Seeking only perfect role models means failing to learn from history

Like many others—including the city’s mayor—I find the choice by the San Francisco Board of Education to spend its time focused on name changes for 1/3 of its public schools in the midst of a pandemic quite shocking. It strikes me as a misuse of resources when the children the Board is commissioned to serve are struggling to learn remotely with no* firm re-opening plans in place.

Binder page listing high school courses for grade 10Contrary to the far right, white supremacist commentators who unilaterally dismiss that Board of Education’s actions as essentially foolish, I’d like to make clear that I support discussion of social justice issues in this context. The feelings of enrolled students about the namesake of their institution deserve to be recognized, though, crucially in my opinion, not catered to by default, and never without extensive study and careful reflection when a preponderance of reasonable people hold differing opinions.

Talking about thorny questions is helpful, even vital to each pupil’s education. Confronting difficult episodes in our shared history enables us to be better as a nation and to become better individual human beings. I disagree with some of the ultimate decisions made by the San Francisco Board of Education about striking particular names from schools, but it’s not because I am unaware of mistakes made by leaders in earlier eras.

By my reckoning, the great hubristic error shown by that Board is the futile quest to pretend any perfect role model exists, unblemished enough to “deserve” to have a school named for him or her.back side of Christopher Columbus monument in Barcelona, Spain

No man or woman can be held up as a paragon of all virtues for all times. All of us fail; the very best of us will lead a life full of foibles. Some of us succeed handsomely in our own time, but later run afoul of changing notions of decency in another era.

The greater the risks taken in life, the more likely we are to make at least one real doozy of an error. People who devote lives to public service will fail with an audience, by definition. Should we teach our children to avoid any action to circumvent the possibility of failure? Do we want tomorrow’s adults to be more afraid of being judged by history than they are of taking part in—and becoming leaders of—public life?

Speaking for myself: no, I would not choose to teach that lesson to my kids or anyone else’s. I think the San Francisco Board of Education is doing a grave disservice to the children it serves by wielding nuanced history as a blunt instrument. Ironically, time is unlikely to be kind to its members. If they are remembered at all, it may well be for presumption and self-righteousness.

There is evidence that children allowed to fail, shown how to learn from their mistakes, then given opportunities to try again to find success grow into healthier, more productive adults. Given the 100% probability that a human being will screw up, a focus on incremental improvement seems like the wisest approach to raising and teaching young ones.

Christen your institutions with improper nouns defining high ideals if you still demand perfection: Liberté, égalité, fraternité, perhaps? Freedom? Justice? Unity? My personal favorite is Integrity.

Statue of LibertyIrreproachable individuals don’t exist, San Francisco Board of Education, but I’m curious to see who you believe holds up better to scrutiny than yesterday’s heroes with their feet of clay.

The social justice warriors on San Francisco’s Board of Education might not like being compared to fascists, but, to me, the parallels are obvious. People in power are attempting to strong-arm the world into abiding by their own narrow standards, ignoring complex reality in favor of pat party lines and simplifications that cast “the other” as willfully evil. Without a doubt, extremist elements on the left are also prone to seeking economic and social regimentation with forcible suppression of opposition.

Our young people didn’t invent cancel culture. Students of history will recognize the eradication of the names of pharaohs such as Akhenaten and Hatshepsut as a similar insult to non-conformists. The term damnatio memoriae may be modern**, but the concept is not.

Let’s teach our children to honor what’s good in our history while recognizing errors for what they were: human failings. Then, we learn what we can from those past mistakes, incorporating their lessons into our own pursuit of a better future. Isn’t that the ultimate point of public education?

* As of January 29, 2021, as I write these words, only one school’s re-opening plan has reached the Site Assesment stage and zero (0) applications to re-open have been accepted.

