SMART Letter #62
Letter from my Brother
October 8, 2001
SMART Letter #62 -- October 8, 2001
Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg
isen.com -- "living in interesting times"
email@example.com -- http://isen.com/ -- 1-888-isen-com
> Smart Remarks from SMART People: Robert Reynolds
> A letter from my brother Daniel
> A letter from Phil Neches to Arno Penzias
> 9-11, a poem by Frederick S. Tipson
> What the SMART Letter is about
> with Smart Remarks from SMART Person Andy Snow
> More on "Wars Against Concepts"
> Conferences on my Calendar
> Copyright Notice, Administrivia
Smart remarks from SMART People: Robert Reynolds
"Communications is the second most important field,
second to world peace."
Robert Reynolds [firstname.lastname@example.org] recently joined the
A Letter from my brother Daniel [email@example.com]:
"I don't feel comfortable with your [Other People's Words
-- SMART Letter #61]. I think the dilemmas are much
more severe and complex than you implicitly present them
with your selection of quotes.
"As a person who lives in Israel, with terrorism on a
daily basis, who recently has been doing his grocery
shopping while keeping an eye out for suspicious
looking, potential suicide bombers, booby-trapped cars,
and suspicious objects (as I did today in Netanya, where
there have been 5 or 6 suicide bombings, etc. in the
last 12 months) AND as someone who hurts when civil
liberties are denied and who speaks out against
prejudice and discrimination against Arabs and Jews, I
feel these dilemmas personally.
"The big dilemma is this -- whose civil liberties are
more important? If you can get information about real
terrorists planning real attacks to be carried out
tomorrow or next week, and to do it you need to slap
around a captured terrorist to do it, whose civil
liberties are more important to protect/sacrifice? The
captured terrorist? The suspected terrorist who is
innocent but who, by some fluke was in the wrong place
at the wrong time? The mother and her kids at a
restaurant that is the target of the next attack and
who WILL be killed? What if they were your mother and
your kids? And we are just talking probabilities here,
right? What sacrifices and compromises do you make?
"This is a real dilemma. Real people make these
decisions. People with friends, families, and values
have to resolve these dilemmas on a personal and daily
basis. It is not easy. Mistakes are made. Liberties
are denied. Lives are saved.
"Experience (in a democracy such as Israel's) leads to
improvements. Today there are institutionalized checks
and balances that lead to fewer mistakes. More and
more, the guilty are punished. But there are almost
always 'externalities' (an economists' phrase which I
personally dislike). What to do about these? Which are
the best 'externalities' to live with? There is no clear
way around them.
"How about the terrorists who are now planning suicide
bombings, who have located their HQ's in populated areas
so that if Israel tries to assassinate them (I am
personally a strong supporter of Israel's increasingly
effective pinpoint assassination policy) civilians are
in jeopardy. This is not just theoretical; civilians
have been killed this way. Whose lives are more
important to protect, the terrorists, the terrorists'
innocent neighbors, or the terrorists' prospective
"30 years ago I conducted some research at University of
Oregon under social psychology professor Mick Rothbart,
which we ended up calling the liberal distance law. We
could show that people's liberal attitudes towards
various issues decreased as a linear function of
distance from their own lives. For example, locating
prison halfway houses in residential areas to improve
prisoners' reintegration into society is great, but the
further from my neighborhood, the greater it is. If the
PROBABLE terrorists were discovered in your hometown,
how would you want the FBI to respond? As your brother,
I would not worry too much about their civil liberties.
I would worry more about you and your wife.
"There, now I feel better.
[Regardless of whether my brother (and his adopted home
country) has chosen the wisest path, I respect Dan's real-
world experience and the learning that has resulted.
However, I would like to rebut my brother's "liberal
distance" conclusions in the specific September 11
incident. I was not a bystander. On a normal pre-
September-11 day, my wife would pass through the World
Trade Center at 8:45AM. She works less than two blocks
away. As events of that morning unfolded, I was tortured
by the thought that she might not come home. For two
interminable hours my house was a nightmare museum of her
life. Then, at 10:52AM the phone rang. It was my wife.
She was all right. Thanks be.
However, one of our neighbors lost his entire office; he
would've been there himself, save for a meeting uptown that
morning. Close family friends lost a son-in-law. Another
friend survived by diving under a car while debris killed
and maimed people near him. The tragedy came very, very,
very, very, very, very close to home.
Yet I am still humbled by what I do not know. I still want
justice more than revenge. I still wish fervently for less
over-simplification, less denial, more-thought-out
responses, more human understanding. On these things, I
think my brother and I agree. -- David I]
SMART Person (and former AT&T colleague) Phil Neches
"I thought you would be interested in this piece I wrote
in response to an e-mail from Arno Penzias. Arno
expressed alarm at the prospect of the US stumbling into
a war with the whole Islamic world . . .
[Phil responded to Arno as follows:]
"You raise a truly horrifying thought. However, I think
and hope that it will not come to such a dire extreme.
"I am cheered by many thoughtful pieces I have
read in the press or received via e-mail. Americans are
starting to learn about a world that until now has been
on the fringe of our collective consciousness. We are
starting to realize some things that are not so simple:
"+Islam, like Christianity and Judiasm, in not a
monolith. The many branches speak with different
voices. Many are soothing, some are strident.
"+More Americans practice Islam than Judiasm. Most
Muslims came to America for the same reasons as
everyone else: freedom and opportunity.
"+The 1 billion people who live in Muslim nations are
not a "no man's land" between the Soviet Union and
the West. US policy in this region has to move
beyond outdated Cold War paradigms. It has to be
based on principle as well as pragmatism.
"+The new war is not at all like the last war. Our
institutions, including our military, have a lot to
learn. Sun Tsu would not be at all surprised.
"+We're in for a long haul. Push-button victories and
sound-bite rhetoric won't do. It took over 45 years
to prevail in the Cold War. The victory happened
just as Harry Truman predicted it would in 1948: the
enemy fell from within brought down by the wrongness
of their own system. America can be awfully
"+America is worth fighting for. That means keeping
our core values intact. Even in this period of
hottest rhetoric, Congressmen and Senators from both
the left and the right have forestalled a wild rush
to ill-considered new police powers.
"+Americans are right to wonder why no Muslim-majority
nation has a democratic government. Does our
complicity in this lie in too much involvement? or
"+Our economy was in deep trouble before September 11.
The Internet bubble was an international nightmare of
insane expectations. Computers and
telecommunications are in a period of secular, not
cyclical, challenge. Our system wasted an enormous
amount of capital on worthless projects, and we
cannot absorb that folly without impact on lives and
livelihoods. Greenspan's magic wand won't solve this
"+We won the Cold War, but we didn't secure the peace.
(Sun Tsu again: in times of peace, prepare for war;
in times of war, prepare for peace. Our president's
father didn't do too well on the second part of the
statement. His successor wasn't much better). Now
we're contemplating the down payment on the price of
that monumental blunder. It could turn out to be a
bigger and costlier blunder than the failure of the
Allies to secure a just peace after World War I. The
Marshall plan looks awfully cheap by comparison.
"Nobody seems to have conniptions when these issues come
up. Americans seem hungry for information and analysis
that put their new view of reality into perspective. As
the first wave of emotional reaction to the events of
September 11 recedes, I find that our national debate
process is returning to normal.
"+It's OK to question our leaders and our policies.
"+The President, military, and FBI can't get everything
"+The President's own cabinet has diverging opinions on
what to do.
"+What was all that noise between the parties about,
"+We all need to be more careful. But that means we
should think like good cops, not mindless
vigilantes. Cops look for bad guys in a world mostly
populated by good guys. We only need to stop about
10,000 really bad guys out of 1,000,000,000s of
mostly good people.
"+The world is quick to condemn the terrorists, but
cautious about supporting US action. The Arab world
wants to see principles first. Even our closest
allies won't stand for rash action on our president's
"+Every war-time president rides the polls to 90%+
approval at the outset. Remember Truman in 1945,
Johnson in 1965, or G.H.W. Bush in 1991? In 6 to 12
months, the euphoria evaporates, and harder reality
sets in. The polls drop south of 40% approval
(Truman in 1947; Johnson in 1968; G.H.W. Bush in
1992). The once invulnerable sitting president has a
hard time even keeping his job. Our current
president will also face this very severe test of
leadership. Even if he fails the test, which history
says is the more likely outcome, the nation will go
"Winston Churchill once said that you can count on
America to do the right thing, having exhausted all
other possibilities. I share the old codger's realism
-- and confidence."
9-11 by Frederick S. Tipson [firstname.lastname@example.org]
written on September 12, 2001
[Fred is a former AT&T colleague who recently joined The
Markle Foundation to work on developing national strategies
in poorer countries to make better use of information and
communications technology. As long as I've known him, he
has had a prolific, slightly perverse, but always well-
aimed talent for doggerel. -- David I]
"The size of this atrocity, we simply cannot grasp;
Its numbers-depth-velocity can only make us gasp.
Our senses grope to gauge its scope,
yet sense and judgment fail;
For evils of this magnitude, we just don't have a scale.
"The sorrow of a single family struck by such an act,
Is hard enough to comprehend--the pain too inexact.
And as the horrors multiply, increasingly we find,
They far exceed the limits of our
stomach, heart and mind.
"And likewise, no amount of hate, revenge or retribution,
Could match our loss or come across
as equal restitution.
We can't get compensation for Virginia and Manhattan,
No matter how much blood we spill
or buildings we might flatten.
"So our response must serve
a different kind of calculation,
We must be sure to make secure our future as a nation.
"The perpetrators must be found-imprisoned or destroyed;
Making sure we learn
of all the methods they've employed.
Such vermin must be vanquished,
but to beat them at their game,
Before we open fire, we must take a careful aim.
"For nothing would be worse than to react in such a rush,
That when we draw up targets,
we use much too broad a brush.
We must reject the preaching
of some prominent proponents,
Who'd make the whole Islamic world implacable opponents.
"Likewise, we should forge a "coalition of the willing",
Joined in concrete measures
to prevent such massive killing.
