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Let Glide Be Glide

Recent decisions by a conservative Methodist bishop are causing an uproar among the many followers of Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco.

A few weeks ago, the bishop, Minerva Carcaño, abruptly removed two pastors and launched a task force to assess the finances of Glide, the powerful Glide Foundation, and the “lack of an appropriate governance structure.”

It’s hard not to smile at that last one. Has the bishop never set foot in the place? A feeling of happy chaos pervades so that everyone will feel welcome, but look more closely: A strong organizational structure of some 90-plus free programs confront life-and-death issues every day.

These programs succeed where others do not because Glide has carved out a unique identity in one of the worst slums in America. Worrying about “appropriate governance structure” with the mother church probably isn’t a priority when you’re providing free meals to 700,000 people annually.

Learning from History

What’s at stake keeps reminding me of an explosive event in the 1960s, when a shoot-out nearly occurred between the Black Panther Party and San Francisco police.

The Black Panther motto: “armed self-defense”

The incident began when the Panthers opened a San Francisco branch, much to the horror of a very white SFPD. The Panthers’ cramped office was located in the Western Addition/Fillmore District, a low-income, largely African American section of the city.

The police insisted that a bomb scare required an official “visit” to the Panther branch to keep the neighborhood safe. The Panthers accused the SFPD of inventing the bomb scare to conduct a search for illegal weapons. The police prepared to advance in force that very night. The Panthers brought in sand bags, plywood to cover windows and enough ammunition to withstand a full-scale SWAT attack.

So things escalated pretty fast, and it was a very scary time anyway. Lethal firefights between police and Black Panthers were breaking out in other cities, Oakland especially. The FBI branded the Black Panther Party as “the greatest threat to the security of the country.” As is true today, tensions between law enforcement and people of color skyrocketed throughout the country.

The Issue of Trust

Neighbors in the Western Addition/Fillmore, many of them members of Glide, asked the church’s pastor, Cecil Williams, to step in. He had worked with the SFPD before — sometimes even against them — and was able to set up a meeting that afternoon.

With a delegation of Panthers and residents at his side, Williams suggested that the chief postpone the police “visit” until things cooled down and the Panthers invited them to come in.

Cecil Williams and the SFPD

The chief conferred with several captains and surprised the delegation by agreeing. “We’ll wait,” he said, “until you’re ready for us to come out there.” He then stood up as if to say the meeting was over.

“I sat there thinking this sounded too easy,” Williams remembers. As is so often true today, the fundamental issue was trust. “This was the problem of taking the word of the chief, I had learned. There was never any guarantee to the black community that police wouldn’t rush in for any reason.”

Williams then made the following announcement: “On our end, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to have 400 or 500 of our people surround the Panther office tonight, and tomorrow night, and however many nights it takes until the Panthers feel comfortable.”

The chief looked stunned. Hundreds of poor people willing to stand between outraged combatants with loaded guns? No way.

Cecil himself had no illusions. “It went without question that these people would not be armed, would not fight the police in any way, and would not move from their positions. If a bomb had really been planted and exploded in the night, many of them would be killed. If the police decided to invade the Panther headquarters, they’d have to arrest all 500 people first.”

It was a brilliant move in its Gandhian way. The chief again agreed to postpone, this time aware of potential consequences.

The Black Panther office in San Francisco

The All-Night Stand

Minutes after the meeting, Glide worker (later president) Janice Mirikitani initiated the church’s “telephone tree” (no cell phones then). One by one, volunteers arrived at the Panther office. Then dozens, then hundreds. “The crowds swelled into the streets,” Williams remembers. “Soon you couldn’t see the Panther office for the mass of people getting deeper and thicker. Still more people came; the police would have needed a tank to wedge through.”

The volunteers stood packed together that way all night. Even in the wee hours when a siren screamed by, no one panicked, even the Panthers. (It turned out to be a fire engine). The next night, the volunteers returned, and the next. They kept coming until the SFPD and Panthers found a way to reconcile. (That peace would be temporary.)

This was one of the many times that Cecil Williams interceded in a crisis. He has been successful, people believe, because Glide is both a church and a community force. Its commitment to unconditional love means “the church is there for the people, not the other way around.”

Indeed, Williams’ voice of 50 years ago sounds very much like activist pastors in the Black Lives Matter movement today.

“People want to know how I as a minister who’s devoted to nonviolence could have supported the Black Panthers and their use of guns,” he says. “I answer that it’s easy to get stuck on the issue of weapons when the larger picture — a world of racism and violence — is not being addressed at all. I am committed to unconditional love, which means I respect the reality of others. In a world where African Americans are more likely than whites to be profiled as violent, and more likely to be killed, my focus is the preservation of life.”

At Glide in the 1960s: The church as a community force

This is the point that Bishop Carcaño keeps missing, I think. Williams isn’t saying he supports people having guns. He’s saying he accepts the reality that people have guns, and he ministers to them without judgment.

That legacy has continued with all the pastors who followed. Glide “accepts the reality” of anybody who walks in the door — not only the poor and homeless but the mentally ill, the addicted, the paroled, the PTSD vets, the warring gangs and others. Many are camped outside Glide’s doors, and they are welcome to come in, too, because the love of this church has no conditions.

Then We’ll Love You

So back to Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who oversees 370 churches and says nice things like this: “As United Methodists we respect all faiths (and) love all people … All of our churches minister to the poor and marginalized.” That’s true as far as it goes.

But Carcaño’s idea of love does have conditions. “Glide Memorial United Methodist Church must remain true to the mission of the United Methodist Church,” she says, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Oh, dear. This sounds like the old Skid Road barter: Come in and have some soup, says the Christian church to the lost and homeless. But before you go, embrace Jesus Christ as your savior. Then we’ll love you.

Minerva Caraño

At no point in Glide’s 55-year history has anyone been directed to become a “disciple of Jesus Christ.” All the people, whether sitting in pews or donating millions or drunk and screaming at passers-by outside are encouraged to find their own truth, their own identity. God is not a punitive god, according to Glide — nor a judgmental god, not a shaming god. God is a freeing god to all the people, especially those who’ve been cast out.

As Cecil points out, the earliest followers of Jesus Christ were “the nobodies, the outcasts, the poor and homeless.” They built the church because Jesus spoke to all, without judgment, and brought love to all, without condition.

The Controversy Today

But let’s look at Carcaño’s accusation of a “lack of financial transparency” at Glide. This is hard to figure since Carcaño sits on the board of the Glide Foundation and has been privy to every budget, audit and account that Glide sends out to all board members and donors. Like fellow board members she has signed off on statements that prove Glide’s financial transparency. And she has probably sat back in awe at the number of donors who contribute to the annual budget of $16 million.

One of the largest donors, financier Warren Buffett, describes his long involvement with Glide here. “Nobody who’s ever given to Glide has ever felt shortchanged.” he says, referring to the transformations he’s seen among the people whom Glide calls its “clients.”

Cecil Williams, Warren Buffett, Janice Mirikitani

True, Buffett’s method of giving is unusual — he auctions off a chance to have lunch with him each year, and the highest bid usually tops $3 million — but that’s because Glide is Glide. It’s not just the homeless whom God encourages to make their own choices their own way. Rich philanthropists get to do it, too. And by the way, donors who contribute to Glide, Buffett says, “always get their money’s worth.” So what is Carcaño’s beef.

Of course so often it’s Williams and Mirikitani who draw people like Buffett — and Oprah, and Bono, and Bishop Desmond Tutu, and so many others who bring the spotlight to Glide. Carcaño has said she reassigned the two pastors because her top-level choices have been subverted by Williams and Mirikitani. They seem to be running things from behind the scenes, she believes.

If that’s true, given their ages — 77 and 89 respectively — it is astonishing in our youth-crazy culture that these two have so much power. The bishops who oversaw Glide before Carcaño embraced Williams and Mirikitani as a gift to the ongoing legacy. Perhaps it says a lot about Carcaño that she alone can’t work with them to mutual benefit.

The ‘Land Grab’ Theory

Carcaño’s critics say the real problem boils down to nothing less than an attempted land grab.

Jones Memorial Methodist Church today

Glide Memorial Methodist Church today

Glide as it happens is one of two United Methodist Churches in the city serving African American populations and pastored by African American lead ministers. The other, Jones Memorial, is located a dozen blocks away in the Western Addition. Both have developed nearby buildings for affordable housing, and the property values of both have soared with the entrance of Silicon Valley interests during the so-called “tech revolution.”

Meanwhile, say these same critics, the pension and healthcare fund of the United Methodist Church (UMC) has become so underfunded that it’s in need of massive influx of funds. The sale of the two church properties could bring in a windfall of $40-50 million, it’s been said, and solve a lot of problems.

It’s hard to believe that this kind of backroom scheming, if it exists, would be supported by someone with the activist credentials of Minerva Carcaño. She may be a rules-conscious conservative about UMC “governance,” but she’s also backed pro-immigration, LGBTQ and other progressive issues where it counts — at protests, at the border and during her own arrests.

Nevertheless, there’s another thing Carcaño misses. The two pastors at Glide didn’t just talk a good game about being “radically inclusive.” They, like Glide leaders before them all the way back to Williams and Mirikitani in the 1960s, made it a point to express unconditional love through concrete acts, such as feeding the hungry, offering shelter, providing healthcare and standing up for the humanity (read: civil rights) of all.

After retirement, Williams and Mirikitani returned as part-time employees of the Glide Foundation to support new leadership and to continue Glide’s legacy

You can see the results at Sunday Celebrations when kids and adults get onstage to tell the congregation what happens to them in Glide’s programs. These are people America once dismissed as the dregs of society. “Everybody had given up on them except you,” Buffett says to Williams and Mirikitani. Transformation really can happen when people feel deeply, authentically, unconditionally loved. Usually, week after week there’s not a dry eye in the church. It’s unfortunate that Bishop Carcano has said of Glide’s services, “Sunday Celebrations are uplifting concerts, but they lack the fundamentals of Christian worship.”

If a central concern for the modern pastor is to “respect the reality of others,” surely a central concern for Bishop Carcaño is to respect the reality of her own pastors, to let them let Glide be Glide.

Instead, it appears her approach is to eviscerate Glide, one of the most successful churches in the Methodist domain, and return to the 1950s conservatism that nearly killed it in the first place.

Note: I worked with Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani in the writing of their memoir, Beyond the Possible (HarperCollins, 2013). Most of the quotes and several photos in this post are taken from that book.

 

 

 

A Police Shrink Who Gives Up On Nobody – Part II

One day I hope someone will write a book with a title like Therapized Nation that charts the growth of the United States without mention of psychotherapists until about the 1970s.

After that, our history becomes so larded with shrinks that today few commercial novels, movies or TV shows exist without them.

What’s missing, though, are police department psychologists, especially women, as fully developed fictional characters. We see them in police briefings as stiff consultants coming forward when asked a question. Yes, they’re respectful of Freud and intrigued by Jung but oh, so careful to apply the safest and most general psychological theories.

Kirschman’s second book in the series, following ‘Burying Ben’

I think this happens because the author doesn’t know enough to establish the police psychologist as a real pro in the field, let alone a great sleuth unraveling the department’s juiciest mystery. Plus: A feminist shrink who reveals what really goes on in a mostly male, mostly white police station? Never happens.

Until, that is, a real-life veteran police psychologist named Ellen Kirschman, who’s worked with the Palo Alto CA police department for 25 years, decided to launch a bold new mystery series in 2013. It’s bold because the now-retired Kirschman introduces a smart and sardonic middle-aged veteran shrink, Dot Meyerhoff, who’s as caustic and tough as she is compassionate.

Not afraid to confront the unspoken prejudices and internal politics of Kenilworth PD (Kirschman’s fictional Bay Area police department), Dot also finds one subtly innovative way after another to serve the mostly white male cops who need yet resist her counseling.

No ‘Bigot with a Badge’

As mentioned in Part I (below), police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement had begun to hit the headlines when I discovered Kirschman’s first novel, Burying Ben, in 2013.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was, that the issue of police officers killing unarmed people of color would take a decidedly unusual twist in the second Dot Meyerhoff mystery, The Right Wrong Thing (2015).

The unexpected turn is that the cop in trouble is not the usual “bigot with a badge,” as people now regard the average police officer, Dot notices. (And why shouldn’t they, the novel ponders. A hostile and combative manner is what so many smartphone and dashboard cameras have shown us in real life.)

Instead, the officer under scrutiny is a thoughtful and dedicated white female rookie named Randy who’s passed the grueling application process at Kenilworth Police Department with flying colors.

Dot, the department psychologist whose interview is the crucial last step in the hiring process, has gone on record describing Randy as “psychologically stable, (with) good impulse control, no problems with anger, not excessively vulnerable to stress or substance abuse, extroverted, and optimistic.”

Ellen Kirschman

Sounds fine, but this is where Kirschman brings the situational ax down: Guilt-ridden when her partner is injured because she panicked during a fight (even her partner calls her a coward), Randy receives mandated counseling — a controversial issue in itself — but is back on the force too soon, thanks to a weak chief who bows to political pressure.

It’s at that moment that fate throws her a tragic curve. In the midst of approaching a pregnant African American teenager named Lakeisha, Randy believes the girl has a weapon and fires her own gun in defense, killing Lakeisha instantly.

The outrage that comes down on Randy from Lakeisha’s family and community takes a number of turns that don’t make sense to Dot. She decides to risk the chief’s wrath (and her own job) by going into the field herself to find out what happened.

The Even Trickier Part

But perhaps the more engrossing, trickier part of The Right Wrong Thing is that Randy, who was previously ostracized by Kenilworth police officers because she was the department’s first female hire — and thus rumored to be too emotional (too weak) for the job — is now embraced as a hero by these same male cops.

“I’m one of the boys now because I killed somebody,” she tells Dot, referring to Kenilworth cops as “the same jerks who gave me extra whacks in defensive tactics, just for the fun of it. Now I’m their hero. Well, fuck them. If that’s what it takes to join the good old boys’ club, I don’t want it.”

Good for you, we think (well, I thought), but Dot sees beyond Randy’s anger to symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that must be dealt with first. They range from nasty insomnia and a compulsion to relive the killing of Lakeisha to obsessive “perimeter checks” (locking and relocking windows and doors) and “diesling at the curb,” the author’s term for being so jacked up with adrenalin that she anticipates emergencies everywhere.

The prevalence of PTSD

Dot also knows that if Randy is given a slap on the wrist for killing a civilian, her own guilt will make things worse. “When the punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” Dot tells us, “all a person is left with is self-punishment.”

Indeed, Randy’s self-blame is so volatile that all she can think of is going to Lakeisha’s mother to apologize personally for the shooting. By every standard of police work, this is the wrong thing to do. But Randy no longer trusts police work or what it stands for. The only thing that feels right is unloading her remorse on the very person who’s least able to hear it

All of this comes out in the early pages, along with, of course, the usual pressures: intense-to-hysterical media coverage, litigious attorneys, death threats, a frustrated husband, furious family members and something new, even hilarious if it weren’t so tragic, on the police procedural scene:

The Spiritual Disconnect

This is Dr. Marvel (accent on the vel) Johnson, an “alternative therapist” who’s eager to tell Randy and her husband what they want to hear, instead of what they need to know.

Marvel earned her Psy.D (not Ph.D) from a place called Christian Connect Institute of Psychology and insists she’s “a bona fide psychologist” because her license allows her to practice in two states. “Christian psychologists recognize the place that God has in our lives,” she tells an increasingly skeptical Dot, “and the suffering that comes with a spiritual disconnect.”

Oh dear, “spiritual disconnect.” It’s not that Dot doesn’t understand the term; rather it’s the New Age way therapists like Marvel seem to toss stuff like that around that makes Dot gnash her teeth. Marvel has also turned the 12-step plan from Alcoholics Anonymous into a PTSD program of spiritual reconnection. “What has given Randy great relief is to give her suffering over to God,” Marvel says.

The more Marvel pushes her evangelism-in-therapy as a quickie solution to complicated issues, the more it’s almost fun to watch Dot smolder.

Marvel: “The point is that police officers are ministers of God’s authority on this earth, as it says in Romans, and as such are in a spiritual war against the forces of evil. I’m not saying [Lakeisha] was herself evil, but she clearly was in the grasp of evil forces. Once Randy realized this, she felt a great deal better.”

Dot: “Now I know this woman is full of crap.”

Kirschman wants to show us that no single police act ever happens in a vacuum. At the same time that Randy is trying to deal with the shooting of Lakeisha, community pressure is bearing down on Kenilworth PD, not only to hire more female police officers but to consider appointing a woman as chief.

Women police chiefs tell Megyn Kelly how they broke the glass ceiling

Are Female Cops Different from Male Cops?

Listening to the debate between candidates for chief, Dot notices the subtleties of gender discrimination that affect police work in what could be many police stations today.

Question: Why do you think women make good police officers?

Answer: Jay Pence, the male candidate: “Women are good with children. They have good communication skills. They have a natural affinity for caretaking that is very helpful with domestic violence victims.”

Jacqueline Reagon, the female candidate: “Women are more likely to defuse an explosive situation by talking someone down and less likely to act aggressively when they are challenged… Whereas male officers are more likely to respond aggressively because of their egos or their need to exercise control.”

Wow. Are male-female differences so obvious in police work? They are, says Reagon, a chief with many years experience from other cities. She’s here to say the era of self-censorship by women police are over.

In fact, in the “cowboy culture” of Kenilworth’s nearly all-male force, Reagon says, “acts of physical prowess or daring” are “the only activities that count” by men in uniform. Were she appointed chief, emotions, teamwork and an avoidance of acting aggressively would be higher goals, Reagon adds.

This is why I find the Dot Meyerhoff mysteries so valuable. News reports of police shootings emphasize acts of violence and aggression rather than the strong emotions and biases that run underneath. We civilians can’t see them, but a veteran police shrink like Dot gets it immediately. About Randy, for example, Dot says:

Compassion is Randy’s Achilles Heel. On the one hand, it will make her a better cop. On the other, it will obliterate the emotional distance she needs to do her job.”

Policewomen in uniform — how they started

By the way, I’ve always wondered why the military insists on being, you know, militant about uniforms. Demi Moore is so stuffed into that Navy blouse in A Few Good Men that she looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Women cops look equally uncomfortable because they’re wearing clothes originally designed for men, yet few people say anything about it.

Except Dot. She notices everything. “Uniforms improve how men look, the sharp creases and expert tailoring making them look taller, straighter, and fitter than they might otherwise appear. Chief Reagon’s uniform only emphasizes her height, her thick legs, and her lack of grace.”

Unfortunately Kirschman’s fiction continues to have problems. In The Right Wrong Way, her main characters (other than Dot) need complexity and sophistication; there’s a sameness to the dialogue; ethical questions are left undeveloped and “action” scenes sometimes feel false, as does Dot’s reckless way of inserting herself into police business.

Perhaps most important, we readers need to see the value of Dot’s job in the everyday. In one scene, for example, she calls spouses (mostly wives) into the station for a confidential meeting in which everyone is encouraged to let off steam and talk about resolutions to family issues. As Dot often says, “the only thing harder than being a police officer is being married to one.” Under her guidance, these debriefings can be profoundly cathartic.

Watching Dot champion these women while opening the gates to higher emotional ground should be fascinating and informative for the reader. However, just when the most revealing admissions begin to surface, Kirschman cuts away to a different plot point, leaving this opportunity unfulfilled.

Elsewhere, we get to watch Dot help a beleaguered officer pull out of a terrifying panic attack, and that is a joy to behold. How great it would be if we could see more of this routine psychologist’s work so beautifully handled, while at the same time Dot spots clues to the mystery underfoot.

But again, here we are in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which millions of women hope signals a true watershed in the way society thinks about women. If mystery readers enjoy the quiet genius of a woman like Dot, without regard to age or sexual attraction, surely there’s hope for a less babe-alicious genre.

Happily, Kirschman confronts one of the most controversial issues in this regard in book #3.

Next, Part III: The Fifth Reflection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Thoughts for the Nice Guys

May I ask the famous male actors who say they’re “utterly disgusted” by Harvey Weinstein to take the next step?

I’m talking to the nice guys of the industry — George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Benedict Cumberbatch, and others. Don’t wait until people say you knew about Weinstein all along. Speak out when bad acts happen.

Here are some ways to do it:

1) The next time an actor like Seth Rogen declares he’s “trying to conceal massive erection” because Kate Beckinsale is standing next to him on the stage of the Golden Globe Awards, speak out.

Kate Beckinsale, Seth Rogen at Golden Globes

Tell the Seth Rogens everywhere to shut up with that stuff. It just opens the door for the next Harvey Weinsteins who are surely on the way.

2) When you see a young woman like Kate Beckinsale pretending to laugh so she’ll be perceived as a good sport, speak out again.

Talk to your men friends about empathy. How do you think it feels to be the butt of some 6-year-old’s “dick joke” in front of millions?

Now Seth, you can be a good guy, too. At a recent round-table discussion hosted by the Hollywood Reporter, you said that Harvey Weinstein was guilty of “horribly inappropriate behavior.”

Well, don’tcha see, at the Golden Globes, so were you. Now every time say or hear a sexual remark denigrating women, you can do something about it.

3) I think it’s true that George Clooney would never embarrass women to get a cheap laugh. But let’s revisit that same Golden Globes when Clooney congratulated fellow nominee Michael Fassbender for having a huge penis.

“You could play golf like this, with your hands behind your back,” Clooney said, taking an imaginary “swing” as though a long club were hanging between his legs.

George Clooney

Okay, come on, guys: George, do you think your remark was just a harmless bit of bawdy humor? Do you want your daughter, now 3, to grow up in an atmosphere of “dick jokes” and other he-man stuff that make her feel like a lesser person?

4) These kinds of jokes are never a one-time thing. As one Hollywood website commented, “George isn’t the only actor who’s helped Michael score a few more holes-in-one, if you know what we mean.”

Sorry to say, we do. Referring to women as “holes” sets the bar pretty low. It means if you don’t stop polluting the social climate with relentless genital/toilet/sexual humor, you’re again contributing to the rise of every Weinstein/Cosby/Ailes/O’Reilly etc.in the future.

[DRIB (Don’t Read If Busy): It’s true that emcee Ricky Gervais gets away with sexually offensive commentary when he hosts programs like the Golden Globes. This is what he’s hired for — to blatantly shock and disgust for the sake of higher ratings — so people can decide ahead of time to watch or not. To me, that’s a First Amendment matter, and I have to say, sometimes he’s genuinely, caustically, tellingly witty. What I’m asking celebrity actors to address is that everyday locker-room humor that inspires images of groping and raping and doing whatever intrusive males can get away with. Fellas, talk about this. You can change it.]

5) Remember, guys, “dick jokes” may be funny to YOU. Recently on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, satirist John Oliver ran a segment called Dicks in which TV reporters were shown drawing symbols on screens and maps to predict traffic patterns, storm systems, construction zones and the like.

These directional graphics resembled everything from arrows to canons to flat kitchen knives and rounded batons with an occasional circle or two at one end. Some looked like male genitals but really, most didn’t. The message was: “Look everybody: dicks!”

John Oliver

Now fellas, consider: If these same TV announcers had drawn balloon-like images showing the spread of fire or influenza or drought, would it have been funny to point and say, “Look, everybody: breasts!”

I bet John Oliver, one of the most astute and incisive commentators on television — also one of the most foul-mouthed — would be the first to say No. He knows this kind of humor is not only disrespectful to women, it’s immature and boorish to boot.

[DRIB: So why did he run the segment? I think some advisor has told Oliver to lard the show with the word FUCK, egregious dick jokes and sexual references having nothing to do with satrizing the news. It’s ironic that this emphasis on “swearing and screwing” not only gets in the way; it weakens the very strengths that make the show unique.]

6) Now men, let’s also watch out for you-get-it-but-you-don’t-get-it moments, as in this interview that George Clooney gave to the Daily Beast:

“A lot of people are doing the ‘you had to know’ thing (about Weinstein) right now, and yes, if you’re asking if I knew that someone who was very powerful had a tendency to hit on young, beautiful women, sure. But I had no idea that it had gone to the level of having to pay off eight women for their silence, and that these women were threatened and victimized… “

Wait, George, wait: You’re at the center of things in Hollywood, so you do know. Men who are powerful don’t just “hit on young, beautiful women” — as though “hit on” is another term for “flirt.” Men like Harvey Weinstein overpower young women and force them to perform sexually.

So George, you have every idea about the way Hollywood works, as was also apparent when you told People magazine that Ryan Gosling didn’t attend the awards ceremony because he was “in Thailand or something. And you know what you do in Thailand.” Snicker snicker! Let’s ask the 10-year-old girls in Thailand what they think. Or let’s just cut that kind of remark.

7) Still, there’s hope, George! You also said,

“… this (the Weinstein revelation) isn’t a right or a left issue. This is a moral issue. We’re all going to have to be more diligent about it and look for any warning signs.”

Attaway, guy! And now that you realize you too are a warning sign, you’re going to speak up, right? And encourage others to join you.

Courtney Love

8) It must now be a given that a lone woman who protests Weinstein-like behavior risks being “eternally banned.” Courtney Love says Creative Artists Agency did that to her back in 2005 when a reporter asked if she had any advice for young women trying to break into Hollywood.

“I’ll get libeled if I say it,” she replied, adding, “If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party at the Four Seasons, don’t go.”

She was right, but there was a price to pay, which is why you guys have to step up. Be feminist men.

9) Granted, it’s not easy. Let’s take a moment to ponder what any of us would have done after a Sundance screening in 2010 of a movie called The Killer Inside Me starring Casey Affleck.

Jessica Alba at the start of the movie

The story is about two beautiful women (Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba) who fall in love with a seemingly mild-mannered law enforcement dude (Affleck) who beats them horribly. It turns out they like to be beaten, so the camera focuses on cheekbones being crushed, eyeballs smashed, etc. But the women keep asking for it because they forgive him. After all, there’s a “killer inside” him. The little love, he can’t help it.

After the screening, a woman stood up and yelled, “I don’t understand how Sundance could book this movie! How dare you? How dare Sundance?” The director was there for a Q&A and said later he was “in shock” at the reaction. He thought it was “more moral” to show what beating the shit out of women really looks like than to leave the violence offscreen.

Jessica Alba after expressing her love in the movie

Well, somebody really relished that job. Now remember fellas, nobody’s talking censorship here. In fact it’s the opposite — the hope is that today, Weinstein/Cosby/Ailes etc. disclosures will launch a wider discussion than ever. Maybe Weinstein didn’t produce “S&S”(suck ’em and slice ’em) movies as a rule, but at the center of the film world, it’s important to remember, he did rule.

Women critics have tried to dig more deeply into the reason misogynistic violence appears in movies and TV, not just occasionally but as a steady diet that seems to stimulate an appetite for more. They constantly challenge “sadistic movie violence against women” and the film industry’s assumptions that audiences “are happy to watch their heroines being beaten and gagged,” not to mention “cut and splayed and killed.”

It’s time to listen to them. As Rachel Cooke of the Guardian points out, it’s “unpalatable” to have to watch the “complicity of these women in their own destruction.” Yet it’s a theme that appears often.

So guys, the question is, if you’re in a Sundance audience where a woman gets up and shouts her objections to a movie like this, what do you do? Would you see it as an opportunity to at least talk about what’s happening in film all over the world? Would you insist in the Q&A that the director recover from his “shock” and answer the tougher, more revealing questions? You could always retire to a coffee shop with a handful of film buffs. You could write up the matter in your blog or emails or Facebook or Twitter. You could do something.

The fear right now is that after the Me,Too campaign dies down and the Weinsteins get fired or sent to jail and replaced, the film industry will again turn a deaf ear to women who are the prey of sexual predators, and the women who speak up.

And guys, here’s the truth of it: Pretending that women aren’t targeted and don’t speak up means you condone “the way Hollywood works” as the Weinsteins of the world define it.

10) See what I mean, George? And Ben and Benedict? Saying you’re disgusted by Harvey Weinstein is just a start. The whole issue of difference, sexual and otherwise, is complicated and dense and deep. Don’t make fun of it as though you’re in a school yard.

And bring a little compassion to the table. Trevor Noah, the savvy and big-hearted host of The Today Show, recently apologized to feminist writer Roxane Gay because he himself used to make “fat jokes” about women.

Roxane Gay, Trevor Noah

The problem came later when Noah turned around and made a “runt joke” about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (And it was a cliche runt joke at that: “Oh, I didn’t realize you are standing,” said Noah about the “tiny” man stepping up to take the oath.)

If you read Noah’s riveting autobiography Born a Crime, you know he’s much too discerning to make a schoolyard blunder like that. But this is another case of knowing-and-not-knowing: To Noah’s mind, the assigned villain of the hour has no humanity. All the guys get to pile on.

That’s almost just as bad. Let’s call in those laugh-a-minute Weekend Update guys on Saturday Night Live who seem to believe that because Harvey Weinstein is the current sexual boogeyman, they get to be mean. And nasty.

Michael Che on Saturday Night Live describing Harvey Weinstein

“It’s so easy to make jokes about a guy who looks like this,” said Michael Che, referring to a photo of Weinstein. “I mean he looks like chewed bubble gum rolled in cat hair.”

HaHaHa, hilarious, no? If the same man had been a Nobel Prize-winning philanthropist, would you have said the same thing? Or compounded the error by calling him “a well-dressed skin tag,” just to get another laugh?

Granted, Saturday Night Live is hardly a bastion of sophistication and class, but that’s not the point, is it?

Think about this, fellas — Kate Beckinsale may be conventionally beautiful, and Harvey Weinstein may be conventionally unattractive, but it’s their hearts and souls that matter in our everyday dealings with them, wouldn’t you say?

Take away issues about looks — skin color, ethnic features, disability, height and weight, national/religious garb — and what’s left is the person’s humanity. Aren’t we all seeking a world of equality? To get there it’s nice to remember: Looks never matter.

Except maybe in one way: Recently Kate Beckinsale, now 44, disclosed that Harvey Weinstein ambushed her in his hotel room when she was all of 17.

Kate Beckinsale, age 17

If looks did matter, that picture of her as a young person with her whole life in front of her has got to melt the heart of many an adult.

The thought comes: Maybe we lost our chance for civility when Hillary Clinton lost the election. But let’s honor her message in It Takes a Village. If we don’t stand up for the youngest and most vulnerable among us, who will?

So come on guys! It may be too late to stop what happened in the past, but surely you can be among the counted for the next teenage girls who are about to be “interviewed” by the next Harvey Weinsteins all around us.

 

 

 

 

What “The Art of the Deal” Tells Us 30 Years Later

Since I found it so enlightening to read Hillary Clinton’s first book, It Takes a Village (1996, revised 2006), I decided to look at Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal (1987), with a fresh eye.

Jacket illustrations of both books have been updated, but inside The Art of the Deal, things don’t look so good.

Blurred type in 'The Art of the Deal'

Blurred type, uneven lines in “The Art of the Deal”

Remember in the days of Xerox when you’d lose the original and have to copy from a copy? And the next one would copy the last copy, and on and on until the words blurred together and illustrations faded out?

Apparently something like that has happened to the most recent (2015) edition of The Art of the Deal: It’s as if the plates weren’t replaced for so long that the type wore down, the photos faded and the lines wobbled.

In the book trade we used to call this a “begrudged reprint,” meaning the publisher (Ballantine) feels obligated to keep a former bestseller in print but doesn’t want to spend the money. So out comes something shoddy, like a pulp novel from the 1930s.

Blurred photo from The Art of the Deal -- for some reason the bottom photo is signed "Nancy and Reagan Reagan"

Faded photo from “The Art of the Deal” — for some reason the bottom picture is signed, “Nancy and Reagan Reagan”

In this case, I wondered if that great Mr. Sweetie Pie of paperback publishing, Ian Ballantine himself, rolled over in his grave and said, “Keep that idiot Donald Trump in print? Over my already dead body.” And so it was.

What He Didn’t Say

But back to what Donald Trump was saying 30 years before running for office. Of course The Art of the Deal was written with a professional author, Schwartz, so it’s a polished version of the same old braggadocio stuff Trump blows out today:

Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.

So: all he does every day is telephone powerful people and make deals. That’s how he’d be President of the United States today. Like a Mafia don, “sometimes I have to be the bad guy,” but usually the world presents him with prospects, and he doesn’t have to do any research; he just goes by his gut:

… A pair of beautiful gleaming white towers caught my eye. I made a couple of calls. It turned out they’d been built for about $120 million and a major New York bank had just foreclosed on the developers. The next thing I knew I was making a deal to buy the project for $40 million.

This kind of King of the Hill talk appealed to millions 30 years ago. People thought the book would give them tips about How to Win from a true real estate tycoon. Of course, Trump gave away nothing.

But today we recognize The Art of the Deal as the first indicator of the way Trump sold out to corporate media. Instead of conquering the world, he began performing for the world. Instead of reaping profits, he became a clown for money.

With each new book, he was more showman than author. On his reality television show, The Apprentice, he turned into caricature. He glowered for the camera; he growled “You’re fired!” He wanted to sound authentic, as long as it was scripted.

But the giant Trump, the powerful Trump who once made New York sit up and beg (or so it seemed) was gone. He never recovered from his bankruptcies. His real estate failures were colossal, and his books, gradually unreadable, stopped selling in the high numbers.

Suddenly Donald Trump was talking dirty in a desperate way on Howard Stern. The “brand” that at one time could sell anything — steaks, casinos, that stupid university — began to sound mean and sniveling.

Marcia Cross, best known for her role in Desperate Housewives

Marcia Cross, best known for her role in “Desperate Housewives”

“Would you go out with Marcia Cross or would you turn gay, Howard?”

This week Rachel Maddow said there’s a rumor going around that Trump is writing a sequel called The Art of the Deal 2.0. This would explain why he’s still hawking the 1987 book, as she showed in a half-dozen video clips:

“President Obama, Secretary Kerry,” he says from the podium, “I highly think you should read this book quickly.”

“Oh, he’s got The Art of the Deal,” says Trump, spotting a man in the audience. Hold that book up, please. One of the great books …”

“Who has read The Art of the Deal in this room?” he asks a baffled audience. “Everybody. I always say, [my book is] a deep, deep second to the bible.”

Trump pleading for a place in history would be funny if it weren’t so tragic, but as Maddow showed, it’s all part of a grand scheme to exploit the presidential election and make money.

As we saw this week when he had to reveal his campaign expenses, Trump has funneled donations of about $6 million to pay himself for use of the Trump jet, Trump hotels, Trump restaurants, his own homes, his son’s wineries and every possible item down to ice in drinks and merchandise like Make America Great Again baseball caps.

What an idiot (to quote my fantasy of Ian Ballantine): Does Donald Trump really think he can get away with this? “It’s a racket,” says Maddow, pointing to perennial candidates like Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain and Mike Huckaby. She asks: What do these people do for a job?

Well, they don’t hold office; they campaign for office. And they live off the donations that support each campaign. “What we’ve created is a weird system of incentives where people appear to run for office, but actually they run as a job where they can….get deals [as consultants] on Fox News.”

Trump would never do that — it’s too cheap, too weak, too pathetic. Plus they’re all losers. It’s just that he can’t help selling himself because that’s all he knows how to do. As a result his campaign looks like one big book tour.

And yes, if there’s an Art of the Deal 2.0, Trump may make a couple of million dollars from it, and add that amount to the other millions skimmed off donations to pay himself. Why not? Listing $1.3 million on record to finance his campaign (as opposed to Hillary Clinton’s $42 million), he’ll be given billions of dollars’ worth of free publicity by craven American media. So why should he care?

Well, the one thing The Art of the Deal tells us is that Trump cares only about being the conquering hero. He’s wants the glory of the conquest, and once that deal is made, he’s bored.

I think Trump is already tired at how much the campaign asks of him; he’s sensing the Oval Office will make him work 100 times harder. No wonder this Saturday he’s going to fly off to Scotland to open another golf course.

Of course, Scottish residents and elected officials hate him there for real estate developments he’s already promised and botched. But then, they’re not the American people.

Voting with Our Winkies

I keep hearing this statement from women about the presidential election:

“Don’t ask me to vote with my genitals,” they say, meaning, Don’t tell me to vote for Hillary Clinton just because she’s a woman.

IMG_2013 (2)They’re right. If we voted for women only because they’re female, Carly Fiorina and Sarah Palin would still be around. These two are gone because they were ridiculously inexperienced, plus: you can’t cram femaleness down the throats of American voters, male or female.

Still, the fact is, the presidential election has been hijacked by genitalia.

