Category Archives: Opinion

Election 2012: Four Worthy Men, Justice and Mercy

Here's a fantastic opinion piece from the Roanoke Times that is perfect reading for this day that is exactly one week before the big election:

Like many Americans — and despite the fact that it sometimes makes me squirm — I have watched all the debates. Chances are that you probably haven't, that is if the pollsters who describe you are right in saying that you haven't decided because you really don't feel strongly for or against either candidate.

That worries me a bit, because I talk to so few people who can, with conviction, say: Two dedicated Americans are hoping to become the next president. Both are devoted husbands and fathers. Both have spent a good amount of time in public service. Both have running mates with a combination of experience and skill that will stand our nation in good stead should whoever becomes the president be somehow incapacitated. Both have strong faith in a higher being and concern for their fellow Americans — and for those in the world not fortunate enough to be American.

Should we not all be grateful that, despite a Congress that seems to be able to do little other than argue and say no, four such able individuals have been willing to step up to the plate?

That's some pretty good stuff, but the best part to me is this:

But more than that, I hope that we who go to the polls will recognize that none of us earned the freedoms and opportunities that are ours. Our vote should be for the candidate we believe will assure that every American, no matter how dicey his or her beginning, will still have a chance.

Will some take undue advantage of the programs that offer those opportunities? Of course. Is that fair? NoI learned a very important lesson, though, from a man who grew up one of 12 children within the kind of poverty that dictated he quite literally had no shoes to wear until he went to school. "I hope," he said, "that God is just. But I pray that He is merciful."

That man was my father. Today, were he alive, I really am not sure for whom he would vote.

Of course I think this is the best part because I'm biased. The author of the piece is my mother, and the wise man of whom she speaks was my grandfather. I urge you to read the rest, not because it was written by my mother, but because she makes some great points. You don't even have to agree with her politics – her points are still worthy of thought.

Tolerance and Prosperity

Fred Wilson has a post titled Tolerance and Prosperity on his AVC blog that directly addresses one of the concerns with Amendment One here in North Carolina – the impact it might have on the state's economy:

I thought of my friend Bob Young's blog post about North Carolina's Amendment One, which seeks to ban same sex marriages…

Bob's argument is as much an economic one as a social one. Bob says:

This proposed amendment to our state constitution is specifically telling them we don’t want their friends and fellow Americans to come here.   We need these talented, intelligent young Americans to come to North Carolina to help our technology industries succeed, but they have choices.   They can go to states with mottos like “Live Free or Die” instead of states that attempt to tell them how to live their lives, such as this Amendment One does.  And trust me, these bright young Americans can and will chose to join my competitors in Seattle, or San Jose, or New York. 

North Carolina has enjoyed a vibrant tech/startup economy and Bob's Red Hat and are two of its best known successes.

The ultimate impact of Amendment One's passage is yet to be known, and probably won't be known for years to come. It will take time for the courts to sort things out after the inevitable lawsuits are filed, for our communities to determine exactly how many of their members have moved to greener pastures, and for companies in our increasingly complex industries to assess the impact on their ability to recruit a talented workforce. 

Earlier in his post Fred referenced a discussion he and the partners at his firm had just had with economist Paul Romer, who referenced the impact William Penn's policy on religious liberty had on Pennsyvlania and the reaction of its neighboring colonies:

William Penn was a Quaker and when King Charles II gave him a large piece of his land holdings in America, Penn created the colony of Pennsylvania and grounded it in the notions of tolerance and religious freedom. Instead of limiting Pennsylvania to Quakers, they welcomed all comers. And the result was that Philadelphia became the fastest growing city in America with a vibrant economy and lifestyle.

The neighboring colonies, which were initially centered around a single religion, reacted to Pennsylvania's and Philadelphia's economic success by opening up their cultural norms and becoming more tolerant as well.

It has been pointed out that until the passage of Amendment One North Carolina was the exception in the Southeast. Now, in a reversal of William Penn's approach, North Carolina has decided to join the less tolerant crowd and in the process has given away a competitive advantage it had on its regional economic competition. That's not likely to lead to greater prosperity for North Carolinians, and that's just more salt in the wound that the amendment inflicts on its citizens.

Of course that's the opinion of one person who was among a significant minority of the voters yesterday (only 39% voted against the amendment). The voters of NC have spoken, and now all of us will have to live with the consequences, whatever those might be. 

Imposing Religion

In reading an article that a friend sent to me I found this quote from President Kennedy:

I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

With a slight change it adequately reflects my view on the proper role of religion in American society:

I believe in a citizen whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition of citizenship.

