Drink for America

I have a four-year-old daughter who asks about everything. Here’s what she knows about America: The King of England used to be in charge.  Then, we told him No! and we fought with his soldiers, and it was a hard fight.  It was an incredible fight.  We hid in the forest, it was cold and it was terrible, but in the end, we fought, and we won.  We sent his soldiers back to England.

And then we, the people, were in charge.  As a result, we get to vote on who’s the President, and on who makes the laws.  A lot of young men died to get it done.  The brightest lights of a generation spent their lives to get it done.

An incredible dream, brought to life on our soil.  Let's fast-forward two hundred years.  If you believe what you read in today's opinion pieces and blogs, you'd think that American democracy is dead.  What do I tell my daughter?  That corporations, lobbyists, and the two-party system really run the country?  And that there's nothing we can do about it?

I don't believe it.  There are a lot of things we can do to make the dream of American democracy not just a beautiful ideal but a fact on the ground.

Here’s one: Drink for America.

Let me put it this way: Who do you talk to about America, politics, the country?

Where I’m from, it ain’t polite to talk about religion, sex, or politics.  For me, it never seems to be the right time to bring it up.  Whatever you think of Occupy Wall Street, I do love how they got people together to provoke discussion, debate, and reflection about what’s wrong with America, and how to fix it.

However, due to its image, OWS is primarily gathering people of a leftward political persuasion, which is too bad.  There are plenty of rightists and libertarians and others who would like to see American democracy restored, both in perception and in reality.  Only when we engage across traditionally dividing lines do we have a chance of forming a more perfect Union.

When will we ever find time to talk about America?

You do go out for a drink with friends from time to time, don't you?  So how about coming out for a drink to talk about America?  Bring your friends if they’re interested.  And if they’re not, ditch ‘em for a night.  Or maybe, you need better friends.

It can be simple.  Meetup is good for organizing this sort of thing.  It could be every Monday night at a quiet neighborhood bar.  Maybe everyone wears a nametag with their name and a proposal.  Mine would say “David / No More Ag Subsidies”.  You may think that's a crap idea; I’d like to hear why.  And I’d love to hear your ideas.

OK, you say, so we’ll have a drink and discuss our ideas.  How does that change anything?

It changes you.

You walk in with one set of ideas and walk out with some different ones.  You might change your mind about something you think is important.  You might find out that some of your favorite ideas actually suck.  Or that everyone agrees with you and your idea is awesome.  You might discover a candidate that really deserves your support.

Remember, it doesn’t actually take that many thoughtful, committed citizens to make a difference.  Test your ideas in the crucible of discussion with friends, associates, enemies and people you just met!  Get some conviction.  You'll find it doesn't take long to write an email or two, make a phone call, or get busy online.  Multiply your activity by tens of thousands of us who feel the same way, and you've become part of a powerful force.  Think about how the American revolution got started in the first place...

So, is Drink for America already happening somewhere?  Taking a look at my local politically-oriented Meetups, every single one is in support of a particular candidate or party.  There's nothing wrong with that, but I'm proposing a different kind of meet-up, a gathering for people to exchange views rather than to strategize about how to advance the views they already share.

It might be fairly described as taking a page from the Occupy Wall Street playbook; that is, we ought to be talking before we’ve decided which candidate, party or proposal to support.

Would you like to help organize this?  I think it'd take two or three co-organizers to make this happen in NYC.  Drop me a line!  Join the group!  How are we going to find the people who are interested in this?  Do they make a bat-signal in the shape of the American flag?

ps. interestingly, not everyone shares my perspective on the American revolution.
pps. thanks to Dave, Peter, Thom and Michele for feedback on drafts of this post!


Pro Tools for Digital Life

Whether it's programming, cooking or carpentry, having the right tools makes a huge difference.

Same goes for communication.

Here's my toolbox. I use these all the time.

  • gmail. best web email ever.
  • the Getting Things Done system. A great methodology for staying on top of what you can, and ditching the rest. Thanks Jon!
  • google calendar.  i can see my wife's calendar when i need to.  one of our regular babysitters keeps her schedule on it and shares it with us.  we can see when she's free/busy, saving everybody time when scheduling.
  • bit.ly.  you give it a long URL and it shortens it.  a pro feature is that you can customize the shortened URL.  for example, the URL for my public Google calendar, which shows my free/busy time but not the details, is http://bit.ly/dsj_cal.  I give that out to anyone I'm scheduling a meeting with.
  • twitter. this is where i go when i want to "read the newspaper". Over the past 6 months I've found 400 people worth following. I think of it as "build your own newspaper". If someone is polluting my stream with stuff I'm not interested in, I just de-follow them. I make no attempt to "keep up" with all the tweets. This is just what I read when I have downtime to read interesting things.
  • news.me's daily email. they scrape my twitter feed to find very interesting things i ought to read. i look at this every day and there's usually one or two really good things in it.
  • buffer.  If you tweet regularly, you need buffer.  They space out your tweets so that you're not overwhelming people.  They also track stats on clicks and retweets.  Why is this useful?  Here's the problem.  Let's say you spend 20 minutes a day reading twitter and re-tweeting the things you find interesting.  So then you've made 5 tweets in the span of 20 minutes, which is probably annoying to some of your followers.  That's where buffer comes in.  Instead of tweeting directly, you Buffer them up using their nice Chrome plugin (if you are not using Chrome now, close this window immediately and install it), and Buffer tweets them out for you at scheduled times.  It might sound a bit OCD, but I think your followers will be happier not getting 5 tweets from you all at once.
  • followupthen.  Send emails to your future self.  In an hour, a day, a week, month, specific date, whatever.  This helps keep your inbox free of clutter that's there only to serve as a reminder.  Example: I email someone, asking them to do something for me.  But I know they're a little busy/forgetful.  So I also bcc 1week@followupthen.com, so that I'll get an email about it in a week.  In a week, when I get the email, if they haven't done anything yet, I can bug them again or otherwise deal with it.  In the interim, my inbox is blissfully clean, which is good since then I'm not devoting valuable brainspace or inbox space to the matter.  This harmonizes very well with the Getting Things Done methodology.
  • ohours.  If you're in a line of business where people "meet for coffee" all the time, you might find it more efficient to schedule a 20-minute videoconf chat instead.  ohours handles the logistics of scheduling and connecting.  If you want to chat with me, here's my ohours.
  • skillshare.  If you have a skill, you should be teaching it.  Today, I'm teaching Fun With Data 101.  If you don't have a skill... come on!  You have a skill!
  • about.me.  A nice place to send people who want to learn more about you.  I need a better picture there.  Someday when Tom and I are on the same coast, he'll take one.
Do you have tools you like?  Add 'em in the comments!

One final note about twitter, buffer and news.me.  I think buffer and news.me are, together, improving serious problems with twitter, from the outside.  Interestingly, they both attack temporal problems with twitter, buffer on the way in and news.me on the way out.  With buffer, I can compose my tweets when I want, and they'll send them out later, on an optimal schedule for my followers.  With news.me, I can read whenever I want, and they've taken the trouble of figuring out which tweets in my stream are most likely to interest me.

What do you think?