Squeezed

” The poor shall always be with you”. Those words were uttered since Rome was an empire. Now, it’s still ringing true. The force of automation (low-skilled), offshoring (high-skilled but digitized) and policy changes (doing away with the safety net) drag down the unskilled like a perfect storm.

In the US of A, people cannot go back to farming, unless they build the wall at the border. Those pieces of cardboard held at street intersection by hobos and homeless are STOP signs for us to ponder the state of the Union.

No eye contact for fear of engaging. Blaming the system, blaming the victim but not ourselves. New requirements for the new economy i.e. newer car models to qualify for Uber, better inventory to sell them on Amazon, and a more spacious bedroom for Airbnb.

In sourcing or outsourcing. We are left with a new test, once pondered during the 60’s: can we transcend materialism and “Imagine” a world without possession? Small is beautiful. The less you have, the less to lose. The poor shall always be with you anyway.

 

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32-Billion Black Hole

Way back , Bread had a song “I will give everything I own”, which is actually happening today. The Prince wants to give away his entire fortune to good cause.

The Guardian has brainstormed on how this money is best put to use.

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/03/saudi-prince-alwaleed-32bn-fortune-charity-world-problems

It misses an important point: no matter where it is spent, this money still enriches a few mediators ( same with BP’s 18.7 B settlement). The irony of oil fortune and misfortune. Drill and spill, give and waste. This admin payload can be used to offset gender pay mismatch (women earn 78 cents on a man’s dollar).

Instead, the “portfolio” can be viewed as a 21st-century exercise in how to give wisely and effectively.

1. Assemble a team, cross-sectional and diverse e.g. race, class, gender, sexual preferences, educational level and artistic temperament. No NGO legacy and lethargy.

2. Study best practices e.g. Melinda Gates Foundation, Clinton Initiative, Carter Habitat etc… to avoid pitfalls

3. Upend the brainstorm process (which in itself carries century-old prejudice).

It’s not what to do to make money. This is the other way around, so the assumption has to be from Z-A. Money is not an issue, so how and for whom is it best spent? Do not buy chairs for the conference room. Let them stand and spark.

4. Visualize and optimize big data . Have we missed anything. Has the recession snuffed out any projects worth reconsidered? Are we semi-nomads again after centuries of being settlers? a subsidized Airbnb nation? UBERized tribe?

5. Don’t spend a dime more on energy initiatives. After all, it’s oil profit.  It’s everyone’s money, so let not the energy sector double-dip. Let the dead bury its own, the BP way.

6. Don’t spend on just the Middle East – same reason as above, albeit the region tends to draw the most attention e.g. Syrian refugees, rootlessness and Grexit etc…

It’s time for us to feel good that “We Are the World” once again, with philanthropic participation from all over: American, Chinese and Saudi. Set aside 10 per cent to foster thought leadership among globetrotters. It takes money to take money. Mr Buffett has announced an additional giving of close to 3 Billion dollars, mostly goes to Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

7. Double down on the common goods e.g. city parks and ghetto kids who never see the beach (Midnight Cowboy). Education that encourages trying, failing and recovering, not rote learning and punishment. Disruption is our new badge of honor.

8. Subsidize school lunch ( this might be the kid’s only decent meal per day).

9. Let it sit and earn interests. The next big disaster might need it most. Don’t go on a spending spree e.g. vaccinate everyone in India, or buy latest Japanese toilets.

10. Seek out wise counsel, and use not those who immediately hustle to spend the money bag. No King of Tort.

I am sure the Prince has thought long and hard before arriving at and announcing his decision to give.

It’s best to part with that which you can’t keep, to gain that which you cannot lose.

The UBER heart bleed

French cab drivers protest in the only way they can: strike. In doing so, they give the opponent, Uber, a leg up: one more reason for riders to seek drivers via app.

What happens to equality and fraternity, the Rousseauan milieu? It’s not a protest against ubiquitous social media. It’s about the forgotten social contract. A paradigm shift is not without a fight.

It’s bad enough to get up and get behind the wheel to drive someone from A to B for a living. Now it’s worse: unlicensed drivers are out to eat your lunch.

It’s not an upstairs-downstairs clash. It’s a elbow-to-elbow trench fight on the same physical layer where the 99 per centers find themselves.

To frame this as future vs the past, low tech vs high-tech is to miss the point

(and to spin this as sustainable is to throw a tat of hypocrisy into the mix).

It’s been a while since an app can up-end the status quo. In this instance, it is touching a raw nerve. When the French protest (at the UN or in the street), we must take notes. Think of the children of taxi drivers and of the tax men all around the world. The revenue is soon diverted into Silicon coiffure, our new transport middle man’s. From here on out, it’s not point A to B. It’s going through U.

Whole Earth Catalogue set the tone and philosophical underpinning: share a ride and share the land e.g YoungBloods Get Together. In this old vs new world clash, downstairs (Silicon Valley) has become the new upstairs, not high-tech vs Luddites. It’s the geography of the mind not the map.

