The seductive embrace of New Orleans

Top shelf sidewalk music on Royal Street on lovely afternoon in April 2017.

New Orleans is a city that will embed itself in your soul, if you’re willing. A famous city, yet the things that make her well known are not really the root of her charm. Bourbon Street and beads are but a short line in the siren song that draws tourists to the Big Easy. New Orleans is so much more splendid; a Caribbean city, perched at the mouth of the Mississippi, tempting the rest of the United States, while she lingers on in the aging, jarringly beautiful mix of joy and sorrow that paint her unique portrait.

Your life may change, but New Orleans won’t. She’s always waiting to welcome you with a warm, sultry embrace.

New Orleans is old. A city with its own beating heart long before the United States enveloped her. She was never part of the British empire and lacks the Northern European immigrant influence seen in much of America. First France, then Spain, then France again held sway in the Crescent City before a pragmatic Napoleon sold her to focus on his conflict with Perfidious Albion.

Before Louisiana was a state, General Andrew Jackson assembled a motley collection of U.S. soldiers, militia, Creoles, Cajuns, and other volunteers (including pirates) to defend the gateway to trade on the Mississippi from the British in the War of 1812. That unlikely band of defenders symbolizes the glorious melting pot of New Orleans.

New Orleans hasn’t stopped fighting for her history since, even when it would have been better if she had. Veer away from the neon lights and decadence of Bourbon Street and you’ll find the glorious and sad aging memories of New Orleans both slapping you in the face and welcoming you with a smile. Around every corner, as you peek into courtyards, look down alleys, peer into aging homes, behold monuments to the splendor of ages gone by…New Orleans welcomes you. With a drink in hand, and one for you, of course.

Those aging homes and haunts pair with the splendor of old live oak trees to give New Orleans her most distinct feel. Stroll with that drink in hand – the only rule: no glass containers – through the French Quarter where Creoles were birthed, through Treme where jazz was born, through the Marigny where the music still dominates Frenchman Street, through the Bywater where hipsters and hippies meet salty old New Orleanians, through the Garden District where the regal splendor almost overcomes the deep taint of its slave city wealth…then you understand. One of the oldest cities in America has more character than most of the rest of the nation ever dreamed…or understands.

New Orleans is not just old because of its age, but because of its temperament too. The city swelters. Conduct yourself outside in the spring or the fall. Once summer drapes her hot, humid blanket over the city its best not to be outside until the sun sets to reveal an enthralling sultry evening.

New Orleans is indeed a place that begs you to slow down. The increasingly frantic pace of mankind in other American cities simply melts away against the inertia of heat and a culture of “all in good time.” Once you’ve spent time in that devil-may-care atmosphere you’ll understand. Everything is better after a cocktail.

To see the New Orleans at her best is to understand all this. Beads and Bourbon Street, and boobs, are a thing during Mardi Gras, in a small part of the city, and mostly to tourists. The rest of the Mardi Gras season is weeks of (largely family-friendly) parades, parties, and unparalleled community merriment. The week leading up to Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras Day, has to be experienced to be understood. And on that last day before Lent comes, you understand why locals exuberantly proclaim: “everywhere else it’s only Tuesday.”

So too with JazzFest. Two weekends of the greatness of the cuisine and music of New Orleans and greater Louisiana taking over the Fair Grounds. Dozens of booths of food and drink paired with over a dozen stages and tents, swirling from jazz to gospel to alternative to rock, and more. Performing at JazzFest is a badge of honor for musicians, especially those from afar. So much so you’ll find leading acts performing at small bars in town for an after show. Because they can, and it’s New Orleans. A general admission pass for a day will run about $70. I saw Aerosmith with a very dear friend for that price. After a full day of all the rest of it. It’s an atmosphere of pure communal joy.

Yet, New Orleans is not just a place to party and make merry. It’s a place to release your worries. Those you perhaps have should have let go long before, or never let linger in your soul and mind to begin with. New Orleans will reveal that to you. The stresses that can so often dominate our monkey minds in the modern world become startlingly less important in the warm, enveloping embrace of a city made to be slow and merry, not hurried and fleeting.

New Orleans will indeed welcome you, if you let her. And in doing so, you should dance with her for a while. New Orleans is where you can learn to dance as if everyone is watching…and have not a care in the world about it.

It is liberating, deep in one’s soul.

Ironic, because New Orleans is a place whose original success and prosperity was founded not on liberty, but slavery. The trade of slaves, and their use, including in the brutal sugar plantations that made white men rich and black men broken. New Orleans is a place where that long history takes more than several decades of technical legal equality under the law to remake society into one of actual equal opportunity.

That’s no doubt why in midst of the joy of New Orleans, it is also a place of deep, abiding sadness. Centuries of servitude, discrimination, and poverty are not washed away by a Supreme Court ruling or an act of Congress. Generational poverty, to say nothing of epigenetics, are something whose solution sometimes often comes at a pace slower than New Orleans on an unbearable August afternoon.

One of the most revealing things about New Orleans is that moment when you understand and embrace how running parallel with that sadness is a nearly indescribable, permeating, irrepressible joy. Like the plant who continues to rise and break ground no matter how many times the gardener attacks its roots, the joy of New Orleanians, even its most oppressed and beleaguered, cannot be overcome.

New Orleans is about living life, not the fear of it. The sweet sounds of the city’s unique music scene are like the city: utterly special. Those notes exude an embrace of life, in all its imperfections, rooted in the days of horrible race relations, yet still infused with hope for a life worth living, no matter both how both flawed and beautiful it might be. New Orleans Jazz is a magical thing.

New Orleans invites you to do something different. To soak in her sights. To listen to her music on the side of a curb, caught off guard during a late afternoon stroll. To dine on her festival of food. To drink what she lazily and coyly offers. To roll with what you find and where your experiences take you. Detailed plans are a damnable thing in New Orleans.

Indeed, New Orleans herself was not planned. She happened. Lurking in the influences that shaped the city is the French influence that swooped in after colonies in the Caribbean as well as the Napoleonic era collapsed. Streets named for Napoleonic victories and French generals are common: Austerlitz, Jena, Murat, Foy, Cambronne…among many more. Napoleon Avenue is a major thoroughfare in the city.

 Yet for all her cosmopolitan nature, New Orleans is a small town masquerading as a big city. Coupled with a Caribbean ethos, complete with corruption and indifference to competent work on the public dime, there is an unavoidable 2nd World twist to New Orleans slow-beating charm. The city’s infrastructure is for shit and her local institutions are incapable of correcting that before the next crisis, either made by nature or man, is upon her.

New Orleans can be a hard place to live, yet once you understand her and you fall in love with her, that love will never die. And her warm, imperfect, and undyingly charming embrace will always be there to welcome you back.

I love her, indeed. In all her delightful imperfection. And I’m going back for Mardi Gras now. To ride in a parade: Krewe of Druids. To see dear friends. To experience the joy and charms of that City and her community. To feel her sweet embrace.

I can’t wait.

I’m for Cory Booker

Cory Booker, US Senator (D-NJ) talking criminal justice reform with Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)

It’s no secret Donald Trump is a terrible human being. I bowed out of supporting a Republican in 2016 once he became the presumptive GOP nominee because it was clear even then he would be, and is, wholly unfit to sit in the Oval Office. Events over the last three and half years haven’t exactly disproven that assessment.

I’ve voted Republican most of my life. I voted 3rd party for President in 2016. I have voted for Democrats rarely, and perhaps never for a major office in a competitive race. I’ll vote for Cory Booker in 2020, and campaign for him in the Idaho primary, absent a dramatic change in what we know today about the race for President.

Trump’s gross unfitness for office (and truly terrible hair) are one thing. But his descent into madness with the Ukraine scandal and his increasingly Apocalypse Now-like response to current events affirms he is an existential threat to the health our representative democracy. To say nothing of the outrageous choice to abandon our Kurdish allies in Syria…and whatever else comes next.

Set aside the issue of potential impeachment and removal; that process is filled with uncertainty and notably complicated by the proximity to the 2020 election itself. The (now largely spineless) GOP is not going to replace Trump on the ticket absent his actual removal from office…and even then, I have no interest in Trump Toady Mike Pence.

As comforting as voting for a 3rd party can be for one’s conscience, it is invariably a throwaway vote for President.

Thus, I’m in the rare personal position of seriously assessing the Democrats to choose from to get the crazy, orange, civically illiterate, strong man-appeasing, conspiracy-curious, Boomer-meme sharing, tariff loving, nut-job out of the White House. Among the Democratic poll leaders:

  • Elizabeth Warren is a more reserved, grandmotherly version of AOC’s policy agenda. I like AOC’s youth, working background, and social media savvy. She’s good for an often aged Congress in that respect. I don’t want the 70-year old equivalent of her in the White House.
  • Joe Biden is not what he once was. He has been wrong on a host of foreign policy issues in our time. I also have a bias against the very old (and potentially out-of-touch) serving in major office, let alone President. Pass.
  • Bernie Sanders is the crazy uncle who keeps get invited to family events. His socialist agenda lacks even the remotest semblance of political practicality and, like Biden, he’s too damn old.
  • Kamala Harris is a bit of a Marco Rubio (and I like Marco). An outstanding political athlete who hasn’t put it all together on the big stage. In NFL draft terms: the immensely talented but underdeveloped star in college you’re tempted to select high in the first round…but really shouldn’t. On the trail Harris has stated no clear reason for her campaign, has no sustained message, and her recent staff shake-up is full of red flags about organizational culture that do not speak well of her as a chief executive.
  • Pete Buttigieg is too young and inexperienced. I like how he talks, but much like Obama, the smoothness of his moderate-sounding rhetoric belies a policy agenda that is more liberal than I (and much of the country) want.

There’s almost no one else with a chance. Andrew Yang is eminently likable, but has all the hallmarks of an online, niche candidacy. It ain’t happening for POTUS. And Beto is a furry, as political Twitter knows. Google it.

Cory Booker though.

I like his personal story and the mission of his campaign, especially as a healing antidote to the era of Trump. His launch video articulated it well:

A person of Cory’s compassion, love, and empathy would be a valuable presence in the Oval Office after the insane, government by deranged narcissism and rage tweet we’ve now experienced.

I’m also down with some of the biggest issues Booker has led on during his career.

He was a big city education reformer, taking on the status quo to drive change where it was desperately needed:

As mayor of Newark, Booker didn’t have direct control over city schools, but he remained a relentless advocate for choice. During his tenure, the city closed numerous failing public schools and replaced them with charters. Today, about a third of Newark’s 50,000 students are in charters, and for the first time in decades Newark schools are starting to work on behalf of children, instead of adults.

Sadly, that record doesn’t sell well in a crowded Democratic primary for President so it falls down the list of campaign priorities:

…the ingredients of Newark’s education turnaround—the closing of bad schools, renegotiating teacher contracts to include merit pay, and expanding high-performing charter networks—are anathema to the Democratic primary voting base.

I’ve worked on education reform for a Republican in the U.S. Senate and for George W. Bush’s Department of Education. I still believe strongly in that mission, including to address systemic societal issues like generational income inequality as well as to support opportunities for more Americans as our global economy continues to evolve and demand new skills at a rapid pace.

Related: I’ve also seen some of the work done in a situation with similarities to Newark. In New Orleans, the head of the Recovery School District, John White, helped transform one of the worst urban school districts in the country into a successful one. Now White is driving similar reform at the state level in Louisiana. That’s real and meaningful work to make America better. Leadership on education matters. White would be a good choice for Secretary of Education for a future President, of either party, including a President Booker.

The second major issue I like Cory on is criminal justice reform. He has been a passionate advocate on the topic for years and been successful in driving bipartisan change. I’m down with a huge portion of his criminal justice agenda and firmly believe the First Step Act was just that, a first step. It’s where our country needs to go in the long, painful journey to have our society live up to the ideals expressed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

At the same time I like Booker’s take on those issues, I have deep objections to others. For example: his activist position on abortion is not my cup of tea. His platform on gun control is Constitutionally problematic and politically imprudent outside a Democratic primary. I expect I wouldn’t like many judges a President Booker would appoint.

Yet, such policy trade-offs are the political reality in the Age of Trump; to accept a candidate one disagrees with strongly on some issues in return for having human decency, sanity, and competence back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Booker is a man of character and grit. The documentary of his first (failed) run for Mayor of Newark, Street Fight, is an outstanding, Oscar-nominated political documentary and reveals much about him. He’s willing to stare down a tough political machine and fight for what he believes.

Another clincher for me in mulling this choice has been seeing the banter and bonhomie of Booker’s campaign team on Twitter. From campaign manager, Addisu Demissie (@asdem), on down, the staff give off the clear sense of happy warriors who are in politics for all the right reasons: a commitment to public service and a belief in making America better. It’s something I’ve learned from over 20+ years working in and around politics with people across the political spectrum; not only is being in politics for all the right reasons to be respected, it stands it stark contrast with the charlatans, clowns, and creepers, surrounding the odious Trump.

Count me in, Cory.

Footnote for the political geeks:

If you’re wondering how Booker can win given current polling putting him around ~3%, follow along.

To oversimplify Democratic primaries for President, you can break voters down into three groups: non-white, working class white (beer track), and upper class white (wine track). Winning candidates typically have to put together strong backing in at least 2 of the 3 to win. Al Gore beat Bill Bradley with the non-white and beer track vote. Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton by combining the non-white and wine tracks. Clinton in turn beat Sanders with the non-white and beer tracks.

In the current field, Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg are largely wine track candidates with respective weaknesses appealing outside that base. Biden is a coalitional candidate, pairing (more moderate) working class whites with the non-white vote for much of his time and strength as a front runner thus far. Harris is a coalitional candidate as well, but she gives off all indications of under-performing. Booker too is a coalitional candidate and has built a strong campaign infrastructure (similar to Warren). He’s poised to pop if he can get some real media attention and Biden fades.

There’s a real scenario where Warren wins or does well in both Iowa and New Hampshire, but then struggles in the minority-heavy voting states of Nevada and South Carolina. After that is Super Tuesday. A wine track candidate and a candidate earning strong non-white support, with both competing for the beer track for the ultimate win, is a highly plausible long-term Democratic primary scenario.

Warren is the most likely wine track candidate to emerge. If Biden falls (and his electability argument will collapse if he loses in Iowa and New Hampshire), Booker is a likely candidate to be in position to capitalize based on current race dynamics. Sanders and Buttigieg will hang around for quite a while because they have great fundraising bases, but betting on a final two between Warren and Booker is a perhaps surprisingly good wager.

It’s ok to not be ok

The message above is from @commandinglife, a website and Instagram page that shares regular inspirational readings, among other things. Some of these readings have been ringing especially true for me recently. And I don’t believe in coincidences.

More on the June 6th one shortly. For now, here’s another:

 “[H]ave faith in a positive outcome despite what you currently see. Never accept temporary struggle as normal…don’t let worry keep you from expecting your win.”

Hint: I’m a worrier, at least by nature.

And finally:

Why did these reading resonate with me?

I’ve been having a hard time. And I know someone needs to read this to confront their own such difficulty.

It’s hard to admit that’s happening. Often difficult to admit to others. Definitely difficult to admit to casual friends. Even difficult to admit to those friends and family closest to you. And sometimes even difficult to admit to yourself.

In this era of social media envy, related anxiety, and of course FOMO, saying “I’m having a hard time” can be hard. Really fucking hard.

And it’s still necessary.

To say it. To say it out loud. To say it out loud to someone you care about who will listen and support you.

I’m not necessarily talking about a mental health challenge that could result in a diagnosis like depression or clinical anxiety. Those are important things to acknowledge and seek the help of mental health professional, such as a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist. Been there and done that. It’s a wonderful thing the stigma and misunderstanding around mental illness in our society is steadily breaking down. Going to therapy should be a sign of strength and growth, not shame.

I’m talking more about the perceived mundanity of struggling with the challenges of life. Ground down by a series of events that feel more like one more unrequested or undesired challenge after another. Go talk to a mental health professional about such things they might say, “yeah, you’re definitely having a hard time and we can talk about those things. That’s important. But you don’t have a mental illness.”

That’s where it can be even more difficult to say something. When you’re seriously hard pressed by life yet still functioning, at least on the outside.

The last few years have been an interesting mix for me. Both tremendously hard, painful, and challenging…as well as liberating, restorative, and rewarding. There is a profound mix of good and bad.

But you know what? I’ve still been having a hard time.

I’ve had the love and support of some valuable friends and family. I’ve done some hard work on self-improvement and reflection, including facing up to the loss of many things I once clung to or hoped for.

It has not been easy.

Yes, I might look ok on social media. Some of that is because I refuse to wallow in the negative, which is at times feels like a lot to bear, and insist on living, on enjoying what life still has to offer, and to enjoy New Orleans as long as I can.

The Big Easy is an absolutely fantastic city. A town like no other in the United States. Yet, for all its beauty, history, and charm it is not blessed with a diversified economy. Professional life will in all likelihood take me elsewhere. That journey has been part of the many challenges marking my last couple years.

To the quote from that June 6th reading, I’ve been told “no” a lot on that front.

A. Lot.

Which for someone who thrives on positive feedback has been…interesting.  That’s exactly why this part whacked me upside the head:

“The slowdown kept you delayed avoiding a future misadventure.”

Oh.

Ok, I can deal with that.

This process, and being single, has given me the chance to explore myself in new ways. Who am I? What do I want? What am I truly passionate about? Where do I want to live? How can I maintain balance and serenity amidst troubles and loss? How do I want to contribute to the health and happiness of others in the future? Where can I and where do I want to have an impact?

Those have been immensely helpful questions to sort out, while the series of delays in pursuing other possible landing spots I perceived to be desirable or good forced me to answer those questions in a wide variety of ways.

Amidst it all I’ve been fortified physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually by yoga. Supported by daily and weekly routines that prioritize wellness and staying grounded. Enhanced by reading more, listening to more podcasts, journaling, engaging in some serious, structured self-improvement, and talking things out with some trusted people I care about.

Today my life is a mix of profoundly stressful circumstances…and a great deal of peace and contentment that it will all work out. It might not be the way I would have written the story, but it will still be a good tale.

I’m not doing well. And yet I am. That’s ok. That’s what life has to offer right now as one chapter comes to end and the page is ready to turn.

If that’s you, in anyway, know you’re not alone. You’re understood. And I, for one, will listen to you. Because I know what it’s like to have a hard time.

Are you feeling beaten down and disappointed by life? Feeling frustrated and challenged because things aren’t going as expected, let alone as you might wish?

I know the feeling.

Better days are coming.

How Game of Thrones Ended with a Quiet Thunder

How Game of Thrones Ended with a Quiet Thunder

It all came full circle. The beauty of Game of Thrones is at its core the characters. When the show was at its best it gave us windows into the fabulous personas that made the show special by letting us follow their stories: Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Jorah Mormont, Samwell Tarly, and many more.

The worst parts of Season 8, especially Episode 5, were a series of at times rushed (if cinematically spectacular) events and action sequences, missing much of the character flow that made previous seasons spectacular. Season 8, Episode 6 did the opposite. A superlative closing of plot circles. For a series with all the splendor of a movie in each episode, the last one did the little things with the characters to be great…even if there is no happy ending and many disgruntled fans.

Let’s discuss:

Drogon – Wait, he’s a character? Yes, much of the show he was a thing. An interesting, powerful, event-altering thing. But a beast. In this episode he becomes a character. He looked upon Aegon Targaryen, slayer of the Mother of Dragons, and he made a choice.

He burned the Iron Throne, ensuring no one would sit upon it now that Daenerys was dead. He carried his mother away from Westeros, after touchingly nudging her to verify her demise and then wailing aloud. In doing so Drogon looked upon the last Targaryen and spared him. I like to think Drogon took Daenerys back to Old Valyria to rest in the Doom among her ancestors.

