Friday, June 9, 2017

Two Decades On

Today marks 20 years since I joined Nielsen! Because of the location (Schaumburg, IL), I assumed my time with the company only last two years at most. Three continents and two decades later, I’m still happy to be here.

I hope in that time I have brought a lot to Nielsen, but there’s no question about how much the company has given me. First, there’s the career development, worldwide travel, and industry know-how, all predicated upon being able to analyze numbers and talk about those analyses. I love the challenge of simplifying my nerdier passions, and lucky for me there’s been a market for it.

After 10 years in my hometown, I have been sent to live in Argentina and Switzerland. Again, that first assignment was supposed to be a fun and challenging two–year stint before a return home. Yet that mission has, thus far, incorporated 1½ new languages (French is a work-in-progress), two completely different cultures, and being a founding member of an ultimate frisbee club team. Much more importantly, I’ve also encountered the love of my life, and built a family with two great little kiddos who are growing up as American/Argentinean/Swiss hybrids. I hope we are not confusing them too much.

But on this arbitrary milestone I think most about all of the excellent colleagues at Nielsen. Nearly every friendship I have made since college has been at least indirectly due to Nielsen. Friends who share the same intense interest in music, friends I’ve met playing Ultimate Frisbee, and of course arriving in the hospitable community of Buenos Aires… It’s likely none of these relationships would have happened without the connections built via this company.

As a rookie I was trained by the very best, and have tried to pass along what they taught me at each stage since then. I’m proud and fortunate to say that I hired in some amazing people who have grown to become excellent leaders thanks to their considerable talents and drive. And moving around in the world has allowed me to bridge the partnership between old and new associates. The second project I ran as an analyst was delivered to the guy who is now my boss. (He’s been around a bit longer than I have.)  Our CEO says “It’s a great time to be at Nielsen,” and I agree. I can’t wait to see what the next decades have in store. At the very least, I have confidence that I will have superb teammates.

Monday, February 1, 2016

In Memoriam : Walter W. Reed

I have made only a few mentions of my father in this and my other blogs. Though if you look at many of the postings, you will see his comments spread across all kinds of topics, always with an encouraging message of support. He passed away two weeks ago, and as low as I feel right now, I have the urge to do something. And so writing a post about his life is what feels right to me. I’ll start at the beginning.

Lucky to survive

My father was born Werner Rindsberg in 1924 in Germany. His devout Jewish family lived in the small town of Mainstockheim. He played a lot of soccer and helped his father with the family wine business. As Germany fell into the hands of the Nazi party, their lives quickly changed. On Kristallnacht, he was arrested along with my grandfather. Because he was only 14 years old, my dad was returned home after three days My grandfather was sent to Dachau for several weeks and returned weakened and silent about what had happened to him. My grandparents then took the courageous step of sending my father to Belgium with a group of refugee children. He would never see his parents or brothers again.
Kurt, Werner, and Herbert Rindsberg
When the Nazis invaded Belgium he fled with nearly 100 other children to the south of France. They found refuge in a small farming community that still has fewer than 100 inhabitants. After nearly two years, he had the good fortune of receiving a visa and arrived at Ellis Island just a few months before the Pearl Harbor attack.
Werner Rindsberg and best friend Walter Strauss
He began work as an apprentice in a tool and die shop in New York, but was soon drafted into the army. That gave him the right to US citizenship, and he took the opportunity to change his name to Walter Reed. He then returned to Europe, arriving in Normandy less than a week after D-Day. Thanks to his skills in French and German, he was moved in to a position as a translator and interrogator. When the war ended he remained in Germany in support of the denazification efforts. He returned to his village to find more questions than answers about his family’s whereabouts. Much later he would learn that they perished in gas chambers in Poland.

An American

Returning to the US, he attended the Missouri School of Journalism, and in time various jobs across Midwest brought him to Chicago. Until he proposed to my mom, all who knew him believed he was born in New York City and that his parents had died in a car accident. He was always open and honest with us about his past, but we also understood this was something we kept within the family. He long felt that the Nazis had already taken so much away from him, that he did not want to let them ruin anything else in his life. That meant a conscious choice to be an American and fit in. On top of his career, he was always an active member of the community, working with various groups to help make a positive impact. This ranged from serving on boards of service organizations, to award-winning leadership in the Rotary Club, to he and my mom taking in Hmong refugees in the 1980s.

Accidental Historian

Some time after his retirement, with all us kids grown up, a return to the place where he and those 100 children were hiding opened up a new chapter in his life. He learned that most of them had survived and were in regular contact with each other. They had been looking for him for a long time. He soon “came out of the closet” as a holocaust survivor and began to tell his personal story publicly. What followed was nearly two decades of education, story-telling, and documenting his and others’ history. He organized reunions of his former companions in Chicago and at the site itself in France. He spoke to high schools and colleges in the US and across Europe. We are fortunate to have audio and video of some of these discussions. I can’t wait to share them with my children once they are old enough to appreciate them.
A high school classroom in Germany
As part of this process, my father became actively involved in a project to tell the story of these refugee children. An author who had previously published work about Jewish rescuers wanted to write a book detailing the history. My father enthusiastically offered his support with the research. Unfortunately, the author died rather early in the process. When no other option availed itself, my dad decided he would write the book himself. After ten years of research and writing plus another four hustling to get a publisher, his book came out last November.
Proudly unveiling the book cover

Always There

The above is an amazing story of a life truly lived, one I’ve told many times. But it’s not really what’s on my mind or why I’m writing this now. I’ve always wished I were more like my father. His innate ability to focus and continuously get things done ahead of time never came easily to me. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more reliable. Regardless of his age, he continued to deliver. Seriously, who publishes a heavily-researched non-fiction book at the age of 91?

As a father, he never missed any of our sporting events or concerts. He and my mom went to my brother’s post-punk shows at the Fireside Bowl and later his electronic shows at nightclubs, even when they took the stage at 2AM. Whatever I needed that he could provide, I usually didn’t even have to ask. He just took care of it.
When I was 14 he decided it was high time for his sons to learn to ski. So he drove us out Colorado and skied the week on his own while we took lessons. He was 65 at the time. He kept skiing well into his 70s. He and my mom did biking trips across Europe every summer. Every summer including the last one when he was 91.

When I got married in Buenos Aires, he gave a phenomenal speech in Spanish. This, even though my father did not speak Spanish. It was all anyone could talk about for weeks.
He was probably too strict with me and my brothers when we were young. But he did us the great favor of evolving as we grew up. That may have started shifting when he had a heart attack in 1985. (1985! He made it another 30 years beyond that…) Or perhaps opening himself up to his true past allowed his softer side to emerge and eventually take over. That trajectory continued over decades only to reach its pinnacle in his interactions with his granddaughter. How fortunate that we visited Chicago over the holidays and had two more weeks of fun. In our last conversation, he said how much joy being with her provided him. My dad went out the way he would have wanted. He didn’t suffer, and he was at one of the most content periods of his life.
Of course I have all the typical feelings, taking for granted that he would live forever. After everything he had survived and how capable he still was… what else was I going to think? (Some of my friends in Argentina called him “Highlander.”) I know. Everyone does this. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
I feel his absence at every moment of every day, even though I’m an ocean away. I think about how their house is emptier. My family is emptier. But I reflect on all the guidance and wisdom he passed on to me, and feel overwhelmingly lucky to have received it all. I can’t yet fathom that he won’t be able to do that for me anymore.

A series of sacrifices and miracles granted him survival, and without question he made the most of his life. I'm so proud of him, and I know my grandparents surely would have been, too. In these last two weeks, so many of his friends and acquaintances have told me that my father was a great man, and I agree. But they don’t know the half of it.

