Reforming Education Reform

 In an article in The New York Review of Books, Andrew Delblanco discusses new books by Michelle Rhee and Diane Ravitch, one epitomizing the prevailing education reform movement, the other largely critical of it. Delblanco distills Rhee's book and message thus: (1) Students should compete for test scores and their teachers' approval; (2) teachers should compete for "merit" rewards from their principal; (3) schools should compete for funding within their district; (4) school districts should compete for budgetary allocations within their state; and (5) states should compete for federal funds.

To read Rhee and Ravitch in sequence, Delblanco writes, is like hearing a too-good-to-be-true sales pitch followed by the report of an auditor who discloses mistakes and falsehoods in the accounts of the salesman. Poverty, Ravich says, is central to low academic achievement, and we must work both to improve schools and to reduce poverty, not prioritize one over the other. Tonally, Rhee is incredulous at the stupidity and irresponsibility of those who disagree with her, while Ravitch imputes bad motives and a grand design where there may simply be good intentions but overblown confidence.

Delblanco agrees with Rhee that our schools could use shaking up, and with Ravitch that "the wounds caused by centuries of slavery, segregation, and discrimination cannot be healed by testing, standards, accountability, merit pay, and choice." 

Here at Stag Hunt we think this whole debate has grown a bit tired , and that this glorified management-labor dispute recapitulates the efficiency debates of the 1920's and 30's to an eery degree.  See the canonical Education and the Cult of Efficiency for great detail.

So below we offer our thoughts on how we might get beyond this stale "reform" debate and build a better foundation for public education than this implicit one-size-fits-all paradigm.  We also invite your ideas in our ongoing Socratic Challenge.

H/T LAEP Public Education NewsBlast

Recapping Stag Hunt's California Tour (Part 3)

A few weeks ago, Stag Hunt was lucky enough to stumble into a fellow pioneering spirit in Michael Jon Leonard.  We met in the internets great bazaar (also known as Craigslist) and he quickly hit the ground running filming a documentary.  Armed with big ideas and a conviction that change demanded the people's involvement, we set out to "walk the earth".  Below we continue his unedited account of the tour.

Back in LA..

After three nights in Joshua Tree, we are back in LA..  The first leg of the tour is over.  I am happy to report that no one was stung by a scorpion or eaten by a mountain lion.

Cruising into LA County, after dropping David off at his girlfriend’s house, Patrick and I headed to his parents home.  These two individuals are excellent homo sapiens.  They live in a suburb just north of LA known as La Crescenta.  You may remember hearing news reports about this little nook in the world a few years ago, when a massive wave of mud came down from the mountains and taking with almost everyone’s car.

 It is easy to see why Patrick’s dream is to spearhead Staghunt, a magazine about the Pioneering Spirit and Bureaucratic Reformation.  Last night, while eating dinner, we debated about funding for state and national parks.  Both his mother and father have a clear enthusiasm about conservation and political reform.  Not only are they probing  conversationalists, their home is brimming with landscape photography, heaps of well read National Geographic’s, Copies of the Economist and a handful of the esoteric but highly revered Nature Magazine, the Ageless Great Grandfather of all Scientific Journals.. 

Today we are resting and cleaning out the car. Patrick’s mother was nice enough to let us use her Ford Escape Hybrid.  If there has ever a been an ideal road trip vehicle, this is it. It comes complete with a surf board rack, a three prong outlet (handy for apple lap tops : ) two outlets for cell phone chargers, built in gps, and get’s 30 mpg; road warrior! Thanks Mrs. Atwater!! 

To recap the trip - since my last post, 

I hammock’ed two nights at Stanford..

-The first night at Stanford we interviewed Patrick’s old college chum, who is now working on his Graduate Education in Biology.

-The next morning we woke and headed to San Francisco.  We had a full day of interviews with young entrepreneurs that are exploring creative solutions on the next frontier of technology.

-At the end of the day on Tuesday a small slice of misfortune came our way.  After a wonderful meal and interview with Abhi Nemani the Executive Director of Code for America.  I ran out to the car to grab my equipment, for a late night interview on the peer. I grabbed my backpack and ran to catch up with the guys.. 

An hour later, our spirits were high after a full day of success. Sadly, as we turned the corner to head to the car. We noticed the window was shattered. After assessing the damage, we realized that David’s laptop and cell phone had been stolen.  David was discouraged to say the least.  None of us really knew what to do, should we end the tour early?  No, we had to trek on.

David’s cell phone being gone meant we could no longer tether wifi from the Car, thus coffee shops became oh so valuable.  The next morning we let David hang loose and relax, while I headed to Coho’s, the official Stanford Coffee Shop, to do a little editing..

Being at Stanford was extremely epic for me.  A week before, while wrestling with my reservations about the trip, I watched the famous graduation speech by Steve Jobs at Stanford.  In it he spoke of his wild ambitions, dropping out of college to couch surf.  How he sat in on classes and said no to the pressures of ‘the Man,’ in order to pursue what he thought was important.  He finished the speech by telling students two things, “Stay Hungry and Stay Foolish!”  There I was, a week later doing just that. Hammock’ed up in the Trees of Stanford, pursuing what held value in my heart, rather than a dollar sign or a status quo. 

Slept on a picnic table in North Mendocino..

-Traveling with these guys was at times frustrating.  Though we have an excellent group dynamic, we do things a little differently.  For instance, on Tuesday Night, David was still bummed about San Fran stealing his lap top and felt strongly that we needed to head up North a little early. He was ready to check out and catch some surf.  I was reluctant.  Knowing that Silicone Valley held such great potential for the documentary, it seemed foolish to head on up North.   As usual, Patrick was bi-partisan.  In the end, as the intern, I let David make the call. So at 9pm we headed four hours North.

Upon arriving at the Campsite at 1am, I crashed out on a picnic table with  my sleeping bag; thus ending my week long stent with hammocks.

(According to Meyers Briggs, David and I are both ENTJ’s and Patrick is an INTJ)

In the morning we woke early and headed to search for some waves. It took us two hours, but what we found was gold. The first four footers of the entire trip. . 

Northern California is unlike the rest of the state.  A staple retirement mecca for old hippies. Here, the trees canopy the roads winding along the coast, with large snaky S turns that reveal cliffs covered in lush greens. It is Eden at it’s best. 

This was the only day of the trip entirely devoted to rest.  We surfed and bouldered on the beach until 3 (all three of us forgot to put on sunscreen).  After verbalizing our slight remorse for our skin, we ate some avocados and packed in the car to head to my Cousin Bob’s.   We drove through the Redwoods to get to Wine Country.  We were greeted by a feast of grilled pizza, kale salad, pinot noir and some incredible bleu cheese.   

Bob and Kathy are physically the most distant of members of my family, however, the kindredness is vivd in my heart and mind. Bob was the best man in my parents wedding, he lives in Sonoma and has been working in marketing and advertising for the past three decades.. 

He marveled us with the stories of his own adventures. i.e. falling in love with Kathy from across the country, and the day that Steve Jobs and Apple walked into his office for the original Apple Marketing Plan. 

He went on to tell me, the story of my Great Grandfather Dutch (of Dutch’s in Hyde Park).  How he had traveled out west with Bob’s Father in a Model T Ford.  That it was the Leonard Family Vision to return and live in California. The Spirit of Cincinnati swallowed up that dream, for three generations.  He said, “When I was your age, I would have rather been a garbage man in California than a marketing executive in Cincinnati. The spirit here is so much stronger, you can became anything, and people believe it!” 

Salud to healthy lifestyles!

That night, we were all so happy to be in a home. I slept on an air mattress and had vivid dreams of the future.

The next morning we woke, headed into Sonoma for coffee and made a surprise visit to Jack London State Park.  This was serendipity at her best.  Jack London is a famous California philosopher, not to mention, David’s favorite author.   We explored his work, had an interview with the Park’s Head of Education, and then drove to a Winery.

Leaving Sonoma, we headed to Berkeley.  Berkeley was complete improv. We were only going to be there for the night and were toying with the idea of sleeping with the homeless.  However, as we parked the car, Serendipity Graced us once more.  Walking from the car to Freedom Cafe, we heard, “Oh my God, Patrick Atwater!” We turned to see a Beautiful Young Hawaiian Woman named Rosie. David and I soon learned, that she had studied with Patrick in undergrad. She had just moved to Berkeley, to begin work on her PHD in Clinical Psychology and was flabbergasted to meet us.

This gal was lovely and within minutes she had offered us her couch and balcony for hammocks. In return, we made her dinner and together we shared stories of our adventures. She had spent the Summer in Patagonia, and was brimming with the Spirit of the Mountains.  

In the morning, after a latte, we headed out for the craziest 18 hours of driving that I have ever experienced.  We had three interviews, here is how it went. 

Berkeley to Bakersfield (4hrs. South)

-Josiah Royce Foundation- Famous California Philosopher-Export on Community 

Bakersfield to Tehachapi (1 hr. East) -

Caeser Chavez Foundation (immigration reform) *shout out to Sonny Varela

Tehachapi to Fresno (3hrs. Northwest)

Marcus Evans Ruiz, author of California’s Next Century 2.0 

Fresno to Joshua Tree (5.5 hours South, into the desert)

Landing in Joshua Tree (@4am) we were greeted by a wild dog and a scorpion.  This encouraged me for the first time on tour to break out the tent. 

In Joshua Tree, I was able to teach the guys a small bit about rock climbing.  By 3pm it was 110 degrees , this is where the story shifted from adventure to survival and for the first time, I was ready to be off the road.  

For the next two weeks we will be story boarding and draft editing. I am looking forward to telling this story, and using it to offer creative solutions to the opportunity deficit our generation is working to overcome..

Later this week,we are launching Staghunt TV Episode 2.  It it a teaser interview from our bit in San Francisco. Capturing the Silicone Valley Zeitgeist, episode 2 highlights the value of a shared economy, expresses the need for governmental innovation in education reform, and praises companies like, that have pioneered recovery by developing creative solutions during our economic fallout.. 

Needless to say, as I regain strength from proper rest, there are many more posts to come.Thank you to all of you for your encouraging thoughts and prayers along the way..




Recapping Stag Hunt's California Tour (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, Stag Hunt was lucky enough to stumble into a fellow pioneering spirit in Michael Jon Leonard.  We met in the internets great bazaar (also known as Craigslist) and he quickly hit the ground running filming a documentary.  Armed with big ideas and a conviction that change demanded the people's involvement, we set out to "walk the earth".  Below we continue his unedited account of the tour. 

Leaving Big Sur

This morning we pulled out of Big Sur. AKA, WIFI and PHONES are back.  This is one of the first times I am not pleased to be back in civilization.  Big Sur is God Country.

Here is a re-cap from this week, I needed a way to keep the story straight in my heart and head, so I decided to list my sleeping locations..

It lacks poetry, but it helped me remember our itinerary.

Sleeping Locations

Monday, I slept on a Beach just south of Santa Barbara.

-Worked in L.A.


-first blog post

-epic indiegogo fail

-But some Prana climbing shorts, past up a 50% off sale @Patagonia.  epic fail 2..

Tuesday, I hamocked on a Cliff overlooking the water. (Santa Barbara)

-Fransiscan Mission

-U.C.S.B. Tech Conference-intereviews

Wednesday, and Thursday we BRB’ed in Moro Bay.

-Interviewed locals and Edited all day.  After eating nothing but cliff bars and Qinua for three days, we stopped into Jocko’s which was suggested to us by a local.  After eating there, Patrick and David confirmed that it was the best BBQ spot in Cali.  Steak and Lamb cooked on a Red Oak Fire Pit.. Patrick ate a 20oz steak in 7 minutes.. 

-After eating our first solid meal in three days, we hopped in the car and headed to Moro Bay. Upon our arrival, the first thing we did was surf.  To get to the spot we swam accrossed the bay on our boards, to a remote beach filled with birds and friendly jelly fish..

-Sunset on the boards..

-In the morning we visited Moro Bay Avocado Farm (also known as Shanley Farms), they are one of the main avocado suppliers for Whole Foods.  This guy is a Master of the American Dream! We visited his dream, his family nestled into a mini- mansion overlooking Moro Bay, surrounded by his Avocado Farm, complete with a hobby vineyard and solar panels to keep him off the grid!! This guy was super generous.  Upon leaving he sent his queen of a daughter to as fetch us some Avocados, we left a brimming box full!! Epic *****

p.s. He is also the Patriarch of Finger Limes.  What’s a finger lime?  think a lime meets caviar, weird, but it’s a party in the mouth for sure!

-Bought a great used wet suit!  Which, like coffee, is a must have on this trip, the  the water is frigid and there is a month left of surfing..

-On the swim back across the bay we encountered a family of otters. There were five or six at most, it was cool though, they were no more than ten meters from us.

 I asked David, “Are Otters friendly?”  

He replied, “No, but they won’t bite you.”

-After that, David taught me a bio-physics lesson on surfing and Patrick gave me a tip about paddling, then I caught my first 3 waves. 

Friday, We drove to Big Sur and slept at Botchers Gap, I hamocked on the Cliff of a Mountain.(Big Sur)

-Botchers Gap was the only open campsite in Big Sur.. There are upwards of Ten Official campsites.. 

-At sunset while taking photos, we met a digital designer from Berlin. On Wednesday, he his heading to Burning Man to hang with the guys from Google.  Before he sets his soul on fire, we are going to interview him in San Fran on Monday.

Saturday, we slept on the coast, I hammocked Ten Feet up a young oak..(Big Sur)

-We woke up early and were the first ones to the coast line campsite.

-Since we were the first ones to the site, we got the pick of the litter on sites.  The first one came upon was group of hipsters.. Two boys, Two girls. The women were beautiful, so I made sure to keep eye contact with their boyfriends.  They were friendly and offered us coffee.  As our friendship was just beginning, the longer haired fellow pulled out a vacuum press and served me the coffee in a mug!

As our conversation went deeper, I discovered that he was from Athens, GA.  Six degrees of separation.. Some of you may know that my former roommate, close comrade and fellow priestDrew Jacoby was in tragic accident 2 weeks ago.. Turns out this long haired fellow who made me coffee was also working in a Kitchen that morning  little more than a block away at another restaurant.  He heard about the accident Drew had minutes after it had happened.. He recalled the event to me,  ”You know, I work in a Kitchen too.  When we heard about it, we all took a moment of silence in his honor.  How is he doing?”

Surely, a moment where the Architect of this Universe gave me a sense of awe.  One of the main components of the Documentary is the need for healthy community to be restored in our culture.. Love you Drew!!

-After securing a campsite, we headed to the beach.  There was no surf.  We found a crystal clear, fresh water river that ran along the beach.. The Go Pro held it down. 


-I woke, ten feet up, in a young oak.

-Left Big Sur, on good terms.

-Iced Coffee

-The rest of the story, hasn’t been told yet.



Recapping Stag Hunt's California Tour (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, Stag Hunt was lucky enough to stumble into a fellow pioneering spirit in Michael Jon Leonard.  We met in the internets great bazaar (also known as Craigslist) and he quickly hit the ground running filming a documentary.  Armed with big ideas and a conviction that change demanded the people's involvement, we set out to "walk the earth".  Below we present his unedited account of the tour. 

A wise teacher once told me, “leave everything behind, and come follow me.”  Of all the things that that teacher has taught me, these particular words have always been a struggle for me.  In my coming of age, I have come to recognize that I enjoy my comforts of the mundane life, the routines of the Shire and the familiar faces of what I have already come to know as home. Recently, a friend told me that home is where you sleep at night. Though I haven’t completely adopted that philosophy, I have allowed it to amend what I believe.  

Two weeks ago while following a hunch, I discovered an obscure add on Cragislist. It said, ‘Rugged Internship for Revolution.’  I followed that hunch and it has led me to where I know sit.  At my laptop in Long Beach, California, with two quintessential dudes, that recently started a publishing company focused on the Reformation of Californian Bureaucracy.  Over the next few weeks, we will be traveling along the Coast of California and stirring up the American Spirit.  Along the way, I will be shooting a documentary, exploring what freedom is and what sustainable reformation looks like. 

As a young man, I realized that ‘The Revolution would not be Televised.’ It was clear to me that the dreams of our forefathers had slipped through the realm of our consciousness, into the greasy cushions of couch potatoes and eaten up, like t.v. dinners, by bureaucratic systems that are far out of date.  

Growing up in this nation, I have come to realize that with freedom, comes great responsibility; and that if that responsibility is ignored, it becomes apathy.  As a nation state, our collective consciousness is a unified body of citizens, and that apathy is like a trans-fat in our body.  Just like in health class, trans-fat leads to heart attacks, loss of creativity,  sleepiness and the worst part of all, the handing over our responsibilities, to another ‘(the) Man’ who would love to have ownership of our freedom.  ’The fruit goes to the man that tends the farm”

So hear I sit, having left behind, my house, my car, my job; pretty much everything that seems rationally important to maintaining life on this planet.  Or did I?

I am following my heart, and my heart tells me that simply maintaining what I have, is not good enough.  The whisper of the unspoken, tells me that if there is not a shift in this nations consciousness, that this Melting Pot is going to boil.

So hear I am, pursuing happiness, by casting aside my comforts and safety nets, valiantly attempting to stir up the very thing that created this freedom, the American Spirit.

Though we haven’t dumped any tea into the ocean (yet), it seems as if we are on this journey to figure out what ‘tea’ actually is, and what dumping it out might look like.   We know two things for sure, ‘Change is Coming to America’ and we’ll be damned sure that it’s a good one.. 

First we want people to recognize, their freedom.  When you woke up this morning, you probably thought, “hmm.. coffee” or “work sucks” or maybe you thought something more poetic, like about a loved one lying next to you, or maybe one that used to and your heart hurt for them. .

Whatever it was, I hope that in that moment you recognized somewhere in your heart that you are free.  Free to do whatever is that you like.  Emancipated to make what you will of your destiny.  In pursuit of that destiny, the way you choose to handle your responsibility, becomes the author of your legacy.  Ultimately, the acts of your volition will decide wither you achieve something greater or worse than those that have come before you, and the type of ground work  you are laying for those who follow.. 

It is in this Spirit that all free men, either recognize greatness and pursue it, or choose to cower and abide in the luxuries of subservience..  

So hear I sit, at my laptop, hoping that the Winds of Reformation do blow, and that ‘We the People,’  choose to take up the arms of our volition, and facilitate change America that will once again make us this great nation, the Gem, of this lonely planet spinning subservient somewhere in the Milky Way. 




California's Capitol Meets Game of Thrones

Dear Readers,

This past week your humble correspondents took a visit to California’s Capitol to promote the launch of our new magazine California Revolution, which explores how we might pioneer new solutions to California’s endemic public challenges. For the Capitol crowd, you might remember us as the friendly startup pamphleteers with a rather distinctive surfboard table.  

As just a few small business dudes from Southern California, we felt a bit out of our element -- until we realized we had seen most of these Capitol types before.  Every personality we encountered in Sacramento could be seen every Sunday night on HBO's hit drama Game of Thrones.  So we have decided to share our favorite characters we encountered in and around the state’s Capitol.

Overeager Interns as Podrick the Squire  

Young, bright, and precocious to a fault, this capitol class is eager to serve.  Yet they’re easily bored and are often found on internet breaks surfing for incisive political economy analysis.

Strengths: youthful vigor, not yet jaded by the road blocks that stop good policy.

Weakness: the lure of climbing the ladder.  In a few years, many of their ideals will thrown by the wayside in favor of upgrading to a nicer condo.

