- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 10/19/20
Good morning and happy new work week! WE ALL NEED RULES—PERFECTLY GOOD SYSTEMS GO ASTRAY AND NEW RULES ARE REQUIRED I've been thinking a lot about how we seem to be "off track" in so many areas. We can't seem to get a handle on anything. It seems that systems that once were dependable now creak under the stresses of old age, an inability to adapt, and the hijacking of these systems to ends not desirable. Notwithstanding what everyone other than the far right, extreme capitalists and anarchists might say, there is a consensus that we need government to help us attack some of the "wicked problems" that beset us and we need rules within which to help guide human behaviors, both to allow them to pursue their personal aspirations and to do so within a framework that doesn't harm others and benefit society. In a word, we need regulation. There is a lot of talk about this topic these days. Conservatives will tell you that we are over-regulated, and that it's hard to do business with the volumes and volumes of regulations, many of which seem not to further a public policy or may have outlived their usefulness. Liberals will tell you that we are an economy run amok--that big corporations are not regulated enough, that they cut jobs and salaries, down-size and redeploy in ways that are harmful to their workers and to the greater good. As someone who has managed businesses for 25+ years, I can attest that both are right. We have a lot of rules that impede productivity and process. But many establish the playing field that frees people to innovate, hire, and provide goods and services. These rules are necessary. And, no, the “invisible hand” of the market doesn’t decide what’s good—in its extreme incarnation, it just means lawlessness. All games need rules. I think a way to look at regulation is to consider why we have them in the first place. They exist in order to encourage behaviors that benefit society generally but also serve to compensate those who fill these needs by taking risks, assuming liabilities, and investing the time and talent to make these things happen. Rather than thinking about corporations first, let me take a look at a few other things--great and small--that initially responded to perceived needs, but have evolved to work against the original objectives of the “games.” RULES IN SPORTS As most baseball fans will agree, games have gotten longer and more technical for a variety of reasons. We haven't figured out how to "tweak" the game to get us back to competitive entertainment contained in a 2 1/2 hour period of time. By an unwillingness to address some of the weaknesses of the game and the delays and tedium brought about by meticulous and complex analysis and application of metrics, the "game" no longer is about entertainment and increasingly is about the complex data analysis and fine-tuning of the game. In essence, it has become a competition of statistics, endless pitching changes, senseless games without end.
We have forgotten that the GOAL of the game is entertainment.
But today, the RESULT seems to be awarding nerdy analysis and over-managing, allowing seemingly unlimited interruptions, as the primary objective.
RULES IN POLITICS
I won't belabor this, but we have lost our way, with Congress after Congress unable to legislate. This has been true in California for years, with the State legislature punting the ball to the initiative and referendum process.
The GOAL is intended to be legislation based upon compromise of multiple factors and interests in order to improve the lives of the citizens.
Instead, the RESULT is a battle of "winner take all" philosophies that appeal to the "true believers" on both sides. The system is broken because the PRODUCT is the accumulation of power that can be wielded solely to further the special interests backing the candidates and parties.
RULES IN JOURNALISM
There was a quaint time when journalism was all about delivering news and trying to decipher and analyze that news for the general public.
The GOAL was an informed electorate. Certainly, media outlets competed with each other to generate greater attention, importance, and revenue. And while revenue was important, the media had another goal that was highly valued--professional excellence. There was a day when television journalists, for example, spoke of the CBS news apparatus with a mix of awe and jealousy.
Today the RESULT is whatever will generate ratings. I've ranted about this enough over the past months, but media of all types increasingly are appealing to a "base" that can drive "eyeballs" and ad revenue. The news no longer is curated for relevance and importance, but for maximizing attention and ad revenue.
RULES IN CAPITALISM
Why do businesses exist? Certainly to generate profits for ownership and shareholders. But corporations are legal fictions created by government to make it more efficient for businesses to finance themselves, limit personal liability, and deliver a PRODUCT.
That product is goods and services, delivered through a sophisticated mechanism that encourages innovation and facilitates the accumulation and deployment of capital. Corporations are given tax breaks at times in order to encourage hiring and create jobs. Increasingly, however, the societal goal of providing needed goods and services and to provide jobs have taken a back seat (far, far, back...) to generating shareholder profits (which are a measure by which corporate executives are able to demand greater and greater compensation packages).
The RESULT is a lobbying system to obtain special favors from government, ever-increasing executive salaries, stock buy-backs and slavish fealty to quarterly Wall Street analysts’ calls.
We need rules in order to encourage companies to produce what society needs in a way that is clean, safe, and accretive to a better life for all.
RULES THAT WORK
Just like baseball needs rules to speed up the game, journalism (particularly in the form of the purveyors of information on the internet) needs rules, and capitalism needs rules. The times have changed and, so, the rules must change.
When pitchers so dominated the game that runs couldn't score and excitement had gone out of the game, baseball lowered the pitcher's mound. That reimposed a balance between hitting and pitching. That sort of tweaking is needed now in how we conduct business, tax our people and conduct our government.
The tweaking is needed across the board in so many things. Gerrymandering needs to be resolved. Corporations need to be encouraged to use less carbon and to retain employees and to produce what we actually need. The tax code and its myriad exceptions, expenditures, loopholes, and special treatments needs to be revamped. The Internet requires adult supervision (a subject for a later Musing).
TRAVELING THE WORLD ON TV
Our travel options have become limited. As we are closer to home for a while, it might be time to think about vicarious travel from our living rooms. Here are a few options for “going places” while we are doing less actual “going” these days…
Chris Hoshek recommends Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father. “It’s about a British comedian who decides to travel the world and takes his uppity British 77 year old father with him. The comedian books them in hostels and beach huts, etc. and the father always finds his way to a 5 star resort. There are 4 seasons – they go to Cambodia / Germany / USA / Australia.”
Anthony Bourdain travels to many faraway places to see the sites and eat all kinds of food in Parts Unknown.
The Trip, conceived by and starring comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they travel the world together: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/20/movies/steve-coogan-trip-to-greece.html
Better Late Than Never, starring two of my favorite actors, Henry Winkler and William Shatner. Who doesn’t want to travel with Captain Kirk and the Fonz? And to make it even better, they travel with George Foreman (heavyweight champ and salesman for the “George Foreman Grill”) and Terry Bradshaw. Terry of course was in Failure to Launch, including the “naked room” scene. They are absolutely hysterical traveling the world. Worth a watch—perhaps tequila in hand… This is on NBC.com.
Conan Without Borders. Just what the title says…quirky, wry Conan O’Brien traveling the world. This is on Netflix.
I’m game for a little home-based travel. By the way, here’s Terry Bradshaw’s “naked room” scene from Failure to Launch. It is great because it speaks to empty nesters. Kid (Matthew McConaughey) finally moves out and his bedroom is repurposed for Dad, who installs a giant fish tank and… https://yarn.co/yarn-clip/8a0984da-cc5f-4f5d-8f5f-45583f911203 THE FONZ I met Henry Winkler when he was the guest Master of Ceremonies for the USC Libraries Scripter Award (more about this in another Musing). He is just a polite, engaging, unassuming man. He was excited to be part of the program, commenting that, as a kid with dyslexia, he never would have anticipated hosting anything inside a library! He has written a book on a dyslexic kid and advocates in that area. And if you haven’t seen him in Arrested Development (primarily the third season) you’re missing out! Happy week, Glenn