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GP 11 April 2007: Resurrection

Hoping Our Get Up and Go.  We like the strains from one bluegrass song that goes: “I wake up in the morning and I read the obits / If my name is not there / I know my get up and go has not got up and went.”  Happily we are immortal and have not made it into the dead- and- gone pages.  What’s more we’ve not even made it to the Obituary Writers International Conference we discussed in “Irishmen Who Married Up.”  It used to be held at a grand spot—Las Vegas, Mexico—but now perfidious journalists have moved it into exile in Alfred, New York.

Last week, when we treated you to a “Fly in the Ointment,” a few readers felt we had become crotchety, thinking we relished too much the decline and fall of the mega-corporations we cited there.  But, on the contrary, we are seeking some way to turn around big corporations, institutions, and governments in decline.  To restore their get up and go.

The Easter Ticket.  Indeed, we think the Holy Day of Easter embodies the right idea.  Christ, as the Biblical account goes, died for our sins but arose again.  If one will undertake purposeful activity, not to feather one’s own nest, but to rekindle a community, then life can flourish.  Resurrection may come from inspired and rather selfless leadership.

Daily we get new reports on Wal-Mart’s sins, a few of which we talk about in Watching Wal-Mart.  Most recently we have heard of a special internal security unit which has systematically violated the privacy of citizens and employees.  Afoot, too, is Project Red in which Wal-Mart’s top managers have speculated about the company’s dismemberment in order to get the stock price up.  Chairman Lee Scott recently gave up on New York City, saying it wasn’t worth all the headaches—quite a retreat for Wal-Mart.  Most recently, the New Yorker ran a piece on “Selling Wal-Mart,” a somewhat embarrassing account of the company’s public relations program led by the hapless firm of Edelman—a hamfisted attempt to look like a good guy while glossing over sins and omissions.  Its PR campaign is just about as agile as Rumsfeld’s Iraq invasion.

Amidst all this, we can easily miss what the company is doing to redeem itself.  It does have serious programs afoot to push its employees to take care of their health.  As well, it is doing all sorts of things to cut its energy consumption.  Naysayers may claim that both its health and environmental programs are only aimed at saving the company money.  But, in fact, the Wal-Mart brass seem spot on in both spheres.  The only substantial way to get at our nation’s healthcare costs is to get people to do healthy things, and we will need large organizations to motivate them, since government and our institutions have not been able to direct revenues towards serious public health programs.  Moreover, if a huge Wal-Mart will lean on itself and its suppliers, we can seriously cut emissions and lower our greedy energy appetite.  Programs such as these—pushed with even more energy—can save a Wal-Mart from extinction, adding some meat to its rather lifeless strategy.  As well, it is mammoth enough to exert huge leverage on much of the world’s population, forcing health and energy improvements all about the globe.  See “At Wal-Mart, Lessons in Self-Help,” New York Times, April 5, 2007.

A Penchant for Hari-Kari.  In all the developed societies, there is a penchant for various forms of hari-kari or seppuku—for suicide in one form or another: smoking, side arms, and obesity in these United States; relentless pollution in Hong Kong, China, and elsewhere; sloppy use of undeveloped land almost everywhere.  Of course, the Japanese have turned the act of self-destruction into an art form. 

The Atlantic, May 2007, studies Nippon’s national urging towards suicide in “Let’s Die Together.”  “Japanese authorities have been slow to react with any notable alarm to a recent nationwide embrace of death that has caused the official suicide rate to increase by an average of about 5 percent a year for the past decade.”  “The only countries with higher official suicide rates are Sri Lanka, which is mired in an unending civil war, and the former Soviet republics and their Eastern European satellites….”

Rising rates of suicide—and epidemic rates of depression—are perplexing for doctors and philosophers alike.  If we probe further, looking at disguised suicide, such as the horrible alcoholism in Russia, concern turns into crisis and alarm.  Something self destructive is loose in our peoples and our institutions.  There is a need to breathe new life into human affairs. 

The New York Rangers Discover Themselves.  The New York Rangers probably constitute the most valuable franchise in the National Hockey League.  The team’s payroll soars beyond all others.  Yet its performance has been underwhelming.  With all the stars money can by, it is still bested by the Pittsburgh Penquins or the Buffalo Sabres.  Until just recently.  Suddenly it is no longer a team of gigantic egos and salaries, but of many points of light that have discovered how to fuse together.  It is more than Jagr.  You never know who will star next.  You could not predict that Brendan Shanahan would come back from concussion, not to score many goals, but to provide outrageously good defense.  Young rookies like Ryan Callahan and Daniel Girardi—just up from the Hartford Wolfpack—have turned in startling performances when it looked like the team would go into the hole.  Winning an awesome percentage of its final games, the Rangers crept into the playoffs.  We have not seen anything written about this change of spirit, but change it is.  It’s downright curious how a community  stops shooting  itself in the foot.  The American philosopher Josiah Royce studied just this question in the American West. 

Ode to the West Wind.  A touch of winter revisited us last week, our unseasonably warm winter months capped by an icy April.  Percy Bysshe Shelley caught our present predicament in his “Ode to the West Wind.”  He sees the wind bring on Fall then Winter:

O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing 

But he also invokes better times ahead: 

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? 

Easter, as well, reminds us that life can succeed death.

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