Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 21st, 2008

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury (written in March 28, 2007)

The novel “Fahrenheit 451” is set in the USA, around the year 2450 as the “citizens” have given up on reading books, and reverted for instant audio-visual communication media, or at best, very abridged versions of the original work.

The firefighters’ job has changed into burning book,s and people in their residences are doing their best to holding on to their private libraries. The trend is to substitute the “how to do things” for the “why things are done”.

And the historical processes, which led to the current life style in the most advanced country, are relegated to seeking continuous fun and never caring for the consequences of these attitudes that are demanding only safety, comfort and peace of mind, and forgetting the responsibilities toward the neighbors or the under-developed countries.

            In order to bring his main idea into focus, the author Ray Bradbury loads his novel with quotations from famous writers. The firefighter Captain Beatty has reached a desperate state and wanted to end his life; thus, he pushed so hard the firefighter Guy Montag to react to his harassment and of burning his apartment, along with the few books that Guy stole while burning private libraries, which Guy had to burn with Beaty’s fire torch.

Before this event, Beatty is talking to Montag about a fictitious dream he had, and the dialogue between him, the Devil, and the righteous Montag. Most of the dialogue are extracts from famous writers such as: “Sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge,” in contrast to “Words are like leaves; much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found”

And  the following quotations “A little learning is a dangerous thing; the shallow draughts of the Pierian spring intoxicate the brain, and drinking deeply and largely sober us again;” or “Knowledge is more than equivalent to force;” or “He is no wise man who will quit a certainty for an uncertainty;” or “Truth will come to light, murder will not be hid long;” or “The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose

Or “The dignity of truth is lost with much protesting;” or “A dwarf on a giant’s shoulders sees the farthest of the two” to be retorted by “The folly of mistaking a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself as an oracle, is inborn in us;” or “The terrible tyranny of the majority; the solid unmoving cattle of the majority who is the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom.”

Latimer said to Nicholas Ridley, as they were being burnt alive at Oxford for heresy in 1555,  “Master Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Ray Bradbury had this outlandish notion, fifty years ago, that the visual memories of what we had read are stored intact, and a technique will be developed to retrieve the contents of books. Consequently, the intellectuals who fled from the cities to the countryside, wandering like hobos along the old railroad track that is no longer used, have each of them specialized in memorizing a book or sections of books when the current Dark Age is over.

This new version has a coda by the author that focus on the new realities in book publishing, where the publishers are taking liberty to self-censuring sections and paragraphs that are deemed hurtful to the powerful minorities so that they might sell better and avoid group harassments.

For example, the supporters of dwarf, orangutan, dolphin, nuclear non-proliferation, environmentalist, Neo-Luddite, Unitarian, Irish, Italian, octogenarian, Buddhist, Zionist, Women’s Lib, and so forth want to impose and interfere with aesthetics.

Consequently, books that focus mainly on a single gender or race or a nationality or use detailed descriptions on the diversity in culture and life style are vigorously classified as non-publishable.

Most of books are revisited and abridged for high school readers that render the style of the books alike. For example, Twain read like Poe who read like Shakespeare who read like Dostoevsky.

Digressions which are the sunshine, the life, and the soul of reading are scraped in these abridged versions; consequently, if we take-out philosophy away from Dante and Milton works, for example, then what stays are dry bones.”

It is no wonder why every organized minority has as a priority to own its publishing business;

It is no wonder that I feel the US novels are all the same in style and composition and are no longer exciting if we are seeking variety, innovation, and contradiction.

Note: You may read current accounts on this topic in https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/who-is-controlling-the-present-controlled-the-past-is-set-to-control-the-future/

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“The Joke” by Milan Kundera

Written in March 22, 2007, before I started my blog

Kundera was responsible for the incarceration of a citizen in the 1945 when he was a staunch communist.

He was young and his position might have changed and evolved, but it is a sign of his character and his writings do express a few of his apologies.

Ludvic Jahn was a bright student and played clarinet in Moravian folk bands. His is a staunch member of the communist party that came to power in Czechoslovakia after WWII and was attending university with prospect for higher responsibilities.  He wrote a joke on a postcard for his girlfriend Marketa who was enjoying a “healthy atmosphere” at a training camp that says:

Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!”

Ludvic was expelled from both the university and the Party by his student colleagues; he had to do his two years military service as the enemy of the people in a brigade wearing black insignia.

He worked in the mines but was paid for his work unlike the patriots doing military service; this brigade worked seven days a week with a one day pass every two weeks if the commander was pleased with their production and obedience. He met Lucie and fell in love with her.

Lucie left town without giving notice after she refused to have intercourse and without explaining her reluctance.

We learn later on that Lucie was with a gang in her hometown and that the gang chain-raped her, but kept hanging out with it until the police rounded up the gang for thievery.

Ludvic lived 15 years as a marginal with bitter needs for revenge on his friends who abandoned him, especially Zemaneck whom he thought would defend his case but turned out to be the most virulent opponent.

Ludvic returns to his hometown in order to meet Helena, the wife of Zemaneck, who was falling in love with him and didn’t know that her husband knew Ludvic or the schemes of the latter.

Ludvic wanted revenge on Zemaneck through his wife ,but Zemaneck would not care less because he had another young girlfriend and going with the flow of the new generation who didn’t care of what happened during the early communist take over of power.

It dawned on Ludvic that it was too late to physicalyl hit Zemanek: he should have done it when he was castrated from the Party instead of wasting 15 years in bitterness and failing to taking care of the present.

The 3 harrowing days that Ludvic spent in his hometown opened his soul to new facts and new realities. Ludvic has been rationalizing his behavior toward Lucie as “a function of his own situation” when he needed understanding and tenderness in his military service stint and, as adolescent behave wearing masks to overcome their shyness and uncertainty, he failed to ask questions with the purpose of understanding the real Lucie and her predicaments.

Lucie used to gather flowers and roses from the cemetery to offer them to Ludvic when he was on leave; she used to stand outside the fence of the camp waiting for her Ludvic to steal a few minutes and talk with her.

Communism had the spirit of the great religious movements: it had religious gestures and feelings but remained empty and godless within.

Communism tried to supplant religious faith by adopting the same rites camouflaged in secular mass ceremonies and practiced excommunication extensively in the name of “the historical optimism of the victorious working class” and delivered by the youth instead of professional, matured, and responsible people.

The Marxist teachings were secular in origin, but the significance assigned them was similar to the significance of the Gospel and religious commandments.  They have created a range of ideas that are practically untouchable, thus sacred.

For example, is the case of young Alexej who was banished to the black insignia brigade because his father stood trial as enemy of the people; he still thought and acted as a communist because “we are responsible for everything that goes in the camp” and he felt free enough to act like a communist by sending letters to the higher-ups condemning the camp commander’s behaviors as counterrevolutionary.

Alexej was twenty, an adolescent and his destiny hung on him like a giant’s clothes on a tiny body, and Alexej committed suicide by swallowing an overdose of medicines.  Although communism was a cruel religion, it was better than the new era of mockery, skepticism, and the mob of youth, coarse, cynical, and nasty, without enthusiasm or ideals.

This mob of incomplete youth is compelled to play-act as fully grown, adopting forms, patterns, models that please and enact them; the more the youth is aware of his boyish appearance, the more fanatical his devotion to the role of superman and the more forced is his performance.

Kundera views youth as terrible and that history often was the playground for the immature Bonaparte, Nero, and the likes whose simulated passion and simplistic poses metamorphose into a catastrophic real reality.

