“I don’t quite understand about understanding poetry. I experience poems with pleasure….” — John Ashbery

Me either. I don’t understand most of the poems I read. But they make me happy or sad, or thoughtful, or inspired, or excited, or depressed. I’m excited at a word used in a new way or a phrase that you just can’t forget—like “April is the cruelest month” or “darkness at the break of noon shadows even the silver spoon.” Wait. What?

But since my freshman rhetoric professor explained that poetry is a most efficient language form, accomplishing what prose might take hours and pages to do, I began to not care any more about whether I understood. I just let it happen in me.

I’ve always thought that his poetry in this sense is what distinguishes Dylan from being just another 60’s rock star—and one reason why he deserves his Nobel—not that poets need us to understand their poetry.

warriors

Guy Cicero —  05/21/2019 — Leave a comment

The Golden State Warriors professional basketball team have just won their conference title in four games straight in a best-of-seven series. They and individual team members are breaking certain historical records as they win their way through the playoffs. What’s unusual is that they’re winning despite playing without the member that most commentators say is possibly the best player today in the league, that is to say, the best professional basketball player in the world. I don’t remember that this has ever happened before.

Like most people, I suspect, I’m not a big pro basketball fan. But I do love a good team. What I’ve loved about watching the Warriors is the sheer beauty of what they do on the court. Unlike any other team I see playing, they dribble, pass, and shoot the basketball as a unit—an organic thing—a melodic, harmonic ensemble like a string quintet. A single purpose—to win—a shared vision. A flow, a symbiosis. A sharing unselfishness thing going on. When they are in this mode, this groove, they are beautiful.

Lessons here for teams of all kinds.

I have been in and out of book publishing since the 1970s. Now I help independent authors to self-publish….

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The Sword of God (John Milton #5)The Sword of God by Mark Dawson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no denying Mark Dawson’s tremendous skill at spinning a yarn that drags you along through each threat, cliff hanger, and brush with death until the rescued are safe, the hero is restored, the relationships resolved, and your curiosity about Milton’s next adventure locked and loaded. I’ve read Miltons one through five now in fairly short order, a testament to that curiosity and his skills. Having said this, I am a mildly piqued by another feature of this and other Milton titles: a lack of attention to certain contextual details. In The Sword of God, Milton is rudely interupted as he journeys across Michigan’s Upper Peninsulaby the misadventures of a radical-right militia brigade intent on mayhem. For no obvious reason, two references are made to the times of Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) and both are incorrect. In the first, hikers come upon an old car rusting away in the woods. Someone refers to the car as a Model A Ford, from the days when T.R. was president (1901-1909). The 1928 Model A was introduced in 1927, eight years after T.R. died. The author probably intended the car to be a Model T (1903-1927). In another reference, a character’s father is said to have served in T.R.’s Rough Riders. This could only have been in 1898, making the father much too old to be the person described as the character’s dad. In The Driver, Milton #3, freeways are referenced as a Southern Californian would, as in “the 101” (rather than just “101” or “Bayshore”). No self-respecting Bay Area resident would say “the 101” or “Frisco,” also used, in referring to San Francisco. I can’t say that these errors have cost Dawson a single sale or fan. Looking quickly through the reviews of Dawson #5, I don’t see that anyone else picked up on the Model A and T.R. references. I’m just being a stickler for accuracy, I know, but this type of error makes me pause and becomes a countervailing force to the magnetism propelling me along in the story. Nonetheless and sufficiently primed by the author, I am ready to start #6!

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The Defector by Daniel Silva

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In his Author’s Note, Mr. Silva describes at length the research and expertise he consulted in writing The Defector. His diligence effort yields both and encouragement and the heebie-jeebies for readers watching the world scene unfold. I very much appreciate the work he put into telling a great yarn while educating us on the story behind Russian behavior since the fall of the Wall in 1989. In light of our current president’s ambivalence, at best, about Russia and its leader, The Defector reminds us of things we should not forget about the past 25 years of US-Russian relations. We Boomers should be chagrined at the extent of our unfounded relief and naive hopes in the 90s at the conclusion of the Cold War. We grew up with “Now I’ve learned to hate the Russians, throughout my whole life. If another war comes, it’s them we must fight.”–Bob Dylan, Masters of War, 1963. Yet, we should also school ourselves in Russian history and culture, which show clearly the Russian tendency to autocracy, other failed attempts at democracy, generations of crushing poverty and the oppression of dissent, and amazing courage in defense of the Motherland. All this and much more informs our understanding of Russia as we have observed her since Silva wrote The Defector in 2008. And this is not the only arena in our recent international political history that Silva has helped us know and ponder better. Am looking forward to continuing he Gabriel Allon series and my education.

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…every which-a-way. (The Coasters, 1957)

When we were all just first hearing about the “web” in the early 90s, I worked in the software business in Palo Alto, California, then and now the heart of Silicon Valley. Tim Berners-Lee had invented the World Wide Web (aka www.) and Univeral Resource Locators (url’s) as a way to find documents stored away in large-scale database networks.

Innovators in the Valley and elsewhere rushed headlong into search engine research and started businesses as fast as they could. In 1994 or so, a front-runner was WAIS (ways), or Wide Area Information Systems in Menlo Park. A colleague and I watched as the WAIS founders demo’d a search engine we thought we might want to embed in our enterprise software development system to help find code and other bits hidden away on corporate hard drives.

Later, but still before Google, the dad of our son’s friend showed us Surfwax, with its “practical tools for harnessing today’s information.” It was another search engine cum research system looking for a natural audience and a ticket to the big time. And there were many others. Search engine technology leveraged earlier work in artificial intelligence and decision support systems. Everything has roots.

