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March 31, 2003

My Old Unit in Iraq

This didn't strike me until last week, but the Army unit in which I served from 1982-1984, the 103rd Military Intelligence Battalion, is deployed in Iraq along with the rest of its division, the 3rd Infantry Division.

Back then, I held MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) ratings of 98G (Voice Interceptor, Russian) and 74B (Information Systems Operator-Analyst). I'm not sure how useful either of them would be in Iraq right now -- especially the Russian translation.

When I was in the 103rd, we were stationed in Würzburg, in what was then West Germany. Virtually all our voice interceptors were trained in Russian, except for a few who knew German and a few who carried an additional rating in Korean from a previous tour there. Now, I'd be surprised if there are more than a handful of Russian speakers in the 103rd -- the vast majority is almost certainly Arabic-speaking.

How times have changed.

Lawrence v. Texas

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Lawrence v. Texas last week. This case is a challenge to Texas' outlawing of sodomy by homosexuals.

NPR's Nina Totenberg did a nice piece (audio only) on the arguments. She reported a wonderfully illustrative exchange:

District Attorney [Charles] Rosenthal... rose to defend the Texas law. "There is no right," he asserted, "to extramarital sex of any kind."

Justice [Stephen] Breyer: "The argument for the other side is that people in their bedrooms have a right to sexual intimacy without intrusion from the state. What's your response to that?"

Answer: "In Texas, sodomy is a Class C misdemeanor."

Breyer: "I'd like a straight answer to my question."

Answer: "Our position is that the line should be drawn at the marital bedroom."

Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg: "Homosexuals can adopt children or be foster parents in Texas. If they can be proper guardians of children, then how can they be criminals? That's not consistent."

Justice [John Paul] Stevens: "Does Texas prohibit sexual intercourse between unmarried heterosexuals?"

Answer: "No."

Question: "What about adultery?"

Answer: "It's not illegal, but we don't condone it."

Justice Breyer: "I don't see any justification for this law except, 'I do not like thee, Dr. Fell / The reason why I cannot tell.'"

Answer: "Texas has the right to make moral judgements."

Breyer: "Can the state make it illegal to tell serious lies at the dinner table?"

Answer: "That would have no rational justification."

Breyer: "Oh, really? I would think telling serious lies would be very immoral. You know," continued Breyer, "at the time of the First World War, some states outlawed the teaching of German in the public schools. There was no reason justifying that action and you haven't given us a reason here, except to say that it's immoral."

Justice [Antonin] Scalia: "Just as bigamy and adultery are immoral."

Breyer: "Or teaching German?"

Scalia groaned. "Well, uh..."

It was gratifying to see an editorial against the position of the state of Texas written by Republican Alan Simpson appear in the Wall Street Journal the same day:

I am a lifelong Republican because I have always believed in the rights of the individual -- the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I believe those rights to be, as the Founders declared, God-given. Right now, they are under threat in Texas.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, will hear argument on the constitutionality of a Texas law that criminalizes sex between two people of the same sex. Other states have similar laws, which are contrary to American values protecting personal liberty and opposing discrimination. The Supreme Court should declare them unconstitutional...

Certainly, many Americans have deeply held moral and religious convictions regarding sexual behavior. For some, these convictions include an objection to all homosexual acts. But... [we] should have confidence in our private morality -- not demean it with tortured legal interpretations.

The Constitution protects our right to hold different opinions... The Texas statute, as it currently exists, intrudes on the personal freedom of Americans who are harming no one. It forces the law into the most intimate precincts of the home, where we ought to be able to make our own decisions about how to conduct our lives, even if some of our fellow citizens disapprove. This is especially true of that most intimate and personal decision about whom to love, and how...

It is a bedrock American principle that no law should single out a group of citizens for unfair and spiteful discrimination. Our history demonstrates that every time we have trampled on this principle, we have come to regret it. The homosexual sodomy law makes a criminal of every gay person. That is something no American should sanction.

Most of America has made its peace with a principle of live-and-let-live. Now it is time to bring the law up to date.

I believe that the right to privacy is strongly implied within the US Constitution. But the fact that we are still trying cases like this demonstrates to me more than ever the need for that right to privacy to be made explicit. It's time for an amendment.

March 30, 2003

Dogpile!

This isn't Donald Rumsfeld's week. Although I've been cutting back on the time I spend following the conflict in Iraq, I had long drives on Wednesday and Friday, and listening to NPR, I could sense the rising temperature of the hot seat he's on. Now, according to the BBC, the New Yorker magazine has just added fresh fuel to the fire:

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forced his military chiefs to accept his idea that a relatively small, lightly armed force should go to war with Iraq, it is being claimed.

The New Yorker magazine quotes unnamed Pentagon sources as saying that Mr Rumsfeld insisted at least six times before the conflict on the proposed number of troops being reduced.

In an article to be published on Monday, the magazine says Mr Rumsfeld overruled advice from the war commander, General Tommy Franks, to delay the invasion of Iraq...

A senior Pentagon planner said Mr Rumsfeld wanted to "do war on the cheap" and thought precision bombing would bring victory.

"He thought he knew better [than military officials]. He was the decision-maker at every turn," the unnamed planner said.

The article says General Franks wanted to delay the invasion until the American troops denied access to Turkey had been brought to Kuwait, but Mr Rumsfeld overruled him.

It says the defence secretary also rejected recommendations to deploy four or more army divisions and to ship hundreds of tanks and other heavy vehicles in advance.

Instead, Mr Rumsfeld preferred to rely on equipment which was already in Kuwait, but was insufficient, the magazine says.

To listen to those on the right here in the US, the fact that some people predicted a quagmire in Afghanistan is proof enough that we don't face a quagmire in Iraq. To say that success in Afghanistan implies success in Iraq would be as much a leap of logic as to say that failure in Mogadishu implies failure in Baghdad -- which is not what I've said in previous posts. What I've said is that it's a worrying possibility.

I have no special insight into the thinking of Donald Rumsfeld, and certainly am not privy to his private discussions. With that said, my hunch is that, prior to the start of military operations, he believed the chances to be good that the government of Iraq would fall quickly -- thanks either to a lucky US strike, to an internal coup by generals looking to secure their post-war positions, or to an overall collapse fueled by scenes of happy Iraqis welcoming their liberators along the paths of invasion. None of these scenarios has happened. My hunch is that Rumsfeld believed the worst-case scenario to be for Saddam Hussein to cling to power long enough to force an urban battle within Baghdad. Barring a non-linear breakthrough, that seems to be exactly what we are facing. And so I am worried that a street-by-street, house-by-house battle for Baghdad might -- might -- carry with it human and political costs that would ultimately render a victory in Iraq a Pyrrhic one.

If my concerns are unfounded, I'll be among the first to congratulate Rumsfeld on his brilliant war plan, and I'll publicly revisit and criticize my own commentary on the subject, including this entry. But if the worst comes to pass, then the neoconservative pundits who instigated the plan and the civilian government officials who architected it will have a heavy price to pay.

March 29, 2003

The Neoconservatives' Real Agenda?

Via Rafe Colburn, an article by blogger Joshua Micah Marshall on the neoconservatives' true plan for the Middle East:

Imagine it's six months from now. The Iraq war is over. After an initial burst of joy and gratitude at being liberated from Saddam's rule, the people of Iraq are watching, and waiting, and beginning to chafe under American occupation. Across the border, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, our conquering presence has brought street protests and escalating violence. The United Nations and NATO are in disarray, so America is pretty much on its own. Hemmed in by budget deficits at home and limited financial assistance from allies, the Bush administration is talking again about tapping Iraq's oil reserves to offset some of the costs of the American presence -- talk that is further inflaming the region. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence has discovered fresh evidence that, prior to the war, Saddam moved quantities of biological and chemical weapons to Syria. When Syria denies having such weapons, the administration starts massing troops on the Syrian border. But as they begin to move, there is an explosion: Hezbollah terrorists from southern Lebanon blow themselves up in a Baghdad restaurant, killing dozens of Western aid workers and journalists. Knowing that Hezbollah has cells in America, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge puts the nation back on Orange Alert. FBI agents start sweeping through mosques, with a new round of arrests of Saudis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Yemenis.

To most Americans, this would sound like a frightening state of affairs, the kind that would lead them to wonder how and why we had got ourselves into this mess in the first place. But to the Bush administration hawks who are guiding American foreign policy, this isn't the nightmare scenario. It's everything going as anticipated.

In their view, invasion of Iraq was not merely, or even primarily, about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Nor was it really about weapons of mass destruction, though their elimination was an important benefit. Rather, the administration sees the invasion as only the first move in a wider effort to reorder the power structure of the entire Middle East.

There's a great quote near the end of the article:

Ending Saddam Hussein's regime and replacing it with something stable and democratic was always going to be a difficult task, even with the most able leadership and the broadest coalition. But doing it as the Bush administration now intends is something like going outside and giving a few good whacks to a hornets' nest because you want to get them out in the open and have it out with them once and for all.
In his blog, Marshall takes off the gloves and goes straight for the jugulars of two of the leading neoconservatives:
[I]s it time -- strictly for humanitarian reasons -- to set up a journalistic no-fly-zone to give some sanctuary for the hawks who've been telling us for months that a few good SWAT Teams could take down Saddam's regime.

I mean, think about Ken Adelman, who a year ago said that Iraq would be a cakewalk. (Okay, what did he really say? Ummm, well "I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk." I think that counts as calling it a cakewalk.) Now he's been driven to the hills by reportorial fedayeen. He's run ragged, exposed to the elements, and short on food. Or what about Richard Perle, who said Saddam's regime was "a house of cards [which would] collapse at the first whiff of gunpowder." Sure, AEI would like to send out a relief mission. But most of their troops have run off to the hills with those makeshift tarp-and-cardboard tents like Adelman and Perle. And well -- how to put this? -- let's just say they're just not in much of a position to beg relief from the UNHCR. Can't we at least protect these war-hawk worthies from fixed-wing aircraft, if nothing else? Toss 'em some MREs from the spare C-130? I mean, just for humanitarian purposes.

I don't pretend to understand Beltway politics enough to render a judgement on whether Marshall's theories are completely accurate. But he certainly makes a compelling and frightening case.

Healthy Happy Meals?

In a story related to a previous entry, McDonald's has announced they're going to be making Happy Meals healthier:

McDonald's, the world's largest restaurant chain, will include choices such as fruits and vegetables in its children's Happy Meals, and plans to pay for public-service advertising promoting fitness and health.

Children's meal options might also include low-fat yogurt and fruit juices, new Chief Executive James Cantalupo said. McDonald's restaurants worldwide will tailor menus in each market to local tastes, working with nutrition experts to make the changes, he said.

McDonald's new advisory council on healthy lifestyles will work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization to educate consumers on nutrition and fitness, and allocate money for programs...

Several McDonald's markets already offer healthier options, including Australia with toasted-cheese-and-tomato sandwiches, raisins and orange juice. Restaurants in the U.S. already offer low-fat milk and noncarbonated drinks.

When my kids were little, we used to take them to McDonald's fairly often. It wasn't that we liked the food or thought it was nutritious; it was that McDonald's offered a place where they could eat something they'd like and play for an hour or so, giving us a little down time. It would have been nice if they had had healthier Happy Meals back then, but better late than never. Let's just hope that parents take them up on the new healthy options when they become available.

