Rape & Justice in America

In college, I was in a serious, loving relationship with a woman who had been drugged, bound and violently raped by a man with the help of his two roommates. The date rape operation they devised was so evil and so calculated that I knew this could not have been the first time. They were serial rapists, serial predators, serial criminals.

And they’re still on the loose.

She never spoke up. She never called the cops.

I never understood it then. I only kind of do now, to be honest.

But behavior that starts young and goes unpunished, uncorrected –– does it stop? Do we let it slide? Do we, as free and good people, enable this?

This is not about “rape culture” as though every man, somewhere deep inside, is a rapist. That’s bullshit. This is about failing to bring justice to bear against the that tiny fraction of men who predate with impunity, who are criminals, who belong in jail alongside all the murderers and the dudes serving 20 years for slinging dime bags of weed in the wrong part of town.

We deserve justices who are just.

Did Kavanaugh do it? I dunno for sure yet. But we should sure as hell find out. Because if the man did in fact attempt rape once and receive no punishment, the odds are it was not a sole instance.

No such man belongs on the Supreme Court of this great country––my country––The United States of America.

This post was a response to I Believe Her by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic.

People, like businesses, want predictable revenue.

Let me set the record straight for you deluded millionaires of the world: For most people most of the time, working in the “Gig Economy” is an act of desperation that you do only because the alternative is unemployment or an even worse job.

Working a gig is exactly like being a temp. It sure as fuck beats unemployment, but unless you’re a teenager or a bored housewife, temping is not desirable.

People –like businesses– want predictable, recurring revenue. 

In business, we call this “quality of revenue.” Investors pay a premium for companies with high quality revenue. Here’s how Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital (led Uber’s Series A) described

Investors favor pricing models that provide a high level of predictability and consistency in the future. It is easy to see why revenue visibility would have a positive impact on a Discounted Cash Flow analysis. The more certain you can be of future cash flows, the higher premium you will put on a business, and as a result, you will see a higher price/revenue multiple.

-Bill Gurley, All Revenue is Not Created Equal: The Keys to the 10X Revenue Club

Working in the Gig Economy is the worker equivalent of an transactional eCommerce company reliant on SEO. Times may be good now, but you never know what tomorrow will bring. The flick of a programmer’s switch can leave you ruined .

And while the same can & does happen to full-time employees, with employment comes a financial safety-net called unemployment compensation.

A financial safety net… yeah, who would want that?

The Greece Situation

Here’s what I would do if I was running Greece right now…

  1. I would vote “no” vote in the recent Greek referendum.
  2. I would move to abandon the Euro and re-adopt the Drachma as the national currency.
  3. I would stay in the European Union.
  4. I would print money and use inflation to solve the government’s internal debt problems.
  5. I would use my country’s now-improved negotiating position via threat of complete default to get our external creditors to restructure our debt on terms favorable to Greece.

There is no “happy” outcome for Greece right now. The choice is between dysentery and amputation. To leave the Euro would be to suffer a crippling dysentery that would leave the country crippled over and in deep pain for months. To stay in the Euro would be to willfully amputate one of the country’s limbs, making Greece forever an economic cripple.

I choose dysentery, because it is the only path of hope, however grim.

No One Is Self-Made

One of Robert Putnam's famous scissor graphs

Fatherhood has changed me.

In my pre-fatherhood twenties, I thought of myself as a self-made man. I viewed the world through an individualistic, narcissistic lens and my accomplishments, I believed, were largely my own. I had taken risks and busted my ass to get whatever I got. I congratulated myself and began — quietly — to scorn those who had failed to put themselves in the right industry, the right career. They were weak, I was strong, and that’s the game.

Fatherhood has taught me that no one is self-made.

My son will never remember how much he has been given. He will never remember the love he got at three in the morning when his tummy ached from constipation pains. But it — along with the thousands upon thousands of other gestures of love — will teach him to feel safe and secure in his person, which in turn will fuel his confidence and one day (I hope) enable him to take economic and social risks that propel forward his civic, social and business life.

