Like every year, 2014 was a mixed bag. And as George Santayana tells us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So with memories of 2014 still fresh in my little ant mind, here’s a modest wish list of phenomena we shouldn’t repeat in 2015.
DON’T LET ANYBODY INHIBIT OUR FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION.
The Interview is not a film I’d ever see, but the fact that it never played at a theater near me is a major bummer, because by kowtowing to the will of North Korea or whoever threatened us over the release of that stupid film, Sony Pictures, along with the nation’s biggest theater chains, showed that perhaps the only thing that can trump profit motive in American capitalism is spinelessness, thus giving ammunition to every nutjob out there who can hack a computer. However well intended, it was a cowardly and dangerous move. And despite Sony’s bending to pressure to allow less cowardly members of the motion-picture community to screen The Interview, 2015 is sure to come with a boatload of similar threats against all manner of forms of expression, simply because said nutjobs have been sent the message that threats work. The sad truth is that when someone is committed enough, it’s not all that hard to kill people. Thanks, Sony, Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, Carmike Cinemas, and Cineplex Entertainment, for encouraging the practice. Let no-one follow your example in 2015.
HOLD POLICE TO ACCOUNT FOR EXCESSIVE FORCE.
Body cameras—haute couture for police in 2015—will help, but all the body cameras in the world won’t matter if the judicial system automatically immunizes police officers from prosecution even when they’re caught murdering people, as was the case with Eric Garner. Okay, let’s tone it down a notch and say Daniel Pantaelo manslaughtered Garner. It was nonetheless another needless death at the hands of cops, and it’s got to stop. And yes, Whitey, this kind of thing really does happen far more often to people of color.
DON’T LET ISRAEL DO WHATEVER IT WANTS WITHOUT REPERCUSSIONS.
Sanctions against a country—particularly when imposed by the U.S.—are a reasonable move when you want to pressure that country (as opposed to forcing it) not to do bad stuff. It doesn’t always work, but you do it under the principle that bad behavior shouldn’t go unpunished. It’s why we just imposed new sanctions against North Korea for the Sony hack, and why we imposed sanctions on Russia for its incursions into the Ukraine. But not only was 2014 another year in which Israel continued its land-grab in the West Bank, but by its own estimates—wildly conservative, according to independent monitoring agencies—the Israeli military killed over 1,000 civilians in response to missile attacks by Palestinian extremists that killed a total of three Israeli civilians. The Israeli Defense Fund destroyed schools, hospitals, and even UN shelters, drawing the ire of human-rights organizations worldwide, such as Amnesty International, which criticized the IDF for its “callous indifference” to civilian casualties. While the Knesset talks peace, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (if you who don’t know, think about what would happen if George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin had a baby) the best Israel can hope to get is unrest. That’s why the U.S. would actually be doing Israel a favor by imposing sanctions until Israel relents from settlement-building. (Really they should be tearing them down, but one step at a time.) In 2014 Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear that the U.S. considers the settlements “illegitimate”—as does the entire rest of the world; and even some within the Knesset, such as Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livini, recognizes that continuing on this course can “only distance us from the ability to recruit the world against Hamas.” These are the right sentiments. But as Dostoyevsky loved to say, “Assez causé!”
VACCINATE YOUR BABIES.
There is no place in the world more modern technologically advanced than Southern California. And yet currently the area is in the throes of an epidemic of whooping cough, with 10 times more cases reported in 2014 than there were way back in 1976. The reason is simple: vaccinations have gotten a bad name. Thanks, Andrew Wakefield. Thanks, Jenny McCarthy. And thank you, you too-stupid-to-breed-responsibly parents. Because of you, diseases that were all but extinct have gotten new life over the last few years. Let’s hope this year’s new parents reverse the trend.
BUY ALBUMS OTHER THAN TAYLOR SWIFT’S.
Nothing against Ms. Swift, but the fact that her 1989 was the only million-selling album in 2014—and that it hit surpassed that total in its first week of release!—is a pretty sad statement about the record-buying public. And I’m not talking about the teenyboppers who drive the Top 40, I’m talking about you, Mr. Hipster, Mr. Audiophile, Mr. I Dig Serious Music. The thing is, you’re not supporting those great artists who are out there making albums that are good from start to finish, that provide an integrated listening experience. The Flaming Lips, The Black Keys, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Beck, Röyksopp, Pixies, Mogwai, Phish, Aphex Twin, and Broken Bells all came out with new material. Okay, the Pixies’ album sucks. But Conor Oberst? The War on Drugs? Real Estate? Spoon? Ray Lamontagne? Caribou? Suburban Serfs? If you didn’t buy an album in 2014, it’s just because you didn’t try very hard. (Then again, vinyl sales surged, so the news wasn’t all bad.)
DON’T ALLOW TORTURERS TO GO UNPUNISHED JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE AMERICAN.
We’ve been making this mistake for years now, but with the release last month of the Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation, perhaps finally there will be enough momentum to restore a bit of the U.S.A.’s credibility with the rest of the world, which is pretty sick of our failures to practice what we preach. Probably not, though, with the Republicans in power. See, the torture happened under the George W. Bush administration (see Taxi to the Dark Side, the 2007 Oscar-winner of Best Documentary, to get details on how), and so most Republicans not named McCain either continue to defend the program—even though among its results was the torture of at least 26 innocent people!—or sweeping what happened under the rug. I wonder what the Republicans would be saying if the torture had happened on Obama’s watch. Hmmmm.
STOP TORTURING PEOPLE.
The truth is, on Obama’s watch we’re still at it. Maybe not the way we were a decade ago, but Guantanamo Bay is still open for business, and part of that business in 2014 was force-feeding detainees. Have you been force-fed? Me, neither, but those who’ve had the displeasure of being strapped down and having a tube shoved up their nose and down into their stomach—without the benefit of anesthetic, of course—call it torture. Obama and company would say otherwise, but they’ve been doing all they can not to let you see videos of the practice so you can make up your own mind. I wonder why. Hmmmm.
DON’T BE SQUEAMISH ABOUT USING VIOLENCE AGAINST ISLAMIC STATE AND THE TALIBAN.
Say what you will about the Vatican, but in today’s world they’re not pro-war. Nevertheless, when it comes to Islamic State, even the Vatican realizes there is no way other than force to deal with them. “When all other means have been exhausted, to save human beings the international community must act. This can include disarming the aggressor,” said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, in August. Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, went so far as to say that U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State “had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State] could not be stopped.”
Gandhi was a mahatma, but in advocating nonviolent resistance against the Nazis he was naïve, because the Nazi’s would have unrelentingly exterminated or subjugated everyone who opposed them. Islamic State and the Taliban are like that. They have no qualm about not only murdering whomever they see as infidels—which simply means anyone who doesn’t believe as they do. And not just the infidels, but their children, as we saw last month when the Taliban methodically killed 120 people—mostly children—in a targeted attack on a school in Pakistan. Islamic State, meanwhile, so openly advocates raping women and taking slaves that they promote such practices in Dabiq, a glossy magazine. In dealing with people like, nonviolent resistance is futile. Almost no group, no matter how angry or oppositional they appear to be from across the trenches, are beyond engagement. Islamic State and the Taliban are two of those sad exceptions. While talking about the former in August, Archbishop Tomasi recalled the international community’s failure in 1994 to take up arms to stop the slaughter of Tutsi’s at the hands of the rampaging Hutu majority. “People met, but did nothing, and we have mourned the Rwandan genocide ever since,” he said. “[… The aggression of Islamic State] is not a religious issue, it is not a matter of Christians defending Christians, but it is a call for the defense of human beings by all human beings.” Amen.
Love, formic acid, and a happy new year,