This Made Me Laugh

From the current issue of the Onion:

2003-03-29-01.jpg
I suppose I played too much Missile Command way back when not to laugh at that...

March 28, 2003

Mogadishu and Baghdad

From Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down, about the aftermath of the battle in Mogadishu in 1993:

The Somali death toll was catastrophic. Conservative counts numbered five hundred dead among more than a thousand casualties.

I've seen other estimates of Somali dead -- in what they call the Battle of the Black Sea -- ranging from 2,000 to as high as 5,000. Note that this battle lasted approximately 14 hours from start to finish.

The US military has yet to disclose its plan for taking Baghdad. This could be for one of at least two reasons:

  1. They don't want to give the Iraqis advance warning of their planned tactics.
  2. They don't have a plan, because Secretary Rumsfeld's doctrine of transformation predicted that the the government of Iraq would have capitulated by now, either from outright destruction at the hands of US air power, or as a result of a popular revolt fueled by images of the same from Basra and other cities to the south.
I know that Black Hawk Down has been an extremely popular book within the US military. I hope they have created new urban warfare strategies in its wake. If Secretary Rumsfeld did indeed predict a joyous entry into the city by this point, I hope the military leaders created backup plans in case he was wrong.

The alternative -- Mogadishu a decade later, on a massive scale -- is too terrible to contemplate.

March 27, 2003

Mark Bowden on the Battle of Baghdad

Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down -- making him arguably the most knowledgeable journalist alive when it comes to modern urban warfare -- has written a thoughtful opinion piece for the New York Times on the battle for Baghdad:

Saddam Hussein... might be on the verge of delivering the "mother of all battles" he promised 12 years ago.

He... has left pockets of determined loyalists in cities large and small. These troops, many dressed in civilian clothing, will shoot at coalition forces from densely populated areas, daring return fire...

It is a strategy both cunning and cruel, and it may work. The outcome will depend in large part on the people of Baghdad, each of whom has a decision to make...

Saddam Hussein is betting that his people will rally around his crack troops. The allies are betting they will betray the dictator and flush out his enforcers. I'm afraid the odds at this point favor Saddam Hussein. Even those Iraqis eager to turn against the regime are still caught between the guns, and won't dare make a move until they are sure one side has the upper hand. Neighborhood by neighborhood, they will have to decide when it is safe to make their move.

If Saddam Hussein wins his bet, then coalition forces could face fighting reminiscent of the 1993 battle of Mogadishu. There would be important differences, of course. The 150 American troops trapped in the streets of Mogadishu were members of a light infantry unit cut off from backup or supply, without armor, dependent on a small number of helicopters for air support. Allied troops in Baghdad would number in the tens of thousands, with full armor and air support, and, as soon as the coalition manages to buttress its overextended supply line, a huge support system.

But no matter what kind of power can be rolled into Baghdad, if it faces a hostile population, as our troops did in Mogadishu, the scene could turn into a nightmare. Soldiers would be moving in a 360-degree battlefield with obstructed sight lines and impaired radio communications, trying to pick out targets from a civilian population determined to hide, supply and shield the enemy, unable to attack Iraqi firing positions without killing civilians. Even in victory such a battle would outrage the Arab world and fulfill the fears of the war's critics.

In other words, the battle of Mogadishu rendered 10 or 100 times larger. It's a frightening thought.

March 26, 2003

"Guerillas and Militias with Hotmail?"

From the current issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine:

In January, while on assignment for Adventure, Contributing Editor Robert Young Pelton and two hiking companions were kidnapped by right-wing Colombian paramilitaries in the Darién Gap -- a lawless jungle along the Panama-Colombia border. After ten nervous days, the trio was released unharmed. We spoke with the author of Come Back Alive after he'd done just that...

What kind of precautions did you take?
Before I left home I sent e-mails to the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, left-wing guerrillas] and the AUC [United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, right-wing paramilitaries] to tell them that I was going to be walking through the area, that I'd like to meet them, and that I'd like to know whether it was safe. Neither group responded.

Guerrillas and militias with Hotmail?
They've got Web sites, e-mail, sat phones. FARC told me they have an 800 number.

Found here.

Andy Oliver's Daydream

Andy Oliver daydreamed a great idea for a patent.

March 25, 2003

Congestion Charging Update

According to the Economist, London's congestion charging -- blogged about earlier here -- is going well indeed:

It has been a bad month for those who predicted that London's congestion charge would bring the city to a chaotic halt. Since the £5-a-day ($8) charge for driving in central London between 7am and 6.30pm was introduced on February 17th, average speeds in the area have more than doubled...

According to Derek Turner, boss of the capital's street management department, traffic has been reduced by 20% and delays cut by nearly 30%. Speeds in the charged zone have increased from 9.5mph to 20mph. Delays to buses caused by congestion are down by half. As a result, bus passenger numbers are up by 14%...

Those living on the zone's borders feared that traffic would be diverted on to their streets. Mysteriously, although there is 10% more traffic on the peripheral roads, journey times along them have not increased...

According to a MORI poll, 50% of Londoners are in favour of the congestion charge compared with 36% against. [London mayor Ken] Livingstone's personal poll ratings are now higher than they were when he was elected three years ago. His aides joke that he has peaked too soon.

Mayor Livingstone has promised to extend congestion charging to additional areas of central London if given the opportunity. Let's hope it spreads far beyond just London.

More on the Geneva Convention

Joi Ito has linked to my previous article on Al Jazeera and the Geneva Convention, with a discussion going in the comments there.

To my mind, there are two questions to be asked:

  1. Is the US correct in claiming that video footage being shown of US prisoners of war held by Iraq is a violation of the Geneva Convention?
  2. Is the US stance on this issue inconsistent with its treatment of prisoners captured within Afghanistan?
For reference, here's a link to the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Article 13 of the Convention states:

Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.

Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

I think the US has a case -- though certainly not an open-and-shut one -- that showing video of prisoners is a violation of the Convention's prohibition against "public curiousity." However, it's not clear to me why footage taken of Iraqis surrendering to coalition forces and being taken into captivity by them is not a violation of this same provision. The US government's position appears to be that to film the surrender and capture of forces is acceptable, but to film them afterwards is not. That seems to me to be a very fine distinction.

More seriously, and as argued here previously, the US government's position on the treatment of prisoners of war in Iraq is utterly inconsistent with its position that prisoners captured within Afghanistan are "unlawful combatants," not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Convention. It is hypocrisy of the highest order to deny Geneva Convention protections to prisoners taken in one conflict, then to show indignance over relatively minor and arguable violations of the Convention by one's opponent in a subsequent conflict.

"Unprecedented Brutality" in Zimbabwe

What better time for minor dictators to crack down on their populations than now, when the world is consumed with Iraq?

According to the BBC, the security forces of Zimbabwe have been brutalizing the citizens there, undoubtedly under the direct orders of President Robert Mugabe:

Opposition groups in Zimbabwe say that government security forces have arrested and beaten hundreds of people following last week's widely observed general strike...

President Robert Mugabe has promised "greater action" against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The BBC's Barnaby Philips in Johannesburg says that all the evidence points to a new crackdown of unprecedented brutality.

A doctor working in a hospital in the capital, Harare, said more than 250 people have been treated there after being beaten by the security forces; many had broken fingers or toes, some had broken legs.

Two women described how men in military uniforms stripped them, beat them, and used guns to sexually abuse them.

The MDC says that children of opposition activists have been assaulted.

Lawyer and director of the publishers of the Daily News Gugulethu Moyo says she was beaten by five men in Harare central police station after going there to enquire about a Daily News photographer who had been arrested.

"The cells were so full I had to stand, which was okay because my backside was so bruised I could not lie down," she said.

Many of the people of Zimbabwe are trying to throw off the chain of Robert Mugabe's disastrous and brutal rule. They deserve our support and assistance. They deserve to be remembered.

March 24, 2003

"Sort of an Obituary"

Kathy LaMotte is married to a recently made friend of mine, Eric Jackson. I haven't met Kathy yet, but from knowing Eric and from her blog, I have a high opinion of her sight unseen.

Kathy's aunt passed away recently, aged 94, and Kathy wrote a "sort of an obituary for Aunt Evelyn". It's worth reading:

Aunt Evelyn loved to sing. One of the aides had heard her singing the Hokey-Pokey in the middle of the night not long ago. (What if we get to the end of our lives and discover that the hokey-pokey really IS what it’s all about?).
Recommended.

Agreeing with Al Jazeera

I find myself squarely on the side of Al Jazeera on a human rights issue. From an article posted today:

There is nothing wrong with Article 13 of the Geneva Convention that the world adopted in 1950 for enshrining rights and privileges of a captured prisoner in war. “Prisoners of war must at all time be humanely treated…..POWs must at all time be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insult and public curiosity," it stated.

The problem is that the US is seeking to take refuge under provisions of the United Nations when the war they are waging does not have UN approval.

There is more to the US double-standards.

The US is holding 158 Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees in one of its high-security bases in Guantanomo Bay in Cuba for the past one year without even having them face a trial.

Taken prisoners in the Afghanistan war, the US has even denied them the status of Prisoners of War.

"They were not POWS but unlawful combatants," Rumsfeld has maintained while warding of accusations that the US was denying the detainees their fundamental rights to defend themselves in courts. The underlying logic has been that the detainees had no rights since they were not POWs.

Rumsfeld's bluster has not silenced the critics. Does a US defense secretary have the authority to determine who is a POW?

The accepted principle in the world hitherto has been that anyone detained in an armed conflict is presumed to be a POW, unless a competent court or tribunal determines otherwise.

But the Guantanomo detainees haven't had the luxury yet of being produced before a court.

An application filed by Human Rights groups before the US federal court seeking an end to the arbitrary detention got thrown out last fortnight because the "detainees held outside US territory were beyond the jurisdiction of US courts."

Robbed of any legal recourse, the Guantanomo detainees have been chained, manacled, hooded and forcibly shaved.

On each score, the US has erred. Forcible hooding, even temporarily, is violation of the 1984 convention against torture and reality.

Forced shaving of beards is in contravention to the 1966 convention of civil and political rights.

The continuing ill-treatment of the Guantanomo Bay detainees bodes ill. "The violations there will undermine the ability of the US government to ensure adequate treatment as and when US citizens are captured or held," said Michael Byers of the International Law at Duke University, North Carolina.

I don't know if Hell is actually freezing over, but let's say it feels more than a little strange to find myself on the same side of an issue as the editorial staff of Al Jazeera, in opposition to my own country's Secretary of Defense. Wow.

March 23, 2003

Geneva Convention Hypocrisy

From an interview of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conducted by CNN's Wolf Blitzer this morning:

BLITZER: [W]ithin the past few moments, the Al-Jazeera Arabic language television network has broadcast Iraqi television video of American POWs that they say are now in the hands of Iraqi officials...

RUMSFELD: ... [T]he Geneva Convention makes it illegal for prisoners of war to be shown and pictured and humiliated. And it's something that the United States does not do. And needless to say, television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something that's unfortunate... it's a violation of the Geneva Convention for the Iraqis to be -- if, in fact, that's what's taking place, to be showing prisoners of war in a humiliating manner...

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, this broadcast is being seen live around the world, including in Iraq. What is your message to those Iraqi government officials who now have control of these American prisoners?

RUMSFELD: That they treat those prisoners according to the Geneva Convention, just as we treat Iraqi prisoners according to the Geneva Convention.

The Bush administration wants to have its Geneva Convention cake and eat it, too.

In Afghanistan, facing an opponent incapable of mounting organized resistance, and deploying extremely limited numbers of its own ground troops, the US declares captured enemy soldiers to be "unlawful combatants," ships them to Guantánamo Bay, out of the reach of US courts, and declares it can hold them indefinitely without access to counsel or family. In Iraq, facing an opponent capable of fierce opposition and able to capture US personnel, and with large numbers of US troops on the ground, the US gives notice that it expects its prisoners to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

International agreements are not meant to be optional, observe-them-when-it-suits-you accords. They are meant to apply in all cases. In the specific case of the Geneva Convention, its power derives from the explicit agreement of all signatories to observe it all times. Each signatory should be able to reasonably expect that all other signatories will observe it, with reciprocal humane treatment of prisoners of war the end result. If, though, a nation chooses to ignore its obligations under the Geneva Convention in one conflict, it has little basis to believe that opponents in future conflicts will observe theirs.

Besides the obvious erosion of civil liberties being committed at Guantánamo, by ignoring its obligations with regard to prisoners of war, the Bush administration is endangering captured US soldiers, both in the the current conflict and in those to come.

March 22, 2003

This Is Not a War...

...at least not for most Americans. It's a war if you're a combat troop deployed in the Middle East, and it's certainly a war if you're an Iraqi, but for the rest of us, this is not a war.

Most Americans alive today -- including me -- don't know what it's like to be in a real war. This is because we haven't been in one since World War II.

Wars involve sacrifice. In World War II, everyone had to sacrifice -- everyone. Many consumer goods were rationed. Travel was curtailed. In this war, except in what so far are very few (and certainly sad) cases, we don't have to sacrifice. Some politicians are calling for a tax cut and not the tax hike so typical of war. The stock markets are up.

Wars involve uncertainty, taking on a foe who might best you. When we entered World War II, Japan and Germany were powerful nations. A reasonable observer could have concluded that we might lose to either one of them. There is absolutely, positively no question of that now. We aren't threatened militarily in any way, shape, or form.

Wars are for the long haul. From the time we entered World War II, it was 1,364 days until the surrender of Japan. The conflict in Iraq started less than 3 days ago. We expect a quick victory. If we haven't won within a couple of weeks, people will undoubtedly begin to question the competence of our leadership and our battle plan.

For the vast majority of us, this conflict brings no sacrifice and no significant uncertainty. In historical terms, it will undoubtedly be over quickly.

We should not delude ourselves by thinking that this is a war for us. We should not delude ourselves by thinking that we now know what it is like to be in a war. We should not delude ourselves by thinking that we know how we would respond to a real war.

This is not a war.

March 21, 2003

Debunking Myths about Iraq

Spinsanity has an excellent article that debunks myths about Iraq:

  • Was Iraq connected to the September 11 attacks?
  • Did a 1998 IAEA report say Iraq was six months from developing a nuclear weapon?
  • Did Iraq try to obtain aluminum tubes to produce fissile material?
  • Did Iraq attempt to purchase uranium from Niger?
  • Was it Iran, rather than Iraq, that used poison gas on Kurdish civilians?
  • Is this a war for oil?
  • Doesn't the war in Afghanistan prove that a war in Iraq will kill thousands of civilians?
  • Is this a "unilateral" war?
  • Did a majority of Americans approve of the present course of action at the time President Bush announced his final decision?
In their typically laudatory fashion, Spinsanity takes on myths propagated by both the left and the right. Well done.

"The Rest of Us Are Irrelevant"

From a story in USA Today:

[A]s the gadget-buying population of the USA grays and the rush to miniaturization accelerates, the disconnect sometimes seems to be widening between what designers believe we want and what we find we can comfortably use.

Take the Palm PDA, which later this year will appear on the screen of a Fossil watch. The $199 time tool will push the limits of the human eye. People who may have strained to check appointments, addresses and directions on a standard 2 1/4-inch square Palm display will face a 1-inch screen.

The concept "shows total contempt for the majority of consumers," says usability guru Jakob Nielsen of the consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group. "They have these young, hotshot engineers and designers; they don't have vision problems and don't believe anyone does. To them, all that matters is cool teenagers, and the rest of us are irrelevant."

Nielsen says people believe that the vision problem lies with them. "The fact is, everybody, like clockwork, when they reach 40, gets this way. We have to demand that technology adapt to human biology, not the other way around."

Having just turned 40, I definitely find myself struggling with this. When I'm wearing my contact lenses, very small type becomes difficult to resolve. It's hard even to use my regular-size Palm PDA, because much of the text is small and can't be easily changed. In poor lighting, phone numbers displayed within the Palm Contacts application can sometimes be difficult to see properly. It's frustrating, and as the article notes, the trend seems to be towards more type that is smaller and smaller.

Via Roland Piquepaille.

March 20, 2003

Correcting a Story on Verizon

Via unwired, an excerpt from a Washington Post story on Verizon's new high-speed cellular data network, EvDO:

Also today, Verizon Wireless plans to announce its intention to provide wireless networks at 475 hotels and 10 airports around the United States using a technology known as WiFi, for wireless fidelity. WiFi is more limited than EvDO, as users must be within 300 feet of a local base station. It has become an increasingly popular way for wireless users to access the Internet in hotels, airports and coffee shops around the country.
"WiFi is more limited than EvDO"? How much research did the writer of this story do? Let me try rewriting that paragraph:
Also today, Verizon Wireless plans to announce its intention to provide wireless networks at 475 hotels and 10 airports around the United States using a technology known as Wi-Fi, for wireless fidelity. Wi-Fi is a short-range networking technology, typically requiring users to be within 300 feet of a local base station. However, thousands of public Wi-Fi access points already exist in hotels, airports, and coffee shops around the country, with plans to add thousands more. Some operators of Wi-Fi access points offer free connections, either as a public service or to promote their business. When operators charge for access, billing is usually on a flat rate basis -- a fixed amount for all the data that can be downloaded in a given period of time -- 15 minutes, an hour, or a day. Although Verizon has yet to announce pricing for EvDO, like other cellular-based wireless data technologies, it will almost certainly be tied to the amount of data downloaded, with heavy users facing steep bills.
There. That's better.

More on this story from Alan Reiter.

March 19, 2003

Debunking Taranto Again

I feel as if I'm spending more and more of my time defending the eminently reasonable Thomas Friedman (Pulitzer-winning New York Times columnist) from the ever-nastier James Taranto (Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web Today editor).

Today, Taranto had this to say:

Alone in the Crowd
The New York Times' Thomas Friedman is feeling lonely:
We're riding into Baghdad pretty much alone. . . . Here we are, going to war, basically alone, in the face of opposition, not so much from "the Arab Street," but from "the World Street."
So we are "pretty much alone." As Reuters notes, quoting Colin Powell, it's just us and Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan.

That's 30 countries, and Powell says there are 15 more that do not want to be identified publicly. The Heritage Foundation enumerates 16 countries that aren't on Powell's list but "have publicly offered either political or military support for the war": Bahrain, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Jordan, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Taiwan, Ukraine and United Arab Emirates. Well, it's a stretch to count Canada, Germany and especially France as allies (Reuters reports today that "Paris had to clarify remarks by its ambassador in Washington that gave the false impression that France would join the fight in Iraq if Baghdad used chemical or biological weapons"), and it's true that American troops will do most of the work (with a lot of help from the British and a significant contribution from the Australians) -- but even so, and contrary to Friedman, isn't it getting a bit crowded in here?

Taranto gives the lie to his own comment. It's easy to say "we support the Americans." (It should be noted that only 30 out of 190 countries around the world have issued such a public statement of support. I suppose this puts our poll numbers at 15.8 percent.) It's another thing entirely to say "we support the Americans and will put our troops in harm's way to do so." Only two other nations in the world have made such a commitment: the UK and Australia. In that light, Friedman's statement, "We're riding into Baghdad pretty much alone," seems completely reasonable.

"The Bush Team Needs an 'Attitude Lobotomy'"

In what will most likely be his final column before the war begins, Thomas Friedman once again stands out as one of the most rational voices on the planet:

This column has argued throughout this debate that removing Saddam Hussein and helping Iraq replace his regime with a decent, accountable government that can serve as a model in the Middle East is worth doing -- not because Iraq threatens us with its weapons, but because we are threatened by a collection of failing Arab-Muslim states, which churn out way too many young people who feel humiliated, voiceless and left behind. We have a real interest in partnering with them for change.

This column has also argued, though, that such a preventive war is so unprecedented and mammoth a task -- taking over an entire country from a standing start and rebuilding it -- that it had to be done with maximum U.N legitimacy and with as many allies as possible.

President Bush has failed to build that framework before going to war. Though the Bush team came to office with this Iraq project in mind, it has pursued a narrow, ideological and bullying foreign policy that has alienated so many people that by the time it wanted to rustle up a posse for an Iraq war, too many nations were suspicious of its motives.

The president says he went the extra mile to find a diplomatic solution. That is not true. On the eve of the first gulf war, Secretary of State James Baker met face to face in Geneva with the Iraqi foreign minister -- a last-ditch peace effort that left most of the world feeling it was Iraq that refused to avoid war. This time the whole world saw President Bush make one trip, which didn't quite make it across the Atlantic, to sell the war to the only two allies we had. This is not to excuse France, let alone Saddam. France's role in blocking a credible U.N. disarmament program was shameful.

But here we are, going to war, basically alone, in the face of opposition, not so much from "the Arab Street," but from "the World Street." Everyone wishes it were different, but it's too late...

The president's view is that in the absence of a U.N. endorsement, this war will become "self-legitimating" when the world sees most Iraqis greet U.S. troops as liberators. I think there is a good chance that will play out.

But wars are fought for political ends. Defeating Saddam is necessary but not sufficient to achieve those ends, which are a more progressive Iraq and a world with fewer terrorists and terrorist suppliers dedicated to destroying the U.S., so Americans will feel safer at home and abroad. We cannot achieve the latter without the former. Which means we must bear any burden and pay any price to make Iraq into the sort of state that fair-minded people across the world will see and say: "You did good. You lived up to America's promise."

To maximize our chances of doing that, we need to patch things up with the world. Because having more allied support in rebuilding Iraq will increase the odds that we do it right, and because if the breach that has been opened between us and our traditional friends hardens into hostility, we will find it much tougher to manage both Iraq and all the other threats down the road. That means the Bush team needs an "attitude lobotomy" -- it needs to get off its high horse and start engaging people on the World Street, listening to what's bothering them, and also telling them what's bothering us.

After we've amended the Constitution to permit Tony Blair to serve as US President, can we appoint Thomas Friedman as Secretary of State?

Danger's Restrictive SDK

According to boing boing, Danger has set up an extremely restrictive developer program for the Hiptop:

AaronSw sez, "Danger's launched their developer site, which shows a surprising amount of uncoolness. To download the simulator, you need be verified that you own a Hiptop. To be able to put your software on real Hiptops, you need to write a program and get it approved by Danger or work for 'a company actively engaged in development for handheld devices.' Finally, they've got a system of 'Developer Dollars' to try and stop people from freeloading on the forums. What are they so afraid of? Why can't they just put the software up on a web server?"
This is extremely disappointing. Don't they want developers to write software for their platform?

