Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Chris Yeh Is Making His Primetime TV Debut

Next week, Mental Samurai, a new television show hosted by Rob Lowe, will be making its debut in the Fox Tuesday night lineup, right after MasterChef Junior.

Yours truly will be one of the Season 1 contestants.  I might be making a cameo appearance during the season premiere, but I will definitely be playing a major role in Episode 7, which airs on Tuesday April 30.

You probably have questions.  Fortunately, I have answers!

Q: What is Mental Samurai?

A: It's a televised competition (apparently, I'm not supposed to use the term "game show") from the same company that produces American Ninja Warrior (ANW).  It's essentially a mental version of ANW's physical obstacle course, with similar dynamics.  Competitors (almost slipped and typed "contestants") have five minutes to answer 12 questions correctly.  If they miss a single question, they're eliminated.  But it's a lot less painful than losing your grip and falling into a pool of water.  Of course, this is television, so they strap the competitors into a giant robot arm, and swing them around wildly to disorient them between questions.

Q: How did you end up on the show?

A: Five years ago, my sister (who used to work in the entertainment business) forwarded me an email from a new televised competition looking for "America's Brightest."  Since I had a book (The Alliance) coming out, I figured I could use the extra publicity, and I applied.  I did a number of Skype auditions, but nothing ever came of them because the show never got beyond the concept phase.  But, the casting director who worked with me mentioned me to the Mental Samurai casting team, and they reached out to me.  Many, many Skype auditions later, I got word that they had cast me for Season 1 while I was in New York on the book tour for my next book, Blitzscaling.  Ironically enough, I had just made an unexpected cameo on CBS This Morning that morning (thanks Gayle King!) so I guess I was having a "good TV day."  (I also randomly ran into Dwight Howard and Ringo Starr at my hotel that week.)  The timing was tight; we filmed the show during the only half-week I had free that entire 6-week period (the rest was filled with book tour activities and all the stuff I had deferred in the run-up to the release of Blitzscaling).

Q: When can I watch this show?

A: Tuesdays at 9 PM on Fox, right after MasterChef Junior.  Never before in my life have I rooted as hard for Gordon Ramsey.  I want a good lead-in!

Q: What was it like on the set?

A: It was grueling, with a lot of late nights and early mornings.  We weren't allowed to have access to our phones or computers, and we had to spend most of our time waiting around in various uncomfortable lounges.  We even had security escorts when we went to the restrooms.  I guess  America takes the integrity of its televised competitions very seriously!

That being said, I enjoyed the experience a great deal.  My fellow competitors were a phenomenally accomplished bunch, both in life, and on the competition circuit.  They included two memory champions, a three-time Jeopardy champion, a former major league baseball player, and an astronaut.  One competitor was a Miss Florida runner-up, champion power lifter, and Harvard Medical School graduate--talk about disparate talents!

One of the crew even mentioned that our shoot was a lot more interesting than the ANW shoots.  "You guys are talking, playing games, singing songs....the Ninjas just sit around and say things like, 'I'm going to crush it out there!'"  (We actually had to get special permission from the production lawyers to play Cards Against Humanity.)

Q: Did you get to meet Rob Lowe?

A: Only while I was strapped into the chair and competing.  But the competitors all got a chance to chat with Rob before starting their run.  And yes, he is really handsome in person.  I think Rob was probably a bit distracted though; the Dodgers were in the World Series when we were shooting, and Rob is die-hard fan.

Q: Can you tell me who wins?

A: Nope, all of us signed a bunch of contracts saying we couldn't reveal anything about the outcomes of the show.  The penalties for breaching those contracts are HEFTY.

Q: Why did you do this?

A: I love trying new things.  Besides, you know I love the spotlight.  What spotlight am I likely to get that is brighter than a national television audience?  I just hope I don't make a fool of myself.

Q: Where can I watch the previews of the show?

A: It's a sign of the times that the show's Facebook Page is far more up to date than its website.  If you have a sharp eye, you can spot me a couple of times.  I'm the only Chinese-American guy on the show, so I'm hard to miss.

