Friday, January 30, 2009

Spice up the blawg

That's the advice I got from a reader from NY who I just got off the phone with. "Come on. It's getting a little eh."

Okay, spice. Here goes.

Last night I went to a public forum prompted by the Sam Adams controversy.

If you're not from Portland, and you don't have time to read the whole article, the basic story is this: It recently came to light that Portland's new Mayor, Sam Adams, was having sex with a teenaged legislative intern in 2005 while Adams was a City Councilman.

When the accusations began back in September, before his election, Adams responded super-righteously and with indignation [see: Clinton]. Then, after he was elected, Adams hired the muckracking writer from the local alt rag - who would've broken the story - to work for his office.

In short, Sam was discovered to be a politician, an old-school, ambitious, lying, manipulating, arrogant, power-abusing politician. Surprise!

Last night's forum, sponsored by the Oregon Council for the Humanities, attempted to be less of a argument about whether or not Sam should stay - that debate continues to rage - but a discussion about the boundaries between public and private space, for public figures and for all of us.

The panelists were Mark Zusman, editor of the Willamette Week, the newspaper that broke the story, Caitlin Baggott, director of the Oregon Bus Project, Robert Eisinger, chair of the Political Science Department at Lewis and Clark University, and Tom Bivins, Chair of Media Ethics at the University of Oregon School of Journalism.

Mark began by stating his two founding principles of privacy: that privacy of the individual is an absolute right, and that there is absolutely no place for privacy in government. Interpreting what falls in which sphere is what his work is about, and what the night's discussion became about.

Mark emphasized that there are no hard rules, but the measuring stick is always whether the personal behavior in question affects the person's job.

There was much talk about character, whether it was immutable or a series of choices or habits. Peter Steinberger, dean of faculty at Reed College, and an excellent moderator, pointed out the different ways a politician's personal failures are interpreted by pragmatists, who see politics as in terms of results, and purists, who see politics as an embodiment of our highest potential as humans.

The pragmatists are able to reconcile effective politicians whose personal lives are a wreck - FDR, JFK, Churchill, etc. Professor Bivins seemed to fall into this second group, and reminded us that if we expect our politicians to be angels, we are guaranteed to be disappointed.

In her many daily conversations about the scandal, Caitlin Baggot noticed a different split, which she described as generational. The older people were more disturbed by the morality of having a sexual relationship with an intern; the younger people were bothered by Adam's attempt to control, manage and cover-up his failure.

"Let's be honest," Mark Zussman said near the end of the evening. "If Sam's initial response had been 'Yes, this happened, but I never broke the law, this is a personal matter, and it never affected my job as public servant,' we wouldn't be here tonight."

"He didn't trust Portlanders enough to tell us the truth," someone in the audience said.

That's what this thing seemed to be about to me, the shift in politics from cover-ups and crisis-management to openness and transparency. Sam's trying to go about business as usual, but I don't think it's over yet.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The L.A.

Back from a quickie trip to the L.A. to award a F/art Fellowship to Jesse Dylan.

Jesse is a lovely dude. He is led by his heart, and that, combined with his talent for translation, means that he's become the guy that the cause-related people call when they need help telling their story.

He and his producer Priscilla work with some of the most interesting progressive people and causes, from Barack to Bono's RED and One campaigns to the TED conference. Here's a film he made for Karen Armstrong, 2008 TED prize winner, to help her achieve her wish to create a universal Charter for Compassion.

Jesse and I talked about collaborating on some upcoming projects while we watched his 13-year-old son dominate the post in a 56-12 shellacking of the hometeam Wolfpack. Youch.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Beautiful snowy morning

Radiator is warm - for the moment - and snow is dumping. Lot of work and thinkin' to be done today, and I can't think of a place I'd rather do it.

Let me know what you're up to.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Seattle train station renovation

Some knucklehead put an ugly drop ceiling in Seattle's historic King Street Station (1906). Probably an effort to save money somewhere along the way, or worse. Don’t get me started about how the car companies and oil companies and tire companies and government conspired to kill rail travel in America!

Anyway, they are renovating it now, and so far, doing it right.


Just another reason to love the train. It is so pleasant. Driving to Seattle on I-5 is one hour shorter and three times more miserable. I wonder, as more people come to the conclusion that individually-owned, combustion-engined vehicles may not be sustainable for the planet at scale, whether rail will return? I think people would buy it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

2 enjoyable Seattle meals

My sister Lucy was a hell of a host this weekend, not only putting me up, but taking me out for two outstanding meals. First night Edgar Easom joined us. He's an old friend who is involved in the project that took me to Seattle.