From the moment Donald Trump said that Hillary Clinton got “schlonged” in a primary election, to his delight in describing the size of his penis, to his disgust at Megan Kelly’s menstrual period (“blood running out of her whatever”) and even at Hillary taking a bathroom break, genitals have been Trump’s way of avoiding serious subjects and generating headlines for himself.

But here is my hope:

After decades of hearing increasingly blunt slang about men’s private parts, I respectfully suggest the term “winkies” as a gentle way for women to refer to ours.

I’ve never had an erection or worried about genital size or understood what penis envy is all about. But I do know that just as the stars wink from above, wondrous reminders of life’s joys for women twinkle below.

The language of winkies is elegant and subtle. It connects our biological apparatus with life-inspiring things — love, babies, growth, purpose, harmony. It overrides Donald Trump’s references to a woman as a “bimbo,” a “pig,” a “fat ugly face” or “piece of ass.”

And it defuses Trump’s hate-mongering of other men as “rapists,” “losers,” “liars” and “killers.” When he threatened Ted Cruz with plans to “spill the beans on your wife,” he again cheapened the whole conversation with genital-based remarks. So the erosion of winkiedom continued.trump-matthews-575x341

Then came the recent Chris Mathews interview about abortion, Here more blatantly than before was Donald Trump stomping around our winkies to say that our choice about our reproductive organs and our belief in the moment of life’s conception were all for Himself and the government to decide.

So it’s no longer a question whether you even want to vote with your genitals. Donald Trump is saying his genitals overtake yours, if you let him.

Voting with my winkies, I won’t let him.

Back to Hillary

Most people acknowledge that Hillary Clinton is the most experienced candidate by far. That fact alone should be enough for a landslide victory.

But it isn’t enough, and the reason is well known: Hillary has a trust problem. I find it painful to watch, but she’s just not convincing at the microphone sometimes, not in the way Trump is. Perhaps that’s why Trump supporters forgive his many gaffes — yes, he’s belligerent, they say, but at least he’s honest. Maybe he’s fibbing, but he would never lie to us. Not in the way Hillary could.

The red (unfavorable) line ascends while the black (favorable) drops

The red (unfavorable) line ascends while the black (favorable) drops

The most eye-opening umbrella poll (combining data from 10 polls in one) charts her “unfavorable” rating from 33.4% in January 2009 to 54.7% by the end of January 2016. That’s a lot of lost trust.

Things might not get better for Hillary, as TV comic Jimmy Kimmel “man-splained” while she pretended to give a speech on his show: “You’re too shrill,” he said, followed immediately by: “You’re like a mouse up there.” “Is that what you’re going to wear?” “It would be nice if you smile” / “It’s too forced! Do you want to be president or a Lakers’ girl?” / “Oh my god with the sourpuss…”Unknown

It was funny and revealing. Hillary was a good egg about it. But the point landed beautifully:

Kimmiel: “You’re not doing it right. I can’t quite put my finger on it. You’re not ….”

Hillary: “A man?”

Kimmel: “That’s it! But listen, that was really cute the way you said it.”

The takeaway one couldn’t shake was that if Hillary Clinton were Donald Trump, she would wear her entitlement like a shroud. She could, as Trump has said about himself, “go out and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” And Jimmy would really approve.

A book reviewer’s perspective:

Maybe it’s Hillary’s advisors. There must be dozens of them making pronouncements about her style of speaking, dressing, talking, debating and, unfortunately, writing.

This last — her writing style — is my purview. I’m a book reviewer who for 20 years has been decrying and pounding the table and worrying about the narrative voice that Hillary Clinton uses in her books.

She’s written three memoirs to date and I’m sorry to say they’re all overwritten and full of palaver. Here’s an example from page 26 of Hard Choices, her 2014 book about being Secretary of State:

“My confidence was rooted in a lifetime of studying and experiencing the ups and downs of American history and a clear-eyes assessment of our comparative advantages relative to the rest of the world. Nations’ fortunes rise and fall, and there will always be people predicting catastrophe just around the corner. But it’s never smart to bet against the United States. Every time we’ve faced a challenge, whether war or depression or global competition, Americans have risen to meet it, with hard work and creativity.”

Oh, dear. You have to prop up your eyelids to slog through the blah-blah effect that takes up about a third of this 635-page book.

It sounds so superficial that I used to joke after reviewing Living History, her 2003 memoir: Why, the committee that wrote this book should be ashamed: Two or three words of actual significance sneaked through.

The “Rape Capital of the World”

At the same time, however, I want to say, READERS, KEEP THOSE EYES OPEN, because when Hillary Clinton decides to take action, the writing comes alive, and big, trustworthy events take place.

Hillary Clinton in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo

Hillary Clinton in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo

For example, on page 280, here is Hillary going to the “rape capital of the world” — the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (She was the first Secretary of State to visit an active war zone, according to the New York Times.) She went to Goma because soldiers on both sides of the conflict were raping women “as a way of dominating communities and gaining tactical advantage.”

This hideous idea, that rape has become tactic of war, systematically used to demoralize entire populations, was so brutal that women “could no longer bear children, work, or even walk,” she writes. And the practice wasn’t limited to Goma. Hillary would tell National Public Radio that rape as a weapon of war spread “from the Balkans to Myanmar, Sri Lanka to Guinea.”

Forget for a moment how many Secretaries of State risked their lives to enter a war zone. I want to ask how many of our highest officials before Hillary have mentioned the horror of soldiers raping every woman in sight as a war tactic?

Colin Powell’s report on “the atrocities in Darfur in 2004” included “exactly five sentences” on the subject in 2004. Madeleine Albright mentioned “organized rape” as a weapon of war in Kosovo in 1999. Condoleezza Rice spoke about it movingly on ABC News in 2008.

But it was Hillary who made international headlines in 2009; Hillary who declared it the responsibility of America to expose what is now recognized as an “epidemic of rape“; Hillary who introduced a mobile banking system for soldiers whose salaries were being stolen by corrupt officers; and Hillary who didn’t just meet with Congolese president Joseph Kabila but talked to rape survivors, aid workers, engineers, medical personnel and children in refugee camps that were getting larger by the day.

With Joseph Kabila

With Joseph Kabila

I go into this episode at length to acknowledge how quickly, and how deeply, Hillary Clinton learned to address complicated problems with long-term solutions during her term as Secretary of State.

In the Goma instance, for example, she could have waited for the usual State Department bureaucracy to grind out thousand-page reports nobody would read.

Instead she announced while still in the Congo that the United States would provide $17 million to “train doctors, supply rape victims with video cameras, send American military engineers to help build facilities and train Congolese police officers, especially female police officers, to crack down on rapists,” according to the New York Times.

And that kind of approach is just beginning. When it comes to women-related issues that too often get lost in obscurity across the world — issues like “domestic violence, forced prostitution, rape as a tactic or prize of war, genital mutilation, bride burning,” as Hillary’s “list of abuses” then included — Hillary Clinton knows how to work with her counterparts to find an answer.

Didn’t government used to be about getting things done? By comparison, the short-term, headline-making, genital-waving Donald Trump only wastes the world’s time.

John MacEnroe

The MacEnroe Syndrome

Maybe it’s the MacEnroe Syndrome — that tendency named after tennis player John MacEnroe to explode with righteous anger when officials make what he saw as the wrong call. MacEnroe played great tennis, of course, but perhaps his real performance was disguising that quivering lip, that scrunched-up face, so no one would see a little boy throwing a temper tantrum over which he had no control.

Trump’s version of this, whether attacking Rosie O’Donnell or China, is to distract people from how much anger he really carries around by acting tough and worldly:

“Get even. When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades. I really mean it. I really mean it. You’ve got to hit people hard and and it’s not so much for that person, it’s that other people watch.”

It comes on as a syndrome because blam! all of a sudden the weirdest outrage overwhelms the senses. By contrast, we may not like Hillary’s style, but she’s never apoplectic. Trump so believes in his sucker-punch persona that he wants his genitals to rule.

(Note: I quote the NYTimes and NPR above because [Donald, are you listening?] Hillary doesn’t brag. In Hard Choices we see that she did even more in the Congo and later at the United Nations about stopping rape as a war tactic (pages 279-282), and she makes clear these actions were only a start.)

So I don’t care if …

So I don’t care if Hillary sounds phony when her advisors tell her to raise her voice at the microphones, or look angry for the cameras, or develop that male swagger that makes Donald Trump such a compelling fascist to some.

It’s Hillary’s actions that count — hundreds of acts as complicated and terrifying to contemplate as standing up to the rape epidemic in Goma. And hundreds of others require the kind of calm, firm, transparent testimony she gave to the bullying and interrupting Republican members of Congress, who made the House Committee on Benghazi “thoroughly discredited as a partisan sham.”images

That test of leadership included eleven hours of grueling testimony, from which she emerged as both trustworthy and presidential. Baited, patronized, attacked and dismissed, she never raised her voice, never responded angrily or tried to distract the proceedings by referring to genital size. She doesn’t have genital size from Trump’s point of view. She doesn’t care about genital size.

And then, voila, her most formidable critics could not contain their praise. If the hearing had been “designed to go after” Hillary so she’d wouldn’t dare run for president, it failed. As a result, her approval ratings soared.

That lasted about a week.

I’d also like to say a word about how great it is to fall in love with Bernie Sanders, as Susan Sarandon and a lot of women voters have. Bless him, he was a fierce opponent of the war in Iraq (Hillary voted for it); he’s passionate about income inequality and Wall Street reform; he’s taught us all to prioritize the issues (“your damn emails“), and I bet no one is more embarrassed and ashamed at Donald Trump bringing his genitals to the table than Bernie Sanders.

I worry that Bernie with so little foreign policy experience would, on his first day in the White House, be so completely overwhelmed at how close the world is to nuclear war that he’d want to call Hillary, who used to eat those Top Secret briefings for breakfast and digest them by noon, every day for four years as Secretary of State.damn_emails_2

But most of all, I worry that if Bernie loses the nomination and urges his supporters to vote for Hillary, it won’t be enough.

It’s like the Equal Rights Amendment. Remember? A simple statement that said women are equal to men. Introduced to Congress in 1923 — a shoe-in, right? — pronounced dead by 1982. And that was a trust issue, too. A lot of women believed it but did not trust it.

The parallel seems to be that in the United States, when complexity is reduced to simplistic ideas, voters are supposed to sort things out. That’s going to be hard in November when we face opposites defined by cliche: Hillary wants to lead; Trump wants to rule. She is a feminist; he is the patriarchy. Hillary wants to be president; Trump wants to be king.

Not vote with your winkies?

Listen to them, girls — it’s the only shot we have.

Note: I’ve said all of this without mentioning Hillary’s first book, It Takes a Village, which is still the foundation of her candidacy. More about that, the recent fiasco about abortion, and a Hillary Clinton most of us don’t know in Part II.

 

One More Question Before Saturday

Preparing for my talk on “The Publishing Revolution” this Saturday, the host group, Sufi Women Organization, asked if women played a particular role in publishing history.

Vat a question! You wouldn’t think that women in the fine old “Gentlemen’s Profession” ever wielded a lot of power, and I’ll talk about why they didn’t — until, that is, a fantastic turning point in the 1980s.

A quick glimpse: Before then, just about every general book review section was dominated by reviews of white male authors — Saul Bellow, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe, Joseph Heller and others.

After the 1980s, a Big Shift took place when those same front pages ran reviews of books by women — and very often women of color — such as Alice Walker, Amy Tan, Isabel Allende, Barbara Kingsolver, Arundhati Roy, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, Bharati Mukerjee and more.

Want to guess why? (Hint: Think Bay Area.) Actually I’ve never understood it, but come for brunch on Saturday and let’s all figure it out in the Q&A!

A few seats are left and advance reservations are required (no tickets at the door) by the end of Wednesday, March 2. Here’s the info — see you then!

Patricia Holt

on

The Publishing Revolution

Saturday March 5, 2016

Brunch 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

The Club at McInnis Park

350 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael CA

For reservations call: 1-415-472-6959

Or register online at ias.org/swo

 

About that “Publishing Revolution”

I’m very excited to speak next Saturday 3/5 in San Rafael for Sufi Women on “The Publishing Revolution.”

For years I’ve used that term to describe what Holt Uncensored is all about. Now for the first time I hope to answer two big questions about it in one talk:

#1 From the start, why did Americans follow the British model by allowing book publishers to locate in one place (the Atlantic seaboard at first, now New York), thus dictating to the tastes of the rest of the country? We certainly took our beloved newspaper presses Westward; why not book presses?

