Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year? Bite me, Ryan Seacrest

I'll apologize now for the nasty tone in my headline. I don't really want Ryan Seacrest to bite me. First of all, it would hurt. Second, it's kind of gross on a whole lot of levels.

But I do take issue with the whole Happy New Year thing, and the way, year after year, it always seems to come down to the same tired old cliches playing out in the same tired old ways:

  • First we reflect on the year that was.
  • Then we make panicked calls to distant friends and relatives because heaven forbid we don't speak to them before the ball drops.
  • Around that time we pick up our mobile devices and share inane Happy New Year wishes on Facebook and other social media because our SM streams weren't already clogged with inanity. 
  • Somewhere in between we might make pretty little resolutions for the year to come.
  • Then we settle in for an overpriced New Year's "experience" at an otherwise sub-Applebee's-quality restaurant, bar or club.
  • Or we settle in to watch the ball drop on TV, interspersed by the aforementioned Ryan Seacrest trying to make it all sound interesting and fresh.
  • Within hours of the ball dropping, we summarily break most of our pretty little resolutions.
  • By January 2nd or 3rd, we're back to our usual non-reflective, non-empathetic, everyday selves. Nothing has changed.
I'm probably exaggerating a bit. Okay, a lot. But my point is this: Why do we save it all up for one day simply because orbital dynamics and some really old guys in really bad togas deemed it so? Why do we put all our eggs into one big basket and then forget the smaller stuff - you know, being kind, being empathetic, being human - every other day of the year?

I have no answers to these questions. But I do wish to renounce my membership in the Happy New Year Sheep Parade. So in 2016, I'll keep focusing on the small stuff on any given day, no matter what the calendar might say. Because every day is a blessing, and I'd hate to go another 365 of them before I'm once again reminded of that.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On how writing should be defined

"I must write it all out, at any cost.
Writing is thinking.
It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living."
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Monday, December 28, 2015

Thematic Photographic 361 - Mugs

Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.
London, ON
December 2015
Winter has finally decided to show itself in the Northern Hemisphere, with a massive weather system that spawned deadly tornadoes in the southern U.S. and an epic-scaled ice storm all the way into Canada.

As I write this, the winds are howling, blowing ice pellets horizontally into the windows.
I have a soft spot for weather like this because I've always enjoyed battening down the hatches - both literally and figuratively - with my family. Somehow, riding out weather like this is made memorable when you're surrounded by the right people.

A mug of something hot doesn't hurt, either, so let's go with that as our next Thematic theme.

Your turn: For the next seven days, Thematic celebrates the humble mug. Whatever mug you like to drink from, I hope you'll shoot it on your blog or website, then share it here. If you've already posted something, that'll work, too. Leave a comment letting everyone know where to find it, and be sure to visit other participants. Return as often as you wish, as Thematic is all about shooting, sharing and enjoying the photographic art. For more info on how it all works, head here. Otherwise, grab your camera and go for it.

On deriving joy from sadness

"We enjoy warmth because we have been cold. We appreciate light because we have been in darkness. By the same token, we can experience joy because we have known sadness."
David Weatherford
Don't worry: I'm not sad. At least not overwhelmingly so. I simply wanted to start the day with a somewhat contrarian look at why a little darkness isn't necessarily something to be banished.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

5 reasons why we don't whine about the weather

I was having a perfectly relaxing day until I checked Twitter. Almost without warning, it was filled with apocalyptic predictions of a level of doom of beyond-epic proportions.

No, we weren't being bombed by our own regime. Or by someone else. We weren't being shot at. And we weren't fighting for our lives in some leaky boat in the middle of the sea.

But we were under assault. By Mother Nature, apparently. Because the very fact that Environment Canada has issued winter weather watches for large chunks of the province of Ontario is apparently the perfect excuse for people to lose their minds.

So here's why I won't be busting my spleen about the weather, and why I believe you shouldn't, either:
  1. You can't change it. Weather's going to happen whether we like it or not. And nothing you say or do will influence the outcome. Except the degree to which you choose to annoy those around you.
  2. Your definition of "difficulty" is wrong. Our grandparents walked eight miles to school through head-deep snowdrifts, uphill, both ways. We, on the other hand, whine if our cars' all-wheel-drive doesn't kick in before we start feeling the seat warmers.
  3. No one really cares what you think. Whether you find it cold, hot, or anything in between is somewhat irrelevant. The citizens of Facebookistan and Twitterburg aren't waiting with bated breath for your perspectives on winter storms. Or summer storms. Or any storms, for that matter. If you're not adding to the canon of knowledge related to winter survival, then it's probably best to keep it from public view.
  4. You look and sound like a doofus. No one likes a complainer. And folks who complain online are the worst. Learn some empathy and actually read what you write before you hit the Send or Publish button. This is your brand
  5. Harsh weather is good for the soul. Since you can't change the weather, you may we well change your attitude and embrace whatever's about to happen. Enjoy the fact that you're alive, that you were given another day to breathe it all in. It may be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but we can say the same thing about so many other things, too. The alternative is always so much worse, and your opportunity to create indelible memories for those around you begins now.
Your turn: How do you make tough weather fun?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

On why we should take Charlie Brown's advice

"In the book of life, the answers aren't in the back."
Charlie Brown
Your turn: So where are they?

I'm begging you to shop here

For the love of G-d, please shop here!
London, ON
October 2015
To share your own signage-themed Thematic, head here
Time has not been kind to the somewhat high-end mall that not long ago was the standard-bearer of London retail. Sure, Masonville Place is a well-kept, luxe-looking mall that's been steadily updated and refreshed over the years. Its owners have added marble and gold-tinged finishings to just about every visible surface. The lighting has been tweaked and even the furniture's been replaced to make things look more tony. The stores may not be as ultra-high-end as an average mall in Dubai, but they're as up-there as you'll likely find in a mid-sized city smack in the middle of the agricultural belt.

Pretty as it may be to look at, though, Masonville Place isn't immune to the tectonic shift that's reshaping retail not just here, but everywhere. It lost its main anchor, Sears, almost two years ago, and Target imploded earlier this year, leaving two ends of the mall to wither in the shadows. Signs covering the now-shuttered stores promising "Excitement is building," coupled with the growing number of empty stores in other parts of the mall do little to counter the growing cynicism that things aren't as rosy as they could be.

As you can see here, things weren't exactly hopping on what probably should have been a busy Saturday morning. Giant signs sticking well into the main walkway seemed to beg the few shoppers who were there to sample their wares. Sadly, it didn't seem to be working.

I do hope they figure it out, though (suggestion 1, update your website.) Because as maligned as malls are - and as much as they're still blamed for the death of on-street local retail - it's still sad when community resources (and let's be honest with ourselves, malls qualify as such) fall on hard times.

Your turn: Do malls have a future? Should they?

Friday, December 25, 2015

On giving joy back to the world

"So much sadness exists in the world that we are all under obligation to contribute as much joy as lies within our powers."
John Sutherland Bonnel
Now that we're finished shopping ourselves - and sometimes each other - to death, I thought I'd just leave this here for us to ponder.

Your turn: What joy will you contribute back to the world?

A forlorn look at a sign from the past

Sun baked
London, ON
August 2015
Click here for more Thematic signs
They don't make signs like this anymore, and that makes me more than a little sad. Sure, this isn't anyone's idea of state-of-the-art. It isn't LED-lit or 3D-printed. It isn't adaptive to local conditions, and doesn't serve up animated, real-time streams of marketing-ese, all driven by more technology than meets the eye.

No, it's simply an old painted sign that wears its years of assault by the sun, winter's wrath and autumn's driving rains with a sense of fatigue that makes Willy Loman look spry.

But when you lose places like this, you also lose the texture of the neighbourhoods that made your city worth remembering. I'll remember this collision repair shop because it's unlike any other repair shop I've ever visited. Something tells me the LED-lit wonders taking over the landscape today won't be as compelling to look at when they're as old someday as this sign is now.

