Holy crap, we’re an amazing species

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The photo at the top of this post was taken with a cell phone on a plane while I was listening to Tchaikovsky on Sirius XM through headphones.

Can we break all of this down for a minute?

First off, I'm sitting in a chair in a metal tube in the sky with 150 other people. We're going 1,000 miles in under two hours. What a giant fuck you to gravity — and pretty much everything else we thought we knew 125 years ago.

125 years. Seriously. Your grandfather's grandfather was an adult already. That's a blink ago.

While sitting on this plane, I've got headphones in. There's sound coming through these little wired pods in my ears that only I can hear. Specifically, it is an orchestral recording that has been committed to some digital medium and sent from earth to space and then bounced back to me moving 500 mph through the sky in a metal tube.

An orchestral recording? That's 100 different people sending sound through instruments we built and shaped to make sounds. All the sounds are coordinated because we came up with this language drawn in symbols we could all agree on that say, "On this instrument, play this sound for this long." And one person put all those instructions down on paper and someone else is standing up and reading it and leading a whole bunch of other people who are reading it to make sure everyone's in the same place.

At the same time, the sound is traveling into some sort of device that captures that sound and can reproduce it in a format that is readable by other devices, including the one that can send it into space for me to hear.

Cripes.

Now, can we look at the stuff in the photo?

I don't even know where to start. Maybe with the book? It's full of words. Printed words. We not only agreed on sounds that mean something, we drew symbols to represent those sounds. Then we figured out how to pulp wood to make paper, have some ink and a press to permanently impress the symbols onto the paper, bind them together, and reproduce that a whole bunch of times.

We then took that ink, created a container that can leak just a little bit, in a controlled manner when in contact with a solid surface, and put the ink inside.

Now look a little to the left. We got more ink to stay on that napkin, which is a different version of the reconstituted pulped wood. The cup is yet another version of reconstituted pulped wood, also with some ink, and it's full of hot coffee — a drink that is amazing in itself. We took this berry, got the seed out, roasted the seed and steeped it in hot water. And we managed to get it hot in a metal tube in the sky.

If you can look at everything around you and not be AMAZED at our ingenuity, you might need a perception adjustment.

On renewal

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We mark today the turning of the Jewish calendar to a new year.

The way the calendar works, actually, the new year holiday began Sunday evening at sundown and continues until this evening at sundown.

The 10 days that begin with the opening of the holiday mark a period of reflection in my faith, culminating with Yom Kippur, known for its day-long (sundown-to-sundown) fast.

The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, which likely dates back to the way the Bible is written: "...and there was evening, and there was morning, a first day." Maybe it's from before that. Phases of the moon and the path of rotation through the stars are much easier to detect than are phases of the sun, particularly in an equatorial environment when the seasons would have changed only subtly.

Shortly after Yom Kippur — about a week, typically — we celebrate Sukkot, a harvest feast. A week after that, we celebrate Simchat Torah, reaching the end of a cycle of reading the Torah. The Torah is the Bible laid out in a scroll. Each Sabbath we read a prescribed portion, and Simchat Torah marks the time when we finish one reading of the Torah, wind it all the way back to the beginning, and start anew.

It's a month-long welcoming of the new year, both somber and celebratory.

We say to each other as we turn the calendar, "A good year. May you be written." As in, may you be written in the Book of Life. Jewish belief is that God has a book, and over the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God writes in the names of the people who will live for the next year.

Don't look at me funny. These beliefs date back almost six thousand years. You think putting candles in a tree to celebrate the birth of a guy who was executed and disappeared from a tomb three days later is better? We can reserve the discussion of superstitions and wars and stuff for another time.

I know I typically do a post at the end of December every year, looking back at the year ending. That becomes more of a roundup, I think, while this late-summer or early-fall holiday really provides that period of reflection for me that a lot of people account for heading toward resolutions for January.

I also think this makes more sense for a calendar, switching the year as we gather our food for the cold season, giving the ground a rest before our spring planting.

Running water tends to be my reflection point during this season, so you'll probably find me out at Tybee, toes in the water, staring off toward the horizon, thinking.

Thoughts on Charlotte, #BLM vs. #ALM and implementing movements

Demonstrations last week in Charlotte in the wake of the shooting of a black man by a police officer were not unexpected. Our memories are short, but not that short. We haven't forgotten what happened in Ferguson. Or Baltimore. Or Minneapolis. Or New York. Or Baton Rouge.

The details of this shooting are a little different, if I understand correctly.

The police officer who shot Keith Lamont Scott is black. That doesn't mean he isn't a racist. It doesn't mean anything. It's just different.

