Brad Feld

Ugly Americans

May 23, 2004
Category Books

Nope – this is not yet another post about Iraq.

I just finished reading Ugly Americans : The True Story of the Ivy League Cowboys Who Raided the Asian Markets for Millions. Awesome!

Ben Mezrich previously wrote Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. I directly knew one of the people in the book (an old boyfriend of my wife and a frat brother of mine) and indirectly knew another (a frat brother of Raj Bhargava, an entrepreneur that I’ve done five companies with) so I figured I was pretty biased when I thought it was a great book.

Mezrich did it again. Ugly Americans is riviting. It’s a true story about a clueless Princeton grad (John Malcolm) who randomly ends up in Osaka trading Nikkei futures for Dean Carney (an alias) at Kidder Peabody. After Joe Jett blows up Kidder, he ends up at Barings trading the same futures for Nick Leeson. After Nick Leeson blows up Barings, he ends back with Dean Carney in Tokyo who has started a hedge fund.

The book catalogs Malcolm’s exploits through his six years of being an Ivy League Cowboy in Asia, culminating in the trade of the century which will either earn $500 million in three minutes at the end of the day on a Friday or wipe out Carney’s hedge fund. Of course, there is plenty of Japanese culture, sex, some love, American’s gone wild, Yakuza, and twists and turns that could only happen in real life.

Highly recommended – along with Bringing Down the House.

Jerry Colonna has a great post on being a CEO.

I don’t care whether you agree or disagree with Kurt Vonnegut – he’s still an amazing and provocative writer at age 81. His essay Cold Turkey was sent to me by one of my partners. He included a Bush Approval Rating Meter in his subtle email to me.

Remember Geocities? It was one of our very successful investments (thanks Jerry Colonna and Fred Wilson). Geocities is alive (and well?) at Yahoo!. Generally speaking, pretty scary looking stuff. But – the idea is the same as personal blogging – just v1.x (where blogging is probably up to 3.x).

Interestingly, Yahoo! doesn’t appear to have anything set up on the blog front yet. There have been multiple rumors floating around since last fall including a Yahoo! Korea Blog section (since I don’t know Korean, this isn’t much help to me but the dog pictures that show up when I hit the site sure are weird). Yahoo! does have an Beta RSS feed up – you can subscribe to my feed through My Yahoo
and I’ll be up top next to your Reuters and AP news (lucky you). It’s definitely beta still (it doesn’t refresh all that well) – but it shows an example of how everyone gets their own printing press.

I’ve been searching for good client side offline editing software for my posts. I’m trying w.bloggar today – it’s a nice improvement over the lousy Moveable Type online post window. So far, I like it. We’ll (you’ll) see what happens when I hit post in a minute.

Google weighed in on the Spyware problem with a recent Google-blog on the issue. While it’s obviously self-serving based on Google’s core advertising business being competitive with the revenue model for most Spyware companies (at least those that are not in the business of also selling Anti-Spyware software), it’s thoughtful and well articulated. John Battelle decomposed it effectively.

Google references Lavasoft and Spybot. Given that I was in Spyware hell last night (fighting with my home machine for three hours – I learned way more than I wanted to about my Registry), I found Lavasoft’s freeware product Ad-Aware to be the most effective thing I’ve found so far.

I’m amazed by this problem. I’ve been dealing with it for a while, but have noticed a recent spike across all medium (spam, spim, blam, spyware) – and it’s obviously making me nuts.

Ok – it’s been out of control for a while. Spam continues at epidemic proportions. Spim (IM Spam) is starting to emerge. Blam (Blog Spam) has exploded on the scene. Spyware is everywhere. Anti-Spyware – which is supposed to eliminate Spyware – is being sold as a solution by the Spyware players.

Blam is the first problem that’s bugging me today – fortunately I haven’t been nailed by it yet (although I’m sure I will as a result of this post). To see real pain from the recently blammed, take a look at Jeff Nolan’s post on comment spam. Jeff’s trying a homegrown IP blacklist, which won’t work (it didn’t work for Spam very well – it won’t work for Blam). Dave Sifry from Technorati wrote a good post on various approaches to Blam. I expect this area to evolve rapidly, especially as the email security folks (Brightmail, Postini, etc.) notice the problem.

Spyware is next. I’ve been using Spybot for a while and it works pretty well. A local company – Webroot – is doing great – so I gave it a try. I was fascinated by the difference – within 24 hours I had a different set of persistent problems then I’d had with Spybot. No matter how hard these guys try, the bad guys move faster.

I heard a rumor recently that spyware vendor 180Solutions, the guys behind Ncase are out shopping for an anti-spyware vendor to add to their product mix after their recent venture financing from Spectrum Equity. XOFTSPY has a scam going also – here’s a great rant on it.

I’m just bewildered by all of this. Haven’t we already seen this movie from the massive proliferation of viruses and spam? The government is getting involved now – oh goody.

George Soros has written an incredible book called The Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the Misuse of American Power. It’s actually two books in one: Part 1 is A Critical View and Part 2 is A Constructive View.

Soros starts of by clearly explaining the Bush Doctrine. “First, the United States will do everything in its power to maintain its unquestioned military supremacy and, second, the United States arrogates the right to preemptive action. Taken together, these two pillars support two classes of sovereignty: the sovereignty of the United States, which takes precedence over international treaties and obligations, and the sovereignty of all other states, which is subject to the Bush doctrine. This is reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” (p.11).

Soros links the Bush Doctrine to the 1997 neoconservatives statement of principles of the Project for the New American Century signed by a host of familiar characters including Elliott Abrams, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.

The theme is clear and incredibly well-reasoned (this should not be a surprise to anyone that has either followed or read other writings of George Soros). Soros states that “Under the Bush administration, the United States has also become a victim-turned-perpetrator, although the American public would be loath to recognize it. On September 11, America was the victim of a heinous crime and the whole world expressed spontaneous and genuine sympathy. Since then, the war on terrorism has claimed more innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq than have the attacks on the World Trade Center. That comparison is rarely made at home: American lives are valued differently than the lives of foreigners, but the distinction is less obvious to people abroad.” (p.22)

Soros then makes his case in strong, clear, and straightforward detail. While I can imagine that someone could come up with an argument against it, I can’t.

As you would expect from his warm up, he concludes strongly with “All in all, at no other time has America’s position declined as dramatically in as short a period as it has since George W. Bush became president. The swing in our international position matches the swing in our budget deficit. Whatever the flaws in the ideology that has guided the Bush administration, the practical results have been nothing short of disasterous. … The forthcoming elections provide an excellent opportunity to deflate the bubble of American supremacy. But it is not enough to defeat President Bush. America must also adopt a different vision for its role in the world. The rethinking has to be quite profound. It is not only the supremacist ideology of the New American Century that needs to be rejected. There were shortcomings in the policies followed by the United States prior to September 11; otherwise, they could not have ben carried to the extremes that have been reached under the Bush administration. What a more positive vision for America’s role in the world entails will be the subject of the second part of this book.” (p.74-75)

This is what I love about Soros. It’s easy to be critical on a grand stage (and he’s earned the right through his amazing work with the Open Society Institute to get up on his soapbox), but Soros doesn’t stop there. Part 2 (which I’ll comment on later) lays out his view of the constructive action that the United States should take to repair the situation we have created for ourselves.

I had lunch today with Gary Zeff who runs Boulder Open Studios. In addition to talking about Open Studios – which is a very cool thing for the local Boulder art community – we got into a long discussion about why my generation (Generation X – born between 1965 and 1980) is so light on the philanthropic scene.

My wife Amy and I have been very active with our philanthropy for the past five years. At some point, we realized that – at least in our community (Boulder, CO) there was a surprising lack of philanthropic focus. This was even more ironic since Boulder County has a population of 300,000 yet purportedly has over 1,000 individual non-profits (or – one non-profit per 300 people).

We’ve been strong supporters of one of the organized meta-non-profitsThe Community Foundation Serving Boulder County. When we got involved, it surprised me that many of my cohorts both didn’t know about The Community Foundation or – if they had heard about it – weren’t terribly interested. The Community Foundation spawned two organizations – Boulder County Culture of Giving and Social Venture Partners Boulder County – both of these were more accessible to my fellow Gen-Xers. However, it was still hard to get my generation to engage.

At lunch, I said out loud for the first time that I think it’s a result of the values instilled in us from our parents. Many GenX parents are not baby boomers (1945 – 1960)(e.g. my folks were born in 1938 and 1942). They are children of depression era parents. It’s a complicated lineage, but it’s one that missed the 1960s ethos by a few years.

I came across a great article on this called Generation mY: Not Seeing your Xer Garden Grow? The telling paragraph is:

“This generation as a whole can’t see the need in making an annual fund gift while they are paying back a student loan, buying a house, or starting a family. Most development officers have picked up on this to some degree and have written Xers off- because hey, the development officer will probably be on to several more posts before it is a real issue for them. Wrong! Case in point using college and university trends: most schools are graduating larger classes of students, so if the institution hasn’t already realized it- the young alumni crowd is quickly becoming the largest segment of the alumni body and alumni non-participation in giving is eating away at those participation rates we all like to tout so much.”

I had an epiphany today while I was running about blog content. It’s taken me a few weeks of blogging, thinking about why I care, what right I have to consume incremental bits on the Internet, and why anyone else cares (or might / should care). One of the guys that works with me has a great quote – “blogging is like giving everyone a printing press – and NOT everyone deserves a printing press.” I’ve consistently countered that by saying “everyone should have a printing press – you just need tools to decide whether or not to read what they write.”

Over the weekend, I got an outbreak of self-referential blogs. Robert Scoble (the self proclaimed “Microsoft Geek Blogger”) wrote that Mike Padula is doing a study as a student at Cornell about why people blog. Marc Nozell referenced Fresh Air’s interview with Bill Moyers about blogging (among other things). My mother – after commenting in one of my blogs remember to write about your mother – then tried to convince me over the phone that blogging was a bunch of useless chatter – the world didn’t need anymore of it.

As I get deeper into the blog thing, I get more intrigued. It feels to me a lot like email did in 1993 and the web did in 1995 – there are endless directions to go in, lots of businesses to create, huge potential impacts on society, thought, communication, and technology. But – thankfully – it’s early, chaotic, and like most things that evolve – Darwinian.

So – while I don’t necessarily have an answer yet, I’m going to focus my blogging more on things that are relevant to me and assume that those that are interested in what I’m interested in will read this blog. Those topics – today – including (self referentially) the blogging ecosystem, venture capital, technology, creating companies, and running marathons.

I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow.