For the Week of September 13, 2004
This last week America formally entered its regularly-scheduled contest between head and heart.
Republicans have been the Heart Party since their founding, in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854. Republicans have always believed in their themes, which has enabled them to retain unity even as the themes changed. They believed in Union, in Capital, they believed (with Teddy Roosevelt) in Imperialism and then, just as firmly (under Coolidge) in Isolationism. The failure of the Dewey Republicans was to lose Heart, and the success of Barry Goldwater was to return Heart to the party's center. He did it by creating an ideology, "The Conscience of a Conservative." You are what you are, and people know when you're not.
The Republicans' founding transformed the Democratic Party. It was once the party of Heart, under Thomas Jefferson, then Andrew Jackson. Slavery and Civil War forced it to re-form as the Party of Head, the party of governance. Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt all stood for pragmatic reform, for the process of governing. Democracy was a natural home for most big city machines, for new ethnics, for incrementalism of all kinds.
You hear echoes of this every few years, at about this time. Democrats accuse Republicans of "just making stuff up," but it resonates, among their faithful, because Republicans believe. Their singular achievements in this last century were to split Southerners and Westerners from the calls of Bryan and Huey Long for inflation based almost entirely on belief, in religious and economic fundamentalism. Their big problem this year is that, forced to make a choice, they've chosen to let their economic fundamentalism lapse.
Michael Dukakis was the ultimate Democrat of the last century, and his fate illustrates the party's big problem. He set the terms of the 1988 contest as being over competence, pointing to then-Vice President Bush's role in Iran-Contra and the ideological excesses of the Reagan tax cuts. Bush made it a contest of values, a code for ideology, for belief, for Heart. Bush won handily.
You can't argue with belief. You can't argue with religion, you either believe it or you don't. And you can't argue with political principles dressed up as religion, whether that's pre-emption called a "fight for freedom" or deficits thrown up because "it's your money."
This fact drives Democrats crazy. It gives Republicans a natural advantage that doesn't appear in the polls, a switch they can hit at any time which doesn't depend on facts or argument for its turn-on.
What Howard Dean tried to do, and he failed at it, was to give Democrats a Belief System that could go toe-to-toe with Republicans' "god, gays, and guns" (Dean's words), a set of counters that would keep the Heart from controlling the Head when it came time to cast a ballot. But Dean knew from the beginning his enemy was more the Democratic hierarchy - always based on pragmatic head-based governance - than anything else.
And so they gave us John Kerry, with litigator John Edwards hired on as a pseudo-compromise. Litigators know that winning a case means appealing to the heart as well as the head, but also that you have to get past the judge in order to make that case.
George W. Bush is taking the lesson of his father, and turning Kerry into Dukakis by simply making stuff up. You can't argue with belief. It's myths and value that result in power - it's not a logical process.
The problem, for me, is that if the Heart beats the Head this time the nation is lost. We're already losing our economic competitiveness. We're losing our independence to Saudi Arabia and China, the former with its resources and the latter with our bonds. We're turning butter into guns so fast we'll soon have no butter left, and thus nothing with which to buy more guns.
Fear is the dominant emotion of our time. The Republican message is a great manipulation of fear. You've got to hand it to them, they know what they're doing.
This is an ally Herbert Hoover didn't have in 1932, when he faced off against Franklin Roosevelt. Oh, he tried. But the ideology he was selling, based as it was on William McKinley's economic nationalism and Henry Cabot Lodge's isolationism, just couldn't do the job against hungry bellies and a distant relative of Teddy Roosevelt who smiled through his own pain. And then, at his inauguration, Roosevelt put the nail in the coffin with one sentence.
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And then he added "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." He spent the rest of his address naming those fears, and the first half of his Presidency fighting them.
Ideology is usually based on fear. Terrorism is the triumph of fear. Fundamentalism creates the first and often results in the second. All are products of the Heart. Yet throughout the last year appeals to these forces have fallen on deaf ears in the great democracies. They failed in Spain, they failed in India. And they will fail here if, but only if, we have leaders who will put a backbone behind their resistance to fear, who will name the fear.
Only by naming fear can the Head have any power over the Heart. As Jerry Juhl wrote (for Zero Mostel) , "I will count them, and compel them. I will casually dispel them. For they are just a figment of my own imagination."
I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout , a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.
My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .
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Takes on the News
Bill and Steve
One of the big prices of great success is how your thoughts move from playing offense to playing defense.