Scott may have been armed, too. Initial reports were that he was. That doesn't mean he was illegally armed. It doesn't mean he was threatening. It doesn't mean he wasn't. It's just different.

Different from Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Freddie Gray and Philando Castile and maybe a little more like Alton Sterling.

While the demonstrations aren't surprising, I'm starting to view them differently. In a get out your tin-foil hats sort of way.

Before we get any farther, I think we should look at #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMater, because this is important, and it's not evident to everyone.

I've seen the difference best described in this analogous situation. It's not mine. It made the rounds on Facebook and I have no idea where I saw it. If you know, please comment so I can give the originator some credit.

The short version is this: Missing from the hashtag is an implied "too". Now, the long version.

Imagine a family with eight children. You probably know one. Dinner time's a little chaotic. Mom, Dad and eight kids. Imagine you're the six-year-old. Mom's dishing out food, but skips over you, giving everyone else an equal amount.

You start to complain, obviously. Dad gets angry.

"But, Dad, I deserve my fair share," you say.

"That's selfish," he replies. "Everyone deserves their fair share."

You didn't mean other people shouldn't have their fair share, that only you should have your fair share. From where you're sitting, watching everyone eat, everyone already has their fair share, and you want yours, too.

You didn't say, "I deserve my fair share, too," you just assumed that Dad recognized everyone already had theirs, since they're eating and you're not.

That's the difference between #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. The #BLM movement looks around and sees that everyone else's life appears to matter, every life except black lives. The movement doesn't believe that only black lives matter. It believes that it's apparent other lives matter, and that black lives matter, too.

Now, let's move on. At its heart, #BLM is looking for institutional change — or at least it appears that's the goal. There doesn't seem to be any unity of vision around that goal, but it's still a young movement.

Example: Early in the campaign, demonstrators broke up a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle. For all the lip service everyone else paid the black community, Sanders is the only one seen in photographs marching with Martin Luther King Jr. He's the only person who was running for president this time out who has actually demonstrated for black lives, and demonstrators sent him home, too.

If you want to make waves in an oligarchic republic, you basically have two moves: Make friends in high places or burn everything down and start over. This was a guy who was demonstrably on their side and in a position to help, and demonstrators took to a bully pulpit.

That feels a lot like burning a bridge. He could have spent months backing them on the election trail; he could still do something for the movement as a Senator with an increased profile.

Now go get your tin-foil hats, because there was some weird stuff going on Wednesday night in Charlotte.

Things got a little out of hand during the evening. I watched, on CNN, as demonstrators injured a cameraman and broke windows on businesses. Someone said protesters were beating up patrons at a hotel who came to the lobby to look on, since they couldn't leave.

When I got back from my break, about 1:30 a.m. (Thursday morning, technically), there were five types of people left on the streets of Charlotte: (1) Police; (2) Journalists; (3) Dude-bros in shorts and hoodies taking cell phone photos and videos of the destruction; (4) Drunk people smiling and waving at the cameras as last call approached and (5) Peaceful demonstrators (seriously peaceful and organized; if you didn't know any better they would have looked like a Zumba class on the sidewalk).

I'm guessing police didn't manage to round up and arrest the entirety of the aggressive bunch, and I'm guessing they didn't all look at their watches and say, "It's almost midnight; I'd better get home."

I'm not saying the government bussed in a bunch of agitators to make everybody look bad and then bussed them back out when viewership declined on the east coast, but that's starting to sound more and more plausible every time something happens.

And what about police behavior? With people breaking windows and throwing bricks and tossing tear gas canisters at police, the only person who was shot Wednesday night appears to have been shot by a civilian, not an officer, which means that there were guns in the crowd amidst the chaos.

As a CNN commentator noted, police can handle riots without shooting anybody but they can't pull a Taser instead of a gun when confronting someone on the street? I don't know. It's high-stress all around and I've never been in the situation from either side, but it seems strange that when you turn on the cameras and show us basically a militarized zone for the night, nobody gets hurt, but put an officer in an "everyday" situation (for a police officer, I guess), and it keeps ending badly, it feels like something more conspiratorial is going on.

The US Military requires more documentation of escalation that leads to foreign combatants' deaths (including proof that the deceased was properly identified as a combatant before engagement) than many of our cities require of police. I'm not sure that's a good thing.

Now here's the hard part.

#BLM clearly wants institutional change. I have a general understanding of what the result of that looks like, but I have no understanding of the steps between demonstrating visibly on the streets instituting change where it can make a difference.