Within a few years, Google gave us its eminently simple front end that worked to let us discover the exploding universe of resources we might locate, and a behemoth was born.

 

 

 

We can’t go back to the days when most of America worked in manufacturing. Ubiquitous computing, robotics, globalization, wage-pressure, massive productivity increases, and being way behind the 8-ball on job re-training all mean we can’t re-create the American job market of the decades from the 1870’s to the 1970’s.

However, we can do a heck of lot better than we have been doing over the last thirty years to encourage our economy to maintain a healthy diversity, preserve American middle-classism for the many who don’t have the ability or the time left in their lives to become big data analysts, coders, video game designers, or medical concierges.

Witness a piece on CBS 60 Minutes about how a guy in Mississippi is a one-man chamber of commerce and has brought manufacturing jobs back to the Golden Triangle region there. Sort of a 21st century Horace Greeley.

 

M&A

Guy Cicero —  06/13/2018 — Leave a comment

My first grown-up job out of the Army was to work as a researcher for a mergers & acquisitions (M&A) consulting firm based in McLean (home to the CIA), Virginia. Our clients were large New York and American Stock Exchange, publicly-listed companies bent on growing their earnings bases by acquiring other companies. My job was to identify every business, usually in the USA, that fit the ideal prospect profile—usually $10-20 million in sales with strong profitability and growth prospects—call their presidents, and ask them all sorts of nosey questions about their financials on behalf of a client I couldn’t name. After a while, I actually got good at this. My work product was a “one-page report” that usually went to 4-6 pages and provided basic info that our “closer” could take to the client and try to arrange a “first meeting.” Our compensation consisted almost entirely of closing bonuses we recevied when a deal we started actually happened. My pay consisted of a monthly check for about $350 plus these bonuses. In four-and-a-half years I got two, totally about $15,000. I was rich.

NOTE: $10-20 million in sales equates to maybe ten times that now. My tools were a telephone, a yellow pad and pen, and the Dunn & Bradstreet directories, and I spent abot 40 hours a week dialing for dollars. I would turn over my draft reports to a typist, and off we went toward a first meeting.

These days, I take special interest in news about anticipated and actual mergers and acquisition such as the merger of AT&T and Time Warner. These cause me no particular concern, in contrast to many commentators who seem to see it as their mission to right the wrongs of business concentration and the formation of behemoth companies bent on taking over their markets. Wouldn’t any business owner do just the same given the chance?

community

Guy Cicero —  11/03/2017 — Leave a comment

Last evening, we heard a David Brooks lecture nearby that confirmed our appreciation for what he says and how he says it. We’re big fans. He gave a preview of his next book, an assessment of, among other things, what needs to happen to make it through our current “slough of despond” to our next phase as a culture and community. As usual, he draws a compelling conclusion based on solid history and analysis, and delivered with humor and accessibility.

The “we’re all in this together” generation that fought and emerged humbled from World War II yielded in the 60s to the “free to be you and me” generation that in the 80s and 90s spawned the “what does anything mean?” generation. We parents said “be free” and “go be you.” Be free to do what, exactly? They are yearning to know who they are; they are lonely and unconnected to institutions and beliefs of the past. And it’s not their fault. The imperative for their futures is to become embedded in communities, causes, relationships that they will commit to and build their lives in and around.

Brooks says he now understands that the 2016 election wasn’t about the usual big government/small government issue that has characterized the essence of the Democratic and Republican philosophies since forever. 2016 was about the growing gap between those who are relatively globalistic, progressive, forward-looking and technology-enabled (generally college-educated) and others who are relatively protectionistic, reactionary, tradition-bound and technology-phobic (generally high-school educated). I sensed this schism as early as the 80s in Silicon Valley as I participated in building the new world and read on the news about the dissolution of the steel and other industries in the rust belt. The divided forces of progress and regress were catalyzed by Trump, for and against, and in the end, guess what? A wrinkle in our election rules, which are unlike any other country’s election rules, allowed the underdogs to carry the day. (I mean here the combined impact of generations of gerrymandering, the edge effects of the electoral college system, and the aggregated disenchantment of lots and lots of voters, for a variety of reasons.)

New communities need forming based on new ideas about proximity. Who is my friend and neighbor? After 42 years of moving, staying awhile, and moving on, from one coast to the other and then to the middle, my wife and I are only really proximate, connected and committed, to people and groups that are far away, Facebook friends and family, and not the next-door neighbors. But I remain optimistic about it all. Recent tragedies, man-made and nature-borne have shown every time that people do feel connected, that they will create, almost instantaneously, communities of help and support, where none existed minutes before. At the crucial moments, we are suddenly all in this together, again.

bookends

Guy Cicero —  10/31/2017 — Leave a comment

I’ve been a Bob Dylan fan since the release of his second album, Freewheelin’. I was 15. Last Friday, I attended my fifth (only) Dylan concert and the third in Chicago. It was a fitting bookend to my first two concerts in 1963 and 1965.

On December 27, 1963, Dylan was all blue jeans and acoustic at Chicago Orchestra Hall. The Times They Are A’Changin’ had just been released, so this was at the height of his folk period. Coming five weeks after the JFK assassination, the concert was a profound palliative for a traumatized teen-aged spirit needing reassurance.

On November 26, 1965, at the old Aerie Crown theater at McCormick Place, it was a very different vibe and result. The first half of the concert was acoustic. When the curtain opened on the second half, there was the band (The Band) and Dylan in sharkskin with a Fender electric.