28 March 2009

Embodied Cognition and Leadership

For once, we weren't meeting for a meal. Bernard wanted to walk on this gorgeous day and I was more than game. It was chamber of commerce weather and we were walking amidst the crowds at Balboa Park, engaged in a form of peri-philosophy (Bernard's word for walking around discussing ideas) as old as speech, I imagine.

"The latest ideas from cognitive science are subversive," Bernard said.

"Which ideas," I inquired.

"Embodied cognition," he said. "The idea that cognition is inseparable from the body or even the environment. It's a rejection of the claim that the mind sits separate from the body."

"How is this so subversive?"

"Well, it suggests that the mind is emergent from the body, not separate, and this undermines all kinds of authority."

"What?" Leave it to Bernard to leap from cognitive science to social power. "How did you make this leap?"

"Well, think about it. In the model of mind as separate from body, body is obviously subject to mind - or should be in the person with any will power at all. Mind is more pure than body and mind directs body; telling it where to go and what to do. The mind tells the hand to pick up a glass, or the foot to step towards the counter. This is the old model."

"Yeah. How does that contradict what you said before?"

"Well, if the dichotomy of mind and body is false, then it is not true that the mind directs the foot as if it is sending an order from central command to remote troops. It could easily be that the desire to move comes from the foot - as an extremity it might be the first to notice a need for water, say - and the knowledge about HOW to move is embodied in the foot - at least in part - and not just the brain. It's not true that the brain is the authority and the foot is the, er, willing foot soldier."

"Oh." I walked a few steps absorbing this. "That is different. So you are saying that even the notion that the impulses and choices and signals that we normally associate with the mind and think of as residing in the brain are, in fact, distributed more broadly through the body? Even in places like the foot?"

"Yep." Bernard loved it when I eventually understood. "At least that's what I got."

"Okay." I'm slow but persistent. "So, this is subversive how?"

"Well, the traditional model of leadership of organizations is all based on the notion of mind body divide. We call the leader 'the head' of the organization in reference to this. The authority comes from some outside inspiration or revelation that is not embodied in the organization but comes into it through the head, the leader."

"So if the mind is embodied then perhaps leadership is too? Leadership is actually distributed more broadly than we thought?"

Bernard had a little grin. "Yep."

I laughed. "So, you think that you can trigger social change by sharing the lesson of embodied cognition, a relatively obscure branch of cognitive science, itself a fairly obscure area of study?"

He looked hurt and shook his head. "Now why did you have to say that?"

I had no answer to his question. "You know, Bernard, a shift like that has more potential than most notions."

"It does, doesn't it," he grinned again, his new idea still safe. And I knew he was right, really. As our models of the world gradually change, so does our world. By adapting to the reality we perceive, we create it. And besides, I liked this idea: embodied leadership.

What About Work?

Freud said that work and love is all there is. And yet work, like air, is nearly invisible to us.

I saw "Working" at the Old Globe last night. It reminded me of why I found Studs Terkel's book so fascinating decades ago. Hearing people talk about their jobs is sort of like listening to them talk about incomes or private sex lives. There is, oddly enough, a kind of intimacy when Terkel's characters confess to their ambivalence or resignation or dreams that makes us realize how little we really know about the daily work of people all around us.

All of business and economics stems from work and yet it seems as though business management and economic theory ignores work, or takes it for granted. This is a huge mistake and could easily undermine the bright and noble aspirations of Obama's bright and noble economic team.

Work gets defined by the economy and the economy by work. In an agricultural economy, work is subordinated to seasons and the demands of the animals and livestock. In an industrial economy, work is subordinated to the rhythms of machines and factories. In an information economy, work comes from applying algorithms or knowledge to tasks. In every economy, productivity is largely determined by big economic trends like industrialization and these trends, in turn, are defined by changes in work. Work matters and its demands are always larger than the individual.

Which brings us to today's economy and theories about how to move out of the recession AND again increase stagnating wages.

