by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume V, No. XL
For the Week of October 8, 2001

This Week's Clue: Khattam-Shud

This Week's Clue: Khattam-Shud

SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)

SP (Shameless Promotion)

The Other War: God Save Us from our Friends

Make No More Enemies Than Necessary

Dirty Little Secret

Clued-in, Clueless

"What's the use of stories that aren't even true?"

This is the question Haroun Khalifa asks his father, Rashid, the "Shah of Blah," in Salman Rushdie's masterful fairy tale, "Haroun and the Sea of Stories."  

While my life has been journalism, I do not pretend that what you read in a-clue.com is truly that. I may base my ramblings and imaginings on facts, on real stories ripped from the headlines, but they are, in the end, just musings, proposals, dreams - stories, in other words.

Every company, every country, and every religion starts with a story. Every life tells a story. The Internet is where all these stories, for the first time in the world's history, have the opportunity to come together. It is Kahani, the moon where Rushdie's story takes place. This medium is truly fed by the ocean of the streams of story. 

What we feel today, what we will continue to feel for years to come, is similar to what Rushdie has felt since the Iranian Mullahs declared a fatwa (statement) of blasphemy and a death sentence upon him for his "The Satanic Verses." "Haroun" was the first product of his pen after the death sentence. Rushdie is currently, as I understand it, a resident of New York City. 

Rushdie's Kahani is divided between light Guppees and dark Chupwalas, but these are not his heroes or villains. Both are necessary for stories to work. His villain is Khattam-Shud, the final end, the closed heart and mind which poisons the ocean and sucks the life from light and dark alike. 

And the solution to Khattam-Shud isn't a great battle, but simply exposing his nature, as is done by Haroun in the fable and his father Rashid the next day in telling his son's story before a huge crowd. That's the use of stories that aren't even true.

Osama bin Laden and those who have declared war on us are beyond faith, hope, or life. They are Khattam-Shud, the end. This is what they gave the World Trade Center. This is what they seek to give to all of us. 

We of the Internet, no matter what our opinions may be, are all currents in the ocean of the streams of story. We are Kahani, whether or not our stories are true. This medium is life, it is a glorious adventure, it can be anything you wish it to be. 

But it won't be defended by our becoming as intolerant or judgmental as our enemies. The war won't be won by Guppees fighting Chupwalas. It can only be won by exposing Khattam-Shud so that all might reject him, starting of course with the people of Afghanistan and extending to all the world's Muslims. If dead he can be a martyr. He can only be truly gone when he's universally recognized for what he is, a blasphemer. 

My point for you today is it won't end there. The war against Khattam-Shud doesn't end. It is the never-ending battle against all all absolutes that declare war against anyone with other stories to tell, and who practice their intolerance in action, not just word. 

Many think they see the ingredients of Khattam-Shud in front of them. They see it on thousands of Web sites, in hundreds of e-mail lists, on every U.S. talk radio station. Some hear it spoken from pulpits. But Rushdie teaches that it's fine and good for such foolish talk to be written and read, spoken and heard. It's just Chupwalas spreading darkness, and even Guppees are attracted to such black-and-white, simplistic stuff. 

It's just when that darkness decides to fill a Ryder truck with fertilizer and diesel fuel, then explode it next to a federal building, that it becomes Khattam-Shud. It's when that darkness chooses to hatch a plot to hijack planes and fly them into buildings that it becomes Khattam-Shud.

No thought, no matter how intolerable to you, or abhorrent, should be beyond the power of the Internet to deliver. It's actions, or plans of action leading to death, that must be exposed to the light. That's an important difference to understand as the Internet goes forward, as this Kahani spins along. 

The ultimate darkness lies in closing our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds, to any currents in the oceans of the streams of story. There's much more to this medium than meets the Blinking Eye. 

SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)

I accepted an assignment to create a white paper for a vendor recently and found, to my shock and surprise, that I actually enjoyed the work. I believe even white papers need a story, and that story must be told well. My weakness is on technical accuracy, but it you want your materials to be worth reading let me give you a hand.

You can join the A-Clue.Com discussion at I-Strategy , our shared e-mail digest produced with Adventive.Com. You can also read me at ClickZ , B2B, and Boardwatch, as well as the new paid version of WorkZ. "Living on the Internet: How to Make Money, Live Right, and Fight For the 21st Century" is now in the hands of the folks at eBookAgent, which is arranging for electronic distribution. Remember that it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

Shameless Promotion

Life continues. Business continues. It's more vital than ever that your brand stand out. Brands that don't stand out die in recessions - it's as simple as that.

So on November 16-17 branding expert (and friend) Rob Frankel will be getting down-and-dirty with all those with a Clue in the Big Time Branding Round-Up at the LAX Holiday Inn.

I've worked with Rob since the Jay Abraham 2000 summit. He knows his stuff. He knows my stuff. He will do the job you need done. More important he'll teach you how it's done, and how to benefit from it. You will leave empowered to become a Big Time Brand, and you will succeed at becoming one.

You've got this week to get in your $995. After that the price goes up $300. Register now .

Takes on the News

The Other War: God Save Us from our Friends

The World Wide Web Consortium is quietly going through a policy change that could gravely threaten its future. It is preparing to allow the use of patented technology in W3 standards.

While Dave Winer tried to bang the drum against this change  it seems to have been too little, too late. The change has been underway for two years. It is masked in complex technical jargon that is impossible for most people to penetrate. It is a lawyer's game masquerading as a technical discussion.

The claim is that by allowing patented technology into the standards-making process, starting with the Platform for Privacy Preferences (pushed by Microsoft), the Web will benefit from more complex systems. But in rejecting open source as the future of the Web, the consortium could make their effort more analogous to the OSI effort of the 1980s. OSI failed, and TCP/IP succeeded, because no one had to pay in order to play.

A 1998 study on how patents relate to standards still stands. If anything things have gotten worse. European governments and businesses are already chafing under the iron fist of Microsoft, and this will just increase their anger. The last thing this country or medium needs is to upset our friends.

The cure is simple. Software patents should be rendered null and void. They are the creation of a court, not the people of the United States (or any other nation). They never should have happened, they're more trouble than they're worth. Copyright is protection enough. And if you're not donating the technology, don't offer it as part of a standard.

While Dave is quite alarmist in his thinking here, I'm far more sanguine. Proprietary standards from any country (including the U.S.) will simply be ignored by those in other nations. Taking the W3C out of the picture could be the best news open source ever got.

Make No More Enemies Than Necessary

I haven't read Clausewitz or Sun Tzu but I strongly suspect that, if either were alive today, they would be recommending that we limit the field of our enemies.

While the military response to the September 11 attacks has been minimal so far, the legal attacks on others have been severe, and the propaganda attacks on the enemy almost non-existent. The statements of the In Defense of Freedom page  should be self-evident, beyond debate. Yet the Bush Administration is insisting on permanent reductions in civil liberties, and branding opponents (like those who support the In Defense of Freedom page) as "soft on terrorism." . The word for this, for those who remember their U.S. history, is McCarthyism.

It's true that America has its own home-grown nut cases (we recently executed one ) and may yet execute a second) and there are others like McVeigh out there . But trying to eliminate encryption, or pretending that U.S. law enforcement "wars" against the Mafia or drugs have been won (and are thus the model for what we should do now) are, quite simply, less than helpful.

The coalition against Bin Laden is already breaking down as Israelis and Arabs wrap the conflict inside their own agendas. It is foolish to add hackers or civil libertarians in this country to that growing list of enemies. Instead of arguing among ourselves, we should be funding and expanding the view that the Taliban are non-Islamic and non-Afghan, and making the case against the perpetrators in the worldwide courts of public opinion.

Dirty Little Secret

There's a dirty little secret in America's Internet publishing business. To a great degree it is being kept afloat by lawlessness.

In particular, gambling is paying a lot of bills. You can see that by comparing English football sites like this with American collegiate sites like this. Because gambling is legal in England there's a flow of cash into the English sites. The fact that it is legal (and vital) even has the sites pushing the betting (they call it "punting") in their editorials, with special features suggesting esoteric wagers. In the U.S. sports betting is illegal, and as a result our sports sites are (as a result) struggling to meet minimal budgets. Sites like CBS.Sportsline try to make do with office pools, while ESPN.Com depends on fantasy football. It's not just the Internet, either - many sports radio stations are filled with ads for overseas sports books, often narrated by the stations' talent.

It is not just sports sites that have come to rely on gambling. MSNBC has been featuring ads for online casinos for months, even on their home page. Enter the term "online gambling" (or anything similar) at Google.Com and look at how many ads are. The fact is it's illegal for Americans to bet online (not that this stops them). In fact when I entered "online gambling case" at Google I saw 10 ads for overseas casinos, but the first editorial link was to a story about the sentencing of a man in New York for running an Antiguan sports book.

"People who operate businesses from foreign shores that take sports bets from Americans should understand that they cannot escape the consequences of their actions by locating their sportsbooks outside the United States," said U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White. Yet many sites, including Google, still take these sites' money.

Personally I'd prefer that gambling be legal everywhere, so we can tax it and cut the costs of government in trying to stop it. But the truth needs to be told - some of the biggest U.S. sites are relying on illegal activity to make their numbers (or stay in business).

Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in was Amazon.Com's deal with Target . Your survival right now depends on having lots of friends with lots of capital, friends you can play off against one another so they don't devour you. Adding Target and its merchandise categories to this list makes sense for a company whose share price is hovering near $5.

Clueless was the Bush Administration decision against creating a national identity card . This is the greatest victory terrorists have won since September 11. Consider how easily Bin Laden's men were able to create American identities for themselves . Consider the benefits for the Internet, for electronic commerce, and for the handling of confidential medical and financial records if there is a card linked to biometric data carried by every American, a standard one could place in a standard reader. And before you think this is a partisan cut, it's also Clueless for Britain's Labour government to come to the same decision .

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