The Grand Dame of the Illiterati wrote a best-selling book. Well, okay, she didn't actually write it, but that's just the kind of Left Wing intellectualist criticism that she already expected you'd make. She's not conventional, y'know, so she has no patience for the inside-the-publishing-industry business-as-usual, what with all its non-populist rules like "if you put your name on the cover of a book, that means you wrote it." The people on Main Street don't care who wrote it; they only care who pulled her diesel-chugging tour bus up to their WalMart to sign it. So, you can just save all your snarky criticism and "trick" questions about it, because this rogue is not a quitter. She's a decisive leader, as she proved by resigning from her Governorship in Alaska. Nonreaders everywhere bought her book, which they won't read, as is their roguish way. The Cliff Notes version sums up Palin's Going Rogue in two words, both of which are numbers, 'cause that's mad unconventional: TWENTY. TWELVE.
11. United States elects 44th President. He's black.
January finally brought millions of Americans the change that they could believe in. After a loooooong campaign battle, President Barack Obama was sworn into office on the steps of a building once built by slaves. He was the very picture of the Statesman, delivering a stirring inaugural address that neither balked at all of the challenges before him nor relinquished his characteristic message of hope. So what if Chief Justice John Roberts screwed up the swearing-in a little bit... it's not like everybody wasn't happy to have Obama, right? It was a moving ceremony that I watched with my colleagues and students on a cold, snowy morning in Memphis. I will never forget where I was that day when I was, without comparison, the MOST proud to be an American.
Sigh. For many of us, this was the end of the post-election honeymoon phase. As one of his first acts in office, Obama's decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within the year was a sign of his decisive break with the Bush-era's utter disregard for human rights. But now that 2009 is almost over, it's looking more and more like that he won't make good on that promise. I suppose we should take some consolation in the fact that Obama hasn't let the issue completely disappear-- and it is true that he's had a lot on his plate this year-- but Gitmo is still open and operating. And it doesn't help his case that we still haven't seen those other torture photos that he blocked. That's NOT a change I can believe in. That's not even a change. For what it's worth, if you're looking for an issue to get behind, get behind this one. That place needs to close. I mean, yesterday. Sigh.
Nations across the globe were reminded this year that the flu does, in fact, kill. A new strain of the flu virus, first dubbed "swine flu" and then correctly called H1N1, seemed to target the most vulnerable of our populations, like children, the elderly, and those with immune deficiencies. The CDC was effective in motivating our federal government to take the threat of an actual pandemic seriously, spurring on a nation-wide vaccination program that has been, for the most part, very effective in keeping the virus contained. Wait a minute. What's that I just said? The FEDERAL government was EFFECTIVE in managing a HEALTH crisis? In distributing MILLIONS of doses of vaccines FREE OF CHARGE to at-risk populations? In managing the dissemination of ACCURATE INFORMATION about prevention and treatment? We must be a bunch of pinko commies. Might as well go ahead and pass major health-care-reform legislation now.
8. Republicans can't keep it in their pants.
The "family values" party took a couple of major blows to its reputation this year with the very public shenanigans-airings of Governor Mark Sanford and Senator John Ensign. Sen. Ensign's story was pretty boilerplate: had an affair, apologized to his wife, apologized (again) to his Republican colleagues at the G.O.P. Senate Luncheon (the very same venue used by Sen. Larry Craig and Sen. David Vitter for very similar apologies), and, oh yeah, leaked his breakup letter (which includes an account of what God thinks about the whole affair). I bet Governor Sanford wishes his story were as vanilla as Ensign's... though Sanford's emails to his mistress were also leaked, so they do have something in common. But there's nothing else "common" about Sanford's story. He disappeared from work for several days-- normally not that big of a deal, unless you're the Governor!-- and lied about his absence by claiming to be hiking the Appalachian Trail. Sanford failed to mention that what he meant by "hiking the Appalachian Trail" was "sleeping with my mistress in Argentina." Extra "family values" bonus points go to Sanford, who scheduled his tête-à-tête on FATHER'S DAY weekend. Somebody needs to tell the G.O.P. that their barn door is open. Seriously.
7. A Pirate's life
In April, the U.S. Navy rescued the Captain of the Maersk Alabama who had been captured and was being held captive by Somali pirates. The story of that rescue was straight out of an adventure novel, but the really interesting part was... well, the fact that there are REAL PIRATES! As we came to learn during the Maersk Alabama debacle, piracy off the shores of the Somali coast has been a real threat to international shipping and trade since the beginning of the Somali Civil War in the early 1990's. Many of the pirates are young boys, but they're well-armed and have been very effective in their pursuits. Allegedly, Somali pirates are largely supported and funded by the Somali diaspora, and they have a reputation for being fairly humane. Their modus operandi is usually to take over a ship, hold it and its crew hostage, and demand a ransom. Hostages are usually treated well and the ships and cargo are almost always turned over unharmed upon receipt of the ransom, which is why the pirates are generally successful in having their demands met. The Maersk Alabama hijacking didn't end well for the pirates, however, as U.S. Navy snipers killed three, and one of them (19-yr-old Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse) was brought back to New York to stand trial. But for a few days in 2009, the news made it feel like 1809.
6. Hello, Dalai
I particularly love it when our weird local news goes national. So it was when the Dalai Lama's visited Memphis to receive the National Civil Rights Museum's Freedom Award in September. Memphis Mayor Pro Tem (the "Pro Tem" part is a whole other story) Myron Lowery greeted His Holiness by saying: "You say you've got a sense of humor. I've always wanted to say, 'Hello, Dalai'." Priceless. Then, as if that weren't enough, Mayor Lowery added "Here we also have a tradition," and proceeded to show the Lama how to fist-bump (pictured here). Even more priceless. You can watch the whole exchange here. Of course, Memphians were totally embarrassed, convinced that Mayor Lowery's greeting painted our fair city as provincial and backwards... but not me. I thought this was awesome. And, for the record, the Dalai Lama thought it was awesome, too.
5. People with crappy taste in music freak out about nothing.
Taylor Swift won the Best Female Video award at MTV's Video Music Awards show this year for her video "You Belong With Me." While Swift was onstage to accept the award, Kanye West came up, took the microphone from her, and declared that Beyonce's video "Single Ladies" was "the best video of ALL TIME." (The exchange looked like this.) Then, everyone freaked out, calling Kanye West an incorrigible bully, Taylor Swift a poor and vulnerable victim. So, let me set the record straight. First, Taylor Swift's song and video was FAR INFERIOR to Beyonce's, so at the very least Kanye West should be credited with speaking the truth. Second, Taylor Swift is not 5 years old, she wasn't actually harmed in any way whatsoever, and if she doesn't expect wild and crazy things to happen at the VMA's, then she knows absolutely nothing about the industry she is so regrettably dominating at the moment. Third, yes, okay, Kanye was being a little bit of a grandstander and a lot of an ass, but come on, that's what he does. (And nobody was complaining about his talents as a parrhesiastes when he mouthed-off about George W. Bush not caring about black people.) And finally... seriously, WHO CARES? With all of the other things going on in the country this year, I can't believe that this is the event that ignited the flames of people's moral ire. People, really, step back a moment and realize that this is about a MUSIC VIDEO AWARD. And while you're at it, people, go try to recalibrate your musical sensibilities, because Taylor. Swift. Sucks. I'm happy for you that you found some meaningless drivel to occupy you for a few weeks, and I'ma let you finish with your outrage and all, but this is the stupidest story of all time. OF ALL TIME!
And now we're getting down to it, folks. My top 3 stories of 2009. Drumroll, please...
3. Beer Summit
Okay, so let's imagine you're the first black President of the United States and you are forced to address the abiding issue of racial tension in your country. Let's imagine that the event that brought this to the fore is the arrest of a prominent black intellectual (let's say it's somebody like Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.), who is apprehended on the suspicion that he is breaking into his own home no less. Let's also imagine that the arresting officer (say he's a Bostonian named James Crowley) was white and was accused of racial profiling. But just to spice it up a bit, let's imagine that said prominent black intellectual was a bit irascible and more than a bit non-cooperative with said white arresting officer, making judgment about the validity of the arrest more suspect. What to do? Well, if you're our eminently reasonable Commander-in-Chief, you say to yourself: "You know what we need to do here? We need to sit down, have a beer, and work this out. I'm sure it's all just a misunderstanding." What's the only thing that could make this story better? Why, it's the media's dubbing the event a "Beer Summit." Now, I was one of the first to complain, during the election season, of the endless dribble about judging our Presidential candidates on the basis of "who I'd like to have a beer with"... but, I'll admit, the Beer Summit between Obama, Gates, Crowley and Biden definitely made me reconsider the merits of that criterion. Let's not make a federal case out of this, people. Let's work it out like grown men. Men who drink beer. Too bad Taylor Swift's not old enough to avail herself of the same diplomatic resources.
Michael, we never knew you. It's really hard to underestimate what an enormous impact Michael Jackson's death had, and in so many different arenas. Of course, he was a musical legend, and we are all poorer for losing whatever future contributions he may have made to song and dance. But he was also a kind of limit-case by which to measure our tolerance for the unorthodox when it comes to race, to gender, to sexuality, to normality. His was a life that was so very enviable, and so very not so, at one and the same time. For peope of my generation, as for people older and (hopefully) younger, Michael Jackson was an integral part of growing up. His will always be the soundtrack of so many events in my life. When he died, I posted my reflections on him on this blog under the title "Human, All Too Human" -- and I still think that's the best descriptor for him. I'm sure that everyone says this of the icons and idols of their time, but I don't think there will ever be another Michael Jackson. Not even close.
This was an eventful year, no doubt, but I have absolutely no reservations about placing teabaggers at the top of the list for 2009. Since this is also the end of the decade, I might even venture to give the teabaggers the top spot for the millenium so far. I mean, seriously, this story developed so quickly, and in such an magnificently awesome way, that it's hard for me to really believe that it was real. It went like this: in an attempt to resuscitate the revolutionary spirit of Bostonians circa 1773, FOXNews and the Republican Party called on their constituents to organize April 15th "Tea Parties" to protest President Obama's tax policies. They asked supporters to mail in tea bags to the White House as symbols of their libertarian disgust, motivating the adoption of slogans like "Tea Bag Obama" and "Tea Bag Liberal Democrats Before They Tea Bag You." What's the problem with that? Complete social retardation. I would like to keep this blog family-friendly (unlike G.O.P. teabaggers), so I won't spell out here the other not-obscure-at-all meaning of "teabagging." Rachel Maddow and crew had a heyday with this story, calling out the conservative rallies for their absolute insani-tea, but FOXNews just kept on keeping on with the story. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in the meeting where this idea was vetted! I mean, I'm sure the G.O.P. interns are all into their promise rings and their abstinence... but surely, SURELY, at least ONE of them had an inkling of the precipice over which they were about to mindlessly fling themselves. Or, maybe somebody just dropped the ball on this one. (Pun intended.) Either way, it seems as if the endless ridicule from the Left didn't faze teabaggers a bit, as the teabagging hits just keep on coming. (Again, pun intended.) But seriously, this is about policy, and the teabaggers have a mouthful of complaints for Obama (oh, I can't be stopped!) and they're not going to just take this ridicule lying down (it's too easy!), which is totally gay (it's like shooting fish in a barrel!)...So, there it is. Another year bites the dust.