|Crystal Ball 2011|
|Written by Imad Abdullah|
|Thursday, 23 December 2010 11:46|
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Crystal Ball 2011
The Crystal Ball 2011 is the 12th annual greetings, whimsical and satirical, with featherweight and some weight, reflections and projections on the past, present, and the future.
Imad F. Abdullah, AIA
2010 has been the year Earth totally lost its cool, getting fed up with us humans taking for granted her selfless bounty and continuously abusing her largesse and generosity.
When Earth packs heat, it reminds us of how precarious our existence can be on this planet. Earth asserted its will and blew its top ferociously over Iceland, the volcano spreading ash to fill the skies and blanket all the land. The continent of Europe was held hostage for days as planes were unable to fly inside the thick ash haze, and together with the year-end ice storms, they turned airports into gargantuan hotels stranding passengers in a nightmarish daze. Earth sent a quake to Chile, flooded Pakistan and China, and earlier in the year, Haiti was literally wasted by “The Earthquake”. Streets and buildings twisted with violent shakes, and in due course Haiti succumbed to famine and a mean outbreak.
Fires lit up Portugal, Russia and California as if to balance all ends of the planet. Today’s fire season is 78 days longer than 30 years ago, and still more fires in Indonesia are manmade to clear land into farmland, before a proposed government moratorium becomes law of the land.
On everyone’s mind, the war in Afghanistan simmers to no end, as a new General is sent to test the latest strategic trends, and the media is toning down reporting to calm the public with a fake pretend. The war may appear close to an end but can there really be an end?
Iran continues to claim its share of political fame, missiles and the nuclear always newsworthy and a national pride claim. The newly re-elected president Ahmadinejad is basking in the limelight, and tripping to various capitals for friends and allies. Darfour is next though now standing aside, while the south of Sudan awaits the divide. Iraq is in a Government checkers game, and the Mexican Warlords are carrying a horrendously indifferent game.
N Korea wants to be in the news. When it is not covered prime, it takes matters in its own hand and makes waves with a big bang. China cannot afford for a communist neighboring regime to collapse, the Koreas tit for tat a minuscule game of cat and mouse. The real scare is if North and South reunite to become one giant with formidable industry, similar to the powerhouse of the united East and West Germany. The stakes continue to get higher in the Far-East, as to who survives and who can still compete.
China continues on its meteoric rise, propelled by the wonderland 2010 World’s Fair in Shanghai, a city anticipated to grow from 19 to 45 millions in 2025. Disneyland is in “depeche mode” to open there, Volvo’s hot, and the humming “Hummer” is boosting China’s surplus trade. At a dizzying speed, China has become the world’s laboratory for future experimentation, as science intensifies the race towards the always fictitious edge, and pushes the envelope to catch with the ever expanding knowledge.
Being in the center of a tumultuous region and at the crossroads of continents has its benefits. The growth of Turkey is surpassed only by China and India, and all 3 countries have an enviable population growth. The shuttle back and forth to the Middle East was full all year, talks are on and off again, and the ultimate peace is still undisturbed and resting in peace. Israel spent the last two years in preparation for the future negotiations of a contemplated peace, and profited handsomely from continuing the talks as the US offered them and their counterpart Palestinian negotiators a sweet deal. Can there be peacemaking without future bribes, and will the historic legacy of the peacemakers transcend how and what to divide?
Though there are countries around the globe with a multitude of religions, Lebanon is an experiment in what happens when various factions do not control their own actions. Lebanese circles encircle their inner circles, wrap their perennial political candidates with the loyalty to faith and Party, and groom their upstart children with the same ideology. Can Lebanon rise to the opportunity to develop collective religions to a model government form, and contribute the magic formula to the world to become the norm?
Worldwide, Religions continue to agree on the mundane and the real, and disagree on the supernatural and the surreal. Religion has always been at odds with science, and as archaeology continues to dig under, religion works to advance the mind through the beyond to the eternal wonder. With no peer review for their medicine nor tests, religions promise happiness through eternal salvation to the surrendered mindsets.
The future of wars is undergoing extensive research as all types of arsenals have been tried so far, unable still to get it right whether conflicts are near or afar. For now super powers impose embargoes and restrictions as a substitute for invasions, but the “embargoed” are stocking missiles and hyping nuclear fears, and some retaliate as pirates on the high seas. New methods may soon be found as Sensors could become the new army robots in the field, fighting in lieu of soldiers as small dust particles, blanketing the enemy into chilled surrender with their infinitesimal obstacles. The War on Terror remains of a different tune, creating lots of jobs for unscrupulous contractors hiring hungry soldiers of fortune.
CNN and few other channels fill the airtime with repetitive tidbits and soap highlights, rounding free actors among politicians looking for exposure and a chance to get some limelight. Beyond orphan politics all day pumped up as news, nature’s disasters puncture the routine every now and then with breaking news. The attention span is getting short, and to treat the national “Attention Deficit Syndrome”, we get continuous hounding to “keep them honest” popping on TV screens in our homes.
Back to finance where money gives us a cheer, borrowing power is now the new frontier. Capitalism is moving ahead faster of government in Democracies, yet is getting behind in totalitarian regimes and Autocracy. As wars create instability and uncertainty, they prevent countries from creating capital or raising money. The world straddles 2 camps, those who can print money and borrow selling bonds, and those who operate on a cash basis and ponder how to reach the prosperity pond. The Euro is getting riskier as Greece teeters and Spain shivers, Ireland is trapped within and Portugal is on edge, and France is in limbo as baby boomers and the older generation battle the 62 years retirement age.
The Sterling is living up to its sterling reputation as the UK watches the debt assault on the Euro next door. The EU is on the hook, leaning on Germany to shore up the Euro, but a Europe once famous for its wars could be on the verge of a big debt bout, which members stay Euro and who gets booted out. How many countries can the EU bail out before Germany decides to find its own way-out? Will the EU disintegrate and go broke, and who will come to the rescue once the clock on the Euro runs out?
Third World status may reach the Alps if countries in Southern Europe fail to make the cut. The Crystal Ball suggests empowering more women, as economies have proven more successful when their involvement gets as high as men. And just in case systems fail, the Economics of Poverty is a whole new field where the existing models are out of their league. Forget Margin reserves, capital flow, Swift, and fine-tuning: the poor are producers and consumers with a whole set of requirements and strategy, and unless given a different try, the Master Mechanics from Harvard Economics need not apply.
Oil has been dancing around all year, supplies plentiful with the underground storage in Oklahoma and other salt domes near capacity with no shortage to fear. Peter and his Principle continue to challenge our ingenuity, as the BP Maconda well safety redundancy tried to call his bluff but failed miserably. In the Gulf of Mexico, where normally750,000 barrels seep into the water every year which industry is unable to stop, Offshore drilling came to a halt when the notorious well blew its Christmas Tree top. For a while water became thick black paste, the nightmarish oil spill turning marine life into waste. Miraculously, earth rejuvenated itself by feeding oil to bacteria and fish life, giving the crude industry a whole new lease on life. Though Angola is sitting on 13 billion barrels still waiting for political stability, Oil will remain for the distant future in our destiny, as Solar Power remains at the mercy of the government subsidy.
Wind power may have a larger role in our future. As we battle the global warming trend, we may need to reverse the blades into giant cooling fans across the globe from end to end. In a different twist and befitting the location on the Italian Island of Sicily, somewhere near Palermo, subsidies of the wind turbines generated so much money to the locals even though the prevailing winds have not lived up to their touted strength and intensity. To make sure the cash flow continues, rumor has it the savvy Palermosi secretly built hidden diesel generators to produce electricity, the grid connected to the wind turbines to show benefactors the success of the enterprise and to continue the cash flow from “renewable energy”.
Money from lenders has been very scarce yet so cheap, flying in the face of established theories of supply and demand as banks keep piling and topping their cash heap. Inflation has been double-faced this year, hovering near zero in public, but rising steadily behind the scene. High inflation is good for paying debt with lower value dollars from the State, bad for deficits as interest rates rise to compensate. The Fed is now printing so much that it has to print a whole lot more to buy the instruments it issues and sells at the treasury auctions. As Public debt soars, is there a limit before the collapse?
Estimates are that public debt can reach an absolute limit at 160% of Gross Domestic Product, after which the “Down” begins spiraling. Though the Dollar has steadily declined, it remains the currency of choice for large holdings. US Bonds have been selling well at near zero coupons to park cash in safe instruments, and the US is on safe grounds for future borrowing as demand could outstrip the printing press if bonds offer 2 to 3% higher rates. They would still be extremely low by historical standards, especially when compared to the 18% interest rates only 30 years hence, when President Carter left office.
Our national debt never had it so good, now strapping every American to the hilt, their kids and kids of kids. Our cash is at a loss where to park itself, chasing fractions of a point between money market accounts, and the short and long term CD’s and bonds are subject to interest tricks, uncertain as the principal drops with each rate uptick. Few can assume the risk of downward leverage with rates near zero and are staying put, and though it may sound stupid, the downside from zero is actually the potential drop of the asset acquired by the cash in treacherous markets. A new facet is entering economics “Decumulation of Assets”.
Now near the end of his second year, President Obama can’t escape but own-up to all his predecessor problems over those 8 Republican years. Presidential legacies were mainly self made, but they are sometimes reconstructed, just as President “W” Bush did with his Memoirs recently published. Obama’s legacy is somewhat out of hand for now, pending nature’s mercy with the oil spill and the potential default on sovereign debt. Hot on the jobless, America’s researchers always astound us with inordinate statistics, some suggest that 1/3 of our GDP is spent correcting mistakes, a dire legacy omen for improving productivity and unemployment rates.
The “Jobs Deck” is constantly shuffled for the unemployed and the underemployed. In the early stages of an upturn, and when hiring starts, more unemployed rejoin the search. The lag between rising vacancies and falling unemployment keeps the rates difficult to predict. With interest rates near zero and only marginal growth the last 2 years, the Fed is in a tough spot on how to spur growth by shifting to lower rate gears. To compound the effect, the new generation, half the size of the older is in a race, and may pay double taxes just to keep pace.
Obama’s own implied pledge of “Read my lips” is not working with the Tax bill, just as it haunted the elder President Bush in his quest for a failed second term to recapture control over The Hill. Spreading the wealth is heavily contested by the wealthy, and Republicans want to reduce Democrats dependency. The results of the midterm congressional elections changed the make-up structure, too much political capital invested on the Healthcare Bill as resentment grew at every juncture. Now comes Wikipedia and Wickileaks, and we’re just beginning to flip through that new American Chapter, the internet face to face with the Establishment and its power structure.
The former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel resigned to run for Mayor of Chicago, the signals and vibes not lost on the insiders on why to abandon ship and such a sensitive post, to try for an office with a lot less oomph to boast. Was it failure on the job or lack of loyalty, or just a personal career change before the Obama Administration becomes toast?
Illegal migration to the US remains a hot potato, Congress and everyone except Arizona still in limbo. The immigration process has always been hampered by the starved funding of the Agency, under the guise of “shortage of money”. Ironically when the financial system was about to implode, a trillion Dollars was invented out of thin air for Banks to reload. Would we have 10 million or more staying illegally, had their papers been processed over the years in a timely manner by a well funded agency?
Positioning for president is only for the hardy and not an easy feat, but Sara Palin is laughing happy as she amasses millions in fees and film royalty, teasing everyone on whether she’ll be the 2012 candidate for the Republican Party. The quest requires too many advisers, expect an internal gridlock before she gets everyone on board and ready, as the pundits will be in line to bring her to reality.
The Stock markets performed reasonably well in 2010, and if you missed the ride hop on board for 2011. In the third year of a presidency the famed Dow Jones has an astounding statistic, up 95% of the time. Instant Information and insider tips for everyone can be too late and useless when it comes to trading stocks, as such needs insight and the skill to execute and ensure profits get locked. The key denominator to trading is now Execution Speed, thousands of trades per second, with the NASDAQ working at 177 microseconds. The Markets are quite alive as companies sell to emerging countries worldwide, and the stock values are back from their lows just in time to give us a cheer and a big holiday glow.
A lot of Real Estate remains upside down, topside heavy, underwater, and non-performing. Foreclosures are still rampant, and the economy cannot afford the coveted 6% returns without high risk instruments. Though Gold looks strong and shinier than ever, trading is riskier as the bullion is bought in cash or as Exchange Traded Funds, and requires investors with strong guts to stomach the daily gyrations of their funds.
Rare Metals are more frequent in the news, as they are used in present and some still futuristic discoveries. Last year The Crystal ball highlighted Neodymium, a component of strong permanent magnets. This year the focus is on Coltan, the shortened industry term for Columbo-Tantalite, the source of the metal Tantalum whose strength, chemistry and electronic properties make it invaluable in many hi-tech and medical applications, and in our beloved cell phones. America is no longer a great mining nation but as luck would have it, rare metals are spread in many exotic places, such as deep in Mongolia where the gigantic statue of Genghis Khan on his horse guards the new airport, a stark reminder of past glory of an endless empire. More challenging, Coltan is mined from deep in the jungles of the Congo where it shares the land with our primate ancestors, Gorillas. Needless to say, the risk factor involved in facing the mighty upright beast while mining sent prices soaring as demand exploded. Adding more pressure, the “Friends of the Gorillas” are threatening supplies, and in turn your most coveted gadget by far.
It has been 50 years since the original Xerox mass printing machine revolutionized the world. Technology today is bypassing our ability to increase productivity, as it requires functioning at higher speeds than our programmed capacity. Today’s new machines can do miracles and almost print “organs on demand”. Non invasive ultrasound techniques can shake the brain into sending ions to troubled locations, and rewire the body by redirecting the nerves to take care of new reconstructions. Lucky for us Baby-Boomer Generation, Rock Music may have guided our brain workouts and we weren’t left out, with sound shockwaves and infrared disco lights during the inhaling blackouts.
Transistors today are so cheap in price, to a point that 100,000 of them cost less than a grain of rice. The transistor count in a Laptop is around 37 billion, catching up with our own brain neurons at 100 billion. Fast Tech is leaving many adult decision makers behind and blind, and yet they are expected to guide us and solve the economy as problems compound. How to manage the implications of technology on our future trends, and how do we solve what’s moving faster than our ability to comprehend?
Regardless of ups and downs, 2011 is bound to bring happiness and charm, with the wedding in Westminster Abbey of Catherine and Prince William Charles. The famed London Cathedral served British Royalty since the great empire, and the show is bound to be world class with all the anticipated designer attires. Chile and its people gave us the ultimate uplifting, never abandoning hope and stamina of doing whatever it takes to bring the trapped miners through the ingenious capsule alive, as millions worldwide watched the miracle unfold live.
In sports earlier this year, the “Mundial” brought great soccer fame to Spain, “par excellence” winner of the tournament, as they gave spectators and fans worldwide great excitement. The Winter Olympics brought magic, fame and acclaim, as athletes broke records thought beyond attain.
In Texas the Governor’s race took on a different flavor, one entrepreneur candidate riding the hair waves to the campaign airwaves. In the end Governor Perry was re-elected to a new term as Texans appreciated his leadership and style, an impressive career come 2012 for a presidential bid with substance and style. A new Mayor is at the helm in Houston, Lady Anise Parker packing a solid service background and selfless style, and winning the office with the help of the free wave lifestyle.
Our Travels included Syria this year where the original alphabet was found, and where some of the most preserved Roman Forums and Crusader Forts are spread all around. Along the way a quick stop in Dubai to see the world’s tallest tower from the ground. We had a chance to experience New York City again with a visit to MOMA, the Museum a masterpiece of architecture, and a Mecca of Modern Art all through the galleries and halls. The rendition of Norma Jean is still on the large center wall, a fine tribute to the iconic Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol. Though New York is a successful high rise city, the future to save energy may reside somewhere deep beneath the street grids of Midwest cities. Known as SubTropolis, the world’s largest underground business complex is 100 feet below Kansas City, a 55 million square feet metropolis of factories and offices operating on very little energy.
