Author Archive: Eamonn Fitzgerald
Ex-pat Irishman keeping an eye on the world from the Bavarian side of the Alps.
“A chair is the first thing you need when you don’t really need anything, and is therefore a peculiarly compelling symbol of civilization. For it is civilization, not survival, that requires design.” — Ralph Caplan
The art of design is the theme of Abstract, an documentary series from Netflix that starts on 10 February. The eight episodes will profile a designer at the top of their discipline: architect Bjarke Ingels, automotive designer Ralph Gilles, illustrator Christoph Niemann, interior designer Ilse Crawford, graphic designer Paula Scher, photographer Platon, stage designer Es Devlin and shoe designer Tinker Hatfield.
“So that’s our approach. Very simple, and we’re really shooting for Museum of Modern Art quality. The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: ‘Let’s make it simple. Really simple.’ Apple’s design mantra would remain the one featured on its first brochure: ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.'” — Steve Jobs
The plight of the elites last week was summed up in this headline: “Distraught Davos finds globalisation saviour in China’s Xi.” The cause of the relief was the fact that Xi Jinping had become the first Chinese leader to address the World Economic Forum in the swish Swiss resort. His endorsement of globalization saw him instantly crowned as a kind of anti-Trump, but those bestowing the title made no mention chabuduo.
James Palmer is a British writer and the author of The Death of Mao: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Birth of the New China. He lives in Beijing and he’s very knowledgeable in that which Western boosters of China do not wish to discuss: chabuduo. The word means “close enough” and, says Palmer, “It’s a phrase you’ll hear with grating regularity, one that speaks to a job 70 per cent done, a plan sketched out but never completed, a gauge unchecked or a socket put in the wrong size. Chabuduo is the corrosive opposite of the impulse towards craftmanship, the desire, as the sociologist Richard Sennett writes in The Craftsman (2008), “to reject muddling through, to reject the job just good enough”. Chabuduo implies that to put any more time or effort into a piece of work would be the act of a fool. China is the land of the cut corner, of “good enough for government work.”
In his article for Aeon magazine, “Chabuduo! Close enough …,” James Palmer offers many terrifying examples of how chabuduo affects those unable to enjoy Davos:
“Mr Cha Buduo doesn’t understand why he misses trains by arriving at 8:32 instead of 8:30, or why his boss gets angry when he writes 1,000 instead of 10, or why Iceland is different from Ireland. He falls ill and sends for Dr Wãng, but ends up getting Mr Wáng, the veterinarian, by mistake. Yet as he slips away, he is consoled by the thought that life and death, after all, are close enough.”
As Davos Man confronted the Trumpocalypse over canapés, chabuduo was not on the menu. It’s a fact of life, and death, for Xi Jinping’s subjects, however.Tweet
Amy Chang is betting that her app, Accompany, can replace the PA (Personal Assistant) many executives employ to manage their complicated schedules and lives. By the way, PA is undergoing a professional and linguistic update right now and the main contenders for the new title are Executive Assistant and, Amy Chang’s own favourite, Chief-of-Staff. With its hints of martial hierarchy, authority and White House glamour, Chief-of-Staff should emerge as the winner.
Back to Accompany. It’s marketing itself as an intelligent Chief of Staff and its goal is provide an automated briefing with all the information you need before you walk into a meeting. This includes relevant files, e-mail conversations with participants, details about their lives pulled from the web and up-to-date information on company performance. This is already a crowded space and Accompany will have to battle with apps such as Clara, Tempo and Charlie, but as Matthew Lynley pointed out last month in TechCrunch, Amy Chang is in the money: “Digital chief-of-staff app Accompany raises $20M and launches a UK Beta.”Tweet
“A good receptionist should have certain characteristics: helpful, friendly, organized. But do they need to be human?” That was the question posed in Davos, where the future of work was debated with an increasing intensity during the past few days. The elites will do fine in the robotic revolution but they could still lose their sinecures, and more, if those dispossessed of jobs and dignity rise up against their new overlords.
