Sunday, January 19, 2014

Reaves for County Commission

A few weeks ago someone asked me what I thought about the race for the open seat on the Shelby County Commission in my area, District 3. I'm under no illusion that any endorsement I offer would, or even should, make much of a difference. But as someone who stays fairly involved in local politics, perhaps my perspective is at least beneficial to those who are concerned but don't have the time or inclination to follow things as closely as I do and would appreciate the insight.

At this moment, there are two declared candidates to replace Chris Thomas, a fantastic public servant who is stepping down to serve as city manager in Lakeland. The first candidate is David Reaves, who currently serves on the Shelby County School Board. The second candidate is Kelly Price, previously a candidate for Memphis City Council. 

I've never met Price, but he comes with a couple of good recommendations by people I trust. It's not necessarily remarkable that I don't know him, although I would suggest it does say something about his previous political involvement in Bartlett and Lakeland, where it isn't hard to become at least somewhat familiar with every political activist nearby. And as the former president of the area's only Republican club, and the chairman of Bartlett's municipal school campaign over the last 2-3 years, I've certainly had more opportunity than most to become familiar with the people who run in those circles.

Reaves, meanwhile, is another story. I remember the campaign speech he gave to the NE Shelby Republican Club when he first ran for a seat on the Shelby County School Board. I don't recall if I voted for him then, but I at least appreciated his platform. I certainly supported him when the County Commission tried to unseat him shortly after election, as part of the unilateral consolidation of the school systems. And when we launched Better Bartlett Schools, he was there from the start, volunteered at every opportunity, and literally held signs for us on the street corner as the day of the (second) referendum arrived.

It would be one thing if Reaves were merely present during these pivotal times. That would have been enough to earn my appreciation, but it wasn't just that. He's been leading and serving. He's been offering visionary ideas, fighting hard in the trenches, performing admirably both in the spotlight and away from it, and accomplishing all this while making friends rather than enemies.

More significant is Reaves' humility and his willingness not only to hear from his constituents but also to seek it out and to initiate dialogue. That's incredibly rare, even at the local level.

So I endorse David Reaves for County Commission not because we agree 100% on every issue. In fact, I can think of three or four times off the top of my head where I didn't agree with his position, at least initially. But I've always trusted his principles and respected his thought process and willingness to hear out and understand alternative viewpoints. More than anything, I know he will continue to seek what is best for the community he serves, because that's the kind of guy he is.

Last summer during one of my philosophical journeys, I decided my test for political candidates would begin with this question: which one is currently the best public servant? There are plenty of people holding office who aren't serving the public at all, I reasoned, and any newcomer should be able to explain how they've already benefited the community.

With that question in mind, it's not even a contest; it's David Reaves by a mile.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Five free online tools for campaigns

If you're launching a bid for political office, building support for a cause, or heading up a marketing campaign for a club or organization, here are some web-based services that can help. Even better, they're all free.

These are the online tools I've found most helpful, even essential, for a variety of campaigns. You can find other alternatives in most cases, but these particular tools are reliable, easy to use, and can work in concert to meet your campaign goals.

1. Wordpress. Every campaign needs a home base on the web, a place you'll send people to get the big picture, see the latest news, and take steps to get more involved in your cause. Of all the options, I find blogging software the easiest to set up and maintain. And of all the blogging services, Wordpress has the most to offer. (Yes, you're reading this on Blogspot; this isn't a campaign.) I generally register my own domain name and use a custom Wordpress installation, but that takes some additional time and work, and you have to pay for both the domain name registration and the web server hosting. A free blog is easier, and it costs you nothing. You can have a website up in mere moments, and get started with a design template that's already built and ready to go. This is where you'll place all the links to and/or widgets from the other tools below.

2. Rally. There are other ways to raise money, collect payments online, etc., but Rally is a great tool for campaigns. One of the best features it offers is the ability to stay in touch with your followers and supporters. Rally will help you build a community around your cause and keep your most engaged advocates involved. People who donate to your campaign can also build their own Rally pages and start raising money and awareness for you. Word of mouth is your best friend, and the folks who already support your cause are the people most likely to spread the word; the people who have donated to your campaign are also the ones who are most likely to support it in the future. Keep in touch with them, and keep them happy, because they are your biggest asset. And more often than not in grassroots campaigns, they're also your customer.

3. Wufoo. This online form builder with a funny name is one of the most useful services online. Wufoo comes in handy any time you need to collect information from people. You can use it to build a mailing list, create a survey, generate a feedback page, or design any number of other forms. If you need to identify supporter interests, or allow volunteers to select from a list of available opportunities, you can easily build a form for that purpose in minutes. Wufoo can be customized to send your supporters an email receipt when they complete a form, and you can choose to receive a real-time email notification also. Wufoo integrates with other services, such as Paypal, so you can even use it to sell campaign materials. I use it most often in conjunction with the next service on the list.

4. Mailchimp. It still happens, but gone are the days when people needed to CC dozens of contacts in an email message, compromising their followers' privacy, getting their messages flagged as spam, and exposing themselves to 187 out-of-office messages, bounce-backs, and replies. Of all the mass email and contact management services, Mailchimp offers the most for free. You can create multiple lists and groups, allowing you to build customized messages shaped for different audiences, and you can compose a message in advance and schedule it to deliver at a preset time. Mailchimp can be synced with Wufoo, so your email subscription process is seamless.

5. Facebook Page. If you want to reach people, you have to go where they are. And for now at least, the best place to find people and get them plugged into your campaign is Facebook. You'll still occasionally see some personal accounts being misused as a campaign or brand, but you really need to start with a personal profile using your own name, then create a Facebook page for the campaign. Some campaigns may want to use a Facebook group instead, but if you are controlling the message, stick with a page. In most cases, your Facebook page is your most regular connection to your followers, and you'll use it to highlight your blog posts, link to your Rally page to raise money, post photos of your supporters at campaign stops, build your email list, call for volunteers, and market your events.

Bonus Tool #1. Eventbrite. For campaign events big and small, Eventbrite offers a way for your community to reserve seats or purchase tickets. You can even create a free custom subdomain like The system can be configured to send automated email reminders to your guests, and you can download a sign-in list or scan bar-codes as they arrive.

Bonus Tool #2. Google Calendar. There are plenty of calendar and task-list alternatives, but Google Calendar is easy to use, appointments and events can be grouped by color, all kinds of reminder alerts can be set, entries can be shared with other users as needed, and everything can be managed from a smartphone app. Good timing and organization are vital elements of an effective campaign, and Google Calendar will help you stay on target.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nobody compares to President Barack Obama. He's Obamamazing.

No being, whether now living, long dead, or who may exist at any point in the future, comes anywhere close to the god-man we know as President Barack Obama. He dwells on an entirely different plain.

He feels what we cannot feel. He dreams what we cannot dream. He wipes where we cannot wipe.

President Obama is singularly able to enjoy the full human experience.

What we consider "life" is but a poor reflection, a shadow, a drop of condensation sliding from the edge of his cup.

I did not always know this was so. In fact, it was just today that I made this discovery. My squalid intellect had failed to comprehend what Barack Almighty has been saying all these years.

Nobody cares more than Obama. Nobody is more committed than he is. And, unfortunately, nobody is more disappointed by our failures than he is.

It is not for a lack of effort on the President's part. Lord knows Obama has tried to tell us, again and again.

A search of the term "nobody is more" on returns 87 results, the most recent of which is the example of nobody being more frustrated with the absolute, disastrous failure that is the Obamacare rollout.

Despite the weakness of my frail mind, I recalled a previous hint from White House Spokesman Jay Carney, who informed us that "nobody's been more outraged" by the I.R.S. scandal than President Obama.

Through the aid of technology and by no power of my own, I was then able to discover other examples of Obama's oneness.

For example, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook murders, Vice President Joe Biden told us there's "no person who is more committed to acting on this moral obligation we have than the President of the United States of America."

The list continues:
  • "Nobody shares the frustrations of the American people [during the shutdown] more than I do." (October 15, 2013)
  • "Nobody is more interested... than me in seeing this economy growing strong." (October 18, 2011)
  • "Nobody is more interested in finding out exactly what happened [in Benghazi] than I do [sic]." (October 17, 2012)
  • "There's not a person here who has just felt that sense of despair in watching the broadcasts about the [BP] oil spill down in the gulf. Nobody is more upset than me." (May 25, 2010)
  • "Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you've been seeing in Russia." (August 12, 2013)
  • "Nobody is more concerned about their [U.S. diplomats] safety and security than I am." (October 17, 2012)
  • "The bottom line is nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space than I am." (April 15, 2010)

UPDATE: My thanks to Jim Treacher and the Daily Caller for sharing this post and video. Thanks also to Meredith Jessup at The Blaze blog and Charles C. W. Cooke at National Review Online.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Finally reaching that stubborn goal

The date is January 27, 2008, and the topic is manna, from Exodus 16.

It's the last entry.

For several years now, I've had it as a goal to read the entire Bible in a year. I've lost track of the number of times I made it my New Year's resolution. Despite my best intentions, I've never succeeded.

I've purchased multiple copies of a one-year daily Bible, thinking that would do the trick. No such luck.

In 2008, I even started a blog to chart my progress. The evidence of my failure that year is recounted above.

But this time around I've taken a slightly different approach, and I'm happy to report I'm already nearing the 70 percent mark, with less than a month left before I'm scheduled to finish.

So what changed?

First and foremost, I'm benefiting from the learning experience gained through several years of failure. I've become keenly aware of my hangups, what doesn't work for me, and what additional support I need to keep myself on track.

The other changes I stumbled onto by accident, but they seem obvious in hindsight.

Below are five things that have made a difference for me this year. Each of these things could be applied to the pursuit of a variety of different goals:

1. Make a plan. This year a friend introduced me to a 90-day Bible reading plan. It seemed like a huge time commitment, and I wasn't sure if it would work, but I knew I hadn't been successful with my 365-day plan. I decided to stop being stubborn and to try something different. After the first day, I didn't think it was going to work, but I'm so glad I kept at it. The 90-day plan has been perfect for my schedule and my lifestyle. It's a plan that makes sense for me. I like to see progress, and with the short time-frame, it's easy to see how far I've come. I can already see light at the end of the tunnel.

2. Commit to the plan. Casually making a New Year's resolution is one thing. Making a firm commitment is another. This year, I decided I didn't want it to end in another failure. I wanted to actually achieve my goal. I promised myself I would succeed, and that I would take whatever actions were necessary to be successful. I wrote down the goal and spent time during the holiday contemplating and considering it, thinking about what it would mean to achieve the goal and how good it would feel. I love New Year's resolutions (at what other time during the year do people decide, in mass, to start forming good habits?), but this year I decided to put some real resolve behind it.

3. Schedule time to work the plan. This was possibly the most radical change I made in my approach this year. I decided if I was going to have a plan, and if I was going to commit to the plan, I needed to map out a typical day and see when, where and how I would actually go about achieving the goal. I listed every hour in the day and gave each hour a task, even if the task was sleeping. I created a separate schedule for the weekend. An hour each day would be devoted to reading the Bible, with a second optional hour that could be used if the first hour wasn't convenient. I'll admit I haven't stuck to the schedule as much as I would like. I was a little bit unrealistic in some areas, and I didn't account for special events and other factors that took me off task. I've had to alter the schedule some. Still, without a realistic look at my daily life, I never could have implemented the plan.

4. Adopt accountability safeguards. The friend who introduced me to the 90-day reading plan said he would be following the program too. Just knowing I wasn't alone was a huge mental asset. I'm not even sure if he continued after a certain point, but thinking he could email me a comment or question related to the reading on any given day was an added incentive for me to stay on schedule. My wife also knows I'm on the plan, and she's been very supportive, giving me reminders and understanding when I've needed to be alone for a while to catch up on my reading. It has also helped to be part of a faith community where daily Bible study is routinely encouraged and modeled.

5. Be creative and flexible. There were days I don't think I could have done it without some variety. I've altered not only the hour of day devoted to reading, but also the medium and the place. Over the last 60-plus days, I've read from two different printed Bibles, a Kindle Fire app, and a desktop computer. I've also read along to an audio version, when I needed help tuning out everything else. I've read on the couch, in bed, at the kitchen table, at work during lunch, in the car... anywhere I could find a few quiet minutes to concentrate. It doesn't matter how it gets done, as long as the task is completed. The more I switch things up, the easier it is to keep going.

BONUS TIP #1: Don't tell anybody what you're doing. At least not at first. You could end up sabotaging the goal by tricking yourself into feeling good for having the plan rather than for working it. Don't seek approval or feedback until you're sure it won't prevent you from finishing the job. There were a number of times early on when I was excited about my progress and felt like sharing the good news with friends. To release some of that tension, I allowed myself to comment on or quote interesting verses from time to time, without divulging the secret.

