Monday, September 29, 2008

A Pivotal Year?

Will the Hebrew calendar year5768, which ends when three stars shine in the sky Monday evening, go down as a pivotal year in the world’s history?

This was the year when Iran scoffed at the world and continued the unhindered headlong rush towards a nuclear bomb.

This was the year when the duplicitous leader of Pakistan was forced to resign, giving way to the widower of his harshest political opponent, all the while taking money and kudos from the USA while allowing the Taliban to strengthen it’s hold on the rugged Pashtun regions that border Afghanistan.

This was the year that an African-American man won the Democratic nomination for President of the United States for the first time in US history.

This was the year when a financial meltdown in the USA shook the world in the worst disaster of it’s kind since the 1930’s.

This was the year when nine Israeli ministers were under investigation. The year that an Israeli Prime Minister was indicted for the first time in Israel’s history. The same year that the President of Israel was indicted and convicted of rape. The same year that the Finance Minister was forced to resign for embezzling money from a public fund. The year when another minister was convicted of sexual harassment..

But it was the same year when an Israeli entrepreneur announced he was building an electric car in partnership with the French firm Renault, and would soon establish “electric” refueling stations all across Israel, as a pilot project for the world. That an Israeli drug company announced a new drug to fight Parkinson’s disease.

It was also a year of nationalism rearing it’s head, sometimes magnificently, sometimes as ugly as death. The year that China hosted the Olympics in an attempt at joining the league of developed nations; the Olympics a spectacle that impressed the entire world with both design and execution. And the year China put a man in space.

It was the year that Russia showed the world that a new cold war was on the horizon. That Russia was seeking once again to become a world power, selling arms to enemies of the West in a bid to influence world events; invading a neighboring country mainly because that country was about to allow the positioning of NATO missiles pointed at Russia.

It was the year that Lebanon-based Hezbollah joined Iran in claiming they would wipe Israel off the map. That Hezbollah now had more missiles in its stockpile than before the last war in Lebanon. That Iran now had long-range missiles that could hit Israel, or Europe.

It was the year that marked the third anniversary of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s captivity. The year his parents celebrated the Jewish New Year with a meal on a folding table while camped outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

It was the year that a top Hezbollah operative was left headless in a Damascus street. A year when an alleged Syrian nuclear facility, managed by the North Koreans and funded by Iran, was destroyed by mysterious airplanes. A year when a top Al-Qaida leader was killed in Iraq.

It was also a year of mayhem and murder of another sort. Almost daily car-bombings in Iraq, so frequent as to become pedestrian to all but those directly affected, like the victims and their families.A year of mounting US causalities. But also a year when some reports stated that Iraq was more stable than it had been since the end of Saddam Hussein.

It was a year when a convicted felon declared paradoxically that he wanted to be mayor of Jerusalem to help the city back on its feet.

A year when global warming became an issue around the world, resulting in a Nobel Prize for one of the champions of that cause.

A year when oil prices spiked to historic highs, causing people to think twice about driving across country, or even across town.

A year when Apple released a new telephone that wasn’t that much different from the old one, but was still so sophisticated that had someone told Einstein such a device were available, back in the 1920’s, he would have laughed at the absurdity.

A year when technology began yet another cycle, speeding up history, creating more information faster and in more detail than ever before. A year that brought the world closer to understanding all there was to understand about the physical world, as we know it. A year when computers helped map more genes, and the particle accelerator identify more bits of matter.

But most of all it was a year that pointed to scaling back in natural resources, in the power of the USA to police the errant nations, of a financial meltdown that would mean a scaling back of consumption and growth, perhaps the harbinger of the long slow slide of the US from superpower status.

The gloomy German philosopher Oswald Spengler wrote back in the 1920’s that the West is in decline.’ And then the Great Depression came, following a ten-year bull market, then a meltdown in housing prices. Sound familiar? The philosopher/historian George Santana wrote “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” What then can be learned from this last year that can help in the next?

Greed has to be curtailed. Resources have to be developed. Vested interests have to be subdued by other vested interests that are more humanitarian in outlook and application. Evil has to be defined, and deleted, wherever it is, by whatever means.

Extremists must be soothed into moderation,

Was this a pivotal year? In truth, maybe all years are pivotal, some just pivot on different crucial issues. When Wilbur Wright went up in the first airplane, that year was pivotal. When the 9/11 bombers flew into the twin towers, that year was pivotal. When Ben Franklin flew a kite in a storm with a key attached to the end, that year was pivotal? When Adolph Hitler was born, that year was pivotal.

When World War II ended, it made that a pivotal year. Likewise the detonation of the first atomic bomb. As a philosopher once said, all things are equal, except some more equal than others.

Do we even know when we’re in a pivotal year?

A pivotal decade? A pivotal generation?

Will all those financial stocks the US government just bought with US taxpayers money, betting that those stocks would go up, make next year pivotal? It might if the stocks become worthless, followed by the dissolving US economy.

Will the resignation of Israel’s PM Olmert in favor of Tzipi Livni make this a pivotal year? It might if she becomes Prime Minister of Israel and makes a few dastardly mistakes, as Olmert did launching the War in Lebanon II. Will the election of Barak Obama as President of the USA be pivotal? It might since he’ll be the first African-American, or rather half African-American in history to be President of the USA. But what if John McCain wins? He’ll bring with him the first female vice-President in US history.

Should circumstances take a nasty turn, Obama, if elected President, might turn out to be as lousy a choice for the US and the world as Olmert was for Israel. And imagine that McCain is elected and has a heart attack. The US and the world might then be stuck with a woman whose main claim to management skills was as mayor of a minuscule rural town and governor of a sparsely populated wildness state.

Hope from the gloom and trepidation comes, however, from the Hebrew prayers said on the High Holidays. “Chuva, Tzdeka, Tifila” repentance, charity and prayer, can change a horrendous decree, making it positive. Chuva, Tzdeka, Tifila. Remember those three. Pray hard. Looks like in 5769 the world’s going to need them to head off what seems to be in store. And pivotal may be a cruel understatement.

Shana Tova, Tichatem vTichatevu; may you be written in the Book of Life for a Healthy, Happy and Successful New Year..