Q: What can I do to support you?

A: I'm glad you asked!  (Or more precisely, I'm glad that I asked me on your behalf!)  Of course you should watch the show and tell your friends and family to do the same.  Hey, how often does someone from the startup world go on a televised competition where he or she is strapped into a giant robotic arm and flung about while bantering with Rob Lowe?

But the other key thing is that I would like to hold a big watch party on April 30.  I'm looking for pointers to good venues to hold such a party, media partners to publicize the event, and corporate sponsors (since I'm still a cheap bastard and don't want to pay for it myself).  If you have any good ideas on these fronts, let me know!  Or if you have other great ideas, also let me know!

UPDATE (3/18/19):
I'll be watching the premiere (Tuesday March 19, 9 PM, on FOX) from Dan Gordon's in Palo Alto.  Stop by and hear me comment on the show and dish dirt on my fellow contestants!

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Help fight cancer, get my time

On Sunday, I will once again be participating in Cycle for Survival, a great charity that raises money for rare cancer research.

100% of the money you donate goes to fund cancer research.

And as an added bonus, I'll give some of my time to the donors.

Here are the different tiers of reward for 2019:

  • $50: I'll reply to an email
  • $100: I'll jump on a 20-minute phone call with you
  • $500: I'll take you out to lunch in Palo Alto
  • $2,000: I'll hold a 1-hour webinar, topic of your choice, for your organization
  • $5,000: I'll deliver a 1-hour keynote speech at your local Bay Area event
  • $10,000: I'll deliver a 1-hour keynote speech at your US-based event. You also have to cover travel costs.
  • $25,000: I'll deliver a 1-hour keynote speech at your event, provided the US State Department hasn't issued a travel warning for your location.  You also have to cover travel costs.
Help a good cause, and help yourself!

Sunday, January 06, 2019

The Mischaracterization of Harvard Business School

When Vanity Fair ran its recent piece, “The Miseducation of Sheryl Sandberg” by Duff McDonald, a number of friends sent me links to the piece, asking for my reactions to his criticisms of her and my alma mater, Harvard Business School, which he described as producing “corporate monsters” who “lack a functional moral compass”. I have always been quite open about and proud of my time at school (for a while, when I had more time, I even ran a blog called “Ask The Harvard MBA”) so I resolved to read the article with an open mind and then offer my reactions.

After reading the article and revisiting some of my experiences at HBS (more on this later), my conclusion is that McDonald mischaracterizes and misinterprets both the general approach of the case study method, and the specific case of “The Parable of the Sadhu”. It is certainly possible and probably valuable to write a thoughtful critique of how Harvard Business School influences the moral compass and ethical practices of its alumni. This isn't it. Whether McDonald's misinterpretation is genuine or malicious, I cannot say, but it is definitely shoddy journalism.

There are many parts of the piece that illustrate McDonald's biased view of Harvard Business School's attempts to help its students engage with ethics, but one of the clearest appears in his discussion of “The Parable of the Sadhu”. Here is what McDonald writes about this famous ethics essay (which is also used by organizations such as the Red Cross):

“McCoy was on a trip to the Himalayas when his expedition encountered a sadhu, or holy man, near death from hypothermia and exposure. Their compassion extended only to clothing the man and leaving him in the sun, before continuing on to the summit. One of McCoy’s group saw a “breakdown between the individual ethic and the group ethic,” and was gripped by guilt that the climbers had not made absolutely sure that the sadhu made it down the mountain alive. McCoy’s response: “Here we are . . . at the apex of one of the most powerful experiences of our lives. . . . What right does an almost naked pilgrim who chooses the wrong trail have to disrupt our lives?”

McCoy later felt guilt over the incident, but his parable nevertheless illustrated the extent to which aspiring managers might justify putting personal accomplishment ahead of collateral damage—including the life of a dying man. The fact that H.B.S. enthusiastically incorporated said parable into its curriculum says far more about the fundamental mindset of the school than almost anything else that has come out of it. The “dilemma” was perfectly in line with the thinking at H.B.S. that an inability to clearly delineate the right choice in business isn’t the fault of the chooser but rather a fundamental characteristic of business, itself.”

“The Parable of the Sadhu” was part of the curriculum during my time as well, but I believe that McDonald misinterprets the teaching goal of the case. His misinterpretation deviates so far from the actual words of the essay that I believe that it is quite possible that McDonald never bothered to read the very text that he places at the center of his argument, which would represent irresponsible clickbait journalism.

McCoy wrote his essay to illustrate the importance of having a moral compass, since moral dilemmas can present themselves unexpectedly, and in conjunction with a variety of conflicting imperatives.

First, the way McCoy encounters the sadhu is that a group of four backpackers from New Zealand finds the holy man lying on the ice, then carries him back and dump him on McCoy's expedition, arguing that since his expedition has porters and Sherpas, they are better able to care for the invalid. The New Zealanders then press on. McCoy's expedition clothes the sadhu, and McCoy, worried about his history of altitude sickness, hikes on ahead, leaving a friend and a Sherpa to deal with the sadhu. He learns later that after a Japanese expedition refused to lend their horse to transport the sadhu, and after the Sherpa guide decided that the porters didn't have time to transport the sadhu all the way to safety and catch up with the rest of the expedition before the snows melted and made the path impassable, that the porters had carried the sadhu as far as they though prudent (within 500 feet of a shelter hut) and left him there, now conscious, clothed, and with food and drink.

Already, we can see that this is a more complex question than McDonald relates, and that McDonald minimizes the actual help provided. But the real difference is that McCoy devotes the majority of the essay to examining the moral failings that led to the potential death of the sadhu, rather than “justifying putting personal accomplishment ahead of collateral damage.”

McCoy actually writes about the dilemma from a variety of ethical lenses, which leads him to conclude the opposite of what McDonald ascribes to him. For example, McCoy writes:

“Real moral dilemmas are ambiguous, and many of us hike right through them, unaware that they exist. When, usually after the fact, someone makes an issue of one, we tend to resent his or her bringing it up. Often, when the full import of what we have done (or not done) hits us, we dig into a defensive position from which it is very difficult to emerge. In rare circumstances, we may contemplate what we have done from inside a prison.”

Are these the words of a man trying to justify his decision based on personal accomplishment? Or of a man trying to get MBA students to realize that failing to consider the moral implications of their actions can lead to severe consequences?

McDonald's approach is to cherry pick a few passages to support his argument, rather than fairly representing the text which he criticizes. McCoy's argument is that ethical dilemmas present hard choices, can come at any time, and that if you're not prepared to engage with them, you may end up making decisions without realizing it, or that when individuals in a group refuse to take personal responsibility, the entire group may end up shirking theirs.

In fact, McCoy even explicitly states the point of his essay in its conclusion:

“That is the lesson of the sadhu. In a complex corporate situation, the individual requires and deserves the support of the group. When people cannot find such support in their organizations, they don't know how to act. If such support is forthcoming, a person has a stake in the success of the group and can add much to the process of establishing and maintaining a corporate culture. Management's challenge is to be sensitive to individual needs, to shape them, and to direct and focus them for the benefit of the group as a whole.”

I find it hard to square what I see as the meaning of McCoy's words with McDonald's interpretation, which is that “the “dilemma” was perfectly in line with the thinking at H.B.S. that an inability to clearly delineate the right choice in business isn’t the fault of the chooser but rather a fundamental characteristic of business, itself.”

In contrast, I interpret McCoy's words as saying that businesses and leaders have a moral obligation to support individual employees, rather than pushing all moral responsibility to the individual level. That may indicate that the individual isn't solely responsible or at fault, but that is the opposite of saying that there is no right answer, and that all choices are morally equivalent.

Indeed, had McDonald actually read “The Parable of the Sadhu,” he might have been able to use its teachings to illuminate and underscore Facebook's ethical failures in a fairer and more convincing way.

