Walking the Walk

Walking the walk has become a core lesson learned for me.  I’ve tried to live an adult life of walking the walk instead of talking the talk.  When I was a suburban, socially disconnected kid, I spent most of my time on early BBCs, gaming networks, and the internet posing as a normal adult because that was the only way I could fit in.  As I got older, I actually was a normal adult, but I still felt left out.  It wasn’t until I joined the Army that I began to understand how important it is to be a member of a community and to “know” what it is to be in a community.

Since then I have moved on from the Army and intelligence community, although I still keep in touch with people there, and can spot those types instantly from a crowd.  I went and joined another community, the Georgetown community, and, with more time, became a tangential member of the DC community.   Those people have their own customs, rituals, schedules, and uniforms.  In many ways, DC people are not unlike military people:  long hours, dedication towards greater purposes, responsibility, discipline.

My infatuation with starting a company has continued to grow.  But I’ve found just how incompatible the DC community is with social entrepreneurship in my area, online stuff.  While there are a lot of initiatives in DC, partly because of cloud computing, cheap CPU cycles, and Obama’s initiatives to drag the government into the present, you can sum up most early pitches in DC this way:

"Looking for Full-Time Coder for DC Start-Up"

It’s funny because in DC, you can stop anyone on the street and they will be some high-level program manager or policy wonk interested in federal-level funding and grant-making for this or some other project.  But when it comes to finding people to implement all these plans and programs in a tangible way, the pool is thin.

Contrast this with stories from Silicon Valley, which is continuously castigated for building only incremental improvements to useless features.  One-hit non-wonders.  Things that make a prettier gadget abusing a Google Calendar API.  Or making a more hipsterish movie review site.

So DC is great, important ideas in search of engineers, while Silicon Valley is talented engineers in search of serious projects.

If I had my way, I would found an engineering school in DC, and feed students into the projects that DC is dying to implement.  Instead of relying solely on schools like Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon, DC should have some sort of computer science/social entrepreneurship program.

It might even need a broader project than that.  I often think about the short booklet I read from SnarkMarket called the “New Liberal Arts”.  The booklet proposes a new curriculum for students to learn applicable skills to our digital world:  attention economics, coding and decoding, finding, food, home economics, inaccuracy, iteration, journalism, mapping, marketing, micropolitics, myth and magic, negotiation, play, and video literacy, among others.

I’ve found through my job, which involves me reading pretty much as much as I can that comes across the web daily, that so many people are lacking in fundamental skills to interpret their world.  They do not know how to parse a story to see a particular agency’s bias, or to see which facts are actually facts and which were selectively chosen for inclusion.  The ability to figure out important data from unimportant data is also woefully lacking.  There is so much fluff in the world, in the form of excess meetings, long and boring Powerpoint decks, redundant employees, stifling bureaucracy, that it seems like a system built more to protect constituencies than to be lean and efficient.

Just read internet comments some time if you want to see how badly people interpret data they read online.  It’s so bad that Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, said the inability to judge facts and disprove false stories online is one of the biggest problems out there.

“Sir Tim told BBC News that there needed to be new systems that would give websites a label for trustworthiness once they had been proved reliable sources.

“”On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable,” he said. “A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging.””

Students do not know how to build the things they study.  The top jobs are going towards lawyers and businessmen, but their studies are so abstracted from anything concrete that it’s all just theoretical to them.  The culture of hacking, where you sit down quickly and prototype things with simple building blocks, does not exist in most bureaucracies, and it’s certainly bred out of children by the time they reach high school.  The only escape for natural hackers has been the internet and for people who live out in the country and are exposed to working with their hands with minimal supervision.

Everyone has great ideas, but few have the know-how to implement or even prototype them.  Which means the ideas die.  Few are part of the appropriate communities to make things happen, either.

That is.  I learned in the Army that if you’re not in the military, you have no clue what military culture is like.  Military bases are usually separated from the rest of the American fabric, in small towns that exist only because of the base.  Veterans and their family members live in a separate world.  Thus to hear people talk about the military without never having been close to it is so hard to swallow.  Likewise, I just became a full Catholic, during a publicized, grueling, disgusting scandal of pedophilia within the Catholic bishopry. (Indeed, before the Easter Vigil before my baptism began, I stood outside the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle and some guy in flipflops walking his dog tried to cut through our preparatory line and said, “Excuse me, child molesters”, as he walked through.  What, so all Catholics are child molesters?  Have we reached this level of disdain for strangers we meet in the world?)

My more agnostic and atheist friends ask me why I would join the Church, knowing about all this.  Again, a Catholic within the Church would not ask.  A religious person would not need to ask.  Churches, despite being so numerous, and religious folk, despite being a clear majority in the US and in the world, exist in a separate world than the rest.  Put a pastor next to a programmer and I’m sure you’ll rarely see such polar opposites.

So I’ve been in some pretty disconnected communities.  Would that make me a crypto-first-world-urban anthropologist?

I was actually fortunate enough to have a Mac Plus and subsequent Apple products (even the Newton) because my dad would get them as part of his professor’s grant.  And I remember learning Logo and Pascal in school, while playing with BASIC at home (typing in those programs out of books and then running them).  As I got older, I wished badly to be able to speak in different human languages.  I wondered why I couldn’t have known French or Spanish while a lot of people I knew were multi-lingual.  When I became an Arabic linguist in the Army, I really lamented it.

But since then, as the internet has exploded, English has become a comfortable lingua franca for me, and what has become far more important to me is computer language.  Why couldn’t I have become a god at C++ or Java?  Would I need to have gone into CS in school to do that?  Would that have doomed me to a linear career?  I’ve picked up PHP inasmuch as I need it to prototype and build stuff online — I guess it’s no accident I spent time learning PHP since it’s so easy to build out online.

