Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The society of coat hook thieves...

I have to confess that I'm an almost insatiably curious person. I wonder about almost everything. If there was a curious-people anonymous I'd have to be there. My friends would have committed me a long time ago. I try to avoid Cliff Claven-ing, but sometimes when someone asks a question I just have to answer it. I can't control it. It's an addiction of sorts. Oh well ...

I've wondered for a while why the coat hooks are always missing in airport bathroom stalls. Could it be that there is some strange organization that collects these? Are they like little, free souvenirs that people like to take home? "Check it out honey! O'hare, terminal two, the hidden men's behind Starbucks at gate 37D! THE FIRST STALL!" "OOOO ... that's better than the new Indianapolis, terminal gallery women's stall 3 I got last week!"

Like I said, I'm curious (and my curiosity tends to like time to run around a little in my mind collecting interesting explanations and there are few places where this can happen for longer than in a stall in an airport bathroom during one of those all too brief moments of solitude while I'm on the continuum between origination and destination). So when I got to the airport this morning and went to (insert your favorite euphemism here) go potty and closed the stall door and went to hang my jacket up only to find the hook was missing I pondered again ... Is it one person collecting these from everywhere or is it an underground organization? Do they put little cameras in there when they take the hooks out? Are they weirdoes who like to watch people in the bathroom? (I've checked. There are no cameras. I've read a lot of spy books on the road so I know how to check too!)

While I was sitting and pondering someone "checked in" next door. Usual sounds, trying to figure out how to fit person, suitcase, briefcase, coffee, obligatory bag of food, magazines, etc., into less than one square foot behind the door that inexplicably swings IN to the stall. Then hanging the jacket. WAIT - HE'S Got a hook! They haven't gotten it yet! Hm .. maybe it's that I have a weird case of no-hook-luck? Is this a syndrome? I wonder if you can bet on that? Like is it a thing like Ed TV where everyone is watching and laughing when I can't find the hook? Probably not. That would be boring as hell.

He's also on the phone which I've always thought is the most interesting form of party foul. The person on the other end must be saying/thinking, "What are you doing? It sounds like you’re... uh .. how do I say it politely ... forget it ... I’ll just sit and hope it’s not what I think." "No - (flush sound from stall next door - ME! -I flush on purpose when someone is on the phone) - I don’t really feel like Thai food tonight sweetheart” - Flush sound again from ‘flushman’ - “huh? Oh, uh, I’m, uh .. (BUSTED! Flush) in the bathroom at the airport.” “Ah common, don’t make me (FLUSH) ... “Crap.” “Ok I’ll call you back...” If you're ever on the phone with me and you need to go let's just hang up and you can call me back.

Then, it happens! I hear this strange sort of scratch - creak sound. He can’t be stealing the hook? Can he? "Uh ... No", he sort of grunt moans and then, the unmistakable sound of metal giving way and nylon or leather sliding on metal, grunt, FART, lunge, crash, ... His briefcase hits the ground, thud, (He hung his briefcase on the hook? What an idio... ) then I hear it hit the ground and I briefly see it under the stall, THE HOOK, screws still in it, before he reaches down and picks it up and for a moment, you know what? He was saying and doing and thinking the same thing. That’s not easy for a man...

I’m not sure this explains all hook vanishings. But that said, it explains a lot. One less thing to ponder I guess.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

There’s this thing about being the boss. It’s not always as fun as it seems. When I was just starting out I thought - hey, when I make it to the top I can have the big office with the big chair and I can come and go as I please and that will be great. Well, now I sit in that office and I have that chair (I went and bought it on sale from a local Plummers) and I can come and go as I please, and it’s still not easy! When you’re the boss you really only have one job. It’s to make decisions...

I had a boss once who was a little insecure. He hated that the management team would get together and have candid conversations about the business, sometimes without him. He particularly hated that I seemed to disagree with him a lot. I was effective, so he never fired me, but I’m sure he got close. One night he scheduled a dinner with us and arrived late. We were used to this so we just went to the bar and had a drink. We were sitting around laughing about something when he arrived. He wanted to know what it was and it was one of those things where the story is long enough that the retelling would rob any humor. He naturally assumed we were laughing about him. (yes, this sadly happens even at my level).

He looked at me and said, you know what? I think you should be called the CEO because you’re running the place anyway. He was angry (no idea why) and he vented. I looked at him and said, “You don’t get it do you?” “You could call me the CEO or the COO or the CQO or whatever you want.” I was with the other “C” level staff so I pointed at all of them. “You could call each of them whatever you want, too, and it doesn’t matter.” “Do you know why?” He shook his head. “Because in the end you’re the CDO and we’re all COO’s.” Naturally he wanted to know what that meant.

“We’re all ‘Chief Opinion Officers,’ I said, and you’re the ‘Chief Decision Officer.’ You may not get that you actually pay us for our experience and the opinions we form about the business, but ultimately you make all the decisions. That’s your job. It’s my job to tell you when I disagree so I can keep you from looking like a fool if you’re wrong. That said, you tell me you want to go ahead and do something anyway and I turn around and tell my staff that that’s what we’re going to do because that’s what the company has decided...”

It’s really the one scary thing about making it to the top. In every other position failure can always be blamed on the guy upstairs. When you make it to the top the decisions are yours to make and the better you are at making decisions, the more effective you’ll be as an executive.

Two factors contribute to bad decisions. These are analysis paralysis and ego. Analysis paralysis is caused by especially tough decisions. Most decisions are easy. There is a clear black or white. But every once in a while you get one of those ... A decision where no matter what you decide people are going to be upset. Mature leaders get this and they also understand that in any organization making decisions sooner rather than later is better. Less angst and less frustration while you decide. Less posturing, less emotion sown into one position or another and ultimately less risk. Ego gets in the way because it makes it harder for the leader to hear the opinions of the people whose opinions count. Eventually, these people will stop voicing their opinions or leave. The organization will likely fail.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be President of the United States. I have an Ego to be sure, but I would simply never want that job under any circumstances. I voted for this President. I did so for reasons clarified earlier on this blog, reasons relating to concerns around Senator McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin. I also had a hope that with his election some of the angst around the US’s position in the world and some of the angst and bitterness at home would subside. My party has done little to help with any of this and it was clear to me that a change needed to occur. Some of these things have happened and I think there is some good emerging. That said though, there is no question that I also have a concern.

I see the signs of analysis paralysis on the economy and more so on Afghanistan. Both of these issues are large and complex. For what it’s worth, the economy has always been more or less ambivalent about the President. Parties love to take credit or place blame based on the market, but the market largely determines its own course. There are things that politicos can do or say that mess it up, but these situations are usually short lived.

War, and in this case Afghanistan is another matter. The challenge is that there is no right answer. If we send more troops it will cost more, some of them will die and there is no guarantee that things will get better. If we bring everyone home there is no question that Afghanistan will fall back into economic, political and social turmoil. It is the playground of terror. The terrain, tribal influences and well placed fear prevalent in the general population mean that the country will likely retreat to where it was before. It is a nation that has never known real peace for long and then only under the hand of tyrants.

Personally I believe that we must commit more troops to Afghanistan. If it were up to me I would commit a LOT more. Here’s why. I think it’s a chicken and egg thing. I think that some of the socio-political sunrise we saw after the recent fall - women regaining their social losses during the Taliban reign when they suffered unspeakable atrocity, an emerging freedom of religion espousing a truer form of Islam and an emerging appreciation for the arts and sport that generally leads to cultural emergence, were real. Afghans were hopeful that the US would stick it out this time and they were willing to help. To be sure, Karzai is an ineffective leader, but the recent elections and the pull out of any opposition is more about a concern that the US will leave then about anything else.

Those who say that we should leave Afghanistan to the Afghans are naive. Millions upon millions of dollars flow into the country from terror oriented nations. These funds, along with the ragged bands of immigrants whose activities they make possible serve to destabilize the native population’s attempts at autonomy. There is only one country on earth that will actually conquer a country in order to set it free. That’s this one. That’s our mission there and it’s a mission worth pursuing because it would signal hope to all oppressed people everywhere that the United States is not just interested in foreign oil and a christian ideology. We have nothing to gain from a peaceful Afghanistan except a peaceful Afghanistan.

Terror is rooted in poverty. Poverty is rooted in economic and social instability. We’ve messed up in the past by assuming that if we simply take the guns away terror will also fade. The only way to truly address those factors in Afghanistan is to create a peaceful nation where the people have the power to determine their own future, and where the international community understands that investment is safe and where these investments can begin to create an economy powerful enough to overwhelm poverty and where these factors can be sustained long enough that a generation rises believing that its future is in its own hands.

What’s next Mr. President? This one’s not easy. I get that. No answer will make everyone happy. There is always more analysis that can be done. There are always questions whose answers may be debated. In the end sir, you’re the chief decision officer. This one’s a doozy to be sure. It’s time to step up and make a call. Your opinion officers are counting on it.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veggie Recipes

Easy Veggie Recipes for my too busy to cook photog buddies. I'm no cookbook writer, but these should all work pretty well as I make them all the time at home.

First - understand that I use all fresh produce with the exception of spinach (which is a way better deal frozen), and broccoli (which I buy in the microwavable packages). I’m lucky enough to have a weekly farmer’s market near my home and I also have a produce oriented grocery store that I buy from. Want great veggies? Start with fresh and be very very simple and it’s hard to go wrong.

Asparagus: I don’t know why but it’s a staple in my house. I use it in Pastas and I also cook it all the time on it’s own. Here’s some really quick, easy ideas:

Oh: The tall fancy asparagus steamer thing? Get rid of it. It’s way too easy to overcook aspargus when you steam it.

Some simple ingredients I always have on hand.

Olive Oil - Extra Virgin and Not Extra Virgin. I use EV as a flavor enhancer but not as a saute oil. The reason is the better your EV the more vegetable matter will be in the oil and the quicker it will burn. I buy most of my Olive Oil at Trader Joe’s where it’s much cheaper than the corner grocery.

Sea Salt and Black Pepper (in a mill). I buy sea salt at Trader Joe’s. I don’t know that it tastes better, but I salt by hand and it feels better and is easier to control. Make sure you get the rough - flaked stuff and not ground or rock. I have a cheap old Pepper Mill that works great and I love it.

(most of what I do needs only what’s above. For other things I have the following ingredients around).

Canned diced tomatoes. (I buy these in boxes of a dozen at Costco)

Vermouth: Sweet and Dry. Any store brand works fine.

Madeira: This little known fortified wine is the secret of the gods. It’s hard to find and you don’t want the cheap stuff from the stores. I buy mine at a local wine store that stocks some of the excellent Rainwater Madeira’s. (By the way - the most expensive bottle of spirits I’ve ever purchased was a 70 year old Madeira).

Spice Islands Brand Italian Herb Mix. Buy this and throw out most of your old, dead, dry herbs.

Onions and Garlic. (I use both fresh and dried and bottled depending mostly on my mood).

Parmesan Cheese. (I buy the pre-shredded stuff again at Trader Joes.)

Simply Roasted Asparagus: (This recipe also works great for Carrots - or Asparagus and Carrots).

Ready? This one is really hard! Here goes:

Leave the rubber bands on the Asparagus. Cut off the bases above the white portion and throw out (or mulch) the tough ends. Toss the spears in a bowl with a tablespoon or two (I never measure anything) of Olive Oil and a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Pour out on a baking sheet and slide it in a pre-heated 400 degree oven. Check for doneness in about 10 minutes. (Carrots will take a little longer). If you want to disturb the veggies do so by tossing them with a spatula.

For asparagus they’re ready to serve when they’re still crisp but not tough.

For Carrots, drizzle a little honey on them when they come out of the oven. Pour in a bowl and serve. (by the way - you can use the little raw carrots that come in bags from the store if you want - I use these sometimes in a pinch).

Sautéed Asparagus (or Green Beans) with (or without) Onions, Garlic, Red Pepper Flakes, or whatever.

Most people overcook their vegetables. I try to slightly undercook them which means that with the distractions of home cooking usually they turn out just about right.

Slice your veggies - Asparagus or Green Beans into 1-2 inch lengths.

Slice an onion into strips. (Halve it, then slice it through into whatever size you want).

Get a saute pan to medium hot and add olive oil. If you like garlic, sometimes I’ll add it with the olive oil just to flavor the oil. Just be careful not to let it burn as it gets bitter. Add onion to saute pan and saute until translucent. About 5 minutes. (Keep your burner on medium hot to keep from burning the onions.) When the onions start to look about right turn the heat up and add the veggies. Keep them moving in the pan. (If you have Vermouth (dry - white - for this), or Madiera add a dash of it now along with a dash of salt and pepper (or red pepper flakes). You can also add Italian Herbs if you wish. Saute the veggies - moving constantly - for about a minute, then turn the heat down to low, put the lid on and leave it alone for another five minutes for asparagus or another 8 minutes for green beans. (test them before you serve them). This whole recipe - start to finish takes less than 15 minutes of kitchen time.

Small Squash Sauteed with Tomatoes, Onions and a Little Wine. (use the smaller squashes you'll find - such as italian).

Cut up squash into bite sized chunks. Follow onion/garlic preparation from above. Add squash and saute for a minute, then add entire contents of a can of diced tomatoes. Heat until tomatoes are starting to boil, reduce heat to low and cook uncovered for another five minutes or so. Season to taste and serve. (If you want, you can add a little of whatever wine you’re going to have with dinner to this. You don’t need much, 1/4 cup or so. It marries the flavors to your dinner.

Asian style Broccoli Florets.

Ok, Broccoli is another veggie I buy in the microwavable bags. Buying it fresh is a rip off because you pay for the stump you won’t use. I start by microwaving the broccoli according to the directions on the bag. I just undercook it slightly so I can finish it in the pan. When it’s done I pour it out into a bowl.

In a hot skillet I add green onions (chopped), and a dash of vegetable oil. When that’s screaming hot I add a tablespoon of garlic and saute for about 5 seconds, then I add the precooked broccoli and toss it all together. Last I add a dash of asian hot sauce and a dash of soy (instead of salt) and toss one more time before turning out into a bowl. Practice this once or twice and then do it when friends come over and they’ll think you’re a genius.

These are all very healthy recipes. All can be made in just a few minutes and all are simple, tasty sides. I have some other, more complex recipes, Little Lasagnas made with Eggplant, Homemade Roasted Tomato sauce and Goat cheese, for example, but these are among the best for quick, simple meals.