Bush League, Bigly

I first heard the term “bush league” while playing in our street hockey league. CMac was in net and got pushed out of the crease by one of the other team’s offense, and then they scored. The ref was a little green and didn’t call it. We were all pissed and that’s when CMac told them, “Guys come on, that was total bush league.”

Everyone wants to watch a competition that plays out between competitors with honor. You don’t punch low, chop block or blind hit a skater in the neutral zone. But recently, somehow it became ok to play only to win in political competition. Win for the sake of winning, regardless of how you do it, without honor. Ted Cruz, a supposed man of principle, fawning over the person who insulted his wife and father. Mitch McConell and the Merrick Garland nomination while green lighting Amy Coney Barrett. Lyndsey “hold the tape” Graham. Anyone who criticized Obama for executive orders but salutes Trump’s useless paperwork. The threats about Biden’s cabinet appointments but ok with Rex Tillerson, Ben Carson and Ryan Zinke? Trump’s fanning the flames of any conspiracy theory just in case random anecdotes later help him sew distrust of whatever criticizes him. Like anyone in government who disagrees and then gets angry tweeted resulting in death threats from the lemmings that blindly follow @RealDonaldTrump. Are we still two weeks and sitting in a bigger swamp away from this alleged health care plan that defies the laws of economics? 306 is a “landslide” called by the press at 2am in 2016, but now the flipside is “fraud”?

Yes these moves are playing within the technical rules, but that doesn’t make it right. It will alienate the future generations of potential Republicans. No one wants to play for THAT team.

The reason we call it political “sport” is because we want a level playing field like the sports we turn to for entertainment. A fair game offers anyone an equal shot, your skill governs success, not the skill of your lawyer. It’s why perpetuating systems that promote racist results are abhorrent even if they are ‘legal’. It’s why it is wrong to call a woman “bossy” when a man would be labeled “assertive” or a “she’s a bitch” when he is “strong.” It’s why we called out Obama when he supported Louis Farrakhan and yet the GOP doesn’t flinch when the POTUS recognizes that there are “very fine people” for chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

The bible uses the word “zachor” or “remember” over 200 times. Remember the Sabbath. Remember the covenant with God. Remember the exodus from Egypt. We should remember when people say that you should “grab them by the pussy” when you are attracted to someone even if “she was married”. We remember these things because they are important. We remember when teams win on a technicality, when someone manipulates the rules to win, despite being the worse team. We remember.

Years ago our Ultimate frisbee team made it to the playoffs and was playing against a very tough team. One of our players, “T”, made one of his patented amazing diving catches for a score over his defender. He jumped up, spiked the disk and did a dance. In the moment we thought it was funny. But it was inappropriate and he almost instantly felt bad, reminding us that’s not how we play the game. On the next play, he sought out the competitor, apologized, shook his hand and noted that it was wrong. He did the same at the end of the game. He made amends for getting swept up in the moment. While that one action was disrespectful, he made up for it by being humble. I would go to battle with that guy any day. I remember his honor.

I’m not sure what is going to happen with the GOP over the next few years. I hope we find our way back to the ideals of Conservatism that argue ideas and principles rather than cultivating hate and trickery just so “We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning.” That’s not winning. That’s not leading. That’s not making the world better with better ideas. That’s braggadocio, and it punctuates the fact that nothing was actually accomplished other than leaving 250k people “dying in the streets” because you never really understood healthcare.

People get caught up in the moment of competition. Emotions run hot. You do things in the moment even though we know they are wrong. That’s ok. The strength of humanity is the ability to control the reptile mind and remember what we did, evaluate it and correct ourselves. I can’t quite understand the person that hears the Trump dog whistle of hate and thinks that their own frustrations with the world are represented by that overt contempt for human decency. But I know there are many in these 70 million Americans that truly aren’t so easily swept up by the conman. Where did your morals go when your ears perked up and the adrenaline spiked? Is it time for some introspection?

I remember my friend “T” and his begging forgiveness for a momentary lack of humility. I was proud that our team showed that composure. I love Ultimate because it is a game of honor where we call our own fouls. We sometimes call ourselves for borderline fouls just to make sure the opponent feels we are playing fair. “Spirit of the game.” I hope that the last 4 years were just a momentary lack of judgment and morality. If you were one of those people, that’s ok. Take some time and think back on what you agreed was a good course of action in the moment and then decide if & how you want to make amends. Does anyone really want a child separated from their parent fleeing oppression when that is exactly why the Pilgrims sought out the New World? If you still think that’s ok, no problem. I remember. Many will remember. There may be a point where this party no longer represents a Conservatism that is dear to my soul. I hope that never happens, I hope we come back to normalcy.