As Ray Bradbury said in his novel Fahrenheit 451: “Those who don’t build must burn; it’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.”

Note: Finished reading the book on Tuesday October 21, 2008

“Imagined Masculinity”, edited by Mai Ghoussoub and Emma Sinclair-Webb

March 1st, 2007 

I have read three chapters of “Imagined Masculinities”.

One of the chapters written by the Turkish Jew Moris Farhi is funny.  The kids Moris and his friend Selim, used to accompany his family Armenian servant Sofia to a Turkish bath called “Paradise”.  The manageress Teyze hanim (Lady Aunt) allowed the two kids to bath with the females because their testicles did not yet drop off; the kids heard this chit chatting and started to continuously checking their testicles and wondering when they might drop off; they roamed the streets looking for any pairs of testicles in case theirs might drop off and attach the found ones.

The kids heard a lot of myths told by Gypsy kids about female genitals and breasts and would surreptitiously investigate the category of women in the “hammam” through seemingly closed eyes. The kids would try to discriminate the temperament and emotional sexual performance of women according to the size of the aureole of the breast, the shape and elasticity of the labia and the size of the clitoris, sesame, or lentil, or chick-peas and whether the pubic hair is shaved daily (a status of riches) or occasionally.

 Chapter 2: Hassan Daoud on moustaches.  It appears that in older times, village leaders instituted various styles of moustaches depending on ranks and nobility; whomever wore moustaches not adequate to his rank was forced to shave them; thus, when a person used to leave a single hair from his moustaches as a guarantee for a loan, the lender would know the capacity of this fellow to repaying his loan.

The Lebanese army used to, or still is, allocate a monthly stipend for soldiers with appropriate moustaches as large as for any additional child he had.  I can generate two plausible hypotheses for this practice in our army:

First hypothesis: Emir Majeed Erslan was the defense minister most of his life since our independence and he wore these fine but ridiculous moustaches that circled upward and would swear on his moustaches; I guess he might have induced the army to encourage the officers and soldiers to carry these moustaches so that he would not be laughed at or mocked by the new generation of Lebanese.

The second hypothesis is that our army is a carbon copy of the French colonial army in structure. laws and behavior; I guess the republican French army held to the standards of the elite Napoleonic “grognards”, who were selected among the most hairy and owe-inspiring virility of their large moustaches, among other factors.

            Now, why moustaches are no longer a la mode? Pick and chose one or several of these reason:

First, women don’t like moustaches because they rub roughly their skins, they send the implicit message that the man is not interested enough to beautify his looks to please them and insist on the virility value of moustaches, or because the upper lip would cease to look like the man version of pudendum when shaved;

Second reason: after our many defeats with Israel we are no longer fond of imitating our valorous grandfathers; well, may be after the Hezbollah victory we might experience a resurgence of the moustaches, hopefully left unkept and wild; or

Third reason: Nose mucus sometimes stick to moustaches along with food and other sticky materials and finger-pointing to these humiliating debris can destroy the resemblance of virility; or because the Mullahs, and religious men are no longer appetizing for the modern generations and they need to remove that visible aberration; or because the modern sharp and safe razors, manual or electric, provided the adequate leverage for fashion alternatives.

Chapter on circumcision: The Tunisian Abdelwahab Bouhdiba wrote a chapter on circumcision. Nothing in the Koran, what the Prophet Mohamad admonished, states anything related to the need to get circumcised or “khitan“; it is Muslems and not Islam that imposed circumcision to the conquered people who opted to join Islam.

Even in the 3,000 pages of the “Fatawa Hindiyya” or the 2,000 pages of “Ihya” of Al-Ghazali the act of circumcision was never accorded a compulsory duty, barely a “sunna” act or strongly recommended.  Al-Ghazali recommended that circumcision of boys must not be done a week after he was born as the Jew did but after the boy’s head at least grew steady hair. The excision of girls was basically irrelevant and this act was demoted to at best a “makruma” or a pious act.

Clearly, circumcision is a tribal sign, a tattoo, for inclusion in the Muslim communities; like it is within the Jewish communities, although the Jew attached this act to the Torah in an attempt to create a tight tribal relationship.  In any case, circumcision has become the number one obligation among the Muslims and festivities of violence accompany these events; the ceremony is an almost a carbon copy to the ceremony of wedding and which could be interpreted as the preparation of the boy to matrimony, a few years earlier before the girl loses her virginity when the boy is married off.

The circumcision of a boy occurs when he is between 8 and 12 years old and the ceremony is accompanied by very loud noises to cover the crying and shouting of the victim.  The advantage of circumcision is to direct the boys away from lechery, and because the head of the penis becomes much less sensitive than the wife would enjoy a longer copulation time which she usually needs and wants. Actually, getting a hard on becomes mostly an act of good imagination and a willingness to please the mate.

The author Abdu Khal wrote a section about his circumcision ceremony (brit milah in Hebrew or the cutting according to the covenant) in the early forties in South Saudi Arabia close to the borders with Yemen. Abdu was to go on pilgrimage to Mecca with his grandmother because his dad has died and he was the only male in the family; thus, he was to be circumcised first.

Abdu was to dance all the way to the open place of the “makhatina” podium for the cutting of his foreskin (orla in Hebrew), accompanied by the “zaghareeds” of the women and loud noises, then he was to stand erect, akimbo, hands on his hips and looking far in the distance; he was not to blink or swoon or flinch “takhabbab” otherwise he will bring shame to the whole family as long as he lives.

Abdu proved to be a man and asked the circumciser to cut another slice in honor of his uncle and then another slice in honor of his mother.  His mother carried him away promptly in fear that he would mutilate himself for the whole tribe.  Abdu suffered three gruesome months from infections to the wounds which festered and spread to his testicles and could have died.

            The act of circumcision of the male boys (zhakar for male in both Arabic and Hebrew) seems to be a common ritual in nomadic tribes starting for hygiene reason and then taking on several structural and religious dimensions and interpretations like the prerequisite step toward learning.  The ancient Jews used to perform circumcision late and in mass ceremonies then they decided to have it the 8-day for the newly born.

My personal hypothesis is that during the captivity in Babylon or other dire circumstances that prohibited mass celebrations this act was transformed and made more confined in secrecy early on.  Thus, a more public ceremony consisted on the cutting of the hair at the age of three when the boys are taught the Torah and the religious doctrines. Since a woman should be kept close to her natural state and uncut, thus impure, then the boys should have something cut off, like pruning or grafting trees, so that they grow better, more knowledgeable and productive.

It appears that productivity is purely in terms of procreation since the male spend their life studying the religious doctrines and most of the work is done by the women, even earning the daily bread.

The haircutting ritual of Jewish boys at the age of three “halaka” as pronounced in Arabic was adopted from the Muslim rituals when families visited holy shrines; the Palestinian Jews (musta3rbim) spread this ritual which was primarily a Sephardic or Middle Eastern custom and the Kabala adopted it in the sixteenth century until it became widespread among the Jews in Israel.

Miron is a town near Safed where the shrine of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai is the target of the pilgrimage; the ear-locks are left intact and the rest of the head is shaved; time for the boys to start going to religious pre-schools “heyder”, wear the four-cornered undergarment, recite the Jewish statement of faith (Shema Yisrael) and accompany his father to the synagogue.

Theoretically, the boy who looked like a girl with curly hair now looks like his father “tsurat yehoudi“; the boy is now completely attached to his father, separated from the female sex, and oriented to acquiring the religious wisdom and knowledge.  It appears that during the early crusades in Medieval Europe the Jews were under pressure to convert to Christianity; the early indoctrination to Torah of the Jewish children was a counter response to inoculate the Jews from later pressures.

Chapter on Turkish manhod: “Our Bulen is now a Commando: Military service and manhood in Turkey” by Emma Sinclair-Webb is a chapter concerned with the military service rituals into manhood. Military service is another form of masculine initiation to manhood; in the poor counties the families and communities gather to celebrate the joining of the recruits in the military.  While the poor recruits might obtain advantages from military service in the form of health check ups, dental care and better nutrition, as well as an opportunity to get away from their restricted locality and in some cases to learn to read and write, the extension of the military service to over a year and a half has very negative impact.

The first few months are pure trauma of experiencing constant curses, contempt and punishments designed to erase any residual personality or individuality, to empty the mind and feelings, shaping the recruits into the single mould prepared by the militaristic dogma.  The recruits are made to lose their self-confidence by encouraging alienation and mistrust among themselves and that they cannot do anything correctly without the superior commander direction and control.

The recruits are given names that express their insignificance in most armies such as “Tommy soldiers” or “Mehmetcik” (Little Mehmet); the connotations are that the recruits are uncomplicated “chap” from the lower orders in the social structure constituted by the officers, ready to “perform any act of self-sacrifice without bating an eyelid”.

The recruits are invariably schooled at feeling infantile or at best children, forming the backbone of the army but nevertheless much less than the heroic “real men” or soldiers or officers.  In most countries, in addition to prison terms, dodgers of the military service are ostracized from society; they cannot find a job, or vote, or obtain passports or leave the country; in many instance they cannot marry because of the taboo attached to their lack of masculinity or responsibility to care for a family.

In wars, over 40% of the recruits are sent to the riskiest zones to fight internal or external enemies; if a recruit dies he is labeled a martyr or “shahid” and if he is crippled or traumatized then he receives much less health care than what a regular soldier receives in hospital facilities or psychiatric treatment.

            I will try to summarize a chapter in “Imagined masculinities” titled “Male gender and rituals of resistance in the Palestinian Intifada a cultural politics of violence” by Julie Petite.  Of the four years of the first Intifada beginning in December 1987 through 1990, an estimated 106,000 Palestinians were injured.  If we count the beatings this estimate could reach the number of over 200,000 or 10% of the total population of the Palestinians living under the Zionist occupation.

Most of these injured Palestinians are youth under the age of twelve or more than 60% of the youth passed through beatings and methodical investigation and incarceration.  Anton Shammas wrote in 1988: “For twenty years now, officially there has been no childhood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  A 10-year-old child shot by the Israeli military forces is reported to be a young man of ten'”

            The Palestinians consider the Israeli soldiers as cowards and devoid of any sense of honor and for good reason. When you challenge someone you pick the one able to taking up the challenge; otherwise there is no honor in the challenge.  When the Israeli soldiers challenge the unarmed Palestinian youth the repost do not take place, there is no challenge and the encounter degenerates into mere aggression.  Such aggression deprives the Israeli practitioners to claims of honor and morality; the Israeli soldier is thus considered as lacking in the emotional and moral quality of manhood.

            Most of the incarcerated youth return home and supplant their fathers in the family hierarchy and are called on the mediate disputes and lead the neighborhood politically and organizationally.  The unconcerned and apathetic youth is transformed after the beating and interrogations into an active underground member and who had the opportunity to receive education during his prison term by the educated Palestinian prisoners.

It is normal that family violence increases after the release of the Palestinian prisoners and the females take the brunt of the outburst, especially lately when the Israelis reverted into focusing on the sexual maltreatment of prisoners with the adverse consequences on the prisoners and his family after his release.

February 15, 2007

“Origins” by Amin Maaluf

 

I enjoyed the anecdote of Tannous, the great grand father of Amin Maaluf, in the French book “Origines” by Amin Maaluf.  Tannous walked six hours from Kfar-Yaqda to see his sweet heart Soussene in Zahle and claimed that he had business in that city for an entire week.  Tannous would walk back home about eight hours in the dark on dangerous dirt roads and then come back the next day to Zahle.  After several days of these gruesome trips Tannous did not look well and had lost weight.  His future father-in-law investigated with him and discovered the truth and said to him: “Listen boy, tonight you sleep with my boys; then you never come back to Zahle but to attend to your engagement with my daughter”.  Tannous and Sousene had ten off springs.

The “Origines” is becoming very interesting; Botros, the future grand father of Amin, had spread the tale that he immigrated to Havana to come to the rescue of his younger brother Gebrayel who was in trouble with the law.  It is turning out that Botros wanted to emigrate but felt hugely humiliated once he arrived in Cuba; he was probably quarantined and lived in an attic above his brother’s shop.  Botros never mentioned in writing his Cuba adventures because he had not the stuff of an emigrant willing to accept a few inconveniences or harassment, he who lived like a dandy in Lebanon. 

Thus, Botros’ lofty narrative of the reasons for going to Cuba and aiding his brother out of troubles was a way for him to counter his disastrous trip and somehow tarnish the name of his brother who showed acumen for business and an enterprising spirit. It appears that Botros visited New York for seven months and that Gebrayel had paid him more than $1000 when he left him in compensation; this sum could be valued to at least $30,000 nowadays.  All in all, Botros was out of Lebanon for five years and returned more resolved to teach and change society from its ignorance.

I am reading a section from “Origines” where Botros, the grand father of Amin, refused since 1913 to baptize any of his children so that they might decide which confession to affiliate with when they get of age.  Botros named his school “The Universal School” so that all students from any confession could enroll and get an education; girls and boys sat in the same class and his educated wife Nazeera was a teacher in the school. The commotions consequent to Botros’ decision not to baptize his children is still remembered with passion in the neighboring villages of Machrah after a century. 

The abbot Theodoros, brother of Botros, tried once to baptize Botros’ eldest son in his absence but was refrained to do so when Botros barged in after getting winds of his brother’s muscled method. At that time, around the town of Zahle, there were Greek orthodox, Greek Catholics or Melkites, Maronites and Protestant Presbitarians who were indoctrinated by the schools of Von Dyke in Abey and Souk El-Gharb.  In the spirit of “universality” the students were to recite only the “Our Father” prayer because its contents do not mention, Christ, Marie, the Holy Ghost, the Trinity or the Church.  Botros went as far as giving his children names not related to saints or any religious connotations.

I have finished reading “Origines” and I can categorize this book as “give me a good book; time will vanish and I am content”. Botros was expecting the French mandate authority to aid his school financially but discovered that the French were intent on helping only the Catholic religious schools and thus aided his arch rival Malatios. He consequently appreciated the laic positions of the Turkish leader Kamal Ataturk and decided to name his last son Kamal; the new born turned out to be a girl and he insisted on naming her Kamal anyway. Botros died at 56 of age of cardiac arrest leaving a wife (Nazeera) of 29 years of age and six children ranging from 11 to barely 2 years of age. Nazeera and her stoic mother Sophia raised the children in the Presbyterian moral severity.

Nazeera continued to direct the “Universal School” and barely managed to make ends meet; her brother-in-law priest Theodoros had destroyed all the signed papers due to be paid by the people who had borrowed from Botros on account that she doesn’t need more troubles and animosities from her relatives and neighbors.

The author had to travel to Cuba to investigate the documents he had about his great uncle Gebrayel, visited his mausoleum in the main cemetery of Christopher Columbus and went around to get visual appreciation of the renowned commercial centers “La Verdad” which had vanished.  He paid a visit to Gebrayel’s residence up on a hill, as Levantines love to locate when they can afford it. 

Gebrayel had hit it big in commerce and had vast connections with the new political leaders of the new republic that was established in 1909 after the Cuban revolution kicked out the Spanish colonists.  We discover that Amin’s grand father and grand uncle were free-masons, as were Jose Marti and the Cuban revolutionary leaders located in New York, as were the leaders of the revolutionary “Young Turks” who deposed the Ottoman Sultan Abdel-Hamid, and later Kamal Ataturk.  Amin’s father and his grandfather died both of them at the age of 56, on the same month and on a Sunday.

Amin’s eldest uncle joined a Catholic monastery in the USA after marrying and begetting five children; he came to Lebanon with the intention of being consecrated a priest instead of a simple “brother” but the attempt failed when the Archbishop of Boston disagreed with the decision of the Archbishop in Lebanon; he would not receive anyone who was not Catholic and his mother Nazeera reluctantly converted to Catholicism just to see her son; the wife of this uncle also became a nun.

“Carlos Ghosn: Citoyen du Monde” by Philippe Ries; (Reviewed on September 27, 2006)

We are going to have a quick overview of the professional path of Carlos Ghosn, his upbringing, which is similar to thousands of Lebanese,  his professional training at Michelin, and then focus on the problems and solutions of the institutions he handled to guide them into profitability, especially Nissan.

Of Lebanese descent, Carlos was born in Brazil and repatriated to Lebanon at the age of 6, after a serious gastric sickness that he contracted at age two which prompted his Lebanese mother to settle in a more clement weather.  (I was also repatriated to Lebanon from Mali at age 6).

He lived his youth in Beirut with his mother and older sister, and finished his secondary education in the Jesuit institution of Notre Dame Jamhour.  He transferred to Paris where he did higher math studies and joined the Polytechnic School and continued at the engineering University of Mines with high distinctions.

He lived in a very limited perimeter for 7 years around these Universities and most of his courses were highly abstract concepts in mathematics.  Carlos mentioned that when he took a course in economics his professor defined rent as a triple integral function and then focused on the mathematical processes.

The French pneumatic manufacturer Michelin hired him because he was from Brazil and had plans to bolster its faltering businesses there.  Carlos rose quickly in the hierarchy and was promoted director of a new factory at the age of 27, then was dispatched to Brazil where inflation was rampant and managed to turn the Michelin branch in South America around to profitability within 3 years.

Carlos was transferred to the USA and did an excellent job restructuring the merger with the faltering pneumatic company Uniroyal-Goodrich.  By the time he left to join the car manufacturer Renault, the multinational Michelin was doing 60% of its profit from the USA branch.

Carlos was 41 years old when he decided on his second major move; chiefly because, as Michelin is primarily a family business, he was not ever to become the number one man and no further promotion to be expected.

He was working for 3 years at Renault when it acquired 36% of the Japanese car manufacturer Nissan.  Nissan was a multinational company and was experiencing certain death after years of losses. Carlos was dispatched to Japan to take the helm of the board of directors of Nissan. And he was successful within 3 years, and Nissan was back into profitability without any dept.

Carlos Ghosn is expected to take over Renault in 2005 when Louis Schweitzer goes to retirement.

What struck me in the first part of Carlos’ autobiography is the parallel in the genesis of Carlos Ghosn life with thousands of Lebanese, and particularly mine.

The grandfather of Carlos, Bichara , was from Kesrouan and a Maronite who immigrated to Brazil because of the famine when he was 13 years of age.  Bechara was penniless and illiterate and left from the port of Beirut during the Ottoman Empire, thus a ‘Turco’.  The trip lasted 3 months and ended in Rio de Janeiro. Bichara traveled to the region of Guapore with Capital Porto Velho, in the Amazon and close to Bolivia. Bechara died at the age of 53 from a minor surgery after establishing 3 industries: commerce in cereals, rubber and airline travel and begetting 4 boys and 4 girls.

Ghosn’s father Jorge took over the airline business and visited Lebanon where he married Rose nicknamed Zetta who studied at the French school of Besancon and whose father worked in Nigeria.

Carlos suffered a gastric illness and was taken to Rio and then shipped to Beirut with his mother at the age of six in 1960 where the climate was fairer and the water cleaner.

Jorge visited his family one summer every two years. Carlos did his primary and secondary education at a Jesuit institution called Notre Dame of Jamhour. Carlos was multilingual, Portuguese, Arabic, French, English, and lately some Japanese.  He struggled continuously with his primary language as he moved around and settled for a while in a country.

Carlos had passion for history and geography and secondly literature.

In 1971, Carlos finished his secondary schooling and had no definite specialty in mind.  He left to Paris to continue his higher education.  At the instigation of one of his teacher, Carlos was directed to study higher math and he enrolled in the college of Polytechnique and on to the University of Mines.

During Lebanon civil war that started in 1975, Carlos’ mother and sister in Lebanon traveled to Paris and then continued to Brazil where they settled with his father.

When Carlos, at the age of 27, was assigned as director of operations for the Michelin businesses in Brazil he decided to marry Rita, a 20 years old Lebanese student in pharmacy in Lyon.  They have 3 daughters and one son.

It is necessary to dwell on the training program in Michelin that enriched Carlos and offered him the opportunities to learn the management and financial skills and progress.

It is his formation at Michelin that provided Carlos with a wide spectrum for tackling general and particular problems in faltering enterprises.  Michelin hired Carlos in 1978 and he travels to Clermont Ferrand.

In the first 3 months, the new recruits for all types of functions follow the same program consisting of conferences given by the main directors on the different aspects of the business and backed up by small real operational problems to find simple solutions for them.  The new recruits live together and they learn to go through the transition between a student life and the active one.  This training program also offers management a profile of the new recruits and their potentials in different sectors of the business.

At the end of the training period, Carlos is affected to work for another 3 months in a factory preparing the rubber that will be turned into tires.  His work consists of cutting the rubber, rolling it up, inserting it into moulds and then transporting it, but the best part is the fraternity that is created among the workers and the future bosses.

Carlos is promoted foreman for a group of workers in a new factory at Puy-en-Velay.  Six months later he is dispatched to Karlsruhe, Germany, to get training on quality control, then training in industrial organization at the factory in Tours.  He is promoted group chief of production for a whole year at the factory in Cholet.

In 1981, Carlos is 27 years old and director of the new factory where he worked as foreman and will stay 2 years and three months.

Carlos is summoned to headquarter to meet with the ‘Boss’ Francois Michelin; the Boss assigns him the task of investigating the troubles of the straggling affiliate Kleber-Colombes.  Carlos works with the director of finance Behrouz Chahid-Nourai and discover the concept of “cross manufacturing” for utilizing the same tools of production for several products under different brands.

After offering his recommendations to revitalize Kleber-Colombes he is affected to the research department for a year, the job that Michelin initially contemplated that he might fit better in the company.

In June 1985 Carlos is promoted director of operations in Brazil.

In February 1989, Carlos takes over the operations in the USA and settles in Greenville South Carolina.

This training formation at Michelin is at the foundation of Carlos concept of forming leaders in any enterprise.

The primary task of the ‘Boss’ of any institution is to send everyone with potential to the hot fronts on the fields (terrains) where difficulties are observed and then offer them chances to fail sometimes.

It is by providing opportunities to learn and prove leadership that the ‘Boss’ can insure the survival of his enterprise when he decides to retire. The leaders of tomorrow are formed from the challenges of today and the clever ‘Boss’ should end up with a wide choice of alternative leaders when the time to retire is near.

When a general director is hired he had to assume and embrace the responsibilities of the past, present, and future status of the enterprise; he is not allowed to dwell on excuses from past failures as if they were not of his doing.

A general director has to first gather all the current facts and information on the institution and base his theory on this intelligence. The boss has to feel the enterprise and the clients by frequent visit to the different sections of the business and proffer the same message everywhere; the boss does not have to comprehend in depth every facet of the business, that is the job of the specialists whose task is to adequately summarize the topic so that the boss is in apposition to take decisions.

The boss should not forget for a moment that the crux of the mater is to produce quality products and be able to sell them, otherwise, if diversification into other businesses is undertaken without close supervision to the core business then the enterprise will suffer ultimately.

This section will focus on the professional aspects of Carlos when he was selected to head the operations of reviving Nissan from certain death in 1999.

Carlos brought with him a total of 30 French specialists in Renault in a period of three months to support his job; the understanding was that they are not there to change the culture of the Japanese employees but with the objective of turning Nissan around to profitability. For 3 months Carlos set up nine “transversal or cross-operational teams“, each headed by two members of the executive committee which was reduced to ten, with the task of understanding each other departmental problems.

He visited all the factories and suppliers to get a feel of the major problems and to get to the bottom of the illnesses of Nissan. During these months he encouraged and was open to interviews by the Medias in order to promote the concept of transparency that will be adopted in reviving Nissan and also to encourage communications inside the institution and disseminate the steps to be taken and the expected changes that will follow.

In October 18, 1999 Carlos divulged his plan of rebirth NRP to an assembly of journalists; it was a surprise announcement and no one outside the members of the executive committee new about the announcement; even the Japanese government got wind an hour prior to the announcement.  Nissan had 6.6% of the world market in 1991 and dropped to 4.9% in 1999 or a reduction in production of 600,000 cars; it had been losing money for seven consecutive years and was heavily indebted of $19.4 billion.

Carlos promised that Nissan will introduce 22 new models within three years and that the objective is to reduce the cost of procurement to 20% within three years since it represents 60% of the total cost, the number of suppliers of pieces and materials to almost half from 1145 to 600 suppliers and the suppliers of equipment and services from 6900 to 3400 by 2002.

Nissan had the capacity of producing 2.4 million cars but actually produced 1.3 million; thus 4 factories would be closed by 2001 and another one by 2002 so that the rate of utilization of the remaining factories would be up to 82% taking into account a growth of 5.5% by 2002.

Nissan will end up with 4 factories utilizing only 12 plate-forms. Nissan will have to reduce by 20% the number in its network of distribution subsidiaries and close 10% in its points of sales.

Most important, Nissan will sell its shares in almost 1400 societies that do not strategically contribute to car manufacturing business.  The number of employees would be reduced 14% to 127,000 by the year 2002, with the exception of the department of research and development which will gain 500 additional jobs and the engineering department another two thousands.

Three targets were set to be accomplished by 2002, otherwise, Carlos and all his executive committee will leave even if one of these targets is not attained:

1. return to profitability,

2. a rate of operational margin exceeding 4.5%, and

3. the reduction of the total debt to 50%.

These targets were reached and in 2002 the syndicate at Nissan obtained all their demands which were reasonable while the number one Toyota froze salaries. Many in Nissan are now exercising their rights for stock options and the minimal number of stocks was reduced to 100 instead of one thousand.

The team of Carlos Ghosn elaborated a 3-years plan called Nissan 180, where 1 represent an additional one million cars produced, 8 for an operational margin of eight percent growth, and 0 for zero debt by the end of the triennial.  As Carlos explained: “If an enterprise does not develop middle and long term plans then the financial analysts will have nothing to rely on but the near term results”.

By the year 2003, 80% of Nissan’s cars would emit only 25% on the regulatory limit on pollutants.  An agreement with its archenemy Toyota was signed in September 2002; Toyota would provide Nissan 100,000 hybrid engines vehicles to be marketed in the USA by the year 2006. A hybrid engine works in the classical manner on highways and electrically within city routes.

In November 2000, six months after the announcement of the NRP plan, Carlos decided to invest $ one billion in the USA for the construction of a new plant in Canton in the State of Mississippi; this new plant will target the segment of large pick-ups and SUV in the Middle West market where the American companies have it locked.

This investment secures a stronger implantation in the most profitable market in the world because it has the best mix and a homogeneous market for advertisement and distribution and selling 16 million vehicles a year; it will also save on the tax barriers and monetary exchanges.  Nissan already have a successful plant in Smirna for the exclusive Altima mark for the USA market.

Another development is the investment in China, a new emergent market with the biggest potential given the saturation of the matured developed nations.  Nissan concluded a deal to invest more than $ one billion to acquire 50% of Dongfeng, a Chinese state owned enterprise that manufactures buses and heavy trucks. By the year 2010, this joint venture is projecting to produce 450,000 Nissan cars and 450,000 heavy vehicles.  The Chinese government gave priority to Nissan because of the bold steps it has taken to get back to profitability and of its experience with multicultural and global management practices.

Although the initial intention was to revive Nissan into profitability some cultural changes within Japanese business behavior had to occur. For example, Nissan had an organization of assigning counselors to each field teams with no definite operational functions and not responsible to results; these counselors were originally dispatched to foreign countries to disseminate the Japanese practices but were of no use anymore; these counselors ended up diluting the responsibilities of the field directors; they  had to go.

Another Japanese practice was to promote employees according to seniority as well as increase in salaries without any regard to productivity or innovation; Carlos instituted the notion of result instead of effort in judging what is fair.  The consequences for that notion of result did away with the practice of working overtime and spending unduly longer time at the offices, even showing to work on holidays. The doing away with the seniority criterion for automatic promotion meant that new recruits could be hired at higher and competitive salaries.

The cost of incentives represented the variable portion in the total cost which was 40% at Nissan. Employees will thus be judged according to their contributions and incentives given to those who satisfy quantitative criteria. Another practice is hiring for life. During the recession in the 90’s, many Japanese companies concocted many gimmicks to in reality fire employees while providing the image of still belonging to the firm; for examples, many were assigned to concessionaires and suppliers who paid their salaries. Fourteen percent of employees will lose their jobs and many of these fictitious employees repatriated to Nissan.

In the automotive business the question for the future is: can it afford a competitive offer and the capacity to maintain it? The end game reduces to maintaining innovation in a complex market, where emotions of clients for a stylistic car play a critical part and at a competitive price. Right now, after all the mergers in the last decades, there are 6 big manufacturers that hold 66% of the world market and the first ten about 90%.

The biggest is General Motors with 7.5 million vehicles, then Ford, then Toyota, then the fourth Renault-Nissan with 5 million and fifth Daimler-Chrysler with 4.35 million, then Volkswagen.

The team detached from Renault to Nissan played the role of catalyst because the real resource of Japan as the second economy in the world is its professional and skilled people.  Japan has no natural resources, a relatively tiny island, ravaged by earthquakes and typhoons and facing strong adversaries. Japan has the third of the world monetary reserves although it has now a public debt up to 150% of its PIB.

It is apparent that the Japanese companies have not assimilated the Nissan experience because they are still suffering from indecision and indebtedness; the “Cost Killer” Carlos believes that the problem is a lack of know-how and experience to treating their own managerial problems that did not change for over 40 years.

 

September 13, 2006

“The Princes of the Crazy Years” by Gilbert Gilleminault and Philippe Bernert.

The two authors of this French book selected eight figures from the twenties whom are representative of the spirit of the period after the First War.  These personalities are icons in different facets of life and society outlooks, in Europe and the USA. They describe the creative individualism resurging after Great War calamities and the tendencies of the new and young generation to drastically condemn the older generation and its high-handed government of society and their offspring.

It is about a generation seeking luxury and a life style entrenched on how to enjoy the present to the fullest as individuals.

 The Russian writer Maxim Gorky endured the emergence of communism and tried to sustain the cultural richness and diversity in Petrograd by providing means of physical and spiritual survival for the poets, artists and writers who were suffering from the upheaval in the new regime and the economic and financial squeeze of the European blockade on Communist Russia. He helped open the huge ‘House of Arts’ or as it was called then the ‘demented ship’ because it had the architecture of a ship and where the artists and poets found lodging and total liberty to live the way they desired in fashion and style and freedom of expression.  These artists could carry bags of supplies during this period of famine from the ‘Kouba’ or the center of supplies of the committee for the artists created by Gorky.

 The Austrian film maker Fritz Lang toured the world as a painter before he was twenty-three and then settled in Berlin after the war to produce the best silent movies at the grandest scale.  Metropolis is about two distinct worlds of the rich and powerful living above ground and the wretched people living underground and slaving for their patrons in an automated fashion; it represents the city of the year 2000. The series of films on the character of Mabuse, the gangster spreading his tentacles to every aspect of the world of crimes, foresaw the evolution of the Nazi movement and its murderous tactics and assassinations.  The Lady on the moon which opened the era of building rockets to land and investigate the moon and the interstellar world; Fritz discovered Hermann Oberth who was the pioneer in designing rockets and liquid gases for rocket fuels.  The epic ‘Nibelungen’ which revived the Germanic mythology and gave a rebirth of faith in Germany; Goebbels, the future minister of propaganda of the Nazi regime, saw it ten times when it was first shown and decided to produce another one at an even larger scale.  The Spies, The Three lights, the Hindu Coffin, the Snow Madonna, the Spiders, followed with great acclaim and appointed Fritz as the unchallenged baron of Berlin; Lang set the style and fashion of this era in Berlin and was the most sought after scenarist and screenplay with his prodigy wife, Thea von Harbou, famous for her exotic novels set in India and which attracted millions of German readers as an outlet to the gruesome war depressions. The Assassins among us or just “M” was rightly viewed by the Nazis as targeting them and their program for banning any individuality.  After he fled Nazi Germany in 1934 to the USA he cooperated with Hollywood and produced other masterpieces such as: Fury, I have the right to live and the Woman in the portrait.

 Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff founded a renowned cult throughout Europe and received rich and famous adherents who searched for the meaning and the knowledge of the real life.  This cult was dubious and obscure and the recruits were made to toil on menial and manual labors for over 16 hours a day, house cleaning, remodeling the residence and cultivating the domain and expanding it without the benefit of even seeing the mentor or meeting with him personally for years.  The idea was to break any sense of individuality or developing any particular talent that any adherent might have any hope of keeping. Among these rich and famous were such personalities as the New Zeeland writer Katherine Mansfield who suffered from tuberculosis, the journalist and Russian philosopher Ouspensky who became his staunchest recruiter,  the Russian orchestra Opera leader Thomas de Hartmann, the notorious British literary critic and founder of the review ‘The New Age’ Richard Orage, the famous British psychoanalyst Young, the wife of Chekhov Olga, the Russian painter Alexander de Salzmann, the US writer Miss Margaret Anderson, the French Rene Daumal, Luc Dietrich, and Irene Reweliotty among hundreds of others. While the adherents to this cult were toiling miserably and constantly hungry from the meager rations, produced and cooked by themselves, and not knowing and communicating with each others, Gurdjieff was leading a life of luxury and eating the best food. He trained a team of exotic and Sufis dancers which a great attraction in many places; when the master said stop each dancer stopped and remained in the position he had for as long as the master wished.  After a long and hard day of work, the master would train his adherents to perform several rhythmic gestures simultaneous. This cult leader was a combination of Georgian /Armenian from the Tsarist Russia and looking as fierce as a Tarass Boulba or a Tartar Buddha.  He entered an orthodox seminary as Stalin, then quit and worked all kinds of odd jobs while wandering in the Far East trying to learn and master the religions of the Orient and settling down in Tibet as the preceptor of the Dalai-Lama. A Russian officer identified him as a spy to the Tsar in Tibet. Gurdjieff, with the finance of English rich personalities, finally bought a reclusive domain in France called the Prieure d’Avon where he remodeled a former airplane hangar.  All kind of rich and famous personalities from around Europe, especially from England and France, were jockeying for his attention and to be selected to enter his property in order to discover the meaning of true life away from the feeling of futile Western conventions.  When Gurdjieff died in 1949, for four days and nights, thousands of cult adherents flocked from all over the world, even from the USA, to have a last look at their cult leader.

Jean Cocteau, addicted to opium, was a poet, a writer and, most importantly, he was the best discoverer of talented artists, poets, and writers and endeavored to advance their careers by managing them and allowing them to mingle with the personalities of the time. His motto was: “Much is just enough for me”.  By the time he was twenty, Cocteau was recognized amid the intellectual circles of Paris, especially, at the Duchess of Rohan, and was very close to the authors Edmond Rostand, Maurice Barres, Francois Mauriac, and Marcel Proust. During the war, he wrote a poem to the Chief of Staff titled ‘Ode to Joffre’ and voluntarily joined the contingent of nurses.  Cocteau had the talent to sniff out the trend of the period and scent the most promising artists from their first drafts, poems, or painting; he promoted the Russian musician Stravinsky, Picasso during his cubist period, the musician Erik Satie, Diaghilev the choreographer of the Russian Ballet to whom he created ‘Parade’.  He fell in love with a poor 16 years old writer called Raymond Radiguet and took him under his wings and fashioned him; Radiguet later wrote the famous novel ‘Diable au corps’.  It is in a seclude villa in the company of Radiguet that Cocteau wrote the poems ‘Plain-Chant’, and the two novels ‘Thomas l’imposteur’ and ‘Le Grand Ecart’.  Cocteau wrote ‘Boeuf sur le toit’ for a pantomime ballet and woke up the famous American photographer May Ray to take pictures of Proust in his death-bed.  He turned to movie making with ‘Sang d’un poete’.

 The French Alain Gerbault crossed alone the Atlantic from Europe to the USA on his eleven meters yacht the ‘Firecrest’; he started from Cannes on April 25, 1923, and then continued from Gibraltar on June 6 and after 102 days reached New York on September 16.  This trip t is much harder and more dangerous than in the other direction which took Howard Blackburn only 39 days in 1901.  Alain attempted to tour the world by sea and left New York on October 2, 1924.  He reached the Antilles islands, and then passed Panama then to the Galapagos Islands and then the long stretch of 3000 miles to the South Sea.  After a long and tedious trip he landed in the port of Le Havre on July 26, 1929.  Along the way, Alain visited the Canaques indigenes in the Gambier Archipelagos, the Marquises Islands, Tahiti, fell in love with the people of Bora-Bora, Samoa Islands, the Maoris in Wallis Islands, the Isle of Saint Helena where Napoleon died, the Isles of Cape-Verde, and the Azores.  Commander Bernicot did a harsher cruise nine years later without the fanfare and celebrations that welcomed Gerbault because it was no longer the first attempt and because Gerbault was not supported by a State or received funds from companies to cover his trip.  Alain covered his expenses from the sale of his book that he wrote about the conditions of the native people, how the nations of the Occident harmed their civilizations, and about the hazards of his trip. Alain started his civil engineer studies at the university ‘Ponts et Chausees’, liked football and practiced tennis as a professional. During the war, Alain was selected and trained as an aviator.  He suffered several injuries and received several decorations. When not flying, he read everything that was connected to sea navigation, especially the volumes of Jack London who traveled all over the Pacific on his yacht the ‘Snark’.  After the war he toured most of the port in order to select a convenient yacht before finding the ‘Firecrest’ in an English port and for three years he increased his navigation knowledge and skills while cruising in the Mediterranean Sea. He wrote ‘L’Evangile du Soleil’.  He left France in 1932 to never return and died from malaria in the Isle of Timor in 1941; his ashes are buried in Bora-Bora and Ella Maillart eulogized him: “He had the courage to become free, master of his destiny, what every one of us, unconsciously, aspires to be.”

Ettore Bugatti was the king of car racing in this crazy era; he understood the passion for speed, individuality, freedom, and emancipation in the twenties. In order to lodge his large team of racers and mechanics during competitions he used to erect a large tent that could house 45 single beds with individual showers, a kitchen, and an ice maker; for his family Ettori built a 5 meters long special caravan with all the necessary comfort. Ettori refused to mass produce his famous cars and even avoided to redesign his cars to fit the cheaper tourist models. His cars cost a fortune between 80,000 and 150,000 Francs at the time, they were bought by those rich and famous personalities who were mad with speed and personally driving these cars in the circuits.  His cars had to be repaired and returned after each race in his factory at Molsheim, in the Alsace close to Strasbourg, where Ettore reign as a prince since 1910.  This factory was constituted of thirty subsidiary factories over seven hectares of land.  Frederic Loiseau, a rich lieutenant from the French army stationed in Algeria, convinced Bugatti to subsidize car races in the Sahara desert which started from Paris, to Algeria, Haute Volta, Ivory Coast, Mali, and back to Algeria and Paris. All decisions are made by the family; the father Carlos, from Milano, was a completed artist in sculpture, painting, architecture, jewelry design, and mechanics; his favorite daughter Ebe told people: “He once didn’t like the tone of an invoice he received from the electric company and thus, he built an electric complex for his factory.”  His elder brother Rembrandt was a famous sculptor who tragically died at the age of forty; his son Jean who was loved and respected by the workers and who died young from a car accident; his wife and two other daughters.  Before the Great depression he designed a powerful engine for a special car to be called “La Royale’ to compete with Rolls-Royce for the monarchs and princes; this 300 CV engine weighted 350 kg and turned at 1700 cycles per minutes. Alphonse XIII of Spain was the first to purchase this car but was dethroned; only six were manufactured because of the depression and the engine was used for twenty years on a Bugatti’s trains. During the Second War, part of the factory of Ettori was transplanted to Bordeaux to design and manufacture fighter airplane engines and after the war ended, Bugatti lost his belongings in Molsheim to the Germans who had purchased it at less than half its value during the war.  He died in 1947 at 65 years before the French government legally offered him the French citizenship because of the bureaucratic paper work.

 

Gabrielle or Coco Chanel was the female fashion designer of the twenties so that women might ride fast cars and dance the jazz; she was also observing the homemade dresses of the working women that the famous designers used to ignore the details in the execution of these homemade designs.  Whatever Coco designed women would buy, the color black is predominant, even her perfume which she labeled N 5 is “a la mode”, her designer jewelry, and they also imitate her haircuts “a la garconne”.  Coco was born in 1883 from an ambulatory family; her mother died when she was six years old and the two sons were taken care of by the public assistance and the three girls lived with their paternal grand parents in Vichy.  Gabriele spent her young age at a convent and was educated gratis because she was poor.  At 18 years of age she helped her young aunt in dressmaking and met a rich officer Etienne Balsan who used to call her “coco”, as Scott Fitzgerald used to call his preferred girls, and helped her open a fashion shop at Deauville.  By this seaside resort, she studied the elegant and simple female dresses from overseas and fell in love with the handsome and rich Englishman Arthur Capel, nicknamed “Boy”, who owns coal mines.  Arthur would die of a car accident in the Cote d’Azur in 1922 and Coco would never recover emotionally from that loss.  After the end of the war she returned to Paris on 31, Cambon Street.  At first, when she saved a fortune of 200,000 Francs, she had no sense of the banking mechanism and would sign checks to discover that her account had dwindled to nothing.  Miss Chanel, or Mademoiselle as she insisted to be called, helped her artist friends in every way by designing gratis the costumes for the actresses or financing art productions.  The Duke of Westminster, the richest man in England, fell in love with Coco and offered her many gifts, including the fabulous yacht “Cerf-Volant” and the property of 40 rooms “La Pausa” at Roquebrune but she refused to marry him after many years of intimate relationship because she mostly loved to work and enjoyed her seclusion.  She once said: “there are dozens of Westminster duchesses but only one Coco Chanel” and “Solitude is the real enemy for a women because it could destroy her; so it better for women to act conventionally and never divorce, unless the woman has a  heroic courage and most tough.”

 F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in Rockville, Maryland, and was 23 years old when his first novel “The other side of paradise” was published after many refusals from publishers.  This novel was begun during the war when millions of young Americans, including Scott, were in the trenches in France; it was an instant success among the new generation of after the war who refused to be lied to by the puritanical values, rules, the ambient hypocrisies of those who didn’t have enough imagination to dream; and Scott was promoted a de facto icon or prophet of the new trends in individualism, the ultimate pleasure and happiness of living the moment.  Scott was taken aback and was forced to follow the eagerness of the youth by providing the necessary guidance and recipes of how to conduct life and enjoy it to the fullest.  It was the reason that Zelda agreed to marry him on April 1920.  Zelda Sayre was an early ‘flapper’ who called her father, a judge in the High Court of Atlanta, “Old Dick”, cut her hair very short, rode motorcycles, dived naked in rivers from high cliffs, and demonstrating utmost irreverence and total emancipation in her conservative South. New York had just started to experience the “roaring twenties”.  When he was at war Scott wrote to his mother: “As for the army don’t try to make it a tragedy or a heroic declamation: both of these attitudes are repugnant to me. I do not sympathize with the proclamations of ‘Give my son to the Country or the wood from which heroes are made from.” He once wrote: “The old generation has practically devastated the world before it transmitted it to us.”  This new generation would be fighting for success and a piece of the riches in their world of tight control by the power to be.  When the youths failed they committed suicide and when they managed to get rich fast, then avenues for luxury and the fast life would be opened to them, spending all their money and their energies without an after thought. Fitzgerald and Zelda spent their lives in luxury, boozing, and entertaining friends and artists in this jazz era; they tried to commit suicide together several times and their friends would not trust them to come back alive when they drove; they discovered the little village of Great Neck in Long Island and the Riviera coast in France when they were economically cheap to live in before prices skyrocketed when the Americans followed their tracks and invaded these spots as their favorite resorts.  He wrote “The magnificent Gatsby”, “Tender is the night”, “The long flight”. He died in 1940 of a heart attack at the age of 44, incognito, poor, and completely forgotten by the next generation of the Great depression; as he once said: “You have to sell your heart. That’s what I did.” It is recounted that Scott once paid a visit to a lecture attended by young writers and they were totally surprised because they thought Scott was already dead. Zelda had been incarcerated in a mental hospital long time ago and died burned alive in the fire that engulfed the Ashville Highland Hospital in 1948.

 

“The Lexus and the Olive Tree” by Thomas Friedman,(Written on July 28, 2006)

Note: Friedman owe it to his readers to revise his opinions after the Wall Street financial crash of the century.

Friedman coined Globalization as “Globulation”, which is a process for the Electronic Nerds and multinationals to invest in bonds and stocks throughout the world, using the internet and the fast communication facilities.

This process is forcing many countries to reform their political, economic, financial, and legal institutions to encourage these nerds to invest capitals in order to modernizing banking, services, public institutions and industrial complexes in developing and developed countries as well.

There are many advantages and serious handicaps to joining this bandwagon of the world open free trade system.

The book is of 4 parts.

The first part is divided into Seeing the System, Plugging into the System, The Backlash against the system, and America and the System.

The second part explains how the System works so that after reading the first part I skipped to the third part.

I got interested in the third part:  I wanted to know the reasons of this serious backlash over the World Trade Organization (WTO) that united many disparate organizations from the environmentalists, the saving of nature, the saving of the rain forest, the coalition of protectionist labor unions, anti-sweatshop protesters, and the anti-genetically altered food activists.

All these anti-globalization organizations view the WTO as setting the rules for an unfair world commerce and basically hostile to the real interests of human beings.

The main political issue is that the electronic nerds are becoming major unseen voters in elections:  governments that were elected under a certain platform would quickly change their programs to cater to the requirements of the electronic nerds for financial transparency, international accounting standards, free press, and more flexibility to a changing world, more democracy, and more connectivity.

Although politics will always remain local, and even if the nerds who basically don’t care much about politics, the electronic nerds do insist on a system that may encourage them to invest profitably in specific markets, inevitably lead to drastic changes in politics, management, and social and legal structures.

Friedman borrowed computer jargons to drive in his idea. He claims that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the walls of the Cold War System, the only hardware that survived was the free market capitalism.  Hardware is not enough; to be successful in this new System societies need performing operating systems and software.

Countries have to switch from the archaic and slow operating systems DOScapital 1.0 to the fast and performing DOScapital 6.0 that encourage the electronic nerds to have confidence and transparencies in their bond and stock markets.

The new system will no longer discriminate among developed or developing or emerging markets in countries, but among the transparent and non-transparent countries for honest legal systems, open information flow and a steady democratic process to the international financial communities.

The winners in this competition are for the shapers of new standards and the fastest in recognizing the consumers’ trends. He gave as an example of how Compact took the lead over IBM by quickly integrating the fastest chips in the market in its personal computers because the customers around the world were vying for the fastest computers; in the same time, Compact fell off the race when it failed to ride the internet on time and was displaced by Dell within six months.

Globalization revolves around the capitalist concept of Joseph Schumpeter in his classic work “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” that the essence of capitalism is the process of creative destruction of the less efficient companies, products or services and replacing them with better adapted systems that can cater quickly to customers and market demands.

Companies have to constantly reinvent themselves and produce quarterly strategies to stay in the game.  Managers have to be able to grasp the complexities of the current system by being knowledgeable to thinking in 6 dimensions, geopolitics, economy, finance, environment, technology and trends.

Since sociology almost always dominates technology, it is then essential that societies learn to be ready to break with the past if they are wiling to let small entrepreneurs thrive..

One of the serious backlash to globalization is its increased trend to distort communities and weaken the everyday human interactions.  It is the tug of war between the attachment to the olive tree traditional structure of societies and the newly fast and independent behavior of individuals to get to the fast track of prosperity and material acquisitions.

It would be essential that institutions provide a human alternative at the end of the phone line instead of complete voice mail choices; people are willing to wait in order to be in contact with a real person listening to their requests and explaining their predicaments.

Thomas Friedman advances this theory:  no countries that opened up it market for McDonald franchises have suffered military conflicts after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that those leaders who ignored that fact will have to pay a dear price for their adventures. I suspect that he selected McDonald because he liked the “Golden Arch” title for his theory since it is of paramount importance to have a balanced basket of multinationals in selected markets as proof of serious US involvement in the peace and security of a country.

Well, Lebanon is flooded with every kind of US franchises in the food business, but it was not spared complete destruction this time around.  Or maybe the theory is about right: these US multinationals are concentrated in Beirut which was spared on the basis of not weakening the Lebanese Seniora PM government!

Amazing that this theory could be applied even selectively on specific cities within one country!  McDonald, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken might be common in Lebanon but Lebanon will never fall under the “Golden Arches” theory until the technologically advanced companies such as Intel, Cisco and Microsoft are permitted by the US administration to invest in Lebanon.

May be the Middle East will have to wait until Israel gives the green light, which is never, or until the US policy makers discover that Israel’s deterrence forces for fulfilling the US agenda in the Greater Middle East are not as important as they used to be during the Cold War system.

You might have the impression that Friedman is promoting the Lexus or the Electronic Nerds system, but my own feeling was that he was warning us about its collateral destructions and the need to save our olive trees.

The new system is too fast in demolishing everything that make us “feels home” and the alternative public and private institutional powers are not as fast and dedicated at saving us from alienation everywhere we travel and even at home.

Languages are disappearing quickly: roughly 6,000 spoken languages not taught to children are practically dead, 300 languages are spoken by more than a million people.  Languages, like culture and species, are being lost at an alarming rate.

Ken Hale of the MIT stated that “when we lose a language, it is like dropping a bomb on the Louvre” because we are sacrificing raw knowledge, the intellectual achievement of millennia.

Indigenous cultures are being eradicated by the insidious homogeneous development of the multinationals because the hard filters are not being installed quickly and effectively to ward off the damages done by the electronic nerds and the multinationals. The corner bakeries and family shops are being transferred to mega malls and everywhere you tour exotic towns you see the multinational logos dominating the main hills and major intersections and leaving you we the impression that local cultures are retreating fast before the invasion of homogenization.

One example is the Japanese girl who was visiting the US and exclaimed that even here they have their Japanese McDonald because this franchise is so pervasive in Japan.

Warding off the dangers of the new system requires the coordinated efforts of strong planning by bureaucrats, honest politicians, private organizations, culturally minded corporations and the elites in communities who are ready to assign a real value to cultural preservation.  The same process applies to the rain forests, the natural preserves, the historical sites, and the preservation of the plant and animal species.

Ultimately, the main power that might shift this trend to homogenization and “winners take all” are the mainstream political parties who adopt policies to reverse this tragic trend.

The UN and mainstream political parties can secure jobs for locals in order to withstand this devastating typhoon of the new system that threatens to crush human diversity and preserving the olive trees for the communities.

Securing jobs and re-educating the children and local communities should go hand in hand.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2008
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