Friday, June 27, 2008

Session 37 Video of McCain

A good friend of mine, Paul, has a video production company called Session 37.

Don't ask me what the name means, I don't know.

But, I do know that Paul's got a lot of talent as a video producer, director and editor. He's done documentaries, music DVDs, video compilations, advertisements and more.

Check out some recent "fun" stuff he's come up with on YouTube focusing on a certain old man currently running for the presidency by going...

Is Pollution an Olympic Sport?

Or, how will the media cover the pollution during the Beijing Olympics?

China is polluted. If pumping smog into the air was an Olympic event, China would be the hands down gold medal a long shot. They do it faster, with more volume over a sustained period of time than any nation on earth. With the Beijing Olympics coming up this summer, they have the addition of home court advantage.

Seriously, China produces enough smog to block out the mid-day sun. I was just there last month and at mid-day you could see maybe a mile with skyscrapers disappearing into a haze that looked like fog but wasn't. Beijing was one of the worst cities for this...trumped only by Shanghai.

That got me and some of my fellow China travelers wondering how the international media will cover that angle of Beijing during the games. Will they cover it like glamour events such as basketball, gymnastics and track? Or, will they minimize coverage like they do with sports like shooting, kayaking and badminton?

Clearly, the massive air pollution has the potential to inhibit performance for outdoor events. If this occurs, the Beijing Olympics will not be remembered as the big coming out party for China, but the "smog Olympics" with times/finishes including an asterisk.

The government is trying to minimize the Beijing pollution by shutting down factories in the lead up to the games, reducing car traffic and other measures. We even met a Westerner while hiking on the Great Wall who said he was in China to help them "seed" the clouds right before the games so it will rain and clear out the air. Good luck.

OK, the US media. NBC is the broadcaster of the Olympics for the U.S. They, like other mainstream media, are prone to puffery and letting the bigger story slide by without much comment in favor of sensation, celebrity or a good sex scandal. So, not much confidence they'll be seriously looking into how the smog may be impacting the games or the greater world.

But, here's the other thing. NBC is owned by GE. GE is one of the world's biggest manufacturers with big time operations in China. A polluter for profit. Guess who is also a major sponsor of the Beijing Olympics? You guessed it. GE. In fact, you can see their logo everywhere in public places associated with the games - starting when you arrive in China with placements in all Olympic advertisements in the huge new Beijing international airport.

GE will not be interested in anything other than a perceived spectacular success to these games. That includes minimal negative talk about anything - including pollution. Happy talk, happy talk.

So, predictions for NBC (sports and news) coverage of pollution in Beijing:
1) They barely touch it
2) When they do, they acknowledge "that the Chinese recognize that its a problem" but they are working on cleaning things up - queue the set piece on what the government has done to clear the air for the games
3) You won't hear about it again once the games are over

The only deviation from this I think will be if there is a major epidemic of poor performances or celebrity athletes pull out of competition...and even then, the games will go on and someone will win. You know, "overcoming the odds" of the pollution to win that gold medal.

I also predict that the foreign media - UK, Canada, France, Germany - will likely do more critical reporting on the pollution and how it is effecting the games and the world. But, we here in the US will not see that coverage - essentially, unless you go out of your way to look for it online. Something most people don't do.

So, in the end, I think the US media will report on pollution in Beijing like they will women's field hockey. They won't do it in any meaningful way.

If it comes to pass like this, it'll be a shame because China is the Olympic champion polluter and the games should be an opportunity to point that out...not to mention connecting the dots back to the US by talking about how a lot of the pollution there is generated by US companies making products that US citizens buy for cheap at Wal-Mart and similar stores.

We'll see. I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Don't Go Killing All the Bees

"If you're out there getting the honey, don't go killing all the bees."
- Joe Strummer from the song Johnny Appleseed

I think these are sage words that a lot of people should take to heart - especially anyone casting or seeking a vote in 2008 elections.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Glasvegas Issue Single - You Should Listen

One of my fave new bands, Glasvegas, has come out with their first widely available single.

