Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Series Worthy of Note

I can’t let this October go by without a post on the 2011 World Series. There have been about 36 Game Sevens played in major league baseball history. 20 of those have been during my lifetime though I have only watched a dozen or so of them. The first I recall was the final game of the 1968 World Series which I remember watching on a black and white TV. I have seen many Series and 2011 was an entertaining one.

Stories involving "Game Seven of the World Series" are the mountaintop of imaginary baseball moments. I’m a kid playing with a stick and my dog, bare feet in the cool evening grass, and it is Game Seven. I’m up to bat with the game on the line. Or I am the pitcher, seeking the final out in a close Game Seven. Here comes my fastball. That kind of stuff. That’s what makes a “real” Game Seven special. It puts you in a position to be playing for everything.

In truth the
2011 Game Seven was an almost inevitable let-down. It had a lot of drama in the early innings but it soon became apparent that “Texas ain’t got no pitching left. They are all worn out,” as I kept telling my wife and daughter over and over to their utter irritation before CJ Wilson hit a batter in the bottom of the fifth and allowed the second unearned run of the inning to score. You just knew the night belonged to the Cardinals.

Not so in the previous game.
Game Six is hard to top, by almost any standard. In my experience, it rivals the outstanding Game Six of the 1975 World Series. For my money, Game Six of the 1991 World Series also deserves comparison. Certainly, plenty of writers compare the David Freese home run to Kirby Puckett's against Atlanta in that Series. Some say this year's version is the greatest Game Six of all time. A bit of an overstatement due to proximity of events in Time and the fact that most baseball fans prefer offensive-style games with lots of run-scoring. I'm more of a pitching and defense type fan.

Nevertheless, it is certainly one of the best games of all time. Texas was on the verge of winning the World Championship…twice…and the Cardinals came through with a two-out, two-strike triple in the bottom of the 9th inning by David Freese that drove in two runs to knot the game 7-7. Then Lance Berkman came through with a two-out, two-strike single in the bottom of the 10th inning to tie the game again at 9-9.

Earlier in the game the Cardinal infield turned a rare 5-6-4 double-play on a bunt attempt. I enjoy watching a well-played defensive game and saw several great defensive plays made by both teams throughout the series. But, five errors were made in Game Six and many other “should have been made” plays were botched.
Nelson Cruz did not play that Freese triple very well. Some better outfielder might have caught that ball and then the Texas Rangers are world champs.

I briefly mentioned Game Two a couple of posts back. It did not have the electrifying effect of Game Six but it was still a very tense and well-played game. It was probably the best played game overall of the Series. Game One was also highly competitive with great starting pitching by Chris Carpenter and Wilson and fine plays throughout the game.

Game Three was the most lop-sided but, in retrospect, that might be where the Cardinals won the series. Their pounding of the ball helped wear down the Texas bullpen which ultimately ran out of gas before the Cardinals bullpen did. But then in Game Four and Game Five the Texas Ranger line-up of hitters looked impossible to solve. So solid, so relentless with its offensive potential. Tony LaRussa, baseball's third all-time winningest manager, got things fouled up with his bullpen in Game Five. It was beginning to look like the Cardinals could not manage these Texas hitters. Heading back up to St. Louis for the final game(s) I thought there was no way the Cardinals could win Game Six.

But, they did, much to the delight of my wife and daughter and me. We all watched the celebration following the Freese two-strike home run to send us to Game Seven with broad smiles and laughter. I knew that Chris Carpenter suddenly tilted matters in favor of the Cardinals. Carpenter was the best pitcher in baseball by late-September. He pitched a complete game against Houston to put the Cardinals in the LDS to start with. Then, throwing another complete game, he out dueled Roy Halladay 1-0 in Philadelphia to put the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Carpenter had a great postseason. It just goes to show you how important having the best starting pitcher in baseball (not overall, just the best at when it really counts) is in the final seven-game Championship series of season. They started him three times against the Rangers. He got two wins and a no decision in starting Game Five. He was not overpowering by any means in starting Game Seven on short rest. But, he was effective by showing his experience in the early innings before the Texas pitchers fell apart. Texas scored two runs off Carpenter in the first inning. They threatened again in the next couple of innings before their pitchers completely lost it. At one point the game was very close.

