Monday, April 30, 2018

Deceit Without Lying

Before going on, please read this article from discussing allegations against Tom Brokaw.

OK, hopefully you read it.

Pop quiz. Is Tom Brokaw accused of "exposing himself to one woman while the two were in his office and asked her to touch him" or having "sex in the middle of the day in his office?"

If you answered yes to either, then you've made my point. If you had to go back and check the article, ditto.

It's no secret that Fox News would like to discredit more traditional news outlets like NBC, and a good way to do that would be to discredit news icons like Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw.

Here we have the allegations about Tom Brokaw behaving inappropriately, and given the nature of his position over the women he is accused of being inappropriate with, these are very serious allegations. However, it would appear that Fox did not feel they were serious enough. What to do?

Go back to the article, and you'll see that there is an article about Tom Brokaw. That article ends with this sentence, "Brokaw stepped down as an NBC news anchor in 2004." Other than a random paragraph that does not seem related which talked about Lauer in the first half, you could end the article at that point because no additional information about the story comes after it. What follows that is a rehashing of Matt Lauers much more serious and gross allegations, which does not appear to have any direct tie in to the Tom Brokaw story above.

So why would they do that? Because they know how people read. Mostly they read on their phones, quickly, while multitasking and not paying attention

When I first read this article on my phone because someone had sent it to me, I had to go back and read it a second time to confirm who had sex in an office.

Four paragraphs discuss specific details without using Lauer's name, meaning that scanning the article, which is the way that many people read, could lead one to conclude that Brokaw had been the one revealing himself and having sexcapades in his office.

While every part of the article follows basic principles of journalistic integrity, concatenating the two unrelated stories together without explanation causes another form of deception.

One might argue that the stories are related because they are both about sexual misconduct at NBC, but it that's the case, why not mention Cosby or other celebrity abusers? Why not mention that the two sets of allegations occurred in different decades? Why not include a paragraph linking the two stories? It's on online article, it's not like there's a word-count limit.

This is not a right-left thing because people on both sides do it. It is done using all manner of topics. It is done to all kinds of people by all kinds of people. Deceit is merely a tool, which anyone can pick up to manipulate you as a reader, and we should all be alert to its use.

Not all forms of deception require falsehoods. Sometimes it can be as simple as framing and presenting the truth in a different way.

Full article text, for reference:
Legendary NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw allegedly made unwanted sexual advances against multiple women in the 1990s, a bombshell set of reports revealed Thursday, months after a separate set of accusations led to the downfall of longtime “Today” anchor Matt Lauer.

According to The Washington Post, Brokaw, now 78, made unwanted moves on Linda Vester, a former NBC correspondent and former Fox News anchor, twice during the 1990s, including a move to forcibly kiss Vester, who was in her 20s at the time.

The report also detailed the claims of an anonymous woman who told the outlet Brokaw acted inappropriately toward her during her time as a production assistant in the 1990s. Brokaw was the anchor of “NBC Nightly News” at the time.

He has denied all the accusations against him.

“I met with Linda Vester on two occasions, both at her request, 23 years ago, because she wanted advice with respect to her career at NBC,” Brokaw said in a statement issued by NBC that was provided to The Post. “The meetings were brief, cordial and appropriate, and despite Linda’s allegations, I made no romantic overtures towards her, at that time or any other.”

Before the accusations against him went public, he actually spoke out about the #MeToo movement on MSNBC -- without mentioning his own behavior. “I do think we need to have a healthier, well-defined dialogue, if you will, and I’m not sure how we launch into it,” he said in December 2017.

A Fox News request for comment was not immediately returned by NBC.

Lauer’s former co-host, Ann Curry, who left amid turmoil inside the network, also said in The Post report that she told network management about complaints regarding Lauer's alleged sexual harassment, in 2012. However, NBC News Chairman Andy Lack previously said there were no formal complaints lodged against Lauer in his two decades with the network.

“I am speaking out now because NBC has failed to hire outside counsel to investigate a genuine, long-standing problem of sexual misconduct in the news division,” Vester told The Post.

Vester spoke of an alleged January 1994 incident in a New York hotel room with Brokaw. She had plans to leave New York ahead of an impending snowstorm but Brokaw discouraged her, she said, and suggested that the two get a drink.

“I only drink milk and cookies,” Vester claimed she said as a way of skirting Brokaw’s alleged intentions.

Former 'Today' co-host Katie Couric told BuzzFeed she hasn't 'reconciled' the Lauer she knows with the Lauer accused of sexual assault.Video
Katie Couric parsing truth from fiction regrading Matt Lauer
“It was the only thing I could think of at the time, hoping the reference to milk and cookies would make him realize I was 30 years his junior and not interested,” Vester said.

But when plans to travel to Washington D.C. got canceled, Vester said, Brokaw tried again in a 3 a.m. phone call to her hotel room.

“Once in my room . . . I received three phone calls,” she told The Post, citing diary entries she made at the time. “One from a friend, another from a source; the third was Tom Brokaw. He said to order milk and cookies and he was coming over.”

“My career at NBC would be over before it even got going,” Vester said she remembered thinking if she turned Brokaw down. The anchor soon knocked on her door.

“What do you want from me?” Vester claimed she asked Brokaw.

“An affair of more than passing affection,” Brokaw allegedly replied.

“But you’re married,” she said. “And I’m Catholic.”

Brokaw urged Vester to sit next to him on the sofa, she claimed. He proceeded to press “his index finger to my lips and said, ‘This is our compact,’” The Post said she wrote in her diary.

“My insides shook,” Vester said. “I went completely cold.”

Brokaw then allegedly placed his hand on the back of her neck and grabbed her head in order to “show” Vester “how to give a real kiss.” 

"I could smell alcohol on his breath, but he was totally sober," Vester told Variety in a detailed account of the alleged interaction. "He spoke clearly. He was in control of his faculties."

