Wow! It’s 2016. How did that happen so quickly? We were just recently worrying about being carried by the calendar into 2000 and whether our computers would continue to work. Well, here we are, 16 years later, amid all the promises of a brand new year. At the very least we know it will be interesting because this is a presidential election year, with a new administration since our current president will be termed out. Will the new incumbent’s party also be different? We Americans like a change of party in the White House regularly but not always. We will have to wait and see, meanwhile enduring the endless pontification, punditry and prognostication.
If the year will seem a little longer, in fact it will be. This is a leap year, with that extra day stuck onto the end of February, giving us one more day of winter. Why didn’t they put it onto the end of June, adding to summer? In any event, that gives us one more day to listen to our politicians before we go to the polls to vote. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the leap years and the presidential election years coincide.
We welcomed the first business day of the new year with one of those heart-stopping stock market plunges. The trip wire this time was the double whammy of projected further slowdown in China, which has the world’s second largest economy, and the combustion between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact that some 85 percent of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims are Sunni, there simmers an underlying rage periodically leaping into confrontation with the Shia. This complicates our diplomatic efforts since Saudi Arabia is technically an ally in the volatile Middle East.
On the lighter side, for escapism, we can generally look forward to some of the best movies from year’s end because their producers want them to be fresh in the minds of the judges for awards in the following quarter. This year the trend seems to be toward historical fiction that is more like documentaries. “Spotlight,” based on fact, is the story of the investigative efforts of the daily newspaper, The Boston Globe, to bring the tawdry tale of clerical pedophiles and their cover-up within the Catholic Church to the public. The filmmakers managed to make this movie riveting despite the lack of the usual boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-back girl in the narrative.
Another excellent movie based on recent history is “The Big Short.” Using some outrageous scenes to make its point, like a woman in a bubble bath drinking champagne and a stripper shimmering around a pole in a nightclub, the movie does a credible job of explaining the subprime mortgage crisis and how it almost took down the world economy. Again, this is not the usual romantic or violent action fare we are offered by Hollywood, and three cheers for the enlightenment which in turn enables ours.
Then there is of course “Star Wars,” with its record-breaking box office receipts. Nothing more to be said there, except that if you wish to be part of the national conversation, you will see it.
For true escapism, we have the long-awaited, much-anticipated return of “Downton Abbey” on television. Delightful for its attempt at historic accuracy and its engaging upstairs/downstairs characters, this mighty soap opera has succeeded in capturing the attention of the world. Why? Perhaps we wish to see how the wealthy lived in the Gilded Age. Or perhaps there is also the thread of historical fiction here, as we watch how events of 100 years ago changed the world and set us up for life in the 20th century. The historic period lived by these characters bridges the enormous shift from an agrarian world, 25 percent of which was dominated by the United Kingdom, to the industrial and perhaps more egalitarian existence that developed under the watch of the United States.
On a personal note, we will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Times Beacon Record newspapers, whose exact birthday is April 8. What a personal satisfaction to have been here for 40 years. As you might imagine, there will more to come on that subject in future columns.
So here we are, in the early days of 2016, wishing each other wonderful things like good health, lots of love, happiness and fun. Would that wishing might make it so. In any case, Happy New Year!