Can anyone predict the future? Weatherpeople are routinely called on to tell us more than just what happened today- they are supposed to say if it’s going to rain and what temperature we can expect. Sportscasters have moved beyond a blank reporting of the Vegas line, say the Dolphins +4, and are expected to put themselves on the line with a solid call every week.
Not economic reporters. When there’s a lot of money on the line no one is willing to stick their neck out and tell you just what will happen tomorrow. That’s especially strange when you realize that a free market economy is all about balancing risk and reward, which is to say at some point boiling it all down to a solid prediction as to how likely an investment is to come in versus the possible gain from it. Business and economic reporters usually get a pass that the weather and sports people must only dream about. But that’s ridiculous.
Barataria is all about making a prediction and standing by it. Let’s refine that model a bit.
Picture yourself in England at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign. If you have some skills as a part of the growing middle class, things look better every day. That life comes in part from unskilled workers driven into the growing (and filthy) cities who are more productive than ever before. The great symbol of the improving standard of living greets you in the morning as a cup of this once luxury beverage, tea. It comes from China, traded under the barrel of the guns of the Royal Navy through the new colony of Hong Kong. The latest in technology, the Clipper Ship, brings it to you with great speed and makes it possible to run this enterprise at a distance. The sun never sets on the British Empire, and tea is both its greatest commodity and emblem of success.
Today, in the waning daze of the American Empire that isn’t an empire, things could hardly be different even as they are the same. Coffee is the beverage of choice for 54% in the US. It has always been the workingman’s drink, but it is moving more yupscale – even though 35% of us still drink it black (as it is meant to be, damnit). It is shipped from tropical, underdeveloped nations in unromantic cargo containers as the second most traded commodity in the world by value ($15B per year), behind only oil. The nations that produce it are rapidly urbanizing into filthy cities. The trade is managed over the internet by a cadre of traders and speculators.
History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes like a street poet hitting a beat.
The pictures and stories coming from Donetsk, Ukraine, are horrifying. Bodies flung from Malaysia Air flight 17 have been lying in the fields right where they fell from the sky, rotting in the summer sun for days. Wreckage is everywhere, some of it disturbed in what appears to be looting as much as recovery. How can this happen?
The short answer is that the area is not under the control of any organized or trained government, but held by a group of separatists with guns. Some have been described as “visibly intoxicated” as they fired into the air to shoo off international investigators. It seems ridiculous, but the families – indeed, the entire world – is being held hostage by a few wackos with guns.
That’s the state of the world right now as we all draw much closer. A little bit of chaos in one part of the planet affects everyone – even when the number of people involved is small.
The 1970s were a tough decade on everyone. Everything was changing rapidly as a new generation came of age in the wake of social and political turmoil. Television had given us characters like Archie Bunker so that we could laugh at how ridiculous it was to hold onto the gone away glory days, but laughing wasn’t enough. To a young kid soon to make his way into this new world pop culture needed to offer something more profound yet subversively simple.
“The Rockford Files” started in 1974 as one of many detective shows that were popular diversions away from the chaos. It quickly became a vehicle for the talent, the personality, and in a sly way the values of its star, Jame Garner. Garner’s death today at age 86 brings back a flood of memories from Friday night TV time with Dad, but there was more than that to him. James Garner taught my generation what it meant to be a man.
“Blowback”. It’s a word we’ve accepted in the US through the many misadventures of proxy wars that came back to bite us. Mujahideen “Freedom Fighters” eventually became Taliban and al Qaeda. Saddam Hussein went from being a trusted bulwark against Iran to a dangerous dictator. Iran itself went from being our puppet to a dangerous force supporting an awful lot of mayhem.
Today Malaysia Air Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, almost certainly by Russian separatists. Russia, under Putin, thought they had a clever strategy for arming a bunch of poorly organized, untrained rednecks with sophisticated weapons while they claimed to not be involved at all. It went about as badly as anyone with any forethought could have imagined as they apparently shot at just about anything flying by. What will put an end to this “cleverness” operating in place of a reasonable diplomatic and military policy? If this event, and the way it’s propagating through today’s internet media, doesn’t do it nothing will.
A group of mourners arrived to express their condolences and support for the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was killed in revenge for the death of three Israeli teens. But they were not family or even friends – they weren’t necessarily welcome. They were Israelis reaching out to perform their own “Tikkun Olam”, or fixing the world. When asked if it was hard, one offered her reason for beig there. “Maybe,” she said. But, she added, “I think the peace will come from the people, not from our leaders.”
This may be more than just a gesture of grace. It may be the start of something bigger, something even more than the peace sought by the mourners. A lasting peace means a permanent arrangement that promotes peace – justice, order, respect, and cooperation. It may be different than anyone has contemplated in a long time.
Traditionally, actors with an established rep as serious performers can go into comedy, but not the other way ‘round. That’s been smashed lately by The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert, among many others who riff off of CNN and let the jokes write themselves. It’s revolutionary comedy, yet deeply indebted to the topical humor of Richard Pryor and George Carlin in the 70s.
What’s more important than how it will change comedy is how it might change how we talk about current events. One central element of comedy is timing, and a sense of timing is working its way into the patter of political talk. But how do you render that in writing?
That’s the secret. It’s what I work on all the time. Let me explain …