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Reflections on War in a Silver Spoon

“Men my age made this war.” Mr. Dawson in Dunkirk

Every man was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Miguel de Cervantes

I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, either, but, growing up, there were a lot of silver spoons on the table. Now Michele and I have some of those silver spoons and we use a couple of them every day. While I was polishing one of them last week, it got me thinking about where they came from and that lead me to think about our constant wars. My parents got divorced in 1956 or ’57 and my mother got the silver. When she died, in 1985, I got the silver. Sometime between those dates, my mother told me it was originally a wedding gift from a vendor who was a supplier to my Grandfather’s restaurant.

My Grandparents originally came to San Francisco from Hungry in the late 1890s and, in my personal family myth, at least, my grandfather, who was a tailor when he got here, always wanted to own a restaurant. He got the chance when an almost defunct restaurant, across from the Ferry Building in San Francisco, was put up for sale. When the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was finished in 1936, Ferry traffic had dropped way off and the businesses – like that restaurant almost across the street from the Ferry Building – also lost most of their traffic, allowing my grandfather to get a good deal. It was a good deal on a restaurant just limping along but then the world changed.

Again, in my personal mythology,  when the war started, ship yards all around the Bay Area started up and workers used the ferry system to get to the various shipyards that were now working 24 hours a day, every day. Bethlehem in Alameda and South San Francisco as well as San Francisco, Kaiser in Richmond – where they once built a Liberty Ship in five days, assembled from pre-made sections – the Navy Shipyards in Vallejo, in total about 60 ship yards that employed about 244,000 workers at their height of production. Many of those workers took the ferry boat to get to their jobs and business boomed at Stern’s Coffee House. Now, polishing the spoon, I began to think my timeline was off. My parents got married on New Year’s Eve, 1937 and a complete set of silver was a big present. Somebody, or several somebodies, must have been doing a lot of business with Stern’s to be able to justify a very expensive silver set as a gift. Business must have been very good even before the war; a lot of people must have been already working in ship yards around the bay.

That got me thinking, we have been taught – maybe not today, after all, people aren’t even taught about Dunkirk anymore, but when I was in school in the 50s – that the United States was foolishly isolationist, even though Roosevelt and other wise people wanted to go to war, they couldn’t talk the people into it. We were told that the war, for us, didn’t start until Pearl Harbor, but biz was good at Stern’s before that. What if it were today and I was not looking at it through the lens of knowing what will happen? I probably would have been against going to Europe again. It seems to me that, then when people didn’t know what we know now, the people who were at risk of dying in the war were much less interested in doing so than the people who send them and were going to profit from it. After all, in 1939, it had been just twenty-two years earlier, that over 116,000 Americans died in Europe and it didn’t seem to change a thing. But the elites, the people who owned ship yards and airplane factories, were already gearing up for the war. In the end, more than 180,000 Americas died fighting Hitler and very few people would claim it wasn’t worth it, certainly not the much smaller number that got silver spoons.

As an aside, Hitler was a good thing for war makers. First, Hitler justified every and any thing we did during the war; our strategic bombing campaign killed over 600,000 German civilians including an estimated 47,000 children with almost no drop in German production but that was lost in the greater horror of the Holocaust. Hitler justified our going into the war; today, nobody, with a straight face, can say that we shouldn’t have fought the Nazis. And, most disturbing in my book, Hitler justifies every war ever since. Anybody we don’t like gets compared to Hitler sooner or later and we have already agreed that fighting Hitler, saving the world from Hitler, is not an option. End aside.

Slipping into the future

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Michele and I have sort of slipped into the habit of using Google – and Apple on the other phone, and, sometimes, Waze – to show us the fastest route on even the shortest of trips, especially when it is rush hour (rush four hours?). At first, the results were a little surprising like when Google told us to go surface when we were driving up Highway 880 to Berkeley from the San Mateo Bridge – I didn’t and Google was right and we got stopped in an East Bay traffic jam – then the results became routine as Google routed us off the freeway and through residential neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Now, when freeway traffic is heavy and Google provides an alternative surface route, cars start to back up at the off-ramp and we follow three or four cars – with cars behind us – through a residential area or along a county road.

All of a sudden a quiet residential street can become somebody’s – lots of somebodies’ – fastest way home and that home may be twenty or thirty or forty miles away. Now, everybody has local knowledge and the real locals are starting to react. Some, especially in rich neighborhoods, are starting to petition their City and Town Councils to have one end of their streets blocked off. It seems that the best way for us to get somewhere is often not in the best interest of the people living in places that are on the way to that somewhere. The world has changed in a major way and the institutional antibodies are starting to kick in.

