Tag Archives: 9 Things I Learned in 2009

9 Things I Learned in 2009: Our Weird Love of Celebrity Culture is Fueled by Our Pathetic Lives

Tiger and Elin Woods Family Portrait

First of all, let’s just get this out in the open, is this not the greatest family photo you have ever seen.  Anyway, back to my topic.

Somewhere in the middle of the Tiger Woods scandal, I was reading about what it would take for Tiger to get back on top of not only this golf game but how he could turn Tiger Inc around.  It was based on the idea that Tiger Woods was a really good guy but he was in a bad spot.  If he was just nicer to the fans, nicer to the media, cared more about other golfers, things would turn around for him.

In other words, according to the media, Tiger Woods ignores the fans, barely tolerates the media, doesn’t care about other golfers, and as Deadspin crudely puts it, enjoys the company of women who are provided to him for a price (but let’s not call it what it really is)

No, it’s not exactly prostitution — but these girls are flown in from LA to Vegas for a weekend of all-expenses and free drinks and admission into this world of über-rich sleaziness. If a famous athlete takes an interest, they certainly have the option to do whatever it is they want (no pressure!). So Rachel? She basically got caught in Melbourne on one of her many girl-corralling expeditions for one of her most important clients, which is a crucial part of her job.

Mike Wise of the Washington Post puts Tiger’s issues into perspective here and speaks from his own experiences.

Tiger Woods has an emotional void in his life. This void must be huge. For him to be where he is today, this deep emptiness must have consumed him, must be something he has been living with for a long time. Moreover, he has to live with his emptiness while being fully aware that everyone in the world knows just what a manufactured lie his image has been.

I was listening to the radio when the details of the Chris Brown assault on Rihanna took place.  It was a violent, violent assault and the majority of women who called in said, “I still like him because of how great his music is.”  It didn’t matter that he almost beat Rihanna to death.  It was the same with Michael Jackson and the millions who followed him as a weird kind of role model after the allegations involving him came out.  For millions, as long as you are good at something, the fans will be there as society still prefers the manufactured lie of his image and as soon as he starts to win again, they will follow him like they did before.  If you doubt me, check out exhibit a) Kobe Bryant and to a lesser extent exhibit b) Michael Vick.  Once they started to win, all was forgiven.  For all of the problems that University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino had in the off-season, do you think fans in Louisville care if “coach” gets them into the Big Dance come March.  While I believe in second chances, part of me wonders if society has become the great enablers of those who can run fast, coach, or sing.

Jim Swaggart's confession Winning and success are everything in today’s culture, including the church.  I keep thinking of Jimmy Swaggart not following the Assemblies of God’s recommendations for pastors who morally fail.  The reason why?  His ministry would fall apart if he stepped down.  When it happened the second time, rather than confessing to his congregation, Swaggart told those at Family Worship Center that "The Lord told me it’s flat none of your business."  Years ago a friend told me while his church was going through a moral failure in church leadership, the focus was not so much on the moral failure but what would happen to giving and revenue.  I was critical of the approach at the time but as churches have gotten larger and more expensive to run, they are a lot like Tiger Inc., they are industries onto themselves.  When they fail, they take down a tremendous amount of people and dreams with them.

In the end history shows us that most of these men and women (I’m talk to you Marion Jones) are a lot like Sir Ernest Shackleton or Bobby Fischer.  They are really, really talented at one thing and many of them are train wrecks outside of their chosen profession.  Even if they aren’t train wrecks, they suffer from the same weaknesses that many of us do, sex addictions, financial mistakes, domestic violence, and all sorts of other weaknesses that put clouds over Camelot.

Oddly enough we struggle to accept these realities.  We are a culture desperate for heroes and we place unreachable standards on many of them that we do have.  Barack Obama rallied a nation but even he can’t overcome a hyper partisan Washington, yet pundits wonder where all of the magic went while forgetting that the system is to blame.

Dc I wonder if our search for heroes comes from a time when one person could make a difference. Like when Errol Flynn really could clean up Dodge or when Mr. Smith could make a difference in Washington (which was attacked by the press and the political establishment when it came out).  While I am sure that is a reason, I also think it is because we are a culture of observers.  Why go golfing when I can play Leaderboard Golf (for those geeks out there that just got the C-64 reference, I salute you).  Why do anything anymore when some product will simulate it for you?  As a culture of observers (as opposed to previous generations who were doers), we become obsessed with those who actually can do something cool, make a difference or capture our attention.  I bought Mark a Coby Snapp video camera this year for Christmas.  When we were setting it up, I told him that this means he doesn’t have to watch YouTube videos, he can do something that is worthy of being filmed on YouTube.  The idea is that if he is focused on doing something cool himself, he doesn’t have to waste his life watching someone else do it for him.

I don’t know if Mark will be filming himself racing down a mountain bike trail at breakneck speed or if it will be something else (he went to bed early tonight so he could think about it) but I think it’s a noble goal for us all.

What if spent less time watching television in 2010 and spent more time creating content, spent less time reading celebrity garbage and more time reading original writing and reporting, spent less time playing games and more time outside doing stuff?  Less time caring about what Tiger Woods does and more time on the golf courses ourselves.

I’ll post my goals for 2010 tomorrow.  Think about yours as well.

9 Things I Learned in 2009: From Liquidity Crisis to Sovereign Debt Crisis

Dr. Leonard Sweet 30 days after 9/11, I was in Seattle listening to Leonard Sweet talk at Soularize.  He was saying before others that 9/11 would change everything and he was right in many ways but I think people will look back at the credit meltdown in 2008 and the response of world governments in 2009 as a big or bigger world changing event.  9/11 may have defined the Bush presidency but the meltdown of the American banking system will be felt for decades.  The world spent trillions of dollars it didn’t have to minimize the impact of the banks implosion and we are going to be struggling with the consequences for years to come.  According to the OECD, the world’s deficits are approaching 4% of the global GDP (meanwhile the U.S. deficit is around 11%).

