Monday, February 27, 2012

Canadian debacle

The issue is turning into a mountain when in fact it’s a molehill, much ado over nothing one thinks; thinking that Shakespeare has cornered the market on clich├ęs; all the best sayings describing the most difficult of situations somehow can be found in his plays. Exactly where we find ourselves today, with everyone giving their own opinion on the possible solution; someone jokingly said that the problem had become an international crisis, with the European team screaming down the American team, the local folks screaming back like the old colonial wars breaking out again; the old world pushing a solution to the new world, no taxation without representation, one remembers the old adage that sparked the revolutionary war, but it’s not a nation state or a government that one battles with but the corporation,  an entity that started with the Dutch East Indies company, now a hydra headed monster with tentacles stretching the globe. Five solutions proposed, all complex, trying to fix a design flaw that occurred three years ago, missing all the opportunity to fix the problem all these years and months until one was ready to implement in Canada, but unable to proceed when the bug was found at the last minute.

‘Oh what a tangled web we weave’, an excellent maxim from Shakespeare again, accurately describing the mess we’re in, people pointing fingers and looking for someone to blame; it’s not your issue my boss says to me, let the experts and powers that be battle it out, the issue turning into a debacle as more complex proposals are expressed one after the other, like having all the weight coming into the game will allow the whole project to collapse into absurdity, which is what is happening if no sense of sanity is brought into the discussion.  Yes, it’s a game after all, a devious strategy to have the project cancelled by laying out complex solutions and the money needed to pay for them, perhaps the classic bureaucratic tactic to kill a project, making it too expensive or too complex so people would balk at the solution while appearing to be helpful, their devious selves disguised by thoughtful concern and proactive action. It’s the sly game of politics, where one needs to be cunning and devious to survive, scheming and manipulating in the shadows to win, planning like a Machiavellian strategist to win the game, the battle drawn with smiling combatants with their false demeanor looking kindly across the conference table but ready to stab you in the back.

‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’, a quote from Hamlet about politics; and it’s not the fish that smells though perhaps the Dutch East Indies company, a metaphor for the corporation, but it’s really the normal state of affairs, ‘all the world is a stage’ where everyone is acting out their own internal agenda, perhaps the agendas of some coinciding, thereby forming a cabal, resulting in a rotten state that Shakespeare alludes to.  But it is really a fight for survival, to keep one’s own job, to protect one’s own fiefdom; in order to feed the family, to pay the mortgage, to pay the kid’s tuition; coalescing in the political maelstrom of every day work, where one proceeds in the guise of professionalism. Hence, the Canadian debacle, the project stopped and unable to move forward, while committees are formed and solutions discussed, estimated, revised and proposed to the wider group; fights breakout, emotion and passions expressed and poets like Shakespeare write about a day in a life of employees living like kings in the old plays, with modernity allowing excess debt and false wealth to satisfy one’s urges; desires spilling into the workplace with the spectacle of bankruptcy and lost youth making a last stand in project meetings.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Visit from the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan’s book is more a stylistic innovation; she is a prose stylist in the vein of James Joyce, though at a lesser level, focusing on tactical invention rather than straight forward storytelling, a literary Quentin Tarantino - a film maker she admires. I had listened to her book, not reading the words but listening via an audio book, losing the appreciation of her originality, though conscious of the novelty in the way the stories were told, missing the famous Power point pages and the relevance to the overall story line. Last night I read the glowing reviews from many sources, especially after the book won the Pulitzer prize, which made one want to borrow the actual paperback so one could enjoy her work on a visual level, which is how one experiences reading instead of through the auditory level.  On the other hand, listening to writers like David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Franken or even James O’Neill, works that rely less on stylistic innovation but more on pure storytelling bravado, one can appreciate the work by hearing the words, an enjoyment in the way it was intended to, harking back to ancient times of Homer when people gathered around a campfire or even the coffee houses of medieval times to listen to stories.

What benefits the writer more: reading or listening to books? From a recreational level, listening to books is more convenient, an activity that one can do while driving or exercising in the gym, a great time saver that allows multi-tasking. Consuming books to learn is needed by novelists; but will the necessary knowledge a writer must obtain as a consumer of books be served by reading or listening, with different mental gears absorbing the input while the work formulates in the mind’s eye. Listening to a book is like listening to a great symphony, multiple sounds cascade in various melodies and crescendos, similarly, stories create images like a mental movie playing in the mind, the sounds of words laying their spell in the same faculty that reading utilizes, with the plot weaving itself into images created with sound of prose. Debates have raged on which method is best, though I agree that visual reading is the best way to appreciate a book though listening does provide an ease and equal enjoyment amidst the turmoil of everyday life where one lacks the time to sit down and read. As one ages, time seems to be scarce with past pleasures of innocent solitude long gone, the visit from the goon squad coming to get you, so listening to books is a way to beat the goons by clawing back some spare time to enjoy a book.

One of the reviews had a song for each chapter, noted artists like Jimi Hendrix, Massive Attack, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Pearl Jam, Bryan Ferry and other hip artists not known in the mainstream, a fitting way to end her appraisal considering the setting of the rock music industry, recalling the aging rock star in Franken’s ‘Freedom’, while alluding to the onslaught of the digital age, and futuristic scenarios of youngsters with high-tech listening devices. Egan’s book briefly delves in science fiction, fast forwarding to the future, a sly nod to William Gibson whose works straddle different genres, thriller and futuristic fiction, though some critics call Egan’s work unclassifiable.  Listening to the music in YouTube while reading the reviews was a cool way to enjoy this new stylistic work; Apple and Google having moved the entire planet into a magical plane where all things seem possible, allowing Jennifer Egan to explore new ways of linking short stories like a mash-up, a sort of hacker effort that legitimizes the slap dash endeavor, so different from the old days with grizzled old story tellers spinning tales, but instead trying to decipher the new rhythms of communication spawned by technology.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Pale Kings

David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel is brilliant; there’s no other way to describe it, focusing on the Internal Revenue service in a time where taxes are hotly debated in this election season, focusing on the comical clerks and accountants who populate the organization, plus riffs on the various political views and actors who influence tax policy, all in an amusing and highly entertaining tone without degrading the high theme, right smack into the debate on the role of government. Great writers are those who detect the pulse of their society, Wallace’s book though unfinished when he died, is a tome that displays his talent in focusing on the major concern long before it reached the news worthy proportions of today, accurately predicting that it’s a commendable subject for his talents. His voice reminds me of Thomas Pynchon, especially his book ‘Inherent Vice’, both comical but subtly displaying the absurdity of reality, a better story than those in books by his friend Jonathan Franken, who prefers to focus on social drama, like it were a television show, high end writing about essentially silly stuff.

I am also reading Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’, herself a recent celebrated writer who just won the latest literary award (that escapes me at the moment), a wonderful book of social drama, with stories about an aging rock and roll executive and his pretty assistant, lacking perhaps the underlying seriousness of another author James O’Neill with his recent book ‘Netherland’, a book that focused on the sub culture of cricket playing immigrants in New York after 9/11, a book that I enjoyed very much especially its take on Bush and the neo-conservatives. Excepting Pynchon, Wallace is the superior writer when compared with the other writers discussed above, although I have not read his other novels and considering ‘The Pale Kings’ was unfinished and heavily edited by an editor, he still has a vibrant voice that slightly reminds one of George Orwell especially the book ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. Orwell is the standard when talking about important writers who focus on the important themes of society, his novels ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ are the gold standard in comic absurdity without losing the high theme of political organization or centralized government or totalitarianism.

The late writer Christopher Hitchens’ book ‘Why Orwell Matters’ is an excellent essay on Orwell’s influence, coming from a writer with decidedly right wing tendencies, who was disgustingly critical of Jacqueline Kennedy in a Vanity Fair article, not realizing that she should be elevated to sainthood by the sheer fact of witnessing her husband’s brutal assassination, in turn losing her eldest son later in life though after her own death; a tragic family in any way imaginable; nevertheless Hitchens is superb in some of his arguments despite the occasional lapses in English snobbery. There does not seem to be any great English writers today in the same level as Orwell, the mantle passed to writers like Wallace or Pynchon or James O’Neill, authors who can write about the absurdities of life while focusing on great subjects, not succumbing to the Hollywood predilection for silly social drama, even the well written one. Perhaps it is like the comparison between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, great men who have done great things (the pale kings?) but the later one focusing on the difficult tasks while the former kicking the can of (health care) down the road to the next administration though balancing the budget and having a surplus (with the help of Newt Gingrich). One is chasing women and squandering his potential (silly social drama) and the other a decent family man unafraid to make difficult but unpopular decisions.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Roll out Postponed

The Canada trip has been delayed, a bug found at the last minute; a crucial piece of information is not passed to a partner, therefore bank payments are not made. Money talks so any disruption in the supply is not tolerated. How could one miss this bug? After testing for many months, the alibi is that testing was done against the specification. It turns out the specs were wrong. So back to the developers at their European headquarters, pushing for results, pointing to the delay caused by the designer herself, a smart young lady working hard, who misunderstood one small piece of the puzzle. The overlord manager shows flashes of anger but quickly relaxing and cracking jokes when told about the problem; the team trying to push forward but stopped with an irrevocable ‘No’, so back to the drawing board, scrambling to get the fix as soon as possible. The momentum has stopped, as the monthly roll-out moving along for three straight months since November, the team also slowed down by a management decision on the team, one member not allowed to go, jinxing the whole effort with the bug found in the last minute, thereby canceling the trip altogether.

The spirit of the team is down, despite the victory of the New York Giants in the Super bowl on Sunday, the favorite team of the business leader; feels like one is not in control, issues raining down from all sides, caught unawares that one begins to doubt one’s confidence, proposing changes one had felt was good but rejected by the architect after a spirited discussion. There is too much talk, noise in the air, but actually one is glad that the trip is postponed, a respite from the maddening rush to deploy, like a suicide dash against a brick wall, but the attempt still needed to be made, to flush out any chinks in the armor which was what exactly happened. Now one is back to the tedious testing, looking at details in xml formats and using esoteric tools, peering into arcane code, trying to spot the flaw in the myriad symbols flashing across the computer screen. I feel guilty about the delay, missing the signals and not being thorough in checking, but I am not the expert of the system that provides the information; my responsibility only the ending piece of the supply chain before sending back another message to complete the loop.

Amidst this debacle, a dispute in payment in the local club erupts; requiring me to write appealing emails and making phone calls, fearful of losing a key officer in the club; a kindly grandmother who makes the agenda and keeps the club moving. Happily the dispute is resolved, so one attends a leadership seminar in the weekend and the weekly meeting this noon, all in the midst of a terrible cold, taking antibiotic medicine for a sinus infection, missing regular gym workouts, though slowly coming back, swimming in the weekend after the seminar, watching movies and getting things done at home. Slowly the spirits begin to lift, despite the winter weather where the cold dampens one’s disposition, continuing to test the system, making reports and writing emails, basically focusing on work so one could rise above the funk. Work is the only solution for bad moods and depression, a fix for fear and doubt, to just work and take out all the churning thoughts; focusing on a task is the antidote for mental confusion. One does feel better, working hard, writing blogs entries, attending meetings and having discussion. Later I will go to the library and then to the gym.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Down the Wire

The plan is to leave for Canada next week, to roll out the program in the Hamilton warehouse, with testing completed for most of the components except for the major piece, awaiting word from the supplier that all has been installed, but unfortunately in the dark about the situation. It’s like a game of ‘chicken’, who will blink first and swerve away from the collision, a test of bravery, all the chips in the partner and the only recourse is to wait. I visited the doctor this morning, initially an appointment for blood tests but postponed since I did not meet a prior condition, to stop taking medication and see if any change in my blood pressure, instead asking a prescription for colds and cough, unable to shake the virus for nearly a week, trying to beat the illness by inhaling steam but the sickness beating me instead. It’s down the wire again with 4 days left before departure, feeling sick and pressured, but willing to go along, confident that things are all right, having faith in one another’s competence is the key to less stress.

I just completed a noon meeting with the officers of our local club, the meeting seemed to go on well, but afterwards an email sent to all officeholders about a nasty situation involving money and donations, a sad thing to see, airing out dirty laundry to the public; one does not need this trivial problem. It’s the way of the West perhaps, to talk and air out grievances; it’s the democratic way unlike in the East where people tend to follow authority, unwilling to challenge conventions and follow the trend; but it’s really all talk, too much noise in the air. Last night despite my tired condition, I went and attended a lecture about the Southern writer Ben Robinson, the seminar room filled with old people, listening to a young and pretty lecturer reading her notes at the podium, showing slides in the wall about the young writer who died in a plane crash near Lisbon in the height of World War II. It was an interesting talk, learning about Southern culture, the Piedmont Upstate and the Low Countries, the rivalries and the prejudices, the old folks reminiscing of an earlier age long gone, still think about the civil war or the War Between the States.

Nowadays, one cannot wait to go home and watch ‘The West Wing’, a well-made drama modeled after the Clinton Presidency, a television series on its way to greatness but disgustingly made irrelevant due to the travails of its real life hero, caught in a sex scandal and nearly impeached, the image of Camelot forever lost, giving way to the arrogance of the next administration and recently to the election of a charismatic but inexperienced leader.  It could have been a good and rare time, but man’s flaws always there to bring him down, perhaps the present one is hubris while the older one was sexual addiction, masked awkwardly by some psychological disease, one must not challenge the gods or will be struck down. Again one has borrowed too much materials in the library, one is really not a writer just a dilettante, trying to keep up with the latest fad, unable to focus, always absorbed in books. Perhaps that is the best temperament for one, to be a teacher or scholar, away from the turmoil of life. Next week will be interesting if all the pieces come together.