John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Desiderada

jyb_musingsMany years ago I was visiting my uncle who was a voracious reader and I was perusing his library of classic books. I picked up a collection of works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, cracked the book open near the middle, and began reading. 

As I read I became enthralled by the sense that this writer was tapped into something almost divine. I recalled learning that holy books were written by individuals who were inspired by God — that they were in some sense just moving the pen. I wasn’t necessarily thinking Emerson’s writing was inspired by God, but as I read I did feel he had a channel into something beyond himself and his words were an inspiration from this divine source.

This morning I stumbled across Desiderata. I have read it many times and always felt the very same thing about its author. That the words he wrote were in some way delievered to, rather than formulated by, the author, who served primarily as a channel to a source of wisdom beyond his own.

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Julie Rath: A Rath & Co. Wedding — Sarah and Jonathan

Groom wedding styling

One of the crazy fun ways we spend our time here at Rath & Co. is styling grooms and groomsmen for weddings (sometimes the brides get in on the action too). I recently got pictures from a beautiful wedding I styled for Sarah Jenks and Jonathan Brajtbord, above, back in June. Sarah is a bridal weight loss coach, and Jonathan is a urologist — certainly a case of opposites attract in terms of her eastern and his western approach to health care, but it works. They were ridiculously happy, and not to mention all over each other, at every point in the wardrobe planning process.

Details: The color scheme for the bridal party was grey and pink. We got Jonathan into a winning three-piece suit from Simon Spurr, a white dress shirt from Michael Andrews Bespoke, a pink and grey stripe tie from Billy Reid, and a pair of black Lucchese cowboy boots (the man is a Texan, after all). The groomsmen all wore gray suits, white shirts, and the same Billy Reid tie as Jonathan. The couple wanted some uniformity between the groom and groomsmen, with Jonathan standing out marginally. So we opted for a three-piece suit for him and two-piece suits for the guys. And the ties matched the pink of the bridesmaids dresses. More pictures below.

Congratulations Sarah and Jonathan! You guys rock.

Groom Styling

Groomsmen ties match bridesmaid dresses

Read more about Sarah and Jonathan’s wedding here.

-Content provided by Rath & Co. Men’s Style Consulting. Read more: http://rathandco.com/2011/11/a-rath-co-wedding-sarah-and-jonathan/#ixzz35xMtTPeZ

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Facebook, marketing and meaning

jyb_musingsFacebook does a lot of things like allowing us to network, connect, communicate, share and stay abreast of our world and circle of friends and do all of these things in real time 24/7. 

But behind all these useful activities there is something more basic that is happening while we post,follow, peruse and comment. We are, in a very real sense, marketing ourseleves on a poweful new medium. We create the image of ourselves we hope others will adopt of us. It is like a virtual version of high school except the audience is more discerning and sophisticated and harder to penetrate.

So we try different methods until we find one that seems to work best. It is usually the method that is most authentic and revealing in ways that resonate with others. And yes, it is usually the method that accrues the most “likes” from others.

The liking mechanism of Facebook reminds me of training a dog to do tricks by providing treats when the dog successfully performs. On the surface of Facebook it appears the Facebook audience is training individuals by how their posts and pictures are receieved. But really, at a closer look, it is each of us training ourseleves. We try out a new trick and if we are rewarded with likes we perform similar tricks and build our repertoire around related posts and images. And for those posts and images that don’t work, we modify or scrap until we have our image honed.

Our final product, so to speak (whch continues in process), is a reflection of what in ourseleves resonates most favorably with others. Again, not all that different from high school.

But is that who we really are? No, of course not. But as we are marketing ourselves and honing our public image are there any other reasons we continue playing on Facebook? I think so. And I think it is because of something much deeper at play in the human psyche.

At our most basic level we need to know that we are affirmed. Or liked. The pre-Facebook internet allowed for communication and engagement but was more, at the human level, like shouting into a giant cave and, after a pause, hearing our own echo. A response of some sort that validated that we exist in this vast digital world.

Facebook took it to the next level on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Now when we shout into the vast internet black space –but do so through the virtual megaphone of Facebook and shout it in a certain manner and in a certain tone and with a certain purpose in mind — and pause, we not only hear our own echo but are affirmed. “Liked,” quite literally.

And that is a profound advantage that Facebook can boast over other all other internet mediums. And an advance that has far more to do with filling a basic human need than providing a new and cool technological advance.

Josh Bowen: 5 Things I’ve Learned About Life Being a Personal Trainer

joshThis week’s installment, is not necessary about “tips” but more so about perspective. I took on a new fitness challenge recently and it got my thinking about my time as a trainer and what it has taught me. I believe we can look at all aspects of our life and extract many learning experiences from it. Here are mine.

My 11 years in the fitness industry has taught me a lot about life. It has taught me what to do and in some cases what not to do. Life often emulates art and I have always thought of personal training as art, it makes sense that I have learned some important life lessons. In no particular order, these are the 5 things I have learned about life from being a personal trainer:

1. Anything can be achieved with passion.

I’m not the best personal trainer and I am far from perfect. I am however passionate, a word that is thrown around in the fitness industry more than anything. My definition is simply one who eats, sleeps, breathes their work. That I do. Fitness taught me how. Through ups in downs, passion has let me conquer personal issues as well as professional. An unrelenting quest to be the best version of myself was taught to me from my experience in this industry. I attribute everything I have accomplished personally and collectively due to that passion. Without it, I have nothing.

2. If you want something bad enough you will do whatever it takes to achieve it.

My clients and clients of other trainers have taught me this. My client Rolodex is full of people who conquered the odds, all because they wanted it bad enough. In my book 12 Steps to Fitness Freedom I tell a story about a woman from Columbus who lost an extraordinary amount of weight and developed a community of enthusiastic people wanting to do the same. Or the woman who I have trained for many moons, who at first just wanted to be fit but now owns her own personal training business, all because wanted it more than other people. If you want it bad enough, you’ll go get it.

3. No one gets to where they are, alone.

I didn’t get to this point by myself. I had help…a lot of help. That help came in the form of support from others a long this 11 year journey. It also came in the form of detractors and negative people who taught me what I didn’t want be. No matter how successful you are, you got there with help. If I was never given a shot to train at Gold’s Gym in 2004, I would never be here today.

4. Bad times will always pass.

Obstacles are put in front of us not to stay and best us down but to leave after we have conquered it. I’ve seen it a thousand times, some one who goes through turmoil but keeps at it and never quits, always turns out for the better. If I have learned anything from working with trainers and clients is, regardless of the situation, if you keep at it, never waiver and never quit you will come out of the dark and into the light. It’s that simple.

5.Look to add value versus make money.

Money comes and goes like the wind blows. No matter how much you have you cannot take it with you. Having money is not impressive, adding value to other’s is. I have learned this through experience in the fitness industry. I have seen people with lots of money that truly had nothing, nothing because they were not adding value to others. The single most important lesson we can all learn is how to add value to someone else’s life. Whether it is to listen, be a shoulder to cry on or help a friend in need, adding value to someone means so much more than money. “Choose legacy over currency,” is a favorite quote of mine and it means to simple to add so much value to someone that you build a legacy and are never forgotten. A very important lesson.

I could write a list longer than this but for time purposes I will keep it short. Being in fitness has taught me so much that I feel honored to talk about it everyday. The lessons I have learned are so important not only to my life but the lives that interact with on a daily basis.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Musings from Amsterdam

Something not to do when in Amsterdam. (Unless you are intro dressing up like a cheesy underworld figure from a bad video game.) 

Last year on our big family vacation I mentioned that my wife likes very structured and planned activities and I didn’t. I even said, sarcastically, that sometimes our trips feel less like a vacation and more like a program for continuing education credits.

But after it is all over I usually am glad for all the planning my wife does. Without it, I might just stay in the room and watch TV (if I can find an English speaking TV station). But that is not to say that all of her planned activities are winners. Last night we moved into record territory for worst planned family activity ever.

Rebecca did a wonderful job of finding fun and interesting activities for us during the day but last night she purchased four tickets at 10 Euros a piece to something called an “Ice Bar.” Granted, on the surface, it sounded like a promising activity. It seemed like it would be a tour of some sort of underground ice cave and we would see, we imagined, ice carvings or some creative use of ice that is common in the Netherlands.

Instead we arrived and were told to put on giant blue ponchos and gloves that were provided for each patron and to enter the “Ice Bar.” We did and found ourselves, literally, in a small ice covered alcove that was, well, a bar. With music and alcohol. And about a dozen silly looking people who, like us, had each paid 10 Euro to stand in sub-zero temperatures in a bar for an hour. We got a very good laugh out of it all and made the most of it by staying as long as we could keep laughing. And then calling it quits. About 53 minutes early.

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jyb_musingsMornings in Amsterdam

I was never an R.A. (Resident Advisor) in college. They always seemed like overly responsible, non-partying, uncool types who weren’t fun to hamg out with but who I would readily ask for class notes if i missed a class. And despite being slightly amnoying apple polishers they really did have it much more together than other students on the dorm floor.

Mornings in Amsterdam are solemn and sobering. The sun is coming up but the sky is overcast and there is a heaviness in the air like a bad hangover. As you walk the morning streets you smell coffee and baked goods and try to dodge places on the street spattered with vomit from last night’s excesses. It is peaceful and pleasant but the kind of peaceful and pleasant you feel if you live next to a fraternity house and it is Saturday morning and everyone in the fraternity is still asleep or achy and quiet.

10599340_10154534198235515_4941364976135923487_nAnd for the first time in your life you feel like at R.A. And you realize that R.A.’s on Saturday mornings probably surveyed their dorm floor and were reminded why they were willing to give up to be an R.A. type and were proud of their decision. And this morning, walking the streets of Amsterdam stone cold sober and sitting at a cafe drinking my coffee, which sits next to a Heineken beer bottle someone left from the night before, I feel proud to be an R.A.

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At various times today, my son and I discussed Burkean Conservatism, immigration policy, polling trends for the national Democratic and Republican parties and different dipping sauces that went well with french fries.

Here we are discussing the pros and cons of mayonnaise, ketchup, chipotle, and truffle dipping sauce, and the need for a spicier option for the American demographic.

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Being in Amsterdam makes you ponder all sorts of philosophical and personal questions that have never occurred to you before. 

Questions like, If you got a sex change and decided it wasn’t a good choice and then decided to get another sex change to reverse the previous sex change would others see you the way they had in the past (before the first sex change) or would both sexes look at you with suspicion about your current choice of gender —and at the very least consider you a person prone to being indecisive? And if all of this happened in Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal and pervasively used, would anyone even notice?

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Lauren Mayer: Make ‘Em Laugh

The past week has been a particularly sharp example of the connection between comedy and tragedy.  Robin Williams’ suicide reminded us that there is often a dark side to funny people, and meanwhile the unrest in Ferguson, Iraq, and the Middle East have many of us exhausted by bad news and craving some comic relief.

Like many humorists, I often struggle with the seeming frivolity of what I do, wondering if my effort would be better spent trying to cure cancer or feed the homeless.  But when I first moved to New York, I was fortunate enough to have a roommate who was getting her degree in oncological social work (counseling families of terminally ill patients).  She brought a group of her colleagues to see me do a comic cabaret show, and they assured me that they couldn’t face the constant tragedy in their line of work without people like me helping them laugh and blow off steam.

Not that I’m equating my weekly songs with the genius of Robin Williams, but I do appreciate getting comments like, “Thanks for helping me laugh at a frustrating subject,” or “Keep the funny songs coming – it really helps!”  (And those are a refreshing change from other comments like “Who told you you could sing, you clueless feminazi libtard?”)