Stories are sometimes told in the subtle shadows of a neighbourhood. I hope my kids know where to look when they're my age and they want a glimpse into how the place they call home came to be. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lunchtime in the shadows of the city

London, ON
August 2015
Thematic. Signs. Here.
I had no idea this place even existed, yet here it stood on a quiet back street in the shadows of downtown, hard beside the railroad tracks. The "Closed" sign in the window on an otherwise perfect sunny summer's afternoon meant I wouldn't be eating here today, but the neighbourhood isn't far from home, so I made a mental note to return another day and give it a try.

I'm not sure when the national and global chain restaurants started to push mom-and-pop-style operations like this one into history, but I'm pretty sure we're close to the point where places like this slowly cease to exist amid a sustained assault of homogenized, hyper-marketed chain outlets staffed by people whose names no one ever remembers.

Although I'm hardly the target customer for a homegrown pizza joint, simply knowing places like this are around has always brought me a certain degree of comfort. Because a place like Papa's exists only here - let's repeat that, shall we? Only Here - and it's what makes London different from, say, Stratford or Kitchener or Toronto.

But this isn't about cheerleading my own city. It's about cheerleading every city, and recognizing what we all lose when neighbourhoods are rebuilt according to a global business template that plops the same rotation of businesses in the same-looking strip malls, big box power corners and major malls that have rapidly removed sense of place from the places we once called home.

Knowing that those other cities also have their own locally-flavoured restaurants (and corner stores, and related owner-operated, well-established, non-franchised businesses) brings me comfort, as well, because it reinforces that every city, and not just my own, remains unique in its own way, with businesses grounded to the communities that they serve in ways no franchise operation could ever approach.

I'm glad I happened across this place on this particular day, and I look forward to returning on a day when they're open for business. Because if we lose places like Papa's Pizza & Restaurant, we lose far more than another place to get a slice of cheesy pie.

Your turn: What's your favourite local business?

On true strength

"There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness."
Han Suyin

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thematic Photographic 360 - Signage

Right this way
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2014
This week's theme, signage, should be a fun one, largely because our world is almost overrun with signs. While most of them, like this one, are fairly clear in telegraphing their purpose, others can often be more confusing than they have a right to be. Still other signs can tell their own stories if we take the time to read between the lines.

I know so many of you already take the time, and I look forward to seeing how you take the theme and make it yours.

Your turn:  Please take a picture that evokes this week's theme, signage, and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Drop by other participants to share the experience, and feel free to post more examples through the week. Use the #ThematicPhotographic tag if you're tweeting your links out. For more info on how Thematic works, click here. Thanks...and enjoy!

Is Miss Universe still a thing?

I just love news stories that aren't really news stories, but nevertheless manage to make it to the top of the headline roster because the alternatives involve a curious mixture of Donald Trump, Justin Bieber, Josh Duggar's wife and the red-track-suit guy who used to dance up a freaky storm in the background of countless old SNL sketches.

Case in point: the Miss Universe pageant, which last night crowned Miss Philippines, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, its queen of the ball for the next year. Host Steve Harvey - perhaps best known as Richard Dawson's new-millenium-wannabe Family Feud host - apparently misread his cue card at the penultimate moment, and mistakenly called Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez, as the winner before order prevailed and the tiara found its rightful home.

As you can imagine, bedlam prevailed, countless tears were shed, no less than three presidential inquiries were initiated and a koala bear may or may not have been sacrificed to the Pagan gods. We're still working on that last one so please don't quote me. Either way, it was an ugly, ugly scene of double-sided tape and fake-smile betrayal that should burn supernova-bright for at least the next eight minutes.

As pageant purists - hey, they still exist - call for Mr. Harvey's head and as The Donald himself weighs in on how he would have handled the situation (free tiaras for all!) it's becoming painfully apparent to all but the most Berk Parksian fans of this long-irrelevant "tradition" that this was anything but a mistake. In actuality, it's a public relations masterstroke, a brilliantly conceived and executed move designed to firmly shove this pageant - and indeed, all pageants - back into the cultural mainstream. For at least the next eight minutes, anyway.

See, if Mr. Harvey had read the name as intended, then the pageant would have received the kind of polite and limited coverage befitting a cultural relic of an era when Hugh Hefner reigned supreme and beauty was indeed skin deep. Country, name, polite applause, see you next year. Maybe.

