The Year That Was

war_torn

Buildings Devastated By War

I have been following the scenes coming out of Gaza closely during the last five days. Like most people I have been stunned by how the situation has deteriorated so quickly… this period has been the bloodiest I can remember. I had hoped that a brief ceasefire might be reached to allow humanitarian aid through but that now seems to have been rejected. So far the air strikes have killed more than 390 Palestinians (60 civilians) and injured more than 1900, while more than than 250 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired into Israeli territory, killing 4 people and wounding dozens. The devastation has also overwhelmed hospitals and more supplies are desperately needed.

To be honest it’s happened so quickly that I’m not sure what to make of it all. I support Israel’s need to defend itself but I was caught off-guard by the sheer ferocity of the air strikes; in an area as densely populated as Gaza I would have thought Israel could have shown more restraint. Then again, no country in the world would allow its citizens to come under daily rocket attack and I’d expect a strong response from Israel, particularly when the rockets can reach as far as schools and kindergartens as we saw today. I just wish there was more of a humanitarian effort as well. And now the rocket attacks are penetrating farther than ever before. The whole situation is just chaotic and I feel sorry for the civilians caught in the middle on both sides.

Right now it seems that the best hope for a ceasefire lies with the UN and the European Union, while the US tries to bring pressure to bear on both sides for a more lasting agreement. I hope some kind of agreement can be reached but, with this ceasefire rejected, I doubt it will be for several days… and right now it only seems to be escalating. In the meantime I’ve signed a petition with Avaaz calling on both sides to stop the violence; reading about the destruction, watching the scenes, I just felt like I had to do something, and though it’s only a small thing I hope in some way it makes a difference.

Australian Money

The Economy: The Big Story of 2008

Watching what’s happening in Gaza at the moment has made me realise just how quickly 2008 went by. It’s hard to believe it’s already 2009, isn’t it? This time last year Benazir Bhutto’s assassination had triggered a deadly wave of violence in Pakistan. Can that really have been only a year ago? So much has happened since then that it feels like so much longer. But we’ve had the fireworks and music, so it really must be 2009.

Most years I find that events tend to blur together as the year passes and the memories aren’t as fresh for me by the end but despite 2008 being a busy year, it’s still vivid in my mind. It’s been a sad year in many ways; there have been moments of hope but I think looking back the overwhelming memories I have of 2008 are of pain and sorrow. I think they shall linger for some time

Of course the biggest story of 2008 was the economic crisis. Watching the scenes from the US as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other institutions started to go under was chilling; not only did it have implications for the global economy but these were ordinary people losing their money and jobs. And then of course the proverbial shit really hit the fan; the global stockmarkets crashed, thousands of jobs were cut, overseas banks were being nationalised or filing for bankruptcy, suddenly we were all talking about the R world, “recession” – and then there was the bailout which caused all kinds of consternation. And that was just in September.

It’s been a remarkable period and has been terrible for the people directly affected but I think it serves as something of a warning to the rest of us as well; we are extremely lucky to enjoy our lifestyle in the West but with that comes the danger of excess and perhaps this is a wakeup call for all of us. 2009 will be a difficult year with the rise in unemployment and living costs but if we learn the lessons from this crisis then perhaps some good can still come from it as well. There are more important things in life, after all.

Heath Ledger’s death is also something that still lingers in my mind. As I said at the time Heath was someone I had grown up watching; I saw him in Sweat, his first major role, and most of his films after that. We were only a few years apart in age, so his death at only 28 had a strong impact on me. I thought his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight was mesmerising, and sadly tragic, but it’s his performances in Brokeback Mountain and Monster’s Ball that I’ll remember best. His loss is a profound one for our film industry, one I feel we still have yet to fully recover from nearly a year on.

By far the worst news of the year for me was the devastation in Burma and China. The destruction Cyclone Nargis caused was particularly overwhelming, killing more than 150,000 people (and by some estimates almost a million). I’ll never forget the Burmese authorities claiming that they “weren’t ready to accept” foreign aid workers into the country even while Burma had clearly suffered a monumental humanitarian disaster. And then only days later an earthquake flattened schools and villages in China, killing 87,000 people (19,000 children). The scenes in China were some of the most heartbreaking I have ever seen, with entire schools destroyed and parents weeping.

Like everyone else I was stunned and saddened by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai as well. To see a metropolis of 12 million people brought to its knees for three days, particularly a city with such heritage and prestige as Mumbai, was troubling, as was the sheer scale of the attacks; a series of ten coordinated attacks leaving 178 dead and 308 injured. Then to see the peace that had started to form between Pakistan and India beginning to unravel was even more troubling… it is something the world cannot allow to happen.