I do know that it has to be through some combination of emotion and numbers, and there doesn't appear to much overlap. Yes, the majority of people killed by police are still white. But yes, 26 percent of people killed by police are black men, while black men only make up 6 percent of the general population. But black men are also disproportionately in prisons — and are disproportionately poor, under-educated and under-employed. These things are related.

If you want to hear the problem we have mixing the two, listen to a very drunk Hannibal Burress (a black comedian who was drinking on a comedy podcast and then got roped into a political discussion by dint of still being in the room) talk about #BLM with a sober Sam Harris (a white neuroscientist and moral philosopher) in episode 52 of #WTPLive [ - Google Play]. It's sloppy and a little embarrassing at times, but it makes the point that this requires both logical thinking and empathy, and this movement may be too young to allow the two to meet.

Unity of vision

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The rabbis tell the story of a student of the seer of Lublin, a wise and religious man.

The student decided that in order to be closer to God, he would fast (no food or water) from the end of one Sabbath (Saturday at sundown) to the beginning of the next (Friday at sundown).

As the next Sabbath approached, the student was very thirsty, and, as he walked to his teacher's house to welcome the Sabbath, he passed a well. He stopped at the well, and then told himself, "If I have a drink of water now, I will have wasted the rest of the week." He walked away without a drink.

As he continued his journey, the student felt proud of himself, and recognizing the sin of pride, rushed back to the well, saying, "better I should fail in my fast than to feel pride." When he got back to the well, however, he was no longer thirsty, and continued on to his teacher's house without taking a drink.

When he arrived, the seer admonished him for his patchwork approach to getting closer to God. "You should go into your fast with unity of soul."

This translates so well into our want-to-do-everything world. Beyond #FOMO ("fear of missing out"), we have a problem wherein we want to be seen as so many different things — indeed to do so many different things.

It's fine to do a lot, but do it with unity of vision. Do it with a sense of purpose. Do everything with an eye toward being your best you. And if something is leading you away from that path, stop doing it. Now.

Want to know if you're on the right track here? Open your calendar. What did you do last week? The week before? What's there for the next week? How about the week after? Ask why about everything that's on there. Can you come up with an answer that makes sense to you? If not, maybe consider reconfiguring your calendar a little.

Start saying no to stuff that you feel like you have to do but that don't suit your purpose. Be one with you.

Oh, and have a great day.

Lessons in working hard and reining it in from Bert Kreischer and Robert Kelly

Sometimes I listen to a podcast with the expectation that it's going to be really fun, and instead of laughing a lot, I find myself saying, oh no, now I need to listen to this again with pen and paper nearby.

Comedian Robert Kelly was on Bertcast — the podcast of comic and Travel Channel personality Bert Kreischer — and it really turned into something you need to hear.

Here are my takeaways from the episode:
• Help your friends out, but also hold them accountable
• Know the things you want and need to be your best — and demand them
• Learn how to cut off the fat
• Learn how to say no
• Don't say anything you can't take back (Kelly is sometimes on Comedy Central's "Roast Battle," a show on which the point is to make fun of other comics; the lesson here is some things are off-limits — know how you can tease people, but know what's too far)
• Spontaneity isn't always good
• Don't put in the work if the payoff isn't there
Hard work is hard
• We are in a period of excellence and variety
• Don't let emotion get the better of you
• What is your peak? Are you willing to keep going on the other side of it?
Sometimes it's worth the risk
• It's worth doing exactly what you want, but do it for you, and do it your way
• You don't know where it's going, but it's definitely not going anywhere if you don't do it to your expectations
• Not everybody is going to be a rock star
• Have measured expectations
• Be realistic about where you are
Try to be better
• Do what you do; you ever where it's going to get you
• Don't let expectations weigh you down
• In a saturated market, how do you stand out?
• You're worth what you're worth. If you get $X and someone's only offering $y, you can still love them honestly but say no
• Don't jump in a big pond just to be a small fish. Kelly's actual quote: "Why do I want to be the pepper in your chop suet? People want chop suet; they don't care what's in it."
• It's up to you if you stay or go – not the audience, not your mother, not anyone else
• Bring people with you

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What is context and why does it matter?

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In 1871, Otto von Bismarck engineered the unification of Germany. When he was forced out of power in 1897, he said that things would probably start to collapse within 20 years, and that a European war would probably break out thanks to "some damned foolish thing in the Balkans."

In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria decided to go check out the provinces and hold a parade on a day of national significance to the colonized Serbs. He was assassinated, and World War I broke out, which led to World War II.

This is not to say von Bismarck was a miracle worker or could predict the future. He merely understood the context of the situation.