By turning the crowning moment into a three-ring circus, however, Mr. Harvey and his pageant overlords have succeeded in making their anachronism of an event go viral. And in the age of social media, going viral matters far more than doing the right, polite thing.

I'm sure Miss Colombia will be rightly ticked off for a while - not because she "lost" a contest that was never a contest to begin with. But because she'll forever be known as a pawn in an ill-conceived attempt to convince us that "competitions" like this are anything but the sad spectacles of yesteryear they've always been. Not even a globe-spanning controversy can change the brutal reality.

Your turn: What would you do if you won the crown?

Here's why you should play in traffic

Right of way
Toronto, ON
August 2015
For one last kick at Thematic's parallel theme, head here
Rather unintentionally, this week's parallel theme seemed to involve a disproportionate percentage of railway and roadway photos. In retrospect, they're probably some of the riskier pictures I've taken in my life. Not daredevil-risky, but enough to get people's attention.

I'm not about to pull a Nik Wallenda and stick a GoPro on my head as I attempt to cross from one skyscraper to another on a tightrope. But I do believe in doing what it takes to get the shot even if it means elevating one's heart rate from 60 bpm to 80. In photography as in life, a little bit of energy can't be a bad thing.

Besides, if you never step out there, you'll never know what you might have brought home. Life is meant to be lived, not preserved in a jar.

Your turn: Tell us about a time when you took a risk and it paid off.

On individuality

"You laugh at me because I'm different, I laugh at you because you're all the same."
Jonathan Davis
If you've never been one to follow the crowd for the sake of fitting in, this one's for you.

Your turn: Do you follow the crowd or do you march to the beat of your own drummer? Why?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

On looking out for others

"Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something."
H. Jackson Brown Jr.
My $0.02: Most people are too busy with the minutiae of their own lives to bother paying attention to the backstories of others. That strikes me as incredibly sad, because I'm guessing most of the world's grittier spots would be smoothed out if we had a little more empathy. What's your take?

Friday, December 18, 2015

The one where I don't get killed by a passing train

In the heat of the day
London, ON
August 2015
Please click here for more parallel Thematic
This is one of those pictures that could get me into trouble. While I am absolutely aware of the dangers of being anywhere near railroad tracks, I'm not above pre-composing the shot in my head, pre-setting everything on my camera, then phantom-shooting it from the sidelines before looking - and listening - both ways too many times to count and stepping onto the tracks, tripping the shutter and stepping off.

Total time between the steel: About 4 seconds. I'm pretty sure I wasn't in any more mortal danger than I was when, say, riding my bike on a London-area road. I'll let you know if Canadian Pacific sends a lawyer's letter my way.

Safety concerns aside, I wanted to take this shot - if you're familiar with London, it's taken looking west from the intersection of St. George and Piccadilly - because it was a baking-hot day, and that does delightful things to the air just above ground level, especially on hard, gravel or otherwise industrialized surfaces. It doesn't get more industrialized than a railbed, so I planned the moment and took a chance. And the shot.

It was so worth it.

Your turn: Do you ever push the bounds a bit - safety, taste or otherwise - when you're shooting pictures?

On laughter and light

"Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face."
Victor Hugo
So what does it take to make you laugh?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The most depressing corridor. Ever.

Tile, concrete, and little else
London, ON
May 2015
Thematic. Parallel. Here.
I find it hard to believe the architects who came up with this "design" were happy with the result. I just don't see them finishing up their drawings at the end of the day before excitedly high-fiving each other in professional triumph. If their goal was to inspire Eeyore to wander alone into the desert, mission accomplished.

This is as far from triumph as it gets, a built-to-a-price compromise made sadder by the fact that it's the norm rather than the exception. We can do better than building structures that look tired before the first coat of paint dries.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On being annoying

"You can't achieve anything without getting in someone's way. You can't be detached and effective."
Abba Eban

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thematic Photographic 359 - Parallel

Parallel lines don't tend to occur on their own in nature, which probably explains why they're so much fun to shoot when we come across them in the urban landscape.

So for the next week, I'm hoping we get in touch with our inner geometric beings and shoot pictures of parallel lines or objects. As always, how you make the theme your own is entirely up to you, and there are no rights or wrongs.