2008 brought with it some interesting stories and moments as well. For Australians one moment was in February when the Federal government finally apologised to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generations. The apology was long overdue and while it’s only one step toward reconciliation, it is a moment I’ll never forget. Then in September we started to hear more about the Large Hadron Collider beneath the Franco-Swiss border, a particle accelerator which we were told could create an artificial black hole… and might destroy the world! Well, it didn’t (obviously); problem was, it didn’t work either – it sprung a leak and they’re going to try again in June. Great.

Also in July Thomas Beatie, the “Pregnant Man”, was rushed to hospital and delivered a healthy baby girl amidst a storm of controversy. Beatie was born a woman but kept his female reproductive organs after undergoing hormone treatments ten years earlier to become a man and conceived his daughter through artificial insemination. I actually found the process interesting and didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about; but then I like weird science. For those who are interested, Beatie is now pregnant with his second child.

But of course the reason most of us will remember 2008 is because of Barack Obama. To achieve what he has achieved is an incredible thing; to have an African American President is something many people did not think was possible and to see the tears on so many faces still moves me even now. It’s a moment in history for America and the world and I think no matter what your political persuasion is, that is something to be proud of. Of course one moment changes nothing; there is still racism and always will be, and we don’t know what kind of president Obama will be yet. But that doesn’t change the fact that November 4 was an historic moment, one I and I’m sure millions of people will always remember.

There were other stories as well. Paul Newman and Sydney Pollack both passed away, as did Arthur C. Clarke. Russia’s incursion into Georgia resulted in more than 500 civilian deaths. The Beijing Olympics were held in August; Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt ruled the world, while the Games themselves were overshadowed by issues far greater than sport. And Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer fought the greatest Wimbledon final ever, a match that lasted over 4 1/2 hours and ended in darkness; Nadal was a deserved winner.

Personally 2008 was a difficult year for me as well. I was ill for most of the year, which was frustrating; my work suffered and I’ve not been able to write at my normal speed for some time now. My grandmother nearly died and required an amputation and I also lost a friendship which meant a great deal to me; both events made me think about what was really important in my life. After a serious fire and several things with my family as well, it has been an exhausting year. So I’m quite happy to say goodbye to 2008.

I think the problems I have had through this year, though, have actually helped me overall. They’ve helped me to find strength in places that I didn’t know I had and I know I can rely on myself more than I believed I could before. I feel like I’ve turned a few negatives into positives and grown as a person, which is more than I could have hoped for from this last year all told.

So that was 2008 from my point of view. A busy year and a sad year, but also one with its moments of hope. As far as 2009 goes I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions but I do have some hopes to stay true to. I’d like to be in good health and happiness; to trust in myself and my abilities; to not take bullshit from anyone; to be good to others and to help where I can; to find someone to love. I do have one very big ambition for 2009 and that is to write something I can send away to an agent; I feel like I’m finally ready and after developing an idea for several years, I want to tackle my first novel.

Globally I hope 2009 is a more peaceful year than 2008 was. At some stage there will be a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; it’s just a matter of time and, unfortunately, lives, and we just have to hope that it is sooner rather than later. Hopefully the economy will begin to stabilise and peoples’ lives can find some kind of normalcy again. I also hope that Obama’s transition to the presidency will be smooth and he can start bringing people together after so much division. I’m also looking forward to the release of the new Star Trek film (Spock!) and can’t wait for Wimbledon. Hope it’s as good as last year.

So Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for being a part of my 2008 and I hope you all have a peaceful and safe 2009. 😉

A Piece of History

Barack & Michelle Obama

I was five years old when the Berlin Wall fell. I have few memories of it happening but I do remember some of the scenes; the crowds flooding the checkpoints, the sections finally coming down. I’ve often wondered what it must have felt like at the time, to watch history unfold.

Now I think I know.

Seeing Barack Obama win yesterday is something I will always remember. If you had asked me a year ago if I thought Obama could be elected President of the United States, I would have said no. There were too many divisions; too many obstacles to overcome. And then it happened; Obama won.

I know the election of one man changes little; there is still racism and bigotry in the world and perhaps there always will be. But it’s a step forward and what it means for African Americans and minorities around the world is something words cannot truly describe… it’s the culmination of a dream and just like the Berlin Wall, it’s a moment that will live forever.

For Australia it brings the promise that perhaps things can change here as well. I have long hoped that one day we will have come far enough to have an Aboriginal Prime Minister, that immigrants and minorities will be more readily accepted and the divisions that caused the Cronulla Riots will be healed.

Today that hope doesn’t seem as far away.

