Is Trump the Ultimate Radical Community Organizer?

I hadn’t really given too much thought to what a “Community Organizer” (CO) was until Barack Obama. As the Right demonized him, the idea of a CO as something sinister and radical became a common thread. This article on Obama’s Radical Past is a good example. In retrospect, this is especially hilarious since Obama was almost ineffectually centrist.

It’s with this background, that I found it amusing (note: is that even the right word when it’s all depressing?) when I actually read the “father of community organizing”, Saul Alinsky’s, Rules for Radicals:

  1. “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
  3. “Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
  8. “Keep the pressure on.”
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
  10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”
  11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside”
  12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
  13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

I think I can make a case for every single one of these, but, for now, let me focus on the ones I bolded.

“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

Donald Trump might be the most potent ridicule machine the world has ever produced. As a kid I wanted to do something, someday, as well as MJ played basketball. Sadly I could probably say that about Trump’s ability & willingness to shamelessly ridicule anyone, as well.

“A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

A Trump rally is an explosion of energy and emotion. The demonization and warnings are ones the crowds drink in and he basks in that reflected glory. Think back to 2016. What did Hillary look like she and the audience really enjoyed? Sadly, my memory says they are the mass events with the Obama’s. It was a joyless campaign.

“Keep the pressure on.”

From the campaign till this day, Trump lobs a new bomb daily. Everyone reacts. Constantly. It’s frighteningly effective.

“The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”

The foreigners. Stealing the jobs. Bringing the rape and the murder. The rhetoric and symbolism of the Wall. Ahead of next week’s midterms, the threat of an amorphous caravan of brown people walking North.  The threats are dribbled out constantly. Only an occasional manifestation of them is even required, it’s the threat + the odd event all that is needed to justify why anyone should be terrified.

“The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”

Does the president need to tweet? You do if it’s the primary weapon of choice in your arsenal. He’s operationalized daily distractions to his opposition — and make no mistake as to who that opposition is: he opposes the media (more, I’d argue, than they oppose him) and through them the people.

“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

“LOCK HER UP.” I can’t imagine another Republican nominee who would make allusions to jailing their political opponent. Hillary was the target and his bully personality did a fantastic job of freezing it, personalizing, and making the already polarized Hillary, into the most polarizing figure in politics.

Am I on to something here? I think it’s ironic that Trump has used the tenets of grassroots community organizing at scale in building a mass of very, very angry people.

Book: Michael Jordan – A Life

In the early/mid-90’s I idolized Michael Jordan. I obsessively followed the Bulls and at a time when my life lacked victories, my ultimate escape was Jordan and his Bulls who did nothing but win. My obsession so thorough that with the help of my 10th grade electronics teacher (thx, mr d!), I was able to hack together a cheap long-range AM radio antenna and listen in on the Bulls games all the way from Chicago. Weather permitting the signals to reach, I’d try for every game. Barring that, I checked the box score in the sports section upon waking, flushing out the details of events with imaginings of the drama I missed.

Thanks to Jordan’s third stint in the NBA with the Washington Wizards, I did get to see him play in person, once. Senior year at Rutgers I went to watch the Wizards play in NJ (remember when the Nets played there?) By that point, my obsession had all but faded but it was a tribute to my first childhood hero. I don’t remember exactly what did it, but within a few years I all but MJ out of my mind. I considered him harshly as a jerk and selfish person who, as a child, I had clung to an image of.

Things largely remained there over the past fifteen years and I’ve barely thought of the man and his legacy. Which is somewhat jarring, because I don’t exaggerate in saying my fandom was near the center of my identity as a kid. The memory of all that triggered me to order MIchael Jordan: The Life. No doubt that nostalgia helped spur me, but I also think I wanted to view him with adult eyes.

It was twenty five years ago that I read my last MJ book: The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith. The book is a searingly critical look at his being an asshole but also his competitiveness. But so deep was my adoration that it didn’t bother me then. We excuse what we love, even when we shouldn’t. I loved my idea of MJ: an underdog who willed himself to greatness; craved pressure and always delivered; the genius in our midst. I was too young to realize that those things (partially) could be true, and he could still be an asshole and that was fine.

Reading this book brought me back to my obsession. I was lost in it and just devoured it. Definitely critical towards the legendmaking — it revealed some bad stuff about his family (his parents), his gambling, and his proclivity to be an asshole. But it also humanized him and really brought me back to liking him again. While I never actively hated him, I kind of rolled my eyes at the 12 year old kid who worshipped the ground MJ walked on. After finishing the book, my admiration for the man increased even as I also realized I wouldn’t want to be like him. For anyone who grew up watching the Bulls, this book brings back all the memories and is pretty great.

*unedited…removed once i proofread/clean up.

Book: My Own Country

Ever since Cutting for Stone, I’ve been meaning to read more Verghese. This summer I finally got to The Tennis Partner and My Own Country.  The latter is the biographical story of the beginning of Verghese’s medical career in America. It reads as a palpably honest tale of the early years of a young doctor dealing with the emotions of being as an outsider in a newish country (Verghese is Ethiopian by birth, Indian by genetics) and struggling with the responsibilities/fit of marriage against the backdrop of the AIDS outbreak of the 80’s. I especially admired the raw honesty of his doubts, hopes, fears, and failures.

Less the focus of the book, and more reflective of where my head is at, I was particularly struck by his dedication and focus. He loved ministering to his patients and throws himself into his work — often, as he dwells on, at the expense of his marriage/family. He seemed to find deep meaning and purpose in his work. A feeling I am once again looking for and searching for. It’s been a summer filled with great books, and Country was one of them. It’s biographical non-fiction, but it read as effortlessly as great  fiction. 

Three March Things

Three things I’m bummed about:

DONALD: Prior to his victory, I darkly speculated that the silver lining of a President Trump would be the “it’s always darkest before the dawn” idea. That no amount of abstract discussion of topics would bridge our divide, that it needed to take human form and we needed to see the bad w/our own eyes before we could unite against it. It needed to get worse before it got better. History has proven this axiom over time, it’s just unpleasant. So I wait. It’s unpleasant. The divide feels larger than it’s ever been, and on some days, overwhelming. I tell myself that this is exactly what it’ll feel like until the tide turns. You don’t see it coming.

DEBT. Long a bugaboo of mine, America’s debt is just horrific. Every single person who said any variation of “but Obama and debt” and blah blah, has a lot of explaining to do. Countless Republicans used “Obama’s spending” to skewer him and as cover (take from that what you will) for hating on him. Well, the deficit (and therefore the debt) is looking pretty damn bad right now. We all have our mindsets and a key framework of mine is a dislike of leverage and debt. I prefer stability and piece of mind over luxury. America has chosen leverage. This won’t end well. America (and our enablers) will likely pay a high price as this eventually approaches the end game.

DEPTH. The recent coverage of Facebook’s casually sloppy/stupid privacy mis-steps was just another reminder of how little depth there is to our discussions and understanding. One of the most frequent notions was that FB “sold” user information. This is, of course, stupid. They are guilty of a number of sloppy, stupid, and bad oversights here — but selling user information isn’t one of them. They created policies that they didn’t enforce (and maybe had no idea how to even do so) and have been much to casual with the really sophisticated tools that they’ve built. But the public understanding seems largely superficial and, often, mistaken. This is true for lots of things. From Trump to the details of policy, actually going deep and understanding building blocks and the heart of matter seems to not be en vogue.

Three things I’m psyched about:

TECHNOLOGY. It’s exciting that I get to make my living at the nexus at this. Whether it’s a startup that I’m working on or an investment — emerging technologies and their commercial applications continue to energize me. Genomics, battery, general software, blockchain, mobile devices, AR, the list goes on and on. So much cool stuff here. I can’t escape the idea that so much great stuff is on the horizon, we just need to not mess up the world too much so we can enjoy it. I dunno.

CONTENT. TV, movies, books, long magazine articles, podcasts, oh my. There’s so much great content out there and I just love it. Even with loads of time on my hands, I don’t have enough. The Three Body Problem trilogy is the latest book that’s just swallowed me up whole. Atlanta and The Americans is back on TV. My MoviePass card is not getting used enough, etc, etc. It’s enjoyable, a pleasant escape, but the best stuff is also creative fodder for the rest of my thinking.

HEALTH. With so much macro stuff (world news!) that I can’t control, I’ve made a turn inward as I’ve been thinking more about my health. This means focusing more on what I eat (a gradual evolution!) and on how I take care of my body. The latter is something that I’ve done in fits and starts, but usually with some external goal (almost always to gain weight). Now it’s just to have more energy, feel good every day, and to create a foundation for longer-term well being. This means eating better, flexibility/core strength, and cardio activity to get my heart going.

Book Reco! The Gene

BOTTOM LINE: Super glad I read it; learned so much; super dense, so at times a careful read; fascinating. A+

 

I was a terrible student. With that disclosure: I can confidently say that I learned more about science from this book then I did from how ever many years Bio, Chem, Physics, and whatever else I was forced to sit through.

I clearly have a type. South Asian American doctors are apparently some of my favorite authors. Gawande, Kalanithi, and Mukherjee. Interspersing snippets of family history between an expansive journey through the history of genes, Mukherjee kills it. I’m not being self-deprecating when I claim almost total ignorance of the foundations of science. Yet, even with that deficit, The Gene never lost me.

Three profoundly destabilizing scientific ideas ricochet through the twentieth century, trisecting it into three unequal parts: the atom, the byte, the gene…each represents the irreducible unit– the building block, the basic organizational unit– of a larger whole: the atom, of matter; the byte, of digitized information; the gene, of heredity and biological information.

That’s page 9. Wow. It never slows from there. Mukherjee elegantly integrates the whole in a constellation that is easy to follow, but breaks down the individual elements so I could still fundamentally grasp the thread. The book sparked all kinds of analogues and thoughts in the various circles my brain spends lots of time: software technology, investments, culture, politics.

I could easily (and might still in a future writing) highlight the 50-odd passages I scribbled around the margins in, but for now just one(ish) more:

In 1798, writing under a pseudonym, Malthus had published an incendiary paper — An Essay on the Principle of Population — in which he had argued that the human population was in constant struggle with its limited resource pool. As the population expanded, Malthus reasoned, its resource pool would be depleted, and competition between individuals would grow severe. A population’s inherent inclination to expand would be severely counterbalanced by the limitations of resources; its natural wont met by  natural want. And then potent apocalyptic forces– “sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence and plague (would) advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands” — leveling the “population with the food of the world.” Those that survived this “natural selection” would restart the grim cycle again — Sisyphus moving from one famine to the next.

& then through-line straight to Darwin:

Flocks of finches fed on fruit until their population exploded. A bleak season came upon the island– a rotting monsoon or a parched summer– and fruit supplies dwindled drastically. Somewhere in the vast flock, a variant was born with a grotesque beak capable of cracking seeds. As famine raged through the finch world, this gross-beaked variant survived by feeding on hard seeds. It reproduced, and a new species of finch began to appear. The freak became the norm. As new Malthusian limits were imposed — diseases, famines, parasites — neew breeds gained a stronghold, and the population shifted again. **Freaks became norms, and norms became extinct. Monster by monster, evolution advanced.**

Those are macro passages from the opening where Mukherjee sets the table for the minutiae to come. He is just as strong delving into the micro of DNA-RNA-Amino Acids-Proteins-etc. What a book.

Few other stray thoughts:

  1. YMMV. I’ve been on quite the kick of thinking about genetics and why/how we’re different from each other. This probably comes from growing up with such an acute feeling of being an “other.” But today it’s definitely fueled by trying to make sense of our current world’s resurgence of “blood and soil” and what that truly means. I’ve also been reading scraps on population migrations, assimilation, acculturation, and so on. It’s all fascinating to me. I did 23andme almost a decade ago and am now looking forward to reading more into all that w/additional context.
  2. So many implications of all this for a world of massive computing power and well developed machine learning. I now understand a little better some of the A16Z bets and other things I’ve seen in the news. So much to think about.
  3. Would I have appreciated this book when I was in high school? Putting aside that it was written twenty years later, I can’t help but wonder if I had read this before my freshman year, if I would have then been interested enough to actually learn something in Bio + Chem. I’d like to think so, but who knows. The context was missing. The context here is so rich, it makes the learning feel necessary.
  4. 500 pages of text (another 100 of references), but totes worth it.

Google Maps: the giant sleeps.

Update: 11/10 — Not surprisingly Facebook seems to have out-executed Google to market on big parts of this.

Alphabet (née Alphabet) has some great $-churning businesses: Search/Adwords, Display/Adsense, and YouTube. Diane Green’s cloud effortsWaymo, and DeepMind most often get labeled as the “next initiative likely to turn major.” But what about Google Maps? I’m long Google’s stock and see a lot of potential, that in short order, Maps can be a cash and engagement machine with tremendous strategic value to the rest of Alphabet.

