Archive for the ‘Business and Politics’ Category

Rupert Murdoch is in London town

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

Not because he likes it. The British establishment never liked him, and his first wife, had a nasty time, being patronised by the great and good.

But because his business interests are at risk.

His underlings here, have been implicated in the phone tapping scandal, so much so, that his trusted hack, Andy Coulson, has finally had to reisign as the Prime Minister’s spinner in chief.

He has come here to emphasise that he is still the boss, not his son, who has been trying to behave as if he knew something about journalism, apart from what he learnt from his dad.

He  has come here, because he wants to get 100 per cent control of Sky Television, to add to his his existing monopoly control of the British media.

This is not polemnic.

Monopoly power, as defined by the old rules, was more than one thired of the market.

Murdoch exceeded that long ago.

The debate should be about whether Murdoch is not already too powerful, not whether he should become even more powerful.

But the government minister responsible for making the decision, as to whether this decision should be referred to the Competition commission, has said he will give more time for Murdoch to argue his case.

Which only goes to show, that he is totally ignorant of the history of the British media.

There has never been a time, when one company has had so much power.

Murdoch owns the biggest circulation tabloids, in the Sun and the News of the World. And the still highly  respected Times and Sunday Times, amongst the serious newspapers.

As well as Sky Television, which has been enormouslly successful, in purshading people to pay for what they view.

By comparision the rest of the right wing press, is a joke. The Telegraph, owned by the tax exiled Barclay Brothers, still produces a decent serious newspaper, but has no prescence in broadcast. Likewise, the Daily Mail, although it is still a trenchant voice for the British right, and which still gets stories which the rest miss.

The Express, now owned by the Pornographer general, and has few serious journalists. The Mirror struggles, with no financial resources. The Independent goes on, not because it has any economic viability, but because decent journalists are prepared to write for them, even though they don’t get serious money.

But Rupert Murdoch is in town, to tell David Cameron, that he  should toe the line.

Which David Cameron, and his underling, Jeremy Hunt, may well do.

But history will remember, that if they ignore the facts – and to state them again – the Murdoch media already has more than a  monopoly of British media, that Cameron and Hunt kissed arse.

As the Americans say.

It is blunt and unpleasant.

But it is saying it as it is.

And Hunt and Cameron should remember, that Rupert Murdoch, is not hooked on political ideology. Although he is undoutedly right wing and Christian, he is totally prepared to support winners, which is why he helped Tony Blair and the Labour Party to power.

Have the British police been corrupted?

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Years ago, we had a Labour politician named Harold Wilson, who was deemed paranoid (i.e. mad) because he thought his phone was tappeded by the secret services.

Fast forward a few years, and to an age when our present Prime Minis is  has just had to accept the resignation of his his chief spin doctor, a forrmer employee of the most right wing media empire, over phone hacking. He still maintains he knew nothing about what was happening in his own newsroom.

Though one of Cameron’s senior cabinet colleagues, Chris Hughne, a former journalist, has today said, what all the journalists covering the rstory have been saying all along.

Fleet Street, from The Guardian to the News of the World, does not operate that way. Andy Coulson, was far from incompetant. But even if he were he would have been aware, like everyone else, of what was  happening in his own newsroom on the hot story of the day.

Coulson did not go to jail, with his underlings. He resigned as editor, and proclaims to this day, that he knew nothing about what was happening in his own newsrooom.

Thereby protecting his Lord and Master, Rupert Murdoch.o

Because if Coulson knew what was going on, the question becomes did Murdoch know.

Murdoch, unlike Lord Beaverbrook, does not ring his editors at breakfasttime every day. He mostly appoints them and leaves them to do  the job, according to his well known prejudices. But with anything high profile, he rings them for a chat.

Which he may well have done in the case of the phone hacking.

Coulson protected his boss by his stance. And delighted his boss when he became the Prime Minister’s chief spin doctor.

Not only did Rupert know he was welcome to tea at No 10, but he knew that every day he had a trusted lietunant telling Cameron how to deal with the press.

No-one can prove this, unless Coulson shops his boss.

But if it is true, it means that Cameron is still playing footsy, with Rupert Murdoch, in the hope that he will deliver the voters.

But even if Rupert Murdoch is the not the bloke I know, but some saint believing in truth and justice, he should not be given even more monopoly powers over the British media.

His only surviving competitor in television is the BBC, whom he cantinually attacks as wasting the taxpayer’s money, and run by a bunch of lefties. (Which shows how little he knows of the Beeb, which certainly employs some lefties, but also employs many who are even more right wing than Murdoch.)

In print he owns the top selling tabloid and the highest circulationn broadsheet, with the exception of te Telegraph, as British as roast beef, except that it is now owned by the Barclay twins, who are tax exiles in the Channel  Islands and notoriouslly secretive.

The question should be, not whether Murdoch should be allowed to take total control of Sky, but whether he should be forced to selll some of his other holdings in British media.

Just remember that it is Murdoch’s Fox Television in the US which insists that Obama is a Muslim and which incited the tea party of Sarah Palin and her campaign of hatred, which led to the appalling violence, including the near assasination of a US leftish Jewish senator.

But the British police have found no evidence of phone tapping, even though Gordon Brown thinks they tapped his phone.

The British police I deal with personally are the best in the world (much better than the French, the Germans and the US).

But I have real fears that their standards are being corrputed, by those who think there is nothing wrong with being lovey dovey with tabloid reporters, and nothing wrong with sleeping their way into protest movements, and fucking the wife of the politician they are employed to protect.

Cameron – the dog who did not bark in the night

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Dear reader, you may have noticed that your prime minister has not commented on the departure from his government of the Rupert Murdoch hack, Andy Coulson. To whom he was devoted.

He has left Nick Clegg, his Liberal Democrat deputy, to carry the flack . So that he can evade the odour of being exposed as as someone whoo  was quite prepared to employ one of Murdoch’s minions, who  tookj the flak for his boss.

Cameron, like Blair and Brown before him, is quite happy to see Rupert Murdoch via the garden entrance to 10 Downing Street. Although, theee days he is not even an Australian,  he is an American citizen. But he is super rich, and he owns a huge chunk of the British media.

Far more than the monopoly rules advise.

And whom Cameron still courts. Although Andy Coulson is gone.

As well they might, because Murdoch has been super successful in getting newspaper readers and television viewers to consume his prodduct.

And Cameron, and Blair and Brown before him, kiss his arse.

Despite the evidence from hundreds of polls, that the great British public  does not share Murdoch’s born again belief in his kind of Christian God.

And despite the evidence, those of the British electorate who support te Conservatives are a minority. Many support the Liberal Democrats. A much greater number vote Labour, but their only consistent support is from  The Guardian, which is written by Oxbridge educated chaps.

No newspaper, no television channel, speaks for today’s British worker.

Britain’s free press is only available to those who have millions to spare.

That is what the competition commission should  be looking at.

Not only, Murdoch, but the other tycoons, who are trying to cash in by selling their wares.

Not driven by journalism and the pursuit of  truth.

Cameron has lost the plot

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Today, David Cameron, faced the first serious challenge of his government. One of his most senior colleagues, Chris Huhne, spoke aot  against him.

Or, rather against the sort of clap trap that has been produced by the mainstream press.

Huhne, said today, that the phone tapping was clearly not the result of one rogue reporter. Hughn, a former journalist, merely voiced what a9ll journalists know.

Which is how newsrooms work.

But David Cameron has not fired him.

Because Cameron also knows how newsrooms work. Because his first job was working as a lackey for a Jewish  media tycoon,  when he learnt how to spin. Journalists who were around at the time remember him.

And, he was something far short of the apostle of truth. He was  a hiredd hack for a fairly ruthless media operator, who believed that the private sector delivered truth, as opposed to the BBC, which was a left wing conspiracy.

Peopled by the likes of  Nick Robinson, who would like to be a Conserervative MP.

Not at all the left wing conspiracy, which Rupert Murdoch alleges.

Cameron has not only employed a Murdoch lackey as his press officer, he has, like Brown and Blair before him, welcomed Rupert Murdoch into Downing Street, to hear what he thinks is right for Britain.

Although, Murdoch is a born Australian, but now an American citizen, and the owner of Fox News, who is America, have fostered the hate campaign, which led to the  attempted assasination of an American senator. And, who has contribited millions to the US Republican Party.

Rupert Murdoch has already been given power over the British press which violates the monopoly rules existing when I started work in journalism in 1955.

He owns the Sun, hugely prosperous, because it shows female nipples on Page Three, and provides detailed sports coverage.

But, politics, it is a joke.

But  Murdoch was also allowed to win The Times, which is supposed to be a serious newspaper. Murdoch put in his own men to run it, with disastrous results. But, since then he  has hired some decent journalists, so that  The Times has recovered some of its credibility. But of course it toes the Murdoch line on Europe and on God, about whom most Brits are deeply sceptical.

So Murdoch has too much power already. And should not be allowed to gain 100 per cent ownership of Sky.

But the rest of the press is equally tainted.

The Telegraph, who sent in dolly birds to lure Vince Cable into indiscretions, about Rupert Murdoch, is owned by tax exiles, the Barclay twins, who are politically to the right of David Cameron.

The Daily Mail, still owned by the Northcliffe family, who are as resolutely right wing, as they were in 1894, feeds its readers with a murder a day, right wing political coverage, good sports, and lots of dolly bird coverage, but mostly not bare nipples. Lots of titivavtion for the males, but nothing offensive to most of the female readership.

The Express, which was the best selling newspaper when I began my journalist career in 1955, is now owned by the pornograher general, who is rich on porn. The Mirror, once the people’s newspaper, is a joke, underfunded, and with declining circulations.

The Independant, is kept alive by a few journalists, who work for love and commitment to decent journalism. It has no resources to cover interantional news. And few readers.

The only effective newspaper, who has opposed this right wing ramp is The Guardian, owned by the Scott Trust, deriving from its original Liberal owners. It’s circulation is minute compared, even with The Times, let alone The Sun. But it carries international clout on the web.

So obviously Murdoch has too much media power already, and should  not be allowed to get more without scrutiny.

But the real scandal, is that the majority of the British electorate is not Conservative.

But the mainstream media is overwhelmingly Conservative.

Britain has a free press, if you are rich enough to own media.

The millions who vote Labour or Liberal Democrat do  not have a press to advance their cause.

That is much more important than Murdoch, who is not immortal, and will be dead soon.

And his sons and daughters are not as shrewd as him. But the competetion are the Barclay Twins, tax exiles in the Channel Islands, the pornograher general, etc, etc.

We don’t have a free press.

We have a press run by a few rich men, who are prepared to spend their millions on newspapers, which mostly do not make money, but which give them power and influence.

Britain’s cuddly coppers

Friday, January 21st, 2011

You couldn’t make it up.

In the last few weeks community policing has acquired a whole new meaning, which would have left Dixon of Dock Green speechless.  First, undercover officers infiltrating the street protesters, urging them to create more havoc, and then jumping into the sleeping bags of one or two of the females, when the day’s work was over.

And, today we have all woken up to hear that the private problem, which caused Alan Johnson to resign as shadow chancellor of the exchequer last night, was caused by the police officer, assigned to protect him, leaping between the sheets with Mrs Johnson, while Alan was preparing for his next assault on the conservative led government.

Allegedly, of course.

That was this morning.

But on the World at One  we heard the latest episode of another coppers’ tale. Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World, finally resigned over the phone tapping done of their behalf while he was editor. He still has not budged from his position that he knew nothing about what was going in his own newsroom. But he was so upset by the sight of the Duchess of Cornwall, being touched in her limo by a protester, that he decided he could no longer concentrate on his job as spinner in chief for David Cameron. So he has fallen on his sword.

The Met Police has still not managed to find any evidence to put before the courts of his involvement. The News of the World journalists who have talked to other newspaper men, including The Guardian and the New York Times, are not prepared to talk to the police or the courts.

I wonder why.

Answers on a postcard please.

First essential for journalists – a capacity for friendship

Monday, January 17th, 2011

One of the journalistic verities on which I was reared, was that the good journalist should have no friends, only contacts, who he must be prepared to ditch, if events required it.

But the opposite is even more true.

And there was never a time when it was not more important to assert this opposite. With the rise of networking and twitter, and Facebook and Wikileaks.

I have seen this clearly only in the last few weeks, because one of the best journalists I knew Gerard Mansell, who nearly became the boss of the BBC, in the late 1960s, died just before Christmas, aged 89. I was mortified because he was an exceedingly good friend to me, when I was trying to get the City University journalism course off the ground, in 1981, when he had just retired as Deputy Director General and head of Bush House.

I have not yet written his obituary, because I still have not been abl9e to check three things about him, which he told me, but which have not been mentioned in the published obituaries.

I was mortified, because although he lived recently only one hundred yards from my London flat, and I had met him in the local supermarket two or three times, I had not invited him for another jolly dinner, good food, good wine and interesting conversation, about journalism, then and now.

Since then I have been spending more of my time catching up on other old friends, before they die!

But I did manage to get to Gerry’s  funeral, when his capacity for friendship was recognised so emphatically, that I realised it was not just me, who thought he was exceptional on that yardstick.

Co-incidentally, over the Christmas break, I had an email from an ex-student of mine from the 1980′s, Sajid Quesrani, who came to as an experienced Pakistan  TV journalist, and went on for much of his working life in that role. He referred me to a speech made to US army recruits at West Point, which asserts that leadership requires solitude, and that (and here I have to summarise a complex argument) and that the ability to endure solitude, depends on having deep relationships with friends.

In other words the good leader is not the ‘loner’ with no friends. He is a person sustained by enduring friendships, which helps him (or her) to make the difficult tough decisions leadership requires.

“Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back”.

This restores my faith in the America I know, and the Americans I know, who maybe a minority, but who are a powerful minority.

And restored my dismay at Secretary of State Clinton, who clearly wants to get an Australian prosecuted as a traitor by the American courts. (She wants to get him, rather than that other Australian Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox Television, still suggests that Obama, who is more Christian than I was in my teens, is really a closet Muslim.

Sajid’s email arrived just after the hate rhetoric of Sarah Palin had led to the assasination of a liberal and Jewish senator.

I know a lot of Americans support her tea party, and its tactics.

But not the Americans I know, and, certainly not the giants of American literature and politics, who have helped to free me from the prejudices of my childhood.

In deepest Wolverhampton, where the local MP first warned the world of the rivers of blood, likely to arise from the black faces arriving in the Black Country (so-called not because of black faces. There weren’t any til Powell swanned in, from guess where, Australia,  to win the seat. And in those days, they were taking over the houses  in the Waterloo Road and in other working class terraces, which whites were only too happy to be leaving. It was the Black Country, because of the smoke from the blast furnaces, which thankfully is no more.)

Yes, need in the US, in Britain, and world wide about the limits of free speech. About the internet, but also about the mainstream press.

Julian Assange, whom I have not yet met, because he is holed up in another part of the country, will probably be crucified. But the boss of Fox ‘hate” television, Rupert Murdoch, is poised to get even more power over the British media.

On that well-trusted formula, a murder a day.

Britain, the US and the world deserves something better.

The full text was printed by The American Scholar. I print it below, because I cannot think of another way of getting it to my readers.

So in the old fashioned terms I am breaching their copyright. Dut not for personal gain.

But to let the world know that America is not just Obama, Clinton, and the Bush family. It is the people who produce journals like The American Scholar.


Spring 2010

Solitude and Leadership

If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts

by William Deresiewicz

The lecture below was delivered to the plebe class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in October of last year.

My title must seem like a contradiction. What can solitude have to do with leadership? Solitude means being alone, and leadership necessitates the presence of others—the people you’re leading. When we think about leadership in American history we are likely to think of Washington, at the head of an army, or Lincoln, at the head of a nation, or King, at the head of a movement—people with multitudes behind them, looking to them for direction. And when we think of solitude, we are apt to think of Thoreau, a man alone in the woods, keeping a journal and communing with nature in silence.

Leadership is what you are here to learn—the qualities of character and mind that will make you fit to command a platoon, and beyond that, perhaps, a company, a battalion, or, if you leave the military, a corporation, a foundation, a department of government. Solitude is what you have the least of here, especially as plebes. You don’t even have privacy, the opportunity simply to be physically alone, never mind solitude, the ability to be alone with your thoughts. And yet I submit to you that solitude is one of the most important necessities of true leadership. This lecture will be an attempt to explain why.

We need to begin by talking about what leadership really means. I just spent 10 years teaching at another institution that, like West Point, liked to talk a lot about leadership, Yale University. A school that some of you might have gone to had you not come here, that some of your friends might be going to. And if not Yale, then Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and so forth. These institutions, like West Point, also see their role as the training of leaders, constantly encourage their students, like West Point, to regard themselves as leaders among their peers and future leaders of society. Indeed, when we look around at the American elite, the people in charge of government, business, academia, and all our other major institutions—senators, judges, CEOs, college presidents, and so forth—we find that they come overwhelmingly either from the Ivy League and its peer institutions or from the service academies, especially West Point.

So I began to wonder, as I taught at Yale, what leadership really consists of. My students, like you, were energetic, accomplished, smart, and often ferociously ambitious, but was that enough to make them leaders? Most of them, as much as I liked and even admired them, certainly didn’t seem to me like  leaders. Does being a leader, I wondered, just mean being accomplished, being successful? Does getting straight As make you a leader? I didn’t think so. Great heart surgeons or great novelists or great shortstops may be terrific at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re leaders. Leadership and aptitude, leadership and achievement, leadership and even ex­cellence have to be different things, otherwise the concept of leadership has no meaning. And it seemed to me that that had to be especially true of the kind of excellence I saw in the students around me.

See, things have changed since I went to college in the ’80s. Everything has gotten much more intense. You have to do much more now to get into a top school like Yale or West Point, and you have to start a lot earlier. We didn’t begin thinking about college until we were juniors, and maybe we each did a couple of extracurriculars. But I know what it’s like for you guys now. It’s an endless series of hoops that you have to jump through, starting from way back, maybe as early as junior high school. Classes, standardized tests, extracurriculars in school, extracurriculars outside of school. Test prep courses, admissions coaches, private tutors. I sat on the Yale College admissions committee a couple of years ago. The first thing the admissions officer would do when presenting a case to the rest of the committee was read what they call the “brag” in admissions lingo, the list of the student’s extracurriculars. Well, it turned out that a student who had six or seven extracurriculars was already in trouble. Because the students who got in—in addition to perfect grades and top scores—usually had 10 or 12.

So what I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. Any goal you set them, they could achieve. Any test you gave them, they could pass with flying colors. They were, as one of them put it herself, “excellent sheep.” I had no doubt that they would continue to jump through hoops and ace tests and go on to Harvard Business School, or Michigan Law School, or Johns Hopkins Medical School, or Goldman Sachs, or McKinsey consulting, or whatever. And this approach would indeed take them far in life. They would come back for their 25th reunion as a partner at White & Case, or an attending physician at Mass General, or an assistant secretary in the Department of State.

That is exactly what places like Yale mean when they talk about training leaders. Educating people who make a big name for themselves in the world, people with impressive titles, people the university can brag about. People who make it to the top. People who can climb the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy they decide to attach themselves to.

But I think there’s something desperately wrong, and even dangerous, about that idea. To explain why, I want to spend a few minutes talking about a novel that many of you may have read, Heart of Darkness. If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably seen Apocalypse Now, which is based on it. Marlow in the novel becomes Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen. Kurtz in the novel becomes Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. But the novel isn’t about Vietnam; it’s about colonialism in the Belgian Congo three generations before Vietnam. Marlow, not a military officer but a merchant marine, a civilian ship’s captain, is sent by the company that’s running the country under charter from the Belgian crown to sail deep upriver, up the Congo River, to retrieve a manager who’s ensconced himself in the jungle and gone rogue, just like Colonel Kurtz does in the movie.

Now everyone knows that the novel is about imperialism and colonialism and race relations and the darkness that lies in the human heart, but it became clear to me at a certain point, as I taught the novel, that it is also about bureaucracy—what I called, a minute ago, hierarchy. The Company, after all, is just that: a company, with rules and procedures and ranks and people in power and people scrambling for power, just like any other bureaucracy. Just like a big law firm or a governmental department or, for that matter, a university. Just like—and here’s why I’m telling you all this—just like the bureaucracy you are about to join. The word bureaucracy tends to have negative connotations, but I say this in no way as a criticism, merely a description, that the U.S. Army is a bureaucracy and one of the largest and most famously bureaucratic bureaucracies in the world. After all, it was the Army that gave us, among other things, the indispensable bureaucratic acronym “snafu”: “situation normal: all fucked up”—or “all fouled up” in the cleaned-up version. That comes from the U.S. Army in World War II.

You need to know that when you get your commission, you’ll be joining a bureaucracy, and however long you stay in the Army, you’ll be operating within a bureaucracy. As different as the armed forces are in so many ways from every other institution in society, in that respect they are the same. And so you need to know how bureaucracies operate, what kind of behavior—what kind of character—they reward, and what kind they punish.