One article I read recently from RSA, talked about employing the human “third drive”, which roughly coincides with Maslow’s higher levels of human needs.  The article claims that carrots and sticks at work is rarely effective and sometimes harmful.  Management leads to compliance only, in many cases, as rigid hierarchy means people are only ultimately going to care about their own lane and not take on extra work, which may get them in trouble.

It’s tough because in any organization, the top people may not be the best people to “start” a project.  Someone at the lowest level of an organization may have figured out what the organization needs in order to improve, but the authorization and legitimacy bestowed upon that person does not exist.  Thus the idea will never see the light of the day.  The higher up on the food chain, the less likely the people will be to possess skills needed to prototype.  I think this is why I’m so preferential towards organizations that hire strictly engineers and people with serious experience — they were at that lowest level once, and knew the pitfalls invisible to the highest people.

At The Future of Web Design conference in Miami a couple years ago, and with a recent NYTimes article, people have begged for more women in computer science.  I’m beginning to wonder if my above hypothesis, that there’s a disconnect between the cultural maps of doers/searchers vs. planners, holds true for women too.  DC is interesting because it’s known as the WORST city in the world for single women to find a mate, because women here are so highly-educated and well-off, while outnumbering men.

Do women fall into communities and roles that by their nature seek to improve the human condition and standard of living?  Would it be fair to say that while men have sought power in DC, women have sought to use social institutions to improve human lives?  Could one say that women have not been as interested in hacking, which in many ways is a very solitary, almost autistic profession, and have sought instead positions that are more socially networked and responsible and creative?

Would there be more female hackers, and hackers in general, in DC if an institution existed to encourage computer science in a town that’s so heavily geared towards policymaking?  I am beginning to think so.  How can we link together the separate groups of engineers and policymakers/changemakers?

In a broader sense, shouldn’t America, which likes to see itself as a greasy-knuckles, hard-working blue-collar country (despite being the richest and fattest), find in itself a core value of walking the walk?  After all, we used to subscribe to walking softly but carrying a big stick.  We have imposing science, nuclear, and military programs.   We were great because we had substance and experience unmatched elsewhere in the world.  It is not like now, where what we value are lawyers who can argue any case as long as they’re paid well enough, or bankers who can innovate money out of our pockets while underlying assets remain unchanged in value, or businessmen who spend their lives adjusting reports while barely understanding the very product or service they sell.  That is all image, abstracted away from the core economic and power realpolitik.

I just finished watching Season 4 of The Wire, which brings in the new component of Baltimore life, the public school system.  What struck me was the experimental pilot program to remove the problem kids from the general population and try to socialize them, since they were all training to be “corner kids” and learning that school was just a safe zone to learn how to test rules and adults.

Are we preparing people to live and work in the world we now and will live in?

Can we move away from a culture of FOXNews, with its chickenhawk lawyers who rattle their swords on patriotism, love for the military, and mercantilist realpolitik but who consistently seem to have absolutely no experience in anything except morning zoo drive DJs, sportscasting, lawyerships, working for conservative thinktanks, etc.?  Can we move away from seeking advice on small business and policymaking from people who have never started a business or who make fun of community organizing?

Can we praise a culture where walking the walk, being a member of a community instead of an outside criticizer and observer, becomes the gold standard?

Guerrilla Journalist Teams

Two things have struck me lately.  One was meeting Jennifer Eccleston and Arwa Damon in Iraq (and their equipment guy) — they were embedded with the Marines to report on the war.  I also am impressed with Anderson Cooper’s effort in Haiti, as well as his previous reporting in other parts of the world.  These people have crazy field experience as well as access to get the ground truth.

The other thing is the Breaking News Online team on Twitter.  It’s a motley crew of young men who live in different countries but collaborate to routinely find news before mainstream media gets it — sometimes up to hours before it hits the TV or press.  They also put value in calling to verify news, a technique that “real” journalists have somewhat forgotten as of late.

So these two trends together…  What if you could form a lightweight guerrilla journalist team?  It would start with one field reporter and two people as a social media team.  Very small.  Basically, the field reporter finds an interesting story (e.g. Haiti) and goes to that area to report what he sees on the ground.  The two people back home provide intelligence to the reporter from the social media world, as well as verify information and make the logistics and verification calls that the reporter needs.

The strength of this system is that it’s small and adaptable, and the team benefits not only from sentiment on the ground (with active content creation with photos, video, etc.) but also from incorporating what other news outlets are saying, what people are saying on Twitter, etc.  The two people back home work 12-hour shifts to provide 24-hour coverage, adapting to what hours are needed to sustain the story.

The media is getting far better at using Twitter to complement its other news-gathering functions but it still gets hung up on editorial process, requirements to satisfy a public that wants only certain stories, and other things detracting from the usefulness of journalism.

Three people would be pretty cheap; most of the costs would be towards supporting the field reporter.  The social media team would have to be pretty capable at multiple tasks (manipulating multimedia, scouring social media and networks, making calls and maintaining connections with other journalists), but the costs associated with that are low (besides salary).

I have seen some amazing stuff done by people who aren’t tied down to larger organizations in terms of reporting the news…  And I do think the model would be sustainable, if not profitable.  Most likely it’d start through donations or through a foundation, but I think the efficiencies of the team’s structure and its ability to deliver news would vault it to the top of the food chain in terms of accurate, timely reporting.

The social media team might also be able to handle two other field reporters at most at the same time, thus improving coverage.

The key is to not get laden with constraints that bigger organizations have.