Offense is the natural stance of a growing business, defense the stance of an institution. Competition always favors offense, but those playing defense can stay on top by changing the rules of the game, guaranteeing their success by stopping the process that gave them success.
Microsoft became a defensive company with the new Millenium. Bill Gates no longer thinks in terms of rapid growth. He thinks in terms of maintaining his advantages as long as possible.
You can see this most clearly in Microsoft's efforts to push its proprietary technology into the heart of the Internet, through the Internet Engineering Task Force.
Bill Thompson of the BBC has called Microsoft on this , writing that the Caller ID standard against spam "will be ratified even with Microsoft's licensing conditions, but it will only be fully implemented in proprietary mail systems. The free software and open source communities will then be outside the charmed circle when it comes to blocking spam, making life difficult for companies that use their software. This, of course, may be exactly what Microsoft is hoping for, as it would damage the credibility of free or open source software and give it a marketing advantage."
Microsoft forced its technology onto Meng Wong, whose Sender Policy Framework now includes it. Now it's trying to "protect its intellectual property" and force a Microsoft license on every server and client on the Internet. Defense is the kindest word I can come up with.
Contrast this with Steve Jobs who, at about the same age, is still playing offense. The G5 has its faults as a digital entertainment hub. Some chances weren't taken. But by plugging devices like cameras, the iPod, and (perhaps most important) cell phones into the iMac, you've got central control of everything and these other devices are all peripheral.
Jobs' insistance on controlling his own hardware production proved fatal long ago. But at 50 he's playing offense while Gates has long moved to defense. As a result history may yet show Jobs to be the more important figure.
Mobile Commerce is a mess.
Carriers' insistance on controlling everything which happens on their networks has slowed the take-up of data services. Today the two biggest factors in selling mobile data, PowerByHand and Handango remain primarily PC shops, pushing files for the Palm and Windows Mobile systems.
I talked to Dov Cohn at the former, who explained that because carriers seek to control everything he's still making most of his sales on his Web site, via credit card. Qpass has one of the only "bill on behalf of" (BOBO) interfaces out there, and they can only handle a few price points. The carriers, Cohn said, have quality of service issues and content control issues as well.
Into this market steps a new player, called Near Field Communication . It's a chip set and interfaces defining a commerce engine mobile phones can use for all types of items. . Nokia and Samsung are now supporting it, and with it you'll be able to buy, not just ringtones and sodas, but plane tickets, meals, anything in fact, simply by waving your phone at a port and pressing a button.
There are fears that combining this with GPS will let police track you throughout your day. I've said this before, once the principle that your data belongs to you is established this should not be a concern.
I'm far more concerned that carriers' control demands will keep Near Field from actually happening. My hope is that, as we see more "dual-mode" phones supporting Wi-Fi as well as cellular networks come out, that Near Field can start handling transactions on the former through multiple banks and multiple processors. Hopefully this will force the cellular networks to open up.
Why News Sucks
The flip answer is the Golden Rule. He who has the gold makes the rules.
This is not just an explanation of "press bias," but the best explanation of what's wrong with the industry generally.
To a stock analyst any media stock is like a cigarette company. It's a license to print money. Everything is either a monopoly or shared monopoly - broadcasting because TV licenses are limited in number. This is now true of cable as well as broadcast, because the number of slots on either a satellite or a cable network is limited.
The average P/E for a newspaper stock, even in today's over-heated market, is in the upper teens. This compares with a P/E of the lower teens in the cigarette market. The higher ratio is based on fear that the Internet is eating the industry's cheese (which it is) . The average broadcasting or cable P/E is in the lower 20s . The average P/E in the Standard & Poor's 500 is 22 .
When there's no fear of bankruptcy two trends are inevitable - bureaucracy and corruption. These industries have suffered both. The very idea of journalism as a "profession" is based on the mistaken notion of jobs held for life, something the marketplace is not supposed to promise.
For proof of this look at how the media industries have approached the Internet. We've had 10 years of non-stop Cluelessness. Forced registration for what are essentially billboard sites, no concept that the space available on a Web site is essentially unlimited, very limited interaction with or between readers...it goes on and on.
Publishers control the platforms. Profits must be guaranteed before a media company will do anything. There is great opportunity here, still, for an entrepreneur. But we've had this situation for generations in the news business, and nearly all our entrepreneurs, whether publishers or editors, must now be imported.
Clued-in is Intel's demonstration of 65 nanometer chip-making . Moore's Law marches on.
Clueless is Star38.com and its method for spoofing Caller ID. I think this is far more of a threat than Jan Johansen's DVD copying.
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