On governance (and what happens when there isn’t any)

BoardroomLeaders who work within a governance structure are different than ones who never had governance over them.  We’re experiencing the difference right now in our president’s behavior, and nobody should be surprised at what we see.

Why shouldn’t this be surprising? We implicitly assume that all leaders are accustomed to a governance-based structure because they worked within one before. We get surprised by the behaviors of those who never had governance, because it’s a rare circumstance.

Most all of us have a boss.  Even as a CEO, you have a “boss” because you have a board of directors to whom you’re accountable, or to investors, or both.  When we reflect on recent presidents, they all had bosses too.

President Obama had a boss as a senator; the party leader.  Plus his constituents.  As a law professor, he had a boss in the dean of the faculty or the departmental head.

President Bush had bosses. As governor, it was his constituents and his party. As a businessman, he was on boards of directors where others’ inputs were accommodated by necessity.

However, our president grew up never having a boss.  This is both unusual and very different.

Effectively, he wasn’t ever subject to the governance of independent directors, investors or a supervisor.  As a result, his behaviors never had to accommodate persons in higher authority than himself.

By way of analogy, once in a while a company in the tech industry manages to succeed with the founder’s own bootstrapping. Only later does the company accept outside investment and accept outside investors onto a board of directors.  The longer the time between initial bootstrapping and initial governance, the harder it is on the founder to modify his or her behavior to accept a governance structure for the first time.

I’ve borne witness to multiple of these situations and I can tell you that the founder/CEO seldom adjusts to this change easily if at all.

Now our country is witnessing this phenomenon on a grand scale as our president experiences the initial shock of governance; there is now a lack of unilateralism in virtually everything he does.  This includes but goes beyond having two other branches of government. There are bosses in the form of constituents, the media, other governments, staffers etc.  He can’t order everybody around as he was accustomed to. Apparently he doesn’t like it one bit.

We should not be surprised by any of this given an utter lack of governance in his past, let alone taking his personality into account. If Americans thought they were hiring a typical successful business CEO – who had a board and investors – they overlooked the important difference between the vast majority of CEO’s and this one: governance.

Whether he becomes an effective president or not will depend, in my opinion, on whether he can accept governance over himself for the first time.


Is America’s divide about Christianity?

The Pew Research Foundation published an in-depth analysis of what constitutes “national identity” around the world. The data is based on Spring 2016 survey data.

What struck me is how important being a Christian is to Americans, relative to other countries:

Relatively few say religion essential to national identity

As one might imagine, the importance of Christian affiliation is greater for Republicans than Democrats.

In fact, there are several meaningful differences in the definition of “national identity” between the parties:

In U.S., Republicans take tougher stand on what it takes to be a true American

We know that city dwellers skew Democrat and rural dwellers skew Republican.  This report reinforces the broader basis of our “city mouse versus country mouse” cultural and socioeconomic divide:

  • multiple ethnicities in cities versus homogeneously white in rural regions
  • multiple religions and secularists in cities versus Christians in rural regions
  • higher per-capita incomes in cities versus lower in rural settings
  • higher percentage of college educated graduates in cities than in rural settings

I fear this divide is intractable for now. Our cities are becoming more, not less, diverse by every measure thanks to the global nature of the technology and financial service industries.

But the divide is still probably temporal, given the long term demographic trends.

Perhaps we’re experiencing the last stand by those who think our country’s control should rest in the hands of one religious affiliation:


For another blog is the irony of this all.  Our founding fathers carefully designed an areligious government system, where no religious bloc could wield power over others. Their motives were rooted in their prior experiences of religious persecution and monarchial control.

If we really want to get along, perhaps the founding fathers should be our true north (again).

“Daddy, why is the President allowed to lie?”

Businessman holding wooden alphabet blocks reading - Lie - balanced in the palm of his hand.

My 9-year-old son is aware of the recent election and the President’s actions since inauguration.  He sees news snippets on TV and brings stories back from school.

It’s been difficult explaining to him why the President can get away with lying.

He understands that the role of President is to be our country’s leader, and therefore should be the “best” person among us.  And he’s heard many, many times from us his parents about the importance of truthfulness.

So he’s confused.

Yet his innocent question remains.

Our President is a serial liar.  This is not in dispute.  He’s done so multiple times in just his first week in office, perpetuating a pattern throughout his candidacy.  And his lies are beyond what we’re accustomed to hearing from politicians on both sides, spinning their versions of an issue.

So many questions come to mind:

  • Why is this ok?
  • Do we not deserve better?
  • What will be the cost of this behavior on our citizens’ commitment to do right and to get along?
  • How will the rest of the world see us now, and what will that cost us?
  • Will there be a backlash?
  • Will we learn some sort of lesson from this episode, and never repeat it?

These are profound issues. Ones that are tempting to ignore but carry untold costs.

Ethics matter if we want to continue to be the country we say we are.

My top 107 albums

Close-up image of vintage player pickup and black long-play record.Time for something fun given the serious nature of our nation’s current events.

Over on Facebook, there was a recent meme asking to list your Top 10 records. For many music fans, this is nearly impossible.

So, I’m taking a stab at my Top 107 instead.

Some ground rules:

  • I tried to avoid greatest hits albums, but a few were too good to pass up.
  • Rather than quibble with the best album by an artist, sometimes I suggest others too
  • Add yours to the comments!

Here goes….loosely grouped by genre but in no particular order.

  1. The Clash, London Calling. Between this and Sandinista, a super-nova of creativity and experimentation made in a 2-year period.
  2. The Clash, Sandinista
  3. Buzzcocks, Singles Going Steady
  4. Stranglers, IV
  5. Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks
  6. Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette
  7. The Jam, Sound Effects
  8. Gang of Four, Entertainment! Punk. Funk. Political. Not easily ignored.
  9. Joy Division, Closer. Toss-up with Unknown Pleasures.
  10. The Fall, Hex Enduction Hour. Or choose from many others.
  11. New Order, Movement.
  12. Kate Bush, Hounds of Love
  13. Talking Heads, Fear of Music
  14. Comsat Angels, Waiting for a Miracle
  15. U2, War. Or Joshua Tree or Boy. Take your pick.
  16. Ultravox, Vienna
  17. Mission of Burma, Vs.
  18. Mission of Burma, Signals, Calls and Marches
  19. Joe Jackson, Look Sharp!
  20. The Cure, Disintegration
  21. The The, Soul Mining. One guy, one bedroom.
  22. Ramones, Ramones
  23. Ramones, Rocket to Russia
  24. Magazine, Real Life
  25. Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model
  26. Dream Syndicate, Medicine Show
  27. Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes
  28. Echo & The Bunnymen, Heaven Up Here. Or several others through Ocean Rain. Take your pick.
  29. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue.  Duh. The more you know about how this was recorded, the more brilliant it seems.
  30. John Coltrane, Giant Steps
  31. John Coltrane, My Favorite Things
  32. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Keystone 3. Art with the Marsalis brothers at the pinnacle of his comeback / bebop renaissance
  33. Art Blakey, Free for All. Manic energy.
  34. Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um
  35. Dave Holland Quintet, Prime Directive. Or many others.
  36. Ella Fitzgerald. Where to start?
  37. Wayne Shorter, Adam’s Apple
  38. The Bad Plus, For All I Care. Jazz covers of rock songs, amazing use of atonality, mismatched keys, varied tempos. Their work with Joshua Redman also tremendous.
  39. The Specials, The Specials
  40. Burning Spear, Man in the Hills. And others.
  41. Bob Marley, Kaya
  42. Bob Marley, Exodus
  43. Peter Tosh, Equal Rights
  44. UB40, Signing Off
  45. Antonin Dvorak, Symphony #9 / New World
  46. Arvo Part, Passio. And many others.
  47. Henryk Gorecki, Symphony #3, Opus 36, Dawn Upshaw version. Pure, beautiful anguish.
  48. Eroica Trio, Pasion. Exactly as it says; passionate classical string trio. the opposite of dull.
  49. J.S. Bach / Glenn Gould, Goldberg Variations. Gould’s tour de force.
  50. Hilliard Ensemble. Where to start?
  51. The Band, Music from Big Pink. Or greatest hits.
  52. The Blasters, The Blasters
  53. Brandi Carlile, The Story
  54. Bryan Ferry, Boys & Girls
  55. Bryan Ferry, Bete Noir
  56. Roxy Music, Flesh and Blood
  57. Coldplay, Parachutes
  58. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, So Far
  59. Damien Jurado, Caught in the Trees
  60. David Bowie, Station to Station. Or many others from the 70’s.
  61. David Gray, White Ladder
  62. Dire Straits, Communique. Or Dire Straits. Or others.
  63. The Doors, LA Woman
  64. Explosions in the Sky, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
  65. Fela Kuti, Unnecessary Begging
  66. Fever Ray, Fever Ray. Recorded deep in the woods of Sweden, in solitude. Otherworldly.
  67. Fleet Foxes, Sun Giant. Harmonies that would make CSNY proud.
  68. Florence & The Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. How is she not a bigger star?
  69. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere
  70. Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls
  71. James Brown, 20 All-Time Greatest Hits. Or sift through 30 other records from the nuggets.
  72. Japan, Gentlemen Take Polaroids
  73. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free. Or Southeastern, take your pick. His best might be to come.
  74. Jose Gonzalez, In Our Nature
  75. Massive Attack, Mezzanine
  76. Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther. Probably because the song Roscoe is so frickin’ good.
  77. Midnight Oil, Diesel and Dust. Or several others around that time.
  78. Peter Gabriel, So
  79. Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi
  80. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon.
  81. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake. Amazing that my favorite album is the one she made around Year 20 of her career.
  82. Portishead, Dummy. Ahead of its time.
  83. R.E.M, Reckoning. Or many others.
  84. Santana, Greatest Hits. Or one of first three albums.
  85. The Smiths, The Smiths. Or several others.
  86. Steely Dan, The Royal Scam. Cynical, dark, fits our times.  Oh yeah, and impeccable musicianship. Or, Aja, Pretzel Logic.
  87. Stevie Wonder, Innervisions. Or, Songs in the Key of Life.
  88. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Or, Damn the Torpedoes.
  89. The Wipers, The Circle
  90. Chris Isaak, Heart Shaped World
  91. Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed. Or, Sticky Fingers.
  92. Sinead O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. Reminds me that musicians are often the best political activists.
  93. The Tragically Hip, Fully Completely. Or, Up to Here.
  94. Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Or, Sweet Old World.
  95. Wilco, Wilco
  96. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  97. K.D. Lang, Ingenue
  98. Neko Case, Middle Cyclone. Or, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, or Blacklisted.
  99. Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls
  100. Allison Moorer, The Duel
  101. Howlin’ Wolf, Real Folk Blues
  102. Neil Young, Harvest
  103. Joni Mitchell, Court & Spark
  104. Allman Brothers, Idlewild South
  105. Jimi Hendrix Experience, Smash Hits
  106. The Who, Quadrophenia. The studio double set.
  107. The Who, Who’s Next

