Wednesday, December 30, 2020

What Happened in 2020?

As you know, unless you're reading this sometime in the future, and are too young to have experienced 2020, this has been quite a year. It's not so much that there have been a lot of big events, or some world changing event, as that there has been a constant bombardment of events, month after month, ranging  from big, life-changing, society-changing, and world changing. Each new event has had us asking "Seriously? There's  more?" So, I've decided to compile a list of all the happenings of 2020.

For me, personally, 2020 started out as a full year of events, within the first three months, even before quarantine. A couple of people who were influential in my life passed away. I started to go into detail about that, and realized it was a lot heavier than I intended this blog post to be. My wife's alma mater, which has operated for over a century, announced that it was closing. And, the store where my wife used to work also announced it was closing. I was about to go on to Facebook and announce, "I've already had a whole year's worth within the first three months of 2020", when this happened:

The Pandemic:
Like a lot of people, having seen media hype over Bird-Flu, SARS, Swine Flu, Ebola, ect., I figured Covid to be just another hyped-up pandemic. A lot of the info we were given of what to expect from the virus was based on the behaviors of the flu and cold viruses. I remember going to the store and joking about coughing, and calling out "damn Corona Virus!" Then, laughing with the cashiers about all the people buying out the hand-sanitizer and toilet paper.

Then, Friday the 13th came. All day long, I heard about businesses that were closing down. I thought it was a good call. Minimize the spread, and we'd forget about the Corona Virus in no time. Then, towards the end of the day, the news came that Disney theme parks had shut down. That was the moment I realized that this was the real deal. A week later, I went to the store wearing a mask and gloves, and found it funny that just a week prior, I had been joking about the virus.

Lock Down:
States all over the US began to issue lock downs. Employees were sent to work from home. Others were laid off. A growing list of businesses began to close their doors for good. Social distancing became a household word. Large gatherings were cancelled, and shortly after, small gatherings were cancelled. Zoom became a well known software. Somehow, the virus became political, and armed right-wingers and conspiracy theorists, the line between which was beginning to blur, started to protest, and cough in cop's faces.

I continued to work from the office for the first two months. The building was near empty and had a post-apocalyptic feel. Then, after two months, I was sent home to collect unemployment. Not long after, mandates required people to wear masks in public places. Right wingers continued to protest.

All kinds of hopeful videos and messages went out, describing the positive changes that could come from people staying home with their families for months. But, just when we were thinking that 2020 was a crazy year because of the pandemic, things kept happening.

Murder Hornets:
During this time, swarms of giant hornets from Japan, aka, "murder hornets" began to plague the US. The stings of these hornets were enough to injure a human, but the worst part, was that they would target and kill entire hives of honey bees. Amidst the surreal seeming nature of quarantine, murder hornets seemed to be the logical next step of apocalyptic plagues. But, mysteriously, all the murder hornets vanished and were never heard from again.

World Wide Protests:
After a couple weeks of being home, a black man named George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. This was the last straw in a long line of police brutality against black people, and that line would continue to grow within the month. News of the pandemic became dwarfed for a short time in the midst of news of protests and riots. Like the virus, this too became political, with some people preferring to look at the rioters and rant about property destruction, while others preferred to look at the growing number of protestors gathering around the world in support of black lives. It was surreal to see crowds of protestors masked up for the pandemic.

For a lot of  white people who had been taught their whole lives that racism was a thing of the past which had been fixed, it was a wake-up call.

Police Brutality:
As protests grew, police brutality became transparent. Peaceful protestors were teargassed and shot with baton rounds, aka "rubber bullets" on a daily basis. Crowds of people were run over by police vehicles, and maced or beaten while minding their own business. People not partaking in the protests were attacked by police while trying to go home for the day. The same right wingers who had previously been partaking in armed protests and coughing in police officer's faces, were now condemning the protestors and lauding the police.

During this time, sitting president, Trump, had protestors beaten back and tear gassed to clear a path so that he could walk to a chapel for a photo-op.

