Tag Archives: Wall Street Journal

That Syncing Feeling

27 Aug

Has the ‘syncing feeling’ affected you, too?

Below is a link to my WSJ edit pager on an unintended consequence of the smartphone cloud: the new time we need to spend to make sync work as cheaply and efficiently as possible…Especially when traveling overseas. I was struck by this recently — as mobile services become more powerful (which is great!) they are also forcing us to spend more time fiddling and fussing with them to make them as efficient and inexpensive to operate as possible.

Many thanks to Gordon Crovitz, whose column returns to its regularly scheduled spot next week!

Here is the link:



The Looming Sunni-Shia Battle

25 Apr

It’s an old habit, but I like to visit into far-off places at times of big change. (This was an especially useful talent to have in my days as a foreign correspondent, but also keeps life interesting now).

I just returned from a longish trip to the Mideast including Lebanon and Turkey and this post is mostly about the perspective one gets from such travel. As a telecom and technology executive, I was fascinated to see up-close the powerful role mobile and social technology are playing in the popular uprisings currently shaking so much of the Arab world. And it was so interesting – and invaluable – to meet and speak with to speak with so many people who are using new mobile technology to create a new landscape in the region.

Just over the past week, unrest in Syria left over a hundred people dead and underscored a widening of the popular uprisings that have already occurred this year (in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia and Libya) to Lebanon’s neighbor to the East. There surely is more upheaval to come.

I spent much of the past week in Lebanon, traveling from the southern Shuf Mountains to the northern city of Tripoli. I had a memorable time seeing a beautiful, diverse country that is rebuilding and seems on the move despite all the obstacles stacked against it.

In contrast to the impression one has from afar, Beirut today and its suburbs nowadays are a bustling hive of construction sites, highway projects and a busy international airport. Years of civil war have left deep scars of course, and opened the door for such rivals as Dubai to eclipse Beirut as a regional center. But with such awe-inspiring construction projects as the center-city Solidere redevelopment site – one of the largest engineering projects in the world – it is possible to imagine Beirut once again becoming the ‘Paris of the Mideast.’

Of course, the outward appearance of modernity and economic progress may prove fragile, as it has so many times before by intervention from its neighbors and internal civil strife.

To say it’s a complex neighborhood is a deliberate understatement.

Regardless, one principal impression stays with me after 10 days spent in the region:

The coming fault line of conflict in the Mideast will be within the “neighborhood” of Islamic Arabia itself, and it will NOT principally be a battle of Islam with the rest of the world. The United States and the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa are not at the center of this reformation. Nor is the Palestinian-Israeli issue the key. In fact, this isn’t even principally a battle involving nation-states.

Rather, the confrontation is shaping up as a battle for the soul of Islam – between extremist Shia and Sunni groups.

The Arab uprisings of 2011 in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and now Syria have thus far not illustrated this in the early rounds. But I have a hunch we will see the Sunni-Shia extremist conflict emerging soon as a central narrative in the so-called Arab Uprising of 2011. When? It may be a while, because so many institutions of post-authoritarian regimes need to be rebuilt. But there is very little question it is coming, and in some places possibly soon.

How can this be? Many of the worst repressive regimes kept “bottled up” the worst kinds of the religious conflicts among the two main strains of Islamic faith. Now, as these regimes crumble, the prospects for more openness and democracy increase, but so do the possibly of internal civil war.

The principal Shia action groups on the list are very familiar: Iran, Amal, and of course Hezbollah (which in Lebanon these days seems as much the huge force it is in the mainstream of political life, with visible signs of its power plastered all over, especially in the south, not at all a marginalized splinter group it is sometimes portrayed outside the country). On the Sunni side, the names are less well-known to non-Mideast experts but no less lethal. Perhaps the most terrifyingly brutal are the extremist fighters belonging to the Salafi orthodox Sunni sect, who claimed responsibility for the brutal murder of a pro-Palestinian Italian activist kidnapped and murdered in Gaza while I was traveling here.

