We realize that July is kind of late for a New Year resolution so here is our mid-year resolution: we will stop falling for heroes that, we later learn, are all too human.
Our latest disappointment comes from a wonderful book. Dave Egger’s Zeitoun tells the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian émigré who works his way up in New Orleans through smarts and hard work. He marries Kathy, an American convert to Islam, with whom he has three kids, and the couple runs a successful painting, home repair and property management business. It’s the classic immigrant, pull yourself up by your bootstraps story.
Then in 2005 Katrina upends their lives. Before the hurricane strikes low-lying New Orleans, breaching the levees and floodwalls that were supposed to protect it, Kathy flees with the kids, and Abdulrahman, whom everyone just calls Zeitoun, stays to watch over the properties. Soon, he starts paddling the flooded city streets in an old canoe helping stranded neighbors and feeding nearby dogs, good enough stuff to deserve the hero tag, which Eggers has no problem applying.
Then, amid the reigning Katrina chaos in New Orleans, Zeitoun and three other people get arrested at one of his properties for no better reason than they look suspicious. Three nightmare weeks follow when he’s treated as an Arab terrorist, sleeping on the floor and being ordered to strip naked, and he’s not allowed to make a phone call to tell Kathy he’s in jail. With the help of a Christian missionary handing out free Bibles he lets Kathy know he’s in jail and, a few days later, he gets out. All charges are dropped.
It’s an extraordinarily compelling story and at Verb we couldn’t help but fall for this hero, an immigrant just like ourselves, falling through the cracks of an unjust system.
Enthralled by the story, this correspondent started doing some Google digging to find out what has happened to the family since 2009 when the book was published. It turns out Kathy divorced Abdulrahman and he spent four years in jail accused of beating her up and trying to kill her with a tire iron.
Zeitoun is not the first of our fallen heroes. Some politicians we admired were later found to have been bribed while some priests that fiercely defended human rights in this writer’s country during the heyday of the dictatorship in the 1970s were later credibly accused of sexual misconduct or assault.
But that’s not the point. Amid a highly polarized political environment, particularly in the U.S. but in many other places as well, journalism has this marked tendency to elevate heroes and set up their respective villains as if we were living in a Hollywood blockbuster where the good guys are invariably good, and the baddies are evil to the core with a clearly defined demarcation between the two. We certainly do not want to second-guess a writer as accomplished as Eggers, but we wonder if in his extensive interviews with the couple for the book he may have picked up any signs that the Zeitouns as portrayed in the book were just too good to be true.
For this writer, the moral of the story, if any, is to always carry a healthy dose of skepticism whenever someone is being portrayed as a hero or a villain. The same person can be a hero in one moment and a villain the next, depending on the circumstances. We’re all too human.
Sensors and Energy Sensibility
Keeping us humans alive takes up a lot of work in millions of labs around the world, where research equipment burns five times more power than the average office. To help labs control costs and carbon emissions, Verb’s customer Elemental Machines has just introduced a wireless sensor to track the consumption of any equipment connected to wall outlets without interfering with their energy intake. Instead of a “smart plug” between the wall and the device, which could void delicate systems’ warranties, the new sensor clamps to the outside of power cables and sends consumption information to the cloud. “Our team has spent several years developing this platform, and we’re thrilled to finally unveil it,” said Elemental Machines Founder and CEO, Sridhar Iyengar.
Show Me the Breakdown
Speaking of accurate measurements, tech reporters have said that they need companies making funding announcements to give them the breakdown of loans vs. capital investments so they can track money flows during the downturn. Avaya did just that with their latest $600-million round, which consisted of $350 million in loans and $250 million in bonds, and was rewarded with broad coverage around the world, including press releases pitched by Verb in Central America.