Perfect Storms – 2 – Election Opportunity Fix

“Those who do not remember the past and fail to learn from it are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana (tweaked by me)

It almost never fails. As soon as my post is up, more interesting information appears; in this case the article that triggered this update was picked up just hours later (and from UK media, no less).

The good news is that this is a hopeful, inspiring case of people who did remember the past and learned from it.

What is described is important, I think, as it potentially fills in a hole in my earlier Make Every Vote Count opportunity (previous post). While the November 8th national elections focused on high-level offices, the state of Maine passed a citizen initiated ballot proposal (Question 5) that changes elections in Maine to a system of ranked-choice voting (RCV).

Maine makes it harder to elect Trump-alikes (IB Times)

Instead of a traditional Plurality “first-past-the-post” system where one candidate is chosen from two or more options (an Either/Or system), voters will now rank all candidates based on personal preference (more And/And). As with the traditional system of “only” votes, if one candidate gets a majority of votes (as “first” or “only” choice), then they are the winner.

If not, it becomes more interesting. In an RCV election, the second choice of voters whose first choice was the last-place candidate move up to become their new first choice vote. Recount. If still no clear winner, repeat by eliminating the next-to-last place candidate. Recount. Repeat until one candidate has more than 50% of the vote.

The city of Portland began using this election process for its mayor in 2011.1

In this manner elections, both primary and general, would be opened up to a broader, more diverse range of candidates. While we had that situation in each of the 2016 primaries, we still had to pick “only” one candidate.

There are positives to this approach. First, if one’s chosen candidate ends up eliminated, one’s second choice vote gets counted. Better for Make My Vote Count.

Second, it discourages the campaigning trend that has been so noticeable for the last 30 years or so – that of negative campaigning against opponents rather than promoting platforms and policies. Rather than the latter zero-sum, negative, scorched earth campaigning, it would encourage candidates to be more civil and stick to the issues as there would be incentive to place second or even third should no one outright take the majority. It might also encourage greater openness to compromise on issues.

Third, it guarantees that the ultimate winner will always be someone who is at least acceptable, however grudgingly, to a majority – and it never yields a winner whom the majority simply cannot abide.

The reason for the Question 5 measure on the ballot was not this year’s election but the 2014 Maine gubernatorial election, where sharp-tongued incivility ran rampant even after the election, with the winner capturing only 37.6% of the votes.

The downside, of course, will be the necessitated changes in voting machines, election, and the subsequent counting process. But even after recounts in 2016, and looking for chad in 2000, surely these are small technical steps to overcome a big (and deprecatingly negative) process we currently have. Another downside involves necessary changes to the Maine Constitution, which currently locks in the Plurality voting process.

Question 5 passed 52% to 48%, with most of the opposition originating with sitting politicians. Go figure.

This is not a shot in the dark. There is ample time and opportunity to follow up on RCV before making wholesale changes in other states and nationally. Consider the opportunity for living experiments: the rest of us sit back and watch (test) Maine’s elections, while Maine keeps an eye on (tests) Portland’s mayoral elections. Maine already has 5 years of mayoral results to work with, so it’s off to a good start. If stuff doesn’t seem kosher, adjust the regulations with the objectives in sight: Make My Vote Count.

Oh, and give me healthy choices while we’re at it.

Notes:

1 Our View: Ranked-choice voting is right for Maine

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Perfect Storms – 2: The Election, Revisited

“Those who do not remember the past and fail to learn from it are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana (tweaked by me)

I couldn’t resist. I had to add that phrase just to be sure Santayana’s point wasn’t missed.

Which brings me to another occasion where his observation fits perfectly and reconfirms more of the Fundamental Principles, but this time with national leader wannabees who didn’t and still don’t “get it” – “get” meaning not only that ongoing learning from mistakes was supposed to be built into life, but that “not getting it” impacts more than just their “image.”

I am referring, of course, to the event that just happened to occur as I was researching another post: the Presidential Election on November 8th.

To say the least, the outcome was shocking, unexpected, and surreal. I am still trying to process it.

Thanks to many others over the last few weeks there has been no dearth of articles and commentaries that have actually tried to make sense of the results. Thus presented with both event and a large volume of material, I switched my post topic.

Needless to say, I could refer back to my November 7th post, or the one from November 2014, and say “told you so,” but I’ll refrain.

Due to the nature, and volume, of material, I broke this post down into the COMMENTARIES themselves, REFLECTIONS, and then IDEAS and OPPORTUNITIES. Quotes from articles are indented; my immediate thoughts are not (and my short ones are italicized)

THE COMMENTARIES

Amongst the wave of analyses and commentaries, the following relatively obscure and not picked up by the mainstream media, stand out. Their confirmations of various Fundamental Principles are rather poignant.

Inside the Loss Clinton Saw Coming (Politico)

Publicly they seemed confident, but in private her team admitted her chances were ‘always fragile’… Everything that Democrats and pretty much anyone else thought they understood about politics was proven wrong this year with a resounding exclamation mark … Democrats and many others are now in crisis … the crisis is sharpest in Clinton campaign headquarters: not only do they feel like everything is about to go deeply, collapse-of-America wrong, but it’s going to happen because she failed… Sanders and Trump had correctly defined the problem …

Assuming that one’s information and the ways of obtaining it have always worked in the past, why wouldn’t they still work today? Presuming this can lead to errors of omission. Politicians thought they knew, but didn’t realize they didn’t. Fundamental Principle 7c: We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know. And Fundamental Principle 6: There will always be Missing Information.

Digging further, I came across the following deeper analysis that identified the source and nature of a large part of the electorate (italics mine).

Hillary Clinton and the US election: What went wrong for her? (BBC)

This election, surely the most extraordinary in American history, was a revolt against the political establishment.

It also demonstrated so much rage and discontent. There was extreme dislike of both candidates, but Clinton’s extended to distrust and an authenticity problem, a problem probably disregarded by the identifiable electorate (those the polls recognized), but not the forgotten electorate.

With an attitude and approach of ‘steady-as-she-goes’ (no pun intended), both Democrats and Republicans trusted the polls, not knowing the polls also had a “Missing Information” problem.

The slogan “Stronger Together” was never as snappy as “Make America Great Again.” There was the difficulty in crafting a strong message that would not only resonate beyond the famed Blue Wall (states not traditionally Democratic), but inside it also.

The widespread consistency of the election results indicated that “this was not just a rejection of Hillary Clinton, but also a rejection by half of the country of Barack Obama’s America.”

The BBC article politely hints at a significant underlying issue brought out in another Politico article.

What Was Hillary’s Real Downfall? Complacency (Politico)

… she took her 2016 opponent too lightly and thought she could cruise … in the first cold light of the day after, one big cause seems clearer than others: Her complacency. Years of it. A chronic case of complacency, in fact.

… Political Complacency (assuming she could retain her “Blue Wall”), Policy Complacency (never developing the kind of central animating idea or program that wins elections and can be communicated in a heartbeat, re: “Stronger Together”), and Personal Complacency (as in 2008, she miscalculated that an upstart insurgent could beat her, and that anxious voters eager for change would settle for less).

In a nutshell, she didn’t dog it. Her famous work ethic was always in high gear. Yet from the start, Clinton ran her 2016 campaign in a cautious, defensive crouch, painting first Sanders and then Trump as basically unqualified, but ignoring or minimizing the widespread signs of their powerful anti-establishment appeal, while failing to offer a persuasive alternative aspirational message of her own.

President Obama lent support to this view.1

And it didn’t/doesn’t seem to be an issue of sexism, of not electing a woman to be head of state. Thatcher was PM of Britain, and May is now. Brazil has a female head of state, as does Germany. Polls (if we can believe those now) indicate that most voters no longer see electing a woman as constituting major change.

The hidden message wasn’t that there was no support to elect a woman to our highest office, but just not enough to elect this woman.

Bill Clinton, once defeated by angry voters in Arkansas, famously said that his daddy never had to whip him twice for the same mistake. His wife never really learned that lesson.

Once again, Fundamental Principles 7c and 6 come through loud and clear.

A different issue is that America in 2016 is not the one that Bill Clinton won and governed. This comes through in the following article:

Tear Up the Democratic Party (Jonathan Tasini, CNN)

Written by a staunch (Sanders supporting) Democrat and union member, its observations are, literally, devastating,

We can now launch a difficult but urgent mission – shaking the Democratic Party down to its foundation, ejecting the failed Bill/Hillary Clinton economic and global worldview and standing up for a set of populist, sound economic and foreign policy principles that could earn majority support.

Starting with NAFTA, Bill Clinton forced ‘free trade’ upon the party. … During Clinton’s so-called ‘good economy,’ the decline of organized labor continued. … Hand-in-glove with Wall Street, Clinton got rid of the Glass-Steagall Act, which removed the separation between commercial banks, insurers and investment banks, …

The latter was a major contributor to the housing mortgage crisis and the ensuing recession of 2008.

There is so much more: A planet dying because for years fossil fuel interests were coddled. Welfare reform. Mass incarceration of people of color, which had both racial and economic consequences. The praise of the Clinton years, and red-faced defense by its leader, was always couched in contrast to the Reagan and two Bush administrations.

And then there is The Clinton Foundation. Sorry, but no time for that shore excursion on this cruise.

Tasini also refers to Sanders’ broader philosophical willingness to challenge American exceptionalism, which led to failed foreign policies that have been bedrocks of the Democratic Party for several decades (after inheriting them from the Republicans. Earlier post here).

The only thing I take issue with is the blind deference to the progressive movement for change, i.e., “advocates for labor, environmentalists, and civil rights of all stripes,” without acknowledging the need also for advocates who would revamp the business processes which are necessary to generate the added value that the former so easily take for granted. This is the continued expression of “Either/Or” thinking that helped create our current political situation. Straight outta Fundamental Principle 4c.

A further eye opener is the article by Alex MacGillis that appeared in ProPublica.

Revenge of the Forgotten Class (ProPublica)

MacGillis traveled extensively in Ohio (a Democratic Blue State) interviewing a multitude of voters leading up to the election. Rather than just listening to the questions pollsters asked, he would later privately interview voters and came away with a deeper understanding of the anger and frustration that was missed by so many polls and campaigns.

The number of first time voters was palpable. Some said, “I didn’t want to make an unintelligent decision” concerning not voting before (more on this factor in another article below).

What the election results showed was that, unbeknownst to campaigns, media, and pollsters, there were many people across the entire country who had not voted before but would vote this election – “people who were so disconnected from the political system that they were literally unaccounted for in the pollsters’ modeling, which relies on past voting behavior.” The forgotten electorate.

Also being verbalized by voters was the recognition and resentment of the “growing dependency around them.” They also expressed a “profound contempt for a dysfunctional, hyper-prosperous Washington that they saw as utterly removed from their lives.” Union members disappointed in Obama after voting for him, stated, “People don’t realize there’s nothing without a blue-collar worker.”

Distrust of Clinton again surfaced often, “There’s too much sidestepping on her. I don’t trust her.”

Concerns about declining support among white working-class voters goes back a long time, to Lyndon Johnson. … By this year, many liberals had gotten so fed up with hearing about these woebegone voters and all their political needs that they were openly declaring them a lost cause, motivated more by racial issues than economic anxiety, and declaring that the expanding Democratic coalition of racial and ethnic minorities and college-educated white voters obviated the need to cater to the white working class.

It seems the picture was not just one of a Forgotten Class, but more of a Dismissed or Disregarded Class, even if the pollsters didn’t have a working definition of exactly who this ‘Class’ was, and therefore didn’t or couldn’t seek them out.