In Syria, there is a scenario in which Syrian strongman Bashar Al Assad losing his grip on the country, and setting up a conflict between Sunni majority in the country, and the Shia and Alawite minority who have dominated the political landscape for 40 years. In the region, Christians, Druze and other religious minorities all fear becoming caught in the cross-fire. Such a shift in the balance of power in Syria could put Hezbollah and Iran on the defensive, and then usher in a new period of realignment in the region.

Despite the West’s strong interests and involvement in the region, the heart of the issue is essentially local in nature. It does not revolve around Washington, London, Beijing or other world capitals. Which may be worth remembering as the calls for global action, especially for the U.S., escalate.

Evolution -> Revolution

8 Jan

In our global online journey, there are occasional epiphany moments: incidents that make you realize how much technology is changing our civilization.

One comes for me today: I am flying transcontinentally at 36,000 feet today, on an airliner with free wifi. My Mac is running SlingPlayer, which allows me to watch my home television over the internet.

I am live-blogging about watching the College Football Championship Game live, in real-time, as I make my way across the country. I am IM’ing about the game with pals; I am getting real-time game update and stats from various websites, and absorbing a great deal of social media from a variety of great websites. I have a virtual newsroom operating at Seat 3D.

A contrast: This month 19 years ago I was in the Mideast covering the Persian Gulf War. I had a TRS-80, (a Tandy machine that was virtually indestructable and which we affectionately called a ‘Trash 80’). I used an accoustic coupler — earmuffs that attached to a landline phone handset that frequently didn’t work. When it malfunctioned, I used my Swiss Army knife to unscrew the hotel phonejack faceplate. I stripped the wires of the twisted pair and ran a phone line tester to check which was red and green, then I attached alligator clips to the copper wire landline to file my copy at the breathtaking rate of….wait for this…300 Baud…..AND I FELT LIKE A PIONEER IN THE WORLD OF TOMORROW!

In the subsequent decades, there have been other epiphany moments. And much of the change of technology continues to evolve, rather than change things overnight. I have learned profound change does take time.

That said, tonight’s epiphany moment to me feels equal to a Town Crier seeing the first electronic stock ticker in the late 19th Century, or the linotype operators of the 1930s seeing WYSIWYG electronic publishing of the 1980s.

It is breath-taking, and so I chose to take a moment here at 6 miles above the surface of the earth, to watch Alabama face Texas and to say:

What Hath God Wrought, Indeed…

‘Victory at Sea,’ the global economic crisis, the War on Terror and the Oscars….

23 Feb

On occasional weekend mornings, I have been watching the DVD of “Victory at Sea,” the Emmy-winning TV series from the 1950s. It’s a spectacular work that basically introduced the documentary to American television as it chronicled the Allied victory in World War II.

The multi-episode series has a resonance for today far beyond its obvious historical value. The series is filled with constant illustrations of the industrial power of the U.S. economy of the time (producing countless aircraft, ships, tanks and jeeps). The U.S. produced so much. This productivity provides a jarring juxtaposition with today’s news: Detroit reeling (General Motors’ market capitalization at just above $1 Billion), banks fearing nationalization, and an economy that has not seen the bottom of the worst downturn in 50 years.

In the America that won “Victory at Sea” everything was possible. Today, in contrast, to some observers almost nothing is possible. The current grim times were the subject of Peggy Noonan’s recent WSJ column in which she laments of the current crisis: “People are not feeling passing anger or disappointment, they’re feeling truly frightened (because this) isn’t stock market heebie-jeebies, it’s systemic collapse. It’s not just here, it’s global. It’s not only economic, but political.”

Perhaps. But I can’t help but feel the pessimism is overblown. Is this the same America that won “Victory at Sea?” In some respects, the answer is no, of course. But it is mostly yes.

For one thing, America is larger and more diverse. Yes, Detroit may be on the ropes, the consequence of misalignment of production and consumer demand and a failure to manage change. But the American industrial economy still can build: supersonic military aircraft, high-performance civilian jets, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines. In the information and life sciences, no country has a advantage over the free-market and entrepreneurial conditions that characterize the U.S. economy. In countless other categories (agriculture, clean-technology) the U.S. still has an edge, and that is notwithstanding a free trade system that generally has helped enrichen the entire world, not simply America.