Michael Marczewski is a motion designer based in London and working at ManvsMachine. His “Vicious Cycle” clip, which features a group of autonomous robots performing a range of repetitive functions, is fitting for this post-Davos moment because it ponders what might happen if the demands become unbearable for the robots. The music is by Marcus Olsson, one half of Kungen & Hertigen, a sound team based in Stockholm and Eksjö. The other half is Staffan Gustafsson.Tweet
The Trump transition ends this morning and the Trump presidency begins this afternoon. How will it go? No one knows because leadership is so often determined by what British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan called “Events, dear boy, events.” Still, even if the coming four years disappoint friend and foe alike, Americans should be grateful to Donald Trump for one thing: ending dynastic politics, at least until 2020.
If Hillary Clinton had won last November, four of the last five US presidents would have come from two families: Bush and Clinton. In early 2016, so many of the then “respected” pundits predicted that the White House race would come down to another Clinton v. Bush run off and cynical Europeans took great delight in claiming this regular swapping of the top job between two connected families exposed the rot at the heart of American democracy. They were right. The election of Donald Trump has put an end to that. We wish him well in the difficult days ahead.Tweet
In one of the most surreal moments of these strange times, the Columbia Journalism Review yesterday published “An open letter to Trump from the US press corps” written by a person called Kyle Pope. With no apparent sense of irony, Pope declared, “We will set higher standards for ourselves than ever before.” After eight years of White House press sycophancy, this absurd statement can only be greeted with laughter.
Tom Kuntz is the opposite of Kyle Pope: realistic, honest, serious. His “Trump vs. Media Is Much More Than Meets the Eye” for Real Clear Investigates explains that it’s not just the mainstream media that will be going to war with Donald Trump. The shock troops of the Fourth Estate gathering in Washington are part of regiments with names such Old and Blue, New and Blue, Red and New and Old and Red. Snippets:
“Aside from obvious factors — the mainstream media’s liberal leanings and Trump’s Twitter-centric, anti-elitist combativeness — this perfect storm of presidential-press combustibility reflects a striking transformation of the media landscape since the last White House transition, to President Obama in 2009.
The resulting dynamics seem a fair bet to make Richard Nixon’s relationship with the press in the Watergate era look like a lovefest by comparison.
Every President has faced a press filled with sympathizers and skeptics. Trump may be the first in modern times to face serious fire from all sides. This has as much to do with rapidly evolving media as it does with the man.”
One of the most puzzling things for the sycophantic media of the Obama era is the role technology played in the stunning electoral success of Donald Trump. The obsequious White House press bet the farm on Hillary Clinton winning the ultimate prize with the aid of her Silicon Valley pals, but despite all their money and all their coding, the nerds couldn’t get the “popular” candidate over the line. Instead, on Friday, it’s the Republican who will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States.
Much has been made of the part played by Cambridge Analytica in Trump’s victory, but it’s Peter Thiel who excites the wounded media most. How could a gay board member of Facebook so betray his sexual orientation and venture capitalist class? That question has been posed ad nauseum since 10 November and in an attempt to get the definitive answer, one of the heaviest media artillery pieces, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, was moved into position a week ago. “Peter Thiel, Trump’s Tech Pal, Explains Himself” was how her effort was headlined and it’s a lengthy read with lots of detail: “… Mr. Thiel, wearing a gray Zegna suit and sipping white wine in a red leather booth at the Monkey Bar in Manhattan.”
However, the inability of Dowd and her pals to grasp what’s happened can be found at the very end of the article in this exchange:
“I ask him how Mr. Trump, who is still putting out a lot of wacky, childish tweets, has struck him during the transition. Isn’t he running around with his hair on fire?”
“The hair seems fine,” Mr. Thiel says. “Mr. Trump seems fine.”
Reading Maureen Dowd’s article is not a complete waste of time. Consider this: “One could have predicted Mr. Thiel’s affinity for Mr. Trump by reading his 2014 book, Zero to One, in which he offers three prongs of his philosophy:
1) It is better to risk boldness than triviality.
2) A bad plan is better than no plan.
3) Sales matter just as much as product.”
What Dowd terms “his philosophy” seems to work. Mr. Thiel is a billionaire.Tweet
“Eight Was Enough” says Peter Wehner, a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The fact that he said it at the weekend in the New York Times suggests that the Great Denial, which has gripped the paper since 9 November last year, may be coming to and end. Snippet:
“To make matters worse, the Obama presidency has been characterized by injurious incompetence, in particular with regard to his signature achievement, Obamacare. The unveiling of the website was a disaster, and the promises the president made — that Americans could keep their doctors and plans if they chose to — were false. Mr. Obama guaranteed lower insurance costs to families and lower health costs to the taxpayer; instead, costs rose. Several of the state-run exchanges appear to be headed for collapse.
Overseas, the Obama years have been defined by spreading disorder and chaos, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, with nations collapsing and borders dissolving. More terrorist safe havens have been established than ever before. Russia and China have become more aggressive and significantly increased their geopolitical influence. America is now held in brazen contempt by our enemies and mistrusted by many of our allies.
Yet in some respects the greatest failure of the Obama years is in the area where many people thought he would excel. Mr. Obama made the centerpiece of his 2008 campaign a promise to end a politics that ‘breeds division and conflict and cynicism.’ In February of that year, I praised him for “a message that, at its core, is about unity and hope rather than division and resentment.” Yet he leaves office with America more conflicted and cynical than when he took office. More than 70 percent of Americans say the country is either more divided or no more united than it was in 2009. Race relations are the worst in decades, and our nation is as polarized as it has been in the modern era.”
How will history regard the Obama presidency? Well, it might compare his two terms with those of Reagan presidency. Thirty years after he left office, Ronald Reagan remains the modern father figure of his political party. The Supreme Court justices he appointed shaped American jurisprudence and the reforms he enacted have never been rolled back. And what about President Obama? Peter Wehner is caustic: “It was his arrogance that proved to be Mr. Obama’s undoing. (Even leaders of his own party felt Mr. Obama’s derision, as if dealing with them was somehow beneath him.) Mr. Obama dismissed those who disagreed with him like a professor forced to deal with simple-minded, wayward students.”Tweet
And it kicks off “mit einem Paukenschlag” (spectacularly), as our German friends say. President-elect Trump tells Bild, well, the truth. “You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.” Ouch!
He emphasized that he is going to be a tough trans-Atlantic partner, threatening to slap a 35% import tax on BMW cars if the Munich-based company sticks with its plan to build a factory in Mexico. He also blamed the decision of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to welcome refugees from the Middle East and Africa, for endangering the stability of Europe. Snippet:
“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from.
People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But I do believe this: if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it … entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit.”
Obama is history and his legacy is, in a word, Trump.
“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city. At all hours it was necessary to keep a lamp lighted, and Mrs. Miller lost track of the days: Friday was no different from Saturday and on Sunday she went to the grocery: closed, of course.” — Truman Capote
The death yesterday of William Peter Blatty, author of the best-selling novel The Exorcist, brought back memories of the music William Friedkin used in 1973 for his film of the book. Friedkin’s adaptation turned out to be a masterpiece, a landmark in horror cinema, a cultural phenomenon and one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Although it made minimal use of music — a choice that gave the film an air of realism despite the supernatural events depicted onscreen — the score was a winner.
Friedkin had originally commissioned music from Lalo Schifrin, who had done soundtrack work for Cool Hand Luke, Dirty Harry and the Mission Impossible TV theme, but he hated Schifrin’s score and threw it out the window, literally. Instead, he used classical pieces by the Austrian composer Anton Webern, modern work by the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, as well as original music by Jack Nitzsche. But what is now considered the “Theme from The Exorcist” is Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, which went on to become a hit so huge that it gave birth to Richard Branson’s Virgin empire.Tweet