Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

A Slightly-Less-Snarky Year-End Review Than Last Year’s

So, how to characterize the year 2011? Tempting to try to boil it down into a phrase or even a word. Oversimplification can be fun!


TIME Magazine recently declared “The Protestor” as its Person of the Year. Seems logical: all year long, whether in the Middle East or the Midwest, whether peaceful or violent, whether full of human microphones or thrown rocks, whether self-named (Occupy) or not (help me out here: was the “Arab Spring” so named by the media covering it?) … protests have been the order of the day. The Year of the Protest!

Early this year, the Arab Spring uprisings made the job of “Middle Eastern affairs analyst” a special brand of tightrope: first Tunisia, then Egypt, then Libya, then Syria. Governments and leaders were toppled, regimes were ended, celebrations were launched, and (predictably) complete uncertainty about the future was felt. (And the passive voice was overused, seemingly.)

Here in the US, it began with residents of Ohio and most notably Wisconsin protesting their governors’ and state legislatures’ raids on union collective bargaining rights (not to mention did you spot Michigan governor Rick Snyder’s remarkable assault on democracy itself? Go here for that harrowing story) … and the year has ended with the spread and evolution of the Occupy movement.


Maybe it was the Year of the Crisis. In January, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, and the resultant conversation in the media rightly suggested a crisis in public discourse (unfortunately, the moratorium on gun- and violence-related metaphors in public speech lasted only about as long as this sentence). In March, Japan experienced a massive earthquake and tsunami, leading to the meltdown of a nuclear reactor in the north of Japan. In April, Prince William and Kate Middleton were royally wed (–sorry. I apologize to my UK relatives: not a crisis after all; just a frenzy).

All year, the European debt crisis expanded, beginning with Portugal, Ireland and Greece, and spreading to Belgium, Italy and France. And other crises arose!! involving debt ceilings … payroll tax cuts … and NBA players and owners nearly cancelling their own season thanks to a disagreement about how to distribute their absurd amount of revenue. Well, some crises were man-made and perhaps not that necessary. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard quite as much about the War on Christmas as I usually do. (And oh yes! How about… blog posts that yield Defcon-One-grade comments from the Mightily Offended? Okay, speaking of unnecessary crises…)


Perhaps it was the Year of the Scandal. (To be fair, what year isn’t?) Arnold Schwarzenegger had an affair…? Anthony Weiner had, well, had a cellphone that took pictures…? Amateurs. The Ohio State football team had the kind of problems that would cause the resignation of its head coach, and would attract NCAA sanctions…? Sad, but not super-unusual.

A former Citigroup treasury finance VP was arrested on bank fraud charges stemming from his embezzlement of more than $19 million…? Bank of America used $355 million in settlement money to resolve Justice Department allegations that Countrywide Financial Corporation (purchased by BofA in 2008), “engaged in a widespread pattern or practice of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in their mortgage lending from 2004 through 2008”…? Now we’re getting into scandal-of-worthy-scope territory.

Charlie Sheen, and tiger blood, and winning!!…? A celebrity-fluff scandal, but a loud one, and one which should have been more of a cautionary tale than it turned out to be.

In fact, up until the last month or so, I thought that the News Corp. cellphone hacking scandal, which is still a big news story in the UK and needs to not be forgotten in this part of the world, would be the Scandal of the Year. Anything that remotely threatens Rupert Murdoch’s global media (and by extension, political) empire is something that deserves all the attention we can give it, I think.

Until Penn State. If the Penn State / Jerry Sandusky mess is Scandal #1, then Scandal #2 actually ranks about #14. The Penn State child sex-abuse scandal is horrifying, beyond its basic content, because it’s important from so many different perspectives.


Maybe it was the Year of the Rather Momentous Death of Momentous Public Figures who have spent at least ten years being infamous, about which it may or may not be polite or politically wise or humane to celebrate: in May, Osama bin Laden. In October, Moammar Gaddafi (or however the frak he spelled his name).


The Year of Endings? In July, it was the final Space Shuttle mission. In September, it was a treaty, signed by India and Bangladesh, which ended their 40-year border demarcation dispute (hey! This sort of thing CAN be done!). This fall, it was the end of the era in which the global population could be described as “six billion” (the United Nations selected October 31 as the symbolic date on which the population hit seven billion). Ah yes! And Regis Philbin retired from television after fourteen decades of exemplary work.


More endings: at the end of a year, the mass media hurriedly generates lists of celebrities who have gone to the Great Celebrity Beyond, usually with titles like “Those We Have Lost” – as if we knew them personally, which is a topic for another time. This year, some of the names that struck me particularly, as I perused other people’s lists, included …

Golfer Seve Ballesteros. Boxer Joe Frazier (and it wasn’t long, sadly, before a wiseacre sportscaster made a “down goes Frazier” joke).

Electronic music composer Milton Babbitt. Film composer John Barry, whose passing made me think of the film composers that have made the biggest impression on me, here.

Pianist George Shearing, a 33 rpm record of whose music I ground down to nothing as a kid. My favorite growlin’ saxophonist, Clarence Clemons. Singer Amy Winehouse, who probably died of complications from stardom. Singer Gerry Rafferty, who is probably justly famous for other things than this, but this is my association.

Author Anne McCaffrey, none of whose books I have read but ALL of whose books’ covers I have marveled at; one day I’ll rectify that.

Actors Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Cooper, Peter Falk, Cliff Robertson, and Charles Napier, who for me will forever be driving an RV in “The Blues Brothers”. And actor Harry Morgan, paid more complete and proper tribute here.

Euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian – there are probably ironic punchlines to be generated, but I shall resist. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, easily one of the most important figures in the history of innovation in America, but also probably a large beneficiary of the standard mass-media post-celebrity-death worship mode.

(By the way, I have a side bet going with myself about that last paragraph.)

Former First Lady Betty Ford. Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Former VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro. Statesman, activist and Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver. Czech playwright, dissident and politician Vaclav Havel, whose life was devoted to freedom from oppression, and whose death was completely overshadowed by the passing of the North Korean dictator, the oppressive “Dear Leader” his own self, Kim Jong-Il.


For me, the last year(-plus) has featured all of those things: change, upheaval, the expressing of opinion (constructive or not). In particular, it’s been a year full of passing-away – an unusually protracted run of deaths, of people directly or indirectly connected to the circles in which I travel (both professional and personal). I wrote about one of those, a member of the church choir that I direct, here.

As I’ve gone back over my notes and eMails from 2011 and taken note of the unusually great number of people who have passed away, I’ve been tempted to wallow, bemoan their passing, and think about how much they’ll be missed, either by me or by the friends and colleagues to whom they were more directly connected. These are not by themselves bad things to do. But it seems appropriate, concurrently, to follow one of my favorite “Starred Thoughts®”, which suggests: “Tell people what you think of them, before it’s too late.” Or, less morbidly, …when you have the opportunity.

So I won’t sit it out; I’ll dance. I have a pack of remarkable friends and colleagues, and however it may be that our Venn-diagram circles intersected, the important thing is to recognize that I ought not take them for granted. So I won’t.

(Neither can I take for granted the people who have decided to read all the way to the end of any of these windy blog items, this year. Holy cats! –I’d stink at Twitter.)


Finally, the best thought of all, from Harry Morgan’s Col. Potter, of M*A*S*H: “Here’s to the New Year. May she be a damned sight better than the old one and may we all be home before she’s over.”


December 29, 2011 - Posted by | blogging, celebrity, entertainment, Famous Persons, government, humor, journalism, media, news, politics, sports, Starred Thoughts, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Excellent. Good quote for end, too.

    Comment by philosophermouseofthehedge | December 29, 2011 | Reply

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