04 January 2010
For years I've been sharing New Year's greetings by email with friends; from this year, I've decided to start posting these messages here as well
Greetings of the season to all of you from Hong Kong, where I am spending a few days recovering from my “holiday” in Hawai’i (I spent it with my family, which thanks to my Mom, is as weird as ever, and thanks to my brother, larger than ever) before heading back to Doha to put my nose back to the proverbial grindstone.
I’ve had an absolutely great year (and hope you have, too) but based on what I’ve been reading in the press and on the web, that hasn’t been the case for most people. This being the end of a decade as well as the end of the year, many have been inspired to write essays and opinion pieces reflecting back on the decade just past, and I’ve yet to find one that suggests the author wishes this particular decade could be extended by a year or two. Paul Krugman’s piece in the New York Times, entitled “The Big Zero”, was a representative example. Paul noted that the “aughties” or “naughties” or whatever term we are supposed to use for this decade should in fact be referred to simply as “the zeroes” in recognition of the fact that this decade has been characterised by zero economic growth, zero job creation, ponzi schemes, and the property bubble. Others have noted that this was also the decade of the WTC attacks, two failed wars, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the Bush Administration, and of course, Britney Spears. I suspect many of you may share these depressing views on the last ten years, so rather than add yet another voice to this chorus of despair, I’ve decided not to do a “decade in review” as part of my annual greeting, but instead reflect my eternally and irrepressibly optimistic world view by offering you a “decade in preview,” in which I share my sunny predictions about the decade ahead. Here’s my year-by-year forecast for the twenty-teens:
2010: the decade will open with thousands of humour writers – on the brink of despair from the pressure of having to produce entertaining copy without the benefit of the Bush Administration – planning to drink themselves into oblivion on New Year’s Eve. Fortunately, most of them receive copies of Sarah Palin’s book for Christmas from concerned loved ones and fall weeping to their collective knees shouting “Thank you, thank you, there is a God!” (Most, however, drink a bit too much on New Year’s Eve regardless).
After experiencing chest pains over the holidays, Rush Limbaugh undergoes a heart examination at Queen’s Medical Centre in Honolulu, Rush Limbaugh notes the excellent care he received and declares that “I don’t think there’s one thing wrong with the American health care system. It is working just fine, just dandy.”* When doctors remind him that Hawai’i is the only U.S. state with the sort of socialised medicine that President Obama is trying to bring to the other 49 states, he experiences sudden recollections of long waits and sub-standard service.
In the mid-term elections, the American electorate decides it’s had enough of Capitol Hill gridlock, and so decides to punish Congress by voting just enough Republicans back into power to ensure that nothing whatsoever gets done.
Following a review of the Detroit incident, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) bans solids from U.S. aircraft
2011: A radicalised Indonesian madrassah student attempts to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner over Los Angeles using a gas explosive I.E.D. he had secreted in his rectum. The effort is thwarted by alert passengers who use their 100 ml shampoo bottles to extinguish the detonator. The TSA responds by finally admitting that none of their silly policies do anything to make travellers safer, and all 50 000 TSA employees resign en masse. I am JOKING of course! The actual TSA response will be to demand that Congress fund the hiring of thousands of Rectal Inspection Officers (RIOs) to deter future attacks. The general public expresses support for the TSA’s new policies on the basis that “it makes me feel safe”. All states of matter (liquid, solid and gas) are barred from aircraft.
Americans are outraged that the new Congress is attempting to restore all the failed policies (deregulation, tax cuts, “pre-emptive” war) that caused the economic and foreign policy mess of the 2000s. When reminded that this is happening because they voted the idiots who caused these problems in the first place back into office, the electorate claims “we forgot.” In a related development, France issues a statement noting that many of its cheeses exercise better political judgement than the American electorate.
Outraged over the obvious liberal bias of most social networking sites, American conservatives establish alternatives for their followers. Most popular are Sarah Palin’s Twatter and Rush Limbaugh’s Fascbook.
2012: Sarah Palin kicks off her presidential campaign with a Twatter posting noting that all of Obama’s so-called successes can be attributed to reality’s obvious liberal bias.
