The unfair weather knell of democratic politics

Water rain - The Myndset Brand StrategyWe are in changing times (once again) and I must say that the picture reminds me of the grey and rainy may day (ie. help!) we are having in London (au Secours #RadioLondres), on this Monday, May 7, 2012.

As of today, we now have:

  • Hollande in France, voted in by 51.7%
  • Samaris of the New Democracy party in Greece with 18.9% vote, introducing  a very new form of democracy
  • Putin of United Russia with 64% of the vote as the returning President in Russia, ushering back in an echo of Russian democracy
  • …not to mention the weekend’s local/regional elections in the UK, Germany and Italy, where the incumbents were regularly whipped or wiped out of office.

A major year for elections

These elections alone have been rather momentous.  And, ahead, there are many more parliamentary and presidential elections to which to look forward including Egypt in end of May, India (in July) and USA (in November)… [You can view the entire list of elections in the world in this Wikipedia entry.]

It was a busy week of voting for me, too.  I voted in the mayoral election in London as well as the Presidential election in France (via “procuration”).  I will also cast my vote in the US elections.

For what purpose?

But, with all these elections, it leads me to pose two questions:

  1. how much do people expect the world to change thanks to politicians?
  2. how much productivity is negatively impacted in a country during the year of elections?
On the first point, I have long been a proponent of the Ayn Rand determinist school of thought, so I would much rather take matters into my own hands, whenever possible.  If you are in business, then I think there is no better state of mind.  I am more likely to believe that democratically elected politicians can negatively impact business, rather than positively.
On the second question, if voters spent their time on constructive debate and pundits (and the media) provided more reasoned and well-researched arguments, perhaps an election would be grounds for real debate and progress.  But, between media airwaves that are spent on unsightly negative political (and personal) attacks, flaring emotions in bar rooms and pubs and vapid political debates, there seems to be too much wasted breath (and time) during political campaigns.

The political cycle

The problem with democratically elected officials is that, by definition, they must over promise to get elected.  Yet, with clockwork predictability, unexpected events occur and plans are derailed.  By mid term, the electorate systematically becomes impatient and sanctions their elected leader, making the last half of the term a lame duck.  The arc of democracy consists of high expectations and dashed hopes.  Would that we all got down to the business of taking responsibility for ourselves rather than waiting for Godot.

Cricket Twenty20 : Afghanistan versus United States in 2010 WCQ

Cricket Team USA on front of WCQ Brochure

Cricket Team USA on front of WCQ Brochure

Cricket: Afghanistan versus United States in 2010” Who would have ever thought that these words could be strung together? I was alerted to this potentially potent sporting event coming up next week via an article in the London Times, entitled, “Afghanistan get ready to take on US and insist that it’s ‘just another match’ (from the TIMES on Friday February 5 2010).

Over time, many people have written about the diplomatic, assuaging qualities of a dignified cricket match between rival nations. All you need to do is google “cricket diplomacy” and you will 26K+ hits.

So, in the fine heritage of cricket diplomacy, Afghanistan will confront the US cricket team in the 2010 World Twenty20 qualifying tournament in Dubai on Thursday, Feburary 11.

Nowroz Mangal, the Afghani captain said about the game with the US that “this is just another game.” But, I would think this might be a good game to consider as encompassing a bigger cause. “Every sport should be about peace” said Kabir Khan, Afghanistan’s head coach and a Pakistani born former Test cricketer. For Afghanistan, it is an opportunity for the country to get back some national pride on a playing field. It should be noted that all sports had been banned in Afghanistan by the Taliban up until 2000 when cricket was allowed “because it had intervals for prayer breaks,” Kabir said.

Obama's drive a little hesitant!

Obama's drive a little hesitant!

There are 8 teams in all in the WCQ 2010 tournament. Two teams will graduate from this qualifier to the bigger World Cup tournament. Afghanistan (#6), USA (#8), Ireland (#1) and Scotland (#3) are pooled together in Group A. Here is the official USA cricket team site, announcing their arrival in the UAE.