As an aside, I’ve heard somewhere that “medicine is not revolutionary; sanitation is revolutionary” is a Che quote and I have cheerfully quoted it ever since. Now I can’t find it on Google and I am starting to have my doubts so I’ll say Misquoting an alleged Che quote, ‘Computers are not revolutionary; smartPhones are revolutionary,’. Several years ago, Michele and I were walking through the outskirts of a rural village near Yangshuo – China – when a group of school kids appeared ahead of us on the trail. I’ve been in this situation dozens of times, kids in a dirt-road-poor village asking for pencils or candy, but these kids just waved and took pictures of us with their smartPhones. As an aside to the aside, when we were in China, we were offered iPhone knockoffs in about four flavors, the cheapest was just a phone and camera and the most expensive did everything a real iPhone could do. End aside to the aside. All over what we used to call the Third World people who have never had a landline phone or, even, electricity, are getting smartPhones. In rural Africa, places that have been off the grid for 10,000 years, people are getting solar cells for their roofs. In many cases, they are not powerful enough to run a refrigerator but they can run a signal light bulb and a cell phone charging port (if the family is rich enough, they can even get a small, cheap, low-power TV). With their cell phones, 15 million people in Kenya – using a Kenyan App, M-PESA – transfer money without walking to the nearest big village; with cell phones, farmers in India can now get weather forecasts; In Bangladesh, people look for and advertise jobs on CellBazaar; all over the world people are inventing their own Apps to fit their local conditions. According to The Economist, “Unesco pointed to data from the UN, which shows that of the seven billion people on earth, more than six billion now have access to a working mobile phone. ‘Collectively, mobile devices are the most ubiquitous information and communication technology in history….More to the point, they are plentiful in places where books are scarce.'” End of the aside.

Thinking about The Fall of Rome while Watching the Warriors win

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I should say “Watching the Warriors win a second time”, no, not watching them win their second Final – although It was also the second Final we saw them win –  but watching the Fifth Game a second time. I think, at this point, I have seen LeBron James in twenty-two games and I am willing to concede that he is the best player in the world. He can bring a passion and intensity to a game that is singular but that is still not enough to beat the Warriors.

The Warriors are a better team and at the end of the day, that is what counted.

I feel like I am just discovering Basketball after only following it peripherally and a couple of things that I most like are the intimacy, the player on player matchups that change as players are rotated, and the fact that Basketball keeps track of the assists a player makes. In Basketball, playing as a team with individuals making sacrifices for the greater good  – passing the ball to somebody who has a slightly better chance to make a basket rather than playing heroball – is rewarded and considered a virtue.

As I sat through the game a second time, I kept thinking about the Fall of Rome. It seems that as a country, we are doing the same things that I was taught had lead to the fall of Rome in the first place and we are distracted by, among other things, sports just like the corrupt Romans used the Games in the Colosseums all around their Empire. As I watched the game, all thoughts of Trump and the Congress destroying our country disappeared, I only had enough bandwidth to watch Curry and Durant do their magic.

Donald Trump and Michele’s theory of why we should burn coal

Zhangjiajie

China has eye-burning smog everywhere. When we were in China, in 2009, I think we only saw blue sky on one day. We thought we would see blue sky when we went to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park because it was pretty much out in the boonies – Zhangjiajie is a combination of Brice Canyon and Zion National Parks except that it has wild pink azaleas, roaming monkies, and Chinese food in little kiosks along the trail – and is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, but we never saw it with blue sky even after a two-day rain storm. Every day, my eyes burned and my nose ran. It was worse than when I lived in Los Angeles in the late 50s.

Because the smog is so bad in China, the pressure to reduce it is very high just like it was in Los Angeles in the 50s. Because the pollution is so visible, there is a massive lobby to get rid of sources of pollution and China has become a world leader in solar and wind power. In the US, because our sky looks so blue, the Clean-air Lobby is much weaker.

More and more we are burning Natural Gas. However, Natural Gas is still doing great damage to our environment. It is not as bad as coal – according to the Union of Concerned Scientists,  Natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) when combusted in a new, efficient natural gas power plant – but burning Natural Gas is still doing great damage to our planet. Michele thinks that we should burn coal, because, then, we would see the damage we are doing and increase our efforts to clean up.

Hillary and the Democratic Establishment are like Natural Gas, they have been undermining our Democracy and pay only minimal attention to the Environment. Trump is like coal, we really see the damage he is doing and that is mobilizing the opposition (or Resistance as San Francisco Magazine calls it). In that way, Trump may be the best thing that has happened to us.

 

Disruption

Disrupt

I was reading a review of The Founder and was taken by the comment that, like The Social Network and Steve Jobs, this movie is about disruption.  facebook, the iPhone, and McDonald’s all changed the world. Whether they are all good changes may be up for question but there is no question that they changed their world. In an article on disruption in business in the Harvard Business Review – that was linked in one of the reviews, I am not normally a HBR reader – and how to combat it, they say The first key to survival is understanding that big-bang disruptions differ from more-traditional innovations not just in degree but in kind….Once big-bang disrupters enter the market, it’s up, up, and away. They deliver surprise after surprise, thanks to three defining characteristics: unencumbered development, unconstrained growth, and undisciplined strategy….these innovations are often built out of readily available components that cost little or are free.

It seems to me that this describes Trump.