WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?

The State of California, with its politicians’ usual dash of hubris, is in the process of deliberating on and passing a new bill to establish an advisory group to determine what determines “fake news”.

Hmmmm. Does anyone else see a problem brewing here?

I can just picture George Orwell shaking his fist from his grave, crying out in 1984 ghostly tones, “I warned you!”

According to our state capitol’s Sacramento CBS affiliate, the purpose of said group is “to monitor information posted and spread on social media…It would need to consist of at least one person from the Department of Justice, representatives from social media providers, civil liberties advocates, and First Amendment scholars.”

How nice that the California Senate has already determined by a vote of 25-11 that elite, hand-picked advisors can do our thinking for us. Now it is up to the Assembly to stop this bill in its tracks…if they dare.

Fortunately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has come to the defense of our First Amendment rights, which keeps the government out of the business of determining “Correct” speech. Whether that term is used with the prefix “Politically” or in the meaning of “Right vs. Wrong”, in California’s Democratic-Party-dominated Legislature, the slippery slope of such power may eventually be used to determine whether to trust the words of “Right vs. Left”, instead.

Another bill to teach children the lost skill of critical thinking within the context of a school education did not pass the appropriations committee earlier this year. You’ve got to give bonus points for such creativity in this politician’s quest to stifle free speech. Apparently, it’s cheaper to simply pay a few advisors, rather than hundreds of thousands of teachers, to decide on the veracity of news.

Of course, it’s only a convenient coincidence that after Californians have come to depend on this group to identify which news sites to trust or which TV hosts are acceptable to watch, in all probability the next election cycle will bring campaign advertising dollars to only those sites which support a continuation of the funding of these plush jobs on the advisory group.

I can only hope that if the bill passes, there is an intrepid lawyer willing to bring it all the way to the US Supreme Court, protecting us all.

In the meantime, check back onto my website for techniques and commentary on how to start developing those critical thinking skills so you can determine for yourself what and who to believe.

For if you cede your mind to another’s, you have given up all your freedom. Death, pure and simple.

 

 

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The New Cyberspace Truth Sheriffs

The battle over what is worthy news—fake, truthful or the whole gray area in-between—has ratcheted up into an outright war between established media outlets and up-and-coming disrupters.

As someone who has watched countless industries topple and fall with Silicon Valley technology’s each new iteration, I am both fascinated and dismayed at the recent turn of entrants into the media field: the “Truth Sheriffs”.

While I appreciate their stated goals of ferreting out outright lies from the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, the reality is that journalism (the old-fashioned word for media) has always had bias, and for a reason.

Freedom of speech is our primary Constitutional right to guarantee that the opinion of each and every one of us is considered in the national debate. The freedom of the press builds upon that right, and allows anyone to publicly state and distribute opinions without interference from the government, even when it is critical of said government, OR when it is critical of any member of the press. The definition of harmful speech has been specifically adjudicated, as in the case of libel or imminent danger, such as crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

Certainly, ostensibly extreme opinions, once given due consideration, may end up in dismissal, and may represent a minority viewpoint for decades to come. However, to the extent that an American citizen has an unpopular belief and votes for an issue or candidate in an election as a result, that perspective has an immediate impact on all of us.

Once unpopular and mocked beliefs, such as women’s suffrage, racial integration of our military, and gay marriage, are now considered as fundamental as our right to free speech. It is only by allowing a full, public discourse of ideas, no matter how radical or despicable, to continue our nation’s role as the world’s leader of freedom. And public discourse in this century means tolerating, if not outright embracing, the wide spectrum of views and public comments on the internet, television, radio, and via the more traditional printed press.

Reaching consensus is not easy, as any politician will confirm. Stifling free speech doesn’t eradicate hate, it simply sends it underground. Stomping roughshod over a small part of the population, or mocking their opinions, or deciding that certain people are too stupid to differentiate truth from fiction is bound to fail. America’s founding fathers had an unshakable belief in the common sense of its citizens to discern truth from hyperbole, the fake from the real.

So why do the new Truth Sheriffs claim to be the final arbiters of facts? Money.

Current-day journalism makes its money through advertising, not by writing superbly accurate stories. As the dominant players in the so-called mainstream media—Facebook, TV networks, venerable newspapers—have been caught up in scandalous or at least unpopular decisions, the large advertisers are seeking a better use for their investment to reach existing and potential customers. So in ride the new Truth Sheriffs, claiming to be able to narrow the number of sites that are “worthy” of billions of advertising dollars. And for a small percentage cut of those funds, they will vet that the news offered is valid, in essence putting themselves between you and the entire flow of opinion that our thriving democracy relies on.

These new sheriffs have their opinions, too, as do all human beings. For example, one ratings service already demonstrates clear bias in its ratings: citations to support their conclusions often are one-sided news sources themselves. Is it any surprise that the NY Times would have an article scoffing at Gateway Pundit’s veracity? Or that Harvard University and Politico would agree? Does Fox News agree? Or the Washington Times?

In another example, a cautionary label of conservative is lavishly sprinkled throughout, yet the word liberal is missing. Business owners of a website or news source are identified as conservative, but apparently liberal owners or donors do not need to be called out for their political views. In too many cases, so-called fake news is correlated to conservative issues or people, not to liberal issues or people.

Why is that? At what point do the Truth Sheriffs simply descend back into the circular argument of each side sanctioning itself and condemning the other? And who’s vetting and policing the Truth Sheriffs, who themselves are backed by those same mainstream media organizations, scrambling to maintain their lock on what message is the correct one for the average American to hear?

Vetting facts is a fool’s errand. Vetting the style, writer, and presentation is not. And to accomplish that, critical thinking is needed, something you can do for yourself.

Trust in your own judgment, but also verify the key information. Simply ask, “What’s right with the picture? What’s wrong with the picture?”

For instance, are both sides of an issue presented on a news site? Are links provided to source material so the reader can decide for himself? Is the entire political spectrum covered? Is politics even the only fake news, or does political bias creep in on a supposedly non-political site?

Like America’s founders, I have a profound respect for humans to sense when they are being lied to, conned, or mocked. Too many intellectuals and so-called journalists have fallen in love with their own ideas and words under their protective mantle of freedom of the press, and have lost sight of what is truly important—freedom of ideas, of expression, and speech.

Without it, our nation is surely doomed.

Silicon Valley’s Tragic Heroine: Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes

Despite the clamor of the STEM initiative (now STEAM—following true illogic, Art was added back into the fold) and the pushback on the “bro” culture, the real tragedy in Silicon Valley is not the lack of equal opportunity or education to succeed, but the role model chosen for the next generation of young business women.

Elizabeth Holmes, previous CEO of biotech company Theranos, became a media darling and super-hyped example of male-dominated venture capitalists indeed funding a billion-dollar-valued start-up founded by a woman. Surrounded by illustrious board members, Holmes was the shining example of progress in the supposed boys’ club of the technology world. No one wanted to look too closely at how she achieved her success. They simply piled on with congratulations and warm fuzzy feelings that finally, a woman had achieved equal status with the men.

Only this empress had no clothes.

Certainly, Holmes imitated the successful tactics: identify a breakthrough technology; drop out of Stanford University to develop and patent the idea before someone else did; ask for help from respected academes; land investors from the best of the best VCs; add an experienced executive to ride herd on the company; sell, sell, sell the idea to anyone and everyone who would listen; and land a whale of a customer—in her case, Walgreens.

She even was shrewd enough to channel a female version of Silicon Valley’s iconic Steve Jobs in his black turtleneck, presumably hoping his decades-long success would rub off on her. Attractive, young, ambitious, she catapulted to business stardom and magazine covers in a blink of an eye.

The only problem: her product didn’t work, and she couldn’t admit her failure.

Call it hubris, call it a tragic flaw of Shakespearean proportions, at some point Holmes crossed that very important ethical, moral, and illegal line of lying to the people who entrusted her with their money.

The Silicon Valley mantra of “Fake It ’til you Make It” went one step too far into outright fraud. Sales pizzazz and hustle became deliberate deception, apparently in cahoots with her President and COO. This was one tactic she should NOT have imitated of previous tech winners…err, losers

One very important lesson taught to me early in my career was to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth, no matter what. The role of a board of directors is to look a CEO in the eye and say “no” to unethical behavior, to remove executives who don’t deliver results, to share sage wisdom earned through years of experience to our youngest entrepreneurs.

However, in this age of technologies beyond the comprehension of even savvy engineers and top-notch scientists, how is an investor to trust that the breakthrough has indeed been vetted? That it works as planned? That a few years down the road there won’t be consequences of the worst kind—in the case of biotech, that includes death and biology run amok as in science fiction thrillers—that bankrupt the entire company?

Where is the trustworthy joining of business and invention that compel and reward our society for taking risks to enhance all of our lives?

In the case of Theranos, I believe the A-list board failed in its duty to have at least one member conduct due diligence on the science. Certainly, VCs should have done so, and ridden herd on their clients’ money. By the time Walgreens came into the picture, just the fact that so many others had sanctioned the company was apparently enough for them to sign a contract to try out this unproven “lab-on-a-chip” product.

Board members protect the interest of the shareholders, the ultimate owners of the company. When a CEO anoints herself as all-powerful and knowing, there is bound to be a reckoning some day, just as the Greek tragedies of old foretold. Human nature hasn’t changed all that much over the millennia, so we shouldn’t be surprised that so-called Millennial women follow in the footsteps of men’s errors, too. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is having similar troubles, as is Elon Musk of Tesla. Confident claims of trustworthiness and infallibility do not make them true.

The SEC has fined Holmes, but criminal charges have not (yet) been filed. While unfortunate, I think they are deserved. Remember Martha Stewart? She went to jail for receiving inside information, knowingly acting on it, and profiting from it. Nowhere did she herself create lies or subterfuge or scam investors of millions of dollars. She, too, was a media darling. And she accepted the consequences of her actions, served her time, and put it behind her.

Holmes is still very young, and I certainly hope she has learned a valuable lesson.

Business, and capitalism, is based on the concept of trust. We used to shake hands on a deal and that was enough. Our word was our bond, and our sterling reputation our only currency.

It’s sad that instead of progress in the world of Silicon Valley technology, Holmes’ legacy will be to doubt the word of the next young woman entrepreneur. Yes, men lie too. But when she accepted the mantle of fame and acclaim, responsibility came with the title of being first. Careless disregard for the consequences of her actions makes Holmes’ story a tragedy of epic proportions, instead of an inspiration for future female leaders.

I speak more about this with Terry Gilberg on her nationally syndicated radio show, “Think! America”. For more of my insights into business in Silicon Valley, read  “Private Offerings“, named 2015 Best Business Fiction by Wealth Management Magazine.

Tragic mask photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Baseball Fever…and its Life Lessons

There’s something spiritual about the game that few completely understand. Ballparks are often referred to as green cathedrals by authors and broadcasters, and that is especially the case when gazing out at the ivy-covered walls in Wrigley Field. Growing up in Chicago, attending the Cubs’ day games because they had not yet put in lights, was magical. Total strangers bonded over the team, debated Manager Leo Durocher’s decisions, lauded All-Star Ernie Banks and booed Joe Pepitone’s strut. They even grudgingly nodded in admiration at Johnny Bench’s strength and Hank Aaron’s record-breaking homers.

In my conversations with Michael Lund, author of the novel Maddy’s Game, he observes the following:

Hitting a baseball is considered one of the most difficult performances in sports. The best baseball players are proud of their .300 batting average—which means they FAILED 70% of the time to connect with the ball.

It’s a team sport, yet individual performance counts. At the plate, you’re all alone. The pressure to succeed is daunting—especially with runners on base and the game on the line. Strike out and end the inning, you’re the goat. Get a base hit or homerun, and you’re a hero. There’s no gray area. It’s black and white.