The comment “I didn’t want to make an unintelligent decision” was reinforced by other interviewees: “No one that’s voting knows all the facts.” Fundamental Principle 6 again: There will always be Missing Information. These comments lead into the following more interesting and rather enlightening article.

Trump Won Because Voters Are Ignorant, Literally (Jason Brennan, Foreign Policy)

This is an inadvertent anthem to a number of Fundamental Principles, so I’ll quote some thoughts directly and put my thoughts in italics.

Democracy is supposed to enact the will of the people. But what if the people have no clue what they’re doing? … Never have educated voters so uniformly rejected a candidate. But never before have the lesser educated so uniformly supported a candidate.

Right up front there’s FP 7c,

Trump owes his victory to the uninformed. But it’s not just Trump and this election. Political scientists have been studying what voters know (and don’t know) and how they think for well over 65 years. The results are frightening. … Just why voters know so little is well understood. It’s not that people are stupid. Rather, it’s that democracy creates bad incentives.

As consumers, before we make a big purchase we do our research (or, at least some). Buy smart, reap the rewards; make a bad decision, suffer the consequences.

And then FP 14: There are always Consequences to Behaviors,

Not so with politics. How all of us vote, collectively, matters a great deal. But how any one of us votes does not.

That, in a nutshell, is how democracy works. Most voters are ignorant or misinformed because the costs to them of acquiring political information greatly exceed the potential benefits. They can afford to indulge silly, false, delusional beliefs – precisely because such beliefs cost them nothing.

But it’s not all our fault. Politicians craft self-serving messages, and a willing media repeats them. If the messages confirm what we already feel, and they are overwhelmingly available, how many of us know how to sift through the noise? All this intentionally plays on the reality of the Availability Heuristic (the dominant messages we are surrounded with) and our Confirmation Bias (seeking to confirm what we already assume we know),

Voting is more like doing the wave at a sports game than it is like choosing policy. (More thoughts on “policy” will appear below).

Philip Converse once said: ‘The two simplest truths I know about the distribution of political information in moderate electorates are that the mean is low and the variance is high.’ In other words, most people know nothing, some know less than nothing (that is, they are systematically mistaken rather than just ignorant), and some know a great deal. (The latter are referred to as High-Information Voters).

And, déjà vu, FP 7c (sigh, this is getting old),

Schools teach them most of what they need to know to vote well. But they forget it because the information is not useful. And the reason it is not useful is because their individual votes make no difference. (Hold onto that thought for later, also).

Others say the problem could be fixed by encouraging citizens to deliberate together. … Even though the researchers in question almost always want deliberation to “fix” democracy, in general they tend to find that it makes things worse, not better.

Studies show that high-information voters don’t always favor the Democrats’ politics. In fact, high-information voters tend to have policy preferences that cut across party lines. For instance, high-information voters are pro-free trade, pro-immigration, in favor of criminal justice reform, wish to raise taxes to offset the deficit, anti-war, pro-gay rights, and skeptical that the welfare state can solve all our problems (yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep).

The real worry though, is that when we look at the policy platforms of the two major parties, we see that both the Republicans and Democrats push agendas that tend to appeal to the uninformed and disinterested. We can’t quite blame them for that. After all, politicians need to win elections (yep), and to do so they have to appeal to voters. In a modern democracy, the uninformed will always greatly outnumber the informed (yep, the Behavior Curve). The quality of our candidates reflects the quality of our electorate (yep!). But democracy encourages our electorate to be bad quality. (This, no doubt, is why good quality candidates lose in the primaries)

The article kicker is a classic that should be emblazoned in our psyches,

Trump’s victory is the victory of the uninformed. But, to be fair, Clinton’s victory would also have been.

Apparently being uninformed includes not realizing that the office of the president is bigger than the occupant, and governing functions at a higher level than campaigning. Even with Trump in the White House, the Constitution kicks in.

It also apparently does not include the understanding that there is give and take in a democracy. You don’t always get all that you want, in spite of the Diet Coke campaign ad trumpeting the pop song, “I want it all, and I want it now.”

A mantra for the uninformed (all of them).

Winning is what has validated politicians since history began. If Clinton had won by the same margin that Trump had won, the liberals would have been unpleasantly triumphant2 and claiming a “mandate,” as happened in 2012. I don’t hear much of any “mandate” talk at the moment, just the sighs of recognition of the tasks ahead.

SOME REFLECTIONS

The consensus to explain the election leans to inaccurate polling and modeling, an unprecedented surge of white voters for Trump, Clinton’s failure not only to ignite enough enthusiasm and excitement among women, blacks and Latinos, but failure to connect with the “working class,” 3 as if talk of a “white working class” indicated a actual monolithic and homogenous base of support. Indeed, it appears the most important word in the his catchphrase was not make or America or even great. It was again.4

In a confirmation of “Either/Or” (FP 4c) thinking, Democrat leaders in California emailed their constituency the following,

Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land, because yesterday Americans expressed their views on a pluralistic and democratic society that are clearly inconsistent with the values of the people of California.5

So, in other words, with voting split at nearly 50/50, if Democrats had won it would have been a mandate, validating their values which would therefore be the right ones, but since Republicans won now all the wrong values have suddenly come out of nowhere and threaten to ruin the entire country? This is “deeply, collapse-of-America” wrong thinking. This is surreal.

It seems California Democrats aren’t the only ones reacting this way as severe protests broke out in major cities. As further confirmation of the Principles, analysis of the 112 arrests in the protest in Portland, OR, showed that most of them didn’t vote in Oregon. In fact, 39 of them were registered in Oregon but didn’t vote at all, and 35 others weren’t registered in Oregon.6 This appears to validate the suggestion that protesters are being brought in from elsewhere and encouraged by outside agitators.

Another oddly surreal situation was when a crowd of wealthy, out-of-touch Manhattan liberals (who can afford $849 tickets to “Hamilton”) booed vice-president elect Mike Pence while the cast of the Broadway show lectured him on diversity.7

Also surreal on election eve was the NPR commentator who kept repeating over and over, “But what do they want?” as election results and analyses about the “working class” kept pouring in.

This was followed by the announcement that the Canadian immigration website had crashed from so many inquiries.

Finally, surreal enough to be irritating were the people who years ago boldly stated that Bill Clinton’s character in office didn’t matter, but now suddenly Trump’s character was everything (but Hillary’s wasn’t).

It seems we’ve fallen a long way from when S.G. Tallentyre (The Friends of Voltaire) wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Probably a more pertinent observation is that of Søren Kierkegaard, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” Fundamental Principle 7c is not new.

What struck me about the polls was that there was only one, the L. A. Times/USC poll, which indicated a different outcome, primarily due to their methodology. Even more striking was that, after the election, the N. Y. Times indulged in a bit of soul-searching.8 What was frightening was the revelation that, contrary to reporting procedures of the bottom up and reporter driven L. A. Times where editors daily ask, ‘What are you hearing?’, the N. Y. Times has for decades been a far more editor-driven, top down, self-conscious publication. “We set the agenda for the country in that (editor’s) room,” an elitist editorial dynamic the exact reverse of what one would expect. Reminds me of Hollywood actors (and certain organizational leaders) who spend too much time reading their own PR releases.

IDEAS AND OPPORTUNITIES

Making Individual Votes Count

The suggestion that individuals do not invest effort in becoming informed enough to vote intelligently because there is insufficient benefit, leads me to suggest a suitable modification to our election process to establish benefit in the form of “my vote counts.” After some contemplation, what comes to mind is the following:

  • Let the vote results in each precinct determine directives for a number of representatives, a number based upon the number of precinct voters. Imbue these representatives with the charge to vote according to the percentage results in their precinct (a clear case of ‘my vote counts, because I can see its effect’);
  • Let the representatives from a state gather to cast their votes according to precinct results. The resultant vote of the precinct representatives would then determine how a smaller number of state representatives (determined by each state’s population) would subsequently vote;
  • Let the various state representatives then cast their votes (it will be tough and costly to get all of them together, so they could do this electronically. Or by fax) to be tabulated at some central location;
  • The outcome of this tally would be the final results, and each individual would know that their vote had an impact all the way up the process. Voila! Problem solved!

Sounds good. Other than the fact that with just a couple of tweaks, this is the Electoral College.

Apparently the Founding Fathers ‘got it.’

Logistics

It has bothered me, and possibly others including the Founding Fathers, for a long while: Why can’t government operate better?

Then an idea struck me. Logistics. The critical process of getting stuff from here to there, effectively and efficiently. (No, we don’t need drones in government. Plenty already). In truth I mean the broader picture of logistics. The one that necessarily includes a feedback loop.

We eliminate ‘feedback’ in public address systems because what is fed back is (painfully) unusable interference.

We do seek feedback in military operations, in education (we call them ‘tests’ and ‘grades’), in business and other organizations (was the product or service delivered timely, intact, is it suitable for purpose and performing to expectations?), for plays, movies and TV shows (are they watching or buying tickets?), in dating, marriage, and personal relationships, and in just about every other endeavor.

Except government.

Oh yes, politicians will tell you that political ‘feedback’ comes via the next election. That’s true, but that’s only feedback concerning the politicians and policies. That’s in effect what this last election produced.

What’s missing is feedback that causes adjustments and tuning of the laws and regulations that result from policies. The politicians in Congress come in and pass laws to reflect putting policies into action and then turn over the creation of actionable regulations to others (e.g., moving the Affordable Care Act into actual practice). Before the regulations are created, the politicians are chest beating and moving on to some other policy. Or, after the ‘feedback’ of a subsequent election, they pass another law to tweak an existing law. Thus we are blessed with ever expanding and overweight regulations like the IRS tax code and Social Security.

There needs to be an ongoing practice/process of monitoring the regulations in action and adjusting them to be effective and efficient at achieving their original objectives. This would be true governing, before the next pseudo-feedback election.

Achieving this will be problematic, however, because of the hidden but differing fundamental objectives (and values) of the spectrum of politicians.

Consider the generic categories of Liberal and Conservative. The common ‘labeling’ descriptions of the two are that Liberals recognize and want change to fix things that are broken, and Conservatives don’t want to change things but leave them broken as they are. This is an over simplistic repurposing of words.

On observing their behaviors, Liberals are very high on corrective policies. If one asks a progressive, “If you could wave a wand and fulfill your every political goal, what kind of world would you build?” The answers inevitably consist of more policy.9 The transformation of policy into effective and efficient laws and regulations is invariably missing or under appreciated.

On the other hand, Conservatives tend not to be against change per se but to be more focused on how do we create and put into effect laws and regulations that will be most efficient in effecting a desirable, productive, observable and measurable change.

Granted, at the extremes, it seems that the more progressive types are more interested in the change rather than the how (or the implementation), and the very conservative are more interested in just maintaining a comfort zone with no change.

What would be a more appropriate and productive position is in the middle, where constructive (And/And) discussion would take place to identify a common path to improvement coupled with an identified process/practice of continuously testing/validating that the laws and regulations are indeed succeeding in achieving the intended goals. Turning rhetoric into results, not just policies. Before a subsequent election. In spite of the research that generally indicates deliberation tends to make things worse rather than better, what other democratic options do we have? Make it work.

After all, Microsoft doesn’t just slap code together for an operating system and launch it without significant internal testing and beta release into real environments. And there are still bugs. Apps have constant updates (bugs too, and an environment that is constantly changing).

Laws are design plans; regulations are the product as services. If it’s broke, fix it.

