The Dow and S&P are near all-time highs. Stock markets all over the world have enjoyed significant gains this year. Gold was hammered in its worst year since 1981. The economy remains sluggish, perhaps unusually sluggish. Where is the employment? 1.3 million Americans just lost their unemployment benefits. Where is the strong middle class? Is everybody debt-free and fully liquid? LOL. Are you kidding me? Despite persistent optimism, this nation's economy is precarious at best.
History will record that Obamacare started on the day the government shut down. That is remarkably metaphorical, I think. Although the major health insurance carriers all seem to be betting on Obamacare, the biggest expansion of the welfare state in America since Medicare itself is off to a woeful start. In fact, Obama is off to a stumbling final term as president. He looks even more ridiculous and unskilled than George W. Bush at the start of his horrible second term. This may reflect a deeper weakness in politics as an effective force in the world. I might blog more on that topic in 2014.
Gerhard Richter set a record again this year for a living artist when his 1968 painting sold for $37 million. This follows a $34 million sell last year. Richter continues to inspire and fascinate me, as does Art overall. I recently purchased a couple of iPad apps on Renoir. Renoir HD features the many highlights of his career, most (not all) are rendered with vibrant color and sharpness. The Renoir Museum features about 1500 Renoir's and is well worth the $3.99 price tag despite the fact that his greatest work is not in this collection and the collection as a whole is not in alphabetical or chronological order. Nevertheless what is presented is exceptionally well-done, a feast for the eyes and mind.
Pope Francis is Time Magazine's Person of the Year. I like the "new pope" but I find Elon Musk more interesting. Musk has the potential to revolutionize things like Steve Jobs. Technology seems to make being human less relevant but that is where most of our innovation goes. Musk has a Martian colonization vision, which I blogged about a year ago. Can he and others like him discover new economic territory that will bring stronger demand for human labor?
About 120,000 human beings have died in the Syrian Civil War. What a complex, messy situation. 2013 also saw wars in Mali and, as always it seems, Congo. The Sudan has also erupted on the conflicted African continent. Add rioting in Egypt and Thailand into the mix. Thousands of US troops remain deployed in Afghanistan. The US is sending aid to beleaguered Iraq which is no closer to peace today than when the US was there in force. Saddam Hussein, with his Stalinist ruling tactics, kept the lid of the pressure cooker of warring factions in Iraq. Removing him from power created a vacuum that still exists in that country. Throwing Hussein out of power and killing him might have been justice on some scale but it has done nothing to change the death and suffering inside Iraq. In France, the country with a higher concentration of Islamic immigration than anywhere else in the West, there is still talk of a "clash of civilizations".
Meanwhile, in China the quality of breathable air is the worst in the world. In absence of any meaningful relegation, industrial and automotive smog is a huge problem throughout Asia, particularly in Chinese manufacturing areas. 8 million agricultural acres are too polluted to farm. The Communist government in China, true to the long-tradition of propaganda in a controlled press, has the audacity to proclaim the "benefits" of smog to the Chinese people. Hopefully, this does not reflect a "get used to it" attitude among one of the world's great polluters. For years I have argued that any reduction in CO2 emission by the West would be more than off-set by China and India belching pollution into the atmosphere at record levels. Although the idea of Global Warming has become more controversial in 2013, my bet is that these unprecedented levels of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere won't happen without significant global consequences.
Personhood is the news again in 2013. While it is (ridiculously) still a matter of debate regarding whether or not the human fetus is a person, scientists have (ridiculously) tried to extend personhood to chimpanzees and dolphins and other animals. Apparently, the intent is (perhaps) noble enough, to grant ethical and legal rights to non-humans. The genuine distinction in my opinion is that, while these are all obviously sentient beings, sentience itself is an insufficient basis for personhood. A person must be an animal capable of higher language, either body gestures or utterances that are meaningful enough to help sustain, create and perpetuate culture. Man is the only animal who exhibits truly complex culture, culture that measurably impacts other humans and the Earth itself. This is a distinctively human realm but it does not extend to human forms that cannot communicate, in my opinion. Someone in a coma is not a person; probably not a popular opinion.
A big news event in America is the homophobic comments by Phil Robertson, one of the stars on the Duck Dynasty reality TV show. I have never watched the program. I would bet it is a great example of why I refuse to pay for television programming. A popular manifestation of kitsch and simple crap. Mr. Robertson is as free as any American to say whatever he damn well pleases. Speech is absolute. It is, in fact, unalienable. Unalienable rights override all political agendas and witch hunts in particular. An open society is going to be a messy, competitive one where people will often feel insulted. The fact is Mr. Robertson is sincere and he speaks through his faith not in malice toward anyone, however it might be taken. I have gay friends and acquaintances. I hope they are tough enough to dismiss Mr. Robertson's opinion with tolerance rather than seek to dictate whether he has a "right" to his speech. Many liberals consider Robertson's speech act should not be protected under the constitution. Quite frankly, they feel their opinions are "better" than Robertson's. This only magnifies the tragedy. As I blogged before, freedom is not measured by what I am free to do but, rather, by what others are free to do with which I do not agree.
The NSA became a part of the public sphere in 2013. The spying agency has many privileges that were formerly reserved only for tyrannical powers. The Federal Government deems that it all makes perfect sense in the scheme of things, with a world of terror out there awaiting us. Apparently. Edward Snowden could be person of the year. He made public something that was wrongly kept classified by the government. He restored some semblance power to the public in this matter. Something heroic, really. Did George Orwell envision that a singular quasi-public entity would be able to read your emails, track your telephone calls, and even report movement around the country? This is Kremlin and Gestapo stuff. Your government should never know that much about you. It is madness. Welcome to Amerika, land of the terrorized.
But let's keep all this in perspective. Voyager One became the first man-made space craft to enter interstellar space this year. The Solar System is home to wondrous and specific forces of the universe. There is no need to stay small in your mind. There is no need to accept Amerika as valid or even important. There is so much more. Out there. The 45th anniversary of the Apollo 8's historic "earthrise" photograph reminds us of the majesty.
Surprise listening for Jennifer and me in-between Christmas and New Year's: David Crosby's It's All Coming Back To Me Now...