For those interested in my father's book, I personally found it gripping and relevant, biased though I may be. You can buy it here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


When I was 10 years old, my school had us participate in an extensive project that amounted to a more realized simulation of the computer game Oregon Trail. We were assigned to families and grouped into wagon trains with our fate determined by our decisions and simple luck (i.e. whatever the computer said). Cross-continental expeditions were beset by attacks from natives, inclement weather, and illnesses. This exercise went on over the course of a few weeks and culminated in a performance for parents where we acted out all that had occurred. In my wagon train, one girl’s simulated baby was near death due to an infection. During the performance, galvanized by some commendable overacting on the young mother’s part I was tasked with bringing the baby to her. The frantic screams of “MY BAAABYYYY!!!” were all the motivation I need to run as fast as I could to the part of the stage where the baby was and deliver it back to her. Of course, we didn’t use a real baby on stage as we were 10 year-olds and nowhere near responsible enough for such cargo. Instead it was a plush baby doll that in this case had diphtheria or some other such malady. I don’t know if I was hoping to save this little guy, since we already knew the sad outcome of the simulation, but the girl playing the mother was really quite hysterical. So I did what any ten year old boy would do to get that baby back in its mother’s arms. I threw it at her. The way I remember things this was a pretty good throw, possibly even landing in her lap. But, again, fate had spoken previously and the plush baby doll was doomed regardless of my efficient fling.

In school the next day, the teachers went over what had gone well and what had not. My decision to throw a sick baby some 20 feet was decidedly in the second column. At that age verisimilitude was not a strength I possessed. This was technically my first attempt at child care, simulated as it was. In front of a lot of people who knew how to get into character better than I did (and their parents), it was not an Oscar-worthy performance. It was also not the way to treat any sick baby, simulated or not.

This blog has been nearly dormant for the last two and a half years. I haven’t even posted any wedding pictures. But I finally have some news that might not be mind-blowing to you, but is certainly a life-changer for me. My wonderful wife Belu is pregnant, and we’re expecting a girl the first week of November. We’re both extremely excited, and can’t wait for all the impending changes even though we can’t really grasp what they will do to our lives.

The morning we received the happy news, the first thing I did upon leaving for work was glance at the mirror in my elevator. I probably look at myself in that mirror every morning, just to make sure I have nothing in my teeth and that my hair is at least presentable. But on that day, I felt like I was looking at some other, unknown person. I think I blurted out “that guy is going to be a father” with a grin comprised of equal parts nervousness and giddiness.

Since that moment six months ago, there has been a steady progression of newfound understanding. To be sure there are all the mechanical thought processes… What are the most important features to look for in a stroller? How many bibs are we gonna need? How does one complete the legal procedures for the birth of a baby in Switzerland who has parents from two other countries? How do birth-related contractions actually work, and what am I supposed to do about them? Where’s she going to go to college? And so forth. But beyond that I find I’m viewing the world in an entirely different way. We’ve all come into being through the same painful process before being liberated to find our own path. The impact that I’m going to have on this person’s entire life and how she fits into everything else in the world is constantly tumbling around in my head. I fully realize that once she’s born there will be no time for such thoughts. But all of the energy from this eager anticipation has to go somewhere.

I’m thinking about what kind of person she’ll be. Whether she will appreciate or curse us for forcing three languages upon her from the very beginning. Will she be fun, surly, goofy, selfish, sweet, caring? Will every last thing we do affect her? I think about wanting to be sure to do all the superb things my parents did right while improving upon the ones I wish they’d done a bit differently. I’m asking everyone I know who has children what to expect and what to do – constantly making mental notes. It’s not only that I don’t want to screw this up. I want to be a great dad and set her up for a happy life. I never really planned to for this moment, but I think I'm finally ready to be in it.

More than anything I rest assured that having such a strong relationship with Belu will make all of this easier and more successful. I’m not naïve enough to assume that having a baby won’t test us. But as long as we’re together, I know we’ll do the best we can. These next three months will surely pass quickly and my life will change all over again. Any lingering nerves are easily overwhelmed by excitement. And besides, I know that no matter what happens, I can’t do worse than I did at age 10.
Belu modeling the latest baby-bump fad in Chianti

Monday, July 1, 2013

Missing Dan

I hadn’t been in close contact with Dan since college, and I now suddenly realize just how long that’s been. Nearly all of my memories of him are from high school when we overlapped for three years. When he entered as a freshman, I’m pretty sure the first thing everyone noticed about him was, “Wow this kid can run!” It didn’t take long to see that he was an exceptional teammate with a radiant personality. In short, he was someone everyone loved being around.

