Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat Didn’t Predict This…

From the Register:

The India Times continues:
If the recent visual footage acquired from strategically placed cameras in a leading Mumbai-based business process outsourcing (BPO) unit showing a couple having sex in an office cubicle is anything to go by, workplace sex is no longer an aberration for most couples working in India’s sunrise sector. With work schedules stretching into long hours, and bonding happening between emotionally lonely employees, sex is just a manifestation for physical needs as two individuals try and seek a connection.

And what do the clients make of this? Well, According to BPO hotshot Prakash Toppo: “Since most of our customers are influential, they want cameras as they are dealing with a lot of sensitive information. For the couple caught in a sexually compromising situation, the one question that arises is why were they doing what they were doing in the office premises.”

We can answer that one for you Prakash: You spend 12-13 hours a day sitting in a room attempting to seek a connection with irate BT customers. After a while, your emotionally loneliness kicks in and you decide to seek a connection closer to home. Suddenly, in walks Ashish Gupta with a “let’s go to fourth base you call centre minx” look in his eye…

Anyone reading this who has recently outsourced his or her call centre operation to Mumbai should not, however, imagine that the BPO management is going to take this rampant promiscuity lying down. J Kalyanaraman, Human Resources supremo at HCL Comnet, asserts: “Filming is essential as it is in tune with keeping the faith of employees. It’s not a breach of employee privacy as there is a huge amount of customer-sensitive information involved, so it makes good sense to impose surveillance. First instances of compromising behaviour (kissing, smooching in the office premises) are let off with a stern warning as such kind of behaviour is similar to misuse of facilities given by the organisation and is therefore liable for punishment.”

Quite what this punishment is, we do not know, but it likely involves being locked into a secure cubicle for a month and put on conservatory sales cold-calling duty. Or worse – three months on the BT overdue bill roster. Cor blimey.

The world is …flat… indeed.

A Dinner With Phil, An Encounter, and Something Interesting

Intel Dump‘s Phil Carter and I went to dinner last night; it’s something we’d been talking about doing for a year and not gotten around to, but when I got word of his impending deployment I emailed him and simply said “When and where?”

We met in Santa Monica, at the ‘Library Ale House’ on Main Street; and after a few Anchor Steams (him) and Jamaica Red Ales (me) managed to lay out the problems in the world. We may have even solved a few, but for the life of me I can’t remember exactly how.

Phil is in person exactly what he seems online. Thoughtful, smart, funny, reflective. Even when we disagree – which happens seldom, but happens – I find myself happy to be involved in a dialog with him because I know we’re engaged in the same project – trying to solve the problems we say we’re trying to solve because we’re in them together, rather than using the problems and arguments as a level to elbow one another aside.

Then we had a funny thing happen…For those of you not from Los Angeles, please understand that if the Blue states have a beating heart, it’s located within a block of where we were eating. I’d bet serious money that Chirac would easily beat Bush in an election held there, and that “W-’04” bumperstickers are only found on the trucks of the tradesmen doing work there.

A guy walked up to us, excused himself, and said “Pardon me, but you just look really familiar to me. Did we know each other in Iraq? I was in Mosul.”

Phil and I looked at each other, surprised, and Phil explained that no, he hadn’t been there yet, but would be within 90 days. Our visitor (and I’m kicking myself and apologizing for not noting down his name) explained that he’d been injured when an IED flipped his vehicle, and had come home to have orthopedic surgery and recover.

Phil and I wished him well, and thanked him for his service. He’d been in for 15 years, and wasn’t sure what he would be doing next. We suggested that getting better ought to be the first step, and then all kinds of possibilities would open up.

We all shook hands and he left with his fiancee.

Phil then pointed something out to me that I hadn’t thought about until then.

Five years from now, guy like this – Iraq veterans – are going to be an incredibly powerful interest group. Neither of us would be surprised to see them start running for office in significant numbers (note that Blackfive already points to one who says he will). And that has some serious and interesting implications for the Democrats if they continue to be painted as the antimilitary party, and for the Republicans if they don’t back up their pro-troops rhetoric with serious veterans services.

And in case you’re wondering, of course I bought.

Metaphors Be With You

I’ve been meaning to blog about the discussion around the “Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo” – the interesting article by Rick Perlstein, but it was promptly covered by most of the rest of the world, but in case you missed it, he argues, in short, that Boeing was a great company because it worked to ‘break the model’ with planes like the 747. It then became stalled as it trimmed it’s strategy to the quarterly flow of the markets, and drifted.

I think that’s a useful model, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which his that I think that what people want is a sense of being led toward a vision in which they could share, and that leaders who had integral visions, and could articulate them, had the chance to break open the day-to-day tactical struggle in business or politics and reshape the world.

I like that metaphor, and believe strongly that the Democratic Party is going to be a opposition party until they get that pesky vision thing down and have a vision that is more concrete than “speak truth to power” “peace” “justice” and “impeach Bush.” Those phrases bring back warm fuzzy memories of my own youth, but even then on my most pot- and jug wine addled nights I never expected anyone to actually run a country based on them.Reihan (who’s really smart and you should be reading, BTW) challenges this notion, and points out that Boeing has, once again ‘broken the model’ with the 787 Dreamliner, which appears to be beating Airbus up, eating their lunch and then making them do the dishes to boot.

Conveniently, the ad copy neglects to mention that Perlstein hangs his analysis on the many failures of Boeing, a company relentlessly focused on the “stock ticker” — i.e., short-term financial gains — as against Airbus, for decades a government-backed consortium that engaged in all of that “long-term planning,” what some might call crony capitalism, Atari Democrats loved in days past. Old habits die hard. It’s a compelling narrative. Old Europe is teaching Boeing a few new tricks, or so Perlstein, clearly not a very keen student of political economy, would have you believe. The trouble is that Boeing is kicking Airbus’s ass.

Reiohan, Reihan..it’s a metaphor. It’s not meant as a literal model for how the Democrats should be (Make the Democratic Party more like Airbus Industrie!!…no). It’s a useful way to explain the difference between what the Democratic Party actually does – which it to set policy by some arcane combination of scrivening of entrails (sadly, not those of the political consultants who keep leading it off cliffs) and a secret Esalen encounter group between interest group leaders – and what it should be doing, which is to sit down and craft an explicit vision of how it will make life better and more secure for the vast majority of Americans who are looking down the barrel of unstoppable globalization. Or something, anything that implies a solid connection to the future.

Authoritative, Authoritarian…Whatever.

Valentino Rossi became the first Yamaha rider ever to win five consecutive premier-class races after another authoritarian performance in the 75th anniversary Gauloises Dutch TT, where he was joined on the podium by his Gauloises Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards.

Yamaha press release

I hope they didn’t mean to use that word…but it leads to an amusing reverie in which dictator Valentino Rossi insists that we all laugh and wear funny costumes while riding 200mph motorcycles.

I wonder how the liberty-loving blogosphere would react to that

Another Problem With The “Law Enforcement” Model of Fighting Terrorism

From the excellent “Counterterrorism Blog“:

Today Italian newspapers announced that authorities in Milan have indicted 13 CIA operatives for the kidnapping of Abu Omar, a radical Egyptian cleric that “disappeared” from the streets of the northern Italian city in February of 2003. The step represents a major upset to the CIA’s “rendition” policy and could create a potential rift with one of its closest allies in the War on Terror.

I’ve argued in the past against the notion presented by some opponents of the war in Iraq that an – equally tough on terror – policy is to simply hunt down and kill or capture the terrorists wherever they happen to be.

This is a horrible policy for a large variety of reasons, one of which is that it simply doesn’t work well – the Clinton Administration actually did a pretty good job of identifying and prosecuting the perps in terror attacks, and Al Qaeda managed to flourish regardless. Another is – as noted above – that it violates the sovereignty of other countries (and is itself, I believe, an act of war in a certain sense).

Another issue, I strongly believe, is the culture created by emphasizing this kind of covert activity. I don’t think we need a lot of secret warriors, and I don’t think that such an army would be good for us in any way.

We need some – I have no illusions otherwise – but if they become the primary means or even a primary means of force projection, we’re in trouble. And I don’t just mean with Italian magistrates.

Family News…

Just a moment to waste your time and publicly brag about members of my family (and maybe point you at a neat film).

Today, Middle Guy graduates from high school. He had an amazing run, did well academically and in his activities – but most of all, managed to build himself a cadre of incredible and admirable friends. I tend to judge people a lot by who they surround themselves with – and in his case that judgement is overwhelmingly positive. They are headed off to universities all over the country, from Harvard and West Point (yes, Robin is going to get one of them) to Berkeley and U.C. San Diego, which is where he’ll be headed.

I couldn’t be happier or prouder for him today.

And TG was out last night watching herself in a documentary – “The Grace Lee Project.” It sounds delightful and fun, as Korean-American filmmaker Grace Lee decided to do a documentary on all the Grace Lees she could find.

TG is a wonderful woman, and I’m a lucky guy, and now she’s famous!!

The Cowboy War

I didn’t watch much TV as a kid (so that explains it…) and so I’m not sure if the stereotype of the TV cowboy hero who always aims for his opponents gun, and manages to subdue the six or seven bad guys with his fists and a handy lasso was really a television character or just a caricature of one.

But it appears that the stereotype lives, in more ways than one, as we try and judge the progress of the war.

Because not only is the war effort being judged against the schedule of a 115-minute Hollywood feature, but we seem to expect that it will be managed according to the precision of a script written in Los Feliz, not in any reality anyone lives in.

Norm Geras writes (once again) the post that’s been kicking around in my head for a few months.He says, in reading the Atlantic interview with Wolfowitz:

But reading this interview brought something home to me. It brought home to me that I have never seen, in all the voluminous discussion since the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s rule, anything from the anti-war camp (perhaps I just haven’t read widely enough) that made a distinction between mistakes and avoidable mistakes, or mistakes and culpable mistakes. Plainly what happened at Abu Ghraib was culpable and was worse than a mistake. But on the sundry other matters, unless you have a distinction between avoidable and culpable mistakes and other kinds of mistake, including for example mistakes understandable in the circumstances, unless you allow that some of the mistakes may have been due to the scope and nature of the undertaking itself, it suggests one of two things: either that the undertaking could have been carried out altogether smoothly and unproblematically; or that the criticism of mistakes is motivated more by an impulse to oppose than by a desire for the undertaking to succeed.

He doesn’t quote a key Wolfowitz quote from the article though:

“A fundamental flaw in the 9/11 report, absolutely fundamental, is that it assumes that if we had had perfect intelligence, we could have prevented the attacks. Therefore what we need is perfect intelligence. Instead of recognizing that you’ll never have perfect intelligence, which takes you down an entirely different policy route.”

On one of my email lists (which I don’t have enough time for either) a discussion devolved (as they tend to do) into 9/11 vs. Abu Ghraib. And one of those who wave prisoner brutality said:

I like the America where we’re the good guys. Not the America where we’re the not-as-bad-as-the-REALLY-bad guys. There’s a big difference.

To which I replied:

So that’s the fantasy America, then?

Because in the reality-based America where I live, we do bad things all the time. The good news is that we tend to do a far better job of self-correcting (note that the Abu Ghraib folks were already or about to be indicted when the story broke – the military justice folks had received the info, acted, and were busting the perps – one of whose lawyers released the imagery as a negotiating tactic) than, for example, the Greenpeace-killing French DSGE do.

I don’t know – Habeas Corpus and Andersonville in the Civil War, internment and slaughtered Dachau guards in World War II, I can think of lots of things that we’ve done in the past that I might wish – in a perfect world, with the benefit of the victory won and the luxury of hindsight – had not happened.

And I realized that there’s a basic issue – one that I’ve posted about before as I’m trying to work the issue out.

And it’s this: All actions and systems involve mistakes, are imperfect, have undesirable unforeseen consequences. We’re human, and fallible. We have imperfect information, we often act out of fear or prejudice or laziness or greed. This has been a part of the human condition as long as there has been a human condition to have. It is the root of tragedy, the most human of art forms.

The problem is that – at any level, from helping a child make a bed to making war – there are whole forests of bad outcomes along the trees of alternate future.

Are we more brutal to our prisoners than I wish we were? Absolutely. Are we too casual to collateral damage done in the pursuit of our military objectives? Assuredly. Do too many people die in freeway accidents? Of course. Do many people die because we have inadequate healthcare for poor people? yup.

I could go on.

The issue isn’t that litany of sad facts. It’s the basic question – as I once asked concerning Niall Ferguson’s silly column – Compared to what?

In an imaginary world in which we were omnipotent, yes, none of this would happen. We could identify our opponents with perfect accuracy, and disarm and restrain them without harming anyone. Once restrained, our procedures would be firm, gentle, and correct in every degree.

It’s funny, but I pretty much think that’s what we’re doing now, with a massively narrow span of error.

There have been what – 120 deaths of prisoners in Iraq? Out of perhaps 40,000 – 50,000 (I can’t find a hard number but this seems like the best I can assemble – if you have a source on this, leave it in the comments) who have been taken captive? So that’s a death rate of what – .3 percent?

1% of the German troops in Allied hands in World War II died. Some 1.3% of the Allied troops in German hands died, while 30% of the Allied troops in Japanese hands died.

Some 14.8% of the American troops held by the North Vietnamese died.

Am I happy about the .3% in Iraq? No. Not at all. Some folks on our side deserve to go to jail,and some will.

Am I happy when our troops make an error and brutalize, wound, or kill someone who doesn’t deserve it? No. But I’ll bet that we’re doing less of it than almost any army ever has in the past.

I’m happy that .3% are dying, rather than 1%. I want it to be 0%, but I recognize that we can’t achieve that level of perfection in our own jails.

No human social system can or is likely to achieve that level of perfection.

So what we have isn’t planning, it’s carping. And I use that belittling term deliberately; because they lack the courage to simply stand up and say the war is wrong, and because it’s wrong any outcome that flows from it is bad. Instead they take the very real .3% – the very real, ugly, brutal and wrong .3% – and say that “if only…”

If only doesn’t count.

What prisons would be if they were built in sound stages doesn’t count.

What war would be if John Milius and Oliver Stone wrote it doesn’t count.

Why do we take that fantasy into account? Because on some basic level, we assume that we’re the TV cowboy, and that the bad guys can fire all the bullets they want and the only thing that will happen is that our authentic Western sidekick will get a hole in his hat. They assume that we’re omnipotent and omnisicent.

We’re not.

We’re never good enough to be perfect.

But we are good enough to win, and to be worth winning for.

Washing Dishes

The following is the lightly edited transcript of an IM I just had with a friend. I’m thinking about ‘washing dishes’ as the basis of a personal philosophy, and am interested in what people think:

me: so what’s the existential bummer

friend oh the usual shmoo. my therapist says I have death anxiety. well, yeah. so I’m working through that, and figuring out what I really want to do with the next 10-20 years or so. not just what I’ve been dreaming about doing or what I think I should or what somebody else’s good idea is, but coming to some conclusions about that deep-down life eval that started quite a while back and which has been bubbling the last couple of years. and realizing that I have an enormous range of choices and freaking out about which flavor of ice cream to eat first. wondering why the hell I have so much stuff published not in my name… which seems rather self-sabotaging for someone who professes to want to make a living writing. hard to get credit for it if my name’s no where near it, right

me: nope, doesn’t work too well

me: so – how do you feel about washing dishes

friend hee… well, it’s not a very demanding sort of thing to do, now is it on the other hand, I’ve done it in college and already know it’s not as glamorous as the movies would have us believe… hell on a girl’s manicure.

me: I have a new philosophy of life

me: you need to learn to enjoy washing dishes

me: because that’s what most of life is about

me: so you have to adjust your attitude toward things until you see the pleasure in it

friend yeah, I think it’s called chopping wood and carrying water to some folks on the other side of the ocean

me: yup

me: except that we don’t do that’s so it’s too trite

me: and romanticized

friend maybe I’m too much of an hedonist.

me: all that other stuff – the pleasure stuff – is just wrapped around washing dishes

friend I have this unshakeable belief that I shouldn’t spend 8-10 hrs a day doing something I don’t like.

me: really…

friend at least not every day for the rest of my life.

me: so if you lived in a village, what would you spend your time doing?

me: or is this one of those reincarnation “I was a queen” things

me: ’cause no one ever seems to have worked in the kitchens.

friend I’d be a doula, or the village healer, and weave, and cook, and maybe try carving things if I didn’t cut my fingers off (there’s a reason I gave you those throwing knives).

friend I don’t think I was ever a queen. a priestess once in a while, a small peasant boy living on the banks of the Nile, perhaps. was burned for witchcraft once. that sucked.

me: funny

me: but here’s the deal -

me: you’d have to heal and weave even when it stopped being fun

me: that’s the key to adulthood

me: and the mistake we make – because as Americans (maybe as Europeans too) is thinking that our childhood will be prolonged and that life ought to be like summer camp

me: where people get paid to entertain us all day

friend oh yeah. even when somebody died bad because of something I did. I can live with that. have already, even. and weave when my fingers get sore and bloody because somebody needs clothes. yup.

me: so why is it so hard to do a job where your fingers don’t bleed?

friend you do work in IT, right tell me it’s not entertaining all day, if you just look around with a certain degree of detachment

friend like bad mimes on X…

me: I’m almost always entertained.

me: and I get to work with a bunch of smart people

me: and all the people who work with me are amazingly high-maintenance

me: so there’s always something

me: and I get to solve interesting problems

me: so, compared with using a stick for a plow and plating beets, it’s pretty good

friend for me the work doesn’t have to be fun or entertaining, but it does need to make a difference, be worthwhile, raise the level of common good somehow. better if I can make money doing it than volunteer only, of course.

me: so walk the walk. people take do-good jobs alla time

me: they don’t get shiny cars and nice clothes, but they make do

me: (I’m feeling direct tonight)

friend getting there. overhead is being lowered as we speak so I don’t have to work just for money. I’m working out a line of jewelry that will benefit a non-profit or two, depending on which pieces are interesting to who. creative + beauty + good + right-brain lets me get balance to go do the kitchen scut work that pays the bills. and eventually the balance will shift

me: I’ll be interested in how you see those organizations from the inside

friend politics, politics, self-aggrandizement, egos nattering about how wonderful we all are for taking care of those poor chilluns… at least that’s been my experience to date with non-profits. people are people. all we can do is what we can do. sometimes the right thing for the wrong reason.

me: ayup

me: you know the phrase ‘doing a geographic’

friend not exactly

me: In 12-step (one ex-wife and a few girlfriends) the theory that if you just move, everything will be OK

me: but no matter where you go, there you are.

friend which is why you have to do what you can do, now. not in some theoretical future when everything will be different because of X

me: and learn to enjoy doing the dishes

friend I have learned in the last 6 months that I give a shit about an MFA, so that’s some concrete progress been made.

me: That’s head in clouds stuff

me: if you liked washing dishes, it’d be easy to work out

friend I keep having this illusion that life is about accomplishing goals. big goals. and it keeps biting me in the ass.

me: it is about accomplishing goals

me: but we think about the big goals – book deal, etc. etc and in the morning we still have to take out the trash – and wash the dishes

me: you have to do both

me: but if you don’t wash the dishes, and you don’t get the book deal, you’re fucked

me: while if you do wash the dishes, you get a clean kitchen (i.e. your daily life is in balance and feels good)

friend I’ve been doing good lately to do the trash and dishes…

friend back to balance.

me: some folks need to learn to stretch

me: they never reach for anything

me: most of us need to learn not to stretch so much

me: because we’re lied to all our lives and told that all that matters are the things you stretch for

friend that’s what I mean by getting bitten in the ass by the big goals.

me: and – since most of us don’t get the brass ring – we start thinking our lives don’t mean a damn

me: big goals matter

me: but it’s funny – I think that many people get them in a burst in their 20’s

me: and if you don’t do that – if you’re not Picasso – then you do it a dish at a time.

me: get up, clean the kitchen, get dressed, do work

me: Lots of people hang on the edge – not committing to their daily lives while they try and reach – with shortened reach – for the goal

me: so you’re fucked – won’t get either a life or goals

friend living in what should be instead of where they are

me: yup

me: not in what ‘should be’ but ‘what I wish was’

me: so then you go to Plan B

friend which is

friend chopping wood for the kitchen so you can boil water to wash the dishes

me: you’re a writer. Wallace Stevens and Ted Kooser worked for insurance companies

friend yup.

me: managed to write a little on the side

me: didn’t sit in the living room unhappy that they had to go to work

me: hence enjoying doing dishes…and we’re back where we started.

The Best “edgy, endlessly creative little [opera] company” in Long Beach

Are you in Southern California? Want to meet Armed Liberal and TG and be amazed by some culture while you’re doing it?

In my spare time, I am on the board of the Long Beach Opera – a local avant-garde opera company – “an edgy, endlessly creative little company,” as the Orange County Register puts it.

Saturday June 11, at 2 and 8pm they will present their production of Kurt Weill & Berthold Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera.” Sunday at 2pm, they will present Handel’s “Semele.”

Their season so far has been great – and don’t believe me just because I’m on the board.

The L.A. Times’ Marc Swed on Semele:

“Handel’s opera (first given as an oratorio only because the opera business wasn’t so good in 1744) is a morality tale. And in this brilliantly bratty, cynically clever production, mean Texas oilmen and their vain women who thought themselves godlike are shown, in fact, to be gods and goddesses — the vainglorious ones of Greek myth.”

OC Register on Semele:

“Long Beach Opera, an edgy, endlessly creative little company, has gone and done what would seem impossible. It has taken Handel’s 1744 opera/oratorio “Semele,” with its superannuated libretto by William Congreve involving battling gods, the mortals who get in their way and rhyming couplets, and turned it into “Dallas” with better music. What could have been an endless evening of secco recitatives and da capo arias in pretty costumes – and characters exchanging such Yoda-esque pith as “O Prodigy, to me of dire Portent!,” “To me, I hope, of fortunate Event” – becomes an evening of clever, amusing and compelling theater that keeps a viewer guessing what will happen next.”

Patterico joined us at a performance of Winterreisse, and called it “…a performance that really, really worked — due in large part to Werner’s charismatic performance, as well as his excellent voice.”

The Times liked the production as well, and the Long Beach Press-Telegram said:

“…the result is a musical drama, not quite perhaps an opera, of stunning musical and dramatic beauty, presented in a refined, simple and effective production that used subtle lighting, minimalist furnishing and props and Schubert’s extraordinarily beautiful music to tell a story of grand passion, sadness, loneliness and grief. Two performances remain this week, and if you are the kind of music lover who wants to see history in the making, this is your chance.”

But enough appeals to authority. I’ve been a fan of LBO’s for almost ten years, and find that everything they’ve done has been imaginative and surprising – the opposite of the boring opera that so many expect and too often get at the mainstream opera houses.

Come out Saturday night and see Threepenny Opera or Sunday afternoon and see Semele and meet me and TG.

Call the Carpenter Center box office at (562) 985-7000.

Brave the 405. Come out and see some opera that will surprise you.

Leave a comment or drop an email if you’re thinking of coming out.