Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I Hear a Bass Drum--Honest!

In my sophomore year in high school we took a class called Political Ideology. It was taught by a terrific teacher, Orin Holmes, who announced on the first day of class that if we “played school” with him we would flunk.

Sometime within the first month we walked into class and found that Mr. Holmes had projected on a screen an ancient Greek building with impressive columns. He explained that the Greeks were experts in perspective and had, with this building, bowed the columns (fat in the middle, tapered at the ends) to create the illusion that they were perfectly straight.

“See,” Mr. Holmes explained, “how they are tapered to look straight?”

We all shook our heads, yes, of course, brilliant.

He then came around to the side of the class. “See the bow? See how it makes them look perfectly straight?”

Again, a great bobbing of heads. Those Greeks were brilliant.

Finally, he turned off the projector, clearly perturbed. “Does anyone see the problem?”

We all looked stunned. Problem? The Greeks. Columns. Perspective. Bowed. Straight. What problem?

Then Mr. Holmes said, “If I don’t teach you anything else this year, I want to teach you to think for yourself--to take an independent point of view. If I tell you something is straight, and it looks bowed, you should say something like, ‘Mr. Holmes. The Greeks blew it. They didn’t understand perspective all that well, cause they bowed the columns to make them look straight--and they look bowed. I see it with my own eyes.’”

We all hung our heads. We’d been busted playing school.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Not Being the Big Dog: The Value of Psychic Income

A few Sundays ago I stumbled upon one of the morning interview programs which happened to feature the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and the Mayor of Newark (NJ), Cory Booker.

Booker is a young guy and former community activist and Councilman. Bloomberg is a generation older and well known as the billionaire founder of Bloomberg, LP., a financial software and services giant.

At one point, as the two mayors were being interviewed, Bloomberg began answering a question (about crime or drugs or handguns) by saying, “Of course, Mayor Booker has a harder job than I have.”

That might or might not be true--I don’t know enough to say. But the fact that Mayor Bloomberg recognized his younger peer in such a gracious way says more about Bloomberg than it does about the difficulties of their respective jobs.

Undoubtedly Michael Bloomberg wants to be a wildly successful mayor of New York. He’s driven, and I’m sure has a healthy ego and many of the trappings that go with it. But if he makes a mess of it all, he’s still worth $16 billion dollars and the founder of a hugely successful financial services empire.  You can’t take that away from him.

In other words, Bloomberg comes to the job as Mayor with not just wealth, but with all of his psychic income needs met. He’s already successful. He’s already made it. He appears comfortable with himself and his accomplishments.

He could have been the Big Dog in that television interview and he chose not to be; instead, he made the gracious gesture of promoting the young guy next to him.