Wrapping Up 2009, Planning 2010

Things I did in 2009 (in no particular order):

  • Ran my first marathon with Dina, Rose, and Dan, in Charlottesville, VA.
  • Earned my Master’s in Foreign Service from Georgetown.
  • Got an awesome job as a social media operations analyst.
  • Started the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process to become a Catholic and Christian.
  • Moved into my first solo apartment.
  • Went to Jamaica and the Bahamas.
  • Went to Future of Web Apps Miami 2009.

What I plan to accomplish in 2010:

  • Become baptized as a Catholic and Christian. (will happen at Easter)
  • Volunteer to help women in need and the homeless.
  • Play the lottery every week (I already know what I want to do but just need the capital).
  • Go to Future of Web Apps Miami 2010. (already booked)
  • Either do a long-desired Great Asia Tour (Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, etc.) or a trip to Ecuador to take a boat out to the Galapagos Islands (as a sort of rite of passage for Galapag.us).  I’ll want company for these trips!

My 2009 Book List

Here’s the list of books I read during 2009.

I finished 49 books in 2009, ahead of my goal of 40.  In 2010 I will attempt 40 books again.

This only captures a sliver of what my eyes have consumed in 2009, since there’s just so much content online these days.  Hopefully at some point we’ll be able to measure every word consumed annually at some point, possibly with neural/optical implants.

The books are rated on a 1-10 scale, with 1 being awful in every respect, 10 being both interesting & readable.  This is very subjective but basically, if a book is a 10, everyone must read it.  If it’s a 7, it brings a good perspective but either isn’t rigorous or is too niche.  If it’s a 5, it was informational but otherwise boring.  Below that?  Avoid!  The list is in chronological order.

You can also read ratings of books I’ve read going back to before 2006 from my Google Spreadsheet.

  • (7) Cluetrain Manifesto (Levine, Locke, Searls, & Weinberger)
  • (5) Heart of Lightness:  The Life Story of an Anthropologist (Edith Turner)
  • (6) Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis (Robert Kennedy)
  • (10) Outliers:  The Story of Success (Malcolm Gladwell)
  • (4) Innovation:  The Missing Dimension (Lester & Piore)
  • (9) The Third Wave:  Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Samuel Huntington)
  • (10) The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac:  Styles, Stats, and Stars in Today’s Game (FreeDarko)
  • (5) Celebrating the Mass:  A Guide for Understanding and Loving the Mass More Deeply (Alfred McBride)
  • (8) The Mystery of Faith:  An Introduction to Catholicism (Michael Himes)
  • (6) The Process:  1,100 Days That Changed the Middle East (Uri Savir)
  • (4) Rules For Revolutionaries: The Capitalist Manifesto for Creating and Marketing New Products and Services (Guy Kawasaki)
  • (6) The World of Goods:  Towards an Anthropology of Consumption (Mary Douglas & Baron Isherwood)
  • (10) The Holy Longing:  The Search for a Christian Spirituality (Ronald Rolheiser)
  • (10) Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life (Richard Florida)
  • (10) The Gamble:  General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (Thomas Ricks)
  • (10) The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Michael Pollan)
  • (10) The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower (Robert Baer)
  • (6) Tribes:  We Need You to Lead (Seth Godin)
  • (4) Roots for Radicals:  Organizing for Power, Action, and Justice (Edward Chambers)
  • (10) The Next 100 Years:  A Forecast for the 21st Century (George Friedman)
  • (4) The Whuffie Factor:  Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business (Tara Hunt)
  • (2) Leading Geeks:  How to Manage and Lead People Who Deliver Technology (Paul Glen)
  • (10) The Wealth of Networks:  How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (Yochai Benkler)
  • (9) The Wisdom of Whores:  Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS (Elizabeth Pisani)
  • (8) Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy (Judy Estrin)
  • (7) Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Theodore Bestor)
  • (10) Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places (Paul Collier)
  • (5) The World is Flat:  A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Tom Friedman)
  • (8) No Logo:  No Space, No Choice, No Jobs (Naomi Klein)
  • (6) New Liberal Arts (Snarkmarket)
  • (8) Marshall McLuhan:  The Medium and the Messenger (Philip Marchand)
  • (5) The Gift:  Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (Lewis Hyde)
  • (5) Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (Jack Donnelly)
  • (8) Free:  The Future of a Radical Price (Chris Anderson)
  • (8) Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein)
  • (9) King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa  (Adam Hochschild)
  • (6) In the Name of Identity:  Violence and the Need to Belong (Amin Malouf)
  • (10) Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World  (Walter Russell Mead)
  • (9) Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (Jon Krakauer)
  • (6) Zelda:  A Biography (Nancy Milford)
  • (5) Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (Neil Howe & William Strauss)
  • (8) Little Brother (Cory Doctorow)
  • (8) A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (Stephen Hawking)
  • (6) Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (Cory Doctorow)
  • (6) Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Sheryl WuDunn & Nicholas Kristof)
  • (7) Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln (John Stauffer)
  • (10) The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy (Bill Simmons)
  • (9) Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (Karen Ho)
  • (7) Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork (Maria Bustillos)

UAVs, Navy, Satellites, Battle Stars

This post, which I want to keep pretty short, feeds off my post on re-orienting national security priorities.

I read a fascinating paper provocatively entitled “How the US Lost the Naval War of 2015” (PDF), by James Kraska.

It takes a look at what is happening now as the US Navy flounders and the Chinese Navy quickly ramps up, and then suggests what might happen if China decided to sink the USS George Washington in 2015.

What fascinates me about this is that US Navy dominance is sort of seen as a given these days, something not worth worrying about, but naval supremacy has always been a significant factor behind any superpower’s reign of world affairs.  The US gladly took over the mantle of naval superiority and its positive externalities for world security after the United Kingdom found it in their best interest to ally with the US.  The Royal Navy’s battleship-style fleet did not transition well into the age of submarines and aircraft carriers.  The loss of the Suez Canal was a significant barrier, as well.

So the US took over after World War 2 and has since controlled the oceans.  This has enabled it to push an era of free trade and open water travel that has made it cheaper to ship resources than even to fly them, so much that the cost is almost negligent.  In terms of protecting capitalism, having the US superpower in control of the oceans has been incredibly successful.

Now the US focuses more on satellite/overhead imagery, and more recently, on asymmetric warfare.  Which has left several gaps in the American strategic security worldview.

The paper suggests that China could destroy a US carrier, which would have a psychological effect on Americans perhaps bigger than a physical effect, although with a Chinese contractor shutting down the Suez for “repairs” and China throwing up other roadblocks, this could delay the US in appropriately responding its massive, yet diffused fleet into the Pacific.  Control of the Pacific would shift as China’s neighbors, by sheer proximity, would be reluctant to move to counter China’s naval aggression.  What would the US be able to do?

It’s a fascinating paper although obviously it only looks at an American military perspective and not all the other factors:  economic, cultural, etc.

But it also makes me wonder why the US is so focused on a small group of jihadists when there are bigger fish to fry for continued American dominance.

1) It is in the US interest to ensure continued and unfettered control of the oceans, to ensure open trade, safe shipping lines, and access to necessary strategic hold-points like Guam, Hawai’i, Okinawa, Europe, and other navy bases.

Robert Kaplan is associated with the neo-cons but he is an excellent security historian.  What he says about US naval moves against China is that we should focus on building our presence so enmeshed with Pacific interests that China will be more inclined to ally with us than to try to displace us.  This is a strategy akin to the UK realizing it had to partner with the US after WW2, and akin to the argument that alienating Japan before WW2 would push them to attack the US for control of the Pacific.

Some quotes:

“None of this will change our need for basing rights in the Pacific, of course. The more access to bases we have, the more flexibility we’ll have—to support unmanned flights, to allow aerial refueling, and perhaps most important, to force the Chinese military to concentrate on a host of problems rather than just a few. Never provide your adversary with only a few problems to solve (finding and hitting a carrier, for example), because if you do, he’ll solve them.

“Andersen Air Force Base, on Guam’s northern tip, rep- resents the future of U.S. strategy in the Pacific. It is the most potent platform anywhere in the world for the projection of American military power. Landing there recently in a military aircraft, I beheld long lines of B-52 bombers, C-17 Globemasters, F/A-18 Hornets, and E-2 Hawkeye surveillance planes, among others. Andersen’s 10,000-foot runways can handle any plane in the Air Force’s arsenal, and could accommodate the space shuttle should it need to make an emergency landing. The sprawl of runways and taxiways is so vast that when I arrived, I barely noticed a carrier air wing from the USS Kitty Hawk, which was making live practice bombing runs that it could not make from its home port in Japan. I saw a truck filled with cruise missiles on one of the runways. No other Air Force base in the Pacific stores as much weaponry as Andersen: some 100,000 bombs and missiles at any one time. Andersen also stores 66 million gallons of jet fuel, making it the Air Force’s biggest strategic gas-and-go in the world.

“Guam, which is also home to a submarine squadron and an expanding naval base, is significant because of its location. From the island an Air Force equivalent of a Marine or Army division can cover almost all of PACOM’s area of responsibility. Flying to North Korea from the West Coast of the United States takes thirteen hours; from Guam it takes four.

“”This is not like Okinawa,” Major General Dennis Larsen, the Air Force commander there at the time of my visit, told me. “This is American soil in the midst of the Pacific. Guam is a U.S. territory.” The United States can do anything it wants here, and make huge investments without fear of being thrown out. Indeed, what struck me about Andersen was how great the space was for expansion to the south and west of the current perimeters. Hundreds of millions of dollars of construction funds were being allocated. This little island, close to China, has the potential to become the hub in the wheel of a new, worldwide constellation of bases that will move the locus of U.S. power from Europe to Asia. In the event of a conflict with Taiwan, if we had a carrier battle group at Guam we would force the Chinese either to attack it in port—thereby launching an assault on sovereign U.S. territory, and instantly becoming the aggressor in the eyes of the world—or to let it sail, in which case the carrier group could arrive off the coast of Taiwan only two days later.

“During the Cold War the Navy had a specific infrastructure for a specific threat: war with the Soviet Union. But now the threat is multiple and uncertain: we need to be prepared at any time to fight, say, a conventional war against North Korea or an unconventional counterinsurgency battle against a Chinese-backed rogue island-state. This requires a more agile Navy presence on the island, which in turn means outsourcing services to the civilian community on Guam so that the Navy can concentrate on military matters. One Navy captain I met with had grown up all over the Pacific Rim. He told me of the Navy’s plans to expand the waterfront, build more bachelors’ quarters, and harden the electrical-power system by putting it underground. “The fact that we have lots of space today is meaningless,” he said. “The question is, How would we handle the surge requirement necessitated by a full-scale war?”

“There could be a problem with all of this. By making Guam a Hawaii of the western Pacific, we make life simple for the Chinese, because we give them just one problem to solve: how to threaten or intimidate Guam. The way to counter them will be not by concentration but by dispersion. So how will we prevent Guam from becoming too big?

