I’m Not YOUR Brave

The other night, our family went to San Francisco’s AT&T Park to see the hometown baseball Giants play Atlanta’s team, the Braves. At the statue of Willie Mays that greets visitors at the park’s main gate, a group representing the American Indian Movement (AIM) held a banner, chanted slogans and talked with people waiting to enter.

Here was their message: the use of Indian imagery by sports teams continues to offend Native Americans. Major League Baseball trades – that is to say earns money from names, merchandise, caricatures – on things that aren’t their property to use. Furthermore, they are false and demeaning to the people whose lives are the actual basis for them.

The most vocal of the AIM members made the point directly and clearly: “I don’t want to be your mascot. I’m not a MASCOT. I’m a man.”

They were upset by the team’s continuing use of the Braves name, icons reflecting a sort of generic understanding of Native American culture, mascot, “war chant,” tomahawk gift items, and so on.

As ESPN’s Paul Lukas said in a recent post, it may be well past time for our professional sports teams to lose the Native American names, mascots and imagery.

Redskins (see below), the name of the football team playing in our nation’s capital, is an offensive term for Native American. The Chief Wahoo mascot (above) of the Cleveland Indians baseball club is an offensive caricature. Ersatz “war chants” used by the Braves, as well as the Florida State University Seminoles are a bastardization of what is actually a sacred tribal moment.

If team names continue to offend ethnicities, nationalities, or religious traditions, they simply must go. Few, if any, other ethnicities would stand for such ubiquitous and lasting abuse. A graphic (below) by the National Congress of American Indians makes the point fairly, I’d say.

Take Back (Which) America?

[PLEASE BE ADVISED: This posting opens with an explicit photograph of racially motivated violence. Some readers may find it offensive or upsetting. Thank you.]




Buried deep inside Tea Party conservatives’ gauzy reminiscences about those “simpler times” of greater American virtue, a smaller federal government and happier lives is a very dark reality indeed.

Segregated and unequal housing, transportation, schools, food service, retail, banking and entertainment. Violent and, sometimes, deadly racism. [The chilling photo of a lynching, above, was conveniently printed as a postcard to facilitate easier collecting and distribution by white townsfolk eager to share the moment with friends.] Restrictions to prevent the exercise of voting and other civil rights by non-whites. Prohibitions against inter-racial love and marriage.

Now, those policies of subjugation didn’t simply end of their own accord. They ended largely because people took to the streets, and did so in great numbers. And, for their efforts, they were beaten with clubs and hit with high-pressure fire hoses and attacked by dogs and arrested and sometimes killed. The federal government eventually became actively involved – sometimes through law enforcement agencies and the courts, other times at the business end of US Army bayonets.

These policies have ended, for the most part, but the struggle for equality continues, now almost 100 years since the lynching photograph (above) was taken.

And while we’re nostalgically thinking back, let’s not forget the unchecked abuse of our country’s children as laborers. Or the wholesale poisoning of our air and water and workplaces. Or the abandonment of our unemployed and destitute to prison-like workhouses. Or the purposeful impoverishment of millions of working people by the powerful and greedy. Or the isolation of wide swathes of our country by the lack of basic infrastructure, like electricity, sewerage and roads.

Laws, regulations and programs enacted and overseen by an active, substantial and progressive federal government addressed those conditions and were the only forces making life livable for many Americans.

That is the real history of America’s “simpler times.”

So, the very next time you hear someone rally their supporters with the tear-filled cry of “Take Back America,” think carefully about who they think they are and exactly what version of America they want to take us back to.

What Might Have Been

It’s human nature, I think, to wonder about alternatives to events as they actually unfolded, or the results of pursuing different paths at key moments in life. “What might have been, if only…” and so forth. I get into those moods now and then myself.

The other day, I was cleaning a few things out of the house my mom has lived in since the 1950s when I stumbled on this (above) antique campaign bumper sticker affixed to the garage wall.

Now, I don’t assume all my readers know ancient California history, so here’s the background.

In 1965, the governor of California was a Democrat named Pat Brown (current governor Jerry’s dad, by the way). The very first Republican to announce his candidacy for his party’s nomination to run against Brown was Laughlin Waters, a man who had a lot going for him as a candidate.

Waters was a legitimate World War 2 hero, having led a rifle company onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. He was a universally acknowledged person of intellect and substance. He was a brilliant lawyer, well-experienced in private practice and as US Attorney for Los Angeles, a huge and important position. He was a well-regarded public servant, having served three terms in the state legislature.

And, as I can personally attest (his wife was a lifelong friend of my parents), he was a very nice guy off the clock. A solid storyteller. A real, honest-to-God family man. Funny in social settings. Nice as the day is long.

Here’s what he didn’t have: a particularly photogenic face (his photo, above), jump-off-the-page charisma, star power, famous friends.

Pat Brown was a popular governor. It was going to take just the right Republican to have even a chance of beating him in the general election. And, in the end, California’s Republicans went in a direction that very much represented a break from their party’s history.

Their eventual nominee was no war hero (he’d sat out World War 2 safely stateside), no genius lawyer, no public servant (aside from his career in the arts, his only real grown-up work experience was serving as his small union’s president). But he had in spades the precise qualities Waters lacked: prettiness, attractiveness, connections.  And they turned out to be what enough Californians wanted to vote for in the general election to unseat Pat Brown.

So was born our current political era, in which American voters support candidates for their attractiveness over their substance. And, too, was born a national political career for the man who forced Laughlin Waters out of the race, Ronald Reagan.

A Real American Value

Earlier this week, I saw this (see above) posted by a friend on facebook. In the context of other messages he’s posted, I know it was posted seriously, that is to say unironically. He means to assert the message contained in the image, not poke fun at it.

So, let’s unpack what my friend seems to believe.

He believes that if I vote for the re-election of the president, I am either ignorant (wittingly or unwittingly), “a communist” (almost humorously anachronistic), or just generally anti-American. (I’ll leave for another time a discussion of what the generally accepted list of “American values” might be.)

What this image doesn’t say is what I believe: Americans (that is, smart, engaged, well-intentioned, good-hearted, patriotic Americans) can disagree sincerely and passionately about policy, assessments of fact, political philosophy, understandings of history and world affairs. We can argue. We can do so civilly.  We can support and vote for different candidates in elections and for or against ballot propositions.

I know a great many well-educated, productive, decent, hard-working Americans, some of whom are voting for Mitt Romney, some for Barack Obama, and some for other candidates for the presidency. I agree with some and disagree with some others but, either way, I don’t necessarily think those who disagree with my particular choice to be traitors, delusional and/or idiots.

And none of that disagreement means we’re any less American; quite the opposite. Civil public expression of the divergence of opinion is one American value I treasure greatly. In fact, any list of American values without it is, in this American’s opinion, fatally incomplete.

Don’t like who others are voting for? Don’t call them stupid or suggest you – and only you – have the keys to what it means to be a “real” American.

Discuss. Argue. Persuade.

In short, be a real American about it.

UN Money? Yippee!

I wouldn’t typically pay the slightest attention to a spammy email sent from Nigeria but this one had the look of something special. Glad I read it; seems like I’m going to be coming into some big money.

Reprinted here (below), verbatim:


3 Whitehall Court London

SW1A 2EL United Kingdom


How are you today? Hope all is well with you and family? You may not understand why this mail came to you. I wish to inform you that we have been having a meeting with the IMF for the past 1 month now which ends yesterday in regards to innocent individual who has been a victim of scam that was going on in African and Europe,this Organization(UNITED NATIONS) have agreed to compensate them with the sum of US$750,000.00.

This includes every foreign contractors that may have not received their Contract sum, and some people that have an unfinished Transaction/International Businesses that failed due to one problem or the other.

Going through our data base your email contacts and name was found on the list and that is why we are contacting you for you to receive your own compensation and this said money will be paid via ATM MASTER CARD Payment Method which is the easiest and safer way of receiving without any hindrance and it will issued to you from our Authorized Bank in Nigeria(Africa) You are advised to contact Mr.Herbert Wigwe on this Email: mrherbertn@superposta.com as he is our Legal Representative in Nigeria, contact him immediately for your own ATM MASTER CARD,you should send him your full Name and telephone number your confidential address where you want him to send the Card.

Hoping to hear from you as soon as you receive your MASTER CARD.

Best regards,


Gettysburg, Still

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind. – Proverbs 11:29

It was a late spring morning, still early enough in the day and the year to be cool. The Gettysburg Battlefield National Park had its share of visitors, as it has had every single time I’ve visited, but was not yet crowded on this off-season day. We got our map from the visitors center and made our way to the parking area near the old observation tower, a good place to get some perspective on the site of this horribly bloody American Civil War battle.

We were just orienting ourselves when several large buses pulled in next to our car and unloaded hundreds of men and women in camouflage fatigues. They assembled smartly for a talk about the battle, which had taken place almost 150 years ago. The speaker discussed the positions of the forces, relative size and strength, leadership, movement, tactics, and so on. He took some questions, then went on to describe the horrific nature of war in those days, what the battlefield was like for the men fighting and dying, what it must have sounded, smelled and looked like.

The speaker then went further, deeper. He discussed the social and political context of the Civil War itself. The clash of egos, the carnage of a society grinding against itself, the insanity of neighbors and brothers fighting each other, the resulting destruction.

The camouflage-clad audience was rapt.

Turns out, this group was the graduating class of West Point. And, I came to find out, it’s an annual pilgrimage. The United States Military Academy, in order to train the next generation of our Army’s leaders, still requires cadets to take a trip to this place, and to learn its lessons.

I’ve rarely been more gratified by or prouder of my country’s armed forces than I was at that moment.

History is not just reviewing dusty, old facts. It is fully living in the present, understanding that where we are today is dependent on where we’ve come from.

To show proper appreciation for the great, indeed complete, sacrifices of our brothers who fought and died at Gettysburg, we must all – as West Point cadets do – learn the lessons that are still there for us.

We cannot continue to divide ourselves, particularly over trivialities, and expect to survive.

Do we need another Gettysburg to finally understand this lesson of our history?

Happy Birthday, To Me

I think I’d just moved back to my native San Francisco from several years in Philadelphia. I was glad to be home amongst my family and many friends, to be sure, but I was also already missing the other friends I’d made during my years living in the South and the East.

And so, I had a fantasy. Wouldn’t it be awesome, I thought, to rent someplace huge, like Houston’s Astrodome, and invite everyone I’d ever known to a big-ass party?

Leaving out the obviously significant logistical hurdles, once I thought about it in real terms, I soon questioned the wisdom of bringing together people from so many of my life’s different places and times. And here’s what I pictured:

Guys who wouldn’t get along.

Romantic entanglements.

Clashing musical tastes.

As fun as my idea sounded for the first few minutes, I soon enough realized it belonged in the realm of fantasy, because the literal reality would likely as not be disappointing, if not downright painful.

But today, on my real birthday, thanks to technology and social media, I got a pleasant taste of what that party might have been like if I were to have actually thrown it. I got messages from a completely fun mix of friends, one right after the other: my first college roommate, followed by the parent of one of my son’s friends, followed by a close former colleague, followed by an old teacher…

…well, you get the idea.

And I got to thinking – here’s the romantic in me – that if I were to book the Astrodome and invite absolutely everyone I’ve ever known, it would turn out to be the greatest party ever. Either that or, you know, a bloody riot.

September 11

As luck would have it, I was starting a new position as the leader of a nonprofit on September 11, 2001. I got up early that morning and was, more or less, absorbed with the triviality of putting together just the right thing to wear.  Nothing too corporate, I remember thinking.

That great task satisfied, I walked the two blocks from my house to the subway station, where I was met with larger-than-usual crowds. Perfect, I thought, first day and I’m going to be late because of San Francisco’s perpetually bad mass transit system. I ran into a neighbor who said, “God, can you believe it?” Thinking she was referring to the mass of humanity waiting on the subway platform for the next train, I simply nodded in agreement.

“I know,” I said, “the city can’t even get a simple train system right.”

“What?” my neighbor replied. “What are you talking about? Haven’t you heard? Don’t you know what’s going on?”

“Uh, no.”

“They’re attacking us. They flew planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.”

I’d always considered my neighbor to be the type with her feet firmly on the ground, but at this moment, I sincerely thought her mad. She talked, manically, at me for the entire ride downtown. And, little by little, I came to realize that she was, more or less, telling me a story that was the truth, as hard as it was to wrap my head around.

When our train arrived downtown, I tried to climb the stairs to street level, but hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people were streaming back into the station from above. It was a completely disorienting moment.

It wasn’t until I reached my new office and turned on the radio that I slowly began to understand what had happened in New York and Washington and in that Pennsylvania field that morning.

My parents’ generation had experienced the feeling before, after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Their calm, quiet world had been shattered, “like a fire bell in the night.” But people my age had never experienced anything remotely like it.

We, of course, were very lucky. We had no collapsing buildings, no debris, no choking dust, no dead where I was, in San Francisco. And despite the endless hours of TV I watched that night and in the weeks that followed, when I think back to that date, it is my own disbelief and disorientation I remember most vividly.

A Change of Season

To Autumn
      by John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
   Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

A Real Holiday

Yesterday was Labor Day hereabouts, an American national holiday when most people enjoy a final long weekend of summer, barbecues and beer, stretch out on a blanket at the beach, catch a game in the sunshine. As with many of our national holidays, the intended meaning of the day has been largely lost to the reality of a long weekend of rest and recreation.

And, in this case especially, that’s a national shame.

This holiday was created to honor labor, organized labor, hardworking people who built cars and roads and bridges and the high-quality manufactured products that used to be made here in the United States. Their fairly-paid and stable jobs created a market for goods and services our economy had never previously known. Organized labor created what was by far the largest engine for economic growth and demand in America. More, they created the expectations we have about our worklives, and which we very much take for granted today.

Before labor organized and exerted influence on the way businesses were run (often, sadly, at the sacrifice of their own lives), too many forget, working days weren’t expected to be ‘only’ 8 hours long, children were forced into work and workplaces were unregulated hell-holes of unbreathable air and ubiquitous (and often fatal) hazards. And these humane working conditions, thought unaffordable luxuries by the monied capitalists of the day, came to be commonplace, not only for labor union members but for all of the workforce.

Before organized labor:

No weekends, much less long ones.

No minimum wage.

Children losing their childhoods to near-slavery.

No safety rules or inspections.

Again and again, I hear in political speeches calls for a return to pre-union laissez-faire capitalism. Does anyone really want to go back to those ‘simpler’ times?

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