Postanly Weekly: the Cadence edit

Newsletter Challenge, v. 17

Quick note: I recently wrapped up a writing coach arrangement with Ari Lewis, host of the Mastering the Attention Economy podcast. We enjoyed working together (see Ari’s ROI here), and he proposed I take on a newsletter editing challenge. I’ve built my list from the top paid newsletters at Substack, and I toss in an odd find now and again to keep things fresh — like this one.

The challenge: Twenty edits by 22 September (yes, I’m behind, but my clients — and my family — come first, of course).

My primary goal: add clarity, concision, and cadence to the newsletters, and sharpen up my own editing process. After I wrap up the challenge, I’ll provide reflections on each edit and offer some lessons you can use on your own newsletter.

For details on my process, click here, a Google doc. Leave suggestions as you see fit. Thanks!

“Think Like a Futurist: The Key to Ensuring Your Success in an Uncertain Future,” September 21

https://medium.com/personal-growth/to-survive-and-thrive-in-our-age-of-uncertainty-think-like-a-futurist-392e8bab2beb /
by Thomas Oppong / @AlltopstartupsFollow

–Grey typeface: Oppong.

Normal typeface: me.

Key metrics (original -> edit)
–reading level: 9 -> 7.
–word count: 901 -> 774.
–median sentence length: 17 -> 17 words.
–sentence length, standard deviation (basically, a measure of the variety of sentence lengths): 13 -> 9.
–% of sentences, hard or very hard to read: 41% -> 33%.

~~~~~~

Think Like a Futurist: The Key to Ensuring Your Success in an Uncertain Future

The art futuring is a necessary skill in the new age of uncertainty

Think Like a Futurist for Long-term Success

The necessity of futuring in the age of uncertainty
Image by Ty Dale.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Are you prepared for what might happen next month or next year?

The future has always been uncertain. Today right now, the future is even more uncertain. We’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now.

Many people can’t cope — they are stressed and overwhelmed.

“Deep uncertainty merits deep questions, and the answers aren’t necessarily tied to a fixed date in the future. Where do you want to have impact? What it will take to achieve success?” writes Amy Webb, a quantitative futurist and professor of strategic foresight at the New York University Stern School of Business.

Are you prepared for what might happen next month? How about next year?

The future has always been uncertain — but right now, in the US especially, uncertainty may be at an all-time high.

Many people are stressed and overwhelmed.

“Deep uncertainty merits deep questions, and the answers aren’t necessarily tied to a fixed date in the future. Where do you want to have impact? What it will take to achieve success?”

Amy Webb, quantitative futurist and professor of strategic foresight
at the New York University Stern School of Business

~~~~~~

Futurists plan for the future in a whole new way. They think through multiple scenarios to make sure they are prepared for almost all possible scenarios. They may not know what could happen, but they are proactive about the unknown.

“For any given uncertainty about the future — whether that’s risk, opportunity, or growth — we tend to think in the short- and long-term simultaneously,” says Amy.

Futurists attempt to systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present into a future they’ve prepared for.

“At its best, futures thinking is not about predicting the future; rather, it is about engaging people in thinking deeply about complex issues, imagining new possibilities, connecting signals into larger patterns, connecting the past with the present and the future, and making better choices today,” writes Marina Gorbis, Executive Director of the Institute for the Future

Futurists plan for the future by imagining multiple scenarios, and they prepare accordingly. They may not know what could happen, but they are proactive about the unknown.

“For any given uncertainty about the future,” notes Professor Webb, “whether that’s risk, opportunity, or growth — [futurists] tend to think in the short- and long-term simultaneously.”

Futurists systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future and ascertain how they can transition from the present into a future in accordance with the Boy Scouts’ motto: be prepared.

“At its best, futures thinking is not about predicting the future,” according to Marina Gorbis, Executive Director of the Institute for the Future. “It is about engaging people in thinking deeply about complex issues, imagining new possibilities, connecting signals into larger patterns, connecting the past with the present and the future, and making better choices today.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

We are in the midst of a historical transformation — the art of futuring your life and career is a necessary skill in an extremely uncertain world.

Despite the mass uncertainty we face right now, if you can’t figure out your long-term plan for tomorrow, next month or next year, you will feel stuck, react more to other’s demands, procrastinate more, and give up sooner when challenged.

Make “futures” thinking a way of life

We are facing huge challenges in the world today, but you can’t thrive, grow or make the most of your life if you approach your present difficulties with short-term thinking.

We are in the midst of a historical transformation. The art of futuring your life and career is a valuable skill in an uncertain world.

A good plan keeps you centered. If you can’t figure out your plan for tomorrow, next month or next year, you will feel stuck, react more to other’s demands, procrastinate more, and give up sooner when faced with even modest challenges.

Make “futures” thinking a way of life.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Futures thinking skill is essential right now to better navigate your life and to make better decisions in the face of so many uncertainties. People who excel at managing the uncertainties of tomorrow think like futurists.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

Take a moment and envision your life in, say, 2 or 5 years from now. What you’re imagining? Most people focus on a single future. What their life or career could look like if they take certain steps or actions.

 “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

John F. Kennedy

Take a moment and envision your life in, say, two, or even five years from now. What do you see? Most people focus on a single future, on what their life or career could look like if they take certain steps or actions.

~~~~~~~~

Futurists think about multiple futures instead — they open themselves to all kinds of possible scenarios and solutions. Multiple perspectives are at the heart of futures studies — they actively consider alternatives.

“The best way to predict your future is to create it, ” says Abraham Lincoln

When you make a smart long-term decision about your future, you are effectively thinking backwards, and getting ready to live the future you want.

If your first and best case scenario about your life or career doesn’t work out next year, do you have another perspective you can explore?

Futurists, meanwhile, think about multiple futures. They open themselves to a host of scenarios and solutions. Multiple perspectives are at the heart of futures studies.

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

Abraham Lincoln

To make a well-founded, long-term decision about your future, take that five-year vision of you and think backwards. That’s how you can get ready to live the future you want.

If your first and best-case scenario about your life or career doesn’t work out next year, do you persist, or do you have a back-up plan?

~~~~~~~~~~~

Futurists have a long term perspective.

Thinking like a futurist involves paying attention to what’s changing, what doesn’t change and how to better prepare yourself for what’s next.

It means maintaining an open mind and running through various possibilities to find potential outcomes or imagining many possible futures.

A good futurist is always learning — for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. Learning new career skills and how to manage your emotions in difficult times can give you an upper hand — it puts you in control of what can disturb your peace of mind.

Futurists commit to long-term perspectives.

Thinking like a futurist involves paying attention to what’s changing, what remains steady, and how to better prepare yourself for what’s next.

It means maintaining an open mind and running through various possibilities to imagine potential outcomes of multiple futures.

A good futurist is always learning — for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. Learning new career skills and how to manage your emotions in difficult times can give you an upper hand — it puts you in control of what can disturb your peace of mind.

~~~~~~~~~

Robert Anton Wilson argues that “The future is up for grabs. It belongs to any and all who will take the risk and accept the responsibility of consciously creating the future they want.”

Whether you foresee an unknown and difficult future or a bright future because opportunities abound, it’s your responsibility to prepare for both.

“If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely,” says Seth Godin.

“The future is up for grabs. It belongs to any and all who will take the risk and accept the responsibility of consciously creating the future they want.”

Robert Anton Wilson, author

Whether you foresee an unknown and difficult future or a bright future because opportunities abound, it’s your responsibility to prepare for both.

“If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely.”

Seth Godin, educator, author, and marketing guru

~~~~~~~~~~

When you think like a futurist, you can know what’s coming faster — that makes it easy to prepare better for disruptions in life and career.

Preparation puts you in control of what might be coming. You can’t predict the future, but you can be better prepared for possible scenarios.

With long-term thinking, proactive action, and an open mind, you can still thrive tomorrow and create better experiences for your life and career.

When you think like a futurist, you can know what’s coming faster — which makes it easy to prepare more effectively for disruptions in life and career.

With long-term thinking, proactive action, and an open mind, you can still thrive tomorrow and create better experiences for your life and career.

~~~~~~~~~~

Today, right now, think about every possible scenario that could happen in your life in the next year or two and figure out how to best plan for every possible scenario.

If you are able to take these steps each day, you will be thinking like a futurist. You will be able to better anticipate and prepare for all possible future scenarios. With a sense of what your farther future might look like, you will be ready to take the best action for your life.

Today, right now, think about a variety of life scenarios, which might play out next year and the year after, and figure out how to best plan for each of them.

Take these steps every day to think like a futurist. Start to anticipate how future scenarios will affect your choices. With a sense of what your future might look like, you will be ready to take the best action for your life.

# # #

And that’s a wrap.

If you like what you see, drop me a line over here.

Thanks!

Happy writing!

Turner’s blog: the Cadence edit

Newsletter Challenge, v. 16

Quick note: I recently wrapped up a writing coach arrangement with Ari Lewis, host of the Mastering the Attention Economy podcast. We enjoyed working together (see Ari’s ROI here), and he proposed I take on a newsletter editing challenge. I’ve built my list from the top paid newsletters at Substack, and I toss in an odd find now and again to keep things fresh — like this one.

The challenge: Twenty edits by 22 September (yes, I’m behind, but my clients — and my family — come first, of course.

My primary goal: add clarity, concision, and cadence to the newsletters, and sharpen up my own editing process. After I wrap up the challenge, I’ll provide reflections on each edit and offer some lessons you can use on your own newsletter.

For details on my process, click here, a Google doc. Leave suggestions as you see fit. Thanks!

“Pinduoduo and Vertically Integrated Social Commerce,” August 6

https://turner.substack.com/p/pinduoduo-and-vertically-integrated
by Turner Novak / @TurnerNovak

–Grey typeface: Turner.

Normal typeface: me.

Key metrics (original -> edit)
–reading level: 10 -> 9.
–word count: 1440 -> 1331.
–median sentence length: 16 -> 16 words.
–sentence length, standard deviation (basically, a measure of the variety of sentence lengths): 7.5 -> 6.5.
–% of sentences, hard or very hard to read: 53% -> 49%