The US team, which lies third in World Cricket League Division 5 (down in the basement basically speaking) is managed by Imran Khan, not to be mistaken as the mega cricket personality; it is Saratoga resident, Imran Khan Suddahazai. After having gone through many rough patches, the US currently has 2 million registered cricket players, a national stadium in Florida and developing structure. You can find out something about the history of cricket in the US here on their own site or on wikipedia, where you can see how important Philadelphia has been for sustaining cricket in the States.

Predictions for the outcome of the tournament? Predictions for the match between Afghanistan and USA? I’d rather not see a draw, but who knows, that might also be the closest equivalent to a peaceful resolution!

V for Victory or V for V Painful? Obama and Michelle see things differently….

Obama and Michelle watching Judo at White House 2009

This photograph from the UK’s Guardian newspaper (17 Sept 2009) caught my attention initially for the curious position, in the foreground, of the unfortunate person on the receiving end of a flip in a judo exhibition. Then I zeroed in on President Obama and Michelle Obama’s expressions, framed between the outstretched legs.

The photo is a jewel for those of us observing the difference between the archetypal feminine and masculine reaction to an event. You have Obama’s smile juxtaposed against his wife’s aghast expression. On the one hand, you have a man appreciating the athletic effort of the ‘victor,’ while, on the other, the woman is feeling the effects of the loser landing on his head. Is it V for Victory or V for Very Painful? In either case, watching sports brings out our emotions and, per this photo at least, the experience is very different according to your point of view (and I’m not just talking the team you support).

Do you have another view on this photo? And how different is the experience for men and women (or the masculine and feminine viewpoint) when observing the same sporting event?

The Guns Crisis Continues – How can it be reversed?‏

Gun sales in the US have gone [blasted a hole] through the roof since the end of last year.

Time Magazine: The Gun in America
In November 2008, after the election win of Obama, requests for gun licenses in the U.S. spiked +42% to 1.5 million. The following months have seen year over year increases of between 23% and 29% (through March 2009).

Numerous theories abound for this gigantic leap, centering on Obama’s anti-gun past and a fear of a clampdown. Obama suggested a 500% tax hike on gun sales in 2000. With the continuing headlines of daylight massacres (57 people killed YTD in the US), you wonder how the gun lobbyists and fervent 2nd Amendment defenders resist. Yet, they maintain a lethal stranglehold on Washington, pushing back enough to have dropped the latest proposed ban on assault weapons.

Meanwhile, underneath the increase in gun purchases — hardly your regular anti-crisis remedy or an expected recession-resistant category — some speculate on a fear of increased violence and social instability generated by the crisis. Is it possible that the violence of gangs — that so desperately turn the impoverished (or immigrant’s) dream into a nightmare — will bleed into normal society? Is the US social fabric that weak? While racism and social tension admittedly abounds in many cities, one has to hope that very presence of Obama and his campaigns will bring the US through to the other side; at the very least, so that there is no massive breakdown in social order. I have to believe that we are observing, in this hike in gun sales, more exaggerated and outrageous fear-mongering.

What can be done to reverse this trend or, more importantly, undo the US proclivity to buy and use guns? On this the tenth anniversary of Columbine (April 20 1999), maybe it could be via the viral internet that a mass anti-gun movement could be started to aide the White House and the DC crowd to see straight. I remain deeply saddened by the American violence that is so hardly reconcilable with the world’s leading democracy.

Any such action should also be accompanied, in my opinion, by an element of greater controls on the video gaming worlds (PG, G, R, X-ratings?) that have clearly contributed to the wild dreams of the gun frenzied youth. At the same time, parental leadership and guidance must also play a major role in instructing their children, providing them love and solid (non-aggressive) values. The blame for the gun craze and the rampages is spread around: parents, schools and society at large. We must all take responsibility. Spread the word to un-gun the American Dream!

