Thursday, December 31, 2009

Should Old Acquaintance, or, For Naught

Hard to believe how quickly the end of this year snuck up on me, let alone the end of an entire decade. I can get quite maudlin on such occasions, so I'll keep my comments in this final post of 2009 as terse as possible.

Images on the news last night reminded me how this decade began--with the manufactured panic over Y2K and the mass computer meltdown that never happened. Of course, here on the west coast of North America, where we're virtually the last to ring in the new year, the story was already old news by the time fireworks exploded without a hitch over Sydney's Harbour Bridge.

I think I had forgotten about Y2K because, as I'm sure is the case with most people the world over, I really mark the start of the past decade with 9/11. Fitting, then, that we should be leaving it more or less the way it began, the recent attempted terrorist attack over the skies of Detroit on Christmas Day having sent airport security around the world into full lockdown mode.

As for Canada, while we politely declined to join George W's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, we were soon enough embroiled in Afghanistan, deploying our first combat troops since the Korean War, and fighting an insurgency for the first time since the Boer War! Yesterday turned out to be one of the deadliest days of the mission so far, with four soldiers and one journalist killed by yet another roadside IED--bringing this country's total war dead in Afghanistan to 138.

Meanwhile, back at home our benevolent dictator of a prime minister, Stephen Harper, has prorogued parliament for the second time in less than a year, the better to avoid more embarrassing and probing questions about the Afghan detainee scandal, no doubt. Has anyone noticed? Our government has effectively absconded with democracy, and won't be back until after the Olympics, in March.

Speaking of the Olympics, while the event itself will technically be registered as belonging to the next decade, for Vancouver, and for better or worse, this past decade has largely been about preparing for a certain five-ring circus. Readers of this blog know by now my own position on this interminable exercise in place promotion (and my conscience is clean--I voted "no" in the referendum back in 2003), and the promises (such as ending homelessness in the city) as yet lived up to from the original Bid Book and the flurry of official "agreements" signed in conjunction with it. Come tomorrow I will be laying off the slagging somewhat and concentrating--hopefully together with some of my students in a related blog--instead on simply reporting what's going on Olympics-wise in the city over the next three months. And I'm sure some of that reporting will even be laudatory--I mean Laurie Anderson's coming to town, for heaven's sake!

Still, as the final 17 hours tick down on this decade, it's hard not to feel cynical. And I haven't even mentioned the environment yet. The recent toothless deal brokered in Copenhagen at the last minute by an increasingly concessionary and compromising President Obama seems to me symptomatic of the opportunities lost during the past 10 years (from using our shared grief over lives lost to violence to forge bonds across religious and ethnic and economic difference, to using the recent financial meltdown to rethink our dependence on automobiles). It's also a slap in the face to the victims of the devastating tsunami that struck Southeast Asia almost exactly five years ago, not to mention those killed and displaced by Hurricane Katrina less than a year later. The oceans will rise, and while I'm not saying I subscribe to certain recent theories divined from the ancient Mayan calendar, I am saying that's it's not too difficult to predict, climate skeptics and University of East Anglia researchers notwithstanding, what the next decade will bring weather-wise.

As of yet, this first decade of the second millennium is without an official catchy shorthand name, media pundits unable to decide what to come up with from its zero-sum middle digits. I say leave it that way. These past 10 years have been for naught.


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