"The boy may be a stumbletongue, but he’s not stupid". 

- Brienne on Podrick


The Wonks as Maesters

Salivate at the prospect of new PPIC or Brookings Institution whitepapers.  Easily recognizable by their crooked tie or if truly bold bow tie and checkered jacket.

Strengths: know the issues inside and out.

Weaknesses: obscure science fiction and fantasy references.

“Kings? I can tell you all there is to know about kings. The thing you need to understand about kings: in the past 67 years, I have known - truly known - more kings than any man alive. They're complicated men, but I know how to serve them. Yes. And keep on serving them.“

Grand Maester Pycelle

Civil service lifers as the Night’s Watch

They've taken an oath to protect the realm.  They have their own war to fight (as in actually delivering public services) away from the political Game of Thrones.  Underneath their apolitical exterior, they understand the realpolitik beneath the hollow slogans shouted by the standard Game of Thrones participants better than most.

Strengths: they're not going anywhere.

Weaknesses: the grind can dull their senses to the genuinely new.

Knights watch.png

Kooks as white walkers  

Did you say guns??? I LOVE GUNS

Strengths: Although often mocked by the Capitol insiders, many of this class are actually just concerned-citizens-who-care-about-the-future-of-the-state. I swear we saw some.  

Weaknesses: government fluoridated water, which does something conspiratorial.

"The Others are only a story, a tale to make children shiver. If they ever lived at all, they are gone eight thousand years."

-Jon Snow

white walkers.png

Sharks as Littlefinger

Dressed to the nines, these quintessential Capitol denizens know how to cut a deal and thrive on climbing the ladder.  You can recognize them by their unique sense of swagger and style.

Strengths: closing.

Weaknesses: love of power.

“Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, are given a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”

Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish


The Old Guard as Sir Barristan

These folks have seen and done it all.  They have a visceral appreciation for history and know how difficult it is to create real change.  

Strengths: institutional knowledge.

Weaknesses: anecdotes about Jess Unruh.

"Ser Barristan is as valiant and honorable as any man in King's landing."

- Eddard Stark

sir barristan.png

The Dreamers as Daenerys

Driven by ideals and a firm belief in the future that might be, these folks are crazy enough to try and create structural change.  Unlike most insiders, they know that California politics is ultimately no less earthquake prone than the state's geology.

Strengths: desire to change the world.

Weaknesses: desire to change the world.

“Perhaps I cannot make my people good, she told herself, but I should at least try to make them a little less bad.”

― George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons


There's plenty of other juicy Game of Thrones characters left.  Please leave any other Capitol archetypes we haven't bothered to analyze yet in the comments.


Stag Staff

Westward Ho!

Dear Reader,
Our plucky little band of misfits is about to hit the road.  In true California-bound fashion, we thought we'd share our list of supplies as we embark on the expedition: 
  • 3 bicycles, 2 wheeled
  • 1 6' surfboard
  • 1 9' longboard, Catalina-made
  • 3 bicycle helmets
  • 10 shirts, shorts, and backpack
  • 10 boxers, 3 shoes
  • Silly bike hat
  • 2 wetsuits
  • 4 milk crates
  • 1 ice chest
  • Stag bag complete with clothes and shoes
  • 4 Nectarines, 4 peaches, 2 bananas, 10 oranges
  • 10 lbs oatmeal
  • 4 lbs quinoa
  • 3 lbs almonds
  • 3 lbs dates, dried
  • 3 lbs cranberries, dried
  • Bag of tortilla chips, mostly full
  • Flour tortillas
  • Potatoes salad,  homemade
  • Macaroni salad
  • 1 watermelon, halved
  • 2 harmonica
  • 1 guitar
  • 2 slacklines
  • 200 promotional excerpts
  • Stock of magazines
  • Virtual store at and (for print)
  • Print magazine on any day now (DAMN YOU BEZOS) 
  • 1 town crier bell
  • 1 19th century bulletin-esque banner
  • 1 Stag Hunt Flag
  • 1 California Flag
  • Innumerable, pioneering spirit

See you all in Sacramento.


Stag Staff

Yes we are a little crazy.  No more than the Californians that came before us though!

Yes we are a little crazy.  No more than the Californians that came before us though!

Crushing Gamespace

Dear Reader, 

As we prepare to embark on our revolutionary tour, I thought I'd share a little piece from a few years back on the importance of following your passion.  Still believe every word.



Looking back on my four years of college, there are few things I can say for certain. I’ve started to realize how lucky I’ve been to be able to spew nonsense on these pages, but that clearly hasn’t sunk in just yet. Despite the incredible education Claremont McKenna has afforded me, the defining aspect of starting to enter the real world has been uncertainty–a forced humility before what will be. I have only lived in this world for twenty two years; hopefully I will live for several times that more. Really I’ve only just started to grasp the questions that define our lives.

But one thing I can say with confidence is that I don’t regret refusing to play the game.[i] I have been rejected from more things than I can count, and I am painfully aware of each and every one. Princeton: thin envelope. Rhodes: no dice. These two things are probably related. Grades do matter. And you should write application essays keeping in mind what the judges want to hear. Yet there’s something more to life than success through these narrowly defined metrics.

That thing, of course, is called actually living. Life is a beautiful, magical, and–much as we young people hate to admit it–a transitory thing.  So when I hear a freshman stressing about his summer internship plans or some sophomores trading tips about the LSAT, I die a little inside. I desperately want to tell them, loudly and with my fist clenched around their shirt: “You’re freaking 18, 19 years old. Go bond with friends over a thirty rack of natty light. Go read a great book that will shatter your worldview. Go do something, anything, except wallow in such self-imposed misery.” The point is not so much that they need to get a life, but that they have already chosen not to live one.

I can’t say I blame them for their choice; it’s eminently understandable. The presence of the meritocracy is all around us. In many ways, it is the defining aspect of our generationand of Claremont McKenna. That’s not a bad thing, but it, like anything, does have consequences. The characteristics that define CMC affect who we are as CMCers. There are clear barriers to get in here, and there are objective ways to measure how far we’ve come when we get out. Grades. Test scores. Internships. These are the symbols through which we adjudicate success in our overachiever environment.

Those measurements, however, are just one set of lines that run through the totality of life. They do not reflect the quality of our friendships, the depth of our integrity, or the sincereness of our devotion to family, God, or country; they measure everything, in short, except that which makes life meaningful. And they tell us everything about ourselves except that which will make us fulfilled to be who we are.

Acknowledging the lack of perspective I have with my brief, fake-world life, I think I’ve found my passion. I love Californiamore than any one person should, and man is it fulfilling. So with a heap of hesitation and a dash of self-awareness, I’d like to give you some advice:

Don’t be merely a function of social exigencies.

Don’t forget to ask the big questions.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Never be entirely consumed by what people consider “practical.”[ii]

Never let people tell you to stop dreaming.

Those are the things that have helped me to start figuring myself out–to parse away the layers of norms, expectations, and lies we tell ourselves to figure what we really want. Finding that–the thing that keeps you awake night after night and for which you are willing, even happy, to work for hours on end, day after day–is a big part of what makes life worth living. Some of you may disagree,[iii] but I will say this: try asking yourself what you really, truly, deeply want out of life.  I’m certain you won’t regret it.


 This was the subject of some controversy in the Atwater household when I was in high school. My mom, for example, suggested I take an SAT class. I patently refused, thinking that spending my time cooped up in a fluorescent lit room would be a waste of time. I can also proudly say that I have only ever cared about what I learn from the classes I take–occasionally to the exclusion of good grades.

[ii] Please don’t take that as an invocation to become a dirty Pitzer hippie. (And for goodness sake don’t take that as anything but a playful poke at our beloved neighbor to the North.) 

[iii] Here I’m envisioning some disgusting happiness-monger saying something along the lines of “Ignorance is bliss” or invoking some sort of perpetual sensory pleasure machine. But I’m not willing to accept an existence analogous to highly evolved slime. Purpose, meaning, fulfillment, all flowing from the distinctively human capacity of cognition–those are things that are worth talking about.


Towards a government capable of pioneering the Martian Frontier

What would it really take to build a self-sustaining colony on Mars?  The answer ultimately lies beyond the technical requirements of booster rockets and bubble habitats.  

Consider the magnitude of risk involved: the transit time between earth and the red planet is well over a year for the foreseeable future (using chemical propulsion and standard orbital insertions).  Moreover, given the recent experience with Curiosity and the other mars rovers, a earth-to-mars delivery will run in the hundreds of millions or more likely billions of dollars.  

And that’s before you get into the sizable uncertainty of how to actually get humans to Mars with a healthy mind and sound body.  My limited scientific understanding is that the known unknowns of prolonged exposure to solar radiation and meteorites are decidedly nontrivial.  That’s not to say they’re insurmountable -- just worth thinking through how such unknowns (and the ones we can’t even imagine) affect the risk profile of any colonization effort.

The capital requirements are mammoth, with little to no economic payoff for probably decades.  And within that long timeline there’s the ongoing possibility of the unexpected.  What if there needs to be an evacuation?  What if valuable resources are discovered and substantial equipment needs to be shipped?  Such questions hint at the huge degree of uncertainty involved in nourishing a colony millions of miles away.

Throughout human history, only one institution has been able to absorb that sort of risk: government.  It’s worth noting that the great European and Chinese voyages of discovery in the Renaissance were all financed by government and government-backed enterprises like the British East India Company.  There’s substantial excitement at the commendable technical progress achieved by private sector companies like Space-X.  Yet it’s worth noting that the vast majority of their revenue comes from government contracts.

So let's rephrase our original question: does our government really have what it takes to build a self-sustaining colony on Mars?  As much as it pains me as a public servant to admit it, the answer really is no -- at least within our current model.  Our federal government lurches from one self-imposed crisis to the next, and in California we struggle to rebuild existing public works like the San Francisco Bay Bridge.  Why doesn’t our government seem up to today’s challenges -- let alone pioneering Mars?  And more importantly what can we do about it?

