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.

One Last Correction

Unfortunately, there are some readers of this blog that seem to take pleasure in pointing out mistakes I have made. I understand that mistakes are probably present in some of my writings. I make mistakes. I don't have all day to nitpick. I'm glad I don't go to sports games with any of you, you'd probably be correcting me the whole time.

To be fair, I did misspell Hasbro. I spelled it Hashbro. It is, in fact, Hasbro. It was an honest mistake. Indeed, mistakes are not bad, what's bad is when people fail to correct their mistakes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hashbro in Siam: Not so Fast!

As is apt to happen when writing I did in fact make a mistake in my last post. It was of course an accident and it was made quite unintentionally. I did in fact err in saying that Hashro had left Pawtucket. They are quite certainly still in 'Tucket and I'm sure they are fine employers. But, I didn't know that. I bet Lou Dobbs is still screaming.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bobos in Pawtucket. Toyland in Siam

A young man named Wonderful Terrific Monds III supposedly made a brief stint as an Atlanta Braves outfielder during the mid-nineties. I played in the MLB farm leagues as a young man and I can tell you that I never met such an unusually named young man. I played for the Pawtucket Red Sox where I batted .348, which sounds impressive for the MLB but like I said these are the farm leagues.

Anyways, Pawtucket in those days was an tough town of some 50,000 hardworking Americans. Hasbro was based there back then, offering steady employment to some 1,100 Pawtucket inhabitants. They have probably left for some remote corner of China or Siam by now. Things do change.

I still remember well my time in Pawtuckett. I remember playing ball with Ken Ryan, a teammate on the Pawtucket Red Sox who went on to play for the Philadelphia Phillies, and driving to the stadium in his 240z. In those days Tuckett had the vitality of a real American town, and speeding around in that 240z with Ken you really knew you were somewhere real.

Just recently, I visited Tuck and happened to show up during their annual September Arts Festival. I was a long way from the McCoy stadium of my heady days, but really the festival site was only a couple of blocks away. Sipping lattes and buying arts in one hand and crafts in the other, the throngs of let's just say eclectically dressed Rhode Islanders made for a humbling site. I can tell you one thing: I felt like I was on another planet.

The whole time I couldn't help but think of David Brooks' book Bobos in Paradise.

Who were these people? And, when and why had they descended on (of all places in the world) Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Well, these were, as it turn out, bobos. And, they had descended some time in the middle of the 1990's when an unlikely marriage took place between the Bohemians and the Bourgeoisie. These were people who had the means to live lavishly but chose to look and act however they pleased (generally quite bohemianly).

When I started playing for the Pawtucket Red Sox, Ken and I would talk about maybe getting a major league contract. We would talk about the kind of lifestyle that awaited us. Ricky Henderson, John Kruk, Jeff Bagwell. These were all people who lived well. And, what if, we thought, we could live like them.

One thing was for certain. That was to get out of Pawtucket. That was for sure. We were going to live well for the rest of our lives.

These bobos at the arts festival made me wonder where I was when the bobo storm was first brewing. I had never given a second thought to this bohemianism. And, now, here were all these people my age, wearing cloths that only vaguely resembled clothes and buying things that I wouldn't take if they were given to me.

So, where was I? I do know that I had some good times in my days. We were happy to be playing in the farm leagues back then and I would be happy to be there now.

The question that nagged me as I walked over the festival grounds was how I could be such a stranger in my own land.

Brooks makes the point that the bobos are here for the long haul. They are redefining America. Brooks even says maybe he is in fact a bobo. It's strange to think of this new cultural force. I had never really given it much attention. After all, I was too busy living my own life!

So, over the past couple of days I have been doing some online research on Wonderful Terrific Monds III. It turns out that he did in fact play for the Atlanta Braves as well as the Idaho Falls Braves, which was a surprise to me.

And maybe if a man named Wonderful Terrific Monds III can play professional baseball and farm league baseball without me knowing anything about it then maybe the bobo phenomenon did exist and I just didn't know anything about that either.

And so it seems that maybe the future is already here.

As for that factory that's probably somewhere in Siam now, I bet Lou Dobbs is out there screaming. And me, I'm just sitting here quietly trying to make sense of it all.

About the David Brooks Poll

I am somewhat frustrated about how the David Brooks poll is working out on the blog. I thought it would be a fun way to select our favorite articles. It's really frustrating that there has only been four votes. All of which for the same article, The Real Giuliani. Also one of the choices was incorrectly inputted into the poll and then somebody voted for it, even though it is obviously unclear which article you are voting for. Now, because voting has already begun I can no longer replace the incorrect poll entry (the one listed as a web address instead of as a title). It was supposed to be Brooks' semi-recent article on McCain entitled the Character Factor. Does anybody out there know how to replace an incorrect entry on a poll with a different phrase after voting has begun? More work to come soon, perhaps I will review some older Brooks pieces...

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Dobbsian Scare

"Once upon a time, the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the world are rising out of poverty would have been a source of pride and optimism...But if you listen to the presidential candidates [or Lou Dobbs], improvements in the developing world are menacing."

This was Brooks' somewhat resigned tone in his most recent November 27th article. I can tell you that I hate to hear this. But I understand where he is coming from.

I will tell you that this is scarcely the kind of Brooks that I can easily rally behind. But, I understand that things are complex. Things are not always as clear as people wants them to be.
And, of course, when that subject comes to mind, Lou Dobbs is an obvious culprit. Banging his fists against the table and spouting all sorts of one-dimensional rhetoric. It is, for him, always one thing. One thing at a time. One-a-Day-Lou-Dobbs.

Now, Lou Dobbs is most certainly a little volatile and in this sort of a political atmosphere there is no doubt that he will have to be contended with. Certainly his nightly escapades are eagerly awaited by a number of viewers, but I think that he is a bit over the top. Particularly, his incessant nagging about outsourcing is more than a little grating, especially considering he obviously has a very limited conception of free trade, which Brooks is quick to point out!

"So it’s worth pointing out now more than ever that Dobbsianism is fundamentally wrong. It plays on legitimate anxieties, but it rests at heart on a more existential fear — the fear that America is under assault and is fundamentally fragile. It rests on fears that the America we once knew is bleeding away."

Brooks is, I think, making a quite valid extrapolation here. America is as fragile as we believe it to be. And I agree with Brooks when he bravely rebuffs this Dobbsian fear-mongering. America is our country. And that has been the case for decades. But, if other people think otherwise, I guess that's just how it's going to be.

America, as far as I know, is built on the accumulated smart policy and institutional decisions of the last 60 years, bestowing upon us not the ephemeral glee of a rabidly developing industry but rather the stability and levelheadedness of American ingenuity.

I'm sitting here in Camden, New Jersey and I am looking out my window at a city that was gloriously prolific in its day. Now as the tides of economic fashion have ebbed, there is new possibility. Awaiting are a surplus of labor, efficient transport routes and comprehensive city infrastructure. Now, imagine that the city were to invest in high-speed fibre-optics and if just half the population of Camden were to start their own Internet start-up. Now, I am not saying this is a likelihood, but maybe it is a possibility.

A whole new Internet economy on fast fibre-optic lines. I wonder what Lou Dobbs would say about that.

General Format Considerations

Let me take a moment before I go to bed to make some statements about the general formatting of Now, we can't have this be an absolute free-for-all, because I believe that would hinder discussion.

What we need on the contrary is a reasonable forum for discussing these issues. So then how do we do this? How could we do this? What might work well is a kind of round robin arrangement but I am not sure how that would play out. I think that we will be just fine. More posts soon!

Help with Layout!

I don't know if there are any computer whizzes out there but I could really use some help with the page layout. I think the HTML needs to be removed. There is a box of text which is blocking David Brooks' mouth and nose. I can't figure it out...Anyone?

Making Sense Amdist Confusion

This is the first in a series of reflection and exposition pieces on the work of the NY Time's David Brooks. It is hoped that this will eventually become a forum for readers of his work to get together and think through the sometimes controversial but eminently reasonable David Brooks.

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.