Learn something: Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, Blueprint for Armageddon Episode 1 »

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy pulled a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Territory (Hawaii was not yet a state). The attack marked America's entry into World War II.

It also marked the beginning of the end of the America First Committee, a large anti-war group that shut down on December 10 of that year.

This wasn't the tie-dyed hippie peace, love and understanding anti-war movement we all know from movies about Vietnam. And it wasn't the "hate the war, love the troops" anti-war groups we know from the more recent American wars.

This was a "we're white Protestant Americans, screw everybody else" group. They were hard-left isolationists. They wanted to make sure America didn't bail out Europe (you know, again, like after the first World War). They wanted America to turn away Jews fleeing the Holocaust. They wanted to shut the borders, cut off aid, and rely on homegrown everything — avoid all international trade as long as possible.

This was an organization claiming 850,000 paid members. 850,000 people who wore pins and carried signs and hung posters that said "America First."

So you'll forgive me if I can't get behind Republicans using "America First" this campaign cycle.

Significantly, we'll remember the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor a month after the presidential election.

If you think I'm being over-sensitive about this context, look back on how World War I got started: A government official went into a territory that wanted to be independent without being cognizant of the history of the date he picked.

Context is everything.

What is context?

It's content outside of of a vacuum.

Think of a rainbow. On a t-shirt. A purple t-shirt.

In the 1950s, nobody would have made that t-shirt. It didn't mean anything to anyone. Now, it'd be popular, especially with a particular segment of the population. Why? Context.

A Red Sox cap would have meant nothing to anyone in 1840. "Why is there a 'B' on your cap, sir?"

When Kelvin and I started our podcast, we started with the premise, "A black guy and a Jew walk into a bar."

We can use that premise not just because we are a black guy and a Jew who occasionally enjoy going to a bar when we're in the same town, we can use it because of some context.

First of all, "a [blank] and a [blank] walk into a bar" is a common setup for jokes, so it has some cultural meaning.

Secondly, we're not sensitive about our cultural identifications — our "othernesses."

If you were to randomly walk up to a black guy and a Jew and greet them as such — "HEY! It's a black guy and a Jew!" — you'd better hope they have good senses of humor.

That's context, and it's important.

The Selfie Stick would have sold horribly in the 1980s. Nobody was taking selfies.

Marketing? Maybe. Timing? Maybe. Cultural context? For sure.

While I'm not a proponent of "political correctness," I'm also not a proponent of hurting people intentionally to prove a point. But above all, I'm a proponent of understanding context. If you don't understand context, you don't get to criticize people for feeling how they feel.

For instance, you don't get to tell Dana Schwartz she's overreacting when someone calls her a "filthy oven-dodger" if you don't have the context of people trying to kill everybody like you.

You don't get to belittle the relationship between adoptive parents and children if you don't know firsthand what it's like to be part of a family that might be called "non-traditional."

You have no context. Get it? Good.

Small decisions are the difference between good enough and great

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I was running south down Drayton Street, along Forsyth Park, on yet another high-heat, high-humidity day in Savannah.

It seems like every time I've looked down at my phone's weather application the past two months, it says something on the order of "92°, feels like 109°."

I'd been frustrated by my inability — really, lack of true desire — to push past two or three miles (I'd been running two or three times a day sometimes to get some time in on the pavement).

That particular day, I had set out to run five miles, and here I was, about 2.25 miles in, drenched, sagging and miserable. Up ahead about a quarter mile — well within my view — was a corner.

I could turn left, and get home in about a mile, or I could turn right and keep going. I could go home, get comfortable and tell myself I was going back out later, or I could push myself through.

Let me note here that in general, five miles is not a stretch for me. I'll run my second half marathon this fall, and I've set a running goal of 1,000 miles this year.

At 10 minutes per mile, a quarter mile is two minutes, 30 seconds. That's not a long time if, say, you're driving to Baltimore. But just sit there and count off two and a half minutes. Go ahead. Bet you last about 15 seconds and say, "OK, I get the point."

Two and a half minutes of norepinephrine nudging me to the left, saying, "hey, three-plus miles on a really hot day isn't all that bad!" And a piece of my brain, feebly frying in the July heat, meekly responding, "no...I'm...running...five...today."

Kelvin and I did a podcast on this yesterday.

It's these bouts of internal arguments that make the difference between settling for good enough and going for great.

It's these little corners — turn left or turn right — that make the difference between the comfortable status quo the uncomfortable moments required for growth.

It's these decisions you make — be good enough or turn toward greatness — that define who you become.

I ran a touch over 5.6 miles that day. Which way would you turn?

