|Crystal Ball 2010|
|Written by Abdullah Imad|
|Wednesday, 23 December 2009 14:55|
The Crystal Ball 2010
By Imad F. Abdullah, AIA, December 2009
The Crystal Ball 2010 is the 11th annual greetings, whimsical and satirical, with featherweight and some weight, reflections and projections on the past, present, and the future.
2009 came upon us with much anticipation and expectation. It has been a year of spectacles: the spectacular Presidential inauguration, the spectacle of a world all shook up over the precarious economic balance with equities hanging like stalactites awaiting their meltdown, and the once formidable stock market down last March to test the double bottom earlier drop, uncertain how far down to stop. The Flu pandemic with its spread out tentacles proved too hard to tackle, the late arriving vaccine distributed at random too slow to halt the pandemonium. Escalating wars are an open wound refusing to heal, and to top it all piracy off Somalia’s high seas.
Afghanistan continues to be a hotbed for zealots in bed with politicians and tribal heads, winning or losing still far ahead, and controlling the future of death is still an elusive bet. Trying to manage a conflict and internal strife from a safe zone, pilots from California are guiding the drones. Iran remains on the radar screen a big spectacle, their positions deemed rigid and intractable. The intricacies of the Nuclear Political game are head to head with the rug makers of old fame, already seasoned in the art of weaving hundreds of knots per square inch and adept at the art of fusing colors in intricate patterns with every thread. At times a weaving clan, sometimes accused of running a happy poppy plant, craftsmen of Qom with their spare time went about stitching Plutonium.
Exporting Democracy is a tough sell as it can become a great divide. Handed down to an Iraq in transition and worn out after 7 years of war and internal strife, Iraq is experiencing the trials and tribulations of an imperfect Democracy. Fair Representation is a tough icon to achieve in a multicultural theocracy. North Korea is in a fading mode, the newscasts toning down the nuclear conflict in hopes of lowering the confrontation level and moving negotiations forward. Can there be a future to adversaries, or will High-Tech become the Equalizer? History is in the making, and we'll see who writes the last chapter of North Korea, whether the sensible folks of Wikipedia or some pundit from the wicked media.
China celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Revolution: the body of Chairman Mao preserved for “would be eternity” remains on display in the glass cage awaiting the next round when he could return to power. Rumor has it that it is a “double of wax”, an uncomfortable thought for his followers waiting for him to rise. The Chinese Zodiac pegs 2010 as the year of the Tiger, a fearsome animal of the woods and a symbol of strength and vicious moods. On this side of the ocean, a golfing Tiger went into hiding deep in the Woods, awaiting the calm after the storm from his multiple tigress wounds.
Turkey is on a quest for its rightful place as a regional power, shuffling several decks in hope of lining the aces. The Middle East is marking more time, it’s been a year of search for the newest peace with Israel’s new Prime Minister Netanyahu, as everyone is building networks and gambling on who’s going to be the next who’s who. One place where politics and religion mix well is Lebanon, so well the country can operate without a government for months at a time. Lebanon finally formed a new government, ministers and members of Parliament dividing religions into sects with equalized shares, allocating everyone a slice of the government timeshare.
Politics took a back seat to economics in a world of uncertain forecasts and fragile and unforgiving systems with record deficits and in search of handouts. Though scary most of the time, deficits do not necessarily cause inflationary pressure: Japan at one time had the highest debt ratio to Gross Development Product and still had zero inflation, Italy and Belgium had higher deficits than US but lower inflation. France is a special case: its’ debt to GDP is nearly equal to the US but with half the inflation rate. The Bordeaux and exclusive Chateaux off their vines work their magic on the mind, substituting the splurge at the malls to unwind with the pleasures of the fancy gruyere cheese and wine. If you’re there on a visit, the list of “La Tour D’Argent” weighs 9 kg for their 15,000 bottles of the finest spirits. Please come in 2 hours ahead of your reservation time to make the selection of your dream wine.
Brazil’s currency has been fairly strong, up 36% against the Dollar this year, now becoming a hedge that Brazil placed a 2% tax on foreign portfolio investments. Brasilia celebrates 50 years in 2010, now a capital of high paychecks and still with the exclusive city plan of the renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer and President Kubitschek. In Venezuela, Argentina and other parts of South America, the growing barter economy is a welcomed change, no worries about currency or Gold to exchange. Speaking of Gold, Bretton Woods was immortalized in 1944 when it made the US Dollar the reserve currency, with a US commitment to redeem dollars at $35 per gold ounce. Though the US abandoned gold in 1971, the Dollar still accounts for 2/3 of world’s reserve currency. Foreign governments and central banks hold 62.6% of US Treasury Securities held by foreigners, not including individuals, and it is in their interest to protect the value of the Dollar, making collapse an unlikely matter.
At today’s prices of $1,100 an ounce, Mr. Knox would have been real proud of his Fort Knox. The amount of their disclosed gold is 147.3 million ounces and a golden opportunity knocks. As voodoo economics would have it, this Gold is held as an asset of the US at book value of $42.22 per ounce. Tonnage aficionados can figure 5,050 tons, in about 368,000 standard 400 troy ounce gold bars. In an age of 3 Trillion in deficits, Gold is waiting to wipe our national debt once an ounce reaches $20,000.
While Congress is scrambling to fill the bottomless gap, Senator Roth made a name for himself some time back by reducing the load off the Taxpayers back. In 2010 law changes take effect, removing income limit restrictions and allowing anyone to convert to a Roth IRA with unlimited amounts. Switching IRA savings to Roth are estimated by the 2012 elections to reach umpteen digit Billions, a boon for candidate Obama on his second White House magic carpet ride with the new slogan: Deficit Reduction Pride. With so much debt the US needs a strong Military, not only for national safety but also for economic safety. Fighting the enemy is at one spectrum’s end, and intimidating friendly countries and lenders holding US Bonds and dollars against an earlier cash-out is at the other end. Maybe the military can prevent the economy from going to hell and lend a hand to fight credit card fraud and identity theft just as well.
With the new Obama Presidency came a major changeover in administrations. Republicans ceded the seat of power to rival Democrats respectfully, handing over the transfer on that ceremonious day with dignity and tact, while one Limb of the party was in a big Rush to plot an ultimate republican comeback. When Presidents move on, their undercover problems move up center stage, and the newly elected president can own up to them thereafter or push them forward 4 years to the next term. If elected again, extend the promise one or two years after the end of the new term, or let history be the judge and jury, and work diligently to build a favorable legacy.
Before the end of his first year, President Obama was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize, many wondering why and questioning the venerable Oslo establishment decision and how wise. In his short 9 months stretch, claims are President Obama diffused the tension with Russia over the planned anti-nukes in Eastern Europe, opened a dialogue with Iran and North Korea, changed the discourse with Cuba and made overtures to the Islamic world. Perspective wise and fair or not, it earned him a good shot at the prize. Another Nobel Laureate, President Carter is on a high, lately center stage as his 10% unemployment record is being challenged but feeling vindicated as he did it with no wars or large deficits. He still holds the record for the prime rate at 21.5%. High unemployment generates many spectators who otherwise would be active Wall Street speculators, and dissent and criticism increase exponentially as every Dick and Harry and Alec act smart, with every new blip on the joblessness misery chart.
The spectacular markets comeback from the March lows was nothing short of miraculous, up 80%. School teachers and others with large retirement funds recaptured much of the lost wealth, and the potential for an increase in theft and crime was contained under the bailout plan. Meanwhile, a Speculator par excellence gave us the spectacle of a lifetime, with 50 billion disappearing live on the world stage in front of our eyes. Bernie Madoff pulled it off with a Houdini style bluff, and though he went to jail, investors are hanging onto the hope for the billions by the coattail. Another figure with only a 7 billion figure in the “now you see it now you don’t” money limelight, Allen Sanders may be next to jail and is on hold without bail.
Every October we celebrate a Monday with a splash, its 22 year anniversary this time as the pundits like to remind us of how long it has been since that fateful "Black Monday crash of October 1987”. Investors this October reacted to positive earnings in the US and set a bullish tone across the globe. A giant Flea Market in its own right, Ebay is a children paradise, as many housewives sell kids toys and clothes while buying toys and clothes one size up, as the child goes through about 3 sizes a year growing up.
The spectacular rise and fall of a barrel of Oil $150 to $80 was a flaring spectacle. With the oversupply from refining, many wells are being drilled but completions postponed until prices firm up, postponing cost until it makes economic sense. Not yet ready to be an international oil company producing and selling, China is hoarding, buying reserves for the future as this diversifies them into crude oil and out of dollars. A jewel in the Middle East has less sparkle for now: after so much guts and audacity in building, Dubai defaulted on 60 Billion sending real estate prices spinning and tumbling, and the elevators of the world’s highest building were unable to do the heavy lifting. In an earlier time and at the southwestern end of the Saudi peninsula, the earliest high rises appeared in Yemen, still witnessed in the incredible World Heritage city of Shibam, a reminder that Dubai may yet earn a spot as a “Future Heritage” from 2009.
Global warming is facing a credibility test: was climate change a function of climate changers hiding and destroying adverse Data? In retrospect, Warming is bad for natural gas prices as speculators want cool weather to create demand, and also bad for our health as warmer weather is friendlier to the Flu virus. Bad as it is, it is not the worst pandemic in recorded history: the Spanish Flu of 1918-19 killed one third of the world population, between 40 million and 100 million died, more than WWI and II combined. WWI may have ended because of it since so many soldiers were sick or dying.
How much of the Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might melt due to rising temperatures? As Scientists explain, already the sea level change is not uniform and varies from place to place. Colder, denser and saltier, the North Atlantic sea water is normally two feet lower than the northern Pacific, maybe cleaner too. About 1,000 miles northeast of Hawaii a garbage patch roughly twice the size of Texas is trapped in the swirling Pacific current, and is doubling in size every decade forming a giant whirlpool. So far five large such patches are swirling around the oceans of the world. Maybe it’s the solution to our shortage of land dumps, permanent whirlwinds of manmade islands of our civilization refuse, a sobering display for future tourists on a cruise. No ifs or buts about it, and though they contribute little to global warming, Cigarette butts make their own brand of pollution. Taking years to disintegrate, they spread pollutants and soot throughout the microcosmic world and pollute water and streams: worldwide 5.5 trillion cigarettes are puffed each year.
Though we worry about the shrinking “Green”, concern should be from the stuff we don’t see, the underground deep down, deeper still, going near damn the center of the earth: the molten uranium that is in the core of the planet. Much of the heat of the magna comes from what may be the super giant nuclear reactor there. The molten iron that flows between the core and the surface of the planet gives us picturesque Hawaii and other exotic volcanoes and is believed to cause the Magnetic Fields.
We could be in the early stages of a reversal of magnetic force lines that encircle Earth. Their strength is already down 10 to 15 percent, a movement that appears to have intensified about 150 years ago. The switch in the magnetic field is believed to be related to subterranean currents of the molten iron beneath. As scientists surmise, it may someday suddenly compress the inner core, which might increase the density of the unrefined uranium. The core could then reach the critical mass for a gigantic nuclear explosion, the spectacular spectacle of all spectacles.
During the reversal, the field slowly disintegrates and then reappears with opposite polarity. North becomes South on the compass, and Heaven and Hell could trade places. The impact becomes unfathomable, especially the signals affecting birds, fish and migratory animals where the magnetic field is their Nav-Star. It happened before at least once in our very distant past but as it takes a few thousand years of transition, we’re more likely to fire up and call upon Evolution to help us survive it as a species.
Assuming we’ll outlive the wobbly Magnetism, Astronomers predict that over the next hundred millions years, the Sun will become increasingly hotter, and everything on earth may boil to become non-matter. As in the Green Debate, scientific models are spread over a wide spectrum of time, within a billion years to 2.3 Billion as the time experts would have us believe the precision of their research excerpts.
Science continues to rock, new products, discoveries and amazing achievements. Science stats tell us that the MRI scan is different for people who live in Florida versus Washington. Whereas Science wants to explain everything, the debate between science and religion continues, and when science and religion collide, it becomes the stuff of miracles. Science has even developed an explanation for miracles, as discoveries show that the plants which produced LSD were mixed at times with grains that people ate, creating hallucinations and the “believe it or not” miracle tales.
Science and Religion are always uneasy colleagues: while Science and research advance “Funeral by Funeral”, Religion expands and spreads its heavenly world “Funeral by Funeral”.
Since we still have plenty time before the ultimate demise let’s look at our mundane issues of the day, especially as we just finished the wonderful Thanksgiving Turkey holiday. Gurus of the Turkey Genome Sequencing tell us that 9/10th of the genome have been mapped, while the chicken and cows and pigs have already been mapped. Our quest to comprehend the species remains in its infancy as we’re told by our expert Organismologists that 99% of creatures and sea organisms are unknown still.
For those concerned about a world without oil in 100 years or so, the choke is in a whole different sphere and how electricity is produced: the Magnets. The real short supply will come from a hence nebulous material: Neodymium, a component of strong permanent magnets, which are made out of a mixture of Neodymium, Iron and Boron. Fortunately for us humans, and as an electric engine of circuits and chemical substances, our brain puts out our own personal Magnetic attraction, which keeps the world retail hopping as accessories and clothing styles are the hooks leading us to weddings and various other relationship settings.
Weddings are always a great time: happiness abounds, families expand, and new life gets a chance. Marriage continues to be the subject of studies and research, the married want to find out why it hasn’t worked for others, singles wants to know why it worked for others, and the ravages of divorce or perennial bachelorhood ultimately controlling the fate of every one separating from their other.
Love and Marriage are no longer joined at the hip, as marriage is now the stuff of Stats. The eager Mongers developed a “marriage Index”, a new bellwether replacing the bygone honeymooners Belle Weather. It is made up of a composite score to gage the health of marriage, 76.2 in 1970 versus 60.3 in
2008. Index components are heavily analyzed, but Love itself remains outside the bounds of the stats as the digital numbers are incapable of gauging starry eyes in a statistically significant manner.
Our own travels took us to a new destination this year: Lisbon mixes the glory of past heroism with the realities of a world with less imperialism. Its’ Modern Architecture of the last 50 years is showing date and wear, a reminder that what we design for today’s age may not live up to the demands of future societies tech stage. On a quick stop in Milwaukee we were entertained by enchanting friends, and a visit to the Harley Davidson Museum there was a reminder of earlier times, when the macho and pride was the thrill of a motorcycle ride.
Around the US, Healthcare is in Congress being dissected, politicians attempting to diagnose what’s ailing medical care. Meanwhile insurance and the insured are confused and unsure, as their plans are customized to a new Congressional High Couture. With 2000 pages plus, the media is touting the healthcare bill as “politics by the pound”. The bickering of Republicans and Democrats slows legislation and the Crystal Ball figures it is highly driven by worrying about future votes when the sector dependent on government programs grows.
A book does not a presidential candidate make. Sara Palin is making the rounds lately, whether for future Senatorial ambitions, maybe a second vice or presidential spot, or the prelude to a second book to be written if there is a second Obama Administration. The ratings will guide, too early to speculate on this hound, especially with the Secretary of State Hillary looming in the background. In Texas the Governor’s race is heating up, a hot subject for the Crystal of next year. Illegal immigration is bound to be in the debates, and as the high fence wall along Mexico’s border makes it too hard and costly for illegals in the US to cross back over, they forgo vacations and stay permanently on the US side of the border.
Earth took a breather this year contemplating its mean actions of the last 2 years. Hurricane Ike’s impact remains deeply felt, and as the 17’ waves of the time destroyed so many roofs, our Flood Insurance went through the roof. In Houston, our highly contested Mayoral Run-off election was finally settled with no dispute, the 2 candidates in the run-off straddling the spectrum from the gay lifestyle pursuit to the pin striped suit. Lady Parker won the day, and her reputation could increase incoming gay migration and put pressure on real estate. “Sex and Real Estate” may be a new discipline in the making.
By some estimate, and based on DNA studies and a little assumption, one out of every 218 of us is a descendent of one person, a great warrior with the most formidable empire in history, Genkiz Khan. We may be all a large pool of distant cousins and relatives, and our vast world is too connected to be split into bits and bytes as the sum of the parts is one earth, our final frontier. As it may expire in a billion years, it is the ultimate ship to be steered to safe cosmic orbit. Maybe we’ll activate the mean magnetic molten lava to explode through one pole, sending rocket earth out of the trap of the sun’s orbit and into some other galaxy or through a black hole, where we can safely coast for few more billions, enjoying the spending of our newly minted bail-out trillions.
Life is for us to live while we scramble to maintain systems and learn manuals of this electronic survival age, and how to carry the brain software indefinitely when we can’t easily update the body hardware. The wise one once said: good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. Keep experimenting, stay on the good side, call your shots with wisdom and take your lumps in stride, it’s all a part of the journey and this once in a lifetime ride. May luck remain on your side, and I wish you happy holidays and a prosperous new year with nothing but upside.
By: Imad F. Abdullah, December 2009, Houston, Texas
|Last Updated on Sunday, 12 June 2011 17:27|