Friday, September 30, 2011

Has the Curse Returned?

Nate Silver in the New York Times analyzes the statistical probability of the Red Sox biblical collapse this week and shows unequivocally that what happened, could not have happened, at least not in the real world.

But his alternative explanation is a shocker.  He refers to an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that I loved when I watched it because I was warmed by the seeming redemption of Bill Buckner.  I didn't realize how diabolical it was.  Here's Nate's conclusion:
On Sept. 4, the day after the Red Sox’ playoff probability peaked, H.B.O. aired an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The show is the brainchild of Larry David, the creator of Seinfeld.
In the episode, “Mister Softee”, Mr. Buckner was featured prominently. Jeered by Red Sox fans everywhere he went, he dropped a baseball autographed by Mookie Wilson out a window. But he restored his reputation after catching a baby dropped from a burning building.
Since the Red Sox’ curse already seemed to have been lifted after 2004, Mr. Buckner’s redemption was superfluous: a case of two 180-degree rotations turning the Red Sox’ karma all the way back around. From the day that the episode aired, the Red Sox went 6-18.
The program was fiction, of course. But you couldn’t have scripted what happened last night. And Mr. David is a Yankees fan.
Hat tip to Matt Kroll

Monday, September 26, 2011

On the Bus in Geneva with Ruwan

I arrived into Geneva after an overnight flight through Montreal.  I'm here to do a panel on Outbound Chinese Investment to Europe, a subject on which I am one of the world's leading experts.  Baddabump!

Actually, I will be discussing the importance of communications around Chinese investments abroad, on which I do have a bit of experience.  I spent the afternoon trying to study up, but kept falling asleep.  Not wanting to waste an entire day in my hotel room, I ventured forth.  I'm in a airport hotel and the center city is about 10 miles away.  There's free city bus service, which is a bit of challenge.  Fortunately, as I wandered aimlessly along an alleyway behind the hotel, I spotted a young man with a backpack seemingly running for the bus.  So, I ran behind him.  We both caught the bus and sat together.

Turns out, he was volunteering for the meeting to which I was speaking.  His name is Ruwan and he is Sri Lankan.  He was heading for his French lessons.  Though he grew up in London, his parents were from Sri Lanka.  Unclear which side of the civil war his family was on, though I suspect the non-rebels.  He told me a few things about the meeting (200 people, lots of high level Chinese) and gave me some excellent tourist tips.  We got off at the same stop and he pointed me toward Geneva's Old City and I was off.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Arrived in Dalian China

After 24 hours of travel, I have arrived in Dalian China.  In order to get the cheapest fare, I had to travel from Washington National to Boston Logan to Washington Dulles to Beijing.  Crazy, but it saved my firm many thousands of dollars.

The ultimate destination was Dalian for the World Economic Forum so-called "Summer Davos" meeting where my company will be announcing a new initiative called our China Practice.  So, there was a relatively brief layover in Beijing and an hour and fifteen minute flight to Dalian, which is a seacoast city of about 6 million due east of Beijing on a little peninsula between China and North Korea.

Frankly, I was a bit concerned about flying on a domestic Chinese airline.  I still have this impression that Chinese infrastructure is poor and safety regulations weak.  I was wrong.  The plane to Dalian on Southern China Airlines was much better than the United plane that took me from the U.S.  To my delight, they even have AC power at the seat, so I could use my laptop without fear of draining the battery.  The TV was bigger, although for such a short flight there was no programming.  And the seats were much more roomy.  More evidence that America is falling behind.

Upon existing the plane, I could immediately smell the salt air.  Of course, it was raining, as it has been everywhere I've been for the last month.  The car ride from the airport was pleasant.  Dalian is a very modern city.  Unlike other cities I've been to in China, there's very little English on the signs.  I assumed that meant that this city might be less "international," but my driver pointed out that for 50 of the last 100 years, Dalian has been under the control of either the Russians or the Japanese.  Go figure.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

NJ Flag Factory - The Most Demagogic Campaign Stop Ever

Annin Flag Factory, Bloomfield, New Jersey
In 1988, when George H.W. Bush was running against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, Bush made a campaign issue out of Dukakis having vetoed a bill to require teachers to lead their classes in the saying the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom. It was a courageous defense of the First Amendment, but Bush hammered away in what may have been the first of a continuous theme in Republican campaigns to portray the Democratic candidate as "unpatriotic." In 1992, it was the unpatriotic draft dodger.  In 2000, it was the unpatriotic tree hugger.  In 2004, it was the unpatriotic faux war hero.  And in 2008, it was the unpatriotic terrorist pal.

In the '88 campaign, the theme reached its demagogic apogee when Bush held a campaign event at a flag factory in New Jersey.

I was in North Jersey today for a wedding and, while searching for Starbucks this morning, I stumbled upon the famous flag factory, Annin Flags, "Flagmakers to the world since 1847." So, I thought I'd share a picture of the factory.

As it happens, I know the guy who suggested this event to Bush and consider him a very good friend. Since I'm sure he's deeply embarrassed by this event, I will not shame him by providing his name.

Sent from my iPad

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, September 05, 2011

Reality or Truth?

Yesterday, I went to the filming of a reality TV show that my daughter, Bridget, was invited to join.  The show is entitled "Everyday Health Heroes" and it seems to be part of a franchise called "Everyday Health" on ABC Network.  Here's the casting call for the Heroes show.

It was an interesting peek behind the curtain for these "reality" shows.  The concept behind this show is apparently real life examples of people doing constructive things to improve health.  The "stars" are a young male and female couple who were winners on the Survivor Show.  This particular episode involved each of the two stars recruiting some high school soccer players to compete in a tournament to raise funds for AIDS.  The organization that the show served to promote was Grassroots Soccer, whose tagline is Educate, inspire, mobilize, stop the spread of HIV and the tournament involved hundreds of soccer players as a fundraising event.

Bridget's travel team was recruited by the female lead and they had to pretend at a practice that she had just stumbled upon them.  The male lead was also recruiting a boys team.  The girls on the team would get some vague instructions on a scene and then they would play their parts.  Similar kinds of scenes were filmed at the tournament, with multiple takes when somebody didn't get a line right or they were drowned out by ambient noise.  In the end, it all went very well, the game was close and vigorously played by both sides.  The girls won the game with the help of a professional soccer player with the DC United soccer team who seemed to be their ringer.

I have to say that I cannot stand to watch reality TV.  I've always considered those programs idiotic and forced.  I would ask myself why people would even participate?  Fame, I guess.  But having a close up view has softened my opinion.  As it happens, while I was sitting in the stands waiting for the game to begin, I was reading a review in the Sunday New York Times Book section of the book, Believing is Seeing, by Errol Morris.  The review by Kathryn Schulz discussed the morality of photography, particularly the implications when a photographer alters a scene in order to make it depict some "truth" that may not be apparent if he or she just snapped the picture.  The example used is a photograph by 19th century photographer Roger Fenton of a scene from the Crimean War.  There are actually two shots, one with cannonballs in the middle of the road, one with the cannon balls more obscurely lying in the gutters to the side of the road.  Apparently, the photographer moved the cannonballs onto the road to make for a more dramatic shot. Purists might complain that he had altered reality.  The conclusion of both the book and the reviewer was that providing a more vivid description of the war through more visible cannonballs was appropriate in service to the larger truth about war.   So, "staging" the picture was deemed morally sound.

It occurred to me that what I was witnessing was very analogous.  Notwithstanding my abhorrence for reality TV, the goals of this program was to promote health and celebrate people giving of themselves for the benefit of others.  So, "staging" this program, which had the outward trappings of a documentary, was entirely appropriate.

So, I think it was a highly laudable undertaking, whether or not my daughter was involved.

The program is scheduled to air in early November. Watch this space for more specific scheduling information.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Best Critique of the Republicans....Ever

Thanks to an IPad app called "Zite," I came across a long piece on the modern Republican Party written by a former Republican Senate staffer that was posted on the Truth-Out site.  The particular post, entitled Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult, is simply the best, most insightful, most comprehensive and most damning critique I have ever read of today's Republican Party.  Written by recently retired Mike Lofgren, a former Senate Budget Committee staffer, it systematically identifies and explains every major element of the party's current agenda.  But the real power of the piece comes from his revelation of the motivations behind these agenda items, the strategies that drive them and why they have been so effective politically.  On the one hand, I am exhilarated by the power of the piece.  On the other hand, I am profoundly depressed with the story it tells and what it portends for the future. His critique of the Democrats is also well targeted, but finds them more guilty of fecklessness than the outright evil he ascribes to the Republicans.  In the end, sadly, there simply seems to be now way out of the downward spiral that the new Republicans have set in motion. 

The following are some key clips, but it is really worth reading the entire 6,000 word post: