Friday, November 14, 2008

Lost in a New Century

During my lifetime, this may be the weirdest moment of many very strange times.

In the fifties, I simply could not fit into the society around me. I tried. Like any kid, I wanted to be normal, but I never felt in synch with the people around me .

So, I developed a coping strategy. I faked being like everyone or anyone else. I was an actor.

A decade later, in the mid-sixties, I discovered my cohort -- other alienated kids who thought too much. One epiphany was that other people also liked Faulkner's novels and stories, as obscure and difficult as they may be to absorb.

Still others loved the beauty of numerical patterns (my math phase); even others were left speechless when witnessing the paintings of masters, or rather, sections of paintings. Think: Rembrandt's black.

Then, there was music. I was never a good musician in any sense of the term. But I did study piano in an era when the only music taught was classical. Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, Brahms, Chopin, Schubert...each with his own distinctive flavor, beat, and emotional arc.

But my music genius friends knew far more about this than I could ever hope to perceive.

Then, there were my fellow Econ majors. Unlike me, they seemed to be able to accept the caveat attached to all economic theories, as explained to us by Paul Samuelson, i.e., "all other things being equal."

No, I protested, all other things are never equal.

Next came philosophy. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Lucretius, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Rousseau, among others. I loved these guys' writings, but I probably absorbed Hegel above all others. His sense of the dialectics of history seem as relevant today as the era when he wrote them.

In the seventies, the political and cultural revolution I and my peers assumed would occur was stopped dead in its tracks.

In the eighties, the world around us changed in scary ways. Suddenly, no one seemed to cared about social justice any more. America was a land of every man (and woman) for himself (herself).

Finally, in the mid-nineties, a new information revolution arrived. The web ushered in a libertarian, anarchist age. As the consummate outsider, all of my strange life, I embraced this. But I also argued strenuously against some of the carelessness of this new generation of revolutionaries.

What about the social and environmental externalities? Homelessness? Global climate change? Entrenched poverty?

Now comes the new century. Maybe we need Hegel now more than ever? Or maybe we need Mozart? I don't know. As it has been all of my life, I am so far outside of the mainstream, that the only thing I know for sure is that I know nothing at all.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One Garage Door in Ohio

Artist Susan Shie, in Wooster, Ohio, created this image, which adorns her garage door in that town. I am so proud of America, and of all of the states that have universities in the Big Ten -- the Midwestern cradle of our country -- because they all went blue.

Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota all voted for Obama. My homeland rocks! And Susan has captured the essence of the Midwest -- good people doing the right thing.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Edge of Change

When I was growing up in Michigan, in the 1950s, my family always spent our summer vacations camping in that state's beautiful state parks. The trails, the signs, rest stations, observation posts, and even the campsites themselves where we pitched our tents-- all of this infrastructure had been created by the public works projects FDR commissioned in the 1930s.

I remember feeling grateful to the nameless people who made my boyhood experiences possible. My cousins and I would range far out along the trails at Ludington, for example, especially the Island Trail, rich with blueberries. Occasionally, we would stumble upon deer, raccoons, skunks, even black bears, all of which scared the pants off of us, growing up as we did in the cities and suburbs of the great Midwest.

We'd retreat along those trails as fast as lightening.

When I suggest what this country needs now is a New New Deal, these are the memories that inform me. In the depths of the Great Depression, men and women paid by our national government produced socially valuable infrastructure projects that made my generation's experiences so much more rich than otherwise could have been imagined.

What I hope President Obama understands is this legacy. Today's needs are far more complex and vexing than those in FDR's time. Yet the magnitude of the challenge is roughly equivalent.

As I can contest, doing the right thing, as Roosevelt did, will not necessarily endear you to Americans as long as you shall live. I grew up in a time when I heard far more vilification of FDR from those dear to me than praise.

But the great arc of history flattens out these anomalies. This is what our new, young President needs to know. Your popularity in our time matters not. In your daughters' time, and beyond, the judgment will be cast.

Somehow, I suspect, Barack Obama knows what I am talking about...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Today's Championship Race

A huge gaggle of runners gathered at the Polo Grounds this afternoon to compete in the 1.5 mile city championship race.

