RL157 - Truth & Reconciliation

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The problem: They were playing with their salads, referring to John attending a meeting as a candidate for city council, but the audience wasn’t even looking at him, but they were just playing with their salads.

The show title refers to John’s opportunity to visit South Africa and write a book about the Truth & Reconciliation commission that he didn’t take because his band was invited to SxSW.

Their sponsor is Cards against Humanity who asked Paul & Storm to say Hi to John:

John Roderick, Merlin Mann, on the line, Supertrain!

It is complicated, which isn’t always bad, but John wouldn’t say it is going well. It is raining today in Seattle and John would say that is a good feeling. Everything else is just a shit-show. No, not really! John has seen one or two shit shows before, this isn’t his first shit show.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Sports (RL157)

School just ended and for Merlin a summer of camps begins. Right now, his daughter is at track camp. At her age, as long as somebody she knows is going to be there, she can deal with it. John’s best role in cross country was being the manager, standing somewhere on the race course and when his friends came buy, screaming ”Pick it up! Good effort! Power through” He didn’t know much about sports, but he just wanted friends. John was bad at making friends, bad at having friends, and also bad at running or cross-country skiing. The girl he liked ran cross-country and John just wanted to be around her, so he ran cross country, but he had the habit of stopping in the middle of the race and climbing a tree to retrieve a bird’s nest or losing the path because he was all alone, running either twice as far as everyone else or running across a golf course. He was not purposeful. In the end everybody mutually agreed that if he was going to stick around, he should probably just be the assistant manager, which worked great for him. John is made to assistant-manage!

The elephant in the room, at least when Merlin was coming up, was that there is a little athlete in each person that just needs to be yelled out. John’s dad certainly followed that prescription. BMOC! He would stand at the side of the basketball court when John was in 5th grade, screaming at the ref ”You are missing a good game here, ref! That was a foul!” and John would have rather been anywhere else. Merlin read an interesting article recently telling parents not to yell at anything or anybody, but just sit there and watch. You are embarrassing everybody and you are not looking cool when you are yelling encouragements or insults at your kid.

There is a picture from 1929 of John’s dad standing at the beach in ankle-high leather boots, the ones you needed a special tool to lace, with boxing gloves on in full-on come-at-me boxing pose. John wants to know the last time a 9-year old in America was given boxing lessons. It is surely still happening, but there are a lot fewer 9-year-olds lacing up in boxing gloves and having a go at each other than there were in 1929, so John forgives his dad for all of this stuff because he couldn’t know that yelling at the ref wasn’t helping. He imagined it was as integral a part of the game as the shooting and coaching.

When John was a kid, nobody knew what to do with dads like that. Maybe everybody just assumed it made sense, like smoking on airplanes. By the time John’s dad was a grandfather for John’s older brother’s and sister’s kids, he was actually banned from attending his grandson’s soccer games for yelling at the coach. He was incredulous and thought it was a conspiracy of the Baby Boomers, this new generation who had gone soft and were getting their woodle feelings hurt by him standing at the sidelines of a 7-year-old’s soccer game, yelling ”Foul!”, yelling at the coach, or yelling at the opposite coach. He wasn’t mean about it, but in his world it was just how you played games.

When John was 10, he was mortified, but as he was 20 he yelled at his father about it a lot. When he reached 30, John realized that when his father was 9, people were punching him in the face. John's granddad would sometimes put him in a bathtub full of ice-water to toughen his spirit. John can’t be mad at him, but boy did he not want him yelling at his stupid basketball games, about which John cared not. Whether they won or lost didn't matter. Like Merlin’s daughter, he just wanted to be there with his friends. Running up and down throwing balls at each other was the worst possible solution to the ”How to be with friends” problem, but what did John even want to do? Chess club? No! Lord of the Rings club? Not even really. John was in the Lord of the Rings guild and had strong feelings about the Dune guild sitting on the other side of French class, but that didn’t give him that much relief.

People being underused (RL157)

When John had day dreams back in 7th grade, he was really hoping that the Soviet Union would invade and all of his knowledge of airplanes and military expertise would come into action. He felt like the Pavement song ”We are Underused”. John’s makes an impression of the song on the podcast and it sounds like being in a weird church, but being a Pavement fan in the 1990s was being in a weird church. The first time John heard that song he burst into tears because of the idea that we are underused and the implication that you will never find a proper use for yourself. ”Honey, I’m a price and you are a catch and we are a perfect match! Like two bitter strangers” (lyrics from Spit on a Stranger) It still gives Merlin shivers! When John sees people in the world who are perfectly utilized, he is very rarely impressed by the person or by the use they have found for themselves. Merlin remembers having been impressed by a kid from Japan that was younger than him, but had the highest IQ in the world. He thought there had been some mix-up, because why did that kid get the high IQ? And where is this kid now?