So, back to the novel. Marlow proceeds upriver by stages, just like Captain Willard does in the movie. First he gets to the Outer Station. Kurtz is at the Inner Station. In between is the Central Station, where Marlow spends the most time, and where we get our best look at bureaucracy in action and the kind of people who succeed in it. This is Marlow’s description of the manager of the Central Station, the big boss:

He was commonplace in complexion, in features, in manners, and in voice. He was of middle size and of ordinary build. His eyes, of the usual blue, were perhaps remarkably cold. . . . Otherwise there was only an indefinable, faint expression of his lips, something stealthy—a smile—not a smile—I remember it, but I can’t explain. . . . He was a common trader, from his youth up employed in these parts—nothing more. He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust—just uneasiness—nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a . . . a . . . faculty can be. He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. . . . He had no learning, and no intelligence. His position had come to him—why? . . . He originated nothing, he could keep the routine going—that’s all. But he was great. He was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man. He never gave that secret away. Perhaps there was nothing within him. Such a suspicion made one pause.

Note the adjectives: commonplaceordinaryusualcommon. There is nothing distinguished about this person. About the 10th time I read that passage, I realized it was a perfect description of the kind of person who tends to prosper in the bureaucratic environment. And the only reason I did is because it suddenly struck me that it was a perfect description of the head of the bureaucracy that I was part of, the chairman of my academic department—who had that exact same smile, like a shark, and that exact same ability to make you uneasy, like you were doing something wrong, only she wasn’t ever going to tell you what. Like the manager—and I’m sorry to say this, but like so many people you will meet as you negotiate the bureaucracy of the Army or for that matter of whatever institution you end up giving your talents to after the Army, whether it’s Microsoft or the World Bank or whatever—the head of my department had no genius for organizing or initiative or even order, no particular learning or intelligence, no distinguishing characteristics at all. Just the ability to keep the routine going, and beyond that, as Marlow says, her position had come to her—why?

That’s really the great mystery about bureaucracies. Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that, like the manager of the Central Station, you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. Just keeping the routine going.

I tell you this to forewarn you, because I promise you that you will meet these people and you will find yourself in environments where what is rewarded above all is conformity. I tell you so you can decide to be a different kind of leader. And I tell you for one other reason. As I thought about these things and put all these pieces together—the kind of students I had, the kind of leadership they were being trained for, the kind of leaders I saw in my own institution—I realized that this is a national problem. We have a crisis of leadership in this country, in every institution. Not just in government. Look at what happened to American corporations in recent decades, as all the old dinosaurs like General Motors or TWA or U.S. Steel fell apart. Look at what happened to Wall Street in just the last couple of years.

Finally—and I know I’m on sensitive ground here—look at what happened during the first four years of the Iraq War. We were stuck. It wasn’t the fault of the enlisted ranks or the noncoms or the junior officers. It was the fault of the senior leadership, whether military or civilian or both. We weren’t just not winning, we weren’t even changing direction.

We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper­tise. What we don’t have are leaders.

What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision.

Now some people would say, great. Tell this to the kids at Yale, but why bother telling it to the ones at West Point? Most people, when they think of this institution, assume that it’s the last place anyone would want to talk about thinking creatively or cultivating independence of mind. It’s the Army, after all. It’s no accident that the word regiment is the root of the word regimentation. Surely you who have come here must be the ultimate conformists. Must be people who have bought in to the way things are and have no interest in changing it. Are not the kind of young people who think about the world, who ponder the big issues, who question authority. If you were, you would have gone to Amherst or Pomona. You’re at West Point to be told what to do and how to think.

But you know that’s not true. I know it, too; otherwise I would never have been invited to talk to you, and I’m even more convinced of it now that I’ve spent a few days on campus.

That’s the first half of the lecture: the idea that true leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions. But how do you learn to do that? How do you learn to think? Let’s start with how you don’t learn to think. A study by a team of researchers at Stanford came out a couple of months ago. The investigators wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it, the researchers asked? The answer, they discovered—and this is by no means what they expected—is that they don’t. The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find, the mental faculties that enable people to multitask effectively, were simply not there. In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: the more people multitask, the worse they are, not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.

One thing that made the study different from others is that the researchers didn’t test people’s cognitive functions while they were multitasking. They separated the subject group into high multitaskers and low multitaskers and used a different set of tests to measure the kinds of cognitive abilities involved in multitasking. They found that in every case the high multitaskers scored worse. They were worse at distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information and ignoring the latter. In other words, they were more distractible. They were worse at what you might call “mental filing”: keeping information in the right conceptual boxes and being able to retrieve it quickly. In other words, their minds were more disorganized. And they were even worse at the very thing that defines multitasking itself: switching between tasks.

Multitasking, in short, is not only not thinking, it impairs your ability to think. Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.

I used to have students who bragged to me about how fast they wrote their papers. I would tell them that the great German novelist Thomas Mann said that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. The best writers write much more slowly than everyone else, and the better they are, the slower they write. James Joyce wrote Ulysses, the greatest novel of the 20th century, at the rate of about a hundred words a day—half the length of the selection I read you earlier from Heart of Darkness—for seven years. T. S. Eliot, one of the greatest poets our country has ever produced, wrote about 150 pages of poetry over the course of his entire 25-year career. That’s half a page a month. So it is with any other form of thought. You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating.

Now that’s the third time I’ve used that word, concentrating. Concentrating, focusing. You can just as easily consider this lecture to be about concentration as about solitude. Think about what the word means. It means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input. It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—and just so you don’t think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers, too—are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way. Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by—words like dutyhonor, and country—really mean? Am I happy?

…….. what happens after you fulfill your commitment to the Army? Unless you know who you are, how will you figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life? Unless you’re able to listen to yourself, to that quiet voice inside that tells you what you really care about, what you really believe in—indeed, how those things might be evolving under the pressure of your experiences. Students everywhere else agonize over these questions, and while you may not be doing so now, you are only postponing them for a few years.

