Woman banned from USA because of her name

July 10, 2014

America’s clumsy efforts to make herself safe continue to reach ridiculous proportions,  making enemies instead of friends.  Last April The Daily Sabah ran a story about a woman who was barred from entering the USA because of her name.  The 33 year old French citizen, Alic Aida was told at the airport in Geneva that she could not be allowed to board the flight to New York City.  She and her family were turned away without explanation. After the departure of the flight she persisted for more information and was told that her name in English sounded like al-Qaeda.

The mother of two children is of Yugoslav origin.  Her family name is hundreds of years old.

According to 2012 data, there are 21,000 people on American’s “no fly list.”  This is the same list that in 2004 had Senator Ted Kennedy flagged at airports.  (You can’t be too careful.)

Anyway, we can all feel safer knowing that Alic Aida, her husband and two children, will not be on board a flight for their summer holiday in New York City.  And hopefully others with suspicious names will be culled from the masses.

Meanwhile, if you were unlucky enough to be born with a suspicious name you might consider making a change.  Ooop, this is coming from the desk of yours truly, Doug Wead.


Roundabouts: Who has the right of way?

May 13, 2010

Roundabouts in America: Who has the right-of-way?

My wife is French and close to half of all roundabouts in the world are on French roads, so we were pleasantly surprised to see them popping up on the American landscape, especially now in Maryland and Virginia.  The problem is a total lack of understanding for most of us American drivers.  When approaching a stop sign or a yield sign there are only three very simple and obvious rules to consider.

1. The automobile already inside the intersection (or circle) has the right of way

2. The automobile who reaches the yield sign first has the first right to enter the intersection (or circle).

3. And finally if two autos arrive at the yield sign at the same time, the automobile on the right should enter first.

That’s it.  But wow, with the advent of roundabouts what an assortment of issues we Americans can raise to complicate the process.  For your convenience, here is a list of the newly invented American rules that many drivers ignorantly obey.

1. The stopper.  This driver stops dead at the yield sign.  It is not only a stop sign it is a “super duper power stop sign.”  This driver will wait until all other automobiles in view have arrived at the roundabout and passed through it.  The approaching car may be a half a mile away but the parked “stopper” will patiently wait.  Everybody has the right away but them.  A car may be in a train of twenty, meaning that there is no way that the second car could have reached the yield sign ahead of “the stopper” but he will let all twenty cars race through.  Only when there is not another car in sight will “the stopper” timidly enter the intersection or roundabout and find a way on to his destination.  It can be pretty frustrating to be behind a stopper when you are on your way to the airport.

2. The speedster.  This driver believes that he or she has the right of way because of their speed.  They roar confidently toward the intersection or  roundabout, ignoring all other drivers approaching from all other sides, believing that the yield sign does not apply to them.

I actually had a driver explain this to me.  I had slowly rolled into the roundabout when a car racing in from my left laid on the horn. How dare I pull in ahead of him?  He kept laying on the horn so I stopped to let him pull up beside me and lecture me.  “You almost caused an accident,” he said, “I almost hit you.  I had the right away (sic,) why did you pull in front of me?”

Now, if he had hit me, it would have clearly been his fault.  He would have hit me from behind.  So what was his reasoning?  “How could you have had the right of way if I had pulled in front of you?” I asked.  “Obviously I was at the intersection before you.  And if you had hit me from behind it would have been your fault.”

“Well, I was going faster,” he said.  And that explained it.

3. The train car.  This driver believes that he or she inherits the rights of the driver before them.  It’s like this.  My mom and pop were Methodists and they will go to heaven, so I will go to heaven too.  This driver wants us to believe that he or she is part of a train and the rights of the first car, which approached the roundabout properly, apply to every successive car that follows, as long as they maintain the same speed and tail gate closely behind.  The car to their right, which has obviously arrived at the yield sign before them, has to wait because the train car has invoked a “group privilege.”

Now, you may think that rules are rules and if you just obey them and end up in an accident in a roundabout the local sheriff or highway patrol will sort it out and protect you.  They will make sure the stoppers, speedsters and train cars get ticketed and you get rewarded for knowing the rules and doing it right.  Well, think again.