Speaking of reality, television networks in 2012 launch a new genre of television programming called Real Reality shows in response to a viewing public that has grown bored with a format in which participants are encouraged to compete with each other for prizes in order to create stress and tension on air. Instead, viewers are able to watch contestants complete various reality-based challenges such as trying to order cable service, get an insurance claim filed, renew their driving licences, or speak with an actual, live ****ing person by telephone at their ****ing bank.
The TSA thwarts an apparently wide-spread Al-Qaeda conspiracy when TSA RIOs detect thousands of would-be air passengers attempting to board aircraft with more than the permitted maximum of 100ml of gas hidden in their rectums.
President Obama wins re-election to a second term as President when a divided Supreme Court narrowly rules that Alaska, in fact, is not a real state (costing Palin the three electoral votes she needed for victory), and that the U.S. should ask Russia for its money back. President Medvedev, who is also re-elected as President of Russia, responds by noting that all sales of Russian territory can only be exchanged or refunded within 30 days of purchase, and that in any event, he “cannot do anything if America cannot find the receipt.”
2013: Climate change is back on top of the agenda as flash floods devastate Bangladesh, the Maldives national territory shrinks to the size of one of Britney Spears’ stage outfits, and Antarctic penguins abandon their tradition of dressing for dinner every evening, claiming that “it’s just too hot” for tuxedos. World leaders spring into action, flying thousands of heads of state, ministers, specialists and bureaucrats to a climate summit in Mexico City, which concludes with a firmly worded resolution noting that all are “seriously concerned” about global warming and committing all parties to schedule future talks aimed at exploring when they might start developing potential solutions to the problem “as soon as possible.” A footnote to the resolution clarifies that all parties agree that this means “when someone else is in office.”
Sarah Palin’s political career comes to an abrupt and tragic end when she and Dick Cheney go moose hunting in Alaska.
With passenger numbers shrinking and the TSA bureaucracy growing, Transportation Security Administration employees outnumber air travellers for the first time.
In a desperate effort to stimulate spending and re-start the still-struggling U.S. economy, the Treasury Department issues new 20-dollar bank notes featuring portraits of Britney Spears, Jennifer Anniston, Adam Sandler, Jennifer Lopez, and Ben Stiller, in the expectation that consumers “will want to get rid of them as quickly as possible.”
2014: Democrats are once again voted back into office in mid-term elections. Angry Republicans accuse them of wanting to “turn America into a socialist wasteland with a failed economic model,” before flying off to Beijing to beg China’s communist government for more loans to cover America’s growing budget deficit.
The TSA angrily rejects criticism over the discovery that Osama bin Laden was permitted to board a flight to Caracas at LAX, noting that their alert employees successfully confiscated both his toothpaste AND his litre bottle of Evian, as well as carefully verifying that the name on his boarding pass matched his ID, which clearly indicated that he was “Santa Claus” and that he lived at the North Pole. The TSA statement further clarifies that “in a red suit, he looks JUST like him.”
OPEC votes unanimously to begin pricing all petroleum contracts in Chinese Yuan.
2015: After winning preliminary rounds by successfully booking a plumber, having an error corrected in her credit record, and getting her insurance company to actually pay a claim for her daughter’s knee surgery, 42-year old Cindy Lynne Harper of Carbondale, Illinois wins Reality Challenge 2015 when she manages to sell a U.S.-manufactured product to China. The product, a “Chia-pet” bust of Abraham Lincoln, was purchased by housewife Aimee Li of Hangzhou, who proudly displays it on top of the water tank of her toilet.
In order to re-shape its curriculum to better reflect the preferred learning style of its students, New York City Public Schools restructures its school day into 168 class periods lasting 2½ minutes each.
2016: In an effort to re-connect with disinterested younger voters, the Republican and Democratic parties decide to drop their traditional nominating conventions in favour of choosing candidates via a poll on Facebook. Oprah Winfrey and Rush Limbaugh square off in the November election, which Oprah wins in large part due to her performance in the new “talent” portion of the contest, which Amendment 28 of the U.S. Constitution has restructured into a fresher, more youthful reality show style format.