~~~~~~

[Subhead:] How the son of factory workers grew Pinduoduo from zero to $100 billion in five years

In 2015, Colin Huang founded his third company, Pinduoduo (PDD). By June of 2020, it had become China’s second largest ecommerce company and was valued at over $100 billion in the public markets. How did a company that helped farmers sell fruit on the internet rise so fast in a market dominated by Alibaba and JD?


Pinduoduo, meaning “together, more savings, more fun”, eliminated layers of middlemen and flipped the retailing model from being supply-driven to demand-driven. The team used a mobile-first approach that gave it a fundamentally different product DNA than incumbents. It used fruit as a wedge to combine consumption with entertainment and created a vertically integrated gaming company. It took advantage of down payments from suppliers and used stretched payment terms to create float out of customer transactions. It used that float to fund customer acquisition, and then leveraged clever growth tricks on an emerging distribution channel (WeChat) to acquire hundreds of millions of overlooked customers for practically free.

In 2015, while in his mid-30s, Colin Huang founded Pinduoduo (PDD), his third start-up venture. In June 2020, it was China’s second largest ecommerce company, valued at over $100BN in public markets. How did Huang’s company, in a market dominated by Alibaba and JD, scale so fast simply by helping farmers sell produce on the Internet?

Pinduoduo — which translates as “together, more savings, more fun” — eliminated middlemen and flipped retailing on its head. First, the team’s mobile-first approach gave it a fundamentally different DNA than its rivals. They also zeroed in initially on demand, rather than supply. Using fruit as a wedge, they combined consumption and entertainment to create a vertically integrated gaming company. Pinduoduo used down payments from suppliers and stretched payment terms to create float from customer transactions. It then used that float to fund customer acquisition, and leveraged clever growth tricks on WeChat to capture the attention of hundreds of millions of customers — practically for free.

~~~~~~~~~

Humble Beginnings

Colin grew up in Hangzhou, the home of Alibaba located in the Eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang. His father never finished middle school and worked in a factory with his mother. Colin excelled in math. At 12 he was invited to the Hangzhou Foreign Language School, attended by the children of the cities’ elites. He credits this to changing the trajectory of his life. He was among the top students at the school and received a scholarship to study Computer Science at Zhejiang University, one of China’s oldest and most prestigious schools.

He joined the Melton Foundation his first year and secured an internship at Microsoft China making $900 per month – more than his parents combined annual salaries. He then transferred to Microsoft’s US HQ, making over $6,000 per month.

In college, Colin met NetEase (gaming) founder William Ding after helping him with a coding question in an online forum. This serendipitous meeting changed Colin’s life. William introduced him to many other Chinese tech luminaries like Tencent (WeChat) founder Pony Ma, and SF Express (logistics) founder Wang Wei.

Colin grew up in Hangzhou, in the Eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang. His father never finished middle school, and he worked in a factory, alongside Colin’s mother. At age 12, Colin received an invitation to the Hangzhou Foreign Language School: the school of choice of the children of local elites. It He was among the top students at the school, and it changed the trajectory of his life. His success secured him a scholarship to study computer science at Zhejiang University, one of China’s oldest and most prestigious schools.

In his first year at Zhejiang, Colin joined the Melton Foundation and secured an internship at Microsoft China. He earned $900 per month, which exceeded his parents’ combined annual salaries. He eventually worked at Microsoft’s US headquarters, where he earned over $6,000 per month.

While in college, Colin met NetEase (gaming) founder William Ding after helping him with a coding question in an online forum. This serendipitous meeting changed Colin’s life. William introduced him to many other Chinese tech luminaries like Tencent (WeChat) founder Pony Ma, and SF Express (logistics) founder Wang Wei. William introduced Colin to Duan Yungping, fellow Zhejiang University alum and founder of BBK Electronics. Colin soon came to regard Duan a close friend and a mentor.

