close, projected as onto the inside of a sphere, like the rounded, 10-story edge of the Cinedome; I can see splotches on the screen, and the lines of panels.   Then, without warning, a square screen is projected onto the sky over the landscape, a twenty-story screen with red-white-and-blue edges, where a film is played---we see our characters, the boy with white hair, the class of kids, a split-screen montage of the children in jackets, walking out across a lawn of wet grass, strewn with wet leaves---the trees are brilliant, red, gold, orange,---an earlier scene taking place in fall.  And against these images, music plays---a triumphant, symphonic piece, horns wavering, chimes rising, I hear the music---and as I wake, I hear it still.  

I hear it now, as I type: In the dream I had thought it was the end of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2, but now I know it is the transcendent moment in Horner’s A Dark Cloud is Forever Lifted from The New World, at 5 minutes 15 seconds.

____________Monday April 26 2010  

Listening to Shostakovich, searching for a theme from his 5th Symphony which many say was stolen for use in Horner’s Troy score.  So far I hear little resemblance in either the 1st or 4th movements.  I am listening towards the center, but as I do I reflect on two statements of Horner which are---I believe---in contradiction:  

Half of the time he states that he approaches each film score as an opportunity to write a serious piece of music; instead of a requiem mass, he would write a score to a gothic film; instead of a string quartet, he’d write a score to Iris.  There seems to be truth in this, as there is to his likening of each score to the building of a ship.  

But the other half of the time he says that there is more to it than that; his interest and passion for film scoring is not simply a means to generate an audience, an income, and perhaps what’s more important, the budget to hire players---it is more personal than that; it is rooted in the very marriage of music and image.  Horner noted that in seeing a film with music he was moved with such profound emotions that they resonated out beyond the theater, they stayed with you, transformed you, so that you were a different person when it was over; he contrasted this with attending a performance of Beethoven; he took pleasure in the music’s architecture, its brilliance, as well as its sharp execution, but that was it; when it was over it was over and you left the theater and continued your daily life.  He found in film a connection, an emotional resonance in music that had been lacking in his own experience with music---including his own music.  

Which can lead us to see why he says that a project that does not emotionally move him does not interest him; and serves to explain why he is always denigrating the latest blockbuster---even though he scored the two biggest blockbusters in history.  And shows us why he has not composed more music outside of the theater, or premiered or performed more in the concert hall.  His musical experience---and the way he values music---seems to me profoundly different than John Williams---a virtuoso who I believe uses music to express movement as well as color and emotion.  In many ways, Horner writes a kind of musical poetry, while Williams is the consummate prose stylist.  


And now we have reached the third movement…and it begins to sound familiar, but I am not so sure that familiarity is with Horner.  No, it is with Horner---but the track “Greer’s Funeral” from Clear and Present Danger, a track which I never had much patience for, and which---for its bleakness and lack of color, quite thankfully has seldom been repeated or expanded upon in Horner’s repertoire.  


While this distinction of Horner as poet and Williams as prose may seem odd---after all, isn’t Williams the more inventive and isn’t invention the place of poetry?---I think it is clear if we consider poetry primarily as a medium of the senses and of the heart, and consider prose a medium of the mind.  Poetry is a reverie, a sweetness, a meditation; prose is an exploration---and these are very different activities.  There is a structure to poetry because there is a clear and definable purpose to it, while prose, as any true investigation, can lead in many directions and down many false paths.  Prose is more prone to unevenness and flashes of brilliance…where poetry is a song, prose is a symphony; large, disjointed, difficult in places, sweet and demanding; it wants to be compelling.  Whereas poetry wants nothing more than to make you feel.  Prose is interested in itself and its own brilliance, in showing off its inventiveness, poetry in helping you to feel.  Yes, prose is interested in finding the Truth---maybe the objective Truth; poetry in finding your own Truth, in feeling.  And so it is with these two composer’s music.  

The issue is not black and white; but Horner’s music does exhibit a certain logic to its structure, a one-way quality that makes you feel that you are following down a path which has been laid before you, carefully and with some purpose---it moves, usually, in a straight line from beginning to end.  Williams’ music is more multi-dimensional, more cerebral, certainly more brilliant, but perhaps not of a greater genius---because while Williams has a facility for penning catchy themes and melodies, Horner may have a greater facility for catching the human heart.  Williams has great powers of inspiration; Horner, of reflection.  Which is more meaningful?  

I can only answer for myself; I recognize that Williams is a greater musician---I know this.  But it may be that Horner is the greater composer because his insight into the human heart, it seems to me, is purer and less mediated by conscious intention. There is a grace and elegance in his writing, a true affection, a quality which is transcendent not as religious aspiration so much as personal meaning; Horner’s music is of the soul finding fulfillment in itself.  Williams’ music is not of the soul, but of adventure and outward striving, force, motion…He can write love themes of extraordinary beauty, but more often than not, it is an external beauty; one which is not the song we know we hear when we close our eyes in silence, but one that we hear on the radio, or the CD-player, or even in the concert hall.  I have said before that Horner has a skill in writing themes and music that seem to be universal; he can write this year music that sounds timeless, like it’s been around for centuries, like it’s right.  Simply right.  It is stripped, then, of the recalcitrances and ambitions of much of music as music…not music as music only, not music even as communication, but music as communion with that inner landscape of the soul, beyond all striving, which seeks yet for fulfillment and meaning in itself.  


I have listened to all of Symphony No. 5 and none of it reminds me of Troy except perhaps for the repeating notes at the conclusion of the 4th movement, but these are not at all like the discrete repetitions employed in Troy.  How could people confuse the one with the other?  They must be thinking of some other Symphony, because it simply isn’t here.  

EARLIER NOTE: I don’t hear Shostakovich in Horner so much as I hear Prokofiev in Shostakovich.  And, to a lesser extent, Mahler.   

_____________July 15 2010  

Dream:  Listening to an audio review of James Horner’s The Perfect Storm.  Christian Clemmensen of Filmtracks has a version of his review that you download as an MP3, which plays over a track of the music and includes his comments and thoughts upon it.  I am listening to the final track, which is very long---and he is saying that the music is repetitive in its statement of the theme, but Horner deploys subtle variations and musical devices as he restates it, inventing new musical movements to keep the melody fresh, though always---familiar.  However, as I am listening to this I am standing on a platform in the center of the sea with Jamie---and something is about to happen.  A tidal wave is on its way, and we must hurry to seek shelter.  The platform is a wall---about four or five feet thick running thirty or forty feet high---with a walkway on either side and an arched entryway, like a drawbridge on the palace grounds of some empire.  But there is no empire here, only the wall and on either side, the sea.  But there, on the side further inland there is a small contingent of boats, over which is constructed a platform of wood forty feet tall.  I hurry to climb one of the pillars to this platform, but the beam folds in under itself and I must balance very carefully and take risks, reaching out and pulling myself up and onto the balcony---where people have gathered in anticipation.  Someone asks me-- “How will we get down?”  I say:  “when the water’s here we’ll just dive.”  And so we wait, standing there where the wind blows our hair in that salty, sticky anticipation---waiting for the wave to arrive.  

_________March 25 2011

Last night you were thinking about how nice it would be to spend a few minutes to design a large, coffee-table book filled with Christian Clemmensen's reviews of Horner's works---on one page the review, on the other, a photograph or two from the recording sessions and the film itself.  It would be a fine book to read and to have, and it could begin with an introduction by yourself, and something of a conclusion you could write.  That would be an interesting project, but print is dead, no?  And I began thinking about how a book like that, on heavy paper and glossy color prints, was a product all its own, independent of any computer screen, there to stare at you and implore you to read.  No iPad app could do that.  

___later (in the evening):  

This morning I was thinking more about that book, the compendium of reviews on Horner and how I might like to write an introduction to it.  I was thinking how nice that book would be to have in hand, to grab it off a shelf and read through it as I listened to my favorite album by Horner...what format could be better?  Certainly not an iPad app...but then I thought---well, of course there’s something better, because we’re talking about music here...and music is all about sound.  And so I thought once again the thought I had in the dream so many months---maybe a year ago, where I find myself listening to a review by Clemmensen that is in the form of a podcast.  The review can weave in and around and incorporate excerpts of the actual music itself...and what a strong medium that would be for music reviews, especially of music that is so textured and orchestral.  Well, then I thought---why not do it?  I have forever resisted the impulse to write down how I feel---really---about my favorite composer, because what words of mine can compete with this power and beauty?  But context can lend appreciation and it can help you to hear anew. 

Anyway, it would be a fun project, and in the end I’ll have produced something of great value---at least to myself, and what else matters?  I write poems and stories and paint paintings to mark the birthdays of friends and family, why shouldn’t I do something for myself on my own birthday?  I think I will; and I think I’d like to get into the habit of having a special project to give myself as a gift on my birthday.  So why not try it, attempt a 30 or 60 minute appreciation of Horner’s music, weaving in and out and around excerpts and pieces of his work?  The problem won’t be doing it---I’ve done audio editing before, that’s not a problem at all (although I anticipate that getting the right timing and transitioning in and out of multiple pieces may be tricky)...no, the issue really is one of form.  What form will this take?  

There are the obvious forms, and I have here in my room Conrad Wilson’s thin volumes on Mozart and Beethoven---”20 Crucial Works.”  That’s an idea, but an easy and maybe in the end too gimmicky one.  To list 20 crucial works, although yes, it would simplify things.  But try to be different.  His pieces were adapted from programme notes, and he had a strict form to adhere to; he had to discuss the composer’s biography, where and when he was when he wrote it, where this piece fits in his and music history’s development, important influences and notes on past performances.  But I don’t want to get into all of that; all of that is extraneous to the matter at hand: music.  What it means and what it does for you.  What Horner’s work as a whole represents---the breadth and depth of it.  

I want what I write to this music to be deep and poetic and wise...and yet, also, fresh.  I have here a list of attributes that might be worth mentioning:  

  • Power/Force-Brutality 
  • Soaring melody 
  • Nature and Native American influences
  • Home
  • Action
  • Love 
  • Bells 
  • The human voice
  • Irish music
  • Creepy/Nacht Music 
  • Connections (4 note motif, shared themes and developments) 
  • Horner may use the most new/distinct sounds of any composer
  • Extraordinary moments 
  • Long pieces
  • Whole albums 
  • Differing instrumental pallets 

Formats include:  

  • Top ten albums 
  • Top ten tracks
  • Crucial developments 
  • Extraordinary musical moments (either stand-out moments or bits from each album)  
  • Dividing it into the essential evocative areas - home, love, action, distance, inevitability, darkness, hope/joy
  • Touching on all of these things, mentioning all of them...but organically...

