Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Some Random Thoughts On A Wednesday

As usual I make no great promises of my fairness, or even accuracy. These are random thoughts, probably without the benefit of links, unless I really feel it.

Another wet, cold, miserable morning. I am going to speak to children today, with my friend Eric Molinsky about what it’s like to be a professional journalist and writer. I have to remember to keep it positive, even though the reality is my profession has swirled the drain more times than the Tidey Bowl man. But as I read over my clip book from Forbes I did see, in fact, a lot of articles that made me proud of what I decided to do with my professional life.

In 1999 I visited a refugee camp in Thailand for Burmese driven out of their native land, because it is an autocratic, despotic nightmare. The camp was little more than a collection of mud streets and thatched huts. Mangy dogs roamed free. The people I saw that day were called White Karans. The Karans are an ethnicity, I believe. The White Karans are Christians and the Red Karans are Buddhists.

Both Karans became victims of the minority ruling party of Burma, which is one of the most inhumane and cruel in the world, and still, to this day, doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

But what I saw that day humbled me. The people I met were sweet, kind, open. They welcomed me, a total stranger, right into their lives, as they pumped water, or played music. In one case this music played was by a man who strummed a guitar with the remains of what had been his right arm, the rest blown off courtesy of a landmine.

I talked to as many as I could see, took as many pictures as I could, and was in awe of how much more, well I must say it, happy they seemed, even here than the average, neurotic American suburbanite. Would they gladly switch places, these Karans, with a free American surburbanite, even a neurotic one? Of that I have no doubt, but even amidst such harsh conditions they had classes and schools, and were an open friendly people.

Before I left I gave them what extra clothes I had, and a deck of playing cards. The little children were so starved for novelty that they swarmed me to each get a card. A card! Think about that. Our kids are bored with their opulence, and these kids were overjoyed to simply have something, anything, new.

When I made it back to my guesthouse in Mae-Sot, on the Western edge of Thailand I told another person living there about where I had been that day and what I had done. He, a younger man of 25, looked me in the eye and told me that refugee camp was actually the third one on that location. The first two had been burned down by raiding Burmese with guns, killing, no doubt, many people inside. And still they smiled.

That day I vowed, I will write about these people, somehow.

Cut to eight years later, I am a reporter at Forbes. I learn that the George Soros Open Society Institute, a group dedicated to fostering democracy through the world spends millios of dollars to foster the elected government in exile for Burma and foster pro-democracy movements on the ground. And to help take care of some of the same refugees I met so many years before.

Now, I realized, I could finally write about these people that I feared the world had largely forgot, I could finally find a way to fulfill the promise I had made to myself all those years before. And I did. True, since the article was in Forbes, we focused more on the Soros billionaire-guy angle than on the refugee angle, but I did the best I could with where I was to finally raise some awareness of this horrible ongoing tragedy. I got to do my job, I got to be proud, I got to feel like I made the world a better place, even if only slightly.

That’s what I remember, that and the few stories I have written like that, when I stand proud to be a journalist.


My cat, Cromwell, has made a new habit of sleeping on my pillow at night. More than once I have been woken in the middle of the night to the feeling of a sandpapery cat tongue running through my hair. He’s grooming me! Yes, this is very sweet and all but also a bit strange. Last night he even started to lick my cheek. Thanks buddy, I love you too, but while it’s okay for us to love our pets, as the saying goes, it’s not okay for us to love our pets.


The more time goes on the more and more the bank bailouts just seem all kinds of screwed up. Something is so wrong when we give hundreds of billions of dollars to a firm like AIG, for fear that if we don’t the economy will collapse, and AIG then turns around and pays tens of billions to firms like Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank. These firms then, in turn, pay hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses. A bonus is something extra when you’ve done your job well. It is the last thing we get when there is extra money after everything critical has been taken care of. Obviously things were either never as bad at AIG as we were told, or they just didn’t care, they plundered us.

Of course AIG gave itself lavish bonuses too, including “retention bonuses” for the same losers who almost drove the company under. This is a mystery that can never be satisfactorily explained to me.


I think I have become more than fed up with the gourmet comfort food craze in New York. Hamburgers costing $15-$25 are surely for people who have just received their bailouts from Wall Street.

Wall Street really has ruined just about everything good about NYC. The obscene paychecks these hucksters made drove up real estate prices so much that the middle class was virtually driven out of this great city. Then they become, as a class, Too Big To Fail, at least to ask our mayor. So we have to do everything we can to save them. Even though Wall Street, as a group, created no actual, lasting prosperity for Main Street over the past decade. In fact stocks, as measured by the S&P 500 are still down.

We were all better off when the financial sector was just one line of business competing amongst many for real estate in this town. Bankers are wily, dangerous and so, so greedy.

This leads me to a longstanding theory I have about recessions. It’s only a recession when it happens to rich people. For poor people it’s a recession every god-damned day. But when something bad finally hits the extremely wealthy in their paychecks, then the government pays attention, we are told it’s a crisis and something must be done to save these poor souls. This is so ironic because even in a recession the very wealthiest suffered by far the least, at least when you go by the unemployment figures. Sometimes it all is just that naked and obvious.

No comments: