What I’m scared of with this administration: Telling the truth, and having Americans’ backs

One of the things that a lot of people have been talking about with this incoming administration is fear. I've been trying to put into words what those fears are, and, well, we're going to go ahead and work this one out. Basically, it comes down to this:

I'm an American, and I don't feel the president has my back.

Also:

My wife is an American, and I don't feel the president has her back.
My parents are American, and I don't feel the president has their backs.
My nieces are tiny Americans, and I don't feel the president has their backs.
As an American, I am lucky to be able to be an example for the world. I don't feel the president cares that the rest of the world needs us.

I want to start with the media, and before you roll your eyes, let's do some civics. This won't take long, I promise. Maybe. I guess we'll see how much I ramble.

The Founding Fathers wrote freedom of the press into the first amendment to the Constitution for the United States because they knew that having a news media operating independently of governmental influence is important to a free republic.

The Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle popularized the moniker "fourth estate," referring to the three estates of the UK Parliament, checked by the fourth estate, the media.

It translates well to the U.S.

I know you learned this in middle school, but let's have a little reminder. We have three branches of government with a check-and-balances system. The Executive branch has veto power over the Legislative branch and appointment power over the Judicial branch. The Legislative branch has advise-and-consent power over both branches, along with the power to override a presidential veto. The Judicial branch has the ability to strike down laws written by the Legislative branch and enacted by the Executive.

What happens, then, when there's collusion?

You are aware of what the government does because of media. If the three branches of government are our three estates, then the media are our fourth, and it's their job to tell us what they see — not what they're told to tell us.

There are absolutely fake news sites out there. So when Donald Trump, then president-elect, called CNN "fake news" and refused to take a question from the network's reporter, it was a sign that the war Trump had waged on mainstream media during his campaign was going to continue into his presidency.

CNN, some of you might be old enough to remember, brought us the first Iraq war in real-time. It doesn't get a lot less fake than that. Has CNN developed something of a bias over the years? Maybe, but even if so, that's not super-important (we can argue about it here, or you can go read my post on objectivity vs. transparency in media).

Flash forward to Trump's inauguration. It was well-attended. In fact, it was probably the third- or fourth-best-attended inauguration in the past 35 years, and certainly the most well-attended inauguration for a Republican in that time.

It was not the best-attended ever, as the president's spokesman, Sean Spicer, asserted Saturday during his first press conference — right before not taking any questions from the media at all.

You read that correctly. The press secretary lied to the press, then didn't take questions from the press.

How do I know Spicer lied? I have eyes. Here, take a look at these photos (I'll explain what you're looking at underneath it).

There's a camera on top of the Washington Monument. It provides a live feed. These are screengrabs from that feed. The top is from Barack Obama's first inauguration; the second is from Donald Trump's. Both are taken at the time the incoming presidents are taking their respective oaths of office.

Can you objectively look at that bottom photo and tell me there are more people in it than in the top photo? Even if you have no idea how many people are in either, there are clearly more in the top photo. However many people there are in that top photo, there are certainly more people in it than however many people there are in the bottom photo.

There's not a partisan issue here. The media are responsible for telling citizens the truth when their government lies. That's the issue.

Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway went on "Meet the Press" Sunday morning and told Chuck Todd Spicer didn't lie to the media, he merely had "alternative facts." Here's the clip.

Here are some alternative facts: I'm a seven-foot-two Mexican midget.

Conservatives like to make fun of special snowflakes getting butthurt? We officially have the most special and unique snowflake ever in the White House, and he hasn't even been there a week.

It appears that the president and his administration are at war with the media. Remember that this isn't the media's fault. Media aren't combative by nature, they're skeptical. Without a skeptical media, you get whatever the president wants you to hear. Like in North Korea, or Russia.

And before you ask me why media gave Obama a pass? It's because you weren't paying attention. Even an outlet like The Washington Post — which is certainly reporting on Trump from a contrarian position — rated Obama's administration one of the most secretive ever.

Again, media should be skeptical. That's how they protect us. It's their check against all three branches of the government. Really, it's our check against the government.

OK, so I lied. I rambled a lot.

Let's talk about what's really bothering me about this administration. And by bothering, I really mean scared. Honestly frightened. Like, it might be time to start selling stuff and become a prepper frightened.

Like I said at the top, I don't feel like the president has my back as an American.

It's the government's job, above all else, to keep its citizens safe. Not safe-space safe. Safe. Like I don't have to worry about going to the gym and having a racist blow me up safe.

If the president does nothing else well, he certainly talks — and tweets — a good game. He said nothing last week when several dozen synagogues and Jewish Community Centers across the country had bomb threats called in.

Or when the institution that trains a fair percentage of the rabbis in the U.S. was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. Or when it happened at an Upstate New York college. Or in South Philly.

The thing these incidents all have in common is that they've happened since the election. Some were accompanied by "Make America Great Again" accompanying it. The vandalism is by people who feel empowered by Trump's election to bully others.

All Trump had to do was say, "This kind of thing won't be tolerated."

It's too late now, I think. I don't think I'd believe him at this late date.

I've been saying since the election I want to be wrong on Trump. If he succeeds, America succeeds, and if America succeeds, I succeed. Unless he succeeds in making us something else.

If you've been listening to the podcast the past couple of weeks, you know I've been worried to the point of paranoia. I didn't really have words for what I was actually scared of until now.

If the president doesn't have my back as an American Jew, he definitely doesn't have my back as an American who works in news media.

With no details of the president's health plan rolled out, I'm concerned for my parents, who are getting up there in age. If Medicare goes away, if Social Security goes away, will they have insurance as they head toward retirement? Will they be able to afford it?