Carpenter held Texas at just two runs when things could have easily gotten out of hand. As the Cardinals began to pull away, being pushed along as well by poor Texas pitching, the Texas batters became
more desperate and their efforts ended in frustration. They had been within one strike of winning the World Series twice the night before and they let the game be tied both times instead. The baseball gods are not forgiving to those that have victory in their grasp and let it fall away.

Strangely, the player that made the biggest impression on me was the Texas Rangers' second-baseman Ian Kinsler. Kinsler is my kind of player. Good defense at 2B, lots of speed, smart, great effort, makes contact, has some power to the gaps, and - most of all - because of the way he wears his pants. He wears them with the elastic ends tucked up around his knees and the trousers then "draped" back down to hang there. It is unusual and old-fashioned compared with the way most players wear their trousers these days. It is also exactly the way I wore my pants during many seasons of intramural and corporate-league softball. I really like this scrappy kid.

Kinsler shows more socks than most players these days. I like that. These other guys seem to prefer tucking their trousers under the back of their cleats.

This makes the 11th time the Cardinals have won the World Series. That is tops in the National League. The DamnYankees are tops overall with 27 championships.
Only the Cardinals and Yankees are in double-digits in terms of number of World Series wins. The Braves have only three in their long franchise history dating back to their first one as the Boston Braves in the 1914 World Series. So, congrats to the Cards for leading the National League in the most important category of all.

Late note: Tony LaRussa announced his retirement from baseball on Monday following this post. He has enjoyed a brilliant career with over 2700 wins. His last few victories were probably the sweetest.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Forever War

This month marks the tenth anniversary of America’s attack upon united Taliban-factions and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. Last year, many in the media mistakenly reported that the war in Afghanistan was the longest war in US history. This is an anniversary almost no one wants to recognize. The triumphant energy that inspired the endeavor initially in retaliation for the al Qaeda attacks upon symbolic targets in the United States has given way to the usual disillusionment and conflicted emotions and rationale that accompanies any seemingly endless war.

We Americans like our wars fast and decisive. Historically, the majority of Americans will tolerate a war for 3-4 years but anything after that leads to a growth of anti-war sentiment. Consider the
Vietnam War, a comparison I will use in some fashion throughout this post. The involvement of "regular" US ground infantry started in 1965. By 1968, there were large riots in streets.

As of today, there are
no anti-war protests worthy of note. Some feel this is because the protesters don't want to appear critical of President Obama. But, I think this is primarily because there is no draft. Therefore, the vast majority of American families are not directly affected by the military efforts in Afghanistan (or in Iraq beforehand for that matter). You need most of the middle class to be invested with the dead and wounded for there to be a genuine groundswell of anti-war sentiment.

Anyway, on this tenth anniversary it is clear that
the majority of (largely unaffected) Americans are opposed to a continuation of operations in Afghanistan. President Obama is under a great deal of pressure to draw-down the number of US troops. It is a time to try to untangle the complicated mess of the war.

About 1,650 Americans have died in Afghanistan. Has it been worth it? That’s sort of a trick question. It certainly calls for something more than a simple yes/no response. There is nothing simple about Afghanistan. You have to really break the war down into its military, diplomatic, cultural, and economic aspects.

Long-time readers know that I have been a supporter of the war in Afghanistan. I thought
the Iraqi War (in which Obama promises the US to be out by the end of this year) was unnecessary and a distraction to our efforts in Afghanistan. To split our focus and to shift emphasis from one country to the other to such a degree that the Afghanistan effort was neglected for years was a major failing of the Bush Administration’s overly-aggressive foreign policy. It violated some basic military principles.

But, Iraq is largely out of the picture now. Obama can say he got us out by Christmas in
his 2012 campaign for re-election. What’s done is done. Let’s make the best of it. And that seems to be the story here. Let’s make the best of all the mistakes we’ve made with Afghanistan. The Iraq War being only one of them.

According to former General Stanley McChrystal, once in command in the Afghanistan (and someone I supported), we did not know enough when we went into the region. We still do not know enough and according to McChrystal, our mission there is only half-way accomplished. But, there we are so let’s make the best of it. Then, we dismissed McChrystal, which was a mistake in my mind even though his replacement, General David Petraeus, in route to becoming chief of the CIA, was more than capable in his own right.

