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IBM Impact 2012: A Q&A With Steve Jobs’ Biographer Walter Isaacson On Steve Jobs And Innovation, The Renaissance In New Orleans, And His Forthcoming Book On The History Of Computing

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The opportunity I had to sit down and interview Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson last week at IBM’s Impact 2012 event in Las Vegas was a kind of career denouement moment for me.  Let me explain: In 1994, as I was finishing work on my Master’s degree in Radio/TV/Film (they hadn’t yet added “Internet” to the RTVF degree in 1994) at the University of North Texas, I distinctly remember sending my resume off to the new inner digital sanctum of Time magazine, “Pathfinder,” which had recently been started to put some muscle behind Time’s digital presence.  They didn’t hire me, but they did hire Walter Isaacson, who would be asked to run the groundbreaking digital media organization for a short period before he was later promoted to editor of Time and, later, chairman of CNN.  

As for me, information technology, and the Internet in particular, would become central to Isaacson’s life, first at Pathfinder, later at Time magazine, and of course as the biographer of great figures ranging from Albert Einstein to Benjamin Franklin to Steve Jobs, all of whom were unique innovators in and of their own right.  What’s not as well known about Isaacson is that he is a Renaissance Man of sorts himself.  To read his biography (see below) is to witness the firsthand account of a personal witness to and participant in American life over these past forty years, one whose own accounts will be cherished for many years to come. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I did conducting it!

(Photo by Patrice Gilbert) Walter Isaacson is the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies institute based in Washington, DC. He has been the chairman and CEO of CNN and the editor of TIME magazine. He is the author of Steve Jobs (2011), Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003), and Kissinger: A Biography (1992), and coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1986). Isaacson was born on May 20, 1952, in New Orleans. He is a graduate of Harvard College and of Pembroke College of Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He began his career at The Sunday Times of London and then the New Orleans Times Picayune/States-Item. He joined TIME in 1978 and served as a political correspondent, national editor, and editor of new media before becoming the magazine’s 14th editor in 1996. He became chairman and CEO of CNN in 2001, and then president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in 2003. He is the chairman of the board of Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in underserved communities. He was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate to serve as the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other international broadcasts of the United States, a position he held until 2012. He is vice-chair of Partners for a New Beginning, a public-private group tasked with forging ties between the United States and the Muslim world. He is on the board of United Airlines, Tulane University, and the Overseers of Harvard University. From 2005-2007, after Hurricane Katrina, he was the vice-chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. He lives with his wife and daughter in Washington, DC.

Turbo: First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with me, I know you’re very busy. You’ve now written biographies across a range of iconic figures of American life — Einstein, Franklin, Kissinger, and now Steve Jobs — I’m curious across all of these if you start to see some common traits and characteristics?

Walter Isaacson: Yeah, well like I said in the speech today, curiosity, a passion for what you do, an ability to think different, an ability to be imaginative and to think out of the box. You know Steve’s great mantra was “Think Different.” He also loved “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.” The fact that Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, even in their final years, were thinking different, being creative, being innovative….to me, that’s the goal of life.

Turbo: Were there other characteristics? Some not so positive?

Walter Isaacson: They were different in some ways.  Benjamin Franklin is a nice counterpart to Steve Jobs, because Steve was more of a genius, more creative…but Franklin was more collaborative, kinder to the people around him, and more open to different viewpoints. So, Benjamin Franklin was really great at collaborating with other people. Franklin tells a wonderful story in his autobiography of listing all the virtues you need to have to be good in business: industry, honesty, frugality…and after he has all twelve of the virtues and he practices them, a person in the club he’s formed, called the “Leather Apron” club, says “You’re missing a virtue.” And Franklin says “What’s that?” And the friend says “Humility, you might want to try that one.”

Turbo: (Laughs)

Walter Isaacson: And Franklin says, “I was never very good at the virtue of humility, but I was very good at the pretense of humility…I could fake it very well. And I learned that the pretense of humility was as useful as the reality of humility. Because it made you listen to the person next to you, it made you try to see if you could find common ground.” And that was something that was part of the nature of Benjamin Franklin.  It was not part of the nature of Steve Jobs.

