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Guy Cicero —  07/20/2021 — Leave a comment

Does this man ever run out of energy? I sure hope not.

Back in 2013, I waxed prosaically about my respect for Jeff Bezos and how he revolutionized the book business. As we know, he has gone on to revolutionize every business on Earth, it would seem, and now has taken to space. He says his life’s work from here on, as he exits his day-to-day role at Amazon, is to preserve the planet, move dirty industries to space, and make the world cleaner, greener, and safer.

OK, I think he can do it.

He calls for unifiers and the end to villifiers. No argument there. Admittedly, he has just returned from the edge of space and he’s still a bit high. But is there any reason to think he can’t or shouldn’t keep on to his vision? I don’t think so. Shouldn’t we all be doing the same?

Of course, there is backlash to this space adventure. The same backlash for the same reasons that afflicted NASA space programs in the 60s, and the 70s, and the 80s, etc. And all for good reason. We do need to spend until it hurts on housing, jobs, education, and healthcare services for all, and especially for the poor, whose numbers today are growing when they should be on the way to oblivion. But we also need to keep pushing the innovation envelope so that we can take advantage of what science is learning, and so we can shine a light on corrupting, destructive influences like crooked politicians, evil hackers, and greedy-at-all-costs business leaders.

Jeff Bezos may be the devil du jour who many love to criticize just because he keeps doing what he does so well. But I admire his energy and drive to better-ness. I’ve benefited in many ways from his projects and hope my descendants will enjoy a cleaner Earth because of what’s on his To Do list. Hope he leaves the space travel to others from now on.

I believe that it will take decades, maybe generations, before the world – whatever it may look like then – will really understand how the internet changed everything and what those changes meant for the actual lives of actual people. And, how to live the kind of life everyone wants with the internet as the context.

Let me unpack this a little.

As I understand, ARPANET, basically, was a US Department of Defense project that began in the 1960s to create a network, sort of an electronic analog to the Interstate Highway System of the 1950s, linking up computer databases and resources to make knowing and reacting to change more efficient and effective. It didn’t take long before things got messy. A Brit named Tim Berners-Lee invented a system of universal resource location as a better way to find what anyone with access needed among all the documents and stuff available. (I’m really skipping over a lot of innovation, creation, and politics here. Sorry.) By 1993 or so, Bill Clinton and Al Gore started seriously selling the Information Highway to the public and we were off to the races.

I was sitting in my Silicon Valley office in 1994, trying to understand the implications of an email I just received from a university professor in Perth, Australia. He was reaming me out about how dare we say on our new web page that our software product could be had for USD 99, when the only way HE could buy one was to pay three or four times that much to our exclusive Australian distributor. Wait, what?

In a flash, as if lightning-struck, I realized that the veil of secrecy had forever been lifted from international PC-software sales, a marketplace I’d helped develop from 1984. BI (before the Internet), language barriers, but mostly technology and political barriers, meant that our job as a software marketing company was to sign up distributors in countries wherever IT folks (including professors of computer science) could use our products. Local distributors were free to charge whatever they wanted or needed to make their own numbers.

Our Aussie prof had free and easy access to our new web page, spoke English, and wanted our stuff. He had a great point. I saw that soon, our prospects in France, Italy, Hong Kong, and Angola (places where we had set up distributors) would see our web page too, and clamor for better terms. And that’s how it happened.

Meanwhile, we worked on how to take orders and cash online. That’s another story. Within a few months we were live and in business, eventually selling 75,000 copies of the product to about 350 universities in eight countries over two years.

In that microcosmic experience were the seeds of the economic revolution wrought by the web.

I had very high hopes for this book because I love reading American history and because I can’t help from trying to synthesize what I understand actually happened with contemporary thinking and philosophies. But this book was a big disappointment. It failed completely in gaining any useful insight into the minds of the Founders. I don’t feel that Ricks makes his case at all that America’s Founders got their government-forming ideas and principles directly from reading the ancient Greeks and Romans. And I (still) think the ancients had much less to do with the shape of our country than Ricks proposes.

I learned that Enlightenment and Renaissance thinkers (Machiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Hume, Montesquieu, and others) were the main influencers on the Founders’ thinking and that the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution (especially as unpacked and explained in the Federalist) express a reaction to the history and contemporary actions of the British monarchy and parliamentary system much more so than to any other source. Those Founders educated “classically” certainly were exposed to ancient ideas and values as expressed from Homer to Hadrian, but Ricks completely leaves out the one source that was the first and most important source for the ideas and values of practically every thinker, monarch, politician, and military leader from at least the 5th century CE to the 18th, namely the Christian Bible.

Think and say what you like about the Bible from today’s perspective, but I can’t imagine writing an intellectual history of the American Revolution without acknowledging the Bible’s central role in shaping the minds and hearts of the Founders, and the whole United States by implication. At least I couldn’t before reading this book. I’m tempted to say, as have others here, that the book is a waste of time. But I don’t believe that. It has provided more food for thought about the influence of the Bible on all Western history including US history than anything else I’ve read.

Clearly, there is a lot to explore about the influence of the Bible on our political values (the foundation for government provided by laws and a legal system, individual accountability, human rights, social consciousness, egalitarianism, and much more). I’m looking forward to reading those books some day.

For months prior to the election, I thought if only the minorities will just vote, we’ll be alright. You can’t just ignore demographics forever. The white majority has been barreling toward minority status for years—decades actually. Sooner or later, the new majority will make its presence felt. Things will change. Everybody, even white people, will start making decisions to help everyone. We’ll find a way to nurture self-interest and common interest toward the same vision and we’ll keep moving ahead indefinitely. But back to Georgia.

The results from across the country after November 3rd showed some promise, but there were enough Democrat losses (I was hoping, unrealistically as it turned out, for a strong backlash against the mighty McConnell and Graham.) that it looked like we’d taken a big step back after the giant step forward of 2018. At first, I was doubtful that the Georgia Democrats could pull off two wins, or even one. I’ve seen Georgia change dramatically as Northerners has migrated there in big numbers for tech and other corporate jobs. These and immigrant professionals and an included African-America community are creating a new demographic profile for the Peach State. It would be up to Georgia—deep-South Georgia—to show if minorities could be motivated to vote in large-enough numbers to take the Senate runoff elections, point the way to a re-alignment of American politics, and finally bring an end to the Civil War. Too hopeful?

In the end, it took not only the actual vote count, but also the dedication and integrity of Republican, formerly Trump-supporting, state and local officials and the commitment of Stacy Abrams and her team to make sure the election was carried off legitimately and the double Democratic victories secured. I nominate Ms Abrams for national “get out the vote” czarina. White supremacy is in its death throes, looking ahead desperately, knowing that its days are numbered. But this has been said before.

Here’s another vote for the idea that the Democrats must actively address the felt needs of rural America and rural voters–the ones across the great divide. My limited travels in 2020 took us twice into rural counties in Illinois and Wisconsin. It has been 50 years, wow, since I saw rural Illinois “downstate” up close. I guess I expected to find a land in decline, many visible signs of hard times, even poverty. But no, that was the 70s. Today, the farms and fields I saw from the Interstate were straight out of Wendell Berry‘s 1975 vision of the future of corporatized agriculture, documented in his The Unsettling of America. The agricultural landscape, where every half mile or used to be a family farm house and outbuildings, some looking prosperous and others not so much, now stretches unbroken for miles, covered with monoculture corn and soy beans and wind farms of slowly turning blades, presumably pumping out electricity for the ravenous grid.

When I got off the Interstate, that’s when I saw decline. I attended college in a 45,000-person, county seat in western Illinois and wanted to see the campus once again, maybe for the last time. Apart from sensing the ghost-town desolation caused by the pandemic, I felt sad about the state of the campus and even more so, the town. The off-campus street where I rented a room in 1969 looked as though a few block s of Chicago’s poorest neighborhood had been transported there. Generally, the town looks like this is where hard times have gone to live. The proud history of that town, site of a Lincoln-Douglas debate and an early 20th Century railroad hub, is a distant memory. What should be a healthy, growing (why not?), vital town looks hapless and confused about what it has become.

Democrats should read this article by Bill Hogseth. Many rural voters voted Trump this year because they see no vision for them in Joe’s vision for America. I believe Joe when he says he will be a President for all the people, including those in rural counties. I’ll be watching closely as he picks his Agriculture secretary and policies aimed at rural America become clearer.

P.S.: On December 8, 2020, Joe Biden announced Tom Vilsack as his nominee for agriculture secretary, kicking off a wave of skepticism. I accept that Vilsack knows the territory, as a former Iowa governnor and AgSec for eight years during the Obama terms. The answer to “what will Vilsack do about agriculture’s big issues?” lies in the nexus of Biden’s stated progressive aims and Vilsack’s undoubted ability to get things done at 14th and Independence.

We hear a lot about immunity these days. Or not immunity. My subject here is our tendency to act as though we are immune to history. We happily cling to historical events, documents, and persons, I guess because they are the building blocks of our personal mythology, answering, for us alone, the big question “how did we get here?” It’s important that we do this because by extending a line from that point in the past through today, we hazard guesses about the future, an endless fascination. In this, we are no different than a thousand generations before us.

In my daily flagellations over COVID-19, Trump, a government that doesn’t work anymore, and getting old, I am beset with frustration that my fellow people seem to have a poor sense of history.

Start with the pandemic. My reading tells me we knew everything we needed to know about how to deal with a pandemic the likes of COVID-19 (I mean there’s already been 18 of ’em, right?) when we got the word that number 19 was on its way. It couldn’t matter less where it started. It’s actually a good thing if it started in China because as we saw, the Chinese uni-culture was prepared to do what needed to be done to lock the epidemic down and bring society back. And it wasn’t like we couldn’t see what was happening. By February, we could have drawn a line from what had already happened in China through our own situation at that time and on into March, April…October. That’s what Korea and Japan did, right?

And then there’s the fact that what happened in the USA in the pandemic of 1918 is so well documented and has taught several generations of epidemiologists and lawmakers and presidents exactly what to expect. We have plenty of experts to tell us what to do when COVID-n is headed our way. Many tried.

Learned during the COVID-19 crisis: We should have known better.

Over many years, I have gradually become aware of the utter avoidability of some of the great worldwide disasters: the World Wars, oil spills and other environmental catastrophes, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Veep stakes

Guy Cicero —  08/07/2020 — Leave a comment

It would seem to be down to Kamala Harris or Susan Rice. After all these months of speculation, Harris and Rice are said to be the front-runners and most likely prospects for the Democratic vice-presidential choice.

I’m good with either option. I hope that whoever is not chosen, along with the many other not-chosens, will line up alongside Biden to create the landslide victory I want to see. (Btw, what form is Mike Bloomberg‘s declared support for Joe Biden taking?)

As I recall, a landslide by definition is 55% of the vote or more, a 10-point differential. I’m hoping that more like 65% of the popular vote goes for Biden, but I know that’s unlikely.

I believe that Biden will win. The question is by how much. The choice for Veep will probably not decide the election. The most important influence on the margin will probably be the number of past Trump supporters who decide they’ve had enough and stay home or vote Biden or vote write-in.

Still, who might our next Veep be?


Guy Cicero —  08/05/2020 — Leave a comment

If I’d ever even heard of Axios before the Trump-Jonathan Swan interview, I’ve forgotten about it. But prompted by Swan’s smart, incisive one-on-one, I’ve checked out and find it refreshing, serious, and worth a deeper dive as a quality news source.

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My preference for a long time has been to work from home…

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