Playing by the Rules

Here in Indiana, we play a card game called euchre. Like all such contests, there are rules that must be followed in order for the game to work. You have to follow suit, for example, and also coordinating with your partner via “table talk” is strictly forbidden.

It’s the rules that make euchre work. And it’s the rules that make a government and a society work too. When you don’t follow the rules, the game isn’t fun to play. And when a government or members of society don’t follow the rules—well, that’s far worse than cheating at cards.

In our country, the details of the rules are extremely complicated with more nuance than any one person could ever understand. That’s because there are hundreds of millions of citizens and all kinds of situations the laws are trying to cover. But all most of us need to know was covered in your high school civics class:

  1. A brief document called the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
  2. Congress makes laws according to the powers listed in the Constitution.
  3. The Executive Branch, headed by the President, is responsible for implementing and enforcing those laws.
  4. Any laws Congress is not interested in making or isn’t permitted to under the Constitution are handled by states and local municipalities.
  5. If citizens have a problem with a law or with its enforcement, they can challenge it in the court system; and the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of whether or not an act is or is not legal under the Constitution.

There’s more to know, of course, but that’s the basic framework. And it’s why what’s happening in Texas right now is downright frightening. Because in 1973, the Supreme Court decided that a whole category of state laws were unconstitutional. They Court further refined their ruling in 1992.

But last week, a Texas law went into effect that directly violates what the Supreme Court has already said. That’s not how the system works. A state cannot ignore the Constitution and rulings by the Supreme Court.

In your own family, the person who cheats at euchre is ruining the game for everyone else. And maybe the consequences are only that you do something else to pass the time while dinner is cooking.

But in our nation, when people in the government break the rules, the consequences are far more severe. And it’s not just happening in Texas. Or in Indiana. There are rulebreakers absolutely everywhere.

It’s okay if we want to change the rules. That’s a conversation we can have. But the rule of law—the agreement to follow the rules we have—is essential.

I’m running for Congress because playing by the rules is the only way I play.

An Extra Sixty Seconds

There’s some work involved, to be sure. But these days, getting your facts straight often takes at most a minute to find out.

That’s because we have search engines. Practically the entire sum of human knowledge is at your fingertips, 24×7, from almost anywhere on the planet. But for some reason, people will repeat claims that are verifiably false. They will smash the share button or click the retweet. Or for a classic move, they will another “FWD: ” to the front of the email subject line as they forward on the message.

It’s easy to dismiss this behavior as people being lazy or stupid. But I don’t think that’s it. Rather, I think people are busy and it’s much easier to assume something which sounds like it’s true is probably true.

I’d love for everyone to take the extra sixty seconds to check things out. But perhaps what’s more important is for all of us to agree that we care about the truth. It’s hard to accept when we are wrong, and yet, finding the right answer (if one exists) is how the world moves forward.

Take the extra sixty seconds. Try and get it right.

And if I made a mistake, please let me know.

The Power of Moral Consensus

There’s a scene from an episode of the AMC drama Mad Men where some characters go on a family picnic. They lay out a blanket and enjoy the sunshine. Once they are finished, the iconic Don Draper hurls his empty beer can into the distance. His wife Betty picks up the sheet, dumping their trash onto the ground. Then the couple and their kids load into a car and drive away.

In the 1950s, this behavior was commonplace. Picking up the garbage was someone else’s job. But over the next few decades, the culture shifted. Anti-littering campaigns were launched. City ordinances were passed. TV commercials and public announcements and cleanup projects slowly turned the tide.

And today, people generally do not dump their trash on the ground. The scene from Mad Men is shocking. Littering is not cool.

This isn’t the only example. Smoking cigarettes is no longer cool [1]. Marriages between people who are white and black are now widely accepted [2]. According to one prominent source, the struggle for gay rights is “over” [3]. You can probably come up with more aspects of our society that have also transformed. This is the power of moral consensus.

All of these trends, however, took decades. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the public adapts nearly instantly to decide what is right, and practically everyone starts doing exactly that.

Like the one epidemic, in which:

Parents so dreaded polio that they were quick to seek the vaccine for their children, and coercive policies never became necessary [4].

That’s not happening today. Maybe it’s because kids aren’t as susceptible to COVID-19. Or maybe it’s because we don’t trust the authorities like we used to.

Without moral consensus, our society cannot advance. We can’t decide what is and is not a problem and what must be done.

That’s why I’m running for office: because there is a moral consensus that traditional politicians are corrupt.

I’m not a member of a party. I’m not taking money. I’m like you.

I’m fed up.


For vs. Against vs. Can’t Afford to Think About It

There are two sides to every issue in American politics. For and against. Pro and con. The people in favor and the people opposed.

(This isn’t remotely true about the details of the issues themselves, of course. There are many options in between the extremes. You can be a fan of some public art projects and not a fan of others, for example. You can want to spend a little more or a little less on national defense. But overall, we’re told to pick a position and stick to it.)

COVID-19 is another example. One side insists that we need national unity on public health measures: masking, social distancing, vaccination, testing, and contact tracing. The other side is skeptical of these proposals: warning against government overreach, concerned about profit motives, and generally distrustful of institutions and officials.

These two positions are diametrically opposed. The result is gridlock. Not much progress is being made, and it doesn’t look like things are going to change. Today, it feels like we’re going to forever be in coronavirus purgatory.

But there is a third side to the issue. It’s not the people who are shouting TRUST THE SCIENCE. It’s not the people who are shouting DON’T TRUST THE GOVERNMENT.

It’s the people who cannot shout, who are barely heard, because they are too poor to matter.

My acquaintance Crystal Grave pointed me at some news stories about the third side. One talks about a woman in rural Alabama who went door to door to convince her neighbors [1]. Another is about a group in Massachusetts that organized a block party [2]. Neither of these populations are likely to be reached when most of the emphasis is on the screaming between the two main sides.

Which to me, is the point: we have to stop being obsessed with positions, and instead focus on listening to people.

Because it is people who need help. Who have questions and fears and beliefs.

It’s people who are going to be affected by how the government decides to act and how industry decides to respond.

People are what matter. Not positions. Not sides. Not being for or against. Individual people, trying to get through the day, hoping for a better tomorrow.

People are the third way, and people matter most.



The Internet Makes It Easy to Be Cruel

My friend Laura told a story the other day about two men she knows who are lifelong friends. They serve on a board together, and disagreed on an issue for the organization. According to Laura, the conversation when like this:

“I’m cancelling 20 years of our 40 year friendship!” said one friend to another after a disagreement on an issue today, pointing his finger for added emphasis. “Oh yeah? Which of the 20 years are you going to cancel?”

Afterwards, the two men were seen laughing as they left the room.

But that’s not what it’s like online. Go into a Facebook thread, a message board, or log onto Twitter and you’ll see people practically screaming at each other. They will make disgusting insults and horrific comparisons. There will be threats of violence and calls for others to join in the attack.

But these kinds of things don’t happen offline, or at least, not as easily. We tend to get along in person and sometimes be able to see other people’s point of view. And I’m not the first person to notice the Internet is filled with bad behavior [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8].

This is why I want to get together with people in person. When looking at a screen, it takes an incredible effort to see other people as human beings. It’s too easy to be cruel online.

But not in person. So let’s get together, and talk.

[1] Psychology Today in 2018.
[2] Mark Manson in 2017.
[3] Gothamist in 2012.
[4] CNN in 2011.
[5] TechRadar in 2009.
[6] The New York Times in 2007.
[7] The St. Louis Dispatch in 2005.
[8] Journal of the American Society for Information Science in 1998.

How You Can Help, Legally

If you’re having trouble sleeping, my advice is to open Title 52 of the US Code, Section 30101, and read about election law. You’ll be zonked out instantly.

In fact it’s so complicated that the Federal Election Commission has put together a website that tries to explain the law (and how its been interpreted), and it’s still quite complex. They note, for example, that you have to track campaign contributions and if something is given to the campaign without being paid for, that’s still an “in-kind” contribution. But if someone volunteers their time, that’s not a contribution. But if they do something they would normally do as part of their business, that is a contribution.

Anyway, I made a flyer that you can download and print out and hand to people. And I really have no idea if this counts as a campaign contribution or not. I am telling you to do it, so that would be “coordination”, which usually means it is a contribution. So, maybe we have to file paperwork if you give someone a flyer that you printed on your own?

None of this makes much sense. Which is why I am running for Congress, because the laws about everything–including the laws about elections–should definitely make sense.

And if you’re an election lawyer and have an answer, feel free to get in contact. But please let me know if that advice counts as a donation. I guess that’s something I have to find out.

Money is a wonderful thing. Except in politics.

Top five inventions in the course of humanity, lightning round:

  • wheels
  • the use of fire
  • printing press
  • agriculture
  • money

The reason that money is such a brilliant invention is that it allows for people to trade with one another even if they don’t happen to have items they want. Because if you’re a chicken farmer and I’m a furniture maker, all we can do is swap eggs for chairs—unless we have money. With money, one of us can buy what we want from the other person.

Economists like to call money a medium for exchange. And that should tell you right away why money has no place in politics. As a candidate for public office, you and I should not be making trades. Because the only thing I have to offer is the potential to influence the government, and that’s not something that you should be able to buy from me.

Yes. I’m saying it. All political donations are low-key bribery.

I get why people donate to campaigns though: they want that candidate and those ideas to move forward. And they are afraid that voting for that person will not be enough. Plus, the other side (the one they think is awful) is terrifyingly effective at fundraising.

But in politics, money doesn’t solve problems: it creates them. It makes the bank accounts the constituents instead of the voters. Donations are the point of origin for major changes in laws. And we have a word for when people don’t do their jobs and instead do what someone who isn’t their boss pays them to do. That word is corruption.

So please, don’t vote with your debit card. Instead, vote with your power to speak. Email this post to people. Share it on social media. Print it out and leave it in the breakroom. Tell people that you’re tired of bribery running our government.

Spread the word. A guy named Robby Slaughter is running for Congress and your support—but not your money—is what matters to him.

It’s Fully Approved. That Means Almost Nothing.

The big news this week is that the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 has been “fully approved.” That means the FDA has moved beyond the original emergency use authorization (EUA), and is now giving it their highest stamp of approval. [1] Many people said they would not take the vaccine because it only had the EUA. So now things are going to change.

Except, they won’t. Because that’s not the reason people aren’t getting the vaccine. The main reason we’re hovering at 52% fully vaccinated is because people don’t trust the government.

The next step in this process, of course, is mandates. Already lots of companies are requiring that employees get vaccinated. Colleges are requiring students be vaccinated. Cities are requiring restaurant patrons to be vaccinated. By the time you read this, there will likely be more mandates.

And guess what happens with the millions of people who don’t trust the government when that same government requires they be vaccinated? The obvious: even more distrust.

This post is about the pandemic, but the problem is far deeper. Most of us don’t trust our government. And the government acts like it doesn’t know (or doesn’t care.)

The first step to build trust is to admit that it’s not there. To acknowledge why you might not be trusted. To explore opportunities to be worthy of trust. And to show, patiently and repeatedly, that you can do what you said you were going to do, and apologize when you fail.

That’s what we want from one another. And it’s what we should expect from a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.


Half of all jobs could be done remotely

That’s the line from a recent podcast I heard talking about the economy. It’s a widely reported figure from lots of sources, and it checks out. Barbers, carpenters, and surgeons need to go into a place of business. Programmers, call center workers, and video editors could do their work from home or most anywhere.

We know this is true practically, because once the pandemic started zillions of people who were going to offices stopped going in–but kept working. And now with new variants and some school closures and other issues some of those zillions are still working from home. And apparently, a lot of managers (and employees) report increased productivity as a result. [1]

But this isn’t about the pandemic. And it’s not even about working from home. It’s about something we could have done, all along. In this case, it’s working from home: which allows us to get more done, and also, something most people prefer. [2]

So why did it take a global health emergency to relocate people from looking at computer screens in offices to looking at computer screens on their kitchen tables? Why didn’t we do that before?

A lack of leadership.

One of the many reasons I’m running for Congress is because I think we need a new kind of leadership. And while of course, I want to advocate for people working from wherever they can get work done, this is only an example.

But it’s one that’s been obvious to those zillions of people for ages. And what’s been obvious to all of us as well is that we don’t get much out of our elected leaders.

It’s time for another obvious change. It’s time to vote for someone who is genuinely paying attention.



The Right Answer is Usually “That’s Not a Good Question.”

I spent a lot of time in consulting in my career, particularly in the field of information technology (IT). With computers, people often ask if something can be done or if a problem can be fixed. These people are sometimes the individuals working in regular, non-IT jobs. Sometimes they are managers, or salespeople, or customers.

And they all want to know if something can be done. The answer to that question is always the same: “sure, it’s possible.” Because it is technically possible. Given enough time and resources, you can solve most any IT issue.

But the answer “sure, it’s possible (with enough time and resources)” is the answer to almost any question! Ask your neighbor to do open heart surgery, ask the next person in the carpool line to do some translation into Monogolian, ask someone to design a phone app for your collection of home recipes–and they can probably do it. They might need a decade of training and millions of dollars in equipment and a support team but they can do it.

Because in IT as well as most places in the world “can you do this” is often a bad question. The question should rarely be can. Instead, ask should. As in: “should we do this?”

Politics is no different. We spend a ton of energy demanding: “can we implement policy X?” or “can we cancel policy Y?” But these questions presume that the arguments were already made and are widely known.

Can we expand farm subsidies? Can we cancel federal student loan debt? Can we reduce taxes? Can we increase border funding?

But most of the time, these are not good questions. Instead, ask should. As in: “should we implement policy X?” or “should we cancel policy Y?”

Because the question should we inspires discussion and debate. Should we is a place of research and study. Should we is where all of us go to learn and maybe even change our minds.

Once we’ve decided if we should, then we’ve done the hard work. We’ve made the best choice we can with the information available.

Because if we should, the next question is how.

Being Half Right

After a long day at work, I often find myself tempted to drop into a gas station and buy a bottle of a sports beverage. I’ve apparently convinced myself that the “zero calorie” version is healthier, and that the particular contents of this drink will refresh me. I believe it will restore my energy as if I’m a character in a video game.

Of course, this isn’t true. What I actually need is hydration and electrolytes. The brand isn’t magic, but it is convenient. Drinking more water–perhaps with some salt–would do the trick as well.

My post-work beverage routine isn’t wrong. But I’m only half right. I do need to drink more water, but I don’t need the neon-colored liquid in the distinctive transparent bottle. I’m half right.

Being half right is where almost all of us with politics today. We are are right in that there is a widespread, coordinated campaign designed to pump us with dubious information, load us up with fear and moral superiority, and inspire us to take the to streets. That really is happening. We’re right about that. We are the target of sophisticated messaging.

What we’re wrong about is the actual truth of what’s happening. Yes, there are powerful operators spending tons of cash to change our beliefs and bully us into acting. But it’s not so we can stop a bunch of bloodthirsty murderous fascists. There really aren’t many of those people if any. The goal of the messaging is to preserve existing power structures.

This is hard to accept, especially if you’re convinced that the (party name here) is filled with evil people who will do unspeakable things. The simple reality is that people in power want to stay in power. But you know who benefits from those preposterous claims? The people in power.

If we think about politics like we think about sports drinks, it becomes clear that most of the resources are focused on marketing, not on being healthy. And the more effective that marketing is, the less we’ll think about the simply reality.

I’m half right about sports drinks. Which means, I gotta quit drinking them only because I’m thirsty. And too many of us are only half right about politics too.

Because here’s the most important part: being half right means you’re also half wrong.

Everything is a lie (except it isn’t, not everything)

One of the biggest challenges with politics is the prevalence of falsehoods. These days those spread throughout our world faster than the speed of thought thanks to the invention of the meme. Here’s one that I came across. I blurred out the specific topic it was about, because that’s the distraction:

There are two parts to this lie. First is the insistence that the claim is a “truth bomb.” Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you have to tell someone how powerful/brilliant/mind-blowing an idea is, then it’s probably not actually that special. Genuine innovations or jaw-dropping statistics speak for themselves.

Second, there is the use of the word “everything.” Now for the second rule: if a claim uses absolutist language (e.g. everything, nothing, always, or never) then it’s likely an exaggeration if not a flat out lie. Most of the time, there are exceptions. Or as the old saying goes extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Do you find yourself wanting to know what this meme was about? It went on to say “everything the government is doing right now is designed to make you fat, weak, stupid, depressed, and lazy—” which obviously is not true. The government is installing stop signs. The government is sending people to inspect factories for safety. The government is paying teachers and firefighters. And of course the government is doing things like requiring food to have ingredients printed on the label, which is the opposite of the specific claim.

This is another way that lies are spread. Watch out for the word “everything.” It often signals that someone is trying to make you angry rather than to encourage you to think.