Sometimes choices we are forced to make in life are that way—no gray areas. The road of life is influenced by both good and evil. In the end, how do we reconcile those opposing forces which shape us into who we are?

Maddy’s Game explores that profound question against the backdrop of Lund’s favorite sport, baseball. An enthusiast from his youth, he spent time at the amateur baseball camps when the legends of the game still lived and participated. Using that intimate knowledge of what goes on in the dugout, in off-hours, and even in the minds of the players as they stand on the pitching mound or at the plate, Lund has penned a gritty story of life tossing way too many hurdles at his hero, Drew Tanner. This saga dares to challenge the reader’s thought process dealing with unforeseen circumstances that can, in many ways, change us.

For those baseball fans, and those who want to root and cry for someone who swings, misses, wins, and fails, yet always returns to step up to life’s plate again, this story is for you. The ending will be a curve ball that you won’t see coming.

Read more about Maddy’s Game and find it at your favorite eBook retailer.

 

Together, America’s Journey

It is rare for me to find someone who shares the same passion for the untold stories of American history and its wonderful potential. Rich Trzupek is that person, and I was honored when he asked me to serve as editor of his book, and guide him through the trials and tribulations associated with bringing it to market.

Together, we birth his labor of love on George Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 2018, celebrating our first President as one of the great Americans of all time, and in full recognition that our country’s destiny has not yet been fulfilled.

America’s Journey: Underdog to Overlord, Regrets to Rebirth is a fascinating romp through America’s history with a candid look at how Americans’ self-perception has shaped not only our choices as a country over the years, but also carried through to our own self-image as Americans, and our role in the world today.

Consider it a 21st century selfie.

Rich recounts familiar events with new personalities and fresh vignettes, and introduces us to key influencers that you’ve probably never heard of. People like Winfield Scott who created the foundation for America’s military; Nikolai Tesla, who debated with Thomas Edison about the best standard to bring electricity into American homes and businesses (perhaps Elon Musk will have the final word on that); and Ken Kesey’s followers, The Merry Pranksters, who represented the 1960’s rebellion of baby-boomers. Interestingly, Rich, a fellow boomer, ends that chapter with the reflective question, “What the hell were we thinking?”

To quote a very insightful passage from the Preface:

The study of history is subjective, which makes it such an intellectual delight. It is the eternal search for patterns and themes, for causes and effects. The study of history, at its best, is akin to listening to a symphony: finding the common theme that brings all the movements together, enjoying the remarkable talent of a featured soloist, thrilling to the climactic overture. And let us not forget the sad adagio of human frailties and failings that constantly underscores the whole, sometime faintly, sometimes overwhelming the score, but always there.”

An armchair historian, Rich relies on his scientific training as air-quality expert and chemist to poke holes in America’s hysterical bouts over the decades, whether lauding Andrew Jackson as the greatest warrior for the Battle of New Orleans to Prohibition’s real damage to McCarthy-ism’s legacy to environmentalism hyperbole to our current debate on the so-called Islamic threat.

Having read and re-read every word, tweaking endlessly, I can honestly admit that each time drew me in deeper to the character of the nation I proudly call home. Most importantly, it serves as a kick-in-the-pants to start discussing how we got here and where we want to go. Each chapter and episode can serve as a talking point with family, friends, and co-workers about the circumstances behind our history, and the wonderful fact that something essential about America makes this, still, the greatest country on earth.

Isn’t it worth a little bit of daring and political in-correctness to keep America’s wonderful journey on track by starting the dialog?

America’s Journey: Underdog to Overlord, Regrets to Rebirth is available wherever books are sold in both paperback (ISBN 978-1983717116) and eBook formats. An audiobook version recorded by Rich will be available Summer, 2018. Rich Trzupek is also donating a portion of each book sale to the Wounded Warrior Project. You can find out more on his website.

Defending Silicon Valley’s Professional Men, not “Bros”

The Golden State of California faces a dilemma. Silicon Valley’s money-making (and tax-revenue generating) culture is under attack by an amorphous group of women, who claim they are ignored, abused, and powerless. Always have been, always will be.

I dare to disagree.

If there is a “bro” culture in Silicon Valley, there is also a “sis” culture. Both reflect an immaturity in dealing with the realities of what it takes to create lasting value in today’s global business world.

Silicon Valley’s roots in military and “hard” sciences paralleled the dominance of those fields by men. The first tech entrepreneurs held advanced degrees in physics or chemistry, were often ex-military, and delivered on defense contracts in the middle of the Cold War. Hardware engineering and manufacturing dominated the region through the 1980’s, career fields women typically didn’t pursue, myself included. Therefore, the experience and wealth created prior to 2000 was mainly earned, rightfully so, by men. They re-invested their time and money to create each subsequent boom, earning healthy returns on that investment, and created extraordinary technology we depend on daily.

There were a few of us women promoted to the executive suites and venture capital offices in the ’90’s. Succeeding in the “man’s world” was a lot tougher than the feminist movement promised. We became focused, hard-hitting, professional, and nimble. During meeting breaks, when men continued their conversations into the restroom, I realized that whining about any unfair advantage got me nowhere. I had to be direct and ask what was discussed, develop key allies, and trust my instincts. Sometimes I was wrong. That is the essence of achievement—learning from mistakes.

When passed over for a promotion or funding, in today’s “sis” culture it is all too easy to blame discrimination. However, there are usually multiple male candidates for that same position or investment. What can they point to as the reason they failed to get ahead? Results-orientation, interpersonal skills, ambition—all these are characteristics needed in the intensely competitive and dynamic market of technology. This is a rough-and-tumble world, where boys become men or don’t make it as leaders. Many women are unprepared for, or shy away from, that kind of competition, hard work, and risk-taking.

The reality is that any time off, from family leave to vacations, may leave a worker vulnerable to not gaining key experience, or missing a great opportunity to shine and be more promotable. That’s life. Making those kinds of choices is a freedom we all have. I didn’t take a single week of vacation my entire corporate career, only an occasional Friday or Monday holiday. Many thought I was crazy. Yet that allowed me to rise to be the only woman in a roomful of men, and usually the youngest, too.

In my experience, Silicon Valley’s professional men are fully aware of women’s strengths and contributions to their business, and readily seek out those who can contribute to bottom-line profits. But women often are afraid to confirm their own value, sitting back and waiting for a promotion to be handed to them instead of asking for it. Perhaps they don’t want to face “No”, taking it as personal rejection instead of the truth: some man or woman worked harder, developed better skills, or studied more relevant courses in college. What makes one person right for a specific job is nuanced, and can’t be dictated based on the whims of a Twitter-storm against some perceived Boy’s Club “Brotopia.”

Too many women are choosing to wield the power of public opinion, government regulations, and attorneys to protect them from these supposed “bro” bullies, threatening retribution based on innuendo, false expectations, vague promises, and unprovable claims. They seek equality of condition, not equality of opportunity. Women do have power and justifiable recourse through management and/or human resources, and ultimately our legal system. But it is as wrong to exploit the law for vengeance, or to compensate for one’s own foolhardy decisions, as it is to exploit gender-specific restroom chats. And men can hardly be blamed today if they fear entrapment and false accusations. Current events prove just how easily a career can be destroyed with careless words or purposeful vindictiveness.

The problem is a lack of professionalism all around.

Unfortunately, professionalism is such a vague term that it is hard to challenge specific behavior inappropriate to today’s fluid workplace setting. Ideally, experienced men should be mentoring the younger generation of boisterous males in how to behave around co-workers. But experienced women should also be teaching young females how to handle dicey situations that are bound to arise. Naïveté is no excuse once you’re an adult. This is serious work, not play. No more cocooned university campus. No more Mom and Dad running interference. Casual dress code or an off-site meeting does not mean anything goes. There are real consequences for your choices.

The most unfortunate outcome of the current outcry against sexual discrimination, harassment, abuse, assault, and outright rape is that they have all become intermixed as one big horror. We have laws defining each situation and remedies to handle them as best we can using facts, not emotion. They won’t prevent bad actors and unprofessional behavior, unfortunately, but there are established procedures in order to separate immature actions from civil and criminal wrongdoing. Besides, if you don’t like where you are working in Silicon Valley, quit. Both men and women have done that for years. In fact, many successful entrepreneurs got their start because the working environment was not to their liking.

California’s reputation as a mythical land of milk and honey, formed centuries ago, continues to this day. Utopia in any form doesn’t exist. Nor do unicorns. Women who believe that they deserve wealth simply for landing a job in tech will be just as disappointed as the majority of men. It’s a mirage. Wealth is earned through hard work, skills, luck, and timing. It is never just handed to you. If you face that truth, you might have a fighting chance to succeed.

 

Ann Bridges depicts the issue of workplace sexual harassment in her Silicon Valley novel, Private Offerings, named a 2015 Best Business Fiction, and emphasizes the importance of professionalism in the workplace to college audiences and others.

ENGAGE IN OUR FUTURE WAR, OR ELSE…

Engage! That is the premise of fellow author and retired US Air Force Major General Robert H. Latiff, Ph.D, in his newly-released book Future War: Preparing the for New Global Battlefield. It’s not often someone so highly regarded simply pleads for help, but that is General Latiff’s most salient message. And I, for one, listen.

Technology has changed warfare in ways the average citizen barely comprehends. Each day dizzying choices become available to defense contractors, Pentagon procurement officials, and our elected representatives. Who can understand the impact on our very human warriors of the complexities and consequences of battlefield-performance-enhancing drugs, “intelligent” drones armed with lethal force, split-second orders to destroy based on networked—even crowd-sourced—statistical probabilities rather than the situation at hand, and robotic teammates “watching your six”?

Yet, according to General Latiff, we ask our fighting men and women to go into battle ever more frequently, trusting that the tools we hand them are somehow vetted as the right ones, that their orders are honorable, and that their actions are sanctioned by at least a majority of the citizenry they are sworn to defend.

We ask them to fight our wars for us without engaging in any debate about the ethics of today’s technology-enhanced actions and the costs to their lives…and souls.

Inventors tend to shrug and answer that the solution is ever more technology, more precise weaponry, melding of man and machine in ways that come right out of the pages of 20th century science fiction. Whether it is the Terminator’s Skynet, Star Trek’s Borg, or 2001’s H.A.L., the implications are clear. If we as citizens do not take the time to control our own fate, we are surely allowing a small group of scientists and their love affair with intelligent machines to dictate our future, and eventually run our lives. The institutions we rely on have abdicated their oversight responsibility for so many decades that the memory of such passionate, historical debates has faded completely.

No, I am not an alarmist nor a Luddite. But I, too, have found a lack of ethical consciousness and moral framework throughout Silicon Valley, where chasing wealth dominates discussions of societal priorities. Not all engineers and scientists do, but far too many, especially of the younger generation. Whether due to hubris that some other genius will solve whatever problems crop up, or a passionate quest to destroy previous generations’ flawed, human-based governmental structures and replace them with supposedly neutral machines, there is a significant lack of interest to face and openly deal with the philosophical, ethical, and political implications of their breakthrough ideas, and the world they spawn.

In Future War, General Latiff smartly focuses on the human element of war, and finds America singularly lacking in notions of values and morality. Not just in education, which is woeful enough, but in its citizens’ will to study, consider, debate, and actively choose what both the purpose and nature of future conflicts should be when we put machines between us and our enemy. National defense or national security? Police actions or humanitarian missions? Torture or passivity? Do we develop horrific new weaponry first, or be sitting ducks to nations who beat us to it? Has our own familiarity and comfort with the advantages of technology made us complacent to its evil side?

He sprinkles his chapters with unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable) questions such as these, recognizing it is not the military’s place to be the sole arbiter of right and wrong. However, nor is it the place of the elite few who grasp technology’s power and may use it for nefarious purposes, with or without our consent. Government of, for, and by the people requires involvement and engagement by all Americans. For a truly scary science-fiction scenario, I point you to Dave Eggers’ The Circle, a dystopian peek into the future, supposedly loosely based on conversations with tech leaders who by now have attained celebrity status with political aspirations, like Facebook’s Zuckerburg. As Chicago columnist Mike Royko famously said, “I may be wrong, but I doubt it.”

In a world dominated by fake news and entertainment-oriented media, those of us committed to an ethical, values-based future must stand up now and demand a considered thought process behind our rapid deployment of this new technology. As we speak, wars no longer are fought on delineated battlefields between nations over disputed territories, but rather in the world of cyberspace to create economic and psychological harm. How can any military deploy and defend against an invisible entity on an instantaneous, global battlefield? What do we really want our professionally trained soldiers to do on our behalf?

Whether we like it or not, we all have become citizen soldiers: fighting for truth from our media, justice for all, constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, and property rights in a world that has become increasingly reliant on a virtual network of bits and bytes. At what point could a network virus wipe out all records of your savings account, convert it to Bit Coin, or demand a ransom to release your funds? What if a single foreign hacker who wants to cause chaos throughout America is the sole person to blame?

Is that war? Do we send a drone to assassinate him or her? Are you ready to defend yourself, your rights, and your property as if it were war?

Or are you calling on our military to solve this attack on your behalf? How much is it worth to you in dollars, effort, and conscience? Where will you draw the line on your own civil liberties if the most effective technology has dire consequences here at home?

Alternatively, will you keep your eyes trained on your smartphone, reading Tweets and watching YouTube videos, preferring to keep your head buried in the sand because, in the end, you realize you sealed your own fate by not caring until it’s too late?

Dr. Latiff has asked for our help debating this matter, as we have asked him and his fellow military personnel for help defending us.

Isn’t it our turn to serve?

 

For the record, last year General Latiff endorsed Rare Mettle: A Silicon Valley Novel, for which I am eternally humbled and grateful.

 

Trusting Laws & the Judiciary

https://calisphere.org/item/ac3c1fe8f56eee08d6399b0b9c6421b6/

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I share an excerpt from my newest novel, Kit’s Mine, the story of how a native Californio dealt with the changing times of 1870 California. The heroine, Kit, is fighting alongside Michael for their right to own land. She makes a passionate argument for respect of the law and begs for fairness within the judicial system:

“While I don’t agree the current law is correct in denying some people land ownership, I do believe in enforcing all laws equally and in the spirit in which they were created.” Kit indicated Michael and herself. “In this case, for the land to belong to people who are willing to work it, contributing to our country’s overall wealth. This Homestead law also sets forth that land ownership should not be concentrated in the name of a few, while the rest of the population labors for token wages.”

“Your honor,” Diego sneered. “What relevance is this to our case?”

“I’ll let her continue.” Judge Hancock waved Diego off.

With ruddy cheeks, Diego tugged on his jacket lapels and glowered at her.

Confidence strengthened her spine. She leveled her finger at Diego. “If you allow this officer of the court to bend the law to increase his personal wealth by virtually robbing people who trust in its fairness, you will undermine the entire country’s homestead system.” She aimed her thumb toward the rapt courtroom listeners. “Then what’s the point in anyone respecting the law? Why won’t each person claim land at gunpoint, spending the rest of his years defending the land instead of working it? Where is the promise of this country if we allow the legal system to be abused in this manner by a lone individual?”

Even if the law couldn’t help Papa, her insights might—just might—bear out Michael’s case if she presented a clear argument. Heart pounding, Kit slid the scarf from her shoulders.

“The San Francisco court kept their decision uncomplicated: a son should inherit the land his father claimed and worked,” she said. “Is it proper that this court simply overturns that court based on the testimony of a solitary man whose motives are suspect?”

“Your honor.” Diego hammered his knuckles on the wooden surface in a continuous beat.

She ignored his interruption. “What will keep another court from overturning this court? Won’t it only end when the courts themselves respect the rulings of their fellow judges upholding the true spirit of the law?”

Sweeping her arm toward the agape crowd, Kit raised her voice. “Otherwise, the rest of us will simply function outside the law, developing special rules to suit our situations. Only if you ratify the rulings of other courts will we be able to rely on uniform justice. Then we can work our land, trusting that a wealthy individual with political connections we don’t have, cannot take it from us capriciously. Isn’t that what this country is about?”

Image Courtesy of Calisphere Project

Land Speculators in California

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I share an excerpt from my newest novel, Kit’s Mine, the story of how a native Californio dealt with the changing times of 1870 California. Determining the legal status of land kept lawyers, both good and bad, employed for decades resolving clear title:

“Your honor, I possess evidence that Diego Salazar was involved in a scheme to unscrupulously wrest land from the rightful owner by abusing the law.” Michael brandished the thugs’ documents. “Diego offered to represent Abigail Jenkins in her title claim, and then delayed getting a fair hearing to resolve the dispute. During the drawn-out process, he charged fees for his time, which eventually became more than Mrs. Jenkins could afford, thus resulting in her land being titled to Diego as payment for his so-called services.” He paused, gauging the effect of his words on Judge Hancock and Diego.

Nothing. Their faces remained impassive. This tactic wasn’t working!

Michael’s heartbeat accelerated. He faked an outward calm. “This is one of many times Diego acquired land by this method—including through my mother. I’ve uncovered in this court’s records specific instances proving he and his business partners colluded illegally.” He met the judge’s gaze squarely. “Other lawyers are involved who are in a position to influence the outcome of the ownership of the land.”

“Your honor, he is calling me a land swindler.” Diego banged his fist so hard the table skittered on the wooden floor. “I am not.”

“What do you call it when you flagrantly take land you had no role in developing, and deny the rightful claimant what they worked years to achieve?” Michael asked, girding for the worst.

“I charge fairly for my services as an attorney,” Diego said. “It is not my fault the title process takes a long time to reach a decision. If my clients wish to hire me to help keep their land, that is their business. And if I accept payment in land, that is mine.”

Michael pursued the logic with dogged relentlessness. “And if you flip the ownership of that property to another man in return for a favor he does for you—for example, in politics—that is also your business, is that correct?”

“Yes, it is.”

Michael restrained a gratified smile at Diego’s hasty retort. “Your honor, I believe California has an interest in keeping speculation at bay. The law states its intention to keep the land for settlers to develop as homesteads. If my stepfather’s interest here is to line his pockets with money or favors, doesn’t that fall into the category of land speculation?”

Image courtesy of Calisphere Project.

California’s Winners and Losers

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I share an excerpt from my newest novel, Kit’s Mine, the story of how a native Californio dealt with the changing times of 1870 California. Individual property ownership offered by America’s Homestead Act was a new concept for Spanish and Mexicans. The Spanish mercantilism system of granting large tracts of land to favored citizens who in turn hired employees to work it, or at best rented the land in return for a share of crops, was profitable for the landowner. However, it kept the lower and middle classes beholden to the upper class forever, with no chance for improving their lots:

“Actually, Kit is excited by the challenge of our new venture as property owners,” Michael said. “We both believe in America’s laws encouraging people to develop their own land, instead of working to increase its worth for a landlord, as they do in Mexico and Spain.”

A solicitous waiter approached and hovered near Diego’s elbow. Michael waved him off.

“That’s idealistic, Miguel,” Diego replied. “You’ll soon find that this country, identical to others, prefers its property owned by moneyed citizens. There is no value in simpletons establishing a home merely for the sake of ownership. People should leave that to educated gentlemen who turn land into productive assets for the greater good. Besides, working your individual ranch like a slave is not a pathway to become influential in society.”

Michael itched to pop Diego’s smirking ego. “Why would I want influence in your piddling circle? From what I’ve seen, the corruption of these so-called gentlemen is worse than among common prisoners. If your great society continues demeaning the hard-working folk, how will you and your kind find more to exploit?”

Kit nodded her discreet approval.

Michael rested his forearms on the tabletop, drilling Diego with his gaze. “Who will work the land for you, produce your food, and build the railroads so you can travel quickly to Washington in comfort? Or build your fancy homes and take care of your children so you can entertain lavishly to impress your powerful friends? Who will you be influencing but each other, once people refuse to work for you anymore?”

“You think you’re able to change society from the outside by working hard on your land, instead of letting the cream of society make improvements from the inside?” Diego’s loud laugh filled the dining room.

Image courtesy of Calisphere Project.

The Legacy of Don Quixote

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I share an excerpt from my newest novel, Kit’s Mine, the story of how a native Californio dealt with the changing times of 1870 California. Rarely understood is the role of the Spanish culture in California beyond the numerous Catholic Missions dotting the coastal regions. However, Miquel Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a centuries-long bestseller, stands the test of time:

Kit sighed. “I want a chance—just a single chance—to work for myself and succeed by doing my best. I have to own my property, so a landlord or employer or the government cannot take it from me by force, or by edict, or by an awful law targeting me or my family.” She paused, searching for the precise words.

“There was a book Papa read every day for inspiration,” she continued. “There was one line it he loved, and I memorized it. ‘I was born free, and that I might live in freedom I chose the solitude of the fields.’

“That’s from Don Quixote! How did your father know of a book written by a Spaniard?”

“I guess because Spanish missionaries educated him. I’m glad you know it in such detail, too.” Kit recalled her whispered response to Mama on her deathbed, her promise to resurrect Mama’s dream of a home, and the addition of her private quest.

“I crave true freedom and working among people I respect,” she said. “I thought the modern laws of California and America would protect me and give me that opportunity. Is that such a far-fetched possibility, or must I choose solitude, too?”

Her somber question drifted into the night.

“No matter the good intentions, the laws in this state don’t work,” he said. “They’ve created a lot of chaos and grabbing, with the strongest man winning.”

“And what happens to women?”

He interlinked her fingers with his. “Usually women win less than men. I’ve seen it work through marriage, though Mother’s experience was horrendous.”

Michael remembered the rest of the novel’s passage. ‘My taste is for freedom…’ Father had drilled Michael in detail on that fundamental reason behind Mexico’s declaration of independence from Spain, and lauded America’s Constitution as the noblest framework to ensure freedom for all its citizens. Undoubtedly, Father would be outraged at the poor treatment of the Spanish and Mexicans, as well as Chinese.

“Each of us comes from a unique background,” he said. “Our values conflict at times. It’s simply a matter of who’s writing the rules today. When my parents married, being a Californio was a matter of pride, combining the finest of Spanish and Mexican. After thousands of white people settled from the East, our heritage became a matter of shame. My parents didn’t change—the social norm did.”

Image courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

California’s First Ranchers

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I share an excerpt from my newest novel, Kit’s Mine, the story of how a native Californio dealt with the changing times of 1870 California as he partnered with a young woman seeking justice, too. Laws enacted for the betterment of the Eastern settlers failed to treat fairly the native ranchers struggling to adapt to their new country’s government and laws:

“I raised and trained all the horses on the ranch,” Michael said. “My parents owned the original stock, not Diego. Any horse is as much mine as his. I only took Midnight when I left, no mares. Diego should be willing to loan me another horse.”

“Why do you believe that?” Kit asked.

“Because it’s part of our Mexican heritage. The original rancheros swapped tired horses for fresh, no matter on whose property they grazed, no questions asked. Why wouldn’t he?”

“Well, will he?”

“He’ll want me groveling and begging for a favor first, so he can feel I’m at his mercy.” He raked his hair with both hands.

“I gather you and Diego don’t get along,” she said.

“We’ve fought since the day Mother first employed him to defend her land in court, just weeks after Father died.” He cleared his throat. “It’s been twelve years, and I still miss him.”

Kit stared into the flames illuminating their campsite, sensing his sorrow. An owl hooted, and the nighttime rustle of squirrels faded. “If you and Diego fight, why did your mother marry him?”

“The ranch was already too much for her to oversee alone. The new law went into effect requiring proof of title to her land, and she didn’t know what else to do.” Resentment colored his low voice.

“Which law?” she asked. “The California Land Act?”

“Yes, that was the one.” Surprise crossed his features. He couldn’t know her parents often discussed the complexities of that and other detestable laws over their campfire.

Michael continued. “Mother inherited her grandparents’ ranch. You see, the government in Spain gave it to them before Mexico declared its independence. The Mexican government never questioned her ownership. But when California became an American state, Mother had to prove she owned the land legally. It got complicated because she was considered Spanish, not Mexican.”

“What difference did that make? I thought America accepted everyone. Well, everyone except Chinese.”

“Oh, we were accepted as American citizens, just not landowners. Easterners settled on their pick of land, and demanded official deeds and documents. Mother didn’t have formal records, though her family lived on our ranch for decades. She hired a lawyer—Diego—and eventually won. Afterward, she owed him a fortune in legal fees. She married him to keep a roof over my head.”

Image courtesy of Calisphere Project.

The Chivalrous Californio

Rinaldo Cuneo, Bay Area Hills

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I share an excerpt from my newest novel, Kit’s Mine, the story of how a native Californio dealt with the changing times of 1870 California. His heroic and chivalrous behavior, a blend of his Spanish-Mexican cultural heritage, is at odds with the nefarious schemes of his stepfather:

Adjusting his wide-brimmed hat, Michael headed southeast through the streets of San Francisco. The fog’s chilly arms enveloped the sun, robbing his warmth. A putrid stench from muddy sewers offended his nostrils every time he inhaled. He quickened his pace toward the wharves and clean sea air.

He had spent three days in the stifling courthouse with other disillusioned Californios, Spanish- and Mexican-Americans like himself, battling the arcane mix of laws that purportedly established rightful ownership of land they had worked and lived on for decades. So many had already lost their abundant ranch lands to the flood of Eastern settlers, unable to cope with changing rules that favored a different faction every few months.

Jamming his fingers into his trousers’ pocket, Michael patted his lawful title of land in Gold Country, officially documented in his new identity, not tied to his stepfather at all. Any association to Diego Salazar and his infamous cold-bloodedness repulsed him.

He marked off the time in cadence with his footsteps. Twelve years to escape from under Diego’s thumb. Six years to win his inherited land in Gold Country, in spite of Diego’s loathsome tactics. Two years to fulfill his deathbed promise to his mother. Just a mite longer and he could finally step foot on Father’s bequeathed land, free to start a new ranch as he saw fit.

“Michael Rivers. Michael Rivers. Michael Rivers.” He practiced the new moniker under his breath. Americanizing his name still honored Father’s heritage. He’d insisted his son learn perfect English to adapt to their latest government. Miguel de Los Rios no longer existed.

His father’s friends had resettled in Mexico once war with America broke out. After he died and Mother remarried, her remaining neighbors bowed before Diego’s ruthlessness. Michael suspected Diego’s influence among the powerful in San Jose and beyond started with opportunistic land dealings. They continued through unethical arrangements taking advantage of ever-changing leadership, as California became America’s golden child. Not one person would risk financial ruin from Diego’s or his cronies’ retribution, not even as a favor to Michael.

Image courtesy of Rinaldo Cuneo, Bay Area Hills

CONTEXTS FOR FUTURE WAR

Combo REE Books v4

The role of novelists has always been to transport the public to an imaginary place—fantastical islands, super-hero worlds, gritty neighborhoods, and now, ominous futures. The best fiction writers conduct thorough research, basing their creative suppositions on facts, even when those facts seem as far-fetched as make-believe characters. Non-fiction writers and careful scientists vet those facts later, and often prove the point of the novelists.

When I began my research into the huge implications of America’s reliance on rare earth metals back in 2011, I had no idea the scope of the issue beyond Silicon Valley’s myopia and careless shrug that someone else would deal with it. The fact that China had indeed muscled Japan into capitulation by embargoing their supply of critical materials necessary for the success of their technology companies was ignored. Instead, more manufacturing moved to China, and we became increasingly dependent on China’s goodwill to build our smartphones, MRIs, wind turbines, batteries, and laser-guided missiles—and more.

Here is a list of writers equally concerned about a future based on technologies over which we have so little understanding or control.

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War  (6/15) shook the American military establishment with its extrapolation of what might happen under current-day policies and underestimation of China’s ability to dominate the next world war, if it so chooses. Set partly in outer space, partly in the Arctic Circle, and in the eerily familiar San Francisco Bay at its mothball fleet (hence the book’s title), it catapults us into a very scary future. Its co-authors, Pete Swinger and August Cole are experts in their field of anticipating future wars and our growing reliance on technology in conflicts.

As I pursued additional details, I uncovered a kindred author, David S. Abraham, who like me was working very hard to explain these complex scientific and political topics in easy-to-understand language and essential metaphors. David likens rare earth metals relationship to technology as yeast is to pizza: invisible, but essential to the final product that we know and love. His non-fiction book, The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age  (10/15), sets the factual stage for a brand new world of changing alliances and warfare over tiny minerals rather than oil or water, and seeks solutions for mankind as well as our environment.

Seven months later, my publisher was willing to launch a book on this controversial topic in the middle of a turbulent election year when future foreign policies were still unknown. Rare Mettle: A Silicon Valley Novel  (5/16) hit the shelves worldwide after receiving accolades and endorsements from global mining, military, and political experts. I originally envisioned it as an unlikely worst-case scenario, but as China stepped up its military presence in the South China Sea and continues posturing as the rightful governor of the surrounding region, it seems my fictional story could indeed come true. Its basic premise: what would happen to our technology companies, our military, and our way of life if China decided to halt its shipments of rare-earth-based products due to a political dispute over arms sales to Taiwan?

Fast forward to June of 2017, with a new administration setting the tone to take on China directly, bring manufacturing back to our shores, re-start our mining efforts, and rollback regulations throttling our energy independence—and perhaps more. Sellout: How Washington Gave Away America’s Technological Soul, and One Man’s Fight to Bring It Home  (6/17) brings my Washington insider Jim Kennedy’s story into the spotlight. Award-winning journalist Victoria Bruce shares Jim’s story of a committed patriot working incessantly to shake Congress and the Pentagon establishment to wake up to how reliant we have become on China for our very freedom and way of life. The status quo has failed us, China has outwitted us by using market forces against us, and no one seems to have an answer—except Jim and his unorthodox cadre of patriots.

And next up, another of Rare Mettle’s endorsers, Future War: Preparing for the New Global Battlefield  (9/17) by Major General (retired) Robert H. Latiff. With over 30 years serving our country, including a stint as commander of Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, his endorsement of Rare Mettle was a true honor: “a plausible and frightening story about America’s absolute dependence on Chinese rare earth metals and the head-in-the-sand behavior of Silicon Valley elites and DOD bureaucrats when all the warning signals were flashing red.” His own ethics-based book on what the state of war is and should be is worth reading and considering, before it’s too late.

What do these books have in common? A drumbeat of people outside the political establishment, all warning that the 15-second soundbites and 140-character tweets are no substitute for grounding yourself on what future conflicts will look like.

After 9/11, everyone cried, “Why didn’t someone connect the dots?” Here are the dots, in a perfect timeline spanning years, yet very few of our citizens are aware of our current danger.

Please read these books, write reviews, share with your friends, talk with your co-workers, and raise the rallying cry of these six authors. With foreboding, we present the contexts for future war with the hope that understanding the realities of situation may galvanize action to mitigate risks and secure our prosperity for generations to come.

Juneteenth’s Forgotten Slaves

Soon the country will focus on recognizing the week in 1865 that slaves were granted their freedom in all Confederate States. Juneteenth festivities hold special meaning for the African-American community, a way to mark the end of their ancestors’ unjustified enslavement and salute their many achievements.

However, it is incorrect to celebrate the end of all slavery in the United States at that time.

Close reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation divulges that he only freed those slaves held in the states that seceded from the Union. Excluded were slaves in loyal Union states like California, or residing in the specific counties of border states.

The sad aftermath of California’s 19th century Gold Rush included an unprecedented wave of laws and sanctioned discrimination against Chinese immigrants for decades. Women shipped from China served as slaves, both domestic and sexual, at a time when men outnumbered women in the region by almost 100 to 1. In fact, auctioning Chinese was commonplace on the streets of San Francisco as late as 1870.

The foreign customs and odd appearance of the Chinese made them scapegoats for any number of accusations and mob rule, detailed in this blog post.

Chinese Slavery Images

My most recent novel, Kit’s Mine, explores the plight of a Chinese-American woman escaping enslavement and fighting to gain control of her family’s gold mine. My purpose in writing this story was to shed a light on these buried facts and make history relevant again.

This month, it seems only appropriate to reflect on our treatment of our Chinese-heritage population, especially with the current discussions on immigration and naturalization policies, taxation, property ownership and the American Dream, and human trafficking.

And, with today’s bumpy relationship with China, it also seems timely to share the reasons behind some of the antagonism between our countries. America denied citizenship to Chinese immigrants until 1943, almost 100 years after the Gold Rush first attracted Chinese workers to California, and eighty years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

Let’s learn and share these little known facts, and never forget.

“Rare Mettle” Endorsed by Jim Kennedy of “Sellout”

Jim Kennedy, featured in Victoria Bruce’s Sellout for his unique courage standing up to Washington D.C.’s bureaucracy, was one of my early endorsers of Rare Mettle: A Silicon Valley Novel.

Like me, he realized that bringing this arcane topic to the attention of the average consumer would be tough. A suspense thriller set against the backdrop of Silicon Valley, Washington D.C, and the vast regions of China were probably NOT what he imagined might work. However, we were both determined to help people understand the consequences of our reliance on China’s dominance of purified rare earth metals, the building blocks of ALL our advanced technology products: MRIs, electric car batteries, laser-guided missiles, wind turbines–even electric toothbrushes.

The American consumer has proven to make wise choices once educated on an issue. We have lessened our dependence of OPEC-dominated fossil fuels, our desire for blood diamonds from Africa, and are willing to pay more for sustainable coffee farming in South and Central America in order to combat the drug trade.

Are we willing to sacrifice to maintain our lead in technology, education, and our freedom to innovate, or will our children’s future be determined by China?

I’m proud and honored to share what Jim had to say about Rare Mettle:

“Ann Bridges’ exciting, reality-based Rare Mettle is packed full of corporate and government agents engaged in an economic and geopolitical battle across cultures and vast geography. Based on extensive research, and including insider conversations, her story foretells America’s weaknesses and possible consequences of decades-long, compromising policies chasing China’s cheap manufacturing promises and stable global alliances.

But what adds an element of timeliness and relevance is that the underlying technical facts setting these fictional players into motion are true; therefore, her depiction of the current commercial and National Security situation is accurate, valid and deeply relevant to U.S. economic standing in the world. This, of course, impacts the lives of every American alive today, and will define the lives and futures of our children.

Through its compelling characters, Rare Mettle presents a frighteningly disturbing, first-hand account of institutionalized policy failure that has in fact taken place at the highest levels of the United States government.” —James C. Kennedy, President ThREEConsulting.com, St. Louis Missouri.

Let’s make a difference and support a sustainable domestic solution for rare earths, too. You can learn more from the list of resources publicly available.

Both Sellout and Rare Mettle are available wherever books are sold.

“SELLOUT” INTRODUCES JIM KENNEDY, D.C. SOURCE FOR “RARE METTLE”

Celebration time!

Jim Kennedy, my inside source for much of the Washington D.C. intrigue and Pentagon cover-up fictionalized in Rare Mettle, is the subject of a new non-fiction exposé. Sellout, by Victoria Bruce, details his years-long quest to bring to light America’s foolhardy reliance on China for the future of clean energy and the elements essential to high tech industries and national defense.

When Jim first agreed to cast his expert eye over my rough draft of Rare Mettle to vet the details of rare earth metals and their importance to Silicon Valley, neither of us expected future collaboration. Yet his descriptions of his meetings with high-level Defense appointees and members of the U.S. Congress, and the resistance he encountered to confront our growing dependence on China for our national security, galvanized me to rip apart Rare Mettle to incorporate what was really happening in the Beltway.

Here’s an excerpt from Rare Mettle that Jim helped me craft:

“Gonna take more than a civvy’s word to blow open the cover-up going on at the Pentagon, son.”

“Cover-up?” Paul pitched his voice lower. “What are you talking about, Colonel?”

“Warfare 101, Lieutenant.” DuMont took on the sonorous tones of a classroom lecturer. “Have you forgotten the basics of your military training? Modern warfare is based on logistics and procurement. How the fuck can we make sure we have the weapons we need if we rely on a foreign power to provide them to us?” His heavy sigh echoed in Paul’s ear. “At least that’s the argument I made to my CO. Then he handed me my walking papers and wished me a happy retirement.”

“Are you telling me they pushed you out because you brought to their attention a potential issue of national security?” Paul’s brain raced at the implications.

“I’m telling you that the fate of this nation hangs on whether our military can actually get its hands on critical high-tech gear when we need it, not when China decides to process metals for our defense contractors,” DuMont barked.

The cabbie revved his engine at a stoplight with matching urgency.

“But the rare earth mines that operate outside of China are our back-up!” Paul’s protest sounded lame even to his own ears.

DuMont snorted. “None of those operations have the metallurgical capabilities the defense industry needs. Only China does.”

“Which means?”

“Figure it out, Lieutenant. Your goddamn intelligence services have reported on increases in non-Chinese rare earth production, sure. But they failed to point out that all those producers still send their raw materials to China to be upgraded and refined for our newest weaponry.”

“So any non-Chinese rare earths production is basically worthless to our defense and technology companies until China gets its hands on it…Whoa…”

“Son, what I’m about to tell you is confidential. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.” Paul threw an ironic glance up at the Watergate Complex towering above, recalling its tainted history of Washington secrets and political ambitions. For a brief moment, he considered ending the call abruptly and avoiding the truth altogether.

No, DuMont deserved a full hearing after his years of dedicated service.

“Last month, I met with the Assistant Secretary of Defense, along with a top metallurgist and one of his own Asia policy experts,” DuMont said. “Do you know what that asshole said to my face?”

“I’m assuming you mean the Assistant Secretary,” Paul said with a wry twist of his lips.

“Actually, they all meet that description.” DuMont chuckled. “But yeah, the Assistant Secretary had the balls to look me in the eye and tell me that all our weapons still work without rare earths. That’s the official policy of the Pentagon.”

“In other words, ‘Shut the fuck up.’”

“Yep. While it’s true that some of our older weapon systems will work in a degraded form without rare earths, none of our laser-based systems will work at all. All those new, precision-guided weapons relying on surgical targeting won’t perform worth a damn. I should know. I spent half of my career searching out the technology to give America’s military a leading edge.”

Paul swallowed hard. “Sir, I hope you won’t take offense at this, but how the hell can you just retire knowing he flat out lied to you?”

“Oh, I still have a few friends in Congress who keep a close eye on the goings-on at the Executive Branch. They tracked down whether your agency’s documentation in the Congressional Armed Services Committee reports had ever seen the light of day.”

“And?”

“Nope. Edited out. Plus, a staffer told me that asshole Assistant Secretary met with the ranking members of the committee just last week and reaffirmed the Pentagon’s official position on rare earths. So he lied to Congress, too.” DuMont tutted.

Holy shit.

DuMont was right. Most of today’s military hardware increasingly relied on rare earth metals. And the Pentagon was engaged in a cover-up that included lying to Congress about their significance and its impact on national security.

The Pentagon, the most respected bureaucratic organization in the world, had lost control of its own procurement process—and to China, no less. Acknowledging that failure could embolden our enemies. The single most important building block of a successful military is logistics, starting with identifying and securing uninterruptable supply lines. No beans, no bullets—no army.

No one’s Beltway career could survive a failure of this magnitude. They had to cover it up.

Fortunately, my publisher blessed the changes and risked the controversy my novel would bring during the 2016 election cycle, including to Silicon Valley executives who ignore the negative consequences of global trade on national defense contractors. Since then, Jim and I have worked hard to raise public and consumer awareness of the importance of rare earth metals to maintaining America’s leadership position in technology and clean energy.

More facts about rare earth, and Jim Kennedys hard work creating cooperative alliances can be found on my website. Rare Mettle and Sellout are available wherever books are sold.

Silicon Valley novelist Ann Bridges writes untold stories that mainstream media won’t cover or doesn’t understand. Her debut novel, Private Offerings, was named 2015 Best Business Fiction by Wealth Management Magazine. Its sequel, Rare Mettle, was acclaimed by both military and industry professionals for its authenticity and cautionary warning. Visit her website to find out more.

THE CALIFORNIA SWAGGER—OR IS IT BULLYING?

California’s influence in the world is renowned. A thing of awe. Silicon Valley continues to inspire and attract the brightest of minds, the most risk-tolerant investors. Hollywood movies and celebrities spread their messages, both good and bad, to palm-sized screens in tiny snippets and full-length features. Political movements have started on the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley, carried on a wave of idealistic fervor.

Has the trademark California swagger turned into intolerant bullying?

Perhaps Californians have gone too far wielding their power over the rest of America.

California’s legacy as the most powerful state came about in the 19th century when politicians lusted after its gold, and the power it could bring. Courted by both the North and the South, it eventually joined the Union cause, and its northern gold mines funded the Civil War effort. The infamous San Francisco Robber Barons leveraged their political clout to help fund their preferred northern route of the transcontinental railroad, bringing the traffic and trade to them, and leaving the southern half of the state to languish for decades longer.

Fast forward through the influence of the movies and television, the automobile culture, the growth of trade unions, the development of the transistor and electronics, free speech protections, environmental regulations, organic food, gay marriage. Trend-setting and innovative, yes. Yet the strength and scope of these movements grew partly because of the sheer geographic size and ever-growing population, dominating the rest of America’s elected officials.

As a long-time transplant, I sometimes wonder how I would feel if I didn’t live in California. How much would I resent the constant change, the myopia of the technologists, the “holier-than-thou” attitude of so many living in this weather paradise?

At some point, California visionaries and moneymakers need to have patience, and wait for the rest of the world to catch a breath and learn how to adapt.

At some point, they need to keep their vision balanced with the perspective of others sharing the same Constitution, the same set of federal laws, the same political process to accomplish goals.

Or, at some point, they may find themselves labelled bullies, not leaders, the few rich and powerful so out of step with the rest of us that their influence will be a historical footnote…or a storyteller’s dream.

 

Author Ann Bridges writes untold stories of Northern California. Just released, Kit’s Mine: A Daring California Novel, explores the fight of the Gold Rush losers for justice and respect.

 

WHO OWNS CALIFORNIA?

In this era of high property values and the chase of the traditional American Dream of home ownership, it is always good to check our premises, and the veracity of our school textbooks.

California’s rapid path to statehood in the mid-19th century came at the expense of many of the original settlers here. Spanish and Mexican “Californios” migrated north when this land was neither your land, nor my land—but rather their land. The Spanish crown granted huge tracts to favored families, who joined with the Catholic missionaries to develop California’s promise.

When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, it encouraged additional northern exploration and migration, especially since Spain understandably withdrew its support of the missions and their surrounding communities. The more moderate weather and vast ranch land proved bountiful for those who chose to stay, and the search for a new supply of quicksilver and gold attracted geologists and speculators.

The Mexican-American War, 1846-1848, ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 just nine days after the famous gold find in Sutter’s Mill, California. The 19th century Gold Rush began, and soon California’s original settlers lost their ancestral lands to a new wave of immigrants through unfair laws, drawn-out trials, and even armed seizures. Rebellions rose and were soon squelched, including a famous one in San Jose not far from my home.

I explore the questionable process for determining property rights of these Californios and other non-white immigrants in Kit’s Mine: A Daring California Novel. The male protagonist, born Miguel de Los Rios, changes his name to Michael Rivers to adapt to the new era of being part of the United States of America. Like Kit, a Chinese-American young woman, Michael confronts prejudice and legal barriers in his quest to claim his family’s property as his own. Together, they doggedly pursue justice, and form the beginning of the true melting pot of today’s California.

Thanks to the Calisphere Project, you can search out photos and new facts about California’s colorful and tumultuous history.

DARING CALIFORNIA’S LEGACY

Within the context of today’s debate over immigration and naturalization laws, unfair taxes, property ownership, and human trafficking, there are good reasons to study California’s historical precedents on these issues through fiction.

Just released, Kit’s Mine: A Daring California Novel explores the fate of losers in the famous 19th century Gold Rush—Chinese immigrants and the resident Spanish-Mexican ranchers­—and reveals yet another untold story of the San Francisco Bay Area. Timely and compelling, Kit’s Mine places earlier state policies and U.S. laws toward China and Mexico in a different perspective than the popular narrative.

I became inspired to write Kit’s tale after stumbling across an innocuous footnote describing Chinese women auctioned off as slaves in 1870 San Francisco, five years after America’s Civil War ended. I couldn’t believe that was possible! My research uncovered further details excluded from school textbooks, and certainly never talked about.

Kit’s Mine portrays minorities’ daring quest for liberty and fairness at a time when political and cultural values clashed. The book creates a new discussion platform to broach contentious topics within California’s diverse community and beyond.

Educators concur that Kit’s Mine is even suitable for young adults over age 16, by presenting eye-opening facts as a way to develop critical thinking skills, and to learn to appreciate unique points of view in our fast-growing world of personalized media.

Unlike my previous suspense thrillers, Kit’s Mine is an unabashed love story—a love of freedom, justice, family, and yes, a man and a woman. Men have read it and enjoyed its message, but women will absolutely adore it.

Kit’s Mine is offered in print and eBook formats wherever books are sold.

A former Silicon Valley executive, Ann Bridges re-invented herself as a novelist in 2014. Her debut Private Offerings, named 2015 Best Business Fiction by Wealth Management Magazine, depicts entrepreneurs’ current-day Gold Rush to Wall Street. Its sequel, Rare Mettle, acclaimed by both industry and military experts, tackles the issue of free trade against rising tensions with China and diminishing natural resources.

Find out more at https://authorannbridges.wordpress.com

The Price of Being Ignored – Or Ignorant?

For the last few months, John Moody, Executive Vice President and Executive Editor of Fox News, has been banging the national media drum slowly but with ever-increasing strength. Today, his piece titled “U.S .Reliance on China for Critical Metals is Being Ignored” will hopefully grab the attention of more Americans.

The industry insider quoted is no other than Anthony Marchese, Chairman of Texas Mineral Resources, and one of the earliest endorsers of Rare Mettle. Like so many, he has invested his time and money to deal with this critical situation through private business, despite the stonewalling by the Pentagon.

 

Reality Meets Fiction

Today’s ongoing debate over whether the U.S. can – or should – sell arms to Taiwan is largely being ignored by mainstream American media.

Why?

