Twenty-twelve

For Londoners, those numbers mean only one thing: The Olympic Games. Sports are the last great area where humans have not succumbed to the digital dictator. True, there are magic eyes, such as Hawkeye in tennis, and sensors of all kinds, that improve the accuracy of human decisions, and the precision with which they’re measured.

Since it’s pretty stupid to argue with machines (they always win, because they won’t budge), it takes a good deal of emotion out of some sports, and ruins Monday morning quarterbacking. John Mcenroe-style tantrums on bad (and good) line calls are a thing of the past. Years ago, the ‘stupidity’ of computers was illustrated with a joke. A computer established that a watch that was stopped was preferable to one that lost a second a week. The one that was stopped hit the correct time twice a day.

Much of the stockmarket trading these days is determined by computer, which is an inevitable consequence of competition. Like performance-enhancing drugs in sports, the first time anyone used a computer to speed up trading, the others were left with no choice.  Like running in flippers. I was searching for a quote here and I came across Robin Williams doing his thing on Broadway. Couple of years back, when Michael Jackson was still around. I think it’ll start your day off properly. I love the comparison between New York tits and Las Vegas tits, but then I would. From the serious part, my favorite is Williams’ take on George W. Bush:

George came back from Japan and went: “I went to the Coyote Conference”

 – No, it’s Kyoto. – That’s a very good car.

Okay, now you’ve wiped the tears away, back to 2012. Modern warfare is not only mechanized, but thoroughly digitized. The enemy is literally getting droned to death. You can get a Masters Degree on the internet, and even in the internet. Of course, it has a virtual open day. The old academic concept of a sabbatical leave, where you would spend time at a laboratory in another country, meeting and working with people you would normally not have access to, has fallen by the wayside. The concepts of meeting, and of working with, have become digital. In many fields: music, art, science, warfare. I guess in warfare it’s more like working against.

I took a sabbatical to write The India Road, because it was the only way I could find the time, and it was a long-standing ambition. As you get older, you don’t want to delay your burning ambitions too much. You either do the damn thing, or learn to forget about it. Otherwise you’ll be a miserable old person. And it’s bad enough to be old without being miserable as well. I’ve been struggling to write a second book, but only on weekends. The first draft for the preface was written in April 2010, and over the Christmas break I hit 90,000 words. That’s about the same length as The India Road, but this one will have more pages, because it has much more dialog. And a very different subject matter.

The thing I learnt when I finished the first book was that there are always two drafts. Paraphrasing Churchill, the first draft is the end of the beginning. So now this first one is finished, I have the second draft to deal with. When that’s done, it’ll be the beginning of the end. Then will come the interesting (in the Chinese curse sense of ‘may you live in interesting times’) part of finding a publisher who thinks it’s worth it. Maybe it’ll become an e-book. I just don’t know.

And 2012 will bring some realizations to Americans and Europeans which I don’t believe are yet part of our way of thinking. In Portugal, most people have never believed in an El Dorado, The Wizard of Oz’s Yellow Brick Road. Despite what the Germans think, Portugal, like Ireland and Italy, is used to hard work. That’s why the Portuguese immigrants, who lived in the slums of Paris euphemistically known as bidonvilles, were prized for their productivity and their craftsmanship.

The Portuguese post-war diaspora. People were running from poverty, and later from the African wars. Clockwise from top: dockworkers in Austerlitz (1950), ironworkers at the Tour de Montparnasse (1972), bidonville family (1964), immigrant bedroom in a Paris slum (1956)

The Portuguese blog from which the pictures were taken also shows the men lining up for water, and other images which the Europe of today associates only with developing countries. And anyone from Ireland or Italy can find similar pictures. New York was built with Irish hands, Italian hands, and many others. All the big cities in the world were built by slaves. It’s always been a giant pyramid scheme (sorry).

Around Christmas time last year, a friend told me he had figured out what the European issue was. In particular, he thought Portugal would only recover when people in this country earned the same as the Chinese. And he heartily supports Chinese wage increases. European countries are all discovering they share the same problems. Just like with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, better known as mad cow disease or BSE, the only countries that didn’t have it were the ones that didn’t look for it. Contrary to what the CNBC pundits say, there is no contagion.

The prion is already there; in some cases, it just hasn’t been discovered yet. But it will be. In Europe, including the U.K., and throughout the developed world. In nature, the trade concept doesn’t exist, much less global trade. Fat crocodiles don’t import fish to their particular lake at the expense of poorly fed crocs elsewhere. By definition, human carrying capacity on this planet is a global concept, because globalization is a complex highway interchange, not a one-way street.

What 2012 will bring is an increased understanding that western life is unsustainable, because we always want, and already have, too much. The only practical ways we can change that is to reduce our needs, or to take what we want from others. We can do that by borrowing or stealing it, which is what happens now to differing degrees, or by killing and seizing―a well established human tradition, from Genghis Khan to the Belgian Congo.

We will also slowly understand that corporations are vastly more important than governments, and now very much control government. Lobbying is only one of several mechanisms used for that purpose. Even in democratic countries, ordinary citizens are electing only those who are part of interest groups, and therefore the deck is already stacked. Think Santorum. What an excellent name!

Finally, we will begin to accept that the new balance in affluence and living standards is here to stay. Knowledge is a positive sum game. So is love.  And laughter, when you laugh with someone. But economics is just resource management applied to human beings. Like sports, it’s a zero sum game. Someone wins, someone loses.

2011 was like losing a lover―or losing a leg. Everyone was confused,  disbelieving, and angry. In 2012 we’re going to learn to enjoy hopping.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

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