On Thanksgiving Day, it seems appropriate for me to give some thanks.
In his last episode of the season for his show "Last Week Tonight", the comedian and social commentator John Oliver dedicated his last segment to a condemnation of the year 2016. It included a series of people, famous and not, directing profane insults toward 2016.
Now, let me say first that I am a John Oliver fan. There are few that can write and deliver better-aimed streams of insults toward the deserving than he, and I do appreciate his sense of humor. I paid good money to see him ring in this new year in a Chicago theater. I do want to differ with him in his characterization of the current year, though.
Yes, this is what they refer to as an "Election Year", in the US anyway, and this year's model was a disappointment--worse, a massive error of historic proportions, an epic failure, a sin against history and against all of humanity. So, yeah, bad outcome, but certainly an entertaining spectacle, a three-ring circus (the two party primary contests, and the general election) generally worth the price of admission--a price that seems to have been entirely charged for future payment.
It was also a Leap Year--love that extra day!--and a year of the summer Olympiad. Oliver put down the Rio Olympics in his excoriation of the year, but I disagree: the coverage here in the US may have been the usual narrow-cast, parochial, patriotic commercialized rot, but the competition itself was outstanding, and the hosts did not embarrass themselves at all. Not even when Ryan Lochte chose to slander them to try to excuse his juvenile hijinks.
A few more positives from sport: Chicago and Cleveland each had major sports triumphs to celebrate: the Cubs' first World Series victory in 108 years, and Cleveland's first major sports championship in any sport in something like 50. Both championships were exciting comebacks by the winning team after coming back from 3-1 behind in full, seven-game series ending in a thrilling finale. There was also one of the most dramatic finishes in NCAA basketball history, won by Villanova with a buzzer-beating three-point shot (by Kris Jenkins).
Some wonderful people passed on from this life in 2016, particularly in music and arts--we have chronicled a few (some additional ones noted below); however, we have their contributions to our civilization which survive them. "Ars longa, vita brevis," that quote, attributed to Hippocrates, is appropriate.
Finally, I will point out that the year 2016 should be one entirely governed (in the US) by President Barack Obama. This will surely be the last year we will be able to say that. He has been one of the best; we will rarely, if ever, see his like in the office again. It may well be that we--even the deluded Trump voters, and the skeptic and constant complainer John Oliver--will all look back at 2016 as one of the good years.
Some Exits, Hasty and Not
I love you in a place where there's no space or time
I love you for my life
You're a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song to you
--Leon Russell "A Song For You"
A bit of a rush for the exit around Election Day--I'm sure it's just a coincidence:
Leon Russell (died Nov. 13) was a musician with a unique talent and character, most famously one of the late '60's touring rock bunch fronted by Joe Cocker called Mad Dogs and Englishmen. He was in the first group, being from Oklahoma originally. A songwriter with a generous spirit, he played piano and sang with a charming drawl. His was the second major rock concert I ever saw (after Steppenwolf, in 1970).
Leonard Cohen (Nov. 7)-- A particularly gifted songwriter, his performances often disguised his limited vocal ability with beautiful arrangements and sidepeople. Many of his songs were best performed by others, but he ranks with Dylan and a few others for the quality of his lyrics in the field of "popular" music.
Pete Burns (Oct. 23) -- Age 57, he was the writer and creator of the 1984 new wave/disco hit
"You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)", with a group called Dead or Alive. There have been many remakes.
Mose Allison (Nov. 15) - Speaking of many remakes, there are few songs that have been covered more than Allison's "Parchman Farm", a classic rock favorite referring to the Mississippi penitentiary near his hometown.
Gwen Ifill (Nov. 14) - This spectacularly good-natured, fair-minded journalist's death came as a complete surprise to me. She hosted "Washington Week" for many years and PBS' high-quality "News Hour" for a recent few. A great loss to the field, and to us who depend upon journalism for information.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Oct. 13) - On the other extreme, the last "King of Siam" was known to be dying for a decade or more. He reached age 88 and served for 70 years, the longest in the history of Thai kings. The reverence the Thai people had for him was extraordinary--though mandated by law, it was more than that.
Tom Hayden (Oct. 23) - one of the original '60's radicals, he was a founder of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in the early '60's, then one of the defendants in the so-called Chicago 7 trial after the 1968 convention and police riot (charged with inciting violence, but acquitted)). In his later life he was married to Jane Fonda (for 18 years--a record?), and made a couple of bids at elective office.
Janet Reno (Nov. 7) - She was the Attorney General for two full terms under Bill Clinton;. She is remembered for ordering the siege on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, which turned out rather badly. She was responsible for the Federal prosecutions of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. This was domestic terrorism before Al Qaeda's heyday.