Will it include quotes by Horner?  One way to simplify it, as you are trying to figure out voice---I mean, who are you talking to, are you speaking from personal experience, I hope not, that would be boring, boring to listen to and it would get in the way of the music...but one way to simplify it would be to assume this is a kind of speech.  That would simplify and focus your language, at least...  

Another way — just write it organically.  Begin by asking this question: Where do you start with James Horner’s music?  

If somebody asked you which album to start with, where would you tell them to begin?  Doesn’t it depend on the person?  What was it for you?  The first one I heard was Land Before Time, although I didn’t know it was Horner at that moment.  Then Fievel Goes West, that “Somewhere Out There Song” which we sang in the school play; then it was probably We’re Back, a Dinosaur’s Story and finally, in 1996 it was Titanic and the first time I really heard him and knew it was Horner.

Thinking of it as a speech is too conventional, though, when you can use sound design imaginatively, use the music itself to tell the story, rather than try to tell the story of the music.  

One thought was to make it a kind of fictional Q&A between yourself and Horner.  So many interviewers have failed to ask the essential questions about the music itself, rather than the process.  The music and why, why this music?  Why that instrument for that moment?  Why a theme of that many notes?  Why is it good?  What makes a good piece?  What is your favorite piece?  Which is your favorite to score?  Favorites tell us a lot...

Horner is your favorite, and it is time now to explain why.  In doing so, maybe you can get closer to understanding what makes artistic greatness, what makes something better, and what is beauty?  

You can see Clemmensen struggling with this question, the question of form and structure.  Do you go track by track through an album and risk missing essential comments about specific themes, or do you go thematically, picking pieces up from multiple tracks and following their development?  Personally, as a listener, at least, I find it more useful to read a review that goes track by track, since it’s a bit much to jump around and find the places the reviewer might be talking about in tracks 3, 5, 6, 8, and 14.     

You could talk about the first tracks of each album, and the last.  The start is very important...

And of course the one thing you have not talked about at all are the movies themselves, but those are secondary to this discussion, as is Horner’s personal history...That’s all been talked about before.  Here I would like to focus on the music.  

Is this an introduction or an appreciation?  You shouldn’t just touch on those obvious parts that people are going to already know, you should highlight hidden colors and moments.  

The difficult thing is that of course this is not definitive; it couldn’t be, not for someone who has written more than 100 hours of music...it’s not a summary of his life’s work, it’s a celebration of its special depth, breadth, power, and beauty.

Try to think of what you would like to listen and then, try to top it:  


From silence...there is sound.  It begins with a pulse or a beat or a blast...but it begins...and a new world...dawns...

NOTE: perhaps this isn’t strictly about James Horner...maybe it’s about music in general, but it is narrated by James Horner’s music...  

THINK about where the music puts you, where do you see yourself, what place do you find this music?  What does it say?  What makes it sad or happy or dark or brooding?  Paint with words, if you can...have fun with it...be surprising.  And innovative.  

Maybe your mistake here is that you’re trying to be authoritative.  You’re making the mistake of the non-fiction writers you despise, trying to think up your words and reach your conclusions before you arrive on the page.  That is folly.  It’s false dramatics, all of it.  But there is a real drama here, and the drama is what you’re writing right now, this attempt to understand this music, to make sense of this composer and what it means to listen, to answer the question:  

What is that sound?  

Make it a dramatic dialogue between yourself and the music...make it live...

Don’t be explanatory.  Explore.  

Make it a movement from darkness into light...from confusion into clarity...from ignorance towards wisdom and understanding...the struggle must be real...Imagine yourself a botanist or scientist, whose first and only time exploring the forest is alone, in darkness, as the Earth behind and beneath you falls away---you must move forward, but you must also understand in order to follow the right path to the light.  

______April 14 2011  

Rhys Owen Cromwell is born.  And I must write something to commemorate this day - this day in which the Titanic sank, 99 years ago...By chance I happen to be listening to Horner’s Titanic...but neither of these momentous occurrences are the reason for my writing in this this late evening.  I just wanted to note a thought I had driving home late---that all of the great people I seem to admire always seem to be the less obvious among their contemporaries.  My favorite Kennedy is RFK, not JFK.  My favorite composer is Horner, not Williams.  My favorite author is RPW, not Faulkner or Steinbeck or Hemingway...I admire Ford Madox Ford, not his partner Conrad.  I always liked Biden more than Obama.  Does this say something about me, or does it say something about the nature of success, talent, and excellence?  I wonder if in some instances it might say both...and more.

________August 27 2011 (Hurricane Irene day...)

There was something in Horner's conclusion that with Avatar's planet presented as so visually new and exciting, the music in some way had to be grounded; audiences maybe weren't quite ready to see revolutionary visuals alongside revolutionary music---they needed something to hold onto...and the music served that purpose...Except, I really wanted to hear something more revolutionary from Horner.

_________Sept. 6, 2011  

Leaders.  Aren’t these so few and far between?  Even in industry, in business---who do you have?  You have Steve Jobs, yes; you have...well, who else do you have?  Who else is defined by quality in everything they do, in the vision to get there, the personality to inspire, and the management acumen to organize the energy to get there?  Maybe, again, you have Generals like Petraeus?  Directors like David Fincher.  Maybe composers like Horner and Williams, when you think of consistent quality and the ability to organize a team to achieve it...Bill Clinton I think had all of the necessary qualities except maybe the discipline and the vision, but these are key attributes...I still hold that he’d make a better president today than he made in 1992.  I don’t know...there really aren’t a lot of great examples of leaders that I see out there; could it be that this world, this culture is lacking in great leaders?  No.  You just don’t see them; they must be there---your spheres of knowledge are simply too limited.  Look at sports; surely there’s a great example in sports you are missing...and internationally, in other sectors and industries.  

___June 27, 2013 - 5:45 AM and this is true at first light:

I've listened to Horner for so long, and there is the main-line, the main theme, that everybody hears and enjoys, but then there are these little tiny moments, these nuances, a brief horn solo here or there, something small like that, or something in the grander plan, in the architecture of the piece itself—that maybe only ten people will ever notice—or maybe just one—but it's incredible, and it shows how much thought and love went into it, how much beauty.

___________________August 21, 2013

Weather happens in the clouds, it's true.  But it also happens in the air we breath, and in the movements of our lives.  When James Horner was composing music for A Beautiful Mind, he described the thoughts moving through John Nash's mind like fast-moving weather systems.  I like that image, but I think it's limited.  Because those weather-systems connect with other minds and other patterns to form a climate or a season—weather phenomena that aren't so fast-moving, but which roll across our lives in waves so big that their start and end is almost imperceptible.  Who can say when Summer truly begins?  Or when Winter ends?  Who can be so sure?

__________September 1, 2013


James Horner’s wife is a painter.  And he uses metaphors of painting all the time, in talking about his own music.  As a composer working in film, the music always begins by watching the movie.  He watches a rough cut, trying to get a feel for the sound of it.  He wonders: what kind of mood or color—what kind of place—does the movie put him in?  What does he hear?  With the film Glory, about the Civil War, he saw the horror of it and the sadness, but also the innocence of these soldiers trying to do their best for the country.  And he heard a children’s choir and tolling bells.  Now, with the orchestral colors chosen, he began to paint.  But it all starts with the color, with a feeling—and he slowly builds a world around that place.  

This isn’t how every composer writes music.  Some look at each scene individually.  Thomas Newman, for example, works this way—and so his albums are all comprised of short 1-2 minute tracks that are fun and energetic but begin and end in a single instant.  They’re like flies with short lifespans.  As a result, his albums are hard to listen to all the way through, because they’re just random collections of scenes.  There’s no cumulative effect—no sense of permanence.  Horner’s music is different.  It’s rooted in a setting.  And the sound of each album takes you there, with each track an exploration in a new direction—but in the same place, the same color palette; part of the same work of art.  The pieces, like paintings, fit together to tell a larger story.  When you listen to a Horner album, you don’t know where you are inside of it—each track bleeds into the next and you get lost in a new world.  Music in general has a special power to take you places.  But with his music in particular, the places seem larger, more expansive.  Over time, I’ve come to know these places like they were in my own backyard.  

Place is important to me.  But places, like people, are often so fleeting... And whether it’s us going or them going, the effect is always the same: we feel a little bit lost, a little bit shattered, like a piece of us is missing and we can’t get it back.  Stranded and we can’t go home.  

Which is why, for me, music is so vital.  Horner creates whole worlds that I’ve come to know and love and explore—and these places are as true in my mind as places I have lived.  But these places, unlike all the others—they endure.  And no matter what happens, no matter what or who falls away, my music is always there.  Welcoming as it’s always been—willing always to take me home.  It’s a place of peace and openness, a place of warmth and understanding, a place of tall mountains and swaying trees, of fullness and distance.  It’s a place where I can forget myself and simply see life as something beautiful to enjoy.  

In a life of so much change, a life where most of the time I feel like I have no true home, I have felt so thankful to have these places, this music that I can always return to, where I’m always welcome and I always know I can find warmth and fullness...So much in life is fleeting, but having music has kept me grounded.  If I lose everything, I’ll never be lost because I’ll always have this. 

________November 25, 2013

And so you see, even in these difficult circumstances, I can hold onto who I am—and, what’s more, take that “who” to new places, new heights.  It’s like what Horner did with Legend of Zorro—he used all of the same themes, but remixed them, cleaned them up, orchestrated and filled them in with new colors to make it resonate deeper, richer, newer than it had been before.  That second score is better than the first because it’s no longer about about asking: what is the theme—it’s about asking; where can I take this theme?  I’ve moved beyond asking: who am I—now I can have the freedom and the fullness of possibility in asking, what can I do with this gift?  Where can I go, where can it take me?  We’re going to new heights, now.  And there is no limit.

_____________December 3, 2013

These last two days have been pivotal in the true sense of that word: a pivot.  Last night, a random shuffle of music late in the evening reminded me of James Horner’s Black Gold score—his most recent release and one that I never truly got into.  With the heaviness of sleep closing in, I decided to listen to that album as night music—a very odd thing considering it includes some action music.  But I listened, and I loved it.  Today, I awoke and played it all morning.  And I’m playing it once again, now.  Marveling at the new textures and the care he put into every single note.    

In one of the Frank Chimero’s essays I read today, he talked about care: 

What is good design? I’d say as an internal pursuit, it means saying things that you believe to people that you care about. My best work always springs from that situation. From an external vantage, I think it looks a lot like life-enhancement. Good design is meant to help other people live well, and if it doesn’t do that for the audience, there’s no point in it existing. And the funny thing about that is both of these successful outcomes spring from the same thing: caring more about what we do.

------December 10, 2013

I was in my car—and that’s where the idea started.  I was in my car, driving along El Paseo, marveling at the deep textures and bass of Horner’s Black Gold...

Monday, May 12, 2014—

On Saturday, I heard James Horner’s “Flight” music at the Pacific Symphony’s Segerstrom Concert Hall in Orange County.  As part of a program featuring the work of film composers in other mediums—mediums beyond film.  It was Naomi’s first-ever symphony performance, and my first here in California.  This wasn’t the Kennedy Center, but a new modern structure; and this wasn’t classical music—but the music of living composers.  There were quite a few things I noticed on hearing Horner live:  

  1. The fullness of his orchestrations: Horner’s piece was played third in the program and just after the intermission.  The first piece was the Williams work: “Tributes! for Seiji,” which was surprisingly unmemorable—dancing as it did from section to section in the orchestra, but with no true center.  The second was the rambling and ineffable work of Howard Shore— “Mythic Gardens, Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.”  It was made for a smaller orchestra and was all of one color—with one minute passing indistinguishably from the last.  All told, it came off as rather soporific—but that may have been the result of a missing piano.  For some reason, I think there was supposed to be piano accompaniment, but this performance lacked it.  Horner’s, in contrast, blasted us forwards with a full and rich performance.  The whole orchestra played as one instrument, with deep, full-bodied tones that you could feel.  Whereas Williams’ piece seemed like a crafty demonstration of orchestral refinement and Shore’s piece was a small poem—Horner’s was a symphonic statement.  Interesting, though, that Shore tried to capture these gardens while Horner tried to capture the wonder of flight—and how their passions led them in different directions.  
  2. The melodic quality of his writing: The work of every other composer in the program, including the dark, brooding symphony by Eliot Goldenthal, seemed to play with notes but without any melodic core.  Shore’s work had a center—but that center was a feeling and a tone, not a melody.  Horner’s melodic writing spoke in a different language—a language that each person in the audience could understand.  Where the other pieces played with sounds and tone, Horner’s communicated in a language of feeling that you couldn’t help but be moved by.  The reviewer from the LA Times complained that the piece was too much like film music and that it repeated its simple melody “to death,” but it’s exactly this thematic quality that makes the piece not only accessible, but enjoyable.  I agree; the first time I heard it, I wished for fewer repetitions and more development of the theme—but on multiple listenings, you do notice subtle variations, if not in the actual notes, in the orchestrations and the handling of those notes.  
  3. The incredible use of the French Horns to create an otherworldly sound that I thought was electronic in the recording: At around 8:14 in the recording, there’s a repetitive cycling of sound that I was almost certain had to be created electronically.  In person, however, I was surprised to see that this whirling could be accomplished with the horns in such a sustained fashion.  It creates an incredible atmosphere—although it’s unfortunate that some of the tinkling sounds, which are electronic, couldn’t be reproduced with an array of triangles or similar percussions.  
  4. The difficulty of playing the horns at the moment when they play out of phase—and of keeping a sense of cohesion to the same extent as the recording: The disjointed horns that play at about the 10:20 mark in the recording was a true challenge for the players in this orchestra.  Although they did a good job of sounding disjointed, they lacked the inherent sense of cohesion that you get with the recording.  This reinforces some of my other experiences with other renditions of Horner’s work.  While the writing may seem straightforward and less technically complex than the orchestrations of someone like Williams, it’s actually very, very hard for an orchestra or a conductor to reproduce the smooth transitions and exacting counterpoint of Horner’s recordings.  
  5. The grin on the face of the conductor: With my seat high and behind the orchestra, I was able to see the face of the conductor. While conducting the other works, conductor Carl St. Clair looked alternately focused and determined, but during Horner’s “Flight,” he had the biggest grin on his face.  It looked as if both he and the orchestra thoroughly enjoyed the change in tone.   
  6. The loudness of the final note: One of the greatest joys of seeing a live orchestra is when it gets loud enough to shake the room.  The only time that truly happened on this evening was with the final resounding note of Horner’s “Flight.”  It was a fully satisfying conclusion to what was clearly the highlight of the night.  

____________Sometime in 2014

IDEA FOR A TELEVISION SERIES ABOUT FILM COMPOSERS: (Note: you had this idea inspired by the track "I Want to Go Home - Forbidden City” from Horner's Karate Kid) Present an exciting scene from a movie (ideally one no one has seen), and engage a series of composers in the act of creating a score for that scene.  You could do one scene per episode, OR, instead, you could focus each episode on one composer, or have this building across the entire season.  So that in the first episode we see the scene and meet the composers.  Then in the second we follow each composer as he or she discusses the scene and tries to figure out the themes. 

THEN we watch as they explore the orchestral colors they want to employ.  And then we watch them contract with the musicians they need, pulling whoever they want in, and using the studio orchestra as needed.  Then we see them developing and spotting the scene, including what kind of feeling and emotion they want at each moment.  Then we see them begin work with the orchestra, introducing themselves, getting to know the players.  And then we watch as the pieces are recorded.  We're there along for the whole ride.  And finally, we get to watch the scene with the music and decide. 

ALSO: You could have them consult with other composers in history.  And spot different musical inspirations…calling up the orchestras to play the music of people they are inspired by…The key: to have many different approaches to the music of a scene.  We should also look into someone creating a song for the scene, one that's spoken with words, so they have to contract with a lyricist and maybe get a famous performer to perform the track.  Someone who has an electronic approach.  Someone who has no themes.  Someone who has great propulsive movements (like Newman).  Someone who has soaring themes (Williams) and someone who has a refined and integrated approach (Horner).  NOT these actual composers, but different musicians and composers. 

ALONG THE WAY we can learn about the different pieces of music, the different techniques you can employ with an orchestra, the variety and diversity of musical sounds and expressions possible, and what these mean when merged against picture.  Put it all on an album at the end. 

ALSO: make it possible, if this is a web series, for people to decide HOW they want to watch.  They can follow one composer's journey with the music from beginning to end…OR they can watch hour-long episodes that follow the four to six composers as they move through these various stages.  So you get to decide whether you get one biography.  Or a book more like Team of Rivals each episode. 

NOTE: The problem with having the audience vote is that in the end they'll vote according to which PERSON they like more, vs. which music they like more.  So perhaps instead of having viewers vote, you should pre-record and have people who do not know these performers vote on the film based only on the sound of the score… Perhaps this group will include the writer and director, as well as audience?  Maybe it's the director who has final say, but then wouldn't the composers just want to learn about the director and his or her tastes? 

NOTE: Shouldn't the piece, rather than being a big-budget film---shouldn't it be one scene from a student film that is actually being funded by the proceeds from this television show?  What you want: access to the studios' audio collections and rights to show some of their music on the air if it's mentioned by the composers…And participation by some active composers today… If it's a big-budget movie, or a film from one that's going to be big-budget, then you could really create some buzz for the picture, and it would be fun for viewers to see how the composer expands on his or her themes at the big box office. 

AFTERWARDS, the team could go touring around the country doing concerts with a symphony.

________Sometime in 2014

ASK: What would your life be like if James Horner didn't exist?  Or didn't write music?  Think about how different things would be.  Would you even be a different kind of person?  Would you be less at peace with the world?  Less open to the beauty of nature?  Would your horizons be more limited and emotions more stunted?  What would fill this silent space left by his music?  Someone else's music?  Would music mean as much to you today?  Because there are things that his music does that no one else's music does…

_______________Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pas de Deux.  Horner's new concerto.  His first serious concert work since beginning his career in film.  The piece is a revelation.  I have been following his work for most of my life, but I never knew he could write something like this.  

The piece is full of emotion and color and the summery breeze of something real.  Something felt.  The orchestra vibrates with a kind of living energy, as if it's shifting and turning—like waves in the ocean.  Diving and cresting to their own momentum—and yet, from afar, shimmering all together in colors bright and surprising.  This is not the commanding hand of a John Williams or John Powell—this is not the pulsating rhythm of a Don Davis.  Here, yes—here is someone setting the orchestra free to find its own voice.  It's so interesting to consider—but listening, it's absolutely evident that the piece was written by a master of the form: and yet, it's not at all about that mastery.  It's about the mood of the music itself.  The music itself is speaking here, not the composer.  

Listen—listen!  Listen to what the music can do.  I have never heard music like this before. 

My feeling, on listening, was a feeling of tremendous gratitude.  Here is a piece, so rich and full—it is a forest to explore—like a wooded glen close to home that you just know at any moment will be there for you to wander in—at any moment, for the rest of your life.  I know that each time I visit, I will see something new.  Here is nature, and all that I love in it, handed to me as a gift.  

The piece moves in and out of phases, like a landscape on a cloudy day, moving in and out of sun and shadow.  The clouds are dark but their edges white—the sun bright but its shadow black.  The air is clear, dew sparkles, and the life of the forest swirls around you as you wander.  

There is the familiar—short bursts of movement that I've heard before.  Or the drifting scent of air I've breathed —but it's there and then it's gone, transformed.  A glimpse only—faint reminders of joys past.

It's so gentle.  The world is beautiful.     

The Last Store

What if you cut the store out of the retail experience?  

I know, it doesn’t sound innovative.  Online retailers have been doing this for years—saving money on the cost of renting retail space, of paying and training retail staff, and all of the other expenses that go with managing an on-site inventory.  

Then again, online shopping isn’t much of an experience.  But what if you could keep the experience and toss the store?  

Enjoy is Ron Johnson's attempt to do just that—to reimagine the retail experience for the 21st century.  You'll remember that Ron Johnson was the Target executive par-excellence who Steve Jobs recruited to create the Apple Store.  

Johnson was always one to take on an impossible—or improbable—task.  After graduating from Harvard Business School, he didn't take a job on Wall Street—he took a job stocking store shelves at the Mervyn's department store.  Not because he needed to—but because he wanted to.  Because he knew that to be a good executive, you needed to know how the business worked from the ground up.  

At Target, he infused design and style into the retailer’s brand, transforming it from Tar- Get to Targé.  When he left to join Apple, he was leaving for a company that had no stores, no iPhone, no iPad—and no real hope of competing against the likes of Best Buy and CompUSA.  

While at Apple, Johnson turned the Apple Store from an idea into the most profitable retail store in history—a distinction that it still holds.  Just before Steve Jobs passed away, Ron Johnson left Apple to assume the CEO post at JCPenney, returning to his department store roots.  He was leaving the most successful store in history to board the sinking ship of a mall department store.  And he didn't disappoint.  

Within his first year, he had rethought the mall experience:  


The first task: kill sales.  Why?  Because sales are a lie.  Sales are sales in name only.  A sale on what?  A sale on the “suggested retail price.”  Suggested by who?  Items are routinely marked up to suggest that when stores "slash” them down, it’s a ‘sale.'  Sales are a psychological game that retailers and shoppers play together.  Consumers like it because they feel like they’re getting a deal.  Sales help shoppers justify a purchase decision.  And for the retailer, sales help to build loyalty.  To control when and how inventory is sold.  But it's all a game—an elaborate illusion.  And both parties know it.  

The problem?  List prices keep inching higher and higher so that sales can seem ever more outrageous.  

As Johnson explained at his 2012 launch event, a $10 item in 2002 was on average marked up to a $28 retail price.  By 2011, customers could find a similar $10 item marked up as high as $40.  From Johnson's 2012 JCP presentation. 

As Johnson explained at his 2012 launch event, a $10 item in 2002 was on average marked up to a $28 retail price.  By 2011, customers could find a similar $10 item marked up as high as $40.  From Johnson's 2012 JCP presentation. 

This erodes trust, Johnson argued.  Younger shoppers don’t want to play the game.  They don’t have time to chase sales and cut coupons.  Young shoppers just want to know that their store of choice is going to treat them fairly.  To treat them with respect anytime they stop by. To treat them “fair and square.”  Johnson’s plan was to kill sales to save the future.    


Remember before smartphones, when the Internet wasn't in every pocket?  Do you remember stopping by Apple stores just to check your email?  I do.  Even today, Apple Stores feel more like a technology playground than the pressure-cooker of a sales floor.  It's fun—a place to try out technology with friendly experts.  Johnson knows that place—Johnson designed that place.  And he took that approach to JCPenney.  The argument: because malls have in some ways replaced the Main Street, why not build a store that fulfills some of those community needs?  

Johnson proposed a store where kids could get free haircuts before school.  Where spouses could enjoy a cup of coffee while their loved ones shopped.  Or friends could surf the Internet.  Where anyone could just relax without being pressured to complete the sale.  Johnson had a phrase: we're not interested in being the biggest store—or the flashiest store—we want it to be your favorite store. 


Like any big department store, JCPenney sold many goods made by many different companies.  Levi’s, Joe Fresh, Liz Claibourne.  What if rather than haphazardly scrambling these products across a big empty space, you built specialty stores within your store?  Levi’s would have its own special section designed with their aesthetic in mind—from floor to ceiling.  Brands that couldn't afford a whole storefront in the mall could find a home in JCPenney.  And customers could find a place to immerse themselves in the products and brands they cared about.  Imagine if Levi’s wasn’t just a name on a display, but a place that you could visit?  

It was a grand strategy.  Aimed at updating the hundred-year-old brand of JCPenney—at attracting new customers, and truly building a unique retail environment.  While at JCPenney, Johnson redesigned the look and logo, partnered with existing and new brands, mocked up an entire store in Texas, and started the big task of transition nationwide.  

But the board of directors was restless.  They wanted results yesterday.  They couldn't wait for tomorrow. 

In 2013, Ron Johnson stepped down after just a year and half on the job.  For three years he's been quiet.  Until today.  


Enjoy is Ron Johnson's attempt to reimagine the retail store.  It begins with no store:  

From www.goenjoy.com

From www.goenjoy.com

To understand the ambition of this project, you have to first consider what a retail store is:  

  • A retail store gets products at a discount from the manufacturer.  
  • It sells these products for a higher price.

The difference between these two numbers is its revenue.  This revenue is divided in two ways:  

  • EXPENSES: What it costs to buy the products and run the business.
  • PROFITS: What you put in your pocket.  

Now, for a retail store, those business expenses can include:  

  1. Rental of the store 
  2. Maintenance of the store (cleaning, painting, decorating, signage, etc.)  
  3. Salesperson pay  
  4. Salesperson training and development 
  5. Technology (inventory management systems, pay terminals, etc.)  

A store's expenses may also include things like: 

  • Warehousing (if necessary) 
  • A website (online ordering)  
  • Marketing 

But let's pay attention to the five at the top.  In an online store, what's different?  Online stores cut out or significantly decrease the costs of those five items:

  1. Rental of the store 
  2. Maintenance of the store (cleaning, painting, decorating, signage, etc.)  
  3. Salesperson pay  
  4. Salesperson training and development 
  5. Technology (inventory management systems, pay terminals, etc.)  

Online stores still may have other expenses, but by cutting out some key elements they can put the savings towards:  

  • INCREASED PROFITS: Now, an online store might like to increase profits—but online stores have an uphill battle against physical stores.  It’s not easy to compete with the on-site convenience and expertise.  So you can’t just pocket all of the savings.  You have to put them to good use.
  • DECREASED SELLING PRICE: This is the no-brainer choice.  Pass a lot of the savings on to the consumer.  This is what many online retailers do.  Without as many expenses, they can undercut the prices of physical retailers.
  • INVESTMENT THAT IMPROVES THE BUYING EXPERIENCE: This is another solid choice.  Consider Amazon—which has invested tons of money in things that physical stores don't have to worry about, like shipping.  An online retailer might also invest in better photographs, innovative apps, or—in the case of a store like Warby Parker—the cost of shipping sample products to try-on.  

So, let's return to Ron Johnson's Enjoy.  What is Johnson doing with the money saved from running physical stores?  In which dimension is he investing?  

  • DECREASED SELLING PRICE: Nope.  He is selling tech products for the same price as the MSRP.  

Two dimensions:  

  1. Fast delivery 
  2. On-site training and set-up  

This is a very interesting concept.  Imagine if your average retail store in the mall closed shop, but kept the employees on payroll.  Rather than serving as salespeople, you trained these employees as experts in the product.  And asked them to deliver only items that were already sold.  

Think about how this turns the buying process on its head.  It assumes that the buyer know what needs to be known to make a purchase decision.  And that employees are there to help after a purchase—rather than before.    

This is a powerful assumption.  It assumes that the buyer knows enough to decide, but not enough to fully enjoy their products.  It is an assumption that perhaps wasn't possible before the Internet—when people could do their own research on a product.

The store, then, isn't a showroom for products—a place to try things out or try things on.  It's a place to help you make the most of your purchases.  

The relationship with the store doesn't end when you buy something—that's where the relationship truly begins.  Where loyalty starts.    

It's worth considering for a moment—is this assumption correct?  Ask yourself: when is information and hands-on expertise most valuable to you?  Before you make your purchase decision, or after?  

Both are important—and both come in a variety of flavors:    


  • User reviews 
  • Spec sheets and advertisements 
  • Salesperson knowledge  
  • Expert guidance 
  • Hands-on experience and trials


  • Manufacturer guides 
  • User videos and tips 
  • Exploration and the user interface 
  • Expert guidance 

Rather than asking which kind of information is more important, we should ask: which one is a store best equipped to help you with? Salespeople could help you before a purchase—but can you really trust a salesperson to have your best interest in mind?  Before a purchase, spec sheets and advertisements, as well as user reviews, are probably better information sources.  The best source before a purchase would be yourself, of course—if you could get actual hands-on experience and a free trial.  Physical stores allow this to some degree.  

For the after-purchase experience, information comes in a variety of forms.  The primary source is the product itself—as you explore and use it.  This brings up a meaningful question: is technology good enough to serve as its own guide?    

When Steve Jobs designed the first Mac, he envisioned a computer that was so easy to use, you didn't need a manual.  It would be obvious.  The interface of the first iPhone was designed with this in mind.  Today, children and the elderly—two populations with limited technology experience—embrace the iPhone and iPad with glee.  To a large degree, Apple was successful.  

But as much as we might wish our technology was easy to learn—it also has to be useful.  Ideally, technology should be easier to use than it is to learn.  What do I mean by that?  

We live in a world of technologies that require complex interaction.  We are willing to put up with a learning curve if a product is useful enough.  Take cars for example.  Put a child in front of a car and they won't know enough to safely operate it.  A car isn't its own user's guide.  But over time, after training and study, it can be easy to operate.  The same goes for learning how to operate diving equipment.  Or to edit a video with professional software.  No matter how easy our technology is to use day-to-day—there will always be a place for help on day one.  

What value can Enjoy provide on day one?

 Right now, Enjoy is only selling technology products.  And technology is the perfect example of a complex product.  

Just bought a new smart TV?  It doesn’t matter if it only has two plugs.  First you have to enter your wifi password, then your Netflix password.  Then your iTunes password.  Then your VUDU password.  Then your YouTube login. 

Just bought an Apple Watch?  First you have to pair it with your iPhone.  Is your Bluetooth on?  Do you have enough power?  Now you need to answer a few setting questions.  Now you have to wait for it to sync.  

It’s like your birthday as a little kid.  You get exactly what you want—but batteries aren't included.  Enjoy is like having the batteries included with every purchase.  


How expert are these experts going to be?  Ron Johnson said in a recent CNBC interview that you can expect delivery on the same day that you order—in just four hours.  Think about everything that must happen in that four hours:  

  • The order goes through 
  • The item is retrieved from a warehouse or stockroom or personal garage 
  • The employee maps a route to the preferred meeting location 
  • The employee battles traffic to get there on time 

Ron Johnson said that he doesn't believe in giving people "windows" of time—between 1 pm and 5 pm.  No.  If the meeting time is 3 pm—the knock on your door will come at 2:59 pm.  

In that short four hours, is the employee also reading the user manual?  Studying up on setup issues, features, tips and tricks?  Expertise is critical to success.  Are these employees really expert enough to fill one hour with expertise?    

How does Enjoy ensure that its employees are up to date on the latest products?  It will be very interesting to see how Enjoy develops its internal education and training.  The company is effectively “teaching the teacher.”  Is every employee expected to be an expert on every product—or will they have specialties?  Geographically, it makes sense if any employee could answer any call—but these employees aren’t just drivers; they’re not even salespeople.  They’re something entirely different: product experts.  

Here’s another interesting question: Johnson is training retail employees as delivery drivers.  But what if a delivery company like UPS or FedEx decided to train its drivers as retail employees?  It would be fascinating if Enjoy’s major competitors came not from the retail space, but the delivery space.  This could very well be the case—if people end up valuing immediate delivery more than day-one setup.  Since the concept is so new, how many customers will take their delivery and simply say: ‘no thanks’ to set up?  


Today, Enjoy launches in two cities: San Francisco and New York.  That might sound strange for an online retailer—but Enjoy is more like a physical store: new locations require new infrastructure.  Employees must be hired, trained, and coordinated.  Inventory must be ordered, stored, and distributed.  And the word must go out through local advertisements and press reports.  Which leads to the question: how fast will Enjoy scale?  Probably faster than the average retailer—because the average retailer needs to find a great location.  To Enjoy, the whole city is the location.  Which cities will be next?  


Ron Johnson himself has said that this is just the beginning.  Tech products today—tomorrow: the world.  But how big is that world of products?  Well, there are two value propositions to Enjoy:  

  1. Immediate delivery 
  2. Expert help on day one

So any product that can be immediately delivered fits the bill.  And any product that you might need help with on day one.  There are plenty of products that fit in one bucket but not the other:  

Books would be great for immediate delivery.  But you don’t need help setting them up. Large household items like fridges and washing machines would be great for expert setup—but these don’t fit into a car as easily as a pair of Bose headphones.  Then again—Enjoy already says that you can pay $100 for an hour of expert help, even if you don’t buy the product from them.  Therefore, it is conceivable that they could scale to offer expert help on products that they don’t sell or deliver directly.  

The real excitement surrounding Enjoy, though, isn’t in the products—it’s in the expertise.  Imagine Enjoy’s experts there for you with other purchases:  


You order groceries on a Sunday and four hours later there’s a knock at the door.  Here are all of your groceries, and here’s an expert who can show you how to cook something extraordinary in 60 minutes or less.  


You order a new dress and four hours later, there’s a knock at the door.  Here is your new dress and an expert stylist who can help you pick the right accessories to go with it—and warn you not to wash it with your other colored laundry.  


You order a kit for putting shelves up and four hours later, there’s a knock at the door.  Here is your shelving kit and an expert who can help you figure out where to drill the holes in the wall, how to make sure they are level, and remind you of some common safety tips.  

If the experts are expert enough, the possibilities are endless.  Enjoy has to figure out how to make each product and delivery work for them cost-wise, but once they do, the sky’s the limit.  Because as soon as customers understand the value of having an expert at home, on day-one—anything less will seem barbaric.  

The success of JC Penney was held back by traditional thinking.  Enjoy will be propelled forwards not by thinking—but by a feeling.  An unlikely feeling in today’s retail experience: joy.  

This isn’t disruptive technology, it’s disruptive emotion.  And Ron Johnson has picked the right one.  

What Apple is Asking About the Apple Watch

This morning, I awoke to this email: 


So I was excited to share my thoughts with Apple—and even more excited to discover what Apple wanted to know.  Here's what Apple wasn't asking about:  

  • Whether you use your iPhone less 
  • Whether it helps you stay in touch more 
  • How it makes you feel 
  • How others perceive it 
  • Fashion-related questions 
  • How notifications are working across devices 
  • The unboxing experience
  • Durability
  • Water proofing

Here's the full survey: 

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2013 in Motion

For the past few years, I've been taking video with an eye towards editing each year into a short compilation. 2013 and its 150 cuts is finally complete. Now onto 2014—and beyond...

Special thanks to all those who are in it—or made it possible.

2013 was a year in motion. I moved across the country—and was moved by so many of the great people in my life. Thanks for propelling me forwards in all the ways you have—even if I'm only just now catching up.

Dialogue: Facebook vs. The New York Times

WARNING! The below is what might have been said based on the arguments, positions, and facts on both sides. It is fiction, but all facts are backed up.

FB: You don’t have readers.

NYT: I do.  

FB: You don’t have readers.  

NYT: I do have—

FB: You have skimmers.  

NYT: Skimmers?  

FB: You have skimmers.  And you know it.  

NYT: That’s—

FB: You know you have skimmers.  Look at the average page view length.  

NYT: We have—

FB: You have skimmers, mostly.  And then you have a few readers and then—--very very few engagers

NYT: That’s not—

FB: What?  

NYT: That’s not exactly accurate.  

FB: No?  

NYT: No.  

FB: Not exactly accurate.  But accurate still.  On Facebook it is accurate.  On your site?  

NYT: It’s…

FB: You wanna know my guess?  My guess is that it depends. 

NYT: It depends.  

FB: It depends on who’s reading.  On the audience and on the article. 

NYT: On the topic.  It depends on the topic, yes.  And to some extent, the writer. But engagement per story isn’t as important as engagement on the platform. We want people to go deeper, to build loyalty beyond one story.

FB: But here’s what I’m telling you—--

NYT: You’re telling me how to do my job.  

FB: No--—

NYT: You’re telling me what job to do—

FB: No.  I’m telling you that you’re doing a good job. Probably.  With what you have---with where The New York Times is right now, you’re probably doing a good job.  A solid site, without having to compromise your historic aesthetic, clean-looking, flush with multimedia…well, videos at least.  Though you could do more of those and you could do more with them, but…What I’m saying is: The New York Times is good on the web.  Good in the apps, too, I’m sure.  You’ve always been good at that.  

NYT: But…

FB: But you’ve got skimmers.  You’ve got skimmers on  Facebook who---

NYT: Facebook is skimmers.  That’s what it is, that’s who you have!

FB: We have 1.4 billion monthly active users.  We have the world.  

NYT: China?  

FB: We have this world

NYT: But you don’t have the Internet yet.  

FB: We are the Internet for many of our users.

NYT: How many?  

FB: Many more than read The New York Times.  

NYT: How many?  

FB: But yes, you’re right, we don’t have the full Internet.  We don’t have everything that we could to make it a full experience.  

NYT: You don’t have the full New York Times.  

FB: No.  

NYT: And you want it.  

FB: Let me show you something. This is one of your stories:  

NYT: In the newsfeed.  

FB: In the newsfeed this is one of your stories.  Picture, headline and the first few words. Sometimes a headline is enough.  

NYT: At The New York Times a headline is never enough.  

FB: “Fifty-Five Dead in Chilean Mine Collapse.”  Unless I know someone in a Chilean mine, I don’t need anything more than that.  Picture.  A few words.  Done.  

NYT: No.  

FB: No?  

NYT: No, because—

FB: Because there’s more to that story, I agree.  I agree!  But for things like that, for the “news-news”, that’s all people need to know.  But let’s say the picture’s particularly spectacular. Let’s say this story isn’t about miners, who we expect to die in mines from time to time.  Let’s say the story is about the ground above a mine, and this ground collapsed into it.  And on top of this ground, you had a school.  Or a hospital.  Or even better, a river.  And now you have the incredible image of an entire river pouring into this mine, diverted.  You have a waterfall plunging three hundred feet—

NYT: Meters.  It would be meters in Chile.  

FB: Three hundred meters!  Plunging three hundred meters into the Earth!  A whirlpool twisting down into the depths.  And then you have, further downstream, the river’s dried up.  You have boats sitting on the riverbed, you have piers peering over nothing, whole riverside communities suddenly riverlessThat’s a story!  And now I wanna click...

NYT: I want to click.  

FB: And count now after the click:  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Eight seconds for the page to load!

NYT: Anticipation.  

FB: Dead air.  You ever work in radio?  On the radio they have a term---

NYT: I know the term.  

FB: Dead air.  It’s the space between programming, the space between a question and an answer.  It’s static.  It’s broken.  It’s time for the listener to change the station.  It’s time for the listener to turn it off.  If you do it to them once they might wait, confused.  If you do it them twice they might change the station, annoyed.  But if you do it to them three times—-- 

NYT: You can’t.

FB: You can’t.  You can’t do it to them three times because they’ve learned their lesson.  

NYT: What are you saying?  

FB: I’m not saying anything.  

NYT: You’re complaining about—

FB: I’m asking you a question.  

NYT: Are you, now?

FB: Who runs digital for you at the Times?  

NYT: Who?  

FB: If the person who ran digital for you at the Times delivered a product—--a redesign, let’s say—--that crashed for one out of every five readers, would that be acceptable?  

NYT: If the person who ran digital…

FB: If your website crashed for twenty percent of readers, you’d fire the entire digital department. And that’s a fact.  

NYT: I don’t know that—

FB: That’s a fact.  But I’m sitting here and I’m telling you we have the numbers.  And something like that is happening every single time one of our users clicks on a story—--that compelling Chilean story.  They’re not making it to the page.  They’re not making it to the story.  Not even to skim.  What percent of your traffic is driven by Facebook referrals?  

NYT: I’m not—

FB: You’re not telling me?  Fifteen percent.  

NYT: Less.  

FB: Less—--yes!  Less, because that’s your total social sharing percentage—I know, I know!  So less than fifteen percent.  Less and less.  And so I’m asking you: is a failure of that magnitude acceptable?  

NYT: (pause) No.  

FB: No.  It’s not acceptable.  And we at Facebook agree.  We agree wholeheartedly.  

NYT: And so, wholeheartedly, you want the whole business, yes?  You want our whole business to—--

FB: We want the whole story.  Fifty five dead in Chilean Mine.  One sentence.  Two sentences.  All the sentences.  All the news that’s fit to print.  