I'm also worried about health care for my wife, of course — if we go back to a private, largely unregulated insurance market, should she get pregnant, will that be seen as a pre-existing condition? Will she be able to be covered at all?

This is not to mention all the allegations of sexual assault and that tape that got Billy Bush fired. They may or may not be important politically, but knowing what you know, would you let Trump date your daughter?

And my nieces. Again, Trump's problems with women. But also, did you watch those Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings? She's more concerned about grizzly bears coming into schools than mentally ill adults with weapons. She's long been a proponent of for-profit charter schools that have no requirement to meet any educational standards.

She's a candidate for education secretary who can't be bothered to proofread her own tweets. I'm no angel when it comes to social media and grammar, but this, more than any other time in her life, is a time to be a good example for students.

As my nieces' parents have to decide where to send the girls to school, will there be viable public schools? If not, will charter schools that get federal money actually teach them facts, and the tools they need to survive as adults?

And finally, the US has never been out front on human rights. We've declined to sign the United Nations' Universal Decleration of Human Rights. I get that. But after Trump spent a part of his campaign slamming the UN, a few Republican congressmen on Jan. 3 introduced a bill to have America leave the UN, removing us, essentially, as a world citizen.

I suppose this shouldn't surprise me. During his campaign — and now on the White House website — he prefers the phrase "America First." While this sounds merely isolationist on its face, it harkens back to a racist, anti-Semitic group called the America First Committee, which wanted to keep America out of World War II — not because they wanted to keep citizens safe, but because they wanted Europe to worry about Europe.

They clearly hadn't thought about what that meant for trade or innovation.

That group disbanded shortly after the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Political correctness, civility and real-world problems: Communicating better

I've been thinking, again, about political correctness, civility, and how far we need to go to be nice to each other. Forgive me as I ramble here, and work some of it out.

Kelvin and I did a podcast on rules for good communication. One of the rules is that the communicator should come in without malice, and that the listener should come in assuming the communicator is coming in without malice.

That is, if I say something subtly offensive, I probably didn't mean to offend you. If it's bothering you, speak up. On the other hand, I definitely shouldn't come in overtly offensive.

This is more-and-more front of mind as I see the way our outgoing president and our president-elect interact with people in public. During Barack Obama's farewell address, people started booing when he mentioned handing over the reins to Donald Trump. His response to people criticizing a political rival? "No, no, no, no, no."

Trump's response to someone like Meryl Streep criticizing him? "She's overrated." The number and variety of awards she's won is actually an objective measure of the fact that she's not.

She just disagreed with him. It's OK to do. Seriously.

One of the things I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in a post about things to think about is dominant culture still being a culture.

Then I read something about university students in the UK demanding philosophers like Plato and Kant be removed from syllabi because they are white. While it's totally beside the point that Plato was probably not white, coming from the Mediterranean some 3000 years ago, the fact that great thinkers were members of the dominant culture doesn't diminish their work.

I haven't heard any calls for the art works of da Vinci or van Gogh to come out of museums. Or for John Grisham and JK Rowling to be excluded from bestseller lists.

At its heart, I think a lot of eye-rolling at "political correctness" these days is lazy people refusing to be civil to other humans. But it's another thing altogether to decide how much work to do to do what someone else might consider polite.

For instance, New York City has a long list of acceptable gender pronouns. It's upwards of 70, I hear. And if you're an employer or a landlord and use the wrong one, the Post writes, you could be fined a quarter-million dollars.

Turns out that's not entirely true. You can be fined if you're an asshole about it. For instance, if a transgender individual asks you to call her "Miss" and you insist on calling her "Mister" after repeated requests, that's when you're liable for a fine.

It was while I was sitting there thinking about political correctness and wondering how we got here that I opened Twitter, and, ta-da!

The short take on where political correctness comes from is that it harks back to Communism. Facts didn't matter, but you had to say what the State wanted to hear. Here's the longer take.

This is sounding eerily familiar, and it's actually different from the thing being called political correctness.

Then again, maybe it's not. University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson warns that we're teaching college students lies (more Peterson on Joe Rogan's podcast). Indeed, some colleges are having to cater to students with "unique and special snowflake" complexes. [Update: Peterson is on Duncan Trussell talking about this, also.]

We need to start growing up and tackling actual issues. Here's a game plan for moving forward:

(1) Go a little out of your way to be civil to people. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, after all.
(2) If you're offended by something, particularly speech, ask yourself if your expectations are reasonable. And by reasonable, I mean, put yourself in someone else's shoes — if doing so requires an entire overhaul of your worldview, you're not being reasonable.
(3) Understand both language and context. You might reasonably describe your teenage kid as behaving uppity, but understand that word means something entirely different to black Americans who lived through the 1960s and 1970s.
(4) Shut up and work on real problems. If using whatever words you want or stopping people from using the words they want are high on your agenda, maybe go volunteer down at the soup kitchen or something for a day. There are actual problems in this world.

Here are some more writings on political correctness and group relations:

Thoughts on the Confederate flag, plus Trump and Amy Schumer on Mexicans
Holidays and political correctness: There is no war on Christmas
Implementing movements and Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter
Why context matters
Stopping the mediocritization of america

Here, let's wrap with a little bit of thematic comedy:

What gratitude actually looks like

Every time you hear about someone's peaceful journey to success, you're going to hear about gratitude.

You'll hear about waking up every day and being grateful for what you have. About a gratitude practice.

I'm not here to poo-poo that. I think it's important. I write about it once in a while.

You didn't get to where you are by yourself. The good things in your life, the bad things in your life, they all led you to today, and you had help the whole way.

