The poet who said April is the cruelest month obviously didn’t know about our May.

  • As the month began, that unpronounceable Icelandic volcano kept spewing out tons of black smoke, soot, grit, acidic gases, and all manner of obnoxious things. Airports in Spain, Italy, and Portugal had to close again.
  • The Greek economy threatened to stumble into a black hole that promised to suck the rest of Europe in with it, until the European Union came to the rescue with a (gasp!) bailout.
  • The stock market plummeted 1,000 points in 15 minutes on May 6 before bouncing back up 600 like a kangaroo on a pogo stick. And the thing is, nobody yet knows why it plunged or rebounded. The first thought was that maybe a trader hit the wrong button on his computer.
  • That out-of-control well in the Gulf of Mexico continued to gush oil into the water as BP workers struggled, unsuccessfully, to get it under control. Conservatives, most of whom opposed the regulation of offshore drilling that might have averted the spill, have started calling it “Obama’s Katrina.” (For all I know, they’re blaming him for the volcano too.)

In other words, this is shaping up to be a really, really ugly month. Seldom has so much stupidity, past and present, been on display simultaneously.

And the thing that disturbed me most about all of it is this: A guy hit the wrong button on his computer? What are you, kidding me? Please don’t tell me that some clown at the New York Stock Exchange can do away with half of my net worth in 15 minutes because he hits the wrong button.

As it turns out, that’s not what they’re telling me. After investigating the matter over the weekend officials now think it was a systemic glitch, which, under certain circumstances, can torpedo the market. But they’re going to fix it, probably. Great. Do you ever get the feeling that we’re shooting craps with the other guys’ dice and the dice don’t have spots on them?

The second most troubling thing about the events was Greece. It’s bad enough having to bail out a country that has lived beyond its means for decades; the real question is, why would you lend money to Greece in the first place?

Have you ever been to Greece? People there can’t even stand in line, let alone pay their bills. The national sport is not paying your taxes. People don’t even consider it cheating. The second-most popular sport is bribery. Nothing happens in Greece without someone getting greased.

Lending money to Greece is like giving it to the Bernie Madoff Defense Fund. So why do it? Simple. Europe had no choice.

If Greece’s economy goes under, it might very well take the Euro with it and if the Euro collapses, can Europe be far behind? Think of Europe as mountain climbers tied together on one rope as they climb. Greece is the fat guy in the middle who is having a heart attack. If he falls, they all fall. It’s not their fault that the guy is fat, but they have to save him or die.

Paradoxically, it could well be that the voters in the United States are so enraged by the bailouts here that they will react by throwing out of power the people who are trying to rescue them and replace them with the guys who caused the problem in the first place.

As I said, despite the roses and the peonies, this is an ugly month. It would be, even without the oil or volcano.

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Donald Kaul

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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