“In a number of ways. We may build up Palau, an archipelago of 20,000 inhabitants between Mindanao, in the Philippines, and the Federated States of Micronesia, whose financial aid is contingent on a defense agreement with us. We will keep up our bases in Central Asia, close to western China—among them Karshi-Khanabad, in Uzbekistan, and Manas, in Kyrgyzstan, which were developed and expanded for the invasion of Afghanistan. And we will establish what are known as cooperative security locations.

“A cooperative security location can be a tucked-away corner of a host country’s civilian airport, or a dirt runway somewhere with fuel and mechanical help nearby, or a military airport in a friendly country with which we have no formal basing agreement but, rather, an informal arrangement with private contractors acting as go-betweens. Because the CSL concept is built on subtle relationships, it’s where the war-fighting ability of the Pentagon and the diplomacy of the State Department coincide—or should. The problem with big bases in, say, Turkey—as we learned on the eve of the invasion of Iraq—is that they are an intrusive, intimidating symbol of American power, and the only power left to a host country is the power to deny us use of such bases. In the future, therefore, we will want unobtrusive bases that benefit the host country much more obviously than they benefit us. Allowing us the use of such a base would ramp up power for a country rather than humiliating it.

“I have visited a number of CSLs in East Africa and Asia. Here is how they work. The United States provides aid to upgrade maintenance facilities, thereby helping the host country to better project its own air and naval power in the region. At the same time, we hold periodic exercises with the host country’s military, in which the base is a focus. We also offer humanitarian help to the surrounding area. Such civil-affairs projects garner positive publicity for our military in the local media—and they long preceded the response to the tsunami, which marked the first time that many in the world media paid attention to the humanitarian work done all over the world, all the time, by the U.S. military. The result is a positive diplomatic context for getting the host country’s approval for use of the base when and if we need it.

“The first part of the twenty-first century will be not nearly as stable as the second half of the twentieth, because the world will be not nearly as bipolar as it was during the Cold War. The fight between Beijing and Washington over the Pacific will not dominate all of world politics, but it will be the most important of several regional struggles. Yet it will be the organizing focus for the U.S. defense posture abroad. If we are smart, this should lead us back into concert with Europe. No matter how successfully our military adapts to the rise of China, it is clear that our current dominance in the Pacific will not last. The Asia expert Mark Helprin has argued that while we pursue our democratization efforts in the Middle East, increasingly befriending only those states whose internal systems resemble our own, China is poised to reap the substantial benefits of pursuing its interests amorally—what the United States did during the Cold War. The Chinese surely hope, for example, that our chilly attitude toward the brutal Uzbek dictator, Islam Karimov, becomes even chillier; this would open up the possibility of more pipeline and other deals with him, and might persuade him to deny us use of the air base at Karshi-Khanabad. Were Karimov to be toppled in an uprising like the one in Kyrgyzstan, we would immediately have to stabilize the new regime or risk losing sections of the country to Chinese influence.”

2) To reinforce naval supremacy will require control of the skies and space.  Orbital satellites provide significant communications for all American forces and commercial interests, and a satellite war would cripple American capabilities.

3) Protecting satellites and increasing outer space security will require something akin to George Friedman’s (CEO of STRATFOR) battle stars (read “The Next 100 Years”), large manned orbital stations that provide armaments and increased surveillance for protecting satellites, providing imagery and comms to the ground, and even shooting down rockets, planes, or attacking ground targets.  Friedman suggests 3 battle stars could be required, orbiting continually in line with the earth’s orbit to always provide overhead support in certain regions.

Says John Reilly in a fair review (read the rest) of George Friedman’s book:

“The section on the Third World War allows the author to wax techno-thrillerish on the matter of mid-21st- century weaponry. We learn a great deal about hypersonic weapons and their ability to blow up unsatisfactory objects anywhere on Earth in a matter of minutes. He has plainly thought a great deal about the military applications of space which, again, he views as an extension of Mahan’s strategy of controlling the world’s trade routes. We get a description of geosynchronous Battle Star observation-and-command stations. (He adopts the term “Battle Star,” without noting the implications of that term for his optimistic view of the military and civilian applications of robots of all kinds.) We also get an excursion to bases on the Moon that sounds not altogether unlike Robert Heinlein’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.””

4) UAVs will continue to improve in sophistication and lethality, and are already providing extra eyes for American border security (see San Diego), Afghanistan/Pakistan targets, and eventually everywhere.  They are rapidly getting improved optics, more dangerous armaments, higher altitudes, and more time overhead (like these UAVs that can hover instead of do racetracks).  UAVs will probably be complementing increasingly robotic android armies, taking humans off the front lines to be replaced with dispensable robots to do war-fighting and perimeter security.

These seem like very far-off strategic priorities but these must be driven by intentional funding, innovative projects, and understanding by the citizenry of their importance.  I am far more in favor of continued intelligence dominance by the US than I am of attempting to do neo-colonial counter-insurgency and nation-building abroad, when domestic security and international respect for governments would suffice in building networks against terrorist plots.

There are plenty of other questions, too, such as whether it would be bad for China to compete with us or take over the seas.  Or what the impact would be of increased naval presence in the Pacific (see below the long comment about Guam).  Or whether alternatives are viable (building floating bases instead of using land).  I’d like to see more discussion on all of that below, if you could take the time.

HBO's Hard Knocks

HD NFL football on a big screen is amazing, and far more exciting than being at the actual game.  But the most interesting thing about football for me is the anthropology behind it, and this aspect is best documented in HBO’s annual mini-series, Hard Knocks:  Training Camp.  It’s a 5ish episode-long series that covers a different NFL team every pre-season training camp; this year they covered the Cincinnati Bengals, last year they covered the Dallas Cowboys.

