The Year in Review (2013)

"The World is a lot Poorer without You": a tribute to the great people we lost in 2013...

  • Irish poet Seamus Heaney, one of the greatest of the 20th century http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgsaB4NRSak
  • Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe
  • Rock musician Kevin Ayers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnzZZVkFBEk
  • Indian math wizard Shakuntala Devi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0fXPzcbmPk
  • Computer scientist Doug Engelbart, inventor of the mouse and organizer of the "mother of all demos" http://sloan.stanford.edu/mousesite/1968Demo.html
  • Classical composer John Tavener http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xT0MF4XNjkA
  • British biochemist and double Nobel Prize winner Frederick Sanger http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9Wo0UUEh28
  • South African politician Nelson Mandela (see the bottom of this page)
  • Indian anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar
  • Rock musician Lou Reed http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYtzNl48F60
  • Inventor Ray Dolby
  • Japanese film director Nagisa Oshima
  • British sculptor Anthony Caro
  • Jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd
  • Rock keyboardist Ray Manzarek of the Doors
  • Buddhist spiritual leader Satya Narayan Goenka

Most important inventions/discoveries of 2013:
  • The first sea tunnel connecting two continents, the "Marmarya" in Turkey
  • Graphene (Design Trend)
  • Transient electronics
  • High-voltage DC circuit breaker
  • Miguel Nicolelis made two rats communicate (and they were located in two different countries) by capturing the "thoughts" of one rat's brain and sending them to the other rat's brain over the Internet and an electrode.
  • Rajesh Rao and Andrea Stocco devised a way to send a brain signal from Rao's brain to Stocco's hand over the Internet, i.e. Rao made Stocco's hand move, probably the first time that a human was capable of controlling the body part of another human.
See also: Timeline of science and technology
Most important social phenomenon of 2013:
  • The growth of bitcoin, possibly a window into how the future will look like (due to a stunning lack of imagination, so far the main use of the largest decentralized network ever has been as... an advertising platform - if not as a giant surveillance grid)

Scariest trend of 2013:
  • The exponential growth of e-waste thanks to the planned obsolescence of consumer electronics goods and to the multiplication of gadgets (never seen so many gadgets on the market as there are now that they keep telling us that the smartphone is the only gadget one will ever need). See http://www.step-initiative.org/index.php/WorldMap.html

Recommended books of 2013:
  • Thomas Nagel: "Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False". One of my favorite living philosophers.
  • Gary Bass: "The Blood Telegram". Richard Nixon never stops amazing me. One of the worst men of the 20th century. He also had a role in Bangladesh in 1971, one of the worst genocides of the century. Time to list Nixon next to Hitler, Stalin and Mao.
  • Ann Dowsett Johnston: "Drink - The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol" (Harper). Women are the engine of growth for the wine market and are being arrested for drunken driving more often than before, as the numbers for men have remained stable or diminished. (A good review)
  • Josef Joffe: "The Myth of America's Decline" (Liveright). Contrary to what most analysts think.
  • Alissa Quart: "Republic of Outsiders - The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers and Rebels " (New Press). Mainstream culture is being rewritten by small groups of outsiders.
  • Clive Thompson: "Smarter Than You Think" (Penguin). The Internet age is producing a "radical new style of human intelligence".
  • Alice Marwick: "Status Update" (Yale Univ. Press). Social media produce self-promoting competitive (but obedient and conforming) corporate citizens.
  • Howard Gardner and Katie Davis: "The App Generation - How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy and Imagination in a Digital World" (Yale Univ. Press). The psychologist best known for his theory of multiple intelligences dumps his negative view of social media on a generation that probably is not interested in psychology. The book, however, is a great introduction to what childhood was in the 1950s for those who were not there yet.
  • Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier: "Big Data" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In the age of Google and Facebook, you are a credit card with a smartphone. "The ability to capture personal data is often built deep into the tools we use every day". A good introduction to big data for the non-techies.
  • Lee Billings: "Five Billion Years of Solitude" (Current). The field of exoplanets (planets that may host life) has become the fastest growing branch of astronomy.
  • Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky: "The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics" (Basic). An easy introduction to all the important theories that you always pretended are not important.
  • David Stockman: "The Great Deformation". An insider's view into what is wrong with Wall Street in the 21st century
  • Brian Collins: "The Head Beneath the Altar - Hindu Mythology and the Critique of Sacrifice" (Michigan State Univ Press). Hinduism offers an alternative anti-sacrificial worldview to the one contained in the Gospels. It includes a lengthy introduction to Rene Girard's mimetic theory of the sacrificial origin of religion and culture.
  • Thomas Piketty: "Capital in the Twenty-First Century". A study of income inequality over the last century in the West.