Your turn: Take a picture or choose one that you've already taken. Pop it onto your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit others to share in the photographic goodness, and feel free to share additional pictures in the days to come. If you're new to the Thematic thing, click here and all will be explained. Otherwise, please accept my thanks for continuing to make Thematic such a highlight for me and everyone else who participates.

The eighth night

I'm not even close to being the world's best Jew. If we were judged by our ability to adhere to every last rule, pray like an expert and debate religious issues like a scholar, I'm pretty sure I would have been kicked out of the club ages ago.

My own shortcomings notwithstanding, I still feel a certain pull when it comes to the traditions of Judaism. I love the sights, sounds and even the smells of each holiday, the way they make a house a home, and the way they pull families together whether they want to be there or not.

Last night, we lit the eighth Chanukah candle, and as you can see the Chanukiah* was fully lit. As much as I cherish the incredible glow on the eighth night, the warmth of so much light piercing the darkness of one of the longest nights of the year, a part of me is sad that this is it, that tonight, as the holiday silently draws to a close, we don't light anything, and winter's darkness will once again dominate our day-to-day reality.

And when that darkness seems all-pervasive, I'll think back to this very moment and try to remember what it felt like - the visuals, the temperature, the sounds of buzzing, happy kids, and even the smell of the house from yet another lousy-for-your-health but good-for-the-soul meal. That should be enough light to see us through the next few months.

Your turn: How do you keep the light on during times of darkness?

* The candelabra used for Chanukah is known as a Chanukiah, and has room for eight candles, plus an elevated candle known as the "shamash". It's separate and distinct from the menorah, which is six-plus-one and isn't used for this holiday.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Florida wins the dumb-with-technology prize. Again.

Hint to wannabe-hit-and-run drivers: If you're going to do the crime, do it in a car that has as few electronic gizmos as possible.

Florida (again...seriously, what is it with that state?) resident Cathy Bernstein learned this the hard way. First she drove her Ford vehicle into a truck. Then she smacked it into a van. Then she took off.

Unfortunately for her, her car was equipped with Ford's Sync system - which has a feature called 911 Assist. If you're in an accident that involves airbag deployment, it automatically calls 911. Unfortunately for Bernstein, her car did exactly what it was supposed to do: It automatically called 911 after her little sheetmetal-sculpting episode.

Authorities were contacted, and when they called Bernstein back and asked her if she had left the scene of an accident, instead of fessing up, she lied, saying "no, I would never do that." She obviously never learned the don't-fib lesson in Kindergarten.

Alas, the damage was a little too hard to hide, and Bernstein was subsequently arrested for hit-and-run. Chalk up another win for technology. At this rate, hit-and-run "accidents" could be a thing of the past before long. Now wouldn't that be something?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dear Internet: Stop killing already-dead actors

In the daily current of data that flows through our various social media spigots, this one was easy to miss. I tend to ignore celebrity culture for a whole lot of reasons - please don't make me go into it here, though, as it'll give me hives - so I didn't immediately pick on the fact that Harry Morgan was showing up far more often than would be considered normal for a no-longer-top-tier-actor.

On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a whole bunch of other platforms (I read 'em all), folks were reposting the sad news that Mr. Morgan, perhaps best known as Colonel Sherman Potter on the old M.A.S.H. television series - and if you really want to date yourself, Dragnet), had died. Each share seemed to generate its own little tsunami of social media-fed kinda-mourning:

  • "So sad."
  • "I didn't know he was sick."
  • "Loved him in M.A.S.H."
  • "I can't believe how many actors died this week!"
Lost in all of this is the fact that Mr. Morgan passed away in 2011. And every year around this time, the social media sphere erupts in yet another round of faux-and-misplaced grief. This week it was the M.A.S.H. guy. Next week it might be Dana Plato. Or Ernest Borgnine. Or Gopher.

I'm just kidding about Gopher. Fred Grandy, who played the purser on the ghastly Love Boat before becoming a congressman and radio show host, is still very much alive. But I wouldn't put it past the Internet to kill him, anyway. Because folks are too busy to actually read and learn, and can't be bothered to confirm anything with a quick Google search or Wikipedia read before hitting the Share or Retweet button.

So I posted this - to Twitter and Facebook, of course:
And it touched off quite the little beehive of activity and frank discussion. Which made me happy. At first. Until I thought about it and realized everyone who jumped into the conversation was already in the group that would take the time to double-check a fact before sending it to a broader audience.

In other words, I was preaching to the converted. Which means the vast majority of folks in Facebookistan, Twitterville and Instagramburg will continue to forget-and-forward. Le sigh.

We live in an era awash in information. Knowledge, insight and focus, unfortunately, remain in short supply.

Friday, December 11, 2015

When the sidewalk is all you've got

New York, NY
July 2014
Click here for more roadside-themed Thematic
In the deep shade of a hot and humid New York City evening, I hid behind the corner of a building and zoomed in on a stranger. I waited until he turned his head away from the lens in a less-than-honorable attempt to preserve his anonymity and justify the shot.

Why did I take this particular picture of this particular person? Because our natural inclination in our hurry-up-and-wait urban existence seems to be to look away. Indeed, as I watched from afar for about 10 minutes, no one looked his way or even slowed down. Many passers-by did their best to hide their head-swivels in the opposite direction.

Homelessness takes many forms. This is one of them, and on this night in this place, far away from my own home, this is what it looked like.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

On complacency

"It's human nature to start taking things for granted again when danger isn't banging loudly on the door."
David Hackworth

Monday, December 07, 2015

Thematic Photographic 358 - Roadside

All alone
London, ON
December 2015
I've been walking a lot more than usual lately. Whether I need a lunchtime break from the workday or a long wander through the neighbourhood on a Sunday afternoon, I find being away for a bit to be remarkably soothing to the soul.

Or maybe that's what I convince myself will happen when every other fibre of my being would rather stay inside, where it's warm and cozy. Either way, I'm glad I'm listening to the "let's walk" voice more often these days.

On my journeys, I'm seeing a lot of weird stuff by the side of the road. And since I shoot what I see, I'd like to turn it into this week's theme.

Your turn: As you've doubtless guessed, we're shooting roadside-themed pics this week. If you have one in mind, please post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here. Visit other participants throughout the week and feel free to add to the pile - serial photography is always encouraged. For more background on what Thematic is and how it works, head here. And enjoy...because fun may not be my middle name, but I wish it could be.

Foggy morning on Simcoe

London, ON
December 2015
I did something this morning that I haven't done in a while: I stopped the car and took some pictures as I headed into work.

I probably should have kept driving, because the clock wasn't moving any slower and the day was beckoning. But the fog wasn't going to cling to this already-grey neighborhood forever, and the little photographic voice in my head was insistent: Now or never.

So I parked. And shot. And felt the damp cold soak through my fingers and my coat. It felt like it was the right thing to do. Maybe not the most logic or rational thing given the time. But right all the same.

Your turn: When was the last time you listened to those little creative voices of yours?

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Mark Zuckerberg = Dad

There's no question about who the world's most famous baby is: Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, have welcomed their daughter into the world. According to a release from the company, Max Chan Zuckerberg was born early Thanksgiving week. She weighed 7 lbs, 8 ounces, and everyone is healthy. Move over George and Charlotte: There's a new Royal Baby in town.

But wait, there's more: The world's most famous new parents of the world's most famous baby posted a Facebook Note, entitled A letter to our daughter, in which they laid out their dreams for her - namely that she should grow up in a world better than ours today.

To underscore their hopes for the future, and to ensure they evolve beyond mere hopes, they announced the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, in which they will devote 99% of their currently-held Facebook stock - worth about $45 billion U.S. - toward advancing human potential and promoting equality.

The critics are already poking holes in the initiative - the money's being directed into their own foundation, the goals are too vague, etc. I guess it's easy to take remote potshots at the billionaire and his doc-wife as they become parents and set out to accomplish what all parents hope for: A strong foundation for the next generation. But at the end of the day, what matters is another generation-defining family is using its position, power and money to advance the state of the human race. Only the most cynical among us would fail to appreciate the humanity of such a commitment.

Welcome to the world, Max. May your parents' hopes for your future - and all parents' hopes for their own children - come true.