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.

Grave matters

Comedian Joe Wong takes a page from Late Night: he follows Van Halen’s Jump soundtrack to open his acts. “I had a near death experience yesterday. I walked by a graveyard”. Mind you it’s China where smoking is finally banned in public places. Speaking of public space, I too had a near death experience. I visited Ba Chuc, where Pol Pot’s genocidal bones and skulls were on display. That entire village, population 3,150+ was wiped out except for 2 survivors, one of whom was interviewed for a New York Times piece in 2004. To Ba Chuc villagers, it was “apocalypse now”. This event, along with recent atrocities along the Malaysia – Thailand border- is a strong testimony to humanity’s Achilles Heels. We have made progress, only in fits and starts. Can’t catch them all. ( On a brighter note, Holland has tended to the graves of WW II US heroes for 70 years.) Ethics aside, many of these lives could have been put to good use, like Stephen Hawkin’s. What can be more real or lessons hit closer to home, than seeing bones and skulls. I was glad this genocide had been stopped. Part of growing up is not to repeat the same mistake. Humanity – liken to a grown person – is going through a  learning curve. BTW, comedian Joe Wong, before locked into his new vocation, was a Ph. D. in bio chemistry. He admitted to have read the Oxford English Dictionary 8 times ( yet can’t get rid of  his inborn accent ). He went through his own learning curve.

But, you got to give it to the man, who was on Late Night as a guest. With Letterman’s departure, the chair of comedy department was immediately filled, but an entry-level position is now opened. With syndication and translation, maybe Asian American can someday tune in to enjoy Joe Wong’s acts in China. He’d better not lose the English he had worked so hard for. Jokes tend to get lost in translation e.g. “I had a near death experience yesterday”. For me, nothing was lost in Ba Chuc , with bones and skulls up close. For these are grave matters.

North Star

A generation has grown up in the shadow of 9/11, two subsequent wars and one huge recession. Graduates face dim job prospects and heavy burden of student loan. Yet Tim Cook of Apple urges them to follow their North Star. It must be you, he said.

He must be kidding!

It’s Washington, where skepticism morphs quickly into cynicism. He mentioned meeting Wallace and Carter, the latter more humane and honest.

Then his meeting with Steve Jobs, a hard-to-work-with 3rd shift co-worker.

Steve was credited with saving the music industry from Napster.

Tim Cook is still finding his footing in history, still “thinks different”.

Teilhard de Chardin suggested that human had appeared suddenly and “quietly” thousands of years ago. But will together face one end point, the Omega.

Instead of “the mass living in quiet desperation”, Tim Cook suggests “the mass empowered with pocket phones/cameras to be in the arena, not sitting on the bench”.

Graduates want to hear “what’s in it for me”, not “how together we can make a difference” (bring out the guitar and the harmonica, and take a selfie while at it).

At least, his “painted house” Alabama story ( hand-writing his Rural Electrification Contest speech to qualify for the White House tour) speaks volumes. Young Clinton was in one of those tours as well. Good impressions last forever. In Tim Cook’s case, he finally owned his I-phone to take a pic of George Washington University graduates, his commencement audience.

This audience know they cannot allow recent history to repeat itself i.e. One World Trade Center must stand tall and financial instrument crooks must be jailed and stay there.
So ethics and economics can co-exist, doing well and doing good at the same time. Apple has made good on its promises, from improving worker’s conditions in its China factories to doubling down on minorities hiring in Cupertino.

Apple space ship might be unmanned  but will be inclusive.

It starts at the top, not just “think different”,  but “be different”.

The more authentic it allows itself to be, the harder for the likes of Samsung to play catch up. After all, you can copy someone’s invention, but you cannot reproduce his identity. Maybe Chardin was right about combining all the brain powers in the noosphere (collective consciousness) – today’s equivalent of supercomputing power in the cloud – to process information, to do well and to do good. It must be you

Consumer’s hypocrisy

If asked, we all say we buy on values.

When not asked, we buy on price ( never mind all the time searching for the bottom price).

Trade pacts and trade policies. We shifted manufacturing jobs South of the border, only to ship them across the pond. Then what happened? China grows its industrial muscles, and figures, they too can apply the same lesson: shipping the jobs further South to Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia. These countries, which have already taken a page from the Filipinos play book, shipped workers to Eastern Europe and Middle East for years. Until now, when jobs are finally coming their way.

Jack Ma of Alibaba even goes on the offensive by recruiting bi-lingual 2nd year US MBA students to rotate in different departments. Mr Tien, another Chinese billionaire, treated his 6,000 workers to France and Macau. In short, Chinese labour market is now overheated, competing for high-valued talent.