The Economist on Nanotechnology

The Economist has a story in the current issue on the state of nanotechnology. The story describes key obstacles towards the mass commercialization of nanotechnology:

[T]here are two big obstacles to overcome. The first is coming up with an interface between living entities and electronic devices -- ie, between carbon and silicon. It does no good to have a fuel cell made of carbon nanotubes if it cannot communicate when it is about to run out of fuel. While scientists at IBM, Hewlett-Packard and elsewhere race to release their latest atomic transistor or nanostorage device, they have yet to work out how to integrate such components. At Hewlett-Packard, Stan Williams and Phil Kuekes recall hearing as boys that soon even toasters would run on nuclear power. Despite such false dawns, they still think nanotechnology will be everywhere within 20 years. But until the integration issue is solved, nanocomputing will be as likely as nuclear-powered kitchen appliances.

Solving the integration issue will create another problem: how, in fact, to design and build nanodevices. The unpredictable behaviour of nanoscale objects means that engineers will not know how to make nanomachines until they actually start building them. Such a conundrum could take years to solve -- and even then, it will be by trial and error and a lot of luck.

But the story ends on what is, by Economist standards, a remarkably upbeat note:

In time, nanotechnology could, indeed, change all of materials science, all of computing and much of biology. A transformation of that scope could generate serious concerns over nano-ethics. It is unlikely, though, that anything would cause the nanotechnology baton to drop. We are watching a classic technological revolution unfold.
The article also contains an interesting graph:
Taking the graph at face value, by one measure at least, nanotechnology's hype surpassed its research in 1996, but as of late last year, research has once again taken the lead. If true, this is excellent news.

March 18, 2003

Going Live with Movable Type

At last I'm switching from Blogger to Movable Type. It's a bit intimidating to switch eight months of work -- 334 posts -- to a new content management system. But my patience with Blogger had reached an end. The team at Pyra Labs deserves kudos for their innovation and market-building efforts, but their track record in building reliable software and offering new features to their customers is somewhat less praiseworthy.

What pushed me over the edge? Two things: yet another Blogger system failure last week -- at least five hours, as far as I could tell -- and my desire to have comments enabled before posting my paper on tools for emergent democracy (stay tuned).

If you run into any problems with the blog, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Back to the Future

Via KurzweilAI.net, an article in the Observer on the "search for the next big thing," which ends up sounding like we're going back to the future:

Analysts predict that one of the big growth software sectors in the future will be content management or 'data mining'. 'Silicon Valley VCs are getting very excited about so called integrated or 'artificial' intelligence...' says Tim Jennings, research director with the Butler Group...

Another area which investors believe is ripe for stellar growth is the gaming and entertainment technology sector. Mobile technology has opened up new possibilities which stretch people's leisure over time and space...

But those wanting to know where canny investors believe the sector with the biggest potential growth lies need to follow the money. Tracking which sorts of start-ups are attracting backing from new investors is a key sign. Figures from Ernst & Young/Venture One show that last year 64 per cent of funds being ploughed into the biopharmaceuticals sector came from new investors, compared with just 27 per cent for IT companies.

Analysts at JP Morgan predict sales in the US biotechnology sector will increase from 25 to 28 per cent this year. In contrast, they predict the US pharmaceuticals industry will grow by only 6 per cent. A favourable regulatory environment coupled with a desire by investors to inject new capital is driving the industry forward.

John Mackie, chief executive of the British Venture Capital Association, says three things have conspired over the last couple of years to heighten interest in biotech. 'The mapping of the human genome has thrown up hundreds of opportunities. Increasing demands on healthcare have created more of a focus for investment in the sector. And thirdly there is now better technology transfer from universities.'

As with dotcom mania many investments will turn sour, but for now the biotechnology sector is the closest we have to a new thing.

This is all well and good, but since when have venture capital investment trends served as a reliable predictor of future markets?

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to use my pen computer to order dog food over the Internet...

March 17, 2003

The Rights of the "Unlawful Combatants"

This is a New York Times editorial from last week. I'm reproducing it in its entirety because I think it's important to do so:

Forsaken at Guantánamo

It has been 14 months since the first prisoners from the Afghanistan war were taken to a naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. The Bush administration says it can hold the detainees indefinitely, without allowing them access to family or legal counsel. Yesterday, a federal Court of Appeals threw out a challenge by some of those detainees to their confinement. The administration and the court are wrong. The detainees may not have the same rights as American citizens, but they are entitled to more due process than they are being given.

The United States military is holding hundreds of prisoners accused of Taliban or Al Qaeda ties at Guantánamo. Many were seized in the heat of battle, but others were turned over in exchange for rewards or bounties. Advocates for the prisoners maintain that one-third or more are being held on the basis of bad intelligence, or simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Guantánamo detainees are in legal limbo. The Bush administration refuses to designate them prisoners of war, a label that would entitle them to immunity from prosecution for acts committed during a lawful war, among other things. Nor is the administration treating them as ordinary criminal defendants, entitled to know the charges against them and allowed to contest their confinement in court. The government's position is that the detainees are "unlawful combatants" who can be held incommunicado indefinitely.

Whatever their legal status, the Guantánamo detainees must be given a chance to contest their confinement. Those who were wrongly caught up in the military's net must have an opportunity to make their case.

As noncitizens captured in wartime, they may not have the right to have their claims heard in United States courts. But they must be given some forum, like a military tribunal, in which to contest their continued imprisonment. The rules of evidence, and the standard of proof for holding them, may be different from those in ordinary criminal trials. But there must be rules, and at least some individualized proof, for the detentions to be proper.

The ruling, from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a suit filed by Kuwaiti, British and Australian detainees, said that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear claims by the Guantánamo prisoners who contend that they are being wrongfully held. It is a disturbing decision that gives the administration essentially unchecked power to imprison foreigners. The court abdicated its role by not exercising any oversight in this important matter.

In refusing to let the Guantánamo detainees challenge their confinement, the administration is trampling on their rights. It is also damaging America's reputation for fairness. The administration should rethink its policies, and the Supreme Court should reverse yesterday's unfortunate decision.

It would be easy to forget about these men. I presume that many of them were in fact members of Al Qaeda, or Taliban soldiers fighting on their behalf. Al Qaeda members committed a heinous act of terrorism, and the Taliban refused to hand them over. We were within our rights to pursue and destroy both organizations, and the world is better off without them (though the extent to which we are free of these movements is certainly an open question).

Having said that, none of this changes the fact that these men -- however grave their alleged crimes -- are human beings with certain rights. If they are prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with the guidelines to which we have agreed for the treatment of such prisoners, including contact with the outside world and release after the end of hostilities. If they aren't prisoners of war, then they must be treated in accordance with our own laws for criminal suspects, including the right to legal counsel and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Instead of following either of these paths, the Bush administration has invented a new legal concept to describe the prisoners, "unlawful combatants," which it claims frees it from any of these obligations, and then has used the peculiar territorial status of the US base at Guantánamo to keep the detainees out of the reach of US courts.

Watching the behavior of governments over time demonstrates that small programs targeted at a few often grow far beyond their originally promised purposes. If we allow our government to continue to deny the rights of hundreds of prisoners in Guantánamo, and justify this on the grounds that they are terrorists, we may wake up one day to find that it is no longer hundreds, but thousands. We may wake up one day to a frontal assault on the Bill of Rights and belatedly realize that it began here and now.

McDonald's Wireless

A capture of the login screen for McDonald's wireless service in New York:

In counter-clockwise order, the logos below the outline of the state are for Intel's Centrino, Cometa Networks, and iPass.

Via unwired.

March 16, 2003

"You Don't Mess with Gaston Glock"

A Forbes profile of Gaston Glock, the Austrian founder of Glock GmbH, maker of handguns recommended by nine of out ten police officers and rappers alike, begins with this amazing account of an attempt on Glock's life:

He is the man behind the gun. You don't mess with Gaston Glock.

His most trusted associate allegedly tried. Lured into a dimly lit garage in Luxembourg by his colleague Charles Ewert, the Austrian Glock stopped to look at a sports car at Ewert's suggestion. Suddenly, a massive masked man leaped from behind and smashed a rubber mallet into Glock's skull. Ewert fled to the stairwell. "I am a coward," he later told Forbes. With Glock off balance, the attacker landed another crushing blow. "I was fighting for my life," recalls Glock, 73, during a rare interview with the press.

Springing up on legs toned by miles of daily swimming, Glock thrust his enormous fist into his assailant's eye socket. As the would-be assassin staggered, Glock pounded again, knocking out a few of the man's teeth. The bloodied attacker staggered, then collapsed on top of Glock "with his arms outstretched like Jesus Christ," according to John Paul Frising, Luxembourg's deputy attorney general, who brought attempted murder charges against the attacker, the French-born Jacques (Spartacus) Pêcheur, 67.

So despite that Glock was 73 years old and his attacker had the first shot -- two rubber mallet strikes to his skull -- he fought back. Holy crap! This guy doesn't need one of his guns to be a badass!

March 15, 2003

TSA Leaves Nastygram in Luggage?

From the Seattle Times, a story of a traveler who found a little something extra in his luggage:

Seth Goldberg says that when he opened his suitcase in San Diego after a flight from Seattle this month, the two "No Iraq War" signs he'd picked up at the Pike Place Market were still nestled among his clothes.

But there was a third sign, he said, that shocked him. Tucked in his luggage was a card from the Transportation Security Administration notifying him that his bags had been opened and inspected at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Handwritten on the side of the card was a note, "Don't appreciate your anti-American attitude!" ...

TSA officials say they are looking into the incident. "We do not condone our employees making any kind of political comments or personal comments to any travelers," TSA spokeswoman Heather Rosenker told Reuters. "That is not acceptable."

If the TSA is serious about this, they'll find the employee who wrote the note and fire him or her. (It shouldn't be difficult. After all, they have a clear sample of the person's handwriting, and they have a precise list of suspects -- the employees on baggage inspection duty at Sea-Tac that day.) If the story just fades away, then we'll know that they don't really care about their employees harassing and intimidating travelers.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Merton

For those among you who are marketers, a moment of silence is in order. Robert King Merton, inventor of the focus group, died last month aged 92:

In 1941 Paul Lazarsfeld, a statistician at Columbia University in New York, got together a group of people representing a typical radio audience and gave them some buttons to press as they listened to various programmes. He was then able to work out which programmes had the most appeal. Helping him at these sessions was Robert Merton, who had recently joined Columbia. At the end of each session Mr Merton asked any in the group who did not need to dash away to stay behind and discuss the radio shows in some detail: they should focus on why they had liked this bit of the show, and not that.

Although it is risky to claim that anyone invented anything, it is generally accepted by sociologists that Mr Merton's were the world's first focus groups, a research tool now used widely in commerce and increasingly in politics.

Focus groups have been much abused over the years. As a tool for developing innovative new products, they can be disastrous -- people will simply say, in so many words, that they want more of what they have now for less money. But as a tool to refine a product concept, or to decrease the chances of shipping a flop, focus groups can be quite useful. (And yet, with this in mind, I look at the Pontiac Aztek and shake my head.)

So rest in peace, Mr. Merton, and thanks for your contribution to the world of marketing.

March 14, 2003

Heard Over a Movie Tonight

While watching Mars Attacks with my teenage boys, just before the Martians obliterate Congress, from my 15-year-old son Duncan:

They should get rid of Congress. They're lying, self-serving scumbags. Didn't you see The Simpsons last week?
All I need to know I learned from The Simpsons? Perhaps, but one could do worse...