Vester said she forcefully wiggled away from Brokaw in reply.

“I said ‘Tom . . . I don’t want to do that with you,’” she wrote.

Following a brief silence, Brokaw decided to leave, Vester claimed. “I think I should go,” she said he said.

A similar incident between Brokaw and Vester took place over a year later in London, Vester claimed, but she again avoided Brokaw’s advances.

A second woman, who once served as a production assistant at NBC News, claimed Brokaw encountered her in a hallway in the mid-1990s and encouraged her to meet him on the side of the walkway. Brokaw then allegedly held her hands, spoke of how cold they were, and proceeded to place them under his jacket.

“He put my hands under his jacket and against his chest and pulled me in so close and asked me, ‘How is your job search going?’” she told The Post. After replying, Brokaw allegedly suggested the woman “come into my office after the show and let’s talk about it.”

Conflicting accounts over fired anchor
The woman said the implication in the conversation was obvious and she skipped the invite. She ultimately left the network.

Neither Vester nor the anonymous woman reported the incidents at the time, The Post reported.

Brokaw stepped down as an NBC news anchor in 2004.

Curry described in detail the claims against Lauer.

“A woman approached me and asked me tearfully if I could help her,” Curry said. “She was afraid of losing her job… I believed her.” The anonymous woman, Curry told The Post, said she was “sexually harassed physically” by Lauer.

“I told management they had a problem and they needed to keep an eye on him and how he deals with women,” she said.

Lack was not with the network during the time Curry said she went to management.

In interviews with The Post, 12 NBC employees claimed to have been sexually harassed by Lauer, who was fired in November 2017.

Lauer exposed himself to one woman while the two were in his office and asked her to touch him, an anonymous woman told The Post.

Another said they had sex in the middle of the day in his office.

Lauer, who has remained mostly mum following the allegations last year, provided a forceful response to The Post.

“I have made no public comments on the many false stories from anonymous or biased sources that have been reported about me over these past several months,” he said. “I remained silent in an attempt to protect my family from further embarrassment and to restore a small degree of the privacy they have lost. But defending my family now requires me to speak up.

“I fully acknowledge that I acted inappropriately as a husband, father and principal at NBC,” he continued. “However I want to make it perfectly clear that any allegations or reports of coercive, aggressive or abusive actions on my part, at any time, are absolutely false.”

Sunday, April 29, 2018

What's Next?

Every road is the right one if you don't know where
you are going.
A friend of mine posted on Facebook today that they were trying to figure out what the next step in their life is. Since I felt like my answer might be relevant to more than one of the 1600 people I reach with a Facebook post, I thought that I might as well answer it in a column.

I often use an analogy when discussing this question. Imagine you are sitting in your car in your driveway wondering which way you should turn when you drive out. Should you go right or left? Of course, the natural question is "where are you going?" since that will inform the answer to which way you should turn.

If, for example, you decide that you'd like to go to Boston, there are few ways to get there. Some are better than others, but, ultimately, many roads lead there.

It's the same way in figuring out what you might want to do next. What are the big picture goals. Where do you want to be in 20 years? 10? 5? 1 year? People often go to the wrong aspects of this question. They think about geography, jobs, details, etc.

Ten years ago, I could not have predicted one single element of my life. Not the state I live in. Not my career. Not my family status. Not my income. If you had asked me where I would be in 10 years, I would have guessed every element wrong. But I would have told you one goal: "To acquire money and/or influence to use to do something which creates a positive change in the world."

Although there have been many fits and starts and sideways lurches, I have moved progressively in that direction. I now have more connections than I ever have, and I use those connections to benefit everyone that I can. My income is comfortable, and I publish a magazine which is of benefit to almost 10,000 people. I seem to be moving in that direction.

That one, simple, abstract goal, provided a beacon in the distance so whenever I came to a crossroads and wondered what was next, I would know which way to turn.

Once my daughter was born, a second beacon was lit: providing her every resource and education to achieve the greatest possible success, however she might define it.

This does not mean that I have been perfectly focused. I have spent entire years wandering in the wrong direction, heading down some blind alley or simply forgetting about my greater goals. When I have realized the need for direction, however, I always knew what direction I should reorient myself to, and that has made all the difference.

For anyone wondering what the next step is in their own life, I figure suggest developing your own simple, abstract goal. One statement that describes where you want to end up. Once you have that beacon, you can look at every decision and ask yourself how well it moves you towards that goal.

Under that goal, there are objectives. This is where you get more specific about the things which you know make your life better or more meaningful. If your happiness requires making pretty things and working with plants, then doing so becomes an objective. You figure out what that would take. How much money would it need? Where would you need to be to do it? Who would you need in your life to allow it to happen, if anyone? What education or skills do you need?

Below the objectives are strategies to achieve those objectives. If the objectives require education, the strategy is the big picture plan of how you will get that education. If it requires money, then you strategize how to get that money.

Without knowing where you are ultimately trying to end up, a roadmap is merely an artistic representation of roads. But if you know your destination, then you don't even need a map, just a compass to guide you in the right direction.

An Obligation to Whom

Self discipline is a powerful thing. It is the ability to make a promise to yourself and keep it. If you are trying to get in shape, then you have to make a promise to yourself to work out on schedule and keep to a diet. It can be easy to let yourself slip now and then thinking that it's just a deal between you and yourself. You can cut yourself some slack, can't you?

It's possible to go the other way as well. You can over-obligate yourself.

For example, someone might be expected to write reports containing certain information, but they then obligate themselves to make them completely free of errors of any kind, creating a much higher standard than the one they are given. It is a noble goal, but not if it causes missed deadlines and personal stress.

If a goal is important, and standards are important, then
discipline is crucial, but sometimes we can place too much
pressure for goals which are not critical.
I committed to write 28 articles in 28 days, and I was feeling some pressure to get highly impactful articles out on time. The discipline to write an article a day for four weeks is a very good thing, which I highly recommend to everyone. However, there are certain articles that address very important and complex subjects, and those articles cannot be rushed.

There are 10 articles in draft form which are not ready to publish, and I was working so much on them that I was taking my attention away from other important things in my life.

Then I made an important realization. I asked myself to whom I was obligated to follow this schedule, and I also asked what the obligation really was. The answer to the first question is that I am obligated to myself. The answer to the second question is that I obligated myself to write 28 articles about something, not necessarily articles of Earthshaking importance, but just to keep to my mental exercise routine every day. I also realized that I have plenty of time. 28 days is arbitrary. I can continue the daily writing discipline longer if it continues to be valuable.

Oftentimes the stress that we feel is not simply the obligations upon us, but the expanded obligations we place upon ourselves:
Not merely cleaning the house, but making it immaculate.
Not merely writing a report, but writing a perfect report.
Not merely composing and article, but composing ideal articles.

At times, a close examination of our obligations will reveal that they are not as strict and smothering as we may believe they are. Some things are just not as important or urgent as they feel like they are.

Are you racing to keep up with true obligations or saddled with obligations enhanced by perfectionism?

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Graturday - Thankful for My Awesome Wife

In our lives, we have a series of increasingly important objectives. At the lowest level are simple things that do not matter in the grand scheme of things, like getting a blog post out every day or going up a level in a game. Then there are higher level objectives, like completing a task for work or maintaining a health regiment. Finally, there are the highest level objectives such as raising healthy and happy children and nourishing your marriage.

If your life is in good balance, your lower level objectives will not detract from and may even benefit your most important objectives. That work task may allow you to get to a better career position allowing for more money or schedule flexibility to spend with your family.

The higher objectives are often more theoretical while the lower objectives are often more tangible. It is easy to know if I have written my article for the day. It is harder to know if I have invested enough time and energy in my family.

That is why I believe that this Graturday (Saturday Gratitude) exercise is so important. It allows me to refocus each week on that which is truly important.

So, today, I am thankful for my wife Amy and her patience with me. She does a great deal to support me, and I do not always appreciate that enough, and so I am doing so right here and now. She has been there for me in good times, and she has been there for me when I have done some dumb things.

There are many qualities a wife can have, but loyalty is the most important. The fact that I know I can trust her no matter what means more to mean than anything else. When you know that your wife it beside you, it becomes much easier to face whatever comes before you.

Thank you Amy Whitehouse for being the best wife ever.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Seeing What You Are Instead of What Is

Reader note: this article discusses rape as a concept and political issue but no details of specific incidents. Reader discretion is advised.

In writing these articles, I have asked some of my friends who are not familiar with Jeff Mach Events to read things over before I post them to try to ensure that readers will pick up the concepts I'm trying to put down.

A very interesting thing happened the other day. A debate broke out between two of them on issues of police, evidence and burden of proof in cases of rape, especially at conventions. It was interesting because none of the issues we were talking about involved accusations of rape. At the time, I had published the 10 Days to Wicked Faire story, an article defining some terms, and an article about PR failures. None of which had anything to do with rape as there were not rape allegations against Jeff Mach.

The debate broke out because both people had strong feelings on the issue from outside of this context, and they brought those very engaged and educated opinions into the discussion. They came in so strongly that the original issue was lost entirely, and it was fascinating to see it in this context. These are two people who have full access to everything I know about the history of the situation. All they have to do is ask, and yet they had fallen into the assumption that we were dealing with rape allegations.

So, if people that close to the source of information can fall into that misconception, can we be surprised that the general public is so confused?

This happens all the time on the Internet, and has been great exacerbated by the use of mobile devices. People are quickly scrolling through, maybe don't want to click on an outside link to take the time to read an article, so they read the title and summary and fire away. Countless times, I have shared an article that raised an innovative point on an old topic, only to have people prattle on in the comments sharing their old ideas, clearly not having read the insightful article.

Senator Joe McCarthy holding a list which he claims contains
the names of Communists in the State Department. The list
was entirely fake.
Normally, this is just an annoying phenomenon as social discourse degrades into talking points. But it becomes quite serious when individuals of particular intent take advantage of this phenomenon. If you know that people don't have time or inclination to actually read, you can make a page with many links, tell them that each link contains an accusation against an individual and have a summary which implies that the individual is guilty of terrible crimes, even if none of the actual links support such a statement.

For example, a couple months ago, I wrote an article in which I discussed my path to awareness, 12 years ago. In the article I told how I learned of the need for me to be careful, as a man, not to inadvertently use my power in a way that would make women uncomfortable. This article was shared with the summary that it was evidence that I was guilty of previous "inappropriate behavior." Those who read the article clearly understood that it was a story of humbly acknowledging a hard lesson I had learned, but many simply accepted the false summary and proceeded to propagate the slanted perspective.

So, what can we do about this? The only thing we really can do is not to be part of the problem. Learn what you are speaking about before you speak on it. Don't spread information if you don't know where it is coming from. Look beyond the two line summary before you accept something as evidence.

The most important lesson, however, is that it's not the world's fault that they fail to take the time to understand what I am saying. It is my fault if I do not recognize that my message is not being received, and my job to communicate better if I desire to be understood.

Most importantly, remember something that I am reminded of every day:

Somewhere, among all the things that you believe today, at least one of them is wrong.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

On Long Form Thinking

Writing long form. It's kind of like that. Kind of.
There is a great deal to be said for what writing long form articles does for the mind.

When you only make small movements, your muscles become shorter and tighter, but when we stretch and move, they become longer and more nimble. The mind is the same way. When you only make quick posts and short comments, your mind gets out of the practice of stretching for deeper logical reason. This gets one more into their own head and makes small challenges seem more tangled and complex.

