Space Billionaires

There’s an old saying, attributed to Mark Twain [1], that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on.” It’s a good saying and has a lot of history behind it, but I want to propose a new one:

What you think is going on isn’t actually true. The truth is far messier.

Right now, there’s a lot of scuttle about some extremely rich people and their interest in private space flight. Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos all have companies that are building rockets and trying to make money off of leaving the planet.

The basic complaints are as follows:

  • “These billionaires should be solving world hunger/fighting climate change/helping orphans instead of going to space!”
  • “They wouldn’t be billionaires if they paid their employees a living wage!”
  • “These billionaires don’t pay taxes anyway!”

None of these claims are, strictly speaking, the the actual truth. This is fairly easy to show with a little bit of research.

The real truth is complicated and hard to summarize. But I’ll try:

  • Actually, they have given way more money to charity then they have put into space ventures (not that donations and investments are the same) and plus the financial cost to address these issues is thousands of times more ginormous than all of the money these guys have, combined.
  • Actually, they are generally following the law, so they are pretty much paying what everyone pays. Billionaires aren’t special in this way.
  • Actually, they pay a ton of taxes. But they don’t pay taxes like you or I because the tax code is unfathomably complicated. And honestly, we really have no idea how much they shell out (although we can surmise it’s as little as possible.)

These answers are not satisfying. It’s a lot easier to call the billionaires the villains. It’s also pretty easy to call them the heroes: as innovators and employers.

But neither is true. And until we learn to accept that the real world is messy, and absolute answers are rare—we are unlikely to make much progress.

There are problems with the billionaires, to be sure. But the biggest problem of all is thinking the answers are easy.

That’s the lie traveling around the world right now: the lie that there are lots of simple answers.

Let’s tell the truth. The answer usually is, “it’s complicated.”

[1] An example of a lie is the supposed origin of this quote, which was not Mark Twain. (But it sure is easier to think it was him!)

Tell a Friend. Really.

Every two years, political attack ads fill your timeline and your TV. All of the time, politicians stuff your mailboxes with junk. And rarely is any of this with your explicit permission.

I don’t want to do any of that. Forcing people to look at my content (especially content designed to make you afraid or angry) feels pretty counterproductive. And plus, those ads rarely say much anyhow. [1]

Instead, I want you to tell a friend about me. You can do this by telling all your friends at once (on social media) or one at time (in person, or over a text or a call.)

Here’s something you could say:

Hi. I want to tell you about this person I am following. His name is Robby Slaughter and he is running for Congress in Indiana. He is an Independent and is running on word-of-mouth only with no budget, and is not accepting donations. Check him out at

I get that this is hard. In fact I think it’s way harder than supporting a mainstream candidate. I think it’s more difficult than pitching in a few bucks for a cause you support, because you can do that in private.

I want you to tell people about me because that is honest. Sure, I think I would be good at this job. But what matters is what you think.

I’m not even trying to mask the number of subscribers I have to this blog. [2] Because the truth is that important.

And I think—and I hope you agree—this is a message worth sharing.


[2] Four, as of this moment.

I Am Definitely Not Doing That

My goal in this campaign is to earn the trust of voters, which requires meeting more people.

Several individuals have suggested that I should start knocking on doors to introduce myself. There is no way I am doing that.

The reason is because that’s not our culture. People do not want anyone showing up unannounced, especially not strangers!

We could have a whole discussion about how our society has changed from one of shared social interests to a diverse range of interests, about whether or not that is a good thing. But that’s for another day, if ever.

More importantly, to me the door knocking thing is emblematic of the issues we face in politics today. When I pointed this out to the people who suggested door knocking, they all agreed that maybe it wasn’t a great idea. No wonder politics is broken: even our initial feelings about how to do it don’t make any sense.

I’ll be out and about, to be sure. More on that soon.

But in the meantime, whoever is knocking on your door is definitely not me.

And Now It’s Postponed Indefinitely

I wrote this enormous post about the event planned for Friday, which is now apparently either cancelled or postponed. So I suppose now it doesn’t matter any more.

Except, I think it does, because it follows the pattern of so much political garbage we encounter these days. And while the two main sides are very different, the patterns they use are often the same.

The crucial element of this story is that a group is outraged about something that happened, but if you look into the details, it didn’t actually happen.

It’s made up. Or at the very least, massively overblown. In this case, it’s about education. Schools aren’t actually teaching/doing the thing they say they are teaching/doing.

How are we supposed to have a real dialogue about the merits or weaknesses of ideas in these situations? We can’t.

Which may be the point. Because it you have to have a real argument, you might lose. But if you get to be outraged about something (whether it’s really happening or not), you win.

Outrage always wins. And when it does, everyday people like you and me—we lose.

A Tragic Yet Perfect Example of the Problem We All Face

Let’s talk microcosm. My phone handily defines this as “a situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of something much larger.”

Ready? On Friday, July 23rd there’s an event planned at a local restaurant which glaringly demonstrates how politics is broken. Here are the salient bits:

  1. Team Hatfield has heard about some relatively obscure ideas (but has not studied them in detail.)
  2. Team Hatfield—although broadly ignorant about the concepts—decides they hate them. Therefore they associate the ideas with Team McCoy.
  3. Team McCoy figures they must be good ideas if Team Hatfield hates them (although a sizable part of Team McCoy doesn’t study them much either.)
  4. Team Hatfield has announced an event to decry these ideas, insisting they are being used to “indoctrinate” people and must be “banned.”
  5. Team McCoy notes that official documentation already explains that these ideas are not part of policy at all. In fact, administrators are doing the opposite of what Team Hatfield claims.
  6. Team Hatfield ignores these responses, and further attacks Team McCoy and their support of the ideas.
  7. Team McCoy circles up, proudly announcing plans to forever boycott the venue for hosting the event.
  8. Team Hatfield accuses Team McCoy of pettiness.
  9. Team McCoy notes that the panel members listed on the promotional materials do not have apparent expertise or experience in the topics at hand, and are not representative of the community.
  10. Both teams rally their supporters into a frenzy of anger and superiority, lobbing insults at each other.

Don’t like Hatfields and McCoys? Fine. Montagues and Capulets. Edisons and Teslas. Republicans and Democrats.

That’s not to say that the two sides are the same, because they aren’t the same. But the pattern of the conflict is the same. It’s one that happens over and over again. And since most people don’t ever study the issues, the only meaningful difference is which side is the Hatfields and which is the McCoys.

I guess we should talk about this particular example. It’s a whole thing about race and schools and gender and parents getting angry and the rut they are being angry about not actually happening…

So you know it. Because it’s the same dumb story. Again. But if you want to come back here tomorrow, we can walk through it together.

Another Way They Lie

I love a nice graph; especially one that is based on change over time. That’s because if you look at picture, it tells as story. Here’s one example:

Pretty straightforward, right? Things were basically even, and then have been growing at a fairly steady rate since then.

(Yes, there’s no numbers or details. This could be about anything. That’s the point: focus on the story.)

Here’s another one I like:

These are pretty easy, right? This one has a lot of fluctuation. But there does seem to be a slight downward trend.

Okay one more:

You get the idea. Whatever this is fell quickly but has leveled off. Ready for the point of this blog post?

The graph tells a story, but one point on the graph often tells a lie. When you hear things like “such-and-such figure is an all time high!” that may not mean anything. Maybe—like in the first graph—it’s something that generally increases. In fact any time you look at the current figure it’s always an all time high!

The same is the case for claims that “such-and-such is down” or “such-and-such is up.” Without context, a single data point is basically meaningless.

This is another way the lies come to us. So next time some politician screams about a particular number and blames it on the other side, ask about the context. Look it up. Find out the trend.

Because very, very often, it is a lie.

P.S. One of these is about five years of oil imports. Another is about 10 years of house prices. The last is one year of the unemployment rate.

P.P.S. Giving someone a whole graph can be a lie too, by deciding where to start and stop, adjusting the scale, etc.

Why I think I have a chance at winning

Lottery tickets are for sale in probably every grocery store and gas station in Indiana. I don’t buy them for one simple reason: I do not feel lucky.

Because, there’s nothing I can do to improve my odds at the lotto. It does not help to be extra kind to the clerk or to cross my fingers. Buy a scratch off and I will win or lose. The outcome will be what it will be.

But I do think there’s a chance that I can win this election. It’s small, to be sure, but it is not zero. And that’s for three reasons:

1. You (probably) don’t trust my competition. In American politics, there are two parties and pretty much everybody agrees both parties are terrible. Most voters feel that one party is slightly less awful than the other, but that’s about it.

2. Marketing is powerful but good ideas are more powerful. Last cycle, several million dollars were spent on the election in this district. So now I ask you: what do you remember about it? Can you name the two candidates? Do you know anything about them or their platforms that isn’t straight from party headquarters?

3. We are way overdue for change. I’m tempted to drop a bunch of links to surveys and studies that show how frustrated everyone is with partisan politics, but you don’t need that. You’re already here because you know that Congress is basically broken. Anyone (that’s me) who isn’t the usual suspects (that’s them) feels like a breath of fresh air.

But still, we have a long way to go. So let’s talk. Share this post. Tell people about me. Let’s improve the odds.

Because even though the chance is small today, it’s worth it.

Misleading the Public is Bipartisan

There are two major political parties in America: Republicans and Democrats. Members of both parties tell lies, half-truths, and are often grossly misleading. Sometimes even official statements are blatantly false. This is the reality, and it brings one question to mind.

I’m not curious about who is lying more often. Counting up and scoring each false statements is a thankless task. And really, I don’t care which poisoner has a bigger vault. I only want them to quit it with the poisoning.

I’m only slightly curious about the techniques used by each group. The Republicans tend to make precise claims of fact that you can disprove in about 10 seconds on Google. The Democrats tend to make statements that are slippery and vague, so they don’t really say anything. But not always. And plus, obsessing over the details of the deceptions is a little like getting waaaaaay into true crime. We might love the drama, but we don’t actually want people to be hurt.

What I am curious about is why do we believe the lies? I think the answer is about as ugly as the dishonesty itself: we are used to it.

  • When a candidate says they will do something “on their first day in office” we know that it’s a priority, but it might never happen.
  • When an official says a plan will help “working families” or “small businesses” or “ensure the wealthy pay their fair share” we know it only sort of means that, but really they are speaking in code.
  • When it’s said that one party is doing some awful thing, you can probably guess that the other party has also done that too. [1]

Which is why I think not lying all the time sounds like a pretty good idea. Doesn’t it seem like we could get a lot more done and help a lot more people if we tried that?

[1] Democratic legislators in Texas have walked out on their jobs to prevent a vote. But earlier this year, Republican legislators in Oregon walked out to prevent a vote. This happens a lot.

No Stranger than Fantasy Football

I have a little game I like play, which I call How would I explain this to an extraterrestrial?

Whenever I learn something new about a topic, I literally think “If aliens came to Earth and they happened to ask me about this, how could I best answer?”

I love a short, clear explanation. I think this, the explainer game, may be my favorite hobby. And it is a key factor in my interest in running for the House of Representatives. We all benefit when someone can give us a quick, fair summary of an issue or topic. I think that’s something I can bring to the conversation.

I have many different interests. You do too. But sometimes, it’s easy to feel embarrassed (or snobby) about our hobbies. They can seem difficult to explain. We fear judgement or confusion from others. And so, we often keep them to ourselves.

Which brings me to fantasy football. Here’s what I might tell the Martians, if for some reason I was randomly given the sacred duty of outlining this one aspect of human culture.

Humans participate in a team sport called football. Fantasy football is a game of skill where participants design an imaginary team from the pool of all current players in an entire league. The fantasy game is played out by tracking the athletes’ real-world performances on their real-world teams (and trading players with other fantasy football gamers), giving the game participants a glimpse of owning their own football team.

I do not play fantasy football, but I feel this overview of the topic is balanced and accurate. Yet, to the outsider it can seem strange. Fake teams? Fake trades? How is that fun?

Of course, it is fun for those who play. And the explainer game is fun for me. And you might be interested in knitting or Buster Keaton movies or rap music or makeup. None of these is stranger than fantasy football. And fantasy football isn’t any stranger than any of these.

As this campaign continues, I am happy to talk about my personal interests. I am sure they will come up. If it helps you to trust me to know my favorite artists, my favorite podcasts, or my other fascinations, let me know.

But even if we don’t like the same board games, even if my hobbies seem strange to you or yours seem strange to me, you and I are still fundamentally connected. We both want our government to do good things and not do bad things. We both want to feel happy, secure, and free.

But to understand what our government is and is not doing, and to determine whether it’s good or bad, what we need is an explainer. Not a spin doctor or a non-answerer. Not someone repeating talking points and worn out slogans.

I’d like to continue to work to earn your trust. Explaining things feels like a great way to do that.

Ask me anything.

Bad Day at the Restaurant

I recently started a job waiting tables at a breakfast place in Carmel. A few weeks back, we had an absolutely terrible series of operational calamities. The kitchen was dramatically understaffed, key inventory was low, and we could not keep up. At one point ticket times ran to an hour, meaning that patrons who ordered food wouldn’t be eating for at least sixty minutes.

I had two tables get up and leave without paying for drinks and appetizers, disgusted with the wait. One of them cursed at me. The restaurant gave away meals and all of us apologized profusely. But angry comments still rolled in on social media. It was awful.

The eatery has only opened a few weeks before that, so the likely cause was simply growing pains. But I do think often about the diners who were unlucky enough to come in that day. Will they give us a second chance? Or are we burned for life?

A business marketing expert once told me that: “Word of mouth is always working. It might be working for you or against you, but it is always working.”

I accept that some people do not like me and would say bad things about me if asked. Some might volunteer them. But that is part of this process. I need you to talk about me. I need word of mouth to be working.

Not because of my ego, mind you, but because of the size of this project. For hundreds of thousands of people to fill in the bubble next to my name, those people need to hear that name. And if they hear it from you, that’s going to mean a lot more to them than if I interrupt their day with a paid advertisement.

And if they think I can’t be trusted, okay. I get it. I’ve had bad days. But I believe every person (and every restaurant) deserves a second chance. Because we are all still new. And we are all still growing.

So if you know me, talk about me. And if you don’t (which is obviously about million times more likely) then ask others about me.

I believe there are better days ahead. But only if we give each other a chance.