January 3, 2009

Looking toward 2009, part I.

As the New Year dawns media commonly fills up with retrospectives and rankings, as though dwelling on the past could possibly teach us something. If history has ever taught anyone anything, it that it's never prevented anyone from indulging the very proclivities that make us human. A far more worthwhile pursuit would be to instead gaze forward, to the coming year's possibilities, opportunities and events.

One of the main events will no doubt be the end of the Bush-dynasty's reign for a foreseeable future, with the anointment of the first elected non-white leader of any Western state. Often compared to President Lincoln, who — had he been alive — would've turned 200 in February, Mr Obama will hopefully not only live up to the enormous expectations he has inspired, but also manage to stay alive in office longer than that protoplast of idealised American unity.

Lincoln happened to share his birthday with Charles Darwin, the English naturalist who first proposed the mechanism of natural selection. Although Mr Darwin too would've turned 200 in February, and his famous book,
On the Origin of the Species, celebrates 150 years in print this coming November, one suspects we'll hear more about the idolised president(s) than the much maligned evolutionary theorist.

Travellers confounded by local currency may fare somewhat better now that Slovakia has replaced its koruna with the euro, while the East African Community hopes to reintroduce the East African shilling as a common currency among its member states (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) towards the end of the year. As for the EU's
Lisbon Treaty, no one seems quite sure of where it's at. It should, as of now, be in effect, but since it requires all 27 EU members approval — and the Irish distinctly don't — it obviously can't be.

While the EU tries to sort that snag out, the UK will take yet another tentative step towards becoming a democracy in the modern sense of the word by finally establishing an independent judiciary. The UK Supreme Court, as a court of last resort within the realm, will take on the judicial functions of the House of Lords, separating them from the Lords' legislative ones. Perhaps in another century or so the Brits may even jolly well pack the monarchy in.

Canada too could edge closer to a system of representation that actually reflects popular will, as British Columbia prepares to hold yet another referendum (in conjunction with a general election) on reforming our antiquated electoral system by introducing the
Single Transferable Vote. Of course, should it pass the change won't likely be in place until 2013, and then only in BC; federally such a change would no doubt take even longer. A safer bet is we'll face yet another federal election sooner.

In fact maybe as soon as the end of January, when the Conservative minority government presents its new budget. The government will either tone its reactionary antics down, allow the Liberals to prop it up, and deliver a budget that passes, or persist in its churlish childishness and lose power. In the first scenario, the Liberals will come across as wimps, take the blame for any budget deficits, get slapped around with confidence motion threats, and the knives will be out among the opposition parties, their coalition at an end. In the second, we either end up with a largely unpopular coalition government, or an election the opposition (never mind the electorate) can scarcely afford.

However, nonsense won't be restricted to politics in 2009. Take, for instance, Sheik Mo's Babylonian folly, the Burj Dubai (The Dubai Tower), slated for completion in September. A supertall skyscraper, the tallest man-made object of any sort ever constructed, currently at 780 m (2,559 ft) and
still rising. This time around an angered deity needn't confound anyone's language; simply messing with the economy should do the trick.

Closer to home, the Icon Towers are set to become Edmonton's tallest residential structures, at 92 m (303 ft) and 112 m (368 ft) respectively. Not quite tall enough for local oil sheiks to impress their foreign chums, due to the fact that Edmonton does have a municipal airport smack dabble downtown. Hence, Transport Canada (the government's aviation body) won't allow any buildings over 150 m anywhere near the city centre. So, short of actually flying, 42 floors are about as high as one can (legally) get here.

If bobbing around the ocean suits one better, then the forthcoming December maiden voyage of the Oasis of the Seas — the largest passenger vessel ever constructed — could be the ticket. Ridiculously oversized, this monstrosity will allow its 6000 or so passengers to forget their even at sea. Never mind exotic destinations — the craft, larger than an average aircraft carrier, is the destination. By contrast, the completion of the Chenab Bridge, spanning its namesake river in Jammu and Kashmir, seems infinitely more practical. At 359 m (1,178 ft), it will be the world's tallest railway bridge.

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