In Ohio, a federal judge rules that Ohio has to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. This is going to roll through every state, company, organization, municipality. If it is unconstitutional for the federal government to discriminate against legally married couples, then it is surely unconstitutional for any other entity to do the same. Great news. If I was a responsible party at a government entity or a company, I’d make sure my organization was in compliance now, no point in waiting for the inevitable lawsuit.
I am pretty apolitical. I view government as a necessary evil. The political process seems horribly compromised, most politicians seem hopelessly compromised. The campaign ads make me barf. I will be happy when election season is over. Usually I just keep my head down during the season and try to keep my views to myself.
But Facebook has made me increasingly uncomfortable with that policy. I get a flood of political traffic in my timeline every day. Many of these postings espouse positions that I don’t agree with, and I worry that my silence implies my assent. And I feel like the “new normal” is to share your political views, and that perhaps this might even be a good thing, leading to more citizen participation in politics. So I am going to try to be a more involved participant, starting by explaining my vote for Obama in the presidential election.
In considering my vote, I take the long view. What is the impact of my vote on the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years — the remainder of my life, and the heart of my children’s life. The issues of the moment will pass — no one will remember the fine points of the debates this month. The exact marginal tax rate doesn’t matter that much, we have survived adequately as a nation with rates as low as 15% and as high as 90%. The foreign policy crises of the moment will be forgotten. What matters are the structural policy decisions we make that will create enduring change in our society.
For me, fairness and openness are at the heart of our society, the uncompromisable core. Do we treat everyone equally? Does everyone feel like they have a fair shot at the good things in life? Can we talk openly about our society and its problems without fear of reprisal? Can we be critical of our institutions and practices? Do we embrace the diversity in our society and the richness it brings? Does everyone feel valued, and is everyone engaged positively in building a better society? Is everyone’s voice heard? Do we have open processes to make changes in our society?
If we break openness and fairness in our society, then it is very hard to move on and work on any other set of issues. Without openness and fairness, people disengage in productive activities. They engage in civil disobedience or worse. The nation loses its moral authority and leadership abroad.
There are three current openness/fairness issues in front of us, and Obama is in the right on two of them:
* A significant portion of our population feels discriminated against today, due to the same-sex marriage issue. They face discrimination in the tax code. In adoption and guardianship issues. In access to health insurance and benefits. In times of critical health issues. And in many more ways. We need to fix this, and fix it at the federal level, it is wrong to have variation in this basic civil right state by state. After some dithering, Obama is moving to the right position on this issue.
* Healthcare is another fairness issue. It is hard to pursue happiness if you are fighting health problems or can’t even get basic healthcare. It is terrible that kids don’t have access to uniform care, it is terrible that young mothers can’t get basic healthcare. It is bad that you have to work for a large corporation to get decent coverage. Obamacare is a tepid and compromised first step to addressing our healthcare issues, and not every aspect of it is right. But it is an attempt to address the issues, and we need to be moving ahead, not stepping backwards.
* Campaign finance is a threat to the openness of our society. The lack of any limits on corporate giving is bizarre, we are letting our political process be corrupted by corporations and organizations. This hits right at the “of the people, by the people, for the people” principle. I am a believer in a simple rule — if you can vote, you can give money. If you can’t vote, you shouldn’t be able to donate. Neither party is doing us any favors here, they both have their snouts in the campaign finance trough.
These are not the only openness and fairness issues — we have many more we need to work on. Access to quality education. Transparency in banking and finance. Privacy rights. Women’s rights. But these 3 are on my mind and on 2 of them, there are material differences between the candidates.
These issues trump everything else in the long run. Yes we need to work on economic growth, but to what end if our society and values are compromised? Yes we need to work on the budget and deficits. Yes we have foreign policy issues. But these will all be easier to work on if all our citizenry is valued and engaged, if we can talk openly about our issues, and if our institutions are not compromised.
Heard “Dan Barry”:http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_T._Barry speak at USC grad this past week. What an amazing story. Was rejected by NASA for like 15 years running and refused to give up. Finally made it as an astronaut at age 37. An amazing tale of perseverance. If you ever have a chance to hear his story, it is worth it.
At “Ritholtz”:http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/04/21-pixar-story-rules/, who lifted them from “Pixar TOuch”:http://www.pixartouchbook.com/blog/2011/5/15/pixar-story-rules-one-version.html who in turn lifted them from “Emma Coats”:https://twitter.com/#!/lawnrocket.
Great stuff, relevant for so much more than movie making. We all have stories to tell every day, many of these tips are relevant in so many settings —
* “Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle.”
* “Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it.”
* “Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way.”
* “Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of?”
* “What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character.”
* “Simplify. Focus.”
He had a terrible attitude. He didn’t play well with other dogs. He’d bite you if you just looked at him wrong. He was fearful and was useless as a guard dog, retreating into his crate at any disturbance. He’d wander off and get lost if you didn’t constantly watch him. He had ugly “cherry eyes”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_eye which scared off a lot of people. He was incredibly picky about his food and had to be coaxed to eat. He had allergies and constant ear infections and bad teeth. He was so cranky he scared the vets. If you tried to pick him up he’d turn into a wild animal and try to rip your arm off.
But he was our dog, and we adapted to him, and made a home for him. And in his last year, he got sweeter and more attached to us, and accepted our carrying him and helping him through his day.
We will miss him.
What a great article at @farnamstreet — “An obsession with failure”:http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2012/03/an-obsession-with-failure/. People that worry about their failures, who take responsibility for them, who consider what else they might have done, tend to be the strongest performers over time. I’ve always felt like my best interview question for people has always been “What’s your greatest failure?”. The answer usually tells me a lot about the person’s character.
Twitter streams, RSS feeds, inbound email, facebook updates, linkedin, man it is easy to lose yourself in the constant chatter of the current age. I fight every day to rise above the wash of minutiae and think about the things that really matter in the longterm.
So I’m being way more thoughtful about what I read. It is easy to get drowned by all the tech industry blog/press content, but there is a lot of echo in this content, and given the huge drives to publish publish publish, a lot of less thoughtful content. And has been well noted by others, not a lot of transparency. So less daily tech coverage, more thoughtful analysis on long wave trends.
Also, some great inspirational thoughts that arrived on my screens yesterday to help me:
* “Starting at the beginning of February, I made a change. Each day I blocked off a precious hour to build something.”:http://www.randsinrepose.com/archives/2012/02/29/a_precious_hour.html. Hear hear. Creating is hard hard work but is infinitely more rewarding than consumption.
* “So next time you hear something, or someone, talk about an idea, pitch an idea, or suggest an idea, give it five minutes. Think about it a little bit before pushing back, before saying it’s too hard or it’s too much work. Those things may be true, but there may be another truth in there too: It may be worth it.”:http://37signals.com/svn/posts/3124-give-it-five-minutes. It is super important to keep my brain open to new ideas and not just wallow in the stuff I already know, so I do need to keep a little brainspace open for other’s ideas.
* “…so I’ve started forcing myself to ask the other person at least three questions about their opinion. Forming those questions helps me think. Often, my gut negative opinion changes. Sometimes, the questions change the other person’s opinion. There is no downside.”:http://dcurt.is/three-questions. Another way to keep the brain open.
Relating to my post about effective business communication the other day, here’s a “great post on being right vs. being effective.”:http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/2012/02/do-you-want-to-be-right-or-do-you-want-to-be-effective/. Of course it is best to be effective AND be right — being wrong and effective leads to epic disasters.
Reminds me of the classic 4 quadrant chart of ambition vs competence. Being competent is good, but you need to have a dollop of ambition. And you have to get the ambitious and incompetent people out of your org as quickly as possible.
In my first job after grad school, I was giving a client presentation when a junior staffer at the client asked me a question that I felt was dumb. And so during the presentation, in front of his boss and his boss’s boss, I ripped his question apart.
After the meeting, my mentor and manager pulled me aside and said “You know, you might want to develop a weapon besides the bazooka.” And pointed out how I had humiliated the client staffer, and that I was unlikely to get a lot of cooperation from him in the future. Oops.
I’ve gotten better at this over the years, but I was reminded of this recently when one of my partners and I sat through a pitch. At the end of the pitch, I pointed out a number of flaws in very terse fashion. My partner shared his own experiences, mentioned some challenges, and asked some gently-pointed questions. The team likely left the room thinking that my partner was really wise, and that they’d like to sit down with him. In contrast, they probably thought I was a d*$k.
I have to keep reminding myself — the goal of business communication is to make yourself understood, and to hopefully effect positive change. If you communicate in such a way that people write you off, well, hard to make progress from that point on.
John Scalzi wrote an “excellent essay today on the impermanence of art”:http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/01/30/a-small-meditation-on-art-commerce-and-impermanence — none of us know the top 10 books of 100 years ago, or even the authors of the books.
I’m betting the same dynamic holds true in popular music, or in almost every other area of human endeavor. Certainly holds true in software, with obviously even faster aging out.
Enjoy what you are doing today, work with people you like today, help make people’s lives better today, because in the long run, our efforts are largely immaterial.
You could view this as depressing but I view it as wonderfully freeing — don’t worry about making mistakes or heading down the wrong path or looking the fool, in the long run it really doesn’t matter, so take some chances today and try to make a difference now in someone’s life.
Journalists Rejoin Relieved Friends, Family in U.S. – washingtonpost.com — it is awesome that these folks have been freed, and it is generally a good thing that we have found a way to talk to North Korea and have a success at something, here’s hoping that this event will contribute to calmer relations with the country.
