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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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warriors

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.

I have been in and out of book publishing since the 1970s. Now I help independent authors to self-publish….

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…every which-a-way. (The Coasters, 1957)

When we were all just first hearing about the “web” in the early 90s, I worked in the software business in Palo Alto, California, then and now the heart of Silicon Valley. Tim Berners-Lee had invented the World Wide Web (aka www.) and Univeral Resource Locators (url’s) as a way to find documents stored away in large-scale database networks.

Innovators in the Valley and elsewhere rushed headlong into search engine research and started businesses as fast as they could. In 1994 or so, a front-runner was WAIS (ways), or Wide Area Information Systems in Menlo Park. A colleague and I watched as the WAIS founders demo’d a search engine we thought we might want to embed in our enterprise software development system to help find code and other bits hidden away on corporate hard drives.

Later, but still before Google, the dad of our son’s friend showed us Surfwax, with its “practical tools for harnessing today’s information.” It was another search engine cum research system looking for a natural audience and a ticket to the big time. And there were many others. Search engine technology leveraged earlier work in artificial intelligence and decision support systems. Everything has roots.

Within a few years, Google gave us its eminently simple front end that worked to let us discover the exploding universe of resources we might locate, and a behemoth was born.

 

 

 

We can’t go back to the days when most of America worked in manufacturing. Ubiquitous computing, robotics, globalization, wage-pressure, massive productivity increases, and being way behind the 8-ball on job re-training all mean we can’t re-create the American job market of the decades from the 1870’s to the 1970’s.

However, we can do a heck of lot better than we have been doing over the last thirty years to encourage our economy to maintain a healthy diversity, preserve American middle-classism for the many who don’t have the ability or the time left in their lives to become big data analysts, coders, video game designers, or medical concierges.

Witness a piece on CBS 60 Minutes about how a guy in Mississippi is a one-man chamber of commerce and has brought manufacturing jobs back to the Golden Triangle region there. Sort of a 21st century Horace Greeley.

 

community

Guy Cicero —  11/03/2017 — Leave a comment

Last evening, we heard a David Brooks lecture nearby that confirmed our appreciation for what he says and how he says it. We’re big fans. He gave a preview of his next book, an assessment of, among other things, what needs to happen to make it through our current “slough of despond” to our next phase as a culture and community. As usual, he draws a compelling conclusion based on solid history and analysis, and delivered with humor and accessibility.

The “we’re all in this together” generation that fought and emerged humbled from World War II yielded in the 60s to the “free to be you and me” generation that in the 80s and 90s spawned the “what does anything mean?” generation. We parents said “be free” and “go be you.” Be free to do what, exactly? They are yearning to know who they are; they are lonely and unconnected to institutions and beliefs of the past. And it’s not their fault. The imperative for their futures is to become embedded in communities, causes, relationships that they will commit to and build their lives in and around.

Brooks says he now understands that the 2016 election wasn’t about the usual big government/small government issue that has characterized the essence of the Democratic and Republican philosophies since forever. 2016 was about the growing gap between those who are relatively globalistic, progressive, forward-looking and technology-enabled (generally college-educated) and others who are relatively protectionistic, reactionary, tradition-bound and technology-phobic (generally high-school educated). I sensed this schism as early as the 80s in Silicon Valley as I participated in building the new world and read on the news about the dissolution of the steel and other industries in the rust belt. The divided forces of progress and regress were catalyzed by Trump, for and against, and in the end, guess what? A wrinkle in our election rules, which are unlike any other country’s election rules, allowed the underdogs to carry the day. (I mean here the combined impact of generations of gerrymandering, the edge effects of the electoral college system, and the aggregated disenchantment of lots and lots of voters, for a variety of reasons.)

New communities need forming based on new ideas about proximity. Who is my friend and neighbor? After 42 years of moving, staying awhile, and moving on, from one coast to the other and then to the middle, my wife and I are only really proximate, connected and committed, to people and groups that are far away, Facebook friends and family, and not the next-door neighbors. But I remain optimistic about it all. Recent tragedies, man-made and nature-borne have shown every time that people do feel connected, that they will create, almost instantaneously, communities of help and support, where none existed minutes before. At the crucial moments, we are suddenly all in this together, again.