Revisiting our Moon, Earth may still be bitter about a cataclysmic event of many moons past, when The Moon came into existence, as earth was forced to give up a chunk of its own substance. The origins of the Moon have been in debate for hundreds of years, and only recently have scientists accepted the conclusion of one of their peers: a large meteorite struck the earth and blew out parts of the sphere, rock scattered and matter got pulverized, but the debris recollected itself and re-synthesized, forming the 2,000 miles wide planet forever romanticized.
The same may have happened to planet Venus at some point in its past, so massive the meteorite collision that it literally reversed the “spin” of Venus to the opposite direction in one hellish blast. Though earth may have given the moon a bit of its round, around 500 BC and with only insight, Aristotle figured out the earth must be round since no other shape can cast the crescent shade on the Moon circling around.
Looking ahead we’ll need to do some galactic travels, especially with our planet at risk of interstellar collision a few millenniums ahead. Last year the Crystal looked to the inner earth Magma as a propeller to send earth out of orbit and safer grounds. It is quite conceivable the Magma will change its East-West rotation into North and South, sending our North Pole to the Equator, an instant polar ice meltdown on a grand global showdown. Getting to outer space is no easy feat, though it has been on scientists minds seriously for well over 50 years. At the Orion Project of that time, they surmised that to get to far away planets, space shuttles need the propulsion of atomic power as a series of explosions of nuclear bombs, in timed sequences to propel the space ship at such high speeds to get us to the next planet in a couple of months. Unfortunately and to halt space nuclear explosions, President Kennedy signed the treaty with Russia on non-nuclear proliferation, and the dream is stuck till some future generation.
Experiments for high speeds through CERN are quite near, as the European Organization for Nuclear Research is ready to test the Hadron Collider in Switzerland sometime next year. Protons at high speed will circle the collider to recreate some of what we see in space, and maybe we can move beyond the Biblical and finally see the original formation of a universe out of shear space. As with any science on the edge, look out for the possibility that the collider may create “Black Holes”, suck our earth inwards and to somewhere else with no boundaries or walls.
As Global Warming remains in our hot pursuit, today’s scientists are busy trying to figure how we can get to a moving asteroid and hitch a ride, to save the fuel until we cross the galactical divide. The Crystal Ball is banking on an easier trick to get us out of the near term warming trend, by nudging earth into a wider rotation orbit around the sun, distant enough to compensate for the increasing intensity of its cosmic guns.
The next threat to us may come from the internet, the web keeps getting more tangled up that at some point it may implode on itself, and becomes a black hole for our stored knowledge and saves. Where will all our records go, will they get lost in the dark or disappear as thin air quarks? If all you have is there, you live in Cyberspace, and you need a cyber executor for your estate.
Social Media is working so fast that stories disappear as the next buzz appears, and it can jam the internet in emergencies. We have become virtual people known by our cell phones and credit cards, and they form our national ID cards. Nowadays it seems only the now and the future are at the fore, and we are in an age where there is no time for history anymore. Societies worldwide are raising the standards of living and marching in step as one block, the electronic gismos maintaining one speed for the civilization clock.
Timelessness may be our quest next year. Woodstock will be 40 years in 2011, and two of our perennial rock superstars are senior citizens, Mick Jagger is 67 and Keith Richard 66. They can still catapult the Rolling Stones to top the charts. The best Prime Time was run by a 77 year old with pant straps a signature to which he still clings, Larry King. The Male Bra, otherwise known as the Jockstrap, was patented in 1897 and yet millions are sold every year still, some as fun birthday gifts to friends on the magic pill.
Life never ceases to give us chances to make mistakes and learn from them. Our compassion is continually taxed to the limit with all the demands of how to perfect this planet and reduce poverty, and move millions to better destiny. At times we could be our worst enemy, yet our legacy is our work and the people associated with us and who make us happy, and to all of you who share the ride and embrace friendship, I wish you a happy season and a fabulous holiday as we sail together on the stellar 2011ship.
Imad F. Abdullah, AIA, December 2010
The Crystal Ball 2011 may be circulated at will
|Last Updated on Sunday, 12 June 2011 17:26|