But if we don’t, I remember. And I would much rather play for the team with honor, even if it means I lose a few calls or even games. When I meet my maker, I will be proud of how I played the game. Would you?

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Character Matters

Trump isn’t responsible for Covid. Neither is China. Nature is responsible. No matter what China or the US or the world did, some gene was going to randomly mutate and ravage humanity. Evolution is inevitable.

But Trump IS responsible for our response or lack thereof. On any measure, it has been a colossal failure. Comparing your success to what would have happened if you had done nothing, is an admission of failure. If you suck so bad that the only thing worse is doing absolutely nothing, then you prove the point that you are nearly worthless. Every time Trump compares our current outrageous death count to how many people would have died if he had done nothing…yeah think about that for a second.

Every president will face an unknown challenge. Unknown unknowns. The mark of a leader is how they might handle a no win scenario. It’s why all Starfleet captains face the Kobayashi Maru. You can’t ask their plan for something unknown, you assess their potential response in the face of uncertainty. Trump has shown that his character is woefully lacking to lead the country. Bob Woodward’s book makes the point about trust abundantly clear. Trump admitted to always minimizing bad and exaggerating good. That’s what marketing people do and why no one believes the claims they hear in a tv commercial. Yet somehow people believe Trump when he tweets and says those same ridiculous claims? 9 out of 10 skin care professionals think that Trump’s makeup use has turned him permanently orange.

If Trump took the Kobayashi Maru he would walk off the bridge and start tweeting, “Rigged!” Every challenge we see his same inability to accept responsibility, to learn, to grow, to embrace the complexity. His character is lacking, and when Covid came along and tested it, he failed. Now people are literally “dying in the streets” (the one thing he said his health plan- did he release it yet? – would prevent) and we still don’t have a strategy. You’ve got to Dominate! Meadows- No we are not going to control the virus. Don’t let it control your life. Don’t shut down businesses. But masks are silly. States do what they want. But schools must open up when I say. It’s a complete lack of anything resembling vision and no one should trust anything he says. His leadership is absent.

I just finished reading Colin Powell’s book. It Worked for Me. In it he details needing to negotiate a simple spat between Spanish and Moroccan claims over a tiny island (Perejil) and an ‘invasion’ by Spain. After some back and forth negotiation he finally drafts an agreement between the two sides. But they can’t get the document to Morocco in time for the King to review and sign it. On a phone call, Powell has to convince the King to agree to the terms unseen, to believe that the United States Secretary of State would be trusted to act in Morocco’s best interest. The King’s response, “Mr Secretary, I approve. We Trust America.”

Try for a second to imagine someone actually trusting the word of Donald Trump. We want our leaders to have that kind of gravitas with the rest of the world. Picture a foreign leader agreeing to a deal based on Trump’s word. Impossible. He says “believe me” so often because he constantly has to remind the listener that they should actually listen to what he is saying. Something will again happen in the next 4 years that no one can foresee. Something to test the mettle of this country. That is when we will need a leader with integrity. Do we really want to rely on Trump’s absence of character to act in our best interest after the current disaster?

You can only evaluate a leader in an unknown circumstance by evaluating his/her character. It matters.

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Saying Invictus

If you have been around Crossfit or any military training, no doubt you have heard of the poem Invictus.  It’s not the most elegant poem ever written and I’m sure Dr. Burger would have some more academically critical commentary as to why.  It’s a simple poem with straightforward imagery. I like its simplicity.

About 6-7 years ago I got into a kick to organize my life. It started by formalizing my list system. I have lists for everything, including daily checklists. For the past 4 years I have recited Invictus daily, out loud.  Sure I miss it here and there, but it’s on my checklist, so I’m usually on top of it.  Each day I take a second to think about what part is most meaningful to me and take stock in that feeling. I am no poet nor an expert in creative writing, but I thought it would be interesting to break down each section and how it can relate to my emotional state.

Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

Sometimes there is darkness and despair all around us.  And it feels so immense that it blankets not just us, but covers the whole world (pole to pole).

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.

