Friday, January 02, 2009

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Special 2009 Prediction Edition

This was so successful last year...I guess I got lucky...that I thought I'd do it again this year.

1) India/Pakistan - This I think will be the most important story of 2009, what happens on the subcontinent. We saw the beginnings of a serious conflict starting with the assassination of Bhutto in December 2007, and moving right through the Mumbai attacks last year. Already today, India is accusing Pakistan of a soft touch in dealing with terrorists. This could be a horrendous situation and if I had to pick the flash point of the next world war, this is it. Remember, they are both nuclear powers. Pakistan is bordered by China and Iran, as well, so not good.

2) Israel/Palestine - Sort of a no-brainer, to be sure, but a challenge to President Obama, nonetheless and likely to be dominating the news this winter and the end of the year, I think.

3) The Economy - Again, a no-brainer. What hasn't been talked about much in this country is how global this downturn truly is. China has already enlisted the aide of several western economic consultants to guide it through this recession, but as the Bush administration has shown, there's a flu in the economy that swamps even seasoned policymakers. China becomes the linchpin of the global economy, because while America is still the strongest economic force, much of that is due to China's willingness to do just about anything to make a buck.

4) Energy - I'm going out on a limb here, but my guess is Barack Obama will deal with two birds using his stone of economic recovery: the bad economy and US energy policy. Universally, it is agreed that the US has to shed its dependence on foreign fossil energy sources, and while there is a strong dispute coming from the neaderthals still, over global warming, it seems pretty clear that renewable energy will play a much bigger role in our policy than ever before.

5) Obesity - With a healthy (if smoking) President in office who has the attention and respect of the country, and can shed his shirt without embarrassing himself, I think the country will finally begin a serious dialogue regarding obesity. That the recession will have people reconsidering their food choices to begin with will help, altho fast food is cheap and easy to get and that will hamper efforts to deal with this problem head-on. Governor Patterson of New York state is already calling for an "obesity tax" tax on sugared soft drinks. I expect this will be expanded to include fatty foods.

6) Africa - I dropped this from number one to number six this year, because I think things have stabilized a bit, with the Zimbabwean elections now passed, even if the results are muddled. The impact of the economic downturn on the Horn of Africa and sub-Saharan nations like Somalia will play a big role in whether things heat up again or not. I don't think the effects of the downturn filter to Africa until 2010.

7) Weather - Calling nature twelve months out is always risky, and I was tempted to moderate this topic by calling it "Global Warming", but the fact is, I think we're in for a helluva ride from Mother Nature this year. When you have tornadoes at Christmas in Alabama (not exactly in Tornado Alley), you have the set-up for a horrendous early Spring.

8) Terrorism - I agree with Joe Biden. I think Barack Obama will be challenged early in his term, just as both Bush and Clinton were, by a terrorist attack, possibly on US soil. Now, this does not mean the attack will be successful, just that there will be an attempt. I think Obama one-ups Bush and Clinton and foils it.

9) Afghanistan - The winding down of the US presence in Iraq will bring renewed attention to the tenuous situation in Afghanistan, particularly now that Pakistan has re-opened the Khyber Pass. Taliban forces are already making a mockery of the US efforts there, with Kabul being one of the few places where people can go about their business freely. Obama has already stated his intent to increase his focus on that situation.

10) Cuba - This one will create some waves, but I predict the US will finally end its ridiculous embargo on Cuba. In terms of the side effects of this policy, as the BBC article I've linked to points out, it is a symbolic gesture, largely (I regularly bring Cuban cigars and rum into the US and Customs doesn't even blink an eye, altho if they read this, I expect I'll be strip-searched in two weeks when I return from my trip), but the signals that it sends will be massive.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In The Rearview Mirror

The year is ending today. Please accept my best and fondest wishes for a healthy, and happy New Year. May your best day of 2008 be your worst day of 2009.
I think I suffer from Bush Fatigue. Eight years of a good President is wearing. Eight years of a bad President is exhausting. Knowing full well that he's leaving at the end January, one is tempted to ask if there's anyway he can hurry along.
I have hopes for Obama's presidency. They used to be high hopes, until the markets melted away and the economy went in the pan. Now, I just hope he can stop the bleeding and sew up a few of the bigger wounds. He should win a second term (it's hard to unelect a President. Just look at 2004.), by which we will have been firmly on the road to recovery.
I think. I hope. It would be hard to imagine a crisis so severe that it would outlast a President's term but there you have it.
Barring a major outbreak of amazing news-- it could happen!-- I should end 2009 about as well as 2008 ends. 2008 saw the collapse of several things in my life, from my health to some family issues that really need to be taken care of. The shocks are over, the regrouping has begun. I figure it will take about a year to recover. This is my time to praise my Jesus for keeping an eye on me, and giving me good friends who have not been afraid to stand up to me and question what I'm all about.
I've made it hard on a lot of you this year, and for that, I am sorry. I've purposely distanced myself in order to give myself some breathing room to examine all that's gone on in the world and in my world. I hope you'll understand. If our friendships cannot survive that, then perhaps we were not meant to be friends in the first place.
I started the year with some goals, and I think I've achieved a few of them. One was to make this blog a voice in Blogtopia (© Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo). I've added fifty new names to the mailing list (you can click the little button in the upper right hand corner if you want to join).
More important, I won the Weblog Award. I'm nominated again (I'll link the pages and such later this week). I hope to work my magic one more time.
I guest-blogged at Crooks and Liars for a week.
More important to me is not to watch my hit counter rack up points every day, but to see my ideas echo along the corridors of Blogtopia and the blogosphere from time to time. Every so often, I'll see someone quote a piece of mine (I can see the incoming links) and read a discussion about the idea. This is good. This is why I blog. I got this massive brain, the size of a planet, and it would be a damned shame to keep all of the thoughts inside. And for convincing me to do this, I have to thank Katrina. Again.  
I promise to work harder on this, to hone my writing and critical thinking (and to perfect my grammar and spelling) and make it easier to coalesce the way I see this world into things that can be talked about. I don't have the time, like a lot of the furry mammalian bloggers, to sit and think and read and edit. I write these posts sitting at my desk at work, and even MIS is getting antsy about that much time spent. It means I will have to work harder at making myself clear.
I want to do this without losing sight of something valuable to be: the transparent thought process. A careful reader of my work will notice every once in a while I'll post something disjointed. This simply means I haven't considered everything yet, but that I feel strongly one way already. I don't want to lose that, because in sharing my thoughts, I share a bit of myself with you.
Too, it gives my reader the opportunity to take his or her own journey with me. It's been fun sometimes to correspond, in comments or email, about a nugget of information and see where things go.
2009 projects to be a quiet year, from a blog standpoint. I don't see where Obama has many choices about what he can and cannot do, so I can't imagine he'll make any significantly controversial decisions. We've pretty much hashed out his policies for the first half ot the year, and I don't see him as having the courage to take a real risk with the economy as tattered as it is.
I hope I'm wrong, of course. I like watching my hit counter soar!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Year In Review

OK, so it's the penultimate day of 2008.
I wait all year to use that word, "penultimate". It reminds me of the Parker ballpoint I got for graduating from junior high school.
Careful readers of my blog might recall that, back on January 4, I ran a special "Nobody Asked Me, But..." in which I predicted the top ten stories of 2008.
Let's look at those predictions again:
1) Sub-Saharan Africa - What can be said about what I picked as the most important story of 2008 except that I hate being right. Cholera and ebola outbreaks in Zimbabwe and the Congo, a stolen election in Zimbabwe that's threatening to overrun South Africa, tribal warfare in Nigeria, Somalia in chaos again...did I mention the pirates?
2) Global Warming - Well, what can I say? Two devastating wildfires in Santa Barbara, tornadoes at Christmas (!?), Hurrican Ike and five other storms touching down in the US as well as Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar (which killed 85,000 people, tho you never read about it), and 87 tornadoes on Super Tuesday. Apparently, God didn't like His choices much.
3) Oil - Crude futures averaged $100 a barrel this year, and that's with the high of $147 a barrel in June. This likely caused #7 below.
4) 2008 Elections - I'd say I was right about this being an important story. I'm tempted to say this should have been swapped with number 2 for importance. The Congressional races were, as I pointed out, the real story of the general election. Even now, the entire story has not been written, as Minnesota is taking its time announcing a new Senator.
5) Biotechnology - Believe it or not, this was a big year for biotech. For example, despite the cool Spring temperatures and June floods, the corn crop was the second largest ever produced in America, thanks to biotech. Soy had it's fourth largest crop. And who can forget the Gardasil battle? The genes for lung cancer were identified. And the crowning achievement: the transplant of a patient's windpipe grown from her own stem cells.
6) Beijing Olympics - Pictorial proof:
7) Economic disaster - Your 401(k) lost 40% of its value in 2008 alone, 50% since October 2007. The Bush administration, yet again, proved its inability to respond to any crisis that didn't involve sending troops in.
8) Nationalism - I put this forward as an economic issue, never imagining that when the US sneezed, the world might catch its flu. No one really stepped up to absorb weakened US companies. We saw Saudis invest heavily in Citigroup, but they already had sizable investments there. Nomura Holdings did buy Lehman Brothers, but any chance of GM or Ford being bought is in abeyance as the bailout program is rolled out. I'd take this one off the list.
9) Indonesia - Again, I focused on natural disaster in Indonesia. This was a bit of a gamble, to be frank. altho I couched it in terms of "near term". Java did suffer some landslides, and many other parts of the island chain had fires, floods and landslides as the year closed. Estimates are that some 500-1,000 people died as the result of these events. The prediction I made was for a catastrophic event to occur. These were mostly do to deforestation and bad land management practices.
10) Avian flu - Fewer human deaths this year than last, however the disease remains as virulent in the avian population as ever and is spreading farther afield now. However, this is pretty disturbing news.
I'll have my predictions for 2009 up on Friday. Tomorrow, I look back on the year passed with a bit more reflectivity.
That's right, I'll put on my tin foil hat!

Quick Linkage

Roy Edroso writes a very funny summary of the top ten right wing nutbag stories of 2008.
I'll give you the bones. Go feast on the flesh.
#10: Fred Thompson, The Natural. "Though Thompson's campaign was somnolent and inept, his choir fluffed him frenetically. "
#9: The Cheapskate's Guide to Civil Disobedience. "Rightblogger Dr. Helen discussed undertipping waiters, maids, gardeners, etc. if Obama won as a way for rich people to express their displeasure."
#8: The Hoover Boom.  " 'This election year does look quite a bit like Hoover vs. Roosevelt (and given that choice, I'll take Hoover),' said National Review's Jonah Goldberg"
#7: And Robin is Tony Blair. "In the Wall Street Journal Andrew Klavan explained why The Dark Knight is 'a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war.' "
#6: The War on Starbucks. "For Michelle Malkin, even hot beverages are political."
#5: Rightwing Hillary Love. "As her star started to fade, Hillary Clinton won the applause of rightbloggers theretofore committed to her destruction. "
#4: Michelle Obama: The Lost Sessions. "We hold out hope for the discovery in a Chicago garage of Michelle's lost Millie Jackson collaborations."
#3: A Megan McArdle Christmas. Megan McArdle proves herself unworthy of the description "consistent" (there really was no way to quote Edroso without pulling the entire bit).
#2: A Late Defense of Richard Nixon. "Regrettably, Schiffren did not include DNA evidence."
#1: Obama the Savage Messiah. "When finally the worst came to pass, they declared that Obama would be just like Bush. That's as may be, but you have to wonder then why they went through all that trouble. "
For ratings, Roy, for ratings. Thank you for this marvelous reminder of why Obama won.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Captain Obvious! Your Story Is Up!

Well, I mean, duh!:

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge," but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

Now, look, I understood and could even support to an extent the concept behind virginity pledges: if you've raised a fairly obedient kid, and have lectured him or her about the evils of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and sex (particularly any combination of the four), likely you can expect to raise a child who remains unmolested by at least one of the above.
If you are really really lucky. And I mean, "hit the lottery the same day that your rich uncle dies and Michelle Pfeiffer (or Pierce Brosnan) asks you on a date" lucky.
That lucky.
So hey, it could happen and hey, it's not a bad idea to reinforce your belief that a child shouldn't be having sex. Parents are supposed to set boundaries. Children are supposed to knock them down if they can.
Here's what is laughable about this whole trope, the way it's been rolled out in America: the exact people who SHOULDN'T be using this form of contraception ARE!
The only scenario in which this kind of paternalistic parenting approach works is a family environment where love, tolerance, acceptance and education prevail:
"DAD: You know I respect you and love you, but I want you to promise me something. Promise me that you won't have sex until you are married and that you will come talk to me and be honest with me if you decide to break this promise.
CHILD: Dad, because you've always been honest and open with me, and given me guidance, I will promise not to have sex until I am married, with the understanding that mistakes happen, and I may not always be in control of how a promise like this might be broken. When it happens, I will need your guidance and trust, rather than your anger and disappointment."
The kid's likely to fail. Take it as a given. However, this type of relationship is likely the ONLY one that will produce a marked record of success. The child is making the promise out of a sense of security and safety, not out of fear.
It is in the climate of fear, however, that this promise is usually made:
"DAD: Goddamit, don't you EVER have sex until you're married! I will not support you and some tramp/boy and your baby while you two figure out how to play house. Promise me, dammit, now!
CHILD: Um, OK, Dad, I promise. Can I go play with my, um, Wii now?"
You got the picture. Not only is the second kid less likely to keep the promise, but is more likely to be unprepared for when he or she does break it. After all, it's not likely that this kid is going to find birth control, and certainly unlikely that he or she will keep it on hand. Worse, this kid is going to work overtime to make sure that Dad never finds out, that Mom never finds out, and that means he or she will have to lie like an area rug when Mom and Dad begin the formal inquisition.
Anyone who believes this kind of program is going to make the excitement and stimulations of teenaged sex go away is deluding themselves. You can throw all the cold showers and church retreats and PG-rated activities you want, the simple fact is, kids will have sex, which will influence their friends to have sex, which will influence more friends to have sex, and so on.
You want to know what will stop kids from having sex? Nothing. You want to know what will make kids think responsibly about sex?
Thinking responsibly about kids.