Swans Commentary » swans.com December 17, 2012  



Perspectives: A Review of 2012


2012 Year End Report


by Isidor Saslav





(Swans - December 17, 2012)   Queen Elizabeth's 60-year Diamond Jubilee in February brought to mind the equally lengthy rein of her 19th-century predecessor, Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria spent a lot of her time shoring up the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth had to take that on only once when she fought off the Argentines over the Falkland Islands in the 1970s.

The ongoing trade sanctions put on Iran by the Western powers reminded us all again about the hypocrisy of our atomic attitudes in the Middle East. At last count Pakistan, India, and Israel all had atomic weapons at the ready. Anybody asking them to disarm?

I keep having to rethink my attitudes toward the Arab Spring events. I keep reading Web sites outlining the US support for the various rebel groups and how these groups are harboring Al-Qaida-type extremists among them. Of course, it was the CIA that created Al-Qaida in Afghanistan to fight the Russians in the 1970s. The motivation for our strange behavior escapes me. Woe to any strongman who tries to co-operate with the U.S. Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama; Ferdinand Marcos, the former dictator in the Philippines; Moamar Khadafi, after his final turn to the West; Saddam Hussein, our former stooge in the Iran-Iraq war; Hosni Mubarak, who kept peace in the region for years thanks to US handouts: where are they all now? As discarded and most dead as the U.S. can arrange to get them. One very convincing Web site said that what sealed Khadafi's and Hussein's fates were their announced plans to trade oil in other than the US$. The U.S. was not going to allow that and the dictators settled their own fates.

The cancellation of the print edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica in March marked an astonishing turn in human affairs. From Gutenberg's printing press in the 15th century to Amazon's Kindle in the 21st, an era had been defined. It was as great a turn as the invention of writing and recording affairs on papyrus in the times of the Assyrians and the Babylonians and the necessity to invent alphabets: Phoenician, Greek, Hebrew, etc. Before reading and writing, the people had to keep their histories stored in their own heads, especially helped by epic and repetitious singer-poets like Homer. The memory capacity of the human brain went into a sharp fall-off once the new way of keeping social memories intact in written form made its way to the fore.

A pastel version of The Scream, by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, sold for US$120 million in a New York City auction, setting a new world record for an auctioned work of art. Another example of the worldwide rich trying to preserve their wealth against failing over-printed fiat currencies. Gold is in its 11th year of a bull market for the same reason.

Hurricane Sandy killed at least 209 people in the Caribbean, Bahamas, United States, and Canada. Considerable storm-surge damage caused major disruption to the eastern seaboard of the United States. Almost simultaneous to this event, the TV program Frontline aired a documentary about the Global Warming Deniers and their increasing political power to hurt their enemies, the Global Warming proclaimers, Al Gore, etc. What kind of excuses are they going to trot out now? There should be a joint convention of the Holocaust Deniers and the Global Warming Deniers.

Of the many personalities who died in 2012 here are the ones I had heard of:

•  February 3 - Ben Gazzara, American actor (b. 1930). He chose Felix Mendelssohn's birthday to take his leave.

•  February 11 - Whitney Houston, American singer and actress (b. 1963).

•  February 25 - Maurice André, French trumpeter (b. 1933). Several of his recordings grace our LP collection.

•  March 17 - John Demjanjuk, Ukrainian-American Nazi war crimes defendant (b. 1920). Did they ever deport him or did he manage to stick it out here?

•  March 28 - Alexander Arutunian, Armenian composer (b. 1920). His trumpet concerto is still a world-wide favorite, and Earl Scruggs, American bluegrass musician (b. 1924) of Flatt and Scruggs, the Texas legends.

•  April 7 - Mike Wallace, American journalist (b. 1918). 60 Minutes is just not the same without him.

•  April 11 - Ahmed Ben Bella, first president of Algeria (b. 1918).

•  April 18 - Dick Clark, American television host and producer (b. 1929).

•  April 21 - Charles Colson, American evangelist (b. 1931) and former convicted, but reformed, Watergate defendant.

•  May 8 - Maurice Sendak, American author (b. 1928)

•  May 9 - Vidal Sassoon, British hairdresser (b. 1928)

•  May 15 - Carlos Fuentes, Panamanian-born Mexican writer (b. 1928)

•  May 18 - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, German lyric baritone and conductor (b. 1925). F-D recorded so many LPs from his vast repertoire that when the query went out as to how old he was, the answer came back "33 and 1/3," the turning speed of LP records.

•  June 5 - Ray Bradbury, American author (b. 1920). Too bad he didn't survive to see a future Mars landing.

•  June 17 - Rodney King, American civil rights figure (b. 1965).

•  June 26 - Nora Ephron, American film director and screenwriter (b. 1941).

•  June 30 - Yitzhak Shamir, 7th Prime Minister of Israel (b. 1915).

•  July 3 - Andy Griffith, American actor (b. 1926). A Face in the Crowd was certainly one fine film.

•  July 8 - Ernest Borgnine, American actor (b. 1917). Ditto Marty.

•  July 15 - Celeste Holm, American actress (b. 1917) CH was in the very premiere of Oklahoma in 1943. We saw her in later years portray Dona Ana in Shaw's Don Juan in Hell at the Irish Repertory Theater.

•  August 6 - Marvin Hamlisch, American composer and conductor (b. 1944).

•  August 20 - Phyllis Diller, American comedian (b. 1917), spouse of the ever immortal "Fang."

•  August 25 - Neil Armstrong, American astronaut (b. 1930).

•  September 3 - Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church with his wife Hak Ja Han.

•  September 25 - Andy Williams, American singer (b. 1927).

•  September 27 - Herbert Lom, Czech-born actor (b. 1917), the perfect foil to Peter Sellers in Inspector Clouseau.

•  October 14 - Arlen Specter, American politician (b. 1930).

•  October 15 - King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia (b. 1922).

•  October 21 - George McGovern, American politician, historian and author (b. 1922). If only he had won that election in 1972. But then we wouldn't have had Watergate.

•  October 22 - Russell Means, American Sioux actor and activist (b. 1939).

•  October 27 - Hans Werner Henze, German composer (b. 1926). Once when the conductor Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt came from Germany to conduct us at the Minnesota Orchestra someone asked him about his taste in modern music. He replied, Fuer mich Henze ist die Grenze. ("Beyond Henze I don't go.").

•  November 5 - Elliott Carter, American composer (b. 1908). Almost 104! At long last we don't have to receive any more of his music. Yet some critics and performers thought he was just great and couldn't get enough of him. "Include me out," as Sam Goldwyn once said.

•  November 23 - Larry Hagman, American actor (b. 1931).

•  December 5 - Dave Brubeck, American pianist (b. 1920), and Oscar Niemeyer, Brazilian architect (b. 1907).

One very great man whom Wikipedia strangely left out of their departed list was Jacques Barzun, the great literary critic, also at 104. Barzun and I once exchanged correspondence over Berlioz's operas, of which he was the leading expert.

Have a great 2013.


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Published December 17, 2012