Sunday, March 15, 2009

Happy St. Patty's Day!

A day or two early, and before the parade, but I did make it out to a nice party last night. Ah Guinness! These are people I only see this once a year, so it makes a nice reality check. I had no chance to tell them all where I was last year and why I didn't make it. But it surely is good to come down to earth and check in with what people more real than me are thinking about these days.

I was truly amazed to hear that houses in the funkier part of Buffalo are being bid up in an economy where real estate value's meltdown is what started this scary tumble. We're all praising God now that we never did take part in that orgy then. Rusted out and the opposite of buff, most all of us.

Folks at the party still talked the same about their kids and projects and excitements with their work. No change as far as I could tell even in this cataclysmic eonomy, among these people that I have known since I was an infant.

Sure, there was one fellow still hanging on at the Ford plant. His tales of HR with boxes, accompanied by security personnel without warning coming at you, and memos from Central Office about "how to deal with difficult social situations (hide under your desk!)" made me think of Nazi death camps. I just can't imagine it has to be this way. So little humanity in the letting go. I guess, as with individuals going off everywhere, there's just too much at risk.

But there might be some waking up - I said might be - to the reality that these really big corporations actually now do stifle innovation more than stimulate it. I'm thinking Microsoft, of course, as an IT guy, but also General Motors, Ford, surely Verizon, Google, and  I know those last few might surprise you. But these are hidebound massive organizations whose addiction to ever fatter profit, at that scale, just kills us all.

With the car companies, it's easy to see how the logic of short term gain required that they sell more Hummers and light trucks for so long as people craved them, and thus seal their own fate when viewed from the brilliant remove of retrospection. GM killed off it's electric car research, run right near me, where cute little silent cars would stream out at the end of the work day. Even oil companies can't seem to spare any margins for real innovation.

With Microsoft, the editorial Internet is overfull of how many great startups were subsumed into what at best was Microsoft's ecology, but at worst was a giant beast of ownership control and bloat to encourage a bubble of hardware development on the prodding of endless software complexity. Power to the desktop powered most the holder of the patent. As at the beginning with Pennsylvania, it'll take another Franklin to usher in the right rebellion, with publishing still the key.

Now one might expect that this bubble is, like the real estate market, nearly popped. It's easy enough for me to imagine appliances, like Google's Chrome, riding simply on a hypervisor shim. I don't need no stinking OS! And the hardware is just a slight expansion of my smartphone, relegating all the power to data centers "in the cloud". But there's the rub, you'll see!

I suppose that Microsoft can own this back end "cloud", but they seem to be overtaken there by Amazon and Google. Very much like the car companies left with exploding inventories of trucks, Microsoft couldn't help themselves, though their cash position remains infinitely better for now. Still, I'm guessing people are hanging on to their old hardware, in the same way that they are hanging on to their old cars. And clinging to XP for every last ounce that they can get, despite threats to force all Vista and new hardware.

But what then of these cloud companies? Why isn't Google "not evil" and simply just the best? Why shouldn't Verizon reap rewards for its sowing of towers, for so long as I want to talk? What could possibly be wrong with frictionless capitalism on the 'Net?

Folks at the Green (in the other sense) party were  mostly management types, or owners of their own businesses. But many of their parents were union. Almost all were born Catholic, although it was extremely safe there to make fun of nuns and priests.

I do grow tired of complaints as if the unions are even in any slight way to blame for, say, the auto industry's collapse. You get that from the Republican side where there is almost glee for Chapter umteen restructuring, not least to blow away the union contracts and return, say, GM to more supposed efficiency in competition with the Asians. It's that kind of efficiency which is killing off all margins for innovation. Any thought from any worker not in on the take.

I'm pretty sure that the labor component of each new car is nowhere near large enough to define the problem. It's management that's constipated - the union guys will build whatever you tell them to, as efficiently as you like, but you have to be more strategically aligned with what's up in the larger economy.

Like John Stewart who landed so many solid punches, complaining to Jim Cramer about how we were all advised to get into the stock market for the long term, while it now seems that we were only funding the massive orgy of the unregulated short term traders. Their goal might have been to maximize returns for their investors, or did it shift to gaming the system for themselves? In any case, the business of derived derivatives went *pop*, and so much for we trusting schmucks and our planned retirements.

John Stewart's anger was that of his audience too, in this strange inversion where the finance guy, no comic, hams up his show, gonzo style, to keep his audience amused I guess. John Stewart, whose comedy is based on looking staid in the first place (Steven Colbert takes this to its pinnacle accomplishment), and who therefore gets laughs by changing only the shape of his mouth or other simple gestures just slightly out of place for his all knowing and by definition "in on it" audience - John Stewart was the one enraged. He'd become a livid political cartoon, where the best skewering is always accompanied by good laughs.

The inversion was beautiful, as were the landed punches - my own pleasure, as in a boxing arena audience. This sad sack Cramer was simply not going to be allowed into the club of people who actually get the joke, and was forced to remain the fool. With whom no-one could or would identify.

But it wasn't stoning. It wasn't fundamentalist barbaric, at least. It was Madoff going off to jail a little, and being given what every sociopath deserves, finally, to match the absence of any fellow feeling in his soul. Bars and dry stark noisy aloneness. Forever, amen.

So my big celebration, apart from the symbolic space which St. Patrick's day occupies for me (as one bookend, St. Valentine the other, to my youthful de-cocooning), was that my brother in law just had, the day before, been paraded off to prison. His daughter had the clarity of heart to write for the prosecutor a strong narrative of what he'd done to her upon and forever after the occasion of his being ousted from his small fundy pulpit. We all have our excuses.

My sister still must look into his eyes from Lazik magic bionic ones borrowed from God (she really does have such eyes) to see his child-like soul. She stands by him still, but carries on in stoic fashion, to raise his children while Daddy's off in jail. 

There is almost beauty to that, as there is in earnest seeking after remorse from Madoff. How much could he be required to give? And how must those who'd chummed with him, and then given him all their money, now feel about their own true hearts? It's their restraint that's touching.

I will always stive, but hardly ever succeed, to cast no stones. But I am not saddened by some imprisonings. I rejoice in God's grace when it comes, but hope never to make the mistake of seeking soul in emptiness. Finding truth in hollow words.

There is something human in loving your daughter before your Man. And something therefore even above God, who can be left to love those other souls, forsaken, lost and gone to humanity. His Love is something any longer not to strive for in ourselves, because it is that much too far above.

But here, on earth, right now, there is some quickening afoot. Could be in time for Easter? Where consciousness comes alive to its "sixth sense". That knowledge of some continuum as if from light to dark, between romantic manic love at the one extreme and stoic cold clear knowledge at the other that what appears so wrong in public might actually be right. Some inner conviction, of the same stuff as that in-love crap which, thankfully, I'm immune to anymore.

There were things known before written words did crowd them out. Yoruba truths. Local truths. These Chinese mappings of accupuncture points along the body which haven't much changed across the history of man's enlightenment. Some herbal medicines, whose choosing is the result more of seeing - illiterate ways of knowing - than of scientific trial and error.

And now we've reached the very Christian extreme of romantic loving, in whose manic thrall we might do anything (oh, how well I know this truth). Or if you're generation Y and above, you might not even be bothered to fall in love for sex, since those boundaries have lost all meaning.It is a loss. But you still do have the rockstar aspirations as proof of your authentic soul's true meaning. It's the same tale, told with different characters is all. There is not fullness at the top, but that you share it out!

Follow your dream. Lance Armstrong your victory, and beat back the sour grapes suspectors of secret doping. True your Cher voice with bionic tone, and stick it to the unplugged unwashed masses who will love and crave you all the more. Beyonce your face to chocolate perfection. But believe, above all, in yourself. Then Google yourself to death.

Well, that right there is my protest. It's not so shrill, and it sure gets very little attention. I'm Last Year's Man. My complaint with Google and Amazon and Verizon and all of them is that no-one should own the "cloud". No one should own the commons. No one should profit from my words, likely not even me. Though I hardly mind if they profit from building it, this commons on which I depend. And I might try for a living from words yet, some day.

Who Owns You, is the title of a book one of my illustrious former students just triumphantly published. I truly can't wait to read it, but I think I might not even have to (there is a copy with my name on it sitting in his Mom's house, I hope and pray). It's about the patenting of DNA. I do trust it's not on the side of the industrialists of soul. That there is some educated horror expressed (this fellow is, unlike me, extremely well credentialled) that life, too, might become an intellectual production, invented as if by God!

Another fellow at the party last night speculated that the true "class wars" will be between the public sector and the private. He had in mind the assault on private wealth that is one take on Stimulation. But mostly the nasty brutish fact that public employees will own all the pensions at the expense of the rest of us without defined benefits. What an amazing realignment! That taking a job as a civil servant could ever be construed as winning some lottery. That these grey souls who never did dare to dream of rockstar heights should be looked on as the winners! That losers might be winners after all.

Sure, the unions need to change. So do blacks need to stop being all angry. So do screwed people everywhere need to search their hearts for forgiveness.  So could our Constitution stand some rewriting.

But after our Common Wealth is secured. After that.

I swear I will be signing off real soon. I know that I promised I would. But I have only this one brief moment before the Commons gets enclosed for good and evermore, and I become net neutered, because the risk to the true Beast is simply far too great.

Here's a toast to the possibility that I'm dead wrong! Happiest of St. Patrick's Day to you, dear reader, and you!

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