Being The Man

Studio Publicity Still from “Bullitt”
Steve McQueen
1968 Warner / Seven Arts

There’s a few men that I admire, who had an air of coolness to them. Even now that some of them are older and others are dead, when I look at their pictures I think, yes, this guy is awesome. I’m referring top people like Dean Martin, Steve McQueen and Bruce Willis.

Let’s take good old Dean Martin (Dino), for example. The King of Cool. Just listen to one of his songs. One of my favorites is “Gentle on my Mind.” His voice is so pleasant, as if you were listening to someone who had a great day, who spent time at the beach and then came into the studio to record a song. Look at his pictures. He looks so comfortable, so full of joy.

I want to be like that. Dino was the man! Hey, I want to be the man, too!

Being The Man

How did these people do it? How did people like Steve McQueen manage to be so cool? I have read their biographies. These singers and actors were just people. They were flawed. They had troubled relationships. They had their struggles. Some of them died sad deaths (this brings to mind another great guy, William Holden, who bled to death with a drink in his hand). Yes, these great men were just people. At the same time, they left wonderful work that endures after decades. They enjoyed great lives. They did their thing. And here, my friend, we have arrived, quite accidentally, at the heart of the matter. They did their thing.

So I want to be the man. I won’t become the man by wanting to be the man. I am the man by being the man. What a realization.

How does the man behave?

  • He works hard at his craft, whatever it may be.
  • He takes social risks
  • He goes and tries and fails and tries again
  • He has the courage to put himself out there, risking ridicule, loss, and failure
  • He is out in the world, doing fun things (For McQueen it was cars and motorcycles; for Dino it was golf)
  • He promotes himself
  • He is productive
  • He treats people with respect (in this regard, Steve McQueen wasn’t always so cool; sometimes he wasn’t the man)

Today, right this minute, you and I can be the the man. The man does not sit at home watching TV or playing games. The man is out there working out, perfecting his craft, taking social risks, promoting himself or his business.

Being the man is not a destination. Being the man is right here, right now, if only we decide to be it, and to do something which is productive.

Matter of fact, hang on, let me turn off this computer. I got stuff to do. Gotta get busy being The Man.

Shock and Awe



Shock and awe: Overwhelm the enemy. How do we do it in everyday life? By hustling. Be better, stronger, better dressed, more prepared, faster, even more subtle. Do whatever it takes to be awesome. Put in the long hours required to prepare for whatever the task at hand is. Squeeze every last idea out of you writing; do research; pump out that extra effort from our weight-lifting routine; buy the better clothes that others are unwilling to buy. Whatever it takes.

From the original 1996 text “Shock and Awe, Achieving Rapid Dominance” by Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade:


“The key objective of Rapid Dominance is to impose this overwhelming level of Shock and Awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on. In crude terms, Rapid Dominance would seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance at tactical and strategic levels. An adversary would be rendered totally impotent and vulnerable to our actions.”


Shock and Awe by Being More Thorough

In the world of blogging we have many myths about how to get more page views. One of them is that people want information fast and easily digestible. Bloggers who post a quick one-paragraph post believe that brevity is in their favor. They don’t want to waste their readers’ time. But it has been shown time and again, by the best industry, that an in-depth article full of details gets exponentially more views and gets shared more often than brief articles. This is because people appreciate the content. Quality must be there, of course. You can’t just make a long article full of fluff. Which brings me to my next point:


Shock and Awe by Being More Connected

Connect with your audience. We are all here to prosper and to make money, but as John Donne famously said, no man is an island. Those who focus solely on profits and self-advantage end up alone and don’t get very far. While keeping self-interest in mind, it is important to truly care for the well being of other. The well being of relatives, friends, customers and audiences. Sometimes I connect people when there is no possible advantage that I could get from doing so. Why would I connect a friend of mine, for example, to a dentist that I don’t do business with but that I know that has a great reputation? Because my friend and the dentist will be better off if their client/patient relationship works. Period. I’m not asking for a commission from the dentist, or from a later good referral later on from my friend. The better off that your network of people is, the better off that you are. Connect and care!


