I didn’t say what you think I said

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.

Sunday January 14, 2018 — Mark —

Guilty is as Guilty Does

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.

Wednesday May 10, 2017 — 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.

Wednesday April 26, 2017 — Mark —

Freedom of Speech

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.

Wednesday February 22, 2017 — Mark —

Facebook Friendship

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.

Monday February 20, 2017 — Mark —

Life Choices

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.

Thursday January 19, 2017 — Mark —

Timely Words

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.

Friday November 18, 2016 — Mark —

American Tune

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
Smiled reassuringly
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

Friday November 18, 2016 — Mark —

The Hope of Mendacity

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.

Wednesday November 9, 2016 — Mark —

Why I'm With Her

I was a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders. If I had to label myself, I’d say I’m a far left socialist democrat. I believe in tax policies that redistribute wealth. (See Picketty.) I favor a liberal social agenda, including: support for same sex marriage; a woman’s right to choose; and strong citizen oversight of police. I believe in single payer, nationalized healthcare. I favor the development of sustainable, low carbon emitting energy systems. I think big oil companies are responsible for a significant part of the damage to our environment. I favor major public (tax supported) investment in public transportation systems. I think public school facilities should be revitalized and redesigned to be so appealing that we have to force kids to leave at the end of the day. This would require significant investment of government funds. I am proud to be called a tax and spend liberal. I believe those policies are the recipe for making a country great.

I do not favor an incremental approach to creating a country that has the best schools, the best public transportation, the best national healthcare system. I believe the pathway to making America great again is to vote every Republican out of office and elect a president and congress who have the wisdom and political will to use the vast wealth that has accumulated in this country to build a civic system that benefits all Americans.

I did not initially support Hillary Clinton. I don’t believe it’s good for our country that we have only two families living in the White House for 28 out of 36 years. Hillary’s stated positions on many issues are to the right of my position. I believe she favors a more incremental approach to reaching the goal of a great society. I felt that Bernie’s approach was much more assertive, and there were lots of young voters who were energized by his campaign. I was as excited about the prospect of electing Bernie as I had been about electing Barack Obama.

Then came the primaries. Hillary (due to her strong relationship with the DNC) had a powerful structural advantage in the primary system. And despite a strong showing (better than I expected, frankly) Bernie did not prevail. Of course I mourned the defeat. And for several weeks I held off making a commitment to supporting Hillary.

The train wreck on the GOP side was entertaining at first. Was it really possible that they would choose a puerile, narcissistic buffoon as their nominee for President? And if they didn’t, the alternatives didn’t look so good for them either. The GOP debates had turned into a parody of political conversation. (Underscoring the fact that intelligent conservatives have lost control of the party.) As entertaining as it was, it was also frightening.

After the first “debate” between Hillary and Donald I finally found myself willing to openly support the Democratic nominee. The contrast was so stark, and the stakes so high that there is no real argument in my mind. I may be a far left liberal, but I am also pragmatic enough to realize that choosing the best option available to block a despot from becoming president means choosing Hillary.

So today, to my family and friends who were supporting Hillary all along, I say, “I’m with you, and I’m with her.” And I hope you’re with me and willing to push her to be the kind of president who will set us on a path towards a better America.

Vote, please, and when you vote, vote Democratic!

Saturday November 5, 2016 — Mark —

Good Things Come in Threes

On my walk to BART I enjoy the little interactions that help to brighten my day. Today I was successful in engaging with a couple of guys who I’ve been working on for a while. There are usually three guys sitting at the end of Lake Merritt across from the Veterans Memorial building. Dressed for jogging, they are always chatting amiably amongst themselves but my attempts to make eye contact and offer a greeting have been unsuccessful. As I get within greeting distance the member of the group who sits facing me as I walk by usually flicks his eyes away. Today, though, I caught his eyes and offered, “good morning!” He smiled and gave that, “good morning,” back to me.

That was enough to make my morning, but as I turned into the driveway of the building next to the Cathedral Of Light, I startled the security guard who had his back turned to me. He turned and snapped a quick smile and, “Good Morning!”

“Good morning! How are you,” I asked?

“Fantasic. And Getting Better,” he replied!

These two interactions would have been enough to carry me through the week. But after I got off BART, as I was approaching the intersection of California and Davis, I ran into my son Nate, who was walking with a co-worker to grab a cup of coffee. The trifecta!