I don’t know what in this world gives me the confidence, hope and spirit to carry on in spite of the darkness, but I do it anyway. I trust in my strength.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Even when life has me by the neck and I am struggling to break free of the demons, I never let the evil know that it has hurt me.  I keep my pain to myself. Nothing can hold me down.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

It could be bad luck that strikes at us. It causes injury, it leaves a mark, but I keep my head high and face whatever life throws at me.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Yes life is hard, everything we do is effort and struggle. Embrace the suck..

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And what do we have to look forward to? Old age, slowing down, our bodies getting more fragile. “the shade.” I love thinking of slowing down and getting old as something so horrible that I must fight back at it..

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

I know that I am going to keep my mind and body in top shape so that the effects of age will not slow me down. I fear nothing.

It matters not how strait the gate,

It doesn’t matter how crazy of a path we choose in life, or whether we wander in search of the path, we are always moving in the direction of our own life’s purpose.

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

All of the lessons in life, the mistakes we made, the lapses in judgment, they hurt, they cause regret, they make us think and ponder their meanings to always be gaining from them, because…

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.

I control my destiny, and NO ONE can take my spirit.

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It’s Got Potential

Bill Barr and Donald Trump started months ago citing the “potential” for voter fraud with mail-in voting. Since then, the language has changed to indicating that the election will be a “disaster” and mail in voting “will lead” to not being able to trust the election results. Trump is the master of playing telephone with his language over time; it just evolves from something outlandish to becoming a statement of “alternative facts” the basis of which is without rational thought.

The trick is to start with something factual. There absolutely IS potential for fraud in the way he described originally. The Russians or Chinese could send armies of clandestine agents to steal ballots out of mailboxes and vote for us. Sure that is possible and there is a potential future for that outcome. It is also possible that there are alien bodies at Area 51. It’s possible that Trump is actually an Edgar suit ala Men In Black and a cockroach alien has taken over his body. It’s possible that my neighbor is going to bomb my house. Statistically, almost anything you can dream up is “possible.” That is the nature of probability and the inherent uncertainty about the future. Despite our worst fears, it is possible we could elect a failed businessman, reality TV star, misogynist who was recorded advocating for sexually assaulting women. Oops. It’s possible that he could appoint an incompetent purse designer as a senior white house advisor. It’s possible that I am going to win a $350m lottery.

There are lots of things that are possible. Walking around considering them as probable, is a completely different thing. It’s possible that Luxembourg could invade the US and over-run our military. The thing is, that is so improbable, that it would be completely irrational and irresponsible to even consider it. While a military strategist might cite it, they wouldn’t spend time, money, resources or brain cells planning around this scenario.

Intelligent people weight their attention on things that have a high probability. Citing anecdotal evidence of something that happened (a dead person receiving a ballot) as proof of something being probable, is insane. Social Security and Medicare pay billions of dollars of fraudulent claims every year (aka “waste, fraud and abuse”). But those isolated and wholesale improbable anecdotes don’t lead to a statistical pattern necessitating that we cancel the entirety of Social Security and Medicare. You work those fringe problems until they become statistically insignificant. Every election and every single government program has some sort of fraud. But every single study shows that while election fraud is possible, it is improbable. You are more likely to get struck by lightening than have your ballot stolen by a Chinese agent or dumped in the river.

The point here is that a conspiracy theory wacko can dream up anything they want and then tie anecdotal stories together to ‘prove’ that it is possible. If I write a document and hand it to two friends asking them to read aloud, “Donald Trump likes molesting little boys” then I get to say in an interview, without lying, “People say that Donald Trump likes molesting little boys.” That doesn’t make it true. It only intimates that some anecdote reinforces the improbable possibility. If you want to believe it, then you certainly have that right. There is no law against being a completely gullible moron who is so mentally corruptible that you could get suckered into believing anything. Like believing a guy who lost his inheritance and now has to sell mail order steaks is gonna be a great leader of the (already) great America.

I actually don’t have my original birth certificate. I have a notarized photocopy from the Baltimore County government. You could say that it is possible that it is a fake and that I was born in Kenya. Anything is possible. Think about THAT possibility next time you re-share some conspiracy theory crackpot stupidity.

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Referees & Fairness

I don’t know what this football season is going to look like. But I’ve seen hundreds of memes about how bad 2020 is turning out to be. It makes me think that the universe owes us some payback in 2021. Which got me to thinking about what happens when referees make bad calls on the field. There is always an expectation of fairness that at some point they will make an offsetting call for the other team to even things out.

It’s not always exactly equal. A missed PI call on a 45 yard passing play that would have been a touchdown, cannot be balanced by a an overly generous encroachment call on 1st and 10. A player that takes a dive inside the 18 drawing a PK, can’t be offset by a generous yellow card on an open field tackle. Missing the catcher tag the runner as he slides into home, can’t be offset by a larger strike zone the following inning.

We have come to expect fairness. Balance. We know that people make mistakes. You can’t fix something that happened; History can’t be rewritten. But we have come to expect that there will be inevitable balance. That’s what we want in sports. A level playing field that gives every team the opportunity to succeed. If something tilts the balance, we expect it to tilt the opposite way with equivalence.

And so I turn to the recent public discourse about Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, Systemic Racism, the relative inequities in society for people who happen to have skin with a little more color than me. Just before George Floyd’s murder, I started listening to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas. I figured if the President didn’t know who he was, I needed to educate myself. I remember listening to the first chapter and the description of a whipping of a woman. “The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped. And where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream and whip her to make her hush.” I listened to that section and a lot more description about this person’s inhumane treatment of humans. I remember exactly where I was on my run when this part came up. I had to stop the Audible player. I stopped running. I choked up and my heart beat faster than it should for running that pace.

I couldn’t come back to the book for a few weeks. But after George Floyd’s death, I knew that I had to subject myself to the reality of what this country I love, had done and continues to do to its citizens.

I imagine what it must have been like to be a New Orleans Saints fan on Jan 20, 2019. A blown call that seems to have no recourse. Even the defender admitted he did it to save a touchdown in the final two minutes of the game. How could the refs equal that out? It’s a game, not even real life, and we don’t have an answer.

But I can’t possibly imagine what it is like to be Black in America. Racism is still real. I don’t agree with the idea of direct reparations payments because it would seem to only balance the scale for descendants of slaves and not the vast majority of people today that are subject to racism and an unfair playing field because of the color of their skin. I do agree with programs that specifically tilt the scales back in the favor of Blacks who are unfairly burdened with playing the game of life with the debt of 200 years of slavery and continued systemic racism. Low income housing grants, a few years of Affirmative Action and other relatively small programs, don’t seem to even come close to balancing that equation. We need more of them.

In the last minute of the Saints game or even overtime, if the refs tried to offset the missed call by penalizing the Rams, there is almost no scenario that could make the team or fans feel compensated. Let’s say they tried. After Brees is hit and throws the pick, a late flag for something like illegal hands to the face on a D-Lineman is intended to make up for the missed call, giving the Saints the ball back. How would that individual lineman feel for a blown call against him? That moment is not fair. Would it feel fair for the Rams in the totality of the game? Does that call balance the missed PI?

These things never exactly equate. For Black America, this country has made efforts since the 60’s to offset hundreds of years of inequity. But we’re not even close. And sure, at an individual level, some white person might feel that extra funding for an inner city mostly black school or neighborhood might seem a little unfair. But stop for a second and try to envision that program in the larger arc of history. Can you still make that argument? Does it feel ‘right’?

I love sports metaphors and applying them to life. Those of us who enjoy sports know how critical it is to have a level playing field, rules and fairness. We should expect no less in life. We should expect no less from businesses, schools and government. Yes, I think rewarding someone with lesser skills goes against the fabric of competition and basic economic theory that I hold dear. But I will advocate strongly for increased and enhanced education, community programs and spending, small business financing and access to capital to build the skills and economic stature of Black America to get to the point where there never has to be a question about fairness at an individual level.

I don’t like the idea of penalizing players on the field to try to create balance. Nothing is solved in the moment. The solution always works better when it is systemic rather than anecdotal. Like better instant replay. Or in this case, creating systems that enhance a ‘team’s’ ability to play within the rules. Does that seem fair to a team not getting that same benefit right now? Yes. The TEAM is more than the players on the field right now. It takes with it the history of the franchise and all the years of competition by players who came before them. We take that legacy with us. Own it, own up to it. Make it a better legacy for the franchise.

Go Team.

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Yes I Like Musicals

I was watching the Penn & Teller Masterclass on magic and it made me start to think about musicals. Yes musicals.

There are only two musicals that are good. The first is The Blues Brothers. The plot is completely ridiculous but… Cab Calloway, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Ray Charles. Nothing else needs to be said

The second is The Music Man because… Robert Preston. Who was also great in The Last Starfighter (you should see it).