The 28 articles in 28 days concept was almost more of a whim than anything else, but it seemed like the right thing to do, and it very much has been. The discipline of writing every day, or at least having an article for every day has forced me to think in a deeper and broader way than I had become accustomed to. Instead of just looking at the quick response or next comment, I thought beyond that to causes and causes of causes. Things that had been opaque became clear to me, and I was able to understand the underlying roots of things as I had not before.

It's easy not to notice when something is lost, such as the transition from long form social media of Live Journal to the short form of Facebook and the shorter form of Twitter, but when I take a step back and get back into some deeper writing, I find that the rust comes off the old gears, and the old brain starts working again.

I highly encourage it as an exercise. It takes a bit longer to craft an article than a status update, but it's worth it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Don't Invade Belgium

You should avoid doing this both
literally and figuratively
In 1914, Germany found themselves in an unenviable position. Due to treaty obligations, they were about to be in a conflict with both France and Russia, a two front war. The only war plan that their general staff had developed which could possibly win that scenario counted on the fact that Russia was very slow to mobilize: move the full might of their army west to quickly smash France to surrender, then turn their full force east to defeat Russia.

Unfortunately for the Kaiser, their plans called for going around France’s fortified border and attacking through previously-neutral Belgium. Belgium was allied with England, and this move brought England into the war, creating a stalemate in the west, and ultimately putting Germany into an unwinnable two front war.

There is much that we can learn from this particular historical example. Oftentimes, especially in the us-and-them world of social media, we may be inclined to write off anyone who does not agree with us as the enemy and treat them as such. However, there are a great many people who, like Belgium, are really just neutral. Maybe they are asking questions because they honestly would like to know your opinion rather than challenging your statement.

We saw this on occasion from the Silver Phoenix Society. In the pressure of the moment, certain individuals who ran the SPS Facebook page would often make the mistake of “Invading Belgium”, venting hostility on the merely curious, believing their questions to be hostile ones, and moving them from the neutral category to the hostile.

The article this image comes from is about the us vs them
attitude. It doesn't really address the point of this article,
but I liked the image, and the article is quite thought
provoking as well. You should read it when you're done with
this one.
We see this in politics a great deal. This attitude of “you’re with us or you’re against us” is becoming increasingly common. While both sides are guilty of it, I am seeing it more from the Left than the Right.

I am certainly to the Left of center in my politics, but not dogmatically so. In every aspect of politics, I seek to understand both sides and the nuances of the issue before declaring a strong view. Many people whom I would otherwise agree with brand me an enemy because I do no immediate fall into line with their agenda.

Since elections are always decided by the independent middle, sweeping the moderates up into the group that opposes your politics simply serves to alienate them. “I’m not sure I agree with one side or the other, but the guys on that side were jerks, so I’ll vote for the other one.”

We also see it in modern military examples. Most modern U.S. military missions are “hearts and minds” campaigns, seeking to convince people that we are the good guys (like Afghanistan or the Iraq War) more than killing bad guys (like WWII, Korea or the Gulf War). Sometimes we have done this effectively, but too often we have been too broad in our classifications of “terrorists” and “enemies,” taking people who were not enemies previously and giving them reason to become our enemies.
All the countries in the Gulf War Coalition.
source: Wikipedia
In fact, if we compare the Gulf War and the Iraq War, we can see a good study in contrasts. In the Gulf War in 1991, our objective was to defeat Saddam's forces and liberate Kuwait. We knew who the bad guys were, and we knew who the good guys were, and we didn’t turn any of the good guys into bad guys. In the Iraq War in 2003, we entered a more complex situation in which there were many groups that were neither for or against the U.S. They had their own interests separate from us, but we wrote off many of them as enemies because we did not understand their goals or they did not align directly with ours. We repeated this error in Syria when we classified a number of rebel groups as terrorists when they were really just there to fight against the Assad regime. Potential friends turned into enemies through haste and lack of understanding.

I’m sure that you can think of many examples from your own life in which people who were initially neutral were turned hostile after they were attacked due to their proximity to someone else. It is never good to antagonize people, especially people who did nothing to antagonize you first. I can certainly think of one or two occasions in my own life where I have made this mistake.

Whether on the battlefield, in the office, or on the great wastes of Facebook, it is important to pause a moment before you strike back and make sure that the person who will certainly be an enemy after you lash out at them is an enemy already.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Did You Change That?

I am wrong quite often.

So are you.

So is everyone.

There is no one on God's green Earth who does not make mistakes. As my grandfather says, that's why we put erasers on the end of pencils.

Still quite popular.
That's also why, if you are obsessive enough to download copies of my articles and compare them from day to day, you may see that changes are made after they are posted. The purpose of any article that I write is to share information and opinions. Sometimes, I discover, based on feedback, that the wording of the article did not accurately express the sentiment I was trying to make. Other times I will be corrected a by a reader on a particular point of fact.

In either case, I will correct the article. Why would I want to leave something inaccurate and unclear on my blog?

I have heard that there is actually someone out there who is so obsessed with me that she is recording every initial draft that I post and reposting it to her own site. I've heard that there have been copying errors and some of the drafts are missing portions. I guess we all make mistakes.

I'm flattered that someone is so interested in my writing that she wants to make sure that the earliest, rawest form of my work is preserved. I happen to be more interested in the more refined final product that results to adding the excellent advice from my readers than initial uncorrected drafts, but everyone has their own preferences.

Just to make a point, I published
this article, then edited it to ad
the pictures.
Some articles have had minor changes, and others, which are more foundational for future articles have had major rewrites since they were first posted.

The wonderful thing about blogging is that it allows such interaction between the writer and the reader. I can draft an article, share it with my proof readers for their feedback and make corrections, then I share it with the public and get their feedback, and make more corrections. With each comment and correction, the work becomes better, clearer, more accurate.

If you have feedback on anything you see here, please do share it with me at

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Trip to Westerly

I feel that at least one day a week should be dedicated to positive and fun things, so on this blog, I'm going to do Gratitude Saturday, or Graturday!

