This is Not Normal

This is not normal.  It is far from normal yet, in order to get through the day, we must each determine how we process and internalize this information.  Some of you ignore it.  Some of you will not believe what I write.  Many of you are repulsed and have been moved to action.  This is not normal.

The president of the United States is a liar.  Period.  I should not need to prove it to you.  It is well documented that he tells roughly 5 new lies per day.

The president of the United States loves dictators and killers.  Again, this is well documented.  He even invited Duterte of the Philippines to visit, knowing that he has personally killed people and ordered many other deaths.

The president of the United States breaks the laws and constitution of the United States each day.  He believes he is above the law.  He decided the anti-nepotism law did not apply to him and appointed his daughter and son-in-law to key posts.  Oh, they are volunteers you say?  Well she has a Chief of Staff and staff.  She sits in meetings with every foreign dignitary that can help her business.  The son-in-law seems to be responsible for everything.  Way more authority and responsibility than a volunteer.  Did I forget to mention that he lied on his security forms?  He’s left off meetings with Russians and business dealings and debts that should have been included.  As one person noted recently, a barber’s license is denied for less.  This goes beyond ignoring a law,

The president of the United States does not know shit about U.S. History.  Again well documented.  See his remarks on Fredrick Douglass and (notes racist) Andrew Jackson among others.

The president of the United States encourages racism and hate.  No?  Haven’t you seen his supporters taking pictures in the White House with the White Power sign?  I have, they aren’t hard to find.  He often uses the language of the neo Nazi’s and White Supremacists.  He is quick to comment on the perception of Muslims (even when he’s wrong) committing violence, but NEVER comments on white radicals killing people of color.  If you don’t see this, it is either because you hold similar feelings or choose not to.  Oh, and don’t forget the multiple fines he paid through his business for racial discrimination.  Just because the decree had no admission of guilt doesn’t mean he’s innocent.  And recently he endorsed the racist candidate in France for Prime Minister.  The US president does not generally comment on the free elections of other countries.  But since this one is known, outspoken racist it is particularly appalling.  Consider taking your blinders off, he is the Racist in Chief.

The president of the United States has worked hard to alienate our allies.  Mexico, Canada, UK, Australia and Germany among others.  That’s the trade he’s made to become a puppet of Russian authoritarian Vladimir Putin.  Hard to miss this.  He has never ONCE criticized Russia, where critics and loose ends are often killed.  Like several this year.  Of course you can choose not to see this and determine its normal to try and ruin the relationships with our neighbors and long time allies.

The president of the United States has not nominated over 500 people to key posts.  He blames the opposition party of stonewalling them.  You can’t stonewall what doesn’t exist.  He also fired every ambassador on his first day in office.  This is not unusual, but not hiring any more is.

The US Attorney General is a known racist.  He is anti civil rights.  He was too racist to be a judge under Reagan.  And for good measure, he lied to congress.  Twice.  Nevertheless, he is still the attorney general.  This is not normal. This is criminal.

The president of the United States fired every single US Attorney well after his inauguration. Probably because one of them was investigating him.  Nevertheless he hasn’t hired any replacements.  This is not normal.

The president of the United States appointed a spy to the top national security job in White House.  It is probable that he knew this when he appointed him.  When the issue was raised to him, he waited until it appeared in the national news to act on it.  I guess it normally takes 3 weeks to fire a traitor, that the previous president had fired. A+B=C  Nope, this is not normal.

The president of the United States requires us, the taxpayers, to pay $500,000 per day for his wife and child to live in a golden tower, away from him.  This is not normal.  It is very excessive.  As a “billionaire” a rational person might  think he would work to defray some of this personal expense.  That silence you hear is a “no”.

The president of the United States requires us, the taxpayers, to spend $3 million most weekends so he can play golf and entertain at his private club in Florida.  How much of that $3 million goes to his club and other business concerns?  How much more is generated by Foreign Governments spending money to meet him there?  I’m guessing at least $1.5 million each trip.  This is a clear violation of ethics and the constitution. This is not normal.

The president of the United States has declared today that the government should shut down in September to teach the opposition party a lesson, because hurting the citizens is the best way to help the country grow and prosper.  Seems more like a move a dictator would make.

The president of the United States thinks it is important to roll back the regulations that help keep our water and air clean.  I don’t.  I think this is criminal.

The president of the United States blames all his problems (and even some that are made up) on the previous President of the United States.  He says something along these lines several times a week.  Can you think of another president that criticized any of his predecessors?  Me neither.  This is not normal.

I could go on for a few thousand more lines.  You see what you want to see.  This is not normal and this needs to end.  Pay attention, this is the worst scandal of many lifetimes.  He can’t suppress everything.  He has no power over state laws.  The congress is clearly compromised. But the courts (other than that one illegitimate SCOTUS judge, the seat was stolen and more will come out) is not beholden.

You can choose to drink the cool aid.  You can choose to be an ostrich.  I value my freedom and yours.  What I’ve described above is not freedom.  It is the slide into authoritative fascism.  It is the need to recreate White Power.  You don’t have to listen to me.  But that is the choice you make.  You are still mostly free.  Today.  Will you still be free tomorrow?

 

 

Myriad Randomness: No Trump Edition

Is there anything more annoying than traffic?  As always, I drive for over an hour each morning and nearly 2 hours on my way home.  Today, several thoughts hit me.

  • This is California.  65 is a suggestion for the fast lane on uncrowded freeways.  You should consider visiting the slow lane if you believe 64 is a death sentence.
  • Is there anything worse than the indignant look of the driver doing 64 in the fast lane when you pass him (or her) on the right?  The shame they showered on me was, well, nonexistent.
  • Why no Ma’am, you your pristine white Kia Soul cannot simply bump that stalled truck out of the way.  I believe the word you are looking for is totaled.
  • I hate 880.  I will work hard to avoid it.  Sadly, on days like today when there are accidents up and down that stretch, everyone moves to my alternate routes.  Thank you for the extra 20 minutes of crawling.  My life is now approaching completion.

Eggplant, the poor misunderstood eggplant.  I think it is time we allow the purple globe to leave the island of misunderstood vegetables and live a happier, more fulfilling life.  I’ve been making versions of ratatouille and roasted vegetable, with the humble aubergine front and center.  Seriously delicious good eats those are.  Fuck.  When did I decide to eat healthier?  It must be time to put more pork on the smoker.  Don’t get your hopes up, I’m still not going anywhere near albacore — in or out of a can.

Normally we get nostalgic as we realize how far technology has brought us.  A TV antenna on a roter to watch slightly less blurry shows.  The rotary phone and the callus it created. The phone book.  A time before salmon roe foam.  I was listening to “The Bad Touch” by The Bloodhound Gang.   For those of you unfamiliar with the hook:

You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals
So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel

 How long has it been since there were shows about animal procreation on the discovery channel?  Now you get “Fat and Furious”, “Moonshiners” and “Pacific Warriors”.    I think the world was a kinder, gentler place when cable TV focused on Walrus sex, not deadly situations and careers.  And then I missed the X-Files.

If you aren’t watching “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” you are missing some fantastic comedic commentary on our world.  She and John Oliver are filling the void the left by Jon Stewart by expanding on the niche and adding to our conversations with thought provoking shows.  It is not too late to start catching up.

And please, enjoy your Passover.  Many Matzo sacrificed their balls for your soup.  If this multi-generational mutilation must continue, at least enjoy your soup. And thank your mother.

More Black Marks on my Permanent Record

I’ve avoided this corner of the web because I don’t want to seem harsh or only use it to vent. Let’s see how even keeled I can be today.
I’ve been pondering management quite a bit lately; more accurately, mismanagement. I see quite a bit of it these days. People often mistake management for knowing every arcane detail to the point of being ridiculous or completely controlling people so that they can’t make a decision to do anything other than breathe or shit without asking permission and guidance. Of course if management is not highly valued, incompetence and counter-productive behavior is allowed, even encouraged to proliferate.
Industry has looked to flatten management. The stock market and a generation of corporate raiders have shown that middle management was excessive and unneeded; filled with fat. Cutting out those layers in response, without appropriately adding in the skills to handle the world by managing for results and leading people to grow their skills have led to responsibilities being added to existing jobs, without the support mechanisms and guidance to help the average person. I know many people whose responsibilities have tripled (or more) in the past several years. Is this a cause and effect or is it just my time on this earth allowing me to see things differently?
There are many different styles of management and none are always correct. Different people and different situations require different approaches and tactics. I’ve come to realize that management is lost art and most of the managers I work with are a one trick pony. Years ago, I told a VP I was consulting for that he needed to stop managing his staff the way he wanted to manage and start managing the people the way they NEEDED to be managed. It seems simple, but it is not. Some people need to be micromanaged. Others need to be inspired and given goals to achieve. Others need something in between. Very few people need nothing.
Exceptional managers are often exceptional leaders. But let’s be honest, these are two very different skills and do not always go hand in hand. Very rarely do I meet a manager that understands the difference and works to make those two skills work hand in hand. There are also the needs of tactical achievement versus strategic goals. I often see managers not understanding the difference and thinking only about,” what fire do I need to put out today?” Of course putting out the fire that you started does not make you the hero either. I have learned a lot during my career and have lots of examples of styles and performances I use to keep myself in line.
I used to work for a highly decentralized company. I was responsible for IT in one division and worked hard to forge relationships with business users and find ways to improve their environment, creating efficiencies that allowed them to make more money. It was an exciting time and we improved the way things got done. Processes were smoother, productivity skyrocketed and overall profits increased. Of course some small thinkers in the corporate office only saw the increased IT costs.
One day, this company decided to centralize. One “powerful” executive had a few key phrases that guided how he centralized and remade the company, specifically the technical side. At the time I was appalled. In retrospect I see it even worse. He preached that “perfection was the enemy of the good.” On the surface, that might sound like a restating an incremental improvement goal. It wasn’t. It was his understanding that things weren’t efficient and setting the bar very, very low so no one complained and that it looked, like things were changing.
I was different than most people in my position. There were 15-20 us, running IT for the various units. I was an IT professional. I had 7 years of IT management experience prior to coming to this firm. Most of my peers were the guys that “like” computers and were moved from line jobs to IT management. A few were developers that were hired from outside, because developers make great managers. Sadly, most people don’t see the disconnection in that last statement. And again, management as a skill is disregarded.
I’ve always been an achiever. I see the endpoint, wallow through the ambiguity and find results that exceed expectations and change processes. Those results are not possible when you set the bar too low. And when you set the bar high, you identify your issues and solve them. That’s not saying “we can’t,” it is planning for the tough work that follows, even if it remains ambiguous. I’m all for continuous improvement, but creating illusions of success and change are counterproductive now and in the future.
His other favorite phrase was “some people have to take a step backward, so others can take a step forward.” As you recall, we had drastically changed our workflow and increased profits. Since other divisions had not, my division was “ordered” to adopt new processes and abandon the systems and benefits we’d implemented over the previous 5 years. These new processes were basically the processes we had left behind years before.
One example was our accounting system. We were in a specialized financial industry and had a separate accounting system for our clients. When I started, people used to run reports, analyze the reports (ok line item entries) and highlight the report; they changed the data and started over again. This process was a full time job for 1.5 people. We actually built a system to aggregate the data, highlight 90% of the needed changes and show the results of the change in real time. This reduced the effort needed to less than half of a person per month, which allowed us to assign more resources where they were needed.
The new system we required to move to worked similar to the old system, but we had to send our changes to a third party to input the changes and send us reports the next day. The new system took more than 2 people per month PLUS the fees sent to the third party. Not only did we move backward, costs increased, which represented a decrease in management pay.
I guess I forgot to mention that management was incentivized in our division by having a significant portion of pay determined by profitability. Innovation and improvement was encouraged. Yes, there was significant dissent and upheaval. It didn’t matter. It was to be. The other divisions did not have that component, so increased costs meant nothing to them. It was someone else’s decision. The fact that there were differences was completely ignored. I was not surprised the stock price dropped significantly over that period of time.
Needless to say, the innovations we had made were thrown away. 5 years later, a few were brought back as some other manager’s idea. In that way, my current role is similar. I was caretaking a department for several months. I worked with the various departments to understand their needs and goals to improve their environment. The new manager came in and decided that he knew more and contradicted every decision that had been made and cancelled every plan in place. A year later, most of them are back in place, albeit late and not understood. Imagine if he had the managerial skill and acumen to understand thing before he decided he knew best? We need not go in to the other mismanagement details.
In graduate school I did my thesis on the productivity paradox. In a nutshell computers, specifically PCs were supposed to make industry more productive. They didn’t. Much like giving a teenage power tools won’t make him a master carpenter, training, direction and leadership are needed to help one understand the craft and the art of the possible. We have a new productivity paradox. Today we throw people problems and often don’t support them with the skilled (or even competent) management talent to help them achieve and grow. Am I the only one that sees this?
Suddenly I see a world populated with managers like Ashely Broad. THAT might be worse than the zombie apocalypse.

