Oh Man, What The Heck Am I Doing?

My last blog post received quite a few views (for me), and quite a few comments on facebook. I found myself dreading the comments. Like, “oh crap, who is going to be terrible in the comments now?”

Yet this is what I set myself up for, this is what I asked for in a way. I want my stuff to be read, I want people to be thinking about it. In our world, the best way to do that is to write stuff that gets a lot of comments. But if I’m deliberately avoiding facebook because I don’t want to see what people are saying now, even if it isn’t directed at me, that’s a problem.

I took this on for a variety of reasons. I wanted an online presence to establish who I am and what I’m about. Over the years I have felt that the real me doesn’t get communicated in short bursts, nor do I really get captured by the tools we have to capture who people are: resumes, social media profiles, business cards, etc. I wanted to have a place where people could see the different sides of me.

I also wanted to have a place where I could affect the way we talk about the world around us, even if it is just among my very small readership. I think most, if not all of us, today would agree that there is crazy stuff going on in the world around us. I wanted to have a place where I could assist, in my own small way, in us finding solutions to our seemingly insurmountable problems.

I also wanted a forum to start conversations. There is so much going on in our world, and a limited time to actually talk about it. For friends of mine to say “I read your blog, and here’s what I think about it…” gets us to the heart of the matter real fast when we have a limited amount of time to talk. It also gets me thinking in new ways about the subject. Invariably, every time I talk with someone about one of these topic I’ve written about it changes the way I see it.

Of course, if I’m going to be engaging in the discourse that exists around the problems of today, I’m going to have to deal with the vitriol that exists in our current political discourse. In fact, that is exactly what I want to be addressing with my writing.

But holy crap guys, sometimes witnessing that on my own feed is really hard. And I’m sure that one day I’ll write something that ends up getting that vitriol directed at me, and those few days will be hard as well. Honestly, I’m afraid of that day. That’s really what it is. I’m afraid of that day when it feels like the whole world has turned against me. I’m afraid that one day I’ll write something, and people will lobby my employer to get me fired over it. I’m afraid I’ll write something, and I’ll feel like people I love and care about are judging me over it. I’m afraid that I’ll lose friends. I’m afraid that my intentions, which are ultimately just to calm the dialogue around our divisive issues, will be lost.

There’s more to what I’m feeling than that, however. I think I’m also really coming to grips with exactly how much work there is to be done. How calloused we all are to each other’s points of view that we skip all of the lead up and cut straight to the arguing. Or we skip the arguing, and go straight to taking action against each other.

What we have in our culture today is a failure to diffuse negative feelings towards one another. We have a failure to help each other move past anger. A failure to address issues before they become causes, a failure to listen and take action before people become calloused. We have an inability to perceived injustice when it affects people we don’t identify with. Our initial response to people who don’t share our worldview is one of not trusting their intentions.

And now, violence feels much more common in our political discourse than it did say, 20 years ago. It certainly feels much easier for people to rationalize violent acts.

Yet I also know that this is just a period, and that this period will pass. Since our world has become interconnected, it has always suffered from periods of “unrest” – for lack of any better vocabulary. World War I and II were extreme examples. The 1960’s were another. We are in one now. How long it will last, I don’t know. When will it peak? I don’t know that either. But it will pass. What will the world look like when it’s done? I don’t know that either.

Sometimes I wonder how far I want to put myself out there. How much am I going to risk getting burned? Yet the time has come for me where I can no longer live with inaction. I cannot sit by and watch the world burn.

Yet my contribution is not… normal? I don’t yet see how going to protests or calling my representatives is actually going to further what I’m up to. I’m concerned with the dialogue, and I’m concerned with the lack of listening happening in our culture.

Behind every political position is at least one unaddressed concern. Immigration, in our country, is a great example. Someone can be against immigration because they are concerned about it’s impact on our economy overall, because they don’t want the people who are already here to lose their jobs, because they don’t want our culture to be diluted, because they don’t want immigrants who are going to take from us instead of contribute, because they don’t want criminals to come here… OR they could be biased against people that don’t look like them, or racist. Anyone who comes up with an immigration policy that demonstrates that it mitigates against those first five concerns, while meeting the goals of people who are in favor of immigration, is going to end up with the great majority of the US populace behind them.

But what doesn’t make it into the national conversation, is anyone actually attempting to alleviate the concerns of people who are anti-immigration. What we hear from the pro-immigration side is “Those people are racists!” Or, people who are against immigration are hopelessly biased or simply ignorant of the economic facts about immigration. Maybe we’ll see frustrated speculation wondering why people don’t understand what is such an obvious, to them, truth.

What I want is for people engaged in our national conversation to start listening to, and alleviating, the concerns of the different groups that make up our population. I haven’t the slightest idea how to achieve that. That, and reinforce and strengthen our democratic institutions (ie; make sure everyone gets a vote and every vote is counted equally). That also means refraining from purposely distributing false information, and giving up achieving legislative agendas through undemocratic means.

This is a big ask. I understand that. As a people we’re so used to doing things the way we have been, to suddenly actually “do democracy” in a democratic way would be a big change. But for me, this is what’s worth wading into the public discourse for. I would consider myself remiss if I did not take action on this issue. This is why I’ve been writing and podcasting recently. This is my overall goal.

Lol, and yes I have always taken on things that are too big. But I know what this is. I know, that if it is ever achieved, that it may not happen in my lifetime. There is no manual for this. It’s ultimately going to take millions of people taking up this cause in one way or another to have a noticeable effect. But what the heck else is worth doing?

No, You Don’t Fire the Google Guy

I view this as a failure of management.

I have a rule when it comes to hiring, and that is to hire people that I can support. That means that I hire people that I can have open communication with and who can listen to constructive feedback from me – and who can give me feedback as well. I hire people that will tell me what is on their mind. Hand in hand with that, is that I make sure that I’m someone that people are generally comfortable sharing that kind of stuff with.

Then, if I’m doing my job correctly, I’m checking in with them regularly. So if one of my staff starts saying things like this about our company:

Google's biases.JPG

I can address their concerns, one at a time, before they get incorporated into some “manifesto” that then spreads like wildfire across my company. From my perspective, if I’ve gone to the trouble of hiring this person, I need to treat their concerns as valid even if I don’t agree with them. Maybe they need coaching, maybe they need mentoring (maybe I need to hook them up with a mentor), maybe they just need assistance thinking through the opinions they have. But I, as their manager, cannot be brushing off their concerns.

That being said, the concerns in the above image (that are directly from his manifesto) absolutely need to be addressed. In the effort to create an equality based workplace and society, we must keep in mind that not everyone feels like they have experienced the benefits of not being discriminated against. What matters to people the most, regardless of the justice or injustice in the rest of the world, is their own experience. If it is in fact true that there are “programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race” – that absolutely needs to be rectified. It comes across as blatantly unfair. We don’t know what support any particular person has experienced throughout their lives. We cannot be assuming that any given white man doesn’t feel the need for these programs as well.

If I’m really doing my job, as a manager, coach, or mentor, I’m separating the concerns about policies and practice from ideological and political stances. That is definitely something that needs to be done with this guy. He quotes a lot of research and data that has been politicized in our crazily biased political world, and does a lot of theorizing about why Google is the way it is… All that stuff really is irrelevant. The questions that need to be addressed are all around “what policies and practices do you disagree with or want done differently?” Once you allow the conversation to get into theorizing about why things are the way they are, or grand theories about what principles the company should or shouldn’t emphasize instead of addressing individual practices, you get into areas where people are likely to be offended and alienated.

The ideas that he presents in his manifesto are not exclusive to him. They are, in fact, common in our society at large. That means that if you aren’t dealing with them when he brings them up, you are going to end up dealing with them when someone else brings them up. You can’t actually expect to have a workplace that has diversity of ideas if you marginalize people with these concerns, or fire them when they express them. They absolutely need to be addressed, and where appropriate, rectified.

Otherwise, you end up looking like this to a large portion of the population:

Google individual.jpg

I’m not saying this cartoon is accurate. I have no idea what it’s actually like at Google. But I can say, for certain, that this is what it looks like to a lot of people who are outside of Google looking in.

(Sorry, I have no idea who created that cartoon. I found it floating around the internet unsourced)

Another thing that needs to be addressed, is this. Again, directly from his “manifesto”:

Alienating Conservatives.JPG

Yes, conservative people do often feel like they need to stay in the closet in largely liberal groups. Look, I know that liberal people think that they are open-minded and non-judgemental – I used to think the same way. That is in direct conflict with the experience of many conservatives. This is part of why we are experiencing the division in our country that we are; people of a conservative viewpoint did not feel like their viewpoint was being addressed in the news, media, or entertainment of our culture at large. So they made their own. I’ll let you all deduce the consequences of that.

Obviously, if you’re going to empower those with different ideologies to be able to express themselves, you need to do it in a context where people aren’t purposely making each other angry, where they are being civil, and where they are being respectful. So essentially the opposite of what is going on in our popular society at large. Maybe you haven’t experienced that kind of environment, but it is certainly possible to do.

Most importantly, if you are in regular communication with your staff about their needs and can address this stuff as it comes up you can offer coaching and perspective that makes a difference. Lots of what this former Google manager said absolutely does need to be communicated to our manifesto writer. Things like this:

If you’re a professional, especially one working on systems that can use terms like “planet-scale” and “carrier-class” without the slightest exaggeration, then you’ll quickly find that the large bulk of your job is about coordinating and cooperating with other groups. It’s about making sure you’re all building one system, instead of twenty different ones; about making sure that dependencies and risks are managed, about designing the right modularity boundaries that make it easy to continue to innovate in the future, about preemptively managing the sorts of dangers that teams like SRE, Security, Privacy, and Abuse are the experts in catching before they turn your project into rubble.

Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels, and even then it’s only possible because someone senior to you — most likely your manager — has been putting in long hours to build up the social structures in your group that let you focus on code.

I’m not saying that our manifesto writer is all-correct (absolutely not). I’m saying that in any managerial context you give someone an opportunity to correct their error-filled ways before you terminate them.

And, most importantly, there is nothing about the manifesto writer’s tone or writing that indicates that he is some sort of raging ideologue. He sounds to me like someone who can be reasoned with. He openly says that he wants a diverse workplace. He cites a lot of his points with data and studies. That is a great entry into getting him to rethink his viewpoints, by pointing out that how those studies are flawed – or pointing out how his thinking about them is. If, in fact, it is. Part of engaging with people who disagree with you, is that if you are going to do it honestly and effectively you have to be open to them teaching you something about the world as well. I know it can seem really important to fight for our viewpoints in the face of resistance, but it’s difficult if not impossible to listen while you are fighting.

Under every position is a concern or series of concerns. When I am a manager, I view it as a big part of my job to remove the concerns of my staff so that they can focus on doing their work.

Instead, what Google has done is reinforce those concerns by literally firing him for expressing them. This is not isolated to him or to Google either. Google has reinforced those concerns amongst the millions of people nationwide that have them. Now, they are stronger. To them, this is what happens when conservatives speak up in liberal environments. They lose their job.

Google has chosen a side in the culture wars, whether it wanted to or not.

Why do you think there is so much push back against PC culture? Because this stuff happens.

For reference, here is the “manifesto

Democracy Today

I’ve been thinking a lot about democracy recently. How, ideally it seems, what democracy allows in a society is the ability for a population to consent to their own governance. Which is really great. Like really great you guys, really this cannot be understated. The opposite of consenting to your own governance is oppression, manipulation, exploitation, disempowerment… and people generally having less say and control over their lives and the direction of their community than they want.

Image made by the very talented Josh Coffy. Check out his stuff here.

Democracy also requires people to engage in a certain level of civility. To really do democracy, you have to be willing to accept that the ideas and beliefs of other people are valid and need to be addressed – even if you think those ideas and beliefs are completely and totally wrong. Because otherwise, how can you work with them? Democracy, as is defined by google, is “a system of government by the whole population.” That means you have to work with the whole population, find common ground, and create agreement so that you can move forward in the best interest of your town, city, community, state and/or country.

I’ve been thinking about democracy a lot because everywhere I look in the news and world today I see either failures of democracy or people deliberately subverting democracy to achieve their political goals. There are a lot of reasons this is foolish, but I think the most important point is that when we erode democracy to reach our goals then our achievements are decidedly temporary. When you do not create consensus, or even agreement, what you get is instant resistance to your policies regardless of how good your policies are. It simply does not matter how right it is, the thing that you want to do. When you force that thing upon people they are going to focus on the negative aspects of it.

