Monday, December 29, 2008
Letters from the roaring sunset of 08
I believe we have witnessed the most amazing year since 1968, and it isn't even over yet. Civilization is shaking on its axis. The post-election euphoria was still reverberating when the the economy was shaken by seismic failures within the financial sector. Gas went below $2.
Lobster went below $4. Not because of a shortfall of sales, it was due to an unusually enormous harvest.
The Lobster Coast by Colin S. Woodard explained how this happens. After game commission estimates of the lobster population and harvest predictions proved vastly erroneous year after year, Win Watson, a researcher from the University of New Hampshire, decided to drop a camera to the bottom of a midcoast Maine lobster habitat and find out why.
The first thing that happened was the lobsters fought each other outside the trap entrance. The winner entered the trap, took the bait and left, as did several other alpha lobsters, leaving the trap for less experienced lobsters, who wandered in after the smell of long gone bait, and got caught. It turned out that only 6% of lobsters that crawl into a trap remain trapped. The other 94% take the bait and leave. Most of the lobsters on Maine's rocky bottom are just lunching off the bait, flourishing and breeding. Did I read something about financial industry executives and the politicians that abet them that resembles this?
The lobster boon backfired and what with the price of lobster this season, it's not worth taking a boat out. That'll drive the price up again in time. OPEC, under economic constraints precipitated by failing markets, met to decide to limit production until the price of oil goes up again as well. In the meantime here in Maine, we feast on lobster even more than usual and don't hesitate to drive somewhere whenever we feel like it.
This has been some year. Democracy came roaring back to life in U.S. elections. A mobilized citizen task force of reformers of every age, race, and economic stratum, put Barack Obama and a Democratic congress handily over the top. The symbolism of the victory was as potent as its fact, and is responsible for a sense of hope and determination in the face of an epochal economic challenge.
President-elect Obama assembled a brilliant cabinet, with Hilary Clinton appointed Secretary of State. My only (and heartfelt) disappointment with the presidential race was resolved.
Michael Phelps, an endearing guy with a great mom, is the new heartthrob of America, after winning 8 golds, one of them by a fingernail, in the Beijing Olympics.
Beijing was still basking in the glow of the most extravagantly successful Olympics ever when the scandal of deliberately contaminated baby milk broke. The government knew about the menace before the Olympics but wouldn't release any news or cautions so as not to detract from favorable coverage of the Olympics. Putting their own children at risk, and many were affected, rather than risk face. Their own population, most of whom can only have one child, is outraged and they are dragging some accountability out of their chagrined government. Favorable coverage didn't last long.
O.J. got thrown behind bars. Probably not for long, as his sentence was somewhat disproportionate to his crime, which was more of a boondoggle than a threat to society. But we got to see him grovel and lose after winning and gloating when he was found not guilty of a murder he surely had something to do with.
The Governor of Illinois got caught scheming to auction off Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder among the contenders. He got led away in handcuffs at dawn.
The mind boggling news just continues non-stop. Nonny the Cow, from a Brooks farm, around ten miles from here, is now evidently the world's oldest cow. The story made front page below the fold! She's old enough to vote. And probably could, if she were in Chicago.
A venerated investment fund manager's 30 year ponzi scheme collapsed, leaving his clients, among them many charities, billions poorer. The SEC never bothered investigating his outsized returns on investments, even though there were flags.
The coffers of the U.S. Treasury began gushing bailout funds and plans for economic stimuli to shore up the financial sector and reawaken a consumer market that is just folding its arms and tapping its foot. (I must admit, I snapped up a brand name cashmere coat when I was in New York over Thanksgiving, at an unbelievable price. The entire city was on markdown. Just doing my duty for the economy.) Some of that stimulus cash is expected to flow to Maine, which is usually near the bottom of the federal funding food chain, because we re-elected Sen. Susan Collins and we have Sen. Olympia Snowe, both principled moderate Republicans who will represent a Republican swing vote in many a congressional effort where the Democrats need a little help from their friends across the aisle.
It is amazing to see market capitalism disintegrating and the U.S. government begin to nationalize banks and subsidize major corporations. I'm either too stupid or too astounded to be scared. That's the third time in my lifetime the entire world is changing. But you see, I love it; transcendent change produces transcendent creativity. I can hardly wait to see and partake in what happens. Again.
Mainer, New Yawka, Beijinger, Californian, points between. News, views and ballyhoos that piqued my interest and caused me to sigh, cry, chuckle, groan or throw something.
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