More Brain Rewiring

Replying to my blog entry on how TiVo has rewired my brain, Michael Morrissey wrote:

Ha! I had some very similar experiences a couple of years ago. I'd picked up a Tivo and subscribed to cable tv so I could watch the Tour de France, and suddenly I found myself a slave to Tivo. (That's another story.) But, I found, after a few months, that I started thinking -- just for a split-second each time -- that I could rewind *everything*. It first happened when I was watching a movie in a movie theater, it happened several times when I was listening to the radio, and it happened once when I was driving. It's interesting to note that both you and I thought "rewind," and not, "Wait, what just happened?".

I think that people are especially susceptible to this while driving, since driving in a modern car is increasingly like watching TV or playing a video game -- you're almost completely divorced from the physical act of driving, so it's easy to start thinking the windshield is just a big TV screen.

On the rewiring of our brains by electronics other than digital video recorders, joe holt wrote:

I had a phone conversation recently which I ended by pressing '3' to delete.
I'm interested in collecting more examples of this sort of thing. If you have any, feel free to e-mail me.

March 13, 2003

The End Game at the Security Council

Once again, Thomas Friedman talks sense in his latest editorial for the New York Times:

My main criticism of President Bush is that he has failed to acknowledge how unusual this war of choice is -- for both Americans and the world -- and therefore hasn't offered the bold policies that have to go with it. Instead, the president has hyped the threat and asserted that this is a war of no choice, then combined it all with his worst pre-9/11 business as usual: budget-busting tax cuts, indifference to global environmental concerns, a gas-guzzling energy policy, neglect of the Arab-Israeli peace process and bullying diplomacy...

Mr. President, before you shake the dice on a legitimate but audacious war, please, shake the dice just once on some courageous diplomacy. Pick up where Woodrow Wilson left off: fly to Paris, bring the leaders of France, Russia, China and Britain together, along with the chairman of the Arab League summit, and offer them any reasonable amount of time for more inspections -- if they will agree on specific disarmament benchmarks Saddam has to meet and support an automatic U.N. authorization of force if he doesn't. If France still snubs you, the world will see that you are the one trying to preserve collective security, while France only wants to make mischief. That will be very important to the legitimacy of any war.

In his Best of the Web Today column yesterday, James Taranto saw fit to label Friedman one of a group of "liberal hawks turn[ed] chicken":

Now that the liberation of Iraq seems imminent, several center-left commentators who previously backed it are calling for more delay. Mickey Kaus dubs them the "balking hawks." ...

The most charitable interpretation of this sudden hesitation is that our liberal friends are confused about ends and means...

There's a more cynical interpretation of the erstwhile hawks' change of heart. It may be that as partisan opponents of the president, they hope to deny him a success -- or to be able to say "I told you so" if something goes wrong in Iraq.

This is a ridiculous assertion in the case of Friedman, and Taranto should know it. (Have I become more "center-left," or has Taranto grown more partisan, more prone to throwing out red herrings, more prone to ad hominem attacks over the last year? I can't be sure.) Friedman has been and remains in favor of going to war, with or without unanimity on the Security Council, provided the US puts forth its best effort to obtain the support of its allies. In early February, he wrote (and I later blogged):

No question -- Saddam never would have let the U.N. inspectors back in had President Bush not unilaterally threatened force. But if Mr. Bush keeps conveying to China, France and Russia that he really doesn't care what they think and will go to war anyway, their impulse will be to never come along and just remain free riders.

The allies also have a willful blind spot. There is no way their preferred outcome, a peaceful solution, can come about unless Saddam is faced with a credible, unified threat of force. The French and others know that, and therefore their refusal to present Saddam with a threat only guarantees U.S. unilateralism and undermines the very U.N. structure that is the best vehicle for their managing U.S. power.

We need a compromise. We need to say to the French, Russians and Chinese that we'll stand down for a few more weeks and give Saddam one last chance to comply with the U.N. disarmament demands -- provided they agree now that if Saddam does not fully comply they will have the U.N. authorize the use of force.

Unfortunately, we didn't do this back then. Instead, we waited until March, and then offered an extremely short extension, and the French are balking. After a brilliant performance in securing Resolution 1441, the US has handled the end game at the Security Council incompetently.

Having said that, the French position is foolish and counterproductive. The UK is offering -- with the US reluctantly agreeing -- to negotiate an extension for Iraq to come into full compliance with 1441, along with a series of specific, measurable steps -- just as I proposed when I wrote:

I believe the Security Council should unanimously say to Iraq, "If you do not immediately comply fully with Resolution 1441, the international community will disarm you by force, with the full blessing and support of this Council. For you to be considered in compliance with Resolution 1441, within one month of the date of this resolution, UN weapons inspectors must affirmatively certify that you are in compliance with a list of highly specific requirements. Should the weapons inspectors fail to so certify your compliance with any of these requirements within the month, you will be considered in breach of this resolution, which will result in your forced disarmament with no further resolutions or negotiations."
The French response is to say they will veto any resolution leading to automatic military action under any circumstances. Do they not see that this increases the likelihood of war? Can anyone argue with a straight face that Saddam Hussein has taken what steps he has toward disarmament for any reason other then the credible threat of US-led military action? France is attempting to take such military action off the table. The US knows this will be the end of any progress towards disarmament, and so has made it clear that, if it cannot reach agreement on a resolution with fellow Security Council members, it will take action on its own.

What is France's wish? To prevent war? It doesn't look like it. To disarm Iraq? It doesn't look like it. Or is the French wish simply to appear to wish to prevent war while disarming Iraq?

Quote in GANAR

The March 2003 issue of GANAR, a Spanish magazine on "business and new technologies," is out, with an issue focus on PDAs:

I did an e-mail interview with a writer for the magazine, Ricardo Schell Schmid, which was reduced down to the following within a sidebar article on mobile wireless device manufacturers:
Para Frank Boosman, director de márketing de la consultora AirEight, "acquellas compañías que estén dispuetas a correr más riesgos y invertir en innovación serán las que lideren el mercadol."
This, I believe, is a translation of my original statement:
The companies that will win are those that are most willing to take chances and innovate.
Out of context, this sounds about as generic and meaningless as one can get. (So much for my rep in the Spanish high-tech community.) For the original context of the quote, within which it hopefully sounds less like useless drivel, here's the original interview:
Q: While PDAs tend to incorporate GPRS functionaliy and mobile phones adopt planning functionality, which will be the meeting point? A: It's not clear that there will be one "meeting point," but rather a variety of device types depending on consumer needs. Professionals looking for a robust, all-in-one solution will adopt PDAs with built-in wireless functionality (termed by some the "PC-minus" model). Consumers looking for a more capable phone will adopt phones with added organizer functions (termed by some the "phone-plus" model). Still others will choose simple, Bluetooth-equipped phones and use them in conjunction with Bluetooth-equipped PDAs. We believe that all three models will be popular over time.

Q: Are we going to a new sort of hybird devices? Which will be their advantages against pure PDAs and pure mobile phones?
A: I think we already see hybrid devices. The T-Mobile Sidekick (also known as the Danger Hiptop) is a good example of a device that isn't exactly a phone, but isn't exactly a PDA. It has the advantage of being smaller than a true PDA, and its software is optimized for mobile use, unlike PDA operating systems. On the other hand, it's larger than a true phone, and not as convenient to use when it's being used as a phone.

Q: Which companies are better positioned to fight in this new market: phone makers suchs as Nokia, Ericsson..., PDA makers like Palm, HP, Casio... or companies like Sony that do both things?
A: The companies that will win are those that are most willing to take chances and innovate. Adding GPRS functionality to a PDA may be useful, but it's not exactly an original idea. The most successful wireless devices of tomorrow -- whether wireless PDAs, organizer phones, or other devices entirely -- will be those that are to the greatest degree built from the ground up for their specific tasks.

Q: Which functionalities will be most demanded?
A: This depends on the purchaser, the market, and the intended use for the device. At a fundamental level, the most demanded functionality will be the ability easily download and install new software. The more that carriers try to erect "walled gardens" and prevent users from customizing their devices, the less successful they will be.

Q: Which paper will companies like Symbian, Palm Source o Microsoft, play in the development of new OS?
A: Microsoft, Palm Source, Sun, and Symbian will all have important roles to play in the future of wireless devices. All of them have strong relationships in the wireless industry, and none of them is going away anytime soon.

Ah, the joy of interviews... the knowledge that whatever you say may well be condensed down to the point at which you will no longer sound like you know what you're talking about.

TiVo Rewires My Brain

This is going to sound drawn-out, but in real time the entire sequence lasted two or three seconds.

While driving down the freeway yesterday, a cigarette butt flew from the car in front of me to the road below. As I glanced at it, another cigarette butt hit the road ahead of it. I looked up at the car, wondering if there were two people both discarding their cigarettes at the same time, and I swear to God, I thought "rewind," in the TiVo sense of hitting the back button to rewind 10 seconds. I wasn't consciously thinking of TiVo in any way -- I just instinctively reacted by wanting to go back 10 seconds, because I'm so used to doing it with television now.

I find it fascinating and a little scary that a consumer electronics device has rewired my brain like this.

March 12, 2003

LA2JAX

Via Marc Canter, LA2JAX, a blog by a father and his nine-year-old son as they ride a tandem bicycle from Los Angeles to Jacksonville. They're carrying "a 'sub-notebook' computer, two digital cameras, a digital voice recorder, a cell phone or two, a Sony CLIE PDA, a Gameboy, and... a Garmin GPS V." The father writes his blog entries, while the son uses audblog to record his. Wonderful.

"I Guess Those Were Some Important Pizzas"

A story from the Globe and Mail:

When she saw the screen door's shattered glass and heard somebody shouting for help, Marcella McAulay did not pause to think that she was supposed to be working.

The 34-year-old pizza-delivery woman ran into the house in Selkirk, Man., and tried to comfort a man she found curled up in the hallway, clutching his stomach where a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun had torn out his entrails.

When Ms. McAulay returned to the pizza shop three hours later, her boss yelled at her for missing work and fired her on the spot...

A single mother and part-time student, Ms. McAulay has not found work since the shooting the night of Feb. 26.

An owner of Frank's Pizza, Randy Saluk, said Ms. McAulay was fired because she abandoned her pizza-delivery duties.

"She wasn't doing her job, plain and simple," Mr. Saluk said. At the time of the shooting, she was on an unauthorized coffee break, he added.

"When she's not delivering, she's here to aid the cook and help clean and stuff like that."

Selkirk RCMP Sergeant John Joslin said investigators kept Ms. McAulay at the scene of the crime so they could interview her about the shooting.

"I guess those were some important pizzas," he said, chuckling.

The closing quote is classic RCMP-at-its-best -- dry Canadian humor. Excellent!

As for the pizza store owner and the employee, I'm willing to bet that in this case, what goes around will come around.

Everything I Need to Know...

...I learned from the two women sitting next to me at my son's soccer game on Sunday:

  • The war in Iraq is all about the oil.
  • If we invade Iraq, 500,000 Iraqis are going to be killed or seriously injured.
  • Invading Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden was like invading North Carolina to capture the abortion clinic bomber hiding in the hills.
  • Gasoline costs US$3.00 per gallon in Canada.
  • The president's brother was on the board of the firm responsible for security at the World Trade Center. That can't be a coincidence.
  • The US military doesn't teach its recruits any useful skills. They say they do, but they don't.
  • The US military is blackmailing schools into allowing them to recruit their students.
Glad we got all that straightened out.