#2 Why don’t we call the present Internet era a transformation? What is it about the print-to-screen process that’s made it a publishing revolution? (Hint: arrogance and outrage, to be describe calmly.)

Coming with me will be a giant USA map (4 by 6 feet!) held up thanks to Sufi Women with clamps and tape and more than one easel, plus a red dot laser pointer used by actual snipers to show the glorious mess in media and book industries we’re living with now.

The energy of the crowd brings its own surprises, so come with burning questions and remember, the fee may be hefty ($30) but you get a terrific brunch plus the ambiance of golfers swearing outside the windows and me swearing calmly inside..

Pre-registration required but the great Sufi Women have extended the deadline to Wednesday 3/2. Here’s the information:

Patricia Holt

on

The Publishing Revolution

Saturday March 5, 2016

Brunch 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

The Club at McInnis Park

350 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael CA

For reservations call: 1-415-472-6959

Or register online at ias.org/swo

 

P.S.: THANK YOU SUFI WOMEN, a spiritual and humanitarian organization to beat the band.

Amazon: The Spoof and the Store

Here’s a fictional job interview from a recent novel about Amazo — pardon, a retail book giant on the Internet with the made-up name of Scroll. See if you recognize this novel:

“Tell me, Alice, how do you like to read?”

“Oh – well, I love to read!”

“I mean, do you use an e-reader or …?”

She leaned forward slightly, like she wanted to reach over and catch my answer in her hands.

“Of course. I have a Kindle, first generation. I also read galleys, manuscripts, hardcovers, basically whatever I can get my hands on.”

“So you’re agnostic.”

“Actually I was raised Catholic, and I’ve fallen pretty far from the flock, but I still consider myself a spiritual person, if that makes any sense?” (Why was she asking about religion? Was this even legal?)

“Good to know. But I meant platform agnostic, meaning you toggle back and forth between your device and carbon-based books.”

If you spotted this as a scene from A Window Opens by Elizabeth Egan, published by Simon & Schuster in August, you’re right.

"A Window Opens," hardcover edition.

“A Window Opens,” hardcover edition.

Egan, who once worked as an editor at Amazon’s New York publishing office, has given us both a cautionary tale and a spoof about the horrid place. Instead of parodying the book publishing efforts that she witnessed for about a year, A Window Opens envisions what might happen if Amazon were to climb down from its e-Ivory Tower and open an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore.

And so, ta da! That very thing happened just last month, when the online retail giant Amazon.com opened Amazon Books, a 5500-square-foot retail bookstore in Seattle. Rumor has it this might be the flagship for a coming chain of retail bookstores across the country, but we won’t know for a year or so.

Amazon's first bookstore (not a Benihana)

Amazon’s first bookstore (not a Benihana)

In the book, Egan’s vision of Amazon’s first retail effort is different from the reality, as we’ll see. But in both cases, the store and the spoof, observers get to see how easily the language of e-everythinge-readers, e-books, e-devices, e-families, e-marriage, e-idiocy and e-tyranny — affects modern life.

A Window Opens is about Alice Pearce, a happily married mother of three kids in upscale New Jersey, who holds a part-time job as book editor for a popular women’s magazine called You.

This is the first of several parallels linking author and character. Egan is also a mother of three living in suburban New Jersey, and You sounds like a combination of the real-life magazine Self, where Egan once worked as book editor, and Glamour, where she reviews books now.

Alice loves the fact that she can commute to Manhattan part-time and be a stay-at-home mother most of the time. When, however, her husband Nicholas is passed over for partner at his hotsy totsy Wall Street firm, he figures his only option is to start a firm of his own. With no start-up money, no office and no clients, he needs Alice to step up and find a high salary-paying job of her own.

Author Elisabeth Egan

Author Elisabeth Egan

Facing that all-too-common terror of the long-out-of-work “soccer Mom” leaving a cushy fun employer like You and returning to full-time work, Alice finds out fast that she’s practically unemployable. Then almost out of the blue, she’s asked to interview for a job as “content manager” at Scroll, a new chain of bookstores that may quickly dominate the retail landscape.

“Our mission is to reinvent reading the way Starbucks reinvented coffee,” says the Marketing Specialist at Scroll who discovers Alice – not through an employment agency or head-hunter, of course, but by following Alice’s cute literary bon mots on Twitter.

Scroll outlets will not be bookstores exactly. They’re called “reading lounges” because for one thing, there will be no physical (carbon-based!) books in the stores. Instead, customers will be able to, as Alice learns, “browse e-books on docked tablets and then download files directly to all their devices at once. Plans for the lounges include fair-trade-certified coffee bars and eco-friendly furniture sourced from reclaimed local materials.”

Although based in Manhattan to be near the mainstream book industry, Scroll is “tethered to its parent,” a giant chain of shopping malls called MainStreet that “curates” retail needs in one place. “So patrons could buy, say, a wheel barrow along with their gardening book,” Alice tells us.

You can see the author’s smart set-up. Words like CURATE, AGNOSTIC and CARBON-BASED all sound like exaggerations that could easily spring from a company like Amazon — or Google, Apple, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — where workers feel required to use language that sounds visionary, hip and brave.

At a Scroll store, customers can browse e-books in a recliner chair with cup holders that keep their organic beverage warm. And they can sit there as long as they like doing SSR (Sustained Silent Reading).

[DRIB (Don’t Read If Busy):

[I kept thinking that Scroll is the worst idea for a bookstore I’ve heard in years — for one thing because it’s already been done. The very first B Dalton store in Minnesota (late 1960s) looked something like Scroll, with big easy chairs, wide aisles, parquet floors, a helpful-to-obsequious staff and muffled quiet to inspire as much SSR as people could handle.

Pickwick Bookshop, founded 1938

Pickwick Bookshop, founded 1938

As I recall, that first B Dalton nearly failed until a management scout visited the noisy, congested Pickwick Book Shop on Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. The aisles were covered with ratty flooring and crowded with so many piles of books that customers had trouble walking anywhere, let alone sitting down for SSR. Shopping was entirely self-service and the lines at the cash registers were packed with people buying (not reading) books by the armload.

The lesson at Pickwick was that bookstore customers didn’t want to interact with a sales clerk who might ask embarrassing literary questions they couldn’t answer. And they didn’t like SSR in a retail setting – too much like a library. They preferred to do their reading at home or in a crowded coffee shop.

B Dalton mall store

B Dalton mall store

So B Dalton’s management adapted to this model by not learning anything in particular. It simply bought and closed the venerable Pickwick Book Shop and its small local chain, copied the Pickwick approach and charged publishers for every inch of display space it could get away with. As a result, B Dalton’s junky, commercial-books-only shopping mall stores did well for a time, as did its competitor, Waldenbooks.]

Egan is clearly aiming her expose at Amazon, but she’s too smart to quote CEO Jeff Bezos’ icky coined words, like “customer-centric.” Instead she turns to his other icky ideas, such as “the empty chair.” When Alice notices that at least one chair is left empty no matter how crowded the meeting, a Scroll colleague explains: “The empty chair is for the customer,” because the customer, nobody should forget, “always has a presence in meetings.”

The "empty chair" theory as adopted by business consultant Gardner Customer Solutions

The “empty chair” theory as adopted by business consultant Gardner Customer Solutions

Yikes, how dumbed-down can Amazon get, you may scoff. But Bezos used the empty chair as “the ultimate boss at Amazon” — and the idea was picked up by so many management consultants for so many years, it became a clich. According to Forbes magazine, Bezos then replaced it with “specially trained employees” — actual human beings called Customer Experience Bar Raisers. “When they frown, vice-presidents tremble.”

In a similar way, Scroll increasingly takes on a kindergarten feel in Egan’s novel. As part of their “onboarding” (orientation) period, workers must learn “the patois of Scroll,” such as “dropping a meeting” on someone’s calendar, or showing team spirit by switching their candy preference to gummy bears made by Haribo, “the leading candy consumed by voracious readers,” Alice’s boss Genevieve declares with authority.

Customer-centric gummy bears: better than books?

Customer-centric gummy bears

True, the pressures on Alice are anything but child’s play. She must “liaise” with 30 agents and editors immediately and select 450 titles for Scroll’s first inventory; she must generate quickie e-books called ScrollOriginals (how close to Amazon’s “Kindle Singles” can you get?); and she must aspire to become a “ScrollCrier” who keeps the world “up-to-the-minute on our mission as it continues to evolve,” says Genevieve.

At first, workers at Scroll don’t have to punch in or account for their time, but soon an email circulates that everyone must “run their palms beneath our new Biometric Time Clock” each morning as a way of assisting “trackability.” No matter. Alice’s first email from Scroll arrives at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday, so she’s on the clock 24/7 anyway.

And Scroll is not just any start-up. It’s backed by MainStreet, a hugely successful chain of high-end shopping malls founded by the Rockwell brothers – and here the author’s description sounds a bit like the brothers who started Borders Books, a now defunct but once tyrannical big-box bookstore chain. The Borders brothers sold out before they could do as much damage as the thuggy Riggio brothers of Barnes & Noble (not mentioned in the book, thank heaven). Still, they left their mark by contributing to the bankruptcy of every independent retailer in Borders’ path.

The first Borders brothers store in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1971

The first Borders brothers store in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1971

In any case, Scroll is set to become part of MainStreet’s new “lifestyle centers,” meaning shopping malls called Heritage Towne – and that’s TOWNE WITH AN /E,’ by the way. (Any time you want to evoke an old-timey feeling, just add an e or other letter, like the Bun Shoppe).

Heritage Townes are thriving, Alice learns, because they “mimic the hometown vibe of the very mom-and-pop stores they put out of business. Cobblestone, gaslit lanes connect Johnny Rockets (hamburger joints) with Hollister (clothing stores for “cool guys and gals”); phone charging stations are coyly housed inside old-fashioned phone booths; easy-listening renditions of folk favorites are piped to the furthest reaches of the parking lot, for the brave souls who forgo valet service. Heritage Towne has a gym, a movie theater, a band shell, a medical center, and its own Whole Foods.”

Liberty Bell topiary -- who could resist?

Patriotic topiary — who could resist?

Further, Alice notes, “all shrubbery was cleverly groomed with a patriotic theme. In the short walk around the place, I spotted topiaries in the shape of Uncle Sam, the Liberty Bell, and of course, a giant dollar bill.”

Alice doesn’t like the studied kitsch of Heritage Towne, but she is intrigued by Scroll’s boldness, even its vision, in the face of New York’s rickety old publishing industry. “It would be fun to be at the beginning of something,” she thinks naively. “How many years have I been listening to the death knell of magazines?”

Or books. “Who doesn’t want to see more bookstores, right?” says Genevieve, also thinking simplistically. Whether Scroll is good or bad for readers, for free speech, for capitalism, or for our democracy doesn’t seem to matter to Genevieve or for the most part to Alice. What gets everyone’s attention is the latest upgrade in buzz. In the “simulated Scroll lounge” that’s been constructed in the New York office, Genevieve points out proudly, “we have a roaster on the premises so we know our beans have been treated humanely.”

What sustains Alice through her exhausting 90-hour weeks at Scroll is that allure so often heard in real life from Wonder Boys like Jeff Bezos — that you don’t just have a job when you work for companies like Amazon; you are changing the future.

Unknown-6Remember Bezos’ 10 business philosophies in real life? Just to dip into them for a moment: #2 is Stick with Two Pizzas, meaning a project team should consist of 5-7 people, small enough to “feed with only two pizzas,” heh heh, pretty sophisticated, right?

Similarly, Scroll abides by its own Tenets of Winners, conveyed through acronyms such as:

WGIR Winners Get It Right

SADYC Surprise and Delight Your Customer

WTF not WHAT THE F-K as they say in Internet lingo, but rather Winners Talk Frankly

WATOQ, Winners Answer Their Own Questions.

Using the Tenets of Winners, Alice is told, every problem has a solution: “If you couldn’t find the answer you needed, you could file a ‘trouble ticket,’ organized by six-digit numbers. Your manager would be cc’ed on any trouble ticket you filed, so new employees were cautioned to file them sparingly or risk flagging themselves as poor problem solvers.”

