29 July 2011

Something to look forward to

In a bit more than six weeks, I'm going to board this airplane.

Two-and-a-half hours later, I'll be walking here; in my blue heaven.

This guy and I (and a couple of other friends) are going to turn it all off and tune it all in. Quiet! Isolation! Primitive conditions! Hammocks strapped to coconut palms!

I haven't set foot on my beloved Cat Island in nearly two years and I am positively aching for the place. The Out Islands of the Bahamas are a magical place and I've written reams about them. So much so that The Bahamas has its own tag on my blog.

If you've been to Nassau or taken a cruise, I'm sorry to inform you that you really haven't been to The Bahamas. The Bahamas is its Out Islands, the places off the beaten path. Islands where the Obeah Man still lives and where mer-men and mermaids still swim in blue holes.

So for a week in early September, some great friends and I are going to forgo internet access, telephones, TVs and many of the modern trappings it's easy to think make life possible. Man I can't wait to turn off my phone and just sink my toes in the sand for a week.

Late addition: I just found this video on YouTube from the Bahamian recording artist Stileet. The music of the Out Islands is something called Rake and Scrape. Steel drums are for tourists in all-inclusive resorts elsewhere. Rake and Scrape is infectious to say the least. I'll be watching this video on a non-stop loop for the next six weeks!

Back to the Chihuly Collection

Greater Tampa is an enormous metropolitan area, I'm not kidding when I say it can take an hour-and-a-half to get from one side of it to the other. That's an hour-and-a-half when there's no traffic.

There are a fair number of people here in the design business who know one another through Twitter and we've been threatening to get together for quite a while. Commutes are always a sticking point as we live scattered from North Tampa to Sarasota (that's a distance of 60+ miles) but on July 14th, a critical mass of us gathered in Downtown St. Pete for a face to face meeting. A first for most of those in attendance. I was just happy to be able to walk to our meeting place.

Downtown St. Petersburg has the only permanent collection of the work of Dale Chihuly in a museum setting in the world, and our evening started out there. So at 6:30, Eric Miller, Carmen Christensen, Tom Wiebe, Michelle Wiebe, Jeremy Parcels, Ginny Powell and I met for an evening of art and tapas. The tapas came later.

Many thanks to JoAnn Locktov (publicist to the stars) and Wayne Atherholt (Marketing Director at the Chihuly Collection) for making all of that possible. We were fortunate to have Wayne guide us through the museum privately and his tour began with an introduction to the art scene in downtown St. Pete. That's a drum I beat regularly and I was thrilled to have a fellow believer in St. Pete start out our evening.

The collection is just big enough to show a retrospective of Chihuly's work, but not so large that it's overwhelming.  I have to admit that when the Collection opened last year (I wrote about it here and here), I was a bit of a Chihuly skeptic. But I'm not a skeptic anymore.

Dale Chihuly's art is informed by the artistic tradition and in his creations, you can see echoes of everything from Native American Baskets to gondoliers in Venice. It's at once mythic and playful, contemplative and jarring, grounded and fantastical. We're fortunate to have the Chihuly Collection here and I'm fortunate to live within walking distance to it.

I'm fortunate too to meet such great people through my social media involvements and it's great to have so many so (relatively) close.

If you find yourself on the west coast of Florida, make it a point to drop in on the Chihuly Collection.

28 July 2011

Wabi Sabi isn't another word for lazy

I have been avoiding Apartment Therapy for the better part of the last year. My blood pressure has been thanking me. But like a bad car accident, there are some times when I just can't resist looking.

So yesterday afternoon I went over to AT to see if they'd matured in any way since my last visit lo those many months ago. I should have known better.

On the front page, one of the undergraduates over there was proclaiming partially painted walls as the new trend. It's funny, any time one of those yahoos spots something half-assed and is a loss to describe it, the fall back pronouncement is that it's Wabi Sabi. No it's not.

Wabi Sabi is a uniquely Japanese anti-aesthetic that admires the beauty of the undone, but more than that, it's an appreciation of nature's hand in the undoing. US Retailers and trend setters have been trying to make a commodity out of Wabi Sabi for years and so far it hasn't stuck. Thank God.

Maybe the problem is that Wabi Sabi is inherently anti-consumerist and Wabi Sabi takes time. Add in that Wabi Sabi is usually unplanned and Pottery Barn (and their cheering section at AT) are left spinning their wheels.

So here's a primer. This is Wabi Sabi.

Photo by me

This is laziness.

via Apartment Therapy

This is Wabi Sabi.

via Outsider Japan

This says "I don't know how to use a paint brush."

This is Wabi Sabi.

via Outsider Japan

This is an eyesore.

Meet the iWavecube

This is the world's smallest microwave oven, the iWavecube.

A couple of weeks ago, the company behind the iWavecube, iCubed International, contacted me to see if I'd be interested in test driving one of their small microwave ovens. I turn down many more of these offers than I accept but there was something about the description of this appliance I found intriguing. I was skeptical of course but I agreed to have them send me one of their models.

Right now there's a black iWavecube sitting on my kitchen counter and I've been putting it through its paces for a week now. As soon as it arrived I was struck by how small it is. It takes up .73 cubic feet of space, that's less than a square foot for the decimal impaired. Its actual dimensions are 10.5"W x 10"D x 12"H and I can see it fitting in all kinds of tight spaces.

The interior dimensions (8"W x 8"D x 6"H) are just large enough to accommodate a coffee cup, a frozen entree or a bag of popcorn. Considering that I use my microwave as a butter melter exclusively, it makes sense to minimize the space I devote to having a microwave oven. I think that holds true for a lot of people. Despite its small size, it's still a 600 watt appliance and that's plenty of power for its intended uses.

Another thing I like about it is that its controls and display are on the top of the unit. If I don't feel like setting the clock, its unset clock doesn't taunt me every time I walk into my kitchen.

The iWavecube comes in three colors right now, black, silver and white. There are more colors in the pipeline but for now there are three.

But back to its intended uses for a moment, iCubed International has been compiling user feedback on their website and they're uncovering all sort of neat uses for this microwave. Aside from the expected uses like heating cups of soup or boiling water for tea, iWavecube customers are using their appliances to do things like heating shaving soap or hair conditioner in a bathroom. Optometrists and dentists are using them to heat up moldable plastics. Physical therapists use them to heat up gel packs. These microwaves only weigh 12 pounds and come with a carrying handle so people are traveling with them or taking them camping.

I'm sure none of those uses were expected when the product was being developed but the iWavecube's definitely come a long way from the dorm rooms they were intended for.

The iWavecube retails for $99 and is available at Office Depots everywhere and you can buy them from iCubed International directly through their website.

Make no mistake, this is not an appliance you'll be cooking whole meals in. But honestly, how many people use a microwave that way? If you're looking for a compact way to heat up small things, the iWavecube may be a solution.

27 July 2011

Joyously desiring Jesu in a Japanese wood

My friend Melody is going through a rough patch these days and I figured she might need something beautiful, clever and Japanese for a distraction.

I can't remember who pointed this out to me originally, or I credit the tipper effusively. Anyhow, this is a Japanese ad for a Sharp telephone. In this ad, a brilliant Japanese production team assembled a gravity marimba that plays the tenth movement of Bach’s Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, usually called Jesu, Joy of Men's Desiring in English.

It's mesmerizing. The video's only three minutes long. Check it out.

Do you take cream and sugar with your solid surface?

This is a coffee shop in Portugal. It looks like a modern-ish coffee house anywhere in the world, so it's not its location that makes it interesting. No, what's interesting here are the brown surfaces on the back wall and behind the white lattice work. That material is called Çurface and it's made from spent coffee grounds mixed with recycled waste electronics. When used in a coffee house it pretty much defines the idea of a closed system, don't you think?

Çurface is the brain child of London-based industrial design firm Re-worked. Now that they have their formula perfected, Çurface is being used to make furniture and counters.

Çurface is available for sale as sheets from Re-worked directly and you can find out more information from the Çurface website here.

As a side note, a Ç makes an S sound in French so Çurface is pronounced "surface." May thanks to my brilliant cousin Tim for bringing this stuff to my attention.

How to buy stone tile, via Houzz

Here's another article in my flooring series for Houzz.com. This time it's all about stone tile. Here's the slideshow. If you click on it, it will take you to Houzz's site and the actual article.

18 July 2011

New appliances from Fisher & Paykel

New Zealand-based Fisher & Paykel released some new kitchen appliances recently and they have some interesting innovations. First out of the gate is this dish drawer.

Fisher & Paykel developed the dish drawer dishwasher, but this one's pretty unique in that it's 36-inches wide and deep enough to accommodate a 12 3/4" dinner plate. Having access to a 36" single-drawer dishwasher is bound to add a lot of flexibility to kitchen designs from this point forward.

They haven't stopped with dish drawers. Fisher & Paykel has four new refrigerator models this year too. All four are counter-depth, 36" wide and less than 72" tall. Those dimensions ought to make retrofits a bit easier. All four models are Energy Star rated and feature Fisher & Paykel's Active Smart™ technology. Active Smart™ uses two separate fans to circulate air inside of the appliance. This allows for faster cooling and more constant temperatures.

The first two new refrigerators are counter-depth, bottom-mount French door models. They're available with or without water and ice, and both versions have door shelves deep enough to accommodate gallon bottles and jugs.

The third and fourth new models are are counter-depth, bottom-mount single door models. The difference between the two is the presence or absence of water and ice.

Just as is the case with their French door cousins, the single door models have door shelves deep enough to accommodate gallon jugs and bottles.

Fisher & Paykel keeps itself at the forefront of appliance innovation and the quest for ever-increasing standards of efficiency. If you're in the market for new appliances, be sure to include Fisher & Paykel in the mix of brands you investigate.

17 July 2011

What happens when the public square isn't public anymore?

This is the 200 block of Central Avenue in Downtown St. Pete. The sidewalks and Central Avenue itself are owned in common by the rest of the residents of St. Pete and me. In other words, it's public property. As public property, I can assemble freely there and so long as I'm obeying the laws, no one can make me leave should I want to stand on that sidewalk.

These rights are guaranteed me by the First Amendment to the Constitution with the following words:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This means that I can also stand there with a group of like- or unlike-minded people. We can hold signs if we want to protest something. We can pass out leaflets advocating a cause. Or we can just stand there and take in the scenery.

Our right to assemble is guaranteed by Sections Four and Five of the Florida Constitution:
SECTION 4. Freedom of speech and press.—Every person may speak, write and publish sentiments on all subjects but shall be responsible for the abuse of that right. No law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press. In all criminal prosecutions and civil actions for defamation the truth may be given in evidence. If the matter charged as defamatory is true and was published with good motives, the party shall be acquitted or exonerated.
History.—Am. proposed by Constitution Revision Commission, Revision No. 13, 1998, filed with the Secretary of State May 5, 1998; adopted 1998.
SECTION 5. Right to assemble.—The people shall have the right peaceably to assemble, to instruct their representatives, and to petition for redress of grievances.
The rights to free assembly and to petition grievances are a fundamental part of what makes my citizenship so valuable. However those same rights are what make our representative democracy so messy. Some people take offense at protests and some people will take great pains to silence opposition.

Opposition and dissent aren't just rights though, they're obligations. Any attempt to silence public dissent or to thwart the right to free assembly is a threat to you, regardless of your politics.


This is Main Street in Lakewood Ranch, a master planned community around 30 miles to my south in Bradenton, Fl. It looks like a main street anywhere but there are some notable and important differences.

For starters, the sidewalk, the street, the buildings and the trees aren't owned in common by the people of Bradenton. They're owned by Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Inc. Shroeder-Manateee Ranch, Inc is the corporation that developed Lakewood Ranch. This makes Lakewood Ranch's Main Street a Potemkin Village and private property. As such, the First Amendment to the US Constitution and Articles Four and Five of the Florida Constitution do not apply.

Residents of Lakewood Ranch who want to stand on that corner can be escorted off that corner for any reason at all. If they want to protest something or hand out leaflets, they can't. There's no right to free speech nor is there a right to redress of grievances.

I'm sure most people who move to planned communities never think about that, but there's a great big and often hidden trade off to moving to a place that seems so peaceful. Residents of such places can't exercise some pretty fundamental aspects to what makes the United States unique.

I think about this often and I'll never understand why anybody would willingly move to a place that operates under some kind of corporate martial law. Is not having to rub shoulders with your social lessers worth it? That's a rhetorical question.

All of this came to a head in Florida on May 26th, 2011. Florida Governor Rick Scott held a budget signing ceremony in the center square of a master planned community called The Villages.

Rick Scott has a nearly pathological need to avoid dissent and as someone with a 29 percent approval rating six months after taking office I can almost see why. Almost.

Anyhow, Governor Scott chose to sign the new state budget in front of one of his few constituencies, rural retirees. In order to do it, he had to hold a budget signing on private property for the first time in Florida's history. That's OK, though. The Villages' central square is just like a town square anywhere, right?


