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2016 In Review  Looking back at a tumultuous year

Light and Shadow

The Year In Review

Welcome to The Out Post’s first yearly review. I started this blog earlier this year and despite planning to write more, life seemed to get in the way somehow. I promise you my Dear Reader that one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to update this more often; Writing about the years major events as they happen, rather than in the months afterwards.

I’m taking a roughly chronological look back at all the major events throughout 2016, as well as looking at some of the major recurring themes throughout the year.  It has been such a hectic year for news; so much so that many of the smaller events seemed to slip through the cracks. We navigated between terror attacks, political shock, dead celebrities and major entertainment and sporting events, but despite the tumultuous year we made it out alive. Well, the dead celebrities didn’t, but most of us did…

The Zika Virus

In January the World Health Organization announced that the Zika Virus was Spreading ‘Explosively‘. First discovered in Uganda in 1947, the virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito, and can cause major birth defects. It was an occurance in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world since its discovery,  but an outbreak of 2016’s scale was unprecedented. Zika was not a “Superbug” on the scale of Ebola or SARS, despite the media hype. It is not a fatal disease, but the birth defects and its effects on children can be incredibly damaging. After a major eradication effort by the WHO and Latin American authorities, the WHO announced in November that it was no longer considered an emergency. However travel warnings are still in place for pregnant women travelling to Latin America and Africam, and the while the outbreak may have been contained, the virus is far from eradicated.

For a look at the dangers of past and potential disease outbreaks and “Superbugs”, ‘The Coming Plague‘ by Laurie Garrett is an excellent read. It takes a look at the attempts made in the past to fight major outbreaks of diseases and the genuine threat of an emergency in the future. It’s a much better option than the tabloids, at least.

There were other positive health and science breakthroughs throughout the year that may have been overlooked. In December the first successful vaccine was developed for The Ebola Virus with a 70-100% success rate in its trial runs. The WHO also reported in its yearly statement that “The Americas was declared free of measles, Europe was declared free of malaria, and Region of South East Asia beat maternal and neonatal tetanus.”

Death of David Bowie

It’s hard to pick one single celebrity death in 2016, they seemed to be ubiquituous throughout the year, but Bowie’s passing In January was probably the most significant. One of the handful of most defining Rock Artists of the 20th century, Bowie spawned Glam Rock and defined the concept album with the release of ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’. He was recording for five decades, and his effortless switch between multiple persona’s and musical styles made him both a music and fashion icon.

The Inimitable Icon
The Inimitable Icon

The 88th Academy Awards

In February Hollywood’s biggest night again took place. In 2016 the Oscar’s were hosted by Chris Rock, but the issue of black representation somewhat marred the event, with criticism of the Academy favoring white actors and actresses. This was the year Leonardo DiCaprio got his long awaited Oscar for his performance in The Revenant. Mad Max: Fury Road picked up the most awards, and Spotlight won Best Picture.

I would normally list my favourite films of the year, but I realized I watched very few released in 2016. For TV releases I highly recommend The BBC Adaptation Of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and Netflix’s Stranger Things.

The Brussels Bombings

In March  five European born islamic extremists killed 35 people and injured hundreds of others, in three separate suicide bombings in Brussels Airport and Maalbeek Metro Station. There were many parallels that were able to be drawn to the Paris Attacks in November 2016. Saleh Abdeslam and all the other Brussels Bombers  were also involved in the planning of the Paris Attacks alongside Bataclan Mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud. All attackers were born in Western Europe, radicalized in Europe and members of the same ISIL terror cell based in Brussels.

Following the string of terror attacks throughout Europe since Charlie Hebdo, by the time Brussels occurred we had nearly run out of hashtags. We then followed the same fruitless process as was outlined by the as the ever brilliant Douglas Murray in his piece on the attacks. The string of terror attacks in Western Europe were amongst the most depressing stories in 2016, alongside….

