Live from Shanghai: In the Land of China

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Live from Shanghai: In the Land of China

“Fate also plays a role, ” says the middle aged head of an investment group in the sky lobby of the world financial center as we look out over Shanghai, “just imagine the odds that you and I would be here in this building in this city at the same time and have this conversation.”  — Whether it is the result of fate or some of the most genius moves in recent history, I find myself in the world’s largest city, seemingly in the epicenter of the most important place in the world. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” has long been New York City’s motto, but while they were busy singing the same ol tune in the empire state, Shanghai kept chugging right along and one day the world awoke to find that it is now Shanghai where if you make it here, you can definitely make it anywhere. Sorry Frank, somewhere along the way Mao stole your thunder.

The following is a podcast of my reflections and things I have learned during my educational visit to Shanghai this week.  Have a listen!

Progress Rumbles Through Your Yard

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photo by photos lignes tht / flickr

The lower Normandy that I’ve come to know is an amazing world of deep green fields, breathtaking skies, and a silence I have never heard before. The few houses you pass are modest and functional. They can be found between the long stretches of corn and the grazing land where content cows and sheep seem to have all the time in the world to eat and relax.  One of the busiest metropoles in the world is 3 to 4 hours away, but out here it may as well be on another continent. Still,  people here are busy, building things, cleaning things, working the land in one form or another. Some grew up here and continue a family tradition of agricultural work. Others come from different parts of the country, even foreign countries, to live the healthy, calm, and satisfyingly simple life they always wished for.

Looking out over the mystifying landscape one night, a friend shows me with great disappointment, massive new structures on the otherwise beautiful horizon. With their feet planted firmly in concrete, towering high above the corn and fruit orchards, are massive high tension power lines.  “They just put them in, stretching from the power plant that isn’t online yet several hundred kilometers away,” my friend describes with an alarmed tone like someone talking about an oil slick or a forest fire swallowing up his neighbors. “The power company is planning to use these lines to sell electricity to Spain, all the nearby farmers protested, but the company built it anyway.”  He went on to describe the extensive campaign to fight the power company and how they are able to seize land for installing power cables and towers regardless of what the nearby community thinks.

I stepped back from the situation and thought about how often scenario’s like this take place. The massive dam projects in India that displaced thousands of people with little to no consultation. The coal power plant right next door to the city of Ulan Bataar in Mongolia, bringing electricity and horrific air pollution to hundreds of thousands nearby.  Throughout history and including today, projects are pursued for different reasons, some to improve lives, some just for the sake of profit or prestige.  And regardless of their purpose, sometimes those same projects wind up harming the very people they set out to benefit.

These same questions will still be asked about major decisions and risky initiatives long after all of us have left the planet, when is worth it and when is it not worth it? Innovation and development that improves quality of life for more people on this planet – who could argue with that? But innovation and development for the sake of profit for a tiny few while harming a larger part of the population – why should that be acceptable?

A different issue but yet somehow related, I’m reminded of Mario Savio’s speech in 1964: “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

ctrp377 Our Failing Infrastructure

by bicyclemark 1 Comment

photo by Daniel Sparing on Flickr

All over the world our transportation systems, food production systems, and overal infrastructure are being pushed more than ever before. With the onset of financial crisis and the reality of having less resources dedicated to repairing and renewing these systems, the reality of a multi-level failure, a crisis beyond what is now called a crisis, may very well be in our immediate future.

Eleanor Saitta is a researcher, hacker, artist, designer, and writer who has been looking into and speaking extensively about these issues around the world.  In this podcast we will talk about the facts that have her concerned and that what perhaps can still be done… as well as what we are too late to do.


MBA Bamboozle

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There are likely to be a few people reading this who have an MBA (Master of Business Administration). Over the last 10 to 20 years MBA programs have seen a huge spike in demand as well as universities offering such a program.? This is very true here in Europe, where it seems every country has a few MBA programs aimed at international or domestic students.

Popularity may be one thing, but this says nothing of why an MBA has become so sought after and so frequently offered.? Beyond that, what about the quality of the education MBA’s get and how do they perform as a result of this instruction.

ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing had a great program over the weekend focusing on the global impact of the MBA and how it rose to its current importance. It pays special attention to the role of MBA’s in the current global financial crisis.

Among the points I found especially poignant: the emergence of the MBA in the 70’s and 80’s, as being a manager was only beginning to be seen as a career. Prior to that, managers were those who had worked various positions and worked their way up with a company eventually getting the managerial post.? They also get into the creation of an elite based on what MBA program you graduate from, schools like Harvard which pride themselves in allegedly preparing people not only to manage companies, but to manage basically anything, including a government.

Recommended listening, whether you’ve got an MBA or not.