Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Old Order Changeth

The end of a year inevitably involves various  lists, as we look back over what took place and what that means for us and for our future. The best or worst movies, books, games, or whatever are proposed by critics or by fans, and the best--but especially the worst--news events are reviewed by the media.

2011 brought more than usually frequent and severe disasters, with the combination of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant catastrophe naturally being the closest to home in my case, not least because its effects are continuing and will be for a long time to come.

That closely followed the devastation in Christchurch, New Zealand, and was followed itself by hundreds of tornadoes in the United States, among them the one that wrecked Joplin, Missouri. Hurricane Irene wasn't as bad as it had been predicted to be, but it was bad enough to leave three million homes without power, and a repair bill in the billions of dollars. Then there were torrential rains and flooding around the world, with Thailand making the news in Japan especially, mostly because of the effect on Japanese manufacturing interests there. Both  flooding and drought plagued Africa, and floods in the Philippines wrought enormous destruction. Turkey, too, had a severe and deadly earthquake. That's not anywhere near an exhaustive list.

The casualty figures are mind-numbing, and it's unfortunately easy to lose sight of the fact that each among the many thousand lives lost was an individual, often with friends and family left behind, and with things left undone and dreams unrealized.

Then there were people whose lives were cut short by illness or accident, rather than by natural disaster.

There are lists of those celebrities who died during 2011, such as this  one, and even videos, such as this   one.

Among those individuals who passed away this year was Christopher Hitchens, a philosopher many--but not all--of whose opinions and attitudes toward life were much like my own. I strongly disagreed with him about champagne and lobster being among the "four most overrated things in life", for example, but strongly agreed with "cheap booze is a false economy", as well as with many of his views about politics, religion, and much else. I've always appreciated intelligent, witty iconoclasts; he was one of the best of them, and an articulate hedonist, as well.

As I get older, seeing these lists every year is just a little scary in the cases where I've outlived someone who passed away other than accidentally. I was 45 when Jerry Garcia died at 53 in 1995, for example, but Steve Jobs was five years younger than I am.

For me personally this hasn't really been a great year. I'm in good health (against all odds), what property I have is intact, and I don't seem to be in any immediate danger of setting off Geiger counters when I walk by them. On the other hand, the extra year of work I managed to negotiate  my erstwhile employer into (grudgingly) granting me ran out last spring after an unexpectedly early retirement, and I'm still without a steady job. That's one of the things that I'm hoping to rectify in the coming year, and the sooner, the better.

Here's hoping that the coming year is much better for all of you, and for me, too.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Boxing Day!

Happy Boxing Day to those (including my friends here in Japan) for whom it's December 26th when you see this. Merry Christmas to my friends and relatives for whom it's still December 25th. If any of my readers celebrate some other holiday around today, I wish you a happy holiday of your choice.

Boxing Day is an official national/public holiday--what some call a banking holiday because the banks are closed--in several countries, mostly the Commonwealth countries. The origin of the name is not enitrely clear; there are several theories that can be found with a bit of online research.

As Saint Stephen's Day it's celebrated as a public holiday in numerous countries as diverse as Austria, Catalonia, Germany, and Poland. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the day on December 27th, and their use of the Julian Calendar puts the day on January 9th of the Gregorian Calendar, which can be a little confusing, I suppose, but not really any more so than the Asian observation of New Year on different days depending on whether one uses the Grgorian or Lunar Calendar.

St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, and it's from him that I get the second of my two middle names, although it's spelled "Steven", with a "v" instead of a "ph", on my birth certificate. For the several people in my past who had believed me when I told them that my middle initials stand for "Extra Special", I have to confess that I was kidding: sadly, it's the much more prosaic "Edward Steven".

This seemed like a good day to resume posting on my blog. Among other things, I'll go into the reasons for the hiatus in a longish post at the end of the year. For now, I'm just letting you know that I'm back, and wishing you a Happy Boxing Day, and happy holidays of whatever sort you prefer. Cheers!