Tyrion – amidst the hell of the death and destruction of King’s Landing, he insists on seeking his brother. Alone. He finds him, in the arms of the woman he loved. As Jaime prophesied. And Tyrion wept.

Then understanding the possible consequences, Tyrion publicly and forcefully tosses aside the emblem of Hand in front of Daenerys, silencing the Unsullied, because he would not endorse the death of innocents.

He declared to Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen, “you are the shield that guards the realms of men.” But he’s not talking about the Wall. He’s talking about the wrath of Daenerys. The people of the world need a shield from her madness.

Tyrion is the best of himself at the Dragons Pit. A wonderful physical return to the powerful scene in Season 7 where Tyrion and company brought a wight to show Cersei and Jaime. Tyrion’s plea to abandon rule by birthright produces perhaps the one outcome to halt further bloodshed.

And when Bran the Broken makes Tyrion Hand again as both punishment and reward it is all fitting.

Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryenoh, dear.

If any character stayed true to his story arc it was him. He slays his (Mad) Queen only as a last resort, grudgingly convinced by Arya and Tyrion. He then takes the Black and goes North, but this time not by his choice.

Jon Snow, wearing the Black again.

Jon’s trajectory throughout the show’s seasons was at times glorious, at times maddening. He has regrets, but as Bran consoles him: “You were exactly where you were supposed to be.”

There’s a lesson there.

The horn signalling “Ranger returning” at his arrival at Castle Black was an especially poignant moment.

Ser Brienne of Tarth – her honoring of Jaime Lannister in the Book of the Kingsguard is one of those subtle scenes where even in brevity a lot is accomplished. She saw the good in Jaime. And she memorialized it.

Brienne finishing the pages of Ser Jaime Lannister in the Book of the Kingsguard.

She herself becomes a Kingsguard again. Nodding to her past, her oath to House Stark, and the new Westeros to come.

Ser Podrick Payne – Ser. Enough said.

Ser Bronn of the Blackwater – he didn’t receive much attention in the last season, but he was richly rewarded at the end for his service to both Tyrion & Jaime. Is he perfect? Far, far from it. His last scene is arguing for the rebuilding of brothels in King’s Landing before the rebuilding of ships.

But he served Tyrion and Jaime (and the Realm) all across Westeros with great skill, commitment, and valor. He earned his place.

Lady Sansa – through hellish events and travails, she slowly grew into her path and arrived at her destiny. A defender of the North, even during the Kingsmoot. She was firm in her defense of and advocacy for her people. Hail, Sansa, Queen at last.

Arya Stark – no Lady is she, by her own request. She is a killer. The Hero of Winterfell. Yet, she does not seek a future in the land she helped save.

Once she has played her part in the resolution of affairs for her family, she commits herself to a exploration beyond Westeros, into the unknown western seas.

The trained fighter. The seasoned traveler. Someone who knows how to make tough goals and pursue them. On a ship to explore new frontiers.

Arya of House Stark, hero of the Game of Thrones.

The End – the very first episode of the series began in the North, amidst the woods beyond the Wall, with House Stark in focus. More than appropriate to end the last episode in the same setting, with the same family.

The closing scene is accompanied at first by a mournful instrumental track. A testament to the fact many, many endings in the show were not happy.

Arya embarks on her journey West with the sigil of her House on the sail. Sansa is crowned Queen in the North in Winterfell. And Jon heads north of the Wall with Ghost, aside Tormund Giantsbane and the Free Folk he saved. Creatures of the North reunited.

And as the last scene fades to black, it is in those same woods as it all began, with the music having gradually morphed from sadness into a rendition of the fabulous opening song of the show that is seared in the memory of every fan.

The song that began each episode played at the last one’s ending.

Not a happy ending, or a perfect conclusion. George R.R. Martin neither wanted nor provided for that. But the circle closing in a fitting way to one of the great shows in modern TV history.

**Cross-posted at the Resurgent.**

The Seahawks are a walking case study in why culture matters

The Seahawks are a walking case study in why culture matters

Professional sports teams are interesting organizations. Yes, our focus is usually on cheering for our favorite team, yet these same teams and the infrastructure around them are often like any other complex company. They have a culture. And how they behave gives interesting insights into that culture and what contributes – even drives – team performance.

Culture does matter. In the NFL, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns have been hapless for many a year while teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and (sigh) the New England Patriots have been synonymous with playoff appearances and more. How those organizations choose to conduct their business influences quite a bit of what we see on the field.

Take the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve been interested in their culture since their different way of doing things first got attention in the months before their Super Bowl victory. Their prominent use of a sports psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais, also caught my eye. Even the consulting company created by Gervais and Coach Pete Carroll significantly influences the cultural of client companies with a holistic approach to personal development, similar to how they work with the Seahawks (listen to Carroll on Gervais’ podcast for more related insight).

That background was lurking in my subconscious last night as I tracked what the Seahawks are doing in the 1st round of the NFL draft. They had pick #21 thanks to their finish last season and pick #29 after trading their star defensive end, Frank Clark, to the Kansas City Chiefs in the days leading up to the draft.