Shock and Awe By Being Better Prepared

One of Malcolm Gladwell’s most famous conclusions is that it tales 10,000 hours to be better at something. I might argue that. I might not believe that it takes exactly 10,000 hours. I personally believe that talent and natural ability have to do with success as much as tremendous practice. But it is undeniable that excellence is achieved through practice and effort, regardless of innate qualities that make us prone to be better at something.If anything, innate talent helps us weed out the activities that we should not focus on, simply because we are not good at them. The focus must be in the activities for which we show promise and that we like. Practice, practice, practice. Be better than the million other aspiring writers, actors, singers or entrepreneurs.


Shock and Awe by Looking Awesome

Look better than the rest. take the time to work out and to dress better. Iron that shirt. Wear the better trousers. Most people in pour culture think that being casual is perfectly normal in business and in relationships. But it is still true that we are highly impressed by those that take the time and effort to look their best. This might include better accessories, better-fitting clothes, or even smoother skin. I’m not advocating plastic surgery or spending great sums in designer brands. Not at all. The effort should be made to look one’s best within our budget, within our possibilities.


Shock and Awe by Knowing How to Treat People

It is imperative that we finesse the art of dealing with people and learning what to say under any circumstances. I once read an article about how George Clooney once welcomed in his house a reporter tha he didn’t previously knew, and humbly invited him to eat from the barbecue that he was cooking. The reporter was so impressed that he glossed about Clooney’s charisma and friendliness in his article. George Clooney is an award-winning, extremely famous, rich and (considered by many) handsome individual. Yet he did not treat a simple reporter like a service person. He treated him like a person, one-on-one. Now that is the stuff of legend, not the money or the fame.


Once we have all the above elements together, we can cause an earth-shattering impression in business and in relationships. Shock and Awe is my new philosophy. I’m making an effort to apply it in everything I do. 










The Destruction of a Historical Site: The Lorraine Motel and Surroundings

In 2010, author Hampton Sides wrote a fascinating account of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, and the movements of his killer. Sides’ narration evolves almost like a movie script; it is almost like taking a trip back in time, to 1968.

I wanted to see in person the scene of the crime: the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, where MLK, Jr. was assassinated by four-time convict and fugitive James Earl Ray. Ray shot MLK from a flophouse located across the street from the Lorraine.

Both the Lorraine and the flophouse have been bought, but not preserved, by National Civil Rights Museum authorities. It seems like the effort has been placed in mass access, instead of historical accuracy and/or representation.

Below is the original view from the window where the killer made the fatal shot (photo by Robert Williams, The Commercial Appeal:

Below is a recent picture I took of the Lorraine, from the former flophouse (now part of the National Civil Rights Museum):

The Lorraine has been modified by a modern domed structure, as can be seen to the left of the picture. The original brick wall that marked the Lorraine’s property limit has been completely removed, and the former parking lot is now an esplanade. Two cars are displayed as they appeared on the day of the assassination, boxed by a small fence.

The flophouse from where the shot was fired has been completely gutted; it now houses exhibit rooms and multimedia presentation halls. Only the bathroom where the killer stood and a portion of a former room have been recreated to give the visitor an impression of what the place looked like in 1968. None of the original rooms, hallways or stairways exist.

The image below, taken from the museum’s website (www.civilrightsmuseum.org) shows what the inside of the rooming house looks like today:

The exhibits at the Civil Rights Museum include the actual artifacts that the assassin used. Here are some pictures I took of the evidence, as displayed at the museum:

 These are the recreations of the  room and bathroom, as they appear today (pictures taken by me):

But the only way to get a real sense of what the flophouse looked like the day of the shooting, one must turn to the website of the Shelby County Register of Deeds. Shelby County holds the original evidence against Ray, as well as thousands of evidence photos. Below are just a few:

Rooming House Bedroom

 