BONUS TIP #2: Never underestimate the value of a checkmark. When I'm in hot pursuit of a goal, nothing encourages me like the progress of checkmarks multiplying across a page or whiteboard. I practically live to make little x marks these days. Checkmarks are your friends. Put them to work!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Five problems with the viral video Wealth Inequality in America

A couple of my Facebook friends recently posted this video on "wealth inequality in America," which was evidently uploaded in November and has now gone viral with close to three million views. I found it to be cleverly produced, but seriously flawed. Here's the video, followed by five reasons why I find it misleading.

1. Wealth is not distributed. Wealth is acquired. Some wealth is earned, and some wealth is gifted or inherited, but all of it is acquired, not distributed. Distribution assumes a central clearing house from which all wealth is parceled out. But there is no central storehouse of wealth, and it is not distributed. Individuals acquire wealth from other individuals according to how highly they are valued based on certain actions they take or qualities they exhibit.

2. Wealth-acquiring actions and qualities are not distributed. Because wealth is acquired, it would be much more revealing to study the "distribution" of the qualities and actions that lead to the acquisition of wealth. These would include such characteristics as intelligence, beauty, ingenuity, creativity, luck, charisma, stature, athletic ability, likability, wit, cunning, perseverance, bravery, thrift, & etc. But, of course, these qualities are not distributed, either, and neither are the wealth-acquiring actions in which individuals engage. People may receive these qualities at birth or through education, development and practice, but they do not receive them through distribution. And if you placed people on a scale according to these qualities, they would not be "distributed" evenly, equally or equitably, no matter how unfair that may seem.

3. It makes no difference how unfair it seems. I would like to be able to throw a perfect fastball at 99 mph. Or even throw accurate pitches at 75 mph. The owner of a baseball team might reward me financially if I could, but I don't have that ability. No amount of training or practice could get me there, and it makes no difference how fast other people think I should be able to throw, particularly people who've never met me and have no knowledge whatsoever of my physical attributes, what a general manager might be looking for in a pitcher, how much he might be willing to pay a great pitcher, or even that the game of baseball exists in the first place. I can't throw a fastball like Nolan Ryan, and the ignorant assumptions of a random group of people are irrelevant.

4. Wealth acquisition is not determined by a random group of disinterested people. Who cares what 5,000 people assume, even if 92 percent of them agree? They have no specific knowledge of the people and circumstances involved. And the same goes for a smaller group of self-styled experts who would like to centrally plan the economy and control the financial outcomes of people they've never met based on their arbitrary assumption about what might be fair. It doesn't work that way. No amount of "re-distribution" can remedy the perceived wrong. The only reason they try is because wealth can be represented by dollars, and dollars can be manipulated. But talent cannot be redistributed. Effort cannot be redistributed. Luck cannot be redistributed. Wisdom cannot be redistributed. If freckles attracted wealth, too bad, you can't redistribute them either. Attempting to redistribute things that weren't distributed in the first place is folly.

5. The "Dreaded" socialism doesn't result in equally abundant  wealth. The general result of the "dreaded" socialism both now and throughout history is a small cadre of politically-favored individuals with a fair amount of wealth ruling over a generally impoverished nation. There is no rush of immigrants streaming into socialist countries from capitalist countries. Yes, already-acquired wealth can be "redistributed" among a broader population, or an attempt to do so can be made, but such a scheme does not generate new wealth, and does not lead to abundant wealth spread equally across a population.

BONUS REASON #1: The video introduces a straw-man argument in complaining a CEO can't possibly be "working 380 times harder" than the average employee. But nobody has made an argument that CEOs work that much harder than the average employee. No intelligent person believes hard work is necessarily equivalent to wealth, or that increased effort necessarily results in increased wealth.

BONUS REASON #2: There is no permanent top 20% or bottom 20% in America. In fact, most Americans migrate between the income quintiles throughout their lives. Young people begin working part time and take entry level jobs, earn more and more throughout their career, reach a peak, and then begin working fewer hours as they reach retirement age, or retire and keep a part-time job. The video presents an America in which there are stable classes of people based on income, when in reality someone could be in the top 20% one year and in the lowest 20% the next, or vice-versa.