Too soon, Boston Globe, too soon

1861, 1919, 1932, 1968, 2020

too soon

The Boston Globe has attempted to make us feel better about 2020. “The news that the president himself had contracted the coronavirus, just days after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg triggered a high-stakes Supreme Court battle in the middle of a global pandemic that has upended nearly every aspect of modern life…

“‘Is this the most deranged year ever to occur in American history because it certainly feels that way?’ The story was published on October 6. Too soon. There were 12 full weeks of crazy to come, including a sure-to-be-contentious election that won’t be settled on November 4, and maybe not by November 10.

For instance, one of the other contenders is 1861, “the year that the country fractured into the bloody Civil War… The beginning of the war was partly the result of the tumultuous 1860 election… It is encouraging that this year the United States has not plunged into literal war with itself — yet.” Give it time. External war, while still going on, seems less in the forefront than the potential for domestic disturbances.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” The Second Coming by poet William Butler Yeats, 1919 

In 1919, “the country had just emerged from a gruesome global war, and a deadly flu pandemic was killing millions of people around the world. President Woodrow Wilson suffered a severe stroke and became incapacitated…” 2020 pandemic: check.

“In the same year, white citizens led a series of racial pogroms that decimated Black communities, partly in response to Black soldiers’ demands for equality after fighting for American democracy abroad.” A different version of racial strife is taking place this year.

The Great Depression

By 1932, “the Great Depression had reached its peak, with about a quarter of Americans out of work and virtually no federal aid. Families were losing their homes and desperate for food. It was an election year, with Franklin D. Roosevelt running against Herbert Hoover.

“There was also climate disaster happening… In the Dust Bowl, severe drought caused farmlands to literally blow away, killing people and crops and leading to massive migrations.” We have in 2020 record wildfires in the West, hurricanes in the Southeast.

“Against that backdrop, extremism was on the rise worldwide. The Nazi Party became the strongest party in the German government in July elections.” Extremism around the world – we have that in 2020.

And of course, 1968, which featured the Vietnam War raging, including grave atrocities. Student protests erupted across the country. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy dashed the sense of hope.

Here’s the real question

So does this mean that if we get a really sucky year every once in a while we’ll be inoculated for a while? History is mixed. Another year of civil war in 1862. Statistical somewhat less violence against black people plus Women’s suffrage in 1920.

The New Deal started in 1933 under FDR, even as the markers for World War II began to build. And I remember 1969 as nearly as contentious as 1968, with Nixon in the White House rather than LBJ, but we went to the moon.

Tell me that 2021 will be better. Lie if necessary. Oh, and you still have until the end of the month to complete the decennial Census. So do the damn  Census. And vote, FCOL. I’m thinking in-person but early, the week before November 3. 2020 may suck, but I’m trying my best…


Why we’ve counted years – a Big Deal

a new system for reckoning the passage of time

years.timeline“What year is it? It’s 2019, obviously. An easy question. Last year was 2018. Next year will be 2020. We are confident that a century ago it was 1919, and in 1,000 years it will be 3019, if there is anyone left to name it.”

Those are the opening sentences in the article A revolution in time by Paul J Kosmin. The subtitle: “Once local and irregular, time-keeping became universal and linear in 311 BCE. History would never be the same again.”

D’oh. There are so many concepts we take for granted – the number zero, e.g. – that we take assume that they’ve somehow ALWAYS existed. But “from earliest recorded history right up to the years after Alexander the Great’s conquests in the late 4th century BCE, historical time – the public and annual marking of the passage of years – could be measured only in three ways: by unique events, by annual offices, or by royal lifecycles.”

What about the Hebrew calendar, for which it is currently 5779? “One of Alexander’s Macedonian generals… introduced a new system for reckoning the passage of time. It is known, after him, as the Seleucid Era. This was the world’s first continuous and irreversible tally of counted years. It is the unheralded ancestor of every subsequent era system, including the Christian Anno Domini system, our own Common Era, the Jewish Era of Creation, the Islamic Hijrah, the French Revolutionary Era, and so on.”

