31 posts categorized "October 2010"

The Doctor's Dilemna

Shaw's play The Doctor's Dilemma finds a group of London doctors deciding which patient among several to save, using a scarce treatment.

I heard the LA Theater Works production of the play for radio a couple months ago, and liked it so much I sought out the text.

Below is a speech expressing an alternative solution to the doctor's dilemna, one that was cut from the production I heard, but one I feel like sharing on the hallowed eve of All Saints' Day.

Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington: I am bound to say that I don't think it is possible in medical practice to go into the question of the value of the lives we save. . . . [L]ook at my practice. It is what I suppose you would call a fashionable practice, a smart practice, a practice among the best people. You ask me to go into the question of whether my patients are of any use either to themselves or anyone else. Well, if you apply any scientific test known to me, you will achieve a reductio ad absurdum. You will be driven to the conclusion that the majority of them would be, as my friend Mr J. M. Barrie has tersely phrased it, better dead. Better dead. There are exceptions, no doubt. For instance, there is the court, an essentially social-democratic institution, supported out of public funds by the public because the public wants it and likes it. My court patients are hard-working people who give satisfaction, undoubtedly. Then I have a duke or two whose estates are probably better managed than they would be in public hands. But as to most of the rest, if I once began to argue about them, unquestionably the verdict would be, Better dead. When they actually do die, I sometimes have to offer that consolation, thinly disguised, to the family. The fact that they spend money so extravagantly on medical attendance really would not justify me in wasting my talents—such as they are—in keeping them alive.

The Future in the Status Quo

The ACLU is calling on the government to regulate broadband providers as it regulates telephone companies and other common carriers. (Link is to a pdf.)

Picture 1The argument is interesting because you might presuppose the ACLU would be sensitive to government regulation of fora for speech. But in this arena, the ACLU sees the greater threat to speech coming from large corporations with legal duties to shareholders that must necessarily dwarf concerns for speech. Left to pursue their own imperatives, the ACLU believes, broadband providers will necessarily prove indifferent to whether or not the internet remains open.

So net neutrality, in the ACLU's view, will not survive an indefinite period of uncensored competition. Actually, the ACLU's point can be drawn more precisely than that: because broadband is utility-like and otherwise has the characteristics of a "natural monopoly," the very possibility of effective competition in the broadband market will require the imposition of a common carrier regulatory regime.

The graphic to the left is a facetious ad taken from the ACLU's pdf. On one hand, the ad is absurd; on the other, it's plausible, as cable TV is already like this.

Keep in mind that broadband providers are going to assert rights under the First Amendment against government attempts to restrict their rights to free and unfettered "corporate speech!"

Penny Miserly, Dollar Stupid

"Nobody sees it happening, but the architecture of our time / Is becoming the architecture of the next time." *

Could California's advantage be a lack of foresight on the part of smaller regions otherwise poised to usurp the seat of innovation?

Last night Joe Wallin re-tweeted a bulletin that momentum may be swinging against the voter initiative that would establish an income tax in the State of Washington.

I don't think that's anything to crow about.

Whatever your philosophy and however much you dislike taxes, you've got to hand it to the sponsors of the initiative for trying to do something to support public education in Washington state.

Nobody's calling it out yet, other than in one-off, instance by instance reports of companies quietly opening "engineering" offices in Seattle, but the market has spoken and the great California Exodus is already taking place. Seattle - not New York, not Denver, not Boston, but Seattle - is the natural transition, the intended beneficiary, the organic heir. Twenty years from now, more innovation will emanate from the Pacific Northwest than from the California Bay Area.

But there are "business leaders" here who prefer the status quo. They made their millions while Seattle remained a sleepy backwater. Ironically, their comfort now makes them worldly and raises them above provincial competition.

The startup vision, by contrast, is of a Seattle that stays hungry and ambitious. That Seattle draws young people to move here for adventure and a sense of the possible. And to go to school. And to go to graduate school. And to do their post-docs.

The best things we can do to ensure the monstrous economic vitality of the future Seattle are to (a) make UW more like yesterday's UC Berkeley and (b) find a place to establish and build tomorrow's Stanford. The more pure research and free scholarships here, the more overachievers among the world's best and brightest we draw. We want people moving here in their teens and twenties. Startups will flourish, the smartest of the corporate behemoths will relocate here, the financiers will follow.

If I were contributing questions for the exit polls (this is a metaphor; in Washington State we vote by mail), I would submit this: if you voted against the state income tax, are you for or against Seattle becoming the tech and innovation hub of America. And, if you're pro-growth, how are you going to finance the research institutions? If not this tax, which one?

*First lines from a poem by Mark Strand, "The Next Time."

Update 11:57am: TechFlash just posted a piece by Todd Bishop, actual journalism! :) (that's a nod to you, Jane Hodges), that talks about both the influx of California companies to Seattle AND the bottleneck (an enrollment cap in the computer science and engineering program) at the UW. Todd cites a UW computer science professor who cites "data showing that Washington ranks 49th in the nation in bachelor’s degrees from public colleges per capita." Wow. If George Washington were alive today, he'd tell us to build the world's greatest research institutions right here. He wouldn't be afraid of seizing an expansive future!

Don't Pay "Finders"

Random thought: Is Quora going to be a place to repurpose blog content?

Anyway, the propriety of paying people for the "service" of introductions to angels and VCs seems to be circulating, and I took a stab at answering a question that filtered to the top of what I saw on Quora when I last checked in.

Here's that question and my answer:

Q: If you are being introduced to VC firms or have people opening the doors for you, should you give them equity in your start up in exchange (Only as part of successfully getting investment). If so how much is suitable to give? 10%?

A: No, you should not give equity in your startup in exchange for introductions to VC firms or for having people open the doors to investors for you.  You should not do this, regardless of whether the introductions lead to a successful financing.

There are legal reasons for not doing this but the more important reasons are practical and have to do with your credibility as well as the credibility of the investors to whom you are likely to be introduced in this way.

Someone who introduces you to an investor is doing both you and the investor a favor. One way to reward such behavior -- in addition to your good opinion of the person and your likely willingness to listen in future whenever they approach you -- might be to offer to let them participate in the round of financing on the same terms as the other investors.

Even better is the answer Ken Maready tweeted yesterday:

"Please don't agree to pay someone (in stock or $) to find investors. RARELY works, is a bad signal to investors & can cause lots of problems"

For a sarcastic take on this (based on real world experience just the same, I assure you!), see this parody from a few months back.

Children and Careers

I attended a lunch put on yesterday at the W Hotel by the Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association of Seattle ("MAMAS"). The event honored Connie Collingsworth, who is the general counsel at the Gates Foundation. My firm was a sponsor of the event.


Collingsworth told of her past working as a partner in the Preston Gates law firm, and of the support she received there from Bill Gates, Sr. and her other partners for choices she wanted to make to put her family on an equal footing with her career. And when speaking of interviewing for her current job at the Gates Foundation, I think she said she made it clear to the interviewer that her daughters would have priority over the job - and was a bit surprised when she got the job anyway.

I thought Collingsworth's speech was moving because she was business-like and not at all sentimental about what had paid off for her. She said she had made it a priority to have breakfast with and take her daughters to school every morning and to read to them at bedtime. A dinner routine was asking too much.

One of my colleagues at the firm, and a fellow Cornellean, is a leader in MAMAS, and she told me afterwards that dads are welcome in the organization, too.

For those who choose to raise a family, there is a period of life where it's important to be able to make your children a priority. What doth it profit a careerist, to gain the whole world, but to look back and see you've failed the people you will always care about most?

The Old Twitter

The following is adapted from my contributions in the comment thread to Chris Dixon's recent post about Malcolm Gladwell's article on Twitter.

I love the old Twitter. The experience of meeting people, not through offline means or other methods confined by geography or introductions, but by how they expressed themselves and the subjects on which they reflected, was intellectually very exciting.

It was also radical. 

At the level of consumer culture, Twitter threatened the very premise of advertising. If honest “brand experiences” were out there to be shared and surveyed, if eventually all real time experiences with products and services and those who distributed them could be surfaced with perfect efficiency, then the role of brand owners in social networking could only be that of equally-situated participants. Advertising as such would have no purpose. It would die out and be replaced by corporate engagement with consumers, a process of responding to and making productive use of customer feedback.

Some of the comments on Chris Dixon's recent post reflect some of the same dismissive attitude about Twitter’s import that Malcolm Gladwell expressed in his New Yorker piece, with "weak ties" becoming a characterization newer Twitter users might accept as apt. Nobody who used Twitter prior to its recent commitment to brand media would have said such things. Dismissive comments in the past were only made by people who were non-users and mistook things like celebrity/fan activity on Twitter as indicative of its purpose, missing Twitter's (then) latent intellectual and cultural power.

I've said Twitter has sold itself short because it looks like Twitter would now deposit us in the old order where money buys message and consumers are told in various ways that it is normative to pay attention, behave and consume. "The content will be brought and served to you, just like you (ought to, always have, must) like it." But in fairness it is Twitter's prerogative to chose an ad model and maybe experience will prove that Twitter was able to do so without alienating an exploitable user base - even if that user base begins to look less creative and more like a perpetual consumer focus group.

Eventually, a business model for crowdsourced content will emerge that will put at the center, not advertisers, but the content creators, the crowdsourced, the participants. 

Alternatives to Political Ads

It's not just negative 30-second TV ads that can be misleading, but apparently positive ones as well.

Here's a terrific piece of TV journalism from local Seattle reporter Robert Mak, critical of a claim by Senator Murray that she had saved a hospital from closing. The report fills in context that makes the Senator's "saving" of the hospital more nuanced, one involving tradeoffs that may not be that straightforward. (If you can't see the video, a transcript of the Robert Mak's piece is here.)


And you can bypass the TV ads altogether if you are so inclined. Here's a site that is crowdsourcing opinions on different ballot initiatives before Washington State voters.

Don't know how much trouble it may be for the sponsors of the ballot initiative information site to police what is posted, but I do like the "terms of service" they make you check agreement to, before letting you in:

The Participant Pledge

To foster an environment for relevant and civil political discussion, we ask everyone participating in the Living Voters Guide to take the following pledge.

  • I will not make personal attacks or use offensive language.
  • My opinions are my own; I am not speaking for a campaign, candidate, or party.
  • Though I may change my vote at any time, I will not create multiple accounts.
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