Obama's economic team believes that the Great Depression was ended by Keynesian policies. A sizable portion of their conservative opponents believe that the recovery was simply a natural consequence of the dynamics of capitalism and if anything, Keynesian policies just slowed things down. The players in this debate both seem to ignore work.

Peter Drucker thought differently. He attributes the massive increase in productivity in the 20th century (the average worker produced about 50X more per hour by 2000) to Frederick Taylor's application of knowledge to work. If he is right - and his is a credible claim - than the efforts of capital markets and Keynesian policy makers alike would have been for naught without this. We would still be working 3,000 hours a year (about 50% more than we do now), living a mere 47 years (rather than 77), and would have about 1/50th of the goods and services we now have. (And if you are past the age of 47 and say that this does not sound so bad, just consider the fact that in such a world your opinion would count for little: you'd be dead already.)

All that to ask, What is the theory of Obama's team about the source of progress for this next century? Now that the portion of our work force making and moving things has dropped to about 10%, Taylor's application of knowledge to work offers less promise. Now we have to transform knowledge work, and - just as we offered the children of manufacturing workers knowledge work as an alternative, a means of progress - we have to offer the children of knowledge workers the next stage of work.

It is not enough to pump more capital into the same markets. We've done that to create a series of bubbles. Capital - like labor - needs broader movements to harness onto in order to generate greater and greater returns. And it is not enough to stimulate an economy that isn't steadily improving the foundation - the work - upon which everything else builds.

Until we start talking seriously about work and how we expect it to change and improve in this next century, it seems as though any stimulus packages by governments and investments by Wall Street will simply translate into more drag and bubbles.

Economists, business managers and investors like to think of themselves as the keys to progress. They matter. But without changes in work, the machine breaks down. And work continues to be the most ignored of these vital elements. Maybe it is time to change that. Perhaps it is time to turn our attention from Treasury Secretary Geithner to Labor Secretary Solis. Money just change the score: work changes the game.

26 March 2009

Out of Touch With (Virtual) Reality

In the midst of the dire news about the economy is this closing sentence:

For all of last year, the economy grew just 1.1 percent, unchanged from the government's previous estimate. That was down from a 2 percent gain in 2007 and marked the slowest growth since the last recession in 2001

The stock market moves more than the economy because it is more in touch with virtual reality: the things that might happen rather than the things that have.

To be fair, jobless claims are rising, and the GDP dropped in the last quarter at a rather stunning 6.3% rate and the stock market has fallen by nearly a quarter to start the year. News is bad. But there are already signs of a recovery. It could be that this terrible recession will turn out to be not so awful. And that, too, will make for a great story.

It would be fascinating to write a history book that used current media techniques to report on history. Can you imagine MSNBC covering the Great Depression? Fox covering the McCarthy trials? Or CBS covering World War 2? PBS the Holocaust? In real time? Careful readers would be assured that these were, indeed, the end times for (in order) capitalism, capitalism and democracy, the free world, or, in the case of a Biblical people being decimated, simply the end of the world.

We live in age of hyperbole. Our mainstream media knows the shock and awe techniques for getting our attention. They seem, on the whole, a little more confused about what to do with our attention once they have it.

Last year, the economy grew by only 1.1 This is not speculative. It is simply a fact. And one unlikely to alarm anyone enough to buy a newspaper in order to learn more.

There is a great line of Phillip Roth's, a father talking to his son. "Anything can happen, but it usually doesn't." Sepculating about the economy's flirtations with collapse makes for alarming and exciting news. Liberals get to rail at the greed of Wall Street. Conservatives get to rail at the socialist inclinations of our new adminstration. And anyone trying to understand what is really happening - rather than what might happen - has to work hard to find out.

25 March 2009

From Marx to Freud: The Meaning of Post-Proletarian Populist Outrage

The populist outrage over the AIG bonuses seems to illustrate the confusion about what capitalism is now.

At one point, capitalism was a contest between the worker and the capitalist. And the capitalist was a rich and powerful INDIVIDUAL. Carnegie or Rockefeller, for example, had power to dictate wages and prices. Investment depended on capitalist elites; work depended on the alienated proletariat.

But people angry about the AIG bonuses are not angry at the rich and powerful individuals. They are angry at knowledge workers and professionals who they suspect have abused their positions.

In today's world, it is the pension funds that direct investments. Powerful individuals have very little power compared with what they had decades ago.

The populist outrage against AIG is, oddly, the outrage of workers against workers. The AIG bonuses were given to knowledge workers – management and analysts – who manage the investments of (and insure) knowledge workers.

This whole mess is no longer a matter of class warfare between Marx's capitalists and workers. Class warfare that might be described by Marx has been replaced by the split personality of schizophrenia that might better be predicted by Freud. What was once fought in the social arena has become a battle over identity. Are these investments made on behalf of capitalists or labor?

The real lesson of Keynesian economics is to subordinate the goals of capital markets to the goals of the broader economy. Returns to capital - for instance - are made lower in order to stimulate employment and consumption. Obama and his advisers are of this school.

But it could be that once pension funds realize that they are themselves the tools of workers, they would do this themselves. It is one thing to run a pension fund in order to maximize returns to capital. It is another to run a pension fund to maximize returns to the workers that depend on the investment of capital to keep jobs and to become more productive. Once pension funds operate from this insight, they may well begin to manage their investments differently.

The problem may not be economic. It may simply be a matter of identity. It seems time that pension funds realized who they were and whose interests they really ought to take seriously.

24 March 2009

Gold's Enduring Allure

Through this recession, gold has rather steadily gone up in value. Gold is a good investment for the simple reason that lots of people think that it is a good investment. It's value lies more in consensus reality than in actual fact.

If you doubt that gold has little value, make this choice. Would you rather live in a country with lots and lots of gold - say a pound per person - but primitive living conditions or in a country with no gold and advanced medical care that extends life expectancy and the number of years you can be productive, access to a wide variety of interesting foods, clothing, housing, and entertainment options, and leisure time enough to enjoy them?

One of the biggest problems with the field of economics is that it comes on the heels of physics. Newton did not just articulate universal laws but was made head of the Treasury and set the price for silver - a price that lasted for centuries. Economists try to construct elaborate mathematical models to prove that their science is as rigorous as that of physics. And even the layman gets caught up in this, making gold out to be something of consequence. We think that things that we can hold are more real than things that we feel. We want to be physicists.

And yet it is quality of life that is the prize of economic advances - not the size or quantity of goods. Quality of life is more difficult to weigh than an ounce of gold, but it matters more. We still have a tendency to be disdainful of things like happiness and quality of life for the simple reason that they seem harder to measure than units of productivity, etc.

And yet our economy is increasingly producing goods that have no substance outside of the experience they create and their market value: video games, movies, music, and software are some of the highest value goods that we in the US now produce. Even molecules that are sold as drugs are purchased for their effects (less depression, lower blood pressure, smaller tumors, etc.) and not for the substance.

Gold has an allure but it won't always. The most obvious reason is that someone will eventually master a form of alchemy and be able to manipulate matter to create gold out of any base metal. But more importantly, it'll lose it's value simply because it is not as important as the things that money can buy - money denominated even in something as insubstantial as blips on a computer screen.

16 March 2009

Skewed News (my attempt to reassure the former readers of the Seattle PI that blogs are able to step into the void and provide trustworthy coverage)

It's an American tradition at least as predictable as airport congestion around Thanksgiving: horror films released on the Friday the 13th weekend featuring someone like Freddie or Jason coming back yet again. On a probably unrelated note, Dick Cheney appeared on "State of the Union" Sunday.

400 AIG employees will split about $165 million in bonus money. The word bonus is from the Latin for bonehead, as in, "in a series of boneheaded moves, AIG nearly took down the economy, then single-handed created a deficit the size that once required a Reagan-era tax cut, and then rewarded their deciders."

50 years ago, the Barbie doll debuted. 50 years ago, the Dali Lama fled Tibet. Had he been following trends, might have realized that even the young had become so precocious that they were unlikely to back anything that sounded so unsophisticated as "dollie." In order to get more support for the Tibetans, the Dali Lama is planning to be reincarnated as a 5' 10" blonde with double-D's. He expects that this will help to create more outrage should the Chinese government again invade. At that point, taking his lead from the popularity of Barbie, "she" will go by the name Lama Dal.

Airlines lost 40 million bags in 2007. Records just released indicate that this was not accidental. As part of the 2007 bailout plan, airlines were required to lose this much baggage as part of a subtle but quite effective stimulus plan: people forced to buy new wardrobes, luggage, and toiletries actually delayed the recession by over a year.

Obama has announced his intention to stimulate small businesses. This will be easier as we go further into the recession. Between layoffs and shrinking revenues, projections indicate that half of the Fortune 500 will soon become "small businesses."

12 March 2009

You Know Times Are Hard When ...

Sesame Street is laying off 1/5th of its staff. How much worse could it be? Those poor creatures are already sleeping in doorways and living on the street.

10 March 2009

Spending Our Way Into a New Economy

Conservatives argue that Roosevelt's Keynesian policies were ineffectual because it was not until the country mobilized for World War 2 that the economy turned around. The lesson that Christina Romer, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has drawn is that Roosevelt did not do enough. "The key fact is that while Roosevelt's fiscal actions were a bold break from the past, they were nevertheless small relative to the size of the problem," she said. "This is a lesson the administration has taken to heart."

Roosevelt made a puny attempt at stimulus spending, whereas World War 2 did, and Obama will, make an heroic attempt at stimulus spending. This should hearten us.

What if the truth of the World War 2 economic recovery was more complex? What if it was not just a simple matter of spending more money but was from spending money in a particular way?

After World War 1, the Allies could not even make sense of German patents without German engineers and scientists. War with the Nazis, decades later, was a stimulus of a specific kind. Americans did not just spend money on factories and production. We spent money on research and development, higher education, and furthering fields like computers , cybernetics, production systems, and chemistry. Our reaction to the advances of German engineering and science was a specific kind of stimulus: it helped to usher us into the information age and helped to create the management and production techniques that helped to make American corporations dominant in the business world and the institutions most emulated across the world.

The deficit spending of World War 2 did not just save the world from tyranny. It helped to create a new kind of economy.

It is not that the U.S. is no longer an information economy. It is that the American economy is now a part of a global information economy. This has changed things enormously.

The point is not to stimulate the old Information Economy, stimulating domestic consumption and investment that it likely to go into foreign production capacity and goods in this global economy. The goal instead should be to help to create a new economy, just as we did during World War 2.

At the risk of sounding trite, it is not time to repair the garment that fits us and our time less well. It is time to create a new garment that we've grown into. It is not enough to stimulate the Information Economy; we need to create a new Entrepreneurial economy instead. We probably do need deficit spending to do this. But not deficit spending mindlessly spent on what worked in the 1930s and 40s.

09 March 2009

But What Did He Mean by That?

I ran across a batch of quotes from Freud and selected out of them this set. A century later, the man still knows how to make a person rub his chin and ponder.

Anatomy is destiny.

Children are completely egoistic; they feel their needs intensely and strive ruthlessly to satisfy them.

Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.

Love and work... work and love, that's all there is

One is very crazy when in love.

Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.

Sadism is all right in its place, but it should be directed to proper ends.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is "What does a woman want?"

The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.

We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love.

What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult.

What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree.

Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism.

08 March 2009

Power and Abortion - the Politics and Religion of Choice

What is the quote? Good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things. In order to get good people to do bad things, you need religion.

A 9-year-old girl in Brazil was raped by her stepfather and became pregnant with twins. So, naturally, the local archbishop’s first response is to excommunicate the girl’s mother for opting for abortion, and her doctors, who believed the girl's life was at risk, for performing the procedure.

Abortion is an issue of power.

First of all, Christ clearly speaks out against wealth. He never spoke out against abortion. Ever. It would be much easier for Christian anti-abortion rights activists to speak out against wealth than abortion - assuming they were actually interested in Christ's teachings rather than politics. Why don't they speak out against wealth? You cannot anger the people with money and power and, yourself, retain power. Pregnant women, by contrast, have little power and are easy targets for expressions of self righteousness.

The only Biblical mention of the evil of taking an unborn life is in the Old Testament (where shell fish is forbidden and slavery encouraged). If someone injures a woman in a way that terminates her pregnancy, he is to be punished. Even in this case of ending a pregnancy against the woman's wishes, the punishment is not the same as for someone killing a person already born. The Bible does not equate the life of a fetus to that of a born infant, even though many religious activists do.

But there is another dimension of power here - the power to define when life begins. At one instant, egg and sperm are potential life that are no more deserving of rights than lost fingernails or expectorant from a sneeze. At the instant they come together, they are suddenly accorded the full rights of a human being. Or so people who believe that life begins at the instant of conception would have us believe.

I do not think that this is an unreasonable position. It is certainly clean. It gives us a clear instance in time for the beginning of life and I think that this - alone - accounts for a great deal of its appeal.

By contrast, saying that life begins sometime between the instant of conception and the instant of birth is fuzzier - harder to defend or define. Yet I think that choosing some point of time within that range is also reasonable.

The biggest difference between self proclaimed conservatives and liberals is their tolerance for ambiguity. Conservatives need a world more clearly painted black and white. It is no coincidence that conservatives tend to side with the position that life begins at the instant of conception. It is clean. It is black and white. And it has no basis in science or scripture. Again, there is nothing wrong with this position. Where I take issue is in the imposition of this view onto others.

In this way, abortion has to do with power at the most fundamental level: the power of a person to define when life begins.

Now you might say that we can't just let anyone define when life begins. I think that is reasonable and would agree. We don't want exasperated parents deciding to "abort" 14 year old children they've wearied of. But I cannot agree that it is unreasonable to give people a choice about when life starts as long as they are choosing some instance between the moment of conception and the end of the second trimester.

Let me repeat: you won't find a definition of when human life starts in scripture, philosophy or science. Why, then, not let individuals make a choice within reasonable boundaries? And, of course, it is absurd to make the argument for the right to abortion in the modern world. We have already reached this conclusion and it is reflected in our laws: most Americans believe that abortion ought to be an option through the first trimester and are more conflicted about it as an option through the second trimester.

Even the persistence of religious beliefs that have little or no basis in scripture is not the problem. I don't protest the bishop's choice to excommunicate this poor girl's mother. (I think it is absurd, but churches are free to define the basis for inclusion or exclusion of congregants.) My only protest is with the religious folks who feel compelled to make their personal beliefs the basis for laws that apply to everyone.

The abortion controversy is about power. The solution to power in early civilizations was to concentrate it with those who had unique insights to God's will. The solution to power in liberal societies of the West is to disperse power to the individual. It is no wonder that the solution within churches looks so different than the solution within countries. It seems best to keep it that way.

Addendum: a new poll indicates that in Massachusetts, the percentage of Catholics has dropped from 54% in 1990 to 39% last year. Meanwhile, the percentage of folks with no religious affiliation nearly tripled, from 8% to 22%. Once people get a taste of defining issues for themselves, it is hard to keep that impulse contained.

07 March 2009

An Inane Idea for Education

The Obama administration is set on spending more on education, but they still haven't seemed to confront the basic truth about it: we need to increase the productivity of teachers in order for investments in education to get us more return. There are, as near as I can tell, only three ways to do this: 1. have each teacher teach more children; 2. have each child learn more (because of new methods or approaches); or 3. more directly apply what they learn to a productive life. It seems to me that there is a way to do all three. The first would slash the number of teachers needed and the last would create a surge in demand for the number of teachers needed. The number of teachers would be about the same but the net result would be better and, I think, more gratifying for teachers.

1. Teachers repeatedly teach certain concepts that could be better taught with a combination of video, computer games, and instant tests. Children at the computer doing certain kinds of drills would not only be taught just what they were missing but would provide continual feedback about where they are in learning. If schools got serious about this, they could raise the teacher to student ratio at least 20% - probably more like 100% to 200%. This increase in productivity would show up on the cost side.

2. Teachers would still be needed. They just would be able to focus on exceptions, rather than rote lessons. They could complement the computer aided instruction by coaching individual children on two things: lessons that the individual child seemed unable to get through the computer and by teaching lessons that did not lend themselves to computer aided instruction - such as music, dance, and inter- and intra-personal skills. These kinds of lessons are largely neglected now in schools, in no small part because teachers are so busy teaching the math, language, and logic lessons that could - at least in part - be taught by video and computer.

3. Finally, it seems to me that one of the biggest problems of our current education system is that it fails to help translate the life of the individual into the milieu of the times. We are born into a particular time in history and with a particular potential. Unhappiesness stems from either failing to understand how to apply our potential to the times or from failing to understand how to realize our potential. There is something terribly personal about potential. For a child to realize her potential requires a kind of attention that can't be provided by teachers busily teaching rote lessons.

Educators - school boards - should be busily engaged in the question of the times. It is unclear to me who - outside of educators - can do more to create the future. As they educate children into adults, they inculcate particular values and skills. The question that educators should continually ask is about the direction of history and where society should be steered. This is to address the question of the times in which they expect children will find themselves as adults.

Educators should further be asking themselves about the children they are failing. It is an apt description to say that these children are failing, in reference to children who have to be held back. They have been failed. And even those who are passed along are often failed in that they leave school having received more insight about themselves through horoscopes than through any insights shared by the school. Educators should be continually addressing the question of what potential are we failing to realize in this child, in these children?

This third point, this notion of education as something that steers us into the future and that identifies and realizes the potential of individual children - would create a huge demand for more teachers. This would at least offset the drop in demand that would follow from automating more of education. And it would greatly increase the productivity of teachers not by spinning the engine of education with more energy - more busy work - but by engaging the power of this more directly into the individual lives and times of the children who spend so much time in schools.

It is not enough to just put more money into education. We should demand a greater return on the money we already spend.

04 March 2009

The Jimi Hendrix Monterey Pop Portfolio

Last year, the S&P 500 moved 5% on 17 days. Previously, it took from 1956 through 2007 to move 5% a total of 17 days. Put another way, there was as much volatility in 2008 as there was in the 52 years before.

Systems begin to oscillate more when there is feedback in the system. That is, when the system begins to respond to itself rather than just the environment.

There was a time when investments in the stock market might have been based more on actual economic and business conditions. In such a world, stock markets would move more slowly, tracking gradual adjustments in expectations to accord with adjustments in underlying conditions.

But once the game became one of anticipating stock market movements, the game of wondering what other people are wondering, the volatility is less limited. An economy might drop or grow by 2% or 5% in a year. If the stock market tracks this, there is not a great deal of movement. But if the stock market moves with expectations about how much people might speculate about expectations about how much people might speculate ... Well, then it becomes like Hendrix's guitar: a system with feedback that becomes increasingly unstable until some guy is smashing it in bits and lighting it on stage. Which brings me to my 401(k).

Replace the Capitol Dome with a Pyramid to Sharpen Thinking?

I have seen the future and it doesn't work.
- Robert Fulford

After Obama got his stimulus package passed, he budgeted another $634 billion for health care. (And before his stimulus package passed, he budgeted $33 billion to cover children's health care.)

Now it used to be that $634 billion was a lot of money. Nowadays, it goes without notice. I hate to say this, but Obama is beginning to remind me of a teenager with his first credit card, more impressed with how easy it is to buy than mindful of how hard it is to pay.

One of my many, "he must be smoking crack" moments of the Bush administration was when he launched two invasions while cutting taxes. This had never been done before - tax cuts during war. It was stupidity on steroids.

But the two things that most excite conservatives are wars and tax cuts. Combining the two was like promising a diet of pastries and ice cream. It was simply irresistible for a party whose domination was so complete that they didn't need to even let Democrats onto the floor of Congress to pass their legislation.

Now, the liberals have seized the reins of government. What are two things that most excite them? Stimulus packages (read, spending bills) and health care reform (read, more money for more coverage for more people).

You can't remain a good liberal and suggest that perhaps health care reform should wait. This is like telling a conservative that tax cuts aren't always the best thing. It is blasphemy, no matter how accurate the assessment.

So, we're stuck with the consequences of who we have in office and these people seem unable to change who they are. The result seems to be that certain truths are simply verboten - impossible to utter because true believers would never be so craven as to actually take into consideration something as unprincipled as budgets or economic conditions.

Maybe it is true that considering conditions would lead to inaction. I doubt it, though. I think that a party that actually considered reality before trying to change reality would end up adapting policies that would be so effective as to actually sustain their time in power.

Yet, this seems to be the catch-22 of politics. You can't get elected without the support of some group of true believers. If you deny them their diet of pastries and ice cream when they finally have their day in office, they will hate you. And this is one of the ways that what makes for good politics seems to make for poor policy.

I remain an optimist, though, about the possibility of policy that works and, specifically, the possibility that this Obama administration will formulate and enact such policy. All the data, though, seems to support the most cynical pronouncements of my good buddies Davos, Allen, and Bill who regularly express the opinion that there is something about working inside the Capitol dome that distorts good thinking.

Hmm. Maybe they need to replace the dome with a pyramid. If a different group of true believers is right, this could sharpen thinking.

02 March 2009

Action Movie Sequences We Need to See

We need something more than the traditional car chases. Maybe we could have a scene in which the villain and the hero chase each other in fighter jets. And then ride lawn mowers. And then one is in a fighter jet while the other is on a riding lawn mower.

During this prolonged car / jet / riding lawn mower chase scene, the two run out of gas and have to fill up. The whole time they are filling their vehicles they are shouting obscenities across the gas station at each other.

In a variation on the classic Indiana Jones scene in which Jones pulls a gun on the threatening swordsman, just as our hero is about to meet his untimely end he shouts, "Cut!" stopping action. As the director comes out from behind the camera to protest this usurpation of power, the hero listens to him rant for a short while and then matter of factly punches him in the jaw, knocking him out, before striding off to his trailer to refresh his make up.

The money scene - the one that creates the most tension and anticipatory excitement is one that features a bold take on the hero who, seemingly immune to pain sews himself up. In this action movie, the hero realizes that his only chance of winning the coming martial arts showdown with the arch villain is to quickly sever his right arm and sew it back on backwards. This would give him two left hands - a tactic against which even the master martial artist would be unable to defend himself and would make our southpaw hero suddenly endowed with TWO dominant hands. At this point, the suspense would not center around the fight. Once the arm is properly on, the hero is sure to win and the audience merely sits back and watches the dismay, confusion, and, ultimately, helplessness of the arch-villain. The only suspense is whether our hero can perform the procedure on himself before losing consciousness and whether he do it before the villain arrives. I have to believe that this scene would become a classic.

Our hero has had a series of harrowing, high-stress, near-miss events ... attacks on his body, his psyche, and his emotional stability ... persevered in spite of the emotional toll of alienation ... taken bullets .... been in high-speed car chases ... absorbed and delivered blows .... and now, in this sequel, he is so exhausted that he merely sits and stares at the camera for the full 100 minutes. The sequel name would be "Dead Tired."