Thank you, President and Mrs. Obama

bf1569657989cf968dd2ae4d252dc852We wait to find out what our president-elect will do. Although it appears that his behavior will be remarkably (and unfortunately) consistent with when he was a candidate.

In the meantime, I’m reflecting on the remarkable presidency of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Thank you, above all, for leading with grace.

This was no small feat. Your opposition was resolute. You faced overt and subtle racism as the sad yet inevitable part of being our first black leaders.

Thank you for maintaining your sense of humor.

Mr. President, it’s a gift and I never tired of seeing you use it to needle your opponents, or to just bring some levity to an otherwise impossible job.

Thank you for deescalating our wars.

While you didn’t accomplish all that you set out to, our presence in the Middle East is reduced and you avoided new conflicts. Peace is our goal. You changed the world’s perception of our country as aggressor, using diplomacy to navigate the turbulent waters.

Thank you for decisive action in the financial crisis of 2008.

You let our leaders such as Geithner and Bernanke do their best in the heat of a crisis. There were no best or easy solutions, so doing something quickly was the best course, and you did. The recovery is incomplete and far from equally spread across our workforce, but the crisis is over for now.

Thank you for passing Obamacare.

We are the only democracy without universal healthcare. As the wealthiest nation, we need to treat it as a right and not a privilege.

Obamacare is the first step in that direction. It is flawed and will be replaced with something else. But it will be hard to take coverage away from 20 million Americans who now have it. Many of whose lives were literally saved by it.

There is no progress yet on costs, which are out of control relative to any comparative measure with other countries. This journey will last decades longer but you started it.

Thank you for being the moral voice on gun violence.

You used each tragedy as a reminder of the need for progress on gun control.

However, there is unfinished business.

I wish during your tenure we would have imposed greater control over the financial industry.  Its power and potential for abuse remain largely unchecked.