At one meeting, the young team leader mispronounces the word Tenet as TENANT, as in the TENANTS OF WINNERS – a mistake only someone like Alice (considered an editorial type in this crowd) catches but can’t share. She’s older than her bosses and doesn’t dare instruct them.

Sandberg and Zuckerman: dress code even for them?

Sandberg and Zuckerberg: dress code for her?

Nor does she change unwritten rules, such as: When visiting MainStreet’s midwest offices, women wear blazers, blouses and skirts, while men come and go in hoodies and jeans. This is so close to the bone (see photos of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg), you hear yourself groan.

Finally, Alice learns that she must defer especially to Greg, the self-empowered youngest MainStreet brother and founder of Scroll. Greg has his own wisdom statement, often repeated, which is: We have to ask ourselves, by which he means the older generation’s truths may not apply to today’s realities, so “they” were wrong and we -Greg and his brothers – are right.

In a rare visit to her office, Greg looks at a stack of books on Alice’s desk that are soon to be released from New York publishers. He should know that Alice is one of the very few people outside mainstream houses to see these books so early, but instead, thinking of that “carbon-based” label everyone at Scroll uses by now, he says,

“You really want to pollute the environment with that crap?”

“Excuse me?”

“No, seriously, I just got back from a fact-finding mission at the Strand.** That place is a tinderbox waiting to go up in flames. We have to ask ourselves, what kind of impact is all that paper having on our planet?” He shuddered….

Alice begins to tell Greg how she’s curating her first list of recommended fiction titles for the Scroll customer, but he interrupts.

“All good stuff. But we have to ask ourselves, what does the customer really want, right?”

“Right.” I was still getting used to Scroll speak, which involved a semi-Socratic tic of inserting “Right?” at the end of every sentence.

“Wait, sorry, Greg, what do you mean?”

“I mean, does the customer really want books with his coffee, or might he enjoy something else?”

“Like …?”

“I don’t know. Isn’t that your job?” Greg gazed at me through heavy-lidded eyes. Was he high?

“I guess I’m not understanding your question.”

“I’ll break it down for you. What’s the best way for us to gain traction in the marketplace?”

“By creating a bookstore experience like no other? By giving customers something they can’t get anywhere else? Beyond that, I haven’t really thought -“

“Well, start thinking, girl!” Greg squinted at the picture on my desk.

“Hey, switching gears here, is that your family?”

“Yes, the kids are older now but – “

“Let me ask you, what video games do they like to play?”

I laughed. “Much to my son’s chagrin, we don’t have any video games…I want my kids to be readers and to live in the real world – not some fake universe. Not to mention the violence.” I congratulated myself on adhering to the sixth tenet, WTF: Winners Talk Frankly.

Oh dear. Well, we know where that’s going to get her. You only talk frankly to the company founder if his attention span is longer than the three seconds he allows himself to “switch gears.”

[**DRIB: Don’t Read If Busy

It’s worth taking a moment to note that Greg refers to his “fact-finding mission at the Strand” as though walking into a bookstore is a dangerous, heroic quest. All he sees are stacks of glued and sewn paper that make no sense to him in the Brave New World of e-bookstores he believes Scroll is bringing to life.

But something happens to customers at the Strand — it’s just a thought but it has the power of a thunderbolt — and I wish it had struck Greg when he was there. That is: It’s one thing to imagine the virtual universe of Amazon/Scroll’s access to a million books in the e-atmosphere; but it’s quite another to walk along the Strand’s incredible 18 miles of new, used and rare books that customers can actually see, pick up, open and start reading right there.

These 2.5 million books don’t represent anything — they ARE our reality; they bring to us just about everything humanity knows at this moment (in the English language mostly); and have been valued and traded in this one bookstore for nearly 90 years. That’s before and after the arrival of the Internet.

The Strand, interior shot

The Strand, interior shot from ceiling

It’s this thought — the astounding physical fact of the English-language world in book form right in front of you, surrounding you and if you’re not careful about to topple down on your head — that astonishes customers and staff alike, so of course Greg is unimpressed. To Egan’s credit, he is not a Jeff Bezos lookalike or a Mark Zuckerberg stand-in. He is a well-drawn Internet caricature with no curiosity, no sense of history and no interest in the way differences in customer tastes could strengthen rather than weaken a company like Scroll.

Of more importance to Greg: Everything he says has such kingly import that he needn’t worry about “staying on topic.” It doesn’t serve him to think more deeply than the platitudes he believes are making Scroll a success. He is a grown child, both a big baby and a paternalistic brat who should be out on the fringes but somehow feels all too recognizable in any business, especially the postmodern Internet start-up world.]

So now let’s turn back to see what we can learn from A Window Opens and the real-life Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar store ever, Amazon Books, which just opened last month in Seattle.

First a question: is Amazon Books in the University Village of Seattle really located “just up the road” from the historic (founded in 1900) University Bookstore of the University of Washington? (From a map it appears to be a dozen blocks away.) If so, do you think Bezos could have found a location more distant from another bookstore that sells, you know, books?

University Book Store, U. of Washington

University Book Store, U. of Washington

I ask this because barging into the neighborhood of an existing independent bookstore and stealing its customer base by offering heavily discounted books was the predatory method that chain bookstores used to cripple the competition in the ’80s and ’90s and early 2000s.

You’d think Amazon for once wouldn’t make that mistake, if only for the PR advantage of no longer being considered The Internet Bully of All Time. But no. Even the New Republic said “it’s difficult not to see Amazon’s choice of location as yet another act of aggression toward indie bookstores.”

Amazon Books, interior (not the Dish Room)

Amazon Books, interior (not the Dish Room)

Second, here is an excerpt from Amazon’s welcome letter to customers, written by Amazon Books’ vice president, Jennifer Cast: The books in our store are selected based on Amazon.com customer ratings, pre-orders, sales, popularity on Goodreads, and our curators’ assessments. These are fantastic books! Most have been rated 4 stars or above, and many are award winners.”

Amazon Books: signs show just how "fantastic" these books can be

Amazon Books: signs confirm high ratings of customers

Okay, got it. Only good books at an Amazon bookstore, right? And Amazon wants you to know they are good because customers like you — your peers — have said so. Signs make it clear not to worry, you are secure knowing the books are “Highly Rated” with a positive customer comment printed out right there on the shelf.

[We figure Amazon didn’t fall for any phony wowzer comments the author paid for, right? So let’s just bypass that conversation.]

Plus all titles, by the way, are sitting “face-out” on the shelf so you don’t have to lift your hand to pull a book out by its spine and turn it this way and that to examine the cover. Sort of like the Dish Room in the White House; kind of a static feeling. Books facing out take up so much space that Amazon Books offers a fraction of the inventory sold at an independent store, and yet customers on Yelp and other sites say the aisles are small and have that “cramp” feeling.

The real Dish Room at the White House

The real Dish Room at the White House

This is the difference between an Amazon bookstore offering statistically popular books and an independent bookstore employing buyers who choose books for different reasons than widespread acceptance.

In an independent store, the buyers meet with publishers’ sales reps as much as six months in advance to weigh the value of each title for every kind of audience. There is some guesswork in this process — publishing is always a crap shoot, after all — and sometimes these buyers will recommend a title that offends some customers. Or at least, that is the hope. These buyers are looking for quality in messge and style; they trust that enough readers are out there who’ll seek out or take a chance on titles that might not be as popular as they are adventurous, off the grid, a little wild.

I wonder for instance if Lolita or Howl or The Color Purple or Lady Chatterly’s Lover or The Autobiography of Malcolm X or The Naked Lunch would have received 4+ stars from customers when these titles were first published — you know, when they were banned and reviewed with disgust and when they caused booksellers to be prosecuted simply for displaying them in the store.

Today you’ll find the modern equivalent in independent bookstores because that’s why these retailers ARE independent — an experienced buyer with vision and a sense of literary ambition for the store is always looking for the unpredictable, that rare opportunity to pique our interests.

On the other hand, at a store like Amazon Books, offering titles that are already established among readers is a safe, dull and (to me) insulting way to enter the retail market. Yes, there is reference to “our curators’ assessments” (sheesh, that word) but these titles seem confined to a “staff-favorites section” rather than as part of a buyer’s decision to mix up the inventory.

[Plus: The staff-favorites section at Amazon Books includes several of Jeff Bezos’ own picks, isn’t that cozy? Maybe we’re supposed to think, Oh good, Dad’s entered into the fun, since one of his favorites is Traps by his wife, MacKenzie Bezos. Aw, Dad. you old softie.]

What’s missing at Amazon Books is that element of risk and adventure you can sense the minute you walk into an independent bookstore. Of course, best-selling titles are everywhere in an indie bookseller, but so are books by authors nobody’s heard of who may be so original and fresh they just have to be read. Unknown, controversial, up-from-nowhere works may not appeal to everybody — they may, in fact, take your head off with their decidedly UNpopular views or style — but heavens, what kind of democracy would we have without that kind of choice?

So it isn’t just that Amazon Books looks like an expensive chain restaurant that’s been overdesigned in wood and signage. (How much of the interior is “eco friendly” or derived from “reclaimed local materials” is not stated.) Rather, everything feels so tidy, so received, so Soviet, so data-molded that a blandness and prudency seem to settle over the place.

I’m sure many titles at Amazon Books do challenge us, but hell, you can get that kind of surprise from a spin rack in a drug store. What makes me nervous is the promise of statistical rankings (“4.8 Stars and Above”) that guarantee conformity.

What does novelist Elizabeth Egan have to say about all this? A Window Opens shows how an Internet company like Amazon/Scroll not only limits our choices in books but corrupts the very language we use about the book business. Granted, fashions in word use come and go, like using “curate” because it sounds classier than “select,” or tossing in the term “carbon-based” so you’ll feel guilty about — well, whatever it describes. But fashions are always short-term, thank heaven. The day everybody gets sick of “iconic” will herald a national holiday that I hope comes soon.

What scares me is that the narrowing of language leads to a narrowing of imagination, as represented in Egan’s novel by Greg and the Scroll team. When workers see no difference between the TENANTS and the TENETS of Winners — or like Alice they can’t say they do without sounding unAmerican — the core message of Amazon/Scroll turns out to be: Stay low, use approved buzz words, don’t read (who has time?), be a team player, lean out and shut up.

One last thing about A Window Opens: It’s a great send-up by a former employee of the metastacized Amazon empire that’s consuming the world. But it’s also a very good commercial novel with its own twists and surprises, its unexpectedly poignant moments about raising children and its intriguing subplots, some of which don/t involve an expose of Amazon.

Woven throughout, for example, are Alice’s brother, seemingly liberated from capitalism; her dad’s throat cancer (and the “Buzz Lightyear” appliance he uses for a voicebox); the children’s adjustment to Mom’s insane new job; and Nicholas’ own, very rocky transition from up-and-comer to failure to scaredy cat to independent thinker and Dad.

Plus there’s a very intriguing conflict between Alice and her best friend, who owns a terrific independent bookstore that may be the first to be knocked off by Scroll. This store seems to be similar to Elisabeth Egan’s own neighborhood bookstore, Watchung Booksellers (of Watchung Plaza in Montclair, New Jersey).

Remembering how much she has valued this store, Egan commented recently that “Watchung Booksellers is the first place that my kids walked to alone.” This was just a casual comment made without much thought, but it’s a tribute as touching as anything Alice Pearce says in the book. It means that the first time you let your kids walk anywhere on their own, you want the destination to be a trusted place where people know your children and keep an eye out to make sure they arrive safely. Local retail stores are like that, bookstores especially, because kids already know the way to story-time events, circle-time readings and the like.

Egan signing books at Watchung Booksellers

Egan signing books at Watchung Booksellers

And, more important than I thought at first, A Window Opens is the story of yet another mother trying to “have it all” by going back to work in a job environment so dictatorial and punishing that it may ruin her life. Here is Alice’s advice to the family’s indispensable baby sitter — who at 18 is leaving the family to start her own career- but the message applies to many:

“… please don’t waste time wondering whether it’s possible to ‘have it all.’ Banish the expression from your vocabulary; make sure your friends do, too. A better question is What do you really want? Diving headlong into the second quarter of your life without asking this question is like going grocery shopping without a list. You’ll end up with a full cart but nothing to cook for dinner. Figure out what you feel like eating, and then come up with your own recipe for the whole messy, delicious enchilada.”