Matt Reading to Luca

I am constantly impressed by how much my son depends upon me, upon us, for guidance. If we don’t teach him to eat with a fork, he will not eat with a fork. If we don’t teach him to be kind, he will not be kind. If we don’t teach him to read, he will not read. It takes effort, consistent effort, to raise the man we hope that he will become.

Civilization is not an automatic process.

Stephanie and I read to him regularly. When I stop, Luca cries. He will take this for granted as a natural part of life, because it is all he knows. Yet it will give him a permanent leg up in life, especially compared to his peers whose parents are not so involved, maybe because they’re too busy trying to make ends meet or maybe because they simply don’t know that it matters.

So too will the $20,000+ / year (!!!) we’re investing in his education at the Palo Alto daycare (in SF, the pricetag was $30k) pay off in ways large and small. His best friend is the child of two Harvard graduates. He and his little girlfriend have so much fun together. Amidst all that fun and play, they talk and teach each other things. The effect of peer influence is real. He learns from her. I see it. For a 3 year old, his language skills are quite advanced, yet she talks even more than he. His growth accelerates when they are together. And so too does his advantage.

My boy is not above hitting, kicking or biting. He is a child. I am the disciplinarian in the family (shocking though it may be to my elder siblings). He needs guidance — sometimes stern, sometimes soft. But he needs his parents, both his mom and his dad. Daddy in particular doesn’t fuck around. Resistance is futile, as I like to say. He knows that.

In those moments when I’m dragging him to the naughty corner (a pain for us both), I often wonder what would happen if I wasn’t around or if I didn’t care. What if Luca didn’t have a dad who was around? How would he turn out? It’s easy to imagine a different life, one without the discipline, without the guidance, without daddy to enforce lessons of right from wrong.

Same with Stephanie. Whereas my favorite past-times with the boy are reading and wrestling, hers are talking, more talking and playing with him & his toys (something I find dreadfully boring). Were it not for Stephanie, he’d be physical brute with middling verbal skills.

Together, we give him what he needs. Or so we endeavor.

Were it not for both of our efforts, our incomes and our social capital, where would he be? How could he hope to compete with the children with the children who are so priveleged?

Such are the thoughts that have been occupying my mind as I read Our Kids — The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam. The book tells the story of an America increasingly divided — not by race or ethnicity — but by class and educational attainment.

Over the last 40 years, college-educated, rich Americans have clustered together, enjoying all manner of positive network effects much like the ones I just described. Americans without college degrees are living together too, suffering from the same sort of network effects, except in reverse: crime, drug use, low expectations and bad schools.

The graph below and other “scissor graphs” like it tell the story.

One of Robert Putnam's famous scissor graphs

 

They all look ominously similar. Each graph shows two lines diverging over the past several decades in the experiences of American kids at the top and bottom: in the share born to single mothers, in the chances that they’ll eat family dinners, in the time parents spend reading to them, in the money families invest in their clubs and lessons.

“Every summer camp you went to or every piano lesson you got or every time you went to soccer club, you were getting some advantage,” Putnam says, “that somebody else out there — Mary Sue — was not.”

from The Terrible Loneliness of Growing Up Poor in Robert Putnam’s America

This other America is not foreign to me.

Before I was a father, before I was an entrepreneur, I worked as a 911 paramedic in the Harlem and the Bronx. Monday through Thursday from 2005 to 2008, I attended Columbia University, taking courses in international politics at the best political science department in world. But come 7am on Friday, I put on the uniform and got to work on 12 X-ray (central Harlem) or 17 Willy (South Bronx). The people we served were poor. We were mostly tourists in their lives, parachuting into their living rooms or street corners to fix an asthma attack or an overdose.

In my time, I took care of a woman who’d had 30 abortions. I saw the police gleefully electrocute a man just because he made some noise in his jail cell. I did CPR on a floppy baby whose father had accidentally smothered the child in his sleep.

Now that I’m a father, I think often of all the sons and daughters growing up in that other America. It was a very different America from the one that my son will know.

How will these kids in that other America fare in a future where software has eaten the world?

Given the competitive nature of the education system and the job market, what chances for advancement will they have? How is it right and just that the circumstances of my son’s birth will determine so much of his future?

Their prospects look grim.

This is not the America that I want.

This is not the legacy that I want to leave behind.

This is not the American Dream.

I’m not sure what the answer is or how I can be a part of it, but as an entrepreneur sitting in the heart of Silicon Valley, I’m actively looking to be part of the solution.

If you know anyone who’s working on this problem, please send them my way. I’d love to be a soldier in this struggle.

Morality is a Luxury Good

Hobbesian State of Nature

War is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. 
-Carl Von Clausewitz

Morality is a luxury good.

War is fundamentally amoral. There is nothing a threatened society won’t do, especially when cornered. The violence of war has no natural limit, no logical upward bound.

And in case you thought we Americans are better than all that, just know that our biggest weapons, our nuclear arms are pointed at cities, not military bases. We deter our enemies by threatening them with genocidal war. We are no better than Israel or Hamas; we are only stronger, safer and more secure.

This state of relative safety that we enjoy today is the reward for a century’s worth of genocide, ethnic cleansing and theft against the native Americans. The natives we didn’t kill we put in concentration camps, where they remain today in slightly modified form.

Our security is the lucre of the crimes of our forefathers, the byproduct of a decisive victory against those whose homes we stole. Neither Israel nor Palestine enjoy such safety. Remember this when you condemn and pass judgement on either of the warring parties.

Take sides. But don’t lie to yourself.

To Commerce! To Freedom! To the Open Internet!

Paul revere wants to save net neutrality

I sent this letter to the Federal Communication Commission just a few minutes ago. I encourage you to do something similar. Also, feel free to discuss this post on Hacker News.

From: Matt Mireles
Date: Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 12:25 PM
Subject: Save the Open Internet. For Freedom.
To: openinternet@fcc.gov

Hello,

My name is Matt Mireles and I would like to tell you my story.

I’m an internet entrepreneur. I started my first company in October 2008, 3 weeks after the Lehman collapse and about 4 months after graduating from college. During the first year and a half of the company’s existence, I was broke and working a side job as a 911 paramedic to pay the bills. The company was very fragile and almost anything could have killed it.

In a post net-neutrality world that req’d paying fees to Comcast and Time-Warner, I might have quit before I ever got the company off the ground.In 2010 & 2011, we ended up raising $1.1MM from Google and other investors and building a workforce of 45,000 people spread across the globe before selling the company in 2012. I have started two more companies since then.

Please keep net neutrality alive. There are thousands and thousands of would be me’s out there. We owe it to them and to the future of our country.

To commerce! To freedom! To the open internet!

-Matt Mireles

Be Grateful for the American Empire (the Alternative is Much Worse)

American Flag

A friend of mine living in Pakistan took to Facebook to grumble about American imperialism in her country and the region. This is what I wrote in response:

Unfortunately, if the US didn’t act like “the world’s police”, then you’d see a bunch of smaller players duke it out and wrestle for control over the world’s resources and strategic choke points. It would, sadly, be a much bloodier world with more fluid borders and more frequent wars of conquest. It would neither be a nicer world nor a more just one. It would be one filled with even more struggle and even more petty tyrants trying to realize their own selfish ambitions.

The US, for all its flaws, its solipsism and its arrogance, is a force for good in the world––if not compared to the ideal, then compared to the alternative as suggested by all of human history.

The post-WW2 era of US hegemony has seen less wars and less killing than the 70+ year period that preceded it. More countries are free and live under some form of self-rule. The age of empire ended in no small part thanks to American values and political pressure.

Does that mean the weak nations of the earth can go about their business without hassle? Yes, just so long as the global economy doesn’t require your resources to function. Or those of your neighbors. Or your trade routes.

If you want real freedom, I suggest either acquire nuclear weapons and a blue water navy or simply be irrelevant to the security and economic needs of the ailing hegemon and her rising rival, China. Or your more powerful neighbors.

Does it suck that the world works this way? To be honest, yes it does. We should all be able to live freely and under conditions of self-rule and autonomy. But doing so would require not just the USA to withdraw from foreign entanglement, but also her enemies and, hell, her allies too. We’re all just frenemies on some level, after all (remember, the Brits burned down the White House at one point).