I wish during your tenure that we found a humanitarian solution to the Syrian crisis.  America should never turn a blind eye to genocide and conflicts that kill innocents en masse.

I wish we could progress on gun violence. In terms of legislation, there are many incremental gains to be had.  In mental health care, we need to accept and respond to the fact that so many mass murderers are afflicted with untreated mental health issues. We now know that mental health is, well, health.

I wish we had cheaper education.  Global trade, automation and the exodus of manufacturing have caused a massive economic dislocation in the last 30 years.  Those who were affected the most need education and social support to learn new skills, not keep old jobs that are no longer viable.

I am sure history will judge you both very well, and it is much deserved.

Your legacy might be sidetracked by your successor for a time, but as you have quoted Dr. King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  In fact, yours might be the most important moral voices since Dr. King himself.

On tolerating intolerance

The bruising election has caused a lot of soul-searching on my part. And I suspect for many others too.

My moral framework values tolerance, inclusion and diversity. I feel like I am in the throes of a deep dilemma:

In the face of intolerant behavior of others, what is the appropriate response?  Tolerance or intolerance?

To that end, this quote has haunted me for a year:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

First, we have a president-elect for which his office demands the respect and support of its citizens. What to do when the person occupying the office behaves intolerantly (to put it kindly)? What exactly is being sanctioned?

Second, we have friends & family around us who exhibit intolerant behaviors. This was the case before and after the election.

Has anything changed in terms of how one should respond? Is it now more important to speak out against such behavior? Or to look past these issues to focus on people’s admirable qualities?

I wish I knew.


An open letter to Senators Feinstein and Harris

I sent this letter by mail today.  Here’s a copy of what I wrote.

Dear Senators Harris and Feinstein,

First, thank you for your service. I am proud to have you represent me as a citizen and resident of California.

With our president-elect, there is much fear and doubt. Will he exhibit the needed temperament for the job? Will he represent the interests of all Americans, or just his supporters, or just his own? Who will oppose him when there is a need?

I’m sure I speak for many Californians in saying that your role in our government is more important than ever. California on the whole is a socially progressive state, and wants further progress.

I respectfully ask you to consider doing the following.

Be courageous.

Californians will follow your leadership, and respect your choices, more for your courage of convictions than your specific positions and less for whether they align with the interests of a particular voter segment within our state.

We need fighters right now, because fighting is (sadly) going to be the political norm.

Politics and public discourse are going to happen in the public eye and in the court of public opinion, less in the backrooms of Capitol Hill.

As a former Massachusetts resident, I can tell you how admired Senator Warren is for her tenacity. Perhaps knowing this helps gird you for the same.

Embrace the basis of Trump’s support.

There is a desire for real, material change to the political status quo. Mr. Trump tapped into this desire to be sure.

This is a non-partisan issue, as evidenced by Senator Sanders’ success in the primaries as an outsider running with a platform of “political revolution” including changing the role of special interests in politics.

Term limits, campaign finance reform, and reducing the influence of special interests’ money over politicians and policy – these are unifying changes welcomed by Americans of all political affiliation.

I doubt Americans are interested in nuance at this time. One is either strongly for such charge, or not. Those who are seen as incumbents protecting the status quo will be poorly judged as resisting change.

Please consider being strongly for this.

Protect and expand the social progress we’ve made.

America is better for legalizing gay marriage. And for having elected a black president. And for having a female presidential candidate who won the popular vote. And for decriminalizing marijuana so that huge numbers of people will no longer be incarcerated over what we now deem a lesser or non-offense.

However, hateful speech is amongst us, and may well be followed by hateful action.

The weak, disenfranchised, women, and minorities of all types need a voice for equality. More than ever. And while there has been much progress, there is much more needed until we truly live up to the founding spirit of this great country.

We take for granted perhaps the special diversity and tolerance that we enjoy in California. The rest of our country needs your voice for their sake too.

Thank you.

The next four years are going to be hard for you and for America.

Such is the nature of change; it never happens in a predictable or controlled fashion. Rather, it happens spasmodically and unpredictably.

In such an environment, one could be tempted to entrench along party lines. But it is partisanship that Americans want less of.

We can make social progress, and we can fulfill Americans’ desire for a political system that better serves them.

I hope that you may summon the strength and courage on our behalf and with our support.

Sincerely, Don MacLennan