A textbook case is the most recent attempt by Mitch McConnell and the GOP to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Whether you agree with that idea in principle or not, I can tell you with absolute certainty that writing the bill in secret, giving people an hour to read it, and then forcing a vote is not an effective way to create consensus. And what do you know? They couldn’t even get the 52 Senators in their own party to agree on the thing.

Another disparate example is the first post-Saddam Hussein government in Iraq. It seemed to be more interested in subjugating the Sunni parts of the Iraqi population than serving them… and then the Sunni militia Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad became Al-Qaeda in Iraq – which then became ISIS. Many more people have written much more in-depth than I will about ISIS, but making sure a significant portion of your country is not served by your government is a great way to destabilize your country.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” -JFK, according to the internet.

Whether or not JFK actually said that (I’m not going to believe stuff just because it’s been made into memes on the internet), I think that quote is the most prescient lens through which to look at events throughout the world today. Functioning and effective democracy is a means by which we allow for peaceful revolution, as well as peaceful change and peaceful growth. A judiciary based on the rule of law is another. When those institutions are subverted, we increase the likelihood of injustice. And when that injustice is not addressed, eventually people turn to violence.

Not that we should be waiting until people want to take up arms to secure the institutions of our democracy. I value consent, and a functioning democracy ensures that it’s citizens our governed by consent. Maybe not everyone values consent? I don’t know. But for me democracy is important because it is the best means we have to governing with consent. And we should always be working to make sure that whatever our government is has as much consent as possible.

That’s what I’m thinking about these days…

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Thoughts on the UK, now that I’m back in the US

I just got back to the states. You can read my first entry about this trip here.

Image from Wikipedia.

-How did I ever drink Heineken?!? It’s like beery water!

-British bacon is SO much better than American bacon

-I actually prefer roundabouts to traffic lights. Though it’s easier to get lost with roundabouts.

-There are KFC’s everywhere in the UK, so I had to try one. KFC in the UK is not as greasy or crispy. They also don’t have biscuits – possibly on account of cookies being called biscuits in the UK.

-Jet lag is real, folks. After the first night back, we haven’t been able to sleep past 5:30am.

-People in the UK are so much better at small talk than Americans. By a significant amount. It is generally very easy to strike up a conversation with someone out in public in the UK.

-Daily services, like buses, coffee and breakfast shops, etc seem to have enough staff that people aren’t running around to get their job done and they actually have enough time to do it well.

-Casual kindness to strangers was the rule rather than the exception, even in big cities. It reminded me of the midwest that way.

-“You can’t swing your dick in Scotland without hitting a castle.”

-Some Scottish accents will be so strong you’ll need a translator.

-Sodas are smaller in the UK. Same with the portions of essentially all packaged goods.

-The smallest paper money is a £5 note. They have 1 and 2 pound coins, and 1 and 2 pence coins. Also 20 pence coins.

-In Scotland, there’s no “e” in whisky!

What My Platform Would Be, Were I To Run For Office Today

No, I’m not running for office today. But, I figure now that the US has elected Donald Trump as President, anything is possible. So might as well get prepared, right?

Image courtesy of inspirobot.me

First and foremost, I am calling a truce between Liberals and Conservatives. Not that I have the power to do that (ha!), but I personally am making peace with both. I am going to seek out data and perspectives from all sides of each issue. I am going to engage in civil discourse with whoever has a stake in the outcomes of the decisions I make in my position, even if their discourse with me is not civil. Our society, indeed every society, needs people of both liberal and conservative persuasion. I intend to include perspectives of all orientations in the governing process. I understand, as you are reading this, that you’re thinking “but _____________ don’t use real data and they manipulate the truth!” That’s exactly what they think of your side as well. Effective government needs to address the concerns of all sides, and to do that one must engage. I cannot and will not stand at a distance and say that they aren’t to be trusted. There are legitimate reasons that each side is so animated about their perspectives. Please also remember that when I say I will engage with all sides, that means that I will also engage with yours. I’m sure that my position of being neutral will attract attacks from both sides, we all know that neither side likes what is not their own. I am prepared for that. If one is unwilling to stick by principles when they become difficult and inconvenient, then there is no point in having principles at all.

Education: I think our education system is the most pressing concern in our country today. If you’re reading this and saying “No! It’s the economy!” My view is that the biggest factor in the state of our economy is our broken education system. We, as a country, need to be encouraging innovation in methods throughout our education system, and we need to develop a system to promote the most effective strategies and tactics nationwide. We also need to review what exactly we want to be teaching our children. Is our curriculum current? Is it even relevant? These questions we need answers to – and we need the average person on the street to be engaged in this process, not just educators. The entire country has a stake in our education system, and our entire country needs to understand what is going on inside of it and how it works. We need to look at the structure of the entire school day. We need to consider yearly internships, arranged by the school, starting in the first year of high school. We need a nationwide review of our education system, from the ground up. We should be including the feedback of teachers, students, parents, and community members. We need to commission rigorous tests (aka; scientific studies) of all the fundamental aspects of the school experience to determine their effectiveness. However we also need to trust the voices of educators. We can look to other country’s systems for inspiration. The old system of American education no longer works, it is time for us to do the work to craft a new system. Motivated actors (private schools, charter schools, etc), have their place, and they can be included as much as they participate. But our public schools must be the class of the world.

-Education Funding: Every public school in the US must be funded equally, with adjustments for population and cost of living. We must do everything to ensure that the quality of education one receives at schools in poor inner city neighborhoods and in remote tribal areas is equal to that of the best schools in the country.

-Education for Adults: Let’s be honest, 16-18 year olds in our country today are probably not in the best position to determine what profession or professions they will be working in for the rest of their lives. We need to modify our education system to remove the boundaries for adults with careers, including (and especially) grants and programs to fully support people who are transitioning out of failing companies and industries without totally decimating their life savings and completely disrupting their lives.

Economy: The engine of our economy is the middle class. It is no wonder that the majority of the country has not experienced much of a benefit from the so-called recovery from the 2008 crash: the middle class is assailed on all sides. We must combine policies and practices that protect the middle class and bolster their ability to continue to thrive financially. This includes strengthening and enforcing consumer protections, ensuring that everyone has access to affordable healthcare (even when starting their own business), reducing the cost of higher education, ensuring that the best interests of employees are being watched out for and protected (via unions or other mechanisms), making sure childcare is available and affordable, and ensuring a minimum level of financial literacy nationwide. This also includes testing ways to get people from low-paying jobs into good paying jobs, especially out of low paying jobs that still require people to be on government assistance to get by.

Democracy: We need to strengthen our commitment to democratic practices throughout the country and the world, even if it harms our short term interests. This means ending gerrymandering and registering every citizen to vote. This also means having polls be open 24 hours a day and/or voting day be a national holiday. If we are truly concerned about fake/illegal votes, we need to supply every citizen with a valid ID that proves that they can vote as soon as they are of age to do so – free of cost. We cannot be effectively disenfranchising people who are unable to overcome logistical hurdles to getting their vote counted. It is also time to detach our election process from dependence on two entrenched political parties.

Foreign Policy: Promoting democratic practices also means doing so worldwide. It means that we don’t prop up dictators to access a country’s resources in favor of democratic movements that may not let us use their resources. It means we don’t sell technology to undemocratic regimes that will help them repress their populations. It means favoring policy and strategy that ensures that all voices in a given country are heard, even if we don’t like all of those voices. This is what we must do if we are going to be true to the ideals that our country was founded upon. If we do not continue to honor our shared ideals, then our conflicting self interests will eventually tear us apart.

Iraq & Afghanistan: It’s time to embrace the possibility that to get out of these countries the right way, it could take as much as 40 years. It was certainly a mistake to go into Iraq, and I’m not sure of the wisdom of toppling the government in Afghanistan either. But to exit without either of them becoming despotic hellholes or descending into (more) civil war means that both countries need to have functioning democracies and established institutions. Both of those things take time, a lot of time, to truly put in place. I definitely want to get out of both places as soon as possible, but as soon as possible and responsible may be 40 years from now. That’s a big pill to swallow, we may as well start swallowing it now.

Environment: Well, we gotta talk about global warming if we’re going to talk about the environment. A lot of good scientists have concluded that our planet is warming up because of human activity. However, I’m not going to agree with, let alone advocate for, any legislation around global warming (or the environemnt in general) if I do not understand the science underpinning the legislation, if the science uses sample sizes that are too small, or the experiments have not been duplicated. I’m also going to make a point of understanding whatever critiques their are of the science. I understand that people who perform scientific experiments are prone to ego, bias, statistical & procedural errors and motivated reasoning. I also understand that their detractors are prone to the same things. We must make sure that our planet remains to be a place that we can all live. We must also understand that not protecting the environment can have terrible effects on economic concerns, just as environmental regulations can. We need to work to find a balance between the two in all circumstances.