But, that’s why biographies are not how-to manuals…they’re tales about real people.  And you have to extract the lessons from each character that you think might apply to you. So for me, I’ll never be a genius like Steve Jobs…I’ll never drive to the concept of an iPad, drive into existence an iPad…I’m just not that genius…but I try to think about Steve’s passion for perfection, and I also try to think about Ben Franklin’s ability to bring people together, and be very nice and kind to people of all walks of life.

Turbo: I know you conducted 40-something interviews with Jobs, and I know you spoke with a lot of his friends, his family members and even his rivals…Was there anything that they all consistently said when they talked about Jobs as a person?

Walter Isaacson: I think that they consistently said that he was on the surface, very impatient and petulant. But once you got to know him, the important thing to understand, was that the petulance, that brattiness at times, was connected to a passion for perfection, and that’s what the narrative of the book is about, which is anybody can be a jerk.  It wasn’t that Steve was a jerk, it was that he had a passion for perfection and that’s why by the end of the book, you should be admiring him.

Turbo: We got to speak with Steve Wozniak at our IBM Pulse event earlier this year, and I asked him…and I’d like to ask you the same question I asked him, which is what do you think the world lost with him leaving us so soon?

Walter Isaacson: I think Steve was a person who reinvented at least seven industries: Personal computing, the music business, retail stores, digital animation, tablet publishing, journalism, phones…he would have reinvented more industries — digital photography, textbooks, television — we lost with Steve somebody who, because of his ability to think different, was able to transform industries. And that’s what the book is about: Sometimes you have to have a driven, intense personality in order to have the passion it takes to change industries.

Turbo: Okay, thank you for that.  I wanted to now take a step back in time to 1995-1996…I don’t know exactly what year it was, but I believe it’s when you took over the Time digital arm, Pathfinder.

Walter Isaacson: Yeah, actually it was a couple of years before that…when I took over Time, the magazine, at the end of 1995…

Turbo: Could you just describe for me that time at Time?

Walter Isaacson:  It was very interesting during that period.  In the early 1990s, there was a sea change happening. The Internet up until then had been based on community and networking and chat.  It had the BBS boards of the original Internet, you’d had the communities like The Well, and you had online services like CompuServe and AOL, where people gathered in chat rooms and on bulletin boards.

In the early 1990s, there was a shift from that type of Internet to a web-based Internet. That had some great advantages, but a few disadvantages.  The Web became a place that we could put all of our content up on Web sites, but it was more of a publishing medium than it was a community medium. You know, comments got relegated to the bottom of the page, as opposed to the smart bulletin boards and discussion groups, and Listserves, we used to have before the Web dominated the Internet.

Secondly, the business model for putting up your content online with a service like CompuServe or AOL, you would make money because people paid to be on those services, and people shared the money with you, if you were Time magazine. But once you started to put stuff on the Web, it sort of became free, and it undermined to some extent the business model of having journalists and bureaus around the world.

Of course it had much more of an upside than it had a downside, because it opened up reporting and journalism and commentary to everybody, not just those who owned a magazine.

Turbo: What are your thoughts on the greater impact of not only the commercialization of the Internet, but some of the trends it has enabled.  If we look at some of the workforce dislocation, and creating new market opportunities in countries like India and China, because of this wonderful connection via first satellites and later the Internet…When we’re looking back 100 years from now, what do you think historians will be saying about this time?

Walter Isaacson: They will be saying that the Internet was, like every information technology starting with the invention of papyrus and paper and Gutenberg’s movable type, that it empowered individuals. The free flow of information tends, over the course of time, to take power away from authorities and elites and empower individuals. The Internet’s role 100 years from now will be this transformation that not only did it take power away from the elites and mainstream media, but also the people running authoritarian regimes around the world.

