Archive for May, 2009

Letter From New York: Memorial Day Memories

May 26, 2009

Letter From New York

Memorial Day Memories…

Memorial Day originated to honor the dead of the Civil War; it has grown to become a major holiday, primarily honoring the fallen dead of our wars and has had added to it the opportunity to honor all those we have loved who have gone before us in death. There will be parades; wreathes and flowers will be put upon graves. There will be picnics and barbeques; I write this as I am waiting to go to one while savoring the inchoate beauty of sitting looking out at the creek while surrounded by my two acres of trees with somewhere off in the distance the safe sound of someone mowing their lawn.

This is the kind of day when things seem right with the world, safe and welcoming, a suggestion there will be happiness, fun and camaraderie during the summer ahead. We do know there are no guarantees but on days such as this it almost seems as if the universe is willing to offer the promise of one, the soft sweet illusion that the world is really as perfect as the day, as much in harmony as this kind of day. We can momentarily shove aside the harsh realities of such things as the possibility of another nuclear test by the crazy North Koreans, riots in India, the battle with the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan with its overflow into Pakistan, the pirates that plague the Gulf of Aden, and all the other travails of our planet.

As a child I recall neighborhood parades, marching down local streets, full of flag waving and drums, adults and children with smiles on their faces, laughing while dragging makeshift floats and making cacophonous music. There will be parades today, I am sure, in the towns and hamlets scattered through Columbia County. Up in Kinderhook at the café an older gentleman who had once appeared on the Ed Sullivan show did a musical march through the songs of our wars. A friend who found it wonderful phoned his performance in to me.

The Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of the official summer season in the United States; while summer does not officially come for nearly another month, the summer “season” for Americans has arrived. Forward from this day we will march boldly into summer, folding back the tarps covering tennis courts, filling swimming pools and washing down picnic tables while stocking up on citronella.

As I woke up this morning, the local PBS station, much like the man in Kinderhook, was airing a history of patriotic songs, probably going back as far as the Revolutionary War; I, however, didn’t wake up until World War I, followed by WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, the first Iraq War, the second Iraq War. It was an intriguing musical history of America, bringing a flood of memories and reactions. Not born until after WWII, I felt a stir of emotions as veterans described their memories of D-Day, the loss of Glen Miller, the meaning to them of the songs of the Andrew Sisters.

The moral ambiguity that came to the Viet Nam conflict was caught in song though I believe that perhaps the most important outcome of Viet Nam may have been to teach my generation to separate the soldiers from the conflict. While most Americans have come to believe the second Iraq War was, at its very best, a flawed enterprise, it also did not mean we needed to execrate the soldiers returning from a war of which we did not approve. We have felt free to embrace and uphold them and to celebrate their service even if we did not approve of the war to which they had been sent to fight.

That, on this Memorial Day, is a thing for which I am grateful.

A week’s worth of thoughts…

May 19, 2009

Letter From New York
May 18, 2009

A week’s worth of thoughts…

There are, here and there, some brighter spots in the economy – a sense we might, at last, be bumping along the bottom – certainly not out of the woods but with a sense we might actually be halfway through the dark forest. Searches online for luxury goods have gone up while those for flea markets are down.

A commentator last week noted that, perhaps because of the financial crisis, few have made much about the fact Obama is African American – ethnicity of the President is less important than the handling of this great crisis. For the most part, Americans think he is doing well while, at the same time, it appears he is now engaged in the delicate balancing of National Security issues.

Obama has been forced to look at some issues differently now that he is in the White House — what to do with those folks in Guantanamo? Right wing pundits are saying this is casting a better light on Bush’s legacy. To me, it is simply another sign of the disastrous situation in which we have found ourselves as a result of the Bush idiocies. The profound failures of the last administration would have left any new President in a quandary as to how to handle them. It is not easy to undo the Gordian knot of Bush’s regime. In this delicate world we do not have the luxury of doing as Alexander did and simply using one’s sword to cut through the knotted rope.