Capital Hill Autonomous Zone:
Four blocks of Seattle, nicknamed Chaz, and later, Chop, were taken over and occupied by protestors, creating a police free district.

Commercial Space Flight Ignored:
One thing that was intended to be one of the biggest stories of the year, was the launch of the first ever commercial space flight. It happened. Nobody cared.

Olympics Cancelled:
The 2020 Summer Olympics were cancelled. Nobody noticed.

China Floods:
During the Summer, 12 provinces in China were under water. This news was often lost in the US, do to us dealing with our own issues, but my Vietnamese father in law, who I live with, was glued to this news, watching videos and reports of the flooding all day for three months.

Federal Troops Occupy Cities:
In July, sitting president, Trump, sent federal troops to occupy major cities, starting with Portland, to combat militant Antifa terrorists who had taken over. Except...  militant Antifa terrorists hadn't taken over. Portlanders, including myself and my wife, could see for our own eyes that aside from a heavily graffitied courthouse, the city was fine, and that the president was boldfacedly lying. That is, until the federal officers arrived. Federal officers abducted people from off the streets for interrogation all over Portland. Nightly demonstrations grew from a few hundred to thousands, in order to counter the Feds. Tensions were exacerbated, and Downtown was filled with teargas on a daily basis. Even the Federal Officers began to realize that their presence was only escalating things. Eventually, Governor Kate Brown struck a deal to get the officers out of Portland, but by then, the damage was done. Incidents which were previously centered around the courthouse, had spread.

Armed White Supremacists:
White supremacist groups, such as the Proudboys, began to show up, armed, to counter protestors, escalating violence in the city. Prior to this, the protests had gone without a single gun shot. This changed.

Previous news of city violence was quieted in September, when the west coast caught fire. A dry winter lead to an extremely dry summer. Fires broke out in Washington, Oregon, and California, which were then exacerbated by windstorms. The skies over these states were covered in smoke, giving them a red, orange, or sephia hue. People stayed in, not because of  Covid, but because the air was toxic. Admittedly, I had a moment, driving around the apocalyptic scene, where I wondered, in light of everything that had happened up to that point, if this was in fact the apocalypse. Fortunately, the rains came.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg:
Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, leaving behind  her supreme court seat.

Sean Connery:
Also, Sean Connery died. Ordinarily, this would have been big news that would be seen all over the news and social media. Because of everything that was going on, people barely noticed.

Election Week:
Election day came and went without final results. Several major states continued counts throughout the following week, the results of which could go either way, leaving the nation on the edge of their chairs. Right wing protestors began to protest polling stations. Once the results were declared, and Trump was ousted, the sitting president began to sue for recounts in several states, losing the election over and over again on a regular basis. Meanwhile, right wingers continue to protest the results, despite their criticism of people who protested after the results of the previous election.

Second Quarantine:
After the election, Covid spiked to a record high, causing mandates for a second lock down. This time, however, we were all used to it, and it was barely noticeable. 

Mysterious Monoliths Around the World:
In November, a mysterious silvery metal monolith was discovered in the middle of a nowheresville desert in Utah. Nobody knows how it got there. Ten days later, the monolith disappeared, and another appeared in Romania. That one has also disappeared and subsequent monoliths have been found in California, The Netherlands, and several other places. The disappearance of the Utah monolith has  been solved, as it was admittedly dismantled by a group not wanting an explosion of tourists to damage the surrounding environment. The appearance of these monoliths, however, is still a mystery.

The Vaccine:
At the end of the year, a vaccine was created, and began making the rounds.

Protestors Break into State Capitol:
And finally, armed right-wing protestors, who had previously condemned "the Left" for their protests,  broke into the Oregon State Capitol building, smashing through windows, assaulting journalists and using chemical agents on police officers, in protest of Covid restrictions.

So, beginning 2021 with a vaccine and a new president, things seem to be looking up for this next year. But, don't forget, ten years ago, I did predict that 2021 would be the end of the world...

