Saying goodbye to an (even more) turbulent year

On the eve of the new year 12 months ago, I called 2015 a turbulent year. I was so young. So innocent. So naive.

If only I knew what was coming.

It’s only normal to recap a year and realize how crazy it was. But it’s safe to say that, even in decades from now, we’ll be looking back in time and remembering how extraordinarily bonkers 2016 was.

The celebrity deaths. The terrorist attacks. This freaking presidential election. And we didn’t even get a new Taylor Swift album to ease the pain.

Damn you 2016. Damn you to hell.

But before we finally turn the page in about 48 hours from now, let’s take a few minutes and reflect on the year that was. Remember, we must closely chart history so that we never make the same mistakes again. (Hint: vote differently in 2020, America.)

So what happened this year?

Well, the year began by giving us a new villain to hate: Ethan Couch, the spoiled 16-year-old brat from Texas who stole beer, then illegally drove drunk and killed four people, never saw jail time because of a bogus “Affluenza” defense, and then two years later in early 2016, he violated parole and fled to Mexico with his mom.

Then David Bowie died.

President Obama delivered his last State of the Union, seemingly unifying America for what only lasted for about an hour. Then Sean Penn somehow managed to interview El Chapo, one of the most wanted drug lords in the world who had magically escaped prison.

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Shortly after that, the Iowa caucuses began, giving us upset wins for Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. It was the start of a Bernie frenzy that, sadly, would not last. Fortunately, Ted Cruz’s presidential hopes met the same fate.

The threat of the Zika Virus emerged in South America and parts of the U.S. Hey, it’s a lot less scary then Ebola. So if that’s the worst we got, then I’ll take it!

In early February, the most overblown non-news event of the year happened when Beyonce horrified people to their core with her statement-making Superbowl halftime performance. (If only this stayed the most serious issue of 2016.)

An unofficial eighth Harry Potter book was announced, bringing us a nice distraction.

Then Antonin Scalia died, bringing us a months-long saga to fill his seat that still has not ended.

Next, the Apple vs. FBI showdown — deriving from the FBI’s request for Apple to open a locked phone — though it ultimately ended with a whimper.

But it was all OK, because Leo finally won an Oscar!

Erin Andrews won a ton in cash in her peephole lawsuit in March, the Pope joined Instagram, and President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Cuba in more than 60 years.

Brussels was attacked by terrorists on March 22. North Carolina then began its downward descent by limiting transgender rights, a legal mess that is still ensuing today.

April brought us a Villanova championship and the Panama Papers. Oh, and Kobe Bryant retired.

The wonder over who would go on the new $20 bill ended when the U.S. Treasury picked Harriet Tubman.

Then Prince died.

Puerto Rico went into debt, Canada went on fire, and London elected a Muslim mayor.

In late May, Harambe was killed in a Cincinnati, capturing the world’s attention until…

Muhammad Ali died.

Sexual assault on college campuses was brought to the nation’s attention like never before when a Stanford student was given a light sentence for a rape that was viewed by eye witnesses.

Maria Sharapova was suspended shortly after that for using an illegal drug. it made me sad. Later in the year, the suspension was shortened significantly. And I was happy!

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In mid-June, tragically, 50 people were shot to death inside of a gay nightclub in Orlando. The mass shooting reignited the gun control debate in dramatic fashion, culminating with a sit-in on the Congressional floor. 

Lebron James gave us a nice distraction by bringing a title to Cleveland. But around the same time, a Member of the U.K. Parliament was murdered, underscoring the wild tension in the country surrounding Brexit, a vote that began a populist wave across western democracies.

Terrorism continued into the late summer, with suicide bombings in Turkey killing 42 people. Police shootings in Dallas followed.

But hey, in July, there was something fun! Pokemon Go excited us for like … two weeks.

The fun didn’t last long though with more police shootings in Baton Rouge. After that, there was a terrorist attack in Nice, France.

In my opinion, August brought us the happiest time of the year on an international level — the 2016 Summer Olympics. For two weeks, we were captivated by Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, a refugee team and the idiocy of Ryan Lochte. Just writing about it makes me nostalgic.

Politics and sports continued to coincide, as Colin Kaepernick’s knee received a lot of attention.

The protest over an oil pipeline at the Standing Rock Indian reservation finally gained national attention in September, and ultimately resulted in a positive verdict for the indigenous.

Self-driving cars got here a hell of a lot sooner than we all thought.

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A terrorist attack that resulted in no casualties in New York City caught the nation’s eye, especially when the government made the unique move of sending a text message alert to residents to make them aware of a suspect at large.

Those presidential debates began, which, to this very day, make me cringe until my teeth hurt.

Brangelina split; Kim Kardashian was robbed; and creepy clowns invaded America in October.

Bob Dylan won a Nobel prize, but didn’t care at all. Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live entertained the hell out of us. The Chicago Cubs defied the laws of nature by winning the World Series in early November.

And on Nov. 8, NOTHING HAPPENED. I REPEAT: NOTHING. If you’re reading this in the future, carry on. Nothing to see here.

Fidel Castro died in late November, making us reflect on how the leader of a small island nation had such a big impact on the world for nearly 60 years.

And that brings us to where we are now. A few more deaths followed — John Glenn, Craig Sager, Alan Thicke, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds — and now we are two days away from this tumultuous year coming to an end.

Oh, and Russians hacked our elections.

I’m with you. 2016 sucked for the world. Can it get worse in 2017?

We will soon find out.

See y’all next year.

In 2017, let’s try to have a little more empathy

Without a doubt, one of the most misused words in the English language is ’empathy.’

Too often, it’s amalgamated with another commonly used word — sympathy — when, in reality, the two terms are very different from one another.

And I’m not faulting anyone for it. I’ve made the same mistake. I studied English in college and it’s only recently that I really got a firm grasp on how to properly utilize the word ’empathy.’

Whenever something bad happens, we tell people to empathize for the victims. During this presidential election, we often heard about a lack of empathy for certain subgroups of our population.

But what does that really mean?

To sympathize is to have a visceral, emotional reaction. When you hear about a shooting at an Orlando night club, you sympathize for the mothers who lost their children. When you hear about refugees crossing the Mediterranean in shoddy boats, you sympathize for the infants who must make that dangerous trek, too young to process the chaos that’s even causing it.

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Having sympathy is understanding that something unfortunate happened, and feeling bad about it.

But to empathize is to have a real human connection. When you hear about a tragedy, and instead of just “feeling bad,” you put yourself in the shoes of the victim, and try to imagine how they are feeling. Not how you are feeling about it, but how they are feeling.

And that’s a concept that too many people are unable to grasp.

You saw it time and time again during the election. When certain minority groups were marginalized, it was the majority that told them how they should feel.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my nearly 30 years of living, it’s that we have no right to pass judgment on anybody unless we’ve lived in their shoes and fully understand what they are going through.

I know what it is like to be a white man in the U.S.A. It’s all I’ve ever known. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. To be black. To be Latino. To be gay.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a Muslim living in the U.S. during a time when our president-elect once suggested banning all adherents of that religion from entering our borders.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a transgender, living at a time when states are diminishing their rights.

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And that certainly doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion on women’s rights, or on Black Lives Matter, or on Islam. But that opinion should be forged when taking into account the thoughts and feelings of those who would be most affected by a certain issue.

When people were rioting in St. Louis and Baltimore, after the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, we decried them as savages and animals.

What we didn’t do is try to see the world through their eyes. Understand why they were mad.

When there were no black Oscar nominees for a second straight year, and a backlash ensued, we laughed it off as a ridiculous complaint.

What we didn’t do is understand that what the frustration was really about was that the omission represented the lack of opportunity that exists in Hollywood for black actors, in comparison to their white counterparts.

We react based on our own life experiences, without trying to understand the other.

And I think that’s the true mark of a thoughtful, cultured person. To understand that there are a lot of viewpoints in any given issue, and to try and see the world outside of your own bubble.

Once we see where they’re coming from, then we can form an educated viewpoint, rather than speaking from ignorance.

It’s certainly not easy. But just trying to have more empathy will go a long way towards bringing the people in this world closer together.

I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful.

Let’s all try to be better.

2016’s last laugh: RIP George Michael and Carrie Fisher

If only we knew, when 2016 started, how many people we would lose over the next 12 months who left an indelible mark on our history and our culture.

