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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.

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.

A word as we embark on the good ship Joe. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to any single event more than I do the January 20, 2021 presidential inauguration. There’s just so much that needs doing. After dealing a death blow to the COVID-19 pandemic, there aren’t any policy areas more important than job creation and educational reform. This is no time to look backward, except when absolutely necessary to undo destructive actions taken by the Trump administration. We should only be looking forward to the better lives we can create for people who are unemployed, under-employed, soon-to-be-employed, and preparing-to-be-employed.

Let’s learn from the lessons of the 70s and 80s, when jobs and whole industries were exported to the developing world: the countries which now make nearly all our clothing, much of our food, our light-manufactured goods, and much more. We used our ingenuity, our technology, and our productivity increases to help launch the fastest growing economies of the past twenty years, raising the quality of living for many millions. Good for us. Now, let’s haul away the debris we created, clean up the regulatory environment, get people working on our decrepit infrastructure, and clear the paths for students and immigrants to reach their potentials and contribute to America’s next chapter in greatness.

The former greatness we’ve been told over and over again to make again had its problems. Now is when we can finally put the Civil War behind us. It will ultimately take a demographic flood tide to sweep away racial inequity, and it’s now upon us. Note Georgia. It’s taken half-a dozen generations to add non-property-owning white men, former slaves, women, 18-20 year-olds, and ex-felons to the voting rolls. It’s looking like the presidential election is Georgia was the image of things to come. We’ll find out soon if the old resistance will maintain its strangle hold on the South or the momentum caused by new peoples and population statistics will take the day. The story of all the years it took to make a democracy where all the people can vote does not bode well for making fundamental changes in the racism and anti-Semitism that has blemished the bright, eager face of America. But now is the best chance we’ll have in our lifetimes to make those changes stick.

Join the parade. Get on the bandwagon, help push it down the road, make the rest of us proud. This is a very special time in our history.

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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I think it was 1955 when I obediently lined up my seven-year-old self to get my polio medicine, delivered, I think, as a few drops of the good stuff soaked into a sugar cube. Clever folks, those public health pros.

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Number 65

Guy Cicero —  02/02/2020 — Leave a comment

in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.
Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers.

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Guy Cicero —  05/21/2019 — Leave a comment

The Golden State Warriors professional basketball team have just won their conference title in four games straight in a best-of-seven series. They and individual team members are breaking certain historical records as they win their way through the playoffs. What’s unusual is that they’re winning despite playing without the member that most commentators say is possibly the best player today in the league, that is to say, the best professional basketball player in the world. I don’t remember that this has ever happened before.

Like most people, I suspect, I’m not a big pro basketball fan. But I do love a good team. What I’ve loved about watching the Warriors is the sheer beauty of what they do on the court. Unlike any other team I see playing, they dribble, pass, and shoot the basketball as a unit—an organic thing—a melodic, harmonic ensemble like a string quintet. A single purpose—to win—a shared vision. A flow, a symbiosis. A sharing unselfishness thing going on. When they are in this mode, this groove, they are beautiful.

Lessons here for teams of all kinds.