" /> I write: October 2007
Curmudgeonalia
I see I taste I write Links What?
October 28, 2007

Who Cares?

I dunno ‘bout-chew, but I am frustrated that the information channels consider it news--and that we care--that all of the screwed up young and famous are in combat over their kids, enamored of their drug use, excuse their drunk driving and wallow in their sexcapades—even make movies of them.

It’d be delightful to go the rest of my life without hearing another word about Paris, Britney, Madonna, K-whatever his name is and their ilk. Even the aging Madonna!

When I was a kid there were problems in Hollywood—one hears about Doris Day’s sexual excesses, alcoholism, profanity, etc—but we never heard about it at the time. The tabloid press tried to make them exemplary citizens. Serious effort was made by the adults in charge to keep it under wraps and, one suspects, even acquire therapy when necessary.

Now we’re treated to hourly doses—even hour long doses—of this tripe, pretending to be news, and I wanna meet the adult who gives a S**T!

Posted by respeto at 1:00 PM

October 24, 2007

A rant on "The World is Flat"

Friedman points out some issues with productivity which I found amusing, if not relevant to the general purpose of his observations, and not of little concern, either:

• One anecdote involved a CEO racing along in Japanese a bullet train using the net. Friedman observes that we can’t even keep contact with a cell phone tower when driving in this country. Droll was the fact that this busy executive was rocketing thru one of the most beautiful countries in the world, yet instead of enjoying the experience he was buried in his task. Whatever happened to remembering to smell the flowers?

• He emphasizes that the Japanese “believe that the mobile phone will become the essential controller of a person’s life,” which I find that scary as hell.

• Another mention was that, with current digital storage capacity, a kid can now have “thousands of songs” in his iPod. Who in hell needs 120 hours of music at his fingertips? The kid would be better if he went out and played tennis. Of course it is now possible to play tennis, alone, on your computer. Who knew? And why would you do it? Seems to me it destroys the whole idea of exercise . . . camaraderie . . . even life!

But, then, according to the Guru, we’re merrily heading toward an exciting life of electronics. And the life-determining cell phone.

Spare me!!

Posted by respeto at 1:10 PM

The World is Flat
A Brief History of the 21st Century
Thomas L. Friedman – ISBN – 9780312425074

O.K. . . . I’m sorry !!! A customer recently made the innocent inquiry: “Have you read The World is Flat?” My rejoinder was a little surly, even for me. Ever since Friedman became a raving liberal lunatic I wouldn’t trust anything he said, so I had not read it, nor did I plan to. But a friend loaned me his copy and insisted that I at least skim it. I did, and I’m glad. It was worthwhile.

Being Friedman, he spends far too much time dropping names of his contacts around the planet to let us know how important he is and all of the places he’s been. Being a world recognized Pulitzer Prize winning journalist would have been sufficient for most of us.

He’s loquacious, and his style here reminds one of a conversation not a book. He does a first-rate job of documenting statistically what every reasonably well informed person already knows, and his “gotcha games” with the great powers were to me offensive.

A good editor—permitted--could eliminate half the book without omitting anything of importance. With those caveats, however, he is masterful in explaining his observations and conclusions.

My grandkids often use the button on the VCR to “fast forward thru the boring parts.” Do the same; it is a good book to skim.

He makes the point that recent technology has made it necessary to view the world as an integral unit. Flat is the term he uses; thus modern tools are flattening the world. (He reassures us that he doesn’t really believe the world is flat. Thanks, Tom, we were worried.)

Global crossing, while bankrupting itself laying cable all around the world, set the stage for universal digital communications at affordable prices. Consequentially the modern web is capable of incredible feats and has encouraged the genius of myriad individuals who have authored numberless programs to facilitate the organization and movement of the information which Google and Yahoo direct us to.

Entire libraries and archives are being digitized by high quality, low cost labor in India and other places which would be impossible without this technology. Banks, hospitals and others can outsource bookkeeping, data entry and management around the world, providing inexpensive services and lower prices while creating wealth in these developing countries.

Information on UPS services is fascinating, as are collaborative efforts of Papa John’s, Nike and Jockey. Large and small companies outsource to professionals whose primary function is niche management or marketing. “Smalls” can thus compete globally with “Bigs,” and nobody even knows.