I actually don’t even mind the negative comments, since they are amusingly deficient in grammar & spelling as well as logic.  However, I have to admit, there is one frequent comment that irks me – “Hey, you should send your stuff to Jon Stewart!,” as if that had never occurred to me, and as if all I had to do was take the reader up on that fabulous suggestion and voila, I’d be appearing on The Daily Show.  But since sending my weekly songs to the show’s email & Facebook page doesn’t seem to be working, I decided to try a more direct approach . . . .

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My Revenge with AT&T’s Text Warnings

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Erica and Matt Chua: Vietnam on Arrival

Downtown Ho Chi Minh

Vietnam.  For a 20-something American the name signifies a war more than a place.  I have seen the movies, but have little understanding of the place and conflict.  I know we went due to the Domino Theory, but I never grasped how a theory became a war.  I know we fought and lost.

I headed off to Vietnam without doing any research.  It was only recently that I had learned where Vietnam was on a map.  I heard Vietnam was a fast developing country with factories producing for the West.  It sounded like many places I had gone, but on arrival it gave me some shock and awe.

When I arrived from Singapore I was surprised by how large, clean and new the airport was.  It could have been in any developed country and was nicer than most American airports.  The change was especially stark coming from Singapore’s Budget Terminal which was like the sanatorium in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  The only airport hassle was picking up my Vietnam Visa on Arrival from a bureaucratic regime that was holding up 30+ people.  Luckily, my visa processed fastest of anyone on my plane and faster than most on a plane that had arrived earlier.  After gathering myself and belongings, I exited the airport expecting a crush of touts, taxi services and unsavory individuals that hound tourists in many airports.  As I exited I was surprised by the calm and order.

Outside I met a Finnish man who was being hassled by a taxi tout, in hushed tones only good English speakers could comprehend we surmised that we were heading to the same area.  I told him I wanted to take the bus and he agreed.  The taxi tout told us the last bus had left as service ceased at 6pm.  It was 5:55pm.  We haggled to an agreeable price and the tout told us to wait in the parking lot.  Realizing he may not be allowed to fetch passengers at the door, we obliged and waited.  Minutes passed and the tout was nowhere to be seen.  Then the bus arrived.  With no taxi in sight we boarded the bus which was 94% cheaper than the taxi would have been.

Read the rest of…
Erica and Matt Chua: Vietnam on Arrival

Jeff Smith Offers His Hometown Recovering Pol Perspective on Ferguson

Tomorrow, our very own contributing RP Jeff Smith will be appearing on MSNBC’s “The Cycle” to discuss the tragic situation in Ferguson, Missouri, from his unique perspective as a social scientist who represented the St. Louis region in the Missouri legislature.

Jeff has already emerged as the go-to guy for many national news sources on the continuing crisis.

This morning, the New York Times published his op-ed, “In Ferguson, Black Town, White Power” which answers the perplexing question as to why it appears that a majority African-American population is being governed by mostly white authorities. Here’s an excerpt:

POLITICS, wrote the political scientist Harold Lasswell in 1936, is about “who gets what, when, and how.” If you want to understand the racial power disparities we’ve seen in Ferguson, Mo., understand that it’s not only about black and white. It’s about green.

Back in 1876, the city of St. Louis made a fateful decision. Tired of providing services to the outlying areas, the city cordoned itself off, separating from St. Louis County. It’s a decision the city came to regret. Most Rust Belt cities have bled population since the 1960s, but few have been as badly damaged as St. Louis City, which since 1970 has lost almost as much of its population as Detroit.

This exodus has left a ring of mostly middle-class suburbs around an urban core plagued by entrenched poverty. White flight from the city mostly ended in the 1980s; since then, blacks have left the inner city for suburbs such as Ferguson in the area of St. Louis County known as North County.

Ferguson’s demographics have shifted rapidly: in 1990, it was 74 percent white and 25 percent black; in 2000, 52 percent black and 45 percent white; by 2010, 67 percent black and 29 percent white.