Dan passed away last week of a rare form of cancer at age 37. The warnings in recent weeks that his condition wasn’t improving hasn’t made the news any easier to take. In some ways I feel I have no right to this post or to comment at all. It’s not that we grew apart in our 20s – better said that we simply found ourselves on different paths. I always thought that one day those paths might intersect again if we ever found ourselves in the same place.

His passing is a shock in so many ways. I can’t seem to let go of how unfair life can be. This was a guy with an incredibly positive spirit, good heart, and as tough a mettle as anyone I’ve known. Like I said, we were no longer very close, but I am certain that in these ways he never changed. He should have lived to be 100.

Danny, as we all called him then, never saw a challenge he couldn’t take on. Even in the rare cases where he was outmatched, he gave his all. In track meets he dabbled in hurdles and shot-put even though he was one of the shortest guys on the team. He was one of the smartest people I hung out with, but never once showed it off – an extremely rare type of humility where I grew up. He would often playfully obsess about trivial minutiae, successfully convincing everyone that, for instance, the team glider we won playing skee ball at Chuck E Cheese was something to be cherished forever. And he was a confidant who would listen to anyone’s worries. I know it’s cliché, but I really cannot believe he’s gone.

Throughout the last week, waves of memories are coming back to me as if they just happened. In all of them, Danny’s just being himself. I don’t often think about my high school days, perhaps because I often didn’t like who I was or how I carried myself at that point in life. I can say quite confidently that whenever I was around him, I liked myself a lot. He brought out the best in me before I had any idea what that was going to be. That’s why and how I always want to remember him. And why I feel so much sadness for someone I didn’t even know how much I missed.

Dan is on the bottom right and was our #1.

A cancer research fund has been set up in Dan’s name and can be accessed here in case you would like to donate.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why I'm Voting for Barack Obama

I haven’t written anything of substance in my three blogs in well over a year. It took this year’s election to finally shake my typin’ fingers from their slumber. Only barely since this has been the most unbearable slog of an election in memory. Four years ago we were treated to the most entertaining and compelling one we’re likely to see for a long time. It inspired me to compare it to The Big Lebowksi, Dr. Strangelove, and your favorite professional wrestlers. There’s no such fun this time around.

I must begin by saying that I am disappointed by the Obama presidency. Not because I believed in Hope and ChangeTM. I’m not often naïve; I always knew there was a high probability of disappointment. Obama was dealt the toughest of hands, but I feel strongly that he played it wrong. He blew an opportunity that rarely comes along in American politics. From the moment he took office, he looked to extend the olive branch to Republicans even as they repeatedly knocked it from his hand and stomped it into pasta seasoning again and again. Even before inauguration, he went to George Will’s house to court every significant conservative columnist. He held similar court with Republican members of congress even though they were the minority. All of that outreach resulted in zero GOP votes for a stimulus package in the middle of the worst economic situation the country had seen in almost 70 years, even after the Democrats threw in extra tax cuts just to appease them. All of those open-armed gestures resulted in the Senate Minority Leader stating that his single most important goal in the midst of all these challenges was “making Barack Obama a one-term president.”

When he chose how to treat those who got us into so much trouble, he turned the other cheek. Obama did nothing to hold anyone accountable for the economic disaster, despite the myriad of laws broken in the financial sector. He let Dick Cheney, José Rodriguez, and their ilk completely off the hook for the torture programs they devised, leading to a complete scumbag like Rodriguez recently bragging about his “big boy pants” on 60 minutes. And nothing was done about altering the illegal surveillance strategy employed by the Bush administration. Hey, I get it. He didn’t want to lose his financial backing, didn’t want to piss off the CIA right off the bat, and he figured he’d better use everything in his arsenal to avoid any terrorist attack for which he’d undoubtedly be pilloried.

When I say he missed an opportunity, it’s because instead of going straight to the public that elected him, he was too busy trying to make nice with those who were dead set on destroying his presidency with any available weaponry. In his nomination acceptance speech a few months ago, he said “So you see, the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens — you were the change.” This statement is correct. But it took until this election for him to realize that his energy would have been better spent with those same fellow citizens rather than hoping to appease those who have declared him a sworn enemy. This is of course 20/20 hindsight. I’m not saying Obama shouldn’t have tried outreach first, and he would have been a hypocrite if he hadn’t. But why did it take so long and so many useless peace offerings? The people were indeed ready for major change for the first time since Richard Nixon. But Obama chose a different strategy.

I am, generally speaking, a progressive. It’s not that I expected him to be one. I just think he played the game wrong. Yet my disappointment sells him short. He’s actually gotten a whole lot done despite the mess the country is in. And all this with an opposition party that long ago stopped giving a damn about decency.

The shameless, craven behavior of the Republican Party absolutely astonishes me. I suppose I was naïve about one thing. I thought they would take Obama’s 365 electoral vote victory as a pretty clear sign that the will of the people deserved acknowledgement. For instance, Obama had said if elected he would fight to enact universal health care. He did so with a plan largely devised by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and employed successfully by Mitt Romney. But rather than helping craft a compromise Republicans chose to lie their way into a battle to the death panel (one that was eventually declared alive by their own Chief Justice Roberts). At that point it was clear that whatever Obama proposed, they would be against, and with no qualms about outright lying to garner public support for their side.

But this runs deeper than simply looking to score political points. If these Republicans have shown us any governing principle it’s that they do not think that factual truth is important. This certainly applies when talking about Obama, but also on any relevant issue of the day. When presented with clear evidence of anything, today’s Republican Party prioritizes their beliefs over reality. Think about it. According to the Republicans:
  • ·         Climate change either doesn’t exist or is not important.
  • ·         Obama raised your taxes.
  • ·         Voter Fraud is a tremendous problem.
  • ·         Obama was born in Kenya.
  • ·         Abstinence education reduces pregnancies.
  • ·         Republicans are trying to protect social security and Medicare.
  • ·         Sarah Palin was against the Bridge to Nowhere.
  • ·         Iraq was working with Al Qaeda.
  • ·         Tax cuts on the wealthiest sector of the population create economic growth for everyone.
All of the above is well proven bullshit.

Which brings us to President Obama’s opponent. From the beginning of this campaign, it was clear that Mitt Romney was going negative. This is America, and that’s his right. But during these last 40 weeks, he has told lies on 891 occasions! 891!! That’s simply astonishing. OK, so maybe you don’t believe all of those are actual lies and are open to some interpretation. Even if you want to be extremely generous and take just 10% of them as untruths, that would still be more than two a week for nearly a year. Nobody questions that Romney has told different audiences different things at different times. To be fair, nobody has any idea what Romney would look to do as president. I doubt he even really does. So there’s no reason to trust him on just about anything, right?

Ah, but there has been a handful of areas where he’s actually been consistent. He will increase military spending. He will cut taxes, primarily on the wealthiest Americans. He will cut various public service programs that benefit wide swaths of our fellow citizens in various ways. Aside from also being consistently “pro Freedom,” that’s about it, man. In the only executive decision he’s had to make since 2007, he selected Paul Ryan as his running-mate. Ryan is a self-proclaimed “policy wonk” who can’t even handle basic mathematics and devoutly worships at the altar of voodoo economics. He has also constantly lied about subjects important and banal, from whether he requested stimulus funds to his marathon time. He is in so many ways today’s exemplary Republican.

Over the last 32 years, Republican Party policy has resulted principally in Debt and DestructionTM. We’ve seen unnecessary wars, unfunded mandates, and embarrassing corruption and scandals. This is what Republican Presidencies have meant. And most of these actions were based on lies or false promises. George W. Bush stated again and again that he was against nation building. We know how that turned out. He named his tax cuts “middle class tax cuts” even though the majority of the reduction was for the wealthiest. “Healthy forests” was a veiled giveaway to logging companies. “Clear skies” reduced regulations on polluters. “Support the troops” meant support George W. Bush’s war, but don’t provide any body armor or sufficient health care upon return. And of course to dress every newsworthy wound we got terror alerts that were designed to intimidate and distract us every time something went wrong for the Bush White House. I question whether Americans really remember what it was like with a Republican president. With good reason, we all wanted to move on. But those who cannot remember their past are doomed to repeat it.

Is there reason to think a Romney presidency will be a departure from previous Republican policy and behavior? Lucky for us during the second debate, a conscientious citizen actually asked him “What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?” I present Romney’s response in full:
 “The — President Bush and I are different people, and these are different times. And that's why my five-point plan is so different than what he would have done. I mean, for instance, we can now, by virtue of new technology, actually get all the energy we need in North America without having to go to the — the Arabs or the Venezuelans or anyone else. That wasn't true in his time. That's why my policy starts with a very robust policy to get all that energy in North America, become energy-secure.
Number two, trade. I'll crack down on China. President Bush didn't. I'm also going to dramatically expand trade in Latin America. It's been growing about 12 percent per year over a long period of time. I want to add more free trade agreements so we have more trade.

Number three, I'm going to get us to a balanced budget. President Bush didn't. President Obama was right. He said that that was outrageous to have deficits as high as half a trillion dollars under the Bush years. He was right. But then he put in place deficits twice that size for every one of his four years, and his forecast for the next four years is more deficits almost that large. So that's the next area I'm different than President Bush.

And then let's take the last one, championing small business. Our party has been focused on big business too long. I came through small business. I understand how hard it is to start a small business. That's why everything I'll do is designed to help small businesses grow and add jobs. I want to keep their taxes down on small business. I want regulators to see their job as encouraging small enterprise, not crushing it.

And the thing I find most troubling about "Obamacare" — well, it's a long list, but one of the things I find most troubling is that when you go out and talk to small businesses and ask them what they think about it, they tell you it keeps them from hiring more people.
My priority is jobs. I know how to make that happen. And President Bush had a very different path for a very different time. My path is designed in getting small businesses to grow and hire people”

In this moment Romney had a wonderful chance to say how his direction would break the trend with Republican presidencies past. He took the opportunity to attack Obama, China, and Venezuela, but didn’t reveal any substantive way he would govern differently. This is because his few consistent policies are nearly identical to Bush’s. And in fact most of his advisers come directly from Bush’s administration.

I acknowledge that Obama hasn’t been perfect. I wish he would have given up on his version of change for something more practical after it simply wasn’t taking hold. At the very least, he’s an honest and honorable guy. Maybe he isn’t wired to be a true leader, but he is perfectly suited to steer a steady course. And right now that’s probably what we need more than anything.

The GOP has tried to redefine reality for decades. Yet given what we can safely believe about Romney, we know these policies will only send us farther backwards, bolstered by dishonest arguments the entire way. Do we really want to reward a party that has so clearly proven that they will never put the country ahead of their own agenda? A vote for Romney is a vote for falsity and pettiness. And it is almost certainly a vote to return to the Bush years. Given that threat, we must give Obama all the support we can.

When Obama was elected, I wrote “He’s got his work cut out for him.” I didn’t realize that the Republican Party would make so much harder than it had to be. If he is reelected, he will have another four years of brutal fighting ahead of him. My hope for 2012 is that he’s been kicked in the balls enough times to know he must come out swinging from here on out. Because even if he wins 365 electoral votes, his opposition won’t suddenly value truth, honor, or the needs of our country. As an American who values all of these things, there’s no other available choice in this election.

And just to show I'm not too much of a Debbie Downer, have a righteous jam by The Equals that's on topic enough:

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