I like this format, which allows me to achieve several of my top goals for this blog: commenting on current events, predictions for the future, and blending in a bit of history. After awhile, I may actually get good at integrating the three meaningfully. For now, just a quick capture of this end-of-year moment:
Past: 2015--Six Noteworthy Things
1) President Obama: He defied the midterm Congressional defeat and accomplished a great deal in 2015, solely through executive initiatives and his national role as head of state. He defied the second-term jinx better than any President we have had in the last 50+ years (I'm thinking of Eisenhower as the last one who was able to maintain a semblance of effective governance through a second term).
2) 2014 Oscar nominees/winners (in February, 2015): "Birdman" and "Boyhood" were two of the best movies of recent years. The first was well-rewarded on Oscar night, the second, not so much (one Oscar for Patricia Arquette as Supporting Actress), but the fact it was even in the running was remarkable.
3) The Crisis in Europe: It took many forms, some very visible--the attacks in Paris (and follow-up battles in Copenhagen, Brussels), the refugee flood into Greece and other Balkan countries (and the counter-reaction from Hungary and some others), the Greek economic and political crisis--some not so clearly visible (the problems with the Mediterranean Sea crossing from Libya to Sicily, in the Spanish enclaves near Morocco, in Calais in France), the development of future political crises in the U.K. and Spain. Through it all, Angela Merkel led Europe bravely, making her a good choice (not a great one) for Time's Person of the Year. I would've picked Pope Francis, but he'd already won recently.
4) Crispr, other true Science breakthroughs: Crispr is the abbreviation for Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats--I thought you would want to know. It is a technology that makes DNA editing much more readily possible, which could be used initially to counter diseases. Like other advances in genetics, it will have to be closely monitored for destructive possible uses. There seem to be similar breakthroughs coming against many forms of cancer, possibly against Alzheimer's. Medical research is starting to justify itself after decades of waste, co-optation by Big Pharma. And then there's the electric car, improved solar and wind energy, improved de-salination techniques, a new (but extinct) human species discovered, the fly-by of Pluto....
5) Trump and Sanders: I don't expect either of them to win the Presidential election in 2016, but they won the pre-election run-up in their political parties. Sanders has put on the table the issues we will be litigating for the next 20 years (as Jesse Jackson did 27 years ago), while Trump has updated demagogic politics for 21st-century media methods. Thanks for nothing special, The Donald!
6) American Pharaoh: A solid thoroughbred horse racing Triple Crown winner, he made it look pretty easy, then topped it off with a convincing win in the Breeders Cup Classic. One for the ages, ranks with Citation and Secretariat as the most successful American colts ever.
The Present: College Football
Tonight are the semifinals of the NCAA Division I men's college football playoffs. #1 Clemson vs. #4 Oklahoma, and #2 Alabama vs. #3 Michigan State. This should be a big deal, but it really isn't: the teams are all flawed to some extent (Clemson is the only undefeated one, but their ACC schedule really doesn't measure up; the other teams all had a pretty bad loss.) The fact that the NCAA chose to present the games on New Year's Eve suggests a loser's strategy: Many people, or even most, will be out of the house tonight, and they didn't dare take on the NFL's Game 17 weekend, even though it is pretty much a dud from the drama standpoint--I could see avoiding the NFL's Wild Card Weekend, one of the most popular sports events, but dodging this weekend is just lame.
I would expect Alabama and Oklahoma to win; I'll be rooting for the other guys: when faced with oppressive dominance, root for the underdog--it's a philosophy I've carried since the '60's (anti-Celtics, Yankees, Packers, though I have cooled a bit on my hate for them after several decades). The fact is, in order to make it to this level, Clemson and the top Big 10 teams (Michigan St., Ohio St., Iowa) have had to adopt the SEC's just-under-professional methods, so there's not much difference. Don't get me started about the NCAA's classless permission of the conferences' reorganization in the past few years. And, needless to say, I won't be watching.
