I was an immigrant, let’s have some empathy

You probably don’t even think of it that way, but I was an immigrant to a foreign country under a student visa/residence permit with the expectation that I would stay in that foreign country for at least 3 years. Things didn’t go as planned, but I was an immigrant. I’ve written some here in the past about those experiences, since I started blogging on this site over 5 years ago when I was still living in the Netherlands.

While I was in Europe I grew up a lot and I experienced things that I would have never experienced in the US. However, before I get into any of this I must preface this post. My experience abroad was easier than most study abroad programs. My courses were in English. I’m an American Citizen. Nearly all government documents along with University documents had English translations. Nearly all Dutch are fluent in English and all my friends spoke English. This made these extremely easy. So easy at times it was easy to forget I was an immigrant.

While living abroad I lived with a group of people I jokingly referred to as a model UN. There were two Colombians, two Pakistanis, a Turk, an Iranian, and a Chinese woman. Everyone had a story to tell me about my homeland that cause them direct personal pain. My Colombian friends told me what it was like growing up in the 80’s and 90’s with the FARC threatening things while the US was running missions in their country. My Pakistani roommates told me about what my country was doing to their country at that time. My Iranian roommate was initially terrified to meet me because I was an American. He assumed that I would hate him because of where he was from.

Learning about the impact of the US political system on every person that I met while living abroad was truly sobering. As an American living in the US we simply do not understand the impact and the weight of the US to the rest of the world. Furthermore, we simply take it as a given fact that this is how the world is and always will be. However, that’s not true. When I first arrived in the Netherlands it was clear there was still ill will towards America for George W. Bush, that was tempered a great deal by Obama, but not all of his policies pleased Europeans, specifically many of the bombings we were doing. I believe that we’re losing even more respect with trump as our President now.

I got the idea for this post because a friend of mine shared a link about a Syrian student at CMU was thinking of transferring outside of the US for his PhD. This hit really close to home because, while I was studying in the Netherlands, my wife was finishing up her PhD and my Grandfather passed away. If I had been unable to go home and return for my studies in the Netherlands because of a ban of travel between the US and the Netherlands I would have seriously reconsidered my decision to even study there. Being away from my wife for the first year and a half of my marriage was incredibly difficult, losing my Grandfather was heart wrenching, the mere thought of not being able to go home for his funeral is completely unimaginable. As it was, my family pulled together and got me back to the States for his funeral, which was extremely touching.

Beyond just the though of never seeing my wife or missing my Grandfather’s funeral, it brings up the moral question of “do I want to live in a society that bans people from my country?” For me, as an immigrant to that country, it’s a clear no. I do not want to live in a society that bans people from my country or any other country for the reasons that trump has outlined. These policies affect people, people that don’t have a true say in that country’s government. If there is a problem with the government it should be treated in an international body rather than attacking the people of the nation. Here’s one example of a person negatively impacted by the ban. He is completely devastated.

As I said in my post yesterday we, America, need to be the shining light on the hill. It is the reason why immigrants chose to come here. I would not come here as an immigrant from any country right now because I would never know when that ban would arbitrarily descend on my country, so that I could never go home to see my loved ones or could never have my loved ones join me.

I’ve been an immigrant, I was lucky that I was able to control when and why I became an immigrant. Not everyone is lucky like me.

“Infighting” in the Democratic Party or Who represents the future of the Dems?

Today, I’ve been seeing a lot of people saying that Bernie supports need to just give up the “Bernie would have won” attitude. I find this exceedingly problematic. First, it’s an opinion and like assholes everyone has one. Second, there is some evidence, based on the polling that Bernie would have crushed Trump. Third, there’s anecdotal evidence of people switching from Bernie to Trump or just stayed home from voting. Finally, this implicitly means that these folks need to just shut up and get back in line with everyone else.