If you're reading this, you're on the right side of the pavement. On top of the grass. Not among the dead. There's a thing to be grateful for. Also, you have Internet access, or a friend good enough to print this out for you. And you can read (or you have a screen reader, which means you can hear).

You're doing OK for yourself. That's all I'm saying. You may have some unhappy stuff going on in your life but hey, it's all a matter of perspective.

For as much as you say thank you to the universe, how often do you say thank you in real life? I've been fortunate enough to say thank you plenty, and to have people say thank you, even unexpectedly.

Here's a public thank you fest that happened recently; I'm going to assume it's among strangers, though I suppose I don't have any reason to believe Kotler and Sukel don't know each other:

So say thank you to people for the things you're thankful for. It's definitely a thing worth doing. And clearly people appreciate it. You can't beat that for value for your dollar (or effort).

Listen to "Episode 24: Let's Talk Gratitude" on Spreaker.

Nuance, context, facts, culture: 10 terms to (hope to) define America and Americans as we move forward

I've been thinking of the best ways to enunciate the fears I feel, and that others I speak to feel, under the coming Trump presidency. We've been having this tribe problem on social media, so let me offer a longer look, one that hopefully brings people who disagree together in discussion.

Note that my purpose here is not to change anybody's mind about your political party or candidate. It's to remind you that we're on the same team. As Americans, we have three different ideals we're working with. Let's oversimplify a little so that we can understand them but then get to the real point.

(1) Bootstrapping and the American dream. Think of everything you learned in school growing up, and everything you ever saw on film about immigration. From the California Gold Rush of the 1840s to the Mousekowitz family in "An American Tail," America has been sold as a place where, if you're willing to to the work, you can do anything and be anything. It turns out we have some systemic issues that don't allow for that.

(2) 40 acres & a mule / A chicken in every pot & a car in every garage. "Forty acres and a mule" was actually meant to be reparations for slavery, and was repealed very quickly after Lincoln's death. The point really isn't a "handout," it's a dream of property ownership for everyone. Hoover's 1928 campaign slogan, on the other hand, hints at a prosperity that many families have never been able to realize.

(3) A melting pot / A salad bowl. When I was in school, we started to change the language of America as "a melting pot" — a place where people of different backgrounds came together to create a new, American culture — to that of "a salad bowl" — a place where people of different backgrounds mixed with each other but kept their identities. It turns out lettuce and carrots and celery and tomatoes sometimes have a problem living and working together.

The common element running through all of these promises is that they're for everybody. But they're not. There are some things some people simply cannot do because the systems we have in place work against them.

With that behind us, I propose en emphasis on these ten terms as we move forward and live — and hopefully grow — together. If you feel like you "won" with this election, you should read this to learn about others around you. If you feel like you "lost" with this election, you should read this to learn about others around you. If you've moved beyond winning and losing, awesome! This can help inform your conversations with people who have not.

Nuance. The biggest thing we've lost in the social media world is a sense of nuance. Posts are by and large black and white and lead to shouting rather than nuanced discussions. It bleeds into real life, too, and it's one of the reasons we have such large swings in who's leading Congress every few years: we get too caught up in rhetoric that we forget that things aren't all or nothing.

People rarely change their minds over the course of debate, but nuanced discussions can help people see the other side and to give some ground here and there, to make compromises. Let's think of some examples.

Want to know why people really voted for Trump? Stop stamping "racist" and "sexist" on their foreheads. Ask about jobs and faith. Want to know why people are really afraid under Trump? Ask, then actually listen.

Want to have an honest discussion about gun control? Talk about mental health, criminal history and multi-state licensure. And don't forget keeping firearms out of toddlers' hands.

Context. I've written about context recently. It's important because we don't live in a vacuum. Every experience we have contributes to the lens through which we see the world and colors our interactions.

History also provides context.

Empathy. While it's true that we do live in a bootstrapping, reward-the-lone-wolf-hero society, we don't even have a society without empathy. We have to care for others, understand and respect where they're coming from and fight for people who don't have a voice. It's actually one of the things that got America to the top. People came here from England to find some religious freedom and we wrote it into the Bill of Rights. When the French sent us the Statue of Liberty, we inscribed on her:

... "Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me ..."

We're not going to make it if we throw these very people back.

Culture. I had a very brief conversation with my grad school advisor about culture. She thought she didn't have any. But here's the truth: Being a member of the dominant culture doesn't mean you don't have a culture.

Here is where I, and other #NeverTrump folks, need to understand something: White working-class (primarily) Christians in middle America are concerned that their culture is in trouble. Empathy works both ways — we want people to understand that just about every Muslim in America just wants to go to school and work and worship like just about every Jew in America does and just about every Christian in America does, we also have to understand that if people in the dominant culture feel their culture is threatened, it's the same feeling every member of a minority culture feels when they're threatened.

The dominant culture isn't bad, it's just invisible as a culture because it's dominant.

Facts. It worries me that, in 2017, with America well behind the pack in STEM education across the world, we are falling even more into a post-fact society. When political and religious dogma are the basis for arguments instead of facts, we're throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Michael Shermer proposes methods for discussion when facts don't help, but it's where I just walk away. You want to know why Kobe Bryant went to Germany a few years ago to rebuild his knees? It's because under the George W. Bush administration, we decided that we shouldn't harvest stem cells and store them and do research because we were worried people would get abortions and sell stem cells from their unborn fetuses. Remember that? Meanwhile, plenty of other countries moved forward with their research, didn't see an uptick in abortions, and are way ahead of us.

Abortion arguments are another one. It turns out we don't have significantly more abortions when abortion is legal. What we do have, though, is fewer women dying from botched abortions because the procedures are safe and performed by doctors. If you're "pro-life," you should be in favor of the lives of adults, too, not just unborn children.

The scientific community isn't split on global warming, but somehow politicians are.

More than half of Republicans think Donald Trump won the popular vote. Their source? Donald Trump. His source? Donald Trump. The popular vote was 64.1 million for Clinton, 62.2 million for Trump. The source? The people who count the actual votes. That doesn't mean the electoral vote is invalid, it just means Donald Trump didn't win the popular vote. Why is that even a discussion? Because political dogma is more important than facts to some people.

If you want to see someone go off the deep end on this, listen to Joe Rogan torture paleontologist Trevor Valle with an anti-dinosaur video.

Safety. I'm not talking about so-called "safe spaces" where people go to be alone or get counseling if they feel uncomfortable because someone disagrees with them. I'm betting that happens less than we think and that we're blowing a lot of it out of proportion. I'm talking about physical safety. If you show up somewhere in a Klan hood or call someone an "oven-dodger" they're going to assume you mean to kill them. You don't need to love everybody, but you do have to live alongside them.

Civility. "Political correctness," I've come to believe, is a term used primarily when someone is too lazy — or too rude — to be civil to others. The answer is yes, you should go out of your way to be polite to people. Didn't your mother ever teach you any manners?

Trust. So if facts don't matter and people are unwilling to be civil and lots of us feel unsafe, whom do we trust? I'm actually not sure. If you're willing to cite political or religious dogma in a factual argument, or you're not willing to be polite to someone just because you're lazy, I don't know if I can trust your word.

Echo chambers. Do me a favor. Hop on over to Facebook and scroll through your feed. Of the first 15 or so status updates, how many do you disagree with? If the answer is more than zero, you're in a minority. If your answer is more than one, you're in a tiny minority. Over on Twitter, it might be slightly higher (that's because follow relationships aren't mutual), but not a lot.

If one of the great possibilities of the internet was that we'd get to hear a wide variety of viewpoints, one of our great failings as humans is that we've actively sought to shut them out. It should be the other way 'round.

Silos. Even within our echo chambers, we are in what some call silos. That is, we may have our political leanings, but other people with those same political leanings have entirely different reasons for having those leanings than we do — and they are also not in our timelines. We've actually managed to segregate ourselves not only from diverse opinions but also from those that are close parallels.

We need to bust out of these echo chambers and silos and actually get out and speak with each other. And we need to do it civilly, with empathy and having some context.

For more on how to do that, you might also want to go back and listen to my podcast with Alison Donaghy.

See ya, 2016, you weird year, you. A right guid-willy waught for 2017!

Lemmy checked out at the end of 2015 after a short and almost entirely unpublicized bout with cancer. He may have foreseen something that was coming in 2016.

We opened the year saying goodbye to David Bowie and closed the year electing a reality TV star president.

We also said goodbye to the likes of Abe Vigoda and John Glenn and Umberto Eco and Harper Lee and Alan Rickman and Antonin Scalia and Nancy Reagan and Morley Safer and Garry Shandling and Merle Haggard and Prince and Muhammad Ali and Elie Wiesel and Zsa Zsa Gabor and George Michael and Fyvush Finkel and Alan Thicke and Garry Marshall and Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and Edward Albee and Glenn Frey and Leonard Cohen and Gene Wilder and Leon Russell and Gwen Ifill and Florence Henderson and Fidel Castro.

It was like The Great Hand-off. So many people who shaped news, entertainment and politics for the past 40-plus years are gone. They left it for us to figure it out. I don't have a lot of hope, but am hoping to be proven wrong on that.

We also said goodbye to too many people shot by toddlers, because the "gun rights" people and the "gun control" people are too stubborn to talk to each other about gun safety.

We started with white guys with guns taking over a remote wildlife reserve and ended with people coming together to try to save a Native community while getting fire-hosed in freezing temperatures.

We learned nothing about police-community relations.

Zika was a thing for a minute. And that's a scary thing that gives babies tiny heads. Remember Zika? Yeah, that was this year, and you totally didn't even think about it when you thought of 2016.

It was a crazy year for me. I started a podcast, then started another podcast, then ran a thousand miles. I got laid off and un-laid off.

Some of my favorite posts from the year (read: these took a lot of work and I haven't linked to them yet):

Lessons in leadership from Jocko Willink: Extreme Ownership and beyond
Election reform and the evolving myth of Two Americas (hint: there aren't just two)
What's the way out? Research in media, racism and lobotomies
The truth about media bias and what you should consider when listening to criticism of media
Unbiased vs. objective: The real role of media

What's ahead for 2017

I'm a little afraid for the world right now. I fear empowered white nationalists following both a Brexit vote and a Trump election. I fear we don't understand context and that our memories are too short. I fear that we're choosing teams, protecting our tribes and forgetting that we're one species.

But I'm also optimistic. People have a good habit of surprising me sometimes. So, here's to 2017.

Regressing toward a higher mean, or, there’s room for everyone to be great

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There's a phenomenon in statistics called regression toward the mean. You can read a good explanation of it here, but the short version goes like this:

(1) Give people a test (say, driving a golf ball, but don't worry, this isn't going to be a sports post), then plot the results. You'll notice that there are some outliers (those with really long drives and those with really short drives), but most of them will cluster around a mean, or average.

(2) Add a new variable to all of them that you'd expect will change their drive. An example might be a golf lesson (which you'd expect to increase the drive distance) or wrist weights (which you'd expect would decrease the drive distance).

