Culture Stars

Celebrities are often criticized for stating their opinions – a majority leaning to one side of the political spectrum – while living lavish lifestyles. “Stick with acting and keep quiet.” “If you don’t like America, move somewhere else.” “I don’t see you out helping the poor; put your money where your mouth is.”

During the past many weeks, though, it’s nice to see famous folks donating their time and talents (and maybe even treasures) to raise money for those impacted by COVID-19, especially health care workers. From Broadway stars singing in unison in their social-distanced homes, to movie stars voicing over pictures from the front lines, to TV stars reprising iconic roles – like Tony Shaloub as ‘Monk’ – so many are trying to be a ray of light during these difficult days.

A personal favorite of ours, Matthew McConaughey, Minister of Culture for the University of Texas, agreed to hold a chat forum on The Athletic last month. Technical difficulties caused it to start a half hour late. While a lot of celebrities would have immediately thrown blame, ‘Hey, I was here… not my fault,’ the Academy Award winner who teaches acting to UT students, typed: “McConaughey here—tardy for class… excuse me—password glitch—what up—let’s jam”

There’s a good chance when we finally come out of this, human nature kicks in and we’re back to our same old habits. On the other hand, perhaps we’ll have new appreciation for each other and the challenges we face together. It would be great if that respect and concern carries over and continues in the new normal.


Major Disappointment

In September 2017, Hurricane Harvey devasted a large part of Houston. During the following weeks, the Astros run to the World Series energized and united the city. Much of America got behind the team – and ‘Houston Strong’ became the rallying cry.

The Astros had more success – making it to the ALCS in 2018 and the World Series last year. Then the bottom fell out. A former player went on the record about a massive cheating effort to steal opponents’ signs. The Commissioner’s investigation verified the allegations and he took swift and harsh action.

Failing to act cost the General Manager and Manager their jobs. It cost the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox their Managers who had ties to the Astros. It impacts the legacies of several All-Star players. It forever taints the Astros World Series rings.

While sports may hold too high a priority given the world’s many problems, they serve as a window into the soul of a community. For an area that struggled to overcome the moniker ‘Choke City’ – a curse finally lifted by those 2017 Astros – this is one more gut punch.

Several people had the opportunity to end the cheating and let it continue. The end justified the means. The lesson? See something. Say something. Do something. Never stand by idly and look the other way. The light of truth will ultimately shine on you.


Future Lock

As year-end approaches and with it the end of the second decade of the 21st century, think back to what you were doing 20 years ago. I’m guessing somewhere on the list of items you recall is preparing for a worst-case scenario due to Y2K.

Of course, planes continued to fly, your computer kept working, and the world lifted a glass at midnight to welcome the new millennial. (Semantics that the actual millennial was still a year away were lost amidst marketing and hype with little regard for calendar accuracy.)

It’s amazing how many things now in our daily lives didn’t exist when we watched Dick Clark in Times Square count down the crystal ball drop on December 31, 1999:

GPS, Texting, Wikipedia, Skype

You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Xbox, Kindle, iPhone, Apple Watch

The Cloud, Bluetooth, AI, VR

Imagine what will come to the masses during the next 10 years:

Electric flying cars, personalized robots, plant-based food, customized medicine, cryptocurrency, nanofibers, Graphene, Mars, biofuels, new wave nuclear power

What an exciting time to be alive.

Now… if they complete that proposed high-speed rail from Houston to Dallas-Fort Worth it will really be a great decade.


Missed Conceptions

In January, I received a request to travel to Nigeria to conduct the training program that’s taken me multiple times to Canada and once to Amsterdam. Of course, like everything that’s eight months away, it didn’t seem that big of a deal.

I was intuitive enough to ask, “What does it require besides a passport?” The response: “You have to get a visa and a couple of vaccines. That’s all.” I’m not sure where in the dictionary ‘a couple’ is defined as seven, but that’s how many needles poked my arms. There was also 16 days of Malaria prevention pills – which had to be taken at the exact same time.

Over the months before departing, every time I told someone where I would be going, there was an audible, ‘Huh’ or ‘Oh’ or ‘Is that dangerous?’ or ‘Better you than me.’ Eventually I quit saying anything.

After one stop, a layover and a total of 14 hours in the air, I landed in Lagos on September 9. For security purposes, the company has escorts who meet employees and contractors right outside of Customs, walk you to a bus… and drive to the site two hours away. Although having armed ‘lead’ and ‘chase’ cars with sirens going the entire time seems a little ‘attention-grabbing’ as opposed to quietly driving on the roads, I never felt at risk.

As for the training, the 30 Nigerians in class were terrific. I have been part of 20 of these and this is the first time attendees asked to take pictures with us. They even gave us Nigerian shirts to take home.

What are my biggest takeaways from this experience: 1) Ask better questions upfront; 2) Space out the vaccines; and, 3) Don’t tell anyone beforehand. It was a great experience, albeit with some different hurdles than usual, along with a bunch of good memories and a booster shot of perspective.


Religious Fervor

People show up in large numbers every week – an outward sign of their faith in unity with fellow brother and sister believers.

They sing and chant aloud… sometimes raising hands and clapping in highest praise.

If you challenge their passion and beliefs, be ready for pushback and maybe even an argument.

Many wear jewelry and other items so everyone knows exactly where they stand. Some even put banners and symbols in their yards… often to rub it in the face of neighbors.

Even with good friends, you’ll be forced to listen to stories about heroes from long ago… and you’re expected to accept that those things happened exactly as stated.

A lot of people have no interest. No feeling. No understanding of why anyone would spend so much time and energy – along with their hard earned dollars – on such unexplainable things.

I feel sorry for them.

You see… college football is back. It’s the 150th anniversary of the first game… and I’m gonna “Come Early. Be Loud. Stay Late. Wear Orange” until January 13.