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Let's Rein In the American Taliban

I lived in the Philippines during the height of Marcos' power, including the years where he ruled the country with the power of the military instead of the power of the people.  It is true that he did not need martial law to cause his political opponents to disappear, he had been doing that for years already, but he did need it to exceed the term limits imposed by the constitution.

It is interesting to note that the main justification for his declaration of martial law (1972-1981) was the communist rebels in the southern part of the country.  Leaders wishing to implement desperate measures manage to create desperate times for justification and communism was the villain we feared the most then.  Even though we were aware of Maros' tactics, and knew they conflicted with our values, Marcos was supported by the US government.

In 1987, U2 and Amnesty International collaborated to bring attention to the plight of the citizens of many central and south American nations who's life and liberty were under threat from lawless dictators.  The campaign honored the Mothers of the Disappeared, and was critical of the way the US government supported dictators in countries including Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, and Nicaragua that had turned on their own citizens - taking them away in the night to a fate of torture and death.  No one knows the number, but is likely that these dictators captured and killed thousands of people they did not like -- all with the endorsement of the US government, and all without basic legal process.

Today the New York Times reported that in September 2011 we joined those dictators as a country where our president kills citizens he does not like without due process.  

For what was apparently the first time since the Civil War, the United States government had carried out the deliberate killing of an American citizen as a wartime enemy and without a trial.

I fear that this article is the best possible spin we can put on our actions.  Even with the ugliest parts papered over and painted in bright friendly colors, it is a frightening story that we all hope is not the start of our descent into the horrors of Marcos and Pinochet.  

Also in the NY Times today is an editorial calling for the repeal of the military force law.  This law, passed right after 9/11 makes it easier for our president to do the things we do not believe in.  We must repeal this law and make it harder for our president to kill our citizens.

Journalist Jeremy Scahill has been working to expose these actions for several years now and just released his documentary Dirty Wars at Sundance this year.  I was lucky enough to see it and I recommend it highly.  The movie chronicles the work of Scahill and by the time the credits rolled, all of us at the screening were quite fearful that our government would kill him next.  Very scary stuff indeed.  Here is a review of the movie in The Guardian.  Dirty Wars does a very good job of investigating and documenting the work of the "American Taliban"; bearded US Special Forces teams that dispatch people on kill lists with very little regard for collateral damage.  

It was an incident in Gardez, Afghanistan that got Scahill started on the trail of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the terrifying nighttime raiders in the direct control of the White House.

 In Gardez, they interviewed survivors of that violent raid on the night of 12 February 2010. After watching his brother and his wife, his sister and his niece killed by US special forces, Mohammed Sabir was handcuffed on the ground. He watched, helpless, as the US soldiers dug the bullets out of his wife's corpse with a knife. 

The most frightening part of the movie is an interview with a member of the American Taliban (JSOC) where he says that "we have built a hell of a hammer and are out looking for nails".  Even with the scrambled face and voice it is a credible warning from within our military that the ever expanding kill lists are out of control.  We started with a kill list of 7 people right after 9/11, by the time we invaded Iraq the kill list was the 55 people on the deck of cards (I am guessing this is 52 cards, 2 jokers, and Sadam), and now the list numbers over 3,000 -- with some unknown number of Americans included.  

Have we become like those dictators we supported in the 70s and 80s who used fear to justify desperate measures?  Even though I was only ten years old at the time, I remember talking to a Filipino employee of my dad's church about the men that would appear in the middle of the night and take people away.  Marcos used the fear of communist rebels to justify many terrible human rights offenses.  Now, 40 years later, the rebels in the south are not called communists anymore but members of an Islamist group called al Queda -- the very people we are the most afraid of.  Fortunately, the Filipino people overthrew Marcos in 1986 with the people power revolution.  They have not let their leaders use fear to compromise their values and as a result their citizens are safe at night.  

I would like to be safe a night too, so let's rein in the American Taliban.  


More Drinks and Less Advertisements Please

I like movies.  All kinds.  I like watching them and talking about them and recently I have gotten into documentaries, but that is another story.  

On this the day of the Oscars however, I am thinking about how much worse the experience of actually going to the movies has gotten.  One would think that in the face of increased competition the movie studios and theaters would try harder to attract customers.  Instead they have come to the conclusion that I am going to sit there and watch half an hour of crap before the movie starts.  I don't know about other people, but I don't respond well to being force fed advertisements while strapped into an airplane seat, but have you ridden the train lately?

I don't respond well to the previews that cannot be turned off on DVDs either.  And when the movie on Netflix just starts -- without advertisements or previews -- I get a warm feeling of calm and satisfaction.

Yes we have more options than ever before and no, the movie studios are not giving me any compelling reason to go to the theater.  My house being a mess and my wanting to get out of it and go to a movie does not count as something the movie studios has done to be more competitive -- but if you give me a minute I bet I can come up with a reason my messiness is their fault.

There is one exception however.  Just about every big city now has a handful of theaters that have comfortable chairs, serve food and drinks, and charge a fortune -- but they have reserved seating, so you can hang out at the bar right up to the start of the actual movie.  That way if they are silly enough to try to force advertisements on you, there is an escape.  I really hope this trend continues and the number of movies available at this kind of theater goes up.  

Oh, and one more thing, there is a scene in Argo where the army guy at the airport picks up the phone and just dials Hollywood from Iran -- in 1979!  Come on, really!


Getting Organized for 2013

So February ends next week, making the year 1/6th over.  No time like the present to get organized for the year!  So I have changed the look and feel of this website and am putting some structure to the writing that I do.  

Here is a directory to the places that I will be posting things starting in 2013:

  • CSG Channels:  I run a company that offers marketing services to technology companies.  Accordingly, most of the posts on the website have been tagged "Technology Marketing".  In 2013 you will find most of my thoughts about our services on the CSG Channels Blog.
  • New Trade Routes:  This year I started New Trade Routes to explore three focus areas including Integrated Systems, Virtual Currencies, and Vendor Relationship Managment.
  • New Trade Routes Foundation:  NTR is going to have a foundation and I am going to post most of my thinking about philanthropy there.
  • IN-Justice American Style: I find that these days just about everything I do somehow involves lawyers and our legal system.  So I am starting a new section of my web site called Injustice American Style -- where I will post thoughts about legal things.
  • My Blog: And in fact my blog will still get posts about all of the other things I write about including books, movies, politics, economics, sailing, boating and all kinds of other ramblings.

For 2012 and before you will have to wade through the jumbled mess of the blog on this site.


New Trade Routes Launched

I have been working for the past few months to create a new vehicle through which I can do the things I like to do most.  These include helping companies sell more stuff, and helping the universe by trying to make a difference.

You can read all about it here at New Trade Routes.

I still have my day job running CSG Channels, and this new project is complimentary to the work that I do there.  

New Trade Routes will enable me to be more focused in my philanthropy, and establish a way for me to do things that are not perfectly aligned with the work we do at CSG -- like helping start ups for example.

Please check it out and let me know if you have any questions.


IBM Gets It

It seems that just about every week I see something that reinforces how IBM is way out front in the customer centric-ness of big data.  Here is a great video they posted on YouTube showing what they are talking about when they say Smarter Marketing:

If you want a bit more of the IBM Smarter Marketing juice, they have a whole bunch of great content on this web site:IBM Smarter Planet: Marketing


Servants to the Old Stuff

I was recently fortunate to visit a beautiful log cabin on the Olympic peninsula.  The 100 year old structure was a great place to hide out in a nasty winter storm, and I can only imagine how much more safe it would have seemed before cars and cell phones.  While talking with the owners I was reminded of how owners of old stuff are both masters of and servants to their passion.  Masters in the sense that their name is on the title, servants in the sense that they are entrusted to preserve it for the next generation. 

So I asked them how often guests offer to buy the place and I was not surprised to learn that there has not been a single offer in over a decade.  I was not surprised because I have experienced the same thing with the Maris Pearl.  People come on board and marvel at the 68 year old machinery, and the extent to which we as its caretakers go to preserve it for the next generation.  Not a single person has ever suggested that they would like to be next in line for the responsibility.

When I tell people that old tugs are not hard to find or buy, no one ever takes the bait.  Here is a sistership of the Maris Pearl that is currently for sale in San Francisco.


Moats Walls and Protection Money

Castles had moats and walls to protect themselves from attacking enemies.  In the times of castles, precious resources were diverted from more productive uses for the building of these defenses because without them there was no point acquiring property when the bad guys could just come in and take it.  As the rule of law advanced, the need for the walls and moats decreased and eventually disappeared.   Resources were still diverted from productive uses because the rule of law was provided by the state and the state levied taxes to pay for defense.  Once the walls and the moats were extended to the borders of the state, the governance of the state became the biggest threat to property rights.  A successful state could stop the marauders at the border, but another citizen could get the blessing of the government to acquire property.  This could be on a small scale: thugs paying off the police to look the other way, or on a larger scale: Goldman Sachs draining the treasury for its own benefit.

Some communities have their own way of protecting property as we saw in The Godfather.  Once again the property owner had to divert resources (pay) for protection instead of more productive uses.  Even though the thought of the mafia seems like something quaint from the past, the dynamic is alive and well today.  Instead of tommy guns however, the current set of bandits wear suits and carry briefcases full of insurance policies and law suits.  And just as the mob mostly protected itself while putting on a good show of protecting its friends, lawyers and insurance companies protect themselves while pretending to protect their clients. 

Even though we like to think that we are safer today than back in the times of the castles, the murderous hoard is just as menacing today and the state is just as ill equipped to protect its citizens.  Having thought a fair amount about this kind of thing lately, I have come up with three potential strategies for our current times:

1)      Have Nothing to Protect:  I think this is the best strategy.  I do believe that people with nothing or very little to protect are the happiest.  In addition to the obvious negativity associated with time and energy spent on your defenses, it can be difficult to know who to trust. 

2)      Security Through Obscurity:  Just like guy said on the fishing trip about the attacking bear:  “I don’t have to outrun the bear, just my buddies!”  Applied to protecting property, the goal is to be a less attractive target than those around you.  This has one obvious weakness.  If you are attacked – you are pretty much dead.

3)      Become a Lawyer or Insurance Person:  If you can’t beat them… join ‘em.  If you are going to have property to protect, this is really the only way to do it.  It does have karmic consequences that could bring you back as a weasel or worse next time – so consider the consequences before going through door number 3.

Maybe that thing about the meek is right.  Just putting food on the table, a roof overhead, spending time with your family, and having friends you can trust – is riches enough.


Three Big Data Articles today

There are several good articles in the NY Times Sunday Business section today that serve to illustrate the coming world of Big Data.  

30% of customers opt in to driver monitoring.  This is Facebook meets car insurance.  I am amazed that this many people willingly subject themselves to this kind of monitoring.  Here is my post about how insurance companies have detached themselves from the basic concept of insurance.  In short, insurance companies are increasingly able to exit the insurance business.  They have always wanted to collect premiums, and not pay claims --- now they can do it.

Building snow skis from skier's DNA.  For $1,750 you can get custom skis made to your skiing DNA (not your biological DNA thank goodness).  It would be very interesting to know how unique the 1,000 pairs of skis this guy made last year are.  I would not be surprised if they all boil down to a dozen or less basic designs.  This kind of short run (run of 1 in this case) manufacturing brings to light IP that is actually protectable - the design process and the distribution of actual designs.  Very interesting.

Dr. Langer's Lab at MIT succeeds at tech transfer.  This one is a bit more of a stretch, but any new medical product involves a mountain of testing data and data proficiency and the cross over from one product to the next is indeed changing very fast due to better data management techniques.

Happy reading.


Good for Ford, Bad for Microsoft

When the rental car web site says Ford Taurus or equivalent I just groan.  Anyone who has done any traveling at all knows the feeling.  Just as fun as finding out your hotel room is next to the elevator winch room, or that your toothpaste blew up in your bag.  

Ford has been making a big push into the tech business.  Advertising on all of the geek sites and pulling out all of the stops at CES.  The revival of the Mustang has been well executed too.  I have rented a few Mustang convertibles while on vacation and really loved them.

Getting your product in front of potential new customers in a real life trial is risky because it produces both potential new customers but if the product is not well matched to the customer, it can easily eliminate potential customers.

In the last two weeks I have been dealt the Taurus card twice and I have to say they have been great.  What a surprise!  Stylish, well put together, and fun to drive.  The rental introduction certainly worked for me with Ford.

Not so lucky with Microsoft and Sync.  I was eager to try out Sync and it is a disaster.  I got it to connect to my phone by bluetooth, but it would sometimes work and other times not work.  The user interface is not intuitive and any of the voice activation stuff will require half a day spent with the manual.  

This is just one more situation where Microsoft shows up on the consumer radar as a company that just cannot make products that work -- let alone that are fashionable.  Lucky for Ford, I have not found other auto computer systems to be all that easy to use either.  So maybe Microsoft Sync will not prevent people from buying Fords.  But Microsoft Sync will turn people off to other Microsoft products.


How Airlines Use Big Data

I cannot remember the last time I was on a plane with a noticeable amount of empty seats.  I also have not seen overbooked planes and crews working to buy back seats.  I also have been impressed with the on time performance of planes I have been flying on.  If you are interested in this kind of thing, there is a great web site tracking this (in the US anyway) and it turns out the number support my experience.  Load factor up, on time performance up, and guess what else - prices are up too.

There was a good article in the NY Times today about how Delta is doing this -- with better data management  There is so much hype about big data but this is a good reminder that through better data management practices -- everyone can win.  Unless you were counting on a few empty seats around you on your next flight.