It is worth remembering watching the thousands of soldiers, sailors and marines in the newsreels of “Victory at Sea” that a decade earlier their fathers were on soup lines and selling apples on street corners — victims of the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was hard to imagine then that less than a decade later the world would be at war, and America’s factories would be at full capacity and then some.

Will the war on terror expand in a way that leads to a similar result? God forbid. But amid today’s unrelenting, terrible news, when pessimism abounds, it is perhaps worth remembering that others have walked in this way before.

And the connection to the Oscars? Well, “Victory at Sea” was an NBC series. It won an Emmy, but not an Oscar. On the other hand, anyone with an inclination to revisit those years on today, Oscar-day, can turn their TV to premium cable, where one station is showing back-to-back WWII classics “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and “Patton.”

News on a printed page?

25 Jan

News on a printed page is a product in tremendous transition, and vital signs are not strong. Several recent headlines (only a few them printed):

— The French government is going to “rescue” that nation’s newspaper industry by providing 18 year olds with state-subsidized free subscriptions.
— Hearst Corp. without warning announces plans to close the Seattle Post Intelligencer if a buyer cannot be found.
— Carlos Slim’s financial “rescue” of the New York Times Co. involves extending the company $250 million at 14% interest at the same time as the company is selling interests in real estate and other assets to raise new cash.
— Fewer and fewer people are getting their news from the printed page as other sources (of course the internet first among them) become more widely used sources of news.

As a longtime newsman, I have been struck by these and other signs of the impending apocalypse long predicted for printed news, and I am hopeful the imminent demise is exaggerated.

But there is one big paradox that is worth pointing out:

For many years, our quality printed news sources (The Times, The WSJ, The Economist and many, many others) have confused tradition with staying power.

Tradition is core to their brands, and maintaining journalistic quality has long been a pre-eminent goal of these companies, as it should be. But for too long, the proprietors and executives who have run these companies have allowed tradition to cloud their vision in looking forward. In many cases, business planning for the coming year was not much more than applying a percentage increase (in advertising rates, in circulation base, in readership) to the prior year performance, and holding a team accountable to achieving those results.

That model is forever broken, I am afraid. Craigslist, Ebay, Yahoo! News, The Daily Show and SMS news alerts are barricades to the future ever being as simple as the past for newspapers and newspapermen. It may be that 2009 is the year that this truth finally becomes self-evident for the industry. It has clearly dawned on a few of the more forward-thinking proprietors. And it long ago was clear to investors, who have driven stock prices for newspaper companies to historic lows.

Recognition by the industry of this situation would be a good thing. The sooner it becomes clear, the more rapidly those companies may be able to focus on new products and new ways of reaching and engaging an audience that is as hungry for news today as it ever has been.

Just not news on the printed page.

Democratic Party: Obama’s ‘albatross’?

8 Apr

Reading Jerry Seib’s insightful column in today’s Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120761705598196889.html?mod=hps_us_inside_today gave me an eerie feeling of deja-vu. Hillary Clinton implies that she – and only she – can win the ‘big states’ required to put a Democratic candidate in the White House, Jerry writes. Therefore, the logic goes, Barack Obama is ‘unelectable’ in November.

Who knows? But it surely reminds me of a chilly afternoon on the campus of Princeton University in March of 1981, when – as a student and as a ‘stringer’ or campus correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I attended a seminar given by President Jimmy Carter. He had been beaten by Ronald Reagan only a few months earlier, and was still palpably bitter about the experience.

In that campaign, Carter told us, the Democratic Party had been his ‘albatross,’ and a failed challenge by Sen. Edward Kennedy – who, at one time had been the favorite of many Democratic delegates, had sapped Carter’s campaign of needed momentum.

Fast forward to today: Obama leads in votes and delegates, but Sen. Clinton continues her challenge, continuing a fierce rivalry within the party. Not a prediction, but worth asking: is history repeating itself?