Saturday, September 18, 2004

CEO for a day: Yahoo

If I got to run Yahoo for a day, here's what I'd do.

I'd rip out the stovepiped, competitive, product-aligned management and P/L structure that has existed forever there and install structures and measures that would reward cross-product integration. That way,
Then I'd build an interface layer "above" the newly integrated platform, a set of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that would allow third parties to build applications atop Yahoo's many services. Then I'd steal a page from the playbooks that helped build huge developer and value-added communities around the DEC VAX, IBM AS/400, Lotus Notes and that Microsoft operating system. Make Yahoo the hosting service of choice for small and medium sized businesses worldwide.

Of course, this might take more than one day.

I wish I had posted this when it first came to mind, back when Terry Semel took over from Tim Koogle in May 2001. Semel's done a notable job turning Yahoo around, but in the process he has turned it into a... well, a bit of a tart. Now ads eat up a quarter of your screen on Yahoo properties, all the marketing feels increasingly intrusive and whatever goodwill Yahoo had earned with its users must be pretty much shot.

This wasn't too difficult to predict, given Semel's Hollywood background, and maybe it was the only way to keep the ship from sinking. But I had bigger hopes.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Cheney cuts the Times from the herd

Just finished a startling, wonderfully written piece by Rick Lyman in the Times' Week in Review section.

Apparently, there's not enough room on Cheney's plane for the Paper of Record to travel along, so Lyman has been hotfooting it from event to event alone. This is how he deals:

So, I stalk: Flying commercial, I hopscotch around the country, booking my own flights, trying to keep one step ahead of Mr. Cheney. I make it to at least one of the vice president's campaign events every day, more if the schedule permits. At each stop I'm swept by agents, sniffed by dogs and grab myself a seat in the press pen. (Those reporters on Air Force Two are swept once, at the beginning of the day, and never leave the security bubble.)

The truth is, it's a weird kind of gift to a reporter.

It leads to little gems like this one:

Rebecca Dixen, a St. Paul reference librarian and a Kerry supporter, said she had come to the fair hoping to get into the vice president's town hall event and ask him a question, unaware that it was by invitation only and there are never, ever any rude or discomfiting questions. "You can't even get in unless you already support him," she said. "I don't know what kind of democracy that is. To tell you the truth, it's a little bit disappointing."
And moving passages like this:

One unexpected dividend is that I've accrued a kind of unearned aura - a sense that I must have done something terribly right to be handed such a punishment.

At one stop outside Milwaukee, the former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr insisted that the vice president and his wife pause to sample the wares of one of the region's legendary frozen-custard stands. While we stood on the hot patio watching the Cheneys dispose of a cup of custard, a reporter from the Air Force Two pool sidled up to me and said, "I really admire what you're doing," as though I was marching from Selma.

(At which I'm sure conservatives will scream that Lyman is embellishing his story by comparing it to civil rights marches, or that he really wants to make a fortune selling books, which is, of course, why Richard Clarke wrote his book. Sigh.)

In her documentary Journeys with George, reporter Alex Pelosi experienced firsthand one of the first Bush freeze-outs. The documentary also made two points eloquently, without perhaps intending to:

Did I mention their jobs were on the line? The winning bus gets to be the White House press corps. No conflict there.

Clinton gets pilloried for "I didn't inhale" and Bush gets away with "youthful indiscretions"?? With a past filled with clearly irresponsible actions and all sorts of self-destructive behavior? Maybe this is what humanizes him and makes him appealing to normal people.

Yet our country's jails are overfull with people caught for non-violent, drug-related crimes that at Yale are called "experimentation" and in poor neighborhoods are cause for crackdowns (a point made last night by Ashoka Fellow Van Jones on a panel about social entrepreneurship).

Here's Lyman's article in my Furl archive, since the Times, in its infinite wisdom as the Paper of Record, will hide it in a paid archive after a few days.

Gosh, I'm angry about all this.

Please help get these guys out of office. They do not have permission to roll the dice with our future (the big Our: everyone on the planet). They think they're following the only path possible, but in fact they're actively generating the perfect storm.

Voters, note that the anti-Americanism around the globe right now is mostly anti-Bushism. But if we vote him in for another four years, it will turn into much broader anti-Americanism, because we will be seen as accomplices.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Small suggestion for the TSA

Airport security inspections are a drag, and the longer lines have made travel considerably less interesting. Some travelers are considerate to the security personnel, but most seem grumpy and irritable.

Here's a suggestion for the TSA: every now and then (every millionth passenger?) let the security personnel award a small prize. Some small but fun token. It would create a little dynamic of positive energy, break up the monotony and probably not create any big security loopholes. You'd have to train the security personnel to not get distracted when an award was announced. Time the awards so one happens at each station at least once a day.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Four clever citizenship ideas

If necessity is the mother of invention. George Bush's presidency has a tiny silver lining. People are inventing many clever ways to get out the vote.

Anita Roddick points to this morning, a site that helps non-US citizens motivate those US citizens living abroad to vote.

The Am I Hot or Not? folks have put up a clever contest, offering $200,000 at Vote or Not.

JustVote! is a simple grassroots site that helps get people registered.

And Tom Mauser recently started an online petition to get the assault weapons ban renewed. The petition software allows you to see where it has traveled, using ForwardTrack from Eyebeam R&D. Very cool.

A Republican curve ball?

The Elephant People put on a brave face and did some very effective, black-and-white, you're with us or you're agin' us trash-talking in the Big Apple last week, but the bounce they got is leveling off and it's anyone's race now.

Per my last post, they're getting desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures. I don't subscribe to the theory that Bush will call off the elections as a matter of national emergency. Our country is stronger than that (he says, wishfully). I do believe that the Republicans have an ace up their sleeve and must play it. This is not a novel theory, but I'd like to state what I think will happen.

Three or four weeks before the election, after the debates are over, Cheney's doctor will report that his onboard pacemaker/data collector has been showing some anomalies and that he should, for the good of the country, withdraw from the ticket.

Who're they gonna call? Powell.

Why this makes sense:
Powell smashes one of the traditional Democratic strongholds: African Americans. Say you're a black US citizen. Wouldn't you be torn, regardless what your political inclinations are?

Of course, Powell also brings wonderful military chops, to offset Kerry and compensate for that ill-timed carrier swagger.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Zell and the Brutelligentsia

If the Left is supposed to represent the intelligentsia, the right has turned into the brutelligentsia. They're really smart, but they're ruthless. Left their ruth back in their childhood somewhere. Now they're on the warpath, and no tactic seems too low.

Zell Miller's speech, even though the Repubs are backing away from it quickly, said it all. You have to imagine they vetted the content, but whoever approved the text probably couldn't imagine the venom with which he delivered it. The saddest part was watching the delegates, who cheered and got energized by his bile. Zell certainly did set a tone, and Cheney wasted no time building it, though with a grandfatherly air, not the hiss and spit(balls) that Zell used.

I can empathize with the Conservatives. They're in a tough spot. If they lose this election, many of their achievements will be sent tumbling. For instance...

They have completely reoriented US foreign policy -- preemptive strikes, anyone? -- alienating friendly nations (on purpose; Bush doesn't really want a powerful Europe) and undermining the UN (if it were actually functional, we couldn't play global cop with a free hand; if the UN worked, we would no longer be the dominant superpower). And W is the guy -- the only guy (well, besides Rumsfeld, Rove, etc.) -- who gets to decide whom to preempt. Put yourself in the shoes of any foreigner for a sec. Doesn't it give you the slightest willies?

Notice I didn't even mention domestic policy, an exercise I leave to the reader.

They have uncloaked. Between the Project for a New American Century, all this press about the Neocons and the many personal conversations all of us have had since 9/11, in person and online, we now know who is Conservative and who isn't. I've heard many Libertarians espouse essentially the Conservative line, so I'm no longer sure what the difference is. But we know who you are. Lucky thing we're not generally vengeful.

Speaking of vengeful, the Right has done an excellent job shoving the Democrats aside. Between whipping legislation to the floor before anyone can read it, excluding Dems from committee meetings and important debates, foreclosing debate and stifling dissent (my early favorite: Trent Lott's statement of 3/1/02 saying: "How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field? He should not be trying to divide our country while we are united." Wow. Execrable.) People like Daschle and Byrd are too gentlemanly to survive an all-out assault by people like Anne Coulter (Treason?!?) and Tom DeLay (can you say, gerrymandering?).

Perhaps most poignant of all, Conservatives don't see any alternatives to their current strategy. This is do or die for them.

I don't think it's necessarily that they all believe that Might Makes Right (making war to bring freedom; yeah!), but rather that all their vested interests, economic and political, rest on one another in a delicate house of cards.

They see no second path. They've lost the world's goodwill (oh, to be back to Sept. 12 again), Chevron, Halliburton and others need to be fed, and they have made a major campaign issue (a successful one, at that) of never wavering and never admitting being wrong about anything. We know who they are and what they stand for. How do they reverse course from there? The only way out is forward, with blinders on, and damn the torpedoes.

Their coalition is precarious. I don't mean the Coalition of the Willing, but rather the collection of strange bedfellows who share this Conservative policy. Funny thing is, strange bedfellows go back to being enemies when their interests are no longer served by toeing the line any more, and the current Conservative agenda has more than its share of strange bedfellows these days. Those links are being frayed day by day now, as the Neocons get investigated by the FBI for espionage, as the economy sputters along and as Bush and his allies abandon all conservatism in their tactics.

Finally, with a wistful look back at the Republican convention, Bush's refrain, "and nothing will hold us back" made me think of the things he didn't quite mention:
My favorite chant from the demonstrators in NYC last sunday:
Call: What does real democracy look like?
Response: This is what democracy looks like!
I have to end with love (yes, after all that), inspired by two thoughts.

The first is from several recent conversations about Buddhist principles, especially Thich Nhat Hanh's ideas of loving speech and deep listening. Those principles may be the only way out. Violence does beget violence, and the more committed combatant is the one that will win in such an encounter. Check my list above, and you'll see who's got more to lose here.

The other thought is the contrast between the Democratic convention, which studiously avoided negative attacks (Jimmy was tough, but no Zell), and the Republican convention, with its no-holds-barred, slash-and-burn, the-facts-be-damned approach to affirming loyalty and stoking its supporters fires.

I don't know whether the DemCon was positive because it was focus-grouped, or because much of the negative stuff is already in the air through the flurry of documentaries against the Bush Administration or what, but I suspect it had a lot to do with the Edwards primary campaign. I was struck by how this unknown guy would come in five percentage points behind Kerry every time, when the strident Dean got no traction at all. Edwards had no real policy positions, but he connected superbly with ordinary people, he never went negative on the rest of the field, and he had the clearest message of hope.

It may sound trite, but I'm hoping that that hope gets heard. And acted on. 59 more days?

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