In a phrase, our basic model of government has not adapted to the world we live in.  Schools still shepard students according to bells and tightly wound rituals, preparing them for work in factories that no longer exist.  Local governments like our hometown La Canada Irrigation District persist, even though three other retail water agencies serve the same town of 20,000 and the orange groves the Irrigation District once watered no longer exists.  

So what might a government that actually reflects the world we live in look like?  That’s the question our startup is tackling with our recently launched Argonaut’s Challenge, a $5000 essay contest exploring how current technologies might revolutionize five specific opportunities within California’s bureaucracy.  Submissions are due June 28th.  This expedition will provide pragmatic, actionable insights on how we might pioneer the next frontier of public service.  You can find more information about the challenge at

We’re a plucky group of analysts passionate about our home in California and committed to pioneering new models of government.  We’d also frankly love to retire on Mars (hear the weather in Kasei Valles aka New California is great this time of year).  So we’re invested in this project, to put it mildly.

This quest is ultimately about more than Mars though -- much more.  The Red Planet stands as a symbol for humanities aspirations to explore the unknown -- a freedom that is denied to far too many of our fellow man.

We hail from Los Angeles and know firsthand the tragedies of inequality of opportunity.  Why in the most advanced society in human history should a child’s opportunity in life be a function of the zip code they’re born into?  Beyond that grave injustice that reality represents, let’s pause for a moment and reflect how much human capital we’re leaving on the table here.  LA Unified serves over 700,000 students and yet has a graduation rate of only 66% (as of 2013).  

How many Nobel scientists and brilliant engineers are we leaving on the table?  What if the architect of the first space elevator lies buried in an antiquated school bureaucracy?  Our current school model is failing literally hundreds of thousands of students -- and that’s just in LA.  

And while the challenges of building a government that reflects the world we live in is ultimately global, the solutions are ultimately local.  Every country, community, region, state, neighborhood and even individual has their own unique local needs.  Yet perhaps we might find a solution in the local as well, by tapping into California’s vaunted pioneering spirit to build those new governmental models and leading by example.

We have the greatest collection of technological talent ever assembled in human history and some of the biggest bureaucratic challenges in the modern world.  If that’s not a Mars sized frontier, we don’t know what is.  

As Robert Zubrin says, “Human progress needs a vanguard.”  Why not California?  We invite you to join our quest by backing our kickstarter.


Get Your Child to the Top: An Interview with Author Megan Jones

Megan Jones is a former financier turned education startup guru.  She's also a published author and above all a parent.  So when I heard she was writing a book about education, I was very curious to ask her some questions.  Please find her thoughtful responses below.

What role should a parent play in a child's education?

Parents play a key part in a child’s education and this topic is addressed at great length in Get Your Child To The Top.  In the book, I discuss studies that show what a parent is has a greater impact on a child’s educational success as do demographics.  Hence, parents with lots of books (that they read) who discuss current events over the dinner table are teaching their children an educated lifestyle, which their children usually pick up.  Buying books isn’t enough.

We all know that lower income children have vastly smaller vocabularies by five and are less likely to attend pre-school.  And, unfortunately kids who are not at grade level by age 8 rarely catch up. Parents who make an early effort are rewarded, but so are those who pick up their involvement later in the game.

But, one debate we are not having on a broad enough basis as a country is that even our best students are stagnating academically when compared on an international basis. And our kids are also competing with these outperforming global students for top tier schools and jobs.  Moreover, no longer are innovation and skilled jobs clusterd in the US.  These are the points Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum address in their book, That Used To Be Us.

Our institutions across the board have not kept up with our evolving society and schools are just but one example.  Parents can’t rely on an outdated, budget strapped institution to prepare their children to be competitive in an ever more competitive world. 

And other parents aren’t doing so.  I was at a school year-end party today and numerous parents…in the private school community…are signing their children up for advanced online classes in subjects such as physics or writing…as part of their summer “break”.  Including children entering fourth grade!

And, I want to add one more note, talking to my son’s teacher at the same party she focused on values, collaboration, analysis, forming an opinion and creative reasoning.  Facts can be taught.  Parents need to live a life of values and curiousity so that their children grow up with the right intellectual and spiritual foundation.  Knowing what is findable on Google. Knowing how to live your life and what to value is not.

What's your view on blended learning methodologies (think flipping the classroom with Khan Academy or the like)?

I’m a huge fan of flipped learning.  And would point out that now Khan is joined by Knowmia as an organized source of related videos.

Studies were done of top professors – I think from Stanford – showing that students learn more when watching videos than from hearing a lesson live.  We can all debate how the results are measured – but I think most people would agree that being able to watch a lecture at our leisure - and being able to replay what we don’t catch or understand - is a plus.  Students can also look up issues or words which confuse them and go back to the lecture after grasping the related concept.

Indeed, numerous schools are trying different related models, including  the Alliance Charter School in Los Angeles, and seeing very positive results.  Of course the approach does require some discipline…children need to actually watch the videos.  But teachers are freed up to interact and teach more creatively or collaboratively in the classroom.  They can also spend time on concepts that have stumped the class as a whole.

Salman Khan, in his book The One Room Schoolhouse, notes that even children getting As are missing or not understanding up 10% of a given subject.  Cummulatively, this loss is harmful to all future learing, especially in topics like math – that build upon past concepts – or ones that are interconnected – such as history and science.

What do you see as the core purpose of public education?

Public education today is a mass socialization and child-care exercise.  Literacy has fallen by the wayside.  We also teach children to do as they’re told and stay organized by group.  An outdated concept of literacy is taught, as are general social norms and values.

At it’s best, public education offers tremendous resources…if parents can find them and are proactive in doing so.  I’ve also met some truly amazing teachers who give every ounce of themselves to their students.  But not every teacher does…thus the system is somewhat luck based.

I see the core purpose of public education as providing basic literacy, socialization and insight into the community and establishing an understanding of how our country works.  Schools are important!  They’re typically popular, despite oftentimes dismal results, because they’re a core part of any neighborhood’s community.  Losing that common experience would be a tragedy.  We expect too much from our schools.

John Dewey once said that "Education is a social process.  Education is growth.  Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."  How do you react to that?

John Dewey was truly brilliant.  But we are not teaching our children to continue learning.  Rather, we are asking them to pass standardized tests so they can do something more interesting like play a video game or watch a creative YouTube video.  We need to stop looking at education as a way to control our children and stuff them with basic facts and get back to Dewey’s concept of education as life itself. 

No one is more curious than a child.  Why do we ask them to stifle those natural questions so we can stuff them with facts independent of real world experience?  And the problem isn’t the teachers, it’s the factory based system…which is outdated and pre-dates the internet, computers, airplanes, television, the decoding of DNA, space travel and Twinkies.

Education should encourage creativity, lifelong learning and questions, not rote memorization and regurgitation of facts.

What are your thoughts on integrating experiential learning methodologies like Coro into the public education system? 

Experiential learning is a great process and one that makes people think and not just fill in the blanks.  But it also requires time, effort and creativity.  Increasingly, many such methods are being introduced into the curriculum of older children (and obviousy this reality happens in college and graduate school).  But I don’t think that our current teachers are trained in using such methods.

Introducing such methods to the public school system would be a huge paradigm shift.  Doing so would work well with a flipped learning system.  Teachers need support to depart from more standardized requirements, especially with the Common Core requirements being introduced, and allowed to fail.

How does the public education system account for failure?  It really doesn’t.  Because we have grades and curriculums, the system is tracked and does not allow for creativity and experimentation, regardless of potential upside.

What do you think of Ken Robinson's Ted talk Changing Education Paradigms?  Do you buy the critique of the factory model?  If so, what can we do about it?

Ken Robinson is 100 percent right.  Our current educational system was fine when most people worked in menial jobs, be they education or manufacturing.  That system took virtual illiteracy across out population and taught most to read or at least write their name.  And the students learned to follow directions.

It’s a joke in today’s world.

Our job base is now over 50% services, and that sector is increasingly dominating our economy.  Robots and machines, and of course outsourcing, have stolen most manufacturing jobs.  Children today need to learn technology, innovation, creativity, service and differentiators to compete on a global scale.  Anyone can make a computer; only Apple can make a Mac, then turn it into an iPhone and an iPad.  You either offer local service or something that sets you apart or you’re a commodity in today’s world.

What can be done?  Our institutions are strapped, fiscally challenged and in flux.  Parents, teachers and children need to take charge on a one by one basis to find earlier specialization and new definitions of literacy.  Never before have the best courses and teachers been available online for cheap or free.  Never before have book, apps, tutors, examples and opportunities been so organized and available.  We’ve entered the age of accountability.  With all resources available and affordable, any one family or child has only themselves to blame for not getting educated.

What question did I forget to ask you?  Please feel free to also answer ;)

Why now?

Media has been democratized and as a result a vast trove of new and creative offereings exist.  Only in education – a media based industry – has this flowering of resources not broken down related resistance. 

We’re seeing that reality change in higher education, with the online offerings from formal top tier universities and less formal options (Code Acedemy, Khan Academy, Knowmia) taking rapid market interest.  Meanwhile many, including William Bennett and Peter Thiel, are questioning the value of an astronomically expensive college education.   This expansion of resources will only continue to provide knowledge and new forms of credentials. 

Now, all children can get a good education, regardless of their school, if they onely know how.  No child should fall through the cracks, nor should they have to.

Lastly, what role do you plan on playing in improving public education?  Perhaps a sneak peek on this Laerrn project we're all so curious about...

Go to the site: .  We’re starting.  So far, we have a few videos (and have hired a professional editor) and the website is being re-built.  But, essentially, we’re curating and providing resources to take educational opportunities out of institutional hands and make them usable in individual ones.  Each child can get to the top, specific to their own talents and goals, regardless of what happens in their school.  Parents, teachers and childen just need to know how to utilize the resources available.  And we also provide guidance with respect to the new Common Core Curriculum. 

Success starts in school but extends into a world with limitless opportunity.  With choice comes confusion – we’re using our resources to provide answers and guidance.

Literacy will be redefined.  Laernn is taking a stab in that direction.  Read the book and you’ll get insight into our new definition, based on conversations with those creating the jobs and industries of the future, teaching our children and the kids themselves.  None of this is hard, someone just needs to do it and clarify what is required for others.

Argonaut's Challenge Questions Answered

Dear Reader,

We’d like to take this opportunity to tackle a few recurring questions about the Argonaut’s Challenge.  First, note that the topics are just starting points.  As a merry band of misfits infamous for coloring outside of the lines, we’d be remiss if it were otherwise.  

For instance, if you want to write an essay articulating the policy changes California needs to make in order to move in a more Ken Robinson-esque direction in our public schools, by all means go for it.  And if that talks about how we might creatively level current technologies to connect classrooms to the communities around them, all the better but far from a requirement.

Second, to reiterate, challenge winners sell the rights to their essay to us in return for $1000 and a share of the 20% royalty pool.  You also get the opportunity to present at our Argonaut’s Summit in August.  

Third, here’s a few essays we love to give you a sense of what we’re looking for.  Again the submissions will be judged on the basis of two simple criterions:

Pragmatic: Is the analysis specific? Is the hypothetical change feasible? Does it fulfill a real need?

Dreaming: Is this insight pioneering new terrain? Does it push boundaries?  Does it enlarge the scope of our moral imagination?

With that in mind, here’s the example essays.  First up the late, great Jeff Lustig’s Reflections on California’s Sesquicentennial:


 Also worth checking out are Izabella Kaminsky’s Beyond Scarcity Series and Nassim Taleb’s Black Swan of Cairo.  Feel free to leave any additional questions in the comments, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.


Stag Staff


Musings on the future of civic hacking

Dear reader,

This past weekend your humble correspond journeyed down to LA in part to see the #HackForLA competition presentations.  I’ve been to a good number of these sorts of reimagine government with technology affairs these past few years and thought I’d share a few reflections.  

First, the motivation behind such events is simply inspiring.  Watching folks pull all nighters on their precious weekends just for a chance to rethink how government delivers services is pretty awesome.

Second, it’s worth reflecting on why most of the ideas at these things repeat.  There’s usually a few takes on crowdfunding for say parks or whatever and certainly a spin on 311 where folks can submit problems like a pothole or broken streetlight to the authorities -- with perhaps a neat tweak like voice commenting.  And then there’s information dissemination like GIS visualizations of zoning or evacuation push alerts or other nifty ways to showcase existing government data locked away in illegible formats.

The basic motivation of such projects is community, built around the solid idea that providing new pathways for people to share ideas or collaborate will lead to better public service delivery.

And in that vein, the excitement over technology in government stems from the somewhat obvious fact that before the advent of modern web technologies many of these pathways simply did not exist.  Just imagine what it would take to visualize thousands of current pothole locations across a large city -- not exactly a small task for pencil and graph paper.  

Yet at a deep level these gov 2.0 programs seem to all be within government’s long tail -- little niche activities like adopting fire hydrants or snapping photos of broken street lamps or other small viral activities.  See below for a graphic showing the basic shape of the long tail -- an idea made famous by Wired’s Chris Anderson.


Yet what about the giant head -- the few basic activities that make up the vast majority of government's service delivery?  Thinking of basic structures like schoolsbudgetspipes and environmental management.  Or put differently, what about how potholes don’t just get reported but actually filled in?

How might we not merely create new virtual pathways for public service delivery but reimagine current real world structures to build hybrids at the intersection of the two?  That sort of deeper, structural question is too often missing in the excitement over Gov 2.0.

I met a designer recently who’s experience with LA’s 311 app is case in point.  He was tech savvy, civic minded and had a specific problem that need fixing: the stoplight in front of his house.  So when LA launched its new 311 app, he eagerly downloaded it and snapped a photo of the stoplight.  Small problem: although he lived in Los Angeles, the stoplight was in the City of South Pasadena, meaning that the 311 app was essentially useless.  Virtual interfaces -- no matter how intuitive or beautiful -- can’t paper over the underlying reality that LA County has 88 Cities whose services generally don’t integrate.  

Or consider education.  There’s an easy intuition that information technology should be transformative in education -- they are tools for learning after all -- yet after years of efforts to bring computers and the web into the classroom nothing’s really lived up to the hype.  There’s a growing consensus in fact that the underlying 19th century factory-like model that dominates public education needs to change.  Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted chart topping talk on Changing Education Paradigms is case in point here.  There’s a need to imagine new foundations for education.

So what might we take away as we look at the potential of technology in government more broadly?  

First, the exciting space is at the intersection of real and virtual models.  Consider a canonical giant head government issue: roads.  Or put in the lens of Los Angeles: traffic.  A problem articulated in my (ahem) book A New California Dream:

“Consider traffic, which second to Hollywood, is probably LA's defining attribute (at least in the popular image).  The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the County government, and the 88 incorporated cities in LA County each have a say in the region’s transportation policy (through a minimum of zoning). And thus making the regional improvements that Greater Los Angeles needs essentially requires unanimity across a huge array of independent organizations, each with their own vision for the region and idea of how to achieve it. Like LA’s famous freeway system, our political institutions are proving incapable of dealing with the rapidly changing demands of the twenty first century. Instead we find ourselves stuck in bumper to bumper gridlock.”

No wonder innovative new tools like congestion pricing are rolled out in bureaucratically safe pilot projects like the single lane on the 110!  Just imagine trying to implement such a program across Southern California (the logical unit since commuting patterns cut across the region).  Therein lies the takeaway.  While tools like congestion pricing could benefit from modern web technologies (easy enough to imagine an app or google maps layer showing live prices), successful tackling public problems like traffic demands changing existing governmental structures.

So the question becomes: how might we get the civic technology movement to dig deeper?

Here’s a thought.  What if we didn’t have idea generation consist of quick pitches at the beginning of a weekendlong hackathon?  What if instead we grouped talented technologists with dedicated public servants and engaged citizens like League of Women Voters members and had them conduct interviews, tours and other explorations once a month?  Then provide opportunities for deep reflection, synthesis, presentation and most importantly well resourced experiments to create a sort of Coro Executive Fellowship focused on reimagining government.  To me that augurs much more potential than yet another hastily constructed 311 knockoff.

More broadly, in my opinion the most exciting aspect of civic technology isn’t the possibilities afforded by web applications so much as the categorically higher quality of analysis that the resulting information enables.  

Consider what it would take to actually change that tangled governance structure of 88 Cities and substantial unincorporated area in one County.  And consider the number of blue ribbon efforts and really the entire Schwarzenegger campaign that had the stated goal of changing that tangled jurisdictional reality -- none of which have done more than really nibble around the edges.

The pressing question becomes: why are consolidations so difficult? I remember working on one back in my PFM days and it was in a sense a great project to work on. Every month I’d ask my boss if there was anything new and the answer would always be a simple “nope”. Good from a work load perspective; less so for the public interest.

Most consolidation efforts fizzle because of lack of interest from the public (or because agencies that don’t want to be dissolved use taxpayer funds to hire guns to prevent that). The biggest asset that good government folks have in such a situation is clear facts, figures and analysis making the case for restructuring.

So again how might making those easy to understand and interactive viz a viz existing technologies like Tableau Public be leveraged in a broader effort to align California’s water jurisdictions with the realities of the world we live in?

Or better yet how might we think creatively with incentives to ramp up the volume of that sort of good government analysis?

Just a few questions to consider as the government 2.0 movement evolves.



Judith Auth, former Riverside Library Director, on the Future of Libraries

Your humble correspondent met Judith Auth at the LWV SmartVoter dinner a few weeks past.  Striking up a conversation, your intrepid Stag Staffer was quickly intrigued by her decades of experience as a librarian and unique perspective on how information technology has transformed how we navigate the corpus of human knowledge.  At a time when every week seems to bring a new accelerator or web app promising to revolutionize EVERYTHING, such institutional experience and knowledge is more valuable than ever.  She graciously consented to an email interview, so without further ado, here’s her original response.

1.  My experience in and passion for libraries.

I’ve always loved words and books and reading.  My father taught French and Spanish to high school students.  My mother was active in the community.  After graduating from University of California, Riverside, with a BA in English Literature, I discovered I needed a “trade.”  So I went to UCLA’s School of Library and Information Science .  My first job in 1971 was at the Riverside Public Library.  I was a children’s librarian.  Because the city library provided services to the entire county of Riverside, I had many opportunities for promoting libraries.  I moved from children’s librarian to countywide coordinator of children’s services, then to a senior librarian position supervising branch libraries.  Next was acting head of Technical Services while upgrading our automated system, then head of central library, assistant library director and finally, in 1991, Library Director.  I retired in 2006 after proposing a special tax for the public library that garnered 69% approval, the first municipal tax to pass in 40 years!

During my tenure I made many speeches to the staff, the public and to elected officials I tried to raise everyone’s expectation as to what a public library could be. For me the library is an idea, an invention. Archibald MacLeish called it “an assertion”

            The existence of a library
Is an assertion--
A proposition nailed like Luther’s to the
door of time  It asserts that the reason why
the “things” compose a mystery is that they
seem to mean:  that they fall, when gathered
together, into a kind of relationship, a kind
of wholeness, as though all thee different
and dissimilar reports, these bits and pieces
of experience, manuscripts in bottles,
messages from long before, from deep with,
from miles beyond, belonged together and
might if understood together, spell out
the meaning which the mystery implies

[Wilson Library Bulletin, January 1973]

Norman Cousins called it “the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life.  The sociologist Ivan Illich called it a “tool for conviviality.”

At its best the library is the prototype of a convivial tool.  Repositories for other learning tools can be organized on its model, expanding access to tapes, pictures, records, and very simple labs filled with the same scientific instruments with which most of the major breakthroughs of the last century were made.
Tools are intrinsic to social relationships.  An individual relates himself in action to his society through the use of tools that he actively masters or by which he is passively acted upon.  To the degree that he masters his tools, the shape of the tool determines his own self-image.  Convivial tools are those which give each person who uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision.
Conviviality:  autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environments; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of person to the demands made on them by others and by a man-made environment.  I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence, and as such, an intrinsic ethical value.

(Tools for Conviviality, 1973)

These are my passions:  language, learning, freedom.  The last is expressed most eloquently by Timothy S. Healy, President, The New York Public Library, in his 1990 address: The Library in Service to Democracy.  He begins,

Libraries, like universities, exist to serve the societies that support them.  Librarians thus are engaged in what modern terminology calls a service industry.  In a democracy, however, the simple word service has another dimension to it.  Under any republican form of government, where knowledge and understanding must be attributed to individuals as citizens and voters, the service rendered by libraries is as necessary as that of the press, the colleges or the schools.  In less political and more philosophical terms, libraries exist essentially in service to freedom.

2.            What is the enduring value of a librarian in a world where information is just a Google search away?

The enduring value of a librarian in a world where information is just a google search away is as a navigator. Apple first pioneered the term “Knowledge Navigator,” but librarians were quick to identify with it.  The tragedy is that librarians were not invited to the table where the rules of the game were set.  My son attended UCLA library school for one year, then left to take a job with Claris, the software side of Apple.  His “training” as a librarian was very useful in his new job and he continues to work in the “industry”, now as manager of the IT systems for a school district in Northern California.  He saw firsthand how many librarians were concerned with preserving traditional protocols and how the young entrepreneurs were eager to throw out the past and start over again.  The two parties needed each other, but they did not speak the same language. 

One of my projects was to set up a computer laboratory, a cybrary,  for young people (8-15 years old) in a storefront in a disadvantaged neighborhood.  The library supplied the hardware.  We partnered with the university to hire students to be guides.  The goal was to provide an opportunity for young people to use the new tools to explore their own talents and interests.  This model is now widespread, but in 1994 it was a new thing. Apple and later Microsoft put the computers in the schools and libraries, but it was teachers and librarians who developed the lesson plans /pathways for their use.

The true value of a librarian is that one has read a great deal and learned to evaluate the authority of information.  One has studied how humans process information and developed schemes to aid inquiry. And most importantly, one has agreed not to direct the inquiry.  I think a librarian is like a travel agent, “You tell me your destination and I will show you some materials to help you get there.”  The travel agent does not prohibit the journey, nor insist that only certain places are worth visiting.  To continue the analogy, however, it is staff that make the inquirer comfortable, like the steward on the plane.  The librarian disconcerts by putting up travel posters advertising new journeys, suggesting routes off the beaten path, by stimulating the hunger that only the journey can satisfy.

Isaac Asimov recognized early what a great learning machine the computer could be.  But he underestimated the lack of motivation to make use of its wonders.   On-line classes requires attention and discipline.  It is not helpful to put reluctant learners in front of a computer for a specified purpose.  Librarians do not teach to the test.  They encourage individual life-long learning by any means available.

3.  Public libraries are one of the few true commons left.  What sort of creative usages might that allow in today’s world?

It is exactly as Ivan Illich’s convivial tool, that libraries function as a true commons.  One is free to be in the space without having one’s purposes dictated by another.  He suggested laboratories in libraries.  Surely computer laboratories have made the cut.

Some libraries have production labs for independent filmmaking.  Others have craft rooms and exhibit spaces. But these activities are “programmed” and not like the stacks of books that invite the browser, without demand. 

I compared librarians to travel agents.  Let me now compare libraries to an airport, the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.  According to Wikipedia,

Schiphol has large shopping area as a source of revenue and as an additional attraction for passengers.  The shopping center is before customs, hence it can be used by air-travelers and non-traveling visitors.

The Rijksmuseum operates an annex at the airport, offering a small overview of both classical and contemporary art.  Admission to the exhibits is free.

The first permanent airport library opened in 2010 alongside the museum, providing passengers access to a collection of 1,200 books (translated into 29 languages) by Dutch authors or on subjects related to the country’s history and culture.  The library offers e-books and music by Dutch artists and composers that can be downloaded free of charge to a laptop or mobile device.

Schphol has its own mortuary where the dead can be handled and kept before departure or after arrival.  Since October 2006, people can also get married at Schiphol.

There are numerous restaurants , and a large rooftop viewing area called Panoramaterras that enthusiasts and the public can enter free of charge from the airport’s landside.

Not all these activities may be suitable for libraries, but then who thought they were suitable for airports?

One of the most important spaces a library provides is talking space.  Small tables and chairs where several people can work together or larger conference rooms and even the big auditorium.  People learn from other people and libraries need to provide spaces where people can be together .

4.  What libraries are adapting to our internet world?  I mentioned Toulouse Public Library.  The website is  Toulouse is a very old and a very modern city.  One can visit the ruins of Roman villas and enter the tombs of their dead.  One can visit the factories supporting the production of the Airbus and ride on a subway with no human drivers, controlled completely by computer.  Similarly, there is in Toulouse a beautiful old library La Bibliotheque d’Etude et du Patrimonie.  The equivalent of our “local history collection.”  It is accessed from computers on stylish modern furniture in an otherwise empty, but architecturally ornate, space. And then there is the Mediatheque that makes no pretense of being “book-oriented.”  It has piano rooms and rooms for Wii, listening rooms and performance spaces.  There are also neighborhood branch libraries and bookmobiles about which reputable authors write charming essays.  One such is “Le bibliobus” from La Première Gorgée de Bière et autres plaisirs minuscule by Philippe Delerm (1997).  One size does not fit all.

5.  Key principles in designing a hypothetical new library that’s supposed to last for the next century.

First—it must be attractive.  It must invite engagement and speak to our highest aspirations.  We are the thinking species and we should celebrate our “thinking” with beautiful spaces.

Second—It must be accessible.  This is true not only in a physical sense that persons with limited mobility can use it, but it must have a variety of access points so that all ages, various languages, levels of education, can navigate the space.

Third—It must promote learning.  We learn from tools like books and computers, we also learn from other people.  The tools must be adequately housed, electrical systems extensive, lighting suitable for the activities. There should be a variety of meeting areas/rooms where small, medium, and large groups can convene.

Inaugural Biweekly Beast: Jason of Iolcus

We at the Stag Hunt are excited to announce our newest blog feature: the Biweekly Beast, an award given to those that push the human race forward.  We'll continually take nominations and when we deem someone worthy announce the latest winner, which will occur no more frequently than once a fortnight.  Leave your nominations for the next Biweekly Beast in the suggestion box at the end of the article.

In the spirit of our ongoing Argonaut’s Challenge, we offer you our first Biweekly Beast: Jason of Iolcus, leader of the Argonauts and the man that did what no one was able to do before him -- succeed in a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece.

His own words justifying the voyage are illustrative:

“I will take up your challenge, in spite of its preposterous terms, and though I may be courting death.  Men serve no harsher mistress than Necessity, who drives me now and forced me to come here at another king’s behest.”

That simple will to meet the challenges Necessity created drove Jason to accomplish nothing less than the extraordinary.  Consider -- Jason:

  • Chose of his own free will to embark on a quest to acquire the Golden Fleece, a challenge only met by failure by men before him

  • Assembled a crew of heroes, the greatest Greece had ever known, to sail the Argo and journey with him

  • Led his crew past vicious tribes and the Symplegades clashing rocks to Colchis, home of King Aeetes and the Golden Fleece

  • Tackled Aeetes’ three supposedly impossible challenges with flying colors (and a little help from the Goddess Hera):

    • Plowed a field with a fire breathing bull

    • Sowed the field with dragons’ teeth

    • Defeated the army of Spartoi that sprouted up with cunning

  • Overcame the sleepless dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece and returned back to save Thessaly from Pelias


Perhaps the greatest aspect of the story, however, is not Jason’s accomplishments but how profoundly human he comes across.  Sure there’s magic and prophecy and all manner of mythmaking in the tale; yet Jason is no superman.  He falters; he stumbles; he doubts -- notably after two comrades die on the other side of the Symplegades clashing rocks:

“Indeed, I see nothing for us but a fate as sad as that of our lost friends.  For it looks as though we should neither reach the terrible Aeete’s city nor find our way back to Hellas past the Clashing Rocks.  No, we are doomed to grow old here, inglorious and obscure, with nothing done.”

Yet he continues onward, driven by his obligations to his family and commitment to his crew.  Yet such moments are absolutely critical in making the myth accessible.  They show us that Jason was just an ordinary dude driven to heroism by necessity.

And that’s the true genius of the myth: telling us not only that heroism is virtuous but that greatness is eminently possible.


Argonaut's Challenge Updates

Dear Reader,

Before we dive in, we'd like to remind folks that the essays should be no more than 3000 words (which should be read as a ceiling and not a target) and essays are due midnight June 28.  Now a few quick updates on the Argonaut's Challenge.  

First, LAUSD just approved a resolution mandating new district contractors to provide linked learning opportunities to students -- a small but important step in the direction of what we're dreaming about in the education section of the Argonaut's Challenge.  From the Board's minutes:

Resolved, That to encourage vendor participation in work based learning strategies, the Governing Board of the Los Angeles Unified School District hereby directs the Superintendent to require all District administrators to incorporate into every contract, procured through a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) process within the Procurement Services Division, a provision high-quality workbased learning partnership, including but not limited to, internships, job shadow days, guest speaking, professional development for teaching and support staff, or mentoring with a District Linked Learning pathway and/or program; 
Resolved further, That all work-based learning practices implemented per this resolution will be aligned with the expectation to ensure maximum educational benefit to students per the adoption of the Work Based Learning Resolution in addition to the WBL Guidebook and other relevant District and personnel policies; 
Resolved further, That the Superintendent shall establish an online web page that lists the names of all participating vendors/businesses/contractors committed to offering work-based learning opportunities to students by theme; 

Second, your intrepid Stag Staff was at the recent Institute for the Future's recent Reimagine Governance event.  One of the attendees had a great idea (complete with an illustrator based design) in the vein of our CEQA Argonaut's Challenge topic that is worth sharing:

Apps like Foursquare are used to check-in to places that exist. What if we could instead use an app to project our interests on places that we wished existed? Using this framework, this proposal imagines the use of google glass to leverage augmented reality to allow citizens in a community to collectively preview, submit, and vote, for a concept to be implemented in vacant spaces around their local city.

The design is below.


Third, for a final elliptical thought, we leave you with the recent Milikan Conference debate on the pace of technology, which provides fascinating insight into the deep structural trends that define our times.

The Argonaut's Challenge core hypothesis is that “we’ve gotten caught between two cultures” and put in the context of Thiel - Andreesen debate that at a high level the core barrier to progress isn't lack of innovation so much as institutional inertia.  Namely in reimagining government from an antiquated industrial paradigm to a nascent, loosely defined and still being pioneered model.

Important to remember that technology creates value not through creation of new tools in insolation but through purposive implementation.  The web is still young, and government is by and large a frontier within the virtual world.


Stag Staff

Into the Misty Unknown

Dear Reader,

There's a steady rain in the foothills of Los Angeles this morning.  Leaving that to embark up PCH for Big Sur and then Silicon Valley.  Our proximate goal is to tell the world about the Argonauts Challenge -- press release below.



UPDATE: More glorious than ever.

Why not pioneer a new California dream?

Argonauts Challenge: $5000 essay contest on how current technology might revolutionize California’s bureaucracy

LOS ANGELES - California dreamers Patrick Atwater and David Thomas embark on a quest to Silicon Valley and beyond to launch the Argonauts Challenge, a Stag Hunt Enterprises, Inc. project.

Featured by Reuters’ Felix Salmon, The Economist’s Free Exchange, Wall Street Journal’s Market Beat, and Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Stag Hunt invites submissions from thinkers conducting deep analysis into how current technologies might transform how we tackle basic public issues like budgets, education, water, CEQA and terra incognita (the frontiers that might transform what constitutes government).

The best submissions will form the backbone of the inaugural Summer Stag Hunt, a quarterly magazine hunting down the best political economy insights from around the world.  Stag Hunt Enterprises, Inc. invites the public to to learn more about the challenge and submit an essay.

Patrick Atwater, Editor of Stag Hunt Enterprises and author of A New California Dream, serves as Director of the Los Angeles Education Partnership, a mentor in College Bound Today, and is nominated to serve as a Director of the California League of Women Voters.

“The initial project goal is to enlarge the scope of our moral imagination in California,” says Atwater.  “In a world where hyper-specialization reigns, we harken back to a day – specifically the 1754 Academy of Dijon – when great minds tackled big questions unencumbered by a fear of the unknown.”

David Thomas, co-founder of the new venture, began running a “homebrew civics club” with Atwater about a year ago to explore big developments at the intersection of technology and public affairs and translate what that meant for the local community.  The two proudly hail from the Foothills of Los Angeles and started on the Crescenta Valley High School 2005 Pacific League Championship football team.

Media Contact:

Patrick Atwater, Editor

C: 818.259.2709




Whiskey Pete Youtube Promotional Video

Towards a New Social Contract: The Conclusion

Dear Reader,

I know I promised you my own conclusion.  But first I'd like to bring forth a special guest speaker to talk about the deeper structural roots of these challenges... [drumroll please] everyone's favorite financial economist Raghuram Rajan!

Raghuram, thanks for taking the time.  We've been talking about the world we're leaving the next generation yet many of the structural causes of these challenges -- unemployment for instance -- stem from the 2008 financial crisis.  What's your take on the policy reactions to the issue?

We should resist the the temptation to round up the most proximate suspects and pin the blame only on them.  Greedy bankers can be regulated; lax government officials can be replaced.  This is a convenient focus, because the villains are easily identified and measures can be taken against malfeasance and neglect.  What's more, it absolves the rest of us of our responsibility for precipitating the crisis.  But this is too facile a response.
We should also resist the view that this is just another crisis, similar to every financial crisis before it, with real estate and foriegn capital flows at its center.  Although there are broad similarities in the things that go wrong in every financial crisis, this one centered on what many would agree was the most sophisticated financial system in the world.  What happened to the usual regulatory checks and balances?  What happened to the discipline imposed by the markets?  What happened to the private instinct for self-preservation?  Is the free-enterprise system fundamentally broken?  

Perhaps you could clarify what that means in the particular context of the United States:

[Well] why did the Federal Reserve keep rates so low for so long?  Why did financial firms make loans to people who had no income, no jobs, and no assets--a practice so ubiquitous that it attracted its own acronym, NINJA loans?  Why did the banks--the sausage makers, so to speak--hold so many of the sausages for their own consumption when they knew what went into them?

Damn good questions Raghuram.  I'd be especially curious to hear more about how these 'fault lines' relate to some of these "social contract" issues we've been talking about at the Hunt.

The political response to rising inequality--whether carefully planned or an unpremeditated reaction to constituents demands--was to expand lending to households, especially low-income ones.  The benefits--growing consumption and more jobs--were immediate, whereas paying the inevitable bill could be postponed into the future.  Cynical as it may seem, easy credit has been used as a pallative throughout the history by governments that are unable to address the deeper anxieties of the middle class directly.  Politicians, however, want to couch the objective in more uplifting and persuasive terms than that of crassly increasing consumption.  In the United States, the expansion of home ownership--a key element of the American dream--to low and middle income households was the defensible linchpin for the broader aims of expanding credit and consumption.

I know when people talk about inequality in the United State, two of the core drivers people often point to are technological progress and globilization.  Perhaps you could use those mega-trends add some nuance to this picture:

The gap between the growing technological demand for skilled workers and the lagging supply because of deficiencies in the quantity and quality of education is just albeit perhaps the most important, reason for growing inequality.  The other reasons for rising inequality, of course, a matter of much debate, with both the Left and the Right adhering to their own favored explanations.  Other factors, such as the widespread deregulation in recent decades and the resulting increases in competition including for resources (such as talent), the changes in tax rates, the decrease in unionization, and the increase in both legal and illegal immigration have no doubt played a part.  Regardless of how the ineqaulity has arisen, it has led to widespread anxiety.
Many have lost faith in the narrative of America as the land of unbounded opportunity, which in the past created the public support that made the United States a bastion of economic freedom.  Politicians, always sensitive to their constituents, have responded to these worrisome developments with an attempt at a panacea: faciliating the flow of easy credit to those left behind by growth and technological progress.  And so America's failing in education and, more generally, the growing anxiety of its citizens about access to opportunity have led in indirect ways to unsustainable household debt, which is at the center of this crisis.  

[Note I actually didn't interview Raghuram Rajan for this article.  I actually just posed questions and quoted from his indispensible book Fault Lineswhich I highly recommend.]

More than just the opportunity narrative though, many have lost faith in their basic public institutions:

trust public institutions.jpg

This trust deficit in a sense is the fuel behind both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street populist fires.  To me the popularity of those movements evidences the unique historical moment we're in and the size of the challenges we face.  Consider:

  • There's a large (and growing) opportunity gap between the children of the affluent and the children of the poor.
  • The Associate Press recently reported that "half of young college graduates [are] either jobless or underemployed in positions that don't fully use their skills and knowledge."
  • US News reports that the picture generally doesn't get any better if you go to law school, long an established path for investing in yourself: "Law School Transparency's figures for the law school class of 2011 show only 52.6 percent were employed in full-time, long-term legal jobs (excluding solo practitioners), while 26.3 percent were employed in part-time or short-term jobs, were pursuing an additional degree, or were unemployed and looking for a job."\
  • For the young folks that do have a job, there are deep structural trends working against them.  How do you plan for your kids' college education when higher education costs are rising at 2.5x the inflation rate?  How do you ensure our parents have quality healthcare when you look at the historical trend?  
  • Then there's the question of entitlements: who's going to pick up the tab for social security and medicare?  Or how can we ensure effective delivery of public services when a bigger and bigger slice of the government pie goes to pensions and healthcare benefits?  This question acquires a new urgency at the state and local level, where the emergent consensus seems to "balance" these systems by promises less to new employees.  As the son of two public servants I get that people earned these benefits, yet it hardly seems fair to ask a generation to spend the bulk of their adult lives providing a benefit that they themselves will never see.
  • Lastly there's the laundry list of looming challenges that threaten to dramatically transform the material conditions of human life on this planet: climate change, rogue nuclear weapons, and all manner of science fiction-esque potential disasters.

Looking at these mountains, one could be forgiven for not knowing where to begin.  Yet (in a shocking development for loyal Hunt readers) I do believe there is a substantial no regrets opportunity in improving the quality of our basic public institutions.  These challenges are too large to be tackled without the involvement of government in some shape or form and yet (particularly as you look at something transnational like climate change) our current institutional frameworks have proven themselves inadequate.

The core need then seems to be to build more a culture of experimentation in how we tackle public problems -- particularly towards building the opportunity that commentators seem to agree made America the land of the free.  Or put in my California vernacular tap into the "pioneering spirit" that's made this state great.