Most people don’t understand the fundamental shift in American operations that occurred as a result of the
McChrystal-Petraeus transition. Both commanders supported special ops as the key to victory in Afghanistan. But, McChrystal put more emphasis on the Afghan population component of operations. The rules of engagement under his tenor were very strict, particularly with respect to artillery and airpower support, in an attempt to minimize civilian casualties. This resulted, however, in a morale issue with American forces as they felt they were being inadequately supported in firefights with the enemy.

Upon taking over,
Petraeus loosened the rules of engagement so that our ground forces could call in air strikes under a broader range of circumstances. This came at a cost of increasing deaths among the Afghan population due to “friendly-fire”. This strengthened our military punch at the expense of somewhat alienating the local Afghan people. Which approach is preferred is an evaluation that goes beyond the periphery of this post.

Still, Petraeus made only minor adjustments to our overall approach. McChrystal’s special ops against the al Qaeda and the Taliban, known as
“Kill-Capture,” (originally developed under McChrystal for Petraeus when the latter was in command in Iraq), was actually expanded by Petraeus three-fold. To date, Kill-Capture has netted hundreds of insurgents killed and more than 12,000 captured. It really took the wind out of the capacity of the Taliban to recover and make meaningful counter-operations so far in 2011.

It was a
Kill-Capture mission that killed Osama bin Laden. For many Americans, that marked the perfect time to start withdrawing from the country. After all, the whole reason for operations in Afghanistan to begin with was due to the organization that bin Laden put in place there. This "eye-for-an-eye" approach to defining the parameters of the war is understandable. But, though bin Laden’s death was certainly a major blow to al Qaeda, it was not a "death blow", so to speak. The organization is far too decentralized to disintegrate at the death of its moral leader.

Though there have been
numerous minor incidents throughout the country, some more deadly than others, signs of still haunting instability and uncertainty, signs that the Afghan Forces are not sufficiently trained to keep the Taliban from taking the country back, the major fighting so far in 2011 has been where it was expected to be – in and around Kandahar. That particular Taliban offensive failed but both sides have recently claimed the other is losing the war.

It is interesting to note that the nature of the war in recent months has changed radically from what it was a few years ago. As
recently as 2009, for example, bands of Taliban roamed at will through the countryside and some cities wrecking havoc, harassing civilians and attacking military personnel. At one point during the Iraq War the Taliban had, in fact, won control of most of Afghanistan. Since the Battle of Kandahar ended in May 2011 the Taliban and al Qaeda have been unable to sustain any kind military or covert operation.

If you scan for news you will find the usual assorted accounts of a bombing here or an incident there but you will find nothing closely approaching the type of activity common to the Taliban a few years ago. Clearly,
the Taliban have been severely disrupted and can only resort to guerrilla tactics. Take away the bombings, take away the killing and maiming of largely innocent people, and the Taliban would not be mentioned in the media at all.
While the number of suicide bombings has steadily increased in the region since 9/11, the conflict in Afghanistan has been reduced to just that, the traditional, pathetic al Qaeda “I-blow-me-up” strategy.

This is the clearest possible indication that the efforts of the US-led coalition are working. We
might not be winning the war but neither are we losing. To compare a collection of region-wide suicide bombings with the mayhem that existed in 2007 while we were more focused on the war in Iraq is to give the Taliban far too much credit. Their ability to control large regions of the country does not exist anymore.

This is the critical point most Americans don’t understand. Yes,
there is instability. That is the dirty nature of the war. While large areas of the country remain insecure from a terror tactics perspective, the ability of bands of terrorists to extract ransom and control local village leaders in their once typical strong-arm, mafia style is gone.

It seems to me that while we probably can never eliminate the threat of radical elements in this part of the world, we have successfully forced them to disband into cells of activity as opposed to a somewhat unified military force.
It isn’t quite a victory but we are hardly defeated either. A stalemate has ensued in which the al Qaeda has been marginalized, the Taliban forced out of country, and the US-led coalition is forced to maintain a fragile security.

Is our experience in Afghanistan going to turn out the way our Vietnam experience did? Is
the slow progress in developing the Afghan forces necessary to maintain security in the country an indication of ultimate failure on the magnitude of the ill-fated South Vietnamese Army?

More to the point, are we any
closer to winning the war or, at least, bringing it to a successful conclusion? Opinions differ. It all depends on how you define “victory” or even if you want to achieve victory. Many would prefer just to have an honorable exit strategy and leave all notions of victory to the historians. President Nixon called this “Peace with Honor.”

It is beginning to feel more and more like we are in
a stalemate situation. General McChrystal is right. We are ten years in and the war is probably only “halfway over”. Does America have what it takes to see the war through to completion? What?! Another ten years in Afghanistan? You gotta be kidding me. There’s no way America has that much resolve.

Or do we? With
the success of our special ops perhaps we can protect Afghan operations even as our traditional forces are withdrawn. Afghanistan might become the proving ground for a small number of US troops for many years to come.

I have often considered whether or not
Pakistan is Obama’s Cambodia. In the Vietnam War, Cambodia was a vast sanctuary for recovery and resupply of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces. The famous Ho Chi Minh Trail snaked through Laos and Cambodia and essentially meant that forces opposed to the United States and South Vietnam could attack whenever and wherever they wanted, then run away to safety when the US choppered in reinforcements.

Pakistan today has many similarities to Cambodia back then. The Taliban and al Qaeda retreated into that region when coalition forces got appropriately aggressive with them. Of course, Osama bin Laden was killed just a few miles from Islamabad. It is out of Pakistan that the Taliban emerged this spring to attack Kandahar. Lately, we have determined that Pakistan, through its ISI and perhaps other organizations, has been connected with Taliban activity.

Naturally diplomatic
relations with Pakistan are tense. We are constantly invading their air space with a highly effective Drone War strategy and committing tactical incursions (such as the bin Laden raid) in what is supposed to be their sovereign territory. I applaud our boldness to disregard Pakistan’s sovereignty and attack targets as necessary. There is bountiful evidence that artillery attacks are taking place from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Again, it is becoming increasingly obvious that elements in Pakistan are supporting the Taliban terror operations in Afghanistan. We have plenty of justification to “violate” their international rights.

Perhaps there is no better example of the complexity of our military operations in the region than in
the US-led coalition attacks on the so-called Haqqani Network, operating on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Haqqani are Afghani in origin but were forced across the border into Pakistan a couple of years ago by US operations against them. Since, the beginning of the Drone Wars and the US covert ops into the Pakistan side of the border, the Haqqani now claim to feel safer in Afghanistan.

recent ops such as Operation Knife Edge would indicate that the Haqqani are still seeking sanctuary in Pakistan and that the Pakistani military is in some ways cooperating with Coalition forces on “limited incursions” into Pakistan. These operations are apparently having effect. Though the Haqqani continue to harass civilian and military targets in Afghanistan, they are off-balance due to the persistent counter-harassment tactics of US-led forces.

Clearly, we have what it takes to assault the adversarial forces (Taliban, Haqqani, al Qaeda) seeking
safe haven in Pakistan. War is about killing the enemy, particularly when that enemy has a region of sanctuary. Take the war to them. That is what we have been doing – to greater success than the "We-Are-Losing" crowd wants to admit. Of course, our diplomatic initiatives might mean a halt to future incursions. But, not until Pakistan begins to deal directly with the Afghani Taliban inside its borders. The covert nature of our approach mirrors the covert nature of the Taliban’s approach with the suicide bombings.

This is one instance when our operational resolve matches the threat presented by the opposing forces. This is rare in military history, particularly where guerrilla tactics are concerned, dating back to
Napoleon’s Peninsula War in Spain. Conventional warfare tactics employed against irregular forces often ends up a mismatch, as Napoleon discovered in 1808 and as the US learned in Vietnam. There are few, if any, historical precedents where regular combat tactics work effectively against guerrillas. To that end, we have attained in Afghanistan what I would term a symmetical approach to the operations of the adversary. If not a sign of victory, this is at least a sign of appropriate commitment of assets. A historic rarity.