~~~~~~~~~

Colin then moved to the US in 2002 to pursue a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. By graduation in 2004 he had a full-time offer from Microsoft, and an impressed professor wrote letters of recommendations to the large US tech giants of the time (Oracle, Microsoft, IBM).

The summer before moving to the US to start at Wisconsin, William at NetEase had also introduced Colin to Duan Yungping, fellow Zhejiang University alum and founder of BBK Electronics. The two grew very close. Colin considers him a close friend, mentor, and he even helped Duan with his investing. Duan recommended he move to San Francisco to work at a promising young startup. Colin then turned down all of his other offers to join a pre-IPO Google.

Colin joined Google as a software engineer working on early ecommerce-related search algorithms. He quickly became a Product Manager. In 2006, Duan won the annual charity auction for lunch with Warren Buffett with a $620k bid. Colin joined alongside Duan’s wife and five other friends. It’s said that this meeting with Buffett greatly influenced Colin’s crafting of the Pinduoduo business model. This included the power of simplicity, utilizing float, and redistributing wealth (as Buffett has famously pledged to donate 99% of his wealth after death).

In 2002, Colin moved to the US to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Upon graduation, Colin received an offer for a US-based position from Microsoft. Duan, though, recommended Colin move to San Francisco to work at a promising young startup called Google.

Colin joined the pre-IPO Google as a software engineer, worked on ecommerce-related search algorithms, and was promoted to product manager. In 2006, Duan won the annual charity auction for lunch with Warren Buffett with a bid of $620K. Colin joined Duan, his wife, and five other friends. Reports indicate that this luncheon helped Colin craft Pinduoduo’s business model by utilizing the power of simplicity, float, and wealth redistribution. (Buffett has famously pledged to donate 99% of his wealth after death.)

~~~~~~~~

Colin returned to China shortly after to work on a secret team launching Google China. He reportedly grew tired of constantly flying back and forth to the US pitching Google founders Larry and Sergey on trivial matters. The last straw was a trip to get in-person approval of a change in the color and size of Chinese characters shown in the search results. He left many of his unvested options behind and Google eventually shut down the division. Colin then followed many of his mentors into a journey of entrepreneurship.

Soon after, Colin returned to China to work on a secret team dedicated to the launch of Google China. He reportedly grew tired of constantly flying back and forth to the US to consult with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to secure approval, for example, of a change in the color and size of Chinese characters shown in the search results. Colin abandoned many of his unvested options, and Google eventually shut down the division. Like many of his mentors, Colin then followed the path of entrepreneurship.

~~~~~~~~~

The Birth of a Serial Entrepreneur

In 2007 Colin founded his first startup, Ouku.com, an ecommerce site selling mobile phones and other consumer electronics. His mentor Duan’s company was a large player in the Chinese electronics supply chain. Duan was an angel investor and likely helped in the early days. Colin built up Oaku to “several hundred millions of yuan” in revenue (~$20-40 million USD), but he stepped down and sold the company in 2010 after realizing JD’s scale would always grant it better terms from suppliers and he could never beat them.

Almost immediately, he brought members of the team to build his second company: Xunmeng. It was a gaming studio that built role playing games on Tencent’s WeChat. Some ex-Oaku and future Pinduoduo employees launched Leqi, which helped companies market their services on other ecommerce sites (like Alibaba’s Taobao and JD). Both companies took off. Then Colin got sick.

He had an acute form of Otitis media, which causes severe inflammation and pain behind the eardrum. This typically causes a loss of appetite and occasional fever, and Colin specifically struggled sleeping. He stopped going into the office, and briefly retired in 2013 at 33 years old. He spent over a year at home. He considered moving to the US to open a hedge fund. He also thought about starting a hospital after going through the painful process of treating his ear infection.

In 2007, Colin founded his first startup, Ouku.com, an ecommerce site selling mobile phones and other consumer electronics. Duan, a key player in the supply chains of Chinese electronics, was an angel investor. Oaku eventually raked in “several hundred millions of yuan” in revenue (~$20-40 million USD). In 2010, Colin stepped down and sold the company, having realized that JD’s scale would always ensure better terms from its suppliers.

Soon thereafter, Colin brought members of his team to build Xunmeng. This gaming studio built role-playing games on Tencent’s WeChat. Some ex-Oaku employees launched Leqi, which helped companies market their services on other ecommerce sites, including Alibaba’s Taobao and JD. Both companies took off. Then Colin got sick.