This last point simply pisses me off. I’ve always had something of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to authority or the status quo. I get really pissed off when people talk about how these giant cities are god’s gift to man, when the smaller cities i’ve lived in are amazing places in their own right. Places that have a lot of character and the difference of perspective is important. I wrote about this irritation in my article right after the election.

The Democratic party needs this discussion, this in fighting. There can and should be general alignment over general resistance to Trump. The policies that are proposed to counter their proposals can and should have serious discussion about what the future should be. The reason why people bring up the primary and that Bernie would have won, is that they support his policy positions and believes that these positions should be the dominant theme when challenging the Republican run Government. The idea being that Clinton’s ideas are a continuation of the status quo, the status quo that lost and lost badly in the electoral college – which is the only vote that matters right now.

Bernie and Clinton represent two different potential futures for the Democratic party, we need to look at it that way. I believe under the Bush years, the Democratic party essentially was the Party of Clinton, which really was a centrist party that was easily pulled to the right. During the Obama administration this held true as well, where the Democrats tried to pull the country a little left, but stayed towards the center in hopes of getting something through. Which resulted in a great deal of center right policies simply through obstructionism.

Now, if the Democratic party wants to learn from the Republican party, rather than working to meet with them half way, which will ultimately pull them to the right, again. They need to start with a stated position which is significantly farther left than what they might be when they are in power. This would mean that when the policy finally gets approved, that it’ll be much more centrist. Furthermore, most of those policies would help the people that need it the most, that ended up voting for Trump, because they believed he would help him.

The fight over Bernie v. Clinton is a battle over the heart and soul of the Democratic party. If you aren’t willing to talk with the people that are saying that Bernie and thus his ideals could have beaten Trump, then you aren’t willing to listen at all and should not be in a position of power in the Democratic party. The party needs to be inclusive of radically different views, take advantage of that diversity and use it as a way to drive change in Washington to help everyone.

Effective Tools for Managing Trump

I’m reading the book Messy The Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives right now. The author is a economist that looks at some pretty interesting topics, I enjoyed his book about failure and how failing typically leads to better results later in life for people that have tired a venture and failed, compared to those ventures that kind of limp along as zombies.

In this book, which to some extent is a natural extension of the failing book, Tim Harford discusses how a lack of a fully formed plan can actually result in significantly better results. However, this isn’t universal and cannot be applied in every circumstance. It’s important to note that, but he outlines some pretty clear ways that this approach works extremely successfully. Ultimately, I think he shows that strong planning that meshes with flexibility and allows for both improvisation and innovation works the best.

He describes Rommel’s campaign in Africa during WWII as one of the best examples of how this can be successful. Rommel, basically went from battle to battle continually pressing in using controlled chaos to dominate the British.

This is something called the OODA loop, Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – which is a rapid response approach to dealing with a chaotic situation. You have to observe to understand what’s happening, orient your plan to take advantage of the situation, decide your course of action, and then act on that. The faster and shorter you can make this loop the more you can keep your opponents on their heels.

Trump’s campaign, the book is rather new, is another case in point where continually pressing attacks and not looking back can be effective. He was very successful in attacking Rubio for his robotic responses, attacking Jeb Bush for just about anything while using these attacks as a way to keep himself front and center on the news. The media had no idea how to deal with him, because it requires a lot of people to produce content and planning from senior leadership to manage what should be included in a given segment.

The groups that were able to handle Trump the best were smaller organizations with more flexibility like The Intercept and contributing writers like the Young Turks, and Shaun King. These people were able to be much more nimble and respond because they either had editorial freedom, or could push out an article on a daily basis without much need of oversight.

These are the same people that draw the most criticism from the central planners, similar to Rommel, in the DNC and Establishment Democrats. DNC wants to manage the resistance and plan how they are to address the Trump issue complete. This is doomed for failure the same reason the Jeb failed. It’s too reactionary and cares too much about it’s own “Optics.”

To truly combat Trump, you must use similar tactics, continually pressing attacks. Continually keeping him on his heels, force him to jump from one thing to another, without really being able to focus on anything of actual import. The next step is to completely tie the republican establishment to Trump in every article and work to ensure that they are also back on their heels reacting to Trumps reaction.

These attacks must, of course, be factual and use a policy informed with stories of people to counteract Trump. The Repeal of Obamacare is the best place to use this tactic as there’s a lot of misinformation about it and there’s a lot success stories. However, playing the victim card won’t work here, because Trump loves victims and he thrives when people feel victimized.

So, I’m going to start blogging more about these sorts of topics and trying to use this approach to engage the other side to see what happens. Could be terrifying, but it’s something that must be done.

An Election Reflection

I’ve been pretty disappointed with the entire election process this go around. I haven’t blogged at all during it because I’ve been so disheartened by all the candidates excepting Bernie Sanders. I felt betrayed by the Democratic party, which I even decided to join, shedding my proud independent classification to actually vote in the primary. He struck a cord with me that I think a lot of people that have lost their jobs and had hard times could relate to. Apparently, some people felt that with him out of the race the next logical person was Trump. He was speaking to the same people.

One thing that we have to keep in mind about this, and if you travel around the US you’ll see this, is that most of America is really suffering. I used to drive between Austin and Santa Fe, New Mexico on a really regular basis. This was a super depressing drive. There were entire towns that were essentially abandoned. Boarded up homes, empty shops with shattered windows, and rusted out cars on the side of the road. It was depressing. With my current job, I frequently travel to other cities for work. Most of these cities have a lot of money, but every time I’ve had to go near the part of the town that’s really depressed. That is hurting, that needs saving.

These are the people that voted for Trump. The people that have no hope. My home town most certainly went to Trump, the county did as well. Except for a few areas that part of the country is pretty depressed. In a small town like Grove City, there are only one or two major suppliers of jobs and if one of them closes down due to a loss of contract or moving a plant somewhere else, the entire town and surrounding area will suffer. Trump’s goal is to make it more difficult for that to happen.

States like PA were hit super hard by the shifting of economics away from manufacturing in the United States. Yes we’re still one of the largest manufactures in the world, but at most of those facilities, they are heavily automated and the jobs that require more and more skills are fewer and fewer. For example, in a semiconductor fab, there are two types, fully autonomous where the only labor are engineers or equipment maintenance people or manually loaded fabs, where you toss in a handful of operators to load the tools. The goal of every fab out there is to drive down the cost of the operators loading the tools but using systems that will do their thinking for them.

This is just business. This is only going to get worse over the next 5-10 years. In fact, news outlets are already calling that automation is going to prevent Trump from meeting his job goals, even if he pulls back large amounts of manufacturing to the US. Elon Musk is calling for a Universal Income because automation is going to take our jobs. It’s not just going to be low paying jobs, this is going to move up the food chain and will probably take out jobs like Paralegals, reduce the number of doctors, etc.

This is why Trump won. The folks that voted for him voted for him in spite of everything else he stood for. They were able to look past that because he was promising them something that Clinton couldn’t. He selling them the idea of real job creation. He was telling them that his business experience would translate to getting the best deal for US workers, because he’d done it before. This is what they heard. Even when presented with (faked) behavior worse than “Grab them by the Pussy” his supporters looked past it (Clinton supports did the same).

What we need to do now is to organize. Create long lasting groups that will change the way the US does politics. This needs to start at the local level and move up to the larger stages. It will take time. The first step to righting many issues within the country is to get rid of various forms of Gerrymandering and eliminate corruption through campaign finance reform. I believe this has to be the first place to start, because as Trump says, you can buy access to any politician if you give them money.

You’re Going to Hate the Next President

I think we all need to just admit that there will be policies that the next US President will implement that we will hate. It doesn’t matter if you support a Republican or Democrat candidate. You may even like some of their policies, but you’ll probably hate a handful and those may define what you really think about that President.

In my case I was an Obama supporter. I think overall, he’s done a pretty good job, but I hate his Mid-East policies, many which Clinton was the architect. I also hate his current stance on encryption, because I think it’s incredibly short sighted.I think we need our leaders to be long in vision, because it’s impossible to know who is going to be sitting in that chair when they finish. This is exactly the case we’re seeing with people incredibly alarmed about the policies that Obama has implemented in Donald Trump’s hands.

Techdirt raised this issue a few days ago in an article called “Abuse Of Power: Laws Should Be Designed As If The People We Distrust The Most Are In Power“. In the simplest terms the author calls for all laws to be written as if the people in charge right now expect to be replaced with people that are the polar opposites of them. In our current political climate that would be the conservatives being replaced as soon as they finish their terms with the most liberal democrats conceivable.

This is essentially how the Bill of Rights were written. Basically, the framers had a clear understanding of what the worst tyrannical  rulers in the world do to their subjects. Consequently, they could immediately imaging what would happen if that person became the ruler of the United States, but still bound by the laws of the new constitution. In that case, they could see that the tyrant would be constrained by these laws in such a way as that they would be “comfortable” with them leading the country.

In our case, we have continually eroded the defenses in the Bill of Rights over the past 200 plus years. So now, we have many policies that a great deal of Americans don’t really trust either political party with the powers they’ve been entrusted with. This is further complicated by the fact that our intelligence agencies don’t magically realign with the wishes of a new elected official. Similar to any entity, they continue to pursue their overarching objective and changes in those behaviors require massive changes. In the case of the NSA/CIA it may require changes in laws restricting them from behaving in certain ways with very serious repercussions to those that don’t change their behavior.

As a result, Techdirt is correct. We need to develop our policies with the assumption that “the other” is going to be in charge at some point in our lifetime. The group that we don’t ever want to be in power, will be. We have to admit that. To ensure that they are never able to abuse fellow Americans is to ensure that we do not ever abuse Americans nor other international actors. This then must be codified into law, thus when the most unsavory candidate you can image has a solid chance of winning an election, they will not have powers that we would abhor in their hands. That’s what we need to be thinking about.

Passions

During Thanksgiving it’s a time for food, family, and watching copious amounts of TV and movies. This year those movies included “Somm” which is a movie about 4 guys trying to take the Master Sommelier test. Which apparently only about 12% pass each year. Not a super low amount, but also not an easy exam in any way shape or form. It got me thinking about if I could become a Somm (as they are called in the business according to the movie). I think that I do have the right kind of mind for the job, remember flavors of wines the history of region of wine and all of that is right up my alley. I know that, because that’s what I used to do with beer. I used to be able to rattle of several types of beers that if you liked one kind or style that might push your boundaries and give some of the reasoning behind it. I was able to explain why a beer tasted the way it did, etc… That was something I loved and was really passionate about. However, wine just doesn’t hold the same level of interest to me. I don’t know if it’s because beer feels much more close to home, my friends drank beer and avoided wine or what it is. Even now that I cannot drink beer I still haven’t really replaced it with a beverage I’m passionate about. I drink both wine and cider, but I don’t feel a deep down passion for them. Likewise I don’t think I could do that with whiskey, even though I really enjoy drinking whiskey, it just hasn’t captured my imagination as a GREAT drink that I want to learn everything about.

More broadly, the movie has had me thinking about what I’m truly passionate about. I know that a great deal of my interests are reflections of what my friends are interested in. If I’m surrounded by people that love watching football, I’ll watch a lot more football, similarly for college basketball or hockey. I enjoy the games when I watch them, but I rarely will seek them out on my own. I think this is something that is driving my wife crazy, I simply don’t have a lot of things that I’m passionate about that I’ll invest a huge amount of time into. It’s frustrating for me too. I think that is probably the hardest thing about me being Gluten Free I’ve really lost a great passion of mine.

