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What is dirt?

What is dirt?

From this article on kitty litter, we learn that:

it’s strip-mined dirt that is transported overland via combustion engines and ends up in landfill where it never biodegrades.

But isn’t “dirt” pretty much the definition of biodegraded, past tense? I mean, what does compost, bodies, dead trees, and wet paper turn into? Dirt.


Speech outside of school is protected

The NYT has described the case in this article with this blurb:

The case presents an important question that several judges have urged the Supreme Court to decide: When may students be punished for things they say outside of school?

In my world, we call that a rhetorical question. The answer surely ought to be “Never.” The idea that schools get a little extra power than the state in general goes back to the landmark case of Tinker, in which the Court held that students could wear black armbands in school to protest the Vietnam War. The standard it established was that student speech was protected when it did not materially disrupt school activities.

Here are some quotes from Tinker that should clarify why I think it’s abhorrent to free speech that cases like this even get past summary judgment:

It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.

Tinker, at 506.

A student’s rights, therefore, do not embrace merely the classroom hours. When he is in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during the authorized hours, he may express his opinions, even on controversial subjects like the conflict in Vietnam, if he does so without “materially and substantially interfer[ing] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school” and without colliding with the rights of others.

Tinker, at 512–13.

But conduct by the student, in class or out of it, which for any reason – whether it stems from time, place, or type of behavior – materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others is, of course, not immunized by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.

Tinker, at 513.

Tinker talked about expanding classroom freedom of expression to all school activities. Nowhere did Tinker even suggest that the school could extend its reach to actions outside of school and school-sponsored activities.

This case, involving a rap/hip-hop song, is no different for the purposes of free speech analysis from a letter to the editor or a poem published in a literary magazine. Whether you like this form of expression or not, and whether you snicker at the names of the artists coming to the student’s support or not: you ought to recognize that the problem here starts with the restriction of speech that takes place outside of school and ends with what is almost certainly viewpoint discrimination – I doubt anyone can argue that the school would have punished the student for writing a song supportive of the lecherous coaches. That’s the dirty secret hidden inside of almost all of these cases: schools almost always only seek to regulate speech with which they disagree. Viewpoint discrimination is effectively an automatic loss in free speech analysis.



The article “What ISIS Really Wants” was good; it was also long, which makes me wonder whether enough people will read it.

I’m not sure that ISIS will choose any path that doesn’t force us to kill them all.

And I’m not comfortable with a course of action that turns us into isolationists. What would the world be like if that choice had won out during the Revolutionary War, and France had stayed out? If WWI and WWII left Europe to its own devices? What about Rwanda? (Oh, yeah, never mind on that one.) We should stop crimes of this magnitude around the world just as we should stop the beating of a child on the sidewalk in front of us.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

JFK Inaugural Address, 1961.

Whether you’re on the left or the right, Republican or Democrat, Green or Libertarian, Kennedy’s sentiments are fundamentally American: this promise is the core of what America is – just as it invigorates us looking outward, it frightens those who have more nefarious plans.

What America does not lack is a vast number of brave men and women who would, will, and do risk their lives in defense of others. That’s all the goal that’s needed: defending others. They/we don’t need a geopolitical agenda, oil reserves, or trade routes. The safety and well-being of fellow humans is a sufficiently compelling justification for these brave folks. If those soldiers were given a choice, they would bear the psychological burden of killing all those who would rape, enslave, torture, and butcher these people.


Small features

Building a big Internet company is hard, and I guess not everything can be earth-shattering.

Sometimes, developments underwhelm: who at twitter thought that “hearts and likes” vs. “stars and favorites” was worth engineering time?

I have been similarly stymied by the changes in UI for changing apps in iOS versions. In iOS 4, a double-click of the home button led to a series of app icons scrolling by in the tray, one after the other, with the most recently used app to the left, and older apps to the right.

By iOS 7, the small tray icons were replaced by larger app previews scrolling from the most recently used app on the left with previous apps to the right.

In iOS 9, the app previews are overlapping, so there’s always a multiple set of targets, not all of which are active, AND the order of recent apps is reversed, with the most recent app on the right and the older apps on the left. WTF, Apple? All the problems in the world and in the iPhone and someone decided that it was most important to focus on changing the metaphor and the usability of this feature?

I am picking on Apple here because this series of changes seems so small and mostly trivial that I find it hard to believe that someone tested the new version in iOS 9 with users and got noticeably better results. I, at least, find it consistently harder to close the app I want to because it’s not perfectly centered in the sliding stack of cards, and I am doubtful that swapping L-R for R-L modeling of recent usage is supported by meaningful research. But I don’t know. It does make me wish that I could pick and choose these minor lame “upgrades” and the company might instead focus on improvements or bug fixes instead of things that look more like change for change’s sake.


Bravery is for you

“Bravery is for other people,” Seth Godin writes. He talks about how that just ain’t true.

We’re supposed to make the choices that don’t require our kids, or someone else’s, to grow up to be Audie Murphy or Rosa Parks. We’re supposed to make a series of small, non-dramatic, slightly better for the world choices that eventually elide the dramatic from our lives – at least in terms of problems we created.


Experiment – drunken haiku

I am walking down the street, Chelsea market ahead of me
What was that place I was last in?
How many apple dollars are at risk right now?

— ca. 2012

The secret of drunken haiku is that you don’t have to count syllables.



Poem #3


This vase doesn’t belong here. These flowers should be near you, instead of still with me.

I wanted to plant the wine bottle in your apartment like a magic bean, sprouting lush growth, clearing the air all day in your absence.


I walked out of the bar, clumps of frothy crystal slipping and skidding to the ground, losing altitude. Each one headed for a crash.

I turned down the streets, left, two straights, another left. I became a refuge for the flakes, a traveling airstrip.

There’s no yellow tape around us, no CNN, no NTSB to issue the report: Near miss? Minor collision? Pilot error?

Five words to you, five weeks ago, would have changed this poem.


— ca. 2011


Do the math.

Some interesting math to note in this article comparing the cost of saving vs. borrowing for college. Gotta love math. Save for your kids, or they’ll be even more broke than you might fear you’ll be.

(Of course, there’s no annex here for adding on the costs of lifetime support for a child with autism.)

Need a reason why I write blog posts and books and scout startup clients and work on startup ideas? Do the math.


Shifting objectives shifts outcomes

I recently finished the first draft for my book on the nine principles of war, reformulated and recast as they should be applied to business. My friend Tom read the draft to provide some initial comments, and we ended up talking about whether to add a discussion on the seeming inapplication of strategy to the long-running wars against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then, as if on cue, an article by Mark Kukis appeared on whether wars can be “won” today at all.

The research is extremely helpful on this question, and there is no real arguing with the facts. But let’s take apart this paragraph:

In these internal, fragmented conflicts, victory is elusive for any party involved. From 1946 to 1989, for instance, there were 141 internal conflicts worldwide. Of those, 82 ended when one party achieved victory. From 1990 to 2005, there were 147 internal conflicts. Of those, only 20 ended with one faction legitimately claiming victory. Put another way, since 1990, less than 14 per cent of internal conflicts produced a clear winner. About 20 per cent produced a ceasefire. And about 50 per cent simply persisted. Statistically, the odds of the US coming up a winner in a modern war are perhaps as low as one in seven.

The last sentence, with US odds of “winning” as low as 1/7, is a great bit of writing, but entirely misleading. Yes, those are the numbers overall, but they aren’t the number of conflicts in which the US participated. So that’s issue number one.

But the real question is tied to the sotto voce thesis of the article: we can’t win wars the old way because we’ve chosen not to fight them the old way.

Here’s a later line that connects this “problem” with the principle of Objective:

No significant debate arose about what victory might mean.

Objective: direct all efforts towards a clearly defined, decisive, and obtainable goal.

As a former Army infantry officer, we prefer missions that meet this standard. What we knew then is something I practice daily as a lawyer: being forced to define success in a clear manner is valuable not just because of the outcome, but because the process requires someone to actually think about what success looks like. That Eisenhower-like approach leads to better outcomes.

The recent conflicts described in the article are different from the older wars for one basic reason: we decided not to conduct wars in the same way. We decided that killing vast numbers of otherwise innocent civilians was no longer acceptable to us. This theme is recognized briefly but then ignored for most of the article.

We made war harder because we imposed humanitarian or moral or practical limits on ourselves. No longer would we choose to engage in actions like the fire-bombing of Dresden, the aerial bombardment of London, or the bombing of Hanoi. We have chosen to try to conduct operations around civilians rather than against them.

Because we respect the fundamental human rights of the people who live in, under, and near the regimes or bad actors we are fighting (whether Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or ISIS), we have created a new set of rules. They make things much harder for us. Like a grandmaster who plays a novice and starts out by taking off two rooks and agreeing not to attack any pawns, the chances of “victory” go down.

Add to that the distinction between traditional military objectives: the destruction of people or materiel and the occupation of territory, and the nation’s goals in these new conflicts are certainly fuzzier than what might have guided us in the past.

To me, the notion of “no victory” is really about two things: (1) our decision not to kill seemingly innocent civilians and (2) goals for the end state of the conflict that do not match up with traditional military objectives. You want stuff blown up? The Air Force does that better than anyone on the planet. You want to go build a nation? You send the Special Forces, but it takes a really long time and there aren’t enough of those hard-charging heroes to remake a whole country. A village or tribe? Of course. A region? Probably. All of Afghanistan? Probably not.

And finally, a post-script: another thing that has changed about our approach from WWII is that we have greater respect for self-determination. We might be keen on an interim level of control to smooth over the transition, but we’d be loathe to instill the equivalent of a modern-day MacArthur to rule over post-Imperial Japan. Inherent in that value judgment is the recognition that some of those people will choose systems that are not only not controlled by us (cf. 1970s Philippines) but not necessarily even favorable toward us. That’s really okay though: “If you love something, set it free.”


Meatpacking Latin Bar

Meatpacking Latin Bar

What’s going on with this?
What is this consciousness?
What’s going on with this?


ca. 2013