If you asked me how Harvard Business School influences the ethics and moral compass of its students, I would answer that it tries to get them to grapple with different situations and ways of thinking in an attempt to help them be more explicit and thoughtful about those ethics, but that it doesn't try to prescribe a single way of thinking or tell you the right answer. In that sense, it is no different than any other great college or university. Sometimes, its graduates leave as ethical paragons with high-performing moral compasses. Sometimes, its graduates go on to infamy, like Jeff Skilling. McDonald's own alma mater is the University of Pennsylvania, from which he earned a Finance degree, a distinction that he now shares with President Donald Trump.

Friday, December 07, 2018

So About My Prediction Last Year That Bitcoin At $16,000 Was Ripe For A Crash

A year ago, I wrote a blog post entitled "Bye Bye Bitcoin Bubble", in which I compared the popular cryptocurrency to prison mackerel, and wrote:

"As I write this, Bitcoin just past (sic) $16,000 in value.  I would bet any amount of money that on December 7, 2018, the price of Bitcoin will be below that value."

The blog post made the rounds on HackerNews and Twitter, and a variety of people sprang up offering to bet me money.

I frantically tried to find a lawyer to help me structure the bets, and finally found a Las Vegas firm with expertise in gambling law AND cryptocurrency to confirm that I could do so legally.  At that point, I went back to the people who said they wanted to bet me.  This was weeks later, and Bitcoin had already dropped to around $13,000.  No one was willing to place any bets, though no one cited the price of Bitcoin for their decision to not follow through.

Sadly, rather than being $50,000 richer (the amount I was willing to bet) all I can do is take an Internet victory lap and say, "I was SO right, and you were SO wrong."

Here were the people who responded to my original tweet with Bitcoin bullishness and criticisms of my intelligence:
@BitcoinBhoy @Hodlayheehoo @dbrizzy80 @georgepf84 @tracyarciaga

Here are people who expressed interest in betting but never followed through:
@qihu00 @ericsports @Bitcoin_Shill

Here are people I DMed with about betting, but never actually was able to bet with:

  • @jimmysong, who went the farthest towards making a bet with me, but ultimately didn't
  • @cryptocharlesh who was willing to make a longbets.org bet with me (which I was unwilling to do because I wanted to make money, not donate to charity)
  • @haralabob, who was game, but who is really rich and wasn't interested in a mere $10,000 bet.

Same for @scottwalker99, who immediately offered to bet me $1,000,000, but wasn't interested once I capped bets at $10,000 per person.

I want to give a special final mention to @allnewsfor, who wrote: "Btw the internet will remember if you are too scared to back up your empty words with action"

I hope that applies to those who refused to bet me as well!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How I Think About Christine Blasey Ford's Accusation Against Brett Kavanaugh

I have witnessed a lot of men (and curiously enough, no women) in my social circles, including a number of good friends, saying that the Senate should not consider Christine Blasey Ford's accusation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh held her down, groped her, and tried to take her clothes off in 1982, when she was 15 and he was 17.  To save some time, I'm going to lay out what I think here in what I hope is a balanced and open-minded manner.  Of course, this being social media, I suspect things will go off the rails, but I feel an obligation to try:

1. The core issue here is the question of whether or not to believe a claim of attempted sexual assault. (Note that the accepted legal definition of sexual assault includes groping, even through clothing; penetration is not required for sexual assault to occur.)

2. Research indicates that the rate of false accusations of sexual assault are between 2-6%, roughly in line with all other crimes.  (Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/false-sexual-violence-assault-rape-allegations-truth-rare-international-day-for-the-elimination-of-a8077876.html)  So the baseline is that allegations of sexual assault should generally be considered credible.  This is not a presumption of guilt; clearly, crimes should be tried in a court of law.

