The struggle is real… for some

I’m a bit tardy on this (been a busy few weeks) but the folks behind the SAT have added an “adversity score” to the kids who take the test. It doesn’t affect your test score, and isn’t even shared with test-takers — it’s provided to college admissions officials to add more background/context about the student. It takes into account factors such as family stability, housing stability, family income, and the education level of parents. And it’s worth noting that it doesn’t consider race. Here’s a great excerpt from this article:

“The goal of this is to be used by admissions officers at higher-ed institutions to evaluate the context from which a student is coming from—so the community, the school, et cetera. An SAT score of 1400 in East L.A. is not the same as a 1400 in Greenwich, Connecticut. And so, if we can get environmental factors that the student could have overcome or thrived on, and take into context…”

Jeremy Singer, president of the College Board

I wholeheartedly agree with this move. Here’s a sample of how it would look.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the kid in a single-parent family who has to walk to school in the scary part of town, dodging bullets, avoiding gangs, go without breakfast and/or dinner because they can’t afford it, work after school to help with the family budget, go to the library for internet access, sleep in sweatshirts because the heat got cut off in their roach-infested apartment…. that kid is starting out at a disadvantage compared to the suburban kid whose mom drops him/her off every day and works the PTA bake sale. One kid volunteers at the food bank; the other kid gets his meals there. For the latter, school truly is uphill both ways.

Yes, it’s not a perfect system… there are kids from the right side of the tracks that are dealing with challenges as well. But not nearly as often. And I think kids should get a bit of credit for overcoming obstacles. Admissions counselors should be able to see more of the factors that might affect academic performance on standardized tests. After all, those tests can’t measure grit, determination, and the ability to overcome adversity… qualities that will translate well on the college campus.

Good news: new is good

Here’s a nice “glass half full” editorial from Michael Long in USA Today. Actually, it’s less like a glass and more like a well. And it isn’t just half full, it’s overflowing with goodness. We don’t truly appreciate how good we’ve got it very often. Here’s an excerpt:

Since the founding of this country, life expectancy has more than doubled, with nearly all of the increase coming since the outset of the 20th century. We can traverse the continent in less than the duration of a workday, a workday considerably shorter than it was a century ago. We can speak with and see anyone, anywhere and in real time, on the black mirror in our pocket. We have temperature-controlled homes, private and protected and our very own, with reliable indoor plumbing, light to extend productivity into the dark, and entertainment at our command to amuse us with worlds we would otherwise never see, or that exist solely in imagination. We work only five of seven days, eight of 24 hours, 50 of 52 weeks. Sometimes not even that.

It’s easy to focus on the negative. Looking on the bright side takes a bit more work. But if you pause for a moment and look around, you’ll realize how good we’ve got it.

And speaking of good news, two of my favorite singer-songwriters have teamed up for a new album! Lucinda Williams is producing the upcoming release from Jesse Malin.

Photo credit: John Sciulli/WireImage

Here’s the first track from the LP.

Have a great day… and remember, chances are pretty good that it’s already great even if something “great” doesn’t happen. That’s the modern world for you.

Grounded at last

A recent blog post from The Current, an indie radio station in Minneapolis, made me smile.

I’ve always loved that song, it has great lyrics…

Sanitation expert and a maintenance engineer

Garbage man, a janitor and you my dear

A real union flight attendant, my oh my

You ain’t nothing but a waitress in the sky

But as the blog post explains, Replacements leader Paul Westerberg wasn’t channeling his own inner rude passenger when he wrote it:

In Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys, he explains that the song was actually inspired by stories songwriter Paul Westerberg heard from his sister Julie, a flight attendant. “I was playing the character of the creep who demands to be treated like a king,” Westerberg told Mehr. “I’d heard all the stories from my sister about how [passengers] would yell at the flight attendants and then how they’d ‘accidentally’ spill something on them.”

Now Paul’s sister has retired after four decades of putting up with all manner of passenger problems. I’m sure the stories would be even worse if Paul wrote the song today.

