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Year of Fear

A year ends. A year begins. A light fall of feathery snowflakes drifts in slow-motion zigzags outside my window, adding a thin layer of freshness to the crusty banks of snow thickly piled around the entrance to my house. A hot fire burns in the wood stove, warming the inside air. The start of the calendar year is a time when I tend to look both forward and back.

Unlike the winter solstice, Jan. 1 does not correspond to any solar or other celestial event. Itís just the first day in the first month of a calendar inherited during our colonial past.

Human accounting of calendar years has always been fraught with error. The fundamental problem faced by any calendrical system is that the journey of the Earth around its star cannot be measured in whole days. A complete swing of our tiny blue clod of cosmic debris around the sun takes about 365 days, eight hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds.

About 250 years ago, Jan. 1 was the start of the yearís 11th month on a calendar somewhat different from the one we use today. Back then, New Yearís Day was celebrated in March. In 1752, King George II imposed upon his British colonies the Gregorian calendar (which immediately jumped the date forward eleven days) and, in addition, moved the official start of the year to Jan. 1. These calendrical adjustments had some interesting effects on historic dates. For example, George Washington, who was originally born on Feb. 11, 1731, on the Julian calendar, found his birth date shifted to Feb. 22, 1732, on the new system for counting days.

While the start date for calendars has changed over the years and has varied from culture to culture, the start of a new year has been a time to reflect on the past and look forward toward the future. I like to take some time here and there at this transition point between years to reflect upon highlights of the past yearís events and to think about what may come to fill the year thatís just beginning to unfold.

My most salient recollections of the just-past calendar year have been dominated by the actions of another GeorgeóGeorge W. Bush. Over the last year, his attorney general, John Ashcroft, has repeatedly appeared before the media to reaffirm the nationís high level of alert for a terrorist attack. The administrationís color-coded terrorist alert system was stuck on yellow for most of the year with an occasional increase to the next-higher level of threatóorange. How many times did you hear that unknown terrorists were likely to attack unknown targets at some unknown time?

Fear has played a major role in George W.ís calendar year of activities. Some ascribe this fear factor as an attempt to garner support from an American public that rejected him in the popular vote of the 2000 election. According to recently uncovered documents, his reelection campaign strategists are now working up plans to capitalize on this fear during the 2004 election.

While Ashcroft worked hard at promoting public fear, George W.ís secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, has kept pushing the war button. Iraq is his current target. While Ashcroft canít ever seem to provide any details about impending terrorist events, Rumsfeld repeatedly has failed to provide any evidence to the American public that could justify a war in Iraq. Interestingly, the arguments made for attacking Iraq seem to make more sense when applied to George W.ís good friend Saudi Arabia, a country that has an oppressive monarchy and direct connections to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Under the twisted logic of George W. and his cabinet, war has become peace.

Things have not gone as smoothly as would have been liked by George W. and his band of fear-and-war promoters during the last year. The war in Afghanistan is quickly bogging down into the warlord chaos that sent the Soviet Union occupiers packing. George W.ís holiday gift to taxpayers of a resurrected mega- billion-dollar Star Wars missile-defense system, which has failed to show that it can either work or provide any real additional security.

While billions of taxpayer dollars go down the economic rat hole dug by George W. and his proponents of war and fear, the health and welfare of the American people are being readily sacrificed. Unemployment rises as the economy flounders and massive national deficits accumulate. The number of Americans without adequate health care is rapidly on the upswing while George W. pushes smallpox vaccinations for a disease that has been eradicated for decades. The environmental quality of our air, land and water goes down while George W. furthers the nationís addiction to petrochemicals and further erodes our civil rights.

We are told to prepare, in the coming months, for a war that is inevitable though unexplainable. We are told that the threats of terrorist attacks will remain high, though no details will be provided. We are told that getting vaccinated for smallpox and building a missile shield will make us more secure without any evidence to support such claims.

Against this backdrop of fear and war, I see a brightening light of hope that rises from the spirit of resistance that grows among the people of this land. My hope is that in the coming weeks and months, protests against George W.ís agenda of war and fear will grow as more and more of a new ďsilent majorityĒ decide to not remain so silent. As the light of days lengthens and winter approaches spring, I hope to see more and more people joining together to actively resist this administrationís fear-and-war initiatives.

May your coming year be one of good health and peace, despite George W. and company. To keep up on local peace actions, check out the great calendar of regional events at www.hvcc.edu/ ntp381080/peacecal1.html.

óTom Nattell


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