Sunday, March 23, 2014

Young executives and ageism in the workplace

A good friend of mine, +Colmon Elridge , posted something on Facebook that I felt rang true in my work experience and that of many young professionals.  He graciously allowed me to repost it, and I'm doing so here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

...because, after all's said and done, the excuses mean nothing -- you gotta write.

Monday, March 30, 2009


A good friend and ex-coworker wrote a piece a little while back on his endeavors as a freelance writer.  He's a believer, to quote, "in the idea that you are either a creator or you aren't."  And he notes that he's come over time to realize that it takes a while to create as a creator, as the primary force behind your work and not as an emulator of another's or as one channeling someone else's idea of what you "should" be creating.

As tends to often be the case with this particular friend, I agree with 90% of what he says, and yet find the 10% compelling enough that I want to mention it.

I'll take his idea, call and raise.  I'm a believer in the idea that one is a creator.  I believe *everyone* has that drive.

I don't mean that in some happy flowers-and-sunshine Saturday-morning-edutainment-puppet-show "everyone can be a creator!" sort of way; I refer to fundamental human instinct.  I believe everyone has the intrinsic desire to create some external expression of the self.  Some are compelled to write, some to play music.  Some are just as equally passionate about being an auto mechanic or a carpenter.  Some have children.  The drive is the same, and it's in all of us.  All that differs is the mode of expression.  Your environment, your circumstances past and present, and to some degree your inherent talent determines the method you choose.  (To cement my claim that this is no flowers-and-sunshine idea, I'll note as an aside that talent is by far the least important factor one takes into account when determining the mode of expression.  I know -- we all know -- plenty of aspiring musicians/writers/mechanics/parents that really aren't particularly good at their craft.  It takes little observation to realize that their lack of talent does paltry little to quench their muse's fire.)

Perhaps that shouldn't be a parenthetical, because it leads well into the second point.  I think many of us, at some point, pick *our* art and commit to it.  We define ourselves as artists in a particular concentration.  But I can only hope it doesn't stop there.

Like I mentioned, my friend spoke of learning to be your own driving force in your art -- to create of your own, instead of being driven by others -- as a step forward in one's progress as a creator.

That reminded me of another friend, from longer ago.  I went to the University of Tulsa for a while before moving back to Texas, and as frustrating and restrictive as I found the academic experience, it was ameliorated by the amazing people that I got the opportunity to call friends.  One of them was -- well, my years after TU were spent at the University of North Texas, and I can comfortably say that taking that time into account, this guy is possibly the best trumpet player I've ever heard.  I mean, having devoted some serious time in the music department in both schools, I've gotten to hear some remarkable technical players since then, and if there was some faster-and-higher contest between the trumpet players I've known, I imagine that, no, maybe this guy wouldn't take the gold.  I'm also pretty confident that he wouldn't give a damn.  But if you were to listen to the guy in a combo setting -- man, he shone.  He was the first person I knew personally that I felt awed by musically.  (I don't think he knew that, come to think.)  He could speak through his instrument.  He could create this intricate weave of thoughts and feelings that somehow the audience could understand inherently, as if he were somehow serving as both writer and translator of what is for many a foreign tongue.  I've seen very few instrumentalists that could enrapture an audience like he could.  He was, to me, the essential trumpet player.

Which is, I suppose, the lesson -- because I didn't get it.  He spoke so naturally through his trumpet that I couldn't picture him without it.  It was, no doubt, his art -- his life's calling, as others may see writing or woodwork or architecture, I suppose.

I don't remember how the topic of music-related injuries came up at some point over a beer or two.  As usual, it doesn't really matter.  In the course of that conversation, I asked him what he would do if he, a smoker (as are all the best trumpet players, it would seem), ended up with gum cancer -- or, who knows, perhaps had some sort of accident or who knows what, and ended up unable to play the trumpet from then on out.

I suppose I thought it a fascinating question to ask of someone who I defined in my mind as the consummate trumpet player.  I don't think he found it all that interesting, though.  He hardly seemed to need any serious amount of time pondering the matter, as he answered matter-of-factly, "Well, I guess I'd have to learn the piano, then."

It still took a while for that to click for me.  I mean, I got the fact that he was a musician -- it was pretty much instantly clear to me that he saw the trumpet as just a medium, and that as long as he got to say what he wanted to say with the instrument in his hands, what instrument it was hardly mattered.  He wasn't the consummate trumpet player; he was the consummate musician.  I could grok that.

What I didn't get until later was that he may has well have said, "Well, I guess I'd have to learn to sing, then."  Or "I guess I'd have to learn to write poetry."  Or sculpt, or paint...  Leaving the trumpet behind for him, I knew, would be a life-changing endeavor for someone so naturally proficient in it to take on.  But it hardly took him any thought to come up with the realization that, trumpet or not, he had to create.  If his medium for doing so was taken away from him, he'd simply have to find another.

I imagine that it sounds a bit cliche to come at this from the "there is art in every endeavor" angle.  Seems that way to me, anyway; gawd knows it's been done often enough.  Perhaps it would suffice to say that I think that's a sentiment often stated, but rarely understood.  And it was then, when speaking to him, that I finally think I started to get it.  There *is* art in every endeavor, but not because it is intrinsic to the endeavor itself.  One could make a mechanical habit of playing the trumpet just as easily as they could of repairing a car.  The reason there is art in every endeavor is because we put it there -- or, more precisely, because we *have* to put it there.  We are all creators; we all have the drive to externalize a part of ourselves by way of our actions.  But if we are the ones putting art in the endeavors, that takes it out of the specific media we choose to use to express that creative instinct.  What method we use to fulfill the need to create is largely arbitrary.  Perhaps committing to one over another is a utilitarian decision, born of the need to be fluent enough in the chosen language to be able to express themselves with the desired complexity or intricacy.  And the particular one chosen is pretty much a function of environmentally influenced desires and interests.  But creation is creation, and we all have to do it, and we as creators will find ways to do it within the scope of whatever application is available to us at the time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Irony #1

As part of the 95% of Democrats that are capitalists, I love how I now get to rub it in the face of the 95% of Republicans that are capitalists that for all the complaining about "pinko commie" liberals, it is the Republicans who are pushing for the first significant governmental reform that is actually, and for once accurately, communism. Thanks for pushing the plan to buy Freddie and Fannie, guys! Yay for government ownership of industries! And double thanks for proving once and for all that your brand of "economics" doesn't work, regulation of markets (as Adam Smith noted) is actually a *good* thing, and all "lassez faire" does is make you have to apply extreme (and *communist*) reparations in the future, when they're going to hurt more. Can we go into the heartland of America and start calling you guys "pinko commies" yet?

And not only that, but you give us this trifecta of fail on an election year.

Do we owe you something for all this? (We'd like to know now, if you don't mind -- we know how you roll, but we *don't* like carrying debts over from year to year. We like to call that "fiscal responsibility." You may -- may -- have heard of it.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

In Medias Res

I don't actually remember when I opened this account. I could probably find out -- dig through some old LiveJournal posts or something like that, figure out when I first got the idea to create a blog for political rants. That would've been before Blogspot became, and well before I, along with three others, created the fastest growing progressive Democratic blog and news source in Texas. (Can you tell I'm proud?)

It was inevitable, though, that I'd end up wanting to write something that was perhaps political, but not particularly germane to my blog. It was this realization that drove me to come back and find my old, unused Blogspot nee Blogger account -- but it wasn't quite enough to get me to write. So many other writing projects! So little time! that's ever enough of an excuse for a writer not to write.

So it was that I decided to make my first post here, as I listened to the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on the local public broadcasting radio station just five minutes ago on my way down to Houston.

Yes, that's right. I'm in some random parking lot in one of D/FW's three or four Little Koreas, with my notebook on my lap and my phone providing my Internet. This because some belligerent English gentleman just handed the correspondent on the radio her journalistic rear end.

The discussion was on comparative media coverage of Obama and McCain in the general election. If you haven't been keeping up, currently Obama is cavorting through Europe and the Middle East, meeting heads of state, making lofty speeches to international audiences, and all in all being front-and-center in everybody's radar. And while this happens, McCain is... well, doing absolutely nothing. Ostensibly straight-talking his Straight Talk Express to StraightTalkVille, I suppose. So it's no surprise that Obama's gotten the bulk of the media coverage over the past week or two.

This, of course, is the source of great concern and consternation among the media, that would much rather be covering themselves than Obama or McCain. So, naturally, the biggest story this week has been on how the media has been covering the race. How meta. I suppose it's ironic that the media spends so much time analyzing themselves and how they cover what they cover, and yet never seem to take their own advice to their own satisfaction -- leading to more stories about the media. But that's a topic for a later time.

This time, the issue was more about fair coverage. The correspondent, examining her navel with the utmost of care, was concerned that the news wasn't doing a very egalitarian job of covering the races. After all, Obama's getting so much coverage for this tour -- aren't we being remiss in one of our most fundamental jobs? This can hardly be balanced, after all!

The charmingly bellicose English gentleman informs her that "presenting a 'balanced' view is not the role of the press, first and foremost. The role of the press, first and foremost, is to present *reality*."


I could go on to give the details of his explanation -- obviously there are bigger stories than others, ones that are more important, and there is a reason that, say, a tour of Europe meeting with heads of state and making speeches is a more significant event and deserves more coverage than a photo op with some folks in a supermarket. (Did I say that McCain was doing nothing? I stand corrected. That should be edited to read "mostly nothing." My apologies to Douglas Adams.)

But you probably didn't *need* an explanation. Because, when it comes down to it, that statement just instinctively makes sense, doesn't it? The role of the press isn't to be balanced -- it's to be an accurate mirror of reality, an all the more important distinction when reality *isn't* balanced than when it is. "Two plus two is four, a panel of mathematics experts declared Thursday. Some disagree, however. Critics claim that two plus two actually equals five for sufficiently large values of 2." That's not journalism. That's equivocation in the name of objectivity.