In Praise of Women With Some Mileage

I found this piece by Andy Rooney via a co-worker's sharing of it on Facebook.  In it he explains why women over 40 are the shizz:

As I grow in age, I value women who are over forty most of all. Here are just a few reasons why: A woman over forty will never wake you in the middle of the night to ask, “What are you thinking?” She doesn’t care what you think…

A woman over forty looks good wearing bright red lipstick. This is not true of younger women. Once you get past a wrinkle or two, a woman over forty is far sexier than her younger counterpart…

Yes, we praise women over forty for a multitude of reasons. Unfortunately, it’s not reciprocal. For every stunning, smart, well-coiffed hot woman of forty-plus, there is a bald, paunchy relic in yellow pants making a fool of himself with some twenty-two-year-old waitress.

Ladies, I apologize.

For all those men who say, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free,” here’s an update for you. Now 80 percent of women are against marriage, why? Because women realize it’s not worth buying an entire pig, just to get a little sausage.


Why Design is Hard

Okay, this has been bugging me forever. I've been trying to figure out why entering a calendar event on my smartphone or Google calendar or Outlook feels so…annoying?..

Now back to calendars. When I think of months, I reflexively picture a circle, with January 1st at the top and June at the bottom. That uses the spatial processing part of my brain. When I think of a day within a month, I picture a wall calendar grid with four horizontal weeks. That's a different spatial model. When I think of the time of day, I think of a round clock with two complete cycles for AM and PM. My smartphone unhelpfully adds another spatial model by making me enter times in a sort of slot machine interface with rolling windows, which causes me to imagine a tire shape, with the tire heading toward me. Meanwhile, the other options I need to click are spread around the screen and require a mental scavenger hunt, which is another spatial task. 

Add to this spatial overload that my calendar likes to present itself sometimes in a month format, and other times by week. Worse yet, on some of my calendar interfaces the months scroll in a left-right orientation, and on other interfaces the months scroll up-down.

When I read Scott Adams' post about his frustration with the Google and Outlook calendar interfaces and got to the excerpt I've shared above, what struck me was that his arguments helped explain perfectly why designing anything is so hard.  I don't think I could picture the items that Adams describes any differently than he does – to me a month is a block, not a circle and every reference to time (minute, hour, day) looks like a line, i.e. a timeline.  Now take the two of us and multiply by the millions of people who use those calendars and you can understand why it would be near impossible to design something that is comfortable for everyone to use.

Having spent years in direct marketing, print publishing, online publishing and nonprofit management I've had to spend a lot of time thinking about design and usability.  I'm no designer (God help you if you need me to design anything), but I have to utilize design almost every day to do my job. My number one rule of thumb is this – just because I like it doesn't mean that the majority of the intended audience will.  The important part there is "the majority of the intended audience" because even Steve Jobs couldn't design something that everyone would like, but he was able to design products that literally enchanted a huge percentage of the human population. To me the ultimate goal with design is to make it as attractive and usable for the most people as humanly possible and that, my friends, is incredibly difficult and why I have no problem tapping the experts out there to do it for me.

Taking One’s Medicine

If you are at all interested in taxes, and by that I mean interested in the US tax system, how it works, who pays, who doesn't, etc., then you've likely read David Cay Johnston's work.  He's a writer who covers the tax beat and I've read his stuff for years and found that, especially considering the subject matter, his work is easy to read and that he has the great ability of taking a very complex subject and boiling it down to the bare essentials so that even a layman can understand it. Reuters thought enough of him to take him on as a columnist, and unfortunately he chose his inaugural column to make a doozy of an error.  Here's the correction. He's right when he writes:

I often write tart notes at the Romenesko blog for journalists, the Columbia Journalism Review, Nieman Reports and elsewhere about what I consider flawed reporting by others. I lecture to young reporters around the world on the duty of care they need to take with facts and teach how to check and cross check. Until now I have never made a big mistake, but this is a painful reminder that we all put our pants on one leg at a time. The measure of character, I say in my posts and lectures, is whether when an error is found you forthrightly and promptly correct.

I've had to make my share of trips down the hall to report to my boss (or client, or spouse) that I've made a whopper of a mistake and I can't recall it ever being fun, and I do recall it always being a bit frightening, but I've also found that I sleep well at night, the sun always rises the next day and I'm usually a better man for it.

I still hate it though.

Mean Drunks, Mean Commentors

I have this theory that you really see the true stripes of someone when they're drunk.  If a person who's normally mild-mannered turns into a raving loon, AKA a mad drunk, then I think that when the chips are down and he's in a stressful position that's the guy that will blow a gasket.  To me that same theory holds true for people who comment on news stories online.  Even if they're normally civil in the real world their true personalities come through in the comments they drop all over the online world as they hide behind their computer screens.

What reminded me of this most recently were the comments left by multiple readers on the Winston-Salem Journal story about the latest census figures showing that only 45% of households in Forsyth County are headed by married couples.  The story also broke down the racial demographics and contained information like the following:

Among black residents, only 27 percent of households are headed by a husband and wife. About half of the black children in Forsyth County live in homes headed by only their mothers, with another 20 percent being raised by grandparents, fathers, and other relatives.

"I don't think it is a good trend," said Forsyth County Commissioner Walter Marshall, who is black. "I guess the new generation just does not believe in marriage. There are so many things involved."

Marshall said that black males too often find themselves "not marriageable," due to high incarceration rates, unemployment and lack of education.

"Young black ladies will tell you that they want to be married, but they don't want to marry at any cost,"Marshall said. "They don't marry much; they just stay together."

The 2010 census showed that 73 percent of white children were growing up in two-parent homes, and 57 percent of Hispanic children were doing so.

You can guess what kind of comments have been posted and I have to say that with every passing day I become less and less surprised at how petty and mean people can be, especially when they don't even have to have the balls to be mean to someone's face.  

BTW I'm also getting really frickin' tired of people equating marriage with some kind of magic silver bullet for lifelong happiness.  I'm fairly sure studies have shown that growing up in a stable two parent environment increases the chances that a child will grow up to lead a happy, stable life, but I'm quite sure that marriage isn't a prerequisite for having a stable two parent environment.  I'm also certain that there are more than a few households that are dens of misery and headed by married people, and that there are single parent households that are dens of happiness.  In short, marriage is a traditional form of cohabitation and household building that is declining in popularity and that has caused some people with traditional values to get their panties in a twist.  Personally I think we should worry less about the institution of marriage and more about helping people understand how to build a happy household and raise well adjusted members of society.  

For the record I'm happily married to a woman I can't believe has put of with me for as long as she has.  We're closing in on 20 years of marriage and 23 years of just plain digging each other, and I have no doubt I'd feel the same way about her if I was labeled her husband, her housemate or her biggest mistake. The latter is how many people think of me.

Sometimes I’m a Self Hating Loser

I was catching up on my reading and came across this post by Seth Godin titled "Turning the habit of self-criticism upside down."  I've done enough 360 reviews to know that he's spot on when he writes:

When it's time to write a resume or talk to a boss or discuss a project glitch with colleagues, the instinct is to spin, to avoid a little responsibility, to sit quietly. Put a best face forward, don't set yourself up.

When reviewing just about anything you've done with yourself (in your head), the instinct is to be brutal, relentlessly critical and filled with doubt and self-blame.

What's equally interesting to me is how those habits are affected by the people you interact with.  For instance if you work for someone who's hypercritical you're much less likely to be self-critical because you can be sure that your hyperritical boss is going to pile on.  That's why I've never understood leaders/bosses who are hypercritical – you might get short term gains from running a tight ship, but in the long run you're going to have a team of people who work defensively and cover up small problems that will fester and grow into big problems.

I also believe that hypercritical personalities can actually inhibit the performance of those around them.  For instance I play a lot of tennis and my lifelong modus operandi is this: I can play four straight games of stellar tennis and then throw in one or two bad points and fall apart because all I can think about is what a loser I am for making that one mistake.  Pretty soon I've spent so much energy beating myself up that I've turned one or two bad points into a lost set or lost match. Over the years I've played on lots of teams and had literally dozens of doubles partners, and since I'm a head case to begin with, if you give me a partner who's going to get on me when I make mistakes then I'm going to absolutely implode.  On the other hand if you give me a doubles partner who's positive and a "shake it off" kind of player I'm much more likely to concentrate on the upcoming points and actually put together a solid match.  Heck, just the other night my partner and I won a tight match in a 3rd set tie breaker despite each of us double faulting twice in the tie breaker.  We just laughed and shrugged them off and proceeded to win.

So yes I can be a self-hating loser sometimes, but given the right atmosphere and the right team I tend to overcome my self doubts and actually produce something worth talking about.  As Godin pointed out I'm not alone in having this habit, but I feel like I'm one of the lucky people in the world because I'm surrounded on a daily basis by positive and inspiring people.  That's one of those blessings that's easy to take for granted, but never should be.