On May 26th, the Republican Party of Florida leased The Villages' central square and before the actual ceremony started, the Republican Party of Florida instructed the Sumter County Sheriff's department to sweep the crowd and remove anybody who didn't support the Governor. Here it is, caught on video:

More than a dozen people were escorted off the property, even though those escorted were association dues-paying residents of The Villages.

When confronted about it, Governor Scott's office denied removing anybody and then when they couldn't deny away that video footage, they claimed that no one knew what actually happened that morning. Here are some news links from the end of May that describe the events in detail. Here. Here. Here.

As appalling as it is that Governor Scott decided to have his ceremony on private property, it probably didn't violate any laws. It certainly violated decency and the fundamental way American government is run, but all he and his supporters were doing was taking advantage of private property laws. They were also playing on the widely held misperception that the centers squares in planned communities are public spaces. The folks who were  removed from the budget signing know that first hand that there's nothing public about a pretend town square in a planned community.

Our rights to things like free speech, free assembly and redress of grievances are as fundamentally sacred as they are non-partisan. Political winds shift all the time and the party in power today usually isn't there for very long. What never changes, or at least shouldn't change, are the fundamentals of what make us, us.

Someone who's holding a sign you don't agree with isn't your enemy. You may find it reprehensible or you may agree with what ever's on that sign, but the holder is not your enemy. That sign holder is your fellow citizen, however mistaken you may think he is. Your real enemy is someone who seeks to remove the sign and silence what's he's trying to say.

Public spaces and the public sphere don't come back once they're gone. As more and more master planned communities spring up around the country, think about the implications of all of town squares that aren't really town squares at all. How do you keep a representative democracy alive in all those privately held "towns" and "town squares?"

16 July 2011

Great photo for a Saturday

I had the pleasure of a visit from my sister and her family this week and it's always a joy to see the place I call home through the eyes of some people to whom all of this is different and exotic. It's funnny, the older I get the more I realize just how important it is to have a place where I come from and to maintain the connections with the people who were there way back then.

My niece Nancy took this photo on Wednesday, and it was all her composition. She had two of her sisters and I stand in the surf and salute the setting sun.

I've seen more sunsets over the Gulf than I can count, but I can't think of one that was as glorious as the one on Wednesday when I was surrounded by nieces.

15 July 2011

Meet the Halogena and stop pretending it's 1950

Meet the Halogena.

This is an incandescent light bulb that actually meets the new energy standards for lighting that go into effect at the end of the year. Did you hear that? It's an incandescent light bulb. It meets the new energy standards.

The Halogena was developed by Philips Electronics and is available now at Amazon and Home Depot and will go into wider circulation as the year marches ever forward.

How it works is as simple as it is ingenious. Inside of each Halogena bulb is a halogen bulb and once turned on, it shines with all the glaring brilliance of a standard 100-watt light bulb even though it's just a 70-watt bulb.

A certain faction of a certain political party in the US has latched onto the new energy standards and has used them to draw a line in the sand. Politicians across the land have bent over backwards to appease this very loud faction and have made endless promises to fight what's being billed (erroneously) as a ban on incandescent light bulbs. Lost in all of this is that the actual standard in question was signed into law by a Republican president.

Just this afternoon, in a fit of grandstanding and posturing while Rome burns, the House of Representatives voted to block funds to implement these new energy standards. From The New York Times this afternoon:
The House on Friday voted to withhold funding to enforce part of a 2007 law that increases efficiency standards for light bulbs.

The new standards, which would require most light bulbs to be 25 to 30 percent more efficient by 2014 and at least 60 percent more efficient by 2020, have become a symbol of what conservatives see as an unnecessary intrusion by the federal government into the market.

Although the regulations do not specify what types of bulbs are allowed, the standards would have the effect of eliminating the traditional 100-watt incandescent bulb by Jan. 1, 2012.
You cannot pretend the 21st Century isn't here no matter how hard you try. Really, you just can't. The United States is on a collision course with reality as our energy needs outstrip our ability to meet them. 100-watt incandescent light bulbs are outrageously inefficient users of scarce resources and the technology is already here to phase them out.

Using resources wisely and issues related to sustainability aren't partisan issues, or at least the shouldn't be. Stewarding resources sensibly is part of what it is to be a good citizen. Not only are we compelled as members of a society to think beyond out immediate needs and wants, finding better solutions to problems like inefficient lighting saves money. Public resources like energy delivery and water belong to all of us, not just who ever can buy the most. Hence the term public resources.