This challenge is much wider
than one network or one villain,
It can't be done by Rambo,
Wyatt Earp or Marshall Dillon.
"In short, we must be sure
our means don't undercut our ends:
Energizing enemies and frustrating our friends.
"But longer term we need to recognize the larger threat,
And understand how hostile, and how ugly, it could get.
Unless the global system is perceived to be more fair,
Many more around us may descend into despair.
"And desperation leads to acts of crime and acts of war,
For those who won't accept
our civil ways of keeping score.
Nothing can excuse their ghastly terrorist displays,
But don't depend on preaching them
the error of their ways.
"Faced with this week's massive dose
of murder and destruction,
Let us turn our anger into global reconstruction.
Fighting back to build an anti-terrorist consensus,
While building stronger bridges,
not just building higher fences.
"Security requires force, but these days so much more;
To really win this battle,
we will have to win that war."
What the SMART Letter is about
by David S. Isenberg
Recently I got a letter from SMART Person Andy Snow
[email@example.com] that said:
"I am offended by many of the political views you have
chosen to champion . . . I am also offended you have
chosen the SMART Letter to promulgate your set of
political views . . . please remove me from your SMART
Letter distribution list."
He's not the only one recently, just the most articulate.
In ensuing correspondence, Snow said:
"I have enjoyed for some time your unique perspectives on
telecommunications technology, policy and industry. In
my opinion, the value of your perspectives deal with
your ability to think out of the box, and at times to
advocate iconoclastic viewpoints . . . However, when I
want editorial views from political pundits, I will
click on CNN or Fox, or read a newspaper.
"I do not expect you to always write what I agree with.
. . . So I will turn the proposition back to you. If
your SMART letter is to deal with telecommunications
technology, and its implications on business and
society, etc.(including the impact of terrorists on this
domain) then I would like to remain on the email list."
I've returned Andy to the SMART List for now. He's free to
get off anytime. Maybe this issue of the SMART Letter will
do it for him. (This week only: double your subscription
I am not sorry that I haven't written about telecom lately.
The central concern of my life remains the impact of
telecom on human institutions and business ideas, and vice
versa. I will get back to it.
However I do want to apologize to SMART People for getting
swept up by current events -- I think I can contribute more
when I am able to cut through fads of the day.
Regardless, I write the SMART Letter about what concerns
me. More often than not, I will apply my "unique
perspectives . . . [my] ability to think out of the box,
and . . . advocate iconoclastic viewpoints" to telecom.
But I might also apply them to a Japanese fish market,
aviation policy, Y2K, America's New War(tm), etc.
Finally, I note that my thinking, even on telecom, is not
apolitical. I believe that communications technology
should be used to promote democracy, capitalism,
competition, choice, value creation, globalization, and the
spread of ideas of all kinds. I like new, small, energetic
companies that are out to change the world better than big,
old, stodgy companies that want to preserve the status quo.
I like bottom-up markets better than top-down regulation.
On line or off, I favor freedom of religion, freedom of
speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the
freedom to petition government for the redress of
grievances. And I like the right of people to be secure in
their personal (note, personal) effects -- informational as
well as material. These are political values. [Andy Snow
gets this, by the way, but some recent correspondents don't
I value my readers, especially people like Andy Snow, who
are willing to engage me, educate me, and articulate their
disagreements. It hurts personally when I lose readers.
But I am going to continue to write what I think is
important, regardless of its distance from telecom. I hope
that readers will continue to find the stuff of the SMART
Letter worth reading.
More on "A Brief History of Wars Against Concepts"
In SMART Letter #61 I presented:
>War on Poverty -- Poverty 1, U.S. 0
>War on Cancer -- Cancer 1, U.S. 0
>War on Crime -- Crime 1, U.S. 0
>War on Drugs -- Drugs 1, U.S. 0
Pete Kaminski (firstname.lastname@example.org) wrote to add:
"War on Alcohol -- U.S. 0, Alcohol 1 (ended by FDR)
War on Slavery -- U.S. 1, Slavery 0
War on Polio -- U.S. 1, Polio 0 (started by FDR)
War on Smallpox -- World 1, Smallpox 0"
[Pete, mea culpa. Things are always more multifaceted than
they seem at first glance. Nevertheless, we must admit
that the U.S. record on wars against concepts isn't very
good. -- David I]
CONFERENCES ON MY CALENDAR
RESCHEDULED -- NEW LOCATION & DATE: November 4-6, 2001. San
Francisco, CA. Telecosm. Latest word is that I will be
moderating a panel on the morning of November 6. Telecosm
will be much different than last year, probably quieter,
perhaps more thoughtful, and certainly different. For
POSTPONED -- NEW DATE TBD: Sarasota FL. Gilder Fellers
technology investor's conference.
Gilder and other notables will be there. I'll be
Moderator. In other words, I'll be trying to get the
participants to hold down the hype, jargon, positioning and
techno-babble so the individual investors in the audience
will understand. Some might argue that this'd be like the
pot calling the kettle . . . For information, contact Joel
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Copyright 2001 by David S. Isenberg
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-- The brains behind the Stupid Network --