Gun Control: To buy a gun, a person must be licensed. The licensing process needs to include extensive gun safety training. How to shoot safely, how to clean and maintain a weapon, when guns are appropriate to use and not, an understanding that in most circumstances guns escalate problems instead of resolving them, and safe gun storage. We must emphasize safety and responsibility with all licensed gun owners. Licensed gun owners must be mentally sound and not be violent criminals. I understand that the NRA argues that any gun regulation is a slippery slope to take away everyone’s guns. They are literally just fear-mongering because that is what they are paid to do by the gun industry. There is huge support for reasonable gun control, we need to change our gun legislation to match that support. Oh, and with all gun training we must address the fact that 60% of gun deaths in the US are suicides.

Healthcare: Quality healthcare needs to be accessible and affordable for every US citizen. I view Obamacare as the first step among many between the privatized healthcare/insurance system we used to have and a system that will eventually provide effective healthcare to our country.

Police: We need to set and enforce standards of policing nationwide. That includes ensuring that all police officers get enough support and time off so they do not get burned out and callous towards the people they serve. We must also provide extensive training to every police officer in the art of de-escalation – similar if not exactly the same as the training in the UK where the police do not carry guns. We need to end the war on drugs. Whatever laws are changed in the ending of the war on drugs also need to be retroactive, releasing people convicted of those crimes from prison. We need to end the practice of municipalities using their police forces as a source of revenue. We must also develop and improve the existing program(s) for reintegrating convicted criminals back into society, so that reintegration is relatively smooth and convicts are not released into the same sort of environments that led to their committing crimes in the first place. Police must also receive extensive training on the political, cultural, racial, and economic tensions within their area and how they affect their job as police. Police in our country must also be protectors of our right to freedom of speech – meaning that their only role during any protest is the prevention of direct violence. People who are staging protests must be able to view the police present as peace keepers, not antagonists. The burden is on police departments to modify their behavior to fit that goal.

Immigration: A big reason that the United States has thrived over the past hundred years or so is because we have successfully integrated large numbers of immigrants into our country and our culture at large. Immigration means a larger labor pool, but it also means a larger customer pool. Larger customer pools are good for business. This is a process that must continue. It’s time to create a streamlined worker visa program, one whose application is one page long and takes no more than a month to be reviewed, vetted, and completed. No years long wait lists, no having to come to this country illegally because you can’t wait for your application to be approved to feed your family. You submit your application to come here to work, you are approved or denied in one month, and as soon as you are approved you can enter the country. Once you are here for a few years, you can start the citizenship application process.

Refugees: First off, taking in refugees is a great PR move. Want an entire nation of people to have goodwill towards you? Take in their refugees when they are at war. Obviously we need a way to weed out actual militants, but the system we have in place in this country has already been very effective at that (certain parts of the media disagree… but in this case their ignoring the facts). Also, if we really want to learn how we need to be responding to the situations in these war torn countries, we need to be debreifing these refugees as they come to us. This is a huge source of intelligence that we are actually discouraging from coming here. Don’t expect the US to be terribly effective in these theaters until we make up for that intelligence gap.

Institutional Effectiveness: I have saved this one for last, because it has the most boring name. But it may be the second most important thing on this list behind education (well, third if you count the next entry). Every institution and agency that is organized under our government must be run well. That means staffed accordingly, having clear goals, and clearly knowing when they are meeting their goals or not. It means cutting wait times for the people who are serviced by these agencies, reducing paperwork, reducing red tape, and streamlining processes. It means making sure our employees are satisfied in their work and are compensated accordingly – because employees who consistently meet those two objectives consistently provide excellent customer service. The people who serve our country men and women must be providing good customer service. If we deem that it is too expensive to do what we do well, then maybe it is time to cut some services. But that is not a decision to be rushed into.

Oh, and we must negate the effect of big money on our elections. Easier said than done, I know. I’m open to ideas on this one.

This is a statement of priorities and principles, not how they are going to be acheived. Basically every politician makes promises, then get in office and discover that the realities that they are facing make their promises untenable. I’m not going to run that treadmill. I cannot say that I would attempt to make this all happen at once. These priorities do need to be balanced with fiscal needs and organizational needs wherever I serve.

