Monday, March 22, 2010

Change for the sake of change, or…?

News item: The U.S. army has decided to forego bayonet training in favor of alternate exercises, learned in Iraq and Afghanistan ducking rifle-mounted projectiles, that place emphasis on twisting, turning, and dodging maneuvers than in hand-to-hand contact. In a spirit of disclosure, I am a Cold War veteran (got a medal to prove it) who was obliged to take bayonet training while in an expedited basic training program. I kept trying to explain to my Drill Sargent, a combat veteran named Hartsock (really), that I, with a Class C non-combat profile and destined for the Signal Corps Electronics school, shouldn't have to undergo this strenuous exercise.

Besides, I argued, unsuccessfully, if there was one round left in my weapon I was going to fire it rather than engage in a duel of cold steel with an adversary whose bayonet was three inches longer than mine. And it turns out, as a left hander in an Army whose training manuals were written for right-handers, the exercise as taught was backwards for me. So you can see my relief that a new generation of warriors won't be saddled with this outdated training regime. Today our highly trained and well educated warriors just call down air support, no more cold steel for them.

I'm reminded of this and another Cold War anecdote as I was having dinner in Bruges, Belgium, with a diverse international group and the subject turned to the former Eastern Block, our erstwhile foes in the Cold War. I told them the story of sitting with a colleague, just days after the Wall came down and the former Soviets became our friends overnight. We were in his apartment in St. Petersburg, and after a few vodka toasts started reminiscing about us being opponents in the Cold War. I recited the bayonet training exercise story to him and, laughing, he told a very similar story about his experiences as a conscripted basic trainee who, being a graduate physicist, found it even more amusing. We laughed because within a period of a few weeks we had become friends and compatriots as opposed to the previous situation.

All of the above happened because the Bruges dinner table discussion was about economic geography. I was being mildly criticized for continued use of the term Eastern Europe as an economic entity in European laser system sales. Actually, I simply use the same designations that appear in the Europeans' analysis of the laser market there; and this term is also used by financial reporters in other publications both here in the States and abroad.

My dinner host suggested I was really referring to the rise of industrial laser activity in Central Europe, as opposed to Eastern Europe; the difference being that the former, composed of hot economies in Slovenia, Slovakia, Romanian, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic (to name a few) are being confused with the less-than-exuberant markets in the former Soviet States, known as Eastern Europe, which includes all the ‘stans.

"Whoa," I say, "Is this a reality? Am I off-base here?" Others at the table, mostly from the American Continent, agree with me. "Yes, you are," say my European hosts. "We refer to markets here in Europe as Western, Central, and Eastern and we see vibrant action in the Central region, but not in the Eastern."

Should I be a pioneer among my fellow laser market reporters and now divide European sales into three categories that mean nothing to most readers? My hosts agreed the too-detailed division does not resonate with most of the ILS readers. I'll throw it to these readers. Would it be better to refer to the markets as EU and non-EU countries; a description favored in the offices of NATO and the EU in Brussels? This would be a harder concept to get across in Asia where these geographic and economic distinctions are too complex to define when the message is laser sales, not politics.

So I'll leave it to readers. Should I, like the U.S. Army, drop an outdated exercise and get with the real world today or is the status quo OK for now? Frankly, divining the economic health of markets in three European entities, when I can barely get cooperation on financial statistics from just two now, will be a difficult task. But then I learned how to balance a bayoneted rifle under my right forearm, contrary too what my brain was wired for, so I should be able to adapt.

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