We went to Tilth, an unfortunately-named but cozy NYT-Top 10er that serves delicious and interesting small plates like wild mushroom crème brulee and mini duck burgers and an awesome smokey cassoulet.

Second night we met my nephew Michael and his wife Jenn at Tamarind Tree, a casual and inspired Vietnamese restaurant with a strong POV. The black sesame seed ice cream was da bomb.

Jenn is an anesthesiologist and Michael a pediatrician and researcher. They have a 20-month-old son, Henry, and are expecting twins this spring, and they're all smiles about it.

Michael recently started a month-long rotation in a downtown hospital working with adult patients, and it’s a little different than his work with kids. He told us about walking in to meet his very first patient. “Good morning, Mr. Thompson. How are you?”

“Fuck you,” the man replied.

Good meals, good company, good conversation: Huzzah, Lucy!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Order/chaos + meaning

My iPhone glitched on the way up to Seattle and started spontaneously playing all my songs, in alphabetical order.

Here is the playlist:

"Absolutely Sweet Marie," Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde
"Acknowledgement," John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
"Across the Universe," The Beatles, Let it Be
"Across the Universe," The Beatles, Past Masters, Vol. 2
"Act Naturally," The Beatles, Help!
"Afternoon Tea," The Kinks, Something Else
"Ain’t No Free," NRBQ, At Yankee Stadium
"Ain’t That A Groove," James Brown, Star Time
"Aja," Steely Dan, Aja
"Alabama," Neil Young, Harvest
"Alabama Song," David Bowie, Scary Monsters

It’s weird how a random/shuffled list of songs can seem to perfectly fit your life or present moment, like a fortune cookie sometimes can, or a horoscope (especially Rob Brezny’s!) or an I Ching divination or a particularly right-on fortune teller on the right night. I think it’s because so much of the story is actually completed in our own heads, and we look for and interpret things to reinforce our self-story.

David Drake is a narrative psychologist who uses story as his framework for working with clients. His insight is that all of our behavior comes from the story we tell about ourself. Instead of concentrating on behavior, David emphasizes our ability to create and narrate our own story.

I am thinking a lot about story lately as I watch the beautiful story being so artfully crafted, expressed and manifested by Obama and his team. We Are One he titled his concert in DC, and everything flows from that simple story: the openness and transparency of his website, his disavowal of partisan politics, the public - but gentle, like a father! – chiding of his Vice President when he made fun of Chief Justice Roberts. Beautiful.

As much as I go on about it all, I am no Obama worshipper, not into the cult of personality part - as Obama has said many times, "this is not about me" - but I believe in the story he is telling and I want to participate in it, fully. This moment, the momentous changes happening in the world, its timing with my going out on my own, thinking about what my own story is about - it all seems so perfectly timed.

But maybe it’s like the random songs, how I create the meaning and connection in my own mind. Maybe I would’ve felt this inspired and clear if McCain had been elected. Or maybe it all fits together perfectly in a beautiful Symphony that we are listening to and singing, all at once.


Took the train to Seattle to meet a potential new partner, a super-cool, of-the-moment company that is doing impressive and inspiring scientific work.

I think it's interesting how industrial design and the use of color has entered the world of hard-core science. "Ten years ago everything was clear glass with a black cap," a scientist told me.

I love this person's lab. I asked one of the scientists if all the workspaces were so, um, relaxed. "Scientists," he laughed. "Yeah, all the labs look like that."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Manifest the hope

A friend got this wonderful piece into Shepherd Fairey's Barack Obama art show.

Makes me think about something we were talking about at yesterday's coffee. In the end, Barack may get more trouble from the Dems than from the Republicans, because he's not out to enact an agenda, but a process of coming together. Radical.

Just spent a while on the new site.

" will be a central part of President Obama's pledge to make his the most transparent and accountable administration in American history."

He is posting every executive order. You can also read the ethics pledge he is requiring every Federal employee to sign as of January 20, 2009.

Incredible. I don't know what else to say, other than pointing at it all and saying wow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Had a little coffee thingie at the studio today. Interesting mix of people from the building and the neighborhood. I shared a project I'm working on with some people whose opinions I respect and it made the work better.

Spent the rest of the time chasing down more coffee.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Imagination + common purpose

Went to a packed Living Room Theater to watch the inauguration. What can I say? It's all too much.

"My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking

America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans.

Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control – and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.

And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort – even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment – a moment that will define a generation – it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence – the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet.

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Caught up in the moment

Bought a new flag for our house.

Concluded the Forgive George project.

Celebrated MLK day by taking part in a service event, a food drive.

Finding connections with family and friends. Hosting a community coffee at my studio on Wednesday. And my work is falling into alignment with all of this. It's all too much. The amazing power of sharing an idea that is bigger than any of us.

Friday, January 16, 2009

creative tension

Life has an upward thrust, we grow and expand, it is our nature, has been true since the big Bang, since the first slimemold inched toward the light.

A teacher once told me that the optimal conditions for growth, in humans at least, is a state of creative tension, where there is both full honesty and full compassion.

As a reminder I painted this small rock to keep on my desk. Sometimes I flip it so honest is showing, sometimes I need to flip it to kind.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ott Helm

When we were cleaning out my dad's office after he died, I found a envelope marked Family Photos that I haven't looked at since. Now I'm scanning them and looking for a place to post to share with family. I am hoping that my Uncle Dick can help me with some identification.

There aren't a lot of photos, but they go way back. I am fascinated with the small handful of photos of Henry Arthur Helm, b. 1881, my father's father, nicknamed Otto, or Ott. He's the guy on the left side of the boxcar up top, in the dark overalls leaning against the train, and in the group shot the crack in the photo runs right through him.

I didn't know my grandfather, I was born too late, but I know he was a powerful presence in my father's life. Ott was born in New Albany, Indiana, but crossed the Ohio River to drive a streetcar in Louisville. I see my father's face and hands in his. I wonder how else they were the same, or different. I wonder how who he was has shaped who I am.

Ott taught himself to read and write a little by looking at the newspaper. He eventually became a Sergeant in the Louisville Police Dept. The story goes that one day Ott was walking his beat and found a dead horse in the street, and he had to drag it a block over to Oak Street to write his report because he couldn't spell Dumesnil Street.

The last photo shows Ott with my grandmother, Blanche Bullock Helm, not too long before she died, in 1955. They were celebrating their 50th anniversary. That's one of my brothers he's bending to pick up. Ted I think.

Looking at these photos closely for the first time, looking into the faces of people long gone whose existence I depend on, then scanning them and sharing them around the world, instantly, it's hard to process. It reminds me of something neighbor Bill and I were talking about this morning - that to live in this emerging world, we have to be deeply rooted but connected to the entire world, all at once.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Easiest blawg post ever

On Wednesday, November 5, the day after the election, I booked four airline tickets and a hotel room in DC so that my family could attend the inauguration of Barack Obama. We didn't know anything about tickets to anything, we knew it would be a madhouse, but we wanted our sons to witness it, to remember it, to know for the rest of their lives that this thing is possible.

I called Ron Wyden's office and Earl Blumenauer's office and we were put on a waiting list for tickets, though I didn't expect we'd get them. The assistant in Blumenauer's office told me, "Go anyway. There will be plenty to do. You don't want to miss it."

Reality started creeping in when we began to think about how a 5- and 7-year-old would handle a full day of crushing crowds at 37 degrees and with few portapotties, not to mention how we'd handle it.

A few of my brothers and sisters had also booked flights and hotel rooms, and the trips were falling apart for them too for various reasons.

Here's what my brother Ted and his wife Mary Beth did with their tickets and hotel room. You'll see them at the end of the video clip. I hope you can watch it. For me, it captures so much of the hope and optimism I've been feeling in the last few months. Plus it offers a teensy glimpse of what a beautiful dude my brother is.

I'm taking a break for a little while. Thinking. Send me an email if something is on your mind.


Monday, January 12, 2009

How it goes sometimes

Some of you may recall the branding identity project I've been working on for a while. For my friend Stacy's new production company.

Originally the company was going to be named Grandfather Mountain. Then it got changed to Grace Brothers Circus.

I was disappointed at first, but then I started I doing lots of research on circuses and I found some great stuff, some historical and rare typefaces.

Here are a few roughs of the finalists, before color treatments, etc.

They changed the name of the company again. I'm working on the identity for the new name now.

If anybody knows any companies named "Grandfather Mountain" or "Grace Brothers Circus" that need new logos, let me know.

Someone wonderful made this for me

It's made out of old junk.