He emphasizes that many jobs are not going “over there.” Rather, they are being eliminated by new technology. China, India and the Asian Tigers are not racing the U.S. and Europe to the bottom with low wage labor; they are racing us to the top with effort and ingenuity. Now even they are outsourcing to lower wage countries. If we don’t soon recognize and correct this they will win!

The U.S. still has many of the finest schools, but a majority of the relevant advanced degrees are being earned here by foreigners. Worse, technology now permits them to return home on completion to societies which they prefer. Immigration is no longer necessary. Further, some of their schools are improving such that they will soon be as good as ours. As a nation we are losing high-tech skills because of societal sloth. All of us are aware that our educational systems are bad. Learn here more about just how bad.

The man has a lot to say, and a lot of it is right, but he seems to ignore the politics of the situation. Sure it takes leadership, but the current environment has prevented handling social security, immigration, education, and more. He ends, as liberals always do, with a heaping portion of pious pabulum piled on a paper plate. We have to be nice, play fair, have dreams, eliminate fear, trust everyone, etc. Bah! Humbug.

Using the information provided, along with common sense, we have to get off our butts, discipline and educate our kids and encourage people to educate themselves in useful endeavors. For those incapable or uninterested in that life course we have to emphasize and provide training in manual jobs which cannot be outsourced, and control immigration so that the wages paid to those on the lower rungs are able to live well.

I well remember an old saw from my youth. There’s very little difference between people. But that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude; the big difference is whether it’s good or bad. We currently have a bad attitude about lots of things, married to an over-aching sense of superiority and entitlement. For the past century we have been unchallenged. No longer, and we are increasingly behind the curve.

While this is a dissertation on business and globalization he does include some of the societal impact—good and bad. He also omits a number, a few of which I mentioned above.

He does point up many factors which are cogent, and a few are endearing. A selection of these:

• By furthering education we move a larger portion of the population up a notch into a higher wage group, which leaves fewer in the bottom portion, thus raising wages there as well, but only if we control immigration! (A liberal who supports immigration control . . . wow!)

• Leadership positions in China are primarily filled by engineers. In America "leadership" is overwhelmed by lawyers. That is a problem!

• Economic stability in this flat world is not going to happen. Get used to it.

• Everyone wants economic growth, but no one wants to change.

And my favorite:

• In China today Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In America Britney is Britney Spears—that is a serious problem!

And finally he reminds that Will Rogers once said: “Even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

Posted by respeto at 1:02 PM

October 11, 2007

The Shia Revival

How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future
Vali Masr – ISBN – 9780393329681

Having read numerous books on this and related subjects since 9/11, many of which have been reviewed on this site, I can attest to the fact that this, in its way, is one of the best of the lot. The author, a Shia Muslim (one assumes), born in Iran, undertakes to review the history of Islam, the Shia-Sunni conflict(s) and the present state of that part of the world. He is an academic, currently on the faculty of the U.S. Naval Post-graduate School.

The first chapters review the history--ancient to near modern—which are a little too arcane for my interests, but when he advances to the current situations his descriptions are comprehensive and interesting. It is a treasure trove of both information and analysis. On the weak side, he offers no serious recommendations for a definitive approach.

His explication of the primary philosophic differences between Shia and Sunni are helpful if confusing to the western mind, and it is not, superficially, altogether dissimilar to the Catholic-Protestant conflicts of long past centuries, though the belief in martyrdom is unique.

The Sunni majority has been dominant over the globe for most all of history until the Iranian revolution of 1979, which has invigorated the Shia. Having long accepted it as Allah’s will, Shia now see an opportunity to reverse history, and have proceeded with a vengeance. The Sunni, heretofore disinclined to participate in martyrdom have become even more vicious than the Shia. With the emergence and dominance of Saudi fundamentalist Wahhabism on the world stage it is getting progressively worse.

Khomeini made Islamic fundamentalism a political force that has changed Muslim politics from Western Africa to the Philippines. He even altered Shiism to a rather large extent.

One particular event seems to capture the conflict rather well. After the first Gulf War, when Saddam’s reprisals were in full flare (without intercession of “the coalition,” one has to add, regretfully) he observes that there was merciless brutality as Shia towns and shrines were razed. He quotes an Iraqi general: “We captured many people and separated them into three groups. The first group we were sure was made up of people who were guilty. The second group we had doubts about, and the third group was innocent. [High command] said we should kill them all, and that’s what we did.”

Small wonder about all of the hate and adversity, but the attentive Westerner is inclined to consider the “manifest ill will” between the Allies, the Nazis and the Japanese during WW II and wonder upon its prompt dissipation shortly thereafter . . . and ask why this is impossible with Muslims. Masr explains, but for me his account is irrational.

After Saddam’s overthrow the Shia were in favor of federalism because it gave them a chance to be fairly represented. After several years of conflict they have reluctantly concluded that the Iraqi Sunni are not going to accept them as dominant, their majority status notwithstanding.

The Islamic revolution in Iran is now a “spent force.” The dictatorship is facing great pressure to change. He adds that “in no place in the Muslim world is modernity [with] its various cultural, political and economic instruments examined as seriously and thoroughly as in Iran,” noting that students spending time in Iran no longer hear only of “the spirit of Islamic revolution . . . it is more likely to wind up exposing them to reformist and democratic thought.” One can earnestly hope! However, since all of these countries are poorly disguised dictatorships one has to get unrealistically optimistic to trust things will change anytime soon.

“The lesson of Iraq is that trying to force a future of its liking will hasten the advent of those outcomes that the U.S. most wishes to avoid.” American occupation of Iraq has lead Muslims to conclude that there is a case to be made for radical Islam. The resulting debates are not about democracy or globalization, but conflicts between Shias and Sunnis.

His summarization is full, enlightening and not a little frightening. While he is “fair and balanced,” his assessment has a mindset if not an agenda. That is human nature, after all.

The precarious, destabilizing nature of this internecine war is more than troublesome for the planet, and especially for Western civilization.

It is ever more clear that amelioration is not to be forthcoming any time soon. As I’ve commented before: “If they just left the rest of the world alone--stayed miserable in their own place on earth--it would be insupportable and unacceptable, but not menacing. Since this is what they plan to impose on the rest of us it is objectionable in the extreme. It must be . . . pushed back into its own wretched corner of the planet.”

Posted by respeto at 3:12 PM

October 1, 2007

Mayflower

Nathaniel Philbrick – ISBN – 9780143111979

This is a truly astounding book. Much as I (used to) think I knew about American history I found this enlightening far beyond my expectations.

We all know, and know we know, about the Puritans, the Mayflower and the Speedwell; Robinson, Bradford, Standish and the Pilgrims; Massasoit, Squanto and the Wampanoags; the Narragansetts, the Pokanockets and all the rest. Learned it way back in grammar school!!

Trust me . . . we don’t! Or at least won’t until this book is read. It is a wonderfully informative, well organized and written epistle about the settling of New England in the early 17th century. He amply describes the reasons for the voyage, how it ended up well north of intentions, the initial encounters with Native Americans, why some were (reluctantly) welcoming and others were not, and what in due course fomented the savage conflicts which ultimately occurred. As well he discusses the adversity faced by these folks, unaccustomed to the brutally cold climate and unaware of farming or fishing. Parts of this will be familiar to all, but there is fascinating information not generally shared amongst those of us educated in Pilgrim myth.

Philbrick answers questions we’ve never raised, explains why much of what we know is false or insufficient, offers an in depth recantation of that 60-70 year period from the Puritan exodus to Holland, thru and beyond King Philip’s war, and assists in the understanding of the founding of the New England colonies in a way which is as relaxed as it is absorbing. And he does it all with nary a mention of Priscilla Mullins famous quote: “why don’t you speak for yourself, John.”

With the exception of Dogs of God, I cannot recall a history book I have enjoyed more, or learned more from in the last 5 years. That would include 1776 and the several I have reviewed which were written by Mark Kurlansky.

But enough . . . I highly recommend a leisure and thoughtful read. It is destined to be as rewarding as anything you’ll spend several hours doing in the next little while.

Posted by respeto at 9:46 AM