News and Noise

With floods of data, it is not surprising that the number-one skill for living and thriving is how to curate information. Turning trash into treasure. Building our own filters, constructing our own “firewalls”. With the abundance of affordable chipset, people are hoarding images, video, audio and data way above their personal consumption level. Digital glut. At this exponential growth rate, video will be stacked up all the way to Mars in just a few years. Be discernible. Select your battle and be discriminative on how you dispense your meager attention. Start giving instead of just taking (Goodwill data site? Hey, you can read this e-book & watch this video on my dime).

We are to be self-directed and not giving to the sway of public opinion: circle of friends, collection of likes and LinkedIn invites. “Walled-off” postings and homogenous connection lead to cultural insulation. Had the Internet existed around the same time as electricity, we wouldn’t have the American society as we now know. People would be talking in circles and among themselves (tribal groups).

BTW, Best-Buy customer list was recently compromised. So it’s not just facebook that is in hot water. Years ago, it’s Target. Data companies now face their own “recalls”, just like Detroit companies with their faulty airbags.

So, should we stay or should we go. Or do we have any choice living like a two-prong plug in a three-prong society, to paraphrase the late Andy Rooney.

One thing for sure: we miss trusted faces that once were our curators on Morning talk shows, Evening News, and Late Night with so and so. That era has been long gone with no replacement in sight. We are orphans of our own making, with no authoritative figures as guideposts. Current “talking heads” floundered, took to battle-tweet with Parkland survivors ( hey, loser! you can’t even get admitted to Ivy League). Other networks are more apprehensive for fear of finding themselves in similar scandal. One wrong tweet can derail a media career.

Perhaps great men in the past were more discreet or better skilled at partitioning their public vs private lives. Today, amidst all the news and noise, one small slip-up equals a giant step on the road of shame, humiliation without a possibility of parole.



Our weakest link

I am almost done with ” In the Sanctuary of Outcasts” but I am in no hurry. It gives me pleasure to feel the pulse of America’s last “forbidden outpost”. As a society, we are just as good as our weakest link: veterans, homeless, shut-ins and bottom-feeders.  Neil White, inmate-turned-undercover-journalist, tried to give leprosy a new PR spin: he failed at the attempt to call this dreaded disease by any other name.

This reminds me of a biblical story. A terminally-ill man by the healing pool. For 38 years, his repeated attempts failed miserably since other outcasts had always gotten in first.

The fact that we long for a more civil society, a more just regime and a better place is proof that we are coded for an After-Life. At least that’s how the Augustinian argument goes: ” our souls are anchored in the Heavenly….hence we are restless….”

I know restlessness well. I was born restless, with narrow shoulders (my mom was petite) – and big feet. By the time I finished French elementary in Saigon, the Vietnam war took a turn for the worst: the burning monk, the Diem brothers’ assassination, then Kennedys’ followed right after. Heck, the whole earth seemed to be scorching. Yet in the middle of self-immolation, Thich Quang Duc was still (I was standing across the intersection along with some eye-witnesses).

He were like a pebble dropped into the lake, causing ripple effects except for the center. Later, after a limbo in Wake Island, summer 75, I dove right into post-war America, where I felt what Neil White was describing of his incarceration in Carville: he doesn’t belong, just makes believe that he went undercover as an inmate-journalist.

From growing up with huge generational gap ( the other four adults were of WWI WWII generations respectively) to cultural gap in an almost all-white “cow college”, I too went through the motion, like a mail-order bride in foreign land, longing for my eventual home. Unfortunately, similar to the Healing Pool, every time I tried to jump in, others had already beaten me to it. So I ended up with tons of memories, lots of  sorrows and this narrative has yet to find its proper ending. Because of my interrupted life, I can make inference to others’ with deferred dreams: those who were drafted, drained and dejected like spent cases. Veterans of a chain of wars who are struggling with PTSD, drug-abuse, homelessness and frequent successions of VA chiefs.

Later, as I compared notes with counter-parts of the counter-cultures, I realized many shared the “hobo” impulse (On the Road). It is an equivalent of pool-side chat among “the outcasts”, as Neil had observed “the out-of-tuned piano was once played by two lepers whose combined fingers could manage a composition written for players with full ten”. From the underside looking out, I realize we are all different, yet have one thing in common: the rich avoided us for fear of contamination. We are the weakest links.

Yet, America can only be as strong as its last outpost and outcasts.



Rock, Paper, Scissors

A school in PA got a creative idea: it stocks up on rocks to defend itself from school shooting. Traditionally, schools have ample supplies of papers and scissors. With rocks, it completes the Rock, Paper and Scissors set. Quite a sad state of affairs in public schools, whose walk-outs will stage a “March For Our Lives” tomorrow.

I have had my shares of eye-witnessing the uprising VC’s getting hunted down on the rooftops (the year was 1968, and the event was Tet. The same timeframe and locale as the infamous execution shot that turned the corner for the Vietnam War).  School was out for weeks. When it was safe enough for Walter Cronkite to record his “stalemate” stand-up piece,  we were allowed to return. I remember wanting to go back to school so badly after weeks of  watching the repeat of B/W documentary on the massacre in Hue.

I empathize with Parkland and Maryland students in their stages of grief: survivor guilt then paranoid (what if I am not as lucky to make it out alive the next time around). Later on in life, I found the cure for those nagging fears: by lending a hand to others, I am no longer pre-occupied by guilt and fears.

Today’s youngsters take on a different calling: they mobilize using mobile phones. It seemed as if the Arab-Spring adrenaline finally flowed back and flushed away fear and fatalism. I wish them well, forever young. Those forced times away from school taught me more than while I was inside the classroom: I was fast-forwarded into adulthood, into pre-maturity and  reflection about what it meant to be human, what values are worthy and how do we go about spreading peace, honor and goodwill.

Rock, paper, scissors. My childhood disappeared in a blink of an eye in Tet 68. To Parkland and Maryland students: don’t get swept away, but at the same time, you may find yourself while losing it. I speak from an aching heart: my 16-year-old daughter is also in school in FL. I find myself overwhelmed when reflecting on what I went through when growing-up in comparison. May positive changes come soon for her generation’s benefits.





” 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.


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.

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”.