Recommended essays of 2013:
Cinema

Best films of 2013:


Music

Best classical recordings of 2013:

  • Bela Bartok's Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 by German violinist Isabelle Faust with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding (Harmonia Mundi )
  • Bela Bartok's Violin Concerto No 2 by Moldovian violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Eotvos (check out the energy of this young violinist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-BTvBmxsvA )
  • Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 with a reconstructed fourth movement by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Simon Rattle (EMI)
  • Arvo Part's Adam's Lament by the Latvian Radio Choir (ECM)
  • Arvo Part's Creator Spiritus (Harmonia Mundi)
See also: Classical music essentials
Best jazz albums of 2013:
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Gamak
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Glass Song
  • Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: Wislawa
  • Ken Vandermark & Mats Gustafsson: Verses
  • Wayne Shorter: Without a Net
  • Tim Berne's Snakeoil: Shadow Man
  • Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Slippery Rock

Best rock musicians of 2013: see this page

Best rock albums of 2013: be patient, it will take one year. I just completed the list for last year.


Best in Hi-Fi:
  • Best stereo amplifier: NAD D 3020
  • Best wireless headsets: Philips M1BT
  • Best turntable: Pro-Ject Essential II or (if you have the money) Debut Carbon
(Yes, there are still people who read Hi-Fi magazines instead of digital gadget magazines)
Visual Arts

New artists discovered in 2013: i marked them with "new" in the list at this page


Politics:

Good news of 2013: See this page

Idiots of 2013: See this page

Winners:

  1. Edward Snowden (the NSA surveillance program has become "the" international topic of discussion of 2013)
  2. Same-sex marriage (that is spreading faster than any other social phenomenon)
  3. Recreational drugs - their legalization will be the next big story (Colorado just became the first state in the USA to legalize marijuana and Uruguay just became the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana)
  4. Russian president Putin (who emerged as the "wise old man" in the Syrian crisis and as the defender of traditional Christian values against the wave of legalization of same-sex marriage and recreational drugs)
  5. Islamic terrorism (spreading to more and more countries of the world), from Russia to China, from Kenya to Mali)
(This does not mean that i personally endorse any of the above, i am just listing the winners)

Losers:

  1. US president Barack Obama (humiliated in Syria and widely unpopular at home for his Obamacare program)
  2. The Syrian rebels (who have basically lost their international allies and therefore the civil war)
  3. India (the one emerging country that is beginning to look more and more like a failed country)
  4. Israel (never so unpopular around the world and now also sidelined by the USA)
  5. News media (the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism report shows the steepest decline ever in audience, 31%)[Note: Digital news media are growing but they really shouldn't be called "news media"]
(This does not mean that i personally dislike any of the above, i am just listing the losers)

Worst country in the world: Saudi Arabia, where women must still cover themselves from head to toe, are still forbidden to drive, and still need permission from a male guardian to travel, work and marry. Only one religion is allowed, all the others are persecuted (up to the death penalty). Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter Mecca and Medina (compare with the openness of other religious cities of the world). And Saudi Arabia has the death penalty for anyone practicing the fifth largest religion in the world and the fastest growing: atheism.

Hero and Person of the Year: Edward Snowden

And this was my eulogy for Mandela:

"Let's surprise them" was Mandela's famous sentence in 1994. South Africa used to be run by a white minority that gave blacks almost no civil rights. Mandela spent many years in jail for his fight against this "apartheid" system. Eventually, he was released, he was allowed to run in democratic elections, his party won, he became president in 1994. Everybody was expecting the blacks to seek revenge on the whites who had oppressed them for so long. Mandela told his associates: "Let's surprise them". Instead of launching a crusade against white people, Mandela forced his own party to forgive and work with the old enemies. And that truly surprised the whites. "Let's surprise them with compassion, restraint and generosity" he is quoted as saying to his former rebels.

Towards the end he must have been disappointed that this globalized world in which we now live, created by fighters like him who risked their lives for an ideal, has become so materialistic, so indifferent to the values of courage, compassion, generosity, sacrifice and reconciliation that he embodied. Money rules more than ever. He probably expects us to create a society that will be even greedier and more selfish than it already is.

Let's surprise him.


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