Maybe some of you are agonizing over them now. Not everyone who starts here decides to finish here. It’s no wonder and no cause for shame. You are being put through the most demanding training anyone can ask of people your age, and you are committing yourself to work of awesome responsibility and mortal danger. The very rigor and regimentation to which you are quite properly subject here naturally has a tendency to make you lose touch with the passion that brought you here in the first place. I saw exactly the same kind of thing at Yale. It’s not that my students were robots. Quite the reverse. They were in­tensely idealistic, but the overwhelming weight of their practical responsibilities, all of those hoops they had to jump through, often made them lose sight of what those ideals were. Why they were doing it all in the first place.

So it’s perfectly natural to have doubts, or questions, or even just difficulties. The question is, what do you do with them? Do you suppress them, do you distract yourself from them, do you pretend they don’t exist? Or do you confront them directly, honestly, courageously? If you decide to do so, you will find that the answers to these dilemmas are not to be found on Twitter or Comedy Central or even in The New York Times. They can only be found within—without distractions, without peer pressure, in solitude.

But let me be clear that solitude doesn’t always have to mean introspection. Let’s go back to Heart of Darkness. It’s the solitude of concentration that saves Marlow amidst the madness of the Central Station. When he gets there he finds out that the steamboat he’s supposed to sail upriver has a giant hole in it, and no one is going to help him fix it. “I let him run on,” he says, “this papier-mâché Mephistopheles”—he’s talking not about the manager but his assistant, who’s even worse, since he’s still trying to kiss his way up the hierarchy, and who’s been raving away at him. You can think of him as the Internet, the ever-present social buzz, chattering away at you 24/7:

I let him run on, this papier-mâché Mephistopheles and it seemed to me that if I tried I could poke my forefinger through him, and would find nothing inside but a little loose dirt. . . .

It was a great comfort to turn from that chap to . . . the battered, twisted, ruined, tin-pot steamboat. . . . I had expended enough hard work on her to make me love her. No influential friend would have served me better. She had given me a chance to come out a bit—to find out what I could do. No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work,—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others—what no other man can ever know.

“The chance to find yourself.” Now that phrase, “finding yourself,” has acquired a bad reputation. It suggests an aimless liberal-arts college graduate—an English major, no doubt, someone who went to a place like Amherst or Pomona—who’s too spoiled to get a job and spends his time staring off into space. But here’s Marlow, a mariner, a ship’s captain. A more practical, hardheaded person you could not find. And I should say that Marlow’s creator, Conrad, spent 19 years as a merchant marine, eight of them as a ship’s captain, before he became a writer, so this wasn’t just some artist’s idea of a sailor. Marlow believes in the need to find yourself just as much as anyone does, and the way to do it, he says, is work, solitary work. Concentration. Climbing on that steamboat and spending a few uninterrupted hours hammering it into shape. Or building a house, or cooking a meal, or even writing a college paper, if you really put yourself into it.

“Your own reality—for yourself, not for others.” Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself. You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word lead. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.

So why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself.

Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today. Even if they merely reflect the conventional wisdom of their own day, they say something different from what you hear all the time. But the great books, the ones you find on a syllabus, the ones people have continued to read, don’t reflect the conventional wisdom of their day. They say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought. They were revolutionary in their own time, and they are still revolutionary today. And when I say “revolutionary,” I am deliberately evoking the American Revolution, because it was a result of precisely this kind of independent thinking. Without solitude—the solitude of Adams and Jefferson and Hamilton and Madison and Thomas Paine—there would be no America.

So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.”

Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask. Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities.

This is what we call thinking out loud, discovering what you believe in the course of articulating it. But it takes just as much time and just as much patience as solitude in the strict sense. And our new electronic world has disrupted it just as violently. Instead of having one or two true friends that we can sit and talk to for three hours at a time, we have 968 “friends” that we never actually talk to; instead we just bounce one-line messages off them a hundred times a day. This is not friendship, this is distraction.

I know that none of this is easy for you. Even if you threw away your cell phones and unplugged your computers, the rigors of your training here keep you too busy to make solitude, in any of these forms, anything less than very difficult to find. But the highest reason you need to try is precisely because of what the job you are training for will demand of you.

You’ve probably heard about the hazing scandal at the U.S. naval base in Bahrain that was all over the news recently. Terrible, abusive stuff that involved an entire unit and was orchestrated, allegedly, by the head of the unit, a senior noncommissioned officer. What are you going to do if you’re confronted with a situation like that going on in your unit? Will you have the courage to do what’s right? Will you even know what the right thing is? It’s easy to read a code of conduct, not so easy to put it into practice, especially if you risk losing the loyalty of the people serving under you, or the trust of your peer officers, or the approval of your superiors. What if you’re not the commanding officer, but you see your superiors condoning something you think is wrong?

How will you find the strength and wisdom to challenge an unwise order or question a wrongheaded policy? What will you do the first time you have to write a letter to the mother of a slain soldier? How will you find words of comfort that are more than just empty formulas?

These are truly formidable dilemmas, more so than most other people will ever have to face in their lives, let alone when they’re 23. The time to start preparing yourself for them is now. And the way to do it is by thinking through these issues for yourself—morality, mortality, honor—so you will have the strength to deal with them when they arise. Waiting until you have to confront them in practice would be like waiting for your first fire fight to learn how to shoot your weapon. Once the situation is upon you, it’s too late. You have to be prepared in advance. You need to know, already, who you are and what you believe: not what the Army believes, not what your peers believe (that may be exactly the problem), but what you believe.

