I watched today as millions of young people took to the streets across the nation, and stood up to speak truth to power. In Washington, students from Parkland, Florida, and elsewhere called on adults in the nation to address the problem of gun violence in the country. Their words were more powerful than the guns they hope to silence. If you have a chance, listen to Emma Gonzalez’ speech (including the 6 minutes and 20 seconds of silence).
I recognize power of free speech as a core value in our society. I embrace our constitutional rights, including the first amendment right to freedom of expression, and clearly, that right extends to the National Rifle Association. I disagree vehemently with the positions of the NRA, but I understand their right to speak. I also believe I am free to oppose the NRA by exercising my first amendment rights.
When a host of NRATV said that no one would know the names of the teenagers from Parkland if it weren’t for the fact that their classmates were shot, he was telling an ugly truth. Clearly he has a first amendment right to speak the truth as he understands it. Here, from Cleve Wootson at the Washington Post:
The latest attack came from Colion Noir, a host on NRATV who took to the airwaves on the eve of the Parkland teens-led March on Washington, telling them: “No one would know your names” if a student gunman hadn’t stormed into their school and killed three staff members and 14 students.
— Washington Post
The NRA wants to put assault weapons in the hands of anyone who wants one. Gun sales and profits are their main objective. Public safety, the safety of children in our schools, the lives of worshippers in churches, of dancers in a nightclub, or those of music fans attending concerts do not concern the NRA. They are advocates for unrestricted access to instruments of murder.
The NRA should be free to stand in the public square yell their ugly ideas as loud as they can — but let them build their own distribution platform. The first amendment expresses no requirement that companies like Apple, Amazon, Google (YouTube), etc. make their platforms available to the NRA to amplify their vile, dangerous propaganda.
Join me in writing to these companies (I try to send something at least once a week) to encourage them to remove NRATV from their platforms.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
24 March 2018, 14:50 — Mark
Truthfully, I had been considering closing my Facebook account long before the recent news about Facebook’s attempt to hide their contribution of millions of user profiles to Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon, and the Trump campaign. I had grown weary of the algorithmic feed and the weird, dislocating user experience. I enjoy seeing photos of friends and vicariously enjoying their joys, or sometimes sharing a moment of grief, but the engineers and data scientists at Facebook have tweaked the feed in ways that made me hate the way things worked.
So last night I posted a note reflecting on my decision to delete my account:
I Googled and found the hidden link that one clicks to delete (and not just deactivate) my account. Facebook really tries to convince you not to delete (and throws a Captcha in the flow just to make it a little extra annoying), but I plunged ahead and deleted:
They make you wait 14 days before they actually delete your account, and they make sure you know that you can login anytime to cancel the deletion.
I’m sad to lose the connection with friends, but it feels good to be out. I’m aware the fact that Facebook still has ways of collecting data on me, and that advertisers, politicians, and others have already received my data from Facebook (and other web platforms). I know this is a symbolic gesture, but maybe it will convince one or two others to follow suit. And if there are enough of us who delete accounts, maybe something will change and the platform will become a little safer for those who keep their accounts.
Stay in touch by visiting me here on BackToOakland, or follow me on Twitter: @mdh
21 March 2018, 23:51 — Mark
The first tweet I noticed on my Twitter feed this morning was from W. Kamau Bell
#BlackPanther is a Rorschach test. It’s easy to say that you loved it. But when you ask people why they loved it you may end up thinking to yourself, “WERE WE EVEN WATCHING THE SAME MOVIE???”
I haven’t stopped thinking about Black Panther since seeing it on Monday. And after reading W. Kamau Bell’s tweet I decided I need to join the conversation.
First, just to get this out of the way — Marvel Studio movies are not a genre that particularly appeal to me. I haven’t seen any other films in this collection except the first IronMan movie, and while I didn’t especially dislike that film, it didn’t resonate with me in the way Black Panther did. As an entertainment, Ryan Coogler’s film is masterful. The visual world he creates is stunning. There’s enough action to satisfy the expectations of the genre, but little of the violence is especially gratuitous. The cast is exceptional, and as a former actor I stand in awe of their work. But the strength of the film goes beyond entertainment.
For me, the connection to Oakland and the social justice movement first launched in the 60s by the Black Panthers of Merritt College was at the core of what this film is about. I don’t know much about Ryan Coogler except what I’ve seen in his films and the fact that he was born in Oakland and grew up in the east bay. He’s too young to have experienced to formation of the Black Panthers first hand, but his film is a reimagining of their story. A celebration of blackness and the nobility of the people first to emerge from the cradle of civilization.
By bookending the film with scenes in Oakland, Coogler’s story speaks to the experience of Black America and to the neutralization of black power by a white society that violently ripped apart black nations for the purpose of enslavement. Black Panther the film riffs on the core of the Black Panther movement in Oakland. The Panthers were the vanguard of the “Black is Beautiful” movement. Their breakfast programs, and the armed presence of Black Panther foot solders who attempted to confront police violence against the black community was a movement that also echoes in the Black Lives Matter movement, and in DeRay McKesson’s signature, I love my blackness and yours. I saw this film as a reflection of the ascendence of black wholeness in a society that has continuously and systematically marginalized black culture and minimized black experience.
Where the film really excels for me is in the treatment of Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. His ultimate motivations, like his father’s, were noble, and challenged the Wakandan isolationism. Jordan navigates the Killmonger role, avoiding the pitfall of flattening him into a cutout villain, instead turning him into a sympathetic influence, forcing the Wakandans to re-think their world view. Ultimately it’s his influence, and that of his father’s life in Oakland, that drives the Wakandan echo of the Oakland Panthers in the film’s denouement.
Was that the movie you saw? Ping me on twitter if you have a response. @mdh.
20 February 2018, 12:55 — Mark
Last night Anna and I went to see The Darkest Hour in Alameda. We had skipped having dinner before the show and on our way home Anna said she needed a bite. We would be passing the In-N-Out near the end of the Webster Tube on our way home and it had been a really long time since either of us had indulged in an Animal Style burger.
“Want to stop at In-N-Out?”
The temptation was more than I could resist.
“Sure,” I said.
We pulled in, parked, ordered two burgers and an order of fries to share, then sat down to wait. It was very busy for 9:00 pm.
“It looks like Santa’s workshop the way they’re scurrying around back there,” said the guy sitting next to me. “I hear the daughter of the founders is a billionaire.”
I had an inkling that the family-owned chain was indeed quite a profit machine, and I assumed he was right.
“They must sell thousands of burgers a day in here,” he said. “Every day. It’s always busy like this. From the first day they opened.”
We nodded together and in my head I tried to calculate the number of burgers they could process per hour, per day, and per month.
“You know 10% of the people in this country control over half the money.”
We chatted a bit about the injustice of the recently passed tax bill, and he was pretty upset that most of the benefit went to people who already had more money than they need. Then we hit on rent. He told me that he lives in a house in Alameda that his parents built decades ago for $8,000.
“It’s worth hundreds of times what they paid for it.”
He was glad to have it, because rents have gotten so high. A friend of his son pays nearly $4000 a month for a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco.
“I used to live in San Francisco, and back in the 1970s I paid $150 for a studio apartment on Union Street. It was tiny, but it had a fireplace.”
We were on a roll, sharing stories of the good old days as we old guys like to do while waiting for burgers, when a kid behind the counter called “55!”
“That’s me,” he said, as he got up and grabbed his bag. “Nice talking to you.”
And he was off.
4 February 2018, 09:29 — Mark
When I got on the NL bus this morning for the morning ride to work, the driver, a jovial friend who normally gives me a hearty handshake, fist bump, or hug when I board, greeted me with “Traitor! I saw you getting into a casual carpool yesterday.” His grin betrayed him, and he did grab my hand and gave it a little pat, but it made me think.
The people who gather each morning between 7:45 and a little past 8:00 each morning are a community not unlike the neighbors who might gather at a corner in any small town in America. There are people who live in my building with whom I like to engage in conversation. Most mornings I hop on the bus but some days I grab a ride in the casual carpool.
It’s not unusual to get a ride with the same carpool driver on multiple days. I’ve ridden several times with a woman who works as a counselor at a county jail in the west bay. She’s also an aspiring standup comic, and riding with her is always fun. The first time she picked me up she said, “It’s two dollars for older white guys.” I started reaching in my pocket before she chuckled, “Nah, I’m kidding.” The next time she picked me up, I was heading for the back seat but she snapped at the woman getting into the front seat, “No, no — you get in back. Don’t you see this tall man behind me? He needs more leg room.” Then she turned to me and said, “You sit up front, honey — I know you like my act.”
Once we arrive in San Francisco we all scurry off to our offices and occupations, but when we’re connecting in Adams Point, in our little corner of Oakland, we are friends.
26 January 2018, 19:18 — Mark
Several years ago I was at my brother’s house helping clear away some branches and debris that had fallen in his backyard during a storm. My brother and I were cutting up larger branches and passing them to our sons to drag to the back of the yard to be burned. It was kind of a manly bonding experience, and the young boys were enjoying working and getting a little sweaty and dirty. At one point, as he was grabbing an armload of twigs, swept up in the roughness of the moment, my 8-year-old nephew asked, “What do we do with this shit?”
Surprised (because this was an uncharacteristic vocabulary for the little guy) I said, “What did you say?”
“I didn’t say what you think I said,” he blurted out.
This story always amuses me because it illustrates the working of a child’s mind.
What doesn’t amuse me is hearing our President (an unapologetic racist) use the same childish reasoning when denying coarse and racist comments made about Haiti and Africa. Nor am I amused by the equally childish forgetfulness of senators Cotton and Perdue, who are afraid to confront the President’s racism — or perhaps, what’s more likely, they are racists, too. We live in a country that was once a world leader, a country that claims to hold a lamp for those seeking refuge from tyranny, injustice, and discrimination. When our so-called leaders engage in behavior that is typical of 8 year olds, it’s time to re-examine our role in the world. And it’s time for new leaders.
14 January 2018, 09:38 — Mark
When there is concern that a public official may have done something illegal or inappropriate, an innocent official will welcome a thorough and independent investigation. A smart yet guilty official might try to appear innocent by inviting an investigation, knowing that even the appearance of guilt is politically untenable. Only a guilty official would seek to thwart or obstruct an investigation.
9 May 2017, 23:37 — Mark
As I settled into my seat on the NL bus for the morning commute to San Francisco a young man stepped up next to me and touched me on the shoulder. I looked up and saw a face exactly like a slightly older version of the face of one of my sixth grade students from Edna Brewer Middle School. He reached out to take my hand and leaned over to wrap his other arm around my shoulder in a gentle hug. Huge smile on his face.
I was right, this young man was that boy who had joined my class mid year on a safety transfer from another school. When he first arrived at Edna Brewer he was a little wary, and it took some time for me to gain his trust, and for the others in my class to welcome him. But he turned out to be one of the kids I enjoyed most in that class. He was funny, sharp, and a gifted athlete.
We chatted for a few minutes. He was on his way to school.
“Just two more months, Mr. Hurty,” he beamed.
Time flies…those sixth graders I taught during my first year as a teacher are graduating from high school this year. I made a mental note to find out the dates of graduation ceremonies so I can attend and see them walk the stage.
I asked if he had plans for college, and he named a couple of schools he was considering. He wanted to attend somewhere that he could play sports. I asked him about his classmates back in sixth grade. He had quick stories about each of them. One of the girls had a baby. One of the guys, also a good athlete, was struggling academically and wasn’t able to remain on the baseball team. Another was just as happy-go-lucky as he had been in sixth grade. I missed them all.
I asked about his mom and he said she was well and working hard. He said he had mentioned my name to her a few weeks ago, suggesting to her that she reach out to me to see if I could help get his younger brother into Edna Brewer.
“He’s so smart. He helps all the other kids at his school with math but his school just isn’t as good as Brewer.”
He asked for my number so we can stay in touch. Then he had to hop off to get to school. He gave me one more quick hug and said goodbye.
26 April 2017, 09:12 — Mark
Freedom of speech has been in the news lately, and I’ve had my own brush with someone who, wanted to be free to spread fear, hatred, and ugliness on my Facebook page. It made me stop and consider the idea of free speech.
I absolutely believe in the ideal of freedom of expression, even to the point of provocation. But I also believe that this ideal is naturally balanced by the concept of consequences. I am (and should be) free to express myself, even if what I say is abhorrent to you, but I should not be free of the consequences of that expression. If I express hatred, I should be prepared for the backlash from those who are the targets by my speech. If I speak provocatively, I can’t be surprised by the response of those whom I provoke. To be free of consequences is not a right, it’s privilege.
This gets at the heart of the necessary tension in the ideal of free speech. And it is where those who are offended by political correctness expose their lack of intellectual rigor. To suggest that political correctness (by which those who use the term with derision refer to moderated speech designed to create common ground that does not harm nor offend) is flawed or wrong is sophomoric. Politically correct speech is intellectually superior to the kind of hate speech that hides behind the idea of free speech because political correctness aims to acknowledge the speaker’s rights and yet refuses to assume privilege. When Milo whines about the reaction to his hate speech, he’s exposing his intellectual limitations. He’s wrong to think that the vehement public response to his hate is a constraint on his speech. The reaction is a consequence of his speech, and his privilege to be protected from that consequence is neither guaranteed, nor is it a right.
The interloper on my Facebook stream seemed to make the same intellectual mistake as Milo. He felt it was his right to spew his hatred, and that my decision to cut him off was an infringement of that right. He is right that he has the freedom to speak. He doesn’t have the right, though to choose the consequences of his speech. Freedom of speech is not the same as the right to be heard. There is no such right. That the interloper doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to express his fear of others with self moderating political correctness is not my problem. Until he learns to exercise his brain, his freely-spewn hate speech will not be heard by me and those I care about. He does not deserve that privilege.
22 February 2017, 08:15 — Mark
I un-friended someone on Facebook today. I’m not normally inclined to cut someone off simply because we disagree. But this person was offensive in a way that made me wonder why we would consider one another “friends” in the first place. He’s someone I knew when I was a kid. He went to the church where my dad was a pastor in Oakland back in the late 60s, 70s and early 80s. I don’t consider him a close friend in real life, but his mom hired me to babysit for him a couple of times when he was little, so when he sent a friend request a while back I clicked to make the connection.
Admittedly, the photo I posted on Facebook was provocative. It was a picture of two presidents, the very first Republican president and the current president. Adjacent to the pictures were a quote from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and a quote from the current Republican president, bragging about being a sexual predator. And this man’s response was fairly predictable for someone who supports our current president. After this “friend’s” first response I suggested that I didn’t understand his fear and anger, and wished him peace. He persisted in posting a couple more offensive items, I assume to tempt me to engage. Fortunately an actual friend, intervened and reminded me that I needn’t argue with someone like him. It was then that I realized that the “un-friend” option on Facebook has a perfectly valid use case. Thanks, Facebook!
Update, Tuesday, Feb, 21
Apparently unfriending someone is not the only step you need to take on Facebook to prevent other users from invading and polluting your timeline. This man kept adding to his sophomoric diatribe, eventually drawing the ire of my actual friends and relatives. What was especially odd about the guy’s comments was the total irrelevance of anything he had to say to the original point of the post.
For future reference, if you want to keep a troll out of your face you need to change the visibility of your post so that only friends can see it. When I did that it stopped the flow of hatred.
20 February 2017, 16:29 — Mark
On my BART ride to work this morning I encountered an interesting juxtaposition. On a big black duffel in the central aisle, reading a paperback copy of Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, sat a young guy with matted dirty blond hair and a scruffy beard. As he read, he tugged absently at a strand of hair and seemed totally at ease, and unaware of the attention he was attracting.
Standing next to him was another young bearded man, logging in to his Wells Fargo account on his iPhone.
The 8:17 AM train to SFO from 19th Street in Oakland is usually pretty crowded, but this morning there was a graceful respect shown to the man reading Kerouac. And as I watched him read and play with his hair I felt a longing for his life, and sadness that my own life is really more similar to the man checking his bank balance.
19 January 2017, 06:33 — Mark
On the 19th of November, 1863 Abraham Lincoln, our greatest Republican president delivered this address at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. These words seem timely today.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
There are echoes of the conflict of the Civil War that continue to reverberate through our contemporary struggle to unify a nation divided. I remain hopeful, taking comfort in Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s words that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” And yet I mourn for and with those who are casualties of the hatred and violence in the near term.
18 November 2016, 21:00 — Mark
I was listening to music on shuffle this morning. As I was walking up California Street to work Paul Simon’s “American Tune” started playing. There is something reassuring in the moody lyrics of this song that recall an earlier period of contemplation about what it means to be an American. I’ve found myself frequently in this state of contemplation lately as I try to come to terms with the recent election — I feel so far away from home.
Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home
I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong
And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
And I dreamed I was flying
And high above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying
Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest
© 1973 Words and Music by Paul Simon
18 November 2016, 07:23 — Mark
I am grieving.
But I have hope. I hope that Donald Trump is as dishonest about his campaign promises as he seems to be about other things he has said in the past year. I hope he was lying about building the wall. I hope he was lying about deporting muslims. I hope he was lying about prosecuting his election opponent. I hope he was lying about restricting the free press. I hope he was lying about his proposed changes to our tax system. I hope he was lying about kicking millions of Americans off their health plan and returning to a time when it was impossible for some people who needed healthcare the most to access our market driven system.
Trump has empowered and excited a previously underground minority of bigoted white supremacists with his reckless rhetoric. But I have hope because they are still a minority. Though she is inexplicably unpopular, Hillary Clinton won more popular votes than Trump. I have to believe that some Trump voters were swayed by other factors than his support for white nationalism. So it’s likely that a majority of Americans are still more open minded and welcoming than the bigoted voters who came out strong for Trump.
Clearly, there are people who felt that they have been harmed by the changing global economy. And I empathize with them. But it surprises me that voters are so willing to support someone who is demonstrably uninterested actually solving in their problems in a meaningful and long-term way.
I heard one small spark of hope in Trump’s victory speech last night. He promised to embark on a renewal of our infrastructure, promising to put working class Americans back to work. It will be interesting to see if he can get Congress to enact the legislation to do this — a program like Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration is antithetical to the principles of the Republican party.
I am already looking to 2018 and the midterm election where Americans have an opportunity to right the ship and restore some order to government by electing a Democratic Senate and House. Those of us who believe in good government, a strong civil society, and the values of justice and equity have a responsibility to work together to make a change.
Today I mourn. Tomorrow I fight.
9 November 2016, 06:05 — Mark