(A Short, Somewhat Cheeky Bio)
This is the page on an author’s website where the writer is usually portrayed in uplifting, slightly impersonal tones – a paean of success and respectability. I thought about doing that; instead I wrote this.
I was born in Oakland, California, and attended Oakland Public Schools. After graduation I drove about ten miles or so to the University of California in Berkeley and enrolled as a student. After receiving my undergraduate degree, I went back a year later and eventually received a law degree from the same university. All of this cost me about $45 per semester. So for a total of about $630, I received two degrees from the finest public university in the country.
I’m fortunate it didn’t cost more, because my working-class family wouldn’t have been able to afford it. But today that same tuition is over $100,000. But that’s assuming that a kid from Oakland would even be accepted. The University these days seems to be more partial to applicants from out of state who can be charged an even higher tuition.
So when asked how much social progress I’ve seen in my lifetime, I look around at students who are saddled to their eyeballs with student debt. I have to answer, “Maybe not so much.”
* * *
After law school I spent some time in the California Attorney General’s learning the ways and mores of the state bureaucracy, but my real-world education began when I began working in a poverty law office in East Oakland for the Alameda County Legal Aid Society. There, I learned the amazing ways in which some people cope with problems that would sink the rest of us. But I also learned too that grinding poverty can eventually defeat anyone. It was important to me at that point in my life to be working with an energetic group of lawyers in that environment. But we all soon realized that it was going to take more than our legal enthusiasm to solve the problem of persistent poverty.
Fighting the good fight, but not winning the big war – there’s a pattern there. And it’s one that I’ve repeated over the years. When I was in private law practice a few years later I was hired by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association to pursue a pair of antitrust cases against major publishers who were engaged in price discrimination against independent bookstores. We won the cases, but we were never able to stop the practice from springing up again in different, more virulent forms. Sadly, today the book business is still riven with unfair business practices that the Justice Department seems determined to make worse.
In 1981 I wrote Low Profile: How to Avoid the Privacy Invaders, which was published by McGraw-Hill. This was in the wake of the Nixon investigations, and I wrote it as a warning against government and commercial intrusion into personal and private matters. That fight wasn’t just lost – it was lost in spectacular fashion.
And when the next wave hits, it will be far worse. Technology continues to be the ally of the snooper. Future privacy-invaders will not only be more efficient in getting what they want, they will be much better able to cover their tracks. Informational systems used to have built-in limitations: the very bulk of the material maintained in the system imposed practical limitations on what an individual snooper could glean from the files. But the computer is rapidly depriving us of all that protection. At the same time we are increasing the personal information in public and private data banks, we are expanding geometrically the accessibility of that information to those who are bent on misusing it.
I wrote those words in 1981, but I could just as easily have written them last week.
I would like to think that my next book had a greater impact. Barbara Kate Repa and I wrote Sexual Harassment on the Job: What it is and How to Stop it for Nolo Press in 1992. There are dozens of books on that topic now, but this one was the first. While we were editing it, I remember screaming at the TV screen during the Clarence Thomas- Anita Hill hearings, saying, “That’s it — that’s what we’re talking about!” Things may have gotten better since then, but when I look at the former Mayor of San Diego I’m not so sure.
For the last several years I’ve been involved mostly with my wife in helping to operate Book Passage, which has two bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although the deck will probably always be stacked against independent bookselling, it’s still a wonderful business. Every day we meet enthusiastic readers, a few famous authors, and a lot of new writers on their way up. And all of this happens in a place that is uniquely suited to put people in an upbeat mood: an independent bookstore.
I have a wonderful wife– Elaine,
four terrific children – Grant, Nicole, Kathryn, and Michael,
six brilliant grand-children – Petra, Ian, Sammy, Bryn, Laura, and Dylan.
So what, exactly am I complaining about?