CCTV Footage Of The Brussels Attackers
CCTV Footage Of The Brussels Attackers

The European Migration Crisis

This topic that I first planned on writing about in detail, yet still haven’t got around to.

In March the European Union negotiated a deal with Erdogan’s government in Turkey, commonly referred to as the “Turkish Deal”. This amounted to something of a stop gap measure, with the Turkish authorities actively combating people smugglers and halting the flow of migrants across the Aegean. This deal combined with Bulgaria, Hungary and the major transit points in the Balkans having been shut in 2015, meant that the migrant route between Turkey and Western Europe was shut. However when you deal with an autocrat, tempers can easily flare. In November Erdogan threatened to end the deal, if The EU did not accelerate Turkey’s EU accession talks, and meet the other  terms  as had been promised.

So long as the millions in bribe money flows, the Turkish Deal will likely continue to hold. However far from being dormant, The Migrant Crisis continued to a frenzy in the Southern Mediterranean. According to UNHCR data over 180,000 migrants entered Italy from North Africa in 2016. Unlike a majority of those who used the Aegean route in 2015, very few of those entering Italy were from Syria or fleeing war. Rather Nigerians, Guineans and Eritreans were amongst the most populous nationalities to attempt the perilous crossing. Next to no-one from these countries will have a legitimate case for asylum; they are not fleeing war or persecution, but poverty and a dismal future.

People Smugglers exploited the lack of order in Libya to use the country as a transit route to Italy, and despite charging exorbitant amounts, were happy to send their customers off in barely seaworthy dinghy’s and profit from human misery. At least 200 African’s drowned in November, in one of the crisis’s  largest shipwrecks off the coast of Libya in this manner.

The dismantling of the Calais “Jungle” camp by French authorities in October was another major event of the crisis this year. The thousands of migrants in the shanty town, unwilling to claim asylum in France or anywhere else in Western Europe, continued to try their luck at sneaking into the back of a truck bound for the UK.

Refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea on a boat, heading from The Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, 29 January 2016.
Refugees crossing the Mediterranean sea on a boat, heading from The Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, 29 January 2016.

The Nagorno-Karabakh Border Clashes 

In April a border clash occurred that had the potential to spiral into a proper war. Border clashes between Armenia and Azerbeijan are far from unheard of. In 2015 alone there were more than 100 breaches of the ceasefire that was signed between the two parties, at the end of the last conflict in 1994. These particular clashes were far more serious – lasting long enough to be given the mantle of the “Four Day War”. Both sides accused the other of starting the provocations, but given Azerbeijan’s deteriorating economy and Armenia being the de facto administrator of the territory, it was likely the Azeri’s who were responsible. The Azzerbeijani President should perhaps stick to his amusing twitter war over Armenia, rather than an actual war.

The Banter is out of this world
The Banter is out of this world

Much like Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria and in many ways Crimea, Nagorno Karakh remains another contentious piece of territory, whose sovereignty was never quite settled on due to the rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union. It is an Armenian enclave within Azerbeijan, and while it might seem obvious that the Azeri’s should have control over the territory, the mutual emnity between Muslim Azeri’s and Christian Armenian’s and the tragic history of Armenia in the 20th century meant they were unwilling to let the territory be taken. The Armenians are a people who have suffered through huge land loss in the 20th century. Much of their former homeland was ethnically cleansed at the end of the Ottoman Empire (Now Forming Van Province and its environs in Turkey) and their dream of a restoration of their former territory was crushed in the Turkish War of Independence, as it was for the Greeks with Constantinople. It’s this history behind the issue  that makes the territory so sacrosanct to them. I’m sure we’ll see more border clashes in 2017, but hopefully nothing of this year’s scale.

 

The Panama Papers

In April a set of 11.5 million confidential documents were published, taken from the Panama based Law Firm and Corporate Service Provider Mossack Fonseca. These documents soon christened “The Panama Papers” implicated hundreds of prominent individuals in tax evasion

It was not only the usual suspects who were found complicit of potential  tax evasion like Oil Sheikh’s and the Political classes of the Developing World , but prominent Western celebrities, businessmen and even heads of government throughout the Anglosphere like Malcolm Turnbull and David Cameron.

Whilst most of these escaped mostly unscathed after the media limelight shone elsewhere, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson – The Prime Minister of Iceland was forced to resign due to nothing else happening in Iceland at the time, and because Reykjavik prison had been empty for ten years and recently refurbished, so it would be a shame not to use the space.

Brexit

Brexit

The largest political upset in recent British history took place in June when Britain voted 52 -48 to leave the European Union. Opinion polls had put Remain in the lead , even on the final day leading to the vote. Major figures from across UK party lines had campaigned for and against. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and a rather unenthustiastic Jeremy Corbyn campaigned to remain, whereas Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were two of the most influential leave campaigners. Nigel Farrage meanwhile ran his own unaffiliated campaign, but despite being a shameless opportunist – in fairness to the man, the vote never would have happened without him.

As the results came in, it was clear that towns in the North of England, Scotland and major metropolitan areas were not voting remain in as larger numbers as expected. As the Leave Vote became inevitable, Nigel Farrage and others on the leave campaign rejoiced. David Cameron and Nick Clegg had both resigned by the end of the day.

Much of the British Political establishment were left stunned with the result, especially remain campaigners and likely politicians campaigning to leave as well. In the wake of the vote there was a brief period of introspection from Labour, until resorting to the usual partisan in-fighting and accusations of racism. The Conservative Party quickly moved to find a replacement Party Leader and Prime Minister to fill David Cameron’s shoes, with Michael Gove falling to hubris and backstabbing Boris Johnson and dooming his own political future in the process, before finding a newly refurbished Iron Lady in the form of Home Secretary Theresa May.

The current Tory government has promised to begin the formal process of Britain Leaving the EU in March 2017.

 

E3 2016

While it may not have the same status as the Olympics or The Oscar’s: E3 – the most anticipated event of the year for gamer’s took place in Los Angeles in  June.

Without a doubt the game that stole the show was The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, which is shaping up to be potentially the most exciting open world action game ever released. It is the last game for the Wii U and the first for Nintendo’s new hybrid Switch console, which was announced only in October.

It will be interesting to see Nintendo’s strategy of combining their handheld and console divisions for the first time works out. All I’m certain of is that I will be playing Zelda non-stop from the first day it hits shelves. While on the topic of gaming, my personal game of the year would have to be Overwatch. The most enjoyable and fresh competitive FPS in a long, long time.

 

Orlando Nightclub Shooting

In June The United States saw its first major terror attack since the 2015 San Bernadino Shootings. Omar Mateen massacred 49 people in the Pulse gay Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, pledging allegiance  to ISIS before carrying out the attack. I previously wrote an article on the topic in the days after the attack, essentially urging people not to jump to conclusions as to his motives. As at the end of 2016 it is STILL unknown as to whether Mateen was a homosexual himself, and whether the attack was motivated by his own personal sexual grievances or out of religious radicalization.  One man came forth claiming to be his “gay lover”, but his claims cannot be verified. His ex-wife also revealed to the press that she thought he was gay.Mateen also had a history of visiting the Pulse Nightclub as well as using LGBT dating apps. However the FBI does not believe that Mateen was gay,in which case the Orlando shooting would bear resemblance to a traditional islamic terror attack.  The full motives of Mateen will be known once the FBI releases their investigative report.

 

Nice Terror Attack

In July France experienced another deadly terror attack, when Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a 19 tonne truck into the crowds celebrating Bastille Day on the Promenade Des Anglais in Nice. Hundreds were injured and eight seven people were killed, including the perpetrator. Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was a Tunisian muslim who had been living in France for 11 years. It emerged that he became self-radicalized online in the months leading up to the attack. In addition to strange behaviour recounted by his family, Police discovered images from ISIS affiliated forums, and a history of visiting jihadist websites.The attacks took place under the State Of Emergency declared after the Paris Attacks in November, which has been extended until after the 2017 Presidential elections.