Ken Jennings is one of these people who performed on a worldwide stage in a way equivalent to Marilyn vos Savant. He was literally the smartest guy in the world because he won Jeopardy! 74 times and when you meet him, he is genuinely super-bright and super-good. He is very fast and the thing you would never expect about him, even though he is a total nerd, is that he has a knowledge like Merlin across every area. You can’t make an inside Indie Rock reference or an inside reference really to very much that he won’t get, it is amazing! He will not just get it, but also turn it into a pun and shoot out. It is so frustrating! It was the same when John first met Sean Nelson: He gets everything! When you are friends with Ken you realize that, being the smartest boy and not being in the Smashing Pumpkins, he is now making a living writing funny books of trivia. They didn’t put on a litter, carried him up for princess Leia to give him a medal and his problems were solved, but he is still underutilized and it is fascinating to think what would happen if DARPA came and gave him an office?

General Wesley Clark (RL157)

There was an article in the Seattle Times in May 2015 about General Wesley Clark, the Army general who ran for president in 2004, tried to get the Democratic nomination and lost. He was the Valedictorian at West Point, he was a road scholar and a 4-star General. Since that time he will join the board of directors of any penny stock company if you pay him enough. He has been on the board of 10 companies and 9 of them have gone bankrupt. Really, that is what this guy is doing? It gave John a cold chill that at 60 years old he could make some money being a fraud. Clark was on the board of a place called The Grilled Cheese Truck and there he is, literally almost a retired director of the CIA. It is almost John’s dream job. He could be John’s dream cautionary tale. There is a lot of money in Hydroponic Lettuce!

Their podcast being used to feed AI (RL157)

Roderick on the Line has crossed 150 episodes. It is unfair to say that the program has become self-aware, because it has always been pretty self-aware, but now they have crossed a threshold where it is plausible that someone is listening to this program after Merlin and John have died. It will probably not be John's grandkids, because they don’t give a shit, but some researcher or college-nerd. Even though it feels like there are millions and millions of podcasts, too many podcasts in fact, it is still the very early days and they are one of the early ones who have achieved a lot of episodes. Imagining that the conversation they are having right now will one day be listened to by someone after their death, and that future person will think to themselves that John and Merlin were talking about them, gave John pause. Early podcasters are also ideal candidates for colonization by AI developers because if your AI is supposed to be interactive and human, you have to feed it a lot of existing information in order to bone up on the culture. 157 episodes is a lot for an AI to gobble down, but using Planck’s theorem and Bernoulli’s principle, an AI will be able to just download that stuff.

A lot of broadcasters out there have a lot more hours of talking on the air, but most of that is asking interview questions. People like Garrison Keillor are just reading some bullshit stories about fake people. Podcasters who are talking to one another about each other and themselves are a very ripe data set. Merlin and John have never had a guest on their program which becomes the primary way of how two people interact: The cadences, the back-and-forth, knowing when to zig and when to zag. All of a sudden John got this weird feeling that not only is somebody listening to their program when they are dead, but they might also become prototype AI personalities or the front faces of AI. Once you get that technology working, you are going to be starved for enough data to construct a full personality and you are never going to have enough of it. Most people obviously are going to want Scarlett Johansson, but there are also going to be people who want a middle-aged guy trying to figure things out as a friend. The big question is if John and Merlin will have any control over that or if they will just pitch up John’s voice two clicks and put a flanger on Merlin. You take it, you turn it, that is the motto of Thought Technology Inc!

For Merlin it feels like a lot more responsibility. He wants to be himself, because he wants his AI to be cohesive, but maybe he should go easy on the dick jokes. People will be scrolling through all the available AI friends, one middle aged guy after the other, and some would surely chose the one with the dick jokes! "Middle-aged guy from Ohio who spent a lot of time in Florida, makes some dick jokes, sometimes it is a little hard to parse exactly what he is talking about." It is possible! The problem of self-awareness, both that their podcast has become self-aware and also that Merlin and John have too much self-awareness, is that especially in John’s current pursuits, self-awareness is a major disadvantage. The number one reason Hitler was so successful is that he had no self-awareness. It ended up being his downfall, but for 10 years it really served him well. Merlin was talking to his daughter about this: Think how different that game would have been if he hadn’t tried to go into Russia! He could have held his own against pretty much everybody if he had been a little more self-aware and if he had realized that this was good for now, let’s rest for a couple of years and build things up a little bit. If he had stopped in Czechoslovakia, we would be living in a different world! It is terrible to say, because so many people want to go back in time and kill Hitler, while very few want to go back and advise him to be satisfied with Prague and not invade Poland or Russia.

Things you are naturally good at and things that you want to do (RL157)

It is interesting to think about people who are really good at sounding informal and off-the-cuff. If you are thinking too much about what you are going to say, you are going to sound like a weasel. With growing sophistication, a candidate must be able to sound natural without sounding like he is trying to sound natural. John already sounds natural, but that isn’t really what people want. They want you to sound natural, but not really. This is why stand-up comedy is so daunting to Merlin: He enjoys it a lot when it is done well, but he also finds it scary. Coming up with those bits, refining them and listening to the tapes involves a lot! Getting to the point where Louis C.K. can make a joke that sounds like he just said something accidentally, and then make a joke about how he said it accidentally, but all that being part of the bit without sounding like you are reading off a sheet, takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness. The more you do it, the less you hope you are sounding self-aware about doing a bit that you wrote.

None of that appeals to John! Paul F. Tompkins and John had kind of a minor disagreement one time, and what he was trying to say to John was that he didn’t like it either. Being a stand-up comic is not dependent on liking it, but you do it anyway. If you are 7.5 feet tall (2.30m) and have big lungs and a big heart, you have a job waiting for you in basketball, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you like it. John wonders how many of us have spent their lives being confused about not liking the things that we are natural at or being pushed into. Probably only a small proportion of all the people who are successful at stuff would say that from the moment they started, they knew they wanted it and that they liked it. John wanted to be a stand-up comic, but the prospect of listening to himself being a bad stand-up comic on a tape in order to get better? You might as well just pour salt in his eyes!

Finding yourself (RL157)

John remembers the first time he was introduced to the work of Richard Feynman, who was very adept at presenting himself as fully realized. There was obviously something crazy about him, but he presented himself as somebody who was not only a Nobel-prize winning Physics-genius, but also a safe-cracker, a competitive archer, a ladies-man, a break-dancer and a Finish carpenter. There are people who have a lot of pride in themselves and who are very accomplished without any question. John was reading Feynman's books at an impressionable age and he felt that Feynman was the standard of human personal realization. At the same time, John would probably not enjoy him as a personal friend, because over time he would be wearing and there was also something false about his self-promotion.

John had a friend and party-buddy who was a punk rock house squatting gutter punk guy, right during the period when "party" stopped meaning "fun time". It had turned from fun into serious business. John hadn't seen him for a couple of weeks and afterwards he showed up looking very serene with his head shaved and wearing all natural fiber clothes. He had decided that his life was on the wrong path and he was on his way to Tibet to get on the right path, going the whole hog with Tibetan Buddhism. He did not want to get baked and play video-games anymore and sailed out of John’s life on a magic carpet of stacked-up flip flops. Before his change John had known him as one of those super-righteous hippie punks, but also as the most misogynist person he had every met. He was such a dick to his girlfriend and to every woman he knew and there was something very broken in him! Presumably his path to self-actualization has also adressed the bad dog in him.

Feeling lonely on the campaign (RL157)

John feels very alone in his campaign right now. Once he enjoined this world, he can’t just take a break and go back to his normal life for a couple of days. He is deep in the slough. Although there are a lot of people helping in the campaign, it can’t be a full-time job for them. They can just step back and wait until John needs them again. Sometimes every one of the 20 people who have pledged to help him thinks that the other 19 will probably pick up the slack while they do their normal job or tend to their family for 3-4 days. In fact all 20 or them are doing something else right now and John has to attend all these little events that stack up 6 a day. No-one is minding the store of the realm of the imagination or the place where John wanted to run a campaign that was very different. John is busy enough trying to leave the appointment that ends at 2pm and make it to the appointment that starts at 2:45pm.

He is the only person who has to do everything and be at everything, which makes sense, but he is not used to reaching out to people at a personal emotional level, even in situations when nothing is at stake or even in the best of circumstances. It is very hard to ask the three people who love him the most for a hug and it is exceptionally difficult to recognize that he is emotionally taxed, confused and struggling to keep the things that matter to him in focus as his daily routine turns into a cycle of things that don’t especially matter to him, but need to get done.

John finds it very difficult to look in the mirror and adress himself like ”Hello! I am looking at you know and we are trying to decide what to with life. I’m checking in with you”. He is trying to get out of a place where he is talking to himself inside his head and instead recognize that he is talking to a living being who is halfway through the normal lifespan and who is trying to do good at a multitude of levels: for other people, for himself and for the people who love him. He is trying to be a good neighbor, a good driver, and all these things. It is very easy for him to sit for hours and hours, talking to himself inside his little Plato’s cave, but to really stand in front of a mirror and say that all these multitudes of worlds are happening just inside himself, while he is alone in this room trying to actually have some sympathy for this person he recognizes in the reflection, is excruciating.

John needs to be able to look into that mirror and say ”You and I, me, and this reflection of me, I’m on your team! There is one person in the room, but I’m on your team” The reflection in the mirror just wants to go away and does not want to be talked to that way. Its eyes alight on the first shiny thing it finds in the room that it can start to play with. There is a pairs of scissors! I haven’t sharpened these scissors in a while!