This is in character for Alice but I’m kind of disappointed that she didn’t say what A Window Opens tells us, that “having it all” is a family thing. Everybody gets to have it all if everybody pitches in. Husbands need to balance priorities – not just to do the dishes or pick up the kids up but to assume full partnership with Mom and tackle that surprising array of family needs — and, most of all, experiencing those unpredictable heart-stopping moments when the kids do something that’s hilarious and serious and in character for the self-actualized beings they are still to become.

I think that’s what the book really proposes. It’s sort of a fictional take on Sandberg’s Lean In, and again I’m impressed that for all we learn about Amazon-type companies “reinventing the future” in an alarmingly bland, somewhat willy-nilly and domineering fashion, the book’s most valuable inside look is at our own humanity in the face of enormous change.

 

 

 

 

 

Something Literary

You’d think a traditional publishing person like me wouldn’t be intrigued by a tiny collection of iPhone snapshots such as this:IMG_1114Not a “real book,” right? It’s smaller than a deck of cards, has fewer than 50 unnumbered “pages” and no text at all except the words iPhone Photos Julie Gebhardt on the back page.

And yet I was drawn to this mini-book from the first moment I saw it, for one thing because it’s so cute (note the green push pin, placed there for scale) and is even kind of classy with its oversized spiral binding and heavy photo-card stock.

Production elements like these would have shot the costs up years ago, as would four-color printing (which I must say is sensational), but the price is affordable ($20) and shipping is free when you order directly from the author by emailing juliegeb@me.com.

But I kept thinking the term “snapshot” isn’t right, “collection” isn’t right, even “little” or “quickie” is disrespectful because there’s something bigger to ponder here, something even literary going on, which I’ll get to below. True, you can just flip through it like a keychain souvenir, but I guarantee that every time you close it, a larger conversation will follow you around in “real life.”

Julie Gebhardt

Julie Gebhardt

The author, Julie Gebhardt, caught the photo bug three years ago after acquiring an iPhone and reading a New York Times story about Instagram, the social network for sharing photos that’s used by subscribers all over the world (more than 150 million of them by now).

After downloading the app and looking at probably thousands of Instagram posts, Julie, or @juliegeb, began walking around the streets of San Francisco to see what caught her eye. Something as commonplace as building exteriors — walls, doors, windows,IMG_5865 gates — had personality and character when framed by her iPhone lens. She was particularly attracted to things that “are old and a little dingy, or made of cheap quality material, or that show the weathering of time.”

Even today, “I like corrugated metal any time I see it,” she says. Aging paint, water stains, odd splotches, loose flashing — these may be signs that a building is falling apart or soon to be condemned, but for Julie they add a touch of animation and surprise to the eye, even if the thing itself is a little grim. IMG_1265

I’ve walked right by many of these scenes on my way to important appointments so it’s startling see the allure of decay — an ugliness that appears beautiful to me now, just because Julie decided to shoot them that way.

Sometimes you can detect a story behind the image. In the photo below, doesn’t it look like somebody was spray-painting that light blue color on the door oh, so carefully but messed up enough times with the blotches on the top and lower sides to think, All done! I have to go to an important appointment now — and left it that way? IMG_3313

This kind of Oh Well Art (not her term) happens often, she finds, when people are trying to spiff up or cover up rust or old paint or corrosion. So Julie created hashtags (categories within categories) like #sloppy_job and #graffitipaintout. That way, other subscribers can contribute their own photos, just as she can add to theirs.

For example, the photo on the right below, with its enormous bushy eyebrow sculpted over the door, appears in Julie’s feed as well as another subscriber’s as “Nature’s Comb Over” (#naturescombover). IMG_8345

Things get a bit more complicated when the idea of intention crops up behind paint jobs of exteriors. When she came upon the brick wall below, for example, Julie believed she saw a Rothkoesque quality to clouds of different-colored paint and was particularly delighted by the unintentionial part, a dangling wire that so beautifully interrupts the action.IMG_5628

Soon she realized that any architectural element such as the drainpipe to the left (what gifted soul decided to paint it blue?) canIMG_6667 be part of that vast creative effort called “street art,” which is constantly percolating and newly visible wherever you look (or someone like @juliegeb looks) on the urban scene.

It was probably inevitable that Julie would make her own artistic decisions. She noticed that the iPhone camera doesn’t allow for much depth, so most of the photos are going to look pretty flat. Instead seeing this as a problem or weakness, she developed an interest in “two-dimensionality as a style.”

In the photo below, for example, you have to look twice to see that a door is built into the graffiti-covered wall, and that theIMG_8841 artist — maybe commissioned by the building’s owner OR maybe just an unknown person with half a dozen spray cans in a hurry because police or home owners or neighbors might be near and not happy — took the time to set it off by coloring inside the doorway lines, so to speak.

The startling orange-and-purple facade to the left offers a more dramatic and deliberate use of color that in turn defines the surrounding blocks of tile, wall and brick. And here Julie stands just far away enough so that the iPhone, IMG_5807for all its two-dimensional lens, can’t help itself: the leafy green branches billowing into the upper left corner give this photo unexpected depth and substance.

And this one at right is just a square of yellow wall with a mailbox, wouldn’t you say? (It’s another setting I’d walk right by without noticing.)IMG_8837 But I think because Julie sees a kind of geometrical art in squares upon squares sinking into that joyous yolky color, you can feel your fingertips anticipating the goosebumpy texture of the stucco wall beneath. Somebody also took the time to choose a stylish font for the address — “the scroll of number 3 is so lovely,” sighs Julie. And there’s even a comical touch to the oval mail slot, which is stamped with the word “MAIL” in case your letter carrier forgets what it’s there for.

So far, I’ve been talking about intriguing street scenes that Julie turns into photos with an artistic edge. But to get back to this gnawing feeling that something literary is going on in the book, we need to see if that larger conversation I mentioned actually exists, starting with Julie’s notion of surrender.

You’ve probably assumed a continuing truth about street art is that everything’s changing all the time. Julie says most of the places she’s photographed are gone now — they’ve been taken down, painted over, razed, vandalized or re-graffiti’d shortly afterward, often overnight — which means every walk with her iPhone is going to be different: some new piece of something or overgrowth or fixer-upper or illustration is always going to pop out.

We would expect that to happen with a painting like this, where the beauty and IMG_8178freedom of the artist’s visual language (fascinating when you see it up close) might one day be dismissed as ugly by the owner of that building, who’ll “fix the problem” by covering it up with a layer of paint. That’s just the reality for anybody, artist or vandal, who takes to the street.

But it’s sad to see this enormous (see the pigeons on the sidewalk below), soulful face — part of a mural that Julie discovered in a back alley in San Francisco’s rough Tenderloin district — already being eaten away by other people’s graffiti, which has begun to invade the picture from the sides and top.IMG_9945

“I have so much admiration for anonymous muralists who pour their heart and effort into these paintings,” Julie says, “and then just surrender them to the public. The minute they walk away, the art is transformed.”

Very often a sense of humor sneaks in that’s soIMG_5124-1 touching, like a wink from a dying building, that even people on their way to important appointments can’t help but slow down and chuckle.

Speaking of the humor that crops up in street art, while I’m not a fan of comic book art, I but have to say the question depicted in the painting below — is it the colony of giant ants or the loss of his iPhone that causes this headless guy’s IMG_7942anguish? — offers a funny and arresting comment on modern life.

The always-changing nature of street art makes a person realize that for Julie, everything in a city scape must feel like nature in fast-forward, as in that YouTube video where you see the dead fox decaying and the skin peeling and teeth baring and the bones emerging while the remains of the fox get smaller and smaller until nothing exists in the spot where life once flourished — until the next object like a rock or egg or baby fox rolls into view.

Just as you could walk up to that fox and shoot a thousand different images, so do buildings on the street “host” something new or strange every day that will change in a second. Julie, bless her, respects this phenomenon but does not want to document it. She is not interested in going back to photograph the muralist in tears repainting his subject’s jaw or eyeball in the midst of cooing pigeons because that would be a human interest story and is really none of her business. Her iPhone is not there to intrude.

But it is there to capture the images she treasures. “I broke into a run when I saw this,” she says of the scene below. “It’s a hillside near the ocean with a little IMG_8171shed in front that has no door and a rotting-away floor that’s full of sand. No roof exists, and the hill above it is bulging down the back wall. To think they’d [the owners or the army or the coastal commission] would paint this exterior bright red at some point is amazing to me.”

Right, the red paint, even when fresh, would be lost on the seagulls and snowy plovers that inhabit the coastal dunes, so even the people who built this shed surrendered their casual artistry to the elements at one time. And then Julie came along to capture that incredible mixture of beauty and decay that fits so well with the endless carving-out of cliffs and coast by ocean waves and weather.

The idea of surrender has a literary bent to it, I think — a writer must surrender the work-in-progress to the reading public or it will never be finished — but that’s not enough of an answer to my gnawing question about something literary going on in Julie’s mini book of photos.

I do know that just browsing through it gives me the impression that a larger conversation is taking place, and that philosophical connections are being made all over the place. You can see an obvious example in the way Julie pairs photos in two-page spreads, often using color — IMG_1122

— or themeIMG_1154–or artistic intentionIMG_1164as her bridge. (Pardon shoddy photos — these were taken of the book with my iPhone and they didn’t come out too good.)

But it’s in the pairing below that this larger conversation really comes out, at least to me, and I do think it has a literary nature. Both images are similar because of the color blue, of course, but it’s their differences that make an impression: the photo on the right emphasizes rigidity and corrugated metal as we have seen, while the photo on the left is fizzing with excitement, tossing about balloony yellows and stringy pinks and sly greens in a 1950s palette gone slightly berserk.IMG_1116

“I shot these two photos on different days,” Julie says, “but they have a relationship that’s more than a happy accident. Maybe it’s the piece of cardboard in each that might have drifted in, or been placed there. Who knows?”

Right, we don’t know anything except what we see: “An insanely dizzy wall on the left that seems to dance around a garbage bin, of all lucky things, across from the quieter but still varying tones, also of blue, in straight lines that nevertheless have a flow to them.”

Hold that thought for a moment as we apply the same curiosity to the photo below. Granted, it’s just IMG_1141a keyhole, one of so many locks that Julie started a hashtag called #keyholelove, to which hundreds if not thousands of Instagram users have already contributed. This one’s got some touches of red and green paint that could be accidental (another #sloppy_job photo?) but seem polished and deliberate.

In fact, says Julie, this keyhole is part of a huge and colorful mural that extends along the backs of several fences in the Mission District of San Francisco (where street murals abound). Of course you don’t have to know the keyhole’s function as a small detail in the overall canvas to sense a certain gravity about it that Julie doesn’t need to interpret: Her eye has focused on this one aspect of the mural, the brass lock. She loves it, and her camera loves it. She shot it close up in a way that makes me, the viewer, love it, too.

But the photo gains in significance when Julie as author puts it next to another picture with a completely blue exterior that also happens to have a keyhole, and this one shines out with no paint on it at all.

IMG_6575I find it kind of amusing that the vast Rococo design of the wrought iron with all its squares and circles, its graceful Xs and Os, its blocks and scrolls and flourishes, started out as just a gate to keep the bad guys out, and then somebody decided to make it stylish and pleasing. And then again, the whole artistic presence of the thing was designed to fade and recede as the eye zooms in on that tiny, shiny brass keyhole.

Granted, the gate is painted that way to make it easier for the keyholder to find the keyhole. That’s fine. But look what happens when Julie pairs it with the keyhole-in-the-mural:IMG_1130First, I like the idea of a universe arranging itself around a tiny speck, as we see on the right, placed as it is across the spiral binding from the unique and purposeful image of the similar tiny speck (now so big it’s a universe of its own) on the left. That’s one “conversation” between the pages in which we viewers get to participate (and only if we want to!).

But there’s more. As you flip through the book, every pairing of photos brings up the same Big Idea, something we humans ponder all our life, which may be stated in this way: Time rushes by so fast in our high-tech, fast-paced world that suddenly we’re old, and our tenure is almost over, so the question is whether it’s possible, while hurrying off to important appointments, to slow down and actually find meaning in life.

Julie’s book says YES, people may get jaded and hardened by the chaos of street life, but just the act of noticing something like what these pages bring to light can give life meaning. This is hardly an original thought (Buddhists sum it up with the word mindfulness all the time, although that’s more a spiritual practice), but it is an unexpected discovery in a tiny book like Julie’s.