Congrats Julie… and thanks for sharing your stories with Paul, so he could share them with us.

Frightened Rabbit forever

One year ago, we lost Scott.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by RMV/REX/Shutterstock (9646726aw) Frightened Rabbit – Scott Hutchison Handmade Festival, Leicester, UK – 30 Apr 2018

Lead singer and chief songwriter of Frightened Rabbit, a brilliant band from Scotland. He battled depression for years, and ultimately couldn’t break free of its grip.

There are no casual Frightened Rabbit fans. You either love them or you’ve never heard of them. (The latter can be rectified, btw.) There was a sadness to Scott’s lyrics — that’s what drew us in. We are all damaged… lost souls in need of a friend… lonely hearts wanting love.

The sadness that drew us in also stole him away. Depression is a liar and a thief.

It’s been a year and I’m still torn up about it. I try to get through by focusing not on the darkness, but rather on the light. I think about the joy he brought to the world, rather than dwelling on his sad exit.

Mostly, I think of my friends who are also fans… Dale, Michael, Ric, Deuce, Sara, Reid, Maggie… We’re still here. And we can pay heed to Scott’s lyrics:

While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth.

Scott’s family just announced that they’ve founded a charity to raise awareness about children’s mental health issues.

When it’s all gone… something carries on

Second place = first loser

Imagine you are a pretty smart dude or dudette. (I can’t even imagine that so you’ll have to do it for me.) If so, you’ve probably dreamed (or at least daydreamed) about getting onto the TV game show Jeopardy. You play along at home and do pretty well with the answers… yeah, you could totally be on the show and show that pompous Alex Trebek a few things.

Now imagine you do take the Jeopardy online test, and do well enough that you make it through to the live auditions. And then you beat the odds once again and survive the live auditions. You’ve made it – it’s a dream come true… you’re finally going to have your moment in the sun on Jeopardy!

Then, when you finally get on the show, you have to go up against James Holzhauer. Dude is a total beast. As announcer Johnny Gilbert would say it, “…and our returning champion, a professional gambler from Las Vegas, Nevada whose 17-day cash winnings total $1,275,587…”

James isn’t just winning, he’s winning in spectacular, runaway, big money fashion. Because he’s so smart and quick, he typically has control of the board most of the game, which means he usually finds all the daily doubles. Then, because he’s a gambler, he’s not risk-averse, so he goes all-in on the daily doubles, gets those right nearly every time… and for all intents and purposes the game is a rout before the second round even begins.

The other contestants aren’t stiffs. Sometimes they’ll go into Final Jeopardy with eight or nine grand, which is no small feat. But in nearly every game so far, James has an insurmountable lead.

The other players have the brainpower. If they were on the show at a different time of year, they might wind up as multi-day champs. But if you’re on during James’ roll, you have the unfortunate luck of bad timing. The only thing to do is to go out with a bang:


Beer for the people, by the people

Great Lakes Brewing Co. is one of the original craft beer breweries. Based in Cleveland, they’ve been around for more than 30 years.

They recently introduced a new year-round IPA.

Last year, they introduced something even better: an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), which means all of their employees are now employee-owners. It was a classy move on the part of the founders, brothers Patrick and Daniel Conway.

“This wasn’t designed to be a liquidity event for Pat and Dan. It wasn’t designed to bring capital into the company. This is 100 percent focused on putting an ESOP in place so that our employees can share in the upside of Great Lakes.”

Great Lakes CEO Bill Boor, in this article.

The people portrayed in the artwork on the new IPA bottle label and six-pack carrier are folks who work at Great Lakes. One is an acquaintance of mine. Lisa Farmer is the regional sales manager for Great Lakes in the Cincinnati area.

Lisa’s third from the left… writing up an order.

Lisa’s been working at Great Lakes for 16 years, calling on restaurants, bars and supermarkets, and working promo events that typically take place after normal working hours. Now, that loyalty is being rewarded.

Being on beer labels and coasters is pretty cool. Being an employee owner is even cooler.

Several other beer companies have also gone the ESOP route: Deschutes, Harpoon Brewery, Left Hand, New Glarus, Alaskan Brewing Co., Voodoo Brewery, Odell Brewing (partial ownership), and New Belgium and Switchback, which are wholly-owned ESOP companies. (Source.) Think about that the next time you’re buying some brewskies… all other things being equal, why not spend your dollars in a way that benefits the people doing the work to bring that beer your way?

Meet the artist

I had lunch with a world-famous artist yesterday. OK, he’s not world-famous yet, but he’s certainly nationally-famous. More importantly, he’s one of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet.

photo credit: Corrie Schaffeld, Cincinnati Business Courier

Keith Neltner and I worked together at a Cincinnati ad agency (ahem, “design studio”) for about five years, more than a decade ago. He was a brilliant graphic designer and I was a hack copywriter… your classic Odd Couple storyline. Keith’s skill level, his talent, his “eye”… is off the charts. Yet it’s matched by his work ethic, which came from spending his entire childhood (and beyond) working on his family’s small farm in Northern Kentucky.

Keith hung his own shingle several years ago – Neltner Small Batch is the name of his company. He’s still working his magic, but instead of doing it for the P&Gs of the world, he’s doing it for smaller, more craft-oriented companies like LIC.

Keith also does artwork for musicians, including the album layout for Shooter Jennings’ most recent release.

Which is great, but I still think his art is underappreciated because it’s typically intertwined with commerce. However, a recent project that Keith and his Neltner Small Batch collective worked on is pure heart and pure art. They (Keith, Tom Post, Chris Dye, Andi Bussard and Andy Sohoza) created a 63-foot wall mural in graphic novel style to share stories from holocaust survivors at Cincinnati’s Holocaust & Humanity Center.

Photo credit: Hailey Bollinger, CityBeat

You can read more about it in Cincinnati CityBeat , the Cincinnati Enquirer (and the Cincinnati Business Courier if you have an account).

I feel like this is just the start of the next phase of Keith’s career. Stay tuned…

Rock the vote

Today’s the day to rock the vote… even if you do a write-in vote for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”

– David Foster Wallace

Big in Iowa. Big everywhere.

Bob Burns was the lead singer and main songwriter in a roots rock band back in the 90s. They were called Big in Iowa, even though Bob hailed from Hamilton, Ohio. They were big in Cincinnati, and even did a bit of international touring. But Big in Iowa never became big in Iowa (or the rest of the country for that matter), probably because they were a bunch of hefty, average Joe lads from the paper and steel mill towns near Cincy. They didn’t have, as Roxette would call it, “The Look.” (Yes, that’s the first, and we hope only, reference to Roxette in this blog.)

Bob got married in October of 2001. He needed a gig that was more stable than “rock and roller,” so he became a screener at the Cincinnati airport for the newly created T.S.A. Eventually he became the social media expert for the T.S.A., starting their official blog in 2008 and their Instagram in 2013. The Instagram account offered travel tips, often by showcasing the weird and wacky things people try to bring on board planes, using a great sense of “dad joke” humor that came straight from Bob.

F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed that “there are no second acts in American lives” but Bob’s second act as a social media dude made him more famous than his band ever did. In 2016, “Blogger Bob” was ranked #4 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top Instagram accounts (#5 was Beyoncé, just for perspective).

The account won multiple awards like Webbys (given out by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) and Burns was featured in all forms of media with its increased popularity. He’d been profiled in the past year alone by NBC News, the Chicago Tribune, the Austin Statesmen and Mental FlossRolling Stone declared the account No. 4 on its list of best Instagram accounts and it got a nod from late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmell. Last month, Burns was featured on the syndicated TV program The Doctors. (Source: this CityBeat article)

A few weeks ago, Bob was bitten by a spider. The wound became infected… and Bob died of sepsis eight days ago, at the age of 48. He’s survived by his wife and two young daughters.

(The link to the GoFundMe page is here.)

“You can still find humor in the daily duties.” Here’s hoping we all can channel our inner Blogger Bob more often. We need it.