Friday, January 28, 2011

If I Were President

Here is what I would say.

Thank you for joining me to consider the State of our Union.  Please stay seated and do not offer any applause.

I received a letter in the mail today.  The stamp caught my eye.  It is a lovely illustration of a Ponderosa Pine and the legend reads “USA Forever”.  The Ponderosa Pine stands tall through Washington, Oregon, California and east to the Dakotas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.  It is a rapid growing tree with the ability to firmly anchor into rock and soil.  It has been used for medicine, food, and lumber.  Its thick bark resists fire.  Here’s a shout out to the Postal Service for shinning a spotlight into the majestic canopy.  It is appropriate to celebrate this tree. 

The Ponderosa is uniquely American.  And so are we – I see in this room men and women from all walks of life – each sought the opportunity to choose service to our country.  Each believed the right path lay ahead.  And now together we are challenged to reset our course.

When we ran for office we were confident in the virtue of our campaign – that with our wits and determination we could win our election.  In that way we are just like our constituents who also bring forward their energies and ingenuity in pursuit of the opportunity to build their own future.  Like them, we believe in our own potential.  And like them, we have hopes and fears.  Hopes and fears that color our vision of tomorrow.  In pursuit of opportunity we moderate our fears with action and transcend our hopes with result. 

But stop a minute, and think.  In our own success was another’s failure.  Another who, like us accepted the risk of defeat as the consequence of the chance for victory.   The trial and error cycle of our free society works that way.  In the history of our great nation, examples abound.

Over time, our United States Government has become entangled in the hopes and fears of our people.  We have sought more and more to allay anxiety and fulfill dreams.   We have spoken about our freedoms but forgotten that there are consequences to free choice.  We have constructed a safety net that is in danger of strangling all who fall into it.

We are a rich nation.  We have chosen to allocate a significant percentage of our gross national product to the mesh of our public programs.  We have chosen debt over equity.  Continuing on the present course will cost each of our citizens an even greater percentage of their personal wealth – wealth they otherwise might employ in the trial and error of their own career.  The consequence of our actions is to severely limit the opportunity of individual choice for our generation and all those that follow.

I propose to restore a measure of our lost individual opportunity.  My contribution in that cause will be leadership in a restructuring and reduction in the scope of our government.  I do not propose to abandon those for whom there is no alternative to public support.

USA, forever. And I say, Amen.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Bats in the Belfry

Not exactly.  This time its a hawk in the cupola.  Last week a hawk appeared in the farthest recess of the Library of Congress - 160 feet above the top floor in the very peak of the dome.  The librarians have recruited personnel from the Northern Virginia Raptor Center to usher the bird to safety outdoors.  No doubt they will get the job done.  There is very little that has not been studied about birds and there are millions of birders who would happily line up to help.  A U.S Fish and Wildlife study estimates that one fifth of all Americans are birdwatchers.  The Ornithology Lab at Cornell engages 200,000 citizen-scientists every year in research about nesting, seed preference, disease and migration.  Each winter 60,000 dedicated birders brave snow, sleet and really awful weather to pay $5 apiece for the privilege of participating in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.  2010 was the 111th annual count.  The Library of Congress reports that business is up since the hawk's arrival with eager birder's training their binoculars for a closer look.  The consensus is that the hawk is a female Coopers. 

Television network CBS discovered the American passion for birds when they used dubbed bird songs as background during broadcasts of PGA Tour events.  Viewers complained - lots of them.  They pointed out to CBS that the Canyon Wren, a resident of Western North America could not possibly have sung at the Buick Open near Flint, Michigan.  Likewise, the White-throated sparrow would have been far to the north on summer breeding grounds when its song appeared at tournaments in Louisville, Kentucky and Akron, Ohio.  The Library of Congress' hawk may attract visitors from oversees who call themselves "twitchers" when they travel long distances to check (or "tick") a bird off their life-time list.  I'd stop in, too if I were there.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beverage Apparel

Do you know what that is?  Wearable drinks?  First was the Camelbak line of "hydration accessories".  Now comes Product Ventures with Beverage Apparel following the same concept as Camelbak that water should be easy to pack and drink even when your hands are not free.  You may not be training for an endurance event for which you want your water conveniently arranged in a backpack-type sling, but you will be glad that people like Product Ventures CEO Peter Clarke have devoted their careers to packaging.

The US Centers for Disease Control estimates that  300,000 people visit the hospital annually as a result of lacerations incurred while trying to open plastic packaging.  "Wrap-rage" injuries sustained by consumers attempting to open a plastic clamshell package are now the fifth most common cause of non-fatal injury.  Clamshell is the term for molds that entomb your electronic gadget or your child's new toy in one or two layers of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic which is sealed around the edges. 

Clarke's company offers industrial design services that include "ergonomics, anthropometrics, and usability assessment".  In other words, his engineers understand what can be done by the normal human hand without the help of teeth or scissors.  Clarke's message is straightforward: "If you seek to improve your consumers' experience by leveraging the power of design, please contact me and let's work together to optimize your brand for success."  Clarke also offers packaging design for beverages.  His company was asked what the future of beverage packaging may look like.  They forecast a new packaging platform which leverages the minimalist and compact nature of pouches - like boxed wine, only light weight and streamlined so your drink is part of your sports regalia.  This new package format is called beverage apparel.  Maybe easy to open packages for printer cables are next. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters

We have been hearing about civil discourse.  Martin Luther King is the master to emulate.  On the eve of Dr. King's birthday I took another look at his powerful words.  Dr. King spoke with familiar and soaring phrases, drawing some of his most powerful rhetoric from words that were already known by heart.  In his great speeches he evoked the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the US Constitution and the Gettysburg Address.  He transcended differences he might have had with his audience with his unspoken message: here is my clarion call - you will recognize some of it - my dream echoes your familiar legacy; we share the same passion and therefore it is safe for you to share my dream.

Dr. King's great speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 drew power from the Bible. From Amos 5:24, his words: "no, no we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a might stream".  And from Isaiah 40:4 he built his great dream: "I have a dream that every valley shall be exalted.  Here is Isaiah: Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low.  Handel used these words in his Messiah - a piece heard in thousands of communities each holiday season.

In the last speech he gave before his assassination Dr. King directly quoted the Battle Hymn of the Republic: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord".  In another verse of this powerful hymn is this line which is perfectly appropriate to a celebration of Dr. King's life: He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stone Soup

I love soup.  I see leftovers as ingredients for soup.  I  chop up the biggest turkey carcass to put in my stock pot.  I have discovered that pureed sweet potato can thicken a soup as well as butter and cream.  I keep twelve varieties of dried beans in my cupboard.  I have ham hocks in the freezer.  I believe that my food processor is my friend.  I keep canned corn and frozen peas on hand for quick vegetable flavor.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that January is National Soup Month. And also, February 4 is Homemade Soup Day.  There's more - the second week in November is Split Pea Soup Week.  On his website  my "Holiday Director" tells me that January will be publicized on calendar sites as  National Soup Swap Month urging me to swap a soup recipe with a friend.

So here you go: take a large pot, add water and then a nice smooth stone.  Bring to boil. Invite neighbors to bring just a bit from their garden or larder. When others inquire, invite their contribution, too.  Stir frequently. Season with salt.  Enjoy.  Stone soup is a folk tale told in many different cultures.  It memorializes the timeless nurture of hot, aromatic, nourishing soup.  Try some tonight.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Harriet Wingreen

Last week I wrote about the New York Philharmonic's New Year's Eve concert.  I have learned that the celesta player whose name I did not know at the time was Harriet Wingreen.  You can read about her on their web site.  There is a wonderful picture of her hands in her biographical sketch.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Roundup in Denver

January 19th - there is still time to register.  Ed Tuccio and Dee Muma will probably be there for the 16th annual NBA Winter Conference at the Denver Renaissance Hotel.  That's the National Bison Association whose mission is to bring together stakeholders to create a sustainable future for the bison industry.   Tuccio and Muma will fly in from their ranch where they manage a herd of 300 bison.  He will miss his local Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards Party which is scheduled for the same weekend in Riverhead, Long Island, New York.  Tuccio runs a successful business in Riverhead, Tweed's Restaurant and Buffalo Bar which he supplies with his own locally raised bison.

Defenders of Wildlife might be there too.  Their mission: save imperiled wildlife.  Their Bison Fact Sheet urges me to "Adopt to Save a Bison".

How to make sense of the status of bison?  The facts are well known.  From their historical population level of 20 - 30 million, bison were hunted to the brink of extinction by the end of the 19th century.  They regained a foothold in the 20th century, first on public lands in conservation programs.  Their numbers began to increase when private ranchers entered production and restaurants put bison on the menu.  Consumers became partners in restoring North American herds.

The economics are compelling.  If Defenders are right and the conservation solution for "wild animals" must be financed by "adoptions", one animal at a time, I predict only modest success.  The marketplace has scale on its side.  Bison as livestock stand a good chance of sustainable survival.  Should be a good conversation around the dinner table.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Living Treasures

What did the New Year's Eve PBS broadcast "live From Lincoln Center" and the New Year's Day Outback Bowl have in common?  Stumped?

Live from Lincoln Center featured the New York Philharmonic playing an all Tchaikovsky concert.  The program included an energetic performance of the Second Act of the Nutcracker.   As the television camera panned the stage it was clear that the orchestra.included someone special.  Tchaikovsky's popular score was written at the end of his life, in the same decade that the celesta was invented.  The celesta is like a piano crossed with a wind chime and Tchaikovsky made it the sound of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  Last night the instrument was played by an 86 year old woman.  I have not been able to discover her name.

Today, the Penn State Nittany Lions played the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl.  On the sidelines, as he has been for 61 years was 83 year old Coach Joe Paterno.

In 1950, the Government of Japan began to designate certain individuals who embody intangible national cultural values as living human treasures.  Coach Paterno and the celesta player are surely such treasures - pursuing their passion in their ninth decade.  They personify the pioneering determination that settled the West and went to the moon.  I was lucky to see both performances.