3. I have had at least one friend who was false charged with sexual harassment; fortunately, he was able to prove that the allegations were false, concocted by a male professional rival who wanted to harm his career.  I have had a number of other friends who were charged and admitted to their behavior.  I feel badly for them and their families, because these admissions severely impacted their finances and careers, but the charges were true.  One friend is currently accused I think the acccusations are exaggerated and likely false, but he did employ others who may have acted in ways that were borderline at best.  My personal experience is, that even in Silicon Valley, which is about as left-leaning a places as you can find, the majority powerful men who are accused of harassing behavior tend to end up confessing.

4. The circumstances of the current situation magnify the stakes.  Any woman who charged a potential Supreme Court Justice with sexual assault could expect to face a gantlet of private investigators, attacks from the press aligned with whatever part the nominee belonged to, not to mention deranged attacks and death threats on social media.  Note that this kind of partisan attack is employed by both sides; the liberal press allowed Bill Clinton to get away with sexual assault because he was on their "side."  A number of so-called feminists defended behavior on his part that they would otherwise mercilessly attack, simply because of political expediency and partisanship.  Given the high costs of making such an accusation, it doesn’t seem likely that a woman would do so lightly.

5. The fact that the accuser is an anti-Trump activist, wore a p---y hat, and marched against Trump, simply puts her in the majority of educated women in the Bay Area.  I doubt that many of those women would be willing to lodge a false accusation simply for political reasons.  Conversely, if those characteristics would lead a woman to lodge a false accusation, why is there only one accuser?

6. The fact that there were two boys in the room and both denied the incident doesn't mean that it didn't happen.  It doesn’t seem likely that the alleged criminals would be eager to confess.  This logic would seem to imply that if a woman is alone with more than one man, and she accuses them of assault, and none of the men confess, that the world should consider her testimony false simply because 2+ > 1. I don’t think that is a logical or persuasive argument, and it is also the plot of the movie “The Accused”.

7. It’s also important to note that the other man alleged to be in the room, Mark Judge, is a conservative writer whose work has appeared in The Daily Caller and The American Spectator, and who wrote a book, “Wasted” about his life as a teenage alcoholic.  From a political perspective, this means he would tend to support conservative causes, and that as an alcoholic, his memories of those times could be considered suspect.

8. Christine Blasey Ford described the sexual assault during a session with her therapist in 2012.  Those notes record that Blasey Ford described being attacked by students from “an elitist boy’s school” who later became "highly respected and high-ranking members of society in Washington."  Her therapist’s notes from 2013 indicate that Blasey Ford felt she was still dealing with a “rape attempt” from her teenaged years.  Blasey Ford’s husband Russell Ford has said that in 2017, she named Kavanaugh as the main perpetrator, and expressed concern that he might someday be nominated to the Supreme Court.  In other words, there is written evidence and corroborating testimony that Blasey Ford had been talking with others about the incident long before the nomination process.

9. Some people criticizing Blasey Ford for not reporting the incident to her parents at the time.  That strikes me as the logical action for a gilr to take in 1982.  She managed to escape, and she had little to gain by admitting to her parents that she had been at a party with older boys who had been drinking.  In 1982, reporting that a drunken boy held you down, groped you, and might have eventually raped you had you not managed to escape, would be unlikely to prompt any action by law enforcement.  Today, things are different, and I think that is a good thing.

10. Some people are arguing that the statue of limitation on sexual assault has expired in this case.  They are correct.  The statutes of limitations for sexual assault in the state of Maryland are as follows: before an underaged victim turns 25 for civil actions, 1 year for misdemeanor sexual assault, no limit for felony sexual assault.  Unless this was considered felony assault (which it doesn’t seem to be under Maryland guidelines) there is no basis for criminal action.  However, Brett Kavanaugh is not being tried in a criminal court, and is not facing punishment or jail time.  The question, rather, is whether he should be confirmed to a lifetime appointment as a Supreme Court Justice.  Statutes of limitation do not apply.

11. Blasey Ford contacted the Washington Post, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, and Senator Dianne Feinstein in July.  She had already decided not to come forward for many of the reasons I described above when the story leaked that Feinstein had a letter which she was not sharing with her fellow Democrats.  After her accusations became public, she decided she had nothing to lose from coming forward.  Her actions are not "last minute."