Merlin says that if you don’t look at yourself in the mirror when things are going well, it makes it feel a little chancy to do that when you are not feeling well. It is attractive to think about mindfulness when things are going poorly, but it is not as attractive to think about it when things are going well. It is way harder for John! Numerous times in his life when he has done something well he tried to go into the bathroom and enjoy even a moment of nominal victory. He walked off the stage after a triumphant performance, or he walked out of the interview or the test, and he went immediately into the bathroom and told himself ”You did a good job!”, but the reflection in the mirror squirms uncomfortably and wants to get out of there even more. It is the same impulse to say ”You did good, I see you, I’m acknowledging that you did well”, but John doesn’t want to receive it or hear it.

There are a lot of opportunities on the campaign trail every day to walk out of a thing and say ”Wow, that was a lot better than I expected, that went really well!”, but the nature of campaigning is always about the last thing you did. If it was longer than 30 minutes ago, it is already in the past. John is already pretty bad at stacking up accomplishments and telling himself that he is doing well and he is a good person. The other day he walked out of an interview with the King County Democrats, which is a board of directors of about 20 people from every legislative district in King County. When a voter is reading their voter guide, it will say ”Endorsed by the 32nd district Democrats, the 43rd district Democrats, and the King County Democrats” and John doesn’t know how a voter parses that.

John went to this meeting and it was great! Everybody responded well to him and he felt at home, like a water-ski boat that was up one step, he was above the waves, skirting across the surface of the lake. People were nodding emphatically and it was a great conversation, but he has no idea whether or not they endorsed him. Directly afterwards he went to another meeting where he felt completely out of his body, trying to give a speech to a room full of people he couldn’t gauge. They weren’t really looking at him but they were just playing with their salads. When he got home that evening, he is not saying ”You did great at the King County Democrats!”, but he thinks that there is nothing worse than giving a speech that you don’t quite nail in front of a room full of people who are playing with their salads. Why would he even go to an event like that? You never know before you are walking into the door. John doesn’t know enough about those organizations to know which ones are going to be good or bad.

It is the same as playing shows: You have to treat every one of those more seriously than the last because you never know! Even though you might have 5 shows in a row where it is the bartender and a friend, this show could be the show where a booker or someone who writes for the local paper is somewhere in the audience. You have got to be playing to the last row regardless of how you feel, because you never know how important it could be and you never know which one show is going to have Jonathan Poneman there. One day John played a show and Jonathan Poneman was there and he came up to him after the show and offered him a record contract. It felt like being discovered at the malt shop, and yet he never did sign that record contract.

John knows a lot of people who did sign a record contract that was offered to them by Jonathan Poneman and it didn’t change the fact that most of those people are now working somewhere else. Over time you learn that the idea that something life-changing is going to happen in Rock ’n’ Roll at any one particular show is a fallacy. It is really all the shows together, All the great shows! It is a counterpart to the argument against ”The Great Man"-theory of history that says it was not about Napoleon, but about the forces that worked to create Napoleon. Human forces are working all the time and Napoleon is irrelevant compared to the passage of time. John doesn’t agree with that critique of history.

In 1998 John was on his way to South Africa to study at the University of Cape Town and to write a book about the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, together with his mentor Jim Clauss. It was going to be that profoundly life-changing academic trip and during the 3 or 4 months leading up to leaving for Cape Town, John got all his ducks in a row. Then his band, the Western State Hurricanes got invited to SxSW which was such a lofty dream and such a big deal. It could have potentially been career changing! John told Jim that he had been in bands for 6 years. it was finally taking off and this was one of these once-in-a-lifetime chances. Jim replied ”Well, Cap Town will always be there! Make the decision you want to make!” and John went to his band mates, described the situation and one of them said that he should go to Cape Town because SxSW will always be there and they would be there when he came back. The other two guys said ”This is our one chance and if you go to Cape Town we are leaving the band”.

John agonized over it and decided that the academic path will still be there for him, but he had to pursue this opportunity with his band, because he will not get asked to go up to the majors an infinite number of times. John went to SxSW, which was interesting and the first of 9 consecutive SxSW he attended, but immediately upon returning from SxSW the two guys who said that this was their big shot both quit the band. John never did go to South Africa and he did not write a book about the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. He went to 8 more SxSW and every one of them felt like it could be the moment, but none of them were. Maybe if he would have been in Band of Horses, there would have been a show that you could point to where it started to take off, but the fact is that if it hadn’t been that show for them, it would have been the next show, because Ben is a great songwriter and they were going to make that sound and they were good enough so they made it all the way. It wasn’t that they got discovered at SxSW.

When running for office it feels like at every one of these events the former governor could be there and it could be the moment it all turns, but the fact is that you have to go to all of them and if you catch on with people and if they are going to like you, no one meeting is the moment. It is the composite of having performed all these tasks and having spoken all these times that either reveals you to be the one that people are looking for, or reveals you to not be that one.