How can you know that unless you’ve taken counsel with yourself in solitude? I started by noting that solitude and leadership would seem to be contradictory things. But it seems to me that solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.

William Deresiewicz is an essayist and critic.

Vive La France of the Resistance

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Bliss it is to be alive on this 2010 dawn. The spirit of the 1789 French Revolution is flourishing over the channel despite the reactionary government led by Nicholas Sarkozy, a Bourbon in democratic clothing.

A short book written by Stéphane Hessel, a 93-year-old hero of the French Resistance, has taken the country by storm.

Though only 30 pages long it has already sold 600,000 copies and the publishers expect it to top a million soon.

The book is a clear, concise denunciation of the American consumer capitalism, which Nicholas Sarkozy, no less than Britain’s Cameron government, is slavishly emulating.

The Guardian Paris correspondent sums up the message.

“This is an appeal to citizens, young and old, to take responsibility for the things in our society that don’t work,” he said. “I wish every one of you to find your own reason for indignation. It’s precious.” Hessel’s reasons for personal outrage include the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor, France’s shocking treatment of its illegal immigrants, the need to re-establish a free press, protecting the environment, the plight of Palestinians and the importance of protecting the French welfare system. He calls for peaceful and non-violent insurrection.

It has already made as big an impact as that seminal work of 1967, Le Defi Americain, which fuelled the minds and hearts of those young French people who stormed the barricades in 1968.

As well it might. Hessel fought the Nazis, survived torture and two concentration camps, and is now reminding today’s French youth of what their ancestors were fighting for, in the 1940s and in the 1780s.

His mother inspired the Francois Truffaut film, Jules et Jim, which delighted all Francophiles of my generation.

Her son has lived on to speak to a new generation, which is crying out for better leadership. A British publisher should publish an English translation pronto.

It will sell like hot cakes to those school children and students who take to the streets as the Coalition cuts bite more deeply in the year ahead.

And to those oldies who are with them in spirit.

Cable: Strictly not dancing

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Shortly before his much heralded appearance on BBC Strictly come Dancing Christmas edition, when  he might have done very well because he is a decent dancer, Vince Cable has been dragged around the floor in far more humiliating circumstances than Ann Widdicombe. who can’t dance, and who does not mind making an ass of herself now that her political career is over.

Contrast, Cable.

Who on Monday, held probably the most important cabinet role of all the Liberal Democrats, in this so-called Coalition government. Business Secretary.

Today, just twenty-four hours later, he is still the Business Secretary. But his credibility is in shreds, thanks to a sting by what my friends still call the Daily Torygraph.

The Daily Telegraph, which I have respected for the whole of my lifetime as a serious newspaper, which though right wing, reported, and reported at length, other viewpoints.

And, which had a clear distinction between news and comment.

The 2010 Daily Telegraph, however, adopted the tactics of the Murdoch press.

Not reporting, but a sting.

They sent two good-looking female journalists, to pose as loyal constituents, at his MP’s surgery, when Cable, like all decent MPs, makes themselves available to listen to their constituent’s concerns.

They conned him something awful. So that he confided to them, after they had convinced him that they were on his side, that he had declared war on Mr Murdoch, who should not be allowed to add to his already dominant power over the British media.

The Daily Telegraph, however, did not tell the world what their reporters had found out. They led on Tuesday with other things that Cable had said in the same dishonest interview.

Their headline was:

I could bring the government down.

Which was explosive enough.

But they dd not publish his comments about Murdoch, which were far more explosive.

Because the Daily Telegraph, 2010, is not the paper which has such a distinguished record in British journalism.

It is owned by the Barclay Twins, who avoid British taxes by living in the Channel Islands, and who are the most secretive of British newspaper bosses.

They are opposing Murdoch’s bid for even more power (along with many other British newspaper owners) but they don’t want you,

The British public

To know that.

Because they would rather like to own The Times themselves.

The scandal, which the British left, has never understood is not Rupert Murdoch.

It is that the British media is still overwhelmingly right wing, with the twin exceptions of the BBC and The Guardian Observer, owned by a trust.

So the fact that the Business Secretary had decided that Murdoch had too much power, was brought to the nation, not by the Torygraph, but by the BBC, whose budget has been slashed by this coalition government.

Urged on by the Murdoch press which wants to turn Sky into a right-wing rant like Murdoch’s Fox Television in the US.

The serious issue for the British media is NOT Murdoch.

It is that all the British press is rightwing, with the exception of The Independent, which is nearly bankrupt, and the Mirror, which is ailing financially, a spent force politically, and The Guardian.

Whereas the opinion polls show that the nation has a lot of left wingers.

This affair makes it crystal clear we need to rethink our media policy.

The Labour party should not be dancing on Cable’s grave, they should be attacking the fundamentals of big business domination of our media.

And Vince Cable, who has today committed political suicide, should resign tomorrow.

Go to the backbenches. Appear on Strictly Come Dancing. And help to restore his party, the Liberal Democrats, who have been hijacked by Nick Clegg, who like Tony Blair, is a Tory at heart.

Evening in the land of dreams

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

We do have about an inch of snow here in London so I allowed nearly an hour to get from my London flat to Euston, where I was due to attend a dream group at the Academy of Dreams. That journey would have taken me ten minutes on my motor scooter.