12. It is possible that Feinstein held on to this letter to unveil it as a “September Surprise” to derail the nomination.  That is uncivil, but not illegal, and does not have any bearing on the validity of the accusations.  It’s a cynical but savvy political power play, much like the nuclear option (first invoked by Democrats during the Obama Administration), or refusing to hold confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland (Mitch McConnell's action, which allowed the appointment of Neil Gorsuch).

13. Kavanaugh had 60 people write in support of his character.  The alumnae of Blasey Ford’s school are producing a letter in her support with even more signatories.  Neither is dispositive; they are simply PR moves.

To summarize:
• Yes, Democrats are playing politics.
• However, the base rate on sexual assault accusations, and the circumstances involved, lead me to conclude that the accusation is credible
• The Senate should hold hearings on this topic.  If the administration doesn’t think it can get Kavanaugh confirmed, it should pick a different nominee (probably a woman).  This accusation is about Kavanaugh; the administration has the ability to nominate other candidates and get a different Federalist Society-approved justice confirmed.

The core questions I’d ask those who want to ignore the Blasey Ford accusation are the following:
• If the accusation was true, would you vote to confirm?  If so, say so publicly and explain your position.
• Do you believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Blasey Ford is lying, especially given the prior written notes?
• Do you believe that, in general, sexual assault accusations against men in America are generally truthful?
• If your daughter was 15, would you leave her alone at a party with an intoxicated 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh?

I think there’s enough doubt here that either the Senate should hold hearings about the Blasey Ford accusation, or the Trump administration should pick another nominee.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Just Start

The following two arguments are both plausible approaches to accomplishing something:

1) Just start working, and figure it out along the way.
2) Make a plan, and work on the important things.

There are times when "just start" works best, and there are times when "make a plan" works best.

But I'd be willing to bet that in the majority of cases, "just start" delivers better results than "make a plan."

We all have a natural tendency to procrastinate, and "make a plan" feeds into it.

How many people have you known who make careful plans about how they're going to start going to the gym or change their diet to lose weight?  And how many of those people succeeded?

It's far too easy to look up yet another article on the internet, or to spend time researching which tool to buy.

If you can clearly articulate why making a plan would be better, and it's a airtight case, go ahead.  But make sure you set a time limit on your planning.

But in most cases, you should just start.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Awareness, Control, and Acceptance

We're often tempted to ignore our animal nature.  In our hubris, we believe that our culture and habits trump the billions of years of evolution that have led to this point.

That's a mistake.

As individuals, we're better off acknowledging our animal nature, not to blindly accept it, but to make conscious decisions about how to manage it.

For example, our modern life is very different when it comes to awareness, control, and acceptance of the world around us.

For most of human history, we lived in small bands.  The only people we ever encountered were the people in our immediate surroundings.  This meant that awareness, control, and acceptance were clear and aligned.

Awareness: I'm aware of the things I can see, smell, and touch in my immediate surroundings.
Control: I can control the things that I can reach with my hands.
Acceptance: The things I can't reach with my hands, like the clouds that bring rain, are the province of gods and spirits, over whom my control is limited, and whose vagaries I must simply accept.

Contrast that with our modern world.

Awareness: I'm aware of everything I read on the Internet or see on television.  I know the intimate details of the lives of people I'll never meet, and events in places I'll never visit.
Control: I can communicate with anyone in the world, and can theoretically influence far more people than I could ever meet face to face.
Acceptance: I have the ability, and hence the responsibility, to be aware of every thing that is happening in the world, and to express an opinion and take action about it (even if it's just a hashtag).

The issue is clear.  In comparison to the world for which we've evolved, our awareness is vastly greater, and we have the possibility of control, which means that unless we consciously think about it, we lack acceptance.

This may be one of the reasons that the religious tend to be happier in modern society; they at least have a doctrine that leads them to greater acceptance of the world around them.