In New York City, Swine Flu is rearing its head. A well-liked educator, Assistant Principal Mitchell Weiner, has died from the H1N1 virus [a renaming has been going on in deference to both Mexicans and the pork lobby]. Five more schools have been closed and the number of suspected cases has been growing just as the world was beginning to breathe more easily. Upstate the flu news is calmer and locally in my part of the Hudson Valley there seems to be quiet on the flu front. It is, however, not over until the fat lady sings and she hasn’t sung yet.

Spring will not settle upon the Northeast; it has been unseasonably cool and wet. An occasional day of warmth arrives only to be followed by a week of cold and damp, with spirits following the weather lead. The never-ending winter has most everyone testy and annoyed, holing up at home as opposed to venturing out into the streets. It was, at home in Hudson and Claverack, a brutally quiet day for shopkeepers on Saturday, normal business off dramatically with a walk up and down Warren Street almost as depressing as the weather – the number of empty storefronts is growing. That’s happening in Hudson and it’s happening in the city. New York real estate is suffering and rents are falling, actually so much it is encouraging people to stop fleeing to the outer boroughs, either to remain or return to Manhattan. The impossible is happening and there isn’t much joy in Mudville these days except for those who are able to take advantage of the travails of others.

Out in space a final repair journey is being made to the Hubble Telescope, an observatory that is giving us glimpses of the magical beyond of deep space. After this mission, no more will be made and when it begins to fail again, Hubble will be allowed to drift down and burn up in the atmosphere having more than served its purpose. For the scientists who have nurtured the observatory through its life, it is hard to know it will go – a bit like having a terminally ill child who may laugh and play now while all the time you know the end is approaching.

The entire Hubble adventure has been an example to what can be accomplished. Early, almost fatal flaws, were rectified, software adjusted, work done, repair missions flown. Hubble has always seemed to me to be a living example of what Browning was describing in his line: Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?

Letter From New York May 12, 2009

May 12, 2009

Letter From New York
May 10, 2009

The economic news is not so grim; there are signs of hope. The number of jobless did not grow as fast as most expected. In certain hard hit areas of the country, real estate seems to have begun bottoming out – places like Las Vegas, Florida and Sacramento. Hope is stirring in the country though the recovery will most likely be anemic; the entire economy is beginning to change, shifting from all out spending to something different – more akin to the world of most folks’ grandparents; a life of conscious non-consumption. Saving seems to be the new cool in America. Which also is probably ecologically correct.

The banks have been going through “stress tests” and all are solvent now and all they have to do is raise just $75 billion by November. Since when did $75 billion become “just $75 billion”? Well, this is an age where we are now talking about trillions of dollars so I guess $75 billion is “just” a little compared to a trillion dollars.

We seem to have survived swine flu – there are thousands of cases but we seem to have escaped the terror of a world pandemic. The global community seems to have managed this one well, with special kudos to Mexico who did a heck of a lot better with swine flu than China did with SARS a few years back — though we have to admit the Mexican drug wars aren’t pretty. Maybe our economic downturn will depress the demand for illicit substances and therefore help. Or not.

While not being felled by a pandemic, the Taliban/Al Qaeda/whoever fundamentalist Muslim group seems to be taking over more of Pakistan – a country with nuclear arms. I am more worried about this than I was a pandemic. Imagine what suicide bombers could do with a mini-nuke strapped around themselves. Doesn’t comfort me when I fall asleep.

As I write this Mother’s Day is coming to a close; walking the streets of New York there were a seemingly never ending series of placards outside restaurants offering Mother Day brunches though none of the restaurants looked overflowing – another sign of the carefulness of our new age. It was during this week that Elizabeth Edwards released her book RESILIANCE, depicting both her courageous battle against cancer and her reactions to her husband’s infidelity. Based on the reviews of the book, it will be a long time to forgiveness. While John Edwards is looking like a cad, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s Prime Minister, who is probably a genuine cad, is being applauded in his country for his dalliances. His wife excoriated him in public while that public thought, apparently, it was quite wonderful that their 70 something PM was capable of bedding a number of women other than his wife, including, apparently, an eighteen year old who delights in calling him “daddy.” Europeans and Americans are far apart in the way they view infidelity. We have a puritanical view and Europeans shrug their shoulders or delight in it. Mitterrand’s mistress and his daughter from that liaison attended his funeral and stood near his family during the services. Such a thing would not happen in America.

Perhaps in the future of STAR TREK. A new film in the franchise seems to have rebooted it and brought excitement back to the forty-year-old phenomenon. I will be seeing it this week and am eager for the new take on the franchise, a mythic story which has given us an opportunity to dream of a future that could be better, where we have mastered our earthbound demons and are now concentrating on facing the process of integrating ourselves not with those who are truly different yet somehow like us.

We have a long way to go here on earth. Two little boys killed themselves this past week because they were taunted by their peers who called them “fags” and “gays” which they might have grown up to be – or not. We won’t know because the pain they were in resulted in their ending that pain in the most final way. It is my hope that we can move beyond that kind of behavior before we begin to travel the star lanes to other worlds.

Unintended Consequences LFNY May 4, 2009

May 4, 2009

Letter From New York
May 2, 2009

Unintended Consequences…

Letter From New York
May 2, 2009

Unintended Consequences…

For the last several years, I have consulted several of the companies in the LEI Group. For the last year I have been working on the distribution side, starting out with launching Internet TV channels. After that, I became the Utility Player doing everything from negotiating agreements to…whatever needed to be done. On Friday, the Great Recession claimed that part of the Enterprises Group – all the others are just fine but Distribution found itself caught up in a “perfect storm” of events and went under. Other companies in the Group are fine; distribution only has gone.

After the announcement, I spent the day phoning people who were in business with the company letting them know what was happening, listening to both dismay and concern and some anger. Gratifyingly, everyone was concerned for my well being, which was okay as I have had another company take me on as a consultant to develop a New Media Strategy. However, as I said good-bye to the people from that group with whom I have worked, I found myself feeling sad and depressed. It was a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, which meant the company was being liquidated. Between the phone calls and the good-byes, it was one of the most draining days of my life.

What surprised me was the depth of the “survivor’s guilt” I felt. All of a sudden people were on the street and I was not – and I felt guilty. I felt something profound and unexpected. Grateful and, yes, a bit ashamed – how did I get to be the lucky one?

This was an unintended consequence of the bankruptcy – my sense of dislocation in the universe and the pain of having to make those phone calls, all of them difficult. At best people were inconvenienced and at worst, lost money – a couple were very significant amounts. In one company there is a young man who thinks he may have ruined his career by doing a deal with LPD, which has cost his employers a small fortune.

What I realize is that this is being repeated daily across the United States and the world. It is just not the people who lose their jobs who are affected; it is also those who remain. It is the people at other companies who work with the companies that disappear.

May 1st was a Red Letter Day in American history; Chrysler declared bankruptcy. As carefully orchestrated as it is, it is a moment in American history that will not be forgotten and which will, in years to come, be considered a marking point in our nation. The old industrial base of the United States has eroded and is falling in on itself. There have been a thousand steps to this moment and the history of American industry is written in those steps. The industrial base of the country, the manufacturing base, has become lost in another era. It has worn down and been overtaken by others in other countries. Interestingly, the same cycle seems to be happening with them – Toyota, Honda, Nissan are all reeling. The system that made them successful is now threatening them also.

Out of this will come a new world economic order and it will not be based on industrial prowess but intellectual power.

One of the reasons India could be the winner in the race with China is that they know how to manipulate the digital world well. China, recognizing that is racing to catch up. The U.S.? As a result of 9/11 we’re keeping the best and the brightest out of the U.S. and pushing them toward other countries. Ahhh…

It is all complicated and it is all about the future. It is being created right now, in the midst of this economic crisis. The future will be about the new technologies, about green technologies, about nanotechnology. It is all about that — a new world is coming upon us and we had better get used to it. The past, as Pinter said, is a foreign country – they do things differently there.