Reuniting the US sounds like a Herculean task

How can I accept my country slowly, painfully tearing itself apart? A country who’s founding motto is “Out of Many, One.” A country that calls itself the United States.

A comedian friend of mine posted on facebook, that he wore a shirt that had some American flag themed decoration on it for his comedy set. That after his set, a lady came up to him and told him that he should not wear that shirt because he was obviously a liberal and liberals aren’t patriotic.

This is where we are at today.

We’ve been leading up to this for a long time. Way back in 2003, if my memory serves, I was working on a bond campaign for a local library. I was talking with a potential volunteer for the campaign, and he asked me if I was a Republican. I said no (I’m not registered with any party), and he said good – that he would never work with a Republican. But it was different then, than it is today. It wasn’t quite so… visceral.

I remember reading about a time when the political parties in this country could get along. Or at least, not view each other as the enemy. It seems to me that all that came crashing down when Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the house in the 1990’s. But the days of seeing allies across the aisle, if they ever existed, seem to be gone.

This is very upsetting for me. Because at some point, this state is a conscious choice for everyone involved. We choose to badmouth our political adversaries. We choose to lie about them. We choose to heap endless tons of criticism upon them. We choose to distort what we see to serve our political ends. We choose to tear down our fellow countrymen and countrywomen. We choose to shut out wide swaths of our own people from the political and policy making process. We chose this, and we choose it again every day. We are 327 million people (last I checked) choosing to do this to ourselves.

How does anyone turn that around?

I don’t know.

Maybe I have an idea, though. What I can do, is bring people together locally. Maybe that will make a difference. Maybe there are other people, in other parts of the country, who are doing the same.

Maybe getting people off of the internet, out from in front of their screens, and talking to each other – maybe that will make a difference. I feels, to me, that social media and media in general today is just designed to inflame. That we are all inflamed, and that’s why we don’t hear each other. That’s why people who think differently than us look like the enemy.

Normally, when I write about something that is bothering me, I write until I feel better. In this instance, I don’t know that I will be able to feel better about this. How can I accept my country slowly, painfully tearing itself apart? A country who’s founding motto is “Out of Many, One.” A country that calls itself the United States. A country where every man (and woman) is equal. The land of the free and the home of the brave. Maybe all that great stuff I was told about our country as a kid was hokum.

But that hokum is worth fighting for.

I don’t have easy answers here. Maybe all there is to do is to continue to move forward. To continue to try things, and to see what works. To continue to stand for what I believe our country should stand for.

Right now, that’s all I’ve got.

Liam Neeson is doing what we want

Chances are, you do something today that is not going to be socially acceptable in 40 years.

You are going to want to be able to apologize, show remorse, and move on. Lets give him space to do the same. He is not unrepentant, he isn’t saying “you know what? I’m still mad about this. I’m going to get my baton and go out into the streets of Ireland right now…” No. If he was, then go ahead, have at him.

He’s not a fragile man who thinks that you should never apologize. Liam is showing us how to grow. There are some people, who carry the same feelings he carried back when he went looking through Ireland for a black man to kill, who are only going to be open to changing their views when they see that someone else has already changed their views. Who, in the face of social pressure to change, are only going to harden their hearts and buckle down – but who will listen to someone who felt the way they do.

This is how we grow. If we don’t allow space for people to sincerely apologize and atone for their misdeeds, we don’t allow people to move on from the thinking that lead to those misdeeds in the first place. Something about our human brains; owing up to our mistakes allows us to let them go, hiding them doesn’t.

This is made somewhat simpler by the fact that he didn’t actually do anything. He didn’t assault or attempt to kill anyone, even though he meant to for a few moments of his life. This conversation gets more complicated when someone took an action that harmed someone else, but it’s still a conversation to have.

Also, what he wanted to do wasn’t okay then either. But it was significantly more socially acceptable then than it is today.

I, as well as most of you who read this, live in America. I admire a few of the people who founded our country in the late 1700’s, and consider most of them to be good people. Yet many of those men I admire were slave owners and probably misogynists.

Cultures and attitudes change, and in our time they are changing within our lifetimes. If we don’t allow people to raise their hand and say that they were wrong in how they thought, they are sorry and they have grown from thinking that way – then not only do we condemn them for the mistakes and foolishness of the past, but we condemn ourselves. For inevitably, one day we will find ourselves in their shoes.

Why I Endorse Kalen Gallagher for San Jose City Council

And you should encourage anyone who lives in San Jose’s District 9 to vote for him

If the next generation of leadership in America is like Kalen, then we are going to be okay. Sorry if that’s not super enthusiastic – but as someone who is deeply disturbed by current political events – being okay would be a huge win. If Kalen is elected, I’ll literally be able to sleep better at night knowing that, finally, a portion of our country is in good hands. Even if it is just a district in San Jose.

Alright, that may be slightly melodramatic. But it’s also real, so let me get into why I feel that way. I’m not looking at platforms when I evaluate candidates, I’m looking at character. When it comes to character, Kalen is the sort of person I wish would hold office throughout our nation.

Also, I took that photo from his website. I hope he doesn’t mind.

Kalen is fair: If you approach him with a concern, and you mean well, he is going to hear you out. He’s not going to shut you down because of your political views or affiliations. Listening is probably the rarest and most essential skill for our political leaders, and he does it better than most. But, do your homework. Because he has done his. If you are quoting an article, or a piece of research, make sure the research is real and the sources exist. Kalen is sharp, and he will suss out flim-flam pretty quick.

Kalen is honest: He and I met when we were 10 years old (I think. Maybe we were 11? One of the two). We made it through the rocky middle school years, through high school when we were all trying different things, and into adulthood. On many occasions as a kid, I witnessed Kalen stand up for the truth even when a lie would have been more expedient. As an adult, he has learned the wonderful art of addressing what is real without alienating people. If only more people in politics today could do such a thing…

Kalen knows when not to take sides: Partisanship is literally killing our country today. I think that it fills a great need within all of us to not feed into the hyper-partisanship that rules our discourse nationally, and instead work to bridge the gaps between all of us Americans. That Kalen is doing the work to bridge the divides locally is exemplified in this excerpt from this article, that notes that he isn’t conforming to the normal business-labor divide that has defined the San Jose city council in the past:

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Kalen is prepared to hear your feedback: Full disclosure here, I volunteered a bit on his 2012 campaign for the school board of the Campbell Union High School District. I may have donated to that campaign as well (I don’t remember, sorry). What impressed me then, and continues to impress me, is the technical apparatus he has set up to make sure that he is able to hear feedback from his constituents. I don’t know how he’s done it exactly, but Kalen consistently reads and cites the emails and messages he receives through his work as an elected official. As someone who goes through life with 16,000+ unread emails, I find that nearly astounding.

Kalen is not beholden to special interests: And someone is scared about that. I don’t have to tell you how corrupt politics in America have become. This is a well worn truth at this point. Kalen can prove that he is more interested in serving his constituents than any special interests. He has a track record of doing so. As someone who has known him for about 25 years now, since we were both kids, I can tell you that this is a deeply held principle for Kalen. This is nowhere near some sort of political stunt. That being the reality, someone is using special interest funds to smear Kalen. He breaks it down best here. The blatant lies and misrepresentations that are being shared throughout San Jose just for a city council position are both sad and embarrassing.

Kalen is effective: I think Kalen best summarizes how he did as a member of the school board for our old high school here, from his website:

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I included that last sentence on purpose. I truly think that Kalen is finding the path forward in American politics beyond the divisiveness of today. I think we should encourage that, and embark on that path ourselves.

Please folks, if you know anyone who lives in western San Jose – share this with them or tell them about Kalen’s campaign. We need to be putting more good people in office.

Mourning 9/11, And Everything After

Now that I work with veterans, today was not an easy day

As I drove up to the 9/11 memorial this morning, I saw veterans outside greeting each other. I had to flee. I had to keep going. I couldn’t be in that space. I couldn’t be with men and women who had signed up to sacrifice it all – when I hadn’t. It felt… disrespectful. I felt as if I would be violating a sacred space.

All of my conflicted thoughts about 9/11 came to the surface at once. I found myself parked down the road, with tears in my eyes.

A vet asked me recently, why I didn’t serve. I told him that, being 18 on 9/11, I didn’t want to fight an insurgency…

He didn’t know what an insurgency was.

I’ve mentioned before in this blog how I had studied foreign affairs for years, and that I knew jihad was coming to the US – I also knew that our military and our society hadn’t learned the lessons from Vietnam. That we hadn’t come up with effective strategies for dealing with an enemy who could blend into the populace.

The mess that followed justified my decision. The expanded war in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq. ISIS… Dying via an IED on some street in Iraq would have been far from an acceptable death for me.

I also see 9/11 as a catalyst, a catalyst that exposed the fissures in American society. Besides the death and misery of millions in the Middle East; 9/11 brought us Obama, and 9/11 brought us Trump. The deep divide in our culture, the big oscillations between extremes – I see as responses to 9/11.

What there is for me is to mourn all of it. Not just the events of 9/11, but the seventeen years that have followed. The swift death of the America of my childhood (the 90’s)…

Yet, even though I feel as though I made the right choices for me, I have guilt. Guilt for not taking direct action in the face of a trying time. Guilt for seeing the options in front of me, saying “not the military,” and then not finding another way to take action. Guilt that I only feel on days like today.