The region’s fragmentation isn’t limited to the odd case of a city shedding its county. St. Louis County contains 90 municipalities, most with their own city hall and police force. Many rely on revenue generated from traffic tickets and related fines. According to a study by the St. Louis nonprofit Better Together, Ferguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees; for some surrounding towns it approaches 50 percent.

Click here for the full piece.

Last week, Jeff wrote an influential piece for The New Republic, “You Can’t Understand Ferguson Without First Understanding These Three Things.”  Here’s an excerpt:

You can’t really understand Fergusonthe now-famous St. Louis suburb with a long history of white people sometimes maliciously, sometimes not, imposing their will on black people’s livesunless you understand Kinloch.

Kinloch, the oldest black town in Missouri, is now essentially a ghost town, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, it thrived for nearly a century after its founding in the 1890s. Back then, restrictive housing covenants prohibited the direct sale of property to blacks, so a white real estate firm purchased parcels of land, marked them up over 100 percent, and resold them to blacks.” One advertisement noted, “The good colored people of South Kinloch Park have built themselves a little city of which they have a right to be proud. More than a hundred homes, three churches and a splendid public school have been built in a few years.”

The turn of the century was a heady time for the bustling little town. The Wright Brothers visited Kinloch Airfield in one of their earliest tours, and the airfield hosted an event at which Theodore Roosevelt took the maiden presidential airplane flight, which lasted approximately three minutes. Kinloch Airfield was home to the first control tower, the first aerial photo, and the first airmail shipped by a young pilot named Charles Lindbergh. A streetcar line ran through Ferguson, helping Kinloch residents travel to jobs throughout the region, and perhaps more importantly, exposing many whites to Kinloch as they passed through. Despite the region’s decidedly Southern folkways and segregated housing arrangements, blacks and whites rode the streetcars as equals. Kinloch itself was also notable for its relative enlightenment; despite school segregation, it became the first Missouri community to elect a black man to its school board.

All that began to change in 1938. A second black man sought election to the school board in the district which had a narrow black majoritywhites inhabited the north and blacks the southand whites responded by attempting to split the school district. It failed: 415 blacks in the south voted unanimously against the effort, while 215 whites in the north all supported it. So to get around the small problem of losing democratically, whites in the northern half of Kinloch immediately formed a new municipality called Berkeley, and a rare Missouri effort at integrated governance ended. Kinloch continued to thrive for the next several decades as a small nearly all-black town of churches, shops, community centers, and tidy homes.

In the 1980s, the airportlong since been renamed Lambert International Airportbegan snatching up property to build an additional runway. From 1990 to 2000, Kinloch shed over 80 percent of its population, and as the community fabric frayed, it was increasingly plagued by crime and disorder.

Construction on airport expansion, which cost well over a billion dollars and involved 550 companies, began in 2001. Unfortunately, two other things happened that year: American Airlines bought TWA, and 9/11. Which means that the airport is dramatically underutilized now; a senior airport official told me Lambert could easily handle twice the traffic it currently gets.

Meanwhile, many of the residents displaced by this wasteful construction project have ended up in Fergusonspecifically, in Canfield Green, the apartment complex on whose grounds Michael Brown tragically died.

Click here for the full piece.

Jeff has also been burning up the Twitter feed (@JeffSmithMO) with his brilliant perspective on each day’s events.  Click here to read a “Storify” of his last few days of tweeting.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: My Favorite Things

jyb_musingsRemember Julie Andrews memorable song, “These are a few of my favorite things” where she taught us….


“When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad”

But what if the “Favorite things” in the song, don’t really do it for you?
I mean, remember? The favorite things are things like
“Cream colored ponies” and “whiskers on kittens,”
“Bright copper kettles” and “Brown paper packages tied up with strings”
I never told anyone but none of those were on my “favorite things list.” Not one.

Now that I am older I think there must have been a little more going on with Julie Andrews back then that was lifting her mood than just thinking about cream colored ponies. After all, the song came out in the mid 1960s.

Regardless of the lyrics, I do love the Al Jarreau version of this song. And listening to it is one of my favorite things. And still works.

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