I don’t talk about television much, but if I see some niche show that doesn’t get play or explanation, then I’ll get curious and write about it, like I did with the Japanese show VIKING:  The Ultimate Obstacle Course Challenge, whose genre has now grown into the Ultimate Ninja Warrior etc. shows you see on G4TV (right now there’s a series for picking the next UNW from the US).

The Hard Knocks annual series is short, but it shows rookies, veterans, and superstars as they prepare to leave for camp, as they get acclimated to the daily grind of training, and as they fight through scrimmages and become a team.  In it you see glimpses of the goofing off, the strange vocabulary used to describe different plays (that players must be able to recall within seconds or else they’ll get burned on the play), the hazing of rookies, the disparity of treatment of rookies and superstars, and the lives of kids barely out of high school thrusted into the limelight with million dollar salaries.

I started watching during the first season Hard Knocks aired (2001) when they covered the Ravens; the best moments were when Tony Siragusa, a veteran, locked the rookies in a trailer, and when they showed Shannon Sharpe’s (veteran) ridiculously tenacious training regimen.

The Cowboys series had this gem, when Roy Williams makes fun of Terrell Owens running on the beach:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5672666600082232557#

The Bengals episodes also document the “Oklahoma drill”, a football drill that pits linemen against each other in a brief, explosive brawl:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EALUebUCZe0

This year’s Bengals season shows Chad Ochocinco, a great showman, dealing with a capricious NFL that curbs Twitter and Ustream, the two sites he uses to reach out and interact with his fans directly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-AceNYXYok

This is where it gets frustrating.  The NFL is doing this, while the NBA is doing things like fining rookie Brandon Jennings for twittering.  Needless to say (and from my own experiences getting in trouble for blogging/using social media), big organizations still don’t understand how their customers prefer to enjoy the experience they create.

Social media is one thing, but what’s inexcusable in the case of Hard Knocks is that HBO and the NFL don’t even make the Hard Knocks series available on DVD or online, once the episodes have aired on HBO and the NFL Network!  In other words, if I wanted to purchase Hard Knocks or rent it, I wouldn’t be able to unless I caught it on TV.  Sort of a live performance type of experience.

This makes no sense.  It makes me ask one of my personal “Rules of Running Successful Business” questions:  I want to give you money!  Why are you making it so hard for me to give you money?

The Wikipedia page of course has more info on it than the actual site.  And it’s likely that even the YouTube videos I post here will stop working once HBO or the NFL catches wind of them.  Why do companies do this?  Why do they need to control distribution even at the threat of losing their own word of mouth force multiplier?  How can they make money with such bad operating practices?

It’s really a shame, because the NFL is sitting on a massive goldmine with letting people see behind the gridiron and into the business, training, and raising of NFL athletes and organizations.  Hard Knocks is just a little taste of what the NFL is really like, and what we end up seeing every weekend is just a facade; in fact it took the recent policy shift from the NFL on treating NFL players’ concussions with more gravity to show that the game is less like a video game with faceless players and more of one where kids start off playing peewee football, train their entire school careers, and then cash in in the NFL, only to become feebled old hobbling elderly men.

Hard Knocks shows the humanity of the game, and I’d argue the NFL could use more of it.

A Thought on Masculinity

Some of my old classmates from Georgetown met up to discuss Nick Kristof’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide”, a couple weeks ago.  Most of the group was women, but among international development folks, there’s definitely a tribe of guys who are male feminists.

That is to say that we are men but believe that educating girls and having more of an equal balance of men and women in society and politics will by causation improve conditions for society’s well-being as a whole.

Singles Map, from Richard Florida's "Who's Your City?" http://creativeclass.com/whos_your_city/maps/#The_Singles_Map

I live in DC, the city with the highest proportion of highly-educated (and single) women in the country.  More girls are in school than boys now, and they are out-performing the boys.  What does this mean in the long run, if women are selecting the most fit mate?

And that introduces the Fight Club problem of future masculinity.  What qualities will be desired in a man?  Not too long ago, men derived their pride from fighting and being the bread-winners.  Now that many families combine two salaries, war is an undesired quality, and sports is an option only for the few, where will men go?  Will they have to re-commit to education and improve as well?

How long can men coast through life being more aggressive, stronger, and louder than women?  I would agree that men and boys get their way just through sheer force of nature much of the time, but in a world of equal gender proportions, how will this change?

Women are able to give birth, and are natural nurturers and protectors of societal fabric.  What do men bring?

Perhaps the future man will be fighting still, but instead for universal rights, for equal rights, for the diffusing of power.  Today’s programmers may become those who bring transparency and accountability to those who would rather have no part in it.  Today’s warriors may become tomorrow’s pacifists, who seek diplomacy and providing space for tomorrow’s tribes to be able to have their own identities.

And there’s always honor.  I always think of Gangs of New York, that much-panned Martin Scorsese movie about “natives” fighting immigrant Europeans for the five points of New York.  In it, Bill the Butcher (Daniel Day Lewis) fights Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) and slays him.  But Bill, as evil a villain as he is, later remembers his nemesis by saying, “I killed the last honorable man 15 years ago.”  “He was the only man I ever killed worth remembering.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aY2tbeP_K1M

He also expounded, “We hold in our hearts the memory of our fallen brothers whose blood stains the very streets we walk today. Also on this night we pay tribute to the leader of our enemies, an honorable man, who crossed over bravely, fighting for what he believed in. To defeat my enemy, I extinguish his life, and consume him as I consume these flames. In honor of Priest Vallon.”

Marine Staff Sergeant John Jones (see http://www.hbo.com/aliveday/bios/jones.html)

That is, even though they were enemies, at least Vallon was a man of principle and honor, and that was noble enough even for Bill to recognize.

And now we send another 30,000+ (mostly male) soldiers to Afghanistan, who’ve been fighting wars for almost a decade, to get maimed or killed.  That hidden class of warriors, who participate in almost a shunned profession, will bear permanent scars of a machismo past, unable to hide missing limbs and large burns on their bodies.

I hope that a noble place is found for them, and for all men.

Wall Street & Trading

I just finished Karen Ho’s “Liquidated:  An Ethnography of Wall Street”.  It tied together various experiences I had daytrading from 1998-2002 and 2006-2007 and the recruitment sessions that big banks and consulting companies would have for Georgetown Master’s students.

Some things the book helped to confirm:

1) Time differentials.  Wall Street works very often 100-120 hours a week.  This doubles the minimum hours worked by corporate America.  So that affects time scales; Wall Street is constantly trying to create profit through liquidity and exchange and deals.  Corporate America works on a much slower timeline, to create products or services.  It is a more human scale.  Wall Street works not for salary but for bonuses, which are created through quantity and size of deals.  It doesn’t get compensated for long-term corporate success.

2) A large number of students from Ivy League Plus schools chase the money into finance.  They get paid a fortune if they can cut it.  But the net loss is to society — these brilliant minds do not seem to be employing their money back into philanthropic pursuits, ambitious programs, or bettering the world.  The money is put into unsustainable, wasteful lifestyles which the east coast thrives off of. (read the Washington Post’s article about Rhodes Scholars herding into finance)

3) CEOs and executives care about “shareholder value” and the stock price, but these things are no longer linked to the internal health or long-term success of a firm.  It is corporate raiding.

4) Wall Street is transferring wealth away from those who create it, by facilitating “deals” which leak commissions to the banks.  How many deals have you seen executed by public companies lately which actually make any sense?  Remember AOL and Time Warner?  That was the pinnacle.

5) Wall Street wasn’t destroyed in 2007 — it did what it always does; quickly it reinvented itself, laid people off, and adapted.  No other sector is able to reconstitute itself so quickly. It does this by pursuing talent at any cost.  It recruits the best, unattached minds in the nation from the top universities, and promotes a cult of personality of “smartness” — you will be among the best people if you go to work on Wall Street.  I saw the degree to which Wall Street pursues talent; one of my classmates at Georgetown had a standing job offer even throughout the 2007-2008 financial crisis!

6) Downsizing is good to Wall Street. If a company lays off workers, this means the company is reducing its overhead.  Wall Street does not care about Main Street.  It pulls from the elite, and the job does not care about how Main Street is doing or whether workers are suffering.  Wall Street enjoys higher unemployment as long as productivity increases and costs are reduced — and as Professor Ho points out, this job insecurity mirrors what Wall Street is constantly under the threat of.

7) Even within Wall Street, there is segregation. Cost center people, like support staff, take different elevators within buildings than the people who make the profits for the banks.

8) Investing in the stock market is a sucker’s game.  Owning stock in a company is not worthwhile, because common stock is so diluted that it doesn’t constitute any sort of ownership in the firm (and Professor Ho points out it never did).  The stock market is its own entity and should be treated as a quick trading vehicle:  volatility and liquidity are the only things that matter.

9) Neo-liberal economic theory permeates Wall Street, but it is unsustainable for most people.  While Wall Street is made up of the best and brightest who easily transition from job to job, Main Street would not be able to withstand this “creative destruction”.

This is a sobering book, but also a fascinating move for anthropology:  I think most people associate anthropology with studying small, backwards, tribal groups.  But this studies incredibly modern, adaptive Wall Street tribes.

As a citizen I’m deeply concerned about how easily the finance sector controls what happens in this country, and even President Obama has succumbed to a lot of the banks’ demands.  What’s worst is that finance is intellectual magic to create new ideas and derivatives and “products” while the actual economic base of development in the US has taken a back seat.  How long can that last, with our greatest minds essentially creating nothing but instability, instead of new technologies, theories, and breakthroughs?

Dreams of the Future

What do I hope to accomplish within my lifetime?

Keeping the American Dream in Perspective

The American Dream is an incredibly alluring concept.  It resonates with me because my parents came from England to work and start a family back in the 60’s, and have done well for themselves.  They were not leaving a horrible situation in England, but I imagine they smelled opportunity.

This whiff of opportunity inspires new generations to come to the US, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned just how many obstacles to progress there still are here.  The civil rights movement was a brief generation or two ago, I have to keep reminding myself.  Cosmopolitanism and multiethnic communities are still not feasible for most, and views on immigration are muddled and confused.

The idea that you can come to the US with nothing except the clothes on your back and then build a life for yourself is still more true here than anywhere else. But the pursuit of the Dream comes now at greater cost:  the protection of the ideal of a middle class is being chipped away, while the desire for unfettered capitalism is powerful.  In other words, you have to want to get rich or die tryin’.  The safety net underneath taking risks and undertaking entrepreneurship is no longer so safe.

I love capitalism.  I love open, competitive markets.  I would love to duke it out as a business fighting competitors.  I love maximizing profit.  However, I also know that not everyone is an entrepreneur, not everyone can or wants to slug it out every day.

And it’s not enough to just get rich and then retire off to buy big boats and go to the best parties.

The idea of the American Dream is not complete until it includes the responsibility to plow philanthropic projects back into the country.  The biggest robber-barons, capitalists, and monopolists of our history, like the Kennedys, Morgans, Rockefellers, Carnegies, Gateses, Vanderbilts, Waltons, and Buffetts turned their money into philanthropic juggernauts.