I would love your feedback

Why I Don’t Call Myself an Atheist, Even Though I am One

When I chose to not believe in God, I actually didn’t know what an Atheist was. The first time I heard the word “Atheist” was when I told my dad that night that I didn’t believe in God. I was 14.

“WHAT?!? Are you telling me you’re an ATHEIST?!?”

(sorry Dad, if that’s not how you remember it. That’s how it seemed to 14 year old me)

After that… pleasant… conversation I called myself an Atheist for quite a while. I mean, I did (and still do) disbelieve in the existence of supreme beings.

Honestly, I should give my parents more credit than that. I didn’t have to worry about them disowning me or not loving me anymore. I didn’t have to worry about being kicked out of the house or punished in any way. I was also never one of those… angry Atheists. My rationale was that I had only believed in God because people had told me that God existed – so I decided not to believe until I had another reason. I didn’t know at the time that I would never find a reason to believe, and instead find lots of reasons not to.

But in the past few years I’ve come to think of the label of Atheist as quite narrow. Imagine if you asked someone what color their hair was, and their reply was “NOT BROWN!” That… doesn’t tell you a whole lot, really. Especially since hair dye is a thing. That’s the way I relate to the word Atheist these days. Buddists are atheist for the most part, I’ve met quite a few Wiccans who describe themselves as Atheist. There are so many people who describe themselves as spiritual, not religious. Some of them are probably Atheists, some definitely are not. Most Indian and Chinese religions are atheistic, or not explicitly theistic. Just going around saying you don’t believe in God(s), which is what you’re doing when you say you’re an Atheist, doesn’t say what you do believe – if anything. It doesn’t say how you approach the world or what moral framework you look at reality through.

I guess, functionally, when someone describes themselves as an Atheist they are saying that they are not a believer in one of the major western religions. I’ve found that most Atheists that left a major religion retain most of the moral precepts that went with that religion. In fact, many Atheists I’ve encountered left because they saw too many members of their religion ignore their major teachings. I think for many people it would be more accurate to say that they were Christian, Muslim, or Jewish and are now Atheist. That’s going to tell the listener a lot more about how you view the world. But after years, or decades, of not following any religion, I don’t know if that would be very effective either.

I do think it’s important to have an Atheist community, whether or not some people want to call organized Atheism a religion. When I first discovered that I was an Atheist, I had no one to talk about it with for years. I felt totally alone in my lack of belief, awash in a culture that was predominantly Christian. Finding other Atheists and hearing and reading about their experiences was definitely a comforting experience for me (even if the organized Atheist culture can get going on some strange tangents).

As of now, if it comes up, I refer to myself as not religious. We could argue about whether or not that tells the listener any more than saying “I’m an Atheist” does, but at least the phrase “not religious” isn’t as incindiary for some people as atheism is.

First Impressions of London

Been in London a day, and thought I’d share some differences between the US and the UK that I’ve seen already:

-Even though they drive on the left, they walk on the right. Why is this?!?!?

-They aren’t called bathrooms, they’re called toilets. Which makes a lot more sense, since they don’t have showers or bathtubs. This is how it is for public restrooms anyway.

-If you’re paying in cash, it’s easy to end up with a pocket full of coins that’s worth nearly 10 pounds, since they have both one and two pound coins.

-The internationality of London is truly impressive. Being from the Bay Area I’m used to hearing different languages – but at the rate of about one a day. In London in one day I probably heard 12-15.

-Being in a country that doesn’t have the tipping culture that the US does has been surprisingly stressful. I didn’t realize that I viewed tipping 20% as a moral imperative until I tried to not do it…

-The crosswalks aren’t right at the intersections the way they are in the US. Though the lights aren’t right at the intersections either. In London all the parts of intersections are more spread out than in the US, and I imagine that makes them safer.

-It’s weird that all the news that happened in the US happened while I was sleeping, and most of the day has gone by before the news in the US starts up again.

-I was not prepared for the humidity. It’s humid like Houston or New Orleans here. For some reason I thought the air would be dry.

-An apartment building burned in London, and on the news last night the presenter absolutely grilled the Prime Minister about it. The Prime Minister!

-British Strawberries are surprisingly sour.