Another question: Does this dialogue between readers and photos happen only as you turn the pages of Julie’s book. Yes again, I think — some kind of power is exchanged even without the presence of text. For example, look at this: IMG_1155

On the left is a walled-off mausoleum sort of building with heavy columns and portico that’s hard to see because the whole thing is boarded up and surrounded by fences. (Another advantage to iPhones, says, Julie: “The lens is small enough to shoot through the tiniest of holes”).

On the right is such a rare discovery that I’m going to enlarge it below. Can you guess what it is (I couldn’t at first)? IMG_3150Here’s what happened: Julie and her husband Allen (also taking pictures but with a “real” camera) got into “this abandoned old warehouse that was entirely covered in graffiti,” she recalls. “The walls, the ceiling, the doors were all drenched in color and shafts of light were streaming down through broken windows, so just being inside, just seeing the character of the place was thrilling.

“Then in the middle of the floor we saw this ruined piano, every key ‘defaced’ by paint and tiny drawings, so I leaned over the keyboard looking straight down and shot it, missing keys and all. What comes forward is so abstract in shapes and colors that all we can see is transformation.”

Again, we readers don’t have to know that it’s a piano keyboard, because something’s being said in a conceptual way that will come to mean whatever our eye decides it to mean. But what I feel most gripping about it is the way this photo relates to the deadly silent building on the left, which by contrast appears to have been caged up, locked down and blacked out for years. Here it is again:IMG_1155So when I talk about a conversation going on, I don’t mean to say these two photos actually tell us something. I mean there’s a connection here that’s interactive and open to participation with the reader. And when something like that keeps bubbling out of a book, page after page, with the kind of energy that strikes a nerve as deeply as it does in Julie Gebhardt’s teensy spiralbound collection, well, that something is literary.

Admittedly, I get romantic about these things, but because art is subjective, I also get to draw the line. This photo on the left may IMG_3335-1show us exuberant examples of street art all talking at once (ain’t the color gorgeous?), thereby forming a remarkable avant-garde image that only Julie Gebhardt can see amidst the mayhem. But I have to admit it’s messy and repugnant to me. If I came upon it in the street, I’d walk right by with my face turned away. Perhaps that too is a testament to the author who uses her book to present rather than hit us over the head with what she sees.

But because I’m also the traditional book publishing person, I remember when costs were astronomical and people had to (still have to) fly to China and Italy just to print expensive art books, which the publisher then had to ship to bookstores where very few customers could afford them. And then after a few months the bookseller with heart sinking had to ship the books back to the publisher who either dumped them off as remainders (sale items) in Australia or pulped them regardless of artistic message because nobody ever saw or appreciated the art.

Which brings us to today. Don’t you get weary when people keep asking whether the use of computers and the rise of the Internet are “good” or “bad” for books, for publishing, for bookselling, for reading? The fact is, technology has this infuriating way of changing the world before we know it. Asking questions about its value gets us nowhere. The Internet (like the other universe) is indifferent to human needs and wants.

But if Julie’s book teaches us to slow down and notice things that give life meaning, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the Internet as one big sorting machine that uses a toolbox like Instagram where talented, self-taught people like Julie are actively supported by an international community of millions. By the way, her personal followers total 28,542 as of yesterday.

So if you think a traditional publishing person like me should decry the way websites on the Internet may be gutting mainstream book publishers like Rizzoli, Abrams, Taschen, Thames & Hudson, Phaidon, Aperture and others of the once-honored opportunity to produce gorgeous oversized artbooks that sell comparatively few copies (well, enough to libraries, colleges and some collectors to make a buck); and also may be robbing independent bookstores of hundred-dollar-plus purchases (Rizzoli’s All the World’s Birds sells for $350, but give them credit, that’s a lot of birds); let’s remember that before the computer revolution, the odds for unknowns like Julie to get anybody in the book industry interested in her potential as an author were zilch, especially for a tiny book like _________ (you see? it doesn’t even have a title).

Today we don’t talk about the bookstore or gallery approach where very few people get to view an art book, let alone buy it. Today we talk about the community approach where Julie felt encouraged to see “nothing precious” about jumping into a rushing stream of 150 million other photographers, and where she is increasingly supported by an audience she built from scratch that loves and appreciates her work.

Plus! It’s not just the mini book she created at Social Print Studio that’s for sale. Five of her photos are featured in This Is Happening, a book about the Instagram phenomenon from Chronicle Books. The wonderfully named Casetify has snazzied up many iPhone

Julie Gebhart iPhone case

iPhone case from Casetify by Julie Gebhardt

cases with Julie’s images, such as the one on the right, and thanks to Blurb.com an even more adventurous 60-page collection of Julie’s photos is available in hardcover ($36.95) and softcover ($25.99).

You can buy her photos at all sizes and in different frames, and at least one museum has displayed photos like this one below, which shows Julie finding a way to bring depth to that tricky two-dimensional style, after all (note the teensy red chair to the right: another speck in the universe! Okay, will stop here.)

IMG_4880I’ve probably finished “reading” Julie’s book a dozen times by now, and I always come away thinking that the next time I start to dismiss some discomfiting image on the urban landscape, I’ll have been taught by Julie to notice if there’s something creatively interesting, even frameable there, for me. And I’ll ponder more about it because of the book’s continuing conversation.

That’s all I’ve learned from the blessed thing, and yet what I’ve learned is kind of monumental. After all, when “real life” is out there calling, you want to have the eye to see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘According to Our Records…’

Of the many chilling scenarios Dave Eggers lays out in his futuristic novel, The Circle (Vintage; 512 pages; $15.95) the one that scares the dickens (not Charles!) out of me popped up in emails recently from two fundraising political groups, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC).

Eggers is not a great writer of fiction (a bit clunky and shallow) but his warning about tyrannical forces growing at Internet companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and others is both visionary and truly terrifying.

This illustration is not from the book -- it's Apple's proposed new campus in Cupertino, Calif.

This illustration is not from the book — it’s Apple’s proposed new campus in Cupertino, Calif.

The story follows Mae, a talented Internet worker who lands a job answering customers’ questions at The Circle, the most powerful corporation in Silicon Valley.

The perks there are plentiful, some unusual — not just state-of-the-art fitness programs, gourmet cuisine, a daycare center, famous people giving TED-type talks at lunch; but also a bocce court, dog kennel, dormitory, all-night parties, national candidates holding town hall meetings and fantastic art everywhere (a Calder mobile hangs in the 40-foot atrium).

Business terms at The Circle have been renamed to reflect a warm, happy, never judgmental, always positive and inclusive atmosphere. Mae isn’t employed by a corporation, for example — she’s part of a “culture.” The Circle doesn’t exist on company property; it has a “campus.” Mae doesn’t work in Building A, B or C; she works in a glass-and-oxidized-copper environment called Renaissance.

How can Mae best rate her job success? Well, no stuffy performance reviews are conducted, no boss makes impatient demands. Instead, customers respond to surveys after Mae helps them, and soon questions from The Circle pop up in her email, such as (I’m paraphrasing), “Do you understand why you might want a 99.5% success rate rather than a 99.4?”

Glazed spheres at proposed Amazon campus will provide "a comfortable, park like place to brainstorm."

Glazed spheres at proposed Amazon campus will provide “a comfortable, park like place to brainstorm.”

But the best part of The Circle is its elaborate network of social groups. There seem to be hundreds of them, and no matter who you are, a perfect fit is possible for all sorts of people with multiple interests.

Say you’re a parent with a disabled child; a lover of bridge who likes to hike; a French-speaking gourmet who plays left-handed tennis. Groups are available to help you improve every hobby/recreation/pastime/career/recovery program/golf swing/wine appreciation/spiritual interest/Ken Ken score.

And if you forget to join a group, don’t worry — The Circle knows, and soon a query arrives (still paraphrasing): We’ve noticed your love of word games and research on chlamydia make you a perfect candidate for the Scrabble Fans with SIDs group …

And so the net descends. One needn’t have read George Orwell’s novel, 1984, to know that routine collection of information about employees’ professional and personal activities can become a way of life without anybody blinking an eye. Soon everything about you is known to somebody.

I don’t work for a company like Mae’s but recently started wondering about the a net descending from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

Samsung's new campus will "feature sports facilities, cafes and 'collaboration zones' "

Samsung’s new campus will “feature sports facilities, cafes and ‘collaboration zones’ “

I subscribed to these websites for updates and have contributed small amounts of money. Soon emails for more donations arrived — fine, that was expected — and with them came the phony “personalized” plea in which a computer shoves your name in the text to make you feel appreciated.

The tone sounded a little desperate —

“Look, you’ve received a number of emails from us about all of this — but this is deeply important. PATRICIA HOLT”

— but who cared. I was accustomed to the increasingly sensational declarations (“Mitch is FURIOUS,” “Boehner is CRYING”), and to the fact that “they” — the anonymous operators behind these websites — liked to show that an official file existed on me with a long and important- sounding identity code:

Name: Patricia Holt

Supporter Record: VN96C9W3FW0″

And “they” liked to use hyperbole (“we actually have SERIOUSLY INCREDIBLE news”) and suggest that tiny invasions of privacy had already been accomplished:

“We know that everyone from President Obama to Sen. Warren has emailed you…”

(It’s funny: I expected Obama’s name, but Elizabeth Warren? Let’s leave her out of this.)

And soon they liked to demonstrate that I was being watched a little more blatantly than usual:

“PATRICIA HOLT: According to our records, you haven’t chipped in yet to fight Boehner’s lawsuit.”

Maybe it was the word “yet” that did it, meaning they’re waiting for me to kick in. The voice wasn’t terribly Orwellian, but it did have a hint of swagger, of knowing too much, of applying pressure and expecting right behavior.

So I unsubscribed (not that it’ll do any good), but I keep wondering: Is this how it starts? A tone that gets increasingly personal, a dismissal of privacy, a hint of something threatening? — and will I ever really get rid of them?

In The Circle, Mae makes the mistake of trading a bit of her identity for every step up the corporate ladder. By the time she reaches the inner circle, we worry that her voice — once so independent, so insightful — will sound like everybody else’s.

Eggers, however, is not only saying that power is seductive. He’s saying that that today, right now, we the people are giving away our power for really stupid stuff.

Facebook's proposed housing campus will bring employees within walking distance to the office.

Facebook’s proposed housing campus will bring employees within walking distance to the office.

You think grocery-delivering drones from Amazon are a cute idea? Watch them turn into darling mechanical stalkers near Mae’s office. Don’t we all want more transparency from public figures? After reading The Circle, we’ll wish for more Anthony Wieners. Won’t “company towns” (nearby housing) give Internet employees more time to create new ideas? Exactly: soon office and home will be so comfortable that nobody will venture off-campus again.

You can’t help looking up from the book to ask similar questions of real life: For example, aren’t micro-donations of $5 or $10 the new thing today? Don’t they stand for the kind of democratized funding that balances the scales against billionaire bigots like the Koch brothers? Isn’t this version of “one-click” the new way to rebuild the Democratic Party?

Well, maybe that’s the way quickie $5 donations started. But then like so many Internet phenomena, it wasn’t enough. Sign a petition, fill out a survey, give a few bucks, put your signature on Obama’s birthday card (huh? why, I would never … ) and “they” have their hooks in you for more and more and more. Emails were pouring in, ostensibly from Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, GOP Shutdown Watch, Democrats 2014, requests@dscc, rapid-response@dscc, alert@dscc, updates@dccc, urgent@dscc, breaking@dscc, Democratic Headquarters, DCCC Rapid Response, Stop the GOP, polling-alert@dscc, paul@dscc, Patrick McHugh, Matt Kehres (DSCC Digital Director), Kay Hagan, Julia Ager (DSCC Rapid Response Coordinator), Jennifer O’Malley (Senior Advisor), DSCC Grassroots Victory, Democratic Victory, Emily Bittner (DCCC National Press Secretary) and many others including (sob) Elizabeth Warren, all with addresses going back to info@dscc.org or info@dccc.org.

For me, this guilt-inducing, name-calling, threat-evoking, whack-a-mole approach to fundraising ain’t the Democratic Party I want to support. And, sorry to say, faced with similar emails from others, I’m close to feeling that way about Emily’s List, Food Democracy Now, MoveOn, Credo, Courage Campaign, Environment California and a bunch of groups I used to believe in.