Last week, I attended an event featuring three Democratic US Congressmen and one Democratic US Congresswoman. The event celebrated the launch of “Future Forum,” a way for Congress to connect with Millennials to work on issues that matter to young hard-working Americans. Amidst an assembly of New York tech entrepreneurs, the event, held at District CoWork (a co-working space), opened with a cocktail hour.
I signed in, popped on my name tag, headed straight to the bar, grabbed a glass of wine, and was shimmying over to a person I wanted to speak with when the unthinkable happened: My sleeve brushed against someone else’s wine glass, set atop a table , and SPLAT, the glass tumbled to the floor, shattering into a thousand pieces.
Within seconds, a hundred faces turned to stare at me. I immediately started to clean up the mess I made. Then, I noticed a man helping me. He’d grabbed a plate and started to pick up large shards of glass with his bare hands. I noticed the man’s lapel pin, denoting him as a Congressman. This was Rep. Steve Israel, a fellow Long Islander, who I’d never previously met.
What started off as us working together to expediently clean up the mess I made quickly turned into a conversation. He asked me about my work at Skillbridge, and I explained to him what we are trying to build. We ended up speaking for a while, and when the conversation concluded, he said to me, “Here’s my business card. Give me a call when you’re down in Washington.” Steve Israel’s act of humility — he didn’t have to help me clean anything up — may be why he is in Congress today.
This incident immediately jogged my memory back to a similar one from 2011: I was taken out to dinner by the CBS news crew who were covering Amanda Knox’s trial in Italy. Who saddles up next to me at the table? None other than Peter Van Sant, the news anchor and 48 Hours host. Peter’s an ace: he’s won four Emmy Awards, three Edward R. Murrow Awards, two Overseas Press Club Awards, and more.
A dozen people at our table split a couple of bottles of red wine. And then, after a toast, I put my glass back down on the table, directly on the spot where, under the tablecloth, two tables of unequal heights met. Boom! The red wine spilled all over Peter.
Yet Peter Van Sant faced the red wine with humility. Despite his deeply stained white shirt, he insisted it wasn’t a big deal at all. A precursor to my more recent incident with Congressman Israel, Peter and I ended up talking and laughing all night long.
The lesson is that broken glasses and spilled red wine can be the world’s best icebreakers — and they give larger than life people opportunities to show that they’re human too.
Practical note: An episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm taught me that, immediately applying club soda and salt to red wine will remove all stains.
I recently read Sten Tamkivi’s post on TechCrunch that states some reasons why Americans, in Silicon Valley specifically, should be investing in European startups. Tamkivi’s post was echoed by similar sentiments in a post by Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson. While there are here are 5 major tech hubs in the US (SF, NYC, Boston, LA, Austin) and a similar number in Europe (Berlin, London, Paris, Stockholm, and Helsinki/Tallinn), I do not equate these groups with each other, for reasons I will outline below. And while I admire both Tamkivi and Wilson, they are both wrong in this instance.
1. Europeans Don’t Want To Put In The Work: In general, and I know this is a stereotype based on my time living in Denmark, Amsterdam, and London, Europeans are just not as hungry for success as Americans. In America, we are often ostracized by Europeans for not having a positive work-life balance. Well, any entrepreneur will tell you, that it’s really difficult to build a company when you’re only working for 7.5 hours per day. (I won’t take low blows on Greece and Spain here, as in America, we have Kentucky and West Virginia to grapple with…) That said, Germans do have a tendency to work hard, as do the Brits (due to the Protestant work ethic I learned about in high school).
2. In Europe, There Is Too Much Regulation: In Europe, everything is slow. Blame the bureaucracy. Blame the welfare state. Blame the aforementioned work ethic, but I found that it took months to do things that would be done in America in days. It’s so simple to hop on a web site and start a Delaware Corporation. (I know, lawyers are still better when starting a business, but it really is easy to do on your own.) Even when you look at the whole micro-entrepreneur food truck boom in America, it happened very quickly. In Europe, there are more food regulations than you can possibly imagine (though the food is certainly tasty over there). Europe’s more complex regulatory system, given how varied countries in the EU are, might be what tears that union apart.
3. Language: In Amurrrrica, we generally speak one language. English. It’s simple. You call your developer in San Francisco and he speaks the same tongue as your sales guy in New York and your CEO in Austin. In Europe, there are so many languages spoken that to attract a substantial and scalable user base for your product, you would have to have it translated into many different tongues.
4. Europeans Stay In School Forever: How many times have you met an Italian dude who’s working on his 3rd Masters Degree at La Sapienza in Rome and still lives with his parents even though he’s 37? Or a Danish guy who is doing his Post-Doctoral research despite being 42 years old? In America, we are surely educated, but in Europe, people are over-educated. I have attended both public and private universities in America, as well as public and private universities in Europe: In America, everything moves more quickly. You have more hours of class per week, and you learn a heckuva lot more. In Europe, how are people going to be starting companies when they finally finish school but also have a family to support? That’s why there are fewer European Mark Zuckerbergs or Evan Spiegels.
5. Security And Privacy: Tamkivi writes that “security and privacy” are great reasons to start companies in Europe. Find me an entrepreneur who doesn’t want to collect people’s data. Data = dollars. Harsh personal privacy laws, while good for consumers, mean less money for most entrepreneurs. There goes the incentive to start a business.
6. “400 Million Customers,” But Many Don’t Spend: Europeans are far more frugal than Americans. In America, we love junk. We love the latest and the greatest. We love to fill our closets with 85 pairs of the latest wears. In Europe, people buy things once, spend decent money on their purchases, and then don’t buy them again for years. Personally, I really like this about Europeans, but if I were a European entrepreneur, it would make me wary. Yes, they may have invented Hermes and Ferraris, but how many Europeans can really afford to buy a Hermes bag and a Ferrari?
7. Europe Is Old: Europe is the oldest continent ever. Medicine and technological breakthroughs will keep these folks living until they’re close to 100. Of those “400 million” consumers, most of them aren’t ideal customers. It’s too bad the healthcare sector is publicly funded in most European societies, as in this area I see room for innovation.
8. Global Skills = Nonsense: Yes, I agree that Europeans travel more frequently than Americans and are thus exposed to different ideas. However, some Americans (like, ahem, me) have traveled frequently and can also be exposed to these ideas. To think that Europeans have better soft skills than those from other places is nonsense. Yes, foreign exchange programs like Erasmus have become ubiquitous in Europe, and this is amazing, but Americans are also now studying abroad at higher rates than ever before. While Americans should surely learn more languages than just English, English has become the de facto business and consumer language of the world.
9. Grants: When you compare how films are funded in America vs. how films are funded in Europe, they are very different from one another. European countries have film commissions that deliver grants to filmmakers. Filmmakers apply for the grants and then wait months or years to learn whether they have been selected. In America, films are made by means of capitalism and Kickstarter: You hustle your brains off or you don’t get your film made. (Kickstarter, however, may further democratize European film production.) That said, my friends Torsten Mueller and Frederik Fischer received money for their startup Tame.it from “the German Ministry of Technology and Economics, the business development and promotion bank of the Federal Land Berlin and from a successful Crowdinvesting campaign on Companisto.de.” In America, our government may give money to occasional startups in the energy/defense sectors, but they sure as heck ain’t giving it to a Twitter context search engine. Plus, Americans are way more likely to use our disposable income for crowdfunding. (That said, in America, we still have nonsense laws that prevent the common man from crowdfunding in exchange for equity, which they have eliminated in Europe.)
In Europe, there’s a higher expectation that the government and regulation will solve problems. Perhaps it’s the inner-Ayn Rand libertarian in many Americans, but we have greater faith in the private sector than in the public sector. In Europe, there is also a more incremental, rather than disruptive, approach to progress. That said, don’t forget that the Dark Ages lasted for nearly 1,000 years.
This isn’t meant to knock European companies. I have many European startup founder friends, and I admire the work they do. I am also a fan of European companies like Skype and Spotify. That said, these companies had to come to America to truly make it.
I don’t think the future of Silicon Valley investors is across the pond. Tamkivi writes, “Yes, stuff is happening in Boston and New York, but not so much that a once-a-month trip can’t cover most of it.” Quite frankly, this is an idiotic statement, as New York specifically has seen its technology sector grow rapidly during the past few years. (I’m surprised that Mr. NYC VC Fred Wilson didn’t call Tamkivi out on this falsehood.) So yes, while Europe is certainly the place to go for wind energy startups (Denmark), architecture firms (the Netherlands), and a whole host of random startups from London to Sweden to Finland to Berlin, my bet is still on America.
Yesterday, an article in the Guardian titled “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?” made its way around the highbrow social circles of the internet. Then there’s the continued fallout from Japan’s two-year-old nuclear reactor disaster in Fukushima, which continues to present problems of epic proportions. There’s also the issue of the Japanese economy, which people love to refer to with negative terms like “The Lost Decades,” despite the fact that things in Japan appear to be rosier than they are in many other places. Finally, on the foreign policy front, Japan’s problems with China and Russia continue to be a source of international tensions.
But Japan is awesome. Really awesome. And it doesn’t deserve this negative press, when Japan has solved many of the problems that plague us every day. Here are some things that I love about Japan.
Japan has the lowest crime rate, by far, of any country on earth. This leads to a significantly higher quality of life than one would have elsewhere. Whether you’re going home by yourself late at night or traveling to a rural place alone, you feel incredibly safe in Japan. No place is perfect, but in this respect, Japan comes as close to perfection as anything I have ever experienced.
2. Public Transportation
Japan’s system of public transportation is nothing short of incredible. In San Francisco, people complain that a propensity for earthquakes and a seaside locale has prevented the city from building an extensive underground transportation system. I actually believed this was true… until I visited Japan, where every city has incredible public transportation, typically in the form of subways, despite being close to the water and in earthquake-prone zones. Japan also has bullet trains that make it easy as pie to travel between Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and other major cities. And domestic air travel is a breeze. The country’s low crime rate means that domestic airports are similar to what American airports were like pre-9/11, with very few security checkpoints. Also, in New York, I am used to being barrelled over by SDPs (Seriously Disgusting People) whenever I am on the subway. In Japan, there is tons of order. People wait in two places to board the next subway — in one line that guarantees you will get on the next train, or a second place that guarantees you a seat on the second train (that typically comes just two minutes later)!
3. Pride and Honor
Whether I am handing money to a cashier at 7-11, getting served dinner at an izakaya, or asking for assistance at the train station, in Japan, I was treated with respect and everything operated with incredible efficiency. Last year, I wrote an article for PolicyMic about the drawbacks of a tip-based culture, and I acknowledged that in Europe service is restaurants is inferior because of a lack of tips. However, Japan provided me with service that was superior to that of any American restaurant, because people take pride in their work. After eating approximately 30 meals at restaurants, I had not one complaint.
You may say, “I live in New York and we have the world’s best food.” I don’t think that’s true. Sorry broseph, but in New York, lots of the food isn’t fresh. In Tokyo, you have the Tsukiji Market in your backyard. I ate many of the best meals of my life in Japan. And they were super healthy too. Three words: Sushi. Sushi. Sushi.
Yes, I love Japan for all of the above reasons and many more. Any Guardian readers who doubt it would do well to visit the country and see for themselves.
If you’re reading this and you’re a millennial, there’s a high chance that you’re a a political independent. A plurality (45%) of millennials identify as independents, compared to 33% who identify as Democrats and 23% who identify as Republicans. I am proudly a member of this 45%. And this isn’t because I’m uninterested in politics, but because I am uninterested in the two political parties that I have to choose from.
At different times, I have felt disgusted by both political parties. Yes, there are certainly some smart people who accept their party’s faults and work within them to make changes… and then there are the slimeballs who we see on TV every day. It seems like most millennials would prefer to run the other way from the rats.
If America had a parliamentary system, like the UK or Australia or Canada, life would be very different, and I can almost guarantee that our generation would already have a strong political presence in Congress. But instead, the two-party system is dominant, and that has made life horrible for anyone trying to work from outside the political system to break in. The American political system has been carefully designed to screw over outside contenders from third parties and political independents, so that Democrats and Republicans gain instead.
Only in rare cases have independent politicians made any strides in America. Sure, George Washington is the most notable example, but it’s been all downhill ever since. Yes, we have Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Senate, and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) used some trickery to run (and win) under the Connecticut for Lieberman Party after he lost the Democratic primary in 2006, but that’s about all we’ve had at the national level recently.
But what happens when you try to run for office from outside the system?
For example, take Carl Romanelli, who was almost the Green Party’s 2006 United States Senate candidate for Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, to even get on the ballot, the cards are completely stacked against you if you are not a Democrat or a Republican. In order to qualify for the ballot in Pennsylvania, the major parties have to submit only 2,000 signatures, but third-party candidates have to collect 20,000 or more signatures.
According to Pennsylvania law, candidates who are not Democrats or Republicans must collect signatures equal to two-thirds of the number of votes that the highest vote-getter received in the last statewide election. This is complete and utter nonsense for anyone who wants to run as a third party candidate. (I made a feature-length documentary about Romanelli’s plight that you can watch for free.)
America also creates a system where there are many candidates who literally never face an opponent in elections: In the 2012 elections in Pennsylvania, of the 203 state House races, 96 were unopposed, and nine out of 25 candidates were unopposed in state Senate races. This would never happen in a parliamentary democracy, or in a society that values its citizens’ opinions.
As Melissa Daniels writes on Watchdog.org, “in many unopposed races, a strong party in one region may deter its opposition from putting up a candidate. For example, the majority of the House delegation running this year in Philadelphia is unopposed Democrats, and in northern Pennsylvania, incumbent Republicans run unopposed.”
So what is the real Step One in terms of how to create a true democracy in America? Change all of these laws that favor the ruling elite and prevent newcomers and those affiliated with third parties or no party at all from running in elections. Because right now, millennials are prevented from running for office our way, as independent-minded people who are not affiliated with the two major parties. And yes, in this case, Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame.
Millennials, I love you, but you’ve failed. The government shutdown should have been your moment to shine, but instead, what did you (we!) do? We took to Twitter and kvetched, we took to Facebook and moaned, and we didn’t do a single thing to actually take political action. But there’s still time to change this.
It seems like it was just yesterday that the Occupy Wall Street movement gained tons of traction, but I, like many others, was not wholly on board with the movement. Perhaps it was because its “leaders” were a bunch of (dare I say…) dirty hippies, and people who it seemed like never had jobs to go to, and didn’t really want to do much other than complain. At least that’s what it appeared to be for me when I witnessed these events in New York and London. They weren’t the intellectuals, the elite members of our generation. But now, as all of us are getting screwed by the U.S. government, it’s time to do something.
Here, before us, we have 100 Senators and 435 Representatives (plus a few non-voting reps from Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.) who don’t want to work. But what will we do when the 2014 election cycle comes around? We will, in all likelihood, re-elect most of the people we are currently referring to as douchebags, scumbuckets, and lazy-ass mofos.
If history teaches us anything, and I can thank Mr. Kohut at Oceanside High School for teaching me this during my senior year, being re-elected to the U.S. Congress as an incumbent is one of the most sure things out there. Even with the “Tea Party Revolution” of 2010, some 87% of Congress was re-elected. And that’s just pathetic, since Congress had an approval rate of 13% that same year, just months before the elections! We are all fools though, because we decided to give these creeps a second (or 25th) shot!
But why do we keep doing this? Has the internet finally tipped the scales in favor of electing individuals who are not crazy, criminals, or otherwise incompetent people?
John Catsimatidis spent $419 per vote in his failed bid for New York City Mayor, and Anthony Weiner spent $190 per vote, and of course they didn’t get elected because neither man would have been competent enough to fill the role! These politico-wannabes are pathetic. And we knew it, in part because of the power of the internet. Anthony Weiner’s “Carlos Danger” scum-mongering alias flew around the web faster than he could pull off his pants! These failed candidates couldn’t hide their nonsense from anyone, because the age of transparency is here. (Yes, we can thank social media for this phenomenon!)
So what don’t we the people have? We don’t have money from special interest groups, that’s for sure. We don’t have cozy relationships with the lobbyists who throw suitcases full of money at us every single day. Nope. But we can fight that.
We do have crowdfunding, as President Obama’s campaign team showed us. We have the power of the internet. And we have tons of ideas. We have undiluted brains that are fed up. And we have lots of complaints, because there’s so much that should be changed.
If this shutdown mess taught us one thing, it should be that we need to elect new candidates in 2014. I’m talking to you! Yes, you may be 25 or 30 years old. Yes, you may not have political experience. But when we’re talking about a room full of criminals, you’re probably just as smart as they are, more willing to compromise, and have better ideas about how to run the United States of America.
Yes, it is very easy to sit back and let the Baby Boomers (and their parents) run America into the ground. It’s very easy to say, “This blows!” and continue to kvetch. But why should we do this? Why should we not fight the idiots who made things bad, the people who won’t even show up to work to govern this country? We shouldn’t have the attitude that I know so many Europeans have, that they accept their governments are corrupt and inept institutions.
No, that’s not the American way. And it will be up to millennials to put our brains where our mouths are. Let’s all make a pact to run for some office in 2014, if only to ensure that the bozos in power now make sure they know we’re watching them. And you never know, you could very well win.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first read the statistics in Jeffrey Gettleman’s piece in The New York Times Magazine last weekend: Malaria-related deaths in Rwanda plummeted 85% between 2005 and 2011. And average life expectancy has increased from 36 to 56 years since 1994. While Rwanda’s leader, Paul Kagame, may deserve praise for implementing the changes that created these astounding figures, I attribute them to something a bit less remarkable: Rwanda’s small size.
Rwanda has a population of approximately 11.5 million people, which is a small enough number that small changes in policy have led to long-term changes that positively effect people’s lives.
While Rwanda certainly doesn’t have the high quality of life that Denmark (which was once again recently ranked the “happiest country on earth“) has, its improvements should be lauded and policy advisers should take note.
When one looks at the list of countries with the highest per capita GDP, small countries come out on top:
1. Luxembourg (population 540,000)
2. Macau (population 590,000)
3.Qatar (population 1.9 million)
Plus, there are some serious advantages to being a small country, specifically when it comes to life expectancy: Among the top 10 countries in this category are San Marino (population 32,000), Singapore (population 5.3 million), Andorra (population 78,000), and Iceland (population 320,000).
When one compares these countries to those with the lowest in life expectancy, it is interesting to note that there are small countries on the very bottom of the life-expectancy list (Swaziland, situated within South Africa, has an extremely high mortality rate based upon the proportion of its population infected with HIV/AIDS), but as a general rule, the smaller a country is, the easier it gets for it to solve its problems head-on.
As USA Today reported, “The world’s corrupt nations differ in many ways. Four are located in Africa, three in Latin America, and two in Asia. These nations also vary considerably in size and population. Mongolia has just 3.2 million residents, while Mexico, Nigeria, and Russia are three of the largest countries on the globe, each with more than 100 million people. Based on the percentage of surveyed residents that reported corruption in the public sector is a very serious problem, these are the world’s most corrupt nations.” One can argue that larger countries have greater bureaucracies, and therefore corruption may be more likely to occur since there are multiple levels of governance.
While the Nigerian film industry, dubbed Nollywood, makes more than $800 million per year and is the third largest in the world, it is the Danish film industry that interests me more, as it sells 13 million tickets per year, meaning that each of Denmark’s 5.5 million inhabitants attends 2.36 films annually. Film and television are industries that can thrive and prosper in small countries. For example, state subsidies have caused the growth of the globally acclaimed Danish film and television industry. Denmark puts out more than its fair share of amazing films and television shows, fueling further growth of the industry.
But let’s get back to Rwanda: Yes, having a government that thwarts corruption is certainly important. It is also excellent to have a government that is data-driven in its approach to management. But if Rwanda were bigger, neither of these things would be feasible because of an increased likelihood of corruption, an impossibility of containing problems, and a greater risk of violence.
Will Rwanda continue on its path to become the crown jewel of Africa? I don’t know. But its smaller population is certainly something that gives it a fighting chance.
29 Things I Learned in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
As anyone who’s been following me on Twitter or is a Facebook friend knows, I’ve been quite obsessive in trying to coordinate relief efforts post-Sandy. I’ve now been to many of the most affected areas of New York, and I know that recovery will take years. In this list, I mix the funny with the serious, hoping that we can laugh and learn.
1. New York State Troopers need a fashion makeover, ASAP.
2. LIPA is the worst power company on the face of planet earth!
3. Hurricanes don’t discriminate between rich and poor.
4. There is no shortage of bottled water donations to Sandy victims.
5. Your and you’re will always be difficult … (especially when trying to stop potential looters!)
6. People have shotguns on my sister’s street, and are ready to defend themselves.
13. When there is no power, communication goes old school. (I spent time distributing flyers around Long Island with the latest information, and at times, when there was no paper, people even had to act, essentially, as town criers.)
14. You sometimes need to turn into a press conference into an angry rally to get stuff done. (And for this, I am proud of the citizens of Oceanside, my home town.)
15. People are generally good except for the 0.1% who are absolute scumbags. (People have become known as “regulars” at donation sites, as they’re clearly hoarders who are stocking up based on the goodwill of others.)
17. You don’t feel the pain when you’re not in an affected area. (When I’ve been at work in Manhattan, I would never know that 10 miles away there are people who are desperate.)
18. Nor’Easters suck, and so does that mid-word apostraphe.
19. Rebuilding should be strong and take advantage of technology.
20. We need oysters to protect us from the next big storm.
21. Hopefully evacuation orders will be taken seriously in future storms.
22. Zipping around Manhattan on a bicycle out of necessity isn’t as scary as it would seem.
23. There are so many individuals who have gone above and beyond their call of duty, who will never get the recognition that they deserve. (The folks who take care of my grandma, for one.)
24. Suburban areas that are incorporated as villages or cities face an easier time recovering from the storm because they have government and emergency officials on staff. (My hometown, Oceanside, only has a volunteer fire department, a school board, and a library to absorb all of the administrative efforts associated with what will surely be a long relief process.)
25. Tragedies do ignite a strong sense of community that would not exist otherwise.
26. The Occupy Movement has been able to re-brand itself as a force for tangible social good with Occupy Sandy.