College students and citizens of countries too coddled (i.e. Europe, who enjoys US military & nuclear protection vis a vis NATO) or too weak to be guilty of the same will find this state of affairs repulsive. And again, it only looks favorable when compared to the state of constant instability and recurring great wars that it replaced––an era which your grandparents witnessed only as children and not long enough to see the great meta-pattern.

Let me repeat that, as it bears repeating: If the US wasn’t throwing its weight around as the world’s clumsy policeman, you’d end up with a world of warring mobsters whose battling would leave your streets red with blood every few years. It’s not clear that you would see a more palatable or pleasant alternative. At least that’s what the historical record suggests.

In no case would you and your country be simply left alone. You would just trade one bastard for several.

But if you really want sovereignty, look into that blue water navy thing. Or at least a ballistic missile submarine. Getting nukes were a solid first step, but without a submarine force they’re vulnerable and the big boy generals still gander they could  wipe ’em out in a pre-emptive strike if needs be. And yes, this crude realization does in fact change the military & political calculus.

Only catch is you need an big economy to support these efforts, and that ain’t cheap or easy to build. But hey, at least it’s doable.

Little Things That Hold Women Back

Matt Mireles and Marc Randolph, Founder of Netflix, at his house in the mountains above Santa Cruz.

Founder's Poker at the MattPad.

There is a glaring shortage of women in the field of technology entrepreneurship. The industry, in fact, is often described as a “Boy’s Club” filled with chummy male investors and entrepreneurs. I am hardly the first person to notice this problem. What follows is a brief exploration of how that all plays out at the practical level, despite the best of intentions.

Recently, a friend introduced me to a female entrepreneur. She wanted feedback on her burgeoning online publishing business. Here’s how the email exchange went:

Her: “Nice to meet you Matt, would be great to catch up. How does 11am on Monday suit?”

Me: “Unfortunately, our company is in the middle of a major sprint and I don’t have time during the week to dedicate to stuff like this this. If u can pick a weekend morning that works for you, that’s best. LMK.”

Her: “No problem at all- how about 11am Sunday morning. I have a meeting at XYZ Restuarant at 2pm, though should give us plenty of time :)”

Me: “Sounds perfect. Just come by my apt. 123 Whatever St #123 SF. Near ABC Avenue.”

Her: “Great, know any good cafes in the area? Probably be better to meet there if it’s okay.”

At this point, I start to get a little annoyed. On the one hand, I can understand her caution. She’s a woman. I’m a man. We’ve never met. Going over to a strange man’s apartment is, for some, always a little worrisome.

Nonetheless, I am really effing busy right now. The correct word, actually, is “completely overwhelmed.” Going to a cafe is going to add an extra ~30min to this meeting. “Ugh. I probably shouldn’t be taking the meeting in the first place,” I tell myself. (Then again, I probably shouldn’t be blogging either…)

Regret is starting to set in.

Maybe I’m taking it too personally and overdramatizing the situation, but what’s worst is that now I also feel a little insulted: “Seriously, you’re asking for my help with your business on the one hand, and then treating me like I’m some Craigslist rando on the other?”

Not that her concern is completely irrational, but it makes me think about all the weirdness and wonder: “Why even bother?”

I feel defeated.

Me: “In that case, then maybe let’s just stick to email.”

I do not like this resolution. I want to help. The quality and quantity of the advice I am going to give her over email is going to pale in comparison to the advice I would give her in person. Assuming my advice is actually value-additive and not just a waste of time, this female entrepreneur is now at a competitive disadvantage for no other reason than because she is a woman.

This is not the result of sexism. (I invite entrepreneurs of all sexes over to my apartment all the time.) I was behaving rationally. I had good intentions. In her own way, she was behaving rationally as well. But she wouldn’t have this issue if she was a he.

And I’m sure this problem plays itself out all the time in matters of business and politics and everything in between. #Fail. Relationships drive business. Relationships drive politics. Relationships are how you get ahead in most things most of the time. And if women can’t have the same kind of relationships with the men above them as their male peers, then they’re just not going to rise to the tops of their industry or field and nothing is going to change.

Honestly, I attribute much of my (tentative) success to the fact that I’ve been able to cultivate relationships with a string of high quality mentors (all men, btw). These people have sped up my learning and personal development in crazy, awesome ways. And I am incredibly grateful to have had those opportunities. It is because I feel such gratitude for the people who’ve helped me that I am so willing to carve time out of my already overwhelmed life to help the strangers that ask for it.

Except, apparently, I can’t help women. At least not in the same way I’d help a man. I really don’t like that fact. But I don’t know what to do about it.

Update: While I’m only referencing one situation here, I’m writing about this topic because I’ve seen this kind of dynamic play out repeatedly with other entrepreneurs in other situations. The pattern is basically: guy entrepreneurs make friends with other guy entrepreneurs. Bromance ensues. As a result, junior dude learn the tips and tricks and inside scoops that are going to give them an edge in the marketplace from senior dude. However, I don’t see the same thing happening with junior female entrepreneurs and senior(ish) male founders. And I don’t think the reason is that people are trying to be sexist. My story is simply illustrative and, perhaps, indicative.

***
Matt Mireles and Marc Randolph, Founder of Netflix, at his house in the mountains above Santa Cruz.
Me and SpeakerText consigliere Marc Randolph, Founder of Netflix, at his house in Santa Cruz.

UPDATE on August, 2014: When I originally wrote this 3 years ago, I got brutalized in the comments, called a rapist, a chauvinist, and more. It was awful. It also turned out that I was wrong in my impression of the situation––the entrepreneur in question had been introduced blindly by a well-intended friend and wasn’t actually seeking advice. In retrospect, my response was a bit douchey and self-important. Yet all of these post-hoc learnings reinforce my original thesis. And yes, I’ve learned a lot since I wrote this and no longer invite entrepreneurs over to my home, but that’s as much a product of the fact that I have a family and 2 year old as it is anything else. But if it’s not me, it’s some other, younger, less enlightened entrepreneurs that’s 100% used to drawing no boundary between work and life. Professionalism comes at a later stage in the company building process. In the early days, there are no boundaries, most of the time. This probably not true re: serial entrepreneurs on company #2 thru N, but that’s how almost every high functioning first time founder that I’ve seen operates. Sadly, I still don’t know how we fix this. For more info, I strongly recommend reading What It’s Like Raising Money as a Woman in Silicon Valley

Why I Love Hip Hop, America


I grew up in Orange County. I was corn fed on punk rock. When I was 17, I saw Rage Against the Machine at Irvine Meadows. The mosh pit was gigantic. Actually, it started off as two pits. They ultimately merged. There was a fire in the center. I ran against the grain. It was awesome. Just. Fucking. Awesome.

Thirteen years later, I still relish that night.

But there’s something about hip hop that I enjoy. Something distinctly American. Something I fucking love: the songs all tell a Horatio Alger story of rags to riches, of hustle, of “you can’t put me down.” As an entrepreneur, it tells my story.

Sometimes, when I’m running down Market Street in SF, I blast the music, think about it all, and shed a tear.

It just feels right.

I love this life.

Guns, Government & the Fallacy of Cyber-Utopianism

TLDR version: The idea that technology by itself can change the world is a delusion. For technology to have an impact in the world, humans must wield it, sometimes in conjunction with lethal force (or the threat thereof).*

Ten days ago, as we were checking out office space on Market Street, I met a woman at a coffee shop. Her office was in the building next door to the space we were checking out. She was educated, blonde and pretty. I asked about the neighborhood. We bantered.

To my co-founders’ annoyance, I stayed, picking her brain for a little. Turns out, the woman works for a mayoral candidate. Here’s what I learned from her:

-Arnold Schwarzenegger is no longer the governor of California
-Jerry Brown is the governor
-Gavin Newsom is no longer the mayor of San Francisco
-Gavin Newson is now California’s Lieutenant Governor
-Someone else is the mayor of SF

Maybe it sounds crazy, but this was all news to me. I literally had no idea. The more we talked, the more I looked like an idiot. Blondie was not impressed, “Are you serious? You don’t even know who the governor is?” Crash and burn.

This anecdote, however, illustrates a larger point: I live in a bubble.

Two years ago, I was a fresh grad out of the Columbia political science department, one of if not the top poli sci programs in the world. Although my focus was on international security, I was a political junkie. I knew who the important governors were. I knew who the up and coming congressmen were. I knew about instability in Central Asia and Russia’s imperial ambitions in the Caucasus.

Two years and a startup later, I don’t even know who’s the governor of my own state. Where I used to visit NYTimes.com thrice a day, I now visit once every 10.

Two weeks ago, Chris Dixon wrote a blog post entitled, “Predicting the Future of the Internet.”

Predicting the future of the Internet is easy: anything it hasn’t yet dramatically transformed, it will. People, companies, investors and even countries can’t stop this transformation.

I left a warning in the comments: “Government CAN stop the internet and the information revolution… Progress and rapid technological innovation is not an inevitability––it’s pre-conditioned on a certain set of political circumstances that are frail and fleeting at best.”

I don’t think many people in the tech world ever seriously considered this idea until this past week, when Egypt turned off the internet.

And really, it’s not an argument that you hear too often. Everywhere, you hear the techno-optimists and cyber-utopians discussing how technology changes everything, how Twitter & FB can cause revolutions. And you see it too: Corporate empires get crushed, new ones arise in their place; protests happen on the street, governments fall after the masses are mobilized on Facebook.

Who in this world of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and their hangers-on is going to argue that what we do is not the most important thing on earth, that we are not in fact the center of the universe? I mean, if I’m at all a representative sample, it’s not like we’re even talking to the politicos or, for that matter, anyone outside our own insular little world who might have a different view.

Our great creation, the internet––this vast network and everything built on top of it––was supposed to free our minds, to expose us to vast and new ways of thinking. But the reality, at least for me, has been different.

The internet hasn’t really expanded my field of vision, it’s deepened it.

In 2008, I was wannabe journalist with a dream about technology and a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship or startups or venture capital.

Two years later, I’m the CEO of a funded company in Silicon Valley. How? I taught myself on the internet. I’ve read blogs voraciously. I’ve turned FB messages into meetings, Tweets into investments. I am deep, deep into this world of startups. The amount of information I can consume is enormous. So enormous, in fact, that I can now consume a diet composed almost entirely of niche-specific information and still be missing out on something important in the industry.

In the short term, this is great: I now know a ton about what’s going on in my part of the world. Perhaps more so than anyone ever could before.

The long term is where the echo chamber bites you in the ass: Inevitably, something important happens outside of your niche that has the power to change it completely. Maybe it’s an energy crisis that drives up the cost of shipping and thus clobbers eCommerce. Maybe it’s the government shutting off the internet.

My point here is that while it’s easy––and in fact natural––for us in the tech world to overlook it: Politics really fucking matters. If it so chooses, the state can kill “the cloud” with the flick of a switch. Congress can tax eCommerce into oblivion. The FCC can kill YouTube. The FTC can regulate Facebook.

We’ve been deluded into thinking that all this innovation is inevitable and unstoppable. It ain’t.

And beyond that, information sharing is not an end in itself. Governments don’t fall because you tweet @ them. They fall when people with guns organize themselves on Facebook.

The internet is only a trigger.

The internet was invented because military generals wanted a resilient command and control system for our nuclear forces. The internet itself is not a weapon; it is not a force upon itself. No, the internet is only an enabler, a lever that, if used properly, can connect and inspire people––real human beings made of flesh and blood––into action.

Fred Wilson wrote a post this morning entitled, A Frightening Week.

I suppose I am a “cyberutopian” at heart as Evgeny Morozov calls us. I believe in the power of technology, particularly communications technology powered by the internet, to make the world better, safer, and more open and free.

This past week has shown that the cyberutopian view is naive and that those who are not interested in a better, safer, more open and free world will use technology to further their interests too.

So this has been a frightening week and one that shows that the fight for human rights all over the world will not be delivered a decisive win via the internet.

Fred, I agree. Securing that freedom requires people with guns and training in the art of violence. And that’s a combo you can’t get on the internet. It’s not allowed.

*What makes the state unique is that it has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force & violence. Even when force is withheld, the threat of it gets people act. Kinda like when a cop tells you to step out of the car.