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The Rat Is Dead. Long Live The Ox

March 18, 2009


[EDIT This entry was originally written on the old blog on the 21st December 2008, when a wrap-up of the year was a little more timely.]

Well, this the year of the Rat is almost over. Individually, people will naturally have their own take on the year, and their own ups and downs.

Globally though, I think that the general mood is that ’08 is not a keeper. The argument that the commercial media only ever focuses on negative stories is a convincing one and perhaps a topic for another day, but I get the feeling that people are hoping for drastically better things from the coming year of the Ox.

For those interested in planning ahead for your calendars, 2010 will be the year of the Tiger followed by the Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Boar and then back to Rat. So how was the year of the Rat?

Staying with the Chinese theme, this year saw the hosting of The Beijing Olympics. It should have been a feel-good event, but only Michael Phelps ended up feeling good. [EDIT wow, I’m some kind of prophet! Obviously I meant ‘feel good’ as in the thrill of multiple victories, not the euphoria of cannibinoids.] As for the rest of the 29th Olympiad, people came to the conclusion that while military precision is desirable for such a large event, it shouldn’t be the military itself that is responsible for the precision.

As for Phelps, I know it is bad form to rain on someone’s medal ceremony, but I have always felt that swimmers have had an unfair advantage at the Games. To split an event up into various disciplines and award medals for each is excessive. Backstroke? Come on. Usain Bolt didn’t get another gold medal for running the 100m backwards, because there is no such event.

If there was the Reverse 100m, and the 100m hop, Blindfolded 100m, Clown Shoes 100m, Uphill 100m, Up an Even Steeper Hill 100m, and the Run-25m-And-Back Twice, then it is entirely possible that Bolt would have got 8 gold medals as well. The Olympic motto is “Citius, Altius, Fortius” or ‘Swifter Faster Stronger’, not ‘Swifter Faster Stronger In As Many Ways As Possible, Including Butterfly, A Style In Which No Rational Human Would Ever Swim In Anyway’. It would be impossible to inscribe that on a medal unless you did win eight of them.


Continuing in the Olympic vein, multiple gold medal winner Marion Jones went to jail for taking illegal substances, whereas Amy Winehouse, who takes illegal substances on a nightly basis, is still a free woman.

Under cover of the Opening Ceremony, Russia either ‘invaded Georgia’ or ‘came to the aid of oppressed minorities’, depending on which end of the tank you were on.

Such things as a military incursion by a nuclear-armed global superpower usually make a bit of a dent in world affairs, but the other two global superpowers were either i.)hosting the Olympic games, or ii.)were so militarily stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, that their response amounted to “Please stop that, or we shall be forced to say ‘please stop that’ in the strongest possible terms‘.

For the U.S. it was a bit humiliating to admit that while “all options remain on the table” in dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme, (a middle eastern country with possible weapons of mass destruction -wait, I think I’ve seen this one before, wasn’t Sean Penn in it?) their reaction to a real, as opposed to hypothetical act of military aggression was to “urge restraint”. Never has a Commander-In-Chief, let alone a duck, appeared so lame. Improbably, it was the world’s best dressed gnome Nicolas Sarkozy who managed to negotiate some sort of truce. (A short French leader with a famous mistress – haven’t we seen this one as well?).

2008 saw a gradual worldwide loss of interest in Iraq, along with an accompanying softening of ambitions. What had started out as a desperate and heroic campaign to save the world from Sadam’s finger poised over a red button, ready to unleash weapons of mass destruction, quickly turned into a vehicle for bringing “freedom, justice and democracy to the Middle East”, then it was decided to settle on “a stable government and improving security situation”, then just “a stable government” and now in 2008, the best that can be hoped for is for “Iraqis to take a stronger hand in their affairs” presumably before “we get the hell out”. Not exactly aiming for the stars. And one can’t help musing that “their affairs” were quite significantly affected by our poorly managed affairs. Almost makes you mad enough to want to throw a shoe.

On a brighter note, this year will be remembered as the moment in history when it was officially decreed that George Bush can never again be the President of the United States of America.


Which brings us to the U.S election. David Letterman (that political pundit) sagely commented that it is unwise for election campaigns to run for longer than the term of office for which they are campaigning. Personally, I didn’t mind. I didn’t fall victim to ‘election fatigue’ because this was the greatest show in town. Almost everyday brought something new.

McCain doesn’t know how many houses he owns. To be fair to him, that might not have been the result of the excesses of an out-of-touch millionaire, but merely innocent dementia. I have to confess that I liked McCain. I liked him before the campaign. And with his gracious concession speech, I liked him after the campaign as well.

But I didn’t like him during the campaign, and as it turned out neither did over half of the American population. It should be a sobering thought that if someone with the integrity of McCain can be forced into gutter politics, then it is time to review the philosophy of the Republican party where a ‘maverick’ can win the nomination due to his differences from the Republican cliche, but must then run according to its worst examples.

I have no problem with a party catering to what it calls its ‘base’. But if you lost the election because you confused ‘base’ for ‘majority’, then by definition you are living in delusion.

Speaking of delusions, let’s not speak of Sarah Palin. At some time in the future, maybe I’ll try and get my thoughts about her down on paper, but right now, I still break out into a cold sweat at the thought that someone somewhere not only made the decision that she could possibly serve as the second most powerful person on the planet, but actually gave her the opportunity of being one out of two people on earth to apply for the job.

Nothing signified the ‘sensation over substance’ of the political debate in an election year like Joe the Plumber. You would think that complaining about being made to pay more tax because you might earn over $250,000 a year doesn’t exactly give you ‘Regular Guy’ status, but he became the poster boy for the Republican ‘average Joe Sixpack’. I don’t think this was a deliberate distortion. In the Republican Party if you only make $250,000 a year, you are middle class.

In other countries, if you complained that you really didn’t see any incentive in turning over a quarter of a million dollars because you would have to pay more tax, a lot of people who actually were struggling everyday types, might not mind having your devastating hardships. But with the quality of election coverage we got, the crux of the debate was whether or not Joe would get his own television show.

But despite all this, the campaign finally came to an end, and what’s more, McCain was still alive. Well, at any rate he hadn’t died; I think there is a subtle difference. There were no voting ‘irregularities’ like Florida in 2000, and a half-white man was proclaimed the first black President.

Will Obama make a difference? I think he will, and in terms of image, he already has. The whole world let out a sigh of relief and heads of state welcomed a new President who has not only heard of the countries that they lead, but also of the problems they are dealing with, and most importantly, will not inevitably make those problems much, much worse.


This year also saw the financial crisis make trillions the new billions. What annoyed me was the view that this calamity had come out of nowhere like some bespectacled Alaskan moose hunter or a tropical hurricane. Many economists had predicted the collapse a long time ago and had, as it now turns out, correctly predicted the exact reasons why.

However they had made the fatal mistake of not serving on the boards of the most wealthy corporations in the country, and so their objections were lost in the roar of private jet engines which were either leaving a crumbling Wall St. carrying CEOs with multi-million dollar bonuses, or else spiriting CEOs to Washington to ask for multi-billion dollar bailouts.

But just when you think that there is no justice in the world, OJ goes to trial, but this time he also goes to jail. You would think that if you murdered your wife and got acquitted, maybe you would keep a low profile. Maybe you wouldn’t try to steal things at gunpoint in hotels. In his defence, he did claim that the things he stole were once his, and you can understand that if you were OJ, you would take matters into your own gloves before calling the authorities, because you would rightly have no confidence in the powers of law enforcement whatsoever.

He also forgot the golden rule which Phil Spector could easily have told him: if you are famous and you are going to commit crimes, commit them in LA.

There were also many things that happened this year that didn’t happen in America. My home country of New Zealand also had an election and long term leader Helen Clarke was ousted. More importantly to New Zealanders, the All Blacks continued a great year of global ass-kicking. Why we can’t play the same way when global ass-kicking skills are of paramount importance, i.e. during World Cup years, is a mystery which I hope will die in 2011. (The year of the Rabbit, if you’ll remember).

Here in Australia QANTAS probably lost their famous reputation as the world’s safest airline with a string of what a PR person could smilingly refer to as ‘non-lethal incidents’, the most incidental of all having been the appearance mid-flight, of a large hole in the side of a plane. Who said the excitement of air travel was dead?


The Prime Minister, probably in an attempt to salvage the national carrier’s reputation, took so many international flights he became the first head of state to spend more time out of his country than governing from within it. Critics of his never-ending world tour point out that with the internet these days, you can teleconference from anywhere in the world. But with Australia’s terrible broadband speeds, it’s actually quicker to just fly there and send telegrams back. ‘Having a great time! Signed Kyoto Protocol yesterday:) Flight was bad. Hole in plane. Everybody fine. Non-lethal incident’.

The iPhone was released here, and geeks found that their love of all things Apple was now in danger of going mainstream. Across the nation people tried to figure out the most prominent way to display their iPhones about their person without looking like pretentious trend-monkeys, and failed without exception. Total scorn is difficult though, because while they still have a few faults, touchscreens are awesome, and I secretly want one. In other tech news, Blu-Ray has so far failed to achieve similar impact.

But my favourite development of the year was a resurrection of what was thought to be a bygone practice, long relegated to either tales of yore, or blockbusting Hollywood franchises starring Johnny Depp acting charmingly effeminate. Yes folks, piracy is back! And not cd or dvd piracy, I’m talking real pirates, boarding real ships and sailing away with real booty.

The Somali pirates are not content with the odd chest of treasure and exotic spices. They don’t just attack tiny ketches, sloops, skiffs or yachts. When I first read about them, I thought there was a misprint, and that by ‘tanks’ they meant ‘tanker’. But no, Somali pirates seized a cargo ship and with it, a whole bunch of tanks.

And not tanks of fuel, I mean tanks with tracks and hatches and turrets and armour-piercing shells. And then, they did steal a tanker. A whole oil tanker with a hundred million dollars worth of oil. Makes Captain Blackbeard and Long John Silver look like Steamboat Willie and Captain Stubing from the Love Boat.

If 2008 was the comeback of the pirate, I will dare to predict that next year will see the triumphant return of that glamorous specimen the gentlemanly and debonair, moustachioed, goggled and well-scarfed Flying Ace.

2009 will be remembered for all posterity as the Year of the Baron. Now that is the audacity of hope.


viva minutiae,


One Comment leave one →
  1. soaringdragons permalink
    March 13, 2011 6:13 pm

    You write with the same stamina (meaning length) and quality as what’s found in the New Yorker–but without all the pretension. It’s going to be a while before I find something this good on the net again. Please come back anytime. Cheers!

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