There are dozens who have died this year, that if you take any one of their lifetime contributions away, then we are living in a different world.

Not a vastly different world — like 12 Monkeys- or Planet of the Apes-type-stuff — but a little different. And that’s saying something. The goal of living is to make a positive contribution that imprints your permanent mark on the world. A way to guarantee you will be remembered, so that your contribution lives on long after you are gone.

And this year, we lost a lot of contributors.

Now, it’s not uncommon to reflect on all the deceased at the end of the year and realize that an extraordinary amount of people died. So in that regard, has 2016 really been that much worse?

I think when you consider the loss of the once-in-a-lifetime icons, like Muhammad Ali, David Bowie and Prince — names so big that even one of them passing away would make it a notable year for celebrity deaths– and then all the other major names in addition, like Arnold Palmer, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, Doris Roberts, Anton Yelchin, Glenn Frey, and so on and so on, then the answer is yes.

And now, George Michael and Carrie Fisher.

It cannot be overstated how ironic it was for George Michael, the man who brought us the holiday classic, “Last Christmas,” to die on Christmas day. But most people will also remember him for his even bigger hits, like “Careless Whisper,” “Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go” and “Faith” — or for millennials, the Limp Bizkit song.

Carrie Fisher, meanwhile, is known by all for her portrayal of a single character — Princess Leia.

What made her character so admirable was how she subverted the usual tropes associated with women in action/adventure films. She wasn’t the typical damsel in distress or Launch Of Star Wars Attraction At Madame Tussaudsbashful woman who only existed for the heroic man to swoop in and save her.

She was tough. She was fierce. And she could defend herself as well as anybody else. It may have been a fictional character, but it undoubtedly sent an important message to the young female fans who adored Star Wars.

And, as an early 20-something filming Return of the Jedi, she looked pretty damn good in that gold-plated bikini. I wouldn’t have brought it up to avoid minimizing her to one image, but, heck, I’m sure she’d like to be remembered that exact way.

But what people also need to remember about George Michael and Carrie Fisher outside of their obvious accomplishments was there bravery to openly discuss certain things that others may perceive as weaknesses.

George Michael came out in late ’80s and became an advocate for AIDS during a time when there was very little support for the gay community in America. He was also outspoken about his battle with depression.

Carrie Fisher, for her part, did not shy away from her struggles with bipolar disorder and drug addiction.

These were more than two cultural icons that we lost in the last three days. These were two brave souls.

And for the love of god, I hope this is the last time I have to talk about celebrity deaths in 2016.

The 2016 word of the year: ‘lit’

Each year, the preeminent English dictionaries release their word of the year — the word that was searched the most by users who were seeking its definition.

And in 2016, those words were clearly shaped by the year’s turbulent political discourse.

Dictionary.com went with ‘xenophobia,’ a term used to describe a fear of the other, and was widely used to decry populist movements in several countries that preached anti-immigrant sentiments.

Merriam-Webster, meanwhile, nearly ended up with ‘fascism,’ a type of far-right radical nationalism popularized by Hitler’s Nazi party, but a late surge allowed them to go with a much safer choice in ‘surreal.’

And Oxford’s word of the year was ‘post-truth,’ which essentially refers to a circumstance where beliefs and emotions are more likely to shape public opinion than objective facts.

Xenophobia, surreal and post-truth. Those words might as well have been stamped on a Trump podium during one of his rallies.

But anyway, the Weinblog rejects those words. Yes, I understand why they piqued people’slit curiosity enough to look them up, but, anyone who has followed popular culture this year knows that there’s another word that infected our collective vocabularies more than any other.

Lit.

There once was a time when that three-letter word would instantly make me think of some classic ’90s songs like “My Own Worst Enemy” or “Ziplock.” But in 2016, it took on a whole new meaning.

If you have a Facebook, or know at least one person under 25, then you have heard this word. And probably pretty recently.

Urban Dictionary defines it as “when something is turned up or popping.” In other words, it’s a slang term to describe something that is highly enjoyable, and to emphasize the intensity of that enjoyment — like a party, or your sobriety level.

You drunk bro?

Hell yeah. I’m mad lit.

Before you judge, just remember that’s it’s a marked improvement over “YOLO” and “I can’t even.”

How familiar you are with this term is definitely predicated on your age. If you’re in your late 20s, like me, it’s probably something you heard once or twice early in the year, lit-apitsignored, and now began hearing it with more regularity. And now you’re just in the puzzlement stage.

And I’ll admit that as an English major and former journalist, it does bother me that each successive generation somehow ends up inventing new words. We have so many freaking words at our disposal that we can use. There are literally dozens of words to describe every single feeling, action or thing. But most people don’t make the effort to learn them.

Indeed, they’re so adverse to doing so that they simply make ones up. And when one of those words is playful and fun enough, it catches on.

Soon enough, Merriam-Webster will incorporate lit as an accepted word.

We always wonder why people from England sound so smart. It’s not just the accent. It’s because they use the correct word to describe things.

In America, we either make ones up or change the meaning of other words.

Next time we wonder why our youth is falling behind on an international level, maybe we should realize that it’s our own fault.

Because, after all … we are our own worst enemies.

Oh well. if you can’t beat them, join them. I hope all your Christmases are lit.

The Weinblog goes to the tropics

There’s a new rule of thumb for 2016 — if you go away for a few days and block yourself off from the news, you are going to miss a lot of shit.

Last week I joked that I came back to the second coming of the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. That is likely an exaggeration (I hope), but this time, I came back to events that more closely resemble a lead-up to another World War. I hope that’s an exaggeration too.

Between assassinationsterror attacks and deadly fireworks explosions, it’s safe to say that the world is a tumultuous place right now. And historians were not slow to point out that the murder of Russia’s envoy to Turkey on Monday bore similarities to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which directly led to World War I.

I could spend the rest of this post opining about the craziness we are living in right now and how these events might affect the global spectrum as we enter a new year, but I won’t. Mainly because I have no freaking clue how things will play out from here, and secondly, I just don’t feel like it.

Instead, I’d rather tell you about where I spent the last four days.

Drumroll please…

*complete silence*

I packed my bags, gathered up my passport and flew down to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Now, anytime you spend time in an all-inclusive resort on a tropical island in the Caribbean Sea at a point when your hometown is experiencing its coldest weather of the year, you are going to have an incredible time.

But I must tell you that if you’ve never been to Punta Cana … go.

And if you do go, I highly recommend you stay at the Presidential Suites on the northern part of the island.

If you like friendly and attentive staff that treat you like royalty; clean and expansive rooms; delicious food; an excess of outdoor activities; and an inclusive environment where everything is spread out yet close enough where you’re basically guaranteed to meet a significant number of people at the resort — then you’ll want to go there.

There was one mistake on my part. When people visit all-inclusive resorts, they tend to stay for several days. Having booked this on a whim with a friend as an end-of-year bonus, we only stayed three nights.

Having to leave a tropical resort mid-week when everyone else you’ve met is just gearing up to let loose for the second half of their stay … well let’s just say it’s quite depressing and that I am in full withdrawal mode right now.

If you go, then stay for a while. Believe me.

But between the serene views and the abundance of friendly people I met from all over the world, it was an unforgettable experience. When you approach the beach and stare out into paradise, it’s pretty hard not to appreciate every moment.

And what was even more refreshing was being in an environment where no one had even the slightest interest in talking about politics. That’s a difficult thing to escape these days.

Punta Cana, you will always hold a special place in my heart.

Go away for a few days, come back to the second Cold War

Every time I know I am going to be gone for a few days, I always contemplate whether I should write a small post explaining why there may be no new content for a few days.

Then I realize: who the hell cares? I doubt many of you are waiting on baited breath for my next entry, and anyone who is is well aware that I have disappeared for days at a time and always came back. Like this past week, for instance, when I was in Florida.

So if I don’t post for more than, let’s say, a whole month, you can safely assume I’ve either been kidnapped or am dead.

That being said, this may very well be my only post until the middle of next week, as I am taking a trip out of the country early Saturday morning. I’ll let you find out where when I return.

In my absence, meanwhile, a lot has happened. Which seems to be the trend in this country these days.

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Given the inexplicable outbreak of iconic celebrity deaths this year, it should come as no surprise that we lost a couple of other big names — actor Alan Thicke and basketball reporter Craig Sager.

The former was known for being the gentle father from the late ’80s TV show “Growing Pains,” and the latter the vibrantly dressed basketball lifer who inspired millions when his fight against cancer ignited a movement, #SagerStrong, highlighted by his incredible speech at last year’s ESPY awards.

Rest in peace, gentlemen.

Besides that, all of the news seemed to be dominated by more head-scratching Trump appointments — like his selection of Rick Perry to lead the department he once couldn’t remember the name of — and increasing animosity between the U.S. and Russia.

And in some cases, those two things intertwined.

Of course, we were dropped a bombshell late last week when we learned that Russian hackers also infiltrated the Republican National Convention, but did not leak any of their findings, ultimately leading U.S. intelligence analysts to the conclusion that Russia effectively played a role in comprising our presidential election.

On top of that, we learned that Republican lawmakers were notified of this before the election, but decided they did not want to come out publicly to denounce it. Basically … we just let it happen.

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A lot of people will shrug this off and say, “who cares?” The election is over and we should move on. In fact, that is exactly what Donald Trump is saying.

But the fact of the matter is that this undermines the stability of our entire democracy. We take free and open elections for granted, but they are the basic pillar of our republic, and to have them tampered with by a foreign country with whom we share a checkered past is destabilizing at best, and an act of warfare at worst.

And yet, the president-elect does not want to even acknowledge it happened.

I don’t know what is more shocking — the revelation of how fragile our democracy is, or our indifference towards it.

Cold wars don’t start with an obvious act of military conflict. They slowly marinate over time. Most Generation Y-ers like me were too young (or not born yet) to appreciate the end of the Cold War between the United States or Soviet Union. But in case you’re wondering what it looks like, well, if we’re not there yet — we will be soon.

But don’t worry, oil tycoon Rex Tillerson will fix it.

If I hadn’t ended about six other posts since Election Day with the words “God help us,” I’d do it again right now.

Screw it.

God help us.

Godspeed John Glenn: The death of a space hero

There was once a time when parts of our world had still yet to be explored. When certain realms of this planet could only be imagined in our minds, and not in pictures or videos.

The mysteries were so great that it took the most undaunted explorers and adventurers to figure them out.

Circumnavigating the Earth by boat. Hiking the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Flying from New York to France.

At some point, these things had never happened before.

And, of course — orbiting the Earth.

The man who became the first American to accomplish the latter, and who reignited the imaginations of Americans while providing a patriotic boost to the country during the height of the Cold War, John Glenn, passed away on Thursday at the age of 95.

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Glenn, a World War II and Korean War veteran who flew more than 100 combat missions, became a national hero and icon when he became the fifth American in space on Feb. 20, 1962 at age 40 and got a 360-degree view of what our planet looks like.

He then served as a United States Senator from Ohio for 24 years.

Now that you have some context about this great American, whose achievements pioneered exploration and redefined the abilities of the human spirit, let’s fast forward to our present day President-Elect, Donald J. Trump, a man who was granted five draft deferments during the Vietnam War and who built an empire out of firing people.

And a man who, despite the amazing power and influence he holds over millions of people, still can’t resist bullying people on Twitter.

His latest target? Union leader Chuck Jones.

After Trump boasted last week about saving more than 1,100 jobs at Carrier, the air conditioning manufacturing company, Jones, a union leader who represents Carrier, spoke to CNN and the Washington Post about how Trump lied about the number he jobs he actually saved.

Jones was naturally upset when he learned that Trump was bragging about saving jobs when some 550 of his colleagues will still be laid off, and all the while, Carrier will receive $7 million in tax breaks.

So what does Trump do? Post two tweets, claiming Jones has done a “terrible job” leading his union — even though Mike Pence once praised him.

And because there’s a lot of crazies out there who feel emboldened by Trump’s rise, Jones has now received death threats.

This is the man who is now our president. Who can’t handle a single word of criticism without tweeting about it. And who sees nothing wrong with targeting private citizens.

Once upon a time, the dreamers of our nation looked up to men like John Glenn, who saw no boundaries to our country’s ability to innovate and inspire. Thirty-seven years after his historic flight, he took to the heavens again, becoming the oldest man to fly into space at age 77.

And now we elect men like Donald Trump.

How far we’ve come.