Appreciating Ed

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee

In common with many humble people, San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee was underappreciated, talked about behind his back, and made the butt of jokes, not all of them kind. And he seemed to care not one little bit.

He was an astonishingly hard worker with his eye trained firmly on what would benefit the people of his city. He was omnipresent, that is you’d see him everywhere around town: at ballgames and the opera, neighborhood diners and high-society cocktail parties, cleaning up dirty streets and cutting the ribbon at school openings, speaking at corporate conferences and union meetings.

For a person in his position, he seemed to care very little about personal publicity. I saw him often at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital (so often, I’d joke with him about moving his office there from City Hall) where he came to visit patients, especially fallen cops and firefighters. No media. No retinue. No fanfare. He came to visit people and their families, and ask them how they were doing and what he could do to help them.

He didn’t get fawning press for his many kindnesses and I don’t think he much cared. I have met very few elected officials with such humility and such devotion to the welfare of others.

He told the corniest jokes, was the biggest fan of the city’s sports teams, and made some adversaries in this liberal, union town because of his pro-business and pro-development policies. But Ed Lee didn’t seem to make any personal enemies. There were many tears the night of his passing. In these ugly and divisive political times, we should all appreciate the example he set in that regard too.

May you rest in eternal peace, Ed. Your city is grateful for your work on our behalf but very much diminished by your passing.

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The Real Driver of Sexual Harassment

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Let’s not start at what is perhaps the most obvious place to discuss a national climate that enables sexual abuse and harassment, our pussy-grabbing braggart-in-chief. (Too on-the-nose, as they say.)

Let’s first think about the tech industry. Reports of the harassment of and prejudice against women are everywhere in tech and reported widely in industry media. No surprise, some would argue, because tech is not only male-dominated and male-led, it is an industry with very few women at any level of hierarchy.

True enough, I suppose.

Without a diverse critical mass, tech has a stereotypical “bro” mentality that fosters thinking of women as the “other”, not to be accepted as colleagues and leaders but to be demeaned, objectified, sexualized and feared. There are precious few women engineers in tech organizations, much less leaders of them.

Most appalling may be the reaction of these tech “bros” to criticism of their industry’s record of marginalization and harassment of women: insinuations of male tech genetic superiority, critiques of women’s contributions to tech (which are historic and substantial), and flat-out threats to those who speak up.

Eyeball social media and see what I mean; it’s sickening.

The case of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has created increased awareness of sexual harassment in America’s workplaces, and we should be grateful for that contribution to our social health. Women in entertainment have been the unwilling subjects of male domination since the industry’s earliest days. And that subjugation has taken on near-legendary status: countless stories of leering producers and casting couches and coerced dressing room assignations.

That a powerful man in Hollywood preys upon the beautiful, young and powerless can be no surprise to anyone at this point. That particular cases, and particular predators, are widely known in the industry, and have been widely known in the industry for long periods of time and have not been called out for their behavior, much less stopped, is disappointing to say the very least.

As human beings, presumably, we wouldn’t want to think colleagues, investors and partners would allow sexually predatory behavior to continue unabated, just because a particular predator was good at getting awards and making money.

But there we are: enablers exist in Hollywood too.

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The most well-documented cases, of course, are likely those of the enablers of sexually abusive Roman Catholic priests. For many decades, the church not only looked the other way and enabled ongoing abuse but shielded the abusers from legitimate law enforcement, from their accusers, and their communities.

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It was only after numerous civil lawsuits and very high-profile journalistic investigations that the church admitted (some) instances of abuse (and the church’s efforts to hide them) publicly.  The conscious and purposeful cover-up reached to the very highest levels of the global church and continues to erode public confidence in the institution.

Worse, it is completely at odds with what the church claims it stands for.

Harassment and abuse also exists in scale, of course, at our schools, colleges and universities, abetted by the typically decentralized structure of academe (especially in higher education). And many educational institutions will not report instances of abuse when they actually occur, or are learned of, only when institutions are faced with public reports and lawsuits.

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All this I know too well from personal experience as a communications counsel to many institutions dealing with sexual harassment and abuse: many people know of the harassment and abuse and too few (if any) will move to stop, or even report it.

After the fact, that is to say after the harassment has already ruined psyches and careers and lives, people will share that “Everyone knew about Harvey,” or “I heard the rumors about Father Timothy,” or “Professor Herman was a well-known pervert,” or “Coach Johnson was always giving rides to his players.”

Let me say this directly and as straight-forwardly as I am able.

Sexual harassment and abuse cannot exist in any institution without the forbearance and enablement of a great many people. People knew that Harvey Weinstein was assaulting young women and DID NOTHING. People knew about that tech venture capitalist and DID NOTHING. People knew about the priests and the coaches and the professors and DID NOTHING.

Why?

Greed. Loyalty to the institution. Sexism. Fear. Personal discomfort. Other reasons.

Several years ago, I told a colleague about a coach who had raped a series of his players over the course of several years, with the knowledge of his school’s administration. My colleague, himself the dad of a little league baseball player told me with firm conviction that, were he presented with that kind of information about one of his kid’s coaches, he’d kill the guy (or at least take serious action of some kind).

And I said to him I hoped so, but based on my substantial experience, I supposed he would instead convince himself he’d obviously been mistaken (because the coach was too nice a guy) and do nothing.

Without our silence and cooperation (active or tacit), sexual harassment and abuse cannot exist in our institutions.

 

Time For a Reality Check

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I was born in Houston, Texas during the depths of the Great Depression. It was a hard-scrabble life made somewhat bearable by the abiding love of our family and the support and friendship of our close-knit community. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. It was really a small residential area outside of Houston proper, called Hunter’s Creek Village.

Okay, that’s not completely true either. It was actually the west Texas town of El Paso, where I fell in love with a Mexican girl.

Which is really not my life story but, in fact, the lyric to a big hit for cowboy-singer Marty Robbins. I wasn’t actually born in El Paso, or really anywhere in Texas, if you want to insist on factual accuracy, and have never, to my recollection, ever fallen in love with a young woman from Mexico.

As many of my friends and readers know, I was really born in San Francisco. And it wasn’t during the depths of the Great Depression but actually during the relative ease and prosperity of the second Eisenhower administration.

Sorry.

I studied computer science at MIT, then went on to lead development projects for large enterprise software companies. At least I did until I got laid off, then they hired an illegal immigrant who would do the work for, like, one-third of what they paid me. I wish that border wall were already built back then.

Sorry, again. None of that actually happened. (History major.)

I got married to a nice girl I met at the bait shop I used to run on Key West. She ran the creationism museum there, educating our kids that, after all, creationism is a theory every much as real and legitimate as the theory of evolution. And besides, it’s in the Bible. Things between my wife and I were really great until the gays arm-twisted liberal judges into giving them the right to marry each other, which is, of course, an abomination in the eyes of God and ruined our marriage because giving the gays equal rights erodes traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

Okay, none of that happened either.

Most evenings, after coming home from working as a hard-charging corporate titan, I don my custom-designed and constructed costume, jump into my multi-terrain battle vehicle, and fight crime as a super hero. I’ve never admitted that publicly before but there, I’ve said it. I don’t have super powers but I compensate by using my billions to build high-tech crime-fighting gear, which creates fear among evil-doers everywhere.

Okay, look, in truth, I don’t get out much anymore. I’m too tired most nights. And I’m not really a corporate titan, or, to be totally honest, a crime-fighter of any type.

Sorry, that was just a lie.

In my blog, I’ve always tried to present my thoughts and feelings as directly and honestly as I’m able. Then why present this litany of lies? It seems, my fellow Americans, we’re having difficulty these days separating fact from fiction. I just wanted to provide you all a little calibration.

Now go forth in truth and light.

