Living in Silicon Valley, I've grown accustomed to the inscrutable nature of recruiters. In a state where only the most senior employees are asked to sign a non-compete agreement, people jump from one company to the next at the drop of a hat. The recruiters are aggressive, contacting you in any way possible to get your attention. But even I was surprised by an email I recently received from Amazon:
You have been identified as a candidate for Amazon or one of its many affiliate companies. We require all candidates to complete an on-line application in order to move forward in the selection process. If you are interested in being considered for an employment opportunity with us, please follow the below link to complete a short application.
You will need to know your login name and password to access this form.
You are automatically assigned a system generated password. To access this password, click the link below, then click "Forgot your Login or Password?" link at the bottom of the page. Enter your login name and we will send you an e-mail with a link to reset your password.
Your login name is: [omitted]
Please remember to visit our website regularly for a comprehensive up-to-date listing of our vacant positions and apply for the one that is right for you.
The Recruiting Teams of Amazon and its affiliates
* Please do not respond to this email, this email is unattended.
So it appears I received an automated recruitment email from Amazon.
Here's the thing: if I actually wanted to work for Amazon, this would have changed my mind. This may be the way to get more candidates quickly, but you won't get quality candidates using this approach. The chances I'll reply to an automated recruitment email is zero. The chances I'll reply to an email from an actual recruiter are about 5% (based on my own past behavior).
I can't imagine any good candidates being flattered by an automated email message asking them to fill out an application even before talking to a human being. If this is what recruitment is turning into, I know a lot of companies who better get used to receiving subpar applications.
I was having a discussion at lunch not too long ago about the spam problem. We all hate spam, and there's a ridiculous amount of Internet traffic carrying it, ultimately leaving less bandwidth for all the cool stuff we want to do online. The current approaches to fighting spam generally fall into one of a handful of categories:
- Detect spam when it comes in and filter it away.
- Use some sort of verification system to identify the true origin of the spam (such as Yahoo!'s Domain Keys).
- Punish the spammer...if they're ever found.
At this point in the life of the Internet, it seems like all three methods do nothing but remove a few temporary annoyances from our lives. There's far too many spammers to catch, try, and punish. That would take way too much money and time, both of which have more practical uses. We try to mitigate spam but yet it still represents the majority of emails being sent (Microsoft reported it's 97% of the mail it handles). It seems like these previously mentioned three approaches have done nothing to stem the tide of spam that is flooding the Internet's massive tubs. Therefore, I present an alternative approach.
The right way to solve a problem, of course, is to first determine the source. As I mentioned in my last post about debugging mistakes, identifying the source of a problem is one of the most important parts of the problem solving process. People have incorrectly been assuming that the source of the spam problem are the spammers, which is why things like Domain Keys and punishments for identified spammers exist. If this were the true source of the problem then we'd likely have much less spam now than we did ten years ago. But that's not the case.
When a solution that you believes treats the source of a problem is ineffective, that typically means that you haven't actually found the source and so are treating the wrong symptom. In the case of spam, the source of the problem isn't spammers at all - it's the regular users who click links in spam emails. Think about it, if no one ever clicked through a spam email link, there would be no incentive to send spam. It's the same as with those ridiculous fliers you get shoved in your door or mailbox: they exist because the cost to produce them is minimal and therefore a small response is enough to offset those costs. Email has practically zero cost to send, which is why there's so much more of it than paper junk mail that has printing and mailing costs.
The real source of the problem are people who respond to spam. These are the people who make it worthwhile to send spam. I remember reading one time (can't find the article right now) that if even 1% of spam receivers respond, then it's worthwhile for the spammer to send the email. But, you may think, no one clicks through on spam emails, we all know better! I wish that were true. A recent study showed that over half of those polled have clicked on a link in a spam email. That's a lot higher than the 1% I had previously read was necessary to generate enough revenue to make spam profitable to the spammer. Clearly, the source of the problem are these users.