Merlin thinks about all the times he is waiting to arrive, but anybody who has arrived starts to realize that you never really arrive, and even Bono has a boss. There is always somebody above your station that you are trying to impress or at least try to please. It is almost like the opposite of arriving. You grow up thinking that you only get a handfull of chances to really make something happen. When I get this break, it is just going to be a rocket to the top. These chances may come along, but alongside these chances are 10.000 opportunities for everything to unravel. Every time you walk out there, you are facing the beginning of an unravelling. The arrival doesn’t stick and just leads to more expectation.

During the 2 months John has been campaigning for office, there have been so many events! If the election were held today, and if it only involved the 45 people in that room, John would win this office. While those 45 people are important people in the process, the election isn’t today and it doesn’t involve just those 45 people. No-one can anoint you! You can be appointed to public office, which is a crazy thing, but for the most part, if you want to be a legitimate, elected person there is no shortcut. One day there is the election and you do everything you can up to that one day. The last election between Romney and Obama turned out to be a total sweep, but it didn’t look like it during the week leading up to it. A lot of pundits were calling it the other way until Obama’s name was written in their blood on the wall.

It is never a thing that you can sow up, if it is at all competitive. Nothing is guaranteed for John in this race. People tell him that he is going to make it at least through the primary because he has raised a lot of money. It is also an excuse for people to say that John doesn’t need their active help because things are going great for him, but from John’s standpoint that is not how it feels. This contributes to his feeling of loneliness, because a lot of his people think that things are going great when they read about it in the newspaper, while John just feels like completely abandoned. The only other people he could talk to who would understand it are his competitors. There is a lot of fellow feeling between people running for office, but it couldn’t be more exaggerated how little John resembles them.

The other day, John went to the Wikipedia page for the Washington State Legislature and started reading the biographies of all the current people in the legislatures. The stock biography is having graduated with a degree in political science, started to work immediately at a non-profit, became the director of that non-profit, then became the executive director at a different non-profit, then worked for a while on the campaign of a candidate who either won office in which case they became that candidate’s legislative aid or that candidate lost and they went back to the world of non-profits. At no point does it ever feel cynical. Every one of these jobs are fantastic and people are doing them motivated by a desire to help. Those non-profits are across a wide spectrum: Helping the homeless, houses for humanity, medical care, and all across the spectrum of concerned citizens.

At a certain while they are at one of those places, they first run for office themselves, at which point it becomes clear that this was a career path. John doesn’t know them enough personally to know how many of them said at age 18 that they one day were going to be a representative and the path to that is this. If you graduate with a degree of political science, you have some awareness of what you are doing. If you immediately join the non-profit world, you are conscious of those steps, but John can’t know how much each one of these people are pursuing this path over the course of time. When meeting them on the campaign trail, this group of people is not characterized by their rye-balled sense of humor nor by their worldliness, really. They are capable of talking about all of the agreed challenges facing our city today, but they are not capable of talking about it outside of what the agreed-upon coral of notions is.

Running the campaign on the strength of ideas (RL157)

The other day, a sitting city-council-man and likable person said to John: The thing about you is that nobody knows what you are going to do. This opponent of yours, even if I disagree with him, when he gets the job, I know what he is going to do. But nobody knows what John is going to do, so how can we chose you? John said ”Errrrr, I mean…” John’s sense is that 95% of what comes across a city council person’s desk are completely unforeseen and only 5% are things you know are going to happen. There is a police scandal or suddenly Shell oil brings a drilling rig into the harbor or there is an economic crisis or a snow storm. So much of the job is reacting to things that nobody anticipated, John would imagine that nobody knows what anybody is going to do. While that might be true, the only way people know how to chose a candidate is if you have demonstrated consistency in what you are going to do. From that they extrapolate what you would do in unforeseen circumstances. John understood what the person was saying, but it seemed like really bad. What it doesn’t do is account for a person’s flexibility, morality or curiosity. All voting records are a measurable set of data that you can put up against your voting record and see what the differences are and put like a points rating on: Is this guy more liberal than me or less liberal than me?

When Ross Perot first entered the race in 1988, he was a guy who many of us naturally would have not anything to do with, because he was an outspoken Texas oil guy with pearl-handled revolvers and a real rogue. It is funny how much he appealed to people at first by being so obviously sensible. This was a guy we could trust, because this guy built a business and he was such a straight shooter at the beginning, before he was all non-nutty-ball salad. Everybody thought that this guy was the straightest of shooters and everybody knew where you stand with Ross Perot John was a radical at the time and Ross Perot appealed to him. It felt like the other candidates in the race were just the same old same old, while here is this guy who for better or for worse was going to be a real human being. Then it turned out that Ross Perot was not able to maintain that and he lost us all. John felt that he could have won that presidency if he had just stayed the course, but he lost all of the people who supported him including John. The more he talked by the end, the more you could say that although that guy is a straight shooter, he is a straight shooter about a lot of whackadoodle. Speak freely in his way was very attractive at first, but then it appeared as if he didn’t have any filter and maybe needed some kind of medication.

John is the outside candidate and the question is if he will be able to make a convincing portrayal of an insider candidate while not losing something crucial about himself in the process. It wouldn't be something irrevocable, because John's integrity is not malleable in that way. When he entered this race, he was not going to run negative, but just on the strength of ideas. He was under a lot of pressure from people in his campaign who knew better to attack his opponent. John had a lot of anxiety about it, but he said ”No!” What they knew about was attacking and they wanted to do it, but as John wanted to run on ideas, they just said ”Great, then you are the guy with the ideas. Let’s have them!” John was going to 6 events a day and there was the expectation that he was going home at the end of the day to write 2000 words on the world of ideas he was promoting.

When John wasn’t even able to muster the pure energy needed to spitball, there was a lack of voice coming from his direction. People started to say that he hadn’t released any position papers or taken any stand on anything. John’s team wasn’t punishing him, because they didn’t know what to do. What they knew was to write up a thing that his opponent was a baby-killer. They wanted to swift-boat every day! It was what they understood because that is what everyone is doing. When it starts to rain after 20 days of no rain, the instinct of everybody is to get a press-release out that we support the rain and more importantly, my opponent is on the record 3 different times saying that he wished it would stop raining. In 1997, my opponent said that he was sick of the rain. Now in the middle of this drought, who do you want? A guy who is sick of the rain, or a guy who loves the rain?

A couple of different times John was sitting on a chair with a laptop in his lap trying frantically just to stay on top of emails, when somebody came over and said ”Here is an opportunity to set out a press release!” The other opponents were debating housing in the newspaper and John was left out of the conversation and everybody was in a panic, because the race was shaping up between those two other guys. John was not in the conversation, because he was over here working on something else, but they told him that he can’t afford to not be in the conversation. A couple of different times press releases have gone out from John’s campaign in a tone that he didn’t like. In the context of the political world it was mild stuff, adressed to some imaginary reader who wants to know where these two guys stand. Apparently this guy doesn’t like the rain and it left him feeling like there was a film on his tongue, but in the absence of John generating candy cane lollipop position papers week after week, that was what came out. Now John is trying to draw a line in the sand and say: No! He is going to run on the strength of ideas or nothing! John needs a shot of vitamin B12 or something, or he needs a hug!

It is really difficult to just look at any one candidate on their own, because it is so much easier for someone writing an article about it to say that here is the person with the super-clear position that everybody agrees with. You have to put people next to each other in order for it to be a campaign. It gives you a lot more clarity, but the more you do that, you get incrementally closer to being a pro-wrestler. John hesitates to say that this is the challenge, because there are so many challenges. If only he could master just the one!

He looks back at the end of every week and says ”Boy, if I had known at the beginning of the week what I know now, I would have done a lot better job this week”, which is very unusual. If John every applied that idea in the course of his normal life, it was more like ”If I had known what I know now 2 years ago, I would have done a much better job over the last 2 years”, but it is very rare to have that thought every day! The next day is like ”What I learned yesterday didn’t really apply today and I learned a whole bunch of new stuff I didn’t know”. This will probably be true for this whole race and on election day John will feel ready to run for office. People tell him that there is no bad way to run for office. Either you win, then you won, or you lose, then you know how to run. None of it really points to teaching you how to govern and it sounds like horrible preparation of how to govern.

The seeming corruption inside the system (RL157)

From the outside these political characters seem to be dripping with corruption, because their behavior is often so transparently in the service of a pretty narrow group of expectations. It seems so clear to most of us that you are either corrupt before you run for office, or running for office makes you corrupt. From the inside John can now see that if you come from this background, you know a limited number of people who think they have their finger on the pulse of what is wrong. If you spend 20 years working at a food bank and become the executive director of it, you have a sense of being clued in to what is going on in cities, because you are dealing with people who are feeling the brunt of it. In reality you don’t know that many people and you don’t have a very broad picture of the world. Then you get into office and you see the same faces over and over. Because raising money is such a big part of it, you end up going to fundraisers with the same people and you end up on the phone with the same people. If you don’t have a broad picture of the city or the country, it is very easy to feel that this group of 500-600 people represents The People. You know more than 90% of the population on a handful of topics which is going to serve you well sometimes and really drive you crazy some other times.

Of those 500 people you know, everybody considers themselves an expert in something. While you are standing in the banquet hall of the Sheraton, one guy comes up from the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, another guy comes up from the Builders Lobbying Group, another guy from the Bilderberg Group, and there is the chair woman of the Sierra Club. Every one of those people represent thousands of constituents. That is when it gets confusing, because you feel like you know everything because you are there with the 500 people who know everything. That is when it happens what appears to the rest of us as being corruption. It isn’t corruption, but you are just doing what your friends want you to do. You have these friends, they ask you to do things, and you can! You never hear from the other side! You are not even aware it exists. You are just helping your friends, it doesn’t feel corrupt to you! That is what is so maddening about the process we use to chose people. The last thing anyone wants to hear from a candidate is that every single side of every single argument has some validity to it. It isn’t ever a question of finding out the truth, but it is always a question of figuring out a plan, a process, and a method and working toward goals.