A tragic but less deadly attack took place in Berlin in December, when another Tunisian national carried out a terror attack in a Christmas Market using similar methods.

Rio Olympics

In August the world came together for one of the best celebrations of humanity as Rio De Janeiro hosted the 31st Summer Olympic Games. Despite Brazilians having a Looming impeachment vote of their President Dilma Rousseff (Which occurred shortly after the event, and really the Lava Jato scandal deserves its own write up) and poorly performing economy, they managed to pull the event off without any major issues. It didn’t stop the tabloids having a field day predicting everything from major terror attacks, to crumbling infrastructure, to health scare’s and widespread robbery. In fact the most significant crime turned out to have been fabricated by US Swimmer Ryan Lochte, as an attempt to cover up his drunken vandalism at a petrol station.

Brazil’s poor economy meant they couldn’t spend as much as the British or Chinese on their opening ceremony, but despite the cutbacks it was still pretty impressive. Also impressive was the surprising success of Great Britain, managing to beat China at the overall medal tally and come in 2nd place behind The United States. Per capita New Zealand performed well, and for the first time ever Fiji won an Olympic Medal.

As to whether the Swimming Pool’s and Gymnastic Halls will be used after the event is anyone’s guess, but judging from the state of many of the venue’s in Athen’s and Beijing, it’s unlikely. However the investment in Rio’s infrastructure is at least a positive outcome of the millions spent, and millions lost through corruption. Yours truly is hoping to attend the 2020 Games in Tokyo, which were previewed in the closing ceremony in the coolest way possible as Shinzo Abe transformed into Super Mario.

 

Other major competitive events included Portugal Winning Euro 2016 (PORTUGAL CARALHO!), The Chicago Cubs winning Baseball’s World Series and Ukraine winning The Eurovision Song Contest. Not that I watched Eurovision or anything….

 

The US Election

Brilliant Parody Of American Gothic by The Spectator
Brilliant Parody Of American Gothic by The Spectator

In November 2016 The people of America finally voted for their next President. The night of November 8th was the culmination of over a year of  Democratic and Republic primaries, and months of hard campaigning by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Brexit may have been a shock, but Donald Trump’s Victory was totally unexpected. I covered the election in detail in an earlier post, but while watching the results trickle through on NBC News I could barely believe it. Compared to Brexit, a Trump Victory was statistically far less likely. While Americans may have considered a Trump win as a remote possibility, in comparison to the Leave Campaign’s knife edge percentage in the later polls, he was several percentage points behind. Millions of Progressive minded American’s sat in shock, asking themselves how their country had elected this idiot. While I could make a smug comment about how Democracy is Representative. I’m going to leave judging Trump in detail until after he actually takes power.

Trump was such a major political milestone that some pundits are now using the phrase “Post Trump Politics”, even before the man has been inaugurated. If there was one thing that Trump defined, it was the divisiveness that America is currently experiencing.

Death of Fidel Castro 

After countless botched assasination attempts, El Presidente finally succumbed to his own mortality and died in November. His death closes another chapter of the Cold War. Perhaps only Gorbachev’s passing can truly put a close to the Soviet Legacy. In the wake of his death the Cuban Expat community in Florida broke out into sponteneous street parties. He also earned heavily selective praise for his revolutionary status from left leaning Political Figures across the west including Justin Trudeau of Canada and Jeremy Corbyn of The United Kingdom.

Death of Harambe

I mean the memes were kind of funny for a week….though they had nothing on Picardy.

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Resignation Of John Key

In December the Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key resigned. While on a global scale the departure’s of Dilma Rousseff, Matteo Renzi and David Cameron were all far more significant, I’m writing from a New Zealand perspective, and unlike the aforementioned end of political careers, there was no Scandal or referendum that caused this. He simply decided he had enough…or didn’t want to chance loosing an election, or his wife told him he had to quit. Honestly the verdict is still out, but it was quite a shock.

