“The best Senator that no one’s ever heard of”

Slade Gorton: 1928-2020

You don’t start the day expecting to end it on a last minute, 3-hour Zoom call with 80 people to record goodbyes to someone you love. You sure don’t expect that person you love to be a politician. Yet, that’s what happened the evening of August 11 as alumni of former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton’s staff gathered virtually from across the country to convey some final messages to a man whose like we will not see again. It was a powerful, emotional evening.

Slade was an introvert in a world of politics dominated by extroverts. He was a man modest in stature but, a giant in intellect. He was a long-time Republican elected official in a state that is now so very blue. He was a man often accused in politics of being cold yet, who could exude the most fabulous warmth and sincerity.

Those of us who worked for the man loved him. He set standards we still adhere to and aspire to today.

And it wasn’t just us. Nearly 20 years ago Slade’s fellow Senators gave him a moving, public, bipartisan goodbye after he lost his last run for office. It was the subject of a lovely Peggy Noonan column, including this riff from one of my great friends:

“But what makes him unique among senators is they may not agree with his thinking on a subject but they all want to hear it. He’s one of the rare people in this town who can ‘stop traffic’—he can force people to put aside their agendas and listen. He is not a self-promoter and they know it, so they think, ‘I better put down the paper and listen to this guy.’ ” [Gorton’s Chief of Staff Tony] Williams added, “He’s the best senator that no one’s ever heard of.”

Those were the days when Members of Congress governed rather than played “parliament of pundits,” looking more toward the next cable TV hit than finding consensus on the issues of the day.

The tour de force Seattle Times obituary for Slade had this great insight too:

Slade was the person who could somehow find a way to communicate and find common ground,” said Tom Daschle, a Democrat who represented South Dakota in the U.S. Senate from 1987-2005, serving as minority leader during Gorton’s third term and majority leader in 2001. “He was indispensable, he had an enormous ability to keep us focused on the most important thing.

“I only wish there were a few more Slade Gortons in the Senate right now, we need them, we need people who can communicate and are willing to compromise and be conciliatory and build consensus to get things done.”

Slade was indeed a great Senator, and yet much more. You should read Noonan’s column. Nearly two decades later her words still convey the essence of the man. Her insight gives a window into Slade’s humanity and decency and impact in a way that those of us who worked for him knew quite well…and wished more people could have seen also.

I have many tales of working for Slade, but one stands out as a pairing with Noonan’s words. On January 31, 2000 Alaska Airlines Flight 261 from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco plunged into the sea off the coast of California, killing all 88 souls aboard. That loss was a jarring event for Seattle-based Alaska and the community. In the days soon after Alaska held a large memorial service at the Washington State Convention Center to give space for their employees to mourn. Slade, as a sitting U.S. Senator, was one of the many prominent dignitaries invited to speak.

I staffed him for that event, writing the suggested talking points, handling the driving, and attending the event with him; all familiar tasks to a Congressional staffer. I was seated near the front while the speakers were on stage. At one point I looked up to see Slade singing along solemnly with the playing of “Amazing Grace,” a testament to the deep faith he almost never wore on his sleeve. Some other speakers were sitting there stoically. Slade, the lovable dork we on his staff knew well, was meeting the moment in his way. It was an endearing sight.

One of the next day’s Seattle newspapers had a picture of the service on the front page. Yet, the angle of the shot was such that Slade was obscured behind the speaker at the podium. Noonan would likely appreciate the irony of the scene: hidden from the view of the broader public, Slade was doing something beautiful and authentic.

And yet, Slade wouldn’t be one to worry about lack of recognition. Fame was not his goal. Showing up and doing right were.

What does that mean to those that worked for him? How you handle yourself can matter just as much as results; sometimes more.

In late 2008 I found myself preparing to depart Present George W. Bush’s Administration after serving as a political appointee in the U.S. Department of Education’s Seattle office (an appointment I owe to working on education issues for Slade and the relationships I built working for him). An acquaintance in the world of politics, a former State Director for U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D), reached out across the aisle. We knew and respected each other, because that can be done in politics. He asked if I would be willing to meet with someone who worked on the Obama campaign. She wanted my job.

On odd request, perhaps. Yet, clear word had come down from W after the 2008 election that his team was expected to make every effort to support a smooth transition to the incoming Obama Administration. My time on Slade’s staff instilled the same expectations of duty and decency.

So, I found myself at a Starbucks near the Northgate Mall in Seattle one day, offering advice on obtaining a White House political appointment to someone who had just helped kick my party’s ass and who wanted the job I was soon to vacate. It was, actually, a good conversation. That’s easier than one might think between people of different beliefs who are in politics for all the right reasons. She didn’t end up in that job, but did land as an Obama Administration appointee in DC. We’re still connected today.

And as we parted she laughingly said she’d have to tell people she’d received more advice on becoming an appointee from a “Bushie” than anyone else.

A Bushie…and a Gortonite.

Slade would probably appreciate that tale because it was something done after working for him. His last speech to us on his campaign team in 2000 exhorted us on the importance of what came next. Slade would also appreciate the tale for supporting one of his great professional legacies: empowering strong women to be successful.

No surprise that an abiding part of that Zoom call on August 11 was people who had worked for Slade, across the spectrum of his decades in politics and policy, sharing what they had been doing after working for him, and how being part of Team Gorton had very much influenced the rest of their life in deep, meaningful ways. It’s a shared bond that is difficult to put into words, but says a lot about the man we gathered to honor on short notice and in large numbers as his life was fading away.

In 2003, George Will wrote a column titled “A Beautiful Mind” remembering then recently passed Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Will, the good conservative, had exceptionally kind words and respect for Moynihan, a good liberal. A window into an era perhaps gone by.

A little later that year I had the fortune to introduce Slade as the main speaker at a political event. I cited Will’s column and parlayed it into my own take to introduce my old boss as one of our nation’s most beautiful minds. The conversion from recognizing Moynihan to Gorton in such a way didn’t take much effort. I’ll not soon forget that grinning handshake as I welcomed him to the stage.

Slade was more than someone whose decades of public service included the impressive expanse of being a state legislator, Attorney General, U.S. Senator, and 9/11 Commissioner. He was a man whose achievement, intellect, passion for life, dignity, and love infected those around him in a unique way. The ripples of that impact will be felt well beyond the arc of his life well-lived and the hour of his death.

On August 19, 2020, our nation lost one of its most beautiful minds. Those of thus that knew him well lost Slade.

We fucked around with covid, now wear a mask

Let’s talk. We’re at a crossroads. Not a politician-speak “crossroads” used to pretty up a speech but meaning precious little in real life. We’re at a serious fork in the road.

Do we want to be a country that gets its ass kicked by coronavirus?

Or do we want to be a country that met the moment, that rose to the challenge, that looked the possibility of true American carnage in the face, and won.

Because right now we’re getting our ass kicked.

While some countries in Asia and Europe got hit with the pandemic a little before us and are now emerging well from a 1st Wave, we collectively decided to act like bunch of morons, throwing gasoline on a fire that was not yet extinguished.

You’ve probably seen some media coverage of the recent spike in new COVID-19 cases. That’s true, cases are trending upward:

Visual credit: New York Times

Maybe you’re hearing, “oh, it’s just because we’re testing more…which means we’re catching more asymptomatic cases.” We are testing more, which is a good thing, no matter what the author of the Emptysburg Address, Cheetoh Jesus of House Small Hands, says about it. But more testing doesn’t explain this spike.

Getting to why that’s happening goes deeper than just our experience here in the United States. Let’s discuss some context first.

Among the countries who took on coronavirus most successfully so far, there is a clear trend in their curves, including driving down active cases after an initial burst. Some examples:

  1. Germany was in the heart of some of the worst outbreaks in Europe, next to Italy, France, Belguim, et. al. With aggressive, early, and widespread testing to find cases early and limit community spread (thus lowering their death rate) they bent their curve down:

2) In nearby Austria, bordering northern Italy where the explosion of the pandemic first jarred the world’s consciousnesses, they acted quickly and are one of the best national responses in hard hit Western & Central Europe:

3) Speaking of Italy, let’s see how they did after taking it on the chin thanks to China’s delay in telling the truth to the world:

Impressive given how horrifically the outbreak raged for weeks there.

4) Now let’s talk about one of the best coronavirus responses in the world, Vietnam, on the border with China:

Source: worldometers.info

The graph almost understates the scope of their success. As of June 24, they had a mere 352 cases and a stunning *zero* deaths from COVID-19.

Before we explore how these countries succeeded, let’s check on our own efforts to bend the curve compared to these success stories:

Source: worldometers.info

Oops.

Worried about a 2nd Wave, as is common in such global pandemics? Don’t worry. We’re still fanning the flames of the first one.

How? People not taking coronavirus seriously, especially younger people in states not previously hard it. Among the mostly southern states spiking sharply now:

Ah, well, but young people don’t really get serious cases so things must be ok still, right?

Nope. Behold, one of the largest hospital clusters in American health care, in our nation’s 4th largest city, on the brink:

Circumstances are similar in other parts of Arizona, Florida, and Texas…and growing worse in a host of localities in the South and West previously less impacted by coronavirus (scroll down for state-by-state charts here).

Why? Communal indifference because the pandemic never seemed that real locally before. The younger crowd buying into the myth they don’t need to worry about COVID-19 (they should, including about the long-term health impacts on many who recover). And masks. Masks because in southern climates increasingly hot weather means more congregating indoors with AC.

One of the lessons of both the 1918 Influenza Pandemic that killed 50-100 million (!) people globally and this pandemic thus far is congregate gatherings indoors, without masks, are the highest risk environments. Conversely, outdoor environments with masks are much less problematic:

Remember those countries that handled things well in 2020 so far? Let’s talk about them, and their use of masks:

  • Vietnam was one of the first nations to mandate masks in public, on March 16, when the US was still largely gazing at its navel…and people in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, etc. (places that avoided major outbreaks) had already proactively masked up without government directives based on the population’s previous experience with infectious diseases in the Far East
  • Austria was one of the first major countries in Europe to mask up, making them mandatory in public spaces on April 6
  • Germany came later, requiring it on public transpiration and while shopping as of April 22, which paired with its superior testing regime (2nd only to South Korea) clearly did the job

Meanwhile, months later — and a century after the 1918 pandemic made masking common — we’re having one of the dumbest tribal debates in our political history about masks while coronavirus burns.

Do you want the economy to open up more? Wear a mask.

Do you want sports to come back? Wear a mask.

Do you want your kids to go back to school? Wear a mask.

Do you want to avoid going back into stay-at-home orders? Wear a mask.

That’s the reality of our world until we have a widely available vaccine and/or find a highly effective therapeutic treatment.

Because right now as the flames of the pandemic grow in the South and West they’re likely at the place the DC-Philly-NYC-Boston corridor was in late March/early April: just beginning a weeks-long burn that will be painful in lives lost, economic activity, and our ability to live life with even partial normalcy.

I’m reminded of a poignant moment in one of the great speeches during these troubled times, from the Queen of England:

I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any.

“As strong as any”…says the women whose family stood strong in London during the Blitz, refusing to flee to safer ground as England stood alone against Nazi Germany in 1940.

Generations of Americans have faced infinitely tougher challenges than today: the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the still long, simmering battle to end slavery and achieve racial equality are but some highlights.

Change is hard. Forced changed is harder. Many that fought in our counties greatest challenges didn’t choose that battle, but they met the moment.

Going to war for your country isn’t easy.

Clawing your way back from economic ruin isn’t easy.

Transforming society isn’t easy.

Wearing a mask is.

Shut up and wear it already. The alternative is a raging, deadly pandemic *and* another Great Depression.

Or as the Queen said: “the pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.”

Show some pride in our country. Fight for it.

Take coronavirus seriously…and wear a damn mask.

Uncomfortable Thought: the Police are Lying

What did the police say happened here? Keep reading.

Yes, I said “the police are lying.” It doesn’t mean all cops are liars. What it does mean is that in *far* too many incidents involving police misbehavior the public gets a spin job at best…and a steaming pile of bullshit at worst.

Maybe you clicked on the headline because you agree, maybe because you’re curious, maybe because you rage clicked. Whatever the reason, let’s discuss some recent, very public events that illustrate the problem. Try to keep an open mind.

First we have the case of George Floyd. We know what happened there, the cops killed a man. After one cop knelt on Floyd’s neck until he died while three other cops did nothing but aid in the murder and yell threats of violence at bystanders begging them to stop:

  • Those cops filed false reports that inaccurately described what happened
  • The Department public information officer was spinning the media to excuse away what happened based on those false reports
  • It was only when video became public the story fell apart, and shit hit the fan

Second, you’ve probably seen the equally horrific incident in Buffalo where an elderly man was pushed to the ground, left motionless and bleeding:

Well, funny thing, the Buffalo Police Department quickly started doing police department things, claiming the man “tripped and fell.”

Just like George Floyd though, the story fell apart because of video evidence, in this case immediately made public via an accredited media outlet. So the shit hit the fan quicker, including a rapid statement from the Mayor that included prompt accountability for the officers involved:

Of course, a good case of police violence or misbehavior isn’t complete without a police union earnestly insisting everything is a-ok. Watch the video then read the statement below, and then you get a pretty good idea why police unions might be a problem here:

Lest we think this is just a one-off problem with one police union, let’s go back to the Minneapolis Police Department and read a couple excerpts from that above-linked New York Times coverage:

Not exactly a strong culture of accountability there. Let’s check to see if the head of police union is however a bulwark of upstanding police work in the community:

Ooops.

While we think about that, let’s move on to Philadelphia, where we shall stipulate a headline that sorts with “‘Police just went nuts…'” might not be off to exactly the best start for the cops.

Here’s video of cops beating the shit out of peaceful protesters:

The Philadelphia Police Department’s motto is “Honor, Integrity, Service”…and…um…not great, Bob.

Now here’s the even bigger problem; once again, it took publicly available video to free one of the victim’s of that beating from jail:

A Temple University student arrested during protests Monday was released from custody Wednesday after video surfaced of one police officer striking him in the head with a baton and another using his knee to pin the student’s face to the street.

Prosecutors dismissed the charges against Evan Gorski, 21, an engineering student, after viewing the YouTube and Twitter videos, according to his attorney, R. Emmett Madden.

Now imagine if there wasn’t video. Imagine if it was simply a he said, he said scenario. Because that’s exactly what was happening otherwise:

“The police were lying,” Madden said. “We had a protest against police brutality, and then police brutalize my client and try to frame him for a crime he didn’t commit.”

“The police were lying.”

Now, thanks to the video, Philadelphia Police Inspector Joseph Bologna – I know, I know, the writers of 2020 are really outdoing themselves – is being charged with aggravated assault.

Lastly, let’s talk about this clip, which speaks for itself. Watch it:

In case there is any confusion, the media have a legal right to report on protests, including after official curfews. This is far from the first accredited journalist attacked by police while doing their jobs under the First Amendment in recent days. You can find more examples in this running thread I have going of police violence during peaceful protests.

Back to the Australian journalists getting a roughed up. Here’s what the police union had to say:

“May have fallen”? Did they trip over the elderly man in Buffalo who got knocked on his ass? They got cold-cocked!

Let’s even set aside the claims of “violent protesters” in a “very dangerous area” since multiple journalists from multiple news outlets reported otherwise (it being a protest outside the White Hose that attracted a lot of media) and video evidence also supports. Yet again, the publicly available video promptly destroys the spin:

Now, the issue of how to change police culture and improve police accountability is complicated. That conversation is going to be happening at every level of government across the country in coming weeks. For now, just consider this:

What in the hell would have happened in these cases if there was no video?

That’s, uh, unsettling.

Now consider: these cases are just a few I found observing events in the last couple weeks. The last three examples occurred in a time when any police officer with a brain had to presume at minimum they’re subject to cell phone footage, let alone a journalist nearby in a widely-covered protest environment.

Which begs the more troubling question: what in the fuck has been going on in police departments across this country in months and years and decades gone by when the cameras weren’t watching?

Are all cops bad? No. Is the culture of all police departments hopelessly irredeemable? No. And yet we are getting slapped in the face especially hard the last couple weeks with facts showing the institutional rot is real and something needs to change.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers on the police reforms we need, let alone as it varies across federal, state, and local levels of government. But, I know they’re necessary.

And I know many of us who for a long time were led to believe the police were invariably deserving of our trust can either keep believing that, or we can acknowledge the steady stream of evidence telling us otherwise.

I hope more police departments will be deserving of reflexive trust in the future. But that’s not where we’re at today.

Bring on the reform debate. It’s needed. Now.

What white people can do about George Floyd

My friend Don Rohacek, took this sign to stand on a busy corner in the Denver metro area, because it needed to be said.

What can I do?

What can I say?

How can I help?

How can I have an impact?

Questions you might hear as the country erupts in the wake of the murder of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis. I said a few years back after a couple high profile police killings of black men that white people need to speak up. That’s the bare minimum now.

Writing this in Boise, Idaho I’ve felt myself itching to support a peaceful protest physically. Not many options on that score here. If I was still in New Orleans I’d damn straight be on the march. With vigor. Protests thus far in that city have been delightfully peaceful because city leadership understands how to work with protesters safely. If I was in a city with more risk, like Minneapolis or New York City, I’d gladly march in the face of potential tear gas and rubber bullets. Hell, put me in front. That’d reduce the risk of bad cops opening fire.

But whether a peaceful protest ends well or not, that’s a short-term answer to what George Floyd’s death unleashed. The long-term matters much more.

And the long-term is not simply about accountability for George Floyd’s murder. The long-term is about ongoing, systemic reform of law enforcement and the criminal justice system to address the inequality of living while black in America.

I confess that’s a tough issue for many of us white Americans to come to grips with. My “It’s Time for White People to Speak Up” post covers some of my own journey from right-of-center, middle class white guy to someone who looks very differently at these issues. Living in one of the blackest cities in America (New Orleans), in one the blackest neighborhoods in America (Treme), since added more perspective. Indeed, it radicalized me on this issue, because peeling back the layers of racial injustice in the criminal justice system in Louisiana (and the rest of the Deep South) will turn a pacifist violent with rage.

And you know what? I still don’t know what’s like to be black in America; to live daily in a world where I have to adapt because of the color of my skin.

I don’t have a clue. Because I haven’t lived it.

To put it in different terms, if you live somewhere in America outside the Gulf Coast you hear about bad weather during hurricane season when bad shit happens like Hurricanes Katrina or Harvey. You don’t hear about most of the other severe weather, let alone the near-daily thunder storms during every hurricane season. Well, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Walter Scott…those were just the hurricanes.

Now imagine what the rest of it is like.

Virtually every black American can share personal stories of injustice and inequality in daily life if you listen and if you have even an ounce of empathy. Don’t know where to hear some? I’ve got a some for you:

  • Former King County Executive Ron Sims tale of driving while black in Seattle
  • Democratic political operative Addisu Demissie’s recent reflections on little steps he has taken in his daily life to minimize the risk of being a black man in America
  • Columnist Mary C. Curtis talking to right-of-center commentator Matt Lewis in a recent episode of his podcast, where much of the discussion is on the reality of being black in America, even as successful, upper-middle class citizens
  • Harvard Public Health professor David Williams on an episode of the Ezra Klein Show, similarly spending time talking about the reality of daily life of being a black American and how that affects black people and their health

Perhaps you didn’t need those examples, perhaps you did. Either way, what next to affect long-term change? Let’s talk levels of government:

At the local level:

  • Ask candidates for mayor what kind of police chiefs they would hire if the opportunity arises and what kind of policies on use of force and community policing (vs. nonsense strategies like stop & frisk) they support
  • Ask candidates for mayor & city council how they propose to improve accountability for bad cops, including taking on the police unions that so often fight for contracts that help keep bad cops on the job and contribute to the culture in law enforcement that so desperately needs to be reformed in some cities
  • Ask candidates for prosecutor their views on reducing incarceration for non-violent crimes (especially drugs offenses) in favor of other options. Ask them how their office will hold bad cops accountable

At the state level:

  • Ask candidates their views on how to move from a system that favors incarceration to one that favors rehabilitation (since the overwhelming majority of the incarcerated rejoin society at some point)
  • Ask candidates their views on reforming sentencing guidelines that sounded good in the tough on crime days of the 80s & 90s but increasingly don’t make sense today
  • Ask candidates their views on how to treat non-violent offenders and those guilty of drug offenses (and if the state hasn’t decriminalized marijuana yet ask them while they hell not!)

At the federal level:

  • Ask candidates if they support the sentencing and related reforms of the recently implemented First Step Act. Ask them what they think a Second Step Act should look like.
  • Ask candidates if they support reforms to eliminate qualified immunity, the flawed legal doctrine that creates perverse incentives for cops to get away with behaving badly because they frequently avoid civil liability for obvious fuck ups
  • Ask candidates if they support judges whose jurisprudence errs on the side of civil liberties rather than defers to the power of the state, be that on the left (such as Justice Sonia Sotomayor) or the right (such as Justice Neil Gorsuch)

These are bipartisan issues. The First Step Act passed Congress with bipartisan majorities, and states both red and blue have been passing significant criminal justice reforms in recent years. Current office holders and prospective candidates across the aisle should be held to account on these issues if you care about the death of George Floyd. And if you start asking those questions at virtually any level, you’ll discover very quickly which candidates have cogent thoughts on these issues.

Candidly, that’s the tip of the iceberg on criminal justice reform issues and improving police accountability, so there are less George Floyds and more of this, the police in Camden, NJ walking with protesters, with the chief helping hold the banner:

To truly get to improving the experience of black Americans everyday in America we need more than just criminal justice reform, we need reform of housing policy, education policy, health care policy, and more.

One step at a time.

I can tell you whatever the policy prescription is, to address this issue, we all need to show more empathy. More empathy for our black brothers and sisters. More empathy for people in pain, dealing with experiences we can hardly begin to imagine. Empathy like the words my friend Don wrote with the picture he kindly allowed me to use at the start of this post.

Let us listen to those in pain and who are upset.

And let us respond in the spirit of Genesee County (MI) Sheriff Chris Swanson who took his helmet off, set down his baton, met protesters face-to-face to hear them out…then walked with them when they asked:

And then hero dude followed it up with some raw and real words for the crowd at the end:

That’s the kind of leadership we need.

And as we move forward, maybe you want some better sources of information on criminal justice reform issues. Here are some I value, across the political spectrum (with links to their Twitter handles):

Speaking of French, he wrote a great piece recently (but before the horrible death of George Floyd) talking about the slow change of hearts and minds that needs to happen to address the unjust killing of black people by police.

Changing hearts and minds takes time. I’ve seen first hand how some Constitutional Amendments in the 1860s and federal laws in the 1960s haven’t fixed all racial problems in New Orleans today. Far from it. Undoing the wrongs of hundreds of years and the hearts and minds of society takes time.

For now, let’s act.

I may be living in Boise, but in addition to exhorting others to act, I took action too. I just donated to Eliza Orlins for Manhattan District Attorney, because NYC may be deep blue but its law enforcement establishment is as status quo as they come. I also donated to Jason Williams for District Attorney of Orleans Parrish. The incumbent, Leon Cannizzaro, Jr. is a bad person. His policies are even worse. He’s a poster child for massive incarceration, railroading of the accused, and a general sense of injustice that pervades the worst parts of our criminal justice system. He has been a major contributor to the system that led to my aforementioned radicalization on the issue of criminal justice reform. He can go now.

Which leads me to some of the most important words that have been said in recent days, from Killer Mike. Trust me, they are so very worth your time if you have not listened to them already:

“Plot, plan, strategize and organize and mobilize in an effective way.”

Amen.

Maybe it’s taking a public stand like my friend Don Rohacek. Maybe it’s contributing to candidates like I just did and speaking out on this as I will continue to do. Maybe it’s engaging with candidates for office and elected officials to demand change. Maybe it’s even getting involved in political campaigns because these are things worth fighting for.

Great.

Do something.

Now.

Because George Floyd couldn’t breathe, and that’s not fucking right.

Stop fucking around with the coronavirus

Stop fucking around with the coronavirus

Data on the spread of coronavirus from worldometers.info, one of the most up-to-date sites on the topic.

We may have reached a tipping point this weekend with recognition about the severity of coronavirus. On top of all the other cancellations and closures, the Governors of Ohio and Illinois ordered the closing of bars and restaurants. California’s Governor ordered the closing of bars, reductions in restaurant capacity, and home isolation for all seniors. Yet spend anytime on social media and you’ll still see people skeptical such steps are necessary or doubting the impact of coronavirus and covid-19.

The only appropriate response now to such doubters is “Stop it!

To those not yet believing this is a grave public health problem, including by citing current case numbers in the United States (which as-of-today small compared to a full, normal flu season), let’s talk exponential growth.

Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Above is the rise in cases in Italy, the worst hot spot in the world today. The exponential rise in their case numbers is why they put their country in near lock-down several days ago. And coronavirus has still overwhelmed their health care system. We do not want to repeat that.

Not so fun fact: our trajectory of new cases in the US troublingly mirrors where Italy was at about 10 days ago.

Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

We have a pretty clear choice in the United States. The actions by assorted Governors today were correct, and match what countries like Italy, France, and Spain have done in recent days to shut down places of public gathering, in addition to other social distancing measures, in belated steps to control spread of the virus.

To be clear, Italy gets more attention but, a number of countries in Europe are in deep shit. France and Spain, among others, have ugly trajectories:

Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

One country who had a major outbreak who got it under control has been South Korea. Once they realized they had a major problem brewing they implemented aggressive testing, tracking, containment, and social distancing. They’ve turned the corner, bringing down daily new cases successfully:

Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

We want to be South Korea, not Italy…or France…or Spain.

You still might say, what’s the big deal? It’s just a bad flu, right?

No.

Seasonal flu has a fatality rate of 0.1%. Here are current fatality rates in key countries dealing with coronavirus right now:

  • Italy: 7.3%
  • Spain: 3.7%
  • France: 2.3%
  • South Korea: 0.9%

Those are deeply painful. The US fatality rate is currently at 1.7%. Those numbers will change. Like Italy, Spain, and France, our testing regime has not been adequate (samples of media coverage here, here, and here). We’re only catching up now, which means if things are going well case numbers and deaths will naturally rise sharply in the coming days and weeks. If they’re not going well — including because we refuse to take social distancing seriously — they’ll skyrocket.

That’s where our choices now come in, especially if you’re anywhere near a coronavirus hot spot in the US. Take all the CDC-recommended hygiene steps like washing your hands well and frequently. Stay home where possible. Keep space between you and other people where possible when out and about, and be highly prudent about when you go out and about to begin with.

Flattening the curve via social distancing is critical to making sure our health care system isn’t overwhelmed, which would spike the number of deaths as some cases get lesser or no treatment and patients with other major hospital needs, such as heart disease, have trouble accessing care. That’s the brutal reality in Italy now.

What role do each of us play? Those with coronavirus but no symptoms are still major spreaders of the disease. Sure, even many of us that get it with symptoms will be able to self-quarantine and recover at home, indeed like a bad flu. Senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, etc. (all of which are sadly too common in America) we spread it to will not be so lucky. They’re dying in Europe right now in large numbers.

China managed to turn the corner after a tardy response (and attempted cover-up) only by literally locking down entire cities, including Wuhan, which has a population larger than any American city. They still had a fatality rate of 3.9%…after taking those extreme measures.

If we do this well, we’ll look back and feel like maybe we didn’t need to take these drastic steps. If we don’t, we’ll make Italy’s horrific numbers look like kindergarten.

Let’s not do that. Be calm, wash your hands, practice social distancing…and take coronavirus seriously.

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.