Taking tech out of the equation, we are right back to a Amish collective farming.

They have barn-raised and lived organic all along. It’s the new West who created the machine, and now the machine has in turn remade us. There will be more apps which will upend UBER. It should realize this more than anyone else. Perhaps a Jobs-like figure will settle the dispute: 99 cent per ride for all (on a shared bike). Ford thought of this and yesterday, announced its sweat-free bike for mass transit.

Tech consumerization will work its way up the chain to transform trans-Oceanic shipping which has long dominated and dictated global exchange. Downstairs will finally topple upstairs only when it can settle current street fights.

Equality and fraternity. Let’s have a French coffee break to sort it all out.

Killing me Swiftly

Apple relented.

The company was once at the brink of destruction before bringing Jobs back as its 1-dollar CEO (just 1 cent more than a song).

So Swift has spoken.

At 25, she is definitely a digital artist i.e. savvy, sustainable and strong (knowing what she wants at age 11).

Wants to code, go Silicon.

Wants to act, go Hollywood.

Wants to sing, go Nashville.

Actors used to be homeless e.g.  from Jim (Carrey) to Jewel.

Barriers to entry used to be high. Have always. Until now. So small like an Apple watch.

According to Swift, “art is rare. Rare things are expensive and should be paid for”.

In other words, scarcity.

We are so used to the Silicon model i.e. free to sell upgrade later, that we confuse between offering and bait.

We are becoming a nation of “loss leaders” (the term used to apply to merchandise, now expanded to human) just to bank on “long tail”. Attrition in war bleeds to attrition in business. Airbnb got another round of funding, only to be warned “don’t lose the culture” (of being hungry and foolish).

So we are back to Jobs, to Apple and struggling artists. Be hungry and humble.

Speak up when the nation is turning into the 1099 economy. It’s good to have a week of news dominated by Nashville instead of Charleston, by a 25-year old than a 21-year old. Roof can learn from our Pennsylvania girl in the art of “killing me Swiftly”.

As if I wasn’t there

“And then he looks right through me as if I wasn’t there….a stranger to my eyes”

Before soft powers and soft skills, there was soft kill (Killing me softly). And yes, the singer was black.

What were we thinking when we took on “hard killing”!

Our ancestors, Italian or Irish, Scandinavian or African, all had to tilt the land and planted those potatoes.

American wasn’t built in one day, and not by a bunch of feudal lords.

Sure, today we have drones to deliver the books and drop the fertilizers.

But years ago, we had to start somewhere, given the technology and politics of the time.

A nation of dreamers and doers, joined by trust and mistrust (hence the guns).

Then our technology gets ahead of our morality. We seemed to have settled our differences by using only one form of machine: the gun. No longer do we look to the Moon and challenge one another. Nor do we turn around to see who is catching up to us (most have passed us by, on one measure or another).

Strength: Universities and Universal Studio

Weakness: Bible belt and belly belt

I remember how much I enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship of college students. We were together, discovering possibilities and debating options.

We were all blue (jeans). Yes, there were Black Caucus (and now Asian American Caucus). But essentially, we were one: seekers and searchers (for the Truth).

In Speech class, I urged the audience (my classmates) to press on and uphold the ideal that sets us (America) apart: free enterprise and free speech, free commerce and free association.

Little did I know, the college I went to was tainted, and the graduate school I attended got a double black eye. Insult on injury, we heard young drifters on social media said “I have no choice”. At least, in the age of social, we caught News Media folks in the act of lying. But then, take a hard look at ourselves: have we done any better? Why do we forget the fruit of our labour , in agriculture and art, by way of the shirt we wear (100% cotton) and the music we hear. It’s still a wonderful world. Wish you would stand by me, instead of looking right through me, as if I wasn’t there.

Before soft skill and soft powers there was soft kill. And yes, she was black, beautiful and bursting with contagious vibes. And there he was this young boy, a stranger to my eyes. Strumming my pain with his fingers. Singing my life with his words.

Wish I had known at 21

When I turned 21, I did not rush to the nearest pub. Instead, I was rolling up those cables in the TV studio, the Penn State Agricultural Extension Radio and TV Studio – under a Work Study program. Cables all over and someone has to stay behind after the shoot to “wrap” them. Little did I know, we can have SKY news reporters filming themselves with selfie sticks. Electronic News Gathering (ENG) no longer takes a 3-man crew. Just one. (on a side note, Network Anchor now goes on Apology Tour, for lying instead of catching others in the act e.g. Watergate).

Times have changed.

Softbank is selling Pepper (robot) for a mere $1600 to make money on the apps and maintenance. A star is born. So has “on demand” apps like Uber, using phone-sex independent contractor who should have been classified as an employee, according to California latest ruling. It looks as though the dis-intermediator has become the new middleman.

Times have changed.

Had I known all this, I would still wrap up those cables neatly and quietly.

At 21, one can drive around and shoot people mindlessly.

At 21, one can rush to drink all you can down in Tijuana.

At 21, one can code through the night (a joint program between Microsoft and China elite University has just been launched to foster technology and innovation).

At 21, one can backpack and see the world while one’s joints are still up for it.

I wish I had known all this. The ENG camera back then was so heavy. Plus the 3/4 inch tape deck, plus the battery pack. The things they carried.

But the anchors back then (my ABC World News Tonight) were so cool! Peter Jennings reporting from London, Max Robinson from Chicago and Frank Reynolds in Washington D.C.: fact-checking, no-holds bar and let the chips fall where they may. The fourth estate. Playboy interview was asking President Carter about his sex life. And the nation was boiled with anti-establishment cynicism (Carter admits “we are faced with a crisis of confidence”).

You are either real or you are not. Dig it?

Wish I could do it again. I travel more and shop less. No elbow patch sport coat, or Mr Roger sweater. No knee-high athletic socks. I would still keep running, reading and writing. Selfie reporter or 3-man ENG crew, content and character still count.

Now that I know. I wouldn’t buy in to too much Penn State defence team, or watch any of the Bill Cosby episodes. This might give some clues about perpetual hatred and in-fighting in America. Meanwhile, Japan is “softly” and quietly developing and launching Pepper. The battle will soon be declared: man vs machine. And someday, Roof will realize he has fought the wrong battle. The new “others” are machines, heartless and 100 times more efficient than the Nazis, whose philosophical root he embraces.

Come to think of it, I would just stick with my studio cables. Head down and humble. Too much thinking makes me restless. But then, would Rest of World leave me alone? What would my daughters think of me on Fathers Day? Dad, you are a coward. Too many books, too few action. Wish I had done more. Never too late.

When yours is mine

In the beginning, we have the commons: public square and transportation, parks and beaches, museums and metropolitan theatres. Then online, we mesh machines together to have the internet. Now what’s “out there” begins to intrude what’s “in here”. Welcome to the sharing economy. Started in SF and NYC, but now at the city near you (like Paris – where it has to put up with all things American, like Disney Park and McDonalds). First, own your own car, with a chauffeur – Driving Miss Daisy. Then, it’s a self-driving car. And soon, our self-driving car. All technology, no human. With slim job prospects, students are moving back home (on a share ride of course). Soon, even the family couch will be auctioned out for “sharing”. 40 Billion USD for Uber, 10 for Airbnb (about current valuation for AWS). Companies love to split the burden of costs. In IT jargon, it’s Co-location e.g. E-bay, Etsy and Kickstarter, all share common platforms and load-balance their routes. Meanwhile, consumers on this side of MP3 and Youtube, have gotten used to their digital entitlement: why are you charging me for it? What technology wants? It wants to grow up, to be the Internet of Things, to be useful, to be more human (while sadly, Stephen Hawking wants to take the suicide option once he no longer feels useful). Long ago, Future Shock’s Alvin Toffler noticed the pro-sumerism movement. He did not see the perfect storm of technology and globalization. Back in the 80’s, time share vacation was in e.g. cabins and condos “use it or lose some of it”. Most service jobs were outsourced back to the consumers, called self-service. Even work has been in-sourced (telecommuting) e.g. watch your own kids, fix your own CPU and vacuum your own home office (“Hi, nobody is home – and office – please leave a message). Then through digitization, we outsourced and off shored to Indian techies to fix the Y2K problem, while US toy makers farmed out jobs to China. Eventually, groundswell (the cult of amateur) emerged, e-lancers began to come out of the woods (not content with just giving comments and advice). Voila. Putting the two and two together, we got today’s sharing economy: the outsourcing of people, things and money (venture capitalism). When yours is mine, then it’s the new strain of the old OPM  economy: other people’s servers, data centers (Cloud), workers (contractors), capital (loan), expertise (freelancers), contacts (networking and MLM), reputation (endorsement and recommendation), credit worthiness (co-signing), retail space (consignment), home (Airbnb), car (Uber) and friends (social media). When yours is mine. It’s MP3 economy on steroid. Wait and see the full iceberg. (hi! guess where I am: on somebody’s bed, making my own porn – w/ a copy of Bruce Jenner’s Vanity Fair on the night stand). 50 Billion in capitalization (just Space and transportation sectors) can do a lot of wonders. Next come the socialist countries like China who will certainly take it up a notch. Let me borrow Kevin Kelly’s brilliance (and the Amish ) ” To maximize our own contentment, we seek the minimum amount of technology in our lives. Yet to maximize the contentment of others, we must maximize the amount of technology in the world.” (What technology wants). When the sharing economy takes hold, all I am asking is for it to stop at the boundary of “sharing” vs “taking”. Use it, but be kind and rewind.