I think many people will agree that I’m passionate about certain things in our political system. I’m all about free speech, investing in science and technology to grow and enable our economy. But I’m also not 100% all in. I’ve been thinking about how to get involved and in what way I’d do this. Ideally, I’d work at a think tank, but there aren’t many around Portland and many of them are either left wing or right wing. I think on many topics I’m a moderate, so neither party truly inspires much confidence.

I’m also passionate about making people’s lives better at work, but I’m not really getting much support at my organization and I’m getting beaten down. It’s one of the most frustrating things you can deal with on a daily basis, knowing there’s a better way to do things, walking your leaders to the kool-aid, but seeing them spit it out and start drinking from the mud instead.

So this leaves in an odd position. The things I’m passionate for I can’t really follow through, which makes me ask What do I have passion for, what should I try to be doing to find things I could become passionate about, how should I act on the topics I do have passion for? I know that there’s something more out there that I could or should be doing, but i have no idea how to get there.

What can Interstellar Teach us about the tragedy of the Commons? (spoilers)

This post will contains some minor spoilers for the movie Interstellar. If you don’t want to read any spoilers, then stop reading now.

The tragedy of the commons represents a common good that without proper communication and planning can be destroyed through maximizing an individual’s utility. What does that mean? Well, a group of ranchers are sharing a field. One of them decides to make some additional money by buying, just ONE more head of cattle. He lets it eat in the grass that everyone else is sharing. No negative impact happens, the farmers discuss the number of cattle, which they had all agreed upon beforehand to be a set number. Since he increased his, everyone else does the same, eventually the land will not be able to sustain all the extra head of cattle, and the next year cattle start to die of starvation. Creating a crash in the economy.

According to Stephen Gardiner climate change represents a tragedy of the commons. However, instead of the ranchers, we have our great grand parent’s decision impacting our climate today. Climate change effectively started during the Industrial Revolution and our actions will be impacting future generations. Since the future generation does not have a voice in the conversation, it’s hard for us to put off current needs for future needs. This is further exasperated by the fact that we cannot even work to improve conditions for our own children, let alone some faceless grand child or great grandchild down the road.

Interstellar offers a glimpse into why this is so difficult. First, there’s clearly gaps in education, Interstellar points this out through exaggerating what a lot of school boards are currently doing, they go to the extreme to say that the Apollo missions are faked as a propaganda tool to destroy the Soviet Union. Second, Matthew McConaughey is one of the few forward thinking individuals, but he knows that we are continually leaving worse and worse conditions for our children, as a farmer he can see how poorly we’re fighting the blight that is killing our crops. Third, the time dilation he experiences being close to a blackhole allows him, while he’s still young, to see the full effects of his generations decisions on his children. He’s fully impotent to do anything about it, but he knows that the choices they made have fully doomed his children. Finally and I think most impactful, is the scene where Murph dies. He sees his grand children and great grand children and doesn’t even acknowledge them. He did everything he could for Murph but had no interest in seeing how all of this impacted his’s child’s children. Furthermore, Murph didn’t seem to want him to try to bridge that divide. Rather than try to build a relationship with the world as it was she pushed him to reunite with a crewmate that came from the same “world” as him.

All of these indicate that we have a serious tragedy of the commons problem. That education is required to even have a hope to combat the tragedy of the commons for climate change. That we must figure out a way to see past the here and now and create a seriously forward looking plan. That we cannot simply rely on a few forward thinking people because even they are limited in how much they can look to the future.

This is a serious concern because we now have a leader on the environmental committee in the US congress that doesn’t accept the evidence presented by scientists. Furthermore, the fact that lawmakers aren’t scientists seems to excuse them from understanding what people are saying about climate change.

We cannot expect some “they” to come and allow us to rescue ourselves with “their” help. We have to figure this out on our own. We’re failing miserably right now.

Another book that does a good job outlining these intergernational problems is the Forever War.