Colin was diagnosed with an acute form of otitis media (“middle ear”), which causes severe inflammation and pain behind the eardrum. Symptoms include loss of appetite and occasional fever, and it affected Colin’s ability to sleep. He stopped going into the office, and spent a year at home. He considered moving to the US to open a hedge fund. He also considered starting a hospital, inspired by the misery associated with the treatment of his ear infection.

~~~~~~~~

Over the next two years, Colin came up with the idea for what became Pinduoduo by observing China’s two largest internet giants: Alibaba (ecommerce) and Tencent (social, games). He’s quoted as saying “these two companies don’t really understand how the other makes money.” Both are massive, successful companies, however neither had figured out how to penetrate the others business.

Pinduoduo fell directly in the center of the two; social gamified ecommerce. It helped manufacturers cut out middlemen by selling discounted items directly to low income consumers, and monetized largely with advertising. It fell within the intersection of unique insights Colin gained growing up poor and every previous business he, his mentors, and his team had worked on.

Over the next two years, Colin studied China’s two largest internet giants: Alibaba (ecommerce) and Tencent (social, games). “These two companies don’t really understand how the other makes money,” Colin said. Neither had figured out how to derive advantage from the success of their rival.

Pinduoduo situated itself squarely in the middle of Alibaba and Tencent as a social, gamified ecommerce company. It helped manufacturers cut out middlemen by selling discounted items directly to low-income consumers, and monetized largely with advertising. The Pinduoduo model drew in part upon the unique insights Colin learned from his modest upbringing.

~~~~~~~

Pinhaohuo: Selling Fruit in WeChat Group Chats

Pinduoduo was initially founded in early 2015 as yqphh.com, or Pinhaohuo (PHH, “piece together good goods”). PHH’s initial business model consisted of buying fruit in bulk from farmers and then selling it directly to consumers. China’s fresh fruit market was growing fast in 2015, but less than 3% was sold online. Colin raised an angel round from his mentors, and once again brought over the team from his prior companies. Many were lifelong friends, including current members of PDD’s management team like Sun Qin, Lei Chen (first CTO, now CEO), Zhenwei Zheng, and Junyun Xiao.

Pinhaohuo’s business grew entirely through group chats on Tencent’s popular WeChat (often called the Facebook of China). To start, they bought boxes of fruit from a local Hangzhou fruit market and separated them into smaller boxes. On April 10th of 2015, they spent a few hundred USD to run one ad on an official Hangzhou WeChat Account (similar to a Facebook Page) that showed up in users’ feeds. They had more than a thousand employees, relatives, and friends of the company share the post. By May 1st, they’d fulfilled a total of 5k orders. Daily order volume surpassed 10k soon after. They paid an average of $0.30 cents for each of these earliest users.

Pinduoduo was initially founded in early 2015 as yqphh.com, or Pinhaohuo (PHH, “piece together good goods”). PHH’s initial business model consisted of buying fruit in bulk from farmers and then selling it directly to consumers. China’s fresh fruit market grew quickly in 2015, but less than 3% of it was sold online. Colin raised an angel round from his mentors, and once again brought over the team from his prior companies. Many were lifelong friends and included members of PDD’s management team: Sun Qin, Lei Chen (first CTO, now CEO), Zhenwei Zheng, and Junyun Xiao.

Pinhaohuo’s growth relied exclusively on group chats on WeChat, which is often regarded as the Facebook of China. To start, they bought boxes of fruit from a local Hangzhou fruit market and separated them into smaller boxes. In April 2015, they spent a few hundred USD to run one ad on an official Hangzhou WeChat Account (think of a Facebook ad) that appeared in users’ feeds. They had more than 1,000 employees, relatives, and friends of the company share the post. By May 1, they fulfilled a total of 5,000 orders. Soon thereafter, daily-order volume surpassed 10,000. They paid an average of $0.30 for each of these earliest users.

~~~~~~~

Pinhaohuo also relied heavily on WeChat Pay, WeChat’s in-app digital wallet that had launched in 2013. Most users carried a balance due to the popular Red Envelope feature, in which users sent small monetary gifts to family and friends during the holidays. Routing all payments through WeChat Pay provided extremely low payment fees, low friction for order placing, and PHH’s low order sizes enticed early customers to pay with their outstanding balances. Most importantly, Pinduoduo’s primary competitor today, Alibaba, had also banned its sellers from using both WeChat and WeChat Pay. Its biggest incumbent competitor was un-incentivized to react to this newfound distribution channel.


Pinhaohuo also relied heavily on WeChat Pay: WeChat’s in-app digital wallet (est. 2013). Since most users sent small monetary gifts to family and friends during the holidays, they carried a balance in their wallet. Routing all payments through WeChat Pay offered low payment fees and low friction for ordering. PHH’s small-order sizes enticed early customers to pay with their outstanding balances. Most importantly, Pinduoduo’s primary competitor today, Alibaba, banned its sellers from using WeChat or WeChat Pay. Its biggest incumbent competitor was un-incentivized to react to this newfound distribution channel.

# # #

This article continues here, and I hope you’ll check out Turner’s newsletter / blog. It’s chockful of good insights and analysis.

And that’s a wrap.

If you like what you see, drop me a line over here.

Thanks!

Happy writing!

Client scores $500K+ from the feds

Just a quick note: I worked on a big grant application for a client a few months back, and they just learned that their sizable check from the feds is in the mail! Hooray!

My hands were two of many on this project. Still, it’s always fantastic when a client (and their team) call you to say, “Hey: my team’s at a wall on this thing, and we need your help.”

It’s nice, of course, when they express their gratitude for my contribution. It’s absolutely brilliant when they bring home the big bucks.

Cheers!

The Bulwark: the Cadence edit

Newsletter Challenge, v. 15

Quick note: I recently wrapped up a writing coach arrangement with Ari Lewis, host of the Mastering the Attention Economy podcast. We enjoyed working together (see Ari’s ROI here), and he proposed I take on a newsletter editing challenge. I’ve built my list from the top paid newsletters at Substack, and I toss in an odd find now and again to keep things fresh — like this one.

The challenge: Twenty edits by 22 September.

My primary goal: add clarity, concision, and cadence to the newsletters, and sharpen up my own editing process. After I wrap up the challenge, I’ll provide reflections on each edit and offer some lessons you can use on your own newsletter.

For details on my process, click here, a Google doc. Leave suggestions as you see fit. Thanks!

“It’s Almost Like There’s A Pattern,” Sept. 18

https://morningshots.thebulwark.com/p/its-almost-like-theres-a-pattern /
by Charlie Sykes @SykesCharlie

–Grey typeface: JED.

Normal typeface: me.

Key metrics (original -> edit)
–reading level: 10 -> 8.
–word count: 1455 -> 1400 (or so).
–median sentence length: 16 -> 15 words.
–sentence length, standard deviation (basically, a measure of the variety of sentence lengths): 15 -> 13.
–% of sentences, hard or very hard to read: 43% -> 40%

~~~~~~

It’s Almost Like There’s A Pattern

September 18, 2020

It’s almost like it’s a pattern: even more high-ranking Trump Administration officials break with the president. Joe Biden resets the expectations game. The president rips his own FBI director. And new polls have more bad news for Trump’s GOP.

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 45 days to go until election day; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration Day.

It’s almost like there’s a pattern: even more high-ranking Trump Administration officials break with the president. Joe Biden defies expectations. The president rips his own FBI director. And new polls deliver more bad news for the Trump party.

Welcome to the Daily Countdown: 45 days until the election, and 78 more days until inauguration.

~~~~~~

I keep thinking about my conversation the other day with Time magazine’s Charlotte Alter, who has spent the last few weeks on the ground here in the Midwest. It has not always been an edifying experience.

Political elites and pundits would like to believe that voters deploy something like a rational process when they make political decisions. But, as Alter found when she talked with actual voters here, that’s not always the case. Those of us still clinging to the notion of self-government would like to think that the average voter reasons from A to B to C, but, she says, but the thought process is more lie “A leads to purple, which leads to banana, which leads to eight.”

“Sometimes in the media we have this assumption that by writing this story you will change minds,” she said. We imagine that stories about disrespecting war dead will cause veterans to dislike Trump; or that writing stories about all of the women who have accused Trump of sexual assault will cause women to turn against Trump; or that stories about how he downplayed the coronavirus will change voter perceptions.

But, she says, “the idea that this information leads to this opinion is broken.”

Time magazine’s Charlotte Alter.

I recently spoke with Time magazine’s Charlotte Alter, who spent the last few weeks on the ground here in the Midwest. Her conversations with voters about the election often left her baffled.

Political elites and pundits imagine that voters use a rational process to make political decisions. But, as Alter learned by talking to actual voters, that’s not always the case. Pundits like me who believe in the virtue of self-government like to imagine that the average voter reasons from A to B to C. That process, though, according to Alter, looks more like “‘A’ leads to purple, which leads to banana, which leads to eight.”

“Sometimes in the media we have this assumption that by writing this story you will change minds,” she said. We imagine, for example, that stories about:

● Trump’s disrespect of American soldiers lost in battle will lead veterans to dislike Trump

● the number of women who have accused Trump of sexual assault will cause women to turn against Trump, and

● the fact that he downplayed the threat of the coronavirus will change voter perceptions about his fitness to lead.

 “The idea that this information leads to this opinion,” Alter said, “is broken.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

So what actually happens? How do we get to banana?

“That’s one of the most challenging things about this,” she told me. “I think of it as a kind of unlogic. There is no way to get to the banana, because I could talk to one person where A leads to purple, which leads to banana; and I could talk to their friend who thinks A leads to the Beatles, which leads to chicken soup.”

“I talk to some voters who have very established reasons for why they think what they think and it tracks logically. I talk to other people — and not even QAnon people — for whom something has short-circuited in the way that they are making these decisions, and the way they are thinking about this.”

She compares the level of disruption to the American Revolution. (She’s been watching “Turn” on Netflix.)

So what actually happens? How do we get to banana?

“That’s one of the most challenging things about this,” she told me. “I think of it as a kind of unlogic. There is no way to get to the banana, because I could talk to one person where A leads to purple, which leads to banana; and I could talk to their friend who thinks A leads to the Beatles, which leads to chicken soup.”

“I talk to some voters who have very established reasons for why they think what they think and it tracks logically,” Alter told me. “I talk to other people — and not even QAnon people — for whom something has short-circuited in the way that they are making these decisions, and the way they are thinking about this.”

She compares the level of disruption to the American Revolution. (She’s been watching “Turn” on Netflix.)

~~~~~~

“The thing that I keep thinking about… is that one of the things that we learn about the Revolutionary war is that in some ways it was also a war between order and chaos.

“The Redcoats were like ‘we’ve got five lines of 30 men; our cannons are all pointed due north; and the enemy will never take our mighty fleet.’”

In contrast to the linear approach of the British, “the revolutionaries were a sort of ragtag band of rebels, and they attacked them from the side, they attacked them from behind trees. They hid under hay bales…. They were impossible to predict, and it was ultimately a battle between order and chaos.”

“I think that’s been one of the things that has been sticking out to me this trip: I don’t think that this election is a contest really between Democrats and Republicans,” she said. “I think it’s a contest between order and chaos.”

“One of the things that we learn about the Revolutionary war is that in some ways it was also a war between order and chaos,” Alter said. “The Redcoats were like ‘We’ve got five lines of 30 men; our cannons are all pointed due north; and the enemy will never take our mighty fleet.’”

The Bluecoats used less geometrically sound tactics. “The revolutionaries were a sort of ragtag band of rebels, and they attacked them from the side, they attacked them from behind trees. They hid under hay bales,” Alter noted. “They were impossible to predict, and it was ultimately a battle between order and chaos.”

“I think that’s been one of the things that has been sticking out to me this trip: I don’t think that this election is a contest really between Democrats and Republicans,” she said. “I think it’s a contest between order and chaos.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This makes everything so unsettled, “because chaos is impossible to predict,” and the political playing field is not level. One side “has a much narrower field that they can fight on because they’re constrained by rational constraints and guilt,” while the other side can live in a world of its own making.

She thinks that makes Biden “uniquely vulnerable to an October surprise in a way that Trump is not,” because there is no information that will come out about Trump that will change his supporters’ minds. Even if we had a video of Trump shooting someone on 5th Avenue, she said, there would be “a certain core portion of his voters will not only still vote for him, they’ll be more excited to vote for him because they’ll think that the video was faked, and it was evidence of some plot to get him.”

You can listen to the whole thing here.

Chaos is impossible to predict. The political playing field is not level. The democrats, Alter said, “have a much narrower field that they can fight on because they’re constrained by rational constraints and guilt.” Republicans thrive in a world of their own making.

For Alter, Biden is “uniquely vulnerable to an October surprise in a way that Trump is not.” What information about Trump could possibly discourage his most faithful supporters? Even a video of Trump shooting someone on 5th Avenue, she said, would likely energize his base: “a certain core portion of his voters will not only still vote for him, they’ll be more excited to vote for him because they’ll think that the video was faked, and it was evidence of some plot to get him.”

You can listen to the whole thing here.

~~~~~~~

Biden shows up.

ICYMI last night, the Joe Biden who showed up for a CNN town hall was not the one we had been promised by the Trump campaign. Biden may not have been flawless, but he was certainly not the senile, doddering can’t-string-together-a-coherent-thought dotard that Trump has spent months telling us about. He was actually pretty good, at times actually quite sharp.

ICYMI last night, the Joe Biden at CNN’s recent town hall was not the caricature promised by the Trump campaign. Biden was not perfect, but he was certainly not the can’t-string-together-a-coherent-thought dotard that Trump imagined. In fact, he was pretty good. At times, actually quite sharp.

It’s almost like there’s a pattern.

Look, by any standards what is happening here is remarkable. One after another, Trump Administration officials are coming forward to warn the country that their former boss is dangerously unfit.

This has never happened before on this scale.

Stop what you are doing now and watch this video:

[removed from their site, alas]

Look: regardless of your stance on the second amendment or abortion rights, what is happening here is remarkable. One after another, Trump Administration officials keep coming forward to warn the country that their former boss is dangerously unfit to lead.