Notes:

1 President Obama suggests Hillary Clinton is to blame for stunning election loss (Nicole Rojas, International Business Times)
2 Liberals, chill out about Trump victory (CNN)
3 Democrats try to pick up the pieces (Maeve Reston, CNN)
4 What Trump Voters Want Now (Michael Kruse, Politico)
5 California’s Democrats Are Ready for Political War (James Nash, Esmé, Bloomberg Businessweek)
6 Election Violence 2016: Most Anti-Trump Protestors Arrested in Oregon Didn’t Vote (Juliana Pignataro, International Business Times)
7 ‘Hamilton’ and the Implosion of the American left (Marc Thiessen, Washington Post)
8 Stunned By Trump, The New York Times Finds Time For Some Soul-Searching (Michael Cieply, Yahoo News)
9 Explaining It All to You (Nathan J. Robinson, Current Affairs)

Posted in 04: Games People Play, 06: Incomplete Information, 07: Getting It, 12: Character, 14: Behavior, Lessons from History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ketchup Physics 101

“Shake and shake the catsup bottle. None will come, and then a lot’ll.” – Richard Armour

I couldn’t resist. I needed a bit of humor today, at least to break the tension. Beyond that, how can one resist someone “applying” physics to a condiment? That’s a man after my own purpose, and in art no less! Not to be outdone, I think I’ve observed a way to double down and further “apply” the physics herein to people. Yes, this would be applying condiments to people, as opposed to the normal process. Today, of all days, what is the world coming to?

Enjoy this recent article by Lucas Adams that appeared at CooksScience.com. My musings are tacked at the end.

entry-107-ketchup

Ketchup Physics 101
BY LUCAS ADAMS
CooksScience.com
October 3, 2016

The science behind why the ketchup struggle is real.

Cook’s Science believes that ketchup is one of the world’s perfect foods. It’s salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami all at once. You can eat it on almost anything. Malcolm Gladwell once wrote a fantastic article on the subject. Its one flaw? It can be tricky to get out of the bottle, especially if the bottle is glass. Why? Like with much of life, it all comes down to physics. We asked illustrator Lucas Adams to take a look at the history of the ketchup bottle, and the science contained within.

entry-107-ketchup-bottle-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

entry-107-ketchup-non-newtonian-3

 

 

 

entry-107-ketchup-packet-4

 

entry-107-ketchup-brown-5

entry-107-ketchup-gerber-nasa-6

There you have it, from the ketchup artist’s point of view.

I was pleased to see Midland, Michigan popping up as I used to live and work there for 10 years. I don’t remember hearing about Paul Brown, though, nor about an important invention that could add to Midland’s legitimate claim to being on a historical map somewhere (the other was the discovery of extracting chlorine from brine).

My takeaway, looking to transfer this new knowledge to a new arena:

People are like Ketchup.

We are non-Newtonian beings, since our ‘viscosities’ (behaviors resisting change) also depend upon external forces.

But, then again, we are the opposite of ketchup. Maybe more like anti-Ketchup.

Most of us are ‘shear thickening.’ We resist change like mad. Our Attitudes convert into resistant Behaviors by how our internal forces (‘shear’ rate) direct how we Choose to respond to these external forces, or not (ABCs). With agitation, we get thicker. Anti-Ketchup.

Others are ‘shear thinning.’ With agitation, we get thinner, more adaptive.  Like Ketchup.

In a changing world, being like anti-ketchup would be very beneficial.

 

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Election Redux

With a week to go before another major election, I got nostalgic amongst my angst and frustrations and reread my 2014 post-election blog to see if I might wish to update any of my thoughts.  One would think that, after 2 years, something would have changed.  On the positive side, my processing and thoughts remain unchanged. On the negative side, the political terrain, environment, atmosphere, and players (substitutes??) haven’t changed either.  My conclusion is that the post remains eerily relevant and would be best re-served, but pre-election this time.  Hopefully, it might have some impact.  If not, I hope it is enlightening in an entertaining way.  If not that either, at least I enjoyed it again.

(I did change just a couple of words to eliminate indications of age.  They should be easily spotted. Or struck through…  Any small thing added is in italics.  You can check the original here.)

—–

This odd thought has been germinating on my mind for a number of years, and with the recent elections just behind ahead of us it seemed a good time to reflect while connecting some dots, one of which is culture, in this case politics as subculture. There may not seem to be an obvious connection between politics and culture, but bear with me. These are, albeit, small dots, but well worth trying to connect them.

My plan had been to move to looking at the Culture of Nations, and then return to organizations, but mid-term these elections just seemed too good to pass up.

Basically, I am relieved that the previous process has passed, at least until it gears up again for the Presidential elections in 2016. The robot phone calls and the attack ads have ceased. Now all that remains are the media correspondents who carry on with the polarizations.

What happened over the last sixty years or so?

Politics, I seem to recall, primarily used to be the process by which able leaders and people debated and decided the best ways to move a group of people forward (be they clan, tribe, organization, society, or nation).

In the last sixty years this has changed, at least at the highest levels. It now seems to be more about the position and who the people are who will occupy it.

As a consequence, politics has moved from

  • a reasonably positive subculture (“Who We Are”) that was defined by contributions, the (+∑) value added to a society, into
  • a negative subculture (-∑) that focuses more on “Who Is NOT One Of Us.”

While attack ads date back to the founding of America, the impetus for the current shift can be traced back to 1964, to the most notorious political attack ad, run by Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater in that year’s Presidential election.

While the slow course of this deteriorating change can be traced, what is more interesting is what I think is driving it.

To illustrate, take a moment to think about which political subculture or party philosophy least appeals to you (I’ll give you the choice so as not to reveal my own leanings). Chose between

(left-wing liberal progressives || right-wing conservatives)

(Formal disclosure: in an attempt to demonstrate nearly complete neutrality, please note that I have placed the left wing to the left, and the right wing to the right).

