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Under Construction
A display in an office building in Oakland.

March 23, 2007

With Open Arms
Thursday. One of those excellent days you move to the Bay Area to experience: the temperature in the low 70's, a cool breeze that makes you want to sit outside at a table over lunch and watch the people go by, a camera at your feet, but ready enough if the photograph of a lifetime just happens to materialize. There was the office, of course, but there's always the office. I talk too much about the office. Or not enough.

Friday. The week is done and I am done, but not done in from what I'm able to determine. A Guinness draft (a very good Guinness draft) at Max's with the usual crew, some progress on the project I'm wrapped up in at the office, but not enough to avoid coming in on Sunday. Thus is life.

Today they informed a number of people at the company, who were scheduled to “get the package” and leave at the end of April, they were being extended for a few months, some more, some less. Evidently they're finding they can't easily replace people with our particular skills and, whether “here” or “over there”, they're not cheap or abundant. Maybe that's true, maybe that's wishful thinking on our part, irreplaceable bastards that we are, but the business side is more than worried about the IT errors that have been costing us money and business since all this started.

If they had any idea how close we'd come to real disaster with the data center move they'd shit. Well, that's too crude, but they would have been sleeping less well if they'd known the realities. Maybe that's true everywhere out there whether you're conducting a business or a government: you go through periods of stupidity and eventually you sort it out or you're bought by someone more profitable and theoretically less ignorant who will turn your company around by bringing in a Plan B and firing the incompetents.

Isn't that pretty much the issue with Iraq? Has our current government figured out how really badly they've fucked up and are they actively formulating a Plan B when Iraq goes south? You don't just pull up stakes and put everyone on a bus for Fort Benning. You don't leave the Middle East to twist in the wind, you do some serious contingency planning on a fairly large scale to go over the options with a mind set that says we've been doing this very wrong, how do we do it right? Planning on this scale would be hard to hide from insiders and insiders are saying they're not hearing anything is being done.

Large organizations - large companies like ours, really large companies (perhaps like yours) and gargantuan unimaginably large organizations like governments - seem to go through cycles where they get it right and everything is wonderful and then they hunker down and over time become too comfortable and begin taking longer lunches and giving themselves larger bonuses to the detriment of their businesses. Companies, even monopolies (sometimes, anyway), eventually run up against the fact they have to turn a profit and so some bite the bullet and come up with a Plan B, make changes and survive and some stay in denial and get eaten by the competition. A company, at least, ultimately has to make something or provide something that people will buy or it will get the chop. Governments seem to play by similar rules.

The rationale for Iraq turns out to have not only been wrong but good at adding strength to the “other side”, thus the need for a national debate to shift gears and make new plans. They say democracies are good at “working it out”. We squabble, we debate, but eventually we come to consensus and take care of business with a focus a non-democratic society can't approach. This crap about Guantanamo Bay and the CIA “rendering” people to prisons in places too bad to be imagined, for example. How much farther can you get off the track?

So we fell to fear and lack of courage after 9-11. It happens. Get over it. We tout the “rule of law”. Because it sounds good when times are good and it doesn't demand sacrifice? Do we really believe a pluralistic democratic society operating under the rule of law can't cut it when the fighting starts? Do we have to turn into “them” in order to survive? Did the people who led us into this war really understand our core set of values and they simply gave in to fear and turned tail or did they ever believe in our core values in the first place? Don't know. Doesn't matter. Time to fix it.

I've watched and listened, as anyone my age may have watched and listened, to what we've done overseas in the name of honor and glory over these last fifty years. Our “operations” in South America, particularly, always made me wonder. How can we do the things we're doing right next door, killing and maiming so many people, and not have it come back one day to haunt us? There were those who raised their voices - it would hit the radar sometimes when, say, Reagan's Irangate operations were revealed - but to no avail because, I think, there really didn't seem to be any consequences. You overthrow a government, you train foreign soldiers in the “techniques” of managing a population, you help them kill a lot of innocent people and nobody comes knocking looking for payback. OK. They've come knocking. We have to be more tactful when we support a dictatorship or rape a nation. We'll figure it out.

My own company's current state of mismanagement? They'll work it out. And if they don't, well, I'll have long since retired. Our government? If they don't figure it out? Well, I hear there's lots of room in Mexico these days. I'm sure they'll welcome us with open arms.

The photograph was taken of a display in an office building in Oakland with a Nikon D2Xs mounted with a 105mm f 2.8 Nikkor lens at 1/60th second, f 2.8, ISO 640.