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A Reasonable Thought

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Imagine this:

You wake up on a typical Hump Day morning. Get yourself into a quick shower, grab a cup of coffee, maybe some toast. Put on your uniform. Say “See ya,” or something similar to your spouse and kids. You drive into work.

It isn’t a dream job but there is some measure of security and it comes with benefits. And you try to make it decent every day by being friendly with your customers, especially the ones you see most weekdays. There are some nice people on your route and you’ve gotten to know a few really well over the years.

Makes the day go by to share a few words with them as you make your deliveries.

When you get in on this Wednesday, there’s a meeting before you start out. You grab another cup of coffee from the break room. Should have stopped at Peet’s or Starbucks because break room coffee is crap but it would have made you late.

Shoot the breeze with a few co-corkers before the meeting starts. Jim went to the extra-innings Giants game last night and looks a little tired. Manuel’s daughter is having her quinceañera over the weekend. 

That’s a pretty typical start-of-shift scene at a lot of workplaces, right?

Now imagine:

One of your co-workers stands up in that completely routine meeting, pulls a gun out of his coat and starts shooting the people around you, dead.

That very thing happened here last week, at the local UPS facility, just a few short blocks away. And, as typically happens in the wake of incidents of mass violence in San Francisco, the gruesome results were visited upon our hospital.

I stood in a makeshift conference room as an emergency room doctor told the wife of one victim that her husband, who’d a few hours earlier left his home for what they both thought would be just another routine day at work delivering packages, had died.

Those who know me at all know my feelings about gun control. After this latest incident in too  a long string of them I am even more firmly dedicated to my beliefs; as a public safety necessity, we should regulate the civilian ownership of firearms at least as actively as we regulate the operation of motor vehicles.

Just imagine yourself going to work on a Wednesday and never coming home.

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Grief of the Gun

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I work at an urban public hospital and trauma center and, sadly, today was like too many others. I witnessed friends and family of a young man torn apart by a bottomless grief that was caused by a gun.

Today, it was a 15-year-old named Reajohn Jackson. Next time, the victim of gun violence will have a different name. Different friends and family members will be at our hospital sobbing and asking “Why?” to doctors and nurses, to kin, to no one in particular.

I have met the mothers and grandmothers and brothers and sisters and cousins of gun violence victims before today. And each, in their own ways, bear the unmistakable scars of shock and horror and anger and sadness.

I have met too many.

I suspect that, as long as I live, I will remember the human agony I witnessed today, as person after person rushed to our hospital only to be told of the passing of their friend, their classmate, their relative. One young man, in stunned disbelief, kept repeating, over and over as if to gain some measure of understanding, “What am I going to tell my sister? What am I going to tell my sister?”

I wish I knew, young man.

 

 

 

Oh, I Understand Plenty

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I honestly and sincerely swore I wouldn’t write about politics again this election season but conditions impress upon me the need, the obligation, the responsibility to speak.

This year, many commentators are wondering aloud how we could have gotten to the place we today occupy – an ignorant, narcissistic sociopath is a major party’s nominee for the presidency. And, let’s not be coy, I’m talking about the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

In the course of the period of my lifetime, barely one-fourth of the total period of American history, politics have devolved to the level of apes – no, this unfairly devalues ape society. When I was younger, Republicans stood for something understandable and American – main street sensibility, small central government, an ethic of hard work, economic opportunity. I may not have agreed with all of it but I understood and appreciated it as a coherent political philosophy.

What today’s Republican Party stands for isn’t beyond my comprehension exactly, more beneath my contempt. Today’s GOP is proudly bigoted, ignorant, racist, sexist and materialistic. It is anti-American, at least as I understand and use that term.

Let’s get concrete.

A man of color has occupied the White House for almost eight years. Republicans have never accepted him as the legitimate president of the United States. They have done everything possible to thwart his due exercise of office. Indeed, they have tried to de-legitimize him at every opportunity.

How? By supposing out loud that he was born in Africa, that he is a secret Muslim, that he is a sleeper agent of a terrorist cell, that his election and re-election were illegitimate.

He’s been made out to be foreign. We’ve been shown pictures of him with a bull’s eye on his chest, dressed as a witch doctor, as Adolph Hitler, in minstrel-show blackface. The entire media apparatus of News Corp (Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, et al.) was purposefully arrayed against him in vile and personal attacks.

And why?

Simply because of the color of his skin.

The same rough-justice mechanism is now being deployed against the Democratic Party’s next standard bearer for the unpardonable crime of being a woman.

Here is the truth: American demographics are our destiny.

Some years ago, Republicans made a pact with the devil – the Tea Party and other anti-American extremists – in the vain hope of remaining politically and socially relevant. It was a fool’s bargain. Our country is changing, has changed. Any party that caters to white male resentment as its backbone is doomed. The fact is, Republicans are already dead; they just can’t bring themselves to acknowledge it.

And yet, TV pundits feign confusion about what’s going on in the American political landscape. As if they didn’t know.

I beg you, in the deepest way I know how, to say it simply, plainly and out loud: the Republican Party has staked its life on appealing to the basest instincts of a declining portion of the American electorate and it will die as a result. And it will die very soon. And there is nothing the party hierarchy or its craven media whore can do to stop it.

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Terma (or τέρμα)

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Note dear reader: I will not come close to capturing the real essence of the subject of this post but I promise to do my absolute best. Simply, he is too large to get right on paper.

He was a force, that much is certain. He was with us often, always it seemed, on that trip to Greece several years ago. He filled the room with his sheer presence. Not overbearing exactly, like some boulder rolling down a hillside; he was more like a professional entertainer that was always on. Amusing but exhausting.

He was my uncle Taiki, now recently departed.

When we arrived in Athens after a very long day of flying and connecting, he whisked us to the family house in the city, where we settled in for a multi-hour feast. He sat, as I remember, between Erika and me and served as more or less constant, which is to say non-stop, translator.

He told me stories about the family and gave Erika a crash course in must-know Greek. The word for fork. The word for knife. The word for glass. And on. And on. And on, throughout dinner.

He told me how superior the Greek language was to the vulgarity of English. In English, we have one word for rock, he said; in Greek, there’s rock, and pebble, and stone, and boulder. And on. And on.

He called me something that sounded like “Brunt.”

One day, a few days later, he loaded us into the back of his van and took us all to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio, which turned out to be, as promised, among the most beautiful places I have seen on this earth.

When I pulled out my camera to get some photos, Taiki seemed genuinely offended. “Rocks,” he said. “You came all this way to take pictures of rocks?” I tried to laugh it off but he had none of it. “You like rocks?” he asked. I said I found the temple magnificent, or whatever word I had to express that feeling in Greek.

With that, he vaulted the barrier, walked to a column and broke a piece of marble off in his thick hand. He came back, jumped the chain again, shoved the piece of the ancient and glorious temple into my hand and said, “There. Now you’ve got your rock.”

Taiki looked much like his aunt, my grandmother. The fair hair, the piercing blue eyes, the rolling walk that so many have who’ve grown up in an agricultural life. We visited the family farm, on the Gulf of Corinth. Taiki showed me the family’s olive press, the fields where my grandmother played as a little girl, the boat the family used to catch the calamari we had for lunch that day.

And there were the stories. Some, frankly, just too good to be true, even when washed down with liberal amounts of the family’s homemade retsina. He was a general in the Greek army, politically connected, a lemon farmer, a raconteur, a lover of life and his family.

When, during our visit, he would get to be too much, Erika would tell him to stop by saying a word Taiki himself had taught her, terma. And, like the gentleman he was, he would smile and stop (for a few minutes, at any rate).

According to the Urban Dictionary, a Taiki is “…a male who is an oddball combination of an artist, a gentleman, and a ninja.” How very accurate.

And, as Erika can still tell you, the Greek word for fork is πιρούνι. Thank you for that, Taiki. 

Terma.

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