So instead? I’ll do what I’m paid to do. I’ll go out into Santa Cruz county to look for homeless veterans. Just for the game of it, I’ll look for someone specific. I’ll see if I can find a young guy who was on the streets of Fallujah. Maybe in the back country of Afghanistan. I’ll go put the light at the end of somebody’s tunnel.

That’s how I can serve my country today. That’s what’s in front of me.

And the tears in my eyes as I finish this post are tears for 9/11, and everything after.

 

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When Does Someone Deserve Homelessness?

Is there a crime where homelessness is the appropriate punishment? I haven’t found one yet.

For those of you who may have missed it, I got a new job in November. I now am part of a team that gets homeless veterans into stable housing. It’s a great job, and I truly love to go to work every day. What has also happened, since I took this job, is I’ve been forced to reevaluate how I think about aspects of life. This is one of those aspects.

Before I fully address the headline of this blog, however, I’m going to ask you to consider something. What if we, as a people, have exactly the economy we have designed? If our normal way of thinking, that we are essentially powerless over how our economy goes, is simply a learned way of thinking and not actually true? What if, in the process of handing over the management of our economy to our government, we have forgotten that our government does actually manage the economy? And that, by working together, we have the knowledge and ability to change the economy in any way we see fit?

I’m going to assert that we do have the economy we have designed. I’m also going to assert that the powerlessness we feel over the economy is due to the powerlessness we feel over our political system. And that our political system has effectively declined to take effective action regarding our economy, or declined to obtain the knowledge to manage our economy as we see fit. Or declined to participate fully in the mechanisms that we use to make the economy work for us. That it is not a deficit of ability.

That homelessness is not an unhappy accident within our economy and society, but a feature. That homelessness could be a byproduct of the way we think about money, work, family and housing. It could be the byproduct of the broken way that we have all learned to work together.

So, if we consider that homelessness in one way or another is happening on purpose (even if the “purpose” is simply us declining to take action where we can), then my question is;

What does someone have to do to deserve homelessness? People who commit serious crimes (murder, rape, etc) get to be housed in prison. Not ideal housing, obviously, but they have a roof over their head. Do you deserve to lose housing if you default on a mortgage? I would argue no, you deserve to lose that house but not housing. Don’t pay your rent? Lose your apartment, sure. Housing? No. Medical issues that wipe out your finances? Absolutely should not lose housing. Break up with a significant other? Should not lose access to housing. Lose work and have trouble finding new employment? Should not lose access to housing. Struggle with addiction and/or mental disorders? Still shouldn’t lose access to housing.

At what point should someone lose access to housing? I haven’t found one.

On a practical level, this makes me wonder if there should be some sort of safety net. We have a safety net if you lose your job: unemployment. What about a safety net if you lose a place to live? What would that look like? How would that work?

But putting aside the practical for one more moment, there are deeper issues to address. Lots of homeless people at some point were made to be homeless. Maybe we should stop doing that to people. How we stop doing that, I’m not sure…

This Might Be the Best Sunday of Football Ever

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine asked “What keeps your faith in the world?”

It’s days like today. Seeing, of all things, NFL players taking a knee together during the national anthem today is what keeps my faith. After Trump said anyone who kneels should be fired… as if kneeling is any disrespect to the national anthem.

I don’t remember being so moved by football.

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I honestly don’t remember being so proud to be American. Not about anything that happened in my lifetime. Seeing so many Americans kneeling against divisiveness. Kneeling to remind the country that too many black people are dying at the hands of police.

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Seeing so many people back the kneelers, or at least stand up for their right to kneel.

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I’m proud to see America finally show it’s true colors. It always takes a crisis…

No, You Don’t Fire the Google Guy

I view this as a failure of management.

I have a rule when it comes to hiring, and that is to hire people that I can support. That means that I hire people that I can have open communication with and who can listen to constructive feedback from me – and who can give me feedback as well. I hire people that will tell me what is on their mind. Hand in hand with that, is that I make sure that I’m someone that people are generally comfortable sharing that kind of stuff with.

Then, if I’m doing my job correctly, I’m checking in with them regularly. So if one of my staff starts saying things like this about our company:

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I can address their concerns, one at a time, before they get incorporated into some “manifesto” that then spreads like wildfire across my company. From my perspective, if I’ve gone to the trouble of hiring this person, I need to treat their concerns as valid even if I don’t agree with them. Maybe they need coaching, maybe they need mentoring (maybe I need to hook them up with a mentor), maybe they just need assistance thinking through the opinions they have. But I, as their manager, cannot be brushing off their concerns.

