Thursday, December 6, 2007

New Era - Old Era

When pundits blab. When bloggers blog. When columnists spew. It's all just words. It's just jargon. It's just giving people what they want.

This is My Word At Large. I give people what they need to hear. This is my word.

I don't normally watch the military channel. I don't really think of myself as a very aggressive person. But, yesterday, I Tivo'ed a show on that channel that blew my mind. I was, quite frankly, stunned. The episode carefully depicted to the gruesomest details the fight for the Atoll islands in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

That was a war you could get behind. A war you could talk to your friends, parents, brothers, minister about. It felt right to the bone.

It made you sink into the back of your seat with an angry, nauseous knot in your stomach. Believe me you didn't change the channel during the commercials, you didn't even move.

This Iraq war. I'm not so sure I could say the same thing. Sure, I think there are good reasons to be there. But, to be honest, there are a lot of bad ones too. It's a huge question.

That's exactly the point though. A war should be vital. You should feel it pulsing through your veins. It should not be debated or half-hearted.

Perhaps this is a silly proposition, but I believe a war should make for the most enthralling programming every conceived because it should be unconditionally burned in the back of our minds. It should grip us in the same way that those Spartans felt standing at Thermopylae staring at the invading Persian masses.

As for me, I might just flip on the Military Channel again tonight.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Confucian Confusion

I've been back for about a day now. It feels great to be back in the swing of things. And to be back in a place with a New York Times subscription.

Brooks wrote a pretty serious column today calling out the meritocracy of China for what it is: a Dictatorship of Talent. Children are raised to be machines. They are groomed from the beginning to memorize and work efficiently. They are Confucians without a doubt.

So, people like Lou Dobbs are probably out there pounding their fists on tables denouncing everything we do here in America. How can we compete, they refrain. Like little parrot monkeys, all they can think to do is repeat each other.

Well, let's think about this. I was raised and schooled in rural Rhode Island. Did I sometimes skip school and forget assignments? You betcha! Was I a good student? Sure. But, what it came down to wasn't how many numbers of pi I could memorize but how well I could survive in a changing, global economy. Believe me.

And, when I was vying for a prestigious hedge fund consultant position some years ago do you think they asked me the capital of Nepal? No. They wanted to know if I could think on my feet, if I could play with the team but also make some all star moves. And, I could.

And, where did I learn that? Not at school. I learned that playing ball. At first as a kid, and then later on in the farm leagues. I learned all that hanging out with friends just watching a movie. Those were important lessons you can't get from a book or an audio cassette.

That was my life. And things worked out fine. Just fine.

Here's Brooks' take: "But in the back of your mind you wonder: Perhaps it’s simply impossible for a top-down memorization-based elite to organize a flexible, innovative information economy, no matter how brilliant its members are."

Exactly, I've been wondering that all along.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Brief History of Trains, Travelling

Mom and dad are in good hands. They miss the old house but as far as I'm concerned this move is the most interesting thing that's happened to them in years.

Anyways, I left West Kingston this morning on the Amtrak. Actually, I should say that I am leaving West Kingston at this very moment, hurdling down century old railroad tracks in a aluminum capsule. I am munching on roasted almonds, which my mother bought and roasted for me, and doing my daily morning blog routine. I should be in Camden in about 3 hours but believe me I'm not fretting. I feel just fine. Just fine.

So long as the train stays its course and I can keep levelheaded, which I hope I can, it will be like I never left my flat. Sure, it was great seeing my parents and having them see me, but my point is that I can move so fast on this train without ever lifting a finger.

Just think about that. I was here. I was there. People always moving. People plugging in. All along the way.

I realized last night that I hadn't addressed Brooks' most recent column and the furor its incited. I happen to be of the opinion that things have been blown greatly out of proportion and I think that his arguments were taken out of context.

The main idea here is that we are secure in our place in the world economy. I agree. The cultivation worldwide of liberalized economies and expansive economic institutions, such as the WTO and IMF, will pay off. Indeed, Japan and Germany owe their success to the US without a doubt. This is an identical situation. We have an interest in seeing other economies blossom. It is of course in our interest.

Look: our economy might be headed towards a sight hiccup but the world no longer exclusively depends on our telling it what to do. The kids have grown up, moved out and gotten laid. The factories are still gonna churn out enough copies of Shrek III to keep baby bobo happy. So, we all just need to calm down.

As far as the controversy goes, Brooks has weathered many. He is a tough, reasonable guy and I think that logic is on his. And logic will always work out.

And, as usual, the kids are screaming, the pundits are screaming, things are what they are, and Brooks is just trying to figure things out.

Excuse me for being sensible.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Bobo and A New, Old America

I'm sitting here in rural Rhode Island with my aging parents. Their spirits are well but it seems that my father has a relatively bad case of gingivitis. His gums look awful. But, that's just the thing.

Here are two country folk who would have been severely disabled by now during any other time in history and here they are just sitting at the table with me.

Medical care is state of the art, even for these folks and that is thanks to the forces and depths of global economic change. That gingivitis of my father. It's being looked at by dental techs who were trained at some local, chain strip mall dental tech training academy. They are I'm sure working on his case diligently and they are of course well trained. It's a fairly advanced infection but I'm, of course, confident that he wil be fine.

And I do hope that things work out well. Lord knows that my health has been less than ideal ever since being on the road for all those years with the Pawtucket Sox. Those were crazy years. So, let's just say that I have an interest in having those dental techs well paid and well taken care of.

As for my mom. She's well. I'm kind of worried about her jaw. Could be a low-level arthritis or something to that effect. But, that is to say that I'm not so worried. Dental care, medical care, health care are all important and I think they are here to stay. Just so long as we can keep things rolling.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Glocal Everywhere.

Today, on my way home, I saw a woman sitting in her SUV (actually driving at quite high speeds), sipping a latte and communicating with untold numbers of people through her sparkling pink wireless Ericson headset. For all I knew that pretty brunette could have been conference calling with the board of Tyco--all from the front seat of her Lexus RX350. Tyco, a multi-multi-million dollar a year enterprise, run from different corners of the earth by people speeding down freeways at highway speed and briskly making management decisions moving more money than the average glocal citizen could imagine. Now that's glocal.

Glocalization. Redefined.

Just really quickly.

I've been thinking about the roles of globalization, free trade, and consumerism in making for a new kind of person: the bobo. The local is now seemingly the global and the global is now without a glimmer of a doubt the local. The bobo is driving not down the street, highway, driveway when they leave the house, they are moving this way or that way. Following routes that exist on maps on search engines and in colorful GPS control centers in our "wired" SUVs.

A trip to the store is now multiplied and divided many times by the magnificent economies of scale of the globe and then remade by teary-eyed producers in Hollywookie. This rough arithmetic shows us where we are going and where we were. We are living our lives as we know best, but we are all too unaware of where we are.

Looking down at the globe from outer space in 20 years, I'm very sure that astronauts will not see the same glowing blue orb, the earth, that we are accustomed to. What they will see will be a glocal village. Everyone plugged in. Information spreading.

That's the nature of the glocal.

And, I don't think there is any going back.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Moley and Making the New Deal Make Sense

I live in a world where free and open trade has allowed an infinite flow of information. People all over the world are plugging in and are figuring things out for themselves. In the past, it was always about just barely making it in. Making ends meet, making friends, making it home in time. Always just barely in time. Now, we drive around in our "wired" SUV's sipping lattes and I think to myself "what happened?"

Indeed, what happened?

I would like to think there is a more clear cut explanation than the one I am offering, so I will try to scale back before I really get out there.

Brooks seems to tie everything to the advent of the bobo. I think I can go with him on that and I think it a helpful way to approach this question. Though not perfect, the bobo is as good as any platform to understand the undulations and fluctuations of the political world.

For Brooks, it all comes back to the bobos. And, why shouldn't it? They, after all, represent the birth of the new political/virtual kingmakers.

Brooks explains the bobo as a recent phenomenon. In my opinion, it seems an expedient but perhaps short-sighted decision to cut off the bobo distinction as being specifically recent. I think we can do better than that. We can certainly dig a little deeper.

And, I was thinking about that all day today. That is, I was thinking about the bobo. They are maybe not so recent.

Let's turn back the clock 60 years. Let's take a quick glance at Franklin Roosevelt's personal and intellectual background. Pulling back the curtain you get a very nuanced sense of a man who everyone seems to label as one, maybe two things.

We pull back the curtain and what we get is the "brain trust." The brain trust was a formidable group of economic advisers who helped Roosevelt move the country out of the abyss of depression through restoring confidence in markets.

Their argument was that without confidence the populace would never be able to recreate the cycle of supply and demand.

What this all culminated in was the creation of the much hailed New Deal, turning around the economy in its tracks.

Certainly, nobody can deny that FDR and, most likely, his brain trust were great men, and true patriots. But the question that begs to be answered is who were these men. These elites who made policy behind those giant mahogany doors?

And so here I suggest that maybe the bobo is not so recent a phenomenon. The brain trust wore fine suits and drank coffee, now the bobos sip lattes and drive "hybrid" SUV's. There are certainly differences and simiarities, but they are all superficial. Totally superficial. What they do truly share, in fact, is a commitment to inhabiting fully the economic and cultural possibilities of their time.

If you deny yourself the right be a man complete in your own time then you are denying the times that complete man. The brain trust was a group of elites, raised in fine clothes and accustomed to fine fair. They were well trained and happy to serve their country in that time of such dire need. They were perhaps privileged, but that is what they knew.

And perhaps the bobos are servicing the country now in just the same way. They are what the times have churned out. It is the bobo who makes the economy crank. It is their tastes, purchases and predilection for the digital age that allows this prosperity. To dispute that is to dispute the very logic of the times.

When you lose step with those around you. When you begin to fashion yourself outside of your own time, you are mistaken.

Take the story of Raymond Moley. A renowned brain trust advisor and economist, Moley went on to dispute the grounds of the New Deal, touting the realization he soon made that "he was playing ninepins with the skulls and thighbones of economic orthodoxy." He stepped outside the New Deal, the depression and stepped clean off the face of the earth as far as I'm concerned.

Moley missed the boat. He rejected his place in the times. He was arbitrarily throwing his proverbial latte out the window and curling up under the sheets just like Lou Dobbs. Indeed, in all certainty, Moley missed the boat.

So free and open trade may be like "playing ninepins with the skulls and thighbones of economic orthodoxy," but it works.

It works just fine.

About Benjamin

I was located outside of Berlin in a small enclave, which was really quite nice. I lived in a two bedroom flat above a kneipe, which is German for bar. I had a membership to the New York Times Select service, which gave me access to the columnists and the archives. I am a big fan of David Brooks.