Turbo: So, in looking at some of what we’ve seen with the Arab Spring….and China now trying with this recent situation (the social media crackdowns by the Chinese government)…

Walter Isaacson: I don’t think that it’s a simple process where free flow of information automatically leads to democracy. Because you’ll have a lot of back and forth. But, it does bend the arc of history towards empowerment and democracy and, eventually, whether it takes 10 or 50 years, what’s happening with the Arab Spring, what’s happening in China, what’s happening in many places, will be a trend towards more personal freedom and more democracy.

Turbo: You were chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and for people who don’t know them, they oversee Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America.  What’s the changing role of the Board and the VOA in this increasingly Internet connected world?

Walter Isaacson: I think that if, sixty years ago, when VOA and Radio Free Europe were being created, if they had had the ability to sketch out on the whiteboard what would be the perfect technology to help their cause, they would have invented the Internet. Something that doesn’t respect national boundaries that well, that allows people to find proxy servers to get through to information they need. So there will be a big shift towards digital information. And I hope towards community and discussion, not just handing down information the way Edward R. Murrow would have done when he ran Voice of America but creating communities and discussions that can be facilitated by the Internet.

Turbo: A couple of other quick questions…You have deep roots in New Orleans: You grew up there, you went to school there.  And after Hurricane Katrina, Governor Kathleen Blanco appointed you vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.  We’re now seven years on — how do you feel New Orleans is doing?  Have you been back recently?

Walter Isaacson: I go back all the time.  And New Orleans has not only come back, but in most ways, it’s better than before the storm.

Turbo: How so?

Walter Isaacson: We have a better school system. More choice for kids in the schools.  More than 70 percent of the kids are in charter schools which allows innovative, entrepreneurial people like KIPP Academy to create schools that stay open until seven in the evening, eleven months a year, which is the way we should have education in our society. Likewise, there’s more entrepreneurship in New Orleans.

I think Forbes magazine called it maybe the best city for startups and entrepreneurship because so many young people are coming in. There’s a brain magnet in New Orleans.  Teach for America has almost tripled in size in New Orleans since before the storm, bringing young people in who want to be part of the educational renaissance there.  Tim Williamson has created Idea Village, which is an incubator for start-ups right in the heart of New Orleans. Tulane University has three times as many applicants as it did before the storm because eager, adventurous, entrepreneurial people want to be part of a city that’s rebuilding.

Mitch Landrieu is a great mayor — we have a political system that is much better than it was before the storm. There are even more restaurants than there were before the storm, probably more bars. So, for those of us who were worried that New Orleans would never come back, it is a great case study not only in resilience, but in reinvention — to say, if we were to build a school system from scratch, would we build it the same way we had it before the storm? No.  Let’s start a more entrepreneurial school system where the schools are open later, they spend more of the year where they compete for students, and you’ve had double-digit test score gains, every year for the past three years.

So, these are the types of things that keep me coming back to New Orleans, but also make me glad that so many young tech and web entrepreneurs have moved to the city to create this vibrant start-up community there.

Turbo: That’s great.  My ears perked up in your keynote when you talked about how you’re working on this new book about the information revolution.  Any themes you’re starting to see in your research that you can share with us in advance of its publication?

Walter Isaacson: One major theme, which is the theme of the Steve Jobs book and everything else I’ve written, which is innovation comes where there’s an intersection between the arts and the sciences. When there’s an intersection between poetry and microprocessors. Where a great feel for beauty and design is connected with a great feel for technology and engineering. That’s what Steve Jobs is all about, that’s what Ben Franklin was all about, that’s what Einstein was about.

So it starts with Ada Byron Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, who becomes a great mathematician, because her mother doesn’t want her to grow up to be like her dad. And, she also has within her the poetry of her genetic code, of her heritage. And so she works in the 1830s with Charles Babbage, who creates the first prototype of a computer, and she helps describe and envision how computers can become universal machines, and not just mathematical calculators.

And then it leaps forward from that chapter to Alan Turing, who also has a great feel for beauty, but helps invent the first computers at Bletchley Park when they’re breaking the German Enigma codes in England. And then to places like IBM, which is doing the Mark I computer at Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania where they’re doing the Eniac, and the University of Iowa where John Atanassof is creating in the basement of the physics building an early version of the computer.

The computer and the Internet are the two most important inventions of the modern era. And yet most people don’t know how poetic, ingenious, and creative the people who invented those things were. In fact, most people don’t even know exactly who invented them.

And so this is a tale of inventiveness that will take us from Ada Lovelace all the way to, I hope, people who are doing social networks, mobile computing, and artificial intelligence today. It starts with Ada Byron Lovelace concluding that machines will never think, they will never originate their own creative ideas, and that’s certainly something that Alan Turing explores, but now it’s something that with Watson at IBM, and with the notion of artificial intelligence, is still something we look at and wonder will it ever happen?

(Blogger’s Note: I wanted to extend, as always, a special thank you to the consummate professionals with Drury Design Dynamics, a family business whose primary focus is nothing less than excellence. In particular, I’d like to thank Chris Drury and Mark Felix — they always keep me on my toes and are integral to making these Q&As happen at IBM customer events.) 

Impressions From SXSW Interactive 2012: Q&A With Mark McKinnon, Political Innovator…and The Most Interesting Man in the World!

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When I realized I had a way to reach out to and speak with Austin’s-own “political innovator” Mark McKinnon, a former Bush media strategist and longtime political maverick, at SXSW Interactive 2012 I seized the opportunity.

Mark has been a familiar part of the American political landscape for several decades, having worked for causes, companies, and candidates ranging from 2008 Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain, late former Texas Governor Ann Richards, Congressman Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, Bono, and many others.

Most recently, McKinnon has served as Global Vice-Chairman of Hill & Knowlton Strategies, an international communications consultancy, and the President of Maverick Media. He is also co-founder of No Labels and serves on the Board of Advisors of Americans Elect, an organization whose stated goal is “to nominate a presidential ticket that answers directly to voters—not the political system.”

We spoke with Mark about a number of topics, not the least of which included his experiences working with Congressman Charlie Wilson, the role of social media in politics, and the opportunity Americans Elect has to alter the U.S. presidential election landscape.

IBM SmartCamp Global Finals: California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome On Entrepreneurship & Economic Development

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The IBM Smart Camp Global Finals finally have come into the final stretch.

Kicking off the afternoon was guest speaker Gavin Newsome, former mayor of San Francisco and now California Lieutenant Governor.

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome speaks with the nine IBM SmartCamp Global Finalists and encourages all of them to move to the great state of California to launch their next big business.

Never mind, cheerleader for the resurgent state of California and Silicon Valley as the global hub of innovation and venture capital.

Newsome opened his comments with a warm welcome to the great state of California, and complimented IBM on its “remarkable capacity to get first round draft choices from around the world,” speaking, of course, of the nine IBM Smart Camp Global Finalists in attendance and anxiously awaiting the announcement of IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year later this afternoon.

Newsome explained though California has faced some hard times of late, with 11.1% unemployment, the state is still about inviting the “best and the brightest” to “take risks, make mistakes, learn from them, and change the order of things.”

Newsome went to emphasize the importance of education, and joked that “when you [the nine SmartCamp finalists] decide to move out west, all nine of you, you’ll know we’re committed to your talent and growth.”

The lieutenant governor went on to explain California “was always in the future business,” highlighting the state’s open immigration policy and federal/state research partnerships.  As Newsome expanded, “California is not just about researching but about commercializing that research.  It’s not just about the power of an idea, but rather, about the power of an idea being tested.”

Newsome concluded his remarks with a tip of his hat to the IBM smarter planet initiative, acknowledging that 90+% of the world’s population will soon be living in cities, and that smart technology, driven by smarter entrepreneurs, will be key to addressing those growth challenges and creating a sustainable framework for their rapid expansion.

Written by turbotodd

February 2, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Pressing The Iowa Horse Flesh

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Okay, so I missed the Iowa Caucus call last night, having suggested Rick Santorum would take away Mitt Romney’s Iowa Caucus cake.

The latest Iowa Caucus returns, as reported this morning by The New York Times

However, I was only 8 votes off — pretty good for an amateur political prognosticator.

