Chucky and my Vision Board

I was in my late 30s at the end of 2012 when I decided to leave the company I had co-founded. I was predictably existential, both about my work and my life. I was also completely burned out, and I was more than happy to set aside any anxiety I might have about the future, and simply take a break.

After the weariness went away, I had a brief surge of energy and excitement, which slowly gave way to anxiety. I was scared of starting over. I believed in myself, but I was afraid that others didn’t. On top of all that, I had brazenly decided to put myself through an intellectually rigorous process of challenging every assumption I had about how to do my work well, not realizing that this would slowly, but surely chip away at all that hard-earned self-belief.

One of my coping mechanisms was to collect articles about people whose stories resonated and inspired me. I placed these articles in a folder entitled, “Vision Board.”

One of the articles I clipped was about Jon Gruden (also known as Chucky, because his intense grimace resembled the murderous doll’s expression). I briefly mentioned why I did this in a blog post later that year, but the longer explanation is:

  • The Raiders hired him as their head coach when he was 34
  • After leading the Raiders back to contention, owner Al Davis famously “traded” him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That year, at 39, Chucky and the Buccaneers beat the Raiders in the Super Bowl.
  • He was fired from the Buccaneers in 2009 at 45

Everyone expected him to get right back into coaching, but he didn’t. Instead, he rented an office in Tampa Bay and proclaimed it headquarters for FFCA (Fired Football Coaches of America). It was a place where he could continue to study the game, and where people who loved football as much as he did could hang out and pick his brain. The space was pure, devoid of selfish interests tarnishing his viewpoints. And coaches and quarterbacks at all levels came in droves to hang out with Gruden.

(Another frequent guest, as it turns out, was Mark Davis, son of Al, who took over the Raiders when the elder Davis passed away.)

Over the years, his role evolved to include chief analyst of Monday Night Football and host of Gruden’s QB Camp, which quickly became legendary. Every year, people expected him to jump back into coaching, but year after year, he turned down all comers. He was happy doing his thing, which included both football and spending time with his family, something that wouldn’t be possible as a coach.

Gruden’s story resonated with me — his intense passion, his devotion to the game, his age when he stopped coaching, and his creativity in balancing his passion with his other interests while resisting the pull to coach purely out of habit.

Today, the prodigal son came home. Gruden decided it was time to coach again, and in a twist of all twists, he’ll be coaching the Raiders. Mark Davis apparently had been trying to re-hire Gruden for the past six years, and it finally happened.

I’m happy for Gruden and for Raiders fans. I “came out of retirement” myself a little over two years ago, so his ongoing story and the different parallels continue to inspire me.

Photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class John E. Woods. Public domain and found in Wikimedia Commons.

Copyright and the Evolution and Availability of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Speeches

Last week, I wrote a blog post for Faster Than 20 where I quoted some lines from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1961 commencement speech at Lincoln University. I first heard this and many others last summer on Spotify, which has a comprehensive playlist of King’s speeches.

The Lincoln University one grabbed me the most, and when I decided to revisit it last week, I searched for a transcription and was surprised that I couldn’t find one. I found a few scanned versions, but no transcriptions.

At first, that made me wonder about the copyright status of his speeches. As suspected, the King estate keeps tight hold over who and how his speeches get shared (as is its right). For example, it gave an exclusive film license to DreamWorks for an upcoming Steven Spielberg biopic, which meant that Ava DuVernay had to paraphrase his speeches for her movie, Selma.

Because I couldn’t find an existing transcript, I went through the trouble of transcribing one of the scanned versions for my own use. I also wondered whether some choice quotes from that speech were available anywhere. If not, I figured I could contribute some.

His Wikiquote page did not reference this particular speech, but it already had several of the quotes I wanted to share. Many of them, for example, appeared in his 1965 sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood.

Not surprisingly, King reused parts of many speeches. It was fascinating to see how some of them evolved over time. I also think it’s fascinating to wonder how certain speeches became more prominent and others did not. I think his Lincoln University speech, for example, is far more powerful than the version he gave four years later at Temple Israel of Hollywood, but the latter is much easier to find.

I think this is unfortunate, but I’m glad that audio recordings of that speech (which is the best way to enjoy his speeches anyway) are more readily available:

Photo by Dick DeMarsico / New York World Telegram & Sun (November 6, 1964). From Wikimedia Commons.

“Collaboration” in the Public Consciousness

I was sorting through old books today, looking to get rid of a bunch, and I came across two ancient books of quotations, one from 1970, one from 1980. When I was younger, I used to use them a lot, but I hadn’t touched them in decades, and it was time for them to go.

I decided to find and record the quotes on collaboration, then give the books away. So I opened them up, and to my surprise, neither book had sections or indices on collaboration.

I realized this was an interesting way of tracking when collaboration as a concept entered more of the mainstream of public consciousness. When I get the chance, I’ll see if I can find when “collaboration” does start appearing in the index.

Google Books has a really cool feature called Ngram Viewer, which enables you to chart how often different words and phrases appear in Google’s considerable archive of scanned books, which date back to 1800. Several years ago, I searched for “collaboration,” which turned up this chart:

If I were to guess, the initial dip in 1943 is because the French word, “collaborateur,” became associated with those who were collaborating with the Nazis, and the term naturally lost favor. The term gradually returned into favor, and the most recent spike started in 1982. It will be interesting to see if the inquiry into quotation books lines up with this data.

Darkest Hour: Nuanced Historical Flick or Meme-ish Schlock?

Darkest Hour is about the World War II events that took place in Great Britain from May 10 through June 4, 1940 — Neville Chamberlain’s resignation as prime minister, Winston Churchill’s ascension, France falling to Nazi Germany (including the siege at Calais), the miraculous evacuation of over 330,000 British troops at Dunkirk, all culminating in Churchill’s decision not to enter into peace talks with Hitler, which led to the Battle of Britain.

I enjoyed the movie. It was entertaining, well crafted, and beautifully acted, and I think the choice to focus on that single, eventful month was an excellent one. Gary Oldman is physically the exact opposite of Churchill, yet he absolutely disappears into the role. I also thought the movie was nicely and importantly nuanced until the end (where it devolves into a schlocky mess).

In particular, it highlighted Churchill’s spotty track record prior to his ascension, his politically precarious position, and the strategic, emotional, and moral complexity around decisions that will unavoidably cost lives. It offered a little taste of coalition politics, which I find especially fascinating these days as I wonder about the future of the two-party system in the U.S. I also felt more empathetic to the strongly differing viewpoints of the time, especially to Chamberlain and Viscount Halifax. It’s so much easier to judge when you have the benefit of hindsight.

I wouldn’t say the ending ruined the whole movie for me (a surprising sentiment, given that I knew what was going to happen), but I didn’t like it. It lost its nuance. First, there was an incredibly grotesque, entirely fictional scene where Churchill decides to take the subway to Westminster Station so that he can mix with the people. It’s a cheap, gimmicky device made even worse by the inclusion of the one person of color in the entire movie.

Then, all semblance of nuance disappeared, and it became a series of will-of-the-people, fight-until-the-end propaganda piece. Which, in some ways, was accurate. Churchill’s strengths were his way with words and his ability to inspire. Earlier in the film, they did touch on the difficult balancing act between looking disastrous reality in the face while also maintaining hope, which I appreciated.

I get why the movie ended the way it did. It would have been too complicated, for example, to try to explain that the Battle of Britain, while heroic and extraordinary, would likely have been futile had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. not entered the war.

I’m okay with the ending. I just didn’t like it. And I especially hated the fact that the movie ended with this inspirational “Churchill” quote:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Here’s what the International Churchill Society has to say about this quote on a page entitled, “Quotes falsely attributed to Winston Churchill”:

We can find no attribution for either one of these and you will find that they are broadly attributed to Winston Churchill. They are found nowhere in his canon, however. An almost equal number of sources found online credit these sayings to Abraham Lincoln — but we have found none that provides any attribution in the Lincoln Archives.

Falsely sourcing quotes is a pet peeve of mine. I get why they might have created that idiotic subway scene. But why end the movie Internet meme style? It was lazy and unnecessary, and it summed up how the overall ending of this otherwise solid movie was for me.

Douglas Adams on True Transparency

From Douglas Adams’, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“But the plans were on display…”

“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

“That’s the display department.”

“With a flashlight.”

“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

Hat tip to Denny Vrandečić.