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Renée Loth

11 things we can live without in ’11

By Renée Loth
January 1, 2011

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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 séance 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!)

Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.