December 31, 2011
Ten Things We Learned in 2011

If reading is fundamental, then learning is elementary.

Before looking ahead to the year to come, I try to look back on the year that was. What did we learn? What lessons did we take away from the past twelve months? This year, there were plenty. So many, in fact, that I had to cull the list down so it wouldn’t be confused for a Line of Departure blog post.

So, what did we learn in 2011?

You can run, but you can’t hide.  It was the top news story of the year, but Public Enemy No. 1 found out in relatively short order one night in May that when SEAL Team Six decides the game is up, not even the ISI can keep you hidden.  Even more impressive than the wealth of intelligence gathered on scene? The shocking revelation that an old guy on death’s doorstep still managed to maintain an impressive box o’ porn. Enzyte Bob would be jealous.

Skeletons don’t always stay in the closet.  Here’s a tip: if you plan to run for national office, put a double padlock on that closet door. Herman Cain was a good candidate. Sure, he had some trouble with Libya , but he also had charisma and a bigger-than-life personality. Then he found out the hard way what happens when you don’t double-lock the closet. The skeletons get loose, and once one gets loose it’s always amazing how many more are in there, too. Then all you can do is try to clean up the bones.

Beauty and brains are not mutually exclusive.  Okay, maybe that’s nothing new, but following Morgan Fairchild (@MorgFair) on Twitter has revealed that your favorite teenage crush is an intellectual tour de force.  Now to find those old episodes of Falcon Crest on Antenna TV. Be still, thy beating heart.

We can learn a lot from the Zombie Apocalypse.  What began as a guilty pleasure has evolved into a remarkable examination of the ethics of humanity.  The second season of the AMC series, “The Walking Dead”, has continued to impress while becoming a favorite Monday morning topic of discussion. Even The Atlantic got into the game, hosting a weekly blog from writer Scott Meslow. Somewhere along the way, the Zombie Apocalypse became the backdrop to a remarkable examination of mankind. Brilliant.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Kim Jong-il’s death cleared the path for the Supreme Leader, 27-year old Kim Jong-un, to assume power in North Korea. Now, instead of “Kim Jong-il Looking at Things” and “I’m so Ronery” we have a fat kid with nukes.  No matter what happens now, we’ll always have the funeral march.

Never underestimate the defense industry.  In the face of a world-wide recession and the steepest force cuts since the end of World War II, the defense industry still managed to roll out some price tags that would make T. Boone Pickens choke on a chicken wing. The F-22, yet to fly a single combat mission, costs taxpayers between $137 million and $678 million, “depending on when and where you count.” Meanwhile, the per-unit cost of an F-35 has increased from the initial bid of $69 million to over $138 million. The new Ford-class aircraft carrier, ten of which are slated to be in service by 2040, is running a cool $9 billion per hull, less R&D costs. I can’t even think in those terms.

No one in NATO reads T.R. Fehrenbach.  First NATO refuses to get involved. Then, after 227 days of bombing runs across Libya, Kadhafi was dead, NATO declared victory, and a nascent government in Tripoli assumed power.  The thing is, nothing ever works out quite the way you (don’t) plan it. Libya needs help, and a lot of it. They have a nice new flag, they’re working on a constitution, and they have at least a baker’s dozen of armed militia groups with a lot of time (and ammunition) on their hands. There’s a lot to be said for putting boots on the ground.

Stephen King is still our favorite storyteller.  This was the year that the guy who brought you “The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile”, and “The Shining” delivered an entertaining twist on the Kennedy assassination. “11/22/63” was everything you look for in brain candy: a mix of time-travel, historical paradoxes, murder, mayhem, and madness. It’s a rare day when I recommend a work of fiction, but it’s an ever rarer day when I read one this good.

Congress has an image problem.  In 2011, it went from bad to worse. Congress has never enjoyed much respect in the eyes of the citizens they represent, but approval ratings dipped to historic lows this year. The fall has been the most precipitous for Democrats, who fell from 63% in mid-2009 to 14% at the end of this year. To many, Congress’ inability to accomplish much of substance is at issue. For others, it’s the widening gulf between the members and their constituents. Clean out the dead wood and hire an image consultant. You owe it to your country.  

China is the Bogeyman.  Not really, but judging from the general mood of any number of people, you’d sure think so. Okay, China buying up a lot of our national debt might be unsettling, but to them it’s a good investment. China launching a repainted rustbucket of an aircraft carrier they bought at a surplus auction? Fuggetaboudit. You can’t be a player in the global economy without some vestige of a blue-water fleet. Face it. China doesn’t want to fight us, they want to be us.

What’s up for 2012? Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a hell of a ride. It’s the Year of the Dragon in China.

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