But leaving everything in the hands of spirits and gods is also a suboptimal approach.  As George Bernard Shaw put it, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."  (Per our modern society, I should note that a contemporary version would say "reasonable man or woman")  Progress often depends on a lack of acceptance, even though in most cases, that lack of acceptance causes discontent and unhappiness in those who feel it.

You should make conscious decisions about what to accept, and what to attempt to change.  For example, if you oppose the actions of the Trump administration, you don't have to accept it, but you do have to make a conscious decision about what you will do if you attempt to change it, whether it is donating to get out the vote efforts in battleground states, or a more personal effort.

Even when you make these conscious decisions, you may end up disappointed.  The world doesn't guarantee that it will fix all your problems (even if presidential candidates sometimes do).  But you'll be able to soothe that disappointment by knowing that you evaluated your options and chose the course of action that had the best chance of effecting change, rather than blindly accepting the world as it is, or simply feeling discontented and not doing something about it.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Doing the Impossible

I'm a realist.  I only set out to do the impossible when I know, based on past experience, that I can do it.

What amazes me are the people who set out to do the impossible without any basis for their confidence.  They usually fail, but on those few occasions when they succeed, they can change the world.

To quote the famous Apple commercial, "Here's to the crazy ones...."

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Trump Cheat Code

Old-school videogames often had a cheat code--a special sequence of actions that, when entered, would make your game avatar invincible.  Cheat codes weren't particularly sporting, but they made it much easier to win a game.

Donald Trump has found a cheat code for our current national politics, and he seems content to use it every week.

Here's the cheat code:

Donald Trump has targeted a specific group of voters who resent and distrust the mainstream media.  This means that when that media criticizes him, those voters loyalty to him increases.

The reason this is a cheat code is that while it is very hard to get good publicity, it is trivially easy to get bad publicity.  All it takes is a single threatening tweet to spark several days of critical covfefe--er, coverage.

When Donald Trump threatens North Korea or Iran, or seems to offer sympathy to white supremacists, he sparks a wave of (justified) criticism that just seems to make him more popular with his base.

The side effect is horrendous geopolitical risk, but that doesn't seem to deter Donald Trump one iota.

I believe that the best way to invalidate this cheat code is to focus the criticism of Donald Trump on concrete, pocketbook issues that directly affect his supporters.  It is easy for them to support Donald Trump when his actions harm others, or cause harm in the future.  It will be harder for them to support him when, say, his trade war with China causes massive layoffs in their town.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Trust Makes Our Lives Better

On America's Independence Day, it's worth considering the role of trust and distrust.

Distrust caused the British government to pass laws to better control its colonies.

Distrust caused a political contest to turn into a shooting war.

Trust allowed the various states to come together.

Trust allowed the Americans to grant George Washington the power to fight that war...and Washington repaid that trust by preventing a mutiny by his underpaid, underappreciated army.

One of my wishes for my country is that its various factions find ways to trust each other...and live up to that trust.

When we don't trust each other, opposing sides become extremists.

To me, this is clearest when it comes to the issue of gun control, but the same applies to abortion.

In the case of gun control, the pro-gun-ownership forces try to fight almost any regulation, fearing that any compromise will eventually lead to gun confiscation.

In the case of abortion, the pro-abortion forces try to fight any restriction on abortion, fearing that any compromise will weaken Roe v. Wade and lead to prohibition.

The same dynamic applies to the opposite side of both these issues.

I think that many, if not most Americans, like me, would prefer compromise to extremism.  But the more the opposing sides distrust each other, the more extreme their rhetoric and actions, the more they distrust each other, the more intractable the problem becomes.

I don't believe that polarization inevitably increases.  In American history, we have often been at loggerheads, including the Civil War, but we have always come back together.  As we celebrate Independence Day, I think a worthy way to honor those who have fought and sacrificed for our freedom is to try to build a nation that they would want their heirs to live in, rather than engaging in behavior that ends up trying to pull it apart.