March 11, 2003

McDonald's Goes Wireless -- Crystal Ball Looking Good

A week ago yesterday, I posted an entry in which Glenn Fleishmann and I traded e-mail on the possibility of McDonald's offering wireless access, possibly through Cometa. Now comes this story, just out this morning:

McDonald's restaurants in three U.S. cities will offer one hour of free high-speed access to anyone who buys a combination meal. Ten McDonald's in Manhattan will begin offering wireless WiFi, or 802.11b, Internet access on Wednesday, McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa Howard said.

By year's end, McDonald's will extend the access to 300 McDonald restaurants in New York City, Chicago and a yet-unannounced California town, Howard said.

"You can come in and have an extra value meal and send some e-mail," Howard said. Window signs will alert customers to the restaurants with WiFi access, she said...

After using the hour of free access that comes with a meal, customers can pay $3 for another hour online -- or simply buy another extra value meal, Howard said. The pilot program lasts for three months, she said.

Cometa Networks, a startup working to offer WiFi connections in businesses across the country, will provide the Internet bandwidth for the offer.

I'm feeling good about the prescience (or just dumb luck) of my previous entry, but I'm sticking with what I wrote before: I don't think it's enough for McDonald's to offer wireless broadband with a sign in the window. As I wrote:

McDonald's creates a new branding program. They could call it "McRoad," or "McBusiness," or something else, but let's call it "McBiz" for now. McBiz is a sub-brand of McDonald's. There's a McBiz treatment that extends the existing McDonald's logo -- it's subtle, but once you know what to look for, it's easy to spot (though the uninterested might never notice it). When a restaurant switches to the McBiz branding, this indicates a number of things:
  • There's a Wi-Fi access point on premises.
  • There's at least one customer-accessible power outlet per n seats.
  • The coffee served has been upgraded (new brand, new procedures).
  • The restaurant sells the Wall Street Journal (in addition to USA Today).
  • There are at least n monitors playing CNN Headline News (sound off, closed captioned).
  • There's a customer-accessible soda machine.
I'm not much of a McDonald's fan, but if they embarked on such an effort, and made me aware of it, I'd start paying attention to them. Sure, when I'm on the road, I'd rather go to a Starbucks, but if the choice is pull into a McBiz McDonald's now or drive around for 10 minutes looking for a Starbucks, I'll probably choose McDonald's.
This is not a case of "build it and they will come." McDonald's needs to create a complete service for the likely target audience, and they need to create branding around that service. Still, it's certainly a step in the right direction.

March 10, 2003

Jon Udell's Blog

I'm consumed at the moment with trying to finish a paper on tools for emergent democracy. As a result, the best I can do for today is to point the way to a blog I've discovered of late: Jon Udell. An extremely useful blog to which I find myself referring again and again. I also find Jon's articles on InfoWorld showing up repeatedly in my searches -- the more accurate and refined the search, the more near the top his articles appear. Recommended.

March 09, 2003

America Untethered

Via Hal Bringman, "America Untethered", an excellent (and unfortunately pay-per-view) article from American Demographics on how mobile wireless is changing our society:

As cell phones reach deeper into our lives, they're beginning to create a deeper impression on the American psyche. To hear researchers and ethnographers tell it, wireless communication is beginning to have a notable impact on our social behavior -- one that could have a long-lasting effect on our society and the world around us. "We're at a transitional point where a lot of new rules are being set," says Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist and managing partner at Context-Based Research Group in Baltimore...

At least four ethnographic studies in the U.S. and Europe released in 2001 and 2002 have detected signs of changing habits due to wireless communication. Thanks to mobile phones, the researchers found, Americans and Europeans may be becoming more independent and spontaneous. But they may also be growing prone to planning at the last minute and arriving at meetings late. They're sharing more of their personal lives in public but are also forcing a redefinition of basic etiquette. This increasing accessibility is allowing work to impinge even more on family lives even as it enhances social lives.

One aspect of this phenomenon focused on in the article is how mobile wireless is changing how people relate to time:

If wireless is encouraging people to gab, it's also giving them newfound spontaneity. With cell phones in hand, both [assistant professor of computer science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Leysia] Palen and Blinkoff's research subjects could change their plans at the last minute more easily, deciding to meet at a different location, say, or inviting others to join their group...

In Brazil, Australia and the U.S., cell phone users repeatedly admitted that they now often call friends and colleagues to tell them they're running behind schedule. In turn, being late is becoming more acceptable than it used to be, Blinkoff and Palen conclude. "Mobile technology is starting to remove a strict adherence to a schedule. It's a loss in respect for calendar time," says Palen. "And that's happening across the board in all sorts of interactions."

Indeed, a 2001 study by Rich Ling, a researcher at Norwegian telecom firm Telenor, and by Leslie Haddon, a research associate in the media and communications department at the London School of Economics, found "micro-coordination" to be the backbone of mobile phones. Unlike the traditional telephone, the mobile phone has none of the strictures of location and therefore "softens" time, enabling people to merely suggest a time and place to meet, and to pin down a location as they approach the meeting time. Perhaps not surprisingly, as users of mobile phones leave more planning to the last minute, they also tend to overshoot the final arrival time as well.

A big change for me is in how I treat directions. If I'm going somewhere unfamiliar, and I have the time, I print out directions using Microsoft Streets & Trips (my favorite Microsoft product, by the way). But if I'm running late, I'll leave with only a vague idea of where I'm headed, on the presumption that I can track down someone on my cell phone who can tell me how to get there.

March 08, 2003

We Have Met the Enemy and They Is McDonald's

From Business 2.0, "If You Can't Beat 'Em, Pander to 'Em", an article on how international McDonald's outlets have distanced themselves from the US during times of anti-Americanism. Some seem particularly egregious:

France 1997-2002

Problem: Backlash against U.S. cultural imperialism. When French farmer Jose Bove vandalized a McDonald's outlet in 1999, his compatriots were thrilled.

McSpin: Franchise launches ads featuring cowboys who boast that McDonald's France refuses to import American beef "to guarantee maximum hygienic conditions." Ronald McDonald takes a backseat to Asterix, the cartoon defender of French independence.

Yugoslavia 1998

Problem: Operating under NATO auspices, the U.S. military begins a bombing campaign against Belgrade.

McSpin: Franchise repositions McDonald's as a symbol of anti-NATO protest. Hands out free burgers at rallies and adds a Serbian nationalist cap to the Golden Arches icon under the slogan "McDonald's is yours." ...

Egypt 2001

Problem: Anti-American boycott sparked by U.S. support for Israel.

McSpin: Local outlets introduce the McFalafel, rolled out behind an ad jingle sung by Shabaan Abdel Rahim, best known for his chart-topping hit "I Hate Israel."

The article goes on to state that the Saudi Arabian franchisee's response to a Palestinian-inspired boycott of American products was to donate "30 cents from every Big Mac sold to the Red Crescent Society and Nasser Hospital in Gaza for treatment of Palestinian casualties," which seems reasonable to me -- more logical and well-intentioned, certainly, than using French-speaking cowboys to trash American beef, or making the Golden Arches a symbol of Serbian nationalism.

March 07, 2003

So This Is What It Has Come To

Remember the Sonic Cruiser? It was Boeing's proposed aircraft that was going to shave an hour off transatlantic routes and up to three hours off some transpacific routes while using no more fuel than a typical airliner. I blogged about its rumored troubles here and here. Now it's official: the Sonic Cruiser is not to be. Instead, we're going to get the 7E7:

The Boeing 7E7 is being developed as a 200- to 250-seat airplane that will fly between 7,000 and 8,000 nautical miles at speeds similar to today's fastest twin-aisle commercial airplanes -- the 777 and 747...

The airplane will be based on the enabling technologies developed with a global industry team during the company's examination of the Sonic Cruiser concept. In December 2002, Boeing announced that based on customer input and market analysis, it would focus these new technologies on a super-efficient, mid-sized airplane... The company expects to formally offer the new airplane to customers in early 2004, with entry into service targeted for 2008.

The Seattle Times had this to say in an article earlier this week:

Airlines' preference for lower operating costs over higher speeds led Boeing to abandon its proposed Sonic Cruiser in favor of the 7E7 late last year.

In keeping with that emphasis, [vice president of development for the 7E7, Walt] Gillette reasserted the 7E7 will burn 17 percent less fuel per passenger than the 777, and 20 percent less fuel per passenger than the A330-200.

So all those new technologies developed for the Sonic Cruiser will go to make simply something that consumes slightly less fuel. That's it.

By the way, everyone who believes that airlines will put shops, casinos, and gyms on Airbus A380s, raise your hands. (In my best John McLaughlin voice) "Wrong! The correct answer is that every square inch will be used for seating!" Airbus can propose using the extra space of the A380 for passenger amenities, and Boeing can propose using new technologies to make a faster aircraft, but in the end, the airlines simply want to shave every nickel they can off their costs. The problem with this thinking is that the mainstream intercontinental airlines who are A380 and 7E7 customers (American, United, et. al.) are trying to compete on costs with the discount upstarts (Southwest, Ryanair, et. al.). They need to forget it. They can't do it. They're locked into hub and spoke systems, diverse aircraft types, and expensive and inflexible labor contracts. Saving 17-20 percent on fuel costs with the 7E7, or 15-20 percent on operating costs with the A380, won't suddenly make them competitive with the discount carriers. They're deluding themselves if they believe this.

Compare and Contrast

From President Bush's State of the Union address, 29 January 2002:

The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.
From an article in the Los Angeles Times, 5 March 2003:
The Bush administration has concluded that it probably cannot prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and is focusing on managing the geopolitical fallout, informed Capitol Hill sources said Tuesday.

In closed briefings and private conversations with members of Congress over the last several weeks, administration officials have indicated that they expect North Korea to begin reprocessing its plutonium stockpiles soon, perhaps within a few weeks, the sources said. Once reprocessing begins, North Korea will be able to produce enough plutonium for one nuclear weapon a month.

A Senate staff member who is privy to the briefings said the administration was "preparing people up here for a de facto, if not declared, North Korean nuclear state and saying that this is something we can deal with through isolation, sanctions, deterrence and national missile defense."

During his press conference last night, the following question was asked of the president:

If North Korea restarts their plutonium plant, will that change your thinking about how to handle this crisis, or are you resigned to North Korea becoming a nuclear power?
I'm not quoting the president's response because there was nothing quotable in it. He said nothing. The question made it easy for him to say nothing. I would have liked to see the following question asked instead:

Mr. President, in your State of the Union address in January of 2002, you labeled North Korea as part of an "axis of evil," then said, and I quote, "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." Last month, CIA Director Tenet testified before Congress that North Korea probably has one or two nuclear devices, as well as the ability to reach the west coast of the US with a ballistic missile. How do you reconcile the promise you made to the American people with your intelligence director's latest testimony?

Helen Thomas rightfully complains about the paucity of press conferences in the current administration. She should turn a critical eye on the White House press corps itself -- given the few chances they have to ask questions, it's imperative that their questions be good ones.

March 06, 2003

RSS Feed Philosophy

Having just flown back home from California, I would like to state definitively my opinion that RSS feeds should be unabbreviated. Give your readers everything -- all the text, all the images, all of it. And don't go back just two or three posts, or even a few days' worth -- provide at least a week's worth of your entries. Bandwidth is cheap, except where it's non-existent, like on planes, unless you're on Lufthansa, which doesn't fly to North Carolina last time I checked.

Joi Ito's strategy of providing multiple feeds at different detail levels also works -- just make sure one of them is the whole enchilada.

March 05, 2003

Fox News Channel

I'm in the Admirals Club at O'Hare International. I'm sitting in a comfortable booth, my T-Mobile HotSpot connection going strong, and off to one side there's a large-screen TV turned on. It's tuned to the Fox News Channel, and I'm imagining slogans for it:

  • Fox News: we deliver the news, rudely.
  • Fox News: because objectivity is for losers.
  • Fox News: 100 percent of your US RDA of yelling.
  • Fox News: funny, stupid, or evil, we cover all foreigners.
How can people watch this stuff?

Trip Report (Short Form)

Metadata. Collaboration. Distributed systems.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

March 04, 2003

Silicon Valley is Dead -- Long Live Silicon Valley

Having done two long stints in Silicon Valley over the years, but having left just before the bubble burst, it has been interesting to return on an irregular basis and watch its post-bubble evolution.

It's easy to look at the Valley and conclude that, compared to its former self, it's now a ghost town. Millions of square feet of office space sit empty. Once-popular restaurants have closed, while others are scraping by on a fraction of their former traffic. Good people with solid resumes are going six, twelve, even eighteen months without finding a steady job. Even some of the venture capitalists say, "You don't want to take money from us now." It's sad in any case, and even a bit shocking if you haven't been immersed in it.

But there is another Silicon Valley rising from the ashes -- a new generation of companies starting and growing up, born out of bad times. These companies are the seedlings poking through the ashes of a devastating fire. When the fire is a memory, they'll be the tallest trees in the new forest.

Generalizations are difficult and dangerous, but with that said...

These new companies are used to doing more with less. Everything is done on the cheap. Everything is optional, even office space. They're not trying to attract eyeballs that might be monetizable someday; they're building services which will attract revenue now. Sponsor-based revenue models are out: if the end-users themselves won't pay for a service, they won't build it. They're avoiding venture capital as long as possible; every day they put it off means more control, more equity, and most of all more freedom. And they're working. They're making money.

Heard from an entrepreneur friend yesterday: "This is the best possible time to be starting a company in the Valley."

So Silicon Valley is dead. Long live Silicon Valley.

March 03, 2003

Joi Ito's New New Party

For his last party, Joi Ito had perhaps 30 or 40 people in attendance. This time the number grew to 140-150, and was held at Zibibbo in Palo Alto. It was a wonderful event. I wish the mingling cocktail party segment had lasted even longer -- there were scores of people I didn't get the chance to meet. I didn't meet Ben and Mena. I stood next to Justin, but he seemed preoccupied and I didn't have the heart to interrupt him. I didn't meet Evan, or Doc, or, or... but I was able to catch up with some old friends and make some new ones.

Above are Barak Berkowitz and Michael Morrissey. Barak is... um... he's working with Joi on some interesting things. How does that sound? Michael is an ex-colleague of mine from my Be days. He's now at Danger, which has a strong Be contingent. (Be takes over Danger and PalmSource... Jean-Louis' secret plan for dominating mobile wireless becomes clear at last.)

Speaking of Be, here's the ex-Be crowd at the party. From left to right, me, Michael Morrissey, Andrew Kimpton, and Hiroshi Lockheimer. Andrew worked for me as an evangelist before moving into full-time engineering; he's now leading development at BIAS. Hiroshi was either an engineer who kept getting sucked into product and sales management for Japan, or a product and sales manager for Japan who kept getting sucked into engineering. I'm not sure which. He's now at Good. Hiroshi is the official owner of the most embarrassing story about me from the last five years, so I keep a close watch on him. (Thanks to Michael's lovely wife Jennifer for taking the photo.)

Cory Doctorow is angry. Well, actually, no. (He's Canadian. Canadians never get angry -- just very disappointed in the rest of us.) He just looked that way in this photograph. I have a good Cory story ("Hey! I made a funny!" -- F. Leghorn) that I'll use in a future post.

Here I am talking with Lisa Rein, with whom I spent far too little time, to my regret, and Reid Hoffman. In one minute of conversation, I thought Lisa seemed cool. I'm sure she seems even cooler after two minutes. Reid is still in stealth mode. Presumably he'll come out soon, check for his shadow, and let us all know whether we're going to be using PayPal for the next 20 years. (Thanks to Kazuya Minami for the photograph.)

Ellen Levy's hands were cold. But Ellen was great! Sincerely, Ellen, if I meet many more VCs like you, I'm going to have to revise upward my opinion of the VC community.

Reid Hoffman and Marc Canter. Nope, sorry, Reid's still in stealth mode. Check again later. As for Marc, I'm trying to construct a grammatically and factually correct English sentence containing the phrases "Marc Canter" and "stealth mode," but it just won't come out. I'll keep working on it.

Joi and Dave Winer. Dave and I had an interesting discussion about privacy for weblogs. I think I can summarize his position as being that people don't really care about it. I know I can summarize my position as being that they do. We agreed to disagree.

Robert Scoble showing off his new baby. I want a tablet like this with a RIM-style keyboard -- say, about one-third to one-half up the device from the bottom, with half the keyboard on each side of the screen.

Thanks, Joi, for hosting such a great party. You were right: it was worth flying out for.

McBiz

Glenn Fleishmann (keeper of the excellent Wi-Fi Networking News) and I have been having an e-mail exchange prompted by his analysis of a story on Cometa in the Red Herring (in what woulud appear to be its last issue). I noted that McDonald's had 13,099 outlets in the US as of December 2001, and then wrote:

In late 2001, I heard a rumor that IBM Global Services was working on Wi-Fi deployment deals with Subway and McDonald's. I've heard nothing of this since, but is it possible that such discussions occurred prior to Cometa's launch and continue to this day?
Glenn replied:
Here's the rub: I thought Cometa was providing businesspeople venues in which they could work. If they put 5,000 McDonalds on their network in the first year, does that really achieve their "business" goal? Maybe.
Which led to the following message from me:
You ask a good question about McDonald's.

Perhaps Cometa could be as valuable to McDonald's as McDonald's to Cometa. McDonald's desperately needs assistance on the strategic marketing side. If they were to attempt a brand extension to become "the place for the businessperson on the road," could that help them? Think about the spatial positioning of McDonald's -- often right at highway exits, always clearly marked on exit signs, typically with tall signs on premises (high-gain antenna placement?). When you're on the road, it's usually far, far easier to find a McDonald's than to find a Starbucks.

Think about this, which admittedly is purely conjectural:

McDonald's creates a new branding program. They could call it "McRoad," or "McBusiness," or something else, but let's call it "McBiz" for now. McBiz is a sub-brand of McDonald's. There's a McBiz treatment that extends the existing McDonald's logo -- it's subtle, but once you know what to look for, it's easy to spot (though the uninterested might never notice it). When a restaurant switches to the McBiz branding, this indicates a number of things:

  • There's a Wi-Fi access point on premises.
  • There's at least one customer-accessible power outlet per n seats.
  • The coffee served has been upgraded (new brand, new procedures).
  • The restaurant sells the Wall Street Journal (in addition to USA Today).
  • There are at least n monitors playing CNN Headline News (sound off, closed captioned).
  • There's a customer-accessible soda machine.
I'm not much of a McDonald's fan, but if they embarked on such an effort, and made me aware of it, I'd start paying attention to them. Sure, when I'm on the road, I'd rather go to a Starbucks, but if the choice is pull into a McBiz McDonald's now or drive around for 10 minutes looking for a Starbucks, I'll probably choose McDonald's.

The nice thing about this is that it's a brand extension they can pull off without alienating their core family market. No mom and her kids are going to be offended by someone in khakis and a polo surfing on the Web using his laptop. In fact, Mom might not even be aware of McBiz -- for her, the McDonald's experience is unchanged, except that the coffee tastes better and she can refill her own sodas while she reads a magazine and keeps an eye for her kids in the ball pit.

Glenn replied:

This is a very interesting idea. The big problem is that McDonald's is a kids restaurant, which I don't think I ever understood until just a few years ago. This is its biggest strike against it: they'd have to almost create a separate area that was quiet and cleaned more frequently to make it a reasonable place for a businessperson. Although businesspeople often use places like coffee shops at hours that aren't their busiest...

You make a good case, and the incremental cost for unwiring a McDonald's is pretty tiny. They probably already have some sort of data network -- I can't believe they're running their systems off a dial-up, but you never know. (Starbucks has been until the T-Mobile installations.) Add an access point and provision a VLAN (which might mean a new router) and that's most of the cost.

But is that the image Cometa wants? I was under the impression that they want high-toned business outlets: they want brand names that are associated with business. I might be wrong. If their first deal is one of the top franchises you mentioned, that'll prove it.

This is really where their model breaks down, though. If they unwire every McDonald's (which would be foolish since 20 to 30 percent of them are certainly outside core traveler areas) and all of the other franchises you list, even the competing ones, that might get them the numbers, but not the density. Well, McDonald's would, but I just can't see it.

Regarding the issue of hours of usage, I think this Glenn is on the right track here. In fact, I think this is an excellent argument for McDonald's to do something like this: to increase business during otherwise slow periods of the day. When I'm on the road, my meals are usually spoken for with meetings, and in any case, I won't be eating at McDonald's. The problem comes between breakfast and lunch, and again between lunch and dinner. If I have an hour of down time before meetings, it would be great to stop somewhere and get some work done. But tracking down a Starbucks in an unfamiliar city can be difficult. If I knew that any McDonald's with the McBiz logo had all the features listed above, I wouldn't hesitate to stop there. McDonald's would get my money for a drink and a small snack, as well as share the revenue from my wireless Internet connection. Moreover, I'm helping them to use their facilities more efficiently.

Are McDonald's and Cometa the right partners? I don't know. McDonald's could choose to do this with anyone, I suppose. T-Mobile would seem like a good choice. Cometa is just one potential partner -- albeit a potential partner trying to build out a network of 20,000 access points.

As to the density issue, I think that's more specific to Cometa and their stated coverage targets. As noted, McDonald's could do this with other wireless partners, or even on their own, focusing on those restaurants best positoned for business travelers (Glenn suggests 20-30 percent of the total; this could be correct).

I know Glenn has more thoughts (and certainly a more knowledgeable perspective) on this, so I'll post it and let him take the next swing.

March 02, 2003

David Smith: US=MS

A hilarious and insightful e-mail from my friend and colleague David Smith this morning:

US=MS If you want to understand how the world views the US, it is probably very similar to the way we view Microsoft:
  • Extremely successful, much of it appears to be undeserved.
  • We are totally dependent upon them, and there isn't much of an alternative.
  • Becoming too successful in our niche simply means that we will attract their attention.
  • We like it when we see them fail.
  • We are uncomfortable when we see them fail because they just keep working at it until they get it right -- they will always be back. Unless, of course, it is determined to be an uninteresting market.
  • They don't care about us. We are just a source of revenue. The quality of their products and support is only as much as absolutely necessary to keep us in the fold.
  • We hate them, but if they offered us a job, we would join them in a second and gleefully begin to oppress our former colleagues.
David, you really need a blog.

Triggering Metal Detectors

Last night was the first time I've flown in two and a half months. My watch, belt buckle, and shoes all set off the metal detector, so I received the personal attention of a now-federalized airport security worker. Now, I should have been smart and put my watch in my jacket pocket when it went through the x-ray machine -- but my belt buckle and my shoes? I can't think of a belt buckle not made of metal, and my shoes were Rockports, which I didn't think would have any metal reinforcing strips. So...

How about a branding program for non-detector triggering clothing and accessories? Some sort of clothing industry council could work on it with the Department of Homeland Security. "FlyReady," maybe, or "WalkOn." There would be a logo associated with it. Clothing and accessories bearing the logo would be certified to have been tested using DHS metal detection equipment and found not to set it off. Shoes could use highly durable plastics as reinforcement. Belt buckles, cuff links, and other jewelry could be made of carbon fiber (which would be cool in its own right). Watches? I don't know. Will the metal in a watch battery inevitably trigger a detector? It may be a lost cause... but we can just get used to taking off our watches, I suppose.

The clothing and accessory industries should be all over this -- it's a chance to sell replacement merchandise to people with disposable income. As for DHS, from their standpoint, it would be a great way to show their concern for the convenience of the traveling public.

In Silicon Valley

I'm now in California (where I was born, incidentally -- San Antonio Community Hospital, Upland), partly for Joi Ito's party tonight and partly for meetings with Joi and some other folks over the next few days. I'm going to be catching up with many friends, and hopefully making some new ones tonight. It should be fun.

March 01, 2003

REI is Kicking Butt

From the Seattle Times comes a story on my favorite chain of stores, REI:

The gloomy economy hasn't turned Recreational Equipment Inc. members into a bunch of frugal couch potatoes.

Sales at REI's 63 stores kept growing last year as the Kent-based consumer cooperative turned a record $16 million profit, more than doubling 2001's bottom line, the company reported yesterday. Sales at stores open at least a year climbed 1 percent, while direct sales -- REI's online, phone and catalog division -- were up 2.5 percent...

While some national retailers are scaling back and closing stores, REI added four stores last year, including those in Tukwila and Tacoma. This year, the co-op plans to add seven stores in cities including Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco...

After dot-com expenses and failed Japanese expansion led REI to post its first-ever loss in 2000, the co-op decided to tighten its focus on its U.S. business in 2001. For the past year, REI's strategy has focused on three main points: opening new U.S. stores, building Internet sales, and putting more emphasis on designing and selling its own branded gear and outerwear.

REI made progress on all three fronts last year, [CEO Dennis] Madsen said: Each of the four new stores surpassed expectations; REI.com sales were up in the double digits; and REI-branded gear such as its half-dome tent and high-performance jackets were well-received...

REI members receive a 10 percent annual refund on purchases of full-priced merchandise. The co-op said it has set aside $38.7 million for member refunds and will give $1.8 million to such community efforts as environmental and youth programs.

One of my favorite stores of any type, anywhere, is the REI flagship store in Seattle. If you're visiting, I recommend it. There's a waterfall and a bicycling trail (to try out bikes) outside, and inside is a 65-foot climbing pinnacle with views of Puget Sound. Hot tip: the World Wrapps on the second floor has good wraps and bowls at cheap prices with panoramic views of downtown and the Sound. It's a great bargain. Oh, and they have an excellent parking structure. (It's an inside joke.)

I Tried

This is an exchange between Richard Bennett and me in the comments for an entry on Jeff Jarvis' site:

Richard, it's hard for me to comprehend that, after all that has been written, you either don't understand or refuse to acknowledge the problem that people on Joi's blog have with you.

You state that "Emergent Democracy advocates aren't willing to tolerate" scrutiny. Without offering an opinion on emergent democracy myself, its core idea of direct democracy through decentralized, collaborative, Internet-based structures itself gives the lie to this statement. What its advocates cannot tolerate -- and unfortunately, to which they eventually responded in kind in some cases -- is argumentation based on red herrings and personal attacks.

As I pointed out in my own entry on this topic, your first words to Joi were, "I was impressed by your total lack of any awareness of how legislative bodies function, about how governments function, or about political theory generally." What sort of reaction did you expect? No rational person genuinely interested in the intelligent exchange of ideas begins a debate by personally insulting his or her opponent.

To my mind, had you been interested in such an exchange of ideas, you could have written, "Based on what I've read of it, I disagree with fundamental aspects of your thesis on emergent democracy. I'd like to understand your ideas better and engage you in a discussion about them." But that's not what you did.

Did you -- do you generally -- take argumentative positions on issues while insulting people out of choice, or do you do so out of habit? Either way, I respectfully suggest it to be a counterproductive strategy, unless your overriding goal is simply to be known. Certainly there is no shortage of depressing examples of people following this strategy becoming famous... but is that what you want your life to stand for?

You don't know Joi personally. I do. He's not a coward -- far from it. He's intimately familiar with political processes, at least in Japan. Your criticisms and insults of him are inappropriate and uncalled-for.

I don't think it's too late for you to salvage this situation. Although I don't seriously believe you would be willing to follow this course of action, I offer it anyway:

Make a statement, either on your blog or on Joi's, in which you stand by your critique of the emergent democracy document, but in which you withdraw any insults or personal attacks you may have made in writing and defending your critique, and in which you apologize for anything you may have said that was inappropriate. Let Joi and the other people on his blog know that you genuinely wish to exchange ideas with them. I'm sure the reaction would be that Joi and others would apologize in turn. Who knows? You might actually learn something from them, and they from you. But as things stand, there's no chance of that. And if -- if -- your goal is fame through controversy, then certainly you won't want to follow my advice. Better, in such case, to be known as the guy who called Joi Ito a coward. For whatever that's worth.
Posted by Frank Boosman at February 28, 2003 08:19 PM

Frank, are you seriously suggesting that I owe an apology to Ito's man, Adam Greenfield, after he threatend to "break my jaw" if he ever saw me in person?

It is apparent to me that the document reflects a lack of awareness of the legislative processes that I'm familiar with; if Ito is indeed an insider in Japanese politics, I can only conclude that he left his knowledge at the door, or that the Japanese system is very different from the American one, and I say this as one who really does have insider experience in our system.

Joi Ito banned me from leaving comments and trackbacks on his blog, and then continued to criticize me; that's the act of an intellectual coward, and it precudes me from apologizing to Ito's followers for making them threaten me, not that I'm inclined to do so. For the record, I haven't banned him from my blog.

What are you smoking, dude?
Posted by Richard Bennett at February 28, 2003 08:39 PM

It is apparent to me that the document reflects a lack of awareness of the legislative processes that I'm familiar with...

In your opinion. But does that mean you should kick off a discussion of the topic by saying that your would-be opponent has a "total lack of any awareness of how legislative bodies function, about how governments function, or about political theory generally?" You could have allowed that Joi's experience is very different from yours. You could have given him the benefit of the doubt. You could have started the debate without insulting him.

Are you seriously suggesting that I owe an apology to Ito's man, Adam Greenfield, after he threatend to "break my jaw" if he ever saw me in person?

I'm suggesting that many people owe apologies to many people. Does it matter who apologizes first? If it does, then I offer that not only did you start the debate by insulting Joi's knowledge and experience, you then threw the first red herring into the fracas, linking advocacy of emergent democracy with support of Saddam Hussein. I'm sure you know as well as any of us the grade your collegiate forensics teacher would have given you for trying that in a class debate. It's not only wrong, but irrelevant. So, while I believe far too many people spend far too much time worrying about who should apologize to whom first, if this is a concern for you, I offer not only the reasons already put forward here, but an even better one: to be the first to rise above the fray, the first to attempt a return to civil discourse.

Joi Ito banned me from leaving comments and trackbacks on his blog, and then continued to criticize me; that's the act of an intellectual coward, and it precudes me from apologizing to Ito's followers for making them threaten me, not that I'm inclined to do so.

Joi has only threatened to ban you from his blog, at least when last I checked -- and if you read the item, you'll see that he is engaged in public soul-searching about whether or not to do so.

As for whether this makes Joi an intellectual coward, I submit that it does not. I can assure you that he is not afraid of your ideas, but rather frustrated with how you choose to express them, especially when you choose to do so in his blog.

When Joi refuted your assertions about his lack of knowledge of political systems by listing his involvement in Japanese politics over the last 10 years, instead of acknowledging this, you ignored it. Joi remained engaged and attempted to ask you serious questions; your response was to claim that "he believes that electronic communication over the web or some successor to it will someday advance the human race to a state of hyperconsciousness, where our god-like wisdom will make all problems trivial," a purely conjectural (and insulting in its implications) statement supported by neither Joi nor no one who knows him. Joi still didn't take the bait, responding by saying, "I apologize if you find our nerdy utopian view offensive, but I would suggest you come back and attack us after we've assmiliated the constructive feedback and integrated it into our thoughts. My paper is still weak in many ways and we have a long way to go to build a rigorous position."

At no point in the original string of comments did Joi insult you personally. The most insulting thing I could find was in his post on a potential IP ban, in which he said you were "a good example of 'noise' when we talk about the 'signal to noise ratio.'" Given everything you had said about him to that point, that seems a pretty tame response... and your response was to label him a "coward," an epithet which you surely know to be an extremely serious one.

What are you smoking, dude?

I'm not smoking anything. I'm simply trying to help people to find common ground and engage in productive, intelligent discourse.

Note, by the way, that I have tried scrupulously to avoid insulting you in any way, both in my original post on my blog and in my comments here. Yet you respond by implying that I am impaired in some way. Again, I ask you: is this what you want your life to stand for -- for insulting people? It would be a shame to see you go down such a path.
Posted by Frank Boosman at February 28, 2003 09:52 PM

Well, Frank, you're right about one thing - Emperor Ito hasn't banned me from leaving comments yet, as I just confirmed by testing. I had assumed he had since his blog rejects my trackbacks, but that could be some administrative screwup.

I'm not going to get involved in a lengthy discussion of who was mean to whom first because Jeff's already covered that; your standards for rudeness are clearly not aligned with mine, and we aren't going to agree. I see nothing wrong with making observations about Ito's general level of political knowledge, while you see that as a vicious personal attack. People actually engaged in politics don't go around bowing and scraping unctuous platitudes such as your proposed: "Based on what I've read of it, I disagree with fundamental aspects of your thesis on emergent democracy. I'd like to understand your ideas better and engage you in a discussion about them." There aren't enough hours in the day for that kind of crap - watch C-Span sometime, or better yet, Prime Minister's Questions from the UK. Politics is Rough and Tumble, not a rarefied exercise in sissyhood. You believe passionately in your position, and you advocate for it, you don't appease and you don't conciliate.

Your pal Ito and his followers are actually in favor of leaving Saddam Hussein in power, and I'm not making that up; they have lots of reasons for supporting that status quo having to do with pacifism and unilateralism, but the end result is to leave him in power. This seriously undermines their commitment to democracy, in my book, and that's the only one I'm writing.

So no, I'm not apologizing to anybody about anything, and I stand by my position, my phrasing, and my commitment to real democracies for real people. If you think I'm wrong, then make an argument on substance, because your stylistic attack is boring me to death.
Posted by Richard Bennett at February 28, 2003 10:25 PM

I was going to post a response to this, but it's clearly hopeless. I'm done here.
Posted by Frank Boosman at February 28, 2003 10:55 PM

And I am done with this.