Even though people do click through spam links in emails, I'm not convinced that they do so with intent to purchase. Perhaps it's more curiosity than anything else. I tend to believe that people who make dumb mistakes are just uninformed about the consequences of their actions, and therefore a campaign to teach these users the ills of their ways is the only real solution. Here's what I propose.
Instead of finding the users who actually open and use spam, we start a web site that has information about why clicking through links in emails from people you don't know is bad, and more specifically, hurts everyone on the Internet. I'm sure we can find some stock photos of crying children who are sad that their Internet connection is slow. The homepage should be stark with a big question, "Why did you click on that link?" Underneath it should be a more precise description. The wording can be nice or mean, I really don't care. The point is to get across that this is a frowned-upon action that should not be repeated.
Well that's great, you might say, how do we then get these people to the web site? Simple: we send spam. It's actually ridiculously inexpensive to buy a mailing list and start sending email messages with a link to this site. Disguise it as a discount for Viagra or something similar (since those work so well) and get them to click through. We already know that over half of them are likely to do so.
Of course, for a short period of time, we'd actually be contributing to the amount of spam flowing through the Internet, but I'm willing to take that temporary hit to educate as many people as possible. The point we need to get across is that everyone hates spam and the only way to stop it is to stop clicking those links. Make it pointless for spammers to even try. Now who's with me?
I sat down for breakfast this morning and perused the Boston Globe at my parents' house looking for an interesting story to read. I then came across an article entitled, GateHouse sues Globe's parent over web sites. GateHouse is the owner of 125 local newspapers in Massachusetts and they are suing New York Times Co., the owner of the Boston Globe, for linking to their stories without permission. The folks at GateHouse claim that the folks at the Globe's website have been copying headlines "verbatim," including the first sentence of the article. The Globe then links the headline to the GateHouse-owned site along with a notice that the story is from a GateHouse-owned newspaper.
GateHouse's main complaint seems to be that the Globe's practices make it a direct competitor for GateHouse's own web sites. Now, anyone with half a brain about technology can see the flaw in that logic. Not only is the Globe providing links to your site for free, but they're attributing all content to you as well. What GateHouse sees as a competitor is actually a free way to get more traffic to their sites; their so-called competitor is actually funneling more visitors to GateHouse's site which means they can charge more for advertising. And they want this to stop?
As further evidence that GateHouse has no idea what they're doing, they said that they setup measures to try and block screenscraping from the Boston Globe to stop the practice. They then said that this attempt failed. Apparently, GateHouse doesn't realize that they themselves provide an RSS feed with all of the information about the stories nicely formatted and that the Globe is likely using that as the source of its news.
There's so many things about this lawsuit that are stupid. First, GateHouse is a smaller company whose website gets less traffic than the Globe's website, and yet they are complaining that the Globe is linking to their stories. I could understand being upset if the Globe was hosting the stories themselves, or providing them without attribution, but it seems that the Globe has done everything correctly for the digital age. They link directly to the article on GateHouse's site and they provide direct attribution to the GateHouse site for the content. If anything, GateHouse should be thanking the Globe for the extra traffic and possibly trying to formalize the relationship in a way that could see larger traffic gains. I can think of a number of ways right off the bat: have the official Globe Newton blog come from GateHouse's Newton blog. I mean, this should be a huge win for GateHouse that they're turning into a potentially huge loss.
Let's say that GateHouse wins this case (which I'm praying it doesn't), what does that mean for the Internet? Can no one link to articles online without getting expressed, written consent from the copyright holder? And what are the damages that GateHouse can claim as a result of the Globe's actions? I can't see how they could be damaged in the least from the Globe posting links to their site. They didn't have to pay anything for that exposure and extra traffic, and they're looking to turn it off? Clearly the folks at GateHouse just don't understand how the Internet works. I just hope someone with an understanding of the Internet can talk some sense into them before they cut off their own arm.
With all of the election craziness, I started thinking again about one my favorite all-time debates: should elected officials and other leaders act as delegates or representatives? Anyone who graduated from high school probably remembers this debate (maybe you even had to write a paper on it). At the heart of the debate are two questions.
The first question is this: how do you believe democracy should work? If you ask most people, their response is that everyone's vote counts equally and the majority rules. That would lend itself more towards elected officials as representatives. A representative's job is to carry out the will of the people even if he/she disagrees with their wishes. Some would say this is a truly democratic setup and anything less is not acceptable. True democracy, where everyone's vote counts equally and elected officials do what the people want, work really well with an informed population that knows everything about the issues they're voting on. Democracy falls apart when uninformed people vote on issues.
I'm a fan of democracy, in general, but the problem is that stupid people's votes count just as much as intelligent people's votes. I happen to believe that this is a huge problem in the United States. When I vote for something, it's because I understand pretty well what I'm voting for or against; when Joe the Plumber votes for something, it's because he saw a pretty sign on the way to the voting booth. I'd be willing to bet that the majority of people in this country voted one way or another on at least one proposition that they didn't really understand in the past election. Democracy completely fails when the stupid are in the majority and representatives then carry out their wishes.
The second question relating to a delegate versus a representative is this: what do you believe a good leader is? Representatives aren't leaders, they're puppets or gophers, just there to deliver what the people demand. If, on the other hand, you believe that leaders deserve to be elected to office, then what you're really looking for is a delegate. A delegate takes the people's wishes into account but ultimately uses his/her best judgement in making decisions. In a perfect system, delegates keep the government moving along at a good clip and with good results; the government would come to a standstill if elected officials always waited for the public to decide on every issue.
Intelligent people know that they don't know everything; stupid people think that they know everything. I consider myself to be a part of the former group, and I've always believed that elected officials should be delegates, pure leaders. I want to send someone to Washington that I know understands the world of government and international politics better than I do. I wouldn't presume to tell anyone how to deal with foreign dignitaries or when to change the interest rate. I would elect someone who I believe can make those choices in a logical way. The popular decision isn't always the right decision, and we need people in government who can make the hard decisions even when the majority of people disagree with the approach.
The same debate rages on with leaders in corporations. Should they do what the shareholders want all the time? Should team leads always be taking polls to see what should happen? In my opinion, the answer to both questions is no. Every process slows down when everything is put up for vote. To use a sports analogy, could you imagine if the quarterback had to poll each of the other 10 teammates on the field to find out what play they wanted to run? It would be chaos.
Leaders must be allowed to lead if they are to be effect, they must be allowed to be delegates until they lose the trust of the people; then they must be replaced.
Unless you've been living in a cave, you've probably heard by now that Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States, making him the first non-white to hold the office. (Though actually, Bin Laden lives in a cave, and I bet he's heard by now, so no excuses.) Even though I've really had enough of the elections and the advertisements and the campaigning, I must admit that I was smiling as I watched Obama's victory speech. Don't get me wrong, I haven't been one of his biggest fans (not a huge McCain fan either), but watching him on stage I came to realize that this election was exactly what this country needed.
The United States has a public image problem. We used to be the good guy that helps everyone out and, at times, was a bit naive. In the past eight years, we've become the obnoxious asshole who throws his weight around, kisses your girlfriend in front of you, and beats up your brother because he looked at us funny. Under Bush, the anti-American sentiment that was a mere whisper eight years ago became a full-blown scream. When Sean Combs had gotten a bad rap in public, he changed his nickname; Snoop Dogg used to be a scary gangster and is now about as mainstream as Mickey Mouse. Public images can be changed and manipulated, but the best way to do that is not to say you're changing...it's to just do it.
Electing Barack Obama yesterday sent a message to the world that the United States is changing. We're moving past our racist origins and sending a minority to the White House. And the amazing thing about the election is that the issue of race rarely came up. If people didn't like Obama, they didn't like him because he was a socialist, or because he went to a church with a crazy minister, or because he was inexperienced; that says a lot about where we are as a people.
Just look at the excitement that this has released around the world. In Kenya, Obama's ancestral home, crowds erupted with cheers when the announcement was made. Thursday was declared a public holiday in Kenya because of the win and pride that Kenyans feel for having their genes in the White House. Imagine that. A different country celebrated an American President being elected. Remarkable. And Kenya isn't alone.
There are reports from all over the world about people being happy that Obama was elected. This is crazy. When people in other countries are happy about our new President who hasn't even taken office yet, imagine what it will be like in January. You can already feel the divide between us and the rest of the world already starting to shrink. It gives me hope that someday soon, we'll be able to meet many more countries at the negotiating table instead of at the end receiving end of a bomb.
It's only been 24 hours since Obama was elected, and the world has already reacted. Obama is more than just the next President of the Unites States. He's now a worldwide symbol of how anything is possible in America, and that democracy is so great because a country can completely change its public image and approach with each election. It's going to be a very interesting four years.
I've really had enough at this point. This election has been going on for years, and now that we're only a couple days from voting day (though I already voted), the increased rhetoric is really starting to get to me. The dirtiest ads have started running now, and it reminds me why I hate voting. Elections tend to bring out the worst in everyone and I've had my fix for the next four years. In California, the ads for each of the propositions are bordering on ridiculous. Each one has you believing that a vote in their opponents' direction will lead to the end of civilization as we know it.
The most inflammatory proposition on the California ballot is, arguably, Proposition 8. The purpose of the proposition is to eliminate same-sex marriages in the state (no really, the title is, "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry"). As with most propositions, this one is really about much more than just the stated purpose.
In 2000, California passed Proposition 22, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. California's Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that same-sex marriages could take place, effectively throwing out the results of the Prop 22 vote eight years earlier. There are quite a lot of people who are upset that the Court would see fit to throw out an initiative that was overwhelmingly passed by voters, bringing into question just what the Court's role should be in relation to voter-approved initiatives. In effect, a "yes" vote on Prop 8 could mean that you believe the Court acted improperly by overruling the will of the people.
On the other side, Prop 8 brings up the sting of institutionalized discrimination that has been at the heart of United States history. People are quick to point out that marriage between different races was illegal for a long time, while also mentioning how women were once not allowed to vote. So a "no" vote on Prop 8 could mean that you're against discrimination.
The sad thing about Prop 8 is that it's brought out the worst in both sides. There have been reports of yes/no signs disappearing from people's yards, vandalism, and other criminal acts perpetrated in relation to this proposition. I'm not sure how either side can be proud of that. There's also the typical grouping of people: if you vote "yes", clearly you're a bigot, if you vote "no", clearly you're advocating the gay lifestyle. A "yes" vote means you don't care about civil rights while a "no" vote means you're going to hell. I'm really getting tired of the finger-pointing and righteous proclamations being made by both sides.
The sides of this battle have spent an incredible amount of money on their campaigns - $70 million in total (source) - to try to convince people. Really? Is that the best use of that money? To make matters worse, companies such as Google and Apple have come out in opposition of Prop 8. Why do I care what either of those companies think? I'm a firm believer that corporations should stay out of politics, especially as it relates to non-business measures. I know I'd be a bit miffed if I worked at either company to have a "corporate position" on anything on the ballot. I, for one, am glad that Yahoo! hasn't put out any press releases telling people to vote a certain way on Tuesday; I don't like the idea of my employer having an official stance on something like this.
The other propositions aren't nearly as heated, but the battles are still there. Tons of money being spent on last-minute commercials that have been barraging the average voter household all day and night. I can't even begin to explain how tired of impassioned speeches I've become. If you really want to do a service to your state, don't listen to anything in the advertisements. Do your own research and figure out what you believe. And don't villify anyone who believes the opposite of you; they have just as much right to their opinion as you do to yours. That's what makes this country great. And after Tuesday, I'll be a much happier citizen, as I get back to life without political advertisements and people revert their middle names back from "Hussein."
Today, I sat down and read nearly every word of the California voter's guide for this upcoming election. I'm having enough trouble deciding who to vote for in the Presidential race, and as usual, there are a bunch of other things on the election that I'm even less knowledgeable about. I've been a resident of California for a little over two years now and a resident of Mountain View for just a handful of months, so I'm really not all that well-informed about the issues facing the state or county. A quick read through the voter's guide made me remember why I hate voting.
I know the major players in the Presidential race just like everyone else does, Obama and McCain, with their associated running mates. Yet the ballot reveals that there are other races for office going on at the same time! I clearly don't know enough to make an educated decision as to who will be represent my district at the state assembly, nor do I know enough to vote for judge, school board, or any other assorted smaller government positions. There's no debates for these positions, and I've never even heard of most of the people. Perhaps I passed some supporter's sign on the way to work "Vote for Mr. X, the change we need!" Yes, everyone represents either the change we need or the steady, experienced hand we can rely on. That's what everyone election comes down to.
So what do I do for these small local elections? I could just not vote for anyone, but that sort of defeats the purpose. If everyone does that, then no one gets elected and the democratic process falls apart. But yet voting for someone I don't really know could have worse consequences. Any other option? Write in myself? Yeah, like I have any idea how to do anything in government. So I go over and read each person's bio and background, trying to make some logical assessment as to their suitability to the position for which they are running. It feels dirty.
Next, I get to the various propositions, which are both state-level and county-level. The state-level propositions are almost always hot-button issues that lead residents to put up signs, hold rallies, and otherwise express what people should do. Every proposition is both backed and opposed by well-funded and well-known organizations. The voter's guide contains arguments for each proposition, followed by a rebuttal, then an argument against, followed by a rebuttal. Every argument for and against are written in a sensationalist style, complete with sentences in all-caps boldly claiming that the proposition will "protect our children" or "hurt our children." Either that or passing the proposition will take money away from school, police, and other "much-needed" services. So a vote for a proposition is both a vote for our children and a vote against the services to support them. Quite the conundrum.
The fact is that neither side really knows what will happen if a proposition gets passed. Both sides claim certain things will happen, but of course, no one can guarantee. They each cite examples that back up their position, often trying to tug at your heart strings. The one that really got me in California was Proposition 4, which proposes that parents be notified when underage girls get abortions. I'm not even a parent and this one really tears me up inside. I try to imagine if I had a daughter and what I would like to have happen. Both sides present valid, if not fear-inducing, arguments. On the one hand, if I had a daughter who had an abortion, I'd want to know, to be able to support her, and make sure she got the proper follow-up care. On the other hand, I'd also want to be sure she was going to a good doctor and not trying to do something stupid to abort the pregnancy because she'd be afraid of telling me. Seriously, what makes me qualified to make a decision like this?
Another issue I have with the propositions is that I often agree with just part of it. If there are five things it will do, I agree with three...so do I vote "Yes" and live with the two that I don't? Or do I vote "No" and not get any of what I think would make sense? I'm convinced that this is an intentionally manipulative tactic by the authors of each proposition to try to trick people to vote one way or another. It's also a common tactic to include laws that are already enacted in the proposition along with other things. This leads us to think that all of the proposition isn't already on the books even though the parts we agree with already are.
The one thing I really and truly understand about propositions is when they talk about issuing state-backed bonds for some reason. This is really a no-brainer. The state doesn't have enough money to do what it wants to do, so it wants to issue some bonds to get an injection of money. The way bonds work is this: I need to raise $500, so I sell 100 30-year bonds at $5 a piece. People (or companies) buy the bonds because there's a guaranteed return higher than the purchase price in 30 years. I tell them that I'll pay them $9 a piece for each bond in 30 years. The purchasers now have a locked-in rate of return waiting for them after the time period has expired. The trouble is that I've put myself into a hole. Right now I need $500, but in 30 years I'll need to pay out $900, so not only do I need to figure out a way to make back the $500 I initially received, but I also need to come up with $300 more. Let's say 30 years go by and I can't afford to pay $800 because I don't have it. But the purchasers are legally owed that money so I need to find a way. If I'm a state, the only real way to get more money is to increase taxes to make up the difference and pay off the bond holders.
Every proposition that suggests a bond issuance usually includes the phrase "there will be no new taxes or tax increases." They're right, there won't be any new taxes or tax increases at the time the bonds are issued. There will, however, have to be new taxes or tax increases if the bonds mature and the state doesn't have enough money to pay. So when I look at these propositions, I look for anything that indicates a way to attain the necessary funds to pay out the bonds at the end. Issuing a bond that will help get a new income-producer off the ground is a good thing; the principal and interest can be paid off and the state will continue to see income increases afterwards. Even bonds issued for operations that will result in an eventual break-even point make sense. Issuing a bond to fund activities that won't result in any income is foolish and irresponsible, no matter what the money will be used for.
I literally spent four hours this morning pouring over all the voter information and deciding how I'd vote on everything. Even so, I still feel like I'm not really informed enough on most issues to have made a vote that I'm completely happy with. There's a lot of gray area on all propositions. I read the arguments for and against, the rebuttals, and the actual (mind-numbing) text of the propositions. That doesn't mean that I fully understand the implications of each. I generally consider myself to be someone with a reasonable level of intelligence, and if I'm having trouble understanding everything, I can only imagine how others feel.
The whole system is really setup to encourage you not to investigate too deeply. Both the supporters and detractors want you to take their word for it and don't bother with the other details. Just count the number of signs for or against on your way to the voting booth and that should guide your decision. Not sure who these people are that are running locally? How many signs for their names did you see on the way? Clearly, those are the people to vote for. You may be laughing and rolling your eyes at these statements, but this actually does happen. It took me four hours to even get a basic understanding of all the issues; many people won't even take that amount of time to vote for things that will affect their lives.
Voting is a necessary part of the democratic process, but every election leaves me feeling like there has to be a better way. I can honestly say that since the time I registered to vote, I've only voted for someone once; most of the time, I've voted against people. I've also never really felt good about my votes on any propositions because I feel like I was never really sure of the outcome. All those disenfranchised voters who are being moved to action this election because of the sorry state of our country will surely be shocked when they see ballots that have more on them than a vote for Obama or McCain. What will they do with all those other checkboxes?
I used to spend a lot of time over my grandmother's house when I was little. One Sunday, I was over her house watching a cartoon called Banana Man on Nickelodeon. I hadn't really watched it before but hey, it was my grandmothers house, it wasn't like there was a lot to do there. My stomach started to grumble so I went to the bathroom and proceeded to throw up. And then I threw up again. And again. My grandmother came rushing in and I just couldn't stop throwing up. I don't remember the exact timeline after that, but I do remember my mom picking me up and taking me directly to the doctor where they gave me the requisite shot in the butt. Because that's what every kid wants after spending the past hour puking.
After that experience, I refused to watch Banana Man again. To my simple mind, the relationship was direct. I had never watched that cartoon before, and when I did, I got really sick and needed a shot in the butt. Since I didn't wish to repeat that sequence of events, I simply avoided watching the cartoon. I can easily look back as an adult and see how silly my thought process was but at the time it made perfect sense to me. Part of our soul demands that we investigate our situations and it's in our nature to look for this cause and effect relationship. The problem is that we often see this relationship where it doesn't exist.
Our minds are linear in nature; we just can't perform multiple voluntary acts at the same time very well. Whenever we're doing more than one thing, it's because all but is involuntary: breathing, digesting, blinking. We cannot simultaneously figure out two different puzzles; we can't carry on two different converations at the same time. When we're demanded to multi-task, we do so in a round robin way to create the illusion that we're doing multiple things at once. In reality, we're doing a single thing then stopping and doing another single thing and carrying on until all activities have been covered. Then we start again. We are linear.