Moreover, “these Seleucid Era year numbers were marked onto an unprecedented range of public, private and mobile platforms. Era dates were affixed to market weights, jar handles, coinage, building constructions, temple offerings, seal rings, royal letters, civic decrees, tombstones, tax receipts, priest lists, boundary markers, astronomical reports, personal horoscopes, marriage contracts – and much, much more. In our own world, filled with ubiquitous date marks, it is easy to underestimate the sheer novelty, and so historical significance, of this mass year-marking. But, in the ancient world, this was without precedent or parallel.”

Why is this such a big deal? Chronology and dating “are the stuff that history is made on, for dates do two things: they allow things to happen only once, and they insist on the ordering and interrelation of all happenings. Every event must be chained to its place in time before it becomes an available object of historical articulation. And the modes by which we date the world, by which we apprehend historical duration and the passage of time, frame how we experience our present, conceive a future, remember the past, reconcile with impermanence, and make sense of a world far wider, older and more enduring than any of us.”

For ABC Wednesday

Y is Year 2015

Likewise, this will be the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1945.

2015.blocksOf course, no one knows what will happen in the year 2015 except that we’ll celebrate anniversaries of past events.

Back in 1965, fifty years ago, the brilliant music satirist Tom Lehrer, in the introduction to So Long Mom, a song of World War III, said this: “This year we’ve been celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Civil War and the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of World War I and the twentieth anniversary of the end of World War II. All in all, it’s been a good year for the war buffs.” (With a different intro, LISTEN to So Long Mom.)

This being a half-century later, we just “celebrated” the beginning of World War I. 2015 will be the sesquicentennial of the end of the American Civil War in 1865, with all that entails:

January: The U.S. Congress approves the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, to abolish slavery.
March: Second inauguration ceremonies for President Lincoln in Washington.
April: Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders his Confederate Army to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary see the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. During the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth assassinates the President.
June: Juneteeth in Texas.

Likewise, this will be the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1945:

January: The Soviets enacts a massive offensive against German foes along the East Front. Russian troops find fewer than 3,000 survivors when they liberate Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland.
February: U.S. troops invade the Philippines, while British planes bomb the German city of Dresden.
April: US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dies. Adolf Hitler, in the face of certain defeat, commits suicide.
May: Germany surrenders unconditionally to General Eisenhower at Rheims, France, and to the Soviets in Berlin
June: The Pacific island of Okinawa is captured by the Allies.
August: The Japanese sue for peace after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
September: General MacArthur accepts the formal, unconditional surrender of Japan in a ceremony aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

So what else shall we celebrate this coming year?

April: Josephine Baker’s death (40th anniversary)
May: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s death. (150th anniversary)
June: Signing of the first Magna Carta. (800th anniversary)
June: Battle of Waterloo. (200th anniversary)
June: William Butler Yeats’ 150th birthday.
July: JK Rowling’s 50th birthday
August: Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans and surrounding areas (10th anniversary)
December: Rudyard Kipling’s 150th birthday.

What will YOU be celebrating in 2015?


ABC Wednesday, Round 15

The 2013 quiz

Thinking by Numbers by Daniel Tammet.

One of those year-in-review quizzes from Jaquandor.

Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Didn’t really make any, so didn’t have to worry about failing to keep them. But then I read Richie’s post and wondered if I’ve been doing it all wrong.

Did anyone close to you give birth?


Did anyone close to you die?

David Janower I was mighty fond of.

What countries did you visit?

Ha! Traveled even less than the previous year.

What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

More optimism.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Despite my complaints about it, a solo in the church play. Also, a reading of Langston Hughes poems.

What was your biggest failure?

Easily distracted. I’m sorry, what did you ask?

What was the best thing you bought?

There are some Kickstarter items that arrived that I liked such as MURDERVILLE Comic Book #1: “A Farewell to Armories”; The Werewolf of New York; and especially a retrospective collection of Kal cartoons from The Economist.

Whose behavior merited celebration?

My friend Lynne Jackson, who attempted to walk to Binghamton for a good cause.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Congress, last I checked, had a 12% approval rate, which I assume includes their immediate families, plus the lobbyists who own them.

Where did most of your money go?

The house. Specifically, a new front porch, desperately needed, but very expensive.

What did you get really excited about?

Blogging. Got a second (or ninth) wind.

What song will always remind you of 2013?

Has to be New, by Sir Paul McCartney, the ONLY song my wife, my daughter and I could ALL identify.

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?

Sadder. The body politic has worn me down.

Thinner or fatter?

About the same.

Richer or poorer?

Poorer. I put aside more money for the health reimbursement program for the daughter’s braces.

What do you wish you’d done more of?

Traveled, but that was a function of money, in no small part.

What do you wish you’d done less of?


How did you spend Christmas?

Went to church, doing the gift thing.

Did you fall in love in 2013?


How many one-night stands?

As many as last year.

What was your favorite TV program?

The Good Wife, CBS Sunday Morning, The Daily Show.

Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Nah, hate is highly overrated.

What was the best book you read?

Thinking by Numbers by Daniel Tammet.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

The music to The Lion King.

What did you want and get?

Books and music.

What did you want and not get?

Our office to move downtown from Corporate (frickin) Woods.

What were your favorite films of this year?

The Sound of Music and Singin’ in the Rain, neither of which I had ever seen in its entirety before.

What did you do on your birthday?

As little as possible.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

As usual, “fashion” is silly. Function over form.

What kept you sane?

Writing; singing; listening to music; learning new stuff; and then I suddenly realized that the question ASSUMES that I AM sane, which may or may not be the case.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Wendy Davis.

What political issue stirred you the most?

The damn snooping on Americans, and apparently, everyone else, by the NSA.

Who did you miss?

I miss my parents, still.

Who was the best new person you met?

New woman in the office. Her cat’s name is Roger.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013:

I actually went through a period of melancholy caused by some specific circumstances. The situation didn’t change, but my attitude towards it did, and it made it a whole lot more palatable.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

So you think that you’ve got troubles?
Well, trouble’s a bubble,
So tell old Mr. Trouble to “Get lost!”.

Why not hold your head up high and,
Stop cryin’, start tryin’,
And don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed.

When you find the joy of livin’
Is lovin’ and givin’
You’ll be there when the winning dice are tossed.

A smile is just a frown that’s turned upside down,
So smile, and that frown will defrost.
And don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed!

(Who can identify the lyrics? It is one of these.)

Y is for the Year 2013

*I* am having a “significant” birthday this year.

Happy New Year! We begin 2013, a year of a mere 365 days, unlike last year.

Here are some 2013 movable holidays. Note the ones marked # begin at sundown on the day before they are listed.

February 10: Chinese New Year, the year of the snake
February 13: Ash Wednesday
February 24: Purim#
March 10: Daylight Saving Time begins in the US
March 31: Easter Sunday (Western)
May 19: Pentecost
July 9: Ramadan begins#
September 5#: 1st Day of Rosh Hashanah
September 14#: Yom Kippur
November 3: Daylight Saving Time ends
November 28: 1st Day of Hanukkah#, Thanksgiving

A lot of famous people turn 70 this year, including Joni Mitchell. But there are plenty of folks who WOULD have turned 70, but died along the way, including Janis Joplin, Jim Croce, Florence Ballard, Arthur Ashe, John Denver, and George Harrison.

And I am having a “significant” birthday this year. NOT 70.

2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, and the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Here are more anniversaries.

Finally, the number 2013 is divisible by 3, which I noted at once, since the digits add up to 6; if the digits add up to 3, 6 or 9, the number is divisible by 3. 2013/3=671. I can see a factor of 671; in a three-digit number, when the middle digit equals the other two, the number is divisible by 11. Thus, the prime factors of 2013 are 3, 11 and 61. Yes, my mind DOES operate that way…

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

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