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Opinion | Paul Olson: Are we worshipping at the political altar?

Trevor Noah was interviewed in October on Alex Wagner Tonight and made the observation that “… politics is now becoming the new religion of America.” In terms of the average person’s daily devotional effort, Noah may be correct. Many church-goers set aside only Sunday morning for pious observance, but the politically faithful are often anxiously scrolling the news every day in hopes of uplifting reports about their party’s prospects. For many, politics defines their worldview, who they associate with, where they get their news and what they want the news to say. Noah’s intriguing metaphor is troubling because politics is supposed to help us choose the best public servants and not be focused on worshipping political leaders.

Religion depends on dogma, doctrines that are accepted as truth because they come from authority such as holy scripture or a priest. It is expected that a person have faith in their church’s doctrine but our democracy depends on people seeking objective evidence and not putting all their faith in the opinions of political leaders or evening news pundits. Speeches full of political dogma such as “big corporations are greedy” or “all tax raises are bad” impede constructive debate in legislatures and result in less effective government policies.

Our Constitution established a limited government as a means to an end, designed to protect our life, liberty and property. The conformity that might be important for a religion does not work within a system of government. Our nation is a republic with representatives elected to carry out the will of the people. This form of government is necessary when there is a diverse population as in the United States where flexibility is required to accommodate many opinions and circumstances. The founders recognized the fallibility of humans and the danger of giving too much power to one person or to the government itself. That is why our government has checks and balances and is subject to the Bill of Rights.

A 2022 CBS/YouGov poll found that nearly half of Democrats and Republicans viewed the opposing party not just as opponents but as the enemy and a threat to America. With this self-righteous attitude it is easy see why people are fine with campaign speeches and political ads full of lies and half-truths as long as they help their candidate defeat the evil enemy. This adversarial attitude allows our elected officials to never offer any constructive policies but instead to just be opposed to whatever the other party is in favor of.

In religion, it is often the accepted practice to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” In politics this approach makes for corrupt representatives and bad government. Pew Research found that in the 2020 election only 4% of voters split their ballot with a vote for president in one party and a vote for a congress member of the other major party. It appears that voters put more faith in the “R” or “D” on the ballot than they do on the candidate’s character or qualifications. On Election Day, all sins are forgiven if the candidate is from your party.

If politics is your current religion remember that even religious beliefs change over time. Christians no longer believe that the sun revolves around the Earth or that men have one fewer rib than women. Science has been very helpful in updating religious beliefs so they conform to the facts of the observable world. Science can also be useful in bringing people together on political issues such as climate change, abortion and the efficacy of vaccinations.

There is far too much faithfulness to Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Democrats also obey this rule for their party. The second anniversary of the Jan. 6 coup attempt is four weeks away and blind faith to their party keeps millions from admitting that this was a coordinated criminal act. Every member of Congress takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution. The mainstream Republican leaders in Congress should have acted as gatekeepers long ago and denounced the election deniers who put retaining power above upholding the law.

Your political party is supposed to be just a group of people with similar views about how government should be operated. It should never be a cult that believes it holds a monopoly on truth and morality and is above the Constitution. When your political doctrine allows you to feel justified in denying another person’s right to equal protection under the law or the right to vote then you might consider rethinking your political beliefs.

Consider the people we elect to town councils in Summit County. None of us want dogmatic, inflexible representatives to handle the complex issues and ever-changing circumstances that our community must face. We want them to make fact-based decisions and consider the spectrum of political views of citizens in order to enact the optimal policies. Respect for our neighbors and their views will help us avoid the polarization and politics-as-religion we see in much of the nation.

Paul Olson’s column “A Friendly Conservative” publishes biweekly on Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Olson has lived in Breckenridge since 1995. Semiretired, he works at REI in Dillon and enjoys snowboarding, Nordic skiing and hiking. Contact him at pobreck@gmail.com.

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Amid the AI hype, don’t forget about no-code

No-code startup Softr, which allows its customers to build apps from their existing data, announced Tuesday that it has added Google Sheets to its integration list.

Previously, Softr focused on Airtable databases. Its move to support data from Google’s spreadsheet product likely expands its potential customer pool. Even before that expansion, CEO Mariam Hakobyan told TechCrunch+ that her company grew its annual recurring revenue 3x from December 2021 to December 2022.

