Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Carbonized Santa

As Santa Claus well knows, carbon is an amazing element. It comes in more than handy when he has had to decide what to bring a person who has been naughty and bad, and also what to give an exceptionally good big boy or girl. Rumors are that this year there has been a shortage of coal in the Pacific Northwest and some have just received a pile of soot. The latter of course could come in handy for someone into constructing nanotubes, but I don't think these folks have the slightest idea what those are. At the other extreme carbon forms diamonds and I know a few good people who surely got those. Even in the ugliest situation there often is a diamond in the rough, a sparkle from an individual whose integrity isn't poisoned by the snakes around him or her trying to spread venom with their fangs. Santa also has to come up with a solution for what to give people who don't really fit in either category. Perhaps graphite, yet another form of carbon, in the form of an ordinary pencil would be a fair gift for those, good to have in certain occupations. For Santa's sake I hope his own coal mine deposits aren't running dry.

I don't envy the task Santa has had, finding out about people. Does he read about people in the papers, and if so, in which ones? One's villain seems to be another's hero. But we are used to this kind of controversy. After this country attacked and invaded Iraq, we heard all about fantastic victories and learned that the people were rushing to embrace us. The viewership of Fox News reached an all-time high. "Mission accomplished" our President touted long ago. Of course, people are free to believe the news that makes them feel good and in many ways superior to other ethnicities and cultures. Today we don't hear talk about victory and the main topic seems to be how to get out of Iraq alive and not look like our military might was no match to Muslim militants. I don't watch Fox News so I don't know what they tell their viewers these days. Perhaps Santa used up so much of his coal supply in the nation's capital that Seattle was stuck with mainly soot. I don't think his supply of diamonds was greatly diminished in the District of Columbia, unless some good ordinary people and humanitarians were worthy of them.

Yes, the mainstream news outlets tend to offer their slant on stories. Even a total outsider, a lonely blogger like me, receives questions from strangers wondering why their letters to the editor of a paper aren't published, yet others promoting a different view are. Naturally I am at a loss for words and have to let people come to their own conclusion that propaganda is at work. Long gone are the days when one could actually trust the media. During my first years in the U.S., at the height of the Vietnam War, our brave military managed to slaughter their enemy in numbers that were greater than the entire population of North Vietnam, if one bothered to tally the misleading information on the major networks. At some point even the most optimistic people started to ask questions. This snowballed to the extent that forced Nixon out of the Oval Office. Recently we learned about one last desperate plan of his to nuke Hanoi, but thank goodness that plan didn't materialize any more than Hitler's orders to burn Paris to the ground.

Threatening burnt ground policy is a tactic certain people use to keep themselves in power. "If you destroy me, you'll be destroyed in the process as well." In the world of music we have witnessed this repeatedly. Festivals and orchestras I used to be part of have either gone belly up or managed to struggle back to life after a miserable year or two. This phenomenon is of course universal. A city in Finland had a troubled time with their small Symphony and its conductor that lasted many years. Finally the baton-wielder, a former student of mine, agreed to the termination of his contract for a sizable sum but before exiting he, together with the orchestra's manager who also resigned, managed to spend every penny of the group's annual budget by the end of May. As musicians are employees of the city, their salaries had to be paid, but the group had no funds to program concerts. Paying for hall rental, soloists etc. can be quite costly, and the few performances that took place during the fall were all donated services by the conductors and guest soloists; ticket sales barely covered the rent. During all this the local newspaper took the side of the conductor, portraying the angry, unhappy musicians as only a "small clique." When the orchestra was back on its feet with a new budget year, much of their audience had been frightened away. This is the first year when they have been returning in previous numbers, as memory of the battle has finally begun to fade. Of course there is a moral to this story, but repeating it might be pointless. People are supposed to learn from mistakes, yet they make the same ones over and over again.

The New Year is just around the corner. Many of us are eagerly waiting for it to begin. At least we have some term limits for politicians, and a long nightmare will come to an end. I don't think people really care who'll win the election as for most any change will be for the better. We should have such term limits for other politicians as well and probably also for members of other important institutions such as the Supreme Court. When that court voted strictly on party lines 5-4 to hand the 2000 election to our present leader, any naive belief in an unbiased court collapsed. There are people in both houses of the Congress who have far outlived their usefulness, no matter how hard they've tried to please their constituents over the decades. Perhaps they would have better served us all in other roles, such as the inspiring example on "the Peanut President", Jimmy Carter, demonstrates. Hanging on forever prevents new blood and new ideas from emerging. We can also hope for other changes in 2008 that would be regarded as welcomed miracles.

For those of you who received a lump of coal from Santa, you can always try to invest in turning it into a synthetic diamond, under High Temperature High Pressure (HTHP) method. However, it would be much cheaper and easier to go purchase a large glittering cubic zirconia, an affordable choice, and pretend the jolly man in the red suit brought it in the first place. For most people it makes little or no difference as long as it glitters, just as fool's gold is good as gold for – fools. Ho-ho-ho!