Work-life balance for the perpetually busy: Join my Circle

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Before you read this, you should go learn about Creative Coast Circles from the other two charter hosts, Andy Cabistan and Casey Herrington.

Look, we all struggle from "busyness." We're all employees or employers or entrepreneurs or parents or husbands or wives or children or siblings or, more likely, some combination of all of those things. We all need sleep, exercise, food and a bunch of other things for healthy living.

Before you get mad about being asked to do one more thing, remember the old Zen proverb, "You should sit in silence for twenty minutes a day, unless you are too busy, in which case you should sit in silence for two hours."

On the second Wednesday each month at 1 p.m., I will host a Circle at Gallery Espresso, on the southeast corner of Chippewa Square in Savannah. We'll limit the group to seven participants, and we're willing to be flexible on the time and location after a few meetings, BUT understand that The Creative Coast requires commitment for this: you must attend each month.

We'll discuss things like routines, understanding the difference between important and urgent and in general flush out how everyone deals with the everyday challenges of being able to enjoy your life.

Our first meeting will be August 10. Fill out this form to RSVP. Hope to see you there.

Seth Godin on decommoditizing yourself, dropping your entitlement, and the loss of head starts

I've been working my way through the 30 Days of Genius interviews on CreativeLive, and, surprise, Seth Godin's stood out to me.

If you're not familiar with Seth Godin, please go spend two days watching and reading some of his stuff. This all right here is not important; it's just talking points from this interview.

Godin's altMBA »

Chase Jarvis, photographer and founder of CreativeLive, interviews Godin. Here are some of the points I think are important.

• There is no secret; there is no right answer.
• Genius is an ancient term for the voice in your head. No one's a genius, we all have a genius.
• Fear is hard-wired into us, but sometimes it's just wrong — a presentation at work is nothing like the Spanish Inquisition, even though we have the same reaction to it.
• Most people are talented. If you're doing banal work, you're afraid to use your talent.
• Overwhelm a platform with generosity. If you stay off the ship because you're worried about a wreck, you're still off the ship when it's successful.
• We live in a world right now where we don't need to be picked — by an employer, by a publisher, etc.

Jarvis: I love that your prescriptions are so simple.
Seth: But hard to do.

• Are you just doing something to get more famous? If so, why? If you couldn't see your numbers, would you still do it? For example, are you only trying to grow your Twitter followers because you can see the number of Twitter followers you have?
• We're living in the most crowded creative time ever. You're not entitled to attention or leverage, but you can earn it.
• Build art that doesn't work unless you share it. The first guy who had a fax machine couldn't do anything with it until someone else had a fax machine.
• Anything worth doing is worth doing because you changed someone else. If we don't make a change happen, what did we do? Sharing will happen naturally when you change someone. "The Laramie Project" was a play about gay rights, and you and I have heard of it because it changed the people who saw it and they wanted to share it.
• Our public education system isn't designed to create innovation. It was started by industrialists to grow a workforce with similar education who is trained to sit at a desk all day, and hasn't changed since. We have summers off because we needed time to pick crops.
• [To work around the problems of public education]: Parents need to tell kids that straight A's aren't the point. Ask, "What problem have you solved today?" Kids have to answer that before they're allowed to do their homework.
• If you can't buy into "it might not work," you have to trick yourself into it.
• Have a practice. If you go in for surgery, you want the surgeon to do things the same way every time. Similarly, when it comes to daily practices, there's no one practice that's demonstrably better than another, but having a practice is important.
• Now that the world has changed, don't get frustrated. If you want to be treated like a non-commodity, don't act like a commodity.
• Take responsibility for what you do. It's not your boss's fault, not your parents' fault.
• Don't do great things tomorrow, do them today.

The ongoing fear of success

I was pretty smart four years ago when I asked, "how do you plan for success?"

I'm dumber now, I guess, because I just read that piece and learned something from it.

Maybe I'm not dumber. Maybe I just needed a reminder. Clearly I haven't spent the four years learning the entire lesson.

I was reminded of problem of fearing success when Joey Diaz had Matt Baker on his podcast last week.

Diaz, the actor and comedian, and Baker, a second-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, are on the mic with producer Lee Syatt. They're talking about Diaz getting into comedy, and about his fear of getting onstage.

Scroll ahead to 34:19 if you want to hear this exchange; go before that if you want context.

Syatt: Were you worried you were going to bomb? Is that what you were most worried about? Or were you worried that you were going to do well?

Diaz: I was worried I was going to find the answer to all my problems.

"I was worried I was going to find the answer to all my problems."

What are you not doing because you're worried it will eliminate your ability to complain about anything?