I recently approached a Virginia roundabout behind one of the local sheriff’s deputies.  And to my utter shock, he was “a stopper.”  The poor confused soul arrived at the roundabout like his first day at school.  He just parked and idled as every car within shouting distance approached the roundabout from all different directions and raced through.  There was a long train and every conceivable combination.  True to the dictum of “the stopper” he waited patiently until all these traffic violators were gone and when there were no more cars in sight and no one left to break the law or confuse our intrepid cop, he cautiously rolled into the roundabout.

If the sheriff’s deputy doesn’t know the rules, how can we expect anyone else to know?

Which brings me to this final point.  Just like the word “ain’t” forced its way into the English dictionary, so the roundabout train has become today’s rule of law.  If you arrive at the same time at a four way stop the person on the right has the right away.  But the rules of the roundabout are now clearly the opposite.  The fast moving train arriving from the left is boss.


Astana: World’s most beautiful city

December 28, 2009

Astana: The most beautiful city in the world

Not since 1703, when Peter the Great raised up his glorious re-incarnation of Venice on the cold Baltic Sea of the Russian north has a more magnificent city ever appeared by the will or inspiration of one man.  President Nursultan Nazarbayev, of Kazakhstan, commissioned and directed much of the work of this city, Astana, now the capital of his country, and it is more than impressive.

Astana has taken great risks and the result is breathtaking.  There is a diversity of office buildings with startling, modern Japanese architecture.  There are parks with magnificent monuments, fabulous restaurants with a variety of the world’s dishes, and wide boulevards and tree lined avenues, yes, you heard me right, tree lined avenues in Kazakhstan.

Some may call it Dubai North.  And it does have its similarities.  Both are cities that show the wealth of oil riches.  And if Dubai has its inside winter-wonderland with snow skiing in the desert, Astana is building its mammoth inside tropic tent, a world of swaying palms, heated beaches and the world’s grandest water park, while outside the people freeze.

Others may call it the Second City of Lights.  Like Paris, the lights make this city.  And then there are the wide Baron Haussmann Boulevards, but otherwise the comparison ends.  The lights of Paris are 19th Century and ornate.  The lights of Astana are Las Vegas modern.

In fact, Las Vegas is the city that most think of when they drive through the streets of Astana.  But that too is an absurd comparison for Astana has dignity something that no amount of money can do for Las Vegas.

I was there to speak at a XanGo convention.  The crowd was excited and positive and we had a great feast afterwards.  The Kazaks are generous hosts.  I posted a YouTube on Astana New Years.

In the center of town, one can take an elevator to the top of the sphere of the Bayterek.  And there one will find a bronze cast of the president’s hand.  The tourists wait in line to put their hand in his and look out over the city and set their own goals for President Nazarbayev has once again proven that if one can dream it, one can do it.

As in the case of St. Petersburg, the Kazaks wanted to name their city after their leader, their president, but he rejected it, saying that only future generations could make such a decision.  But there is little doubt that one day they will do just that.  And the world will long celebrate Nazarbayev, the city of lights, a monument to the idea that dreams do indeed come true.

Даг Вид


Russia: Land of Opportunity

September 29, 2009

by Doug Wead

What country’s individual tax rate tops out at 13%?

Hint.  It isn’t the USA where federal and local taxes in New York are projected to reach a 57% bite.  If you are rich? Move to Florida or Nevada to avoid State Income Tax.  If you wanna be rich?  Move to this new “land of opportunity.”

What country’s higher education fosters a curiosity and practical involvement for its student body in free enterprise?

Hint.  It isn’t the USA where ironically the very corporations who fund university endowments are seen as the enemy by professors and students alike.  They are viewed as polluters and exploiters of a beleaguered laboring class.  But in this country, this new “land of opportunity,” the professors, themselves, own real estate businesses, factories and sit on the boards of directors of major corporations.

Meanwhile, state corporate taxes in the USA have reached scandalous proportions and all but kill the chances for a new, emerging, small business.  For example, all fifty states have higher corporate taxes than the nation of France, which has the fifth highest corporate taxes in the world and is frequently held out as the poster child of anti-small business and entrepreneurs.  But in this new “land of opportunity,” the maximum federal and regional corporate tax is 20%.

What country has sensible consumers who pay their bills on time and save their money?  Only one in 100 even carries a credit card?  Where capital investment potential abounds?

Hint.  It is surely not the USA where Americans carry 450 million Visa cards alone and where their credit card debt approaches $2 trillion.

What country is a true metling pot of religion, culture and race, where Moslem, Jew and Christian live and work side by side and their values are openly appreciated?

Hint. Not here in the good old USA, where government and big business restrict language and clothing in schools and the public marketplace. (I have a friend who writes screenplays for television movies.  He tells me that “Jesus” cannot be mentioned on one of the networks except as a curse word.)

What country boasts an airline where the stewardesses are still tall, trim, bright and attractive?  They still smile at their passengers, and wear elegant white gloves as part of their smart uniforms.

Hint. It isn’t the USA where a $15,000, first class, round trip international ticket on a US airline will get you a bitter, grouchy stewardess, who hates her job, her passengers but has union guarantees that virtually prevent her from ever being fired.

Answer to all the above?

Russia.

Welcome to the new land of opportunity.

Yes, there are still problems galore in Russia.  The roads outside of the major cities are still in disrepair. Grade schools are awful.  Airline equipment is dated, even for the clever, well run, Rossiya Airline. The government still struggles to deal with endemic corruption. (If security personnel at the airport will steal your coins going through the x ray machine, which happened to me, it kinda makes you wonder how vulnerable they would be to a terrorist bribe.)

The biggest problem of all?  Excessive regulation.  Perhaps, a hangover from the Soviet years or needed to combat corruption or maybe just part of the Russian DNA.  A new restaurant, for example, faces endless government regulations not only regarding hiring, but even regarding the choice of entrees on a menu.  And such rules not only limit the imagination of their people, they are cleverly exploited by competitors to block the emergence of any newcomers.

In complex industries, like “Direct Sales” the DUMA is vulnerable to manipulation by big companies who seek monopolies by regulating competitors out of the market.  Members of the DUMA must be generalists and can’t be experts on everything so some will be innocently led by foreign companies seeking to “clean up” their industry.  The result? Expect new regulations that will confine and harass their own Russian work force and limit their income opportunities, all to the advantage of big foreign corporations.

Nevertheless, Russia under Putin brought law and order to the streets, began an aggressive campaign against corruption and released an entrepreneurial spirit that is quickly producing a growing middle class and a Russian nouveau riche.  When the “dreamers” and “doers” outnumber the “takers” Russia will truly explode.  The atmosphere is right.  Immigrants, the bane of fortress America, are welcome in Russia where they are needed and wanted.

And the Russian Miracle is not just a Moscow – St. Petersburg phenomenon. There are business and cultural zones now popping up all over the Russian landscape.  For example, Putin helped the city of Kazan win the 2013 Universiade.  The city is being transformed in preparation. Yekaterinburg is a showcase city.  Distant Khabarovsk has it all.  Booming Black Sea resort Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympics and anyone who has visited this exotic city can tell you that it will forever after become one of the world’s glamour spots. 

So when President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin sit down together in the coming days to discuss their relationship and their future, they hold the hopes and dreams of millions in their hands.  And they are on the verge of history.  What has happened in Russia, its diversification, its wise use of the oil boom, its new freedoms for the marketplace now make it a “land of opportunity.”  And just in time for a world in global crisis.

Новая страна возможностей

В какой стране мира индивидуальная налоговая ставка, ниже 13%?

Намек.  Это – не США, где федеральные и местные налоги в Нью-Йорке  достигают 57%.  Если вы богаты? Переезжайте во Флориду или Неваду, чтобы избегать налога на прибыль.  Если вы хотите быть богатым?  Переезжайте в эту новую “землю возможностей.”

В каких странах высшее образование поощряет любознательность и личное участие студентов в свободном предпринимательстве?

Намек.  Это – не США, где по иронии судьбы сами корпорации, оказывающие материальную поддержку университетам,  рассматриваются профессорами и студентами, в качестве врагов. Они рассматриваются как угнетатели и эксплуататоры рабочего класса.  Но в этой стране, этой новой “земле возможностей,” профессора сами владеют фирмами по продаже недвижимости, фабриками и сидят в советах директоров этих корпораций.

