The year is over. It’s already 2016 in most places at the time this article goes up, but it’s still December 31 here, and this will be the final article of 2015 on As is traditional, in this article I’ll recap the top three of my favorite articles that ran on this blog during the past year. Numbers 10, 9, 8 and 7 are here; numbers 6, 5 and 4 are here. These aren’t the most popular in terms of page views or comments–far from it–but rather what I subjectively think are the best articles I wrote this year, and which come closest to expressing fully what I want this blog to be and what I want it to say to the world. (I also did a recap of the best visual images from the year, here, and gave my own “Blog Awards” for the best of everyone else’s blogs that I read in 2015, here). So now, here goes the final article of 2015, and a look back.

mosquito coast

3. Paradise Lost: The Libertarian nightmare of Peter Weir’s “The Mosquito Coast.”

I did a lot of movie analyses on my blog this year, and of them all I think this, which ran on January 29, was the best. Australian director Peter Weir’s 1986 drama The Mosquito Coast is a fairly obscure film, a box-office disappointment and generally believed to be a career low for star Harrison Ford, though he is personally very proud of it. In this article I analyzed the film from the standpoint of political ideology, specifically the utopian vision of its tragic antihero, Ally Fox (Ford), who leads his family to a remote village in Central America where he thinks he’ll be building a perfect mini-society, but the rigidity and unrealistic nature of his thinking quickly turns it into a nightmare for everyone else. I like this article because I was able to connect various subtexts of the story to modern political developments, especially the resurgence in popularity of Libertarian thinking, which despite the “liberty” in its name and often professed by its adherents, is in fact a deeply authoritarian and repressive ideology–something The Mosquito Coast portrays beautifully. Controversial, yes, but this article stands out as one of my more thoughtful film pieces, and leaves the reader, I hope, with a lot to consider.

germany suicides header

2. Farewell, Mein Führer: The German mass suicide wave of 1945.

As far as “straight” history goes, this article from April 28 turned out to be far better than I ever had any right to expect. It started life as a pretty standard “today in history” type post (the last week in April saw the 70th anniversaries of various momentous events at the end of World War II in Europe), but became more thoughtful as I tried to think through the puzzle of why over 7,000 people in Germany decided to kill themselves instead of face the reality of living in a post-war world without Hitler and the Nazis in power. As you’ll see from the article it’s a complicated question with no clear answers, but I think I made a pretty good argument that it’s something inherent in Nazism itself, a reality-warping right-wing ideology that is inherently resistant to compromise or the idea of sharing political power with anyone who doesn’t also share right-wing ideology. Structurally this article also turned out to be just about perfect. I wrote another article the next day, which was sort of an “anatomy” of how I put together articles for this blog, and used “Farewell, Mein Führer” as a case study. This article also contained the single most complicated and difficult image header that I’ve ever created for this blog!

pope and abolition

1. The Pope’s moral crusade: Climate change is the abolitionism of the 21st century.

So here it is, the article I think was my all-time best of the year. I can’t hide the fact that 2015 was the year where climate change became a very personal moral, religious and professional issue for me. In the summer I wound up teaching a class on the history of climate change, and my various articles on this blog about the topic have, I hoped, increasingly underscored the importance of dealing with what has undoubtedly become the world’s top problem. Pope Francis, who commanded headlines throughout the year, wound up doing something utterly transformative: he finally gave climate change a deep moral dimension and this, more than anything else, may be the key to the world taking action. In this article I talked about how I think climate change in this century’s equivalent of what the abolition of slavery was in early 19th century America: a moral crusade that has at its heart basic human questions of right and wrong. There are many similarities between Pope Francis and fiery Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (the man pictured in the header image on the right). I chose this article as #1 in part because in addition to being educational and entertaining, I also hope this blog has some social and topical relevance; I’ve chosen to speak out forcefully on climate change because I believe it’s a matter of right and wrong, and this is the statement I’ve made.

I want to thank everyone who has read the blog in 2015, commented, shared, liked, contributed to, and hopefully learned from and enjoyed what I’ve presented. Happy New Year and best wishes for 2016!

Please click the individual article links for more detailed photo/licensing credits. The poster for The Mosquito Coast is copyright (C) 1986 by Warner Brothers, but I believe my inclusion constitutes fair use; the photo of Pope Francis is by Flickr user Edgar Jimenez.