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GP 4 July 2007: Caught a Big One

Neil Becker.  That old insult about “lying like a fisherman” is half false, half true.  All sorts of whoppers creep into the conversation when an angler gets to talking about the size of his catch or the heroic battle he waged to land the sucker.  But when you put the flyfishing aside, fishermen are actually people you can rely on. 

There’s Jim down in Arkansas, and Chuck up in Virginia, and Clive the Photographer in the Carolinas—all worthies whose word is their bond.  We talked about “Gone Fishin’” last week and forgot to mention that fishing folk are pretty good fellows to hang out with. Straight arrows. 

In some places it’s a shrinking business.  In one out-of-the-way part of the United States, there used to 20 tackle shops.  Now there’s exactly one tucked away in a cheap new building complex well away from the two minor cities that are an hour away.  

That brings us to Neil Becker, whose smiling face you will find on our Scenes from the Global Province, a section where we try to invoke the bucolic life.  Neil’s always fishing when he’s not fixing Volvo cars, and he reminds us that those who fish make pretty good repairmen.  They talk plain and don’t do repairs you don’t need.  As proof that life is more than business, Neil will sell his friends his extra fish.  As we remember, his yellow fin tuna goes for $9.99 a pound.  Just like Moby-Dick’s Ishmael, who knew it was time to be getting to sea again when he felt like accosting the man ahead of him on the street, Becker seems to go a-fishing when the car trade becomes nothing more than an ulcer maker.  When hiring repairmen, you’re looking for Beckers, independent minded men that don’t reside in dealers or big companies. 

Herring.  What good news that Estonia, in one further slap at its old masters in Russia, has chosen a national fish—herring.  One of our colleagues, enamored of fish as much as Mr. Becker, is going over to help the Estonians celebrate.  Estonia, in case you have missed it, is interesting in several ways.  It is a minor software colossus; it is, for example, where Skype was put together.  Of the Baltic Republics that broke away from the Soviets, it has been the most independent, and it is suspected that the Russians hacked its internal computer networks in revenge.  The Russians have also cut rail links to Estonia, both events occurring after the Estonians tore down a Soviet war memorial.  The herring and various Estonian dishes are now being revived, such national symbols having been suppressed under the Soviets.  See “Russia Beware: Estonia Chooses a National Fish,” Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2007, front page.  In fact, fish and fishing are part and parcel of the lives of the interesting nations around the Baltic.  Does fishing create individuals apart? 

Zaynab Mirza.  A celebrity make-up artist from London, Ms. Mirza has moved to Dubai to be with her photographer husband.  Incidentally “Arab women are the number one buyers of make-up in the world.”  She does and does not like the relaxed style of her Arab hosts.  Business is done on a handshake, and it may take months to secure a written contract which was her sine qua non when in the West.  But then, “we always go to an Arab restaurant and we’ve bought into the Arab lifestyle where meals take four hours to get through.”  See “Two Sides of Relaxation,” Financial Times, House and Home, June 9-10 2007, p. 11.  Dubai, of course, has one of the most explosive economies in the world.  Isn’t it interesting what can get done with four hour lunches and no contracts?  Apparently you can catch some big ones, and that ain’t no lie. 

Neil Postman. In life, Neil Postman was Chair of the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University and author of more than 20 thoughtful books.  His views seem relevant as the world economy and the politics of nations hit serious speed bumps.  Of particular interest is Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future.  “You can take any century you please and make a list of its inhumanities.  The eighteenth is no exception.  But it is there, and in no other, that we have the beginnings of much that is worthwhile in the modern world.”  Maybe we need to go backward to go forward, recapturing the right to go fishing, the right to have a national culture despite our impulses to seek global sameness, and the right to have four hour lunches where we seek to replace contracts with communication.  If we are going to catch some really big ones, we really have to get off the beaten track.

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