Presenting a role model as too perfect actually prevents teens from seeing a path to similar success for him- or herself. According to the linked study, kids benefit more from learning about Thomas Edison who worked very hard to achieve success (in spite of his reputation as a real jerk) vs. Albert Einstein whom most regard as a born genius with preternatural intellectual abilities.

On a television show I watched recently, the teens attended a school called Excellence. That’s a fine paradigm for which to aim.

Too bad one of the hyper-pressured teen characters felt compelled to abuse drugs to keep up and cope with the stress, and an otherwise ethical teacher on the show guides a young child toward cheating on high stakes exams to chase the academy’s pursuit of excellence in its reputation over the needs of that pupil.

** 17th century

Playlist Shuffle Tag prompted by Julie Davide – Book Reviews and Other Musings

This was too fun for me to pass up.

Following an idea I read about on Julie Davide – Book Reviews and Other Musings, I put on the “My Top Rated” playlist from my iTunes library with shuffle selected, and I vow to honestly post the resulting list of 15 random songs.

music CD cases Vinyl records - 2

In keeping with Julie Davide’s retro artwork, I pulled out physical copies of albums where I could. Here’s Graceland, by Paul Simon, on vinyl.

I did limit shuffle to this one playlist because, as a parent, there’s a fair amount of “stuff I loaded to please other people” in my library. “My Top Rated” is all music that I’ve chosen for my own pleasure, much of which I can’t even play when the kids are in the car due to mature content…

My results are below this excerpt from—and link to—Julie Davide’s blog.

The Playlist Shuffle Tag Happy Thursday y’all. I’ve seen this tag around on other blogs and decided to join in the fun! I have a feeling that this will turn out quite the array of my musical taste as my musical palette has a wide range. Without further ado, and while avoiding any duplicates, I hope […]

via Tags – The Playlist Shuffle Tag — Julie Davide – Book Reviews and Other Musings

15 16 Really Wonderful Things that shuffled up from my iTunes Library.

  1. “Rare Child” by Danielia Cotton, whom I first heard being interviewed on NPR (i.e., National Public Radio.) She’s got a soulful rock & roll sound, and I enjoy the whole album, also titled Rare Child.
  2. “Taking a Liking” by Melissa Ferrick was included on my Out Loud compilation CD/album for the human rights and freedom of lesbians and gays. It’s a love/ wanna-be-in-love song for someone who admits her faults but also her desires.
  3. “The Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh, a sentimental favorite from my pop radio listening childhood that now reminds me of my doting and superlative husband. I can’t help but assume his thoughts echo those of the singer of this love song. It helps that I heard de Burgh interviewed on the radio when I was a girl, and he spoke of how he saw his own wife across the room at a party and came to write this song. If they eventually broke up, don’t tell me: I love this sweet story.
  4. “Miz Thang” by SaffireThe Uppity Blues Women from their album music CD cases - 2Broad Casting; I saw them live in college. This song celebrates the powerful woman. My favorite lyrics: “It ain’t about an ego/ and I’m not being rude/ but Lord, Lord, Lord, I’ve got a new attitude/ If you like my peaches/ come on and rub my fuzz/ I’ll share with your the power, the wonder and the love…” Also consider checking out “Shake the Dew off the Lily” if you’re willing to hear another great bluesy song about a commonplace, slightly off color occurrence in the WC but draped in a lot of floral metaphors.
  5. “Fur” by Jane Wiedlin. She’s a former Go-Go, so it’s the bounciest song about protecting animals from cruelty and vivisection on the PETA organization’s 1991 compilation Tame Yourself.
  6. “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon. I doubt Mr. Simon needs further introduction, but this came from his album, Graceland, which was my re-introduction to his artistry post-Muppet Show guest appearances. He and Chevy Chase are hilarious in the music video for this song.
  7. “Money Changes Everything” from Cyndi Lauper‘s debut studio album, She’s So Unusual. This vinyl record was one of the first albums I ever purchased; I bought her greatest hits via iTunes to include these all time favorites in my digital catalogue.
  8. “There She Goes” by Sixpence None the Richer. It is a pleasant song. I rarely choose to search it out, but I almost always let it play through when it pops up. I didn’t know this band was a Christian one until I read their Wikipedia page for this post.
  9. “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, because The Breakfast Club music CD cases - 3was absolutely my favorite Brat Pack movie of the 1980’s and this song made me feel like we could fight authority’s labels for us all and even break free from them. It still sums up that emotional climax for me. Maybe now I have more in common with the principal than the rebellious teens, but my heart doesn’t realize it.
  10. “Must Be Crazy For Me” by Melissa Etheridge. Her 1992 album Never Enough was one of the vital soundtracks of my college years, but I listen to it more from nostalgia than excitement today. This song always was my favorite from this album, but I find “You Can Sleep While I Drive* her most beautiful work.
  11. “Speed and Velocity” by They Might Be Giants. You could call Here Comes Science a kid’s album, but adult TMBG fans should enjoy it, too. I really do! Plus, it’s so educational: “Motion, direction, acceleration/ I’ve got speed—that’s how fast I am moving/ I’ve got velocity—that’s my speed and direction.” If either of my kids ever misses this question on a Physics test, they’ll be subjected to hours of non-stop listening to this tune.
  12. “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys. Slightly sheepish about this one, but I bought their Greatest Hits album last summer when I wanted to listen to… summer music. I bought a bunch of Motown singles that day, too. You feel like you should be riding in a convertible on your way to the beach listening to this stuff. And I don’t even like the beach!
  13. “San Francisco” by Brett Dennen is a catchy pop song I got for free from Starbucks back when they had those little cards on the checkout counter. My young son collected Starbucks cards like other kids collected Pokémon. It’s a catchy tune, and a helpful travelogue for visitors to the City. Our SF hotel concierge carefully cross-hatched over the entire Tenderloin district as a place to avoid at all costs, but Dennen had warned me “Deep in the Tenderloin/ you can have anything you want.” That does sound dangerous. Don’t tell the concierge, but I ate at a Tunisian place at the edge of the Tenderloin. The food was fantastic, and a bargain in an expensive city.
  14. “Little Red Corvette” by Prince. Here’s a conundrum: I’ve been meaning to reduce my rating of this song so I hear it less often. I like it, but… I’ll skip the track if I’m not busy doing something else when it comes on. For that reason, I’m going to list 16 tracks instead of the fifteen I promised up front. I hit the button to advance to the next track, which gives us:
  15. “Light My Fire” by The Doors. music CD cases - 1Does this one require any discussion? It’s an oldie, definitely a goodie, and remains a fun listen. Watching the film, The Doors, back in 1991 left me with a more melancholic reaction to all of the band’s songs, however, draining much of the counter-culture exuberance from the work. Jim Morrison and Val Kilmer are all tangled up in my mind. I’m left with a vague fear of bathtubs, at least when rock legends or hard drugs are present.
  16. “American Idiot” by Green Day. I wish I never felt a connection to lyrics that include “Don’t want to be an American idiot/ One nation controlled by the media./ Information age of hysteria/ It’s calling out to idiot America.” I’d like to be a more thoroughly positive person. I do find angry punk music a great balm for my existential crises, though, and this song rocks. I fundamentally reject the notion that this song is about the real America, much the way I rejected my older relatives dismissal of youth (in 1992! regarding my generation! X! <snicker>) as incompetent or wayward. There are incompetent youths; there are moronic Americans. All that being said, the future will be carried by the young, for as long as there is a future, and America has created and cultivated some awesome ideas for humankind. Perfection? Never. But I’ll keep working on that, along with a few million other do-gooders.

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Disposable paper coffee cups aren’t good enough for a 4 star hotel like San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis

Due to my husband’s travel schedule and a favorable fare war over the flight path involved, I had the great pleasure of spending five (5!) nights in the heart of San Francisco. His professional obligation put us up at the Westin St. Francis on Union Square.

I would be unlikely to pay for a 4 star hotel in this location—unless, perhaps, it was in an historic building I admired—but I’m eminently capable of enjoying it.*

My husband in particular dislikes a hotel which increases the fussiness or snootiness of the service at the expense of obvious value added to his straightforward tastes.**

Overall, the Westin St. Francis did a great job providing the unpretentious service we prefer at a level above what we demand to be satisfied. It was a very comfortable and gracious place to stay in a bustling San Francisco neighborhood.

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It’s my habit to leave a brief thank you with the tip for Housekeeping. A first for me: Westin Housekeepers thanked me back!

Though not quite to the level of get-it-before-you-ask intuition shown at five star properties, we found Room Service to be quick and attentive to detailaspicky eaters on a weird schedule. Housekeeping was very thorough, friendly, and, like Room Service, paid careful attention to special requests.

I can’t fault any of the service personnel at the Westin St. Francis, though the Front Desk was often busy or otherwise slow to serve.***

There was one item both Housekeeping and Room Service failed to providefor us when asked, and I did make requests of both. I asked Housekeeping in a note, and DH asked Room Service on the phone. I was told they could not provide a reusable mug for the in room coffee service.

Even when ordering espresso via Room Serviceor seated in the lobby cafe, it was provided in a tall 12 oz paper cup with Starbucks branding. Yuck!

My complaint here is twofold:

  • I love my coffee, and it tastes better from a ceramic cup.
  • Throwing away a paper cup for a beverage I’m drinking seated and indoors is needlessly wasteful.

I prefer a paper cup to styrofoam, but we all know there’s got to be a coating on that paper to make it waterproof, right? Coffee is hot. Wax and plastic coatings melt. Plastic, even without BPA, still contains chemicals that probably impact human health.

No, I don’t think the paper cup’s interior coating enhances the flavor of my organic medium roast.

And as for the unnecessary creation of garbage for drinks I’m consuming in the comfort of my hotel room? No, just no!

I think it is tolerable—if not my personal preference—for the Westin or any other hotel chain to choose to default to paper cups for in room coffee services. I don’t know the statistics on hotel behavior, but it’s absolutely possible that most guests most of the time are preparing, then carrying out, their room-brewed morning beverage. I understand that the glass carafes on the old 4-cup coffee makers broke regularly, creating headaches and hazards for Housekeeping and guests.

In this Tower room at this Westin hotel, the location of the coffee service near the tiled bathroom, but outside of its perils on a carpeted floor, would seem to reduce the risk of broken service items. A ceramic mug also seems less likely to crack than the thinner glass of a drip coffee machine’s carafe.

Most emphatically, if guests can be trusted to eat from ceramic dinnerware and glass cups delivered via room service, there can be no increased risk from coffee mugs of the same materials!

I suspect that the partnership with Starbucks is a part of this equation. Lots of people love Starbucks. It’s viewed as a premium brand. It probably “means something” to use that mermaid logo on your in room coffee service.

Perhaps Westin has an agreement to serve all coffee in Starbucks branded cups? Provide a ceramic mug with the iconic green logo, then, but please do have one available when I request a less wasteful coffee cup. If Starbucks is forcing the use of its branded paper cups, they need to be called to account for it or change their stated intent to reduce their environmental impact to a more honest one.

In Starbucks stores, I can always get my beverage in a ceramic cup by asking for it when I order. My estimation of the company would skyrocket if they made this policy a requirement for third parties displaying the Starbucks logo for marketing purposes. That would show a real commitment to the environment.

In a hotel with several bars and restaurants, a full menu of room service, and a complete kitchen that must include commercial dishwashing equipment, it is simply unacceptable to tell me that you don’t have a ceramic cup for me. I find it repellent, walking through the beautiful, marbled lobby, seeing a cafe full of guests settled in to drink from cups that are, essentially, garbage. I expect much better in an environmentally aware city like San Francisco.

Since 2012, the municipality of San Francisco has demanded that consumers pay for every paper shopping bag procured from a retailer. Plastic bags were banned outright in 2007. Even luxury boutique Hermès must ask if you want to pay 10¢ for a bag to carry home your new $12,000+ Birkin handbag.

How does this align with a hotel advertising rooms available “from $620 per night” during my stay that wouldn’t provide a washable, reusable mug for my use in the hotel?

My solution was to purchase a new glass “to go” cup from local roaster Blue Bottle Coffee. Theirs was manufactured by KeepCup. Trying Blue Bottle’s single origin espresso was on my list of adventures for the City by the Bay, so I got a meaningful souvenir and solved my cup problem in one fell swoop.

Blue Bottle espresso - 1 (1)

Yes, Blue Bottle Coffee’s single origin espresso was worth seeking out in its own right.

For someone like my husbandadmittedly, not a coffee drinker, like many most traveling professionals are—whose free time in the hotel is strictly limited by the rigors of his work schedule, this wouldn’t have been an option. As it was, when I offered him a soothing cup of chamomile tea in the evening, I had to clarify that he’d be getting it only after I finished my own cup of Darjeeling. We only had my one glass mug, of course.

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I often travel with my own refillable coffee cup† and I always carry a tiny 0.5 oz Nalgene drop dispenser bottle of dish detergent in my toiletry kit, but I left the travel mug at home this time. We were staying in a full service, four star hotel, so I assumed there would be proper drinkware on offer. I also knew that I’d have lots of free time while DH worked. I planned to savor my beverage of choice—espresso, straight up—seated in cafes and not on the go.

A recent sale flier by U-Konserve, the company that makes most of my reusable lunchbox components, pointed out the following from this study by ScienceAdvances:

“There is now one ton of plastic garbage for every person on Earth.”

U-Konserve also gives this fact in their Environmental FAQs:

“About 25 billion single-use coffee cups end up in landfills every year. If you buy just one cup of coffee or tea in a disposable cup every day, you’ll end up creating about 23 pounds of waste in one year.”

KeepCup estimates the environmental breakeven point of my reusable glass cup vs disposables to be as low as 15 uses. Put another way, if I use my new Blue Bottle travel mug 16 times instead of a paper cup, washing it between uses, I will have made the more environmentally sound choice.

Paper cups aren’t plastic bottles, but, seriously, are we still debating the wisdom of the throwaway society?

And I’m not even particularly militant on this topic. It strikes me as possible that disposables are more convenient to many business travelers, and I’m not prepared to insist that my opinions dictate what ends up in other users’ hands.

I am, however, quite wedded to my position that a hotel of the caliber of the Westin St. Francis has an obligation to provide environmentally friendlier options to guests like me who want them.

If not, it is greenwashing of the highest order by a company highlighting its sustainability mission and asking customers to “Make a Green Choice” to defer housekeeping that happens to be labor/cost saving for the hotel in addition to water-wise.

*My personal valuation of hotel class often boils down to: if the location is what I want, clean and simple will serve my needs. I prefer to pay extra for more space (i.e., two bedroom vacation rental with kitchen when traveling as a family) over luxury finishes or a more extensive range of services.

**He raved about the Philadelphia Four Seasons, mostly because room service recognized almost immediately that he prefers exactly the same menu every day. They came to answer his afternoon call with, “Are you ready for your berries now, sir?”

***When the shower knob fell off in my hand, the front desk forgot to send maintenance after my first call; I had to ring them again after 45 minutes of waiting. The service technician, once summoned, fixed the problem quickly, thoroughly, and with a total commitment to disturbing me as little as possible while he worked.

†My favorite is an unbreakable stainless steel-lined model by Liquid Solution. It has a non-slip, textured exterior, a simple lid, and holds up to machine dish washing.Coffee cup travel mug - 1