Recalling “Dictatorships & Double Standards”



Jeane KirkpatrickSorry for the long drought in blogs.  Chalk it up to global warming.

Former Slate and New Republic editor Michael Kinsley has this delightful review of Lawrence Wright’s new book on Scientology in Sunday’s New York Times.  Describing Scientology, Kinsley writes:

The closest institutional parallel would be the Communist Party in its heyday [including] the determination to control its members’ lives completely (the key difference, you will recall, between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, according to the onetime American ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick)….

As the Scientologists have a legal budget on par with the GDP of a developing country, they can respond to Kinsley and The Times.  But Kinsley’s remark about Kirkpatrick deserves a comment since the sway of history during the past few decades puts her once-derided thesis in an increasingly vindicated light.

First a disclosure: During much of 1985, I worked with Amb. Kirkpatrick, helping her prepare her UN speeches and papers into a book, Legitimacy & Force.

Kirkpatrick’s distinction about authoritarian and communist dictatorships came to public attention in a November 1979 Commentary article, “Dictatorships & Double Standards.”  It was a critique of American policies that sought to undercut authoritarian pro-Western regimes (Somoza, the Shah, Lon Nol) while minimizing the destruction of human freedom in totalitarian regimes and movements (Soviet satellites and funded insurgencies).

Her article was often called a criticism of a “human rights” foreign policy – ironic because the phrase “human rights” never appears in the text.

What she did posit was that America’s foreign policy would be better focused on undercutting through trade, food aid, and yes, even foreign aid those governments that were trying to shut down all aspects of unsanctioned behavior (read: Jaruzelski’s Poland, other Soviet satellites).

With 30 years of hindsight, the insight of Amb. Kirkpatrick’s distinction has become blindingly obvious. Precisely as she and like-minded Reagan Administration colleagues (especially CIA director William Casey) predicted, once the aura of “invincibility” came off the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s due in no small part to aggressive American efforts, its empire crumbled with stunning swiftness.  In turn, once the Kremlin was no longer able to maintain an empire, those “wars of liberation” in El Salvador, Colombia, and Africa suddenly came to ignominious (for the rebels) conclusions.

A blog is not nearly long enough for a full discussion of issues that could easily consume tomes.  But suffice it to say from this member of a group occasionally labeled “the Kirkpatrick Mafia,” it is pleasing beyond belief to know that Amb. Kirkpatrick was able to see her views vindicated prior to her passing in 2006.

Incidentally, for the trivia minded, Prof. Kirkpatrick also holds the distinction of being the first Cabinet-level female appointee whose duties focused on international policy.

Microsoft: “with hollow eye and wrinkled brow”



The slow erosion of Microsoft’s brand continues.  New York Times columnist Randall Stross has a wonderful essay this morning on how the salons in Redmond are using Microsoft 8 as an excuse to phase out the eye-rolling “Live” appendage to  its desktop software:

After so many years of pushing the Windows Live brand in so many products, the company couldn’t easily drop the branding, even if executives had come around to the idea that it was misbegotten. But the imminent arrival of a new version of its flagship PC operating system, Windows 8, seems to provide cover for the change.

While schadenfreude at Microsoft’s expense is a frequent occurrence these days, the import of this is larger than a misbegotten marketing strategy.  Stross covers one key point and passes over another.  First, as Stross rightly notes, the emphasis on “Live” was Microsoft’s attempt to capitalize on real-time integration of software programs and users across the web.  This worked fine for Xbox where the addition of real-time gaming actually lent itself to the “Live” moniker.  But as PC users gravitated toward the web, particularly on mobile phones when 3G became ubiquitous, something else happened: The central focus on the PC and all its attendant software began to fragment. Microsoft couldn’t respond as Apple and Google effectively grabbed the smartphone OS market.

The second point, which derives from this, is that the web (especially the mobile web) put the public’s focus on third-party software developers. This is another big Microsoft weak point since the company has spent nearly 20 years expanding its bundled software in an effort to stamp out third-party competition.  This strategy worked fine when dial-up ruled but as mobile broadband expanded, this was doomed.

Memo to former AG Reno: You could’ve saved a lot of time and trouble.  The marketplace worked.

Action is eloquence

Filed under: Landon School


Rather than an urgent public policy debate, today’s missive covers something of far greater importance, namely Landon’s 7-4 victory over Bullis today for the IAC lacrosse crown.  Coming on the heels of a sweep of Georgetown Prep — the first since 2004 — the dispassionate onlooker can only respond by quoting American philosopher Jackie Gleason: “How sweet it is!”

“A sort of homecoming”

Filed under: Jody Powell


Robert DawsonWashington’s salons have long known that on matters of environmental regulation, the gentleman at left is without peer. Robert K. Dawson, former Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works during the Reagan Administration, founded the eponymous Dawson & Associates in 1998 and during the past decade, the firm has established a reputation as Washington’s premier experts in natural resources regulation, environmental permitting, energy, defense, infrastructure, and government contracting..

With ten former Flag Officers, mostly drawn from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Dawson team offers a wealth of expertise that no other firm in Washington can match.  That is why I am proud to offer the following announcement today in concert with Mr. Dawson and the top-notch team at his company:

Dawson & Associates Welcomes
Peter Arnold as Senior Advisor

(Washington, D.C.) – Peter Arnold, a former White House and Capitol Hill staffer who has run several major lobbying coalitions for the telecommunications and high-tech industries during the past decade, has joined Dawson & Associates as a Senior Advisor, the firm announced today.

You can read more here.

I will continue to lead Arnold Consulting Group, as I have since 1998.  But I will now also be responsible for overseeing Dawson & Associates’ public affairs and crisis communications efforts on behalf of its clients.  In a sense, this is (apologies to Bono) a “sort of homecoming” since I first worked with Mr. Dawson in the early 1990s during my time with Jody Powell and Sheila Tate.  Twenty years later, things have come full circle and for that, I extend a tremendous feeling of gratitude to this gentleman for his faith in me.

— Peter Arnold

A class act

Filed under: Jody Powell,White House


Sheila TateAnyone wondering if remarkable people still rise to the top in Washington, D.C. should take a moment and read the email below. Sheila Tate, former press secretary to Nancy Reagan and spokesman for the 1988 George Bush Presidential campaign, is retiring after a remarkable career proving that Alan Alda was half-right when he said, “It’s better to be wise than smart.”  In Sheila’s case, she was both.

Nearly 20 years ago, the Washington intelligensia was rocked with the news that Sheila and former White House press secretary Jody Powell had created an eponymous firm, Powell Tate.  It was the summer of 1991 and the firm quickly established itself as “the” place for corporations in need of crisis help.

Sheila brought me into Powell Tate about six weeks after the company started which only goes to show that her judgment even in those glory years was remarkably fallible.  I had had the privilege of working with her on the 1988 Bush campaign, where she was chief spokesman though it should be noted that I did not write a certain line about the California raisins.

Everyone who ever worked with Sheila has favorite anecdotes and this writer is no exception:

  • At a surprise birthday party for Sheila in 1991, a senior Powell Tate consultant gently ribbed her during a toast about a client problem that happened when the two worked at a different PR shop.  When the toast was over, Sheila smilingly replied, “Michelle, we always hated you back then.”
  • After the first President Bush had an unfortunate stomach incident during a state visit to Japan, Sheila went on CNN and was asked if this represented a “burp” on the Bush Presidency.  Not missing a beat, she replied that “I think it’s more of a ‘yurp’ than a ‘burp.'”
  • My favorite: a photo taken shortly after the rather bitter 1988 Presidential election showing Sheila standing between George H.W. Bush and Mike Dukakis.  As I recall, the incoming Prez wrote underneath it, “To Sheila, Only you could referee this one.”

Sheila, if you’re reading this, there are two things you should know.  First, you and Jody were a remarkable influence on me that I will never forget.  Second, I was underpaid.

As I sit at my computer on a very cold Christmas Eve day, I can’t help think about the fact that when Jody and I started Powell Tate in 1991 we didn’t have computers.  Nor did we have cell phones or blackberries; social media would have sounded like a disease.  Hmm.  Maybe not a bad definition.

Powell Tate started with about 10 employees and far fewer clients.  We were in very cramped quarters in the Metropolitan Square Building.  The great part was we got to design our new space at 700 Thirteenth Street from scratch.  And now, a mere 20 years later, you’re leaving it!

Back in the “early days”, I was an early bird, usually at work about 7:30am.  Jody showed up about 10am.  I left by 6pm and he worked into the evening hours which was great for West Coast clients and a few European clients as well.  We grew rapidly and we all worked as hard as we needed to, even overnight on occasion, and created great memories while doing great work for our clients.

On January 1st I will be erased from the IPG systems and my new address will be: ______.  The company has allowed me to slide slowly into retirement and I now embrace it with enthusiasm!  Before that happens, I need to wish each of you a wonderful Powell Tate experience, a long and rewarding career and great memories.  Don’t lose the essence of our culture where the individual and hard work is valued and the team is valued more; and above all, stay loyal to your clients and give them your very best.  I hope each of you can look back when you are about to retire and know you did your best, you loved your work and you truly admire your colleagues.  And, if you want me to be really happy, vote Republican.

Sheila Tate

May the farce be with you



RAMESES IIWall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Trachtenberg’s article this week on e-book pricing is a depressing reminder that Karl Marx was right: History does repeat itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.  Trachtenberg’s focus is on the inflated pricing structure creeping into e-book pricing but if you change the topic from books to music, his article could probably have appeared in 1998.

To put this in perspective, here’s a thought worth at least passing consideration: How did the music industry, with all its entrenched legal and financial heft among the major labels during the 1980s and 1990s, manage to be dominated by a computer company?  Call it arrogance in the sense that the guiding philosophy for too long involved a refusal to give consumers what they were clamoring for.  Meanwhile, the only pro-active strategy seemed to be launching lawsuits against tweens and grannies.

Remember Liquid Audio?  No?  OK, here goes: It started in the mid-1990s as a music download service and had the potential to succeed, driving home broadband adoption in the process.  Reportedly Steve Jobs nosed around the company early on, considering purchasing it as a way to jumpstart Apple’s nascent moves into the music industry.

But Liquid Audio never caught on because (gee, this is shocking) it could never secure sufficient licensing agreements with the music labels.  Meanwhile, even as two-hour movies on DVD were selling everywhere for $14, the music industry kept insisting that this same price was reasonable for a 45-minute audio disc with perhaps eight songs – in other words, the same product as Elvis Presley’s 1956 Christmas Album albeit in a more technologically sophisticated format.

Back to e-Books.  With the music industry’s pricing arrogance serving as a case study in how to anger consumers, the publishing conglomerate has a serious need for entry level marketing help.  This story has been told before and the ending is inevitable:

Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
.

Such stuff as dreams are made on

Filed under: Dartmouth College


SHAKESPEAREThe great Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro has this wonderful oped in today’s New York Times.  Writing about the latest  conspiracy du jour involving authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, Shapiro delightfully picks apart the thesis that Edward de Vere was the Bard’s ghostwriter:

“[P]romoters of de Vere’s cause have a lot of evidence to explain away, including testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else that confirms that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him. Meanwhile, not a shred of documentary evidence has ever been found that connects de Vere to any of [Shakespeare’s] plays or poems….  Perhaps the greatest obstacle facing de Vere’s supporters is that he died in 1604, before 10 or so of Shakespeare’s plays were written.”

Shapiro is one of the nation’s leading Shakespearean scholars and this author was lucky enough to participate in a semester-long seminar with him in the 1980s.  At that time, the ripe theory was that Christopher Marlowe was Shakespeare’s true author, a concept Shapiro effectively derided at length.  Marlowe was no doubt a wonderful writer but this theory seems to have withered in recent years, only to be replaced by the de Vere conspiracy.

If only this conspiracy could be put to rest as easily as, say, a birth certificate controversy.  Or as Paulina pleaded in The Winter’s Tale, “What’s gone and what’s past help, should be past grief.”

R.I.P., Steve



Steve JobsDuring the coming days, there will be testimonials to Steve Jobs that border on hagiography. (Erica Ogg at GigaOm is already out with a good one.) He might not have changed “the world” but he certainly did change large parts of it. More than anyone else, Jobs convinced the music industry to stop the circular firing squad mentality that resulted in the perverse concept of engaging the next generation of buyers by suing or threatening to sue them.

But twenty years earlier, he also foresaw the role of the graphic interface in personal computing while most of the industry was fixated on hardware. Think back to 1980: IBM not only rebuffed Bill Gates’ proposal to sell the concept behind Windows’ forerunner, it told Gates that its OS/1 would push Microsoft out of business. That was the climate into which Jobs pushed Apple barely a few years later.

This author remembers it well. In 1984, I purchased my first computer. It was a 128 kb Mac preloaded with basic software (anyone remember MacWrite?) that Dartmouth made available for about $1,000. The word processing was definitely preferable to typing on a Smith-Corona but had its limitations. The maximum size of a text document was about 6-7 pages which meant that my senior thesis on Jean-Paul Sartre and European totalitarianism actually comprised three separate documents.

Apple would founder without Jobs. It suffered terribly under Gil Amelio, whose lack of foresight can be summed up by his brusque dismissal of the Internet in his biography, On the Firing Line.

Finally, it’s worth noting that in addition to the iPod, iPhone, Mac and everything else, Jobs had a hand in the greatest commercial in TV history. According to Apple lore, the Board was appalled when Jobs previewed the commercial in late 1983 but Jobs persisted. Nearly 30 years later, no other commercial has come close.

R.I.P, Steve Jobs.

Why Apple might want to do the Hulu

Filed under: Apple,IBM,Technology


Why would Steve Jobs be interested in Hulu? The answer may be in Tarheel Country, specifically Maiden, near I-77.

That’s where you’ll find Apple’s mammoth new data center, built to handle iCloud and a lot more.  How much more?  Look at some numbers: This center is either 500,000 square feet (AppleInsider) or a million (Robert Cringely). By comparison, according to Cringely, IBM’s Special Events Web Service, which handled data for the Olympics, has three data centers with a combined 2000 square feet.

Any way you calculate it, iCloud by itself will not generate the data needed to give Apple anything approaching a suitable return on capital.  But wait!  Isn’t Apple trying to fast track the consumer transition to the cloud by phasing out (or minimizing) internal hard drives?  The new Mac Mini, introduced this week, has no optical drive and neither does the Mac Air, which replaces Apple’s aging MacBook.  Meanwhile, you’ve never been able to play a blu-ray disc on your Mac.

But that’s still not nearly enough data to pay for the Maiden center, especially given Moore’s Law (“the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years”).

Let’s go one step further and factor in compression.  Even aging microchips in the Apple line have an H.264 encoder/decoder that apparently can compress a 1080p audio/video stream into four megabits per second.  That compares with about 20 megabits in normal circumstances or perhaps 24 for better HDTV.

Here’s the short answer on Hulu: Apple has pumped a huge amount of money into North Carolina but its returns, even if iCloud takes off, will be paltry-to-negative.  Even if you forget the money (Apple is sitting on $76 billion, after all), the black eye for the company would be a huge embarrassment.

So Steve and his colleagues need to do something fast.  Buy Hulu and integrate it into iTunes.  It’s not a great solution but as Richard Dreyfus demanded from Roy Scheider in Jaws, “You got any better ideas, hot shot?”

Once more unto the… cloud?



Apologies for the long drought in blog updates.  Aaron Burr once said, “Delay may give clearer light as to what is best to be done” which may explain why Alexander Hamilton took the first shot in their duel.  But it’s not great advice for blogging.

Two events in the computing world this past week show that Serenditpity is more than just a well-known Manhattan eatery. IBM commemorated its 100th anniversary and Google issued its first foray into consumer hardware since last year’s Nexus One disaster.

First up, IBM.  Thirty years ago, Bill Gates offered to sell IBM the rights to the precursor to the Windows OS for about $100,000.  IBM refused, not comprehending the idea of profits in software outside its OS/1.  The driving principles in IT for the next generation offered a cruel lesson. By the late 1980s, minicomputers had pushed aside mainframes since VAXes were about a third the cost of an IBM 3090 and smaller too.  By the mid-1990s, PC’s had eclipsed minicomputers since they were about a third the cost of a VAX.

IBM’s saving grace was bringing in Dartmouth grad Lou Gerstner in 1993, whose approach to business (and himself) was so amoral that he had served on the board of a well-known cancer advocacy group only to resign to become head of RJR Nabisco.  But Gerstner understood computing’s changing dynamics, quickly reversing John Akers’ disastrous idea of quasi-autonomous divisions pursuing conflicting goals.  Instead, Gerstner killed OS/2 and turned the company’s focus to high-margin client services. (By 2004, his successor spun off the PC business to Lenovo.)

So here’s where tomorrow’s fun starts: As Walter Mossberg writes in today’s Wall Street Journal, Google’s new Chromebook computers are:

“essentially full-screen Web browsers designed to do everything via the Internet. Instead of using traditional programs, you will rely on ‘Web apps’ accessed through the browser—email programs, word processors or photo editors, for example.”

Among the benefits, notes Mossberg:

Because all your apps, settings and files are stored in the cloud, if you lose your Chromebook, or wish to use someone else’s Chromebook, you can just log into your Google account and all your stuff will appear on the new machine.

Google automatically updates the operating system, so you don’t have to deal with manual updates.

Look at the numbers driving this and the logical outcome.  Unlike certain industry observers, numbers don’t lie.  Depending on a company’s infrastructure (OK, a big “if”), cloud-based computing costs are at least a third cheaper than the cost of a PC, once you include the time and cost of customizing software, keeping it current, and adding security.

If the mainframe-to-VAX-to-PC experience holds, within another five years, the savings will approach 80 percent.  So if you’re in college now with your heart set on joining an IT department, your odds are about as good as beating the house at Caesar’s.

By that time, server farms such as what Apple is about to bring online in North Carolina to power iCloud will have proliferated globally, as will fast, low-cost M2M wireless connections.  At that point, your data is going into the cloud, backed by 256-bit encryption which isn’t perfect but is still far preferable to today’s system.

The Chromebook will not be a commercial success because consumer habits, especially in technology, are not conditioned for changes this radical, unless the company peddling it is based in Cupertino.  But cracks are in the Titanic’s hull and water is seeping in.  In another five to six years, Microsoft’s Office and Windows will evoke memories of Ozymandias, which is too bad insofar as Windows 7 is actually a worthy competitor to Snow Leopard.  But it is too little, too late.

 
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