~~~~~~~

Susan Glasser writes in the New Yorker:

Every Presidency has its dissenters, people who leave and tell tales after they do so. But there has never been anything like the stories that have emerged from the Trump White House, from so many who worked with the President and observed him up close. People like his former national-security adviser John Bolton, who called Trump “unfit” for office. And people like the former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the former White House chief of staff John Kelly, and the former director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, all of whom have relayed grave concerns about Trump that have made their way to Bob Woodward and other journalists.

In the end, this is what struck me most during my conversation with Troye: she is young, only forty-three years old, with a long career ahead of her, and she was willing to put it all on the line publicly, whereas people like Mattis and Kelly were not.

~~~~~~~~

There’s more. The former chief of staff to Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos is also speaking out.

Josh Venable, the former chief of staff to Education Secretary Betsy Devos, has joined another former Trump administration official’s group opposing the president.

Venable is lending his name as an adviser to the Republican Political Alliance for Integrity and Reform, a group former Department of Homeland Security official Miles Taylor launched on Thursday of current and former Trump administration officials and other Republican leaders who want to see President Donald Trump defeated in November.

–Susan Glasser

~~~~~~~~

Trump is an anchor for the Senate GOP.

New NYT/Siena poll:

President Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic has imperiled both his own re-election and his party’s majority in the Senate, and Republican lawmakers in crucial states like Arizona, North Carolina and Maine have fallen behind their Democratic challengers amid broad disapproval of the president, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College.

President Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic has imperiled both his own re-election and his party’s majority in the Senate. Republican lawmakers in Arizona, North Carolina and Maine have fallen behind their Democratic challengers amid broad disapproval of the president, according to a new poll.

See the original for this image- and quotation-heavy section of the essay.

What In Conservatism Should Be Conserved?

Thoughtful piece by Martin Skold and J. Furman Daniel in this morning’s Bulwark.

In a previous Bulwark article, we asked what was left to conserve about the United States, and offered some thoughts on what could form the basis of conservatism in the present era. We pick up here with an opposite question: What must we conserve about conservatism, and what must change?

This is no mere academic exercise. Our cities are burning, our people are divided, our foreign policy is adrift, and our nation is literally sick.

Some of the blame for these problems belongs to the left, but by no means all of it. For a two-party system like ours to function properly it must have a viable and healthy conservative party. America needs a governing consensus, so that it can know what is too much and what is not enough, what is on the table and what is not—and that implies having both a liberal or progressive party and a conservative party, and between them some sort of consensus about the boundaries of the policy debate.

These failures of ideas and leadership were evident long before the 2016 election. While Donald Trump, as a candidate and as president, has been able to exploit the country’s polarization, it did not originate with him. Moreover, should he recede from the scene, it will be more, not less, necessary to attempt to make some sense of a chaotic Republican party. Doing so will require reassessing what about the old conservatism retains relevance and vitality.

[Note: since the quotation above appeared originally in Bulwark, I included it in this edit.]

In a previous Bulwark article, we asked what was left to conserve about the United States, and offered some thoughts on a new foundation for conservatism. Here we offer a complementary question: What must we conserve about conservatism, and what must change?

This question is not academic. Our cities are burning, our foreign policy is adrift, and our citizens are prisoners to a preventable pandemic. This question begs another question: what do Republicans imagine the oath of office means today?

Certainly, the liberals are not without fault. For a two-party system to function properly, it needs a viable and healthy conservative party. America needs a governing consensus, so that it can know what is too much and what is not enough, what is on the table and what is not—and that requires having both a liberal (or progressive) party and a conservative party, that together establish a consensus about the boundaries of policy and decency.

These failures of ideas and leadership were evident long before the 2016 election. While Donald Trump, as a candidate and as president, has deftly exploited the country’s polarization, he didn’t start this dumpster fire. Moreover, when he leaves the White House, it will be more, not less, necessary to make sense of the chaos of the Republican party. Doing so will require reassessing which features of your father’s conservatism retain relevance and vitality.

# # #

And that’s a wrap.

If you like what you see, drop me a line over here.

Thanks!

Happy writing!