College football is the worst offender in US sport, and I have no solution for it beyond the minor palliative of expanding the playoffs to six teams (note: the postseason college game that will interest me the most is #5 Iowa vs. #6 Stanford, to see which team has the most authentic rights to complain about the current system). The other big moneymaker of college sports, basketball, has the one-and-done problem, but also the positive, democratic aspect of March Madness: I would recommend the NBA develop a second level of D-League for McDonald's basketball high-school All Americans who don't want or need to go to college, fund it properly, and their problem will be solved. College football's go much deeper, and will require extensively reforms, along with ones in the NFL, to make the game other than "a brilliant mistake" (to quote one of Mr. McManus' best songs). The beauty of the long downfield pass, the blocked kick, or the breakaway run from scrimmage or on kick returns is undeniable, but unfortunately more than offset by the objectionable labor practices, the health risks, and the reactionary social environment associated with the sport.
2016: Looking Ahead
First of all, I think this will be a fun year in many ways. I should mention the Olympics, which will be in Rio, in August--a great idea, if the Brazilians can pull it off. It's not impossible; London managed the event well in 2012. However, Brazil is having major turmoil due to corruption in politics and in the sporting world, and their economy has crashed, due partially to the collapse in oil prices. At least US audiences will be able to watch many events, live, on several different channels--we should expect that the emerging capability to present several channels simultaneously on our sets will be utilized well.
Next, the 2016 elections should be a full-year source of interest, and, I believe, of encouragement by the end. I fully expect Hillary Clinton to win the election handily and become our first women's President in 2017, but it will be a bit of a wild ride until November (see below for a little worst-case scenario consideration). If she gets a big enough landslide, and the Republicans continue to self-destruct, the Senate should return to Democratic control, and the House will be much closer to even. This last, a much-reduced House majority, might give the GOP one last chance to try to get its act together and preserve its political power, but even without the House, control of the White House and the Senate (and the death or retirement of one of the Evil Axis of Roberts/Scalia/Thomas/Alito) could give modern reason a chance to break up the Supreme Court's hypocritical and repressive trend.
Now, for three downers: 1) US Economic Stormclouds: I think the domestic recovery will probably survive 2016, but just barely. The headwinds are growing now, in the form of a global slowdown, headlined by weakness in China, Japan, Russia, all the OPEC and emerging Markets, with weak support for economic recovery from Europe. The stock market in the US may signal future decline with a correction early in 2016.
2) Thinking the Unthinkable: A Trump victory would be a catastrophe for US' image in the world, so heavily damaged by Bushite Misrule and only partially salvaged by Obama's administration. Either Trump or Ted Cruz winning would signal America pulling up the welcome mat and joining the fencing club, which would seem the surest way to bring about a global economic depression and increased strife worldwide. With Marco Rubio, and to some extent even Hillary, we'd have to worry about the opposite: getting so deeply entangled in the Syria/Iraq mess that we would not be prepared to deal with emerging issues in the China Sea, with North Korea, between Israel and its neighbors. With any Republican, we can expect relations with Mexico, Russia, Iran, and all the predominantly-Muslim countries to collapse disastrously, and the Europeans will once again hold view us as ridiculous. My advice to President Obama is to work things out with Turkey and Erdogan, sooner rather than later: Turkey holds the key to containing and defeating ISIS, and to getting Assad on the way out; we need to deal with Erdogan pragmatically, as we did with Khamenei, working with and encouraging open-minded, democratic forces but tolerating results which sustain distasteful leaders with autocratic tendencies.
3) Cosby, 24/7: I think it's clear that we will be plagued with this news story on Greta van Susteren constantly, and on CNN, much too frequently, through all of the coming year. I would recommend a plea bargain, in which Cosby would agree to donate all the money he will otherwise waste on legal funds to some worthy feminist cause, and cop a plea immediately to a lesser charge (but accept the label of "sex offender", which is probably of nominal significance at this stage of his life). Of course, this won't happen: he seems to believe that winning his court case (which I would consider probable) would rehabilitate his image, and that is possible to the extent that it did for O.J. Simpson. Which is to say, not at all.
I wish for you, my loyal reader, a happy, healthy, and reasonably (but not excessively) prosperous 2016!