That being said, the concerns in the above image (that are directly from his manifesto) absolutely need to be addressed. In the effort to create an equality based workplace and society, we must keep in mind that not everyone feels like they have experienced the benefits of not being discriminated against. What matters to people the most, regardless of the justice or injustice in the rest of the world, is their own experience. If it is in fact true that there are “programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race” – that absolutely needs to be rectified. It comes across as blatantly unfair. We don’t know what support any particular person has experienced throughout their lives. We cannot be assuming that any given white man doesn’t feel the need for these programs as well.

If I’m really doing my job, as a manager, coach, or mentor, I’m separating the concerns about policies and practice from ideological and political stances. That is definitely something that needs to be done with this guy. He quotes a lot of research and data that has been politicized in our crazily biased political world, and does a lot of theorizing about why Google is the way it is… All that stuff really is irrelevant. The questions that need to be addressed are all around “what policies and practices do you disagree with or want done differently?” Once you allow the conversation to get into theorizing about why things are the way they are, or grand theories about what principles the company should or shouldn’t emphasize instead of addressing individual practices, you get into areas where people are likely to be offended and alienated.

The ideas that he presents in his manifesto are not exclusive to him. They are, in fact, common in our society at large. That means that if you aren’t dealing with them when he brings them up, you are going to end up dealing with them when someone else brings them up. You can’t actually expect to have a workplace that has diversity of ideas if you marginalize people with these concerns, or fire them when they express them. They absolutely need to be addressed, and where appropriate, rectified.

Otherwise, you end up looking like this to a large portion of the population:

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I’m not saying this cartoon is accurate. I have no idea what it’s actually like at Google. But I can say, for certain, that this is what it looks like to a lot of people who are outside of Google looking in.

(Sorry, I have no idea who created that cartoon. I found it floating around the internet unsourced)

Another thing that needs to be addressed, is this. Again, directly from his “manifesto”:

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Yes, conservative people do often feel like they need to stay in the closet in largely liberal groups. Look, I know that liberal people think that they are open-minded and non-judgemental – I used to think the same way. That is in direct conflict with the experience of many conservatives. This is part of why we are experiencing the division in our country that we are; people of a conservative viewpoint did not feel like their viewpoint was being addressed in the news, media, or entertainment of our culture at large. So they made their own. I’ll let you all deduce the consequences of that.

Obviously, if you’re going to empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves, you need to do it in a context where people aren’t purposely making each other angry, where they are being civil, and where they are being respectful. So essentially the opposite of what is going on in our popular society at large. Maybe you haven’t experienced that kind of environment, but it is certainly possible to do.

Most importantly, if you are in regular communication with your staff about their needs and can address this stuff as it comes up you can offer coaching and perspective that makes a difference. Lots of what this former Google manager said absolutely does need to be communicated to our manifesto writer. Things like this:

If you’re a professional, especially one working on systems that can use terms like “planet-scale” and “carrier-class” without the slightest exaggeration, then you’ll quickly find that the large bulk of your job is about coordinating and cooperating with other groups. It’s about making sure you’re all building one system, instead of twenty different ones; about making sure that dependencies and risks are managed, about designing the right modularity boundaries that make it easy to continue to innovate in the future, about preemptively managing the sorts of dangers that teams like SRE, Security, Privacy, and Abuse are the experts in catching before they turn your project into rubble.

Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels, and even then it’s only possible because someone senior to you — most likely your manager — has been putting in long hours to build up the social structures in your group that let you focus on code.

I’m not saying that our manifesto writer is all-correct (absolutely not). I’m saying that in any managerial context you give someone an opportunity to correct their error-filled ways before you terminate them.

And, most importantly, there is nothing about the manifesto writer’s tone or writing that indicates that he is some sort of raging ideologue. He sounds to me like someone who can be reasoned with. He openly says that he wants a diverse workplace. He cites a lot of his points with data and studies. That is a great entry into getting him to rethink his viewpoints, by pointing out that how those studies are flawed – or pointing out how his thinking about them is. If, in fact, it is. Part of engaging with people who disagree with you, is that if you are going to do it honestly and effectively you have to be open to them teaching you something about the world as well. I know it can seem really important to fight for our viewpoints in the face of resistance, but it’s difficult if not impossible to listen while you are fighting.

Under every position is a concern or series of concerns. When I am a manager, I view it as a big part of my job to remove the concerns of my staff so that they can focus on doing their work.

Instead, what Google has done is reinforce those concerns by literally firing him for expressing them. This is not isolated to him or to Google either. Google has reinforced those concerns amongst the millions of people nationwide that have them. Now, they are stronger. To them, this is what happens when conservatives speak up in liberal environments. They lose their job.

Google has chosen a side in the culture wars, whether it wanted to or not.

Why do you think there is so much push back against PC culture? Because this stuff happens.

For reference, here is the “manifesto