The song is called Geraldine, and I suggest you check it out. Their music is part rock, part do-wop, part Jesus & Mary Chain, part Phil Spector wall-of-sound...but it the case of Geraldine it adds up to a unique and passionate song, especially compared to what else is out there. Meanwhile, the lyrics take you in a different direction. As in, when was the last time you heard such a good song about a social worker?

The single is available at US and UK iTunes. Just search for "Glasvegas." It's also on Amazon as an MP3 download.

Also, some of this band's demos and previous singles (UK only and hard to get) can be found on this cool blog. Just scroll down until you find the write up on the band and a link to download Home Tapes by Glasvegas. Word is that the band will put out a full album later this year. I'll be buying.

Anyway, it's great to see in this day and age of mass produced, pre-thought-0ut pop/rock and hip-hop that at least someone out there is coming up with something fresh and compelling.

NOTE: The picture in this post was NOT taken by me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

China Report #1 - The Forbidden City

Entryway to the Past Is Also Connection to Today’s China

As you may have read below, my wife Diane and I recently visited China. Because that nation is increasingly having an impact on the world and the US economy, it's a country and a people worth knowing more about. Having experienced some of China's most famous sites, as well as back roads, I thought I’d offer a few posts on what we saw and what insights it might suggest - as well as my traveler rankings and other info.

China is a massive nation of 1.3 billion people, melding regional differences, dialects, religions, rich, poor, urban, rural and much more. And, a lot is changing there as the country modernizes, diversifies its economy and grows. However, one thing that has literally brought the Chinese together over the centuries were its Imperial Dynasties. Ming, Qing, Tang, Qin and other houses ruled over the area of the world called China for centuries. This was done mostly through force, but in the end - even through difficult times - this bound the country together. During these times, the primary symbol for this power...of the nation really...has been the palace where the emperors lived - The Forbidden City in Beijing.

As a testament to that symbol’s enduring power to bring people together and offer them a sense of nation, the entrance to The Forbidden City at Tienanmen Square continues to be a gathering place even in today's Communist Party run People's Republic of China - and despite big changes in economic classes. For example, while we were in China, this place served as a gathering ground for thousands of Chinese to meet and mourn following the massive 7.9 earthquake that shook western China on May 31. These were not staged events, and certainly the Chinese government gets nervous when large numbers of people gather in Tienanmen Square. But it still happened.

Another example was the 1989 protest when students gathered in Tienanmen Square just in front of The Forbidden City in a massive sit-in to express their desire for a more open and free society. Did they do this in coffee houses? Did they stage a march? No, they instinctively gathered - and stayed as long as possible despite soldiers and tanks - in front of the oldest, most grand example of their nation's past glory.

As we toured the city this May on an overcast and windy day, it started me thinking about the power of symbols in a society - Chinese society.

One thing you'll notice when you go to The Forbidden city is that it's a seemingly endless succession of courtyards and buildings as you make your way from the outer walls to the inner sanctum. Each of these barriers has entryways. Some big, some small, some gilded and decorated, some restored, some showing the resignation of the ages.

This evolved my musing on symbols into thinking of The Forbidden City as a metaphor - as one big entryway. An entryway to understand the essence of what Chinese feel about being Chinese. To walk through the city and see the huge parade grounds, to see the massive throne room, armory, canals and building after colorful building, you could see why Chinese take pride in their history and traditional culture. With all that wealth and power concentrated into one place and enjoyed by so few people, you could also see why a nationwide Communist revolution happened there in 1950. So, two sides of the Chinese psyche laid clear simply by strolling through the entryways and passing over the grounds.

Another thing about the Forbidden City - the emperor could never leave the premises. So, in the end, the entryways are one-way passages. As grand and opulent as The Forbidden City is, and as unlimited as his powers were, the emperor was his lineage, by history and by tradition. There was no way to truly get out except death.

That graduated my thinking again...are the Chinese today trapped by their history? Clearly they are trying to break out of their isolationist past by opening their economy, hosting the Olympics, slowing their population growth and becoming a bigger player on the world stage. But the drag of history is heavy. The truth is that the country is still reliant on others for natural resources, still has a huge population in poverty, is still relatively weak military compared to the other major powers, still has major human rights problems and still operates a top-down, authoritarian government. Will they be able to overcome these barriers and escape the trap of history?

By the time we finished our tour, I concluded that The Forbidden City was not only a symbol of the nation, a metaphor for the Chinese psyche and a proxy for a society perhaps trapped by history, but that it was all those things and much more. In short, The Forbidden City and the surrounding Tienanmen Square are China. Sure, there are a lot of diversity in the country of more than a billion people, but I think day well spent at The Forbidden City educates a person on the essence of China's past, helps explain its present and offers a connection to its future. For those of you who have or will someday be in Beijing, go see it.

Site Ratings:
  • Historical importance: 10
  • Thought provoking: 9
  • Architecture: 8
  • Physical workout: 4 (just walking, mostly flat)
  • People watching: 6 (people from all over China and adventerous westerners)
  • Cool factor: 7 (not cool like The Fonz, but cool that you're there)
  • Food on site: 7 (surprisingly good - cookies, sandwiches, espresso, cold beverages and more on offer)
  • Toilets: 5 (not great, but plentiful)
  • Interest for kids: 3 (just my guess, we don't have kids, but we didn't see many and those we did looked bored)

Movie to watch to see this site:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

U.S. to help Saudi's build nukes

As reported in the Wall Street Journal today, the U.S. government has pledged resources to help Saudi Arabia develop nuclear technology.

Contemplate that! So many questions many ways this is just plain wrong...and a stunning example of just how far up the wazoo of the Saudis that Bush, his administration and - by extension - our country truly are.

The article does a good job of outlining these points.

Monday, June 9, 2008

What you can't see in Shanghai is what you can see at Wal-Mart and Wall Street

Diane and I returned last week from an incredible trip to China. We had a fantastic journey seeing the country’s major sites. However, it’s what you cannot see there that may have been the most striking thing about visiting China.

What am I talking about? Pollution. It’s REALLY bad in China. Shockingly bad.

Beijing, Xi’an and especially Shanghai are particularly afflicted. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that a dense and persistent fog had descended on these cities. But in reality, that fog is smog…quite literally blocking out the sun. I read in Good Magazine that breathing the Beijing air is like smoking 70 cigarettes a day. I believe it.

Shanghai is worse. Standing on the old side of the river (the Bund) and looking across to the new part of the city (Pudong), the massive skyscrapers a half mile away appear as half visible ghost like structures behind a curtain of grey smoggy haze. It makes any pollution in US cities look like child’s play.

Of course, the pollution is the result of China deciding that economic growth is more important than anything else. The country is the world’s number one producer of products, and to feed global markets at a pace and a price that keeps their economy going and growing into the world power that it wants to be, the Chinese have brutally sacrificed the environment.

And while it’s easy and smug to sit back and point fingers at the Chinese and their government as the problem, I believe that falls well short of assessing the situation. No, pollution of this magnitude is only created by huge, global trends.Specifically, I think what you can’t see in China because of pollution can be clearly viewed as related to two very American causes:
  1. The American consumer’s desire for cheap goods. The U.S. is the largest consumer economy in the world. You like that 42” flat screen TV at a good price at Costco? How about your weekly trip to Wal-Mart for cheap supplies? You like buying low priced everyday items at Target or Fred Meyer? China makes these items cheap…all the while polluting the global environment at an alarming rate. So, before casting blame on the Chinese, take a look in the mirror and realize that your own desire for cheap stuff is a driver of massive pollution of our planet.
  2. The massive profit-at-all-cost strategies deployed by big business. In their efforts to win and sustain spectacular profit margins that benefit stockholders and top executives on a quarterly basis, big business has shipped huge numbers of American jobs overseas, set up factories over there where labor costs are low and environmental impact concerns (and therefore costs) are zero and then gone bonzo in producing their goods for export back to the US market. This major jump in production with no environmental concerns is a direct contributor to the literally breathtaking pollution in China.

I think the linkage between these two American issues comes into scary focus when you consider just why it might be that Americans might want cheap goods? Could it be we’re a naturally thrifty lot? Maybe partly. I mean hey, who doesn’t like to save a few bucks. Or, could it be that our population is forced into needing those cheap items because our jobs have been sent overseas, our incomes have stagnated and the price of food, gas and other commodities are through the roof. I think this is more likely.

There is a vicious cycle at play here. American companies want greater and greater profits…they outsource jobs to cheap labor markets with no expensive environmental concerns…Americans back at home have fewer jobs and less money to spend, therefore crave cheap goods and increasing demand for Chinese made products…which American business gladly supply.

All of this has a punishing effect on the environment. Oh sure, the skies over the USA are pretty clean and our water is safe (for now), but for how long? And, what will have to happen before we and the Chinese decide to change?

In my opinion, the only way to break the cycle is to create and maintain better incomes here in the U.S. for the next generation economy. This will decouple the linkage between corporate profit and consumer need for cheap goods…thus helping the environment while building a stronger economy here at home.

How do we get there? It won’t be easy. Big problems need action by not just many individuals, but really, governments and corporations. Here are three thoughts:

First, vote at election time. Vote for leaders who see the big picture…the future of an economy transformed away oil and service sector jobs into one run on decent paying green industries, new energy development, technology, bioscience, clean production and similar industries.

Second, vote with your checkbook. Question your need for cheap crap. Don’t buy it if you don’t need it. Don’t buy things from companies that ship jobs overseas if you can. Meantime, buy green products when you can. This is the type of consumer behavior that, over time and in big numbers, companies will have to respond to.

Third, make corporate greed work for us instead of against us. What if our government invested in education and re-training for our workers? What if rather than subsidizing big business, we gave tax breaks to companies for investments in R&D for new energy sources or means of production? And, what if we actually invested in the education and training needed for a next generation of workers to fill new economy jobs?

In the end, I’m certainly no economist, I’m no politician, nor am I a CEO…but I am someone who just saw the devastation our “global economy” is having on the environment first hand. While perhaps some of the above ideas may be less than complete, I can tell you that I am 100% certain something must be done to change things.

I’d like to be able to see clear skies in China and a better future here at home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Back from vacation
I’m back from our vacation to China. What an amazing trip! There are definitely some thoughts I want to share about our experience there, but first…

Barack Obama MUST Deliver
Obama secured the Democratic nomination for president tonight. I’m watching his speech as I write.

To be sure, this was a hard fought race with Hillary Clinton, but now that the nomination is his… he must start an aggressive and continual campaign to stake out his positions on the key issues and mark clear differences with McCain. June 3 is “go time.”

As I watch his comments, I’m hopeful that he will do this as he talks about the need to exit Iraq, change energy policy, create jobs not outsource them, address healthcare in a meaningful ways, fix schools and invest in our people rather than cutting the programs that cut the heart out of the American dream.

As the crowd breaks into chants of “Yes we can,” he has the smarts to let his audience know that it won’t be that easy…that Republicans will bring the full load of ammo against him. And, he says Americans do not deserve another campaign of fear, using religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon.

But, you can bet your entire life savings that the Republicans will try to portray him as a communist, fascist, God hating, slime ball, hypocrite, liar, fake, light weight, terrorist loving liberal. They will do this. A lot. Count on it.

Therefore, Barack Obama MUST deliver on his rhetoric on a night of primary victory in a real and resounding victory in November. He has an opportunity now to define himself, introduce himself again, appeal to all Americans and state his case for office. And for those reasons, he must deliver daily between now and the election in November.

“This is our moment, this our time” to turn the page on the policies of the past…to bring new energy and a new direction for this country that we love, said Obama. He has to deliver on this in his campaign with real, compelling and inspiring ideas.

Why? Well, I think the entire nation’s future as we know it rides on the choice of more of the same vs. real change that will help us all.

I am hopeful, but will only will crack a smile when Obama is taking the oath of office in January. While governing brings a whole other host of hopes, fears and challenges, for now I’ll stick to just getting Obama in the Oval Office.