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Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Gods Of Bubbles


(Reuters) - Asia's top mergers and acquisitions bankers gathered two years ago at the swanky Island Shangri La in Hong Kong to celebrate the top deals of 2012. As the transactions were being toasted, one was unraveling.
Advisers on Caterpillar Inc's $677 million purchase of ERA Mining Machinery Ltd picked up an award for cross-border deal of the year. The purchase was billed as a coup for Caterpillar, the world's top maker of tractors and excavators. ERA was the holding company for Zhengzhou Siwei Mechanical & Electrical Equipment Manufacturing Co Ltd, one of China's biggest makers of hydraulic coal-mine roof supports. Siwei would help Caterpillar gain traction in the world's largest coal industry. 
"Siwei was going to be our Chinese business card," said a person with direct knowledge of Caterpillar's strategy. 
The night of the awards on November 16 three Caterpillar lawyers were wrapping up an eight-hour grilling of Wang Fu, Siwei's chairman. Major accounting problems had been unearthed at Siwei headquarters in the gritty Chinese city of Zhengzhou. Two months later, on January 18, 2013, Caterpillar said it had discovered "deliberate, multi-year, coordinated accounting misconduct" at Siwei...
 There were a lot of alarms and warnings that were ignored by Caterpillar.

There were in a "bubble" mentality; they were in a rush for the China gold mine of investment; there was "irrational exuberance".

I tend to look at everything as One; I mix everything together, just like the universe is.
To me, Caterpillar in China and Plato's dialogue Io have a lot in common.

I am presently reading Io in Greek. You have to do this because the translations can be so ghastly.
Io is a Homeric rhapsode, that is Io recites the works of Homer - and no one else but Homer - to audiences who gather in whatever cities of Greece he happens to be visiting.

Now if you have any familiarity with Plato, you know that he banned poets from his ideal city-state in his dialogue The Republic.

We should get an idea of why he did that as we read how he roughly handles poor old Io, whom I think he unfairly makes to look buffoonish and loopy, but that's neither here nor there at the moment.
Plato talks of knowledge and art. Art for Plato is not "ART" as we know of it with its own cult. In Plato, blacksmiths, potters, painters, and sculptors are are pliers of their respective arts.

A person who has knowledge of an art - such as an expert in painting - is able to make true statements about the art of all paintings and painters, and is able to say why some painting is good and other is Thomas Kinkade-ish, or even redolent of Red Skelton's "Sad Clown Period".

A poet is a different matter, for the poet plies no art. Rather, the poet is inspired and possessed by a god, the Muse. Just like Pythia at Delphi, the poet cannot control his tongue, and his speech pours forth in fine metrical fashion by the divine force.

Plato uses a great metaphor of a magnet and a series of iron rings.
The magnet attracts an iron ring, then imparts to this ring the ability to magnetize, and a second ring is attached hanging down from the first, then a third is attached, and so on. This creates a chain of rings hanging down from the magnet.
(This is an area where the translation may be so faulty. I have read writings on this which refers to "a magnet and iron filings" which is not at all the metaphor nor point Plato wished to make. We all are familiar with magnets and iron filings, particularly that toy in which we put iron filing hair, eyebrows, and beard on a bald cartoon figure with a bulbous nose... in fact, that guy looks like the first cousin of the poor schlub in the game Operation.)

Plato's point seems to be that the god inspires the poet, and the divine inspiration works through the poet to posses the hearer, who then may repeat the epic poetry to  another hearer, who in turn is possessed of the inspiration, and so on.
I interpret it as the god inspires the poet, who is compelled to create the poetry. That poetry than inspires the rhapsode, Io, and he feels a similar urge to recite the poetry to various people, who themselves are then inspired by sacred Homer.
(What these hearers of Io do in their turn is of no consequence. They probably get up the next morning and look out the window and say something like "O, rosy-fingered dawn!")

The point for me is that Plato has knowledge, or rational behavior. We know from the Symposium he is familiar with emotional behavior.
And here we have inspirational behavior, which is quite different from the other two. And he does not particularly approve.

When he adduces examples of inspired behavior, he uses the Bacchae and the Corybantes, who in a wild frenzy at night draw milk and honey from a babbling brook, which, in the sober light of day, they see as a dribble of a stream that a flock of sheep just urinated in. (This is one of his "iron-fisted insults within a velvet glove" attacks on poor Io, who smiles at it all.)

Plato does not trust Inspiration.

In a rush to invest, Caterpillar used rational approaches and probably emotional ones, too. But they failed as they plunged into a state of "possession" by the Mammon of China Investment.

Rational behavior and Emotional behavior do not explain how sane people connect themselves into a delusory chain of activity, a prison from which there is no escape other than the bursting of the bubble.

We live in a time of Possession.

Who are the gods who posses us?

In the National Geographic, Volume 193, No. 6, June 1998, there is an article on the Raji people of Nepal who inhabit the tarai subtropical forest lands between Nepal and India. They make their livings primarily as hunter-gatherers of honey, for which they scale tall trees, brave the stings of outraged bees, and process the honey to sell it to neighboring villages.

In 1998, times were changing. The lands the Raji inhabited were being opened to farmers and large tracts were being claimed as national park lands.
'Pagou Ram, an elder, describes the fate of 3,000 Raji: "Before we knew where the gods were. They were in the trees. Now there are no trees." '
The gods are the wellsprings of power within life, the things that create and transform, that make life and death and transcend them even then.

I was talking to a friend Tuesday, and she briefly touched on how working by the river affects us. She said it changes your psychology. Or it moves you, affects your soul. Here we see the river as a power, and in old times it would be a god with its own naiads and nymphs.

There are all these things of power within our lives, and they are the gods described by the Raji as well as Plato.
We can chose to live with these powers and be well, or we can - like Caterpillar - allow ourselves to be possessed by these powers for the wrong reasons.

For if Caterpillar had wished more than anything to have a business in China that would benefit the Chinese people and themselves, if they had sought good growth and reasonable investment, rather than idolizing the notion of being in China first and maybe excluding others, they probably would not have stumbled.

So too we all : rational in the ways of the world, using good emotions to give life to the sensitive universe, and being inspired by the powers from which all that is good in life flows.

We receive from the power of God, we love and nurture with what has been given to us, and we are wise and rational husbandmen.


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