 

Softr’s quick revenue expansion is a good reminder that while the tech world seems completely consumed by all things AI, there’s quite a lot of work going on in other areas that are worth keeping an eye on.

That said, there is an interesting connection between AI and no-code worth writing down: Both are potentially great expanders of human capability. AI tooling could operate as a second brain of sorts for the digitally busy, and no-code services may allow nondevelopers to build the tools they need to complete their work. In both cases, the genres of new tech development have a shot at helping regular folks do a lot more, more quickly and often at a low cost.

Something else that modern AI tooling and no-code share is accessibility. Softr, for example, grew its base of signed-up users from 35,000 to 150,000 in 2022. That’s really quite a lot for a service that was, until recently, Airtable-specific. On the AI side, I don’t need to reiterate just how much market demand there is for modern LLM tooling.

Let’s dig into Softr’s progress since we last covered the company and chat about what we can learn about no-code progress as a method of building more accessible software.

Softr, no-code and empowering the regulars
Ask anyone who works at a company that builds software and isn’t part of the engineering or product orgs how long it will take them to get something built for their own needs. Without even making Jira ticket jokes, we all know what the answer will be. And to a degree, the standard situation makes sense: What nondeveloper employees need is often pretty basic software, and expensive engineers need to focus on the company’s core offering not internal tooling.

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Twitter’s legacy blue checkmark era is officially over

Twitter appears to have officially killed off its legacy blue checkmarks, one of the last remaining vestiges of the pre-Elon Musk owner era.

The legacy blue checks, which Twitter doled out to journalists, celebrities and other public officials for free to help curb impersonations and spam, were supposed to end April 1.

Musk took to Twitter on April 11 — days after the legacy checkmarks should have disappeared — to shift the end date to April 20 or 4/20. Yes, that’s the day when folks honor weed because Twitter is now owned by a middle schooler.

With the legacy checkmarks gone, Twitter will have verification marks only for paid users and businesses as well as government entities and officials. Now, if a user sees a blue checkmark and clicks on it, the label reads: “This account is verified because they are subscribed to Twitter Blue and verified their phone number.”

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Autotech Ventures’ new $230M mobility fund adds fintech, circular economy to its investment strategy

Autotech Ventures will use its newly closed $230 million fund to expand beyond its foundation of early-stage ground transportation startups and invest in what the firm believes are the next big opportunities in automotive and mobility.

Fintech, logistics, supply chain and the circular economy are at the top of the list.

The $230 million fund, its third since launching in 2017, will be used to invest in seed through Series C mobility-related startups, according to the company. A mixture of financial and corporate LPs, including Allison Transmission, American Axle, Iochpe-Maxion and Shell participated in the fund.

“We’re still a ground transportation-focused firm and we have a very similar strategy [with this fund],” Alexei Andreev, Autotech Ventures managing director told TechCrunch. “On a high-level, it’s same as Fund 1 and Fund 2. However, one of the fastest areas of growth is SaaS-enabled fintech. Auto commerce is inefficient and there are large pockets of profit to capture.”

The firm is particularly interested in transportation-related fintech ventures that are poised to grow during a recession.

“We made a prediction that sooner or later there will be a recession and we identified areas that benefit when the economy softens, Andreev said, noting that this latest fund invested in Yendo, a Dallas-based startup (formerly known as Otto) that lets customers borrow against their vehicles at the same interest rate as standard credit cards.

Autotech Ventures’ previous fintech investments include U.K.-based buy now, pay later startup Bumper and Carpay, a buy here, pay here loan servicing SaaS platform for car dealers.

Andreev said the firm is also investigating investment opportunities in the circular economy, a nascent industry focused on finding ways to reuse materials and products. Circular economy startups have garnered an increasing amount of attention and investment as automakers transition away from gas-powered vehicles and towards EVs.

Autotech Ventures is also cautiously wading into generative AI, although Andreev was quick to note that the company has not made any investments in that area.

Autotech has more than $500 million under management and has invested in more than 40 companies.

Some of the firm’s investments include computer vision startup DeepScale (which was acquired by Tesla), Lyft, used vehicle marketplace operator Frontier Car Group, Drover, Outdoorsy, Swvl, parking app SpotHero and Xnor.ai, which Apple acquired in January 2020. Five of those startups have gone public, including indie Semiconductor and Volta Charging.

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