As I tracked developments and digested the post-first round media coverage (the remaining rounds of the draft are today and tomorrow), it hit me how what the Seahawks did wholly aligned with their organizational culture. Here’s how:

They’re realists.

Trading Frank Clark was bittersweet. A young, emerging force in the NFL but, one due a huge contract. There are only so many of those any organization can give out and the Seahawks just paid Quarterback Russell Wilson, big time, and need to pay All-Pro Linebacker Bobby Wagner soon as well…among others. Yet, they were clear they wanted to keep the talented Clark. What happened?

Dallas re-signing their own defensive line star, Demarcus Lawrence, raised the market price for leading defensive ends too high for Seattle’s planned budget and the Kansas City Chiefs offered great trade value for Clark. Thus, “we had to help the team and do what’s right for the organization.”

Team first, not emotions.

They’re authentic.

Fans of the Seahawks know the team has its quirks. Carroll and GM John Schneider have specific types of players they want. Often they have unique physical characteristics for their respective positions that fits the Seahawks’ scheme. Usually they have a chip on their shoulder for one reason or another. It’s not uncommon for draft and talent analysts in the NFL to take a different view of some players than the Seahawks, sometimes scoffing at their choices. The Seahawks don’t care.

Which is why after trading down from the 21st pick, the descriptions of who they picked at #29 was not surprisingly someone who very much fits the Seahawks mold: defensive lineman LJ Collier.

Analyst Brian Baldinger raved about Collier as a brawny, on-the-field performer, disregarding the “stupid underwear stats in Indianapolis” as Collier didn’t perform exceptionally at the annual NFL Combine, which might dissuade some traditional scouts.

Longtime NFL scout and head of the Senior Bowl, Jim Nagy, saw the same thing. Collier shows up on the field:

And guess what, Collier has a chip on his shoulder:

Sounds like a Seahawk to me.

They’re focused.

And they stick to the plan. John Schneider likes having lots of picks in the Draft, spread across its 7 rounds. Carroll and Schneider have made a name for themselves in finding high quality NFL talent deep into the later parts of the draft.

Even after the trade with the Chiefs for Clark, Seattle still started the Draft only 5 picks: those two 1st rounders, plus one each in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th rounds.

Virtually the entire NFL knew they were likely to try to trade down at some point. And they did. First out of #21, for which they received a different first rounder, #30, plus two more 4th round picks.

Thus, the Seahawks found themselves sitting on back-to-back picks, 29 and 30, with other teams who wanted to move up to snag a player they wanted falling later than expected in the 1st round knowing the Seahawks were likely willing to trade again.

The potential result? A lot of chaos.

Yet Seattle got their pick at 29 in Collier and traded down again with the New York Giants, this time swapping #30 for picks in the 2nd, 4th, and 5th rounds:

You achieve your goals by being able to stay focused in times of challenge.

They execute.

The Seahawks focus on the plan led to the actions they likely wanted in drafting a player they desire and trading down to secure more picks. But what were the actual results of those actions?

Besides the potential fit of Collier as a Seahawk, after trading down twice Seattle functionally converted the 21st pick in the Draft into a high second round pick, 3 more 4th round picks, and another 5th round pick too. The team with only 5 draft picks before trading Clark now has 8 picks remaining in rounds 2 – 7 even after picking Collier in the first round.

They got what they wanted and they got high value. For the first trade:

And for the second trade:

To be fair, various teams value things different ways, including based on desires for specific players. What’s clear either way is the Seahawks executed against their game plan and got results.

They may well trade down again (or up) in the remaining rounds of this Draft. Not all the players they select will work out. It will take years to assess if this Draft was good or bad for the Seahawks in terms of who succeeds on their roster.

What is clear is the Seahawks have a culture as an organization. It’s specific and unique; and they live up to it. And their performance yesterday was visible proof. That’s fun to see, be that in sports, business, or otherwise.

What we love about Game of Thrones

What we love about Game of Thrones

It’s the characters, stupid.**

No, not because Westeros is a magical world of dragons and knights and white walkers and battle scenes and intrigue. Not even because of the salacious violence and sex, let alone unexpected plot twists (who among us doesn’t still need a little therapy after the Red Wedding?).

It’s the humanity of the characters that creates connection to the show and its tale.

We remember, for example, the incredible Battle of the Goldroad when the Lannister army faces the combined doom of the Dothraki and Daenerys astride a fire breathing dragon. That’s a magnificent spectacle.

And the characters are better yet.

Episode 2 of this last season is nearly devoid of action, yet gripping. Yes, Cersei, Jon, Deanerys, and more continue to play the great game. But, even that quest for power takes a back seat to the characters this week. Lord knows it’s not the splendor of a drab, gloomy Winterfell that draw us in.

It’s not the majesty of Game of Thrones that keeps us watching so eagerly, though it may draw us in at first. It’s the characters and the subtlety of the production.

Subtlety like the unforgettable Season 6 closing scene with Sansa’s smirk as Ramsey Bolton meets the gory death he so richly deserves. Subtlety like the looks shared this week between Jaime Lannister and Brandon Stark as the former faces a hearing before his family’s enemies, the Targaryens and the Starks. You could watch the entire scene on mute and guess the sequence of events just by watching Jaime’s eyes.

Even taking the main figures of this episode not named Jon/Aegon and Daenerys there is a rich tableau of character development and expressions of the spectrum of the human condition to woo us:

Jaime Lannister – the arrogant sister-fucker has redeemed himself. Not 100% remorseful, he mostly declines to apologize for his earlier acts in defense of his family. But as he stands in Winterfell, humbly requesting to join the defense of the realms of men, he says what fans of the show long ago discovered: “I’m not that person anymore.” Redemption indeed.

Sansa Stark – the prissy naif of Season 1 has matured into a Bismarckian realist of a leader, with a touch of Machiavellian ruthlessness. And the trajectory of her hellish journey in between has helped transform her from one of the most annoying characters to one of the most endearing.

Brienne of Tarth – in some ways she hasn’t changed, a character intrinsically true to her nature. Yet, since we first met her at tournament before Renly Baratheon, she has transformed from a wandering soul seeking the right role for herself in the world into perhaps the most honorable living knight in the Seven Kingdoms. And that smile after she was thus honored…

Sir Brienne of Tarth

Tyrion Lannister – how has the lecherous, drunken “whoremonger” of Season 1 become one of the most beloved character’s on the show? His is one of the great character arcs in modern entertainment…aided and abetted by Peter Dinklage’s superb portrayal. His fireside lament to Jaime this week that he cannot return to whoremongering due to the “perils of self-betterment” is one of those delightfully subtle moments that says a lot without saying much at all.

Arya Stark – the dark side of greatness is often overlooked, especially in entertainment. Arya is a great character. She’s also a great killer. And her path to that reality is littered with windows into that darkness.

In her own words this week: “I know death, he has many faces. I look forward to seeing this one.”

She has issues. And we love her for that.

Poderick Payne – the incompetent yet faithful squire of his youth has transformed into a warrior, training combatants under Brienne’s tutelage. Yet, it was the glory of his singing that is the climax of Episode 2. A scene both lovely and haunting on the eve of battle, leaving moist eyes for many a fan.

Jorah Mormont – there may be no greater person of service in the show. He goes from admittedly heart broken at the news Daenerys named Tyrion her Hand to counseling her to forgive Tyrion for his most recent error. “You’re advising me to forgive the man who stole your position?” she asks. 

Yes, yes he is. Showing that the best advice to give is that which the person needs to hear in their shoes, not what you want to say in yours.

Theon Greyjoy – a story of undeserved grace if ever there was one. His crimes against the Stark family merit great punishment, even if not the horrific ordeal administered by Ramsey Bolton. Theon’s return to Winterfell to defend House Stark is a lesson in honoring that grace.

Brandon Stark – yeah, he’s a weird dude now that he’s the 3 Eyed Raven. Really weird. We also got a small insight into how he has suffered to embrace becoming something bigger than himself, and with heavier burdens. One even senses traces of lament.

Yet, as he says to Jaime in the Godswood after sparing Jaime from shame before the assembled alliance of lords and ladies, “I’m not angry at anyone.”

Not angry, and ready to use his crippled ass as bait to draw in the Night King. Remind me not to underestimate this guy.

The Hound – Sandor Clegane is readily hateable in the early seasons. Yet, his character, a walking testament to the inner-conflict facing most of humanity, is a reminder of the good that lurks within even the worst of us…if we’re willing to let it take the reins.

Samwell Tarly – a man with faults. So many so that even as Jon, Sam, and Eddison stand atop the walls of Winterfell reminiscing on the beginning of their time together with the Night’s Watch, Sam still comes in for affectionate ribbing for his lack of fighting skills and appeal to the ladies.

Sam knows what he’s good at: reading, learning, and being there for Gilly; and what he’s not. His gift of “Heartsbane” to Jorah out of respect for the fallen Lord Commander Mormont is an example of honoring your own strengths while empowering others to honor theirs.

Lady Mormont – speaking of Mormonts, if I’m the Night King I might not tangle with this one in the battle to come. She’s a testament that greatness comes in all forms, even if those forms are entirely unexpected.

Tormund Giantsbane – a rascal’s rascal. Yet, the consummate realist. His earlier lament of the human cost of Mance Rayder’s pride planted the seed for Jon’s eventual bending of the knee to Daenerys. And his succinct yet glorious “Fuck tradition” line this week prompts Jaime to knight Brienne. Proof that profound statements need not come wrapped in excess fluff.

How many of these characters will remain with us after next week? Sadly fewer for sure.

Yet that’s why the show appeals. It draw us into these characters. Into all their strengths and faults. Which is why as spectacular as one of the great battle scenes in TV history is likely to be this Sunday, it’s going to be a longer, more drawn out – if entirely expected – martial version of the Red Wedding.

And we’ll all be watching anyway because the show is that damn good.

**Speaking of stupid, if you’re on the internet, clicking on Game of Thrones headlines while trying to avoid spoilers,stop it. People complaining about spoilers on the Internet might be worse than the “Am I the only one who has never watched Game of Thrones?” crowd. Thanks for listening to my TED Talk.

Note: this post was originally published at resurgent.com

One Arizona case shows why criminal justice reform is needed

One Arizona case shows why criminal justice reform is needed

An appalling incident from 2017 in Glendale, Arizona popped into the news over the weekend based on those events becoming the subject of a federal lawsuit. The attention grabber is the tasing of a man during a traffic stop, including pulling down his shorts and tasing him in the testicles after he was handcuffed.

The video is every bit as bad as it sounds in terms of the behavior of law enforcement.

To be clear, this was not simply an encounter with law enforcement gone a little bad. It was exceptional. The original news story link includes a helpful, detailed review of the body cam footage by experts expressing repeated concerns with how the incident was handled from start to finish. In summary:

Multiple independent law enforcement experts, who agreed to review the incident, said the officers’ conduct was unlawful, potentially criminal, and one of the most cruel and troubling cases of police misconduct they’ve ever seen.

“I have never seen anything like this before,” said Jeff Noble, an attorney and former deputy chief of police in Irvine, Calif., who’s testified in hundreds of cases including Tamir Rice and Philando Castile. “ It reminds me of a case in New York where an individual was sadistically taking a broom handle and shoving it up (the suspect’s) anus. This is just beyond the pale. It’s outrageous conduct.”

Former LAPD detective supervisor T.T. Williams echoed his shock.

“That’s not even borderline,” said Williams, an expert witness who testified in the Philip Brailsford case on behalf of the prosecution. “That’s inhumane.”

One might think, gee, this is just a really terrible thing, but it must be a total aberration. In truth, the case, while on the extreme in some sense, highlights a number of issues at the fore of calls for criminal justice reform, specifically relating to how law enforcement conducts itself and likewise holds itself accountability.

1. Officers initiated an unnecessary confrontation. The victim, Johnny Wheatcroft, was a passenger in a vehicle, wearing his seat belt, ostensibly pulled over for a turn signal violation. Officers had no probably cause to question Wheatcroft. They insisted on seeing his ID. He justly declined, as was his legal right. The incident escalated from there.

2. Officers used excessive force. Needless to saying, attempting to pull someone from the car while he’s still wearing his seat belt, ultimately tasing him 11 times, including after he was already handcuffed is a bad look.

3. Officers used inhumane force, in fact. There is no remotely justifiable cause once a suspect is handcuffed to intentionally pull down their shorts and tase their genitals. An officer committing such an act likely shouldn’t wear the uniform again…more on that shortly.

4. The victims in the case were held in jail for months before charges were dropped:

Wheatcroft and [his wife] Chapman , who were arrested and charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, spent months in jail after the incident because they couldn’t afford bail.

Chapman agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge in order to get home to her children, her attorneys said.

The poor disproportionately suffer because a ludicrous system of cash bail keeps (still legally innocent) people who aren’t a risk to society behind bars for lack of personal financial means. Rather than continue suffer in such circumstances because of the needs of life, Chapman plead to a lesser charge just to get out to her children.

5. Charges were dropped but the accused still paid a steep price. Local prosecutors understandably dropped charges after seeing the body cam footage of the incident, but months in jail and an ultimately unnecessary guilty plea are an awful lot of punishment for being innocent.

6. Law enforcement tried to cover it up. Clearly, charges of assaulting an officer were not appropriate and tardily dropped. But an internal investigation found officers present incorrectly described the incident, including noting the victim of the tasing was “compliant and didn’t resist.” Moreover, even the Glendale Police Department’s press release over last weekend was found to be “full of omissions and information that does not match up with the department’s own records.” All of which is both discomfiting and a very bad look for public confidence.

7. Discipline of law enforcement was wholly inadequate. That same internal investigation found the tasing officer demonstrated “major performance deficiencies” in violation of multiple procedures and guidelines. His punishment? A laughable 30-hour suspension without pay and disciplinary probation. Anyone who thinks that slap on the wrist is appropriate probably thinks the cop who shot Philando Castille was also innocent.

There have been may calls for criminal justice reform in wake of troubling citizen encounters, more publicly available today in the era of body cams and cell phones, with police resulting in unnecessary injury or death. Perhaps sometimes those who are averse to the politics of Black Lives Matter and other such advocacy groups find it easier to dismiss such calls.

There is no racial component to this case, just horrible policing. Policing that must be reformed and improved before the public loses more confidence in law enforcement.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  National Review‘s David French has written well on the evolution of his thinking on this topic, including the need to end “qualified immunity” that too often protects bad actors in law enforcement. The Charles Koch Institute includes criminal justice reform among its top issues, as does the quite conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Indeed, when someone’s rights and freedoms are as badly violated by police as Johnny Wheatcroft’s, the color of his skin and the partisan political implications shouldn’t matter in the least.

This post was originally published at the Resurgent, where I write on more political topics. It’s a right-of-center site, thus the piece was written with that readership in mind.