Canada is already looking at five years of leaner government spending to help pay for the massive deficit we rang up in 2009.

“The government’s approach will be clear. We won’t be raising taxes, but we will be constraining growth, making sure that growth is very much contained in the future, and that the tax base of the country can gradually recover,” Mr. Harper said in a year-end interview for CTV’s A Conversation with the Prime Minister , taped for a Boxing Day broadcast.

“And within four to five years, if we follow that path, we should be back to a balanced budget.”

Mr. Harper’s view that his government will be able to chip away at deficits by squeezing the growth of public spending has been questioned by economists and by former officials with the Finance Department.

Former deputy ministers Scott Clark and David Dodge have already stepped forward to challenge the government’s plans for eliminating the deficit, which is projected to reach $56-billion this fiscal year. Mr. Clark has said that Ottawa will have to raise the GST, which Mr. Harper cut in 2006.

“I don’t think it’s very likely that they can balance the budget without some very severe spending restraint,” said Bank of Montreal deputy chief economist Douglas Porter.

2016 is to be the year that we are out of the woods but I won’t hold my breath.  I foresee a higher GST and higher interest rates before this is all said and done.  While Michael Ignatieff has a different approach to fighting the deficit, which he doesn’t want to share, but he seems more comfortable spending instead of cutting.

“If I’m prime minister, I’m going to be looking at the unemployment numbers first and deficit second,” Mr. Ignatieff said during the interview at Stornoway, the official Opposition leader’s residence. “We’re going to have a jobless recovery or we’re going to have a recovery where there’s still a lot of people looking for jobs.”

According to MSNBC, the impact of the United States deficit and stimulus package could be felt for decades.  It isn’t just a national issue, it’s trickled down to the states and provinces. The State of California is looking more and more like it is going to default on it’s loan.  It’s debt is already a kind of trend setter in that it has been the first state debt to be reduced to junk status.

In addition to debt problems in California and North America, Morgan Stanley fears that the U.K. is headed towards a sovereign debt crisis in 2010Actually Moody’s is predicting that more than the U.K. is going to have problems in the years ahead

Moody’s warned on Tuesday that sovereign debt could be sold off sharply next year, which could lead to a wider downturn in financial markets, if central banks don’t implement what they term ‘perfect exit strategies,’ from the support they’ve been giving financial markets.

“In an extreme situation a fiscal crisis could lead to some domestic capital flight, severe pound weakness and a sell-off in UK government bonds. The Bank of England may feel forced to hike rates to shore up confidence in monetary policy and stabilize the currency, threatening the fragile economic recovery,” they said.

Morgan Stanley said that such a chain of events could drive up yields on 10-year UK gilts by 150 basis points. This would raise borrowing costs to well over 5pc – the sort of level now confronting Greece, and far higher than costs for Italy, Mexico, or Brazil.

High-grade debt from companies such as BP, GSK, or Tesco might command a lower risk premium than UK sovereign debt, once an unthinkable state of affairs.

The Financial Times points out that the U.K., Dubai, Greece, and California is in good company.  Japan has some sovereign debt problems of their own.

Yet Japan’s fiscal problems are even more pressing. A debt trap appears when the rate of interest paid on government debt is higher than the economy’s growth rate and the public revenues are insufficient to cover its financing charges. When this happens the fiscal position becomes unstable and the debt spirals upwards. This has been the case in Japan for several years. A bad situation has been made even worse by the global financial crisis.

Japan’s national debt is fast approaching 200 per cent of GDP. The debt mountain is the result of prolonged economic weakness and successive fiscal deficits since the bubble economy collapsed in 1990. These problems are compounded by the fact that Japan’s population is now shrinking. The economy’s trend growth rate has fallen and tax receipts are shrinking, while welfare payments for pensioners are rising. Japan’s debt trap, it seems, is structural rather than cyclical.

If you believe the stories out of Copenhagen, it has even lead to a reshuffling of the world order.  As China owns more and more United States debt, it is increasingly calling the shots.

Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao There were 192 countries and 120 heads of government in the room at Copenhagen, but in the end there were only two at the table, the United States and China. Welcome to the new world order.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, there has been one superpower, the U.S. Now there are two, as became abundantly clear in the chaotic closing day of the climate- change conference.

At that, Barack Obama was snubbed by the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao. And then the U.S. was snookered by the Chinese.

As the New York Times reported Sunday in a riveting piece from the back corridor of the conference: "Twice during the day, Mr. Wen sent an underling to represent him at the meetings with Mr. Obama. To make things worse, each time it was a lower level official."

The first time, Wen sent his deputy foreign minister to a meeting of major heads of government, including most G8 countries (though not, apparently, Canada). Later on, the Times reported, "after a constructive one-on-one" between Obama and Wen, the Chinese premier sent his climate-change negotiator to another heads-of-government meeting that included the U.S. president.

There’s more. The White House set up an evening meeting with the presidents of South Africa and Brazil, as well as the Indian prime minister and the Chinese premier, and when senior staff arrived, as the Times recounted it, they "were startled to find the Chinese premier already meeting with the leaders of the other three countries" – without the president of the United States, the guy who called the meeting in the first place. According to the Times, Obama rushed to the meeting and called out from the doorway: "Mr. Premier are you ready to see me? Are you ready?"

You don’t see that in the newspaper every day, about the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth going cap in hand to his own meeting. It wouldn’t have happened on Ronald Reagan’s watch. His dignity, let alone his sense of the American president’s role on the world stage, wouldn’t have permitted it.

Welcome to the New New World Order.