Knowing a little does not equate to knowing a lot

Demolition of Babri Masjid How many of you know about the demolition of the Babri Masjid? It happened in 1992. Do you know why it happened? Do you know where? Do you know what the outcome was? How many things have been held in the the balance during the 25 years intervening? What is happening now?

I raise this as one issue – a single solitary thing that happened somewhere in the world, a thing that had tentacles of consequences extending in every direction – to remind myself, and anyone else who considers it, just how difficult it is to know what is happening in the world, and why it’s happening. To remind us that when we sit here in the US and believe we know, because of our education, our CNN, our NY Times, our Facebook and our Twitter, our tremendous privilege, if you will… to remind us that we are truly looking at the world from 40,000 feet up. The details are obscured, the actors and participants unknown. We don’t know what happened just before this obscure scene unfolded, or the week or month or decade before, and we don’t know who prevailed, or what transpired, because we’re moving. We’re not hovering.

A little humility goes a long way. Don’t presume that you know the best course of action for someone else. Be intentional with yourself. Be respectful and compassionate toward others. Assume that there is more to the story than you can see or discern. Be a help if needed, but but don’t expect always to lead.

Dallas police attack is the deadliest attack on U.S. law enforcement since …

The Dallas police attack has been alternately called “the deadliest attack on law enforcement since 9/11” and “the deadliest attack FOR law enforcement since 9/11.”

By “for,” what they mean is that among all of those who were killed, the community of law enforcement also suffered its greatest loss.

However, the 9/11 attack itself, of course, did not target the 72 law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the attack along with hundreds of other people.

The previous largest attack ON law enforcement – which I think is far more relevant to discuss – was the attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, an attack in which federal law enforcement officers from specific agencies were specifically targeted.

Bringing 9/11 into the discussion only serves to link Dallas to another image of shock and awe. It demonstrates careless reporting, as it does nothing to further the understanding of the current event. It is regrettable that it – 9/11 – was chosen as the reference point, rather than the OK City bombing, which shared a motivation similar to the Dallas attack.

The sad truth about drone warfare

Predator droneI’d like to comment on one aspect of an article that appeared recently in The Independent. To do that, I’ll start with a telling quote regarding the use of drones: “They’re the worst form of warfare in the history of the world, except for all the others.

The article in question is a guest editorial in The Independent, by Malik Jalal, titled, “I’m on the Kill List. This is what it feels like to be hunted by drones.

I am not a militarist, as a general rule. And I’m not particularly fond of things flying overhead that can drop bombs or fire missiles at those on the ground. Hell, I don’t even like traffic copters hovering overhead.

Regarding drones, though… their opponents often adamantly decry drone warfare for the fact that for every viable target, 9 or 10 more people invariably end up being killed as well. But they’re not so adept at stating what the military alternative is. I’m not talking about what the political alternative might have been. We’re past that. I’m saying, if the decision is made that some kind of brute force method must be applied to a particular situation, what’s it gonna be?
Agreed, taking out 10 people for every viable target really sucks. But consider traditional warfare. How many people did the U.S. (and most of the Western World) want to “take out” in WWII? One: Adolf Hitler.

That’s not completely fair, because there were probably 10 top targets who needed to be eliminated in order to arrest Germany’s actions. Himmler, Eichmann, Goebbels, etc.

The overall losses of human life in WWII – the costliest ever – were around 75 million. Estimates vary. Military deaths alone were estimated at about 25 million. Non-military, civilian deaths due to direct military action and “crimes against humanity” were approximately 30 million.

Focusing on the latter number, not even taking into account the staggering number of people who lost their lives due to famine and disease during the war – just the 30 million innocents killed as a direct result of the war – means that the cost was 3 million “bystanders” for each one of those “top 10” targeted leaders of the Nazi regime.

The simple and unpleasant truth is, the ratio of collateral deaths and injuries per strike in drone warfare is several orders of magnitude less than in traditional warfare. Until there is a way to either make warfare disappear, or to make the available strategies even more precise than they already are, we’re going to continue to see drones used to launch campaigns against hostile targets.

Any unnecessary loss of life is tragic. But drones kill far fewer people than other methods currently known and used.

Apple’s battery case is a case in point.

This article is a comment on a recent Slate article published by Mr. Will Oremus, “Bad Apple – The company’s ugly, underpowered new iPhone battery case is a sign of trouble in Cupertino.

In the concluding paragraph, I’m not sure where Mr. Oremus gets his info that “What Apple used to understand is that you can’t have it both ways. You can build one legendary product, or a wide range of mostly pretty good ones.” Did that come from his own experience? Or did someone tell him? Because if he were deeply experienced with Apple products I don’t think he would have quite that perspective.

Here are two thoughts to consider:

1. Apple has a long and deep history of creating and/or marketing products that “wet the whistle.” Products such as ClarisWorks (which they purchased because it satisfied this philosophy, and later rebranded as AppleWorks), iWork (featuring Numbers, Pages and Keynote), Calendar, Mail, Contacts, etc. There are more of these than you can shake a stick at. All of these products were designed to offer great, intuitive functionality, but by no means were any striving to be full-featured and robust applications in their respective product areas. Apple learned early on that they needed the buzz and interaction of the developer community working hand in hand with them, in order to survive and, later, to thrive in the marketplace. There were numerous occasions in which they overstepped their bounds and released products that “went too far,” pissing off the developer or ancillary product community, and they took the lesson to heart and backed away. Apple printers were one such product.

That was mostly the Apple of old. That was the company that knew how to make legendary products, but well understood that even legendary products could not survive in a vacuum, that they needed the symbiotic relationships with other key players (Microsoft, HP, Intel, Adobe) in order to retain their relevance. I would never think to blame Apple for its decision to leave fruit on the vine for other developers – sometimes even low-hanging fruit. This, in my view, was entirely intentional.

Which brings us to…

2. The world is different after the release of the iPhone than it was before the iPhone. First and foremost, what happened when the iPhone was released was that Apple became a phone provider. That’s obvious. But what’s not so immediately obvious is that that world does not tolerate – or foster – the guarded, heavily engineered, quality-first approach to design and development that had led Apple for so long. It changed almost overnight. In order for Apple to play on this new field, it had to play by the new rules. Those rules were perhaps best spelled out by Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, in what to me is one of the most destructive statements ever fostered by a for-some-reason respected business leader:

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

This single statement best epitomizes the new world that Apple had gotten itself into, and it forever and perhaps irreversibly forced them to lower their standards in order to stay in the game. It had to be a wrenching change for Apple to make, and in particular for Steve Jobs to make. He knew, I’m sure, the path he was being led down, and probably did not see a way out of it. It had become an inescapable truth that “the public” was now his customer, and that customer had long been accustomed to buying a book for its cover, and were all too willing to judge on promise more than on delivery. If the product didn’t deliver, you could conduct surveys and post apologies on social media and use crowd sourcing to determine the hot buttons you needed to address in the next release of the product.

None of this is the way Apple used to do things, and the change came about due to factors external to Apple. Apple is very big, but the world is bigger. As people become more and more intellectually lazy (which argument has been made by others better than I could try to make it here), they see less and less the pathways that result from the choices they make today. There’s always this underlying expectation that it almost doesn’t matter what we put out right now, which path we take today; it can always be fixed tomorrow. This seems true whether we’re talking about smart phones, computers, or political candidates.

To the old guard which I represent, it’s a hard turn to take. To those of us who grew up trying to get things right before putting them out there, this notion of throwing everything at the wall and seeing if it sticks is anathema.

On “The Monuments Men”

On “The Monuments Men”

As I watch on television for the second time the film “The Monuments Men,” I am at various moments moved to tears. Characters such as Claire Simone, played here by Cate Blanchett, was based on the real life of Rose Valland, an art expert in Paris who secretly recorded details on the theft and movement of every piece of art that passed through the Jeu de Paume museum, of which she was curator. Rose Valland, who turned her notes, her “this is everything I have, this is my life” over to the soldier/curators who were tasked with finding and returning these artworks.

After the team had been assembled, and the men were being given their marching orders over the radio, Lt. Frank Stokes (played by George Clooney and loosely based on George L. Stout) summed it up: “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements, then it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants, and that’s exactly what we’re fighting for.”

In that moment I was reminded of a piece of music by one of my college professors, Carlton Gamer, in which he set to music some of the Cantos of Ezra Pound. I’ll close with this one, which has stayed with me, decades later, from Canto LXXXI. Everyone who fights, fights for something. There is no “just war” in fighting for oil. For our heritage? For our “this is my life” work? Perhaps. Perhaps that is worth fighting for after all.

What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee

Fracking Citizens United!

Fracking Citizens United!

Constitutional convention

A growing number of articles are surfacing of late indicating that there is a movement to “overturn the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United.” But that’s not possible, and that’s not what’s happening.

Only a higher court can overturn a court’s decision. As the highest court in the land, however, there’s no higher court to overturn a U.S. Supreme Court decision. It’s the end of the road, the authoritative opinion, on constitutional law.

The CU decision occurred the way it did because the framework, the specific wording and – we trust – the framers’ intent allowed the Constitution to be interpreted in that way by the people we have empowered to make such determinations.

So what do we do? We do what we, the people are empowered to do, following the procedure laid out for us in the Constitution itself: we frack Citizens United. We inject something new into the Constitution by means of an Amendment, so that the very same questions which resulted in the unwanted decision of CU, when asked of this new version of the law, must necessarily be decided in a different way.

I think it’s important to realize this difference. We are not overturning Citizens United. That decision, based on the Constitution as it was (and still is, currently), still stands. Assuming the necessary Amendment becomes law, there could still arise a situation in which the Supreme Court is again charged with determining whether the Constitution allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns. Now, however, they will be holding that decision over a newly revised Constitution, and will hopefully come up with different results.

Our goal in inserting the Amendment therefore is to make sure that it is robust enough that its intent is unequivocal. That for purposes of electoral campaigns, corporations’ spending can in fact be limited, and must be, in accordance with the new Constitution. Order will be restored, people will once again have their voice, and a feeling of wellness will once again settle over the land.

Kill the Bison. Woops, I mean Save the Bison.

I am becoming more and more convinced that nothing – not one single thing – is as it appears to be.

Take the American Bison, for example. I thought they were still “protected” in some way. Officially, they are not a protected species. But there do exist organizations (such as the Wildlife Conservation Society’s American Bison Society) that are actively engaged in the conservation of the species, in support of larger, free-ranging herds.

Compare and contrast that with the fact that bison in the so-called “Zone 2” outside of Yellowstone National Park are allowed to be hunted, within reason. The hunting of bison is considered a “herd management tool.”

There are conditions, however, that will cause hunting to be suspended, and the government takes over. The policy reads as follows:

6) Enact 24-hour hunting closures, when necessary, to implement other management actions such as hazing, capture, or lethal removal if:

a. Bison numbers exceed 100 in Zone 2 in the West Yellowstone Basin.
b. Bison continue to approach Zone 3 in the West Yellowstone Basin beyond Witts Lake Road or USFS Road 1731.
c. Unable to contain bison within Zone 2 in the West Yellowstone Basin. (Bison that breach Zone 3 will be lethally removed if initial hazing or capture, if attempted, is not successful).
d. Excessive bison egress from YNP, ongoing or imminent, due to snow conditions, extreme weather conditions, or stochastic events.

[From the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Adaptive Management Adjustments in Western Boundary Area]

“Lethal elimination,” if it’s not obvious, means killing. 7,189 bison have been lethally eliminated since 1985, by federal and state agencies. This, for such grievances as… looking like they’re about to head down out of the hills due to extreme snow conditions. You know, looking for food. That kind of offense.

Huh? Isn’t this like trying to fill a tub, with the drain open? Only, it’s not a tub, it’s a herd of bison, and it’s not water, it’s blood.

Ummm, people, if you want us to raise money for a cause, like “Save the Bison,” you shouldn’t have alternative programs going on to kill the bison. Or… before you give your hard-earned money to a cause, find out whether there’s some equally well-funded cause working exactly against what you’re trying to do. It may be that the money is better directed in other ways.