Cause and effect defines a linear relationship between two points in time. Since our minds are inherently linear, this relationship makes perfect sense and so we look for it everywhere. If I had turned left instead of right, I wouldn't have been late; if I had approached her in a different way, she would've gone out with me. Our minds oversimplify reality into this linear relationship because otherwise it would be too difficult to disect. The problem is that reality is very non-linear.
At any given point in time there are any number of events occuring. The non-linear nature of reality is hard to fathom and even harder to explain. Our minds simply can't operate in the number of dimensions necessary to firmly grasp exactly why one thing happened and another did not; there are simply too many variables. So we simplify, and that's when we run into problems. My belief that a cartoon had made me sick is clearly wrong, but because the uniqueness of the situation was complete, my mind could easily make that jump. New cartoon is followed by being sick in a new way...it seems to make sense.
As my brother is fond of saying, correlation doesn't indicate causation. The fact that two events occur in close proximity to one another doesn't mean that there exists a relationship between them. Yet we draw those conclusions all the time. And then we drive ourselves crazy trying to switch up the variables to figure out if a different result could have been achieved. In doing so, we'll misidentify the cause expecting that its change will alter the effect. But the non-linear nature of reality doesn't really let you know the original cause.
Science tries to identify the cause through repetition, believing that achieving a given effect by following a specific sequence of events points more directly to the truth. By repeating the cause then the effect should also repeat...yet it doesn't always. And so medications come with warnings about side effects that have been observed but can't be traced to a specific cause, and some people are deathly allergic to peanuts while others enjoy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a daily basis.
When dissecting a cause and effect relationship, it's important to remember that you don't have all of the information. The closest you can really get to a true relationship is to a define a "most of the time" series of events. There's no such thing as absolutes in the universe, everything is relative and in constant motion. Don't let linear thinking get in the way of enjoying life. Second guessing past decisions assumes that you fully understand the cause and effect relationship of the circumstance, and there's really no way that you can. You might as well just stop watching all cartoons.
Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend about politics. I typically refrain from talking about politics because it's one of those hot-button conversations that can set people off at any time. When I do talk about politics, I never mention who I'm for or against. In reality, I'm against all politicians...to me they're all the same. Just a bunch of people in suits that I don't trust, regardless of their party affiliation. For this conversation, I was expressing my displeasure with the options for United States President this time around. That led to my explaining politics as being analogous to professional wrestling. Then it hit me: this would make a great blog post.
For those of you who aren't professional wrestling fans, let me give you a little bit of background information. Professional wrestling has been around for a long, long time. Initially, the United States was setup into a series of professional wrestling territories, a geographic location wherein only one wrestling organization would work. There was an unspoken rule forbidding organizations from moving into already-established territories. Eventually, two large, nationwide organizations emerged: the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now World Wrestling Entertainment, WWE) and the National Wrestling Alliance (later called World Championship Wrestling, WCW, after being bought by Ted Turner). The regional territories became breeding grounds for the next nationwide stars. The larger organizations would follow the careers of the wrestlers in various territories, and when they thought they were ready, give them a lucrative contract to join the nationwide tour. The result was that wrestlers would typically end up having 5-10 years of experience before making the leap to television and bigger crowds.
However, the territory system started falling apart, largely due to the actions of the WWE and WCW, who were in a furious battle to find the next big wrestling star. They would both raid the talent pools of location promotions, leaving them without talent and ultimately into bankruptcy. The problem was that there was no longer a "farm league" for younger wrestlers to develop in. WWE and WCW began trying to make their own talent by recruiting former amateur and professional athletes to become wrestlers. They would train them for a few months or a year and then bring them onto the nationwide tour. These wrestlers didn't have enough experience or training and inevitably ended up hurting other wrestlers or themselves, the result of pushing them into the limelight too quickly. But WWE and WCW were in a war, and any one wrestler could tip the balance, so anyone who showed even a little bit of potential was brought up quickly. The organizations were no longer happy to wait for someone to develop; anyone with promise must be on TV now. If the guy was good on a mic, able to deliver interviews that would rile up the crowd, he was pushed even faster. This seems to be the way that politics has gone recently.
Barack Obama shows a lot of potential and promise. No one can argue that he is a great public speaker and can whip a crowd into a frenzy in a matter of minutes. He's also only been in the Senate for 4 years. The Democrats are desperate for a victory and took the same approach that wrestling organizations have taken: find the most promising and vibrant guy that you can and push him to the top. He plays well to crowds so let's get him in front of crowds. But just like young wrestlers, a lack of experience means that he could ultimately end up hurting people. My heart sinks when I think about the candidate he could be 8 years from now, with a decade of experience in Washington and even more support than he has now. Similar to young wrestlers, the organization is forcing him into the limelight too early; if elected this November, his peak would occur towards the end of his second term. Wouldn't it be nice to have a full eight years of him at his peak?
On the other side of the ticket, there's John McCain. McCain is akin to an older wrestler who has come up through the territories and yet never won a world championship because he's just not that good. He's been friends and colleagues with former world champions but just hasn't been able to make the jump himself. McCain is towards the end of his career and because the Republican party needs to go in another direction, he's the only one that people recognize as both Republican and different. He's not all that good on the mic, which plays against him when compared to the young stud, Obama. He's the Hacksaw Jim Duggan to Obama's Randy Orton.
Another thing that's important to understand about professional wrestling is that it's not about muscular guys in tights beating the crap out of each other; it's actually about crowd manipulation, and professional wrestling promoters are brilliant at it. Politicians want to manipulate crowds as well and use many of the same techniques that are used in professional wrestling.
A wrestler is said to have "heat" if he can elicit a strong reaction from the crowd, whether positive or negative. In professional wrestling, it doesn't matter if you're loved or hated, you just can't be ignored. When the organization believes that someone worthwhile isn't getting enough heat, they take steps to rectify that. One of the most popular ways to get more heat for a wrestler is to pair him up with a beautiful woman to act as his valet/manager. The theory is that beautiful women always get crowd reactions, and since the woman is attached to the wrestler, that heat will eventually rub off onto him. This technique goes back decades and works like a charm. So when no one was talking about McCain as Obama was getting all the press, what did the Republicans do? Announce Sarah Palin as his running mate. While you can argue about the "beautiful" part of the wrestling analogy, the effect is the same. Pairing an older wrestler with a younger woman always gets more heat and also makes him instantly "hip."
On the other hand, young wrestlers need to be legitimized in order to get heat. It doesn't matter how good they are on the mic, if they can't perform, then they're doomed. Organizations tend to attach younger wrestlers with more experienced ones in order to legitimize them. This is typically done by pairing the younger wrestler with an experienced wrestler in a tag team or in a stable. Randy Orton, the youngest world champion in WWE history, was almost immediately placed into a stable called Evolution that featured himself, two very experienced world champions, Triple H and Ric Flair, along with another newcomer, Batista. Triple H and Ric Flair legitimized Orton and Batista, bring them legitimate heat while protecting them from making stupid mistakes.
So it was natural that Obama's running mate would be a much more experienced Joe Biden. He joined the Senate in 1973, giving him an incredible 35 years of experience in Washington and making him the sixth-longest tenured Senator. Talk about legitimizing Obama as a presidential candidate! Between them, they have nearly 40 years of experience!
And if you have any other doubts about the similarities between politics and professional wrestling, I'd invite you to take a look at the treatment given the candidates at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions and then look at wrestler's intros. Here's Barack Obama and here's Triple H. Heck, look at the stages! Politics is just like professional wrestling in so many ways that it's laughable...and scary.