What I love about the Harold Hill character is that he is a total conn man, swindler, grifter and he knows it. To himself he knows he is a cheat. And he uses misdirection like the magicians Penn & Teller to keep people from realizing the breadth of his conn as he steals their money from them while looking them straight in the face.

Along comes Marion Paroo and even though she knows he is a fake, she sees something in him, she convinces him that he is actually doing good for the town. Down deep he actually is a good person, and he is transformed. It’s a happy story of love and a tight knit town that is naïve enough to follow the Pied Piper right off a cliff.

Misdirection is his tool of choice, and when people start to question and challenge what is going on, he points them in other directions. But that immigrant pool table has invaded our town. You got trouble, and it starts with a capital “T” thats for trouble and it starts with Trump. We can all MAGA with the Think System,and just like magic, come April that darn pool table will disappear. It didn’t happen? What’s that, the stock market rides in on The Wells Fargo Wagon. Do you hear it coming?

Hillary’s emails,”Obamagate”, The Invisible Enemy, “I take no responsibility”, Impeachment, Witch Hunt, The Chinese, Democrat Governors, Sanctuary Cities, scientists. All evil, look at THEM. Misdirection while the conn-man steals the town’s money and moves the ball under the cup. What does it say about the town that no Marion the Librarian will speak up. And if one does, they’re personally insulted for being a “RINO” or “LibTard” or “Fake News” or some other version of a distraction to discredit their legitimacy. It’s not magic folks, it’s a trick. You are being conned. You just bought a shiny new horn. We all thought he might ‘transform’ into someone decent. Nope.

And the music keeps playing Beethoven’s Minuet in G, while we stare at the conn-man hearing 76 Trombones.

Ladi dadi dadi dadi da, ladi da, ladi da….

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The 3 Gotcha’s

clinton-lewinskyThe other day I saw something that got me to thinking about “gotcha journalism.” I’ll summarize the definition as I understand it, and I did a few searches that confirm this general sentiment. This is the traditional definition of the term. The idea is that you interview someone and ask a question that you know the answer to, often having proof of that answer. The interviewer baits the interviewee into answering the question with a falsehood to avoid something embarrassing. The interviewer, presupposing that this will happen, waits with proof to discredit the response. It exposes the interviewee as a liar and in a poor light. The practice started in the 80’s and was perfected in the 90’s.

The True Use

The best example would be asking Bill Clinton if he had sex with Monica Lewinsky. As soon as he says “no” he sets himself up for failure. This is a classic scenario and only someone with a supreme ego would think they could get away with it when there is sure to be evidence. Better to avoid or duck the question. The problem is especially acute with a yes or no question. There is evidence. Questions about something one has said when there are recordings are particularly challenging (e.g. Nixon’s tapes).

The Dodge

Recently, the term has been used incorrectly and turned into a ‘get out of jail free’ card to not answer a fair question. Asking about your opinion is not a gotcha question to excuse not answering it, like Scott Walker tried in 2015. It’s also not a gotcha question to avoid a question you don’t like or know, like Sarah Palin tried in 2008 with Katie Couric. Donald-Trump-Coronavirus-Press-Conference-March-29

If you have already said something and then are asked about it, by definition that can’t be a ‘gotcha’ question. The interviewer is asking for clarification, in general, that is what journalists are supposed to do. It is impossible to set a trap because all the evidence already exists in the public sphere.

The other day, the president took this to a whole new level of misuse of the term. He said to Hannity on FoxNews,

I think that a lot of things are being said that are more, I don’t think certain things will materialize, a lot of equipment is being asked for but I don’t think they’ll need.

The following day, Yamiche Alcindor asked,

you’ve said repeatedly that you think that some of the equipment that governors are requesting they don’t actually need. You said New York might not need 30,000-

To which Trump cut her off and replied, “I didn’t say that.” And added later “Get you, get you, and you know what? That’s why nobody trusts the media anymore.”

This is not gotcha journalism. Asking to clarify something you said, is exactly why we trust journalists to do their job and do it well. Hannity should have asked it (if he was a journalist). I for one, wanted more clarity on this one. Being too scared to answer a question about something you already said, doesn’t give you the right to avoid the question and label it as something it is not. The funny thing is that if it actually was a ‘gotcha’ moment, then Alcindor would have (and Trump would know existed) some bit of evidence that proves he was lying or did something unfavorable to his reputation. Now I know, he is too stupid to realize that by using that euphemism, he actually is pointing out that he said something that if he elaborates now, makes him a liar. But that’s no surprise.

Trump’s perpetual misuse of words does a disservice to the country, our language and his supporters. The job of president is to provide leadership (I’ll leave this failure for another time) and then communicate clearly to get the country behind an effort…like Covid19. Not taking questions, labeling them as something they aren’t, is bad communication.

Take the term “Fake News” which is a great example of his perversion. Regardless of who was creating this crap and then sharing it through social channels, a “Fake News” story is literally a made up and false account of something that happened. Harsh, critical or unflattering news, is not “Fake.” Labeling it as fake is a shorthand cheat to allow your supporters to blindly ignore it, but that doesn’t mean it should be excused from examination. Somehow we let this linguistically challenged dotard alter the English language, bigly.

The Context-Challenged

This last one came up the other day. And at first, it suckered me in too. A friend shared this link from a right-leaning ‘news’ site.gotcha image

As I read the article, I thought it might be click-bait and not the real story. But sure enough, it was. And I started to get mad. Come on Cuomo, are you really that dumb that you are publicly asking for something you aren’t even using? You are asking for something you don’t need?

And then I read some other commentary and the critical context-creating 2 missing words made this whole true story, into some new kind of gotcha journalism. “Right Now.” You see, NY is ok on ventilators “right now”, but they know the peak is coming in 2 weeks, so they need to gear up for that effort. This is how you prepare, this is leadership. If the moment comes and you are short ventilators and someone dies because equipment is not in your warehouse; You Failed. I am glad that Cuomo is having the foresight to get his inventory – his logistics – in place before it is needed.

If a platoon sergeant is told the troops are shipping out for a mission in 2 weeks, do you REALLY think he/she isn’t immediately filling out requisition forms for ammunition, transportation, night vision, terrain appropriate rigging, etc? We all know that you go to battle with the Army you have, not the Army you wish you had. But it is the job of the Army to put itself in the best position to win the battle. It is leadership’s job to make sure they have the resources to get that job done when the time comes. You prepare early. You check and double check. Two is one, one is none.

Cuomo doesn’t want to risk that he is going to be late in attaining supplies when there are shortages, so he is getting that equipment early. That is not a one-time event. It will take multiple shipments and requests to pull it all together. Especially when he is competing with other states, as we are woefully low on inventory and the federal government is doing nothing to assist a 50 state uncoordinated effort. Cuomo is doing it right, starting early. Yes he is sitting on equipment for a few days waiting to use it. That is not a gotcha news story. That would be like reporting that our pre-deployed soldier requested ammunition and has extra magazines full of ammunition that he isn’t using… right now. Is that really a gotcha moment?

I’d rather that soldier return home with unused ammo, alive. I’d rather some ventilators sit in storage and NYC citizens of the United States still be alive. I wish the president would focus on what really needs to be done to solve this crisis rather than how many ventilators his troops requested to fight this war. If you want to challenge the request from Cuomo on a 1:1 call, fine. If he has a model that backs it up, shut up and get off the podium and back up your troops. Trust the soldiers that are in the fight.

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Over vs Under Reactions

Corona KidThere are lots of examples of different styles of reacting to situations. We surely have numerous stories from our own lives of over-reacting vs under-reacting, and how things played out over time as we think about the effects of our actions. The same is true of society as a whole and governments.

We over-reacted against Saddam when we thought there were WMD in Iraq. Given what had happened with 9-11 and our complacency to those known threats, this seemed prudent at the time.  If you see a potential threat, attack rather than risk being attacked.  The strategy was sound, though the execution (Paul Bremmer) was flawed.

With Corona we drastically under-reacted.  Trump’s entire life has been a bet and pray strategy.  He bets huge on one of his gut feelings. This might be a hoax, or overblown in its seriousness since the flu is more deadly and we do nothing. And then pray that he is right. He was right that xenophobia, Russian fueled fake news, America-first, Hillary hating misogyny, and a reality TV host was the winning formula for his election. He was also right to close the border to China when this problem flared up (bad execution and follow-up).

Thus far, his bets haven’t had any lasting effect on his finances (4 bankruptcies where he wrote off debt) or his reputation (steaks, schools, a fake charity, airlines, employing illegal immigrants, marrying an illegal immigrant, Taj Mahal, Atlantic City, Putin). But now we are dealing with a bet that affects lives. And if changing life means an effect on the stock market, he pays attention. But only until those around him give him the confirmation bias he needs to go where his gut tells him, He is reactionary to the loudest chicken-little in the room at the time. That is not leadership. And thus it by definition is under-reactionary, since he can never get ahead of a problem. He finds it easy to get ahead of a solution, like goosing a hot economy with tax cuts. A no brainer since the ‘problem’ of our out of control deficit and debt haven’t become a problem for him…yet.

So which is better? Assuming that we could have rebuilt Iraq without disbanding the government, military and the Ba’ath party, that could have worked out well. The homeland has largely been safe from terrorist attack. This seems an expensive, but effective strategy if the objective was to save American civilian lives. Over-reacting actually worked in the way we wanted (security).

The jury is still out on Corona. If the reports that 50% of the UK have the virus already and their death rates are tiny, then my theory that good health and civility/respect for others (quintessential quality of Brits) is definitely a winning strategy for society to isolate enough to stay safe. In which case, under-reacting and caution seem to be the stronger play.

But I think the decision is out of our hands. America is too fat, lazy and stupid to take care and put herself in a position to weather such a storm. We have been bred to be entitled and coddled so that we are weak when it comes to real-world threats, epidemics and pandemics. There is always someone else to handle it for us, and we can pay someone (health care workers, scientists) to solve our problems rather than taking menial steps to universally contribute to the solution (climate change, pollution). For Covid19; vapers, fat diabetics, smokers, drug addicts, McDonalds-cholesterol-infused-heart-disease sufferers, couch addicted Netflix/YouTube/video game shut-ins, party-hardy millennials on spring break in Florida, the out-of-shape elderly, etc present a cohort that is a majority of the population particularly susceptible to this disease. It is stronger than the flu, lasts longer, has no vaccine shot, and requires treatment that we are fundamentally unable to support in the kind of numbers we see in China/Korea/ Italy/Spain.

In general, I am a strong believer in over-reacting. If I hear a noise in the middle of the night, the first thing I do is grab my .45 from the safe and check out the house, inside and out. My personal belief is that Corona is one that needed over-reaction. Government needed to protect us from ourselves and our ego that “If I get Corona, I get Corona” because someone will save me. Isn’t that why I pay taxes?

President Oompa Loompa’s luck might finally run out. But just like everything else he fucks up, he won’t pay the price, we will.

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Being Too Early


There are a number of reasons that companies fail. One of which is being too early. Palm couldn’t get the smartphone to work, same with Blackberry.  Newton is the best example of a tablet that was too early. Chevy Volt. There are many.

Today I learned of my third ‘too early’ idea, to make it big.

  1. In 2006, Joe and Guy built MUT (the Manual Uploader Tool) within Fidelity based on my design for a structured approach to manual data. It was a way to get Excel based data into relational structures so that it could be shared, dimensionalized, standardized, reported and analyzed in a more production stable environment. Joe and I talked all the time of building the same thing outside of Fidelity. We never did. Domo is probably the closest to our approach, did their seed round in 2010 and did rounds of $10M, $100M, $125M in 2011, 2014, 2017 respectively. Granted they took the analytics and integration one step further. Ironically, I heard they have a presence at Fidelity today.
  2.  In 2015 when blockchain started to become a reality, I pitched a Healthcare Transaction Clearninghouse using a public crypto approach to shrink the time for collection and payment of claims and to democratize the data for efficacy research. It was a play to get MM funds to back up book-keeping entries for Fidelity. I originally submitted it through one of those silly idea sourcing internal sites. But I also was able to present at a crypto pitch-athon to the advanced technology team.  I got good feedback, but no action. A year later, this story came out about Capital One doing the same thing. I remember lots of emails that day, including one that admitted they heard my pitch a year earlier and missed the opportunity.
  3. In early 2016, Joe, Sara and, I plus some others within Fidelity, participated in a 2 day hackathon. We mocked up my idea for a social trading platform that would let you invest in stocks recommended by influential people you follow: Minority owned, Women owned, environmentally friendly, etc. I thought it was a great way to do ESG before that acronym became a cliche. I pitched the advanced tech team (nope), multiple senior leaders (cool, go see…) and even the head of brokerage. Who referred me as ‘an interesting idea’ to a marketing person, who quashed it. Today a company out of NY, announced a $15M A-round to build essentially the same thing.