While this may seem like a repeat of the ongoing issue of “One China”, it is set against a broader context this time, and that is China’s President Xi political and military ambitions. Unlike his predecessors, Xi has consolidated power in a fashion not seen since Chairman Mao’s time, and has made no apologies for claiming sovereign rights over an ever-growing territory.

My novel Rare Mettle, conceived in 2013 and published in 2016, envisions developments exactly as they are happening now. Disputes over Taiwanese arms sales provoke a trade embargo, and embroils the US, Silicon Valley, and China in a behind-the-scenes battle for control over a very key asset: purified Rare Earth metals. These metals are needed for high-tech military gear and smart phones, drones and wind turbines, advanced submarines and MRIs.

Perhaps my fictional scenario is too painful to consider. But then again, sticking one’s head in the sand and pretending we won’t have to deal with China as a competitor for earth’s critical assets ultimately may be just as painful.

Earth Day Reboot: Rare Earths Day

Forty-six years ago, Denis Hayes and Senator Gaylord Nelson formalized our environmental consciousness, and celebrated the first Earth Day with over twenty million Americans. During the next several decades, recycling became routine and energy consumption data framed consumer-buying decisions. We modernized both our attitudes and our lives. We embraced “green” and the world is a better place. Bravo!

Time for an encore.

Mining may not top the list of activities we think of to celebrate this Earth Day, but if we are truly “green”, we must revolutionize our thinking again.

Why? Because in the midst of our “green” fervor, we opted to outsource the environmental impact of mining to China, rather than embrace the entire supply chain necessary for the very “green” products we presume will save the earth for our children.

So this year, let’s introduce Rare Earth Metals into our vocabulary, and celebrate the tiny minerals that are the basic building blocks of our 21st century lifestyle.

They create those vibrant reds on our smart phones, save our lives through MRI diagnostics, and make the smallest batteries and largest magnets work.

While they are scattered everywhere on the crust of the earth, they are very costly to mine, process, and purify. And are currently in limited supply.

Our clean energy solutions rely on the most precise scientific and engineering feats to convert passive sources of energy into usable power via extremely efficient motors. If we want solar and wind installations across the globe for cleaner air, then we must also encourage investment in rare metals—their mining, processing, and recycling. At current projections, we risk consuming more in a year than the existing global mining community can supply.

During the course of four years researching this topic for my upcoming novel, Rare Mettle (Balcony 7, May 2016), I discovered a woeful lack of consumer awareness. We toss one gadget away with irreplaceable components without a thought to their value—or rarity. Here in Silicon Valley, technologists tout innovative features without disclosing the long-term impact of those modern miracles on our environment. They rarely consider an economically efficient way to re-capture, re-purpose or recycle the rare metals housed within the tiny casings.

Our technology-centric lifestyle requires an ever-increasing and affordable supply of these rare metals. Therefore, we must re-think our environmental positions, and include their mining and manufacturing costs as part of the domestic investment in our “green” products. Twenty-first century scientists and engineers have fortunately developed smaller and less impactful mining sites, better controls, cleaner manufacturing techniques, and creative recycling solutions to so-called “toxic waste.”

Yet the topic of domestic mining and production is almost taboo. Our politicians and bureaucrats prefer to leave decades-old environmental regulations in place, safe from controversy. This is a failed process for our future needs, and requires updating. Otherwise, we may find ourselves beholden to China for our clean energy, which has over 93% control of the rare metals-based supply chain, just as we try to extricate ourselves from our decades-long reliance on Middle East oil and its attendant politics.

We need to:

–introduce new ideas and novel solutions into our daily dialog
–support scientific research on our shores
–teach our children about rare metals and their vital role at all grade levels and universities.

For if we continue to outsource our brain trust, we effectively cede the environmental leadership position bequeathed to us by the 1970’s activists.

Our world increasingly relies on technology, and therefore on the powerful properties of these rare metals. It’s time we learn all we can about our options to best use these tiny resources before we deplete them. Only then, can we again make wise choices and change our behavior accordingly . . . before we do even more damage to Mother Earth.

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)

 

 

Tech Addiction: What If…The Gadgets Went Away?

Every good story contains a little nudge to the imagination. When you read a novel, you ask the author to transport you to a world you hadn’t envisioned, a place you’ve never seen, a time in the past you’ve never experienced.

Sometimes that story gives you the shivers, making you appreciate just what you have in the here and now. Perhaps a loving family instead of a crazed murderer, or a vibrant community instead of a poverty-stricken neighborhood.

Perhaps today’s 21st century lifestyle with addictive gadgets making your life easier, cheaper, safer, and more mobile, not one from 100 years ago.

What if…your safe life today disappeared at the political whim of another country’s leader? Not from bombs going off or from a declaration of war. Not because we’re unaware of this potential risk to our national and economic security. But because, even with years of “connecting the dots”, our bureaucracy in Washington D.C. and the myopic hubris of Silicon Valley engineers caught us flat-footed and unable to defend ourselves.

Few people realize just how much we rely on another country for manufacturing all those handy devices that make our lives so easy, our air and water so clean, and our military advanced. I’m referring to rare earth metals mined, processed and “Made in China” into the technology we use every day.

Tiny microscopic elements, buried on and in the crust of the earth, give us those modern miracles. In addition, these rare earth metals are a critical component for future green technology solutions. Expert David S. Abraham likens them to the tiny granules of yeast necessary for any pizza. No yeast, no dough…no pizza.

Not being a scientist, I won’t go into details, except to bow down to those with the brilliance to identify and manipulate these elements into compounds and alloys that make tiny batteries and huge magnets work. They bring us solar panels and the brilliant crimson red on the iPhone. And supply our military force with their promised high-tech weapons to keep them—and us—safe.

Now we learn the “What if…?” is indeed reality, making the story of my upcoming novel, Rare Mettle, too scarily close to the truth.

According to the February 11, 2016 report from the U.S. General Accounting Office (whose role is “to provide Congress with timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, non-ideological, fair, and balanced”):

“DOD [Department of Defense] has taken actions without knowing the extent of the underlying risks that the unavailability of rare earths would have on its weapon systems specifically and national defense generally.”

What? Say that again?

The Pentagon isn’t fully aware that China monopolizes the supply of rare earth-based components going into our weapon systems? Or do they simply ignore their basic responsibility to ensure our troops have the weapons they need? In other words, did they ignore that America’s national security is at risk?

In today’s world of global trade and reliance on key products manufactured in China and shipped to our shores daily, ask yourself what would happen if one day China decided it really didn’t like our stance on their political or military ambitions. We can hope they would negotiate to resolve the disagreement.

But what if…they don’t?

No rare earth-based components coming from China means no snazzy iPhones, solar panels, electric car batteries, magnets, or advanced weaponry.

Our economy increasingly relies on the most modern, mobile technology—to communicate, to process payments, to travel. So the concept of warfare in terms of bombs and troops, while all too real in the Middle East now, is antiquated when we think about China.

All they have to do is stop exporting the products they make under the claim that their own population needs their output. Not you. Not me. Not the rest of the world.

And that’s when the reality of any technology addiction hits home. Whether it’s talking or texting, energy reliance or night vision goggles, our now necessary gadgets could disappear in a matter of months as we deplete our inventory.

Hmm, you may just have to go back to reading printed books. And perhaps you can connect those dots, even if the Pentagon doesn’t see fit to warn you.

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)

Business Fiction for the 21st Century

According to popular community reader site Goodreads, “Business Fiction and Thrillers” is a growing genre, featuring books with plots driven by business issues and characters that are executives, managers, directors, employees, or investors.

And why not?

Eighty percent or more of the population works for private enterprise for most of their careers (as opposed to government-funded or non-profit organizations). Why has it taken so long for this genre to have its own set of characters and plots when there are legal and medical thrillers, crime dramas, science-fiction worlds for the technologists and futurists, historical fiction and mysteries, fantasies and underworlds, plus romance novels galore?

Perhaps it’s because, for so long, reading was seen as a means of escape from our real world. Or perhaps it’s because readers wanted to find out more about other professions they knew nothing about. It could also be that librarians and teachers, agents and editors, mostly came from the academic fields, with little familiarity or understanding of how exciting business can be.

Fast forward to the 21st century, when Silicon Valley executives are the focus of Hollywood movies, and their company’s astronomical valuations reflect the growing strength of our economy. There’s newfound respect for individuals who take risks, create jobs, and make profits. The modern day Gold Rush in northern California has captured the hearts and minds of the awe-inspired world.

Reading novels is a great way to explore any dynamic, new industry; learn what goes on in conference rooms behind closed doors; and benefit from an author’s research and experience, both for your curiosity and enjoyment, but also to enhance your career. All without having to memorize new management techniques and economic theories.

Marrying the reality of my own business background with an active storytelling imagination has resonated with readers of my two Silicon Valley novels, offering Business Fiction and International Intrigue within each title. The validation from industry insiders is gratifying.

For my first novel, Private Offerings (Balcony 7, Sept. 2015), academics, industry executives, tech writers and political figures were happy to add their voice to the importance of what I was attempting to do. Aside from hearing the wonderful words, “intriguing, suspenseful,” I was also thrilled to hear “ring of truth,” “demystifies Silicon Valley,” and “perfectly captured intensity of the Silicon Valley business world.” The icing on my literary cake was learning that Private Offerings was chosen by Wealth Management Magazine to be on their list of 10 Best Business Books of 2015; chosen for “depictions of high finance and corporate boardroom dynamics that ring true.”

My upcoming sequel, Rare Mettle (Balcony 7, May 2016), goes even further into the realm of International Intrigue, with a topic of great importance that I fear will only become popular when it’s too late: rare earths and advanced technology’s reliance on highly refined raw materials, the majority of which are supplied by China. Rare Mettle is my attempt to depict the worse case scenario in a way most people will understand: by bringing the data and facts to life through suspenseful fiction and fascinating characters.

Most recently, Jack Lifton, technology metals expert and senior editor at InvestorIntel.com (who is still reading the book), wrote me a great comment:

“It may well be that you are prescient. I think it’s very plausible that China will consume all of its technology metals production by the end of the new five-year plan. This will effectively cut off the rest of the world. There is no way to bring mines, refining, and fabricating facilities on line rapidly, so that, intended or not, China could literally place the manufacturers and developers of consumer electronics in a position where they essentially give China control of production schedules. At worse, the movement of such manufacturing to China would become mandatory…”

Sounds like real-life implications to me!

So the next time you’re looking for a good book to read, ask your librarian or bookseller about this growing category of Business Fiction. You may find what you’re looking for—both entertainment and education combined.

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)

 

An Interview with Ann Bridges: Silicon Valley Fiction Rings True

Saucy Jaw editor JZ Bingham explores the Silicon Valley inspiration behind Ann Bridges’ addictive debut novel, Private Offerings (Balcony 7, 09.15.15) where the blurred lines of heady success find sharp focus in reality.

(SJ: Saucy Jaw  AB: Ann Bridges )

SJ: Ann, your first novel, Private Offerings, is finally getting into the hands of media, reviewers, and readers from all over the world. In this work, you lift the curtain on Silicon Valley players to expose intensely private dreams and aspirations that reveal your characters’ motives, some good and some bad. How much is inspired by what you saw as an SV executive over your decades-long career?

AB: There are many little tidbits and anecdotes from real people included in my story, including a few of my own. I had a wonderful opportunity as an executive in one of the early Internet-based IPOs to interface with both the founders and the financiers of the company, and see where their dreams collided with Wall Street reality. Later on, I consulted with many early-stage businesses who thought funding their company through venture capitalists and bringing it public would be easy, and therefore treated it as an afterthought. In truth, only companies with forward-thinking founders and sound financial strategies ever cut deals that benefitted them. Therefore, dashed dreams and disappointed employees are more the norm than typically portrayed in today’s media, who tout only the wildly successful. I instead focus on the experiences of the average entrepreneur, who has to deal with competing global interests and changing conditions, including not bringing their company public. This option, called private equity, or a private offering, is much more commonplace, and reflects Silicon Valley’s ever-changing business dynamics.

 Today, any Silicon Valley visitor can’t miss the melting pot of cultures and ethnicities flocking to make their millions through this modern-day Gold Rush. I purposely chose characters depicting a different kind of background than the white, American male—an Indian software engineer, an Hispanic ex-military private investigator, a Chinese-American female executive, and my co-protagonist, a female small business owner of a public relations firm. The motivations and aspirations of these characters were drawn from first-hand experiences working and talking side-by-side with similar entrepreneurs, and grasping what drove them to succeed, often quite different from what you might expect. I hope my readers will learn something new from their unique stories and woes.

SJ: The role of women in PO could be viewed as somewhat stereotypical, given the age-old beauty versus brains argument, yet comes across as particularly realistic. Two highly attractive women each play a major part in the offense and defense of advancing SDS Technologies, the IPO target in your book. How often did you see instances of this type of behavior in real life, and did these women achieve their sometimes conflicted agendas?

AB: I grappled with perpetuating a stereotype in my novel against the realities, at least in my experience. It’s hard to combat what gets results in business. Frankly, sometimes having an attractive woman on your team makes a huge difference, especially in two such male-dominated industries as technology and finance.

I remember my CEO asking me if I would be willing to dye my hair blonder, since in Japan having a blond woman on his team was a sign of great success, and therefore standing by his side as he pitched the company would be a reflection on his stature as a powerful leader. I have no idea if the same holds true today. (I declined the token opportunity, yet he raised the needed funds in Japan, anyway.) Another time, he told me that the best advice he had ever received was to hire women in sales and marketing roles, because their expense accounts would be a tiny fraction of a man’s. And I found that to be true, sometimes having to argue to pick up the tab for a client. I remember I once submitted an expense account for one week’s worth of meals—$1.75, the cost of a frozen yogurt at an airport on the way home, and about 1% the cost of my male counterparts. I didn’t eat much, rarely drank, and was hosted by businessmen for the rest of my meals, presumably eager to keep their egos intact.

In terms of female vs. female, I actually was taken aback at the out-and-out hostility I ran across from other female executives most of the time. It was almost as if once a woman earned her place at the table with men, she recognized she her power as the token female, and fought to keep other women out. I tried to capture that element—the “Queen Bee Syndrome”—in the friction between my two female characters. Who has the power, and why? Who has the ear of the CEO and, therefore, the greatest influence? Who has earned the respect of the male colleagues, and how?

Fortunately, I believe much of that has changed in the workplace now, although women still network through external associations more than mentor internally in their own organizations. To the extent that it all came down to corporate politics, some women learned to play the game and advanced, while others chose to remove themselves from that environment entirely rather than play it (such as myself). Women make their mark in Silicon Valley every day—you just have to search for it behind the standard hoopla.

SJ: Without giving away the story, let’s discuss a very interesting, and somewhat troubling, aspect of PO’s plot: the role of consultants who move in and out of companies without a particular loyalty to one or another, stepping in to troubleshoot and possibly knowing too much of the inner workings of code, leading to what we see all too often today, cyber attacks that become more malicious and widespread with every incident. Did you mean to expose the vulnerability of SV companies who rely on independent consultants, and did a real-life incident inspire this in PO?

AB: As much as Silicon Valley prides itself on being new and different every year, in reality technology goes in cycles, including its secretiveness or openness. In the early years of the PC, technologists realized that they needed to cooperate in sharing protocols so that they could all interoperate and sell this new machine to the masses. Then Apple came along with its leading edge graphics appealing to a niche set of users, locked in the school market, and ultimately hooked students on the Apple brand for years to come. Its ease of use and proprietary platform set up a non-cooperative environment. The most famous battle that was never resolved is the ongoing one between the Apple standard and the PC standard (formally spearheaded by Microsoft’s Windows, but now including open-source software platforms, too).

The Internet boomed only when players agreed on common standards and interoperability again for web pages, email, and the like. Today, competing mobile platforms threaten to fragment the market again into smaller pieces as the largest companies in both technology and telecommunications worldwide vie for dominance.

Therefore, in years when proprietary secrets and intellectual property drive the business model, signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement and enforcing it was the norm. In periods of cooperation to drive the whole technology industry forward, there was a more relaxed atmosphere. Defense contractors, which needed to guard national secrets, became minor players in Silicon Valley during the last twenty years, and are only now returning and asking for help in the worldwide battle against hack attacks and terrorism.

However, software engineers are often contract workers, working on a specific project and then moving on. No different than any other human, they talk off-the-record at watering holes throughout the Valley about incidents they witnessed, slack security measures that are hushed-up, and possibilities for abuse.

In an era of high costs, carrying employees without maximum productivity, I see this as a real threat to any company or nation with genuine secrets to protect. Certainly, we rarely hear the full truth of how a virus started or which individual started it. The firms whose products supposedly protect us through a series of firewalls and virus scans wouldn’t want to admit an errant employee planted a bug years ago that went undetected. But it is possible, and a scenario I chose to highlight as part of the larger picture of the risk of our reliance on secure networks for our financial markets and military communications.

SJ: You marry SV’s high-tech output to national security and introduce how an historical, idealogical enemy to capitalism—China—could play, or perhaps is already playing, a role in procuring sensitive technology to promote world dominance, and maybe even gain an edge in controlling commerce and financial transactions across the world. With the global economy in a looming crisis and our own stock market feeling the reverberations of overseas pressure, why do you think this topic continues to be minimized by pundits and media, and not given its due?

AB: Great question, and I wish I knew more of the answer. In part, this situation is what inspired me to research China and then to write Private Offerings. But let’s first look at the facts.

Most of the media is still headquartered on the east coast—New York City and Washington, D.C. Our financial markets are the last to open on any given day (eastern time), so the financial attention is always given to what has happened in Washington, D.C., or other markets just before stock trading begins, and therefore to the east, or Europe. The heritage and focus of most of the population east of the Mississippi is still European, and increasingly Middle Eastern. China is literally on the other side of the world. They don’t weekend-vacation there, they don’t have friends or family there. Out of sight, out of mind.

Here in Silicon Valley (and including San Francisco), China has played a huge part in our lives for almost 200 years. From the first Gold Rush in the 19th century to the current day, Chinese immigrants have flocked to California, and many have stayed, and continue to stay. In addition, as China opened up its markets to modern goods starting in the final decades of the 20th century, their customers became the automatic growth curve for any technology business with a global reach. If your business plan didn’t include a way to reach the new Chinese middle-class, you didn’t get funding. And if the Chinese wanted to buy your technology or intellectual property, why not sell it to them if they are the highest bidder, regardless of the long-term implications? The U.S. government came under huge fire for blocking the sale of “sensitive” technology, and finally capitulated in most segments, driving even more of our attention across the Pacific ocean and west (from the California coast), not “east.”

I believe the other element minimizing the story of China’s growing influence is a fear that China has indeed bypassed America as the dominant global player, and neither the media nor our political leaders are sure how to respond to that fact. Some believe we should fight back and re-assert out dominance. Others believe that by sheer population alone, it’s an inevitable, irreversible trend. Clearly, China’s influence on our stock market and investment dollars has made its mark in the last few weeks. In fact, anticipating such a scenario, I depict the players behind the Shanghai Stock Market Exchange in my novel to bring a sense of the Chinese perspective and their motivations to my readers.

SJ: How does your sequel leverage what’s already been revealed in PO? Without revealing too much, can you give readers a glimpse into the next angle of your fictional, international saga?

AB: Rare Mettle delves farther into the economic and political implications of China’s dominance on our technology. It is loosely based on two real incidents: the purchase of an American leading-edge technology company in the 1990’s which landed in the hands of the son-in-law of the then-Premier; and the years-later embargo of key minerals to Japan for their electronics industry over a territorial dispute. National media has touched superficially on what might happen to Silicon Valley’s tech giants, like Apple, if their supply and access to purified rare earth elements is ever cut off. However, I go one step further, and explore what might happen to our military weaponry and other industries, too, like solar and automotive.

As more of our life depends on technological advances, we are becoming increasingly reliant on China’s cooperation, something quite new to an America that has always been the leader. It makes for a compelling and hopefully motivating read, even if disturbing, and especially timely in light of the Department of Defense’s re-emergence as a player in Silicon Valley with its new research outpost, DIUx.

SJ: Most people consider Silicon Valley ground zero only for technology and innovation. Yet you chose to focus on a business suspense thriller, not a science fiction or dystopian novel that typically comes from this region. Why is that?

AB: If “the business of America is business” as President Calvin Coolidge famously said, and Silicon Valley is America’s economic engine, then Silicon Valley is the origin of our nation’s 21st century economy. By minimizing the importance of the business side of Silicon Valley, and presenting its success only through a dark lens of whiz-bang technology gone awry, or gruesome stereotypes of geeks and unethical megalomaniacs, I believe the true source of untold wealth is underserved and misrepresented. All other regions seeking to replicate Silicon Valley’s success often focus on either technology or venture capital resources or respected universities. In truth, this region has a plethora of all three, which come together to create economic life via a business. The purpose of this life is to create profitable businesses to reward investors for taking a risk on new technologies and ideas; to pay its employees well for working long and grueling hours; and to re-invest in the company to create more products, more jobs and supply more markets with its innovative goods. If the business owners and investors don’t focus on profitability, too much venture capital becomes wasted on unproductive initiatives and frivolous expenses. Eventually, there won’t be more money to invest in deserving and essential future technologies.

I sought to capture one Silicon Valley corporation’s heart and soul, and perhaps create a starting point for readers the world over to understand the behind-the-scenes process of bringing a company to life. Hopefully, in time, Private Offerings could become required reading for business students, the same way Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is a must-read for architects. I find it ironic that it took a female writer to inject a passionate, human element into a story about a male-dominated industry, and make it both exciting and topical.

SJ: Thank you, Ann Bridges. We recently finished reading Rare Mettle and we can assure your Silicon Valley fans that the action not only continues, it lurches into high-octane. Readers are in for an eye-opening ride.

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)

Phantom Stock: In the Modern-Day Gold Rush, Do Stock Options Pan Out?

One of the drivers of Silicon Valley’s modern-day Gold Rush are stock options; essentially deferred compensation for employees, they take the form of partial ownership of the corporation through promised shares of stock at an undefined future point in time. Deferred compensation? Promised shares? Undefined future?

Why would any savvy employee agree to this?

Ah, the promise of today’s modern Gold Rush, where ownership of even the smallest piece of property might yield the mother lode of wealth for decades to come. Where individuals come together to produce value for the marketplace in an ever-expanding pie of opportunity, and the percentage ownership, while seemingly minuscule, might represent millions of dollars to the earliest employees…if, and when, the company goes through a public stock offering and converts those options to real shares.

But what happens when those stock options are, indeed, phantom? This is when the corporate executives and board members determine that they don’t want other investors’ ownership to be diluted by employment promises, and the decision is punted to later years. Yes, it is legal. However, is this the best way to hire great people and reward them for their effort? Or just a scheme, betting on the likelihood that most employees will quit, retire, or be terminated well before the corporation will have to make good on its promises?

Whether phantom or real, given an actual strike price or tied to vague market conditions, stock ownership as part of an employment agreement comes with the same ups and downs of investing in any stock. Most seasoned investors know the value of a given share in the capital markets could be impacted by a terrorist attack or a new competitor, bad economic times or a key product recall—and plan their finances accordingly.

However, when facing the same future, employees with stock options too often start believing in Never Never Land, where riches come as soon as a company goes public, where all restrictions magically disappear, regarding when and how they can sell, where income taxes are a figment of politicians’ imaginations, and where bank accounts flow immediately with tangible wealth after years of hard work.

Not gonna happen. At least for most of us.

Despite the media hype, very few companies that file actually go public and make it through the entire process. Often, they are purchased outright through a private offering. Some fail to deliver on their promises, and the amount principals believed their company was worth becomes laughable. In a free-market system like ours, that means the phantasmagorical idea of easy wealth is exposed for the fantasy it always was, and the employees who have worked for deferred compensation all those years walk away with nothing.

So why do they keep doing it?

Like the original California ‘49er’s, property ownership and control of one’s fate leads to an unshakable optimism and belief in the future. Maybe this little effort didn’t “pan out” (an expression used often when abandoning searching for gold in California streams). The next one just over the next rise will. With the experience gained and maybe a few better tools, the future will be as golden as the California hills. Look, that guy made it–so will I.

Here’s an example of greed for you, my from my upcoming Silicon Valley novel, Private Offerings (Balcony 7 Media and Publishing, September 15, 2015):

“I know you’re the man who really makes the decisions here, no matter what the board thinks,” Wilkins said coolly. “So I’ll lay my cards on the table. In order to keep me from tanking your IPO, you’ll have to buy my silence about your software bug. I have no hesitation letting the world know you deliberately released your product with flaws, compromising the world’s financial markets as well as military intelligence. That won’t go over too well with your potential investors, will it?” Wilkins crossed his foot over his knee, appearing smug and confident he had the upper hand.

Too confident.

Eric glanced at Lynn, cataloging her disgusted expression. “No, it wouldn’t. What exactly do you want from me?”

Wilkins’s eyes gleamed with greed. “I want you to write me a letter, right now, granting me half a million shares of SDS stock at the price of one dollar, with no conditions on when I can sell them. I know you have the authority to issue the grant, and the board will do whatever you say to protect the IPO. Even Rajiv jumps at your bidding.”

Eric’s mind raced. “At the price we’re talking about going public, you’ll pocket millions of dollars if you cash in right away. What makes you think you’re worth that much?”

“If that’s my take, you and Rajiv and your other investors will pocket ten times that, at least. My piece is just a tiny little expense to keep the IPO on track.”

Eric studied him, keeping his expression blank despite his disgust. “And if I say no?”

Wilkins glanced at Lynn. “I’ll ruin Lynn’s reputation if she can’t convince you to play ball. She’ll never work in PR again. Is that really what she deserves?”

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)

Literary Artists: Authors Need Support Too

When you think of the phrase Support the Arts, what immediately comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you think musicians and artists, painters and sculptors—people whose talent serves as a colorful background to your cultural environment but whose name you may not even know. Add to that a local flavor in your community, where you may know a neighborhood artist by sight, but not realize the hours he or she spends practicing their craft in a garage, or creating those marvelous masterpieces that now decorate your hallway.

In this era of electronic books and overwhelming verbiage on the Internet, where exactly do literary artists fit in? And how did they get forgotten in today’s Support the Arts message?

Libraries and bookstores used to be the sole repositories of great writers’ works. A hundred years ago, books were still considered rare, valuable and precious, meant to be cared for and handed down to future generations, both for their knowledge and for their art form.

Fast forward to a post-Napster economy, where the younger generation demands (read: expects) anything digital to be free—without a care to how the creator of that content should be recognized, rewarded, or supported.

Or zoom into the Amazon-dominated book-selling experience, where the concept of meeting the author and getting a signed copy of the book is nigh impossible to achieve. Or drop in on the numerous communities of closed libraries, limited budgets, and media centers, where the belief that worthwhile information must be on a web page or app lest it go stale; no need to carefully bind, print and make available an actual book for weeks of borrowing, for the simple intent to learn, savor, and enjoy.

Here in Silicon Valley, where so many people interact virtually and globally, it is difficult for a local literary artist to connect with the community.

Certainly, musicians and stage performers still hold concerts and shows. Photographers, painters, and sculptors are invited to display their wares at exhibition halls and museums. But where exactly can a writer connect with the audience except through the written word? Yes, there are open-microphone events and “flash reading” nights, where mere snippets of a work can be heard. But these are most appropriate for poets and works-in-progress. With the demise of bookstores and libraries (who used to be the staunchest supporters of books as important additions to the cultural arts and to the sharing of ideas), how does anyone expect the continuing stream of quality fiction to keep flowing, rather than dry up into a trickle of mediocrity, feeding the “snippet mentality,” and relegated to fleeting relevance?

I have challenged a number of organizations whose charter is Support the Arts, to do just that—think long and hard about how to better support literary artists— writers, with similar dedication in terms of publicity, venues, competitions, and grants as other artists. Time will tell if they heed the call.

In the meantime, it’s clear the days of simply relying on traditional methods for authors to connect with their audience has, for the most part, gone by the wayside. The commoditization of the literary form has taken it’s toll on literary art and literary artists.

How short-sighted of us to forget that novels demand a long time commitment, an immersion into another world, and different points of view? Perhaps we as a society have created such short attention spans that we have lost respect—or merely forgotten—the people behind the ideas, behind the entertainment, and behind the healthy challenge to the status quo.

If we are not careful, and do not reach out now to support the medium best-suited to capture and pass onto future generations our literary legacy, we will lose the soul of our civilization.

We will lose perspective of this point in time in our history: this generation’s passions—this peek into our troubles and our suggested solutions—through the imagination of our fellow citizens. No. We, as a society, should do all we can to Support the Arts, especially the Literary Artists, to ensure our legacy thrives.

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)

Who Is China? Fictional Truths: Silicon Valley Style

China’s impact on our businesses, our economy, our politics and, therefore, our very way of life is huge but most adults are understandably ignorant of the forces driving China’s influence. They were simply never taught about it, in school or otherwise, at a level to ground them in today’s issues.

If you were born before 1980, chances are your school textbook’s information on China included passing nods to Marco Polo’s visit, their invention of the abacus and gunpowder, and likely ended with the early 20th century Boxer Rebellion. College classes may have included the role of China in World War II, and even a brief recounting of Mao Zedong’s rise to power and the subsequent death of millions due to his failed political and economic policies. And that was all.

China turned its back on new technologies just as the Western world embraced the Information Age. Those curious followed Nixon’s visit in 1972 to watch the doors crack open to economic reforms and away from the heavy control of the Chinese Communist Party. Most viewed on live television the horrific quelling of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student uprising. We eat Chinese take-out and watch dragon-festooned parades with little thought to the country and traditions behind those embellishments to American culture.

But it’s difficult to ignore the jobs moving to China in massive waves, their finished products returning to our store shelves, or the newly minted middle-class Chinese tourists visiting famous American locales.

Who is China, really? What frames Chinese values? What geopolitical ambition does their government have? Where do we intersect—or clash?

Even with wonderful online resources at our fingertips, who is going to use the search term “China” and read billions of citations? How accurate is that information anyway given China forbids full freedom of their press and throttles complete internet access? Exiled dissidents, bootleg bloggers, and recent immigrants provide startling and poignant insights into a vibrant, nuanced culture, including viewpoints and facts contrary to official government pronouncements of widespread prosperity and never-ending growth.

“Saving face” is their cultural norm, true. But when China’s tail wags the world’s dog, it’s time to search out nuggets of truth and look for a consistent pattern to public—and private—behavior of both the Chinese government and its citizenry.

So I did, in my upcoming novel Private Offerings, turning it into fictional accounts of China’s role and influence on Silicon Valley, imparting salient truths about timely issues in an easily understandable form. In other words, to provide context to the volume of disparate facts bombarding us about this emergent powerhouse:

–Not technology per se, but its global catalyst for change.
–Not science fiction, but fiction about the ethics of research and innovation, especially government’s role.
–Not pure fiction, but stories based on research, facts, personal experience and lengthy interviews, coalescing around a single purpose…

…To bridge the gap of understanding for the average adult living in a world dominated by China’s very different goals, values, and norms. And to correct decades of an unfortunate void of information.

I don’t claim to be an expert, otherwise I would have added to the plethora of academic tomes instead. Nor do I pretend to have Chinese ancestors, whose stories filled my ear since childhood. No, my interest is purely in pointing out the elephant in the room. If To Kill a Mockingbird could raise awareness of racism, and Jurassic Park could capture the implications of commercialized genetic research, then hopefully my fiction could provoke more questions than answers about living with our Chinese neighbor, for many decades to come.

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)

 

Mirror, Mirror: What Do Selfies Say About Us?

Once upon a time, when a person looked in a mirror seeking truth, he or she looked long and hard enough to see beyond the superficial image to the person behind the glass. The popular emphasis on “selfies” abounding on social media makes me wonder—are people really looking at themselves or their actions anymore?

Do they like what stares back at them when they take a good look?

As many people in Silicon Valley are aware, the Ellen Pao vs. Kleiner Perkins gender discrimination lawsuit served as one big question mark over the current-day practices of many of our most prominent and successful businesses. Human resource departments are quickly reviewing not just their policies, but also their dedication to equal and fair practices in light of the charges of sexism.

Despite Ellen Pao’s failure to prove her case, there is still an undercurrent of disgruntlement by women that perhaps they may never break into what has become a high-tech “good ol’ boys” club. While I am an avid supporter of the energy and commitment to success that has made Silicon Valley a global icon, I also see plenty of areas where there is room for improvement. And one of those is the concept of mentoring, especially by women, not necessarily for women.

What’s the difference? In my experience, one of the biggest challenges for any woman who has “made it” to the top of an organization is to reach out and include more women. In the past, that was often due to quotas and tokenism. Only one woman at a time became part of the executive team, for example, so it became a zero-sum game if she recommended another, because that virtually guaranteed her replacement. As a result, many women jealously guarded their coveted title and salary in a win-lose scenario, with no interest in lending a hand to a deserving candidate.

With all the criticisms aimed at the male members of the venture capital community and other high-tech firms, I wonder if we should lay equal blame on the shoulders of women like myself. After reaching the executive ranks and going through a successful IPO, I decided to step out of the fray and run my own business consultancy, leaving the next generation of women in Silicon Valley corporations to succeed without any benefit of my lessons learned. Those that stayed in the high-tech world may be so busy juggling their professional and personal priorities that mentoring doesn’t make it onto their calendars at all.

Many studies have shown that boys tend to play team sports more than girls, starting at an early age. Perhaps boys learn skills and attitudes that make it easier for them to ask for and give advice to each other later in life without perceiving someone with a complementary skill set as a threat. While women may have good communication skills, I wonder if our view of the world develops in a different way. Instead of inviting others to join in a successful journey, we give all our attention instead to mastering the difficult road to riches. Heads down, we push our way forward, get to the top, bask in our success, take our selfies—and then forget to help the next young woman. After all, it’s our own ability, savvy, and skills that got us there in an all-man’s world, right? Wrong.

Male presidents and CEOs hired me and gave me chances, which is still the case for most women today.

Good ones take a chance on the best candidates, stand back, and let them prove their abilities, regardless of gender. So before we decry how sexist and discriminatory Silicon Valley men are, let’s look back in the mirror and see if we are now doing all we can, as women, to help others—both talented young men and women.

Today, my mentoring takes the form of writing about thorny issues facing Silicon Valley, but I include the concept of mentoring from the older generation to the younger throughout my novels. I can look in the mirror now and take pride in sharing my experience and perspective through a proven, centuries-old tradition of publishing, yet add the twist of eBooks, blogging, and social media to reach out to the next generation. I keep my fingers crossed it will make a difference.

So, next time you feel tempted to take another selfie, ask yourself—should you focus your attention on someone more deserving, instead?

(This article originally appeared on Balcony 7 Media & Publishing’s SaucyJaw.com)