Life is a Mystery

3 March 2009 . Comments Off on Southwest

Southwest

Next week Southwest Airlines will start flying from the Twin Cities. That should stir things up a bit. And today 37 signals points out that part of how they succeed is by constraining themselves.

It offers flights only to select cities, no seating class distinctions, a simple pricing structure, a bare-bones frequent flier program, no meal service, etc.

Creativity from constraints. A theme of mine.

13 February 2009 . Comments Off on Oh, brother!

Oh, brother!

It looks like Christopher is considering a run for the US Senate in Ohio. Woo hoo! I find it hard to keep down the shivers of excitement I feel when thinking about bright next-generation thinkers and doers like Christopher and Michael Bennet building a new US Senate interested in solving our problems rather than building walls between parties.

I love the fact that I can already vote for Christopher! [Update, poll closed, see the results.]

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Christopher Celeste, Washington, DC, 1/20/2009

13 February 2009 . Comments Off on Never apologize

Never apologize

I like Edward R. Tufte’s presentation advice:

Never apologize. Most people wouldn’t have noticed the issues for which you’re apologizing—and it just sounds lame.

Show up early. Something good is bound to happen—if there’s no need to fix a mechanical problem or resolve a room conflict, you can always mingle with the audience.

And much more.

10 February 2009 . Comments Off on Herbert Van de Sompel

Herbert Van de Sompel

I just want to take a moment to acknowledge one of the giants in the field of library science today: Herbert. John MacColl posted a wonderful summary of a Herbert retrospective at the 9th International Bielefeld Conference last week.

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Herbert is fearless, jumping into problems with abandon, always certain that he and his teams can make a contribution. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not so much. But the failures are often as interesting as the successes, full of discoveries and insights.

His conclusion last week, after looking back at his work of the past decade: we do what we do in order to optimize the time of researchers.

That deserves a good ponder. Do new systems optimize the time of researchers? How does leveraging tools already out there in the infoecosystem balance with developing specialized tools to facilitate their research? Does this statement miss the need to facilitate collaboration as well as research? I love it when Herbert makes me think!

27 January 2009 . Comments Off on Addressing the muslim world

Addressing the muslim world

President Obama gave an interview to Al-Arabiya that frames the administration to come and fulfills some of the hopes of the campaign. We now have a president who can talk to the muslim world in a way they might, just might, be able to hear. I am so impressed, so proud, so hopeful! What a nice feeling.

Don’t miss part two, it has some of the most important statements.

12 January 2009 . Comments Off on Physical fitness yields mental fitness

Physical fitness yields mental fitness

This is pretty inspiring. (Thanks Merrilee!)

Obama has gone to the gym, for about 90 minutes a day, for at least 48 days in a row. He always has treated exercise less as recreation than requirement, but his devotion has intensified during the past few months.

Right now I’m more like the reporters covering him.

For the small group of reporters tasked with following Obama’s every move, his fitness has become a running joke repeated in the stories they file. They sit at McDonald’s while he exercises in Hawaii. They eat calorie-rich scones while he sweats at Regents Park. One reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, filing his report about one of the president-elect’s gym trips last month, noted: “While Mr. Obama worked at maintaining his lithe look, your pear-shaped pooler spent quality time at a local coffee shop.”

Of course, I’m no longer 22, so I’ve missed years on my commitment to mental fitness and I feel it too!

It’s a schedule he started as a 22-year-old student at Columbia University in New York, and it immediately transformed him. … Physical fitness yielded mental fitness, Obama decided, and the two concepts have been married in his mind ever since.

5 January 2009 . Comments Off on Witness

Witness

Today I was privileged to witness a small bit of history at the Minnesota State Office Building. I was at the State Capitol today to be part of a rally for the Minnesota Health Plan and then went over to the State Office Building to sit down with my representative to talk health care for a few minutes. As I walked into the building I noticed the media trucks, and then remembered: the recount.

As it turns out, my work was done just a bit before our Secretary of State was due to preside over the final Canvassing Board meeting of our US Senate recount. I walked over to room 10 and sat down to wait. When the appointed hour arrived Mark Ritchie entered the room with the four judges who have been members of the Canvassing Board. We all stood as they entered, me a bit self-consciously. It felt odd to stand for these people.

Then they got down to their business.

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This board, and the staff of the Secretary of State’s office, have done such a terrific service for Minnesota. Their deliberations have been so open, their judgements so unanimous, their care so evident, that I have a tremendous degree of faith in their work. The kind of faith that has been missing in other recounts around the country over the past few years. I was amazed anew at the openness of our government today. I walked in off the street, never passed a guard, a metal detector, or anyone who made me feel unwelcome. As I entered the meeting room I felt I had as much right to be there as anyone else. I didn’t have to make an appointment: my government was just open to my own witness and inspection.

They got the main business over within five minutes. By 2:35 they had certified Al Franken the winner of the recount. Now we wait seven days for any Colman court challenge (all but sure to arrive). After the certificate was signed, the bi-partisan board shared a few words about the process. Their heartfelt respect for the process and the people who helped carry it out was clear. Ritchie noted that the foundation for the recount had been set 150 years ago at the founding of the state. We inherit all the good work of earlier public servants and we can contribute new refinements to the process in return.

It was all done within 15 minutes. I have to say, by the time the meeting adjourned I was glad we’d stood for these people when they entered the room. They deserve every ounce of our respect for the hard job they and their staff have done for us. They showed us what the rule of law and a healthy respect for democratic process can do. This was government as I want to see it: open, accessible, accountable, practical, successful. Bravo!

2 January 2009 . Comments Off on Bennet for Senate

Bennet for Senate

One of my disappointments as Obama assembled his cabinet was that Michael Bennet was not selected to become Secretary of Education. Michael is currently the superintendent of Denver Public Schools, but my memories are of playing poolside with Michael and his brother James at May 30th reunions in Essex, Connecticut.

These reunions were actually our parents’ generation gathering around Chet Bowles, with whom many of them had served when he was ambassador to India. Actually, many of those gathered dated back even futher, having worked with Chet at the Office of Price Administration under FDR or when he was Governor of Connecticut or in India for his first tour as Ambassador. Chet, terribly impaired by Parkinson’s, kept an acute eye on the proceedings, every once in a while sharing his thoughts through a megaphone-like tube that amplified his halting whispers. I loved those weekends, and loved the May 30th friends we made.

Michael’s dad, Doug Bennet, was President of NPR for a while. He invited me to watch All Things Considered once while I was in Washington. Doug went on to become president of Wesleyan University, and my own father later became Ambassador to India and then president of Colorado College. Those May 30th connections seemed alive with Chet’s spirit.

Today I learned that Michael is likely to be appointed US Senator from Colorado. If so, he will become the youngest member of the Senate at 44. I am disappointed no longer! I can’t imagine a more qualified person to take up such a responsibility, Michael is full of great ideas and a love of public service. All I can see is Chet smiling and nodding. I think he would be very proud of his May 30th friends and what they continue to accomplish for this country.

Michael Bennet

8 November 2008 . Comments Off on Image builders

Image builders

I just love this picture from the Wall Street Journal this morning. It is from the press conference Obama held yesterday.

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We’ve said goodbye to the circle sunrise logo of the campaign and appropriated the flag and eagle. The colors have become deeper. The same can be seen at change.gov.

The image builders of team Obama are unparalleled. It is a real treat to have these folks on “our” side for a change. Still, it will take some real effort to remember that this is just image and keep an eye on the substance ball as well.

5 November 2008 . Comments Off on What now?

What now?

I spoke with my sisters this morning and Gabriella told me that David Brooks had been pontificating on one of the networks last night. It sounded like he’d been spreading a message much like one of his recent columns for the NYTimes.

In the next few years, the nation’s wealth will either stagnate or shrink. The fiscal squeeze will grow severe. There will be fiercer struggles over scarce resources, starker divisions along factional lines. The challenge for the next president will be to cushion the pain of the current recession while at the same time trying to build a solid fiscal foundation so the country can thrive at some point in the future.

We’re probably entering a period, in other words, in which smart young liberals meet a stone-cold scarcity that they do not seem to recognize or have a plan for.

So? I asked. Where does he get his history? I asked G what the biggest shift in government’s role of the past century had been. She suggested the New Deal. I agree. And when was the New Deal dealt?

At that moment the nation was severely constrained. FDR came to office facing a huge crisis and a “stone-cold scarcity” if ever there was one. But one of my mantras is that creativity is born of constraints. The very constraints that faced FDR, that face us today, may help bring forth the creative approaches to government and our problems that we need.

Let me back up a bit and explain this “creativity is born of constraint” idea.

When I was in college I spent a lot of time printing at the Pierson Press. This was a letterpress shop in an old converted racquet ball court. There I learned to set lead type by hand, picking one letter at a time out of the upper or lower cases, lock it into forms, and roll the paper across it. I loved letterpress printing, the bite of paper, the impression of type on a page, the mixing of ink, the fine control and endless possibilities, the excitement of breaking rules.

A couple years later the Mac arrived and my friend Kirk and I convinced the local Kinkos to get a few Macs one the LaserWriter and PageMaker arrived. Oh, man, endless fonts, no running out of letters, last minute changes to designs, mixing in drawings of all sorts, the flexibility and endless possibilities, the excitement of making the machine meet my imagination.

Years later I realized that I’d felt creatively freed in both situations. Each imposed severe restrictions on me. Letterpress was very unforgiving of error, setting type was difficult, the fonts and letters we had available were quite limited. Laser printing was limited by toner, black and white, only a few kinds of paper, and only a few sizes.

Yet it was within those boundaries that my creative expression was allowed to flourish. The excitement was in pressing against the edges, in feeling the tension of medium and imagination, of getting to know the tools well enough to make them work for me. I began to recognize that art was often fundamentally about this sort of artificially constrained play. We choose a medium, we immerse ourselves in it, get dirty with it, and see how we can make it serve our dreams. Most recently for me this has been a lesson I relearned with tile. The limitations of mosaic tile are severe, not the least of them, I learned, is the time it takes. When doing a job for my mom recently, I found that by embracing my extremely short timeline I opened a whole new approach to the problem that I really enjoyed.

Today I realized that this lesson, that creativity is born of constraints, applies to politics and our national endeavor as well as it does to art.

We are entering a constrained moment. In that I agree with Brooks. But where he sees scarcity, division, and struggle, I see creativity, compromise, and beautiful potential. It is at these moments where we seem most bound that we are most likely to make a leap together.

Think about it this way: When can you get people in a neighborhood together for a meeting? On a sunny day when all is well folks see endless possibilities around them, the go out for walks, they go on vacation, they go to the movies. But what if the day is drippy or the cars on the streets have all had their mirrors smashed? It is a lot easier to get people together when they are bound by some common constraints of weather or circumstance or whatever it may be. Our financial system meltdown is such a common constraint.

I believe Barack Obama will be the kind of leader we need to call us together for that national conversation. He will be pressing for the creative solutions, engaging dynamic minds, respecting the input of science. What now? Now we make the fullest possible use of the awesome constraints we have been given at this juncture in our nation’s history to rebuild our government it ways that it can serve us and our children in the coming century. There are few more exciting times to be engaged in such a call than when the environment conspires to put everybody in the same room, at the same meeting, looking for a way to break the rules, to make media meet imagination and carry us forward.

That is our next step.

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org