Saturday, February 5, 2011

Good morning, everyone. I didn't have much to say yesterday. The weather is what it has been and all we can do is adapt to it. Many areas are still digging out up here. The city had front loaders scooping up huge buckets full of snow and loading it into dump trucks. First time we have ever seen that in the ten years we have lived here. The blizzard (and its aftermath) and Egypt have dominated the news and it has reached the point where there is little that anyone can say that is really enlightening about either.

I did read an interesting post on John Mauldin's 'Outside the Box' weekly e-mail column on Egypt that reflected much of what is in the back of my mind. The author took the 1979 Iranian revolution as a starting point to consider the possibilities in Egypt. Neither our journalists nor our intelligence people (CIA) were well informed because neither group had many (if any) Farsi speakers. Their sources of information were, therefore, quite limited. The journalists dealt with liberal, western educated people who spoke English and seemed to share the western journalists' liberal values. The CIA dealt with the Shah's security forces (SAVAK) who had limited sources of intelligence themselves and were not willing to share much of it. Neither dealt with the masses of Iran who were not western educated, did not speak English, and were deeply religious. Everyone overestimated the strength of Iranian liberals and underestimated that of the Ayatollahs until the latter had taken over the revolution and established a fundamentalist Shi'ite state. I am glad to see that (at least among the journalists) we have a fair number of Arabic speakers getting their stories. But I also notice that most of the sound bites come from people who speak at least some English. And I have to wonder how much that colors the information we get. I am also extremely uneasy about the picture that is developing concerning our governmental relationship with Egypt's government. On the one hand, Mubarak has been seen as a staunch ally for the last 30 years. We have essentially turned, in public, a blink eye to rigged elections and other problems. Now, suddenly, we seem to be pressuring him to leave. Whoever takes over cannot be seen as kowtowing to the U.S. if they want to retain the confidence of their people and they also have to wonder when the U.S. will push them under the bus--however useful they have been in the past. I don't think the U.S. will gain much however this mess ends.

This HuffingtonPost piece I first saw yesterday (and reread today) also reflects some of the more subterranean thoughts in my mind. Subterranean because it is painful to dredge them up and consider them in daylight and some of the implications that come to mind are also disturbing. Once upon a time we were, justly, proud of the notion that we were a society of laws and not of men. That the law applied equally to all citizens no matter how much money or power they had. But now, it seems, some are more equal than others. We may, finally, be getting some prosecutions for the fraud that underlay the mortgage mess. But we aren't getting the story from our supposedly 'free' press which prefers to shine a spotlight on Lindsey Lohan's latest faux pas. Worse, our financial institutions respond to the fraud by trying to absolve themselves of any blame while holding the recipients of the loans totally responsible for them. And when they find that judges in foreclosure cases demand the paperwork (which the banks have failed to maintain properly) they ran to congress and almost got a law passed which would have, retroactively, washed the taint off of the robo-signed documents they wanted to use in lieu of a proper title chain. Only Obama's veto of that bill prevented that travesty. The old conclusion from Animal Farm needs to be updated a bit: "Some (corporate) citizens are more equal than others." And if you aren't a corporation, you are screwed. Question--are you really a citizen any more?

I had an interesting thought as I read this story from MSNBC. Is 'death by GPS' really any different from 'death by road map'? Before GPS many of us used to get a new Rand-McNally (or other) atlas every couple of years. That was how we navigated and it wasn't at all unusual to find detours and road closures along the way. I don't know how many people died because they followed the road map blindly into a dangerous situation. I guess the high tech angle makes it more 'newsworthy.'

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