The TSA claims vindication of its policies when a hijacked United Airlines flight from Chicago crashes into a corn field in Indiana and all three passengers, the pilot, and the flight crew are found to have been terrorists.
Wal-Mart announces it will no longer accept U.S. dollars at its North American stores, requiring all purchases to be made in Chinese Yuan.
2017: In a desperate attempt to limit the soaring cost of maintaining the landscaping around their homes, U.S. Senators pass the Stop Price Increases for Casual labour (SPIC) Act, which funds the construction of a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexican border in order to staunch the flood of undocumented aliens attempting to return home.
President Winfrey declares war on France after President Sarkhozy responds to a question from her by replying, “no, it’s the fat that makes you look fat.”
2018: Exasperated over Dick Cheney’s increasingly strident public statements claiming that her policies are “putting Americans at risk,” President Winfrey uses Bush-era anti-terror laws to have him declared an “Enemy Combatant” and water-boarded until he confesses to having planned, plotted and executed the “9-11” attacks, as well as being personally responsible for the Civil War, the explosion of the Maine, the Kennedy assassination, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and to being the previously unidentified evil genius behind American Idol.
In response to research that indicates that the only people still attempting to board commercial aircraft are terrorists, the TSA begins re-routing all US-originating air traffic directly to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where passengers are immediately arrested. After being driven past the base McDonalds, Starbucks, Papa John’s Pizza, bowling alley and cinema on their way to Camp X-Ray, where they are housed in cramped, uncomfortable quarters before taken to an interrogation centre for questioning, some 40% of travellers remain unaware that they have not actually landed in Cincinnati, checked into a Motel 6, and proceeded to their customer’s offices for a sales presentation as they had planned. The other 60% are tipped off when they notice that the coffee is much better than usual.
Two Chinese “taikonauts” successfully land on the moon. In a historic, live address to the people of the world broadcast from the lunar surface, taikonaut Jing Quan of Wuhan says “Ha, ha! Look at me! Moon is SO bouncy!”.
2019: New York City Public Schools decides to drop English composition from its curriculum, in recognition of the fact that student papers and essays “are comprised mostly of emoticons” and that no teacher could recall grading a student paper with anything recognisable as English since the spring of 2014. In fact, no student had actually delivered homework on paper since some years before that, with most assignments being submitted by text message a few minutes before start of class.
China successfully sues the United States for loss of resources and emotional distress after Chinese counterfeiters inadvertently produce and distribute millions of pirated copies of Britney Spears’ latest “album,” Britney Exposed, which Chinese consumers compare to the sound of “deranged chipmunks being stir-fried alive.”
Reporters from the New York Times attempt to interview the last reader of the Times print edition, 96-year-old Jack “Buster” Camigliano of Bay Shore, Long Island. According to an article in the final print edition, Mr. Camigliano responded to reporters’ questions by telling them to “get off of my lawn,” and asking “don’t you bums have anywhere to go?” Camigliano is in the news again a few months later when he is found wandering around his local Wal-Mart muttering “what have you dang commies done with the 8-tracks?”
2020: Oprah Winfrey trounces Rush Limbaugh in the Presidential election despite her running mate Britney Spears’ lacklustre results in the talent segment, in which voters overwhelmingly preferred Limbaugh running mate Glen Beck’s performance, particularly the part where demonstrated his intense patriotism by farting the first six bars of “God Bless America”.
America’s last air traveller, Bart Spencer of Lockwood, Pennsylvania, is put on the “No-Fly” list after it is learned that “he was only doing it for the free rectal exams.”
The U.S. Treasury unveils re-designed coins and notes. Officials explain how the different sizes and colours will make them easier to use for people with vision problems, and the new design, featuring a semi-profile of Mao Tse-Tung on the front of notes of all denominations, will eliminate “all those confusing presidential portraits.” Americans will be able to exchange 10 of their old dollar banknotes for one of the new ones. In a totally unrelated development, President Winfrey asks Americans – just to collect some initial, non-binding views on the idea – how they would feel about singing the March of the Volunteers in place of the Star Spangled Banner before baseball games.