A city council person told John that in his work he had constantly come up against these big money people who were always doing things that really negatively affected his non-profit. As he looked into whom these big money bad guys gave money to, he realized that they donated money to city council candidates and he realized he needed to run for office, because he needed to get in there and root out that corruption. The most any city council candidate can receive is $700, so it is not that they are buying people with money, but they are in relationships with each other. They are big money developers while the other guy is on the city council. They see each other at the ballroom at the Sheraton. It is never as simple that this developer’s $700 cheque turned this person who had integrity into a slavish Gollum, but it feels like a conspiracy. Then you look at General Wesley Clark who is shilling for a fucking Grilled Cheese Truck franchise. Adults do get to a certain point in their life when are worried about money, and John is feeling it, too.

John met Chris Hansen the other day. He is a guy John’s age who got his money through financial work, which surely is very hard work. He lives and works in San Francisco, he was a fan of the Sonics when he was a kid and now he wants to build a new basketball arena for the Sonics, buy a basketball team and bring them back to Seattle. There are tens of thousands of people in Seattle who really want this to happen. He is a super-nice guy and he is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. When he walks into the room, all of the normal operators sidle up to him and shake his hand. Nobody ever tells him any bad news. You can tell by the way he talks or the way he carries himself that nobody ever tells him anything bad. It is like Paul Allen: When you get to be that rich, it is not just that you surround yourself with people who give you good news, but nobody wants to give you bad news!

When people are around rich people, they have this feeling that there is always the possibility that they will drop $100.000 on their way to the bathroom. When they suddenly start shooting money out of a T-shirt canon, you don’t want to be the one he hates. John was standing there with a common feeling: It is too late for him to make $100 billion as a hedge fund manager, and that blanket of integrity that used to keep him so warm at night is getting worn a little thin. Yet, it is all he has against the night. He can’t get on the board of a Grilled Cheese franchise at this late hour, because 150 years from now, somebody will be listening to his podcast on micro-fish in the basement of a library, and they are going to know how the story turned out. They are going to know whether or not he sold out. John hasn’t used the phrase ”Sold out” in a fucking decade!

John is learning a lot all the time by seeing how all these different and interesting people operate. It is deeply on John’s mind and this is why he is standing in front of a mirror and tells himself that these are things he normally doesn't have to do. There is absolutely no opportunity for corruption in John’s world, there is no Abscam thing where some FBI-agent from Mexico pretends to be an Arab and gives him a suitcase full of money. Instead the corruption opportunity is this tiny little incremental corruption that is radioactive if you allow it in, like ”I said I wasn’t going to run negative, but everybody is telling me I have to and here is an opportunity to kick a guy and: Yeah, okay!”, like meeting a group of African American business owners and tailoring your speech to just be about issues you know they care about and not be about issues that are really motivating your campaign. When John went to meet with the union people, one of them asked him if he was a member of a union and he actually has an application for the musician’s union sitting on his desk.

Six times a day you meet six different groups of people and everyone wants you to tell them what they want to hear. If you do, you are letting radioactive corruption in little by little. When John meets with the Chamber of Commerce, he has the opportunity to tell them that he will do whatever they say, which is a very powerful impulse! You want to please people and they want you to please them. They are powerful and you want their help. John went in there and said ”Listen, you are never going to endorse me and that is fine, but if I am on the city council, we have to find a way to work together. Anyway: Peace out!” They are one of the most liberal chambers of commerce in America, but they are still a chamber of commerce. If you are on the Seattle city council and you believe that the chamber of commerce is your entire constituency, then you are missing a big part of what your job is. What is crazy to John is that not a single one of these groups with the exception of the Sierra Club is really interested in someone from outside the system coming in with some fresh ideas. That is not what anybody cares about. In 85% of those situations, including very liberal, progressive groups, they do not want to hear that. They want to hear that you are reliably going to do what they want.

If you have to hire an assistant manager at a Walmart, would you like somebody who is fresh blood? No, you would want somebody who has been an assistant manager at a successful Walmart before and who already knows how the business operates. The perception of being on the Seattle City Council is that it is equivalent to being the assistant manager of a Walmart and it has more or less the same skill sets. John still believes that this is a terrible way to elect somebody to public office. The job is not at all like being an assistant manager at a Walmart! So much energy is devoted at the start of a campaign to winnowing out all the people who don’t understand that all these groups do believe that that is what the job is. It is a process that creates the political world we see and loath. You do not want an assistant manager in this job! You want somebody where you don’t know what they are going to do. If you want somebody dependable and consistent in public office, you are going to get the results that you so often see, which is that the laws are made by people with no imagination who have allegiance to the people who put them there.