Monday August 22, 2016 — Mark —

The mixed blessing of information technology

Our son Justin is driving to Arkansas to catch up with his wife and children who flew to Little Rock this morning. They are artists with a small family, and making ends meet in the Bay Area became a significant challenge. Seeking an alternative, they’re moving to a house in a forest near Roland, AK.

I followed Justin’s solo road trip on Find Friends and was enjoying an occasional text exchange whenever he stopped for gas or to get out and stretch his legs. He pulled off at a rest stop on I-40 near Edwards Air Force Base and we caught up on his plans to try and make it as far as Flagstaff. He was making pretty good time, but I had suggested that he might want to think about stopping in Kingman. He would be there around 9:00 and it would be getting dark. He wanted to push on because he is really eager to reach his family. So around 9:00 I saw him arrive then continue on past Kingman. Then, about 9:30 his phone stopped updating in Find Friends. About 10 miles east of Kingman the app just started reporting he was last found 5 minutes ago. 10 minutes ago. 45 minutes ago. An hour ago.

Resisting the urge to panic, I first persuaded myself that the battery had probably died on his phone. Still not panicking, I figured I could at least check for traffic incidents on that stretch of highway on the Arizona Department of Transportation website. My eyes hit on a yellow incident icon was placed on I-40 between Kingman and Flagstaff. The description of the incident was maddeningly vague, which of course made me start to feel some pangs of anxiety. I copied the incident ID from the ADOT website and pinged their Twitter account, asking if they could provide more details:

@ArizonaDOT — any details about event ID 641554 on I-40 west of Seligman? I’m trying to find my son who was driving there 30-45 mins ago.

Within minutes they replied:

@mdh There’s a disabled vehicle on the shoulder that reportedly hit a pothole. No injuries are reported. A tow truck’s en route.

Even as I relaxed I wondered if it was Justin who hit the pothole. Then, a moment later, his iPhone updated it’s location.

Feeling a little foolish over having worried, I started to shut down for the night with a final tweet…

@ArizonaDOT Thanks. Moments after I tweeted you my son’s iPhone showed up in Flagstaff. He made it to his destination.

Love is powerful. After nearly 34 years I can’t break the habit of needing to know he is safe.

Thursday August 11, 2016 — Mark —

Morning Encounter

I often see the same faces each day as a walk to BART along Grand Avenue. This morning, though, I saw a new face. He was walking with a lilt. Three of those little red straws you get in a coffee shop to stir in the cream were hanging out of his mouth. He was grinning and from about 25 feet away we caught each other’s eyes. I smiled.
“How you doin’, big dog,” he called?
“I’m doin’ great, how about you?”
“I’m great, too. Thanks for asking!”
We bump fists.
“It’s good to see you,” I say.
He smiles and we walk on.
15 steps later I hear him call out, “It’s good to see you too!”
I turn and flash him a thumbs up.
It’s a good way to start the day.

Wednesday August 10, 2016 — Mark —

Adventures on BART

I’ve started commuting to San Francisco every day on BART. The last time this was a daily routine for me was in the early 90s when I was student at ACT. Back then it was unusual to be on a train with more people standing than sitting. In 2016, during the morning and evening commute hours, the trains are packed.

Today there was a young man on the train who looked different than most of the other commuters. His hair was unkempt. He was carrying a plastic Target bag. And he was moving around alot, so he had created a pocket of space around him that others on the train were trying to maintain. When we got to West Oakland station he made his way to the door and got off. But just as the doors were about to close he got back on. At this point there was no way to grant him the extra personal space he’d had before, so he reached over to grab onto the vertical bar next to the door to steady himself. This meant that he had to move very close to a woman who was also using that grab-bar. Their physical closeness at that moment appeared to make the woman a little uncomfortable, but she was facing away from him and seemed resolved to accept the circumstances.

This did not go over well with a short balding guy sitting several rows away. He stood up and stared intently at the situation, trying to get the attention of the other passengers standing around the young man and the woman who was cornered. He kept pointing as he tried to make eye contact, indicating that the passengers should do something to help the poor lady. Finally, just before the train pulled into the Embarcadero station, the woman closest to the pair realized what the bald guy was upset about and moved her body to make room for the trapped woman to work her way free of the young man.

The sad moment for me was making eye contact with the young, disheveled man. I couldn’t tell if the confusion in his gaze was his general state of being or if the interaction with the other passengers had triggered something. I tried to hold his gaze for a moment, but he looked away quickly.

Tuesday August 9, 2016 — Mark —

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