Sunday, September 28, 2008

Yes, Bill Ford: We Still Matter

Bill Ford , the Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company, where I work as a lawyer, wrote an op-ed piece this week in the Detroit Free Press entitled “Why Manufacturing Still Matters”. Bill (that may be presumptuous; I’m the type that if I were to be introduced to him in the hall or in a meeting could only address him as Mr. Ford) raises a critical topic that not only would the candidates for President do well to seriously contemplate and make a central theme of their campaigns, but something that every one of us should take to heart. While making a strong case for the importance of the automotive industry to the American economy in general and Ford’s role in particular, I think what he’s really saying is that the American way of life is in jeopardy.

Our obsession to buy the most stuff at the cheapest prices has, like most addictions, inflicted what may be permanent damage on the quality of life in America. We have put our individual selves above the well being of the community, the commonweal , at the cost of not having anyone to help us, when we get thrown out of job, because it’s been outsourced to a lower cost country. With the vast educational resources at our disposal, it flabbergasts me that so many of us have failed to make the causal link between buying stuff dirt cheap and the loss of decent paying jobs here at home. If we’re not willing to pay the price of goods and services performed by our next-door neighbors, how can we have any reasonable expectation to continue to hold our own jobs with the wages and benefits that we’ve come, if we’re honest with ourselves, to regard as entitlements.

In his opinion piece, Bill makes an allusion to how the people of other countries behave with respect to their own economies that I think deserves some explication. In many other countries, national pride and loyalty are not just topics of conversation, but something they do every day, by buying goods and relying on services that are produced locally. To be sure, the governments of some countries, such as Japan or Korea, have institutionally reinforced this preference with trade barriers and domestic advantages that violate their international commitments to liberalized trade, but I do believe that even if every one of those barriers was removed and the governments even went so far as to promote the “benefits” of buying foreign goods, we wouldn’t see much difference in their behaviors, because consciously articulated or not, I think these people “get it” that they will prosper if they take care of themselves and that their individual well-being is in the hands of the collective well-being.

As we Americans contemplate having to make serious cut-backs in our household budgets, think how nice it would be to be able to borrow a movie or book on DVD from the local public library instead of buying or even renting it. But, in many places, we can’t, because we’ve refused to pay taxes or authorize bonds that would pay for decent budgets. That’s what Bill Ford was talking about: we face the prospect of waking up some day and finding that we live in a structure surrounded by a bunch of other structures, and not a neighborhood in our town in our country in our state in our country. To me, that matters.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Here's to You, Jim Crumley

Jim Crumley died this week and those of us who place value on literature suffered a great loss. I can say that I knew Jim, but I can’t say that I knew him well enough to know whether or not he would remember me. He was my instructor in a course of Detective Fiction at the Yellow Bay Writers’ Conference on the shores of Flathead Lake in Montana in 1990. I was and remain a devoted fan and would-be writer of the hard-boiled detective genre. Jim was a master of that genre and the degree of his accomplishment place in the first ranks of great American writers. I’m not saying anything new, but “The Last Good Kiss” may be the last good American novel.

I drank with Jim and Bill Kittredge, who had known Jim forever it seemed, and Martha Elizabeth, who I think had met Jim pretty recently, and most of the rest of our class and the woman who became my wife, all of whom were meeting Jim for the first time. But, I remember, accurately or not, that it seemed as if Jim had known each of us all equally long. I suppose that quality was in large part what made him a great writer.

We talked. We talked about a lot of things: writing, of course, books, naturally, drinking, obviously, ourselves, what else. And we drank. One night, we heard a line that if it had been written would have probably been edited out as improbable nonsense: “There’s no more beer.” There wasn’t. We had drained every last drop at the conference center. And so we did the only logical, but not necessarily the most sensible, thing. We all piled into cars and drove up the road to the Sitting Duck, where the talking and drinking continued. Yes, we were living one of Jim's books.

I was falling in love with a woman who’d come to the conference. But was falling in love in the messy, emotion riddled way I (and many others, but I’m not them) did. In addition to advice on writing and sharing stories about a bar near Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, where I had grown up, and Jim had an ex-wife and kids, Jim and Martha gave me advice on the immediate affair of my heart. They knew what they were about and, maybe, I was a good student. I pursued her after we got back to the City and now we’ve been married for going on 15 years. It’s a good thing Carrie doesn’t know anything about Milo or Sughrue, because our life together too many times seems to be an episode from one of their cases. Or maybe, she does know, and just lets me fool myself into thinking she doesn’t. However that may be, much of my life came about because I went to a writers’ conference and was taught by Jim Crumley. Here’s to you, my friend.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Remembering 9/11

Ford’s General Counsel, David Leitch, who happens to be my top boss, has created a blog for the office. Only the General Counsel and his direct reports can make posts, but the rest of us are encouraged to make comments on the posts. His post for Thursday, September 11, 2008 was essentially a lament that “9/11” had become just another day, that he feared we are forgetting the horror of that day, and more important that we may be forgetting, or so I understood his post to suggest, the evil we were called to combat that day. The post even had some nostalgia for some of the things that happened after those planes crashed into the World Trade towers and the Pentagon, such as Parisians singing the “Star Spangled Banner” in front of the Arc de Triomphe. I really respect David; he’s done great things for our company and I hope he will stay on, because Ford needs him, but on this I have to say that he got it wrong.

First of all, I can’t imagine many, if any, Americans being able to forget 9/11, even as much as many of us may wish, even every day, to do. Everyone who flies gets a memory jog when we have to remember all the things we can’t take with us, such as nail clippers and a corkscrew and now even a bottle of water. And then, we have to practically disrobe just to get through the security gate. But, maybe that’s either obvious or petty or maybe both. There are more significant reminders of 9/11: we’re much more aware of the Middle East and how big a ‘thing’ Islam is in the world, although I fear that what we think we know of these is poisonously tainted by the view that Arabs and Muslims were the same as the terrorists that actually perpetrated that horrific act of cowardice on that all too memorable day. And then, there are many of us who cannot forget all of the things that happened after 9/11, but will never understand the connection between 9/11 and its supposed progeny: the war in Iraq (this is an opinion piece that appeared in the Washington Post on the true cost of the Iraq war), the Department of Homeland Security, unilateralism as US foreign policy (including lashing out at those same Parisians and most of the rest of the Continental Europeans as “Old Europe”, because they dared not join US on our own jihad) are just a few examples that come to mind.

But, in the end I was personally offended that someone could think that people he works with don’t have the same thoughts or place the same importance on historical events that he does. I, for one, looked out the window at home and thought that the weather that day, which was simply glorious, a day in which one could only think the best of thoughts, was exactly the same sort of day it was on September 11, 2001. I found myself praying that something awful wouldn’t happen, again. And, I dared to hope that we might all return to a time, when a September 11 could be appreciated and remembered for the day it was on that day, and not some terrible day in history. It made me think that “a day which will live in infamy”, December 7, 1941, the day that the Japanese attacked (and all but destroyed) Pearl Harbor, is for the most part today, just 18 more shopping days before Christmas, which to me is the truest sign of our “victory” in World War II and the goal we should all have in the war on terror that was declared on 9/11.