2021 – The Year in Review

If hindsight is always 2020, what is 2021?

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

The stock market is not the economy

“The stock market is not the economy” has been a truism for years – but what IS the economy?

The year 2021 began with surges in interest and value (however tenuous) in unlikely investment targets such as GameStop, AMC stock, and Dr. Seuss books.

The word “speculation” took on an even more extreme meaning as investors drove up prices on products which had little, even declining, intrinsic value.

The stockmarket reflected that most dreaded of economic conditions; uncertainty.

In national politics

In a year that began with “will we or won’t we” have a new president, January gave us the most destructive assault on our nation’s Capitol buildings in American history.

Fun fact: No Republican candidate for president has won the popular vote yet in the 21st Century. That’s six election cycles!

In local politics

Sen. Jeannie Darneille (D-Tacoma, 27th Legislative District) took an unexpected early retirement to take on a new assistant secretary position for the Women’s Prison Division in the state Department of Corrections.

She was replaced by Yasmin Trudeau who previously served as the legislative director for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.

Since Sen. Jeannie Darneille was elected as a Democrat, it was up to 27th LD Precinct Committee Officers to select three candidates whose names were forwarded to the Pierce County Council, who made the final decision.

Meanwhile, in Seattle

Socialist Seattle District 3 City Council member Kshama Sawant declared “apparent victory”against a recall election. She “won” by far less than 1% of votes cast. Always quotable, she declared it “terrible news all around for the capitalist bums”.

In Real Estate

Every aspect of the real estate market of 2021 was an indicator of the surreal nature of a once stable foundation of our economy.

Prices went up by the day – dramatically – as did the number of those literally priced out of the housing market and sent to join the ever-growing hordes of tent-dwellers on our city sidewalks and streets.

Spanaway was statistically the hottest real estate market in the entire country early on in 2021.

Sale prices of more than $100,000 over initial asking price became common as virtually every house became the target of a bidding war between potential buyers.

In many areas, both local and nationally, real estate prices grew by almost 20% since the previous year.

But over a five year time span, Seattle area (including parts of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties) home prices grew by more than 60%.

In much of Tacoma, the time between listing and sale was five days. With the average sales price at about 10% over asking price.

In a counter-balance to previous trends, rents – both commercial and residential in some of our hottest real estate markets from New York City to San Francisco, dropped dramatically as working from home became a possibility, even a preferred option for many.

We all became cyber-hostages

Before 2021, we all knew that hacking, cyber attacks and ransomware were possibilities. In 2021 they became realities for businesses, schools, government agencies and utilities – among many others.

No one – at any level – was safe. Our digital universe turned out to be far more exposed than any of us could have imagined.

Shortages – of almost everything

Most of us have lived most of our lives with no experience of resource shortages. 2021 brought shortages of everything from lumber to rental cars to ketchup and chicken wings. And pocket change. And housing. And cars. And restaurant workers. And plumbers. And construction workers. And school teachers. And medical staff. And pilots.

The return of inflation

And when it came to food, gas and most other essentials, if you could find it at all, it cost more than it did the last time you paid for it.

The financial experts consoled us by telling us that price increases were temporary.

The rate of inflation was the highest it has been – a bit over 6% – in almost 40 years.

As costs are rising, in theory at least, pay scales should also be rising.

Talking about the weather

Here in the Puget Sound region we had the hottest and driest – then wettest weather in our history.

In December we, even at higher elevations, had far more rain than usual. Flooding ensued in the usual – and not-so-usual places.

Our weather, as always, progressed across North America birthing a series of brutal tornadoes – even in December – across much of the country.

Surface temperatures above the Arctic Circle surpassed 100 degrees (Fahrenheit).

And, in the category of weather-related disasters we never would have even imagined, the greater Denver area experienced a grass-fire driven by winds over 100 mph. This fire incinerated almost 1,000 homes. The next day the entire area was covered by several inches of snow.

It was a year of record-breaking weather in every region and category. But we can be assured that those records will be broken again next year. If not next month.

The (even more) unfriendly skies

Holiday travel in 2021 broke records in terms of numbers of travellers. And flight cancellations.

Nationwide, flight cancellations averaged more than 1,000 per day. Some days well over 2,000.

Weather, COVID and staff shortages combined to make air travel even more stressful.

The Audubon Society will change its name

After 124 years of being one of the oldest independent environmental organizations, the Washington, D.C. based Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) will change its name, citing the racist reputation of 19th-century naturalist John James Audubon. As ANS put it, an enslaver and public anti-abolitionist doesn’t seem like a suitable namesake. The organization will take a year to carefully choose a new name. The National Audubon Society does not currently have plans to make any name changes.

Hello to UFOs

The FBI and other official organizations released videos and transcripts of UFOs from who-knows-what planet or galaxy.

In 2021, that news barely hit the headlines.

2020 Redux

Apparently 2020 was such a great year, or so many of us failed to learn the painfully obvious lessons of it, that we all needed, like recalcitrant students, to do it all over again.

From COVID surges and variations (and protests), to business and school closures and even the return of murder hornets, more and more of us were getting that Groundhog’s Day sensation throughout 2021.

Some even argue that the 2020s are a trilogy – with 2022 as the third installment.

I’ve never been a fan of sequels. In films or years.

Good-bye to Afghanistan

America’s longest (if un-declared) war came to an ignominious end in 2021.

There was no question that it was long past time to leave, but like the Russians in the 1980s, and the British long before them, and the Greeks even longer before, our participation bled us financially and literally with no discernible purpose and our departure was certainly beyond clumsy.

Meanwhile in Hollywood

Spider-Man: No Way Home set a pandemic record and ranks as the third-biggest domestic debut in Hollywood big-screen history with a $253 million debut in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales over its premiere weekend.

In contrast, Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic musical “West Side Story,” which earned rave reviews and Oscar nomination buzz, sold $3.4 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canadian market over the weekend with global receipts at $27.1 million after two weekends in theaters.

Some film critics see these numbers as signs that it just might be the tipping point for endless sequels and remakes.

Xenobots – what could go wrong?

Xenobots are self-replicating living robots based on the genetic material of frogs.

These new creations may have no brains or nervous systems, but they can move around and interact with each other. And reproduce themselves.

In answer to the obvious question of what could go wrong, one of the lead scientists on the project responded that this creation is not “anything that’s going to get out of control in the way that many other technologies are poised to do”.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t find that answer terribly comforting.

The Jurassic Park films might have shown us the hazards of bioengineering of massive creatures like dinosaurs, but somehow I have the feeling that tiny creatures could be even more frightening.

A few prominent departures

In 2021 we lost some cultural reference points whose contributions will stay with us for many years.

First, in the musical category

We lost Charlie Watts (June 2, 1941-August 24, 2021), long-time drummer for The Rolling Stones;

Don Everly (February 1, 1937-August 21, 2021) of the Everly Brothers;

Country music singer-songwriter and author Tom T. Hall (May 25, 1936-August 20, 2021);

Folk singer and songwriter Nanci Griffith (July 6, 1953-August 13, 2021);

Bass player for ZZ Top, Dusty Hill (May 19, 1949-July 28, 2021);

Composer and musician Paddy Moloney (August 1, 1938-October 12, 2021) was a founding member and leader of the Irish musical group The Chieftains;

Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge (March 30, 1941-November 11, 2021);

Musician and songwriter Michael Nesmith (December 30, 1942-December 10, 2021) was one of The Monkees while the show ran on NBC. Their first four albums went to #1 in 1967. After the TV series ended, the band continued for a short time. Nesmith pursued a solo career.

Stars of the stage and (big and small) screen

Clarence Williams III (August 21, 1939-June 4, 2021) was a Tony-nominated actor whose breakout role was as Lincoln “Linc” Hayes in the TV series “The Mod Squad” which ran from 1968-72.

Gavin MacLeod (February 28, 1931-May 29, 2021) was primarily known for his role in “The Love Boat”. He was also in “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Untouchables,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” and “Hawaii Five-O.”

Political and social satirist Mort Sahl (May 11, 1927-October 26, 2021) was a joke writer for Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Bush.

Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller (August 14, 1928-December 9, 2021) was the first woman to receive an Academy Award nomination for best director.

Stephen Sondheim (March 22, 1930-November 26, 2021) essentially reinvented musical theater – and wrote lyrics for shows as diverse as “West Side Story,” “Gypsy,” “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” “Sunday in the Park With George,” and “Into the Woods.”

And in a final act, 2021 took Betty White from us, just a few weeks short of her 100th birthday. Betty White was a fixture of television (and more) for eight decades.

In Law and politics

Attorney F. Lee Bailey (June 10, 1933-June 3, 2021); among many other things, Bailey was on O.J. Simpson’s defense team.

Gen. Colin Powell (April 5, 1937-October 18, 2021) was Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, and was the first Black head diplomat.

Robert Dole (July 22, 1923-December 5, 2021) was senator and presidential candidate. He was the last presidential candidate to have served in World War II.

In Arts and Literature

Eric Carle (June 25, 1929-May 23, 2021) was the author of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” (1969), which delighted children and parents with its tale of the metamorphosis of a green-and-red caterpillar into a multi-colored butterfly. That one book has sold over 40 million copies and been translated into 60 languages.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry (June 3, 1936-March 25, 2021) wove tales of the American West, both historic and contemporary, which depicted characters shaped, even defined by the rugged, hard-scrabble landscapes of the frontier, their personas worn down into raw, unguarded emotions.

Well-known children’s author Beverly Cleary (April 12, 1916-March 25, 2021); most of us have met her central character – Ramona Quimby.

Anne Rice (October 4, 1941-December 11, 2021) author of “Interview With the Vampire” (1973).

Gloria Jean Watkins, a prolific and trailblazing author, poet, feminist, cultural critic and professor, better known by her pen name, bell hooks (September 25, 1952-December 15, 2021).

And in Sports

The NFL will never be the same after the death of John Madden at the age of 85 on December 28. If you don’t know his voice, you don’t know football.

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