So, after having made your selection, now consider the general behaviors and attitudes you have observed being practiced by this group (“I”) through their speeches, publications, and ads directed towards the other group (“They”), and then consider if the following simple visual reasonably reflects what you conclude are their attitudes about the other group:

Entry 84 - Sketch - All There Is To Know

Now, return to our two choices,

(left-wing liberal progressives || right-wing conservatives)

and pick the other political subculture, the one that most appeals to you. Once again, consider the general behaviors and attitudes you have observed practiced by this group (“I” – and probably feel yourself) in their speeches, publications, and ads directed towards the other group (“They”) and see if the following visual reasonably reflects what you feel your and their attitudes are:

Entry 84 - Sketch - All There Is To Know

Nice, eh? There really appears to be no difference in the driving attitudes behind these two subcultures.

The reason for this is that both subcultures demonstrate a number of Fundamental Principles introduced earlier:

First, they are heavily populated by Fundamental Principle 7c people: People who don’t ‘get’ that they don’t ‘get it,’ but think they do;

Second, they also suffer from Fundamental Principle 6They are working from Incomplete Information, but can’t admit it; and

Third, they have slowly succumbed to Fundamental Principle 16bRegression to a Cultural Mean (the mean here representing what each group considers its “norm,” which is actually relegated to the extremes).

Each group has slowly “inculcated” itself, primarily by applying the negative cultural distinction: “Who is NOT one of us,” rather than the positive distinction: “This is what defines Who we are.”

The first application is then typically followed by the second: Cultural Enforcement or Exclusion (punishment, shunning) in order to keep the “subculture” pure. Then Cultural Exclusion Creep has led to a continual escalation of attack ads as a means to win voters (draw/force them to the desired cultural “mean”).  This is the practice of Fundamental Principle 16c: Coercion of You to Their Cultural Mean, or Exclude You.

It now seems that it no longer matters what our elected politicians DO (if it ever did), but only who they ARE (or claim to be).

It would be nice if they actually DID something that aligned with who they said they WERE (here’s the Say-Do-Are framework of Integrity again).

Most of all this political dancing would like to focus on “what actions to take to move us forward.” However, I suspect that a further consequence of practicing Regression and Cultural Exclusion is that there is not yet agreement on what “forward” actually means, and heads begin to butt from that point onwards. This seems to me to be a classic case of “either/or” thinking.

What to do?

Having come from a scientific training (which I like to think has many good traits to it, including the ability/need to identify our weaknesses in understanding and find the “missing information“), I observed that I and nearly all of my professional colleagues (the quick, not so quick, and the long dead) have many of the same following characteristics (whether these manifest themselves in one political subculture or the other):

  • We are Progressive Liberals.
    We see our passions centered on unlocking/discovering new knowledge about the natural world, hypothesizing things unknown and then devising ways to prove (and apply them), or disprove them (and try something new). We tend not to be satisfied where we are, but attempt to “push the edge of the envelope,” to “go where no man has gone before,”

BUT

  • We are simultaneously Ultra-Conservative.
    Those things we hypothesize we presume must be self-consistent with what is already known, accepted, and applied. We build on the shoulders of giants and the knowledge that came before us. If it is not consistent, then we pursue “Why Not?” until we can get it resolved. Occasionally, this calls into question assumptions about what we “know” or thought we “knew,” and this sparks (passionate) debate. More rarely this leads to what we call a paradigm shift (TS Kuhn), the need for an entirely new and different understanding. The shift from Aristotelian to Newtonian mechanics, then to quantum mechanics are two primary examples. Another shift, still under great debate, are Keynesian economic principles.

The bottom line is, we are not “either/or.”

We must be “and/and,” and any debate stirs us to pursue our “missing information.”

So, I suppose this makes me a Conserviberal. And upon occasion a Liberative. And vice-versa.

But I don’t have a position, like “squarely in the middle,” or “middle of the bird” (neither left wing nor right wing; thank you Pat Paulson).

I adhere to a process: hypothesize, test, verify. Validate the outcomes and then hold myself accountable to them. The process generally keeps me from venturing to the extremes.

It also forces me to recognize that there can be aspects in the extremes that have a certain validity.

We really have to move back to the middle, the higher ground from which you should be able to see both extremes. And use relationships to debate achievable outcomes, and then together DO something that achieves them.

There is an old adage that goes:

Those who can, do;
Those who can’t, teach.

Unfortunately, I have always had the (observationally supportable) idea that this adage is not only wrong (teaching is what raises up doers), but also incomplete. There is, once again, “missing information.” I suggest it should be completed by adding the following:

Those who can’t teach, administer; and
Those who can’t administer, go into politics.

What we need to accomplish is to move the people in the last category up into the first category. Or demand that “first category” people be elected.

There’s a lot a stake in this. Consider one of my earlier analogies, the ice hockey player who keeps his head down focusing on the puck so intently that he eventually skates off the rink, under the bleachers, and is pinned under the Zamboni. Only now it’s politicians on skates, not with a party platform on the stick, but the health and future of society, cultures, and a nation, if not a civilization.

Posted in 06: Incomplete Information, 07: Getting It, 16: Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perfect Storms – 1

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana

I would really like to add, “and fail to learn from it”, but I strongly suspect that was Santayana’s point. Which would explain why his observation fits so many people, especially leaders, because they didn’t and still don’t “get it” – “get” that ongoing learning from mistakes was supposed to be built into life.

(The quote seemed like a good way to begin this series of short posts, but in afterthought, it appears to be yet another confirmation of Fundamental Principles that wasn’t in the list that drove these posts in the first place (in this case, Nos. 7 & 8, see below). This, I think, must be yet another confirmation.)

For clarity, flow and neatness, I’ll refer to them as FPs and link them at the end.

Confirmations

We are in a challenging season, again. This time, besides a very stressful and unusual election, we are awaiting the slowly developing outcomes of Brexit (Britain voting to leave the European Union), Russia flexing its muscles in Europe and the Middle East (and in the DNC servers), and in differing subcultural perceptions leading to flare-ups in the US.

Rather than delve too deeply into each of these at this time, I propose merely to reference various developing (or media reported) perspectives of certain events that show confirmations of a number of Fundamental Principles of behavior that appear in various forms as connected threads (the warp and weft) in this blog.

The point in all of these is that we ought to be learning something everyday by observing (and remembering) our own past behaviors and their consequences, whether these be individual, familial, tribal, organizational, subcultural, or national, because of the realities of FPs14k & 16d.

Brexit

“Britons care more about controlling immigration than keeping access to the European single market, a survey shows today, validating Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy of prioritizing border controls as she negotiates Brexit.” (Bloomberg Brexit Bulletin, October 25th).

This is the tip of a big iceberg, and most of the iceberg is below the surface.

Part of this is Britain’s unique, residual, sustainable, and rather arrogant but charming-in-a-way cultural view of itself: “Fog Closes Channel. Continent Cut Off” was allegedly a newspaper headline (which apparently it wasn’t) that lives on as “just the sort of story that is invented by an Englishman and told by Englishmen to amuse other Englishmen” (The Times). In other words, this is a very good example of FP16 (the British cultural view of themselves). This is as much the side of culture that defines “Who We Are” as the flip side that defines “Who Is NOT One of Us.”  But lest we forget, both sides of that culture coin carry a dollop of arrogance.  Some dollops are just bigger and different than others (i.e., France, Britain, Russia, and of course the US).

Another part of the iceberg is fear based on the lack of good information (FP6) about immigrants, why they are coming in and what they can bring (FP2), and therefore fear that they will “take” more than they can “add.” In a struggling economy, a falling tide reveals rocks and shoals that draw attention, whereas in a healthy economy the tide can float all boats. It’s just that a falling tide in a storm is even worse. As with the US, immigrants contribute more than they take and do jobs that typical people wouldn’t consider (and therefore wouldn’t get done). These viewpoints are choosing to look at the situation as a Negative Sum Game (FP4b) rather than finding the Positive Sum Game tactics (FP4c).

The whole developing Brexit situation reflects Culture16a, how people think, express and propagate what they value; the Conservation of Values13, where (cultural) Self has regained top priority; and the Conservation of Behavior14, where a small promotion of Self over other Values drives a much more significant negative change in behavior.

Of course, applying Santayana’s revelation would mean recognizing the reappearance of particular behaviors, recognizing the reappearance of inevitable consequences, and choosing a modified behavioral approach that leads to more positive outcomes. But that would be too challenging.  Like moving from “either/or” thinking to “and/and” thinking.

Seeing where this is leading, I think it best to break the rest of these examples up into more bit-sized pieces.

Next: Cold War 2.0

Fundamental Principles

2: Value Added
4b
: The Negative Sum Game
4c
: The Positive Sum Game
6
: Missing Information
7
: “Getting” it
8: Learning something new everyday
13: Conservation of Values
14: Conservation of Behavior
14k: Behavioral Continuity (from individual to family to tribe to organization to nation)
16a: Culture & how we think
16d
: Cultural Continuity

Posted in 02: Value Added, A Definition, 04: Games People Play, 06: Incomplete Information, 07: Getting It, 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, Lessons from History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Imperfection is Everything (Guest Post)

“When you’re dealt lemons in life, make lemonade” – Said by way too many people to count.

I think I’ve passed a tipping point. No, not the tangible reality of another birthday, but that intangible feeling that something just happened. That it is now time to leave Fundamental Principles behind, for the most part, and time to pay attention to Confirmations.

This is probably why it has been taking so much effort to compose the next posts on my To-Write list, and so much easier to react with a sense of Fundamental Principle déjà vu with regards to the current events and current information (even well filtered) that are thrust upon us.

This guest post is one of those reminders that other people are seeing many of the same Fundamental Principles in life and expressing them in a wonderfully perceptive and unique way. The author is again @JessicaHagy (an earlier guest post from her is here). I discovered her thoughts and drawings (or ‘graphs and charts,’ in her words) only after I had made some attempts to add my own hand drawn ‘pictorial’ enhancements to my posts. Hers are better. I think of her as ‘colleague.’ We’ve exchanged two tweets.

Here are Jessica’s thoughts, originally posted on Forbes. Keep an eye out for evidence of Fundamental Principles:

Imperfection Is Everything (#LifeHacks)

Perfection is a lie. It’s an idea without an example, an unreachable goal. Perfection leaves no room for priorities, no space for humanness, no time for joy. Striving for it leads to breakdowns, burning out, eating disorders and self-hatred. The pursuit of perfection is a Sisyphean task. It is unrewarding, frustrating, and worst of all: entirely subjective. Perfection looks different and means different things to everyone.

entry-103-jhagy-1

As long as you strive to be perfect, you will feel like you are not enough. You will feel inferior, and weak, and impossible, and hopeless. Perfection is a cruel, unreachable goal. You are not perfect. You never will be. No one will. Your work will never be perfect. Your face, your home, your relationships, your tastes, your tone, your thoughts: imperfect, all of it, always and forever. And yet: you are beautiful and impressive and tragic and charming and silly and broken and fascinating: imperfect and wonderful, in your entirety.

entry-103-jhagy-2

Unlike perfection, you can work with what’s imperfect, you can work to make imperfect ideas better, you can change imperfect objects, you can relate to imperfect people. Imperfection is opportunity. It’s workable, ownable, and worthwhile. Perfection is photoshop. It’s fakery. It’s unrealistic. It’s a refusal to accept complexity and reality. There are no perfect mothers, bosses, workers, victims, athletes, thinkers, or leaders. There are no perfect people.

entry-103-jhagy-3

Imperfection is reality. Perfection is fiction. Forget being perfect. Work instead with what’s real, with what’s important. Otherwise, you’ll only become perfectly miserable.

Did you sense any presence, any Confirmations of Fundamental Principles? I spotted Fundamental Principle 15, Absolutely Everybody Has Baggage, Fundamental Principle 14, Attitudes become Behaviors by Choice (Success comes to those who, when dealt crises and difficulties, look to find the opportunities), Fundamental Principle 8, We choose to learn something new every day, and Fundamental Principle 9, What you DO is even more important. There may be more.

Originally posted on Women@Forbes, it is uncanny how applicable Jessica’s perceptions are to men also. Basically, I think, applicable to our human nature in any circumstances.

Somewhat more subtle, on the other hand, is the realization that if we once wrestle with and overcome our own baggage, we then have the opportunity, nay the obligation to prevent this baggage accumulation in our children through our improved (but still imperfect) parenting. Better a young child learn a healthy reality from a parent they must interact with, than take a chance they might just stumble upon a blog post later in life. After all, the ability to deal with life’s later challenging External Forces begins with learning to deal early on with our own Internal Forces.

Perhaps even more subtle, if one thinks about it, is if management in our organizations didn’t so often see weaknesses and faults in their reports as obstacles to overcome to reach goals and objectives, but as opportunities to encourage employee self-development and increased engagement so that goals and objectives would follow.

Hmmm, there’s another one: Fundamental Principle 14k, Behavioral Continuity, the proverbial domino effects of behavior.

With that, I’ll head back to my RSS feed. No doubt, given today’s world, more Confirmations are to come.

Posted in 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 09: Doing, 14: Behavior, 15: Baggage, The Fundamental Principles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

James and the Giant Peach

“There is also a third kind of madness, which is possession by the Muses” – Plato, Phaedo

I think I’ve detected my Muse. Or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.  Most certainly, I’ve discovered what (s)he is trying to do.

This all started when one of my friends, who was also a reader of this blog, shared honestly with me that she had stopped reading it (the blog) as “it’s too negative, and in my line of work (organizational coaching), I must remain positive all the time or I can’t be effective.”

This I pondered (amongst other reactions) and, being a critical realist, composed what I thought was a valid response (read: rational justification) and posted it here.

But it did still bug me. Just a little. I wasn’t sure the response I had posted was adequately sufficient.

Then this week I came across an article with a very appealing lead-in graphic drawing and a very catchy lead-in:

Roald Dahl was an unpleasant man who wrote macabre books – and yet children around the world adore them.

I didn’t recognize the name, but I took the bait and I clicked on “The Dark Side of Roald Dahl.”

The opening paragraph read:

“Once upon a time a small orphan was packed off to live with his aunts. They were a sadistic pair, these sisters, and rather than console and nurture they abused and enslaved him, bullying, beating and half-starving him. But he got his revenge, literally crushing them as he finally escaped, bound for adventure and a better life. It doesn’t sound much like the set-up of a bestselling children’s book, but what if I told you that the boy’s getaway vehicle was a gargantuan fuzzy-skinned fruit?”

entry-102-james-and-giant-peach

I immediately had three reactions:

  • First, I realized that this must be James and the Giant Peach.
  • Then I realized that I thought this was one of my middle son’s favorite books when he was growing up, and I hadn’t ever read it!
  • And finally I thought: My God, what did I do to my son!?

Predicated on my long standing belief that if one screws up in private you can sincerely apologize in private, but if you screw up in public you should apologize to the same people in public, I sat down in a 35-year delayed fit of panic and emailed him:

So, I’m thinking, we should have been a bit more diligent in screening some of those children’s books you were so fond of …

Another of my apparent failings.  While you don’t seem to have suffered as far as we can see, I trust you’re in a constant forgiving mood…

Yours in belated love,

Opa

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160912-the-dark-side-of-roald-dahl?ocid=global_culture_rss

He graciously and immediately emailed me back (after reading the article):

I don’t think these were failings – I do like the tidbit mentioned in the article – the books do show darkness and the macabre, but in a way that shows they are surmountable and how to get past them.  Good tools for children.

But, I’m glad you never introduced me to the author – he sounds like quite the bad influence.  ;-)

Love,

Jeremy

Whew! Off the hook! Parentally speaking, that is.

On the other hand, exactly what was the appeal of Dahl’s books to children?

Two comments in the article (including the tidbit mentioned by my son) helped provide an answer.

“Children love disgusting stories”, Nikolajeva says. The revolting serves “an important cognitive-affective function: we know it’s disgusting, and the knowledge makes us superior. It’s healthy. But it must be disgusting in combination with humour.”

and,

“As child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim explained in his seminal study, The Uses of Enchantment, the macabre in children’s literature serves an important cathartic function. ‘Without such fantasies, the child fails to get to know his monster better, nor is he given suggestions as to how he may gain mastery over it. As a result, the child remains helpless with his worst anxieties – much more so than if he had been told fairy tales which give these anxieties form and body and also show ways to overcome these monsters.’ ”

Looking back, The Three Little Pigs, Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Wizard of Oz, and Maurice Sendak, all of these eventually disposed of the villain in a “politically incorrect” way.

And the light bulb went on.

I’m not telling fairy tales. I think they are more critical perspectives on life’s realities (i.e., adult tales). Face it, There Be Monsters Out There!  Occasionally.  Why shouldn’t there be the not-so-macabre, not-so-disgusting but transparent description of some of the obstacles, potholes, and a**holes one meets along the way. With a bit of humor, of course (see above – humor helps us remember better). All with a purpose of accepting that they’re there, recognizing them earlier, recognizing they’re not as huge as anticipated, and seeing they can be overcome.  We do need road signs once in a while and to be aware of our blind spots, right?

So, I concluded that while I am not an unpleasant man and adults around the world don’t adore my musings, and since I too am James (really!), this blog must be my Giant Peach. Welcome aboard.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments