Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Odds and Ends: Stuff I'm Following

"May you live in interesting times" is a well-known English phrase of undetermined origin. Probably every lifetime is filled with interesting times. At any rate, 2011 is certainly no exception. Here are a few loose ends of things I continue to follow (in no particular order, for the most part)...

Cyber Monday was indicative of the good holiday season for retailers, possibly indicating a stronger US economic recovery even as Europe teeters toward recession. It was not a positive season, however, for the former retail giant Sears, which plans to close over 100 stores next year.

The Chinese, with typical Maoist zeal, see the "excess" of the US to be its inevitable downfall. Whether that is true or not, 2011 was one crazy year economically. Just look at these numbers. As the "lost decades" begin to stack up, ever-growing pressure is placed on the viability of democracy itself. Nevertheless, initial jobless claims are at a 44-month low. That certainly won't hurt Obama's dicey chances for re-election.

The Euro-zone crisis has led to a stronger US dollar which has driven the price of gold down considerably. I am still way ahead with my gold investments overall, but the recent correction has wiped-out a large percentage of my gains since the all-time peak gold price in August. Ouch.

Here are the best space pics of 2011 as chosen by National Geographic.

The music of The Doors is proving to be as relevant as ever. I've been listening to them off and on for the past few weeks.

The whole concept of "Personhood" is part of the zeitgeist. In Mississippi, voters decided not to apply the term to the fetus. In Los Angeles, voters decided to buck last year's ridiculous ruling by the Supreme Court regarding freedom of speech. Perhaps sanity will eventually prevail on this issue.

On a different note regarding the idea of "Personhood", 2011 was the year of protests. From the Arab Spring to the "Occupy" Movement to Moscow to Kazakhstan, the whole world seems pretty pissed off. So much so that Time Magazine's Person of the Year isn't even a person.

I downloaded Flipboard several weeks ago and it has literally changed the way (and the efficiency with which) I scan the internet for news and information. Just a fabulous app.

Ron Paul is threatening to shake up the GOP primary process with a possible win in Iowa. Currently, he is running neck-and-neck with a fading Newt Gingrich and GOP mainstream favorite Mitt Romney. Although charges of racism have recently surfaced against him, these seem to me to be more indicative of his strength as a candidate rather than anything else. The political crap rarely rises to the top unless someone is a true threat. It is absurd to believe Paul, whose campaign spokesman is black, is racist even though he did vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. I think Paul's success goes beyond his Libertarian leanings and quite probably exposes the frustration American voters have not just with the President and Congress, but with the political parties themselves. I still think Ron Paul is the most interesting politician in America today and I intend to post more about him in 2012.

Arab observers have been allowed into Syria. Apparently, the shooting of civilians continues despite the presence of outside monitors. Estimates of civilian deaths in that troubled state run as high as 5,000. Reports of massacres have become common. This is an unprecedented expression of fascist brutality with minimal worldwide response so far. A stark contrast to the response by the West to Libya earlier this year.

On a happier note, I am very much looking forward to Christopher Nolan's final Batman film in 2012. Reports so far are that it will be a feast for the eye and the brain. I expect nothing less from Nolan. The six-minute "prologue' to the film is appearing during the previews of the IMAX version (only) of the latest Mission Impossible film. It is slightly tempting to go see that but I doubt I will.

Scientists claim they are close to discovering the so-called "God Particle". I'm not sure what we will do with that knowledge if and when we attain it. Quantum physics and cosmology largely remain a mystery to my feeble brain. The search for the Higgs boson has taken many years and at considerable expense. Maybe we can build a world of peace with it after it is found??? Meanwhile, astronomers are getting better and better at discovering Earth is probably not all that unique in the universe.

A Dutch architecture firm has apologized for designing a portion of a South Korean high-rise development that, to many people including myself, looks a lot like the Twin Towers exploding. An interesting design meant to connect the two buildings. But, what were they thinking?

The Iraq War (a pointless war started, in part, by misleading information regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction) officially came to an end this month. Even as the fragile "shotgun" democracy we leave behind seems to be unraveling. The last of our troops left the country a few days ago.

Somehow, Iran seems to have managed to capture an intact US Drone. As Iran apparently continues to attempt to develop a nuclear weapon, their emerging worldwide influence is a cause for concern in the US. Iran's navy is starting to flex its comparatively trivial muscles in a display of power. The threat here is that Iran might try to close the Strait of Hormuz and disrupt the shipment of oil out of the Persian Gulf. This does not bode well for future peace in the region.

US relations with Pakistan (always an iffy proposition as shown in this excellent article in The Atlantic) have worsened recently due to what was apparently a miscommunication between US forces patrolling the border with Afghanistan resulting in the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers. It is tragic and it makes Pakistan more likely to become the "Cambodia" of the Afghan War. Of course, Pakistan is disputing the findings of a US military investigation into the incident. Events like this are always big news while the constant, daily drip of insurgents from Pakistan back into Afghanistan (with assistance from Pakistani radical groups) goes relatively unreported.

One of baseball's most disgraceful players, Barry Bonds, got off with two-years of probation for obstructing justice. My wish is that he never makes it into the Hall of Fame. Wussy.

Kim Jong Il died. The last Stalinist state on Earth now mourns for the man as if he were a god.

Archaeologists have discovered an 1,100 year-old Mayan site in North Georgia, within two hours drive of my house. Fascinating and indicative of the power and reach of Maya civilization.

My current reading material includes: Patrick Alexander's reader's guide to Proust, Milan Kundera's Immortality (Kundera is my favorite contemporary writer - though he hasn't written any fiction in more than a decade), Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness, and Albert Seaton's classic Russo-German War. Jennifer's parents gave me a wonderful book on the art of Renoir for Christmas which I am enjoying. As usual, my reading habits take me in all sorts of different directions.

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