Monthly Archives: September 2004

The Fit and the Dead

An interesting article is in the September issue of Harper’s, unfortunately not a link anywhere but here are some good excerpts. I spend two hours in the gym every day so it was particularly interesting for me.

Excercise expresses a will not only to discover but also to regulate the machinelike processes of our bodies. In the gym people engage in the kind of biological self-regulation that usually occurs in the private realm. Why, then, isn’t exercise private, kept at home with eating, sleeping, shitting, grooming, and masturbating? Exercisers make the faces associated with pain…the sort of exertion that would call others to their immediate aid. But they do not hide their faces. They groan, as if pressing on their bowels. They huff, they shout, they strain. They appear in tight but shapeless Lycra costumes that reveal the shape of the penis, the labia, the mashed and bandaged breasts, all without allowing the lure of sex.

The modern gym is an atomized space in which one does private things in public, with the self-concious loneliness of a body acting as if it were still in prviate. You are supposed to co-exist but not look closely, to wipe down the metal handlebars and rubbar mats to obliterate the traces of your presence.

The only truly essential pieces of equipment in modern exercise are numbers. Whether at the gym or on hte running path, counting is the fundamental technology. The only other location where an individual’s numbers attain such talismanic status is the doctor’s office. Turning to the gym you gain the anxious freedom to count yourself. Here are numbers you can change.

The person who does not exercise is, in our current conception, a slow suicide. He fails to take responsibility for his life. He does not labor strenuoulsy to forestall his death. An enigma of exercise is the proselytizing urge that always seems to accompany it. No one who plays baseball expects everyone else to play the sport. The gym-goer, on the other hand, is a solitary evangelist.

The consequences are not only the flooding of conciousness with a numbered and regulated body, or the distraction from living that comes with endless life maintenance, but the liquidation of the last untouched spheres of privacy, with the result that biological life itself has become a spectacle.


The Peculiar Instituation – Terrific Gay Marriage Article

Being in San Francisco, gay marriage analysis filled with loud proponents and dissenters is commonplace. The Times’ book review section today has a terrific article reviewing two new books on the topic. It’s probably the most succinct article I’ve read on the topic. It opens:

Every movement that seeks to change society faces two great tasks. The first is to discredit the old order. The second is to offer a new one. Without the assurance of a new order, the debate becomes a choice between order and chaos, and order wins. This is the challenge now facing the gay marriage movement.

He continues by rebuking the claims by constitutional-amendment supporters that marriage is a tradition that has been grounded in society for 200 years:

But this is a fiction. As Chauncey and Wolfson demonstrate, the rules of marriage have changed constantly. In biblical days, adulterers could be put to death. In ancient Rome, people got hitched by shacking up and got unhitched by moving out. A century ago, 14 states barred marriages between whites and Asians. The Supreme Court didn’t strike down bans on interracial marriage until 1967. Marriage used to mean that women had no legal identity apart from their husbands; now it doesn’t. Spousal rape used to be a contradiction in terms; now it’s a crime. States used to ban contraception, on the theory that marriage was for procreation; now they can’t. At the time, these changes were condemned as perversions. Now we call them traditions.

The reviewer then articulates a key point: “Among Americans who think sexual orientation can be changed, fewer than one in five supports gay marriage. Among those who think orientation can’t be changed, a plurality supports it. This strongly suggests that the most effective way to change beliefs about gay marriage is to change beliefs about immutability.” Unfortunately, he concluded, the authors of both the reviewed books do not explore this path. He concludes with something I strongly agree:

We don’t have to honor every lifestyle we tolerate or treat cohabitation like marriage. It’s the enemies of gay marriage who want to make this debate an all-or-nothing, order-or-chaos proposition. Let’s not help them.

Draft Card vs. Voting Registration…And Registering Voters

The Student Council President of my high school stood up at All-School-Meeting a few days ago and read a little speech about how he got his draft registration card in the mail the very day he turned 18 with very clear instructions about how to register for the draft. If he didn’t, the letter said, he could face hundreds of thousands of dollar fines, multi-year imprisonment, or both. On the other hand, he got nothing about how to register to vote and everyone knows there are no consequences for failing to participate in our democracy. At the end of his announcement, he held his draft card up high and then ripped it up. Everyone was a little shocked.

As my friends around me start registering for the draft, it definitely brings our perpetual “war on terror” into very real terms. It also brings questions. My guy friends are wondering why the girls don’t have to register. For others this gets them more involved in politics. Bottom line: as the people around me send in their draft card, and when I get mine in a year and a half, all the newspaper articles about Iraq, all the interviews with family members of people serving, it all becomes so very very real.

Speaking of registering voters, a buddy of mine started a local chapter of Freedom’s Answer, a bipartisan organization run by youth under 18 to get out the vote. This morning I emailed my brothers with links to where they can get absentee ballots. It definitely isn’t as easy as registering for the draft, I can tell you that much. I then printed out a permanent absentee registration form for my Dad so he doesn’t have to worry about being in town on Nov 2. Finally, about 15 guys and girls from my high school spent an hour or two on Haight Street registering voters. It is shocking when people respond to “Excuse me, are you registered to vote?” with “No and I don’t want to.” A lot of people just don’t want to be bothered, especially when they’re swarmed by DNC folks raising money. The get of the vote effort is bipartisan, important, and easy to do. Please find a local org and get involved.

Company Foundation Versus Employee Choice…And VC Guidance on Philanthropy

Just read Brad’s post on one of his companies donating 1% of their revenue through ’04 to the Lance Armstrong Foundation…and then Ross Mayfield’s add-on as he describes how SocialText treats philanthropy and community service. My reactions:

1. This is all great stuff that everyone should be doing.

2. The foundation (digital media for youth) is the sole recipient of the company’s 1% employee time, equity, and profit. Ryan Martens at Rally Dev takes a different approach. He thinks employees should be able to get involved with organizations about which they are passionate. The salesforce model makes it easier to track the impact of the collective effort, Ryan’s philosophy is 100% inclusive, in case some employees don’t believe in the mission of a company foundation. Interesting differences.

3. What if a firm like Mobius VC put together a framework for all their portfolio companies to develop integrated philanthropy? Mobius’ own philanthropy could be a resource center and a turn key guide for their newly funded companies to get started on this early. The way this stuff will spread is for organizations that have a big impact and influence on start-ups to exercise that influence in a philanthropic way. Maybe they’re already doing that, I don’t know.

Nice Newsweek – Personal Essay and Mind/Body

I’m not often a sucker for personal essays but there is one in this week’s Newsweek called My Turn: Long Hair, Crew Cut—He’s Still My Friend. It’s about a a liberal lady whose friend goes to Iraq and how she handles talking with him. It’s well written and best: it’s short. Conclusion:

Matt will fight a war and I will sit safely with coffee mug in hand trying to figure out how to support him. The best way I think I can do that is not by putting a yellow ribbon on my SUV or waving a flag, but by allowing him to share his thoughts openly. And perhaps, by writing this, I can finally say what I had wanted to say before he left, which is this: Please come back safely. Please remember to watch your back. Help where you can with the skills that you have. Use your humor to protect yourself. Use your social skills to help people. You have friends, so don’t be afraid to use us as a sounding board. We wish you well. I wish you well. And… Matt? Most of all, I wish you peace.

Also in Newsweek are a series of articles on the mind/body health connection. Can soothing the mind sooth the body? Is a “soul” just more neuroscience? What’s the current state of meditation?

Friends of Ben: Carol Rutlen

Network: Ben Casnocha > Mike Patterson > Carol Rutlen

Google: Carol Rutlen

I met Carol several years ago when my closet mentor Mike Patterson organized a dinner of folks to help me think through the idea behind Comcate. Carol is founder and CEO of ExpatEdge, a software company helping human resource professionals support employees on domestic and international assignments. She started ExpatEdge after leaving PwC. Currently she is on the Advisory Board at Comcate.

Carol is a great person to have in the room when it comes to tackling big, strategic issues but she can get detail oriented quickly and that’s what I like. I am trying to hone my skills at being able to go from 50,000 to 500 feet of analysis when asked. I’ve been in too many meetings where we will be trying to figure out a roadmap for the next 3-5 years and someone asks about a tactical marketing issue. Or we’re trying to wordsmith a brochure and someone keeps focusing on the big message and not the individual sentences.

Carol can review a packet of information ahead of time and come in with questions. Being prepared for meetings and having thought about it ahead of time makes her participation in our advisory board so much more potent. There are few people who actually digest and reflect on stuff you send them before meetings – even if it’s only a 2 minute exercise, Carol does it and she does it well.

Finally, I like Carol because she has a social/philanthropic side to her. She sees a glass ceiling when it comes to women in business and that’s something that fires me up. Although we haven’t needed to rely on our advisory board much in the past few months, I know when we gather the group next time we all will look forward to capturing some of Carol’s insight and wit. All these reasons make Carol Rutlen the first in my Friends of Ben series.

Do you have a lot of common sense?

I place a lot of weight on whether a person has "street smarts." A new study:

We throw the phrase around all the time, but just how common is common sense? Experts contend it’s essential to success and a new study shows us just what it is – and just who has it. In fact, according to a recent survey, 7 percent of Americans are said to have Common Sense Perception, or CSP – an uncanny and uncommon level of common sense…Though 74 percent of American adults say they have more common sense than most people.

99% of the time I love people who bring common sense ideas to the table. But we can’t forget about that other 1% of folks who bring that idea/solution that makes no sense at all, but turns out to be the breakthrough. I’m a big believer in fostering those seemingly crazy ideas before brushing them off. I’ve always admired the protocols at 3M (I think it was there) where at brainstorming sessions each person must follow the prior person by being an "angel." So if John Doe throws out an idea, the next person that speaks must back it up and support it in some way. The "angel" concept saves seemingly crazy ideas from being quashed right away.

Teens Swarm Starbucks

The Starbucks Gossip blog I read posted an article from SJ Mercury News on teens swarming a Starbucks. It’s pretty funny:

A writer froze in her tracks when she recently stepped into a Starbucks. “The entire establishment was jam-packed with teenagers. Giggling, gossiping teenagers clutching whipped cream-doused frappuccinos; shoving Business Week and the New York Times to the side in favor of the latest Abercrombie catalog. Where were the crotchety old men? The college students, the business people, the starving artists? …When did kids begin to take over the place?”

Full Article

New Series: Friends of Ben

I’m lucky to have a network of peers, supporters, mentors…In other words a well of ideas, introductions, and feedback that I can tap in to when need be. I’m not a prolific networker, but I do see the value in knowing people and I work hard to build and most important maintain strong relationships with people I find interesting. I have no problem meeting someone just to talk about things, share ideas, talk about each other’s endeavors. For nine months a year, I am mostly in “Operation Maintain” as in stay in touch with folks I already know. (This name comes from the term my family uses to maintain our wood stove fire during the winter. Someone needs to “maintain” the fire by adding a piece of wood every couple hours.)

Some people always need to have a very specific purpose or ideal outcome behind meeting someone. That’s too near-sighted, as far as I’m concerned. So…I thought I could use my blog as a way to profile someone who I know and respect, share a little bit about them and why I like them, and always extend the offer to introduce you (reader) to this person if it makes sense. The majority of my contacts do not have blogs, unfortunately. Obviously this concept would work better if the person had a blog so you could get a daily dose of them if you find my profile interesting. Anyway, I’ve created a new TypePad category “Friends of Ben” and will, every few weeks or so, profile someone new. We’ll see how long I can go before I exhaust my address book!

Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices

Finished Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices, a “sociobiological theory of motivation.” It was pretty solid. What drives you to acquire, bond, learn, and defend? Those are the four innate drives within each human and the four main chapters explore each of these drives. It concludes with some less impressive but still decent chapters on putting a business spin on it all, discussing how employees need to fulfill all four of these drives in order to be happy. All in all, this book is a nice mix of science, Darwin, business, and that same old problem of “what makes people do what they do.” If these topics interest you, I’d recommend this book.