(3) Test them again, and plot the results. You'll find that there are still outliers and a cluster around a mean. The mean may be different, but there's still a mean and there are still roughly the same number of people clustered around it.

Got it?

OK, cool. Now, let's look at life.

Can we all agree there are outliers? We might have different measures and have different tastes, but I'm going to suggest as success measures not having trouble paying your bills, generally enjoying what you do, and not worrying about what other people think.

I'm going to suggest the "positive" outliers — people who are "winning" at life, if you will — are people like Richard Branson, Joe Rogan and Kim Kardashian. They all seem to be pretty happy folks with successful business ventures (look, I'm a fan of one of the three of them and I did absolutely no research).

Then there are "negative" outliers — people who maybe aren't doing so well. People who are homeless, hungry and unhappy about it, maybe. (Yes, I realize it's a very American-centric view of things, can we move on, please?)

Then there's some line that is the average of those people.

Depending on how you measure things, now you have people clustered around that line. We're going to stick with the generally subjective items I seem to have come up with here.

There are people who have no trouble paying their bills, have a generally satisfying family life but hate their jobs. Or people who are wealthy but alone and miserable. Or people who like their jobs and like their home lives but are just scraping by, sometimes eating just rice for a couple days at the end of the month to keep the heat on.

When you add up their "scores," they wind up somewhere in the middle, give or take.

This is regression toward the mean.

Now, let's add some measure of happiness to everybody. I don't know, maybe one day each week, every person gets some sort of dopamine release that launches them into absolute bliss for 16 hours. Or maybe everybody always gets all the sleep they need every night.

There are still outliers now, but everyone's happiness went up. Most people are still clustered around a mean, just the mean is higher than it was before we added our new thing.

Still with me? Good, because this is where it gets important.

We're all making this up as we go along, trying to get a little bit better, day by day. Some of us have figured out some things. Some of us have figured out other things. Some of us haven't figured out anything.

But we can all get better. The top outliers can become better, the bottom outliers can become better, and everyone who regressed toward the mean can get better — it just gives us a higher mean. The distribution remains the same, but we're raising the mean.

Let's make up numbers. Let's say the outliers at the top are 90 and the outliers at the bottom are 10 and the mean is 50. What if we bump the top outliers to 100 and the bottom to 20 and the mean to 60? Everybody got better. What if we bump the top outliers to 200 and the bottom to 120 and the mean to 160?

Same distribution, but the mean is higher.

Here's the point: Nobody has to get worse for you to get better. There's room for everyone to improve, for everyone to rise, and it doesn't detract from your ability to also rise.

So lift people up, don't put them down. As you rise, bring people with you. It'll be easier at the top if you have people around you.

DAPL, public input, permitting processes and regulation

In case you don't follow stories that many media outlets largely ignore, here's a brief overview of what's been going on in North Dakota the past few months (this is a huge simplification, because most of us don't have the attention span for the long, technical version as an introduction to a blog post; there's plenty of information out there if you want to do some more in-depth research).

(1) A large company wants to build an oil pipeline, called the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL.
(2) The original route went just north of Bismarck, a city full of white people. When the Army Corps of Engineers said they couldn't go there, the route was redrawn.
(3) This new route would go under a river that serves as a drinking water source for Native Americans half a mile south of the proposed route.
(4) Pick your term — Water protectors, demonstrators or protesters — have been out in force to try to stop the pipeline. They've been subjected to violent treatment by police (more. They've camped out for months and really gone above and beyond what most permitting processes would call "public input."
(5) The Army Corps of Engineers just this past Sunday decided they would not issue permits for this route, either.
(6) On Monday, the company building DAPL said they're going to build it anyway, on the route they couldn't get permits for.

In other words, the company basically said, "Well, we asked for permits, we didn't get them, and we're just going to build without the permits."

The fine for digging without permits, then, must be worth the cost of doing business.

Go listen to the podcast at the bottom of this post. The podcast was aired, and the post written, before the events of this past weekend. But this provides some good background and resources for us ignorant folk.

Here in Savannah, we have a historic district. It's beautiful, and comes with a bunch of rules. Want to build a fence in your yard? Public hearing. Permits. Want to build a porch that isn't an exact percentage of frontage? Public hearing. Permits. Want to put up a modern-looking building? Don't bother asking. Signs? Hearings. Permits. Awnings? Hearings, permits.

This is not unusual, especially in older cities, and municipalities that are near-saturated with buildings.

Imagine if people just skipped permits and did whatever they wanted to? We'd have shoddy construction, weird-looking buildings, people hitting gas lines and sewer lines and buried electrical lines, and property values would plummet.

This is actually why we have permits.

In the case of DAPL, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has very reasonable concerns about their drinking water. Drilling and digging are potentially polluting activities. Pipelines leak all the time (way more often than I thought — I figured there were probably a few every decade, which still makes for reasonable concern on drinking water). Talk to the people of Flint, Michigan, about what it's like to have water problems.

Deregulation isn't always a good thing.

There's another whole problem here, and that's a matter of sovereignty. While the pipeline wouldn't actually go through Native land, it would pass really close, and have environmental implications on what is technically sovereign territory. If we were getting really close to Canada, we'd be talking to their government. Same with Mexico (yes, even under a Trump presidency). We should be doing the same for the Standing Rock Sioux.

I'm no legal expert, but the way I understand sovereignty is...sovereignty. Many Nations have allowed easements for interstates to go through their land, but sovereignty says they could certainly place toll booths on the road and collect whatever they want for tolls. Or they could put walls across the road and you'd just have to go somewhere else.

Sound ridiculous? So does walking a half-mile away from the border and sending a pipeline under a river that serves as a drinking source.