Parking Wars: A Descent into Madness

As you might have heard, we had another BART strike in the Bay Area.  This forced every commuter into new modes of transportation.  That meant I had to drive to work.   There were two key impacts here:  traffic was ridiculous and I needed to move my car each day at lunch.  There are plenty of pay lots, but with the abundance of 4 hours spots, and meter maids that only make 1 circuit, it seems silly to pay $7 a day.

You may recall, I have an on-going feud with a business around the corner that harasses people who part outside of their office.  The walls of their office had been cargo bay doors, but now they are walls.  There is one door which might still be a bay, so I don’t park in front of it.

I tend to park other places in the morning, because I can always park in front of their faux driveway in the afternoon.  A few weeks prior I had noticed they had added a new sign on their walls (not the steel doors that protect the walls at night).  They read “Tenant Parking Only  Violators will be towed.”  This is the part of our show where we get to discuss reality and some people’s lack of it.  I have no doubt that the tenants want to park there.  But, as I discussed with a parking enforcement officer, unless there is an official city sign, those signs that were bought on line for $20 hold no weight.  Wow they must be committed to the cause.

(Seriously, check out that link.  Clearly there is a market for people tricking others into not parking in legal spaces.  I bet they make a ton.  Wish I was selling these idiots their signs.  And yes, I know I completely ignore the fourth wall.)

They must have forgotten that the street and sidewalk are public property.  They have no specific rights to stop others from parking there.  While there was a cargo door they had easement rights of access and the right to be unimpeded, but they forfeited those rights when they built walls. The reality is that if they tow someone’s car for parking legally in front of a wall, in a public space, they are liable for the cost and inconvenience. I personally would love for them to tow me so I can sue them and go after punitive damages.  I will.

As delusional as their signs and appeals for drivers to park other places are, they have finally hit a new low.  Last week I got a new harassing flyer.  I put it back in their mail slot, so I’ll have to paraphrase.

[In an angry, yet pleading tone:]

You can’t park here.  We will have you towed.  Really we will.  We haven’t yet because we don’t know how to contact you.  We need these spaces because when we use the cargo door, we need to park the truck at an angle so as not to block the street.  We WILL tow you.

This is so ridiculous that I don’t know where to start.  How about that it’s a very wide street and only a double trailer will block the street?  Or that trucks that are unloading block streets all the time? Perhaps they use the only driver in the US that worries about other cars being able to drive when they are off-loading?  If they park at an angle, how will the cargo be off loaded to the bay, if the truck isn’t flush?  Let that sink in gentle reader.  Reread this list till you realize that it has been proof of sorts.  (I’m sure more than a few of you took geometry in high school.)

Thus, I believe we can safely say that if their goal isn’t to use the bay door as a cargo bay, because the cargo must go the sidewalk before it can be lifted up, then they don’t really need a bay door and the need to not block it is silly.  The truck can park parallel to the parked cars.  I really can’t see how they are making their case.

Therefore, I propose a call to action.  Everyone should find a reason to park in front of 229 Harrison St. in Oakland.  (This is a visual daily double.)   If you look at the picture, you’ll see 4 garage doors:

  1. The first has a stair case in front of it you can park there
  2. I’ve never seen the 2nd open, I wouldn’t park there
  3. The third is an office wall
  4. The fourth is an office wall

This is our cause, take up your keys and park happily.  And when the wicked witch of parking delusions accosts you, tell here Lee sent you.  I don’t suffer fools and neither should you.

This was the start of an exciting several days, don’t miss the next post, you won’t believe my Tuesday.

The Black Marks on My Permanent Record

Sometimes I reflect on the various events, characters and problems I’ve run across in my career.  Like today, I thought back to an event that happened in late 84 or early 85.  It was a different time.  One of the most important members of a company was the receptionist.  On some levels it was because that was the first person visitors met, but more importantly the receptionist was the voice of the company.

There was no email, faxes were becoming prevalent and a PC on every desk was not a given.  In 1984, I had one of the first 10 PCs in the company.  There were over 200 people in our office.  More significantly, there were very few direct lines to desks.  Every call came to the receptionist and she transferred them to an internal extension.  I sat just inside the ever open double doors, not far from the lobby.  There was nothing between Tina and I.  Except my cubicle walls.

In those days, I was trying to make my mark at work, but I was still a clumsy guy always fumbling for the right thing to say and understanding how to behave in a corporate environment.  And this was corporate – an insurance company in the Sears/Allstate family.  I knew enough not to hit on the receptionist.  Not that she wasn’t really cute; she was a very attractive Hispanic girl, a tad younger than I, from San Francisco’s Mission District.  I wasn’t suave enough to flirt or ask her out.  I wouldn’t have, because I knew she had a boyfriend and my father had taught me not dip my pen in the company ink.

I recall her vividly asking me one day, “Lee I need a favor.”  Always wanting to be helpful I walked to the counter and offered my kind assistance.

Lee’s rule of work #1 – always help the pretty girls.

Of course what she wanted was not at all what I was expecting.  I knew she was taking classes at CCSF, being a reasonably fresh graduate perhaps she wanted help with math or something similar.  It’s not like I was the guy who put staples in the stapler or could solve crossword puzzles with ease.

“Lee, you’re a native speaker and I’m having trouble with Spanish.  Would you help me with my homework?”

I was dumbfounded.  Floored.  She answered every call and transferred them to my desk.  She knew my last.  How she thought I was from Mexico, Guatemala or Spain escaped me.  Now I realize this might have been an opening to ask her out.  So much for being on my game.

“My last name is Greenberg.  I’m Jewish, not Mexican.  No habla espanole.”  Ok, so I was often confused for being Mexican when I was working in East San Jose.  I am a bit dark skinned and was more so when I was younger.  I could tell people I couldn’t speak Spanish and that was it.  My ethnicity traces to all over Europe, not the Americas.  I laughed very much at this exchange.  I don’t recall her reaction.

I recall this incident and realize I might not have handled it as tactfully I should have.  Ah, the perspective of 3 decades.

There was one other incident with Tina I recall.  This wasn’t quite so fun and it was handled much better.  Sometime later, in 85 I believe, there was a commotion in the office.  I walked around to see what was happening and Tina was running into my department.  I think I had moved to another part of the floor by then.

It turned out her boyfriend, or I should say ex-boyfriend, had come to see her in the office.  And by “see her” I mean he had a knife he wanted to stab her with.  We quickly found a closet and put her in there.  It was the wiring closet for the phones as I recall.  We all went back to our desks and acted as nonchalant as we could.  I have a vague recollection of a large man running by.

About 30 minutes later I had heard the police had him on one of the lower floors.  Wow.  I think she left the company within a month or two of that incident.  Over the next 9 years at that firm I realize I was witness or near witness to several other events I would group with this one.  I would not categorize the CFO walking into a board meeting with her dress tucked into her panty hose in the back as one of them.  But it was memorable.

I’m pretty sure you, gentle readers – all 40 of you, will ultimately have the opportunity to read about most of them.  Shall I continue?

 

 

A Room with a View or Two

Sometimes, we forget to really see what is right in front of us.  In the midst of several issues, I took a breath and walked to the lunch room and looked out the window. This is the view from our lunchroom.  Jack London Square, The port of Oakland, the old Alameda Naval station and in the distance, San Francisco.  The San Francisco skyline looks so small here.  Trust me when I tell you that it looks fantastic in real life.    This picture, while spectacular, does not do justice to the view from the wall of glass at the west end of the building.  We can actually see ATT Park from here.

Oakland 13-4-17

There it is, a water view most people would kill for.  I can have it all I want — from the break room.  Is it any wonder why I try to move my meetings with vendors and consultants on to our balcony, where the view can help make a dull meeting worthwhile.

Back at my desk I have a great view of the restrooms. I work hard not to make eye contact with everyone intent on doing their business.  I do sit a few cubes back (and yes they are very low cubes with no privacy) so I am not in the middle of the road, so to speak. One guy was.  I think a certain exec (or 6) got tired of a perky “Hi!” every time they visited the pot.  That guy got moved.  and I know he doesn’t understand why.  Being the mentor I am (think Big Brothers but for stupid workers, not disadvantaged kids), I explained it to him, quite bluntly.

Sometimes I just stand up and move to the window.  It is basically the distance from my cube as the restroom, but 180 degrees behind me.  when I look, this is what I see.  What you can’t see is that the train runs right next to the sidewalk across the street.  Every 20 minutes, in both direction, so roughly 5 times per hour.  With a train comes the long horn.  Some of the engineers are heavy on the horn.  Its annoying.  But the view is not.

oakland west 13-4-17That is downtown Oakland in the distance.  I walk from their to work.  It’s just under a mile.  That Blue building with the yellow stripes in the foreground? it’s a winery/tasting room.  I need to actually go in there one day.

Not too many attempts at laughs today.  Just a Million Dollar view.  And the runner-up in the &1.97 Beauty Contest of Views.

Today’s blog brought to you by Rip Taylor and J.P. Morgan.  I was never really a Chuck Barris fan.  But I did meet Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine.  But that is another story.

My Civic Responsibility: A True Story

I consider myself to be very logical.  Recently, logic failed me.  Logic would tell us that a certain thing should be perceived in a positive light.  Its pedigree and purpose in our society are of the highest caliber.  This “thing” should be universally adored and people should be elbowing their way to the front of the line to participate in a;; of its myriad goodness..  Sadly, that is not the case. Of course I am talking about jury duty.

Let’s just cut to the quick shall we?  Anyone that “wants” to be on a jury should not be allowed anywhere near a court room.  And those of us that want out jury duty, should probably make up more of the jury than we do.  Why yes, I did just have jury duty and no I didn’t enjoy it.  But it is today’s topic.  Don’t pull up a chair for this one.  Why don’t you stand around in a hot hallway to read this.  It is what I did way too much of.

I first got my summons to appear in early December of 2012.  Since that was right in the middle of my son’s scheduled hospitalization, I pushed it off for 3 months. That’s the maximum.  Sadly, the piper always collects his due.  His due was March 11.

I drove to Martinez for my day in court.  I don’t know how it is where you live, but here in Contra Costa County, it is one day or one trial.  That means if you don’t leave the jury room to go to a court room on your day, you are scott-free for a year.  I’ve done that a few times.  I’ve lived in this county for 29 years.  I think I’ve been called 10 times.  Seems like way too many to me too.

Anyway, I get to the court house about 8:20.  When you have an 8:30 appointment, you should be early right?  I saw a huge line to go in the law library and I walked away perplexed on why so many people needed to see those books.  As I walked around the courthouse, I realized they had moved the entrance.  That line wasn’t for the library, it was the queue to go through the metal scanner.  I hadn’t dressed for the airport.  Great.

As I really didn’t want to be on a jury, I paid special attention to my attire this day.  A wide belt studded with metal, boots and a motorcycle jacket.  On first glance I’am probably not the guy you want judging your actions.  As you can guess, me and 200 of my closest jury associates needed to undress.  And because I was dressed for a board meeting, the nice bailiffs requested I take my jeans over my knees so they could see I was not packing.  No knives or guns, just socks on my oh so sexy legs.

The next ride at this amusement park has a long line that runs out of the jury room and snakes around the seats, where they give you forms to fill out and everyone in line asks if they can leave. No you can’t. I waited in line 25 minutes.  It was over an hour until everyone was through.  15 minutes later they called 50 names.  I wasn’t one of them. So far so good.  30 minutes after that another 50 hit the bricks.  I’m still in the dead pool, waiting my fate – 3pm or a call to a jury.  At this point the room is only half full.  If they call another 50 I know I’m a goner.  The math says avoiding the hangman has only slightly better odds than winning Powerball.  I’d rather win Powerball.  Or at least MegaMillions.  We both know how this ends.

It’s 11am and I’m off meet a judge with 49 strangers that I don’t want to know.  Being  social, this is painful.  Looking around, I see 5 or 6 people that look like they can hold their end of a conversation when I get desperate.  A bad day at Black Rock methinks.  Our nice bailiff gives 24 of us numbers, 1 to 24 of course.  I’m number 19.  I sure hope this isn’t a remake of the prisoner.  “Who’s in Charge”  “You are number 19.” 1-14 go to the jury box and 15-24 are in the front row.  There are 2 doors and we are asked to organize ourselves numerically; the jury box to the right and front row to the left.  Pay attention, because we need to do this EVERYTIME we enter the courtroom.

I chuckle, thinking this is like flying Southwest. Realization hits.  Half of these people can’t handle the complexity of this process.  More acurately, 5 of the 24 can’t seem to handle this.  I guess that’s better than I expected.  Sometimes I cry for the future of the human race.

We enter the courtroom to be greeted by the Defendant (think Cutty from the Wire or Tyrese from the Walking Dead, but dead in the eyes), the Defense Attorney and the ADA. (I watched Law and Order so I feel comfortable using the vernacular.) Both attorneys seemed to be in that 30-35 age range. I noticed the Defense Attorney decided on his stubble after watching a Miami Vice marathon; his tie looked like it just came from his client’s pocket, with designer wrinkles straight from the hood.

Fast forward past the 25 minutes of rambling common sense and rules by the very nice judge.  He was probably a few years older than me, but seemed more like one of my father’s friends.  They read the charges.  Domestic violence.  Several counts.  It reminds of an old Far Side panel.  Blah, Blah, Blah. Domestic Violence, blah, blah blah Assault, blah…. About 6 minutes of this.

So we have the ground rules and there will questions for all of us.  As t is a domestic violence case, the judge let’s people know if they are uncomfortable talking in open court they can answer privately in his chambers later. But the clock says 11:55, so it’s the mandatory lunch.  Who knew the legal profession was a union?   We are to be back at 1:30.  Let’s recap shall we?  8:30 to 11:15 doing nothing.  11:15-11:30 learning how to line up.  11:30 -11:55 rules and stuff.  And now a lunch?

After 90 minutes on my own – well at least there was a monster omelet—I was itching for more. Ok, I wanted to go home.  Getting there a few moments early, I realize there are jurors from 3 different cases in the hallway. It is hot and uncomfortable.  There are benches for roughly 20% of us.  At 2pm we are asked to queue up as we did before.  At this point only 3 people can’t do it right. I know where to stand, between the strategist from the GAP and the retiree that, even while she is missing The View and her Soaps, is very excited to be here.  To excited it seems. Note to self:  jury duty is a synonym for waiting.

Back in the courtroom, the judge asks us some questions as a group and spends a lot of time talking about procedures. Yawn.  He also lets us know our next break will be at 3:15.  Seriously?  I know jury duty is a civic duty, but does anyone care that I do not get paid for being here.  I’m pretty sure my lost income is just lost, not even a tax deduction. The judge reminds us that if you have prepaid vacation this week to Disneyland or Hawai’i you can get excused and have your  service postponed.   My lost billings are more than a trip to Disneyland and I seem to be the only that realizes that this was all in our summons. I must have been the only one to read it.  I am so proud of my fellow inmates.

Finally the ADA gets to ask questions.  It is clear that nearly every woman on the jury has had issues with domestic violence by the looks on their faces and their immediate request for “private” time.  During this group therapy session we learn a lot about several people.  Juror 9 is an older (60s) Chinese woman.  She has answered every question on her forms (from our earlier E-ticket ride)  that she will have trouble be unbiased or open minded.  Why?  She wasn’t born here. Oh, and her daughter is an attorney.  The more they question her, the more circular her answers are.  I have $20 that she can’t find the milk at the grocery store on successive trips.

“You said on your questionnaire that you wouldn’t be able to judge the case on the evidence. Why?”

“I think I can”

“Why did you answer the question that way?”

“I get confused. I wasn’t born here. I don’t agree with all your laws.”

“But you can be open minded and judge the case on its merits?”

“Yes.”

This went on and on. All I can think about is that it is too late to cleanse the gene pool.    And yes, she is one of the people who can’t understand how the lines and numbers work.  There are 3 other people who are similarly nutso, like Juror 20 next to me, ready to trade her soaps for the hangman’s noose.  She’s almost drooling at the thought, leaning forward with every question and speaking up at will. She’s never directly been asked a question, but we all know how she feels about everything.  All that was missing was some drool.

Juror 5 has a dislike for the legal system and clearly has some axes to grind.  When she talks she shakes a bit.  Do you think that’s a tell?  Juror 17 knows of the ADA.  They went to the same High School, but 10 years or so apart.  Turns out his sister dated the ADA through High School.

Reading between the lines, the ADA is laying out his case.  He’s only going to bring 1 or 2 witness.  The victim and he’s told us we won’t like her, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a crime.  I keep thinking meth whore.  If I have to serve on this case, estimated to be 5 days after jury selection and not including deliberation, I plan on tying to count her teeth.  Then he says if he only brings one witness and they are credible, can we convict.  I shake my head no and raise my hand, which was the response he asked for.  It is me and Juror 5 on the hot seat.  It wasn’t hot.

This is the crossroad I’ve been waiting for.  In previous excursions into the hell of jury duty, I had been questioned individually.  Usually, when they realize I have a BA I’m let go.  The Master’s degree is the cherry on the “you are excused” sundae.  Not today.  I needed a strategy to be excused without being overt.  I don’t need a contempt charge on my currently clean rap sheet.

When asked about my feelings on this topic I discussed Rashomon.  That’s right; I dropped some Kurosawa on him.  The basic point of the movie was 4 people see the same event and all see it differently.  As I discussed multiple points of perspective to triangulate the truth, Juror 5 gave me a “Hallelujah!”  Or close enough.  She chimed in very enthusiastically.

Later, as a group we were quizzed on if we thought there was some level of physicality (violence, not sex) that was acceptable in a relationship.  At least 4 people, including the old bitty to left, the infamous juror 20, thought it was just fine.  Seriously?  We aren’t talking about spanking a misbehaving toddler; we are talking about slugging your wife.  What year and country is this?  I started wondering if should have worn brass knuckles to court.

Later I’m asked about my previous jury service.  I have been on two juries, once as an alternate.  Rather than use the term jury duty, I mix in “empanelled”.  Vocabulary scares people.  So does being an independent thinker. Asked if the jury had reached a verdict I said no.  When ask why, I said that several members had made up their mind before all the evidence was presented.  I don’t think I needed to mention that I hung the jury.  It started at 11-1 and ended at 8-4. (I may write about this later.)

After some more group therapy it is 3:15 and time for our union mandated break.  Of course it is after 4:00 by the time we are allowed back in the court room.  Juror 9 wants to get in our line again.  I politely point her around the corner.  She’s surprised I know where she’s supposed to go.  When we go in, 3 people still don’t get the lines.  How do I know this?  They have to crawl over me to get where they need to be. I notice Jurors 2 and 4 have been excused during the break.  Later I hear Juror 2 is worried about being to make is car payment.  I guess that qualifies as hardship.

Now it is the defense attorney’s turn. He spent a lot time on burden of proof and that the defendant did not need to testify.  He lets us know that if a witness cries, it doesn’t mean she’s more credible. He must be referring to the meth whore.  I talk to my neighbor about his nice suit paired with the most crumpled tie I have ever seen.  I think he was surprised at my answer that I understood that he didn’t need to mount a defense if the ADA didn’t present a strong enough case to convict and that the jury could acquit.  I didn’t care who sent me home as long as one of them did it and soon.

It is 4:50 and I can tell they are ready to start the challenges.  Sadly, the union says we need to break at 5:00 so the judge spews a few rules about not discussing the case and tell us to come back at 9:00 am the next day.  We are admonished not to be late.

The next day I arrive early and make it through the line. Of course on day two I move from scruffy biker to well-dressed professional.  I wore slacks and sport coat and, of course, shaved.  Confusion tactics. though I probably over- thought it.

Several people were late, so we did not go into the courtroom until 9:45.  This is not how I wanted to spend my time being unpaid. Juror 9 once again wanted be in our line.  I gave her my best reproachful look and sent her packing to her line.  I think Juror 18 enjoyed the humor of my reaction.  This day only 1 other person didn’t understand the line and had to crawl over us.

Today the Defense Attorney wore a tie that looked pressed.  A good dry cleaner is the key to the well-dressed man.  But even a good dry cleaner can’t help you when you stuff your tie in your back pocket as you flee through the bedroom window when her husband comes home early.  Yeah, my imagination is abit to vivid sometimes.

Once we start, the judge moved jurors 15-16 to the open seats.  He explained the process of challenges and what would happen. I think 80% of the people slept through high school civics. The attorneys alternate excusing people.  Whether they are preemptory or for cause is not mentioned.  Juror 5 is the first to go and she is in shock.  I believe she is the single most clueless person I have run across in the last 10 years.  She did everything she could to be sent home and was surprised, perhaps even hurt when it happened.  Seriously, if this woman’s daughter is really an attorney, I’m scared for her clients – this is where 50% of her DNA came from!

They move Juror 16 to the now open seat, vacated by Juror 5.  Juror 4 is excused.  17 goes to 4. 9 is excused and  Juror 18 goes there.  I believe this called is judicial musical chairs.  I am confused because I don’t hear any music.

The new 4 is excused and it is my turn to go there.  The judge comments that 4 is the hot seat with a fatherly laugh.  I wonder how long I need to sit there.  I hope it’s not more than 20 minutes. As I gracefully try to slide to the seat, the ADA announces that “Let’s save Mr. Greenberg the trouble, he’s excused.”

On the face of it, I look dejected. Inside I’m dancing!  I nod to the few people I’ve chatted briefly with and Like Colonel. Flagg, I’m gone.

Today’s blog is brought to you with help from Difford and Tillbrook. Can you spot the differences?

 

 

Let’s think outside the box, shall we?

The political debates in the country are driving me crazy.  It seems like every day the level of angry diatribes on Facebook for conservative causes gets louder, crazier and more rabid.  I tend to remove people from my timeline daily. Clearly, the free speech movement of the 60’s showed that free speech, demonstrations and perseverance can change the world.  Maybe not quite as much real changed as they might have wanted, but it does contribute to change.  Sadly, it seems that has translated into yelling, fanaticism and personal attacks.  It seems the lesson was lost.

I don’t mind debate and I acknowledge that my opinion might not always be right.  But let’s have discussions and compromise.  In today’s partisan politics, compromise has been lost.  During the fiscal cliff fiasco, the Republicans vowed to not compromise.  That’s one sure way to encourage debate and compromise.  All it does is make deep chasms deeper.  To my way of thinking, it is no better that a 3-year-old boy who won’t share his toys.  Nothing good comes from it and the behavior needs to be corrected.

Fox News, my favorite whipping boy, spends hours per day on topics that are ridiculous.  President Obama is ruining the country is generally the basic theme.  During the election, I was constantly amazed on how Fox harped on “Obamacare.”  It was a good idea when Romney did something very similar in Massachusetts.  Is it because it is ok if a state does it but the not federal government?  Personally, I am not sure that every state in south knows the civil war ended and they lost.  I don’t dislike southerners, but I am wary of the “old ways.” Let’s be honest, many people still fly the Confederate flag and think it isn’t offensive.  It is.  I believe, regretfully, we are still generations removed from racism and classism being eliminated in this country.  Isn’t Arizona still protesting the MLK Holiday and looking for reasons to stop minorities?  It is in the name of curbing illegal immigration of course.  I think a strong federal government has to something that some states probably won’t do.

That’s not to say there is no room for debate or compromise.  I believe there is.  But, is there a debate if each side yells, “no compromise!”  I’m not a fan of pork barrel spending or ever increasing entitlements.  But, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Let’s make plans, as complex as they may be, to cut spending.  Not everything today.  Real change is needed, but it’s not a light switch change and there is no magic bullet.  Discussion and compromise are needed.  If you see it, please let me know, because I do not.  That bothers me.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in Democracy and Capitalism.  I also believe in compassion and more butter than guns.  But I do believe in a strong defense system; we are the watchers on the wall so to speak, let’s not abandon that.  Let’s be smart about it.

While I believe that we need to arm and outfit our military appropriately, I do not believe in nuclear weapons vis a vis mutually assured destruction.  We have some, ok.  So do a few other countries.  I am very bothered by Iran and other countries developing them.  I’m not saying let’s go invade Iran.  But it’s not the worst Idea I’ve heard either.

What is the worst idea I’ve heard lately is that the best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.  Color me stupid, but this not the old west and the good ‘ol USA is not Tombstone.  We are not all Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.  Some of you must be the Dalton Gang, by definition, of course.  Aren’t you puzzled about how much power the NRA has?  I saw a poll that 84% of the US wants some sort of increased gun control.  84%.  Even if that is an exaggeration, I think we can agree it is 84% likely that MOST people want some sort of gun control.  But there seems to be two sides:  people who want to talk about it and those that refuse to entertain the thought.  The people who believe this will ruin the country seem to be yelling the loudest.

I’ve seen some people go as far as declare the president a criminal or tyrant for the plans and objectives he outlined on gun control this week.  Is it really that different from the legislation, now long expired, that Regan put into place in the 80s?  Not to my mind.  But something is different.  Probably the Fox pundits spewing hate all day every day.

Last night I saw a clip of some idiot proposing that if European Jews had assault weapons, there wouldn’t have been a holocaust.  Really?  To paraphrase John Stewart, France couldn’t stop the Germans and it took the US and other countries over 5 years of WAR, but giving civilians guns would have prevented WWII.  Lunacy.

People are screaming that taking away semi-automatic, high capacity killing devices is in violation of the constitution.  The constitution that was written when weapons (or arms) meant muskets (manually reloaded, of course), knives, bayonets, and cannons.  I would never thing to propose to take away one’s musket or bayonet.  Other than Rick Harrison (and his high profile customers) on Pawn Stars, who do  you know that has a cannon?

In 1729 Jonathan Swift published “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.”  I often recall that piece and think of its great logic.  I have a new modest proposal.  Clearly, hand guns and hunting rifles are not enough for the gun enthusiasts.  Perhaps they are right that we need more good guys with guns.  I would propose the following.

  • Every dwelling must have at least 1 hand gun.  People will be on the honor system to keep it away from children and encouraged, but not required to take a gun safety course.
  • People will be encouraged to have as many rifles and hunting gear as they can afford.
  • On each block, at least one family will be required to have and AK47 (or more powerful weapon)
  • In each 4 block area, at least 1 family must have a machine gun or other killing weapon to use against the bad guys.  The blocks will vote on who is the good guy
  • For every 100 families or dwellings there will be one family with a crate of hand grenades.
  • For every 500 families or dwellings, there will 1 ground to air RPG or rocket launcher with at least 3 rockets.
  • Cities larger than 50,000 will have 1 tank per 50,000 citizens.  These will be housed at the homes of the city council.
  • Cities larger than 900,000 will have at least 1 nuclear bomb.  Cities over 2million must have at least 3.  The head of the city’s garbage collection agency will be in charge of the bombs or rockets.

I believe this is a great course of action.  It will put lots of weapons in the hands of good guys and will force everyone to be careful how they use their allotted weapons.  It logically follows that if the killers at Columbine, Newtown and Aurora had known they could be easily killed they would have thought twice about the consequences of their actions, they wouldn’t have pulled the triggers.  Right?  Thank god for the NRA.

The Ballad of NaNoWriMo, Me and Clichés. Where Did We Lose Pooneil?

I am hip deep in writing my masterpiece first novel for NaNoWriMo.  By hip deep I mean I sat in the great room on Sunday watching football, with the lap top open.  I wrote a paragraph or two every so often.  By the end of the day I had written about 3400 words, which was good because I did zero the day before. Well, maybe I wrote 200, but I didn’t record them.  Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer.  I am pretty sure Mrs. Greenberg wasn’t  thinking, “I hope after 18 hours of labor, this little fucker is the next Hemingway ”  Mostly because she does’t swear like a sailor.  That’s me.  Sadly, I don’t think she and I have every discussed Hemingway.  Mostly because I’ve never read him.  Dan Simmon’s The Crook Factory doesn’t count.  But I did thoroughly enjoy it.  I don’t think the maternal unit ever saw me as a writer, nor has that changed.

My biggest issue has been avoiding cliches.  Right now I’m fighting the urge to make the whole thing a bad dream.  or was it?  Sadly, Dallas beat me to that about 30 years ago, so that one is out.  Doesn’t mean I’m not tempted.  Why is there a severed finger on the night stand?  And who IS in the shower?  Nah.

Temptation is green-eyed whore.  These days she wants me to write 50 Shades of Greenberg.  That’s my novel where Gray Greenberg, clearly he had cruel parents, is introduced to cruel vixen who manipulates him  sexually in a wicked downward spiral of a relationship.  She’s a feeder, deriving pleasure from eating new dishes made just for her.  She keeps him confined in a huge updated kitchen, forcing him to create ever more extravagant gourmet meals.  She wears too much glitter eye shadow  and she buys him a new Vespa when he tires of her games.

Lambchop has friends that have read that book, the one temptation holds as inspiration.  Some have even suggested they form a book club to read it.  Lambchop’s inner goddess did a face plant on that one.  Usually, when someone brings it up she says, “you know what I call 50 Shades of Gray?  I call it Wednesday.”  I think she was confused with The Flight of the Conchord’s Business Time.  I do miss Jemaine and Brett.  Needless to say, I’m not venturing down any of these hallways no matter how wide open the door is.

I am also trying hard not to include references to Superstorm Sandy, Global Warming, Presidential Politics, Fox News and bacon.  I’m pretty sure I can pull those off.

THE GIANTS WIN THE WORLD SERIES!!!!  I just needed to say that one more time.

PSA: But, before we go back to our regularly scheduled silence, please vote.  Even if your politics aren’t mine, exercise your right.  Our world would be much less tolerable with out that.

 

 

Looking Beyond The Box Score: A Baseball Metaphor

Baseball is really an individual sport.  We think of it as a team sport, but when you analyze it, 90% of it is made up of individual contributions.  Yes the pitcher and the catcher coordinate on calling the pitches and creating the flow of the game, but 90% of that activity is dependent on the pitcher executing his pitch; the speed, location and ball movement have very little to do with what pitch the catcher called for.  While there is coaching, only the batter can hit the ball.  Fielding batted balls, throwing and catching are individual activities, chained together to make a play.  It really is an individual spot.

Of course, that type of thinking will get you in trouble.  Just look at the LA Dodgers <cue boos!>.  They were 2 games behind the SF Giants <cue cheers!> when they added 6 key players to their team – 3 of them stars with huge potential.  What happened?  Of course they imploded.  There is an intangible side to baseball which is what makes it a team sport.  When the team gels, mountains can be climbed.  When they splinter, they circle the drain (ok, the 72-73 Oakland A’s are the exception that proves the rule.)  It doesn’t matter how much of an individual contributor you are, if your teammates don’t back you, things fall apart, disaster ensues.

On a cohesive team, when one person fails to execute, the others don’t feel the pressure to “pick him up.”  They want to pick him up.  They want to help everyone move forward.  Internal values will have been created that tells people it is time to do something for the team; excellence is often created.  In times of pressure you can see great teams work to cover “failures”, fix issues and exceed.  And you can see splintered groups place blame and try to justify why it isn’t their fault.  Often this comes from the fact that some players are more worried about their statistics and their next contract than the success of the team.  When the team is placed second, everyone suffers.

Other times, it is more about chemistry and how the team bonds and works together to build that feeling of wanting to succeed together.  I cannot say that there are selfish or “me first” players on the Dodgers – I really don’t know.  We all know one or two players added late in the season can be the catalyst to spark a team forward to over achieve.  In my mind, adding so many players to the Dodgers over such a short span may have fractured the camaraderie of those left and making it impossible to find that mixture of talent, desire and teamwork needed to succeed. It is clear the Dodgers did much worse after their roster revision than they did before.

We have all heard the phrase “there is no “I” in team.”  I have always understood it, but never really been in a position to see one or two seriously selfish people destroy a team.  Often, when you are an individual contributor you don’t think about how to interact with others.  You know your stuff and you make it right.  The problem is that there really are very few roles left for individual contributors in today’s business environment.  Most everything in today’s wired world requires a high degree of coordination, communication and cooperation.

I’ve shared some of the rough patches I have gone through recently in some past entries.  As rough as those were, they were nowhere near the roughest. The last 2 weeks were devastating in many ways.  I saw firsthand multiple contributors working on their portions of a project and refusing to effectively communicate with others and with me.  In some cases, there was significant lack of cooperation – ok let’s be honest, there was zero cooperation between most of the participants.  This lead to disaster after disaster; lack of communication leading to tasks that could not be done.  It was chaos, individuals telling other individuals they were smarter and better prepared than the others and more fighting than you can imagine.  There was zero teamwork and definitely less camaraderie.

The project was supposed to be completed Saturday at 5pm.  Here it is Tuesday – 10 days later – and there is still much to do.  We were able to cobble some things together and have some critical services available by 9am Monday and most of the services people see done by mid day on Wednesday.  And then the blame game came into full effect.  You can tell your team players, at least the ones that want to be on a team, as they own their mistakes and don’t look for reasons to blame others.  They are busier looking for solutions and trying to help others than in trying to look good.  The team already looks bad; there is no potential to shine. The divisive ones look to find ways to rationalize mistakes and blame others, trying to find a spotlight.  In a time of crisis or clean-up as we were, trying to blame others is counterproductive.  We needed solutions and teamwork, not to look for kudos.

I sat through meetings and side bars this past week (people talk to me and I try to be the glue on the team, but I didn’t do so well this time) blaming others and trying to rationalize why they were not at fault.  Everyone placed another comparatively at fault – 90%-10%.  In truth, it was 55%-45% in every case; basically everyone was at fault, but no one seems to be able to see it.  In retrospect this has been going on for 3 months, and I was completely unable to change things.

This was a huge lesson in teamwork, or lack thereof.  Sure, you can add a bulldog to a team to drive vendors and outside entities.  But you still need to think about how that force interacts with your team.  Even if you think you might have an underperforming team that can use some improvement, you need to consider how personalities mesh – and what is the cost of achievement.  I’m not sure the cost outweighed the damage in this case.  Certain things got done better than they would have been, there is no denying that.  Others were made worse as information became embargoed and fences erected to keep people away from fiefdoms.

As someone who tries to build teams and cohesion, I was both stymied and broken.  Yes, broken.  You can’t talk to people who aren’t ready to listen and even the strongest of us break under constant abuse and pressure.   I take a lot of ownership of this team’s failures.  It really wasn’t a team; it was 3 different factions, each trying to make the others look incompetent.  All that did was make it nearly impossible to complete the project.  I’m not placing blame, but there what little chemistry existed was corrosive.  I didn’t have the right chemicals to neutralize it.

Have you seen the Internet meme which proves, without a shadow of a doubt that there is an “I” in team?  After the last 3 months, it seems very appropriate.