Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 - The Year in Review


After a long year of blogging I find myself facing the “year in review” post. Fortunately—though it may not have seemed like it—I’m well positioned for this activity, as throughout the year I’ve based my blog posts on the most important current events. Topics that must have seemed completely random to you will now, with the benefit of perspective, prove to be the most timely and pressing issues of the day. In this post I’ll review the most important stories of the year and tie them in to the forty-two posts I’ve piled up since I started in February. For the more frivolous reader, I’ll comment on the most salient entertainment news of ’09 as well.


The big news story from this month, of course, is the collision of a US satellite with a Russian one over Siberia. The exploding satellites created a huge amount of debris, raising concerns about how to dispose of decommissioned satellites. Who knew that the answer lay in my first blog post, Wrecking the Car? All the American and Russian governments have to do is offer HOT CASH MONEY for grossly-polluting, washed-up satellites, and people will bring them in to be crushed for scrap.


As everybody well remembers, this was the month during which the International Criminal Court issued a groundbreaking arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for his role in the ongoing violence in Darfur. Okay … admit it. You’d kind of forgotten about this. Or maybe you weren’t totally aware of it. Hey, that’s okay. We all have our own problems. For me, March was a trying time, between my arduous indoor training and a painful and mojo-challenging vasectomy. Fortunately, while al-Bashir was successfully avoiding arrest, I too sneaked away and enjoyed a nice mud bath.

In entertainment news, the animated kids thriller “Monsters vs. Aliens” hit the theaters. Had I not neglected to blog about it, I’d have said it’s a highly entertaining movie with very good animation. I might have even commented on how grateful I am that these creators of kids’ movies always throw in some stuff to keep the grown-ups entertained. In this case it wasn’t just inside, adult-themed jokes that sustained me, but the fact that the main character, Ginormica (a giant woman) is actually kind of hot. Just sayin’.


The big story here was the acknowledgement by the World Health Organization that the swine flu showed the potential for becoming a global pandemic. (Trivia question: what’s the difference between “pandemic” and “epidemic”? Answer: very little. Like the difference between “swine,” “pig,” and “hog,” the difference is largely connotative. I chose “pandemic” here because it has a satisfying whiff of “pandemonium” about it.)

Swine flu news notwithstanding, I pushed my own immune system to the limit, camping in arctic conditions (well, the California arctic-lite version, anyway) and, ignoring both my better judgment and the advice of Joe Biden (who in turn perhaps spoke bluntly despite his own better judgment) and traveled by air. I also mixed stress with pathogens by waiting until the last possible moment to file my taxes, sharing the air at the big post office in Oakland with all the other stressed-out procrastinators.

In entertainment news, the British musical artist Lady Sovereign put out her second full-length album, “Jigsaw.” If I knew anything about music and chose to blog about it, I’d have written a witty and insightful post about how this isn’t as good as her previous album, “Public Warning,” but is still mostly highly listenable. Like Radiohead, she is very good when she’s good, and unlistenable when she’s not. Check out “So Human” and “I Got You Dancing” on MP3.


I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing about the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War, largely attributed to the death of anti-government leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Thus, I won’t dwell on it other than to draw your attention to my response to the news at the time, which (in light of all the blatant commentaries littering the blogosphere) I chose to make in the form of a subtle allegory: my review of the 1951 children’s book Cowboy Sam. Obviously, my exposé of the book’s hero as an ultimately insecure and domineering alpha male made veiled reference to Velupillai and others of his kind, and explored the ways in which such figures perpetuate their power. If my critics could have gotten the blog’s Comment feature to work, they’d doubtless have said my analogy was utterly transparent and facile, and I guess they’re right.

May was a big month for the entertainment industry, with two significant rebirths. The first was the new movie version of “Star Trek,” which gave the characters from the original show a welcome retread while getting back to the classic good looks of the original Enterprise. The movie creators even reused a fair bit of the plot of an episode from the TV show, “Balance of Terror,” in which the Enterprise battles a Romulan warship. (They also threw in a bunch of time-travel stuff that was sillier than anything the original series ever had, including the flying fried eggs that attacked people.) The warship in the movie is pretty stupid looking, bringing to mind one of those over-crispy weird fried things you order by accident in a Dim Sum restaurant, but in black. Why couldn’t they have done a very minor makeover on the original Romulan Bird of Prey? On the plus side (and speaking of alpha males), the movie gives us the testosterone-fueled version of male closure with Kirk destroying the enemy ship in the end, instead of letting the Romulan leader self-destruct it. Rock on!

The second entertainment rebirth in May was that of Eminem, resurfacing after a four-year battle with drugs and alcohol. As I’ve said, I’m no music critic, but I’ll give you my opinion of his new album, “Relapse.” It isn’t as consistently solid as his other stuff, and his ongoing commitment to shocking and appalling us makes some of the songs an extended wince for me. (It can’t be easy to continue to shock his listeners, since he’s raised the bar as he’s gone along.) But certain tracks really stand out. The first skit, “Dr. West,” is easily the best skit he’s ever done: whimsical and almost cheerful at first, it escalates into the creepiest thing on the album. And the song “Déjà vu” is brilliant: a dark, moving portrait of addiction. Along with this track, “Insane,” “We Made You,” and “Old Time’s Sake” are good for indoor workouts on the bike trainer.


The big news here, of course, was the violent protest in Iran over the presumably fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadenijad. Six months later, it’s still apparent that the protest did no good, as he is still in power. My frustration with the unassailability of power and authority also took a hit in June, when (as far as I know) not one living human laid eyes on my impassioned indictment of two esteemed academics who are partially responsible for the repetitive stress injuries that afflict hundreds of thousands of American workers, at a cost of over $20 billion a year in workers’ compensation. These academics worked hard to discredit the Dvorak keyboard layout, for no other reason than they’re mean and stupid. (I do a better job making my case in the full blog post.)

In June there was also, of course, the big entertainment news of Michael Jackson’s death. If it wasn’t so sad, I’d have been amused by the spectacle of the media lamenting and celebrating him, as though they’d loved him all along—never mind that same media spent the last twenty years viciously and gleefully attacking his character, his style, his crazy skin, etc. I happened to catch part of the televised memorial (in an airport lounge) and heard Brooke Shields’ speech. She rapturously described how he gave us “countless” hit songs. Not to be a jerk or anything, but this is the kind of hyperbole I get so tired of. Certainly Michael Jackson gave us many hits—but countless? There is a finite number of hits. Somebody could easily count them. Somebody surely already has.


Even those who are unaware that the UN General Assembly has declared 2009 the International Year of Astronomy would be hard put to subdue their excitement at the longest solar eclipse of the century (on July 22). It’s noteworthy, I think, that this was one of the first events that has brought honor to the 21st century, since we’ve only just gotten far enough into it for this distinction to mean anything. In like fashion, June saw me pass a watershed threshold (say that three times fast). If a half-century means anything, you can ooh and aaah at this: I’ve entered my fifth decade of life. I took the occasion, around my fortieth birthday, to blog about my growing feeling that I’m well along the path of becoming a white dwarf.

Anybody in his forties needs to keep a sense of humor, so it’s a good thing June saw one of the funniest new movies I’ve seen in many years: “Funny People.” It features Adam Sandler, whom I’m not normally that fond of (though I liked him in “Punch Drunk Love.”) Here he plays a famous comedian who is a) not a nice person at all, b) depressed, and c) dying. If that sounds dark, believe me—it is. But I think often the best humor comes from darkness. This movie is very serious and also seriously funny. There’s even a cameo from Sarah Silverman that is, I think, the best physical comedy she’s ever done. If you like this blog, I think you’ll love the movie. And if you don’t like this blog, what the hell are you doing here, over 1,500 words into a post that looks to be only 7/12 done? For god’s sake, go do a Soduku or eat a hot pocket or read a magazine sidebar or something.


August 4th and 5th saw Americans glued to their TVs for constant updates on the trip Bill Clinton took to North Korea to negotiate the release of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who were arrested last March and sentenced to twelve years of hard labor for illegally crossing the border from China. The success of this trip made my family rest easier on the cusp of crossing several borders to land in London for a long vacation. Far from being arrested, we—and our ailing dollar—were welcomed in the UK, where we practiced our English, enjoyed fine food, heard gruesome tales from government employees, toured the place where Bill Clinton didn't inhale, and watched Ewoks being slaughtered in the park. (I won’t refer to my UK posts as “hard labor” if you don’t.)

On the entertainment front, the movie “Julie & Julia” hit the theaters. It was basically a remake of “Fight Club.” Okay, it wasn’t anything of the kind. You can call me a wuss for saying this, but I liked the movie. As a kid I always enjoyed watching Julia Child’s cooking show with my mom, and that famous actress whose name escapes me did a good job player her in the movie. I even liked the other half of the story, about a blogger named Julie who gets discovered and becomes a famous writer. I know I'm not as prolific blogger as she has been, but I do dream of, uh ... learning how to prepare a standing rib roast.


The big news this month, of course, was about congressman Joe Wilson interrupting President Obama during a joint session by yelling, “You lie!” This caused a huge stir, generating much attention and rehashing and bickering, which I was frankly jealous of. I generated very little buzz when I said pretty much the same thing, in a blog post, to a quasi-fellow quasi-journalist about his glib but ultimately false argument in favor of antisocial bike mechanics.


We’re of course all still aflutter about President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize in October. Naturally, he had to make a special apology for being honored in this fashion. “It’s really unfair voting,” he acknowledged. “It’s who you know.” As you doubtless recall, this set off a bitter partisan debate about whether “it’s who you know” or “it’s whom you know” is the correct grammar. Fringe groups on the right acknowledge that Obama’s pronoun was correct, and that using a correct pronoun was just the sort of elitist behavior we can do without in our country’s leader. Fringe groups on the left maintain that by deliberately using bad grammar, Obama stooped to populist pressure from the NASCAR set. Fortunately, other big news eclipsed the controversy before the moniker “Grammargate” really took hold.

The other news I’m alluding to, of course, was the other famous prize given out in October, to the first-ever winner of the albertnet Amateur Product Review competition. In a bold and stylish move, winner John Lynch of Chapel Hill, North Carolina was unabashedly celebratory in victory. Meanwhile, I found myself walking a thin line with this contest because the FTC, also in October, announced new rules targeted at bloggers who use false claims and testimonies to peddle products. Fortunately, my reviews were a) fake and b) wholly defamatory, so no charges have been filed against me.


The news that rocked the world this month was the televised speech in which Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said, “There are lots of fat people [in this country],” and urged them to lose weight. His political tact in not mentioning all the overweight Americans is either admirable or irresponsible, depending on your point of view. Taking a page from Chavez’s playbook, I blogged in November about my own struggles with dieting, while paying tribute to the cuisine of Venezuela’s neighbors to the north.

In related entertainment news: Hollywood has long been criticized for unrealistic, idealistic portrayals of the human body; in November the director Wes Anderson brought that aesthetic to puppets with his film “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” His foxes are as lithe and willowy as bike racers. The movie is not only an enjoyable spectacle, but its plot is (I think) an improvement over Roald Dahl’s original story. More importantly, my kids loved this movie, too. (The only negative that comes to mind is something my wife pointed out: that George Clooney’s voice for Mr. Fox is a bit too suave. I was reminded of Cloony's character in “Oceans 13,” to the extent that he almost made this movie into “Oceans 14: Vulpes Edition.” But still, it's well worth watching.)


Everybody knows that nothing happens in December. The last big U.S. news story for this month was in 1941. All America ever does during December these days is eat and shop, thus the only “news” item each year is whether or not we had a successful retail period. This year, sales were up 3.6% according to MasterCard, and many see this as a favorable sign that the economy is improving. I chalk it up to retailers bending over backwards for us, practically giving stuff away. Having shopped in London, I have new appreciation for the American retail experience—so much so that I dedicated my Holiday Newsletter post to that topic. USA #1 Let’s Roll!

Thank you

Thank you for visiting albertnet, and for following this blog (if not all year, at least for this post). And if you’re not actually reading this, why am I typing it? Or to put it another way, if a tree blogs in the forest, does anybody care?

1 comment:

  1. If it helps, I'm reading, and enjoying. I don't care for Sudoku.