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Odds and endings at the beginning of a new year
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Odds and endings at the beginning of a new year

Some thoughts on events which occurred during the last weeks of 2011:

Iran

Things are moving in a fast and dangerous way. As with Germany in the 1930s, we are beginning to feel the effects of an appeasement-like policy, which avoided early confrontation of an autocratic Iran about its military and hegemonic intentions.

During the past week, Israel warned that it is about nine months before Iran’s attempt to acquire nuclear weapons moves into a “zone of immunity.” On Sunday, Iran announced that it had produced its first nuclear rod despite UN and United States sanctions.

A few days ago, Iran threatened to shut the Strait of Hormuz, through which passes one-fifth of the world’s oil, if the U.S. and Europe press for new sanctions. The administration signaled, in “deliberately moderated ways,” as a New York Times editorial put it, that Washington would not back off if the threat is carried out. On Monday, the last day of 10 days of naval maneuvers near the Strait, Iran announced that it successfully test-fired a surface-to-sea cruise missile.

It looks like we are headed for a confrontation with Iran, and the timing and terms will be of Iran’s choosing. Writing in the Times, Bennett Ramberg, a State Department policy analyst under George H.W. Bush, warned that an attack on Iran might set off the first radiological war in history, with Israel targeting Iran’s nuclear power plant at Bushehr and Iran striking at Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona. “Iran’s recent threat against Dimona may be mere puffing, but its ballistic missile capacity makes tit for tat strikes plausible,” writes Ramberg. He suggests that, given the Dimona plant’s advanced age, Israel consider shutting it down to reduce regional nuclear tensions.

Loss of faith in politicians and democracy

In my last column, I expressed concern about the path that may be taken by America in 2012. I found my concerns echoed on a global level in a column by Dominic Sandbrook in the London Daily Mail. “The world picture has not been grimmer since the dark days of the mid-Seventies,” he writes. “For the most chilling parallel, though, we should look back exactly 80 years, to the cold wintry days when 1931 gave way to 1932.”

Compared to the Chinese Communist Party and the “autocratic” Vladimir Putin, “Europe’s democratic leaders look woolly and vacillating, just as they did back in 1932.”

Don’t look across the Atlantic for inspiration, as Europeans looked to Roosevelt in the 1930s. “Obama cuts a similarly impotent, indecisive and isolationist figure,” writes Sandbrook, and adds this warning:

The lesson of history is that tough times often reward the desperate and dangerous, from angry demagogues to anarchists and nationalists, from seething mobs to expansionist empires.

Our world is poised on the edge of perhaps the most important 12 months for more than half a century. If our leaders provide the right leadership, then we may, perhaps, muddle through towards slow growth and gradual recovery.

Death of a friend

We were traveling when we got the news by e-mail: Charles Ventura, our evening doorman, had died. Charles was my friend.

It was an unlikely friendship. I was about 20 years older. We were of different races, educations, and economic status, but we were close friends.

It was hard not liking this gentle giant.

It started with our mutual love of technology, especially computers. We were both geeks, but Charles was a bigger geek than I.

Charles could, and should, have been a successful troubleshooter, but he preferred to be a doorman who moonlighted in fixing malfunctioning computers. He was the person you went to after you gave up on the help desk. Give Charles a few days and there wasn’t a problem he could not solve nor a computer he could not rebuild.

Charles and I were both fanboys. We shared the same love for anything related to sci-fi, fantasy, and superheroes. Dr. Who topped the list, which included Star Trek, Batman, X-Men, Fringe, all of the Stargates, Heroes, Lost, Eureka, and Warehouse 13, in no particular order.

Then there were things of the action and spectacular variety, with some comedy thrown in, ranging from Deadwood to Dexter to Chuck. There were dialogues about politics, celebrities, and tabloid headlines. We would discuss anything and everything, often with a humorous and sarcastic bent.

We shared many private moments.

Charles was a diabetic with cardiovascular complications. In past months he was under increasing stress. There were warning signs in the fall.

Right after Christmas, Charles, a devoted family man, died unexpectedly. It came as a shock and a loss to all that knew him.

In Charles’ favorite Star Trek film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, a dying Spock says to Capt. Kirk, ‘I have been…and always shall be…your friend.” And so it was, and is, with Charles and me.

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