The Test

COB (colleague of blogger) is tired of my doom and gloom. (Really?  I thought it part of my magnetic personality. . . .)

And that, in and of itself, is shocking, since COB was discussing that the end of the world could occur on December 21, 2012.  Something about the Mayan calendar, Nostradamus and planetary alignments. Not that COB BELIEVES it, or anything.  But he was just putting it out there.

Probably to stack the odds before he dared me to be hopeful and cheerful for one month.  ONE MONTH.

In case you didn’t read carefully enough, I was challenged to be hopeful and cheerful for one month.  (COB is a poker player and probably has side bets on whether I will sink into despair in 5 minutes, 10 minutes or 2 weeks.)

I think it is funny that people are talking about the end of the world being in 21 months away, since Japan lies devastated (and its nuclear rods laid bare) by an earthquake and then tsunami, Libya is in civil war, Bahrain and Yemen are in chaos, the Ivory Coast is a bloodbath, we are in two wars, our deficit is out of control, the recession hasn’t ended for most Americans and we have a dysfunctional Congress, and on and on and on.  Sounds like the end of days now.

BUT, I digress, comme d’habitude.

Back to sweetness and light and kumbaya.   A dare is a dare and I have my pride.  So, forget the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Forget images of breadlines during the Depression.  Forget the daily carnage for an acre or two of oil fields.  I am going to be happy, hopeful and cheery, Gosh darn it.

So, here is what I did today to make good on the dare:

  • When I was at the gym, I didn’t tell the stinky man that he was curling my nose hairs, as we took turns on the same machine.
  • I made sure that all elderly, infirm or pregnant people on the bus had seats.  (Yes, I know I am too pampered to hang with humanity, but the recession hasn’t ended.)
  • I swore to POB (partner of blogger) that I would take a time-out from the 24-hours news REcycle, where the object is to scare us more than to provide information.  (Note to self:  If Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper is at the nuclear power plant in Japan, it can’t be releasing THAT much radiation.)
  • I kissed and hugged my son, as I asked G-d (and whomever else with power over these things) to protect him from the chaos.

Not bad for my first few hours of Blogger-High-On-Happiness.

Fitch Downgrades Egypt

“Tarek El-Tablawy, AP Business Writer, On Friday January 28, 2011, 2:20 pm

CAIRO (AP) — Fitch Rating on Friday revised down its outlook for Egypt, dropping it to “negative” as mass protests in the country turned violent, engulfing the capital and other cities in the most serious challenge to President Hosni Mubarak’s regime in years.

Fitch said it was holding steady Egypt’s other ratings, including its long-term foreign currency issuer default rating, which was held at the investment grade BB+.”

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As an aside, rating agencies generally condoned the “froth” and the bubble that almost ruined us financially.

So, here is the picture:  Egyptians are taking to the streets against its government, the military is locking down cities, airports are closed, the opposition leader is under house arrest and Fitch downgrades Egypt’s “outlook”.  But Egypt’s debt paying ability is holding steady, thank G-d.  That totalitarianism for you.   Because even though people are protesting and dying for change, the bills still get paid and the palace is still resplendent.  And no situation is negative until the financial markets say so. I think that is what we have learned from these last three years.

I wonder how many people are reading the articles about the protests, etc., and how many are reading about the financial impact on debt holders.  I don’t want to know the answer, because Jack Nicholson was right in a Few Good Men, I can’t handle the truth.

WikiLeaks made the world way more dangerous.

Mr. Wikileaks, the self-appointed arbiter of world politics, is a cyber-terrorist and not a crusader.   But the information is not revelatory; but its publication is like yelling fire in a crowded theater.   

And really, is the world a safer place because we know that a diplomat thinks Silvio Berlusconi is feckless and a womanizer? Or that Quaddafi travels with a voluptuous nurse?  This suggests that Mr. WikiLeaks is out to embarrass people and not to save the world.

And does the world (and specifically terrorists) need to know that the US is SECRETLY (oops, WAS SECRETLY) trying to secure some of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal?   And did anyone doubt that the Afghan government is corrupt to its core?

To review.  Before this weekend, we knew, among other things, that:

  1. China is our biggest creditor;
  2. China can be an immense military and economic enemy if threatened;
  3. China views North Korea as a buffer between it and the Western sphere of influence in the Korean peninsula;
  4. South Korea is one of our biggest trading partners and buyer of US goods and thus key to our economic recovery;
  5. North Korea is ruled by lunatics and they have a nuclear arsenal; 
  6. Iran probably has or is about to have nuclear weapons making the Middle East evermore the powder keg of the world;
  7. Secretly every ruler in the Middle East hates Ahmedinejad and wants Iran disarmed;
  8. The US cannot afford to fight another war; and
  9. Hamid Karzai and his merry band of traffickers run one of the most corrupt governments in one of the most ungovernable areas of the world.

Now we know that:

  • The US and South Korea are planning for a united Korea (assuming North Korea implodes) allied with the US which will freak out China;
  • Some Middle East countries (other than Israel) hate Iran enough to want the US to attack;
  • Iran is really close to having nuclear weapons; and
  • Karzai’s brother regularly shakes down countries and is paid millions of dollars in unmarked bags.

Net Gain:  Zero Information. 

Net Loss:  Now countries may have to respond with harsh words, sanctions or firepower because delicate diplomatic balances have been disrupted and bonds of trust breached.  Gee, just what we needed. 

Ramifications:  In this world, this diplomatic crisis could as easily result in political breakthroughs or peace or devolve into war and/or global economic collapse.  

Sanchez and Stewart — A Re-Think

A friend from high school sent me a message and thought I should rethink my prior blog entry on the Sanchez and Stewart dust-up (http://40andoverblog.com/?p=2921).

I re-read it and my high school friend was right that I was unduly harsh and outrageously judgmental (and, although she didn’t say it, I will add, hypocritical) in my comments about Jon Stewart’s religious observance.  It is none of my business and I was out of line.

I still believe that there was a potential for a teachable moment with Rick Sanchez, where we could talk about the source of the anger.  There is so much anger in our society right now that I just wish we would look more closely at it, together, and find some common ground and possibly healing.

And even as I was trying to make that point in my prior blog entry, I took a needless and shameful pot-shot at Jon Stewart.  As much as I love Jon Stewart and I would bear his children if I could (POB (partner of blogger) knows this and accepts this because, well, it is biologically impossible anyway), some things about him push my buttons and I react irrationally.  Maybe that it why I feel bad (a little) for Rick Sanchez (whose show is, in my opinion, so bad as to be unwatchable).

Anyway, to my high school friend, thank you for “calling me” on this and I expect you to keep me in line as you see fit.

~ Blogger

Going Nuclear with Dr. Strangelove

How do you get someone’s mind off a headache? A strong punch to the stomach.

How do you take someone’s mind off the environmental disaster caused by the massive oil leak? Detonate a nuclear warhead.

Really? Detonate a nuclear bomb to melt the ocean floor onto itself to stop the leak?  It is ok to try new things, like shooting debris in the hole to plug it, because what’s a little more pollution when millions of barrels of oil are gushing into the ocean each day. But a nuclear bomb? Yeah, let’s compound one threat to our future with an almost certain apocalyptic coda.

Someone said this nuclear fix is safe.  Someone also said deep water drilling is safe.  Someone said the Russians exploded nuclear bombs to stop pipeline leaks, but they never did it with oil, underwater and one mile down.  Oh, yeah, just like top kill was never tried underwater and one mile down.  Gee, I wish Anyone thought through how to fix something, let’s say an oil pipe, that far down below sea level before the accident.  Boy, I never met this Someone or Anyone, but Someone sure is crazy and Anyone should be fired.

But, this is America, where Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels.  So, if we look at everything ass backwards and upside down, it should work.  From that perspective, the nuclear option looks like a plan.  How about if all of the BP executives and the government officials who oversaw deep-water drilling put on some of Ginger’s old outfits and then tried to figure out what to do?  No, it wouldn’t add any brain cells (so still a zero sum game) but it would sure provide needed comic relief in the aftermath of the biggest threat to the safety of all living beings since the Ice Age.

