As you read this column, the crystal ball in New York’s Time Square will drop. Boom! A brand new year will arrive. Millions will celebrate 2012, kissing and hugging; vowing and loving; screaming and shouting. The sheer energy will defreeze the ice in the air, sparkling hope and serendipity. ‘New Year’s Eve’ captures it all. The recently released movie celebrates love, hope, forgiveness, second chances and fresh starts, in the stories intertwined amidst the pulse and promise of New York City on the most dazzling night of year.
But let’s talk of real life stories set against a landscape that America currently presents while moving into the second decade of the 21st century. They are as riveting as their fictional cousins.
About me, I'm just another Pakistani from Islamabad out here, writes Jonaid Malik, 34. After a business degree, he landed a job with General Electric. A couple of years later, he moved to Atlanta where he got a government contract for IT related work. “Made some good money on that end and invested it into a car dealership with a new concept in that business. It went well and I was able to bank good on it.”
A couple of dealerships later, Jonaid divested into other businesses including construction, restaurants and real estate. “Pretty soon I became what an American dream was all about i.e., small time immigrant making it big in this vast expanse of US.” The life story of this Pakistani-American came about when I asked him what he hopes to achieve in 2012. “My wife is a doctor and we have a six-month old daughter. Life’s good Alhamdulilah.”
So what about Americans in general, I ask Jonaid. Here’s his take: majority are hoping to lose a few pounds as weight issues are always an Achilles heel for these GMOs (genetically modified food) overfed population who can't fathom how they are hurting the world due to their overindulgences and how their country got hijacked by lobbies who keep them distracted with a potent dose of fashion, debt and self-image problems.
A lot will depend on whom they elect as the next president. “Their favourite conservative candidate will come highly recommended by media pundits like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neil Botz & Co to “save their Christian country by making it more Christian and fundamentalist, a country which happened to find her greatness on the principals of equality and respect for all faiths.” A few will be thinking about buying iPhone5, says Jonaid.
American-Indian Nara Sarma is another “ordinary Joe” who found the American dream. From humble beginnings, Sarma ended as a high flying executive of a global enterprise. He wants his country, the United States of America, to live in peace with the world, “that we get out of Muslim lands and Muslim affairs, and let nations decide how they want to live. If they want freedom and democracy, they need to fight for it, like we did and the people of India did.”
Nara hopes the US will continue to welcome immigrants, “with the caveat that they pledge allegiance to our country and its values, realising that this country was founded and built, brick by brick, by European immigrants. In this regard, political correctness has clouded our commonsense and dimmed our courage to call a spade a spade.” So where have we slipped? Time magazine columnist and a CNN anchor wonders. “The answer is pretty clear,” he says. “Only five years ago, American infrastructure used to be ranked in the top 10 by the World Economic Forum. Now, we're 24th. US air infrastructure has gone from 12th in the world to 31st, roads from eighth to 20th.” The drop in education is the worst. There was a time when the US had the world's largest percentage of college graduates. “Now, we're number 14” says Zakaria. And American students routinely rank toward the bottom of the developed world in international tests... “The situation in science education is even more drastic.”
The big shift in the United States over the past two decades “has not been a rise in regulations and taxation but rather a decline in investment, in physical and human capital.”
Investment is the crucial locomotive of long-term growth. I pick up a book for 50 cents at my local library as I rummage through the stack none wants anymore. Called ‘The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations’ written 22 years ago by Robert Nozick, a Harvard professor of Philosophy. Unconventional wisdom is in plenty. The chapter on dying ends with a challenge to the healthy, energetic 70-75 year olds, urging them to take dramatic risks towards helping others. Serving the sick and risking danger by “interposing oneself between oppressors and their victims,” for example. Such a path is not for the weak-hearted, admits Nozick, but some may “seriously weigh spending their penultimate years in a brave and noble endeavour to benefit others.”
Are you game for the adventure?