Consumers said they wanted more for less.

So it goes. Machine replacing human, cheaper labour replacing more expensive one etc…

In the middle of 19th century, bicycles from France were highly sought after in the US.

(my pre-conception was based on my familiarity with the US Highway system, another copy of German autobahn). No wonder in one fell swoop, Henry Ford built both the automobile and the US highway system (boasted being door-to-door).

Not to mention his pitch  “you can choose – model T – in any color as long as it’s black” and policy to pay workers enough to buy the cars. In today’s environment, both the bikes and the automobiles (or most of them) would be made in China.

Back to our labour lamenting and consumer’s hypocrisy. At the heart of the debate on trade and labour is competitiveness. The US is ranked 5th on road condition (its D.C. and Philie Amtrak line has just killed 8). Someone is paying the price for the value rendered.

So from Portland, Oregon (where Nike is) to Portland, Maine (near where L.L. Bean is), we bought sweatshirts and shoes made from overseas (where factories, workers and environmental effects are expendable). As long as the status quo continues with Black Friday rush and Dads and Grads gifting (which BTW, no one really makes practical use out of those flowery shirts. And where is Mrs Marcos now with her 3,000+ out-of-style pairs of shoes?).

For this Father’s Day, think sustainably and globally. Examine your conscience and question your hypocrisy as a consumer. Am I truly shopping for values or on price. And at what price to the many who helped make those products.

Long ago (during the Clinton years), I read about the proliferation along the Texas border. Then, for a while, the jumping of Apple workers from the Foxconn’s dormitory in China. Now, it’s the Chinese turn to start reading about their Vietnamese sub-contacts getting drunk on cheap vodka and DUI’s at the city’s outskirts. Some day, Nike will learn from Henry Ford to make those shoes affordable even to its workers. Now, that will not be hypocrisy.

Learned leaders

Let’s pretend you are invited to give a commencement address to 2015 graduates.

What role models should we recommend to these future leaders? Most subjects have been touched on by earlier speakers like Steve Jobs (get going) and Jill Abramson (get real).

Let’s brainstorm, or SWOT, to find a more realistic leadership model.

First is King David.

Courage in battle and faithful in life.

Yet, on the roof top, he had a momentary lapse of judgment (so was the IMF guy): he wanted another man’s wife (to add to his collection of thousand).

One false start led to another i.e. murder plot (sending Beersheba’s husband to the war front to qualify her as widow).

Lesson: that which gets you there, in this case – courage, won’t keep you there.

Second is Hitler.

Norman Mailer’s A Castle in the Forest explored Hitler’s childhood, surrounded by and observed how bees behaved. Result: an efficient army – killing machine and coding machine (one way or another, a precipice for  our digital world today, with IBM being slightly tainted). 6 failed assassinations, only to succeed at the end: he took his own life.

Lesson: efficiency alone is good only for managerial and logistic layer. Leaders need to place the ladder on the right building, not just climbing efficiently up.

Third is Colin Powell

He distilled war wisdom out of the Vietnam experience. The Powell Doctrine states that one only engages in a conflict when there is 70+ chance of wining it. Once in, one needs to deploy overwhelming force to ensure swift and decisive victory. In short, no quagmire. Sun Tzu knows this well: the best  battle is the one one doesn’t get involved in.

Fourth and last. Water Margin (Chinese Confucian Robin Hood)

To lead a band of 108 brothers who curse, drink and have strong disregard for the “corrupted” authority was no easy task. Yet Song Jiang, a filial and moral but defunct officer managed just that. He took humility to heart. Song Jiang bowed and stuck with them more than stuck it to them. Instead of saying “go ahead and make my day”, Song Jiang often untied his captives and recruited them into the fold. To win hearts and minds. To him, it’s easier to destroy than to build, to revenge than to restore.  Lesson: what one believes affects how one leads.

So graduates, from this day on, choose your leadership style. What’s your core belief; self-assessment or self-aggrandizement?

Are people to be manipulated or motivated, humiliated or honored?

What kind of aim and end do you wish? At what costs? According to Mr. Powell’s manual, go ahead and place the ladder on the building even in the thick of smoke, only after you have ascertained and arrived at 70% confidence. Like King David, one wrong can lead to many more down that road. The end never justifies the means: if you can’t be taken down after six attempts, you might end up doing yourself in any way, Queen Bee or worker bees.

Leaders learned what not do to most of the time. You have learned what to do. Now comes the hard part. From here on out, it’s not a case study to be graded. It’s your life-long learning on how to lead.