Ten years ago tonight the world nervously awaited midnight. Y2K.Farmer Monte of my favorite Albuquerque institution, Los Poblanos Organics, writes in a more hopeful vein:
Would computers freak out as the new century began? Would the networked modern world grind to a halt?
Or would all those stockpiles of bottled water and canned food sit unused on cellar shelves?
Ten years later, we realize that it wasn't Y2K that we should have feared. It was the decade to come on the other side of midnight.
Big events stand out: The stolen election of 2000. Bush. Cheney. 9/11. War on Afghanistan. War on Iraq. Abu Ghraib. The Patriot Act. Guantánamo. Katrina. Economic collapse.
But even more disturbing were the slow-motion trends: Global warming. Foreign policies driven by fear. Too-big-to-fail corporations increasingly dominating our political system. Growing disparity between rich and poor. The privatization of our schools, prisons and military.
I want to go on record and say that we needed this year. That we as a nation, and even as an international community, were living a gluttonous unsustainable lifestyle before we went on a diet in 2009.Not mentioned in these lists of woes is the global spread of the H1N1 virus. We can rejoice that it did not meet the worst expectations for it, and become the sort of plague that Garrison Keillor speaks of in his Writer's Almanac entry for today, with a quote from Samuel Pepys' Diary on this day in 1665:
A housing industry that was giving out loans to unqualified people (me being one of those people as I look back at my home purchase). A society that was living with a negative savings rate. And financial institutions with as much regulation as the island from Lord of the Flies. So in those regards, we needed a deflating year like 2009 just to get our heads back into reality(..I) am a firm believer that some of the best ideas come out of the most challenging of situations. When things are easy, we rarely find an amazing solution. It makes common sense though. We are creatures of the path of least resistance, we are creatures of fight or flight. Therefore, when things are easy, we choose the simpler path. We choose not to push ourselves.
But those are the old days. And out of the deflated ruins of that old economy a new one will and is emerging. My hope is that with these challenges, we will build back an economy that is more lean and more green. Energy has gotten to be expensive so being green has gotten to be a smart financial move for companies. With that, we all (including our planet) will be better off.
"Thus ends this year, to my great joy, in this manner. I have raised my estate from 1300l. in this year to 4400l. I have got myself interest, I think, by my diligence [...] It is true we have gone through great melancholy because of the great plague [...] But now the plague is abated almost to nothing, and I intending to get to London as fast as I can. [...] I have never lived so merrily (besides that I never got so much) as I have done this plague time [...] and great store of dancings we have had at my cost (which I was willing to indulge myself and wife) at my lodgings. My whole family hath been well all this while, and all my friends I know of, saving my aunt Bell, who is dead, and some children of my cozen Sarah's, of the plague. But many of such as I know very well, dead; yet, to our great joy, the town fills apace, and shops begin to be open again. Pray God continue the plague's decrease! for that keeps the Court away from the place of business, and so all goes to rack as to publick matters, they at this distance not thinking of it."So, things could have been worse I suppose, these past years, and may yet be, in the coming year, coming decade, but we can be grateful that medical technology has kept us from corpses in the street. There is always hope. May anyone who reads this have good health, bountiful crops, improving finances, and copious joy in the year ahead.
1665 had been an awful year in London. The plague began to spread in April, with just a few people dead by the end of the month. But by August, 31,159 people died in that month alone. Overall, about 15 percent of London's population was killed. And Pepys believed that the death toll was even higher than recorded because he had heard first-hand that sometimes clerks were so overwhelmed with names that they didn't bother writing them all down.
In late June, King Charles II and his court left London for Oxford, and many rich people did the same, applying for "health certificates" and heading to country estates. A lot of the wealthy doctors went with them. By early July, Pepys had sent his mother and wife away to Woolwich, outside London. But he did not want to leave. He stayed in London to work, and he recorded in his diary how empty the streets were, with all the shops closed, and how sad it was to see corpses abandoned in the street or houses with red crosses on them and the words "Lord Have Mercy On Us" scrawled on the outside.