Politics · product · Technology · Why?

Kobayashi and the Leader of the Free World

***Disclaimer…. I’m a huge Star Trek fan. I’ve tried to simplify a little bit so you don’t have to know as much about Star Trek to understand what I’m trying to say.***

Kobayashi Maru is a star fleet training exercise that is used to evaluate a commander’s character and fortitude. The simulation in the Star Trek universe allows the cadet to command a federation star ship, and sends them to aid another Federation vessel, the Kobayashi Maru. The disabled ship is adrift in the Klingon neutral zone, and the ship commanded by the cadet entering the zone will be in violation of a treaty and liable to attack.

The cadet has to decide whether to rescue the stranded ship, creating an opportunity for an all-out war with the Klingons and jeopardizing his or her own vessel and crew-mates’ lives in the process, or leave the Kobayashi Maru to eventual destruction. If the cadet attempts to save the vessel, the simulation is programmed to guarantee that his or her own ship will be destroyed. Not only will he be unsuccessful in saving the Kobayashi Maru, but everyone else will die as well.

The object is to test the cadet’s character and presence of mind in the face of large-scale disaster and certain death. The creation of the Kobayashi Maru isn’t discussed as much in Star Trek cannon, although in the most recent reboot, it’s shown that Spock was the preliminary designer of the test. His Vulcan sense of logic proved to be very helpful in constructing the no win scenario.

When deciding on leaders, humans traditionally follow our gut and how we feel about a person. The mental models an heuristics used to make snap decisions on who to follow are legacy from our early days when we had to be very cautious about who we were hunting and gathering with. We decide leaders based on what they say but even more on how we perceive them. Don’t believe me?  Take a read about JFK VS Nixon here.

While we can never get rid of the human perspective, shouldn’t we be responsible for aiding better decisions in who should be leaders? We should have our own Kobayashi Maru that we use to vet leaders where we can objectively see their character and fortitude. To be more specific, the president of the United States should be put through more than just public opinion to become president. We have the history of the world and technology to create all possible and future scenarios to test a candidate’s decision making skills. It’s not a heavy lift at all. Here are the steps:

  1. Recognize that we are currently incapable of making the best decisions without more information.
  2. Develop a Kobayashi Maru equivalent that runs through a week of various possible scenarios (domestic disasters, economic collapse, political brinkmanship,etc).
  3. Have the potential president pick their team.
  4. Run the simulations… Evaluate the results.

The hardest step is 1. Everything else is super doable. Our armed forces train just like this. I don’t think its too much to ask a potential Commander in Chief to go through similar training and evaluation.

There’s a lot of responsibility involved with picking the next leader of the free world . Citizens should look at a Kobayashi Maru like exam as an opportunity to improve our decision making by exposing the decision making process of our future leaders in life- like situations.

Or we can just watch them play The Sims.




Politics · Uncategorized

Donald Trump and George Orwell Walk into a Bar…

Most liberal arts majors are familiar with the essay “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell. For those who haven’t read it, here’s the link to the short essay here. It’s not that long but for those who don’t want to read… Here are some of the key rules he discussed in his short essay.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Orwell thought complexity and obtuse language equated to smoke and mirrors, hiding the reader or listener from the real point at hand. “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” His essay was an attempt to provide a set of guidelines to increase the accessibility of  topics discussed in political discourse.

As an undergrad, I was a total champion of Orwell and his teachings. I thought academic writing was too complex, policy wonks used technical jargon to keep their jobs, and simplicity was the ultimate measure of intelligence. In all honesty, a majority of my resentment for complexity and complicated stemmed from my hatred of the unreasonably long research papers I had to read and write…But I digress. In theory, yes, less is more in the political sphere, but what we’ve seen in recent years is the deliberate use of simplistic thoughts and talking points to create false and sometimes dangerous arguments for political benefit.

To be clear, both sides of the political isle use simplistic frameworks, analogies, plain talking points, and basic language to shape and frame their positions. This election cycle, we’re exposed to a great case study of how simple language can be detrimental to political discourse.

Exhibit A:

At 4:02- Donald Trump begins to discuss one of the central parts of his immigration policy…building a wall between Mexico and the Southern Boarder of the United States. Politics and practicality aside, listen for the words he uses. “We’re going to build a big wall… and its going to be beautiful.” Using Orwell’s set of rules, this passes for great rhetoric. He uses short and straight to the point words to define that he’s building a wall. Its going to be a big wall and it will be beautiful. From a listeners point of view, it leaves a lot to interpretation but it also assures the listener that it will cover their requirements… Big and beautiful. Take a step back for a moment at the implications. How many states does the wall go through? What is its height? How beautiful are we talking about here? I used this as an elementary example of Mr. Trumps word selection in policy and his speech. They are simple words but they leave leeway for creativity when put in the position to execute.


Exhibit B:

Bernie Sanders is known for his progressive politics and hard line stance on Wall Street. Politics aside…Listen to around 1:18…

“We bailed out Wall Street”

A couple of things to think about here. Who are Mr. and Mrs Street and why did they name their child Wall? Is wall street an established entity? If so, can we go talk to them about how they feel about being bailed out? The truth of the matter is that Wall Street and similar labels simplify the complexity of parties involved and the outcomes. Labels make it easier to vilify people or groups and create an us vs them mentality. We all know its way more complicated than we bailed out “Wall Street” but we allow and celebrate rhetoric that makes us feel like we are on the “right” side.


I could go on and on. There’s a lot of even better examples that happen everyday on CNN, MSNBC and Fox. We do ourselves a disservice by allowing elected officials (or those aspiring for it) to simplify complex issues so it can fit into sound bite or to hide the actual challenges involved. If Orwell is one extreme on a continuum and politicians today are all the way on the other end, I’m sure everyone would agree we need to move toward the middle ground where we respect the complexity of the issues we face.

Current Events · Politics

White House 2012 Guide pt 1: For Republicans

The play for the white house in 2012

Keep these stats in mind:

  • Congress ranks last among 16 other institutions  in the “2010 Confidence in Institutions” poll. 11 percent of respondents gave have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress.  Gallup Poll
  • The presidency ranks 7th with 36 percent.
  • Military is ranked first with 76 percent

Lets assume a couple of things. (Follow me here…some of these assumptions are basic but there’s a reason for laying it out like this.) Lets assume that November 2010 comes around and republicans win back seats in the house and the senate. The public is unsatisfied with the party in power in congress and its safe to assume that the democrats will lose seats. Republicans, like it or not, will have to acknowledge the tea party as a legitimate force to be reckoned with and if they have any intention at the white house in 2012, coöperation is necessary. Lets also assume that President Obama intends to run for a second term in 2012. Most incumbent presidents do. Also:

  • Liberals will vote for democratic candidate because they fundamentally disagree with Republicans
  • Conservatives will vote for republican candidate because they fundamentally disagree with democrats
  • 2012 presidential election will primarily be decided by moderates on both sides and independents. (DUH)

So the main question is how do you get the fringe moderates on both sides and independents to vote for a republican candidate for 2012? Here’s what we can assume from the Gallup poll:

  1. The voting public lacks confidence in Congress. A presidential candidate that comes from congress will not be able to align themselves with the anti-establishment voting electorate (Large group which include independents, moderates and angered democrats)
  2. They are not looking to vote for an incumbent president, especially if ECONOMY does not get better.
  3. A presidential candidate with substantial military ties would be enticing to moderates and independents.

Most voters will be looking for someone who is anti-Washington. Why not look for a high-ranking military officer to be a presidential candidate?  Someone with experience in the military and minor experience with D.C politics would have the upper hand in an election based on the confidence polls. Historically, conflicts elevated many officers into the office of the president (Harry S. Truman, Theodore Roosevelt…etc)  Who will be the product of the first Gulf, second Gulf and Afghanistan wars? This is an ample opportunity for a military candidate on the republican ticket. Instead of going with an establishment candidate and splitting the tea party votes, there’s a chance you could have both republican votes and tea party votes while capturing moderate votes too.

Of course, it’s just August 2010.  A lot of things could change before the next presidential cycle. If the economy recovers, which includes the unemployment rate decreasing, the party in charge reaps the benefits and republicans will lose 2012 presidency. The tea party could go mainstream and produce a presidential candidate with the ability to catch moderates and independents. I highly doubt that. Most likely, the republicans will find a rough nose governor to head the ticket.  I guess we can only wait and see.