Thursday, January 29, 2009

Is Anybody Really Looking Forward to 2009?

Rarely does the start of a new year bring with it such dramatic change to the global landscape. Virtually overnight, we have been asked to adapt to a worldwide economic crisis, massive layoffs at home, renewed turmoil in the Middle East, and a new, and path-breaking, presidential administration. Given the pace of such change, it may be hard to really predict what could happen in 2009, though suffice it to say, I hope that things only improve from here on out.

Like last year
, this blog posting reflects my own predictions for the top ten trends that will take place in 2009. The trends I chose go beyond merely stating the obvious, and were arrived at through my reading of headlines and the articles behind them, my own observations, and some educated sounding guesses. None of these predictions are guaranteed to occur, but all I believe capture at least a sense of what’s in store for us over the next year.

The Comeback Kid: In the wake of the economic downturn, Thomas Maynard Keynes, the poster-child economist credited with pulling this country out of the Great Depression, is going through a stunning revival. Over the next year, government economists will lean heavily on Keynesian theories, particularly the notion that deficit spending is the best way to save an economy already in shreds, from collapsing entirely. With a 10 percent unemployment rate a distinct possibility for the first time since the Great Depression, government spending has already been deployed to prop up financial institutions and will next be aimed at creating jobs through public works projects. In addition to a marked increase in name recognition, expect to see Keynes t-shirts, caps, and bumper stickers, as well as “Candy Keynes” appearing in your nearby stores very soon.

Start Spreading the News: These days, New York City is looking more like the “top of the heap” than the “king of the hill,” and not just because I’m no longer living there (though I’d like to think that’s a part of it). Manhattan’s venerable financial and legal industries are on the verge of collapse, making New York City among the worst of the areas hit by the economic crisis. The construction boom that Mayor Bloomberg oversaw the last few years has ground to a halt, and Manhattan real estate is slipping off the edge of a sizeable- looking cliff. By the end of the year, Wall Street will no longer be a corporate mecca, but rather a jumble of mostly government owned investment banks, combined with tourist traps and strip malls where stock brokers and high powered lawyers used to buy their coffee and wolf down their lunch. Plus, with a new, hip, president installed, and with at least some job openings to offer residents, Washington D.C. is jumping up the ladder of live-able cities, along with Chicago, from where the aforementioned hip president just moved. Now, if only Liza Minnelli or Frank Sinatra could write a new song....

Croissant Diplomacy: While Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency has inspired goodwill towards Americans abroad, don’t expect the United States to resume its position as the leader of global diplomacy overnight. Before that happens, the United States will have to repair ties damaged during the Bush years, extricate itself from at least one war (Iraq) and possibly two (Afghanistan), and revive everyone’s faith in the principles of capitalism (unlikely, given the state of our economy). In the meantime, French president Nicolas Sarkozy is busily positioning his country to become the top chef in the international diplomatic kitchen. Sarkozy has some distinct advantages working in his favor: he has managed to insert himself into virtually every major recent international crisis in the last year; he and his wife are extremely telegenic; France's economic model of democratic socialism looks more attractive to foreign countries than America's capitalism right now; and, Arab governments in the Middle East - where most of the international crises are currently taking place - are much more likely to trust France’s word over the United States. The fact that French food and wine are irresistible seals the deal for Sarkozy to become "le chef de cuisine" of global diplomacy.

The “O” Stands for Teamwork: Former President Bush strictly adhered to the concept of the strong “unitary executive,” the idea that congress cannot interfere with any executive decisions and, generally, that what the executive says, goes. President Obama has made clear from the outset that he will not rule with such presumed authority, even though he swept into office with a mandate much greater than President Bush ever enjoyed. Obama’s determined collaborative approach to governing suggests that he won’t step on as many toes as his predecessor, and that aspects of his campaign agenda — a sweeping economic stimulus bill, drastic health care reform, new education programs, and a shift in foreign policy — will not be forced onto Congress’s collective will. On the positive side, this approach could lead to widespread bipartisan support for the president’s legislative agenda. On the down side, collaboration could lead to watering down the content and impact of Obama’s planned reforms. As is clear already, Congress is testing the strength of its own hand, and individual legislators on both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisles are jockeying for power in setting the course of future legislation. Obama’s ability to soothe egos, know when to make compromises and when to stand his ground, will ultimately determine the success or failure of his ambitious reform program for his first year in office.

