It seems that now is the perfect time to panic
Apparently it is time to panic.
You can smell the slightly acrid scent of it in the air everywhere you turn, if you’ve got any kind of a nose left after the excesses of your misspent youth. It’s that sulfurous, heavy tang that tickles your nose hairs on its way into your brain, where it explodes and the shards of paranoia-inducing angst expand exponentially.
It’s been building for more than a year. You can see it most clearly in the wide eyes and fearful facial tics of the TV commentators talking about the global financial meltdown. But it can be detected at much deeper levels, and across the spectrum of social and economic strata.
The rich of the world are panicking because their money is in jeopardy, thanks to the fecund greed and rampant stupidity of everyone involved in the subprime mortgage fiasco. In this sad group I lump everyone from the beady-eyed homebuyers who thought they could pull a fast one to the even beadier-eyed mortgage lenders and investors who thought they could beat the homebuyers at their own selfish game.
In Aspen, where huge chunks of the world’s excess wealth are deposited or at least represented, the panic has yet to reach the keening level audible from certain Wall Street intersections. But it is undoubtedly there, hiding in the subgrade spaces of all those junior-grade castles dotting our local hillsides.
An advance variant of the panic was evident in the recent dust-up between the Aspen City Council and a group of property owners made apoplectic over the city’s efforts to expand its notion of historic preservation.
The City Council, itself panicking over the possible destruction of post-World War II homes in the ongoing real estate “scrape and rape” atmosphere, stumbled like a tired wildebeest in its haste by passing an “emergency” ordinance to forestall the bulldozers. The pack of property owners smelled blood and, in a frenzy of special intensity, descended on City Hall like hyenas and won the day, forcing the city to back off.
A special brand of panic has descended on baby boomers, as we stare mortality in the face and realize that all our efforts to ignore death have been in vain.
Politicians of all stripes, in all nations, are panicking over the possibility that they might be losing their grip on power. In Russia, Vlad “The Retrencher” Putin has put his fear to good use, priming the pump of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and a host of other “anti” concepts, and at the same time committing rampant electoral fraud and intimidating the hell out of skeptics, critics and opposition figures with either violence or the threat of it. In Africa, warlords are deciding that democracy is too risky and violence is much better, so their panic has a bloody tinge to it.
The Clinton political machine has hit the panic button and come out of the shadows in all its evil glory, unleashing Bill the former president to lie with abandon as he tries to blacken the reputations of all who stand in Hillary’s way, but most pointedly Barack Obama. This is giving the rest of us a front-row seat on a title bout that could only happen in the baby boomers’ generation ” a woman and a black man tearing each other to pieces in a dogfight that might actually have a good outcome if it puts John Edwards in a position to capture the nomination of the Democrats in Denver.
Edwards, of course, is the victim of a special realm of panic, in the executive editors’ suites of America’s corporate news organizations. Edwards, of course, has been beating the anti-corporate drum loudly and consistently for several years, and it has made the media executives very edgy. They fear him, they hate him, and they somehow have managed to keep him out of their pages and off their television talk shows to a remarkable degree.
I have my own doubts about Edwards, as I have about the super-rich as a class, but I like his style and I like his words, and I like the fact that he, perhaps alone in this crowded political arena, is not panicking. He’s rich enough to carry this fight further. He knows he can always fall back on his incredibly lucrative law practice and resume feeding at the trough of corporate malfeasance.
So I focus on that one bright spot in all this panicky darkness, pour myself another whiskey and sit, my finger poised over my own panic button as I await further information.
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There is a lot of pent up energy among hikers and bikers to get into the high country, but snow fields, avalanche debris and high stream crossings are presenting challenges later than usual. Forest rangers with the Aspen-Sopris District provide trail condition reports that are updated each week so hikers and backpackers aren’t caught unaware.