 Rooming House Hallway

 Rooming House Bathroom

 Rooming House Bathroom

 Rooming house bathroom window

View of the Lorraine from the rooming house bathroom window

–Mario Miranda

Dealey Plaza, Then and Now

Dealey Plaza, 1963 and Now

These pictures were taken on a visit to Dallas in late November. I happened to be at Dealey Plaza at around noon (the same time of day of the Kennedy assasination), and stood on the same pedestal where Abraham Zapruder filmed the  assasination of JFK. I then took a quick series of pictures, perhaps 12 in all, without making any measurements or adjustments.
When I came back home I overlapped them with the Zapruder film.
Mr. Zapruder must have been about as tall as I am. The pictures overlap perfectly. Even the shadows cast by the people standing on the site, then and now, align perfectly.
What was most revealing for me was the quality of today’s technology and the minute size of the Zapruder film. My pictures were taken with an older 6 megapixel camera, yet the image size is much bigger and sharper than Zapruder’s film.  In comparison, his footage looks as if he had been filming through a peephole. In a way it was: a peephole into a historical event.
Dealey Plaza has changed over the years. In the pictures it becomes apparent that the old Stemons Freeway sign (which obstructed several frames of the Zapruder film) has been completely removed, and the street lamps have been set back from the pavement  edge of the sidewalk.

Dealey Plaza, 1963 and Now
Dealey Plaza, 1963 and Now
Dealey Plaza, 1963 and Now
This article was was also published by me on cnn.com

The Battle Of Anghiari, Rediscovered

NatGeo is poised to bring back to life the long lost Leonardo da Vinci painting The Battle Of Anghiari at the Palazzo Vecchio. It has long been believed that Giorgio Vasari painted The Battle Of Marciano over the remnants of Leonardo’s painting, fifty years after da Vinci abandoned his unfinished project. It is unlikely that any rescuing effort will yield a clear image of the original Battle Of Anghiari, as it was nearly destroyed by Leonardo himself, who melted most of it in an effort to dry the ink. But we have his studies, as well as Peter Ruben’s copy of the painting.

 

 

I blended both da Vinci’s known studies, as well as Rubens’ rendition, and the result gave me a more precise idea of Leonardo’s forceful imagery. Leonardo’s sketches can be seen in the second and fourth faces from the left:

That, at least for now, is as close as I could get to admiring da Vinci’s original intent.

Smoked Rice

Pictured: My grandfather Jose with me and sister Mariel, late 1980s.

One of the most powerful life lessons I’ve learned came from the kitchen, and my grandfather quite accidentally taught it.

It must have been 1988 or 1989. I was in high school then, and came back home daily from school to an empty condo in Mexico City. My mom worked until the evening and I  had to cook for myself every day, even though I didn’t know how to.

On one occasion my grandfather, Jose, came over to wait for my dad. They were going to a doctor’s appointment. I was happy that he was there. He was a pleasing old man, gentle, warm, and always in a good mood.

In my eagerness to please him, I offered him some rice that I was about to cook. He said that he was hungry too and that he would eat with me. Being only about sixteen and having cooked rice only once or twice, I proceeded to attempt steaming it on the stove. I must have applied too much heat and not enough water, because after a few minutes the whole condo was filled with smoke. My rice was a smelly mess of hard-burned grains on the bottom  and  half-cooked grains on the top.

My main concern was my grandfather. Perhaps now he would be upset or make fun of me and laugh at my ineptitude. But instead he said, “It’s OK Mario, hurry up and clean it up. I won’t tell your father!”
In  just a few words he showed me his love and acceptance. He did not judge  me or criticize me. He was not concerned about his food. He was more concerned about me not getting in trouble. And that selflessness has stayed with me ever since. He passed away a decade ago at the age of 91, yet I always remember with love and admiration. With that kind of acceptance I was able to grow up with confidence. I could screw up and still be OK, after all.

The State Street Brige Shootiong: An Unexpected Story Of Kindness

Sources: John Kass and Jeremy Gorner Chicago Tribune) and Steven Dahlman (Marina City Online).

It all happened in an instant, on a rainy summer evening in downtown Chicago:
A man was walking over the State Street Bridge when he was approached by someone who shot him in the back of the head. 

A young man named Shane Carrol and his mother Ann were walking across the bridge and saw the shooting. Shane rushed to help victim Todd Brown, while someone unsuccessfully chased after the shooter.
Carrol knelt before the victim, who was still conscious. The bullet casing rolled off Brown’s clothes. Another man called Kyle Smith (who remained unidentified for three months) grabbed the casing before it rolled off the bridge. Carrol took off his shirt and handed it to Smith, who used it as a tourniquet on Brown, who was bleeding profusely. Shane’s mom had already called 911; police and paramedics arrived at the scene, but Brown’s life had already been saved by Carrol and Smith, who didn’t know each other. The shooter is still at large.
The incident would have been just one more unfortunate city crime, but the people involved and their circumstances have captured my imagination.
It turns out that Shane Carrol is a cadet at the New Mexico Military Institute. He was visiting relatives in Chicago.
Kyle Smith is an Army sergeant and a SWAT officer in West Chester, Ohio. He was on his way to an FBI job interview. 
And the victim, Todd Brown, is a career criminal. He has a lengthy record, including narcotics and aggravated battery. He was attempting a fresh start, staying off the streets for the previous four months. He was walking to work on the evening of the shooting.
But Brown’s background didn’t matter. Two brave men happened to walk by when he was shot. They didn’t stand by. They didn’t ask questions. They didn’t wait for an ambulance to arrive. A man had fallen and they rushed to help, instead of walking away.

Shane Carrol was recognized for his “swift response, bravery and indispensably skilled first aid” by the Cook County Board of Commissioners. He will graduate from the Military Institute this year.
After saving Brown’s life, Kyle Smith still attended his FBI interview. An FBI official told the Chicago Tribune that Smith got the job because of his “calm demeanor in crisis on that bridge, and his act of kindness and helping.”
Maybe it’s this kindness that captured my imagination; it’s something to aspire to and we can emulate.

Getting To The Essence Of Things

The simple approach is often the best one.

Alfred Hitchcock did it in Vertigo. He only had to use a woman’s face. He zoomed in Kim Novak’s lips first, and then on her eyes, from which the movie title appeared, followed by an ominous endless spiral. From then on the viewer’s attention was complete.

Pablo Picasso did it when he painted The Cock. He could have drawn in exquisite detail the feathers, beak and crest of a rooster, but instead we get a much clearer idea of the animal’s character and mindlessness from the simplicity and strength of  Picasso’s linear rendering.

Apple did it with the iPod. They could have listed features, capacity, and battery life. But instead they advertised only the benefit: 1000 songs in your pocket.

It’s the impression that counts. The essence of what we are interacting with. The rest are just details.

New Da Vinci Self-Portrait Discovered

A few weeks ago CNN published a story about a recently discovered sketch. The drawing, a small 3.5″ by 5.5″ sketch of a man facing left, is definitely reminiscent of other Leonardo sketches, but the researchers weren’t sure whether this was the work of a student or of the master himself. While everything seems to point Leonardo, the article fell short about my main curiosity: whether this was this a self-portrait or simply the sketch of  a generic man.

Among other elements, the authenticity of the sketch has been inferred by:

  • A microscopic and chemical analysis of the paper, which placed the sketch in the same time period and place of other known drawings
  • The composition of the ink, which is virtually the same as that of Leonardo’s “Arno Valley” sketch
  • Traces of glue on the back of the sketch, whose shape and dimensions fit perfectly on page 1033 of Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus
  • The technique and style of the composition

What was not mentioned in CNN’s article, but was publicized on the sketch’s official website Leonardo Rediscovered, is that the drawing may be the earliest known self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. More remarkably, the sketch has traces of ink that would make this the only signed drawing by the Florentine.

Such an exciting discovery merited further study. The available images on the Internet and on the official website were of low resolution, so I contacted Cristina Gerbino, daughter of the sketch’s owner. She kindly sent me a high-resolution image:

In addition to the expert findings, I found further indication that this is indeed an early da Vinci self-portrait.

1. Verbiage
Da Vinci had a very peculiar way of jotting down his thoughts, often using repetitive words in different contexts within the same sentence. Note these examples from his notebooks:

  • “I ask at what part of its curved motion the moving cause will leave the thing moved and moveable.”
  • A man was desired to rise from bed, because the sun was already risen. 
  • The mirror  conducts itself haughtily holding mirrored in itself the Queen. When she departs the mirror remains there”

 The newly-discovered drawing has a scribble at the bottom which was later erased. The writing was analyzed on the “Leonardo Rediscovered’ website and brought back by lighting methods and simple retracing, rendering this image:

This was translated to “This way I go doing this myself” which is a roundabout way of saying “I drew myself.” The verbiage is consistent with a typical da Vinci sentence.

2. Tracing and Finishing
By manipulating the contrast and exposure, telling details of the sketch emerge. From the detail below one can see the original tracing  (and almost the speed with which it was made), and how the final details of the facial features and hair were added. These elements are very consistent with other sketches by the Renaissance master.

3. Anatomic Dimensions.
The most remarkable aspect of the sketch to me is the sheer resemblance of the subject to the known self-portrait:

The sketches were made about 40 year apart, yet the dimensions correspond perfectly, and the age progression looks consistent. I traced the outline of the skull and re-sized the sketches. The result is a perfect match of the proportions of the forehead, pupils, nose and mouth. One can’t help but to think that the man drawn is the same subject. This is my comparison:

 

All of these elements, plus the already established conclusions by the scholars, point to the very good possibility that this is indeed Leonardo da Vinci’s earliest known, signed self-portrait.

There Is No Past

1. In an old episode of “Married With Children”, Al Bundy keeps trying to remember the name of an old tune from his youth. He remembers the portion “hm hm him”, and sings it to everyone around, to no avail; no one knows what song he’s talking about. It is until he finds himself at a record store that  a higher power delivers the song to him via a jukebox. Only then is he able to identify the song’s title and buy the record. (Here is the long version).

2. When I was a kid, I’d listen intently to songs that played on the radio. There were only two frequencies, AM or FM. The shelf life of radio music was about five years; songs played again and again, until they went out of fashion and were forgotten, replaced by an endless cycle of new hits. It was hard back then to find again most of the songs that stuck in my memory (which were plenty; I have a long musical memory). If I didn’t know the artist’s name or song title, it was unlikely that I would ever find a song again. The same went for TV shows and movies. Back in the early 80’s even Betamax or VHS tapes didn’t yet exist.

3. In the year 2000 I tried to find an old song that kept playing in my mind. The only portions that I remembered clearly were a verse that said something like “I just wanna be with you/near you” and a cheerful portion of the brass section. With that information I called the DJ at the radio station from my youth, and repeated to him -actually hummed- the portions I knew. He was unable to identify the song. I then tried to find the known verse on the Internet, but could not find a song that matched my memory among the thousands of lyrics that showed on the search results.

It all changed with the advent of YouTube. When I looked for the same song in late 2007, I immediately found “Any Fool Could See” by Barry White. Someone had uploaded it a few days before I searched. That was a significant discovery. From there I was able to find endless lost lyrics and songs. Among them were “Búscame” by a duo that in my youth didn’t know was called Sergio y Estíbaliz; the vintage-sounding “Walk Right In” by The Rooftop Singers; “Popcorn,”a fun instrumental by Jean Michel Jarre.

A few sleepless nights ago I recalled an old song by Mexican singer Emmanuel. It must have been 1983 when I called a radio station, answered the contest question, and won Emmanuel’s latest album, “En La Soledad ” (which translates to “In Solitude”). I looked on YouTube for tracks from that record. While I remembered one called “The Last Day Of Autumn”, I had forgotten another one that appeared as a YouTube suggestion, called “Por (Because)“. I listened to it in the lone darkness of my room. For a brief moment I was nine years old again, full of hope, enthralled by a singer’s beautiful voice, imagining vividly the things described in the lyrics. It then  dawned on me that there is no longer a past. It can be brought back and recollected at will, through the magic of the Internet. I realized that, while I have been externally transformed by the years and experience, I am essentially the same timeless soul as when I was a transparent little kid.

Perhaps the millennial cultures of Asia, without the aid of technology, have always known the same. I hear that for them there is no past or future, just an endless cycle of life, without a beginning or an end.

–MM