The Supreme Shuffle: Because its justices serve for life, the Supreme Court is generally considered to be insulated from the daily push and pull of the political arena. Nevertheless, during his eight years in office, former President Bush appointed two justices to the Court (John Roberts and Samuel Alito), and his appointments solidified the Court’s current conservative outlook. That outlook is going to start shifting, but only slowly, in 2009. It’s improbable that any justice will retire before the 2010 term (Justices Stevens, Kennedy and Souter are the most likely candidates to retire when that happens), however, President Obama will begin to shape the kinds of cases that appear, and, perhaps more importantly, don’t appear, before the Court, through the actions of his attorney general and solicitor general and through his judicial appointments to the bench in the lower federal courts.

Twit. Twit. Twitter: The last few years have seen an explosion of new communication mediums and social networking forums. Facebook replaced Friendster; Linked-In replaced that old-fashioned desktop fixture called a rolodex, gchat replaced AOL instant messenger, and the blogosphere is well on the way to replacing print newspapers. Next up in the on-deck circle is Twitter. Twitter, by its own description, is an online telegraph system designed for users to let their readers know the answer to the question “What Are You Doing” as often as they want. Bloggers and journalists are increasingly using the forum to telegraph running news commentary in real time. Individuals and businesses are also using it as a short hand way of keeping in touch with friends and contacts without having to resort to “old-fashioned” forms of communication like emails, letters and phone calls. At this rate, the next step after twitter will be a technology that does away with the proactive part of communication entirely, and simply transmits our brain waves to a pre-subscribed list of interested parties at set intervals.

A Worm in the Apple: IBM and Microsoft owned the 1990s. Though a small cult-like following refused to give up their beloved Macintosh computers, mainstream America settled happily for generic PCs, which licensed IBM’s hardware and came standard with a Windows operating system. After a few quiet years in PC-land’s shadow, however, Apple took increasingly large bites out of Microsoft and IBM’s turf. Apple began by manufacturing innovative and eye-catching Macintosh computers in the late 1990s. Then, the company scored a whopping hit with its iPod and accompanying iTunes music platform. Finally, Apple developed software that allowed users to switch back and forth between Windows and its own operating system on its Macintosh computers.

2009 will unfortunately reveal the worm at the core of the Apple. Apple is facing depressing news on numerous fronts. The company’s CEO, Steve Jobs, has taken a leave of absence for health related issues and it’s unclear when, if ever, he’ll be able to return. Though Jobs is considered a true visionary, he’s been shortsighted in not training a new CEO to ensure a smooth transition after his departure. Moreover, while successful, the iPhone is not nearly as ubiquitous as the iPod, and the iPhone is facing stiff competition from other, similar “smart” phones, such as Verizon’s Blackberry Storm. Perhaps symbolically, a worm virus recently attacked Macintosh computers, something that was previously considered impossible. All of these factors combined are starting to make one of the biggest players in the computer industry look like a very bruised Apple.

Simple Elegance: Even the high fashion world isn’t immune from the economic crisis, and celebrities are not going to want to show off extravagant wealth on the red carpet when viewers at home are struggling to decide between buying new clothes for the family or paying the electric bill. Fashion designers are left in a bind, forced to try to be creative on a tighter budget (or at least the appearance of one). The result this year will be a move towards “simple elegance” in couture fashion. Couture clothing on the red carpet and the catwalk will feature simpler outfits, solid colors, and straighter lines, and its wearers will don less makeup and jewelry. Though the trend towards simple elegance won't necessarily lead to cheaper prices, it will at least make it easier for us commoners to imagine ourselves taking that marvelous stroll down the catwalk.

Goodwill Hunting: Outside the world of couture fashion, “bargain shopping” will become as popular a catch phrase as “rad” was in the 1980s. Outlet stores are sure to benefit, and thrift shops and consignment stores, like Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, will have to hire traffic cops just to control the rush of people down their aisles.

The NWL (National Wii League): Video game consoles have been on the shelves of American home entertainment systems for years. Nintendo’s Wii console, which launched in 2006 to favorable reviews, is now becoming more than a popular console, it’s revolutionizing the video game experience. Wii players have been able to use the Wii Sensor Bar and Wii Remote to swing at tennis and ping pong balls, conduct an orchestra, and chop and mix vegetables at high speed to win a cooking competition for some time now. 2009, however, will feature the proliferation of competitive Wii games and tournaments, which are also starting to replace the real thing. By 2012, no one will be surprised if WII games are certified as official Olympic sports. Until then, expect an increasing number of Americans to get their daily regimen of exercise, food and music in front of their Wii console.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Ending Starts With A New Beginning

Inauguration weekend marked the end of many things: the end of another president's administration, the end of a historic candidacy and transition period, and, on a personal level, the end of nearly two years of being involved in and bearing witness to an extraordinary number of momentous events. Inauguration weekend also marked the dawn of a new beginning.

Below I've included some pictures and videos from the highlights of my weekend.

"We Are One" Concert at the Lincoln Memorial

Manifest Hope Art Gallery and Party

Santagold performs

Singing Goodbye with De La Soul

Even the security guard is dancing

The Swearing-In
The following pictures were snapped by my friend, Theo LeCompte, at the swearing-in ceremony. I wasn't with him, but his vantage point is so incredible, that I wanted to share them.

The Parade

The Ball

Mr. President and the First Lady for the first time

How Good Lookin' is my Wife?

Let's Welcome Beyonce

At Last

A Kiss from Beyonce (Not for Me, Unfortunately)

The Weekend Comes to an End.

A New Beginning Dawns.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Assault in the First Degree

Though I've never sat on a jury, I've had the opportunity over the last couple of years to observe virtually every aspect of a criminal trial: opening arguments, witness testimony, closing arguments, and the sentencing of a convicted defendant. Yesterday, I filled in one more piece of the pie when I sat in on the handing down of a verdict.

The defendant was charged with attempted murder in the first and second degree, assault in the first degree and possession of a concealed dangerous weapon. He was arrested after stabbing a fellow patron at a bar in the wake of some dispute as to who was paying the bar tab. There was no doubt as to whether the defendant actually stabbed the victim; the main issue at trial was whether the defendant had acted in self-defense. One of the main hurdles for the prosecution, however, was that the victim was extremely intoxicated at the time of the attack and therefore couldn't clearly recall the incident when he was on the witness stand.

I went up to the courtroom after the jury knocked on the judge's door and told him they "were ready." Waiting in the courtroom for the jury to come out certainly had it's moments of drama: the prosecutors were pacing anxiously and the defense counsel also seemed on edge. The defendant, when he entered, appeared pretty calm, but his relatives were sobbing quietly in the back, and even the Spanish language interpreter, who was there to interpret the proceedings for the defendant and his relatives, seemed anxious. I myself had that feeling of waiting on the precipice of the unknown - wanting to find out what the ultimate verdict would be but also knowing that, regardless of the outcome, somebody would walk out of the courtroom feeling like justice had failed.

The handing down of the actual verdict was somewhat anticlimactic. The jury walked into the room and sat down; the judge thanked the jury members in advance for their service and then the courtroom clerk asked the forewoman for the jury's verdict on each charge of the indictment. The defendant wasn't asked to stand (I was surprised about that - after all, it always happens that way on television), and the forewoman's responses were read without any emotion:

-Attempted murder in the first degree: Not Guilty
-Attempted murder in the second degree: Not Guilty
-Assault in the first degree: Guilty
-Carrying a dangerous concealed weapon: Guilty

And with that, the trial was over. The judge told the jury to go back to the jury room for a few minutes so that he could meet with them and answer any questions they might have before they went home, and he also scheduled a sentencing date with the prosecutors and defense counsel. Then, the judge got up and walked out of the courtroom. No bang of the gavel or announcement that court was now adjourned, and no accompanying background music from Law & Order. The defendant, who will be deported to his home country as a result of the conviction, was put into handcuffs and taken back to his cell while his relatives continued to sob in the back of the room. The prosecutors shook hands with defense counsel, and then left the courtroom to get ready for their next case, satisfied that justice had been done.