Perspectives: A Review of 2012
by Raju Peddada
"The hope that past is not prologue may indeed be slim, but I've never known the angel Hope when she was not looking a bit anorexic."
—Charles Pellegrino, The last Train from Hiroshima, 2010
(Swans - December 17, 2012) There are two images that keep involuntarily popping up in my mind as an alternating kinetic montage. What is astounding is the eerie similitude of group behavior, even from disparate systems of existence and ideologies. The first scenes are from Egypt, the protests against Morsi's usurpation of powers; the second is that of the people, especially women, at Toys"R"Us and Macy's, fighting over the toys and clothes in the wee hours of Black Friday. One action emanates from the religious-political front, the latter being from a democratic-capitalist society, both frighteningly congruent.
There is no disconnection here, a rage against any sort of destitution. Ironically, the Egyptian men rioted due to their lack of say in their governing system, while the women abandoned all civility when what they wanted was in limited supply. I guess destitution, in every iteration, brings about the same agitation in people. That fetches me the seminal question: How should we look at ourselves when we are destitute of honesty? Let me tender a discursive essay on 2012.
The events that shaped 2012 for me essentially shaped the nation in general. And if this course is not corrected, we will be leaving our posterity only a mirage of peace and prosperity to chase. That said, I would rather be here, in the U.S., than anywhere else in the world. No matter which perspective we choose, in whirling 2012, every angle of observation involuntarily funnels us into the basket of financial impotency, which is the consequence of the dire want of probity, in our public and business elite.
Finance: The biggest events of 2012 were financial in nature, as corruption scandals dominated the headlines on both sides of the Atlantic and the Pacific. The nations of Asia and Africa are contending with an assortment of rapacious dictators, oligarchs, and warlords over the mineral wealth of the regions. The Arab populations of the Middle-East wallow in ignorance, as new dictators spring forth from their revolutions, while a single theocracy is drawing the world towards another financial meltdown, in their pursuit of nuclear status, as the public and private financial corruption distills insolvency that continues to shape the West, especially Europe.
Without getting into the details of a $130 Billion EU-IMF second deal to bail out Greece, allow me a simple conjecture here. How can heavily-industrialized nations like Germany, France, Denmark, UK, Sweden, and Netherlands have the same currency as Spain, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Romania, and Slovenia, which are mainly agrarian, selling farm products, crafts, and tourism? Some of these countries, like Romania, Hungary, and Slovenia, still sport hand-drawn carts, like in the Third World. Could the U.S. have the same currency with Mexico? This is a botched egalitarian concept that is ruining Europe. Tourism to Europe now has devolved to business travel -- tourists loved francs in France, deutsche marks in Germany, and lira in Italy. If a gallon of gas is five euro in Denmark, who can afford it in Greece?
Last weekend, I scanned four major world newspapers, to find 75% of the headlines screaming corruption, all invariably financial, basically myriad collusions. This was only reportage, without any hint of outrage, evidence of which was on the streets of Athens. There are no feel-good stories anymore, as corruption is the new global culture, conspired and creatively consummated by the immediacy of contemporary technologies.
Wars... at every level proliferate around the globe. If it's not for the territory and the minerals, it's for the market share, or for a project or a job. Class warfare got bigger in the U.S. while the drug wars raged across the southern border. The worst wars are initiated in the name of ideologies. The big question is why does Iran pursue uranium enrichment, when there are other industries that could be developed that would employ millions? Isn't it simply to seek the ultimate weapon, by employing a handful of scientists, for an insidious and incendiary ideological objective?
Every region is afflicted with a rash -- wars: the Middle East is already a cauldron full of C-4 waiting for that flying spark. Central- and south-Asia are replete with abrasive convolutions between India's Kashmir, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, while contentious border skirmishes are a regularity between China, Myanmar, India, and Nepal, and this does not even address the boiling tensions over the South China Sea ownership between China, Japan, and South Korea. In Eastern Europe, especially Kosovo, the ethnic conflict has flared up again, like irrepressible gout, while Russia's silent aggressions go unchecked on its borders. In Africa, the Islamists are systematically destroying the indigenous cultures of Mali, Lower Sudan, Niger, and Nigeria, while the Somali pirates plunder independent shipping fleets, as piracy flourishes in the straits of Malacca -- a system of looting ubiquitous in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic during the 15th through the early 19th century. In the Americas, it's the same old story: Narco-terrorism, from Mexico on down to Columbia and Venezuela. Worst of all are the global cyber wars, waged between contentious and competitive nations, costing the taxpayers billions. War has become a perpetual condition, and a sustained culture of the world.
Banana Republics: Any of you have relatives in these places? In February, 1,000 were injured and 79 killed after a soccer match in Egypt. Fire at a prison in Comayagua, Honduras, killed 360.
During March, explosions rocked a munitions dump in Brazzaville, the capital of The Republic of the Congo, resulting in 250 deaths. Amadow Toumani, the president of Mali, was ousted in a coup by the mutinous soldiers. In April, Azawad (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) declared independence from Mali... see a great nation rise from it! Mutinous soldiers staged a coup, taking over the city of Bissau, in Guinea-Bissau, and arresting president Raimondo Pereira and presidential candidate Carlos Gomes, Jr. during a campaign. Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, was found guilty of war crimes against humanity during the civil war of Sierra Leone, and in July, India's power grid failed, rendering 620 million people without power.
