Sunday, May 04, 2008

Rediscovery For a Change

There are limits to dumbness:
  • This weekend I've been at a family reunion in Marin County in honor of my brother's father-in-law Murray Kaufman's 90th birthday. If I were a media anchor I would call him a great American. Murray was a leftist CCNY student in the 1930s, in the US Army in France in World War II, was a printer in New York before becoming a high school teacher in Rossalyn on Long Island, where among many other things he coached the tennis teams and started one of the country's first high school curricula in environmental studies. Murray has never stopped fighting against unfairness and screw jobs in all their stupid forms. This is why his example is so important, why his company is such a pleasure, and why he has lived so long.
  • I was in Oaxaca during the Obama-Jeremiah follies, where the media finally figured out how to play the race card - the ghost of panther-nationalism. I haven't had time to write about Oaxaca properly. We visited about a dozen frontyard, backyard, and cottage workshops of every kind. Some people make high-end crafts for tourists, some make art so expressive and direct it is hard to imagine it coming from the United States. Some get up before dawn to make animal characters they've invented out of pieces of scrap wood that they spend 12 hours in the local market trying to sell for the equivalent of 2-3 dollars or so. Nobody in the US who doesn't know how the Oaxaca half lives should ever lecture about entrepreneurship again.
  • Meanwhile, a vacation did Tom Friedman good. He's got a sense of our royal American screw-ups much deeper than before. Maybe he's less screened by the effects of his regular diet of CEO kool-aid. He even borrows a title from an old book by one of the country's best business journalists, the Nation's William Greider ("Who Will Tell the People" - that their leaders' dumb ideas have sunk them). Here he is: "millions of Americans are dying to be enlisted — enlisted to fix education, enlisted to research renewable energy, enlisted to repair our infrastructure, enlisted to help others. Look at the kids lining up to join Teach for America. They want our country to matter again." That's a good start. He spoils it a bit by adding that America's Youth want it to "be about building wealth and dignity — big profits and big purposes. When we just do one, we are less than the sum of our parts. When we do both, said Shriver, 'no one can touch us.'" Well, no. The big stuff - teaching, research, invention, change - isn't about winning. You can't measure progress with profits. The search for profits is what has largely destroyed our search for purposes. But at least Friedman is starting to see what happened to the country while he was drinking the CEO drink.

No comments: