U.S. Capitol.

Politics: It’s the Journey, not the Destination

It’s been a long time since I discussed politics here. I occasionally get into politics over on Twitter, but rarely do I write about it. I don’t consider myself a political wonk so I leave the blogging to the wonks. However, I am not exactly a political outsider either. With years under my belt in the political epicenter of the country – the Greater Washington, D.C. Region – I’m not exactly naive about the political gamesmanship that happens every day.

Now, living in Austin, Texas – the state capital, and center of political activity in the great State of Texas – it’s not like I’m unaware of the way things work on a state level either (though admittedly, I know far less about Texas politics than I do about Maryland or National politics). However, living and traveling outside of the Beltway bubble has been enlightening in how the rest of the country sees the political process.

More or less, outside the beltway, the vast majority of laypeople see politics as something that is offensive, or at minimum, charged with rhetoric, hate and something that is to be shunned in casual social scenarios. Things are so personal to the electorate that, right or left, the objective of governing is lost. The right sees the left as a bloc of people intent on taking away personal liberties, led by a man so vilified for ideas that are less written in stone, and more written in perception based on questionable, if not indiscriminately inaccurate, data.

The left is not much better. The left sees the right as a segment of the country who wants to simply obstruct every bit of progress possible, while returning the country to a racist, misogynist, hateful past.

Both of these perceptions, while steeped in some level of truth, are shams. Both highlight tendencies that reflect deeper conditions among both groups. But here’s the funny part… Both views are curated by both parties inside the beltway.

Whyever would anyone want to perpetrate these despicable ideas???

It’s funny how politics works. Politics is based entirely on manipulation and both parties (the establishment, not the people holding a voter registration card in South Dakota) are masters of it. Politics exists for the sake of power and both parties know that. Both parties also know they need each other to retain power. Both parties agree and walk in unison on 80% of issues. It’s the 20% that is a grand, choreographed display of artistic fortitude. It’s the 20% that allows the GOP to fire up their base of voters to keep keep them (or re-take) power. It’s the 20% that carries the Democrats to a 2006 and 2008 landslide based on anti-Bush sympathy and promises of Hope and Change. It’s the 20% that turns the Tea Party into a movement to be reckoned with in 2010.

Both parties know this and both parties work in lock-step to ensure this epic drama unfolds as it’s supposed to. To do so ensure that Democrats and Republicans lock-in the two party system, that benefits both of them in terms of money and power, for decades to come. To fail to do so (as in, an apathetic American public who isn’t angered by the Thème de la Jour), reveals cracks in the armor, possible loss of campaign contributions, corporate lobbying dollars, and power.

Having lived inside the Beltway, Hill staffers from both sides of the aisle put on their contorted political dance during the day, on television, radio programs, interviews and other media avenues, just to go to happy hour with their colleagues from across the aisle after hours. They are just like us in their every day life (with maybe more hectic schedules). They watch sports, go shopping, eat at restaurants, enjoy craft beers and go through their lives like all of us. The difference is, when they are at work, they are creating an elaborate illusion for the rest of the country.

The illusion is one of hatred, angst, bitter rivalries and political gamesmanship. The point: Keep the proletaria right so bent out of shape about Obama (or whoever) policies and the grassroots left looking at disgust at Republicans using parliamentary games that block Democratic initiatives.

It’s all a game.

Which brings me to the point I took a long time getting to: the GOP primaries.

Last night, I watched as Twitter exploded with chatter about Arizona and Michigan results where Mitt Romney won handily and barely, respectively. People scoffed at Santorum’s pro-life, anti-abortion stance while (inaccurately) putting out misinformation like, “If Santorum gets elected president, he’s going to take away your condoms”. Likewise, equally vilifying statements were made about Mitt Romney.

Now, I am not a partisan. I am unaffiliated with either party and I’m certainly not casting any support to the GOP candidate or to President Obama. I just don’t know who I’ll vote for in November. But I’ll tell you that watching the ongoing angst over the GOP Presidential hopefuls is both funny and tragic. It’s funny because… well, the GOP will get a 40% base no matter who gets the nomination and Obama will get his 40% base no matter who gets the nomination. It’s the 20% in the middle that will decide the race. You can get pissed off about Obama  but the historical data on election trends speaks for itself. Likewise, you can throw statements around about Romney and Santorum, but there’s no reason to believe that the election results in November will break any other way than they always have.

It’s tragic because I realize so few people sit back and enjoy the process. They lose the process through the politics. The process – the primaries as well as the other aspects of Washington work – is a beautiful work of art that has been around for centuries. The system is to be cherished. The politics not so much.

The primaries are not about elections. They aren’t even about politics. They are a mechanism of a party to determine who is going to be on the ticket for the general election (which is about politics). The rules for primaries are different between parties. The outcomes are irrelevant, except for the party internal mechanisms.

While the media does 24 hour coverage of these cycles (did ya hear Super Tuesday is coming up?!), the electorate gets more worked up into a fevered frenzy. It’s sort of like the snake charmer and the cobra where we the people are the cobra and the media and the beltway operation is the snake charmer.

So enjoy this process. Enjoy our system of government that, while not perfect, is still quite amazing. Everything that is old is new again. Everything new is fading away. It’s made up of cycles and we are just players in a grand dance.

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WordCamp Mid-Atlantic: Where It’s Been, Where It’s Going

Late in 2008, while I was transitioning from life in Baltimore to life outside of Washington, D.C., I was contemplating organizing the first WordCamp event in that area. Baltimore had begun to show signs of a healthy tech community and Washington had continued to flourish as a healthy communications scene. Philadelphia, just up I-95, had a healthy design and development community and I had become somewhat familiar with that city as well.

I made a point of making my event one that would set trends and challenge the status quo.

Mid-Atlantic

One thing I did think of early on was that I detested the trend that identified an event with a singular city, especially when there were multiple cities, all offering different, yet complementary modus operandi. I bucked the trend of identifying the event by a city, eschewing names like WordCamp DC or WordCamp Baltimore. These names, while celebratory of the city that hosts them, inherently bear the problem of inferred exclusivity.

From the very first WordCamp in the region, I challenged that designation and attempted to bring the cities together. It was called WordCamp Mid-Atlantic.

Three Cities, then Two

The original plan was to bring the three cities together in Baltimore for a WordPress event. Ideally, the result would be more collaboration and resources shared between the various communities. Ultimately, Philadelphia never bought into Mid-Atlantic (and in fact, ended up with their own successful WordCamp Philly). However, Mid-Atlantic was wildly supported by both Baltimore and DC. even garnering coverage in the Baltimore Sun business publication Maryland Daily Record.

For WordCamp Mid-Atlantic 2010, the event was geared mainly to the Washington Metro and Baltimore.

Keynotes That Challenge

In both events, I wanted to bring in someone from the WordPress leadership hierarchy as a Keynote as well as someone from outside of WordPress entirely to challenge the gathered attendees. This as quite controversial, actually. In 2009, I brought in Anil Dash, founder and former SVP at SixApart. Anil was known historically as somewhat of an antagonist, but did a wonderful job in sharing and illustrating the similarities between WordPress and SixApart who provided a competing platform. His message was one of learning from each other.

This past year, I opted to bring in Marco Tabini who has also been a frequent antagonist of WordPress. His message was one from the perspective of the PHP community and reconciling how the PHP core people could learn and help the WordPress core people, and vica versa. My inbox became a little tense in the weeks leading up to the event due to other incidents involving dissenting views about the GPL license and WordPress’ interpretation of it. Needless to say, Marco did an amazing job.

It’s Not My Baby

As most of you know, I have left the Baltimore/Washington region. As a result, this past WordCamp Mid-Atlantic was my last. People have asked me quite a lot about who I would pass the baton to. This is a tricky question because the event is not mine. It’s yours.

That said, this is not for just anyone to run. I cannot put any strings on who will run the next event but I do have the platform to voice my sentiments:

  • I want to see Mid-Atlantic stay in the event. I do not want to see a fractured event where there becomes a WordCamp Baltimore and a WordCamp DC. Both cities have user groups that meet frequently. I want to see the WordCamp Mid-Atlantic event retain it’s place as a regional/local event.
  • I want to see the idea of challenging (and even dissenting) opinions welcomed to the stage, like Marco… and Anil. We should not be scared of being shaken up. We should embrace it and learn from it. That said, future organizers should be sensitive as to who you have come and speak.
  • Retain the unconference. One of the amazing success stories of WordCamp Mid-Atlantic 2010 was the unconference, organized by Steve Fisher. Besides the pre-scheduled and organized tracks that are familiar to conference goers, we provided a separate, yet equal unconference for ad-hoc discussion and talks. The only thing I’d change is to make it true barcamp style and make a no-powerpoint rule.
  • No one organizer. I became the defacto organizer for both events. While I had varying degrees of help for both, I really became the guy for the event. This was not wise on my part. There should be an organizer in each city.

This is Baltimore’s event. This is Washington’s event. This event brilliantly integrated both communities. It really, really did. I want to see it continue (obviously with new leadership), but I want it to be with people who take it seriously and can make it better than it ever was. Put your own spin on it. Make it your own, not mine.

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Crime Statistics in DC

After the news today that MSNBC.com acquired EveryBlock, a service that tracks local news in 12 different cities and organizes news, reviews, and other localized data into searchable locales (zip codes, neighborhoods, etc), I decided to poke around a bit.

One of the areas that EveryBlock tracks is crime statistics and Washington, DC is one of the 12 cities. I discovered that according to publicly available crime data, there are over double the number of crimes reported in Northwest than their are in Southeast or Northeast.

Photo via Badercondo.org
Photo via Badercondo.org
In DC, the city is divided into four quadrants based around direction from the U.S. Capitol building. That means everything south of the National Mall and west of South Capitol St is considered southwest. South of East Capitol St and east of South Capitol St is Southeast and is generally considered the most violent area of the city. North of East Capitol St and east of North Capitol St is Northeast and is largely residential. North of the National Mall and west of North Capitol St is Northwest, the busiest and most upscale quadrant of the city.

I dug around for a bit, looking at data by zip code, by ward, by quadrant, by types of crime, etc. Needless to say, it was quite startling to see this chart via Everyblock.com:
Picture 4
Naturally, we can draw some conclusions based on this striking data:

  • The socialites that go to the upscale bars that pepper Northwest, are clearly more likely to commit crimes than the Hipsters who pepper the bars along H St in Northeast.
  • Traffic circles have a higher rate of inciting violence than straight roads (the bulk of DC’s many traffic circles are in NW).
  • A higher cost of alcoholic drinks is directly responsible for an uptick in theft.
  • A higher concentration of tourists in and around the National Mall and monuments escalates anger level in citizens who have a tendency to then get into altercations as frustration level boils over.
  • The Metro and access to the Metro has a negative effect on people.
  • Sunday brunches don’t have quite the positive effect everyone assumes they do.

Clearly, we can draw these conclusions. Clearly.

Or maybe we just like to jump to conclusions that support our own worldview. For instance, I really dislike Northwest because it’s pretty douchey, expensive and parking is hard to find. Therefore, my worldview is projected into these crime statistics and I can make claims such as the ones above. Finding evidence to support our own worldviews, instead of finding a worldview that matches the evidence is the American way, eh?

Yeah. It is.

Reminds me of a healthcare reform debate.

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