We need the truth represented to us, and the role of the fourth estate is to bring the truth from the darkness into the light. But by illogically equating the inequitable, they allow poorly-examined, poorly-defended fringes to once again shroud the truth that they are supposed to illuminate.

Isn't there a problem with reporting the "truth," however? Doesn't the responsibility of the media to discern the valid and newsworthy from the vapid and inconsequential open the door to the unintentional -- or possibly otherwise -- obfuscation of facts that could potentially be significant?

Well, the answer is of course "yes" -- that is a possibility. But there is no way we can remove all subjectivity from media reporting, whether we err towards "balance" or "reality." The solution to the problem implicit in that question is not to pick another equally flawed method. It is, instead, to assure that the application of whatever method is chosen isn't restricted by the method.

It so happens that, were coverage of Obama's tour of Europe and McCain's supermarket photo op to be represented in the media based on the relative importance as judged by a given media entity, there would still be some folks that would cover McCain's handshakes. Maybe they aren't exactly Obama fans. (Thanks, Washington Times!) Maybe produce costs are a key issue to the local reading populace they service. Or, heck, maybe they think McCain is underrepresented and are looking to make up for that.

One way or the other, the supermarket story would still get covered. It just wouldn't be covered as much as Obama speaking about U.S. foreign policy. And isn't that OK?

The safeguard built in to the First Amendment freedom of the press that assures that the marketplace of ideas isn't unfairly limited is that *everybody has it.*  Not that everyone be forced to represent two sides of a discussion, but that everyone can present their side and their rationale and folks can make their own decisions based on that.

Lawrence Lessig, a noted constitutional lawyer that has worked for years with the Electronic Frontier Foundation before delving into politics, presented at this year's Netroots Nation. He had an interesting point with regards to the First Amendment. He noted that he'd gone back and looked at original drafts of the Bill of Rights, and that most published copies of it these days had a typo -- everybody thought it spoke of the press, but it originally actually read "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the *blogs*."

Obviously, he was kidding. But not completely. After all, freedom of the press at that period in time was not about reporters at the New York Times. The New York Times didn't exist. Freedom of the press wasn't represented by a ponderous Fourth Estate. It was represented by pamphleteers. If you wanted to get your idea out, you'd go to your local printer and get some pamphlets run. Then you'd hand them to people, tack them to trees, read them in squares, whatever it took. If your idea sticks, it sticks. If it doesn't, it doesn't. And for sure, some of those "ideas" in pamphlets -- heck, a lot of them -- were regularly lousy, often sensationalist, and at times downright nuts. (Sound familiar?)

But not all of them. Every once in a while, something would rise like cream to the top of that bucket of ideas. You of course know that you've heard of one of those pamphlets and the pamphleteer that put it out. The Founding Fathers did too. One wonders if copyright was taken as seriously back then as now, if we'd even have a Declaration of Independence, or if Tom Paine would've gotten an injunction on the text in Common Sense until 70 years after his death or Sonny Bono started his career, whichever came first. But I digress.

Should we worry that the media may "filter" what we see to only include what they think has merit? Of course -- but they'll be "filtering" it anyway. A decision is always made as to what there is and isn't time and/or column inches to run. The question is, what criteria should they use? Should topics, broad categories of coverage, be chosen, and then all ideas within that topic or instances in that category be covered in equal measure? National security and supermarket gladhanding? Evolution and creationism? Britney and Paris? (Yes, Britney and Paris. One must keep in mind that allowing the press to pick categories in no way protects us from poor or sensationalist coverage. That is an illusory "benefit" of this sort of "balance.")

Or should we allow the press, instead of selecting topics but ignoring the relative merit of the ideas in that topic, to weigh ideas individually? Should we let them make decisions on the merit of the stories they're running, on their credibility, their importance?

Obviously I side with the latter. Because I think in the end -- and it's the open medium of the Internet, with its low barrier to entry and freedom of discussion, that assures this -- we will be the ones making those decisions. It will not be the media; it will be the masses. There have already been many instances of a story ignored by the press which has been picked up by the modern-day pamphleteers and circulated in greater and greater numbers until the mainstream media could not ignore it any longer. Valerie Plame. The U.S. attorney firings. The series of ethics violations in the state legislature here in Texas. These issues all owe their continued existence to some blogger that got his or her opinion out there -- and to everyone that read that opinion and continued circulating it until it became impossible to ignore.

The press is an institution that is protected by the highest law of the land so that with that protection it can present to us the truth of matters we cannot see for ourselves. It therefore bears the responsibility of striving to paint these pictures as accurately as possible from a human institution. "Balanced" coverage may result in fewer nasty letters from readers -- but if it's not a true representation of reality, "balanced" coverage is at best worthless, and at worst a detriment to reasonable dialogue.

But if they choose not to accept that responsibility, well, we'll just have to do it for them.