*Actual news item
OK, so I’ve done all the hard work for you telling you what’s going to happen, now all you need to do is live through it all.
But I will depart from the forward-looking theme of this year’s message and take a little time to update all of you on what’s been happening in my world in 2009. I know it has not been a great year for many of you, so I hesitate to be too enthusiastic about what has been a really great year for me.
After five years of developing an independent telecommunications consulting practice that has taken me on assignments throughout the Middle East, as well as Europe, Africa and Latin America, I decided 2009 was the right year to return to full-time employment with an operator, and hence I joined Qtel as Business Development manager in June, with responsibility for Qtel’s new wholesale service business. I’ve recently had a range of other projects added to my portfolio as well, so I am keeping very busy, but the work is stimulating, I have an excellent team and most days cannot wait to get into the office and have at it. I have to admit that Doha often is not my favourite place in the world, but I am making the most of it and am looking forward to taking some trips into the desert with the new Land Rover Defender 110 I expect to take delivery of in January.
In September, I had the best holiday of my life when I spent five weeks in Honduras and Nicaragua diving, visiting Mayan ruins, slogging through rain forests, paddling across pristine lagoons, and visiting remote Indian villages. The experience confirmed for me my basic travel strategy of going places right after the U.S. embassy issues a consular warning sheet advising Americans to “avoid all non-essential travel.” Like my trip to Croatia shortly after the end of the civil war there, the hotels were empty, the beaches were un-crowded, and I never had a problem getting a restaurant reservation.
Like many of you, 2009 was the year I reconnected with many long-lost friends through Facebook, and felt the world shrink as current, but distant, friends became a part of my everyday life.
I finished the year with the trip I am still on, trying to finish this from my seat on board a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Dubai (back in the office tomorrow!). I spent Christmas with my brother, his two amazing children, and my parents in Hawai’i, where my brother’s family now lives on a coffee plantation. (If you have coffee bushes that are ready for harvest, my brother rents out his children for this purpose at very attractive rates. They also can do fruit harvesting, salt mining or other tasks involving heavy, poorly maintained machinery). Visited friends in Tokyo and Shenzen on the way there and back, did some diving, some hiking, ate some great meals and did my share of partying.
As always, hope to see some of you come for a visit this year; the rest of you I’ll see on Facebook.
Best wishes to all of you for 2010 and the decade ahead
30 March 2009
The change has been a bit slow in arriving, but the global economic crisis seems to be spurring things along. Arriving here in Washington, I pick up a slimmed-down Washington Post and was dismayed to read that more reductions are on the way. The weekday Business section is being eliminated. Stock listings are being slashed. Comics eliminated. This comes in the wake of the news of other papers either being threatened, shut down, or moving to on-line only format. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer will be on-line only in the future. The Independent may not last through the end of the year. News articles cite statistics noting that the average age of newpaper readers is reaching into the 50s, and young people have never read one (OD once noted to me, "Do you know what I hate? Young people!"). I love all the new sources of news, I really do, but I don't want to ever, ever give up popping by the newstand, buying a paper, and sitting down with a cup of coffee and a croissant to read it end to end. It's just a different experience than the disjointed, fractured dribble of news you get throughout the day from web pages and podcasts.
The shrinking Post was bad enough, but just now I tried to go onto the IHT website. Not only is the IHT the best newspaper in the world, they also had the best web-site in the world – very user-friendly and organised. Now visits to www.iht.com are redirected to the "New York Times Global Edition", which is basically just a sort of one-page front-end on top of the NYT web site. Some day, newspapers and mail delivery will disappear altogether. I hope I'm dead by then.
29 March 2009
27 March 2009
26 March 2009
One exception is my appreciation for the International Herald Tribune (IHT). I love this newspaper, and try to read it every day, even if its reporting does sometimes reflect the narrow-minded arrogance that is typically associated with things American. One reason I am able to forgive this transgression is that it does often break with North American conventional wisdom and publish a piece more reflective of the majority view. Today was one of those days, when the IHT’s editors saw fit to publish an opinion piece by Rami G. Khouri of the Daily Star, who wrote about Obama’s outreach to Iran.
The invisible propaganda machine appears to be shifting gears with respect to Iran. Recently, PM Gordon Brown of the U.K. publicly noted something that the MSM has previously gone out of its way not to acknowledge – that Iran has the right (under the terms of the NPT, to which it is a signatory) to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Today’s opinion piece went ever further in bringing balance and objectivity to the discussion about Iran. Khouri noted some of the numerous positive aspects of Obama’s overture, not least of which was the “courage and self-confidence” it took for Obama to make his public appeal to Iran.
But Khouri also noted the “lingering streak of arrogance” inherent in “both the tone and substance” of the Obama message. Obama notes that Iran is “a great culture with proud traditions,” and then goes on to lecture Iran about the obligations of a leading member of the international community of nations. Khouri rightfully notes that this reflects a “lingering colonial tendency,” in which the West believes it is entitled to “write the rules of conduct for other nations.”
I congratulate the IHT for having the courage to print such candid observations, but also note what is missing from Khouri’s column. While the U.S.A. has engaged in lecturing, condescending language and arrogance towards Iran and other nations, it has also hypocritically ignored Iranian history.
At the time of the establishment of the United States in 1776, Iran had already passed its 200th year of peace with its western neighbour, Turkey, a peace that was not be broken until a successor state to the Turkish Empire, Iraq, under the leadership of a U.S. client by the name of Saddam Hussein and with U.S. encouragement, launched an unprovoked attack against Iran. Iran had also had a long and successful history of encouraging peace, stability, learning and trade, establishing friendly diplomatic relationships with numerous other powers to the East and West, despite its existence as a leading civilisation surrounded by less sophisticated, more brutal societies such as the Uzbeks to the north, the Afghans to the East, the Gulf pirates to the South and the Kurds to the West. The U.S.A would do well to emulate the enlightened, pragmatic approach taken by Persians in its effort to stabilise Afghanistan, and to heed its own advice about reliance on violence as a policy tool.
Thankfully, Condi Rice and her arrogant, non-negotiable pronouncements that frequently characterised her narrow, self-interested demands as something the “international community expects” (usually not the NAM, which represents a super-majority of the world’s people; their more legitmate articulations of the 'international community's' expectations were routinely ignored by "Doctor" Rice), have moved on, and Obama is attempting to put something more reasonable and pragmatic in their place, but the world should not relent on its demands for fairness and balance – as Khouri says, the choice is between attempting to “dictate rules,” or engage in honest, meaningful dialogue.
Over the North Atlantic
21 March 2009
As you may know, a consortium composed of Vodafone and the Qatar Foundation (an oil and gas revenue-funded foundation that serves as the vehicle for H.H. Shaika Mozah's sometimes flaky social development objectives*) was awarded the second mobile licence in Qatar in December 2007. ictQatar didn't manage to actually issue the licence until the following July, when I was on holiday, and I soon found myself being called back to Qatar to answer to Vodafone's impatient demands to commence interconnect negotiations. We've been working on a number of other agreements as well, and last week these months of effort finally bore fruit, in the form of the first two agreements signed between our respective companies.
As I said, there are more agreements in the works, but I am nonetheless taking a much-needed break. Yesterday I drove here to Manama, in neighbouring Bahrain, just to get away from Doha for a while. Naturally, I had to pass through Saudi Arabia on the way (the road and rail causeway linking the two countries is not expected to open until 2013) and can confirm that Saudi drivers are still maintaining their reputation as the world's most dangerous and irresponsible. I also had to mentally note, whilst driving the stretch between Salwa and Hofuf, that if someone ever organises a competition for the country that most resembles a giant litterbox, I believe Saudi Arabia stands a excellent chance of taking the top prize.
So although I have a few more things to do next week to wrap things up with Vodafone, I am trying to relax here in Manama, forget about Vodafone, Qtel, Doha, and Qatar, and mentally shift gears for next week, when I head to Washington again for my third "Overseas Americans Week", a volunteer citizen-lobbyist effort that brings attention to issues of concern to Americans living overseas. Hopefully I'll be able to blog about those experiences as they unfold, but I won't be surprised if my work and social schedule makes that difficult. But I am looking forward to saying "good-bye" to Qatar and "hello" to Washington, at least for a short while.
