weekly doom and gloom (aka reality)
Loveliness was everywhere this holiday weekend in upstate New York, and it was probably hard for many to believe that the wayward nation would return to the dread uncertainty of life in the crash lane when the barbeques were over. There was even a wan overtone to the late-night sports news about the Indy 500 race -- as though the spectacle of cars droning round and round a speed oval epitomized the futility of American life in this moment of our history.
I had a discussion with one guy at a Sunday night party about the prospects for hydrogen-powered cars. We rehearsed the usual reasons why such a system was unlikely to get up-and-running -- and then he said, "...but what if we took all the money from the war and put it into something like the space program and... they came up with some way to make it happen...!"
This is certainly the golden heart of the great wish out there, as the empire of Happy Motoring begins to run down on $4 gasoline. It seems inconceivable that a society so bold as to put men on the moon (fer crissake) can't overcome such a prosaic problem as finding something other than oil byproducts to run our cars on.
From this holy font all cognitive dissonance flows.
It seems inconceivable, but it begins to look like that's the way it really is, and we just can't accept it.
Tools to Smooth The Grain of Life
TOOLS were a part of life when I was a boy in blue-collar Brooklyn after World War II. Men carried their tools to work in the dark mornings, jammed into leather belts, or slung over shoulders, or gripped in gloved hands against the cold. They carried those tools with a certain pride, like prizefighters with gym bags; they were symbols of work and skill.
In the evenings, the subways were salty with the aromas of perspiration and labor and the men planted their backs against the doors, with their tools at their feet. In memory, those working men were all hard and courteous, but grave, even solemn; more likely, they were simply exhausted. But one memory is absolutely clear: no kid ever told them to get out of the way.
Tools helped such men form families, raise kids, put food on kitchen tables. But tools weren't simply a means of earning a living. They were essential to life in the places where working people lived. In those much leaner times, damaged goods could not be thrown away and then replaced by the latest models; they had to be repaired. No agents of landlords or the state would arrive to make minor repairs; tenants did most of that work themselves. And so every flat in blue-collar New York contained a toolbox. Ours was one of them.
"Get me the toolbox," my father would growl on a Saturday morning, his voice already burred by whiskey and cigarettes. "We've got a job to do. . . ."
My brothers and I would rush to the closet and dig out the battered dark-green metal toolbox and lay it upon the kitchen table (no workshop in those cramped tenement rooms). Then, with a metallic unsnapping of locks, the lid would lift -- open sesame! we'd sometimes shout -- and suddenly, magically, there were the tools, lying in almost sacramental order: hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, clamps; a metal file, a spirit level, a plumb bob and a soldering iron; shears for cutting metal and pliers for braiding wire. Tools: the nouns of work.
I think it's time to give some serious study and analysis as to what exactly the Communist Party of China really is.
The recent earthquake is China put this huge organization to a brutal test, it responded humanely, with efficiency, flexibility and imagination in taking care of the victims and simultaneously getting the maximum political benefit from the catastrophe both at home and abroad.
Many people, all over the world, have drawn unfavorable comparisons with the American government's handling of Katrina, a far less damaging crisis, where government at all levels: local, state and federal, showed a bumbling, autistic indifference to the suffering of their fellow countrymen. The much vaunted private sector certainly didn't "step up", not one leader emerged from that crisis, from the President on down... This in a country that prides itself as no other on the quality of its management science, techniques that are exported to every corner of the earth, to MBA students who learn them and recite them with the devotion of little Muslim boys in a madrassa.
As a management team, the Communist Party of China is obviously agile, responsive and intelligent. Anyone with experience in large collective endeavors knows how difficult it is for such a massive organization to embody any of those qualities. I truly wish that Peter Drucker was still with us to analyze this dancing elephant!
We are looking at something truly formidable: massive and yet flexible. A listening organization and a learning organization.
The HP B9180 printer arrived but I've been so busy that it's still in the box. I also need to find a place to put it.
My Ricoh Diacord and Meopta Flexaret Va. They are works in progress. I bought the Flexaret over three years ago but the focusing screen was dim and dirty. I never could figure out how to get the top off so it sat. A friend gave me the Diacord. I cleaned off the focusing screen but I have a hard time focusing on just ground glass. So it sat, too.
Then I discovered Rick Oleson's focusing screens with a split image spot. The screens transform these cameras. They are much more fun to use when you can focus. Who knew?
Now I'm measuring for new leather. More pictures and a longer story at my Flickr set.
Globalizers, Neocons, orů?
The World After Bush
Picture January 20, 2009, the day George W. Bush has to vacate the Oval Office.
It's easy enough to imagine a party marking this fine occasion, with antiwar protestors, civil libertarians, community leaders, environmentalists, health-care advocates, and trade unionists clinking glasses to toast the end of an unfortunate era. Even Americans not normally inclined to political life might be tempted to join the festivities, bringing their own bottles of bubbly to the party. Given that presidential job approval ratings have rarely broken 40% for two years and now remain obdurately around or below 30% -- historic lows -- it would not be surprising if this were a sizeable celebration.
More surprising, however, might be the number of people in the crowd drinking finer brands of champagne. Amid the populist gala, one might well spot figures of high standing in the corporate world, individuals who once would have looked forward to the reign of an MBA president but now believe that neocon bravado is no way to run an empire.
One of the more curious aspects of the Bush years is that the self-proclaimed "uniter" polarized not only American society, but also its business and political elites. These are the types who gather at the annual, ultra-exclusive World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and have their assistants trade business cards for them. Yet, despite their sometime chumminess, these powerful few are now in disagreement over how American power should be shaped in the post-Bush era and increasing numbers of them are jumping ship when it comes to the course the Republicans have chosen to advance these last years. They are now engaged in a debate about how to rule the world.
Don't think of this as some conspiratorial plot, but as a perfectly commonsensical debate over what policies are in the best interests of those who hire phalanxes of Washington lobbyists and fill the coffers of presidential and congressional campaigns. Many business leaders have fond memories of the "free trade" years of the Clinton administration, when CEO salaries soared and the global influence of multinational corporations surged. Rejecting neoconservative unilateralism, they want to see a renewed focus on American "soft power" and its instruments of economic control, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Trade Organization (WTO) -- the multilateral institutions that formed what was known in international policy circles as "the Washington Consensus." These corporate globalists are making a bid to control the direction of economic policy under a new Democratic administration.
There is little question that the majority of people on the planet -- those who suffered under both the corporate globalization of the Clinton years and the imperial globalization of George W. Bush -- deserve something better. However, it is far from certain that social justice advocates who want to encourage a more democratic approach to world affairs and global economic well-being will be able to sway a new administration. On the other hand, the damage inflicted by eight years of neocon rule and the challenges of an increasingly daunting geopolitical scene present a conundrum to the corporate globalizers: Is it even possible to go back to the way things were?
Zoe's mom, Gerry, had a bad day yesterday. She fell on her face. We got a call from Western State Hospital about 8 in the morning to let us know they were sending her to the Emergency Room. Zoe was concerned that she might be admitted. The Emergency Room at St. Clair handles the emergency patients from Western State Hospital. Given that Western State Hospital is for mental patients (which includes Alzheimer's) you would think they would be used to dealing with not normal people but they aren't. But Gerry wasn't there long and was on the way back before noon. She broke her nose, tore open the very fragile skin on her arm and hurt her knees. At least her neck was OK. Zoe has more. We will probably go visit tomorrow. She is pretty bruised and in pain.