Governments: In 2012, the Western democracies were found sliding towards their respective fiscal cliffs, while political-public debates ensue on the potential marriage of socialistic and capitalistic values to extend our way of life. The Arab Spring did not plant any democracy, but seeded more unrest and unemployment, as tourism evaporated in that seething region, making the way for new theocratic tyrants. African oligarchies and quasi-democratic nations are getting exploited by the predatory communist-capitalist China for the mineral rights, in exchange giving them time-sensitive infrastructures that would become obsolescent before the local regimes expire. In India, despite Hindus being the vast majority, somehow they are being governed by the minorities through a convoluted power-sharing arrangement in the multiple-party system.
Every form of leadership out there is on the take. And ironically, amidst these orgies of graft and pecuniary rapaciousness of the power elite, one anachronistic monarch -- one old lady, in perhaps the oldest form of governance -- draws our reluctant admiration and affection simply for being dignified, restrained, and traditional: Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrated 60 years on the throne of England. Come to think it, in the thousand years of that bloodline, the Tudors and the Windsors amassed a mere $10 billion for ruling nearly 80% of the world. They are virtual paupers, if you compared them to the dacoits like Hosni Mubarak, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and the whole illegitimate assortment of sheiks who have stolen untold billions of public wealth, siphoned off to various Swiss and private holdings, living debauched and decadent lifestyles. Are the revolutions a surprise?
Culture & Art: It is indeed a mystifying algorithm that while many in all directions struggle to make a living, especially in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, the competitive bidding at the auction houses selling antiquities, arts, and rare objects have broken every record. Contemporary paintings by Gerhard Richter, Mark Rothko, and Alex Katz routinely fetch $7 to $10 million. The modernists like Picasso and Matisse bring $35- to $100-plus million each. Estate jewelry, rare diamonds, and watches also have exploded in their values. Earlier this year, Elizabeth Taylor's jewelry collection brought in upwards of $115 million at auction.
The other aspect of this equation is the exponential ascension of luxury brands. Every luxury brand, from Asprey and Dolce & Gabbana to Hermes, and from Louis Vuitton to Ermenegildo Zegna, has reported anywhere from a 25 to 50 percent explosion in profits and market penetration. What makes this possible? Simple: people love rarity, quality, and passion -- as passionately-crafted objects represent not only the pride, vanity, and image, but they also encapsulate the investment of intellect, sentiments-emotions, and craftsmanship... luxury is quality; it is invariably something to aspire to, and ascension is at the core of human aspirations, hence the success of these brands despite financial cliffs.
This is also the age of the ebooks and independent self-published authors, recreating a languishing publishing industry. In fact, authors have become brands, with cover designs of their books looking and feeling cohesive in presentation, through all the media outlets. Hopefully, this will invigorate the publishing sphere that has been held hostage with collusion between large publishing entities serviced by an exclusive group of agents that pretty much keep everyone at the gate. Self-publishing is also publishing on demand, and in many cases authors finding success this way end up being nabbed by the traditional network and signing up with advances. This is one development that has benefited every aspiring Nabokov and Roth.
Science & Nature: There are a great many scientific advancements taking place, and here are some: The seminal space event of 2012 was the successful launch and retrieval of the Dragon space capsule by the private company SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, a passionate space pioneer with no background in astrophysics or space exploration. This is the year when the business of space got privatized. Mae Jemison, a female African-American astronaut, will chair the DARPA-NASA-sponsored 100-year starship R&D project to ascertain tech-human elements requisite for manned interstellar travel. NASA-JPL in 2012 has ratcheted up, not surprisingly, the search for habitable planets with its incredible Kepler Mission that is keeping astronomers bristled with data on each star hosting 1.6 planets in our Milky Way Galaxy, some "only" a few billion light years away. The home run from NASA was the Mars Science Laboratory Mission that successfully landed Curiosity on Mars in August (largest Mars Rover) to explore and experiment in the Gale Crater.
Stem cells injected into aging rats dramatically retarded aging, improving their health and extending their life 2 to 3 times, as reported in Nature Communications. American scientists found a parasitic fly that forces bees to abandon their hives, which precipitated the honeybee die-off that is detrimental to human agriculture. California researchers have developed an inexpensive plastic that can remove large volumes of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere... look out for boulevards lined with plastic trees. Genetically-modified silkworms are producing large amounts of spider silk with high tensile strength for various applications... like in body armor. In the UK, a surgical robot called Da Vinci became the first artificial assistant in an open-heart surgery.
Finally, while all these advances are breathtakingly hopeful, we are still a species that is instinctively self-destructive. According to the Mayans, December 21st is a date regarded as the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican calendar... the end of the world, period. Do we need such a prediction? We are, voluntarily and willfully, heading towards such an ignominious reality. The UN issued a dire report on the state of our resources -- it warns of time running out to ensure enough food, water, and energy for exploding global populations that by 2030 would need 50% more food, 45% more energy, and 30% more water. In tandem with this, a paradigm shift has occurred across the globe, especially in the West, from self-reliance to self-interest, which replaces proaction with reaction. In conclusion, the re-election of the president was a referendum on the rejection of the challenger and his ideas in the current global climate. Hopefully, we made the right choice.
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About the Author
Raju Peddada is an industrial designer running an eponymous brand, purveyor of ultra luxury furnishings of his own design (see peddada.com). He is also a freelance correspondent/writer for several publications, specializing in commentary, essay, and opinions on architecture, design, photography, books, fashion, society, and culture. Peddada was born in Tallapudi, a small southern town in south India. He's lived in New Delhi and Bombay before migrating to the West Indies and eventually settling in Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in corporate America until he chose to set up his own designing firm. He lives with his family in Des Plaines. (back)