NYT: On Facebook…

FB: On Facebook.  Yes. 

NYT: You want us to do it again...  

FB: What?  

NYT: With the Internet.  You want us to do it again.  Journalists.  To give it away.  To give away the store.  

FB: No.  

NYT: That’s what you’re asking.  That’s what you’re asking me right now.  You’re asking me to give you the headline and the picture and the whole damn story—to give away the whole goddamn store.

FB: No.  Don’t you get it?  You’re not the store.  We’re the store.  Facebook is the store.  We're like any other store that sells your paper to our patrons.  One billion patrons.  One billion papers.  In a stack at the door.  Two dollars a pop.  

NYT: Two dollars?  Can I hold you to that?  

FB: We want to sell your paper, just like anybody else.  

NYT: Except you're not like anybody else, now.  You're not like anybody ever.

FB: We're—--

NYT: You're a platform.  Nothing more.  You're a platform for people to stand on—to talk one to the next to the next, and you interrupt now and then their conversation.  You interrupt them with a word from the sponsor.  Oh, yes, congratulations on the new baby, that's such an intimate moment in your lives.  But before you continue with your intimations, I must ask—would you like to buy a baby carriage?  You've stepped into the middle of their lives and interrupted—like an advertisement in the middle of your phone call—could you imagine?  An advertisement on the same topic you've been talking about.  And yet somehow they accept it.  We accept it.  We accept our conversations and drama being sold for space—like actors.  We're all actors to you—but unlike actors, you don't pay us.  We pay you—with our attention.  

FB: How is that any different?  

NYT: What?  

FB: How is it any different from you?

NYT: What are you talking about?  

FB: You—--The New York Times—--you sell ads next to stories about serial killers, next to stories about terrorists.  You sell ads for cars next to car crashes.  And that's somehow higher in your mind?  To sell ads next to bad news instead of ads next to good?  

NYT: It's not how the story is framed, it's about who owns the story.  

FB: And you own the story about the serial killer, then?  

NYT: We wrote it.  

FB: You own it more than the serial killer?  

NYT: Are you saying serial killers should be paid for the ads we sell next to the story?  

FB: Why not, according to your logic?  Why not the killer—or the victims?  Why the writer?  

NYT: Because we wrote it.  

FB: You wrote it so it's yours?  

NYT: Yes. To an extent.  

FB: How does writing about it make it yours?  

NYT: Because the words are ours.  

FB: But words are just a vessel, symbols for conveying meaning.  You can sell words, sure.  But you could also sell the paper the words are printed on.  You could sell the venue the words are spoken in.  You could sell the space online where the words are transmitted.  You could sell the space on the servers and the systems and the billions and billions of dollars in infrastructure that it took to get that story framed.  

NYT: It's different.  

FB: Is it?  

NYT: It's different.  Materially, it's different. 

FB: How?  

NYT: You're saying that because you spent a lot of money on your website, somehow you own what I do on your website?  That's like saying Apple should own my writing because I wrote it on an Apple computer.  Or Bridgestone should own my car because they carried it along on their tires.  That's absurd and you know it.  

FB: If you walk into a restaurant, and you're talking at that restaurant—--

NYT: The restaurant doesn't own your conversation!

FB: I agree!  I agree! But they still own the restaurant!  And they have a right to speak over the PA system if they want, to tack an ad on the bulletin board if they want, to interrupt you in your meal if they want—--to try to sell you on dessert.  Facebook is a space, nothing more.  We take no claim of ownership on what you do in that space—but we do own the space, just like the restaurant.  And the only difference between our restaurant and all the others is that our restaurant is free for everybody to eat at.  Forever.  Starbucks may think of itself as that third place between work and home, but you still have to buy a cup of coffee to go there from time to time.  Not on Facebook.  It's free, unlimited coffee forever.  

NYT: And why are you so proud of that?  

FB: Why?  

NYT: Why are you so proud of the fact that Facebook is not willing to test its value with a price tag?  Just how many readers—I’m sorry, users—would stop using Facebook if you charged for it?  If you charged, for example, what we charged?  Our lowest tier is $7.99 a month—and we have close to a million paid digital subscribers.  And growing!  Growing 30,000 in this quarter alone!  What percentage of your subscribers—I’m sorry, users—would stop using if you charged for it?  

FB: Facebook is free not out of fear.

NYT: No?  

FB: No.  

NYT: Are you sure about that?  

FB: Facebook is free because we fundamentally believe that people should be able to connect with friends and those around them—--to connect and share—--regardless of how much money they have.  Because a world with all of us sharing makes all of us richer. Not just the few.  

NYT: Just the few?  

FB: Not just the few.  

NYT: And what’s your market cap, again?  

FB: We’re up above $200 billion.  

NYT: Two hundred billion…

FB: Two hundred and thirty billion, but that’s not the point.

NYT: And how few of your users see even a penny of that $230 billion?  

FB: That’s not the point.  The point is that free isn’t a business decision at Facebook—--it’s our mission.  It’s why we exist.  Facebook is free and always will be.

NYT: With a catch.  

FB: No catch.  

NYT: With the catch that you have to listen to the sales pitch.  Like a time share.     

FB: Look, We sell space just like—--

NYT: Just like us?  Yes, just like us!  You say that you're a store that will sell our newspaper.  But you're not a store.  You're just like us. you're the paper.  You're the paper and you want to print us for free.  

FB: Not free.  

NYT: You've been printing us for free and now you want more.  

FB: We've been printing little advertisements for you---links that take our users back to you---at no charge!  And there will never be a charge.  But because it's so hard to send our users to you—--because of that eight second delay, that dead air that makes it such a sucky experience for our users---because we care about our users and we care about you, too—we're here, right now, and we're asking you--I'm asking you: can you take a step in our direction?  Because it's so hard to send our users to you, can you send your content to us?  Can you send, not just your advertisements for your website---can you send your news to us?  

NYT: Sure.  

FB: Yes?

NYT: Two dollars a pop.  Just as you said.  

FB: Now listen—--

NYT: Two dollars a pop. 

FB: Okay, okay.  I get it.  And I agree---everyone agrees.  You deserve to be paid for your work.  

NYT: Say again?  

FB: You deserve to be paid for your work.  What?  

NYT: No, I just wanted to hear someone from Facebook say those words.  Go on.  I think you were about to say: "But..."

FB: No.  No "but."  You deserve it.  And we want The New York Times to succeed.  We like The New York Times.  We like news.  So we're not here to tell you how to run your business.  

NYT: What was all this, then?!  

FB: I'm here to listen.  How do you see this going?  

NYT: You're serious?  

FB: What would it take for us to be able to offer our users full, un-truncated versions of your stories?  

NYT: Two dollars a pop.  

FB: Seriously.  

NYT: I'm serious!  Look, we can't do this at a loss.  

FB: I'm not asking you to.

NYT: We can't do this for free and we can't do this at a loss and anything—anything less than we're making now is a loss.  

FB: It's that serious?  

NYT: I'm that serious.  We're not stupid.  We know you have a billion and a half readers, we know it.  And we know that people aren't always clicking through.  They're not all downloading our apps, they're not all bookmarking our website and they're not all subscribing.  Facebook is where people are, today.  Facebook and Twitter and Instagram—

FB: Which is Facebook.  

NYT: Good job on that, I know.  And WhatsApp, very good.  So we want to get in front of your readers; we want to offer a better product to your readers, and we're ready to do that—we are.  

FB: But..?  

NYT: But if we do, we're all in.  And you have to be ready for that.  

FB: We're ready.  

NYT: For all in?  Do you know what all in looks like at The New York Times?  Let me paint you a picture: Newsprint dries up—no one's buying.  We stop the presses.  Watches swallow phones, there's no more reading on mobile devices, our apps crash.  They're gone.  And then the walls go up—Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat.  The web closes down, everyone's logged in and no one's online.  Not on the web as we know it.  Websites become what they're becoming: a portal to enter your password and nothing more. Everything is Facebook.  Everything is Twitter. Everything else is nothing.  NYTimes.com—nothing.  But outside, out in the real world, wars are waging. Voters voting. Companies polluting. Mines collapsing. We need reporters. On the ground. Gathering stories. Talking to those who no one talks to. Talking to those who need a talking to. But who are these reporters reporting to? Citizens. Just as before—just as always.  Citizens!  And where are these citizens sitting? Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp. When paper and print, and apps and online fall away—if they fall—we have to stand somewhere firm.  We have to succeed if all else fails.  We have to survive if you prosper.  All in?  All in is a question: if Facebook is all that's left, are we in trouble?  Are our 1,200 journalists safe?  Make me an offer that answers that question—positively—then our answer is yes.  Make me a deal that's worth it for The New York Times to go all in.  

FB: You want a safety-net.  

NYT: Not a safety-net, no.  We want a platform.  And that's what you're selling.  That's what you've built—or so you tell us.  

FB: A place to sell your papers, yes.  And do you see yourself still selling direct to users, or do you see ads as enough?  

NYT: You tell me.  Are ads enough?  

FB: Maybe.  Maybe they will be.  

NYT: Then maybe we'll make a deal.  Or maybe we won’t.  Sixty percent of our revenue comes from readers, not advertising. I'm open to running the numbers.  But you have to be open, too.  

FB: We are!  We are!  We want this to be successful.  We're open to all ideas.  

NYT: I'm not talking about open to ideas.  I'm talking about your platform.  You have to build a platform.  A true platform.  

FB: We have apps on Facebook.  

NYT: I'm not talking apps.  

FB: We have games.  

NYT: I'm not talking games.  

FB: What are you talking about, then?  A website?  You want a website?  

NYT: We want the space to explore new ways of storytelling.  New ways of engaging our users.  New ways that aren't limited to words or videos.  

FB: You want apps.  

NYT: We want control.  Control enough to test the limits of what it means to tell the news.  To gather the news.  To share insight.  "To make you see," as Kipling said.  

FB: What better platform could you possibly ask for? 

NYT: A platform that keeps getting better in the dimensions that matter to us.  Look at our website.  We're not just printing information anymore—little columns with headlines and graphs and pictures.  We're trying to build experiences.  Rich, multi-media experiences—  

FB: Like Snowfall.  

NYT: Snowfall.  And beyond.  Even our digital ad team is building Snowfall-caliber content.  So we need to know that we can get there, that we can get beyond Snowfall on your platform.  The news has to go beyond the Newsfeed.  It just has to.  And maybe that's a starting point, maybe that's where people are so that's where they click—but it can't be the destination.  It's scary as hell to rent space in your ecosystem, to live in that space—but if we rent the floor, we're not going to just sit in our little corner and type up stories for you.  We're going to rearrange the furniture.  We're going to knock down the walls.  You have to let us knock down the walls.  

FB: We will.  We can.  We're all in.

NYT: Of course, no one's going to believe it.  You know what they'll say—

FB: We have thick skin.  

NYT: They'll say: "are you kidding me? Knocking down walls?  You're walling yourself in!”  They'll say: “it's a trap!”  They'll say we're selling out.  Or worse, they'll say we're selling them out.  Why should The New York Times and National Geographic and BuzzFeed get special treatment from Facebook?  What about the local paper?  The local news?  What about the rest of journalism?  

FB: Someone has to be first.  

NYT: And last.  Someone has to last.  The story should challenge the reader, but it shouldn't be a challenge to read.  And that means going beyond reading.  It means—

FB: Facebook?  

NYT: Facing forward. 

The Price is Wrong

Five thousand? Ten thousand? Twenty thousand dollars?  

So much of the technology press has turned speculation on the Apple Watch into a game of The Price is Right. Just how much is that gold model?  

Here's the only answer that matters: I don't care. I truly, completely, do not care. I don't care that it's gold. I don't care that it has lots of shiny bands. I don't care how many are going to sell. Here's what I care about:  

  • What can it help me do? 
  • How is it going to fit into my life?  
  • How is it changing how we communicate?  

I've been thinking about my distaste for this conversation and how utterly bored I am by it, and it occurred to me: I don't want to waste my time listening to it, and I sure as hell don't want Apple to waste its time talking about it. Why did Jony Ive spend hundreds if not thousands of hours of his time building a luxury product? Why, when he could be spending time figuring out ways to optimize iOS, to move the Mac forwards, to find new paths to empower users? Doesn't he care about these things more than gold? Doesn't he care about what technology can do for people? Apple should be focusing its time on helping us to live fuller, richer lives—not lives filled with riches.  

It's clear: Jony and his team put a lot of thought into their design of this product. It looks stunning. I just worry that they put more time into design than functionality. They built a fashion item: but fashion doesn't change the world, it merely makes it more glossy, more shiny, and ultimately—more disposable.  

But the Watch doesn't have to be defined by this. In the same way that the world changed when everyone had a computer in their pocket, day-to-day life can change when everyone has a computer on their wrist. Let's talk about that. Let's celebrate that.  

Next week, we'll hear more at Apple's Watch event. Answers to so much of the speculation that's swirling. I don't know that it will address all of the questions about the product, but I do hope that it shifts the conversation. That one year from now, when Apple shows a video about how the Watch is changing the world, we see things more like this:  

And less like this:  

The Unthinkable of ISIS

Unthinkable, is it? Do you think?

For someone you know, a friend or colleague, to leave home—to flee the country and join up with ISIS? To join in the “killing fields,” as the New York Times so poetically called itWhy? We wonder—we stop and ask: why? 

But is it so unthinkable? 

For years, I studied the Middle East. I took classes on the intersection of politics and religion. Classes on Arab history, on US democracy promotion and even a few lessons in Arabic. I was fascinated by the most complicated of conflicts—and this one seemed the most complicated of all. Between 2004 and 2008—the years I attended college—the Middle East dominated national and international politics. And I wanted to know why. Not why things were the way they were—but why they couldn’t be different. 

But what I learned after all of those years of study was pretty simple. It’s not a difficult question, really. That’s the farce in all international politics. Perhaps, in all conflicts. We see those in different circumstances—because they stand on the other side of the world or the other side of the aisle—and we think of them as if they themselves are different. Different from us in some way: wiser or less wise. Shrewder or less shrewd. More determined. Or more apathetic. Or simply—of a different mind. But people are people everywhere.  

People are people everywhere. And the friends and colleagues and students leaving their homes—leaving their “private school” for Syria—they’re people, too. And their motivations are far from unthinkable. Why are they joining ISIS? 

Think of a Cult 

Cults can be attractive in their ideology, their beliefs and large-scale goals. Who wouldn’t want to remake the world? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something bigger than themselves? To be privy to a secret? Who wouldn’t want to be special? 

Cults are attractive—but their fatal flaw is often the impossibility of their goals. To achieve anything of significance, you need to attract people of action. Pragmatic. Intelligent. Discerning. People who can transform words into action. But people of action are rarely attracted to causes that are impossible to fulfill. It’s not moral scruples or some sense of right and wrong that keep people of action away from most cults. They’re simply too pragmatic for impossible goals. 

ISIS has a grand ideology—that it is the fulfillment of Islamic prophecy. And though this may seem impossible to believe, and even more impossible to achieve, ISIS is inspiring devotion from people of action. Why? Because it has seen tactical victories. Think about it: 

The organization has gained territory. It’s gained a reputation. And it’s gained money—lots of money. Now, that’s not to say that the end goals are even remotely possible—but these tactical victories are appealing to the action-minded. These victories make the skeptic stop and think: “there’s something real to this.” ISIS appears more plausible. And plausible is all you need when it comes to ideology. Consider how many believe in the world’s religions—despite myriad logical and scientific impediments—simply because those they trust believe in it. If others believe it, it must at least be plausible, right? 

Media Legitimacy

Being hated or feared—even loathed—can be a badge of honor. A mark of legitimacy. If they hate you, you must be doing something right. The people on the ground are talking about you? The media is reporting on you? The President of the United States is denouncing you? To the would-be-recruit or the pragmatist, to the disaffected youth who believes in ISIS’s goals but might be unsure of its capabilities—media legitimacy is further proof: “ISIS is really doing something, here.” They’re challenging the most powerful people in the world, they’re making an impact, and in some cases, coming out on top. Is ISIS a cult? Not in the eyes of the media, the eyes of the President—and not in the eyes of the new recruit: “ISIS is a legitimate threat. Its goals might be, too.”

Jihadi Cool

Also—there’s an excitement in it. A “jihadi cool.” You’re an eighteen, nineteen year old kid. All your life has been private schools and public boredom. Video games and virtual connection. And now—now there’s a chance to be something more? To see something more? To bring about the fulfillment of thousand-year-old prophecy? I keep thinking back on the story of Steve Jobs recruiting John Sculley of Pepsi. “Do you want to make sugar water for the rest of your life,” Steve asked, “or do you want to change the world?” There’s a charisma to idealistic organizations, whatever the ideals. Can you imagine what an ISIS recruit faces? The decision put before them? Can you remember what it’s like to want to change the world? And really—truly—to live at a moment, in a time and place, when you could be a part of it? 

Smashing the Grey

The modern world is a world of complexity—of nuance. Aaron Sorkin once said that he’s not interested in the difference between good and evil—he’s interested in the difference between good and great. And that’s the direction we’re moving. Global commerce is a game of utilization and optimization—finding efficiencies. Forget about crushing the enemy; this world is about maximizing value. It’s no longer: I’m right, you’re wrong. It’s: you’re right, but have you also considered this? Now, a world of grey can be interesting in a walk-and-talk kind of way. If you’re Aaron Sorkin, you can even make it dramatic. But the heart longs for stark distinctions, for black and white. For the epic sweep of righteous action. Sport, politics—the world’s religions—they’re all built on it. Dramatic movements like ISIS work likewise; a vehicle for breaking through the malaise of modern equivocations. A hammer for smashing the grey.  

Significant Action 

The question isn't—why is ISIS successful?  ISIS is only symptomatic of a global society that is uneasy with the modern world.  There are many reasons for this uneasiness—and most of them are legitimate.  Where does one find work?  Steady work?  Meaningful work?  Where does one find value in this modern world?  Where dignity?  And purpose?  These are all open questions.  Questions that need to be answered in more than just words. Questions that need to be answered in action. If those in power, if leaders of the modern world fail to serve this need, to empower people in significant action, people will find it elsewhere. It’s the most natural of all human needs—the need to live a significant life. Past generations struggled for bread, or for religious freedom, for political liberty or against the shackles of slavery. What does this modern generation struggle for? To what ultimate goal?  Every time the modern world fails to make a life significant, to empower significant action, it opens the door to risk.  Risk of being outmatched, outgunned, or simply—out-recruited.  

People want a cause to live for—and living alone isn’t a cause. It’s a reason to fight for something more. Something meaningful. Even if that meaning puts life itself at risk. 

Unthinkable? No. 


On the Scale of Worlds

A bridge of water... 

I’m looking at a drop of water that spans two clovers.  Glossy and reflective.  The clovers stand apart—and in that space between them, the droplet of water stretches.  I know about water’s stickiness—it’s meniscus.  I know how at small scales it acts more like gel than the liquid we know it to be.  But here I am, staring at a droplet that is stretching across the span.  With little particles dotting its surface like the surface of a marble.  They are, in fact, sitting on a bridge of water.  

It’s 2015—a new year—and with that newness all of the new resolutions for something better.  There’s resolutions of health, resolutions of resolve, resolutions of discipline and temperance and bravery.  But what of something simpler?  Something smaller?  What of a resolution to see something new in this world of old?  What of a resolution of perspective—at the scale of worlds?  

Droplet Spanning

The other day, I finally screwed on the lens.  It was a small box—wrapped there under the tree: with love from Naomi.  And when I opened it I expected all of the usual gifts—but this one was different.  A small set of lenses for the small camera on my iPhone.  For years, I’ve been salivating over a DSLR that does video.  The Canon Digital Rebel XTi that I bought in 2006 lacks this feature.  It’s been a wonderful camera, but after seeing what’s possible by creatives like Gnarly Bay and Sebastian Montaz-Rosset, stills just don’t do it for me anymore.  The bulkiness of the camera, too, meant that I would only take it out on special occasions; an adventure here, a holiday there.  But over the last few years, the camera in my pocket has advanced. 

With groundbreaking apps and features like Panorama, Hyperlapse, time-lapse and HDR, my iPhone camera is becoming not only the most convenient, but the best camera I own.  There when I need it; smart, capable, and fast.  Out of the way when I don’t; scaling a ledge, balancing on skis, or leaping from stone to stone.  Moreover, as iOS continues to grow more capable, I’ve been able to marry image capture with image editing on the iPad.  It truly is the best creative suite available today.  

But there’s plenty of room for improvement.  If you had asked me a year ago, I’d say there were three major areas holding the iPhone camera back:  

  1. Image stabilization for video  
  2. Performance in low light 
  3. Zoom

Image stabilization.  With the release of the Hyperlapse app, image stabilization is effectively solved on the platform.  You can now get Steadicam-like quality video out of the iPhone if you use it right and in the right conditions.  Hyperlapse was such a revelation when it debuted last year that there was nary a day that went by without using it.  Hopefully soon Microsoft will release its software-based version (likely for the desktop) and the folks at Instagram will improve some small but annoying bugs (like glacially-slow focus).  

Performance in Low Light.  The iPhone’s tiny little sensor can’t let in a lot of light.  Yes, it makes up for it in very smart use of ISO and shutter speed, but when things get dark, the image becomes grainy or smudges out of focus.  Night scenes are difficult to capture and never nice to look at.  Now, there are apps out there that let you keep the shutter open for longer exposures, but I’ve yet to explore these in depth.  Stay tuned. 

Zoom.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something incredible only to grab my phone and watch it shrink in the frame.  The digital zoom on these devices is a farce; effectively cropping the image and blowing it up to a pixelated mess.  I thought I’d have to wait for sensors to improve the sharpness enough for digital zoom to be effective—but this new gift of lenses by Camkix has changed all of that.    

The camera kit included a lens that indeed looks comical—protruding several inches from the phone.  But the pictures...the images are absolute magic.  Hang-on-the-wall quality.  Straight out of the camera.  No retouching. 

The lens is not without its imperfections; but imperfections create character and effect. 

I don’t want a perfect representation of the world; I want a distillation of a moment, a summary of a subject—a painting more than a snapshot.  A poem more than a dissertation.  Not because a poem can be smaller; but because a poem can be more.

These delicate leaves were captured with the macro-lens.  It's like turning your iPhone into a low-powered microscope.  

This nail is in the old fence behind our house.  We've all seen old rusty nails in cracked wood—but here's the fiber of the grain, the chipped metal, and the little particles of sand and silt like delicate flakes of snow dotting the surface.  

I think of the end of a stick of dynamite when I see this.  What is it?  Just a splinter of wood from that old fence.  Twisted more like rope than wood.  Think how long ago the phloem cells of the pine tree conducted sugar and starch along the trunk—feeding the growth of these fibers.  Think where, and in what air...  

There's a great story of Jefferson.  While on a trip, he had a caricature made of his face; complete with hooked nose and a comic chin that would make Jay Leno proud.  He was so pleased with the cartoon that he had copies made and sent them to all of his friends. There's humor in those eyes, if you look.  

But of course, eyes are far from flat. Here, just look at how pointed the lashes are—wide at the base and like daggers at their ends.  And so curved.  Designed to capture those little white figments of dust and keep them out of the eyes.  So glossy.  So reflective.  True windows to the world.    

Can't you feel your fingers closing around the stalk-like branches, climbing into the heights of this trunk?  But it is only a twig on a shrub.  But what a world of adventure it invites.  

Our world is defined in many ways by sharp edges and rounded forms.  But here, at this level, texture rules, carpeting every surface in high-definition.  Are these filaments to catch moisture from the air?  To absorb sunlight?  To deter insects?  Or simply to feel the breeze?  

The honeycomb structure is perfect in its modernity—looking like a million cubes stacked in digital space, blurring to infinity.  Then again, this is made to blur.  It's the crystalline structure of a car's brake light.  

Hanging from the head of a hose, this droplet of water shows off the perfection of its curve—looking more like the distribution of a graph than something you'd drink.  And suddenly I'm reminded of a little fact: that rain falls not as a teardrop—but a sphere; so great is the stickiness of those hydrogen bonds.  Holding it together like a planet in space.  

From afar, clovers of the three leaf variety always looked just like that—three leaves.  But here it's obvious there are six leaves with six distinct stem-lines.  They sit in heart-shaped pairs, and each is distinctive in coloration and health.  Also—look at the little filaments around the edges.  Here, a bug works his way from a thirsty breakfast to a gem like droplet of water.   

Looking more like a glossy pineapple, this acorn shell has been pasted with a thin sheen of water. There's so much unexpected color at this magnification, so much variance, so many surprising transformations.  

An acorn bursts to life, splitting its shell and reaching up towards the light.  Acorns are brilliant little marvels of engineering—featuring all of the nutrients necessary to build a new tree.  The top part arching out will make the stem, while the lower tendril reaches down to the ground and will become the roots.  

The strength of this flower surprises. Usually just a tiny drop-sized burst of yellow in the grass, here is an explosion. At the center you can see the female organs surrounded by a constellation of split ends. These split projections hold the speckled pollen, just waiting for a bee. But this isn't an ordinary flower. Deep down between these yellow florets are white filaments. Soon, this bright yellow flower will transform itself into the white dome of a dandelion. 

The stars of a dandelion puncture the frame in this image, taken just a few steps from the yellow flower above.  

Focusing in beyond the stars of white, we find the head of the dandelion, looking like a star of cinnamon sticks.  

Here, a tiny spider balances in the space beneath a palm frond.  

When I took this picture of these bright flowers, I couldn't see the busy bug pattering across the petal.  Half of the fun of the lenses is seeming something differently; the other half—seeing something completely new.  

When the Washington Monument was completed, the architects decided to cap it with a pyramid of solid metal—precious metal.  Just as the monuments of antiquity were capped by gold, this one would be capped with the world's most gilded.  At the time, though, that wasn't gold or silver—it was a new and little-used metal: aluminum.  Today, that same aluminum is discarded in the grass—and polished in iPhones and Macs.  

This tiny fly rests on the link of a chain hanging from a fire hydrant, its wings translucent and stance expectant.  Ready to fly.  

These tiny flowers stand in the center of a marsh—salty at dusk—where water flows through a desert oasis.  

Sand that flows thin and smooth as silk here looks like gravel.  So much color.  So much variety.  

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Looking like a pine cone, this sits at the end of a reed and sways in the wind.  

These droplets hold whole worlds, a solar system on a flower petal.    

For thousands of years, we depended on horses for transportation and sport.  But it wasn't until the 19th century and the invention of photography that we finally saw how a horse gallops: every leg aloft—from leap to leap across the thundering earth.  

A giraffe comes into focus, peeking over the hill line—this tallest of mammals looking small in a landscape of mountains and clouds.  

Without these lenses, you'd have to be in this camel's face to capture a shot like this—but you'd fail to capture his sly but suspicious glare.  Here, at this distance, he can be himself.  

A cactus warns against closer contact, ready to fight for its hard-earned store of water.  

These petals float in a perfect canvas of green.  

A mist of droplets form in this forest of grass and clovers.  A billion tiny Earths, each reflecting its own sun.  And that perfect sphere at the center of the image, balanced at the end of a frond—that's where we live.  Go tell someone.

Freedom, Security, and Charlie

Does preventing the next attack mean sacrificing the values that Charlie Hebdo stood for? 

Word today that Great Britain’s David Cameron is targeting certain social networks that encrypt their data.  This is all well and good, Cameron says, but it’s no good when there’s a legitimate threat—a warrant that must be served.  What happens if there’s a terrorist attack—another Charlie Hebdo shooting—and law enforcement needs access to these networks?  These networks need to open their doors—or close down completely, he seems to say.  

John Gruber shook his head at the comment; and pasted in a well-worn quote:

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

-Ben Franklin

I tend to agree with the sentiment—in fact, I myself have used the quote in the past.  But I regret it now.  I regret it because Benjamin Franklin is simply dead wrong.  Think about it: our entire world is built on giving up a little bit of freedom to gain security.  We submit to delays at the airport for security.  We submit to wearing restraints and seat-belts in our cars for security.  We sell the freedom of our hours for the economic security of a wage.  Constantly, we give up freedom in order to gain security.  

At the same time, we also find ourselves giving up security in order to gain freedom.  Yes, we restrain our freedom with a seatbelt in order to be more secure—but we also threaten our personal safety and security in order to enjoy the freedom of the open road.  Each time we get into a vehicle we are putting our lives at risk.  Last year, about 30,000 people died in car accidents—and far more were wounded.  But we’ve decided that giving up the security and safety of the pedestrian is worth the freedom that mobility provides.  

Freedom and security is in constant balance—it’s a line we walk every single day.  To suggest that making a choice one way or another—in either direction—is scorn-worthy is a farce.  There is no store of finite freedom that each of us holds, untrammeled and virgin until we sell it for some measure of security.  We have to make a choice.  We live in society. Like wind we are blown by the movements of others, we find ourselves hanging as if on a swing—twisting and turning by the gusts of public opinion.  To to try to right ourselves in this storm of sentiment, we must push against one side or the other.  Not to choose is to choose to spin, turning and turning in the gale.  

Sometimes, we will push against freedom; others, against security.  But in the end, it’s a balance.  And one that we should exercise our minds in asserting.  Because it’s never as either/or as the partisans will have you believe.  When security breaks down, when law and order is broken, everyone’s freedom is at risk.  And when freedom is threatened, as we’ve seen in Ferguson and New York, riots and retaliations threaten security.  Just think of a room.  Freedom is everything you do in the room; and security is the walls of the room.  You need walls in a room to create the space and protect it against the elements.  But if you make that security too tight, if you bring those walls too close together, the room disappears and there’s no space to live, no space to move, or even breath. 

I don’t agree with David Cameron in his argument against social media.  I don't think that the freedom to communicate is worth compromising just to gain a bit more security in this case.  Why?  Because there are other ways to defend ourselves.  Because communication is too important to what we’re doing in this room.  But I’m not going to suggest that David Cameron is unworthy of freedom or security for having a different opinion.  Freedom isn’t inviolable; security isn’t primary.  Our society, and our future, depend on both.  Let’s discuss and debate both.  Because that’s what we all deserve.