John needing more support (RL157)

Running against that requires that you reach out to the voters. What makes John feel so lonely is that the process of running for office is actually a process of courting all these groups of people who claim to be intermediaries between you and the voters. If you had $1 million to run your campaign, you could side-step the whole process, take out 50 TV-commercials day and say ”Hello, voters!” You could hire the Goodyear Blimp to fly over the city. Not having those resources you need to count on the King County Democrats and you do need to count on the chamber of commerce to help you reach people. They have a vested interest in saying, as John has heard people say under their breath, that it works to have a dumb candidate with a smart staff. A smart candidate starts to get really problematic and the smarter they are, the worse it is for the system.

It doesn’t matter if John is smart and running outside the system. If he cannot master the system, then he has failed. You can run for office this way if you are a principaled character with no intention of getting elected, but you are only running to raise awareness or to be on stage. If you run for office with the intention of winning, you have to figure out a way to play the game as it is actually played and also to maintain more than just the lion share of your integrity. That is the challenge! John thinks he can, but he needs more help.

This week, John needs to tell the people who are helping him that he needs more help. He is not mad and he is not blaming anybody. He can maintain his integrity, but in that case he is not going to get all these things done. If he is going to get all these things done, he will need more than a hug in order to maintain his integrity. He needs people who believe in him and who are cheering at him. People are giving John a lot of support on Twitter. He raised a lot of money at first and everybody was saying that he raised a lot of money and he is great, but now he is struggling to raise money and that looks bad because it seems like his support has evaporated. Any American who wants to help: Go to VoteRoderick.com and donate some money. John also needs research done and he needs help writing position papers. There are a lot of researchers and writers out there, but John doesn’t know how to tap them.

There are surely a lot of people who listen and who would love to write a transportation piece on gondolas. John actually needs one of those, but understanding what John needs written, how he needs it written and how he needs to then actually write it himself, would take up all his energy even if he weren’t also going to six meetings a day. John does have a campaign manager who schedules him in those meetings, but he does not have a creative tsar who is next to him and who is thinking about the positive aspects of the campaign. John needs three ”me”s: One to go home and write all the crazy shit down, edit it and get it to sound reasonable, one to go to these meetings, shaking people’s hands and kissing babies, and the third will be eating a sandwich in the bathtub and getting all the time he needs walking around in the garden in a bathrobe swinging a cimeter. Those three guys need to partner up like the three wise men, because standards in John’s neighborhood have declined!

Garry living in his van in John’s neighbor’s front yard (RL157)

Yesterday was a warm night and Garry was standing outside of his van at 2am, yelling into his phone about how the country is an abomination/Obamanation. At about the 4th or 5th time he said it loud while John was in bed, John had had it, got up, put on his bathrobe and stormed across the street. Garry was standing in the dark behind the laurel hedge and John yelled ”God damn it Garry! I’m sick of it! I am sick of you over here yelling in your phone and living in the front yard of my neighbor’s house. I’m sick of you drunk son of a bitch! I have got a little kid over here and you are yelling about Obamanation. I am done with you Garry!” and Garry goes: Woooohoooooo and John asked ”Garry, you don’t even know my name, do you?” and he said ”Jeff?” and John proceeded to read him the right act for another 20 minutes. Garry had picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue. John dressed him up and down and told him that they have met 40 times and the reason he doesn’t remember John’s name is because he is a god-damn alcoholic. "If you don’t figure out a way to quit drinking and get your shit together, you are going to spend the rest of your life living in this van and that is no way for a man to live!"

Garry's birthday was 1968 and John said ”I was born in 1968, you and me are the same fucking age. I used to be a dumb alcoholic living in a van and it wasn’t even my van! I don’t even want to know if this is your van” and Garry mumbled that he had tried to quit drinking 1000 times and John continued: ”1001! Try it 1001 times, because it is 2am out here and you are living in this van. How long have you been living in this van? How long have you been living in the front yard of my neighbor’s house?” He never let him get a word in, he just fucking unloaded and at the end he was holding him, petting his hair and saying ”Garry, you can do it! You can change your life, you can get through this and get on down the road. You can get your kids back, you just have to fucking take the first step” and he was blubbering. ”But in the meantime, fucking stop yelling about Obama in the middle of a god-damn night across the street from my house! If you are going to live in your van, live in your fucking van with the door closed quietly”.

6 days later, John parked his car and Garry was standing there with his hat actually in his hands. He walked across the street and said ”Hi John! I remember your name! The reason I called you Jeff is because my best friend’s name is Jeff." John replied that he is not interested, but Garry said ”Ever since our talk three days ago, I haven’t had a single drink” and John replied ”It was 6 days ago, Garry!” and he is ”Anyway, when I drink I’m an asshole” and John said ”Yes, you are an asshole when you drink, but unlike me, you are also an asshole when you don’t drink!”

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