Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best/Worst of 2009 Awards

Based on no greater authority than my own and to relieve me of the time of finishing my course syllabi for next semester, I have compiled (without reason or order) the best/worst of list for 2009. Enjoy.

1. Best Firing of 2009. Mike Leach. Mike is the ex-football coach of Texas Tech. Outside of being an arrogant pain, reminding everyone of how much smarter he is than everyone else for having gone to law school, and before getting himself canned for taking a concussion case to the woodshed, the good coach decided to offer this opine after a recent loss for why his team did not win.

No, it was not the game plan, bad coaching, lack of execution that doomed them in their game against Texas A&M, but the fat girlfriends, as if a man who looks to be pushing 230 pounds has any business complaining about overweight women. Congratulations, Mike. You have earned it.

2. Greatest Political Coup of 2009. US Senate. Yes, Honduras actually had a military coup, overthrowing its democratically elected president, and is now on the road back to an "elected" government, which will no doubt represent the interests of stockholders everywhere (until they start to breathe in the general direction of poor people, necessitating another coup by its supporters from the Committee on the Present Danger), but the real coup was the open hijacking of the Senate and the political process in the health care debate. Since January 2009, health care industry groups have poured in over $600 million to politicians and campaign coffers, as well as lobbying firms, to make sure we do not get real universal health coverage, and not surprisingly the folks in big business won, as they usually do in the US. By any other standard, the Blue Dogs in the Senate would be prosecuted under DC's prostitution laws, but of course in our system we just call it free enterprise. Congratulations, Senator Lieberman. You won. The 60 million people without health care lost.

By the way, just in case you are wondering, Honduras's GDP is $14 billion, only 1/130th of the amount of money we spend on our private health care system.

3. Best Movie of 2009. Up. I should state that I have not seen too many movies in 2009. I do not normally watch movies at the theater anymore because I do not want to surrender the arm and leg it costs for the tickets and popcorn. But I did get to watch a few and saw a few more on t.v. after their release. Granted, I have not seen Avatar, Inglorious Besterds (or however Quetin Tarantino decided to butcher the spelling on the title), so I am hardly the grade A expert critic these days. Nevertheless, I have been watching movies since I was a kid, and consider myself a decent enough judge of cinematic talent. For me, the best movie was Up. Yes, it is Pixar (what in the world am I doing watching this?). True, Wall-E was better. And it did not have the anti-globalization, leftish themes of Wall-E, The Informant, or Avatar, but it was heartwarming, rejoicing, and hokey in a good way (i.e., the kind that does not make you wonder why Jack Nicholson has yet to materialize and stick an ax into all of the characters).

4. The Best Political News Site of 2009. It is hard for me to read the 'mainstream' news without wanting to convert to violent anarchism (Fox is but the more blunt version of what CNN, MSNBC, and the NBC/CBS/ABC "news" has transformed into over the years). The phony Walter Cronkitism of CNN is undermined by its front page human interest fluff that rivals that of Good Morning America. When there is a dissident that disappears in El Salvador, or a cop being prosecuted for murdering Oscar Grant, indymedia is almost always there to oversee and give coverage to those stories you will never see on CNN, NBC/CBS/ABC (never mind Fox). There is no one go-to site for anything, but indymedia is about the closest go-to site that I know of for alternative media stories on culture and politics in this country.

5. The Worst 'Person of the Year Award' of 2009. Time magazine. Where do I begin to list the crimes and calumnies of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke? He has as chief financier of this country overseen the largest collapse of our economy in over 70 years. And not only did he not predict it, he defended the very financial practices of banking institutions which precipitated the mess.

Here is Mr. Bernanke, two years ago at a Federal Reserve bank structure conference, on the subprime mortgage loan market.
"All that said, given the fundamental factors in place that should support the demand for housing, we believe the effect of the troubles in the subprime sector on the broader housing market will likely be limited, and we do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy or to the financial system."
Declaring Ben Bernanke as 'person of the year' (and having the gall to claim he 'saved' our economy) is not unlike naming the architect of the Titanic person of the year for 1912.

6. Best Immolation of 2009. Jon Stewart Shreds CNBC. When it comes to debunking the corporate mentality that put us in the greatest economic collapse since our grand and great grandparents were sleeping on floors, it is sadly ironic that it requires a fake news show to illustrate the kleptocracy of our economic system.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
CNBC Financial Advice
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

7. Best Political Science Book of 2009. Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet. Yes, I am a political scientist. And it is true that I have little to no life. I read dozens of books every year, mostly given to me by publishers, looking for me to include their texts in my courses, and so most of what I read is from within my discipline. And I concede that about 90% of the material written in my discipline is rubbish (beaten down by a generation of quantitative math geeks with a Napoleonic complex, who live the Sisyphean illusion that you can turn human political behavior into an actual science on par with physics). Outside of John Mearsheimer and Martha Finnemore, there are few political scientists whose books I look forward to reading these days. I should correct myself because I read a most notable text this year that should be required reading for all political science and economics majors--Michael Klare's Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy.

Klare's text reifies much of my own research on international political economy in southeast Asia, and for Americans it is not a pretty picture. Basically, we are going to be replaced before the end of this century, and we will be displaced because of the rising energy consumption of China and India. What that will mean for us is higher prices for oil and basic energy needs, although the author offers some alternative scenarios to avoid this catastrophe (remedies that I do not entirely agree with, particularly as it relates to coal). Nevertheless, this book is a warning of sorts for our future and for that matter the possible environmental impact of development on the People's Republic of China. I suppose in the end, we shall see how it all turns out.

8. Best Act of Anti-Imperialism of 2009. The act of shoeing. Yes, the seekers of 72 virgins have their own way of doing things, even if it is only so they can rule over their own citizenry in a manner as awful as ours, but there is something serene and beautiful about someone throwing shoes at George Bush. My only regret is that he missed. Thus ensued numerous subsequent copycat shoeing attacks on other odious leaders, most interestingly the director of the IMF this last October.

But in all seriousness, these throwers need to work on their aim.

9. Best Song of 2009. Baby I'm a Fool. Like with everything on the list, I suppose this needs to be qualified. In spite of the fact I am in my 30s and considered mummified by my students, I do try to listen to contemporary music now and then. Unfortunately, I find most of it to be a terrible waste of my time and abuse to my ear drums. Rap music has become a succession of stripper songs. Rock is so dead that Green Day is considered a rock band. Country is not even a form of music, but a celebration of the negation of the properties of music (and what little culture it possessed has been turned into pop music). So, that does not leave me with much. I do like Alicia Keys and some R&B, and I am a devotee of jazz. My favorite newer singer to arrive on the scene is Melody Gardot, and her 2009 album, My One and Only Thrill, should be on the listening list of anyone with an appreciation of music. Her signature song from that album and her short career is Baby I'm a Fool.

In an industry occupied by no-talent hacks (Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, et al.) or overaged hanger-ons with a foot in the grave (U2, Bruce Springsteen [yes, I said it, The Boss's vocals are almost completely gone in his late 50s]), Gardot's voice is a relief, a wonderful singer with a soulful and distinct sound.

10. Best Blog of 2009. Mercury Rising. I do not read that many blog sites. I know it is heretical to write this, since I have my own and I am currently in the act of writing a post that includes the best blog site of 2009, but I work and read, work, read, research, work (did I mention working and research?), which means that I spend most of my non-academic reading time going over the news. I will skim over blog postings from other sites, just to catch up, but there are not too many that I really like to read. Mercury Rising is one of them. Started up by a lady from Minnesota, with a likeness for cats and Phoenix, there is a team of three regular posters on this site, and they do a much better job of providing information and details on progressive politics and culture than I could ever hope to in the time I allot for my blog. It is an excellent site and one that I have taken to reading on a regular basis over the past year.

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