Today, I'd like to talk about how grateful I am that I was able to take a lovely trip to nearby Westerly yesterday evening with my lovely wife.

The sea respects our daughter.
There is a new business called Inneractive in Westerly, which is an awesome activity place for kids. I discovered it as I do most new businesses, in relation to work. Actually, I was introduced to the owner by Melissa Murray of the Dorian J Murray Foundation at a BNI event, and I went to meet with her. After I saw the space, I decided that my daughter would love it, so I brought her there earlier this week.

It was then that we heard about their Royal Slumber Party event with performing princesses and movies and, most excitingly, we could drop her off and pick her up a few hours later. That gave me and my wife something we had not had in quite some time: adult time!

We decided to spend this grown up time in Downtown Westerly. As soon as we stepped out of the car, we ran into Adam Mercer, one of the owners of The Tapped Apple, and apple winery downtown. (It's wine made from apples instead of grapes: no histamines, less hangover, better flavor). He suggested we visit Perks and Corks for a gourmet grilled cheese, then some wine, and a gelato from Pompelmo Gelateria. We were also hoping to visit Flip Side, the pinball bar, but we ran out of time.

That's a bit more than what I think of
when I think "grilled cheese."
It was a really fun evening. One thing that I always appreciate about Westerly is that it has such a strong sense of community. When you go downtown, you get the feeling that you are visiting a community of businesses, not just a bunch of businesses that happen to share a street. Business owners refer you to their neighbors. Not only, that, but many, like Adam, chat with you like an old friend.

The other appeal is that variety of engaging and unique businesses: an apple winery, a pinball bar, a coffeeshop/bar, a two story bookshop, soon a theater, and I've heard that a comedy club is opening up soon. Not to mention the historic library and the very impressive Wilcox Park that the library owns.

Anyone looking for a great example of a town with a well established sense of place could do quite well to look to Westerly for inspiration.

It was a fantastic evening, and with all that is going on here, there, and everywhere, it is good to take a moment to stop and appreciate the simple, good things.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Five Lessons from SWA 1380

At 10:27 AM on Tuesday, April 17th, 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, a Boeing 737 with 144 passengers and 5 crew members, took off from LaGuardia. 56 minutes later, the plane made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after the left engine blew apart, breaking a window and killing a passenger.

What happened during those 56 minutes, and the professionalism of the fight crew, Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor, which saved the plane and other passengers, has a lot to teach us about how we face the challenges in our everyday, on the ground lives.

1. Remain Calm
Words never said: Something happened, and I panicked and that made it better. Whether it's an exploding engine causing your plane to roll precariously or an unexpected invitation to the bosses office, stay calm and work the problem.

If you listen to the ATC recording, considering that Captain Shults' just found out that one of her engines just blew a hole in her plane, you will find that her voice has about as much tension as the average person ordering a pizza. In fact, the professionalism of every voice in the recording is impressive.

Next time you encounter a crisis in your life, try describing it in exactly the same tone that Captain Shults says, "Yeah, we have a part of the aircraft missing, so we're gonna need to slow down a bit." Since your crisis is probably not on par with a "part of the aircraft missing," namely an engine, you'll find that it sounds silly to say it any more dramatically than she explains her situation.

2. Focus on the Desired Outcome
During the process of bringing the plane in safely, the pilot and copilot were aware that one of their passengers had been sucked out a window. They didn't know her condition or if she would survive, but they did know that their priority was getting the other 148 people on board safely to the ground.

In driving, your car will tend to follow your eyes. Sometimes, in a skid situation, a driver will fear hitting the guardrail and fix their eyes on it. At that point, it becomes nearly impossible to recover from the skid, and they hit the guardrail.

Many things in life are similar. Your path of travel will follow your attention. If you are fixated on things going wrong, you will follow your eyes to failure, but if you remain fixed on where you want to go, whether it is a safe landing on a runway or career success, you will have a much better chance of finding yourself there in the end.

3. Preparation
Pilot simulators allow pilots to prepare for the unexpected.

Most pilots will never have to land a plane with a blown engine or deal with any other major emergency during their careers, but every professional pilot spends countless hours in simulators preparing for any emergency you can imagine. This preparation for what will likely and hopefully never happen means that if they do find themselves in that situation they are prepared and are ready to deal with it like it's just another day at the office.

Most people do not take effort to prepare themselves even for the expected tribulations of life. Many professional salespeople do not practice or study their presentations. Many entrepreneurs don't study business to improve their skills. Many parents do not take advantage of resources to improve their parenting skills.

But for those who do, when they encounter the crisis, they find themselves fantastically prepared.

4. The Power of Process
In the airline industry, there are checklists and procedures for every situation. In an emergency, there is no time to work the problem and figure it out. There's no time to call experts and see what the right answer is. When you listen to the recording, you can tell that, even though there was no warning that this crisis was about to occur, everyone from the flight crew to the cabin crew to the air traffic controllers immediately knew what to do and how to handle the situation.

Many businesses and other organizations don't even have processes for predictable events that occur every day, leading to countless wasted hours as the same problems are worked day after day, rather than taking the time to consider the most common situations and put systems in place to deal with them automatically. However, you can tell which businesses and organizations which have processes because they are fast, efficient, and the people who work there have a calm about them that you only find in people who feel prepared.

5. The Mundane Matters
Fortunately, SWA 1380 got to the ground quickly because if it had not, then there would have been serious problems with hypoxia among the passengers. Why? Because almost none of them wore their oxygen masks correctly.

Most people ignore the safety briefings before a flight because it is mundane and they've heard it a thousand times, but you are supposed to put your oxygen mask over your mouth and nose. If you don't, you won't get the oxygen it's supposed to be feeding you.

It is easy to stop paying attention to that mundane detail day after day, but that mundane detail may be the thing that means the difference between success and failure. Embrace the mundane. It could save your life, or it could save your business.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I Was Wrong, and I'm Sorry

Giving a public apology is a unique experience. March 13th, 2018 in an interview on Talk of the Tavern was the first time I had occasion to do it, and I learned a few interesting things.

The first thing that I learned is that the nervousness that comes with making a live statement is the enemy of sincerity. Anxiety will make you speak faster and higher. Sincerity comes of speaking lower and slower. I practiced that statement many times to make sure that the sound of my words would match the thoughts in my head that I was trying to express.

The second thing that I learned is that an apology is often a conflicted experience, especially if the people to whom one is apologizing have their own affairs to apologize for. Shots are fired on both sides of a conflict, and we are responsible for our own, regardless of what fire is returned.

I started my apology with the sentence "I was wrong, and I'm sorry." This sentence has stuck in my head since then. I thought about putting it on a t-shirt. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how often it is appropriate.

Unless you stay locked in your house and never interact with anyone, chances are that any given person may have daily occasions to say "I was wrong, and I'm sorry." Fortunately, most of our transgressions do not rise to the level of that which requires a public, live apology, but we all transgress.

I have apologized for things I may have done wrong. I even apologized for the offense given by private statements I made which were never meant to be read by the public. My wife apologized when she was about as far from wrongdoing as anyone involved in our effort. Tammy has apologized. And all of these are necessary.

As a culture, we would all be better off if we all took a moment to say "I was wrong, and I'm sorry" when the occasion called for it and if we recognized that the occasion called for it far more often than we like to believe, even if, and maybe especially if, the person we are apologizing to has returned more grievous insults than those for which we apologize ourselves. Then, we can seek to learn from those mistakes and do better.

As the Bible says: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness is a reciprocal process, but it starts with an apology.

For any number of mistakes that I have made in my life, I will start by saying to anyone who deserves to hear it: I was wrong, and I am sorry.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Downton Groton

No, Downton Groton is not a new American spinoff of Downton Abbey
The state of Connecticut recently spent a spectacular amount of money to install new highway signs on I-95 through Groton, and this is one of them. There are two things you may notice on this sign. The first is that there is a letter missing from the word "Downtown," and the second is that it's behind a tree.

I'm going to give the highway department the benefit of the doubt that they are planning to remove the tree, but that still leaves the type-o.

When I taught driving, I attended a conference in which a speaker explained that, for an accident to occur, generally at least two or three things had to go wrong, and sometimes more. For example, if someone simply ran a red light, it might not cause an accident, but if someone ran a red light and the person coming the other way had just sneezed and their brakes were worn out, then an accident happens. Had they not sneezed, they would have seen the car in time to avoid it.

I feel like the story of this sign may be similar. I don't know how modern highway signs are made, if they are digitally produced or made by hand, but either way, there was some kind of design and production process, and at least one person either digitally or manually applied the word "Downton" to this sign, failing to notice the error.

Then, someone had to load it onto the truck. I've seen the trucks they were taking them off of to mount them. These signs are too big to pile into a big box, so someone had to load the signs onto the truck and would have seen every one. Probably more than one person given so large an item. None of those people noticed the error, or, if they did, they either did not say anything or they were ignored.

The truck then arrived at the installation point, and, again, someone or someones would have been involved in mounting the sign. They either did not notice the error or noticed and did nothing.

Based on my admittedly limited knowledge of highway sign construction procedures, it seems like between 5 and 10 people were involved in not noticing that the word "Downtown" was misspelled on a sign that would be seen by tens of thousands of people every day.

Now, of course, it will need to be fixed. I am told that it cost $12 million to install the signs from the Thames River to the Rhode Island border, and I can only imagine what it will cost to replace this single sign.

Any one of almost a dozen people could have noticed the error and corrected it before it was installed, probably saving state taxpayers many dollars, but none did.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this particular highway sign is not terribly important, but it does raise the very important issue. Sometimes people in seemingly inconsequential roles may be in the position to notice very serious errors. Too many organizations do not create a mechanism to allow them to get their message up the chain of command to fix the issue before it is too late, or they make it so unpleasant to do so that the individual will say it's not their problem and let it go by.

Is that what happened here? Who can say. But it does remind us all to look at our own organizations and wonder if there are process failures that could allow a serious mistake to make it all the way downton without anyone catching it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Sin of Loyalty

Last week, I wrote an article discussing my disappointment at how quickly a small number of my friends had turned their backs on me at the slightest whiff of suspicion. This article led to quite a bit of introspection. Why had their betrayal cut so deeply, even though it was really only a few people against the many who have been quite supportive?

The answer was clear. I would not have done the same to them.

As I discussed previously, the first I heard about the allegations against Jeff Mach was on January 23rd. Although we had never been particularly close personally, I had worked with Jeff for 12 years, and I considered him a friend. When a friend is attacked, a good person's first instinct should be to stand by that friend and then look into the reasons for the attack and determine if the friend might be in the wrong. Anyone who abandons a friend and then assesses if they have made an error has a moral deficiency.

A mere 5 days later, I agreed to sign off on a letter that pushed Jeff Mach out of his own company, effectively ending his career and business. Five days after first hearing the allegations against Jeff Mach, I signed his professional death warrant.

It had been suggested that I was secretly working with Jeff Mach after this time. While not entirely accurate, I had not cut him off completely either. After being pushed out, Jeff Mach was left with nothing but debt. No assets. No money. No income. There was a very real danger that he would either starve or simply commit suicide. My involvement was to work to make sure that he was paid for the very valuable property he was giving up. He would have been paid about 1/8 of what it was really worth and the payments would have been spread out over 3 years, but it would have given him enough of a chance to survive.

Redemption is not possible if you do not live long enough to see it.

I am a Christian. The first tenet of my religion is love, – explicitly loving the enemy and the unlovable – but following shortly after is the concept of sin and redemption. These are often misunderstood, but, put simply, everyone has sin – everyone misses the mark – because we are all human and we are all imperfect. How that sin manifests is different for different people, but we all have it. The only path to redemption for sin is what is called repentance, which is a fancy word for admitting that you are not perfect, have done wrong, and that you don't want to do wrong anymore – and then you change your ways.

Before a man can repent, he must first survive.

My first choice was a choice of loyalty. My second choice was a choice of justice (or betrayal, only God can judge.) My third choice was a choice of compassion.

There are those who say that, from the beginning, I should have abandoned Jeff, my friend of 12 years whom I subsequently condemned less than one week later. They suggest that at the first intimations by people, whom I did not know well, that he had done wrong I should have thrown him to the wolves.

There are those who say that I should have left Jeff to starve or even commit suicide in silent solitude and despair.

If you are friends with such a person, I might suggest that you should look very closely at your relationship with this person. This is not a person who will stand by you when you encounter your hardest times. This is a person who lacks the virtue of loyalty.

The concept of compassion and redemption goes much deeper than simply believing that a friend can be redeemed of his wrongs. Over the past two months, some people have done and said some terrible things to me. People have said what one might call unforgivable things: statements so insulting to my character, my reputation, and my morals that one might say that they can never be redeemed.

I do not believe in unforgivable sins. Even for the worst of these people, I understand that if I had been born with their DNA, to their parents, raised in their childhood, experienced their experiences, I would do the exact same things that they have done. When you realize that this basic truth applies to every person you will ever meet, you understand that either everyone can be redeemed or no one can.

For this reason, if any one of these people, even those who have said the most egregious, hurtful, insulting things were to come to me and express a desire for peace between us, I would be open to a dialog. There would likely never be friendship or trust, but there could certainly be peace and possibly one day forgiveness.

There are times when my anger may get the best of me, times when I may forget that my path is not the path of hate, and that is when I am truly grateful to the many wonderful and loyal friends that I can count on, not only to support me, but to protect me from my own demons.

I have been accused of many things the past couple months, but I believe that I made three choices early on, and at the time I believe I chose loyalty, justice, and compassion.

Note: In this article I mention that I am driven by love due to being a Christian. That kind of love is not exclusive to Christianity. Almost every major religion preaches concepts of love and forgiveness, including Humanism. Christianity just happens to be the source of love that inspires me. God’s love is a house with many doors, and you may access it through Judaism, Islam, Budism, Wicca, Humanism, or any other path which brings you joy and peace.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Q&A #1

One of the greatest things I have come to know/be reminded of over the past few months is that try as I might, I can never fully know what the community might or might not know. I can share all kinds of information and miss the one thing that everyone wants to know. For that reason, I'll be doing Q&As periodically as questions come in.

If you have a question, please email me at While I may take questions from other mediums, the only way I can be sure I won't misplace your question is if you email it.

Now, on with the questions:

You have characterized former vendors, patrons, staff, and presenters who have come out against the myriad ills wrought by Jeff Mach, senior staff, repeat performers/presenters, et al. as being an "Internet Mob" intent to tear down Jeff's life works and as enemies of "the community." Do you still believe that in light of the new COGS event?
First please allow me to apologize for any part that I may have had in making it seem like we were considering you or anyone else with concerns or allegations to be enemies of the community. As I mention in this post, SPS did an absolutely atrocious job of PR, and certain individuals raised the bar on awful communication, so it is reasonable that you may have gotten this impression, but it was certainly not the message I wanted to send.

I did then and still do today believe that there was a small group of agitators who were seeking to take advantage of the situation for their own ends. I have no reason to suspect the motivations of any of the actual authors of any of the accusations. At no time, either then or now did I ever believe that any of the accusers made their statements for any reason other than to tell their story and protect others.

When I refer to enemies of the community, I refer to people who, even after Jeff was pushed out of the company and removed from the process to the extent possible, continued to attack our organization and the event we were trying to run, ultimately succeeding in bringing it down. Their stated objective of removing Jeff Mach from the event and preventing him from receiving profits was achieved in the last week of January, but they were not satisfied until they saw it all burned down.

In future articles, I will discuss some of those individuals in particular and their particular actions.

Why did you choose to believe Jeff Mach and not the victims?
I'm glad that this question was asked. For anyone who has read the the leaked log of the staff chat, you will see that at no time did I say that I did not believe the accusers. My operating assumption was that the accusations were true as written. The fact of the matter was that we were dealing with something very serious. We effectively had in our hands the choice of whether or not we should take away a man's life, livelihood, and life's work based on what was before us, so it was not a question of whether or not I believed what I read but whether what I read justified the destruction of a man's career, reputation, livelihood, and business: a much more complex question.

If you were in a low-level role, how are you so sure that the statements you've made about how the company was being run prior to your ascension to power are true?
This initial series on Wicked Faire is based on my personal experience. That is also why my story starts on January 23rd, while, clearly, the the seeds of this crisis were planted many years prior.

As for future articles in which I will discuss past issues that I was not directly involved in, all of the information I have is from conversations with a great variety of individuals who had knowledge of the situation. In places where I am uncertain or accounts differ, I will certainly attempt to indicate so.

Why were you chosen or why did you step up as the background leader of this group, while placing someone else as the public figurehead of the "new" leadership?
I encourage everyone to read the entirety of all of the various chat logs that make up the story of the crisis. We are quite blessed that this is such a record of all that happened. I will be working on posting an un-cut version of the logs when I have a moment, because there are some key portions missing from the leaked logs.

All of us stepped up as necessary to keep the event running. although I had never had leadership in JME beyond our small department, I did have experience with other leading events, and I was the only one with that experience. For that reason, there are some occasions in which I lead the conversation. At no time during that process did I have any kind of formal authority.

Why are you writing these articles?
The story of the fall of Jeff Mach Events is long, complex and convoluted. The particular sexual allegations are merely the symptom of a much greater systemic failure, and there are tremendous lessons to be learned from a deep understanding of that system. Many other organizations, in business, fandom, and non-profit, suffer from some of the same failings that JME succumbed to. Perhaps the stories that I'll be sharing over the next few weeks may help another organization to step back from the cliff that JME went over.

Why did you insist that Elise share personal information of the accusers?
I didn't. Below is the actual chat log of that portion of the conversation.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Placing Your Thumb In Front of the Sun

Have you ever looked straight at the sun? If not, don't, it's bad for your eyes. but when you look directly at the sun, your entire field of view is filled with that one blinding light. You can't see anything else: not the stars or the blue sky or the clouds or the moon or the plane flying by.
This is what staring into the sun looks like. Don't try this
at home, kids.

What happens when you block that single source of blinding light? Something as small as your thumb can do it. Suddenly, you see everything else. You see that the thing that was causing you pain was a small part of the sky, and you can now see all the beauty around it.

Gratitude is kind of like that. It is very easy to be distracted by a small number of negative things, painful things, difficult things, and to not notice all the tremendous blessings that we have.

This became clear to me after I posted this article. In it, I describe some things that people have said recently which were particularly hurtful. The response I got over the next few days really put things into focus. There are maybe 5 or 6 occasions recently on which people whom I thought were friends surprised me by choosing to listen to rumors rather than believe me, but five times as many people reached out to me one way or another to express support, and hundreds have expressed support over the past couple months, and that is really where my focus should be.

I am deeply grateful that I have such a wide array of amazing people around me: Many wonderful people whom I have known for quite some time, and a surprising number of new friends whom I have only met since this crisis began, and who saw what I did and appreciate it.

But that's not all I have to be thankful for.
  • I am generally healthy and active.
  • I have the ability to support myself and my family in a reasonable lifestyle.
  • I have a wonderful daughter who is absolutely brilliant and beautiful. 
  • I have a great wife who supports me in many ways. 
  • I work with a company of some of the best people I have ever met. 
  • I have an excellent game store right around the corner from me.
  • I am well respected in my local community for the work I have done here.
So, really, things are pretty good. What do you have to be most grateful for? Feel free to share in the comments!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Ready Player One

I am often late to the party on great books, usually being that guy who sees a movie that looks interesting then reads the book, knowing that the movie won't be nearly as good, and that well describes Ready Player One by Ernest Kline.
Like any book turned into a movie,
they redid the cover, and being late
to the partythis is the cover on
copy I read.

In addition to excellent pacing and a vibrant story, this book impressed me doing well two other things that are often done wrong. It tells the story of it's world without having to resort to long authorial dissertations, and it paints incredible pictures with words.

The world of Ready Player One is a highly believable near future dystopia. A global energy crisis has led to a massive economic collapse. Most people live in crushing poverty while an elite few live in a great wealth.

The world feels very real because it is not overdone. It takes our current economy and its disparity of wealth and extrapolates it. The government provides ration cards to the poor, which are much like food stamps. The poor live in hastily constructed "stacks", which are steel scaffolding holding stacks of mobile homes and other residences for people to live. They were created because, with the energy crisis, people could no longer afford to travel, so they needed to be near cities to find jobs, but the resources did not exist to build tall buildings, so the stacks were created.

People struggle to survive, working day labor jobs and otherwise hustling. The protagonist, Wade Watts, lives with his aunt in a trailer with 11 other people.

Into this world, Kline has extrapolated the trends of massively multiplayer online games and social media to the Nth degree. The OASIS is a fully immersive simulation. It had started as an MMO game, but grew to be something greater. It ended up being a platform for everything from virtual schools to commerce to simply a place to escape, and there is plenty to escape from. Many people even conduct business in the OASIS creating a real economy in a virtual plane.

Tomb of Horrors. Spoilers.
The plot of the novel centers around a contest created by James Halliday, the eccentric creator of the OASIS. Upon his death without heirs, he announced a contest, the winner of which would become his sole heir, getting his half-trillion dollar fortune and control of his company and the OASIS which it operates. The contest is an Easter Egg hunt throughout the OASIS. He has hidden three keys that open three gates which contain three challenges. The clues to where to find these keys and how to get them are hidden in his personal journal and other bits of 80s pop-culture.

This is where the nostalgia is worked in brilliantly. The character James Halliday was born in the early 70s so he came of age in the 80s. He clearly missed the simpler time of Atari and its blocky graphics, video arcades, and red box D&D, and he wanted everyone else to appreciate it. By creating the contest and creating puzzles where the solutions were hidden everywhere from old Dungeons and Dragons modules to movies to video games, anyone participating in the contest (and with $500,000,000,000 on the line, who wouldn't) would need to become the same level of geek about 80s pop culture that he was.

The book is loaded with detailed references to all manner of that retro pop culture, and it is not contrived at all because it works perfectly with the context of the story. Because I am familiar with the pop culture it is referring to, the story is very vibrant for me. When the main character has to play a life or death game of Joust, I could picture it exactly. And the surrealism of a simple 80s video game being the competition field for such a high stakes duel worked in the book, because the action occurred in a surreal virtual environment.

An original Joust stand up arcade system
I'm not sure if someone reading it born after 1990 might not have quite the same appreciation, but with YouTube and such it would be easy to look up all the references and full understand them even if it wouldn't have the same nostalgic resonance it does for me. Either way. the story and world building are still excellent and well worth the read.

On seeing the movie, I was disappointed to find that the movie did not create as engaging a visual story or evoke the kind of nostalgia that the book did, which is quite unfortunate given that the movie had a big screen to do it on while the book had only my aging imagination.

I'll say that if you have already seen Black Panther and A Wrinkle In Time and you don't want to see Black Panther a second time, then you might enjoy seeing the movie Ready Player One. While it lacks the robust world building and impressive nostalgia of the book, it is a fun popcorn action movie.

However, if you have not read the book, I highly encourage you to finish this sentence, stop reading whatever you a reading right now, and go get a copy and read it.