November 4, 2010

Government is Not a Business

This ad wasn't a joke. Did you read the bullet points? One said "Treat citizens like customers." This TV ad was created by candidate Rick Synder, who ran and won the race to become Michigan's governor this past Tuesday.

This idea of "running a state like I ran my business" has become a more popular talking point in the last few years. Because in times of financial suffering, it sounds appealing. This was Meg Whitman's big push. She ran eBay. eBay did good. So let's give her the reins to California, and she'll turn it into a successful online auction and shopping Website...wait.

It's not the same thing. The government is not a business. A state's role is not to increase total ROI, get bigger and buy-out other states. A state's role is not to take your tax dollars and invest them in blue-chip index funds.

Like it or not, government is charity. It's justice. It tries to right civil wrongs. That's what it is. And even if you think that's not what it should be - even if you think the role of government is simply to protect the constitutional rights of the populace, a business doesn't do that either.

If you want a balanced budget, elect an accountant. If you want social "justice", elect a community organizer. If you want a good ROI, invest in the market yourself.

November 3, 2010

Money Doesn’t Buy Elections

No matter what your political views, we learned some interesting lessons Monday night.

One of the most important takeaways for me came from the California Gubernatorial election where former President and CEO of eBay, Republican Meg Whitman, spent a record $170 million on the race, which she lost to Democratic challenger Jerry Brown.

Money can't buy elections anymore. Whoever has the most gold can make the most ads. But, they're becoming a progressively decaying factor. Because P.R. spreads faster than billboards. Social media spreads faster than signage. Actions spread faster than ads.

So shut up with your "money will buy elections". It's true, but not based on ad budgets. People vote for the person that's going to be the best for their situation. If they are employed in an industry propped by subsidies, they're going to vote for the candidate who supports them.

That's what we should be focused on getting rid of. Not campaign budget and donor regulations.

More on Meg Whitman and the idea of "running a state like a business" tomorrow.

November 2, 2010

I’m Going to Vote

I wasn't sure about voting this year. I live in Illinois. And Illinois sucks...politically at least. The system is inherently corrupt. There's no getting around it. Except to not vote. And feel a sense of moral superiority in not embracing the system.

And I was mentally there. But, I needed encouragement. So, I asked my friend Wes Messamore, editor of The Humble Libertarian, of which I am a contributor, to write a piece in support of my apathy.

It worked. I was convinced. But then marketing guru Seth Godin wrote a piece in support of voting yesterday. And that worked harder. I hated the idea that sneaky marketing was working against me. That they want me to hate "hate" ads. That they want me to stay home.

And so the rebellion in my soul is driving to the polls on the way to work. I'm James Dean. Read both, and see where you fall.

November 1, 2010

Lessons I Learned This Halloween

My wife was sick yesterday, so it was my first time being in charge of giving out candy to the neighborhood trick-or-treaters. Here were my lessons learned.

Lesson #1: I wanted to learn my script - exactly what to say when the ankle biters arrived at the door. (I'm a writer). My wife thought I was crazy, but since we had an assortment of candy, I wanted to give the kids their choice. My idea was "Choose 1 of your favorites." Kat told me this was a bad idea and that the kids wouldn't just take one. But, I remembered getting to choose when I was a kid, and loved it, so I gave it a try. Big mistake. With those exact instructions, 60% of the first group took 2 or 3 candies each.

Lesson #2: So, I quickly gave up on this idea, because we would assuredly run out of candy if I continued my sociological experiment to test the etiquette of these neighborhood miscreants. So, I switched to my brilliant wife's originally recommended strategy. "Just pick one and give it to them." So, I did this. And 90% of the kids, after they received their candy, looked into my bowl of assorted delights to see what they would have been able to get if they got to choose themselves.

Lesson #3: Kids are cute, and rude. Least favorite line of the night. "Are you kidding me?!! Just one butterfinger???"!!"