First, I want to create the Google Maps “value stack”:

NAVIGATION
LOCAL STUFF FINDER
TRANSPORTATION
SOCIAL
TRIPS

  1. Navigation: Think Waze. It’s the driving directions and all that fun stuff that comes out of the data (alternative routes based on volume, accident notifications, etc).
  2. Local Stuff Finder: Think Yelp, FourSquare. Search is the core-competency of the company, and local search is naturally at home on a map. Gathering and presenting the data to easily find and make decisions on where to go. Everything from which coffee shop, dinner spot, or retail outlet to choose.
  3. Transportation: Think CityMapper. It’s a combination of pulling in the local transit options (train, bus, bike sharing) and marketplace for e-hail (uber, lyft).
  4. Social: Think Find My Friends, Facebook. Location sharing and status, finding events to go to (Google is pretty good at indexing) + seeing who is interested/attending, and opinion prompts to friends on a location you’re considering — both of which tie to #2.
  5. Trips: Think Google Flights/Kayak. Current interface works as a search for flight selection and then lends itself to navigating destination via map to book accommodation, suggested dining options to try, locations of interest for trip, friends addresses on map, etc.

#1 is obvious and Google already does a great job. In fact they own two great products — Waze and Google Maps. Not much to say here. Great job, Google.

#2 Google has invested here and they’re iterating to get better fit here. An additional area of expansion would be: retail. As Google tries to compete with Amazon (to stem the loss of product search…), an interesting approach might be specific product search that produces the physical local outlets to buy. I’m not sure about the technical implementation here (through POS integrations, photos (using ML product categorization), or some kind of OCR of supplier invoices?) but there’s a class of items (retail goods, food items, events, classes) that would benefit from a more granular search on a local level. The monetization potential here is 10/10 (the standard search model of featured relevant placement and pay for performance).

#3 It’s becoming something of new gospel that e-hail will be commoditized. The front end for directing demand could then capture a non-trivial amount in that value equation. While Google already offers a version of this they can prime this pump by improving all the local transit options. CityMapper is the platonic ideal of this. By building the habit of turning to it to check on availability of Citibikes, real-time MTA schedules, etc — it’s a natural transition from there to booking your Waymo (hello, Alphabet cousin!), or getting Uber to pay you a commission. I’d bet there’s real money in owning origination of trips however the future of transport nets out.

#4 Similar to Google Photos offering a natural place to start to build social interactions, Google Map’s “Share my Location” is a great start. It’s not hard to see how it can go from here to declaring interest (getting a drink post 5 today within a mile of where I am, interested in this concert, etc) or seeing which friend has been to a local place and pinging them w/a question. Google is the advertising money machine, and social data can be uber-valuable in building richer targeting profiles.

#5 is integrating/collapsing Google Flights/Trips into Maps. Through gmail/calendar, the details of my conference agenda and such can be automatically placed on to the map. Quick glance at the map can show me where I need to be at different times and ML can suggest places to go for food/drinks/coffee/etc that are efficient given where I’ll be and where I’ll be going. Since so much of this is lead generation, it’s another 10/10 for monetization potential. Nifty auto-generated trip itineraries are part of a few apps already, the natural home for them would be within a data-rich source like Google Maps.

“Where should I go and how do I get there?” is a natural fit and a deeply valuable place to be. More importantly it’s an obvious area for Google to double-down on within Maps given the massive investments the company has already made in the mapping stack, self-driving tech, local search/reviews/data, airfare/planning, and machine-learning. Google Maps locking down my interest graph, travel patterns, and tastes will allow it to serve as the de facto personalized remote control for the world around their users. That’s a multi-billion dollar business inside of a few years.

It’s Maps, Google Cloud, and their lead(?) in machine-learning that make me incredibly bullish on the company and the stock. I recently trimmed my Apple position in half (still bullish there, too!) and tripled-down on Google. I believe Facebook/Google will continue to consolidate ad share. ML-advances will help them optimize ad yields in the short-term. YouTube will help them continue to win as video ad dollars shift online. In the medium term I expect Cloud, Maps, and some wild cards to spring to life with new revenue streams.

When Morgan Stanley predicted Waymo could be worth $70 billion (!), I was a bit flabbergasted that the much closer-in Maps isn’t recognized for what’s about to come online.

The Defiant Ones

It’s true: Snoop loved the birds-nest-fro thing I had going.

Yes, this post is just 100% an excuse for me to use this photo of Snoop and me. But, also…

I binged The Defiant Ones last night. So. damn. good. The four four hours flew by.

The engine of the story is entrepreneurship. Both Dre and Jimmy are hustlers who scrapped their way up from the bottom. Watching their parallel journeys eventually intersect was fun and inspiring as hell. Anyone who is a creator will love it.

Other random thoughts:

Language: I watched w/mom and there’s just a ton of profanity. Ironically, there’s a cute scene where Dre’s mom talks of her initial discomfort with his lyrical vulgarity considering she didn’t think he normally speaks that way. She accepted that he had to “conform” in order to “make it.” Given he ended up cussing a f-ton in the interviews for the documentary, I wonder if he’s changed over time, or if he was putting on “that persona” for the filmmaker. My only point is don’t watch this with your mom.

What if? There’s a funny story that Jimmy tells of having a long breakfast with Suge Knight to keep him from a Warner exec who was going to use their leverage to push Suge to tone down the violence, etc. Jimmy is successful. Left unexamined was what might have happened. The counterfactual in Warner Music successfully getting Suge to tone down Death Row’s content might have ended in a de-escalation of the rap-wars and MAYBE MAYBE MAYBE Tupac and Biggie not getting killed. So maybe it was bad that he succeeded? Who knows.

Eco-systemsReid talks a lot about ecosystems and The Defiant Ones is basically a documentary about them. Without a healthy ecosystem in NYC, Jimmy would have never gotten his start with Lennon, Springsteen, etc. The constellation of talent, friends, mentors, et al played a huge role as he stretched to producer and then started up Interscope. The same thing was true for Dre. The people around you matter so so much.

Springsteen, Bono, Eminem, Snoop, Nas, Reznor, Stefani, Kendrick, Cube — a never-ending who’s who of talent speaking intimately to the camera. Here’s the literal image of my face the second I walked into the studio in 2006 and saw Snoop:

Also my face as I watched this documentary.

So, yeah. Watch it.

I Trust Donald Trump (more) Because He Fired Me

It went on for hours. I went to the meeting knowing that my prospects weren’t great. Still, I fought. I appealed to his ego. I reframed my decisions against what I knew about his own past. I attacked my enemy relentlessly. That I had a legit beef helped, too. Trump seemed to come around.

And, yet. He fired me.

I was sent out of the room twice. I knew this meant he was torn and therefore consulting advisors. He had gone into the meeting briefed that I was the most obvious firee. Yet, as we parried back-and-forth, I was getting through and changing his mind. It seemed that, instinctively, he liked was siding with me.

And, yet. He fired me.

This, of course, wasn’t real real life. It was The Apprentice. I was a contestant. The meeting was the “boardroom” segment. The advisors were the show’s producers.

In firing me, Trump heeded the advice of his experts — the producers much more involved in the show than himself. I only knew for sure that this is what happened later. After it was all over, and the show had aired, two different folks recounted the events of Trump’s acquiescence.

Today, I woke up (I’m in another time zone in South Asia) to a Washington Post news alert that Trump was considering military action in Syria. With my wicked jet lag, I’m basically unable to sleep more (at night, anyway). So I listen to podcasts hoping they’d help me drift off. They don’t. Instead I listen to things like Fresh Air and Terry Gross discuss a recent Huffington Post Highline article about how Trump’s impulsiveness could trigger a war with Russia.

As I laid awake and thought about all this, my mind drifted back to my time with him. Much of it ended up being in various boardrooms. I watched as he grilled contestants for information, impulsively fired contestants for trivial reasons (but probably good TV), and weighed conflicting counsel. While the first Apprentice winner, Bill, argued passionately on my behalf, ultimately he sided with the producers.

In hindsight, that was the right call. He wasn’t really hiring someone to work for him. The job was a sham. He was producing a TV show. I know now that 24-year-old-surya made pretty shitty TV. I was too anxious about how I’d be perceived, too caught up in trying to control everything. I didn’t have the wisdom to realize that with endless hours of footage, I’d never be able to control how I was portrayed. I was on a fool’s errand, and I didn’t realize it. My penance, that he ultimately executed against his own instincts, was firing me. It made sense in the context of the episode and it got a problematic reality TV pawn out of the way. Ultimately, the right call (though the show was doomed, anyway).

So: here we are. It’s been more than ten years since that day. Yet, its recollection gives me hope that our president is capable of listening to wise counsel when it counts.

OK, real talk: I don’t trust him. I’m just saying I trust him *more* than I would have if I hadn’t spent time with the man and had this look.

Let’s hope.