All of the kids were nervous.

Aidan started out slow, back around sixth place.

Dylan tried to hold his own in 32nd place.

When it was over, Aidee finished strong in 4th place, and won a medal. Dylie finished 37th -- wait until next year!

As a Dad, I could not be prouder of thees two competitors than I am tonight. They both ran their hearts out, and accomplished wonderful results in this, their birth city.


Media Exclusive: Layoffs On Tap at Current TV

Two sources confirm to me tonight that CurrentTV, Al Gore’s bold venture into user-generated-content (UGC) for TV, is going to announce layoffs Tuesday in both its San Francisco and Los Angeles offices.

According to these sources, the company’s top-level execs spent the weekend discussing which staffers to lay off. Apparently, there is tension between the northern office, which houses both the senior management group and the post-production staff, and the southern-based studio and ad sales units.

(So what else is new? Every media organization I’ve ever worked in has had tension between its SF and the LA bureaus. This is California, after all.)

As part of the impending transition at CurrentTV, one source says the company is going to drop its shorter UGC videos in favor of the more traditional 30 minute programs that have long dominated television programming across all channels.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

New Deal 2.0

Fresh from watching Dylan perform "The Entertainer" at his piano recital, which due to a glitch I only found about a few minutes before it was to begin, I've been pondering taking one chunk of the writing I've done here and publishing it as a short book.

You might call it a bookie, except that the only odds it would offer you is the extremely long odds that anybody would ever actually read it.

Well, I think I know one person who would read it. One of my faithful readers and friends took great exception to my recent suggestion that Obama establish a New New Deal, or a New Deal 2.0. As he and I have exchanged long email messages back and forth, debating this issue, it occurred to me that, much like software, the type of "smart government" Obama needs to implement should come with expiration dates written into each measure.

At the very least, form requirements should be established that upon expiration of such programs, a new majority of Congress would be necessary to authorize updating the legislation; otherwise, it would expire.

My friend and I do draw similar conclusions abut the long-term effects of the New Deal. Because at that time in our country's history, no one had the concept of short and medium term fixes, all of FDR's reforms eventually grew into unmanageable bureaucracies, ossified entitlements, and unexamined bloat.

Therefore, the idea of this book, should I actually compile it, would be to propose a new legislative, regulatory and governance model -- based on my knowledge of software development.


Foggy Saturday Thoughts

Both of the kids' teams played valiantly.

Both, in the end, lost.

1-2 and 0-2.

If I were a choreographer, programming Silver Terrace pitch would be a grand challenge.

This can be pretty serious business -- kids' soccer. Those not involved probably consider it trivial, and sometimes, of course, it is. Plus, many no doubt consider soccer parents as a class of people who need to get (their own) life, rather than the vicarious fusing with their childrens' lives.

Maybe, by my age, any potential feelings of merging with my kids' identities is a ludicrous thought. A non-option. As an elderly, white-haired man with a pot belly, who can no longer even run ten feet, let alone 100 yards, is simply a proud observer. Until a few years ago, I could still play sports, especially softball, but simply am no longer able to do that.

Watching these kids, mine as well as others, is for me simply an opportunity to observe beauty in motion.

Both of "our" teams were back on defense most of the time.

My own kids were primary defenders.

Other observers.

One, a non-player, ultimately became bored.

One game over, others began, out at Lowell High School.

By mid-day, the rains had moved in and they stayed, softly, all afternoon.

The fog deepened to the point that the entire field darkened.

This was a cold time in the city.

With the girls' season ending before our eyes, it was stirring to seem them fight a bigger, more experienced team with so much commitment right up to the end.

Another sibling observer.

As they lost the game, finishing 0-10, and outscored, 2-36, the girls were crying.

As we walked to my car, I got Julia laughing again by imagining a tree we passed as the "Whomping Willow" at Hogwarts. A Beach Boys' song on the car's CD -- "Don't Hurt My Little Sister," sealed the deal.

She was all smiles as we entered my warm flat.