Our Texas governor, Rick Perry, received 10.3% of the vote, and declared he’d be going home to Texas to regroup.

Translation: He’s exiting from the grand, national political rodeo.

But I give him credit for giving it a go.  As it is sometimes said in Texas, if you haven’t fallen off a horse, then you haven’t been riding long enough.

Just next time, please go back and take a debate class first. Whether you liked it or not, you did represent our entire state.

It’s not so clear whether Newt Gingrich fell off his horse, or the horse had an epistemological epiphany and concluded Mr. Gingrich was no longer a good caretaker of his backside, but in the caucuses, he (Gingrich, not said horse) distinctly came in fourth place with 13.3% of the vote.

Michele Bachmann (who apparently already canceled her ticket to South Carolina) and Jon Huntsman were at 5% and 1%, respectively.

Which leads us back to the top three.

Mitt Romney demonstrated he could ride the horse in Iowa, manage to even stay on the horse, right there at his steady, level and never-breached 25% (24.6% to be precise).

Rick Santorum was at 24.5%, again, separated by Romney only by 8 votes and a few hundred million dollars, clearly proving surges can work to your advantage in both wars and political campaigns.

Timing really is everything.

Ron Paul also made a surprisingly strong showing, demonstrating that even when you’re tilting at windmills, it’s your horse which keeps you grounded…until it doesn’t.

It will be interesting to see whether he and his isolationist horse can go it alone  all the way to Portsmouth.

What were the lessons I learned from all this?

For me, it was all about good TV. What would the Iowa Caucuses be without an endless litany of talking heads overanalyzing it all to death and forcing me to the fridge for another beer!

Okay, well, for one, I learned that CNN had some really cool virtual reality graphics that demonstrated the key difference between their early voter poll and late voter poll — which was that one was early, and the other was late!

And yes, they even had a cute little Anderson Cooper avatar, which I hope to not see online anytime soon.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow demonstrated her prowess beyond anchoring a nightly TV show, but also that she could manage the chaos of an uncertain election night whose returns seemed to take anywhere from 3 minutes to 4 hours to count the ballots.

C’mon, give the poor woman a hand, that’s a lot of extra innings time to fill! (If you’ve ever been on camera, you know what that long, dead silence is like?  Well of course you do, that’s why you’re no longer on camera!)

And I learned that no matter how unsurprising American presidential politics might be after a year of Republican debates held every other minute…well, you just never know what’s gonna happen until the ballots are in and counted.

So, now, it’s onward and upward to New Hampshire.

That’s a whole six days away, of course.

In politics, that’s a lifetime.  In horse time, I’m not quite sure how long it is, but it’s probably longer than they have the patience for.

Me, I have all the patience in the world.

But apparently not at Yahoo, which in other news finally named a new CEO this AM, the current president of eBay’s PayPal division, Scott Thompson.

For those who have a short memory, Yahoo’s last CEO, Carol Bartz, was let go in September of last year.  Maybe Ms. Bartz should jump into the race for the Republican presidential nomination!

Written by turbotodd

January 4, 2012 at 2:43 pm

The Iowa Caucuses

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It’s Monday, January 3, 2012.

The 2012 Iowa Caucuses will be held this evening in churches, schools, and other gathering places across thousands of locations in Iowa this evening in order to start determining the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates for the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

Yes, the year is now 2012.  Please turn that page on your calendar/diary.

And because it’s January 3, 2012, a presidential election year here in the United States, that means today, the first Tuesday of the election year, we’re having the Iowa Caucuses.

For those of you who live outside these United States, who don’t know what that means, allow me to try and explain, because Iowa is somewhat different from most standard primary elections used in other states.

In Iowa, the caucuses are a process whereby “gatherings of neighbors” occur across each of Iowa’s 1,774 voting precincts. Rather than simply casting polls and ballots, they gather in these locations (at schools, churches, public libraries, and even individuals’ homes) to discuss and choose presidential candidates, as well as begin writing their parties’ platforms by introducing resolutions.

In Iowa, caucus-goers elect delegates to county (as opposed to national) conventions, who then in turn elect delegates to district and state conventions (who THEN choose national delegates).

Got it?

All participants in caucuses must be registered with a party, but they can change their registration at the the caucus location. Also, 17 year-olds can participate, so long as they turn 18 by the time of the general election.

Because President Obama’s selection on the Democratic ticket is a fait accompli this year, we’ll do a deeper dive on the Republican caucus process.

In the Republican caucus, votes are cast by secret ballot. Voters are given blank sheets of paper with no candidate names, then after listening to some campaigning for each candidate by caucus participants, they write their choices down and the Republic Party of Iowa tabulates the results at each precinct and transmits them to the media.

As for the number of delegates, because there are 13 delegates for the Congressional district, plus 12 statewide, plus 3 Republican National Committee members who are also delegates, makes for a total of 25 elected delegates (don’t worry, the math didn’t add up for me, either) out of a total of 2,286 national delegates. But again remembering, they’re not really chosen this evening, but at the county and state conventions down the road.

So that’s what all the fuss is about.

If you really want to know what’s going on and want to follow the math closely, you have to read Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog. 

My projection: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum are neck in neck in the 19-21% range, but the surging Santorum pulls just far enough ahead to take the Iowa caucus cake.  But hey, it’s Iowa, who the heck really knows until the votes start coming in later this evening.

For all the opportunities to criticize it, the Iowa Caucus is still the first polling that matters in the U.S. presidential primaries, first also meaning it’s very influential in shaping the outcome yet to come in the other 49 states by potentially reshaping the field of candidates.

So for those reasons alone it’s worth paying close attention to!

Written by turbotodd

January 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm

TurboTech: Netflix/Qwikster, HP rumors, Facebook follies, Twitter ads

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So Scott and I recorded our latest “TurboTech” episode yesterday, and no sooner did we record the bit about Meg Whitman maybe taking over as CEO of HP than it seems like it’s actually gonna be a done deal.

That’s okay, things move fast in this industry, and it’s kind of like that old joke about how you don’t have to outrun the leopard — you just have to outrun the slowest gazelle.

In this case, I’m not sure if Scott’s the gazelle and I’m the leopard, or if Meg Whitman’s the leopard and Leo Apotheker’s the gazelle, but whatever the case, things change, watch us move your cheese.

We talked about that, the Netflix marketing debacle, and the latest changes on Facebook (which pretty much everyone seems to hate).

Me, I’m off to India tomorrow, and will be hanging in the IT hub of Bangalore for a week.  I hope to take lots of pics and NOT lose my camera there this go around, and am very much looking forward to some of that lovely South and North India Cuisine and to seeing all my IBM India friends.  Put some Kingfishers on ice, gang, I’ll be there momentarily.

Enjoy this episode, and the next dispatch may just be a video one from the streets of Bangalore, where crossing through traffic’s like riding in a sub-contintental rodeo with motor rickshaws and motorbikes!

Yeeee-hawwww, Sahib!

Written by turbotodd

September 22, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Cowboys And Aliens And Congress

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I never envisioned myself spending the better part of a weekend monitoring the TV to await the fate of a U.S. government debt ceiling.

But hey, there I was this weekend, living on the edge!

From CNN on Saturday afternoon to the talking heads news shows yesterday morning, I was glued to my Sony Bravia, trying to figure out what madness had taken over our nation’s capitol.

Perhaps it was the other capital (my 401K, my investment portfolio, etc.) that compelled me to stay so closely tuned for a deal.

By Sunday afternoon, I’d had enough and was a nervous wreck. 

So, like a few million other Americans, I headed out to the cinema to catch a showing of “Cowboys v. Aliens.”

If you’ve not heard much about the film or seen the previews, here’s the movie’s basic premise: A spaceship arrives in Arizona, 1873, to take over the Earth, starting in the Wild, Wild West in a small town called “Absolution.” 

Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and a slew of other cowboys (and cowgirls) are all that stand in their way.

Craig’s character, Jake Lonergan, appears in the town with a bit of amnesia and a glowing shackle on his wrist, which we later discover is really good for destroying the wily aliens, which like to zip down from out of the sky and grab the townsfolk with a long alien lasso.

In the Walter Mitty fantasy daydream I had in the middle of the film, I envisioned the aliens taking on Congress instead, swooping through the halls of the House and Senate and grabbing all the Congresspeople and flying them out into the Arizona desert – just like in the movie — where they’d be dropped into the middle of nowhere, given a single canteen of water, then ordered to come up with a solution to the debt crisis in an hour, or else.

Then, I woke from my daydream, and I realized that even in my fantasy, the aliens were probably no match for all those lobbyists (22 for everyone Congressperson in Washington) and earmarks, even with Lonergan’s fancy alien six shooter.

After returning home from the movie, I caught up on the evening news with Brian Williams, then watched the NBC hour-long special where Williams and 30 of his networks cameras prowled around Capitol Hill last Wednesday, in an attempt to see what it was like “behind the scenes” on Capitol Hill.

There was a whole bunch of running from one building to another, a whole bunch of meetings that didn’t seem to get much accomplished, and a whole bunch of coffee.

There was one star of Capitol Hill, however, that seemed to outshine all the politicos.

“Dakota,” Senator Kent Conrad’s pet bichon frise, nicknamed after the state where Conrad is from, was featured several times in the show, and seemed to me to be the only one with any sense.  Dakota would sit quietly as people came into meetings, greeting and petting her as if she were the only dog on Capitol Hill. 

Which she is.

Known informally as the “101st Senator,” Dakota seemed to me to be the ultimate insider’s insider, privy to some of the most confidential and private discussions on Capitol Hill.

If dogs could talk, these politicians might actually get a deal done.  But let’s keep the Cowboys and Aliens on reserve, just in case.

Written by turbotodd

August 1, 2011 at 4:02 pm

The Glorious Fourth

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Here’s hoping everyone had a Happy Independence Day (or for my Canadian friends, a Happy Canada Day this past Friday.)

As fate, and the Texas heatwave, would have it, the City of Austin cancelled its fireworks show this year. Allegedly, that was due to the extreme drought conditions, in fear that any stray sparks might catch the edges of Zilker Park on fire.

I fear it may have been due to a more Greece-like austerity measure.  In any case, it gave me an opportunity to have a nice, quiet 4th this go ’round, one which found me watching the movie “Independence Day” again fifteen years after it came out.

Can it really have been 1996 that that movie came out??  Man, did those aliens look dated fifteen years on?!

Yeah, it was either that, or tune in to CNN Headline News for the Caylee Anthony trial verdict watch (You can follow WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando on Twitter @CaseyAnthonyCh9 for the latest).

Speaking of Twitter, the 2012 presidential campaign already seems destined for over-social-media-fication.

As Leena Rao with TechCrunch observed in an Independence Day post, “The White House and the 2012 Obama campaign is on a Twitter rampage.”

The President will be hosting a Twitter Town Hall tomorrow (send questions to the #AskObama hashtag, and follow @Townhall for updates), and Vice President Joe Biden is now Tweeting from his new Twitter ID: @VP

Really?  Nobody ever claimed the @VP address before now?!

Let’s just hope nobody hacks POTUS or the Veep’s Twitter ID, the way someone did Fox News yesterday.

Early Monday morning, the @Foxnewspolitics Twitter ID was hacked and announced that “the President is dead.  A sad 4th of July, indeed.”

This was followed by several other Tweets providing alleged further details of the President’s supposed passing before Fox News was able to correct the situation and regain control of its account.

The U.S. Secret Service was also notified and is investigating the matter.  A splinter group from the online hacker vigilante group Anonymous, aptly named “Script Kiddies,” allegedly took credit for the hack.

It’s not clear whether the President’s super duper NSA-built BlackBerry will be up to the task of securely communicating to the masses via Twitter, but regardless, I fear we may soon see black hat social media tactics become a routine component of the new political campaign landscape.

If that happens, there will be soon be ample fireworks to go around for everyone.

Written by turbotodd

July 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm

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