Obama to bring bullet trains (TGV Shinkansen style) to USA

SNCF TGV Train a Grande Vitesse Bullet Train

There are plenty of surprising deficiencies in the US, it being the number 1 world power (still).  I have  written previously about the poor state of education (at the high school level) in the US and the insufficient medical coverage (despite the disproportionately high percentage of GDP spent on health care).  There is, of course, also the fact that the US energy policy is overly reliant on oil and carbon (for its electricity).  But, it is also true that, while the US road infrastructure is quite exceptional according to world standards, the US train infrastructure is quite the embarrassment, trailing way behind that of countries such as Japan (Shinkansen, pictured below left), France (TGV, pictured right above), Germany (ICE), Spain (AVE), and even South Korea and China.   US trains, many of which travel over long distances, basically trundle along today at speeds of 125 kmh (78 mph).  Only five trains in the States average more than 127 kmh (79 mph).  Even the fastest trains in the US only reach 132 kmh.  Fairly desperate, even if speed limits on the road are also remarkably low, too.

What I like about this initiative laid out by Obama this week is that it contains both economic and social sense.  Investing some paltry $8 billion of the $787 billion bailout, the notion of improving the US rail system to have trains hurtling down parallel lines at average speeds of well over 300 kilometres an hour (186 mph) is good (nay fantastic) for improved efficiency and reduced carbon emissions.  At the same time it is a good way to occupy (hire & train) American workers.  Unplugging traffic jams is just one part of the story.  Faster travel (from point A to point B) and, more importantly, an ability to work constructively while riding on the train must be no small addition to increased productivity.  And, as if I needed another argument, the bullet trains are certainly a lot more interesting to look at from a design angle.   These high-speed trains are just a lot sexier looking than the clunky, stub-nosed Amtrak or even Metroliner trains.   Here is the story as covered by USA Today (April 16).

Shinkansen Japan Bullet TrainThere are many hurdles to making the fast train project succeed: the continuing affection for cars, the poor service record of train service (Amtrak, for example, is quite poorly regarded), the fact that all the tracks would need not only to be widened but also straightened…  All the same, the project is the right one, for all the right reasons.  As long as the unions do not get a stranglehold on the jobs (and becoming a train driver does not mean being able to retire at the age of 52 as is in the case currently in France).  That means, also, that the system will need to figure out how to run on time, without exhorbitant cost.  The team evaluating the train system of the future for the US would be well advised to learn from the SNCF (http://www.voyages-sncf.com/) on how to run a CRM and fidelity program, too.  The last componenet of success (and lesson learned from the Japanese) will be the courtesy of passengers not to use their cell phones indiscrimately (and rudely) in the face of the surrounding passengers.

My only concern will be to see how effectively Government manages its funds.   Otherwise, I enthusiastically press on the “green” button.

All those in favour, say “ay”!  If not, give me your counter arguments.

The Dead played at the Obama Inauguration

Grateful Dead President Obama Symbol

It took a little bit of exploration on dead.net and Rolling Stone to find out — substantially after the fact — that the [revised Grateful] Dead played for Obama in the Mid-Atlantic inaugural ball (20 Jan 2009). No one I know was in attendance or perhaps they might have told me. In any event, I saw a bit of the footage and it looked quite goofy. The Dead were accompanied by Warren Haynes (of the Allman Brothers / Gov’t Mule) and Jeff Chimenti (on keyboards). The Dead were square pegged into a rather unorthodox one-hour gig, replete with security checks (that must have been a gas). On TheOtherOnes.net (and Dead.net) you can find this rather fun, behind the scenes video of the Dead preparing and play at this Inaugural Ball (the embedded script did not work for me, otherwise, you would be able to click on here!).

For your viewing pleasure, here is a YouTube amateur shot of the tail end of The Wheel into Touch of Grey (4 minutes) at that Inaugural Ball:

And here is a close up of Bobby Weir strutting his stuff.

Bob Weir Grateful Dead at Obama Inauguration

Updated March 21st.
The unofficial set list of the show (courtesy of rundangerously) went as follows:

Dancin’ in the Streets
Uncle John’s Band
Sugar Magnolias
Eyes of the World

Break (with words from VP Joe Biden)

The Wheel
Touch of Grey
Box of Rain

Curvature of Constitutional Space – Spacious if not Specious

Curvature of Spacetime

Here’s a juicy title for a thesis: “Curvature of Constitutional Space.” Is this thesis for a student of the law? Or Is it for a student of astrophysics? As I happen to be an amateur of astrophysics, the title certainly caught my attention.

The full title of the 39-page article, authored by Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard, Laurence Tribe, was “Curvature of Constitutional Space. What lawyers can learn from modern physics.” With credits given to five people including Professor Gerard Holton of Harvard and four Research Assistants, the paper was published in Harvard Law Review 1 Volume #130 (1989). Obama was the editor-in-chief of the HLR and became president for volume #131. Obama was, of course, also one of the four RAs.

The fundamental premise of Tribe’s paper is apparently that the Constitution is impacted by the legal and social context in the same way that space and time is impacted and curved by objects. Having been able to find and read only the article’s first page on the net, it seems that the premise is reversible to the extent that decisions in the court house certainly have an impact on society and law…and that seems rather obvious. For starters, the law is to help bind and protect society. It all seems to be much ado about nothing as far I can understand. Much as I enjoy reading about quantum physics and do my best to keep up with the changes in law (as best a layman can), I do not see much relevancy in this paper. Personally, the idea that the Constitution should be a curving set of principles does not sit very well. Meanwhile, articles have been written attempting to understand better Obama’s sentiment about the Constitution and, based on this 1989 piece, are looking for insights as to how Obama might choose the next Supreme Court justice.
The impact of this 1989 paper, well prior (i.e. as of March 2007) to Obama’s Presidency, is cited in The Sun:

“Nearly 200 law review and periodicals have cited the article since its publication, including ones with titles such as “The Algebra of Pluralism: Subjective Experience as a Constitutional Variable” and another involving Asian American legal scholarship and “narrative space.” Four courts have cited the piece. The U.S. Appeals District court’s second circuit, in One was in a patent dispute over telemarketing equipment, where it was cited in discussing the uncertainty that results regarding how attorneys can influence expert opinions by deciding what to disclose to them about the case. The judge in Perkins v. Londonderry Basketball Club, a court of appeals case in the 1st Circuit, likewise cited the article. That case involved the question of whether the 14th Amendment was violated by barring a girl player from a basketball tournament.”

Here are some of the sources I read: Gary Shapiro of the NY Sun wrote this article (which I quoted above) in March 2007, “Obama’s view of the Constitution…” You can read some surrounding colour on the NY Sun story with PowerLineBlog (Mar 2007) and again the Faculty Lounge (Oct 2008). At the end of last year, a Tulane professor, Frank Tipler, wrote a counter paper, dismissing Tribe’s paper as “crackpot physics.” Also, a Frank Warner blog post (Sep 2008) that comments quite animatedly the debate.

Personally, I am glad that no one has dug up my university thesis (on the relative impact of time, religion and death as they relate to the success of revolutionary protagonists) to gauge how I will better sell a shampoo.

NetExplorateur 2009 — Tom Gensemer on the Obama online campaign

At the NetExplorateur Forum 2009, I attended the Obama_online presentation by Tom Gensemer, Managing Partner at Blue State Digital (BSD), who explained the inner workings behind President Obama’s online campaign. Gensemer, who is not one to hide his partiality, gave lots of insights as to how to make an online political campaign effective — insights that carry over well into the business world.

First, here are some numbers about Obama’s “online” campaign:

  • They achieved a database of 13.5 million people each of whom subscribed and opted-in for the Obama campaign.
  • 7,000 unique email messages were created and sent out, populating the 1.2 billion email messages that were sent out between February 2007 and November 2008.
  • There were 3.2 million donors who gave, on average, more than twice an average of around $80 (some $500 million were raised online).
  • Around 2 million text messages were sent out.
  • They motivated 2 million social networking participants and created more than 200,000 events across the country.
For all the President 2.0-speak, this campaign excelled more in its presence online (more like a 1.0 approach) than for being a truly web 2.0 interactive campaign. The messages were evidently very controlled and, yet, by being touch with the communities, there was plenty of interaction. By mixing beautifully the on- and offline communication, the Obama team clearly mastered the art of feeling interactive via their effective grassroots mobilisation.

So, some guidelines to retain for creating your own campaign, political or not:

  • The average email message was less than 250 words long.
  • Each message was designed to provide a call to action of some sort (sign up, sales, contribution, affiliation…). i.e. no gratuitous communication. Every time, it was relevant and engaging.
  • The email remains the killer application.
  • There is no such thing as too many emails as long as the emails are not unwanted!
  • If you fake it, they will notice it. Be authentic.
  • If you promise, follow through.
  • Ask the addressee something (an action) with a clear and easy request.
  • Newsletters are dead. “When was the last time you opened and read a newsletter,” Tom chided us.
  • Text messages are more cumbersome to create in large scale and they do not work for raising funds.

In order for an online campaign to be successful, there are some basics that need to be understood by top management.

  • Make the online campaign fully integrated into the organisation: the online team and its activites must be part a the whole team — I think of the salesteam in particular.
  • Invest in staff, not the tools — not the easiest of Tom’s recommendations in today’s climate.
  • Listen and respond to the community needs. The Obama campaign had as a principle to get back to any sign up within 3 to 5 days with a telephone call or visit, thereby bringing online off line.
  • Test, test, and re-test. Not just the technological testing, but test on smaller markets to check the tone, the message and the uptake.

In a sidebar conversation with Tom, I was able to glean some insights as to how they managed to gain the budget for their activities. The first point was that the campaign already had some money which made it a little easier. But, the way they won the bid (they learned about it just 10 days before the campaign began in Feb 2007) and the way the budgeting progressed was by setting bite size measurable objectives. At the outset, the goal setting was all about acquiring emails (always with the mantra of linking each communication with an action…). Thereafter, the number crunching revolved around the number of email addresses that remained “live”, the number of people that contributed, responded or acted on one or other request. Blue State Digital clearly have a very good and immediate metrics system.

For me, my biggest takeaways from Tom’s presentation were that the success of the campaign was brought out by these two fundamental considerations:

  • Obama was and is a committed community builder offline; whatever strategy employed online was intimately related to the offline approach. The leadership set a consistent tone.
  • The success of the online approach benefited from groundwork done via the prior campaign with Howard Dean (2004), helping to break into the political infrastructure. I.e. An online campaign cannot be miraculously built overnight.

The revelation in all this? Business can learn from politics. Whereas I think that business principles are gravely missing from political processes, the way that BSD and Obama ran this campaign (call it “integrated sales & marketing”) is certainly a case study for businesses. For companies that are not as interested in totally letting go, there are still ways to involve and engage the consumer without succumbing to too much web 2.0 freak speak. The message was controlled, yet it looked and felt legitimately inclusive. Interesting, no?

You can read more about the Obama case study on the BSD website here.

Salute – A Testament to the Human Race

Salute Film - Mexican Olympics 1968On January 20th, 2009, while flying back from Las Vegas after having watched the Inauguration of President Barack Obama, I watched the film “Salute,” a documentary of the Australian, Peter Norman (1942-2006).  Norma was the “other” man on the podium, a white man who split Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 200m final at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.  Smith and Carlos received their medals and raised their hands with the famous black gloves, the Black Power salute.  What is less known is that Norman wore a badge on the podium (above his heart) to show his tacit support of their cause, the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR).  While both Smith and Carlos were expelled from the Games, Norman was “severely reprimanded,” explaining himself, “I believe that every man is born equal and should be treated that way.”

One of the most striking things I learned was that the Aussie athletics team had been given three rules for competing in those controversial and violence-plagued Olympic games:

1. Repeat the form you had achieved to get to the Games. (not too much to ask).
2. Never to finish last no matter the race.
3. Never to finish behind a Pom (aka English).

Among the other anecdotes, for the black salute, Smith held up a gloved right hand (
with, momentarily, a white track shoe in the other hand) and Carlos a gloved left hand because they had to share the only pair of black gloves they had on them (the other pair had been left in the lockers).  The black athletes were shoeless on the podium, wearing black socks to represent black poverty.

As a track athlete, it is great to see the film because you see the classic elements of athletic endeavour.  The psychology of the pre-race preparations.  Carlos looking over his left shoulder that cost him the silver medal (reminiscent of the Roger Bannister 4 minute mile in which he overtook the Australian, John Landy, who was caught looking over his left shoulder in the final stretch).  