Syrian Civil War

The last remnant of the Arab Spring was kept alive through ongoing meddling  by foreign powers in the affairs of the Syrian People, each wanting to fulfil their own geopolitical aims. There are no angels in Syria – only possibly a lesser of two evils, and the west, due to pressure from allies in the Gulf, sided with the greater one. I will cover The Syrian Civil War in detail in a future post, but regardless of all the analysis you can read, the human toll has been appalling. Watching Scenes from the Fall Of Aleppo makes one think that you’re watching the same scenes that will be played out in future history classes.

Some of the most horrific footage emerged from the wake of the Battle Of Aleppo. In December The Syrian Arab Army finally captured the shell that remained of the city of Aleppo from the various rebel and islamist factions that had controlled it.  As the campaign heated, thousands of civilians fled the city attempting to find refuge in Turkey. The situation  is complex with the Turkish border crossings: Very few crossings are controlled by the Syrian Government on the Syrian side of the border – many have switched hands between Islamist rebel groups as well as Kurdish YPG forces. Regardless of who controls them on the Syrian side, all have been shut by the Turkish authorities. Therefore, any goods or persons must come in a one-way direction from Turkey.  The only refugee’s who were able to cross the Turkish border in 2016 had to pay people smuggler’s exorbitant fee’s.  Turkey had been struggling with the hundreds and thousands of existing refugee’s within its borders, and along with all others had shut the border in Bab al-Salam, the closest major crossing to Aleppo. Unless the refugee’s of Aleppo were wealthy enough to pay to be illegally trafficked, there was no way for them to leave the country. The “Turkish Deal” negotiated between Turkey and the European Union in March, in an attempt to stop the flow of refugees as well as migrants from elsewhere towards Europe, ensured that the borders will remain shut for the foreseeable future.

In amongst the bloodshed and carnage of the war, there have been a few positive stories. Several Syrian refugee’s were offered the chance to compete at the Rio Olympics this year, as part of a refugee team. In March the ancient city of Pamyra was recovered from ISIS by the Syrian Arab Army. Thankfully many of the most prized antiquties from the ancient city had been transferred to storage. The head of antiquities bravely chose to suffer beheading by ISIS instead of revealing their location. Whilst the Fall of Aleppo marked a turning point in the war, the fighting will still continue in 2017.

 

Themes Of 2016

Populism

Certainly the most used word of the year, if not the theme of the year. Populism was once a charged leveled from Conservatives against the Left-Leaning Latin American leaders who came to prominence in the early 2000s such as Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales. They championed popular causes but failed to have the economic credentials or were simply unwilling to deliver on their promises. In the West, Populism comes packaged in the language of the right. Rather than blame being directed at The United States as a means of solving all ills and a promise of a generous Welfare State as in Latin America, the blame is directed towards “The Establishment” and social issues will be fixed via a return to nationalism. This means re-industrializing and instituting protectionist consumer policies, going against existing free trade agreements and globalized policies. It also most controversially means a change from laissez-faire multiculturalism or social libertarianism, into a nationalism based on pre-defined ethnic and religious/cultural identity.

The charge of being Populist always seemingly leveled at a Politician either maliciously or patronizingly. It doesn’t matter whether or not their cause has merit or not – any sort of change to the status quo is now considered “Populist”. Brexit and Trump are considered by many to have spearheaded the populist movements across the west, but Populism and Anti-Globalist movements seemed to be sprouting up in every country. Like David Cameron in Britain, Matteo Renzi in Italy was forced to resign on the result of a referendum championed by a populist political movement. In Austria a “Far Right” candidate nearly took the presidency.

Rodrigo Duterte was elected President of The Philippines in June, and immediately began to compete with Donald Trump as to who could be the biggest political loudmouth of 2016. His wild list of outrageous statements, his seeming u-turn in foreign policy in pivoting towards China (Despite it being far from The Phillipine’s Best interests due to territorial disputes in the South China Sea) and his brutal crackdown on Drug Use led him to capture newspaper headlines.

This wave of populism has led to a consensus on the left to refer to 2016 as horrible. Progressive darling John Oliver declared 2016 to be the “Fucking Worst” The whole pre-existing political order and consensus across the west seemed to be overturned. This chaotic climate led led Oxford dictionaries to announce “Post Truth” was their word of the year, which is certainly an improvement upon 2015’s rather less verbose 😂 emoji.  While progressively inclined individuals may be expecting the drama of 2016 to be forgotten, as one big hangover, 2017 is bound to disappoint. On January 20th Donald Trump will be inaugarated as the next President of the United States. In March Theresa May’s government is expected to enact Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, thereby formally beginning the procedures for The United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Marine Le Pen may even take the French Presidency in the 2017 election (though it is unlikely. Everything that 2016 has dug up, is not going to disappear anytime soon.

 

Terrorism

Across Europe and the Islamic World, Terror Attacks – especially ISIS perpetrated were a frequent theme. It seems ever since 9/11 we’ve been living in the shadow of terror, but since ISIS took their wave of territory in 2014, attacks on the west have been far more frequent. While Nice, Orlando and Brussels shocked the world, there was a frequent wave of “lone wolf” or smaller incidents in between them.

France and Turkey were subjected to numerous smaller scale terror attacks, many of them ISIS perpetrated, but most linked to political grievances over the Syrian Civil War and their respective armies attacking the “Soldiers of Islam”. The Russian Ambassador to Turkey was shot live on camera, in an apparent protest to the Syrian Civil War. While it wasn’t certain as to whether the Central Asian Attaturk Airport attackers who killed 44 people in June were authorised by ISIS, one of the attackers was an ISIS recruiter, and it was believed the attack was in retaliation to Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War.

Of course while the west suffered, the reality of terrorism was more frequent in the Middle East. The majority of terror attacks took place this year within Syria and Iraq – either by ISIS themselves or by Islamist fighters. Many of the suicide attacks in Iraq were due to Sunni/Shia religious sectarianism, while many of those in Syria were targetting civilians in areas held by rival fighting groups. In April The Taliban killed 64 people in Kabul in a suicide bombing. Meanwhile the world was left wondering whether EgyptAir Flight 804 was a terror attack or not.2016 made for depressing news when it came to terror.

Obituaries

While people die every year, this year more important people died than normal –  We call these people celebrities In all seriousness it seemed that every month a string of famous faces passed away. Aside from the aforementioned Bowie and Castro, the following is a list of some prominent individuals who passed away in 2016.

  1. Prince
  2. Carrie Fisher
  3. George Michael
  4. Alan Rickman
  5. Harper Lee
  6. Gene Wilder
  7. Leonard Cohen
  8. Muhamad Ali
  9. Umberto Eco
  10. Harper Lee
  11. Justice Scalia
  12. King Bhumibol Adulyadej Of Thailand

Closing Notes

2016 certainly has been an eventful year.If there’s one thing that can summarize the year – it would have to be ‘change’. 2016 may be seen as a turning point in the future; certainly the populist wave that has swept across the west would indicate that. Yet 2017 offers no sign of slowing down – in fact 2016 has only set in motion the major political changes that are to be enacted in the months to come. Donald Trump’s Presidency moves from beyond the Twittersphere and into the Oval Office. Brexit is on track to become political reality and The French and Italian elections will have the mainstream candidates fighting off against their populist rivals.

In my Personal Life I am working on getting Quotetastic out on Kickstarter in the next few months, as well as further up skilling as a Web Developer. I’m hoping to do a bit more travel, possibly to Brazil savings pending. I also am working on a novel which I hope to share news of in the months ahead.

And so in the closing minutes of 2016 I would like to wish all my reader’s a Happy New Year and hope 2017 is prosperous and eventful –  if not for you, then certainly at least for this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

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