No one does private philanthropy like the US has.  We look beyond ourselves, towards ideals and virtues, using wealth to create what would be impossible without that wealth.  We take on human-changing projects and change the course of history…for the better.  Who else can claim to have this in their genes?

Combine this with a theory of mine:  there’s plenty of money and food and resources in the world.  Those are not issues.  What are the central issues now are power, injustice, corruption, and tribal affiliation. These factors restrict which people have access to all that money and food, in order to get and maintain influence.

Human Capital

The underlying sense of my beliefs is becoming more strongly linked to building human capital.  Some of my fellow Georgetown MSFS grads who studied international development met up to discuss Sheryl WuDunn’s and Nick Kristof’s “Half the Sky”, a book about female empowerment and girls’ education.

In my studies I never really thought much of most development projects, which seem like dei ex machina, disregarding lifetimes of habits and traditions for the sake of Western scientific rationalism (which is not always correct and certainly isn’t embraced universally).  But bottom-up microfinance and whatnot also seemed to be like pushing a Sisyphean rock up a hill.

What I’ve come to believe is that children’s education should be viewed as a force multiplier.  Universal human rights should be viewed as a force multiplier.  Look at it this way:  if you were to spend all your money solely on 5 girls to go from birth to graduating college, making sure they received proper diets, health screenings, and education, then they may not choose to go on and use their educations.  They may even choose to just get married and have kids.  But that education is impossible to ignore:  they will raise their children better, and will probably send them on to school.  They might be so compelled by their educations that they seek to better their situations through social entrepreneurship.  At the least, it won’t just be them that’s affected.  At best, they will steer their children, demand more suitable conditions for a husband and community, and undertake more community roles.

Everyone is unique, surely, and they must be allowed to go off in the directions that they were given the talent and interest for.  Shoehorning women into jobs isn’t sustainable, but having them go to school will allow them to make more informed decisions.

With that, here’s what I intend to do with the rest of my life.

1) Found Galapag.us. This is of course the key, since it will be subsidizing everything else.  Add in tricky twists like my needing to maintain another job until Galapag.us takes off, and my not wanting to cash out on my personal baby project.  But I do think Galapag.us as a new measurement and identity/reputation system has the potential to disrupt a lot of different sectors, while bringing back human traditions.  So that should be bank…if not directly then indirectly through building a public good!

2) Get Married, Have Kids. I mean, otherwise, what’s the point?  I believe in the security and strength of having an equal companion to rely on, and raising kids has to be the greatest educational lesson one could ever receive.

3) Build a New School. I was watching Andre Agassi’s interview on 60 Minutes.  He reveals that his father thought his education was a waste of time, and he preferred that Andre would go practice tennis instead.  Andre was a meal ticket, and he loathed tennis for it.  Later he would bottom out, CHOOSE to play tennis, and become a great player because he found the love.  What really made the story, though, was hearing that Andre had created a school in Las Vegas to give selected students the education he never had, as long as they and their parents swore to go to college afterwards.  Andre just had his first graduating class, and ALL the kids were going on to college.

How can you measure the social good of that?

4) Subsidize Co-Working Locations and Up-and-Comers. For me, raising capital isn’t the main barrier to starting a project.  It’s finding enough incentive to not just get a normal job that provides stability.  So provide consummate hard-workers and creative types with a competitive salary ($70k-ish) so they can work on their projects without the stigma of not actually having any income.  As for the social environment that work provides, a co-working area with other alpha-dog social entrepreneurs with common, open offices that allow for collaboration, sharing, and resources to build businesses or work on “20%” ideas.  Certain people will always work hard and try to create things; they just need security and stability in order to feel safe enough to reach higher.  Web folks championed this idea; see Citizen Space in San Francisco.

5) Philanthropic Contribution to American Education, Health. I’ve long had a dream of giving away money to developmental projects.  Studied the damn subject in grad school.  And nothing seems to be more of a force multiplier than education, particularly girls’ education.  And nothing seems more measurable in developmental work than disease vaccinations, hygiene, and nutrition.  Final point:  I don’t know any country as well as I know my own, and there is a LOT of poverty, illiteracy, and other scarcities of human capital to address.  So my developmental work would focus on the United States. Similar to what Bill Gates is doing up in Seattle for their schools.

6) Open a Digitized Restaurant. I would like to build a ChurchKey-like dark-woodish comfort food bar that is built from the ground up around digital technology.  Touchscreens at every table and at the bar for ordering, having seamless order processing and check-out ease for large groups.  A strong, embracing neighborhood presence with approachable comfort food items.  Suggested:  a damn good burger, gourmet PB&J, smoothies.

7) Own an NBA Basketball Team with My Buddy Chris. Surely the most selfish thing on the list.  It’s an idea we’ve been throwing around for a while.  I guess my angle is that basketball is full of some pretty insipid business people who seem to run franchises into the ground, so why not give it a shot?  Hell, there’s so many things I’ve always wanted at a game that you’ll NEVER see because owners are all pretty conservative…  Read Bill Simmons’s “Welcome to the No Benjamins Association”.

8) Contribute Legal Fees for Key Cases. It seems true that the scales of justice are easily tipped by enough money and lawyers.  For a mega millionaire, throwing a million dollars’ worth in legal fees towards a significant intellectual property or civil rights case seems justified, and keeps your dogs in the fight, instead of letting justice fail just because a sole voice of dissent can’t afford the financial bullying cost (i.e. SourceWatch, “Goliath and David:  Monsanto’s Legal Battles Against Farmers”).

See this propaganda, by the way:  Monsanto, MPAA.

So yeah, there you have it.  That’s what I’ll be up to.  Of course, it won’t turn out this way — you can’t predict anything — but these are my dreams.