It seems to me….
“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke.
Another year – 2017 – has now passed. When young, New Year’s was an excuse to party but with the passing of many years, it is met more with regret as the accelerating passage of time and fleeting years only serve as a reminder of how quickly the sands of time are passing through that hourglass. This observation is not met with melancholy but with a degree of fatalism and increasing awareness of what lies ahead.
Most years are characterized by very mixed sentiments but following eight years of political light, optimism, and hope; inauguration of a new U.S. president apparently determined to lead us down an erroneous path casts a deep shadow of despondency concerning our nation’s future.
There isn’t any one year essentially more important than any other year. Bad “stuff”, both personal and general, occurs every year but much good also happens. Some events potentially affect the course of world history more than others and those years might eventually be considered more important but there isn’t any way to adequately determine the significance of those years other than from the prolonged perspective of past history.
Perception will always depend upon when and of whom the question is asked. Recent years always seem disproportionately important simply because they are current. Today, thanks to the Internet, we generally know considerably more about what is going on in the world than the average person in the past. It also is true that occurrences are not totally random; related clusters of events and incidents exist perhaps seeming unrelated but associated and dependent on others in possibly only slightly discernable ways.
2017 can be characterized as a year of notable disasters. Major hurricanes struck Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean islands. Some of the most devastating fires in both Northern and Southern California history. Donald Trump became President of the U.S. (and Congress has not removed him – at least not yet).
There were far too many noteworthy events, mostly negative, to mention but any list should include the following: Terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Turkey, killed 139; Las Vegas, Nevada, killed 58 people and injured 546; Manchester, England, killed 22 and injured over 100; Tehran, Iran, killed 17 and injured 43; Mogadishu, Somalia, killed 512 and injured 316; Sinai, Egypt, killed 305; all in addition to many other attacks that occurred elsewhere throughout the world. Earthquakes struck Central Mexico killing 369 people and in the Iraq/Iran border area killing 530. North Korean ballistic missile launches and nuclear weapons tests. Emmanuel Macron’s election as president of France. The genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Defeat of ISIS in Syrian and Iraq. The filing of sexual assault allegations against prominent figures in the U.S. which spread to other countries. An opioid epidemic, the rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs in the U.S. and Canada, became the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. In general, it was a year best relegated to the past.
There was an unfortunate element of prophetic truth in a satirical article in The Onion on 18 January 2001 where President-elect Bush declared in a mock-speech that “Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over”. While Bush might have been only partly successful in his attempts to realize those goals, the Trump administration unfortunately appears to be making every effort to accomplish those very sentiments.
Under Trump, the U.S. has abdicated its role as world leader resulting in a diminution of its worldwide approbation. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, withdrew from the Paris climate change agreement, withdrew from UNESCO, reversed progress made with Iran, and mocked U.S. allies around the world. He encouraged a hostile foreign power, Russia, to interfere in our Presidential election on his behalf.
Since Trump’s inauguration, there has been an increase of intolerance, hate crimes, violence, mass shootings, and weapon purchases. His administrative officials deny climate change and are attempting to reverse environment progress. Economic inequality has increased. Rather than attempting to bridge the political chasms dividing us as promised, they have only further deepened. He is attempting to terminate immigration and expel all non-citizens. There have been cutbacks in healthcare, education, infrastructure, research, and many other areas. His bellicosity has brought us to the threshold of war with North Korea.
Technology has always been one of my favorite topics. Two areas seemingly receiving the most attention this past year were artificial intelligence (AI) and the Amazon Alexa. The two seemed to be mentioned everywhere. Ostensibly everyone wanted to incorporate AI into every available product.
Voice-recognition technology apparently has finally sufficiently matured to be accepted by consumers. The Amazon Alexa voice assistant seemingly dominated sales beating out Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, and Google Home. Alexa showed up in car infotainment systems, new smartphones, robots, lamps, and even laundry machines.
Electric and autonomous vehicles made major advances in both capability and acceptance. While still several years prior to when most vehicles sold will be electric powered rather than by fossil fuels or when fully autonomous vehicles will be generally available, most major manufacturers indicated their intent to terminate production of gas engine powered vehicles within the next few years.
Photovoltaic (solar) power generation continued to replace non-renewable sources of energy. The U.S. now generates eight times as much energy from renewable sources as it did ten years ago and photovoltaic production is increasing exponentially even with lack of government support and opposition by traditional energy providers.
In other science news, the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, which extended over almost 20 years, sent back vast amounts of technical data and pictures of both Saturn and several of its major moons and the Huygens probe made the first landing on a moon in the outer solar system, all prior to a final mission-ending plunge into the Saturn atmosphere.
2017 was filled by all the collaging basics of life, and while admittedly a better year for some than others, it now takes its place in history. It was a busy year with much more that should be said but will not. Perhaps the salient observation is that 2017 was an interesting year. The coming year will mostly be met with the traditional optimism that it will be filled with all that makes life interesting. May you enjoy good luck, good health, good fortune, and good times throughout the entire New Year.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke, better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets writing in both verse and highly lyrical prose.