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

How Commercialization Put The Christ In Christmas

If your most important holiday celebration is Christmas, your traditions are a product of  commercialization, not religion. This time of year we always hear things like "Remember the true meaning of Christmas." If you're a religious Christian, this means, "Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. To Hell with Santa, and reindeer, and the greed of getting things". If you're a more secular Christmas celebrator, this means, "Christmas is about togetherness, family and friends, kindness, and charity, not getting presents and frenzied shopping."

Now, personally, I'm all for this idea of focusing on togetherness and generosity, rather than getting  caught up in retail craziness. And while we're at it, why not throw the birth of  Christ in there, as well. Despite how some of his self-proclaimed followers act, he's a pretty decent fellow. But the truth is, historically, Christmas was never a terribly major holiday for Christians. The Catholic feasts were typically set up to commemorate the death of saints. As such, Good Friday and Easter, celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ, were the most important holidays on the Christian calendar. Christmas was never seen as terribly important until the early modern age.

The early Christian church tended to oppose the celebration of birthdays, viewing them as "pagan", a Roman slur once used to denote rural types, akin to the modern "hillbilly", "hick", or "backwater". As Christianity became the popular craze of the Roman Empire, traditional religions practiced by conservative rural types were referred to as "pagan" religions. When Emperor Theodosius I banned the practice of "pagan" religions, traditions associated with those religions became heretical to the Roman church. Thus, the idea of celebrating a birthday was a bit "iffy", and there was no celebration to commemorate the birth of Christ for quite some time.

At some point in the 200s, December 25th became set as the official date of the birth of Christ, on the Roman calendar. Some scholars believe that this was done to overide the pre-existing December 25th solstice holiday, dies solis invicti nati, or "Day of the unconquered sun" paying homage to the birth of the sun god Mithra, in celebration of longer days leading into Spring. Other scholars, however, dispute this. It was not until the 9th century, however, under a later generation of Roman Catholicism, that this date was organized into a liturgical celebration. It was not, however, seen as a particularly major holiday, as the importance revolved around Easter.

Throughout Europe, Christmas became a part of pre-existing Winter traditions, such as Yule, where families would decorate their homes with evergreens to remind them of the green seasons, while enduring the dreary winter seasons.

In the 4th century, December 6th became the feast of St. Nicholas. This day was commemorated by gift giving, as the Saint in question was said to give gifts to children, or gold to poor families, depending on the tradition. St. Nicholas Day, Christmas, and Yule all became a part of the Winter festivals. After the protestant reformation, protestant cultures, such as England, which do not commemorate Saints, merged the traditions of St. Nicholas Day with Christmas. In Holland, the Dutch shortened "Sint Nikolaas" to "Sinter Klaas", which was later Americanized into "Santa Claus"

After the American Revolution, Christmas, seen as an English holiday, fell out of popularity in the U.S. It wasn't until the late 1800s that the idea of the old Christmas traditions started to gain appeal in the U.S. Stories such as "A Christmas Carol", popularized Christmas as a time of gift giving and charity, and "Twas the Night Before Christmas", cemented the idea of Santa, presents, and Christmas trees as Christmas staples. 

Into the 20th century, with the emergence of  technology, businesses began to capitalize on the holiday, by emphasizing the buying of presents, decorations, cards, and treats, making it the hottest retail season. Every western child came to dream of the presents they wanted, looking at catalogues, seeing commercials, making lists, and  anticipated unwrapping those presents on Christmas morning. And when they grew up, they wanted their children to have that same experience. Thus, Christmas supplanted New Year's in the Western world as the biggest cultural holiday of the year.

With the rise of Christmas, and the cementation of Christmas, and its associated commercialism as a Cultural tradition, it became common for people to re-examine the "true and accurate" meaning of Christmas. It's become a great time to examine ourselves, and weigh our values of charity and kindness, vs greed and retail hype. However, its ironic that this time would not exist as it does now, without that commercial hype we're examining ourselves apart from.