In that vein, it's important to remember that these challenges ultimately are not new and are perhaps best framed within the larger enduring struggle for human progress.  And as one good friend and one of our commenters points out, we really should be honored to serve our great country at such a time.  He passed along a Winston Churchill quote that captures the spirit well:

“It may well be that the most glorious chapters of our history are yet to be written.  Indeed, the very problems and dangers that encompass us and our country ought to make English men and women of this generation glad to be here at such a time.  We ought to rejoice at the responsibilities with which destiny has honored us and be proud that we are the guardians of our country in an age when her life is at stake.”  



<Back to the Challenge>  <Back to the Reactions>

Towards a New Social Contract: The Reactions

Dear Reader,

Now the reactions.  I generally believe a pithy quote, like an exceptional dinner party guest, needs no introduction so by and large that'll be the format.  We'll begin with the eminently practical and work our way towards solutions:

"By the time my father reached age 6, the Soviet-American nuclear arms race threatened the destruction of the entire world.  By the time I reached age 6, the Soviet Union collapsed – leaving the United States as the unquestioned military power of the world."
Others disagreed entirely: "I gave it a chance, and although the data was good, most of the conclusions were disgustingly predictable: a giant Obama Apologia masquerading as journalism.  Reminds me of that ludicrous 2012 Economist endorsement. "
"What I believe has made America unique in history is that we have been the “land of opportunity” – where anyone, regardless of who your parents were, could rise to great heights if your talents and work ethic were sufficient. Our national focus was not on handouts but opportunity."
"I was “youth” during the tech bubble of the 90s’ and in some way it seems like this era imparted a sense of entitlement, a sense that everything would just keep ascending from there. But I was too young to understand cycles. Now, with more gray hair, I get it. Many in my generation never had to save for a rainy day. Until about now."
The Basic Bargain

"Of course the basic deal is broken.  Rich villains who commit fraud in plain sight get government bailouts, while everyone else has age-old protections like bankruptcy law stripped away from them.  Meanwhile, politics now boils down to one dollar one vote.  I believe in the noble peasant's ability to discern truth, but we continue to believe that the psychology of advertising somehow doesn't apply to political speech.  It does, and the individual is worse for it."
"The question of “Living Better” now compared to 80-100 years ago I feel  is more related to expectations... As a young married college student during the mid 1950s I dreamt of an annual salary of $9600. And being able to buy a house and car. All doable."
"To compare today’s annual pay rate, unemployment rate to those of yesteryear is I believe fallacious and groundless.  In manufacturing environments in finance disciplines including automation and data automation  affected   disciplines in many cases were non existent. So how to prove or disprove the essence of the thesis or what other parameters can be employed to reach a meaningful  positions.  What about the outsourcing dynamic? How is that effect encountered and made viable in the equation? The coal miner or steel crucible operator of 100 years ago is somewhat comparable to entry level positions."

"Remember ten years ago:
  •         SECURE  Televideo  conferencing  eradicating  travel budget . IMPOSSIBLE.
  •        ROBOTIC Surgery and car Painting IMPOSSIBLE   NO Wounded and extended medical costs
  •       DRONES do more for less cost training and lives … use of
  •      Tanks and ATOMIC Bombs. OLD technology IMPOSSIBLE
  • All of Shakespeare stored on a cloud and read on an iPad HUH// IMPOSSIBLE

How are career models and pays schemas ascertained?"

"But in general, has the quality of life improved over time? Certainly over the middle ages, even over the diseases and infant mortality rates of fifty years ago... Who is to say that youth –with more focus on community service than ever before, with more technological advances than ever before, with more education – won’t find a brilliant way forward? I look at my own children and their friends and I’m endlessly impressed by their intelligence and innovation. I feel pretty good that the future is in good hands. Am I foolishly optimistic? Or am I refusing to buy into the sky falling?"

"I am an optimist, and I believe that as more bring minds bring technology to the forefront of civic engagement and we move more toward a connection economy, our society will be more capable of influencing positive change as determined by its own members."
"In massively living beyond our means – and forwarding the bill to future generations – I believe we are in the process of destroying your and following generations’ futures. And it seems likely to me that if we stay on our current course of massive annual deficits, 10 years from now you will be saying “how could this generation have done what it did to you and your generation”? "
By far my favorite "solution" to these challenges:
"Have a constitutional convention.
Save more - the real engine of growth.
Form new groups and models to encourage risk-taking.
Declare a jubilee.

Or keep working like the horse in Animal Farm."

Though it's all about framing I suppose:

"Right?  It’s like in football.  At the end of each day of football camp, there were always people muttering about how the coaches were trying to kill them and how unfair it all was that they’d done their best and still had to do more insane things tomorrow.  But then, because there was no other way forward except to do them, just about everybody would show up again in practice the next day and do it."
"I think our parents’ generation has given us the greatest gift of all, though: the skills required to solve the problem.  Look around.  Look at our friends and acquaintances.  Not for all have things gone well, or gone easily.  But most of us are clawing our way forward, driven to invent for society by that age-old motive: bettering our own lives."
"Life isn’t fair. It’s a roll of the dice. I’m not sure where the idea that all generations are entitled to a square deal is an accurate view based on all of history thus far.  But see comments above about young people. If there is any potential, it is there.  Does the future look opulent like it did after WWII or during the tech bubble?"


Towards a New Social Contract: The Challenge

Dear Reader,

About a fortnight ago, I circulated a somewhat incendiary Esquire article on "The War Against Youth" amongst some family and friends, hoping to hear thoughtful perspectives on what's going in the world and what it means for us young folks.  I've been kicking around for a while now the idea that our changing world -- mounting debt, fading opportunity, technological advances, and the changing nature of work -- demands a "new social contract" and wanted to hear what other folks had to say.

The Esquire was nothing if not provocative and my hope was that its style and poignant data would generate some good comments:

In 1984, American breadwinners who were sixty-five and over made ten times as much as those under thirty-five. The year Obama took office, older Americans made almost forty-seven times as much as the younger generation.

The practice of not paying young people for their labor has become so ingrained in the everyday practice of American business that we've forgotten how bizarre and recent the development is. In the early 1980s, 3 percent of college grads had had an internship. By 2006, 84 percent had done at least one. 
The federal government spends $480 billion on Medicare and $68 billion on education. Prescription drugs: $62 billion. Head Start: $8 billion. Across the board, the money flows not to helping the young grow up, but helping the old die comfortably. According to a 2009 Brookings Institution study, "The United States spends 2.4 times as much on the elderly as on children, measured on a per capita basis, with the ratio rising to 7 to 1 if looking just at the federal budget."

With those trends in mind, here are the questions I posed:

1) How do the trends articulated in the article compare to what's happening in your life and the lives of your family and friends?

2) Do you agree with the claim that the basic "deal" underpinning American society is fraying if not broken?  Why or why not?

3) What do you think will be the ultimate impact of these trends on our generation?

4) What can youth do to transcend these trends?

5) Where do you see potential to give all generations a square deal?

 I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the responses I got, most of which were exceedingly thoughtful (though I suppose considering the sample space, I shouldn't have been surprised).  And also much more... in depth than anticipated:

"Anyway, that’s my… I would say “two cents,” but that seems to be a bit short on things.  So that’s my $50."

In the next article, I'll lay out choice tidbits from the comments.  Noticeably the reactions, although all over the political map and with their own unique theories, did not break down along generational lines.  Spoiler alert: no one called for an "age war".

And although there were common threads, in many ways each response was sui generis.  Which actually makes a lot of sense: these sorts of big questions about the relationship between the individual and society are ultimately eminently personal: products of values stemming from family, education, religion, and other formative experience.  

Yet it is important to contextualize those experiences within the data to provide a common frame of reference, so here's the recessions impact on employment by age group (courtesy of ZeroHedge):

jobs young vs old granular.jpg

With that structural context in mind, in the final segment I'll present my own conclusions.



<The Reactions> <The Conclusion>

Comcast R&D Fund

The Pay TV industry is ripe for change.  Outdated technologies and business models will give way to modernity.  The challenge for Pay TV's incumbents is to overcome their own inertia and create something new.  Earlier this year, Comcast launched a tech R&D fund to award "general and targeted research grants and provide support for open source development." The specific focus on building open source software for home gateways is indicative of the changes that the cable industry is anticipating.  The internet revolution is finally making its way into Pay TV.  As technologies develop and converge, the distinction between televisions and computers will blur.  Rather than having a set-top-box in the home, consumers will have "gateways" that communicate with a service provider via broadband.  Content will be stored on the cloud, enabling limitless DVR and On Demand choices.  Apps - just like on an iPhone or iPad - already reside on some devices in the home.  Home "gateways" will also have their own new apps with advanced functionality that is optimized for the television experience.  Comcast's new venture indicates two things: 1) they are willing to embrace change; and 2) they do not quite know how to do it.

With the launch of its new R&D fund, Comcast is acknowledging and embracing these challenges.  Certainly Comcast intends to remain a primary content distributor.  What is not clear is whether Comcast intends to use the output of these research projects to develop something bigger: specifically, a home gateway platform.  Think Apple's App Store.  Think Facebook.  Think Android.  These are huge technological platforms designed in a way that allows anyone in the world to build a service that functions within that platform.  Think Pandora, Farmville, and Angry Birds.  Comcast understands that the real winners are not the Pandoras and the Farmvilles of the world; the real winners are Apple, Facebook, and Google. What if Comcast turned itself into the platform for home gateways?  The consumer's Pay TV provider might end up just being an app installed on the Comcast platform.  It is not unreasonable: already Time Warner Cable is trying to decrease its hardware costs by testing an app on some consumer electronics devices.

Currently Comcast, like their competitors, is in the business of video distribution.  They are not in the business of platform development.  Yet.  With this in mind, offering R&D grants to the smartest minds they can find is a brilliant way of bringing development expertise into their enterprise without incurring huge capital expenditures until they are ready for them.  This may well serve as an example for how other outdated or inefficient industries or institutions might explore change.