Having seen the film, Salute, I have new found appreciation for the boldness of those two Americans and, clearly, a surprising new found respect for the evident implication of Peter Norman. 

I had no idea that the man singing the Star Spangled Banner while the men were on the podium stopped singing 4 bars into it. 

And here we are, forty years later after the Mexico City Olympics — basically as predicted by Robert Kennedy, saying that an African-American could be President of the USA in 30 to 40 years — which he said in 1961.  (MLK said in a 1964 interview that it could happen within 25 years). 

Although “…Peter Norman did not race a fist, he did lend a hand.”  And, unbelievably, Norman’s time that day of 20.06 seconds flat still stands as Australia’s 200m record, and would have won the 200m at Sydney Games, 38 years later. 

Not for the first time, Australians and Americans shared a common battle.  I read these holidays “The Ghost Mountain Boys,” by James D. Hornfischer, a gripping [and true] tale about the war (WWII) in Papua New Guinea where Americans fought with Australians to keep their hold on that island.  And a second fascinating story is
Ship of Ghosts,” by James Campbell, about the fate and survivors of the USS Houston and the Australian HMAS Perth, sunk in the early morning hours of Feb 27, 1942, and their 3+ years of imprisonment thereafter (some might say the real story behind the Bridge over the River Kwai).  It is an odd coincidence that I read both these books over the holidays and that both shared the
word Ghost… not to be mixed up with Ghost Soldiers, the story by Hampton Sides, also about the allied POWs of the Japanese.


Peter means rock.  Peter Norman was a silent rock in the protest and the courage that was encapsulated in those black fists. 

Smith says in the film, “I would die for [Peter]“…an “interesting old guy.”  That is a testament to the human race.  Read Norman’s obituary in the GuardianWikipedia’s version of the Black Power Salute here.

OBAMA inspires Pepsi, Ben & Jerry and more…

Obama Presidential 2008 LogoAs we prepare for the January 20, 2009 inauguration of President-elect Obama (which you can follow with live streaming on Facebook/CNN) there are several organisations that have come up with marketing initiatives showing the speed and conviction of certain brands and people.  Obama Yes We CanWith the momentum, tremendous popularity and hype surrounding Obama’s arrival, brands that have seen fit to align themselves with the President-elect have clearly shown entrepreneurial spirit for being able (a) to create a concrete link and (b) to mix politics and business so overtly. 

I have done a quick list of the three best cross-promotions around his campaign and upcoming presidency.  

New Pepsi Can Obama LogoIn reverse order, coming in third, I look at the new Pepsi logo — which was launched in  autumn 2008, and see a subtle resemblance (Advertising Age talks here about the evolution in the logo) to the Obama ’08 logo. Touching the cornerstone brand’s logo under the influence of the Obama campaign is fairly bold move.
Yes Pecan - Obama, Ben & JerryComing in second, is Ben & Jerry who have launched a new flavour: YES PECAN.  Per the site, Ben & Jerry says, this new flavour has “Amber Waves of Buttery Ice Cream with Roasted Non-Partisan Pecans…”  And, if you buy Yes Pecan, they donate the proceeds to the Education Fund of The Common Cause, “…a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process.”  B&J have a full social media package, with a page on Facebook too.

Sarkozy Yes We CanAnd, coming in first, Greenpeace France who, in early December 2008, surreptiously plastered Paris with a poster of France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, emblazoned with YES WE CAN, and imitating the (outspoken street artist) Shepard Fairey campaign HOPE poster of Obama (below left).  It took a while for the owner of the poster to come to light, helping to create a good amount of buzz.  Nominally allying France with the USA, the Greenpeace SarkObama campaign was in an effort to convince Sarkozy to reduce greenhouse gases by 30%.  Here is the story from the Windsor Star (Ontario, Canada) as well as, en français, on the Greenpeace blog.  

Obama Hope Poster

Having just completed this post, I did a last minute review online about this topic and, to my amusement, found that NPR had run exactly the same type of article on Jan 16, with the difference that they found the IKEA “Embrace Change
’09
” campaign too.