Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Every Day

Tomorrow I’m going away for three weeks on a trip to Greece and Sicily. I doubt that I’ll be posting new items on this blog site while I’m gone. (But you never know, maybe I’ll get inspired.)

So I’ll just leave you with this:

Remember to be thankful for your loved ones – Every Day.

Remember to appreciate the blessings in your life – Every Day.

Remember to have compassion for those not as fortunate as you Every Day.

Remember to be kind to yourself as well Every Day.

Remember to look around you and see what’s beautiful Every Day.

Remember to see the other’s point of view Every Day.

Remember to smile Every Day.

Remember to laugh Every Day.

Remember to allow yourself to be moved, even to tears Every Day.

Remember to say thank you Every Day.

When I return the baseball playoffs will be underway.

Go Giants – Every Day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

September 11, 2001

Tomorrow is September 11 – 9 years after THE September 11. In a few days I leave on a three- week trip that will end in Sicily, which is where I was on 9/11/01. So I’ve been thinking about our experience that day.

I visited Sicily for the first time 40 years ago. On a beach near Taormina I met an Italian family. Three sisters, Anna, Giusi and Maria Teresa. Giusi was married to Antonio, a Sicilian Baron, Barone Vagliasindi. They had a one-year-old son, Michelangelo. Anna, Giusi and Antonio all worked for the European Union in Brussels. They were on vacation, staying at Antonio’s country villa, Carranco, on the slopes of Mt. Etna.

We became friends. I’ve lost track, but over the years I’ve visited Carranco about 25 times. Unfortunately, Antonio died a few years later, so Michelangelo became the Barone at a very young age. He is a pilot for Air France now. In his spare time he has modernized Carranco and replanted the vineyards that surround the villa.

But back to 9/11. Sandra and I were having lunch with Anna at Lorenzo’s in Taormina. Lorenzo is a long-time friend of Anna’s family. He had a restaurant he named after himself for many years and we had a tradition of eating there at least once when I was in Sicilia. Then he left but the restaurant remained, run now by Giovanni.

About half way through our meal we noticed that people were huddled around a radio and the volume was louder than usual. There was no TV in the restaurant. It was a little after 2, which would make it about 9 a.m. in New York. The information coming through was sketchy and confused, but it didn’t take long to figure out that something very bad had happened. We spent much of the rest of the day trying to piece together the facts. We had a radio at Carranco, but no TV. In the evening Michelangelo called from Paris and provided more details.

How fast the world changes. If it had been today, even in Carranco isolated in the middle of the Sicilian countryside, we would have had the Internet, cell phones, TV, and more to keep us informed. But not then. We still weren’t sure exactly what had happened when we went to the airport the next day, because we were scheduled to fly home. We were told we could get to London, but no further. So off we went, not knowing how long we’d be in London.

That was a Wednesday. Fortunately, friends in London were in town and put us up until the planes started flying again and we could get back to the U.S., which was the following Monday. In London we saw our first pictures of what had happened on 9/11. Like everyone, we were shocked and dismayed. We felt like we’d missed out on something very important, a shared experience, and were eager to return to San Francisco as soon as possible.

I’ll always remember taxiing up to the gate at SFO to complete our trip home. Out the window we could see groups of people holding “Welcome Home” signs and American flags. I’m not a flag waver, but this expression of friendship and solidarity moved me to tears. It does again as I write these words.

Friday, September 03, 2010



BP warns Congress that if offshore drilling is not permitted they may not have the money they promised to cover the damages for which they are responsible.


An Afghan bank owner says that unless the U.S. moves quickly to stabilize the Kabul Bank, which is failing, the financial system may collapse.


Public opinion polls in New York report that city residents, 2/3 of them, want the Muslim community center moved to a different location.


Both the Israelis and Palestinians say West Bank settlements are a deal-breaker.


Rwandan outrage over a report suggesting its troops were responsible for genocide in Congo forces the U.N. to delay issuing a report on the matter.


Whether true or false, a political blogger in England accuses Foreign Secretary William Hague of scandalous behavior. If true, scandal junkies salivate. If false, scandal junkies salivate.


A new book claims Simon Wiesenthal did not operate as a one-man Nazi-hunter, but was on the Mossad payroll. Wiesenthal died in 2005. A useful historical correction? Maybe. A ploy to sell more books? For sure.


Members of the Basij militia attacked the home of Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi to remind him it would be a bad idea for him to attend a rally scheduled for today.

Sidney Rittenberg

I invite you to watch an interview with my dear friend Sidney Rittenberg.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Message #8 - Don't Be A Know-It-All

This is the eighth in a series of monthly messages:

How do you react to a ‘know-it-all?’ Probably like the rest of us – not positively. Who wants to deal with the smug certainty of a ‘smarty pants?’

Now take a good look at yourself. You may not be insufferable, but I’ll bet there are times when you want to show how much you know.

Listen up! Don’t Be a Know-It-All!

The most exasperating people I’ve worked with or known are those who know a lot – or think they do. An arrogance and closed-mindedness frequently accompanies knowledge. Why, I’m not sure. It may be part of the culture of the erudite, most visible in academia. But the arrogance of knowing is not limited to university campuses or PhDs.

It’s in the workplace when management thinks it is superior to blue-collar workers or when senior management looks down at junior management. But know-it-alls are not only on the job.

Look at yourself in everyday interactions. When you are questioned about something that has happened, do you become defensive? Do you use what you know or think you know to justify your actions? Do you try to deflect the accusation?

Even when there’s nothing wrong, what people know gets in the way. The guy selling me salmon at the grocery store explains in great detail why he has only farmed, not fresh, salmon. He overwhelms me with a dissertation that covers ecology, stream degradation, color variations in the fish, and the buying habits of his clientele. OK, OK, I think, I’ll take the farmed stuff; just stop talking so I can go buy my eggs.

I ask the waiter what’s in the chopped salad. I’d be happy with a simple “lettuce, salami, cheddar cheese, garbanzo beans and a vinaigrette dressing.” But I get a treatise on the trip to the farmer’s market, the quality of the local producers, and the special flavors infused by the chef. Again, the tyranny of knowledge.

These are not bad people. They aren’t consciously trying to drown me in verbiage. They’re just doing what comes naturally, even though if they were on the receiving end of the conversation they’d be as bored with it as I am.

There is another aspect to the knowledge phenomenon. Once you think you know something, you’ll likely rely on what you know rather than try to deepen your mastery of the subject. Wait! Hold that thought. Before you jump to the conclusion that I’ve condemned knowledge and now I’m saying you should have more it, let me explain.

First, on the issue of demeaning knowledge. Knowledge is not the problem. It’s what you do with it. When you use knowledge appropriately it is extremely valuable. When used to inflate your ego, to dominate, or to make others wrong it is a weapon best left unused.

As to resting on your laurels, being satisfied with what you know, UCLA’s legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, said: “What you learn after you know everything is what really counts.”

Zen Buddhists address this when they talk about ‘Beginner’s Mind.” They are referring to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki makes the point powerfully: In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.

While I’m quoting, here’s one more: the Greek philosopher, Epictetus, said: “It is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.”

How many times have you stopped learning because you already knew enough? I’m not saying you should obsess about everything that comes your way. You don’t need to launch an endless search for knowledge just to demonstrate that you won’t stop short. That’s ridiculous.

But about those subjects that interest you or when you would be served by knowing more, go the extra step, do what Wooden says really matters. Just don’t get too full of yourself when you do.

Brilliant people who aren’t in love with their knowledge are more than smart, they are wise.

Don’t be a know-it-all!