I know that we only reward people who do things, and not just the idea. I have never had resources and so I tried to pitch or build prototypes the best way I could (I SUCK at coding). My objective was to gain support. Build a groundswell. Find partners. Get help.

Seeing the announcement by Public.com today really hurt. I loved that idea. And being in Fidelity, I was finally in a place to make it happen. I talked endlessly about the Innovator’s Dilemma and how we needed to try new things or we would miss the startups undercutting us. Crickets.

I can’t help but feel that the imminent failure of TheMissionZone is going to be another one of these, “You’re too early Josh” moments. But this idea first came to me in an Operations Management class at Bentley… in 1992. I mean COME ON!!!  Didn’t I wait long enough this time? I am hoping our patent comes through and I am able to at least reap some reward from trying to do this first. But who knows.

What I have learned is that not only can you not do something yourself, even if you build a successful team, you will not succeed until you kiss the ring of those that can get things done, and you bring them into your world. It’s not that life is stacked against you, there is a way to find success. But traveling outside of those norms is impossible. Maybe that’s why they become norms. And to someone who hates following trends like me, that shit just sucks. Hence why I don’t get shit done.

So if there is a lesson I can impart on the reader it is this: Find the people that can help you get something done, and then blow sunshine and flattery until they let you into their world. You’ll never know when you need to ask them for help. For me that is venture capitalists, but it could be professors, researchers, coaches, social media influencers, etc. Go find the ones that can help you, and then kiss the ring.

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When Is Team > Product?

team-learningI had a little discussion/debate on Twitter just now about team formation.  The original poster said that teams now can be all remote and that the tools for maintaining a remote team are at the point where you don’t need to be full-time co-located.

I totally agree.  Working at Fidelity, I spent 15 years of almost never being in the same location as my team.  I was in either BOS or NH and the crew was in BOS, RI, TX, NC, IRE, IND, CHN.  We’ve been used to this for a long time, and in that respect, bigcos have been pioneers way before startups.

Because the team was remote, very often your ‘team’ for each project was assembled on the fly and consistency over time was irrelevant.  Each project was like a new startup where we would build something over the course of 9 -24 months.  During that creation phase, assembling the team for the work and having them come in and out was critical.  They were like ‘pivots’ on the path.  Sometimes this was a tool choice, or changes in functionality for the roadmap, or even realization that we needed to reprioritize based on customer feedback.  During this time, team has to be flexible.  Team is the product.  As the product changes, so must the team.

This would extend to a grand pivot, where a startup might give up on something and move in another direction, necessitating layoffs and new skillsets joining the team.  You figure this would happen at the 18-24 month phase.

So I would say that anything less than 24 months of a company, ‘Team’ is whatever is best for the product, which is what is best for the customer.  Given that drive, does your past history with the team really matter?  With everything so new, are there really that many synergies that can be realized?  How many co-founder arguments are spurred by inability to agree on strategy and how to adapt to the customer?  When does ‘Team’ become more than all about the Product?

Given above, I would postulate that ‘team’ isn’t all that important for the first 24 months, until you prove that your product is right and that you have a business.  I bet that in the vast majority of cases, a few core visionaries just have roles that need to be filled.  Some are specific to one individual.  Sometimes one individual covers multiple.  Sometimes it’s not a full position, so hiring a part timer that is experienced in that area is actually BETTER than having your full-time co-founder fill a role that they aren’t qualified for.  Things like marketing, sales, accounting, finance, legal, project mgmt, scrum master.  If this is true, then why can’t a few roles that are core (idea, plan, strategy) just HIRE all the others and form the ‘Team’ as needed?  Doesn’t this work for the studio model?

After you have a business, things change.  Culture, vision, values all start to become embroiled with the product, and so ‘Team’ is more than the product.  Synergies make sense because the churn of what you are actually building, has slowed down.  There is purpose.

If you are even with me a little up to this point, then don’t you HAVE to challenge the VC notion that team is everything for an early stage company?  Team is just bodies and qualifications filling a role as we project we need them on an FTE basis.  This is the business model and it is WAY more important than the team implementing it.

Maybe I am wrong on a few points here, but I hope it challenges you to think more about this notion that investors are putting their money into a “Team” first.  I would tell them to look at the business model, the roles and time requirements needed to implement the plan, the bodies that are filling those roles and THEN decide if it looks like this thing could come to fruition.

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