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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 19 January 2004

Topic: Oddities


"Sentimentality is feeling about nothing. Sentiment, on the same hand, is what people who are scared of feeling describe as sentimentality."
- Hans Keller, The Sentimental Violin

I'll have to think about that. It sounds very wise. Perhaps it isn't.

Posted by Alan at 23:25 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Bush

George Bush: Dog Trainer

A few days ago I posted a discussion of an article by Victor Davis Hanson that had appeared in The National Review. In it Hanson explains that out foreign policy is based on sound principles.

His contention? All the world is consumed with pathological envy of the United States, thus it is important to humiliate those who oppose our policies and actions. This, and only this, causes real progress in world affairs, brings peace and makes us safe. And thus George Bush is wonderful at foreign relations. QED.

My discussion ended with this: The argument is that people envy us so the logical thing to do is humiliate them, then offer friendship once they know their place. Cool.

Well, my friend in London, Ontario ? who is a dog owner and loves the little beasts - sent this, a brief analogy that further explains this logic:
It?s just like getting a puppy I guess.

They don?t really ?envy? you, but hope to be the Alpha some day. Close enough.

So you roll ?em onto their backs to a submission/humiliation pose, then offer friendship and ?belonging? by feeding them a treat from your hand.

Well, we?ve rolled the Iraqis onto their backs. Now we forgive their debt, get their pipelines flowing, and hand out Christmas toys to their children. And voila, le tour est jouee?
Well, even cooler.

Posted by Alan at 16:49 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 20 January 2004 08:35 PST home

Topic: The Economy

Outsourcing Notes ? A Canadian Asks a Question
UPDATED 20 January - with comments on corporations having social responsibilities...

My friend from London, Ontario sent a news item along this morning.

See IBM memos detail overseas jobs savings - report
Reuters, 01.19.04, 10:50 AM ET
NEW YORK, Jan 19 (Reuters) - IBM expects to save $168 million annually starting in 2006 by moving several thousand high-paying programming jobs abroad, according to internal company documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

International Business Machines Corp. has said it plans to move up to 3,000 jobs from the United States to developing countries this year. The Journal story did not say how many jobs the company expected to shift overseas starting in 2006.

? The Journal said the documents indicate that for internal IBM accounting purposes, a programmer in China with three to five years of experience would cost about $12.50 an hour, including salary and benefits.

That's compared with $56 an hour for a comparable U.S. employee, the Journal said, citing an unidentified person familiar with the company's internal billing rates.

Separately, Armonk, New York-based IBM said on Saturday that it plans to hire 15,000 new employees this year - 50 percent more than originally planned - in areas like software and services because of a rebound in the economy. The company said about 4,500 net jobs will be added in the United States.
And he made this observation.
I saw a bit on CNN this morning about IBM adding 15,000 jobs this year, 5,000 in the US. Typically, this got no mention whatsoever though?
Well, my reply was this:
Yeah, I saw this on the wires. From what I see, this is being spun both ways, depending on who reports it.

More jobs - the Bush plan is working - things are getting better. Saw that. Fox News and the rest. The long nightmare of massive unemployment is obviously ending.

The other spin is out there too.

The Bush recovery plan that is making corporate profits jump and the markets rise, is, in fact creating twice the number of jobs in Singapore and places like that than it is creating here. Do the damned math. Two thirds of these jobs are overseas.

Well, duh. When you look at the dollar costs - 12.50 an hour and then at 56.00 an hour, for the same work, and actually quality work - well, IBM and the rest are not dumb. They exist to make money. They are not patriotic charities, after all. As these corporations come out of their slumps, well, they are NOT going to throw money away. Why would they?

In short, as the business climate improves the Bush method of boosting the economy turns out to be great for the whole world. Really. It does. It just has very little to do with the situation down here, south of your border. And that is why I can live off my investments, and not work. Work is for others. I?m a capitalist owner, not a worker. Better for me, of course. But quite ironic for a lefty like me.
But in these pages, here, and elsewhere, this has been discussed. And of course the real irony is my friend from London, Ontario used to work for me. I hired him when I was running that systems shop up there for two years. And he?s still working away.

This came today, 20 January, from Canada:
Like you said, corporations exist to make a profit? period. I have to disagree though with folks who say that a corporation owes nothing to the country or community where it prospered and grew to be the behemoth it is now (one thinks of Moore?s ?Roger and Me?). The only way they got that big and fat was through bazillions of dollars of tax-breaks, R&D investment incentives and breaks, etc. In other words, they fed at the fed/state/municipal trough for free and don?t expect to have to return anything to the folks who fill it - you and me.

Up here, the ?national airline? Air Canada gets bailed out by the feds every few years. Do the taxpayers get anything back when they?re flying high again? Nope. (Pun fully intended.)

As for the offshore thing, not all of this offshored work is being done as well as we are being led to believe though. You may have seen a couple weeks back, that Dell (or was it Gateway?) canned their 15,000-person support operation in India. Way too many customer complaints. Rather ironic, because it was a customer support center.

Now if I can just get those telemarketing calls from credit card company centers in Bangladesh to stop phoning me at suppertime....
Corporations owe the community that made their business possible? Curious.

I don?t think that will fly with the business folks. It?s easy enough for them to characterize that idea as anti-business at best ? something that could force them to lose money and thus hurt the community: layoffs and closures would be possible if you really believe such ?Canadian? things. At worst they?d call it socialism, or communism.

But ?communism? and ?community? have they same root. How odd.

Posted by Alan at 16:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 20 January 2004 08:21 PST home

Topic: The Culture

As American Idol returns this week to our television sets, a ray of hope from France.
"...the public is not as dim as the cynics who control the television think. There's a general feeling that enough is enough."
Well, yes it is, on Rue Mouffetard.

Ah, to warm your heart two more items from l'Agence France-Presse (AFP) by way of The Tocqueville Connection:

First this:
PARIS, Jan 18 (AFP) - After a long lean period, fans of French "chanson" have been heartened by the arrival of a new generation of song-smiths, whose subtle observations of modern life and passionate use of language are a clear reaction against the bland insincerity of mainstream pop.

Over the last two years a group of young "chanteurs" has emerged from the smoky bars where they served their apprenticeship in the late 1990s and assumed a national status, earning cautious comparisons with the greats of yesteryear such as Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens.

Names such as Benabar, Sanseverino, Keren Ann, Mathieu Boogaerts, Vincent Delerm and Carla Bruni may not resound abroad, but in France they are selling hundreds of thousands of CDs and music-lovers see in them a sign of hope that a great French tradition is still alive and kicking.

"French chanson disappeared for a quarter of a century. In the 1980s and 90s what people wanted was rock and variety. But this is a definite comeback. The new chanteurs have a background of rock, but they also want to revisit an older heritage," said critic Christophe Conte of Les Inrocks magazine.

"They are the children of the May 68 generation. Their parents listened both to rock and to chanson - Brel, Brassens, Leo Ferre, Claude Nougaro. They are the product of all that," he said.
Ah yes, but where is all this coming from?
France's tradition of "chanson" goes back at least a century, starting with the cabaret of Mistinguett, through the music-hall of Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf to the post-war jazz scene of Juliette Greco. At its best it is both literary and popular, making a genuine connection between high culture and the masses.

But everyone agrees that if there is a revival today, it is because the French masses have become hooked on the heavily-marketed pulp which now forms the staple of the music charts. The hugely-successful "Star Academy" television programme is the epitome of what many see as the cretinisation - French for dumbing-down - of popular taste.

"I really have nothing against Star Academy. There is a place for these things. But then it was followed by more and more of the same. Every six months there are more of these superstars doing cover versions. But the public is not as dim as the cynics who control the television think. There's a general feeling that enough is enough," said Benabar.
Well, I don?t agree with this Benabar person.

A few Decembers ago while in Paris I caught ?Star Academy? on TF1 in my hotel room. Like ?American Idol? this was an array of superbly untalented singers and dancers, and excruciating to watch, so I turned it off and went for a walk.

Why do such shows have such high ratings? Perhaps they make viewers feel glee at seeing someone pretentious make an utter fool of themselves. Perhaps we like to see such folks humiliated. But that has as limits as entertainment.

How much of that can you watch, and what should you do instead?

Here?s an answer.

PARIS, Jan 19 (AFP) All it takes is an accordion, a few song sheets and a charismatic performer to turn a Parisian square into a lively open- air concert, where scores of people gather every week to sing French chansons.

Fifteen years ago, Christian Bassoul was another one of Paris's many street musicians in the Rue Mouffetard, playing tunes by Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet and making some extra pocket money.

He noticed that passersby were humming along, trying to remember the words to "La Vie en Rose" or "La Mer." Pretty soon, he was passing out lyric sheets, and his "Mouffetard Musette" - musette means French accordion music - was born.

Now every Sunday, after shoppers have filled their baskets with cheese, eggplants, oranges and walnuts at the busy market stalls, they wander over to the square to spend an entertaining musical hour.
Amusing, no?

This Bassoul fellow is onto something.

Here?s his take on this.
"It was an old tradition that I didn't know about and which existed 30 years ago," the 54-year-old Bassoul, a black cap on his head and red handkerchief slung around his neck, told AFP. "Before radio became really popular, people used to meet in the street and buy song sheets.

"They would learn the songs by hearing them. This tradition was lost and it's coming back. I made it come back without knowing it

The gathering has turned into a rain-or-shine event that attracts quite a crowd, locals and tourists alike. A number write "Mouffetard" into their weekly calendars instead of Sunday morning brunch, it's Sunday morning singing.
And yes, there is more to it.
The sing-along is also more than just a few light-hearted hours, it is an informal way to meet people in often cold and impersonal Paris where making friends can be very hard.

"This is life," Nanda Atarian, who visits from Rio de Janeiro twice a year, exclaimed.

"Every time (I am in Paris) I come here and we sing together and dance. People here are very friendly, they're like family," the 29-year-old said.

Viviane Hatry, another regular from the neighborhood, said a German man danced with a woman from Quebec here, and they fell in love. Now they are living together in Canada.

"Here the boss and the employee come together and sing together, it's really nice. I like to sing, I like to dance, and I like people," she said, before bustling off to collect a bit of money from the crowd.
This sounds altogether too pleasant and civilized.

I cannot imagine any sort of equivalent in Manhattan or out here in Hollywood.

But next Sunday morning as I drive around playing press photographer, looking for shots for the magazine, who knows? I may come across a bunch of pre-sixties folks at the weekly Hollywood farmers? market thing singing old Brenda Lee or Doris Day tunes. Or their children singing Doobbie Brothers favorites.

Probably not. We have different musical traditions over here. We?re not French.

Posted by Alan at 10:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 19 January 2004 10:43 PST home

Sunday, 18 January 2004

New issue of JUST ABOVE SUNSET MAGAZINE now online!

No blogging today.

Sunday is the day I do final assembly and post the week's new issue of this: Just Above Sunset Magazine.

Check it out.

What you won't find here on the blog - winter photographs by Martin Hewitt, film notes (on the new Harry Potter film due in June), book notes on the new biography of John Gardner, music notes on the new EU rules that may doom classical music... and a new science column. Oh yes, you'll also find lots for reader commentary, from thoughtful folks from Atlanta to Boston to Paris.

Do visit.

Posted by Alan at 20:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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