Тем временем, налог на прибыль компаний в США достиг скандальных размеров и тем самым убивает возможность развития появляющихся новых фирм малого бизнеса. К примеру, все 50 штатов имеют более высокий налог на прибыль компаний, чем  население Франции, чей налог на прибыль компаний пятый по величине в мире  и часто воспринимается как враждебный малому бизнесу и предпринимательству. И в этой стране максимальный федеральный и региональный налог на прибыль компаний – 20%.

В какой стране есть здравомыслящие потребители, которые платят по счетам вовремя и копят  деньги? Где только один из ста человек имеет кредитную карточку? Где огромный потенциал капитальных инвестиций?

Намек.  Это – несомненно, не США, где американцы имеют только 450 миллионов карточек Visa, и где долг по кредитным карточкам доходит до 2 триллионов.

Какая страна является местом, где реально переплетаются религии, культуры и расы, где вместе живут и работают  мусульмане, христиане, евреи  и их ценности принимаются?

Намек. Не здесь в старых добрых США, где правительство и крупный капитал ограничивают язык и одежду в школах, и общественный рынок. (У меня есть друг, который пишет сценарии для телевизионных фильмов. Он говорит , что имя “Иисус” нельзя упоминать на одном из каналов, т.к. как там оно звучит как проклятие).                                                                                                                Какая страна может похвастаться авиалиниями,                                                                                               , где все бортпроводницы высокого роста, аккуратны, умны и привлекательны?  Они все еще улыбаются пассажирам и надевают изящные белые перчатки как часть  своей элегантной униформы.

Намек. Это – не США, где заплатив $15,000 за билет первого класса на международном рейсе американских авиалиний, вы  получите обслуживание, которое вам предоставит вредная, ворчливая бортпроводница, которая ненавидит свою работу, и своих пассажиров, но имеет гарантии профсоюза, которые фактически делают невозможным ее увольнение.

Ответ на все эти вопросы?

Россия.

Добро пожаловать в новую землю возможностей

Да, все еще есть проблемы в изобилии в России.  Дороги за пределами главных городов находятся все еще в ветхости. Образование в школах ужасное. Авиаоборудование устарело, даже в такой умной компании с хорошим управлением как Российские авиалинии. Государство до сих пор борется с эпидемией коррупции. (если служащие охраны аэропорта украдут ваши монеты проходящие осмотр, как это произошло со мной, то это заставляет задуматься на сколько их легко их подкупить террористам.)

Наибольшая проблема всего?  Чрезмерное регулирование. Возможно, пережиток  Советских времён, либо нужно было бороться с коррупцией либо возможно только часть Русской ДНК.  Новый ресторан, к примеру, сталкивается с бесконечными государственными ограничениями, не только по вопросу найма, но  даже выбору блюд в меню. И такие правила не только ограничивают воображение их людей, их умно эксплуатируют конкуренты, чтобы блокировать появление любых новичков.

В комплексной промышленности, подобно «Прямые Продажи» Дума уязвима к манипулированию большими компаниями, которые ищут монополию путём ограничения конкурентов вне рынка. Члены Думы должны быть универсалами и не могут быть экспертами во всем, таким образом, некоторые будут невинно приводить зарубежные компании, ищущие «очистить» их индустрию. Результат? Ожидайте новые ограничения, которые ограничат и будут беспокоить их собственную русскую рабочую силу и ограничивать их возможности прибыли, все для удобства больших иностранных компаний. Однако, Россия с Путиным во главе, принесла закон и порядок на улицы, начал агрессивную кампанию против коррупции, выпустила предпринимательский дух, который быстро создаёт и развивает средний класс и русского nouveau riche. Когда “мечтатели” и “исполнители” перевесят количеством “потребителей” Россия по настоящему взорвется.  Атмосфера правильна.  Иммигранты, the bane of fortress America, желанны в России, где они нужны и где их ищут.

И Русское Чудо – не только феномен Москва – Санкт Петербург . Есть деловые и культурные зоны ,которые сейчас возникают по всей русской территории. К примеру, Путин помог городу Казан выиграть в конкурсе по проведению универсиады в 2013 году. Город преобразовывается во время подготовки. Екатеринбург – город витрин. Отдаленный Хабаровск так же имеет все. Быстро развивающийся Сочи, курорт на Черном Море примет в2014 году, зимние олимпийские игры и кто-либо, кто посетил этот экзотический город, сможет сказать вам, что после их,  это будет одно из самых эффектных мест в мире.

И так, когда Президент Медведев и Премьер-министр Путин садятся вместе, чтобы обсудить их взаимоотношения и их будущее, они держат надежды и грезы миллионов в их руках. И они на грани истории.  Что случилось в России, её диверсификации, её мудром использовании нефтяного бума, её новых свобод для рынка сейчас делают её “землёй возможностей.”  Как раз вовремя для мира в глобальном кризисе.


My visit to Kazan, Russia

May 16, 2009

Kazan, the capital of Tartarstan, is a city of 1.2 million, four hundred miles east of Moscow.  It was a persistent thorn in Russia’s side until 1552 when the famous Czar, Ivan the Terrible, put this irritant to rest with his massive invasion.  Ivan expertly laid siege to the fortress walls.  The great story is told in the epic Sergei Eisenstein film which is still a classic today.  Kazan’s walls were considered impregnable but Ivan’s engineers and gunsmiths only built bigger cannons, the biggest the world had seen at the time and the Kremlin walls of Kazan came tumbling down.

Throughout history this city has maintained its own degree of autonomy.  My guide was a Muslim who claimed that her family practiced their faith all through the Soviet era, praying five times a day.  Contrast that to my Christian interpreter, whose mother dared not mention the word Easter or even cook a dessert on that day for fear of reprisals.  School teachers would bait the little children by asking the next morning, “Who had a special cake or desert yesterday?”

The city boasts the Lenin Ulyanov Kazan State University, named after its most famous student.  It is a great research center.  Among other things, mother’s can thank the place for developing ultrasound technology.  As your faithful contrarian, I found the place interesting because of the many statues outside to the students it expelled.  Lenin himself and Leo Tolstoy, to name a couple.  Not many universities build statues to the ones they kick out.  Makes me want to enroll because I could surely provoke something like that for myself.

I stayed at the Riviera, a modern 24 story hotel, overlooking the Kazanka river and a manmade beach, water park, and theatre complex with multiple IMAX screens.  There were plenty of restaurants and some of the best eating in Russia, and I have been all over the country. The Panorama restaurant had several delicious plates to match the view of the Kremlin and exquisite desserts as complex as any French restaurant.  In fact, the food was so good at the Amore, the hotel restaurant, that I didn’t get out very often.

Oh, there was a restaurant downtown whose menu claimed that the caprice salad was 1000 years old.  Hmmm. Very interesting.  Columbus first brought tomatoes to the old world four hundred years later.  Oh well.

They call Kazan the third capital of Russia and it is another “Putin miracle.”  Some big international university event is scheduled and so they are remaking the city.  Step by step, Russia is prospering and more rapidly than most in the west would ever guess.

Даг Вид


Why do they pass on the right in Arizona?

April 20, 2009

Recently, I visited the Valley of the Sun, Scottsdale and Phoenix. It was a great feeling. Arizona has been my home as much as any place in recent years. I have lived there twice in my life. But this was the first visit in a few years and it was fun to get back.

The thing that makes the Phoenix area such an adventure is the driving. This is the Wild West. Janet Napolitano’s camera speed traps have slowed the traffic down a bit but it still roars to life in between and the locals know where the cameras are or will be. Even she hasn’t been able to completely tame the flow. It is amazing to experience.

What is unique about the traffic, for those who are not familiar, is that the slower traffic moves to the left. So the speedsters race in the right lanes. In fact the fastest freeway of all is the far right which is occasionally brought to a crashing halt by someone who actually obeys the rules of driving and, as a slower car, moves to the right and temporarily blocks the “racer’s lane.”  So you can’t really fault them.

It is a bit of a puzzle why this culture exists so uniquely in Arizona. I mean you run into it everywhere but it is definitely a pronounced, unique trait of the Valley. There are no signs that say “slower traffic move to the right” so maybe that is some of it. But surely everyone knows and doesn’t need such a reminder. Passing on the right is much more dangerous. So why do the cars move over into the left lane and clog it up, leaving all the other lanes free? Is it ego? “I am driving as fast as anyone should be driving on this six lane road so I am in the fast lane and you can get behind me and wait.”

But no one waits. While the old folks line up in the left “passing lane” and stretch it out for miles, the under 70 years of age crowd, which is at least 25% of the population in Arizona, roar on by, speeding faster than they should and there are always races, screeching tires. It is a show. And I miss it.

One night, several years ago, driving late on the Squaw Peak Parkway, I saw a SUV approach me on the left. I could detect it just out of my peripheral vision. And it irritated me. After all, I was doing close to 90 and I was in the right lane. Not the left like the old retirees. The car should have either gone around me or gotten behind me. What was their deal? And then I finally looked over. It was a car full of policemen and they were laughing good naturedly. They simply made some hand motions… “Slow down, easy does it, pal.” But no siren, no light, no ticket. I was relieved. I slowed down and I chuckled to myself. You don’t get that kind of mercy many other places but the Wild West.

Oh, Myriam and I visited those famous Mexican restaurants, including the best in the world, Ajo Als. And we stopped at Valle Lana to have some Sonoran Mexican food but mostly to check out the famous waitress who is known for her extraordinary memory. Her name is Elizabet Gehrke, which sounds German to me. But anyway, it is said that she can remember any order and get it right.

We marched in with twelve people and as luck would have it she was on duty and so we asked for her station. Now the women in our party did their number, “I’d like a cheese and onion enchilada without cheese or onions and a side of chopped onions caramelized on a separate dish with some queso and guacamole and a soft corn tortilla, under cooked and a little chewy.” Anyway, the German, in her Mexican garb hauled out dozens of dishes and had it all perfect without paper or pen.

I love Arizona. No wonder the Dodgers moved there. Sure they’ve got rattlesnakes and scorpions but not many mosquitoes and I can’t stand mosquitoes.


Is the economic crisis really a conspiracy?

March 17, 2009

There was a fire at the Hyatt Regency in Kiev recently. It was a Sunday night, March 8, 2009. And the reaction in the lobby was like the reaction of many of us in this the Second Great Depression. It was surreal. People were in denial. They could sense the overpowering smell of burning plastic, which meant that the fire somewhere nearby was very, very hot and was devouring multiple rooms but because no one could see the flames or smoke, there was this very certain state of denial.

Now, let me say, before I go any further in this illustration, that the Hyatt Regency in the center of Kiev, is a great hotel, probably the best in the Ukraine. It is walking distance from St. Sophia’s. And Kiev has become a great city. Yes, the political state of the country is in turmoil. The people don’t like any of their politicians. The roads and infrastructure are crumbling. But, like second hand smoke, they have picked up just enough prosperity from nearby Russia to see some real progress. There have been improvements in this city in the last two years.

I was speaking for a convention of networkers in Zaporozhye and rather than fly out early the next day, had talked my hosts into getting me back to Kiev, where I could sleep late and fly home rested to Washington, D.C. But this meant a long, nighttime drive across highways with pot holes to Dnipropetrovs’k and a flight to Kiev.

My translator and host were with me when we drove up to the Hyatt. And we all noticed that a fire truck, a 1950’s vintage fire truck, had pulled up to the hotel in front of us. But we weren’t worried. The firemen were casually walking into the lobby, stringing out their flaccid fire hoses behind them.

The expansive lobby was busy. The luxurious couches were filled with people in animated conversation, or solitary readers waiting for their friends, or someone enjoying a piece of cake at a nearby coffee bar.

We headed straight for the front desk which was alive with attractive young ladies and young men, bustling from one computer monitor to the next. And behind them, through a glass wall, was a busy office, that didn’t seem to know that it was late evening. It too was filled with activity and glowing monitors.

I guess I detected the first signs of fear in the eyes of the desk clerks. Their smiles and automated reactions to our questions could not mask their nervousness. We handed over my passport and negotiated the room. They handed back a key.

And then I turned to look back at the front doors, just to check on the firemen, who were moving with no apparent urgency, and I spotted three maids, in their black and white uniforms, standing together, as close to the front door and the freezing night as they could get. They had clearly seen something that no one else in the building had seen. They had fear all over their faces and their bodies. Their hands fidgeted and they were frantically whispering to each other.

A smiling bellman interrupted me to ask for my bags. He explained with a jocular voice that the elevators were down because of the fire alarm and I was on the eighth floor, so we would wait a few minutes before going up if that was all right.

“Sure.”

I noticed that the three glass elevators were shut down, standing on the lobby floor, with some sort of tenting over them. Apparently, the automated – in case of fire – routine had kicked in.

At the same time I saw young men in black suits passing through the expansive lobby, politely leaning over and speaking to people. And the people would immediately rise and start moving for the front doors, picking up others on their way, so that the little streams from all over the lobby floor were moving into a river that was heading out into the freezing, cold night into the giant square in front of the hotel.

But it was the maids that got to me. They had seen something. They had probably actually seen the flames and maybe even fought them a little by turning on the showers or trying to use the hoses on the floor. They clearly thought they knew something that the rest of us didn’t. And it wasn’t good. They rushed to the front desk, consulted with someone and then literally ran, I mean ran, as fast as they could go, in unison, three maids in black and white. But rather than run out the front door with the public they ran down a hallway to the side of the front desk. Maybe another way out? Maybe picking up their purses or street clothes?

By the time I was outside in the cold and my hosts had found me in the crowd, I had some time to think all of this through. There was no reason for me to stay at the Hyatt that night. If the fire was hot enough to make plastic drip, then it would take some time to cool down. And I didn’t want to stay up late nor did I want to sleep with one eye open.

My wife and I had been in a hotel fire in Segre, France. We had awakened in the middle of the night to a stampede of panicked feet running out of their rooms. We had casually walked out into the night ourselves. But the next day we had visited the ruins of the fire and realized how close we had been to death and how easy a fire can start. In Segre, someone who had laid a damp T – shirt over a lamp shade to dry out. It was from Segre that I had learned the smell of melted, burning plastic, the result of dripping televisions.

I thought of Segre and realized that the maids in Kiev had not only moved near the front doors, they had moved away from the tiered, balcony landing above the checkout desk. If the fire got bad, that would collapse.

My translator and my host had apparently come to the same conclusions. They had my passport and when they found me outside we all got back into the car and drove across town to another hotel. The wonderful Vazdvizhenskij, in the artists’ section. It was a great place, when I awoke the next day I thought I was in Greece.

But as we drove from the Hyatt that night, we strained to see fire or smoke and saw none. Kiev’s beautiful landmark hotel was fine.

This whole experience struck me as a metaphor for the world global crisis.

1.) Conspiracy theorists. There are those who will insist that it isn’t real. Did you actually see any smoke or fire? The hotel owners set it all up to scam the insurance company. The global economic crisis is being faked to raid the treasury.

But this is a bit preposterous to anyone who has actually been a part of a conspiracy, however small. How do you get the maids and staff and firemen all to rehearse and cooperate? No matter how much money you pay them? Some people just do not have it in their nature to keep quiet. It is hard for two people to keep a secret, let alone dozens and, in the case of the global economic crisis, ten of thousands. No, sorry, the global economic crisis is not fake, the unemployment statistics are probably accurate and all the other economic indicators too.

2.) It’s not that bad. We will get you into your room in a few minutes. And the economy will rebound in a few months.

This comes from an ignorance of history. Nothing is solved that easily. A fire and an economic meltdown, take some time to bring under control. This is nothing like 1982 or 1987. When foreclosures rise to this level and unemployment as well, it means more foreclosures and more unemployment, less spending on consumer goods. And the excessive printing of money means that prices of necessities, like food, will eventually go up even while prices of homes and other investments will remain temporarily deflated. 3.) It won’t affect me. The fire is not near my room. Whatever may be happening in the global crisis, my income is secure. Maybe so, maybe not. An economic crisis, like a fire, cannot be fully anticipated or controlled. No one knows just how it will blow. It is wise to be prepared.

4.) This is the end? The Hyatt Regency will burn to the ground. The Global Crisis means the end of civilization as we know it.

Actually, the Hotel was intact the next day. And most of the people who checked in on Monday had no idea about the excitement the night before. The affected areas of the Hotel were already sealed off and repairs had begun. No, this is not the end of the world. Life and commerce will eventually regain its footing. And most will recover from the Global economic crisis but not all of us. And not everything will be exactly as it was before. The last Great Depression brought us fascism and communism, revolution and great changes. There may be some surprises still ahead this time too.


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