’tis the political season for lying through your teeth

Lots of people in the conservinterwebs going crazy about Obama’s quote saying:

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Ooh: Obama doesn’t understand entrepreneurship, right? Doesn’t understand capitalism, or business? Sounds pretty bad, and you could almost agree with Romney’s press release and Fox’s pundits that have been making that point all day…

In fact, Romney’s press-released comment seems pretty spot-on:

“The idea to say that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple, that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motor, that Papa John didn’t build Papa John Pizza, that Ray Kroc didn’t build McDonald’s, that Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft, you go on the list, that Joe and his colleagues didn’t build this enterprise, to say something like that is not just foolishness, it is insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America and it’s wrong.” – Mitt Romney 7/17/2012

Hmmm… sounds like he may have a point, right? Well, unless you happened to read the context around the original Obama quote:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

Well that sounds much better, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you agree with that expression, that if you built a business, you didn’t build the roads and the bridges and the fire department that help you be successful?

Does anyone want to make the claim that Romney actually was confused, and perhaps took the Obama comment incorrectly, by honest mistake? Or would you not agree that there is a specific intent to deceive people, by removing the context that turns a relatively innocuous, true statement into something that could only be said by someone who is completely out of touch with reality?

Politicians. The only thing more embarrassing than the things they make up is the fact that so few people bother enough to check when they are making things up.


Legalize Love. Thanks, Google.

Legalize Love. Thanks, Google.

Google is launching a new campaign called “Legalize Love” with the intention of inspiring countries to legalize marriage for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people around the world.

The “Legalize Love” campaign officially launches in Poland and Singapore on Saturday, July 7th. Google intends to eventually expand the initiative to every country where the company has an office, and will focus on places with homophobic cultures, where anti-gay laws exist.

Hey, how about the US?

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

I have high hopes that this will be the last generation to see open conflict around homophobia and discrimination. It will never go away completely (I don’t have that kind of faith in humanity), but it will recede into the unacceptable shadows in most places.
But this will be the last generation in which there is even a viable debate to be had regarding same-sex marriage.

I’m an optimist. But I see the difference in attitudes in my generation and the next two, and I feel I have reason to be.

The Left Handed Cook

I am openly weeping right now because I can’t marry a restaurant: the Left Handed Cook in


the Midtown Global Market in South Minnepolis.  OPENLY.  WEEPING.

Tiny little place, in the space where the much-missed “La Sirena Gorda” used to be (run by Alfonso Menendez, onetime owner of Babalu), this joint has a plateful of awesome called the “Harold & Kumar Poutine”.  Fries slathered with pork belly curry, kimchi, poached egg, chipotle aioli and OH. MY. GOD. THE DELICIOUS, IT IS TOO MUCH.

I think I may have just shorted out my keyboard from the drool.

Go say hi to owners Kat Melgaard and Thomas Kim, and make a plan to return until you’ve worked your way through the entire menu, and then start over again.



Capitalism is not a force for good, it’s a force for profit. It’s the best economic system we know of out there, but it requires restraint and limitation by an external system that does not have a primary profit motive, in order to temper its worst excesses and address the issues it doesn’t particularly care about.

That’s why we have capitalism AND government. Does the latter make the former less purely efficient? Yes, of course: restraint will always do that. But it is necessary to do so, in order for society to take care of aspects of itself that capitalism is quite incapable or naturally unwilling to address:

– The public good: education, justice, protection and defense, health, unemployment, the “safety net”
– Long-term infrastructure development that has little or no short-term return on investment, and no direct ROI other than diffuse benefit to the overall population (e.g. roads, public schools, environmental protection)
– Inappropriate excesses of the pure capitalistic urge, which can easily become greed (e.g. protecting worker’s rights and well-being at the expense of profit)

Democracy just happens to be the best governmental system we know of, but it ALSO requires restraint and limitation by an external system that does not have control as a primary motive, but rather a desire to increase personal liberty (and in this case, profit). Hence the tight relationship in our society between capitalism and democracy. Both of these systems, left unchecked, run roughshod over the common good or personal rights, respectively: it is only in their combination and mutual restraint that we find balance.

Are both of these systems (government and capitalism) riddled with corruption, inefficiency, ineptitude? Sure. That’s a side effect of the fact that they are both guided by humans, who have a tendency towards those things (especially when left unchecked).

Is it hard to find a balance between the two? Clearly. It’s one of the reasons we have such sharp political divisions today: any attempt to increase government control and improve what is perceived as the public good will be met with shouts of “socialism!” and “government overreach!” by the other side, as well as disagreement over what constitutes the common good. Any attempt to loosen restraints on capitalism and allow profit to be the single unchecked driver will be met with accusations of cold-heartedness, shouts of “tragedy of the commons!”, pointing out unfair advantages to the already monied from the other side, and disagreements about the definitions of greed vs. profit-seeking.

And both sides can point across the aisle and accuse each other of corruption, inefficiency and ineptitude. The problem is that neither side is actually wrong: but when you do so, you should not be pointing at capitalism and democracy as the sources of those blemishes. It’s the humans behind it. Whenever you have two groups of people and there is the possibility of one of them gaming the system (whether economic or governmental) to take unfair advantage of the other, the probability of this happening over time is, for all intents and purposes, one hundred percent. Of course we will find these things in institutions devised by humans, because… well, because they’re devised and run by humans.

But that’s why you need both sides, constantly monitoring and restraining each other, and constantly testing the always-present tension between the two.

Some would argue you need a third element: an agent of morality. I would agree, in general, but note that the individual is that agent. Among the huge problems of introducing a formal organization to control the definition of morality (a role that religion seems to pounce on whenever it gets the chance) is that it rapidly confuses its role with the governmental one. Morality formally organized and defined eventually becomes imposed law that can be managed and coordinated by the government: that’s a good thing when the agency of morality is the individual, but a bad thing when it is a self-appointed authoritative organization, in particular the religious ones that claim moral authority on a basis over which reasonable people will inevitably disagree. It’s even worse and becomes more abusive when the religious authority starts claiming not merely moral authority, but also the right to both impose and punish moral transgression, which is why we separate church and state in the first place.

The agency of morality has to remain with the individual, who collectively monitors the other two but ONLY at an informally organized level if it is to remain restrained. As an aside, this also means that the altruistic initiative must remain at the individual level: it is not something that capitalism will naturally nurture, and if it is formally organized and imposed in any way (whether by government or by religion) it ceases to be altruism.


Capitalism: good but flawed. Tends to overreach.
Democracy: good but flawed. Tends to overreach.
Humans: overall good, intrinsically flawed. Tend to overreach.
Morality: required, but individual in nature (albeit decided collectively)


Inevitably contentious, and today seemingly unachievable in political debate, but it MUST be pursued. And do you know what helps that pursuit? If we don’t yell “SOCIALISM!” every time someone notes the benefit of a public good, and if we don’t yell “GREED!” every time someone else sees the benefit of profit. Things are rarely that clear-cut in the pursuit of that balance, otherwise we’d already be in full agreement on everything.

We need both, and we need them to be constantly checking and restraining each other. We’ve had both in this country for decades, and the experiment is an overall success, in spite of imbalance swings (in both directions) over the years. Those swings are a natural consequence of our human imperfection, which is why we need each other as checks and balances at the moral level too.

Thank you, Anderson Cooper.


Anderson Cooper visited Wolfson Children's Hos...

Anderson CooperPhoto credit: Wikipedia)

‎”Recently, however, I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.

“I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.

“The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.”

Thank you, Anderson Cooper. We recognize that this is something you haven’t discussed publicly in the past, not because you were ashamed, but because it is a private issue (as it should be). But there are a lot of kids who are being made to feel ashamed today and can now look at you and understand the reality behind the phrase “It Gets Better”.

(PS AC: I’m fighting for the right for you to get married, by the way. No need to send me a card, just a little tilt of your head on your show would be fine, something just you and I will connect on. If I get invited to your wedding, it should be “plus guest”. Thank you.)