It's easy to say, "Kids suck these days." But, I'm more curious in the reality. Because I was polite when I was a kid. I nicely said "Trick or treat!" And I always said "Thank you!" And there were a whole bunch of kids like that yesterday who came to my door. So, was I simply unaware of the bad-mannered kids from my generation? Or, since I live in a lower-class area than where I grew up, is there a socioeconomic correlation to etiquette?
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October 29, 2010

Let’s Invent a Sport Called “Turn Left”

The average age for a boy's peak love/interest in cars is what? Probably 3 or 4?

Now, I'm not saying there's not beauty in the sport. I fully confess that I simply don't get it.

But what might that stat imply about the average intelligence of NASCAR fans?

October 28, 2010

You Can Get Old Without Growing Up

Certain old people scare me. The ones who have given up. I think it happens over time. But, eventually, these people stop thinking they have the capacity to do something great.

I like my naivete. It keeps learning intentional. It makes me want to understand everything, because I feel a personal responsibility to change the world and believe that particular knowledge may be necessary for me to do it.

Human potential is insane. If you don't do something awesome with your life, you are wasting amazing potential.

So, press on. And as we get older, we can either become like Mr. Rogers, taking children on tours of a box factory one week, and a gumball packager the next. Understanding how things work. The mechanics behind things. The people. Getting smarter.

Or we can become like Andy Rooney. Hate everything invented after you were 12. Complain about the world. Get stupider every year. And die angry.

You don't automatically get smarter just by being alive. You have to want it.

October 26, 2010

Langston Hughes – Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore--
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over---
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

October 25, 2010

Winning isn’t Everything

If Sarah Palin has taught us anything, it is that, "Winning is irrelevant to your relevance."

Back in the 60s and beyond, political losers were still the party front runners next time up. But, that's all changed. Gore lost to Bush, and he was politically done. Kerry lost to Bush, and he was politically done. Forever. No second chances.

Yet, Palin, if anything, has become a bigger leader in the Republican party since her loss. Why is that? Is it because since McCain's name was ahead of hers on the ticket, that "she" didn't really lose?

Or are the rules changing?

October 22, 2010

American Education: The Best and the Boredest

Last night, I met a young German student named Cornelius who was visiting his cousin, my friend Jake for the past month.

Fresh out of school and about to start his first real-world job, Cornelius tried explaining the German school system to me. Here's the gist, keeping in mind that I may have lost some things in translation.

In Germany, after 4th grade, children are separated by perceived potential and placed in different types of schools based on predicted outcome. The students with lower academic records go to trade school. The more successful students go to higher levels of education.

Now, they're not eternally stuck at the age of 10. Germany understands that they can guess wrong. And students who do well at trade school can move up. But, it still sounds really weird and creepy, doesn't it?

We used to do the same thing. In the 60s, when Kennedy said, "We're going to the moon." here's what we did. We tried to find geniuses. We plucked our perceived best and brightest out of high school and sent them to specialized schools. Gave them great teachers, so they could go help NASA. And we got to the moon.

"But why doesn't my kid get the best teachers? That's why they're not as smart!" the populace cried out. It didn't seem fair, and it wasn't.

So, today, the perceived best and brightest might get plucked out for an hour a day to learn slightly more advanced math. And for the rest of the day, they're stuck with the other kids their age, bored out of their minds, based on a weird assumption that like-ages equate to like-talents.

So, here's my question. Is our educational system designed to help geniuses create the future, or to help the average kid follow instructions?

October 21, 2010

How Safe is Safe Enough?

We hit on this briefly last week, but I wanted to develop a single conversation around it. U.S. "defense" spending equals roughly 25% of our federal budget. We spend more on "defense" than every other country in the world combined.

So the question is, How safe is safe enough?

At what point will a politician be able to say "We need to start seriously scaling back our global operations." without their opponent yelling, "Obviously somebody doesn't understand that there are currently terrorists working around the clock plotting our children's deaths!" received by giant applause at the town hall meeting.

In all reality, how can this conversation change? I'm sure the first candidate will have to maintain that R&D + intelligence system integration keeps us safer than our ever-expanding global military outposts, and that he could actually increase that spending while severely decreasing our actually costs of production, maintenance and manpower.

But, how do we even get to that point without being laughed out of the room? Because those bombs and parts and men get made in every city of this nation. And they have a vested interest in growing our system, not saving it.