2012 as the best year there ever was

The British periodical The Spectator argues that 2012 was the best year ever:

It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.

To listen to politicians is to be given the opposite impression — of a dangerous, cruel world where things are bad and getting worse. This, in a way, is the politicians’ job: to highlight problems and to try their best to offer solutions. But the great advances of mankind come about not from statesmen, but from ordinary people. Governments across the world appear stuck in what Michael Lind, on page 30, describes as an era of ‘turboparalysis’ — all motion, no progress. But outside government, progress has been nothing short of spectacular.

Take global poverty. In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015. It emerged this year that the target was met in 2008. Yet the achievement did not merit an official announcement, presumably because it was not achieved by any government scheme but by the pace of global capitalism. Buying cheap plastic toys made in China really is helping to make poverty history. And global inequality? This, too, is lower now than any point in modern times. Globalisation means the world’s not just getting richer, but fairer too.

The doom-mongers will tell you that we cannot sustain worldwide economic growth without ruining our environment. But while the rich world’s economies grew by 6 per cent over the last seven years, fossil fuel consumption in those countries fell by 4 per cent. This remarkable (and, again, unreported) achievement has nothing to do with green taxes or wind farms. It is down to consumer demand for more efficient cars and factories.

And what about the concerns that the oil would run out? Ministers have spent years thinking of improbable new power sources. As it turns out, engineers in America have found new ways of mining fossil fuel. The amazing breakthroughs in ‘fracking’ technology mean that, in spite of the world’s escalating population — from one billion to seven billion over the last two centuries — we live in an age of energy abundance.

Advances in medicine and technology mean that people across the world are living longer. The average life expectancy in Africa reached 55 this year. Ten years ago, it was 50. The number of people dying from Aids has been in decline for the last eight years. Deaths from malaria have fallen by a fifth in half a decade.

Nature can still wreak havoc. The storms which lashed America’s East Coast in October proved that. But the speed of New York City’s recovery shows a no-less-spectacular resilience. Man cannot control the weather, but as countries grow richer, they can better guard against devastation. The average windstorm kills about 2,000 in Bangladesh but fewer than 20 in America. It’s not that America’s storms are mild; but that it has the money to cope. As developing countries become richer, we can expect the death toll from natural disasters to diminish — and the same UN extrapolations that predict such threatening sea-level rises for Bangladesh also say that, in two or three generations’ time, it will be as rich as Britain.

War has historically been humanity’s biggest killer. But in most of the world today, a generation is growing up that knows little of it. The Peace Research Institute in Oslo says there have been fewer war deaths in the last decade than any time in the last century. Whether we are living through an anomalous period of peace, or whether the risk of nuclear apocalypse has proved an effective deterrent, mankind seems no longer to be its own worst enemy. We must bear in mind that things can fall apart, and quickly. Germany was perhaps the most civilised nation in the world in the 1920s. For now, though, it is worth remembering that, in relative terms, we have peace in our time.  . . .

Fifty years ago, the world was breathing a sigh of relief after the Cuban missile crisis. Young couples would discuss whether it was responsible to have children when the future seemed so dark. But now, as we celebrate the arrival of Light into the world, it’s worth remembering that, in spite of all our problems, the forces of peace, progress and prosperity are prevailing.

via Why 2012 was the best year ever » The Spectator.

Is this channeling Pollyanna, or is there a valid point here?  Might every age, in the words of Dickens, be both and at the same time “the best of times and the worst of times”?

Old Calendar Protestants

Eastern Orthodox folks celebrate Christmas on a different day than we Western Christians do.  They don’t go along with the change in the calendar that was orchestrated by Pope Gregory XIII back in 1582 in order to re-align our calendar with the motions of the solar system.  The so-called Gregorian calendar was accepted throughout the European-heritage nations by 1752.  But the Eastern nations remained under the old Julian calendar.

What I didn’t know is that some Protestants also kept using the Julian calendar.  They could be found in Appalachia as late as the 20th century.  From the Kairos Quarterly, a publication of an Orthodox monastery in West Virginia, via Trystan Bloom at First Thoughts:

As a Russian Orthodox monastery which observes the Julian, or “old”, calendar, we were surprised to learn about Appalachian “Old Christmas”, which is a most solemn and reverent time for families living in the mountains. The initial change-over from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar by the British Empire and the American colonies in 1752 caused a difference of eleven days. Thus, the date of “new” Christmas on December 25th was eleven days ahead of “old” Christmas, which fell (at that time) on January 5th. Some Protestants refused to honor the new calendar because it was decreed by the Pope, so their celebration of Christmas remained on the Julian calendar – which now falls on January 7. In the Appalachian Mountains, the celebration of Old Christmas remained until about World War I. Though they might also observe ‘new’ Christmas on December 25th, the festivities were very different. December 25th was marked with revelry and parties and visiting, but January 6th was primarily a reverent family observance.

via Old Calendarists in Appalachia » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

I’m fascinated by such living relics of past history.  One of these days I intend to get on a boat and travel to Tangier Island here in Virginia in the Chesapeake Bay.  This island was settled by British colonists in 1686, and the people have been so isolated that to this day they still speak the English dialect of that day.  Which means they talk pretty much the way Shakespeare did.

The presidential election was held yesterday

The Electoral College cast its ballots on Monday.  The results won’t be official, though, until Congress counts the vote on January 6.

Electoral college set to vote on President Obama’s reelection – The Washington Post.

Is this an anachronism or wisdom from our nation’s Founders?  Could the process for choosing a president be improved?  What if state legislatures simply chose the electors from each state, cutting the public out of it, as was apparently the original intention?  Would this result in a de-politicized chief executive, and might this be a good thing?

How was the Hobbit?

On another, appropriately escapist note, who has seen the Hobbit last weekend?  We plan to take it in later this week in a lull between family Christmas visits.  I’ve heard of people who loved it greatly, who were disappointed, and who were made nauseous by the twice-as-fast photography and rate of projection.  (One can see it without that effect, in the 2-D version.)  I’d like to hear what you thought of it (including your reaction to the special photography in the 3-D version).

The history of school shootings

The London Daily Mail has published a grim list of other American school shootings, in addition to the one in Connecticut, whose 27 deaths made it the second worse of all time.

1. Virginia Tech – 32 dead plus the shooter, 16 April 2007, Blacksburg, Virginia

Student Seung Hui Cho, 23, killed two stuidents in a dorm and then went through building of classrooms armed with two handguns, shooting at random before killing himself.

2. University of Texas – 16 dead plus shooter, 1 August 1966, Austin, Texas

Former Marine sniper Charles Whitman, 25, armed with an arsenal of weapons shot victims from the observation deck of the campus tower.

3. Columbine High School – 13 dead plus two shooters, 20 April 1999, Littleton, Colorado

Students Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, opened fire outside the school killing students and one teacher before shooting themselves in the library.

4. Red Lake High School – 9 dead plus shooter, 21 March 2005, Red Lake, Minnesota

Jeffrey Weise, 17, goes on a shooting spree at Red Lake High School killing nine people, including his grandfather, before shooting himself.

5. University of Iowa – five dead plus shooter, 1 November 1991, University of Iowa

Gang Lu, 27, a graduate student from China killed five with a .38-caliber revolver. He was apparently angry because his doctoral dissertation had not been nominated for an academic award.

6. Amish schoolhouse massacre – six dead plus shooter, 2 October 2, 2006, Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania

Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, executes five girls aged 7 to 13 before killing himself in a small Amish schoolhouse

7. Jonesboro, Arkansas – five dead, 24 March 1998, Jonesboro, Arkansas

Mitchell Johnson, 10, and Andrew Golden, 8, took seven guns to school and pulled the fire alarm and shot students as they headed for the exits. Four died plus a teacher. The pair were sent to a juvenile detention center and released in 2005.

8. Cleveland Elementary School – five dead plus shooter, 17 January 1989, in Stockton, California

Patrick Edward Purdy entered a schoolyard and opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle at Cleveland Elementary School. Five children died and 30 others were wounded including one teacher. He then shot himself.

9. University of Arizona – three dead plus shooter, 28 October 2002, University of Arizona

Robert Flores, 40, a nursing student shot an instructor in her office before entering a classroom and killing two more teachers before committing suicide.

10. Kent State University – four dead, 4 May 1970, Kent State University in Ohio

National Guard troops killed four students who took part in anti-war protests on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio.

via Adam Lanza: How classmates remember the ‘genius’ who turned heartless killer | Mail Online.

The shooter

The London Daily Mail has published a pretty extensive profile of Adam Lanza, who killed the 7 adults and 20 elementary school children in Newton, Connecticut.  He was a loner Goth from a a very affluent family, split by divorce, which seems to have pushed the already troubled 20-year-old over the edge.   His abandoned mother turned into a survivalist.  He took the guns from her and made her his first victim.  See  Adam Lanza: How classmates remember the ‘genius’ who turned heartless killer | Mail Online.


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