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 Continue reading “Y is Year 2015”

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?

No.

Did anyone close to you die?
Continue reading “The 2013 quiz”

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) Continue reading “Y is for the Year 2013”