21 March 2009
*H.H. recently publicly declared that "access to pornography on satellite television" was the "biggest problem facing Qatar today" (or words to that effect), and complained that these stations lacked "proper controls" (read: "censorship"). This in a country with the biggest per-capita carbon footprint in the world, in which youths seem to spend most of their time killing themselves and others through reckless, irresponsible driving, domestics are regularly physically and sexually abused by employers who are never held to account, and in which autocracy, religious prejudice, racism, superstition and tribalism are all enshrined in law, culture and practice.
20 February 2009
Similarly, when the metaphorical aircraft of reality and underlying value slammed into the twin towers of the housing bubble and Republican tax cuts, exposing what appeared to be solid economic structures as houses of cards that came dramatically crashing down in clouds of dust and flame, I honestly expected the entire conservative establishment – from Congress to the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute and Fox News – to meekly present themselves to American people and to admit, humbly and publicly, that apparently they had completely misjudged just about everything and would be dedicating the rest of their lives to the advancement of Socialism.
Instead, Rush Limbaugh (yes, he's apparently still on the air) voiced his hopes that Obama's economic stimulus plan would fail so that the Republicans could re-take control of Congress in 2010. William Kristol, in contrast, decided to pretend that the past eight years had never happened, and wrote an opinion piece in his new role as opinion page columnist for the New York Times entitled "Will Obama Save Liberalism?," as if it was the politics of the left, rather than his own, whose future survival is looking dubious. Amongst numerous other ridiculous suggestions was the assertion that "[c]onservatives have been right more often than not — and more often than liberals — about most of the important issues of the day," as if the Great Depression, Viet Nam, the hunt for Saddam's WMDs, the 'war on drugs,' Anastazio Somoza, Jacobo Arbenz, Mohammad Mossadegh, Fulgencia Batista, global warming, Watergate, Contragate, and the current economic meltdown had never happened.
But even Kristol's deranged rantings appear reasonable and reflective in comparison with the fantastic diatribe written by former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen entitled "2688 days", named for the period of time over which "our" country has been spared a terror attack. In Thiessen's view (apparently based on understandings of the nature of terrorism he's developed through years of experience watching the Fox series '24'), there hasn't been an attack "on American soil" since 9/11, thanks to Bush administration's readiness to equate the Constitution with toilet roll. Apparently, Thiessen is unconcerned about the fact that during this 2688-day period, thousands died in terror attacks in Baghdad, Fallujah, Madrid, Bali, London, Tunis, Damman, Beslan, Amman, Istanbul, Beirut, Moscow and numerous other places. In the overwhelming majority of these attacks, Americans and their allies were the targets and the mis-guided policies promulgated by Bush and supported by people like Thiessen were the cause of these attacks.
Similarly, Dick Cheney has been making the rounds of conservative radio shows criticising Obama and his supporters for being more concerned with "reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist" than with protecting Americans (note Cheney's implicit belief that anyone he says is a terrorist must in fact be a terrorist). Thiessen and Cheney claim their violent methods have "prevented attacks". But this is like some third-rate, violent drug dealer, who has enslaved the young men of the neighbourhood through drug addiction into stealing from the rest of the community in order to support their drug habits. One day they catch one of these addicts breaking into their own house (the only nice house in the neighbourhood) and violently beat him to death. Then they brag to their neighbours about their contribution to 'crime prevention.' Yes, Cheney's waterboarding may have "stopped" some attacks, but only ones which would not have happened in the first place were it not for the abusive policies he has promoted.
So given the Republicans complete disconnection from reality, it should not surprise us to see that their reaction to the disastrous consequences of the series of tax cuts they have promoted over the past 30 years – which obviously have no purpose beyond accelerating the transfer of wealth from poor to rich – is to suggest that what is needed are more and deeper tax cuts. That's the nice thing about being a Republican – you never need to think or analyse, no matter what the problem is, the 'solution' is always the same – more tax cuts.
20 February 2009