Market forces and private industry can't solve every problem on their own. If that were true we'd still be driving four-ton death traps that got nine miles per gallon of gas. Setting standards for things like safety, water quality and energy efficiency is one of the things government is for for crying out loud.

If you're as appalled by today's vote in the House as I am, please call your Representative. If you think the vote today is a good thing, embrace the 21st Century and head on over to Amazon to buy some of these because you cannot stop time no matter how hard you try. And let's repeat it until the bullheaded realize that it's true. No. One. Is. Banning. Incandescent. Light. Bulbs.

13 July 2011

Meet my new telephone and listen to a good customer service story

This is my new telephone, the HTC Inspire.

It's 4.8 inches tall, 2.7 inches wide and it's only .46 inches thick. It's also packed with more features than I'd hoped for. Its 8 megapixel camera has face recognition, autofocus and flash. Similarly, its 720pi video camera also has a flash should the need arise. Its screen feels really huge to me at 4.3 inches diagonally.

Because its a Droid phone it does all manner of things that an iPhone can't or won't. Simple things like seeing Flash websites. Also, it has a removable and replaceable battery. Short of another software hijacking, I expect to have this phone for a good long time.

And oh, the call clarity is fantastic.

A big difference between this phone and an iPhone is that it doesn't have visual voicemail, a feature I'm going to miss. However, my need for some guidance in setting up my new voicemail yesterday brought me face to face with AT&T technical help department and it had a happier ending than I was expecting to say the lease.

I called AT&T and was connected with an amiable guy named Larry. I explained the situation, he explained why I was having trouble and I thought that was going to be that.

Just as I was concluding the call, Larry asked me to wait a minute. He wanted to see if he could save me some money.

Larry went through my 10-year calling history with AT&T, crunched some numbers and reconfigured my calling plan so that my phone will will drop by $25 every month. A $25 monthly savings along with my grandfathered-in unlimited data plan and all of my 3,000+ rollover minutes.

Now that's customer service!

12 July 2011

Bravolebrity amalgams

Is it just me, but if you took a paint-by-numbers sad clown,

and crossed it with a Guy Fawkes mask from the movie V for Vendetta, you might have something.

Something that would look something like this irritating star of Bravo's endlessly irritating Million Dollar Decorators.

08 July 2011

Sayonara iPhone

I was an early adopter of the iPhone. When it came out I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. But two years into my relationship with iPhone Apple did something I wasn't expecting them to do. What they did was release a software upgrade that hobbled every handset they considered to be obsolete.

Mine was a perfectly useful telephone and it worked better than any handset I'd ever owned. But Apple wanted me to buy an iPhone 4 and to make their point, the software upgrade they released last year all but destroyed the earlier generation iPhones.

What was once the most elegant and smooth piece of technology I'd ever owned became a nightmare of crashing operating systems every time I turned it on.

Apple wanted me to buy a new $300 handset and they were determined to force my hand. Screw Apple and screw Steve Jobs. How dare you hobble perfectly useful hardware?

Well after a year of work arounds and a phone that crashes every time I need it I just bought HTC Insight and I'm getting off the Apple train. I've spat out the Kool-Aid. It's only after making this purchase that I realize that Apple pretty much owns my music and the apps I've spent too much money buying. Damn them.

I'm looking forward to exploring the wold of Droid and I'll let you know how I do.

How to buy tile

Ever see one of these?

What do all those codes mean? Well, in a piece I just wrote for Houzz.com I explain all of it. Give it a look and refer to it the next time you're in the market for a tile floor.

05 July 2011

Tradition: A Blog Off post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What traditions do you keep?"


I can't hear the word tradition without thinking of Fiddler on the Roof and poor milkman named Tevye. Tevye lived with his wife and five daughters in a shtetl in Czarist Russia at the turn of the last century.

Alfred Molina as Tevye in the 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof. via.

In 2004's brilliant revival of The Fiddler on the Roof, Alfred Molina and cast breathe new life into Sheldon Harnick's lyrics and weigh in on the topic of tradition.

Over the course of Fiddler, Tevye and his family deal with changing traditions that come at them from all sides. In a time when marraiges were arranged, Tevye allowed his eldest daughter to marry for love. In a time when Cossacks loyal to the Czar could pillage Jewish shtetls at will and Russian Jews accepted it as their lot, Tevye and his family leave for the United States and the promise of a better life.

The tradition they would have run into upon their arrival in New York was that Jews were summarily excluded from public life in the first part of the 20th Century, but at least they weren't being dragged from their homes in the middle of the night. But they had each other and they would have been free to practice their religions as they saw fit and to make new lives for themselves.

Tradition is one of those terms that gets loaded with a lot of nostalgia and a lot of unnecessary meaning. It's easy to sentimentalize traditions and hard to see them in a broader context. There are times when traditions provide a script to get through awkward moments. There are times when traditions provide a framework for social interaction. And there are times when traditions lock people in place and hold them to the stations where they were born.

Rituals and traditions are fascinating to study in and of themselves, but even more fascinating is watching them evolve over time. And all of them evolve over time. Even though they change, they provide a terrific opportunity to step back and remember the people who came before.

So far as traditions I keep, the first one that springs to mind is that I vote religiously. Despite the current vogue for early voting and mail-in ballots, I stand in line and exercise my right to cast a ballot in person. As distressed as I may be with an election's outcome, I always know that I stood in line and made my voice heard. Over the last ten to 15 years, getting an "I voted" sticker after I cast my ballot has become a new addition to the ritual of voting. So now I get to feel better about my role in a representative democracy and gloat over my participation at the same time.

Second to voting, another tradition I keep that springs to mind involves Christmas Eve. When my youngest brother was old enough to stop believing in Santa Claus, my family started celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve with a late dinner and we'd exchange gifts some time around midnight. I have people over every Christmas Eve and it's a continuation of that tradition my parents introduced. Some time between 11pm and midnight on Christmas Eve I stop for a second and think about the fact that all of my siblings are having a gathering at the same time I am. Each and every one of them is sitting at a table and he or she is surrounded by the people they love. No matter where our lives take us, that one moment of recognition every Christmas Eve reminds me that I came from somewhere.

Finally, just to pick a third tradition I keep, I like to bake pies and my pie baking starts in earnest with the arrival of cooler weather in November. I make my pie crusts from scratch and I follow my grandmother Stewart's recipe. It'd be easier just to buy the pre-made stuff and honestly, I think the only person who can tell that my crusts are the real thing is me. But I don't do it for the recognition. I do it as a way to remember my Gram and to keep her memory alive for another year.

So there you go. Three traditions I keep in my own way. What about you?

As the day goes on, the rest of the participants in today's Blog Off will appear miraculously at the end of this post. Keep checking back and check out everybody's posts. You can follow along in Twitter as well, just look for the hashtag #LetsBlogOff. If you'd like more information about about the Blog Off or if you'd like to see the results of previous Blog Offs, you can find the main website here.

04 July 2011

It's Independence Day, so remember and celebrate

It's Independence Day in the United States. It's the day when we commemorate the passage by the Second Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson's document that's come to be known as the Declaration of Independence.

The actual vote for independence from Britain happened on July 2, 1776 when the Continental Congress voted in favor of a resolution introduced by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia the previous month. After weeks of debate and consensus building, the actual declaration read thus:

Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

That statement took the war of rebellion against Britain that had been raging for a year and turned it into a war of revolution.

Two days later, the Continental Congress passed what's come to be known as the Declaration of Independence. Here's its text in full, please read it.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

This document was a litany of grievances against King George III, the British Parliament and the British people themselves. It was in essence an open letter to the world that explained why the 13 colonies that would become the United States were declaring their separation from Great Britain. The decision to declare independence from Britain wasn't something that carried with it the unanimous support of their countrymen and the document served too as a way to communicate to everyone in the 13 colonies why they'd embarked on the path they'd started.

It was read in public for the first time on July 8th, 1776 and on July 9th was sent out to be translated into German for the benefit of the German-speaking residents of the colonies.

That document, and everything it represents, is what we commemorate today. No more. No less.

There was a time when it was an accepted tradition to read that document aloud every July 4th. It's a tradition that ought to be brought back. I don't mean some sanctimonious reading from the floor of the House of representatives either. Rather, a full reading of the entire document in homes across the country.

Despite our differences, we have one thing in common, something that ought to bind us together when political movements and pundits seek to tear us apart. As citizens of the United States, we're living out the dreams of a group of great men, sons of the Enlightenment, who sought a radical departure from the way things had always been. What motivated them is spelled out in the document above. Happy Independence Day.