I don’t know what kind of president Obama will be but I know this moment is one I will always remember; the scenes in Chicago, the tears at rallies and on the streets. It’s a piece of history. I feel privileged to have watched it unfold.

A time of change

So Easter’s over for another year. It’s amazing how quickly it’s gone; I was thinking earlier that it’s hard to believe we’re almost at the end of March… the year’s gone quickly, even if it has been the earliest Easter in years.

I’ve always liked Easter. I’m more spiritual than religious but I like the sentiment that comes with the season; it’s a time of renewal and continuing life and it always makes me think of the changing seasons, the leaves starting to brown. It makes me think of where I am in my life as well and I’ve been doing a lot of that over the last few days.

I’ve been feeling like I’ve been needing a change for a while and so recently I applied for a new job. I’m hoping I’ll get it but I realised over the weekend that that’s not the only thing I’ve been frustrated about. I’ve started to feel like I’ve outgrown some of my friendships and I’m not sure how to feel; it’s natural we’d grow apart after ten years but now I’m not sure if those relationships were as important to me as I thought they were.

I also haven’t been feeling well for a few days, so I’ve had a few things on my mind. But then on Sunday everything seemed a little clearer. I guess I just realised that there was no point feeling frustrated any more; the job was out of my hands and did it really matter how I felt about my friends? Those relationships had changed but how I had felt then wasn’t any less real because the feeling had changed now. Resisting the change was stopping me from moving on and I realised I should honour how I had felt in my heart, rather than trying to recapture it.

I’ve always resisted change a little bit, like most people; we’re comfortable in the world we’ve created for ourselves and it’s scary when that world changes. But I’ve always been quick to embrace change once I’ve recognised it and it seemed apt that it should happen on Easter Sunday, right at the end of a difficult week. Maybe the universe was watching out for me.

It seems like everyone is talking about change at the moment, though, doesn’t it? The election has stirred up a lot of those feelings; even if you wanted to avoid the hype I don’t think you could, it’s everywhere. And I’m half the world away; I can’t imagine what it must be like in the US. It’s funny how “change” seems to have become the motto for this election. It’s electrified people, particularly Obama’s supporters, but you hear about change at every election; politicians promise how they’ll be different but usually it’s just a number of empty platitudes. This election is different in that a black man or a woman could become president for the first time but most of the spin is still the same.

One of my favourite songs is David Bowie’s Changes and I came across this video earlier which captures it perfectly, all the candidates wanting to be the agent of change. I thought it was so funny, particularly at the end when they all started singing the chorus! But it’s true, change really has become the theme for 2008 – but why? It’s too simple to say it’s just Bush; I’m sure Bush is a big factor but the changes being talked about are more widespread than that. It’s a number of factors coming together; the economy, housing affordability, health care, gas prices, climate change, Iraq… but are they any different to the issues normally talked about during an election? I’m a bit confused about why the whole “change” theme has caught on so much, except because the candidates are so different and foreign policy.

To be honest the way the entire election is being reported over here is starting to annoy me, though. I don’t like the way the media thinks we have a right to say who we (or should I say they) think should be president. John Howard criticised Obama in 2007 after Obama announced his presidential bid, saying al Qaeda should “pray” that Obama and the Democrats win in 2008. He was deservedly roasted for interfering but isn’t the media being hypocritical? They often talk about which candidate would be “better” for Australian interests and stories like this one on Hillary Clinton hardly seem balanced. Online Opinion even carried out a poll of the candidates Aussies would pick. I know it’s in the media’s nature to speculate but their attitude has to be influencing their reporting – and they’re already biased because of their distaste for Bush.

I think everyone has the right to an opinion on any election, whether it’s in their country or not, but it should be just that, an opinion; the media’s influencing the way Australians look at the election and therefore how we look at the US. I’m no fan of Bush but I will always be a friend of America; 9/11 was a day that changed my life and the attitude that some people have towards America now disturbs me and doesn’t all come from Bush… it says a lot about us and if we’re talking about change, that’s something I’d like to see change about us as well. Maybe this election can be a catalyst.

I think the candidates need to careful about all this talk of change. If that’s what they promise and in the end little changes, they’re setting themselves up for a backlash. But even if there is change, that doesn’t mean it will be noticeable right away; change takes time to implement and often you only see it later, looking back. As the David Bowie song says – time may change you but you can’t trace time.

So anyway that’s what I’ve been doing over Easter, making some changes. I hope you had a good Easter and I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of posting and commenting again after a long break. And oh, if you’re a Bowie fan like I am, there’s a great clip of Bowie singing Changes live available here; just don’t blame me when it gets stuck in your head. 🙂