Of course, no disaster is complete without the accompanying political grandstanding and fiascoes.  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wrote to the President enumerating the number of jobs that will be lost because of the moratorium on off-shore drilling, even as he decries the despoliation of his state’s shorelines and criticizes the administration’s slow response.

Maureen Dowd, who is becoming pathetic, says we got the President we voted for, as if that is a bad thing —  a clear-headed leader who doesn’t lead by his gut.  The President constantly overestimates our intelligence and ability to understand the important things.  And President Obama has to stop what he is doing to go on Larry King so that we are reassured he can feel our pain.  Because we need him to hug us and feel our pain while he is protecting us from our own stupidity.

We deserve to choke on the oil slick.

This is the media’s Hurricane Katrina

I believe the Gulf disaster defies analogy.  

But we need to pigeon hole this one for the 24 hour news re-cycle.  Hmmm.  Hurricane Katrina.  Yeah, that’s it!  Let’s exploit another episode of human suffering for the sake of ratings.  That’s why the media asks, “Is this Obama’s Hurricane Katrina?”.  Because that was the most recent large scale disaster.  We can’t remember back almost 10 years to ask if this is “Obama’s 9/11”.

And it feeds our need, in a situation out of control, for symmetry with past events so we can pretend to understand the event and its ramifications and then go back to watching Britney Spears.   The pathology of fear symmetry.

Let’s not make this about President Obama, although it would make it easier if it were.  It is about greed and reckless indifference to our earth.  It is about a problem of unimaginable scope causing imponderable calamity for all living beings.

We elected President Obama because he is unflappable, at least in public.   Now, we are pissed because he doesn’t express constant outrage to satisfy CNN, FOX, and MSNBC and our own fear symmetry pathology.

Everyone, listen up:

Rule 1 of disaster reaction:  If the only people with the machinery to solve the problem are the ones who caused the problem, don’t piss them off.  If you make it so they can never get out from under the liability, they will take their marbles and go home and then all is lost.   Sometimes it feels good to yell at a given moment, but it hurts you in the long run (ever hear the old saw, “don’t cut off your nose to spite your face”?).

Rule 2 of disaster reaction:  There is no easy resolution to this problem because no one prepared for this disaster.  Not BP and not the United States.  Preparation would have required years of research and development by top scientists and hundreds of millions of dollarsSo, blame Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II.  Even throw Carter, Ford and Nixon under that bus while you’re at it.

Rule 3 of disaster reaction Everyone wastes time pointing figures at othersAnd take out the mirror.  All of us.  We are the problem, too.  Consume too much?  Vote for the Drill, Baby, Drill ticket?

Rule 4 of disaster reaction: DON’T TELL THE PUBLIC THE TRUTH.  WE CANNOT HANDLE THE TRUTH (Jack Nicholson was right in “A Few Good Men”).  We also expect that everything will get fixed for us, preferably within a day’s trading session at the New York Stock Exchange.

Rule 5 of disaster reaction: The media feeds our ridiculous expectations and our hubris.  So, Anderson Cooper, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Maureen Dowd, Jack Cafferty, Wolf Blitzer and whoever else:  stop with the comparisons and come up with ways to heal our earth, ways to help our fellow Americans, our wildlife, etc.  Set up a disaster relief fund.

Reality No. 1 of Disasters:  The man in charge — President Obama — wanted this gusher plugged the minute it happened.  You think he wants to go down as the president who screwed up this disaster response?

Reality No. 2 of Disasters: Everyone is an armchair quarterback.  If you can help, then help.  If you can’t, then shut up.

Reality No. 3 of Disasters: If there weren’t a disaster, the media would create one. So, for the 45th President of the United States of America, what will be your Gulf Oil Spill Disaster?

This Blogger’s No. 1 Fear: If it is ever over, we will forget about it in a New York minute.

Keeping CNN Honest

Haiti is in the midst of an unspeakable humanitarian crisis.   Groups with food, water and medicine were having hard times getting into the country because the Port-au-Prince airport was badly damaged. 

Still, CNN managed to put 6 correspondents on the ground to report on the misery and the sadness, in order to “get us the news we need to know”.  Thanks, Wolf Blitzer, but did your correspondents fly in ahead of the humanitarian relief?  Did your planes carry medicine and other necessities, too?  What are the reporters and camera crew eating and did they bring enough to share?

And how much do we really need to see after the initial footage of devastation?  How about just giving us phone numbers to call to donate for the relief effort, with hourly AP updates on relief efforts without new footage? 

This a tragedy of epic proportions.  Not an opportunity for a media circus.

Weave these threads into your reality

In one city, Costco takes tomatoes off its shelves because Sarah Palin is scheduled to appear.  I am sure that Costco wanted to protect the tomatoes from an ignoble end.

In Copenhagen, 193 nations are trying to agree on something — anything.  When was the last time you got consensus in a family of three members? 

Did you know that the food industry is responsible for 1/3 of all of the world’s carbon emissions?  Give up grapes in winter and the save the world.

We are trying to agree with China on important things — North Korea, carbon emissions, sanctions for Iran.  How about we start with something small, like, “it’s a lovely day, isn’t it?”

Now, no one likes the health care reform bill.  The Congress behaved so badly, but of course it is Obama’s fault.

A Republican senator wanted to run out the clock on health care by requiring the reading of a laborious and largely symbolic amendment to the health care legislation.  Debate, I get.  Screaming and yelling, sure.  Stonewalling?  Outrageous.  That senator ought to be in the penalty box for the rest of his term.

I can drive my Hummer, but Obama, Obama, needs to save us from Waterworld (I really can’t handle that horrible 1980s/90s movie turning out to be prophetic).

If Obama doesn’t fix health care, lower carbon emissions, balance the budget, reduce the deficit and increase jobs, ALL IN ONE YEAR, he will have failed.  If I remember my anniversary, I am golden for 12 months.    Wow, his job really sucks.

Being a pundit or a talking head must be great.  Sanctimony with no responsibility.

Enough Polling, Please

What I have learned by being sick at home watching news shows in between naps and flu-induced coma like behavior:

There is a “just released” poll for everything nowadays.  There are instant polls and twitter polls.  There are online polls and telephone polls.  While the actual number crunching may be scientific, there is nothing scientific about the responses. 

Let’s say my commute took twice as long as normal and my boss was angry that I was late to a meeting and all of a sudden because of the economy I am a little more nervous about job security than I might have been two years ago.  Now someone calls me tonight and asks, how am I feeling about the economy.  My answer may be “lousy”.  The day before I might have said, “stabilizing”.  The poll measures how you feel at that moment which isn’t right or wrong — it just isn’t the whole picture. 

Also the way the question is asked often leads to a more optimistic or pessimistic answer.  “Do you feel the country is on the wrong course?”  “Do you think that President Obama is indecisive on Afghanistan?” 

Or if you use a measure of 100 days or 1000 days or 5 minutes, it gives immediate legitimacy to the notion that these are relevant time measures for progress on incredibly complicated and pervasive issues.  Go figure. 

Maybe a better poll would ask, “over the past 6 months, has your outlook changed on [insert crisis du jour]?  And how has your outlook changed?”  And even that can be corrupted if you use a benchmark date.  “Since Labor Day, how have you been feeling about [insert crisis du jour]?”  Chances are that that question will elicit a negative response because end of summer is bittersweet.  Ask people on Thanksgiving Day and the answers may be more philosophical.    

I am of course exaggerating, and I must confess that I am unencumbered by fact, information and background in poll taking.  But I can’t imagine that these things don’t have an effect.

The biggest danger is that instant polling, first 100-day polling and second 100-day polling cement these arbitrary time frames and in a time where instant gratification and diminishing attention spans are prevailing social disorders, this is frightening indeed.

Three major states of being: Alive, Dead & — in Hollywood — UnDead

Michael Jackson has been dead for months now.  Or has he?

He is coming out with a new movie. 

So, Michael is in that fashionable Hollywood state of the “Undead”. 

The Undead can do what living people do — make movies, have digitally produced voice-overs, sell your clothes to the highest bidder, be immortalized in rare and just-discovered footage.  In order to stay undead, there must be mystery and intrigue and controversy swirling around the person, enough to keep conspiracy theorists thriving. 

And that means more coverage on the newsertainment channels, like CNN, which brings the Undead back to life for years at a time.