But as a country we have expended a lot of dollars and diplomatic chips to get these folks free. I hope that we present the folks with a big bill for services rendered — if you go poking around in dangerous places in the world (like these folks, who goes hiking in Iraq/Iran for gosh sakes, was that really the only place you could think of to go hiking??), you should not expect that all the other taxpayers in the country are going to carry the cost of rescuing you. Yes we will rescue you, but there will be a reckoning for services rendered.
Random posts that have caught my eye recently:
* The VC Math Problem — excellent discussion of the “macroeconomics” of the VC asset class.
* What to fear. The truth about what is going to kill you. The sensationalist news stories every night on random acts of violence and tragedy are scary, but they aren’t the threat.
* The Rhythms of My Life. One guy’s methodology for examining his life and how he lives it. Not the right methodology for everyone, but everyone probably needs some methodology.
@chrisfhoward reminded me of my own post today — A Little Ludwig Goes A Long Way » Blog Archive » Icebergs. A good reminder for me. I also think a lot these days about the leaders in our financial industries taking home $10M+, $100M+ earnings for the year — how are they behaving when they are at the top of the iceberg?
The entire original post inserted below:
L brought home a paper last week on the “Iceberg” analogy for teams. How just a little bit of an iceberg peeks above the water, but it has a whole huge structure supporting its exposed surface, and how that whole structure is necessary for the top of the iceberg to achieve its height. And in teams — every player is important and contributes to the success of the team, even the players on the bench.
I love the Iceberg analogy for teams. Let me extend it!
Life is long. During our lives we will get to be on literally thousands of teams. Sports teams. Teams working on a lab problem or school project. Teams working on projects at church. Working as part of a community group. Working as a member of a nonprofit board. At the workplace as part of a project team. As part of a special project taskforce. A family working together on housework, on vacation planning, on holiday preparations, on the everyday tasks of housekeeping. For fun as part of a choir or stage production.
Literally your entire life will be spent as part of teams. There are very few truly solitary endeavors in life.
Our position on each of these teams will be different. Sometimes we will be a leader because of our experience and competence in the subject area. Sometimes we will be a learner because of relative inexperience. Sometimes we will get the public spotlight as the face of the team. Sometimes we will toil away in relative obscurity. And most often we will be doing all these each day — part of one team in the morning at work, a different in the afternoon, yet another in the evening at home or in the community.
We will all get to experience the full range of roles. Some of these roles will be amazingly gratifying. Some will be less fulfilling. But no on is on top of the iceberg their whole life, we will all get our turn on the top and on the bottom.
The true measure of our self worth is not where we are in the iceberg. We are going to be in different places at different times in our lives.
The true measure of our self worth is how we comport ourselves as we fulfill our role. When we are at the top — do we express humility and thankfulness, do we try to teach others the way up, do we show understanding and compassion for those in other roles? When we are at the bottom — do we seek to understand the strengths of those above, do we seek to learn from them, do we strive hard knowing that the other roles will be strengthened if we work our hardest?
Emotionally it feels better to be at the top. But in the words of someone I once worked with, “Success is a lousy teacher”. I probably have learned the most in my life from some of my time spent elsewhere in the iceberg.
Racing the Beam: How Atari 2600’s Crazy Hardware Changed Game Design | Game | Life from Wired.com. I remember also the goofy Apple ][ graphics. Yet both systems had tons of great games — these tight and arbitrary resource limits pushed programmers to become really inventive. A good lesson in many walks of life.
Nice quote here: “He who blames others has a long way to go on his journey. He who blames himself is halfway there. He who blames no one has arrived.” – Chinese proverb, via Millionaires Say They Were Failed by Advisers in Crisis | The Big Picture.
Madoff Story Smells Funny | The Big Picture. The WSJ and NYTimes seem to be hinting at this today too, investigators seem to feel that the sheer amount of work required more than one person working on the fraud. Fascinating.
Rich, with his reflections on the recent election, has inspired me to share a few of my own personal thoughts.
Like many commentators, I am inspired by the actions of the electorate, overcoming a history of bias and bigotry to overwhelmingly support a minority American. And I found McCain’s concession speech to also be very inspiring, his support of the President-elect and his call to all of us to work together on the challenges ahead was gracious and high-integrity.
I am saddened tho by the passage of gay marriage bans in California, Arizona, and elsewhere. I just don’t understand the bias and hatred that we demonstrate towards a set of our fellow citizens. Allowing loving adults to have the full legal benefits and status of a marriage certainly does nothing to threaten or compromise the quality of my marriage. I hope we continue the dialog on this point as a nation.
A SWOT Analysis On America. Don’t agree with many of the detailed points but the core idea of looking at our situation with a SWOT analysis is a good idea. Too often as I read the papers these days, I don’t really understand the goals and strategies of some of our government actions. A reasoned discussion with a clear decision framework would be nice.