11 Things We Can Live Without in '11

Last year on this date I wrote a column
featuring "10 wishes for 2010." It was sweet, but with the exception of
our unexpectedly glorious New England summer, few of my wishes (comity
in Washington, peace on earth, etc.) came true. Sad to say, it's a lot
easier to find things we wish not to happen. Herewith, my admittedly
quirky list of 11 things we can do without in 2011. Feel free to suggest
your own:

1) More casino capitalism.
This month we heard about a group of hedge fund investors trading in a
hot new commodity: claim settlements for victims of Bernard Madoff's
massive fraud. These Wall Street sharpies are offering pennies on the
dollar for claimants who want a guaranteed payout. What's next - pooling
the payments and then dicing them into derivatives? Did we learn
nothing from the financial collapse?

2) Another seance with the founders.
Coming soon, a heated debate about the 14th Amendment to the US
Constitution - the one that defends the citizenship status of children
born to illegal immigrants. Like the debate over the "real'' meaning of
the 2nd Amendment, both sides of the issue will claim to know the one
true intent of the authors, 144 years ago. And like the 2nd Amendment
debate and gun violence, the fight over the 14th will only distract from
legitimate problems with immigration.

3) "Actually."
This filler adverb - the new "really'' - is suddenly being misused
everywhere. "She's not actually in right now." "We're actually closed
Sunday." Arrgh! The word grates on the inner ear like aural sandpaper.

4) Gridlock, secret holds, filibuster threats, and other abuses of the US Senate.
When even the winner of the Nobel Prize in economics can have his
appointment to the Federal Reserve blocked by a single disgruntled
senator, something is seriously amiss in the world's greatest
deliberative body.

5) Noise escalation. The
modern world has become so clamorous that Congress just passed
legislation requiring that engine sounds be added in to silent hybrid
cars for safety purposes. With snow blowers in winter, lawnmowers in
spring, weed whackers in the summertime, and leaf blowers in the fall,
quiet has become a too-precious commodity: exclusive, expensive - and
exquisite.

8) Faux populism. From
Bristol Palin besting the judges' preferred dancers on reality TV to
complaints that the Supreme Court is top-heavy with Ivy League
graduates, expertise is under attack. The rage is all for outsiders and
autodidacts - a trend escalated by the Internet, where anyone can
diagnose their own illness or fix their own car. Unfortunately, not all
opinions are created equal.

9) The sulfurous tone of online comments. We
hard-bitten journalists can take it, but the vile insults hurled at the
subjects of news stories - or by the posters at each other - drive away
all but the extremists and coarsen the debate. The Internet's great
promise is its democratizing effect: a place where everyone can be
heard. But not when they're drowned out by screaming schoolyard bullies.

8) Mayoral jockeying.
Word is that Boston City Councilor Steve Murphy is everyone's choice
for council president because he is the one member not expected to use
the post as a springboard to run for mayor. With homicides up steeply
over 2009 and chronically failing schools, the city has too many real
problems to be obsessed with who's got the advantage in the 2013 race to
succeed Tom Menino.

9) Restocking charges. Sure,
people sometimes abuse return policies, but a 15 percent fee for taking
back an unwanted or imperfect holiday gift seems excessive. Best Buy
backed off the practice this season, but other retailers still claim
they need to be reimbursed for elaborate packaging. How about reducing
the packaging instead?

10) Generational warfare. With
heightened fears about the federal debt, the fate of Social Security is
sure to be on the griddle in 2011. This will surely spark more grousing
about entitled elders protecting their benefits while child care and
education go begging. But why choose? With a progressive tax policy,
serious cuts in military spending, and real reforms in health care
delivery, there should be enough funding for everybody.

11) Arrogant, smug, know-it-all columnists. (Note to online commenters: Beat you to it!)

Renee Loth's column appears regularly in the Globe.