Obama vs. Clinton and the Primary System

I’ve been resistant to delving into political topics on this blog, mostly out of fear that I might expose too much about my own ignorance. :)  I do tend to follow political debate (particularly at the national level) quite a bit, though.  As a registered Democrat that will almost certainly end up supporting and voting for whichever candidate becomes that party’s nominee, I have certainly been taking a lot of interest in the 2008 primary season.

I disagree with the increasingly widespread commentary accusing the Democratic Party of self-destructing simply because both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still active candidates with more than 3 months remaining before the party convention and with several states still having yet to have their primaries.  As I see it, the Democrats are prompting a fair amount of criticism and doomsday predictions simply because the candidate selection process is working essentially as designed.  This primary instead seems to be illustrating how the basic method being used to select candidates usually doesn’t work very well and has largely become an outdated relic of a very different time.

I think that the result of the Republican nomination is much more troublesome, although very typical of the process for both parties during the typical modern election, including all the ones since I’ve been eligible to vote.  John McCain was widely accepted to have clinched his party’s nomination after the March 4th round of primaries, even though the primary season still had several months to go.  Much has been made about the voters of Florida and Michigan being disenfranchised in the selection of the Democratic candidate due to those states violating party rules regarding scheduling, but it is that really worse than the fact that the Republican primaries in 10 states have ended up being basically irrelevant?

The extended, highly staggered primary process made quite a bit of sense in a time when traveling from state to state could take days or weeks and when 24-hour news networks and the Internet weren’t available as a means for the candidates and parties to get their views, positions, and even personalities quickly and widely disseminated to every part of the country.  In today’s era of air travel and mass communications, though, campaigning for a simultaneous, nationwide primary would certainly be feasible and would avoid large portions of the population from being essentially disenfranchised from the selection of the candidates.  There might be a grain of truth in the concern that such a system could pretty sharply reduce the importance and influence of smaller states and rural communities, but the current system usually seems to have largely the opposite effect, which really seems to make even less sense.  I really hope that this year’s primary will prompt some serious discussion of this long overdue change.

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Work/Life Balance and “Loving Your Work”

Over the last few days, several of the technology-oriented blogs that I read have included some spirited debates about the work/life balance and whether or not loving your work essentially equates to a workaholic devotion to it.  This is an issue that I have spent a lot of time thinking about and working out for myself during my career and that has even contributed to something of a career change several years ago.

The online discussion was prompted by a recent blog post by Jason Calacanis, the founder of "human-edited" search engine Mahalo.com.  The post focused on various cost-savings tips for people running technology start-ups.  Most of the items in the post were pretty innocuous suggestions about things like office furniture and equipment, but there were a couple entries that could easily be interpreted as saying that a start-up should have no use for anyone that would in any way prioritize their personal life over their work life.

The most controversial item was the following:

“Fire people who are not workaholics…. come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. go work at the post office or stabucks if you want balance in your life. For realz.”

He later attempted to soften it a bit by changing "are not workaholics" to "don’t love their work" and then crossing out "it’s not a game" and "if you want balance in your life. For realz."  He also wrote a pretty lengthy follow-up post that did help to clarify his view a bit and also shared his own general approach to his work.  Particularly in that follow-up post, he seems to be basically suggesting that unless you let your work largely dominate your life, then you must be working only out of necessity rather than actually loving what you do.

Even though my experience with working at start-ups is limited to a short stint at a tiny game developer that ended up folding pretty dramatically about 4 months after I started,   I believe that Calacanis is almost certainly correct that a pretty intense career focus is probably necessary to survive during the very early years at most start-ups.  Where I take exception is his apparent view that pretty much total devotion to work is a requirement to be able to say that you "love" your work.  I don’t believe that having a life balance and actually loving what you do are mutually-exclusive.

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Super Bowl Sunday

I’m not a football fan.

I have found that making that simple statement can sometimes cause people to brace for an expected tirade on various perceived evils of that sport and professional sports in general.  That isn’t going to come from me, though.  My views really are as simple as the statement.  I don’t have a dislike or moral objections to the sport.  I’m just not that interested in it and generally tend to get bored pretty quickly when watching it.

For me, Super Bowl Sunday has never been that big a deal.  To be honest, I pay so little attention to the sport that I often don’t even realize the championship game is coming up until the last minute.  There have been a number of years where I didn’t even know who was playing by the time the game started or, occasionally, even until I read about the results.

That isn’t to say that I consciously avoid the game at all.  Some years, I have watched all or part of the game, although usually while doing other things and basically paying only a bit of attention to the game.  There have even been a couple years that I have gone to Super Bowl parties, but mainly for the socializing rather than the game.    If I’m around the house, I’ll often have the game on in the background, although it is pretty rare that I’m at home all afternoon on a Sunday.

Although I don’t always think of it, I also will usually set the DVR (or in the distant past, the VCR) to record the game, just in case something interesting happens.  If nothing else, there are usually some neat commercials that air during the game, so it is fun to go back and look at the ones that got some attention.  Of course, that is not as big a deal now that they have started making all the commercials available online after the game.

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Flag Etiquette

I’ve seen something recently with regards to American flag etiquette that bothers me, although I have to admit I kind of feel bad for feeling bothered about it. I have noticed that this week all the Carl’s Jr. fast food locations in my area have been flying their flags at half-staff. I do understand the reason for it as the chain’s founder, Carl Karcher, just passed away.  This is something they have decided to do on their own, though, and all other flags in the area are at normal height.

I certainly do understand and empathize the company’s strong desire to pay tribute to their founder. I can imagine that the gesture probably means quite a bit to his family, friends, and long-time employees. The problem is, though, that flag etiquette calls for the lowering to half-staff only under very specific circumstances to honor individuals that had a pretty broad scale impact. As I understand it, the flag should only be placed at half-staff when the president or a state’s governor issues an order calling for it. In those cases, the order is meant to be applied either country-wide (for a presidential order) or statewide (for a gubernatorial order) and not only at specific businesses or locations.

I believe that a lot of the emotional impact of flying flags at half-staff comes from the sense of shared mourning generated from the generally universal participation.  When everyone in the country, or at least a community or state, has lowered their flag, that is a very visible and powerful message.  That power is diluted when businesses or individuals choose to use that same method to mourn their more personal losses.  I certainly don’t mean to diminish Karcher’s death, or anyone else’s, but I do feel that the lowering of the flag to half-staff should remain a rare celebration of lives, or occasionally tragic events like 9/11, that truly had a broad, wide-ranging impact on the entire country or state.

I do feel that flag etiquette should be a set generally accepted rules and shouldn’t carry the force of law. I don’t believe that Carl’s Jr. is or should be subject to any kind of legal consequences for their decision. I absolutely believe that Carl’s Jr. is right to pay tribute to their founder, but I don’t really feel that they picked the right way to do it.