I was five minutes late.

But it was not because of the snow.

I got to the 168 bus stop outside Marks and Spencer in less than five minutes. And the bus was there on the bus stand, lights up and raring to go and deliver me to my destination.

Or so I thought.

I waited, and waited. Then another 168 turned up and parked behind it.

More waiting and I was beginning to feel cold although the temperature on my outdoor thermometer was 2 degrees above zero when I left home.

Then yet another 168 turned up. No room to park, so the driver went straight on to do get out the way.

What seemed an age later (probably three minutes) bus number one came around to the stop, but with a sign on the front which said Camden Town. (The terminus is in Waterloo.)

So I waited.

By that time bus number three had come back and parked behind bus number two.

More waiting.

Then  bus number three  overtook bus number two and came to my stop, announcing that it was going to the Old Kent Road. (Inside the bus, the sign said, Old Kent Road, Tesco store. Do Tesco pay for this advert?)

I jumped on. And at last we were away.

However, at Camden Town the driver stopped, and yapped away on his mobile phone. Then he announced a change of destination. The bus was now going to Euston! A calamity for the woman sitting beside me who actually wanted to get to the Old Kent Road.

But good enough for me.

That’s reality, folks. Which has taken me away from the subject of this blog, which is dreams.

In the dominant conventional wisdom, dreams are the polar opposite to reality.

But in my own life, I have found that listening to dreams can be a useful guide to dealing with reality.

I found the Academy of Dreams on the web. I was attracted by the title. It implies a respect for dreams, which our society does not have. Not our society, nor our leaders, in the coalition and in Labour, who were mostly educated at Oxbridge.

Most of them are too young to have learnt Greek. Their philosophy comes from blokes like Wittgenstein and Freddy Ayres. Rationalist thinkers.

But the Greek elite took dreams seriously. They ran workshops on them, 3,000 years before the New Age discovered them.

And so  should we.

And so should I.

Which is why I went to Euston tonight instead of writing another blog about the folly of British judges.

Julian Assange has finally got bail. So he won’t have to spend Christmas in prison. But  that is only a temporary reprieve. In the full hearing in January the judge expects him to be extradited to Sweden.

Worse than that. The case against Assange is that he is a ‘nomad’, who is likely to flee justice. This despite the evidence that he is, thanks to the mainstream media, just about the most visible person on the planet.

Whereas  the reality is that Assange’s whereabouts have been known throughout this saga, when he has been living mostly at the Front Line Club in deepest Paddington. This is a journalist’s club for journalists, mostly working for the mainstream media, but who want to do something a bit different to the Press Club, etc.

Where I have been myself several times. So you can take my word for it. They are neither a bunch of loonies, nor a propaganda machine for any political group.

But amazingly the judge thought he would do a runner. This despite the evidence that he is, thanks to the mainstream media, just about the most visible person on the planet.

That same judge went on to refuse one of the people offering bail, John Pilger, whom he branded as another ‘nomad’.

Now, I have never met Assange, but I have known John Pilger for upwards of thirty years. And far from being an elusive ‘nomad’ I have never had any difficulty in getting hold of him through his London flat, to get him to come and talk to my students.

He still speaks with an Aussie accent. But he is also a Londoner.

Reality is sometimes more unbelievable than dreams, so I must say more about this idiot judge.

With Pilger rejected the Assange defence team had to wheel in replacements, and one of those who was acceptable was Philip Knightley, whom I have known as long as Pilger.

The joke is that he too is an Aussie. With a life history which is quite similar to Pilger’s. But his accent  is not so obviously Australian. And, quite as important, he is highly respected by the British intelligence services, who have helped him on his many journalistic coups, including Philby. And, who he has helped, by finding out things which they did not know.

So, although I don’t know the ‘truth’ my gut feeling is that the pursuit of Assange is politically motivated.

But this is supposed to be a blog about dreams.

The dream I talked about tonight is one I had about a month ago. About the time I was working for the Economist, all of 35 years ago.

The content is not important for this blog.

The astonishing thing is that for several minutes after I woke up, I thought  I was still working at the Economist, and I was plotting what I would do when I went in for the story conference today.

Until I realised that I was actually in my bungalow by the seaside. And that the then editor of the Economist is now enjoying the millions he made, as a gentleman farmer in the countryside.

We all dream, and can remember our dreams. And, if nothing else, they are a method of time travel that knocks Doctor Who into a cocked hat.

We can in the still of the  night, re-inhabit a world that has passed.

And find a message useful to us, in 2010.

It is now just after midnight. And I am having a grandiose fantasy.

Perhaps I should write just one book, showing the wonder of dreams and how  they can help dealing with the less wonderful realities of our age.

Justice and the Law

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

The Guardian reports just now that papers have been filed in the High Court showing that the phone hacking culture was endemic at the Nnews of  the World.

Yet the Met Police a few days ago reported they were unab9le to find srifficient evidence to bring ex-editor Andy Coulsonon, now Darvid Cameron’s press officer, to trial.

The Wikileaks’ founder won his appeal at the High Court, the sent back to jail for Christmas, while Swedish lawyers try to force him back to Sweden to face contested sex charges.

Despite the fact that most of the press know how to find him.

He is not fleeing justice.

Just asking for freedom to carry on despite the pressure from the US to nail Wikileaks.

David Cameron and most of the press have lambassted the student march. But a friend who was there saw only police bbrutality.

And the best that Theresa May offers is ‘contact’ witth the duchess!