One more for you...this appears to be some white guys threatening some Native Americans. Hard to get some context, but it's out there.

Lessons in leadership from Jocko Willink: Extreme Ownership and beyond

"Don't count on motivation. Count on discipline," Jocko Willink says on an audience Q&A episode of Tim Ferriss' podcast.

Willink is a retired Navy Seal and co-author with retired Seal Leif Babin of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. The two are partners in a corporate leadership consulting firm called Echelon Front (NOTE: auto-play audio, safe for work).

I first came to know of Willink on an interview-style podcast he did with Ferriss; Joe Rogan learned so much from that episode that he had Willink on his show soon after.

I know that lately with my non-fiction book reviews, I've been primarily listing the notes I took. But I took six pages of notes on this one. I'd be doing both you and Extreme Ownership a disservice if that's how I approached this.

What I'm going to do first is recommend the book. It's a quick read (I read it in three sittings, despite taking six pages of notes), it's really interesting and it's immensely practical.

In each chapter, Babin or Willink (they each wrote half the chapters) begins with a combat story. They set the stage, discuss the mission, how it was designed and executed, what went right and wrong, and discuss the principles at play. Then, in a short section, they more clearly define the principle. Finally, the chapter concludes with the principle at play in a business setting — using an example from a business their company has actually worked with.

The combat stories are interesting to me as someone who has never been in combat; I imagine they'd be interesting to someone who has served, as well. The principles are clearly defined. I've seen many of the business examples at play in companies I've worked for.

I tend to take bodies of work as a whole in my brain. These items were certainly in the book, but they also bleed into the podcasts and other writings. These are my four favorite takeaways (but again, read the book and listen for yourself). You can also scroll down to the bottom of this post for photos of my notes if you want more.

When the team understands the mission, they can better carry it out. This isn't a new idea, but it is something that leadership has long been resistant to. Jump to around 50 minutes in this Richard Feynman lecture — when the military conscripted a bunch of engineering students to punch holes in cards at Los Alamos, it was slow going. But when Feynman got clearance to tell them what they were doing and why, they went from solving three problems in nine months to solving nine problems in three months, inventing new processes and programs along the way.

Too often, the people doing the work are asked to just do the work, without any insight into the larger goal. In other words, they don't have a look at the big picture and are just checking off something on their to-do lists.

Be willing to tell your frontline workers why you want them to do something. At the very least, you give them a sense of purpose within the larger context of what you're trying to accomplish. You might get a lot more, though: you might get better ways to do things. You might get insight into other ways to accomplish your goals. You might get insight into other things you're also accomplishing without realizing it.

The more people you have invested in the goal, the more likely you are to be successful.

I think enough time has passed that I can talk a little about the time earlier this year when I thought I was going to be unemployed. I had received a month's notice that my department was to be eliminated. A little less than two weeks later, an asshole with a gun shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, and instead of waiting until 9 a.m. to post to our news sites, when I was scheduled to work, I delayed my run by half an hour to post it before 7 a.m. A few days later I got a call that the company had decided not to eliminate my department.

I'm sure that the one action I took did not save the department. I'm sure, however, that it helped. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't understood our mission as a company and what my role in accomplishing that mission was. I don't post news to check "post news" off my to-do list, I do it because it helps us achieve our goals. If I didn't understand that, I might have just waited until it was time for me to clock in.

Departments within the same company need to find a way to work together without blaming each other for shortcomings. I've encountered this problem in every company I've ever worked for. Some of those companies have been hugely successful. Some have failed.

In every case, the problem has been communication. Specifically, a failure to communicate a reminder that different departments are not competing, trying to keep each other down. We are working toward the same goal. It seems sometimes like Department A is trying to sabotage Department B. In all likelihood, it really is that Department B has never told Department A what the problem is how Department A could better help Department B — and conversely, ask if there's a way for Department B to help solve the problem, with different communication or other practices.

Leadership works in two directions within the chain of command: Down and up. Leadership is a personality trait more often than it is a function of title. If you have a leader among the rank-and-file, you'll want to make sure you listen, even if you're a great leader. A higher rank is not always an indicator of the best idea for every situation.

In about 4 of every 5 shifts I work, I have rank. I'm good at a lot of things. Sadly, delegation is not one of them, but I'm working on that. One of the things I have definitely gotten better at, though, is recognizing strengths in others and either leaning on them for the things they're strong at, or asking them to teach me those things.

If you want to change the way things are done, pick your battles and earn the right to be heard. This is hugely important in every organization, not just companies. Every organization has its faults, and many of them are operational. "That's the way we've always done it" is a common answer for why things are done the way they are. That doesn't mean it's a good answer.

When you see something that could be done better, it makes sense to speak up. But first, you must show you understand the mission: why you're doing the thing you're doing and why it's been done that way for so long. You must be a voracious worker — someone who has earned the trust of those who have the power to change things before you'll really be heard up the chain of command.

And if you make noise on one thing, you might not get heard on something else, so pick your battles. You don't want to be seen as a complainer, someone who just hates all the processes. At some point, you'll just be the boy who cried wolf.

***

Willink also has his own podcast. I personally don't enjoy it: his delivery is very dry even if the information is interesting; it's not for me. I know other people who enjoy it.

Photos of my notes: Pages 1-2 | Pages 3-4 | Pages 5-6

Political disclaimer: Willink and Babin are both veterans. They served their country with honor. They support the missions given them. They also follow Department of Defense guidelines n the way they write about war, soldiers and the U.S. mission. You do not need to agree with them to get a lot of their work. You do, however, need to be willing to look past your own prejudices, whether you agree with them or not. Either way, I don't believe either of them is guilty of blind boosterism.

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Parsing the 2016 US presidential election

#vote or shut yer trap. #election2016

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.

As of noon or so on the 20th of January, 2017, Trump will take the oath of office and he will be the president of all Americans.

All Americans. Even me, one of the Jewish journalists his supporters want dead.

I'm not gonna lie: A large number of Trump's supporters scare me shitless. I'm going to spend much of the next four years glancing over my shoulder.

Some newspapers around the world went with "Oh My God" on the front page. At home, they went with "you're hired," you know, because he's a reality TV star and editors think they're clever.

Where Hillary Clinton and the Democrats went wrong

So many places.

Clinton wasn't the right person in 2008. She wouldn't have been the right person in 2012. It was only a small echo chamber who thought she was the right person this year. Nobody actually listened to the majority of actual voters.

The party elite forgot that Bernie Sanders supporters entered the primaries as Sanders-or-Trump folks. They forgot that those weren't dyed-in-the-wool Democrats — that they were independent thinkers. Having Sanders ask his primaries supporters to vote for Clinton wasn't going to work — they were going to vote for whom they thought would be the best candidate, not follow the guy who dropped out.

After the convention, Clinton ignored Wisconsin altogether. She sent surrogates to Michigan. She banked on Pennsylvania. She lost them all, to the tune of 46 electoral votes that would have swung the election.

She spent the last week posting Twitter ads asking for money, when she hadn't even shored up our votes.

Clinton spent the election season sounding entitled to the office.

Where Trump went right

Trump went for the heart. He's a smile-and-shake hands kind of guy. Some of us find that kind of slimy, but most of us go for it anyway. It's the kind of thing that sells millions of cars, houses, boats and insurance policies across the country every year. It's big business.

He didn't need facts. He got a lot of stuff wrong. Nobody cared. He knew that.

What Trump's first 100 days look like

Trump's going to have a difficult first 100 days, I think. His cabinet will sail through, he'll get someone appointed to the Supreme Court. All the Washington stuff will go easy. He has a Republican House and Senate. Expect a lot of rubber stamps for two years.

But the work is going to be intrinsically hard. He's a figure head. He runs companies, shmoozes, shakes hands and entertains. He's going to have to get his hands a little dirtier than he's used to.

He's going to earn in a year what some of his businesses earn in hours — he's going to take a pay cut to the tune of four or five zeroes. He's not going to be able to run his businesses. His assets are going to be caught up in a blind trust.

All that's going to be tough for a control freak.

What the next four years look like

Differently than you think.

That wall? Homeland Security says a wall is basically useless. We've had a border fence for five years. People go over it, under it and around it.

Built with Mexicans' money? They say they'd get that money by intercepting money sent back to Mexico by workers. That means they're going to be opening mail. If there's cash in an envelope, it might just go to the wall (or some other project). Do grandmothers still put $3 in Valentine's Day cards for four-year-olds? Yeah, that's all going to the wall now. Because the federal government will be opening our mail.

Trump says he's going to force Apple to build iPhones in the US? He's not. First, because he's not going to move his own manufacturing to the US (his hats, shirts, suits and ties are made overseas), but also because Apple's not going to pay the millions it would take to create the fabricating equipment, and you'll probably balk at whatever the iPhone costs after manufacturing costs go up $100, or about a third.

A lot of the campaign promises Trump made (let's make this clear — most presidents fail at most of their campaign promises) are big government promises. Dictating where companies make products. Checking mail for cash. Getting the federal government involved in local law enforcement. He's now at the top of the small-government party. The legislature is not going to go for most of that.

What you can do as a Trump supporter

Have some empathy and don't be an asshole. No, really. Your "team" won. There are people who are actually scared for their lives, their livelihoods and their liberty. These people are your neighbors, your coworkers and your customers. Some of them are people you hire for jobs you don't want to do. You don't have to agree with them. But you have to live them.

This isn't football. You don't get a good ribbing in this week and then get back together next week for pizza, beer and the game again.

The future of third parties, and other US election issues

If you were hoping for Clinton to win, don't blame her loss on third-party voters. Most Gary Johnson supporters were not going to vote for Clinton. He was a Republican governor and had a Republican governor as his running mate. Jill Stein wasn't even on the ballot in most states.

It's not up to voters to vote for people they don't want to win. It's up to candidates to rally passion in voters.

I've begrudgingly voted for people before, but never as strongly as I did when I voted for Clinton yesterday. She was never the right candidate for me, and I still didn't know when I walked into the room whether I was going to click that box for her.

We're going to see more third-party candidates coming out of the woodwork if we keep seeing first-wave baby boomers running as major-party candidates. They're just out of touch with most of us.

Polling is going to change. We can't keep relying on people answering landlines or hanging up cell phones as an information collection method.

We need to get big money out of politics. We say it every election cycle, but until we have an election cycle that allows people to run without requiring many millions of dollars, we're going to keep having rich, entitled people with little actual empathy (despite what their ads show) running for president.

Finally, we need to put term limits on the House and Senate. Make it 10 or 12 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate — that way if you're awesome, you're serving under at least two presidents. But career politicians who get rubber-stamped into office need to get out of the way and let fresh blood help move the country forward.

The back-and-forth we have right now isn't working. We're behind in education, in manufacturing and in social issues (seriously, stop pointing at the Bible and saying being gay is wrong if you've spoken back to your parents since you were 13 or can't name a price to sell your daughter into slavery).

We need ways to get fresh brains into office, and term limits and curbing campaign spending would go a long way.

What you can do because you're scared after the election

Organize. Love. Hell, organize love.

Yes, Trump will be your president, too. If you feel like he's not going to do a good job, you can run away or you can work toward making things better. Do the latter. If you run off to Canada or Australia or wherever you have dual citizenship, consider whether your patriotism is fairweather and maybe consider staying there when someone you like better is elected.

Revolutions aren't built by majorities. They're built by a passionate 10 percent. Get a couple of revolutions together, and you have a coalition. Pretty soon you have a plurality. Good for you. That's what you need.

Build great stuff in your neighborhood, in your city and your state. Share it. It will grow.

Finally, don't bury your head and disappear. This election (and any other) isn't about you. It's about us. Americans. We were built on collaboration and peaceful transfer of power. Our system was built to survive its government. Buck. The fuck. Up. Do something great. Do it from love, not from fear.

I posted this at 2:30 a.m., right about the time AP and CNN called the election:

Here are a few things that I learned tonight:
- We are bitter winners
- We are bitter losers
- We are full of anger
- We are full of hate
- We are full of love
- We are full of fear
- We really don't understand one another as much as we thought we did
- We have a lot less empathy as a whole than we thought we did
- We have a de facto system that is broken in a lot of ways

Here are a few things things I'll be thinking about going forward:

- Revolutions aren't built on majorities, they're built on a dedicated 10%
- No one is entitled to the presidency. We need to stop treating the office as though party elites get to dictate who "should" wind up in the chair
- As a Jewish journalist, I'll spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder. I don't trust a lot of people right now.
- We need to get money out of politics. Until that happens, elections are out of the hands of the majority.

I really wish we could hear from George Carlin this election season.

Waking up Wednesday morning, these were my first thoughts:

Some things you can do to move forward:

(1) importantly, remember it's still OUR America and no one tells US how to live
(2) there are some groups of people who might seem Truly Fucked, but there are organizations that help almost all of them. Volunteer. Donate. Don't leave your friends, neighbors and loved ones stranded.
(3) be physically and mentally strong. You may get less help than you hope for. That doesn't mean you're helpless.
(4) love.

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Election reform and the evolving myth of Two Americas (hint: there aren’t just two)

In 2004, John Edwards gave a convention speech about two Americas, drawn along economic lines. We've since developed the notion of The 1 Percent.

This was based on an academic study.

While there's certainly a dividing line between those in the top percent of Americans in terms of income, there are other dividing lines as well. The "middle class," such as it is, is a large group who may never know that immense wealth. However, the middle class may also never know what it is to decide whether to pay the electric bill or the phone bill this month.

There are several layers in between, as well — not just between the bottom one percent and the middle class, but between the middle class and the top one percent.

Economically speaking, there are not just two Americas.

***

Katie Couric was on Marc Maron's podcast recently. She made a reference to Two Americas, but it was different: It was about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and their supporters.

If Two Americas was originally about the ultra-wealthy and everybody else, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are on the same side of that divide, and it's not on the side that includes "everybody else."

Trump and Clinton are the least-liked major party candidates since we started taking polls of these things. I don't think they're the most polarizing — they're not only disliked by people in the opposing party, they are disliked by large swaths of their own parties, and by people of neither party.

***

In 1992, Ross Perot ran a fairly successful third-party candidacy for president. He was onstage for debates. He garnered enough votes in several states to swing the electoral votes. In Georgia, for instance, Bill Clinton beat George HW Bush by 13,000 votes. Perot got over 300,000 votes. Most likely the vast majority would have gone to Bush.

Since then, the rules for allowing third-party candidates on the debate stage have changed drastically. Now, to be considered for a debate, a candidate must be polling at least 15 percent in five national polls identified by the group that sponsors the debates. The candidates do not need to be options in those polls. If Zogby is one of those polls and Zogby is calling people to ask whether they'll vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton, if 15% of respondents don't go off-script and say Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, those candidates are eliminated from consideration.

A third-party candidate must also be on enough ballots across the country to receive 270 electoral votes, which is the number required to win the presidency. Different states have different rules for which parties are allowed on the ballot.

***

Apart from which parties are allowed on the ballot, different states have different rules on which party you can register for. I'm registered "unenrolled." In New York, that meant I couldn't vote in a primary unless I changed my party affiliation very early. In Georgia, it doesn't matter: we have open primaries, so I can just walk in on primary day and ask for whichever ballot I want.

When I lived in New York, I would frequently vote off the major party-line even if it was for a major party candidate. Sen. John DeFrancisco may have been a Republican, but if he had the endorsement of the Libertarian Party, I'd vote for him on the Libertarian line. If a Democrat was endorsed by the Working Families Party, I'd vote on the Working Families line.

There are not just Two Americas when it comes to political beliefs.

About 25 percent of voters are registered as Republicans. About 25 percent of voters are registered as Democrats. About 50 percent are registered as unenrolled or Green or Libertarian or Working Families or Socialist or something else.

There are dozens of Americas, and they manifest as three Americas — Republicans, Democrats and others. And in a society in which identifying as "Other" frequently makes social problems for people, we only get to see two Americas, and those two Americas are really one America: they're not Republicans and Democrats, they're the folks who put up the money to make sure the rest of America is as close to invisible as possible.

***

We're one week away from the U.S. presidential election. Vote for someone, not against someone. If we continue to do what we've always done — vote for the lesser of two evils — we're going to continue to get what we've always got — one of the evils. If a major party candidate is the best option for you, go ahead and vote for that person. But if a third-party candidate who certainly isn't going to win is the best option, vote for that person. We don't change with one election. It takes a wave. Why not start now?