There are diplomatic signs, however, that Pakistan fears not only our continued violation of their sovereign space but also close ties being facilitated by the US between
the Afghan government and India, Pakistan’s long-time adversary in the area. So, as you shift away from the military to the diplomatic perspective you can see the war in a larger, regional context.

Our diplomatic strategy against Pakistan seems to be highly effective. If Islamabad wants to avoid possibly being sandwiched between India and an India-allied Afghanistan, then
it needs to cooperate more with coalition forces (primarily the US). On the other hand, if we continue to attack targets inside Pakistan with our bold, non-Cambodian-like strategy of taking the war to the Taliban, we risk further alienation with a nuclear power, an Islamic democracy where the vast majority hates the United States. Moreover, the Karzai government in Afghanistan has attempted to align itself with Pakistan in any future conflict that might result from the US continuing to disregard Pakistani sovereignty.

Can things be any more complicated? As with the military effort, diplomacy seems to be another stalemate at this point. We are not winning. We are not losing. And the road ahead seems to stretch on toward another decade of commitment that American is losing the willpower to make. Apparently, nothing saps American resolve faster than a confused and unclear situation.

It is interesting how so often in war the government and the people of the land where most of the fighting takes place tend to take a back seat. Any assessment of America’s Longest War needs to remember the Afghanis themselves. The Karzai government is not the most stable and reliable entity with which to form a partnership. Again, this begs the comparison between the Afghan government today and the South Vietnamese government we attempted to prop up several decades ago.

An excellent article in
the latest issue of The Atlantic gives an instructive example of the quandary the US often faces with the very people it is trying to secure and stabilize. The Afghanis are a complex mix of people, including many “friendly” Taliban tribes. Historically, those who have attained power in Afghanistan have done so through brutality and vice. Not exactly cultural traits that inspire our own internal mythology of “bringing democracy to the oppressed peoples of the world.”

Then there is the simple economic weight of the war. Can we afford Afghanistan? The answer to that from an economic perspective is "no." The war costs certainly seem exorbitant when we are wrestling with our current debt situation. It seems excessive to spend money in a land fighting people that no longer directly threaten the United States protecting people who don't want our protection.

The bottom line is that, all things considered,
we can win this war in Afghanistan from a military perspective. The elements are all in place to not repeat another Vietnam. But, the central questions are always more cultural and political than military. The willpower of the American people doesn’t shine so bright as the days grow long. We have cultural ADD and, for all our boasting, our motivational strength diminishes quickly in our consumer, creature-comfort frame of time. By contrast, the Taliban are very patient.

The most recent issue of Time Magazine calls it "The Unwinnable War." Maybe it is. The odds of the US truly stablizing Afghanistan after centuries of strive and decades of civil war are really a long shot. Afghanistan will never be politically stable enough for democracy to thrive there. There has never been a succesful "shotgun democracy" that I know of in history.

Winning, losing, stalemate. Willpower, covert ops, suicide bombings. Government corruption, a violent culture, no human rights. We got to this stage because of the national trauma of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The symbolic castration of American power. But, we've stayed so long now we can't remember what we are in it for anymore.

Still, you cannot dismiss into the thin air the fact we are in a war, a difficult but winnable war, as long as winning doesn't mean everything has to be stablized. The Taliban are a complex collection of tribes and only a large minority of those tribes actually ruled Afghanistan and actually protected al Qaeda back in 2001. There are Taliban we can negotiate with, though many consider this a myth. Maybe the brother of our enemies can talk them into letting us go, letting the election process decide who rules, not the gun, not the beatings, not the fear they master so well to make the people cower before them.

It might be too much to ask. Why should a people, a violent tribal culture, leave matters of power to the chance of democracy? This is a cultural question that I cannot answer, though there is some answer, some obscure way the Taliban see their methods as being sound and reasonable in their native land.

With all these different levels of this conflict swimming round and round in my head I am reminded of the closing scene in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket where Private Joker says: "I'm in a world of shit, yes. But, I am alive and I am not afraid." Yes, Afghanistan is a world of shit. But, that is precisely where we are. We can adandon the country as quickly as possible or we can be more fearless in our approach. If we choose to leave, then what's done is done. If we choose to stay, then we must be willing to co-exist with all the massive uncertainty.

There is nothing clear here, other than the fact that (mostly likely) our original job in Afghanistan is only half-finished and the other half of the journey already feels like it will take forever.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gaddafi, Bloody Gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi was violently killed today, along with one of his sons. The other son was wounded and taken to a hospital. An air-strike by French jets stopped Gaddafi from fleeing his last stronghold in Sirte, Libya.

Today was NATO's
finest moment in a long time. The Lybian Revolt ended, the revolution was won. It is another victory for the Arab Spring. Now comes the hard part.

US diplomacy in Pakistan continued at a critical stage for the war in Afghanistan.

I read all this on my iPad while watching the Cardinals play the Rangers in
Game Two of the World Series on TV. The Rangers beat the Cardinals 2-1 in an outstanding baseball game.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Taking an Afternoon Off

I took a half-day of vacation today. It was a bright, sunny day with early autumn color on leaves resting in a breeze, the ground damp from recent rain, though the air itself was clear and free of humidity. I worked until lunch, then I drove by Pak-Mail and dropped off 40 Fed Ex small boxes. It is part of our latest marketing efforts at work.

Before I left the office I sarcastically told my boss (the company prez) that I had no interest in working this afternoon. He laughed and said if he didn’t have a demo he needed to see he’d be gone too. He and I are surprisingly close after 10+ years of working together. That’s my longest period with one boss in my career. Work has been extremely demanding for me lately, the brain-drain kind of demanding, and I need to take more time off. I still have eight days of vacation left and the year isn't getting any younger.

I stopped by my usual package store and picked up a 12-pack of beer for later in the day. It was lunch time and people were already bustling about in preparation for the weekend. I drove home with my windows down, enjoying the 50 mile per hour wind stream my Subaru created.

Jennifer would be home later. She was in Atlanta on business. When I got home, one of her assistants was in Jennifer's office (The upstairs of my house is split into quarters. One quarter is open space above my living room, giving it a full two-story openess with windows high above. One quarter is my personal space filled with my PC, my library, my gaming table, my reading chair and lamp, my other possessions of interest to me. One quarter is Jennifer’s office. One quarter is my only closet in the whole house, our upstairs bath, and our small bedroom.) shuffling a lot of papers.

I exchanged small talk with her. I changed into a fresh t-shirt, kept my jeans on, took my shoes off and wore flip-flops out with Charlie, our english setter mix, on a walk in our woods. Being almost three, Charlie was all over the place, running, dashing, on high alert, possessing lots of energy for not being given a proper walk yet today. He ran and explored the woods and the field up behind our house, our piece of property that sort of looks out over the 10-acre space, the view partially blocked with woods. The noise of the breeze was so great today you couldn’t hear any traffic at all in the distance, mostly what you heard was early-fall leaves dragging through the wind.

Before I wore my flip-flops into the woods I saw Nala, our 13-year old border collie mix, lying in our carport. I rubbed her a long time and talked sweet to her. She has this spot on her woolly, smelly back and another spot on the underside of her tummy that when you rub it or scratch it her hind-leg begins to run in place rapidly. It must be a wonderful sensation for her because she whines at me if I don’t do that enough with her. Often she whines in vain, I am too busy and simply can’t. But, today I was in no hurry and she got a good, long rubbing. She followed Charlie and me part-way into the woods.

A new wargame came in the mail today. Good timing.
No Retreat! 2 from a great little low-volume game company called Victory Point Games. The system intrigues me as it simulates a more strategic view of the North African Campaign from 1940-1942. After I came back in from the woods I spent some time reviewing the game components and rules, piddling with the first few turns of the campaign game on its VASSAL module a couple of times just to get a feel for the thing. The British can easily handle the Italians in the game's first scenario, the opening of the campaign game. This was historically the case. I really like the design.

Mid-afternoon I checked the markets.
A great day for stocks and everybody. Over what? Is economic growth suddenly going to skyrocket? All this debt go poof!? Come on, guys. This is a trader’s market. Almost the same as going to Vegas. I think gold has found a support level. It gave a buy signal September 26. I didn’t buy. Richard Russell and this other guy I follow at were both obviously expecting a big correction, even beyond what gold lost recently. So, I hesitated and did not trust my buy signal system.

But, I have come to agree with Jennifer about
dollar cost averaging. I should be putting some amount every month in to this market. Gold might go down to say, $1400, but then we’ll just buy some that month at that price. Keep the faith. On his website yesterday, Russell said “accumulate” gold and that is what I propose to do and have been doing since 2003. When it comes to my position on gold, everybody thinks I’m either a fundamentalist Christian or that I'm too obsessive about the collective economic reality of America’s and Europe’s and Japan’s debt. Gold is in a bubble, they say, or it is just not a "real" investment. No matter that I've made around 60% on my total gold position to date. I think gold and possibly silver will outperform the US stock marketing over the next 3 to 5 years.

Shortly after this, my daughter came home from school. We didn’t chat much. She is a teenager and discussions are generally viewed (by her teen self) as ordeals so I keep them to a minimum, striving to be meaningful to her when they do occur.

Jennifer arrived only a few minutes later. She was very keyed-up from being in Atlanta. Then she started raving about her assistant, who had left at 3 pm, until she found three folders that she was looking for, prepared by the assistant. “Now you are less mad,” I said out loud. My daughter laughed. “Yep,” Jennifer admitted, zipping back a forth from the bedroom to her office.

But she wasn’t. She raged into our woods, shouting until she felt herself more satisfied. Tranquil as they are, our woods are big enough to yell into if you are pissed off. Jennifer is having a tough time with her business right now. Not because things aren't going well but, rather, because she is overly busy with details and can't do the selling she wants to do and is unhappy with the patch-work of three part-time assistants that are not getting the job done. We are coming up on Jennifer's busiest time of year. It is a good problem to have but today it is nothing but frustrating for her.

I tried to calm her down, unwind her from that Atlanta haste she was in earlier today. We spent some time in our woods talking as Charlie prowled around some more. We sat out in our carport in the breeze and listened to some of the "Healing Mix" of softer, easier Neil Young music I made for her when she was recovering from surgery in late-July. We sat and talked and had a couple of beers. I had had a couple of others earlier in the afternoon while sitting in the shade amongst tall fescue and clover on the new bench in our back yard. It has a big sky view along with the edge of our woods about 100 feet away and the pole barn in the foreground. A vast blueness overhead.

My daughter left to go see the remake of The Thing with her boyfriend and some friends. She and I spoke briefly about when I first saw
John Carpenter’s brilliant version of the original classic 1950’s sci-fi flick. We discussed how when Carpenter made it before computers, when there were no CGI effects. And we figured this version would have a lot more and "cooler" special effects. I told her I’d watch it with her when it came out on DVD. She smiled and said “OK.” She waved as she backed the car we bought her down to the turnaround area. Since she was driving to her boyfriend's house and leaving for the film from there (it was closer to the theater), I told her to be home by 11PM.

With the beer and the music and the beautiful day, Jennifer finally shifted gears and was going on and on about the art exhibit she saw in Atlanta this morning before her business meetings. She saw a preview of
the High Museum’s Picasso to Warhol exhibit. She accentuated her admiration for Henri Matisse, who was prominent in this exhibition.

She got a special invitation to attend a pre-opening event of the exhibit at 8:30 this morning. It was a rather intimate gathering, with about 50 people attending before the museum's doors opened to the public at 10am. Jennifer got the invitation because she is a member of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She goes to NYC once a year to service a major client she has there. She went on and on about the exhibit, parts of which (not especially the Picasso or the Warhol) really moved her. She and I will go together sometime in the future to see the exhibit again. I look forward to doing that with her.

For dinner we had leftover lasagna and homemade chicken pot pie warmed up in the microwave. It was clean-out-the-refrigerator night. Afterwards we sat in the post-sunset light and listen to crickets and frogs and dogs in the distance. Now and then a car went by. The wind died down and everything was bathed in a golden tinge.

As the twilight deepened and the baying of a few cows across the road receeded, we listened to the radio for awhile; a program on WSMC we enjoy on Friday evenings for its wonderfully relaxing and contemplative chamber music as well as often-poetic, sometimes naturalistic monologues from the soothing voice of Bruce Ashton.

Later, we watched Fringe, a show in its third season with
absolutely terrible ratings but to which we are nevertheless addicted. We call Friday's "Fringe Friday" when the show is in season. My daughter and I watched most of the first season without Jennifer. My wife joined us regularly about half-way through the second season. Now, my daughter watches it less and less with us because it has gotten very complicated for her and, apparently, for most everyone else in boob tube land. Only about 3 million Americans "tune in" (an antiquated term) each week. Still, it is a cult series and, other than Modern Family (which we three watch as a family on Wednesday evenings), it is the only series I watch regularly on TV.

Jennifer went to bed after the TV show. I went upstairs and listened to some classical music while reading. My daughter came home before her curfew. She is a great kid, really. She and I talked a bit about the movie and I quizzed her on what it was like, trying the get beyond the non-descriptive summary of "it was really good" and "it was so scary" into how the effects were and how the story might have changed since the 1982 version I have in my film collection. I asked her if she might want to watch the older version sometime. She shrugged, "Maybe."

Then she was off to bed, or rather off to lie in bed and yack on the phone with her friends. Jennifer was asleep when I finally turned out all the lights, closing out a relaxing half-day off from work and an otherwise fairly typical Friday evening. All rather simple really.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Help Wanted: The Next "Steve Jobs"

I have no memory of Steve Jobs. Until very recently, as far as I was concerned he might have never existed. Today I feel almost utterly alone (and certainly quite selfish) in my assessment of the passing of this great innovator.

Until today I have never researched Steve Jobs. I have never particularly followed him in the news. I have never owned an
Apple Computer, never owned an iPod, never owned an iPhone, and never bought music through iTunes. I am, in fact, an MP3 man. When one of the partners I work for scoffed at my boast some time ago of being "tuned-out" of Apple's little music monopoly (which is modeled after Microsoft's near-monopoly over PC operating and office productivity systems) I simply pointed out to him that MP3's are what someplace called sells. Google that sometime.

Then, my daughter and wife (both iPhone fanatics - technology really does have a strangely alluring quality to human beings) bought me
an iPad2 for my birthday. Suddenly, I got it. I got what made Steve Jobs into this worshipped corporate guru, this technology wizard, this re-inventor of the way people communicate and interact with each other and - more fundamentally - with media.

iPads are the coolest gadgets I have come across in recent memory. And just think, Steve did that. With a lot of help from his friends, I'm sure, but it was his vision that drove the endeavor. My iPad connected me to Jobs. But, it turns out we had at least one other thing in common.

Like me,
Jobs once ventured to India. He followed a spiritual path. From what I read today, I believe it was this spiritual basis that drove his life and his innovations.

All over the internet today, it was easy to find
a speech given by Jobs at a graduation commencement in 2005 at Stanford University. This portion struck me as particularly worthy.

"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?'"

"And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life."

"It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true."

"Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

They gave me an iPad on my 52nd birthday.
Jobs died yesterday at age 56. Though he had battled cancer for a long time and I am - as far as I know - a healthy man, anything can happen in four years. Or sooner. So, when I researched Steve Jobs and read those words for the first time today, I saw him and myself in a different light.

I know that what I do is not who I am and I also know that Steve probably lived a more authentic life than I have because he was lucky enough to meld his work and his passion. I use the word "lucky" because, best I can tell, it is a matter of luck as much as skill. Steve was brilliant and had exceptional vision but his timing was pure luck. After all, the PC was already invented and the world was ready for it. Steve had nothing to do with any of that. To listen and read some of the stuff online today you'd think Jobs created the micro-chip. Come on guys.

But, hey, luck (karma?) counts more than most things, and Steve Jobs was exactly the kind of innovator that we need to rescue us from
the Fog of Growth in which our economy is currently shrouded. His innovations can not save us, however. The man's legacy is - or should be - about his innovative spirit and not the consumer products that made him rich and fed into our pathetic consumer culture.

It will take far more than a better phone or tablet PC to save our economy. We need the next "Steve Jobs" and whatever that person envisions. We need something no one has thought of that will make people economically necessary again.

And it will take a lot of luck for that person to come along soon. But, for today, the first day I ever googled "Steve Jobs", let me just say...

Thanks for the iPad, Steve.